RECENT LISTENING #14
Mac Blackout, Angus MacLise, Lake of Dracula, Shuggie Otis, MV & EE and the Bummer Road, the Watt from Pedro Show with special guest Tom Smith
MAC BLACKOUT Love Profess LP (TROUBLE IN MIND) Whoah, I feel like Byron Coley on Twitter the other day, this is not what I expected this brand new LP to sound like. Then again, I’m pretty clueless in general, and had really only previously heard Mac Blackout with his band the Functional Blackouts, and only on a mere 7-inch that I still have somewhere and is now probably over 10 years old. For those few minutes I found them a weird and interesting band, but nonetheless a vocals/guitar/bass/drums punk band, and in that sense still pretty traditional. Well, Mac Blackout solo is not that. On his new album Love Profess, the songs are all instrumentals, and built from keyboards and drum machines, a little bit of space/fuzz guitar, and a lot of heroic wild saxophone playing. Coley compared Blackout’s keyboard/drumbox settings to Suicide, and I would say yes, though perhaps even more so like some of Martin Rev’s relatively gentler solo music, just a little bit more soda-shop/bubble-gum, in a really nice way. But even that’s just the setting; the spotlight is on that heroic saxophone of Mr. Blackout. It rips, it honks, it screams, it sings, it opens up psychic vistas, it takes you on the journey. There’s a reason it’s pictured on the cover, suitably hot-rodded by electro-wire chaos.
ANGUS MACLISE The Cloud Doctrine 2CD (SUB ROSA) Haven’t talked about Mr. MacLise in awhile, even though his artistic output is still the very source of the name of this fanzine (aka webzine/blogzine/substack), because I love his music, and specifically because track 4 on his 1999 archival CD Invasion of the Thunderbolt Pagoda is called “Blastitude,” which I thought would make a great name for a gonzoid rock zine that, starting in the year 2000, would try to touch on the entire past of all weird proto-postpunk countercultural music right up to the ever-ongoing present. I still think it’s a great name for a gonzoid rock zine, though I have pondered a self-generated conspiracy theory in which the tracks on Invasion of the Thunderbolt Pagoda weren’t necessarily all given titles by the mercurial MacLise at the time of the recording, and just maybe had to be given titles by Siltbreeze proprietor Tom Lax and/or Quakebasket proprietor Tim Barnes in the late 90s while compiling this CD, as they might have been working with some archival tapes that were unlabeled. I’m not saying this is definitely what happened, and that I thought I named my zine after something Angus MacLise said in the 1969, but it was actually something Tom Lax said in 1999; like I said, it’s just a theory. Maybe MacLise really had written down “Blastitude” on the case or box that the tape reel was kept in, or something… but is that kind of neologism really in MacLise’s poetic voice as we’ve come to know it so far? On that note, I’ve been revisiting another archival MacLise release from that time, this massive Cloud Doctrine double CD from 2003, a great way to dive deep into the breadth of MacLise’s music, the work of a great twentieth century composer. (Gerard Malanga’s liner notes do a fine job of creating the context where I can confidently call MacLise that. “Without the tape recorder, Angus would be unable to store his music, much less repeat it . . . none of it is scored — each tape remains the source for the scoring itself.”) The two chock-full discs do contain more of that voracious long-form free-form solo-or-group-doesn’t-matter jamming style that is all over the Siltbreeze/Quakebasket CDs (Malanga again: “He simply overtakes linear motion, and yet maintains a continuity of rich texture and reverberation, much like a journey or a ritual”), with two or three massive examples like the 36-minute (!) “Thunder Cut,” but there are at least three other specific areas of MacLise’s work represented as well. One is his chill mysterious poetry, read aloud in his own voice on two tracks (and again, not especially sounding like a guy that would coin the word “blastitude”). Another is his work with hardcore improvisational solo electronics, as heard on the “Tunnel Music” series of tracks that kick off the collection and the 28-minute “Electronic Mix for ‘Expanded Cinema’” that is the centerpiece of disc two. Third, and I think most notable for me during this particular re-listen, are four tracks that might just be the most uncompromised unreleased lo-fi proto-post-punk no wave EP of all time (apparently recorded in 1965, no less). I’m talking about tracks two through five on disc two: “Trance 1,” “Trance 2,” “Two Speed Trance,” and “Four Speed Trance,” as performed by the trio of John Cale and Tony Conrad on violin, guitars, and keyboards with MacLise on hand-drums and his trusty cimbalum. This was 3/5th of the Theater of Eternal Music group that had been playing together since 1963, here without LaMonte Young and Marian Zazeela on vocals, and oh man, while Mom & Dad were away, the boys were freaking out, like I said basically inventing no wave on the spot, and a good twelve years early. That’s in part because of the usage of electric guitar here (it wasn’t used in the Theater of Eternal Music), and indeed such aggressively gnarly usage, strummed in a furious low-end monotone on three of the four tracks. (I’m guessing this is Cale on the guitar, judging from the similar guitar style on the “Hot Scoria” track credited to he and MacLise, recorded as a guitar/cimbalum duo in March 1965, as released by Table of the Elements in 2001 on the archival CD Dream Interpretation: Inside The Dream Syndicate Volume II.) Anyway, I like to fantasize that it really was self-released in 1965 as a killer lo-fi 4-song 17-minute 45RPM 12” EP. I even made a Sp***fy ‘reissue’.
LAKE OF DRACULA s/t CD (SKIN GRAFT); LAKE OF DRACULA Skeletal Remains LP (ROCOCO) This review is long enough to have paragraphs. Still one of my all-time favorite Chicago bands, and have been ever since one fateful pre-YouTube day, very early in the 21st Century, when a videotape-bearing friend stopped by and showed me an amazing live clip (pretty sure it was what I later learned to be “Blues Fantastique,” or maybe “Plague of Frogs,” or whoa, both, thanks YouTube) as compiled on the 1997 Chicago-centric VHS compilation The Miracle of Re-Creation. It was an excerpt from a Lake of Dracula live show, September 1996 at the legendary Fireside Bowl, right up the street from where I watched on that fateful day in 2001. ¶ Their self-titled debut Lake of Dracula was released in 1997, just a few months after that videotaped gig, on both LP and CD via the Skin Graft label, a great album by a great band, and really their only album, as they only existed for one year (‘96-’97). There is also the Skeletal Remains LP, which was released in 2006 by Rococo Records, but recorded live in May ‘97, the band bashing out a full set in the KFJC radio studio during a tour of the West Coast. In a way, it’s the same album as their self-titled debut; they play the entire thing in almost the exact same sequence, but with the addition of the opening song, presumably a new one at the time, the awesome and absurdly heavy “Four Teachers.” ¶ (Some footnotes: Skeletal Remains also ends with a more ‘experimental’ studio version of “Four Teachers,” the only track on it that isn’t from the KFJC set, instead produced & engineered by band member Weasel Walter in Chicago, early 1997, no month given. The live at KFJC version of “Four Teachers,” as well as the seventh song in the KFJC set “Violators,” were released in 1998 as the two sides of a Lake of Dracula 45 on Kill Rock Stars. By the way, I’m freaking out how much this whole narrative is reminding me of the Harry Pussy review in the previous Recent Listening installment of this here BlastiStack, right down to both releases demonstrating one noise rock band’s ability to whip out a fast tight heavy set on a tour in May 1997 that ends up being one of their final acts as a band before breaking up, whoah.) ¶ But back on Weasel Walter and his role as guitarist and presumably riff-composer for the band; my sense is that he would come to Lake of Dracula rehearsals with these gigantic sick punk/metal riffs that drummer Heather Melowic could immediately lock into and fully Bonzo-ize (she is a very hard-hitting and hard-driving drummer). The rhythm section riff power that Weasel and Heather co-produced was almost a literal train that vocalist/lyricist James Marlon Magas could jump on at full-speed at any time with his weird-nightmare stream-of-the-strange scifi/horror punk vocals and lyrics. (I had to dig up my copy of the 1990s zine Modern Rock Magazine #7, in which the almost-complete and Magas-submitted LoD lyrics are printed on a three-page spread, great stuff.) ¶ I do not consider it hyperbole to say that Magas is one of the great punk singers of the 1990s. Great pitch and timbre, in an actual melodic key, and you can understand a lot of his lyrics, but he can also break into effective unintelligible from-the-gut scream/improv/noise when he wants to. At the end he’s still a rooted singer overall, in the raw roots blues & rock’n’roll tradition even, that line that runs from Presley/Vincent/Holly/etc through Lux Interior. It’s nothing generic though — gotta love the between-song banter during the Skeletal Remains live set when he says on mic to the radio audience, “We apologize to all you rockabilly listeners out there. Sorry that our music is better.” ¶ Again, all three musicians are terrific — I already compared Heather Melowic to John Bonham, for goodness sake, and I consider Weasel’s contribution to this band, short-lived though it was, to be one of the greatest musical achievements in his long and prolific career. It may not one of his most complex or challenging achievements, but every single one of his LoD riffs are incredibly heavy, catchy, and packed with nervous trembling energy, all at the same time. And, since I can’t imagine a “Weasel Walter LoD Rig Rundown” ever being available on YouTube, I have to ask: how on earth does he get that outrageous tone? Jesus Christ, that pick-slide axe-dismantle move during the mid-song breakdown of the live “Four Teachers” from Skeletal Remains alone?! How does he even do that? Or how about the way he plays those insane chunky detuned bass notes and razor-precise high-end trebly stuff at the same time, throughout their songs? (Omg, did he do like Bill Orcutt from Harry Pussy and play without some of the bass strings on his guitar? Yet another HP:LoD parallel??) ¶ Anyway, I go back and forth between these two albums, which are essentially two versions of the same record. Is one better than the other? So far, I think the best one is whichever one I’m listening to, but do believe I lean towards Skeletal Remains. It should be noted that by the time of the West Coast tour, the band had been augmented by a bass player, Jessica Ruffins from midwestern 1990s faves Jaks. Her playing is very heavy and completely locks into the Walter/Melowic riffage, so of course it’s a more powerful record, not only because it’s by a quartet not a trio, but a quartet in an extremely tour-honed state. To go further, I must say that the absence of the band’s ghost member and second vocalist “The Manhattanite” (apparently they hadn’t reconciled his interdimensional nature with the rigors of touring) is a welcome one, as his vocal interjections (perhaps due to their interdimensionality) always sounded out-of-context to me on the self-titled Skin Graft album, especially with Magas’s well-recorded vocal presence already laying down the songs so strongly.
POSTCRIPT: Would you believe, just as I’m finally finishing up this epic reverie, a recent interview with Magas gets posted where he talks in detail about these days of Lake of Dracula? Not to mention the entire rest of his musical career, before and after, right up until the present, check out the relatively recent Heads Plus (Midwich, 2015) and Explanatory Denial (Midwich, 2017). (And a new one is in the works.)
SHUGGIE OTIS World Psychedelic Classics 2: California Soul (Inspiration Information b/w Freedom Flight) 2LP (LUAKA BOP) About 15 years ago I listened to Inspiration Information by Shuggie Otis once, and kinda dismissed it. It was originally released on Epic Records in 1974, and it had a cult following, and Shuggie Otis played killer bass on “Peaches en Regalia” by Frank Zappa, but I already loved Prince/Stevie/Marvin/Curtis/Sly, and did I really need a similar artist with fewer hooks and less finished material? Maybe it was just the packaging, this Luaka Bop reissue from 2001 that didn’t use the original art in lieu of a very 1990s design. Too much gatekeeper presentation overall (wack bright tropical colors, lots of helvetica, new liner-note essays by a handful of modern-day authorities), and they also put Inspiration Information first, even though it’s his second record, and Freedom Flight second, even though it’s his debut, which I find annoying. But I’ve kept this release on my shelf all these years anyway, and finally put it back on for another spin this week, and I’m not wrong about less hooks and more unfinished material, but hey, at least they preserve the original track sequence of the LPs themselves, and I gotta say it’s all sounding pretty great. I guess I’m finally ready for Shuggie Otis, probably because I’ve also become obsessed with early 1970s recordings using primitive rhythm boxes like the Rhythm Ace, trying to hear everything out there, and Shuggie might just be on the 1970s Rhythm Ace Mount Rushmore with Lee “Scratch” P., J.J. Cale, and of course Sly Stone. Just check “Aht Uh Mi Hed” or “Island Letter,” or something like “Happy House,” which seems like it might be kinda unfinished, barely one minute long, but possessing a miniaturist ‘Beach Boys Friends’ vibe in that way, and who cares when the chorus, however brief and fleeting, is an actual portal into some lush new shining world of rhythm and blues dreamtone? Elsewhere, the whole album is good, if not always great (“Sparkle City” sounds in fact too much like Sly), though the 12-minute title track that closes Freedom Flight is pretty remarkable, nice cosmic/spiritual guitar-led modal psych jamming, Carlos Santana meets Pharoah Sanders in 1974.
THE BUMMER ROAD Deep Space Circuit 2CDR (CHILD OF MICROTONES/TIME-LAG) MP3s of this 2006 double-CDR release ended up on my iPod at some point many years ago, during what is now known by historians as the Shareblog Wild West™. I don’t remember putting them on there, but apparently I did, and there they sat for years, before finally getting unearthed by the shuffle in 2020. Can’t remember what track it was, but it was a good 20 minutes long, so I decided to just #breakshuffle and take on the release’s entire scorching free-floating vastness all at once. (There’s over 140 minutes of music on here, 70 on each disc. Average track length on disc 1 is 15 minutes, and on disc 2 it’s almost 20. One track is over 35 minutes long.) Looking up Deep Space Circuit on Discogs, I learn what mp3s on an iPod don’t tell me, how each track on this release was a live recording from a different venue on what appears to be the same tour, and that, to my amazement, I was actually at one of the shows documented herein, disc 1 track 3 “Payday” (clocking in at 19:25). This show was on August 8, 2006 at the Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, “one of the few structures to remain from before the 1871 Chicago Fire” (had no idea). At the time it was briefly known as South Union Arts and was having shows, though it still looked like a church inside, with the pews intact and the altar now a stage. Now it’s all torn down and replaced with glass-and-steel development, and I’m ordering my own ‘souvenir’ copy of Deep Space Circuit on Discogs. Listening to that same performance of “Payday” now on my stereo, 15 years after the first time (it doesn’t seem like that long ago) is a haunting experience. The first time was in 2006, and I was sitting in a repurposed church pew, right there in the room with the band, along with the 10-15 other audience members, definitely feeling prayerful, and humble, closing my eyes, lifted by deep-space exploratory music (and please don’t accuse me of speaking too grandiosely, because I quietly do this several times a day in the presence of music, and you probably do too). I don’t remember anything exactly, but I do remember the vibe of the show, like one long 60-minute song of rolling guitar arpeggios bolstering endless single-string extrapolations, further stitched together by circular harmonica playing, and visited intermittently by vocal spirits channeled by MV (Matt Valentine) and EE (Erika Elder) themselves. The whole 2-disc release is like that, so apparently the whole tour was too, and maybe just maybe the whole entire MV & EE career. Like I said, pretty vast, pretty tiny, pretty cosmic, a spine on my shelf, a universe from my speakers.
THE WATT FROM PEDRO SHOW 2021-01-07 with guest Tom Smith (NH Meth, To Live and Shave in L.A., and many, many, many more) Super fun to hear two extremely young-at-heart and knowledgeable old heads, both of whom I myself have had inspiring personal interactions with in real life even, here talking to each other transatlantically and getting completely stoked on music and life and each other’s contributions therein. The track Watt plays by Tom’s early-80s band Boat Of was particularly mind-blowing to me, as it’s the first time I’ve actually heard them and it was insanely good, much more highly grooving than so much of Tom’s other work (including throughout this playlist) that leans more rhythmically abstract and fractured. (Apparently in the time since this show was recorded, Watt and Smith have actually started collaborating on some music, which I can imagine would be pretty amazing.) Not only is Watt a pretty fantastic interviewer, he’s a mind-blowing selector, programming three hours of music for a new radio show almost every single day, starting each show with a different John Coltrane track, always played in full (even a 45-minute number like “Leo” from Live in Japan), then filling the rest of the three hours with a dizzying array of tracks from any and all post-punk genres, from prog-punk to pop-punk to folk-punk to outright noise, and he seems to rarely play oldies; this stuff is so up-to-the-minute that the bands and songs are consistently difficult to google. Like sure, we all know those occasional bands that are hard to google, usually because of a particularly nondescript name, but with a Watt from Pedro playlist, it’s like you’ve heard of maybe one out of every five bands, and not Discogs or even Google are much help for the other four, and that’s with the artist name and song title!