mercoledì 28 ottobre 2009

American giants

by Adam Potkay

(...) In the summer of 1980 a specter was haunting America, the specter of Young Marble Giants. I remember reading a Village Voice article which reported that "downtown trendies are already talking about Young Marble Giants as the Next Big Thing." This may seem unbelievable to you, but only because hindsight is 20/20. On the face of things, YMG put out ore record Colossal Youth and broke up. (Coincidentally, the Feelies --a kind of American YMG -- put out Crazy Rhythms in the same year.) But ironically, the ace Voice reporter was right. YMG were, in spirit if not in fact, the NEXT BIG THING. Their sensibility, if not their songs, ruled the 1980s. The ironically-titled Young Marble Giants (one can hardly imagine a less gigantic-sounding band) represented something totally new: a celebration of totally private experience. Lead singer Alison Statton possessed a quaint sense, from the start, that "we live as we dream, alone," only she wasn't complaining. She took this as a creative premise. In contrast to the GOF, YMG sung about applying for bank loans, eating noddemix, thinking about old boyfriends. In contrast to the GOF's shout and call, Alison Statton just kinda mumbles. She doesn't sing to you. Listening to her sing is like overhearing your sister singing in the shower when she thinks no one is home. Like the early Feelies, YMG have undramatic lyrics (which obliquely reflect their quiet lives), delivered in a talky, uninspired voice, self-effacingly buried in a mix dominated by "quirky" and soulless rhythm. Which isn't to imply that either band is dumb about what they're up to: both the Feelies and YMG carried their alienated premises to high art through sheer nervous sensibility and a deadpan sense of humor.But unfortunately, it's hard to create compelling music from a glorification of tedium -- hence, the YMG spinoff groups, the Gist and Weekend, are more often than not just plain tedious. Though they're never as boring as nine-tenths of all the pop bands who have, wittingly or unwittingly, adhered to the YMG aesthetic (and believe me, Hoboken and Athens alone have produced quite a number of them).In the dawn of the 1980s, Young Marble Giants were, indeed, in ways unforeseeable to them or that Village Voice reviewer, the Next Big Thing. And their disbanded lives are only a logical extension of the choices they made early on: working in small woolen shops or whatever in Wales, unable to believe they once made a record that changed at least a few lives. It was so long ago, and such a private thing. (...) Please listen to their Keystone show, it was only 30 years ago...

giovedì 22 ottobre 2009

When kites flew high

In the early 1980s, English band the Modern Art were one of the pioneering D.I.Y. cassette bands, a psychedelic rock group formed by Gary Ramon, later that decade in the "almost famous" Sun Dial outfit. They recorded several releases for their independent record label Color Record as well as regularly appearing in many fanzines and they were also often featured in the mainstream music papers with favourable reviews in Melody Maker, Sounds and NME. Modern Art had a loose lineup that never played gigs but did see the release of a pair of posthumous collection studio albums and a number of very interesting self-produced cassettes. Ramon disbanded the group out of a desire "to make a more live-sounding group that could go out and play". Many Modern Art members subsequently joined Ramon in various incarnations of his new band, Sun Dial but I've always loved their first works, a mixture of post punk, psychedelia and even C86 influences. In their brief history, The Modern Art produced a lot of cassette material, most of which has never been heard. A good example is their beautiful 1982 self released cassette Underwater Kites (Color Records, October 1982).

The return of the painter men

It was about 1987 and my favourite record shop in Turin -with not a lot of originality called "Rock'n'Folk"- had a new strange vinyl in the storefront. It was really strange one, a splash of colours with a monster emerging from a red apple sea! "Peter Sellers and the Hollywood Party" was written on it but we had no other informations at the time. No it wasn't a soundtrack, the music inside was fascinating too, half acoustic via Patti Smith meet Syd Barret, half psychedelic like some paisley american stuff of the time... maybe only a renewed formula of italian folk-rock with echoes of psychedelia and strange imageries, said someone on the magazines at the time. I did not care a lot about the musical press and I fell immediately in love with that sound... those distant guitars and that peculiar voice. The leader and writer of the band, Magick (?!), best known with his original name Stefano Ghittoni, has nowadays a good status as dj & producer, with a glorious past of musician (Dining Rooms etc...). It seems that he doesn't like to talk a lot about this old project and that's a pity because there are no official informations or site about the band and no digital recordings available except for a single track (Chaotic shampoo) on a 1986 Glass Records compilation (50.000 Glass fans can't be wrong). I remember also an interesting side project to PS&HP, a band called "The Subterranean Dining Rooms", more bluesy and introspective with a lo-fidelity attitude. Someone said there was a movement around, some kind of a second wave of italian psychedelia and yes, there were bands (Vegetable men, Screaming floor, No strange etc.), brilliant compilations (The return of the tambourine men! & Oracolo for example) and a mysterious record label called Crazy Mannequin... but it last only for a while and this Milan-based totally underrated group soon disbanded after a second inspired album ('To Make a Romance Out of Swiftness'') with a video version too! Please take a listen, this was the lost adventure of the painter men...

martedì 6 ottobre 2009

Memories of Suzie Wong

It was a real pleasure to see recently a new interest in one of the best italian band of the eighties, Giancarlo Onorato's Underground Life from Monza, close to Milan. It was about 1978 when they started listening to their british idols Ultravox and Giancarlo soon became one of the first "JohnFoxx wannabelike fellow". In the beginning there was only a strong and genuine enthusiam then came the songs and God, they were great!   There was a time when it wasn't so easy to be a post punk band in Italy (postpunk what?) and Underground Life were probably one of the first and the best for many years. Still I remember listening to the Flash radio station in my hometown Turin, with the voice of Alberto Campo speaking of a "new wave" movement in his programme called Evening star (later Puzzle). Thanks to Alberto for his work and his passion. The story told us that they never had a minimum of fame and success and this was (and is?) the music biz in Italy in those years. Giancarlo now is having a decent solo career and he's a good writer too. What remains now are a bunch of recordings from my old vinyl copies and you will probably smile at their "english as a second language" sound. But there were great songs with lot of heart, tears, rage and nostalgia... this was the italian post punk at its best and no one better came after... 
Listen for your pleasure at "La Primula Rossa", a compilation of early recordings by Underground Life. Enjoy it!

lato A
BLACK-OUT! da "noncurance" 1979
da "fiori del male" 1980
KILLER da "fiori del male" 1980
NUOVE IMMAGINI da "cross" 1981
DECADENCE da "cross" 1981

lato B
GROPIUS VILLAGE da "the fox" 1983
da "fuoco nella città di ghiaccio" 1985
da "filosofia dell'aria" 1987
da "gloria mundis" 1988