Camberwell Now – “Working Nights” (1986)
This Heat casts a long shadow, and rightfully so–their blend of the edge and energy of punk with longer-brewing strains of art-rock tradition created one of the most lasting archetypes of post-punk. But an unfortunate side effect is that their brief years of existence can obscure the fact that drummer and mastermind Charles Hayward has continued to make riveting, artful, and often beautiful work for nearly thirty years since This Heat disbanded. His compositions have tended to stretch out a bit from the punch of This Heat circa ‘Deceit,’ favoring the atmosphere of the bands earlier work and the rhythms of something like “Health & Efficiency,” but virtually none of the judiciousness and visceral impact was lost regardless of minor production shifts over the years. “Working Nights” represents one of the (numerous) high-water marks in Hayward’s oeuvre, This Heat included, reaching musical and emotional crescendos rarely matched in rock music. It’s a political work, I think, about the worker and industry; but it also explores more mysterious ground, the emotional level of someone who feels trapped in a machine that has no regard for its components, and the clattering, ghostly world in which the night-shift worker can live. The track also happens to presage, perhaps moreso than any of This Heat’s work, the cyclical, instruments-as-loops groove of the best of 1990s “post-rock” like Disco Inferno, Stereolab, Tortoise, or the various Thrill Jockey proponents–all from the unfashionable year of 1986. [Charles Hawyard and This Heat are featured in numerous mixes at Musicophilia that seek to expand upon their unique sounds.]
L’infonie – “Mantra” (1970) [‘In C’ by Terry Riley]
Presaging the rocking work Terry Riley himself would undertake with John Cale the following year, Canadian avant-garde rock-and-composition group L’infonie transformed Riley’s ‘In C’ into a rollicking, funky epic. Maintaining the guiding principles of the piece–53 short phrases in the key of C, played in order, each segment played the number of times chosen by each performer–L’infonie’s “Mantra” achieves the ever-shifting, push-and-pull patterns traditionally associated with the work. Their innovation was to disintegrate remaining lines between avant-garde, intellectual compositional music and popular music, adding double drum kits, electric bass, and percussion instrumentation, arguably changing the piece enough to justify the new name. They don’t quite complete the cycle–the tape ran out just around 30 minutes–but while it lasts it’s a hell of a ride. This probably shouldn’t be the first version of ‘In C’ you hear, but if you know and love other versions, this one will make you appreciate it anew.
Michael Rother with Jaki Liebezeit – “Zeni” (1977)
While I would say Klaus Dinger‘s post-Neu! work (especially via La Dusseldorf, whom you can check out here) is generally fuller and more energetic than Michael Rother’s, the latter was buoyed by the involvement of Can‘s Jaki Liebezeit, who ably brings Dinger’s Motorik drumming to Rother’s airy and stirring melodic tendencies with the guitar and synthesizer. Other tracks are more representative of the flying-down-the-Autobahn side of Neu!, while this one is closer to the bands more contemplative, minor-key work, with Liebezeit emphasising the toms. [For more Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
Steve Reich – “Piano Phase” (1967)
Don’t miss this one. “Piano Phase” is as much an experience as a piece of music, and as an experience it profoundly affected the way I heard music, how I decided what was music. It gave me permission, as it were, to follow an impulse that was already growing in me when I first heard it age 20: to admit I loved sound first and foremost; if sound took a song form, great, but if not, that ruled nothing out. What mattered was the effect it had on my ears themselves, in my mind, in my heart–and a repeating shape could have as much of an effect as painterly ballad.
I still tend to perceive Reich’s music (especially the phase-based work) as shapes, visually as much as sonically, and I think this is because its constituent elements are so simple and laid bare at the very outset. “Piano Phase,” a simple duet run of twelve notes, played in a staccato, unsentimental fashion: clear, precise, perhaps slightly mechanical. And then these simple elements, with very few changes internally over the course of 20 minutes, are ever so slightly shifted: and instantly an ever-changing set of new, far more complex shapes begin to emerge, as the basic parts continue to slide past one another. And these evolving shapes are anything but mechanical, producing emotional reactions in me that are subtle in their nature, but wholly visceral.
It moves me as no other Modern artform can, because music is never primarily functional; more than any medium, a “functional” conceit no matter how austere must take temporal and emotional form, and beauty need not be rejected or destroyed. I find it fascinating that every time I hear the piece, the shapes are different than previous times, based on the volume listened at, the quality of the speakers, with headphones on a loud bus or in a forest–this is music that technically but more importantly musically is reborn each time it’s heard. [Reich is heard in several of my very favorite mixes at Musicophilia, which attempt to mirror Reich’s work in creating near-physical reality from sound.]
Link Wray – “Rumble Mambo” (1958)
You have to love that just-behind-the-beat swagger of Wray’s guitar, complimented in this version of “Rumble” with a martial dance beat that feels a little punk, and some sultry-sweet sax. This is the very essence of “cool” taking shape.
Smashing Pumpkins – “Starla” (1992)
Billy Corgan has grown down, into a pathetic satire of a 15-year-old internet Goth, a 40-something grade-A loser: yeah yeah. But back circa “Drown” and “Glynis” and this track, for a brief couple of years, he really had a fantastic sound going. And I don’t just mean the impressively grand rock styling–I mean the sounds themselves. The phasing, the distortions, the endless-sustain sounds he could create shaped my young ears toward an awareness of production-as-creation as much as ‘Pet Sounds’ or ‘Sgt. Peppers,” and made me think about dynamics and staging and all the stuff that eventually lead me far, far away from anything one would call “rock music”. But you know–coming back to this epic after many years, I find I actually like it a lot on its own terms. I’m not sure what any of it means, but I think it has an energy that doesn’t boil down to mere “rawk” pyrotechnics–in its own, utterly artless/funkless way it’s actually quite a groove, emphasising the expansion that comes with repetition as much as any disco or Reich.
Debile Menthol – “Go-Jaunit” (1981)
This Swiss group walks the fine, sometimes precarious line between RIO-style prog and post-punk with great success. While generally more Henry Cow or ‘Red’-era King Crimson than This Heat, they avoid most of the noodly show-off pitfalls of ur-prog, and instead give it a little muscular restraint and humor as they speed along. This album, which I heard thanks to Mutant Sounds, reminds me most of Bill Laswell’s Material or the Belgians in the Honeymoon Killers/Aqsak Maboul, bouncing saxophones and vamping keyboards with odd percussion and kinetic, almost entirely rhythm-oriented guitar and bass. I imagine if there really were Seychellian Circuscore Post-Punk, I imagine it might sound rather like Debile Menthol. [Check out the whole record at Mutant Sounds.]
Creation – “Making Time” (1967)
Gotta love that scuzzy, chunky bowed guitar, that put-on snarl that can’t hide the fact that this is a perfect pop song. Every once in a while, Musicophilia is prepared to rock.
Gamelan Semar Pegulingan Club – “Gambang” (1972)
Apparently representative of an older, more traditional style of gamelan from Bali, to Western ears this still sounds like the future, even after Steve Reich, speed metal, math-rock, d’n’b, etc. Nothing I’ve ever heard matches the rhythmic intensity and complexity of the faster styles of gamelan, especially not whist being so beautiful: those ringing bells, the floating flute lines, the subtle drumming, those deep resonating gong-like bells. Played by an orchestra or a small group, it sounds like it could only have been played by a hundred-armed computer with a soul.
La Düsseldorf – “La Düsseldorf” (1976)
I can’t think of a better way to capture the feeling of a launch into new territory than with a motorik rocket from Klaus Dinger’s post-Neu! project, La Düsseldorf. All three of their albums have recently been reissued by Water, and are thus quite affordable again. Which means, as always–please, if you like it, buy it from a local-owned shop.