Tuesday, 10 August 2010
We're back. Again. It seems our notoriety has increased in our absence, and our nation's scrumpy reserves have finally reached a level able to sustain the space-rockin' beast that is Thor's Helmet once more. I've dusted down and oiled the 7-string. The Book Of Ylem has been opened for the third time and it's forbidden knowledge will once again seep into the world's unconscious. Get ready, because things are gonna get messy.
Sunday, 8 August 2010
Over the past few months, I've noticed a serious shift in my listening habits. For the first time in my life, the guitar is no longer the centrepoint of my borderline obsessive music-hoovering. Sure, there are some astonishing guitarists out there, but I can only think of one guitarist whose music I've discovered in the last couple of years that blows my fucking stack like all the usual suspects*, namely Ninni Morgia**, and that's somewhat depressing for a guitarist in many ways***. But also liberating. Because I've found myself bored to fucking tears by 99% of new guitar-led music§, electronics have rushed in to fill the gap.
In some ways I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised by this, given that my guitar setup has gradually evolved to have more in common with a modular analogue synth than anything else, and that a lot of my playing comes from running as far in the opposite direction to anyone else as I possibly can, that my listener side would eventually catch up with my musician side. It's not that I've rejected my past loves in that sphere of music, they still thrill me the way they always have, it's just that there's fuck-all new to add to them at the moment, and I need amazing, beautiful, new music like the Earth needs the fucking Sun.
It isn't just me either, I can think of a fair few other musicians of my generation, with very similar musical backgrounds, who've expressed similar opinions to me, whose musical focus has shifted in a similar way (and no, I'm not going to name names, it's not for me to attempt to unpick their reasoning, or to relate private conversations here, musicians' equivalent of the Chatham House Rule applies), but a lot of us seem to be heading in a very different direction than I reckon our listeners would have suspected even a year or two ago, and the one music that seems to have backslid to a much lower priority than it used to occupy in our minds is Rock music.
Yes, I know the whole "Rock is dead" cliche has been with us for a good while, and previously I'd have dismissed it out of hand. But now, I'm not so sure. Rock has become so codified it no longer has any fucking meaning, the cliche has taken over, the map has become the territory, and that's the death of any artistic medium as far as I'm concerned. Rock has become Lego for lazy musicians, and, I now believe, the rot set in long ago, over thirty fucking years ago, and it's death throes have been protracted and increasingly unpleasant, not to mention enormously damaging to our shared cultures artistic health.
In the 60s, when Rock was born, the musicians who played it didn't start out playing it, mainly because it didn't exist before then. Yr average 60s rock group consisted of people who learnt their craft playing Blues, Folk, Jazz, Skiffle, Country, Classical, you name it; and the music those groups produced was a beautiful synthesis of those influences, their original ideas and the need to create something new, a music that was theirs. Simply put, you couldn't just be a rock musician because the concept hadn't solidified yet (and wouldn't really for a good ten years or so). Look at Rock'n'Roll. A glorious semi-electrified fusion of Blues, R'n'B§§§, Country, Western Swing, elements of Jazz± and all the other music of the Deep South, that swept the musical world in the early/mid 50s and was essentially a spent force within 5 years, because it failed to transcend it's origins, and allowed a sanitised, commercially driven imitation of itself to become the dominant popular music.
It's the same with it's idiot child, Rock, only worse, much worse. Because Rock wasn't killed by the sharkskin-suited hucksters of the music business like Rock'n'Roll, but by the musicians themselves, and the mindless cretins that followed in their ignoble wake. And not just any musicians, but the people I trace a goodly amount of my musical lineage from, the psychedelic musicians of the late 60s, baby-boomers one and all, that generation that managed to betray every single fucking ideal it ever held dear, politically, culturally, economically, ecologically in the space of a decade±±.
Rock, in the mid/late 60s, was a paradigm shift in the conception of what a popular music could be. The record labels couldn't control it the way they had previously because they simply didn't have a fucking clue what was going on. As far as the musicians were then concerned, everything was up for grabs, freedom was the name of the game, any source was fair game for transmutation, assimilation or transformation, and the listener was therefore exposed to an astonishingly wide range of music, even if they only listened to so-called pop stations.
Imagine listening to Radio 1 in the late 60s, for a DJ to go from Petula Clark to Jimi Hendrix wasn't a particularly unusual occurrence, it was all pop, whatever it's provenance, freak or square - this is the reason John Peel was the greatest Dj ever, he never fell for the idea that one kind of music was one thing, and another less valid, it was all good and to be judged on it's individual merits - pop simply meant popular then, not officially sanctioned for the edification of the great unwashed and ignorant, the default position of most big record companies and radio stations these days.
Even a band as accepted into the upper echelons of the pantheon of pop/rock genius as the Beatles (loathe them as I do), would probably end up on some obscure indie label these days, can you imagine a band which combined a love of R'n'B & Rock'n'Roll, Victorian Music Hall, 20th C composition and Indian music into a coherent music gracing the charts these days? No is the simple answer. Ain't gonna happen. Much as I fucking hate Revolver or Sgt. Pepper, they were pop albums then, but now? I don't think so.
Part two in a few days. I thought it would be nice to end this part on a note that has probably surprised a few of my closest friends, namely mentioning the Beatles in a positive light.
*Matt Bower, Helios Creed, Gary Mundy, Jim Plotkin, Michio Kurihara, Matt Pike, I could go on (and on and on), but you probably know the drill by now...
**Big article about his last LP coming soon, so not going into detail today. Go here. Say hello. Buy his records.
§Even my beloved Doom Metal seems to be spiralling ever deeper into a self-satisfied pit of regurgitation of past glories, Free Jazz now sounds exactly like Free Jazz then with a couple of new pedals, and don't even get me started on Improv; bloodless, sexless, devoid of any physicality§§, and a (very long) rant for another day. It's only the fucking noise/psych underground putting any guitar-led stuff out that's worth a fucking shit at the moment.
§§This is possibly the first time I've ever found myself in complete agreement with David Keenan. Fuck me, who'da thought it?
§§§Which soon became an essentially racist epithet for R'n'R played by black people, before mutating into the utterly meaningless term it's now become.
±Listen to Chuck Berry, then listen to Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker, notice anything?
±±Not that clinging to a fixed ideology is a particularly good way to live yr life or run a country, but there's a massive fucking difference between pragmatic flexibility and cynically licking yr finger to see which way the winds of power are blowing. No that I expect any better from people in general, I firmly believe 95% of everything is bullshit, but the joy of life comes from finding that other 5%, whatever that 5% is for you, I'm not quite the misanthrope I'm occasionally accused of being, just really fucking picky.
Friday, 6 August 2010
A while ago, someone wrote an article in Vice about how the interweb is an unparalleled resource for yr past sins being found out by others. They weren't fucking wrong. Whilst trawling the web a couple of days ago for manky 80s/ early 90s spacerock tapes* that I've lost through the ages, (and given what I was looking for, it really should have occurred to me that these fuckers would surface again), I inadvertently came across three albums from that dreadlocked era** featuring my dubious teenage speed/acid fried guitar and bass skills (such as they were then), that some crusty bastard has uploaded for all to hear. Some of it's fucking brilliant, some of it's really atrocious, but I hereby offer a very special prize to anyone*** who can find these records without my help.
*The Ullulators. Nukli. Webcore. Treatment. Krel. I could go on (for ages). Much as I (and any right thinking person) loathe the Ozrics, the spacerock/free festival scene actually included some killer fucking bands in those days. If I ever get my hands round the throat of the inventor of trance...
**Yes, I had dreads (anyone who's known me for more than 10 years can ignore this foonote, you saw 'em), and not yr fucking neat and tidy typical fucking whiteboy dreads beloved of shit vegan industrial bands and public school hippy Gong-worshipping arseholes everywhere, but a headful of past my arse length dirty§ waxy thick as yr wrist hairsnakes that would've made Rob Zombie shit himself.
***The nature of the prize depends on who wins it...
§Really, really dirty. Stunningly filthy. You don't know the meaning of muck until you wash 3 foot of matted hair that hasn't been washed in 13 years.
Thursday, 5 August 2010
Look at that fucking artwork. Looks like Luigi Serafini knocked up a cartoon self-portrait during a relaxing shroom break while he was creating the Codex Seraphinianus. That fantastic and ridiculous artwork, coupled with the fact the band are called Moon Unit, and the album entitled New Sky Dragon, probably has led you to believe we are back in the land of the deeply psychedelic. And you'd be right on the money.
This is, hands down, the finest fucking freakout (well, pair of freakouts) committed to vinyl in quite some time, a proper fucking rocket-ride through the universe's burning brain. Moon Unit are a trio comprised of Andreas Jonsson on synth, Peter Kelly on drums, and Ruaraidh Sanachan* on guitar. No bass player**, and none is needed here. In fact, the extra low-end a bass would have provided could possibly have rendered the whole thing a little more earthbound, weighing down the sunbound spacepod of sound instead of allowing it to accelerate up through the atmosphere to it's natural home, the cosmos.
Sonically speaking, this record had me nailed almost straight away, what with it sitting in a Lagrangian point perfectly balanced between the propulsive end of Krautrock and the singing, stinging, spiralling high-end mind erasure of classic UK underground blug. Think Electronic Meditation era Tangerine Dream (when they was vicious***) duking it out with Sunroof!, or Vibracathedral Orchestra with Jaki Liebezeit on drums. Ash Ra Tempel with a raga-noise boner.
Two twenty minute tracks, Internal Future and No Money No Nothing, is what you get. Both ever-ascending whirlpools that start slow, guitar and synth stalking each other, circling and intertwining like dancing cobras as the drums lay down rolling, metronomic rhythms which push the lead instruments to twist ever higher, picking up speed like a rocket pushing itself slowly off the launch pad and just accelerating harder and harder, imperceptibly at first, seemingly crawling towards the sky on a flame of modal fuzz, faster, higher until it hits escape velocity and bursts through the Van Allen belt, careening toward the stars until finally the engine cuts out and we're in freefall, weightless, awestruck by the synth nebulae and guitar novae that fill the sky from here to there.
*AKA the loon behind the fantastic, but very different Nackt Insecten, who I recommend unreservedly to all devotees of cosmic mung.
**No fucking Doors jokes please, this is real psychedelia.
***Seriously, TD's first album is a masterpiece of freeform psychedelic fuckyou that has been rarely equalled since, particularly by themselves. If you haven't heard it, well, y're in for a shock, no wibble, no sequencers, no synth at all, just awe-inspiring fuzztone murder (Edgar Froese) with rolling, smashing meth-drums (Klaus Schulze), lashings of organ, and gratuitous globs of electric cello abuse from the genius that is Conrad Schnitzler.