Every month I anxiously look forward to Julian Cope's sparkling rants at his Head Heritage site. Outside of Lester Bangs, my forever north star, there's no other music writer who's inspired me more. His intensity, his embrace of turbulence, and his intimidating knowledge produce some brilliant deductions and shattering imagery. As busy as the days can be, I make sure to honor my monthly ritual of reading every new word. I am always better for it. His album-of-the-month essays cannot help but uplift musicians - his passion and understanding are too much to absorb in a single pass. More than once, he's turned me onto new music that's wrapped itself around me like a benevolent serpent, including last installment's pick-of-the-litter, Litmus. What's certain is Cope himself has consistently made albums every bit as quirkily quixotic as any he's praised, but none more so than his latest slab...
Pick of the litter:
Julian Cope: Citizen Cain'd (Head Heritage)
A muffled fuzz bomb that explodes with sandpaper kisses, primal screams, and unforced empathy. Cope has never sounded more impassioned, the sheer intensity of everything swinging wide new doors to reveal cracked, beautiful truths. Split between two discs, a proper double album in the gatefold vinyl sense, Cain'd is gut level scorching. Think Blue Cheer, The Sonics, High On Fire, and Spirit passing a bottle of liquid LSD and then delving into the grit of today's troubled world - processing the idiotic grief inferno the U.S. has unleashed in parabolically enlightened ways. Mood is one thing, and this is cloaked in it, but there's big-hearted content hiding in the wreckage. Cope drops more literary references than an Oxford don on this geologically heavy mutha. He also slips in enough hooks and sugar to make Vanilla Fudge, but the overriding thrust is to slice past perceived differences to an archetypal common ground. Like a section of T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland," this wades through the blood and fire to cry "Shantih shantih shantih." Peace, baby, that's what's waiting for us when we can stop killing our brothers and sisters and live a more enlightened existence that embraces benevolent chaos. Cope is already there, and this stirring sign of our times may help the rest of us join him.
Hazy Malaze: Blackout Love (Fargo)
The bass lines ask for your phone number and get it. This denim clad trio is that sexy cool. An unforced knack for classic hooks compels us forward through 11 tracks that should ring out from jukeboxes everywhere. This sophomore effort from Neal Casal (voc, guitar), Jeff Hill (bass, voc), and Dan Fadel (drums, voc) is like slipping on a vintage radio station where Muscle Shoals' soul rubs shoulders with gritty, four-to-the-floor rock. A garagey freshness that echoes the New York Dolls' smeared mascara kicks permeates these undulating Meters-style grooves. Casal has discovered new twists to his already golden pipes including a gorgeous falsetto. Hazy Malaze is the ticket for anyone who's fallen for MOFRO or Kings of Leon, or who just loves what a trio can do when they totally commit to playing pure music.
420 Funk Mob: Alive In Spain (Wefunk)
Led by Parliament-Funkadelic alumni Clip Payne and Garry Shider, this riotous Mob dips a wet finger into early '70s Funkadelic. The 'lectric Kool-Aid they offer is vividly hued, sweet, granular. This 3-CD European debut was recorded live after just three hours of rehearsal. With 20 people going at it, things can be a bit of a mush, but the weird bubbles up readily and frequently, setting them apart from today's P-Funk oldies revue. The wind falls out of a few cuts midway, but then a carnal sax or madness-flecked keyboard offers subtle variations on the theme, riding the handclap current until the songbirds and trombones soar. Bonus DVD footage from 2004 fills in the visuals, revealing a band intent on living new chapters in the George Clinton legacy. The be-dreaded one even joins them in Spain, offering his own funky anointing to the proceedings. This is solid stuff if not the full blown return to Pedro-Bell-psychedelic-glory one might want.
Brian Jonestown Massacre: Tepid Peppermint Wonderland – A Retrospective (Tee Pee)
Shimmery, fungal brain candy that says "come one, come all" and have a taste. BJM have always existed out-of-time, a band that would slot in beautifully on those Nuggets collections of obscure '60s psychedelia or sharing a bill with Leon Russell and the Steve Miller Band at the Whiskey A Go Go. Except, they are children of today who've embraced fuzzed out beauty in a wholly complimentary way. BJM made a blip in the greater public consciousness last year with the rock doc Dig!, which detailed the intertwined paths of the Massacre and the Dandy Warhols. Thankfully none of the film's drama is present on this two-disc anthology that gathers up the good stuff from their many albums, singles, radio performances, and unreleased goodies. Flutes, archaic keyboards, almost-too-yummy guitars, and what might be a British voice (it isn't) make the '60s spirit get up and shake like a Woodstock refugee. It's retro only in the way it accurately evokes something like the magic that infused The Who Sells Out. The prevailing mood is a sunny drive down the shore with the top down, a blonde beauty lightly touching your thigh before you pull over to graze in the tall grass. What could be nicer?
Sleeping In The Market – Ethiopian Music and Sounds From Amhara (Latitude/Locust)
To Western ears, this is utterly alien music. Often sharp and atonal, this traces the journey back to Ethiopia by an Ethiopian Jew who had left his homeland 20 years ago as part of Israel's Operation Moses. Metal flutes and children's voices mingle in these laments and threshing songs. This is music of daily life, not the background noise music often relegated to the West. History saturates every note, all the pain and suffering and hard labor behind them always present. There is joy, but that isn't what comes through most prevalently in these dreamlike soundscapes. Certainly not for everyone, Sleeping In The Market will appeal to ethnomusicologists and listeners anxious to visit a world different than their own.
Gods of Cock Rock: The White Russian Sessions (self-released)
Straight away, you gotta hold your lighter up just for their name. Then, when it turns out to be two dudes strumming acoustic guitars in their living room, you get to snicker at the bait-and-switch that set you up to expect spandex-stuffing-flashpot-hair-metal. The Gods are Dave Boss and Ravi Shah, and their pantheon includes Tenacious D, Zappa, and super bar band Golden Smog. Split between gently crude originals and a four pack of covers, this goes down easy like the first beer of the night. "I Really Want To Fuck That Girl" is a great sweet-and-sour chuckle, the kind of gem that you slip onto mix CDs just to see your friend's reaction. The covers include the Stones' "No Expectations," Beck's "Rowboat," Golden Smog's "Radio King," and the Supersuckers' "Non-Addictive Marijuana." It's fun to hear them play just a bit beyond their abilities, straining to be the rock deities they know they can be. These sessions are like eavesdropping on a band's dressing room, unguarded and naughty and probably a bit stoned. And they're giving it away for free! Check their website for details. They cheerfully tell us, "Feel free to pass it along to your friends, and if you don't like it, we could care less!!!" That's the spirit, boys!
John Ellis: One Foot In The Swamp (Hyena)
A Rhodes electric chime heralds a warm, electric bop wave that slowly pulls you under with a smile. John Ellis (Charlie Hunter Trio) brings many worlds into this heady jazz set. His experiences in New Orleans, in a house band in Singapore, playing with legends like Ellis Marsalis and Mike Clark - it's all here, in the life experience humming in these graceful compositions and earthy performances. There are nods to stated influences Dexter Gordon & Charles Lloyd (who's great '70s Atlantic sides this echoes), but these ears also pick up strains of Lou Donaldson and especially Von Freeman. Little, well-picked touches like a swinging tambourine or the Stevie Wonder-esque harmonica add layers to the joyous interaction of the players throughout, a bubbling energy that's similar to primo Brecker Brothers in tone. They are just as alluring when they go meditative on "Seeing Mice" where keyboardist Aaron Goldberg displays an Abdullah Ibrahim-like grace. This is a wonderful jazz love letter with no need for bells, whistles, or gimmicks. Everything about it seems unforced, as natural as water carving a pathway in soft sand, welcome as a sunset at the end of a long, beautiful day.
Twinemen: Sideshow (Hi-N-Dry)
Drummer Billy Conway and saxophonist Dana Colley were once two-thirds of Morphine. In Twinemen they weave their considerable hypnotism with singer-guitarist Laurie Sargent. It ain't the industrial surrealism of Morphine, but it does have a certain quicksilver charm, the thumping of mutant blues tangents, Zeppelin if they'd gone deeper into '70s space rock. Colley's snaky wind work rarely fails to seduce, and he's aided admirably by Sargent's gently tweaked vocals. It's a slower seduction than Morphine, who just grabbed your ears and had their way with you. Sideshow builds on Twinemen's live prowess bringing their energy and bristling creativity into an interesting studio exploration.
Sunburned Hand Of The Man: No Magic Man (self-released)
Notes decay as they are born. A PBS voiceover tells an arcane tale one part Claudius, one part Faust, and one part Jung, who always seems to be winking at us behind this band. Sunburned Hand's latest is the audio equivalent of Richard Linklater's Waking Life – slippery, philosophical, lubricating. It also happens to be one of their fiercest, most intriguing albums yet. Often SHOTM dispense with vocals (besides a persistent joy in screams), but this time there's the thinnest semiotic thread amongst the rattled chains, Gnawa-trance, and swooning shirtless moans. With the Hand, shadow is as important as light. Growth and decomposition are not opposites but poles of the same egg that births their music. Rock? Jazz? Experimental? Irrelevant. This is pure music, and we're blessed to live in the time of these freakout marvels.
Vintage Stash selection:
Santana: Santana (Columbia/Legacy)
"The key for us was that we were always going for the groove," states Gregg Rolie in the notes for this uber-deluxe reissue of Santana's '69 debut. This double CD anthology gathers together for the first time the original Santana studio release, the sessions that preceded it by a month, and most mouth-wateringly, their entire Woodstock performance. With no disrespect to Carlos' 30+ year career, this initial volley is the most original, startlingly effecting release in his canon – rock of grandeur overstuffed with new ideas that have now become so ubiquitous that we take them for granted. It is worthy of the overworked phrase "timeless" in more ways than one. Snatching the good parts of '60s B.B. King, Dizzy Gillespie's Afro-Cuban revolution, Jimmy Smith's B-3 assault, and something distinctly though indefinably San Franciscan, Santana mach one (Carlos Santana – guitar, Gregg Rolie – keyboards, vocals, Michael Carabello – conga, timbale, David Brown – bass, Jose "Chepito" Areas – conga, and Michael Shrieve – drums) achieved the rare thing of making a fresh, original sound. There's the face-melting scent of Hendrix but also the melodic dexterity of Carlos' stated influence, Gabor Szabo. A Latin fire burns in their belly, but they divert their attentions to breathe the blues and modal jazz. Above all, it was a beacon to anyone who wondered just what Rock Music might be after the creative explosion of the past decade. For such young men, their clarity of vision is intoxicating, and this reissue gives it a much-needed sonic polish that separates the instruments and lets each aspect step up for a bow. The outtakes and live material just serve up further proof that some aggregates are meant to be - a glimpse into the first steps that birthed one of rock's most distinctive strains.
In honor of our 20th installment, the next article will be a special spotlight on recent music DVDs after which the column will begin featuring one new DVD release regularly. We know you like to watch. We do too. We'll look at a fantastic Mother Hips documentary, the new Drive-By Truckers concert set, Buckethead's seriously messed up Secret Recipe, Iron Maiden's Early Days, and more things worth prying your eyeballs open for Clockwork Orange style.
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