Around this time last year I penned a few lines about a remarkable CD from Diratz, a collaboration predominantly between the French singer of that name (Carla), and American musicians Dave Newhouse and Bret Hart. Unwittingly the 4 tracks I identified as particularly outstanding were the ones from the pen of Newhouse, who will be familiar to many here as the leading light in The Muffins, that American branch of the Canterbury and RIO scenes who recorded numerous albums in the Seventies and Noughties.
Two releases here highlight his current works, the first band taking its name from a Muffins album which I reviewed (briefly) back in Facelift issue 11. ‘Rest of the World’ is an almost instantly recognisable blend of styles familiar to readers of the this blog. ‘Catawumpus’ a piece originally intended to be recorded by the Muffins, sets the scene with a Windo-esque multiple-horn fanfare, descending into ever more cacophony before a doomy keyboard note increasingly cuts through Van der Graaf style. ‘ Mini Hugh’, a clear reference to a certain Canterbury giant blends his amiable, shifting bass sounds at the start of the piece with some classic fuzz sounds at the end (courtesy of Guy Segers) but also features with some ‘Facelift-esque’ woodwind sounds as Newhouse’s sax alternately expresses or noodles, Elton Dean style, alongisde some Ratledge-esque keyboard atmospherics.
‘Zed He Said’ was apparently written for Robert Wyatt, and this track is very much in the vein of ‘Maryan’ from ‘Schleep’ with a wonderful melody sung by Michele King, simply stark keyboard backing and some sympathetic guitar accompaniment . ‘Alchemist In the Parlour’ is a made to measure collaboration between bass clarinet and the voice of Carla Diratz, interspersed with some very Art Bears-ish faux folk lines as the obtuse Diratz voice narrates, somewhere between Peter Blegvad’s surrealism and Finlay Quaye’s deadpan delivery.
Yet the centrepoint of the album for me is ’30 Degrees of Freedom’ where an engulfing piano intro, underpinned by fuzz bass and cymbals, descends into a piano theme almost from ‘Rivmic Melodies’. The sounds that cut across that are so elephantine you feel they must be played by a trombone (in fact they are from the guitar of Mark Stanley) one of many highlights for this track alone.
It’s no mistake that I’ve written more for this album than any other single release here – it’s a very fine album whose depths extend right through to the final piece ‘That Awful Sky’ whose disquieting ambience, composed but not performed on by Newhouse closes things out. This is a very fine album, grab whilst you can as I believe it’s almost sold out!
Moon Men represents another facet of Dave Newhouse’s prolific output, this time on a more equal footing with 3 other musicians (Hart, Wim Jungwirth, Jerry King) and often delving into much darker places in a seismic romp through 13 short tracks. From the Materialesque funk of ‘Phat Caravan’, all heavy bass and starkly focussed drumming, ‘Moon Men Luv’ I believe may be a reference to Hugh Hopper’s classic ‘1984’ piece ‘’, certainly it has the same stripped down dissonant sax groove that will have you, as with so many other tracks on this album, tapping a foot or wiggling a hip in appreciation, another case in point being the sleazy ‘Kai Ching Tai Ching’. Other tracks are deliberately not so light on their feet. The accordion-based ‘Anti Matter Handshake’ appears to deliberately point towards Skeleton Crew (with whom Newhouse guested in the Eighties) with its obtuse percussive effects, whilst elsewhere Newhouse in particular is keen to release his inner Zeuhl: ‘Dark They Were’ ‘Billzilla 94’ , and in particular ‘Pulsar’ with its moody, slowly building keyboards.
Whilst things loosen up even further towards the end of the album with some much freer riffing, apparently more in tune with the band’s first release (which I haven’t heard) the overall feeling of ‘Uncomfortable Space Probe’ is one of tremendous fun, powered throughout by a particularly monstrous bass sound, plucking effects and unexpected instrumentation into the mix at will.