They're the Ones With the Cut Off Hands

Dear Reader, we here at The Little Black Egg were idly perusing an old Search & Destroy zines (which later morphed into RE/Search Publications) whilst taking a break from working on a writing project. Specifically, it's Search & Destroy #7, and it contains an interview with Roky Erickson.

Roky had this to say on his reading habits:

I go for the more evil side of things. I don't really like anything unless it is evil. I go in for nightmare comics and things like that.

I like to go to old buildings that have caved in, in the darkest part of Dallas at midnight and read about people injecting printer's ink into people's veins, and someone cutting off a man's hand because he wanted his ring and then the hand kills him in jail while he's asleep.

I exist off things like that, but I shouldn't force people to print that kind of periodical just for me! It's kind of mean to make them keep printing it and have it come to my doorstep, because I know I'm the only person that reads it. I guess I'd have to be, because they're the ones with the cut off hands and the blood spurting out the little arteries in their wrists after they're cut off, and that gets real scary.

I wish I had a job where I printed a periodical solely for Roky Erickson's enjoyment. I should get on that.

Here, Roky lays down some wisdom and then plays "Creature With the Atom Brain.


Clandestine Psych

Not that long ago, I had the good fortune to see Los Llamarada at the Cake Shop here in NYC. These guys were sick, and there was loads of feedback cutting all over the place and everyone was having a great time. Also, they probably have about the coolest looking guitar player in North America.

I’ve been wanting to see this band for some time, ever since I read about them in Z-Gun. In fact, when I was Hungary I considered taking the train out to see them there when they played some festival in Europe—Belgium, maybe? But I didn’t have the money. All sorts of great music came out in 2007, and I kept getting worried that I was missing it all because I was in Budapest and when I got back all the bands would be broken up.

Anyway, Los Llamarada is pretty harrowing, not least of all because they are noisy as shit. The songs move through weird territory and defy easy categorization. They are totally remarkable and a lot of fun, and also, listening to it gives you evil psychedelic powers. Right now, Los Llamarada have two albums. The first one, The Exploding Now!, came out a little while ago and was recorded mostly on crummy tape recorders, which made it sound awesomely clandestine and caused music fans the world around to shit their pants with joy.

Their second album, Take the Sky, came out just recently. It’s recorded on slightly better equipment and may, in fact, have slightly better songs than the first one, although it’s hard to say for sure. I like it a whole lot. Retains Llamarada's invisible creepiness while aspiring to marginally higher-fi.

These guys also have a 7”, but I haven’t heard it. Both albums are insanely good, and you will love them unless, of course, you are some strange gray Stasi agent in the employ of insectile overlords, and seek to destroy every single last inch of progress that rock and roll has made since Bo Diddley was birthed. It’s very possible that there are other bands that mine similar sonic territory out there—for all I know, some guy with a beard and weird pants could tell you “These guys sound just like Dead C meets Lothar and the Hand People. Ho hum!” But me, I am not that guy with a beard. I have no beard. But I think that Los Llamarada are really fucking rad, and not enough bands sound like this.

I didn't take this photo; I took it from the Los Llamarada photo page.


Fine Art and the Private Press

So the other night I was walking the Financial District after having picked up a copies of Alice Cooper's Muscle of Love and the Residents' hilarious Third Reich n' Roll in the used bin at J&R music world at 99 cents a pop, and I was talking to my friend Matty on the phone.  

Matty had just picked up the reissue of the Bachs' Out of the Bachs album, and we were discussing the unique production that went into that record.

"The drums sound like there's a guy hitting a ride cymbal with a stick and there's another guy pointing a microphone at him from like a mile away," said Matty.  "It's fucked."

"Maybe an original copy has better sound," I said.

"Probably not.  Besides, there's only like 150 known copies and they're all accounted for.  Getting an original would run you, like, $5,000."  

"Jesus shit!"

"Yeah.  These psych collectors—they might be weird and hunched and bald, with like a ring of curly hair around the back of their head, and wear stuff like corduroy shorts and a tie-dye shirts, and purple sunglasses with tiny diamond lenses, but when it comes to record collecting they don't fuck around."

"So Out of the Bachs has gotta be like the most expensive private press record ever, right?"

"Uh, maybe.  No, actually, there's this band called Nuclean Debris—I read about them in that Acid Archives book.   There was a guy named Johnny Scrotum in the band.  Anyway, there's only one known existing copy, and the guy who has it wants thirteen million dollars before he'll let anyone reissue it."

"Thirteen million dollars!"  I exclaimed, and as I did all these Wall Street banker guys on cell phones whipped their heads around to look at me.  I probably caused that downward line graph that charts the decline of our economy to take a brief upward jag.  Feel the power of Johnny Scrotum!

As I walked to the subway, Dear Reader, it suddenly struck me—this means that there actually is a record more rare than Voice Print, which I'd once believed to be the rarest vinyl in the world.

Speaking of Voice Print, upon my return to the United States I was presented with a pristine and sealed copy of that very record with a note on it from Tom and Marcia Hatten!  Wow!  I couldn't even believe it.  Hatten's note starts out with the words "Decisions, decisions, decisions . . ."  I can't even believe that he gave me a copy of this record—Dear Reader, I couldn't be happier.  I'm framing this thing and never opening it.  

Nuclear Debris may be selling for $13 million, but I'll tell you this—no piece of vinyl is worth more to me than this sealed copy of Voice Print.  This isn't just some record album, it's a piece of conceptual art!  It's going up on the wall!  You think I'm going to let Voice Print languish in a cardboard box next to . . . uh, next to my Alice Cooper records? No sir. This is special vinyl.  

And if I ever sell it, the auction isn't gonna be on eBay, it's gonna be at Christie's.


Waking Up on All Saints Day

Dear Reader, I hope life finds you well. The past few months have been interesting for us, and you may have noticed a brief interruption in our broadcast schedule. We here at The Little Black Egg are pleased to report that our new editorial headquarters have been set up, and we are prepared to resume our normal programming.


Be Seeing You.

We here at The Little Black Egg are gearing up to leave town, so things will be a bit quiet around here while we pack up our editorial offices and ship them to our new destination. We urge you to stay tuned to this channel, however, as we are currently working on an essay on punk rock from Miskolc, Hungary. It will be the best thing we've ever presented, and should be available for your reading pleasure in a couple of weeks.

When one thing ends another begins. Dear Reader—we'll be seeing you.


It Came From Rijeka: Hrvatska Punk

Just recently, we here at The Little Black Egg went on an excursion to Croatia. Naturally, we worked to improve our collection of ex-YU punk music while we were there. You see, Dear Reader, Slavic rock music is the shit. Anyone who tells you different is lying and should be immediately smashed because they are in the employ of the forces of mediocrity.

However, figuring out what to buy is tricky if you don’t speak Serbian or Croatian, since that’s what most websites and books about the YU Rock scene are going to be written in. Music sharity sites specializing in rock and punk from the Balkans (which you can find under the YU Rock heading on my link list), are very helpful. Most of this stuff is long out of print, and looks like it will stay that way.

Our first stop in Croatia was Rijeka, which is a port town and major transit hub. Many tourists to Croatia pass through Rijeka but don’t stop there. To be honest, Rijeka is somewhat less visually entrancing than, say, Croatia’s many historic medieval cities located on scenic beaches. But Rijeka has the advantage of not being overrun with German tourists doing that tourist thing where they dress as though they are prepared for a jungle safari, instead of a stroll down the main drag of some UNESCO protected wonderland. Later on in my trip, I saw lotsa Germans in Winnebagos. But I digress.

The point is, Rijeka was also the epicenter of one of Yugoslavia’s major punk scenes.

Should you find yourself in Rijeka, the record store to visit is called Dallas Records. My friend Nikola clued me in about this place. It stocks local and international stuff, and is also a record label that has been steadily reissuing a bunch of Rijekan bands.

When I asked the woman at the shop about Rijekan punk, she told me “Yes there have been many many groups from here, we have one of the best scenes in the world and now you will listen to all our bands.” And then she proceeded to take about 15 CDs out of their shrink wrap and play them for me over the in-store stereo system. She talked a little about the Rijekan scene, and how there used to be a lot of back and forth with the Belgrade scene before the war.

If my budget weren’t so limited, I would have gotten tons of stuff, but as it happened I ended up only getting a collection of Rijekan legends Termiti, garagey punks from 1979 with a killer organ sound. Their song “Vjeran Pas” is monster anthem that can’t be stopped. The Dallas Records Termiti collection is entitled Lp ploca vjeran pas: kompletan opus legendarne punk grupe! 17 skladbi, bonus live + multimedia. The multimedia component is a short documentary about the band, which includes footage of them from back in the day. The singer is off the hook, and at one point sings with a toilet over his head. Like, an actual toilet, worn like a hat.

Later on, half of Termiti morphed into Let 3, a cheerfully transgressive bizarro-rock band that’s still kicking today. The CD of Let 3 didn’t really tickle my fancy, but then again I don’t speak the language so I miss all the jokes. They’re real popular in Croatia and the surrounding environs.

While in Rijeka, I was told that Dallas Records was releasing a 3CD comp of all Rijekan punk bands but it wasn’t out yet. I was fucking pissed. I’m always a day late and a dollar short.

But then, about a week later, I was in Dubrovnik and got a line on another record store. I went there and got the same treatment—the guy in the store kept playing me music until I said I had to go. And even though I’d been warned that he probably wouldn’t want to talk about Serbian stuff since he got hit with a bunch of shrapnel during the shelling of Dubrovnik during the war, when I got there he put on a Pekinska Patka album right off the bat.

Best of all though, that 3CD set came out, and it is a real motherfucker. It’s called Rijecki Novi Val. (Novi Val is Croatian for New Wave.) This is one of the best collections of anything I ever acquired. Punk and New Wave were huge in the Balkans. I said it once, and I’ll say it again: the ex-YU countries are responsible for the some of the best punk music made anywhere.

For a communist country, Yugoslavia was comparatively relaxed when it came to personal freedoms. A Yugoslavian passport would allow one to not only journey to the West, but also to travel behind the Iron Curtain (Yugoslavia was non-aligned, and not part of the USSR).

Yugoslav bands played shows and released albums, often with government assistance. The big YU music label, Jugoton, had a roster that included punkers such as Electricni Orgazam, and Jugoton also released albums by foreign artists like Bowie and PiL for the Yugoslav market. Balkan groups got exposure to a wide array of rock music from around the world, but never lost their regional sound. And as I understand it, the authorities mostly welcomed the satire they got from Novi Val bands, considering it to be healthy for society or whatever. For an example, check out this video from the Belgrade band Idoli:

The Rijecki Novi Val Antologija contains 70 songs from about 1979–1989, ranging from more garagey, obviously UK and US influenced punk, to New Wave tracks, to industrial synth experimentation. The production varies on some of the tracks, which include tracks sourced from live records or demo tapes alongside studio recordings. Luckily, these were remastered at Laibach's Studio NSK in Ljubljana, and everything sounds good.

The Xenia track “Troje” sounds has a radio-ready Siouxsie and the Banshees kinda vibe, but is more Slavic than anything else. And some of the more out synth stuff, like Mrtvi Kanal, would trounce anything on those Messthetics comps. But for all the stuff on here I’d heard of, like Let 3 and Paraf (legendary Croat punkers who totally rip off the Ramones’ “Chinese Rocks” in their song “Rijeka”), there is twice is much I haven't. Take for instance Porko Dio, a band with one song on this comp—an 80 second long lo-fi synthpunk workout. I can’t find out anything about these guys (guy?) except that the song, “Riba” (which means “Fish”), is from 1988. Do they have an LP? A demo cassette? I don’t know. Just when I think I’ve figured something out, something else sends me searching.

You’d think that a 70 song compilation would be exhaustive, considering that it documents the punk scene in a town of less than 150,000 people, but the more I look the more there is to find out. I’ve pulled a dozen tracks from the comp and made a sample mixtape, which you can listen to if you find yourself so inclined.

I’m not entirely sure what the best way of procuring a physical copy of this compilation would be, since Dallas Records doesn’t seem to have a web site. But I highly recommend buying it as opposed to downloading it, not because I’m a goody-goody but because the boxed set comes with a big booklet of photos and text, and a bunch of inserts. The time has right for this music to see distribution in the United States.

Someone should get on that.


The Shape of Things to Come

The Sightings have been around for a few years now, and were the headliners at a show I wrote about recently. They have several albums out, including their excellent LP Through the Panama, released last year.

This is the cover for Through the Panama. I was going to take pictures of the show but my camera is broken.

The show was an RNR 666 event, and the bands played at Corvinteto (please excuse the lack of Hungarian diacritical marks), a multi-story bar/café/movie theater located above Budapest’s first-ever department store, which was built back in the commie days and hasn’t made any concessions to trends in modern retailing. It looks like a warehouse with low ceilings and rows of florescent lights illuminating racks of useless merchandise with the occasional bored clerk waiting for her shift to end. I went in there once and the only other customer was this old woman in purple with a limp who kept coughing as she shuffled around, touching things.

The store atop which rests Corvinteto. This image can be found in its original context here.

The Sightings came out and introduced themselves, announcing that they hailed from Ronkonkoma, Long Island. The band is three guys making music that sounds like a radio transmission from the future. And it seems that the future is going to be a super fucking rad slimy David Cronenberg latex surgery hell world where bands like this pass for pop music. Thank god.

Weirdly, the Sightings have your standard power trio singer-guitarist/bassist/drummer lineup. They sound nothing like a power trio. I have no idea what effects gizmos this band uses, but their guitars make weird ghostly noises, or sound like handfuls of change hitting glass tabletops in slow motion, or anvils dropping on piles of undifferentiated meat at the bottom of a grain silo, or odd pulsating emanations—infrequently, they sound like distorted guitars. Out of this emerge songs—amidst all the reverb and delay, there are these structured songs that guide you forward amongst the strange, looming blocks of sound. It’s noisy material that seems like it should be difficult but it isn’t at all.

On Through the Panama, the Sightings are pretty nuanced. Sometimes the material is cold and sterile (in a good way), but it also crosses into territory that’s almost heartfelt, while also being really creepy. Live, they’re more unhinged; dynamic waves of huge, echoing noise bouncing and crashing, spilling forth and receding while the drummer propels the songs along, sometimes messing with piles of effects stuff. It's the sound of the shape of things to come. After seeing them, I was surprised that more bands don't sound like this.

The Budapest crowd warmed up to the Sightings' weird barrage fairly quickly. From what I’ve seen, Hungarian audiences can be a little reticent with the applause at first, but unlike, say, New York crowds, they aren’t the least bit jaded. Bands that venture outside the bounds of the typical Euro tour circuit can really leave a serious mark on the crowd. And at this show, there was a small group of people up front, staring at the goings on like they were downloading secret commands into their cortex. And they were. Those that were susceptible to this kind of music were being activated. That’s the kind of thing that can only happen once. I’m glad I was there too.


Zvoni Telefon

We here at the Little Black Egg just got back from a trip to Croatia and Bosnia. While our record hunting efforts in Sarajevo were a total bust, we scored some amazing stuff in Rijeka and Dubrovnik.

While we feverishly toil to complete two forthcoming articles, please enjoy this Serbo-Croatian version of a Blondie classic from Rijekan group Fit.


Büdösök: The Brown Danube Waltz

For nearly two years, we here at The Little Black Egg have been searching high and low for music by the Hungarian band Büdösök. We first saw them play at the 2006 Sziget festival. They really stuck out, considering Sziget is a giant, boring rock fest stuffed to the gills with bands a good fifteen years past their sell-by date.

Büdösök were playing on a tiny stage that was about 999 miles away from where the headliners played. Their lineup consisted of a drummer, a bass player, and a singer who played the trumpet and a tiny keyboard. When he sang he sounded like . . . well, you know those olden-timey sanitariums you sometimes see in period films, where everyone is chained to the wall and drooling and soiling themselves, and there’s this one guy in restraints who thinks he’s Napoleon or St. Francis of Assisi? And this guy is haranguing everyone around him? Imagine that backed by a distorted, skeletal bass plod. It was nauseating and impressive. I loved it.

The show ended, and two years passed while I tried to find out stuff about them. As in, I looked through the “B” bin in just about every single record store in the country. The record store guys either didn’t know what I was talking about, or insisted that the band had never made a recording. For a minute I thought I had a lead when I met a young man from a Budapest-based pop punk band whilst hanging out at one of my girlfriend’s gigs. When I told him that Büdösök were my favorite Hungarian band, he said “Ah! Büdösök! That is the true Hungarian shitpunk!” And he was right.

This is a video for their song “TV-Stáb-Uzo.”

If there is more Hungarian shitpunk to be found here, well, I’d like some help finding it. Büdösök were pretty goddamn elusive. I never saw any fliers for shows they played, and no record stores had their CDs. There was no Büdösök web presence to speak of, either. Or at least not that I could find. And I was out there sniffing out clues like Sam Spade. I’d pretty much given up hope until I bumped into two of the Büdösök guys at this show I went to.

A teaser video for “Büdösök B.Á.,” the band’s theme song.

I learned that Büdösök’s studio output is isolated to a four song EP called Markomban a buvészpálca . . . muvészetem buz és álca (I don’t know what that means, nor do I know how to get my computer to make the double accent mark over some of the vowels). The drummer told me that they were recording a full-length album, and were going to be opening for NYC’s the Sightings at a venue in downtown Budapest.

So I went to the gig, which was off the hook. In front of a rabid audience, Büdösök delivered the goods. Most of the crowd seemed to know the words and sang along. People were drunk and falling down and a few were crawling around on the floor. A lot of the singer’s between-song stage patter was delivered in a weird falsetto voice, and I think most of it was fake German. The whole thing was really, really funny. The crowd was elated and yelling. It was a big, noisy mess.

It’s possible that I’d like Büdösök more, or maybe less, if I knew what they were singing about. But I don’t, so never mind. (The few lyrics I managed to translate were unprintably scatological.) Büdösök’s sound is built on similar sonic terrain to that of AmRep stalwarts like Killdozer, the Cows, etcetera. Except Büdösök are not from the US Midwest, and they’re not trying to sound like they are. Büdösök’s brand of funny-yet-unnerving inebriated skudge rock is totally home grown. You can pinpoint a couple of influences, but . . . this is the true Hungarian shitpunk. It's seasick and strident and totally fucking weird. No one sounds like this. I'm sure that, if there are C.H.U.D.s living in the sewers of Budapest, these are the songs they march to.


Italian Horror Songs

Dear Reader, we here at The Little Black Egg have found it advisable to get regular doses of Grade A skronk to inoculate ourselves against the mediocre bullshit in life that can fasten itself to you like an invisible lamprey and drain your bodily humors. So last week, when it came to our attention that Italian band Hiroshima Rocks Around were playing a show in Budapest, we set off into the night to find them. HRA plays a species of weird, noisy thrash stuff that is all too rare in these parts (or anywhere else, really).

The show was at Filter club, which is a bar with a secret music venue in the back. Three bands were on the bill. The first opener, Grip Casino, was a guy who did a solo electric guitar and singing thing, including a nearly indecipherable cover of the Fall’s “Hotel Bloedel.” It was a lotta fun.

“?” (a band, not the famed Mysterian) went on next. I wasn’t sure what to expect from these guys, and what I got were these hilarious noisy punk tunes by a bunch of people wearing weird masks. For instance, the drummer had a Rubik’s cube mask, and the guitarist guy had bandages wrapped all around his head. The band also featured one guy who didn’t play anything, but instead capered around the front of the stage, showcasing his silent comedy moves and doing disgusting things with a harmonica. A record is coming out soon, I gather. ? is one of those bands that verge on being performance art, and were enthusiastically heckled by a loud group of soused fans.

In the break before Hiroshima Rocks Around came on, a member of ?’s extra-hydrated posse demanded to know what I thought of the Dog Faced Hermans. I forget what I told him, but anyway, as I was talking he suddenly fell face-first into the merch table, like kind of like something out of a Buster Keaton movie. Then he got up and wandered off. It was stylish.

I also managed to talk to the folks who booked the show. They put on these events under the moniker RNR 666. They’d previously got the band Tunnel of Love over here, amongst others. NYC’s The Sightings were booked to play next week, and the RNR 666 people had set their sights on getting Live Fast Die to play. How cool is that, right? It occurred to me that these were the people that any stateside unorthodox/noisy/weird punk bands ought to contact if they wanted to play a show in Budapest.

Suddenly, it was time for the Main Event. For their part, Hiroshima Rocks Around put on a high-energy show that kicked my ass. Propelled by a furious drummer, HRA’s singer/guitar mangler guy belted shit out into a little clip-on popstar microphone, while the saxophonist (and sometime bassist) gave Peter Brotzmann a run for his money in the “playing so hard you burst a fucking vein in your head” category of avant horn squealery. The sheer amount of skronk in the air was probably about 5 decibels away from being fatal to organic matter.

Here is some video from the show taken by other people. I didn’t take any pictures of the show because I couldn’t find my camera.

You know, when I think of Italian bands, I think of Goblin and their ilk. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Goblin, but you know what? This is 2008, man. I want my horror movies scored by bands like Hiroshima Rocks Around. Someone who makes horror movies oughta get on that. Every single song HRA played felt like it was about to unbalance and lose its cohesion, but that never quite happened. This wasn't some math rock bullshit, either—these Italians deal in music made outta raw noise and terror, and they make it real fun.

You can get their stuff here and here.


Rock Around the Bloc

The Little Black Egg HQ has been chaotic recently, as we finished some shiftwork and chased down money that was owed to us. (It was hard work, but you better believe our debtors rendered unto Caesar.) You see, we’re amassing capital for a summer excursion to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

We look forward to our Russian campaign this summer with great anticipation, Dear Reader. However, we need your help.

We’re planning on sinking our Economic Stimulus Package into the fertile landscape of Russian record shoppes. So if you’ve been to any good record stores out in those parts, especially those that sell older vinyl stuff, we’d very much appreciate an email or a comment with the pertinent details.

Any leads on where to get roentgenizdat would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, and thank you kindly.

Ahem. Actually, we here at The Little Black Egg are going to Croatia and Bosnia instead. So, if you have any leads on good record stores in Rijeka, Dubrovnik, or Sarajevo, please drop us a line.


The Lysergic Demonology

When I was but a young whippersnapper hanging out at the record shoppe, I used to compulsively read album credits. If there was something I was interested in, but I couldn't buy it, I'd just read all the information possible. And if I actually bought a record, well, then you could bet I examined every square inch of the cover, insets, and etcetera. (It is perhaps no coincidence that we here at The Little Black Egg are nervous, nose-picking nerds.)

Now that I am a rapidly-graying adult humanoid, I still find myself scanning and memorzing names, dates, places—skills that would have probably made me a pretty good gum-cracking girl reporter. Unfortunately, I'm more Langley Collier than Nancy Drew.

As you might then imagine, we were ecstatic when given a copy of the Acid Archives, the poorly-designed yet mind-blowing tome you see pictured above. Put together by the good folks over at Lysergia, this book compiles some of the most chromosomally-damaged psych and weirdrock ever cut to wax.

Of course, we here at The Little Black Egg are so broke that actually purchasing any of the rarities contained between the covers of this here book—well, that's out of the question for the time being. Thankfully, some of stuff has been or is being reissued. I spent an enjoyable weekend with my pal Matty, the kind benefactor who set me up with this stunning title, listening to some of the luminaries described therein.

An excerpt of author Patrick Lundborg's description of weird Christian psych group The New Creation:

. . . you could write a whole book about the strange cerebral buttons this album pushes, the aggregated effect of which is truly staggering. The female vocalist is unsure of things such as rhythm and accents, and opts for a very unusual half-sung/half-spoken syle that sounds liek a 1950s housewife humming to herself at K-Mart. The male vocalist has a flat, geeky voice that lends little weight to the apocalyptic and often quite bizarre lyrics about degereate hippies, drugs, Sodom & Gomorrah, immoral adults, sinners and more . . .

I've since heard the New Creation, and lemme tell you—that description? Spot on.

For the serious to super-serious psych collector, well, it seems like this guide is kind of required reading. For a cash-strapped jerk like myself, flipping through this guide is like reading about strange, half-forgotten crypto-zoological menageries. Either way, the authors deserve a thundering round of applause for the work they've put into this title.


Spending $12

As an itinerant writer and copyeditor, I’m not always rolling in the cabbage. Not that I’m complaining—you think I’m complaining? You think I want to go back to my old cubicle and turn gray under florescent lights while invisible demons eat my soul? No! I’m aspiring to live like Beaumarchais!

Of course, right now I’m copyediting an 800 page book on Romanian farm collectivization, meaning that my life actually resembles Kafka’s Das Schloss starring Henny Youngman, but that’s the price of endeavor, and I can do naught but cast my gaze towards the ineffable rewards that will someday be mine. Sure, things are tough without a steady paycheck, but do you think Gomez Addams came by his fortune through normal channels? No! And when the biography of Gomez Addams is written, I bet they’ll skip over his “lean years” and devote the bulk of the text to Gomez’s knife-throwing, tango dancing, and alligator farming. So it is with me. Above my desk, Dear Reader, I have two cross-stitched samplers: one reads “An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations. A copyeditor spends his life getting into tense situations,” and the other reads “The life of a freelance writer is always intense.” Those are words to live by.

This is all a roundabout way of admitting that I’ve been totally fucking broke lately, especially during my recent visit to NYC. I don’t know when I’m gonna be able to get out west to see people, or when I’m going to be able to pick up that Times New Viking Present the Paisley Reich record I’ve been wanting to get—or any record, for that matter. In fact, if it weren’t for good friends, I would have gone without food and housing.

While in NYC, I was bound and determined to see music. Specifically, I was determined to see Om, who were playing a show with Daniel Higgs. That’s a good lineup right there.

Daniel Higgs is the main guy in this band Lungfish, and now makes these strange albums of solo banjo and jew’s harp improvisations. I’m a big fan of his recent Metempsychotic Melodies album, made up of long banjo-based compositions plus the odd string of stentorian intonations about love.

Higgs music is sprawling, and it sounds like he’s channeling awfully weird forces when he plays. (My friend Matty, who has launched a one-man humanitarian mission to make sure that I stay tethered to the world of fine music, introduced me to Daniel Higgs’ stuff. Thanks, Matty.) Besides Metemphychotic Melodies, I’d recommend his album Atomic Yggrasil Tarot, which you can get with a little hardbound book of Higgs’ paintings and written text. All of the Daniel Higgs solo releases are good, though.

Om, on the other hand, is a band made up of the bass player and drummer of Sleep, a band that broke up in the 90s. Sleep started out sounding kinda like Black Sabbath, and ended up trying to deliver an album to their record company that was an hour-long weed anthem. One song—one hour. This album is the legendary Dopesmoker, available at fine record shoppes everywhere.

Needless to say, a 60 minute marijuana metal monolith isn’t gonna move units in the way that 90s alterna-hits of the day did. The record company wasn’t pleased, and the band split amidst tensions. The guitarist guy formed High On Fire, which is a metal band that has songs about Pharisees and yetis and shit. (Check the sample lyric: Abominable nomad/The ancient monks know his clan/The time of yeti will rise/Because his ways have been wise.) The other two guys in Sleep, bassist-singer Al Cisnros and drummer Chris Haikus, became Om.

Om is just bass, drums, and singing. Their music really couldn't be simpler, but by making long, repetitive songs that undergo slight variations over time, the band creates something totally compelling, and rewards your listening effort. They do songs with names like Rays of the Sun/To the Shrinebuilder—songs that take up the entire side of an LP, and keep going and going until your mind is all stretched out. Now, I’m not a big heavy metal fan, but I do like psych music and dub reggae. A long, psych-stoner-doom rock dub sounding anthem thing? About a shrinebuilder? I’ll buy that for a dollar.

This kind of music doesn’t just drop out of the sky—if you’re going to be in a bass and drums combo that does hypnotic 20 minute long songs with only one part, well, that’s dedication right there. That’s the kind of band that springs from the fertile soil of a previous band’s decomposing remains . . . a lot of things had to happen for a band like Om to exist.

Seeing as how I was in New York for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t gonna miss these guys for anything. This took some planning—you see, I really was broke, and not at all sure I was going to have the $12 (or whatever) it would cost to see them by the time they played. I had to buy things like food and subway fares.

So I squirreled away $12 at the beginning of my trip, figuring that I could make up the remainder of the ticket price by changing the assorted foreign currencies in my wallet. Let me tell you: not dipping into that $12 was a lot of work. I won’t go into some of the more embarrassing details.

And as I wandered around NYC, seeing friends and eating their food, I began thinking about why I liked Om (or, say, Akron/Family) more than, say, certain other kinds of modern-day psych-y bands that play shows all over These United States. Because they’re out there, you know.

One train of thought led to another, and I ended up finding myself thinking about this Jorge Luis Borges story called “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.”

In this story, the narrator talks about his friend Pierre Menard, who is a writer. He lists Menard’s works, which are all pretty interesting, but pale in comparison to Menard’s real work, which was to try and write Don Quixote:

The first method he conceived was relatively simple. Know Spanish well, recover the Catholic faith, fight against the Moors or the Turk, forget the history of Europe between the years 1602 and 1918, be Miguel de Cervantes. Pierre Menard studied this procedure (I know he attained a fairly accurate command of seventeenth-century Spanish) but discarded it as too easy. Rather as impossible! my reader will say. Granted, but the undertaking was impossible from the very beginning and of all the impossible ways of carrying it out, this was the least interesting. To be, in the twentieth century, a popular novelist of the seventeenth seemed to him a diminution. To be, in some way, Cervantes and reach the Quixote seemed less arduous to him—and, consequently, less interesting--than to go on being Pierre Menard and reach the Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard.

So the story continues onward in this interesting manner. When Menand finally produces his fragments of the Quixote, the narrator compares it to Cervantes’ Quixote. Now, the two texts are identical. And comparing identical passages, the narrator finds Menand’s Quixote to be “almost infinitely richer.” Even though both texts contain the same words, one was written in the 17th century, and the other was written in the present day. Therefore, they are judged differently and they contain different meanings.

Bands like Om and Daniel Higgs seem familiar at first. Before I even heard them I'd heard about them, and figured that they just made drugged out, boring hippie nonsense. I resisted listening to them for a long time: I didn't necessarily want to listen to some guy making banjo drone-folk, and while I liked Om on paper, it seemed like they'd be tedious in practice. When I finally took the time to actually listen, I was hooked. It’s hard to say what these guys are tapping into. but the stuff they’re playing is entirely new, and nothing if not contemporary.

I'm always hearing how people are supposed to have low attention spans because we live in a media landscape of soundbites and blah blah blah, but it would seem that a whole lot of popular music these days embraces dynamics, experimentation, and active listening. OM and Daniel Higgs (along with a number of other artists) are making these kind of sounds that demand that everything else be pushed away. It's meditative, but not necessarily peaceful. I'm reminded of . . . I don't know . . . I mean, don't most world religions or spiritual thingies have a moment when someone, like a priest or a magic warlock guy or whatever, performs some kind of an action to prepare a space for religion stuff? Like how priests say prayers and wave around that incense burner, or how a magic warlock guy might light candles and place them around the sacred ritual pentagram? They're purifying the space, right? Purifying the space, or creating a void in the secular world, or something. This is an ages-old practice, but its done differently by different people from different religions in different parts of the world. Despite all these differences, it accomplishes the same thing.

It’s 2008, and the music industry is collapsing like a preternaturally old man-monster who lived for 200 years by sucking the blood from the young and innocent, until his tick-like, swollen body became too heavy for his spindly little osteoporosis-inflicted legs to support, so they snapped like dry branches while, shrieking like a falsetto air raid siren, while his repulsive, claw-like hands dragged down anyone within reach. Meanwhile music just keeps getting more and more innovative: things are expanding rather than contracting, and new vistas are opening up for brave listeners the world around.

At any rate, you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that Om split up and the show was cancelled.

I bought tacos and beer with my $12.


Metapost: It's a Virtue

Dear Readers: I've been travelling a lot recently, and having too much fun to provide you with the quality content you've come to expect from The Little Black Egg.

Now, I've got so much quality content stuck in my head that it looks like I have hydropcephalus, and I can't wait to get home so's I can stick a shunt in my head and drain that quality content out for consumption by you, my beloved audience. I know that you are all possessed of that virtue that is patience, and are not annoyed at the time that elapses between posts. When my new content appears here, for free, I know that you'll be here with hands outstretched, ready to recieve it. Thank you and thank you kindly.

This can be assembled.


It's Monk Time

Dave Day, the banjo player from the Monks, died the other day. That's him on the far right.

Over forty years ago, some American GIs stationed in Germany decided to form a band after getting out of the army. They got cowls, wore nooses around their necks, and shaved their hair into monk tonsures. The Monks played weird, distorted, rhythmic, sarcastic sing-along music, and released one album, Black Monk Time, in 1965.

I first heard this band when I was 19 or so and my friend Jackie loaned me a CD of their stuff (which I lost like a jerk—sorry about that, Jackie). I liked them immediately—it's hard not to. They're like some wondrous mythical animal that has the science community scratching their heads, while cryptozoologists hammer away at keyboards, trying to concoct a thesis that will convince the world at large that this impossible creature actually exists.

I don't have any fascinating insights to offer about the Monks; I just think they were light years ahead of their time, and I'm sorry Dave Day is dead.

Thanks to magic of the internets, the existing footage of the Monks, originally broadcast on German TV, is available for anyone to see. Way back when I first heard this band, I never could have dreamed that I'd ever actually get to see a recording of them. They are hilarious: let's watch some television.

This clip contains Monk Chant and How to Do Now. Check out the guitar abuse in the former and the Dave Day's psychotic banjo wrangling in the later.

Boys are Boys. Dance to it, you Germans!

Here is Complication, probably my favorite Monks tune. It was compiled on the famous Nuggets comp, and woulda been a big hit if there was any justice in this world.

The Monks reunited in 1999 for Cavestomp, and then stayed quiet for a while. A book was written on them, a tribute album was recorded, and a documentary, Trans-Atlantic Feedback, was made. So forty years after Black Monk Time was released, they were persuaded to play some shows. Here they are, after all that time, still bringing it.

This song is called Higgle-dy Piggle-dy. Click here to see Mark E. Smith stagger out onto stage with the Monks while they play this song at another date. He does a funny little dance and then abruptly leaves.

Black Monk Time.

Rest in Peace, Dave.


2007 is Over

Recently, my friend Matty send me some clippings from The Wire magazine, along with a couple of CDs he burned. He kindly sent this package from Boston to Hungary just to be a nice guy—it was a mercy mission.

You see, dear Reader, I’ve been living in Budapest for about a year and a half now. And during this time I’ve understandably fallen a bit behind on the killer new sounds pouring out of the USA. Were it not for the internets, WFMU, and music purveying pals like Matty, I’d be trapped in 2006 forever . . . and ever, and ever.

Unfortunately, the rock and roll scene in Budapest isn’t really my cup of tea (except for the band Büdösök, who sound sorta like Cop Shoot Cop, but with better songs and a trumpet player. Stay tuned for a future feature on this band—I finally tracked down a guy who knows them, so hopefully I can actually get their CDs. See, I go into stores and ask for them by name, and that name is a bitch to pronounce. The store owner guys just laugh at me, because the name Büdösök means “We Are the Stink People” or something. Now, besides the fact it’s a funny name, if I mispronounce it—and there are three other possible pronunciations for each of those vowels that only Hungarian ears are properly attuned to—I end up saying something like “we are smelling stinky,” or even “we are a shit-octopus.” It’s embarrassing, man). If I were a metalhead, I’m sure I’d be having a blast watching Magyar metal bands like Watch My Dying and Graveyard at Maximum. But I’m not. So I end up seeing folk music and traditional stuff and various permutations thereof.

A year and change passes with me seeing these kinda shows, when Matty’s package full of clippings and CDs shows up in my mailbox. So imagine my surprise when, tucked in the envelope was a one-page “Global Ear” section on Budapest from the Wire, penned by the guy from A Hawk and a Hacksaw.

It was really weird to read this. I go to these places! I’ve seen all these bands! It’s like the Wire is shaking my hand, saying “Congratulations son, some invisible British music nerds recognize that you are totally with it.”

But enough patting myself on the back for seeing music in places that other, actually cool people told me about. The point is that, out of everything in that little article, the most important thing is that Sirály, my favoritist place in the city, is finally getting the props it deserves.

Sirály is a three-floor bar/café/bookstore/performance space in downtown Budapest, which is also a squat (probably the only one in the city) and a Jewish cultural center (probably the only cool one in the city). The people running it do a great job, and a ton of cool shit goes down there, and it’s usually for free. They just do it for fun. You wanna see Moroccan dance-rock motherfuckers Chalaban? It’s free. You wanna see Eastern European Jewish party songs played by ass-kicking trad Klezmer band Di Naye Kapelye? It’s free. Also, they’re on the same bill, and the place is packed, and everyone is getting down. Seriously, if that place didn’t exist, my experience here would be about 300% less fun.

There have been a couple articles on Sirály—a hi-gloss “lifestyle” kind of piece in the LA Times, and an extremely poorly researched thing in some German paper, which had some factual errors and also totally missed the point of the space. But whatever. We were here when Síraly first opened up, and it’s been consistently kicking ass, the people who run it are providing a service to humanity, and I’m glad to see it get recognized.

I had been planning on writing a sort of year-end rundown of my favorite music shit from 2007, but soon realized that I’m outta touch when it comes to the cool releases that came out. I guess that the song “Vomiting Mirrors” by Clockcleaner became my 2007 Funtime Jam—but really, I haven’t been able to hear most of what came out this year, as I have neither the money to pay for imports or the patience/strength of will to download them all from the internets. Anyway, downloading new releases isn’t very sporting, don’t you think? (Not to diminish the glory of “Vomiting Mirrors,” which is a great big steaming pile of wonderful.)

The best music thing I saw, however, was Frank London playing with Boban Markovic (part I) and then the beautiful audio dogpile of the Síraly afterparty (part II). Now, I know many of you might be rolling your eyes, thinking “Blah blah blah, Boban Markovic, I’ve real miles of print about Boban and I know the score.” But the plot thickens—dear Reader, read on.

Part I: The Show

Here is a shitty picture of the stage

On paper, it was already a good concert. There was Boban Markovic, the megastar Serbian trumpet great who is universally loved in the Balkans and the world around, and who deserves every piece of hyperbole that music journalists invent to try and describe his playing. With Boban, you also get his Orkestar, which is made up of the cream of the crop of Serbian brass band guys, and his son Marko, who is being groomed for excellence. Then there’s Frank London, who recently won a Grammy (!!!) with his band the Klezmatics. From what I understand, Frank is a New York music vet who plays, you know, the cool kind of Klezmer stuff that comes out of New York. Despite his Grammy award, his music doesn’t make concessions to . . . I don’t know, whoever hands out Grammies. You know what I’m trying to say.

Both of these guys did an album together at some point, and they were playing together at the Sportarena. I hadn’t seen an arena show since I had just turned 16 and drove my deathtrap 1972 Plymouth Valiant (which went to internal combustion Valhalla after two guys bought it from me and drove it to a violent end in a demolition derby) two hours through the ice and snow to the Pepsi Arena in Albany. But I digress.

I’ve seen Boban about . . . I think I’ve seen him three times now. I’ve heard a lot of his albums, and I’ve seen him in Underground, obviously, and I have to say, it would have been better to catch Boban a couple of years ago. Because each time I’ve seen him he’s kind of phoned it in. That’s probably understandable—his band plays a lot, and most audiences seem to want the same 15 songs from the standard brass band repetoire, and he’s played them a hundred zillion times and no longer has anything to prove. Of course, he’s not always like this—Sarah saw him in New York, and he happily pulled out all the stops for the ex-Yugoslav expats there. And I’ve never managed to see him in Serbia. The last time I saw the Boban Orkestar was at this place West Balkan not too far from my apartment: the band has kicked ass, Marko kicked ass, and Boban sort of wandered the stage, leaving the soloing to his son, smoking and yelling at the sound guy.

The Main Event worked like this—Boban’s group played some songs, and Frank’s group played some songs, and then, for the exciting part of the evening, they both played some songs. And Boban was pumped up. He was exhorting his band to play better, and his solos traveled through the Sportarena’s stale air to melt my eyes out of my skull. It was the Boban show I felt like I’d always wanted to see, but had never gotten the chance to.

Here they are, playing together. I don't know what this song is, but check out the insane tuba battle halfway through.

When they played together, though, that was when the real shit happened. First of all, it was clear that Boban and Frank had no little amount of mutual admiration, and their playing was fucking intense. Second of all, I learned that I’d been horribly underestimating Marko. He kills it on the trumpet, and when given the opportunity to call the first song of the combined set, do you know what he called? “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaata.

You know “Planet Rock,” right? That song that samples Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express”? Well, my mind folded five ways and inverted the minute I understood that I was watching the Boban Markovic Orkestar play an Afrika Bambaata tune. That little snatch of electro-tunage went from Germany to New York to Serbia: how cool is that? Kraftwerk, man—you can’t stop the funk.

Here is 90% of Planet Rock: sorry that I missed the beginning of this song. They kind of mess around with it for a minute, and then it returns to melody at the end.

I came away from this show a fan of Frank London, my faith in Boban Markovic renewed, and a convert to Marko’s playing. I’d pay to see Marko sans his Pops any day of the week.

Part II: The Party After the Show
Sirály was doing something every night of the week for Hanukah, so we headed there after the show figuring that all of our friends would be there. And they were! It was great.

See, there was a giant, unstructured music thing going on in the basement of the club. It started at 8, and we got there around 10:30. How was it? I dunno. I mean, it was great, but it was a real mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

For instance, there was a diminutive Hungarian Hip hop girl who assumed that everyone was there to back up her rapping. They kept turning off her mic, much to the amusement of the crowd. I don’t know much Hungarian, but even a foreigner like me could tell that this MC was, as we say in the US, “wack.” Here, let me do an impression of her for you:

Vashty-vashty-vashty VASH
Vashty-vashty-vashty VASH
Vashty-vashty-vashty VASH
Vashty-vashty-vashty VASH

Rinse and repeat. What is this, 1982? Watching her rap was like watching the Bizarro version of Superman try to fight crime. Seriously, she’s the kind of person who they used to drag off the stage with one of those big shepherd’s crooks in the vaudeville days.

There was a Hungarian jazz band that hadn’t played in some time and were having a reunion gig of sorts, and they were the main music nucleus for a while. Their massive piano player had no piano, and engaged in some scatting that—you know what? I’ve never actually seen scatting with my own two eyes, and while I sort of wish he hadn’t done it, the guy managed to come off as ballsy rather than retarded. He also got the fuck offa the stage after dropping his scat. Well played, piano guy.

Then some other guy tried to scat. Horrible. Fuck that guy. Two people scatting is one and a half too many.

It should be said that during this time, a number of drummers had begun showing up to play drums. Most importantly, there were these two elder drum wizards. They just played straight through the whole thing. They didn’t get up to take a leak, get a drink, have a cigarette, scratch an itch—nothing. They just sat there, playing conga drums. They weren’t flashy, either. They just sort of played this beat. I didn’t know who they were. The Sirály folks didn’t know who they were. No one there knew who they were. I still don’t know. In this photo, a young guy who they seemed to know sat down between them and joined in. Mysteries within mysteries.

Accordian player David Yengebarian dipped in and out of the proceedings. He’s played at Sirály a number of times, and he’s fucking fantastic. Also, might I add, a lot of stage presence for an accordian player. The guy sort of looks likes the Somnabulist from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Yengebarian seemed a lot, shall we say, looser than he usually does during his actual gigs, and it was cool. He eventually got up and wandered off.

Frank London’s appearance around midnight went nearly unnoticed. Several members of his All Star band showed up as well, and they killed. They didn’t actually play a proper show or anything, but occasionally a few of them would dip into the general weirdness. They were very generous, giving local musicians more than their fair chance in the spotlight and taking it in stride when their solos were cut short by, say, flailing belly dancers, an enthusiastic whitey-fro’d yeti youth squealing a yeti love call through his clarinet, the aforementioned MC Vashty-Vash, or etcetera.

And so the night wore on into the wee hours of the AM. Although his combined stage time probably amounted to about fifteen minutes, Frank and his All Star band really did music scene of Budapest a solid by showing up. He didn’t have to—I mean, he is Grammy Award Winning Recording Artist Frank London.

“Grammy Award Winning Recording Artist Frank London.” That has a nice ring to it, right? I certainly thought so, and continued to refer to him as such throughout the night. For instance, I might say “Whos that? Why, that’s Grammy Award Winning Recording Artist Frank London,” or “Hey Greg, did you enjoy seeing Grammy Award Winning Recording Artist Frank London play fifteen seconds of free jazz before that dipshit with the clarinet barged in and started shrieked out a 300 decibel yeti call?” Or maybe I’d say “There was a fight outside? A knife fight? Between who and who? Did they both have knives? Only one guy had a knife? Is anyone hurt? Not really? What? ‘It’s all good?’ What the fuck does that mean? What the fuck. You mean to tell me that I’ve been wasting my time standing around down here, drinking beer, waiting to see if Grammy Award Winning Recording Artist Frank London was going to get up there and play something, when I could have been upstairs, drinking beer, watching a knife fight out on the street? Oh man.”

Anyway, Grammy Award Winning Recording Artist Frank London seems like a cool guy, but he wasn’t the coolest guy in the room. Not by a long shot. The coolest guy in the room was approximately 138 years old. He had a long beard, and a wool hat, and looked sort of like a homeless longshoreman. Or maybe a sailor who has been cursed to walk the earth forever and ever after angering the sea gods. He was another guy who no one knew, and was just randomly wandering around downstairs, like he didn’t know or care where he was. He kept picking up stuff, examining it, and then gently setting it back down again. At one point he wandered into the middle of where everyone was playing music, looking bored, then checked his watch and gradually wandered off. Like he had somewhere better to be! Maybe he did. I don’t know.

Around 3 AM, we wandered off as well, exhausted. On the way home, I was thinking about this time I went to go see a show at the Stone in NYC that was a celebration of John Coltrane. It was on his birthday, and there was this incredible band assembled playing Coltrane songs. There was Rashid Ali and Reggie Workman, who were Coltrane’s rhythm section after things got too weird for the original guys. Fuck, I feel like an asshole, but I can’t remember the other guys who were playing, but they were awesome, and my mind was blown. So, I had this realization that these guys weren’t a tribute band or something, but that they were channeling music that was every bit as vital today as it was forty years ago. And that there was all this room in the music for people to express themselves, and it was never played the same way twice. The music I was hearing only existed in the present, and I’d never hear it again.

That looks pretty fucking corny now that I’ve typed it out, but it was a big deal for me to really understand this. It was like learning how to swim or something.

Now, a couple years later and a few thousand miles away, I’m seeing this other musical improv event in Budapest. There are a lot of crucial differences, but that’s all right. There isn’t another venue in the city for this kind of thing, so everyone came to Sirály. Everyone who had the night free and wanted to throw down threw down, from Grammy Award Winning Recording Artists to total beginners with a chip on their shoulder. Good. I’m glad they did, all of them, even Scat Guy II and MC Vashty-Vash. Because that isn’t going to happen again, and I’m glad I had the chance to see it.

Dear Readers, I hope that each and every one of you had a good 2007. And if you didn’t, well, that’s all right too. It’s already gone, and we’re never going to see it again.