DETROIT – Deniz Tek (Citadel)
Neil told us that rust never sleeps. On his fourth solo band studio album, Deniz Tek acknowledges as much, examining the oxidation that’s all around him in clinical detail. Relationships and places go under the microscope and are dissected - like a scalpel through a heart - with keen precision.
Although Tek’s not one to allow corrosion set in. "Detroit" was a long time in gestation - not as long as the heavily layered “Equinox” but earthier than “Take It To The Vertical”. It’s also less in-the-face than “Outside” and not as experimental as “Le Bonne Route”. Dark is an over-used descriptor in rock and roll pigeonholing but in this instance, it fits.
So the first thing to note is: Don’t expect the expected. In fact the opening swell of “Pinebox” is what Birdman-attuned Tek fans might least anticipate: it’s a reflection on the fate of onetime hometown Detroit dominated by Hammond B3 organ. The guitar takes a back seat. Tek traditionalists might be more comfortable with "Twilight Of The Modern Age" where familiar six-string lines parry and thrust with fiery harmonica. Don’t expect “New Race”. The teen anthems are missing in action.
Intensity is present on “Detroit” but it’s a slow burn. The characteristic licks are there, but for the most part Tek sits in a foxhole and takes his moment to land a shot instead of jumping out of the trenches and launching a full-on assault. There's a depth to the songs and they don’t seek to overpower through sheer raw power. Tek plays all the guitars, handles all the vocals. It’s a record by a student of the Richards-Taylor school of rhythm and lead, as well as broader applications of the art of twin guitar weaving. While I’d still like to hear him butt headstocks with a foil like Masuak who’d push him to the brink with the devil taking the hindmost, there’s still much to appreciate here.
You don’t need the lyric sheet to know "Ghost Town” looks at the decay of a place (the Motor City) where tanks on the street once trumped patrol cars, but whose urban by-ways are now often bereft of life. Names of other centres of American urban decay are thrown out along the way but they can’t hold a candle to The Big D. It’s a song of steely resolve and defiance that probably also reflects personal ups and downs:
We come from a ghost town
We'rte alrewady dead
Nothing can kills us
“Growing Dim” might seem to be about a physical place where shadows are lengthening, but Tek quickly makes it clear that it’s “the light inside of me” that’s fading. His lyric “I’m all used up” is telling. “Can Of Soup” could be just as allegorical. Coming home to a cold trailer home in a mid-western winter is rooted in fact for a guy whose idea of down-time sometimes sounds like reading patient records between emergency ward shifts.
In case you’re worried, closing song, the Stoogey “I’m All Right”, lifts the optimism stakes with blues harp and fiery guitaqr, but you might find “Detroit” a bleak ride for a much of the going. That’s called evocative and you’re going to have to deal with it.
“Let Him Pay For That” is a spiky blues that sees off a past relationship with a turn of phrase that would do the Stones circa “Stupid Girl” proud. On the other hand, apart from its Tek-tonic lyrical references to various natural elements, “Perfect World” is a rollicking rock ride that could be straight out of The Who’s playbook, with commanding fills and explosive build setting it off.
The band’s excellent and is drawn from Australian and the US. There’s Montana based Bob Brown (from “Take It To The Vetical” days) who shares bass with artisan Andy Newman, while former Brother Wayne sideman (and genuine Spinal Tap rocker) Ric Parnell tends to the kit with warm feels. A lot of thought obviously went into the production – on “Fate Not Amenable To Change” the flinty dryness (and Tek's tone) recalls James Williamson’s sound on "Kill City" – with ex-Birdman sound guy Andy “Mort” Bradley playing a leading role. There’s even a mono version of the album for the vinyl-heads. - The Barman
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CITADEL YEARS - Deniz Tek (Citadel)
Even if Radio Birdman were the sum of its parts, the solo output of its members surely deserves more than the cursory consideration many have been prepared to give. Case in point is this album. Deniz Tek has built a formidable body-of-work outside the framework of the band he's best known for, the two-disc "Citadel Years" collection compiles many of the highlights.
It's by no means the whole picture; the clean and lean "Take It To The Vertical" and its calculatingly lethal follow-up, "Outside", were out-of-bounds because of licensing complications. It is cleverly tracked to both deliver maximum impact and smooth out the inevitable sonic variations that come from drawing songs from half a dozen albums and two EPs. Most of "Citadel Years" is out-of-print or hard to find so pulling the pieces together isn't such a bad idea.
As well as the "Equinox", "Le Bonne Route" and "Got Live" albums, selections come from the fringes of the Tek solo oeuvre with the East Coast garage outfit Deep Reduction, Detroit alumni super group Dodge Main and raucous power trio Golden Breed. Tek's contribution to hardcore punk band The Last Of The Bad Men is overlooked and would have been out of place. Also MIA is his two albums with fellow Ann Arbor old boy Scott Morgan.
You probably know what you're going to get. If not, this is a good place to start to catch up on the Tek story, outside the confines of Birdman. There's some wickedly powerful guitar-playing, while Deniz's workmanlike guitar player's voice (or "the damaged instrument" as he's called it) holds the fort adequately. Tek's natural turf is over-driven guitar rock and ther's only as handful of contemporaries who can hold a candle to the playing on this collection.
The lesser-heard gems are the supercharged "2 Pam Chloride", recorded in front of an audience with the mercurial Godoy brothers on board, a stupendous "Steel Beach" and a re-worked live "Hand of Law." The surprise is a "Zeno Beach" pre-production demo of a song called "Photo Album", by Radio Birdman. Tek takes the vocal on an "Exile"-styled ballad that's worthy but ultimately probably wasn't obtuse or dark enough to have made the final cut.
At the core of "Citadel Years" is the two-album combo of Tek-Dickson-Rieth-Steedman and the group's recordings recall what a powerful force of nature they were. Some of Deniz's ventures have been criticised for being hastily committed to tape but this version of the Deniz Tek Group never put a foot wrong.
"Doom-laden" is a term that's been applied ad nausueum to Deniz Tek compositions and there's a lot of those descending chord progressions in evidence, but to characterise all his music that way sells it short. There's a deft lyricism in "Heavy Air" with its descriptions of childhood's senses while "Imaginary Man" tries to get inside human consciousness.
The other inevitability - Stooges comparisons - gets left at the door at the get-go. "Christmas Eve" leads off and owes more to Hendrix than being real o-mind, while Johnny Winter's "Meantown Blues" shows the Tek influences go much wider. The early Deep Reduction tracks ("Black Tulip", "Last Flight of the Owl") reside in jangly '60s territory, but of course there's plenty of the harder stuff if you want it. - The Barman
GLASS EYE WORLD - Deniz Tek & The Golden Breed (Career Records)
A change of direction is this, the teaming of Radio Birdman's Deniz Tek and his West Coast (geographically, not musical genre speaking) band of the Godoy twins, Art (bass and occasional guitar) and Steve (drums). Recorded at studios in Vancouver and Montana, with one track from a live-in-front-of-a-garage-audience session, it's the first release on the label established by Deniz and business partner Ron Sanchez, the latter a studio owner and leader of psychedelic band Donovan's Brain (who, incidentally, recently recruited Deniz into their ranks). This disc is unbuffed rock with a straight-ahead, punk undercurrent that's almost English in parts.
Its predecessors in the recent Tek canon were varied. They ran the gamut from tough garage rock (Deep Reduction's "2" and its eponymous, if slightly less focussed, forerunner), studio-buffed rock-pop with psych leanings ("Equinox"), a spirited and rough live disc ("Got Live") to an eclectic, experimental outing ("Le Bonne Route"). That's ignoring the Birdman live-studio disc "Ritualism", the great but sonically flawed "Dodge Main" project and the more recent (and wonderful) live set "Ann Arbor Revival Meeting", where Dr Tek guests with Scott Morgan's Powertrane.
This is no less varied and like most of those albums, marks a sharing of the spotlight with collaborators, most notably Art Godoy who takes centre mic for four songs. Of those cuts, "Let's Go" is the pick, with its anthemic, singalong chorus and double-tracked vocals. "Out of Action" is a spikey rocker with the vocals buried and "Wild Card" is a ragged stop-start thumper with a dirty surf undercurrent. "1 Eye Sam", from whence the album draws its title, is all bristling guitars and attitude.
Deniz's own songs are terrific. One of them, "Always Out of Reach", is reckoned to be, by Ron Sanchez's reckoning, the best Tek toon since 1978. Dunno if I'm going that far but I concur with the sentiment that is is a hell great song. Good 'nuff by recently demo'd by Radio Birdman- hear it here first. Then there's "2 Pam Chloride". Planted squarely in the middle of the disc, it was recorded at an invite-only show in the Billings, Montana, shed of Tek calibrator Dave Weyer and absolutely powers, all hook-laden chorus chant and paint-stripping guitar. This one made an appearance on a hard-to-find Japanese compilation ("Rawk 'n' Roll Revolution" on Myrmecoleo) but sounds better here. The other outstanding song to these ears is "What It's For", a deft rocker that burns itself into the mind after just a couple of spins.
"Dreaming Clifford Possum" is a menacing slow(er) guitar burn, (very) loosely in the style of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" if only for its similar theme of cultural imperialism. This one's told through the eyes of Australia's most notable dot painter. "Flight 19" has lyrics that can only be Dr Tek's, touching on doomed flights and similar happenings in the Bermuda Triangle. We all need to disappear now and then, maybe not so permanently. "Baja Confidential" is the closer and an exception, a quiet, almost resigned instrumental that serves as a wind-down from all that's gone before.
Excuse the enthusiasm (and, by way of declaration, I have been spruiking this, in an honorary capacity, to various journos around the place) but it's an album that's grown with repeated spins. You'll not find any choirboys on "Glass Eye World". By his own admission, Deniz has "guitar player's vocals" and Art's from the belt-it-out-and-see-ya-at-the-other-end school, but if you came looking for Mantovani, you clicked on the wrong link. What might be of more interest is the fact that the Godoys run a ship-shape engine room with nary a wasted note or fill out of place. For once the term "power trio" is not a misnomer. Dr Tek operates without an anaesthetic to apply his usual sharp guitar incisions.
The whole package is enhanced by clear and sympathetic production. Having been lucky enough to hear an earlier mix of the unmastered version some time ago, I have to say the final product is a street or two ahead. - The Barman
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