Sunday, January 8, 2017

John Gregorius - “Still Voice” CD

Wonderful ambient guitar pop

Veteran guitar player and producer Gregorius has found his niche with this collection of melodic, ambient guitar works that generates a warm and pastoral existence, uncluttered by trends or genre. The opener, “Grounded In Mystery” is simply a beautiful and gentle wisp of soft harmonics and fleeting guitar. 

Gregorius’s songs are essentially heart-lifting soundtracks to films that don’t (yet) exist. His soft guitar melodies are placed simply atop beds of electronics and processed guitar, crafting an instrumental pillow of dreamily introspective ambient “pop”. “Benevolence” picks up a wafting rhythm, but remains a positive and reflective tone. “True Self” brings an almost droning post-rock, shoegaze vibe and works amazingly well. 

“Still Voice” is a lovely, heartfelt, and emotive album of gentle ambient guitar compositions that I very much appreciate after too much angry noise and cluttered sounds. It’s the perfect album to wind down to, and Gregarius is a highly skilled composer who I’d love to hear more from. Bravo!

Nick Cave - “Maximum Nick Cave” CD

Shady audio biography, not music...

This unauthorized “CD-Audio-Biog” is basically a rather dated 55-minute narrated history of Cave’s career up until 2005 or so. There are several interview audio clips, with Cave himself here, but overall, this CD is a rather thin and unnecessary document that seems aimed at fooling Cave fans into unwitting/unwilling purchase.

The rather basic biography of Cave’s history is spoken by Sian Jones, whose voice recalls a British newscaster, and incidental music by Amanda Thompson are only slightly interesting. Jones’ gross mispronunciation of Einsturzende Neubauten is pretty awful, and this package’s lasting impact and replayability are quite limited.

Serious Nick Cave fans — pick this up only at a drastic discount, as there’s very little here to learn about the legendary songwriter and frontman.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Controlled Bleeding - “Body Samples” 2xCD

Early sounds from legendary avant group

Controlled Bleeding’s 1985 debut LP for Germany’s Dossier Records is here reissued into a definitive double-disc edition, thanks to the wonderful ArtOfFact/Storming The Base label. “Body Samples” was an early breaking of tradition for the experimental group. Prior to this LP, the band had become known more for brutal power noise and agonized feedback with albums like “Knees And Bones” and a series of limited cassette albums. “Body Samples” showed the group opening their sound up with more subtle ambient textures alongside their post-industrial electronics. 

Opening with the ambient-oriented “Chote/Wheels/Hair”, the band quickly dissolved minds with the brief harsh feedback piece “Lungs Half” before heading into different waters with the percussive Neubauten-inspired “Experiments With Fuck”. “Blood Sack” is another hard noise cut, before “Scourge Sack” throws some tape loop atmospheres into the mix. “II” is a brief mournful ambient piece that anticipates the band’s later interest in dark proto-classical atmospheres. “Wall Shine Seed” sounds like Middle Eastern music behind a wall of screams and feedback. “Bulges Fakes” closes the initial disc with an upbeat melodic guitar sketch.

The second disc here is 39 minutes of other tracks recorded around the same time period (1983-1985), and with a similar mix of textures and noise. The ominous “Rust Bag” was recorded for a Broken Flag compilation but was left unreleased. Other tracks were either unreleased or originally bonus tracks on the initial “Body Samples” CD release on the now-defunct Dossier label. 

The diverse textures of “Body Samples” were still raw and certainly harsh, but the forceful insistence and unrelenting nature of the group’s earliest releases was held back a bit in favor of different moods and more subtle textures. Hints of the band’s later forays into ambience and beat-driven songs can be found here alongside the jagged feedback and screams. “Body Samples” is a challenging recording, sure, but it’s a classic and unique listening experience, and one that takes some unpredictable turns and diversions into areas of relevance for any fan of experimental and early electronic music. Cheers to Paul Lemos and all involved in bringing this landmark recording back into consciousness.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Controlled Bleeding - “Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps” 2xCD

Explosive new work from reformed experimental group

After some years of sporadic activity and the unexpected deaths of primary members Chris Moriarty and Joe Papa, this double-length album marks a serious return for Paul Lemos’ venerable noise-prog-jazz-ambient-dub behemoth. Through the years, Controlled Bleeding have provided a rather schizophrenic mix of genres, from outright power electronics to industrial dance to ambient to sacred music hybrids. Now, with new members, the band has found a focus on a wild out-jazz, prog-rock, post-rock madness that refuses to “fit” anywhere comfortably, but it sounds just amazing.

Opening with the frenzied prog-rock intensity of “Driving Through Darkness”, the album leans in for a darker, funky post-punk grind in “Carving Song”, which will more than please fans of “Filth”-era SWANS a bit. “Trawler’s Return” is a feverish jazz-thrash attack that careens headfirst into a Lemos guitar shredding, set to a pace that would please any classic punk rocker. “As Evening Fades” is a sweet and mellow ambient dub piece, leading into the 22-minute closer, “The Perks Of Being A Perv”, which ends the first album in a tour-de-force of pounding post-industrial rhythms lashed alongside Lemos’ maniacal guitar. Call this one more jazz-prog-thrash, every bit as intense as any metal could hope to be. The track evolves/devolves into pounding experimental improv noise, a sort of harkening back to the band's famous days as one of America's premier industrial noise groups.

The second disc is “The Bisi Sessions”, recorded live in the studio back in 2011 with legendary NYC producer Martin Bisi (known for his work with SWANS, Sonic Youth, Live Skull, and tons more). These 7 tracks (well, 8, as there's an unlisted bonus cut) are an ideal accompaniment alongside the initial “Larva Lumps” disc — weird, complex rhythms and genre-busting arrangements all centered around the remarkable guitar chops of Lemos himself. Approaching a kind of hyper speed-core on most cuts, Controlled Bleeding’s potent musical ramblings (all instrumental here aside from a rather pop-oriented "Trang's Song", with sweet vocals from longtime collaborator Trang) are both befuddling and somehow invigorating. 

Music doesn’t need to belong to any category or genre, and Paul Lemos and company have spent many years proving that great music comes, rightly, from far outside the mainstream. Cheers, Paul, and here’s to many more releases and reissues.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

“The Mutilator” BluRay (director: Buddy Cooper)

1985 slasher lives again

This deluxe remastered version of long-awaited 1985 slasher flick “The Mutilator” (also known as “Fall Break”) looks perfectly good, and any fan of classic 80s-syled horror would do fine to check into it. There are some fine gore effects, but overall this one fails with the storyline and acting, both of which are subpar and really lose the viewer’s interest quickly.

It's tale of a young boy who accidentally kills his mother while playing with his dad’s guns, who later grows up fairly well until his bitter, alcoholic father unexpectedly contacts him to lock up the beach house. The now college-aged boy totes along his careless and horny chums who are looking to “party” in the beach house, which turns bad when Dad starts murdering them one-by-one. 

This one is predictable, and the acting is so awful that it seems almost a comedy in spots. There's only a trace of breasts, and a despicable score that basically rips of the theme for “Jaws”, believe it or not! A few solid gore/murder effects are all we have here to look forward to.

So, no go on this one. Kudos to Arrow for a great job cleaning this one up and having it look and sound perfectly fine, but the film itself is kind of a stinker. 

The Damned - “Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead” Bluray/DVD

Wonderful look at punk's all-time greats

This long-awaited (and downright necessary) documentary was crafted by “Lemmy” filmmaker Wes Orshoski, so you know to expect a comprehensive and quality work full of historical documentation and intimate, honest portrayals of the band. You’d be accurate, as this is a wonderful and lovingly honest look at the boys nowadays, as well as their 40+ year history.

The nearly 2-hour running time is jam-packed with interviews with classic members Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies, and Brian James, who unfortunately don’t all get along or play together these days, but all respect the times dating back to the band’s 1976 debut single, “New Rose”, which of course was the first “punk” vinyl single ever released, ahead of both the Sex Pistols and the Clash. The Damned never got the same acclaim or notoriety, sadly, as those bands, though their songwriting prowess, by my standards, far exceeded them. There is a bit of resentment from the members on their NOT being able to cash in on their history as well as the aforementioned, but that’s beside the point. The Damned are legends, and the fact that the original members are all alive and kicking (and playing music still) is a blessing we all have to be thankful for.

That said, “Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead” also features personal accounts and appreciation from interviews with peers like Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones of the Clash, Don Lets, Lemmy, Billy Idol, Steve Diggle of the Buzzcocks, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd (who produced the band), Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra, former members like Roman Jugg and Bryn Merck. Not to mention the chats with Fred Armisen (who professes a serious love for the band and manages to busk with the Captain here), Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, Dexter Holland of Offspring, and others. It’s a serious and intensive look at the band’s history, with tons of live footage from all eras, including very early VHS clips alongside looks at recent gigs.

A treasure trove for Damned fans, this is the literal Damned bible on video. The package includes both a DVD and BluRay version, and there are plenty of nice bonuses added on, too. A great viewing for fans, both casual or hardcore. 

Psyche - “Mystery Hotel” CD

Third album of stylish dark synth-pop

Psyche’s third album, originally released in 1988, is here remastered and combined with 8 bonus tracks (mostly 12-inch mixes and a previously vinyl-only 5-song live EP), making the definitive version after nearly 30 years. It’s another fairly drastic progression from the band’s earlier shock-horror days, and most of it works quite well.

“Mystery Hotel” shows Darrin’s blues and soul inspirations taking stride alongside brother Stephen’s slick electropop backdrop. “Insatiable” is a driving, slick analogue dance track that brings to the fore Stephen's amazing cinematic programming skills. “Wake The Flood Unconscious” combines a colder proto-industrial feel with Darrin’s soulful vocals. “The Outsider” is a slower, dark electro ballad. “You're The Only One” doesn't date well, both musically and lyrically, sounding like an early Depeche Mode cut, although with better vocals than Gahan could muster at the time.

The instrumental Stephen Huss composition, “Dreamstreet” is a definite highlight, combining Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter inspirations into a beautiful and unique analogue sci-fi soundtrack. “Eternal” is a late 80s-styled electro anthem, upbeat, but sounding definitely of its era.

Though “Mystery Hotel” may not be Psyche’s most consistent recording, there are unquestionably some of the bands highest marks here as they continued to evolve from their horror electro roots into something more complex and stylish, while retaining their trademark dark edges.

Kudos to Psyche and ArtOfFact for this quality reissue. All that seems missing are detailed liner notes or a history or message from Darrin about the recordings. Perhaps future pressings could address this, but for now, I’m happy with this comprehensive updating of this fine recording from a band deserving of so much more notice.