Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

You know how some folks are Beatles people, Stones people or SWA people? Every now & again you’ll actually meet a KINKS person, and wonder where in the world they came from. After truly hearing (with open ears) some of the band’s late-60s stuff for the first time (!), I think I’m really beginning to understand them. 1969’s “Arthur, Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire” is the great score to a TV musical that never got made – how about that? It features at least three absolute classic tracks, one of which (the operatic and soaring working-class tale “Shangri-La”) I can’t believe I’m just now hearing. It’s a full-on pop masterpiece. The others are the rollicking semi-hit “Victoria” and the brassy anti-war anthem “Yes Sir/No Sir”. But it’s not just these three – the whole record, which veers stylistically all over the place from garage-infused rock to proto-jams to Beatles-esque loopiness -- is a coherent, logical period piece, as quintessentially English as one could imagine, and one of the best post-British invasion records I’ve heard by the original wave. It spills over with a fountainhead of ideas and tons of crazy melodies, and somehow finds a way to knock out twelve very solid tunes. If it’s a “concept record”, well, I tip my cap because I sure can’t hear much conceptual action beyond a few consistent lyrical themes.

These then-twentysomething Brits, likely born in Mr. Churchill’s time, had a real hang-up about war in general, particularly World War II, which surely did a number on the Davies brothers (as it would you if your earliest memories were of hunkering down in a basement). Other Brit-isms are the class-based navel-gazing that the Sceptered Isle has long indulged in, as well as a dose of rambunctious Basil Faulty-like silliness (“She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina”) that I can go either way on. Overall, it’s really a blast, with terrific through-the-roof LOUD production. It’s really one of those records I’m going to probably play frequently and not file away & forget like so many others – even 60s British stuff I really enjoy such as The Troggs or John’s Children or The Birds or even The Creation can only be spun so many times before repetitive stress injuries ensue, you know what I’m saying? This record, like so many of the Stones records of the same era, is for the ages. If you prefer a splash of Earl Grey over a Jasmine Mint or some Throat Coat, this fine, deeply layered record will surely please your distinguished, rocking, Anglophonic palate.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

THE AVENGERS rank as a just-below-top-tier 1977-79 Califonia punk band for me: possessing at least three blowout Crime- or Weirdos-level tracks (“The American In Me”, “White Nigger” and “Uh Oh”, all of which ended up on the same four-song EP), and strictly second-tier (but still quite good) punk beyond those bombs. They were definitely one of the first punk bands I ever truly liked, and it’s been a shame that so much of their better material has been unavailable for years. This very new release “The American In Me” goes about halfway in connecting the dots, bringing forth four well-recorded 1978 demos that are all first rate, and could have easily stood as 45rpm A-side releases on their own – particularly an almost pop, less raw version of their only 45 “We Are The One” that’s got Penelope Houston harmonizing with herself. “White Nigger” and “Uh-Oh” make an appearance as alternate versions of the Steve Jones-produced tracks on that great White Noise 12”EP. Why those songs still aren’t available beyond that way-rare EP is a mystery for the great punk rock seers to pontificate upon. The bulk of this short 12-song CD comes from the band’s third-to-last live gig at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco, 1979. It’s recorded really, really, well – King Biscuit Flour Hour well. But the band sound lackadaisical and tired on at least half the numbers (the other half being to the standard you'd expect), and their then-new songs really hint at a mid-tempo, 4-minute+ direction that might've sullied their reputation a bit. So I reckon packing it in at this point was a bold career move that ultimately paid off. Nice work, gang. Oh, and contra a post I did a couple weeks ago, “Danny Furious” was the band’s drummer, not guitarist (I was upbraided by Penelope Houston herself). Not a bad punk rock name – still nowhere near as tuff as New Zealand’s “Mike Lesbian”, though.

Monday, June 28, 2004
A $12 TRIP INTO THE 78 COLLECTOR PSYCHE.....Can be yours if you’re ready to spring double figures for a bulging copy of 78 QUARTERLY, an infrequently-published fanzine (in every sense of the word) for collectors of rare pre-WWII 78rpm blues, jazz and hillbilly records. I’ve never seen anything like it. I bought issues #10 and #11, the most recent, in hopes of learning more about lost and uncomped country blues artists. Instead, and I’m not really complaining, you get the most arcane and obsessive look into the world of collectors – a world in which catalog numbers matter far more than the names of the players (“Black Patti 8036” rather than the Southern Jubilee Quartette), in which collectors trade stories of their best finds, and in which the layout is done completely and totally by gluestick-encrusted hand. In #11 pictures of the labels of each and every Black Patti release are pornographically laid out over dozens and dozens of pages, with scant information other than catalog listings, old ads from the Chicago Defender, and the odd story of how a given collector found it (“I was traveling late at night in 1966 in the Northern Virginia hill country, when I sideswiped an old black man with a crate of records in his trunk…” etc.). It’s quite fun, but not a real fountainhead of needed information. You’ve met these sorts of fellas if you’ve ever hung around a store in which old 78s are sold, in which they’re usually yakking for hours with the proprietor about their finds. I think of them of folk heroes of a sort, and this is their bible, for your cultural archeological pleasure.


Ask any “real rocker” around about DMZ, and it’ll be near-unanimous: these 1976-78 Boston-based longhaired punks were rockandroll incarnate, guitar-fueled Beantown badasses who took the best of 60s garage chops from The Sonics and their ilk and channeled it into some cranked-up, raw, ornery 70s punk-tinged hard rock. It’s quite a statement, this claim from the real rockers. I decided to do a little field research to test said hypothesis, one I’ve in fact posited myself on occasion. The study was conducted with DMZ’s complete vinyl discography, which I burned to a couple of CD-Rs a few weekends back. The results came back – I’m afraid to say – negative. The confidence interval is high, the margin of error nonexistent. Sorry, DMZ. Allow me to explain.

See, if one just heard that incredible first 1976 DMZ 45, “First Time Is The Best Time / Teenage Head” and then called it a day with the band, it’s fine. That record cannot be touched – one of the premier obnoxo-punk records of any era, with some of the worst/best deflowering come-on lines ever, and a killer fake retch in the first two seconds. Absolute genius. But after that? I always thought I liked their debut 1978 LP on Sire, even pimped for last year’s reissue on this very site. Trouble was, I hadn’t really heard it in years, and I think I mixed up a love for one of the tracks on there (“Don’t Jump Me Mother”, a chugging piece of tough guy riff rawk) with a swelling admiration for the whole package. It has its moments to be sure, but what I hear now is a lot of posturing, bozo bar band rockitude, mitigated only slightly by a reverence for all things 60s Pacific Northwest (with mediocre WAILERS and SONICS covers on board). Production is this off-putting attempt to take what was probably a rip-it-up live band (though the live records I had are actually a bit dull and repetitive too) and get them some FM airplay – so the album’s got a lot of vocal echoes, heavily miked drums and a thin sound in parts that blunts the overall impact. Their second single, a four-song 7”EP called “Lift Up Your Hood”, isn’t much better, and includes an absolutely sacrilegious slandering of “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.

The place to go for these guys, if you’re so inclined, is probably an LP that Crypt put out in the early 90s called “Demos/Live 1976-77” – it has the godhead first 45 and a few terrific live tracks (“Boy From Nowhere”, “Ball Me Out”, a Pretty Things cover) that at least make up for the middling gruel that blankets the rest of the record. I’m just as guilty as anybody for pumping these guys past their true place on the rock and roll hypeometer, but hey, as they say: live and learn.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

And until just a few weeks ago, THE KIWI ANIMAL were a lost 1982-1985 band that I didn’t know a thing about either. Their gorgeously lilting and intelligently weird folk LP “Music Media” is just fantastic, a discovery that it’s hard to imagine finding out about just now. Not long after this time there was a slew of hype about obtuse New Zealand pop bands, with The Clean, the Tall Dwarfs, the Chills and Verlaines getting most of the attention this side of the Pacific. But The Kiwi Animal? Never heard of ‘em. And along with The Clean EPs, Bill Direen's many records, The Gordons’ first 7” and LP, and perhaps the Shoes This High 45 I wrote about last week, “Music Media” would have to top any list I’d compile of the best the talented two islands put together in the 1980s. Or ever. Brent Hayward, coincidentally enough, was in Shoes This High before joining forces with Julie Cooper to start The Kiwi Animal in 1982. I’ll spare you the biography – an excellent site on the band which explains all can be found by clicking here.

So mind you, I’ve still never heard their first 45 nor their second LP, but “Music Media” – wow. I’ve listened to this more than anything else for 5 weeks straight now. I keep thinking that BARBARA MANNING’s well-known affinity for New Zealand pop music had to have started here, as the strange echoes, baroque instrumentation and the uplifting sweetness of Cooper’s vocals have many parallels with Manning’s debut LP “Lately I Keep Scissors”. It is not all sweetness and light by any means – there’s a real nasty undercurrent to a lot of the tracks on here, suggesting something sinister and dark lurking in the minds of these two, carefully camouflaged by sparse instrumentation and lovely vocals. And you certainly can’t beat those accents. When Julie Cooper is not singing, Hayward is talking over their folk-cum-acoustic rock music, like on the pulse-quickening political murder tale “Assassin” or the pseudo-pornographic “Making Tracks”. These slot in very well between Cooper’s more spectral (the incredible “Time of the Leaves”) and sometimes buoyant tracks (“Every Word is a Prayer”), making this a carefully crafted, every-track-a-winner LP. Don’t see too many of those anymore. Even the ringing guitar instrumental “I Love You” (awwww) is a doozy. I can’t say enough about this record. The guy that turned me onto it will surely be rewarded by Our Lord in Heaven.

There’s some great news. A label called Pehr is going to throw both of The Kiwi Animal’s LPs onto a single CD, slated for release this winter. In the meantime, they have free downloads of two of “Music Media”’s quieter and more prettified tracks, “Blue Morning” and “Just How Close”, both of which are great. If these two kick out the haunting folk jams for you, I’m pretty positive that the full CD will really knock you for a loop.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004
NAUTICAL ALMANAC : “ROOTING FOR THE MICROBES” CD.....Give Ben at Load Records credit. Despite my having savaged a couple of his bands on this very site (while effusing mightily about some others), he keeps sending me young noisemaking lambs to bring to slaughter. He pointedly said in an e-mail, “I’m going to be sending you some new CDs – some of it barely even music”. Load are at the forefront of this sort of thing: heavy, shape-shifting noise rock, weirdo improvisational searching, bleeping & chirping laptop punk, and a dash of bombastic ST. VITUS-style metal thrown in for shits & giggles. Before NAUTICAL ALMANAC, it was the HAIR POLICE that struck me as Load’s most pointless act, but I think even the HP are blitzkrieging rock and roll stormtroopers compared to the inane Nautical Almanac. (and keep in mind, this is a record label I admire, what with Lightning Bolt, Viki, Noxagt and Sightings all on the roster). “Barely even music”? Way too kind. I’ve said my piece before about the new hippy dip trip, but these guys are the living embodiment of what happens when kids weaned on punk and indie music get bored and look backward to make mistakes even worse than their parents. Go to their website and check out their deliberately spelling-challenged manifestos, you’ll see what I’m talking about. They’re not quite on the level of a Genesis P-Orridge verbal blubbering, but they’re trying so hard. It’s sooooo cute! And instead of long stoned guitar jams, Nautical Almanac create the sort of random plugged-in oscillator sounds that anyone drunkenly tripping over the same set of electronics would make as their legs got violently tangled in the wiring & stands. No sir, it’s not even close to music. You simply cannot convince me that there are people who will sit and listen to this at home without full knowledge that they’re being ironic in doing so. Even with a 5-foot bong propped in the middle of the room. Even with a pile of hallucinogenics on the coffee table. Even if they were already hopped up on goofballs. It ain’t happening, folks. What gets me is that in pitching a fake fit of apoplexy about the band, I’m playing right into their brazen modern hippie challenge. These guys want to throw down the gauntlet and start the revolution, the one after which Nautical Almanac “will take these reclaimed bones and build upon our new communities and traditions”. OK, you’re on. Rockers vs. heads, let’s bring the war home!

Monday, June 21, 2004

After years of wild-eyed record accumulators denying themselves food, drink and earthly pleasure in search of an exceptionally scarce and dwindling set of 35-year-old recordings, the definitive DAVIE ALLAN & THE ARROWS collection has finally arrived. And Sundazed, the label who hath brought it forth, just about nailed it, too – I really can’t imagine there being a better thought-out collection of his recordings than this. “Devil’s Rumble” takes large chunks from his four official LPs, just about all of his 45s, and heaping scoops of tracks from his many biker soundtracks (“The Wild Angels”, “Devil’s Angels”, “The Glory Stompers” etc) and spreads them over two CDs (if there’s a complaint it’s that each CD only has about 40 minutes of music, which leaves about 68 minutes that could have been filled with maybe 20 additional tracks from his 1965-68 glory years). For those of us who first heard Davie Allan and the Arrows and the all-time classic “Blue’s Theme” on that Savage Pencil “Angel Dust” biker rock picture LP from about 15-20 years ago, it’s been a long-ass wait to get deeper into his recordings. Apparently there were many complications even back in the day in getting his music out there in a complete and representative package; the liner notes tell stories of chunks of Arrows on misbegotten soundtracks, weird overdubs and remixes, and lots of contractual BS that kept Allan from really building the rep he deserved as an innovator and guitar genius. Let me elaborate.

Allan, it’s been said, was the missing link between heavy-reverb surf music, early garage punk and psychedelic acid rock. This is all by virtue of one incredible set of fuzz pedals and a guitarist who at times was able to out-Link Wray LINK WRAY as he strode for new sonic vistas in heavy, loud, parent-scaring instrumental sounds. In fact Wray is (to me) Allan’s only true contemporary in really hardcore fuzz/squeal pedal-hopping. If someone could be said to have invented “biker rock”, whatever that is, it’s this guy. The “Devil’s Rumble” collection takes us through Allan and his band’s evolution from a slightly snottier version of THE VENTURES into their hallowed era of fret-scrambling, gnarly instrumental punch-outs, one after the other. Mike Curb, the famed producer, SoCal svengali and former California Lieutenant Governor, saw just how perfectly this music slotted into Roger Corman-esque films of dope-eaters and cycle fiends, and Allan’s career as a low-rent soundtrack kingpin was born. But who really buys and hangs onto soundtracks, outside of soundtrack freaks? I think I might have about three or four somewhere, one of which is “The Wild Angels”, a great document that is pretty much owned by Davie Allan and The Arrows in various incarnations. It’s all here – “Apache ‘65”, “The Devil’s Rumble”, “King Fuzz”, “Cycle-delic” etc., as well as a handful of non-pounders that sound like Henry Mancini’s lost brown acid trip (“Scratchy”). And yes, for those who’ve been salivating, the beatnik central casting anthem “Bongo Party” made it on here as well. Great comp, certain to be one of the best reissues of 2004.

Friday, June 18, 2004
SPK : “AUTO-DA-FE” CD.....

When I was 14/15 years old, I used to get a free pass from my grandparents when visiting them to run wild on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and spend 3-4 hours at a time at the incredible 1981-82 era record stores there like Rasputin’s, Universal, Rather Ripped and Leopold’s. At Rasputin’s in particular, I’d spend untold hours flipping through the huge “import” section, and always got a good 14-year-old guffaw out of a band called “Surgical Penis Klinik”, or SPK. What little I knew of them – and it was obvious from the horror-art covers (very much in line with the aesthetics of the RE/SEARCH crowd) – was that they were at the vanguard of clanging, harsh and angry industrial synth noise. I stayed away and chortled from a safe distance. So if you’d asked me at little as a month ago if I’d ever actually heard this Australian band, I’d have to say no, I hadn’t. I was trolling around for research on the band after getting this “Auto-Da-Fe” CD, and realized, yeah, I have heard these guys before, their new wave/electrodance mid-80s stuff like “Metal Dance” and “Machine Age Voodoo”. All memories of such have been repressed for nearly 20 years – as represented here, on this early career-spanning compilation, this later (1982-83) SPK crap is reminiscent of HEAVEN 17 or at best, early Human League.

However! I am floored by how fantastically harsh and rhythmically complex their debut 1979 singles are: “Contact” and “Mekano” in particular. These are the records that are not only mind-numbingly rare and collectable, but have been popping up on certain collectors’ lists of the world-beating best DIY 45s of that era. I’d have to agree. The 1979 version of SPK took a straight-to-the-gut punk rock approach to early industrial noise, and made a handful of tracks that you simply have got to hear if you haven’t before. I’d count them among my favorite discoveries of the many things I’ve undeservedly ignored over the years. Not to borrow too liberally from the writings of others, but hey, why not. I went over to Amazon, and here’s what a few SPK partisans had to say about this release:

“...back when Industrial culture was dangerous, cynical and determined to spread its message. Back when Industrial culture actually existed. The time of SPK when a time when Industrial was not just a style of music, but a philosophy. Not dance music, not techno-pop, not electro goth or electro metal. Industrial was cultural, social and sometimes political propaganda. It was sonic terrorism. Industrial meant clanging machinery, scrap metal, screeching analog electronics, feedback, mutated post-punk noise, primitive ethnic rhythms, and anti-musical experimentation. If you want the true Industrial experience, rather than what MTV and magazines tell you is Industrial, this cd is a perfect place to start. It has all of the above and more”

“This is the strongest release from SPK. The ear-shredding track “Slogun” is a benchmark Industrial track. Hard to believe these are the same guys who went Euro-pop a few years later. A MUST OWN for fans of industrial/noize but NOT for the faint of heart.”

“One of masterpieces of early industrial. Harsh, disturbing and violent, this album isn't meant for massive consumerism. If you appreciate sound manipulation and experiments who defy regular music norms, you'll love this album. Album centerpiece is clearly extremely noisy and abrasive "Slogun". My other favorite tracks are "Germanik" which sounds something like Hitler's speech straight from Hell, and lovely "Heart That Breaks". Buy this album, if you are like me bored by today’s pop blandness, but if you're listening to music just to have fun, then stay away from this!”

Quite honestly, I only listen to music to “have fun” and I think the first half of this CD is a stone blast. I could give a shit about Industrial Culture; back in the real world, I think it can be said that that whole pack of prattlers left behind some good weird poster art, a couple of ridiculous, dated manifestos, and a tiny smattering of great bands. This was definitely one of them, one that went electro-pop way too quickly, as this CD makes clear. Highly recommended for those insane first five tracks alone.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004
EVAN DANDO SURPRISINGLY NOT ABLE TO BRING THE RAMALAMA.....Pretty funny to hear that Evan Dando, who's been vocalizing in place of the dearly departed Rob Tyner on this recent MC5 reunion tour thing (billed as DTK/MC5), is not hitting it off with the fans. Apparently he didn't even have to audition for the role, he simply had to say that he, like 1 billion others, "is an MC5 fan". Last night he had a smack-up with some enraged fans. Love it. Couldn't they have slotted someone a bit more appropriate for the job, like Mark Arm (who takes over tonight) or Rubin Fiberglass? Wow. But hey, you've got to feel pretty confident that MARSHALL CRENSHAW is now filling the Fred "Sonic" Smith axe spot. Those two are like peas in a pod, right?


There’s a small pack of bands from the fertile early 1990s garage punk crowd already approaching “legendary” status in the minds of the next generation of 3-chord rev-it-up bashers. Is this too soon? Not for these kids – for them The Oblivians of 1993 are just as distant a memory as, say, The Electric Eels were for me when I first heard them in 1986. Certainly you’d have to include THE GORIES on any short list of 1989-95 ham-fisted garage legends, a band in a class by themselves even when they were around; maybe SUPERCHARGER (then again maybe that’s just me), and likely THE OBLIVIANS (who I’ve seen some folks unabashedly refer to as the germinal wellspring band from which all moderne slashing garage punk emanates). I’ll go along with that, why not, and continue making my case for the CHEATER SLICKS and NIGHT KINGS along the way. I was fortunate to see The Oblivians near the end of their life (with so-legendary-it-hurts 45rpm superstars THE BRIDES), and they were flat-out, no doubt about it fantastic. This collection of the early 45s and a handful of lost tracks is for me the place to go first vis-à-vis the band.

Their modus operandi was crude, basic, R&B-influenced pounding that nodded in the direction of the church while staying rooted in the beer can-filled gutter. Not every track nailed it, but the cumulative effect of each of the raw-ass 90-second marvels on this CD is awesome. Like The Dwarves or early Meat Puppets, these guys had a knack for ending some of the more bonzai tracks extremely sharply, almost like the tape machine just flipped off in overloaded surrender at the precise moment, except The Oblivians were wont to turn up that very last chord higher than the ones before it (“And Then I Fucked Her”). Too much. This is the first band I know of to pack every friggin’ recording track with maximum squealing volume and noise, so that each 45 came out sounding like a lo-fi and a hi-fi masterpiece at the same time. This method has been aped countless times since, starting with the Rip Off Records bands and some of the Japanese heavyweights like Teengenerate who followed. My only complaint to this day remains the look-ma-I’m-a-soulman vocals of Greg Cartwright, but A.) he only sings on a portion(maybe half?) of the tracks, B.) he’s actually had a great raspy shout when he wasn’t overdoing it, and C.) he’s toned it way down in his smoking new combo the REIGNING SOUND (who I’m just becoming acquainted with & really dig what I’m hearing). Seeing the Oblivians name for the first time today? I heartily recommend putting your mitts on this one to get going.

Monday, June 14, 2004
MARS : “78+” CD.....Every year brings a new handful of discoveries from rock’s “back pages” (ahhhhhh), and 2003 was the year that I decided to stop ignoring MARS and tried to listen to them again with a clear noggin. It worked. Those Soul Jazz and Ze Records NYC no wave compilations didn’t hurt – the former contains the mammoth “Helen Forsdale”, taken from the infamous, over-referenced-to-death “No New York” comp; the latter puts up “3-E” and “11,000 Volts” from an early 45. Would you non-believers out there believe me if I said these tracks, and the brief interlude “Puerto Rican Ghost”, were pretty much the sum output of the band’s great moments? Oh, oh, oh I know some of you will liken this to cutting the King of Kings down from his cross. But as I ran through this 1978 “compleat works” CD, which starts bold and strong and skittering with 4 of the tracks referenced here, I went from rhapsodic to vaguely indifferent to bored to friggin' tears pretty quickly. When it’s over, and it doesn't take long, you can’t eject & file it away soon enough. The dark chaos of the later tracks sounds like forced improvisational wank-archy to me, with no jolting presence or any underlying riffage to sustain it like the aforementioned tracks do. Just murky meaningless clanging and ugly moaning in places, instrumentals and general noise “signifying nothing” as they say. A new set of ears might’ve done the trick, but barring that, MARS in their totality does next-to-nothing at all for me, and helps me realize why they’ve been regarded as a footnote by most wags. Anyone beg to differ?

Friday, June 11, 2004
MISSION OF BURMA, live 6/9/2004, The Fillmore, San Francisco.....If you’ve read this site anytime the past 2 months you’ve probably seen more than enough MISSION OF BURMA blather from me. Allow me just one more rave, this time over their “second reunion tour” that touched down in San Francisco two nights ago, this time with a whole new album’s worth of songs in tow. So, first let me say they were (again) in tip-top form – one of the giants of post-punk noise squall playing like it was 1981 at the Rat and not 23 years later at Bill Graham’s cavernous Fillmore (next door to the old People’s Temple!). The band took some time to build a head of steam, but once they got going midway through their first set, it was off to the goddamn races. Rather than spend time trying to pen a coherent or interesting review, I’ll pick five highlights and leave it at that:

1. Opened with “Mica”, the lead track on Side 2 of “Vs.”, and long one of my favorite songs of theirs.
2. Hauled Penelope Houston onstage to belt out a note-perfect “this is 1978” encore of The Avengers’ “The American in Me”. Their taste in punk rock is impeccable ("American in Me" is probably the first punk rock song I ever really loved). Who needs Danny Furious when you’ve got Roger “No Man” Miller to kick out the old school jams?
3. More of Side 2 of “Vs.”: “The Ballad of Johnny Burma”, “Einstein’s Day” and of course “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate”.
4. Hard-hitting and/or complex, cutting new material like “Absent Mind”, “Wounded World” and “What We Really Were”.
5. A ten-minute “old man” break (hey, they earned it) followed by a great cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”.


Typically, there are at least two main categories of bootlegs out there – bootlegs that truly add to an artist’s mystique or reputation, and those that simply help fill in the last nooks & crannies of a handful of collectors’ & obsessives’ wet dreams. With regard to 1960s paisley artrock heroes LOVE, I’ve now heard bootlegs that cater to each crowd. The former is represented by “Black Beauty & Other Rarities”, which I wrote something up about a few months ago. The latter, at least until the last 4-5 tracks, is represented by this one, “The Last Wall of the Castle” – a bootleg designed for those few for whom studio banter, multiple piss-takes & instrumental backing tracks are like manna from rock and roll heaven. I’m not knocking some folks’ desire to hear seven instrumental versions of the screaming surf/punker “7+7 Is”, all the way up to Take 88 (88 takes of this song!! I’m assuming the #89 is the one that made it to the album), but because they’re sequenced all in order here, it does get to be a bit much. Likewise for the four near-identical instrumental backing tracks for “Just For You”, aka “Your Mind And We Belong Together”. Face it, you’re just not gonna be interested in that if you enjoy other things in life, like sunlight and conversing with friends. What you might get excited about is the quieter alternate version of “A House is Not a Motel”, or the absolutely brilliant alternate take on “You Set The Scene”. What a great song. I realized sometime in the past 12 months that LOVE wrote the best wimpy psychedelic pop songs of their era, and that I am sorry I dismissed them early in life. One other couplet of songs to note: "My Little Red Book" and "A Message to Pretty" from their appearance on "American Bandstand", believe it or not -- but before you get too excited, I am 97.3% certain that these are NOT live tracks & were studio mixes that Arthur Lee & co. lipsynched to on the Bandstand. This might be worth borrowing from a LOVE aficionado for a little rip, mix & burn action, but paying $30 for it at a collector faire might also be considered a bit much.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

When I think hard on what might be the greatest rock and roll songs of all time, I get stuck on a small handful that I’d easily listen to anytime, anywhere, tracks I doubt I’d grow tired of in any situation. Even if my car plunged off a steep ravine and I became stuck in a ditch with my hands bloodily pinned behind my back for five days & nights, steering wheel painfully thrust into my chest, with one song playing over and over on a Cassingle auto-loop. I’d probably want to hear PERE UBU’s "Heart of Darkness" if I were stuck in such a pickle. Then maybe “Gimme Shelter” or PINK FLOYD’s “See Emily Play”. But I swear I’d be just as pleased if this swaggering 1983 Heartbreakers-inspired punker from THE JONESES were keeping me company in my hour of darkness. Haven’t heard this one before? What, you don’t own the fuckin’ “Someone Got Their Head Kicked In” comp LP on Better Youth Organization records?? What the Joneses were doing on this thing is beyond comprehension – only their Los Angeles address and their nods to speedy punk rock form keep them in company with lunkheads like YOUTH BRIGADE, 7 SECONDS and AGGRESSION, and the raw glory of “Pillbox” stands out like David Duke at the NAACP convention.

I don’t know all that much about THE JONESES, really, just that after this era in their career they piled their hair up in big poofy poodle cuts and released a mediocre album around 1985 called “Keeping Up With The Joneses”. Their checkered career is captured on the Sympathy CD “Criminal History” (pictured above), which “Pillbox” righteously and deservedly kicks off. I also know that Jeff Drake, more or less the band leader, went on to the SUICIDE KINGS with his brother Scott “Deluxe” Drake (later of THE HUMPERS), and then later went on to jail. When I was pals with Deluxe, that’s where Jeff Drake was spending his time – not sure if he’s still hanging out in the pen or out there on the rock and roll hustings trying to recapture the magic. Anyway, if pills are truly a gateway drug to a life of vice and crime, then “Pillbox” is more than prophetic. The song somehow correlates drug use and the love of a good woman into one fantastic, rollicking blitzkrieg of a glam/punk song. Every big of rockstar swagger you associate with kingpin swaggerers like the NY DOLLS, ROLLING STONES and aforementioned Heartbreakers is rolled up into this song, then played quickly and aggressively like the bastard sons of James Williamson might. The vocals are easily of a league with Mick and David Johanson, at least this one time, and you get the feeling that, A.) the band poured every ounce of talent they possessed into this one 2-minute masterpiece, and B.) that you’d have given a left arm to watch them play it in person. I’d heartily recommend a quick free download of “Pillbox” somewhere on the web – like how about right here?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004
HEROES OF KIWI ROCK THAT EVEN THE KIWIS DON’T KNOW ABOUT, PART ONE : SHOES THIS HIGH....This is the first in a couplet of two very short “pieces” on well-buried New Zealand 1980s rock artists I’ve discovered over the past 12-18 months. Think it was all whimsical happy-go-lucky goofball pop music down there twenty-some-odd years ago? Songs about sheep and fish and heartbreak? You gotta hear SHOES THIS HIGH, a quick-lived 1980 Auckland-by-way-of-Wellington quartet who are by far one of the best lost post-punk bands I’ve had the pleasure of finding out about. Think a more jagged Minutemen, The Gordons, Seems Twice, Pere Ubu, some Beefheart-like deconstructed stabs at atonality – or, as Gary Steel’s liner notes for the reissued 7”EP exclaim, “killer-riffing-angry-in-your-guts-avant-garde-pin-pricking punk funk". The lead track on their sole four-song single, “The Nose One”, has a real spastic stop/start structure which successfully masks some great weary, disengaged vocals. Guitars chime in and chop out of all four tracks, some of which are pretty biting and aggressive (hence the GORDONS comparison). The greatness of this thing again reminds me of the strong influence of The Fall in NZ, where “Totally Wired” went actually into the Top 5. Not that Shoes This High sound much like The Fall, but there’s gotta be a hook there somewhere. Recorded December 1980, released in 1981, reissued on Raw Power records in 2002. Please do yourself a favor and begin a tireless, unyielding quest for the Shoes This High EP forthwith.

Coming in Part Two of our micro-series: THE KIWI ANIMAL!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004
ROBERT QUINE, R.I.P......Just found out that ROBERT QUINE, guitarist for Richard Hell & The Voidoids and massive Velvet Underground enthusiast/archivist, passed away over Memorial Day weekend at the age of 61 (!). Heroin overdose, likely intentional – you’ll see at this link that it’s about as sad a story as it gets. I’m kind of lukewarm on the Voidoids in general, but it’s obvious that Quine was not only a great, radically inventive rock guitarist, he was an exceptionally good-hearted, stand-up guy as well. At least in every interview I ever saw, he took a real down-to-earth, scholarly but everyman-like approach to outsider rock and roll. I liked that he remained aggressively bearded and bald & wore rumpled suits on stage during the 1977 peak of punk rock anger & differentiation. That’s pretty balls-out. Sorry to hear of him shuffling off in such a downer of a way.


A 2000 release on the UK’s Pressure Sounds, “El Rocker’s” is almost a poor man’s version of the almighty “King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown”, up to and including many dubs of tracks from that very album (which were in fact dubs – “versions” – themselves). No slighting that record in the least, no sir – it was my entrée into a deeper fascination with the world of tripped-out 1970s dub, as it was & has been for so many others as well. I’d venture a guess that it’s far and away the best-selling dub LP/CD of all time, but someone please check me on that if I’m wrong. In any event, this one suffers a bit by virtue of its copycat nature – almost like those remix records of rock bands that seem to be coming out way too frequently now (Numbers, Erase Errata), there’s not much sense in multiple knob-twiddles through tracks that were themselves studio manipulations of vocal-free, groove-oriented, slow-burn ganja reggae in the first place.

That said, with one step back and eyes closed in stoned concentration, this set of 1972-75 assemblages has been packaged into a monster dub CD, as slitheringly intense as anything else created and tweaked with during the golden years of Jamaican studio trickery. Augustus Pablo’s snake-like melodica – that bizarre combination of a keyboard and a reeded instrument (you know, like an oboe) – winds its way through distant, echoed horns, ultra-reverbed and multitracked percussion and a haunting, almost creepy vibe that lords over the whole package. With King Tubby at the controls, you know you’re in good hands. If you’d never heard the first versions, you’d swear this one was one of the greatest dub/reggae CDs ever. This supreme combination of Tubby & Pablo, along with the masterworks of LEE PERRY and the various SLY & ROBBIE ensembles (S&R play on most of this as well), set the bar as high as it’s been set for what can be done in a studio with someone else’s music after the fact. That it’s really just a knockoff of another great LP/CD should give one pause before serious purchase contemplation, but that’s a decision you’ll have to look deep inside yourself or talk to your priest, rabbi or imam to resolve.

Monday, June 07, 2004

I dug this 45 out from under a ton of rubble and detritus in my garage this weekend, in hopes of recapturing whatever magic I heard in it when it first came out in 1990. I’m too lazy to look up the review I wrote on it in my then-fanzine at the time, but I’ll bet I told a whopper of a tale about blazing wah-wah, screaming guitar fury, the second coming of the Stooges blahdy blah blah. Just LOVED this band’s first two singles when they came out (“Lizard Johnny/Freak Shop USA” got a spin last year and I’m proud to say it held up). So what about now, hunh? Well, let’s take it from a couple of angles. First, the band’s record label is called “Primo Scree”. Please allow me the opportunity to say “that is so gay”. Second, there’s a big sign on the front sleeve that says “Drug Rock”, right next to the photo of some hippie who’s just shot someone dead. Drug Rock. Pardon my French, but that’s a little gay as well. (I mean gay as in happy).

Vocals, too, are more than a little over the top: “well I awwwlwayz trah ta do tha right thang bayyy-bah” etc. I guess you gotta remember that Mudhoney had been blowing a lot of minds during the previous 18 months, mine included, and this sort of Arm-esque vocalizing was allowed – nay, encouraged – at the time. Look up the 1990 indie punk rulebook, you’ll find it under rule 3:16, I promise. What I still really enjoy about this record is the actually understated feedback and wah-wah (at least on the a-side) – “Murder” really does have a distant, murky, lo-fi, almost dangerous feel to it that still sounds terrific. “Tractor” is more heavy screech a la “Loose” or ”TV Eye”, but both tracks are pretty smoking. Maybe because the recording quality is sub-optimal, it doesn’t stray into the jukebox hero arena metal these guys later became famous for & instead sounds like a scary piece of underground punk rock vinyl from an bygone era when new 45s could still be pretty fucking exciting. If it came out today no one would hear it nor care, but this one was heralded pretty unanimously upon release ways back. Nice to hear it retains at least 50% of its luster fourteen years on.