The Tastemaker’s Ten: James Fella

James Fella, musician and founder of Gilgongo Records, is quite the record hound so we knew that asking him to tackle the arduous task of compiling a list of only ten songs that he thought everyone should hear might be like asking him to pop by the seventh level of hell.

We did it anyway.

Check out his complete list below (notes included) and then head out to see James perform his first solo set in a year in support of Terminal 11’s album release on May 11th at The Lunchbox (more info here).

A Note from James:

Music and its related subculture(s) has always played a gigantic role in my life, but the fact of the matter is: I don’t spend very much time listening to music.

Listening to music is often a chore, but not a bad chore, just an activity that requires a certain amount of attention that I don’t often find myself with time to be able to give. …sure, I have music playing while I work (in various capacities – at work, in my office, and also at home while doing label tasks), but this needs to be material that I know so well that I am not diverting any conscious attention to.

At the office it’s My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Broadcast’s Tender Buttons. At home it’s most frequently: Muslimgauze or some 90’s garage mixes, a variety of drone or more ambient “noise” sort of recordings, The Fall, Jandek, any number of delta blues recordings… material I love but am able to only be half-present for since I’m activity working on something else. Favorite songs though, those should feel like the jagged points that don’t allow for such casual listening.

Thinking about “favorite songs” is interesting – what would I want to hear if I was driving alone and for a long time? What would I want to play while DJing so I myself am enjoying the night? What continues to be perplexing or leave me in awe after hundreds of listens?

These 10 songs (and the list below) are examples of songs that fit the criteria, though narrowing it down to 10 feels somewhat impossible. Even deciding where to call it quits on the addendum is difficult (I predict follow-up e-mails to the editors: “add this”, “add that”).

Anyway, here are 10, in an arbitrary feeling (but actually alphabetical) order, followed by a short list of others that could have paragraphs and paragraphs of qualifiers and praise.

“Dish It Out”

(v/a No New York LP, Antilles, 1978)

Abrasive and repetitive, wild saxophone playing, mildly atonal synth and a ferocious vocal delivery that is rarely echoed in subsequent James Chance / Contortions recordings. It’s still a pseudo James Brown approach, but very much in the red, a perfect introduction to what is easily the most monumental document of underappreciated and hard to grasp music (even if generations of people like myself refer back to it with ease and affection). Having the good fortune or stumbling across this in my own home and at a very young age is something that I do not take for granted.

“3 Pick Up Bears”

(split 7” w/ Gasp, Ooo Mau Mau, 2003)

[not available on Internet]

Deerhoof is a band that continuous to impress me to this day and picking a favorite LP is somewhat difficult but for me can be pin-pointed with a moment or two of thought: the final release from the initial long-running line-up, The Runners Four – a double LP that is extremely diverse and satisfying. Picking a song though, that comes rather easily in their case. Six years after their first widely available full-length, The Man, The King, The Girl, was released by Kill Rock Stars, “The Pickup Bear” (which is on that album) found its way onto this 7” and broken into 3 different renditions.

The initial run-through is standard for early Deerhoof – melodic but also overblown and wild – but strangely more accessible than the version that made it to the proper album(!), the interlude is a disjointed acoustic rendition – soft playing and hushed vocals, followed by the final “Pickup Bear” which is essentially free-form noise-core (with the vocal line again being delivered, but on some level buried far beneath). It’s a bit of a trip, and a radical lo-fi document for a band who was, at this time in particular, quickly becoming a large and notable force in the more widely accepted avenues of “indie music” – whatever that is, anyway.

The Dead C
“Driver UFO”

(Harsh 70’s Reality 2xLP, Siltbreeze, 1992)

The 22 minute introduction to The Dead C’s “Harsh 70’s Reality” is guitar music at its finest. Playing that, to the right ear, is actually a perfectly coalescing cascade of feedback, drone and abstract style. Surely heard as “noise” to many (and “nothing” to many others) there truly is something substantial in this material that may be hard for the uninitiated to put their finger on at first, if ever, but believe me, it is there. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly for some people – and those people, who connect with and appreciate a moment like this to a degree that can be hard to articulate, use this release and perhaps this song in particular as a bit of a mile marker.

The Fall
“Bury Pts 1 + 3”

(Your Future Our Clutter LP, Domino, 2010)

For even a casual fan, picking a favorite song from The Fall is probably a pointless endeavor, much like trying to narrow it down to a favorite LP or 2 (or 3, or 4, 5 in some people’s case such as my own)… However, “Bury”, in its recorded form and more specifically on the proper LP, has become the most notable Fall moment for me and I could go on and on as to why: 30 something years into the group, Your Future Our Clutter is an excellent document of what would be the final line-up of the group, and the longest lasting one at that.

It has a handful of great songs, “Bury” is one of the more simple and monotonous ones. It’s unapologetic, Mark [E. Smith]’s delivery (truth be told this applies to the entire LP) is in top form, if you need to qualify it – “especially for the later records”: casual, bothered, confident, a little cranky. Truly driving these feelings home is the first minute or two of the LP’s version: an extremely overblown capture that jumps into the song, functioning as an abrasive and lo-fi introduction. A transition follows, though it’s the same music – just now more clean, and I think it’s about two and a half minutes before the actual song begins (depending on how you look at this sort of thing).

Everything about this approach feels intuitive but not at all listener-friendly, a sentiment that makes it all the more enjoyable for me. There is a great (again, simple) video, but it’s using the 7” version of the song (you lose the intro, which is a large part of what I love about the full version).

Honey Bane
“Girls on the Run”

(You Can Be You 7”, Crass Records, 1979)

Coming across like an outtake from [Crass album] Penis Envy, and not surprisingly so, this record was essentially Crass with Honey Bane on vocals. “Girls on the Run” is a driving, but jagged listen that demands attention / catches you off guard. I hear echoes of this song clear through some of my favorite art-rock and riot grrrl records from the 90’s. This is angular and boisterous material that I will forever love and tends to not make it onto the radar of most people who would love it upon first listen as well.

Man… Or Astro-Man?
“Destination Venus”

(Destroy All Astromen! LP, Estrus, 1994)

Easily one of my favorite groups to see perform, as much now as when I was a child… this comes from a time slightly before they took off in a much more experimental direction (1997’s Made from Technetium is an infinite subconscious influence in how I will ultimately come back to playing guitar – even though it was this song that was one of several that I initially learned how to play guitar by playing along to).

Originally by The Rezillos, it feels like a little bit of a silly inclusion as their version is also very good in its own right. A simple and infections punk song, Man… Or Astro-Man? just really managed to make some subliminal adjustment to really implant it into my young and impressionable brain. Both versions are worth a listen, but this is the one that will still incite a slight hop when seen in the live setting.

Nurse With Wound
“Soliloquy for Lilith”

(Soliloquy for Lilith 3xLP, Idle Hole, 1988)

There may be, in some regards, more enjoyable moments for me in Nurse With Wound’s massive catalog, but historically I return to this one most frequently. Although most likely not considered to be a singular piece or “song”, by most anyone, I’ve always interpreted all six sides of Soliloquy as one sprawling entity.

Essentially the sound of nothing happening (there is a story to that, this release, in itself), the material is very minimal: slow pulses of subdued feedback and shimmering drone totaling about 2.5 hours (and quite wonderful for work, for sleep, for anything). With two turntables generally being connected at all times, I at some point made a habit of listening to two different sides at the same time. A similar effect can obviously be achieved by streaming the release in six different windows (give it a try).

Oddly, no matter how many layers creep into any listener’s own construction, it never begins to feel jumbled… the patterns shift or sway, but they seem to compliment rather than collide. Perhaps this release was truly intended to be enjoyed as a single 20 minute long 12 channel installation.

The Shadow Ring
“Put the Music in it’s Coffin”

(Put the Music In It’s Coffin LP, Siltbreeze, 1994)

Although only recently acquiring a physical copy (the owner of the shop’s assessment: “too dreary”), the second Shadow Ring LP is one of those random releases that at some point managed to solidify a place on the short-list that functions as an answer to “what do I play?” Perhaps a theme song to non-music, though delivered in a ghostly, but also childish sort of musical way – the title track is one of the more congealed movements on this record – an eerie discordance is found in this melody, but it is a melody regardless. It sounds like it comes from some desolate point in a distance past, a similar notion conjured by most releases from Sweden’s Attestupa: this peculiar ancient sound despite an obvious inclusion of modern, electronic instruments. The brain does work in mysterious ways.

“Map Ref. 41ºN 93ºW”

(Map Ref. 41ºN 93ºW 7”, Harvest, 1979)

Classically underappreciated in that many stop with their first LPs, Wire continues to release music on their own terms (and in this day and age, on their own label in many cases). Not to mention, their set in Phoenix was easily on of the most enjoyable performances I saw in 2018! While half of this list could be comprised of Wire material, this may be the one that for me always strikes the most resonate chord.

Simple word play or lines of unknown meaning (I’m unaware but appreciate these sets of lines regardless) harmonize above a swirling sort of progression (though let’s not forget the heavily effect simple lead “riff” that appears a few times throughout). It’s the sort of song that gets stuck in your head easily but if you were to try and actually decipher the melody of the verses, you’d find that it’s not such a linear direction to get from point A to Point B (a nod to the songs own content?).

Young Marble Giants

(Colossal Youth LP, Rough Trade, 1980)

Hauntingly beautiful while also very matter of fact, a song that conjures a sadness akin to not being able to leave the bed, or, a walk on an overcast day that feels nice – that lets you know everything is fine. Simple and repetitive, like a stripped down demo of what would be Broadcast’s Tender Buttons LP 30 or so years later, and yet in a way also dateless in its approach. While the entire record is one that I can enjoy somewhat endlessly, this is the track that I also look forward to the most. Maybe it’s the slow introduction of each component, or again: the simultaneously melon-collie and triumphant feel to the melody. I suppose it doesn’t matter, it strikes a chord with me regardless.

Bush Tetras
“Too Many Creeps”

(Too Many Creeps 7” 99 Records, 1980)

*Since only 9 of these have audio/video that can be streamed, perhaps it would be nice to include the video for the Bush Tetras song from the list below (honestly – it should be on the list of 10 regardless – what a great song)!  [Added note from James Fella]

**Sure, James, no problem. [Added note from us]

*Other countless songs that come to mind:

The Amps “Tipp City” (Pacer LP, 4AD, 1995)

Amps for Christ “Janitor of Lunacy” (Nico) (Circuits CD, Vermiform, 1999)

Amps for Christ “AFC Tower Song” (The People at Large CD, 5 Rue Christine, 2004)

The Beat “Don’t Wait Up For Me” (s/t LP, Columbia, 1979)

The B-52s “Dance This Mess Around” as played on Saturday Night Live, 1980 Broadcast “I Found the F” (Tender Buttons LP, Warp, 2005)

Bunny Lee “King Zion Dub” (King of Dub LP, Clocktower, 1978)

Bush Tetras “Too Many Creeps” (Too Many Creeps 7” 99 Records, 1980)

John Cage “Fontana Mix” (Cage / Berio / Mimaroglu – Electronic Music LP, Turnabout, 1967)

Captain Beefheart “Hot Head” and “Ashtray Heart” as played on Saturday Night Live, 1980.

Elastica “Generator” and/or “KB” (w/ Mark E. Smith) (6 Track EP 12”, Deceptive, 1999)

ESG “UFO” and / or “Moody” (s/t 12”, 99 Records, 1981)

Fat Worm of Error “############S” (untitled 7”, Ultra Eczema, 2006)

Flipper “Ever” (Generic LP, Subterranean, 1982)

The Frumpies “I Just Wanna Puke On The Stereo” (Alien Summer Nights 7”, Chainsaw, 1993)

(The first 60 seconds of) Fugazi’s “Red Medicine” LP, Dischord, 1995 – wish it went on for 10 minutes

Gang of Four: both sides (“What We All Want” b/w “History’s Bunk”, EMI, 1981)

The Gossip “Jason’s Basement” (Movement LP, Kill Rock Stars, 2003)

Half Japanese “No More Beatle Mania” (½ Gentlemen/Not Beasts 3xLP, Armageddon, 1980)

The Homosexuals “Technique Street” (The Homosexuals’ Record LP, Recommended, 1984)

Huggy Bear “Her Jazz” (Her Jazz 7”, Wiiija / Catcall, 1993)

King Crimson “21st Century Schizoid Man” specifically the version on Earthbound LP, Island, 1972

Liquid Liquid “Optimo” (Optimo 12”, 99 Records, 1983)

New Order “Senses” (Movement LP, Factory, 1981)

Pearl Jam (w/ Neil Young) “I Got Id” (Merkin Ball 7”, Epic, 1995)

Russian Tsarcasm and/or Russian Tsarlag “Special Leg”, “Bleach Party” (on any number of cassette circa 2005-2007)

Section 25 “Girls Don’t Count” (Girls Don’t Count 12”, Factory, 1980)

Silver Apples “Program” (s/t LP, KAPP, 1968)

The Soft Boys “I Wanna Destroy You” (Underwater Moonlight LP, Armageddon, 1980)

Sonic Youth “Bull in the Heath” (Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star LP, DGC, 1994)

Swirlies “Sounds of Sebring” (They Spend Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of Salons CD, Taang!, 1995)

Tyvek “Air Conditioner” (Summer Burns 2×7”, What’s Your Rupture?, 2007)

Unwound “October All Over” (Leaves Turn Inside You 2xLP, Kill Rock Stars, 2001)

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