Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Monks

One of the strangest stories in rock history, the Monks were formed in the early '60s by American G.I.s stationed in Germany. After their discharge, the group stayed on in Germany as the Torquays, a fairly standard beat band. After changing their name to the Monks in the mid-'60s, they also changed their music, attitude, and appearance radically. Gone were standard oldie covers, replaced by furious, minimalist original material that anticipated the blunt, harsh commentary of the punk era. Their insistent rhythms recalled martial beats and polkas as much as garage rock, and the weirdness quotient was heightened by electric banjo, berserk organ runs, and occasional bursts of feedback guitar. To prove that they meant business, the Monks shaved the top of their heads and performed their songs -- crude diatribes about the Vietnam war, dehumanized society, and love/hate affairs with girls -- in actual monks' clothing.

This was pretty strong stuff for 1966 Germany, and their shocking repertoire and attire were received with more confusion than hostility or warm praise. Well known in Germany as a live act, their sole album and several singles didn't take off in a big way and were never released in the U.S., it was rumored, because the lyrical content was deemed too shocking. They disbanded in confusion around 1967, but their album -- one of the most oddball constructions in all of rock -- gained a cult following among collectors, and has ironically made them much more popular and influential on an international level than they were during their lifetime. Bassist Eddie Shaw's 1994 autobiography, Black Monk Time, is a fascinating narrative of the Monks' stranger-than-fiction story.

The Monks' only album, "Black Monk Time", is packed with angst anthems on the order of "Shut Up," "I Hate You," "Complication," and "Drunken Maria." One of the strangest recordings of all time, it's now finally available in the U.S. as a 1997 CD reissue on Infinite Zero. The repackage is made all the more appealing with the inclusion of their two later non-LP singles, the live 1966 "Monk Chant," and a couple of 1965 demos, making it the definitive document of the Monks' recorded legacy.

Fly Girls!

Fly Girls!’ celebrates the 30th anniversary of female rap on record!

This double-CD (and limited edition two volumes of super-loud double-vinyl) narrates the story of female rap from its birth in the tenement block parties in New York City’s outer boroughs through to the dizzying career heights of Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott and other modern day power brokers. ‘Fly Girls!’ also discusses the influence of an earlier generation of black female poets whose ideals (both in their art and how they established career paths) helped lay the foundations for birth of the genre.

The history of female rap on record begins in 1979 in New York City as the clamour of the city’s artists, record companies and producers strove to make it onto vinyl in the wake of The Sugarhill Gang’s squillion-selling hit, ‘Rappers Delight’ – released that year on the former soul singer Sylvia Robinson’s Sugarhill Records. It would be the Winley family - comprising sisters Tanya, Paulette - who made the first female rap record produced by their mother Ann and released on their father’s label, Paul Winley Records.

Aside from the singing/rap styles that earlier soul artists such as Aretha Franklin, Shirley Ellis, Millie Jackson and Laura Lee would occasionally adopt in their songs, female rap (like rap itself) had its antecedents in the groundbreaking black poetry of the 60s and 70s with radical, free-thinking poets such as Nikki Giovanni, Camille Yarborough and Sarah Webster Fabio - all of whom are included here – vocalising hitherto unheard expressions of female and black self-determination in their work. These strong, educated, political women not only led the way stylistically but also helped define how a female artist could make their own career path - weaving creativity, politics and family in a way that Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah and others have since followed - establishing the boundary-breaking career paths of many female artists in rap. Hip-hop is a culture of which music is only a part; nowadays (and to an extent from the very beginning) the most successful female hip-hop artist is often singer, DJ, actress, manager, political and social agitator and more in multiple combinations.

Hip-hop’s story begins in the tenement blocks and community centres of the South Bronx. In the first three years-or-so history of hip-hop (1976-9) - before the first rap records were made - aspiring female artists could watch onstage the early female MC role models of Sha-Rock (the first female MC in the group The Funky Four plus One) or the Mercedes Ladies (the first female MC and DJ crew). With Tanya and Paulette Winley’s ‘Rappin and Rhymin’ on vinyl by 1979 it would not be until the following year that the first all-female crew made it onto vinyl when Sequence (featuring a then unknown Angie Stone) was astutely signed, once again, by Sylvia Robinson to Sugarhill Records.

Robinson was not the only woman on the business side of hip-hop. There was Kool Lady Blue who first brought rap out of the Bronx and into downtown NYC at the Roxy nightclub and also later managed The Rocksteady Crew. Monica Lynch who rose to head of A and R and president of Tommy Boy Records, and later vice-president of Warners, comments that because hip-hop was new it did not have the hierarchy of the traditional music industry and women were thus able to move more easily into executive roles. Later, as we shall see, many of the artists moved into the business themselves taking control of their careers and aiding others.

Roxanne Shante is certainly the first female rapper to make a career out of her music. Shante and fellow Queens-resident and producer Marley Marl fought their corner for both their borough (taking on Boogie Down Productions and the Bronx) and anyone else who dared call themselves ‘Roxanne’ in a slanging-match known as ‘The Roxanne Wars’. This verbal jousting had its antecedents dating back to the ‘dozens’ of the playground and tower-block (‘Your mother is a …’, ‘No, your mother is a …’) and to th e Griot storytellers of Africa. Roxanne Shante, and many others here, effortlessly subverted this - and many other - male-dominated traditions to create and re-write new histories.

Female rap is thirty years old (yes, thirty) and it just don’t stop. Here is a snapshot of that history. The album includes so many firsts – first solo record, first crew on record, first number one, first grammy winner, that it would be easier to list the few records featured here that are not historical landmarks in the ongoing tale of female hip-hop.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Palace Music

Lost Blues and Other Songs is the name of a 1997 album by Will Oldham, released under the moniker Palace Music. It collects various singles and rarities Will Oldham released under the Palace names during the early 1990s. "Ohio River Boat Song" is an adaptation of the traditional Scottish "Loch Tay Boat Song", and "Horses" was originally written and performed by Sally Timms of the Mekons on her 1988 solo album Somebody's Rockin' My Dreamboat.

Friday, February 13, 2009


The Intrusion full-length is finally here - a massively anticipated follow up of sorts to 'The Coldest Season' album and without question the most fully-realised Echospace project since that album came out 18 months ago. Steve Hitchell reserves his Intrusion moniker for his rich and sumptuous dub experiments, more Rhythm & Sound as opposed to the to M-Series or BC references more commonly associated with the Deepchord axis. Referencing the Caribbean on 'Montego Bay' the padded, heady structure of the music infuses the massive sense of space with a warm and breezy pulse that sets this music apart from so much of the rubber-coated preset teasing that passes for dub techno these days. Paul St. Hilaire, meanwhile, adds a typically righteous vocal presence alongside luxurious Fender Rhodes on 'Angel', a beautiful cut exclusive to this CD issue. The best tracks from the 12"s are compiled with 'Intrusion Dub', 'Seduction', 'Reflection', 'Tswana Dub' and 'Twilight', in addition to the glorious 'A Night To Remember' inspired by his travels to Japan. Crazily limited to a mere 300 copies only, the cd is now completely sold out!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Collectors of rare psychedelia recognize Arzachel's sole LP as being one of the most desired (and pricey) relics from the late '60s. The record was initially released in England on the obscure Evolution label and later in America on Roulette. Unlike most monster psych collectors' albums, however, Arzachel had two things which helped transition it to the CD era: the music is a head above most other psych rarities, and the four musicians later achieved marginal success within the '70s progressive rock "Canterbury scene."

The band initially called themselves Uriel and formed in December, 1967 after guitarists Dave Stewart (not the one from the Eurythmics) and Steve Hillage met in math class at the City of London School. After recruiting lead vocalist/bassist Hugo Montgomery Campbell (Mont Campbell), Stewart soon realized Hillage was the better axeman and switched to organ. Drummer Clive Brooks was discovered via an ad in Melody Maker magazine. Uriel then secured a summer residency at an Isle of Wight hotel called Ryde Castle. They also were filmed for an English sex education film and came close to jamming with Jimi Hendrix after meeting him on a London street.

According to Hillage, their one album was "done for a laugh really. Somebody gave us a day in the studio, and we made a psychedelic album!" But the record wasn't released until after Hillage quit Uriel to attend college in Canterbury (he later played with both Kevin Ayers and Gong before going solo). Stewart, Campbell, and Brooks carried on as the classical rock trio Egg. The Uriel album made with Hillage was released in 1969 under the name Arzachel, with fictional names and bios of the musicians to avoid contractual difficulties. The record itself featured some of the most explosive psychedelia by an English group, but without any promotion, it quickly plunged into obscurity. It was years later before collectors started depleting their bank accounts to obtain what few copies of Arzachel were originally released.