Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve: Blondie,
Parallel Lines

Celebrating Clem Burke in advance of his 67th birthday tomorrow.Ed.

A bit of history: When Blondie signed on with Australian producer Mike Chapman (of Chapman and Nicky Chinn glam rock fame) to record their 1978 breakthrough LP Parallel Lines, little did they know what they were in for. Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, and the rest of the band had a rather punk attitude towards the studio, and everything else for that matter; as Chapman noted later, “They were really, really juvenile in their approach to life—a classic New York underground rock band—and they didn’t give a fuck about anything. They just wanted to have fun and they didn’t want to work too hard getting it.”

Chapman the perfectionist called Blondie “hopelessly horrible” and explained his attitude towards the sessions in frankly dictatorial terms: “I basically went in there like Adolf Hitler and said, ‘You are going to make a great record, and that means you are going to start playing better.’” And they did. The result was a landmark record that everybody should own but you know what? I really kind of miss the hopelessly horrible band that gave us Parallel Lines’ predecessor, Plastic Letters.

Sure, Plastic Letters lacks the gloss of Parallel Lines’ disco-inflected “Heart of Glass” and a song quite as catchy as “Hanging on the Telephone,” but it possesses the same gritty and off-kilter NYC charm as the first recordings by the Dictators and the Ramones. Spies, strange happenings in the Bermuda Triangle, and cheating at poker by means of telepathy—Plastic Letters may be an imperfect recording, but boring it ain’t.

That said, Parallel Lines is still loads of fun, and retains that good old punk spirit on such numbers as “Hanging on the Telephone” (love Harry’s New Yawk squawk), “One Way or Another” (great chainsaw riff meets manhunt disguised as love song), and the belligerent closing track, “Just Go Away,” which boasts wonderful shouted backing vocals and really snotty vocals by Harry. And then there’s the pneumatic “I Know But I Don’t Know,” which features some great vocals by an unnamed member of the band, who accompanies Harry and sounds about as New York, New York as they come.

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Graded on a Curve: Primal Scream, Screamadelica

The year: 1992. The place: a rave in a field outside Manchester. I’d taken enough e to send Hannibal’s 37 elephants into the stratosphere and I said to the geezer I was dancing next to, “This is the most beautiful thing that’s ever happened to me.” He replied, “This whole deal’s a hallucination, mate. You’re in your apartment in Philadelphia listening to Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. It’s the next best thing to being here.”

And he was right. Still, it was one of most beautiful things to ever happen to me. But youth are fickle, and there came the day when raves went the way of the Acid Tests and youth moved on to other things, in my case rehab. But on occasion I still dig into my closet and put on my baggy pants, orange Kangol hat and pacifier, and hold my very own one-man rave, neighbors be damned.

And speaking of “Movin’ on Up,” it’s one of the premier tracks (alongside ”Loaded” and “Come Together”) on Primal Scream’s 1991 landmark Screamadelica. The LP captures the good vibrations that came with taking MDMA and dancing with thousands of stoned strangers at an illegal rave in some rural field in the outer reaches of Manchester. All three stand alongside the Happy Mondays’ “Step On” and “Kinky Afro,” and the Stone Roses’ “I Wanna Be Adored” and “Fools Gold” as iconic souvenirs of a time when the Hacienda became Manchester’s very own Studio 54—the difference being you didn’t have to be Bianca Jagger to get in.

“Movin’ on Up” is everything a rave song should be–the nonstop drum beat is impossible not to dance to, the acoustic guitar and piano add coloring, and the female backing vocals contribute a gospel feel to let you know that raves were the new religion. On “Loaded” the same gospel singers take front and center, and the looped drums, recurrent piano riff, and horns constitute trance music at its best.”Come Together” is a call for youth unity, and yet another gospel-heavy, crash course for the ravers on which Bobby Gillespie wants you to touch him, because e makes you want touch people even when fucking them isn’t on the agenda.

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Graded on a Curve:
Dr. John, Gris Gris

Remembering Dr. John on the eve of his birthday tomorrow.Ed.

I am happy to report there is one town in this God-obsessed land that remains under the sway of the Devil. I am talking, of course, about N’Orleans, that spirit-haunted hotbed of hedonism and home to the legendary likes of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, the prostitute Lulu White, and the never-captured Axeman of New Orleans. God has sent flood upon flood to destroy America’s most depraved and flat-out weird city—where else are you going to find public ordinances banning gargling in public and tying an alligator to a fire hydrant?—but in vain. Either God’s floods ain’t what they used to be, or sin has rendered the birthplace of Jazz, where Lucifer owns a winter home, indestructible.

The Big Easy is renowned for two things: music and voodoo. And no human being has ever combined the two with such funky finesse as Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John Creaux the Night Tripper. Like most people, the only tune I knew by the good doctor was 1973’s funky “Right Place Wrong Time.” Then Kid Congo Powers—who honed his own voodoo chops with the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s Gun Club—suggested I check out the Night Tripper’s 1968 debut LP Gris Gris, and I promptly fell under its spooky Creole spell.

Its trance-inducing, doom-heavy grooves instantaneously transported me to a shadowy Louisiana swamp swarming with snakes and alligators, voodoo drums sounding in the distance, the Axeman of New Orleans hard on my heels. Then to an incense-choked, unpainted wooden shack on stilts situated deep in the bayou’s perpetual gloom, where I found myself shuffling and shaking to the sound of congas and the Night Tripper’s Muzippi-muddy growl. Suffice it to say Gris Gris is one the most haunting slices of hoodoo you’ll ever hear, and one of the most addictive.

A child model (his face appeared on Ivory Soap boxes) turned strip club musician and illegal teen sessions player for such legendary figures as Professor Longhair, Joe Tex, and Frankie Ford, Rebennack turned from the guitar to the piano following an altercation with a pistol-packing club owner that resulted in the near severing of his left index finger. Forced to relocate to LA in the mid-sixties due to the legal consequences of an ongoing heroin addiction, it was there Rebennack adopted his colorful voodoo-headdress-wearing Dr. John Creaux persona and stepped into the limelight with Gris Gris, that incantatory and utterly unique melange of Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Cuban, and Mardi Gras Indian-flavored R&B and psychedelia.

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Graded on a Curve:
Pablo Cruise,

Are there any Pablo Cruise fans out there? Hello? A single one? Or have they all disappeared like the canaries from the Canary Islands? I was never a fan—in fact I regularly planted claymores in their front yards—but I needn’t have bothered; history has more or less erased them from the modern consciousness. All that’s left is the cover of 1976’s Lifeline, on which they show more flesh even than Orleans on 1976’s Waking and Dreaming—which should have been entitled Waking and Screaming—and a pair of desultory hits, which you can still hear on easy listening stations.

Pablo Cruise were so middle of the road they caused numerous highway fatalities, with tractor-trailers jack-knifing to avoid them only to run into decrepit Ford Pintos, which promptly exploded in balls of fire. This was the only exciting thing about Pablo Cruise, because their AOR approach to rock wasn’t in the least incendiary.

The band—which for some reason I always thought hailed from Australia—was formed in San Francisco in 1973, and didn’t really break through until 1977’s A Place in the Sun and 1978’s Worlds Away. So why am I reviewing their sophomore LP, which wasn’t nearly so successful? God only knows, although I have to admit I was swayed by Robert Christgau’s cryptic review of the album, which went simply, “You can take the Doobie Brothers out of the country, but you can’t turn them into Three Dog Night.” I don’t know what it means, but it always makes me laugh.

The most exciting track on the LP, “The Good Ship Pablo Cruise,” invites you to climb aboard. It has an Island beat, the chorus actually works, and it’s all performed in a high humor, with one player calling out, “Yeah, that’s nice.” That said, I have no intention whatsoever of boarding the good ship Pablo Cruise, because, well, the ship’s band is Pablo Cruise.

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Graded on a Curve: Jethro Tull,
Stand Up

Celebrating Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre on his 74th birthday.

Sometimes you amaze yourself. Or perhaps I should say stupefy, dumbfound, perplex, befuddle, mystify, outrage, and downright disgust yourself. Such was the case when I recently ran over a “little person” in an abortive attempt to pass the D.C. driver’s test. I never saw him; in my defense, he was a very little little person. More like a half-little person. And such was also the case when I decided to review Jethro Tull’s Stand Up, solely as a joke and a chance to pan defenseless Englishman Ian Anderson, who for some inexplicable reason stands poised on one leg while playing the flute, like a hippie flamingo.

Only to discover, horror of horrors, I actually like the damn thing. Who was it that said, “He came to mock but remained to pray”? Because I’ve always considered Jethro Tull, despite a handful of songs I truly like, ridiculous, due largely to Anderson’s flute, an instrument (in my humble opinion) suitable only for tossing out the window. What’s more, Jethtro Tull always struck me as fairly dim. I clearly remember thinking, when they put out 1972’s Thick as a Brick, that it wasn’t the brightest move, touting one’s low IQ on one’s own album cover.

I picked 1969’s Stand Up for the historically important reason that it has a song called “Fat Man” on it. A Facebook friend gave me the idea, and I fully intend to unfriend her. A short history: Jethro Tull (they filched their name from a pioneer of the English Agricultural Revolution) was formed in 1967 as a blues-rock outfit in Luton, Bedfordshire, a town once famed for hat-making. The concrete hat was invented there, and the resulting epidemic of neck injuries very quickly put an end to hat-making in Luton.

Tull’s debut This Was—which includes jazz flute horror “Serenade to a Cuckoo”—came out in 1968, at which point original guitarist Mick Abrahams split to form Blodwyn Pig, balking at Anderson’s decision to expand the band’s sound to incorporate Celtic, folk, and classical influences. (Fun fact: Black Sabb’s Tommy Iommi briefly replaced Abrahams, until Anderson settled on the courtly Martin Lancelot Barre. Fun fact #2: Yes’ Steve Howe flunked the audition!)

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Graded on a Curve: Gordon Lightfoot,
An Introduction to Gordon Lightfoot

Celebrating Gordon Lightfoot in advance of his 83rd birthday tomorrow.Ed.

Robbie Robertson has called Canadian folk rock singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot “a national treasure,” and so he is. Canadians don’t just love their Orillia, Ontario native son, they worship him in temples that can only be entered by pilgrims clad in the holy sandals Gord wore on the cover of his 1974 LP Sundown.

And their devotion is understandable–Lightfoot has contributed many a timeless song to the world, and none other than Bob Dylan has gone on record saying that when he hears a Lightfoot song he wishes “it would last forever.”

Lightfoot wrote many a great song from 1965 to 1970 with United Artists, including “Early Morning Rain,” “Ribbon of Darkness,” and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” to name just a few. But he recorded his best known work for Warner/Reprise Records, with whom he signed in 1970. And it’s this work you’ll hear on 2018’s aptly titled compilation An Introduction to Gordon Lightfoot.

There are other Lightfoot compilations out there, but they either include music only your hardcore fans will want to own (see 1999’s Songbook or 2019’s The Complete Singles 1970–1980). 1975’s Gord’s Gold is arguably the best comp out there, including as it does material from both his United Artists and Warner Brothers years, but it omits “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (inexcusable!) and (even more inexcusable!) includes re-recordings of the songs from Lightfoot’s years with United Artists.

All ten of the tracks on An Introduction to Gordon Lightfoot provide indisputable proof that Lightfoot is the best singer-songwriter to stand his ground in Canada (Neil and Joni and Robbie defected and never looked back), and if you’re inclined to argue this fact with the peace-loving Canucks of the Great White North they might just crown you with a hockey stick and toss you into Lake Ontario.

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Graded on a Curve:
Sun City Girls,
Torch of the Mystics

Sun City Girls weren’t girls and didn’t hail from Sun City (it’s an unincorporated retirement community in their hometown of Phoenix, Arizona). They were post-hardcore Three Stooges turned amateur ethnomusicologists, and over the course of their long career produced some of the most idiosyncratic, dada-damaged music of our time.

Sun City Girls get labeled an experimental band and I suppose they were, if you call making impossible to label music for their own enjoyment an experiment. It wasn’t like they were standing around a particle accelerator in white lab coats.

Sun City Girls produced enough studio, live, cassette, soundtrack and compilation recordings to give Mark E. Smith a run for his money, and I can’t think of any two that sound the same. You can detect traces of other bands in their music–the Minutemen, fellow Arizonans the Meat Puppets, Frank Zappa, the Butthole Surfers, Captain Beefheart, and Sun Ra all come to mind.

But unlike the above-named they spent their career producing absurdly twisted pastiches of folk music from around the globe. The Middle East, Southeast Asia, Haiti, Mexico, South America–there were very few places they didn’t look to for inspiration. But it would be a mistake to lump Sun City Girls in with the Paul Simons and David Byrnes of the world—their music was lo-fi, off-the-cuff and twisted, and there was no way they were going to win any Grammys.

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Graded on a Curve:
Blue Öyster Cult,
Blue Öyster Cult

Celebrating Buck Dharma on his 74th birthday.Ed.

Good news! You don’t have to fear the Reaper! Blue Öyster Cult were only joking!

For years morons like yours truly were so wrapped up in Blue Öyster Cult’s ethos (evil as career choice) that we never caught on to the (manifestly obvious in hindsight) fact that the band was pulling our collective leg!

That’s right. Here we hayseeds thought they were, like, a bunch of Satan-worshipping Aleister Crowleys dabbling in Nazism and S&M when in reality they were just a coupla nice Jewish boys from Long Island sniggering down their collective sleeve at the hard-rock-loving suckers retarded enough to take them seriously. As occasional lyrics contributor and full-time rock critic Richard Meltzer said of the boys’ music, “This is really hard rock comedy.”

I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m some kind of terminal moron; I caught on to the joke a long, long time ago, and would have never fallen for it in the first place if I hadn’t been spending all my time smoking pot with pig farmers. Pig farmers and bikers make up the bulk of the Blue Öyster Cult fan base, and by that I don’t mean to imply pig farmers and bikers are stupid. Most of them are in on the joke too, and love it, because not only were Blue Öyster Cult funny back in 1972, they were one hotshit boogie band writing great songs that sounded even better after you drank a bottle of Wild Turkey and popped a few Placidyl.

Blue Öyster Cult’s eponymous 1972 debut may have less laughs than some of their later LPs, but it’s heavy on screaming diz-busters, inspiring anthems, a lil taste of the rock ’n’ roll apocalypse, and one very cool psychedelic threnody to a foot. In short it’s one helluva rock record, and well deserved the plaudits it received from just about every critical luminary (Christgau, Bangs, etc.) of the time.

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Graded on a Curve:
Van der Graaf Generator, Pawn Hearts

The kids I knew growing up wouldn’t have known what to make of the name Van der Graaf Generator. Seriously, what the fuck was that all about? Boston made sense. Ditto Grand Funk Railroad and Bad Company. But Van der Graaf Generator? It sounded like something you’d use to recharge a Dutchman.

Van der Graaf Generator were an English progressive rock band, which is to say a fustian group of musical blowhards I’d love to see flattened by a massive chunk of flaming space junk. And I listened to their 1971 LP Pawn Hearts only to strengthen my conviction that progressive rock is the worst creation in human history. People will cite thousands of more insidious inventions, but progressive rock is the only one capable of making smart people stupid that doesn’t involve a rock to the head.

But a strange thing happened as I listened to Pawn Hearts, preparatory to consigning it to the cut-out bins in Hell. It matched every feature in my progressive rock identikit, yet I found myself compelled, like a mad ship captain irresistibly drawn to the rocky shoals of wrack and ruin, to listen to it. I cannot describe how demoralizing this was. Would I soon find myself listening with pleasure to ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition? Would my family be reduced to locking me in the attic, a musical Elephant Man they dare not allow in public lest my horrible tastes in music be a disgrace to them all?

Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty to dislike about Pawn Hearts. Hugh Banton’s neo-classical organ brings to mind the Phantom of the Opera on an off-day. Peter Hammill emotes like a bad Shakespearean actor. David Jackson’s pastoral flute should be put out to pasture. In short, there are parts galore when the band sounds like some kind of mutant sea creature that has dragged itself from the sea of pretension to devour rock and roll whole.

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Graded on a Curve: Screaming Lord Sutch, Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends

Remembering Screaming Lord Sutch, born on this day in 1940.Ed.

This very heavy solo debut by renowned English loony Screaming Lord Sutch (aka the 3rd Earl of Harrow) comes with some very heavy baggage. And I’m not referring to the late Lord’s Heavy Friends, who included such rock luminaries as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, John Bonham, Noel Redding, and Nicky Hopkins.

No, I’m talking about the album’s deplorable reputation. A 1998 BBC poll crowned Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends the worst album of all time, to which I can only reply that the people polled did a grave injustice to Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII. And plenty of others have heaped scorn upon this benighted 1970 LP, which mortified just about everyone including the people who played on it.

Me, I think they’re being unfair. I rather like Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends, and not as kitsch either. The musicians who recorded the LP would go on to condemn it as a bunch of demos that should never have been released, but to my ears it sounds like rock’n’roll primitivism at its best. The album has a lovably raw-boned, one-take feel to it, and what it lacks in polish (there is no polish) it makes up for in pure bluster and monolithic garage rock raunch. If you’re a fan of “You Really Got Me,” Blue Cheer, the Troggs (and who isn’t a fan of the Troggs?), or any number of sixties garage bands, you’ll most likely dig what’s on offer here.

There’s no denying Sutch was a fascinating character, and that the world was a far more interesting place with him in it. He may have had no more connection with the peerage than the infamous Nazi broadcaster and English traitor Lord Haw-Haw, but during his time on this planet he recorded a whole slew of timeless horror rock classics (“Jack the Ripper,” “Murder in the Graveyard”), basically invented Alice Cooper’s shock-schlock stage act, and ran for Parliament innumerable times, both as a representative of the National Teenage Party and as the proud founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (that he never won a Parliamentary seat is a sad commentary on the intelligence of your average English voter).

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Graded on a Curve:
Bonzo Dog Band,
Top Gear Session 29th July 1969

Celebrating Rodney Slater on his 80th birthday.Ed.

Had Monty Python decided to turn their attentions wholly to making music, they might—and I stress might—have been as funny as The Bonzo Dog Band, or The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band as were earlier known, that bunch of cracked Dadaists whose most prominent members, Neil Innes and Vivian “The Ginger Geezer” Stanshall, dabbled in rock, pop, trad jazz, cabaret, vaudeville, and any other genre they could lay their madcap fingers on, invariably turning out tunes that were as lyrically weird as they were musically unconventional.

All four of their studio LPs, recorded between 1967 and 1969, were utterly hilarious, chockfull of absurd one-liners (check out the great vaudevillian band introduction on “The Intro and the Outro,” where players include “the Count Basie Orchestra on triangle” and, “looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler on vibes”), as well as some deliberately awful music (check out the brilliantly ear-jarring sax solo on “Big Shot”).

The very English “Hunting Tigers Out in India” is one of my personal favorites, opening as it does with the lines, “With big tigers table manners have no place/After they have eaten you they never say their grace,” followed by a conversation in which one tiger hunter says, “I say, J.O, it’s jolly frightening out here,” to which J.O. says, “Nonsense, dear boy, you should be like me.” “But look at you,” replies hunter number one, “You’re shaking all over. What’s the matter with you?” To which J.O. replies, “Shaking? You silly goose, I’m just doing the Watusi, that’s all.”

If you’re looking for a sample of The Bonzo Dog Band’s brilliance, a taster as it were, I highly recommend The Top Gear Session 29th July 1969. The EP includes five brilliant cuts by the band, and my only regret is that it wasn’t released with the previous Top Gear Session of 29th April 1968, which includes that classic salute to the Motown-style dance craze that is “Do the Trouser Press,” which opens hilariously with a funky beat and a guy who says, “Come on everybody clap your hands/Aw, you’re looking good/Are you having a good time?/”Yeah yeah!”/Do you like soul music?/…. “No.” But the singer carries on, and proclaims the Trouser Press as being “much better than a prefabricated concrete cold bunker.”

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Graded on a Curve:
The Move,

Celebrating Roy Wood on his 75th birthday.Ed.

This is what fans of The Move call a masterpiece? You might it expect it to be, seeing as how it’s the product of the bizarre mind of professional eccentric Roy Wood, future co-founder of Electric Light Orchestra and founder of the glam rock band Wizzard. And that’s the major flaw of 1970’s Shazam–despite the presence of Wood, the album isn’t eccentric enough.

The Move take a scattershot approach on Shazam, delving into art rock, classical rock, raga rock, and proto-metal, while also taking stabs at The Beatles and sixties folk rock. But their most important influence is the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and that’s where things fall apart. The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band kept whimsical tongue firmly planted firmly in dada cheek, but on Shazam The Move want to have it both ways. They wander into Stanshall/Innes territory on a couple of cuts, but for the most part they play it straight. Shazam is a case of a split personality, and it’s too late for it to seek therapy.

“Cherry Blossom Clinic” makes the comedy grade, what with its light-hearted treatment of “they’re coming to take me away ha ha” lunacy, but the song is ruined for me by the extended foray into the music of Bach and Paul Dukas. Sure, it’s all in fun, but I don’t enjoy being classically gassed–if I wanted to listen to the likes of Bach I’d have to become a different person, because the person I am is bored stiff by the stuff.

Far less funny is the opening of the tender and very serious “Beautiful Daughter,” in which the band takes the same “talk to the man in the street” approach the Bonzo Dog Band employ in their masterpiece of absurdity “Shirts.” Trouble is, with the exception of the old women who responds to the question of whether she likes pop music by saying, “Well, it’s nice in its way, you know some of it, not uh, not when they go naked,” the Q and A just ain’t that funny. One laugh line doesn’t not a comedy classic make.

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Graded on a Curve: Television,

Celebrating Richard Lloyd on his 70th birthday.Ed.

Sometimes I flabbergast myself. I think I know what I like and what I don’t like, only to find out I don’t know a damn thing about anything, least of all my likes and dislikes. Take KC and the Sunshine Band. I hated them with a passion for like 30 years and now I think they’re great. Or Elton John’s Caribou, which I liked for like 80 years only to realize just yesterday it only has two good songs on it, although to Captain Fantastic’s credit they’re two really great songs.

But occasionally I get it right the first time, as with Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” which I hated when it came out and still hate to this day. And the same goes for Television’s sophomore LP, 1978’s Adventure. People—as in every sentient human breathing air the year it came out—wrote Adventure off as a lackluster follow-up to the band’s 1977 debut, Marquee Moon. Everybody but me, that is. Because I had never heard of Marquee Moon. I didn’t even know it existed. Hell, I can’t even remember how or why I came to buy Adventure, because I had no clue as to who Television was and absolutely no inkling that they were an integral part of a musical revolution in progress at a ratty club in New York City called CBGBs.

But buy it I did, just as I bought Kill City without having ever heard the Stooges, which just goes to show you how isolating rural living was back in the days before the internet gave you access to all kinds of information, including who was who on the rock circuit. About all you got exposed to back in those days were hoof and mouth disease and square dancing, which is why I spent my teen years doing my level best to do as many drugs as I could get my greedy paws on, while trying to wrap my vehicle around a utility pole, which I finally accomplished on March 1, 1980. You’ve got to have goals, even in the boondocks, or life isn’t worth a damn.

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Graded on a Curve: Neptunian Maximalism, Éons

What the hell is happening in Belgium? Have they gone stark raving mad? Did someone slip some kind of drug into the waffles? We should be demanding answers, because a cosmic caterwaul has been emanating from the good city of Brussels, and the people who know about such things are giving us two options. The first is to flee the planet. The second is to greet Neptunian Maximalism and give a listen to their 2020 LP Éons to determine if they come in peace.

Éons is a sprawling, two and a half hour exercise in genre-blending, and proof that free jazz saxophone, drone music, massive walls of percussive noise metal, psychedelic guitar jams, and Sun Ra space explorations can indeed co-exist on the same astral plane. Éons is what you might get if you shoved the Arkestra, Albert Ayler, Swans, Sunn O))), the electric guitar whiz kid of your choice, Laibach, and Rammstein into a recording studio and let them have at it. The results, you’d think, would be mayhem and chaos. But Éon is a monumental and coherent work of avant garde music, and essential listening for anyone interested in any of the above named genres.

You don’t build an Éons with a sledgehammer and railroad spike the way, say, Sunn O))) and Swans do. The complexities of Éons demanded that Neptunian Maximalism use a broader instrumental palette. These include saxophones, trumpet, flute, vocals, synthesizer, and bow harp. Even a sitar shows up, presumably having escaped an ashram somewhere. And Neptunian Maximalism do it with just four members.

Éons is a three-disc, three-part affair, which to people like me who can only count in chocolate is one less than a Kit Kat Bar. The three sections (“To the Ease,” “To the Moon,” and “To the Sun”) constitute generally discrete moods, but there’s plenty of seepage–while the songs on “To the Sun,” to cite just one example, lean towards the spacy and meditative, they get plenty loud in parts.

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Graded on a Curve: Mountain, Climbing!

Remembering Leslie West, born on this day in 1945. Ed.

Leslie West is a heavy guy. He weighs like 1,000 lbs and plays heavy music and called his band Mountain because mountains are very heavy, and his song “Mississippi Queen” is so heavy it has to be carried from gig to gig in a specially made truck of the sort the U.S. Army uses to transport intercontinental ballistic missiles. And forget about vinyl. Mountain was so heavy they released their 1970 debut on concrete. It weighed 42 pounds and crushed a whole lot of record players.

Lots of folks dismissed Mountain (West on guitar and vocals, Felix Pappalardi on bass and vocals, Corky Laing on drums, and Steve Knight on keyboards) as Long Island’s answer to Cream, and on songs like “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” “For Yasgur’s Farm,” “The Laird,” and “Boys in the Band” the resemblance is striking. But on Climbing! Mountain escapes their Cream fetish to produce songs as humongous as the whale you keep expecting to show up in “Nantucket Sleighride,” except he never does.

Given Mountain’s reputation as the heaviest beast to ever slouch out of Long Island, Climbing! is far more diverse than you’d expect. Sure, you get some nifty Godzilla stomp along the lines of “Mississippi Queen.” But the band also flirts with acid-prog of the sort that won’t wreak havoc on your tweeters, and tosses in a couple of genre-benders that defy all known ethnomusicological definition. In short, Mountain was no one-trick mastodon.

The band’s division of vocal duties further lent diversity to Mountain’s sound. West’s rhino snort contrasts nicely with Pappalardi’s Jack Bruce, and the duo delegates lead vocal chores accordingly–West sings the speaker-busters, Pappalardi the more Cream-influenced tracks.

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