The Church Of Me
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Sunday, June 29, 2003
A beautiful comment from Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips in today's Observer:

"Music is amazing. There's some metaphysical comfort where it allows you to be isolated and alone while telling you that you are not alone...truly, the only cure for sadness is to share it with someone else. Which is why music, movies, books are so important. Without art, without communicating, we wouldn't live beyond 30 because we'd be so sad and depressed."

And that's the truth.

For Simon, Joy, Kieran, David, Matthew, Susan, Kodwo and everyone else who was there yesterday...

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .

Hello, hello, come in. I wasn’t that difficult to find, was I? This is Marcello Carlin, regular writer for Uncut, increasingly irregular writer for The Wire, and overseer of the supposedly authoritative website The Church Of Me. Time, I feel, to dance and jerk with joy. The reason? The unsurprisingly surprisingly great label Ze Records – originally formed by Michael Zilkha and Michel Esteban in 1979, a label intentionally as much about fashion as music - has lately been disinterred, and the back catalogue is slowly seeping out again to remind our generation that we did not learn the lesson first time around. Although this programme has been billed as devoting itself exclusively to the adventures of Ze, I also want to widen the net by including several tracks representative of the shortlived No Wave movement, particularly from a compilation which bizarrely has yet to be reissued legitimately on CD. Nevertheless, the idea for this programme was precipitated by two Ze reissues which have recently come my way. Firstly, we have a dramatically expanded and revised version of the 1981 six-track 12” compilation Mutant Disco (A Subtle Discolation Of The Norm). Originally consisting of six tracks, this now resurfaces as a 25-track 2CD package. Were punk and disco really looking in the same mirror? Well, here’s a track which proves what happened when the glass dissolved. Originally the closing track, and now the opening track, on Mutant Disco, here is Was (Not Was) and “Wheel Me Out.”

Was (Not Was) – Wheel Me Out (7:08)

Ah, that unequalled cement mix of Carla Bley psychosexual angst, hard-bop trumpet and MC5 guitar – actually played by Wayne Kramer. And those Oriental minimalist strings hijacked from Chic.

The other Ze compilation to be reissued is entitled NY No Wave: The Ultimate East Village 80s Soundtrack. A bit of a misnomer, as most of its 22 tracks were recorded in ‘78/’79. First of all, however, the musical apogee of No Wave, which is taken from a 1979 Brian Eno-produced compilation which inexplicably is yet to resurface – No New York. I note with the mildest of amusement the appearance of a new compilation entitled Yes New York, with a cover of identical design to the original (though with the lime green and black colour scheme reversed). Track one? The Strokes – live. Ah, ash, ash, all is ash. Here’s what the original story told. Two tracks from the group Mars – firstly “Helen Fordsdale” from No New York, followed by “3E” from NY No Wave. Of course, were we to trace the development of No Wave properly (as opposed to just the American version of post-punk), we would have to acknowledge Ornette Coleman’s “Dancing In Your Head,” one of the key records in any genre of the last 30 years. However, that album’s main track “Theme From A Symphony” lasts for over half an hour; so instead, here are two of its most spellbinding offshoots.

Mars – Helen Fordsdale (2:27)
Mars – 3E (2:55)

Mars, with Mark Cunningham, Connie Burg (later Lucy Hamilton) and the recently departed Sumner Crane. Now here’s what I suppose must count as the nearest thing to a No Wave anthem – “Contort Yourself” by what sometimes constituted James Chance and the Contortions, but here is James White and the Blacks, with Robert Quine on guitar, and at the production console, one Tommy Browder, better known as August Darnell, even better known as Kid Creole. This is going to get used in a fast food commercial before too long…

James White & the Blacks – Contort Yourself (6:18)

Prior to his Contortions, James Chance was part of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, alongside Lydia Lunch. Their finest moment “The Closet” appears in an early version on NY No Wave, but here is the better version as heard on No New York.

Teenage Jesus & the Jerks – The Closet (3:45)

More of Chance in a bit, but for now let’s concentrate on Lydia Lunch. Instead of being boring and calling her the missing link between Patti Smith and Diamanda Galas – how much more elusive to term her the missing link between Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las and Linda Sharrock – let’s listen to the two sides of Ms Lunch as heard on her 1979 Ze album Queen Of Siam. Firstly the horn-drenched sleaze “Lady Scarface” – arranged, incidentally, by Fred Van Planck, the same man who arranged the music for The Flintstones – and then what is possibly the most disturbing song you’ll hear in this programme - “Mechanical Flattery” which pre-empts Buffy by two decades in its gruesomely gossamer tale of a dead soul rising and trying to reconstitute itself and reconnect with the world.

Lydia Lunch – Lady Scarface (3:14)
Lydia Lunch – Mechanical Flattery (2:47)

Back now to sample Mutant Disco again. Here are the truly amazing Aural Exciters – effectively the Ze Allstars, with Darnell, Coati Mundi, Chance, Taana Gardner, Pat Place Et Al – with their No Disco updates of the John Martyn Live At Leeds template (i.e. start a song and have no idea where/how it’s going to end, but making art out of the muddle of a middle). Why isn’t anyone today capable of doing something as playful in its radicalism as “Emile (Night Rate)”? I mean, the Matthew Herbert Big Band? Gentlemen – you might have Arto Lindsay – of whom, again, more in a moment – but do you have live tapdancers?

Aural Exciters – Emile (Night Rate) (6:48)

Interestingly, there are two major changes to the original Mutant Disco release. Kid Creole’s “Maladie D’Amour” from the original compilation has been dropped and replaced by “(I’m A) Wonderful Thing (Baby)” and “Annie I’m Not Your Daddy,” thus reminding us that what was once the future is now a summation, a sort of Greatest Hits. The other major change is that Ian Penman’s vital sleevenote to the original does not appear to have been retained (but that was why I bought it! That, and other reasons, such as the aforementioned Dancing In Your Head, Uncle Jam Wants You, Escalator Over The Hill and Songs For Swinging Lovers, without which none of the record/Ze Records would have been possible). It’s a rueful reappearance, therefore, to remind us that we failed. Now we’ll let you have/hear this stuff again, but we’re leaving it to our kids to pick up on it and NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES – not to play safe and opt for Annie Lennox and George Michael as the future of pop.

However, we must celebrate the gallons of genius which continue to pour out of Coati Mundi’s “Que Pasa/Me No Pop I” with its lyrics, acidic enough to make James Chance seem like James Taylor, and its call-and-response from the Coconuts which almost cross the bridge from the Shangri-Las to Ligeti in their intensity – and a Top 40 hit, too, when such things were still possible. Chart music on Resonance FM. Whatever next?

Coati Mundi – Que Pasa/Me No Pop I (6:23)

Coati Mundi, as played to death in 1981 by, of all people, Dave Lee Travis, who was also responsible for getting “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag” into the charts after playing it for a solid year. We underestimate the Hairy Cornflake at our peril.

One major omission from NY No Wave is the lack of any tracks by DNA. Indeed, the recorded legacy of this band is patchy – there are four tracks by them on No New York, but I think they are better heard on another track which, by no coincidence whatsoever, has now reappeared on the Rough Trade Post-Punk 2CD compilation – “You And You.” Arto Lindsay may not have played chords on his guitar, but boy did he know about rhythm. I will follow this with a track which does appear on NY No Wave – actually one of two tracks credited to Arto/Neto. This one’s entitled “Pini, Pini” – and hear its splendidly hypnotic harmonic acumen. But first, “You And You.”

DNA – You And You (2:05)
Arto/Neto – Pini, Pini (2:30)

Back to Mutant Disco Reloaded now. Were I Nick Hornby, I would doubtless lament loudly about how nearly everything on this album is brilliant enough to make us ashamed. As I am not, I shall instead gently remind you now of the glory which was Cristina, and her seductive demolition job on the Beatles’ “Drive My Car.” This will be followed by a James Chance and Pill Factory cover version – a tirade against troilism which used to be “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” – and this also appears on NY No Wave.

Cristina – Drive My Car (3:21)
James Chance & Pill Factory – That’s When Your Heartaches Begin (3:24)

I purposely haven’t really gone into much historical or sociological detail about No Wave or Mutant Disco – the history of both is well documented – but where did either lead? Well, in order to avoid answering that question altogether, here’s a record which could only have risen out of a shotgun wedding of No Wave and Mutant Disco. In fact it came out as a 12-inch single on Lust Records in 1980, and demonstrates quite alarmingly brilliantly just what inspired heights of fusion could be achieved. Looking forward to both Einsturzende Neubauten and LCD Soundsystem, this record was underground even at the time, but it’s time now to disinter it. The group were called impLOG – that’s small “imp,” capital “LOG” – and the single was entitled “Holland Tunnel Dive.”

impLOG – Holland Tunnel Drive (7:35)

But that still doesn’t answer the question – where did the influence go? All over the place, to be candidly semi-honest, and I would need another programme to document how, from Sonic Youth through the John Zorn/Knitting Factory/Bill Laswell axis, to current operatives such as the Rapture and !!! – not to mention the person who arguably did least in No Wave or Mutant Disco yet profited the most, the erstwhile drummer of the Breakfast Club, Madonna. Still, the only way in which I can conclude this brief overview would be to play the climax of what in many ways is the post-punk Tubular Bells – the major large-scale work which justified the movement from which it arose – the title track from Glenn Branca’s epochal 1981 album The Ascension, which, conveniently, has also just been given its first full-scale CD reissue, remastered and with new sleevenotes by one of the band’s guitarists, Lee Ranaldo. Emotionally and aesthetically the work starts off where Coltrane’s Ascension finishes – but hear how, over 13 minutes, the former Theoretical Girl stretches and plays with the stop-start, deliberately unemotional, bullshit-free aura of No Wave, and demands that it begins to acknowledge the existence of emotion, encompassing as it does the absolute rhythmic determination of Steve Reich’s systems music and the seamless flow of post-Ornette improvisation. That’s all from the tip of the tip of a deceptively enormous iceberg. This has been Marcello Carlin from The Church Of Me; if you’d like to read more of my story, visit my website at [you’re here already]. For now, however, goodbye.

Glenn Branca – The Ascension (13:10)

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .

One notes the attendant irony of Virgin Records’ copy protection warning notice attached to promo copies of the debut album of an artist who owes his reputation to bootlegging. But Richard X Presents His X-Factor Volume One is considerably more than the mere belated legitimisation of a long-expired momentary trend. Yes, many of its 15 tracks adhere to the backing track from one record/vocal from another format popularised by Richard X in his former guise of Girls On Top; but, as with all interesting records, there’s a profounder story to be told. Despite the mischief promised in its title and track listing, this is in fact an extremely melancholy record about a person who is clearly lost, or destroyed, and tries to negotiate a route back into life.

This extends from the first main track, “Being Nobody” billed as by “Richard X vs Liberty X,” and already a hit single. It is of course a shotgun wedding of “Being Boiled” (backing track) and “Ain’t Nobody” (vocal), and yet it amplifies the sadness at the heart of the Rufus/Chaka Khan original of the latter. Superficially “Ain’t Nobody” appears to be a celebratory song about love finally found and won, but note the minor key out of which the song never climbs, and especially the second verse with lines such as “I wait for nighttime to come/To bring you to me/Can’t believe I’m the one/I must be dreaming/I want this dream to be real” – it’s a fantasy which hasn’t, as yet, been fulfilled. It was Rufus’ swansong, and what a turnaround and descent from the gleeful sexuality of “Tell Me Something Good” a decade earlier. It’s quite conceivable that the lovely singers of Liberty X have no idea of the real meaning of this song, as they sing it with great glee, but the impassive musical accompaniment (originally for a song about silkworm culling) repositions the aspirations of the lyric in a more hostile, harsher lit environment.

“Let’s go back to the ‘80s!” is the sampled shout which kicks off “Rock Jacket,” a poignant but extremely danceable mix of the guitar intro to Spandau’s “Chant No 1” and goodness knows how many other ‘80s mullet air guitar anthems. A return to recapture what Richard X understands to be a desirable and preferable pop universe; bookended roughly by 1979 and 1984, he articulates the need for all of this to matter again. Hence the sad, low-key restyling of Thelma Houston’s Jam and Lewis-directed masterpiece “You Used To Hold Me So Tight,” here sung by Girls Aloud reject Javine – significantly missing Houston’s demented cackle halfway through the original, and with its title equally significantly reduced to “You Used To.” An irretrievable memory. The electronic lament in the background sounds muted, defeated. It’s the difference between the exuberant rebellion of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra in 1969 and the exhausted resignation of its sequel The Ballad Of The Fallen 13 years later, recognising that the battle had in fact been lost.

Throughout this album I am reminded of another album wherein grieving and angst were gradually exorcised throughout its course, and the process disguised by electrodisco beats – Donna Summer’s 1977 masterpiece Once Upon A Time, wherein the bereaved subject tries to restart her life, to stake her claim for continued existence. There are stops, starts and setbacks but she gets there in the end – remembering, of course, that we are listening to a fairytale. The ineffable poignancy of “Say Something Nice” still cuts deeply, and Moroder’s epic thuds overpowering Summer’s fight for solvency in “Working The Midnight Shift” calls to mind the Welfare-To-Work employees of Dick Clark restaurants whose sub-life is examined in Bowling For Columbine. The difference here is that the entire album is bpm sequenced; musically it is never allowed to drift into introspection – you have to dance your way through the subtext to find the Summer weeping in its still, broken centre.

On “Just Friends” there is the answerphone message of a sad girl placing a personal ad, but warning any potential responders that she will not allow anything to go any further than friendship (“Don’t try to touch me” – “Past, Present And Future” by The Shangri-Las). Following this we hear the voice of the long-lost Caron Wheeler on “Lonely,” a far more desolate song than anything she did with Soul II Soul (what do you expect from a collective whose first album principally comprised product placements/adverts for Jazzie B’s clothes shop and club nights? How different was/is Club Classics Vol 1 from the Fast Food Rockers? And isn’t the latter the logical consequence of the “ironic” corporate pranksterism of PiL, Scritti and BEF, the result of a gradual process where any irony is systematically eroded by time to leave us with a de-ironicised worship of unrestrained capitalism?). “Away From Life” would be a useful alternate title for this song.

If you’re tempted to yawn loudly and lengthily at the prospect of yet another version of “Walk On By” it should be noted that the vocalist here is the long-lost Flying Lizards frontwoman Deborah Evans-Stickland. Apparently in the studio she insisted that she have the sheet music in front of her, in spite of the fact that she cannot read music. Here she delivers her trademark post-Grenfell dispassionate deadpan delivery, but in this context it sounds more like someone numbed by desertion, someone from whom all emotion has absconded. Note the sound effects of seagulls and slot machines in the background; walking, defeated, down Brighton promenade, alone, arguing oneself out of walking into the English Channel and having done with any desire for a new life.

Deborah stays around for the next track, the brilliant “Lemon/Lime,” wherein she intersperses a roll-call of clichéd job application advertisements (all these adverts!) – “Are you willing to work fl----exible hours?” with a daft succession of rhyming non-sequiturs – or perhaps not: “Armageddon/David Sneddon.”

Are we going to get a happy ending? Kelis appears for the fabulous “Finest Dreams” which makes even more ingenious use of a Human League backing track set against an SOS Band lyric. “If I had the choice, I’d choose love,” it begins, and although it is again ostensibly celebrating the discovery and consolidation of love, remember the title – “Finest Dreams” (from the League’s “Things That Dreams Are Made Of”). The subtle echo on the chorus chords which make them sound more ominous than welcoming. It is terrific pop, of course, but we are not yet out of the cemetery.

Eventually, the resolve snaps, and on strides Tiga to demand that love become the centre of his life again – like Michael Moore returning to K-Mart with cameramen in tow – in the phenomenal “You Better Let Me Love You Tonight,” a terrific old school hi-NRG stomper with artful dynamics designed to explode in the right corners. But there’s that threat implicit in the whole song – what if she refuses to love or be loved? “I’m the type of boy who always gets what I want.” Desperate to the point of ….? Were Federico and Jon from Big Brother to essay their own reading of this song, it would probably pay Virgin employees’ mortgages for the next year (the alternate sung/spoken/echoed lines).

After a quick “Best Album In The World…Ever!” ID from Mark Goodier (you mean it all, don’t you, Mark?) the record climaxes, as it only could have done, with the Sugababes’ chart-topping alignment of Numan and Adina Howard “Freak Like Me,” thankfully here in the superior “We Don’t Give A Damn Mix” (though the Girls On Top original still, I think, remains the best effort) – curiously making more sense here than it did on the Sugababes’ own album, because here the urge to live has finally triumphed, and the record’s subject is relaunched into the world.

And how moving an epilogue is “Into You” sung in one of his best recorded vocal performances by Jarvis Cocker. Marrying the melody line of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” with what sounds like Vangelis (or is it Yes’ “Wondrous Stories”?) Cocker finds redemption, grace and peace, duetting with the ghost of Hope Sandoval, and almost weeping lines such as “For the first time in my life…I’m lying [with you].” But you have to take into account the sudden vertigo of the middle eight, with its baritone booming “No time, no time.” It could still all be an illusion, but perhaps we could consent to be content with that. A minor-key fragment “End” takes this very moving album to its uncertain but moderately brighter conclusion. Unlike the upcoming I, Monster album neveroddoreven - a potentially stunning and disturbing record which is fatally wounded by its insistence upon camp, whereas its songs like “Heaven” and “Who Is She?” deserve to be taken seriously and traumatically, like the ghost of Joe Meek trying to communicate through the CD as medium – Richard X’s album recreates and restructures pop chimeras, but never forgets its heartfelt reasons for doing so.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .

. . .