Perfect Sound Forever


Part 9 by Angela Sawyer
(June 2017)

"Weirdo was a record shop that I started in my bedroom in 2006. It moved into a storefront for a while in Cambridge Mass., and closed after I got tired of never ever sleeping. While it was around, I wrote reviews of every new title that I sold, and by the end there were more than eighteen thousand reviews. There's only so many times you can call a guitar tone 'crunchy’ or say something disparaging about a singer's hair. So I repeated things, a lot. When compiling this best of, I looked for records that stuck with me, and also for reviews where I thought the writing stood out."

Here we present Weirdo selections from the letters W to Z.

Bukka White Mississippi Blues LP
White started playing music at parties, passing himself off as an adult to get more girls as early as age 14. He played baseball in the Negro Leagues, boxed, gave B.B. King his first guitar (they were cousins), and imitated Charley Patton with his gravelly voice & National Steel slide. He shot a guy in the leg in Mississippi, jumped bail to record a couple of sides in Chicago, and had to do a 3 year stint at the notorious Parchman Farm as a result. Luckily, White's recordings did well while he was in jail, and more recordings/popularity earned him a relatively smooth sentence. He then went to work in a tank factory around Memphis, and stayed there until 1963, when John Fahey wrote him a letter (romantically addressed to Old Blues Singer, General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississipppi). These recordings were made right after Fahey & Ed Denson met White. It had been 23 years since his last recording, but White's barrelhouse constitution is still strong enough to pull a river of songs down from the sky.

Butch Willis & the Rocks Repeats CD
Sporting a backup singer whose odd Adam's Apple noises effectively replicate the 13th Floor Elevators' jug sound, and plenty of drug damage to juice up his lyric delivery, Butch Willis is the real deal when it comes to psychedelia for the '80's. It's no exaggeration to say that if Bruce Springsteen knew what he was doing, he'd blush & just give Butch the rocker crown he deserves. What's more, a ballad like "Girls On My Mind" oughta pull your lonely heartstrings so hard that you give up & cry like a little girl. Here's the esteemed Mr. Willis' two original lps, which he pressed himself & lost 10,000 dollars on, plus a bonus acapella track.

Chris Watson El Tren Fantasma 12-inch
Watson's from both Cabaret Voltaire & the Hafler Trio, but I think his solo field recording work is some of his most fascinating. Recreation of a cross-country train journey in Mexico, where passenger train routes between cities barely exist any longer (though there's a great big subway system in Mexico City). Hence the title- the Ghost Train, and Watson's narrative does permeate by osmosis rather than hit you straight on. Soothing rhythmic rumbles that change their envelopes depending on the canyons, valleys, or flatlands around them. Tones of horns & bells slide around behind the chugging.

Dr. Winter The Songs of Food Safety CD-R
Strongest stomachs only please! Hoary top 40 hits get irreparably mangled by cheap keyboard presets. But that's not enough, not when they could have their lyrics rewritten to reflect the obsessions of a California toxicologist. Do you know what rhymes with 'pathogens'? How about 'salmonella' or 'gastroenteritis'? The lab-coated songwriter here actually tours the conference circuit, getting tone-deaf CDC or World Health Organization employees to clap along to his soul-free R&B or off-key disco covers. My favorite moment is when he shouts 'sing it!' to a completely empty room. It's worth it just to read the tracklisting: "Stomachache Tonight," "I'm a Believer," "Wash Your Hands," "Stayin Alive," "Microbes They Might Kill You/We Are the Microbes (medley)," "It Still Seems Like Food To Me," "Don't Get Sicky With It, A Case of Norwalk," "USDA," "Lavate Las Manos," "50 Ways To Eat Your Oysters," "Clonin' DNA," "I Sprayed It On the Grapevine," "Eat It," "The Expert," "I Will Survive," "Rat Number 49," "La Vaca Loca," "No Frankenfood," "Irradiation," "Bumper Crop of Political Hate."

Eugene C. Weinberg A Child's Cry: A Clue to Diagnosis CD-R
Now here's a litmus test of your schadenfreude that's sick in many senses. Very local (as in I made it myself) bootleg of a record made by a South African doctor (who was presumably familiar with the charms of diagnosing without benefit of MRI or X-ray machines). It's a recording of more than 20 different kinds of diseased babies, so that you can learn to tell which illness is infecting each tot based on the sounds they make. Explanations of the ravages the little darlings must uncomprehendingly suffer are included as well. If it makes you feel any better, one of the best 'performers' on the record merely has a case of the snuffles. But there are some truly grand sounds caused by these ghastly afflictions. And as if that wasn't enough, the whole thing was sponsored by a drug company who put a huge ad in the gatefold. Coughs away.

Gary Wilson You Think You Really Know Me LP
Gary remains, even after all is said and done, the ultimate musical anti-hero, and he's the only musician I've ever gotten an autograph from. More enigmatic than Andy Kaufman, bolder than Tom Jones' groin, as gelatinous as a piece by a Viennese Aktionist. I could talk about this record forever, but to cut to the chase: Steely Dan-flavored jazz-funk gets reimagined as a John Cage art joke when the singer/star takes on the persona of a creepy child molester from Endicott NY. One who really likes embarassingly white R&B shout outs and can't quite play the drums. Forget irony. Let Gary enter your brain & become permanently changed. Reissued on CD in 2002, at which time Gary was found after 25 years of obscurity & separation from his family, working the graveyard shift in a porn shop in San Diego.

Harley C White This Is Not What You Expect LP
Self-taught multi-instrumentalist from Kingston by way of Queens, Harley makes poems accompanied by sound effects & calls his style 'whopazootic.' It's mostly him speaking in a stuttering string of non-rhythm while a slew of instruments & keyboard samples match him hit for hit. Kalimba, Vibraphone, bicycle bell, harmonica, as well as a rock setup & a few backing musicians. There are a few stray bonks to keep things interesting, some call & response & a lot of uniquely homemade processing. Basically though, the audio equivalent of a crumply handwritten missive where some words have been underlined 47 times.

John Wiese Mirror CD
Whew! Scraping screed. My roommate happened to be drilling a hole in a nearby wall when I first put this on back when it went under the name 'Tumbler,' and I was sure he was covering up the sound of my record. Then he went walking past me with the end of the electrical cord in his hand and I realized, that already was the record. Recorded live in Los Angeles.

Michel Waisvisz In Tune CD
Dizzy & sick circuit squeals that stab & whirl like a tornado crossed with a lightning storm from this instrument inventor & director of the Steim electronic music center in the Netherlands. Waisvisz was really interested in physical interaction with instruments, so his famed cracklebox works off the electricty of the body, and he also built an instrument called 'hands' which looks like a pair of Robocop gloves. Waisvisz is also known for being the owner of the sole surviving recording of Kurt Schwitters reading his own "Ursonate" (he stole it off Dick Raaijmakers' bootleg used for teaching Hague classes). Oddly, Waisvisz eschews record making for live performance, so this is basically his complete works. His wonderful FMP record from '77, with crackle synthesizer, VCS3, mouth organ, plus five bonus tracks from later that do not disappoint.

Patty Waters College Tour LP
Looking like a lost member of the Manson family & sounding like a tea kettle being held out the window of a moving car, Patty proves a poster child for the common ground between free jazz & heavy acid intake. No waiting for a side & a half of sophomoric jazz balladry before getting to the goods on this 2nd record. Within minutes, the crack team of ESP players behind her have pushed her into a sightless void. Faraway polite applause is like a surreal sample rather than anything you can imagine happening in the physical world. Let the wind blow between your ears. With Ran Blake, Burton Greene, Giuseppi Logan, Dave Burrell.

Robert Pete Williams Free Again LP
Before 1940, the Louisiana State Penitentary, commonly known as Angola, was a for-profit farming corporation. It specifically used the one thing that came to it free, manpower, to help cut costs everywhere else. Prisoners weren't allowed underwear, had to work fields with rudimentary equipment 16 hours a day, ate rotten food, & were whipped naked in the cafeteria during each mealtime. Those who were elderly, crazy, or sick were beaten more frequently. Even by the time of these recordings, it had only been a few years since a group of inmates cut their own achilles tendons as a protest against the prison's conditions. Although the farm had televisions, there were still more prisoners serving life sentences than those who weren't, and there were more violent assaults against inmates than in any prison in the US. Robert Pete Williams, with his loose sense of timing, & supple voice, was paroled from a life sentence due to the efforts of the man who made these recordings, Harry Oster. By 1960, Williams was released, but still prohibited from leaving the state, & was doing what amounted to a slightly comfier version of hard labor as part of his parole, on a farm just outside Baton Rouge. So "Free Again" is a heckuva sick title. The variety of guitar playing he employs is pretty amazing, from smooth walking bass lines to angular spikes that could be on a Beefheart record.

Wee You Can Fly On My Aeroplane 2 LP
Norman Whiteside was the main recording force behind my favorite Numero release, the overview of Ohio's Capsoul label, and I think the label may've outdone themselves with this one. It's Norman again, a few years later after Capsoul's dissolution, keeping a wife, a mistress, and getting a couple of local hookers he had on the side to finance a recording that he made with the buddies from his local bowling team. Yummy & sophisticated funk/jazz with shades of Shuggie Otis' gorgeous sundappled harmonies, a dash of Funkadelic's hot electricity & some awesome phased ARP keyboards. Creamy psychedelic soul with impressively elegant production, especially for a private press. No wonder all the ladies liked Norman so much. Even more bonus tracks than the CD version (10 of 'em).

Whipsmen Sounds of Discipline LP
The joy of life is in the living. Unabashed field recordings of a couple of guys getting tied up & spanked, very hard. One side's fella seems a little more performatively sexy than the other, but they both let fly with some wonderful dramatic grunting. Featured in the Incredibly Strange Music book and at some point on David Letterman. I don't know if the fellas who're taking their licks on this LP would find it quite as funny as everybody else does, but they are definitely enjoying themselves to the fullest.

White Boy and the Average Rat Band White Boy and the Average Rat Band LP
Times like this I wish my town had cruising streets so I could buy a Hyundai Pony & tap cigarettes & bare feet alike on the dash. Ridiculous hard rock from nowhere Virginia. Cheap ass keys lean on the annoying treble presets, acoustic blues instros get tangled in their own overwrought construction. Mike Matney castrates all comers with his skewering guitar tone & single-minded goal of rewriting Sabbath's "Paranoid" with worse lyrics. Drums are quite strange- rushed to the point of being off time and always playing 6 or 15 things where one would do nicely. "Oriental Doctors" is built like an early Van Halen song, except the wanking guitar is mixed super high & left uncompressed for maximum gouge. Some collectors think Matney made up the rest of the members of his band & played all the parts himself. But I don't agree- those freaky drums seem to've sprung from an especially unique combo of multiple formaldehyde-soaked brains. If you wanna check for sure, Matney plays shitty bars in a blues power trio (still in VA) called the Coyotes & can be found at (276) 701-2052.

Whitehouse Bird Seed 2 LP
The premiere power electronics band, probably also the funniest, and definitely the queeniest. Processed screaming histrionics joyously brimming with misogyny, sociopathy, etc. Bennett & Sotos prove once again that they're the Rodgers & Hammerstein for our times, and their flower drum song is filled with squealing electric hate.

Whodini Escape CD
In the mid '80's, it seemed like they only chose the stupidest rap to put on white people's radio, and it's probably true, except that this many years later, you can be psyched instead of sorry. Crude & spare synth burpings with tons of thick vocoder & paced so slowly that you might actually expire before they get to their next move. Ultra-retardo wicka-wicka production by Larry Smith (Run-DMC). Special edition with 12 inch mixes (that go on evern longer).

Wicked Lady The Axeman Cometh 2 LP
Mud-covered heavy thudders from this Northampton UK biker band led by Martin Weaver (who went on to be in the Dark). Perfect endless chugging & phased-to-shit solos, and the drummer plays everything as though the whole band's underwater. Much better sound & just a dash more psych on this 1st one than their 2nd.

Wicked Witch Chaos LP
Train wreck of backasswards instrumental Funkadelic ripoffs with phased whispers, thick brapps of Hendrixified solos. Such mud-covered production that it could easily be mistaken for some sort of sick art collage or an Alan Vega record. Warped minds will be in need.

Wolf Eyes/Anthony Braxton Black Vomit CD
THE concert of 2005 was when Anthony Braxton, in a fit of pot-smoking fervor, decided to join Wolf Eyes onstage last minute. There was a difficult-to-score cassette recording that got released about a month later (clearly taped from inside an audience member's pocket). And if you didn't happen to be there, that was your only ticket, until this. Comedy, lurch, throb, a little free jazz, and those streams of harsh electronics that jet & plume all over the place, so the overall effect is of still one of running through Yosemite national park during an earthquake. Everything you'd expect from America's greatest noise boys.

Writing on the Wall The Power of the Picts 2 CD
Leaden, questionable organ-driven hard rock with huge balls, tons of beer-gut, and no brains. The impressively misguided "Aries" is a longtime fave- I have been known to let out with 'God, I think I'm gonna blow my mind' from the lyrics during casual conversation to the quizzical reaction of all around me. The louts in the band had a longstanding gig at the Middle Earth club in the UK, and as prog tendencies set in, they began pretending to be cavemen and warlocks as part of their act! Disc 2 is a previously unreleased record from '72 that's just as dumb.

Iannis Xenakis Electronic Music CD
Armed with the power of fractals, Xanky makes buzzes & zaps that float in mid-air & around the stereo spectrum with visceral presence. His earliest tape work, "Diamorphoses," was made at INA GRM while he was still working part-time as an architect's assistant. The signature piece that debuted at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, "Concret PH" (it's made out of the noise of burning charcoal), is here. There's also a piece from a computer instrument Xenakis invented which you scribble on with a special pen in order to make sound. Completely essential & wild as bears.

Xhol Motherfuckers GMBH & Co KG LP
Fantastic fried as fuck boogie that really only gets called krautrock because the band lived in Germany. They started out wanting to be an R&B/jazz band (hence the brass), moved quickly into icky prog-fusion with violin, kept changing their name (Soul Caravan, Xhol Caravan), and then apparently dropped way too much acid & just got stoopid. They sample their own records, use elbows on some keyboards. However it's their powerfully retarded version of "Love Potion #9" that's not to be missed & is the centerpiece of the album.

Joji Yuasa Obscure Tape Music of Japan Vol. 12 Miniatures CD
Joji founded an experimental music group in the early 1950s alongside Toru Takemitsu. And it's thriller chiller time when he whips out a woeful, genuinely spooky score based on a constellation chart. Scrapes, odd rolling rattles, violins that whine one minute & pluck out little cat feet the next, & even some warped out voices. A second piece slows down marimba plonks & rings wooden bells to give gravity to a ceremony that dedicated a monument to dead "industrial victims" (pretty sure we all fall into that category). After all, that spine-tingling, the last piece is mercifully airy, with birds & boats & sweet Italian songs on a distant radio rubbing up against the cold, metallic schwinging sounds.

Los York's El Viaje 2 LP
Ah, the psychedelic Lima rhythm sickness. These brash boys took their country by storm by channelling all the UK & US R&B they could, but also by letting their very freaky flags flap wide. Singer Pablo Luna could huff like a pig in heat one instant & then wail like James Brown the next & is said to have destroyed nearly 50 microphones with his shrieks. Lead guitarist Walter Paz was really into Ray Charles, & liked to translate that into terse, riveting playing that's slathered with effects. Their bass player's nickname was 'El Flaco' (translation: the disservice). The band had their own weekly TV show with surreal skits not unlike the Monkees, and when they once engaged in a live performance face off against Los Shains, the referee tried to declare a tie. The audience rioted until he gave the gold to these mofos.

Michael Yonkers Lovely Gold LP
Another unreleased album, and it's just as boggling as all the others. Barraged by unrefined blats of fuzz, your ears will barely know what to do when you notice that those upsidedown overdubbed vocals actually sound a little bit like yodeling (?!) or doo wop. No one ever says so, but I think it's the way Yonkers mixes (or perhaps just the order in which things got dubbed, considering the homemade nature of his equipment) that really makes his records stick out like such sore thumbs. Not quite as balladeering as "Grimwood," but not as trippy & echo-ed out as "Microminiature Love."

Y Pants Y Pants CD
Genius femme inept DIY with serious no wave resume. Barbara Ess was a member of Branca's The Static, & is now known primarily as a photographer. She also teaches at Bard College in upstate NY. Toy instruments, quaalude vibes. Originally released on 99 records. Produced by Glenn Branca & Wharton Tiers respectively. The band's complete output is here.

Ya Ho Wa 13 Penetration LP
The best single LP by Father Yod's California sex cult. Completely improvised and just as completely fucked to the gills. Almost not-rock in places, due to lack of cohesion. But there's no lack of acid-gobbling guitar, tribal drums, or daddy Yod's inimitably spiritual nonsense moaning. Prime proof that all you really need to make a great record is committment. Far as the Source Family history goes, it's easy enough to find out about them these days. This LP was waxed right before the move to Hawaii. Basically, this band's already running around without underwear, but when they pick up their collective robes & run away, you can really see the balls flap.

Young Marble Giants Live at the Hurrah LP
All the way from Wales they came to NYC, with their sad, understated, elegant, & skeletal no-fi pop songs. Every other punk band in the world played as fast & loud as possible, but these sweethearts played it oh so cool. One trip to America was enough to send arranger Phillip Moxham off to groom horses & Allison Stratton to become a chiropractor.

Zip Code Rapists Sing and Play the Three Doctors CD
Take your social awkwardness and love for the mediocre to a metaphysical level. Gregg Turkington sings (Breakfast Without Meat, Amarillo, Faxed Head, Neil Hamburger) & John Singer plays guitar. Slipshod covers of the butt-fucking-ugliest offerings in AM radio rock (commercials included). A few original songs which raise many questions and answer none. One tune, for example, has lyrics from a documentary about John Belushi. The band seems to've mostly had stuff thrown at them whenever they played live. Forget powernoise, this band is harsh as a wire brush, and just as cleansing. Comes with a temporary tattoo & several bonus tracks from singles.

The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds CD
Psychsploitation classic dreamed up by the president of Elektra Jac Holzman. Since Elektra was (other than the Doors) primarily a folk label at the time, Holzman hired a guy from the Limeliters, Alex Hassilev to produce. Hassilev brought in his latest business partner, Mort Garson (Ruby & the Romantics' "Our Day Will Come," Hollyridge Strings, "Electronic Hair Pieces," "Wozard of Id" and the theme to National Geographic). These two in turn hired Emil Richards, who was a percussionist who specialized in the exotic & already the go-to guy on nearly every exploito LP to come out of California. Emil suggested they include Paul Beaver (Beaver & Krause) as he was an electronic musician & fellow instrument collector. Through Beaver, the lot of them got wind of a local Audio Engineering Society convention, and that turned out to be the place where Robert Moog's new synth was being introduced to the West Coast. And that's how this record ended up with everything from Moog, to ringing metal plates dipped in water, to southeast Asian rattles, to LA studio stalwarts like Carol Kaye & Hal Blaine. Folkie Cyrus Faryar (Modern Folk Quartet) ended up being the narrator, & they got the harpsichord player from Pet Sounds too (Mike Melvoin). Garson is really the engine behind the songs here, which are great free ranging fake-psych. He liked the result well enough to try again, and although his next project (about the sea) was stolen by Rod McKuen for an album with Anita Kerr, Garson persevered & later ended up making a full 12 record set dedicated to the zodiac.

See Angela's other entries of Weirdo assortments, including letters A to C and letters D to F and letters G to I and letters J to L and letters M to O and letters P to R and letter S and letter T to V and compilations part 1 and compilations part 2

Also see Angela Sawyer's album on Feeding Tube records

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