Tag Archives: Oakland (California – USA)

May 2021 – single & track reviews – Loud Women’s ‘Reclaim These Streets’; Penelope Trappes’ ‘Blood Moon’; Spellling’s ‘Boys at School’

17 May

The personal, and the political. Flip a coin next time you walk out of doors. If it falls the wrong way, imagine that at some point you’re going to be the target of some kind of abuse while you’re out there – aggressive attention, or being boxed in, or physically assaulted. Possibly murdered.

Loud Women: 'Reclaim These Streets'

Loud Women: ‘Reclaim These Streets’

If you’re male (and if you’re taking this seriously), you’re probably feeling slightly paranoid at imagining this sort of a world. If you’re female, you don’t even need me to tell you that you’re already dealing with it – often the actuality, but always the ever-lurking fear and concern, and the rage that comes because of the way that this situation just grinds on and on forever… and of how it not only stalks the street, but seeps into the home, smothers the protest, blocks the initiative.

Spurred into action by two particular deaths, those of Blessing Olusegun and Sarah Everard (two outcroppings of this collective outrage, the first of which has highlighted the relative dismissal which the deaths of black women receive; the second how gynocidal murder can be dealt out even by those who are duty-bound to protect), a choral swarm of female musicians have come together under the umbrella of the Loud Women collective for ‘Reclaim These Streets’. In part it’s a well-deserved fund raiser for Women’s Aid. In part, it’s a righteous kick against this horrible cloud of threat and complacency.

On top of all that, as a protest song it works both in message and in form. Written by Loud Women founder Cassie Fox (of Thee Faction and I, Doris) it sits tight in the crossover pocket of punk and guitar-pop, with perhaps Deb Googe’s ferocious dragster-thrum bass as its prime component. Pounding along, fiercely and hungrily, it simultaneously finds room for a whole spectrum of female thinking, emoting, flavourings and positioning. The assured and assertive whomp of punk protest to the bruised-but-unbeaten notes of confessional; the hookiness of girl-group vigour and the whisper-to-gale push of the female chorale; the empowered party zest of women in solidarity; through to the roar of collective rallying.

As for the words, they’re forthright in their abraded, angry sketching of trepidations and injustice (“From the age of thirteen / I’ve known the fear of dark streets. / I’ve known my body’s danger / – can he hear my heart beat?.. / From the age of thirteen, / been told that it is my fault. / Blamed for male violence, / better watch where I walk… / Every woman’s got a story, / breaks silence with a whisper… / Text me you when get home; / keys between your fingers; / staying close to streetlights – / fear of shadows lingers…”). They’re equally forthright in their call for something better, something more just. “We have a right to safety / She was just walking home / Too many women share a story / You are not alone… / Daring to tell her truth / Calling to her sisters… / Till every woman’s safe from harm in her own home / Till every woman’s safe to live her truth / Till every woman’s safe to walk on every street.”

Perhaps its strongest impression, though is the coming-together – the commonality – of so many female musicians from across nearly five decades. A tranche of 1990s indie queens include Debbies Googe and Smith, Salad’s Marijne van der Vlugt and journalistic ground-breaker Ngaire Ruth; Brix Smith adds a gawky-but-gutsy rap in the middle;. latterday rock journeywomen Charley Stone and Jen Macro serve as guitar backbone. Elder voices (with lippy and lippiness) include Siobhan Fahey and that steadily-evolving, she-punk/polymath-auntie Helen McCookerybook.

As for the extended hand-to-hand patchwork of the Loud Women community choir, it contains among others MIRI, Lilith Ai, Laura Kidd (of Penfriend/She Makes War), Julie Riley, Lee Friese-Greene, Estella Adeyeri (Big Joanie) and Cassie’s I, Doris bandmate Abby Werth; plus dive-ins from assorted members of fierce female and female-slanted bands (such as Dream Nails, The Pukes, The Tuts, Desperate Journalist, Gender Chores, Slut Magic, Deux Furieuses, Berries, Muddy Summers & the Dirty Field Whores), all of them asserting and persuading together. It’s a reminder that few things are as naturally formidable – as naturally authoritative – as adjacent generations of women in full agreement, and who are forcefully letting it be known.

From material certainties to something metaphysical. In ‘Blood Moon’, Penelope Trappes imagines herself as Isis (protecting goddess of women and children, divine healer) but also as struggling against present-day burdens which have grown too heavy, too deadening. In the Agnes Haus short film which accompanies the song, a silver car pulls skittishly into a multi-story car park at night and Penelope-as-Isis (tumble-haired, teary-eyed, all too human in her distress) drags the unresponsive body of another woman across the concrete. The other woman’s face is unseen. Her leopard-print coat is snagging, her mass a dead weight.

There are flickers of power in Isis yet – she summons lightning and snow from her fingertips, and is dogged in her hauling efforts – but the film ends unresolved. Having dragged her burden all the way to the moon-shrouded docks, and with both the lifeless other body and her own wig of blonde curls now discarded on the roadway, the exhausted goddess stares angrily into the camera in a smear of kohl and sweat. Around her, the world continues, part-asleep, part-unregarding; a freight lorry cruising slowly past as if all too aware of damaged and brutalised women, and indifferent to them.

Visually, it’s all a bit didactic: besides Penelope’s goddess-role, there’s the fact that that anonymous dragged woman is eventually identified only as “societal expectations” (like something out of a mummer play for …feminism) It makes up for this with its mingled air of dread, fear, resolve and resentment as Isis shudders, pulls together strengths and repurposes fear, tries to function in the face of a massive injustice which billows between the mythic and the material. Likewise the song, which sounds as if it’s been stitched together from shreds and rags of weariness and resolve. The beats are like sparse, distant artillery; the piano sounds as if it’s been dropped from a great height before Penelope could pick a tune out of it.

Her own voice is a denatured wisp heard round a corner, delivering shadowy ambiguous lyrics. Groundings and splinterings mingle with prayers and protest and, somewhere, deep down, the shards of a mangled love song.“Centre body and guide, /show me what to do. / Serve grace with trebles eye, / turn must push on through. / I , I won’t lose. / I’ll tear up our love… Blood moon rising above… / Lover remember / repurpose fear within / along heated lines. / Can’t hear if you are fine. / I’m strong enough, / I’m strong enough…” The picture never becomes entirely clear. Perhaps it’s something which is felt over time… or in a pull-back. Too many congregating factors which rip a hole in the side of strength. Too many furious stitchings-up.

Bay Area baroque popper Spellling delivers a clearer message, somewhere between the fulsome protest of Loud Women and the abstracted one which Penelope favours, but hovering with purpose in a place of her own. You’d think you’d know what’s coming with a song called ‘Boys from School’ – either girl-group coo left as it is or flipped over to express rage at classroom and playground sexism. Spelling touches briefly on the latter (“I hate the boys at school / They never play the rules,”) but she has bigger fish to fry.

It’s not just the boy-runts who are failing her as a person. Admittedly, there’s a hint at dealing with disinterest and thwarted desire with “the body is the law and I’m only human after all / Wanted to bе the one that you need…”. But mostly it’s the whole institution that’s failing her as she drifts, purposefully, through its corridors while gradually disconnecting from its expectations and requirements. “Take me to the Lord before the boredom takes me over.” she hiss-whispers. “I am waiting on his move. I’m going under the floor. / What am I waiting for? / Floating down the hall / through all the voices, through all the walls. / Thought you could be the one to set me free.”

As a song, it’s in keeping with the genre-fluid approach that Spellling’s shown before: it’s a theatrical, near-orchestral shape-changer incorporating gusts of New Orleans funeral jazz, Kate Bush keenings, blended-in Chinese motifs, glam-prog riffs and chilly synthpop flourishes while always keeping to the pace and poise of trip hop soul. As a manifesto, it’s playful but forceful – an out-and-out rejection of being shaped, not just from the outside but also by pressures coming from the inside. “Tomorrow I turn sixteen years and I don’t want to grow older” sings Spellling, a black Pippi Longstocking; turning a retreat, rejection and revolt against adult expectation into a biting political resistance, ‘Tin Drum’-style. She’s called this a “step back into my younger self, my teenage self to voice my angst, desires and disillusionments,” and she’s taking this all the way, unfinished edges and all.

There’s ambiguity here, for certain, but she wields it with deliberate intent. Shut out the sun until I’m small again,” she demands, embracing the need for aloneness and self-reliance. “I’m way too tired to climb out of bed. / Four walls is all I need of friends.” Yet there’s also no self-pity here, and she’s always completely clear and centred. “I’m meaner than you think, and I’m not afraid of how lonely it’s going to be./ If I change my mind I’ll go walking outside, / just to see how the law is in place still.” Blending ambitious art-pop with a dose of that original black-girl wokeness, it’s a prologue to further choice and action; a kind of witchy taking-stock. It’s very rewarding.

Loud Women: ‘Reclaim These Streets’
Loud Women (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 14th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Resonate, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify

Loud Women online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, Instagram        

Penelope Trappes: ‘Blood Moon’
Houndstooth Label (no catalogue number or barcode)
Format/other format item type
Released: 17th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Deezer, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, Napster

Penelope Trappes online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music, Napster, Qobuz  

Spellling: ‘Boys at School’
Sacred Bones Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Streaming/download single
Released: 11th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Deezer, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Spellling online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music   

 


October 1998 – album reviews – Michael Manring’s ‘The Book of Flame’ (“to get on the good foot while booting great clusters of noise about with the other”)

15 Oct

Michael Manring: 'The Book of Flame'

Michael Manring: ‘The Book of Flame’

If you’re already at the top of the tree, technique-wise – as Michael Manring is – you risk losing yourself in the skill, reheating old ideas with the energy you should be using to take yourself somewhere new. Thankfully, Manring’s smarter than that.

The meticulous, mellifluous bass guitarist who flowed his way through graceful jazz/New Age composites a decade ago has evolved into a much broader musician. His central playing style (a clean blend of Jaco Pastorius’ near-vocal virtuosity and the late Michael Hedges’ percussive contrapuntal bounce) remains intact, as do his harmonically dense tapping skills and fondness for stretching things out with the EBow sustainer. But having evolved a wider arsenal of bass noises – giant distorted trunks of feedback, fretboard noise, infinite-sustain drones, occasional On-U-Sound-a-like dub effects – he’s put them to compositional use, pushing out the envelope that way.

‘The Book of Flame’ continues the process begun on 1994’s ‘Thonk’: despite its good points, essentially a reaction record jumping vigorously into noisy heavy-metal fusion to ensure Manring wasn’t tagged with the “dextrous-wimp” label. Subsequent band work – dystopian prog-funk with Sadhappy, jazz-metal with Attention Deficit, more spacious experimental improv with Cloud Chamber – has seen Manring developing the side of his playing that looks towards “why” rather than “how”.

Though ‘The Book of Flame’ uses familiar colleagues (Michael Masley; Tim Alexander; Oregon reedsman Paul McCandless) as well as a few unfamiliar ones, it’s emphatically a solo album, with two-thirds of the tracks exclusively Manring-performed. And it’s his timeliest album to date, the one best attuned to its contemporary contexts. Although he hasn’t abandoned playing for computers and pure beat-science, Manring has discovered samplers, dance methodology and loop-culture with a vengeance, and battened onto them ravenously.


 
Having said that, there are enough real-time bass solos to satisfy technique-junkies: as usual with Manring, extending the instrument’s parameters. The Fire Sermon – executed on Manring’s ten-string bass, each string individually tuned – sounds like a squad of Terminators tap-dancing down a Busby Berkeley stairway, red eyes twinkling, chromium top hats waggling aloft. La Sagrada Familia hangs slippery fretless shapes in tuneful, trapeze-act harmonics patterns; and blurs from sustained notes to clusters of aggressive tapping (similar to Red Right Returning from 1992’s ‘Drastic Measures’). And there’s an echo of Stanley Clarke’s pluck’n’pop on No Wontons for Elvis, mingling athletic bluesiness with impossible tangles of contrapuntal squeaks.

Best of all is The Book of Living and Dying, a beautiful memorial and tribute to the late Hedges in the shape of a mournful lilting tune which shoots off to Hedges’ aspirant, meteor-popping celestial heights but then pulls itself back with a lump in its throat. But these are pretty much a sideline to the real business of ‘The Book of Flame’, which is to get on the good foot while booting great clusters of noise about with the other.


 
While there’s a lot of sonic experimentation on hand, this is also Manring’s most danceable record yet, with a set of busy tunes that shake their booties over cheeky, compressed, Prince-flavoured funk grooves with that tight, offhanded boom-blat rhythm. Adult Content/Brief Nudity has that, when it’s not breaking step into narcotic stumble-shuffling trip-hop ambience. Manring’s gang of basses converse with each other and McCandless’s bass clarinet, which explores and comments like Johnny Hodges taking the air in Paisley Park. Theseus in the Rains never entirely loses its hand-clappy purple groove-chat, even when Manring brings in skirling EBowed whines, percussive string bangs like abused filing-cabinets, and an assemblage of scrapes, pops and whines like an ailing flying saucer.


 
The approach goes furthest on Your Ad Here, which sets out like Adhan from ‘Thonk’ (high and low EBow drones like pipes and ney-flutes), but soon develops the legs of a tinny hip-hop beat. Manring exchanges singing Prince-y riffettes (descending from high plucked bass) and sharp, contrasting beat-science breakdowns – earthquake-wobbles, psychedelic space-echoes, drum shadows and computer noise. Closer to Tackhead than to Stu Hamm, anyhow, and with a similar dystopian flavour to its irresistible dance impulses.


 
‘The Book of Flame’ also sees Manring’s compositional and arranging diversity at its peak. Most misleading track award goes to The Adamski Photographs, both straight and twisted. Dave Tweedie’s violent heavy-Cobham drumming and the belligerent Allan Holdsworth-ish choruses could’ve tied it down to mainstream fusion, but Manring’s bass attacks (sputtering, clattering, playing a solo like someone molding tarmac) and the jarring groove (centred on Barry Gurley’s lurching, Thelonious Monk piano) ensure otherwise. In contrast, Ephemeris is a clean, almost inhumanly perfect two-minute phase of cyclical process music. A duo of basses playing in rolling, cascading minimalist harmony: each moving in and out, in-step, in a build-and-fade composition like a jazzed-up take on Philip Glass.



 
Booming swells of sustained cosmos-bass open The Book of Lies: an undulating atmospheric weave of drillbit melodies, tight clusters of clipped Jaco harmonics and thrumming prayer-like vocal groans before Alexander’s thunderous upfront drumming drags in Manring’s distorted heavy-metal lead bass, spluttering into all kinds of squealing feedback. And eventually it falls to Dromedary to bridge all the previous directions together: a framework of heavy funk and kitchen-sink-contents percussion regularly kicked in by distorted noisecore riffs and outer-space sample weirdness, around which Manring darts bubbling, talkative solo lines.


 
Accessible, yet challenging – and far too open-ended/minded to settle into the role of self-conscious masterpiece – ‘The Book of Flame’ is the best evidence yet of Michael Manring’s importance. Juggling high art and down-to-earth fun, he’s evolved from a rarified treasure into a broader pleasure, and seems set on the road to continue that way for a long time.

Michael Manring: ‘The Book of Flame’
Alchemy Records Ltd., ALCD 1015 (607387101520)
CD-only album
Released:
13th October 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) CD best obtained from large online dealers or second-hand.
Michael Manring online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

Video

March 1995 – album reviews – Eskimo’s ‘The Further Adventures of Der Shrimpkin’ (“a sort of comedic musical lucky dip”)

24 Mar

Eskimo; 'The Further Adventures of Der Shrimpkin'

Eskimo; ‘The Further Adventures of Der Shrimpkin’

San Francisco’s Bay Area still seems to be a hotbed for particularly off-the-wall musical artistry. The headquarters of hippydom in the ’60s is now the place where players’ players (Joe Satriani, Fred Frith, Michael Manring) make their homes, and bands like Primus and Faith No More forged their scrambled mongrel funk/punk/metal in the same neighbourhoods. And it’s also the place from which a secrecy-shrouded band called The Residents sent out a series of sharply clever and mischievous recordings during the ’70s, analysing, deconstructing and parodying popular music in all of its manifestations. One of these was a concept album called ‘Eskimo’, a fanciful reconstruction of Inuit life and lifestyles. Even now, no-one’s absolutely sure whether it was a joke or not.

You’d guess that a band taking their name from that Residents album is gonna be just as difficult to pin down. Apparently Eskimo started off as a joke band, set up by a collection of shaggy undergraduates from UC Berkeley with a penchant for party dresses. They’d hang out on campus corners busking frenetic, eccentric acoustic sets – stabs at TV theme tunes, Springsteen parodies, Who medleys. To an extent, you could say that they’ve never really grown out of those days of unbridled silliness. Eskimo still have wacky and zany written all over them in giant red fifty-foot letters, and anyone who finds the absurdist lunacy of the current Californian freak-muso scene unbearable would be advised to steer well clear.


 
Those not put off by that rubbery sense of humour will probably have a field day. Adding Tom Yoder’s trombone and David Cooper’s marimba and vibraphone to the standard guitar, bass and drums, Eskimo have a lounge-jazz element to their sound that’s got a lot in common with that other late, great, wise Californian eccentric Frank Zappa. A lot of ‘…Der Shrimpkin’ could have come from the same barn as Montana and One Size Fits All. That said, there’s at least as much of Primus slap-bass Muppet silliness in Eskimo as there is of the Mother of Freaks.


 
But like both Zappa and Les Claypool, the band have a love of American popular culture with all of its attendant and hugely enjoyable junk music. Their masterful playing (switching styles, moods, and tempos at the drop of a dime, and as happy with modal jazz charts as with playtime funk) is offset by their complete lack of concern about serious subject matter or, indeed, sense. With most of the twenty-four tracks on ‘…Der Shrimpkin’ clocking in at under two minutes, the album’s a tossed salad of circus music, playground chants, nursery rhymes, gibberish gospel, scuzz-metal and drunken jazz trombone exuberance, all mixed up in a freak-rock pudding. A sort of comedic musical lucky dip.


 
It could all be unbridled silliness but for the fact that ‘…Der Shrimpkin’ never quite loses the aura of anarchic menace that hangs around each of its ingredients. One of the few remaining covers on here – a faithful version of Snakefinger’s Residents collaboration Kill the Great Raven – is (despite its kiddie vocals and campy haunted-house bellowing) a bloody ceremony of ritual murder and resurrection. Babykins flavours a police siege with infantile fears. The You’re So Slender is a Disney cartoon from Dali-Hell, while the jolly slap-funking Bughead (sung in musing tones by guitarist John Shiurba) babbles about the sadistic rituals kids develop for the playground. Oops (once you can decipher it) seems to be about the divine right of extermination; and Ribbit sounds like Mark Twain taking on the princess-and-frog legends, complete with yelling hick farmer and squirming vocals.



 
What with many of the other tracks being short snippets of surreally twisty, dark-toned vibe-jazz (the sort that accompanies swaying cameras creeping around the Bates Motel) Eskimo may initially come across as a comedy band, but they re definitely no joke. A child’s nightmare with a big red pasted-on grin, perhaps. Coco the Clown fingering a cleaver. A set of practical jokes for the damned.


 
Eskimo seem intent on nailing jokey voices and songs onto the menacing shadows of the subconscious, as they do in the exuberant nonsense words of Dado Peru’s hop-skip-and-jumping Dada/Beefheart-jazz, or in Electric Acid Pancake House’s restaurant full of freaks, all happily hallucinating about Elvis’ return as a serial killer. What with that, plus a cheerful stab at Duke Ellington’s Blue Pepper and the odd spiritual song about tacos, they re probably perfect for the enjoyably warped. Give Eskimo a try next time you re having one of those gratuitously loony, twisted days… but watch out for the backwards messages.


 
Eskimo: ‘The Further Adventures of Der Shrimpkin’
Mammoth Records/Prawn Song Records, MR0102-2 (0 35498-0102-2 4)
CD/download album)
Released:
21st March 1995
Get it from: (2020 update) Original CD best obtained second-hand; or download album from Bandcamp.
Eskimo online:
Homepage MySpace Bandcamp Last FM Pandora
 

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