The Buzzcocks — Time’s Up (2017, Domino)
A long circulated bootleg, officially released in 2000 by mute, and reissued in March of this year (2017) to mark the 40th anniversary of the Spiral Scratch single, Time’s Up is a collection of Buzzcock’s demos that catches the group in their nascent and arguably most visceral (certainly most interesting) stage. Admittedly, this release only recently came into our Marginal paws, but as huge fans of Howard Devoto, Magazine, and the Spiral Scratch 45 at Marginal HQ, it was imperative to get these early recordings featuring Devoto pumping through the cans as soon as possible. Including the cuts that wound up on Spiral and a number of tracks that were later recorded with Pete Shelley replacing Devoto on vocals, this document preserves the urgency catalyzed by the infamous early Sex Pistols show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, along with the pomp, insouciance, and flippancy that Devoto offers. The four tracks that later feature on Spiral Scratch regrettably pale to those the wound up on the 45, largely owing to the drastically slower tempos. Among the highlights, an stripped down, but explosive rendition of Captain Beefhart’s, “I Love You, You Big Dummy,” which was later performed by Devoto in Magazine. The fidelity is remarkably clear for a young, broke, and at the time irrelevant band, who were effectively writing the guidebook for Mancunian punks to follow. This release is not an indispensable release by any account, but as someone who enjoys the extremely limited Buzzcocks output featuring Devoto, it remains exciting and historically fascinating to take give this rock n roll time capsule a spin and in the process, immerse oneself in the early pings of punk rock in the English Northwest c. 1976.
Else Marie Pade — Electronic Works 1958-1995 (2014, ImpRecs)
On the Important Records webpage for this release, there is a quote from the artist claiming, “in the evening I could imagine that the stars and the moon and the sky uttered sounds and those turned into electronic music.” Danish electronic pioneer, Else Marie Pade didn’t just produce works that sound like they came from the night sky, but rather sonic tapestries that originate from a place that is well beyond the uppermost reaches of the stratosphere. Pade’s work is an enigmatic blend of oscillations, sine and square waves, and Stockhausen-esque chirps. Opening with the artist’s “Faust Suite” a deeply harmonic piece with a ghostly and unsettling aura, brilliantly captures the risk and intrigue of Faust’s pact with the devil. The earliest work on the album, “Syv Cirkler” from 1958, is again marked by an eerie sense of surrealism. The tune features rising and fall tonal strokes as square waves fade in and recede. Other highlights include “Illustrationer” a work from 1995 comprised of four movements, demonstrates a clear continuation of Pade’s modus operandi. This piece captures the playfully frigidity of a cloudless day in Northern Europe in the late autumn, just before winter and short days take hold. The album jacket features an image of Pade with a wry smile, gazed transfixed onto something in the distance. The image image feels entirely appropriate given that her music still sounds light years away, even after the development of electronic music(s) in the decades that followed the earliest recordings on the record. This wonderfully curated retrospective of one of the avant garde’s unsung heroes and is required listening for those interested in the aforementioned Stockhausen (whom Pade studied under at Darmstadt), the history of and/or early electronic music(s), or any variant of otherworldly sounds.
Alastair Galbraith — Seely Girn (1993, Feel Good All Over)
Few artists can so confidently oscillate between different genres as New Zealand’s Alastair Galbraith. Even more impressive, this 1990s retrospective, Seely Grin, featuring some of Galbraith’s early work manages to dip toes in an assortment of ponds, yet still retains a sense of continuity, coherence, and a singularness that reassures the listener that it’s the same person — and that they’ve done a hell of a job to craft the proverbial signature sound. Toying with Syd Barrett-esque psychedelia, lo-fi folk rock, garage punk, and a host of other stylistic undertakings, Galbraith sounds like a joyous traversal through a wistful dream where the aforementioned Barrett, Magical Mystery era-Beatles, the Velvets, Wire, and the Who, at their most pastoral, warp into and over one another to provide the soundtrack. Drastically different from Galbraith’s work with Bruce Russell in A Handful of Dust and an easier entry point for those who gravitate more towards conventional music(s) than some of his more recent work, this is sure to satisfy listeners from either camp. Dynamically broad, sonically rich, and well worth every cent, fans of early K records stuff, New Zealand garage and pop, or anyone who remembers when ‘indie’ wasn’t a genre, but statement, will dig this. As such, I urge all ye Marginal readers— familiar with the man or otherwise— a prompt and thorough listen of Alastair Glabraith’s early output.
Black Spirituals — Black Interiors (2015, Ratskin)
Recorded independently of one another, Black Spiritual’s 2015 cassette on Ratskin, Black Interiors, remains a coherent and rewarding listen despite the duo’s isolation (each occupying side A and B, respectively). The opener, “Temperament” is a creamy, distorted piece which would be well suited as the national anthem of Marginaltopia. “Radius” begins with some brief electronic cracks and hums before Watkins dives head first into the well and lays down the law vis-à-vis a minimal, yet rousing guitar melody. “Location,” demands the listener find the incidental melodies buried amidst mile-wide slabs of feedback in a highly resonant room. “Mass” is a brief, pathos-inducing 2 minute loop that is akin to pressing the nostalgic sounds of one’s youth onto a warped piece of wax. At times, the guitarist sounds like a less atmospheric Skullflower — which is not to suggest this piece has no atmosphere, it just refuses to be bogged down by it like British group, resulting in a sound that is more uplifting, grittier, less bloated, and ultimately lacks the mawkishness ever-present in Metal music in all its derivations. Watkins’ has clearly theorized, ruminated, experimented, and ultimately implemented an approach which borrows the most exciting elements of the guitar, yet manages to leave in his wake the staleness of the instrument. At the risk of being utterly reductive, fans of everyone from the Warmers to the Dead C should be able to get behind his playing.
Side-B opens with Trammell’s “Attentiveness” a resolute number which is more than just solo drumming. The recording is sufficient in reminding the listener the nuanced overtones and resonances of the instrument. “Tempestuousity” revisits many of the same techniques and sounds as if it was an alternate meditation on many of the same artistic and aesthetic themes. What is made apparent on both tracks, is Trammell’s understanding of the sonic and resonant interaction between the kit’s pieces and consequently, the vast aural possibilities of the instrument. He is clearly an accomplished player on a technical level, who, refreshingly is not bogged down by the often hyperreductive and uniform dynamics of the drums. Animal of the muppets, need not apply.
Bonnie Jones — Vines (2006, EMR)
If video arcades could talk, this is what they’d yell after being thrown into a body of water with a cinder block tied to their feet. Baltimore’s Bonnie Jones has a real winner with 2006’s Vines. The three song release is erratic and noisy, but also an exercise in restraint, making it a more intriguing listen than releases which consists of unrelenting attacks on the sonic spectrum. The opener, “Body 1” comes in wide and harsh, before the 8-bit birds sing over top of your second-hand Atari 2600 eating shit while lightning blitzes the TV it’s plugged into. Hold on to your hat. Tape hiss and digital delay whispers lead the listener into the 10 minute post-everything dance tune, “Body 2.” Jones brilliantly manages to score the curious relief one feels post-emesis using only microphones and delay pedals. One feels a fleeting sense of ease which quickly sours and next thing you know, you’re unsettled and feeling green again. Only Vines doesn’t return you to the languors of the grippe, it squeaks and screams in your ear in a way that is unsettling, but too good to turn away from. “Body 3” is perhaps the most interesting track with its endless soft vibrations underneath shrill (but not painful) swirls of feedback. The repetitiveness is captivating and takes the listener on a journey outside of town on an cold but clear day. You have been driving a while, the road’s reeled you in — traffic light. The stop shakes you from the daydream. The track and so too the album ends in an abrupt, but in no way anti-climactic fashion. All in all, a great release from the mighty Bonnie Jones, I just wish it was longer.
A Handful of Dust — For Patti Smith (2002, Freewaysound)
[Apologies, but out of print and no stream.]
A rather droll affair, this. The always magnificent A Handful of Dust, featuring Kiwi luminaries Bruce Russell and Alastair Galbraith, who have in some fashion or other been kicking around in the South Island experimental scenes since the mid-1980s. The duo team up for this live homage to Patti Smith recorded in Australia in 2002. “I am god’s finger” features the monotonous squeaking violin of Galbraith while Russell remains uncharacteristically restrained. At around the 2:30 mark, one tempestuous swell of oscillating feedback protrudes from Russell, but otherwise, the Dead C noisenik-cum-doctor of fine arts keeps the pot on a slow simmer, stirring occasionally. Around the 9-10 minute mark Russell turns up the heat and begins to complement Galbraith’s hypnotic playing with jagged, buzzing coughs of sound, before allowing the guitar to feedback circa Woodstock 1969. With a change of the wind however, Russell is nowhere to be found. Cat and mouse continues, and at minute lucky number thirteen, the feedback howls and Galbraith pedal tones and drones the hell out of the violin. An excellent half-hour of sonic cat and mouse. “(From a soundtrack to) Babelfield” opens with reed-like feedback from Russell; Galbraith enters with his own tensile contribution which sounds like the bow scraping over taught wires at just over the 2:00 minute mark. Between tremolo-laden feedback and scraping wires and strings, the duo knock out a tune which feels twitchy and almost nauseating, but is by no means unlistenable. The closing four minutes of the 17 minute tune features Bruce Russell performing a dulcimer-like hammering/strumming of the strings, which though sparse and nearly incoherent, remain surprisingly melodic and poignant. Simultaneously, Galbraith plucks loose strings (or slack wires), adding bassy depth and oddly humorous texture to Russell’s contribution. In sum, For Patti Smith hits the mark and will certainly enter into the rotation of any fan of Russell or Galbraith (or any of their respective projects).
The Pop Group — Idealists in Distress From Bristol (2007, Vinyl Japan)
[out of print and no stream, sorry]
The men behind the misnomer, the Pop Group, are without question one of England’s most challenging rock groups. Of the “post-punk” groups that evolved out of the late 1970s wave of British punk, the Pop Group were among the most abrasive, adventurous, and political, yet they remained situated very much within the rock idiom. Having only released two studio LPs before reforming in 2010, if you’re at all like those of us at Marginal Brevity, this paltry offering does little to satiate one’s cravings for recorded output. Enter Idealists in Distress from Bristol. Compiling live sets from from 1979 and 1980, one has a chance to hear our idealists obliterate most of their studio works, in what is an interesting and quite honest set of recordings. Mistakes aplenty and general lo-fidelity for a number of these sets, but don’t be dissuaded, padawan. The fidelity only adds to the allure and the mystique. The Köln and Helsinki 1980 sets are the best, with the latter possessing the best recording quality on the album, most likely a mix straight from the board. The former features West German hecklers and incendiary renditions of Y and For How Much Longer tunes. The latter has a savory cut of “Liberty City” before front man Mark Stewart would make it his own on Learning to Cope with Cowardice. In all a great release if you’re like the author and love live cuts to pick apart variations and enjoy the nuance. For the casual listener or those put-off by limited production, these may not be the droids you’re looking for.