Tag Archives: Laurie Osborne

June 1999 – album reviews – The Monsoon Bassoon’s ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’ (“gloriously twisted tunes with gritty, testifying zeal”)

15 Jun

The Monsoon Bassoon: 'I Dig Your Voodoo'

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’

You could say that The Monsoon Bassoon are like three train-tracks converging on a single set of points. Going full-tilt on the first is a savage, grinning, tuneful thing from that edgy end of indie-rock that spawned Pixies or Shudder To Think – one eye a gimlet, the other a Catherine wheel. Riding the second, there’s a rigorous interlocking mechanism poised like a mantis: its lifeblood a nerve-pumping mix of math-rock mesh and prog rock verve. Careening along the third track is a thrashing shotgun wedding of baroque black metal and head-fuck psychedelia, steam spurting out of every joint. High speed. Impact imminent. This could be messy.

In fact, it ends up as something wonderful. Where there should’ve been mangled smoking fragments strewn across the neighbourhood, an ornate and brand-new beast is racing ahead. Gleaming gears whirling, showering fat sparks – taking on the stodgy, mulchy, rotted-down state of guitar rock and carving an intricate furrow through it, smashing exuberantly through fences en route. Ten tracks of delirious celebratory intricacies, and explosive rock detonations, ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’ rejoices unashamed in the sheer excitement of motion. If you could fix it so that a tropical rainstorm blasted through a double reed, you’d probably end up with this kind of melodious shrapnel.

The very thought of latterday psychedelic rock can prompt a checklist: druggy sonic syrup, honeybee harmonies, static songs, ad-infinitum wobbly jamming… Forget that. Instead, and for starters, imagine a roller-coasting XTC arguing their way down the corkscrew. Imagine Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci if they’d been shorn of their Brian Wilson fixation, off their heads on chaos theory and frantically shagging a stapling machine. In The Monsoon Bassoon two duelling slashing guitars, a fat-geared-but-light-footed rhythm section and three urchin-meets-starchild singers (Sarah Measures, Dan Chudley and Kavus Torabi) fractalise their songs into manic battling melodies. There are pop hooks aplenty, generally on the verge of turning into egg-whisks and grappling irons: there’s an alphabet soup of puzzling riffs, quirks and blissful deranged woodwind. If the band are clearly enthralled by their own avid craftmanship, they’re also firing up their gloriously twisted tunes with gritty, testifying zeal, running the shoe-leather off the soul-punk poseurs.

Even so, managing to bag an NME Single of the Week with each of their three singles so far must have been as vividly strange for the Bassooners as their songs are to everyone else. At a time when artier British tastemakers generally save their praise for musicians across the Atlantic – Flaming Lips and Pavement, Jim O’Rourke, Godspeed, Dave Pajo and his ever-unwinding adventures – left-field rockers over here are rarely given many sniffs of approval. While there are some exceptions, the Bassoon doesn’t fit the gaps in the sorter. They lack the 1960s classic-pop castellations of the aforementioned Gorky’s or Super Furry Animals; nor do they have the latter’s comfortable indie pounding and canny dilution of experimental juices: nor do they ever resort to those sullen, reductive punk-gang posturings with which Mogwai feel they need to justify their own rugged sound-paintings. Operating right off the critical and commercial radar, driven by a stubborn and guileless enthusiasm, the Monsoon Bassoon give off the impression of a band mounting an unexpected coup which is as much of a surprise to them as it is to everyone else.

That said, a shortage of ambition – or of sheer bloody cheek – is the last thing that this band need to worry about. With joyous, inspirational disregard for their own dignity, The Monsoon Bassoon blow the lid off the whole shebang in a well-overdue explosion – and the last that I heard, it was still heading skywards. When The King Of Evil kicks in at Mach 3 (with its interweaving jitterbug melodies and Sarah purring her foxy way along the switch-backing melody) and when it closes in a welter of rough’n’ready choral excitement, giant celebratory chords and the sound of Kavus and Dan’s guitars utterly losing it, screaming in delight… you can hear liberation. This is rock music flowering into shape without the usual restrictions on decreed shape, or on fashion manifesto; and it’s all the better for it, yelling “fuck you, get out of my way!” while in the same breath flashing a brilliant grin and adding “but you can come too.”

There are left-field forebears to spot, for sure. Beyond the Naked City reed-punk and the manic gearshifting, there’s a chainmail of intent and disciplined guitar patterns (equal parts Television and Henry Cow) while their zeal for distressed chords and textures would do Sonic Youth proud. Blue Junction – in which meticulous chamber-minimalism suddenly explodes into New Wave thrash – anchors them to Steve Reich, as does their ‘Magic Roundabout’ way with a circling riff. Sometimes the band resemble a younger, more hyperactive King Crimson (those revolving guitars, Sarah’s daredevil flutes and reeds, the way the music booms back and forth between celestial minimalism and bellowing, screaming blasts of red-hot air) yet they have more of a sense of sheer fun and active dynamism. The lunatic shadow of Cardiacs walks alongside them too – unsurprisingly, as it’s Tim Smith’s jaggedy production that’s trimming off any of the album’s residual cuteness, feathering the guitars with a swarming shiver, and turning the music into a multi-coloured paintbomb blowing up in a garage.

But The Monsoon Bassoon are very much their own people – sporting their irrepressible pop edge; spin-drying their surreal, prismatic lyrics into motion-blurs; bouncing melodies off a riot-ballet of pummelling rhythms. The band’s collective readiness to go from ragged pop coo to thrash to heavy prog to freak-noise – all at the flick of a wrist – ensures that nothing has time to go stale. They could be strafing and racing, relentlessly hammering a metallic riff to death until it haemorrhages rainbows, as they do on The Constrictor and Commando. Or (as on Soda Pop And Ash) they could be fattening a snakey wisp of wistful melody on those knotty guitars and skewering your attention through your third eye. Or – as on the fragmentary, wonder-struck Volcano – they could be sliding off the edge of the world, pupils dilated, as a lone glissando guitar scribbles hazy colour across the sky. Whichever way they go, a brainstorm of invention is guaranteed to hit you in the ears at just the right moment, spinning the music into a fascinating new course.

Wise Guy was the first of their singles to wear a bizarre groove in London indie-radio playlists and has lost none of its ability to set your head dancing. Six minutes of choppy pop (as if they’d collided the best bits of ‘Red’, ‘Fear Of Music’, Living In The Past and Paranoid Android to audaciously tuneful effect), it periodically explodes like axe-heads coming through hotel-room doors, twirls pirouettes, and leaps up to a trumpeting, triumphant, speaker-melting fanfare. Kavus, Dan and Sarah babble about uncut diamonds and flashbulbs and gravity gone bored; about digging (perhaps into trouble, probably into revelation), and about “three silver sixes” (which might be about dice, and might be about something more occult). Both wild and meticulous, the music races away into a game of pouncing, quick swap grooves and joshing body-slams. Through the flashes, the song’s actual meaning is more elusive, more felt than voiced; it flirts around you and threads its way into your instincts, dancing on giddy splinters as it does.

Yet in spite of the tangled, giddy innocence their enthusiasm suggests, there’s more to the Monsoon Bassoon than just adrenalin art or an agreeably scrambled psychedelic circus. As their leaf-storm of lyrics tumbles by, it leaves scratches of faith, fear, things seen from the corners of eyes and in the corners of souls. Flashes of purgatory, intimations of danger – “lovely tornado, / who is such a fucking laugh, / turns up on my turf… Like glass I may crack. / Unlike glass I’ll not be replaced.” The menace lurking in the places where a glittering chord can’t hurl illumination. It’s all of a piece with the band’s fizzing, open spirit of inquiry: it’s the other side of the receiver. Their journey offers fractured glimpses of disturbing places – a kaleidoscopic stream of raw life-jolts, bad comedowns, metaphysical jitters and naked feelings all fusing together.

It takes guts and risk to walk the Bassoon’s kind of wayward line, to let yourself be carried along in the impulses of creating this music’s headlong rush. Towards the end of the gloriously-titled Fuck You Fuck Your Telescope, there’s a panicked, repeating wail of “wake up teetering everyday.” On Blue Junction the music bursts from serenity into pulsing frenzy as soon as Kavus blurts “he was out of the country and down on his luck / when you came out laughing and I came unstuck.” Among the chopping riffs and lofting spirals of Best Of Badluck 97, Kavus is seething and licking wounds. “I broke my neck to kiss her / The year this mother went up to 11. / Saddle-sore and still there’s more… / No sword of iron ever struck such blows. / Such a swarm of death, self-centred I… / Inside I’m six foot deep.” Shortly afterwards, the whole group carols “and I can’t catch up, / and I can’t wake up, / and I won’t grow up, / and I can’t stand up” as if their collective backs are against the wall, and all that they can do is sing the threat away: a harmony of defiance.

The forbidding tones of In The Iceman’s Back Garden (slow, pagan, cathedralline), closes the album like a shower of luminous earth hitting a coffin lid. It’s the sort of epic you’d expect from a band stuck into their fourth album, grown-up, newly spiritual and eager to wrestle with the indifferent savagery of the universe. A world away from the vivacious peekaboo of Wise Guy, it’s no less impressive. If the former was a firework display, Iceman is the glow on the lip of a volcano, showing that The Monsoon Bassoon are just as effective when rooted to the planet and letting something dark and troubling seep through them to the surface. It starts off as dark embers, slowly fanned and building up to destroying flame: an enormous iron clang, then a foreboding clarinet, intoning over the top of a massive, bells-of-doom guitar lattice that’s enough to send most of the Goth bands of the world running home to mother. And this time there’s an almost religious terror in the vocals – a fierce song commemorating the end of something as it has been known, and tinged with fear as to what will happen next.

The voices and lyrics are murky, mysterious, entranced. Faces, dirt, hair, stars, cries and eyes creep out of the word-darkness – little clues. In one of the few clear moments, they’re keening “He won’t dare…” There are a few moments of tumbling vocals, slashing guitars and urgent reeds during which the whole thing seems to whirl: then the guitars flail and the clarinet screams as a fierce, beautiful, terrible light pours down from above. A final, desperately beautiful chant, then they beat our hearts to death with a riff the size of the sky before bursting into a stream of starry feedback that sweeps all before it. If the apocalypse is going to be this beautiful, roll on Doomsday.

Stubborn, ludicrous, gloriously eccentric; ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’ is all these things: but it’s also one of the bravest, most exciting British rock albums of its time… by a long twisty neck. Jumping the tracks with style and a vengeance.

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’
Weird Neighbourhood Records, WNRS4 (5 024545 078428)
CD-only album
Released:
7th June 1999
Buy it from: Best obtained second-hand. (Note, April 2013 – Believers Roast plan to reissue this along with the rest of the Monsoon Bassoon catalogue at some point in the next few years.)
The Monsoon Bassoon online:
MySpace Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Spotify Amazon Music
 

September 1995 – live reviews – Organ Night: Lake of Puppies + The Monsoon Bassoon + Fear of Fear @ The Monarch, Chalk Farm, London, 19th September (“music to spin the brain like a top”)

24 Sep

Just across the road, the great decaying wheel of the Roundhouse is housing Cirque Surreal and Wakeman with Wakeman. Over here, in the less salubrious surroundings of the Monarch, a collection of various punks, proggies and other wonderful low-lifers (including myself) are cramped together to check out some rather lower-profile musicians. Somehow, I think we’ve got the better deal.

This is ‘Organ’ Night, so we’re guaranteed a rich feast of music from all directions, as exemplified by opening act Fear of Fear, whose Metallica-meets-PJ-Harvey take on the punk/funk thing is tight and excellent. But judging by the overwhelming number of Alphabet Business Concern T-shirts filling the room, plus Bic Hayes hanging around near the bar, it’s a pretty safe bet that tonight is going to have a strong Cardiacs flavour. And yes, those unjustifiably obscure prog/punk/music-hall eccentrics do have a lot to answer for as regards the shape of this evening. Some of the seeds they’ve sown during their lunatic nine-album career are springing up with a vengeance in this little Camden pub.

The Monsoon Bassoon are a real brain-skewing treat, and a demanding one. Their music has those Cardiacs components of mind-boggling tempo changes, raucous crashing melodies and cheerful gibberish in Cockney/Estuarine English (although they’re originally from Plymouth, so my ear must be out of tune). The War Between Banality and Interest is a fine example, a Cardiacs-type tossed rhythmic salad so perkily crazed that it makes ‘Larks’-period King Crimson sound like James Last. Aside from Cardiacs and King Crimson, The Monsoon Bassoon show an affinity with the wilder American side of things: the “anything goes” spirit of Captain Beefheart and (to pick a more recent example) Mercury Rev. The double voice-and-guitar team of Kavus and Dan, Sarah’s voice, flute and clarinet, and the rhythm section of Laurie and Jim offer us song titles to die for and music to spin the brain like a top.

How is it that they can play songs so insanely complex yet so insanely catchy? Five hundred hooks and time changes in each four-minute burst, it seems. And how can they play it with such unflappable cheerfulness, Kavus in particular finding the time for some Who-style scissor jumps? Forget it… just stand back and have your mind tickled… Oh, comparisons? well, if I must…

Some simplified examples: Bullfight in a China Shop is a stretchy boogie in 5/4 with Mercury Rev flute, Leyline PLA is like a crunchy thrashy Schizoid Man played by an unholy alliance of The Buzzcocks and Ian Anderson with the odd lick of harmonised Queen guitar. Bright Lucifer goes from a cataclysmic snare-roll opening to Cardiacs-meets-‘Thrak’ mayhem, while Aladdin mates Frame by Frame with Living in the Past. Tokmeh has elements of that wandering Frippy gamelan sound of the ’80s, but ends up as the sound of five instruments dancing separate dances to a common end – a freaky fugue. And that’s where The Monsoon Bassoon are at. A pure, wild, Dionysiac musicality with a roguish five-fold intelligence kicking it into gear: hung up on no scene, naturally sparking and kinking. Let them into your life and watch your world take on brighter, loopier colours.

Headlines Lake of Puppies have a more direct link to Cardiacs – they’re led by William D. Drake, who was formerly Cardiacs’ keyboard player, And yes, it does show – although the anarchic musical mayhem which is one of the central Cardiacs characteristics is absent here, Drake’s new band share that specifically English eccentricity. In fact, they take it down a few notches and on a few steps. If Cardiacs’ Tim Smith is the intense, slightly scary motormouth maniac on the rural bus, Bill is his refined elder cousin who restricts his own lunacy to deranged sessions on the tennis court. Lake of Puppies are like Cardiacs exhuming the ghost of Noel Coward for tea on the lawn: all summery waltzes, genteel harmonies from Bill and from singing bassist Sharron, easy-going nylon-string guitar (from Craig) and the cosy burr of baritone sax and clarinet. Kevin Ayers could get a mention on the influences list, as could the Kate Bush of Coffee Homeground.

All of this is not as harmlessly cuddly as it sounds. Although the lyrics are difficult to make out amidst the weaving melodies, I get the impression that Lake of Puppies are singing about trickier subjects than crustless sandwiches. There’s the occasional burst of noise when Bill abandons his piano for fuzzy organ and the band launch into gutsy cyclonic roaring, and the music is just too complex and cerebral to be entirely cosy. But in the prog environment of today – where bands tend to be either sickly, prissy and pompous or thrashily confrontational and noisy – Lake of Puppies stick out as a sunnily listenable and enjoyable alternative. And I wouldn’t be surprised if all of that gentility was a Trojan horse for something gloriously warped… definitely one to check out again.

Keep it up, ‘Organ’!

Lake of Puppies online:
Homepage Facebook Last FM

The Monsoon Bassoon online:
MySpace Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Spotify Amazon Music

Fear of Fear online:
(no online presence)

Additional notes: (2020 update) Lake of Puppies didn’t last very long, with various bandmembers going on to The Shrubbies, North Sea Radio Orchestra and Quickspace while William D. Drake eventually started a solo career. There have been a couple of Lake of Puppies concert reunions over the years, with the latest one being at 2018’s ‘Spring Symposium‘. The Monsoon Bassoon lasted until 2001, with Kavus Torabi moving on to a multitude of projects including Knifeworld, Guapo, Cardiacs, Gong, The Utopia Strong and a solo career, while Laurie Osborne moved into dubstep with Appleblim. Daniel Chudley Le Corre also has an intermittent solo career. Several former Monsoon Bassoon members occasionally reunite in sea-shanty band Admirals Hard. I have no idea what happened to Fear of Fear.
 

June 1995 – EP reviews – The Monsoon Bassoon’s ‘Redoubtable’ (“inventive, and with an inquisitiveness which we haven’t heard over this side of the fence for many years”)

14 Jun

The Monsoon Bassoon: 'Redoubtable' EP

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘Redoubtable’ EP

Currently sparking off in the recesses of the British underground, thriving with the punks and the noiseniks and far away from the picturesque lands of the boutique prog record labels, are a clutch of bands who are causing a highly enjoyable confusion amongst a growing number of people via a combination of odd rhythmic and tonal complexities, a taste for exotic textures, a yen for close-packed melodies and a knowledge of more than three chords. Worried by this, the Genre Police have attempted to flag them down, caution them and pigeonhole them in a little index, but when they attempt to slap labels onto them they find that the labels have a tendency to fit poorly and to lose their shape.

The milieu of these bands is the contemporary equivalent of the late ’60s seeding ground for progressive rock, and one of the best of them is The Monsoon Bassoon, which grew up like a little seed of bewildered hope out of the ashes of Plymouth death-metal band Die Laughing to mutate into this far more nutritious form (as heard on this tasty little four-tracker). Aside from the mathematical skill of some of the guitar playing, and an occasional tendency to knock you flat with a wallop of ferocious lawnmower riffing, there’s little of the directly metallic about the band now. There is, however, a good deal more of that underground breed of progressive guitar music that owes little to Supper’s Ready and more to the convoluted dystopian vistas of British and American art rock – strict minimalism packed with dense little tunes; peculiar Fred Frith froth; XTC edge; smidgins of concentrated Beefheart alternative folky weirdness; Mercury Rev’s fluting, blissfully twisted noodling-from-another-planet.

 
To these ears, though, the strongest influences are some of the most inspired moments of King Crimson – the ‘Discipline’ years in the tendency of Dan and Kavus’ guitars to jangle into gamelan patterns at the drop of a hat, and the sour-jazz mayhem of 21st Century Schizoid Man in Sarah’s wild-and-lofty Ian-McDonald-meets-John-Zorn woodwinds (no-one in this band seems to use surnames…)

 
Certainly Bullfight in a China Shop and Tokhmeh have that ‘Discipline’-ary Frame By Frame/Neal and Jack and Me chime to them. The former’s tight, cheerfully lopsided instrumental webwork comes over like Steve Reich through Guitar Craft, with a weird pop sugaring and a Brufordian snare twitch: there are verbally-coleslawed lyrics about dry-cleaning and shellfish, and a tootling flute to scatter bright sunshine everywhere. Tokhmeh is similar but sedater; Sarah’s flute pealing up and down a fistful of weird tuttis and fugues, a bit closer to the ‘I Advance Masked’ projects. More light-hearted than Crimsonics, maybe not as forceful either; but just as inventive, and with an inquisitiveness which we haven’t heard over this side of the fence for many years.

 
One gets the feeling that the Fripp himself would approve. For years he’s been caustic in his dismissal of the time-locked prog scene and its ever-hopeful copies of the monster ’70s acts. This band are much closer to being the heirs of his mind. Influenced by Crimson they may be, but they aren’t to be found in a drawer marked “Epitaph Retreads” or helping Peter Sinfield restore a Gothic tapestry. Despite their chirpier aspects, The Monsoon Bassoon have their feet planted firmly in the harder, scuzzier, post-punk ’90s underground, and play accordingly. The grinding, throbbing, bottom-heavy Digger starts out like a grunge version of Twist and Shout before the rasp of clarinet and increasingly eccentric guitar turn it into a rolling, roiling hybrid of ‘Red’ and early Cardiacs. Café Bazaar churns up the previous gamelan chameleonics with a nastier thrash-monster edge held over from Die Laughing days but leavened by a mutinous pop-urchin bounce and yammering text overload from their barking voices, spattering non-sequiturs all over the place.

 
One to add to Cardiacs, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Poisoned Electrick Head as current dispensers of refurbished progressive medicine. Get yourself a dose.

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘Redoubtable’
Org Records, ORGAN 013 (no barcode)
Cassette-only EP
Released:
1995
Get it from: (2020 update) Rare, and best obtained second-hand.
The Monsoon Bassoon online:
MySpace Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Spotify Amazon Music
 

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