You meet the nicest people in mental institutions!


I was talking to my friend Matt the other day about all these great treasures I’d been finding on ******** (I’m afraid if I blab the name of this excellent filesharing site, it’ll be gone off the face of the earth tomorrow!), and he laid one of his patented zingers on me. I had told him I found the Wu-Tang Clan’s demo tape, and he replied, in his flippantly brilliant way, "Y’know, for guys like us, you could just as well search for demos of all your favorite bands. Fidelity is certainly no obstacle, and we all know most demos are way better than the finished album anyway."

Later that weekend, I downloaded a demo from French-Canadian futurismo rockers Voivod. Listening to this on pristine digital was a revelation. Of course the music was shit hot, 75 minutes (TOO LONG!) of Slayer-esque thrash (this was before they got too proggy), while singer Snake (oh yeah!) bantered with the audience in a spoken/shrieked Canadian French that resembled a Hessian’s-eye view of Middle Earth-ian incantation. And there was the fidelity. Someone had faithfully ripped this from a copy of their original tape. There, in pristine digital, a loud and well mixed live tape, complete with extravagant warble in the sound.

Something similar struck me while listening to the debut from Blunt Instrument, the 30 song’n’snippet opus that is "Wrack & Roll." There was something about the sound…it was so clean. Everything was stacked on top of everything else, but nothing was touching. The guitar was clean, and in a different part of the speaker than the drum machine, and the vocals also operate in their own space. It was like all the makings for a stew in a pot without the heat on…nobody’d gotten to know each other yet! And yet, the sound (even apart from the songs, which I’ll get to in a minute) was so appealing to me! You just KNOW if this had been taking to some high-tone dollars an hour recording studio, the SHINE of this album would be replaced by a by-the-numbers sheen. The sound of "Wrack & Roll" is like an oil painting, with the artist fastidiously not blending any of the colors. It’s not like paint-by-numbers, just a whole lot of colors and nuances…standing side by side. A "studio recording" would have just made this out as another starving artist painting. It’s also the extreme opposite of the sound of the Ceramic Hobs, Simon & Stan (for ‘tis their band)’s more prolific project. The sound of Ceramic Hobs is painting a picture, and then blending the colors around by rubbing genitals all over it in surly humping motions.

Don’t mistake me…I’m not hacking on the low-tech production here. In fact, there’s something about the style and substance of "Wrack & Roll" that almost makes the computer recording/editing sound TOO polished! This is, in my head, the sound of ’83, UK, tape trader scene. One man (or two), an array of musical weapons, a drum machine, and no timetable. Just keep piecing it together until you love it, then send it off to the world in small envelopes. It reminds me of another Simon, Stan and Friends project, Blackpool Beach Boys and Girl, where similar instruments (guitar, bass, drum machine, keyboard…maybe even the same ones!) were used to reinterpret "Pet Sounds." Depending on where you grew up (or how you grew up), this might also be analogous to the mid-‘90s bedroom indie folk pop tape boom here in the States, millions of wannabe Simon Joyners (ah! another Simon) plinking on casios and moaning their lovelorn fables into handhelds all throughout the heartland, making tape mountains and stacks of unread packages, piling up on the front porch.

But I don’t know anything about that. My background is in UK tape trading, admittedly not going much further back (and even then, by posthumous discovery) than early ‘90s, but things like Howl In the Typewriter (Stan’s main band), Inca Eyeball, The Subs, Fes Parker, the Def*A*Kators, SWANC, etc. (so sue me if most of these are from Blackpool or Stoke-on-Trent…what am I, a scholar of UK tape music? Answer: NO) Not indie, but independent, folk in the sense that just folks play it, and pop in the sense that there’s a drum machine, keyboards, and hooks. But usually something a little…off about it too.

This is the sound of Blunt Instrument. And in some ways, the pristine way these sounds are layered reminds me of that Voivod demo tape. It’s digital (and just about the most CD looking CDR I’ve ever seen!), but it’s written and layered and recorded like a tape release. It’s like halftoning a pic for a newspaper…you send an image with a lack of certain shadows, knowing that the reproduction process will add its own natural shadows. Similarly, there’s something about this material that makes me think that if it had been recorded for a tape, the garish shortwave sounds (added to make it sound like certain songs were being tuned in from a faraway radio) and phony record crackle might blend a little better with the music. But I like it like this! I like the stiff mix. It gives the songs an immediacy, it makes everything really stick out. It can’t ever blend into the background like "regular music" does, because it’s constantly drawing attention to itself. This allows you to get a clearer view of the hooks.

Ah, the hooks! Anyone who’s heard either the Ceramic Hobs or Howl In the Typewriter know these gentlemen know how to scribble a pop hook into their pessimistic ditties. Even as far back as ’83 (aha!), when Howl In the Typewriter released "Planets Tour - Live On Saturn and Venus" and the sound was little more than a post Cabaret Voltaire electro-whine over a drumbox with minimal noise manipulation, you’d still get a song like "Heeby Jeeby Insect Wriggle," where the bass just starts thundering away like that Chris Squire solo in the Yessongs version of "The Fish," and you get jostled out of your noise-on-a-cheap-c60 slumber and start nodding and swaying, to the consternation of your fellow commuters. The earliest and crudest Ceramic Hobs tunes I’ve heard ("Disturbing ‘Boxing Ring’ Fantasies" is a favorite) have more hooks than an army of post-punk hordes. And so with Blunt Instrument. Like in "Hail To the Chiefs," when the drum and guitar do this simple syncopated new wave thing against the drum box. It’s like the breakdown in Blue Oyster Cult’s "The Red and the Black," but funkier, thanks to shifty old Mr. Drumbox, whose "hand clap" sound actually makes me want to clap my hands here! Like BOC meets Mantronix or something precocious(-ly written) like that.

And there’s the lyrics/concept. It’s all set up like these are recently unearthed…ah, hell, I don’t understand the concept, so if I bung it all up, don’t get too worked up about it. All the songs are credited to people like "Bitch Alice, 1958," and "Pvt. Eddie Dixson, 1945." I guess these are supposed to be "Recently unearthed wartime songs" or something to that effect. "Goin’ Up To Moscow" is done two times (three if you count the short coda, complete with fake ’78 crackle and slowed down voices) with different lyrics about "Uncle Joe" going to talk to cousin Fritz or General Sergei or something. Sorry, I don’t have all the stories straight yet! (I admit, as would most music writers if they were honest about things, that I’ve only given this two or three thorough listenings) Certain songs are played again and again. "Race You To Hell" is done in a full version, and the immediately following that, excerpts from a "live" coda of the same song, complete with audience yelling. I think Blunt Instrument is supposed to be a legendary band who play war music, or cover other peoples music, and this is their final document? Fuck, I don’t know. It all makes my head hurt. Maybe Stan and Simon will explain it to me over a pint of Blackpool’s finest some day. Until then, I muddle through.

For home recorded four-track popfolk insanity, the mastery of so many styles is kind of boggling. They don’t just play everything, they play everything WELL! "Goin’ Up To Moscow" is a great campfire singalong (provided your singalongs allow for moments of militaristic contemplation…the ones I go to always end in us singing "Teach Your Children Well" multiple times cuz we’re too drunk to think of the words to anything else [great in its own right, thankyouverymuch]), "Hail to the Chiefs" just RIPS like prime Rezillos, and "Last Blast" almost has a skiffle shuffle to it! Then there’s a real surprise, "Prometheus Plays With Matches," where the boys get all doomy, laying down voices and lyrics ("but man, he was such a clever little boy/he brought fire down from heaven, and he did love his little toy") that would do fans of Venom (and/or Spinal Tap) proud! Shit, once again, I give these guys huge props for being able to put so many songs, ideas, recurring themes (what prog-head amongst us doesn’t LOVE recurring themes?) together and make it all really cohere. There’s been so many great things about 2003 (musically anyway), but the thing I like most is, people seem to remember that a well-selected and edited and sequenced 40-55 odd minutes of music (less is preferable!) is probably more likely to be a future classic than something that pushes the 80 minute mark for no better reason than CDs can take it, so keep crammin’. If you’re hittin’ minute 70s, you’re officially a DOUBLE LP (more rants on this soon/someday), and you better behave accordingly. There are many rules.

Then there’s the themes. The fake (real?) military/historical lyrics, songs like "Domestic Surveillance" (Bitch Alice, 1964 is the writing credit), with lines like "I wanted to move my family, but the CIA wouldn’t allow it." It reminded me of all the Mort Sahl I’ve been listening to these last few war-strewn weeks, dragging myself up from two hours of TV coverage and slumping into bed, with a copy of "The Future Lies Ahead" or "Sing A Song Of Watergate" spinning in the next room. Something about Mort’s voice, his assurance, his constant badgering of EVERYBODY on BOTH SIDES that really calms and also excites me right now. Keeps me moving (and writing!) and ready to hit the protest this weekend (it was nice, thanks…nobody got hurt or hassled, which probably means it was a waste of time, but I hope not), etc. The way things like homeland security and keeping our country to itself (with the dissolution of the UN in the works, we might get our wish sooner than later) and watching out when crossing border with your family because the CIA is watching etc., all this isn’t new…it’s the return point of a circle. I’ll bet Mort could (and will!) recycle most of his Eisenhower-era jokes and make them hit just as hard today as they did in 1960!

It was at that moment that it hit me, one of those six-things-at-once ideas all cohere in a way you KNOW won’t ever translate to paper. Go read Eddie Flowers’ description of how he named his band CRAWLSPACE, and the way trashy "Twist" movie rip offs, Vietnam era horror films, drugs and other forces all cohered in a moment of almost unexplainable clarity. Similarly, a moment hit me here, a line was drawn through all my tastes and habits these last 12 days or more or less. This confluence of lines, search for demos to tapes ripped to disc, Mort Sahl to David Cross (no comparison in styles [sorry Dave, but when you line it up, Mort’s king shit and you are a stain], but the worries are similar), Canadian metal, traveled by way of Moscow to explain to President Bush why we’re acting like the coked up asshole at the end of the UN bar, and how that’s NOT good for anybody, waiting for the gasman to fucking Project TIPS us all or to get brained in the next march (or a nice arrest to sully our hopes of ever getting a decent job!), Mort standing overhead and attacking with the only weapon left after congress closes its suggestion box, the JOKE, and the way we (well, "they") can write a song called "Domestic Surveillance" and make it mean just as much in ’64 as ’03…it all connected squarely and purely in these grooves. My rosetta stone, like the solution had in a dream. You wake up and say to yourself, "What the hell kind of solution is that? That tells me NOTHING!" Still, you mull it over for days afterward. These pieces almost fit together, and they almost seem to explain it all! But since when has art ever done that, or even claimed that it COULD do that? Only the foolheaded get their political agenda from pop or popstars anyway…read a book, Trotsky, your liberation golem is a little bony right now.

BARBARA DWYER - The Amazing Ron Brewer - Donkey Man

This may seem like kind of an arbitrary choice in the Pumf library. I mean, there’s still Ceramic Hobs releases to review, stuff done more recently than 1987 too! Well, what can I say…I really like Barbara Dwyer. Actually, I don’t know Barbara Dwyer, but some friends I go to the bar with can vouch for her.

Anyway, Barbara Dwyer was a one-off project with Stan Batcow and some other pseudonym’d folks. The roots of this project can be heard on the BILE! Tape (reviewed eventually), when it was going to be a band, or something else not as good. Well, it never panned out, but in the interest of keeping the name going, Stan solicited tapes from all participants, and made something different. This tape is a collage of stuff…literally, stuff. Refuse. Gems. Bits. Crumbs. Stuff off the TV, people talking and ranting, bands playing or practicing, bits from the movie of the week, noises, whooshes. Y’know, stuff. All grandly and simply edited into a tape that is both listenable and very, very muddy. Like if P16.D4 got really hammered and decided to futz with tapes and home movies instead of culturally "Significant" things. I say hammered/drunk not because this sounds drunken (or poorly constructed), but because it would probably take a night of strong drink to loosen P16.D4 enough to get them this personal and fun. There’s jams TV shows/game shows/The Three Stooges (it’s easy to get wrapped up in a tape of a linear plot, and very easy to disorient with just a few whisks of the editing razor), hot guitar freakouts, a great collage of ‘30s jazz sounds, some mumbledygook that I couldn’t make out near the end of the tape that goes on for a long time, and more. If you give any sort of a shit about getting C-60s in the mail that make you want to root through your own home tape recordings and stitch a few of ‘em together, Frankenstein-style (or even send them off to Stan for a collabo), you should get on this one.

CERAMIC HOBS - Straight Outta Rampton




CERAMIC HOBS - Psychiatric Underground
JOB FINDER & THE MENTAL CRUELTY - Homunculus Construction In 42 Easy Step
CERAMIC HOBS - 24 Hour Drink Binge/Alcopop Madness
HOWL IN THE TYPEWRITER - Going Down The Cat And Trifle
CERAMIC HOBS - Ultramont!