3.18.2009

Five new reviews this week

Pere Ubu-Dub Housing (Hearpen)(US)
I've always had a thing for Ohio bands- from the well known (Devo) to the lesser knowns (Rocket From The Tombs, Tin Huey) but one stood out from all the rest-Pere Ubu. Even in my young, small town naive ways I knew these guys were an obvious influence on many artists that I liked including Joy Division, the Fall, and the Birthday Party. However, it was the Eighties and I was far too young for the big nihilism party at the end of the previous decade so I knew little about the Ubu's other than they cut three incredible albums for Mercury (two for Chrysalis and one for the label's low rent stake in new wave-Blank). Dub Housing of the three albums I remember being the darkest and most interesting but it had been a long time and I was sure I could be wrong about the band's legacy considering all of the terrible albums they made in the Eighties and Nineties. That (foggy) notion was grounded in my big city life when it collided with Peter Laughner's Ubu legacy and songs like "Life Stinks", "Amphetamine" and "Final Solution" for me became manifesto. Of course, further down the road I had a fated crossing with techno and a romance with electronic music was rekindled. I haven't looked back and so here we are (yawn!).

Meanwhile Dub Housing sat here all these years languishing, waiting for me to return for another listen. Lucky for me that Cleveland rock aficionados Smog Veil have digitally issued the Hearpen catalog, which includes re-issues of Pere Ubu's first three albums. The most striking thing I noticed reconnecting with Dub Housing is the rhythmic thrust of every single song. It's as if the band is acting as a late 70s bridge between renegades like Captain Beefheart and the Velvets with more corporate sponsored anarchy like the Doors and Roxy Music. Everything on the album including singer David Thomas' vocals have been stripped of any ephemera that could prevent the track from grooving into the void. It's like what the Talking Heads were shooting for before they got distracted by the movie cameras. Scott Krauss is assuredly the inspiration for all of those thundering wall of drum (mostly British) post-punk bands that either mutated into Soft Cell circa 1983 or stuck to their guns only to reform in the past five years. Guitarist Tom Hermann is probably the only conventional player amongst these nut jobs stepping out with the occasional ripping lead worthy of James Williamson -a reminder of how large the Stooges loomed in the 1970s. But even he suppresses his virtuoso bent to the kinds of rhythmic pulses demanded of these songs. In other words he is content to play Zoot Horn Rollo to Thomas' Captain Beefheart.

The real attraction on this album is Allen Ravenstine who, on his EML synthesizer, achieves the same effect that today's mnml crowd is trying to affect with so much pain and effort. And it shows, the current crowd of techno twits have turned the party into a goddamn evening with the Moody Blues. And that is the vital importance of Dub Housing to anyone reading this blog. These spirits from the past are spiritually communicating three decades into the future and vibing a new way to look at electronic music that doesn't have to be all about progressive noodling nor cloying and Johnny Bravo'd out (yeah, I'm talkin' bout choo Adam Freeland) to succeed. The fact that this album can suggest new forms after thirty plus years might give you an idea of what kind of fire these guys were playing with (it was enough to kill Laughner that's for sure) but we are all the better for it. Take this, may it serve you well.


Booka Shade-Cinematic Shades (The Slow Songs)(Get Physical)(Germany)
I was surprised at the remarkable range of sounds and music that Walter Merziger & Arno Kammermeier AKA Booka Shade explore on this iTunes only digital counterpart to their new album The Sun & The Neon Light. Here the wildly popular German duo go cinematic as the album title would imply and for a change make some chill out music worth a listen. There are no "In White Rooms" or "Charlotte"'s on this album just kaleidoscopic textures and rich, fuzzy warmth like on Trentemøller's remix of "Outskirts". These guys in addition seems to understand how to properly use strings in an electronic context which adds so much more to this album. On "Night Falls" they consult the originator- Larry Gold of the Salsoul Orchestra- who turns in the performance of a lifetime and finally creates a string accompaniment that doesn't suck. This sublime earthiness sets the tone for the album which checks in on the ghosts of pioneers like Jarre and Glass and their epic cinematic sweeps of electronic music color. There is no other way to describe this album other than deep and dreamy. Well done!

Milton Jackson-Crash (Freerange)(UK)
Milton Jackson (Barry Christie to his mum) returns with his first album in seven years after churning out loads of popular dance floor singles and EPs during that stretch. His style is deceptively simple with a standard tech house groove but the way Jackson works his melodies-especially the filter sweeps-has become trendsetting in the world of house and techno. A good chunk of this album is devoted to reprising recent Jackson singles in different forms so if you've been paying attention you've probably heard at least a quarter of this album-in some version at least. What does make the whole thing worth a listen are key singles like "Ghosts In The Machine", "Crash", and "Rhythm Track". The latter being the best of the bunch built on the chunky house influences of Peace Division on Low Pressings making it tribal late night affair. What I initially thought to be a rather sedate collection of head nodding tech house has surprised me by the level of sophistication I have found in Jackson's rather simple formula.

Raashan Ahmad-The Push (OM Hip-Hop)(US)
Ahmad is best known for being the MC of the Crown City Rockers and that is the primary reason I am reviewing a new-ish hip-hop release. My opinion of the genre lately has dropped so low that I sat on this gem for almost a year. Dammit if I'm not kicking myself for that little slip up. This album has awesome raps from Ahmad that come across as very personal while the beats cover a wide range of styles to keep things interesting. Bonus points include Charli 2na stopping by on "City Feel" and that most of The Push is funky as a mofo. That's pretty much the only way you are going to get me to listen to a hip-hop album these days so well done Raashan Ahmad you've made one of the the five hip-hop albums in the last half decade that didn't suck total ass.

Tomcraft and Luetzenkirchen- Best Of Great Stuff – Mixed, Mashed and Edited By (Great Stuff)(Germany)
This mix is part of a two disc collection celebrating five years of the German imprint Great Stuff. Here label co-founder Tomcraft and artist Luetzenkirchen run through the 28 tracks that tell the label/distributor's story best. What I instantly noticed is that this label puts out top shelf peak hour tracks but when played all together it because bland and even bombastic at times. In this particular case too much spice is not a good thing and sadly those are the limitations of these label collections and ultimately this one does not make the cut for me.

1 comment:

Ilka said...

Just FYI -- http://www.hearpen.com/ is David Thomas' online-only record label and is administered by http://www.smogveil.com/

Great review! Will Twitter it!