Agony Shorthand

Friday, May 28, 2004
AGONY SHORTHAND TALKS TO CLINT CONLEY ABOUT BOSTON HARDCORE!.......This small chat with MISSION OF BURMA’s Clint Conley took place a few weeks ago in cyberspace, and was slated to be part of another online magazine’s since-revamped Burma tribute next month. My proposed angle for my piece was a handful of questions on Mission of Burma’s proximity to the 1981-83 Boston hardcore scene of SS DECONTROL, DEEP WOUND etc. – thinking that they had played on some of those bills, I reckoned that there might be some rich stories of fistfights, stagedive mishaps and having to play songs like “Trem Two” a zillion MPH to keep from being murdered onstage by a pack of angry baldies. You be the judge! :

Agony Shorthand: Mission of Burma's first round of recordings and bulk of gigging happened during a time (1981-83) when Boston was well-known, at least in underground rock circles, for a particularly aggressive brand of hardcore punk. To what extent, if at all, were Burma influenced by this sound?

Clint Conley: Hardcore was certainly a force. We dug the energy and speed and audience 'participation'. I'd have to say though, the bands we really dug the most were mostly from out of town -- Flag, Minor Threat. We played with Black Flag at the Peppermint Lounge in NY on their first gig in NY. They completely killed us -- we loved it, our minds were blown. Did we start playing faster? It's possible.

Agony Shorthand: You mentioned in a previous interview that, "We did play with some of the hardcore bands, but the whole hardcore scene hadn't hardened into a rigid thing yet, it was just craziness. Crazy guitars - that was our language. These guys were just doing it twice as fast". Can you say anything more about the similarities?

Clint Conley: Burma always leaned in the direction of hi-speed confusion, and that aspect of hard core was a total rush. Later the hard core scene became more regimented and codified. It's the old story -- an initial burst of anarchic freedom turns into small-minded intolerance w/ a list of do's and don'ts.

Agony Shorthand: Were there any standouts for you in Boston's hardcore days, and was there any affinity between you guys and those bands?

Clint Conley: I loved the first Jerry's Kids album -- played it a ton. But I didn’t know any of those guys. I suppose we knew Springa from SSD best on a personal level. They had a massive guitar sound that was completely frightening, and his 'little big man' voice added a hard-core cartoon element that was entertaining.

Agony Shorthand: There must be at least one good story of Mission of Burma on stage, confronted with a boatload of angry hardcore kids who couldn't wait for you to leave the stage.

Clint Conley: The gig that stands out was in Hollywood, playing with the Kennedys and Circle Jerks in '82. Us thin-skinned art-weenies from Boston got a rather hostile response. No applause after songs, just yelling and spitting. Maybe they were trying to show affection? I don’t think so. It was somewhat intimidating, but much more interesting than the typical non-response of many of our gigs for 'new wave' audiences. Offstage, Jello offered his condolences: 'not exactly the most open minded crowd, eh?'

Agony Shorthand: Similarly, were there times when you were able to win over what might have looked to be a hostile crowd there to see, say, SS Decontrol or Negative FX?

Clint Conley: We never really played with the Boston hard core bands, that I can remember -- except on our last gig we asked Neg FX to open. They played a completely chaotic 10 min. set that ended with the stage jammed with kids and cops. Fun. But in general when we played in Boston there wasn’t enough hostility.

Agony Shorthand: What was a typical bill for you to be placed on in the band's early days, and how do you contrast that with what I assume is the band's current ability to pick and choose who you play with?

Clint Conley: We were often selected to open for the latest Brit band -- Go4, the Cure, Psych Furs, etc. The club owners musta thought we sounded Limey. It was cool -- we made some friends, and they’d sometimes ask us to play with them in NY and other places.

Thursday, May 27, 2004
KRONOS QUARTET, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco 5/21/2004....

Entering the cavernous halls of this highfalutin concert hall last Friday night, I overheard one guy riposting to another, “Yeah, you know, Kronos are always going to get more people coming to their shows than anyone else in ‘new music’. I mean, they’ve got purple hair, they wear matching outfits, and they cover Jimi Hendrix...” Never mind in the five times I’ve seen them I’ve never spied any purple hair, nor heard any Hendrix, but I will admit the outfits are smashing. The guy’s got a point: longstanding string-benders the KRONOS QUARTET are for people like me who are treading lightly when it comes to the glorious catch-all term “new music”, and who are more apt to approach something that attempts a bridge with those musical worlds we do indeed understand. For the uninitiated, let me refer you to snippets from their All Music Guide biography:

“Few groups so successfully bridged the gap between classical and popular music as the Kronos Quartet; expanding the parameters of their repertoire to include compositions from rock, jazz, and world music, the New York-based artists recorded a body of work virtually unparalleled in its dedication to innovation and range of expression……the Kronos Quartet was formed in San Francisco in 1973; though all four members were classically trained, they quickly dispensed with the rigid formalities of their craft, performing their chamber music with all of the impassioned energy commonly associated with rock — even their casual dress flew in the face of the classical establishment. Although Kronos began recording during the late '70s, they began attracting widespread notice during the middle of the following decade as a result of recordings like 1984's Monk Suite (a collection of classical performances of compositions by Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington) and their 1986 eponymous Nonesuch label debut, which raised many eyebrows via its string quartet cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze."....

So there it is. Chamber music for the hoi polloi. My wife is a huge fan, and we see them every couple of years, each performance wildly different than the one before it. Last Friday’s night’s performance was entitled “Visual Music”, and included film accompaniment of all sorts, including experimental cut-ups & loops along with more traditional clips (even a little Bugs Bunny). Kronos played pieces from everyone from STEVE REICH (“Pendulum Music”, which was a series of feedback pulses between swinging microphones and amplifiers) to TERRY RILEY (“One Earth, One People, One Love”, a beautiful and moving set of film-like trance music that was my favorite of the evening) to Icelandic pop band SIGUR ROS. A Theremin and spooky keyboards were played to augment a string performance of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, with the band played behind a screen projecting a simultaneous film of them kicking out the exact same composition. Hard not to be impressed. When I read the program on Friday night and saw just where the Kronos Quartet travel to play their multi-faceted musical presentations in a typical year (Reykjavik, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, etc.), I have to admit I got a little jealous and pondered dying my hair purple and learning how to play a stringed instrument. That, and the fact that these four appear to be hipster culture mavens flitting around the edges of just about everything: film, art, international/ethnic music, rock and roll, sound experimentation, and what we once called 20th Century Classical. Sounds like a rich life to me, but I reckon it’s probably too late to change careers. In the meantime, if you can scare up 40 bucks next time they come to town, it's likely to be a night out you'll enjoy AND pat yourself on the back for.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004
OBSCURITY OF THE YEAR: “DAISUCK + PROSTITUTE” LP (1981).....You know you’re dealing with a fairly rare piece of vinyl when you type in a Google query on it in 2004, the tenth year of the popularization of the all-encompassing “world wide web”, and you can’t unearth a single tidbit beyond vague passing references. That certainly makes my ability to plagiarize adjectives about it that much more difficult, but I will try and press on. DAISUCK + PROSTITUTE came to me via a mysterious tape that showed up in the mail from one HW, who told me only that it was Japanese no wave, and came out in 1981. He was kind enough to write out the song titles for me, most of which were in Japanese character and thus a little hard for me to glean anything from. My problem, not theirs. But wow, this is one heavy slab of steaming, frothing saxophone-driven no wave – full of bleating horns, crashing shards of sheet-metal guitar washes, and dying-man vocals on par with some of the Ralph Records stable, TUXEDOMOON in particular. Some might even call it skronk. At times the tracks resemble nothing so much as a very well put-together “LA Blues”-meets-TEENAGE JESUS & THE JERKS hybrid, with bits and splashes of a funky New York City 1981 “downtown” vibe creeping in as well. Except this is from Tokyo, and no one from Soul Jazz is beating the bushes to reissue the thing, at least as far as I’m aware. I’m not making it up, though – this isn’t one of my many imaginary friends. DAISUCK + PROSTITUTE put out a hot and lusty platter of dance-oriented extreme noise chaos, and I can think of a few dozen people who’d donate an organ or two to hear it – not simply because it’s obscure or foreign, but because it’s really, really good. Let the hype start here, I guess, and thanks again to HW for getting it rolling.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004
THE RISE OF TERMINAL BOREDOM.....I’ve been meaning to take a stab at capturing the je ne sais quoi of modern 21st century garage punk as I see it from my jaded & snooty perch, but now I don’t have to, as there’s a strong online ‘zine that’s done it for me – and by extension, for you. Trickknee, who’s posted a few comments here and there on this site, left his calling card on the Flesh Eaters post below and I totally took the bait. His site is called TERMINAL BOREDOM, after the Crime bootleg of the same name, and it’s probably the best, most enthusiastic representation of this decade’s loud-hard-raw garagedom outside of the Horizontal Action bricks & mortar fanzine. The second “issue” might read like an In The Red tribute collection to some, but don’t let that stop ya. It contains pieces on ITR’s Larry Hardy, THE PONYS, THE FUSE! and related stagewreckers, as well as a mess of informed & snotty reviews (guys, the Crisco jokes are so 1983 Tesco Vee). And get this, apparently some people still buy 7” singles! Wild. Check it out here.

Monday, May 24, 2004

As I’ve probably mentioned at least three times too many on this site, The FLESH EATERS are one of my landmark, worldbeating, Top 5 rock and roll bands of all time. There are a knotted cluster of us out there who will concur with such a bold, unpopular assessment, all of us continually scratching our heads as to why so few seem to share a passion for what is, arguably along with THE FALL, probably the best band of the hallowed late 70s/early 80s period. Hope for company springs forth in the Atavistic Flesh Eaters reissue series, which began a few months ago with the CD release of the band’s first record, and continues this September with the CD reissue of their last (“Hard Road To Follow”). With the genius “A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die” thankfully in print for a few years now, that leaves only the wailing, gnashing, heavy metalloid deathpunk 3rd album “Forever Came Today” completely out of print and unavailable for mucho deserved critical hosannas. There have been rumors of certain labels stepping up to the plate to right that wrong, but I’ve yet to hear final word that someone’s truly giving it a go.

So here we are with the 1980 Flesh Eaters debut, “No Questions Asked”, packaged with their debut 7”EP “Disintegration Nation”, three tracks from a the awesome Chris D.-helmed LA punk compilation “Tooth and Nail”, and three more rare demos procured from the teeming Flesh Eaters tape collection of Byron Coley. Is that friggin’ great, or what? And it’s funny, I feel after listening to this complete package a few times that I’ve probably never given “No Questions Asked” the stand-alone respect it deserves. Sure, I’ve always loved the thing and played the grooves off my LP – there’s nary a duff track on here (I even like the fake dub of “Cry Baby Killer” most of the time), and it’s a blistering bag of hot-tempered, raw LA punk rock with understated guitar and the LP-length debut of Chris D.’s award-winning hothouse vocals. But of their four records, it was always my fourth favorite due to its cobbled-together, multiple-lineup nature, which renders it a bit scattered when stacked next to the cohesive, major-league whomp of the other three. “No Questions Asked” takes a bunch of different Flesh Eaters live lineups from 1978-79, throws in a few LA punk/new wave-era heavyweights (Tito Larriva, Stan Ridgeway, Karla “Mad Dog” whatever her name was) as “session” musicians, and where it suffers at all, it’s in the lack of sheer rocks-out raw power that they made into a trademark just one record later. But man, the proverbial apples and oranges, right? It’s just an incredible slasher of an album, with all-time killers like “Police Gun Jitters”, “Dominoes”, “Crazy Boy”, “The Child Comes First” and the razor-sharp title track. It’s a “punk” album very much in keeping with its era and peers, but something about it speaks to a whole ‘nuther musical/lyrical language being shaped and articulated by Chris D., a guy who comes about as close to a “poet” as any hard-drinking 70s punk ever did. In other words, in reading his lyrics, I find little if anything to be embarrassed about; on the contrary, there are some wild, feverish verses on here that speak to a man with a bizarrely fascinating and ultra-imaginative mind, and the means to assemble it into spat-out word clusters that make a crazy sort of (non)sense.

It goes without saying that the previously-unavailable debut 7” and comp tracks are incredibly additive to the package and to your life – the song “Agony Shorthand” from the 1978 single is, that’s right, from whence this blog takes its name. “Twisted Road” and “Disintegration Nation” are also among the all-time top early ’77-’78 punk songs, and now you can get them into your house without having to pay Bleeker Bob $100. And the until-now lost demos? Hallelujah! Apparently these three – “Disintegration Nation”, “Agony Shorthand” and “Twisted Road” – were recorded with a 45 in mind, and had such a single actually come out it would likely be hailed by geeks years later as a super-raw, unkempt KBD/DIY masterpiece. I prefer the versions that actually did make it out, but these three are primal and loud and a little weird in their less-than-developed structure. Fantastic to hear it. This package is just the thing to get you warmed up for September’s “Hard Road to Follow” reissue, but even if you mistakenly skip that, you definitely need to get intimately involved with this one.

MORE FROM THE MAILBAG: BEYOND THE IMPLODE.....And there's more on the gr8 news front: a BEYOND THE IMPLODE reissue in the works (see the KBD/H2D/DIY post below, or click here):

"Thank you very much for your kind comments and support on your Agony Shorthand web site. There's really no need to bootleg Beyond The Implode, there will be a CD reissue of some sort in the near future. I've still got all the master tapes and have been working on them on my computer - which is in keeping with the original DIY thing, y'know?

Trouble is, time has moved on and at present I'm working shifts in a local medical supplies factory so a lot of my time is taken up on the production line. But, hang on in there! I want a reissue out as much as anyone.....I'll probably steer the good ship BTI into the nearest iceberg but it's all part of the game, isn't it?

You're right about the "Last Thoughts" EP being recorded in a bedroom in the rainy British north. Actually, it was two bedrooms to be precise, one in Liverpool, the other in Runcorn. I pressed up 250 copies, sold what I could locally and Rough Trade in London distributed the rest. There was never a re-pressing. Geoff Travis from Rough Trade wanted to press another batch but at the time I wanted the EP to be sort of one-shot effort and declined his offer. That was probably the biggest mistake I made but there you go, the world kept spinning.

I like the ", me, the people who ride the bus with you" comment, you've hit the nail right on the head there because that's the space Beyond The Implode inhabited and the songs all come from that level.

I've gotta go, the factory horns just blown!

Best regards,

Eddie Smith (AKA Eddie Cameron - Beyond The Implode)

MASSIVE CACOPHONY REDUX.....I wrote about Australia’s excellent postpunk rhythm & experimental noise maestros THE SLUGFUCKERS almost a year ago to the day. Wouldn’t you know it, the following email was sitting in my box over the weekend:

“You might be interested to know that an official collection of material by THE SLUGFUCKERS is out now on Harbinger Sound ( U.K. Label ). "Cacophony, 1979 - 81" . All interested parties can go to : for more info. Cheers- Steve Underwood”.

Good on ya, Steve, and thanks for the good word.

AGONY SHORTHAND TECH TIP.....This may be more than a little self-serving, but if you’ve ever wondered how to link to an individual posting here on this site, rather than the entire recent batch of postings, here you go: See where it says "posted by Jay 4:46pm” (or whatever time happens to be there)? Just click on that time, and a new address will pop up. Copy and paste that address from your address bar, make sure your link points to it, and you’re ready to go.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
STRANGE NOTES, 5/19/2004....We’re back with a collection of bon mots based around a broad “musical” theme, a little collection of thoughts and snippets of folk wisdom that we like to call “Strange Notes”. Welcome, and please enjoy the show! First up is a couple sentences on an posthumous, uh, “darkwave” CD from Australians WHIRLYWIRLD, a 1979-80 new waver electronic duo featuring this guy Ollie Olsen who once had a nice article written about him in Forced Exposure that led many down an oft-regretted path toward Olsen’s somewhat plodding, vaguely pretentious recordings. On “The Complete Studio Works”, all nine of ‘em, Olsen comes off as a hipster Thin White Duke acolyte who dips his toes into downbeat Indian ragas and Joy Division-esque dance/drones. Problem is, none of the songs are any good. Oh well.....Hey, did you see that the MISSION OF BURMA “ONoffON” LP release contains their version of The Dils’ “Class War”, and is not available on the CD? Was Tim Warren hired as a special marketing advisor?.....Also noted at the record store last weekend was this dirt cheap 2002 HANK WILLIAMS box set, retailing for a mere $21, called “Hillbilly Hero” on a label called Proper Music. Wow. It has about a zillion songs from a guy with a discography that went only slightly further than what’s on here – word on the street is this still misses some 1951-52 pre-death material. But the expiration of copyright on pre-1960s music has led to an incredible wealth of fantastic music (jazz, blues, country) for rock-bottom prices. Just the thing to clog up the house – remember to have ‘em ship it to your work address.

In other news, there’s this new raucous Providence, RI noise/electronics/metal compilation called “Old Tyme Lemonade” on the curiously-named Hospital Productions. It would appear that the Providence scene, as represented here, mostly eschews vocals and anything approaching subtlety in favor of full-boar feedback and screech – at least when it’s not trending toward perplexing and experimental laptop punk or ridiculously over-the-top, grinding metal/core. Where are the Buffy St. Marie-style singer/songwriters in this town?? The comp has got contributions from LIGHTNING BOLT, MINDFLAYER, KITES and many others clustered around the Load Records stable. For those of you who read the BLASTITUDE reviews and buy accordingly, this one has got to qualify as a sort of sacred text.....I may be the very last fella to figure this out, but apparently there’s this growing phenomenon called MP3 blogging. It appears to be the next phase in sharing your refined music taste with others, making “old school” word blogs like Agony Shorthand about as relevant as a buggy whip maker in 1950s Detroit. Sites like Fluxblog, Mystery & Misery and The Mystical Beast offer up MP3s from their proprietors’ personal collections, along with a brief spiel about the band or artist being pushed. So now I put it out to you: are there any really good ones out there? I haven’t had time to dig around much, but anyone with a perspective on this “milieu” would be much appreciated.....finally, I have to concede that there’s a reason it seems everyone’s starting point into African 70s music is the ETHIOPIQUES series: they’re just so damn good. I loaded up Volume 1 and listened to it a bunch this week, and it’s my favorite of the four I’ve heard (likely why it was the series’ first release). If you need an excuse to check out funky 60s/70s Afrobeat with loud, ultra-brassy horns and as much soul as anything out of Chocolate City, then let this be your entrée. That’s it for me today – keep your feet on the ground etc etc.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Are you in the mood for some of the most polarizing, initially excruciating and yet ultimately most lovely “indie” music of our brief millennium? I sure was when I decided to plunge into this. By all rights, I should probably have a big problem with JOANNA NEWSOM, as I’m sure many of you will (or do). On a bad day this could come off as cloying, pixie-like, mewling folk unswervingly determined to put forward a “cuckoo” persona (something one might also suspect fellow traveler DEVENDRA BANHART of doing). What one might call an “I’m-So-Weirdist”. That’s a term my college pal Brett coined for the drunk alterna-girls in our school who’d pop off with bizarre nonsequiters and then try and redeem themselves by exclaiming, “Oh my God, I’m so weird”. Yet I’m totally fascinated by this woman’s beguiling blend of baby-voiced vocals, fantastic/poetic wordplay, and off-kilter harp strumming and piano plinking. That’s harp as in HARP, the big golden thing that you sit down to play while wearing dark flowing robes. Newsom is the latest DRAG CITY chanteuse (see EDITH FROST), and fits in well with that label’s longtime outsider/oddball ethos. You don’t just “make up” a persona this wacky in a vacuum if you don’t already have the songwriting abilities to flesh it out, and make the goofy parts irrelevant.

Newsom comes across as a classically-trained, well-read, wide-eyed naïf who loves spinning grandiose, big-hearted shanties and romantic tales of kooks and old-timers. The vocals will take some getting used to, but unlike another indie act with high-pitched baby vocals (anyone remember New York City’s otherwise right-on early 90s band SMACK DAB?), Joanna Newsom is able to transcend them pretty quickly and actually charm the pants off ya when your guard is down. Newsom knows her Alan Lomax from her Harry Smith as well, and her harp and piano accompaniment treads down a very Americana-like path while remaining ghostly and quietly beautiful in a very unique, almost druggy manner. You may even find yourself chortling at her lyrics, and I mean that in a good way – she’s got quite a way with words, this one. “The Milk-Eyed Mender” was dubbed in one quarter as “avant-garde American music for the back porch”. Fair and accurate enough!

PS – Interesting tidbit: Ms. Newsom is a cousin to San Francisco’s new mayor Gavin Newsom, the bane of gay marriage haters and self-styled radical/progressives across this city of mine. It’s been funny watching her try to squirm away from that fact in interviews I’ve seen. Being associated with The Dashing Young Yuppie Mayor is, like, the height of uncool for the lefty rocker crowd, and Ms. Newsom knows well who’s buttering her bread. “Cousin? What? I don’t have no cousin!”

Monday, May 17, 2004

You know what's one of the delicious things in life? I'll tell you what: knowing someone with a massive, all-encompassing record collection who's willing to digitize his collection of rare singles and EPs and roast up homemade CD-Rs for your listening pleasure. Now that's something that makes life worth savoring. My life has been immeasurably improved in recent weeks thanks to the discovery of a few new 1975-83 ultra-underground "D.I.Y." killers from the darkest corners of 7" collectordom. First, from the frozen tundra of Finland, where vowels and vodka are the staff of life, there's RUTTO and their frenzied retardo-core "Ma Vihaan". This berserker features a crazed, hoarse female shouter and some real nimble pseudo-hardcore stopping & starting, with a general vibe that comes down to either a winking "we know exactly what we're doing" or a flailing "we have no idea what the fuck we're doing". I sure can't decide, but the 2:12 track is first rate foreign yapping, on the level of that first Meat Puppets EP. Next, I learned about 1978's O-LEVEL from the UK. Some of you may remember O-Level from one of the earliest ever KBD-style punk 7" compilations, "Year of the Rats", which I bought with much joy in 1989. O-Level were represented there with a twofer, "Pseudo Punk/O-Level", which as it turns out was the B-side to an equally shambling basement punker called "East Sheen". Now I've heard the latter as well, and I think it's fair to say that O-LEVEL deserve a much wider hearing for their kindred Desperate Bicycles-style easy & cheap punk rock music.

One of the finest records I've discovered via the MESSTHETICS UK DIY compilation series are the pieces of BEYOND THE IMPLODE's "Last Thoughts" 7"EP from 1979. This record, now that I've added "Midnight Adventures" to the other 2 tracks from the EP I've heard, appears to be one of the great lost classics of inward-looking outsider pop music. I use "pop" very loosely, since the Beyond The Implode record sounds like it was recorded live in a kitchen or a bedroom somewhere in the rainy British north, and was probably marketed to friends and family within a 2-kilometer radius. The vocals are terrific and I think just about everyone -- you, me, the people who ride the bus with you -- would love this record. Who among us will be the first in line to bootleg BEYOND THE IMPLODE??

Finally, I was extremely happy to hear the wild-ass "Mama Was a Schitzo, Daddy Was a Vegetable Man" by MIKE REP AND THE QUOTAS (from 1975!!) for the first time. This was resurrected two years ago by a Swedish micro-label (Sverige Age), and it's on par with the world-beating "Rocket to Nowhere" from the same year. We're talking way-way-in-the-red guitar, subprimitive recording quality, rockstar guitar solos and lots of "yeah!!"s whooped out with gleeful abandon. Not only do you get all that, but a huge, apocolyptic fake ending to boot. That's it -- there can't be any more incredible 1975-1983 rock and roll recordings left, can there? I'd like to retire from mercilessly flogging this era so I can move on to talk about CAT POWER some more. Give the kids what they wanna read, right?

Friday, May 14, 2004

I was as surprised as you were to learn that MISSION OF BURMA would be following up their life-affirming 2002 reunion tour with an actual studio record of all new material. Often these twenty-years-on reunion records elicit nothing so much as a big UH OH, but given Burma’s incredible live set that tour, which showed the band with their chops and their muscular reputation intact, I figured I’d judge the band as if they were starting from square one. And in a lot of ways, they are – “ONoffON” will inevitably suffer if folks insist on comparing it straight-up to “Vs.” or “Signals, Calls and Marches” – not because it’s a crappy reunion record (it isn’t, far from it), but because the context and follow-on US independent rock music history, some of it built upon Burma’s love of challenging, angular pop noise, has changed fairly dramatically. Thus I think the thing needs to be thrown in with its peers.

In so doing, there’s no doubt that this’ll stand up as one of the best records 2004 has to offer. “ONoffON” is full of screeching, tape-manipulated sound, all shoved and spindled into a very pleasing pop-based, structure-based rock and roll formula. The formula changes its visage on many occasions, and at times it’s like no Mission of Burma song or record you’ve ever heard before (particularly the galloping “Nicotine Bomb”, which is one of the best on here). This is still one of the loudest bands on the planet, but given their god-given ability to still write great lopey, raucous hook-filled TUNES, they never come off as such (except for in the live setting). Roger Miller’s guitar still sounds like a whooshing Concorde screaming out of JFK, and because it’s mixed into a bazillion different tracks on this record, the effect is pretty pummeling. His sound is “brighter” this time, perhaps because of the production, so anyone looking for the muddy murk of “Vs.” will have to keep looking. Of particular note are the Peter Prescott-yelped “Absent Mind”, which reminds one of a drunken 2am Volcano Suns encore (a good thing), and “Wounded World”, a track I didn’t cotton to at first when I downloaded it for free, but now think is a terrific veering-off into a different kind of post-punk sonic complexity than I’d expect from the band.

So what about the three we’ve heard before on those posthumous Taang records in the late 80s: “Dirt”, “Playland” and “Hunt Again”? These three tracks have been re-recorded for “ONoffON”, and two actually best the original studio versions 20-something years later…..only “Dirt” comes nowhere close to the jagged and raw angst of the original. But who’s complaining, right? The thing’s not flawless but the band is certainly hot and reinvigorated, and did something almost none of their 1979-83 peers could do, would do or have done: make a record worth buying & playing repeatedly without breaking a huge sweat, and then backing that up with a live set that blows doors off of anything I’ve seen in 2000-04. The dubious, skeptical and often hostile Agony Shorthand says check it out.

Thursday, May 13, 2004
THE SLITS : “RADIO SESSIONS & LIVE AT ERIC’S 1977” CD....You know how first impressions go. If my wife has relied on first impressions the first times I met her, I’d be sitting in a gutter somewhere right now, lonely and terrified, instead of typing smarmy, self-referential record reviews on the world wide web. If I had relied on first impressions the first time I heard CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, I’d have a big blown hole in my record collection between “CAM” (Cameo, of course) and “CAR” (The Cars, naturally), a deep void that would render any credibility I’d accrued instantly worthless. Such it is with THE SLITS. I had always figured these ladies to be mediocre hangers-on to the 1977 London punk scene, more famous for being the first all-GIRL band in an exploding scene than to be a band of any merit on their own. A couple of listens to their LP “Cut” back in college cemented these first impressions. I was driven away by what I remember as dubby wank-arounds, loopy, affected vocals and a pretty surefire case of musical ineptitude permeating the whole tribal punk/tubthumping mess. I filed them with The Clash and 999 and all the other lame-o UK bands of the era that got proximity points but who did zero for me musically.

Then, years and years later, I hear this collection, a CD procured from Paul Marko’s UK Punk 1977 web site. Is this the same band? THESE Slits are fired-up scratching and snarling punk vixens, bashing out fast and dirty punk with great shouted harmonies and a sound that’s at least 6 months beyond the “learning to play” vibe they put forth a year later. What’s up with that? This band is just 1-2-3-4 spot-on with their blazing live set and sound like a blast of fresh air on par with the other titans of the era. It may very well be that these John Peel sessions and a well-recorded October 1977 live show represent the band at their naïve, rocking best, a stance that turned on a dime when punk rock quickly became passé & the band ventured out into the great unknown of African tribalism and disco influences. That’s my theory, anyway, but would appreciate someone else’s take on THE SLITS. I’ve barely read anything positive about them in 25 years beyond a bunch of lumping-in with the usual 1977 suspects.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004
LABIATORS : “4 TRACK RECORDINGS” 2x7” EP...From the label (Secret Keeper) wise and bold enough to bring you the LP version of the latest Cheater Slicks record comes this mid-tempo DIY indie rock in the vein of LOVE CHILD or Skidmark-era VERTIGO, minus the chaos and danger. At times THE LABIATORS produce some outtasite swirling and jagged wah-wahed noise, and at others shapeshift nicely into an 80s paisley underground tribute band, complete with jangle-filled BYRDSian harmonies and the odd hint to multiple stoned listenings to “Zen Arcade”. The last track on Side “D” is the one, a total CRAZY HORSE meets J. Mascis basher, but due to some relatively confusing packaging I’m not altogether solid on its name – I’m thinking it’s “Ultraman”. Hey, it ain’t “Cock In My Pocket” but it’s still something pretty right-on.

BRENTWOODS : “GO LITTLE SPUTNIK / SOUTH CITY SHINGLE & SHAKE” 45....I professed my undying devotion to this near-mystery mid-90s rave-up party band last year in the pages of Agony Shorthand, and included a veiled whine about the 45 of theirs I was missing. Well what do you know, vocalist Patty up & sent me the one I was missing (autographed!), this after I called her a “woefully inept” singer “who sounds like she’s 15”, She knows and you know I meant it in the very best sense of “woefully inept”. The 45 that escaped me is as pepped-up bonkers & go-go-go as their other ones – quick, bursting with energy and teen screams, and recorded so on the cheap that I’ll bet the session’s donut run cost more than the "studio time". It also includes the band’s usual array of unfunny but nonetheless charming skits and spoken tomfoolery bookending the two songs. I’ll take it! Hats off to Patty and her crrrrrrazy 90s shenanigans!

Monday, May 10, 2004
A-FRAMES / SIXTEENS / EPIKURS EUPHORIE, 5/8/2004, Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco……

Big night of moderne-era loud-ass rock music at the Hemlock this past Saturday night. I was there with my clipboard, spiral notebook and digital voice recorder, and laid down the following observations. First up were Norway’s EPIKURS EUPHORIE, who slam-dunked their opportunity to fully play to Norwegian rock stereotype by coming out in full church-burning Black Metal makeup and clothing. These lords of chaos kicked up a terrible, TOTAL SHUTDOWN-like racket, with a singer given to screeching like a poisoned owl, and a band humping & thumping away in tandem. Noisy, chaotic, and not at all crafted with love in mind. It was generally agreed that their best songs were the short ones, and the very best song of them all was the last one. Middlers THE SIXTEENS were a trip: three 1982-style new wavers, all with asymmetrical haircuts and a stage full of synths & patchcords. If one of them had busted out some clove cigarettes it would have been a totally appropriate move. As it was, the female singer insisted that the house lights be shut off so she could dance around SIOUXSIE-like to a strobe light, complete with some fucking awesome robotic gothgirl moves straight out of the Batcave 101 textbook. Did I mention that they were a pretty hot new wave band? If you’ve got any patience at all for loud, drilling, VIRGIN PRUNES / XMAL DEUTSCHLAND-style aggressive synth music, The Sixteens just might be right up your proverbial pipe. As middle bands go, this was a good one.

But predictably, the evening belonged to Seattle’s A-FRAMES, who have now reached enough critical mass at this point to have their “hit” song titles screamed out by the pleading crowd (for the record, the hits are “Crutches” and “Hostage Crisis”, both of which were played as reward). Live, the A-FRAMES come on far more ballistic than on the recent (2nd) CD, far more like the crunching 45s than the more glassy, opaque punk of their last CD. This is a band who’ve honed their chops to become one of the tightest, most slashing & put-together rock and roll trios around. Just about every number was a ninety-second knockout, and only the first two registered as new, unrecorded songs I hadn’t yet heard. The bass player, whom you see pictured here, has the most whomping, throbbing, amped-up bass sound you’re going to hear this side of Lightning Bolt. He’s sort of the Rob Vasquez of his instrument – no one plays like this guy. Patent it! And the A-Frames’ taste is unimpeachable, what with an ending encore of the Australian’ X’s “Batman”, played very fast and so dead-on you’d’ve thought they’d traveled to 1979 Sydney to learn it firsthand. Kids went nuts, some half-hearted slamdancing occurred, and I tucked in way past my bedtime. I’d see these guys play again in a heartbeat, and I recommend them with 5 friggin’ gold stars should you also get the opportunity.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Is there a single worldwide city that could deservedly call itself the kingpin rock and roll town of all time? The place where rock and roll animals sprout like seedlings and multiply like jackrabbits? Lord knows Cleveland has tried; London and New York have been put forward by many, and some fops might stake their claims on Tokyo, Chicago or Sao Paolo. I could make an argument to this ludicrous question that settles upon LOS ANGELES as the single best city for rock music anytime, anywhere. I’m not sure if I really believe it, but clanging around my head is this evidence – that’s right, Los Angeles’ TOP 20 LP/CD RECORDS OF ALL TIME. Many are from the fertile 1977-1982 crescent, a time when I just know that LA ruled the roost:

1. FLESH EATERS : “A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die”
2. THE DREAM SYNDICATE : “The Days Of Wine and Roses”
3. GERMS : “G.I.”
4. GUN CLUB : “Fire of Love”
5. BLACK FLAG : “Damaged”
7. FLESH EATERS : “Forever Came Today”
8. RED CROSS/KROSS : “Born Innocent”
9. NEIL YOUNG : “Tonight’s The Night”
11. MINUTEMEN : “Double Nickels on the Dime”
12. FLESH EATERS : “Hard Road To Follow”
13. LOVE : “Forever Changes”
14. NEIL YOUNG : “On The Beach”
15. CLAW HAMMER : “Claw Hammer”
16. THE SEEDS : “The Seeds”
17. CIRCLE JERKS : “Group Sex”
18. LAZY COWGIRLS : “Tapping The Source”
19. NEIL YOUNG : “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”

Wait, where’s the 20th? Somehow I feel the need to capture the Dangerhouse Records 45s (BAGS, WEIRDOS, DILS etc.), which have in fact been collected on two fantastic LP compilations, “The Dangerhouse Collection” and “Give Me A Little Pain – Dangerhouse Vol. 2” (as well as a number of bootlegs). Those two post-scene comps would likely both slot into the Top 3 if I didn’t feel like they somewhat pushed the definition of an “album” a bit. But what do I know. I’ve never lived in LA proper. What am I missing from this list?


(Editor’s note: the following piece has been “repurposed” from another piece written in 1997 by the author. That’s right, he is actually plagiarizing himself. Please direct all complaints to our company switchboard at Jukt Micronics) :

FLIPPER stood for several things at once: militant alcoholism, audience confrontation, and the genius to recognize, après THE FALL, the beauty of in-your-face redundancy. They played at a crawl when their many hecklers implored them to play fast; they ended shows when they couldn’t stand up any longer; and they wrote some absolutely damaged classics like “Sex Bomb”, “Ever” and “Earthworm” that are, if not inspirational, still a big hoot to listen to 24 years on. Flipper were the snotty 10th-grader who renounced his parents and was already heavily into glue and pills and other merrymaking – you know he’s a waste and that his bell has already tolled, but he’s also got this sarcastic sense of buffoonery that slays everyone around him, and who is intelligent and world-wise/world-weary beyond his years. You want to be around a person like that. Flipper was that guy.

Their first single, 1980’s “Love Canal / Ha Ha Ha”, took on the then-topical Niagara Falls toxics controversy. Flipper weren’t the type to provide straight “Reagan Sucks”-style commentary on such horrors; they far preferred to rub and gnash your nose in it. It has a sloooooooow, confusing bassline that could belong only to them, but it actually rocks in a way that proves less accessible in subsequent material. “Ha Ha Ha” is a bit more maddening and is even better; the cheap sarcasm is backlit by a screech of guitar and hissing amps, and ends in an annoying, repetitive echo of the song’s title. All the snotty 10th graders I grew up with hated Flipper, despite the fact that the band seemed to hustle their way onto every hardcore bill in San Francisco – true gluttons for punishment. I’m sure they wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I went through a major TOWNES VAN ZANDT phase around 1993-94, after a pal with excruciating quality-control standards successfully convinced me to investigate this 1970s Texan folky/alcoholic poet/country-music bard. After buying this record, “The Late Great Towns Van Zandt”, first, and then working my way pretty deep into the man’s extensive back catalog (much of which had then been recently reissued by Tomato Records), I came to the conclusion that Townes was a pretty first-rate songwriter and a titanic teller of tales of woe. I played the living hell out of this record and my other favorite of Townes’, “Live At The Old Quarter, Houston Texas”, and more or less ignored the other ones because I thought they seriously paled in comparison. Why, I still believe that to be the case. I even saw the man play live in San Francisco a couple of years before he died, and though I couldn’t find a single punker willing to attend the show with me, I had a grand time watching the then-old fella croak his way through his own material and covers of the Stones, Hank Williams, etc. When he died in 1997, the maudlin tributes and posthumous 20/20 hindsight began, and all of sudden Van Zandt was a full-fledged legend (hey, he earned it). I filed the two records I’d kept, and only this month brought them out again for this decade’s appraisal.

One temptation I try very hard not to be privy to is to loft tragic figures like Van Zandt or, worse, the media-sainted GRAM PARSONS, into some critical role-call Valhalla just because they up & died from their personal problems. I mean, it goes without saying that lionization of the young and the dumb and the unfortunate many who get saddled with drug/alcohol/depression problems is pointless if there was precious little to back it up in the first place (again, Parsons – who I do in fact like, yet am somewhat bewildered by his ever-growing beatification). Van Zandt, at least, had this wonderful record, a 1972 peek into his melancholy, often deceptively playful worldview. My estimation of it hasn’t diminished in the least. It’s certainly more of a “country” record than anything else I’ve heard of his, with some pedal steel and mournful-sounding instrumentation that slots only into the C&W genre. He’s been described as a “hillbilly Leonard Cohen” at times, and nowhere is this more evident than in the haunting and sparse “Sad Cinderella”. The one you might recognize here is the jaunty “Pancho & Lefty”, still his most popular song thanks to Willie Nelson, and still my #1 favorite of his. Unlike other records from what most consider to be Van Zandt’s most fertile years (1968-1975), there is virtually no filler on this one, and everything from the cover photo to the closing bells of Track #11 (“Heavenly Household Blues”) bespeaks a plaintive, lonesome troubadour, a man beholden to no known trend or musical movement. I think he’s been embraced by honky-tonkers, hippies and indie rockers in equal measure, and if there’s a single recommended place to begin investigating such a chameleonic beast, it’s right here.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Before I delve into a detailed review of this one, I’ll stop myself from doing so and mention only that this excellent but impossible-to-find 60s compilation from biker soundtrack/distortion master DAVIE ALLEN is a hog-wild overview of some of this guitarslinger’s incredible MORRICONE-meets-MC5, reverbed-out surf & fuzz instrumentals. That is, until the May 24th release date of “Devil’s Rumble” on Sundazed, a 2-CD set that promises to be the definitive statement from the guitarist who almost out-Link Wrayed LINK WRAY. About time! Suffice to say I’ll give that one the full review treatment instead once my pre-order hits my mailbox in late May.

MODEY LEMON : “MODEY LEMON” CD……A brief one here, too – I’ve now heard both of MODEY LEMON's full-length CDs, and I’m even more of a rabid enthusiast of the Lemon because of it. This debut from 2002 is easily as white-hot smoking as the recent killer “Thunder + Lightning” CD on Birdman and follows a similar template : several revved-up, pounding Motor City-fied punkers; a handful of stretched-out, raw, mid-tempo guitar squealers, and a few screamers that summon the furies like no other modern shitstorming garage band this side of the early A-FRAMES 45s. I like these fellas even better. Are you a fan of rock and roll music? If so, I believe you will thoroughly enjoy the musical output of this happening young rock and roll duo.