perfect gnashers: joe murray on broken shoulder and psst! wanna buy a record?

March 23, 2016 at 1:13 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Broken Shoulder – Biwa (self-released download)

Various Artists – PSST! Wanna Buy A Record?  (Vinyl LP and 16 page Risograph booklet with A3 Xerox insert, no label, edition of 300)

biwa

Broken Shoulder – Biwa

OR…THE ART OF HOLDING OUT AND WAITING FOR THE RIGHT MOMENT TO EXPLODE IN A FIREBALL OF COLLAPSED FIZZING ELECTRONICS.

This patient approach is a dying art so, delight heaped upon delight, the wonderfully named Broken Shoulder gives us his take on CASIO-trauma over four well-paced tracks.

First up is ‘Large Man on a Small Motorcycle.’ The engaged tone on a beefed-up trimphone is angrily stirred with a bunch of stinging nettles. Eventually the moon rises bathing everything in its milky light, smoothing and soothing like dock leaves.

The brief ‘AM Cement Mixer’ simmers with the malevolence of a toddler hell-bent on trouble.  It brings to mind the strange gravity bumps a gyroscope detonates on your outstretched index finger until it ends as neatly as a magician palms the Queen of Hearts.

There’s emergency room rattle on ‘Wing Spiker’.  Harried medics tend to a fallen Minotaur (“he’s full of tubes”) as the oxen heart begins to race in amphetamine-jagged leaps. It’s a constant battle between conflicting meds to balance the disruptive beast until the heavy eye-lids flicker and open wide.  His fists are already clenched!

Things get particularly poignant on the 10 minute closer ‘From Whisper to Whiny/Big Wicker Ventriloquist’ where our Mr Shoulder introduces well-oiled castors running effortlessly over a marble floor.  Shimmering Netsuke squeal their approval and call into being a jawbone harp spluttering blue electric teeth.  Each canine and incisor holds a hefty charge that sizzles your lips as they fall in impossible numbers; wave after wave of perfect gnashers.

psstVarious Artists – PSST! Wanna Buy A Record?

Sometimes this reviewing lark can really throw you a knotty conundrum, a puzzler, a right crooked enigma.

And this PSST! compilation is one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking records I’ve listened to for a long while.  It’s made me think and question and dig in the old grey memory box for long forgotten sounds and smells.

So… why all this navel-gazing yeah?  This is an old record, a re-release; nothing unusual in that.  We do a fair bit of looking back at RFM.  But it’s the perfect 80s aspic surrounding PSST! that’s so hard to ignore.  The sound quality, rhythms, lyrical content, composition and even the darn accents used while singing all scream mid-80’s underground.  It’s really hard not to listen to this underground Polaroid and compare it to a modern-day JPEG.

And in a time when the (very excellent) This Heat are close to being canonised it makes sense to dig deeper into the sonic time capsule.  Are you with me?

Firstly this takes me back to the grim realities of 80s economics.  Making a record in those days, even an underground record, was way out of my league and the league of all my fellow oiks.  Home studios, four-tracks whatever, were a rarity and this meant saving up megabucks for a ‘proper’ studio where some mullet-headed hack would ‘tut’ and shake their bleached mane in disgust at anything that wouldn’t engorge Bruno Brookes’ pooter.  I did my best as a listener for sure and tried to sup as deeply as possible using Peel, zines and Snub TV for life-rafts.  But, all the same, the sense of distance between me (the oik with a paper round) and them (real folk making records) was a vast and precarious canyon. Just to hammer it all home: I remember reading some ‘How to make a Record’ article in NME at the time and the first line was

Can you afford to lose £1000?

The answer then and the answer now is a pained,

you joking fella?

And it’s with the sense of ‘how on earth did they manage to afford to do this?’ that this attaches itself to my pink ears.

The second thing is the singing.  A fair chunk of 80s underground music, and let me make this clear I’m speaking as a fan here, was appallingly sung.  Take that Ron Johnson stuff for example.  It cleared the scales from my eyes and made me leap like a vibrating salmon.  It filled my heart with energy and my brain with extra dimensions and possibilities.  Those sharp, angular guitar lines made me check out that guy they would always name check in zines… that Captain Beefhead or something?  For that alone Ron Johnson I stand erect and salute you.

But gosh… what a lot of horrible howling those singers made!  Was it a nervous reaction? Not wanting to commit to a real bit of vocal passion?  Was it a tongue-in-cheek anti-fashion thing?  A statement?  I never figured it out but that over-enunciated, faintly home counties, ‘if I don’t take it too seriously it’s gotta be art yeah’ mumble and waffle is in full-effect on PSST!

Finally there is an 80s sense of purpose about these songs.  Lots of the music I remember listening to back then was message driven.  It could be a political message – and of course there is an important place for political music with a capital ‘P’.  Some bands wanted to hoof a more oblique lifestyle address: we dress this way, we dance this way, we are against this and for that because we are [insert popular youth cult here].  Sometimes it was just to make you laugh; its purpose was to poke fun at dumb social mores and closed-minded conventions.  All great if you are in on the joke, not so much when it’s as forced as a Half Biscuit.

One of the things I like about underground music these days is that it doesn’t have to mean anything.  It just is.  The empty joy of a drone, the mindless scribble of improv; you just take it at face value in each wonderful, glorious unique musical moment.  In short, you just shut up and listen.

[Editor’s note: Joe was concerned about his vocabulary in the paragraph above. He wrote in an aside to me:

Have I got this over right?  Take it out if you think it will upset folk.  I’m not saying improv is ‘mindless’, not saying drone is ‘empty’ it’s just the way I listen to it… my mind is a jumbled blackboard – Drenching/Culver/Yol etc. clear it in one wonderful swipe… then I can breathe again.

I get it, it’s more or less what I mean when I use the term ‘ego-dissolving’.]

And I think it is this sense of purpose – this is music for something – that magnifies it’s ‘out-of-time-ness.’

OK, you’re thinking.  This isn’t the usual RFM puff-piece.  Has Rob relaxed his cast-iron guarantee of positive reviews? Of course he hasn’t [Editor’s note: presumably Joe hadn’t read the Keenan piece at this point].   I blinking love this record.  It just arrived in our house with such a huge amount of baggage I had to clear out the hallway first.

The Lenin Lads take up a fair chunk of this comp with their dry clarinets, wooden guitars and off-kilter rhythms.  My favourite is the hilarious ‘Dunlop’ that brings together The Residents’ ghostly swoop with the kind of ditty favoured by the Vulcanised Rubber Marketing Board.  It’s an ode to Green Flash trainers – stylish footwear for the terminally skint!  They experiment with hillbilly banjos and music concrete bottle washers, dub melodicas, primitive drum machines… all at the same time.  Like The Holy Modal Rounders if they lived in a shed in Welwyn Garden City or something.

I vaguely remember the name Bing Selfish from way back then and with his positioning at the start of side A and B it makes me think he’s a head honcho fella.  Bing promises,

A brilliant kaleidoscope of beautiful melodies and breath-taking arrangements

and still finds time to deliver a very lovely acoustic guitar & clave number that sounds like a Spanish Richard Youngs.

The rest of the artists perform under such colourful names as Los Delectantes, The Murphy Challengers and the plain stoopid The Tennis Ball is Bigger than the Golf Ball.  At this point, even without the handy guide I’d read in FORDAMNING zine and the attached PDF of the original sleeve inserts, comix & Foto Love I would have my suspicions that these folk are interrelated to the point of sharing the same toothbrush.  Los Delectantes, a brilliant Terry Day/Alterations impression, that’s both winsome and muscularly threatening.  The whole tennis ball/golf ball thing sounds uncannily like Vic Reeves’ club singer using a really old sampling keyboard, rocking the pre-sets and ending in frog croaks – always a great outro.

Proving the hipsters have always been with us Lepke Buckwalter could be Keyboard Money Mark in distress as you thieve his collection of vintage Kangol moon-pie hats.  Now there’s a thought!

But it’s El Narciso that win the prize as toppermost of the poppermost with a totally brilliant Residents/Kurt Weill pastiche named, ‘Pass the Buck’, as disinterested as the B-side of M’s Pop Music (but played in negative-chorus/reverse-gender).

So where are we now then?  I’ve whinged a bit and got all that history out of my lungs.  This is a great little comp and a genuine, real and important window into the No-Audience Underground when the artist/audience boundaries were drawn up neat like a picket fence.  I’ve told you what I think.  But what about all you Millennials out there?  What the Dickens do you think of this kinda ramble?

Answers on a postcard pur-leeese!

Oh yeah.  For a more balanced and ultimately more informative take on this and the whole It’s War Boys/Bing Selfish/Gus Coma scene pleased be to check out this guff and the excellent FORDAMNING (number 8), the charming print zine.

—ooOoo—

Broken Shoulder

PSST! Wanna Buy A Record?

2 Comments »

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  1. I Was going to buy the Bing Selfish earlier after reading a review somewhere [maybe the Wire? – cant remember] and cant for the life of me fathom why I didn’t. Anyway, a wrong has been righted. A copy is on its way to me as we speak. Ta for the reminder.

    • Hope you dig it, Joe’s take is bang on. A pleasure to be of service. Rob x


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