GEOFFREY O’CONNOR – VANITY IS FOREVER (CHAPTER)

I first heard a song from this album late night on PBS. The DJ suggested it sounded like a solo album that never was from an 80’s new romantic band. He went on to remark that the track he was about to play had this incredible faux pan pipe sound like those dinky South American bands that play at Preston market.

The track he played, Proud is the best song on the album, it’s straight from the pop music charts circa 1984, “I can’t tell if people flirt with me because I look miserable or loose/ but I can always be proud/like we always said we would,” O’Connor gasps before the infamous faux pipes come in and they sound like something Toto or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark would wet themselves with joy over.

Melbourne based O’Connor may be better known for his work with popsters Crayon Fields or under his other solo moniker Sly Hats. Vanity Is Forever took two years to record and does some really interesting things. It’s simultaneously kitsch yet reverential, earnest with its heart on its sleeve whilst joyfully tugging at the corpse of 80’s pop. The album is lush, smooth despite its at times forced artificiality. O’Connor breathlessly murmurs close mic’d, fragile, drawing upon the ghosts of the past but leading them into new directions, finding the darkness, or perhaps lovesick melancholia lurking beneath the big hair and fluro colours.

He comes across like a gentler Bryan Ferry more circumspect, yet with a dry wit that comes out occasionally on tracks like Whatever Leads Me to You, “I’ve seen you with many/ and imagine they bore you/the more they give, know spoil – adore you.” There are little vague traces of everything from Chris Isaak, Dave Graney, hell even Bowie if you listen hard enough. Yet the reality is that despite it’s quite obvious stylistic reference points it’s very much O’Connor, a very personal, at times raw, but also clever and unexpected album that’s only 26 or so years too late.

CANT – DREAMS COME TRUE (WARP)

Cant is white boy r&b, an at times dense indie electronic album that is brimming with disparate ideas and approaches. Perhaps too many. One moment it’s gentle late night and minimal with a repetitive guitar line and throaty folksy vocals, yet then it moves into taut electronica before erupting into woozy distorted avant electronic sound art piece, and that’s just one song (Bang).

It’s everything but the kitchen sink, clearly the work of someone throwing every idea they’ve ever had at the music and seeing what sticks. Or you’d think so if it wasn’t the debut solo album of Chris Taylor, a man who’s already demonstrated his chops in Grizzly Bear, and via production for Twin Shadow (who appears here) and Blood Orange. The production is crisp and articulate and the vocals are earnest with gentle harmonies -but that’s where the resemblance to his day job ends.

It’s very much an electronic album, with dense washes of synth and programmed beats. All of this could make it a little cold, a little artificial, however the vocals really plug right into the emotions. In fact there’s a certain Phil Collins element to the way he sings at times, particularly on the opener Too Late Too Far. It’s these unexpected linkages that highlight the real pop feel to his music. It’s the opposite of slick, and in fact the pop often appears hand in hand with the noisier more dissonant moments, yet it’s lurking here and prevents any prickly moments of abrasiveness from becoming too much. Between the song based electrics are these gentle acoustic moments with Taylor crooning on guitar or even piano.

There’s a lot going on here and there’s no doubt it takes some time to digest and allow the tunes to really breathe, but when they do, it’s impossible to ignore the sheer musical and production precociousness as well as the diversity of styles.

HORNY HOUSE OF HORROR (Pinku)

“What’s that smell?” asks one of the drunken guys as they walk into the massage parlour. “Its natural, its generations of sperm,”replies his friend. “No it smells like dead meat,” suggests the drunken guy thoughtfully.

Surely that would be enough to turn heel, maybe conclude the night without a happy ending, but not for this sex starved trio. So in true formulaic horror movie tradition we’ve got a reluctant guy pining for his fiancé and his horny as hell perverted mates who drag him in to a sex filled gore fest.

They begin by choosing their girls. “You can finger their buts before you make a choice,” offers the manager as the girls stick their derrière through a hole in the wall. It’s sexist and demeaning, yet it’s approached with a pitch-black humour and gutter gore sensibility. Nothing is too much. There’s a real fascination with castration, not just the act of the chop, but inventive ludicrous castration scenarios that you get the sense the whole film is actually based around. Then of course there are the overly copious geysers of groin blood.

It’s totally seedy. By the time they’re pulling entrails out of each other it barely raises an eyebrow. It’s part of a movement of over the top gore and sex films of late, like Tokyo Gore Police mashed up with Sex and Zen. It does to cinema what Ramstein does to music. Takes things too far and then escalates. What saves it from being too much even though it is too much, is its attention to detail. For all its hackneyed plot and base humour there’s a real inventiveness here. Not to mention a celebration of all things wrong and bad taste. Do they live? Do they die? Who the hell cares?

Fragmented Frequencies October 2011

Rick Wakeman

Two words cause an involuntary shiver through music lovers everywhere. They manage to conjure up all that is excessive, bloated and wrong in music, recalling a misguided time when an unsophisticated audience could be taken in by horribly egocentric musicians who in any other field, in any other time would have been ridiculed as annoying dungeons and dragons’ freaks or tragic sci fi nerds.
I’m referring to progressive rock, and before you stop reading, throw Inpress in the bin, burn the bin and put a hex on the family of the person who built the establishment that you picked up Inpress from, consider this: there is more to prog rock than you might think.

Of course there’s the mid 70’s cliché, Emerson Lake and Palmer’s three trucks and 120 member road crew for their 1977 Works tour, or Yes’ keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who’s live show at Wembley Arena for The Myths And Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table featured knights on ice skates and a full orchestra. But what if you could trace the origins of progressive rock through not just folk, but also fusion, and through the likes of Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Gong or the Soft Machine? Interested yet?

It’s exactly what Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell do in Beyond and Before: Progressive Rock Since the 1960’s (Continuum), citing the jazz fusion of Davis on Bitches Brew as mirroring the exploration and freedom in progressive rock, whilst offering guitarist John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and the Weather Report as two examples of bringing jazz to rock and offering a greater complexity and virtuosity to the music. The connections are loose, yet pleasing to consider, and the authors are keen to utilise them as a tapestry, or a delta of ideas and influences, as opposed to a straight continuum. Of particular interest is the way they unpack essential albums in the prog rock cannon in order to discuss some its central tenants, such as myth, imagery, virtuosity, and of course the concept album. We’re talking albums by the likes of Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, yet they also find ways to draw in the likes of Italian synth soundtrackers Goblin, George Clinton’s Parliament/ Funkedelic, Magma, and Henry Cow. It’s these fringe outfits that prove the most revelatory, allowing you to hear their music with a whole new set of ears.

But then punk came and killed the bloated corpse of prog. And to paraphrase Captain Sensible of the Dammed, rich coke fuelled stadium rockers stopped singing about irrelevant things like Merlin and pixies and Henry VIII’s wives. Right? Well no. It’s the common consensus, but whilst punk did influence the direction of prog, with bands eschewing the mystical for more direct lyrical obsessions and at times even delving into more counter cultural directions, it didn’t kill it. In fact stadium rockers flourished, whilst punk quickly became a caricature of itself. Hell there were even punk prog hybrids like the noisy avant-garde This Heat.

By the 80’s bands like Genesis became more middle of the road (mor) and neo progressive music evolved with bands like Marillon and IQ, where the songs became shorter and the concepts less stringent. More recently exponents have included Spocks Beard, Glass Hammer and Magenta. Yet it’s the post prog music that bears a greater relationship to the musical world of today. Think Sigur Ros, Flaming Lips, David Sylvian and yes, Radiohead, who’s OK Computer with its dissonant strategies, extended take on alienation, the use of visuals to augment the music and desire to sequence the album as a whole, give Hegarty and Halliwell enough ammunition to suggest it’s a new form of prog that doesn’t need to return to 1977 to take its cues. In fact that seems to be the issue. No one wants to acknowledge prog has evolved; the bloated cliché is too attractive as something to rail against.

Hegarty and Halliwell, choose to pick through more recent practitioners, keen to point out their prog like characteristics. Bands like the Fleet Foxes, Midlake, the Decemberists, Dream Theatre, and The Mars Volta all contain elements of prog, yet also elements of numerous other genres. Their point is prog is still alive, evolving, fusing, yet with none of the coherence of the 70’s. And this just makes it all the more exciting. “It’s as if all of the times and potentials of prog exist now, in the present,” they write. And if you’re willing to accept this then prog no longer has to be a dirty word.

Fragmented Fish September 2011

Do you know Weng Weng? No? Well he was a major international movie star in the mould of James Bond. He wore white leisure suits, got the girls, nabbed the villains and could drink ten stubbies of beer in a single sitting. He was also a two feet 9 inch actor from the Philippines who according to the Guinness Book of Records is the shortest actor ever in a lead role. Who could forget his turns in For Y’ur Height Only and The Impossible Kid (Umbrella)? “You’re such a little guy,” offers a horribly dubbed lady, “very petite, like a potato.” The films are surreal, ridiculously cheap, horrible Bond knock offs shamelessly exploiting the ridiculousness of Weng Weng’s stature, making him dance, posing him with his shirt off (he has very large nipples) and having us believe that agent Double 0, is a killing machine, dispensing his attackers with well executed kicks to the groin. With faux Bond music, an incomprehensible plot and action scenes where he jumps out of a 20 storey building with an umbrella, flies a jet pack that’s attached to a rope and zings across the ground on his back shooting his pistol, you can’t go wrong. The ladies love OO too, “Are you a sexual animal,” purrs one potential suitor in an inconceivable posh British accent. “I don’t know,” he offers like a frightened schoolboy. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately we’ll have to use our imagination about what happened next.

He was an unlikely megastar in an exploitation cinema revolution in the mid 70’s early 80’s Philippines under the Marcos regime where life was cheap and making films even cheaper. The American B movie exploiters came in their droves; your Roger Corman’s, your Jack Hill (The Big Doll House), Joe Dante (Gremlins) and Australian Brian Trenchard Smith (Turkey Shoot) who turned out all manner of kitsch drive in crap. It’s all documented in Machete Maidens Unleashed (Umbrella) from Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood), which delights in tales of movie making debauchery and lawlessness, catching up with Sid Haig, Chris Mitchum, John Wayne’s son, and a bevy of faded starlets who were just dropped into the jungle. It’s hilarious. It really was anything goes guerrilla filmmaking. Producers carried guns, stunt people died on set and were simply replaced with new ones.

The recipe was the three b’s, blood, beasts and breasts, drive in fodder brimming with unusual gimmicks, such as giving the audience a vial of ‘green blood’ to consume at pre arranged time in the film. Filipino directors also rose to prominance. Eddie Romero’s Blood Island films though the 60’s and 70’s were just the same film remade time and time again, Cirio Santiago offered Vampire Hookers (blood isn’t the only thing they suck), and Bobby Suarez’s Cleopatra Wong is a classic, thanks to the shootout finale with a gaggle of well-armed nuns.

“They took control, but they’ll show you their tits,” offers a salivating John Landis (The Blues Brothers), a man who revels in crap. Despite throwing in Apocalypse Now, which doesn’t really fit, mostly because it’s not terrible, Machete Maidens shines a light on one of the most obscure and exciting times in B movie history. A time when there was no such thing as too cheap. Or too ludicrous. The good old days when an oddity like Weng Weng could become a star..