Agony Shorthand

Monday, February 28, 2005

In my Californiacentricity I often forget how friggin' great Texas punk was in the late 70s. This compilation helps one to remember. Better than the "Bloodstains Across Texas" LP, yet containing many of the same tracks, "OUTLAWS IN MY EYE - TEXAS" has 28 rare cuts from the Lone Star state's bustling late 70s underground, including some all-time classics like THE VAMPS' "Carving Knife" (wow!), THE NEXT's "Cheap Rewards" (aka "We Hate the Rich - Destroy Them") and the SKUNKS' "Earthquake Shake". Not to mention the HUNS' "Busy Kids", which seems to have morphed into the all-time representative anthem of Texas Punk, "Dicks Hate The Police" notwithstanding. (Side note - I was severely chastised by Steve Turner in 1988 when a young MUDHONEY played on my radio show, & I asked him what that last song they played was -- a cover of "Hate The Police". "You call yourself collector scum?? You're no collector scum! I'm ashamed" etc.). This stuff's so good that I'm forced to reckon that an attitude adjustment is in other words, if it came from LA in 1978 I'd likely be putting some of these winners on a par with The Bags, Weirdos, Germs, etc. -- or at least The Controllers, Joneses or Middle Class. Even the original "John Wayne Was a Nazi" by THE STAINS is first rate -- even though the band took a quick slide down the dumper when they moved to San Francisco soon thereafter & became a leftist/commie cliche called MILLIONS OF DEAD COPS (I could write a paragraphs-long takedown on the damage those guys did to the scene, but maybe another time). The CD is way too heavy on the overrated NERVEBREAKERS, who were total power pop simps & who have six yawner tracks on this collection, but otherwise it's top drawer. Now the trouble is finding it. I found mine here.

(Side note: One related comp to definitely pass on is a seven-inch 1990s collection of early Texas punk called "Unquestionably Late For The Trend" , featuring demos & live stuff from Vomit Pigs, Dot Vaeth Group, Skuds and Superman's Girlfriend. Not a noteworthy track in the bunch, I'm afraid).

Friday, February 25, 2005

In the micro-underground world of one man bands, this guy's got to be one of the strangest I've come across. ABNER JAY spent a long life in music and minstrelry leading up to these early 70s Vietnam-era recordings, and an enterprising label called Subliminal Sounds found them & put them out to the public a couple years ago. I guess you'd call Jay a bluesman of sorts, since his songs and sermons usually deal with troubles & sorrows of various stripes. He's also got a deep-blues vocal delivery, and comes across as a real genuine, home-schooled itinerant character. Most of the tracks on here start as sermons of some kind or another, and often include horrid sexual puns ("What's six inches long and has two nuts on the end? An Almond Joy, silly"). Jay also has a real fascination with venereal disease, snorting cocaine and taking violent revenge on cheating women. When his moonbat tales of these matters are mixed with a minister's fire-and-brimstone delivery, it's pretty jarring. You're expecting a lecture but instead get some bizarre, ill-told tale. It's total vaudeville, but only rarely is it truly played for laughs. The songs that follow are OK, but Jay's a second-rate guitar plucker and vocalist, and doesn't have the depth of feeling or innate chops to play the sort of blues that'll win him kudos on those merits alone. He's an oddity, pure and simple. I might spin this at my next stag party, but otherwise will let this week's listenings take a long, looong time to settle.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A few year back, when many noise rockers & longtime punks began discovering fey English folk of the 60s and 70s, and wore their new-found allegiance on their sleeves -- like it was just a natural progression toward songs of leaves & trestles & the changing of the seasons -- I made a secret pact with myself that I would never, never, never fall for the genre, lest I eventually get caught up searching the stacks for PENTANGLE bootlegs and whatnot. Fey folk was my mom's genre, and I was content to let her keep it. Well, it looks like Mom's getting a nice CD-R of the VASHTI BUNYAN "Just Another Diamond Day" reissue for her birthday this year, because I can't fall on my sword in the face of music this great. Vashti Bunyan was one of thousands of British hippies who lit out for the country to start communes, commune with nature and all that. During 1968-69, she wrote the shy, distant songs that would make up this, her one and only album. In 1970, "Just Another Diamond Day" was recorded and released, with help from a couple of her folkie pals in the INCREDIBLE STRING BAND and FAIRPORT CONVENTION, all the while managed by Stones honcho Andrew Loog Oldham. Bunyan disappeared to the Scottish countryside after a grand bit of initial next-big-thing hype quickly dissipated, and went on with a relatively normal life of childrearing, shepherding and such. This record entered the realm of forgotten landmark, and there it stayed until a few years ago when several publications gave it some renewed life & helped get it reissued on CD.

If NICK DRAKE is now a UK folk legend thanks to Volkswagen, then Vashti Bunyan -- whose music is easily as otherworldly and great -- should have a proper place in the pantheon posthaste. Starting with track #2, "Glow Worms", which is just about perfect -- her "Pink Moon", if you will. I know this CD's garnered a ton of attention the past few years, enough so that I broke my vows and checked it out. Her understated, miniaturist arrangements and exceptionally gentle touch contribute to a real ghostly and tranquil feel, one that fits in perfectly with her back story (hippy girl renounces society, moves to a quiet green place with no running water). There's nothing cloying or forced about this rustic beauty at all -- in fact, she's not even as one-dimensional as I make her out to be, given almost comic tracks like "Timothy Grub" and "Jog Along Bess", in which Bunyan whimsically recounts some of the more colorful characters of her gypsy-like past, including her cows. The guitars on this record are tuned to sound nearly like banjos, and at times carry strange tones that sound like something apart from conventional 60s folk music as we know it. No doubt that my favorite modern folk group VETIVER copped some moves here. There's also a big, brassy, full band closer on the CD that's one of several extras, a Stones cover (!) called "Somethings Just Stick In Your Mind". This 1965 7" of hers sticks out not like a sore thumb (it's a stellar pop song), but like a transparent attempt to make young Vashti into the next MARIANNE FAITHFULL, whom Oldham had some experience crafting into a star. If you're expecting a by-the-numbers Judy Collins thing, I assure you, you won't find it here. This is some fine, early morning, watching-the-dew folk music with lovely, all-knowing vocals. If you're up for that sort of tender vibe from time to time, punker, then hey, have I got a record for you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005
LUCRATE MILK : "FRANCE 1981" CD-R......A super-obscurity dug up by master digger Brian over at WFMU. Information is plentiful online regarding LUCRATE MILK, but the problem is it's all in French, and I can't do French. Those "instant translation" services aren't quite up to the job yet either, so I'll tell you what I can gander just from listening to the music. If Lora Logic and Poly Styrene had been charter members of the early 1/2 JAPANESE, they might've sounded something like this -- disjointed, fractured riffs & splayed avant-sound all over the place, accented by a pumping saxophone making an annoyance of itself in the background. Though I have been able to figure out that they played live with THROBBING GRISTLE, their sound wasn't quite as extreme nor off-putting. No, it really does remind me of "1/2 Gentlemen Not Beasts" or "Loud" with female vocals -- and while it is probably French being sung, it could be Finnish or Flemish or Farsi. It's pretty wacked. And it's very likely that the title of the LP -- if there was an LP -- is not "France 1981". A near-mystery band for now, but one I can see crate diggers busting a nut over during the next couple of collecting seasons.

HOSE : MOBO / GIRLS / ZOO" 7"EP.......I farmed it on this one -- a few weeks ago the mp3 blog Mystical Beast posted a great overview of (and interview with) early 80s sludge/dirge noise group HOSE, and included the ability to download their one and only single, "Mobo/Girls/Zoo". While the article is still up (click here and scroll down to the February 2nd post), the songs, alas, are not. I hadn't heard this record in years, and it's aged very well. As the article and reminiscience makes clear, Hose were the east coast FLIPPER, and fashioned themselves as such. "Girls" -- all 20 seconds of it -- is pure fake hardcore, the sort of blistering speed demon played by large men who are clearly "taking the piss", as it were. But "Mobo" is a big, ugly throbbing whopper, one that the DUST DEVILS soon covered on their "Geek Drip" LP. And even the kids' song "Zoo" holds up well. My roommate had their 12"EP as well, and I remember a great track on there called "Only The Astronaut Knows the Truth" or something like that. When someone finally puts out the Bloodstains Across the Pigfuck Scene comp, that thing needs to be front and center.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

In the spirit of full disclosure, I passed by this collection on the racks for many months because I was certain that it was a new ( CRAMPS release, which meant that it was targeted for the pseudo-greaser demographic who attend hot rod shows in Orange County, along with the much-coveted tiki bar-loving psychographic. Then a few reviews hipped me to the fact that no, this 2xCD is actually a historical overview of the early Cramps, the Cramps that I cut my teeth on as a teenager, my then "favorite band" whom I credit more than any other for leading me into the music that's defined my musical life for nearly 25 years. So naturally I snapped it up. "How To Make a Monster" might be the best Cramps bootleg ever, outside of the knockout Alex Chilton sessions that turned into the unofficial "All Tore Up" LP that I still maintain is the single best Cramps release anytime, anywhere (including "Gravest Hits"!). Yet it's not a bootleg, but a Lux & Ivy-sanctioned official release.

Intriguingly, as a former Cramps bootleg collector myself, I have to say I've never heard a single track from any of these demo and live sessions, so they did a pretty swell job sitting pretty on these recordings all these years. The first disc is compiled in a "learning to play" sequence. You get the ridiculous "Quick Joey Small", apparently the first song the band ever learned, recorded at one of their first practices in 1976. This is followed by an assortment of later Cramps staples like "Subwire Desire" and "TV Set" that, while recorded well, are so fumbling and futzy that only the glossy sheen of pure rockabilly voodoo shines through, and hints at where they'd be only months later. As they evolved through 1976 and 1977, their sound got way tougher, and Lux began attacking the microphone in the manner to which we became accustomed. New drummer Miriam Linna (late '76) added that raw uber-simple thumping template that Nick Knox made famous (but didn't improve upon), and the band as we love them appeared to have quickly come into their own around October of that year, when early versions of "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" and "I Can't Hardly Stand It" were recorded & catalogued on these practice tapes.

While Disc 1's history lesson is worthwhile, it's marred by a kitchen sink approach which seeks to teach the listener how the Cramps came to be the wild band that eventually recorded duds like "Stay Sick!" and other shlock, including 4 takes on a track called "Rumble Blues" and 1988 demos like "Jackyard Backoff" (haw haw!!), recorded years after they'd shot their wad on their last good studio record, "Psychedelic Jungle". It's the all-live Disc 2 that'll keep you coming back, and I say this as a person who doesn't generally dig live records. It's got two shows, one recorded on January 14th, 1977 at Max's Kansas City in New York, and the other on January 13th, 1978 at CBGB. The first show displays a tentative but still obnoxious set of unrestrained rockabilly feedback hell, played for a crowd so bewildered & bummed that they heckle and cajole the band throughout their set. There might be 25 people in the crowd, tops, and though they don't know it, they're bearing witness to one of the great original bands of the late 1970s as they blossom in real time. Lux's excellent liner notes in this collection (filled with unseen band photos you gotta see, including the barely post-pubescent Ivy playing more-or-less topless guitar in 1975) make clear that The Cramps were dead serious in how they wanted their master rock plan to unfold: they, in his words, "We had a mission to move to New York and become the new New York Dolls....but we would include the most deadly ingredient of all: rockabilly". There's a version of "Love Me" on this one that just kills.

Where the first show on Disc 2 shows them meeting with bafflement, the second show from early '78 proves how quickly they were to win over New York City's fickle fanbase. Dozens of girls are screaming with raw joy after every single song, and if there's such a thing as actually being able to hear drunken dancing on a live recording, it's here. The band had progressed light years in mere months, and were a nonstop US trash culture wrecking crew, laden with fuzz and unbridled energy and an inborn ingestion of the best that low-end Americana had puked up to that point (including punk). It's a great fucking show, one of the top 20 or so I'd wish to be transported back to given the chance. So there you have it. Skip that $30 "Surfing in San Diego" red-vinyl disc and get this official thing instead.

Saturday, February 19, 2005
STRANGE NOTES, 2/19/05.....

Had heard many fine things about last year's debut CD from THE INTELLIGENCE called "Boredom and Terror", & now I know why. This A-FRAMES-associated Seattle group has grafted a very moderne electro-spazz motif onto what sounds to these ears like a early 1980s British DIY sparseness (all the rage in 2004, as you know). It's as if some invisible Messthetics aesthetics had turned their car away from by-the-numbers panic rock and into something a little more weird and impenetrable. I'm in favor......Then there's this new CD from a North-Midwest band called THE TEARS that I can't quite place. Is it bug-eyed & angry 60s-dosed snot-punk, or something a little more in some alterna-jerk Babes In Toyland/Hole camp? I'm too tired to figure it out. Two cute girls in a garage rock band, though -- Long Gone John, call your office!......When I was a young college radio-loving lad in the early 80s, these was one dub group who seemed to get a disproportionate amount of airplay on KFJC, my then-local station. They were Jamaica's TWINKLE BROTHERS, and I've barely seen them register in any history-of-dub overviews from thenceforth. Seems a little unfair, as their "Dub Massacre, Volume 1 & 2" CD, which collects two long-gone LPs called "Dub Massacre" and "Remix" (I think), is outtasite, heavy heavy heavy instrumental trickery. Thick and dense reverb covers everything here, and it's hard to figure out whether tracks were laid down first and then messed with, or if their dubs utilized very complex & aggressive mixing of multiple songs. Nevertheless, it's very dense and near-atmospheric at its best. You'll need to reallly sharpen the kitchen cutlery to slice through this one.

Insiders tell me that BRIAN TEASLEY, the enfant terrible indie rock dissmeister over at Chunklet magazine, is himself a member of god squad chorale THE POLYPHONIC SPREE! Is that gay or what?......I'm not much of a dancer, except in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror in the bedroom, but even I can't stop gentle spasming when in the company of the CD "Kling Klang" by San Francisco disco dubbers TUSSLE. You might even call it a guilty pleasure. The CD packs on multiple 5-minute instrumental workouts that are somewhere in a nexus between what some once called "post-rock" (!), early, non-electronic disco, and deep, post-80s bionic dub music. And it just stomps, at least until it doesn't. You might like it.....I always knew that if I'd heard enough of England's REAL LOSERS, a threshold would eventually be crossed and I'd lose patience with their rawer-than-raw, cruddier-than-cruddy SAINTS-on-amphetamines shtick. That threshold may have been penetrated with the latest 7"EP, "Go Nutzoid!", which, while very loud, loose and liquored, just doesn't show a whole lot of conceptual or actual progression from that initial raw/crud template. If you've heard it before, well, quite honestly, you've heard it before. Maybe I need a quiet break from this bunch for a few months & I'll feel differently come the summer.....Finally, after getting hopped up about instrumental surf music again after procuring the "Diggin' Out" LP last year, I'm entering skepticism & caution again after buying the "Get A Board" comp CD from Satan Records & about 10 years ago. It's not all weak, but there are enough vocal-led JAN & DEAN-type novelty tunes to make getting through it an exercise in frequent track-skipping. I thought this might be the one, and it wasn't. What are your nominees for hottest 60s instrumental surf record? The louder and tighter, the better (of course). With that, my work is done today! Keep your feet on the ground etc.!

CLOROX GIRLS : "BABY" 7"EP......Jonny Cat was our cats' litter brand of choice while I was growing up, but more importantly, it's the label that put out the 2003 EP from Portland heft-pop garage punks the CLOROX GIRLS. I wish they sounded a little more like the early Red Cross from whom they took their name, but instead they're more like a less filling version of the first FM KNIVES single (which is great), mixed with a 1977 New York swagger-punk vibe that wins them a few points. I saw another band a couple weeks ago called the TIME FLYS that upped the dose on this sound and did it spot-on. Right now I'd lay odds on the Time Flys in a rock and roll street brawl over the Clorox Girls, but don't count the Girls out (their track "Vietnam" from their LP is smoking!).

Monday, February 14, 2005
YESTERDAY'S PAPERS -- PART THREE.....Posting's going to be light-to-nonexistant this week due to a trip to New York City. The Big Easy!! Can't wait to go to Pier Platters, Max's Kansas City and the Hippodrome. In the meantime, here's some stuff we talked about together the past two years:


Friday, February 11, 2005

Officially "out" for all of three days now (no, not me -- the CD), I've been cozying up with the new A-FRAMES CD for a few weeks. It gets better every time I hear it, and confirms once again why this is one of the more exciting, slashing post-garage noise bands of our time. While the no-count pummeling continues, and the full-on Teutonic throb of these songs is ever present, "Black Forest" has moments of complexity and tonal expansiveness that weren't around on those first two LPs, and certainly not on the raw-ass 45s (I haven't yet heard the latest one on S-S but it's in my to-be-played hopper, ready to be heard and heartily opined on). I made my peace with the vocalist long ago, and realized that he's not Jeff Spicolli, but rather a very large man with a shiny pate and an empty, deadpan vocal style that's neither learned nor tamed. Real, in other words. He sings convincingly of post-apocalypse emptiness, absolute zero, nuclear fallout -- that sort of jumpin' jive. While it could come off as preposterous or just plain silly in lesser hands, the combination of these weary words and the icy mechanicalism of the music makes for a pretty smokin' bleak treat.

The hit is probably going to be the title track, if only because there are 2 versions of it on the disc -- one a carbon copy of the first, with an extra layer of noise caked on (this later, closing version is tip-top, and my current favorite on the CD). I suspect that "Experiment" and "Death Train" will also bring the punks and skins together (finally!), along with the new wavers and even the fuckin' mods. Even the weird paint-huffing kids will groove on moderately experimental, difficult numbers like "My Teacher", and with Sub Pop's distribution tentacles taking this band far beyond where they've been in the past, I suspect the A-Frames are going to be front & center on many a hipster's lips in 2005. I suppose they could have taken an easier route & put out something relatively easier to ingest for their big-indie debut, but they didn't. Three records, three winners -- get it while it's fresh & quivering.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

It appears that there were two very distinct phases to LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS' career -- the deep, dark, mournful sides he cut for Gold Star and other tiny Texas labels in the late 1940s, and the jaunty, mid-tempo boogie stuff that came after that. Not that the latter is middling by any means, nor was he to reside in that style exclusively thereafter. Hopkins' weakest partytime blues numbers destroy just about anyone's else best, thanks to his perpetually reverbed-to-the-max guitar sound and less than serious approach to singing & playing. It's a style 100% copped by other post-50s worthies such as HOUND DOG TAYLOR, among others. "Lightnin' And The Blues" is said to be one of the first blues LPs ever put on the market (as opposed to 78s), and the liners point out that "...a copy of that album in worth over $1,000 today". I found mine in a thrift store bin for 25 cents just last week....nah, a pal burned the CD version for me, a version that contains 4 extra tracks from the same April 1954 sessions that yielded the original 12.

I'll admit I'm partial to the earlier stuff. I've never heard electric blues as good as that displayed on those "Gold Star Sessions" CDs that Arhoolie put out in the early 90s, or that Kent reissued on LP in numerous forms throughout the 60s and 70s. (That said, does anyone know if my #1 favorite Hopkins tune, "War News Blues", exists anywhere on CD? If that song doesn't bring a chill to your spine, then no blues is worthy of the name). Whenever I hear any Lightnin' tracks cut after this time, they stand up nice and proud but just don't bring me down the way I want to be brought. Instead, albums like "Lightnin' And The Blues" display just when an understated virtuoso this guy was, and how, on tracks like "Don't Think 'Cause You're Pretty" and "Had a Gal Called Sal", he must've had rumps a-shaking from the delta to the Rio Grande every Friday night. As he got even better on guitar & gained more confidence as a singer, the more the lonesome and down-tempo numbers began to sound rote -- like copies of things he'd done far better earlier. But that's just what I think. Hopkins actually made his mark in the world on this material, and went on putting out solid sides for another 20-some-odd years after this. Of the post-Gold Star stuff, this is probably the best I've heard, which means even if it's lower down in this guy's catalog, it's way up high in the blues pantheon when stacked against his peers.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005
GET YOUR GIBSON BROS "BIG PINE BOOGIE" HERE......No, here. The LOST IN THE GROOVES website now allows for purchase of one of the great lost LPs of the 1980s, the GIBSON BROS' "Big Pine Boogie". They've posted the entire record in reverse order, and tracks are available at a buck each. Start with "Casey Jones", "Big Pine Boogie" and "Skull & Crossbones" and see what you think. This thing's got no CD release date planned, so this is it for now. Lost In The Grooves also have LP-only tracks available from the LIPSTICK KILLERS, JOHN TRUBEE and the SEX CLARK FIVE, among others.

One other download to recommend, this one a freebie: ANIMALS & MEN's stunning 1981 DIY waver "Don't Misbehave In The New Age", available right now with one click over at ORBIS QUINTUS.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Remember the U-MEN? That wholly unheralded 80s Seattle band held a ton of only-sometimes-realized promise, made up in parts by "there's a bug in my pants" vocals, spastic guitar freakouts, and layering of insane amounts of overmodulated noise over what was essentially a basic garage rock template. They presaged many of the post-hardcore Touch & Go acts, while allegedly inspiring some of the Northwest's better late-80s bands. Now they have a direct descendent, whom I reckon are even better. ALUMINUM KNOT EYE appear to have been kicking around Milwaukee for a good decade now, putting out cassettes and such, and now they've finally got a full-length. It's fantastic -- raw & weird panic rock that just about busts a nut on every chord. Singer also has that crazy hot-oil-just-fell-on-my-foot caterwauling vocal style, and when he's not drowned out by an acre of feedback, he's pretty damn entertaining.

Their art-punk riffs are very big and often very disjointed -- they even go so far as to tackle an ALICE COOPER number and pull it off most admirably. That number, "Is It My Body?" is currently in heavy rotation here, as are the opening 1-2 of "Final Fling of the Amputee" and "Scales In The Tub". You want to get a better sense of where they're coming from, just check out their links list. It's like a who's who of your favorite bands: Electric Eels, Stooges, Chrome, Screamers, Hasil Adkins, etc. I'll bet ALUMINUM KNOT EYE have been marinating in these wild-ass songs for many a year, waiting to unleash them upon us. That patience has paid off with a very fine debut. Dare I say it's artastic!

Monday, February 07, 2005
THE AGONY SHORTHAND 24-MONTH ANNIVERSARY AWARDS.....Two years ago this past Saturday, I embarked on a calling higher than myself -- to document every remotely music-related fart or foible that crossed my mind, and share it via the then-nascent "information superhighway" for anyone that might care. Expecting that I'd give up and slink away after a month or two, here we are 2 years later and I'm still somehow finding some time & energy to put digital pen to digital paper. With that comes a time to reflect, to ponder, to look back at what the past 733 days have wrought for good -- and for ill. Time to unveil the Agony Shorthand 24-month Anniversary Awards!

BEST TREND: Toss-up between MP3 blogs (in which enthusiastic and enterprising folk put up a song or two for your downloading pleasure, accompanied by a review -- the single best try-before-you-buy method to learn about new music outside of having a friend spin his/her recent finds for you) and my perception of a general rising tide of music literacy (enabled by CD-R trading, blogs, web sites for virtually every band on the planet, file sharing, and demographically micro-targeted record stores, both online & in the real world).
WORST TREND: A spot market for "lathe cut" records. What the hell is wrong with you people?

BEST BAND: Some of my favorites, none of whom I'd heard before February 2003, are MODEY LEMON, the A-FRAMES, FIERY FURNACES, VETIVER and LIGHTNING BOLT. There are, and there likely will be, more.
WORST BAND: How could it be anyone but the godawful BURMESE?

BEST COMMENT: Tie between S-S's excellent first-hand TALES OF TERROR recollections and the awe-inspiring novella written by Darren Cifarelli on SWA! Whoa.
WORST COMMENT: Some guy from THE SPITS trying to defend his shamed honor with a comment along the lines of "oh yeah, well you're more of it" (unfortunately lost by my comments provider).

MOST FAMOUS COMMENTER: If you had told me 28 years ago that ALICE BAG and CHEETAH CHROME would have left comments on my blog, well, I wouldn't have known who those people were or what the hell you were talking about.
LEAST FAMOUS COMMENTER: The guy who pretended to be "Don Rettman" for a few painful months before he was outed & crawled back into his shifty, ever-changing set of IP addresses at the library and Kinko's.

BEST REVIEW: Oh heavens, that would have to be that two-word "Shit Sandwich" review of NAUTICAL ALMANAC last year!
WORST REVIEW: When I flipped out for about a month over COMETS ON FIRE before wishing to god I could take it back.

THICKEST SKIN: The guy from Chicago act THE HAMICKS, who posted a really funny & pointed comment when I called his combo a "middle band".
THINNEST SKIN: Hands down, Chris Stigliano of Black To Comm magazine wins the All-Time Pity award for his staggering inability to ingest any criticism of his efforts, while hypocritically dishing it out to "homos" and bands of all stripes for twenty-plus years. His thin skin is now the stuff of legend.

BEST WEBSITE: Our tastes may be wildly different at times, but it's hard to find anything wrong with BLASTITUDE. The layout's great, the writing is strong and the rolling content-update concept keeps 'em coming back.
WORST WEBSITE: Some of the most incredibly overdone reviews of all time pop up repeatedly on PITCHFORK. The site itself is fine, but the pompous paragraphs of twaddle regarding the most mediocre of indie rock bands can be a real hoot!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

This might be the first Alternative Tentacles release I've owned since "Let Them Eat Jellybeans", or perhaps since the second No Means No record that I had for a couple minutes nearly twenty years ago. Now that my friend UE is no longer employed by the label, the long-lingering question can finally be spoken: Has there ever, in our time, been a worse record label than Alternative Tentacles? At least one that's survived this long? Can you imagine what torture it would be to have to listen to all the horrors this label has released since, say, 1981, in end-to-end order? I say this as one who parks his car in front of their offices nearly every morning before I hop on the bus, as one whose first 5-6 punk records were at least 50% AT releases, and as one who admires (I guess) the label's perseverence and willingness to do what they do. So it comes as quite a surprise to see Jello (of all people!) putting out one of the weirdest & most special punk rock records of all time, the MENTALLY ILL's "Gacy's Place/Padded Cell/Tumor Boy" 45 from 1979, along with other equally crazed tracks from the same session. For eight tracks and about 15 minutes, this CD can do no wrong. Totally sick fuzz-encrusted punk that motors along like a warp-speed robot coming straight for your children, with a vocalist who is 100% believable in his chosen persona of a complete, out-and-out lunatic. The non-45 tracks, like "Doggie Sex" and "Split Crotch Straight Jacket" are just berzerk. The original classics are classics. It's all good.

Then comes the rest of the CD. There are two more sessions included, and at least one includes the re-formed band in the 1990s or god forbid, the 2000s, and it's just a no-doubt-about-it crime against music. The vocalist, if it's the same guy, has lost everything that made his kook shtick perversely appealing, and it's not hard to picture him & the band as farting, armpit-scratching forty-five year old shlubs still cracking jokes about serial killers and retards. I'm usually heartily in favor of blowing up stereotypes by mercilessly mocking them, but what is Jello Biafra, one of the most self-righteous, politically correct left wingers of all time (he actually calls eBay "evil-Bay" in the band's online bio!), doing releasing a record with vaguely questionable Jewish slurs and songs like "Cum Twat"? The thing about this sense of humor is it's great to have one, but it really only applies when it's actually funny. Sometimes, as I'm sure you've found in your travels, people who aren't particularly smart like to defame or defraud this ethnic group or that gender in the name of being shockingly politically incorrect, but when push comes to shove they're just dumb-asses. Many, I'm afraid, are endemic to what we know as punk rock. The Mentally Ill were so impressively bent on their earlier stuff that I wish they'd have just put out a 15-minute 8-song CD of that first 1979 session. I'd have still bought it at $14.98 list, folks. And not sold it on evil-Bay later! (PS -- check out this review of the CD -- "for fans of the Cramps, the Germs and the Groinoids...". The Groinoids!!!).

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The collection brings together French underground pop/psych music that was ascendent as the Gallic sun was setting on the more brassy go-go sounds of the mid-60s. That ye-ye girl pop music is among my favorite genres of rock music of any era; this post-ye ye music (1968-73) is almost as interesting, if less fun. There's another similar collection sitting on a shelf at my house called "Wizz!", and obviously a couple more volumes in this series as well. "FREAKOUT TOTAL, VOL. 3" is compiled by a Montreal-based record fiend named Satan Belanger, and he focuses on the Francophone world both outside his door in Quebec, and over the Atlantic in France and Belgium. His best finds are two versions of a "Sing This All Together"-meets-Indian War Dance number by MADELEINE CHARTRAND called "Ani-Kuni", so good they put it on this comp twice. If you can keep this ultra-rhythmic psychedelic singalong out of your head the better part of a day, more power to you. STELLA, who winningly pops up on a couple of the Ultra Chicks/Swingin' Mademoiselle compilations, contributes a duff power track called "L'idole des jounes", whatever that means. Even the guys (CHRIS GALIBERT, JACQUES DENJEAN, more) sound good on this, and not an ADAMO track in the bunch. A recommended peek into a slice of pop music that evaporated for good by the mid 1970s.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005
A wild, borderline-inept, off the rails Finnish pseudo-hardcore record from 1983. I'll take it! There's a reason that record collecting scum have been scouring the auction sites for RUTTO's debut of late. Now that I've heard the whole 6-minute package instead of just its kickoff track "Ma Vihaan", I'm really floored by it. It's just a massive wallop of sound, featuring a high-pitched Greg Ginn-like feedback whine that preludes every track, and a pummeling, fuzz-heavy guitar that brings almost as much steady intensity as Ginn did to tracks like "Police Story" or "I've Heard It Before". The female vocalist has this vessel-bursting vocal scrape that sounds like she's attempting to spit up all 5-6 vowels at once -- then again, perhaps that's just the Finnish language for ya. She's a real hoarse shouter nonetheless, and her amateur take on "singing" is in line with the rest of the DIY pleasures to be found on Rutto's debut. Each of the 5 tracks buzz at a steady mid/high-tempo pace and don't vary for 7/8ths of the track, yet all sort of fall to pieces at the end and stop, rev up again, and finally collapse into chaos. Fans of SOLGER, TEDDY & THE FRAT GIRLS and the motherf***in Flag themselves will be impressed. Get it on your dorky want list ASAP!