RECENT LISTENING #30
The God in Hackney, Eternal Tapestry, Bob Dylan, Derek Monypeny, Jeff Ziegler & Dash Lewis, Collision Stories, Ash Ra Tempel
THE GOD IN HACKNEY “In This Room” b/w “Heaven & Black Water” (JUNIOR ASPIRIN) Getting right to the point, “In This Room” by God in Hackney is definitely one of the best songs I’ve heard so far in 2023, and almost certainly in all of the 2020s (the 2010s are being looked into as we speak), having just played it four times in a row as the A-side of this 2023 7-inch single. “In This Room” is basically a sentimental singer-songwriter tune that happens to also be lush, emotional, mysterious, and highly progressive, as well as written, played, and sung very well. A classic plaintive British ballad vocal accompanied by piano and perfect heavy/invisible rhythm section work, guitar and other more intangible/textural melodies weaving through here and there, particularly in the middle eight (during which I think the singer just sang the word “mycology”), verse and chorus and those middle eight transitions slowly shifting while overlapping. The God in Hackney has always been a heady band, creating cerebral progressive noise pop over a slow and deliberate career on two full-lengths so far, Cave Moderne in 2014 and Small Country Eclipse in 2020, and I swear I’ve started but not finished at least two different reviews of each of those records. I just don’t know what to say; they’re clearly a good band, but can also get pretty (as mentioned) sentimental (dare I say . . . maudlin?) at times, all singer-songwritery and soft-rocky, especially on the second album, which I’ve listened to quite a few times nonetheless, always deciding somewhere in the middle of side two that… maybe I do really like it? Cave Moderne is similar, but wins me over sooner, where by the middle of side two I’ve gone from “I like it” it to “I really like it,” in part because it does have more of that debut-album punk/noise/youth attitude, though still very subtle, mostly in the driving drum rhythms that make me think of Charles Hayward and This Heat. In fact, I would kinda describe The God in Hackney as This Heat-meets-Spandau Ballet, or any other highly recommended noisy 1980s British underground band meets any other moderately internationally successful soft 1980s British pop band, and it’s the “soft pop” part that keeps throwing me off, keeps me from finishing my record reviews. But this time, dammit, the review will be finished, and it’s because of how great “In This Room” is. The song on side B is called “Heaven & Black Water” and, in true The God in Hackney form, it tips the balance back to “Do I even know if I like this?” I mean, the plaintive pop lead vocal is autotuned, for goodness sake. And the song is another lugubrious ballad, more uptempo than “In This Room,” but not much more, and in a way that paradoxically makes the song feel more lugubrious instead of less. But the band plays on, and they are a pretty killer band, with surprising accents and syncopations, and great odd washes of quiet noise here and there. And hey, the killer A-side backed with the curious grower of a B-side is a nice historic rock 45 tradition. Ultimately, this new 7-inch from The God in Hackney is what 7-inches have always been, a brief record that’s really fun to play over and over the day you get it, like literally six to ten times in a row, and maybe even doing that again the next day too. Then it stays near the turntable for a couple more weeks, maybe gets spun every couple days, and then you might even file it, but the impact has been made, a song or two that you’re not going to forget about, not for years, maybe even decades. POSTSCRIPT: I called “In This Room” the A side of this single, because the two songs are printed in a distinct order on one of the two center labels (as pictured above), therefore clearly implying an intended sequence. But on the Bandcamp page, “Heaven & Black Water” is listed and sequenced first, and “In This Room” is second! The nerve of some bands… now I’m rereading the press release that came with the record and I see that the intention is a “limited edition double AA 7-inch single.” Ah, the old “AA” loophole. I guess that’s what bands mean when they don’t mark “A” and “B” on their record: it doesn’t matter what order you play ‘em in. That’s cool, should’ve read the press release first, sorry for the confusion. Still, that pesky label does list “In This Room” first, which seems like the right order to me. POST-POSTSCRIPT: Actually maybe instead of This Heat-meets-Spandau Ballet we should look through more of a 1970s British prog lens (thank you Mike Barnes and A New Day Yesterday for context) which makes “In This Room” modernized Gentle Giant while “Heaven & Black Water” is modernized Van Der Graaf Generator with smoother vocals.
ETERNAL TAPESTRY Palace of the Night Skies (THREE LOBED) This Portland, Oregon band has a lot of albums, and now I’ve heard two of ‘em. First one was their 2015 double LP Wild Strawberries, which I played over and over circa 2016-7, and now this one Palace of the Night Skies, which came out quite a few years earlier in 2009, and I’m listening to it much later in 2022, and though it also presents the band in a gtr/gtr/drums trio mode, here the guitars are just blasting heavy psych sludge throughout, without all the clean spiraled-out and spaced delicacy of Strawberries. Either way, hell yes, Eternal Tapestry is a jam band, and hell no, not that kind of jam band. Ash Ra Tempel was a jam band too, goddammit, and 2 out of 2 is a pretty solid start when checking out a couple LPs by anybody. Eternal Tapestry is Dewey Mahood on guitar, Nick Bindeman on guitar, and Nick’s brother Jed Bindeman on drums, and on this album they blast (mostly) instrumental (mostly?) improvisational heavy guitar trio psych sludge very well, always managing to land on a heavy hook.
BOB DYLAN s/t (COLUMBIA) It’s funny, everybody’s always wondering when punk started, and Never Mind the Bollocks in 1977 is a popular answer, but maybe it’s the “Anarchy in the U.K.” single in November 1976, or maybe it was when the Ramones played to 2,000 London-area influencers on July 4, 1976, or when the Ramones’ first album came out worldwide the April before that, or when Television first played at CBGB in early 1974, or if you wanna go back to The Stooges’ first album in 1969, or Velvet Underground’s first album in 1967, or back still to the circa 1965 garage rock explosion throughout America (as documented on Back from the Grave Vol. 1 et al and a couple hundred other comps that are almost literally dynamite), and I even feel reasonably confident tracing punk as far back as when Muddy Waters bought his first electric guitar in Chicago in 1944 and formed his first electric blues combo. And if so, hey, how is Bob Dylan’s self-titled debut from way back in 1962 not one of the first punk albums too? On the very first track “You’re No Good,” his introduction to the world, the vocal alone is unhinged enough to qualify this as a punk song, not to mention his own rabble-rousing (rock and roll rhythm) guitar accompaniment. And what about the raw vocal and rawer subject matter on “Fixin’ to Die”? As far as I’m concerned, Dylan had already gone electric. The only reason this is a 1960s “folk” album and not a 1960s “rock and roll” album is that it’s arranged for solo acoustic guitar, and not for an electric band.
DEREK MONYPENY How Can Be LP (RAHEEM RECORDS) This is a 2019 vinyl reissue of a cassette that was first released in 2014, almost a decade ago, and Derek Monypeny has remained quite active since then as a solo guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, releasing several more records, including a dare-I-say masterpiece double LP with 2021’s The Hand as Dealt, and a 2022 follow-up to that called Cibola, more recent endeavors he’d probably prefer I’d be covering in today’s column, not to mention his co-founding and co-directing of Yucca Valley Material Lab residencies, for goodness sake, but I happened to throw this oldie but goodie on the turntable tonight and before I knew it started writing this record review. Side one is four shorter tracks of essentially alone-in-silence guitar and/or electric oud playing that go from atmospheric loop soundbeds to lyrical traditionalism to Richie Sambora quotes (seriously) to a minimal noise aesthetic, many of which happen on the very first track with its cheeky Roth-referencing title “No Love You’d Call Real.” Side two “Peace Be Upon You” is a side-long-jammer-as-LP-closer move, and not actually a guitar/stringed piece at all, instead a tape-music experiment incorporating and blending and treating field recordings of Middle Eastern vocal pieces. May seem too on the nose for a desert-based guitarist like Monypeny, but it’s really well done, the vocals treated in a deep psychedelic way in the tradition of Steve Reich ca. 1965 as well as Bo Anders Persson’s Proteinimperialism ca. 1970.
JEFF ZIEGLER & DASH LEWIS Eraserhood (ATLANTIC RHYTHMS) Have to admit, out of all the on-the-nose krautrock-influenced and/or synth-instrumental bands or solo projects I’ve listened to in the last 20 years (okay the last 15 years, it was still pretty exciting circa 2003-2008), 90% of them have left me cold, never to be listened to again, and not to be reviewed in these pages. Even when they’re good! Because what they’re really good at is playing the instruments, which somehow doesn’t always translate into good, memorable, and individualized music, but music that YellowGreenRed calls, in a simple but effective phrase, “unremarkably good,” and it happens in all genres and subgenres, not just synth instrumental. It’s the remarkably good we’re looking for, and on the kraut/synth front I believe we’ve found it with this Eraserhood cassette. I’ll admit I probably favor it because some tracks include a live drum kit, and I am ultimately a strict Carduccian rockist. (Not that I require a live bass guitarist and acoustic kit drummer to consider music good, but I do think it gives music an unfair advantage with me, and it may be why so much synth instrumental music leaves me cold: because it rarely has a rhythm section.) Ziegler & Lewis are both multi-instrumentalists, so I imagine both of them laying down complementary synthscapes, and then (at least on tracks two “Popcorn Ceiling” and three “Observatories”) one of them moves over to the drumkit and starts up that particular motor. I do indeed prefer the two tracks with drumkit to the other two, even the quite lovely and epic but drumless 23-minute closer “Rumored Jazz.” A drum beat on an acoustic kit, no matter how monotonously motorik, still provides that human touch, that actual spectral presence via air movement, that the synthesizer alone does not.
COLLISION STORIES Avant L’Obscurité LP (CHARNEL MUSIC) There always needs to be a place for post-industrial post-experimental improvised noise LPs like this one, the kind of album that has a nicely printed full-color cover that was designed on Photoshop in about 10 minutes, and has music that was improvised and recorded in a single day and/or night. Maybe to top it off, the band/group/artist name can even just be every band member’s given names, or better yet, an acronym that refers to their given names, but this record ain’t by JBMM, it’s by an improvising sci-fi/industrial/psych/noise/experimental band called Collision Stories, made up of Jorge Bachmann, Bryan Day, Michael Gendreau, and Mason Jones. They did indeed record this LP of two side-long jammers in, you guessed it, one day (“San Francisco, CA January 28, 2020”), and the cover does indeed look like it was made on Photoshop in about 10 minutes. I say all this with love, and in fact when I say “there always needs to be a place” for this kind of LP, I mean that it’s all essential noise music, even if sometimes in the same way that Werner Herzog’s concept of essential cinema included kung fu and porno. But on top of that, this LP is also an excellent listen, with a crew that jams hard, keeps it rolling, and always brings nice varied raw textures.
ASH RA TEMPEL FM Shades Presents: Ash Ra Tempel “Best of the Private Tapes” (The Early Years) (FM SHADES) Back in the wild-west late 2000s there I was trying to download some or all of the massive Manuel Gottsching/Ash Ra Tempel/Ashra Private Tapes series that had been released on six separate CDs a decade earlier in the mid/late 1990s (those CDs now being pretty expensive collectables) and ending up with a bizarre collection of incomplete and poorly tagged folders that made this already-overwhelming series of releases even harder to process. Luckily for us freaks back then, the classic Megaupload-era shareblog FM Shades had done some nice processing already; you see, the music on the Private Tapes ranged from 1970 to 1981, tracks by not only Ash Ra Tempel but also Manuel Gottsching solo as well as Ashra, his post-Tempel solo/duo rebranding, all of it mixed together non-chronologically. What FM Shades did was pull out and throw together a zip file of only the true Ash Ra Tempel material, that is anything by the original power trio of Gottsching on guitar, Hartmut Enke on bass, and Klaus Schulze on drums and electronics. This trio recorded a debut album, the massive self-titled 1971 release of “Amboss” b/w “Traummaschine” (“Anvil” b/w “Dream Machine”), before Schulze quit to focus on a successful solo career spent manning many banks of synths. The trio did reunite some, starting in December 1972 as part of the larger Tarot band, where they and several others backed up Walter Wegmuller on that wild double LP, and during downtime effortlessly jammed out another classic psych LP of two side-long edits that was released in 1973 as Join Inn. Apparently the reunited trio kept jamming a little bit into 1973, as all the Ash Ra Tempel tracks on the Private Tapes series are dated from either 1971 or 1973. The FM Shades mix starts with “Le Bruit Des Origines” (“The Noise of Origins”), a 32-minute jam from 1971, and by the time it’s over the earth has been scorched clean and you’re either on the bus (controls set for the heart of the sun) or off it. This band, and in fact this very live cut from 1971, is probably the most unhinged your worldwide post-Cream scorched-pentatonic power trio jamming ever did get. I mean, it’s wackadoodle. Schulze has that insane “thousand horses stampeding across the Tartar planes” drumming style, but on this track it never really locks into a beat of any kind, and when you have a bass player as unhinged as Hartmut Enke using a fuzzbox set on at least 11, and no clear rhythm offering a saddle for this chaos to ease back into, all you hear are the wild horses. It might take you a good five minutes to even start to comprehend where Gottsching’s guitar even actually is in the mix, but then at the 20-minute mark he’s playing unaccompanied screaming acid guitar solos and you wonder how something like that could’ve ever been buried. The second track on FM Shades’ Best of the Private Tapes curation is “Soiree Academique” aka “Academic Evening,” a mere 24 minutes long, starting with at least eight (!) minutes of Gottsching solo guitar tour de forcing, that stuff you and I know and love, his tightly subdued and highly rhythmic electro/techno slashing style, laying down wicked sharp minor chords against delay effect pulse. I swear he’s even teasing that same eternal chord change that both Schwingungen and Seven Up lapsed into on their respective side twos, but restylized with that clenched-teeth proto-techno approach. Schulze eventually brings Enke in slowly and finally by the 12-minute mark they’re in full raging “Amboss” (“Anvil”) territory, possibly with even more clarity than on the super-stormy (in fact quite gaseous) studio version. A too-long Schulze drum solo slows things down in the second half, but the band rages back in for a ridiculous blown-out return before a premature fade. Next is the 22-second interview clip with Schulze that along with “Soiree Academique” closes Private Tapes Vol. 2 (I don’t know what he’s saying because I don’t speak German), then right into the very deeply heavy 28-minute “Schwerer Dino” track that was a centerpiece on Private Tapes Vol. 3, recorded in 1974, and kind of an anomaly on this FM Shades selection because it’s not by the Ash Ra Tempel trio, but the subsequent Gottsching incarnation Ashra, here a duo of Lutz Ulbrich on guitar and keyboards and Gottsching on guitar, keyboards, percussion, and voice. I think the reason FM Shades included it is that it’s very, very good, and by the way, if you put “Schwerer Dino” into German-to-English on Google Translate, it gives you “Heavier Dinosaur,” which is the best name for a 28-minute heavy track ever, except it sounds less like a dinosaur and more like a glacier crawling across the tundra at an average glacier speed of .5 cosmic meters a year. After that is the almost 40-minute (!) “Dédié à Hartmut” (“Dedicated to Hartmut”) from the 1973 reunion, and it indeed sounds like “Freak & Roll” part two (and three) (and four), and the more the merrier for this Ash Ra T. freak, and what could be next but more from the ‘73 reunion, the insane “Ooze Away” itself. Best Ash Ra title, and just the wildest jam, another 28-minute track with one of the slowest burn-builds in psych-rock history, Gottsching basically just tapping on his guitar to create a driving echo-rhythm, which means that’s probably Schulze on electronics as it develops into mantra-chord flying with sparse-synth cycle-chortle. Enke, on the other hand, is not a major factor here, having trouble finding his way in on bass, waiting a good 5 minutes to try, then dropping out again pretty soon after because Gottsching and Schulze sound so damn good as a duo, and as user name “ashratom” writes on a Rate Your Music page: “Hartmut Enke quit both music and, in a manner of speaking, life after these concerts.” There’s more, there’s always more, but now that I’m better at finding properly tagged downloads and Discogs is fully there to verify track listings and metadata, I’ve been able to listen to all six volumes of The Private Tapes, and frankly other than these live classic trio Ash Ra Tempel performances that FM Shades already pulled, there’s not a lot of truly great stuff on these discs. A lot of it’s just a little too fern-bar disco, frankly. There are really only two other tracks on the entire thing I would heartily recommend. One is “Eloquentes Weisel,” which is 28 minutes of Gottsching just going off on driving/dancing solo synths in 1979. It’s incredible, and proof that it’s not just that the older stuff is good and the newer stuff not. The other is “Halensee” from Vol. 3, right in between “Schwerer Dino” and “Les Brut des Origines,” also credited to Gottsching solo but from the year 1974. A mere 12 minutes (lol), but a little bit more of that haunted deep-space loneliness that I sometimes think only Ash Ra Tempel alumni are able to access. It’s a rare thing, that’s for sure, and hard to describe. I can hear it on some Cosmic Jokers material, especially their self-titled debut from 1974, and on Schulze’s 1972 solo debut Irrlicht. Not so much on his 1973 follow-up Cyborg, though Blackdance the year after that actually gets pretty far back into it...