Monday, November 16, 2009

Stay Gold

I've just spent a very pleasurable 25 minutes watching this piece of documentary reportage from The Tube (I'm guessing c. 1983/84?). Called A Night in NYC, it's a brilliant evocation of the downtown New York scene that was documented in print form in New York Noise, with a little bit of pre-Madchester Manchester thrown in for good measure. Featuring some of the leading and lesser-known lights of the era (Arthur Baker, Nona Hendryx, Roger Trilling, The Peech Boys, the late Ruth Polsky, the equally late Klaus Nomi), it's particularly notable for capturing some of the eclecticism of New York, prior to its Disneyfication under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. Look out too for DJ Mark Kamins disingenuously claiming that Manchester's Quando Quango were the then-current darlings of clubland, while neglecting to mention his interest in the group as their producer.

The clattering, juddering juggernaut of DMX and bass at the start of the film comes courtesy of The Golden Palominos (see last post but one), who operated between c. 1982 and c. 1997 and produced eight brilliant LPs as well as a number of EPs. Less a band than a freeform collective of ever-changing membership, the Palominos were the brainchild of ex-Feelies drummer Anton Fier, who was the sole constant in the evolving line up (though Irk The Purists regular Bill Laswell was also in attendance at pretty much all their recording sessions). As the membership of the group changed, so their style evolved. Their self-titled debut (from which Cookout, the track featured on The Tube special, above, was taken) saw them exploring the same post-punk, neo-hip hop spaces as contemporaries like Liquid Liquid and Konk. Featuring an all-star line up of the then-toast of downtown (Arto Lindsay, John Zorn, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, David Moss, Fred Frith, Nicky Skopelitis), the album was midwifed by the aforementioned Roger Trilling and released by Celluloid, which was just beginning its three year run as the hippest record label on the planet.

Their second album, Visions of Excess, again released by Celluloid, was a stylistic about-face, embracing more conventional guitar textures and country themes, but topped off once again by Anton Fier's thunderous drum programming. The line-up for the album changed in large part too, Fier looking slightly further than 53rd Street for his personnel on this occasion. It was an equally eclectic and diverse range of players, however. Ex-Pistol John Lydon, ECM's Carla Bley, Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson, P-Funk's Bernie Worrell and Mike Hampton, Michael Stipe of REM, Chris Stamey of The dBs, Cream's Jack Bruce, Jody Harris of James Chance's Contortions... By rights, this should have produced an unholy mess. In fact, as so often with Bill Laswell-related projects, the sum was even greater than its parts. Silver Bullet, below, is absolutely magnificent, Jack Bruce and Syd Straw's voices blending perfectly.

Their third, Blast of Silence, brought back many of the players from Visions of Excess, but added T-Bone Burnett, Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Matthew Sweet, whose celestial Something Becomes Nothing is available below. A quick cameo appearance by Dennis Hopper rounds out another terrific LP. The title of the fourth and final outing by the group for Celluloid, A Dead Horse, suggested that Fier was tiring of ever-changing line-ups, and the same group of musicians played on all the album's 7 tracks, rather than a different ensemble convening for each separate track, as on the previous three albums. This stable core consisted of Laswell, Skopelitis, Fier and Worrell, augmented by keyboard wiz Jeff Bova and percussionist Aiyb Diyeng, with the vocals shouldered by Amanda Kramer (of Information Society) and the mysterious Robert Kidney. Again, the music had affinities with conventional rock and country, but rendered strange by the inclusion of eastern percussion and keyboard textures. Darklands, available below, is a case in point, a beautiful song that occupies a state somewhere between Nashville and Mumbai.

The fifth long player, and their first after splitting with Celluloid, Drunk With Passion, appeared on the Virgin Venture label, again featured an ever-changing line up, and again many of the usual suspects (Amanda Kramer, Michael Stipe) were present and correct, though Husker Du's Bob Mould also contributed a vocal turn. The Haunting, below, gives you a good idea of the album's tone; it's essentially more of the same, but none the worse for that.

Having refined his country/rock chops over three or four albums, and moved further and further away from the electronic and rhythmic style that characterised the Palominos' first LP, it was surely time for the usually restless Fier to change tack once again. He did this over the last three Palominos albums. This Is How It Feels (1993) and Pure (1994) embraced ambient textures and then-fashionable trip-hop, eschewing the sprawling line-ups of the Palominos' earlier albums, settling instead on a core of Fier, Laswell, Skopelitis, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and Lori Carson. After a break of three years, Fier released the groups final LP (thus far) and revealed one last ace up his sleeve, changing direction again and exploring darker, spoken-word territory with stark, minimal electronic backing. The LP, Dead Inside, can safely be filed under un-easy listening, its harrowing tales of abduction, victimhood and oppression spoken by performance poet Nicole Blackman to backing by, again, Laswell, Fier, Skopelitis and Knox Chandler. You're advised not to listen to Victim, below from the LP, with the lights off.

And, apart from a download-only EP of remixes from Dead Inside, the Golden Palominos have maintained radio silence ever since. A shame really, as, despite their disparate line-ups and wildly diverse output, all their music is linked by the common thread of excellence. Few groups can sustain interest over the course of three albums, let alone eight, but all of the albums mentioned above are worth your attention. They're actually quite hard to find in certain cases, but much of the material contained therein has been compiled on myriad cheapie compilations. Most of these have utterly abysmal artwork and non-existent track notes (which makes it difficult to discern exactly why the individual tracks, sourced from wildly different albums, sound so dissimilar-- the worst offender in this regard is Surrealistic Surfer, which contains precisely no information about the group whatsoever), so caveat emptor.

Anton Fier himself reportedly sold his drums and opted for early retirement in the early 21st century. However, he did appear in one of John Zorn's 50th birthday concerts, recording a set with original Palominos Zorn and Arto Lindsay, as well as performing as recently as 2008 with Elliott Sharp and Tony Scherr. More bizarrely, he's been providing music for Nickleodeon's kids show The Backyardigans, alongside Lounge Lizard Evan Lurie and Marc Ribot. All of which means that, for those of us who've kept the faith over the years, hope springs eternal that there may still be another run out of the paddock for the Golden Palominos.

Download Cookout by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (deleted Feb 2010- too late, kids!)

Download Silver Bullet by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (ditto)

Download Something Becomes Nothing by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (ditto)

Download Darklands by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (ditto)

Download The Haunting by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (ditto)

Download Victim by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (Beth (ditto))

Buy Golden Palominos material

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