Agony Shorthand

Thursday, February 26, 2004

One of my favorite new bands this past year has been MODEY LEMON, who I’m still in the process of getting acquainted with. At time these guys (a guitar/drums duo – though with the fizzling and loud-ass keyboards they definitely sound like a trio or more) remind me of the 21st-Century cousins of CLAW HAMMER, such is the power and the glory of their feedback-laden, bluesy attack, as well as their vocalist's at times-resemblance to Jon Wahl's unholy yowl. Plus they sound like totally nutso wack jobs in the sense that they’re partial to adding the most inappropriate & out of place Moog sounds to their standard punk/garage/blues, and their eclecticism, while very much rooted in rock (these guys are nothing if not R-O-C-K), is refreshingly bold and surprising at times. Like on this EP, which just came out “in support” of their recent CD “Thunder and Lightning”. Take track #5 of 5, “Black Flamingos”. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more inventive yet unintentional mash than a melding of the dark riffage of Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” & the raw white panther power of Claw Hammer’s “Naked”, but these 20-year-olds, they did it. And ditto for the straight-up guitar-solo speedpunk of “Poisonous Ink Clouds” and “Left and Dented”, to say nothing of the two boss tracks from the CD (which I will tackle in a subsequent post). Consider me on this bandwagon in a big way.

WANTED: A HAND UP, NOT A HANDOUT…..There have been a few recent (last 3-4 years) releases that have intrigued me but that I’ve hesitated on pulling the trigger on for various reasons. Given Agony Shorthand’s up to a regular readership of a couple of dozen now, I thought maybe I’d query you to see if YOU’VE heard any of them. Any feedback on these, folks? (no, I’m not looking for a burned CD, just a “hand up”) :

-- TOMMY McCOOK "Blazing Horns / Tenor In Roost" CD (Blood & Fire) : I’ll bet this is great, considering what I’ve heard from McCook and from the Blood & Fire label, but would love to get a “confirm” from my peeps and playas out there.

-- ROCK CITY CD : Who knew that Chris Bell had a pre-Alex Chilton version of what ultimately became BIG STAR? Not me! Is this new CD any good?

-- “I'D RATHER FIGHT THAN SWISH / QUEER TO THE CORE” compilation : Apparently a “gay”-themed couple of party records from the 60s, both put onto a single CD a few years ago. I like a good laugh as much as the next guy, and I particularly enjoy the super-underground, taboo nature of this sort of thing in its era. (I just got some “risqué” double-entendre-filled black comedy records from SLOPPY DANIELS and ALLEN DREW from the same time period).

-- V/A: "MIAMI SOUL – RARE FUNK & SOUL FROM MIAMI" : New Soul Jazz compilation of, well, 70s funk and soul from Miami, home of great bands like ROACH MOTEL and GAY COWBOYS IN BONDAGE.

-- DENNIS BOVELL“Decibel: More Cuts and Dubs 1976-1983” : British reggae/dub icon, tangentially involved in the punk era. Are the dubs worth buying this thing for?

THAT LOUVIN FEELING…..Last Sunday’s New York Times had an article about the renewed attention surrounding tortured country/gospel heroes the LOUVIN BROTHERS in recent years, “Grammy” award and everything (!). You can find it here. They’re certainly the STANLEY BROTHERS of this year: the long-forgotten roots group newly rediscovered by legions of roots newbies after years of being buried below the popular radar. I’d never even heard of them myself before The Gibson Bros paid tribute to them on their “Man Who Loved Couch Dancing” LP (the liner notes had a tongue-in-cheek rip-off of the Louvins’ “Satan Is Real” notes), during a time where the only thing in print was the then-new “When I Stop Dreaming” CD compilation (which is great, BTW). Anyway, it’s ALL coming out in a torrent now, with “Satan Is Real” and “Tragic Songs Of Life” being the best ones of the few I’ve heard.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

While there’s been some vicious mocking of 1980s hardcore punk on this site from time to time, that’s simply because the genre had presented some of the most ripe and plump musical targets of all time. A great majority of the youngsters who fell into hardcore bands during the early 80s were by no means the sharpest tools in the shed, or were so young and cycling through so much teenage hormonal rage that their early forays into songwriting tended to be a bit, mm, “underdeveloped” (to say nothing of band names like Millions of Dead Cops or Society System Decontrol). But let me state the friggin’ obvious and say that there was some incredible, raging, top-notch punk rock music produced during this era – some of the wildest and most aggressive rock and roll of all time, if you focus solely on the peaks and not the vast immeasurable valleys. If you take a snapshot of the entire 1980-83 American hardcore movement writ large, it’s all very mockable, and we can have a big party of laffs recounting some of our favorite lame bands. If you focus on the ten shredders I’m going to list for you here, you’ve instead got yourself some of the meanest, loudest, greatest sounds ever created – all of which are hereby enshrined as my first-ballot inductees in the American Hardcore Hall of Fame! Let’s meet our winners!

(Wait, one caveat – I am not including BLACK FLAG, because I consider their majesty to be punk rock -- or just plain rock of a very aggro lineage, not the insane tempos and beats-per-minute of hardcore. Hardcore is what the kids in Washington DC, the Midwest, and Boston were making; sure, they copped a lot of it from The Flag, but Black Flag stand above and apart from this still exceptionally worthy crew. Ditto for THE GERMS.) :

1. DIE KREUZEN : “Die Kreuzen” LP – Simply put, this is just the fiercest, most punishing record I’ve ever heard. If that sort of bluntness piques your interest, then the debut LP from Milwaukee’s finest is made for you. It makes God weep, Motorhead tremble and Danzig look like a mincing little pansy. In other words, it’s ballistic blast after blast of savage screams and guitars pushed into the bleed zone, and it transcends superficial ear-shredding with massive riffs and chops that move by at lightning speed. When it came out people were dumbfounded. Tim Y at otherwise poor tastemakers Maximum Rock and Roll wrote a review that was the words "This is fucking great! This is fucking great!” repeated over and over. It’s just that kind of record, barely connected to the art-metal they pursued just one album later.

2. NEGATIVE APPROACH 7"EP (picture above) – A thick and deep roar from Detroit, Michigan circa 1981. “Can’t Tell No One” might just be the hottest HC tune of all time.

3. MINOR THREAT first 7”EP – The yellow one with Ian Mackaye’s bald head on the cover. Fast, mean, and as angry as it came – and every 45-second track builds on the one before it until the head of steam is so intense that I’m almost ready to renounce drinking.

4. VOID side of “FAITH/VOID” LP – If you’ve never heard the incredibly twisted artcore of VOID, I have to say there’s never been anything like it before or since. These guys were supposedly thick-necked suburban jocks with pickups & gun racks, but lurking somewhere in their collective psyche were a surrealist, a Dadaist and a deranged mental patient. Their side of this split LP starts strong and hard, but gradually gets more and more insane and weird, until the last 3 tracks, “War Hero”, “Think” and “Explode”, which are off-the-charts damaged, full of stops and starts and reverses galore. Totally amazing, and it blows me away every time I hear it.

5. NECROS : “Sex Drive” and “IQ 32” 7”EPs – Along with Minor Threat, these Midwestern beef boys set the template for how hardcore should be written – short, attacking, riff-heavy killers about stupid people, police brutality and teenage angst. “Sex Drive” itself is an absolute monster.

6. THE FIX entire discography – You can tell I really dig the early Touch & Go crew, hunh? This is the earliest hardcore on my list, 1980 for their “Vengeance” 45 – with a vocalist who sounds like he’s spitting up teeth between verses and a guitar sound that’s way over the top. I want to give special mention to their “No Idols” on the “Process of Elimination” label sampler EP – a rabid and choking bile-fest that would have slayed everyone for miles around if the production could have been cranked up a couple notches. Unfortunately, one of the hallmarks of US hardcore were these 10-song 7”EPs, with grooves packed so tight that the songs sounded tinny and distant. Anyone want to put out a 12” maxi-single of “No Idols” b/w Negative Approach’s “Can’t Tell No One”?

7. GANG GREEN tracks on “This Is Boston, Not L.A.” LP – You want the fastest of the fast? The snottiest of the snotty? I love the blink-you-missed numbers from Boston’s GANG GREEN on this regional compilation: “Snob”, “Lie Lie”, “Rabies” (“I got rabies!! Get away from me!!”) etc. I still can’t believe anyone could play that quickly and still eke out discernable riffs this brutal. Great obnoxious vocals, too – everything else the band did is way, way below the gold standard set here.

8. HUSKER DU : “Everything Falls Apart” LP – Arguably not a straight-up “hardcore” album per se, since it contains a handful of mid-tempo tracks (including a pointless cover of “Sunshine Superman”), but “Everything Falls Apart” is such an overall whomping, wide-grooved thud – brutally fast in places – that I think, on the basis of incredible bonzai tracks like “Signals From Above” and “Punch Drunk”, it easily qualifies. So bug-eyed aggressive and hostile that Bob Mould’s been trying to distance himself from the thing for two full decades now.

9. DEEP WOUND 7”EP – J. Mascis and Lou Barlow were just kids when they created this 10-song blitzkrieg along with a couple teenage buddies; it has aged far better to my ears and gives a more lasting representation of Boston hahdcore than SS Decontrol, DYS, FUs and others in the straight-edge contingent of the day.

10. TAR BABIES first two 12”EPs – The complete opposite of tinny and distant (see The Fix, above) – two 12-inch, 45rpm shitstorms of ultra-fuzzed, maximum volume lightning punk rock. Why these remain out of print and totally impossible to find, I cannot say. These guys did a 180-degree turn a couple years later and became sort of a funky Meat Puppets (“Fried Milk” – actually a really good record), but for a year or two they were standing among the kings of hardcore mountain.

Monday, February 23, 2004
V/A : “TIMES AIN’T LIKE THEY USED TO BE, VOLUME 3”…..Did you know that Yazoo’s already up to an eighth volume of this series, as of 2/23/04? That’s a lot of repackaging, reshuffling and remastering going on, but John Q. Public keeps demanding to hear more rural hillbilly & country blues 78s, both obscure and celebrated, and the Yazoo marketing department always finds a way to step up to the plate to deliver the goods. See, if you bought the entire Yazoo compilation discography once over, you’d probably find yourself with the same tracks repeated at least three times (I believe I have my hero SKIP JAMES’ “I’m So Glad” scattered on various comps about 6 times now – and it’s not even one of my favorite tracks from the Mississippi master, just the one CREAM happened to popularize). This 3rd volume of “Times Ain’t Like They Used To Be” is chock full of – as they put it – “fiddle tunes, rags, banjo songs, religious selections, old ballads, blues, etc.”, all from the 1920s and early 30s. It holds together real well, and there are certainly a good dozen I’ve never heard before elsewhere, most notably UNCLE DAVE MACON & HIS FRUIT JAR DRINKERS (!), WILMER WATTS & HIS LONEY EAGLES and, that’s right, the FRUIT JAR GUZZLERS and their “Steel Driving Man”. Ultimately I’d recommend this entire series as a terrific introduction for the rural 78rpm beginner; it’s hard to picture where you’d get a better sense of the multiple styles and charcters of the era than here (my own 78rpm education was furthered most notably by the “ROOTS AND BLUES” box set a decade ago, but I don’t see those around much anymore). For the rest of us, it’s a good one to buy used and spend the bigger dollars on some Old Hat comps instead.


For the CLEAN fan who has everything comes this 1994 Flying Nun collection of early leftovers, alternate versions and studio piffling. I’ve had about the majority of this on cassette for years – there were a super-limited couple of posthumous Clean tapes called “Oddities” that the band put out themselves in 1985, and it looks like this is all of the first tape (the blue one) and a couple of tracks – “Lemmings” and “Stylaphone Music” – from the second (the yellow one, though I haven’t seen that one since 1989 or so). But before you get on the horn to Flying Nun’s central ordering department, I have to caution that this one is a bit tough to ingest in a single sitting. Sure, you get the crashing kick-off “Oddity”, which is by far the best version of this quintessential noisy, joyous, hook-filled CLEAN song I’ve heard, and several other weird slices into the band’s 1980-82 mindset that’ll sit well on any of their early EPs or the “Anthology” set. But mostly the disc is as advertised – true oddities like the experimental cut-up blues homage “Mudchucker Blues”, quiet basement versions of “Getting Older” and “Hold Onto The Rail”, and barely-formed, ultimately buried practice/demo fart-arounds like “This Guy” and “Inside Out”. It doesn’t tend to burnish The Clean’s well-established, well-earned reputation the way you’d hope a collection of lost recordings might, but at the same time, we’re talking about the premier exponent of New Zealand outsider pop music here, and even their dregs beat the pants off of most everything else in the racks. I’d say graduate to this when you’ve worn the 0s and 1s off of the recent “Anthology” and simply need another big dose of Kiwi noise pop to keep your Clean buzz going.

Saturday, February 21, 2004
MUSIC CHAMBER AND LEXICON DEVIL!....Hey, two new fantastic blogs debuted this week, both put up by folks who've been kind enough to frequently leave their informed music opinions here in the Agony Shorthand comments boxes. I hate to lose 'em, but they've moved on to new forums now. Tim Ellison, of Rock Mag/Modern Rock Magazine fame and former guitarist/vocalist/songwriter from San Diego's NEPHEWS, weighs in with MUSIC CHAMBER. Bookmark it! Dave Lang, the king of Australia and former publisher of Year Zero, steps on the scales with LEXICON DEVIL. Both threaten to be very frequently-referenced fountains of music knowledge. Glad to have them out there to help keep me striving for continuous improvement.

Thursday, February 19, 2004
THE CORPORATE RUBBER CHICKEN CIRCUIT….One of the best-kept secrets in the mainstream music biz is a hidden underworld of gigs that enable otherwise washed-up, downward-trending or uncomfortable-with-retirement musical acts to still get a nice fat paycheck. It’s what I like to call the “corporate rubber chicken circuit”, and I’ve been fortunate enough in my line of work to have attended a few doozies over the past decade. If you live in an American city with its own large-sized convention center and a steady stream of corporate trade shows blowing through it, chances are you’ve been mere miles from performances by heavyweights like Jimmy Buffet & the Coral Reefer Band, Kenny Rogers, Tower of Power and Cyndi Lauper, and not even known it. See, these shows always have a big-night “gala event” featuring an act that a.) the folks underwriting the show can afford, and b.) that caters to such a low, boogie-friendly common denominator that practically nobody in attendance would be offended or upset by the choice. Bob Dylan’s even been known to shill at these things from time to time, though he qualifies as downright shocking compared to the usual blandies these things get.

Things loosen up a little when it’s an individual company puttin’ on the ritz for its employees and potential customers – you’ll often see bold risk-takers from the “new wave” era or something with a little funk or soul instead of the usual middle-America apple pie. It all depends on how hip and/or clueless the person in marketing making the booking decision is. For instance, in 2000 I attended the CTIA Wireless expo in New Orleans. Search as I did for a Meters/Alex Chilton/Preservation Hall Jazz Band party, the best I could do was wrangle an invite to an open-bar, outdoor show sponsored by some now-defunct “wireless web” company. Check out this kick-ass lineup: A Flock of Seagulls, Missing Persons, Berlin, AND the English Beat!! Did I mention it was open bar?? Oh, and to answer the question that I know has leapt to your lips: yep, Flock of Seagulls still employ “the guy with the hair” on keyboards and vocals. He kicked out the space rock jams for a totally underwhelming crowd of about 55 people, and managed to keep from insulting the listless attendees. Another thing about these shows that underlines how pathetic they must be for the performers: they are almost always severely under-attended, and those who are in attendance are usually looking for free drinks and could give a shit about the band (and usually leave early, as I always do). In 2002 I went to CTIA Wireless in Orlando, Florida (party town!!!) and was treated by Ericsson, Swedish makers of wireless telecommunications networking equipment, to an open-bar, open-plate performance by the NEVILLE BROTHERS. Food was great, drinks were free, and they even played a couple of Meters tunes (and, sadly, Aaron Neville’s hit 1980s MOR duet with Linda Ronstadt, which Neville sang in a touching duet with himself). Buzzed, overweight white people shook their khaki-clad rumps to the funky funky beats, and by the time I cleared out of there, I’ll bet maybe 30 people were left in the room. Next month is the big CTIA show in Atlanta – I’ll let you know if I catch a killer Marshall Tucker Band or Atlanta Rhythm Section gig.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004
VIKI / HAIR POLICE split CD….After using the HAIR POLICE as a sacrificial lamb in a broader rant about the nonsensical noise wing of underground USA a few months back, I was surprised to see Load Records tempt fate by dropping this split CD by VIKI and HAIR POLICE in the mail to our offices. Ah, but those guys know what’s what – their secret weapon is these first five tracks from VIKI, who totally impress with an experimental mash of deep-fried electronics, subtle paeans to early “industrial” champs like SPK, TG and WHITEHOUSE, and distant, down a corridor female vocals that give their work a real creepy but jolting feel. I like it! The standout number is the frothing “No Date”, which’ll remind you of experimentalist 80s freaks like NOH MERCY (“Caucasian Guilt”!!!) and other weird tales from the “I Hate The Pop Group” LP collection. HAIR POLICE? Ridiculous, pointless, formless noise – unlistenable and totally bothersome. I suggest that VIKI disassociate themselves from this crew posthaste and take their carnival of creepy noise theater on the road this year! (UPDATE: Looks like VIKI is just one person. Check out this puff piece on her).

Tuesday, February 17, 2004
ELEGY FOR A CORPORATE BEHEMOTH…..Last week major record-store chain TOWER RECORDS filed for bankruptcy, something that had been prophesied for years given the chain’s terrible financial troubles quarter after quarter. I’m a big proponent of evolve-or-die creative destruction when it comes to business – you either figure out what the fickle public wants in a hurry, or you get out of the way. Tower were done in by a combination of nimble competitors like, Wal-Mart, eBay/, and retail locations like the Virgin Megastores and HMV, as well as oft-cited market and technological forces such as CD-Rs, MP3s and the web in general. Still, while I truly shed no real tears for Tower per se, there’s no denying that their stores have actually played a big role in my musical upbringing and sustenance. I haven’t bought a CD there in years, but I do pause to wonder about the ultimate fate of a select few Tower Records locations that at one point or another, actually meant something to me:

Tower Records, Campbell California : Ground zero for my teenage music obsession, along with the Streetlight used record store about a mile away. When I couldn’t get my parents to drive me to this valhalla, I took a complex series of bus routes on a twice-a-month basis to buy the latest “imports”, fanzines and 45s. See, before there was an Amoeba Music, Tower actually staked out the virgin territory of having by far the biggest selection of music and most discerning buyers in corporate chain-dom. Bored kids in the suburbs like me took what we could get, and this was easily the place to be in early 80s San Jose. This was my temple until I discovered the incredible record stores on & near Telegraph Avenue up in Berkeley – there, the still-massive Tower was only the fourth coolest store, after Rasputin’s, Universal and Leopold’s.

Tower Records, Berkeley California : Where I purchased Pere Ubu’s “The Modern Dance”. Other than that, I recall getting thrown a lot of needless ‘tude by store personnel, so I’d usually take refuge in the pizza place next door and marvel at all the records I just bought at Rasputin’s.

Tower Records, Hollywood California : Store itself didn’t mean much to me in my college years, but I do remember getting drunk in the car on the street behind their parking lot at least twice during some pre-show partying. One was the Lazy Cowgirls, almost definitely; and another was a multi-band lineup for a porn star named Kiva’s birthday party, starring Redd Kross, Leaving Trains, L7, Miracle Workers and about five more I can’t remember. What will happen to the 20-year-olds of today when the removal of Tower’s leafy parking lot exposes their underage shenanigans?

Tower Records, corporate offices, Sacramento California : Tower was the main distributor of the fanzine I used to publish – in fact they’d take at least half the print run and fling it all over the world. I’d get mail from England and Japan and even New Jersey thanks to their distribution prowess. They even paid me if I bugged them enough; there was this total character named Doug something-or-other who ran their ‘zine department, who was given to bizarre stream-of-consciousness non-sequiters when I’d call him about an invoice. Swear to god he once sang me a Christmas song over the phone. To save on shipping 1,000 copies to them from San Francisco, I’d just throw them in the back of my car and drive them myself to Tower employee Scott Miller’s house in Sacramento. (Aside: Miller’s been in about 75 Sacramento bands, including some real good ones like the TIKI MEN and LOS HUEVOS).

Tower Records, London England : In 1990 I was able to find at this very store all the THEE MIGHTY CAESARS records that were completely unobtainable in the United States. The exchange rate between the US & UK was so bad on my side at this time that I ended up paying almost $20 a pop for them, but it didn’t matter. This was the year I was caught up in Childish-mania, and no price was too high.

Tower Records, Tokyo Japan : Finally, there’s the “world’s largest record store” – a massive, 7-floor palace of CDs and books with an incredible selection and a ton of listening stations. Great place for the stressed-out gaijin to hang out & read some English-language packaging for an hour, and centrally located right by Shibuya Station. Nearby are another 20-25 record/CD stores worth browsing, making Tokyo about the best destination in the known universe for the music freak. The loss of even this enormo-Tower in a sea of consumer choice probably won’t affect anyone’s life that much, but if it’s still around before Tower goes completely under, I recommend checking it out.

Monday, February 16, 2004
THE PONYS : “LACED WITH ROMANCE” CD….Me and In The Red records have been pals since the early 90s, mutually impressing each other at exactly the same time when they put out THE GORIES’ first 45 just as I was putting them on the cover of my then-fanzine Superdope. Since then the label has been the foremost garage-influenced rock label of our time, releasing too many standout 45s, LPs and CDs to mention (start with the entire discography of the Cheater Slicks, the best raw and raging garage punk band of the last 15 years, and continue on to modern studs like Modey Lemon, The Hunches, Dan Melchior’s Broke Review and A Feast of Snakes). But every now and again they break the mold – as the label head puts it, to “...prove that In The Red doesn’t put out ‘panic rock’…”. Well, I don’t know what you wanna call the general bashing and cranked-up wailing they DO put out if not “panic rock”, but I’ll easily concur that new signings THE PONYS don’t fit that bill. Instead, I hear a psychedelic-influenced, pop-sounding stew that breathes in obvious influences like both the VELVETS and the VOIDOIDS, but also reminds me of more distant cousins like late 70s Ubu pals THE GIRLS (the great leadoff track “Let’s Kill Ourselves” totally reminds me of The Girls’ “Jeffrey I Hear You” but I’m hard-pressed to say why). The Ponys are the sort of thing I’ll grant might’ve gotten lost and ignored on another (lesser) label, but may pick up a few converts on this one after the shock of how mersh the thing sounds in comparison to standard uncouth In The Red acts subsides. They’ve definitely got the potential to be pretty fine live – big, loud feedback-friendly sounds just tailor-made for a night out – and have got fuzzed-out hooks and keyboard-driven chops up the wazoo. I’m not sure what I’ll think of it a month from now, but it’s deceptively wily and certainly strong enough to get a lot more plays in the weeks to come. Worth a look.

Friday, February 13, 2004

In 1996 I had never heard a single note of music played/sung by DIAMANDA GALAS, despite her having graced the cover of, as one Shorthand reader put it, my “beloved Forced Exposure” some years previously. Her Satanic banshee shtick sounded kind of interesting, but definitely not my thing at the time – all I "knew" was that she was the ultimate terrifying goth queen, with a voice that could shatter glass and an attitude that just dripped with condescension for non-MFA, non- uber-underground types. Then I actually sat down and read her interview in my beloved FE, and found to my surprise that she was actually a charming, intelligent, pretty cool, fun and happening gal that I wouldn’t mind partying with – with a terrifying goth persona and a voice to stop time and melt your face clean off. My curious then-girlfriend now-wife suggested that we see her play at Berkeley’s Zellerbach concert hall, and I succumbed and went along with my usual curmudgeonly not-my-idea stoicism.

It was easily one of the most intense and incredible performances I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what sort of turkey prep you were doing around Thanksgiving 1996, but I was instead sitting stunned in the rafters of Zellerbach, watching an immensely talented woman careen and zag from insane terror-filled shrieks to lilting, near-wordless beauty, all propelled by the same breathtaking multi-octave voice. As Joshua Kosman put it in a review of the same show we saw:

“…At the heart of Galas' artistry is her extraordinary vocal technique, a glorious grab bag of shrieks, croons, guttural growls and bravura outbursts of words. To hear a performer ride so close to the edge, dramatically and musically, and manage it with a technical proficiency that most operatic divas can only envy, is a rare and inspiring thing….. There's a long tradition, from Paganini to Robert Johnson, of performers whose art is so technically dazzling and so terrifying in its communicative power that they're reputed to have sold their souls to the devil. Diamanda Galas proudly continues that lineage.”

And that’s not the usual hyperbole. It was that amazing. She “covered” Son House, Johnny Cash, Willie Dixon, and a few standards that I’m hard-pressed to remember right now. To this date I’ve still never heard her on record or CD. I almost think it would spoil what I saw that evening, and there’s probably no way it could compare. (Sort of like hearing a studio version of a song you heard and loved on a live album first). She hasn’t come back since, but if she ever gets up the gumption to tour again, by all means – GO.

Thursday, February 12, 2004
LEARNING TO LISTEN TO YOUNG PEOPLE AGAIN…..I fell really far out of the loop for a few years on the plethora of “new” bands making the club circuit, self-releasing 45s, or plying their trade on the many microindie labels that continue to spring up every year. But thanks to the magic & wonder of illegal file sharing, legitimate free MP3s on band’s websites, LP- and 45-to-CD transfers, and the odd CD mailed my way from friends and/or review-seekers, I’m starting to get a sense of what the kids have been up to at the dawn of our brief century/millennium. I’ve been cobbling together anything remotely interesting I hear onto a series of self-made CD-Rs, and am now up to a raging third volume of 2000-2004 standouts that I have to say I’m pretty goddamn happy with. If you look hard enough, there are still some knockout bands – or at least some killer songs from good-to-mediocre bands (e.g. Coachwhips) – out there. This latest collection really trends toward the loud, the raw and the punk-like, which isn’t to say that’s all I have to recommend to ya, but just what landed in my computer the last couple months. Every single song on here is worth hunting down and tackling with extreme prejudice. So, here it is, “21st Century Rock and Roll, Volume 3”! :

1. Six Minutes of Blackness – MODEY LEMON
2. Just Like William Tell – FM KNIVES
3. Couldn’t Find Love – COACHWHIPS
4. Buried Alive – RIGHT ON
6. Drunk With Pain – NUMBERS
7. Sinful Youth – LA DRUGS
9. Ain’t Coming Back – BLACK LIPS
10. Beggars and Choosers – THE FUSE!
12. Big Bang – MODEY LEMON
13. Jenna Lee – LITTLE KILLERS
14. I Can’t Sleep At Night – DEADLY SNAKES
15. 86 Friends – VOLT
16. Bathroom Stall – LA DRUGS
17. Estrogen – FM KNIVES
18. Highway a Go Go – ZOOBOMBS
19. Cold Calling – THE INTELLIGENCE
20. Product Lust – NUMBERS
21. Continuous – PIXELTAN
24. Pop a Wheelie Cop a Feelie – BUDGET GIRLS
26. Love – RIGHT ON
27. B52 Bomberboy – BLACK LIPS
28. Purely Evil – ROGERS SISTERS
29. Xmas, Yeah – POPULAR SHAPES
30. Crows – MODEY LEMON
32. Low Fashion Lovers – CLONE DEFECTS

And let it be said I know I am just scratching the proverbial surface here, with both the bands themselves and with “new music” in general. (A complete aside: in the early 1980s a Northern California chain called Record Factory had a small section of oddball records by krazy kats like Elvis Costello, Madness and Squeeze that they tried all sorts of monikers for – of course it was the “new wave” section. After trying Punk, New Wave, New Music and Rock of the 80s, they finally came up with my favorite: “Modern Music”, complete with goofy new wave party font). But this is a mix tape I reckon just about anybody’d be happy with. Any suggestions for who should go on 21st Century Rock and Roll #4?

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

It’s always hurtful to watch your heroes take a tumble, isn’t it? That’s my none-too-subtle, none-too-original entry point into the overwhelming and unmistakable conclusion that this second CD from San Francisco’s once-hallowed NUMBERS is one big steaming waste of time. Sophomore slump my eye – they just flat-out forgot how to write a clever tune while they frolicked and basked in the considerable shadow of their fantastic 2002 debut “Numbers Life”. That was by leaps and bounds my favorite new record of that year – a stunning no wave/dance/garage punk hybrid that beat all comers with 10 examples of needle-sharp ninety-second synth/guitar rawness, with minimalist hooks and swoons to spare. Not a duff track among them, honestly, and the thing didn’t even make it past 20 minutes, so naturally I was starved for more. Yet the writing was on the wall after a few EP and comp track thuds, and “In My Mind All the Time” proves you can definitely shoot your wad in under 20 minutes and then go limp for two solid years.

After the first couple of disappointing spins I tried to approach this like I was hearing NUMBERS for the first time: perhaps then I could see some redeeming value if only I could pretend they were some smokin’ new trio whose debut landed in my lap. Sure enough, I honed in on a lonely two tracks that are hot hot hott like the debut: “Drunk With Pain” and “Product Lust”. But man, some of the others are just plain abominable. Did anyone see the spelling bee documentary “Spellbound”, featuring ultra-nerd Harry Altman speaking to the camera in an exaggerated 1950s “Lost In Space” robot voice? You just cringe for the poor kid because you just know he’ll be getting his ass kicked up and down the neighborhood for the next 5 years. It’s the same “let me help rescue you” feeling I have for Indra from Numbers, who will hear her own ridiculous Kraftwerkian robot voice projected back to her in 2015, and wonder what the hell she was thinking. There’s even a brief electronic interlude called “We’re Numbers” in which the band introduce themselves individually (“I’m Dave”), etc., har har – maybe a tolerable but ultimately embarrassing device they could maybe use to start a show, but completely & totally unnecessary to record and release. Another clunker is called “Danceattack”, a title that may have been arrived at by a random title generator fed by all the raving reviews the band got for “Numbers Life”. I suspect the title generator will be a little less full this time around, and I don’t expect too many of my digital-punk-lovin' peeps to disagree with me.

V/A : “BUTTSHAKERS, VOLUME 3” LP….To my own chagrin, I really don’t plunk down for vinyl very often any more – but I’m always willing to make a big exception when one of these comes out. The “Buttshakers” series is a winning 3 for 3 with this new one, a solid smattering of hard-up late 60s and 1970s funk and soul, with horns and screams a-plenty. It also has softcore 1970s pornographic cover art reminiscent of the old Siltbreeze magazine, but that’s just window dressing for the killer honking within. A total of 16 tracks, none of which I can refer to right now since I don’t have the track listing handy – but don’t be alarmed by the lack of groove in the first two tracks on side A; right when you’re thinking that this comp is going to be doing a little barrel-scraping, the wild-ass soul workouts begin. And they are massive – the name of the game here is the kind of supremely uptempo, sweating and grunting rawness that you’d find on a fake-label Crypt comp like “DOWNTOWN SOULVILLE” or “POW CITY!”. Many also have a dastardly sense of humor and/or wacky lyrics, or are heat-seeking organ- or sax-led instrumentals.

There’s a rumor that some of these numbers are actually recent (i.e. last 4-5 years) knock-offs by genre aficionados, given the label’s (Mr. Luckee) complete lack of information, label credits etc. I can’t confirm or deny, but when one hears something as “authentic”-sounding as the recent funk recordings from SHARON JONES AND THE DAP KINGS, it’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility. She proves it can be done. Plus the Mr. Luckee folks are either totally inept in making their needs known to the pressing plant (14 tracks are listed; 16 appear) or are deliberately going for a “ghetto”, value-stoking marketing strategy a la CHAINS AND BLACK EXHAUST. But we need to remember that the music is completely worthy whether it was recorded in 1969 Memphis or last week in King of Prussia, PA – because it’s all about the music, right kids?

Thursday, February 05, 2004

I’d never even heard of Joe Bussard until I read the recent Brett Milano book on record collecting, but it seems pretty apparent that this guy is one dedicated, record-hounding nut, for which I applaud him. He’s got all sorts of front-porch tales of his days in the 78rpm-gathering trenches, hopping from dusty town to town, crawling around moldy attics and knocking on seemingly impenetrable doors. For all his tireless hunting and gathering, he’s been rewarded with the lofty mantle of “King of the Record Collectors”, and the right to share some of his ultra-rare 78s with the world at large on an Old Hat Records CD. Let it be said that we are all very, very much the better for it.

“Down In The Basement” is a superb, 24-song overview of what you’d expect to find if you asked a well-informed collector of over a bazillion 78rpm records to pull out his best and/or most rare finds, particularly if the collector had a distinct bias toward old-tyme fiddle, string band and country music. Mind you, Bussard also digs “hot” jazz and early blues, but the majority of this comp lands square in the fiddle-breakdown camp, in keeping with Old Hat’s stellar releases thus far. It is fantastic, and a real revelation in parts. This guy dug up some true gems, starting with frantic breakdowns that bookend the compilation, the STRIPLING BROTHERS’ “The Lost Child” and GRINNELL GIGGERS’ “Plow Boy Hop”. The latter sounds like 10 insane, hooch-filled fiddlers sawing away in lockstep, and closes the CD on a mighty pleasing note. The early “hot jazz” numbers are great, too: BILL BROWN AND HIS BROWNIES doing “Hot Lips”, and FESS WILLIAMS AND HIS ROYAL FLUSH ORCHESTRA's “Hot Town” – both make me want to check out these early jazzbos and learn more about the genre. You’ll also be wowed by BLIND GARY aka the Reverend Gary Davis’ gospel blues “You Got To Go Down”, which is pretty much the only widely-heard number on here. Davis’ likely misinterpreted admonishment to wives, “You got to learn how to treat your husband / You got to go down” will certainly be winning him male fans for years to come.

UNCLE DAVE MACON appears on a lot of similar compilations, and I love his “Uncle Dave’s Beloved Solo”, which starts out with Macon telling his invisible audience, “Well, you know how much I love to sing about the bible, and how much I love to go to choich”. There was a time – not that long ago – when people actually pretended to enjoy these things, folks! Finally, though at least two-thirds of these numbers have a good tale behind them, I want to note the DIXON BROTHERS’ “The School House Fire”, which may be the most morbid and horrifying song of sorrow you’ll ever hear, a jaunty ditty about little children screaming as they burn to death in front of their parents, sung in joyous harmonies with a nice lilting banjo. Gotta hear it! Fantastic CD, and it comes with a gigantic, beautiful color booklet with many of Bussard’s better collecting tales, reproductions of some of his records, a ton of photos and even his take on “this rock nonsense”.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

It’s always tempting to try and get excited about metal, isn’t it? I mean, it’s likely every one of us has at least some sorta yen for supremely amped guitars and a little antisocial, parent-upsetting behavior – not to mention reverence for early heavyweights like Sabbath, AC/DC, and Motorhead, of course, – so it would stand to reason that the seemingly endless waves of up-and-coming, swashbuckling young metalers might provide a few diamonds in the rough. At least that’s what I keep thinking – and the names! Oh my, the names get better every year. These young men continue to find excellent ways of mashing words or suffixes like “cannibal”, “lord”, “satan”, “corpse”, “demon”, “-icide”, “throne” etc. into newer and more exciting combinations. The deceptive pull of the metal temptation has been so overwhelming at times that my pal DP and I threatened for about 4 years to get righteously loaded and attend the Covered Wagon Saloon’s weekly “Lucifer’s Hammer” metal show – maybe the CorpseVomit / Infestation / Vernicious Kind bill? Hey DP, I’m a little tired this week – if not that one, there’s always next week, right? For four years this went on until the whole thing went kaput and both the metal nite and the Covered Wagon went under. I guess the children, the wives and the Tuesday night TV lineup were ultimately more engaging.

But therein lies the harsh truth. For at least 25 years, heavy metal has been a one-note joke. The galloping guitars, the crypto-gothic lettering, the horrific names – it’s all very funny for about five minutes. The sorts of folks who take it any more seriously than that – well, there aren’t very many of them, and they’re usually about 15 years old and just a wee bit on the alienated (and alienating) side. Ask around, maybe this weekend – metal has virtually zero staying power beyond the heavyweight originators mentioned earlier, and the odd METALLICA and VOIVOD album. This brings us to Load Records’ entry into extreme metal brutality : VINCEBUS ERUPTUM!!! To their credit, these guys give you two jokes for the price of one. Unfortunately, that joke is “Who Farted?”, track #2. The rest of the CD is dull as dishwater, and about as evil and terrifying. Now maybe I’ll get strung up and crucified on an upside-down cross for my heresy, but I did some math on this one:

Name of band (Vincebus Eruptum) = Funny
Gothic lettering on sleeve = Funny
Galloping guitars = Funny
The pain of listening to the actual CD = Unfunny
Sell to used CD store ASAP

MINGERING MIKE MANIA…..Everyone loves a good record-collecting yarn, and Monday’s tale of the MINGERING MIKE saga in the New York Times (registration required – it’s easy) inspired some rabid forwarding of the story to the Agony Shorthand offices. SS got there first, so hats off to him. I’m working to get my hands on that cardboard benefit album for sickle cell anemia and will post an mp3 once I do.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Very nice follow-up to 2002’s heralded debut “Other Animals” CD from noise-loving, all-femme quartet ERASE ERRATA, a band who justly earn at least half the hype thrown their way. If the first one was a raucous mess of trumpet-fed NYC no wave and Gang of Four-style skeletal bashing, the new one broadens the palette a bit to include some underhanded nods to The Minutemen, “Pornography”-era CURE, long-forgotten trumpeting Dutchmen the Dog-Faced Hermans and a more obvious lineage to Teenage Jesus & The Jerks. And what do you know, Erase Errata are building on their heroes to stir up a sideways-slanted, creepy-crawling stew that’s very 2004 – not a collection of homages – and maybe the best CD I’ve heard this year (all 5 weeks of it). You fans of thumping, fast-paced early 80s female artpunk – and if you’ve read the blog before, you know I’m one of ‘em – will find a new heir to get your jittery groove on about if you’re not there already.

Each track has got a different method of grinding out atonal, densely packed rhythms into fidget-worthy dark funk. I think I can boldly assert that it works better on some tracks than on others. The band’s taken a few of their manic tracks from past comps and 45s and redone them here, with the almost pop “Let’s Be Active” coming off the best & only “Harvester” being taken down a notch – the original was far more interesting & fun to listen to. Yeah, my one beef with Erase Errata is the haughtiness and slight pretension that weasels its way into every 5th track or so, as typified by the re-work on “Harvester”. Sometimes the abrupt time signature changes or artful vocal liberties sound stiff, forced and unnatural, like they figured out that they’d retain deep underground street cred only by deliberately complicating and fucking up their own song. But since I couldn’t songwrite my way out of a wet paper sack, what the hell do I know. There are numbers like “Ca. Viewing” or the whomping “Flippy Flop” that ought to make any broad-minded rocknroller’s top tracks of the year. But pundits will always have their differences: one wag on wrote “this is good, but they’re no Scissor Girls”. Hey now: who is, buddy?