Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

This "disc" is not only stupendous, often jaw-droppingly gorgeous moderne folk music, it marks the first time I've actually bought a record in non-tangible form. Rather than hoof out the door and get the physical CD, I downloaded the thing via iTunes and paid real cash money to deliver it to my PC and therefore my, ahem, "iPod" (what a dork!). I figured I'd support the locals and all, given that VETIVER are/is a San Francisco band/dude named Andy Cabic. I just hope the titans of industry over at Apple cut him his check, pronto. So now I've got the man's creations constantly buzzing through my headphones, and I have to say I'm really, really impressed. His debut offering arrives fully formed and supremely confident, like he'd been writing sad, lyrical near-masterpieces for decades. Awash in cello and gently-plucked guitar, Vetiver's debut sounds like something TOWNES VAN ZANDT might've come up with in his darkest hours, minus any nods toward "country" at all. Cabic not only has a terrific set of pipes, he's able to arrange songs like "Oh Papa", "Luna Sea" and "Without a Song" to extract the maximum amount of sorrow and loss from every chord. I suppose it's not fair to peg the CD as a total downer, because it isn't -- there are a few moderate uppers, too, one sung in Spanish. The sound is very majestic and large, too, given that so much of it is underwritten by this knockout cellist who hovers like a phantom and squeaks softly through Cabic's words. If this hasn't been knocking them dead over on college radio then I'm a-gonna have to rassle me a college kid. Fantastic disc, or shall I say, a terrific collection of zeros and ones that's well worth your attention.

Monday, November 29, 2004

I still marvel at the clean break this band made from their original sputtering, spastic sound simply by changing their name. I'm speaking, of course, of the immediate 180-degree transformation from the URINALS (1978-81) into 100 FLOWERS (1981-84), with all 3 original members still in tow. I'm sure I once knew why they made the switch; probably a rejection of the punk rock rootz in favor of the more wink-nod cultural revolution moniker 100 FLOWERS. And not like The Urinals had a real high profile when they were around, but my sources tell me 100 Flowers barely registered in and around LA the three years they were existent, despite high-profile comp appearances on punker collections "Hell Comes To Your House" and "Keats Rides a Harley". When this near-compleat compilation came out almost 15 years ago in the early days of CDs, somehow it ended up remaindered and priced to move in a hurry, so my cousin gobbled up a couple dozen of them and handed them out like aspirin to anyone who'd take one. I took one.

Though it is certainly not without its meandering moments and some misfired art-funk overreach, "100 Years of Pulchritude" is one of those great lost essential CDs that needs to be added to your collection ASAP. 100 Flowers were a real unique & strange animal. Three UCLA grad students/professors, who were sworn to punk brevity and form but were also quite resistant to all its manifest trappings. They created a minimalist stew of buzzing chop-chop-chop guitar, way upfront funk bass and a skittering percussion that kept the beat and took it off course as well. If they weren't "post-punk" I'm not sure who were. Their M.O. was likely to keep it as real as possible, which meant pleasing themselves foremost & hoping a few others might get wise to their charms. Their debut LP featured one member, John Talley-Jones I believe, lounging completely nude, dangling his participle for all the world to comment on (only the Don Bolles weenie-wagging on that VOX POP EP comes close). If I had to pick a favorite of these 28 kinetic, wildly different set of tunes, it would have to be the bonzai "Motorboat to Hell" from their one and only LP, as well as that record's closer "California's Falling Into The Ocean". Both have the crazed, attacking drive of the second two Urinals 45s, but add a dollop of breaks and quick jumps that show not only more instrumental proficiency, but a real attempt to branch out and paint with a new artful & brainy pallatte.

By the time they put out their final EP "Drawing Fire", they were headed in a more atmospheric & dense direction ("Triage" and "Contributions") that was getting mighty boring mighty fast, which might be why they scattered & went on to new projects. Still, those tracks (and the omission of the fantastic "Salmonella" from "Keats Rides a Harley") don't mar anything -- the CD is one of those overviews that duly unwraps a band's hidden charms, and gives them their due way past what they likely reckoned to be their shelf life at the time. Track this down if your interest is at all piqued; at the least it might be a kick trying to locate a CD that's been unavailable for years, right? (Or you can order it right now directly from the artist -- not quite as fun but so much more spiritually fulfilling).

Sunday, November 28, 2004
200 LB. UNDERGROUND, ISSUE #4.....Partisans of the old SILTBREEZE magazine, or hell, the old 200 LB. UNDERGROUND 'zine, will be pleased as punch to find this new micro-edition of the latter. Like the original recipe late 80s Siltbreeze, the focus of this 8-page color xerox is reviews of absurdly underground slices of noise, avant-punk splatter and experimental weirdness (with some folkie drone thrown in so all of microscenia can be duly represented). I think there's at least a 20% chance that a couple of the CD-R-creating and Finnish 45 artists might be something editor Tony Rettman invented for a guffaw. But I'll be looking for those LAUHKEAT LAMPAAT and DEMARS records just the same. Includes a brief 1-page MAGICK MARKERS tour diary with a 1-page introduction (that's 25% of your mag right there) and a very, VERY tuff hardcore quiz on the back cover. Like #18, "Name the unreleased X-Claim release" (uh, Lemonheads?) and whew, #19, "What cover song was the final song SSD ever performed live?" (uhhh, "Beach Blanket Bongout"?). No address listed to order the thing but if you drop a line to you can certainly find out how to procure one. Seal of approval! Do it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004
SAVAGING THE FAKE SAVAGES.......Some pretty harsh reality poured on Estrus Records and in particular, preening posuers THE MAKERS over at a new site called LETTERS HAVE NO ARMS, written by one Phil Honolulu. I like his moves and I like his style. He tears the erstwhile retro-garage label a new one, a pretty fat target to be sure, and one that I'm now so far removed from that I asked someone the other day if they were still around. I guess they are. Now, let it be said that I have no beef with Estrus or its management, so this is more for giggles and titters than anything else. The Makers, though -- open season. I love their one S/T record (1995? '96?) with the middle finger extended, no matter what Honolulu has to say, but everything before that was boring 1980s-style 60s garage revisionism, and that which came after that, good lord. I lived in Seattle for a couple years, and the main prancer used to strut around town with a cane (despite no noticeable leg or hip ailments), wore dark sunglasses even when it was 40 degrees and raining (which in Seattle is to say, all the fucking time), and sauntered around like the most obvious preen-in-front-of-the-mirror rock star imaginable. And then named an album "Rock Star God", presumably about themselves. From screaming garage punk lords to absurb prancing AOR bores in two years flat. Take a gander at what Phil says and have a big larf with me & him.

Monday, November 22, 2004

This eye-opening and ear-popping series of rare ethnic 78s from the pre-WWII era has been cranking along for about a half-dozen years now, created with loving care by Pat Conte, a ethnomusicologist Harry Smith/Alan Lomax for our times. He once had a show on WFMU devoted to playing his immense collection of old 78s from around the world, sadly now off the air. Each of the original five volumes, released on Yazoo, contains a globetrotting overview of various regions' heavy hitters -- from snake-charming Bulgarian gypsies to hot-tempered, maraca-wielding Bolivians to folk music from the Arctic plains of Northern Sweden. Being a world music dilettante yet an unabashed fan of scratchy, distant-sounding 78rpm records, it's been a great introduction for me to the musical cultures of various lands. And admittedly, not something that gets cranked up that often. I've got to really work to get my head in a space where I can enjoy a babbling foreign tongue and instrumentation created by hand in a village ruled by a tribal elder, rather than on an assembly line. Sometimes I'll get 3-4 songs in and throw in the towel, but when it's really clicking for me, there are two global regions that have really stood out for me: the Bulgarians, also well-captured on a great Yazoo collection called "Songs of the Crooked Dance", and just about anything from North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya etc.). Thus seeing this one in a CD bin the other day made purchase of it a no-brainer.

Conte has dug deeply into the region and come up with an ethereal, haunting collection of nearly impenetrable folk music. It sounds like it could have just as easily been from 200 years ago, rather than 75. What little I know about the region's music is summed up in three letters: Rai. Rai is a Moroccan musical form that's really caught on in recent years in Europe, and has been combined with modern dance music to create a club favorite all over the planet. These recordings are clearly the roots of this form, and at times they even have this stark, sparse, otherworldly connection to American delta blues. At other times some of the recordings sound like war chants or calls to prayer, even the one from Timbuktu (the place really exists!). I'm not going to get too wrapped around the axle about how mystical and goddess-like this stuff is; I mean, World Music dorks can be quite annoying. (Santa Cruz, California, where I now own a home, may possibly be the world music dork capital of the USA). Still, you hear wonderful tracks like MLLE. DALILA TALIANA's "E' Rebbi Lech Hakka", with its sweet vocals curling and twisting around the most unique and ancient instrumentation imaginable, and you're easily reeled in. You're instantly transported to the desert tents and mile-long hookahs of "The Sheltering Sky"; this CD could be the soundtrack for that fine (North African-set) novel. Conte has also released "Secret Museum" CDs encompassing the music of East Africa (hmm) and Central Asia (hmmmmm); anyone got the good word on those??

Friday, November 19, 2004

Wow, this is something I hadn't played in years and that's more than held up in the interim. Hearing it for the first time in the 21st Century, it plays as some of the finest hypnotic, dreamlike, Velvets-inspired rock and roll created in the 20th. DADAMAH were a very short-lived Christchurch, New Zealand-based foursome who recorded two singles and an EP for the Seattle underground label MAJORA around 1992-93 and then called it a day. All these records were quickly collected into this CD by Kranky Records. I interviewed the band in 1993 for the fanzine I was doing then, done the "old school" analog way: I sent a list of questions and a blank cassette tape, and then the band sat around a tape recorder chatting back their answers. I guess I hadn't pegged them to be New Zealand's posthumous breakout group from that exceptionally fertile time period (Terminals, Olla, Dissolve, Chris Heazelwood, Trash, Dead C, many more), but I can't think of a single band right now that comes even close. They're probably the single best and most direct descendent of BILL DIREEN & THE BILDERS, one of the most supremely underrated NZ acts of the 80s. Let me elaborate.

If you're at all familiar with Dadamah, it may be due to the presence of the deep-voiced guitarist ROY MONTGOMERY, who I have it on good word is affectionately known as "Roy Division" in his native land (Ian Curtis was a mincing falsetto compared to this guy). Montgomery's been in some superb bands and put out some solid solo records in the US, and I once had a nice long backyard gab with him about music over a keg. He was a super friendly fella. While he's the minority vocalist on this one (Kim Pieters handles most of the vocals with lo-fi diva aplomb), his handprints are all over the CD: strange, often-barren soundscapes, drone-filled buzzing and humming guitar, and a relentless VU backbeat which'll sound like home to those who've heard his other stuff. I mention BILL DIREEN because Dadamah also employed very similar ringing, snake-like keyboard tones as Direen did, which saunter and wind through all sorts of noisy & quiet patches and add a layer of density that sounds real fine. "Limbo Swing", for instance, is like a warped version of The Clean's "Tally Ho", run off the rails due to a drunken keyboard operator. While the terrific 1993 EP comprises the first 6 tracks on here, the two Majora 45s that preceeded it are easily as great -- a little more experimentally weird and certainly less heavy, especially the "Nicotine / High Time" 45 that really made me a believer back then. I was sort of taken aback, however, at just how propulsive and rocking Dadamah sound in 2004. This disc needs a lot more converts than it's received, so let me clang the bell now and give it a push. It's one of the 1990s' best hidden treats.

Thursday, November 18, 2004
PERFECT SOUND FOREVER REDESIGN....I hadn't clicked over to Perfect Sound Forever in a month or more, but did so today to find that longtime editor Jason Gross has turned the reigns over to a guy named Chris Ott, and that the thing's been radically redesigned (not necessarily for the worse). New domain name as well -- change your links to It looks like it'll be updated more frequently, in sort of the same running fashion as Blastitude, and retain the focus on the obscure and under-championed in all corners of music. Jason allowed me to get some writing chops going again a few years back & published pieces I wrote on the FLESH EATERS, SIMPLY SAUCER, GUN CLUB, and recently, MISSION OF BURMA. Until I created this site, those pieces were the only things I'd written about music post-1998, and PSF didn't edit, tinker or toy with them one jot or iota, which I really appreciated. I've learned a ton from the site & highly recommend it in both its old and new incarnations. Jason's going to continue to contribute, which is great, & it looks like PSF will be an online player for some years to come.

YESTERDAY'S PAPERS, PART DEUX......In case you've got a hankering for some buried Agony Shorthand reviews from 2/2003 through 11/2004, here's a small list of links to critical dust-ups and regrettable utterances from the recent past:


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I used to buy Maximum Rock and Roll during hardcore punk's golden years (1981-83) and marveled at the huge array of "scenes" all over the USA and globe. It was almost downright hippie in the way loving attention was slathered on how "the kids" would organically come together in places like Milwaukee and Fresno to create awful punk music and fight the fuckin' pigs. All it took to file a scene report was to file one -- that is, write up what bands formed in your town, who was putting out 45s this month, which crazy punks got stinking drunk at which parties, detail any police harassment at the VA Hall and add a few parting words on how Reagan was about to murder us all, and your scene report was ready to go. Chequering all this exciting banter were cool advertisements for micro-releases from around the world. MRR kept their ad rates low enough that a 15-year-old kid with a pressing-of-200 45 could get out his glue sick and a thick pen and have a quick ad in there for maybe $10. It was just such an ad that I remember seeing for this 1981 cassette-only release called "CHARRED REMAINS", which (retrospectively) is sort of a who's-who of hardcore, both good and horrible. I'd never heard the tape until last week but had long wanted to, but noooo, I ordered the Wisconsin scene overview "America's Dairyland" tape instead back then. Someone threw a clean copy of this tape up on Soulseek and I pulled it down, making sure to earmark some royalties directly to SIN 34 and THE MISGUIDED, of course.

Based on what I could track down on the World Wide Web, this tape was put out by a guy named Bob Moore who ran a 'zine called NOISE and later a record label called Version Sound. DIE KREUZEN fans, of which I am a big one, will remember this label as the one behind the "Cows and Beer" 7"EP and subsequent "Master Tape" LP comp, which featured super lo-fi versions of the tracks that eventually made up the single greatest US hardcore punk album of all time, the self-titled debut Die Kreuzen record on Touch & Go. Their tracks are pretty much the best on "Charred Remains", but there are a few other corkers I'd never heard before. Best is "Crime Watch-Block Parents" by DOGS OF WAR, a real spinner from back in the days when crime was out of control in the US and each suburb had "block parents" that kids could run to if some vile creep offered them a ride. It's got great vocals and reminds me of a faster AUTHORITIES ("Radiation Masterbation" and "I Hate Cops" -- you know you love 'em). I'll still stand by LA's SIN 34 even though they've a longtime butt of wasn't-hardcore-awful jokes; they've got two relatively strong tracks on here, and another surprise was VIOLENT APATHY from the Midwest. You might know these strapping young fellas from "I Can't Take It" on the "Process of Elimination" EP (famous for also including Negative Approach, The Necros and The Fix), but they've got 3 red-blooded meathooks on this, served up fast-n-loud. There are also two from VOID, who just plain ruled (though their non-Dischord stuff like this is incredibly tame compared to their godhead side of the split LP). On the down side? Well, how about ARTICLES OF FAITH? What a crap band -- each track is way too long, too involved, too English to merit even a first listen. Ditto for the TOXIC REASONS, who were a living parody of a bunch of American kids trying to be Discharge or GBH, complete with horrendous British accent. Rounding out the pile are HUSKER DU (a track lifted from "Land Speed Record"), UXB, PERSONALITY CRISIS (Canadians! Guy had monstrous vocals here and elsewhere, but the band was pretty weak), Sacramento's REBEL TRUTH (horrid) and a handful of nonentities. A total nostalgia trip even if you weren't there (and I wasn't), yet one you might not ever want to listen to more than once a decade.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I'm not sure if this is the best of CAN's many fine LPs (I'd go with "Soundtracks" or "Tago Mago"), but I'm pretty solid on 1972's "Ege Bamyasi" being the most consistent. Aside from about 5 minutes of pointless wankitude at the back half of "Soup", the record's a terrific mix of propulsive, percussion-heavy Krautrock, lightly experimental noise and (most surprisingly) a sort of proto-disco that was at least two years ahead of its time. The first track is a real understated, quiet rhythm monster called "Pinch", all 9:31 of it. Vocalist Damo Suzuki mutters in some alien non-German/English/Japanese tongue over super-frantic percussive dancefloor stomp. Except dancing to it is almost completely out of the question, as the track is just a bit off-time and arranged so loosely & randomly that most coke-sniffing rump-shakers would likely be back in the bathroom waiting for the Gloria Gaynor or Thelma Houston to spin. 180 degrees and one track later is "Sing Swan Song", a gently unfolding ballad of sorts, with more muttering and the faintest hint of an unhinged, screeching guitar in the background. Hell, they're all great, even the overtly disco "I'm So Green" that ended up as a 45. I mean, was anyone making music even remotely like this anywhere else in 1972? Maybe ROXY MUSIC, but they were just getting off the ground and were more of a straight-up rock band to boot -- CAN already had 4 great, weirdly hypnotic records under their collective belt. One guy called this record a "definitive statement on merging jazz ideology with the surging menace of rock & roll" and compared it favorably to MILES DAVIS' "On The Corner". I cannot concur, having not heard the Miles record, but it's hard to argue that there's not a real experimental jazz current running through this, despite the fact that it hangs on sturdy, rock and roll-based shoulders. I'll argue that this is the CAN to get if you can get just one, but if you go without any of their pre-1973 material you're missing some of the most creative and aurally pleasing rock music of our time. Don't let it happen to you!

Friday, November 12, 2004

Time marches, bellies extend, joints stiffen and responsibilities mount, but one thing remains constant: that 1984 TALES OF TERROR LP is one fucking incredible long-haired punk rock & roll record! These alcoholic Sacramento-rooted bastard sons of ELVIS, THE STOOGES and BLACK SABBATH have aged very well with the passage of the years, and when I plopped on their one and only LP this past week for a couple of spins, it blew me away -- again, as it always has. GREEN RIVER? Loved 'em, but their bombastic guitar & drum roaring never held a candle to this revved-up record, as even Mark Arm would likely admit (they covered this record's "Ozzy" on their "Dry As A Bone" EP in homage). This record almost perfectly arrives at the nexus of early 80s hardcore punk and heavy 70s glam, adding a small dollop of 45 GRAVE or MISFITS-style horror imagery which thankfully doesn't mess up the sound one bit. 45 Grave and The Misfits, bless them both, unfortunately let the spooky goth-vibes seep into their music, employing creepy echoes, ridiculous "ghastly voices from the beyond" and annoying witch-like cackling far too often. Both bands ruled, but it's hard to listen without switching a judgmental, BS-detecting, post-teenage portion of the brain completely off. Not so with these guys. I used to see "Tales of Terror" spray-painted in men's bathrooms across the San Francisco Bay Area (especially in bars as I got older), but the dumb-ass mohawk punks in my high school -- the ones who regularly made it up to SF for shows, unlike me -- just hated them, almost as much as they hated FLIPPER. Loved by the drunks, loathed by the Dead Kennedys-loving high school alternajerks. Draw your own conclusions.

Out of the gates this record is fast, loose and full of swaggering, liquid courage. Two lead guitarists, neither of whom shies from firing off a "fiery" but non-obnoxious lead from time to time, usually over a near-hardcore tempo ("13" and "Deathryder"). The track that everyone loved at my college radio station was "Over Elvis Worship", about how the spirit of Elvis inhabits singer Rat's Ass thanks to a well-placed tatoo of the King "down on (his) cock". As if. But that track -- and all of Side 2 -- is just incredible raw, blazing and bleary-eyed fun rock and roll. I've always been partial to "Romance", the lead track on Side 2, which is to me the template song for my made-up category of long-haired punk. Some great fake names for these guys, too -- well, "Rat's Ass" and "Dusty Coffin" aren't that hot, but what about "Captain Trip Mender" and "Thopper Jaw"? Whoa. There are rumors circulating that CD Presents, who originally put out this LP, are thinking about gathering the tracks and throwing them out there again on compact disc. This is an exciting event, but tempered by the fact that I've never read a thing about CD Presents that didn't present the guy behind the label as an out-and-out crook, loathed by just about every band who ever recorded for him. I know there are some peeps in the audience who saw this band a bunch, and I hope you'll weigh in posthaste on the majesty that was Tales of Terror.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The ROOTS RADICS were one of the most-used and most-prolific backing bands during the post-"Rockers" period of dub, roughly starting around 1978 and going up through the early 80s. Their groove-laden, bottom-end elemental heaviness is among the best dub you'll ever hear, and compares exceptionally well to earlier masters THE REVOLUTIONARIES and their early/mid-70s ilk. Teaming up on this fantastic platter is young mixmaster SCIENTIST, who strips an already quiet set of grooves down to their most raw, basic and primer-coated core, leaving echoey guitar, shattering percussion, intensely deep bass and virtually no vocals whatsoever. I always used to wonder how reggae-philes could routinely characterize music so stark & spread out into different rhythmic spectums as "heavy" -- to me, heavy meant and has always meant "loud and ear-shredding". Make no mistake, this is an incredibly heavy set of dubs, as in the rumbling, dense aural weight it packs on. Few songs are instantly distinguishable from each other -- it's more like one long, stoned riff that is overwhelmingly disorienting and thick with musical haze. I have long heard the rap on Scientist that he was just a twentysomething KING TUBBY acolyte who hung around the Channel One studio all day & night waiting for his shot at mixing glory, but on the evidence presented here I have to give the man my eternal respect. Agony Shorthand's growing dub collection has a new one to file in the upper fifth. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Fans of 1950s-60s barstool Country and bloodthirsty revenge-on-cheatin' wives Western have long held PORTER WAGONER as an existential hero, as the guy had a track record of down-and-outer "story songs" that nearly beat all comers and peers (JOHNNY PAYCHECK and MERLE HAGGARD excepted). I've loved the classic murder ballad "The Cold Hard Facts of Life" for years, but did you know that Wagoner is also the guy responsible for the incredible, so-cornball-it-has-to-be-real "What Would You Do (If Jesus Came to Your House)"? Right, the song that was on one of those "Wavy Gravy" novelty compilations years ago, a song that posits that you'd have some real straightening up to do if the Holy Host actually dropped by with no warning. Out go the Hustlers, the bag of Munchos, the Electric Eels CD and the Horizontal Action 'zines. Waggoner had already thought this one through back in the 50s. Anyway, "The Essential Porter Wagoner" has instantly become one of my favorite "greatest hits" country collections. It's a gavel-to-gavel overview of his career, from his Hank Williams-worshipping 50s material through his redneck 70s stuff, stopping for a long interlude in the 60s, when he was at the peak of his songwriting and singing powers. It skips all of his equally worthy duet material with DOLLY PARTON, but I encourage you to seek out that greatest hits CD as well. For drunk-lyric aficionados, you can't do much better than a single line from "Sorrow On The Rocks": " eyes look like a road map of Georgia...". This track is near-perfect, as is "I'll Go Down Swinging", and both ended up among his biggest country radio hits. I'd never heard "Skid Row Joe" before, but it's a real great weeper, and it's hard to reconcile its huge popularity in 1965 with all the crazy rock and roll going down at the time. These Nashville and Bakersfield pioneers truly existed in a world unto themselves. There's a few weird ones, too, like "The Carroll County Accident" -- a mystery wrapped inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma! Ms. Parton shows up in the backing chorus of some of the later numbers -- there's certainly no mistaking that voice. I guess these two were a happening couple for a while -- Wagoner with his custom-tailored Nudie suit, Parton with her impressive hairdo & rack. Now that I've got this I can't imagine a truly representative country collection being without it, and I resolve to now dig deeper into Wagoner's catalog to see what other degenerate pleasures lie obscured.

Monday, November 08, 2004

For years an error of chronology gave me a very convenient but dead-wrong theory: that the ROLLING STONES reached their peak around the incredible, best-50-LPs-ever trifecta of "Beggar's Banquet", "Let It Bleed" and "Exile On Main Street", only to have their career begin the inevitable slide into irrelevance and mediocrity with "Sticky Fingers". I was pretty proud of myself for coming up with that one. Thing is, 1971's "Sticky Fingers" slotted right between 1969's "Let It Bleed" and 1972's "Exile On Main Street", so that's a theory of mine that's subsequently been discarded. I'm searching for another one to explain why "Sticky Fingers" just doesn't have the gusto and the knock-you-flat timelessness of those other three. Perhaps it's the 2 good, 1 bad, 1 good theory? No, that pattern doesn't work, because immediately preceeding "Beggar's Banquet" is "Their Satanic Majesties' Request" -- good, but not face-of-rock-changing good. The fact of the matter is that most of "Sticky Fingers" was a big step backwards into album-oriented rock and maudlin, syrupy sentimental schlock. It sounds like a spirtual cousin to clunkers like "Black and Blue" and "Goat's Head Soup" rather than "Exile", but millions upon millions will disagree with this sentiment -- so please allow me to elaborate.

First, you know is it isn't all bad when it kicks off in fine style with a killer bar-rock stomper like "Brown Sugar", which deservedly ranks up among their most-played & -worshipped tracks. I'm wondering if there's a bootleg version out there of the track when it was called, ahem, "Black Pussy". The next best track is #2, the wine-besotted lament "Sway". After that, the quality quotient drops severely and never returns to this level. In the difficult listening category comes "Wild Horses", a total lite rock staple, the sort of tune your Mom totally goes for, as well as my annoying co-workers. And girls named Staci or Traci who draw unicorns on their Pee-Chees. Even worse is "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", which not only carries on forever, but is Exhibit A for the AOR Stones that broke so many hearts a few years later (as is the woeful "Bitch"). After that are some decent junkie ballads like "Sister Morphine", "I Got The Blues" and "Moonlight Mile", but so below the late 60s standard these guys had set you gotta wonder how badly the smack really was interfering with the creative process. Well, the ship was righted for one last double-LP go the next year, and I may be going out on a big limb here (are you sitting down?), but "Exile" was probably their best ever. I just got the CD version of "Sticky Fingers" a couple weeks ago, and I'm afraid to report that digital reproduction still isn't able to right the many wrongs committed here.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

I guess some would surely quibble, but for me, the single best generational update on the 1964-67 American, UK & AU/NZ garage rock template was the award-winning class of the early 90s: the GORIES, the CHEATER SLICKS, the NIGHT KINGS, SUPERCHARGER, the OBLIVIANS, and all the others I've flogged on this site and in my fanzine from that era. Something about the 1990-95 time period lent itself to one killer 45 after another from these bands and their peers, and what they did to mold and expand that very simple 60s template (adding in Scientists-style feedback & hiss in the case of The Cheater Slicks; amping up and exploding into chaos in the case of The Oblivians -- for instance) puts these bands in a class by themselves. By contrast, the popular consensus on 1980s garage is that it was full of devotional retreads and tribute groups like the TELL-TALE HEARTS, the MORLOCKS, the FUZZTONES etc. While some of these bands broke the mold occasionally and came up with some top-shelf, original killers (I'm thinking of The Morlocks in particular), the consensus is more often correct than it's not. Yet the back half of the 80s contained a real small but stupendous batch of garage 45s that led us into the fruit basket of the early 90s. Some of these lacked a constituency in the first place and are almost totally forgotten, or vanished for years and only resurfaced when the band changed direction and picked up more converts. I flipped through my 45s and my memory bank, and came up with 12 singles that shine a light on the best the 1980s had to offer in this micro-genre:

1. THE NIGHTS AND DAYS : "These Days / Lookin' " 45....One of my favorite records of all time. I'm not sure why I left it off a list I once made of my top 45s -- I think I was counting on a lack of staying power and an eventual turn away from the garage punk of my wayward youth. Yet once you hear this thing you'll know why Seattle's Nights and Days were absolutely timeless purveyors of the raw art of amplified, guitar-driven songwriting. Put this on a shelf next to The Modds, The Keggs, Murphy and The Mob and The Rats. Time has proven that it belongs with the greats.

2. BO-WEEVILS : "That Girl / I Want You" 45....The Gories claimed this one as a big influence, and it's not hard to understand why. Total stripped-down primitivism, but with a simple, well-played melody in the background that adds some romping bounce where The Gories subtracted chords, structure and skill. These Australians continued for many years beyond this 1986 classic, but to the best of my knowledge this was the single example where they really nailed it.

3. THE FALL-OUTS : "Here I Come" 7"EP....I joined a band in 1990 and wanted this single and Dave Holmes' trebly chuka-chuka-chuka guitar style to be the template for everything we did. We didn't come within a country mile, partly because I couldn't play, & partly because this thing's too singular and unique. The Fall-Outs put forth four golden, speedy, pop-grounded garage punk tracks on a tiny Seattle-area label (Regal Select) in 1988 and watched them sink without a trace. Thankfully they can all be found on a CD collection called "Here I Come and Other Hits", in which you'll hear how a combination of strong melodic vocals, ultra-short song lengths and a creative set of lightning guitar chops add up to a terrific, severely underrated career. This single is about as "mono" as it gets.

4. DWARVES : "Lick It / Nothing" 45....Genius. This is the bridge between the 60s-slathered "Horror Stories" LP and the overloaded hardcore screamer the band morphed into by 1988. Both tracks are mid-tempo, but snarl and howl in the most aggressive, pissed-off and over-amped manner imaginable. If there's a louder 45 in my collection, I'm deliberately forgetting it. No one could touch these guys for attitude and sheer hell-bent-for-leather live entertainment after this record came out.

5. ORIGINAL SINS : "Just 14 / Sugar Sugar" 45.....The highly-touted "BROTHER JT"'s first band. The A-side is just insane -- feedback and screaming about the joy of sex with underage girls. It knocked everyone for a loop when it came out, and it's still one of the rawest, most scorching records I've ever heard.

6. THE NIGHTS AND DAYS : "Garbage Can" 7"EP.....Their 3-song debut is just as incredible and as undeserving of deep obscurity as anything on this list. Big, loud, stomping basement rock that approximates a runaway boulder hooked up to a set of clanking chains. Their sorta-cover of Beefheart's "Diddy Wah Diddy" could almost be no-wave inspired, and the frantic chords played on this sound like they're shooting sparks. Rob Vasquez was and remains a singular talent who deserves to be handsomely paid for his genius, and lionized & feted the world over.

7. SID PRESLEY EXPERIENCE : "Public Enemy #1 / Hup Two Three Four" 45....Not really garage rock per se, but a loud-ass, short-lived British group who provided a hot, panic-filled "Batman"-like TV theme instrumental A-side, and an angry, sneering original on the flip. Produced & engineered to be bleeding way, way, way into the red. Great stuff.

8. EASTERN DARK : "Julie Is a Junkie / Johnny & Dee Dee" 45.....Maybe a bit wimpy in retrospect, but I really dug this at the time. Ramones-inspired garage pop from Australia, with some enormous hooks. The singer looked like Buffy St. Marie and was probably quite the ladykiller for ladies who loved the longhairs (LLLs); unfortunately he died while the band was still in existence, cutting short a solid body of work that included this excellent 45.

9. SLOTH : "Fetch The Wedge / Miss Sleazy Underbelly" 45....Actually saw these guys play live at The Chatterbox (see below) around 1989; they were full of piss & vinegar swagger and full-on Brooklyn attitude, much of which translates extremely well on this balls-out 45. Glammy, obnoxious garage rock that would've been a huge hit if they'd plied their trade in Seattle instead of being buried deep within NYC (imagine that!).

10. DEVIL DOGS : "Twist and Burn" 7"EP....Gum-smacking, hair-combing Jersey jack-offs who I think were generally overrated at the time and who were one of the stoopidest bands around, yet this Australian EP was really smoking and right-on, particularly the rollicking 50s-ish title track (complete with handclaps!) and "North Shore Bitch". Not exactly a politically correct group of guys, which in the late 80s was total heresy, and another reason to tack on some points in their favor.

11. ELECTRIC MANCHAKOU : "Hey" 7"EP.....Now we're in the realm of the really obscure. This was an exceptionally fuzzy and strange UK electro-punk single from a band that vanished and left no residue. "Hey" in particular reminds me of a 60s-inspired CHROME or METAL URBAIN, while the other two tracks "rawk" but not quite as aggressively. One of the fellas on the sleeve had an outstanding white man's 'fro, which is perhaps what got my wallet out of my pocket back in the day.

12. WORKDOGS : "Funny $ / Last Friend's Gone" 45.....Finally, this long-running New York duo's debut 45 from 1986, featuring Rudi Potrudi from the Fuzztones blowing an absolutely wailing harmonica & negating all the damage he did to rock and roll with his own band. The A-side's something like 7 minutes long, and is ultra lo-fidelity retard blues of the highest order. Nothing I've heard from The Workdogs since can touch this debut, though I imagine it would be an exercise in patience and calm for most folks.

Agony Shorthand would appreciate any additions to this canonical overview you'd care to add, as well as moonlit memories & starry-eyed recollections of the bands in question!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

You may recall that only a few short weeks ago we were chatting about the IMPACT ALL-STARS CD, which was birthed and recorded at this Kingston studio during this timeframe. Given how much I dig that thing, I took a flyer on this one a couple of weeks ago. This label, Jamaican Recordings (what a bold name!), has quietly amassed the rights to a goldmine of 70s LP and 45rpm dub, which they're trickling out onto CDs now. They've kept the inner workings of these 14 tracks pretty quiet as well -- the personnel who played on them appear to be something of a studio "house band", many of whom also play on the Impact All-Stars recordings. The studio is, of course, Randy's, and it started in the late 1950s as a record store bringing in American rock and roll imports. Later on some of the major players of early Jamaican ska and rocksteady began to hang out and congregate there, and as their tastes and methods shifted into full-blown reggae and dub, the Randy's studio was there to capture their chops. The liner notes make it pretty clear that these lost tracks are either rare B-side versions to vocal numbers by CORNELL CAMPBELL, ERNEST WILSON and someone named SLIM SMITH, as well as a bunch of dubs that never made it to the 45s and floundered on master tapes for 30-odd years. It's a really solid, very creative collection -- the hands on the controls & the players doing the playing appear to be consistent no matter who the actual named performing artist was, which is why I think Jamaican felt that this was a fully cohesive set, not worthy of breaking these tracks out by artist. You know what I'm saying? A fine, net positive addition to the 70s dub pile.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The old GIRL TROUBLE fanzine "Wig Out", had this saying on the masthead that I can't remember exactly, something about "What God could do in 4 chords, LINK WRAY did in 3" (if this was indeed the saying, I recognize that it doesn't make any real sense). The first wave of posthumous Linkmania was around the late 80s/early 90s, which is when I went and bought a batch of Wray compilations & when the great Norton "Missing Links" LP series began coming out. Then Wray toured a couple years ago, a tour that was most notable for the questionable hairstyle he was sporting (an Indian-style cornrow mullet down to his ass) and the questionable backing band he was porting (San Francisco "funny country" yokels DIESELHEAD). Another round of much deserved Linkmania ensued. Me, I kept wondering what else was out there worth getting beyond the first batch of Wray compilations on labels like Edsel and Rhino. I wasn't looking hard enough. This very worthwhile CD came out in 1997 on a UK label called Rollercoaster, and contains all thirteen 45s recorded by Link between 1963-67 for the Swan label; that batch includes some all-time instrumental favorites like "Jack The Ripper", "Run, Chicken, Run" and "Ace of Spades", as well as a small slew of raw and fuzzy obscurities like "Week-end", "The Black Widow" and "The Sweeper" (these 3 are incredible and well worth the high price of admission to this CD). Whether he truly poked pencil holes in his amp cones to get this overpowering, legend-making sound of not, Wray's guitar is a singular, you-know-it-when-you-hear-it presence. Not many guitarists can stake that claim, nor can they be said to pack the sort of career-spanning punch that Link's rough & tumble instrumentals did. Ditto for his best vocal numbers like his take on the gonzo, throat-clearing "Hidden Charms" -- an all-time raw screamer that deserves a seperate wing in the R&R Hall of Fame.

I'll tell you where this disc breaks down for me. Obviously Wray started to develop an itch for the charts around the mid-60s, to possibly bite a bit of the rock and roll fame apple that had thus far eluded him. Unfortunately this translated into instrumental & sometimes vocal covers of songs like "Please Please Me" and Dylan's "Girl From The North Country", much like BOOKER T & THE M.G.s also did to raise additional working capital. Unfortunately, they severely mar this otherwise fine collection, & if you never hear them, it's time you'll instead be able to spend bathing, grooming, or hooking up with loved ones. There is a 32-page booklet that I haven't invested the time to read yet (probably because I had to sit and listen to these terrible covers, and thus missed a few leisurely baths), but I'm sure it's chock full of info and helps explain away this less-than-glorious portion of his career. Thankfully these all cluster up near the end, and you can instead concentrate on the first two-thirds, which is just incredible. (All right, I just glanced at the booklet, and found that this label put out a CD of MICKEY LEE LANE called "Rockin' On...And Beyond". I need to know about this thing -- Lane's compilation appearances on "Too Much Goin' On!" and "Wild and Frantic" are some of the best wild, razzed-up soul of the 60s. Anyone heard this collection yet?)