HIP PRIESTESS

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34 Plays
The Fall
Tommy Shooter

Forgotten Frenz - 20 Overlooked Fall Songs: No. 9 - Tommy Shooter

With 12 entries to go, I could almost complete the series with the whole of “Imperial Wax Solvent”, the most bewilderingly ignored album of The Fall’s career. Almost never discussed critically, “IWS”’s relative neglect may be circumstantial - no singles were taken from the album and it went out of print fairly quickly, especially on vinyl where the pressing was limited to 500 copies (worldwide!). The album saw a brief return to a major label for The Fall, Universal having inherited the release when they bought Sanctuary Records late in 2007. Whilst their superior distribution saw a Fall album in the top 40 for the first time in 15 years, the album was chopped out of the catalogue with typical corporate haste. 

 “Tommy Shooter” was one of the album’s many highpoints. Entering on an ear-catching keyboard motif from Poulou, Smith’s lyric is a dark warning, the foreboding described in terms both humorous and severe; whilst there is joy to be derived from the clouds “darkening with wings of chickens“, there is no doubt that something grim is afoot. The deep, crisp arrangement from the group works a treat - Greenway’s guitar is low and dry and Melling’s double-time drums keep the momentum; had he gone for a more conventional four-to-the-floor approach, the track would have lost much of its tension and drive. Smith’s delivery has considerable punch and shows little of the phlegmatic growl that was soon to become overused. The passage between the 2nd and third choruses is particularly spirited and the whole lyric has a generous leavening of nice Smithian touches: for example, the use of “shoulder bone“ rather than just “shoulder“ and that fact that the clouds are darkening rather than the skies, as would be more traditional. Totally different from the more supernatural cautionary tales to which we were perhaps better attuned, “TS” is hard and earthy, a scene viewed through narrowed eyes, lit only by halogen streetlights and the stark single flame from a cigarette lighter.

Although the track was a live favourite, Smith would regularly hand over the vocals to a roadie or even Ed Bl**ey (IIRC). It’s unclear why - it could have been self-sabotage or it could have been boredom but one way or the other, the song did not live so long in the live set. Which is a shame, as this edgy, spooked interlude on what is largely a brash and colourful album was most welcome. We shall return to “IWS”, for sure.

Filed under the fall mark e smith tommy shooter imperial wax solvent

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Particularly interesting letter from Tony Friel’s archive, especially for MES’s proposed tracklisting for a pseudo-live 7” EP - “Saviour Machine”? 
(ps - despite the PTO instruction, the reverse wasn’t scanned)
(pps - surely it wasn’t “Silver Machine”???)

Particularly interesting letter from Tony Friel’s archive, especially for MES’s proposed tracklisting for a pseudo-live 7” EP - “Saviour Machine”? 

(ps - despite the PTO instruction, the reverse wasn’t scanned)

(pps - surely it wasn’t “Silver Machine”???)

Filed under the fall mark e smith tony friel the medallion king?

8 notes

Another letter from MES to Tony Friel - again, this seems to be on the back of an invoice of some sort. Note the signature - MES took to calling himself M Race for a bit (the M standing for Master rather than Mark) but the writing doesn’t look like “Race”. Also, the letter is addressed to “Romann Totale”, suggesting that MES was still playing loosely with various personae and aliases. Not sure if the box number in the “Advertisement” is a reference to Dick Witts or how seriously the closing paragraph should be taken…was the letter written on a Friday?

Another letter from MES to Tony Friel - again, this seems to be on the back of an invoice of some sort. Note the signature - MES took to calling himself M Race for a bit (the M standing for Master rather than Mark) but the writing doesn’t look like “Race”. Also, the letter is addressed to “Romann Totale”, suggesting that MES was still playing loosely with various personae and aliases. Not sure if the box number in the “Advertisement” is a reference to Dick Witts or how seriously the closing paragraph should be taken…was the letter written on a Friday?

Filed under mark e smith the fall tony friel

4 notes

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 4 of 15(ish) - Goo (incorporating 4a - Goo Demos)
A quick run around the internet suggests that “Goo” is pretty much unloved both by SY themselves and by their audience, being widely considered a let-down after “Daydream Nation“. In the accompanying booklet to the deluxe 2CD edition, the group blame themselves for spending too much time in the studio, adding layer after layer of guitar with some songs having a full 48 tracks of sound to be somehow blended into a cohesive whole. Since Shelley notes that the remaster improved the album and the much-heralded “Goo Demos” were given a spruce up by Jim O‘Rourke for the occasion,  I decided not to excavate my old CD and stuck with the deluxe.
The album certainly has a comparatively conventional “rock” sound and production, the songs mostly shorter and more direct than on its predecessor. Moore seems to have been the most up for this, contributing the punchy, punky “Mary Christ” and the hardcore “Mildred Pierce” the latter collapsing into 30 seconds of screaming and freeform noise so harsh that Moore declined to do a second take, lifting his vocal from the demo. The propulsive “Disappearer” is probably his best song here, an uneasy but expansive road-movie song that reaches a genuinely thrilling climax when the group accelerate into the end of the instrumental section. Gordon’s “Kool Thing” is, of course, evergreen, a wonky, woozy thing which is somehow bound up in glam-rock glitter and gleefully rendered anthemic. Chuck D‘s guest appearance is little more than a few supportive utterances but y‘know, it‘s Chuck D so that‘s OK. “Tunic (Song For Karen)” has one of the more restrained productions on the album and is also one of the most appealing songs, let down only by the drums being a shade too quiet (I assume the reverb on the vocals is a deliberate effect rather than a production artefact). The album’s main problem is actually that the overall pace is almost relentlessly upbeat - by the time one hits the rather pointless “My Friend Goo”, there’s a desire developing for something to pace the record a bit, something which only happens a minute or so into closer “Titanium Expose” when we finally get a bit of breathing space. Taken as a whole, it’s a bit suffocating, something the vast heap of layered guitars on several songs only compounds. 

Ranaldo’s brilliant “Mote” is a microcosm of the various concerns the group were attempting to straddle. A “damaged record” introduction (which probably works best on the 4LP edition, which puts the track at the start of side 2) leads into the actual song, a slice of full-on airborne rock built on a continent-sized chord sequence delivered with real ferocity and commitment. However, they find room to spend a further 4 minutes or so guiding themselves back down to earth with an elongated noise-coda, pinned down by Gordon’s hefty bass. It’s tempting to say that this is much what they would have done on any other album until one notices that this ending is missing from the demo version. In fact, the demos are strikingly similar to the finished album, demonstrating that the songs had been fully fashioned before they went into the studio. Most feel superior - “Titanium Expose” is all the better for being able to hear Shelley’s drums properly - but it’s largely a case of sound rather than of arrangement or of song; “Mote” has a different, lower vocal line but elsewhere, it’s a matter of  aesthetics - as someone who dislikes too much reverb on drums, the “Goo Demos” are good for me. One might note that a reprise on “Dirty Boots”, in which the song is hammered into a sub-metal riff, was dropped from the finished album and also that there was no room for the mid-paced, partially acoustic “Lee #2”, which was finally completed for the deluxe edition.
I played this album a lot over the last week, probably 20 times or more if one includes the demos. I‘ll revisit its visual counterpart when I cover the “Corporate Ghost” DVD but whatever the issues with the production and mix, the performances are excited and their enjoyment is tangible and there is nothing at all wrong with being a bit more straight-forward from time to time, is there? 

Rating - on its own - 7.75, the “Deluxe” w/ the demos etc - 9

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 4 of 15(ish) - Goo (incorporating 4a - Goo Demos)

A quick run around the internet suggests that “Goo” is pretty much unloved both by SY themselves and by their audience, being widely considered a let-down after “Daydream Nation“. In the accompanying booklet to the deluxe 2CD edition, the group blame themselves for spending too much time in the studio, adding layer after layer of guitar with some songs having a full 48 tracks of sound to be somehow blended into a cohesive whole. Since Shelley notes that the remaster improved the album and the much-heralded “Goo Demos” were given a spruce up by Jim O‘Rourke for the occasion,  I decided not to excavate my old CD and stuck with the deluxe.

The album certainly has a comparatively conventional “rock” sound and production, the songs mostly shorter and more direct than on its predecessor. Moore seems to have been the most up for this, contributing the punchy, punky “Mary Christ” and the hardcore “Mildred Pierce” the latter collapsing into 30 seconds of screaming and freeform noise so harsh that Moore declined to do a second take, lifting his vocal from the demo. The propulsive “Disappearer” is probably his best song here, an uneasy but expansive road-movie song that reaches a genuinely thrilling climax when the group accelerate into the end of the instrumental section. Gordon’s “Kool Thing” is, of course, evergreen, a wonky, woozy thing which is somehow bound up in glam-rock glitter and gleefully rendered anthemic. Chuck D‘s guest appearance is little more than a few supportive utterances but y‘know, it‘s Chuck D so that‘s OK. “Tunic (Song For Karen)” has one of the more restrained productions on the album and is also one of the most appealing songs, let down only by the drums being a shade too quiet (I assume the reverb on the vocals is a deliberate effect rather than a production artefact). The album’s main problem is actually that the overall pace is almost relentlessly upbeat - by the time one hits the rather pointless “My Friend Goo”, there’s a desire developing for something to pace the record a bit, something which only happens a minute or so into closer “Titanium Expose” when we finally get a bit of breathing space. Taken as a whole, it’s a bit suffocating, something the vast heap of layered guitars on several songs only compounds. 

Ranaldo’s brilliant “Mote” is a microcosm of the various concerns the group were attempting to straddle. A “damaged record” introduction (which probably works best on the 4LP edition, which puts the track at the start of side 2) leads into the actual song, a slice of full-on airborne rock built on a continent-sized chord sequence delivered with real ferocity and commitment. However, they find room to spend a further 4 minutes or so guiding themselves back down to earth with an elongated noise-coda, pinned down by Gordon’s hefty bass. It’s tempting to say that this is much what they would have done on any other album until one notices that this ending is missing from the demo version. In fact, the demos are strikingly similar to the finished album, demonstrating that the songs had been fully fashioned before they went into the studio. Most feel superior - “Titanium Expose” is all the better for being able to hear Shelley’s drums properly - but it’s largely a case of sound rather than of arrangement or of song; “Mote” has a different, lower vocal line but elsewhere, it’s a matter of  aesthetics - as someone who dislikes too much reverb on drums, the “Goo Demos” are good for me. One might note that a reprise on “Dirty Boots”, in which the song is hammered into a sub-metal riff, was dropped from the finished album and also that there was no room for the mid-paced, partially acoustic “Lee #2”, which was finally completed for the deluxe edition.

I played this album a lot over the last week, probably 20 times or more if one includes the demos. I‘ll revisit its visual counterpart when I cover the “Corporate Ghost” DVD but whatever the issues with the production and mix, the performances are excited and their enjoyment is tangible and there is nothing at all wrong with being a bit more straight-forward from time to time, is there? 

Rating - on its own - 7.75, the “Deluxe” w/ the demos etc - 9

Filed under sonic youth goo thurston moore kim gordon lee ranaldo steve shelley

1 note

I should do The Wedding Present’s albums at some point too…since the reissues appear to be back on, I’ll wait til they arrive.

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Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 3a of 15(ish) - Made In USA
OK, so this is kind-of in order but it’s a good story, quickly told. The producers of a mid-budget film were using “EVOL” as a “temp track” and, particularly enamoured with “Secret Girl”, invited the group to provide the soundtrack proper. The rough cut, described by Moore in the sleeve notes as a “politically pointed road movie” interested the group sufficiently and the challenge was accepted. Eventually, the film was recut to become more of a teen movie and the majority of SY’s soundtrack, according to Moore, hit the cutting room floor too. In 1994, with Kim Gordon on maternity leave, the soundtrack was remixed and released. Well, sort of. This was tough to find in the UK; indeed, my copy is a cut-out(!) sourced from a second-hand mail order list around the turn of the century…
The overall sound is a bit warbly in places, so perhaps the film producers didn’t take especially good care of the tapes. In fact, one wonders if the cassette fidelity of the opening track might be a cover-up job. There’s an open-road rock feel to some of the pieces (a harmonica is pressed into service on “Rim Thrusters”!) that’s strikingly traditional but, on the other paw, “Secret Girl” appears exactly as it does on “EVOL“. In fact, the tapes of “Secret Girl” also form about 70% of  “O.J.‘s Glove Or What?“, 90%  of “The Velvet Plug“ and as good as 100% of “Tulip Fire 2” which adds a little extra trainspotter value. The album is, inevitably, almost all instrumental; Moore sings on “Tuck N Dar“ but it isn’t exactly a lost classic. The gentler, more reflective tracks are the most successful; the quiet harmonics of “Moon In The Bathroom”, “Thought Bubbles” and “Smoke Blisters” recall “Shadow Of A Doubt” and it’s a sound SY can really make sparkle, transforming their music into a night sky punctured with stars, halogens and distant fires. The titles, by the way, appear to have been added for the purposes of the album release (“O.J.‘s Glove…“ being the giveaway) and reveal nothing about the content - there are several recurring themes and the titles do nothing to reveal this; for example, “Lincoln’s Gout” and “Coughing Up Tweed” are alternate performances of exactly the same theme. 
Inevitably, a series of miniatures like this will have its frustrations - it’s tantalising to think what some of these seeds could have been grown into but the recurring themes and the unfussy sound make this a good listen as well as an insight into how the group were developing from ”EVOL” into “Sister” and its easy to see why they were keen to rescue this from movie development hell.
Rating - 6.5/10

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 3a of 15(ish) - Made In USA

OK, so this is kind-of in order but it’s a good story, quickly told. The producers of a mid-budget film were using “EVOL” as a “temp track” and, particularly enamoured with “Secret Girl”, invited the group to provide the soundtrack proper. The rough cut, described by Moore in the sleeve notes as a “politically pointed road movie” interested the group sufficiently and the challenge was accepted. Eventually, the film was recut to become more of a teen movie and the majority of SY’s soundtrack, according to Moore, hit the cutting room floor too. In 1994, with Kim Gordon on maternity leave, the soundtrack was remixed and released. Well, sort of. This was tough to find in the UK; indeed, my copy is a cut-out(!) sourced from a second-hand mail order list around the turn of the century…

The overall sound is a bit warbly in places, so perhaps the film producers didn’t take especially good care of the tapes. In fact, one wonders if the cassette fidelity of the opening track might be a cover-up job. There’s an open-road rock feel to some of the pieces (a harmonica is pressed into service on “Rim Thrusters”!) that’s strikingly traditional but, on the other paw, “Secret Girl” appears exactly as it does on “EVOL“. In fact, the tapes of “Secret Girl” also form about 70% of  “O.J.‘s Glove Or What?“, 90%  of “The Velvet Plug“ and as good as 100% of “Tulip Fire 2” which adds a little extra trainspotter value. The album is, inevitably, almost all instrumental; Moore sings on “Tuck N Dar“ but it isn’t exactly a lost classic. The gentler, more reflective tracks are the most successful; the quiet harmonics of “Moon In The Bathroom”, “Thought Bubbles” and “Smoke Blisters” recall “Shadow Of A Doubt” and it’s a sound SY can really make sparkle, transforming their music into a night sky punctured with stars, halogens and distant fires. The titles, by the way, appear to have been added for the purposes of the album release (“O.J.‘s Glove…“ being the giveaway) and reveal nothing about the content - there are several recurring themes and the titles do nothing to reveal this; for example, “Lincoln’s Gout” and “Coughing Up Tweed” are alternate performances of exactly the same theme. 

Inevitably, a series of miniatures like this will have its frustrations - it’s tantalising to think what some of these seeds could have been grown into but the recurring themes and the unfussy sound make this a good listen as well as an insight into how the group were developing from ”EVOL” into “Sister” and its easy to see why they were keen to rescue this from movie development hell.

Rating - 6.5/10

Filed under sonic youth made in usa thurston moore kim gordon lee ranaldo steve shelley

3 notes

Meant to post this - remember when (1) £13.99 was a reasonable price for a new release CD and (2) that was a doozy of an offer?
No wonder it all went wrong for the music industry, eh?

Meant to post this - remember when (1) £13.99 was a reasonable price for a new release CD and (2) that was a doozy of an offer?

No wonder it all went wrong for the music industry, eh?

11 notes

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 3 of 15(ish) - EVOL
“EVOL” is understandably considered pivotal in the Sonic Youth catalogue, mainly due being the first album to feature the best known 4-piece line-up with Steve Shelley arriving on drums. Wikipedia also tells us that “EVOL” is the album where the group are “transitioning away from their no wave past and toward a greater alternative rock sensibility”. Hmm. Certainly, opening song “Tom Violence” reminds one of nothing more than “The Figurehead” by The Cure (from “Pornography”) albeit minus the attritional density. Built on an attractive, spacious chord sequence and sung high and confidently by Moore, it’s an arresting start, made all the more so by a swift, unexpected collapse into a mire of hiss and static from which the guitars have to fight their way back. As if keen to prove that they were not reliant on dissonance to create tension and atmosphere, they follow with “Shadow Of A Doubt”, a bed of carefully plucked harmonics rendering a whispered Kim Gordon vocal particularly vivid. The track’s explosion is sudden and unexpected and, 2 songs in, the group’s belief in themselves and their material is palpable and rightly so. “Starpower”, issued as a single, hits hard, a robust performance of an ear-catching riff with enough patented guitar abuse to stay on the right side of ordinary.
After such a strong opening trio, things dip a little with “In The Kingdom #19”. Whilst it inaugurates what would prove to be a highly fruitful line of enquiry, it doesn’t quite hit the spot itself, hampered by a weak mix and a speculative (semi-improvised?) group performance but Ranaldo’s recitation is delicious and it certainly shows that SY had not sliced off their experimental roots. However, it feels standalone and would maybe have been better served as one side of a seven inch or somesuch. “Green Light” is too consciously discordant and doesn’t have enough to tell us to make it work - it feels like a step backwards from the opening salvo. However, instrumental “Death To Our Freinds” (sic) restores some direction, an enthusiastic showcase for the meshed-guitars that were already becoming their trademark. “Secret Girl” is a most unusual piece for tape, piano, customised guitar and Kim Gordon that feels supremely creepy after the relative jauntiness of “DTOF” while “Marilyn Moore” takes us over the hill and into the darkness with an almost Eastern feel. The album closes with seven minutes of “Expressway To Yr Skull”, here titled “Madonna, Sean and Me” for some reason. It’s basically a one-chord trick, albeit one exquisitely decorated and handled with particular care, especially by Shelley who controls both the tempo and the volume changes that give the song its dynamic. It slowly degenerates into a blur of distant ghostly rattling guitars that sound like primitive wind-chimes. 
It’s an uneven record but, yes, the beginnings of what would make them truly great are pretty much all here; there are memorable riffs, the distinct personalities of the three vocalists are forming and an understanding of how they would come to truly harness and control their chaos dawns across the later stages of the album too. Maybe “EVOL” is transitional after all, the sound of a happy, confident group who have finally settled their line-up and, even though it doesn’t always work, it’s an album that crackles with excitement and possibility. At this remove, that’s plenty.
Rating 7/10

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 3 of 15(ish) - EVOL

“EVOL” is understandably considered pivotal in the Sonic Youth catalogue, mainly due being the first album to feature the best known 4-piece line-up with Steve Shelley arriving on drums. Wikipedia also tells us that “EVOL” is the album where the group are “transitioning away from their no wave past and toward a greater alternative rock sensibility”. Hmm. Certainly, opening song “Tom Violence” reminds one of nothing more than “The Figurehead” by The Cure (from “Pornography”) albeit minus the attritional density. Built on an attractive, spacious chord sequence and sung high and confidently by Moore, it’s an arresting start, made all the more so by a swift, unexpected collapse into a mire of hiss and static from which the guitars have to fight their way back. As if keen to prove that they were not reliant on dissonance to create tension and atmosphere, they follow with “Shadow Of A Doubt”, a bed of carefully plucked harmonics rendering a whispered Kim Gordon vocal particularly vivid. The track’s explosion is sudden and unexpected and, 2 songs in, the group’s belief in themselves and their material is palpable and rightly so. “Starpower”, issued as a single, hits hard, a robust performance of an ear-catching riff with enough patented guitar abuse to stay on the right side of ordinary.

After such a strong opening trio, things dip a little with “In The Kingdom #19”. Whilst it inaugurates what would prove to be a highly fruitful line of enquiry, it doesn’t quite hit the spot itself, hampered by a weak mix and a speculative (semi-improvised?) group performance but Ranaldo’s recitation is delicious and it certainly shows that SY had not sliced off their experimental roots. However, it feels standalone and would maybe have been better served as one side of a seven inch or somesuch. “Green Light” is too consciously discordant and doesn’t have enough to tell us to make it work - it feels like a step backwards from the opening salvo. However, instrumental “Death To Our Freinds” (sic) restores some direction, an enthusiastic showcase for the meshed-guitars that were already becoming their trademark. “Secret Girl” is a most unusual piece for tape, piano, customised guitar and Kim Gordon that feels supremely creepy after the relative jauntiness of “DTOF” while “Marilyn Moore” takes us over the hill and into the darkness with an almost Eastern feel. The album closes with seven minutes of “Expressway To Yr Skull”, here titled “Madonna, Sean and Me” for some reason. It’s basically a one-chord trick, albeit one exquisitely decorated and handled with particular care, especially by Shelley who controls both the tempo and the volume changes that give the song its dynamic. It slowly degenerates into a blur of distant ghostly rattling guitars that sound like primitive wind-chimes. 

It’s an uneven record but, yes, the beginnings of what would make them truly great are pretty much all here; there are memorable riffs, the distinct personalities of the three vocalists are forming and an understanding of how they would come to truly harness and control their chaos dawns across the later stages of the album too. Maybe “EVOL” is transitional after all, the sound of a happy, confident group who have finally settled their line-up and, even though it doesn’t always work, it’s an album that crackles with excitement and possibility. At this remove, that’s plenty.

Rating 7/10

Filed under sonic youth thurston moore kim gordon lee ranaldo steve shelley EVOL

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Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 2b of 15(ish) - “Boston-NYC 1994” by Gate
So, straight away, let’s ‘fess up - Gate is not a Sonic Youth side project. It is, in fact, the work of Michael Morley, most commonly found as a member of Dunedin’s finest, The Dead C. He is the group’s guitarist, sometime vocalist and occasional laptop operator and explores a similar low-to-mid-fi furrow as a solo artist. His albums can be frustratingly hard to acquire - his discography is littered with ultra-limited lathe-cut records and a trio of albums released on the US label Majora are now costly on the collector scum market. However, two albums made for Table Of The Elements - “The Dew Line” and “The Monolake” - are easier to find and are highly recommended as an entry point into his amorphous soundworld (the former is available as an excellent expanded 2LP set from the “MIE Music” label) . Anyway, in 1994, he played a handful of shows in the US, and this disc captures parts from 2 of these. In NYC, he was joined by electric harpist Zeena Parkins and in both Boston and NYC, by Lee Ranaldo, putting this disc within my remit.
The Boston gig is presented as a single 30 minute track and, immediately, it’s not for those who desire things like structure and melody. Very much a free improvised noise piece, their guitars work well together, Morley’s hazy NZ fuzz blurring with Ranaldo’s more agitated NY strum and blare. After 5 minutes or so, the duo begin to work with loops,  twirling away both in the foreground and in the distance and the piece becomes darker, more unsettling. Whilst it’s clear that they’re listening to each other and responding sympathetically, it’s still hard to get a proper foothold on such jagged, ever-shifting terrain; whatever the listening equivalent of surfing might be, it is required to enjoy this deep, dynamic performance. The CD is kind enough to programme a minute of silence after they’ve finished, a generous but telling move.
The NYC gig is represented in 6 fragments, coming to a little under 20 minutes in total. The first is much more melodic with Parkins (presumably) picking out a plaintive refrain while the boys generate a gathering stormcloud of heat behind her. Said cloud eventually envelops Parkins and we find ourselves in similar territory to the Boston recording. Elsewhere, the fragments drift in and out, concentrated blasts of noise and static that require a certain generosity from the listener to succeed. 
I don’t think this disc gives a particularly strong account of any of the three players. As much as some of the peaks here are ecstatic bursts of pure sound, the lack of structure - something which is certainly not inevitable in improvised music - tires the ear. A “nice item”, beautifully presented in a silkscreen fold-over card sleeve but one that pales against contemporaneous work by all three participants. 
Rating - 5/10

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 2b of 15(ish) - “Boston-NYC 1994” by Gate

So, straight away, let’s ‘fess up - Gate is not a Sonic Youth side project. It is, in fact, the work of Michael Morley, most commonly found as a member of Dunedin’s finest, The Dead C. He is the group’s guitarist, sometime vocalist and occasional laptop operator and explores a similar low-to-mid-fi furrow as a solo artist. His albums can be frustratingly hard to acquire - his discography is littered with ultra-limited lathe-cut records and a trio of albums released on the US label Majora are now costly on the collector scum market. However, two albums made for Table Of The Elements - “The Dew Line” and “The Monolake” - are easier to find and are highly recommended as an entry point into his amorphous soundworld (the former is available as an excellent expanded 2LP set from the “MIE Music” label) . Anyway, in 1994, he played a handful of shows in the US, and this disc captures parts from 2 of these. In NYC, he was joined by electric harpist Zeena Parkins and in both Boston and NYC, by Lee Ranaldo, putting this disc within my remit.

The Boston gig is presented as a single 30 minute track and, immediately, it’s not for those who desire things like structure and melody. Very much a free improvised noise piece, their guitars work well together, Morley’s hazy NZ fuzz blurring with Ranaldo’s more agitated NY strum and blare. After 5 minutes or so, the duo begin to work with loops,  twirling away both in the foreground and in the distance and the piece becomes darker, more unsettling. Whilst it’s clear that they’re listening to each other and responding sympathetically, it’s still hard to get a proper foothold on such jagged, ever-shifting terrain; whatever the listening equivalent of surfing might be, it is required to enjoy this deep, dynamic performance. The CD is kind enough to programme a minute of silence after they’ve finished, a generous but telling move.

The NYC gig is represented in 6 fragments, coming to a little under 20 minutes in total. The first is much more melodic with Parkins (presumably) picking out a plaintive refrain while the boys generate a gathering stormcloud of heat behind her. Said cloud eventually envelops Parkins and we find ourselves in similar territory to the Boston recording. Elsewhere, the fragments drift in and out, concentrated blasts of noise and static that require a certain generosity from the listener to succeed. 

I don’t think this disc gives a particularly strong account of any of the three players. As much as some of the peaks here are ecstatic bursts of pure sound, the lack of structure - something which is certainly not inevitable in improvised music - tires the ear. A “nice item”, beautifully presented in a silkscreen fold-over card sleeve but one that pales against contemporaneous work by all three participants. 

Rating - 5/10

Filed under gate michael morley lee ranaldo zeena parkins