A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.8

Can-Opener-front

Can – Opener (1976)

This one follows on from my last post about Kraftwerk and cheap artist anthologies which once served a very specific, if unintended purpose, for cash-strapped vinyl fiends.

After Kraftwerk, and unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool prog fan or just a bit weird and somehow got to Tangerine Dream or Faust first, Can is usually the second stop on any journey of kosmische discovery. Whether it’s the early, vaguely Velvets-ish garage rock mantras with Malcolm Mooney or the spacey, groove-laden and proto-ambient (and much more) stylings employed with Damo Suzuki, Cologne’s castle-dwelling misfits really do have something for everyone.

Of course, at the time I bought this, I was mainly after one thing. I must have picked it up some time in the nineties before the glut of Can reissues appeared, and having never seen any of their albums for anything approaching an affordable price, I was understandably excited seeing this compilation relatively cheap. I pulled it out of the rack in that covetous and over-eager manner one has when stumbling upon their personal equivalent of treasure, barely stopping to acknowledge the great/terrible punning title and pop art-referencing image as I flipped it over to see the tracklist. I may have even let out an audible and embarrassing “Yes!” as I discovered it contained ‘Vitamin C’, probably the funkiest of all Can tracks, the one you could play in a DJ set and people would say “What the fuck is this?” in the best way.

Like Elektro Kinetik, this LP brings together a selection of tracks from a short period in a band’s long life and again covers material from three albums*. Unlike the Kraftwerk collection though, this focusses on Can’s mid period/the closing of their golden years, with four tracks from the masterpiece Ege Bamyasi, two apiece from Future Days and the band’s first post-Damo and last great album Soon Over Babaluma. The gypsy-reggae-funk grooves of  ‘Dizzy Dizzy’ and ‘Come Sta, La Luna’ make them the most accessible moments from the latter, and combined with the proto-baggy-but-much-better-than-that ‘I’m So Green’ and ending with the floaty come down of ‘Future Days’ help to make up a consistent collection that, despite the odd assertion in the liner notes that Can are “still the most unsettling of all the German Groups”, could well have been called Can’s Big Party Hits Album. And we’ve all got drunk and sang along to Damo’s divine pidgin English chorus from ‘Spoon’ at some point, haven’t we? Well, perhaps we should.

“Doooon’t sit up-on the cha-ir when nobody wants to care!”

Can-Opener-back

*Perhaps bizarrely, this comp has recently been reissued on vinyl in its own right.

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A Foolhearty Endeavour Pt.7

Kraftwerk - Elektro Kinetik - front cover

Kraftwerk – Elektro Kinetik (1981)

Kosmische/Krautrock seems to be an important rite of passage for almost every curious music head and most will have investigated at least two 70s German bands*, one of which will certainly be Kraftwerk, by the age of 25. In the pre-file sharing age of course, this required putting in a fair amount of effort; albums weren’t always available on CD and the originals were rarely cheap – Julian Cope’s hyper-enthusiastic 1995 book Krautrocksampler did wonders for the music, but not so much for those who were cash-strapped and wanted to get their hands on it. To get hold of many of these records, it was all about taping off your friend who usually dubbed them from a cool dad’s or elder sibling’s LP, or perhaps borrowing knackered copies from your local library, or if you were really lucky, buying them cheap when the library sold off all their vinyl.

There was always another way though. If you wanted certain tracks, or even just one, maybe for DJing with, second hand artist anthologies, like this Vertigo release from 1981, were the best option; you could get some relatively rare music and even play it out, without breaking the bank. And now records like this are somehow more alluring than the readily available, if expensive, pristinely packed ‘exact reproduction’ reissues of original albums. They represent, I’m sure for many like me, a kind of cultural purpose that exists in a hinterland between their current state of near-obsolescence and the original intentions (as introductory ‘brochures’ and extra income for record companies) behind their release.

I bought Elektro Kinetik a long time ago from House Of Rhythm, a second hand shop in Walthamstow, where I grew up. In fact, I may have bought it when it was still called Sounds Familiar, part of a chain that had another branch in Romford. I don’t remember the year and nothing really changed between the two names; the shop was always managed by a tall bloke whose semi-long, lopsided hairstyle made him look like a roadie for The Mission, though he always seemed to be playing 80s soul/boogie while he vigorously cleaned dusty discs, smoking constantly and occasionally sipping from a can of cheap lager. The other cheap constants were the price stickers they used, which were a complete bugger to get off cleanly, as illustrated by the terribly spoiled cover above.

The main reason I bought this one was the beautiful ‘Tanzmusik’ from the Ralf & Florian LP, the last of the ‘disowned’ Kraftwerk albums before the band’s self-acknowledged classic era began with Autobahn. The fact that the single version of the latter’s title track is included was a bonus for me. Also included is the second half of R&F‘s ‘Ananas Symphonie’, whose main theme is a wonderfully languid guitar (Yes, Kraftwerk, guitars!), which makes it more akin with Neu! or Ash Ra Tempel than Trans-Europe Express. Still, you can feel their style gradually edging away from the stretched out experiments of Kraftwerk 2  – a couple of great tracks from which are also on here – towards the more tightly focussed, strongly melodic and fully electronic sound they’re famous for. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the only reason Ralf & Florian sits outside of the sanctioned canon is the fact that Ralf still has long hair on the cover.

This marvellous performance of ‘Tanzmusik’ which features Wolfgang Flür, who isn’t on the record, shows the group were still performing it when on the cusp of their next phase:

Kraftwerk - Elektro Kinetik - back cover

*This one was going to a be kosmische double header, but you can wait for the next part.

A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.6

Rhythm and Sound - Roll Off

Rhythm & Sound – Roll Off (1998)

Monumental moves from Mark & Moritz. I came late to all of Ernestus and von Oswald’s music and Rhythm & Sound was the last of their projects to really hit me. Against the inside-outness of Basic Channel and the stark, brutal drive of Maurizio, R&S, superficially at least, sounded so straight. Where all their aliases built upon or at least hinted at the duo’s love of roots and dub reggae, R&S seemed like little more than mere homage.

Then I got it, and ‘Roll Off’, probably the most unconventional track, was the one that really pulled me in. The single has two versions, the first, ‘Roll Off/B’ features a steady techno pulse, but it’s the stripped ‘Roll Of/S’ that truly astounds. That thing that someone said about the Ramones being an experiment in seeing how much you could take away and still have rock ‘n’ roll? Well, ‘Roll Off/S’ is like the dub equivalent. There is a (slow) groove buried in there somewhere, but it’s so abstracted and unpredictable. Every kick drum drops like a bomb and every offbeat skank shoots like a flare or firework flying off at a different angle, sometimes colliding with the next hit on the way down. Where most post-roots era dub satisfies itself by piling on the bass pressure and swathes of echo/delay, ‘Roll Off /S’ gets to the heart of the form as meditative aural landscape and retains the alchemical spirit of the Jamaican originators and their misuse/abuse of both raw song material and technology.

There isn’t a great deal of ‘backstory’ with this one, which I first heard on the Rhythm & Sound CD collection. It stunned me on an iPod, pushed to the limit to drown out London tube noise, but I knew immediately that it had to be heard on vinyl, where the cracks and spaces would somehow open up and reveal even more.  Also, by featuring only the ‘/s’ version, the CD/digital album slightly spoils the full effect of the journey from pretty out there to gone that you get when playing both sides of the 12″. Fortunately, most of the Basic Channel-related catalogue remains in print so if you don’t have it but do have  a record player, go treat yourself, play loud and get inside it.

A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.5

Ann Peebles - Breaking Up Somebody's Home

Ann Peebles – Breaking Up Somebody’s Home / Trouble, Heartaches & Sadness (1972) *

70s Soul. Queen of. Ann Peebles should really be as popular as Al Green; in the early seventies both singers were signed to Hi Records where both benefitted from the gorgeously gritty grooves of the genius Willie Mitchell, his crack house band and the Memphis Horns, but choice of material was probably the reason Peebles was a less commercial proposition than Green. The sound is exactly the same, but the songs are often darker; in Peebles’s Memphis pretty much all the men are bastards, everyone seems to be cheating on everyone and it’s always raining.

The a-side of this particular single is just 2½ minutes, but it manages to perfectly distil the moment where late (rainy) night loneliness tips over into bitterness and desperation. And what a title too; I’ve never quite decided whether she wants to just drive round to her beau’s house and do something to split him and his wife up, or if she’s actually thinking about smashing shit up. Peebles does the other woman and woman-done-wrong-and-fighting-back better than pretty much anyone. ‘I Will Survive’? pffft, Ann’s gonna break things and tear your playhouse down.

I originally came to this one via a mixtape from a friend, where the track was obviously recorded from the radio, a clipped syllable from a DJ’s voice coming in at the end over the fade-out.  Even better, the voice was clearly John Peel’s! You can’t help wondering what he was playing either side of this, Napalm Death? The latest Fall record of the time?  Anyway, this became my favourite track on the tape (I can’t remember anything else that was on it now), its brevity demanding continual rewinding.

For some reason I didn’t initially investigate any further into her catalogue, but then one Friday at work I was talking to another friend who loved Ann Peebles. The next day, on my way into town to the shops, I decided I simply had to buy a Peebles record. My first stop was Reckless in Berwick St, which still had a basement where  a box of soul singles sat on the counter. Having inherited not only my dad’s hoarding tendencies, but his acute sense of relative value, I’ve never bought many 7″s (or “45s” as we must trendily refer to them now) and 9/10 times I deliberately avoid looking beyond the LP and 12″ sections in any shop. I was on a mission this time though and miraculously, as I began to flick, there it was, second record in the box, as if I’d just willed it there. I excitedly parted with my £3 and while I have no memory of what if anything else I bought that day, I remember it was definitely raining. Getting the record home, I had a bonus discovery with the equally brilliant b-side, part of whose intro is the backbone to a GZA track I was a bit obsessed with at the time (a huge proportion of early RZA production relies on the Hi back catalogue). In contrast to the a-side, the song is much more positive than its title indicates: she’s bidding goodbye to her troubles and sadness, or rather, as is more customary for Peebles, telling them to piss off.

I now have all this stuff in digital form, having bought an ex-girlfriend the Complete Hi Recordings CD set and copied it, but if you see the Straight From The Heart LP going cheap, please pick it up for me.

AnnPeebles - Trouble, Heartaches & Sadness

* I’m abandoning the countdown numbers, I don’t need the trouble, sadness and heartaches they’ll surely bring.

A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.4

Cristo Redentor front cover

97. Harvey Mandel – Cristo Redentor (1969)

On the surface (OK, the cover is pretty intriguing) this doesn’t seem too promising: Cristo Redentor is ostensibly an instrumental blues-rock album by a virtuoso guitarist who went on to join Canned Heat and even record with the Stones after they’d got a bit shit. However, part of what makes Mandel an admired maestro is his ability to draw from and deftly utilise different styles. Most of his late sixties/early seventies albums have worthwhile moments that surpass the usual white boy blues wankery so prevalent at the time, and this first – and best – one covers a lot of good ground, from pretty full-on psychedelia to jazz and a touch of country.

The story of my relationship to this record starts with my good friend Martin, who’s something of a blues expert (he won a harmonica playing competition at a blues festival, which may or may not have been judged by Charlie Musselwhite who appears on this LP, when he was about 12). In the nineties I used to go to the dilapidated house he shared with a couple of friends, where we’d smoke, listen to early Wu-Tang and delve through Martin’s impressive vinyl collection. This was where I first heard Beefheart and other artists I’d go on to love and obsess about, but late one night I pulled out Cristo Redentor, by an artist I’d never previously heard about, and asked to put it on. The title track, a cover of a gospel-y jazz tune by Duke Pearson, opens side 1 with a wordless soprano, harp and big strings, Mandel just adding subtle reverbed licks over the top. Gorgeous, atmospheric and a pretty ego-free opener for a solo guitar album, it took me in immediately and has gone on to feature on many a mixtape.

Not so long after my first exposure, the album became mine when Martin sold off his entire collection. I got a few other great records* off him, but this one has remained the firm favourite. I immediately started playing side 2’s incredible version of the gospel standard ‘Wade In The Water’, as well as the following ‘Lights Out’, in DJ sets alongside funk and hip-hop. The former has since been sampled and compiled several times: an open drum break, strings, and guitar that pans across the stereo field, veering between a jazzy bright-toned bounce and psychedelic backwards fuzz – it’s got everything for diggers and dancers. The latter track which piles on more slow funk, more strings and more winding backwards guitar really deserves more of a look-in though. A great one for anyone into David Axelrod. And if you want weird, wait for the multitracked guitar drone to appear amidst the uptempo rhumba-style groove of ‘Before Six’.

I now own three different issues of this album (none of which are in terribly good condition, to be honest), including the dodgy computer graphic-adorned 1989 version on the Editions EG label, who put out/reissued a lot of Eno’s stuff. So, avant-rock/prog progenitor, blues rock journeyman or halfway mod, as the back cover of the original might have it? I’ve seen this and other Mandel albums filed under rock, jazz, fusion, and that favourite crate-digger-cum-curator-invented genre ‘funky rock’. And the fact it’s so hard to place is admittedly part of its charm.

Cristo Redentor - versions

Thanks Martin!

*I didn’t take those daft Groundhogs albums that seem to be so fashionable these days.

A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.3

Max Roach - M'Boom - front cover

So, we come to the jazz…

98. Max Roach – M’Boom (1980)

Not just jazz, but jazz from the bloody eighties. Sort of jazz anyway, and recorded in 1979 if that helps. This is credited to Max Roach, who formed the M’Boom ‘re:percussion ensemble’ around 1970, but it’s very much a group work. The ensemble features a bunch of experienced drummer-percussionists – Roy Brooks, Freddie Waits, Joe Chambers, Ray Mantilla etc – whose extensive CVs are summarised on the back. Before you run away with thoughts of endless soloing, this is an album of tunes, using “more than 100 different instruments of determinate and indeterminate pitch”, which means a whole lot of marimba, vibes, xylophones, timpani, gongs, bells, and pretty much every instrument you can bang on. Banged on by men who really know how to bang on shit.

My discovery of this album is somewhat bittersweet: I got it for a couple of quid at Rhythm Records (once the only good reason to visit Camden), where it was reduced because they were closing down. Now usually when something’s that cheap, even in a sale, it’s for good reason, but I took a chance on it because I knew about some of the players and I like music that clangs and bangs. At the very least I figured it might have something I could sample for a track I’d never finish.

Upon getting it home, I discovered it delivered far beyond merely being OK. Alright, so my girlfriend at the time did say the (great) opening track ‘Onomatopoeia’ sounded like it was “written for some dodgy modern interpretive dance” and lo and behold, when I looked it up on YouTube recently, this was the first thing I found. However, there’s a lot more going on here. The beautiful Mingus tribute ‘January V’ (which later appeared on Four Tet’s edition of the Late Night Tales series) is all vibes, chimes and marimba, and might come across to contemporary ears like something from the late nineties Chicago branch of post-rock, except better and more emotionally charged than that. And closer ‘Kujichagalia’ rides on a killer funk rhythm, led by steel drums and snares, backed up with woodblocks, cowbells and assorted African instruments.

The first M’Boom album from 1973 really is rare as fuck, but this one can often be found for way less than it’s worth (to me at least); while record digging in Massachusetts last year, I practically forced John Twells to pick it up for a paltry $3-4. I hope he’s played it*.

“For fans of”: Steve Reich, Tortoise, Konono Nº1, gamelan, and, er, Parasol Trap

*update from John: apparently he has played it, DJed with it and made others buy it. So there, I’m not alone.