Michael Karoli & Polly Eltes – “Home Truths” (1984)
Michael Karoli is sometimes easy to miss (for me) in his contributions to Can–dominated by Jaki Liebezeit’s incredibly inventive beats and Holger Czukay’s sonic textures–and I’ll confess, his soloing is occasionally the thing that detracts from the focus and force of later Can. But he seemingly followed some of the same obsessions of his bandmates, post-Can–especially reggae/dub and a penchance for a blissed-out quality of songwriting. His lone post-Can LP, with Polly Eltes (on whom I can find little information, but who apparently sang on Eno’s ‘Taking Tiger Mountain,’) will be a major find for fans of the Raincoats ‘Odyshape’ and after albums, the Slits’ “Earthbeat” phase, and the Rough Trade/west London sound in general: it’s playful, percussive, warm, sophisticated but unaffected. This is one of few post-Can projects that seems readily in-print and available (along with Liebezeit’s Phantom Band’s third LP, ‘Nowhere’) and is expanded with three fantastic tracks not on the original 1984 issue, so be sure to pick it up if you enjoy this track. [For more Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
China Shop – “Kowtow” (1983)
Another great track originally unearthed by Hyped2Death, China Shop’s “Kowtow” is what psychedelic could’ve meant in the 80s, instead of a (usually) twee indie imitation of the late 60s. It ebbs and flows in a woozy way, but it’s not a purple haze–it has a New York post-punk edge and New Pop catchiness to its tripiness that places it pretty much out of time. China Shop’s nearly-complete work–a seemingly uneven but always interesting and often surprising oeuvre–is available at the nifty digital reissue label, Anthology Recordings.
The Carter Family – “Wildwood Flower” (1935)
Music so sturdy, simple, direct, and affecting is rarely achieved, especially that stands the test of so many decades. The clean melodies of the Carter Family are clearly from another time, virtually another world, yet they call forth an elemental, essential musical understanding in any American. And perhaps they tap into the foundational strains of “folk musics” everywhere, and speak universally.
Only Ones – “Lovers Of Today” (1979)
I don’t know if you call it post-punk or power-pop, but this is rock the way I like it. Smart minds through dumb drums, muscular guitar lines that are surprisingly svelte, working-class punk snarl and swagger that’s read a book or two, all rough-and-tumble (“we ain’t got feelings, we got no love, we ain’t got nothing to say”) that’s raw and emotionally affecting. There’s a little Television in there, if you want your art-rock roots.
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.
The Embarrassment – “After the Disco” (Original) (1979)
This is one of those long-lost, unreleased-for-years gems that really makes you scratch your head and wonder, “who shelved this and what were they thinking?” It’s got all the manic frenzy and nerdy humor of Kansas’ best band The Embarrassment‘s early singles (and comes from the same sessions). It’s wonderfully wrong and catchy, the rhythms of the instruments and the vocals never seeming quite aligned but made all the more compelling for it. This is the sort of joy that post-punk is all about. The ‘Heyday‘ compendium seems to go in and out of print, but if you find it, buy it quickly. [The Embarrassment are featured on the ‘Amplifier‘ mix from the ‘1981‘ box set at Musicophilia.]
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.
Flatt & Scruggs – “We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart” (1949)
I don’t know much about bluegrass and country music–but I know I tend toward the pre-electric forms that emphasis vocal harmony. This track from Flatt & Scruggs has always stuck with me. It has the sweetness and simplicity of earlier Carter Family tracks, wonderful banjo playing, and a nice bit of fiddle.
Duncan Browne – “Journey” (1973)
Browne’s first album is a lovely little record that calls to mind Donovan, Nick Drake, and that misty pastoral folk revival feeling. But on his second, self-titled LP from 1973, slightly less expected elements begin to filter into the strongly-composed singer-songwriter material–don’t let the petroleum-jelly-on-the-lense cover photo deter you. The sophisticated guitar work, hand-claps, percussion, bubbling synth lines and choral coloration on “Journey” provide a good introduction to a wonderful and underrated album. [Duncan Browne is featured in this ‘Le Tour du Monde‘ mix at Musicophilia.]
Rail Band – “Konowale” (1985)
I doubt any other government-sponsored music has ever been half as groovy as this made in Mali by the Rail Band (also known as the Super Rail Band of the Hotel Buffet de la Gare, Bamako). This was one of the first African pop albums I ever owned as a teenager, and I still love it. Gliding along on a fretless bassline Magazine and would swoon for, my closest points of reference for this track are High-Life with its celebratory feel and sunny brass arrangements and percussion; and 70s funk-soundtracks and early disco during the bridge. Hopefully this will send you into the weekend feeling right.
Memphis Minnie – “Ain’t No Use Tryin’ to Tell on Me” (1935)
People talk about Betty Davis as a huge influence on Missy Elliott; but Memphis Minnie was an empowered woman who didn’t mince words, a good half-century before either of them. This track conveys personal-politicking that wouldn’t sound unfamiliar to anyone who has felt blackmailed even in 2009. Lizzy Douglas’ lyrics simply told the truth, in direct and precise language. Plus the music is still catchy as hell, 70+ years on.
El Kinto – “Don Pascual” (1968)
I was turned onto El Kinto by the proprietor of Twisted Village in Cambridge, Mass. and I must thank him for the perfect soundtrack for a trip to the beaches of the Cape on a lovely spring day. Despite being apparent linchpins of Uruguay’s early rock/psych-candombe fusion scene, there’s seemingly very little information about them out there, other than that they really never recorded, and exist on record now only through several live-for-tv performances that were miraculously rescued and released a decade after their creation. It’s a good thing–and the music tells you all you need to know: beautiful, spare, careful melodies and harmonies, understated rythms, unadorned guitar work. [A compendium of El Kinto’s known surviving recordings is in and out or print, but very worth hunting down. El Kinto is featured on one of my favorite mixes at Musicophilia.]
Big Black – “Steelworker” (1982)
Albini was already doing his dark weirdo shit in ’82, and while you’d say it’s post-punk in the big umbrella, he’s doing something that sounds pretty unique–rooted perhaps in Suicide’s bare-minimal synthetic beats, but with unabashed single-note distorted guitar (if not to say “soloing”) over it, and lyrics that are more brutal and less comic-book violence. Not everyday listening, but compelling if you can get in touch with a little anger.
Bukka White – “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing” (1940)
Bukka White has, to me, the most unique, identifiable sound I’ve heard in pre-War blues besides Skip James, both vocally and instrumentally. Go buy the most complete collection you can find, and dig in. He can convey anguish, joy, aggravation and friendship not just in the same 3-minute song (ostensibly about doing a particular dance) but seemingly in a single word or chord.
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.
Low + Dirty Three – “Down By The River” (2001)
As low has subtley thawed their musical tendencies and expanded their emotional qualities over the last 15 years, one byproduct has been that they’ve become one of the most successful “cover bands” around, able to make a piece their own. Here they stretch out Neil Young’s murder ballad into a itchy, dark burn for nearly seven minutes before purifying into their Carter Family-like emotional immediacy, making the song sound both experimental and like an Appalachian traditional. I’m not so keen on Dirty Three normally, but Low gives them a solid center around with their loose style fits effectively, adding a great deal of atmosphere. [Low is mixed here, here, and here at Musicophilia.]
Friction – “Cycle Dance” (1980)
Friction almost literally imported No Wave and the late 70s New York post-punk vibe to Japan, with two members having played with James Chance in the Contortions. Still, they’re no carbon copy, bringing a more rythmic emphasis than Mars or DNA, especially on this track, with its rolling double-tom drumming and chanted vocals. I don’t imagine this band’s records were absent from the Boredom’s record collections. This album is currently available as a fairly costly “LP sleeve” Japanese CD import, but for fans of the New York discord, it’s worth it.
Erkin Koray – “Sir” (1974)
Erkin Koray is touted as “Turkey’s Jimi Hendrix,” but for me, while the Arabesque guitar lines are compelling, the interest is often in the beats, the baselines, and the clean funk-psych-prog way the music is produced. This one starts out with a decidedly Turkish, almost traditional groove (were it not for the dancing electric bassline), moves into rock-out territory, and back again in just under three minutes. [Koray is featured here in a mix of miniatures from the early ’70s at Musicophilia.]
Ut – “Safe Burning” (1989)
Despite getting started in New York in 1978, most of Ut’s recordings come from England and the mid- to late-1980s. That’s ok–the No Wave spirit stayed strong with Ut, so this recording from 1989 is still prime post-punk, for fans of Sonic Youth, Au Pairs, Glenn Branca, Y Pants, and the more ambitious sides of Riot Grrrl and revivalists like Erase Errata. Their last two albums, ‘In Gut’s House’ and ‘Griller’ (from which this track is taken) were reissued last year, and both are great. [Ut will be featured on an upcoming series of further ‘Post Post-Punk‘ mixes at Musicophilia.]