Liars & Saint Laurent – Women’s Spring / Summer ’14 – Collection VIII (30/09/2013)

A video from Paris Fashion Week 2013 showcasing the Saint Laurent Spring / Summer 2014 collection, soundtracked by an exclusive remix of ‘Mr. Your On Fire Mr.’ by Liars. The stark neon catwalk design also evokes the angular sleeve stylings of Liars’s WIXIW album.

Video:
Saint Laurent Women’s Spring / Summer 2014
Collection VIII
30/09/2013
The official Saint Laurent page for this video can be found here.

Music:
Liars – ‘Mr. Your On Fire Mr.’
Originally recorded 1999 and available on the album They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top (Blast First).
Remix and additional recording for Saint Laurent by Angus Andrew in LA, September 2013
Soundcloud stream available here.

Content (c) 2013 Saint Laurent / Liars
Blog post (c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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The Afghan Whigs – Up In It (Sub Pop album, 1990)

The Afghan Whigs 'Up In It' artwork

sub pop | sp60b | 1990

Released on the seminal Seattle-based Sub Pop in 1990, this was the first Afghan Whigs album proper – the future Blast First band’s ‘real’ first, Big Top Halloween, was released in a limited edition of 2000 in 1988, and three tracks from that debut are included here. Sub Pop’s quest to sign the Whigs caused not inconsiderable consternation among the likes of Mudhoney, arguably Sub Pop’s second most famous band, prompting their leader Mark Arm to start shopping the band around majors. His action was understandable given that Sub Pop were struggling to pay Mudhoney’s royalties, yet they were throwing money at the Whigs to get them to sign – a classic indie faux pas and one that Sub Pop certainly made more than once. In the end, the Whigs signed with Pavitt and Poneman, while Mudhoney defected to Reprise, just after Nirvana – Sub Pop’s most famous band – had signed with Geffen on Sonic Youth‘s advice.

With the exception of the three tracks from Big Top Halloween and the album’s final track, Up In It was produced by Jack Endino, unintentionally Sub Pop’s ‘in house’ producer in much the same way as Steve Albini / Butch Vig at Touch & Go, Martin Hannett with Factory or even Flood / Gareth Jones / Paul ‘PK’ Kendall at Mute, only considerably more prolific – Endino recorded 75 singles, EPs and albums for Sub Pop between 1987 and 1989. Among these was Nirvana’s debut Bleach, but there is little point of reference between Up In It‘s broad-brush rock appeal and Bleach‘s raw tone. Endino pulls off a sequence of recordings that is simultaneously highly polished and frighteningly urgent. It’s generations removed from their later work, and light years away from vocalist, guitarist and perfect front man Greg Dulli‘s later band, The Twilight Singers. The Whigs here comprised John Curley (bass), Rick McCollum (guitar), Greg Dulli (guitar, vocals) and Steve Earle (drums).

Up In It kicks off with the frenetic ‘Retarded’, which is perhaps the closest this album gets to the grunge sound that Sub Pop and Endino were famed for. Discordant guitars – similar to a Thurston Moore / Lee Ranaldo jam – and gritty vocals ensure that the album steps out on the right foot. Wah-wah guitar (and some additional guitar work that sounds dubiously like ‘Eye Of The Tiger’) ushers in ‘White Trash Party’, a swirling hurricane of howled vocals, grinding guitars and urgent cymbal-playing. ‘Hated’ on the other hand is an emotional melodic song that prove the Whigs were capable of producing sentimental music even at this early stage, even if the dueling guitars and turgid bass owe more at this stage to metal than soul.

‘Southpaw’ has an excellent groove and very muscular drumming, approximately a heavy dirge that manages to blend ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, Pixies and even the shrill vocal of Axl Rose, to surprisingly good effect. At under two minutes, ‘Amphetamines And Coffee’ sees the band tearing into a metal-influenced riff with some fretwork that J. Mascis would appreciate and stop-start drumming that would be captivating to watch. ‘Hey Cuz’ has a really clever sound, with Blixa Bargeld-esque spindly guitar cycles and a snare-dominated backbone, all of which breaks down into a very free and unstructured jam during which Dulli frantically crams words and vocal sounds into seemingly the smallest of spaces. With a great, melodic bass line and descending guitar melody (and tightly-controlled feedback), ‘You My Flower’ is another impassioned, powerfully-sensual rock song, finding Greg offering a tender vocal on the verses before growling his way through the chorus. Appropriately, ‘Son Of The South’ is a heavy blues number, which Jon Spencer would presumably be very proud of, and is certainly one of the best songs here; Endino pushes the bass section right up, and Dulli delivers an arch vocal on the verses over little more than the bass and drums before the howling guitars force themselves back in. ‘I Know Your Little Secret’ is nothing short of an emotive masterstroke, where rage is replaced with bitter melancholy.

‘Big Top Halloween’, ‘Sammy’ and ‘In My Town’ are all taken from the Whigs’ self-released debut, and are much rawer cuts, just a shade above demo standard in the production stakes; they do, however prove how honed the band were, even in 1988. The tracks were produced by Wayne Hartman. ‘Big Top Halloween’ is a classic heavy indie track, finding Greg in places providing a genetic link to White Stripes’ Jack White, while the band manage to sound like Dinosaur Jr. and Guns n’ Roses in the same three and a half minutes. Beginning with a melodic, elastic bassline, ‘Sammy’ is a heartfelt, lo-fi track with a killer sing-a-long chorus and lyrics that seem to blend genders at will, also deploying a fine harmonica solo. ‘In My Town’ is a melodic, jangly guitar track not wholly dissimilar to James circa Laid, with a definite folk / country sound. Back to 1989 for closing track ‘I Am The Sticks’ (produced by Paul Mahern), a muscular rocker with some very Rowland S. Howard guitar melodies, over which Dulli supplies a typical tonsil-shredding vocal performance. It’s a mysterious and sonically-adventurous conclusion to a gripping album. Not a dud track here.

First published 2004; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Sonic Youth – Hits Are For Squares (Geffen / Starbucks album, 2008)

Sonic Youth 'Hits Are For Squares' CD artwork

geffen / starbucks | cd 0602527781778 | 10/06/2008 | track listing

Hits Are For Squares is an almost career-spanning sixteen-track Sonic Youth compilation album. The album was released initially only in US Starbucks stores in 2008 in conjunction with Geffen, Sonic Youth’s home since leaving SST / Enigma (in the States) and Blast First (in the UK) following the release of Daydream Nation. Ignoring the obvious charges of ‘selling out’ by letting the mighty Starbucks put out a compilation album, what’s relatively unique about Hits Are For Squares is that the tracks themselves were all chosen by various celebrity fans (rubber-limbed Chili Pepper Flea, actress Catherine Keener, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and so on) or collaborators (Minutemen’s Mike Watt). Those choices, plus their reasons for choosing a particular track are explained in the liner notes alongside brief notes on the tracks and where they fit into the Sonic Youth back catalogue. And hey, the self-deprecating album title isn’t dissimilar to Hip To Be Square, the 1986 album from Huey Lewis & The News beloved by Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, and that’s always cool with me. Meanwhile, the sleeve looks like it’s trying to be an Edward Hopper portrait, the suit drinking his Starbucks coffee shamelessly reinforcing the commercial nature of this album. A ‘caffeine-free’ vinyl edition was released by the band later in 2010.

What’s immediately evident from the selections is that there are way more choices from the Geffen ‘commercial’ Sonic Youth period rather than their earlier independent label period, aside from firm fan favourites like ‘Teen Age Riot’ (from Daydream Nation), ‘Tuff Gnarl’ (from Sister), ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’, ‘Expressway To Yr. Skull’ (aka ‘Madonna, Sean And Me’) and ‘Tom Violence’ (all from Evol) and the earliest track here, the raw ‘The World Looks Red’ (from the Confusion Is Sex EP with Grinderman / Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds / Silver Alert drummer Jim Sclavunos on the skins and lyrics by SwansMichael Gira). In general the tracks lean toward the accessible side of the Sonic Youth back catalogue rather than the more experimental, but that’s what you get when you try and shift your album in outlets of the ubiquitous Seattle coffee chain (Seattle resident Eddie Vedder, incidentally, has a bit of a rant about not liking coffee in his notes to ‘Teen Age Riot’, which is rather like biting the hand that feeds if you ask me, but it’s still funny). Also, most of the tracks are those sung by Thurston Moore; Kim Gordon gets a couple of her lead vocal tracks included (including the annoying ‘duet’ with Chuck D, ‘Kool Thing’ and the beguiling ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’) and poor Lee Ranaldo doesn’t have any of his sung / spoken tracks included at all. Diablo Cody chooses the cover of ‘Superstar’ from a tribute album to The Carpenters which, while pretty, still feels uncharacteristically kitsch for Sonic Youth; far better would have been something from the more radical Ciccone Youth album.

Personally, I’d liken this compilation to the type of coffee you get from Starbucks – in other words a bit watered down, vaguely inauthentic but nevertheless addictive all the same, precisely because it is so accessible. I approached this album having not listened to most of the Sonic Youth back catalogue for some time and it felt like I was hearing these tracks for the first time all over again, ‘Teen Age Riot’ (still one of my favourites from their entire body of work) and ‘Bull In The Heather’ (from Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star) in particular sounding really fresh and unfamiliar, just like I was listening to them for the first time again.

The album also includes a previously unreleased track, ‘Slow Revolution’, which mines a similar vein to Washing Machine‘s long-form ‘Diamond Sea’ (a track I’d definitely have included, though at twenty minutes it was clearly never going to make the grade while the single edit lacks the very expansiveness that makes the song so impressive); like ‘Diamond Sea’, ‘Slow Revolution’ is a languidly-paced number, all Jaki Liebezeit-style drums from Steve Shelley and layers of hazy guitar riffs and Kim Gordon wailing away somewhere in the middle ground like she’s singing in tongues. It’s a far cry from this band’s more blistering white hot punk tracks, but it’s quite beautiful nonetheless; think the Velvets’ ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ passed through a Krautrock filter. ‘Slow Revolution’ is worth buying this compilation for in itself.

Gripes aside, Hits Are For Squares provides a great overview for anyone unfamiliar with Sonic Youth. It’s not as good as my own Sonic Youth compilation tapes that I made at the start of the last decade, but that’s personal choices for you.

I decided to re-post this because I’ve been listening to The Best Day, the new solo album from Thurston Moore which I’m reviewing this month for Clash.

Track listing:

cd:
1. Bull In The Heather
2. 100%
3. Sugar Kane
4. Kool Thing
5. Disappearer
6. Superstar
7. Stones
8. Tuff Gnarl
9. Teenage Riot
10. Shadow Of A Doubt
11. Rain On Tin
12. Tom Violence
13. Mary-Christ
14. The World Looks Red
15. Expressway To Yr. Skull
16. Slow Revolution

First published 2010 / re-posted 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Unusual Places To Find A Mute Artist Reference No. 1

Image

Unusual Places To Find A Mute Artist Reference No. 1

An unexpected mention of Blast First goofballs The Butthole Surfers in the excellent Made In America by Bill Bryson (Black Swan, 1994).

The band are mentioned in passing in a chapter entitled Sex And Other Distractions, describing American society’s simultaneous adoration and abhorrence of sex and references to sex since the time of the Founding Fathers.

Bryson is here referring to the tendency of The New York Times to eschew language with any sexual connotation. The full sentence reads thus:

Butthead or butthole appeared sixteen times, again almost always in reference to a particular proper noun, such as the interestingly named pop group Butthole Surfers.

I’m not sure what’s most surprising about this – the fact that Gibby Haynes and co made it into the hallowed pages of The New York Times, or that Bryson considers them a pop group.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

2K – ***k The Millennium (Blast First single, 1997)

2K '***k The Millennium' 12" artwork

blast first / mute records | 12″/cd bffp146t / bffp146cdk | 29/09/1997

‘What Time Is Love?’, ‘3AM Eternal’, ‘Last Train To Trancentral’ – all songs synonymous in my memory with my first love affair with music generally and dance music specifically. The late eighties, and the ensuing dance-tinged early nineties were a great time for an electronically-minded boy to be getting into music, and The KLF played a major role in piquing my curiosity. Later, at university I managed to track down original 12″ versions of the re-released ‘What Time Is Love?’ and ‘3AM’ and, in my first and only attempt at DJing, managed to beat-mix the two tracks perfectly using the campus radio station’s decks and cross-fader. Good times.

On the back of the three classic singles above, I bought The White Room, and was hugely disappointed; the straightahead dance tracks were nowhere to be seen, and the whole album hung together disjointedly. The anarchistic / artistic events that followed, the dead sheep and thrash-metal with crutches and rifles version of ‘3AM’ at the Brit Awards, the Tami Wynette version of ‘Justified And Ancient’, the whole Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu faux-cult thing generally; all of this left me thinking The KLF a little silly, and it altered my affections toward the triumverate of singles above.

Nevertheless, by 1997, my addiction for buying all things Mute and a renewed interest in the ‘mythology’ I suppose you’d call of it of The KLF, I was really excited by the prospect of this single. Adopting the moniker 2K, Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond reunited specifically for one single on Blast First, following the inclusion of ‘What Time Is Love?’ on the Jeremy Deller-compiled Acid Brass album.

With the combining together of the music I loved as a teenager and my favorite record label, I was pretty excited about this single. I remember vividly the day I bought this. I also bought the second volume of Nick Cave‘s King Ink lyrics collection, and it was during a period where futures were being decided and graduate placements were being applied for. There was a rising level of noise around the coming new millennium and the unifying celebrations that would be had that year, the Millennium Bug was being lauded as the end of modern civilisation, and this single aimed to tap into that excitement. And just like most of those supposedly exciting things, none of which lived up to their hype, neither does the 2K single.

The central ‘point’, if indeed there is one, of ‘***k The Millennium’ is the line ‘F**k the millennium / We want it now‘, which is meaningless and also fundamentally impossible to achieve. The duo also take the opportunity – chortle, chortle – to open the track with a shouted ‘1997 – what the f**k’s going on?‘, referencing the album from a decade before with which the ‘controversy’ that often circled Cauty / Drummond (and which now seems childish) began.

At almost 14 minutes, ‘***k The Millenium’ is an in-joke taken too far, combining pointless sloganeering and the same form of pompous spoken word passages that ruined the rocked-up version of ‘America : What Time Is Love?’. The only redeeming feature of this song is the usage of a section of acid-house burbling from the original, rare as hen’s teeth, ‘What Time Is Love?’; but when placed alongside shouted nonsense, horns and repeated expletives one has to ask: what’s the point? Far better to track down that original classic than indulge this disappointing nail in the Koffin.

Alongside a single edit, and a radio-friendly swearing-free version thereof, there’s an alternative version of the Williams Fairey Brass Band‘s take on ‘What Time Is Love?’. With so much rear-view mirror action going on, one is left with the inescapable notion that this was a parting shot from a duo who were looking back fondly on their achievements from yesterday, themselves wondering where the ideas went and what the point of this single actually was. (The 12″ includes a Pan Sonic remix of the Acid Brass track which is probably worth owning; I still don’t know whether I’ve got it or not.)

Track listing:

12″:
A. 2K – ***k The Millennium
B1. Acid Brass – What Time Is Love? (Version K)
B2. Acid Brass – What Time Is Love? (Version P – Royal Oak Mix by Pan Sonic)

cd:
1. ***k The Millennium
2. Acid Brass – What Time Is Love? (Version K)
3. ***k The Millennium (Radio Edit)
4. ***k The Millennium (Censored Radio Edit)

First published 2008; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Sun Ra – Out There A Minute (Blast First album, 1989)

Sun Ra 'Out There A Minute' LP artwork

blast first / mute records | lp/cd bffp42 | 1989

Surely the best thing about running a record label must be the opportunity to release music that you love. Such is the case with Blast First head Paul Smith‘s release of three Sun Ra records via his label in the late Eighties and Nineties. That trio of releases – the CD/VHS set Cosmic Visions (which includes the legendary Space Is The Place film), a live album of Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra recorded in London and the compilation Out There A Minute – were all made possible, first and foremost, by Smith being a fan of Sun Ra’s body of work. The other reason was a sense of exasperation and disbelief that there were people out there who bought all the prior Blast First releases. His aversion to being seen as some sort of Factory-style ‘cult’ label, or even being regarded as a record label at all, again led to a focus on bands and artists that Smith was personally interested in.

‘Hence the Sun Ra and Glenn Branca releases,’ explains Smith by email. ‘Both have a connection and influence on, say, the music of Sonic Youth, but both were maybe not so obvious to people at the time. Thurston [Moore, Sonic Youth guitarist] was, even then, a big collector of Ra, and I’d seen the Arkestra play years before in London. They made a real impact on me – and who would not want to meet an Angel, and one from Saturn to boot? Anyway we had about twenty people send these two records back asking for a refund, which we happily gave them. Mission accomplished.’

Sun Ra’s legacy as an outsider jazzman, band-leader, synth pioneer and visitor from another planet is huge, as is his body of work across a multitude of labels. Collecting Ra records can be a daunting and extremely expensive task, which is why compilations like Out There A Minute are useful introductions to Sun Ra’s complex body of music. If you believe the official biography, Sun Ra was born Herman Poole ‘Sonny’ Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in May 1914 and by his early teens was an impressive pianist, able to transcribe full works by ear after witnessing performances of the many jazz legends that performed in Birmingham on the US jazz touring circuit. By the mid-Thirties, Blount was leading his own band, insisting on rigorous practice and creating a disciplined, Calvinistic, work ethic that allowed his band to adapt to a number of jazz styles with ease.

The ‘other’ biography is much more interesting, and likely of much greater influence on the music that was issued by Sun Ra. After a couple of years of limited success with his band, Blount claimed to have been surrounded by a white light, which he followed, and which magically transported him to Saturn where a form of Angel spoke to him of impending chaos on Earth, encouraging him to preach peace through music, and replacing his corporeal form with that of a Saturnine Angel. During the course of his onward career, Sun Ra – as he became known from 1952 having legally changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra – would focus on a form of Afrofuturism, his Arkestra would wear Egyptian costumes on stage and his music would take on an astral dimension.

Whilst liner notes are absent (something jazz fans are pretty intolerant of generally), we know that the tracks that form Out There A Minute were recorded in New York at the Arkestra’s base near 42nd Street, a communal living and performance space that the band were forced to adopt because of Manhattan’s sky-high rents. The band were residents in New York from 1961 through to 1968, during which time they adopted more of a free improv style, currying favour with the beat poets and fans of psychedelia, but also getting frustrated by hecklers and a more universal concern that Sun Ra and his band were a bit too ‘far out’ for the jazz fraternity.

Out There A Minute comprises thirteen tracks from the end of the Arkestra’s New York period, personally compiled by Sun Ra from an archive of rare recordings. The recordings range from straight-up big band bop like ‘Dark Clouds With Silver Linings’ or ‘Lights Of A Satellite’, which showed that Sun Ra was still prepared to tap into more traditional (and more popular) jazz forms, through to some of the more intensely alien pieces. The Sun Ra Moog sound is here not quite developed, though some of the tracks have some distinctive and inventive early synth musings; predominantly Sun Ra deploys piano or organ lines here, nestled among John Gilmour‘s tenor sax and Marshall Allen‘s alto. In the jazz genre, it perhaps doesn’t feel quite so adventurous as the idea itself today, but these pieces undoubtedly have an otherworldly quality when compared with other music being wrought at the time. Tracks veer from polite, romantic musings such as the genteel but noisy ‘When Angels Speak Of Love’ to the scratchy whine of ‘Cosmo Enticement’ or ‘Next Stop Mars’. The playful, wobbly echoes of ‘Song Of Tree And Forest’ sounds like something that wouldn’t have gone amiss on the soundtrack for 2001: A Space Odyssey if Kubrick hadn’t decided to go all highbrow with his use of Ligeti. ‘Other Worlds’ is cloying, manic skronking, hammered pianos and wild percussion, truly out there playing with a playful, expansive reach.

Smith recalls meeting Ra and his band several times. ‘I even got to visit them in their commune in Philly, and once took him shopping on London’s Denmark Street where he picked up a “Heavy Metal” guitar pedal. Sunny had no idea about the musical genre, he just liked the name and started talking about the different physics on the home planet.’

‘I organised some dates, especially in the UK where he’d sort of lost his place with the jazz fraternity at that time,’ Smith recalls. ‘Sun Ra playing at The Mean Fiddler is what showed Vince Power that Camden Jazz Cafe could work! Sunny was a truly lovely soul. A fantastic and mischievous twinkle in his eyes all the time, and a lovely giggle. He was very anti-drug, and very strict with his band members. I remember introducing Thurston Moore to Sunny at the Bottom Line jazz club in New York – it was one of the few times I’ve seen him look freaked out at meeting someone.’

Sun Ra rejoined his Saturnine people in 1993, handing the baton to Marshall Allen, who leads the Arkestra to this day. Only a few of the original members survive, and Allen himself will turn ninety in a couple of years, but the unique band that Ra created continue to tour, the perfect living tribute to one of jazz music’s most celebrated but misunderstood geniuses.

On a personal level, there were two things that formed my still-developing interest and love of jazz. The first was a guy called Brian, a friend of the middle-aged couple that I lived with during my final year at university in Colchester in 1998. Brian was a big man, who I forever imagine now to look like Peter Brötzmann, and he absolutely loved jazz. Every summer he’d take himself off to european jazz festivals, and the few times he and I spoke, he enthused about the genre so much that it cemented in me a need to explore jazz much as I’d been drawn into punk two years earlier. Sadly Brian passed away that year and never managed to give me the recommendations he’d always intended to. The other influence was seeing this Sun Ra compilation listed in the Documentary Evidence pamphlet that ultimately inspired this site. At the time (1991), I had no idea who or what Ra was, and it wasn’t until I read a review of John F. Szwed’s book in The Wire around a year after Brian’s death that I began to appreciate his importance and also the sheer eclecticism of Smith’s label. It took me a few years to build up to delving into Ra’s back catalogue, but it didn’t disappoint when I finally did.

Thanks to Paul Smith.

Track listing:

lp/cd:
A1. / 1. Love In Outer Space
A2. / 2. Somewhere In Space
A3. / 3. Dark Clouds With Silver Linings
A4. / 4. Jazz And Romantic Sounds
A5. / 5. When Angels Speak Of Love
A6. / 6. Cosmo Enticement
B1. / 7. Song Of Tree And Forest
B2. / 8. Other Worlds
B3. / 9. Journey Outward
B4. / 10. Lights Of A Satellite
B5. / 11. Starships And Solar Boats
B6. / 12. Out There A Minute
13. Next Stop Mars (CD bonus track)

First published 2012; edited 2014.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence