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Recent Faves from the WFMU Record Library
October 2004

Reviewed by Music/Program Director Brian Turner

MARY LOU WILLIAMS/ Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian)
Duke Ellington called Williams a vocalist "beyond category", and indeed, her legacy far transcends the usual resume of those who grounded themselves in the Swing Era. Having been an arranger, composer, pianist, vocalist, and bandleader in the 1950's, the Georgia-born Williams took a very early move into the avant-garde in the 60's, wedding her jazz sensibilities with a deeply-rooted spirituality (creating "jazz masses"); she dedicated her life to helping other musicians downed by addiction to drugs an alcohol, and turned deep-rooted pain and suffering of herself and others into uplifting musical experiences. Following Sonny Rollins and Max Roach, she featured strong pro-African American political themes into the music, and worked ferociously touring, recording and playing right up to her death in 1980. "Black Christ of the Andes" is a stunning document of avant-jazz gospel vocal, supplemented by elements of Afro-Cuban waltz, funeral marches, soul, blues, funk, and great melodies.

MONOSHOCK / Runnin' Ape-Like From the Backwards Superman: 1989-95 (S-S)
From the esteemed Agony Shorthand author Jay Hinman: "The revamped, post-college MONOSHOCK were the great white hopes of Bay Area sub-underground rock for about a year; the few of us that closely followed their comings and goings, best captured on those three loud-as-fuck 45s, were flat-out convinced that they were one big Forced Exposure write-up or one big WFMU endorsement away from selling the nation on their considerable charms." Hey, we tried! For the connoisseurs of blasted, dirty-sound psychedelic punk, Monoshock are as hallowed as it gets. Chrome, Crime, and Hawkwind dwelled inside those gunky 7" grooves (and indeed "Hawkwind Show" on here one-ups Nick Lowe's "Rollers Show"), with down-the-hall vocals fighting to rise above the mix of skreeching wah, doomed cheesy effects and a mighty tornado of lo-fi insanity. I am not sure if the 2LP set is still around, but this newly issued collection of the band's 7" output is manna from heaven. And despite the digital format, it keeps the junk intact at an appropriately muddy level. The kids loving their Comets On Fire need this.

THAI ELEPHANT ORCHESTRA / Elephonic Rhapsodies (Mulatta)
The second effort from these prodigious pachyderms. They seem to have been listening to more Goblin these days.

XEX / Group: Xex (The Smack Shire)
For all the moaning I've done over the years about growing up in a culturally detached small town in Pennsylvania though my formative years of discovering weird-ass punk and new/no wave music, the truth is simply that the most mind-boggling ideas and warped musical aesthetics sprung from these places. Amidst the sea of coked-up Cinderella wannabes who played my high school anti-drug rallies, the Kevin Cronin-of REO-produced big-fish-in-a-small-pond rock gods that walked down our streets, and the sheer overload of crapola, there were mutants who had it up to here with all of that silliness. Close to NYC, but not quite there, they never quite got recognized, and they sure confused a lot of locals. I sure appreciated 'em for merely existing in an oppressive musical locale where the town's one promoter was too busy hosting dance shows on TV where he got out of a Rolls flanked by ho's and booking wheezy hair-metal reunions.
Xex must have been in a similar boat down in South River, New Jersey. Sporting black garb, blurting arps, and bizarro names like "Thumbalina Guglielmo" and "Waw Pierogi" (!) these guys represented a totally bonkers aesthetic that seems like it was taking its cues from what was being hyped in the NYC underground scene about that time: Eno, Talking Heads, etc., but in fact this music is choking under something more black, toxic, and totally Jersey. While they sang about mall rat zombies who ran around trying to catch up with fashion, they also addressed nuns and nerve gas. Musically, it sounds like it has more to do with German nuts like Grauzone and California's zonked synth-gothers Factrix or Nervous Gender than anything else remotely in xex's radius. What gives?
Tom Smith did radio shows for a while on WFMU, and was entrenched in the LP library listening to odd finds in backwards order starting at 'Z' when he came across this lost gem. It totally blew our brains. There's zilch about them on the web, as well (apparently not even the hip New York papers gave 'em a mention), and he has been threatening to reissue this baby for some time. Here 'tis at last. Turn up the minimal synth NJ underground!

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