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STUFFS & THINGS & THINGS & STUFF (STTS-015)
Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Doc Flippers, Fuckwolf, Ahmad Jamal Trio, Montage of Heck, Moonage Daydream, Southeast of Saturn 1 & 2, Flanger Magazine, Lara Allen on MPLS punk, Thin Lizzy
POTENTIAL RENAMING OF COLUMN DEPT.: Damn, “Nights at the Turntable.” Talk about a song title I can relate to. Might have to start calling this column Nights at the Turntable (NATT-001) after this 1952 A-side (and 1953 B-side) by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet.
“SCUZZ-WAVE” DEPT.: So this particular night at the turntable I’m randomly listening to a review copy of Human Pork by the Doc Flippers (nutty record, still a little difficult to process, I think it might be 2023 punk rock) and at the exact same time I notice my muted phone is still playing my ongoing always-shuffling 5,470-song 427-hour [sic] FULL ALBUMS ON DECK playlist and it happens to be on Goodbye, Asshole by Fuckwolf. I switch over to that just for the hell of it, and right when I think I never listen to “punk” anymore, I’m suddenly listening to two different (but not that dissimilar) contemporary takes on guitar-based punk rock at the same time. I really have no idea who either band is, what their story is, who thinks they’re cool. First I google Fuckwolf (insert “do NOT google Fuckwolf” joke here) (and insert “insert” joke here, bonus points if you can work wolves into it) and find out Goodbye, Asshole is indeed their debut album from 2022, but that they’ve been together for 19 years (!?) They’re from the San Francisco Bay and, in my mind, maybe a not-so-distant relation to The Mantles and Fresh & Onlys and that foggy indie-guitar depressed-pop Bay Area thing, but I don’t know enough about that scene to speculate with confidence. What I do know is in the Fuckwolf press release, Rough Trade summed their album up with a phrase that may just capture the modus operandi of a 21st Century guitar-rock microgenre I’ve only been calling “post-Trux” so far: “a rat’s nest of deep grooves, lost ’70s rock riff intentions and art punk damage.” (Emphasis mine.) I think this also captures why Neil Hagerty was so drawn to Ornette Coleman’s theory of harmolodics, because harmolodics could be described as a theory of ensemble riff intentions, in that case more jazz/blues/gospel/soul/world riff intentions than rock and punk riff intentions, but sure rock (and punk!) riff intentions too, and with musicians of the caliber and background to always be responding to and building on these riff intentions at a very high level, in other words able to turn them from riff intentions into riff successions, from improvisation into (oft-instant) composition. But Royal Trux were delivering compositions too, but, although Neil Hagerty and many others who have passed through the Trux ranks are great musicians, I can’t say he/they are on the Ornette Coleman level, which makes the harmolodics in Royal Trux come off differently, yes perhaps more crudely, more in the spirit that Fuckwolf is following in.
AHMAD JAMAL DEPT.: Maybe it’s happened to you the same way… every time you read an interview with Miles Davis where he’s asked to name his influences, whether it’s in the 1950s, the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, he always says at most two names, and one of them is always Ahmad Jamal. Can you imagine, one of the great trumpeters naming a mid-level pianist as their greatest influence? And then, one of the next two or three times you’re at the record store, there it is in the dollar bin:
Of course, Ahmad Jamal was based in Chicago for a time. And the Ahmad Jamal Trio At the Pershing: But Not For Me album was recorded in Chicago, and released on a Chicago label (Argo, a division of Chess). So maybe it’s especially easy to find for a dollar in Chicago. But it was the best-selling jazz album of 1958, as in nationally, so there’s probably cheap copies in every city. Either way it’s worth it, a really good album by a softly swinging and secretly cooking and cutting piano trio laying it down one night live in Chicago for people who love music. And yes, you can immediately hear Miles’s sense of space in the way Ahmad plays piano. Like within 60 seconds you get the influence completely, and that’s before you flip it over for the side B opener and best track on the album, the nearly 8-minute happy/sad zone-out “Poinciana.”
BRETT MORGEN DEPT.: Did I once read a critic or three saying that the Kurt Cobain/Nirvana documentary Montage of Heck (2015, d. Brett Morgen) wasn’t very good? I swear I did read that, at least once, and that’s probably why it took me almost 8 years to finally watch it, but I’m glad I just did, because it very much blew my mind. Why did it take me so long? Blame the critics, I guess, for me not trusting my Nirvana-loving self. I was 21 when Nevermind came out, 20 when I first heard Bleach, and I have to be honest, I loved them immediately. They were just so good, such an amazing thing to hear when you’re 20 years old and had mostly skipped punk because Iron Maiden and Metallica and Slayer had it covered, taking that heaviness and bringing punk and power pop back into it for a perfect hit of heavy heartfelt young emotional adulthood expression. They still sound incredible every single time I listen to them. Kurt’s buzzsaw guitar and even more buzzsaw vocal hooks, Crist’s rumbling Lovecraftian bass, Grohl snapping it all into place perfectly. And now you’re telling me there’s this incredibly intimate film about Kurt Cobain that’s over two hours long, covering his entire life, with all these early childhood photographs and excerpts from home movies, close-ups on his extensive hand-written journals, lists, and lyric sheets, and important deep conversations with so many principles (Grohl didn’t sit for it but appears in archival footage throughout; Krist and Courtney did sit for it, not to mention Kurt’s mom and dad and several other surviving family members and friends). As it all unfolds, I repeatedly can’t believe what I’m seeing, especially when it gets to the extensive and absurdly intimate home movies filmed by Kurt & Courtney during their marriage, even at the height of their heroin habits, and joined by their beautiful infant baby daughter Frances Bean Cobain. It really is an incredible movie, at least if you’re into Nirvana. (I suppose not everyone is, especially music freaks jockeying for a feeling of control, which I say with utmost sympathy because it takes one to know one.) And I like Courtney Love more after watching it, not less. She’s a wild one, for sure, but a smart one too, and, in stark opposition to possibly every other opinion currently on the internet, I believe she has a good heart under the chaos.
BRETT MORGEN PT. 2 DEPT.: After loving Montage of Heck so much, I couldn’t wait to see Morgen’s 2022 treatment of David Bowie called Moonage Daydream… and I like it about 1/4th as much. Yes, it had tons and tons of great live footage, from all eras, no problem there. But unlike Montage of Heck or Todd Haynes’s masterful Velvet Underground documentary, it doesn’t use the story of a life (whether of a person or a band or combinations of both) as a through-line. There’s constant voiceover by David Bowie himself, and he says lots of beautiful stuff, but it’s all completely non-chronological, and even only sporadically biographical, otherwise almost entirely philosophical ruminations on the nature of his own art and art in general and the meaning of existence. Which makes for a kaleidoscopic and (Morgen will be the first to use the word) “immersive” view of Bowie instead of the traditional chronological view. Look, I get it, the traditional rock biography format has gotten stale and needs shaken up (cue Thurston Moore/Henry Rollins talking head joke here, actually don’t cue it, that joke has gotten stale too), but Haynes showed how dazzling montage and cultural found footage could operate within a tight traditional chronological storyline and still be subversive and exciting. The montage work Morgen does is dazzling throughout, but it’s like he took all of these brilliant pieces (songs, performances, interviews, related/found footage) and just overlapped and playlisted everything on shuffle. I think that to truly defeat predictability, you have to do more than just randomize it.
FOUR DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS DEPT.: Go to my stereo/office and I’m immediately pulled in four different directions. I mean, I came here to listen to my new DJ Screw double-CD (June 27th) that I received yesterday from the ultra-prompt Screwed Up HQ mailorder service, but my 5-disc changer is wonky (now replaced! — ed.) so when I push “play” a different CD in there (Kahil El Zabar’s Ritual Trio Alika Rising!, 2015 edition on Katalyst) starts up instead, and it sounds terrific. I think I’ll just forget D.J. Screw for now and listen to this whole thing, totally pied-piper’d by Ari Brown’s sweet soprano saxophone playing, but out of my left eye I’m seeing that killer Jake Meginksy LP (Gates and Variations) still on the turntable where it was when it scorched my brain late last night, would love to play that again, and now I’m typing this on my laptop which I see is still paused in the middle of the utterly glorious Cheater Slicks playlist I made in about two minutes last night on Shitify and then listened to for the next two hours straight and would like to keep listening to today… and look at all those cute little dozens of Google Chrome browser tabs next to this one I’m writing in, one where I was all ready to start Bandcamp-spelunking through the roster of artists on that New Now Year One comp from the Hallogallo Fanzine Cassette Club, like Louisa Tantillo and Post Office Winter, another one where, speaking of Chicago music, I was about to watch every single live Gastr Del Sol video on YouTube, how cute… but wait, what’s that folder I also have open on this laptop, right on top of O’Rourke and Grubbs there? Would that be a folder containing over a gigabyte’s worth of 320k MP3 files of every track on all six volumes of Manuel Gottsching/Ashra/Ash Ra Tempel’s Private Tapes series, ready for me to finally listen to in full and in sequence, so I can be sure not to miss a single moment of deep Berlin School space loneliness synthscaping? Why yes, it would be. Current pick is the first few minutes of “Begleitmusik Zu Einem Horspiel” from Volume 1 and, my lord of light and loneliness, that’s the stuff right there, much better than the Volume 1-closing corny 1970 blues jam by Gottsching’s original Steeplechase Bluesband, which is like that Woody’s Truck Stop snippet appearing on side D of Something/Anything, am I right? (I am definitely right.)
THIS WEEK’S ALBUM I COULD LIVE INSIDE DEPT.: Either one of the two Southeast of Saturn compilations on Third Man Records, devoted to Detroit (Vol. 1) and the larger Midwest (vol. 2) space rock from the 1990s. I’m talking live inside, like living inside your Midwestern apartment on a cold February night wearing a sweater. Actually another album I could live inside is After the Bend by Flanger Magazine, though this time it’s outdoors and summertime after a riverside picnic in the mid-South. It was released just last year and I listened to it a bunch when it came out, put it on my Best of 2022 list and everything, but then filed it away and took a few months off where I didn’t listen to it once, not even on streaming services. Until yesterday, when I got the vinyl out and threw it on the turntable, and holy cow, not only is it even better than I remembered, it’s like I’m listening to a whole new album. The “interconnected river-scape gradients” so deftly liner-noted (or maybe just press-released — the text didn’t come with my copy of the LP but is on the album’s Bandcamp page) by Kris Abplanalp are more evident than ever, but I feel like I’m listening to different studio takes of the same cuts, in a good way, in fact an amazing way, and sonically it’s like a whole new mix, for example I’d never really noticed the Fender Rhodes piano on here, and now I can’t not hear it. It’s almost like I’ve been listening to the vinyl all year and now I’m suddenly listening to a digital remix/remaster on hi-fi speakers… except that I’m still listening to the vinyl.
LARA ALLEN (CAROLINER, HEAVENLY TEN STEMS, SAILOR BEWARE, RAG-TIME GERMS OF LOVE) DESCRIBES 1980s MINNEAPOLIS PUNK ON THE WHO CARES ANYWAY PODCAST AND IT’S A LOT LIKE WHAT I THINK ABOUT 1980s MINNEAPOLIS PUNK THOUGH UNLIKE HER I WASN’T THERE DEPT.: “I moved to Minneapolis and, what was strange to me, there was a lack of experimental subversive music. Everybody was either like, ‘Oh, I prefer Husker Du’ or ‘I prefer the Replacements,’ and that conversation seemed really — you know, I’d seen both of them, and I was like, ‘yeah, you know, whatever.’ It wasn’t as like, creative as something like the Butthole Surfers, in my mind. Or as raunchy as Pussy Galore, or, you know, on and on.” And then, a few seconds later: “There was one band that I loved, were the Cows in Minneapolis, and that was as weird as it got there, at the time. Were the Cows.” Like I said, this resonates with me, especially having attended three or four mindblowing Cows shows in the mid-1990s, though I have grown to appreciate Land Speed Record and to truly love Zen Arcade. (Still can’t get into New Day Rising or Flip Your Wig, and forget about Let it Be. “Within Your Reach” shreds though.) Check out Lara Allen’s fascinating interview and several others on Will York’s Who Cares Anyway podcast, a companion to his book of the same name that chronicles the true stories of “Post-Punk San Francisco and the End of the Analog Age.”
GOOD GOD WHAT A BANGER DEPT.: Thin Lizzy’s “It’s Only Money” in 1974, live on The London Weekend Show. I’m pretty sure there is no lip-syncing or instrument-syncing going on here, but it’s hard to tell and/or believe because they’re such a killer band. The also-killer studio version of “It’s Only Money” is on Nightlife, which was released in November of 1974, either just after or right before this performance.