Music

Make a Rising: Rip Through the Hawk Black Night

Madly beautiful, beautifully mad music from this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Philly collective.


Make a Rising

Rip Through the Hawk Black Night

Label: High Two
US Release Date: 2005-06-07
UK Release Date: Available as import
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The five members of Make a Rising live and work in a dilapidated house in Philadelphia, a place they found in 2002, according to their website, "to synthesize their burgeoning compositional and philosophical aesthetics”. Although no photos are available, you can easily imagine the sort of house it must be -- ornate, many-chambered and slope-shouldered. Interesting, but not in the best of repair, it would have ruined cupolas listing sideways, ornate banisters canting off into empty space, haunted cupboards and cluttered attics. There would be all kinds of furniture, slapped together with a total disregard for period, color and style. But the most important thing would be that people would walk around from room to room whistling, because in its own crowded, discontinuous, Escher-esque sort of way, it would be the most beautiful house you'd ever been in.

At least that's how I imagine Make a Rising's house, based wholly on the band's wonderfully messy, exuberantly stuffed-to-the-gills debut album Rip Through the Hawk Black Night. There's a dizzying mix of styles and ideas here, somehow coalescing in a dream-tinted, fractious whole. For example, you would guess that pianist Justin Moynihan has a few years of classical training behind him, just from the facility with which he accomplishes his runs and arpeggios, but he's not above slipping a bit of cake-walking swagger into the opening track either. Violinist Jesse Moynihan (brothers, most likely, though the bio is mute on the subject) also seems to have done time in classical orchestras, though he knows how to coax pop flourishes and free jazz skirls out of his instrument as well. Percussionist John Herron flits from hard-hitting rock to abstract jazz to experimental world-ish drumming in an extremely melodic, thoughtful way that fits the music exactly. And finally, there's a definite rock element as well in the guitar and bass; it comes through most clearly in "Lonely in the Skiff" in a staccato backdrop that might remind you a little of Clinic.

Remarkably all these varying sounds and influences come together in a unified whole, not just within tracks but across the entire composition. Rip Through the Hawk Black Night feels like a suite of related songs, maybe even a concept piece tied together by some sort of oblique story line. There is a childlike wonder in the opening choruses of "Look at My Hawk" that seems to be echoed in the surreal shimmer of "Plastic Giant”, and though the tracks don't connect in any linear, narrative way, it's not hard to imagine them linked by more subtle themes.

The best tracks are those that don't rely too heavily on vocals -- thin and pallid singing nearly sinks the otherwise fascinating "Plastic Giant" and "I Am Scared of Being Alone”. The players are simply not as good at singing as they are at the rest of their instruments. However, wordless vocals work well as a subtle element of "When Moving West" weaving in and out of a wonderful driving piano line, embellished by shaken percussion. "Pun Womb" moves chaotic bursts of violin, piano and drums into a dreamy interval of bell-toned keyboards before picking up a swooping, vertiginous wordless sung melody. "Lonesome in the Skiff" is quite good, too, bursts of prog-rock frenzy emerging from a rickety rhythm of sax and drums, and slashes of bass and guitar providing rock release.

Make a Rising often gets lumped in with fellow Philly experimenters like Man Man, but its sound is, to my ears at least, less chaotic, gentler and based more in classical forms than jazz or music hall. This is a beautiful, complicated mess of an album, and it gets more interesting every time you put it on.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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