Posts filed under ‘avant rock’

Hüsker Dü

Husker Du (l-r Greg Norton, Grant Hart & Bob Mould)

Husker Du (l-r Greg Norton, Grant Hart & Bob Mould)

The 80s revival is pretty much over, right? The hip and not-so-hip retro-mongers all seem to have their sights set squarely upon the early 90s, at this point. So what’s left? Mainly the impression that the 80s was an era of synthetic textures and vapid consumerism/body-image obsession (so unlike our own time – ha!) From electroclash to hypnagogic pop, 80s revivalism has painted a pretty one-dimensional picture of the era.

But how about what this here blog likes to call The Earnest 80s? There certainly was a major obsession with organic earthiness, spiritual soulfulness and workmanlike authenticity during that decade. Think how huge Springsteen and U2 got.

Well, one element of the Earnest 80s has certainly been revived, in the mainstream at least – the faux-sophisticated faux-soul of The Style Council, Simply Red etc. People will try to tell you that the success of Adele and Amy Winehouse has something to do with a 60s soul revival but it doesn’t. This kind of earnest-white-person take on 60s soul is definitively 80s. In the 80s, this sound was tied to what Simon Reynolds called “designer soul-cialism”. This was essentially a watered-down take on Scritti Politti’s mixture of leftist ideology and knowing soul revivalism. The 21st-century revival-of-a-revival version rather predictably drops the politics and intellectual pretensions in favour of pure nostalgia-for-nostalgia.

But what about the relatively hip indie sector? Well, the equivalent of the Adele phenomenon would be the mild interest among some committed retro rockers for the paisley underground. And there’s certainly a few bands out there with a distinct whiff of The Replacements (who were, perhaps, the indie E Street Band). It’s significant that Husker Du’s boozy Minneapolis neighbours seem to have the greater share of the cred with youngsters – it sort of mirrors the pop mainstream’s party-hard dogma . The Du…. well, that’s a thornier, more complex proposition altogether.

And so, Hukser Du languishes in relative obscurity. Relative, certainly, compared to the centrality to – one might even say hegemony over –  the alt music scene this band enjoyed during its heyday. It’s hard to imagine now how massively critically acclaimed earnest-80s rockers like Husker Du and The Go Betweens used to be. Who listens to The Go Betweens these days? Make no mistake, though: In the mid 80s, Bob Mould (guitar/vocals), Grant Hart (drums/vocals) and Greg Norton (bass) were The Saviours of Rock, at least according to the British music press.

But ask a music connoisseur – even one who lived through and was intimately involved with that period – about Husker Du and you’ll probably be greeted with a blank stare. Flick through a book about the alt 80s and you’ll certainly find a few mentions of the Du (especially in Reynolds’ Blissed Out and Bring the Noise) but nothing even remotely in proportion to how important the band was considered to be at the time. The same might be said of The Cure but while Fat Bob Smith and co were always popular, they were never nearly as critically acclaimed as Fat Bob Mould and co. So, why has Husker Du fallen so far out of favour?

Perhaps because Mould, Hart and Norton esquires don’t fit in. They don’t fit in with our view of the 80s, they don’t fit in with our view of “interesting” music, they don’t really fit in anywhere. In their early days, they may have stuck out like a sore thumb – a distinctly non-funky hardcore trio who dug The Mamas & the Papas – but they did so in a way that was useful or interesting for music critics, precisely because they were a massive affront to designer soul-cialism etc. Mould and Hart were, in many ways, the ultimate 80s outsiders – chubby, scruffy, gay, Midwestern punks who declared a love of 60s folk-pop a few years before it came back into fashion.

In his book Husker Du: The Story of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock, Andrew Earles insists that their sexuality was irrelevant to their music. But this simply isn’t true – these were guys who were equally out-of-place in the gay and straight communities. In Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad’s indispensable book on US indie rock in the 80s, Hart is quoted as saying that being gay “just served to be even one more thing that we were bad-ass about”. In other words, they were forced to accept and channel their outsider status from the get-go – and sexuality was a not insignificant aspect of this. (Another was geography. As Azerrad notes, they weren’t even actually from Minneapolis. Norton again: “We were St. Paul people, which was like East Germans. So we even had to live that down”.)

So, for many 80s music critics, raised on the 70s underground (i.e. the hipper end of prog), punk and post-punk punk, Husker Du  must have seemed like just the right kind of misfits. In his review of the band’s underrated swansong album Warehouse: Songs & Stories (1987, “Friend, You’ve Got to Fall” might be just be the #besthuskerdusong), Reynolds notoriously concluded: “My fantasy. A million heads wigging out, blissed out, in rock noise… The return of ROCK.” In other words, Husker Du’s wall of impassioned sound was the perfect antidote to second-generation/depoliticized new pop, white funk and designer soul-cialism.

But wasn’t it just the other side of the same coin; another example of why the Earnest 80s basically sucked? Maybe not. In the same review, Reynolds noted: “Husker Du don’t belong with the new authentics… there’s no intimacy, no sweat, nothing earthy. Husker Du are making a monument, a mountain, a glacier, out of rock again, rather than burrowing along at the grass roots.” With Husker Du, adolescent anomie and Regan-era despair were pushed as far as they would go; to the point of becoming psychedelic . As Reynolds said: “Noise as metaphor for inner turmoil and its transfiguration.” This is why the 60s/psych influence was crucial and it found it’s ultimate expression not only on the double concept album Zen Arcade (1984) but even more tellingly on the legendary cover of The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”.

The key was excess. Shrieking in the face of sub-Springsteen rootedness and white-funk tastefulness, Flip Your Wig (1985), in particular, rammed everything into the red. The only album with the production values really necessary to truly communicate Mould’s virtuosic shower-of-sparks guitar style (live videos suggest he could play hell-for-leather solos and ear-strafing power chords at the same time), Flip Your Wig is pretty overwhelming: almost every song is insanely catchy; just hearing the guitar is like staring directly at the sun; surplus reverb floods the vocals, clotting the frequency range for good and filling every void with life-affirming NOISE.

Even at their catchiest, Husker Du’s songs were astoundingly cathartic. Of the band’s two songwriters, Hart seemed like the hippy-dippy character – Mould came across a lot angrier and more hard-bitten. But boy could Grant Hart ever shriek when he wanted to. On one of the band’s best, most anthemic songs, “Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” from New Day Rising (1985), Hart’s vocals get increasingly raw and crazed with each verse, ending up as an insane barrage of seemingly wordless vocalizing.

Basically, this music is fucking great. But next to nobody seems to care anymore. That is, in and of itself, a shame. But there’s more to it than that because the world actually needs Husker Du right now – or, at least, it needs a Husker Du. Contemporary electronic dance-pop has achieved complete mainstream global domination – a sound as sterile and vacuous as anything the 80s turned out. And the only alternative would appear to be Adele or whoever. Meanwhile, the smarter critics continue to confuse process with aesthetics, sticking rigidly to the dogmatic belief that electronics = future, guitars = equal past. In fact, most of the best and most innovative music of the past 20 years has been based on channeling rock ends through electronic (specifically, digital) means – My Bloody Valentine and Fennesz providing the obvious high points.

So, this here blog isn’t proposing another Return to Rock, particularly in the mainstream. Indeed, we should be glad that pop radio and video music stations have finally rid themselves of the blight that was corporate emo rock – a style of music that is fundamentally sub-Du. It’s worth pointing out at this stage, though, that while “emotional hardcore” is a decent-enough partial description of the band’s sound, Husker Du was not emocore per se. Emo was (quite self-consciously) started in Washington DC, around the time that HD was at its peak, by acts like Embrace and Rites of Spring – the bands that became Fugazi. The DC kids seemed to distrust the Du boys for being wannabe rock stars; decadent aesthetes with ideas above their station; fundamentally not earnest enough.

In any case, the Husker Du sound was more expansive (and druggy, frankly) than early emo and certainly more cerebral and experimental than corporate emo. Sure, 21st century emo/screamo was often quite extreme but it was (Is? Are labels still releasing that stuff?) essentially as rigid and airless as the dance-pop that replaced it on the airwaves. Husker Du’s sound, by contrast, was downright oceanic – a swelling, gushing torrent of rage, angst and empathy; majestically incoherent and occasionally pushed to the point of abstraction; a psychedelic head-rush compounded by a hardcore sucker punch. It’s this mixture of bliss and brutality, structure and expansiveness that the likes of MBV and Fennesz took to the next level in the subsequent two decades (something that the members of Husker Du proved unable to achieve in their own later careers.)

The fact remains: Husker Du’s music continues to deserve your attention because it’s an object lesson in the depth, focus and magic missing from music today – and because it’s quite simply bloody brilliant.

March 6, 2012 at 10:45 pm 6 comments

Husker Du – Live from London ’85

February 25, 2012 at 9:00 am 1 comment

My Bloody Valentine Gift to You…

Bilinda Butcher

Bilinda Butcher, hard at work

…Is simply a link to this thread on the MBV forum, which contains some apparently reliable information – and, frankly, rather a lot of speculation – about the band’s current activities. Seems they’re in the studio and actually getting somewhere, for a change. Of course, experience teaches us that, even if they do finish something, it’s never going to get an official release (where are those remasters, eh?) Still, it seems likely that some of this material will leak on the Internet at some point in the next 15-to-20 years. We’ll take whatever we can get at this stage, won’t we?

February 14, 2012 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Post-Rocktoberfest 2011: Flying Saucer Attack

Flying Saucer Attack

Flying Saucer Attack

What, you might be forgiven for asking, did Flying Saucer Attack have to do with post-rock? After all, post-rock in the original sense tended to be rather rhythmically solid and occasionally somewhat glossy; with all sorts of influences from electronic dance music and hip-hop. Post-rock in the contemporary sense tends to be epic and demonstratively emotional; full of big crescendos and widescreen angst. Flying Saucer Attack, on the other hand, were always decidedly shy and retiring; existing in an introverted, funk-less, lo-tech fug of fuzz and mumble; My Bloody Valentine with all the lustiness and digital tricknology bled out.

Perhaps it’s just a matter of association. FSA will always be associated with the Bristol post-rock scene of the 90s, alongside the likes of Movietone, Crescent and Light. This brought them into contact with more typically UK post-rock-sounding acts like AMP and The Third Eye Foundation. And in fact, as FSA went on, they did start to take on board the technologically-enhanced rhythmic innovations of early post-rock per se. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we?

First of all, it seems ridiculous to talk of Flying Saucer Attack as “they” when the whole thing was essentially the bedroom recording project of a pale-and-interesting record collector by the name of David Pearce. True, he had some helping hands – notably Rachel Brook of Movietone – but Flying Saucer Attack was clearly the realisation of Pearce’s very singular vision.

(The lo-fi, bedroom recording aspect is a large part of what sets Flying Saucer Attack apart from much early-to-mid-90s post-rock. One FSA’s slogans was “Home Taping is Reinventing Music”. In fact, though, there was quite a bit of crossover between the British version of lo-fi and UK post-rock – hear the early Hood material for evidence.)

Second, portraying Pearce as an intense and insular type only tells one side of the story. Did you read that bit in parentheses about FSA having slogans? When a musician starts using slogans, it tends to suggest s/he has some kind of overarching ambition; a slightly arrogant desire to impose a very specific worldview on the record-buying public; a special plan for this world. In fact, Pierce’s diffidence clearly masked an impish, mischievous personality as well as some satirical and deeply ideological intent. (In this regard, he had a lot in common with Ian Masters of Pale Saints/Spoonfed Hybrid infamy). All this is to say that Pearce in no way lacked post-rock’s artistic ambition or desire to disrupt and move ahead.

Flying Saucer Attack - Self-Titled

Flying Saucer Attack - Self-Titled

Pearce’s wiseacre sense of humour came through early on, when Flying Saucer Attack covered Suede’s “The Drowners” on their self-titled debut album. Listen closely and consider deeply and this incredibly sloppy, fuzzed-out take on a quintessential early Britpop anthem will tell you everything you need to know about FSA. Flying Saucer Attack also hinted at the more rhythmic nature of the band’s later work, via some pretty freaky percussive jams. Furthermore, it was a crystal clear statement of intent in terms of establishing Pearce’s credentials as an ahead-of-the-game rock scholar. Not one but two of the songs were named after kosmiche music/new age legends Popol Vuh – which was a pretty obscure reference for a British indie band to make at that time. (Pearce was also way ahead of the pack in embracing UK folk – he memorably described his music as “rural psychedelia” and FSA covered “Sally Free and Easy”.) If all that were not enough, the album featured what may be FSA’s best song, “My Dreaming Hill”.

Flying Saucer Attack - Further

Flying Saucer Attack - Further

So, Flying Saucer Attack encompasses pretty much anything you might want from Flying Saucer Attack. But to hear the band’s most coherent statement, you’re advised to grab Further. The “Outdoor Miner” CD single is also worth hunting down as it features a beautifully fragile rendering of the classic Wire tune, as well as another stone-cold FSA classic, “Everywhere Was Everything”. For some insight into FSA’s more rhythmically-focused later work the Chorus compilation (featuring the glorious “Feedback Song”) and New Lands album are both well worth hearing. Listen to the lot and you should get a fairly decent idea of what a richly rewarding and hard-to-pin-down phenomenon Flying Saucer Attack really was.

Anyone know what Pearce is up to these days?

October 10, 2011 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Secret Pyramid, Fieldhead, connect_icut & More Live in Vancouver on Sept 30th

Blim Sept 30th 2011

Blim Sept 30th 2011

Add it to your Last FM calendar!

Do whatever weird stuff it is that people do on Facebook!

Listen…

And here are the full details…

Secret Pyramid, No Ufos, connect_icut, Fieldhead & Cloudface
Friday September 30th 2011 at 8pm
Blim, 115 East Pender St., Vancouver BC, Canada

Early show! Starts at 8pm and ends promptly at midnight.

SECRET PYRAMID | http://secretpyramid.blogspot.com/
– “Swirling washes, layers of howling feedback and cosmic buzz, soft whispers giving way to deep, dark ambiance. Creepy drones hover like grey mist, feedback swells echoing like flutes or distant birds, all building up to a gorgeous fuzz-drenched climax, beautifully whirling sound walls akin to the cryptic tones of Kevin Drumm’s ‘Imperial Horizon’, but less industrial. Secret Pyramid offers up something mystical, serene and ephemeral.” –

CONNECT_ICUT | http://csaf-records.com/
– connect_icut is an English artist living in Vancouver, also involved with Interim Lovers, The Bastion Mews and Not Me. connect_icut creates abstract, melodic, highly textured and expansive electronica. –

NO UFO’S | http://soundcloud.com/nice-up
“Pretty dang successful… the lateral aktion is most nod-worthy” Byron Coley, The Wire

FIELDHEAD | www.fieldheadmusic.com
– Fieldhead (P. Elam, Vancouver, BC) delights in tape hiss, geography, bleak landscapes and decaying analogue loops.

“…paints atmosphere better than a whole ream of his electronica comtemporaries ever could, creating unhealthy amounts of awe with his string slices and distortion washes…” –

CLOUDFACE | http://soundcloud.com/dssr
– Hypnotic synth driven scattering loveliness. -“

September 15, 2011 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Dream Rock & Noise Pop in Videos: Slowdive – “When the Sun Hits”

Who knew there was a promo video for this? Who even knew it was a single? The final track from volume two.

August 30, 2011 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Dream Rock & Noise Pop in Videos: Drop Nineteens – “Winona”

Another promo video recorded from 120 Minutes. Track 16 from volume two.

August 26, 2011 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

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