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Sick, Freaky Music for Sick Freaks


Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost Box Set

Tenor saxophonist Ayler may not have been as famous as John Coltrane or as smart as Anthony Braxton, but on the other hand, his New-Orleans-church-music-meets-free-noise is infinitely more listenable on a regular basis as those two intimidating giants of the avant-garde. This 10-disc collection (it was my birthday present to myself last year; don’t make fun of me. Oh yeah? Well, screw you!) is as fun, as lusty, and as genuinely terrifying as that stuff people like to call “Free Jazz” gets. The super-bionic-ultra-score in this box set: A bootleg recording of Ayler’s quartet playing at Coltrane’s funeral, complete with Albert himself screaming and yodeling at the end. I really, really want someone to do something like that at my funeral.

Funkadelic: Maggot Brain

People first digging into Funkadelic are often surprised at how a) slow and b) not funky (at least in the up-and-at-em James Brown style) George Clinton’s band is. This 1971 album, their third, was the first I ever bought, and it’s still my favorite. With the acoustic songs, the call-and-response chorus vocals and the piles of miscellaneous percussion instruments, it’ll quickly blow away anything you thought you knew about what “funk” is. Then there’s the title track: a single 10-minute guitar solo as loud and sad as an Albert Ayler song, but with an equally memorable vocal introduction from Clinton.

Mike Watt and guests: Ball Hog or Tugboat?

This album definitely has its high and low points, but Watt and J. Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr.) doing a faithful cover of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain”—note for screaming note—is worth whatever you have to pay. And for the Sonic Youth fans, be warned: Watt and friends’ take on “Tuff Gnarl” is actually better than the original. You’re lying if you say it’s not.

Dinosaur Jr: Dinosaur

This is their first album, released in 1985 (yes, they were around in 1985), and only recently re-released. Critics have not been kind to it, usually saying the recording is bad, the ideas half-formed and the melodies not as memorable as DJr’s next album, You’re Living All Over Me. But here’s a shocker: Critics are dumbshits. The multi-part, sorta-country, sorta-hardcore song “Cats in a Bowl” is as good as anything they did afterward, in my humble preaching, and the rest of the album is almost as good.

Meat Puppets: Live at the Mardi Gras Club, June 30, 1981

I found this spectacular bootleg online (e-mail me if you want to know where), featuring my favorite band in my favorite time of their career—when they were a young, scary super-hardcore band who also liked to butcher old country songs as a side-hobby The lyrics are unintelligible, the songs are faster and looser than anything being done by anyone calling themselves “punks,” and the covers… lessee… “Bad Moon Rising,” Neil Young’s tear-in-yer-beer weeper “Losing End (When You’re On)" and Funkadelic’s “Standing on the Verge of Getting it On” all get treatments that the original artists would lose sleep after hearing. This show, for me, is the find of a lifetime.