Share PENELOPE - Penny Ikinger (Citadel Records)
The plotline's easy enough to follow: Our Australian Lady of Feedback takes a sharp turn off the Road to Damscus and finds pop. That, however, would be a lazy over-simplification that tells only part of the story.
Statement of Fact One: There are enough facets to this hefty diamond to bedazzle members of the hardline yeah-hup brigade or those of poppier disposition who chose to graze in the sonic left-field.
Statement of Fact Two: The multinational crew Penny has on-board is as eclectic in the naming as the playing: Deniz Tek wields guitar on five of the 12 tracks, French musicians Dim Dero and Vinz Guilluy anchor two. Dave Graney and Clare Moore add substantial contributions (and hosted some of the recording sessions.) Penny's Melbourne band of guitarist Andrew McCubbin, drummer Shamus Goble and bassist Craig Harnath are as close to an album backbone as you'll find. Ron Peno (Died Pretty), Mark Ferrie (Sacred Cowboys), Charlie Owen (Beasts of Bourbon, New Christs et al) and Ron Sanchez (Donovan's Brain) weigh in as well. Beast and ex-Surrealist Brian Henry Hooper co-wrote one of the best and slinkiest tracks ("Into The Slipstream".)
It's a varied roster but it hangs together so well.
Summation So Far: It took an eternity to come out but "Penelope" was every bit worth the wait. Its principal doesn't like being rushed but there's not a single note or word that sounds forced. "Penelope" is well considered, yet combustive and compellingly organic.
And about that sound…it's drenched in fuzz and distortion but production team Penny and Craig Harnath let the pop shimmer and glint through the cracks, applied a shellac veneer in places and a mild wash in others. Dip a toe in this water and you'll be sucked into a deep, black sonic pool.
Statement For Those Still Unsure: Penny too suffers occasional bouts of self doubt but you'd never divine that from these songs. Each is a gem in its own right and delivered with confident self-assurance.
There's a swirling and askew duet with Ron Peno ("Memories Remain") that seems to repel or compell. I'm with the latter. "Fragile" is anything but. Once the frost-coasted outer shell of string synths and organ falls off, you'll need to strap yourself in. "When We Get To The Land" is double-tracked vocals wedded to slide guitar and a kicking bottom end.
The Big Pop Moment is "Impossible Love", a song so simple yet propulsive that it should be bursting out of radio speakers around the globe. The swaggering "Montana To Mexico" is a companion piece to the brittle 'n' clean "Pieces Of Glass" and there's no mistaking those licks and leads from the Iceman. By the time the ominous psych of closer "City Of Sin" fades from hearing, you'll be wondering why you didn't seize upon this album the minute it came out (or before if you were luck) and you'll consign it to permanent hi-rotation.
Summation: "Penelope" is pop as today's kids don't know it, a brilliant and bold record that pushes out into psych-rock. It's as great an album as you'll hear in these troubled and testing times. Don't die wondering. - The Barman
As fortune would have it, Penny Ikinger’s last album "Electra" arrived in my mailbox at a time when I was trying to make a living writing about music from my local area, and so made scarcely a dent in my consciousness. My loss.
Here, the guitar-slingin’ chanteuse and longtime Louis Tillett collaborator sings with an air of cool detachment while wringing a feelthy, psychedelic swamp blooze sound, swimming in distortion, from her axes – a striking contrast. She tops off the resultant sonic stew with sharp songcraft, steeped in garage rock crash and thump, pumping with menace and the promise of mayhem. Even when she adds pop touches like the gorgeous vocal harmonies that open “Fragile,” they quickly give way to a more aggressive attack. When she slows things down, as she does on “Sycamore Tree,” it’s for something dark and sinister, the familiar wobbly Fender surf vibrato subverted to an ominous creaking.
Lyrically, Ikinger’s take on relationships is pretty jaded. “Dirty Pool” is probably the most accessible track for non-psych guitar aficionados, while “Impossible Love” motivates to a Bo Diddley beat. She duets with ex-Died Pretty frontman on Ron Peno to good effect on “Memories Remain.” “Pieces of Glass” chugs along with a relaxed bounce that’s damn near catchy, before plunging back to the emotional depths with “City of Sin.” This music’s as powerful as the New Christs or the Scientists at their most knife-edge raw, made even more impactful by the way Ikinger vocally undersells the lyrics, in the manner of a weary survivor. - Ken Shimamoto
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FRAGILE EP - Penny Ikinger (self released)
Here's a diverse and delicious three-track taste of Penny Ikinger's forthcoming album that ticks the boxes on a a form that says: 'Buy this, you fool'.
Penny trades in music that's smeared with guitar feedback but not derived solely out of a blues rock base. There are elements of folk as well as her sultry and increasingly confident vocals. The effect is to take the music outside the usual pub rock/straight pop idiom (although both are part of it.)
The title track of this sampler pushes in an new direction with a string intro that sets things up for a soap commercial or an ethereal pop ballad. Of course first impressions are often deceptive; scuzzy guitar and a massive Clare Moore beat kick in before Deniz Tek rips out an unearthly solo that would vapourize Superman at 20 paces.
"Memories Remain" couples Penny and Ron Peno in a dark, swirling vocal folk dance. Slivers of guitar parry and thrust against an edgy duet that builds and subsides. Why Ronnie doesn't indulge himself and do a solo album of his own is a mystery but this song's the next best thing until he does. An inspired partnership.
"All Tomorrow's Parties" might be an obvious cover after a review that described you as "Nico de-frosted" but it's also well rendered with Charlie Owen's sitar perfectly placed as a foil to Penny's petulant guitar. The French engine room of Dimi Dero and bassist Vinz Guilluy nail the original's dignified plod to a tee. Lou Reed might be too up himself to pass judgement but John Cale would probably approve. Buy a copy here. - The Barman
ELECTRA - Penny Ikinger (Bang! Records)
Big, fat vinyl re-issue of one of the most sonically-adventurous Aussie albums of the last five years, just in time for Ms Penelope's debut Eurotour. What's more, the boys at Bang! have managed to slip two (count 'em) extra tracks onto a 12-inch platter with an only slightly discernible degradation in audio quality. That radio stations all round Oz didn't instantly add this to hi-rotation was a crime, but there's still time for enlightened programmers in France, Spain and Switzerland.
Of the bonuses, "The Boy Who Loved Her" is an ensemble instrumental hitherto unreleased, while "Sponge Diver" is otherwise only available on Penny's CD-EP. The whole album's required listening, but this format gives vinyl junkies an excuse to shell out.
And shell out, you should, if you like music that draws on a wide variety of reference points, knowingly or unwittingly, and turns out sounding like something entirely fresh and new. A little bit Velvets, a bit folk rock and a lot Sonics-influenced acid punk, all delivered in hushed, close-mic'ed vocal tones. Feedback-strumming guitars and shimmering soundscapes cascade all over the place and make you ask why Penny never struck out on her own before. Ask her yourself when you order from her website.
The thought occurred that it was amazing to see Rolling Stone's David Fricke rave about this in the U.S. edition yet the Australian version couldn't be bothered giving it a review. But then again it was always more a comment on the cloth-eared nature of the writers who pen shit for the local, fashion-obssessed rag. Anyway, don't dwell on it, buy the record or CD. If this doesn't convince you, the original review is below. - The Barman
ELECTRA - Penny Ikinger (Career Records)
Blimey, Career Records haven't wasted much time getting the runs on the board! While the world's "major" record companies content themselves with endless repackagings of greatest hits collections from a handful of dinosaur stadium bands and housetrained radio favourites, Messrs Sanchez & Tek have proved that you don't have to look too far from home to find something exciting and original.
First it was Dr Tek's Golden Breed power trio effort with the Godoy brothers; then it was the staggeringly good "Great Leap Forward" from Donovan's Brain; now it's the long awaited solo album from Penny Ikinger, with a new album from Angie Pepper to follow soon after.
As I sat down to scribble these words, all I had to start with was a plain CDR; no album cover, track list or cover notes, so I didn't have a clue who played on what. That's how keen the chaps at Career were to get copies out "into the wild" and I was definitely just as keen to finally hear the album, so I wasn't complaining. I've now learned that the video for "Kathleen" will be included on the official CD (out now), but I don't have it on this promo. In the meantime, I've got 52:37 of alternatively raw, sore and sensuous sounds, aided and abetted by the likes of Shamus Goble, Rosie Westbrook and Charlie Owen. At least they were the ones Penny mentioned in the interview she gave back in November 2001 (yes, it has been a while, hasn't it?!), but who knows who else might have contributed since then.
Strangely "Sponge Diver", the track she did with Louis Tillett on the preceding "Songs From The Deep" E.P., is noticeable by its absence, but the other two tracks from that E.P. ("Kathleen" and "Maid Of Orleans") have both made it on to this album, though in the process the short and straightforward double bass intro to "Maid Of Orleans" has turned into a significantly more elaborate piece for what sounds like a whole string quartet. Even without a tracklist, there were some songs I knew the names of through having heard her announce them on the few occasions when I've been lucky enough to catch her performing live. Fortunately Career have since come to the party with a complete tracklist, so that I don't get myself into too much trouble with the others, but even if they hadn't, opening track "Poison Berries" still wouldn't have caused me a moment's pause.
My only real criticism of the "Songs From The Deep" E.P. was that it was a bit too restrained and folksy compared to Ms Ikinger's stage performances. "Poison Berries" was one of the examples I particularly had in mind, so there'll be no such complaint this time. After a brief intro involving a bit of backwards studio trickery (all that's missing is a voice announcing "I buried Kylie") we go straight into some throaty electric guitar, soon shadowed by an ominously husky whisper. Vocally you can hear all the usual suspects that normally get a mention when Penny's performances are talked about, like Nico and Nancy Sinatra, but it's the guitar work that grabs the attention here. In that interview mentioned earlier, Penny made clear her lack of interest in the standard 12-bar blues that was popular with the guitarists she got her first free lessons from, but she seems to have absorbed at least some of the form subconsciously. No, there's no typical 12-bar plod here, but just as Frank Zappa used common forms as the starting points for some very uncommon music, so Penny takes a foundation that sounds like it might once have been something that even John Lee Hooker could have been comfortable with and proceeds to erect on top of it a sonic edifice constructed from such feedback and distortion that you end up suspecting that her guitar might have been restrung with barbed wire instead of the usual "nickel wound" steel strings.
Next song "Kathleen", from "Songs From The Deep", provides both a welcome respite and a bridge to the shimmering title track, which follows it. "Electra" reminds me of the Go-Betweens in one of their spikier moments, but it's also got almost a country feel to it in parts. That's not all it's got though. It's also got at least four guitar tracks by my count and I assume that most if not all of them are Penny's own work. It'll be interesting to see how she handles this one in live performances. Following on from "Electra", "Shipwrecked" comes as something of a slap in the face. This is another one that has been known to take on quite a fiery life of its own in live performance, perhaps even closer in spirit to a 12-bar blues than "Poison Berries" and with far angrier guitar work. Is that "boys drown" she's singing in the chorus? Very disturbing.
"Maid Of Orleans" and "Andalucian Man" seem to share a common theme of betrayal and loss, though one is resigned while the other is distinctly dour and yearning. Vocally "Andalucian Man" has also got touches, in roughly equal proportions, of Astrid Munday (another Blush alumni, along with Rosie Westbrook and Penny herself) and PJ Harvey (in her one of her more mellow, less ferociously angry moods). Frankly if the Andalucian man chose to leave town with her heart before finding out the joy she brings, then he's nothing but a weasel and a wimp and she's better off without him, if you want my opinion (and you've got it now, even if you didn't) "Stuck Inside" is the moodiest number on the album (that's moody as in atmospheric, not moody as in petulant and cranky). It starts with her hot breath on the side of your face then gradually but inevitably turns into an inferno that scorches the parts that other temptresses can't reach. Having survived the "seven nights I cried", clearly that Andalucian man is ancient history to her now, but is she open yet to new opportunities? Close your eyes and listen to this one through a good set of headphones and you might feel her tongue in your ear.
"Waiting for the One I Sent Away" sounds on the surface like a fairly standard torch song - poignant, penitent, but maybe a little scornful too. However as the song circles around before closing in on its climax, Penny unleashes some twisted and slashing guitar that lifts it all above the heads of those around her. Vocally "Spinster" has a touch of the Chrissie Amphletts about it. Not the sexy, seductive Chrissie Amphlett of "I Touch Myself" but the pitiless, taunting Chrissie Amphlett of "Casual Encounter" and countless rancorous exchanges with drunken punters during Divinyls pub gigs in the early eighties, when any sexist heckling was met head on with a tongue lashing that froze the mouth shut while the private parts withered and shrivelled into insignificance. Penny Ikinger's spinster isn't consumed with quite the same furious antipathy, but beneath the bitterness and anguish there's a definite sense of taking charge of a situation that, though not of her own making, is still one from which possibilities might be squeezed.
The closing track is "Gladly Slip Away" and what a siren song it is. "The blue looks so inviting", she enthuses seductively, but might not this be the blue sea of "Shipwrecked"? "Take my hand, we'll jump in... glide away...". Danger, danger Will Robinson! Before sailing past the island of the sirens, Ulysses had himself lashed to the mast while his crew had their ears stuffed with wax, so they couldn't hear the sirens' song (or his own pleas) while he couldn't throw himself overboard in a hopeless attempt to reach the shore without drowning and unless you're planning to grow gills before the song finishes, for your own safety you'd be advised to do one or the other as well. Oops, too late. "You must come with me", she commands and this reviewer dives headlong into the fatal riptide in slavish obedience... It's times like this that I wish I hadn't given up smoking.
After reaching the end of this album, I really feel like I should be sinking back onto the pillow and lighting one up in ecstatic satisfaction. - John McPharlin
SONGS FROM THE DEEP - Penny Ikinger
WAHN GENUG - Kombination Rudolf Z. Raschberger
LIVE IN KNUST, 22 APRIL 2000 - Rudolf Z. Raschberger
What we have here are contrasting solo releases from two guitarists stepping out on their own after making significant contributions to bands that are held in pretty high regard by the regulars at this Bar.
For someone noted for her garage/psych guitar work, Penny Ikinger's three track EP has a surprisingly folky feel to it, although there's really some sleight of hand going on. Each song initially sounds like it fits snugly into an established musical genre but, as you listen further, the boundaries break down and the music spills across into other categories.
The first track, "Kathleen", is a brooding, morose song about obsession and betrayal ("I know I was never a good friend to you/and I lied plenty of times to your face it's true"); part ballad, part lament, part Falling Joys/Hummingbirds/Clouds-y wavy electric guitar pop. It begins with just acoustic guitar, a touch of percussion and some winsome vocals, which contain wispy echoes of Claudine Longet (sure she was Mrs Clean when she was married to Andy Williams, but don't forget that she ended up shooting Spider the ski instructor - still waters run deep, especially if you've been fitted with cement wading boots).
After the first verse, the bass and drums come in on the chorus, bringing with them what I thought was some wah wah, but turns out to be an E-bow through a fuzz pedal. This grows increasingly tormented as we descend into dissolution and regret ("there's a hole in my heart and my thoughts are unclean"). There's also just a hint in the music of lost souls roaming the moors; dead Cathy reaching back in the darkness from "the other side" that is, not some live Kate Bush clone running around on a sunny afternoon.
You could make a case for this song falling into the category of "dream pop" (as defined by the All Music Guide), but that wouldn't do it justice. What is really needed is a new category, like "requiem pop" or "funeral pop". If it was played faster, I might plump for "glumcore", but this is played out slow and inevitable, like sunrise on your execution day, not rushed and risky. Put it on endless repeat and you could find yourself winding up seriously disturbed.
Second song on the EP is "Sponge Diver", which is performed with just acoustic guitar and piano (plus a little gentle orchestration in the latter stages). Long time musical colleague Louis Tillett contributes both the piano and the deep as the ocean backing vocals on the chorus, for a song that articulates the unenviable predicament of the sponge divers, whose dangerous occupation is their only means of supporting themselves, so they die if they don't dive and sometimes they die if they do. Arguing against Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Einstein said that he couldn't believe that God played dice with the universe. Oh, but He does Albert, He does. Not only that, the dice are heavily loaded against the average mug punter. Sometimes you don't even realise it when you're placing a bet; other times you do, but you don't have the luxury of an alternative choice...
Final song, "Maid Of Orleans", revolves around that archetypal feminist icon Joan of Arc. The story is sung tenderly to the backing of a folky dirge-like drone, resulting in a traditional sounding narrative piece reminiscent of a very young but prescient Marianne Faithful fronting an uncharacteristically sullen Steeleye Span, or maybe Fairport Convention after hearing Sandy Denny falling down the stairs.
Only Ms Ikinger turns any expectations you might have upside down. Instead of giving it the new standard reading of the visionary leader of men ultimately made sacrificial victim to their fear, deceit and betrayal, she presents it as a love ballad told from the point of view of the hometown boy who loved her but was left behind in the wake of her meteoric rise and then devastated by her subsequent fall (Penny has explained in interviews, "I just made him up. I figured if you were a young girl leading an army of 20,000 troops, at least one of them's gonna be in love with you").
If it does nothing else (though I suspect it will), this EP will dispel any lingering prejudiced preconceptions you might have regarding girls with guitars being limited in repertoire to songs about the bastardry of old boyfriends, the comfort of owning a cat and the reassuring warmth of a favourite cardigan. Despite "Kathleen" being sparked by a personal reminiscence, it is not autobiographical and the other two songs are examples of straightforward story telling. Penny's interest lies in the weaving together of noise and narrative in the air in front of your eyes, not an angst ridden parading of personal neuroses and inhibitions.
Like the best songwriters, her songs are flights of the spirit and the imagination; word pictures; stories in sound. As she herself has said, some of this stuff she simply makes up; just as Richard Thompson, for example, didn't need to serve a couple of years in gaol for his "deviant ways" and then go on a drug fueled rampage upon release in order to write the song "Feel So Good", a fact which seems to be lost on the army of his fans endlessly trolling through "Shoot Out The Lights" for clues to the breakup of his first marriage.
The only criticism that I could make of this EP is that, despite the diversity of these three songs, she still only presents us with the gentler aspect of her repertoire, eschewing any of the real belters (both vocally and instrumentally) that she peppers her live set with. Looks like we'll have to wait for the full album for those.
Rudolf Raschberger first came to the attention of the Bar staff while playing in Magnolia, whose self-titled EP was reviewed by Ken Shimamoto some time ago. Ken only gave it three Rolling Rocks, but personally I would happily have made room for the extra couple of mouthfuls necessary to push it up to 3 1/2. It subsequently turned out that Rudi had a rock'n'roll resume extending back as far as 1979, including a stint in 3000 Yen and the oddly named, but seriously rocking, Sheep On A Tree.
Now he's fronting his own trio with former Magnolia bass player Thomas Zink and drummer Jan-Eric Heesch. "Wahn Genug" is a five track EP (or rather four tracks plus short electronique finale) which is the first fruit (official fruit anyway) of that collaboration. Despite the fact that two thirds of the band are Magnolia alumni (and Magnolia singer Marc Messutat provides some backing vocals as well), this record is considerably moodier; a slow burning Persian rug warehouse compared to the chemical factory inferno of Magnolia in full flight.
Strangely the EP takes its title from a song that isn't included. However, right from the opening track, "Das Licht", it sounds like the Beasts of Bourbon might be a pretty strong influence; not for Tex Perkins' vocals, but for the contrast of nimble guitar work over weighty, portentous rhythm section, like the slap of steel chains on wet leather. I'm thinking particularly of songs like "This Day Is Over", "Can't Say No" or "Execution Day" (Rudi has been known to cover this last one in live performances).
On the subsequent tracks Axel Metzger provides some deft, almost Doors-y at times keyboards, but this first track is unadorned and intense. I know I'm missing out by not being able to understand the German lyrics, which all sound very earnest, but musically the blending of acoustic and electric guitars and judicious use of guitar effects (or maybe some of those strangulated background sounds are being done via keyboard after all?) out in front of the rhythm section works to create a brooding, morose soundscape above which the guitar glides, like a weary but determined albatross flying above tempest tossed seas, anxiously searching for the safety of land or just the peace of a break in the dark storm clouds overhead.
"Ja, Ich Will" clips along elegantly in an insistent, haunting sort of way, with the organ adding some sixties garage texture to the band's sound, except in this case the garage seems to have been built on the edge of a forbidding moor, though I doubt that Cathy or Heathcliff are going to drive up any time soon.
I don't have a German/English dictionary handy, but I suspect "Paradies" might be about Paradise. Just from the tone of the vocals, it sounds like it's an attractive place to seek out, but maybe not such an easy one to enter...
Favourite track after multiple playings is "Ich Bezahl'". No idea what it's about mind you, but after a slow, sombre windup it takes off with the guitar stretching out on a bed made and laid under it by the organ, like an embezzling businessman lounging back thankfully in his reclining first class seat, as he jets off to somewhere that doesn't have an extradition treaty. Weary but happy, exultant almost.
I might have done Rudi a bit of a disservice with the initial reference to the Beasts of Bourbon. I definitely do hear echoes and overtones, but overall the duco on these tracks has been polished far smoother. If the typical Beasts sound is a beat up taxi, cynically cruising for rich but gullible tourists at the airports and train stations, this Kombination is a courtesy car shuttling you across town to an important meeting for which you're in danger of being late; hang on tight, you'll surely get there in time.
"Live im Knust" is a direct to portable DAT recording of a part solo, part band show from the earlier days of the trio. It starts with three songs performed solo, "Wahn Genug" (which wasn't on the subsequent studio EP that bore its name), "Der Dieb" and "Der Plan". Then he is joined by the band for three songs which actually did make it onto studio EP ("Paradies", "Ich Bezahl'" and "Das Licht") and a cover of "Execution Day", which is how I know that he has covered it at least once. All of the three solo tracks which didn't make it onto the studio EP are certainly good enough to have been included, so I can only surmise that the reason they're not there was financial, rather than musical; the cost of studio time being what it is.
Comparing the early, live versions with the later studio recordings, there are the obvious differences you'd expect, but the live versions do have a tense, almost claustrophobic, intimacy which the studio versions exchange for a cleaner record of more polished performances.
As you might presume with two guitarists who have progressed to writing and singing their own songs, the instrumental aspect remains very important. Far from being just words with backing music, on these songs the instruments and vocals coalesce into a single harmonious whole with the voice just one instrument amongst others, an equal strand in the final weave.
On top of that, there's a casual crossing of borders and a general disregard for the restrictions of marketing categories that recalls the diversity of the eighties, when "Oz rock" was an all embracing genre that easily encompassed such diverse elements as the Scientists and the Stems, the avant-garage of the Wet Taxis and the C&W (country and weirdness) of the Beasts of Bourbon; when Ed Kuepper could go from the punk of the Saints to the jazz soaked dissonance of the Laughing Clowns and then to the manic diversity of his solo work and take most, if not all, of his audience along with him; when there was no requirement for "good" music to squeeze itself into a particular tight pigeon hole in order to find a home and an audience.
Judging the variety of some of the sounds coming out of Melbourne, that may still be the case down there, even though it's largely just a fond memory up here. Meanwhile what we used to regard as uniquely "Oz rock" has been subsumed into what others now call "European sensibility". Perhaps that explains why some local bands who only fared moderately well here, nevertheless garnered strong followings in varying European countries, with Germany, Greece and to a lesser extent France being the most obvious examples. Have we missed the boat, or accidentally disembarked at some desolate Pacific refueling base for US warships, grey and featureless as the music on commercial radio, while the ship of superior, original music sailed on to more scenic ports of call without us?
After listening to these EPs, it sounds like Melbourne and Hamburg might be a lot closer to each other than either is to Sydney. While neither artist has any obvious record company support at present, after roughly twenty years apiece toiling in the field they are both still making music that is innovative and personally satisfying (personally to them and to this reviewer) in preference to compromising themselves and their art to the constraints and exigencies of soulless commerce.
You'll probably never hear the smiling breakfast crew introducing any of these songs on your favourite morning radio show, but we'd all be the poorer if someone wasn't still trying to sing them. Even by the time this review appears, you probably still won't be able to find any of these EPs in a store near you. Penny Ikinger's EP comes in two flavours (standard issue jewel case and limited edition with cover by figurative artist Chris Dyson, which apparently will be available in some Melbourne art galleries as well as record shops); check out her web site for a list of locations. As a first tentative step toward acquiring the works of Kombination Rudolf Z. Raschberger, you might try dropping an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm not sure whether or not the live CD is intended to be generally available, but you could always try asking him. - John McPharlin
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