Anton Szandor LaVey
Satan Takes a Holiday
(Amarillo Records)

Longtime San Franciscan Anton LaVey is probably best-known as the founder and high priest of the Church of Satan (and the guy who played the devil in Rosemary's Baby), but prior to launching the Church in 1966, LaVey garnered an impressive resume as a musician. Starting out, as a teen, by providing accompaniment for circus animal performances, LaVey went on to play organ for everything from bump 'n' grind burlesque shows to, ironically, the Southern Baptist revivals that swung through town. His services as an organist were in high demand locally for years -- he even performed with the S.F. Ballet.

Released on Amarillo, the same label that brought you astrological crooner Harvey Sid Fisher and other strange delights, Satan Takes a Holiday might seem a mere novelty release on first glance. To hell with that: The diabolical doctor can play a mean keyboard, and his ivory-tickling capabilities are highly evident here. More amazing still, all of these pieces were recorded sans overdubs in LaVey's kitchen, often on the first take. Possessed by an utter love for the music of the last 100 years and armed with a bank of synthesizers that often effectively mimic the wheezy calliopes and melodramatic pipe organs of yesteryear, LaVey creates haunting music from another realm, where the exotic sounds of days gone by collide with today's electronic technology. He ain't afraid of a little bombast, either.

Excepting "Satanis Theme," a dirge LaVey composed for a 1968 film of the same name, this CD's remaining 17 tracks are all covers, spanning the timeline from "Dixie" (1860) to "Answer Me," a German love song from 1953. Many of them are instrumentals, some immediately recognizable if not placeable: The title cut, for instance, historically served as a background-music staple for "thousands of magic acts and midnight spook shows." Vocal duties are split between LaVey, his biographer/companion Blanche Barton, and L.A.-based fringe historian Nick Bougas, and if there's anything incredibly strange about this disc, it's LaVey's distinctive vocals. Let's just say that if he made any pacts with the Prince of Darkness, a golden throat wasn't part of the deal. Yet LaVey's croaking, vaguely Transylvanian baritone does lend an element of devilish fun to the whole affair, making his readings of "Golden Earrings," "Hello Central Give Me No Man's Land," and "Honolulu Baby" high points of this little Holiday. Still haven't figured out how to play it backward, though.

-- Mike Rowell

The Battle for Space

For more than a decade and a half, Peter Prescott has been relentlessly pursuing the essence of the Stooges riffs he knows and loves. Part of his ongoing dilemma is that this quest too easily summarizes his career in rock: Not sufficiently quirky to enjoy "cult" status, just skewed enough to avoid large-scale acceptance (never mind critical acclaim), he's often admired simply for his dogged determination. Prescott's previous stints in Mission of Burma and Volcano Suns (he was an occasional songwriter for the former, the full-fledged leader of the latter, and the drummer for both) have made him crucially important in the development of a certain indie aesthetic. At their best, these bands pioneered the now widely accepted ideas that dissonance and dissolution could signify emotion, and that private worlds loudly proclaimed could form a community. If Prescott hasn't been the only person to crack this code, he's certainly been among the most overlooked.

Kustomized finds Prescott switching to guitar and teaming up with other veterans of the Boston rock intelligentsia (Bullet LaVolta, Busted Statues, High Risk Group). The Battle for Space, the band's debut LP (following last year's The Mystery of Kustomized EP), features the chaotic expansiveness Prescott has become unfamous for, but there's a certain unexpected sense of authority and entitlement on display. After a lifetime of examining the post-punk poetics of the protopunk that changed his life, he boils down his music to the original model. Prescott's and Ed Yazijian's guitars butt up against each other (imagine Wire as the original garage band), pausing only long enough for Prescott to toss off droll asides (my favorite: "You were even cuter than a test pattern").

Space was recorded with engineer Bob Weston (a former Volcano Sun himself), who astutely lets Kustomized sound as big and shiny as glam rock, allowing the levels to go into the red when the occasion demands it. Even when the music sounds a bit too loose and familiar, the band's willingness to push it toward transcendence, or die trying, saves the day. This is the sound of artists thrilling to a secret they learned a long time ago, now that they're smart enough not to know better.

-- Greg Milner

Graham Connah Group
Snaps Erupt at Pure Spans
(Sour Note)

In the "What is jazz?" debate, divisiveness runs deep between the neoclassicists of the mainstream and the intrepid improvisers of Creative Music. But with the accessible tunefulness of the straight-ahead and an intuitive bent for imaginative extrapolation, local pianist/composer Graham Connah bridges the divide like the consummate jazz cat. His original pieces refreshingly embrace the 70-plus years of the jazz evolution, drawing inspiration from all sides, including the tasteful stride of James P. Johnson, the cool of Mose Allison, the moody sophistication of Charles Mingus, and the percussive mania of Cecil Taylor. On Snaps Erupt at Pure Spans, Connah's debut, one hears the echoes of Dixieland in the expansive collective improv on "Ephemeral Thrill," while Connah's sly, dry wit animates "Another Gratuitous Narcissistic Pseudo-Musical Experiment Utilizing Live Human Subjects," in which substantially tweaked rhythm changes impel the melody into a free-floating, dreamlike realm. Given the lyrical intensity and reverential energy of Connah's music, the question is no longer "What is jazz?" but "Who is on?" The answer? Graham Connah.

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