Archive for October, 2009

Post-Rocktoberfest: Butterfly Child – The Peel Session

Butterfly Child

Butterfly Child

Bubblegum Cage III is proud to present the first of two sessions that Joe Cassidy’s band recorded for the John Peel show. As previously mentioned, these 1992 recordings feature a line-up identical to the one that appeared on Papa Sprain’s one-and-only Peel session – Cassidy, Gary McKendry of Papa Sprain and Rudy Tambala of A.R. Kane. Cassidy’s guests certainly make their collective presence felt – the session includes some of the most aggressive, noisy material Butterfly Child ever recorded. Perhaps that’s why Peel was so effusive in his praise for these songs when the session was originally broadcast. He got particularly hot under the collar about  “Led Through the Mardi Gras”.

These MP3 were recorded from the same cassette that yielded the Papa Sprain session files. The cassette was provided by erstwhile electronica artiste FortDax – to whom this here blog is eternally grateful. The tape will be mailed back to you soon Darren. Honest.

Download the entire session here.

October 7, 2009 at 9:00 am 19 comments

Post-Rocktoberfest: Yet More Papa Sprain

The Blissblogger just posted a scan of an interview he did with Papa Sprain back in 1991 (click the image to see it up close). Thanks Simon!

October 6, 2009 at 6:28 pm Leave a comment

Post-Rocktoberfest: The Papa Sprain Saga Continues

Those of you who’ve been following the comments on the original Papa Sprain post have probably noticed the existence of nine (9) new songs on Gary McKendry’s Myspace page. This, friends, is the magic of Post-Rocktoberfest!

Right now, it’s hard to know quite  what to make of these new tracks but the likes of “Allow Users” and “Snake Paper Money” certainly seem like logical continuations of the trajectory launched by Papa Sprain’s Tech Yes 7″.

This is all pretty rudimentary stuff on one level – simple but highly processed spoken word loops repeating for two-and-a-half minutes, before fading out. Still, it’s also clear that whatever unearthly spirit was haunting McKendry all those years ago is still with us.

Papa Sprain is alive, well and sounding a bit like Machinefabriek. Whatever next?

October 5, 2009 at 10:21 pm Leave a comment

Post-Rocktoberfest: US Post-Rock Top Five

Today, most people who would admit to being post-rock fans are solely interested in the third wave of epic, instrumental post-rock typified by Explosions in the Sky. Call it “emo post-rock” call it “unmitigated dog shit”, there’s no denying that this terrible, terrible music is popular. If you don’t believe  it, just take a look at the After the Post-Rock forum.

With contemporary post-rock the world over moving further and further away from anything that ever made the genre worthwhile, UK post-rock enthusiasts are feeling an increasing allegiance with fans of the early US post-rock bands. To celebrate this slight shift of allegiances – not to mention the mighty Matt Woebot’s brief overview of USPR – it seems like a good time to talk about some early-’90s American post-rock records that don’t totally suck.

Tortoise - Millions Now Living Will Never Die

Tortoise - Millions Now Living Will Never Die

1. Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996)
Millions Now Living… represents the moment when a US indie/avant rock band really broke on through to the post- side. Some may feel that the album’s electronica influences have dated poorly but – to these ears – the synthetic textures and experiments in remixology showcased here still sound utterly unique and timeless. Moreover, Millions… may just be the most melodically lovely post-rock album ever released. This is a record that truly lives up to its utopian title.

Tortoise – “Glass Museum”

Tortoise – “The Taut and Tame”

Labradford - A Stable Reference

Labradford - A Stable Reference

2. Labradford – A Stable Reference (1995)
Talking of utopia, early US  post-rock had a real retro-futurist obsession with the utopian promise of America’s space program. The three pale and interesting souls in Virginia’s Labradford were very much dedicated to exploring this obsession during their early career, using a combination of twangy, Tortoise-style guitars, droning vintage keyboards and whispered vocals. A Stable Reference, is the most well-realised testament to their childlike wonder at the universe and its infinite promise. A decade and a half on, its astral beauty remains undimmed.

Labradford – “El Lago”

Labradford – “Comfort”

Gastr Del Sol - Upgrade and Afterlife

Gastr Del Sol - Upgrade and Afterlife

3. Gastr Del Sol – Upgrade and Afterlife (1996)
As Gastr Del Sol, David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke took a rigorously deconstructive approach to rock. The game was to smoke out musical and lyrical cliches, blast them into a million tiny fragments, then rearrange the wreckage into interesting new shapes. The results were cerebral, confounding and oddly beautiful. Upgrade… – their Woebot-approved finest moment – mixes modernist poetry, acoustic finger-picking and hardcore electro-acoustic noise, to mind-boggling effect. With feint-hearted readers in mind, the MP3s posted below represent two of its more accessible moments.

Gastr Del Sol – “Rebecca Sylvester”

Gastr Del Sol – “The Relay”

Bowery Electric - Beat

Bowery Electric - Beat

4. Bowery Electric – Beat (1997)
One of the problems that many UK post-rock fans have with the genre’s American equivalent is the Yanks’ avoidance of dub, hip-hop and anything outwardly, well… funky. Bowery Electric, though, were an American post-rock band that new a thing or two about a good groove. Beat layers My Bloody Valentine-style sampled guitar drones over grainy hip-hop beats, deep, lithe dub-funk bass-lines and cooing dreampop vocals. It lacks any of the fusionoid noodling commonly associated with American post-rock and instead displays a heady, relentless sense of purpose.

Bowery Electric – “Without Stopping”

Bowery Electric – “Fear of Flying”

Salaryman - s/t

Salaryman - s/t

5. Salaryman – Salaryman (1996)
Believe or not, Salaryman was the experimental offshoot of post-hardcore also-rans The Poster Children. This may explain the fact that their music is not remembered fondly – or indeed at all, for the most part. It certainly can’t be anything to do with the quality of the music on their self-titled debut LP, which is very high indeed. Like Bowery Electric, Salaryman had more in common with the British post-rock movement than the American scene (although, like much latter day post-rock, Salaryman is an entirely instrumental affair). However, whereas Bowery Electric made a sexy, streamlined noise, Salaryman was a lumbering beast with a penchant for gauche keyboard sounds and slightly fussy rhythms. The results, on this album, are never less than infectious – bearing an open-heartedness sadly missing from today’s post-rock scene.

Salaryman – “Rather”

Salaryman – “Voids+Superclusters”

October 5, 2009 at 9:00 am 9 comments

Post-Rocktoberfest 2009: Papa Sprain Post(-rock)script

That Papa Sprain post has proved to be quite popular! Blogging heavywieghts Simon Reynolds and Matt Woebot have both linked to it, bringing the heaviest traffic this here blog has ever seen.

Coincidentally, the same day these links went online, a vinyl copy of May finally showed up on Discogs Marketplace. Guess who snapped it up.

And there’s more! As promised, Joe at The Blackened Air has posted the Flying to Vegas E.P. in its entirety, along with a bonus remix of the lead track.

Good times! More post-rock tomorrow.

October 4, 2009 at 5:40 pm Leave a comment

Post-Rocktoberfest 2009: The Delightfully Confusing World of Papa Sprain

Papa Sprain

Papa Sprain

Papa Sprain was perhaps the most mysterious of all the first-generation UK post-rock bands. Memorably, a poster on the I Love Music forum once voiced an opinion that the band was merely a figment of some Pitchfork’s writer’s imagination.

But Papa Sprain existed and some of the recorded evidence is scattered throughout this post. The band was based in London  but – as far as one can tell – all the members originally came from Belfast. They were proteges of dreampop legends A.R. Kane and released two E.P.s on their mentors’ H.ark! label. Additionally, they were very closely linked to Butterfly Child – also from Belfast, also involved with A.R. Kane.

Papa Sprain didn’t necessarily make the most original, eclectic or experimental  music to emerge from the early post-rock scene. But the Papa Sprain sound certainly was eccentric and confounding – a peculiar mix of literate singer-songwriter pop with experimental noise-rock, feedback drones and primitive electronics. And it was very much centred around the fragile voice and self-consciously modernist lyrics of the group’s leader Gary McKendry.

During its short life, the band only had three official releases. However, since McKendry’s disappearance from the world of music, a few additional tracks have found their way onto the Internet and Papa Sprain’s small (but international) band of admirers lives in hope that more is yet to come.

Early Demos (recorded around 1991)
These lo-fi home recording recently emerged when a mysterious source passed some MP3s onto Joe Morris of The Blackened Air. Tracks like “Shake Your Foot” and “Toppled King of the World” are clearly the work of a band in the earliest stages of its development.

Still, McKendry’s stream-of-consciousness lyrical style is in place and the guitars are already being mangled by all manner of effects-pedal excess (not to mention the low-technology recording equipment).

You can download the whole thing via The Blackened Air.

Papa Sprain - Flying to Vegas

Papa Sprain - Flying to Vegas

Flying to Vegas 12″ (H.ark!, 1991)
The only song from the demo to make it onto an official release was “Flying to Vegas”, the title track from the band’s debut E.P. for H.ark! This tune is an odd mix of semi-spoken vocals and electronically altered guitar melodies – coming off like Lloyd Cole produced by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins.

The rest of the tracks point more clearly towards Papa Sprain’s future development. “Spout”, in particular, is a limpid grotto of sound worthy of Sixty-Nine era A.R. Kane. Here, an anthemic chord sequence is gradually swallowed by guitar feedback and dub effects.

Papa Sprain - May

Papa Sprain - May

May 12″ (H.ark!, 1992)
The band’s second (and most immediately appealing) official release marked a slight step back from the slide into abstraction hinted at on tracks like “Spout”. May has a starker, more electronic sound. It also features some of the band’s finest and oddest pieces of song-writing, notably “I Got Stop” and “U Swell”.

Again, you can download the whole thing via The Blackened Air.

The Peel Session (recorded 1992)
By the time of Papa Sprain’s one-and-only session for the John Peel Show, the band was pretty much a solo concern for McKendry. For the session, he was backed up by Joe Cassidy of Butterfly Child and Rudy Tambala of A.R. Kane (a Butterfly Child session from around the same time featured an identical line-up).

The session drew half its material from May and the BBC versions were not noticeably different from the ones that appeared on the 12″. However, the two new songs suggested that McKendry was taking a sharp creative left turn. The gorgeous “Cliff Tune” may represent his most impressive attempt to balance melody and abstraction.

“You Are Ten Million Needles Pierce” (aka “You Are Ten Million Needless People”), meanwhile, represents a huge leap into the void – a wild cascade of free-form guitars and vocals, disrupted by Tambala’s stuttering drum machine noise. This bizarre track forms a real cornerstone of the Papa Sprain mythology – particularly as there is some disagreement over its correct title (perhaps due to Peel stumbling over said title when he announced it on air). “You Are.. ” was also a vital foreshadowing of what little future Papa Sprain had.

And, once again, you can download the whole session via The Blackened Air.

Papa Sprain - Tech Yes

Papa Sprain - Tech Yes

Tech Yes 7″ (Rough Trade, 1993)
Somewhere along the line, McKendry had entered into a relationship with Rough Trade – a label that had also released albums by A.R. Kane. The only official fruit borne by this relationship was Tech Yes, a three-track 7″ released as part of the Rough Trade Singles Club series.

“Tech Yes” itself is like nothing else the band had previously recorded – a glitchy drum machine pattern overlaid with rumbling feedback and detuned spoken word vocals. The MP3 presented here was ripped at 45RPM, as specified on the record. So it really is supposed to sound like that!

On the B-side “See Sons Bring Some More Out Tomb We Enter” is rather more accessible – basically a droney, tonal organ improvisation, featuring McKendry’s looped voice intoning the title phrase – presumably a phonetic reconfiguring of “seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter”. This simple linguistic game hinted at McKendry’s growing interest in modernist literature (particularly the work of James Joyce), something which was to be a significant part of his undoing.

The Mysterious Full-Length Album (unreleased)
There are those who claim to have heard the full-length album that Papa Sprain allegedly recorded for Rough Trade. But these claims are hard to verify.

The story is that an increasingly eccentric McKendry was taking his sweet time recording Papa Sprain’s full-length debut when the folks at Rough Trade demanded to hear some work in progress. McKendry brought them a cassette of freeform guitar feedback and the irritated label people demanded that he produce something a bit more substantial – and soon. A week later, McKendry returned with the same recording, to which he had added his voice intoning the first word from every page of Ulysses.

That’s the story anyhow. And that was pretty much the end of Papa Sprain. McKendry returned to Belfast, where he started a short-lived band called Roo Nation, before dropping off the musical map for good.

The only Gary McKendry from Belfast to have made any noticeable waves since then is a director of American TV ads, as well as one Academy Award-nominated feature film. Could they possibly be the same person? Apparently, he’s currently working on an action flick that will star Jason Statham.

Weird.

October 1, 2009 at 9:00 am 153 comments

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