1967-1972: The Tenth Dymensions - “My Love for You is Growing Wild”
The Tenth Dymentions barely exist in the vast world of the internet. I’ve been hooked ever since I first heard their midtempo soul masterpiece “My Love For You is Growing Wild.” Recently, I tried to find out more information about this band – one of many soul bands who deserved fame but never found it.
Searching through the scant pages that reference them, I haven’t learned much. There’s little to no information about their record label Sapphire. A search for the arranger/writer Vern Ryan at least brings up some details. Ryan is associated with another band called the Fabulous Dimensions as well as a bizarre mysterious 70’s funk band called Von Ryan’s Express. One soul collector places the Dymentions/Dimensions in a Chicago suburb (Robbins). This Chicago connection is confirmed by the inclusion of Joe Savage, an arranger/producer for a handful of Chicago’s independent soul bands in the late 60’s.
The song is featured on three compilations as far I can tell: The Get It! Vol. Raw Funk of ’67 to ’69, Gangster Soul Harmony Vol. 3, and Mayor Hawthorne Presents: Soul With a Hole Vol. 1 (the Stones Throw compilation where I first heard it). The image of the “Bush Man”/”My Love For You” seven-inch above places the song in 1972, confusing the exact date of the recording. There’s no band members listed. No bios or photos. There’s only really great soul music with an impossibly warm horn section and a vocal intensity practically sweating off sexuality.
The scarcity of information about the band speaks to a larger issue that’s been on my mind lately. If you don’t know already, there’s been an ongoing internet debate that streaming music capabilities will make having a music collection obsolete. The theory is that a majority of people will simply take whatever they can conveniently get. Critics argue that forgotten soul songs like this one, indie labels, and artists who choose not to opt into these services would be pushed further into the ranks of obscurity if they don’t make themselves available on Spotify, iCloud, etc.
I hope it seems obvious though that cloud lockers and streaming subscription companies will never be able to offer exposure for forgotten artists as effectively as people working at independent record labels and record stores (Aquarius Records and Numero Group I’m looking at you). They will never tap into the same passion as people writing on blogs, posting on message boards, and commenting on YouTube videos. The companies might offer me convenience, but that’s not quite the same as putting a personal investment into everything a label does and being rewarded by finding an obscure gem on a CD (that’s since been deleted from the label). I’m glad that I’ll never be able to find this song on Spotify and the only way to find information about the band requires heavy digging. There still needs to be room for musical discoveries that require effort. The Tenth Dymentions might not be a featured artist on iTunes any time soon, but they will live on in the peripheral glory of a few devoted internet pages – this one included. Is that such a bad thing?
1968-1978: Juma Sultan’s Aboriginal Music Society - Father of Origin
It’s been said – but maybe not enough – that the real history lies between the cracks of recorded sound. The tape recorders weren’t always rolling when some of the most interesting music, and that which obscures canonical regularity, was recorded. Or, if the event was taken down on tape for posterity – cue the reams of European radio broadcasts now cataloged in state archives – it wasn’t deemed worthy or possible to release by record companies. Sometimes an artist or an ensemble might luckily make it to the history books despite a lack of recorded evidence to back up what one hopes the results sound like. The famed jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden is one example of that; in more recent years, the work of percussionist and contrabassist Juma Sultan’s Aboriginal Music Society was “heard of” but not heard, owing to documentation in Valerie Wilmer’s As Serious As Your Life (Serpent’s Tail, 1977/2000). Father of Origin, a boxed set of two LPs, one CD, and a book on the Eremite label, is about to change all that.
Founded in 1968 in Woodstock, New York by Sultan (a Californian who worked with reedman Sonny Simmons) and percussionist Ali Abuwi (a Detroiter who performed alongside Yusef Lateef), the Aboriginal Music Society was based around the 212 Artists Colony and expats from New York and Chicago, including members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band – drummer Philip Wilson, saxophonist Gene Dinwiddie, and guitarist Ralph Walsh – along with free jazzers like trumpeters Earl Cross and James DuBoise, bassist Peter Warren and others. The recordings included here were all taken between 1970 and 1972, with music from the set’s first LP ostensibly slated for inclusion on the never-issued Aboriginal Family Album. Though the Paul Butterfield credentials here are ripe – and Sultan was a close associate of Jimi Hendrix – the proceedings are decidedly avant-garde, starting ruggedly in medias res and building to a dense, trance-like fervor as Dinwiddie’s heel-digging tenor struts on “Fan Dance Part One.”
A 1971 studio session cut slightly before the AMS took its operations to DuBoise’s Lower East Side loft Studio W, becoming central in the burgeoning loft-jazz scene, is represented by the second LP. It is decidedly stripped-down music; with tenorman Frank Lowe out front and center the proceedings are full-force and dense. Lowe’s ululations peel the paint on what are his earliest recordings, supported and accented by a shifting percussive web that knows no particular tribe or aesthetic. The CD presents an ensemble vibe somewhat comparable to that on the first LP, augmented by recent St. Louis transplants Charles “Bobo” Shaw (percussion), Julius Hemphill (alto saxophone), and Abdul Wadud (cello). The whole set is beautifully presented and includes a book full of period photos and artifacts as well as an informative liner essay by musicologist Michael Heller. With hands and feet in the upstate artists’ environment as well as the Black Arts lofts that formed part of the architecture of 1970s New York jazz, the Aboriginal Music Society’s branches could be traced to almost any other ensemble or musician during this time period. Thankfully recorded documentation has been preserved and the fragments presented here are choice. Visit Juma’s Archive for more information, as it looks like Father of Origin is just the tip of the iceberg.
1984: Scott Walker - Climate of Hunter
By 1984, the shiny veneer of Scott Walker’s career as a British pop superstar had all but vanished. Scott 4 , while considered relatively tame and comparable to his first three Scott albums today, was viewed as too dense and dark upon its’ initial release in 1969 and was a commercial flop. It was the final tipping point before the singer fell into relative obscurity for nearly a decade. A brief but welcome reunion of the singers’ original pop trio The Walker Brothers in the late 70s brought a renewed interest in Walker and a new appreciation for his forward thinking compositions. The Walkers Brother’s 1978 album Nite Flights was a hint at a unique new direction, but 1984’s Climate of Hunter was Scott Walker’s true transitional album.
Walker is the master of strange juxtapositions in his music. Album opener “Rawhide” begins with what sounds like someone unable to find a steady rhythm on a cowbell before morphing into a driven and fully orchestrated pop song. The signature jarring string sound that Walker first started to pioneer as early as Scott 3 is used to full effect on Climate of Hunter. Always skirting a thin line between falling into total dissonance and floating into ethereal bliss, the droning strings serve as mainly the background to the seemingly disparate elements that appear throughout. Lyrically, the album is abstract and nearly impenetrable, continuing Walker’s obsession with “blocks” of words that first appeared on the Walker Brother’s Nite Flights. More focused on the aesthetic quality of the printed word on the page than the actual content contained therein, the lyrics are more akin to Burroughs’ cut-up writing technique than the risqué pop narratives Walker was associated with in his past.
Walker hired many established session and guest musicians for the recording of Climate of Hunter and reportedly kept the recording work in progress secretive from most. Only few were trusted to hear and play along with Walker’s melodic plan for the music. Nothing else typifies this recording style more than the albums most fascinating moment, “Dealer.” “Dealer” is a song more focused on textural complexity than melodic coherence. Mo Foster’s bass provides a spacey, melodic counterpoint to Scott’s crooning baritone and chiming synthesizer flourishes, and Peter Van Hook’s drums, while played in a traditional 4/4 rock beat, oddly accent the third beat making the rhythm anything but traditional. Free jazz Pioneer Evan Parker’s saxophone and Mark Isham’s trumpet drift in and out; at points it feels like the song will disappear with them into the distance. The effect is one of Walker’s most gorgeous and memorable creations.
Ideas that sound too peculiar to possibly work out provide some of Climate of Hunter’s most remarkable moments. These include Billy Ocean’s (yes-that Billy Ocean) backup vocals on the slightly menacing “Three,” which help make it the most viable pop single on the album. “Sleepwalker Woman” updates Scott Walker’s unique baroque pop and wouldn’t sound out of place on Scott 3. Even Mark Knopfler (yes-that Mark Knopfler) provides an interesting and minimal guitar backdrop to the Tennessee Williams cover “Blanket Roll Blues.” Its inclusion as the album closer may be the strangest juxtaposition of all.
Of course, Climate of Hunter is not without growing pains. The tacky lead guitar solos that find their way into a number of tracks and the overly glossy production definitely date the album to its early 80s origin. The album, although extremely varied, is also disappointingly short. Despite these issues, Climate of Hunter remains one of Walkers’ most fascinating works. It both showcases his talents as a brilliant pop songwriter and arranger while also linking his future as one of the most enigmatic avant-garde musicians of the 21st century.
1980: Rema-Rema - Wheel in the Roses
London’s Rema-Rema existed very briefly, forming in 1979 and breaking up before the end of 1980. Wheel in the Roses is the post-punk quintet’s lone release, a four-song EP that was also the first release on the long-running 4AD label (ignoring the four prior releases from when 4AD was called Axis Records). The half-studio, half-live Wheel in the Roses is an odd little record – it starts with a lumbering bassline that plods along into the way noisier than expected feedback explorations of, um, “Feedback Song,” takes a diversion into the Public Image Limited via Flipper party drive of “Rema-Rema,” gets a heady 4/4 dance groove on for “Instrumental” (which isn’t actually an instrumental), and then winds up at “Fond Affections,” a spaced-out dirge.
Rema-Rema’s music isn’t as confrontational as the no wave acts that preceded them in the late 70s, but the feedback-drenched Wheel in the Roses is still far noisier than most records from 1980. With this in mind, I would certainly consider Rema-Rema to be an intriguingly overlooked piece of the 80s underground rock puzzle, fitting somewhere between British post-punk and American noise-rock, yet with an atmospheric slant that’s largely their own (tellingly, Big Black covered “Rema-Rema,” and This Mortal Coil covered “Fond Affections”).
The band’s eponymous song is the most straightforward thing on here; it’s almost like a companion to Flipper’s “Sex Bomb” – it’s repetitive, contains “ha ha ha” vocals, and is grounded by a burly distorted bass mixed upfront. If you’re sick of putting Gang of Four on your post-punk party mixes, “Rema-Rema” might just be the rowdy substitute you’re looking for. The guitar tones are far less stark than Andy Gill’s, but the ways in which Rema-Rema’s feedback assault matches (and pre-dates) early Jesus and Mary Chain levels should do more than enough to make up for it.
“Fond Affections” is the grower here, recorded live with psychedelic guitar feedback, space laser noises, and synthesizer unease coming together for a post-punk funeral march. One might hear a loose space-rock influence (think Chrome, or possibly the more abstract moments of Hawkwind) which stands in bold contrast to the more traditional post-punk found earlier on the record. On an EP packed with unpredictable turns, the noticeably darker feel of “Fond Affections” makes it a perfect closer.
Given the relative obscurity of Rema-Rema, I hesitate to make sweeping comments on their influence. However, I do hear echoes of their sound in a handful of contemporary bands — for example, I don’t know if HEALTH got their hands on Wheel in the Roses at some point, but the merging of guitar noise, synth textures, and danceable post-punk groove found on “Instrumental” seems to predict a song like “Die Slow” decades in advance (vocals aside). On the other hand, the repetitive and shouty “Feedback Song” makes me think of an embryonic Wilderness.
After breaking up the members of Rema-Rema went on to form and/or play in other groups — guitarist Marco Pirroni notably joined Adam and the Ants, and drummer Max Prior worked with Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P Orridge in Psychic TV.
2001: Wolf Eyes - Wolf Eyes
If you’ve never heard Wolf Eyes eponymous release for Bulb Records you might be in for a bit of a shock. There were releases before Wolf Eyes, cassettes and CD-Rs, but this was their first CD and a fitting debut for the band. Bear in mind this is a very different Wolf Eyes than many people are used to. Only Nate Young and Aaron Dilloway contributed to the album and much of the iconic sound from albums like Dread and Burned Mind is absent. Instead, Wolf Eyes is filled with skittering and fractured techno beats, guitar riffs, and an almost clinical sparseness.
Wolf Eyes have always been masters of taking elements of different genres, bringing it into their warped and bizarre world, and deconstructing it ─ this album accomplishes that tremendously. “When I Get Back,” which begins sounding like the techno godfathers, the Detroit Three (a major influence here, surprisingly) and gradually collapses into a massacre of electronic beats, is unexpected for Wolf Eyes but still bears their mark of chaos. Even when they’re working with a different palette of sounds, however, the overall impression is very consistent in their work.
The forward looking centerpiece of Wolf Eyes, the lurching seven-minute “Black is Back,” gives a good impression of where they take their sound. The song resembles a lot of the work that would be found on their follow-up Dread, and is one of the first times when Nate Young began to let himself get completely unhinged in his vocal delivery. That shows the direction they would move in, but this album is filled with strange and wonderful stylistic detours that are absent in the later work. Take a look at the next track after “Black is Back,” and you’ll find one of the strangest songs the band ever recorded. “These Girls of Mine” ends up sounding like something off Tom Waits’ Bone Machine, and is so strange for this band because it simply works as a kick ass rock song. The drums are punchy, there’s a big crunchy guitar riff, Young sounds more like David Yow than the complete fucking monster he would soon begin to sound like on the later albums.
The cover of Wolf Eyes is the only one I know that actually shows the people behind the project. It features an illustration of Young and Dilloway; right from the moment you hold the album there’s a sense of personality on it. That is what I get from this album most of all, that these two guys were still feeling their way. They try out different things without necessarily being successful, they rape and pillage a Ric Ocasek song, they provide an intermission halfway through the album ─ they seem like they’re having fun. This is a glimpse at the less confident, younger Wolf Eyes before they attained the level of brutality and intensity fitting to their name.
1970: Guru Guru - UFO
In every genre there are hidden gems; bands or albums as strong as the paragons of their style that, for whatever reason, never rose as high as they deserved. It’s slightly harder to see this with Krautrock, because more than 90 percent of the bands could be considered hidden, but the same pattern is still there. One of the great lost bands of the 60s Krautrock explosion is the psych-rock trio Guru Guru. Classifying Guru Guru as a lost band is slightly easier than some Krautrock acts, as their contemporaries like Can have received enormous critical acclaim and reissues out the wazoo, even though their reach never extended beyond a modest audience. But with a string of solid albums, beginning with 1970’s UFO, it’s hard to see why Guru Guru remains unknown.
The trio of drummer Mani Neumeier, bassist Uli Trepte, and guitarist Ax Genrich (fitting name) were responsible for Guru Guru’s best releases and are known as the band’s “classic” lineup. They played extraordinarily well together, and every song sounds like a improv jam, which it probably was. Neumeier and Trepte have particularly great chemistry, locking into repetitive and groovy riffs which give Genrich ample room to experiment. Genrich’s guitar playing is refreshingly different from most jam bands because he has the rare ability to crank out a million notes when he wants but also blast listeners with feedback and superb note choice when the time is right.
“Stone In” leads off the album with Genrich’s wailing, wah-wah drenched riffs while Neumeier and Trepte battle for control of the rhythm section. After a few lines of chanted vocals, Genrich launches into an extended solo that last for the remainder of the track. It’s a great sludgy jam to start the album and immediately proves you are dealing with skilled musicians. “Girl Call” opens with 40 seconds of silence before rhythmic blasts of feedback lead into another acid-fried jam. Trepte is especially good here, providing driving bass lines that propel the song and allow Neumeier and Genrich room to solo wildly.
Just as “Girl Call” reaches the height of its insanity, it gives way to the extremely catchy “Next Time See You at the Dalai Lhama.” The song isn’t catchy in a pop sense, but Genrich and Trepte’s riffs take on the swagger of classic rock with an experimental twist. Genrich and Neumeier play with reckless abandon as Trepte modifies, loses, and then eventually rediscovers the opening riff. The title track, “UFO,” is an extended noise collage, made from seven minutes of static blasts and three closing minutes of sonic mayhem. “Der Lsd-marsch” strikes something of a middle ground with another dirge like opening that gives way to an awesome outro jam centered on an impressive solo from Neumeier.
With around 40 releases to their name, Guru Guru certainly hasn’t stayed unknown by choice. UFO was their first, but it isn’t the only great release in their catalog that should be sought out by any Krautrock – or even noise rock for that matter – fans. Guru Guru were largely responsible for the shift in Krautrock from a spacey, flute-dominated music to one of the most aggressive and noisy sounds around, and for that fact alone they deserve to be remembered.