Alessandro Cortini – Risveglio

Alessandro Cortini – RisveglioAlessandro Cortini

Hospital Productions
Street: 07.27
Allesandro Cortini = Cluster + early Tangerine Dream

Armed with only a Roland TB-303 synth and an analog sequencer, Allesandro Cortini (Nine Inch Nails, SONOIO, Modwheelmood) creates a series of thick textural instrumentals based in techniques not usually employed with said instrument (the inverse would be Fatboy Slim’s “Everybody Needs a 303” and every acid house record ever made). The rough-edged “La Sveglia” builds with a chugging arpeggiation and then dips back into a deep bass darkness near the end, with Cortini carefully applying subtle filters throughout. This template is applied across the album with many of the tracks veering near “pretty” before Cortini and his 303 sprinkle just enough pitch drift, microtonal counter-melody and resonance to keep your ears’ attention. Listening as a whole, the disc exudes a hypnotic, claustrophobic feel, as though you’re paralyzed but on enough painkillers to not mind being in a cocoon. –Dave Madden

“Mirror People,” “Love Me,” “Christian Says,” Slice of Life”—how many times have I and many of (gross) my generation heard these songs during the past 30-plus years? 

Bunches and bunches.

I’ve watched the tendrils of Bauhaus/Tones on Tail/Love and Rockets weave through psychedelia, electronica, glam, weird pop, dub, blues, jazz and techniques wholly unique to this quartet: Peter Murphy‘s star-of-stage-and-theater-esque vampire prowl; Daniel Ash‘s buzz saw guitar tone and an ownership of four chords under a feedback lightning storm; Kevin Haskins‘ hi-hat and/or tom-heavy propulsion; David J‘s suit and tie, shades and fretless P-bass slink. 

Since, like, 1988, I have literally watched—with my eyeballs—variations on this theme, from a Bauhaus reunion tour to Love and Rockets (many times), Ash and Murphy solo, Murphy as Dalis [sic] CarJ with The Jazz Butcher, at living room shows and as a producer on some friends’ album (I had the opportunity to have him coach me on Theremin and bowed cymbal work on said record—yay for me).

These guys keep coming back from film jobs, solo stuff and seeming retirement because, I would hope, they still enjoy playing this old music. Sure, the money is a driving factor, but that paycheck is only there because of their jump-in-front-of-a-train, diehard fans. I guess audience interest is why any musician gets work, duh. But with bands born during the spikes, combat boots, feral hair, clove-cigarette cultish era of teen angst, the relationship is a different type of cemented bond. Why? Blanket statement:

  1. This music probably saved these kids
  2. This music defined these kids
  3. This music was, at times, these kids’ only friend
  4. This music got them through at least one breakup where they were the one dumped in a horrible way
  5. These kids took a lot of shit from assholes over this music

(And, for me, Tones on Tail, the most peculiar of the fold, is the reason I purchased a four-track and started making music.)

Unlike whatever current pop flavor is filling stadiums full of people who have no qualms stealing the flavor’s shit before it’s out, we Bauhaus fans will spend extra on exclusive vinyl, the Japanese import, the Argentine remix and whatever merch we can(not) afford. We are reverent, do not talk over the band, and might seem a bit bored because we are putting each note in a mental catalog to later compare and contrast with previous shows. We will cough up $100 plus airfare plus sleep-deprivation to see an incarnation of this 39-year-old outfit.

Four-hundred and ninety-nine people and I recently did some variety of the latter.

Poptone is a collective of Haskins, Ash and Haskins’s daughter, Diva Dompe, replacing L&R’s’ J (and one-time collaborator Glenn Campling) on bass. The group came together based on an early-morning “I need to play my body of work again” epiphany from Ash. With seeds in place, they practiced and quietly advertised two shows at Los Angeles’ (circa Glendale) Swing House, a well-equipped studio with a soundstage largely utilized as a practice space for bands prepping to go on tour. The promise of these gigs was “songs from Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets and Daniel Ash”—and a rumor of The Bubblemen stopping by.

Those two shows sold out in a matter of hours.* No one who purchased this $100 ticket (accompanied with a shirt and sticker) knew how this facelift would sound. Ash has had an obsession with dubstep over the past few years, Dompe runs the gamut—from work with partner Matthewdavid to bedroom project twee to dark jangly stuff with her sister to ambient meditation—and Haskins is involved in commercial work. This isn’t the same experience as seeing the Rolling Stones who wheel out hits that sound exactly how they have since the ’60s (no offense, Rolling Stones). You get the point: We took a leap of faith based on our passion for these songs and our idols. And we never, ever want to have our hearts broken by some weird interpretation or otherwise fucked-up version of the gems we guard in our hearts.

From the first few engulfing tremolo strums by Ash on the cover of “Heartbreak Hotel,” it became evident that his loud style will always be a murderous dragon of augmenting proportions. Haskins, behind his hybrid kit of acoustic drums, electronic pads and mid-’90s samplers, still hits hard, manages a precise 16th-note cymbal ostinato while juggling the punctuated blips and sound effects (he snuck in a guitar lick from Bauhaus’ “The Three Shadows” on “Movement of Fear,” which made me smile and think “I heard that!”).

All good so far, but how will young Diva Dompe fit in?! There are many haunted shoes to fill. Looking over the floor, I saw and heard—and felt—a communal, emotional exhale of the breath we had all held before she hit the first notes of her fuzz-tone fueled Rickenbacker. Hands slowly raised, whoops and hollers of “Diva” happened.

The sight and sound is an amazing dichotomy. Dompe is tall, lanky, graceful, blonde hair down her back, thoughts focused, meditative stare (she is an expert in that field) while owning the same look of innocence her dad still sports. She isn’t moving much while her fingers gently pluck like a jazz player, but the sound …

It is huge. She has her own dragon (and she has definitely been wood shedding these songs).

After a few tracks it was clear that Dompe is the fresh coat of paint that 1) helps these latter-’50s fuckers still want to play this stuff, and 2) now gives us middle-aged fuckers a new God in the Bauhaus mythology to stew over. For the fifth song, Tones on Tail’s “Happiness,” Ash played bass while Dompe stood at a floor tom, pounding out the timpani hits at the cadences of the original. On the record, there is a sexy little synth line that breaks up the verses. Instead, Dompe and Ash imitated that gesture with a tongue-twisting vocal scat. The only word that comes to mind is “cute,” but not in a maudlin way. Fresh paint.

And that aesthetic continued throughout the night. You could see proud papa Kevin smiling at his daughter when she nailed difficult cues. To Ash’s glam star, T-Rex-inspired growl, Dompe offers a fairy-like complement to vocal harmonies—even on the over-sexed cover of Adam Ant’s “Physical.” For “Lions” and “Twist,” two of the more intimate and odd offerings from the Tones on Tail library, Dompe fired up her laptop and MIDI controller and hunkered down on organ sounds and driving drum machine. I know I’ve already belabored the point, but having my aloof expectations fulfilled with “Oh, that’s how you’re going to pull off that sound” made me glad I didn’t dismiss this gig as an “open the coffin, dig out the music, let’s do it again” moment. We already do that plenty with Mozart, Brahms, Santana, Journey, AC/DC etc.

The other fun experience was watching my friend Oliver react. Though steeped in the Bauhaus oeuvre, he never had the opportunity to see more than Daniel Ash in concert. At any pause, he would smile and whisper, “This is so good.” From a middle-aged, jaded, saw-this-before, I’m-here-for-music-grafted-into- my-bones fucker, that’s all I ask. It was so good.

*A bunch of North America dates are happening, including June 21 at The Depot in Salt Lake City.

Meat Beat Manifesto: Travelogue Live ’05
Producer Jack Dangers/Editor Ben Stokes

MVD Visual
Street: 11.21.06

Big-beat pioneers Meat Beat Manifesto and their eminent racks of electronics were in town last year. Did you sleep on it? Unfortunately, there is no way to properly replicate the once-in-a-blue-moon multimedia experience of the current MBM quartet (featuring spectacular live digital drummer Lynn Farmer) performing a heap of greatest hits alongside interactive video. But that didn’t stop MBM/Tino Corp. member and videographer extraordinaire Ben Stokes from doing his damnedest to put you in the middle of this hybrid of tour footage, sound-checks and anecdotal documentaries, all fused together with opulent 5.1 sound mixed by MBM overlord Jack Dangers. Stokes does an amazing job at making even equipment assembly seem interesting, “scratching” both video and audio, visually narrating the band’s energy and otherwise editing together montages via neato optical tricks and multiple angles. For example, we see shaky cameras and water bottles under the influence of MBM’s intense low-end frequencies; Dangers, just before taking the stage, introduces the film with a “Hello Cleveland!” which Stokes promptly rewinds to show how the hell they put the live show together; “The Light Incident” is a slow motion, zoomed-in-for-maximum-oh-no! account of a house light crashing onto Dangers’ laptop in Tuscon. However, the virtuosity of the edit doesn’t overshadow the point of Travelogue Live ’05: a fantastically talented and innovative group that puts on a stunning show. For the actual performances, Stokes is careful to show the right things at the right time, avoiding amateur, inexperienced errors of “guitarist is soloing, let’s show the singer instead” that you see in so many concert videos (cough cough Glastonbury 2003). Big league sound, professional footage, behind the scenes with your favorite band,  this is the next best thing to being there. – Dave Madden

33 1/3 Greatest Hits, Volume 1
Edited by David Barker

Street: 10.30

As the disclaimer at the beginning of this book advises, the 33 1/3 Greatest Hit series is not for everyone. People who canonize their favorite albums, feeling that their commitment to and investigation of said discs (i.e. the search for the actual recording speed of The Cure’s The Top and the reason that Robert Smith didn’t catch this before mastering) gives them some sort of ownership, eat these books for three squares and a snack. Others will find the dedication of an entire tome to one record a tad heavy-handed, pedantic and verbose. With that in mind, this collection includes a chapter from each of the first twenty volumes of 33 1/3, just enough to get you started. The editor’s genius behind such a gesture is two-fold. He knows that those who aren’t already addicted and own each book will shortly do so after reading a few slices; you might only own those covering Meat is Murder and Unknown Pleasures, but the geek in you will even care about Abba Gold and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn before you’re through. Second, those with even a modicum of interest in the music-making process (those who only glance at magazines for their source of music info) will be able to sustain their interest with these Reader’s Digest portions. At the very least, the hot pink cover and the featured cartoonish hot chick will provide a nice contrast to your theory library and impress the girl you manage to bring back to your lair. – Dave Madden

Cult Rock Posters
Roger Crimlis and Alwyn W. Turner

Billboard Books
Street: 10.06.06

Self-appointed Knight of Glam, Bryan Ferry, once said, “Something not only has to sound good, but also has to feel good and look good.” This is indeed true of most musical fads, but particularly anyone involved in the glam, punk and new-wave movements. This book is a collection of posters, album art and hand-printed fliers that celebrates the decade between 1972 to 1982, a time when the clothes often overshadowed musical talent and defined sonic preferences. Not simply eye candy, the authors spend considerable effort on the philosophy of music-making during this time, relating economical and cultural influence to the evolution of “the look” of bands in the genres as well as to the artists who designed the posters. Pioneers, trendsetters and lesser known acts (i.e. The Adverts, The Only Ones) as well as their successive benefactors are interestingly compared and contrasted. American versus UK punk and the media’s thoughts on the players in the game are discussed at great length. Chapter four focuses on “Identity,” quoting several artists who perpetrate the idea that early punk was really about being a rock star, not a political herald (paraphrasing Adam Ant: “The wardrobe may have changed, but the desire to dress-up was every bit as pronounced/the first wave of British punks was just as dedicated to the notion of stardom as (Marc) Bolan had ever been”). However, the book is also serious eye-candy, offering all the famous Iggy Pop and Bowie ch-ch-changes, classic DIY handbills from early PIL, The Damned and Siouxsie and the Banshees (et cetera!!) gigs and staged walls of what appears to be the bedroom of a teenage fan who, in each successive chapter, tears down and tacks up new artist memorabilia as his tastes evolve. As learned as it is beautiful, this tome is a solid document of the era – Dave Madden

Moogfest 2006 Live
MVD Visual

Street: 07.17

Moogfest 2006 Live serves as a sequel of sorts to the 2004 feature, Moog, sort of a now-watch-these-instruments-in-action presentation. However, whereas the former release focuses on artists who have or currently use various Moog synthesizers to push music forward (Meat Beat Manifesto, Charlie Clouser, Luke Vibert), this feature stars only the veterans (ex-The Cure‘s Roger O’Donnell being the anomaly here). Alternating between interviews and performances, the film makers first question folks such as Bernie Worrell, Keith Emerson and Jan Hammer about how the late Bob Moog‘s contributions changed their lives then back up these arguments with performances from Moogfest in New York’s B.B. King Blues Club. Unfortunately, the aforementioned artists’ mystique and the interest in the art of jamming-on-a-synth-as-if-it-were-a-guitar faded years ago. We’re left with crusty old men making faces,  the type one makes when he’s really into what he’s playing, and bending mod wheels alongside an even more dated version of funk-fusion. Turntablist DJ Logic, performing nowhere near a Moog, provides an interesting angle to Worrell’s set, but he’s inevitably overshadowed by Bernie’s solo lines (played, oddly enough, on a Kurzweil, not a Moog!); Emerson reworks a version of his hits as potential energy drips off an untouched immense modular synth behind him. Hammer’s enthusiasm oozes and hair flies with each squelch and arpeggiation, but it isn’t enough to save this movie. With lackluster performances and nothing more than superficial anecdotes (and no extras), this DVD is a highly disappointing and rather insulting so-called homage to a great man. Stick with the prequel. – Dave Madden

Stag Hare
Black Medicine Music
A. Star
Street: June 2008
Stag Hare = Grouper + La Monte Young + Freescha
Chirping birds, folk guitar, non-Western percussion and droning static harmonies � all of these aspects usually equal something you try your hardest to ignore while a Yoga instructor orders you to relax during Savasana. So why is Black Medicine Music, a disc forged with these ingredients, so interesting? Garrick “Stag Hare” Biggs (and local guests such as Tenants of Balthazar’s Castle’s Michael Biggs and Aye Aye’s Andrew Alba) beats the newage rap through a clever amalgamation of said elements, heaping doses of reverb, delay, edits and tricks that allow the music to suggest rather than smack the listener over the head. Throughout this album melodies phase in and out with swirling arpeggiations, time-stretched guitar work, buried-in-the-mix singing, vocal garbles and chugging atmospheric rhythms formed from tinkling metal and acoustic/sampled drums. Biggs’s attention to detail is like turning canned responses and otherwise ordinary words into poetry.