A thunderous fusion of jazz and industrial rock, way out of print but absolutely worth seeking out.
Among the many downsides of entertainment conglomerate mergers is the way hordes of indie labels snapped up by the majors in the '90s and '00s have had their catalogues vanish into the ether. Case in point: Big Cat, a UK label currently owned by who the heck knows, the vast majority of whose releases exist only as pricy out-of-print CDs or YouTubed bootlegs. Among them, and richly deserving a reissue, is God's Anatomy Of Addiction, a thunderous fusion of jazz and industrial rock that has none of the pretentiousness of the former or the inflexibility of the latter.
"The album that killed Skinny Puppy", an only partly realized concept record about a cult movement, has much to recommend it after 25 years.
My theory of the cultural history of the past twenty-five years is that not only has there been almost no progress, but that we have regressed in so many ways -- and so silently that when we're confronted with evidence of the regression, it manifests not simply as psychic shock but actual violence. If an album that is more than two and a half decades old sounded ahead of its time both then and now, that's two signs in one: 1) the work was one of genius, and 2) the rest of us have not applied any of its lessons at scale. Or, where we have, those lessons remain off in the margins, not informing popular culture in a way that moves it forward. For a long time, though, I didn't think about The Process in this light at all. It was mainly "the album that killed Skinny Puppy".
Over thirty years later, a record as jarringly fresh now -- maybe more so now -- than it was when it first undermined everyone's expectations.
The first time I heard about Talk Talk, it was by way of a friend, in what amounted to an insult. "They have a singer, Mark Hollis, whose voice is so nasal he sounds like he's singing through his forehead. You can't make out a word. So they have the lyrics on the album sleeve, in his handwriting. You can't read his handwriting either." He laughed, but I didn't: what all that told me was the words weren't what really mattered, and those things were Hollis's way of telegraphing all that. I have always been more charitable to a fellow artist than I have any right to be. I can't say I have ever regretted it. I certainly don't regret it when it comes to Talk Talk or The Spirit Of Eden, even if I didn't actually hear the album until almost thirty years after that discussion.
Alan Vega is dead, and that means there will never be another Suicide album. But it also means there will never be another Alan Vega album, and that matters at least as much to me.
Alan Vega is dead, and that means there will never be another Suicide album. But it also means there will never be another Alan Vega album, and the man's solo career has come to mean as much to me as his partnership with Martin Rev did.
In truth his "solo" work simply meant anything he did outside of his partnership with Rev; since 1990 or so anything sporting his name only has been him and his wife Liz Lamere. She'd provide a herky-jerk wall of computer-generated throb and rasp, and he'd provide that snarling, hollering, whooping, crooning voice, the "Iggy-cum-Elvis psychobilly attack", as someone else once put it.
NPR commentator, author, and sardonic voice of the disgusted put some of his best material to wax in this collection that is regrettably out of print.
The words "NPR commentator" fill some people with dread and loathing, and the reaction is not entirely undeserved. Andrei Codrescu is not among those who deserves such a brush-off, though -- he comes equipped with the kind of grim, cutting wit that only seems possible for a direct-line descendant of H.L. Mencken -- or, in his case, a Romanian emigre who's disgusted enough for any three lifetimes but somehow retains enough wonder for a dozen of them. No Tacos For Saddam compiles a number of monologues and essays from his NPR days, many of which were featured in print in his book Zombification, and the best praise I have for it is that while it inspired a lot of laughter, it was all with him and not at him, and some of it was more that I might not cry.
Bonus beats for a world that lives technology rather than just using it.
I once read an interview with experimental percussionist Z'ev about the problem of making music with technology that's critical of the world that produced said technology -- "you're like, stuck!" he quipped. The very act of trying to critique what's around you ends up glorifying it, making it seem cool -- the same problem François Truffaut had with war films. But every now and then someone cuts through the crap: Oliver Stone made Platoon, and as Roger Ebert pointed out, it did not make war seem like fun. And drummer Keith Leblanc, of the original Sugar Hill Gang and its spinoffs, including the industrial-funk machine Tackhead, made the drum-machine and sampler workout Major Malfunction, and it manages the neat trick of being a product of the very technology it's designed to critique without seeming hypocritical about it.
Until we get a Tackhead box set, these two discs will have to do as a source for anthologizing most of the band's best sampler-drum-machine-and-funk moments.
Tackhead's career has been so diverse and difficult to document properly that I'm not surprised one has to hunt and peck so much. There's the albums, but they're scattered across a number of different labels, sometimes sporting varying credits -- "Gary Clail's Tackhead Sound System" or individual members like Keith Leblanc -- rather than Tackhead proper. There's the early 12" singles, but they too are scarce, and also sometimes sport an entirely different name ("Fats Comet"). It's like using tweezer to pick sand grains off the ocean floor.
For a good long time, the Power Inc. anthologies came about as close as could be expected to picking up the pieces that mattered. There's still a lot missing from these two collections of tracks from across the best parts of Tackhead's career. But they touch on some of the most crucial moments, and if you combine this with Tackhead Tape Time and Keith Leblanc's Major Malfunction, you can assemble a good composite picture of one of the best bands to come out of the multi-way collision between funk, industrial, dub, and reggae that took place in the late Eighties.
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