Sunday, July 29, 2018

Classic Album Review: Sisters of Mercy - First and Last and Always (1985)

By 1985, and the rather belated release of the Sisters of Mercy debut album, First And Last And Always, the band had already established its reputation, alongside the equally influential likes of Bauhaus and the Jesus And Mary Chain, as forefathers of the still fairly embryonic goth-rock genre. 
The Sisters were already a fixture on the UK independent charts thanks to a series of highly regarded landmark singles and EPs - Alice (1983), The Reptile House (1983), Body and Soul (1984) - and had impressed as a darker, harder, black-leather-clad alternative to the leading bands of the (by then) mass-marketed punk and “new wave” scenes. 
After making fans wait a couple of years for a full-length album, it’s probably fair to say that First And Last And Always was a highly anticipated release. And those early EP releases have all gone on to become highly sought after by vinyl collectors and fans alike.
The Sisters of Mercy would release just three (studio/non-compilation) albums; the bigger budget follow-up, Floodland (1987), is another classic of its type, with, for better or for worse, far more emphasis on production values, while Vision Thing (1990) found the band losing its way a little, with main man Andrew Eldritch seemingly content to set the band’s default option to: “bloated metallic parody of former self”. As poorly received as it was however, even Vision Thing contained the odd gem. 
First And Last And Always then, pretty much represents the Sisters Of Mercy in their purest, most unaffected form, and it’s the only Sisters album to feature key original, Wayne Hussey, who would later go on to front The Mission. This is where it all started, and that's probably all that needs to be said. 
Highlights: opener ‘Black Planet’, the epic closer, ‘Some Kind Of Stranger’, plus ‘Walk Away’, ‘No Time To Cry’, ‘Marian’, and ‘Possession’.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Porky Post: 10 Aussie Bands That Don’t Stink (like a decomposing wallaby)

J’accuse an entire nation of musical crimes. Yes, this is you Australia in the dock. In your attempts to prove you have cultural leanings you forced upon us Kylie, Dannii, Guy Sebastian, The Bee Gees, The Wiggles, The Seekers, Powderfinger, Peter Andre, Jessica Mauboy, Rose Tattoo, Tina Arena, Olivia Newton-John, John Farnham, Cold Chisel, Delta Goodrem (okay, okay, we’ve got the point, get on with the bloody article – Ed). 

So, in no particular order, here’s a list of ten acts from Oz that are more than bearable. 

The Go-Betweens: A band in cahoots with the back catalogues of both the Velvet Underground and The Monkees were on a hiding to nothing in the 80s. Yet the Go-Betweens, formed in Brisbane in 1977 around the nucleus of arts students Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, garner little more than a cult appreciation. Up to 1989 the Go-Betweens released six albums, most of which were lavishly praised, but none of which sold. Though revered by critics and fellow musicians, the band remains an acquired taste. They are filed away in the what-could-have-been cabinet. I have a compilation album from the 90s, a glorious double-album that filled me with both joy and melancholy. But mostly joy. They are perhaps a mood band and I haven’t found the right mood to listen to them again in a long time. That day will come however. 

Bad Seeds
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Born out of the ashes of the Birthday Party (see below), Cave and his merry men set forth on a career built on death ballads, rock’n’roll, gloom, happiness, and more gloom. They soon became the goths it is acceptable to like. If such a thing is possible. Undoubted highlights are Abattior Blues/The Lyres of Orpheus, a double album released in 2004 that is one half rock-blues ideal for the bad side of your character, the other half a more sedate affair with a theatrical flair; and Dig !!! Lazarus Dig !!! released in 2008, was about as scuzzy as Cave and his mob would ever get.
Tame Impala: Like The The and Aztec Camera, this Perth act is really a one-man band, centred around one Kevin Parker. Tame Impala embody the sound of The Beatles, Syd-era Pink Floyd, and The Flaming Lips. In 2010 they released the excellent neo-psych album, Innerspeaker, setting the controls for the heart of Sgt. Pepper. The follow-up, 2012’s Lonerism was better arranged, but like many acts that produce a corker of a debut, the second lacks a certain edge. It sounded contrived, but was nevertheless more of a commercial success. Parker has since released Currents (2015) and is no doubt feverishly working on another collection of psych-drone-pop.  
Yothu Yindi: Perhaps this is the most important band of them all. A mixed race band from the Northern Territory which played traditional instruments like the yidaki and bilma, and proudly displayed their aboriginal cultural identity. Treaty is the band's most recognised hit. It was written after Prime Minister Bob Hawke had pledged to recognise Indigenous Australians. Yothu Yindi toured the United States with Midnight Oil in the late 1980s, which would have made for a curious evening. 
Radio Birdman
Radio Birdman: Borderline entry perhaps but included because they were the first real punk band in Oz alongside The Saints. The Sydney six-piece formed in 1974 when Stooges and MC5 fanatic Deniz Tek relocated from the States. The police would regularly shut down their gigs because of the noise or raucous behaviour of their fans. The early days featured performance art at the gigs, including poetry readings of pieces by Jim Morrison and the Last Poets. That ended when frontman Rob Younger scooped offal from a skull and spat it into the audience. They produced one of the first punk records – the Burn My Eye EP in October 1976, but only released one album*, Radios Appear.
The Saints: Formed about the same time as Radio Birdman, The Saints beat their rivals to a debut release by a month with the incendiary ‘(I’m) Stranded/ No Time’ on their own Fatal Records label when no other labels wanted to know. Their brand of high octane punk/rock'n'roll first got them a recording deal with EMI Harvest in the UK. The band described themselves as being ".. a punk group before it was fashionable", and their music seemed in tune with the (then) current British punk scene. The problem was that The Saints didn’t put a great deal of emphasis on their image, when punk was an image as much as a sound and an attitude. Comparisons to AC/DC probably didn’t help. Retrospectives are more favourable. In the year of punk, The Saints released the sizzling ‘This Perfect Day’, the Know Your Product EP and the brilliant (I’m) Stranded LP. They were fucking immense. 
The Birthday Party: Born out of The Boys Next Door - a poor excuse for a Melbourne punk band in reality - The Birthday Party were a challenging act, one that people either loathed or wet their pants over. It was rock’n’roll at its edgiest and most unhinged; like the band itself, perhaps. Two albums were recorded for that home of weird bastards, 4AD: Prayers On Fire (1981) and, Junkyard (1982). This was uncompromising music, with Nick Cave ranting and raging about lost souls and the grotesque characters who infested his imagination. 
The Thought Criminals: I knew nothing of this lot till I entered an Adelaide record store a few years back and asked for “something punky and new wavy” and was directed by the owner to a few CDs, one of which was the Peace Love and Under Surveillance EP, released in 2007. They didn’t sound new though and I later discovered they were one of many punk bands that formed in 1977 - in Sydney - but doing well to last till 1981. The Thought Criminals took their name from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and based some of their songs on the ideals from the book. There were also songs called ‘Hilton Bomber’, ‘I Won’t Pay (For Punk Records)’, and ‘Fuck The Neighbours’. Jangly guitars rather than full on distortion and drums that didn’t puncture the ear, and a sort-of manifesto: “Don’t want no top ten hit/ Don’t want no disco shit/ Just wanna have fun”. 
Midnight Oil
Midnight Oil: Formed, like, forever ago (ie mid-70s) the Oils are a national institution and figures of hate in almost equal measure. While musically their straight-down-the-line-rock’n’roll is hardly earth-shattering we include them for their hard-hitting attitude and defence of the vulnerable. For example, Indigenous Australians on the universal hit ‘Beds Are Burning’. Too many albums since 1978 to detail, and they remain a live circuit favourite, reforming last year for a world tour that included a couple of dates in Newzild.
The Triffids: There were few Velvets/ Stooges/ Eno fans in Perth in the late 70s, and the select few of them ended up in the Triffids. Breaking Australia is a mission in itself with days spent travelling to gigs, but the Triffids built up quite a following. Attempting to replicate that modest success in Europe proved tough, however. “Even the ballads were confrontational”, recalls singer David McComb. A string of low-key, lo-fi releases, some only on cassette, came before a trilogy of fey, and magnificently lovelorn albums arrived in the shape of Born Sandy Devotional (1986), Calenture (1988), and The Black Swan (1989). I have two of them, one bought from an op shop in St Andrews for the price of a bag of lollies. 
The Laughing Clowns: After The Saints’ demise, the band’s guitarist Ed Kuepper formed The Laughing Clowns which strayed a rather different path, integrating jazz influences into their unique take on post-punk. The Clowns released several records between 1980 and 1985, with their debut, a self-titled, six-song EP on Aussie independent Missing Link. In 1982, they moved to London, where they recorded their debut LP, Mr. Uddich Schmuddich Goes to Town. The Law of Nature was released in 1984, and the band's final studio LP, Ghosts of an Ideal Wife, came out in 1985. And then the laughing stopped. 
Everything's A Thread
The John Steel Singers: A six-piece from Brisbane for whom the word obscure was invented for. I know only of them from the illuminating album cover I spotted at Wellington Central Library and took out on the basis of that. Sometimes you can judge an album by its cover and Everything’s A Thread (2013) was incredibly illuminating. They sound like ... ummm ... a bit like ... well ... ah, just go on Bandcamp. Oh, and there is no John Steel. 
Severed Heads: Minimal electronic and synthpop are among the terms bandied about to describe Severed Heads but neither are entirely appropriate. Essentially the life project of sole core member, Tom Ellard, Severed Heads is not a band but more a representation of what a truly creative life can be. Ellard showed touches of self-flagellation when in 1985 they were signed to a major label and flown to the UK for some gigs that were expected to open doors. As The Quietus explains, it didn’t quite go to plan ... “A crowd gathered expecting to hear dance-floor friendly synth pop, and instead Ellard and co treated them to a 30-minute ambient trance piece. The reception was mixed, to say the least.”
Yes, I know there’s 13, I got carried away. 
Also recommended: You Am I, The Church, The Drones, The Scientists, The Primitive Calculators, The Vines, Machine Gun Fellatio, The Hoodoo Gurus, Paul Kelly …

(* I fear Porky has forgotten about a second Radio Birdman album, Living Eyes, which was recorded prior to the band breaking up in 1978, but not released until 1981. There may have been a completely unheralded post-millennium album also - Ed).

Friday, July 20, 2018

Terrorball’s Dizgo Edits ...

Something old, new, borrowed, and glittery from Hamilton-based electro/funk producer Terrorball - an album of remixes, or dizgo edits, as they’re occasionally called in the Tron. Eight of the shiny little beasties, none of them especially formulaic or particularly obvious, which makes this release all the more precious, I guess. Includes more Sylvester than most can handle in one sitting. Name your price ...