Saturday, December 23, 2017

Drone - Drone (1989)

Debut album from late-80s Auckland minimalist avant-garde art schoolers Drone. Not what I expected when I discovered them around the turn of the century, my post-Free Noise sensibilities presuming heavy electric drunge.

This is not that: instead it's sombre and sober, astringent acoustic strings with vocal harmonies and scant samples, detuned chimings and chants braided into unison rhythms. Rich and thick (like good American ketchup or bad American presidents), sensitive and affecting, very smart yet from the gut.

The marching piano on second track 'Carcass' bounces like an obscurely perky This Kind of Punishment, while 'Music for Guitar + Piano' could be a Terry Riley-led Abel Tasmans painting a McCahon. Other tracks call to mind a synth-less 
Marie and the Atom, stripped down or vigorous as in knotty ‘pop’ tracks like ‘Lofty’ by Out of the Compost, or ‘Black Thoughts’ or ‘Ethiopian Dream’ by Thin Red Line. 

Get the whole story at AudioCulture, and pick up their first 7-inch here.

This Carcass I Beg To Slaughter

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Semmy-Compleet Smelly Feet (1981-82)

Brent Hayward -- a stabler Syd Barrett, a glib Pip Proud, a scatter-brained Bill Direen, a slipshod Crispin Glover -- the hands and mind behind Shoes This High, Smelly Feet, The Kiwi Animal, Fats White (and so on). Earnest weirdness and unsmiling silliness which swings from intimate revelation to dispassionate observation track by track. Andrew Schmidt's got a full write-up on Brent Hayward's post-Shoes This High story on AudioCulture

This post is 'semmy-compleet' as the third 7-inch can be found at the excellent Forgotten New Zealand 45s blog.

Smelly Feet - As Seen On TV (1981)

The ideal initiation into the Smelly Feet scheme, from the the seasick and slinky 'North Of Anywhere' to the sweet ennui of 'A Song For The World', then on to the miniature municipal metaphor 'Vegetable Market' before merrily surrendering to the apocalypse with 'E.O.T.W.I.T.'. 

A scan of the complete fold-out 7-inch sleeve is included. A wee bit of distortion on this rip. 

Smelly Feet - OHMS (1981)

The punkest of the three releases presented here -- 'OHMS' is shouty and strident, repetitive like Kiwi Animal's 'Woman And Man Have Balance', intercut with lyrical nihilist declaimings. Then there's the grotty-vibed 'My Festured Toe' [sic], and the chastising 'Comparisons'. Detuned, clatter-stringed guitar. 

No cover. Quite a crackly rip, sorry. 

Smelly Feet - Left Odours (1982)

Snippets, quite a few complete songs, and euphonious streams-of-consciousness -- 22 total tracks recorded at home and gigs, on four-track and portable tape recorders. The good stuff here is like first-take Kiwi Animal, Hayward's (admittedly idiosyncratic) songcraft and playing both edging toward that Brent and Julie apogee. Not at all a 'for the real fans only!!!!' Dead Letter Office, rather a rare find -- like a faded denim jacket in your size at the op shop which is both impeccably zirconia-bedazzled and prog-metal patched. 

The first three pieces on the a-side are furiously lofi -- like, no-fi -- and I worried that the tape was degraded, but by ‘Kenny’ they are much clearer, so hang in there. It's promptly obvious from the varying track quality that the indiscriminate fidelity is intentional. I've stereo compensated as it was heavily left-leaning, and boosted the volume of the ultra-lofi bits. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Nux Vomica (1985-88)

More obscure Chch! Nux Vomica were an early project of Lawrence Kennett and Lisa Preston, later of The Portage.  Kennett's first band, The Droogs, released one single around 1981 on cassette, 'Fuck Your Brain', which was re-pressed on vinyl in 2005 (under the name The Pitts).  Kennett stepped back from music for a bit but has recently begun playing again with other Garden City refugees now resident in Dunedin: Bob Cardy and Mick Elborado. Preston continues to perform, with bands such as Snort and Loliners. Bassist Phillip Hubbard disappeared from the scene in the early 90s, and drummer Chris Small died last year.

Nux Vomica - My Life To Live/T.V. Producer (1985)

This 7-inch is quite crackly but so what -- it's p*nk as f*ck. 'My Life To Live' sounds like one take, live in the studio, with some telephone-mic vocal overdubs -- slurred'n'shouty, organ'n'bass, grotty staccato garage. 'TV Producer' might be brutally tape-spliced from several takes, with different EQs and mic placements, giving the whole thing a nicotine-stained short-of-breath live-reptile-show caveman-minimalism drive.

Recorded and co-produced by The Axemen's Steve McCabe.

I Know What'll Sell

Nux Vomica - Live '85 - '87 (1988)

Recorded at the Gladstone, in Motueka and Takaka, and in rehearsal.

Heaps more guitar on this (if there was any on the single, it was totally inaudible) -- smoky, speed-thrilling, raw cuts from the Gladstone:  'Adoption', 'My Life To Live', and the Very Metal 'Gnome'.

Two songs from this -- 'Sin' and 'Swamp Dream' -- were re-recorded with The Portage on the Thirteen; Thirteen twelve-inch. 'Sin' and seven-inch A-side 'TV Producer' get roisterous in Takaka with Alan Wright on sax skronkings. The 'Swamp Dream' live rehearsal is murky-as motorik, like Sister Ray gets stripped-down and sweaty. Acoustic duet 'Good Things' could be a Kiwi Animal outtake. A couple tracks are just simple snippets of the best parts: 'Keeps on Coming' --which feels snotty and primitive like The Stones [NZ] -- starts suddenly, cuts abruptly.

Their originals are the best bits, but the tape finishes with a couple of covers of Lou Reed and The [Rolling] Stones.

[Note: There is a noisy tape glitch toward the end of the heavy, heavy, psych-groove 'Iron Pineapple'. I've done my best to splice the sound together. Not sure if the original tape was recorded that way (à la The Puddle's live records) or due to deterioration from earthquake liquefaction residue.]

Rough as guts, fucked up and sweet, familiar and a bit of strange. Highly recommended.

If I Kill You In My Passion

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Osterbergs - Freak Power (1990)

More licks from the unplumbed pockets of Mysterex maven Andrew Schmidt: the scritchy, shouty sounds of Detroit devotees The Osterbergs!

"The Osterbergs out of east Auckland were regulars at the Queen City's inner-city music dives in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, on the diverse bills of the time.

"Their wah-driven Stoogoid punk sound -- the guitar courtesy Mark Jones, anchored by drummer Shirley Charles and bass player/vocalist Paul E. Snake -- had an endearing, nagging charm, well captured on their only release for Auckland's Onslaught Records.

"The original trio of Shirley Charles (drums), Paul Edwards (bass/vocals) and Mark Jones (guitar) had been joined by Lance Strickland on second guitar, who broadened the songs and gave it an unscripted edge.

"Changing their name to Freak Power, the quartet would go on to support many like-minded touring groups, and release a ten-inch EP on Wildside Records."

The Osterbergs – Freak Power (Onslaught Records)

Side 1
Your Time
It Burns

Side 2
Strung Out

Rec’d by Matthew Heine at BFM in Auckland, 1990

Paul Edwards – bass/vocals
Lance Strickland – guitar
Mark Jones – guitar
Shirley James – drums

Borrowed Amps

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Vague Secrets - Vague Secrets (1985)

Sole album from Christchurch's Vague Secrets, and the first album to feature filmmaker John Chrisstoffels of The Terminals, The Renderers, et al. The same line-up backed Bill Direen as The Builders on 'Lovers' from C0NCH3.

Taut and rangy, with a tight rhythm section and a number of hip influences, they're sharp and smart but just faintly unfledged. Album opener 'Don't Come To Me' is post-punk-via-the-pub-circuit, but from the second track onward it's mostly earnest, slightly astringent, fairly elaborate pop along the lines of Blam Blam Blam, Thin Red Line, The World and The Orange. Perhaps it's piqued by the 'Vague' from the name, but amidst otherwise self-assurance there's a seeming hesitancy, a non-commital to form: wavering between Talking Heads-ish Caribbesque rhythms of 'Africa', straight-up drawling folk-pop with 'An Ending', and various other McGlashanisms before closing with a charming instrumental acoustic psych-pop miniature, chiming and peppy, the appropriately appointed 'Dunedin'.  All up, it's like a rich, evocative -- but somewhat frustrating -- early chapter from an unfinished story.

The pressing is on the edge of lo-fi. My copy is near pristine, but it's sometimes weedy, distorts easily, and some tracks sound practically mono.

Here come the vultures

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Don't Make Noise (1988-89)

Seemingly forgotten South Island free improv, ex three staunch avant-gardists in late 80s Christchurch.

Don't Make Noise - Don't Make Noise (1988)
The trio's debut s/t cassette, with Greg Malcolm on guitar and cello, Paul Sutherland on electronics, radio, tapes, shenai etc., and John Kennedy on drums and percussion. Side A opens with an Eastern European impression -- Malcolm on cello and Sutherland on shenai -- before moving into timeless non-jazz/non-jamband Western free improv: feedback, drones, toy piano, radio and electronics, alternating with playful, artful, instrumental flourishes. By the B side, there's no dismissing their seriousness -- reductionist, lockstepped, insistent, clamorous clangour -- before revisiting Radical-Yiddish strings and rusty-hinges, shimmering cymbals and wheezing seabirds on the last piece.


Don't Make Noise - This Is The Place (1989)
Second (final?) cassette from DMN, featuring Malcolm's future Breathing Cage bandmate Michael Kime on double bass on the A-sides. Fragile and considered gauzy bits alternate with trashy rockist shuffles, Sandoz Lab-esque & Art Ensemblish 'little instruments', samples, wailing amps and hissy-crackling Moondog minimalism. Thirty minute B-side live at the Robert McDougall is astonishingly accomplished, complex and riveting -- the type of improvisation which gets audiences asking if it's a composed piece.

Aside from their short lifespan and limited small-run releases, I can only guess at why Don't Make Noise never made it into the NZ Free Noise canon. Kennedy and Malcolm both have avant-pop backgrounds or foregrounds (Thin Red Line and Breathing Cage, respectively), and there are moments which are aesthetically perhaps too Downtown jazz-ish for the Le Jazz Non compilation (let alone a few years too early). Regardless of their obscurity, the strength of material on these two tapes -- off-centre, exciting, droll and elegant, and both more serious and farther out than contemporaneous recordings by The Dead C -- merits their re-listening and reappraisal.

They called it, 'The Sound Barrier'

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Paul Sutherland - Sea and Sun (1985)

A mid-solo-period C30 EP release by Christchurch-based Paul Sutherland of Into The Void, Don't Make Noise, and Les Baxters

Two sidelong improvisations of radio noise, electronic toys, tapes and layered tape loops and tape hiss and turntables and tape speed tricks, mechanical squeaks and percussive blasts -- all hard-panned, delayed and ping-ponging. At times a one-man-AMM felicitously iterating Reich's 'Piano Phase' and Riley's 'Music for the Gift'.

Slow and low-key, connoting robo-throat singing, ambient garage rock with an 808, hydrophone gamelan wind chimes, martial marches with cowboy bass lines and chirruping rewinds; with chance guest vocals from white noise-modulated Mockers and a chopped-up Maxwell H Brock from A Bucket of Blood. Gorgeously singular and highly recommended.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A David Watson Decade (1986 - 1996)

Co-founder of the Braille Label in 1984 and curator of the first altmusic festival in 2001, ex-Wellington improvisor David Watson has lived and worked in New York since the late 80s.

David Watson - Reference (1986)

An album of low-key beauty recorded the year before he left for NYC, Reference is what it says on the tin: a catalogue raisoneé laying out Watson's pluralistic thing. 'A Code' starts off with a lo-bit From Scratch-style sampled bamboo rhythm and a squall of squealing riffage multi-tracked with back-masked guitar drones. 'To Read A Cipher' follows, skipping between snippets of Fahey-like and Donald McPherson-esque acoustic noodling, while its counterpart 'To Write...' bellows Bailey-ish and bell-like with clockwork zithers. Side Two's ten minute epic 'The Arithmetic Symbol 0' opens with amp feedback and drastically stereo separated signal/delay, sidesteps into acoustic improv then on to microphone-on-strings, atmospheric slide and distant rhythms with rusty hinges. The urgent 'To Unravel' plays ping pong with bowed drones and volume swells, with hypnopompic bass and insistent muted-string-strumming snowballing into the reverb and squeaks of a background basketball gym. Pensive but never po-faced, there is a playfulness inherent in its experimentalism, much in the manner of Greg Malcolm

David Watson - Ribbons of Euphoria (1996)

This CD was produced by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 1996 for inclusion in its short-lived Midwest magazine. It includes four tracks for 3x bagpipe ensembles, for which Watson was commissioned by the DPAG to celebrate their relocation to a new building in the Octagon. Having worked in the centre of Dunedin for more than a decade I've gritted my teeth through entire weekends of competing pipe bands, but there's definitely dramatic power in what Watson describes as the 'real savagery in the sound of the pipes'. Ten years on from the earnest and retrospectively tentative charms of Reference, Watson's potent multi-tracked solo electric guitar works are more fully developed and realised, all serious and exciting, academic and musical. Tracks 'Delicious' and 'Candy' pit Tony Conrad vs Robert Fripp, while the expansive 'Steak Knife' is all that's great in his earlier works advanced with all that he's learned from his Downtown collaborators like album contributors Ikue Mori and Otomo Yoshihide. Includes scans of his interview with Midwest