DORIS NORTON: PARAPSYCHO

(BLACK WIDOW RECORDS/DISCO PIU; Italian import; reissue 2013, original release 1981)

Doris Norton cover

Unless you are a truly smug, know-it-all kinda music reviewer, you don’t proceed totally independently in this game. You wanna find other opinions of weird or obscure offerings; you wanna find out WHERE something belongs in the scheme of things, you wanna discern anything you can about the “artistic intent” of an eccentric artist. Doris Norton is not your garden variety composer, though Discogs puts her in the “Electronica” category. At times like this, I like to go to Amazon to see if any fans chimed in, And God bless “Mr. Benac” for writing the single review that appears of this PARAPSYCHO project, a reissue of a recording that first appeared in Italy back in 1981. Benac writes: “Norton is a strange, strange person and there’s a possibility she’s trying to say something here. However, I cannot grasp it.” That kind of sentiment is catnip for me, so I dove right in. After an unrepresentative, caterwauling sort of opening rocker (the title track), what follows is more or less early prog-influenced instrumental music that leans at times in the direction of the kind of film music you hear in low budget ’70s horror films. This is certainly true of “Telepathia” and to a lesser extent, “Psychic Research.”

Doris Norton (photo courtesy: musikresearch.com)

Doris Norton (photo courtesy: musikresearch.com)

It helps to know that Norton was sponsored by Apple Computer in the ’80s, and evidently created a music program for IBM USA. Almost all the music here was made on early synthesizers or keyboard programs, and it has that analogue sound that can sometimes sound quaint or simplistic. However, this is mostly listenable stuff. “Ludus” is a perfectly fine cinematic instrumental just a stone’s throw from MORE-era Pink Floyd, at least until a bit of wah-wah at the end. “Tears” is a straight-up European film music cue (presumably for a non-existent film) that features beguiling wordless female vocals. “Obsession” contains everything both annoying and promising about keyboard-heavy prog in one zippy three-minute burst. And “Precognition,” the last and possibly best track (and a bonus to this 32rd Anniversary Edition), enters Kraftwerk territory, with its forward-thrusting sequencers, occasional robotic vocals, and underlying sense of “something going wrong with machines,” with the ascending alarm-like sound at beginning and end somehow punctuating this. Honestly, this stuff is NOT that strange; Mr. Benac needs to come check out MY record collection sometime. Most of Norton’s stuff sits comfortably at the intersection of European film music and somewhat generic sequencer-based prog. Sure, the curiously titled “Hypnotized By Norton,” at just under 10 minutes, does a mash-up of new age, indie rock and prog that is all-over-the-map kooky, and the previously mentioned title track clubs you over the head in a manner not typical of the rest of what’s here. But I gotta admit, I kinda like most of these tracks. There is purposefulness and, more importantly, a playful, open attitude that comes through in Norton’s performances. I detect, also, a little bit of humor in her attitude towards the vast possibilities of the new technology emerging in music at the time. Come to think of it, most of the titles reflect something having to do with how music and immersion in technology may not always be a good match (“Tears,” “Obsession,” “Parapsycho” “Hypnotized… “

Doris Norton (uncredited photo)

Doris Norton (uncredited photo)

Maybe I’m reaching here, but I’m betting that Norton is not so much “strange” as perhaps a woman who just travels to a different mental and emotional space when she makes music, and determinedly shuts out her husband, kids and everything else that gets in the way until she’s damn well satisfied, sonically. I don’t know her story overall, but she came up with some good stuff, only crossing the line into cloying self-indulgence a few times. Hell, if I were a film director, I’d give her a shot. “Controlled unpredictability” is a good trait in my book.


FATHER MURPHY: PAIN IS ON OUR SIDE NOW

(AAGOO RECORDS EP; 2014)

coverPainisonoursideNow_FatherMurphy

I’ve always said that if something doesn’t sound just like something else I’ve heard, I will listen to it extra attentively. I suppose that’s one of my guiding MOs as a music writer. This peculiar Italian outfit, Father Murphy, sounds like almost NOTHING else. So I gave them an especially close listen and was rather stunned by what I heard. It’s some kind of nightmarish cinematic new-ambient drone/squonk punctuated by purposeful chants and dialogue, pounding percussion and, surprisingly, space to reflect. A couple of sentences in the press material provided for this four-song EP provided a compelling way in; the music is described as “the sound of the Catholic sense of guilt, a downward spiral aiming at the bottom of the hollow and then digging even deeper.” So, a party record, then? Not hardly, unless you want to clear the party quickly and be left only with the open-minded, contemplative types you prefer hanging out with anyway. This is the kind of music you experience when you’re in a certain weird mood, and want to literally be pulled out of your reality and maybe plunged into the deepest well of contradictory, destructive human behavior, to hear what the soundtrack to such might be.

Father Murphy (photo credit: ELENA TONIOLO)

Father Murphy (photo credit: ELENA TONIOLO)

On “Let the Wrong Rise With You,” it means you get a dark, ominous, machine-like drone which is soon hijacked by abrasive industrial percussion that could be the soundtrack to a terrorist group of unknown origin suddenly marching into a village (I couldn’t help thinking of Boko Haram, actually, who have been so much in the news lately). This shifts into a mid section of distorted horns or the like with a sinister drone underneath, and then a third section of plainly heard single keyboard tones that are nearly melodic in nature, with a bit of percussion here and there. Whatever the Reverend Freddie Murphy and Chiara Lee (the two singer/multi-instrumentalists responsible for all this) are up to here, it certainly has few reference points. Apparently, Julian Cope and Deerhoof are fans; the latter’s Greg Saunier produced the EP. And, Simon Reynolds has helpfully dubbed this “Italian occult psychedelia.” Certainly you’ll think of occulty things when listening to “They Will All Fail You,” which begins with the sound of glass shattering and soon treats you to the sound of various disturbed voices yelling, one of which sounds like “Trial, trial, trial,” over and over, which may indeed be what some listeners go through when subjected to this. A pounding sound, a male voice yelling a word that sounds like “Horror” repeatedly, and a dark ambient drone will make you think you’re in a very bad place, indeed – the kind of thing that happens when you watch a foreign horror movie. Children may have been harmed in the making of this music, or perhaps this is music ABOUT children being harmed… there’s that Catholic guilt thing again, I suppose. “Despite All the Grief” managed to surprise me even in the context of what preceded it, due to what is a relatively quiet low-frequency rumble/drone that is only interrupted by maybe 28 seconds of industrial-strength clanging, reminiscent of the music in the first Bartertown scenes in MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME. There is something utterly willful about the way these tracks are arranged and performed; a potent aesthetic is at work. And, listening to samples of previous work by this group, such as 2012’s ANYWAY, YOUR CHILDREN WILL DENY IT, online only reveals that something quite original and determinedly provocative is happening here.

You’ve heard the phrase “uneasy listening?” This is THAT. There is nothing cheery or comforting about Father Murphy, but lordy, if you have a taste for dark, immersive, non personality-based cine-music, this may be something to lose yourself in. Best recommended if you’re a LAPSED Catholic or “other” in the religious column, though. If you’re still going to mass and taking communion, well, you’re liable to head straight for confession after hearing this stuff.


DESERT WIZARDS: RAVENS

(BLACK WIDOW RECORDS; Italian import; 2013)

DESERT-WIZARDS-Ravens-CD

I am not enamored with this band’s name. I find it rather odd, kinda like Justin Bieber. Fortunately, unlike the Bieb, the music of Desert Wizards is highly listenable and, ultimately, RAVENS is one of the more enjoyable genre records of the recent past. The Italian quartet (Marco Mambelli, Anna Fabbri, Marco Goti and Silvio Dalla Valle) excel at a style of early 1970s hard rock that is best exemplified by Alice Cooper (when they were a band). Primary singer Mambelli’s vocals are heavily accented, something that may put some off but, may I remind you of a guy named Klaus Meine? For a short period of time in the early ’90s, his band, Scorpions, was one of – if not THE – biggest hard rock bands on the planet. Don’t miss out on some really good music for something that is a minor barrier to overcome.

Freedom Ride” kicks things off in fine style, with riff-heavy psychedelic guitars and a beefy organ sound. The bridge builds from Mambelli’s bass before Fabbri’s churchy organ and Valle’s charging drums lead into the two wildly careening guitarists (Goti and Mambelli) who are seemingly soloing against each other. As the drums slow to a martial beat, the organ and guitars seem to swirl as Mambelli’s spoken word, Jim Morrison trance-like vocal trails to the end of the nearly eight minute track. The next tune, “Babylonia,” starts with a nice guitar part, with single notes. The pace picks up at about the 2:10 mark before exploding into a great solo a half minute later. The male/female vocals seem to break into dark angel/Holy angel parts. It’s kinda hard to tell for sure, though, as some of the lyrics don’t really translate well to English: “Between rivers, there’s a Holy river/Beyond grey and purple sky/Babylonia is so much dizzy/For your heart and for your mind.” Thankfully, the lyrical oddities don’t really detract from the song. There is what sounds like humming voices throughout “Back To Blue,” which seem to be very much at odds with the music. This creates a jarringly discordant dichotomy that is, no doubt, purposeful, as it is not entirely displeasing. The track is a slow burn until almost three minutes in, when everything comes into synch with a muscular guitar solo. A little over two minutes later, the whole thing tries to fall in upon itself. As for the vocals, they a quite dreamy and buried deep in the mix; in this instance, the tune probably would have worked better as an instrumental. “Blackbird” sounds like a continuation of the previous number, though maybe more fully realized. The piano at the beginning reminds me of Alice Cooper’s “Ballad of Dwight Fry” and this is certainly a better attempt at a ballad than “Back To Blue,” though the lyrics are very dark. In fact, the “Ballad of Dwight Fry” comparison continues in the lyrics: “I hear someone screaming/Confusion in my mind.” Fabbri takes the lead on organ during the instrumental before another cool guitar solo. This is probably the most progressive sounding tune on the album.

Desert Wizards (photo credit: PINO PINTABONA)

Desert Wizards (photo credit: PINO PINTABONA)

Dick Allen Blues” is the track where everything gels into a perfect miasma of rock ‘n’ roll bliss. The psychedelia-laced hard rock’s heavy organ is very much in the vein of early (Mach I, in fact) Deep Purple. There’s a strong Native American vibe on “Electric Sunshine,” both melodically and lyrically (minimal though they are): “Feed your head/Look at the sunrise/Feed your eyes.” The song also has a hint of Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley with the slightly hypnotic organ, chord progressions and vocals. “Burn Into the Sky” features more forceful vocals, though they’re still muddied in the mix, which has me wondering if this is a compensation for the accent. The chunky riffing turns into a Sabbath-like bass heavy dirge somewhere around 2:50 – a very cool, atmospheric sound. There are also some very impressive wah-wah drenched solos before the song kicks back in at about 5:10. With a Gothic/Damned feel, “Vampire’s Queen” displays what may be the best lyrics on the record during the chorus: “Oh wake up, Lady Vampira/I need your poison as you need my blood/Take me down to the river of madness/Drag me to Hell, give me your bite.” The break comes along at about the three-and-a-half minute mark and, with a grand touch of menace, is head and shoulders above anything else on the album. Quite possibly the most fully realized song here. The Gothic theme continues with “Bad Dreams.” The piece starts with a fever-dream guitar signature, a lot like Alice’s “Halo of Flies.” A buzzing guitar, soloing throughout, adds to the swirling dementia. A cacophony of noise houses Vincent Price’s recitation of Poe’s “The Raven” before a more pastoral bridge that breaks down into a driving, frenzied terminus.

The CD version of the album features a bonus track, a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Childhood’s End” from the ONE OF MY TURNS tribute record. It’s a fairly faithful version that, while enjoyable, seems rather out of place here. Desert Wizards is a good band that could elevate their game – as Scorpions did – by hiring someone to help with English lyrics. You can pick up the CD version of RAVENS (as well as the band’s self-titled debut) from Amazon or from the Italian record company at www.blackwidow.it, but.. it ain’t gonna be cheap!