U.S. Maple — Sang Phat Editor (1997, Skin Graft)
In the trailer for an unfinished documentary that follows Chicago group U.S. Maple, guitarist Todd Rittman and vocalist Al Johnson profess that the group are awoved classic rock fans and their sinewy, often nonsensical approach to rock music is firmly situated within the pantheon of Led Zeppelins, Queens, Stones, Whos, and the like. Irrespective of ‘Maple’s influences or point of origin, their destination is one which is infinitely more interesting (not to mention challenging) than playing “I am the Walrus” backwards or whatever other proto-psych drivel classic rock fans are on about. The songs have tight drumming and slack guitaring. Sometimes guitarists A & B play (deliberately) fumble their cues, play out of time, focusing more on timbre and muted plucks, leaving the power chords and bombast at the door. More often than not, they combine in an effort that sonically resembles Derek Bailey jamming with the Contortions. The ending of “Songs that Have No Making Out” takes Jimmy Page to the cleaners. “La Click” is circus of a tune: grating violin, spasmodic drumming, and an outro comprised of Casio stabs which sound closer to sitar drones than pop keyboards. “Missouri Twist” is one of the best tracks on the record. Piano-meets-revving engine whammy bar strums which give way to Melt Banana-esque squeaks and chirps. Replete with rhythms that sound like a warped record and are sure to elicit pelvic gyrations. Forget No Wave, this is Blues Wave. In the epochal upheaval caused by the hyper-reductive, yet exceedingly popular genre “grunge,” U.S. Maple stands alone as one of the 1990s truly imaginative rock bands.
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.
Vampire Can’t — Key Cutter (Load Records, 2005)
Jessica Rylan, PhD, electrical engineer and sonic freakout champion augments her solo free noise project (Can’t) with fellow Masshole Bill Nace and Chris “good enough to play with Coltrane” Corsano — the latter two perform splendidly as Vampire Belt, so naturally, powers combined, the trio christen themselves Vampire Can’t. I’ll cut to the chase: Key Cutter will fuck you up. I’m not entirely certain who compliments who, but in this union of minds and sounds and sounds and minds, Rylan’s textures mesh seamlessly with Corsano’s fury which blends with Nace’s disregard for the integrity of his instrument (about time some did it). It’s intense, but not gimmicky like perennial blowhard Michael Gira and Swans. Not dissimilar to Lightning Bolt, but this boards Lightning Bolt’s vessel and sends the fucker into the icy deep. From the grotesque opening track, “the Rat,” the album bursts like a sore and hits harder than ten Keith Moons. A quick hop into a piece of sonic dynamite, “WaX Lips,” communicates loud and clear, that like the mob, once you’re in, you are in. “Soft Canary” promises to unground you if you finish your homework and clean your room, but don’t hold breath, because two minutes later, “Five Eyes” —after the deceptive respite proffered by its opening bars—flips its lid and you’re in for the rest of the weekend. And what a weekend it is. The closing 12 minute robo-dirge, “No Strings” is a watery, glitchy, tape-y parting of kindred spirits. The tune calls it like it sees it: no strings attached, it was fun while it lasted, now we go our separate ways. Don’t ever call me again. In fact, it’s best to not even think about me. No, not the album —well, never mind, you get the point. With regards to the album, it is best to think about and listen to this record again and often. It’s cathartic, bombastic, and dangerous —the stuff rock ‘n’ roll dreams are made of.
Holger Czukay – On the Way to the Peak of Normal (1981, Electrola; 2013 reissue, Grönland)
Listen [partial playlist of the album on youtube]
More restrained and less bizarre than Czukay’s 1979 Movies, 1981’s On the Way to the Peak of Normal feels like the lost alternate soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train. If Movies was a carnivalesque appraisal of rock music, On the Way is an acid trip, wondering through the vacant lot where the big top has just up sticks. Side A kicks off with the brooding title track, which grooves and moves like a a tune culled from the Suzuki-era Can catalogue, featuring an amalgam of distant horns and whistling oscillations. “Witches Multiplication Table,” a tune penned by producer extraordinaire Conny Plank, no less, keeps the creeps going. Had Count Dracula ever been chronicled in a film by Sergio Leone, I’d expect to hear the brief and enigmatic “Two Bass Shuffle,” as the accompanying score. Public Image Ltd.’s low-end agitator Jah Wobble assumes bass duties with Czukay on drums, not your Toccatta and Fugue in D Minor bullshit by a long shot. Side A is thematically consistent and it’s rather easy to lose yourself in Czukay’s grooves and off-kilter sonic motifs. The flip side, is arguably one of the greatest tunes of all time, the sultry “Ode to Perfume.” An 18 psych-kosmiche slow-burning come down. This is Sgt. Pepper’s, if the Beatles had come from Mars. Imbued with a near operatic sense of grandeur, yet ultimately retaining a sense of intrigue and risk, the track manages to be that rare feat, a work which is both sexy and artistically engrossing at once. Dark and spooky vibes permeate this release, but not in an unsettling way: it’s the end of the night, your head is swimming, and you want to fall asleep, but can’t. This record is playing square in the middle of that head space.