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Monthly Archives: June 2009

I’m not a huge enough Joy Division fan to know if this stuff was completely issued elsewhere. I have all their official albums and the HEART AND SOUL box on my shelf, but little by way of bootlegs. Some tracks show up on SUBSTANCE and HEART AND SOUL but there’s something here for you if you’ve never heard Joy Division’s punk roots. It’s good to hear these early recordings in some sort of chronological order as opposed to the way they’re spread around on official compilations. Gives you a better sense of their evolution. -Ian!

AN IDEAL FOR LIVING, Joy Division’s first release, showcases clearly the group’s punk roots. “Warsaw” is classic rushed hardcore complete with shouted vocals, while “Failures” simply slows the tempo a bit to become a punk-influenced hard-rock number. “No Love Lost” is almost an instrumental selection, with very late-entering vocals that seem like an afterthought. Most indicative of the group’s later releases is the slower-tempo “Leaders of Men,” which allows Ian Curtis’ bleak lyrics to come to the fore. Sound quality and production values on this release are extremely primitive. This is a mildly interesting, if not great EP; with the re-release of tracks one and three on the rarities album Substance, the need for diehard Joy Division fans to obtain this platter has notably decreased.

-David Cleary,

WARSAW is a bootleg, rather than a band-sanctioned official release. Three of these songs also appear on the “Heart and Soul” boxed set (The Drawback, Shadowplay, Interzone), and the sound quality is notably better there than here. However, the sound quality of this bootleg is really pretty good; you can enjoy the music unimpeded. There is, however, apparently a pristine sounding German bootleg out there somewhere.

The final five songs constitute the band’s earliest demo, from July 1977. At that point they were called Warsaw, and you can hardly perceive Joy Division in the breakneck punk frenzy. Interesting evidence of how quickly the band evolved, but little more.

Five months later, the band (now nearly called Joy Division) recorded the excellent e.p. “An Ideal for Living,” which is included in full on “Heart and Soul” and “Substance.” In May 1978, they did sessions for a planned RCA album, which never saw release. This “Warsaw” cd includes those sessions in full. To my knowledge, only three (of the total eleven) recordings from these sessions have been released officially (see above). Because all four songs from the “Ideal for Living” e.p. are rerecorded here (in, I think, inferior versions), that puts the burden of value of this cd on a mere four remaining songs.

And they’re pretty damn cool: a crisp (vocals all intelligible) “Walked in a Line,” a slower “Transmission,” a fiestier “Novelty,” and a solid “Ice Age.” The well-known recordings of these songs date from a year to two years later, so these are quite distinctive. If you’re a fanatic, you want everything on this cd. If you’re simply a big fan, these four tracks are worth checking out.

-John Hilgart,


The Velvet Underground were little more than a rumor when Lou Reed left the band in 1970, but by 1974, thanks to Reed’s success as a solo artist, the Velvets had become a bona fide cult item, and that year Mercury Records released a two-record set compiled from tapes from shows in Dallas and San Francisco entitled 1969: Velvet Underground Live. The album featured a generous 104 minutes of music, and when Mercury reissued it on CD in 1988, rather than edit the material or release a two-CD set, they put out the album as two separate discs. While this seemed like a rather curious move, the album’s sequence was such that it divided in half quite cleanly, and while any VU fan will want both volumes, they don’t work half bad as individual albums. 1969: Velvet Underground Live, Vol. 1 rocks a bit harder than its counterpart; it opens with a grooving version of “Waiting for My Man,” moves on to a rave-up take of “What Goes On” that features some of Lou Reed’s finest rhythm guitar work, and closes out with passionate renditions of “Rock and Roll” and “Beginning to See the Light.” And where there are a number of ballads on hand (most notably a lovely take of “Lisa Says” and versions of “Sweet Jane” and “New Age” considerably different from those on Loaded), they sound just as committed and compelling as the rockers. While the Doug Yule-era edition of the Velvet Underground often gets short shrift from aficionados, the performances on 1969: Velvet Underground Live, Vol. 1 prove this band still had plenty of fire, and was playing at the top of their game. The CD also adds a final bonus track, an unreleased version of “Heroin”; while the same song appears on Vol. 2, this recording is a different (and considerably more aggressive) performance.

Maureen Tucker once said that one of her greatest regrets about her tenure in the Velvet Underground is that the band didn’t record their shows, and while the live tapes that do survive of the group’s performances document an extraordinary band, sadly there aren’t very many of them. 1969: Velvet Underground Live, a two-record set released in 1974, is the best and most compelling (legally released) document of the band’s powers in concert, but given its length (over 104 minutes), when Mercury Records reissued the set on CD in 1988, they opted to send it out as two separate single-disc albums, rather than as a two-disc set. The three long songs that open 1969: Velvet Underground Live, Vol. 2 (they were the whole of side three on the vinyl release) capture the Velvets at their most hypnotically beautiful, easing from the slow but dramatic ebb and flow of “Ocean,” through the lovely melancholy of “Pale Blue Eyes,” into the slow, unbearable build to manic frenzy of “Heroin.” The disc’s second half finds the band in more conventional but no less satisfying form, shifting back and forth between mid-tempo numbers like “Over You” and “Some Kinda Love” and charging rockers such as “White Light/White Heat” (a fine version of “I Can’t Stand It” has been added for the CD issue). While Lou Reed’s passionate vocals and guitar work are front and center throughout, the rest of the band is in equally superb form, especially Sterling Morrison, still the finest foil Reed ever had on guitar, and Maureen Tucker, whose subtle, highly musical drumming is at once minimal and superbly intelligent. If you care at all about the Velvet Underground, both volumes of 1969: Velvet Undergound Live belong in your collection, but Vol. 2 is the one to get if you want to know how much more this band could do than create bracing noise.

-Mark Deming,

The Velvet Underground-1969: VELVET UNDERGROUND LIVE, VOL. 1 & 2 (1974)

Let’s say you’re skeptical when you flip through the liner notes and read quote after quote, all from reputable rock publications, praising Cyborgs Revisited as nothing less than “the greatest Canadian rock album ever.” And sure, they overreacted, but you understand, because this is everything a cult album should be: the only trace of a lost band that was so exciting, but so obscure it’s a wonder there’s anything to remember them by at all.

This album first came out in 1989, a full decade after Simply Saucer had broken up. Flipping through the small booklet, you can read countless anecdotes of rock band purgatory: gigs that almost sparked riots, others that did nothing at all, rough demos, stolen gear, and of course, continuous line-up changes. In spite of it all, the band kept experimenting– like the time they cranked up the feedback in their Hamilton, Ontario rehearsal space, and went outside to see if they could hear it (they could), locking themselves out in the process. The local firemen who had to let the band back inside described it as “the loudest sound heard in these parts since World War II.”

Here’s a band that could splice the DNA of Syd Barrett and Soft Machine with Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground, that could bridge post-psychedelic mind-altering electronics with a buzzed proto-punk urgency: the ultimate garage band, rehearsing constantly and trying everything and doing it all at top fucking volume. And right after they finally got around to issuing their debut release, a well-received seven-inch, in 1978, the band split and became history.

The saga, however, was just getting underway. Longtime Saucer fan Bruce “Mole” Mowat uncovered enough of the band’s material in the late 1980s to assemble an actual posthumous full-length album. A one-single cult band that could have been consigned to Nuggets III: Original Artyfacts from the Northern Territories and Beyond instead captured their own spotlight. Mowat culled nine songs from a forgotten studio session and a free afternoon show at a shopping center, and crazily, they’re all so fantastic that you can properly call them a legacy.

The studio cuts come from a 1974 session recorded by Bob Lanois in his and brother Daniel’s basement studio (the live set was recorded a year later). We’ll never know what the band’s original epic setpieces sounded like, but apparently, by this point, frontman and main songwriter Edgar Breau was cutting the material down into more concise songs (if jarring and very eccentric ones)– it’s all the fury of the band’s live sprawl crammed into the most condensed possible space. These sessions are explosive, with Breau playing the space-rock guitar hero while Ping Romany works out on Moog synth and some other analog electronics. The three live tracks, meanwhile, see the band stretching out: drums and bass gallop through on “Illegal Bodies”, setting up a noisy busy-circuit solo from Romany that sets the stage for Breau’s most precise, shrieking guitar attack. Even at a free show on a Saturday afternoon you can tell these guys were an absolutely crushing entity in the flesh.

But jams and noise-rock don’t always ossify well onto vinyl. Which brings us back to the songs: a whole set of garage rock classics that are both ecstatic and bluntly riff-bound. Breau wrote lyrics that were strikingly direct– from “Instant Pleasure”‘s demand for carnal reward, to “Nazi Apocalypse”‘s crass punk humor, to “Bullet Proof Nothing”, which just keeps demanding, “Treat me like dirt.” And though Breau’s voice, while strong and clear, has no actual remarkable qualities (I’m saying he’d never stand out in a garage-rocker line-up), it’s the perfect counterbalance to the music, grounding Simply Saucer’s instrumental flights and Romany’s “third ear” electronics.

Sonic Unyon’s reissue collects the 1989 album, and also tacks on a half hour of rehearsal and live tapes. The later material (dating from ’77 and ’78) has the band arcing away from psychedelia and closer to proto-punk; Ping Romany has quit and Steve Parks has joined the band on second guitar. The bonus tracks sound rough but they include some gems, like the bluesy “Low Profile” demo or the album’s only ballad, the affecting “Yes I Do”. Sonic Unyon also included the first CD issue of the band’s single, “I Can Change My Mind”, along with its flipside, “She’s a Dog”. The single deservedly made waves in its day, landing them a touring slot with Pere Ubu, but the band sounds diminished on it: the songs are jagged, semi-chaotic shards of sneer-punk with lyrics that snarl but that never hinge off the groin like the band’s earlier work.

It shouldn’t have ended there– the band were slated to record an official full-length before they disbanded– though it is hard to imagine how this band could have improved on Cyborgs Revisited; “I Can Change My Mind” and “She’s a Dog”, in particular, seem like formal grade school portraits after all the candid craziness that came before them. With all their ideas and influences it’s unbelievable that we could catch them at a point of such balance, but that might have been because they didn’t freeze up to perfect it. Simply Saucer made their defining statement without even knowing it. How can you beat that?

-Chris Dahlen,

Simply Saucer-CYBORGS REVISITED (1989 compilation)

Bill Withers, Live 1974 from the documentary SOUL POWER
Uploaded by Jesse Thorn of MAXIMUM FUN

Brian Eno’s first collaboration with Cluster, the best of this album’s instrumental pieces are too emotionally rich to waste as mere background music, evoking feelings of hesitancy and regret that rescue the music from mere vapid prettiness. Three tracks in particular indicate things to come. “Wehrmut” is an ethereal synth piece with the pace slowed to a tantalizing crawl. “Steinsame” features a treated guitar playing a slow figure over a dark, almost funereal synth melody. “Schöne Hände” uses watery synth effects to highlight a shivery rhythm pattern. Other pieces dispense with moody atmospherics altogether. Tracks like “Ho Renomo” and “Selange” consist mainly of pounding rhythm patterns lightly embellished by piano or synthesizer, and “Die Bunge” sounds like an electronic goldfinch fluttering around a cartoon horse. While not the unqualified success of their 1978 collaboration After the Heat, Cluster & Eno remains an important album. Along with Eno’s 1978 Music for Films, these works helped define the depth and promise of ambient music.

-Michael Waynick,

Cluster & Eno-CLUSTER & ENO (1977)

Recorded at Conrad Plank’s studio in 1982, Zero Set is a highly percussive affair with Mani Neumeier. The album is saturated in drum and synth rhythms and polyrhythms, resulting in compositions that are energetic and infectious. The opener, “Speed Display,” is the granddaddy of them all. This superb, driving piece of synth-Krautrock showcases Neumeier’s percussive “speed display,” so to speak. The following cut, “Load,” seems almost borne of the first, with an obscure synthesized vocal, steady percussion flourishes, synth spritzes, and industrial overtones. “Recall” is reminiscent of early Can and features a Sudanese vocal, and the closing track, “Search Zero,” is representative of the entire project: a quirky, percussive, progressive synth-rock composition. Zero Set is impressive; to date, it’s possibly the most interesting project on which the three musicians have worked. Two of the tracks, “Speed Display” and the textured, bubbly “Pitch Control,” also appear on Sky Records’ excellent Begegnungen compilations.

-David Ross Smith,

Dieter Moebius, Conny Plank, and Mani Neumeier-ZERO SET (1983)

Some kinds of sentiment are as lethal as carbon monoxide. When, near the beginning of “They Might Be Giants,” George C. Scott, as a once-brilliant, now lunatic New York judge, who believes he’s Sherlock Holmes, meets Joanne Woodward, a spinsterish psychiatrist whose name is Dr. Watson, my toes tingled, then imperceptibly curled. The sensation was not entirely unpleasant.

A little later, the couple encounter a small colony of eccentrics who have escaped the real world by taking refuge in the balcony of a movie theater that shows only Westerns. Holmes tells Watson she should try to smile. She does. The patient cures the doctor—and my balance became uncertain. My ears buzzed.

Still later, Holmes, accompanied by Watson, who is now in love with him, comes upon a nutty old pair who have found love and peace sculpturing shrubbery, holed up in a Front Street loft since 1939. The initial sense of odd intoxication had turned into acute discomfort. I almost blacked out—like a canary in a badly ventilated coal mine.

“They Might Be Giants,” which opened yesterday in the air-conditioned Beekman Theater, is an almost drunkenly sentimental comedy about the lazy capitulation of the sanes to the old-fashioned crazies, a romantic concept that not only needs the skills of a director like Frank Capra and a writer like Robert Riskin, but also an audience whose sensibilities are about 35 years more naive than can be easily faked today.

There is, indeed, something not so innocently simple-minded in this fable, which enobles retreat in the name of the sort of mysticism with which the Duchess of Windsor, once explained the downfall of an emperor. “The heart,” she wrote at some length, without saying very much, “has its reasons.”

“They Might Be Giants,” directed by Anthony Harvey and written by James Goldman, who earlier collaborated on “A Lion in Winter,” is a mushy movie with occasional, isolated moments of legitimate comedy, all provided by Mr. Scott with an assist by Mr. Goldman, whose sense of humor seems to surface in peripheral incidents only.

There is something pixilated—and I use the word advisedly—in the sight of Mr. Scott, dressed in his cape and his deerstalker, trying to teach Miss Woodward, who is supposed to sign his commitment papers, how to “creep” properly along a crowded New York sidewalk.

There is another moment of decent madness when Holmes invades the offices of the New York Telephone Company, and leaves at least one operator in tears. But this scene, like the entire movie, eventually goes soft, which seems to be the fate of comedies—things like “The Madwoman of Chaillot” — that prattle on about the joys of individualism and demonstrate mostly witless arrogance.

A common denominator of all of Mr. Scott’s performances is the sense of mad possession of the actor by his role, and this gives the movie a certain strength denied by the lines Mr. Goldman has written for him—”The earth is shining under the soot!” cries Holmes in an apocalyptic moment toward the end. Miss Woodward acts as straight-woman to her costar, and most of the other actors are distressingly cute.

-Vincent Canby, New York Times, 1971