Shimmy Disc 1988. SHIMMY011
This is one of my favourite albums of the 80s. It’s an insane sprawling psychedelic masterpiece, without doubt the highlight of Bongwater’s career, and main man Kramer too for that matter.
The most obvious starting points for getting to grips with this massive work are the large number of cover versions. There’s a bonkers version of Led Zep’s Dazed And Confused sung in Chinese, a slowed down, dark performance of Gary Glitter’s Rock n Roll Pt II, a surprisingly straight cover of The Soft Machine’s We Did It Again, a couple of Beatles tunes.. the list goes on.
There’s lots of effective tape manipulation courtesy of Ann Magnuson which adds to the insanity – there’s something really effective about well chosen snippets of spoken word sandwiching the musical parts. Magnuson also contributes some very surreal stories – Iranian Country Club is a favourite, and then there’s the cheeky David Bowie Wants Ideas, although he’s morphed into David Byrne by the end of the track.
Like an earlier Kramer related post, the length of this album makes it a bit overwhelming, but it is worth the effort.
Shimmy Disc 1993. Shimmy 055
I first became aware of Kramer as one half of the hilarious/excellent Bongwater when I bought their debut Double Bummer. One day I may get round to ripping that. However his name crops up all over the place. He played bass for the Butthole Surfers for a while, and turned out a surprising amount of solo material. What I didn’t notice at the time was his production work on some of the most interesting US music from that period, including Galaxie 500’s albums and some of Low’s material. Perhaps though he’s best known for the label he ran, Shimmy Disc which seemed to be a home for all the insanely brilliant American bands back then who no-one else would touch.
Owning a label is key to understanding this release. It’s so self indulgent, so vast and so, well, nuts, that it could only ever have been self released. 36 tracks across 3 LPs or 2 CDs for a debut solo album eclipses even George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, including as it did an LP of jam sessions. This is all proper songs! What’s most surprising is that he pulls it off. It veers in style from psychedelic rock referencing The Beatles to Led Zeppelinesque instrumentals. He’s also been listening to the 13th Floor Elevators, Syd Barrett, The Grateful Dead and well, most of what’s been worth listening to since the 60s. This is a guy who understands music intimately and really knows how to bring all these influences together into an insane rock opera. It is of course pretty unmanageable – a good one for a rainy day, but there’s surprisingly little filler here.
Caroline Records 1989. CAR CD 5
This album is from the days when tribute albums were quite a new idea, and it has a most impressive list of contributing artists; impressive enough to make it worth having for most people interested enough in music to end up reading this blog.
As is always the case, the album is less than the sum of its parts. Sometimes it just provokes an overwhelming desire to dig out the Neil Young originals, which of course is no bad thing. Loop for example are so faithful to the original that there doesn’t seem much point, but Bongwater take Mr Soul somewhere entirely new. Sonic Youth, The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and Nick Cave all contribute in ways that are entirely predictable, but they were on such great form in 1989 that predictability works here.
If you’re not familiar with Neil Young and like the songs here, you could do worse than get a compilation like Decade which has the original versions of some of these tracks.