Voices of Human Revolution
Various Voices of Human Revolution 2LP (Min-On, 197?)
A very odd record here. By the looks of it, one would think that this is some kind of Up with People thing or the product of a hippie Christian religoid cult. And on the surface, perhaps it is close to one of those two things or maybe not. The label - Min-On - is not just a label but an organization dedicated to spreading peace through out the world through music. It is also an arm of the Buddhist sect Soka Gakkai, headed by Daisaku Ikeda. Soka is the largest Buddhist sect in Japan and one that has political ambitions. It's New Komeito Party has a presence in the Japanese Diet and has formed alliances with the recently deposed Liberal Democratic Party. Still many in the Japanese establishment consider Ikeda and his party a threat and fear that if it ever gets in power it will make its brand of Buddhism the state religion. Ikeda says such an idea is nonsense, that the party's main goal is the promotion of peace. Western press has mostly taken the "Komeito Party as threat" line, going so far as to compare the 8 million plus member Soka Gakkai to the Aum Shinrikyo "suicide cult". My knowledge of all this is what you just read, so I will save offering an opinion. I will tell you that Min-On released at least one pretty far out record.
The styles on this record are pretty diverse. They range from Japanese traditional music to Up with People pop to American soul to wild jazz blow-downs. Some of it is pretty shitty, some of it is awkwardly funny, some of it is fucking great. Only a couple cuts seem to have anything to do with Soka Gakkai and if they are message songs, they are songs only to the sect's followers. There are also a few cover songs. The groups seem to be from all across the United States and, judging from the concert photos on the inside cover, I am guessing that this record was released in conjunction with some kind of Min-On festival.
I'm going to start you off with one of the album's chucklers, a message song of sorts. Please don't stop there. Check out every track and listen for at least a minute or two. Some of these are shockingly good.
Daniel J. White Operation "Lune" 45 (Editions Montparnasse 2000, 1969)
Found this odd gem at a public radio record sale for a quarter. Daniel White is a film and television composer with a pretty damn long list of scores. I am not sure if the music on Operation "Lune" was composed for a documentary or just to commemorate the 1969 moon landing. Doesn't really matter if the music is good and that it is. "Deux Hommes Sur La Lune" has that great electronics goes outer space sound with a touch of future sounds. "Mer de la Tranquillite" is a strange one. It has a noir sound to it, while evoking a cinematic post-war Paris street. But that isn't all. The playing of the song is very off-kilter, almost narcotic, so much so that it sounds like it could have been writen by Bob Graettinger. Enjoy.
Six Songs / Manbot
Standard of Living Six Songs 12" (Vinyl Records, 1982)
Manbot s/t 7" (NuVu, 1981)
One of today's trends in "alternative" music is the reintroduction of synth into punk rock. This has been going on for a few years, long enough for all the cliches that were formed in the 1980s to be recycled many times over. And while there are a few bands that do capture the sound well, who are able to pull off the angry scree of a Nervous Gender and do a close approximation of the Screamers, there are a few things that are missing.
First is the newness of the technology, especially when applied to basic rock and roll. From Suicide on through the early 80s, second-generation and then low-cost synths were new on the scene and/or new to people's hands. Throwing a whirrrrrr or a fzzzzzttttttt into a 1-2-3-4 song was fresh. I remember the first time I got my hands on a synth. It was a Radio Shack knock off of a Minimoog. A friend borrowed it from a friend and we were supposed to buy it for $75 but couldn't come up with the money. Instead, we formed a band around it and two drummers, played with Flipper, and broke up when friend's friend demanded the synth back. At the time, we were the only punk band in town with a synth. The instrument was an anomaly.
The second thing that lacks in today's synth punk is a true dread of the future, expressed with "futuristic" sounds and image. Growing up with the threat (real or imagined) of nuclear war was a very heavy thing. The future did not look bright. A mechanized, industrialized wasteland was what seemed to await. Either that or some sterile, narcotised, brainwashed day-to-day existence ala Brave New World. Science fiction films like Soilent Green, Westworld, Rollerball, and, the punk fave, Clockwork Orange were what we expected to grow up into. And the sounds of bands like the Normal, Chrome, and Throbbing Gristle were prepping us for tomorrow. Today's synth sound does not embrace this distopian vision. In fact, the only contemporary band that I know who comments on such things (and does it well) is the very much non-synthesized A Frames.
The synth bands of yesterday were also part of a much bigger scene. Though I am sure someone has created a subgenre for these groups (uhhh synth punk/dark wave), back then they were punk rock. Perhaps some might be called Industrial Music, but this was at a time before Industrial ditched punk rock for the dance floor. Prior to SPK's Metal Dance and Cabaret Voltaire's proto-techno, the world of Industrial was that of punk rock. Because the punk umbrella was so wide it was possible for bands like Minimal Man to play with thrash bands. You could see an evening of the Screamers and the Weirdos. The genre ghettos weren't yet built (though to be fair, today, people have easy access to a much broader range of music than I did as a youngster. There are many guides and you can download pretty much whatever you want. In my youth, the only place I could go for a radical mix of music was the local college radio station, KDVS, and then raid the import section at Tower).
Nowadays, when I stumble across a forgotten synth punk or unknown early industrial record it is a lot like opening a time capsule. Themes of alienation and technology are spread over drum machines and synth pulses. Tape loops and future apocalypse go hand in hand. Some of it is great, some of it is silly and cliche. But it really does stake out a place in time that today's crop cannot hope to do (really, isn't today's "darkwave" just a cousin of a rockabilly revival band).
All of this is to say that I know little about the four songs here than what I've gleaned from the record covers. There are no web references and my record freak friends who are heavy into this stuff are clueless as well. I do know that Standard of Living is from Oakland, California (or at least their label is) and the two songs here are off a six song 12" released in 1982. The sounds on it are great, especially "Don't Worry", with its mix of guitar freak out and synth pulse. And with band members named "Rad Solar" and "Jon Velcro" how can you go wrong?
From listening to Manbot you would think that they were from the UK, however as much these guys would like you to think Rob Calvert was the man-machine here, the label is from Fremont, California, another East Bay city. The close proximity to San Francisco, where the art punk/synth/early Industrial sound thrived and Hawkwind enjoyed a big following, is no surprise. The geographic origin of this record also reveals itself when you consider that the flip is yet another song about Jonestown, complete with the Rev. Jim Jones's lunatic ranting - the Guyana mass suicide and audio samples from the People Temple's last night both standard features of many a Bay Area punk song. Other than that, I can tell you nothing.
Please enjoy the shitty future!
(Repost from original 8/25/05 entry)
Trane / The Honkies Volume One / Transplant + Organ-grinding EP (Dark Beloved Cloud, 1994)
Here is a short one, one of my favorite seven inches of the 90s and for one mesmerizing track, "Looking for Logic (Lara)". Trane were Jeff Feuerzeig, Paul Bentham, and Liz Coleman. I believe that this is their one and only release. Too bad. Guitarist Feuerzeig is also responsible for the music documentaries Half Japanese: The Band that Would Be King and The Devil & Daniel Johnson. What becaome of Bentham and Coleman I don't know. I'm not going to post the Honkies cut. It is good and I like the group but I want to let this Trane song have today's glory.
Staiffi et ses Mustafa's Mustafa EP (Disques Vogue, 1960)
Pure kitsch cut with total exploitation. It's 1960 and Middle Eastern music in the form of Belly Dance is all the craze in Europe (and America); but it is not alone in exotic appeal. Latin music is hot. Everything from rhumba to the cha cha cha is being pressed on to records, even if the tunes don't even remotely resemble the music styles. So here you have Staiffi, who might or might not be Middle Eastern, combining "Oriental" music of the Mid East with the Cha Cha Cha of Latin America and Rock & Roll of North America...kinda. His version of the traditional "Mustafa" has a bit of Latin in it...I think. On "Le Ana Sentimental" he incorporates rock & roll in his "Oriental", so so the credits say. Actually, "Le Ana Sentimental" sounds more authentically Middle Eastern than any track on this four song EP. The best thing about this one is the sleeve. A blond Euro woman in an evening dress and heels, holds a veil to her face. Her hands look clenched behind her head and her eyes are penetratingly psychotic. She is sitting in what looks to be a tent. Peeking into the tent is a burro's head, or at least a wood carving of a burro's head. Next to her is a bag full of straw. Yow!
Nippon Victor JL-515 10"
"Nippon Victor JL-515" 10" (Victor, 1958)
I am afraid that unless a Japanese speaker/reader out there can tell me what this is, I can only identify it by the record label and its matrix number. Other than that the only thing I can tell you is that the date is on the label as well as the words "Koto Music". I can't tell you much about the music other than I like what I hear. I've got some like records and dig traditional Japanese music, especially when it winds its way through a song like this one does, and when the tune taps into the universal music mood that gives up American blues, flamenco, Middle Eastern music and other soulful sounds. I especially like the way the strings bend when backing the vocals. Great stuff.