Kim Gordon – Murdered Out (Matador single, 2016)

‘Murdered Out’ is a new collaboration by former Sonic Youth bassist / guitarist Kim Gordon and producer Justin Raisen, featuring Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint on drums.

The track was inspired by Gordon’s move to LA and her observation that so many cars were being resprayed to a black matte finish, a rejection of expected norms and an anti-corporate, anti-establishment, undeniably alternative approach to life. Like that attitude, ‘Murdered Out’ is anything but conventional; everything here is fuzzy, messy and utterly non-linear. Distortion is used with heavyhanded abandon, leaving this track with the same black matte finish that Gordon was originally inspired by. There’s no doubt that the style of the track was entirely conscious and not as loose as it perhaps sounds, but nevertheless Raisen and Gordon give ‘Murdered Out’ a messy, detached quality that’s refreshingly ugly.

‘Murdered Out’ is available on iTunes.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Sun Ra – Brother From Another Planet (dir. Don Letts, BBC film, 2005)

Brother From Another Planet is a 2005 film by Don Letts about the inimitable Sun Ra, telling the story of the pianist and band leader as he migrated from a traditional brand of jazz to something altogether other.

Through contributions from fans like MC5’s Wayne Kramer and Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore, Ra biographer John F. Szwed, poet Amiri Baraka and sundry Arkestra members, Letts’s sympathetic documentary highlights Ra’s distinctive spirituality and his ruthless work ethic, as well as a pioneering approach to composition that found him an early experimenter with synths and electronics. 

Central Arkestra member and his devoted successor Marshall Allen recounts how intense rehearsals with Ra were, often lasting over 24 hours, with the band playing while walking from their communal living / rehearsal space right down the street to whichever venue they were playing that evening. Drugs were eschewed in favour of workmanlike discipline, even though, to look at the band dressed in glittery, space-meets-Egyptian garb, you’d think the band were off their faces the whole time.

Ra comes across as a sincere and avuncular perfectionist, using astral spirituality as a means of channelling the energy of his particular big band toward an enlightenment that it still might be impossible to fathom today. “People have no music that is in co-ordination with their spirits,” says Ra during the film. “Because of this, they’re out of tune with the universe.”

Thurston Moore, a massive Sun Ra fan and collector, describes Ra’s level of independence and massive body of self-released recordings as the original “music from the bedroom”; a pioneer of the independent spirit that would influence everything from punk to electronic musicians bashing out tracks from next to their beds.

Through archive footage, interviews, live footage and extracts from Ra’s Space Is The Place film, Letts paints a compelling portrait of this incredible, misunderstood visionary, the likes of which we will more than likely never see again.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Sonic Youth – Spinhead Sessions (Goofin’ album, 2016)

The full sessions for Sonic Youth‘s unused soundtrack to Ken Friedman’s movie Made In The USA have finally seen the light of day, some thirty years after they were recorded. In the UK the band had recently signed to Paul Smith‘s Blast First imprint and were about to release their seminal Sister LP after replacing Bob Bert on drums with Steve Shelley.

Despite the transition they were just about to make, Spinhead Sessions – named for the studio where these instrumental tracks were recorded – has more in common with the spooky atmospheres of their Blast First debut Bad Moon Rising.
I reviewed this for Clash. The review can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Liars & Saint Laurent – Women’s Spring / Summer ’14 – Collection VIII (30/09/2013)

A video from Paris Fashion Week 2013 showcasing the Saint Laurent Spring / Summer 2014 collection, soundtracked by an exclusive remix of ‘Mr. Your On Fire Mr.’ by Liars. The stark neon catwalk design also evokes the angular sleeve stylings of Liars’s WIXIW album.

Saint Laurent Women’s Spring / Summer 2014
Collection VIII
The official Saint Laurent page for this video can be found here.

Liars – ‘Mr. Your On Fire Mr.’
Originally recorded 1999 and available on the album They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top (Blast First).
Remix and additional recording for Saint Laurent by Angus Andrew in LA, September 2013
Soundcloud stream available here.

Content (c) 2013 Saint Laurent / Liars
Blog post (c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The Afghan Whigs – Up In It (Sub Pop album, 1990)

The Afghan Whigs 'Up In It' artwork

sub pop | sp60b | 1990

Released on the seminal Seattle-based Sub Pop in 1990, this was the first Afghan Whigs album proper – the future Blast First band’s ‘real’ first, Big Top Halloween, was released in a limited edition of 2000 in 1988, and three tracks from that debut are included here. Sub Pop’s quest to sign the Whigs caused not inconsiderable consternation among the likes of Mudhoney, arguably Sub Pop’s second most famous band, prompting their leader Mark Arm to start shopping the band around majors. His action was understandable given that Sub Pop were struggling to pay Mudhoney’s royalties, yet they were throwing money at the Whigs to get them to sign – a classic indie faux pas and one that Sub Pop certainly made more than once. In the end, the Whigs signed with Pavitt and Poneman, while Mudhoney defected to Reprise, just after Nirvana – Sub Pop’s most famous band – had signed with Geffen on Sonic Youth‘s advice.

With the exception of the three tracks from Big Top Halloween and the album’s final track, Up In It was produced by Jack Endino, unintentionally Sub Pop’s ‘in house’ producer in much the same way as Steve Albini / Butch Vig at Touch & Go, Martin Hannett with Factory or even Flood / Gareth Jones / Paul ‘PK’ Kendall at Mute, only considerably more prolific – Endino recorded 75 singles, EPs and albums for Sub Pop between 1987 and 1989. Among these was Nirvana’s debut Bleach, but there is little point of reference between Up In It‘s broad-brush rock appeal and Bleach‘s raw tone. Endino pulls off a sequence of recordings that is simultaneously highly polished and frighteningly urgent. It’s generations removed from their later work, and light years away from vocalist, guitarist and perfect front man Greg Dulli‘s later band, The Twilight Singers. The Whigs here comprised John Curley (bass), Rick McCollum (guitar), Greg Dulli (guitar, vocals) and Steve Earle (drums).

Up In It kicks off with the frenetic ‘Retarded’, which is perhaps the closest this album gets to the grunge sound that Sub Pop and Endino were famed for. Discordant guitars – similar to a Thurston Moore / Lee Ranaldo jam – and gritty vocals ensure that the album steps out on the right foot. Wah-wah guitar (and some additional guitar work that sounds dubiously like ‘Eye Of The Tiger’) ushers in ‘White Trash Party’, a swirling hurricane of howled vocals, grinding guitars and urgent cymbal-playing. ‘Hated’ on the other hand is an emotional melodic song that prove the Whigs were capable of producing sentimental music even at this early stage, even if the dueling guitars and turgid bass owe more at this stage to metal than soul.

‘Southpaw’ has an excellent groove and very muscular drumming, approximately a heavy dirge that manages to blend ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, Pixies and even the shrill vocal of Axl Rose, to surprisingly good effect. At under two minutes, ‘Amphetamines And Coffee’ sees the band tearing into a metal-influenced riff with some fretwork that J. Mascis would appreciate and stop-start drumming that would be captivating to watch. ‘Hey Cuz’ has a really clever sound, with Blixa Bargeld-esque spindly guitar cycles and a snare-dominated backbone, all of which breaks down into a very free and unstructured jam during which Dulli frantically crams words and vocal sounds into seemingly the smallest of spaces. With a great, melodic bass line and descending guitar melody (and tightly-controlled feedback), ‘You My Flower’ is another impassioned, powerfully-sensual rock song, finding Greg offering a tender vocal on the verses before growling his way through the chorus. Appropriately, ‘Son Of The South’ is a heavy blues number, which Jon Spencer would presumably be very proud of, and is certainly one of the best songs here; Endino pushes the bass section right up, and Dulli delivers an arch vocal on the verses over little more than the bass and drums before the howling guitars force themselves back in. ‘I Know Your Little Secret’ is nothing short of an emotive masterstroke, where rage is replaced with bitter melancholy.

‘Big Top Halloween’, ‘Sammy’ and ‘In My Town’ are all taken from the Whigs’ self-released debut, and are much rawer cuts, just a shade above demo standard in the production stakes; they do, however prove how honed the band were, even in 1988. The tracks were produced by Wayne Hartman. ‘Big Top Halloween’ is a classic heavy indie track, finding Greg in places providing a genetic link to White Stripes’ Jack White, while the band manage to sound like Dinosaur Jr. and Guns n’ Roses in the same three and a half minutes. Beginning with a melodic, elastic bassline, ‘Sammy’ is a heartfelt, lo-fi track with a killer sing-a-long chorus and lyrics that seem to blend genders at will, also deploying a fine harmonica solo. ‘In My Town’ is a melodic, jangly guitar track not wholly dissimilar to James circa Laid, with a definite folk / country sound. Back to 1989 for closing track ‘I Am The Sticks’ (produced by Paul Mahern), a muscular rocker with some very Rowland S. Howard guitar melodies, over which Dulli supplies a typical tonsil-shredding vocal performance. It’s a mysterious and sonically-adventurous conclusion to a gripping album. Not a dud track here.

First published 2004; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Sonic Youth – Hits Are For Squares (Geffen / Starbucks album, 2008)

Sonic Youth 'Hits Are For Squares' CD artwork

geffen / starbucks | cd 0602527781778 | 10/06/2008 | track listing

Hits Are For Squares is an almost career-spanning sixteen-track Sonic Youth compilation album. The album was released initially only in US Starbucks stores in 2008 in conjunction with Geffen, Sonic Youth’s home since leaving SST / Enigma (in the States) and Blast First (in the UK) following the release of Daydream Nation. Ignoring the obvious charges of ‘selling out’ by letting the mighty Starbucks put out a compilation album, what’s relatively unique about Hits Are For Squares is that the tracks themselves were all chosen by various celebrity fans (rubber-limbed Chili Pepper Flea, actress Catherine Keener, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and so on) or collaborators (Minutemen’s Mike Watt). Those choices, plus their reasons for choosing a particular track are explained in the liner notes alongside brief notes on the tracks and where they fit into the Sonic Youth back catalogue. And hey, the self-deprecating album title isn’t dissimilar to Hip To Be Square, the 1986 album from Huey Lewis & The News beloved by Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, and that’s always cool with me. Meanwhile, the sleeve looks like it’s trying to be an Edward Hopper portrait, the suit drinking his Starbucks coffee shamelessly reinforcing the commercial nature of this album. A ‘caffeine-free’ vinyl edition was released by the band later in 2010.

What’s immediately evident from the selections is that there are way more choices from the Geffen ‘commercial’ Sonic Youth period rather than their earlier independent label period, aside from firm fan favourites like ‘Teen Age Riot’ (from Daydream Nation), ‘Tuff Gnarl’ (from Sister), ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’, ‘Expressway To Yr. Skull’ (aka ‘Madonna, Sean And Me’) and ‘Tom Violence’ (all from Evol) and the earliest track here, the raw ‘The World Looks Red’ (from the Confusion Is Sex EP with Grinderman / Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds / Silver Alert drummer Jim Sclavunos on the skins and lyrics by SwansMichael Gira). In general the tracks lean toward the accessible side of the Sonic Youth back catalogue rather than the more experimental, but that’s what you get when you try and shift your album in outlets of the ubiquitous Seattle coffee chain (Seattle resident Eddie Vedder, incidentally, has a bit of a rant about not liking coffee in his notes to ‘Teen Age Riot’, which is rather like biting the hand that feeds if you ask me, but it’s still funny). Also, most of the tracks are those sung by Thurston Moore; Kim Gordon gets a couple of her lead vocal tracks included (including the annoying ‘duet’ with Chuck D, ‘Kool Thing’ and the beguiling ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’) and poor Lee Ranaldo doesn’t have any of his sung / spoken tracks included at all. Diablo Cody chooses the cover of ‘Superstar’ from a tribute album to The Carpenters which, while pretty, still feels uncharacteristically kitsch for Sonic Youth; far better would have been something from the more radical Ciccone Youth album.

Personally, I’d liken this compilation to the type of coffee you get from Starbucks – in other words a bit watered down, vaguely inauthentic but nevertheless addictive all the same, precisely because it is so accessible. I approached this album having not listened to most of the Sonic Youth back catalogue for some time and it felt like I was hearing these tracks for the first time all over again, ‘Teen Age Riot’ (still one of my favourites from their entire body of work) and ‘Bull In The Heather’ (from Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star) in particular sounding really fresh and unfamiliar, just like I was listening to them for the first time again.

The album also includes a previously unreleased track, ‘Slow Revolution’, which mines a similar vein to Washing Machine‘s long-form ‘Diamond Sea’ (a track I’d definitely have included, though at twenty minutes it was clearly never going to make the grade while the single edit lacks the very expansiveness that makes the song so impressive); like ‘Diamond Sea’, ‘Slow Revolution’ is a languidly-paced number, all Jaki Liebezeit-style drums from Steve Shelley and layers of hazy guitar riffs and Kim Gordon wailing away somewhere in the middle ground like she’s singing in tongues. It’s a far cry from this band’s more blistering white hot punk tracks, but it’s quite beautiful nonetheless; think the Velvets’ ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ passed through a Krautrock filter. ‘Slow Revolution’ is worth buying this compilation for in itself.

Gripes aside, Hits Are For Squares provides a great overview for anyone unfamiliar with Sonic Youth. It’s not as good as my own Sonic Youth compilation tapes that I made at the start of the last decade, but that’s personal choices for you.

I decided to re-post this because I’ve been listening to The Best Day, the new solo album from Thurston Moore which I’m reviewing this month for Clash.

Track listing:

1. Bull In The Heather
2. 100%
3. Sugar Kane
4. Kool Thing
5. Disappearer
6. Superstar
7. Stones
8. Tuff Gnarl
9. Teenage Riot
10. Shadow Of A Doubt
11. Rain On Tin
12. Tom Violence
13. Mary-Christ
14. The World Looks Red
15. Expressway To Yr. Skull
16. Slow Revolution

First published 2010 / re-posted 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Unusual Places To Find A Mute Artist Reference No. 1


Unusual Places To Find A Mute Artist Reference No. 1

An unexpected mention of Blast First goofballs The Butthole Surfers in the excellent Made In America by Bill Bryson (Black Swan, 1994).

The band are mentioned in passing in a chapter entitled Sex And Other Distractions, describing American society’s simultaneous adoration and abhorrence of sex and references to sex since the time of the Founding Fathers.

Bryson is here referring to the tendency of The New York Times to eschew language with any sexual connotation. The full sentence reads thus:

Butthead or butthole appeared sixteen times, again almost always in reference to a particular proper noun, such as the interestingly named pop group Butthole Surfers.

I’m not sure what’s most surprising about this – the fact that Gibby Haynes and co made it into the hallowed pages of The New York Times, or that Bryson considers them a pop group.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence