Playing Records – 2014

So then, 2014. What the hell was all that about then?

I mean, I turned 48 this year and I think that only now am I starting to slow down obsessively acquiring tons of new releases each month in search of the unattainable ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ might be of course. It’s not that I don’t listen to as much music as I ever did – I do, I just seem to be surfing a wave of forward looking retrospection at the moment (if that even makes any sense). Ever get to that point when you feel like you’ve heard every element of each new record as it plays itself out – but done differently and better? Sometimes you need to get so far ahead of yourself that looking backwards is not only a welcome change of pace it’s actually a necessity, a simple matter of fact and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Sure, there have been some great LPs released this year (although as usual I always shun the media as their ‘Bands To Watch’ lists are usually shot through with a bunch of restyled, rehashed, tepid scenesters) but I’ve also found the time to reacquaint myself with some older records which I think is a totally healthy thing to do. Sometimes a release from a few years ago sounds fresher than shrink wrapped. Hell, I’ve even picked up some obscure LPs from over three and four decades ago that I swear I can still hear rippling around in present day releases. The cream of these dusty relics were Trixie Stapleton 291 Se Taire Pour Une Femme Trop Belle by Fille Qui Mousse which was recorded in 1971, Goldball from ’74 by Exmagma and the mind-blowingly loose ‘n’ groovy The Feed-Back by Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza which came out in 1970. All quite literally far out sounds.

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Trixie Stapleton 291 Se Taire Pour Une Femme Trop BelleGoldballThe Feed-Back

Unlike most men I know, I can’t do lists. I’m rubbish at them, they start innocently enough and before I know it i’m trying to cram all known information into 10 bullet points. When an inveterate collector makes a list, it has to contain EVERYTHING you see, nothing can be omitted. The ‘top ten’, ‘top five’ and worse still, ‘top three’ lists are to be avoided at all costs in polite conversation. So in order to make this as meaningful an article as possible I’ll need to be spontaneously quick witted and write what comes out of my head as it does, the music I remember playing regularly and loving a whole lot.

Of course the newer stuff comes flooding back first; Melt Banana’s gloriously hyperactive thrash capsule Fetch has been a staple listen, The Soundcarriers’ Entropicalia actually managed to sound like that great lost album from the sixties that everyone is still searching for and Boris raged like a butterfly caught in a blast furnace on Noise.

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AZLP0009 LP artwork2. Entropicalia3. Noise

The Caretaker’s decaying V/Vm corpse was partially reanimated to totally stunning effect on The Death Of Rave LP, Jonas Reinhardt’s Ganymede mini album was cosmically sublime and Pye Corner Audio managed to sound even more deliciously dated then ever on Black Mill Tapes Volume 4.

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4. The Death Of Rave (A Partial Flashback)5. Ganymede6. Black Mill Tapes Vol.4_ Dystopian Vectors

Demdike Stare turned in two more gut pummeling instalments of their peerless Test Pressings series of 12s (which now brings us to 006) as well as silently issuing Empirical Research, one of most spooked out mixtapes you’re likely to hear in a long time. Although if you wanted a more rustic and downright hauntological scare, the Woodbines & Spiders debut W&S was there to finger you under the bushes in the gloaming.

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7. Testpressing#0068. Empirical Research9. W&S

Swans almost knackered my hearing (again, thanks Mr Gira) with To Be Kind and Earth suddenly sprouted a couple of vocalists on their Primitive And Deadly album. Then there was Apex Twin dear old Dickie who laughed his little ginger bollocks off at us all as we rushed to complete the rubik’s cube that was Syro after a blushingly modest eleven year wait. You clever bastard… now give us some more!

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10. To Be Kind11. Primitive and Deadly12. Syro

I was surprised to find myself lost amongst the crackling, hissing twitch of broken electronics that was Germany’s now defunct Pole quite a lot and I bloody loved every second of it hardly believing its fifteen year vintage. I also returned to Portishead’s astonishingly desolate Third by accident one evening and swore that this wasn’t the record I’d initially heard when newly released then proceeded to play it every night and day for a month solid. This obviously acted as a catalyst for a summer spent playing Krautrock, prog and free jazz jams loudly in the sweltering afternoons whilst the evenings gave way to post-punk. I once again became slightly obsessed with playing the complete six hour suite of William Basinski’s incredible and delicately powerful disintegration loops whilst listening intently to the ferric particles drop off the tape and specks of transient quiet become oceans of silence. It still manages to be as jaw droppingly amazing as when I first heard it and merely intensifies the more I allow myself to be drawn in. Basinski’s shorter and lesser known Melancholia LP was a frequent listen between these long drawn out sessions running perfectly into the bleak maelstrom of solemnity – a fraying violin string stretched taut and ready to snap at any moment in aching slow motion.

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13. 1 2 314. Third15. The Disintegration Loops

I could sit here typing endless lists of great albums I’ve loved this year all night and still it wouldn’t give you the complete picture of my listening habits this year, but then music is all about experience and as we slowly age and change so do our experiences. What makes one thing better than any other thing for all of eternity? Nothing, that’s because life just isn’t that simple and never stands still for long enough to be firmly pinned down.

None of this is getting me anywhere though and I still have to find a ‘proper’ conclusion to this post so I’ll finish here by telling you what my absolute favourite album of 2014 was;

Album Of The Year – 2014

Electric Wizard – Time To Die
2014 – Spinefarm Records

Time To Die LP Cover

I discovered the Dorset Doom Metal band Electric Wizard around nine months ago through a friend who described them as “the heaviest shit on wax” and I knew after hearing my first LP that I’d end up owning their entire catalogue by the end of that week. I just couldn’t get enough of their ludicrously downtuned, ferociously heavy, sludge rock reeking of weed, murder and Satan so when I read of their new LP coming out in September I was more than ready to be blown away.

Now, according to iTunes I have played this album around nine hundred odd times since it was released just three short months ago. It’s safe to say that I’ve become more than a little obsessed by Time To Die. I wrote about it in detail when I made it my album of the month in October (here) and surprised one or two folks with my expletive laden brusqueness. Feel free to go and read what I wrote, the review came spewing out in a frothing burst and I stand by every word. Then came November and I had literally not listened to another note of music since the 29th of November release date of this astonishing record. From morning to evening it played at home, in the car, on headphones, it even came to bed with me and I fell asleep with it ringing in my eardrums. I had been spending more and more of my time researching the back story to the LP – the supposed ritual Satanic killing of teenager Gary Lauwers by his friend Ricky Kasso and the hackneyed links between music and devil worship which were trotted out before a baying pack of ‘concerned’ parents before an idiot media circus.

The piece I wrote for November’s Playing Records post was essentially a rewrite of my previous article but with all the emphasis on the story rather than the music, probing into the police/media (mis)handling of the case and Kasso’s eventual suicide whilst incarcerated. It wasn’t a music review, it was more like a slightly unhinged conspiracy theorists rant at a society who thinks if it controls every aspect of people’s lives then everything will be just fine and nothing like this could ever happen again. After some consideration I decided to pull the article as I felt I was labouring a point which most people don’t really give a fuck about anyway these days. It made me sound a little bonkers as well to be truthful.

For the casual listener or newcomer however, this is all you need to to know about Time To Die – it’s an unrelentingly heavy, thematically powerful, brutally nihilistic listen that gets under your skin and stays there like a tattoo long after the disc has stopped spinning. In short, this album is absolutely essential listening for those who like their music to challenge them.

Like I said somewhere at the start of this excessive ramble, there have been some great records released this year but for me at any rate, nothing can come remotely close to the mighty Electric Wizard’s magnificent Time To Die.

Electric Fuckin Wizard

A Badger Book On Sunday With The Reverend R. L. Fanthorpe, Chapter 10

Rev Fanthorpe Frame

It’s that day of the week again despite all the general hubbub and so a rummage through the Badger Books section of my library is in order. The title I’ve gone for this time is another by John E. Muller which is a pseudonym for the writing team of R. L. Fanthorpe, A. A. Glynn and John S. Glasby.

I know I’m always banging on about how good the Badger covers are but just look at this one, it has everything going right for me. The masked scientist toiling away in a dingy laboratory, surrounded by all manner of strange electrical equipment pouring chemicals from a test tube into a glass tank which contains a strangely green-hued, red eyed woman’s head! In my humble opinion they don’t come much better than this, even the back cover is great with its test tubes dripping purple and green formulas onto the title of the book. The title font used is perfect for this type of material, I couldn’t help photographing both covers for inclusion. Then there’s that all important tagline on the front;

“His mind was disintegrating… The face couldn’t be real, but it was”

Put all of these ingredients together and the result is a book which can’t fail to entertain, in one way or another at the very least! Enjoy those cover shots and I’ll see what lies between the musty, speckled pages.

The Uninvited by John E. Muller
(Serial Number SF57)
This version was published in 1961 by Badger Books
The cover artist is uncredited

Badger - Muller The Uninvited Front

Badger - Muller The Uninvited Back

Powers and Lehr From The Netherlands

It was two weeks ago that I came across three eBay auctions from the same seller, all of which were for books that looked like they had Richard Powers covers. I hadn’t seen these before and so I pulled out my trusty Powers guide to check them – they were indeed the great man’s work. The auctions were due to finish in a few days so I added them to my watch list and kept a silent eye on them.

With just minutes to go before the auctions closed, only one book had seen any interest and that was only a single bid for the starting price of £2.50. I kept my nerve then crashed in at the last moment with my best & final bids and ended up winning all three books! I had a message from the seller who was based in the Netherlands that he’d found a fourth book which should have gone in with this lot so he was kindly sending it on free of charge with the others I’d bought. Another act of random generosity – huge thanks Milo!

It only took a week for the parcel to arrive and I eagerly opened the cardboard wrapping to see what I had purchased. There they were in front of me at last – two Ballantines and two Signets with three Richard Powers covers between them and one by Paul Lehr. I was ecstatic, they were all in excellent condition for their advanced ages and the covers were pretty much completely unblemished.

Once again, much appreciation and thanks to seller Milo for the extra title, these are four special books. Let me know your thoughts in the comments;

To Live Together by Jack Vance
This version was published in 1956 by Ballantine Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

Vance, To Live Forever

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein
This version was published in 1957 by Signet Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

Heinlein, Double Star

On An Odd Note by Gerald Kersh
This version was published in 1958 by Ballantine Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

Kersh, On An Odd Note

Starship by Brian Aldiss
This version was published in 1960 by Signet Books
The cover artist is Paul Lehr

Aldiss, Starship

A Badger Book On Sunday With The Reverend R. L. Fanthorpe, Chapter 9

Rev Fanthorpe Frame

It’s getting closer now – not that I have a brightly decorated tree, well stocked drinks cabinet and fridge jam packed with various nibbles. No, I stay well away from all that business choosing to believe that it’s merely a gigantic con trick to make us spend money we don’t have and gorge ourselves on food & drink. So with that out of the way let’s get on to books and see what I’ve chosen for today’s excursion into the weird and wonderful.

It’s yet another John E. Muller title which means it was penned by the trusty trio of R. L. Fanthorpe, John S. Glasby and A. A. Glynn. The all-important tagline reads;

“There was nothing wrong with the clock, only it went backwards!”

Now, I love a bit of time travelling in a novel and this cover clearly depicts our hero going as far back as prehistory in what I can only describe as an xmas tree bauble… what the? Of all the time machine designs I’ve seen adorning book covers this one has to be the strangest – very festive but odd all the same.

It’s time for me to dive in now and see what happens to the man who conquered time in a festive tree decoration.

The Man Who Conquered Time by John E. Muller
(Serial Number SF68)
This version was published in 1962 by Badger Books
The cover artist is Henry Fox

Badger - Muller, The Man Who Conquered Time

A Plethora Of Penguins Part Two

In the first part of this article published last week (here), I talked about the number of unfinished collections of Penguin books I have sitting on my library shelves and how frustrating a situation this is for an obsessive like me. It’s true that I have several success stories which go some small way to redressing the balance but I just have too many gaps otherwise to feel like I’ve achieved any sort of overall cohesion in terms of my Penguin books.

It’s at times like this that I remember the true nature of what I set this blog up to be; a virtual art gallery of book covers which are displayed in a way they can’t be seen when stored on shelves. I’m trying my best to view this situation more about sharing the art and design of the books themselves with other like minded people rather than owning a complete collection which makes me feel a little better about my sorry predicament. It also cunningly leaves the somewhat trickier job of writing reviews to other, far better bloggers than myself and serves to make casual visitors more aware of the visual aspects of these wonderful old books.

Here then dear reader are another eight covers from titles which belong to a number of my unfinished Penguin collections for your enjoyment. Feel free to comment on any points raised in the article or just the covers themselves;

Drunkard’s Walk by Frederik Pohl
This version was published in 1966 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Kenneth Randall

Pohl Drunkard's Walk

The Joyous Invasions by Theodore Sturgeon
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Sturgeon The Joyous Invasions

The Robert Sheckley Omnibus by Robert Sheckley
This version was published in 1975 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is David Pelham

Sheckley The Robert Sheckley Omnibus

A Case Of Conscience by James Blish
This version was published in 1963 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Max Ernst

Blish A Case Of Conscience

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
This version was published in 1966 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Lester Waldman

Bester The Demolished Man

Yet More Penguin Science Fiction edited by Brian Aldiss
This version was published in 1963 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Matta

Anthology Yet More Penguin Science Fiction

Alternating Currents by Frederik Pohl
This version was published in 1966 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Erich Hartmann

Pohl Alternating Currents

Into Deepest Space by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle
This version was published in 1977 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Peter Tybus

Hoyle Into Deepest Space