Saturday, November 29, 2003
WE JAM ECONO, THE MOVIE....An underground movement that was once thought so far below the mainstream radar as to be impenetrable, the 1980s American rock/punk underground has lately inspired a ton of media attention and revisionism. Nothing wrong there, and nothing wrong with the upcoming documentary on THE MINUTEMEN called "We Jam Econo", due out Summer of 2004. How about that? Combine that with an upcoming JANDEK documentary, the "Hamburger Martyrs: The Story of Killdozer" film, the "Total Nardcore: The Rise and Fall of Mystic Records" doc and other ephemera floating to the top, and I think it's fair to say that this scene is now ripe for the pickin'. I'll meet you in Telluride for the Minutemen film.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
V/A : “HOT WOMEN – WOMEN SINGERS FROM THE TORRID REGIONS OF THE WORLD”…..
This collection of lost 1920s-1940s 78rpm records was personally collected and arranged by R. CRUMB, and sets a pretty high bar with regard to who gets to participate. First, they have to be female. Next, they need to be from the 78rpm era. Then, they need to be “from the torrid regions of the world” -- we’re talking way balmy at the very least: Mexico, the Caribbean, Burma, Tunisia, Greece etc. Finally, they need to be good. It is only on this last criteria, regrettably the most important, that the collection somewhat breaks down. The ethnomusicologist in you will forgive a lot of the mediocre or grating tracks – ROSINA TRUBIA GIOIOSA of 1927 Sicily, come on down! – and you’ll find that a lot of these women had either lovely voices or terrific, interesting backing musicianship. Perhaps that's enough. I’m especially partial to the Latin/South American music that kicks off the collection, like Mexico’s LYDIA MEDOZA Y FAMILIA's mid-1930s “Mexico En Una Laguna” (god, I can almost translate that!!) or the Cuban GRUPO DE “LA ALEGRIA” and their 1928 representation. On the other side of the globe are the great Burmese and Hindustani entries, both so baffling for Crumb that the titles are simply “(Title in Hindustani)” and “(Title in Burmese)”. The net effect is a fun, somewhat tiring trip around the early-to-mid 20th Century globe, checking in with the sisterhood in each country to see what they have to sing to us. Let’s call it a real nice CD-R to have in the collection and leave it at that.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
ZODIAC KILLERS : “HAVE A BLAST” CD….
When I moved back to San Francisco in 1999 after a couple of years in Seattle, the ZODIAC KILLERS emerged very briefly as my hometown’s signature punk rock band. I think I caught three rapid-fire, quick succession shows before the band imploded and broke up amidst much acrimony. Their pedigree was pretty stunning if you were/are a fan of ballistic, no-holds-barred lightning-fast garage punk – Greg Lowery, an original third of the brilliant SUPERCHARGER, had come to the band after an ignominious stint in “the Rip Offs”. Not only that, but there was Ross fresh over from THE BRIDES, whose first 45 is still one the best raw & howling modern garage records of the past twenty years, and Jami Wolf, who had a great vocal snarl and was given to dressing in nurses’ outfits onstage (this was definitely the band of choice for nurse fetishists in 1999-2000). Shows typically began and ended within twenty minutes, with about 12-15 songs packed together in a blinding manner that was closer to early 80s aggro hardcore than Mummies/Supercharger/etc. 60s-inspired ramalama. Their 1999 debut CD “The Most Thrilling Experience” captured this speed and power all quite well, I’d say. After they dissolved, I’d heard Lowery had an entirely new group of Zodiac Killers assembled, and, thinking that to be pretty lame, I decided to punish them by refraining from paying attention.
Well! The new line-up’s just as hot if not hotter. The 2nd CD “Have A Blast” from 2001 (brand new to me) follows the exact same recipe – straight-up, loud, blazing, hardcore-style rawness, played as tight as the first DIE KRUEZEN LP and faster than TEENGENERATE and other compatriots. Let’s see, the longest track on here clocks in at 1:48, but I assure you there’s no one-chorus-too-many going on there. Occasionally something a little more late 70s/bouncy sneaks in, and those slight aberrations (“Party For My Enemies”) are among the best of the 13 tracks on here. The riffs are just HUGE, too, and the production couldn’t be better. If this sounds even remotely attractive, trust me, the Zodiac Killers are doing this light-years better than anyone else around. What’s the catch? None really, as long as you don’t understand English. These lyrics and sentiments expressed therein are among the DUMBEST you’ll ever hear anywhere (a typical lyric is “gonna kill, kill, kill, kill, kill you tonight!” or “kamikaze, kamikaze, it’s a kamikaze attack!”), and seriously, there’s actually a dude in the band who goes by the nom de plume of “Billy Badass”. Billy Badass!!! I don’t even know if the band’s still a going concern anymore, but if they’re out there and playing, I think I’m ready to get reinvolved. (UPDATE: stop the presses -- there's a new one out now!)
MORE FLESH EATERS PROPAGANDA.....Can be found here, in a nice interview/overview by Bill Samaras of one of the great lost bands and rock heroes (Chris D.) of all time.
HAMICKS : “KNEE WALKING” CD…..There’s a whole category of bands, alluded to in my Pink & Brown review a couple months ago, that I like to call “Middle Bands”. These are the rock combos and trios that usually slot in the middle of a three-band bill, and who dutifully keep the stage nice and warm for the headliner you actually paid to see. Usually they’re fairly innocuous, often a little bit talented, and are sometimes even worth watching as long as – and only if – you’ve got a couple of beers on board. If one drew a curve representing all the rock bands on the planet, it would likely distribute into a bell shape, with the 2.4 Billion “Middle Bands” bulging and heaving across the middle. Enter the HAMICKS from Chicago, a clear-cut middle band if there ever was one. Their rompy, calliope-sounding new wave garage rock is outstandingly tepid, wildly middle of the road, and aggressively average. While I’ll give them a few points for the most dead-on David Bowie vocal imitation I’ve ever heard, I’ll subtract for the ham-fisted riffs that fizzle out and crash just when they’re getting a tiny bit interesting. If these fellas hit your town on their big tour this year, try timing your arrival for about 11:24pm so you catch the last two songs & have time to savor a hearty microbrew.
SPUD MOUNTAIN RFD….There was a big upsurge in cool homegrown online radio stations around 2000-01, most powered by individuals spinning their record collections onto some software and uploading them every week. I myself hosted a 50s-60s R&B/garage punk show like this called the "No-Count Dance Party" on the late lamented ANTENNA RADIO. One of the survivors of this era is SPUD MOUNTAIN RFD, a really great Real Audio-powered overview of old 1920s-40s Americana, centered on early hillbilly, bluegrass & country music, compiled with care by a couple of Oregonians who know their Coon Creek Girls from their Skillet Lickers. It’s easy to listen and then listen some more, and they keep a few of the older shows around for archival listening as well. Highly recommended.
PARTY WITH ME, PIRATE.....Here's a nice freebie from the Live Music Archive: three late-period MINUTEMEN shows available for free downloading. Thanks to CS for the heads-up. I checked out the rest of the site for other winners and came up with zero -- the Archive is for the barefoot, jam-band tape-trading crowd, a crowd that I actually have a lot of DIY respect for despite the horrors of the music. How the Minutemen got swept up in that web is beyond me -- maybe the DEAD-worshipping SST connection?
Saturday, November 22, 2003
REVEREND CHARLIE JACKSON : "GOD'S GOT IT" CD....
You know, gospel music is always one of those things that tickles the fancy in the abstract; everyone gets excited picturing a vision of a rollicking, frenzied, rapture-filled black church in the South with holy rollers speaking in tongues, singing & dancing from the rafters. But my experiences with American gospel music have tended to leave me a little cold. It may be my complete antipathy toward religion (a measured stance that mixes begrudging respect with hostile skepticism), but I've been waiting for that one pure gospel record to come out of the woodwork and knock me on my ass (BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON's complete oeuvre & Reverend Louis Overstreet 's Arhoolie CD notwithstanding). Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to report that I have found it. Maybe not found Jesus, but found the one pure gospel shitkicker I've been waiting for.
REVEREND CHARLIE JACKSON was a shout-hollerin' guitar-slinger from the Deep South who cut a small series of impossibly rare 45s from 1970-1978, and lent his considerable axe-wielding skills to recordings by a couple fellow travelers as well. He's still alive, they say, but has been cut down by a series of strokes and is now cooling his heels in Baton Rouge. But man, these complete recordings are some of the hardest-edged, fuzzed-out blues guitar you'll hear anywhere, and when combined with Jackson's almighty shout (think BUNKER HILL or PINETOPPERS-era OTIS REDDING) it's a real raw, primal rush. Though the sides are broken up throughout the disc's 18 tracks, it's obvious to me that the early 45s are the best, especially the debut "God's Got It / Fix It Jesus" and the subsequent "Wrapped Up and Tangled Up In Jesus / Morning Train". Picture some holy hybrid of Muscle Shoals soul, early unadorned funk music, and bleary-eyed, desperate sounding blues a la SKIP JAMES, then wrap it up in a prayer shawl with pictures of the King of Kings on it, and you're pretty much there. It teeters between the sacred and the profane by virtue of this rawness, but I've gotta think that if some sort of heavenly inventory is being taken, Jackson'll easily come out on the side of the angels.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
DOW JONES AND THE INDUSTRIALS....Lame current ska band with the same name notwithstanding, I'm searching for information that any readers can provide me on early 80s Indiana punks DOW JONES AND THE INDUSTRIALS. Not so much their bio, which one can find here, but a yay or nay on their recorded output. They are batting a clean 1.000 based on the two tracks I've heard and taken to my bosom: "Can't Stand The Midwest" from their only 7"EP, and the bizarre robotpunk of "Ladies With Appliances" -- one of the 2-3 top highlights of Chuck Warner's HOMEWORK series so far. What about their side of "Hoosier Hysteria"? Is it worth pathologically tracking down?
Monday, November 17, 2003
NOW A FEW WORDS ON “UGLY THINGS”….Last week I finished this year’s edition of UGLY THINGS magazine (#21) after spending a couple of weeks with it – well, “finished” is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. How does one actually finish a massive tome like this, packed with absolutely insane amounts of 60s rock arcana and incidental, meaningless flotsam? I mean, the cover feature on mediocre London-via-Riverside psych band THE MISUNDERSTOOD is 45 pages of tiny type, in which the band’s marginally interesting back story and sub-stories are flogged into painful submission – and it’s only the second of three jumbo cover stories planned on the group. I’d accuse Mike Stax of trying to grab a Pulitzer if that was even plausible. Likewise, the massive reviews section in the back would garner a lot more credibility if it weren’t for the utter lack of subjectively (yes! more subjectivity please!) and unabashed cheerleading for every tinpot reissue of flowery psych/pop turd, Danish beat combo and marginal 60s garage rock outfit. Isn’t at least some of this stuff just absolute shit? – and doesn’t some of it merit, say, a 1-paragraph review as opposed to 7-8 paragraphs of down-to-the-liner-notes scientific dissection? I think Stax does get it at some level – one reviewer makes reference to a dictat from headquarters asking for “less words” in the reviews. I’d say that judging from the boatload of bloated reviews this issue, the memo hit the circular file the second it arrived.
Hey, don’t get me wrong – I eagerly buy UGLY THINGS every time a new issue hits the stands, and strongly encourage you to do the same. No magazine covers its scene this deeply – and in recent years that scene has expanded to raw music from the 70s and 80s (witness the “controversial” CRIME, UNION CARBIDE PRODUCTIONS and MISFITS cover features). There’s always some features that serve the public interest exceptionally well – witness #21’s piece that sorts through the recent mass of ABKCO Rolling Stones reissues. They’ve even stooped to allow famous record collector Johan (“I owe you one”) Kugelberg on the masthead, and at least he does keep things verbally moving along – and covers micro-scenes that no one else does. Why, this issue JK even tackles DANNY & THE DRESSMAKERS and the legend of Fuck Off Records. And he even prints up a list that he just happened to find in a scrapbook – hey, now where’d that come from??!? – of his favorite records in September 1983 – when he was just a mere teen! Not surprisingly, because he’s always been such a groover, he was way into SPK, PERE UBU, TELEVISION and THE POPES – just like all the other kids! I mean, come on. I lay even odds that this list of “favorite 1983 records” was written in, oh, how about 2003?
Anyway, the new UGLY THINGS is out! Go forth and prosper -- $9 of Paypal and clicking here will get you going.
Friday, November 14, 2003
LET NATHANIEL MAYER TAKE YOU TO THE VILLAGE OF LOVE…..In MOJO’s relatively recent “Detroit” issue, there was a surprising piece on 60s R&B/soul loverman NATHANIEL MAYER, he of the awesome posthumous CD “Village of Love” and its stupendous, doo wop groover of a title track. “Village of Love”, the song, apparently reached #22 on the US charts in 1962, which surprised me since I’d never heard it on oldies radio (and I very much “dig” oldies radio). The 21-track retrospective CD came out in 1996 on Italy’s Gold Dust records, and is a must if you’re in need of an overview of all the high points of early 60s R&B, all performed beautifully by one dude: renaissance man Mayer. There’s 5-years-ahead-of-my-time call & response soul (“I Had a Dream”, later covered by the GIBSON BROS); jiving dancefloor killers (“Leave Me Alone” and “I Want Love and Affection [Not The House of Correction]”); and the collection’s calling card: down and out, done-me-wrong weepers (“Hurting Love”, among others), perfect for play while staring at the bottom of a beer bottle. Tim Warren at Crypt Records was hyping this in his catalog a few years ago with the graceful subtlety he’s well known for (“BUY OR DIE!!!"), and I thankfully took the bait. And wouldn’t you know it, Nathaniel Mayer’'s on the revival circuit now & absolutely knocking ‘em dead, or so Mojo claims. Then again, they say that about everything – critical distinctions and the bearing of unpleasant truths are not that particular magazine’s strong suit. Layouts, bold colors, compleat career overviews: they got that covered. Anyway, the real R&B truth lies in the “Village of Love” CD, and it was nice to see it recognized as such.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
(NEAR)-MASTERPIECE : “PRETTY VACANT”…..I don’t think I’ve written a single thing on the SEX PISTOLS beyond a passing reference in my life – and come to think of it, I’m hard-pressed to name a piece by any cultural/rock critic heavyweight (Byron Coley, Richard Meltzer et al) that goes beyond mentioning them in dismissive passing either. That’s kind of curious when you think about it. Oh sure, the hacks and the phonies and the Greil Marcuses all confuse the band’s media & cultural impact with their musical impact, and because the former was so massive and all-encompassing, I always forget to even consider giving kudos for the latter. I’m not really a huge fan, despite owning a cassette of “Never Mind The Bollocks” (my first punk tape!) since I was a wee lad. Yet I recently got the chance to listen to “Pretty Vacant” – long my favorite number of theirs – with an unbiased, unwaxed, unencumbered ear again, and man, is that one hot tune. Buoyantly fun and angry, with an exuberant, mocking chorus, snotty as hell and a rollicking good time. “God Save The Queen” I can take or leave, “Anarchy in the UK” is fairly useless – but “Pretty Vacant” is punk rock on wheels. A (near)-masterpiece!
"THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS GETTING ITS ACT TOGETHER AT LAST"....Or so says Michael J. Wolf in a piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (who've actually covered the crazed machinations and death throes of the record industry extremely well, with the consumer's best interests front and center in almost every article). Why should we care about the megacorporations and how they divide up their diminishing pie? Well, it's a matter of taste, really, but I think that what happens here -- how music is bought, sold and distributed -- will have repercussions down to the micro-indie label level. Plus I find macro changes in the way the world (or even the world of business) operates fascinating, particularly when change -- which is inevitable and should almost always be embraced -- is forced on unwilling participants (e.g. the record industry). Among Wolf's observations and conclusions:
-- "Despite a sales decline of 20% in the past three years, the sheer volume of online downloads, portable devices and ripped CDs have made music an ever important part of people's lives...and for the core audience of 10- to 24-year-olds, it remains about rebelling against parents, sharing experiences with friends, and setting the moods of their lives"
-- "As digital music devices like the iPod, Sony's Network Walkman and Dell's Digital Jukebox take off in popularity, new marketing approaches should flourish, perhaps bundling pre-downloaded song libraries with devices similar to the way cellular phones are sold with talking minutes."
-- "The key is that in the digital world, the music industry no longer controls the format...Since digital consumers are embracing singles, and no longer will tolerate albums with one or two good tracks, the best music executives will strive to develop commercially viable acts with deep bodies of work and consistent quality"
-- "As the industry works through this massive format shift, there will be fewer music majors releasing fewer albums. But that will create opportunities for independent music labels that operate on different cost structures and can support artists whose albums aren't megasellers. Good music will still find its audience, and audiences will pay for the privilege of receiving it the way they want it. When music companies have pooled resources, lowered costs and extended their marketing reach to deliver on this promise, the industry will resume growing"
Just watching the shift from albums to individual songs is fascinating to me -- and more in line with the way I (and perhaps you) enjoy listening to music anyway. For years I've made tapes, and now CD-Rs, of my favorite stuff -- 45s and LP tracks -- and those are often the discs in heaviest rotation in the car and at home. It's interesting to see how the internet facilitated this mindset/way of listening even further, and how it's caused a seismic upheaval in an industry that refused to acknowledge it. I don't see any downside, since those of us that also enjoy full albums get to vote with our wallets like everyone else. Discuss.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
LEFTOVERS : "THE FUCKEN LEFTOVERS HATE YOU" CD.....
So while we're on the subject of Australians (see below), let's take a gander at this CD reissue of late 70s Brisbane punk rock destroyers THE LEFTOVERS' one and only 45 ("Cigarettes & Alcohol / No Complaints / I Only Panic When There's Nothing To Do") along with a large delivery of archival live material. It is a FANTASTIC collection -- and I don't usually dig shitty, 25-year-old audience-recorded live tapes. But taking for granted the majesty of that 45, which is easily one of the Top 50 balls-out, snot-caked raw punk rock singles of all time, this live stuff is hot, hot, hot. I'm talking PAGANS or BAGS hot -- in fact, the Leftovers' cover of the Velvets' "Run Run Run" is so drop-dead great and uniquely-rendered that it reminded me of a similar smoking cover from a 1977 Bags live show I heard recently ("White Rabbit" -- if you can believe it). They also throw some false-start punches at 60s punker "My Flash On You", among others, and they succeed swimmingly. This band is one of the very few punk rock acts that can wistfully brag about fighting with the police at every show & have me buying it ("task force vs. the Brisbane punks" -- different band, but maybe there was something to it). The Leftovers played gnarly, angry and wholly visionary punk rock -- because except for a few of their like-minded peers and a handful of Americans I'm 99.9% certain they hadn't yet heard, this band were pretty much blazing their own shitstorm-strewn path. If they'd been American or English we'd have been taught these songs in school, but that amazing first wave of Australian punk bands (VICTIMS, RAZAR, ROCKS, BABEEZ etc.) get the short straw every time. If I could be a grumpus about anything it's the dumb title, but you won't care once you get a postal order & international cheque out to Dropkick Records for this white-hot platter.
MAESTROS AND DIPSOS.....It goes without saying that collector & critical types often find it exceptionally gratifying to champion ultra-obscure, limited-press releases that they and only they might be aware of. So what sort of pathology is it when a collector/critic type tries to get his readers hyped up about a band who never even released a single peep, and who only exist in the live tapes and closeted demos of fortysomething Australians? I'm talking of course of Sydney's MAESTROS AND DIPSOS, a short-lived 1983 six-piece who I have been made aware of via Phil Turnbull's excellent NO NIGHT SWEATS web site & some accompanying CD-R material. If this band had released a 45 of "Backslide / Inertia", the two songs I've heard, I am certain that they would have won boatloads of praise from 1983-85 fans of SALEM 66, ANTIETAM and the whole Gerard Cosloy-worshippin' crew. And they're miles better than those decent bands -- obtuse, moody, confessional, strangely-angled thought-rock, with dueling female vocals, packed with tension and coiled up tight -- and still "light" enough to be hummable and even fun at times. I had these tracks on constant rotation this past week and was so PROUD to have new post-punk heroines to champion. And I'm not going to be too greedy about it: if my brief description interests you in the least, you can download "Backslide" yourself for free right here.
As an aside, I have to say that No Night Sweats is the best free and legal MP3 download site I've found. I know that it's quite easy to post obscure or unusual or unhead MP3s out there for the world to download at their leisure, but I know of precious few sites who have done so. Any recommendations out there for secret and not-so-secret sites with unique music content?
Friday, November 07, 2003
MO-DETTES : “THE STORY SO FAR” CD…..
One of the first 45s from the “new wave era” that I ever bought was the MO-DETTES' “White Mice / Masochistic Opposite” in 1980, and it remains one of my favorite records of any era. Played to death on my local college radio station back in the day (KFJC), the song “White Mice” arrives at the perfect intersection of rough English D.I.Y. and pure golden girl pop, and has one of the most lilting harmonies you’ll ever hear. Among the more charming aspects of the band were the mushmouth vocals of Ramona Carlier, she being of Swiss descent and a then-recent UK immigrant (which helps explains it). It’s hard to put a bead on exactly what she’s saying beyond the song’s chorus, which starts with the first-rate couplet, “Don’t be stupid, don’t be limp / No girl likes to love a wimp”, and contains a throbbing bassline that leads, rather than follows, everything else in the song. The guitarist is practically invisible throughout – her ineptitude in moving from chord to chord is part of what’s so special about “White Mice” and indeed, the small handful of other good tracks this band produced in their short life.
So let’s talk about that, shall we? This CD-R – or bootleg CD, I’m not sure – is a complete-works (1979-1981) collection of the MO-DETTES’ one and only album and their 45s. “The Story So Far” LP followed the “White Mice” 45's lead and contained exceptionally crude, poorly-drawn cover art that was sort of a cartoonish, Archies-like version of something you might have found on Fuck Off Records or by THE DOOR AND THE WINDOW. I also bought the LP in high school, and sold it back to a used record store the same year. That’s because outside of a couple of hot ones that’ll charm the pants off of ya (“Fandango”, “Dark Park Creeping”, “Masochistic Opposite”), the band really hid in the shadow of their one and only naïve-pop masterpiece. They knew it too, as the LP contained not only the de riguer “White Mice”, but a sped-up version called “White Mouse Disco”. Kind of sad, actually. There’s an awful STONES and an awful EDITH PIAF cover, too – yet I still have a real big soft spot for the band overall. They honestly sound like a case study for the D.I.Y. archetype: young girls, raw ambition, out-of-tune guitars, lots of stumbling and fumbling, and presto : an instant, all-time classic 45. That the rest of their career didn’t live up to it is fairly beside the point, I reckon.
VARIOUS ARTISTS : “AFRICA RAPS” CD….No subterfuge involved at all here – this compilation arrived precisely as advertised: a selection of modern RAP music from Africa, mostly hustled out in French & with a sordid legacy of bad, boasting, mainstream American hip-hop propping it up. There’s a bit of African syncopation and instrumentation in there, and given its origination on the streets & in the studios of Senegal, Mali & Gambia, it’s bound to be a little different than the US version. Interesting for about 5 minutes. I’m about as likely to listen to this again as Laci Peterson is.
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
GOOD FOR A LARF!.....Never let it be said we can't have a good LAFF! Check out these outstanding record covers from times past. (Thanks to MW for the tip). Anyone have the JOYCE album?
Monday, November 03, 2003
JUKEBOX JURY, ROUND FOUR…..This is the fourth and final round of Agony Shorthand’s JUKE BOX JURY! 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 late 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. In the third installment, from which I’m doing a wholesale rip-off of my own introduction, we brought the hammer down on the BUTTHOLE SURFERS, DEATH OF SAMANTHA, DRUNKS WITH GUNS, HALO OF FLIES and DIE KRUEZEN. That’s collecting dust right 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’s do this, all right?
1. BIG BLACK – I’m just going to say right out of the gate that my relatively recent listens to BIG BLACK show a band that did not age well. In the late 1980s these cats were the true heavyweights of the attacking, rabid noise-punk stable, most of whom eventually found their home on Touch & Go Records. Steve Albini's smarmy, informed, ultra-opinionated scene god persona looked pretty cool to this (and other) 19-year-old(s), and his band’s harsh beatbox assault & sheets of razorwire guitar noise were considered pretty goddamn awesome in their time. When they toured the west coast on their “farewell tour”, I futzed and fumbled for weeks when they chose not to play Los Angeles, and logistical challenges kept me from making the six-hour drive to the San Francisco show. Today the band’s over-reliance on taboo subject matter looks a bit limp, and there’s a certain sameyness song-to-song – and some very thin production -- that keeps any one of their records from being a masterpiece (though many consider “Atomizer” – definitely their best – a lifetime achievement, and will doubtlessly tell us all so). Still, I think it’s fair to say that their clanging, industrio-punk sound was way ahead of its time, and has only been given to imitators since. It may lean a bit to the juvenile side, but as long as I’m a wee young at heart, BIG BLACK = INNOCENT!
2. COSMIC PSYCHOS – There was a brief, crazed period around 1987-88 where anything Australian and garagy and imported was just the bee’s knees. Lubricated Goat, Celibate Rifles, Hard-Ons, feedtime, King Snake Roost, Seminal Rats, Psychotic Turnbuckles, “Waste Sausage” – man, I had all those records, and I’ll bet you had a few as well. The best of ‘em all were the COSMIC PSYCHOS, especially the debut “Down On The Farm” EP and the eponymous LP. Full of fuzz, pissed-off attitude, and drunken down-underisms, the Cosmic Psychos were head and shoulders the kings of the Big Muff scene. Loutish? Sure. Dare I say juvenile? Of course. Does it hold up today? It absolutely does. Still first rate, snarling, kick-ass feedback & fuzz. COSMIC PSYCHOS = INNOCENT!
3. DAS DAMEN – I once read an interview with these guys during the Sub Pop/grunge heyday in which they wailingly bemoaned their lack of relative popularity, actually whining that they “had long hair first” and thus deserved a bigger piece of the action. Yes, DAS DAMEN were indeed the first rock band to ever play with long hair, which really added a lot of heft to their sound. I’ll bet you think I’m going to really take it to these guys, hunh? I certainly wouldn’t be the first, but fact is, I dug them then and I still sort of dig them now. Their first two records never really amounted to much in their entirety, but there were some really great heavy, swirling, pseudo-psychedelic, Marshall stack-pumping rock and roll killers on them – most notably “Tsavo” from the first record and “Trap Door” from the second. These tracks really got the party started when I cranked the “Now That’s What I Call Indie Rock, Volume 1” CD-R at a recent soiree. Their 3rd LP “Triskaidekaphobe” was actually solid all the way through, and I’d be a strong proponent of putting it out on CD. The Das Damen revival may be only weeks away, folks, mark my words. Hey, someone find the hanging judge – this guy’s way too lenient! DAS DAMEN = INNOCENT!
4. SQUIRREL BAIT – Yes, I really was 18 years old once, and that’s when the young lads in SQUIRREL BAIT, all around the same age, came along. They cranked out a melodic, amped-up sub-HUSKER DU / SOUL ASYLUM-style indie rock that garnered a heap of praise, devotion and fawning for about 10 months – mostly from other university children. Their two Homestead records were clogging the used bins by 1990, and anyone who mentioned Squirrel Bait in polite company usually did so by mumbling and covering their mouths with their jacket collars. What the hell were we thinking? Has anyone even listened to this band in 13 years? SQUIRREL BAIT = GUILTY!
5. URGE OVERKILL – I don’t think it’s fair to pile on these guys on the basis of their post-1989 oevre, which is abysmal sell-out material with a “kooky” edge – let’s instead turn our attention to “Jesus Urge Superstar”, which I used to run around calling “The Best Record of 1988” to anyone who would listen. I dug it out of the crates the other evening, put on my Breaking Circus t-shirt & Members Only jacket and let ‘er rip. I can’t say that it blew me clean away again – but it certainly wasn’t an unpleasurable experience. These Chicago cornballs were still in the midst of figuring out their path – were they to be dense, moody noise merchants a la their debut “Strange, I…” EP, or clownish rock and roll rogues a la the 1989 “Americruiser” EP? Right in the middle, and playing both ends, was this one great record, and it totally caught me flat-footed. I loved loved loved “Head On”, “Crown of Thorns”, “Last Train to Heaven”, “God Flintstone” and especially “The Polaroid Doll”, and played the hell out of them on my weekly college radio show. I figure that no matter how lame these guys ended up, Nash Kato and whatever the other guy’s name was – The Big Kahuna or something – were talented songwriters who probably could have channeled said talents to make more terrific records like this one. They just chose not to. But I can’t throw them in the dock for it. A shocked gasp rises from the courtroom : URGE OVERKILL = INNOCENT!
Thanks very much for indulging me on this JBJ stuff the past several months. We’ll do it again in 15 years with the Hunches, A-Frames, Lightning Bolt, A Feast of Snakes and Numbers!