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.

Controlled Bleeding - “Distress Signals I + II” 2xCD

Early violent noise remasters

A surprise deluxe reissue of the ultra-rare 1984 cassette originally issued on the legendary Broken Flag label, this debut album from NY based Controlled Bleeding includes an extra disc of previously unreleased material that was originally intended to be the Broken Flag release, but somehow the tapes got mixed up and, well, 30 years later we get both albums, remastered and together for the first time.

The initial disc is the Broken Flag album, here titled “Distress Signals I”. With track titles given from Broken Flag owner and Ramleh member Gary Mundy (and favoring his early affinity for Holocaust shock value), this, like the band’s vinyl debut “Knees & Bones” (also rereleased at the same time), is harsh and jagged power electronics / industrial noise. There are moments of reprieve, as with the use of Middle Eastern religious tapes in “The Spitting Cell” or “A Human Invention”, but it's all based around overloaded feedback and unintelligible primal screams. Brutal, uncompromising, and not for unadventurous listeners.

Cd2 is the recently unearthed “Distress Signals II”, a set of 11 never-released harsh noise tracks from the same era, and these follow the same pattern. This is destroyed music, full of primal violence and anything resembling structure or melody. Fans of Controlled Bleeding’s later forays into textural gothic soundtracks or industrial dance should think twice if they can handle this scarring assault on their eardrums. Me? I enjoy, but only in smaller doses. 

A great thing to have this rare material available again after so many years. Here’s my vote for Artoffact to release all the other obscure Controlled Bleeding albums and tapes that have sadly never been reissued, and some that are just plain unavailable. Great, legendary stuff for experimental and noise fans, for certain.

Controlled Bleeding site

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Controlled Bleeding - “Knees And Bones” CD

Classic noise debut

This was the vinyl debut of the prolific noise/experimental group way back in 1985, and this latest reissue is the most comprehensive version yet. Emerging at time when the avant-garde, industrial and experimental music community was far-ranging and deeply set underground, this Long Island group crafted this set of ultra-harsh walls of screaming noise and feedback, as inspired by fellow subversives like Whitehouse and SWANS. The original LP, which comprises the extended opening tracks “Knees” and “Bones”, are shrill, gouging, and terrifying assaults of grinding electronic feedback and the incomprehensible agonized shouts of either Paul Lemos or Chris Moriarty (I can’t tell). There are moments where the noise settles a bit into a moody (yet still ultimately a primal and visceral) sound, but overall, this album is a raw and edgy collection of power electronics that doesn’t hold any semblance of structure, order, or melody. 

Bonus tracks are included here that only add to the noise and confusion. There’s a lengthy remix, called “Knees Power Mix”, another installment of the ongoing “Swallowing Scrap Metal” series of harsh feedback forays, and a remix of a wild and frantic track from CB’s out-jazz/scat side project, Breast Fed Yak.

Among a slew of other early releases (mostly on cassette), Controlled Bleeding’s earliest recorded output was a destructive primal scream that showed little evidence of their later trajectories into ambient, dance, or metal music that gained them a following in the late 80s and early 90s. This is about as harsh and noisy as you could ever hope to hear. Bravo! Here’s hoping Artoffact will consider other reissues of long-lost Controlled Bleeding recordings of this era.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Psyche - “Unveiling The Secret” CD

Dark synth-pop masterpiece 

Edmonton electro duo Psyche’s sophomore album, this one originally from 1986, is a decided progression from their harsher horror-tinged debut. From the onset, the opening cut, “Thundershowers”, shows a slicker, more elegant electro-pop direction. Vocalist Darrin Huss’s melodic pipes are up front, while brother Stephen’s analogue keyboard programming fills the rest of the space admirably with a dark, filmic edge. 

“Caught In The Act” is a more mischievous, malevolent spirit. “The Darkside” showcases Stephen’s skill at cinematic instrumentals, before the legendary “Prisoner To Desire” reveals itself with a beautifully smooth yet melancholic dance-club angle. “The Saint Became A Lush” is another classic, with a foreboding horror edge, yet still remaining somehow stylish and classy. The whole album dates very well, and the remaster sounds great.

Extra tracks are plentiful here, too, making this the definitive version of this classic electro-pop album. Highlights include the dark, shadowy “The Crawler” and the electro-thrash of “Screaming’ Machine”. “Waiting For The Stranger” is another heavier electro-stomper with a bend towards Psyche’s earlier blood-and-guts horror sound. Listeners to this reissue also get extra remixes of “Unveiling The Secret” and “Unveiling The Secret”, both of which extend the tracks into clubland, plus some previously unreleased cuts. A superb release that deserves much attention to fans of both dark electro-pop and proto-industrial dance sounds. Psyche were there, and “Unveiling The Secret” is proof positive that they were ahead of the game even 30 years ago!

Psyche - “Insomnia Theatre” CD

Classic horror electro fix

This is the definitive version of the vastly under-appreciated 1985 debut from Edmonton electro duo Psyche. Fronted by the charismatic vox of Darrin Huss and backed by clear, cinematic synth soundtrack vibes by brother Stephen Huss, Psyche was equally as inspired by Suicide, Soft Cell, Fad Gadget, and John Carpenter’s soundtracks. In short, it’s a horror-shock electro vibe here, perfectly suited to fans of those artists or peers like early Skinny Puppy.

Beginning with the classic "The Brain Collapses", and continuing through greats like "Wink Of An Eye” and the midnight drive-in verses of "Maggots", this album, even after 30 years, brings some magnificent analogue electronic grooves.  "Eating Violins" is an instrumental track showing Stephen Huss's skill crafting film-quality electronica with an ear for both dark ambience and melody. It's a brilliant and memorable cut, for sure. The aggressive “Children Carry Knives” is another highlight, somehow reminding me of the group’s affinity for another Canadian horror great, David Cronenberg. The straightjacketed electro shock of "Wrench", the demo of the pop-leaning "Why Should I?", and the tongue in cheek late night horror of  "Mr Eyeball Ooze" also round out the disc’s lengthy set of memorable and unique electro.

This expanded remastered re-release includes the full original vinyl LP’s 8 cuts, plus 11 other tracks, including plenty of previously unreleased gems unearthed from the band’s vault. In short, it’s a treasure trove of classic electronics from a group that deserves much more notice.

“The Dicks From Texas” DVD (director: Cindy Marabito)

Love those Dicks

This 70-minute documentary examines the legendary Texan punk band, the Dicks, who remain woefully obscure today, despite influencing everyone from Ian MacKaye to Henry Rollins (both of whom appear here, by the way). Director Marabito includes interviews with nearly all members (even archived ones with members and associates since deceased), including the charismatic frontman Gary Floyd, whose sexually ambiguous and unashamedly homosexual persona were quite a 1-2 punch alongside his outspoken and confrontational political and social satire.

“The Dicks From Texas” isn’t a super-slick or necessarily clean film, with some footage being rough and VHS-based. But that’s forgivable, given that most of this stuff is from the early 80s. There are some great stories here, from a time when being “punk” or different often meant harassment from the mainstream. The Dicks live on today with the occasional reunion show, and this film is a loving tribute to one of the weirder (and that’s saying a lot) underground acts spawned in the lone star state.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

“A Dog Named Gucci” DVD (director: Gorman Bechard)

Dog who made a difference

Now, this is a moving, touching, and beautiful documentary. Initially based around the life of Gucci, a precocious 10-week old puppy who was intentionally set on fire in 1994, this film shows just how animal cruelty laws have been radically changed across the US by grass-roots efforts and those who care. Gucci lived to be 15 years old and received proper medical care and a loving forever home, and his plight inspired Alabama to enact new and stronger animal cruelty laws. 

The cases behind other maimed, tortured, or murdered dogs are also examined here, alongside interviews with their caretakers and animal rights activists. It’s a harrowing film, and not one for the ultra-squeamish, of course, but it does bring a positive message ultimately, as since the cases here have come to trial, every state in the US now considers animal cruelty to be a felony, rather than a misdemeanor. That’s a big win for those of us who cherish our animal friends and housemates. 

Director Berchard received the 2015 ASPCA Media Excellence Award, and rightfully so. “A Dog Named Gucci” shows that every individual who stands up for animal rights can indeed make a difference. And although there are still thousands of cases of animal abuse every year that go virtually unnoticed and unpunished, there are plenty of us who do stand up and fight for the rights of our Earthly brethren — canine, feline, or otherwise. 

Rigor Mortis - “Welcome To Your Funeral: The Story Of Rigor Mortis - Part 1” DVD (director: Bruce Corbitt)

R.I.P. Mike Scaccia

This documentary, produced with the direct involvement of the surviving Rigor Mortis members as a tribute to their fallen guitar legend Mike Scaccia (later famous for being Ministry’s mid-to-late period guitarist), covers the inception of this influential Texan speed metal outfit until 1987, when they signed to Capitol Records. It’s a solid and reverential collection of rare footage, both live and behind the scenes, with tons of interviews with friends and band members telling all sorts of sordid tales of the band’s legendary drunken brawls, parties, and hellbent live shows that fused brutal death and speed metal with a horror/gore slant.

Narrated by Philip H. Anselmo (yes, he of Pantera and Down fame and infamy), this is a thoroughly entertaining and intimate portrait of one of Texas’ best loved (and hated) bands. Speed and gore metal fans who are familiar with this band need to check this one out, and even those curious as to the genesis of a band who’ve since influenced a shit-ton of metal bands, would do well to see this one. It’s not overly slick or packed with digital graphics, but it’s a great document and a fitting tribute to a real-life guitar hero.

“The Nasty - Terrible T-KID 170 (Julius Cavero)” DVD (director: Carly Starr Brullo Niles)

Rough but informative doc on graffiti art legend

A quick (49-minute) documentary on the life and times of infamous NYC graffiti artist Cavero (aka Terrible T-KID 170), this rough and tumble collection of old, hand-shot footage and recent interviews (with Cavero himself, namely, alongside some of his peers and fans) isn’t much to look at, and may only be of limited interest, but it’s certainly a must-see for fans of renegade street art.

Friday, January 8, 2016

“Dog Years” DVD (director: Warren Sroka and Brent Willis)

Smart and emotive indie

This little indie film comes across with little fanfare or notice, but damned if it doesn’t deliver with an entertaining and complex storyline that I fell into right away. Featuring both directors (who are also the writers, commendably) in the lead acting roles, “Dog Years” is the tale of a pair of estranged American brothers who find themselves together in Tokyo (both for different reasons), and working to resolve their family issues in very different ways.

The pair don’t get along, being of completely different temperaments and attitudes. Elliiot’s dismissive attitude towards his brother Ben’s overbearing positivity is gradually eroded, until he starts to see a light at the tunnel during his business trip to Japan. Ben’s relationship with the culture also becomes strained, but the brothers come to terms with their predicaments in different ways. This is a story of human interaction and maturation, and it works pretty well.

Billed as a sort of comedy-drama, even on the packaging, I found “Dog Years” to be a bit more serious than that. It’s not perfect, but there’s solid acting and a great story here that make for a really enlightening and engrossing watch. No spoilers here, but suffice to say, this is a completely worthy little indie film with much to offer. Nice work, guys.

Monday, January 4, 2016

“Eyes Of The Woods” DVD (directors: Miguel F. Valenti & Darrin Reed)

Flawed monster mess

Another troubled horror film suffering from the usual limitations ...poor audio, poor acting and lackluster, well-tread and derivative storyline. You've already seen this movje, in other words, and done much, much better.

The positives? The monster effects are pretty solid, and the gore is splattery good, with some nice head splittings and bloody sprays. A shortage of breastage hurts this, too, especially as there are several lovely young ladies who tempt but never quite get nekkid. The bloody topless blonde is an unexplained anomaly, making no sense at all, and it's all we get of the boobs. Call me sexist, but in this kind of trash film, there are certain, uh, “needs”. There are some choppy edits, some pretty blatant film “stops” or skips, and plenty of technical belches that really show a lack of care.

A shame, as this one shows some promise. As it stands, though, this is a weak and flawed film with really no memorable angle, sadly.

Fade To Black / Central Film Company