What will the new day bring?

The funny thing about digging deeper and deeper into the underground of rock n' roll in the 60s is that the more you uncover, the more you realize is still left to find. I'm sure plenty of veteran fans and critics of the era would find this to be a trite revelation, but I'm new to the whole thing and therefore still learning the lay of the land. One thing I've recently discovered is that there are bands from the 60s era who are known and liked enough to have songs on compilations but are nonetheless completely lacking in extant biographical information. Literally all people know about them is what was printed on the picture sleeves of their singles. Considering the fact that magazines like Ugly Things will regularly run dozen-page bios of bands who only ever released one or two singles, I found this phenomenon really hard to swallow the first couple of times I ran across it. Nonetheless, it seems to be the case--no doubt the information could be discovered if the right people were found, and certainly there's more hope for that happening in these situations than in cases of, say, obscure pre-war blues musicians, but when you're in my position, that of the interested but still relatively casual fan, you're not exactly going to start knocking on random doors in suburban California towns asking if anyone recognizes this dusty 40-year old 7 inch. So sometimes, you are put in a position where you're really into some band that you have no way of learning anything about.

I don't know about you guys, but I find this situation incredibly frustrating. I know a lot of people don't necessarily feel any need to know anything more about bands they like than what they are called, but I am not one of those people. If I like a band, I want to know everything there is to know about them, whatever that may be. And I especially want to be able to hear every note of music they've ever recorded. Sometimes it's impossible to tell what that even might be, and sometimes even when you can tell, you still have no way of actually hearing it all. The latter is the case with the band I'm writing this entry to discuss--a band called Disraeli. Before I get into the little I know about them, though, I have to explain how I initially encountered them.

Of course, Ugly Things has something to do with it. In recent months, I've been pretty obsessively poring over the back issues I collected but didn't read during the last four years--waiting, I suppose, for my obsession with 60s garage-psych to reach its apex (if it even has yet). There's tons to read in any one issue, so much that I typically will read an issue to the exclusion of almost everything else for about a week, maybe two, and then have to put it down and take a breather from garage-psych information overload. During these one to two week periods, I will typically finish about half of an issue. Yeah, that's how much information is in each one of these things. If they were converted into a book, with decent-sized type, and all of the illustrations were left intact, each issue would probably stretch to a length of 1200 pages or so. That's no joke. Anyway, in the record review section of Ugly Things issue 21, I encountered a review of the first five volumes of a new compilation series entitled "Fading Yellow". Ever since "Nuggets" in the 70s introduced the idea, there have been thematic compilations of 60s era singles coming out regularly. The 80s vintage comps "Pebbles" and "Back From The Grave" introduced the idea of releasing these in series, and by now there are probably so many LP and CD compilations of 60s era singles that you could own 500 of them and still not have them all. Of course, there's lots of repeated material from one comp to another, and some sound way better (and feature way better selections of material) than others. But for the most part, they're always worth checking out. This is especially true when you contrast the quality level of a 60s era original LP with one of these comps. The album format had not yet achieved the supremacy it came to attain in the 70s, and bands in the 60s tended to concentrate on singles, padding their albums with filler of various types--covers, instrumentals, even performances by other bands. For this reason, buying the album of a group whose contribution to a "Teenage Shutdown" or "Boulders" comp you particularly enjoyed is a dicey affair. And that's assuming there even is one--a lot of these bands were only around long enough to release a few singles, and may not have any full-length releases of their own to be had.

Anyway, that's why these comps exist. And since the format has been established for over 20 years, the more recent entries into this continuing stream of releases have gone further and further afield from the original template of garage/psych rockers. "Fading Yellow" is the first comp series (and undoubtedly not the last) that dives into a style known by collectors today as "pop-psych"--tunes that are way too poppy to have anything to do with the garage aesthetic, but bearing enough of an influence from the experimental, psychedelic atmosphere of the 60s to be more than just typical pop tunes. One band that's often referenced in discussion of "pop-psych" is Curt Boettcher's studio project, The Milennium, whom I really like. Compilations of obscure singles that sound like The Milennium seemed like they could be as rewarding of a listening experience as compilations of obscure singles that sound like The Yardbirds had been for me in past years. So when I encountered the "Fading Yellow" comps online, I downloaded them. All nine of them.

Now, I have to be honest here--there is way bigger potential for total failure in the creation of a pop-psych single than in the creation of a garage-rock single. There's a certain amount of baroque cheesiness that one has to expect from any entry into the genre, and it can be pretty tough for the cheesiness to avoid overwhelming the psych flavor entirely and leaving you with a song you'd be embarrassed for anyone to catch you listening to. And I pretty much just described 90% of the songs on the "Fading Yellow" comps. Even when I'm listening to them in my room with the door closed and no one else home, I find myself cringing way too frequently. Truthfully, regardless of my feelings for The Milennium (which remain warm), I don't like most of this stuff. But I gave a lot of it a lot more time and effort than I otherwise would have, due entirely to how much I liked Disraeli's contribution to the series.

For some reason, I chose to start with Volume 2 of the series, rather than Volume 1, and Disraeli lead it off with a haunting, hypnotic tune called "What Will The New Day Bring?" It took days before I could really get past it--every time I let the comp play through to track 5 or 6 or so, I'd get so tired of the total dropoff in quality after song 1 that I just started the whole thing over. Unlike the vast majority of contributions to this comp series, "What Will The New Day Bring?" has no cheese factor at all. Its vocals are based heavily around harmonies from multiple band members, and acoustic guitars, which seem to be backed by mellotrons (though this might be a deception caused by the less-than-perfect source), carry the riffs instead of any electrical instruments. But this song makes up for its less-than-intense instrumentation through its dark, foreboding mood. If I hadn't written about them only a few months ago, I might feel bad making such an obscure comparison, but as it is I feel no guilt in telling you guys that this band sounds more like The Poets than anything else I can think of. And an entire new dimension is added to the song by the lyrics. In the 60s, you really couldn't expect much depth from lyrics--love songs, hippy-dippy protest tracks, and hallucinatory drug fables were about all you got. Disraeli breaks from all of that in a big way, though, telling a tale that seems like it could be taken from some old murder ballad, passed down through folklore from generation to generation. I don't know for sure that it's not, in fact, which is frustrating, but honestly, I think these guys came up with this whole thing themselves. I, for one, am impressed.

The song's lyrics begin with a pretty girl, seemingly sequestered in an ivory tower (though such a thing is never explicitly stated), making herself up for the day. We're told that she's pretty, and seems carefree, but there are hints of repressed ennui: "She is taking her time putting on her face, to make time pass." She feels bored of her life, and chafes at its limitations. Hence the chorus: "She sings, 'La la la, what will the new day bring?'" It's an evocative portrait of the type of girl that one can imagine seeing on plenty of college campuses in the late 60s--still locked into the rigid societal expectations set for her by her upbringing, but feeling limited by it, and wanting more from life, even if she doesn't yet know how to get it. But then, when the second verse starts, the tone of the song changes completely. Now we're introduced to a second character, a man, who "lurks in the garden", preparing to murder the girl. "She seems not to be aware," we're told. "He's in disguise." At the end of the second verse, he climbs a tangled vine and sneaks into her window, "thinking in his mind, 'Don't leave a sign.'" Rather than repeating the chorus, the song moves immediately into the final verse. Now we're told that he's waiting for the perfect moment, and that she still has noticed nothing. The final image of the song: "To have luck in the kill, he kisses his ring." Which is then immediately contrasted by a repetition of the chorus; she still wants to know what the new day will bring. We never see the murder take place, and for all we know, it doesn't--someone arrives in the nick of time to save her. Or maybe not. That's ultimately not the point of the song. Actually, the point of the song seems really open-ended to me; Disraeli hopes to put the listener on edge, to create a feeling of disquiet through the telling of a disturbing tale, and perhaps to evoke the uneasy complacence of many of their middle-class listeners. Or maybe that's all just something I'm reading into it after the fact--there's no real way to know.

Because believe me, I would have found out. I was so into this song that, after I heard it, I attacked Google with a vengeance. After several searches in which I encountered nothing but links to Cream's "Disraeli Gears" album, I was finally able to search for specific enough terms that I found one webpage with information I didn't already have. One. This page contained MP3s of two other Disraeli songs, "Spinnin Round" and "Say You Love Me", which I of course downloaded as fast as I possibly could, and information about all of their releases, which appeared to amount to three singles. It didn't say who was in the band, what else they had done, or what years in which they'd recorded. Basically, other than giving me a look at a couple of picture sleeves and the opportunity to triple the amount of Disraeli songs that I owned, this webpage had little to offer. And it was the only source out there. As for the other two songs, neither were as good as "What Will The New Day Bring?", but both showed talent and inspiration. "Say You Love Me" had a jaunty verse that seemed a bit too cheesy and poppy to really be great, but contrasted this with some really strong rhythm guitar and drumming on the song's bridge, which pushed that entire section of the song into a more garage-like domain. "Spinnin Round" had a darker, minor-key song but got a bit singsongy on its choruses, and the lyrics, about coming home drunk and getting the bedspins, are silly and inconsequential--such a disappointment after the fascinating lyrics on "What Will The New Day Bring?"

In the end, I guess this is why bands like this end up with one song on a comp instead of retrospective releases and lengthy bios in collector magazines. They might have one moment of undeniable greatness, but the rest of their work is thoroughly ordinary and not worthy of lionization. Thing is, though, I'm not really ever going to be able to convince myself of that--not until I hear the remaining Disraeli songs that are out there to be heard. And I sure don't have the scratch to start scouring Ebay for auctions of their singles, which are doubtless rare as hen's teeth and go for large amounts of money. I guess that, until some far more pre-eminent scholar of 60s garage/psych than my humble self decides to hunt down the surviving members of Disraeli, wherever they are now, and tell their story once and for all, I will be left wondering. Help me Richie Unterberger, you're my only hope!

Disraeli - What Will The New Day Bring?
Disraeli - Say You Love Me
Disraeli - Spinnin' Round

Googling update: a new search brings me two different pages with significantly more biographical details than I could previously find: One and Two. Thanks to both of these sites for providing info!



Justin Broadrick throws me a rope.

I haven't posted on here in a few weeks, and for that I apologize. I don't know if any of you even noticed, but it still makes me feel bad, so I'm sorry for that. I've been somewhat busy and have somewhat just had my mind on other things. But I've still been listening to plenty of music and have even considered writing several different entries that ultimately never got written. I don't know that this one will exactly be a deathless work of rock criticism, either, but it's something I need to write about on here now, before I lose the inspiration and this post goes the way of the last half-dozen unwritten ones.

I saw Jesu last night. I don't believe I've ever written about them on this blog before, which is a pretty criminal act of negligence if that's the case. I'd heard mixed things about the Jesu live experience beforehand, but all doubts were erased for me the second Justin Broadrick, Ted Parsons, and Diarmud Dalton hit the stage. They laid into the songs with a powerful, unrelenting attack, and the pre-programmed elements of their music, which can dominate at times on their recorded work, took a definite backseat. Keyboards and programmed beats were still part of the set thanks to a laptop that Justin operated between songs, but the set was all about the powerful wall of noise pumped out by the three live musicians onstage. Back when Justin was still doing Godflesh, and their touring unit featured a drum machine rather than live drums, I've heard that it was disconcerting to see them pumping out such heavy tuneage without a drummer onstage. Thankfully, that problem was avoided, and suffice it to say that former Prong skin-beater Ted Parsons is not just any live drummer. Those of you who are familiar with Jesu's music might feel that someone of Parson's enormous talent is wasted on Jesu's mostly minimalist beats, and you're not entirely wrong if that is what you're thinking, but there were definitely a few moments during the set in which Parsons moved beyond the basic rhythms of the song and displayed his talent in a manner that proved that the show would have been a lesser thing without him playing drums.

But for those of you who are unfamiliar with Jesu's music, this discussion must seem a bit confusing, as I'm making reference to a sound that you've never heard. Well, fear not, because I will now explain what exactly Jesu's deal is.

Justin Broadrick started his career as a musician by playing guitar in early lineups of Napalm Death. He left the band after recording the EP-length session that became side one of their first album, "Scum". At the time he played in Napalm Death, he was only 16 years old. By the time he was 18, he was playing drums in British industrial group Head Of David. Then, when he was 19, he and bassist G.C. Green formed Godflesh. Unlike his previous bands, Broadrick was not merely a sideman in Godflesh, but the main creative agent of the band. Other than Green's bass tracks, Broadrick did everything in the band: guitars, vocals, drum programming. Over Godflesh's 14 year career, they moved from their roots as a slow, heavy, crushing industrial metal group, through different phases and experimentations with genre. By the end of their career, Broadrick had gone from a typical death-metal growling vocal style to singing cleanly, and the band had brought in live drumming as well as a steadily increasing influence from electronic dance music.

After Godflesh disbanded, Broadrick picked up where that project had left off, with Jesu, a unit he named after the final track on the last Godflesh album. Godflesh had been growing steadily less heavy and industrial with each successive release, and Jesu continued this trend. When I first heard them, the only releases they had out were the 2-song, 40 minute "Heartache" EP and a self-titled debut album that lasted for over an hour. Justin's vocals were cleaner and more melodic than they'd ever been before, but the riff structures on these records were still pretty metallic in nature, if incredibly slow and minimal (as with much of Godflesh's riffing). I enjoyed them but didn't come back to them very often, as was often the case for me with Godflesh albums. I have admired Broadrick's work ever since Godflesh's first full-length, "Streetcleaner", came out back when I was in high school, but it's never been too easy for me to spend a lot of time with it. I have to be in just the right mood or the monotonous pounding of it all will wear me out quickly.

Jesu really caught my attention, though, when their "Silver" EP was released in 2006. I heard about it before I heard it, and descriptions I read of it had me intrigued. One reviewer described the title track as having a decided shoegaze influence, while another said that some of the riffs on the record sounded like Mogwai riffs in slow motion. I wasn't sure what those comments might actually mean in terms of what the record would sound like, but honestly, I perk up anytime anyone makes a shoegaze reference. Bands like My Bloody Valentine and The Pale Saints were very close to my heart back in the early 90s when they were releasing records, and have remained so in the years since. I often wish more bands had explored the territory in which those bands were working, so I was very intrigued to hear what Justin Broadrick might do with it.

I was not let down when I finally did hear "Silver". It seemed like the hints of melody that had floated around the edges of the first two Jesu records had finally caught Broadrick's attention fully, and he was now seeing just how far he could take his newfound melodic sense while still retaining the slow, powerful heaviness of his earlier work with Jesu and Godflesh. While not every song on the album was equally successful--the latter two kind of dragged compared to the title track and second track "Star"--I really felt like he was onto something, and "Silver" became the first Broadrick-helmed record that I ever found myself playing on a frequent basis for a long period of time.

I was even more excited when, earlier this year, Jesu released their second full-length album, "Conqueror." I had a theory that "Silver" constituted Broadrick finding his feet with a new sound, and that "Conqueror" would be where he found a way to consistently create the kind of high points that existed about half the time on the "Silver" EP. Sure enough, that was a good description of "Conqueror". Its 8 songs took up nearly an hour and were bliss all the way through. It still pounded incredibly hard, as does all of Jesu's work, but it felt like being pounded in the sweetest way possible, as if by a lover that could never feel anything but warm feelings for you. I guess this is what led the album to cross over to the new indie-rock audience that seems to be picking up on certain subgenres of metal these days--the fuzzy, melodic feel of "Conqueror" that let them play it at low volumes while lying in bed with candles lit, arms around their lovers.

This, of course, is not my experience with "Conqueror", or Jesu in general. It hasn't been my experience of anything for a very long time, in fact, and considering that Justin Broadrick has titled a past Jesu song "Friends Are Evil" and vents some serious frustration with day to day life on the lyrics to "Conqueror"'s "Old Year", I'm thinking that he's more on my wavelength than that of a contented indie rocker with a longterm lover and a decent-paying office job. When I listen to "Conqueror", I tend to do it in the middle of the day, on mornings when I wake up late and my roommate has already long since left for work. And I play it LOUD. This morning, I put on a Jesu CD, turned it up about halfway, and as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, letting the music wash over me, I could feel the vibrations from the bass and snare drum hits rattling my bed and shaking the walls of my house. This, to me, is the perfect Jesu listening experience. There's beauty in it, but the heaviness that underscores that beauty reminds me that it's not the beauty that really defines the experience. No matter how sweet the melodies are, I can't help but see Jesu's music as mournful, a description of the act of reaching out for positive elements of life that always seem, in the end, to elude. Their music is bittersweet, and the heavy elements emphasize that bitterness. Maybe this is why I was so into their live performance, and other people haven't been--maybe other people didn't expect the sort of heavy, pounding show they got. If not, that's a shame, but I personally don't think it would have been the same without it, so I'm glad it was the way it was.

By the way, Jesu had a just-released EP for sale at the show that I hadn't heard about. It's called "Lifeline", and it closely mimics the format of "Silver"--four songs, just under a half-hour in length. However, it's a good bit stronger than that EP, sounding solid all the way through in much the same way as "Conqueror". The opening title track, and the closing track, "End Of The Road", are probably more melodic than anything else Jesu has ever done. "End Of The Road", in fact, de-emphasizes the heaviness at the same time as increasing the melody, and sounds more like the Cocteau Twins or The Pale Saints than anything relating to metal. This is not to say that I don't like it, though--in fact, it's a really nice breath of untainted fresh air without the bitter undercurrent that's usually present. I like it as a change of pace quite a bit. I think I might be a bit unhappy if all of Jesu's songs started sounding like this, though. Fortunately, "Lifeline" and "You Wear Their Masks" are still heavy and brooding, with programmed beats doing the pounding instead of Ted Parsons (who has only ever apppeared on some of Jesu's tracks anyway). Parsons is present on the remaining track from "Lifeline", "Storm Comin' On", which not only features him on drums and Diarmud Dalton on bass, as in the live version of the band, but also former Swans vocalist Jarboe in a guest star turn, doing lead vocals and writing the lyrics for the track. The music has an almost folky element to it, with Broadrick playing acoustic as well as electric guitars, and Jarboe uses her voice to create much more complex and grandiose vocal melodies than Broadrick ever comes up with. One can imagine that, if Elizabeth Frazer from Cocteau Twins did guest vocals on a Jesu track, the results would be much the same. Man... that would be awesome.

Jesu - End Of the Road
Jesu - Conqueror