Playing Records – May 2014

Something has come to my attention just recently. Although this humble blog has the tagline “reading books, playing records”, I have so far neglected to write very much about music. I don’t why this situation has developed, I listen to music constantly – I’m listening to some as I type these very words. So, in a bid to remedy this lack of editorial equilibrium I am proposing to write an article each month listing a few of the platters which have entered heavy rotation on the unsubscriber hi-fi during the preceding month. Here’s the first such piece;

Electric Wizard – Come My Fanatics
1996 – Rise Above Records

Electric Wizard Come My Fanatics

This LP was described to me as the “heaviest shit of all time” and therefore I had to investigate. I’m not a metal freak by any means but what goes on at the fringes of all music interests me greatly. Opening track ‘Return Trip’ is indeed about as heavy as a lead elephant – a ten minute wallow in growling, glacial speed Sabbathian sludge. On hearing this album I promptly tracked down everything this band has recorded and have been playing it all pretty much constantly since although this one is possibly the dirtiest, fuzziest, heaviest shit of them all.

William Basinski – Melancholia
2005 – 2062 Records

Basinski Melancholia

Basinski is one of my touchstones. I have so many of his albums and they all manage to capture a fragile, fleeting moment of sadness in their disintegrating, hissing tape loops. There’s a reason why this LP is titled melancholia. I suppose this could easily be treated like ambient music – it’s there but it isn’t – but it’s too heart wrenchingly sad to disappear into the wallpaper. Fourteen perfectly trimmed loops of fuzzy piano-based classical music which legend has it were taped from a commercial radio station onto cassette before being given the William Basinski scissor treatment as the ferric particles began to crumble away to dust. Bleak but simultaneously warm.

Loscil – Submers
2002 – Kranky

Loscil Submers

Another album which I seem to pair with the William Basinski LP, there are definitely some parallels between these two records. The title refers to the overall sound which is distinctly subaquatic, individual tones blending together to form otherworldly drones whilst sparse beats work like audio sonar inside a submarine. Once again I’m a huge fan of Scott Morgan and his work as Loscil, his extensive back catalogue is most certainly worth delving into.

Fennesz – Bécs
2014 – Editions Mego

Fennesz Bécs

The last time Christian Fennesz released an LP on Editions Mego it was the groundbreaking Endless Summer back in 2001. Comparisons have been made and the usual talk of “follow-ups” has ensued but Bécs is definitely it’s own record. It’s more immediately ‘musical’ if that means anything, the glitchiness of Endless Summer has been replaced by electric and acoustic guitars and walls of subdued fuzz coming over like an ambient MBV. The centrepiece track Liminality is heart stoppingly sublime.

Melt Banana – Fetch
2013 – A-Zap Records

Melt Banana Fetch

The duo of Yasuko Onuki and Ichirou Agata are one of my favourite noisecore bands of all time. They released Fetch last year and I came back to it in preparation of seeing them live (twice) this month. On record they are a dayglo, hyperactive mesh of triple speed guitars, stuttering drums and strafing electronic effects. Live, they are a sheer ball of energy who unleash a neon wall of sound which nestles up to your internal organs in a barrage of scattershot time signatures. I was so happy to have met Yasuko after the gig in Leeds and have my picture taken with her too! Here’s a shot of my ugly mug next to the wonderfully accommodating Yasuko;

Yasuko unsubscriber

If you don’t know this band and are the noisy, adventurous type then dig in as they haven’t made a bad record yet – and fetch is number nine.

Album Of The Month – May

The Soundcarriers – Entropicalia
2014 – Ghost Box

The Soundcarriers Entropicalia

New signings to the fragile, hauntological world of Ghost Box. My first listening had them pegged as a little bit of Broadcast with a dash of Stereolab at their most groovy but as time went on I discovered far more going on within this seriously good record. I suppose the references will be made due to their retro sound and the fact they have a female singer which is a bit lazy really. It’s like they’ve taken a huge portion of the sixties end of my record collection, put it in a blender and baked me a big psychedelic cake. The swinging drums have that perfect pitch, the bass is clear and high up in the mix, the female/male vocals are beautifully harmonic and say “la la la” quite a bit. There’s even a long spoken word track toward the end of the LP which almost sounds like a funky Interstellar Overdrive complete with flutes and Hammond organ. I’m absolutely hooked despite only having this record a single week so far but it’s been played on repeat every single day so I have no trouble at all awarding it my inaugural Album Of The Month award. Huge recommendation for this one!

What The? #6

Sam Weskit On The Planet Framingham by William Johnston

1970 – Tempo Books
Cover artist uncredited

An occasional series of book covers whose outlandish design evokes bafflement and confusion in equal measure.

Taken from the cover blurb ‘…The wackiest space mission yet!’

“What’s the best way to interpret wacky on the cover chief?”
“Easy. Bike with square wheels”.
“I’m right on it chief!”

WTF6

Sci-Fi Book Covers And The Female Form

Having recently gone through a reorganisation of my library in a desperate attempt to create some much needed shelf space, I’ve been contemplating the nature of sci-fi cover art in general. The 1950s were all about rocket ships and spacemen in giant glass domed helmets whereas the 1980s and on through the 1990s huge airbrushed spacecraft were pretty much de rigueur (ugh). Between those years however, pretty much anything went in the publisher’s art departments and so that’s where I have concentrated my collecting efforts over the years.

All genre-specific fiction has its artistic signifiers of course but I’ve always thought sci-fi missed a little glamour here and there. Sure, those 50s jackets often had a token female holding onto the chisel jawed, laser pistol firing hero but that was about it. Are we too nerdy and prudish to consider the female form not sci-fi enough when it comes to cover art? And so I went looking for examples to disprove this theory, It was a slim and mixed selection I finally retrieved but I am presenting my findings here nonetheless – for purely scientific purposes of course.

Kronk by Edmund Cooper
1972 – Coronet
Cover art by Chris Foss

Cooper Kronk

Sexmax by Hughes Cooper
1970 – New English Library
Cover art by Robert Foster

Cooper Sexmax

Beyond Apollo by Barry Malzberg
1973 – Pocket Books
Cover art by Charles Moll

Malzberg Apollo

Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad
1972 – Panther
Cover artist uncredited

Spinrad Barron

Turn Left At Thursday by Frederik Pohl
1969 – Ballantine
Cover art by Robert Foster

Pohl Thursday

Tales Of The Flying Mountains by Poul Anderson
1971 – Collier / Macmillan
Cover artist uncredited

Poul Mountains

The Joy Makers by James Gunn
1976 – Panther
Cover art by Jim Burns

Gunn The Joymakers

No Direction Home by Norman Spinrad
1975 – Pocket Books
Cover art by Charles Moll

This book was chosen following a conversation about a recent acquisition by Joachim Boaz over at Science Fiction And Other Suspect Ruminations blog (here). Thanks for the tip Joachim!

Spinrad Direction

In the interests of appealing to any female readers who have made it through the article this far, here’s a cover featuring a couple of groovy space ladies enjoying a little gratuitous full-frontal male alien nudity whilst the dudes look on in horror. Enjoy!

The Alien by Raymond F. Jones
1966 – Belmont
Cover artist uncredited

Jones The Alien

New Books And Strange Tales

It’s not only vintage paperbacks I obsessively collect, I sometimes buy new books too – although not the kind you may see at your local supermarket or petrol station. They are mainly limited edition titles from small independent presses, the number of which never ceases to amaze me as when I find a new one, another seems to leap out from the woodwork. Here are are a few of my recent purchases which should hopefully help spread the word a little further.

Strange Tales Volume IV
2014 – Tartarus Press

I was guided to Tartarus Press by my fellow book enthusiast Teece last year via the short story writer Robert Aickman. His recommendations are never to be taken lightly and so when I found out that Tartarus had the only full collection of his ‘strange stories’ in print, I decided to treat myself to all seven volumes. The books were truly things of beauty – all sewn hardbacks, lithographically printed and featuring silk ribbon marker, head and tailbands. I was immediately smitten and soon began a collection of other titles by the likes of Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Denton Welch, E.T.A. Hoffmann and others.

This volume is number 4 in an occasional series of “new stories in the fields of fantasy, horror, decadence and the supernatural” edited by Rosalie Parker and is constructed to the same incredibly high standards of the above Aickman titles. All Tartarus Press dust jackets are of a pale creamy yellow with an inset illustration, here’s a close up of the plate for Strange Tales Volume IV by Stephen J. Clark;

Strange Tales Dust Jacket

The real shock came when I removed the dust jacket to affix a protector (book pedant – I know) and discovered that the cover was embossed with a similar design to the one used on the jacket;

Strange Tales Cover

I really can’t recommend Tartarus enough for their selection of titles in print, prices and publication standards so do yourself a favour and head over to their website (here) for a taste of the strange and fantastical.

In Delerium’s Circle by Stephen J. Clark
2012 – Egaeus Press

Deleriums Circle Cover

It was only a matter of time before I followed up the work of Stephen J. Clark after admiring his illustrations for Strange Tales Volume IV and the Aickman collections for Tartartus. This is his first novel and is billed as “an unsettling tale of secrecy and obsession, of haunting memories and spiralling madness”. The book is richly illustrated throughout by Clark’s strange ink and pencil drawings;

Deleriums Circle Illustration

The endpapers are also illustrated by Clark and are chillingly beautiful;

Deleriums Circle Endpaper

I haven’t yet read this rather odd sounding novel but the review on the Egaeus website calls the book “detailed, dense, bleak and involving” – just my type of fiction! The book is once again a lithographically printed, sewn hardback and is limited to just 300 copies so visit the website (here) and order a copy for yourself.

The Phantasmagorical Imperative & Other Fabrications by D.P. Watt
2014 – Egaeus Press

Phantasmagorical

Whilst I was on the Egaeus website, I had to have a quick look around and found this intriguingly titled volume which I also purchased. The book collects two novellas and eight short stories by D.P. Watt and is best summed up by Victoria Nelson’s foreword extract, again taken from the website;

“The Phantasmagorical Imperative and Other Fabrications is D. P. Watt’s wonder cabinet of obsessive, carefully written supernatural stories told by a breed of bachelor narrators who are a cross between M.R. James’s buttoned-down antiquarians and H.P. Lovecraft’s high-strung, slightly hysterical misfits—with a dash of E.T.A. Hoffmann and Bruno Schulz thrown in. The collective fate of these characters is to bend matter or be bent by it into strange new dimensional realities…”

This is another gorgeously constructed, lithographically printed sewn hardback with stunning endpapers;

Phatasmagorical Endpaper

There are only 250 copies of this beautiful book to be had so once again, navigate to the Egaeus website (here) for more details of how to order.

‘Delicate Toxins’ (A Collection of Strange Tales)
2011 – Side Real Press

Delicate Toxins

I’m not sure how I stumbled across this one to be honest but that’s not important now. This is an “anthology of all new tales taking the life, work and cultural milieu of Hanns Heinz Ewers as their inspiration”. Ewers wrote numerous short stories, one volume of which largely concerns itself with “pornography, blood sport, torture and execution”. Once again, I was hooked and decided to purchase the volume. It was then that I noticed that buyers through the website could also order a tipped in stamped bookplate signed by the editor John Hirschhorn-Smith;

Delicate Toxins Bookplate

Once again, the book is a fantastically constructed hardback featuring a three colour embossed cover, printed in black with red titles and initial letters throughout. This is once more a limited run – just 350 individually numbered copies available but be quick, my copy was number 321! Order your copy from the Side Real website directly (here) before this little treasure sells out.

Ritual by David Pinner
2011 – Finders Keepers

Ritual

I’m a huge fan of both the Finders Keepers record label and The Wicker Man film (more on this later) so when I learned that this book was being republished after many years out of print I just had to have a copy. David Pinner was a RADA trained playwright who penned this novel of Cornish child murder, ancient religious practices and nightmarish ritual between other work with the sole view of having it adapted to film. It was eventually turned down by all directors who looked at it including Michael Winner according to legend.

Several years later however, the film rights to the book were secured by Anthony Schaffer and Christopher Lee who transformed the tale into a screenplay which would become Robin Hardy’s 1973 rural folk horror epic The Wicker Man.

Finders Keepers have done a sterling job reproducing the hardback print run from Pinner’s own personal copy, even down to the wonderfully strange woodcut cover art. Copies are still available from the Finders Keepers website (here) or from other less esoteric online booksellers.

Spoken By A Dancer – An Original Asemic Artwork by Lestaret

Some years ago, I commented on a piece of asemic writing work produced by Lestaret (who blogs here by the way) and stated that a large scale work would look excellent framed and hung on a gallery wall. I cheekily mentioned that if he ever fancied producing such a piece then I would most definitely give it room amongst my modest art collection. Since that conversation, Lestaret has gone on to produce three asemic novels (which are still available here), a collaborative graphic novel (more of which at a later date) and countless other pieces of his patented curiology.

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from the man himself who revealed that he was now working on such a piece for me. I was extremely excited and couldn’t wait to see the results. He kept me updated as to it’s progress during subsequent calls until last week when he told me it was finished and he would be bringing it all the way up from Kings Lynn to Rotherham for me. When he arrived at my house, I gingerly removed the brown paper wrapper to reveal a 40cm by 50cm board literally covered with tiny scraps of recycled paper from old books upon which he had meticulously covered every inch of space with asemic writing. He told me he had carried out the work using many ‘dip and scratch’ type nibbed ink pens which makes this work all the more incredible.

I have now mounted, framed and hung the piece which looks stunning. Every time I pass by it I look and see something different in it’s arcane letterforms and line upon line of text with no meaning. It truly is stunning and so I wanted to share it here in large format so the picture can be zoomed in to capture a little of the detail. It was difficult to photograph obviously because of the glass front hence the reflections and angles but I don’t think this detracts from the artwork as a whole.

I am now a proud owner of a large scale Lestaret original asemic work and I honestly couldn’t be happier. Click on the images below to supersize them;

Lestaret Dancer Angled

Lestaret Dancer Front

What The? #5

The Space-Time Journal edited by Judith Merril

1972 – Panther
Cover artist uncredited

An occasional series of book covers whose outlandish design evokes bafflement and confusion in equal measure.

This week’s entry is just downright puzzling. A series of burnt out matches which also appear to have tiny forests growing between oceans on them. I clearly need to stop thinking about the relevance of these cover illustrations so much and have a nice quiet lie down.

WTF5

My obsession with the great Mr Howard Phillips Lovecraft

A few weeks ago I wrote an article in which I boldly stated that “I rarely buy the same book twice because a better cover comes along” and briefly mentioned my ‘vanity’ collection of H.P. Lovecraft titles. It’s true, I will buy anything bearing his name if it doesn’t already reside on my shelves, despite the fact that I may have several copies of the same volume under different covers. I just can’t help it, I don’t know exactly what spurs me on to indulge in this largely pointless endeavour apart from imagining myself as a custodian of sorts who seeks to amass and preserve these browning sheaves of paper from the ravages of time.

I bought my first set of Lovecraft anthologies back in 1985. They were published by Granada/Grafton and each of the four thick volumes bore the most garish cover imaginable which I have since traced back to an artist called Tim White. I was nineteen years old or thereabouts at the time and absolutely devoured their contents in a matter of weeks. I almost became one of Lovecraft’s impossibly driven characters poring over antiquarian manuscripts in a bid to find the arcane formula and sigils required to summon a foul, eldritch creature from its millennial slumber. I still have those books to this day – my ‘reading copies’ and they show surprisingly little in the way of ageing which is quite odd.

But, I digress. I have featured a few Lovecraft covers in a previous article relating to skulls (here) but never covered the great man in his own article. Here then is a small selection of covers taken from a very long and overcrowded shelf dedicated entirely to the great Mr Howard Phillips Lovecraft;

The Watchers Out Of Time And Others (with August Derleth)
This one is the most prized book in my Lovecraft collection – a first edition of 5070 copies from Derleth’s own Arkham House Press published in 1974 with a stunning cover by Herb Arnold.

Watchers Out Of Time

The Lurking Fear And Other Stories
Panther’s 1970 reprint of this anthology featuring somewhat bizarre cover artwork by Michael McInnerney

Lurking Fear

The Horror in the Museum & Others – Version 1
This 1971 Beagle Boxer collection only contains two fully co-credited pieces by Lovecraft with Elizabeth Berkeley but one of those stories is The Crawling Chaos and therefore fully deserves Lovecraft’s name on the cover. The rest of the contents omit Lovecraft’s name but all of them were revised by him to some extent. The fabulously psychedelic cover art is sadly uncredited.

Horror In The Museum 2

The Horror in the Museum & Others – Version 2
Another version of this anthology, this time by Panther in 1975. Many of the stories contained in the above version have been substituted with other tales here and so this slightly tatty, fragile volume was a worthy purchase in the end.

Horror In The Museum

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward – Version 1
One of the surprisingly few full length novels penned by Lovecraft and published in 1970 by Panther. More psychedelic cover art, this time with a symbolic bent by an artist called Stanley Mouse.

Charles Dexter Ward 2

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward – Version 2
Yet another version of this fantastic novel, again published by Panther but this one dates back to 1963. I thought I’d include this one as the garish uncredited cover art and lurid tagline makes the book look more like a tale of flesh eating zombies than an atmospheric tale of a New England antiquarian dabbling in the black arts to uncover dark mysteries.

Charles Dexter Ward

The Doom That Came To Sarnath And Other Stories
Published in 1976 by Ballantine Books with a wonderfully strange cover by Murray Tinkelman, I particularly love the horned, devilish graphic above Lovecraft’s name.

Doom Sarnath

The Shuttered Room And Other Tales Of Horror
This volume has been my most recent acquisition, again published by Panther in 1970 with a great cover which is credited to ‘Picture Post’.

Shuttered Room