Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I have not obeyed the commandment of Thirteenth Floor Elevators Roller Coaster to “open upcha mind and let everything flow through it” and recently I have been resolutely hunkered in the bunker having nothing but heavy-ass trips, just check out my end-of-year list if you don’t believe me. Well I felt it was important to maintain my cultural cache and expand my horizons; and what better time to do that than the messed-up three-month shit show of xmass. That wonderous Pago-Christo-Capitalist festival where we worship around the spectacle of the evergreen pine tree, representing the rejuvenation that occurs on the 21st of December, at the solstice. We also celebrate the non-birth of the not-ever-born messiah of Judeo-Christian text, as well as devoting massive amounts of money, time and worry to gargantuan soulless corporations who’d be selling fully automatic rifles and heroin to pre-schoolers if they thought there’d be a profit in it. Merry fucking Christmas, every one. Another fabulous xmass tradition is being given shit you don’t want. You know? You’re into music, so somebody gives you a CD by a band or artist totally outside your demographic and taste and most of the time it’s utter shite and you have to listen to it a few times to not seem ungrateful, but occasionally it’s a little chunk of that magic moment when you buy a CD by a band you’ve never heard of or catch a slice of radio that doesn’t cater to your demographic. Well, Adam, our other glorious and well-informed contributor sent me over a brace of five albums with nothing comfortable or familiar in sight. Tally ho! Life begins at the end of the comfort zone!
Well so much for the unfamiliar, the first record is Carlos Santana and (crucially post-Mahavishnu) John McLaughlin’s 1973 Love Devotion Surrender. Santana, natch, is one of those artists we all profess to love but don’t ever spin, Citizen Kane. John McLaughlin’s Devotion from his pre-Mahavishnu days is one of the great unremembered sixties records, full of cut-and-dry Iommiisms without any shame; but Mahavishnu Orchestra are one of the most hugely overrated psyche bands and they kinda spoiled everyone who was a part of them to constantly repeat the hopelessly light and slight Mahahvishnu specialised in. Together on this release they constantly light and slight extended versions of Soul Sacrifice (which I unashamedly love) and the whole beat has a half-life which has been stretched so far, that by the end of the album, it is almost transparent. Thumbs down.
Okay, though it’s a great Christmas gift album, in that I hate it, the next album is King Crimson Songbook Volume One by the Crimson Jazz Trio. No no no no no no no. No. If my time as a guttersnipe achieves one thing it must be that albums entirely of covers have to work pretty fucking hard to be allowed admittance. Write your own songs. And jazz recreations of old albums or best-ofs are the laziest of the lot. It’s the usual batch of jazz renditions of vocalless hey-it’s-that-song without an original thought in its head. Thumbs down.
Being white and middle class and Scottish and into what could broadly be racistly described as white people guitar music (not to suggest it is, or should be, limited to white people, obviously) I have never had much time for rap just as rap has never had much time for me. I’m about as far removed culturally as I could be while still speaking English and I’m a world away from their problems just as I am their culture. But hip hop is no less valid a poetry than T.S. Eliot, moreso, perhaps, if you want to have sex with someone and hate women, I’ve never understood why you can’t just say it out instead of spending a hundred stanzas dancing around the point. Next up is my first real introduction to hip hop, Dr Octagon’s Dr Octagonecologyst. As that title might suggest, the female sexual features are a prime point of interest for Mr Octagon, almost in a suspect way (one might go so far as to suggest he is rather overcompensating for something, but I’ll let it slide) who pretend he’s a homicidal time-travelling gynaecologist and of course the misogyny is layered thicker than my waistline is going to be after Christmas. He has quite a good flow (oh yeah, look at me mixing hip hop terms with the best of ‘em) but there’s an overreliance of turntable action that adds nothing and goes nowhere; but I can’t get past the woman-hating. Talk about it being ‘ironic’ all you want, but arching your eyebrow for a laugh after telling women you hate them doesn’t make you any less of a ridiculous cultural pollutant. Thumbs down.
Holy Jesus, this isn’t going well is it? Howzabouts a change of pace, eh? Mebbe some freerock? Hoooboy I could toke on a High Rise joint any time. A lil taste of wild boar hunting with a sub-machinegun, pure unadulterated undiluted gonzo. But there is a dirtier, longer, duller side to ‘freerock’ that takes its lead from free jazz. Long, formless compositions lashed lazily together for the benefit of the players rather than the listeners, and it is in this haunted kingdom that 50th Birthday Celebration Volume Four by Electric Masada hangs its massive self-indulgent hat. The recording comes from John Zorn’s month-long 50th birthday party, and rather like his party itself, rather outstays its welcome. Mark Ribot on guitar seems to steal the show, when Ikue Mori’s laptop isn’t polluting the whole release with the sounds of shattering glass, shattering any freejazz-style amusement that might come out of this bloated and masturbatory band practice. Thumbs down.
The last album is by a gentleman called Gang Starr (“to Mr. and Mrs. Starr, a son, Gang”) which my esteemed colleague assures me is one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. But I don’t like hip-hop winges my inner twat. He’s a gentleman from the East Coast, Brooklyn to be specific. He isn’t a gentleman at all, Gang Starr is a group, and the rapper is Guru. Hip-hop makes me nervous. Not in Fox news fear of melanin way, in a cultural alienation bent. Afforementioned white middle class Scottish dude is about as far culturally removed from American hip hop as I can be while still sharing the same mothertongue (theoretically, this guy speaks a whole different language) so I feel I have very little authority on the subject or execution of the music; whether I like it or not is pretty irrelevant and there’s jack-all I can contribute to the conversation on hip-hop because I would always defer to the much wiser cultures on the subject. This album is infinitely better right off the bat than Dr Octagoneycologyst because he isn’t totally misogynistic from the start. I actually quite like this. Guru has excellent flow, emphasising his poetry, he’s sharp, funny, observant and poetic and the beats fall nicely to the background and foregrounds the flow. I’ll go so far as to say this album has turned me on to hip-hop, which I’ll be diving in to in the new year. It’s a different world to mine, but sometimes the spectator sees more of the game.
Well merry fucking xmass to all and sundry, I hope y’all had a good ‘un. I got four horrible albums and one actually good one that I’ll remember as the album that got me started on hip-hop. Don’t’ let my experience deter you, new is good. So go out, with some xmass money and go into a record shop that doesn’t cater to your demographic. Flip through the racks you never normally look at. Check out a blog, magazine or a radio station that doesn’t play music you like. Go and buy a record by a band you’ve never heard of because you like their name, or because it was released the day you were born. Ignore iTunes and Amazon ‘suggestions’ because they just limit your spiritual growth by trying to type you to one genre. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. Yowzah!
Written under duress by Steven.