High & Outside
Derek Bailey, Carpal Tunnel (Tzadik) The last recording released before the “very difficult” improvisational icon’s passing on Christmas Day, Carpal Tunnel is both a typically virtuosic guitar suite and a documentary of Bailey relearning his instrument — à la Django Reinhardt — after losing his pick-clutching capability to the titular syndrome. This lends the resultant work a fascinating narrative curve, made that much more poignant and inspiring by the artist’s demise. RIP, and say “hey” to Link Wray and The Haze.
Jandek,various (Corwood) Since allegedly appearing at a music festival in Glasgow in October 2004 (actually an unannounced, unidentified “representative of Corwood Industries”) for the first live performance in his 27-year career, the enigmatic Jandek — an ultra-prolific Houston recluse whose plaintive microtonal balladry helped define the genre of outsider music in the 1980s — has had one of his busiest years ever. With the 2003 Jandek on Corwood festival-hit documentary now disseminated on DVD, 10 more purported concert appearances and his first 22 LP covers currently on display at Gagosian’s Berlin gallery, you’d think he’d be resting on his laurels. Au contraire: He released four new CDs this year, including the Glasgow gig; two acoustic-guitar based epics, Khartoum and When I Took That Train; and the lurching, sliding electric bass musings of Raining Down Like Diamonds.
Tangela Tricoli, Jet Lady (Arf! Arf!) This long-awaited reissue of the 1982 off-kilter singer-songwriter stylings of third-generation Angeleno and licensed jet pilot Tricoli is fleshed out with a half-dozen bonus tracks, plus an archive of QuickTime movies culled from her legendary cable-access show, a vintage “unplugged” performance of her songs, and ad spots for her visionary 1981 mayoral campaign. Her endearingly nasal echo-laden warble delivering classic numbers like “Stinky Poodle” (supposedly the model for a song called “Smelly Kitty” sung by someone called Lisa Kudrow on something called Friends), the haunting “Space Lady,” and the all-time best L.A. anthem, “City of Angels,” quickly gets under the skin, establishing a position near the top of the outsider pantheon, while answering her own question posed in the lead-off track “Supermarket Blues”: “Where oh where in this adman’s game can a girl find a piece of cheese?”
The Wide Weird World of Henry Jacobs (Important Records) Following Locust’s acclaimed reissue of Bay Area renaissance boho Jacobs’ two 1950s Folkways albums — the soundtrack to the milestone visual music Vortex concerts at S.F.’s Morrison Planetarium and excerpts from his disarmingly titled KPFA radio show Music and Folklore — the dude from Meat Beat Manifesto found a box of old reel-to-reels stashed under the floorboards of his house that turned out to be a treasure trove of lost recordings. Organized in the same dazzlingly postmodern collage as the radio program album, Wide Weird World runs the same gamut from weedy beatnik put-ons (“Cigarette Yoga” sounds suspiciously like Jacobs and Ken Nordine firing up) to loopy avant-garde electronic experiments, faux instructional recordings, proto-hippie jams and even a prank call to vocal group the Crewcuts. And if that wasn’t enough to recalibrate your frequencies, there’s a bonus DVD of The Fine Art of Goofing Off, Jacobs’ legendary 1972 PBS series in collaboration with animator Bob McClay, including contributions from Alan Watts, Victor Moscoso and Jordan Belson. Feed your head.
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Longmont Potion Castle 5 (Reptilian Records) Speaking of prank calls, the Shakespeare of the medium has released what is purported to be the final volume documenting his surrealist interventions into the mundane realities of Radio Shack and Orange Julius customer-service representatives. I’m not a fan of generic smart-ass practical joking, but to say LPC does prank calls is like saying Williams Street makes cartoons for the TV. In addition to their transcendental absurdity, the five volumes of LPC constitute an interactive liberatory critique of consumer culture deserving of recognition by the Nobel Committee. At least as much as Dr. Kissinger.
Ivor Cutler, An Elpee and Two Epees (Decca) In an only slightly more traditional spoken-word vein, Scottish eccentric Ivor Cutler’s trickle of essential reissues continued in 2005 with the first CD release of his earliest vinyl offerings. Cutler, who turns 83 on January 15, is a British national treasure, a literary performance genius on par with Spike Milligan of the Goons or Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Band. Between teaching at A.S. Neill’s experimental school, Summerhill, and achieving a measure of fame as Buster Bloodvessel in the Beatles’ 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour, Cutler recorded these sides for the small but rabid following from his frequent BBC radio appearances. As in most of his subsequent oeuvre, Cutler’s oddly acidic nursery stories and dream-logic autobiographical sketches alternate here with deadpan detournées of Tin Pan Alley songcraft featuring his droney harmonium behind lyrics like “The muscular tree is the tree for me/I pull at its muscles — twang twang twang twang.”
Moondog,various. In a career that spanned beatnik notoriety, coverage by Big Brother and the Holding Company, serious classical releases on the Columbia Masterworks label, two decades of self-imposed exile in Germany, and rediscovery by the Wired magazine crowd, blind street musician and protominimalist composer Moondog (née Louis Hardin) steered as serious and idiosyncratic a musical course as Charles Ives or Harry Partch. This year saw the CD reissue of the ultra-rare 1953 Pastoral Suite/Surf Session “restaurated and remastered carefully” for release by the official German Web site Moondog’s Corner, as well as the first comprehensive recording-career-spanning (almost 50 years!) overview The Viking of Sixth Avenue on England’s Honest Jon’s Label. Layering complex rhythmical patterns with his own invented percussion instruments, voices (his 1972 Columbia album Moondog 2 is made up entirely of rounds — as in “Row row row your boat” — ranging in subject matter from “Nero’s Expedition” to “Coffee Beans”), or full orchestral arrangements, Moondog managed the exquisite and difficult act of balancing avant garde innovation, visionary independence and delightful musicality right up until his death in 1999. Perhaps he wasn’t taken as seriously as he could have been because he spent 30 years panhandling on the streets of Manhattan dressed in a Viking costume. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.
Other Noteworthy Releases
While his Zappa-mentored debut An Evening with Wild Man Fischer remains in (downloadable) limbo, 1978’s Wildmania — the Wooly One’s first for Rhino as well as the first full-length release on the label — has been reissued by Collector’s Choice Music.
Lubbock-born loose cannon theLegendary Stardust Cowboy’s ’80s treasures Retro Rocket Back to Earth/Rides Again have been reissued by France’s Last Call Records.
From the Black Lodge Singers on Canyon Records comes More Kids’ Pow-Wow Songs featuring Blackfoot Kenny Scabby and family’s paradigm-bridging traditional drum-and-vocal compositions about Scooby Doo and Barbie, and the lead track, “Sponge Bob Square Pants” sung in the familiar call-and-response marine drill cadence.
If anyone missed last year’s list or the recent Arthur magazine cover story, get thee to an Internet and seek out Sublime Frequencies, the Sun City Girls’ dazzling DIY ethnomusicological label. This year’s offerings included antipolitical masterstrokes Choubi Choubi! Folk & Pop Sounds From Iraq and Radio Pyongyang: Commie Funk & Agit Pop plus eight other essential titles. (SCG’s Alan Bishop also compiled in 2005 a double disc of Ennio Morricone’s very far-out recordings called Crime and Dissonance for Mike Patton’s Epicac label.)
In a similar tomb-raider vein, Subliminal Sounds completed its Thai Beat A Go-Go trilogy with Vols. 2 & 3 (recommended cut: “Ding Dong” by Surapon), while Khmerrocks continued its Sinn Sisamouth–heavy (but who’s complaining?) Cambodian Rocks series with Vol 4. And don’t get me started on the Bollywood!
Bill Holt’s remastered 1974 what-the-fuck audio collage masterpiece Dreamies is out on Wilmington Studios. NYC improv gadfly Mr. Dorgon (a.k.a. Gordon Knauer)’s God Is Greatest collects several bracing turntable/electronic pieces for Tzadik’s Lunatic Fringe series.
Irwin Chusid (and tape-trader) favorite Judson Fountain — “the Ed Wood of radio drama” — finally sees official release of such incredibly strange early ’70s classics as “The Garbage Can From Thailand” and “Granny, Sing No More!”
John Fahey’s Revenant label followed up the exhaustive Albert Ayler box set with the best (and oddest) of numerous archival collections mining the “old weird America” with American Primitive Vol. 2: Pre-War Revenants. And finally, French label Sittelle brings us two CDs of non-human musical opuses: one of the deep creaking noises of Rutting Red Deers plus a two-CD set titled The Inaudible World — A Sound Guide of the French Bats. It doesn’t get much more outside than that!
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