Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Hunters & Collectors

I'd never even heard of Hunters & Collectors until about ten years ago. I was browsing through one of my old reliable music books, the Trouser Press Record Guide, and happened to come across their name. I can't remember what most of the article about this band said; the main thing I recall was that the TPRG mentioned that the band's sound was similar to that of England's The Fall.

Being a HUGE Fall fan, that was all I needed to hear. I instantly became more interested in what this band was about.

Hunters & Collectors was formed in Melbourne, Australia in 1981 by a bunch of local college students. They named themselves from a track on an album by Can. The band lived up to its naming source by creating a post-punk sound heavily influenced by 1970s German experimental groups like Faust, Tangerine Dream and, of course, Can, filtered through an Australian rock sensibility (Mark E. Smith's love of Krautrock was a primary early influence to The Fall's music as well; hence the comparison between The Fall and Hunters & Collectors in TPRG). The band's lead singer and principal lyricist was a guy named Mark Seymour, whose younger brother Nick later became bassist for Crowded House.

Hunters & Collectors were quickly signed to a subsidiary of Mushroom Records, and their first release, a 3-song EP called World Of Stone, was released in January 1982. Their debut album, Hunters & Collectors, was released by the label the following July, and reached #21 on the Australian charts. Another EP, Payload, was released on Mushroom in November of that year. In early 1983, the band began a six-month tour of the UK and signed to Virgin Records, who combined the band's LP and the Payload EP into a UK LP rerelease of Hunters & Collectors. Another album, The Fireman's Curse (recorded in Germany and helmed by renowned Krautrock producer Conny Plank), was released on Virgin in September 1983. But a multialbum deal with Virgin fell apart after the band publicly insulted the manhood of the managing executive of the label. By November, Hunters & Collectors had disbanded.

But by early 1984 the members had returned to Australia and reformed, at the same time revising their sound, moving away from post-punk and arty German rock pretensions towards a fuller, 'pub rock'-ier, bass-&-horn-driven attack that brought them nationwide fame. Hunters & Collectors' breakthrough album was 1986's Human Frailty, featuring their most popular song, "Throw Your Arms Around Me". The album was their first Australian Top Ten LP, and from then on, the band was one of Australia's top live draws, a 'bloke's' band that recorded several other popular songs, such as "Back On The Breadline", "When The River Runs Dry", and "Where Do You Go", before finally calling it quits in 1998.

Hunters & Collectors didn't do diddley-squat in America, but it's not for lack of trying. In 1986, they signed a parallel record deal with I.R.S. Records to release their albums in the States, but found little mainstream success ("Back On The Breadline" did make the Top Ten Modern Rock charts here, however). They were the support band for Midnight Oil's 1990 U.S. tour (The Oil's were touring on their American breakthrough record, Diesel & Dust), but failed to make any headway. I think that I.R.S. considered the band to be "too Australian" (whatever the heck that means), and as such, didn't know how to properly market the band in the U.S.

[Of course, that rationale makes absolutely no sense - Midnight Oil was a hell of a lot more "Australian" than H&C, and so it stands to reason that Diesel & Dust, a song cycle dealing almost exclusively with the plight of the country's aboriginal population, should have tanked here - instead, it was the album that made them in the States. So go figure.]

It's too bad that H&C couldn't find a U.S. audience. It's also sort of a shame that they changed their sound after 1983. Their debut self-titled album is absolutely superb. The 'hit' off of this album was supposed to be "Talking To A Stranger". But my favorite song off of Hunters & Collectors is "Run Run Run", an absolutely mesmerizing song that starts off as a bass-and-nagging guitar motorik hybrid, before suddenly, in the middle of the song, changing into a hypnotic chug that modifies yet AGAIN near the end into a grinding guitar workout. A completely amazing work.

But don't take my word for it. Here's the album for you to judge for yourself. As always, let me know what you think:

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe (RS500 - #134)

I got into Pavement sort of ass-backwards, but as it turned out, it was exactly the right way to understand the band.

I learned about the band during that six-month period back in 1993 that I mentioned in my earlier post on The Starlings, just before I left for New Zealand [in hindsight - damn, but there was a lot of good music floating around back then!]. I don't recall hearing them on the radio; I must have read something about them in one of the music magazines I regularly perused back then, like Spin or the NME. Or maybe there was something about them in the DC City Paper that I saw - I just don't recall. Back then, more than now, there were music critics and commentators whose judgment I trusted implicitly; if they said something was good, that was usually good enough for me. So I must've come to the band through something like that, because I purchased the first Pavement album I came across, Westing (By Musket & Sextant), before I'd ever heard a note of their music.
[or, at least I THINK I'd never heard one of their songs up to that point . . . I say this because back in October 1991, my friend Camob came out from California to visit the DC area, and we ended up doing the town a couple of nights, hitting the old college bars along M Street that used to cater to Georgetown students (all of them now long gone) and checking out our old music haunts. We spent a couple of hours in the old 9:30 Club on F Street one evening, listening to some no-name band play . . . and it was years later, after thinking about it, that I became pretty sure that, during their set, those guys played a version of Pavement's "Texas Never Whispers", a year before it came out on the Watery, Domestic EP. I could be wrong . . . but I don't think I am.]
As far as I knew, Westing was Pavement's first album. I listened to it constantly that spring and summer, at home in the DC area and at my new home in New Zealand. Several songs entered heavy rotation on my personal playlist, including "Box Elder" and "Forklift".

Christchurch, New Zealand is pretty well off the beaten path, as far as American acts are concerned; when a Stateside act arrives down that way, it's pretty big news (which explains why I inexplicably paid my hard-earned money to see Tina Turner, of all people, play at Lancaster Park during my first month there . . .). So I felt incredibly lucky when, browsing the local paper one day about two months into my Kiwi residency, I noticed a small ad announcing that Pavement was actually coming to play a show in town. I was so shocked, I stopped, went back and slowly scanned the ad again, just in case I had misread the name. But no, it turned out to be true - a decent indie band that I was just getting fully into was heading my way!

At about the same time I heard about the upcoming show, I discovered that Westing wasn't the band's first album - it was just a compilation of early singles and EPs. Their first official disc was Slanted & Enchanted, released by Matador Records in April 1992 (although copies had been distributed to selected DJs and music critics as early as the spring/summer of 1991 - which makes my conviction that I heard "Texas Never Whispers" a year before its official release not as far-fetched as it appears . . .). I found a copy of the album at Echo Records downtown and took it home to begin absorbing it.

As much as I loved Westing, Slanted & Enchanted COMPLETELY blew me away. EVERY song on the album was strong, and I quickly discovered several new Pavement favorites that began being played constantly around the house and in my car - "Perfume V", "Two States", "Summer Babe" (which sounds almost identical to the one on Westing), and especially "Here", in my opinion one of the three best songs Pavement ever did (along with "Shoot The Singer" and "Box Elder").

By the date of their show in town, I was fully conversant in their music.

However, I still didn't know much about the band, or the players themselves, outside of their names. So I went to the packed show, fought my way to a space near the front, and suffered through the opening band, some no-name Christchurch locals. The following band, who I assumed to be Pavement, came on and started playing. And all through the first part of their set I'm shouting out song names for them to play - "'Box Elder'!" "'Two States'!" The band is giving me dirty looks all the while, and it finally dawned on me that they weren't Pavement; they were Bailter Space, a rightly renowned Kiwi band that, at the time, I knew nothing about. I'd never been to a show that had two opening acts before the headliner, so I made an assumption - a poor one, as it turned out (hell, I didn't know - it's not like there were band pictures in the CD inserts!).

Pavement finally came on, and of course they were absolutely great. The crowd there was going wild - say what you will about the assumed provincialism of New Zealanders, but I gotta tell you: Kiwis KNOW their music. They played everything I hoped they'd play, and more. I left that show a rabid Pavement fan, and from then on was on a mission to track down all of their EPs and obscure 7"s. And to add to this embarrassment of Pavement riches, the band RETURNED to Christchurch less than a year later, for a show at the Caladonian Hall down the street from the Park Royal Hotel - another great show.

For me, this album was Pavement's peak. Their following releases - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Wowee Zowee, Brighten The Corners - have all been critically acclaimed, but to me they all seem to lack the grit, spark and urgency of their earlier material. Others seem to think so as well - in 2002, Slanted & Enchanted was the first of Pavement's albums to get the Deluxe Edition treatment, adding a second disc of B-sides and live versions from that era to the original release. I'm frankly stunned that Rolling Stone would rank this album as high as it did - in my mind, it's more than deserving of this recognition, but I never thought the band's music was 'commercial' enough or accessible enough to warrant widespread recognition like this. Guess I was wrong again . . . and thankfully so this time.

Here it is - the Deluxe Edition, for your listening pleasure. As always, I appreciate your comments:

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Triple Gang - This Nation's Saving Grace (Cover Version)

In the summer of 2000, a short-lived pickup band composed of national and local recording artists residing in the Bay Area played two shows three weeks apart at small venues in San Francisco. Normally, events like this happen all the time in cities around the globe, and are little noticed nor long remembered, even by the participants and attendees. What made this particular pair of concerts so memorable was that the band, Triple Gang, decided that instead of playing a set full of hoary rock chestnuts, they would challenge themselves and their audience by mastering and covering, in its entirety, The Fall's 1988 magnum opus, This Nation's Saving Grace.

This Nation's Saving Grace is one of my favorite Fall albums, a release from the band's heady mid-80s period, when they could do no wrong (at least as far as their fans were concerned) and pumped out classic album after classic album: Hex Enduction Hour, The Wonderful & Frightening World Of The Fall, Bend Sinister. TNSG is the apex of the band's output during that time, but it's also one of their densest and most challenging recordings, sonically and lyrically. It's very much a product of Mark E. Smith, The Fall's founding member, lead singer and quasi-dictator, and as such, one would think that it would be pure hubris and/or insanity for any band other than The Fall to cover it.

And yet, that's just what Triple Gang set out to do.

Triple Gang was composed of: Matt Jervis, the ex-lead singer for local S.F. band Kingdom First; Billy Gould, the former bassist for Faith No More; Alex Newport, who used to play guitar for Fudge Tunnel; drummer Jon Weiss, formerly of Horsey; and keyboardist Miya Osaki. The two shows they played that summer were at Kimo's that July 14th and at the Covered Wagon on August 3rd (both venues still exist, and still showcase local music almost nightly).

I can't remember how I heard about these shows. I was living in Texas at the time, and as such had no chance of getting out to San Francisco to see these events - would have loved to have attended, though. I probably got wind of them through the Fallnet message boards active back then.

The SF Weekly ran a long article about Triple Gang and this project in an issue released prior to the first show - here's the link, in case you're interested.

These two shows were the only performances ever conducted by this band lineup. Immediately afterwards, Triple Gang broke up, and the band members moved on to over things. Jervis currently lives in Berkeley, doing illustrations and producing the occasional concert poster. Weiss and Gould are currently collaborating with Jello Biafra on one of the latter's latest projects, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine. Newport owns a recording studio in New York and is an in-demand producer, working with such names as Death Cab For Cutie and Japan's Polysics. And Osaki has worked with a number of small Bay Area and L.A. indie bands.

The Triple Gang shows were never officially recorded for release. But fortunately, someone had the foresight to tape one of these events for posterity (specifically, the first show, at Kimo's), and as fortune would have it, I obtained a copy of the bootleg. But for a bootleg, the sound quality is actually pretty good.

I suspect that the audience for this posting will be extremely limited to folks with knowledge of/nostalgia for the old Bay Area music scene, as well as hardcore Fall fans interested in a different take on a classic Fall album. If you count yourself a member of one of these groups, well, here you go - enjoy. As always, let me know what you think:

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