Thursday, May 20, 2010

3 quick ones

The wealth of post-war electric blues can at times be a bit much to fathom. That’s why some folks elect to stay with the established classics, such as the stuff on the Chess, Trumpet and Aladdin labels, for just three instances. And that’s not an unwise attitude to take if yr tastes are diverse and yr time is valuable. But it doesn’t paint the whole picture. The compilation COOL PLAYING BLUES CHACAGO STYLE does indeed shed light upon and deepen the pool that casts the refection of ‘50s amplified blues, consisting of sides cut for the Parrot label in the middle portion of that decade. Most of this disc was unissued at the time of recording, but I suspect that had more to with the economics involved and not the quality of the sounds. However, if you’re rigid in yr disdain of horn sections as an unnecessary intrusion into the wild transference of energy that was the electrification of the blues, you might want to skip this one. That’s not my bag, but I do tend to prefer my blues raw and unfettered from the tendencies of streamlining, so this disc wasn’t a personal mindblower. It does go down well enough though, the best of the bunch belonging to Curtis Jones, whose use of horns feels natural (possibly the result of a working band) and not grafted on in an attempt to increase commercial appeal. Jody Williams has a nice uptown B.B. King-ish feel, L.C. McKinley’s tracks seem to hearken back to the booming echo-laden sound of the Chess Brothers’ Aristocrat releases (where guitars, pianos and horns often blended in a nicely rudimentary fashion), and on one tune tenor sax player Nature Boy Brown’s Muddy Water’s-like vocals create an appealing clash with his band’s favored blend of jazzy-R & B (his other two tracks are instrumentals). But yes, this is still a very hornified affair. And as such it lacks the impact of being slapped on the pate by the primal scorch of say, early Elmore James. But that’s alright. And the Jo Jo Adams’ cuts apparently feature arrangements by Sonny Blount, aka Sun Ra. WHOA!!!

Because I am what some consider a stick in the mud, I prefer early Cure to almost any other type of Cure. SEVENTEEN SECONDS isn’t the band’s oldest stuff, but it is the beginning of what I (and others) consider the group’s most fertile period. Never as doomy and depressing as some folks made them out to be (particularly in contrast with any ‘80s Swans, for just one example), they were staking out territory that combined pop, post-punk, and studied atmospherics in a stridently non-smiling way that was markedly different from the more late-night horror-movie infused aesthetic of fellow U.K.-ers Bauhaus. Oh well, the press still tagged The Cure as gothic. But that’s because they were fucking lazy. I’ll confess that I never started really listening to this band in earnest until my late 20s (though they were in semi-constant rotation in my high school years at parties and during car rides); before that, they always seemed too refined for me, especially in contrast to the brilliance of Joy Division, who nailed me to the wall the first time I heard them. I can intuit a lot of Joy Div in this record (particularly in the placement of the bass guitar in the schema of the band’s sound), more so than on any post-MOVEMENT New Order release in fact, but I can also hear a band attempting to bring its own collective identity to the table. And yes, refinement. The Cure were surely post-punk, but they weren’t raw or antagonistic. Accessibility was part of the band’s M.O. from the start (I mean seriously, give me an example of a more catchy woe-is-me mope-fest than “Boys Don’t Cry”), and this album commences a trio of records that combine that approachable sensibility with a seriousness of intent that refutes their reputation as just college radio hit-makers. This is a fine LP that at its best finds them proffering a catchy, multi-layered and deceptively edgy plod. Play this between Siouxsie and the Banshees’ ONCE UPON A TIME: THE SINGLES and Bauhaus’ IN A FLAT FIELD (a couple of classics, in retrospect) and you’ll have the soundtrack to at least a half dozen nights of my late teenage life. Nice to know I can appreciate it more now than I did then.

SUN ARK, Sun Araw’s newish 7’’ on the Not Not Fun label is a fine spectacle. “Bump Up (High Step)” is an extended tour of a blissed-out zone that feels equally indebted to low-fi bubblegum dub and tinny, street corner psychedelia. It’s a sweet blend of expansiveness and repetition, fuzzy and druggy, but with an irresistible (some might say nagging) pulse that never deviates from start to finish. Layers of gonky organ junk proliferate as the track motivates into the eternal consciousness, insuring that the sonic whole builds in intensity, but the track never really shakes its feel as hypothetical soundtrack music for a video game that’s object is to save the world while simultaneously getting thoroughly and unapologetically stoned. Sound(s) like fun(?) If this reads to you like some sort of retro trip - on one hand kinda, but on the other most emphatically NO. Grace Slick will hate it, but Phil Lesh will likely understand. Side two, “Live Mind”, is much more heavily drenched in dub syrup, but there is just as much wheedling and woozy organ, substantial levels of blunted boom-chacka guitar progressions and a slick fabric of cyclical rhythmic bursts. Vocal textures arrive, though they wisely avoid the limitations of language. It’s no surprise that a flute momentarily emerges from the mix. Like much of the current underground, Sun Araw is fairly prolific, and it’s clear that the man behind the title (Magic Lantern member Cameron Stallones) is quite welcoming of what many perceive as archaic technology in both the overall aural whoosh of his project and also in the manner of documentation, since a sizable portion of that output has been released on cassette. Mighty keen, I say. This baby is a vinyl single however, a limited edition of 500, and most likely already sold out. MP3s do exist, and if you are well stroked by the sounds of Panda Bear, High Places or label-mates Ducktails, you should seek Sun Araw out, bask in the rewards, and then tip yr cap in the vicinity of Augustus Pablo and Albert Hoffman for helping to set this delicious mess into motion.

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