Net Nuggets 18: Black Angel Psych-out!

The Black Angels aren't particularly innovative—although everyone harping on about how «'60s retro» they are obviously can't be too familiar with the artists of whom the Angels are supposedly so derivative. The Velvet Underground, 13th Floor Elevators and Pink Floyd never sounded like this. No '60s band did. Said artists may have been more innovative, but musically at least, none of those bands possessed the bottom-heavy balls of the Angels; none could muster the nasty, gutsy grooves that they summon up. (You can't dance to VU or the Floyd…)

The '60s psych and garage revival is getting a bit tired—the cliché no less corny now than in 1967—but with the Angels you don't get any of that clever and sloppy punk kitsch or earnest flower power whimsy that's getting so grating these days. No, this is the spirit of rock'n'roll—a good mix of fuck-off fun and lose-yerself death trip transcendence. For all their negligible lyrics and nostalgic rhetoric—that «Turn on, tune in and drone out» Pop Art PR schtick—at least they're not cerebral. This music is sex & death. And if you're not sure whether that's a good thing, you of all people really need to hear this:

  1. Better Off Alone
  2. The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven
  3. Deer-ree-shee
  4. Bloodhounds on My Trail
  5. Black Grease
  6. Doves
  7. Ronnettes
  8. Civilization (with Roky Erickson)
  9. Syd Barrett Blues (by Christian Bland)
«Better Off Alone» was recorded for Texan student radio KVRX, whereas «The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven», «Deer-ree-shee», «Bloodhounds on My Trail», «Black Grease», «Doves» and «Ronnettes» were all recorded for Seattle radio station KEXP. All these songs are available in far better audio quality on solid studio albums Passover and Directions to See a Ghost—except «Ronnettes», inexplicably a rarity (that, incidentally, is worth the price of admission alone).

«Civilization» is the Black Angels backing original 13th Floor Elevator Roky Erickson! How's that for street cred. It makes Black Angel Christian Bland—whose first solo recording (the blues about Syd Barrett) was issued by French label Dead Bees—less questionable for writing a song about the Pink Floyd firefly, in the first-person. But Bland's home rec guitar noise trades his house for the cosmos. Stellar.


Rare or Unreleased 29: Charles C. Leary

We can probably thank Devendra Banhart for the '00s resurgence in DIY home recordings, both in folk and indie rock. At one time the domain of eccentric artists, then the trendy, by now lo-fi home recordings have become an easy resort, with anyone not deemed good enough by serious record companies simply spewing out his or her mediocrity, in the belief that the intimacy associated with home recordings automatically translates into sincerity and talent. It doesn't.

There are advantages to unpretentious home recordings, though: Overlooked talent is less likely to be hampered by a lack of investors ready to provide studio time, and rawness often contains the energy lost in reconstructive studio recordings… Besides, hi-fi enthusiasts have it all wrong, much like perverts who rub their privates on glossy magazine paper, rather than at the sight of the mind-tickling, pornographic images on it. Home recordings full of warbling tape hiss and distortion aren't aural infidelity, just a different approach to sound (and a welcome break from the deceptively realistic philosophy of hi-fi-philes). Which is why Devendra Banhart sounded so fresh when he came out with rough debut album Oh Me Oh My… The Way the Day Goes By the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit in 2002.

Well, one of the reasons. Not one to sit home alone and pine, forlorn and clueless, for some unreciprocated love—or harp on about childhood memories irrelevant to anyone but the songwriter, or childlike flights of fancy involving hobbits, animals with names and trees with souls—Banhart's spontaneous, silly and wholly unrestricted lyrics (by turns infantile, creepy and poignant, as if he saw no distinction between the three) and delivery free from self-consciousness and contrivance set him apart from all the other New-Weird-Americana-Freak-Folk-Family scenesters indulging in their moss-hugging whimsy. What makes Banhart so compelling isn't that he opposes yoga-animist crystal worship—he doesn't—but that he combines this with more unsettling, unrestrained elements that percolate there just at the surface of his awareness. Like the original hippies (forgotten by today's retro, unwashed ecologists clinging to identity packs limited to ideas of light, love and organic vegetarian food, and all but alien to occultism and orgies), an element of freewheeling black psychosis is involved in many of Banhart's original home recordings. Thankfully, our man was (by his own accounts) doing a lot of speed at the time, which would counter any insipidly pacifying effects of joint smoking…

When Young God Records released Oh Me Oh My…, the CD was a compilation out of a huge batch of songs recorded by Banhart onto four-track, answering machines, &c., chosen at random. An EP of more of these recordings—«The Black Babies»—soon appeared. Since then, every once in a while a previously unissued song from this period appears on some compilation or other (like The Fold Compilation, The Enlightened Family, and Yeti 3). The first single from Banhart's second studio album, «Little Yellow Spider», also contained old home recordings.

One forgotten album, however, is The Charles C. Leary, named after the songin turn named after Banhart's grandfather's ship (or so Banhart says). Whatever the etymology, the CD was released by French label Hinah in 2002, but quickly discontinued (due to licensing issues vis-à-vis Young God Records, I'd imagine). The Charles C. Leary contained many of the songs on Oh Me Oh My…, as well as songs that would later appear on The Fold Compilation and Yeti 3.

As Toilet Guppies isn't one of those blogs that pompously pretends to share files in a valiant battle against big corporations, when really the reason to use artists' product is to draw people to the self-indulgent blog (at the same time denying those very same artists their due income), I've included only those songs off The Charles C. Leary that aren't commercially available elsewhere. The other songs are readily for sale, and well worth the price.

1. Bish-bash Falls
2. Soothe My Soul, Mend My Mind
3. Ay Mama—Ay Mama
«Ay Mama» was later reworked—complete with the unbeatable combo of trombone and organ—and appears on Niño rojo.
4. The Fish Are Scratched Up Flies
5. Artsandcrafts (live at 40th Street West)
6. The Animal Map
7. Ride Away Like Roy Orbison
This song was re-recorded in the studio and released under the title «There's Always Something Happening» on the Natalie Portman-curated, iTunes-exclusive charity comp Big Change—Songs for FINCA, benefitting micro-financing schemes for women's businesses in the Third World.
8. Noah
Another song that later emerged in a studio-recorded band version, on Niño rojo.
9. Aperpareplane (early recording)
10. I Played Organ while Colter Played Guitar
11. Joe Cain
Unwind, unhinge and enjoy!


Net Nuggets 17: Kurt Vile Radio Sessions

Hear ye, stoners, loners and heroes! A while back, Toilet Guppies posted a song by Kurt Vile, originally recorded for radio station WFMU last year. Now he's back, almost ready to unleash his new album upon us. Until then, enjoy some radio performances of his (below the rave).

Mr. Vile is an expert at ambivalent feelings that don't spread too far into extremes (such as love and hate), but rather vacillate seamlessly in a smaller pool of mixed, if confused, emotions, ranging from the slightly bitter and fed up to the well-meaning and -inclined… the betrayed and the forgiving… the grateful and the annoyed.

His first-person narrators, more often than not, seem to be slacker sociophobes (sometimes homeless bums?) who have certain reservations towards their friends or fellow human beings, without ever becoming too vitriolic. Because in Vile's universe, laziness will always outweigh rage. You can find a comfortable home in defeat. You just need to appreciate the little things in life—a train ride, a red apple, a beautiful girl, some classic rock in spring—and be practically free from pride. Hey—free is free…

Vile's protagonist is a man too weary for bitterness (or too smart for such uselessness), always maintaining a minimum of calm resilience at the core of his resignation. This keeps the songs a cunt hair's breadth away from being utterly depressing. There's usually a kind of light at the end of the tunnel in Vile's songs—not hope, because hope presupposes the future (and his characters might not have one). It's more about the outlook. Vile whittles anguish, loneliness and suffering down to the nameless instinct for self-preservation—the energy that comes from knowing there's nothing really to lose, and so nothing truly weighing you down.

Kurt Vile's songs are empathic invocations of motivation and inspiration rather than a series of bring-downs to wallow in. Even his wry observations—delivered in his signature deadpan sing-drawl—won't fail to make you smile, even when they're sad as fuck. Vile just turns those phrases around, adding some little consideration or other, all of them seemingly telling you, «I'd say it could be worse, but even that consideration's not worth a thought.»

Instead, just drift off to the stories between Vile's lines, like so many overheard snippets of dialogue in the street:

1. [Title unknown]
People say I should get a life
But hey, I think they're right

2. Overnite Religion
Diggin' on my sweet vision
Overnite religion!

3. Hey, Now I'm Movin'
Aw, yeah, yeah
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

4. Classic Rock in Spring
Hey, how are ya?
Ya sure got a way of greetin' a man
Might I add the perfect suntan

5. Nicotine Blues
«Bit too late for double teaming»
She said, when all the while
I was just dreaming…

6. Runner ups
Hey, yo, man, how many times we gotta tell ya?
We don't want none, but, uh
Where you been so long?
Hey, girl, come on over
That'll be just fine…

7. He's Alright
I scrape my face on the clouds every time I get out
… but that's daytime

8. [Title unknown] (early version of Freak Train)
Hey, man, get your head out of the garbage can
You turn your brain into mush that way

9. It's Alright
It's alright to hang your coat here
It's alright to share your hopes here
It's alright to do your dope here
It's alright 'til it
Something in the atmosphere turns me on me

10. Space Forklift
When your mindspeed peels at a 103
Put yourself over your knee

11. Ghost Town
In the mornin'
I'm not done sleepin'
In the evening
I guess I'm alive
It's alright, I could still
Peel myself up sleepwalking

12. I Wanted Everything
I wanted everything
But I think that I only got
Most of it
1, 4, 8 & 11 live on WNYU.
2, 3, 6 & 7 from Sprout Session, at Dublab.
5, 9, 10 & 12 recorded for Talk's Cheap, WFMU.


Rare or Unreleased 28: Helge Sten

Deathprod.: «Komet» (live) [mp3]

In 1998 (possibly '97), an acquaintance slipped me a tape of Deathprod. opening for Motorpsycho at Oslo venue Rockefeller, as recorded by the NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) and aired during their radio show Roxrevyen. Apparently, my acquaintance had recorded the broadcast on DAT, before transferring it to good old microcassette for me. I copied this onto minidisc, which was later transferred onto the computer.

Believe me, I've tried to obtain a higher quality recording of this performance, both through the NRK directly and through my acquaintance (who has since forgotten all about the piece, and about ever hearing it, let alone taping it and giving it to me). Unfortunately, this piece of Deathprod.'s remains unreleased to this day, and no other recorded version of «Komet» is currently in circulation. Perversely, as the state-owned, non-profit, TV licence-sponsored NRK owns the rights to the actual recording, it has proved too expensive for the artist himself to buy the licence to have it released. And so the recording rots in the archives somewhere, where even the self-appointed caretakers of Norwegian cultural heritage over at the Kafkaesque NRK can't seem to find it—this rare pearl among the mediocre excrement shat out of the pampered botty of Norwegian culture virtually non-existent, and no good to anyone.

So this deteriorated version of the recording will have to do. This (to my knowledge) one-off performance of «Komet» came after Deathprod. a.k.a. Helge Sten's initial experiments with noise, but prior to his further, somewhat insular studio refinements of sound—dense minimalism that is characterised by an almost underwater sensibility. This mid-period Deathprod.—typically recorded in the relatively uncontrolled environment of a live setting, and veering towards composition (rather than audiophile ambient music reduced to texture)—is Helge Sten at his very best, the music not yet restricted in any way by the studio perfectionism that would come later.

From about 1996 to '98, Sten composed what in many ways are more ambitious pieces, trying his hand at added instrumentation of various kinds, and to great effect. Where Imaginary Songs from Tristan da Cunha's «The Contraceptive Briefcase II» incorporated a choir, and the Jörg Mager Ensemble project a string orchestra, «Komet» is the only piece of Deathprod.'s to feature percussion. More accomplished than his early recordings, and more visceral than his later ones, «Komet» truly is a lost masterpiece.

As for the personnel listing, I'm assuming that—the percussionist(s) notwithstanding—the name «Deathprod.» here refers to the period's usual core trio of Helge Sten (theremin, various electronics, «audiovirus»), Ole Henrik Moe (violin) and Hans Magnus Ryan (electric violin).


Net Nuggets 16: BJM

More than most bands by far, The Brian Jonestown Massacre channels the spirit of R'n'R, with core member Anton Newcombe's anti-establishment actions, personal risk, despair, psychosis, transcendental music, and fun (even love!) injecting much-needed adrenaline into the long-moribund genre.

A couple of years ago, Newcombe still maintained a BJM website from which you could download all of the band's many albums, plus live recordings and the odd exclusive album, all for free. Such as Your Side of Our Story (2003). Intended, it would seem, as a gift to fans, Newcombe & Co. recorded a best-of comp, which they promptly handed out digitally, no strings attached. The album, running at over 50 minutes, features sterling re-recordings of BJM songs, many of the new versions superior to the originals. (The definitive version of their elusive classic «Swallowtail»—originally a rough, early demo released as a 7" that later evolved into a live favourite—can be found here.)

  1. Intro
  2. Servo
  3. Nailing Honey to the Bee
  4. This Is Why You Love Me
  5. (David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six
  6. Nothing to Lose
  7. Whoever You Are
  8. Satellite
  9. Johnny Marr Is Dead
  10. Somewhere
  11. Jennifer
  12. Who?
  13. Swallowtail
  14. It Girl
  15. Telegram
  16. Here It Comes
  17. Outro
(Note: The original Your Side of Our Story download also appended two bonus songs that I have removed, as they are album tracks on commercially available releases.)
This album—one of the Massacre's best—never saw an official release, and despite its obvious worth you can't buy it anywhere. Nor can you download it, now that the new BJM website has been retooled not to give away music for free anymore. Hell, even Anton Newcombe needs to eat. Now, I know that to say generosity should pay off would be a contradiction in terms, but check this album out, and if you like it, help support one of the most devoted artists working in rock today by buying one of his fine albums here.


Live in Oslo Tonight—the Walkmen!

The Walkmen: «The Rat» (live) [mp3]

«Lack of trust in others.» It's one of the symptoms of what professionals—from the safe distance of abstracting objectivity—like to call «Complicated Grief». But really, it's just a natural reaction to other people's natural reactions, to death and taboo, which are, as often as not, an urge to flee, to look the other way, to make your excuses and to block out those tainted by the unsettling inevitabilities of nature. You know who's a rat when they abandon ship—when the fair-weather friends with the big words drop you like a hot potato. Fuck it; they always did say «potahto», so let's call the whole thing off.

Even when faced with a rat, though, I never really got hate. You know: that bona fide, real deal, Schadenfreudian, no-holds-barred malevolence burning unequivocally, uncompromisingly and unswervingly in the pit of your stomach, with no mitigations, doubts or ambivalence.

Disappointment… loss of respect… contempt… loathing… an unhealthy dose of chagrin, on the other hand—those I get. I understand curses that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemies, only on former friends. May their life be anti-climactic. May their mediocrity finally wear down their vanity. May their lazy intellect bring them nowhere near truth, and may they stew in their fear of reality. May their big words finally reveal to them just how small they are, as they watch cluelessly as their loved ones inevitably begin to suffer, the cowards bearing futile witness as they await their turn. May they be the last to go, with no one left for them.

And may they never have the nerve to call my number and ask me a favour, because I'd only welcome them back. Rats!

Thank fuck for the Walkmen, then, and their anthem to righteous (if pointless) anger. Catch them live tonight at John Dee, Torggata 16, Oslo. Doors open 20:00.