ANGELA SAWYER is simply the best. Better than all the rest. She runs the holy place known as WEIRDO RECORDS and performs in groups like DUCK THAT, GRIZZLER, and PREGGY PEGGY AND THE LAZY BABYMAKERS. A hero to the weirdos of Boston, and New England at large, you should buy records from Angela because she personifies the underground of Boston, and indeed far beyond, stretching out across the US and the world. She is also an incredible performer at whatever she sets her mind to, which in terms of latest projects for Angela, would mean her foray into stand-up comedy. Know this amazing woman!! – Dan Shea
Top 11. Because sometimes ten ain’t enuf.
1. The Meridian Brothers Salvadora Robot (Soundway)
Delightful & captivating textures explode everywhere when Elbis Alvarez, working out of his own studio in Bogota Colombia with a pile of friends, sails back into your ears after a 2 year break following the breathtaking ‘Desesperanza’. Songs that are more like cartoon sci-fi beakers broil over with wobbly, dizzying synthesizers, and those percussion twitches are giddily stolen off the last 50 years of Latin rhythms. The band is always keen to balance otherworldly smears and 4th-dimensional itches, and there are precursors to be found in the Residents or Raymond Scott. But Alvarez is also glad to just throw up his hands & use laughs, grunts, bird screams or sheep bleats as instruments. Not as surfy as before, but a worthy follow up and a genuine monster of a record. Let it befuddle you, as these are what the good times sound like.
2. Various Picaro (Grumete)
Somewhere stinky, in a second-hand land between stupid exotica and even stupider novelty singles, lies an everest of leftover records that re-appropriate the cultural excesses America stole from her immigrants in the first place, aka the Euro twist trash 45. Climb the mountain of this prodigious non-genre invented by the University of Vice label and continued expertly here, now with color pix and something like informative notes. Is a Frenchie tune about large fruits supposed to be about a boob parade? Or is it just a cover of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Watermelon Man’? Landlocked surf, mangled language mixups, mutilated mambos, and cheap knockoffs of already cheap frat stomp like ‘Alley Oop’ or ‘La Cucaracha’. A glorious world where doo wop is masticated by fat & greasy moustache twirlers with too many rings, or where people from Spain fail to mimic racist Speedy Gonzales Spanish. Compiled by Spanish DJ Don Sicaliptico.
3. Los Punk Rockers Los Exitos de Sex Pistols (Nevada)
Great gobbbing almighty of punk exploito records, issued in Spain where the actual ‘Never Mind the Bullocks’ was not allowed to be sold. Lousy sound, lousy playing, & a lousy understanding of English all add up to complete incoherence & a record far more distorted & insurrectionary than the original. Flat out incredible sneering & grunting throughout. And the fucked up compression on the treble end of this record is it’s own musical experience. Lots of lyric mishaps, but my favorite is ‘don’t wanna know what I want but I know what’s in it’ from ‘Anarchy in the UK. Prog band Asfalto (who also played Pink Floyd covers) is long rumored to have performed the sessions, but no one’s ever figured out for sure.
4. Various Schnitzelbeat Vol. 1 (Digatone)
Crude schluchtenscheisser who snuck blundering garage trash, torrid tiki tunes, butterfingered surf & stupid Elvis impressions to the hapless twist fans of the alps while schlager zombies raged on the charts. Vienna was a place where the local Beatles cover band wore hulking wigs & called themselves, with all the clobbering subtlety they could muster, the Vienna Beatles. Rare but awkward covers of already awkward Bill Haley ditties. Extensive notes try tactfully to answer the question of why clumsy novelty shouters were so goddamn popular in Austria, but of course they get nowhere, nicht zuletzt wegen hilarious.
5. Martoc Music for Aliens Ears (EM)
Using either a vocoder or his flat & nerdy deadpan, Martoc makes Kraftwerky electro-plod but leaves the yucky teen acne in the tunes where it belongs. Martin O’Cuthbert (which might or might not be his real name) is also really into scifi, and so began as a musician by drawing his own superhero comics. His current website has an interview with Iain Banks too. Arp, Crumar, Roland & creepy, crippling insecurities abound.
6. Piero Umiliani Smog (Doxy)
Franco Rossi directed this sad little mondo movie about an Italian traveler who is stuck in Los Angeles for 24 hours & finds it an unhappy paradise, but the flick itself is hugely outclassed by it’s dead gorgeous soundtrack. Chet Baker, who hadn’t yet sufferred his first arrest for using smack, lends still, vibratoless solos that cauterize their way through the score. Sultry & ultrafeminine Helen Merrill, who had recorded so many flawless vocal performances before she turned 30 that she had nothing better to do than move to Italy, slides through notes breathlessly and proves a perfect complement to Baker. Piero Umiliani (‘Mah Na Mah Na’) must’ve been over the moon from getting to work with the jazz stars of his childhood dreams. He pulls out every instrument he can (especially from the percussion section) while still leaving deferential space for his two big soloists.
7. Residue of the Residents (Superior Viaduct)
As with all great Residents records, a lurching, conceptual carnival that really puts the mental back into organ instrumentals. Outtakes & b-sides that haven’t been around in a long time, including a huge chunk from 1979’s ‘Babyfingers’. In place of melodies, vocals feature 2 or 3 different guys each whispering their impression of a different muppet in a Louisiana accent. Backwards tapes of each note of a keyboard are spliced right alongside the same keyboard playing the same note frontways, and drums are made out of someone hammering a wood plank or typing on a typewriter in the next room. Sometimes everything gets squeezed into a cover, like ‘Jailhouse Rock’ ‘Space Is the Place’ or ‘Daydream Believer’, but other times the frankensongs are left to try & breathe on their own. Title of this album initially sparked a lot of frightened rumors among fans, because there wasn’t any easy way to get information about the band in the early 80s, and ‘Residue’ seemd to indicate that they’d broken up.
8. Sandro Brugnolini Underground (Sonor)
I dunno about the architecture or the bishops, but when it comes to sounds there’s no place on earth sexier than Rome. Brugnolini was an Italian alto sax player who’d been in a cutting edge jazz ensemble circa 1960 or so called the Modern Jazz Gang. He eventually, as did almost every musician in Italy, worked for the state tv orchestra RAI, and in between making scores for Australian sailboat races, or backing breathy singer Helen Merrill (be sure to look her up, she’s incredible), he made some masterful & wooly library recordings on the side. That sick wah-fuzz comes from Silvano Chimenti’s guitar (‘Four Flies on Grey Velvet’, ‘My Name is Nobody’, Gianni Ferrio’s backup band). Released a month after a similar record called ‘Overground’, with many of the same session players. Oozing organ, sharp trap breaks, ribbon after ribbon of funk bass, & fluid electric guitar that mixes jazz & psychedelic moves constantly (also makes Gabor Szabo look like a bit of a schlub).
9. Shoes This High Straight To Hell (Siltbreeze)
Wellington, New Zealand primo art damage. They only ever put out a single (that coulda been on Flying Nun, but the label didn’t exist yet). Tape of a live show found in the collection of archivist Bob Sutton, who’s known for videotaping hundreds of shows all the way through the 1990s. Sound quality is fantastic, and the performance is harsher than their single even, with a few calls out to the Fall or the Birthday Party that are pretty fair game for the time. Volatile singer Brent Hayward has the menace that makes the band, and he slides constantly between pitches, shouts, talking, and sheer psychotic hysteria. Hayward went on to a milder solo project called Smelly Feet, & also a folk duo (that’s darn hard to imagine while listening to this) with a girl singer called Kiwi Animal.
10. Hailu Mergia & the Walias Tche Belew (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
Mergia learned music in the army & soon worked his way into clubs around Addis Ababa. His band the Walias Band was one of the first to own it’s own instruments, and one of the first to tour the USA. After the Derg government took over Ethiopia, most bands (which had been heavily sponsored by the previous government, now considered never to have existed) were forced to break up. Mergia kept his together and managed to become self-sustained by playing at the local Hilton and calling in favors to get into studios. Few full length lps were issued after 1974, and none were all-instrumental like this one. Mulatu Astatke’s vibraphone undulates like a palm tree against the lapping waves of Mergia’s organ. Luscious, hypnotic large ensemble groupthink that’s part jazz, part tropical, and always swaying as each musician slides independently up & down the peculiar local half-tone pentatonic scale.
11. Ennio Morricone Milano Odia La Polizia Non Puo Sparare (GDM)
A spectacular, slimy place to start with Italian police movies or their soundtracks, aka ‘Almost Human’, ‘The Death Dealer’, & ‘The Kidnap of Mary Lou’. Story of a criminal who constantly solves each crime’s loose ends with an even crueler crime, culminating in a huge shoot out that kills everyone except him and the one detective as merciless as he is. Tomas Milian began here as an Al Pacino lookalike (opposite Henry Silva’s effortlessly beautiful cheekbones), but quickly grew his extremely manly moustache and was able to stake out a territory all his own, and he went on to star in 6 more flicks directed by Umberto Lenzi after this first pairing. Bruno Nicolai conducts trap drums and the left end of a piano to pirouette around each other so tightly you’ll never keep track of them. Sexy seventies saxes slide like blood down a drain. Not as well known as Morricone’s horror or spaghetti scores, but one of his greats. I listen to some part of this score about once a week. It’s like a face that can’t see itself.
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