Alastair Galbraith- Intro Version

Roof Bolt Recordings

Picked this up on a high school trip to Chicago back in '94. I had been intrigued by the track(s) on the (still great) Hey Drag City comp. This was probably the first New Zealand record I ever owned and the first inkling I had of something crazy going on on that faraway island. The two secret fantasies I harbored throughout an entire trip I made to NZ back in early '99 were 1) that I'd somehow get a chance to catch Alastair playing somewhere and 2) that I'd find more records by Thela. Neither happened, but in the end I was more than willing to settle for having seen Roy Montgomery, Bruce Russell/Kim Pieters/Peter Stapleton, The Clean, Peter Jefferies, Bailter Space, and a whole slew of lesser known though still amazing bands. Wow. If I could revisit any single month from my past...... With money for records though this time, of course. But that's neither here nor there. My point being that this record serves as a great "intro version" to both Galbraith's solo output and the wider '90's New Zealand singles scene. It's all here- bedroom production, guitar scuzz/violin scree, and fragmented suggestions of pop brilliance. Fans of Stefan Neville's Pumice records in particular should take notice. Last track also features Chris Heazlewood on guitar.


OM/Six Organs of Admittance

OM's sound is set in stone.  You know going in just exactly what you're going to get.  Rock Solid.  You could set your watch to it.  But it is a sound that is well honed rather than narrow in scope.  A lesser band wouldn't be able to pull it off for long.  OM though belongs to a rare breed- think AC/DC or Dead Moon- who are able to achieve constancy without (for the most part) sliding into redundancy.
For a band whose music almost seems constrained by the limits of an LP side, it's surprising that these guys even mess with doing 7"s.  I suppose the fade out suggests that this could (and maybe did) carry on ad infinitum.
Ben Chasny weighs in with a wordless incantation set to some fuzzed out, reverb drenched guitar action that recalls the earliest Six Organs output or perhaps the first Badgerlore record.  Probably a relatively inconsequential track in a discography that seems to be approaching canonization in some circles, but a nice slab of psych guitar noise nonetheless.  


Various- Bottom of the World

Nice late 90's comp highlighting some of the leading lights of the noise/drone/improv scene at that time.  Features tracks from Omit, RST, Sandoz Lab Technicians, & Surface of the Earth.

Gate- Sunshine/Ives

Long running solo/side project of Dead C guitarist Michael Morely.  The A side is Gate at its most Dead C-ish.  With an actual guitar riff, drums, and vocals, this one comes off as very similar to what remained of recognizable song structure c. harsh 70's reality.  B side is one of Morley's guitar improv & record loops pieces.


Various- I Hear The Devil Calling Me

This excellent early Drag City release is among the best of a handful of great Xpressway Records comps that popped up in the early/mid 90's.  Despite the limitations of format, this release manages to squeeze in 12 bands in roughly as many minutes.  A concise, but surprisingly accurate overview of the label.  Featuring:
 1. Alastair Galbraith
 2. A Handful of Dust
 3. Peter Jefferies
 4. OLLA
 5. The Renderers
 6. The Dead C
 7. Gate
 8. Cyclops
 9. Dadamah
10. David Mitchell
11. Queen Meanie Puss
12. Stephen Kilroy


Terminals- Medusa/Scarecrow

Roof Bolt Recordings

This blog has been sorely neglected as of late, I know.  In an attempt to rectify that, I'm declaring April to be NEW ZEALAND MONTH.  Gimmicky, I know, but hopefully it'll be enough to motivate me to make time to post as many records as possible over the next few weeks.  Some choice cuts coming, so, you know, be sure to check back and all that.
First up, a real burner from the Terminals.  Though not too well known stateside, they're pretty much revered at home.  Formed in the mid 80's, they're still (somewhat) active, having released an album as recently as last year or so.  Their earliest material displayed elements of early 80's Flying Nun jangle but eventually began to morph into the much darker sort of organ driven menace that appears on this record.  This being New Zealand, of course everyone in the group was in a handful of other, equally amazing bands such as Victor Dimisch Band, Renderers, Dadamah, Flies Inside the Sun, etc. 


Y Pants- Little Music

99 Records

No Wave from the golden age on the venerable 99 Records.  Y Pants are often associated with Glenn Branca with whom Barbara Ess had a long standing personal and musical relationship- the two played together in both Theoretical Girls and The Static and Branca produced this single and released a full length on his Neutral label.  If No Wave sought to reduce "Rock" music to it basest elements, Y Pants took it one step further by jettisoning the usual rock instrumentation in favor of a battery of little instruments such as toy piano, ukulele, and toy drums.  The effect is a sort of naif primitivism that sits well with many of the other early 99 releases (Liquid Idiot, Bush Tetras) and at the same time hints at the more outright funky direction the label (and scene in general) would begin to move in with groups like ESG and Liquid Liquid.  Kicks off with a cover of the Stones' 'Off The Hook'.


Pip Proud & Alastair Galbraith- Me & Gus

Alastair Galbraith adds some violin ache and backwards guitar to these already fragile tunes from Australian beat hippy hermit Pip Proud.  The late '90s saw a brief return to music for Proud, who had been living in a hut without electricity out in the middle of who knows where Australia, after a 25-30 year hiatus.  That "comeback" however was cut short by a stroke that left Pip blind and/or dumb (or both maybe) and unable to perform.  The music is itself fittingly beat down and tragic.


Sonic Youth- Helen Lundeberg


Rock N' Roll is a young girls game, many will tell you.  And sure, there's plenty of evidence to back that up.  But hey, it ain't necessarily so and Sonic Youth is a textbook example of how to age gracefully as a Rock band.  That they have remained relevant for nearly 30 years is even more impressive given the bands roots in No Wave, a scene that was hardwired to self-destruct and ended up with about the same shelf life as shellfish.  
There are plenty of naysayers out there who write off everything the band did after Sister, or Daydream, or Evol, or after they signed to Geffen, or whatever.  Bollocks I say.  The band has managed  the highwire act of growing without losing what made them great to begin with.  The more nihilistic noise tendencies of their earlier work have morphed into emphasis on songwriting and drawn out pastoral soundscapes, but overall, the major components of the Sonic Youth sound have changed little over the years.  Few bands have been able to maintain a sound for so long without becoming a boring caricature of themselves.  Hell, 28 years in, even the Stones were starting to lose it.  The Fall, maybe, But overall Mark E. Smith's output hasn't been anywhere near as consistent over the years.  
These two tracks come from the Rather Ripped sessions and are quite a bit rawer than anything that showed up on that album.  A lot of people found the record to be a bit too mellow and there was talk in some circles that they  where getting old, going soft, or getting boring.  I can't help but wonder if the  simultaneous release of this single wasn't meant as a reminder, to anyone who might doubt it, that the Youth ain't lost shit over the years.


Strapping Fieldhands- Neptune's World

Lo-Fi indie skiffle rock from the pop end of the classic Siltbreeze catalog.  A way underrated band, the Fieldhands traded in an idiosyncratic brand of faux-anglo pop   complete with, at times, fake accents and feigned cheekiness.  The theme here is nautical and the sea-sawing strings add to the overall shanty feel.  Well, heave-ho friends.  And watch for scurvy.



Torsion Music

I just recently pulled out Tortoise's first album and was reminded of how amazing this band was back in the day.  This is their very first record, released on (if I remember right) Jesus Lizard bassist David Sims' Torsion Music in 1993.  These guys get an unfair shake from a lot of folks these days.  But they deserve, in the words of John Fahey, neither "the credit nor the blame" for the deluge to tepid "post-rock" that followed in their wake.  Fact is, when these first couple of records showed up there was nothing else like it going on.  I mean, there were touchstones for sure- Faust, Liquid Liquid, fIREHOSE, African Head Charge, CAN, etc.- but from the beginning they were able to incorporate a wide range of influences without being beholden to any set style or paradigm.  At this point though, they're still a band finding their voice and, as such, this record, upbeat and almost outright funky, is unlike anything else in their catalog.  


Ativin-Modern Gang Reader

The Ativin on record here is a band that had progressed light years from the debut ep released the previous year.  Whereas that album relied heavily on more pedestrian distortion pedal off/distortion pedal on dynamics, the writing here offers a subtle complexity that takes into account time, space, volume, and timbre.  A nice prelude to their follow up LP German Water- their strongest effort which I highly suggest seeking out, and Modern Gang Reader in fact resurfaces there.  These sorts of bands always worked better in small doses I always thought, and this is a great example of how the single can still be a great format.  A simple but effective package and two songs that serve as a perfect distillation of what it is a band does.


Matthew Shipp/Loren Mazzacane Connors Split

This record came with issue #1 of Halana magaizine.  In addition to the Shipp and Connors cuts, the record features 5 lock grooves from sculptor and furniture designer Harry Bertoia's Sonambient LPs.  Bertoia created huge sound sculptures in a barn in rural Pennsylvania and self-released a series of 10 beautiful LPs in the '70's that with their homemade sounds and stark black & white cover art fall somewhere between Partch's Gate 5 and Jandek's Corwood Industries.  Overall, a beautiful reminder that by the end of the 20th century, American folk/sound art was still very much alive and well.  


Gastr Del Sol/Tony Conrad

Two titans of the modern Avant-Garde.  This record coincided with a 1995 series of concerts put on by Table of the Elements.  
Gastr del Sol wasn't the first or only band to employ methods and techniques taken from the world of modern avant-garde composition, but few other bands sought so explicitly, at their core, to create music based in that tradition.  While O'Rourke claims to cringe at the more abstract for abstracts sake aspect of those records, the fact is that they remain as some of the most singularly unique records not only of that particular time, but of the whole history of Experimental/Art rock.  I was always a particular fan of David Grubbs' piano playing.  His voicings and use of space at times recall the proto-minimalism of Satie or the later, sparer works of Feldman.  Here we have a fragment of song that floats in and out of a haze of subtle electronics and tape manipulation that perfectly exemplifies the Gastr del Sol modus operandi.
Tony Conrad does what Tony Conrad does.  Qualitative judgements can be hard to make with this sort of stuff, but perhaps this is at least an easier to digest portion for folks who find an albums worth (or a 4 cd boxsets worth) daunting.  Over the years Conrad's searing violin drone has rubbed shoulders with folks like La Monte Young, the Velvet Underground, and Faust.  But it's been in the last decade or so that his reputation has been rescued from obscurity and he's returned to somewhat regular performance.
The first 500 copies of this record also included a second record with an excerpted performance of a Conrad composition, Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plane,  performed with Grubbs and O'Rourke.


Sun City Girls- Eye Mohini


Most people that care about such things consider the early 90's Majora releases to represent something of a high water mark in this band's long and storied career. It was also a particularly productive period- this is one of four singles released that year.  The music here works well as an addendum to the amazing albums of the era (Torch of the Mystics, Bright Surroundings, etc).  None of this stuff turned up on the fairly recent singles compilation,  but I suppose future releases of that nature will be forthcoming.  The brothers Bishop played a mere hour down the road last week and I didn't go.  No excuse.  But I'm seeking solace in the Girls' back catalog.  


Mantis- Drüler

Early 90's Chicago band that only did three singles and a couple comps.  Great records though.  The A side here is really one of the great tracks of the era.  Features Drag City's ubiquitous Rian Murphy.