Thursday, May 21, 2009

More Monochrome Set; Jorge Reyes

THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2009

More Monochrome Set; Jorge Reyes
The Secret Museum
By Michael Mooney and Jim Webb


Back during their heyday in the early 1980s, I recall reading in the NME or Melody Maker a review of Eligible Bachelors, the third LP from the Monochrome Set, in which the critic stated that the music was suitable listening for housewives only: hummable tunes, inoffensive content, perfect for doing the washing up or hanging clothes on the line; all others beware. Apart from that blatant bit of sexism, it’s clear that the reviewer, typical of most writing during the waning days of both of these once-great English music weeklies, barely gave the record a single spin. Eligible Bachelors is a great album, as are the Monochrome Set’s first two, Strange Boutique and Love Zombies. The Monochrome Set is responsible for some of the finest subversive music of the late 20th Century, similar in that sense to the magnificent Microdisney, but minus the inferiority complex (and wearing a smaller smirk.)

Self-reflexive beyond compare- sample song titles: The Monochrome Set (I Presume), B-I-D Spells Bid (Bid’s the singer), The Weird, Wild And Wonderful World Of Tony Potts (the group’s resident filmmaker/visual consultant), and Lester Leaps In (showcase for guitarist Lester Square)- The Monochrome Set were also capable of withering satire (Whoops! What A Palaver, Silicon Carne, Alphaville, I’ll Scry Instead), pointed social commentary (Apocalypso, The Jet Set Junta, which may have predicted the Falklands/Malvinas Conflict by some six months), a few rather brazen observations of a physiological nature (Fat Fun, The Mating Game, The Lighter Side Of Dating, On The Thirteenth Day, Love Goes Down The Drain), outright absurdity (10 Don’ts For Honeymooners, Ein Symphonie Des Grauns, Martians Go Home), occasionally all four in the same song (Ice Les Enfants), and rarely, none of the above (the heartbreaking Goodbye Joe.) Bid’s a one-of-a-kind vocalist, though hardly an acquired taste; Lester is the unsung guitar hero of the post-punk era. The Monochrome Set sound like no one else, and they’re better than every single English group of the last twenty-five years.

Recommended listening:
Strange Boutique (1980)
Love Zombies (1980)
Eligible Bachelors (1982)
Colour Transmission (1992) combines Strange Boutique with Love Zombies in one convenient set.
Volume, Contrast, Brilliance… Sessions & Singles (1983)

There are 6 or 7 further LPs of original material (all good), beginning with 1985’s The Lost Weekend, plus tons of compilations.
-Michael Mooney

JORGE REYES - The Shaman Has Left the Building

In 1990 I bought my first Jorge Reyes CD on the recommendation of a record store owner in Silver Spring, MD. I have purchased, played, and ultimately sold literally thousands of discs since then, but have never gotten rid of any Jorge Reyes. All of his releases are difficult to locate, having been released on various small Mexican and European record labels; some of them I’m still searching for.

Jorge Reyes was born in 1952 in Michoacan, Mexico and died of a heart attack in February 2009 while in a recording studio. His life ended abruptly, but I’m not surprised that he was making music right up to his final breath. He started off playing in various bands during the late 60’s, but became established as the leader of Chac Mol, a progressive Mexican rock band that released five albums in the seventies. After a period of traveling and recharging his creative batteries Jorge decided around 1983 to concentrate on his love of pre-hispanic music. He started to accumulate and play on a large variety of clay pots, flutes, and other native instruments that The Mayans have used for centuries. What made his music so unique was that he combined the indigenous tribal sounds of Michoacan, with state of the art recording technology. Native hand percussion with chanted vocals from local villagers was blended with electric keyboards and synthesizers to create a new modern sound world. His music was mostly instrumental, and had a spiritual or trance like quality to it. Spiritual in his need to reconnect with the Ancient, and he frequently based releases on Mayan themes such as The Jaguar, Dreams or Death. It is hard to categorize his work. New Age music has no soul, so where does that leave the most soulful of experimental electronic artists? Tribal /ambient is a phrase that has been used most recently in describing his work. Meditative at times, longer pieces use repetition as a way of inducing a hypnotic like state in the mind. His music is not for everyone; in fact it can be unsettling in its celebration of obscure rituals and tribal power. There is a fine line between quality trance work, and something bereft of ideas that is simply boring. Jorge was never dull for me, but I like long instrumental passages in music. If you have enjoyed some of Brian Eno’s or Steve Roach’s work he is a kindred spirit but in a heavier, darker vein. This is not an Enya/Yanni / JohnTesh, Sunday morning with coffee artist; Reyes’ music comes alive after dark when the animals and reptiles leave their daytime hiding places.

So sadly, another man done gone. One of the beauties of any musicians recorded legacy is that you can go back and take the same aural journey that he created and was once on. Thank you Jorge for your music, and wherever you’ve gone, it just got a little more interesting.
-Jim Webb

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark, Killing Joke; The Dead

The Secret Museum

By Jim Webb

After briefly raving about The Monochrome Set last time, I’ve continued my early 80’s U.K. listening revival with Killing Joke and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. Both bands were favorites of the legendary Brit radio DJ John Peel, and were recorded for his program many times between 1979 and 1983.

O.M.D. was the anti-punk band of the late seventies who, with Gary Numan and The Human League, spearheaded the synth-pop movement. Melding pop songwriting hooks and commercial-sounding synthesizers, with a simple drum machine keeping an upbeat rhythm, O.M.D. were the next evolutionary step to such 70s bands as Kraftwerk, Roxy Music and Sparks. They had a handful of Top Twenty British singles, including Enola Gay and Electricity, before running out of steam in the late 80’s. Their closest reference is Soft Cell, though minus Marc Almond’s implied decadence. If you absolutely hated Tainted Love, then take a pass on O.M.D., but if, like me, you think Tainted Love was a good pop song that unfortunately got played to death, you’ll probably like Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark.

Killing Joke are much simpler and direct than Orchestral Maneuvers. They’re a straightforward guitar/ punk band that didn’t vary (at first) their unusually dense sound too much. By the late eighties and into the nineties, however, they started becoming a little too bombastic for my taste. Keep in mind 1980 Killing Joke is definitely “of the period”, meaning three-chord guitar nastiness that is satisfying in its striped down assault. If there’s a knock to be leveled against them it’s that now their late 70’s/ early 80’s output sounds a little dated. Not much melody in the songs, but hell – you could say the same about a lot of groups of the era.

Whomever John Peel promoted on his program was guaranteed to provide interesting listening. Peel’s been gone a few years now, and is still greatly missed. It would take a lifetime to catch up with all his recorded BBC sessions. His tastes were wide-ranging and impeccable.

The Dead- Pepsi Center, Denver
May 7, 2009


Good show, mind-bending drive from Santa Fe to Denver (as usual.) I don't know if any group is "worth" driving twelve hours roundtrip, but in the end I couldn't miss it. The Dead (minus Grateful, because it ain’t the same without Jerry, man) now has Gov't Mule/ Allman Bros. guitarist, vocalist Warren Haynes on board for this tour. Warren thankfully doesn't try to mimic every guitar line Garcia created, but follows him respectfully at times, while adding his own signature sound. A nearly full house at The Pepsi Center was pumped to the max for the first Dead tour since 2004. Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman aren’t just still alive and well, but seemed revitalized after their five-year hiatus, and played for two and a half hours. The first set featured classics like Casey Jones, Easy Wind, and Loser, while the second set opened with an acoustic Deep Elem Blues, then Me And My Uncle, before Phil sang Whiskey In The Jar. For thirty-plus years now I have never been able to get into the drums/space portion of the show, where the drummers bang around for ten minutes before the full band joins in on a freeform jam that goes nowhere. This gig was no exception. A nice ending with Not Fade Away and an encore of Ripple. Only The Dead could range from a traditional Irish tune to Buddy Holly in one evening and somehow make it work. The World's Greatest Bar Band is back, and Jerry's kids are still happily soaking it all in.
-Jim Webb
Site Meter