Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Skeleton Tree

Currently listening to album number 16 from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds... I'd normally grumble about Skeleton Tree's minimalist packaging - the CD comes in a sturdy, spot varnished mini LP card sleeve complete with an insert featuring the album credits and a photo of Nick in a recording studio, writing notes on a copy book, but this is an album draped in mourning clothes and the music within follows suit - dark, austere, stripped back, apart from Warren Ellis' loops and soundscapes, the Bad Seeds feel absent, the album sounds like a man alone in a room wrestling with unimaginable pain and loss. I haven't delved into the lyrics (none are featured on the CD sleeve) but Arthur Cave's passing is never mentioned directly, the lyrics are often oblique, even hallucinatory. I've listened to the album perhaps half a dozen times now (it runs just under 40mins) and I can safely say it's one of Nick Cave's finest albums, the penultimate son Distant Sky, featuring Theatre of Voices soprano singer Else Torp is one of Cave's most beautiful songs. Essential listening, but you knew that already.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Werewolves on Wheels

Singer songwriter Barry McGuire contemplatin' the eve of destruction in the 1971 film Werewolves on Wheels... I've been seeing enthusiastic word for Psychomania ahead of the forthcoming BFI Blu-Ray, and with that in mind, I grabbed some time last night to revisit Werewolves on Wheels, the only other occult biker pic I can think of in that micro-genre of genres. Howling director Joe Dante didn't have much good to say about the film when he reviewed it for Film Bulletin in the early 70's ("an incoherent, nearly plotless jumble of repulsive cycle-bum viciousness and humorless vulgarity that seems seriously and squarely aimed at imbeciles"), and yet, I remain quite fond of the film, for its wacky premise, fleeting drive-in gore, occasional detours into metaphysical weirdness and some spirited performances - there's one particularly great Godardian moment when the Angels search for one of their missing brethren (nicknamed "Movie") and spend the scene scrambling around a desert landscape which has become a dump for wrecked cars, shouting "Moooovie !"

Watching the film again, my interest was less focused on Barry McGuire (who turned to Christianity after making the film) than that of lead actor Stephen Oliver. Not a particularly distinguished actor - his filmography offers only one other interesting title, Russ Meyer's 1965 biker pic Motorpsycho!, but watching him in Werewolves on Wheels, one could readily imagine him playing Charles Manson, the similarity in looks and voice are quite striking, certainly more convincing than Steve Railsback

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Under Hipgnosis

My last post included a link to the Hipgnosiscovers website, an incredible resource of album packaging by the great design house. Well worth a visit. Combing thru the archive earlier, a few designs caught my eye (although not necessarily for the same reason).

The first of these is the eponymous 1971 album by the Edgar Broughton Band, which originally came in one of those wraparound gatefold sleeves. This one would be shocking enough even if it didn’t include a morbid detail that slowly reveals itself within the shot…

My second choice is another great gatefold landscape, designed for British rock outfit Quatermass whose single solitary 1970 album features one of Hipgnosis’ most striking disjunctive photomontages - a squadron of pterodactyls swooping between two skyscrapers, anticipating Larry Cohen’s Q The Winged Serpent by a decade…

The next two album covers, I selected purely for the sheer weirdness of their concepts - one wonders what the bands were thinking when they approved them. The first, featured on 1978's Misplaced Ideals by UK band Sad Cafe looks like a dry run for Hipgnosis' subsequent cover for Peter Gabriel's "Melt" album, but such a far out (and rather grotesque) design feels at odds with the band's innocuous pop soul, and a world away from the soft-porn Roxy Music style cover of their first LP.

The second of these head-scratchers is one of the most bizarre album covers I've seen in quite a while - hard rock band Toe Fat's second album from 1970 which features miniature band members in a landscape of rotting chicken carcass and other decomposing food. Perhaps Hipgnosis had an idea to replicate one of Max Ernst's landscapes (Europe After the Rain or The Eye of Silence) but it's rather nauseating...

Friday, 2 September 2016

The super, all-action Pink Floyd !

More music related comic stuff... Following on from yesterday's post, I was rather pleased this morning to chance upon this nice Pink Floyd item in the pages of an old issue of Record Collector magazine. For the British leg of the band's winter tour, Hipgnosis designed this very nice 16 page comic, with a 2-page Boy's Own style strip dedicated to each of the four Floyds - Roger Waters appears as ace-goal scorer "Rog of the Rovers" (of Granchester Rovers!), Dave Mason as the courageous "Captain Mason, R.N" battling German U-Boats, Richard Wright as the millionaire playboy "Rich Right" ("He's rich & he's right") and Dave Gilmour as a fearless speedway rider in "The Exploits of Dave Derring". The program also includes a list of factoids about the band members (interesting to see their favorite films), a Pink Floyd quiz, a list of tour personnel, and a fabulously grotesque portrait of the band by Gerald Scarfe. Record Collector priced the tour program at £60 back in 1998 so I expect good condition original copies will fetch even more today (a nice investment for anyone who paid 25c/15p back in 74). Fortunately, the program has been professionally scanned here

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Enter the Shadow Kingdom

Currently listening to the 2009 double CD Shadow Kingdom, by the great French experimental psych-folk duo Natural Snow Buildings. I own some thanks to some recent Jack Kirby interest for putting the album in mind this evening - UK label Blackest Rainbow put this out in a limited run of 500 copies and accompanying the CDs is a beautiful 16 page comic book with illustrations by one half of Natural Snow Buildings duo Solange Gularte. I managed to snap this up a few years ago and it's one of those items in my collection that I cherish - not just for the music - a sort of experimental acoustic folk with post-rock licks, eastern exotica, kosmische–style ragas, atmospheric drones and ambient soundscapes spead across two discs, or for the bewitching packaging, but that it's one of the few Natural Snow Buildings albums to earn a CD release, the home produced CD-R being the duo's low-key weapon of choice...

Horror and dark fantasy is a perennial obsession of Natural Snow Buildings and peppered throughout their releases are cult film references - album titles like Laurie Bird, Daughter of Darkness, as well as song titles like “John Carpenter”, “Santa Sangre” and “Mary Brown” - presumably a reference to The Blair Witch Project. The Shadow Kingdom album has some nice allusions to Horror Cinema also, with song titles such as "Gorgon", "The Faceless" and "The Crystal Bird"