Monday, March 31, 2003
NUMBERS vs. THE ROGERS SISTERS….You may have noticed that I’ve been discussing new – as in from the last year or so! – releases this past week. This might not appear significant, but I have really been mostly ignoring the current rock underground in favor of reissues and non-rock genres for – oh, I don’t know – 4 or 5 years now. Hey, did I miss anything? One band I certainly did not miss are NUMBERS – one of my favorite bands going, San Francisco’s #1 synth-driven no-wave robotcore dance band. Their searing, 20-minute, 10-song “Numbers Life” CD was my favorite record last year, reissues or new stuff. Buy it!! So why does this brand new 6-track CD-EP “Ee-Uh!” give me significant pause? Well, I was afraid that with a little recognition this band might start to milk it, and damn it, folks – I think they’re starting to milk it. First, their whole post-punk robotic thing is very cool sounding, but with singer Indra Dunnis doing her I-am-a-computer voice again and again and again, song after song, you begin to wonder if the rock and roll law of diminishing returns is already kicking in (and at such a young age, too!). Let’s mix it up a little next time, OK? Second, talk about lack of value for money – for my $9.98, I got three so-so studio tracks and three walkman-recorded live tracks, all of which have already been released as studio numbers. Plus some irrelevant, repurposed liner notes obviously not written for this release. 11 minutes of music, tops. I hope this is an aberration or I’m gonna start boycotting all new bands again. Or maybe all bands, period.
Yet on a more hopeful note, and from the same label (Troubleman Unlimited), there’s the debut CD “Purely Evil” from NYC’s ROGERS SISTERS. No, this isn’t perfect either, but these spazzy dancefloor mommas and papa are also throttling a similar bass-heavy, early 80s New York City territory that mined punk rock and avant-disco (a la LIQUID LIQUID, ESG, BUSH TETRAS) in equal measure. Don’t worry rockers, they’re leaning to the former, and it works. These 11 tracks vary in quality, as records often do, but I’ll put the thumping “Black Anniversary”, “I Dig A Hole” and the ass-shaking title track up against any comers in the fiscal 2002-03 ass-shaking awards. Of course I heard this CD for the first time only moments after they’d rocked my town – and you know this would likely be a slamming live experience if they can pull it off the way they do here. I read that they’re taking the noise to Europe as we speak – the British are absolutely going to drop a load over this stuff! Check your NME cover next week, and then the backlash a year from now.
Sunday, March 30, 2003
PIRANHAS – “EROTIC GRIT MOVIES”….Not at all a wrong-headed approach – 70s punk-style organ-driven garage noise – just a failure in execution for Detroit’s PIRANHAS on their debut CD. Take the carnival-ride organ sounds of the EYES on “T.A.Q.N.”, throw in the electro-weirdness of BLACK RANDY & THE METROSQUAD, the pop sense of the DICKIES and of course the angry attack of the SCREAMERS – now take away 75% of the talent, and you have this CD. Yet their label describes them as “Like a mutant cross between Hearpen-era Pere Ubu and “Damaged”-era Black Flag with a dose of mid 70’s Cleveland punk poured over the top for good measure”. Good lord, I wish – wouldn’t you rush out to buy that? It’s not really the musicians’ fault, they’re fine, it’s the singer and his horrid, attention-seeking, “listen to me everyone, I’m being strangled” vocals. As my friend Doreen would patiently advise: “Validate from within".
THE END-OF-THE-WORLD ARMAGEDDON FUNK ALBUM YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR….Holy god. There’s this semi-recent (i.e. less than 2 years old), ultra-mysterious sub-underground funk compilation CD making the rounds called “CHAINS & BLACK EXHAUST” that will absolutely blow you away (and I’m not one to engage in hyperbole, folks – right? Right?). Known also to some as “MEMPHIX”, one might be led to believe that these early 70s recordings are in fact from Memphis, Tennessee. I’m willing to believe it. It’s a wild mix of instrumentals, hardcore funk workouts lifted straight from the original 45s (with pops and clicks galore), and even a couple of unfunny “skits” to help lighten the mood. There is little-to-no information about who these bands are or who put this thing together, with at least four of the instrumental tracks going completely uncredited. The individual(s) responsible must certainly have been scouring the thrift stores with extreme prejudice for years to pull together a lineup this potent. From my limited cyber-research, these heroes appear to be two “disc jockeys” or “turntable funksters” who call themselves MEMPHIX. I’ll have to buy them a Blatz next time I’m in Tennessee.
Guitars are squealing freely all over this thing – and you thought FUNKADELIC had mastered the heavy rock and roll/funk hybrid? Check yo’self, “dogg”, and take a listen to “Blind Eye” from LA CARNIVAL before flapping your gums further. The showstopper is indeed “Show Stopper” from IRON KNOWLEDGE (Iron Knowledge!!) -- it opens with a crazy distorted guitar riff that sounds like nothing if not the opening seconds of the Butthole Surfers' “Concubine”, and proceeds as a groovy monster that vacillates lyrically between stopping the war and getting it on. Hey, the early 70s were confusing times. But again, this comp is straddling freak-flag-flying rock & roll just as heavily as it is ghetto funk. There’s no mistaking the sentiment behind GRAND AM’s excellent “Get High”, as well as a truly raging one from HOT CHOCOLATE (definitely a different beast than “You Sexy Thing” Hot Chocolate) called “What’s Good For The Goose”. The (uncredited) instrumentals are also lowdown, heavily funked-up and raw, with that "special" ambiance that comes only from a scratchy, thirty-years-in-a-crate 45rpm record. Motown this is not!
Now where might you find this? Ah yes, our friend Eric over at Goner Records was recently selling them – tell him Agony Shorthand sent ya. Also, here’s an entire thread of soul/funk freaks talking specifically about this comp and their record collections – always a good time. There’s a rumor going around that this might be released again legitimately, with track listings, liner notes etc., which’d be nice since "CHAINS & BLACK EXHAUST" is one of the best unearthings I’ve heard in years.
Saturday, March 29, 2003
DAN MELCHIOR'S BROKE REVIEW -- "BITTERNESS, SPITE, RAGE & SCORN"....And that about sums it up, doesn't it? Well, even better than THE HUNCHES (see below) is this new one from DAN MELCHIOR'S BROKE REVIEW, a pissed-off expat Englishman and his piledriving, minimalist garagy band. Who would have thought that this'd be their fourth album -- and here I was thinking this was some Billy Childish hanger-on & came in with some pretty low expectations. Au contraire! This is one fantastic disc. The guy's got this whiny, angry vocalizing that reminds me of Doc Dart from the Crucifucks or perhaps a PMS-ing Pete Shelley. The fourteen, all original songs, which start loose & raw from the kick-off "Hungry Ghost" & "You're My Wife" (excellent! best one on here!), mine a path through the best of 60s and 70s -- and even 80s -- snotty punk rock, while keeping it tied to a very simple, no-chord-wasted approach. You can tell at times that there's a love for pre-punk musics as well, as some screaming blues guitar creeps in as does some shambling folk-ish cottonpickin' ("Beast of the Field") -- even dabbling in a Phil Spector-style/girl group wall of sound on a couple of numbers. But mostly it's Melchior and his boys carrying a cargo full of hate. Another full-stop winner from a revitalizing In The Red Records.
THE HUNCHES -- "YES. NO. SHUT IT"....Much-touted, ultra-intense garage punk panic-rock band from Portland, OR, with a debut CD that'll clear the cobwebs from your noggin but good. Most HUNCHES tracks come on very, very strong and mean -- with the primal grunt of an imaginary 60s punk-inspired Birthday Party revved up with the uber-intensity of prime US hardcore punk a la Negative Approach or The Necros. In fact, I'm willing to bet there's more than one Laughing Hyenas record in the young singer's collection, as he's got the John Brannon deep-throat wail down to a note-perfect copy. This winning formula is squeezed a bit throughout the CD -- by its end you will certainly have gotten the point -- but track to track, it's among the strongest of its tribe. I can't remember anything as wild and as fucked-up since the BASEBALL FURIES' first 45 or even LOLI AND THE CHONES from like 6 years ago! Take a spin around careening-all-over-the-place numbers "Let Me Be", "10,000 Miles", "Chainsawdomy", and you'll see these kids aren't fooling around. They've done their homework, too, as they close with a tantruming cover of the Electric Eels' "Accident". Young panic rock bands such as this always seem to shoot their wads early and break up quickly, but here's hoping these guys and gal can keep it together & keep it evolving for another two or three records.
Friday, March 28, 2003
CROW (THINK I'LL EAT SOME)....After the tongue-lashing I gave THE FALL for their (his) post-1985 output, you can bet that there was a queue of squawkers ready to fight me shock and awe-style in defense. Well, how about that, y'all might have something there. One such defender made me a CD-R of 2001's "Are You Missing Are Winner", and I have to say I'm pretty impressed. No "Infotainment Scam", this -- "Are You Missing Winner", which is actually their/his most recent record, is chock-full of bile ("Crop-Dust" being the standout), locked-groove repitition, and fairly up-front guitar (and electronic) screeching. The band is not shambling and loose a la "Grostesque" or "Hex Enduction Hour", but are a tight, well-coached and -practiced machine. It's not your father's FALL, but it doesn't need to be. Smith sounds outrageously pissed, drunk, or both -- more so than ever -- and in his country it's the same thing! I'd truly recommend getting ahold of this one, something I haven't said about a Fall record since "Mr. Pharmacist"....
Thursday, March 27, 2003
HOME IS WHERE THE FLOOR IS.....If you ask me, the best pre-1980 Australian punk rock ever recorded was NOT necessarily by the SAINTS. nor the PSYCHO SURGEONS, nor the LEFTOVERS, nor RADIO BIRDMAN -- but by X. The Australian X, of course. The past decade has seen them garner some deserved attention, mostly for the low-profile Amphetamine Reptile reissue of their raw, spastic debut LP "X-Aspirations" (also known by some as simply "Aspirations"). I think they actually topped that monster with their amazing earliest recordings, though: the three tracks "Home Is Where The Floor Is", "Hate City" and "TV Cabaret Roll" that were posthumously cobbled together on the Aberrant Records' "Why March When You Can Riot?" compilation. If these tracks had been put out as a 45, you'd be seeing it on numerous "best punk records of all time" lists, certainly on mine (note: these were put out on a 45 a couple years ago on a US label, now out of print, I'm afraid). We're talking barreling, steamrolling punk rock, but minus the "snotty" vibe and the over-the-top antics that mark some other richly heralded Aussie punk of the era. Not particularly well recorded, mind, but you never cared about that much, right? About the closest equivalent I can think of would be a kindly US punk band like The CONTROLLERS -- not too aggro, not too "punk", but blazing nonetheless. Skip the recent "X - Live At The Civic" CD -- despite looking like it should be an out of control rock and roll juggernaut, it's -- uh -- a bit boring. One last thing: if you now desperately need those 3 aforementioned tracks, you're in luck -- there's a double-CD on Small Axe Records that collects three Aberrant Records comps into one package called "Go And Do It". You can find it here. Enjoy! PS -- this looks interesting.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
IN SEARCH OF: ALCOHOL.....Wondering if any readers have any information on this ultra-bizarre early 80s UK D.I.Y. 45 called, simply, ALCOHOL. A friend bought this years ago & taped it for me; it is some of the weirdest, voice-beyond-the-netherworld "rock" music I've heard, right up there with Wavis O'Shave's "Mauve Shoes Are Awful", the Native Hipsters' "There Goes Concorde Again" or Gerry and the Holograms' "Gerry and the Holograms" in the refreshingly annoying -- but somehow still listenable -- catagory of experimental post-punk art. There is no information whatsoever on the sleeve nor the inner label -- just a crude child's drawing of stick-like figures and a bunch of doodles, and the sole mysterious word "Alcohol". The A-side has a cuckoo Englishman spinning out some stream-of-consciousness iambic pentameter, much of which centers around a discussion of "the pink-buttocked baboon", with some cool loopy electronics in the background. I've never even heard the flip. Who are these people? Why did they do this to us? Any information would be much appreciated.
UPDATE: Mystery solved in record time, and I couldn't have been more wrong. This is PETER BLEGVAD, who is NOT a Brit and is an American. The cover drawing I described was close but quite a bit off in terms of its content. And yet, and YET, the conundrum was quickly solved by one Bryan Zuraw. Your Agony Shorthand loyalty points are in the mail!
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
JUKEBOX JURY, ROUND TWO....It's time again to revisit some of those rock and roll heroes and mistakes of yesteryear, 1985-89, my -- and perhaps your -- college days, and find out if they still hold up. If you missed our first installment, in which we put Killdozer, the Laughing Hyenas, Pussy Galore, The Fluid and Scratch Acid to the test, you can find it here (or just scroll down). As I mentioned last time, the ground rules are as follows:
"Just as in our criminal justice system, these musicians will be judged either INNOCENT or GUILTY. If Innocent, they have successfully stood the ravages and judgment of time, and their music still sounds good to this day – not a small matter when the original jury was 18-19 years old. If they’re deemed Guilty, these bands are already being judged harshly by history, and will likely be wholly forgotten when the college students who bought their records in the 80s slowly begin to die off".
Let's meet our potential victims!
1. LAZY COWGIRLS -- The Lazy Cowgirls were as close to a #1 favorite band as I had in 1985-89, and because I endured school in Southern California, weekends were often spent in LA watching them play the Anti-Club or Raji's. It's a no-brainer -- go back and listen to Tapping The Source or How It Looks, How It Is and you'll hear the best of that generation's punk rock bands. Ultra raw, amped up, garage-based punk with a pack of killer influences (Saints, NY Dolls, early R&B and -- wait for it -- the Shit Dogs). Easy call. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? INNOCENT.
2. DINOSAUR JR. -- Or, as they were then known, DINOSAUR. When their first self-titled LP came out on Homestead, it was sort of a non-event. Some good songs, some mediocre production -- some true promise, we all reckoned. When the second one, You're Living All Over Me, hit in 1987, good lord, there were holy hosannas and dancing and untold sacraments offered to the godz for giving us this fantastic, best-of-the-year record. Supposedly the loudest band on earth when this one was unleashed, I didn't even get to see them play until the following year and they were, well -- to put it politely -- a real shitty live band, at least in Southern California in 1988. But that LP finds a way to get played every year in my house, and it's still a goddamn over-the-top corker. Every track stands up; it's a roaring wall of sound, with some of the most inspired freak-out guitar playing and overall heavy hitting that you'll ever hear, as well as anthemic "pop" songs ("Little Fury Things", "In A Jar") that had 19-year-olds all over the world pumping their fists. If this was indeed the template for indie rock/noise, well so much the better. All their efforts after this one fell short; in fact I think that the follow-up, Bug, was so tepid that I'd already pretty much given up on the band only two years after their masterpiece. Others weren't as quick to squander the goodwill as I. On the basis of "You're Living All Over Me" alone, I'd render a JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT: Still INNOCENT!
3. SPACEMEN 3 -- Droning, plodding, drugged-out psychedelic rock and roll from the UK, featuring band members who shot heroin and parked their cans in chairs while they played. Some excellent LPs and EPs: "Sound of Confusion", "Walking With Jesus", "Transparent Radiation", "The Perfect Prescription". Every now and again I'll hear some new band, often British, and their sound will be fully copped from the Spacemen 3's distinct repertoire. I checked the records out again this past week -- they hold up! JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Can't we find anyone guilty around here? INNOCENT.
4. NAKED RAYGUN – This Chicago group were among my favorite bands in my late teens and early 20s, particularly the attacking robo-punk snarl of the Throb Throb LP, which came out just prior to the time period we’re discussing here. I entered my school days to the release of their second record All Rise on Homestead, known to me still as the album with that great storming-out-of-the-gates kick-off track “Home of the Brave”, and then…..? Hmm, after that song it’s a pretty thin gruel, and don’t even get me started on the subsequent lite sing-along punk stuff that followed (“Vanilla Blue”? Check please!), although I do seem to remember a pretty good Stiff Little Fingers cover. I sure dug it then, even took a packed carload of people up to San Luis Obispo, CA to see them (“you guys are going to love Naked Raygun, really”) only to have them totally crap out and make me severely lose face in front of my friends. Definitely a band that sounds pretty top-drawer when you’re young and get those crazy ideas in your head about what’s good, but, you know kids, the Bullshit Detector really starts to ripen when you get to my advanced age. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Time can only work against our boys from the Windy City, I’m afraid. GUILTY.
5. SOUL ASYLUM – This one will be painful, though it’s probably a quick call for most of you. “Soul Asylum? Those guys totally blew!”. Ah, but they didn’t…..or did they? In 1985-87, they were a far different band than the ones who brokered a big major label deal, flew the flannel on MTV, opened for Keith Richards or whatever, and got their songs on Buffy The Vampire Slayer & the like. Nay, nay, the early Soul Asylum were made known to me by those first three wild-rocking LPs: Say What You Will, Made To Be Broken and While You Were Out. I always argued that these guys were the superior Minneapolis punk-influenced pop band, better than Husker Du and light years better than The Replacements. I might even still argue it today. Because I haven’t listened to them in years, in order to render a verdict I had to light a candle, put on my Converse All-Stars and have a solo listening party. There are some really good, tough-sounding, well-crafted rock and roll numbers spread amongst these – the 45 “Tied To The Tracks”, “Lap of Luxury”, “Closer To The Stars”, “Religivision” (so 80s!) and “Freaks”, to begin with. Soul Asylum knew how to cleverly write what became a branch of the prototypical indie rock song tree, and very often they cranked it up and played it fast (they actually started life as a harcore band). But these records are also clogged with wistful, overly sentimental numbers that sound like the then-indie equivalent of the power ballad – before they started writing Springsteen-style arena-style power ballads for real. An honest-to-god sellout straight out of central casting was right around the corner, and we just didn’t even see it coming! The good stuff is still pretty good, just not as good, and the bad stuff – well, it’s really kind of awful. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? * Sigh * Youth be gone! GUILTY.
Come back next time when we subpoena Halo of Flies, Die Kruezen, the Butthole Surfers and more for their big day before the Juke Box Jury!!
Monday, March 24, 2003
GHANA SOUNDZ: AFRO-BEAT, FUNK AND FUSION IN 70's GHANA.....I boycotted the big African music whoop-dee-do the first go round, in the early 1980s when they tried pitching King Sunny Ade and Fela to new wavers and alternative types in the US and mostly failed. Now it's the British who seem to be going out and extracting the GOOD STUFF and are bringing it back to educate a new generation. Along with the terrific Ethiopiques series, this new compilation of unreleased recordings from 70's Ghana is the best Afro-funk I've heard -- as "funky" and as HARD as The Meters or Maceo Parker, but in some ways even better -- or "differently abled", perhaps. You might even think that some of the tracks were laid down in 1973 Chicago or Philadelphia, not in, not in......hey, what's the capital of Ghana again? The hardcore syncopation in the background should be a dead giveaway, but a lot of these guys sing or shout in English, so if they'd thrown one or two on "The Get It" or some other killer US comp I'd never have known. Anyway, the ringers on this one start up around track #4, "Heaven" by Ebo Taylor and track #5, "Simigwado" by Gyedu Blay Ambolley & The Steneboofs (not making this up, folks) and continue pumping and jumping from there. It's really something -- a sweat-soaked, percussion-driven, heavy bass bunch of dynamos, many over 7-8 minutes long. And this is the unreleased stuff; so what about these guys' legit recordings? A big winner from England's Soundway Records and kudos to TA for turning me on to "GHANA SOUNDZ".
TRASHMEN "SURFIN' BIRD"....After year of worshipping the title track like everyone else, I looked around the house & realized I didn't even own any TRASHMEN records save for "Surfin' Bird" on a couple of Cramps-related comps. Well, I set out to rectify the matter and came up with this CD of the 1964 debut record. Old news, I'm sure, but the Sundazed CD version I picked up comes with four extra tracks: a demo version of "Surfin' Bird", another demo of the obligatory take-advantage-of-the-craze follow-up "Bird Dance Beat" (which absolutely rules), a mediocre 45 called "Walkin' My Baby" and a skipable Xmas song called "Dancin' With Santa". The guy with the horrid croak that made "Surfin' Bird" such an amazing track? He's like the secret weapon that gets brought out to rock the house -- he's barely on any other tracks here. The rest is party-time, fun-in-the-sun surf and frat rock, with very pleasant vocals and a learning-to-play style of guitar (comparing their version of "Miserlou" to listening to, say, Dick Dale, rip it up is quite a humbling experience). For many, this record is the apotheosis of musical genius. For the rest of us, it's a good time rock and roll dance record with one or two godlike numbers.
Saturday, March 22, 2003
DUST DEVILS – DU YOU REMEMBER??...Decided to make myself a CD-R of the 1990 DUST DEVILS LP “Struggling Electric And Chemical” this afternoon, and tacked on a four-song 7”EP from the year before called “Dust Devils Is Big Leggy”. Remember this band? Always shackled by frequent, relatively accurate comparisons to Sonic Youth, the Manhattan-based Dust Devils got a bit of late-80s notoriety in Europe, released a few long-gone 12” records out there, put out the aforementioned “Struggling…” on the young Matador label (actually a co-release with Teen Beat), and then churned through a bunch of new members for a few years before packing it in (there may have been another LP in there somewhere, I don’t remember). One time on a visit to New York, I went to see them at CBGB a year after seeing them put on a great, loud-as-hell show in San Francisco with their “Struggling..” lineup of Lower East Side poster girl Jaqi on vocals & guitar, Mark Ibold (later of Pavement) on bass and Michael Duane on guitar (and oh yeah, a drummer). In New York, I walked in to find a band with a DUDE on vocals – no guitar in his hands - and Gerard Cosloy, Matador head, on bass (!). The end was definitely near.
Anyway, so how’s it hold up in 2003? Always a relevant question. Not too bad, I’d say, though this act was always pretty hit and miss. They had a knack for texturing washes of droning, ringing guitar in dense, noisy sheets very very well, and when they applied that to actual songs like “Throw The Bottleful” or “Love You Like a Rock”, it sounded pretty great. They also start the LP with an outstanding 10-minute cover of The Fall’s “Hip Priest” – a bold move that paid off handsomely. Lots of noisy, quasi-experimental filler in there as well that is produced well; that’s about the best I can say of it. I’d put them near the upper 20% of the era’s bands, and if you find a copy of this one used for under ten bucks, hey, why not give it a whirl.
THE GEEKS “Dreamland In Machineland / Hey Wreck” 45…I was introduced to the guy that put this out when I sorta knocked his band in my then-‘zine in 1998 and he wrote me a long, eloquent, well-argued letter in his defense. We traded tapes (remember those?) in the aftermath. It’s kind of fun to bust his chops from time to time, but in reviewing this one there’s no malice intended – it’s just a difference in taste, shall we say. THE GEEKS were apparently a Marin County, California act in the 1970s and early 80s with a high regard for out jazz like Ayler, Sun Ra etc. & who brought it into the era by combining it with a FLIPPER-esque noise do-whatever-the-fuck-you-want vibe & who played San Francisco’s punk clubs back in the day. There’s a lost LP “It’s Not About Notes Anymore", a 45 (“Poland / The Spark"), and now these 1982 recordings. To me it sounds like the lame early 80s Subterranean Records bands toiling in Flipper’s shadow (Wilma, Sluglords), not part of a “pre-punk movement” that includes the Electric Eels, Rocket From The Tombs, MX-80 Sound etc. (hey, I didn’t say it, but the liner notes do). No wait, I know what it sounds like – Zoogz Rift! These guys could have been plopping out jazz/rock jam bullshit on SST if they’d only waited a few years!
Thursday, March 20, 2003
HERE COME THE CYBORGS AGAIN....Last time we posted on the topic of the impending SIMPLY SAUCER "Cyborgs Revisited" reissue I didn't really have any news you could use -- now I think I do. Sonic Unyon records of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada are putting it out again on CD on May 20th with 9 extra tracks, including their more poppy 45 "She's A Dog / I Can Change My Mind" plus some live material from their 1977-78 lineup. (Dave Martin at Matador already told us about the reissue). Now main Saucer head Edgar Breau has hipped us to an excellent new interview with him available here (click on "Edgar Breau" or scroll down), as well as to let you know that he's playing on March 30th in Toronto at a club called Sneeky Dee's. "I'm playing acoustic and electric guitars. Kevin Christoff from the Saucer is on bass. It's not a retro thing; much new material and my own cd is coming along nicely". Attention Ontario, can you tear yourself away from Owen Nolan and the Maple Leafs for this show??
UPDATE: More, straight from Edgar Breau on the release:
"There are nine new tracks on it plus it's been audio improved. There are extensive liner notes giving a complete history of the band. The new tracks in part derive from a song copyright tape that we made in 1977. The entire tape is likely to come out as a bootleg. The songs from this tape are Low Profile, Little Sally, Get My Thrills, I Take It. From a Live show in '78 there's Bullet Proof Nothing (which includes the mystery guitar break)let me explain. The studio version has a stop and dead silence in the middle of the song. That's because we couldn't afford to overdub at the time. Anyways the song developed and you can hear it live. The other live tracks are Now's the time for the Party which was always a crowd pleaser and I'm told the Replacements replicated the riff years later and Yes I Do which is a pop ballad. The 45 She's A Dog and I Can Change my Mind round it off. I had to go through reams of tape before we settled on the tracks. They give a better indication than the 45 of our post electro. sound. That's all for now".
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
CHEATER SLICKS "YER LAST RECORD"....The Cheater Slicks have been one of my favorite bands of the past decade-plus, a flat-out garage punk powerhouse who've been threatening to extend their reach beyond that limiting genre for several releases now (and mostly succeeding). Easily one of the best live bands I've seen as well -- two distorted, feedback-choked guitars amped up to unholy levels, primitive bashing and screaming from wildman drummer/singer Dana Hatch, and songs that shatter all local noise ordinances while still staying totally coherent -- well, I've never seen anything like them, and they've been nothing less than stellar the five times I've been lucky enough to catch them since 1991. During a dark, inward time spent contemplating the bleak future of rock music a few years ago, I made a CD-R compilation of the Slicks called "The Cheater Slicks: The Last Rock Band". I meant it, too. So it's only appropriate that their latest release is entitled "Yer Last Record" -- not their much-rumored last record, but YOURS.
There's something on this one that you've never seen on one of their records before: "all songs written by the Cheater Slicks". They've gone from being a secret cover band -- secret because most of us had never heard the originals, and they weren't tellin' -- to doing pretty much whatever they want to do. As on their last one, Refried Dreams (which I actually wrote the liner notes for), the band is stretching out their sound, choking off a lot of the obvious 60s-style riffing in favor of varied approaches to the loud (and even not-so-loud) garage-flavored rock and roll song. This one's another notch on their collective belt, I'd have to say -- with a few caveats. At their best ("Please Explain It", the lead track "Momentary Muse"), the band are totally explosive, as the Shannon brothers' guitars careen off and wrap around each other like a drunken, even more addled Brother Wayne Kramer & Sonic Smith. One of the only bands I know of where you're actively rooting for the guitar solo(s) to begin!
At their worst ("Miss Q", "Green Light"), they're kinda like a shitty sports team at the end of the season -- just playing out the string, waiting to pack it in (and break up? I swear they seem to be telegraphing this one as the end of the line, up to & including a closing track called "Goodbye". Their label head says it ain't so). Misanthropic and borderline misogynist (not a term I like to throw around lightly, but if the shoe fits...), the Cheater Slicks sometimes play their music like they're so angry & uptight they'd rather send a big fuck-you to the world (again, "Green Light") than create great songs. Thankfully, that's very rare, but a drag that they do it at all when you consider how amazing these guys have been year after year. Most folks who'd given me advance word on this one told me that it was good, but a drop in quality. I don't think so -- the Cheater Slicks are still head & shoulders better than just about anyone out there, and "Yer Last Record" proudly belongs on the shelf with your 7 other Cheater Slicks CDs (you do have the others, right? If not, click here)
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
HOW TO ENHANCE THE AGONY SHORTHAND EXPERIENCE....If you're only reading my drivel and not checking out the various comments left by others, you're only getting half the story! In the past two weeks alone we've heard from Brian Turner on the top Stones bootlegs and learned about LOU CHRISTIE AND THE TAMMYS; we've had corrections and punditry galore from Larry Hardy; we've heard from Modern Rock Magazine's Tim Ellison on late 80s LIVE SKULL; from Jakob and Henrik Olausson all the way out in Sweden holding court on post-WW2 Blues and Swedish thrift store bands; from a number of well-meaning sorts taking me to task for not liking any post-1985 FALL; and of course from Ryan Wells speaking the truth on a number of topics with the energy and edge of a young Al Flipside. Read the comments! These folks know more than all of us combined!
CAT POWER "YOU ARE FREE".....After a long wait, Ms. Power has released her first record of originals since 1998's fantastic Moon Pix, and it's really as good as they say it is -- really. She's back with a band on at least half the tracks, and they actually laid down a jagged post-punk feel, crossed of course with that voice. That cracked and wavering voice, which may be a little "fragile-flower"-esque for some of you, has been enhanced by some great production techniques that have her singing harmonies with herself, echoing in the background, and even somewhat sped up in parts (at least that's what it sounds like). There are also a bunch of solo piano and solo guitar numbers that many will call -- have called -- "depressing", but fans of well-written rock music will find them nothing if not uplifting. She's a very clever songwriter, able to evoke deep moods and create enormous non-"pop" hooks that are remarkably simple.
Her whole live shtick is something else, too. I wrote after seeing her in 1998 on the Moon Pix tour, when she would stop her songs midway, apologize, hide behind her hair, apologize, mumble and nearly break down, apologize twenty times more, etc. that she had "easily the worst on-stage persona since the clown from the Necessary Evils". I've since made my peace with her live act, since I'm now 100% convinced it's not really an act. When playing a secret solo show at San Francisco's microscopic Hemlock Tavern a few weeks ago, she was pretty up-front about where she's coming from: "How will you know I messed up if I don't tell you 'I'm Sorry'?". Her logic is impeccable -- she's off the hook as far as I'm concerned. I'm not saying that she won't have to face a Juke Box Jury tribunal in fifteen years to see how her music stood up in the interim, but for now she continues on her winning streak and has now released four LPs worth of haunting, desperate rock music. I'm still most impressed with Ms. Power!
Monday, March 17, 2003
SOME RED-HOTT SWEDISH MEATBALLS.....Wow, take a good look at these 1960s Swedish rock (?) bands. Who would have thought that Union Carbide Productions would look so foxy by comparison? As a dedicated Scando-phile, I have a new favorite band -- without even having heard them: The COOL CANDYS! I will reserve the up-front suspicion that these just might be fakes. Thanks to Captain's Log for the link.
C***SUCKER BLUES…..One last Stones note (see below). I rented the Robert Frank film C***Sucker Blues last year and was fully and completely underwhelmed. THIS was what was supposed to be so subversive and shocking? Long, drawn-out, unedited scenes of the Stones lounging around in mansions? A soundless shot of some dude’s butt as he shags a groupie on an airplane? That was about as good as it got; there were a couple of decent live songs but I turned the thing off with about 15 minutes left – I was bored out of my mind. Cinema verite never looked so pretentious and sycophantic. Then just this month I downloaded the legendary, subversive, shocking song “CS Blues” -- the long version -- and have had a similar reaction. It’s definitely not bad, but I can see why it wasn’t officially released – a bluesy, tossed-off throwaway demo, pretty much. There’s got to be some quality lost Stones tracks floating around on bootlegs, since there are only about 50,000 different Stones boots (Clinton Heylin, in his book Bootleg, had the Stones pegged as one of the 3 most bootlegged artitsts of all time – the others were Dylan and The Beatles), but as someone who’s only really checked out the legitimate releases, I don’t really know. Any suggestions?
TOP 5 STONES LPs….Mojo recently weighed in on this pressing topic, slamming one of the better Rolling Stones LPs (Metamorphosis) and needlessly elevating some of the lesser ones (“Tattoo You”?!?). For the record, here’s the real top five:
1. EXILE ON MAIN STREET – Yeah, I know, DUH. Start to finish, with almost no exceptions, a near-perfect album, and the template for boozy, high-energy barroom rock (certainly horrifying in theory, but a style later picked up & done tribute to by Green On Red, Medicine Show-era Dream Syndicate and the Divine Horsemen). They were also aiming for a distinctly Southern R&B feel here and it’s so good, it’s easy to forget the whole thing was created by five English fops faking American accents. I’ll take “Torn and Frayed” as top Stones song ever, too. Or maybe “Loving Cup”.
2. BEGGARS’ BANQUET – Another masterpiece. Contains three of their least heralded classics, “Stray Cat Blues”, “Jigsaw Puzzle” and “Salt of the Earth”, all easily as good as any of the big hits.
3. LET IT BLEED – A fantastic record, but despite coming in 1969 after Beggars’, a steep drop-off from #2. Can you believe that a track as life-affirming as “Gimme Shelter” could actually have once been a massive hit? Different times! UPDATE: Turns out "Gimme Shelter" was never a 45, and therefore not a massive hit. An FM hit, maybe, but no Top Of the Pops for this one. My bad -- just an assumption based on its ubiquity.
4. AFTERMATH – This 1966 LP is the R&B/blues-based record that gave us “Under My Thumb”, “Paint It Black” and “Stupid Girl”. Widely considered to be the record where the band had fully grown out of really competent "cover band" mode, most likely because it was the first in which Mick and Keith actually wrote all the songs.
5. THE ROLLING STONES. NOW! – You know, the Stones records’ came out in so many different formats and editions in the early days, that I’m not really sure just what their first official album is. I suppose I could look it up on the “World Wide Web”. It’s great – straight-up British Invasion R&B, including “Heart of Stone” and “Off The Hook”. Basically a pack of killer covers, as reverentially blues-soaked as white British boys could be.
Friday, March 14, 2003
THE MOST UNDERRATED RECORD OF THE 90s…..Would have to be the masterful 1992 LP/CD Eleven: Eleven from Boston’s COME. I had sung the praises of this one, their debut, in my own 90s publication Superdope from the time it came out, but I’m beginning to think maybe it’s just one of those a-little-too-indie records that’s not ever going to grab a lot of future play in the hipster cognoscenti. Fair enough. It’s not “punk”, it’s not D.I.Y., it’s definitely not “obscure” (it came out in wide release on Matador), and wow, it’s even got a girl on lead vocals and guitar. What’s so special about it? Well, along with its companion 45 “Fast Piss Blues / I Got The Blues”, Eleven: Eleven has got just about everything you’d ever ask for in a dark, dynamic, aurally gripping twin-guitar record, and then some. Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw, I believe I said in an earlier piece I’d written on this record, play like “fraternal twins of different mothers” – their ability to interlock and hone in together on a bleak, spiraling, whammy-bar dominated “solo” is just unreal. No, it’s not the blues, hype to the contrary – it’s rock and roll, baby, among the best of the past two decades. They claimed in an interview to take their influences from "…the Rolling Stones, Gun Club, early British bands like the Only Ones, the Go Betweens, the Bad Seeds, These Immortal Souls." And it’s telling just how far Come fell from grace after their rhythm section of Arthur Johnson and Sean O’Brien left the band, following this record’s (great) follow-up Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The subsequent Near Life Experience was like a collection of weak demos and b-sides compared to the previous two records, lacking all the hard-hitting, tight propulsion of its predecessors.
Eleven: Eleven even feels like a concept record (though I doubt this was their intent), as it is sequenced perfectly, from the scraping, burrowing-out first track “Submerged” to the careening, out-of-control finish “Orbit”. (the CD tacks on the aforementioned 45). Zedek’s raspy vocals are angrier and her lyrics just as “poetic” as Marianne Faithfull’s justly heralded Broken English, and her band’s twenty times more energetic and aggressive. I’m not sure what production techniques were used to get that thumping drum & shimmering guitar sound, but it helps keep some kind of order in what is constantly threatening to descend into madness. When I see Eleven: Eleven sitting forlornly in the priced-to-move bins at the used CD stores, I drop a small tear for Thalia, Chris, Arthur and Sean. They deserve far better, as they created a stone cold masterpiece in 1992 that I hope will be recognized as such by more folks in due time.
Thursday, March 13, 2003
PLEASE DON’T TALK TO THE LIFEGUARD….Anyone else out there a fan of girl groups? Not the girl-band geek/Long Gone John groups of today (though I guess I enjoy some of those), but the classic early-mid 1960s girl singers and bands. The popular examples would of course be the SHANGRI-LAs and the RONETTES, but as my recent forays into the field have proven, this was quite a fertile genre 25-30 years ago, full of obscure 45s now trickling their way onto CD comps. And if it’s not punk rock enough for you, think RAMONES. These ladies and their producers were easily as big an influence on the so-called Brudders as The Stooges or MC5 ever were. Maybe that still doesn’t mean anything to you, but I think I have a song that will, tough guy.
When I purchased a CD last year entitled Boyd Rice Presents: Music For Pussycats, I’d never heard of it nor seen it before, and I was a bit nervous that the soft, girly exterior art would be a front for some horrible industrial racket within, with fake song titles and all that. All I know about Rice is that he’s quite the prankster (can someone please confirm for me if he’s truly the other – more funny – caller on John Trubee’s “Calls To Idiots” prank call cassette series?), that he’s been involved in something noisy and uninteresting-sounding called NON, that he’s been falsely accused of being a Nazi, and that he’s fathered a child with Lisa Carver/Suckdog. That’s about it. Turns out Mr. Rice is quite the girl group aficionado, all outward signs to the contrary. His CD Music For Pussycats introduced me to what is now my favorite girl group/singer song of all time, the centerpiece and crème de la crème of the genre, DIANE RAY’s “Please Don’t Talk To The Lifeguard”. This is the most bouncy, fun, infectious, outright charming song you’ve (n)ever heard. How could this not have been a massive, massive hit in 1963? Think Sandra Dee pining after the hunky, unavailable lifeguard and singing an up-tempo, perfectly-paced song about it. “Dark and handsome, golden tan / six feet tall / Man oh man! / Going to make him mine all mine / Wish they’d take away that sign!”. A classic! Unfortunately the Rice compilation sounds like it was transferred via frayed, ungrounded cables from his walkman to a CD burner; in other words, it sounds like crap (though the CD is still worth seeking out, as his quality control procedures were still excellent). One of my recent finds in the Tokyo record shopping spree was what looks to be a Belgian bootleg comp called “Girls Girls Girls, Volume 7” which contains a near-perfect transfer of this classic 45 (looks like it’s also on this Early Girls comp as well). Now I’ve got it in as pristine a form as it deserves. Hey, maybe it’s on Kazaa or something – why not give it a whirl? I’ll stake any remaining reputation I’ve got on it.
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
JUKEBOX JURY, ROUND ONE…..It has been said that one’s musical tastes begin to gel for good around the college-age years – a time of experimentation and a supposed broadening of horizons. I'd like to put that notion to the test today. My years in bloom were 1985-1989, a time in which I took up serious recreational drinking, experimented with left wing politics, and bought my first Killdozer record. Looking back on it all now, it seems too long ago – and yet, considering some of the records involved, perhaps all too near. That’s why I will debut the first installment of “Jukebox Jury” here, in which I revisit some of those records and those bands that sounded so robust and so full of life in those halcyon days. We’ll start with five, and discuss an additional quintet in each future installment. I – the sole member of the jury – will also decide where these musicians stand in 2003. Whither Pussy Galore? How do The Fluid make out in the 21st century? Would anyone buy a Halo of Flies record if it came out today? It just may be that 14-18 years can tell us all a lot about a band, a lot about me – and yes, perhaps even a bit about you, too, if you care to admit it. Let’s find out where some of our 1980s heroes stand today. Just as in our criminal justice system, these musicians will be judged either INNOCENT or GUILTY. If Innocent, they have successfully stood the ravages and judgment of time, and their music still sounds good to this day – not a small matter when the original jury was 18-19 years old. If they’re deemed Guilty, these bands are already being judged harshly by history, and will likely be wholly forgotten when the college students who bought their records in the 80s slowly begin to die off. Not even the Trouser Press Record Guide will save them from their fate. This ride may not be comfortable, and may in fact bring back some unpleasant memories. Remember, we were all of college age once.
1. KILLDOZER – I once had all the records, including the rare debut “Intellectuals Are The Shoeshine Boys of the Ruling Elite” LP (on “Bone-Air Records”!). This Wisconsin trio specialized in heavy, sludgy, ultra-slow and damaged riffs, with a skinny guy belting out a gravel-filled wail of the damned on vocals. Covers were often their specialty, particularly from the 1970s, a decade from which they purportedly took a great deal of ironic inspiration. Scored a minor indie noise/rock hit in “Hamburger Martyr”, a favorite of 19 year old college radio DJs who thought it was pretty funny to play a song starting with a croaking “Fffffuck you!” to the audience, while pretending that mom might be listening. Think Neil Young meets Scratch Acid – in theory at least, but oh so short in practice. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Not even close – I had quickly sold off all the records even before Clinton was elected – the first time. GUILTY.
2. LAUGHING HYENAS – Tough one here. Going on my pronouncements at the time, this was one of the best live bands I’d ever, ever seen – and I’ve no doubt that was true. They were a goddamn powerhouse, especially on the You Can’t Pray A Lie tour, with a caterwauling, bluesy heavy attack rooted in the Detroit rock-n-roll pantheon and extending into 80s giants like Black Flag & the Flesh Eaters. So why does listening to the records today seem kinda, I don’t know – silly? First, check out the lyrics. They’re godawful. John Brannon’s screaming? Still sounds raw and powerful, but heeey – my BS detector is starting to act up. JUKEBOX JURY VERDICT? Relax, gang. In 2003 at least, you’re still regarded as INNOCENT.
3. PUSSY GALORE – I recently listened to most of their mid-to-late 80s discography, including the top-drawer Right Now! and the Corpse Love CD of the early material. Without question, it still holds up. Say what you will about Jon Spencer & co., but no one had successfully combined Neubauten-style industrial clanging with straight-up punk rock before. I also still dig the 60s Back From The Grave vibe that saturates the records – these kids were most definitely doing their homework. The sound is tough, the production is LOUD and harsh-sonding, and most of the tracks – dumb teenage nihilism besides – are still garage-punk crude and fully satisfying. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? A no-brainer. INNOCENT.
4. THE FLUID -- When Sub Pop started appearing to be a world-beating label, primarily due to the first 3-4 records from Mudhoney, the glow extended to some of the lesser bands in the stable, many of whom received inordinate amounts of undue attention. The Fluid did earn some measure of what respect they commanded due to a being a great live act – IF you were three sheets to the wind while watching them. I had a good time at their shows, but somehow never listened to the records much, which were kinda retarded Motor City punk mixed with whatever they were calling “grunge” at the time. The Fluid also had a total prima donna singer who you could just tell was dying to be a rock star. I should have seen right through it. Only the wisdom that comes with age enables me to the render the JUKEBOX JURY VERDICT: An irrevocable GUILTY.
5. SCRATCH ACID -- This Texas band’s fantastic first EP trickled out to the public via word of mouth, as it had come out on a tiny Austin label called Rabid Cat. It was a revelation, sort of an American Birthday Party with a hardcore punk edge. The follow-up LP, "Just Keep Eating", was even better -- way out of left field and all over the map, this record even contained a cover from Jesus Christ Superstar -- and it worked. I worshipped these guys, and listening to the compleat CD compilation that Touch & Go put out some time ago does nothing to dull the edge. I never understood the appeal of Jesus Lizard or any of these guys’ subsequent bands, but Scratch Acid, now they were the shit. JUKEBOX JURY VERDICT? Free to turn on a new generation. INNOCENT.
We'll have a visit with the Lazy Cowgirls, Dinosaur Jr. and the Spacemen 3 in our next edition.
Monday, March 10, 2003
BILL DIREEN AND THE BILDERS / BUILDERS / & DIE BILDERS ETC….No artist that I know of more willingly courted obscurity in his early years than BILL DIREEN, in concert with his band the BILDERS (often just Allen Meek on bass). In 1980-81, this Christchurch, New Zealand folk hero recorded several EPs and 45s under a variety of names, with an incredibly disproportionate disregard for a popular following given the quality of his music – which follows a tight arc from “Run Run Run”-esque Velvet Underground noise to boozy pub rock and barreling right on through to punk. It’s all tinged with a smattering of weird church organ and a quasi-heavy religious feel at times, as distinctly “New Zealand” as it gets, though standing very proudly as its own thing. The early EPs and 45s came out with no information save for the “band” name – one-off names like Six Impossible Things, High Thirties Piano or Die Bilder, Schwimmen In Der See – and were often released in NZ in editions of 100. A record collectors’ wet dream band, as you can see; it’s a good thing the music lives up to it.
The first retrospective volume of his work came out in 1994 on Flying Nun, and is called "Max Quitz – Bilders Vol. 1". I’ve been re-listening to it quite a bit lately. It has the first five rare EPs released before his debut LP "Beaten Hearts". I’m not saying this stuff is always brilliant – it clunks or feels tossed-off often enough on enough of the tracks to keep it from the upper echelons of the NZ Valhalla occupied by, say, The Clean. But tracks like “Alien” (really, a 100% perfect song and an all-time favorite), “Summer On The Nullarbor”, or “Bedrock Bay” are fantastic. There’s a real effortless, first-take-is-the-best-take vibe throughout his recordings, some of which are definitely recorded live in tiny Christchurch watering holes. I myself saw Mr. Direen play a one-off show in San Francisco around the time of the reissue and it was pretty alright, with a set that appeared tossed together with a finger to the breeze. Renaissance man Direen now writes short stories, plays and poetry, and you can learn all about it right here. I highly recommend three of the four retrospective CDs from Flying Nun – only "Pyx, Volume Four" is a snooze. Start with "Max Quitz Volume 1" and see what you think, if you’re not already on the Direen tip yet.
THE THRILL OF THE HUNT, TOKYO STYLE…..I felt like Hemingway in search of the rare whitetail buck in the wilds of Nova Scotia as I set out on foot to conquer Tokyo’s record shops yesterday. I’m still out here for my job and had a free Sunday to tackle this endeavor. Jesus H. Christ, this place is amazing. Best record stores of any city I’ve ever seen – even tops the New York Greenwich Village circuit. After a couple of comical false starts a few days ago in search of Tokyo’s fabled micro-specialty record shops, I set aside all day Sunday to this dogged pursuit. I got up early, ate a big breakfast, packed plenty of rations, and I was off. What was I searching for? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe for myself. I actually enjoy getting hideously lost in a city I know nothing about, the better to stumble upon the “real” sections of the city, and I seem to be pretty adept at it. And of course I don’t ask for directions, just like at home. I Googled a bit online the night before under (“record stores” AND “Tokyo”) and found this really informative guide, as well as this helpful article. Somehow I missed this one that I just stumbled onto right now, which might have saved me a lot of time.
Armed with my walking papers, I started Sunday morning in Shibuya, a loud, commercial-overload district with tons of neon lights and screaming jumbotron TV screens. “Just look for the big Tokyu Hands department store, go behind it and there will be dozens of specialty shops”. RIGHT. Thinking that I knew WHICH Tokyu store that article mentioned, I spent at least 2 hours wandering the streets behind it, even though about 4 blocks away was the Tokyu Hands store I really wanted. You know what’s wild about this place? Everything’s in Japanese! Can you believe that shit? In any event, I accidentally found this store called M...In France that sells only French music – not that techno/house crap, but a store full of the Gainsbourg/60s ye ye/Dutronc/Francois Hardy stuff. It was colorful and inviting, with a proprietor who put the hard sell on me for some 60s French-Canadian pop, and who was the only person besides waitpersons whom I spoke English with all day. He also finally pointed me in the right direction for the rest of the stores, which naturally had been right under my nose. I checked out about a half dozen, including a CD bootleg shop with something like 200 Zeppelin boots and maybe twice that many (seriously) from the Beatles and Stones (if you're ever up for some killer shows from the "Steel Wheels" tour, this is the place), along with a terrifying selection of “progressive” bootlegs from Gong, Camel, Yes, etc. There were also some cool 60s-70s soul and reggae vinyl shops – Sounds of Blackness and Savage come to mind, as well as an entire floor of punk at the five-floor Disc Union. I’d heard the real action was in Shinjuku, home to 50 shops in a several-block area, so I got on the subway and headed over there. Despite four hours in Shibuya, my wallet still hadn’t been lightened to the point where I’d have to lie to my wife – yet.
In Shinjuku, everything’s divided up into “chome”s – which I believe means districts. I was looking for 7 chome, as I’d been instructed. I quickly found 8 chome, and one might have thought that 7 chome would be coming up next, right? Wrong. I finally hit 3 chome and still hadn’t seen a single hipster store, and wasted an entire hour wandering. I walked back and spied a promising shop called Disc Hell – sounds pretty “alternative”, hunh? I took the elevator up to the 8th floor, and it opened directly into a store cranking the most unholy death/grind metal imaginable, at ear-shredding volume of course. Three heavily stoned Japanese heshers, who looked like exiled members of the Aum Shrinrikyo gas-attack cult, slowly glanced up from the counter before sinking back into their reveries. I pretended to look at the Extreme Noise Terror videos for a minute before taking the elevator back down. After more hideous bumbling, I finally found 7 chome, and what a friggin blast the next 3 hours were.
First, the Japanese get everything we get and then some in the US – from the most obscure pressing-of-300 seventies punk comps to hundreds of bootlegs to 45s that were released in London last week. I saw Desperate Bicycles, Mo-Dettes, and Shock 45s on the wall at the amazing Vinyl Japan, quite honestly the most esoteric, well-stocked collector-fiend record store I’ve ever been to, anywhere. There are five different Vinyl Japan stores in the same block, four if you don’t count the house/dance music store. One appears to focus almost wholly on obscure 80s UK pop like the Marine Girls, Monochrome Set, etc. (still didn’t find the Dolly Mixture CD, though). I visited Barn Homes Records, home of the 1+2 garage punk label and a bunch of rare R&B, 60s and 70s punk, and Crypt/Norton-type bands. Also checked out Tiger Hole (punk/indie), a HC punk and death metal store perplexingly called Allman (!), two full-on bootleg stores called Youth Records and Pop Beat, and a couple others I don’t remember the names of. I saw Japanese people with ‘fros, Japanese people with mohawks and leather Discharge/Exploited jackets, and even a homeless guy – just like at home! Beats working any day. That’s the scene report from Japan, where I’m coming at you live. Cut and paste this report for your next visit to Tokyo.
Saturday, March 08, 2003
AGONY SHORTHAND MANIFESTO....Well, I don't really have one, but the weblog thing is going pretty well so far, thanks in large part to the comments those who've been reading this are tacking onto my rants. Really the germ for what I wanted to do with this thing was an idea for a straight-up consumer guide. I've always found that the only fanzine-type material worth reading are those that have a "writer" or "critic" whose tastes & recommendations you can trust when it's time to hit the racks. Obviously they have always been few and far between. Perhaps an unenviable and somewhat ludicrous task to posit myself as one of those, but that's sort of the idea. In the mid-1980s there was this very of-the-era fanzine called Too Fun Too Huge -- I think they were from the Boston area and I seem to remember the main guy Patrick Amory getting crucified in Conflict magazine from time to time. It looks like you can actually buy a 1986 issue of it here. Anyway, they would pop off with full-length reviews of whatever they'd happened to be listening to at the time, be it from the past week or from 20 years earlier. They even had nice things to say about the Fairport Convention (*snore*). It's a great approach, though. The blog concept seems to lend itself to this approach well. I'll see what I can make of it.
SOME POST-WAR BLUES GENIUS….My pick for top post-WWII bluesman is hands-down Mr. Lightning Hopkins. When I first heard a full Hopkins record, it was on what remains to this day my favorite work of his, the languid, aching 1947-1950 sessions recorded at the Gold Star Studios in Houston, Texas. These sessions are packed with deep, rural-evoking sounds and are marked by Lightning’s almost tired-sounding voice (check out "Tim Moore's Farm" -- what a dis!). His trademark guitar introduction to almost every song (if you know his stuff, you know the two-note sound I’m talking about) debuted during these sessions, which were recorded just after he’d had a couple of minor “hits” with his first records “Katie Mae” and “Short Haired Woman”. He’d just finished his association playing with early blues great Texas Alexander and with “Thunder” Smith around the state, and he was now off on his own for good. These recordings are now easily found on two separately-sold Arhoolie CDs called “The Gold Star Sessions”, an absolute must for any right-thinking blues hound. Between the two CDs are 48 tracks and 135 minutes of music, most with a slow, unforced, downright sad pacing and a real haunted guitar sound. They even include some halfway decent zydeco if you’re into that sort of thing. True lights-out music for bad times.
THE CW ON TROPICALIA IS WRONG!....There’s a semi-interesting point buried deep somewhere in an article in the new Perfect Sound Forever online ‘zine called “The Dark Side of Tropicalia”. If the point is that the quintessential late 60s Brazilian contribution to rock and roll was mostly a bunch of hype, great – and to that end there’s a very promising lead sub-headline: “(Tropicalia) was less a countercultural act than a marketing coup and it would, by the years, retard the Brazilian cultural evolution”. Yet inside this first of two articles – an expose', no less! – is a cultural history lesson desperately searching for a connection to the thesis, not to mention an admirable struggle with English scholastic language. Hey, virtually all popularly recognized musical movements look far different on the ground then they do when the media celebrates them in hindsight, and unfortunately the historical record is usually defined by the latter. I’ll reserve final judgment until the big Part Two in a couple months – keep those eyes peeled! Hopefully Jason at Perfect Sound Forever will publish the big tell-all I’m working on, “The Hidden Secrets of Grunge”.
Thursday, March 06, 2003
INSTANT AUTOMATONS REVIVAL NOW UNDERWAY....One of the more obscure but justly celebrated bands of the early 80s UK D.I.Y. movement were the INSTANT AUTOMATONS, purveyors of distinctly low fidelity, private-press anti-establishment art-synth racket. Twenty years on, the word is out. Not only do the Instant Automatons have their own website now, but there's a new "near-compleat" compilation CD available through that same website. I just ordered one via Paypal, and true to the band's original easy/cheap ethos, they're charging a mere FIVE DOLLARS for it. Thanks! Here's a review of the new release from WFMU's web site:
"The Instant Automatons were a mere blip on the radar screen of the UK Post-punk scene that flashed and faded before the word even got out. Revolving around Mark Lancaster circa 1979-80, the Automatons revelled in being part of what was then called the "Bad Music" scene (and today would be called "lo-fi") that splattered itself all over releases on 7" and cassette from such genius labels as Fuck Off Records. Cheap synths and drum machines abound on this music, along with clattery guitar, and barked vocal that sound a bit suspiciously like Mark E. Smith (this disc's liner notes are penned by Grant Showbiz who did Fall sleeves as well, hmmm....) railing against materialism, bad new romantic music and other concerns of the angry British youth of the day. While generally high-spirited, there are bits of Joy Division gloom (the notes point out that one song is called Catacomb to mimic JD's one-word song titles), but overall, the inventive minimalism here is truly charming, and even stretches itself to utilize a full Welsh choir on one track. If Tony Wilson's Factory empire was worthy of a flick, there's bound to be quite a few tales to tell in regard to the Automatons and their involvement with the Fuck Off label scene and Street Level studio."
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION – THE FALL’s TOP 10 LPs….The first LP by The Fall that I ever heard – 1985’s “This Nation’s Saving Grace” – absolutely blew me away and set me on a decade-long grail-quest (one I actually completed) to find every piece of vinyl they’d put out before that time. I’d like to say I really enjoyed their follow-up records – which continue to somehow be released as “The Fall” to this day – but I didn’t, and I don’t. Mind you, the stuff isn’t awful, but you probably know that. Folks have tried to sell me on “I Am Kurious Oranj” and “The Frenz Experiment” and the others ("it's almost as good as the early stuff"), but I think the band permanently lost their life-changing repetitive rawness right when I was getting turned onto them. I’ve still never seen “them” live. I heard there’s a DJ in the band now who continually blows a whistle during the set. That sounds fucking great.
Here, then, in order, are their best LPs (with an EP included just because it rules). I will provide scant commentary – perhaps in future posts we can dissect these. Of course, minus two live LPs and a live cassette, these are all the pre-1985 records. Surely we can benefit from having them ranked, right?
1. Hex Enduction Hour
3. Perverted By Language (I believe this one gets short shrift when people consider the band’s top records. “PBL” is The Fall at their most jarringly dark and troubled – after this one their internal sun began to burn successively brighter LP-to-LP until they were almost a full-on pop band. They were true originals on this late 1983 release, more weird and as depressingly great as ever, with two drummers and Mark E Smith in top form. As they say in Northern England, this one is the dog’s bollocks)
5. Room To Live
6. This Nation’s Saving Grace
8. A Part of America Therein
9. Live At The Witch Trials
10. The Wonderful and Frightening World of…
THE REVOLUTIONARIES "AT CHANNEL ONE"....A frequent listen of late has been a 2001 CD of unreleased 1976 recordings from Sly & Robbie's REVOLUTIONARIES called "The Revolutionaries At Channel 1 -- Dub Plate Specials". This is not the usual heavy, drug-friendly echoed-beyond-belief dub I often go for, but it is a great spin, best enjoyed in the background of a long car trip or before sleep. The 14 dubs are primal, stripped-to-the-bone studio experimentation without a lot of overt showing off (a la Lee Perry or King Tubby, who certainly earned the right). Vocals are basically nonexistent, a key factor in my enjoyment of Jamaican dub -- most "toasters" make my skin crawl. The liner notes say that these were actually the first recordings of the band, who featured Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare on drums and bass respectively & who first made their name as leaders of the Channel 1 Studios in-house band. "Straight from the masters, some brand new biscuits!". Recommended.
Wednesday, March 05, 2003
WAIKIKI IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME….This is sorta last year’s news, but there’s this guy Dave Stewart in the San Francisco area who’s put together a TEN HOUR MP3 compilation of Hawaiian 78s from 1925-1938. I’d never heard of such a thing, but I wholeheartedly support this sort of endeavor. The title is – nyuk – “Waikiki Is Good Enough For Me”, and there are 188 tracks, all from a time when the craze for Hawaiian-accented music was in vogue. This fertile format yielded some very otherworldly sounds in the form of slack-key guitar weirdness, brought to life by Sol Hoopii and His Novelty Quartet, Andy Iona and His Islanders, Kane’s Hawaiians, and – yes, that master of Hawaiian melodies, “the singing Haole”, Jimmie Rogers! (represented here on track #176, “Looking For a New Mama”). Because of the scratchy 78rpm-style feel of these recordings, I’d put them closer in spirit to the then-current olde time Mountain music or even call it akin to a more commercialized Southern blues than the likely mainstream or even novelty audiences these numbers were aimed at. It might only sit well for an hour or two, but when you’ve got 8-9 more hours of listening to go, that’s usually just fine. Mr. Stewart is obviously a connoisseur of this decidedly “specialist” form, and for a mere twenty bucks or something, he’ll ship one of these discs to you. Check it out at his web site for it, and remember that you can only play this on your computer or high-end stereo that plays MP3s. He’s got a couple of newer MP3 CDs of his old 78s out now as well.
RANDOM BEGGING, IN ONLY MY FOURTH WEEK….I’m new on the blog job, but I think it’s already time to start posting some wants out there. To start, I’m looking for a CD-R burn of the DOLLY MIXTURE “Demonstration Tapes” reissue that came out a few years back. The 2xLP was originally released in 1982. Yes, I am a pop simp – sometimes. If it’s quality D.I.Y.-rooted harmony-pop of the first order, I’d like to get involved. This CD totally eludes me, even on the “Internet”. If anyone wants to get in touch regarding a trade of some kind, I’m at email@example.com, or click that link that says “E-mail me” above. UPDATE: Looks like the 2xLP of this sold last week on eBay for $165! I want it but not that bad.