Seven Simons – Clockwork (1988, Sky)

I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to post something by Seven Simons, especially since I’ve owned this as long as I’ve been doing W/O.  That aside, the Simons were a not oft spoken of band from that noted ’80s hotbed, Athens, GA.  Their debut, Clockwork, doesn’t necessarily boast the aesthetics that region became synonymous with, but it’s not entirely removed either.  There’s more than a scintilla of a collegiate pop penchant here, vividly recalling the Smithereens and Miracle Legion at moments. “Sasparilla” has a mildly serrated, post-punk undercurrent, “Sadder Sound” is a sublime slice of acousti-pop, and “Lavender Bubbles” hangs a wily hook occupying a sweet spot between Husker Du and Men at Work.  The Simons reunited last year in fact, reconvening for a belated “third” album, Post, which predominantly consists of vintage outtakes, and even a handful of new songs. 

01. King Archidej
02. Sasparilla
03. Wish of the Sundial
04. Long Time Coming
05. Father Figure
06. Lavender Bubbles
07. Murder Creek
08. Sadder Sound
09. Amber
10. Sweet Bitter

Articles Origin: Seven Simons – Clockwork (1988, Sky)

Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star, Featuring Chris Bell (2017, Omnivore) – A brief overview.

No, this isn’t a rehash or repeat of Chris Bell’s posthumous, I Am the Cosmos, solo album material, nor is it a re-visitation of his contributions to Big Star’s # 1 Record.  Truth is, Big Star’s “crazy diamond,” had a wealth of experience under his belt before he encountered Alex Chilton et al, but up until now Bell’s pre-Star recordings/collaborations have been scattered, smothered and not always so well covered on an array of “supplemental” releases including the little publicized Rock City CD, the Keep An Eye on the Sky Big Star box, and The Ardent Records Story compilation.  Looking Forward… is not a leave-all-stones unturned clearinghouse of Bell’s entire body of work (though a much more thorough vinyl box set just might deliver such in the near future) but it nonetheless provides an ample overview of his antecedent ventures in Memphis that informed his crucial input to that first Big Star album and beyond.

To you, the established Bell/Big Star acolyte who remember the sadly deceased singer/songwriter as a wellspring of palpable angst, yearning, and a romantic frustration…well, that Chris Bell doesn’t turn up so frequently on Looking Forward.  In fact, on his early endeavors (which I’ll elaborate on further in a moment) the man in question rarely took the lead mic, or moreover, exuded his inner ravaged soul…though I wouldn’t let that stop you from investigating.
Specifically, you might be asking, what of Chris Bell’s pre-Star enterprises?  One of which that is brought up extensively in the liner notes, Christmas Future, isn’t represented on the CD.  I mention them, because it’s with this project Bell would align with Terry Manning, one of his key early collaborators who is involved on virtually every recording amidst Looking Forward.  The whole ball of wax got rolling for Bell somewhere in the vicinity of 1967 when Christmas Future was conceived with another co-conspirator, Steve Rhea.  Manning would join soon after, but with no recorded evidence on file we’ll jump ahead to the next project, Icewater (yes, all one word).  Operating as a trio and sometimes a quartet, Icewater weren’t markedly advanced or nearly as auspicious as Big Star.  We get four fully realized songs by them here, including this record’s title piece, “Looking Forward,” which features Bell singing it’s slow-burning, bluesy refrains.  The liners boast of an occasion when Icewater auditioned for a record label, only to be rejected for resembling the Beatles too much for their own good, though you’d barely get that impression here. 

Rock City was the next pit-stop on Bell’s trajectory, a band whose repertoire and depth was more pronounced than Icewater.  Manning was held over after the Ice thawed, and Tom Eubanks entered the RC fold, fulfilling most of the vocal duties.  As with Icewater, Rock City didn’t necessarily wield a defining calling card, yet they occupied a wavelength that ascended a tad higher than many of their early ’70s contemporaries.  We encounter them on about ten instances on Looking Forward.  “Lovely Lady” weaves a sweet jangly web, “I Lost a Love” mines a proto-classic rock vein, but the most dazzling Rock specimens are exposed when we’re treated to a pair of Bell-fronted songs that would be translated virtually note for note on Big Star’s # 1 Record a couple years later.  The “preview” Rock City iterations of “My Life is Right” and “Try Again” (the latter also featured in the Big Star Bio-pic Nothing Can Hurt Me) are as intense and soul searching as the more well known Star versions.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there was serious B/S foreshadowing taking place on “My Life is Right” which just so happened to feature Jody Stephens occupying the drummer’s stool.

Amidst what I’ve outlined so far, we’re also introduced to the Wallabys, a quartet featuring the aforementioned Terry Manning and Steve Rhea, which also involved Chris Bell on guitars.  And there’s one thoroughly solo Bell take here, “Psychedelic Stuff,” a work-in-progress faintly recalling Syd Barrett of all things.  I’m not enthused with Looking Forward’s anticlimactic closers, a clutch of voiceless Icewater backing tracks.  One that’s worthy of inclusion, purely for historical reference, the Alex Chilton penned “Oh My Soul” would have been more suitably sequenced in the middle of the album, and not so much as a finale.  This aside, …Forward is a curious and revealing window into the world of Chris Bell prior to his fleeting halcyon days in the first permutation of Big Star, and somewhat posthumously as a solo artist.  It’s available straight from Omnivore Records, Amazon and iTunes

Articles Origin: Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star, Featuring Chris Bell (2017, Omnivore) – A brief overview.

FM Knives – some singles

They made themselves known to the world at large as the FM Knives, but this Sacto quartet may as well have been named the Heartbreakers because that’s exactly what they did to moi, and virtually ever fan who was awaiting a followup album to 2002’s Useless & Modern.  Their only proper full length, Useless… was a dizzying and deliriously intoxicating merger of the Buzzcocks by way of hi-octane, American indie punk not dissimilar to the likes of the Didjits.

For whatever the reason, a second FM LP simply wasn’t in the cards and little was heard from the fellows since, but before vanishing the band found a day or two in 2002 and ’03 to lay down a few more songs for a couple of ace short-stack releases.  The Estrogen ep delivered more of U&M’s souped-up, melodic moxie, wielding instant charmers “Just Like William Tell” and the title track.  2003’s “Keith Levine” 45 found the knives curtailing their blistering tempos half a notch, still flagrantly bowing at the alter of Shelly/Devoto/Diggle, making yet another convincing argument for sticking around a few more years.  Twas not to be, but the FM Knives had a keen influence on the Marked Men.  Rumor has it the Knives reformed for some concerts this year. 

Years ago a few unreleased Knives surfaced online (possibly from the Keith Levine sessions), and I’m supplementing them as a bonus in this download.

Estrogen ep (2002, Smartguy)
01. Estrogen
02. Can’t Afford You Now
03. Just like William Tell
04. Cassavettes vs. the Moneygoround

Keith Levine 7″ (2003, Dirtnap)
A. Keith Levine
B. Valentine

presumably unreleased
Secret of My Success
Men With Style
Two Swords (English Beat cover)

Articles Origin: FM Knives – some singles

Blank Schatz ‎– The Grand Prize (1988)

I’ve long run out of shelf space for vinyl LPs, and instead have been placing rows of records vertically against book shelves and even furniture.  For several months at the front of one of these rows is the album I’m presenting now.  I’ve taken many a lengthy gaze at the album jacket to Blank Schatz’s The Grand Prize, and while I’m often wont to dismiss that big ol’ amorphous black blob as a nondescript mess, more and more it looks like a QR code on steroids.  Guess I shouldn’t give this Findlay, OH trio too much credit for being prescient, but I digress.  The riff-laden, wet-behind-the-ears spunk of Grand Prize strikes me as more of a really tight practice session than a cohesive album/ep.  Roughly half of the eight tunes are instrumentals, and when (fill in the blank) approaches the mic, he slips into a mode akin to Black Flag-era Henry Rollins.  Kind of fitting when you consider these guys as an entity are tantamount to one of Greg Ginn’s numerous half-baked offshoots.  Nonetheless, if power chords and grooves a la skate punks JFA are your bag, you’ll have some fun here. 

01. Ted’s Devil Car
02. Devil’s Hole Road
03. Rob’s New One
04. This Town
05. Just Men
06. Balderdash
07. Plight Song
08. untitled

Articles Origin: Blank Schatz ‎– The Grand Prize (1988)

Shotwell Coho 7″ ep (Broken, 1995)

Despite having two Berkeley, CA punk luminaries in their lineup (Aaron Cometbus and Paul Curran) Shotwell Coho’s writing and fronting responsibilities fell to the relatively less renown Jimmy Broustis, who himself hand a stint Strawman.  Besides being a prolific zine scribe in the ’80s and ’90s, Cometbus’ drumming lineage is spread across myriad East Bay sub-rosa rockers including Crimpshrine, Sweet Baby, Pinhead Gunpowder, and stretching as far back to the early Reagan era, S.A.G.  Prior to this endeavor Curran formally made inroads with Crimpshrine as well, not to mention Monsula and Go Sailor.  In short, Shotwell Coho (later truncated to just Shotwell in light of personnel alterations) was your proverbial super-group, albeit with a less than proverbial profile.  Broustis has that classic Easy Bay punk rasp, but nothing overbearing, and his trio’s economical, no-effects penchant aesthetically fits the mold of many of these aforementioned combos like a glove. Easily the most immediate and effective article in the Shotwell (Coho) canon, this self-titled ep entails a faithful reading of Bob Marley and the Wailer’s “Redemption Song,” and a noble tribute to Johnny Thunders, “J.T.R.I.P.”  The band followed this release up with their first full length as Shotwell, dubbed Celery, Beef and Iron.

01. APHM
02. Redemption Song
03. Christobol Colon
04. J.T.R.I.P.
05. Through You

Articles Origin: Shotwell Coho 7" ep (Broken, 1995)

3 Free Improvisation Albums for Free

Self promotion time here:

In July of 2015 I hauled out my huge percussion set up to record a trio album at my friend Jason Wietlispach’s studio. A few months later, Jason contacted me with a crazy idea, “What if you brought you whole set up here and we invited a bunch of people to come in and play some duets with you?” I was intrigued and said, “Yes!”

So the call was put out on Facebook, asking if any musicians were interested in being a part of the project. Each person would be assigned a 30 minute time slot where they would come in, set up, improvise with me, and then pack up and go, letting the next person repeat things. Within a short time, we had our list of musicians. What really interested me was that I only knew a few of the musicians, and I had actually played with only a couple of them. So this would be an interesting musical challenge to meet and create with a revolving cast of players.

Jason setting up mics on my extended set up.

Finally, one November morning, I hauled all my gear to Jason’s studio and we commenced on what would become a 12 hour marathon. While we had imagined this as a series of duos, a few people who had adjoining time slots wanted to play together in a trio. We also had a few people who showed up with a musician friend who we were glad to add to the mix in a few more trios.

All in all, 3.5 hours of music was recorded. And this music has sat in my computer until now. I have some 10 other albums in the can that kept pushing this one to the side. And there was also the matter of 3.5 hours of music to sift through and edit. So over the past few months I’ve found the extra time to go over all the recordings. Fortunately, the time passed since recording things has helped me listen with new ears. The tracks were edited for musical shape and flow, mastered, and sequenced into 3 separate albums.

And these 3 albums are available now to download for FREE!

The download links are below:

To add to this, you can view my video series on The Art of Improvisation. I video recorded most of the sessions that day and posted 12 videos with commentary describing what I was doing, thinking, feeling, and what worked or didn’t for me musically.

I also previously blogged about these sessions in more detail in an 8-part series starting here: An Inside Look At Improvisation. So if you are new to improvising, or even experienced, I hope the 3 things (albums/videos/blogs) can help give you some insight into the creative aspects of one musician’s quest to play improvised music.

Enjoy! And thanks for your interest!

~ MB

P.S. – The 3rd and final part on The Challenge of Writing Music Notation For Percussion will finally appear next week.

Deconstruct Yourself™

Articles Origin: 3 Free Improvisation Albums for Free