Been meaning to post about some recent (to somewhat recent) reissues and share some music before posting about our own upcoming reissue, This is Still It by The Method Actors. These are all releases that I would’ve loved to have done on Acute, but a better, more appropriate label got to do it!
First up is Flaming Tunes, whom I feel so strongly about I had to make a little collage from the original tape insert…
Flaming Tunes was a cassette only release from 1985 or so recorded by longtime friends Gareth Williams and Mary Currie. It first came to my attention in the pre-file-sharing days when people would make tapes or even burn CDs for each other when I traded some CD-rs with a guy in Germany named Eric Wilhelm. I sent him CD-rs of the Homosexuals, Desperate Bicycles, Scritti Politti, Prefects etc and he sent me a ton of This Heat-related stuff. Since getting turned on at the Oberlin Co-Op, This Heat had been a favorite band of mine. Among the live recordings and other rarities was a release with a photocopied sleeve called “After the Heat (unreleased Demo-Recordings)”. I was totally blown away. I was expecting to hear some kind of lo-fi proggy, punky noisy racket and instead found an eclectic selection of beautiful and delicate songs, ranging from minimal and ambient atmospheres to circular and repetitive yet melodic and enchanting songs.
Except for the fidelity, it didn’t sound like a demo to me, it sounded like a completely new and different direction for This Heat, though with a few similarities. It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned it wasn’t a This Heat recording at all! I can’t remember exactly where, but somewhere on the internet, discussion about these recordings came out and Mary Currie appeared to right all wrongs. After Gareth Williams left This Heat to spend some time in India, he came back and started collaborating with Mary. In 1985 they released these recordings as Flaming Tunes through Contagious Unit, which described itself as “a cooperative of musicians producing and distrubting low cost, high quality cassettes because we want to.” Unfortunately, following it’s release, it was relatively forgotten until copies started circulating with the “This Heat” title.
Since straightening the internet out, things began to fall into place and Flaming Tunes finally saw release last year on the new label Life and Living Records. They have kindly given me permission to share one of the songs, and I had a hard time choosing. It’s really a perfect record. Tape experiments, lo-fi keyboards, whimsical percussion, strange drop-outs…moments of silence. 80s drum machines and Casios co-exist with fiddles, whistles and clarinets. Echoes of Indian percussion, dub reggae, acoustic folk, musique concrete, a bit of the ReR/Rock In Opposition prog/art/songcraft you’d expect. In Raindrops from Heaven, over 2 minutes of outdoor nature noises exist before a simple percussion part (loop?) and beautiful out of tune piano and bass emerge for 2 minutes before giving way back to nature. Another Flaming Tune presents a minimalist piano arpeggio while buzzy, reedy electronics and clarinet hum and drone underneath and tapes and percussion stutter and start . Elsewhere Gareth and Mary sing harmonies and wonderful pop melodies particularly in the enchanting Beguiling the Hours, the song I’ve chosen to share.
Flaming Tunes-Beguiling the Hours
control-click to download
This song has long been one of my favorites. When I first got the bootleg CD, I’d listen to it over and over again. Probably second only to Pink Frost by the Chills in my list of “songs left on repeat”. The piano, the clapping, the clarinet and keyboards, the melodies, the lyrics, “think of the wealth…” part. I don’t know, it just kills me every time.
It’s really amazing that a release so obscure that even fans of the artist didn’t know it existed, or if they did, where it came from, has taken such a vibrant life in the last year. Gareth passed away in 2001 and it’s hard to separate the growing tributes to him from the growing interest, awareness, and passion about Flaming Tunes. First, there is the Flaming Tunes website, where you can find additional downloads, videos, old letters and input from various Flaming Tunes associates and friends. More information and ordering info can be found at Life and Living Records. It’s also on iTunes of course. There’s a great and informative interview with Mary as well as Andrew Jacques of These/Life and Living and Mick Hobbs, who was involved in the reissue and plays on the original tape, by The Wire. And as testament to it’s power, check out Diamond Age, a musician out of texas who recorded a complete cover version of the entire tape. It’s really wonderful, and can be ordered from Life and Living. Meanwhile, more material keeps turning up on the Flaming Tunes website, such as later recordings of Gareth’s and even videos, some shot then, some shot now, some shot then and finished now. This song, Nothing On, and it’s video, can be downloaded from the site, but it’s also on youtube, so I can more easily share it here…
There’s always been a great deal of mystery and debate regarding No Wave. How do you define No Wave? Which bands were No Wave? Is it limited to a specific location and time period or is it a timeless attitude and aesthetic? Do you hyphenate No-Wave? Do you capitalize it? For a long time everyone was sure of one thing, the four bands that appeared on No New York–Mars, DNA, The Contortions and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks–were No Wave. But what about the so-called Soho bands? Theoretical Girls, The Gynecologists, Daily Life, The Static, A Band. And all that 99 records funk stuff…Liquid Liquid, ESG? Lesser known but more appropriate to be defined as such, was a group of bands who came up just after the initial years and continued to blaze raw and noisy paths in downtown New York through the early 80s. I’d first hear some of them on Elliott Sharp’s Peripheral Vision comp, a fantastic and ubiquitous record store staple in NY for much of the 90s. While many of these bands started out opening up for and playing shows with Mars and Lydia Lunch, their sound was less dark…more lo-fi and often political. Mofungo bassist Robert Sietsema said they were “the stepchildren of the first generation of no wave bands.” I’d come across the occasional Mofungo, The Scene is Now or V-Effect record but only heard whispers of TAPE #1, the self-released compilation cassette that came out in 1980 featuring songs by Blinding Headache, Information and Mofungo.
Blinding Headache was apparently first, forming as early as 1978 in the basement of an NYU dorm by Jim Posner, Willie Klein, Kym Bond and Rick Brown. Rick Brown would leave Blinding Headache and join Information, which featured Chris Nelson, Gary Larson and Phil Dray. The remains of Blinding Headache would be joined by others including Sietsema to form Mofungo. By 1980 they decided to put this tape together, and it’s a fascinating slice of a certain time, with some crossover and influence from the current no wave scenes and some amount of pointing at various sounds of New York City (and Hoboken) for the next decade or so. Information would eventually mutate into The Scene is Now, Rick Brown would play with the incredible V-Effect, followed by Timber, Fish & Roses, Run On, collaborations with Charles Hayward (see above), etc etc. Sietsema would find more fame as the Village Voice’s resident foodie, inspiring many a visit to Flushing,Queens while leaving me eager to find out if Sonali in Sunnyside is as good as he says, because they may deliver to me.
Tape #1 was still a holy grail to me when word first arrived that it would be getting a reissue as a digital only release on Anthology Recordings, a fantastic label with an eclectic selection of downloads to purchase. Currently, their website is down as they reconfigure some stuff, but I’m sure it’ll be back shortly. And if that wasn’t enough, the craziest thing happened. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks decided to do a reunion concert at the Knitting Factory and somebody had the brilliant idea of inviting Information to reform and open up. A band so obscure that their only release was on a 1980 tape compilation. I was there and as I’ve said elsewhere, Teenage Jesus was a blast, but Information blew them out of the water. I’ve suggested that they should get back together and in the least, record the set they played that night. I’ve decided to share 3 songs from the release…normally I wouldn’t share so much but the tape had 43 songs! So one from each band, including the most punk song from Information, which has already been released into the internets when Brian Turner of WFMU found Tape #1 and blogged about it. Check out his write-up, as it’s more interesting and informative than mine!
control-click to download
Blinding Headache-Total Media Blackout
control-click to download
Mofungo-Out Of Line
control-click to download
In an almost logical follow-up to discussion of Tape #1, we have another stepchild of No Wave in the band Interference. David Linton moved to New York City around the same time as his college friend and bandmate in The Flucts (Fluks?), Lee Ranaldo(still waiting to hear those tapes), and they both quickly fell in with the No Wave scene of the times. Lee would famously end up with Glenn Branca in his Ascension band, play in some of the early symphonies and end up in Sonic Youth. Linton on the other hand would play with that other proponent of guitar orchestras, Rhys Chatham. After leaving Chatham, Linton and Michael Brown would form Interference with Anne DeMarinis who had just left Sonic Youth, which Lee would then join. Music was recorded and was intended for release on Branca’s Neutral label, but it never happened. Finally a few years ago The Social Registry, one of New York’s finest record labels, announced they were going to release it, and after a gestation period almost as long as the typical Acute release, it’s finally coming out. It’s so cool, so NY, that when Rich from The Social Registry first played me the tape I said “you gotta let me release that, it’s such an Acute release!” But he turned me down, got to work, and now we’re finally hearing the whole thing.
Interference often sound exactly like what you’d expect them to sound like. The repetition and clanging guitars of the guitar orchestras and the punk rock energy and aggression of no wave. At times they sound more like Sonic Youth than Sonic Youth do on their first EP. Think about that! Oddly tuned guitars, gamelan sounding percussion, even a bit of Liquid Liquid funk at their noisiest. There’s a bit of vocals but even less conventional song structure then the typical Sonic Youth song of the period and at times they reach a tribal intensity of guitar skronk, no wave funk, minimalist repetition and sonic assault that I’ll be surprised if this release doesn’t see them added to that great canon of No Wave step-children already occupied by Mofungo, by Sonic Youth and the Swans. And Ut. For an interview with Linton, check out Too Cool To Die, check out Linton’s website, and for more information and to purchase this release, which will be a double LP featuring an LP of the original material and a fresh record of remixes, visit our friends at The Social Registry.
Interference-Excerpt #1(Version 2)
control-click to download
Here’s an obscure one that was totally new to me until a few weeks ago. I was checking out one of my favorite music blogs, Last Days of Man on Earth, excited to see the great review of the forthcoming Acute release, This Is Still It by The Method Actors when I noticed their following post. Last Day’s author Joe was excited to be reviewing a reissue/compilation from a post-punk/new wave band from his hometown St. Louis. I had no idea what to expect from that particular region from that particular time, but let me say I definitely didn’t expect a totally rocking, totally spacey, totally glam and totally sci-fi punk sound like this. For peers, I’d say 70s punk oddities like the Twinkeyz, the Fans and Chrome, american punk rock bands with a healthy fascination in all things cosmic and/or modern with a degree of a glam/euro/Eno/Roxy/Bowie going on. Relatively early Ultravox! would probably be a good reference as well, the sci-fi lyrics of John Foxx and synthesizers creating a futuristic atmosphere, underpinned by killer Stooges/Mick Ronson rock and roll. I was excited enough by the samples on the blog that I promptly ordered the album from BDR Records. The LP comes with a CD featuring even more tracks then are on the record, and it has an awesome cover that is right up my alley. Speaking of covers, they do a few, including the early Bowie song She’s Got Medals and Syd Barrett’s No Good Trying. The best cover since Cabaret Voltaire covered The Seeds? This release is one of those really obscure oddities that comes out of nowhere and makes you wonder how you lived so long without it.
control-click to download
That’s it for now. (that’s all??) Coming soon: catching up with Viva Radio and another Acute release, This Is Still It, by The Method Actors.