Playing Records – August 2014

This month has had its ups and downs for me and so I find that my taste in music has tended to change in direct proportion to what’s going on at the time. I’ve not been listening much new stuff just recently, partly because there’s been not much released during August that has taken my fancy. Personally speaking, my countdown is ticking for the end of September which is when new LPs from Electric Wizard and Aphex Twin arrive – I’m more than a little excited! And so, apart from one current release, this month’s selection is culled from the depths of the labyrinthine archive that is my music library. Here goes;

Demdike Stare – Testpressing#006
2014 – Modern Love

Testpressing#006

Last month I listed two Demdike Stare releases which had been taking up a large portion of my listening time and a month later, here comes another 12” hot on their heels. This is instalment number 6 in the Testpressing series and I can’t help wondering how many more of these sterling slabs of wax will be issued. The brilliantly titled ’40 Years Under The Cosh’ starts proceedings with a looped vocal sample and disjointed drum machines before building to a percussive crescendo midway. Flipside track ‘Frontin’ offers no easy way in with it’s jarring raw electronic blasts before setting up a steady rhythmic pulse around which a smear of percussion lurks underpinned by stuttering synths. The track is actually very sparsely constructed like the Testpressing series a whole but works brilliantly. It’s been refreshing to hear Sean Canty and Miles Whitaker turn their subversive attentions to other musical forms and I hope this series yields a few more releases.

Guitar Wolf – Loverock
2004 – Narnack Records

Loverock

Three leather & shades clad Japanese rebels with a penchant for scuzzed up punk turn in a true masterpiece of downright filthy garage trash rock ’n’ roll. This is the album to me which best personifies their sound – fast, raw, loud and as distorted as hell. The vocals are all sung in Japanese and so impossible to understand (unless you’re Japanese of course!) but that takes nothing away from these seventeen guitar troubling, adrenaline soaked tunes. No individual track descriptions are required at this point, I’m sure you’ll have made your mind up if this is your bag already but with a discography consisting of over a dozen LPs there’s plenty to go at if you’re interested. Get filthy and sweaty with Guitar Wolf.

Boris – Akuma No Uta
2003 – Diwphalanx Records

Akuma No Uta

After spending most of last month enjoying the latest offering from Boris I decided one evening in a fit of nostalgia to play my first bought and still favourite LP by the band. Akuma No Uta is a perfectly structured LP starting with the doomy guitar of opener ‘Introduction’ which segues into a pair of brief speedball freakouts. The centrepiece of the album is Naki Kyoku which begins with gently rippling guitar then builds into a colossal solo from Wata before belting home with all guns blazing. The album concludes with two heavy as fuck sludge jams – thirty nine minutes all told, done. Extra points are awarded for the cover which of course brilliantly apes the LP Bryter Layter by Nick Drake – double necked guitar and all.

Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza – The Feed-Back
1970 – RCA Italiana

The Feed-Back

I recently got a chance to replace a poor quality vinyl rip I owned with a lossless version of this album and so it’s found its way into heavy rotation this past month after too long an interval. The Group (as they were often referred to outside Italy) was basically a free improv collective featuring movie soundtrack maestro Ennio Morricone on trumpet. This is the kind of LP which when played polarises a room of people instantly – usually everyone complaining loudly before I have to reluctantly turn it off! It’s stuffed with some fine improvisation from all players but the key to this album’s brilliance is the addition of a drummer who lays down the kind of solid, funky break beats that would have crate diggers in tears. My only gripe here is the brevity of the album, just three tracks are included with a total running time of only twenty seven minutes. It’s also virtually impossible to track down the vinyl version, copies change hands for silly money although a little Google-Fu may well pay dividends.

Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album
1996 – Warp Records

Richard D. James Album

And so finally Mr Richard D. James, The Aphex Twin himself has seen fit to release his first LP in thirteen long years come September 22nd. Cheers Rich, seriously what kept you? in honour of this truly momentous occasion I have been playing one of my personal back catalogue favourites to death all week. If you don’t know what this album sounds like already then shame on you, go and buy it at once and revel in its twisted brilliance. It somehow manages to shoehorn a bin bag full of drill ’n’ bass rhythms, squelchy acid licks, sinisterly pitched vocal snippets, orchestral flourishes and as many heart rending melodies as you could possibly shake a very large stick at. Oh, and anyone who can make a cracking tune using a jew’s harp, slide whistle and a pipe organ as on the last track ‘Logon Rock Witch’ fully deserves the epithet of genius in my book. My ears are now fully open Mr James, don’t let me down!

Album(s) Of The Month – August

Stars Of The Lid – Back Catalogue
1995 to 2007 – Various labels

Stars Of The Lid Back Catalogue

Last year I worked from home for a period of several months and so decided to create a number of playlists for use during such times. One of these playlists was to contain a favourite few albums by Texan duo Stars Of The Lid but I couldn’t honestly decide which to choose and so I included all nine of their LPs. As I mentioned above, I’ve had a funny old month and so I decided to revisit this playlist after a few sleepless nights. It’s been playing pretty much constantly ever since. So what is it about this band that compels me to happily sit through the eleven hours of music which makes up their back catalogue time and time again? It’s hard to adequately explain without resorting to cliche and clumsy metaphor but simply put they have a deeply calming, all enveloping effect on me which I utterly lose myself in. This is not lazy “ambient” music – far from it. Tracks such as ’Tape Hiss Makes Me Happy’ from their 1996 debut album Music For Nitrous Oxide has a definite sinister edge to it as does ‘The Artificial Pine’ from The Ballasted Orchestra amongst others. The later albums incorporate sparse orchestral elements amongst the expansive drones and sometimes fleetingly put me in mind of contemporary Eastern European composer Arvo Part. Whichever album I choose to start with I always end up playing the rest of the list – it’s even playing as I type these notes. So, I’m afraid I’ve had to nominate nine records this month because one just won’t do, normal service will be reserved in September! In The Meanwhile do your ears a favour and buy at least one of these life-affirming albums, you’ll thank yourself in the end. This truly is massively recommended listening.

Stars Of The Lid Back Catalogue;

1996 – Music For Nitrous Oxide
1996 – Gravitational Pull Vs. The Desire For An Aquatic Life
1997 – The Ballasted Orchestra
1998 – Maneuvering The Nocturnal Hum
1998 – Per Aspera Ad Astra
1999 – Avec Laudenum
2001 – The Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid
2007 – Carte De Visite (Tour release only)
2007 – Stars Of The Lid And Their Refinement Of The Decline

Astounding Science Fiction Of The Future… From The Past

I stumbled across this magazine recently on a website where it was up for sale, as usual my eye was drawn to the cover. Eyeballs, surgical implements and a skull – what’s not to like? I was surprised to see how little it was up for and how reasonable the postage from the US was. All of these things served to sway me into making the purchase and a few weeks later it arrived at my home – by courier no less!

I was shocked when I realised that the issue was dated January 1949, something I completely overlooked as I was drooling over the cover. This is now officially the oldest piece of SF in my collection – a staggering sixty five years since publication!

The Magazine contains three novelettes including the cover advertised Private Eye by Lewis Padgett plus one each from J. A. Winter M.D. and Isaac Asimov. There are a couple of short stories, one of which is by Judith Merril and a factual article entitled ‘Modern Calculators’. There are also a few readers sections at the back too.

I’ve photographed the front cover as usual but also the back as it contains a great advertisement for carpentry and building guides. I’ve also included a few illustrations from the stories, two of which are fairly typical and somewhat comical but the others are excellent. I hope you enjoy this little slice of US Sci-Fi history;

Astounding Science Fiction edited by John W. Campbell, Jr.
1949 – Street & Smith Publications, Inc.
cover art by Rogers

Astounding Sci Fi Front Cover

Astounding Sci Fi Back Cover

Astounding Sci Fi Illustration 1

Astounding Sci Fi Illustration 2

Astounding Sci Fi Illustration 4

Astounding Sci Fi Illustration 3

Astounding Sci Fi Illustration 5

A Pair Of Balls

I often come across books which I would otherwise buy if it wasn’t for the garish cover art and so back they go onto their shelf for another unsuspecting customer to discover. Other times my selections can be a bit too close to the borderline for comfort, the Poul Anderson cover confusion post (here) serves as a reminder just how thin the line between good and bad art can be!

And so we come to two books with covers illustrated by Kelly Freas who, while being obviously very technically proficient can produce extremely mixed results.

These two volumes fall into that frustrating category of “is this great cover art or is it merely campy nonsense” and so without offering any thoughts of my own at this stage I’ll let you, my dear readers decide for yourselves – great or groanworthy;

The Regiments Of Night by Brian N. Ball
1972 – Daw
Cover art by Kelly Freas

Ball Regiments Of Night

The Probability Man by Brian N. Ball
1972 – Daw
Cover art by Kelly Freas

Ball Probability Man

An Anthology Of Anthologies (Part Two)

The first part of this article appeared last week (here) and explained my former love for science fiction anthologies, especially those edited by Judith Merril and Groff Conklin and included eight covers for their collections.

I still own a fair few more anthologies and so I thought I’d continue the theme this week with a further eight covers, this time presented by different editors;

Analog One Edited By John W. Campbell
1967 – Panther
Cover artist uncredited

Analog One

Analog Two Edited By John W. Campbell
1967 – Panther
Cover artist uncredited

Analog Two

Beyond – Editor uncredited
1963 – Berkley Medallion
Cover art by Richard Powers

Anthology Beyond

A Sense Of Wonder edited by Sam Moskowitz
1974 – New English Library
Cover art by David A. Hardy

Anthology A Sense Of Wonder

The Weird Ones edited by H. L. Gold
1962 – Belmont
Cover artist not credited

Anthology The Weird Ones

Three Times Infinity edited by Leo Margulies
1958 – Gold Medal Books
Cover art by Richard Powers

Anthology Three Times Infinity

Tales Of Science Fiction Selected By Brian N. Ball
1968 – Peacock Books/Penguin
Cover art by Peter Barrett

Tales Of Science Fiction

Travelling Towards Epsilon Edited By Maxim Jakubowski
1978 – New English Library
Cover art by Joe Petagno

This is a rather good collection of work by French authors, none of which I’d ever heard of when I picked up the book.

Travelling Towards Epsilon

Kafkaesque

As you are no doubt familiar, I don’t buy newer editions of books if there’s an earlier printing with a much better cover out there. I have always stuck to this maxim throughout my time collecting books and it’s certainly not going to change any time soon. Except for this series of books that is. I had decided to replace my slightly tatty, rather dull looking copies of The Metamorphosis and The Trial with older editions and maybe add a few more titles to my Kafka collection. I began to search on the web and after a short while came across a rather striking cover for The Castle which I really liked. After a little digging, it turned out to be part of a uniform edition by Schocken Books from 2011.

Since then, I have replaced my older copies with this much newer reprint and added a couple more titles from the same series. The artist responsible for the design work is Peter Mendelsund who has used eyes as a unifying device across each book cover in addition to a palette of block colours and typeface based on Kafka’s own handwriting.

He explains a little about his use of eyes on his blog as follows;

“I find eyes, taken in the singular, create intimacy, and in the plural instil paranoia. This seemed a good combo for Kafka who is so very adept at the portrayal of the individual, as well as the portrayal of the persecution of the individual.”

For me, this is a rare move away from older covers to newer ones although with designs like this, can you really blame me?

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Kafka The Metamorphosis

The Trial by Franz Kafka

Kafka The Trial

The Castle by Franz Kafka

Kafka The Castle

Amerika by Franz Kafka

Kafka Amerika

An Anthology Of Anthologies (Part One)

When I was much younger and just starting out reading SF, I used to buy a lot of anthologies from my local branch of Woolworths or the newsagent’s book carousel. I did this like everyone else – to learn which of the authors contained within would be best followed up on, there were always a few turkeys but this is where my passion for certain writers (and the genre as a whole) first developed.

As I’ve got older and more into collecting books, I’ve not picked up as many anthologies as in my formative years, mainly because I know what I like now. This still hasn’t stopped me from occasionally indulging in a purchase however! I always enjoyed the Judith Merril and the bizarrely named Groff Conklin edited books so they’ve become something I always keep an eye open for. Do I need to say that I’m also a sucker for a great cover? Thought not.

So, here is my first anthology of eight anthologies, all edited by either Judith Merril or Groff Conklin. A selection of books with eye-catching covers plucked from the shelves of my library for your enjoyment;

Beyond Human Ken edited by Judith Merril
1954 – Pennant Books
Cover art by Charles Binger

Merril Beyond Human Ken

Enemies In Space edited by Groff Conklin
1964 – Digit
Cover artist uncredited

Anthology Enemies In Space

9th Annual S-F Edited By Judith Merril
1967 – Mayflower-Dell
Cover art by Hoot von Zitzewitz

9th Annual S-F

13 Great Stories of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin
1964 – Gold Medal Books
Cover art by Richard Powers

Anthology 13 Great Stories Of SF

The Best Of Sci-Fi 2 Edited By Judith Merril
1964 – Mayflower-Dell
Cover art by Richard Powers

The Best Of Sci-Fi 2

Five-Odd Edited by Groff Conklin
1971 – Pyramid Books
Cover art by Ron Walotsky

Five-Odd

SF The Best Of The Best Part One Edited By Judith Merril
1970 – Mayflower
Cover art by Josh Kirby

SF The Best Of The Best

Minds Unleashed edited by Groff Conklin
1970 – Tempo Books/Grosset & Dunlap
Cover art possibly by Paul Lehr

Anthology Minds Unleashed

Off The Shelf #1: Philip K. Dick

What can I write here about Philip K. Dick that hasn’t already been written by others? Nothing much I reckon so I won’t even begin to try. Dick has been something of a hero to me since buying my first novel some twenty odd years ago. I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I have read by him and so it’s only fitting that I share some of my personal cache of favourites to start off this mini-series of articles.

Here are ten of my favourite PKD works, each adorned with a rather fabulous cover.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick
1970 – Dell
Cover art by Jones

PKD Ubik

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
1972 – Panther
Cover artist uncredited although I have a copy of The Müller-Fokker Effect by John Sladek with a very similar cover published by Panther in the same year with art credited to McInnery.

PKD Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep

The Penultimate Truth
1978 – Triad Panther
Cover art by Peter Goodfellow

PKD The Penultimate Truth

Counter-Clock World
1967 – Sphere
Cover art by David Davies

PKD Counter-Clock World

The World Jones Made
1970 – Panther
Cover artist uncredited

PKD The World Jones Made

The Variable Man & Other Stories
1969 – Sphere
Cover artist uncredited

PKD The Variable Man

The Simulcra
1976 – Ace Books
Cover artist uncredited

PKD The Simulcra

The Zap Gun
1978 – Dell
Cover artist uncredited

PKD The Zap Gun

A Maze Of Death
1973 – Pan Books
Cover art by Ian Miller

PKD Maze Of Death

We Can Build You
1972 – Daw Books
Cover art by John Schoenherr

PKD We Can Build You

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