Tag Archives: The Monsoon Bassoon

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – London rock entanglements this week: mystery superstar(s) sneak into Deptford, supported by Nøught, First and The Kill Raimi’s; Knifeworld go acoustic in Shoreditch; The Display Team, Thumpermonkey and A Formal Horse twist some metres in Bethnal Green.

18 Apr

The folk running the Birds’ Nest in deepest Deptford are wildly, inordinately excited about whom they’ve got to fill their postage-stamp-sized stage at the start of this week, but they won’t tell us who it is

Nøught + First + The Kill Raimi’s  + mystery guests, 19th April 2016Birds Nest TV presents:
(extra special guest band) + Nøught + First + The Kill Raimis
The Birds Nest, 32 Church Street, Deptford, London, SE8 4RZ, England
Tuesday 19th April 2016, 8.00pm
– free entry – more information

“A marvellous occasion is about to happen at the Birds Nest pub, Deptford. We cannot express the sheer excitement at being able to host a night of great local bands and international legends: music conceptualists that have inspired countless bands and still continue to inspire generations of new talent. This is the event we have been waiting for. Get down early to this one as once the venue is full we won’t be letting any more people in.”

We do know that Nøught are playing. After years of being mostly out of the picture while leader James Sedwards ran around playing with everyone bar his main band – including work with shapeshifting prog confounders Guapo, improv blaster Alex Ward, Country Teasers spin-off The Devil, and Thurston Moore (…hmmm?…) – Nøught plunged back into action earlier this year with a Café Oto headliner and a Lydia Lunch support slot, continuing to demonstrate their one-band-fits-all approach of wedding classically precise John McLaughlin/King Crimson-esque jazzprog riffage to blocks of Sonic Youth/Big Black/post-hardcore noise, and how it bridges a stylistic credibility gap which others founder at or don’t even dare to take on.

Filling out the bill are two Deptfordian power trios. First are a third-decade third crack at warm, crunchy Bolanesque grunge-pop by former Stony Sleep/Serafin singer-songwriter Ben Fox Smith (a.k.a. “Young Sawbones”), while The Kill Raimi’s last showed up in here as part of a Thumpermonkey support in December. First’s drummer Jim Devese also happens to play guitar for The Display Team, which ties nicely into events later in the week… read on…



 

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Knifeworld (acoustic set)
Flashback Records, 131 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E2 7DG, England
Friday 22nd April 2016, 7.00pm
more information

Knifeworld: 'Bottled Out Of Eden'

Knifeworld: ‘Bottled Out Of Eden’

I hardly need to introduce Knifeworld these days. They’ve never been strangers to this blog (ever since their first releases, and further back if you’re counting coverage of head Knifer Kavus Torabi’s 1990s work as half of the mainspring of The Monsoon Bassoon), but an ever-building profile is beginning to make them, if not a household name, at least not the kind of name which you end up repeating to a succession of nonplussed faces. The world seems to be waking up to the cartwheels and streamers of their music, their meticulous complexity and at least some of the elusive substance lurking behind Kavus’ daffy freak-flag charm.

To celebrate this week’s release of ‘Bottled Out Of Eden’ – their third album proper, and the first to be group-composed – Knifeworld are playing a special acoustic gig at the Shoreditch branch of Flashback Records: perhaps a nod, in part, to Flashback’s role in nurturing that effusive London psychedelic rock tradition in which Knifeworld swim (and which they themselves have a strong role in promoting and sustaining). For plenty of bands, an acoustic session is an excuse to steal a little bit of Proms respectability – some string quartet garnishing, a dig at some previously scorned rootsiness. For Knifeworld, it’s simply a matter of bringing forward what’s integral to the group already. Effectively an electrified chamber octet transfixed by a flaming psychedelic spear, they’re already half-acoustic with their three-line, reeds’n-air whip of saxophones, clarinet and bassoon, with Ben Woolacott’s spacious airy drumming and with their chatty, ever-expanding cloud of harmony vocals. It’ll be interesting to see how full acoustica works on recent tracks like High Aflame, but I can already imagine how it might add a new glint to older songs like The Prime Of Our Decline…

* * * * * * * *

For the fleet-footed, there might be a chance to catch both the Knifeworld show and part of this next one, which is just in the next neighbourhood over on the same night. Knifeworld finish at 8pm, so the chances are high (as are the chances that you’ll be racing the band – fans themselves – along Bethnal Green Road and Squirries Street to get to the second gig).

The Display Team + Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse, 22nd April 2016

Chaos Theory presents:
The Display Team + Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England, Friday 22nd April 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Over to the Chaos Theory publicity factory:

“A frenzied night of prog, punk, ska and rock madness, with bands hiding immense technical prowess under gloriously unhinged music,

Local heroes The Display Team are a band we’ve loved for years but found really hard to place on a lineup! Sounding like a cross between The Specials and Mr Bungle, this prog-punk orchestra create a heavy assault of surprisingly upbeat, melodic nonsense. They’ve impressed DIY audiences all over the UK and beyond with their riotous live shows and their last album ‘Drones’, so after seven years it’s high time for their latest sounds to be captured on another album – ‘Shifts’, which they’re launching this evening.


 

Thumpermonkey are a hugely-acclaimed band who’ve spent years arguing between themselves about whether to play prog, punk or art-rock, and never seem to have quite settled. This creative process somehow produces music that is heavy, delicate, classically and dramatically influenced, sardonic and divisive.


 

Nominated for a Progressive Music Award, A Formal Horse are a progressive quartet hailing from Southampton with a thoroughly uplifting rock sound, playing dense instrumental passages inspired by the sonic worlds created by Mahavishnu Orchestra and Queens Of The Stone Age, whilst still taking cues and colours from twentieth-century art music.”


 

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Next time, some latecoming news on various folk-related tours in England which kick off this week…
 

December 2010 – album reviews – Various Artists ‘Leader of the Starry Skies – A Tribute to Tim Smith – Songbook 1’ (“an unmapped musical crossroads… one of the most diverse tribute albums imaginable”)

20 Dec
Various Artists: 'Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1'

Various Artists: ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’

Listen. They’re singing at his bedside.

In June 2008, en route back from a My Bloody Valentine concert, the world fell in for Tim Smith. A sudden heart attack (and in immediate cruel succession, a pair of devastating strokes) failed to kill him, but only just. Now he’s in long-term recuperation, condemned to that long wait in the margins. With his damaged body now his enemy, his brain’s left to flick over the days until something – anything – gets better and his luck turns. This is a sad story. Even sadder, given that many similar stories must shuffle out of hospitals every month.

There’s an extra layer of pain here in that for over four decades Tim Smith was a dedicated, compulsive fount and facilitator of music. As the singer, composer and main player of some of the most eerily intense, unique and cryptic songs ever recorded, he sat at an unmapped musical crossroads where apparently incompatible musics met. In turn, his songs were hymnal, punky and part-classical; shot through with crashing guitars, keyboard trills and mediaeval reeds; festooned with swings and changes. They were sometimes choral, or full of martial pomp or playground squabble. They were sometimes ghostly. They were a damned ecstatic racket, or a parched and meditative whisper. With what’s now become a brutal irony they also frequently fluttered, quizzically, across the distinctions of life and death; sometimes seeing little separation between the two states, sometimes hovering somewhere in between; sometimes seeing as much meaning in the wingbeat of a stray insect as in the scrambling for human significance.

Tim’s rich and puzzled perspective on life and the weave of the world travelled out to a fervent cult following via a sprouting tree of projects – the quaking mind-mash rock of Cardiacs; the psychedelic folk of Sea Nymphs, the tumbledown explorations of Oceanland World or Spratleys Japs. In addition (and belying the manic, infantile mood-swings of his onstage persona) the man was generous of himself. Via sound production, video art or simple encouragement, his influence and peculiar energy spread from feisty indie rock bands right across to New Music performers and bedroom-studio zealots. It spread far wider than his nominally marginal status would suggest. For all of this, Smith never received adequate reward or overground recognition for these years of effort – another sting in the situation (though, having always been a stubborn goat, he’s probably dismissed it).

Yet if he’s been slender of pocket, he’s proved to be rich in love. His praises may not have been sung by the loudest of voices, but they are sung by a scrappy and vigorous mongrel choir, scattered around the houses. The Smith influence haunts cramped edit suites and backwater studios. It lingers in the scuffed shells of old ballrooms, and in the intimate acoustics of a handful of cramped Wren churches in London: it’s soaked into the battered ash-and-beer-stained sound desks of rock pubs. Most particularly, it lives in the memories of thirty years of backroom gigs where people baffled at, laughed at and finally yelled along with the giddy psychological pantomime of a Cardiacs concert; and where they lost their self-consciousness and finally stumbled away with their armour discarded.

And now, all silenced?

No.

In many cases, these same people who yelled and sang from the audience (or, onstage, from beside Tim) would go on to form bands which demonstrated that three chords and a crude truth was far too blunt a brush with which to paint a picture of the world. All of this outgoing wave of energy comes rolling back with a vengeance on ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’. Put together by Bic Hayes (best known for galactic guitar in Levitation and Dark Star, but in his time a Cardiac) and Jo Spratley (Tim’s former foil in Spratleys Japs), it’s an album of Smith cover versions in which every penny of profit going back to raise money for Tim’s care. In effect, it’s swept up many of those people who sang along with Tim Smith over the years (all grown up now, and numbering characters as diverse as The Magic Numbers, Julianne Regan and Max Tundra) and brought them back for visiting hours.

And they sang outside his window, and they sang in the corridors; and from the ponds and rivers, from the windows of tower blocks and from lonely cottages…

Given Tim Smith’s own eclecticism, it’s hardly surprising that ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’ is one of the most diverse tribute albums imaginable. Despite the familial feel, the musical treatments on here vary enormously. Lost broadcasts, festooned in unsettling noise, rub up against stately electric folk. Psychedelic grunge balances out colourful playschool techno. Unaccompanied Early Music recreations drift one way, while centipedal Rock-in-Opposition shapes charge off in another. None of this would work if Tim’s songs – seemingly so resistant – didn’t readily adapt. Anyone can get around the shape of a Neil Young song, a Paul McCartney song or even a Morrissey song for a tribute: but these rampant compositions with their peculiar twists are of a different, wilder order. However, every contributor has managed to embrace not only the unorthodox Smith way with a Jacob’s Ladder tumble of chords but also his dense lyrical babble, which grafts nonsense onto insight and the ancient onto the baby-raw. Everyone involved has striven to gently (or vigorously) tease the songs out of cult corner and bring them to light.

Take, for instance, what The Magic Numbers have done with A Little Man and a House. This anguished Cardiacs ode to the 9-to-5 misfit has never seemed quite so universal, slowly pulling out from one man’s chafing frustration for a panoramic view of a worldful of human cogs. (“And there’s voices inside me, they’re screaming and telling me ‘that’s the way we all go.’ / There’s thousands of people just like me all over, but that’s the way we all go.”) The original’s pained South London squawk and huffing machinery noises are replaced by Romeo Stodart’s soft American lilt, while massed weeping clouds of piano and drums summon up an exhausted twilight in the Monday suburbs. Likewise, when Steven Wilson (stepping out of Porcupine Tree for a moment) sighs his way through a marvelously intuitive and wounded solo version of Stoneage Dinosaurs, he takes Tim’s hazy memories of childhood fairgrounds and incipient loss and makes them glisten like rain on a car mirror while sounding like the saddest thing in the world. Even with Wilson’s own formidable reputation behind him, this is immediately one of the finest things he’s ever done – an eerie ripple through innocence; a sudden, stricken look of grief flitting for a moment across a child’s face.

Three of the covers have added poignancy from being connected to ends, to new beginnings, or to particular paybacks. When Oceansize abruptly split up at the peak of their powers, their final word as a band turned out to be Fear (this album’s loving cover of an obscure Spratleys Japs track). Rather than their usual muscular and careening psychedelic brain-metal, they render this song as a soft-hued exit, a fuzzed-up tangle of fairy lights which wanders hopefully down pathways as they gently peter out. Conversely, glammy Britpop anti-heroes Ultrasound set an acrimonious decade-old split behind them and reformed especially to record for this project. Their whirling clockwork version of the Cardiacs anthem Big Ship is all boxed-in and wide-eyed. It bobs along like a toy theatre while the band fire off first pain (“the tool, the tool, forever falling down / planes against the grain of the wood / for the box, for my soul / and my aching heart,”) and ultimately burst into the kind of incoherent, hymnal inclusiveness which was always a Cardiacs trademark – “All of the noise / takes me to the outside where there’s all /creations, joining in / celebrating happiness and joy; /all around the world, / on land and in the sea.” It seems to have worked for them – they sound truly renewed.

Some of Tim Smith’s songs have a strangely mediaeval tone or texture to them, and some have a twist of eerie folk music. These attract different interpretations. Foundling was once a particularly bereft and fragile Cardiacs moment: an orphaned, seasick love-song trawled up onto the beach. Accompanied by elegant touches of piano and guitar, the genteel art-rockers Stars in Battledress transform it into a heartfelt, change-ringing English bell-round. North Sea Radio Orchestra travel even further down this particular line – their bright tinkling chamber music sweeps up the hammering rock parade of March and turns it into a sprightly, blossoming cortege. Packing the tune with bells, bassoon and string quartet, they dab it with minimalism and a flourishing Purcell verve: Sharron Fortnam’s frank and childlike soprano clambers over the darker lyrics and spins them round the maypole.

Deeper into folk, Katherine Blake (of Mediaeval Baebes) and Julianne Regan (the shape-shifting frontwoman for All About Eve and Mice) each take an eerie acoustic Sea Nymphs fragment and rework it on their own. Julianne’s version of the children’s dam-building song Shaping the River adds rattling tambourine, drowsy slide guitar and a warm murmur of voice: it’s as if the faded lines of the song had washed up like a dead leaf at her feet, ready to be reconstructed at folk club. (“Pile some sticks and pile some mud and some sand. / Leave the ends wide, / three against the side, / plug the heart of flow.”) Katherine’s narcotic a-cappella version of Up in Annie’s Room might have shown up at the same concert. A world away from the pealing cathedral organ of the original, it slips away into empty space in between its gusts of eerie deadened harmonizing and Tim’s sleepy, suggestive cats-cradle of words (“Fleets catch your hair on fire. / The fleet’s all lit up – flags, flame on fire…”)

Max Tundra, in contrast, sounds very much alive and fizzing. His pranktronica version of the brutal Will Bleed Amen re-invents it as delightfully warm and loopy Zappa-tinted techno. Its abrupt air-pocketed melody opens out like a sped-up clown car: when a convoluted cone of lyrics punches his voice up and sticks it helpless to the ceiling, former Monsooon Bassoon-er Sarah Measures is on hand to provide a cool clear vocal balance, as well as to build a little open cage of woodwind at the heart of the rush. It’s a terrific reinvention, but perhaps not the album’s oddest turnaround. That would be courtesy of Rose Kemp and Rarg – one a striving indie-rock singer and blood-heir to the Steeleye Span legacy, the other the laptop-abusing keyboard player with Smokehand. Rose is a Cardiacs interpreter with previous form: this time she’s fronting a forbidding glitch-electronica version of Wind And Rains Is Cold with all of the cute reggae bounce and innocence pummeled out of it. While Rarg flattens and moves the scenery around in baleful planes, Rose delivers the nursery-rhyme lyric with a mixture of English folk stridency and icy Germanic hauteur, uncorking its elliptical menace as she does – “Now you remember, children, how blessed are the pure in heart – / want me to take ’em up and wash ’em good?… / Hide your hair, it’s waving all lazy and soft, / like meadow grass under the flood.”

While most of the musicians on ‘Leader…’ could cite Tim Smith as an influence, Andy Partridge was a influence on Tim himself, way back in his XTC days. Three-and-a-half decades later he repays the appreciation by guesting on the dusky autumnal spin which The Milk & Honey Band‘s Robert White gives to a Sea Nymphs song, Lilly White’s Party. Redolent with regret (for more innocent times, before a fall), it covers its eyes and turns away from the shadows falling across the hillside. Partridge’s deep backing vocals add an extra thrum of sympathy: “Let’s not reinvent the wheel, let’s not open that can of worms, / Let’s not say what we did, and play by ear. / Back to square one…”

The backbone of ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’ however, comes from the contributions of former Cardiacs players reconnecting with the family songbook. As with any family over time, they’re scattered. One of the earliest members, Pete Tagg, now drums for The Trudy, who take the bucketing psychedelic charge of Day is Gone and offer a more down-to-earth spin on it for the indie disco, keeping that heady chromatic slide of chorus but adding a suspiciously blues-rock guitar solo and Melissa Jo Heathcote’s honeyed vocals. One of the more recent Cardiacs additions, Kavus Torabi, brings his band Knifeworld to the party. He hauls a particularly involved and proggy Cardiacs epic – The Stench of Honey – back through a 1970s Henry Cow filter of humpbacked rhythms, woodwind honks, baby squeaks and rattletrap percussion. Double-strength art rock, it could have been a precious step too far. Instead, it’s triumphant, its skeletal circular chamber music salad-tossed by stomping bursts and twitches of joy.

Onetime Cardiacs keyboard player William D. Drake offers a gentler, kinder tribute, taking the shanty-rhythms of Savour and spinning them out into soft Edwardiana with harmonium, ukulele and a gently bobbing piano finale. Drake’s predecessor Mark Cawthra brings an eerie sense of pain to his own cover version: back in the earliest days, he was Tim Smith’s main foil, playing lively keyboards and drums as well as sharing the bumper-car vocals. Now he sounds like the head mourner, taking on the heavy tread of Let Alone My Plastic Doll and sousing it with Vanilla Fudge-slow organ, doubled guitar solos and sigh-to-wail vocals. The twitchy, baby-logic lyrics are slowly overwhelmed by an undercurrent of grief, but the kind of grief that can only come from a older, wiser man.

Under his Mikrokosmos alias, Bic Hayes takes on Cardiacs’ biggest near-hit (Is This The Life) and subjects it to startling psychedelic noise-storms and industrial drum twirling. In the process, he shakes out and enhances its original pathos. Blown splay-limbed into a corner by a tornado of white noise, plug-in spatters and buzzing malfunctions, Bic’s voice is nasal, lost and forlorn. It sings of split and rootless identity against a wall of forbidding harmonium: “Looking so hard for a cause, and it don’t care what it is; / and never really ever seeing eye to eye / though it doesn’t really mind. / Perhaps that’s why / it never really saw.” Although Jo Spratley coos reassurance under ululations of alto feedback, Bic still ends up cowering like a damaged crane-fly under showers of distorted harpsichords and Gothic synths. Bewitchingly damaged.

The last word goes to The Scaramanga Six, the swaggering Yorkshire theatricalists who were the main beneficiaries of Smith production work before the accident. By their usual meaty standards, the Six’s take on The Alphabet Business Concern (Cardiacs’ tongue-in-cheek corporate anthem, packed to the gunwales with flowery salutes) initially seems cowed, as if flattened by dismay and sympathy at Tim’s misfortune. But it doesn’t end there. Starting tremulous and hushed, with nothing but the embers of faith to keep it up, it builds gradually from tentative acoustic guitars and hiding vocals up through a gradual build of electric instruments, feeding in and gaining strength: “and now the night of weeping shall be / the morn of song…” Over the course of the anthem the Six go from crumpled to straightened to proud cheat-beating life. By the end, the recording can hardly contain their vigorous Peter Hammill bellows, as they sweep out in a grand procession with rolling guitars, pianos and extended Cardiacs choirs. It’s a stirring, defiant finale to an album that’s done everything it could to blow away the ghosts of helplessness and to charge up not just an armful of Smith songs but, in its way, a vivid sense of Smith. He might have taken a bad, bad fall; but the humming and rustling vitality of the music, the way that it’s become a spray of vivid lively tendrils reaching far and wide, is an enormous reassurance.

Listen. He’s alive. He’s alive.

Various Artists: ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’
Believer’s Roast, BR003 (5060243820372)
CD/vinyl/download album
Released: 13th December 2010

Buy it from:
Genepool (CD) or iTunes (download)

Tim Smith online:
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‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’ online:
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December 2002 – album reviews – Various Artists: ‘House of Stairs Volume 1: Useless in Bed’ compilation (“happily balanced on the rougher brinks and fringes”)

4 Dec

Various Artists: 'House of Stairs Vol. 1 - Useless in Bed'

Various Artists: ‘House of Stairs Vol. 1 – Useless in Bed’

Placing yourself on faultlines, rather than easily marketable turf, brings risks but inspiration – ask a San Franciscan. That the three London art-rock bands who originally set up the House of Stairs label (The Monsoon Bassoon, Geiger Counter, and Ursa) have all now split or mutated into something else is perhaps proof of both.

Regardless, ‘Useless In Bed’ – the first House of Stairs release – is a declaration of brotherhood. Compiling the work of musicians dwelling on various faultlines (though still mostly centred on London art-rock, it also takes in music from Chicago, Atlanta and Bordeaux), it both defines the edges of prog, jazz, art-rock, hardcore, electronica, folk, improv and noise rock, or encourages people to spill across them.


 
Hard-rocking math-proggers Foe – sprung from the wreckage of Geiger Counter – offer the most urgent track. ‘Triangulator’ is full of furious refracting guitar lines over Crawford Blair’s piano-growl of bass. For six minutes it swings, chops, drops down trapdoors, executes perverse King Crimson leaps between mordantly grim chords, and savages minor keys like The 5uu’s on far too much coffee. Geiger Counter’s posthumous statement is ‘Drink Your Milk’ – less obviously wired than ‘Triangulator’, it still carves up its grunge-y math riffs with heavy enthusiasm, embracing sweeter interludes of short-lived luminous peace as it does so. Nouveau Metal is spreading…

The Monsoon Bassoon‘s own posthumous offering is a explosive and complicated song from when their mingling of Henry Cow and gamelan-Crimson art-rock ran full tilt into their love of American alt.rockers like Shudder To Think. The psychedelic squeal of guitars on ‘Stag’ marches from plateau to jagged plateau in a skirl of trippy flute and meshing riffs, held together by the band’s tight discipline.


 
These days various Bassooners have regrouped in Miss Helsinki, who deliver a sparkling piece of progressive pop called ‘I Felt Your Arms Around Me’. Less surreal than most Bassoon confections, it’s still an acid-flavoured love song whose rattling good XTC jangle and tootling clarinets don’t stop it hurtling delightedly into a complex, storm-tossed middle section in which they see just how much you can rock the train without slinging it off the rails.

 
If you’d prefer to stick with the Bassoon’s skronkier legacy, Chicago’s Sweep the Leg Johnny are still juggling that torch. With the superb ‘Only in a Rerun’, they’re obviously on a roll – it’s a rich mixture of harsh Schizoid Man tones and flamboyant jazz-metal attack from the raw husky wail of Steve Sostak’s alto sax and Chris Daly’s bloodthirsty roar of guitar, tossing Sostak’s airy vocal like a bull tossing a skinny matador. Slewing between dEUS busyness and violent post-Slint minimalism, this is a rough bareback ride to put a wicked smile on your face.


 
Manic Glaswegian pranksters Lapsus Linguae provide ‘Olestra (There’s Only One Drinking Fountain in Heaven)’. A stab of theatrical art-metal somewhere between Faith No More and Beck (with a Resident eyeballing it from the director’s chair) it has all you need to storm the castle of pomp. There’s a man called Penelope Collegefriend singing in a rampant bellow like a punk Freddie Mercury; there’s an inexplicable strings break and a rolling piano line continually chopped off with guillotine precision; there are namechecks for Hermann Hesse and Charlton Heston, and choicely bizarre lyrics like “More I eat, the hungrier I feel – / I lick menus, ignore the meals.”


 
Holding up the genteel-er proggie end are the whimsical and witty projects of the Larcombe brothers. With ‘Sand (Blowing About)’, Stars in Battledress provide a beautiful dance of fluent piano and autoharp: but beyond the divertimento prettiness, James Larcombe leads the duo through eddies of suggestive Debussyan chords.

Richard Larcombe goes on to turn in a conceptual tease on Defeat the Young‘s wonderful ‘I’m Ruining Something’ – an absurdist essay on the corruptions of power which blends Gentle Giant with Lewis Carroll and Stravinsky. Larcombe greets his ensemble of actors, trombone, and full-blown operatic chorus as a lounge-lizard lord of misrule, sighing a manifesto of playful destruction in his arch, refined tones. “I’m recognised as your one sovereign Lord Protector / Trust me – I’ve learned of your country by tape and slide projector. / Each day I’ll go out of my way to spoil, deface and tarnish, / like he who ruins carpentry by swapping glue for varnish.” Oboe, piano and hammer dulcimer float in a dreamy arrangement like an August haze. Apparently there’s a whole album’s worth of this story in the Larcombe shed – ‘The Golden Spike’ – and it’s only one of their dastardly plans.

Both of House Of Stairs’ lo-fi electronica boffins seem to grab inspiration from bargain-bucket electrical goods. Desmotabs create an appealing Stylophone fanfare buzz on ‘Gaseous Exchange at the Alveoli’, let their drum machine go nuts and assault a heart monitor, and squiggle some demented Mini-Moog solos before the entire track melts like a Dali model. Max Tundra (the Frank Zappa of the techno world) continues his marvellous and bizarre mission to fuse hardcore dance music with prog rock. ‘Life in a Lift Shaft’ equals Desmotabs buzz-for-buzz while festooning tough and hilariously uptight Tundra beats with jittery robot piano and fat sub-bass from the tar-pits. Alarm-clocks fly past on tiny wings trying to take bites out of the zany, sunny tune.

The free-er bands – as usual – have a harder time. Gnarly bass-and-drums duo Guapo can be the missing link between ‘Red’ and Ruins when they want to be. However, their grinding ‘Pharoah’ – despite Dave Smith’s excellent Brufordian snarework – is mostly as subtle as a flying breezeblock. Dragging large chunks of pyramid across the desert and insisting that you appreciate each tortuous step, they occasionally snap, shoot off the flywheel and go ape with some fearsome tattoo riffs. Hardcore acoustic fusioneers Cheval de Frise hop up and down with impatience on ‘Chiendents’, banging their heads against their own lo-fi envelope, manically coiling up tighter and tighter acoustic guitar scrabbles against the tussling drums. Compression to destruction, breaking out in wild slashes.


 
And finally there’s the hardcore department, with the recently defunct Ursa demonstrating why they’ll be a sad loss to the British heavy scene. Avoiding hardcore’s usual fixed, deafening riffage and reductive howling, ‘The Blooding’ begins with a studied ponderousness and heaviness which gives way to an inspiring controlled demolition. Galloping punked-up Iron Maiden guitar runs charge under giant toppling riffs, the band dodging falling masonry via nifty turn-on-a-dime spins while losing none of their brute power. American Heritage, likewise, execute proggie timeswitches with rapid and brutal thrash flair, their sound a bleak, bare cliff of thick guitar noise. It’s anyone’s guess as to why they’ve called their track ‘Phil Collins’ – it’s an unlikely tribute, whether it’s aimed square at the Genesis drumstool or at the white-soul crowdpleaser.


 
Anyhow… here’s a house of many doors, happily balanced on the rougher brinks and fringes and demonstrating the breadth of personalities camped out in even one small part of today’s art-rock community. Admirable.

Various Artists: ‘House of Stairs Volume 1: Useless in Bed’
House of Stairs, HOS001 (5030094077829)
CD-only compilation album
Released: 2nd December 2002
Get it from:
(2020 update) best obtained second-hand
 

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
 

June 1998 – single & track reviews – James’ ‘Runaground’; The Monsoon Bassoon’s ‘Wise Guy/28 Days in Rocket Ship’; Sleepy People’s ‘All Systems Fail/Every Wave is Higher on the Beach’

28 Jun

James: 'Runaground'

James: ‘Runaground’

OK, it’s a marketing trick, alright? James have a Greatest Hits album out and apparently need filler. So this is one of those irritatingly “exclusive” singles which bands now record especially to give obsessives a reason for buying their compilation albums. But, despite all the incentive to hate it for that reason, this is one of the few times when the phrase “bonus track” actually makes sense.

Runaground is more than satisfying in its own right. Here’s one of James’ occasional warmly blue-tinted songs, coming from one of the reflective lulls between their big anthems (Laid, Sit Down, She’s a Star)and their bursts of dervish doolally (Avalanche, Bring a Gun, Sometimes): with a soft bush of guitars rather than a wall of them, a lilting breathy melody, and Saul Davies’ thin sweet glow of violin coming through like light under a mother’s door. “For every woman you will leave an open door / You find yourself thinking “why can’t I have more?” “.


 
There’s a directness to Tim Booth at such moments, an unguarded wistful sadness to his herald’s voice as he ditches the metaphysics and the egghead bluster. Runaground’s one for the frightened fool, grasping for every tiny illusory chance in order not to get stuck, only to find they’ve dropped everything that’s worthwhile anyway just to grasp at shadows, and that they’ve gotten stuck anyway. “Oh no, she’s gone, back wherever she came from. / You watch her go, your reactions much too slow. / Let her go. / Runaground.”

Is it one of Booth’s flagellating stabs at his own unreliability, as with Come Home and Don’t Wait That Long? Maybe. One thing’s for sure as the waves of another great James chorale surge up: with this, the Manchester stadium-pop weirdos have touched down gently on the human feelings they neglected too much on the patchy techno moves of the ‘Whiplash‘ album. Experimentation’s nothing without soul and empathy. “You take for granted all the riches of the world / You may have oysters, but you’ll never find your pearls…” Almost a desert island disc.

The Monsoon Bassoon: 'Wise Guy/28 Days in Rocket Ship'

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘Wise Guy/28 Days in Rocket Ship’

For some, it’s best to kick off with a statement rather than an insinuation. Especially when it’s one which no-one can argue with. This debut single’s a double-barrelled shotgun blast of twisted intent. The Monsoon Bassoon (who’ve been regularly carving up Camden indie-pubs for several years now) are allegedly “psychedelic pop”. But if that automatically makes you pull out a checklist and start ticking off (a) druggy sonic syrup, (b) honeybee harmonies, (c) kiddie songs and (d) wobbly blues guitar ad infinitum, forget it. If they’re anything to do with current psych-pop, the Bassoon are Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci shorn of their Brian Wilson fixation, off their heads on chaos theory and frantically shagging a stapling machine. If you could fix it so that a tropical rainstorm could blast through a double reed, you probably would end up with this sort of shrapnel.

Both tracks on this double A-side start out as songs. With the emphasis on “start”: two duelling, slashing guitars and three voices quickly fractalise the songs into manic battling melodies. You get plenty of pop hooks, but before too long they’ve turned into egg-whisks and grappling irons mounting a major assault on pop strongholds. The Monsoon Bassoon can take a song and turn it into a sort of Philip Glass No-Wave party during which The Pixies, Henry Cow, and Television all get smashed and then get caught up in an argument which they enjoy so much that it takes the police to get them out of the building.


 
The prog word rears its head too, but with any hint of cosiness snipped off by Tim “Cardiacs” Smith’s rough’n’ready garage-y production. If the Bassoon sometimes resemble a younger, more hyperactive King Crimson – those revolving guitars, Sarah Measures’ daredevil flutes and reeds, the way the music booms back and forth between celestial minimalism and bellowing, screaming blasts of red-hot air – they’ve also got a good deal more of a sense of sheer fun and dynamism than Crimson themselves are exhibiting these days.


 
You might not remember the tunes, but you’ll certainly remember the commotion en route. The choppy pop of Wise Guy explodes like axe-heads coming through hotel-room doors, twirls the odd piroutte as it does so, and leaps up to a trumpeting, triumphant, speaker-melting fanfare. 28 Days in Rocket Ship is superficially calmer until the monster bass riffs and bells rock the belfry to bits. This is hardcore pronk to the max, with a eerie sideswiping charm to compound its relentless ecstatic ferocity. This music yells “fuck you, get out of my way,” and in the same breath, flashing a brilliant grin, adds “but you can come too.” Dancing on giddy splinters.

Sleepy People: 'All Systems Fail/Every Wave is Higher on the Beach'

Sleepy People: ‘All Systems Fail/Every Wave is Higher on the Beach’

With the effusive Phil Sears – a.k.a “Earl Slick” – waltzing out of the band shortly after the release of their second album, Sleepy People have spent some time singerless. Not a band to take things lying down, they’ve recruited new teenaged singer Lee Haley, messed around in the engine room a bit, and got these two songs down on tape, battling on to maintain momentum and taking another look at the songwriting business while they’re at it.

Sleepy leader Paul Hope has never been one to back off from a challenge; and writing for Haley’s lighter, more fragrant tones (a clarinet compared to Sears’ brazen and operatic trumpet) has certainly brought out the best in his glowing psychedelic pop. All Systems Fail compresses and channels the Sleepies’ usual sprawling, ornamental music while losing none of its jack-in-the-box explosiveness. Moogs burble and fizz, Paul’s guitars snarl and swipe like fuzzed-up little kittens, the rhythms are as jumpy and cheekily punka as ska on itching powder, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were juggling the odd plate as they recorded (“What goes round / Must come down”).

Lee skates through the whole thing with a suspicious schoolboy insouciance. Angel-faced or not, this is a guy who managed to shoot himself through the liver while messing about with a pistol between rehearsals: and he warbles like a naughty chorister alongside Rachel’s moonbeam harmonies, while everyone else yelps like dogs on the chorus: “steaming creatures with violent features… wind them up and run!” It could almost be a proggy Bis: glittery hairslides, sherbet flying saucers’n’all.

Every Wave is Higher On the Beach is more familiar Sleepyfare. Epic, complicated, Gongpop stuff, as moonstruck as ever: Rachel sending her flute in rolling smoketrails through Anna’s spooky streaks of keyboard as the band drive through the night. But this time their eccentricity has a much more haunting edge to it. At his best, Paul Hope’s one of the few pop people who can capture the eerie wonder of someone’s more mystical, Fortean Times-y experiences. And this is him at his best – urging a langorous, hypnotised performance out of Lee as a man in the grip of an atavistic compulsion, pulling out and away from the world. “Although I’ve never been, / I know the sea’s not far away from here. / Rumours carried on the waves / will help me find the way that I should go… / Although I’ve never seen, / I know there’s something really big out there. / Is that the moon I see, / or harbour lights leading me astray?”

As the bass throbs and the guitar mounts in a spiral of pulsating alarm, Sleepy People seem to be taking a great leap in the dark, “across the never-ending sand” out upwards from their frequent foolery and into somewhere far more soul-stroking, more threatening. The madness behind the face-paint isn’t so theatrical this time, but is far more effective. Sleepy People have proved they can take another body-blow and come back grinning.

James: ‘Runaground’
Mercury Records, JIMCD 20 / 568 853-2
CD/cassette single
Released:
23rd June 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) original single best obtained second-hand; song appears on several James compilations – ‘The Best of’ and ‘Fresh As a Daisy – The Singles’.
James online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘Wise Guy/28 Days In Rocket Ship’
Weird Neighbourhood Recordings, WNRS 1 (no barcode)
7-inch vinyl-only double A-side single
Released:
June 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) original single best obtained second-hand; ‘Wise Guy’ appears on The Monsoon Bassoon’s ‘I Dig Your Voodoo‘ album.
The Monsoon Bassoon online:
MySpace Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Spotify Amazon Music

Sleepy People: ‘All Systems Fail/Every Wave is Higher on the Beach’
The Soporific Foundation (no catalogue number or barcode)
Cassette-only double-A-side single

Released: June 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) original single best obtained second-hand; original song versions currently unavailable, but different versions sung by Tiny Wood appear on the Blue Apple Boy album ‘Salient‘.
Sleepy People online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM YouTube 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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improvised/experimental/music

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

A jumped-up pantry boy

To say the least, oh truly disappointed

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Organized sounds. If you like.

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Pop Lifer

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Good Music Speaks

A music blog written by Rich Brown

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

a home for instrumental and experimental music

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

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