Sunday, 30 January 2011

Ross Lovell - Trains / Long Distance Calls 7" Sneaky Radio PRS-13001, 1980

Judging by the number of hits for the last three posts y'all just can't get enough of the approximate vocals which dot the DIY landscape. In which case, have we got a treat for you! Ross Lovell manages to take Plastic EP's rank long hops and bottom edge them into his stumps. For the cricket non-inclined, he makes Plastic sound like Glenn Danzig. Having said that, this one's gonna test even our most diehard followers. All we can say is put it in your personal music device and give it a couple of chances. As much as we are fans of being grabbed by the gonads on the first listen, this one repays more constant attention.

A friend of mine once described Father Yod as Homer Simpson doing Jim Morrison. Here, we have Homer doing, what? Graham Parker? (Wave era) Patti Smith? Video Nu-R? Jerry Rooth? Whatever the influence, there's a magnificent set of lungs bellowing here. We leave it up to the listener whether this kind of thing inspires giggles or awe. We tend to fall on the side of the line that says untutored, outsider art is sincere, and intended to be treated as such, and it's just a happy accident that it comes out so mind-bendingly awful/awesome.

The musical backing here is more than proficient, especially the bass and drums, which scream session muso. The way the guitar gently wails away in the background, and then more forcefully over the rhythm bed for the last minute, is undeniably cool. We're guessing, given the photo below, that Rosco is the guitarist. His playing is pretty good, so it's not as if he doesn't have a musical bone in his body, but that voice...

Long Distance Calls

Like a modern producer pushing a pudgy Dannii wannabe onto Auto-tune, we imagine producer Peter Wragg saying gently, "Why don't we try the vocoder on the next track?". So, on Trains, we have Homer doing Electric Light Orchestra (our first guess, Neil Young's Trans, wasn't out for another year or so). In a bizarre twist, in another decade and a half, Homer himself paid tribute to Styx's vocoder led Mr Roboto. Hard to decipher the lyrics here but we guess the song is about standing on Albion overpass watching trains, or as Ross would portentously have it, "The Trains" da dum da dum da dum.


Interestingly, the only search engine hit on Ross Lovell in Brisbane lists a contact for a men's choir. Part of us hopes he took lessons to harness and sculpt the magnificent wind coming up from his thorax, but a larger part hopes it still flies forth as free as when he laid down Long Distance Calls.

A few years ago a promo copy of sorts emerged from a Brisbane rock critic's archives, nestled inside was a photo of Ross sitting beside his phone, waiting for that long distance call.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Plastic EP & The Records - Well You Want To Make A Record / I'm Not Coming Back (unreleased 7", recorded 1981)

Plastic EP and the Records in 1981 (l-r): Craig, Wally, Chris, Plastic EP

After our initial feature on Plastic EP and the Records' fantastic 1981 single, the band's frontman, Plastic EP, used the comments section to drop a bombshell: Recordings exist for an unreleased second 45. Not only that, the songs were purported to be in the style of that first single, rather than the more polished direction of its follow up. As EPs über-fans, our reaction was predictable: Holy. Fucking. Shitballs.

With thanks to Plastic EP, we're proud to present the songs that would have made up that second 45. The songs were recorded in 1981 - after the session, the band was told to return to the studio at a later time to pick up a master of the final mix. For reasons unknown, the studio never compiled the 1/4 inch master tape, the original reels disappeared, and plans for the single were shelved. ("Isn't it ironic, we recorded a song called Make A Record and we couldn't actually make one", says Plastic EP). Thankfully, the band had the foresight to record rough mixes onto cassette before leaving the studio - that cassette is all that survives from the session, and is the source of the sound files below.

The songs are even more raw than the first single, attributable in part to the unfinished nature of the recordings, but also due to a positively rude guitar sound, courtesy of new member Craig (tremolo is featured heavily on both songs to great effect, and Make A Record's guitar solo is, in a word, savage). In some respects, the recording also represents a transition between the styles of the official singles, most notably in the replacement of At Home's drummer, Brendon Pearse, with a Boss Dr. Rhythm drum machine. With the tempo set just right, there is also that same freneticism that marks so much drum machine driven French punk (Metal Urbain, Dements Tragiques (human drummer, we know), Bla Bla Schmurz Group, etc., etc.).

The band considers Well You Want To Make A Record to be the stronger track - it was the first song co-written by Plastic EP and bass player Wally, and as noted elsewhere, was revived in numerous versions over The EPs' career. Indeed, it's the more immediate of the two songs, but we're hesitant to downplay the merits of I'm Not Coming Back. Its chiming piano lines are an undeniable highlight - in fact, the song is not a million miles away from The End by Just Urbain in its instrumentation and minor key. 

Well You Want To Make A Record

I'm Not Coming Back

As a bonus, here are versions of At Home and Three Special Words with different vocal takes to the ones included on the first single. The released versions feature re-recorded vocals; here, we have rough mixes of the original takes. Both have some on-the-fly lyric reshuffles, but At Home is notable for including those "Na na na" lines we love so much, which were replaced with inferior real English language words in the final mix. And dig the DIY Internationale intro to Three Special Words: "Just do it!".

At Home (original vocal)

Three Special Words (original vocal)

Craig flies the flag at Plastic EP and the Records' first gig, Coburg Scout Hall, 1981

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The EP's - Secret Love / Forget All I Said 7" EMI Custom 13369, 1982

For those who came in late (as the Phantom comics used to say), Plastic EP and the Records debuted in 1981 with a self-proclaimed "New Wave" record - in reality a great, punky DIY single, the product of a spontaneous creative process and a desire to capture the moment, warts and all. Resurfacing in 1982 under a more collective appellation, the EPs' second single shows them pursuing a musical direction befitting of the previous 45's product information message.

A very different proposition from its predecessor, the follow-up displays a greater degree of, dare we say, "professionalism". For starters, there are drum machines and sequencers all over this puppy, which have the effect of corralling the songs into much tighter structures. The songs are more fully developed, too (one gets the sense that the band is aided and abetted here by their producer, Rudy Brandsma), but still show telltale signs of the classic EPs minimalism - the intro/outro riff of Secret Love is Three Special Words in reverse! And of course, singer Plastic EP's trademark tendency to loiter in the vicinity of (but never actually on) the note is in full effect. Add some inexplicable sound effects - dogs barking, babies crying - and things are never in any danger of becoming too, uh, normal.

Before moving on, we note with interest that the labels credit "Eric" with videos for both tracks. The videos have so far eluded us - Eric, if you're out there, we encourage you to avail yourself of Youtube.

Secret Love

Forget All I Said

Secret Love was the EPs' last appearance on vinyl. As record collectors, it's tempting to view this single as the end of the story, when in fact it was just the beginning. The EPs continued on throughout the '80s, gigging sporadically, and even appearing on Hey Hey It's Saturday's Red Faces in 1987 (again, if anyone reading this has the segment on tape, Youtube awaits). With some line-up changes, the band still exists to this day, rehearsing and recording at its Melbourne home base. In our last instalment, we alluded to the fact that the 7" format enforced a certain quality control on the EPs' output, and noted that the culling process became less and less apparent over time. Taking their "record now, think later" MO into the digital age, the EPs' every fart is now documented and uploaded to the internet for the whole world to hear. At the time of writing, there were 100 albums - 100! - available for download, with more being threatened. Some of this material is self-described as "comedy rock", but it's often difficult to determine where the sincerity ends and the comedy begins. Where, for instance, does an amateur "Mega-Mix" of At Home fit in the scheme of things?

If Wesley Willis floats your boat, we suspect that there are some hidden gems awaiting you among the EPs' back-catalogue, but to find them you'll need to be made of stronger stuff than us. That being said, fans of the Secret Love single are advised to check out Make A Record, another early EPs composition which appears to have been recorded in the same session.

Addendum: 20 January, 2011
Ask and ye shall receive - The EPs on Red Faces, 19 September, 1987.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Plastic EP & The Records - At Home / Three Special Words 7" New Wave SF 350-A/B, 1981

The graphic design clusterfuck to your right has created a great deal of confusion among punk collectors and Australian music discographers alike. Is it the Plastic EP by New Wave and the Records? Or New Wave by EP and the Records? No, no, and no to the other more creative permutations that have circulated, Chinese-whispers-like, among the small cadre of enthusiasts aware of this 45's existence. Plastic EP is a pseudonym adopted by the band's vocalist (a.k.a. Daniel Samargis), an homage to the four-tracks-at-45-rpm 7" format embraced by Australian record companies in the '60s; the Records is his backing band. "New Wave", it seems, was either their label or a misguided attempt at consumer advice.

Contrary to the Sydney locale documented in the Who's Who of Australian Rock, the EPs (as we shall refer to them for brevity) were Melbourne-based. Formed in late 1979 or early '80, the EPs' main inspirations were the bands that popularised their namesake format - the Monkees, the Beatles, the Yardbirds et al. It's no surprise, then, that the band existed in isolation from the Melbourne punk and DIY scenes; what is surprising is the choice of direction for their first release (pressed in a quantity of 250, and distributed locally to friends and gig attendees) - a deliberate stab at UK punk.

Naturally, a vinyl-derived band moniker (so nice, they named it twice) delivers brownie points right off the bat, but there are other admirable qualities on display here which appeal to our more conceptual sensibilities. For starters, we are big fans of the EPs' spontaneous approach to song writing - hit "record" and see what happens. "Some of our best songs have been written in under five minutes", explains Plastic EP. "I can write a song from a drum beat and sing the song from start to end without any words written's more important to get the whole song down as a whole than to record a perfect song". Obviously an inherently hit-and-miss technique, here the band wisely distils the hits at the expense of the misses (an approach that was subsequently abandoned; more on that next week). Whether the attempts at UK '77 were a stylistic success is open to debate, but both songs are undeniably catchy, and performed with commendable energy and disregard for technical precision. At Home opens with a gangbuster intro, among the best in Australian punk, before settling in to a more straightforward, '60s-inspired 12-bar punker. Three Special Words more obviously displays the EPs' "make it up as you go" ethos (Can't think of what to sing next? Nonsense syllables are an acceptable substitute for words!), and is arguably the stronger track.

An additional appeal is that nobody here is playing with a full deck. Plastic EP's inability to sing a note, combined with the rudimentary lyrics and musicianship, lend proceedings an air of the mentally deranged, only adding to the EPs' standing in the Wallaby Beat canon. Things would only get stranger over time - we pick up the trail next week.

At Home

Three Special Words

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Danny Decay & The Molars - If The Dentistry Is Right 7" Republic 13267, 1982

Summer has finally arrived down here. So here's a good summer record - breezy, unaffected, fun. Like this year's summer though it's a bit all over the place - poppy, punky, even a bit Oz rocky in the full-frontal basslines. You will certainly wish that the guitarist put a bit more grunt into his sound, but all four tunes are good, the energy level is high, the voice distinctive and the lyrics odd. The punkiest track is Johnny Was A Rock Star which also features a touching tribute to Ian Krahe:

Ian was the X guitarist,
He never got to be 21
I read about it in the papers
Them bastards dragged him down
Never saw him, never heard him
I never really cared
But two bottles and a couple of belts of scag
Didn't seem to me very fair

We'll mark this one as a Sydney record, though we're not 100% certain. It was recorded at Paradise Studios which at the time, December 1981, was in Kings Cross. Then there's the mention of surfing at Cronulla in Go For Broke. Then there's the "thanks to the boys at Stead Bros", a metal and rubber stamp factory at Rockdale. Hmmm, the stamped labels are quite fancy, maybe the guys worked there. Ok, ok, it's a Sydney record. Someone once told us 200 pressed, though that's still hearsay at this stage.

The band appears to have resurfaced in the last decade. A CDEP called Scales And Scrapes was released.

Go For Broke


Johnny Was A Rockstar

Tripping In Taree