LOU REED: Transformer (LP, RCA NL 83806, 1972)

Lou Reed - Transformer

I’m not the biggest fan of Lou Reed, although I was sad when he passed away. I did quite enjoy his notoriously confrontational and prickly persona in interviews – or maybe it wasn’t a persona, maybe he just was that grumpy; rock stars should be different to ‘norms’, through being either unpleasant, or remarkably nice, or out-there in some way. It’s just the music – it doesn’t really do it for me.

Transformer is a classic album, sure, and it includes the played-to-death-but-let’s-not-hold-that-against-Lou-Reed angst/emotion of ‘Perfect Day’ and ‘Satellite Of Love’ as well as the swinging slouch of ‘Vicious’; I just can’t help but compare Reed’s solo work – Metal Machine Music notwithstanding – with The Velvet Underground, who are still for me an alarmingly strange and richly listenable band. This happened a lot as the ’60s became the ’70s – musicians who were once psychotically whacked-out and edgy seemed to dip into a more comfortable glow of success, money, classier drugs and self-reflection.

My copy is a little beaten-up and scraggy around the edges, which seems fitting. I think I picked it up from a charity shop at some point in the past – it’s one of those records that’s prevalent in such establishments.

It’s easy to forget (for me, at least, as I’m capable of forgetting this morning’s breakfast) that David Bowie was heavily involved in Transformer – both in a producer capacity and also as a musician, assisting with arrangements and as part of ‘The Thunder Thighs’, Reed’s backing band. That band also included Klaus Voorman (that single ‘n’ in his name is how it’s spelt on the record sleeve), the fellow that illustrated the front of The Beatles’ Revolver. Small world, this rock’n’roll world.

Great sleeve on this album – with subtly jarring typography that is at once ‘trad’ and disjointed; Mick Rock’s contrast-up-to-the-max photograph with the album’s electricity-themed title echoed in the green and red lines around the guitar. According to the back of the sleeve, art direction on the album was by Ernst Thormahlen; according to <a href=”http://www.allmusic.com/artist/ernst-thormahlen-mn0001762310/credits”>the internet</a>, he also had a hand in the design of albums by The Velvet Underground, Golden Earring, Steve Harley and Dead Boys.

A footnote: Extracting this record from my shelves made me realise that the R section seems to be – gulp – not in alphabetical order. I must rectify this, forthwith!

HELLVETE: Ode (LP, Deep Distance DD15, 2014)

Hellvete - Ode

I’ve mentioned before how I have a few ‘go-to’ labels that I’ll tend to buy all new releases from – ones that have proved themselves enough in terms of consistency and quality to pretty much have me opening my wallet instantly upon receipt of a ‘new release’ email.

Deep Distance – an offshoot of The Great Pop Supplement – is becoming such a label. The Great Pop Supplement were in this category years ago, with a combination of great music (tending toward the post-rock, 60s-tinged or psychedelia worlds) and nice packaging; Deep Distance follow suit in terms of packaging, but seem to focus on more electronic-based music. (Or, perhaps, less guitar-based).

Hellvete is a new name to me, but according to this have released several things on a variety of labels thus far. It’s a one-man project, from the mind of Glen Steenkiste, and Ode is a two-track album, one per side, each consisting of a long, sustained, pure drone. It’s not a drone in the sense of Sunn o)))’s brutal rumbling; instead, these two tracks are exultant, bouyant and amazingly uplifting, with rich layers of slowly undulating tone providing endless forward motion. It’s a little like the final moments of 2001: A Space Odyssey have been stretched to infinity – constantly approaching a perfect point in sound, yet never quite achieving that impossible aim.

The record is pressed on crystal clear vinyl, which is befitting to the purity of the sounds it contains. No credit is provided for the charming illustrations – or treated photographs – on the front and back cover, which show lacework that places organic scenes into a complex lattice structure.

Links: Deep Distance / Hellvete

VARIOUS: Crystallized: Celebrating 15 Years Of Rocket Recordings (2LP, Rocket Recordings LAUNCH060, 2013)

Various - Crystallized

I bought this two-album set very recently, after discovering the outstanding weirdo noise outfit Anthroprophh and taking myself on a Spotify-led journey through various releases and connected bands. After being somewhat blown away by the sounds on this compilation when listening online, I read that the physical release came on spattered clear/black vinyl and featured a die-cut sleeve, and needed no further convincing.

It’s a superb collection for anybody that’s into out-there sounds, distorted noise rock/Krautrock/space rock or, indeed, experimentalism in all its forms. Rocket Recordings have carved out a niche as a label with high standards of quality control and releases that include rather a who’s who of the recent modern (real) psychedelia scene, such as Teeth Of The Sea, Gnod, Shit & Shine, Goat and Anthroprophh (all of whom appear on Crystallized) and White Hills, Oneida and Mugstar.

The vinyl here is a joy to behold: two slices of clear space with smeared black/white spatters emanating from the centre. The artwork, too, is special: credited to Luke Insect (who has worked on a vast range of music packaging that stretches from The Prodigy to Wolf People via Young Knives), it consists of digitally-treated illustrations of intersecting shards of crystal, printed in silvery-grey and black and coming together in the held-aloft centrepiece on the sleeve’s front. The shape being held up on the cover is die-cut into the sleeve, meaning that the content of the shape’s interior can be changed at will to a selection of images across the two records’ inner sleeves. On the rear sleeve, an exact replica of the shape – nice attention to detail there – is printed as a black backdrop to the track listing. It’s a great looking artefact.

Anthroprophh, by the way, constantly remind me of the movie Anthropophagous, an unpleasant 1980 horror about “an insane, violent, and grotesque killer that slaughtered the town’s former residents”. This was one of the films to appear on the infamous 1983 ‘DPP list‘ – aka the video nasties list – created by the UK Director of Public Prosecutions as a knee-jerk reaction to the lack of rigid certification of video cassettes at the time. Since then many of the films on the list have been released with varying levels of cuts – a market still remains for avid collectors who seek out ‘pre-cert’ video cassettes of the original releases. I once collected a few of these, and subsequently gave them away to a local charity shop: visitors to that branch of Oxfam may have got an unexpected surprise while browsing the shelves…

Links: Rocket Recordings

GUMBALL: Light Shines Through (12″, Paperhouse PAPER 012 T, 1991)

Gumball - Light Shines Through

I don’t remember where I picked up this record, but I’ve a feeling it was one of those ‘randomly acquired in a record shop’ purchases – on one of those record-shopping trips where I’m not looking for anything in particular, but usually emerge with a stack of unexpected new things that I didn’t realise I was after.

This record contains meaty, organ-heavy, dumbo garage rock that’s simultaneously of the grunge era and of the endless ‘influenced by mid-60s garage punk’ era. More than that, it spins off into widdly-diddly-guitar-solo worlds a la Dinosaur Jr, as well as the lysergic freakout of ‘Saint’ and the power pop of ‘Damn! Bam!’.

Once, in the past, perhaps around the time of this record’s release, I saw Gumball play an in-store at the Rough Trade shop in London. (Which one? The one that was below Slam City Skates in, I think, Neal’s Yard). That was fun, but not as fun as seeing Trumans Water, who played a set at the same event, and who were insane, unhinged and brilliant. Before the show I attended a Gumball press conference – presumably they had an album or something due out; perhaps Special Kiss, from which a couple of tracks on this record are taken? – and it was so busy that I had to stand outside, tape recorder in hand, straining to hear what was happening. Upon returning home I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover that my recording didn’t yield much more than a hissy mess with some very quiet, almost entirely unintelligible voices. That article didn’t get written. Still, thanks for the invite, whichever PR company invited me!

The illustration on this record’s cover is a bit of an Ed Hardy-by-way-of-Savage-Pencil thang, credited on the rear sleeve to Robert Parker. I’ve found this Robert Parker through Google, but I presume they are not the same person, unless he has a very diverse stylistic range.

Gumball features Don Fleming (both as musician and, on this record, producer). He’s a guy with a long, varied career in America’s indie rock underground scene, including:

  • Producing records by Sonic Youth, Hole, Teenage Fanclub (yes, they’re not American) and more
  • Being a member of Dim Stars (with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Television’s Richard Hell) as well as, for a while, Half Japanese
  • Playing in the Backbeat Band, a beat combo put together to create music for the 1994 movie Backbeat, featuring Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Mike Mills (REM), Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters) and Henry Rollins (Black Flag). Funny old situation, that. Read about the movie here.

Oh, and look: here’s Don Fleming the American football player.