Reviews: Dodson & Fogg, Luke Haines, Sendelica, the Lafayette Afro Rock Band, the Bordellos, Richard Pinhas, Eva Cassidy, Folk Devils, Pete Townshend

1Dodson and Fogg

White House on the Hill

(Wisdom Twins)

There’s something oddly compulsive about Dodson and Fogg albums, which is just as well – this is the contrarily-named one man outfit’s third album this year, and what a glorious potpourri it is.

As faintly-folky as any album layered in acoustic guitars and frenetic fiddle can be, it’s a campfire singalong for Nick Drake fans, every track spilling out a fresh “best yet” melody – at least until you run into the grinding guitar block that is “The Giant,” which you need to listen to very loudly, preferably after getting lost in a swamp.

Toyah Wilcox makes a thrilling guest appearance on the bouncy-castle buoyant “Drinking from the Gun,” and the ghost of Kevin Ayers is invoked by “Hay Fever in June.”  But this is Dodson and Fogg’s own album throughout, a dozen songs of leaf-fall and glowering sunlight that do more to set you up for the impending change-of-seasons than any other album this month, and which conclude with the epic “Lily and the Moonlight,” which sounds exactly like its title.

Yet another triumph.

 

1Luke Haines

Smash the System

(Cherry Red)

Across the last twenty-plus years, Luke Haines has established himself as probably the most important British songwriter of his generation – at least if you believe the likes of Peter Hammill and TV Smith occupied that same lofty role in previous decades.  That he has achieved this with no more “chart success” than he racked up during the early part of his career, via the Auteurs and Black Box Recorder, is no surprise, of course.  Even collectors can get lost within the intricacies of his discography; what chance at all do the pop kids have as they set out in search of a new “Lenny Valentino”?

Smash the System, it says here, is Haines’s first non-concept album in six years, although that fact is neither here nor there.  No less than its predecessors, it packs a musical coherence that is as sharp as it is lingering, and if the opening “Ulrike Meinhof’s Brain is Missing” sends your ears whirling back to his Baader Meinhof alias of old, then that only amplifies Haines’s own commitment to the seventies-centric world view that has always informed his writing.  A world in which moods, not moments, are hauled out of memory, having first been twisted through Haines’s personal obsessions.  To whit, the latest in Haines’s on-going series of tributes to his teenaged fandom:

“The Incredible String Band

“Were an unholy act

“They sang like a couple of weasels

“Trapped in a sack….

“And I loved them….”

Elsewhere, he delves into the occult undercurrents that are such a motivating force behind the current wyrd folk revival, but with an electronic aggression that feels more like the Banshees howling “Metal Postcard” than anything you’d probably expect from that description; and then he lionizes the Bomber Jacket that he purchased one Saturday afternoon, before drifting into an evocative slice of teenaged urban menace.  And finally, we “Smash the System,” which is an eighties electro dance twelve inch slashed to a couple of minutes in length, and falling in love with the Monkees.

If you’ve followed Haines thus far, you already know you need this album.  If you haven’t… as with the aforementioned Hammill and Smith… you have to start somewhere, and this is a good place to do it.  You’ll be picking up the rest of them soon enough.

 

3Sendelica

The Pavilion Of Magic And The Trials Of The Seven Surviving Elohim

(Sunhair – Germany)

There’s a bewildering variety of versions of this one, most of which have probably already sold out, but are worth making a note of regardless.  There’s the CD, there’s the double splatter vinyl, and the yellow and black wax as well.  There’s a box set with chocolates, and a deluxe box, too.And there’s a twenty-one strong digital discography which climaxes with this set and which, more than any of those other permutations, looms as a reminder of just how vital Sendelica are.

Space Rock is a tricky beast to harness.  Even in its early seventies prime, its primal practitioners could never be trusted, always stopping off at different points to mess with something else entirely.  And, if you ever picked them up on the fact, they’d light another doobie and say “hey man, you can’t keep flying forever.”  Or something.

Sendelica can.  Remember when the space race was something exciting and novel?  They do.  Remember those books you read as a kid, that described how a voyage to even the closest star would involve a rocket trip of several hundred thousand years?  They do.  And remember when you wondered what a journey like that would sound like?

They do.  Like the albums before it, and those that are still to come, The Pavilion of Magic is the sound of a continuing journey, bleeding out of the last album and into the next with a fresh array of unknown landscapes, unseen comets, unheard languages, unimaginable colors.  It’s the soundtrack to a void that is alive with sound and vision, an immutable whole made of ever-shifting parts.  Music for driving into darkness to…and driving and driving and driving.

Join the journey now.

 

4The Lafayette Afro Rock Band vs Ice

Afro Funk Explosion

(Manifesto)

Although its day in the commercial sun was relatively brief, there’s no denying that the Afro Funk explosion of the early-mid seventies remains among the key blueprints in modern R&B, whether its via the music’s own absorption into the mainstream funk and disco arenas, or through more recent incursions by the sampling brigade.

Indeed, the Lafayette Afro Rock Band itself was all but forgotten until Public Enemy transformed their “Darkest Light” into a key element in “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got,” which itself was revisited by  Jay Z… and now this collection arrives, to retell the story both of the LARB, and their alternate incarnation of Ice.  And a great swathe of lost funk history explodes on your doorstep with frenetic, irresistible glee.

A total of twenty-one tracks draw from both band names’ career – most famously, perhaps, via “Darkest Light” and three cuts from LARB’s 1973 opus Soul Makossa – widely regarded as the only reinvention of the Manu Dibango title track that ever matched the original.  But it also digs into the archive for odd singles, occasional compilations and LARB’s 1976 collaboration with Crispy & Co.   And throughout, it’s a fabulous set, a horn and beat laden behemoth that never stands still… and probably won’t allow you to, either.

 

5The Bordellos

Gary Glitter

(Bandcamp)

It’s probably not the trendiest thing to do, writing a song about Gary Glitter – particularly now he’s probably better known as a sex criminal than the man who wrote the soundtrack to every great American sporting event of the past forty-plus years.

But that’s the dichotomy, isn’t it.  Do an artist’s crimes outweigh his triumphs, and wipe his contributions from the history books?  In which case, there’s a helluvalot more legends to boycott while we’re burning our copies of Touch Me.  Or do we accept that loving the music has nothing at all to loving the lifestyle of its maker?

That is the lesson that roars out of the Bordellos’ latest EP, a four track slab of fuzz, grime and noise that is indeed as exhilarating as the best of its titular hero’s oldies, but only if you feed them first through a musical mincer that grinds your ears to parchment, then spray paints disconnected slogans across your consciousness.

“Would the Beatles have made Revolver if they had to hold down steady jobs?” asks “Free Download Generation”; are records better now that bands have stopped putting killer b-sides on the back of their latest hit, asks “Attack of the Killer B-Sides”?  And then there’s “Disco Pants,” which is exactly what it ought to be with a title like that.  All of it, all four tracks, set to a soundtrack that sounds like Billy Childish jamming Stone Roses with a very angry Joy Division, while Shadow Morton throws the mixing desk out of a tenth floor window.

The Bordellos have always been brilliant.  But right now, they might be even brilliant-er.  Which isn’t a word, but who cares?

 

1

Process and Reality

Richard Pinhas & Barry Cleveland [Featuring: Michael Manring & Celso Alberti]

Mu

(both Cuneiform)

Two new albums from the legendary Pinhas, and two whole new vistas to explore – the first of which, Process and Reality, is ignited by a firestorm of percussion and power before easing into the thirty-six minute “TVJ 33,” an epic of agitated ambience that chases what its makers regard as the collapse of modern society through what others have called a Franco-Japanese noise summit.

It’s an album that demands all the ears you have at your disposal, a disquieting commentary upon the relentless waves of turmoil and terror that seem to be hallmarking modern Europe.   “A musician is doing what he’s doing when he’s doing it,” Pinhas explained at the album’s launch. “All your thoughts, everything you do is the result of the historical time where you’re living. The mood is changing and we’re heading toward something very chaotic. The music I’ve been doing over the last several years is trying to be a reflection of this chaos and void that we’re coming to.”

6Yet there are no words.  Rather, it is Yoshida’s poetic percussion that tells the story, a cataclysm of beat behind which guitar and electronics offer sharp-edged illumination and dystopian drama – moods that shift neither through the following “TVJ 66” nor the so-called “quiet finale” of “TVJ 77.”  It’s a shattering experience from start to finish, and the shift to Pinhas’s second release, Mu, barely allows any respite.

Searching briefly for a pigeonhole, you could call Mu avant-garde world music, a potpourri of rhythms and disciplines, sounds and sensations, that in other hands might have illustrated a new age travelogue.

But Pinhas and Cleveland started twisting their vision long before that possibility arose, and with Manring and Alberti stepping in for post production, melting and melding the soundscapes into a universe of their own, Mu emerges an electrifying voyage through both philosophies and fascinations of overwhelming sonic possibilities.

 

7Eva Cassidy

Nightbird

(Blix Street)

Twenty years on from 1996’s Live at Blix Alley; two decades, too, after the world discovered Eva Cassidy on the very eve of her death that same year, the full thirty-one song Blix Alley performance finally sees release, to restate (if such a thing is even required) the power of the finest female blues singer of her generation.

In January 1996, Cassidy was a veteran unknown when she played two nights at the small Georgetown night club that gave the album its name, self-financing the recording for her own steadfastly loyal, if stubbornly small following.  A dozen tracks made up the original album; seven more have since appeared on subsequent Cassidy albums. Now all thirty-one are brought together, alongside the solitary studio track that completed the original LP, and it is breathtaking.

Her band is deft, layering nothing more than is necessary behind her; it’s Cassidy’s show, and Cassidy’s voice that dominates, be it almost sobbing through an impassioned “Ain’t No Sunshine,” wiping out almost any other version you’ve ever heard; kicking out a just-about- jazzy rearrangement of “Route 66”; or delivering a heartbreakingly soulful “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

The “Cockleshells Turn Silver Bells” variation of the folk song “Waly Waly” (“one I’ve been wanting to do for a really long time”) is enacted as stark piano and voice; but “Take Me To The River” kicks funky butt from start to finish.  So, perhaps surprisingly, does Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” and that despite being rendered the gorgeous love song that always lurked beneath the coif and cackle of its creator.  Indeed, the entire performance, which thus translates to the entire album, is utterly spellbinding, an album that not only transports you back to the night, but also to a host of different eras as well.  Magical.

 

8Folk Devils

Beautiful Monsters (Singles and Demo Recordings 1984-1986)

(Optic Nerve)

Rising from the wreckage of Ian Lowery’s last band, Ski Patrol, belligerent blues thrashed through a distinctly post-post punk wave of agitated rhythms and swamp-swamped guitars, Folk Devils were a band that you either loved… or had never heard of.

Always the bridesmaid when they went out to play (the liner notes recall gigs opening for the Fall, Nick Cave, Gun Club and Spaceman Three), Folk Devils’ overall sound falls into at least a few of those bags, and while internecine squabbling ensured that there would be little time for anything more than a few singles, still it’s difficult not to wonder where they might have wound up, had they only stayed together longer.  Lowery’s later career offers a few hints, of course.  But still the Devils had an edge that was utterly, deliriously, their own.

As its title suggests, this package brings together a healthy helping of the familiar and the unknown alike. Both sides of their debut single, “Hank Turns Blue”/“Chewing the Flesh,” open the show; followed by the eight songs spread across the “Beautiful Monster” and Fire and Chrome EPs.   From there, we slip into eight demos, all previously unreleased in any form, and capturing the band cutting even more manic shapes than the singles.  It’s devastating stuff and, paired with the band’s BBC sessions CD (which also includes their fourth and final single, “The Best Protection”), it means we’re probably as close to the full Folk Devils story as we’re ever going to get.

Unless, of course, there’s a live show out there?

 

9Pete Townshend’s Deep End

Face the Face

(Eagle Vision)

A terrific package, a two disc delight that matches the video for Pete Townshend’s 1986 Rockpalast German TV broadcast with a CD of much the same show, and reminds us that Dave Gilmour isn’t only that guy out of Pink Floyd.  He was a member of the Townshend crew too, and his performance here is as superlative as any he turned out with his day job.  Just, shall we say, a little more restrained.

Born out of Townshend’s White City album, Deep End sensibly concentrate on that album – four of the fifteen tracks hail from there.  But still there’s room for the expected handful of Who gems, opening with a six minute “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which has DG’s signature sound all over it; and turning in “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Pinball Wizard” too.

Gilmour drops his own “Blue Light” into the show, while a wild “I Put a Spell On You” and a frenetic “Night Train” remind us of Townshend’s then-penchant for throwing all manner of oldies into the show (absent from here, his “Harlem Shuffle” was an impeccable delight).  There’s also a manic romp through “Rough Boys,” a Townshend take on “After the Fire,” which he wrote for the solo Roger Daltrey, and “The Sea Refuses No River,” seldom noted within any traditional poll of PT’s finest compositions, but deserving of that honor regardless.

Likewise, Deep End is scarcely the best remembered of Townshend’s manifold solo projects.  But this release might well see that determination revised.

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