Monday, May 19, 2003
KITTY WELLS, HORRIBLE SELL-OUT TO THE MAN….One last note on the “…And The Answer Is” 1950s country compilation (above). This well-told tale from Colin Escott’s liner notes deserves your attention:
“Academics, don’t be fooled into thinking that Kitty Wells' “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” is a statement of neo-feminist values. Not only was it written by a man, but it was written by a man sniffing out an easy buck. J.D. Miller later cut wonderful swamp blues records as well as the ultimate politically incorrect records (“Move Them Niggers North”, “Lookin’ For A Handout” etc.) for his own Rebel label. He realized that the melody of “Wild Side Of Life” was in the public domain, which meant that he wouldn’t have to surrender half the copyright to the writers of the original, as most writers of answer songs have to do. The melody had in fact come from England several hundred years earlier, although it’s doubtful Miller knew this. Inspiration struck him on Rte. 90 in Louisiana, and he pulled his car over and scribbled down the sequel. The then-unknown Kitty Wells cut it not because she empathized with the lyrics, but because she needed the session fee. The capriciousness of the music business is such that she still has to sing it twice a night…”
Sunday, May 18, 2003
UNION CARBIDE PRODUCTIONS : "IN THE AIR TONIGHT"....I'd like to pay tribute this afternoon to one of the most over-the-top, raw, animalistic rock and roll LPs of all time, the godhead 1987 monster "In The Air Tonight" from Sweden's UNION CARBIDE PRODUCTIONS. You know that band Soundtrack Of Our Lives that's been getting so much ink of late? The one you heard & said in your best 12-year-old girl voice: "whatever"? Turns out that two of those guys were in the mighty UCP, & at one point had three UCP alumni among their ranks. None other than Rolling Stone had this description of UCP in a TSOOL puff piece: "Union Carbide Productions were Sweden's majestic combined answer to the Stooges, Black Flag and the early freaked-out Pink Floyd, a Next Big Thing doomed by missed opportunities and inner turmoil". That's a good enough description as any, but what they're not telling you is what a quantum leap in quality it is traveling backward through the band's history until you get to their incredible debut.
"In The Air Tonight" is one of those legendary records with a rep that keeps growing. When it came out it was a bolt from the blue for those of us who'd never found a Swedish band to dig (I hadn't heard the amazing late 70s punk from Sweden yet), and it was hailed in pretty much all corners who dared to listen. Even Lydia Lunch weighed in with a typically hyperbolic, all-caps review in Forced Exposure that had all the right adjectives: heavy, killer, bloody, blistering, raw, and of course, "over-indulgent fuck inspiring". Whatever. From Mikael Funke's history of the band on UCP's website: "Here were five guys from Gothenburg who dressed either as slobs or in suits, wore their hair long and uncombed or shaven to the skin. The music was loud, vibrant and - unlike most bands - full of groove and energy. UCP fused the Detroit Sound of The Stooges and MC5 with the weirdness of The Fugs and Captain Beefheart. They let the Stones, Doors and other great sixties acts shine through their songs long before Primal Scream. UCP was the band that did everything right in the wrong time"
This record was also given the full worship in UGLY THINGS magazine #16 in 1998, a perplexing turn for the paisley and romulan scenes, but minor complaints notwithstanding, one that spoke volumes of Mr. Stax's commitment to high-quality, high-decibel rock and roll. You read this reminiscing about the band now and it appears that everyone seems to think if it had only been 1994 instead of 1987 these guys would have been huge. I don't think so -- we're talking about defiantly non-commercial heavy punk rock, with sprawling textures, sandpaper vocals and what sounds like fifty guitars roaring at once. The closing 10-minute "Down On The Beach" recalls Husker Du's "Reocurring Dreams" with Steve Mackay's maniac sax on "LA Blues" -- not a recipe for Nirvana-style success, but a fantastic listen for the rest of us. My personal take is that their quality plummeted precipitously on the next two records (both were just okay, even though one had a song called -- gasp -- "San Francisco Boogie"), and by the time of the 90s hit I'd stopped paying attention. But get this: the band's been reuniting in Sweden from time to time, and there's talk of a box set & worldwide reissues of "In The Air Tonight" on CD (you can find it on CD now, just not as easily as you should). Sounds like a project for Revenant, & definitely worthy of joining their lineup.
CLOTHILDE “SAPERLIPOPETTE”…..Hey French speakers and ye ye fans, what does the title of this fantastic collection mean: “super little popette”? If so it’d be most apt, as CLOTHILDE, as heralded by one JV in these pages, made some of the most gourmet candy-coated 1960s French pop music you’ll ever hear. “Saperlipopette” collects both of her 1967 4-song EPs into one very short CD, and is produced with just enough bells & whistles (and horns & triangles & keys & other cool effects) to qualify as a gallic OS MUTANTES at their most pop-friendly moments. The “popettemaster” in Clothilde’s closet was one Germinal Tenas, who ought on this work alone to be standing well astride the 60s pop producer pantheon, along with Joe Meek & Phil Spector. From the Ye-Ye Girls website:
(Clothilde was) a protege of renowned producer Germinal Tenas (an alias for Christian Fechner). Germinal worked with punk Antoine et les Problemes, Christine Delroche and he later formed his own band, Chorus Reverendus. He enjoyed mixing traditional pop sounds with weird instruments like the French Horn. The result was a strange and splendid baroque pop, not dissimilar to Shadow Morton's productions for The Shangri-Las, and every one of the eight songs Clothilde and Germinal did together are musts!
I heartily concur. The kick-off track “Fallait Pas Ecraser La Queue Du Chat” may very well be the “Please Don’t Talk To The Lifeguard” of the 1960s French pop genre – pure sunlight and production genius, with enough mile-wide hooks to hide a whole decade’s worth of weapons of mass destruction in. It’s so goddamn great you also get it in Italian at the end of this CD. Here’s where to continue after you’ve tapped out on the compilations.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
THE GOOD NEWS ROLLS RIGHT IN....Agony Shorthand HQ just got a super-secret update "on the QT" that Kurt at Atavistic is going to re-issue the first and fourth FLESH EATERS albums on CD. The first, "No Questions Asked" will include the landmark "Disintegration Nation" 7"EP (the record from which Agony Shorthand takes its name), as well as an otherwise completely unheard demo that predates that first record. How about that?? The fourth LP, "Hard Road To Follow" seems to be the one the most folks are least familar with, which is a cryin' shame as it contains some of the heaviest hardcore roots/metal/punk throttle & top-notch songwriting you'll hear anywhere. Great to hear that these records will be available again!!
There's also an even more ultra-secret rumor (or "rumour", for our British friends) that a certain label from a certain large California coastal city has agreed to re-issue the 3rd Flesh Eaters LP as well -- "Forever Came Today". That would put "the big four" all on CD and in the racks for your purchasing pleasure, joining their world-class counterpart "A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die" -- arguably one of the Top 5 greatest rock and roll records of all time! Kudos to my source for the news.
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
I ALMOST FORGOT TO MAKE MONEY.....I was reminded this week that I actually have back issues of SUPERDOPE to sell to you for a small sum, should you be interested. Of course! Superdope was a music magazine I put together from 1990 to about 1998, focusing on many of the same topics/bands you see here -- probably a bit more reflective "of its time" than the nostalgic backward-looking paens of Agony Shorthand, but the spirit remains. In today's electronic age, it is easy for you to order the few copies I have sitting around, as long as you're set up on Paypal. Here's what I've got:
SUPERDOPE #8 -- A digest-sized issue from 1998 with a very long, multi-page article called "FORTY-FIVE 45s THAT MOVED HEAVEN & EARTH", featuring my summations & opinions of what I considered the best 7" records of all time. Featured bands include PERE UBU, THE CRAMPS, MC5, ELECTRIC EELS, GERMS, BAGS, FLESH EATERS, PAGANS and more. Kinda punk rock. There are also a large handful of reviews of records of the day. I'll let this go for $3 US, $4 US to Canada and $5 US to the rest of the world.
SUPERDOPE #6 -- A much larger, full-sized issue from 1993, featuring interviews with COME, DADAMAH, DON HOWLAND (fresh out of the Gibson Bros), JEFF EVANS (also fresh out of the Gibson Bros) and Japan's HIGH RISE. Also has a ton of reviews. This one's $4 US, $5 to Canada and $6 US to the rest of the world.
If you're at all interested, you can use my e-mail address of email@example.com for Paypal, or e-mail me if you want to pay using another method.
Monday, May 12, 2003
PRINCE BUSTER “FABULOUS GREATEST HITS”….One genre that I came upon to appreciate rather late in life is SKA – that much-maligned, perhaps guilty-by-association music loved worldwide by clothes horses & 11-year-old kid brothers. The fertile, dance-crazed Jamaican 60s ska scene got a new lease on life and was introduced to most of us when British pop groups took it mainstream in the early 80s (and for the most part, not at all badly, I might add). But then the Americans got involved and things got ugly. I remember the living, breathing definition of poseur in 1982-83 San Jose, California being a newly-minted “mod” or “ska-boy” with a Two Tone jacket, porkpie hat & a Vespa – to say nothing of the ska/punk crossover that many atrocious, unmentionable bands attempted in the years to follow. It really stunk up the entire genre for a lot of folks. I remember Forced Exposure making ska the punchline to many a review (“…At least this band doesn’t play ska…”; “nothing could be worse than this, except maybe for ska” etc.).
Lost in the bile were the true heavyweights of 1960s Jamaican music that started this hep sound in the first place, foremost among them PRINCE BUSTER. I have been gobbling up a ton of 60s Jamaican music the past few years, but this is really my first full-length foray into The Prince. It’s a hell of an introduction! I’m sure there are plenty of greatest hits packages spilling off the shelves of your local records stores, but this one collects some of his most killer sides from the Fabulous label circa 1964-67 or thereabouts. The standouts are the uptempo, ultra-fast songs that define the genre: “Earthquake”, “Texas Hold-Up” and of course “Al Capone”, later turned into “Gangsters” by the Specials. He’s a great vocalist who melts butta on the slow ones & hollers like the insane conductor of the dance floor on the frantic ones. Naturally his band is hot & tight and ready to explode w/ a wall of horns when called upon to do so. I’m not really sure where ska ends and something called “Blue Beat” begins, but the liner notes make it clear that Prince Buster was all over them both. A terrific introduction if you’re so inclined.
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & THE MAGIC BAND “SHINY BEAST (BAT CHAIN PULLER)”….Am I way off base here, or does this record kind of blow? I’ve had it peeping at me in the racks for years – it was part of my must-buy-everything-Beefheart-ever-released project of some time ago, and after giving this one a sympathy spin again this week, now I remember what it was that stopped me from completing the endeavor. Instead of the deadly demon blues and stuttered noise of previous, much-heralded efforts, this 1978 record is mostly turgid, half-assed boogie competing against the shadow of punk rock USA exploding all around them in Los Angeles. Oh all right, it’s got some pretty good exceptions – I think I’ll burn myself copies of the opening “The Floppy Boot Stomp” and “Owed T’Alex” – but this is the bored and uninspired late-period Captain Beefheart that so many compare with boring and uninspiring Frank Zappa, not the half-baked musical oracle who launched a thousand ideas in the same riff whom we know and revere. I want to dig it, really, but it’s impossibly limp & I just can’t get my Beefheart jones going. Can I get a witness here, folks?
Friday, May 09, 2003
JUKEBOX JURY, ROUND THREE…..It’s time once again to face down the demons of our past and bring those now-dated bands and performers that marked my (and perhaps your) college-era experience (1985-89) to their final day of reckoning. Did they really have any relevance beyond the boozing, record collecting 19-year-old demographic? Can we honestly bring ourselves to listen to their once-unchallenged music in 2003 with nary a wince? If you missed the first installment, in which we took it to KILLDOZER, LAUGHING HYENAS, THE FLUID, PUSSY GALORE, and SCRATCH ACID, you can find it by clicking here. In our second installment, we rendered swift military-style justice to the LAZY COWGIRLS, DINOSAUR JR., NAKED RAYGUN, SPACEMEN 3 and SOUL ASYLUM, and you can find that one here. As before, 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 us bravely confront the mistakes of youth together. Here are this round’s sacrificial lambs!
1. BUTTHOLE SURFERS – There was a time when this band was the be-all & end-all for many a young parent-hating, drug-taking college student. Their 1980s live shows were absolute carnival freak shows, with absurd props & pranks, horrid medical accident films, crazed light shows, and unholy, droning noise that either sent one on a search for better stimulants or straight out of the room. But the records? Well, as the band themselves admit, it was never really about the records, and listening to them today I have to agree. There are a few screeching slices of low-end croak like “Concubine” or “To Parter” that still stand up, but mostly the Surfers on vinyl come across these days as gimmicky, unfunny and straight-up boring. I remember laughing hard at “The Shah Sleeps In Lee Harvey’s Grave” in the 10th grade – today it sounds like something only Jello Biafra or a 10th grader could still cop to digging. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Line up those old LPs for a ritual unloading on eBay – the Butthole Surfers are GUILTY.
2. DEATH OF SAMANTHA – These Ohioans got little respect and less glory for their rarified NY Dolls-meets-80s indie rock swagger, but I always thought that Death of Samantha were one of the absolute best bands going in 1985-89. They put out four terrific 12” records that showcased exceptionally clever wordsmithery & guitars that could jangle & shred in the same riff: “Strungout on Jargon”, the EP “Laughing In The Face of a Dead Man”, “Where The Women Wear The Glory and the Men Wear The Pants” and “Come All Ye Faithless”. For many, it came down to whether or not you could handle John Petkovic’s snarky, semi-abrasive vocals and his determined-to-piss-you-off personality. I could, and I still can. And those clothes – god, those clothes. Fantastic band, very much deserving of CD reissues of the aforementioned LPs. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Death of Samantha are INNOCENT.
3. DRUNKS WITH GUNS – Could be a real easy one for most to dismiss without actually listening to their late 80s output, as their shtick revolved around way-“heavy” topics like blood, guns, deviant sexual behavior etc. All well and good when you’re in the naïve, blossoming flower of youth, but it doesn’t wear so well on a 35-year-old. But St. Louis’ Drunks With Guns, who barely released anything back in the day that you could actually find without resorting to extreme ninja record collecting tactics, mitigated all of their youthful stupidity with the most flattening, bottom-heavy creepy crawl THUD that moved well beyond the benchmark set by FLIPPER into new realms of heavy ugliness. I listened the other day to some of their achievements, and tracks like “Drunks Theme” “Hellhouse” and, uh, “Dick In One Hand” still have it. They also were blessed with a terrific vocalist (Mike Doskocil) who “sang” with an affected miserable, angry white trash drunkard’s voice, and actually pulled it off. Many lesser lights have tried, and for all their raw, chapped vocal cords and belligerent posturing, their bands’ records are sitting in the 99-cent bins today (Iowa Beef Experience or god forbid, TAD, anyone?). Meanwhile, Drunks With Guns vinyl changes hands for $50+ for each of those impossibly rare 45s. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Never mind the rarity – for their bloodthirsty music alone, I call DWG INNOCENT.
4. HALO OF FLIES – I’ve already had an impassioned plea on one of the earlier comments to pronounce Minneapolis’ Halo of Flies innocent, but let’s go through the motions here first. Here’s another one who made their mark on the collector scum circuit first with gimmicks like edition-of-100 45s. Thing was, ALL of their 45s are killer. Tom Hazelmeyer, despite his crafted fake-racist/thin-skinned/uptight military man persona, was a phenomenal guitarist, capable of shooting sheets of guitar noise through a wah-wah & coming up with some of the most sonically invigorating up-tempo punk rock this side of the MC5 or his heroes THE CREATION. Every CD collection needs a well-played copy of “Music For Insect Minds”, which contains their complete recordings – every 45 and EP and comp track is fully represented. JUKEBOX JURY VERDICT? INNOCENT of course, but I might bring Hazelmeyer himself up for a parole hearing in a couple of years to see if some of his 1980s fanzine rants check out.
5. DIE KREUZEN – Finally we end with a decision on Milwaukee’s Die Kreuzen – ah, what to do with them? Their self-titled first LP, which unfortunately falls outside of the ’85-89 period we’re covering, is quite honestly and simply the greatest hardcore punk LP of all time (depending on whether or not you count "Damaged" and "G.I." as hardcore – if so, number three is still not a bad place to be). That record will joyfully peel the skin off your arms and scramble your synapses, an all-time heavyweight in the hard & loud hall of fame. So what did they do next? Well, it may have sounded good back then, but I now think any enthusiasm I was throwing at “October File” and “Century Days” back then was simple basking in the glow of the debut. They now sound like warmed-over, art-damaged metal at their best, and they obviously grope for U2 popularity at their worst. I saw them open for Sonic Youth in 1988 at San Francisco’s Fillmore, and was so eager for a good-time first-LP-style thrashing that I tried painfully hard to overlook the big hair, the power ballads and the exceptionally mediocre songs. It was tough, and for years I kept my feelings about it tightly bottled up, and kept telling everyone that Die Kreuzen were a damn good band. I talked this one over with my Midwest correspondent/expert DP, who saw Die Kreuzen many more times that I did, and he helped me with the final, painful, self-confronting judgment. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? GUILTY – Dave Lang’s eloquent protestations to the contrary.
Come back next time when we wrap up our series with decisions on BIG BLACK, SQUIRREL BAIT, DAS DAMEN and more!
Thursday, May 08, 2003
ART & COMMERCE ARE AT IT AGAIN…...The battle rages between those longtime enemies art (music) and commerce (embodied by digital technology) in a very good article in this month’s PERFECT SOUND FOREVER entitled “The Technology Trap”, written by one Brian James (from The Damned?). Mr. James, while not dismissing digital/electronic advances out of hand, makes a pretty compelling case for a dismaying alteration of musical expression springing from the increasingly widespread use of electronic sound generators, digital recording, click tracks and sound effects. Let’s just say he’s not into it. From the article:
“….We have allowed this to happen because we have lost track of music's purpose. I daresay that it was not invented so that it could culminate in the shiniest, most technologically sophisticated knob that man could ever hope to twiddle, and if that’s an unconvincing reason, then I simply find such a climax unworthy of much personal investment. The simple truth is that despite the superficial alterations that garner such excessive attention, music specifically and art in general express the same things they always have. They remind us of eternal themes much more than they discover them, and there is nothing wrong with that. We need to be told the same things over and over again and yes, we need to find new ways to express ourselves, but the former part of that sentiment is kicked to the margins by those who continue to doubly delude themselves into thinking that art doesn't merely change but progresses, and that technology is the engine for this progress. Formal discoveries are worth welcoming only if they remain firmly in service of content and worthy of rejection when they eclipse it”.
James has some very provoking thoughts on the matter, so I’d recommend reading the whole thing. I’m not sure I agree with him wholly, as I still believe a case can be made for music’s natural evolution within a capitalist, free-to-choose society, in which we – the buyers – can demand our poison of choice. Those who rightly argue that the recording industry needs to update its business model to keep pace with the technological achievements of the 21st century get themselves into something of a hypocritical bind when they also argue that music itself can’t evolve to reflect society’s achievements. Just as intentionally shitty production can gussy up a song, and make it sound even better than it would live (calling MIKE REP!), so too can state-of-the-art digital production & click tracks.
That’s not to say that I don’t easily prefer the music from a Robert Johnson 78 (the example cited by James) to that of some laptop hound. I don’t personally have to like that shortcut-taking garbage, and I don’t. James himself is exercising a fundamental societal value in his protestation of it. If he swings enough minds with this piece, who knows, maybe the worship of the electronic musician that marks our era may be taken down a notch. It was interesting to read in this week’s San Francisco Bay Guardian, however, this quote from James Marlon Magus, an “electronic rocker” associated with the BULB label. He vividly illustrates exactly the mindset that James is miffed about:
"You hear a real 808 and you go, 'Ah! This is what it's supposed to sound like! That's the sound I was trying to get for so long but just couldn't do it with the 505!' " Magas says. "[After recording Bad Blood] I eventually started increasing my sound palette, little by little, basically limited by the amount of money that I had. I'd pick up one piece here and covet it. Then I'd get a little more money and another piece. It becomes almost like an obsession, gaining access to certain sounds."
“Gaining access to certain sounds”. Hunh. Forget musicianship or ability – it’s now all about filling up the hard drive!
BUT WAIT PUNKERS, THERE'S MORE -- A NEW BAGS RELEASE....JB let me know that someone IS putting out some lost material from blazing first-wave Los Angeles '77-'78 punk rock heroes THE BAGS (see below -- dreams do come true). You can get the whole story here.
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
THE CRIME BOX SET!!!.....While on vacation I took some time to wade through the latest issue (#8) of SOUND COLLECTOR magazine, the first one I'd ever perused. Not a bad read at all; sort of a brick & mortar version of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER, run by music freaks like you & me, and with a fair amount of quality control so the writing is quite meaty. I learned a few things from this issue. First, in an interview with Revenant Records music packaging designer Susan Archie (she did the mesmerizing Charley Patton and Captain Beefheart box sets), I learned that the long-promised box set from all-time-great 1977-78 punk rock destroyers CRIME is finally going to see the light of day -- Ms. Archie is working on the packaging now. Wow. One can only imagine that it'll have all three 7" singles, the tracks from the "Hate Us Or Love Us, We Don't Give A Fuck" and "San Francisco's Doomed" semi-legit LPs, and hopefully some long-suppressed recordings that approach the raw, cacophonous quality of those first two singles. One can dream, right? This is one of the last punk rock excavation projects to get excited about -- this is until the BAGS CD comes together. Anyone have more information about the CRIME thing?
ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS TOUR.....You may have read in our very pages a while back about the recent Los Angeles show by mid-70s Cleveland proto-punk legends ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS; now it seems the momentum has built enough to justify a brief Northeast swing (with hopefully more to follow). Here are the dates:
Tue, June 3, Columbus OH Little Brother's
Wed, June 4, Chicago, Abbey Pub
Thu, June 5, Cleveland, Beachland Ballroom
Fri, June 6, and Sat, June 7 New York City, Village Underground
Sun, June 8, Philadelphia, North Star
Mon, June 9, Hoboken NJ, Maxwell's
From the "official press release": Rocket From The Tombs existed for less than a year, played fewer than a dozen shows and was probably never seen by more than a few hundred people but it has over the decades since 1975, due to a frenetic trafficking in bootlegs, acquired an international status out of all proportion to its popularity. When the band split in 1975, David Thomas and Peter Laughner went on to form Pere Ubu, taking along rock classics such as "Final Solution, "Life Stinks," and "30 Seconds Over Tokyo." Cheetah Chrome and John Madansky formed the Dead Boys, taking "Sonic Reducer," "Ain't It Fun," "Down In Flames," and several others.
In February 2003, for the first time in 27 years, the band played at the Disastodrome Festival at UCLA, Los Angeles CA. Richard Lloyd from Television stepped in to complete the original two guitar attack. "An explosive, revelatory set," says Los Angeles Times. "Garnered awed approval," says Daily Bruin. Mr Lloyd continues as a band member for a short tour in America in June 2003....
Friday, April 25, 2003
THE MC5 MOVIE : "A TRUE TESTIMONIAL"....Got a chance to see the brand new MC5 documentary two nights ago at the San Francisco Int'l Film Festival, along with a packed house of rambunctious hooters & hollerers who might've thought they were at the Grande Ballroom themselves watching the fuckin' MC5 kick it out. With a few caveats, I actually thought the film was pretty great, and by its end it had me wound up like the rest of the crowd, ready to start the 1968 revolution right there at the Castro Theater, with "Rocket Reducer No. 62" blaring in the background. The filmakers did a good job telling the story and letting it unwind slowly, with a lot of attention paid to the were-they-really-true-revolutionaries-or-weren't-they (or just an all-time great rock and roll band) question. Brother WAYNE KRAMER serves as the voice of reason throughout the movie and is also the de facto narrator and chief story-teller. He's a good counterweight to Michael Davis and especially Dennis Thompson, who comes across as someone I'd very much like to never spend time with (the film depicts him as a full-on asshole, to be frank). The scuttlebutt after the film from some quarters was that there should have been more live performances, with full songs allowed to explode in full glory. There is a 5-minute outdoor "Looking At You" performed for a bunch of college students, as well as TONS of other live footage (what a powerhouse these guys must have been!), but I think the actual physical quality of the footage is so prehistoric and rough that the filmmakers thought it'd be best to splice it all together aggressively and quickly. I thought it worked; others may disagree. I doubt it'll get a wide release due to being exceptionally low-budget and about a band that most mainstream folks aren't familiar with, but you fans of the 5 should definitely seek it out if you get the chance.
COMETS ON FIRE: "FIELD RECORDINGS FROM THE SUN"....I don't mind being the last one at a party, as long as I finally get there & get to thoroughly partake in the festivities. Such is the case with the awesomely-hyped feedback maestros COMETS ON FIRE, an unhinged freight train of rock and roll who are performing right under my nose here in San Francisco (!), but whom I'd never heard until this past week. As my pal SS would say, HOLY GOD. This CD, the band's second release (word has it that Alternative Tentacles -- what?!? -- are re-releasing the first LP on CD later this year), proves the Comets to be the seeing-eye bastard children of CHROME, MUDHONEY and HIGH RISE -- a combo who up the dose for electronically-manipulated feedback and unbridled chaos beyond any band I've heard before, ever, anywhere. Really.
Now almost anyone can create howling feedback and noise, and maybe impress a handful of impressionable record weasels and Your Flesh magazine writers, right? But do the songs themselves cut it? Yes they do. Though I doubt these esoteric music junkies would deign to compare themselves with something so gauche -- "Field Recordings From The Sun" has tracks on par with a couple of Mudhoney's more structurally-challenged, amp-damaging numbers (like "In and Out of Grace" and the recent "Sonic Infusion"). With Julian Cope raving about this one, I was expecting something maybe a slight step up from MONOSHOCK, with a little weed-smokin' hippie crap snuck in to capture the record buying/drug-gobbling demographic. Thankfully there's very little of that on display. The CD's five tracks, four of which are l-o-o-o-o-n-g stretches of unharnessed noise and phase-shifting electric splattering, are all eminently listenable despite the sonic extremes in volume and mood. You get the feeling that these guys aren't wasting the creative talents the Lord hath provided by getting supremely loaded in the studio -- I'm sure that comes after the session -- and then pressing it up on BULB or something. This is a serious band making serious, boundary-pushing rock and roll. You know, I'd be real surprised if Mark Arm and Grady Runyan aren't already sleeping with the jewel case under their pillows each night. Fantastic record. When are they playing next??
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
NATIVE HIPSTERS "THERE GOES CONCORDE AGAIN...."....Proof positive that a little too much ear-scraping UK DIY art/noise can tip the tables on one's enthusiasm for it. The NATIVE HIPSTERS (also known as "...And The Native Hipsters") released one of the most bonkers, closeted slices of madness ever in 1982 in their "There Goes Concorde Again" 45, a true evil genius home recording guaranteed to polarize between those who find it weirdly transfixing & those who believe it to be utter garbage. As Douglas Wolk describes the track in a recent Boston Phoenix:
".....("There Goes Concorde Again") pivots around a jazz bass that doesn’t walk so much as trudge, note by exhausted note. Bells and faint, woozy guitar effects attempt with limited success to follow it where it’s meandering. Eventually, Nanette Greenblatt, a/k/a Blatt, starts rambling in a dazed sing-song about fat women walking up a hill and thin women walking down. "What do they do down there that results in such an increase in size and weight?" Her voice is squeaky and wobbly, the voice of a dithering matron, not a singer; her timing is distracted and irregular. Then she spies something she likes: "Oooo, look! There goes Concorde again! Oooo, look, there goes Concorde again!" She remarks on the Concorde’s appearance over and over. She pauses for a minute (as the bells and whooshes hover uncertainly) before repeating everything she’s said, from the beginning. Then she does it again, trying to understand what she’s just said....."
Then there's this CD, which capitalizes on some recent attention for the song by compiling 17 Native Hipsters tracks, all recorded from 1979-2001 with various lineups (with Blatt & William Wilding as the constants). It's a real exercise in patience if you ask me. I find the experimental basement electronics, fucked-up loops and especially Blatt's bizarrely appealing vocals to be admirably standoffish, but after a couple of spins, I was dying to turn the thing off 5-6 songs in & put on -- christ, I don't know -- some Tammy Wynette or something. I think it's fair to say that many of these 45rpm post-punk British DIY heroes -- your BEYOND THE IMPLODEs, your DANNY & THE DRESSMAKERS etc. -- were very well-suited to their 7-inch medium; i.e. best enjoyed in small increments of time. There's not a language that I know of that can adequately "review" experimental music such as this -- I just know that a walloping 60-minute dose of it isn't for me.
WILLIE BROWN, A SIDEMAN NO MORE....Standing in the shadow of the great CHARLEY PATTON in the pantheon of prewar Mississippi delta blues giants is his sometime guitar-playing sideman WILLIE BROWN, who is said to have learned his chops from Mr. Patton & who spilled them back out in 1930 on an absolutely classic pair of sides, "Future Blues" and "M&O Blues". I must have these tracks on at least 4 different compilations -- make that five with the release of the Patton box set on JSP Records, which tacks on quite a few outstanding numbers from his contemporaries. Compilers of the raw early blues (Yazoo & many others) obviously have a feel for these throaty, deeply felt & played numbers from Brown, who would certainly merit his own revered compilation if he'd have cranked out, say, 10-12 more songs. "Future Blues" has a skeletal, plucked, descending key guitar riff that is instantly recognizable, and while the playing is less flamboyant than Patton, the strangled vs. sweet voice of Brown is not. "M&O Blues" is a prototypical and top-shelf delta blues, with a languid and lazy feel pepped up by Brown's sing-songy delivery. Definitely among the best "one hit wonders" the genre has to offer.
Tuesday, April 22, 2003
YOU TOO CAN LOVE LES FEMMES DE PARIS....As I've mentioned before, I've got a real affinity for overblown, loud, brassy, well-crafted 60s girl pop -- the kind with enormous hooks, screaming horns, and a saucy, coquettish playfulness that runs through your better US and UK girl groups & solo artists. But hands down, the queens of the 60s pop hop were the French -- specifically le femmes de Paris and the groovy-to-a-fault "ye ye girls". There is nothing quite like hearing LIZ BRADY's majestic and flat-out booming "Palladium" or CLAIRE DIXON's charm school central ball of fluff "On M'appelle Petit Bout De Chou" to wipe that smug I-only-listen-to-the-13th-Floor-Elevators pout off your beak. And while in the past few years there's been a slightly heightened awareness of these girls' existence, this stuff is still incredibly laborious to hunt down -- even the recent reissues. A tour of the web finds one very solid albeit un-updated site and a bunch of message board posts desperately pleading to all readers, "Please, where can I find this stuff?!??". I'm here to help, folks.
These "teenie-bopper doyennes of the Coca-Cola bubble-gum pop culture" were huge in their native France during the rough period spanning 1965-68, when rock and pop continued exploding into smithereens to satisfy the mainstream, the hippies, the drug underground, and of course the teenage kids. I am under no illusion that this music was made for anyone but pre- and pubescent French girls, which in no way negates the craft and genius of these songs' arrangers, nor the power and bite of the songs themselves. The 60s french girls were a roll call of lush first names: VIOLAINE, JOCELYNE, CLOTHILDE, COSETTE, ARIANE, etc. CHANTEL KELLY (who's an absolute dead ringer for Audrey Tatou's Amelie in other pictures and was likely quite a perv-magnet in her day) and the aforementioned Claire Dixon are among the less coquettishly-monikered ye ye girls who have some of the most stomping hits.
In the mid-90s the "ULTRA CHICKS" compilations started popping up in better North American record stores, and they continue to do so, with a 5th volume coming out in 2000 and a 6th appearing sometime last year. These are far and away the best starting points for this stuff, if you can even find them. I highly recommend Volumes #1-4, even the one called, um, "Baby Pop", and then the recent Volume #6, which continues the series' winning ways after a somewhat rotten Volume 5. Sprinkled in among these are a few non-French but still ripe international pop bombshells, from places with less mellifluous languages like Italy, Germany and Syria. I found the first 4 by e-mailing some record stores in Montreal until they surrendered the name of the guy who put them out (somewhere I'd read that he was a native). Damn if I didn't misplace that email address through. However, another fantastic series is called "SWINGING MADEMOISELLE", which overlaps a little with Ultra Chicks but might have the higher batting average song for song. These two LPs were put out by Sasha Monet records in France, and when I contacted the guy or gal that runs the label in search of the first volume, he/she told me it was sold out but that they'd gladly make me CD-Rs of both volumes, with a ton of extra tracks plopped on the end of each. I paid a pittance -- something like $12 US, which included shipping -- for both. Contact the label here and see if magic can strike twice.
There are a couple of lesser series out there as well -- "FEMMES DE PARIS" have beautiful digipack sleeves but rely way too much on covers of British and American hits en Francais to be of much listening pleasure -- unless EILEEN trying to out-Nancy NANCY SINATRA on "Ces Bottes Sout Faites Pour Marcher" sounds like a good time. Likewise, "SIXTIES GIRLS" have some terrific sleeves, and up the ante by including entire 4-song EPs, but then you get the crap songs as well. Better to sit back and let the programming wizards of "Ultra Chicks" and "Swinging Mademoiselle" take the reigns for you. Hopefully should you decide to dip a toe in this stuff you do so with an appreciation not so much of the KITSCH involved (lame) but of the song craft itself. I'd rank the best of this stuff up against any American 1965-68 summer AM radio hit you care to mention.
Monday, April 21, 2003
MASTERPIECE: THE TWILIGHTERS "NOTHING CAN BRING ME DOWN".....A monstrous fuzz destroyer from 1968, this song came to my attention via famous record collector and Wire fan Karl Ikola, who informed me that the PUSSY GALORE track that kicks off their live album is in fact a cover of this very number. And what a number it is -- 2:18 of flailing wah-wah, aggressive churning motion and ugly drug paranoia from this Waco, Texas group on their one and only 45 -- the flip is "I Need You" (anyone out there heard it?). "Well my mind is so messed up, nothing can bring me down, Nothing is strong enough, to save me now...". What a bummer. It's available on a couple of hard-to-find compilations; mine is "Texas Flashback, Volume 2". It's one of those 60s punk rock/psych tracks that fully justifies the rest of the genre.
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND “THE LEGENDARY A&M SESSIONS”….If you’re looking to square the circle and complete your CAPTAIN BEEFHEART collection, you could do far worse than to start at the start (1965) & pick up the brief, early 5-song CD “The Legendary A&M Sessions”, You might think that with Disc One of “Grow Fins” meeting all your early desert-era Beefheart dirty gravel blues dropout boogie needs, why would you need to drop another ten bucks on only five songs? Because they’re among the rawest and most electrifying songs in the Captain’s glorious career: “Diddy Wah Diddy”, “Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?”, “Moonchild”, “Frying Pan” and of course the mighty “Here I Am, I Always Am”. These sessions resulted from the Magic Band’s two-single deal with A&M, who signed them out of Lancaster, California in 1964 with the intention on seeing if this shuffling ersatz blues-belch had a future in the teen scene. It didn’t, but no one’s complaining. It looks like this is the only place in the Captain’s vast discography to find all of these tracks, outside of the many bootlegs, naturally.