Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Litmus - You Are Here

Litmus
You Are Here


AOTM #55, December 2004ce
Released 2004 on Spacemusic
  1. Infinity Drive (6.23)
  2. Dreams of Space (8.29)
  3. You Are Here (3.06)
  4. Sonic Light (4.19)
  5. Rays of Sonic Light (1.00)
  6. (Theta Wave) Inductor (10.12)
  7. There (2.52)
  8. I Can’t Be Sane (2.47)
  9. Chime (1.45)
  10. Stone Oscillator (21.04)
Note: Okay, before the main event, here’s a quick (and very pertinent) quezzie for all the music loving list makers in the audience. I’ll bet you musta wondered many times what LPs best summed up certain musical genres. I mean, say you wuz invited to appear on some new reality TV show entitled I’M A CELEBRITY-PHOBIC MUSICHEAD, LEAVE ME HERE, in which you wuz thrust on to Robinson Crusoe Island, just off the coast of Chile, in pre-iPOD days, with just 10 LPs and a turntable (whaddya mean, it COULD happen!). What would – in those highly likely circumstances – be the best representatives of the music you most love? Which records that really smoke your pole in the quiet riot of your own living room would also best protect you against the mind-numbing tedium of life upon uno km of sandy nothingness? In such a situation, are ye gonna pick a number of Greatest Hits ‘best of’ packages so you can weed out the chaff? Or doesn’t that somehow go against the grain of being a Real Head? Conversely, as, say, a purist Krautrocker, do you pick the first Neu! Album, or are you too mindful that Klinger’s Japanese banjo thing at the end of side two will too soon mush your brainium? As a former teenage metalhead, do you seize upon SABOTAGE as thee summum bonum super-distillation catch-all of the first four Sabbath LPs, or is it ultimately gonna be so familiar to you that you opt instead for SLEEP’S HOLY MOUNTAIN, cause Cineros & Co. have at least pumped several gallons of botox into those otherwise dry-as-husks trudge-sludge riffs? As a punk in the best ’77 stylee, do you hum and ha over packing NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, RAMONES LEAVE HOME and the first Clash LP, plus a few niftily stashed Saints, Damned, Models and Cortinas 45s that the much younger TV producers won’t even recognise as musical artefacts; or do you simply bring along the Sods’ two-years-too-johnny-come-lately yet still excellent MINUTES TO GO, which cynically distils the careers of all of the above in 9 incredibly catchy genre-hopping soundbites, complete with period pink’n’yellow sleeve and song titles (‘R.A.F.’, ‘Television Sect’, Suicide’, ‘Transport’, ‘Police’ etc, etc.). The reason for this extended note is because this December’s Album of the Month is the best Space Rock album I’ve heard in years NOT because it brings much in the way of newness to the party, but because this London band confidently accepts the ancient metaphor handed to it by its beloved ancestors, and brings it all into the 21st century with such aplomb that, were I to be castaway in the above situation, I’d probbly have to pick this record above ANY of Hawkwind’s oeuvre, because it sums up all the best of that band (Lemming’s overdriven thunderbass, D.D.’n’DikMik’s cosmic interference, Nik’n’Brock’s Notting Hill Yippie ‘We don’t want any’ chanted duo-snarl) without subjecting us to the inevitable ‘Side Two What’s the Pint’ worthiness syndrome of hapless buskers-in-space that so prevented me from loving them in the ‘70s, when me and my cough mixture-guzzling mates ran for the cover of Amon Duul 2 instead. So, after a long-winded introduction, I do present to y’all Litmus of London and their stargazing Stacia-shagging turbo-driven sound of the Kosmos!


Mung Worshippers at the gates of Heft

This Litmus record is my current Album of the Month because hearing its last track made me wanna break up hefty nuggets of cheap amber cooking speed into home-made single Rizla twists, gulp them down into my belly and retire spliffwards to gaze at the stars out of our dormer windows, to a soundtrack of pre-punk gatefold vinyl. And if that’s a pretty damned reactionary reason to big something up, then so be it. Moreover, the sonic attack of this entire record is surreally shot to pieces, and so are the band that performs it. This lot are one of the biggest up’n’coming festival bands whose muse is not in someway informed by the horrendous GAZEUSE-period Gong, which is in every way a real result for rock’n’roll. Indeed, Litmus is rhythmically primitive like all Hawkwind aspirants such as ST-37, early Temple of Bon Matin, Monoshock, Von LMO, F/1, you know that early ‘90s American Breed I’m describing. Furthermore, it’s the Teutonic Iron Age muscular drive of Litmus that makes them so ‘not psychedelic’ in pretty much the exact same way that Hawkwind was not truly psychedelic. And I don’t mean this as any put-down. For example, despite its FX and subject matter, Montrose’s ‘Space Station number 5’ was similarly just too Detroit and too rock’n’roll to be considered mind-manifesting. Also, both Hawkwind then and Litmus now investigate a musical style AND a subject matter that is too graspable, too everyday, just too NOT transcendental to be psychedelic1. It’s more of a bikers-on-cheap-speed music, an urban umlauted folk music-in-space, a ‘weekends in Glasto, then return to Squatney oblivion’ sound, a true high rise concrete jungle boogie of which the Psychedelic warlords themselves: “all we do is get screwed up on other people’s floors’. And y’know how disastrous ingesting mushies on other people’s floors can be – in that situation, anything manmade is, through the FX of the drug, revealed as a vile veneer, and that’s without having to focus on it through years of lint, ciggie spliff roaches and groundintothecarpet crisps. Anyway, I digress… perhaps.


I was not in any particularly Space Rock headspace until my first encounter with the Litmus sound several days ago. But their music infiltrated my cranium almost as successfully as did that of Monoshock a coupla years back. Indeed, it had me searching out Dalek I Love You’s ‘Missing 15 Minutes’, the whole of The Badgeman’s marvellous RITUAL LANDSCAPE, Seventh wave’s Walter Carlos circa A CLOCKWORK ORANGE-styled epic ‘Star Palace of the Sombre Warrior’ (altogether now: ‘Pla-stick palace Alice’) and staring boggle-eyed at obscure British, German and Danish post-bikerness with a post-coital flared nostrilled snarl across my phizzog. Like LSD-March’s successful appropriation of what are specifically Les Rallizes Denudes’ stylings, so Litmus have in some ways merely conflated together Hawkwind’s main sequence of albums (these being numbers 2-6, IN SEARCH OF SPACE, SPACE RITUAL, DOREMI FASOL LATIDO, IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN GRILL, WARRIOR ON THE EDGE OF TIME) and sodded off the drab and overly portentous Michael Moorcock bits, plus the worst excesses of Dave Brock’s star-busker platitudes. However, this Litmus record also kicks the butts of every one of the bands on the decade old Ceres records Hawkwind tribute ASSASINS OF SILENCE – HUNDRED WATT VIOLENCE, except (of course) for temple of Bon Matin’s unsurpassable ‘Born to Go’. And, unlike Monoshock’s demented American method of refracting Hawkwind through a broken Chrome/No Wave lens, Litmus have more Englishly opted to excavate through the topsoil of the Hawklords’ hippykack, in much the same manner and with much the same results as A CAN OF BEES-period Soft Boys’ proto-bludgeon riffola simplified and amphetaminised The Barrett Floyd’s power drive into a kind of “Pink Fairies with A-Levels”. Furthermore, as The Badgeman was England’s only equivalent early-90s band that had the rhythm section capable of alluding to Hawkwind’s motorik muscle, then Litmus shine through as the ONLY stars shining in this particular galaxy. Hey, we’re all in the gutter, but at least Litmus are looking at the kerb.

In taking this route, Litmus have unearthed the treasures from the Hawklords’ ancestral vaults, and – Gerald Gardiner-style – rebuilt a whole new pagan temple from the ground up. It’s a form of antiquarianism that never seems quite so acceptable when the purveyors are from your own country. But since this sextet woulda deffo already been lauded by every WIRE reader in the country were they hailing from Japan, Finland or the USA, so it is we (as ever the pragmatic 21st century electric heathens) who must first stand up and applaud this Litmus stance as being enjoyable, convincing, thorough and ultimately USEFUL! Moreover, as by far the best track on this disc – the relentless ‘Stone Oscillator’ – is more of a merciless Aynsley Dunbar’s Retaliation-Edgar Broughton Band-‘Into The Void’ period Sabbath, than anything specifically Hawkwindian, there’s plenty of evidence on this, their first LP, to suggest that given time to develop, Litmus are going to send us all somewhere rather fine.

Now, I realise I’m fairly relentless in my assertion that we must always accept the artist’s metaphor, but in this the eighth year of the post-KRAUTROCKSAMPLE age, I’ve never before been hit by such thoroughness of a space rock trip as this bunch has thrust at me… and it ain’t even their own metaphor! Like candy asteroids catching in the hair of Zeus, their songs sonically bombard the listener and leave the mind ablaze. Just as The Jam’s trip was inspired by forward-thinking loons such as Eddie Phillips’ The Creation and Pete Townshend’s The Who, but was executed by three uber-traditionalists, so the six members of Litmus are – from the evidence of their photographs at least – sartorially quite the opposite of Messrs. Brock, Turner, Dettmar, DikMik, Kilminster, Ollis and Calvert. For a start, Litmus are mainly shorthairs and most-of-all they look clean (remember Dave Balfe and I sold Hawkwind good LSD in the spring of 1980, and boarding their bus was in itself a health risk that proved to me in two minutes that the urban nomad lifestyle was a dead end). But the real upside is that Litmus (very unlike Hawkwind) possess a fine lead guitarist, who is willing to saw away at the Brock chords2 when he has to, but who will unleash the beast in a very big ass way come soloing time. They also feature a ‘real’ keyboard player, who adds masses of Mellotron and de-tuned Hammond organ in a Jon Lord stylee, rather than just following the chords overly-loudly as Simon House (himself primarily a violinist) was wont to do.


However, on the evidence of this record, Litmus have two specific weaknesses. One is their desire to be Hawkwind so badly that they forfeit the power of their main songs by squeezing in sub-Del Dettmar mini-instrumentals throughout. I mean, ‘One Change’ and ‘Goat Willow’ were surely only included (on DOREMI and IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN GRILL respectively) as a sop to their forever-soon-to-be-Canada-bound synth man, rather than because these pieces harboured any real musical incite. Furthermore, concerning Litmus’ lyrical stance, I really wanna believe what they are singing, but ultimately I just cannot. Sung by Brock and Nik, ‘all our dreams of space are lost forever’ would take on a melancholy worthy of their contemporary (ie: Von Daniken-informed) postwar worldview. But, if truth be told, we ain’t had true dreams of space in over thirty years – up there NASAwards or, more prosaically, down here on the land. But as half of the bands with something to say nowadays still say it very badly, I reckon we should allow Litmus their entire Hawkwind shebang-bang and welcome them into the forecourt of the rock temple. Hell druids, in this one LP, they’ve already managed to define their trip more tightly that such potential supernauts as Temple of Bon Matin, Milwaukee’s F/1, Cleveland’s Speaker/Cranker, or Texas’ potentially amazing (but currently too eclectic) Primordial Undermind have so far managed.

Once U Get Started – YOU ARE HERE

The disc commences in a whirl of ARP 2600 briefly alluding to the ‘Autobahn’ bassline, until the whole Litmus machine suddenly kick-starts like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding massive Triumph 750s down the A6 of your mind. Drummer Marek, Martin Bass, Moog Andy and Guitar Simon are riding four abreast and dragging behind them a chariot filled with rudimentary electronics and their lab-coated shamen Matt and Anton. This is the six-and-a-half minutes of ‘Infinity Drive’, which, besides churning out Lemmy-to-die-for basslines, real Mellotron strings and the inevitable Brock chords, also delivers a massive harmony laden chorus and a screwily atonal ‘Highway Star’ de-harmonised Hammond organ solo. Moreover, weez got Steve Jones-styled ernie-ernie-ernieing Les Paul solos and an ever-evolving elliptical song structure that the Hawklords themselves woulda never been capable of learning, let alone playing this hard. I hate to admit this (no I fucking don’t), but the rock rolls a whole lot harder when played by physically fit pot monsters such as these six Litmussians appear to be.

Following even more derangedly is the eight and a half relentless minutes of ‘Dreams of Space’, which features a scimitar-like Detroit guitar riff in its main body, plus the same disorientating Glam Descend chorus chords as temple of Bon Matin’s massive ‘F.U.N.’ (from their own spacey THUNDER FEEDBACK CONFUSION). Again, the melancholy dual vocals echo Hawkwind’s ‘We Took the Wrong Step Years Ago’, and the riff inevitably slides into ‘You Really Got Me’, just like the 13th Floor Elevators, Van Halen, Soft Machine, Faust and (natch!) Hawkwind before them. And don’t worry about my earlier misgivings concerning the lyrics, because it all makes for a cohesive and believable trip when heard in context.

Onwards into the title track, ‘You are here’ is a comparatively brief acoustic guitar and Mellotron-powered folk (again with umlaut over the ‘o’) song close to The Badgeman’s huge Joy Division-driven pastoral English cosmickness. ‘Sonic Light’ is equally enthralling, being a delightful mix of early Dalek I Love You’s infantile Moogy utopianism, Zounds’ amazing ‘Can’t Cheat Karma’ 45 and anything by Akron’s late 70s underground legends The Human Switchboard. ‘We are rays of sonic light, we are rays of sonic light’ chant the wide-eyed dual vocals over simple to the point of nerdy punk chords. Excellent. This is followed by the one minute long ‘Rays of Sonic Light’, again sounding more like Dalek I Love You in their COMPASS KUMPASS incarnation (and rather Freur-like for that matter) than Del Dettmar’s ‘One Change’, though I’d guess it’s most likely to have been inspired by this last mentioned, and/or (perhaps) Kingdon Come’s ‘Corpora Supercelestia’ coda from their massive ‘Superficial Roadblocks’ piece. Whence it came, no matter, for it’s a delightful doorway and a preparation for the incoming blastothon that is the ten minutes plus ‘(Theta Wave) Inductor’. Even better than their devotion to space rock is that these gentlemen inhabit a Brill Building sub-basement reminiscent of those great song craftsmen such as… well, myself springs to mind here! Over a punishing 13/8 deathmetaloid riff comes the repeated chorus:
“All in your mind, all; in your mind, all in your mind, all in your mind, all in your mind, all in your mind, all in your mind, all in your mind, all; in your mind, all in your mind, all in your mind, all in your mind, all in your mind…”

It’s only at this point that the mini between time tracks start to outlive their cosmic usefulness, as the brief Simon House-styled ‘There’ instrumental kicks in. But the equally brief but hugely powerful ‘I Can’t Be Sane’ more than makes up for it, being an approximation of The Pink Fairies doing Hawkwind’s You Shouldn’t Do That’ over The Sensational Alex Harvey band’s ‘Saint Anthony’ riff (a probbly more coppable riff than any other in the heavy rock pantheon). ‘Chime’ is yet another Del Dettmar-styled instrumental which evokes the image of a sonic Viking church hanging in deep space. Personally, I’d like these shorter tracks more if they were collected together and extended to around 15-minutes each, perhaps in the style of Edgar Froese’s massive double-LP AGES.

And finally we conclude with the best and riffiest Iron Ageist Litmus groove of them all, the twenty one minute wonder that is ‘Stone Oscillator’ (or ‘Stoner Oscillator’ as I refer to it). At first coming on like Nazareth’s ultra-long fuzz-everything version of Bob Dylan’s uber-deathtrip ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’, ‘Stone Oscillator’ is where The Soft Boys woulda headed if Robyn Hitchcock hadda filled his head with the good cooking speed, like I once entreated him to do. ‘Stone Oscillator’ is Amon Duul 2 in their brief Renate-less period, between DANCE OF THE LEMMINGS and CARNIVAL IN BABYLON, on German TV’s Beatclub. This track is an atonal and angular bass heavy Teutonic-by-rote imaginary Wim Wenders movie about an under-powered asymmetrical BV-141 reconnaissance plane piloted by a temporarily utopian Rudolf Hess running out of fuel over Machu Picchu. This track is as good as Litmus ever need to get and, verily, treppaneth my cranium and then some. Its overtly harmony laden ugly ugliness breaks them inside the walls of psychedelia and doom simultaneously, and only after 17-minutes of white supremacist-beating does the barbarian rhythm break down into the kind of tail-out that could do it to it for at least another twenty-five minutes (at this rate, their own double live album is gonna be a huge enough lunar meditation to stay out all night). And so the Litmus space zeppelin continues its journey on into the night as we declare:

First LP, gentlemen? Reckon yooz gotta reason to be mightily proud of yourselves. Thanks to all of you, Messrs. Martin, Marek, Anton, Andy, Simon and Matt – for stinking up my bedroom with the good stuff, and possibly when it’s even more necessary in these corporate times than it was thirty years ago. Litmus is new and English and (mercifully) doing its greasy trucking so far outside the glare of the so-called Rock Press that no clueless journo is about to pick it up as flavour-of-the-month for fear of looking like a daft cunt to his faddy colleagues. Also, however Hawkwindian are the origins of its muse, this Litmus trip is pure 21st century in execution. And if Hawkwind was the original ’66 fastback Dodge Charger, then this updated Litmus model is one full-on Chrysler 383 V8 of a winged Superbird version of the Plymouth Road Runner, here aimed straight at the Gulf war veteran’s market, and featuring none of the mild’n’boogie Chas’n’Quo-ness that so beset their ur-fathers’ ‘Brainbox Pollution’, ‘Kings of Speed’ and ‘Urban Guerilla’. If you dig this Litmus thunder (for this working band is not so much the product of poetic Odin but of worthy Thor himself), then buy yourself a Thor axe pendant and hide it under your clothes, and go to their shows, and keep their name away from the eyes of the foul-breathed ad-men. Let’s see this band become the biggest baddest best kept secret ever. Eye know that U-Know!




FOOTNOTES:
  1. I think that in order for music to be truly psychedelic, not just psychedelically styled, it must first be disorientating to the listener, something that can be achieved in any musical genre merely by juxtaposing the instruments bizarrely within the mix. The best and most disconcerting psychedelia I’ve heard these past coupla years was Of Arrowe Hill’s first LP THE SPRINGHEEL PENNY DREADFUL, which managed to heft several vats of raw Faust in the direction of post-Oasis Beatlemania, rendered in such a manner that the listener often had no idea which song started or finished, and gaps of utter silence often of several minutes’ duration left you floating in a deep space of instant déjà vu, forever thinking “What the?”
  2. Back in the mists of 1972, when everyone at our school referred to them disparagingly as ‘Brock chords’, Hawkwind’s guitar parts droned menacingly and convincingly enough, but (in those Olympian muso days) the fact that we could all (even most of the non-musicians) do such Hawkwind songs as ‘Master of the Universe’ and ‘You Shouldn’t Do That’ pretty much like the record meant that Hawkwind’s trip was - for we snotty 14 year olds at least - too easily undermined. How wrong we were! With mucho hindsight, Brock’s songs possessed (possibly through his origins as a busker) a completeness that would have allowed him to perform the whole of the main Hawkwind canon on his jacksey, should he ever have wished.