Archive for the Post Punk Category

FUNKY NASSAU : THE COMPASS POINT STORY

Posted in Compilations, Post Punk, Punk Funk, Soul/Disco on June 23, 2008 by bangtheparty

On the surface, this compilation is intended to be a broad rundown of a specific studio’s output– that of Compass Point, the Bahamian outpost established by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and manned by a who’s who of reggae session players including the ace production team/rhythm section of Sly & Robbie. But it might as well be a symposium on the polyglot tendencies that made the dance underground of the first half of the 1980s so unpredictably rich in ideas. Name a genre that either established itself or peaked in the late 70s or early 80s– electro-funk, disco, reggae, dub, post-punk, old-school hip-hop– and it’s represented in the music on this compilation, rarely without being comfortably fused to another genre to spectacular effect.

The most well-known cuts on Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story 1980-1986 might as well be shorthand for this type of fusion– Tom Tom Club’s chirpy, blissed-out Caribbean/new wave/rap pastiche “Genius of Love”, Talking Heads’ jittery Afrobeat-inflected digital rave-up “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”, and an extended version of Ian Dury’s BBC-banned “Spasticus Autisticus”, which retorted to Britain’s patronizing declaration of 1981 as “Year of the Disabled” with Spartacus-lifted shouts of solidarity, bitingly arch lyrics (“So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin/ And thank the creator you’re not in the state I’m in”) and a vertigo-inducing bass/synth interplay. There’s just one baffling decision in the famous names department– instead of something from the superb Nightclubbing, Grace Jones’ tenure at Compass Point is represented by the digital reggae of “My Jamaican Guy”, and the combination of her flat singing and the gradual tedium of its seven-minute extended mix makes for an unexciting way to open the compilation.

But Funky Nassau gets better in a hurry, thanks not just to the usual post-punk suspects but also due to the fringe artists, obscurities, and ostensible novelty records (emphasis on novel) that fill out the bulk of the collection. There are two tracks that, thanks largely to house music pioneer François Kevorkian, prove to be the collection’s most surprising highlights. Cuban-born Guy Cuevas’ 1982 France-exclusive “Obsession” piles glimmering keyboards on top of a Bernard Edwards-caliber bassline and comes up with a late-disco gem that sounds triangulated between Havana, Paris, and NYC. And the Kevorkian mix of “Dance Sucker”, the 1983 debut single from Scottish obscurities Set the Tone, sounds like a uprocker’s take on a circa-1988 Nine Inch Nails demo, with a lead singer belting out sneering Reznor-isms (and the occasional Nic Offer-ism) over a packed wall of electro.

Where most of the tracks on Funky Nassau breathe free with loose-jointed smoothness, disco deconstructionist Cristina’s “You Rented a Space” is a claustrophobic slab of electronic dub where the percolating bass and the staggering but sure-footed rhythms practically corner you in a hallway and breathe down your neck. (Cristina’s decadently sly voice knows better, and aims directly at your inner ear: “Your lovin’ is as cold as the cold clasp of death.”) And then there’s Bits & Pieces– basically Sly & Robbie working under an alias- – cranking out a playful but heavy cover of Yarbrough & Peoples’ 1980 hit “Don’t Stop the Music”, replicating its fuzzed-out synth-funk faithfully but throwing in a subtle reggae backbeat and, for kicks, a few likeably daft rap lyrics about hairstyles. The Compass Point sound proved that the sound of the Caribbean could cover just about anywhere– and, at the same time, helped create music that couldn’t have come from anywhere else.

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GUY CUEVAS – Obsession

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THE POP GROUP

Posted in Post Punk, THE POP GROUP on April 1, 2008 by bangtheparty

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When The Pop Group first came onto the scene in late 1978 they were being hailed in the UK press as one of the saviours of rock and roll, and with good reason as the group’s music made almost everything being created at the time seem old hat over night. The Pop Group’s debut single “She Is Beyond Good and Evil” released in 1979 was an instant classic and one of the landmark recordings of the 1970’s, it was a seething tense piece of aggressive funk/punk/dub/free jazz that demanded attention.

It sounded like nothing in the world at the time of it’s release and gave me the same feeling as when I heard Public Image Ltd.’s first single, it seemed to hint at endless possibilties for rock and roll. The B side “3:38” should also mentioned this was a pulverizing dose of mind-numbing dub that seemed to look ahead to Pop Group lead singer Mark Stewart’s trailblazing work in the 80’s with Mafia. A CD re-issue of “Y” in 1996 strangely omitted this great track from the release, WHY?

Anyway the original release of “Y” opened with a stick of dynamite called “Thief of Fire” which was the group at it’s best, this is a blistering ride through the bushes of Viet-Nam highlighted by Simon Underwood’s funk/dub bass playing, the twin Beefheart guitar attack of Gareth Sager and John Waddington, and Mark Stewart’s shrieking “my face is on fire” vocals, Sager also provides some squealing saxophone in the song’s mid section.

I remember a Melody Maker piece on the group around the time of the release of this album where the band admitted to listening to loads of King Tubby and Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz” while they recorded the album, which makes perfect sense.

The next track on the album is a very experimental piece called “Snow Girl” which is driven by some Cecil Taylor type piano, shotgun blasts of guitar from Waddington and Sager and gutwrenching bass slaps by Underwood, Stewart provides a bizarre but strangely catchy vocal.

The next track is the truly frightening “Blood Money” which is a nightmare soundscape where Stewart screams bloody murder in the background, he seems to be screaming about spiders being all over his chest, he sounds like Damo Suzuki on that track on Can’s “Tago Mago” where Damo seems like he’s being tortured, the music on “Blood Money” is thrilling it’s a real meltdown of all the instruments into one, Gareth Sager plays some sax lines that sound like the bagpipe wizard Rufus Harley.

“We Are Time” is my favorite track on the record and comes at you like a commando raid on your brain, this track is truly terrifying and singer Stewart sounds like he is coming out of his own skin, the guitar playing by Sager and Waddington is dazzling. The group then throws you a big league curveball called “The Savage Sea” this one opens with an almost melodic piano and it could almost be a Pop Group ballad!, Stewart is a little more restrained on this number, I think the piano part was nicked by The Teardrop Explodes on their great B-side “Window Shopping For A New Crown Of Thorns” and The Pop Group’s influence can also be felt on the Teardrops other freakout B-side “Strange House In The Snow”.

“Words Disobey Me” is another wildly experimental piece in the style of “Blood Money”. “Don’t Call Me Pain” opens with a sax riff that sounds like it is being played by Traffic’s Chris Wood, on this one Stewart screams “Don’t Call Me Pain, My Name Is Mystery” and who am I to doubt him, the song is wrapped up with a fine free jazz baching track. With “The Boys From Brazil” it’s back to free jazz territory, again Sager’s sax reminds one of Chris Wood while Underwood plays a great funky bass riff, the guitars collide with each other at the end and it is just plain awesome.

The record finishes with a stripped down dirge called “Don’t Sell Your Dreams” where Stewart sounds totally spent and on the verge of collapse, the musical backing is superb, full of space and it reminds me of the Pharoah Sanders group on “Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt” the guitar playing is full on Sonny Sharrock!, the record then just fades quietly into oblivion leaving you feeling totally drained.

After playing “Y” you wonder how the group ever hoped to top it, they never did, but their second album was great as well but just not as good as “Y”, few albums are. The Pop Group finished in 1981 and splintered into groups like Rip, Rig and Panic, The New Age Steppers and most importantly Mark Stewart and Mafia, Stewart really carried the flame from the original Pop Group and much of his work with Mafia is on par with the best of The Pop Group yet his records have been totally ignored.

“Y” is the best place to start to get to know the music of Mark Stewart and company, in my opinion it’s one of the most original and inspiring records ever made.

AU PAIRS

Posted in AU PAIRS, Post Punk on April 1, 2008 by bangtheparty

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The Au Pairs are one of those bands that aren’t imprinted on the mainstream but are regularly hailed by artists as an influence (and DJs David Holmes and Richard Fearless hold a candle for them). They split in 1982 but have been name-dropped by a number of scenes – riot grrrl, US alt. rock (starting with The Pixies) gay and lesbian punks and more recently by punk funk revivalists – Chicks on Speed, DFA, Rapture, etc. Even Greil Marcus would haul them back from the dead: there is a chapter on them in his rock crit epic In The Fascist Bathroom. The Au Pairs are more than a little mythic.

They came from Birmingham (three of them anyway) and in total there were four Au Pairs: Lesley Woods (vocals and guitars) Jane Munro (bass), Pete Hammond (drums) and Paul Foad (guitar and vocals). They lasted for just three years and recorded two studio LPs: ‘Playing With A Different Sex’ (which got to number 10 in the LP charts) and ‘Sense and Sensuality’. ‘Playing’ is a classic album or near miss (in the Hornby and MOJO sense of things) and ‘Sense’ is patchy but when it shines the record comes on like a comet.

They are one of those bands that found their own sound – something that shifts between forms – from reggae (upbeat dance rather than experimental dub) to punk and funk. They are often close to ESG with tough, bare drums and raw, physical bass. Jane says she never heard ESG but was influenced by Tina Weymouth. Hammond says they were into punk, dub and The JBs. When The Au Pairs rock it’s not completely cock-less (like contemporaries The Raincoats) but part of the punk attempt to reinvent the sound. Hammond recalls: “The main criteria was not to use any kind of cliché in the sense we never had a guitar solo as such – that was deemed too masturbatory. And anytime we did have a break it was a rhythm break.”

One reason The Au Pairs sound distinctive is that singer Lesley Woods had a unique and astonishing voice. At the beginning of their career on self-financed single ‘You’ (a high-speed fuck-off stomper) she’s tres punk and a bit mannered, but as the band progressed she became as beautiful and potent a singer as Tim Buckley or KD Laing. But she always maintained a punk-era voice with a modern (for 1979) energy – a fury. Writing in the NME in 1980 Paul Morley said Lesley’s voice: “can be everything – solemn, intense, shattered, exuberant, vulnerable.” It’s her voice, he writes, that lifts The Au Pairs “into greatness.”

The Au Pairs ‘period’ of 1979 to 1982 is the time of The Specials, ‘London Calling’, ‘Metal Box’, Rock Against Racism, Rock Against Sexism, skinhead beatings, Trident, SPG, riots in Bristol, the peace camp at Greenham Common, the first Gay Pride march in London, Grandmaster Flash and the birth of hip-hop. And also the deaths of Sid Vicious, Ian Curtis and Bob Marley. It’s a period when youth was said to be allied to anger rather than apathy or culture/materialism. And the ‘gig’ was the flashpoint for information and meaning – there were leaflets given out at gigs, stabbings at gigs, riots at gigs. The Au Pairs kept an ‘open’ backstage to meet people at gigs.

“You could have a go at attacking issues through music because there were places to play for bands,” says Hammond. He describes a now vanished scene with venues across the country – places like Birmingham University where 4,000 would come and see Au Pairs and other bands. “We’d play to thousands of people, mainly students and all in anger – all wanting to do something. That’s gone now.” The audience was political says Hammond and they were looking for bands to reflect and amplify their energies. He recently lectured to media students at Birmingham University. “I was telling them about the venues and the bands. And I realised most of it had been arranged by students. And I looked at the modern students in front of me (with credit cards and dreams of getting jobs in IT). ‘You people are not the same’‚ I told them. ‘You’re not prepared to fight for anything’.”

The politics of The Au Pairs were informed, there was nothing casual about their stances. They wrote about treatment of women prisoners in Ireland, domestic violence, American imperialism and murder, heroin, gender, feminism. “We used to constantly debate issues,” Hammond says.

The band’s politics are often described as ‘feminist’. Most of the feeling and fire in The Au Pairs comes from gender politics (although Jane says they also liked a bit of speed and dope). Sometimes they sound like The Clash meets a Camden Council women’s group (and this is also what makes them wonderful). ‘Diet’ is their masterpiece of feminist rock (and rock full stop) – the song is one long verse that follows a housewife through her routine (“Press the button on the tumble dryer, Nothing could send her higher”) and works its way to a vicious, barbed finale where Lesley repeatedly howls “She needs to be tranquillised”. At the beginning of ‘Diet’ is a stranger line – “Mama my night-dress its hurting me” – I assume its about a small girl unwilling to try on the uniform of oppressed female identity. There is a power and pathos to this work that is almost unequalled.

Jane recalls that Lesley was ‘widely read’ in feminism – and that Paul and Pete used to belong to ‘some kind of men’s group’. But The Au Pairs’ political songs are never too obvious – Lesley always played with the most bitter ironies. Michael Moore would understand her approach: she liked to sing from the standpoint of her enemy. And because her voice can deliver so much feeling she communicates the hurt as much as her hatred. “Her voice was astonishing,” says Munro. “I hope she’s still using it but I really don’t know.”

Jane left the band when things began to ‘get a bit difficult’. She says Lesley was “apt to get emotional for various reasons. It became less enjoyable to do gigs.” Pete says the band fell apart on a European tour – they lacked he said, ‘one cool head’. It had been an impossible year – they’d already played 280 live shows in 1982. There were other difficulties – they were ripped off by their record label – which was ironic as they’d chosen a small label because it seemed more ‘ethical’ than a major. “Lesley went and did a law degree and became a barrister,” says Jane. “That was the last I heard. Pete and Paul and I are still in contact. We haven’t had any contact with Lesley.”

There’s a black and white shot by Pennie Smith on the front cover of the NME from Oct 11 1980 – it’s a picture of a relaxed looking young woman with dark hair and regular, sensible clothes. Maybe she’s a teacher. Others who made the NME cover that year – Iggy, PiL, Strummer, Weller, The Specials – are legends. So who is this unknown woman? She is Lesley Woods. It’s shocking to see her on the cover because she is a kind of missing icon – someone that fell out of pop culture time and space. She could have been a female Weller or Strummer but maybe that’s to wrongly define her in male terms.

It is a lost story now. Jane hasn’t played bass for 20 years, she’s a complimentary therapist. Pete and Paul still make music – the former plays lives percussion at Moneypenny’s. Jane sometimes catches new stars on TV. “In terms of how female pop stars – for want of a better word – are perceived things don’t seem to have moved on a great deal.” And if Beyonce or Tatu come on? “I just sigh and think about something else.”

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AU PAIRS – That’s When It’s Worth It

GLENN BRANCA

Posted in GLENN BRANCA, Post Punk on March 9, 2008 by bangtheparty

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Glenn Branca’s first solo album could hardly have predicted the raw, unfettered trajectory his career would take throughout the rest of the 80s, when his rock “symphonies” splattered feedback and amplifier buzz all over the modern composition palette. In comparison to the blurting dissonance of Symphony No. 1 or the elongated drone of Symphony No. 3 (both recorded just three years later), Lesson No. 1 is a simple but vibrant album that provides only a skeletal blueprint of where Branca would be heading.

This reissue gives this material, at last, a much-deserved return to the spotlight for curious Branca fans who weren’t around to snag the original vinyl. Revisiting Lesson No. 1 almost 25 years later, the opening title track is revealed as the most poppy and accessible 8 minutes of Branca’s career. Alan Licht’s informative liner notes draw parallels to Joy Division and U2 as well as the obligatory mentions of Terry Riley and LaMonte Young, and the connections are obvious in the chugging melodic drive of the dueling guitars.

The guitar sound is uncharacteristically chiming, and settles more often than not into traditional rock riffs, rather than the blurry feedback grind of later Branca compositions. This is a crystal-clear rock song, stripped down to the barest element of a denuded riff, cycling around and around and building intensity as the pounding drums ascend into a motorik rhythmic pulse. The music stays the same, but escalates in emotional intensity: the basis of rock from its earliest days to the present, and here it’s only translated into a slightly more avant-garde (but never academic) context than usual. Hardly Branca’s most complicated work, but right there at the core is the essence of everything in his music, offered in its most accessible form.

The second track, “Dissonance,” lives up to its name by presenting the more confrontational aspect of the composer’s music. Taken together with “Lesson No. 1,” these two tracks—the two sides of the original vinyl album—complete the picture of Branca’s rock deconstruction. Whereas the “Lesson” taught the pure cathartic power of a poppy guitar motif, “Dissonance” strips away such songwriterly concerns, concentrating on the raw unmelodic potential of the electric guitar, reveling in its string pile-ups and escalatory flights of uncontrollable feedback chaos. Unfortunately, this piece presents too incomplete a portrait of Branca, and it ends up sounding a bit empty and sluggish when placed against the gleaming liveliness of “Lesson No. 1.”

Thankfully, the CD reissue adds a third track, “Bad Smells,” which was originally released in 1982 as one side of a split between Branca and the poet John Giorno. This piece is similar in sound to the first two, positioning it closer to Branca’s early experiments than to the more assured work he would do later on. Accompanied by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, among others, Branca charges through an ever-shifting collage of styles and sounds.

After about six minutes of thrashing pop-punk that bears a close relation to the glorious thrust of “Lesson No. 1,” the music utterly shifts gears into a more threatening riff-fest, as slow-moving chords gather into dense clouds of feedback over the fast drumming. Then the composition unexpectedly segues into a funky interlude of spastic stop-start rhythms and elastic guitar bends, before an extended ambient break gives way to another dissonant explosion at the end. It’s a chaotic and fractured piece, a true departure from Branca’s usual coherent build-ups.

This album is primarily interesting as a historical curiosity that provides deeper insight into the genesis of Branca’s music—though “Lesson No. 1” itself would certainly be an unqualified joy in any context. This is the music of a punker trying his hand at composition, filtering primal rock fury into extended suites of beauty and impact, forging battles and unlikely alliances between rock’s twin impulses of melody and dissonance.

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GLENN BRANCA – Lesson No. 1