PUSHOVERS - Loft Sessions

Listening to this debut release by a group of improvising musicians from the Alma/St. Louis area of mid-Michigan reminds me of a story from the intro to the book "Free Jazz" by Ekkehard Jost. He tells of a jazz musician that was invited to a free jazz session. "You can play anything you want," the other musicians tell him, "there are no rules." The jazz musician proceeded to play a very straightforward and traditional version of "Michael Row The Boat Ashore" (or some similar song) about 35 times in a row before being asked to leave. Just a quick reminder that no rules is a really hard thing for most people to mean.

I mention this only because The Pushovers, from mid-Michigan, start with some assumptions about free improvisation that would make most "serious" exponents of this genre blanche in horror. For instance, a sampler is used. Presets on keyboards (what would the neighbors think?). Harmonica. Electronic drum pads. A sense of humor (NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!). Itís the kind of free improv album that could bring those of us that burned out on the form years ago back into the fold.

Starting with some very mellow interactions between acoustic guitars and electronics on "PíSwing" (including a great electric piano sound [sample?] that soothes me greatly each time I hear itÖsee also the ivories on "Bitches Brew"), the group pushes for more confrontation in "Mosaic China," including the start of some metronomic drum pad usage, clud clud clud clud. Free improv purists will probably turn this record off now, but this is actually when things start getting really good! "Electric Boogaloo" turns the drum pads into something thatís neither a drum jam nor simply fiddling with sounds, but a series of clicks and clacks that keep the flow without imposing structure. The end of "I Like The Way You 3-Pete" has someone yell "Take it, Pete!" followed by some of the sweetest vocal work Iíve heard outside of the Sun City Girls. Most free improv vocalisms either sound unbearably caucasian or unbearably childish, an extension of the first time a three year old hears its voice on a tape recorder and spends the next day going "Glee glaa glooo buh buh buh" into miles of C-60s. Pete (I assume)ís vocals are an amazing high croon that gets the job done, an endless mantra on one word that would probably go right to the soul of an aging Malcolm Mooney, the original vocalist of Can. The band scats something alongside, but a solo might have been better here. The uncredited "China Dub" is a bonus track by label head (and "Pete"ís older brother) Joe Johnston. While it kinda reverses the point of dub (which, to my way of thinking, is more about subtraction than addition), itís some pretty potent damage, and really, any further use of those great electric keyboards is okay by me.

As I said before, this is recommended especially to people with a good sense of humor (not as in "youíll need it to endure this" but "youíll need it to get with this"), and especially to people who thought they would never want to hear another free improv album in their life, even though it used to be all they listened to. Also recommended to fans of present-day Crawlspace, which shares a similarity of sound AND of a desire to make new music that is blissfully ignorant of the "right" way to do it. Sell your Emanem collection and buy real estate in both Slippy Town and Uranium City! Oh yeah, and a gold star for the dual-layered meta-Pettibon styled artwork.

JOEZEF K - Nuclear War 3" CDR

Everything old is new again. Guess what? We get to worry about death by nuclear war again! Granted, this time, it may be us and not The Great Red Menace that initiates things, and it could just as easily be depleted uranium as nerve agents, but regardless, itís starting to feel like the day before "The Day After" again. Fortunately, Joezef K has been doing the worrying for us for many years now. While we were happily skipping through the Clinton administration, getting more piercings and armband tattoos while polishing our fashionably nihilist rhetoric, Joezef still realized that death by radiation poising will suck just as much now as it would have in 1984 (book or anno).

This 3"CDR is broken down into six sections, though is essentially one unbroken work. Over a bed of tapes of atomic bomb "Safety" filmstrips (duck and cover, loose lips sink ships, mineshaft gap, preemptive deterrent), K waxes agonizingly over top with his trusty six-string. Sorta like Neil Young covering Loren Mazzacane, though Ashtray Navigationís guitarring past comes to mind as well. The tapes tooÖeven the digital manipulations sound as old and subterranean as your friendly neighborhood bomb shelter (in most towns Iíve been to, it was usually the basement of the town bank. You can know in an emergency by the little metal plaque outside with the radiation symbol on it.). The guitar attack is a series of smeary stabbing motions, often two or three at once. Although some fancy pedals are utilized, this is no Henry Kaiser digital wank-a-thon. No way, itís the blues! Not "Blues Club" blues, but canít-get-out-of-bed blues. To quote a recent Jandek song title, itís blues turned black.

And the samples! The track where a spokesman decries the Soviets for their preemptive strikes against small nations is very creepy, and although Joe didnít intend it as such (heís been working on this for a few years now), itís more relevant than ever. Just remember, this path weíre on, as we told the USSR not 40 years ago, is "a great leap backwardÖtoward anarchy and disaster!" This yearís soundtrack to drinking away the nightly news.