(Mega Dodo BSLP 1)
Nobody who saw Brinsley Schwarz in concert, at least around the time that this was taped, could ever forgive history for the mess it’s made of their memory. Nick Lowe wrote their songs, Costello cut the definitive cover, and wasn’t there some kind of hype attached too? Yeah yeah yeah. But behind all that lay a band whose every moments might not have been golden, but who came close enough to perfection that… like Roogalator later in this column… the realms of British pub rock were never sufficient to hold them. The difference being, to many folk, Brinsley Schwarz defined pub rock, at least until the Feelgoods came along to recast it.
Brilliantly recorded, but unheard till now, Live Favourites catches Brinsley at the Top Rank in Cardiff on June 19, 1974, right around the release of their final album, New Favourites of… (hence the title).
That said, only a couple of songs (“Small Town Big City” and “Peace Love and Understanding”) slip off the latest platter; the remainder of the set (also hence the title) amounts to a veritable “best of” the Brinsleys, with the likes of “Happy Doing What We’re Doing,” “Surrender to the Rhythm” and “Country Girl” all scratching their heads and wondering why they’re not already the biggest hits on earth.
The mood of the show is relentlessly buoyant, though; this was a band who always seemed to be having a good time, and making sure that their audience did as well… by the time the show hits a triumphant “Juju Man,” and it’s time for us to head off home, you’re already counting the days until the next time you see them.
Sadly, after this, there wouldn’t be many more. Graham Parker hijacked most of the band; Lowe and Ian Gomm marched off for eventual solo success, and the history books opened to receive the band’s memory. This album is a reminder that we forgot the truth too soon.
Treasures Unissued 1973, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983
John Peel Radio Shows 1976-1983
(Legacy 27, 28 - available through iTunes)
It’s a good time to be a follower of Danny Adler’s long running, and oft-essential Legacy archive series. Sadly download only, but worth every megabyte it devours, Legacy has so far traced the Cincinnati superstar from the earliest known recordings of his teenaged self, through a half century sequence of highs and higher, unleashing out-takes and demos alongside some breathtaking live shows.
Now it turns its attention back to the era during which Adler and Roogalator truly seemed to have the world at their feet, with the UK music press lauding them as the Next Big Thing, and the pub rock scene already proving way too small for them. It was a thrilling, gripping, time, and while history would not, ultimately, allow them to take that next step - punk rock would reroute their musical thunder; Elvis Costello would doppelgang Adler’s public image - plugging these two discs into the download machine lets you relive that promise with gripping clarity.
Treasures Unissued kicks off with eight demos recorded in London, at Olympic and Chalk Farm Studios, in October and November 1975, but to call them demos is to do them a disservice. In any other life, this would have made up the heart of their debut album, a thunderous outburst of savage funk rock that thoroughly absorbs the band’s supersonic live sound and reroutes it for the loudest living room in the street.
And it’s only the beginning. Later in the disc, “Danny’s Guitar Rag” does exactly what you expect it to in a brief instrumental burst from 1973; a clutch of cuts from 1980 and 1983 prove that his chops were just as hot a decade later; and half a dozen tracks from 1977 capture the band as it was gearing up, at last, towards a debut LP.
All sparkle with the ingenuity that hallmarks so much of the Legacy series, but Volume 27 should not be played in isolation; Volume 28, drawing from Adler’s remarkable cache of BBC recordings, opens with another vital burst of primal Roogalator, two sessions for John Peel in 1976 (the first, in remixed form, was excerpted for the band’s Stiff Records debut 45), three further performances from 1977 and then, again, a couple of odds from the early 1980s.
Once more, the sheer electric fury of Roogalator is painted across the disc, including a best-ever take on “Sweet Mama Kundalini,” recorded immediately after the band learned that Elvis Presley had died that same night; and a lurching “Walking in the Heat.”
The nature of the two albums, of course, ensures there’s a fair amount of duplication among the titles - two takes apiece of “Tasty,” “Ride with the Roogalator,” and “Cincinnati Fatback,” three of “Walkin’ In The Heat.” But there is so little evidence available today of how mighty a monster the early (1975/76 era) Roogalator was, and not much more to testify to later incarnations, that repetition is simply a reminder of the glories you can never get enough of. Ride on!
Rupture of Planes
(Deep Water DW046)
Prana Crafter is multi-instrumentalist William Sol, recording in the woods of Washington, and delivering a gentle acoustic smorgasbord that might remind you of sundry late sixties/early seventies troubadours, but hey - that’s a good thing. Or it would have been, if they’d opened their soundscapes as widely as Sol.
The project’s name hints at an eastern influence, lyrically if not musically, but the eclecticism here draws deep from the landscape in which it was carved; gaps within notes like clearings between the trees, and the darkness always close to hand, echoing through the extended atmosphere that is the instrumental “Diamond Cutter Of The Jagged Mountain”; the loping foot-tappability of the title track; the soft caress of “Tara, Do You Remember The Way?”… if you want to play a really good trick on your snobbiest friends, slap an old Elektra or Vanguard label on the CD and make them guess who it is. Because that’s how great it is.
But better yet, don’t tell them anything. For there are sounds in the forest that you’ve never heard before, and Rupture of Planes knows exactly what to do with them.
Victories at Sea
It’s the New Order… revival? Resurgence? Revision? Whatever. Hailing from Birmingham, England, Victories at Sea are one of those bands that first exposure insists have spent a lot of time wrapped in early eighties electro, but which repeated listens are more likely to line up alongside the National - arch architects of retro earworms, but so firmly encased in a sense of now that they ultimately march to drum of their own delightful beating.
Besides, half of Victories at Sea's press seems to compare them to Mogwai, and the rest wraps them up in the shoegazing movement. So you should never believe what you read.
Ten tracks pulse, pound and push into your consciousness; it’s the kind of album that you leave on while you’re doing something else, only to spend most of your time hitting the rewind button to make sure you heard what you think you did. If “Up” had turned up on the last Depeche album, you’d accuse them of making their best record in a long time, but that’s only because you’ve always wanted to hear them dance on a spastic motorik; if the near instrumental “DMC” was playing while you reminisced about Propaganda, then that band would have been as great as they should have been.
And so on through an ultimately tiresome, but indicative litany of names you thought you’d forgotten about, for an album that hits every electropop button you’d want it to, while refusing to be ground down by any expectations whatsoever.
Tune Up Your Ministers and Start Transmission from Pool Holes to Class O Hypergiants
(Fruits de Mer, Friends of the Fish 5)
The debut album by one of Fruits de Mer’s most mysterious regulars… blessed with one of its most mysterious titles… Tune Up catches the former Yordan Orchestra mainstay marching firmly forward through what feels, on first listen, like a sprawl of a dozen different songs playing at once, while guitars lock into howling frenzy, percussion replays side four of the Mothers’s Freak Out, and Ellister’s vocals wander in and out, dropping a lyric here, a phrase there, a lovely slice of imagery some place else.
And then, suddenly it all makes sense. Drama amidst the discordance, beauty within the barrage… raising its head above the clatter of “Wishmachine,” “Old South” is an evocative ballad of seafaring imagery; droning on sinister whispers and chimes, “Calm Adapter” is the ideal corollary to the mutli-layered psychodrama of “Saddle Up The Horse”; and moving into the closing stretch, “Curator” is the soundtrack to a haunted house, if the ghosts were replaced by the sounds of industry, floating into the defiant near-monotone of “A Hunter Needs A Gun”.
It's an album that you daren’t turn your back on for a moment, because who knows what it’ll be planning when you do. Brutally brittle, howling, cajoling… if Chrome had ever set about remaking A Saucerful of Secrets, without actually listening to the Floyd’s prototype, it would probably have sounded a lot like this. A unique vision, an eccentric squalling, Tune Up Your Ministers and Start Transmission from Pool Holes to Class O Hypergiants might well be the most ferociously individualistic album you’ll hear all year.
The Left Outsides
The Shape of Things to Come
Sold out on vinyl, but vibrant still on download and CD, the latest album by the UK’s Left Outsides is a glorious romp through the brighter end of the acid folk spectrum, a succession of effortlessly melodic songs whose eye for sixties influence is nevertheless tempered by a refusal to simply roll over and have their belly rubbed by fashion.
Rather, its understated loveliness has a seductive gleam that haunts whichever dreams you choose to point at it, with the ethereal “To Where Your Footsteps Led” as much a duet for viola and voicelessness as it is a ballad that other ears have compared to Trees or even Trespass-era Genesis.
Vocals throughout are split between the two band members, Alison Cotton and Mark Nicholas, with the latter handling the more overtly trad-oriented pieces, while Cotton runs free across the album’s ambition - a mood conjured not only by the instrumentation (which, throughout, is exemplary) but also by harmonies and arrangements that rarely allow a song to follow the direction you might be expecting. “Unopened Letters And Unanswered Calls” sounds like it could be riding with the British Invasion; “Deep Rivers Move In Silence, Shallow Brooks Are Noisy” lures you in with its title alone, then leaves you remembering the theme to Rosemary’s Baby.
That Cotton’s viola is a lead player throughout much of the conspiracy is no surprise - there are few instruments that share its left field shadow, no matter who happens to be wielding it. But draw it out of the same kind of corners that John Cale used to inhabit on Nico’s early albums, and you welcome in the Left Outsides, firmly in the knowledge that they won’t be leaving again.
Dead Sea Apes
(Sunrise Ocean Blender SOB 007)
The vinyl incarnation of an album also available (on CD) through Cardinal Fuzz, Spectral Domain catches the most magnificent Dead Sea Apes in rambunctious temper - it’s third album time, but the opening “Universal Interrogator” sounds like they’ve been waiting a lifetime to inflict these sounds on you, building slowly on drones and military percussion, an impenetrable wall of wordless fuzz and merciless freakery combined in a bolero that simply doesn’t stop. Well, not for ten minutes, anyway, by which time all forms of resistance are useless, and the Apes are ready to serve the second course.
“True Believers,” too, heads close to ten minutes, and again it starts slowly, gently… only this time, it stays that way. Something is building, that much is obvious. But the minutes tick by and too late do you realize that the volume is soaring too, riding a guitar that had too much to dream, to smash towards a crescendo that you’ve been expecting all along, and which still manages to surprise you.
Flip the disc over and there’s more in the same vein, proof positive that the Apes might merely be the latest heirs to a throne that’s been sat in by a succession of names that reaches from the Velvets to the best of Earth… but, like them, they’ve brought their own bottles to the party. “The Unclosing Eye” is rhythmic rain falling on your unprotected brain; “Brought to Light,” at a mere four minutes, is impossibly brief by current standards, and all the more shocking because of that; and then it’s “Sixth Side of the Pentagon,” which borrows half a bass riff from “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” but has a whole different destination in mind.
This is psychedelic mayhem at its rare and rawest pinnacle; the sort of album you want to play outside, on a summer evening in deepest suburbia, to make your neighbors think there’s a free festival taking place just outside of eyeshot. And if you replace the pool lights with a strobe, you can really scare the pants off them