Purple on Time
Trying to destroy rock ’n’ roll is so old hat. Hell, U.S. Maple has already done it four times, on four different albums, most recently on 2001’s Acre Thrills. As if to prove that they don’t have anything to prove anymore, on Purple on Time they actually try playing it again—rock ’n’ roll, that is, with four-on-the-floor beats and stay-put guitar parts and everything!
The Chicago foursome has been accused in the past of artful shamming: a nervous frittering of fretboards and skittering of snare drum posing as structured improvisation, all (seemingly) calculatedly out of step with singer Al Johnson. And there you have it again with the shamming—singer, they say, though chances are you’ve never heard anything quite like Johnson’s narcotized, practically wordless croon before. What’s his deal?
More charitably, it’s been suggested that U.S. Maple songs are blueprints for songs that could be there (if the band wanted them to be, maybe), or that, live, are there some nights but not others. Purple on Time, though, is solid evidence of concrete—not just symbolic—songwriting that still leaves room for frenetic guitar improvisation. And Al Johnson’s deal. All the ill-fitting jigsaw pieces are still here, only this time assembled into something that more people will probably agree looks like part of a picture. (Andy Smetanka)
Michael Yonkers Band
Sub Pop is getting its smarts together reissuing vital relics, including a recent top-notch collection of Australia’s Radio Birdman (Hey Deniz Tek! Are you ever gonna play Missoula?), and now this dusty psych gem by Minneapolis’ Michael Yonkers Band. The album was originally recorded and intended for release back in 1968, but independent label Candy Floss balked and it was shelved.
You can hear why. Yonkers hit this homer so far over their heads, it went out of the stadium, past the parking lot and became a black hole. The Neanderthal romp of Microminiature Love could’ve been lifted out of the book of Viking hymns, yet it doesn’t lend itself to heavy metal. It explores an aesthetic on par with contemporaries the Velvet Underground, except that Yonkers’ own amplification devices up the ante in extremity—a song will be stomping along and then someone will tap a switch that sends the guitar into hyperspace over the monotone bellowing vocal.
The tunes are a bit loose, but that’s the real beauty of it—I mean, it was 1968. There had to be some tripping head who thought this guy was a full-blown wizard. After simmering for all these years, Microminiature Love holds as a psych classic. (Bryan Ramirez)Robert Walter’s 20th Congress
Giving Up the Ghost
You can tell a lot about a person by his preferred funk. Some like it stripped right down to sex, some like it with fusion fins and flippers. Some folks like the worldwide party, grope-thy-neighbor get-down Parliament vibe, while others prefer the cerebral massaging of Mwandishi-era Herbie Hancock album Sextant, which features a lengthy exploration of fast-vanishing frontiers in somewhat cumbersome (from a sexual standpoint) 19/4 time. The 1975 Chick Corea album No Mystery boasts a track called “Sofistifunk,” which, smug as the name sounds, takes the titular idiom to a whole ’nother level.
The great thing about bandleader/songwriter Robert Walter is that he’s hip to the dual purpose of intelligent jazz-funk fusion: as a live aphrodisiac and as a sit-down listening experience. In this respect, he cuts a pretty direct line from mentor Herbie Hancock, whose distinctive percolating phrasing pops up here and there on Giving Up the Ghost in a suitably revenant fashion.
Likewise, the San Diego keyboardist’s four previous albums with his 20th Congress stand up nicely as platters to get the party started—and to ensure the living room carpet gets a good coating of punch once it does get started—and to chill out with on the headphones once the purple haze has subsided and the last guests have stumbled home. Giving Up the Ghost is in equilibrium, fragrant at home and stinky live. (Andy Smetanka)
b>Robert Walter and his 20th Congress perform at the Top Hat on Sunday, Nov. 2.
Exquisite Fucking Boredom
UK’s Skullflower has had a hot and cold career. Some of the group’s discs have been solid sheets of blissful sound to send you into gleeful convulsions. Others have been a total crashing bore—three guys dicking around on drums and guitar. But now the fabulous Bay Area label Tumult has released the best Skullflower product since 1993’s Obsidian Shaking Codex.
Repetition is key, and, by golly, once the instruments align, it’s quite an aural orgasm. This isn’t noise, this is code that taps into senses you never knew existed, causing endorphins to rise and accept the holy union. This is pure sound, not those soundscapes of synthesizers and computerized nature blurbs designed to “relax” you after a hard day at work. This is man conquering industry and taking it into the equation. More abrasive than Godspeed You Black Emperor and more beautiful than a lot of things you could hear. (Bryan Ramirez)