Alternative Tentacles (mainly) CD round up

Blimey. Ages ago, I threatened a summary of a pile of Alternative Tentacles CDs I had just received. I suppose the fact that I’ve lived with them on my mp3 phone for a couple of months will at least take any real knee-jerk reaction out of this and give my thoughts a sense of mature consideration. Aye, right…

Lets take this alphabetically. And, with the daddies first.

16 Horsepower – Hoarse
I love Slim Cessna’s Auto Club (so much so, I’m off to Denver to see them at New Year again). To a certain extent, I love that whole scene they’ve go going on there, all the peripheral bands. If I do another year end round-up this year, expect Tarantella‘s album Esqueletos to feature very highly. However, on the other hand, no matter how much I try I really can’t get the records of Jay Munly despite his input being so obviously central to the whole SCAC sound. There’s numerous others, but I think that illustrates my point.

Looming over all of this are the godfathers, of what has become known (in a typically staggering piece of original thought from the media) as ‘The Denver Sound‘, David Eugene Edwards’ 16 Horsepower. If you ever saw the Badseeds on tour during the nineties, you’d have seen this lot (same management). I’ve dabbled before, but kept being told that the live forum to really get it. But, the small detail that they’ve spilt up (and the ever preposterous cost of Cave tickets) have put paid to this ever really happening. Luckily coloradan Jello Biafra has finally managed to get some stuff by them to punt out on AT. This has taken the form of a live DVD (‘Secret’ something) and this live album.

And so it sparks up with American Wheeze in which a fabulous plaintive accordion slips into a near sea shanty that it then begins to cajunify(?) to the max with the violin. Low toms underpin all this and then the vocals kick in. Oh, I can see the influence on Mr Munly…christ I can see it. To draw any more comparison would be like suggesting that Fish sounded a tad like Peter Gabriel. Nuff said? The lyrics are all very american-gothic-by-numbers (I’ve grown tired…oh, sweet jesus..my daughter…my son…blah, blah, blah, gun). And, TBH, any anticipation from the intro is kinda lost by the end of it, and what we’re left with is something akin to those Cave b-sides that he lets Warren Ellis have control over.

And, so it goes for the next ten tracks too. They alternate the introduction instruments and occasionally play with the pace, slightly, but ultimately everything ends up sounding pretty much the same as the previous track. (Including a pretty risible take on Bad Moon Rising and one near-roots instrumental.)

Oh, the record is absolutely brilliantly made. Bob Ferbrache (who I think I may have mentioned before) has to be one of the best producer/engineer types around at the moment. This is a document that anyone would be proud of, that way. Just a pity the content doesn’t set me on fire the way I really could’ve done with.

Alice Donut – Fuzz
The observant among you may have spotted that this record isn’t actually on Alternative Tentacles. I know not why and don’t really want to pry. As I’m sure you are all aware, however, the bulk of their body of work was. Strangely, they’re not the only band on this list in the same boat.

So, this is Alice Donut‘s second album since they reformed in 2004. An album (called Three Sisters) which I really liked at the time. However, since then, I’ve seldom revisited it. Don’t know what at all. And, there’s probably only about two or three tracks on it I could fully identify (without listening to it, of course). I must do something about that, because I can’t stop listening to this bugger.

I doubt there’s been a better statement of intent than the near eight minute long opener Madonna Bombing Sajarevo. Surely the title says it all? There seems to be about four different songs going on in there with absolutely no semblance of structure. Several riffs fight for dear life against each other – there’s the obligatory slow trombone break. But, it rocks and is (as is their want) weirdly melodic – near uplifting at points (when you stop shitting yourself). It is truly awesome and worth the price of entry here alone.

And, as if that’s not enough. They keep doing it again and again. Maybe not quite so epically, but not everything has to be. However, at every turn, they do seem to take the songs places that seem so obvious once e they’ve done it, but no-one else would ever think of it. Days Away manages to mutate from bog-standard sub-grunge feedback to what I can only describe as an irish drinking song – seemlessly. The Un-noticed Fall is one of the best garage riffages I’ve heard in ages. Then they take it to the next level and show all the pretenders why anyone ever liked Hawkwind in the first place (and, more importantly why it makes perfect sense for Lemmy to have been in the band). And, it’s about falling over.

Current favourite is the beautifully wistful (see also Kick Again) The Better Me which is all about out-sourcing your personality to India and everyone being much happier with it – including yourself.

They close by bookending with the frantically dotty but vicious The Puny And Revolting Men Of Advertising Smile. With a title like that what more do you need to know?

Would I direct anyone here as a place to start? Why not, it seems as good a place as any?

Bloodhag – Hell Bent For Letters
Edu-core, apparently. Basically, we’ve got a couple of minor sci-fi writers playing juddering hardcore songs about less minor authors (Poe, Kafka, erm Douglas Adams et al). Most of the songs are short (once upon a time that was a badge of honour for this kinda stuff) with extraneous guitar wankery slapped on top. And purely a genre band or not, it fairly rocks. Personally the production could be bigger, but that’s a minor quibble for such a stonking album.

Dash Rip Rock – Recyclone
If only I could say that for this. Another genre album. Bar-room boogie being the case in hand here. Only it’s rubbish. Despite singing about hash (god, you guys are wild)occasionally swearing (phew- too much for me) and featuring Ted Nugent (ok, now I am scared) this is just such a conventional bunch of songs. And, sadly the band appear to lack anything resembling a personality. There are many bands out there that do this kinda thing with so much more style, humour and swagger. Were I Mr Dash, Rip or Rock, I’d leave it to them.

The Fleshies – Scrape The Walls
It’s punk, Jim, but not as we know it. Oh, hang on. Correction; it’s so much as we know it it’s nearly badly cliched. Thank the gods the singer doesn’t have cockney accent. Except this one’s not that simple. I had two points I was going to add to that about this – one from either end of the scale (good/bad). I still will, though. But, there’s something that I can’t put my finger on about this. A certain something (nothing major) that seems to confound my expectations every now and again. I can’t work out if it’s a certain melodicism or energy. There’s certainly is something, though. It’s not gonna change my life. In fact I can’t even see me sticking it on for mates after the pub, but I’ve stopped skipping the tracks when they come on on my way to work.

(Good) Of course, there’s always the cover of SparksHappy Hunting Ground featuring Jello on vocals which is as brilliantly silly as it sounds. (Bad) Although, for some insane reason the band feel the need to try and prove that they’re proper musicians by peppering the thing with a piece called Half Werewolf, Half Vampire…You Are In BIG Trouble! which is basically them picking a slow metal-ish riff and widdling over the top of it. Add some unnecessary effects for good measure and away we go instant Brain Donor record. Although, these pieces of shit seem more focused than their latest (more of which later).

The Freak Accident – Freak Accident
This is brilliant, if completely schizo. Basically, there are two versions of ‘college rock’ (or at least what that term makes me think of) on the one record. This is apparently the lead singer of Victims Family whom I have about an albums worth of stuff by spread about eps and compilations. I’ve never really felt the need to investigate further, and probably couldn’t identify them – although, I am sure I’d probably comment on the track being good. Although, neither of the versions on here are jazzcore.

College rock #1 you know the sensitive, but rocking stuff. Imagine the most Neil Young-y bits of Husker Du. By which I mean the most whiny, so I’m assuming that’s the Grant Hart stuff, which this is better than. Easily summed up with the two versions of You’re The Reason on here. The central point of the album is a huge lighters-out piano driven anthem (leaning more to Young directly with the vocals). Despite it’s naffness, it just moves something rotten. You just know that already this is a fair number of young alternative-types first waltz. Promise. X.

The album closes with the ‘Electric’ version. Where the charge through it at speed. The vocals this time sounding like they can’t keep up rather than being wracked with angst. And it makes me want to run down the street punching the air. And, it’s got one of those stops that just make you grin at passers-by. Oh, come on you know what I mean.

College rock#2 This is probably gonna sound considerably less complimentary, but I mean it in the bestest of ways. You know them knowingly wacky bands, usually from Canada? They’ll have probably had one hit over here that everyone knows but only the hardcore fans could name the band. (And, what a hardcore they are.) You can be sure that the band will have either accordion or stand-up bass player. Often both. At least. They will also have a member of the band who has no real purpose other than dancing (and who dresses most of the time in shorts and a bow tie).

No, really, it’s great. Among the groovy beatnik style bongo numbers is Chinese Phrasebook possibly the most convoluted metaphor in a love song since Birdhouse In Your Soul. It’s all about lying awake at night replaying scenes from a failed relationship on the multiplex screens in your head. But, the films are in a language you don’t understand. And, are subtitled in chinese. C’mon, you know exactly what he means! And pretty special it is too.

This one’s got legs.

Nomeansno – All Roads Lead To Ausfahrt
Second from former AT alumini. Again, we know not why (although there is a suspicion that the whole Kennedys’ suit may have played a part in it) but their site claims they’re working on another album with Mr B. (The idea of which makes me terribly happy, because their previous collaboration was a masterpiece.)

When I look at certain bands…ok, scrap that. When I look specifically at current trendy flavour of the month Lightning Bolt I get confused. All I hear are the circular rhythms of the Wright Brothers being recycled without the funk, style or humour. So, how come a ticket to the former could go for a fortune while the latter can barely get arrested these days. There is no logic in life.

First album in six years. And, what we are served up is NMN at their most tuneful and playful. And, for the first time they incorporate folk and gospel tunes into what they are doing. There’s less jazz, ore frivolity. Of course, it’s all still Beefheart had he met Joey Ramone instead of Zappa.

The first half of this seems to be chock-a-block with love songs. Towering above just about anything I’ve heard for a while is In Her Eyes. But, of course the delivery is everything. The line …I feel myself coming alive might look like nothing but in John Wright’s defiant bellow it’s astounding. Then around the song Faith she turns on them. And, the rest of the songs seem to be about some sort of spiritual journey. Have I missed some massive theme going on here? Who cares? If Mondo Nihilissmo 200‘s message that, if there is a god, he must be one big fuckin’ jerk doesn’t have this down as the weirdest christian rock album ever, I don’t know what does.

All underpinned with that signature steamrolling circular bass and drums. Which it is so good to hear being used properly again.

No, you rise and shine…

PilotScottTracy – Any City
Bought this on the strength of one track. A track that it turns out is actually on the new album (which has just arrived). So I shall hold back any in-depth comment.

I will say however, this does for Devo and The Flying Lizards what Franz Ferdinand do for the Gang Of Four. And, if that sounds good to you, you’re not wrong.

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Written by Tony Kiernan

05 November 2006 at 11:16 pm

Posted in Records

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