Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

One thing I truly enjoy about the somewhat-interactive nature of this site is how much stuff I’ve been advised to follow up on vis-à-vis the comment boxes. Sometimes I even do. In reviewing the Velvets bootleg “Screen Test: Falling in Love With The Falling Spikes”, I was informed that what I really needed to hear was “The Psychopath’s Rolling Stones” to get a true bead on the best Velvets boot material. Reviewing that disc, I was put under advisement that, no, the best collection of VELVET UNDERGROUND bootleg material was actually a 1998 four-CD box set called "Caught Between The Twisted Stars". The fella that put out the recommendation then went and roasted it up for me on CD-R – what a hero! Took a while, but I’ve made it through all four discs 3 times each, which is usually my litmus test before I can think to type up a review (I relax this standard at my discretion but generally hold firm to the rule). Not that it wasn’t trying in parts, but hey, that’s what we do here. What the creators of this package set to pull off was taking what they believed to be the best of the Velvet Underground bootleg material already out there, and make up their own fantasy box set of what would be on it. If you conform to their vision of best = rarest and/or longest, then this set’s probably for you. Let’s take it from the top:

Disc 1 : “EXPLODING PLASTIC INEVITABLE b/w POOR RICHARD’S”.....Notable for taking virtually all of an already-existing bootleg of the band’s 1966 show in Columbus, OH, this disc contains a looooong 30-minute version of a metronomic sometime-set opener called “Melody Laughter”. Nico’s vocals don’t even begin until 19 minutes of plod have transpired, but the song is really lovely in places. Far better are the killer versions of “Venus In Furs” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, and the tacked-on 6/23/66 “Run Run Run” and “Venus” from a Chicago show. Totally deadly. 1966??!? Are you kiddin’ me?

Disc 2 : “THE CHIC MYSTIQUE OF NOTHING SONGS”......Another excessively long droner called “Nothing Song” from that Columbus show, and another experimental 28-minute+ rarity from January 1966 in New York called “Chic Mystique”. Just because it’s the Velvets and it’s rare doesn’t mean it smokes, but both ably demonstrate the school of LAMONTE YOUNG minimalist explorations that band grew out of & also the era in which Cale, not Reed, was the band’s obvious leader and muse. The 19-minute 1970 mesh of “Train ‘Round The Bend/Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” is hideously boring – one hopes that the audience, like the band, were dosed heavily on barbiturates and cocktails and found a way to work this into their personal downer groove somehow.

Disc 3 : “SWEET SISTER RAYN’S HEROIN”......Now we’re talking. “Sweet Sister Ray”, a nearly 40-minute candy-coated prelude for the raw power and chaos of “Sister Ray”, is here from an oft-circulated bootleg recorded 4/28/68 at La Cave in Cleveland. The version of “Sister Ray”, though, from the outstanding 1969 Boston “Legendary Guitar Amp” boot, is the real thrill ride here – overloaded guitar damage like you wouldn’t believe, putting even the recorded version to shame. W-o-w. It mutes any complaints I have about a 1993 (!) “Hey Mr. Rain” being on here. The 4-song disc ends with an excellent take on “Heroin” from a La Cave show two days after the one that starts the disc (the band loved playing Cleveland Rock City and seemed to be there all the time – which, as others have pointed out, may have something to do with that city’s crucial contributions to the rock canon circa 1974-76).

Disc 4 : “ILLUMINATIONS OF ATONALITY”......Maybe the most consistent disc of the set, with the same super-electrified version of “Run Run Run” (8/2/69, New Hampshire) that appears on “The Psychopath’s Rolling Stones”, as well as a totally-unknown-to-me duo of Paris recordings from 1972 from Cale, Reed and Nico (have read about these but never heard them until now). One of the tracks is a jaunty novelty/brag about the band sung by Cale called “The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group of All”; the other is a fine, subdued walk through “Black Angel’s Death Song”. A track called “Searchin’” is actually a different mix of the LP version of “Sister Ray” (even cruder than the “WL/WH” version”); there’s a also a mono mix of “Lady Godiva’s Operation” (wait, I thought the record was mono?). Some other ephemera show up as well.

Collecting Velvet Underground bootleg material is not a fool’s game – this band had enough different guises and popped up with so much incendiary live material (much of it aurally enhanced by the hiss of 1960s-era tape decks) that I’m certain that there are still more great ones to be had. Taking this one in in four distinct drops requires some rigor and patience, but the payoff is definitely there. I could (and might) make a single best-of-Caught-Between-The-Twisted-Stars CD that’d knock the socks off your ass.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

One thing that struck me upon hearing this brief five-song EP of John Peel Sessions this week was how the YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS' quiet minimalism was already beginning to evolve into an outsider's brand of weird, clipped instrumentals that served as their swan song on the "Testcard" 7"EP. This August 1980 set shows the band paused right between the more "full" (said with a laugh) sound of their classic "Colossal Youth" LP (recorded 1978-79) and the near-silent bumps and blurts of that last record. The band only lasted two years, and had a mere 3 months to go until their last gig when they recorded this. It's a special set, one you ought to stock on the shelf as soon as you find a few quid-n-bob to do so. It has an eerie trance-like version of my all-time top song of theirs, "N.I.T.A.", as well as the 1:28 number that become most folks' first exposure to the band via the "Wanna Buy A Bridge" comp, "Final Day". There is also a short aforementioned instrumental called "Posed By Models", and a general sense throughout the disc of trying to tone down the atmosphere and suck out all extraneous thought, sound and chatter from the room. YMG were mostly successful at this on everything they recorded, and they were by far one of the most unique & inventive of the UK post-punk groups they ran with circa 1978-80.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A prime piece of power no-fidelity death scuzz from 1979 Austria -- the land of composers, cobblestones and alps -- and of yeah, of the legendary DIRT SHIT. This 5-song 45 appears to have been their only record, and it's dripping with anger and bile, a total fuzzfest the likes of which I've heard only from KRIMINELLA GITARRER (more on them in an upcoming post) and the MENTALLY ILL from this era. The five tracks are Groszstadtreggae/Discoscheisser/Exit/Der letzte Dreck von Wien, and the two that blow doors off of just about anything else are "Exit" and "Discoscheisser", which are full force stop-n-starters with barked vocals and an insane level of grimy crud that gurgles over the proceedings with bitterness and spite. There's also demented, ham-handed nearly-militaristic percussion involved, and if there's one thing that made for uneasy listening 34 short years after WWII, it was angry, barked German over militaristic percussion.

There's not much available on these lads on the 21st century idiot box, and what I did find here was in Spanish. So, using one of the online free Spanish-to-English translators, I learned perhaps a little more:

"Today, at last, it has fallen in my hands some of the most desired disks and expected by my menda. I speak of the single of DIRT SHIT: "Rattenloch EP“. Neither that to say has that this that have among my hands is a reprint, invoiced by the seal Frontcore, of the original one appeared in 1979 by the seal Ratt Records. In their moment, only 200 people had the opportunity of oírlo and to see it in direct. Now, thanks to this reprint there are other 666 people more than can have the happiness of their life if they hit upon a copy. As you will understand its price in ebay, if is that in some moment appeared the head an original edition, was prohibitive. Now, thanks to this reprint, for some 5, 6 or 7 euro can have it in its house. And créanme you if I tell them that some people have had the opportunity to be done with a copy and, I suppose that by ignorance, they have left to pass the occasion. I-N-C-R-E-I-B-L-E."

I couldn't agree more lustily. Ladies and gentlemen, I only hope you have "the opportunity of oirlo and to see it in direct" the way this fellow has -- DIRT SHIT 4-ever!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Agony Shorthand’s run into some content creation (e.g. time) issues and will need to be at rest during the upcoming US Thanksgiving holiday. We intend to return with bells on next week. Until that time, please sample this cornucopia of past rants & ill-considered opinions, along with their associated comments and general ravings:


ULTIMATE POST-PUNK C-90 (John Savage's version)
ULTIMATE POST-PUNK C-90 (my version)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

In a country (Australia) that was bursting at the seams with raw, energetic-as-all-fuck punk rock music circa 1978, THE VICTIMS' hot morsels might have been the best of the bunch not provided by a band called X. Their songs were so loud, so bleeding, and yet so toned & smoothed with top-notch vocals and massive hooks, that it's hard to reckon with how generally unheard of they are. (Though I did wander into a record store in Tokyo, of all places, in 2003, heard the band on the in-store PA, shot the cashier a double-take, at which point he looked me square in the eye and confirmed with knowing coolness: "Victims"). "All Loud on the Western Front" surfaced in 1989, and it's a collection of both of their 45s, one of which was really a 5-song EP deal, plus the added smoker "Perth Is a Culture Shock". That song alone is worth sacrificing a goat for -- jagged, wall of hoomph guitar that attacks and attacks and doesn't let up -- the sound of a young amped cola freaks playing a song destined for 45pm at 11orpm. No way is it "hardcore" -- it's extremely fast (n' bulbous) punk rock. You can hear the same exact ripping formula on "TV Freak", which is a nearly identical song in both speed and structure. Come to think of it, so is "Flipped Out Over You". Wow -- classics all around.

The band is most known for their debut '78 single "Television Addict", which I've ranked at one point in my life as one of the "Forty-Five 45s That Moved Heaven And Earth" (uh, "whatever"). It's just one of the all-time heavies, moving at mid-tempo (for 1978 Australian punk) & with a sordid story to tell. Vocalist Dave Faulkner found some in-country glory as a later member of the HOODOO GURUS, and if you ever remember anything about that band, you'll remember Dave's pipes -- a raw throaty shout that was still sweetly constructed to aggressively sing pop music. In fact, if The Victims' outstanding "High School Girls" wasn't bluntly about the joys of shagging 15-year-olds with pigtails, they might've seen the chart action that Dave's later band did. Too great. We talk a little early punk rock over here at Agony Shorthand, but we're often yakking aimlessly about the second or third tiers, the stuff sitting below the WEIRDOS, PAGANS, GERMS, BAGS and CRIME. This band, The Victims, sat in the fabled catbird seat with the aforementioned, and if you haven't heard this stuff, you are truly gonna bust a big-ass nut when you do.

Monday, November 21, 2005

FREAKWATER have been “old reliable” for going on 13 years now. Every couple annum they put out a very good, sometimes great record of rollicking, left-of-mainstream traditional country music that garners big kudos from No Depression quarters and from the odd indie rocker, but exists below the sonar of Nashville & whatever passes for “country and western” these days. They’ve tinkered with the formula just a little, most notably on 1999's often kitschy/novelty “End Time”, but for the most part the band are what they’ve been the whole time. Centered around the core vocalists and songwriters Catherine Irwin and Janet Bean, Freakwater do justice to the high lonesome sound of 1940s-50s country better than any modern equivalent I’ve heard, thanks in no small part to Irwin’s perfect, sad-eyed, seen-it-all vocals. She sounds as if she were born to a life of bitter reflection and regret, and I never tire of hearing her stuff, as it never comes off as hokey or forced the way a GILLIAN WELCH or some otherwise talented alterna-country starlet might. (I like Welch a lot, BTW, I just sometimes wince at her pretend accent and gingham-dress “poor girl” theatrics). “Thinking of You” cuts right to the core of what they’ve done right all these years, and serves it again in 12 fairly unvarying morsels. They’re almost the ideal sort of band for country music record collectors, as you can feel how deeply Freakwater have been cribbing from long-lost 78rpm favorites of theirs like COON CREEK GIRLS and the LOUVIN BROTHERS while remaining just as thankful to HANK WILLIAMS and the road he paved as well. The CD’s full of pedal steel and drawn-out string meanderings about folks who screwed themselves up royally and figured it out too late. I’d call this one of their real good, not great ones, but if you’re hooked on the Freakwater formula already, there’s nothing you won’t find worthy of a good weep in the corner twelve songs after the thing’s done and your beer’s been well drained.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

When JOHN FAHEY stepped onto the stage at San Francisco's Matrix club in 1968, I think it's fair to say that that could have been the very moment when he was at the absolute peak of his game. His very best LPs - the Blind Joe Death volumes, "The Great San Bernadino Birthday Party", "The Yellow Princess" etc. -- were just immediately behind him, and though he still had a couple of classics to come ("America" and "Of Rivers and Religion"), he was at this point fully locked into the five-handed guitar instrumental virtuoso he'd make an unfortunate habit of disparaging in his later years. This Matrix show is less an additive eye-opener for what Fahey's live act was like -- it was a lot like his studio act, with some bonus mumbled repartee between songs -- and more a wowser of a record in its own right. Taking some his absolute tip-top classics and splaying them out onto the stage with a lap steel and the odd slide, Fahey takes his ringing, intricately constructed acoustic songs and transports them in real time to someplace warm, lovely and complex. His reverance for the deepest of the deep country blues shines through in the odd squeaks and moans that emit from his guitar, dextrous sounds that only other giants like SKIP JAMES or CHARLEY PATTON or MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT were able to pull up from the depths of their experience. This CD's got plenty to recommend it, and despite its overlap with so much of the 1966-68 studio material, I hope you make the wise call and add it to your collection anyway. Fahey was a legend, and a guy who was cut from a totally different cloth than just about any other guitarist alive or dead.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005
ROLLING STONES / METALLICA, 11/13/05, SBC Park, San Francisco......

I’d say I’ve had about 5 real chances to see the Stones in my lifetime, and I passed without a second thought every opportunity, until this one just fell in my lap and I was presented with a “Well, do you want a ticket or not?” quandry. After a night of sober and ponderous reflection, I reckoned that it’s one thing I could easily cross of my list of things I must do before I die – or rather, before they do. Ha ha!! Pretty good one, hunh? The Stones – they’re old!! Like older than my dad!! Oh sure, there are some ripe pickings to lob ridiculous critical mortars at – like the mega office park backdrop monstrosity they played their set in front of and shot fireworks from. It looked like the Cisco Systems corporate campus, but instead it was supposed to be some wild kick-ass rocknroll laserium fortress. The giant “Ameriquest” banner hanging from said office park structure did nothing to deaden the effect, but so it was. Something called EVERCLEAR opened up the show, but me and my loadie friends were in the heavy metal parking lot tying one on with gusto, you know what I mean? We walked in as METALLICA were revving up their set with some chimes and gongs and opera-like mush to get the massive crowd pumped, before ripping into a couple of speed metal furies that actually sounded pretty hot. I mean, the kind of ultrawattage pouring out of those immense enormodome speakers was just intense, and it was hard to argue with the crunch of the band’s riffage when they were playing them fast-n-heavy. Naturally, a big stadium show with 80,000 boneheads pumping their fists must be approached slightly differently then, say, a night at the Hemlock Tavern, so when I say I “enjoyed” Metallica – I sincerely enjoyed Metallica, while admitting that I expect to know about as many of their songs 5 years from now as I do today (which is three, none of which they played, not even the Misfits cover).

Man oh man was I glad to hear the ROLLING STONES kick off their set with the trifecta of “Ventilator Blues/Turd on the Run”, “Jigsaw Puzzle” and “Cocksucker Blues”, and then follow those up with killer versions of “Loving Cup”, “Stray Cat Blues” and “Down Home Girl”. Nah, actually it wasn’t really those, those were the ones we talked with pointless naiveté about them doing before the show – it was, ahem, “Start Me Up” followed by a couple of numbers from the “A Bigger Bang” compact disc. Have you heard it? Neither had anyone else in the crowd, but most were so baked or liquored up or just starstruck they didn’t care. Truly, the band actually then lit into great versions of “Live With Me”, “Tumblin’ Dice” and “Sweet Virginia”, easily the highlights of the set, particularly the latter. In all honesty, it was no different than watching a live-at-Altamont video or ’72 tour footage – having played these songs their entire lives, the band knocked them out quite well, and their energy level is something to behold at such an advancing age. I will say this – this chooglin’ little rock and roll band from London town knows how to entertain its customers! Grandpa got his “Paint It Black” and “Get Off Of My Cloud”, Dad got his “Brown Sugar” and “Honky Tonk Women”, and junior? Junior got METALLICA. At one point the stage – get this! – the stage magically teleported into the crowd, bringing us all face-to-face with a strutting Jagger and der weiss engel himself, Keith Richards! I saw him! Our seats were right in front of where Edgardo Alfonzo bobbles balls at 3rd base for the Giants, but I wasn’t thinking baseball thoughts tonight, no sir, it was all about living large with the Rolling Stones. After they finished torturing the crowd with the last of the new-record material, it was hit city all the goddamn way: “Satisfaction”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” etc. Unfortunately, they Vegased these three up so badly that they were interminable bores, what with the cooing black female backing vocalists, the incessant chanting of the chorus(es), the old “stay on the closing riff for seven minutes” shtick etc. I still had a great time, and I’m not saying that simply because contemplating the ticket price forces me to. In fact, I collected money to pay for this worship-the-dinosaurs show by selling old punk records & collecting it in my Paypal account. Now if that isn’t rich with irony, my friends, well – I don’t know. In any event, I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’ve seen a band that all my peers went & saw when we were all 16 & it seemed at the time like it would be too lame to go see the Stones because the Stones were too old to rock, right? With the right attitude adjustment and a few choice beverages, even the Rolling Stones of 2005 will get yer ya-yas out, just don't leave them spewed & steaming all over the stadium parking lot, OK?

Monday, November 14, 2005

God, I haven’t knuckled down and cranked out a good dumb list on this site in a year or more. It took about 5-6 minutes of pondering to come up with 10 of the best rocknroll cover songs known to me, versions that could be said to beat or tie the originals. How about that? Am I missing anything?

1. “Ain’t Nothin’ To Do” – GREEN RIVER (originally performed by The Dead Boys) -- This roaring ear-bleeder so handily beats its forefather and every other song the Dead Boys performed that I've never played the Dead Boys since I first heard it. In 1987. From a rare 45, and also available on the "Rehab Doll" CD.
2. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – ALEX CHILTON (originally performed by The Rolling Stones) -- Loose and raw reworking of a great song that was only 2 years old when a solo, pre-BIG STAR Chilton opened it up into something almost funky in 1970. Totally special and unique take on an arena classic.
3. “The Way I Walk” – THE CRAMPS (originally performed by Jack Scott) -- Sure, like you I heard the Cramps version first, and it's still probably the single best thing they ever waxed outside of "Human Fly" & "Twist & Shout-Drug Train".
4. “Hands In My Pocket” – MIRRORS (originally performed by the Velvet Underground as “Guess I’m Falling In Love”) -- The best Velvets revival band of theirs and maybe of any era, doing tribute to a world-class guitar churner & drum thumper.
5. “Strip Club” – WORLD OF POOH (originally performed by 100 Flowers) -- Curveball gender reversal with fey, plaintive vocals from Barbara Manning about lonely longing for a strip club waitress. Better than the original? I think so.
6. “No Values” – MEAT PUPPETS (originally performed by Black Flag) -- A total spoof, with Curt Kirkwood bringing back his godawful banshee scream vocals to take take the piss out of the 'Flag on the Lovedoll Superstar soundtrack. This works as a killer, unintelligible hardcore song or as a straight-up laff -- I'll take both.
7. “Penny Lane” – BETTER BEATLES (originally performed by The Beatles) -- Thanks to Scott at Crud Crud, this rockets onto this dumb list as a version miles better than the intolerable original -- a weird, vamped unknoting of the twee song into something very robotic and odd. A true slice of early 80s American DIY genius.
8. “Moonlight on Vermont” – CLAW HAMMER (originally performed by Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band) - Don't ever forget the 'Hammer, one of the great lost bands of the 1990s. They covered so many heroes so incredibly well -- Hampton Grease Band, Brian Eno, Patti Smith - but this b-side from 1989's probably their tribute masterwork.
9. “I’ve Got the Blues” – COME (originally performed by the Rolling Stones) -- Stone dead nailed-it version of this Stones downer from an early Come B-side; easily one of the original band's best spiritual two-guitar heirs.
10. “Former Airline” – TYRADES (originally performed by Wire) -- And a surprise entry on the list, a friggin' amazing cover of this 2nd-LP-era Wire 45 from a female-fronted Chicago garage punk act I'm not sure I'm even that wild about. Better than the original, just red hot and twisted into a coiled-up snakepile. From some 7" the last year or so.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Make that two, one psychotic skronker called "Hey Laurie" that was released on the old "The Best of Baltimore's Buried" compilation in 1979, when HALF JAPANESE were pushing paradigms & all that, and then an incredible ghostly spectre of a song called "Karen", sung by a woman who is definitely not Jad or David Fair. What a knockout, haunting track -- and it all comes to you courtesy of Phil Milstein's MP3 site. Scroll down to February 28th, 2005 and take them both in with two clicks.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Last year VETIVER 's debut CD was one of the best things I heard in the whole darn 365 days, a confirmation of sorts that modern folk music had a couple of bold leaders who were inking their own 21st-century stamp on the ringing US & UK roots-folk of the late 60s/early 70s. Vetiver probably had the single best record of any of the acts most popularly recognized at the vanguard of said scene. This recent 5-song follow-up EP keeps the same gentle, flickering country-tinged flame going; each song - whether live, a radio session or home-recorded -- envelops in a lazy and very nice bit of pastoral strum. Neither too precious nor particularly adventurous, the band just is; the sort of laconic, intellectual GRAM PARSONS-lovin' stoners that might've been private-pressing their wares onto wax in 1973 and selling them at the flea market next to the caftans and hippie pants. This stuff fits into the superior "folk" nexus that I see JOHN FAHEY's work being a part of, not the diamonds-and-rust pablum my mom dug in '73 nor the one Six Organs of Admittance is attempting to pioneer. A subtle cutting of the microscenes to be sure, but however it's sliced VETIVER's songs get better with each listen. Since they live within a 10-mile radius of me I probably should put on my poncho & go see them live one of these days, hunh?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

With backing band THE ROOTS RADICS behind him, the dub hero SCIENTIST usually had all he needed to combine extreme mixing board experimentation with bottom-heavy, low-end dark groove. This record is exactly what I go hunting for when looking into the nooks and crannies of 70s-80s Jamaican dub. It is sparse, mysterious and full of bizarre crashes & clanks, in keeping with the outer space theme. This 1981 disc obviously arrived hot on the heels of the Space Invaders craze, and titles like “Laser Attack” and “Super Nova Explosion” are given voice to by a wild array of fizzling effects. One of the things I love about Scientist’s approach was how he downplayed the reggae vocals, almost completely erasing them full-stop, except when it made sense to bring a word or a line back like some multiphonic, echo-laden bad dream. On the best tracks it sounds like he’s taken the bass and re-recorded it into 24 different tracks, and then inserted some weird micro-second delay onto each of those tracks to give this massive, cocooning sound. “Scientist Meets The Space Invaders” is even murkier and heavier than my other favorites from the man, so with that in mind, I’ll keep on plundering his back catalog – there appear to be untold dub riches the deeper I dig. It’s truly among the best dub ever waxed, so if you’re looking for a handful of discs to start your foray into this sound with, by all means please consider this one – it’s widely in print and sitting in the bins of your finer record establishments.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I don’t think I could exaggerate how just excited I was by that first wave of KILLED BY DEATH rare punk LP collections when they hit the tranquil shores of Santa Barbara, CA in early 1989. This price-gouging, questionably-run record store called “Rock House Records” got exactly one copy of KILLED BY DEATH #1 in, and immediately priced it at $25. That was pretty much all the cash I had to my name, but I plunked it down with glee, and then played the goddamn grooves right off that thing. I was getting pretty knowledgeable about LA and San Francisco punk of the late 70s thanks to a couple of wise mentors who had most of the right records, but some of this weird, lost Midwest & east coast stuff had never before had an opportunity to register with me, nor with my ne’er-do-well friends. KBD #1 was quickly followed by #2, #3 and #4, and though I’d heard a handful of the raw OOP private-press punk killers before, hearing CHAIN GANG, the NERVOUS EATERS, the QUEERS and the MENTALLY ILL for the first time was like Hanukkah in July, baby. Remember how eye-opening that stuff was? I became such a late 70s/early 80s-punk partisan & flogged FREESTONE, THE EAT etc. on my radio show so overexuberantly, that some pals actually put together a drunken punk rock cover band for a couple weeks, and, searching for the right mocking name, decided to call themselves THE HINMEN. I was flattered at the distance traveled at my expense, yet never actually saw the band practice or perform.

So here we are nearly 17 years later – the KBD flood has pretty much been dammed, and life-changing, rare US & worldwide punk rock can be easily found on numerous LP and CD volumes in any decent record store. Though there are exceptions to this rule, the higher the number on a Killed By Death LP (e.g. >12 or so), generally the lamer the contents. Likewise with the Bloodstains series – going with your gut, you’ll usually find winnings from a comp emanating from a larger, more populous nation such as the US, England or France – but you’ll find slim pickings when you traipse through (the former) Yugoslavia and Ireland, for instance. (An exception is Sweden, which appears to have had the hottest per-capita punk rock scene on the planet. Interestingly, Australia, whose punk rock track record was as good as anybody’s, has one of the worst “Bloodstains” editions). I decided to revisit some of the second wave of KILLED BY DEATH compilations, the ones that followed that first blast a couple years later (1992-95 or thereabouts). I bought ‘em all, but this one – KILLED BY DEATH Volume 8.5 – still stands as one of my 2-3 favorites of KBD Wave 2. It contains some of the big boys of punk rock lore, starting with the fast and angry “I Rock I Ran” by Louisiana’s TOXIN III. There’s the classy, tasteful “S&M” by PUBLIC DISTURBANCE, which is this strange cross between Dickies-like carnival punk and ultra-snotty punk/oi filth a la some of those UK acts with giant eye-gouging mohawks who roamed the era. Other classics that belong in any dabbler’s or obsessive’s collection: the gonzo & raw “Twinkie Madness” by THE COSMETICS; the hardcore-tempo fuzz-out “Killed In Jail” by the LATIN DOGS; and of course the deadly lo-fi piledriver “Killer Cain” by the mighty SHIT DOGS, a band made known to me by the LAZY COWGIRLS long before the term “KBD” turned into a household catchphrase and dating scene pick-up line. Only clunkers like THE MATCHHEADS and the TURNBUCKLES keep this volume from breathing the rarified air of Volumes #1-4, but that may be some internalized shock-of-the-new nostalgia talkin’. This is one of the ones you gotta have, and one the kids’ll be coming back to for millennia.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

This thing's a total no-count dance party from beginning to close, exactly what I'd hoped for when I laid down the $5.99 it took to secure it. I knew THE OLYMPICS from some of their hot & honking late 50s R&B/doo-wop like "Big Chief Little Puss" (a pre-PC masterpiece, complete with Indian war whoops & uncouth wigwam jokes), and was certain I needed more. This fills the bill & then some, with all sorts of COASTERS-like hijinks and greasy, up-tempo shuffling on tracks like "Big Boy Pete" and "Private Eye". Top shelf rompers that will beget further Olympics research at our headquarters. There was some overlap between these guys and THE MARATHONS in both personnel & song selection, confused even more so by the fact that The Marathons also overlap with a group called THE VIBRATIONS. If you believe what you read on the internet, and of course I always do, the bulk of the tracks here are from a bogus Marathons who were put together by the Arvee label to cash in on the success of the R&B novelty raver "Peanut Butter". You might know them better by the track "Talkin' Trash" that kicks off the LP comp of the same name, the same Crypt-financed compilation from around 1991 that I'd peg as the single keystone record that got me into this wild sound in the first place. Of course, that one's credited to "The Olympics", so who the debil knows just what was going on with these inbred cats. A better $4.98 (the going rate at you will not spend in a fortnight, so go to it!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Among garage completists, the sort who have a far lower quality marker than most of us, Sacramento's IKON label is one of the must-have record dork labels, if only because their 1963-66 stuff has been so incredibly hard to find. A local label like no other, Ikon kept the 45s sold close to home and in limited pressings, even though a good chunk of their releases were middlin'-to-upper middlin' and the rest were tossed-off covers & retreads. It was obviously a true labor of love to put this 60-track collection together, but let us not confuse something deserving of heaps of respect & admiration with the long-lost 60s garage punk package you've been waiting for. That has probably ceased to exist since the last of the "Teenage Shutdown"s dribbled out. Even with Crypt's endorsement, this massive overview only contains a couple of bold revalations. If you need to know what those are, they are the screaming-gnarly track from MADD INC. that opens up Disc 1, "I'll Be The One", and a winning minor-key burner buried on Disc 2 called "I Can Never Say" from the PARISH HALL BLUES QUINTET. A few surf numbers from the NERVOUS KATS make the cut as well. The remainder tests the patience as much as any Boulders comp or any other local/label-based 60s collection. Stones covers? Check. Byrds knock-offs? Sure. Inept balladry from bedroom Associations? I'm afraid so. I hate to be the proverbial turd in the champagne flute (apologies to Beth Lisick, whose book I just read), but your existence will remain happy, upwardly mobile and sexually satisfying should you hit the fork in life's journey & choose to pass on this collection.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

In 1997-98 I got really wound up about REVENANT RECORDS thanks to the wondrous bounty of music they unveiled their first year of existence. These included archival releases to beat the proverbial band from DOCK BOGGS, CHARLIE FEATHERS, The STANLEY BROTHERS and JENKS “TEX” CARMEN. The whole “raw musics” thing struck a deep nerve, as I’ve long felt the same sort of primal thrill from hearing pre-WWII deep-blues and mountain 78s as I do from 1976-78 punk and 1964-67 garage rock of all stripes. It’s the same friggin’ root bark. I contacted Dean Blackwell, the label’s true founder, and he signed up to do a cover story/interview for the never-to-appear 9th issue of Superdope, but I subsequently abandoned the print form and disappeared into music-writing Siberia for a couple years. But Revenant’s still been there year-in, year-out, with one blockbuster package after another. Their pace appears to have slowed to roughly one really big project per year, but wow – the projects are legendary, not the least of which are the CAPTAIN BEEFHEART and CHARLEY PATTON box sets.

This year brings the follow-up collection to one of the label’s very best, the jaw-dropping 1997 collection of rare pre-WWII gospel, blues and country “American Primitive, Volume 1” (mostly gospel as they’re all pretty much Jesus songs of one form or another). This time Our Lord Jesus takes a back seat to secular pleasures and laments in most cases, and there are some real dillys to be found. Why this label matters more than some of the others goes far beyond their award-winning packaging prowess – but hey, for the music dork, that’s almost enough. No, it’s the fact that you’d have thought that you’d have already heard every first-rate blues singer, even the one-78 wonders, and yet, unless you’re a died-in-the-wool collector/archivist, some of this stuff unearthed by Revenant this time is going to blow you clean away. For instance – MATTIE MAY THOMAS. This acapella moaner is maybe the most chilling female blues singer I’ve ever heard, period. Her vocal chords should be bronzed and held up in a giant trophy for all those who wax lyrical about slave songs and the purity of downtrodden cotton-field singers – this woman’s hard luck-n-trouble warbling puts anyone else’s to shame. She’s got 4 short tracks, every one a wonder. And GEESHIE WILEY, where have you been all my life? Well, unlike Thomas, she’s been comped a-plenty, but her “Last Kind Word Blues” is nearly as dark and haunted and weirdly-tuned as SKIP JAMES’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and I’m just hearing it for the first time this month. Wow. And that’s just the ladies.

Other standouts are liberally spread throughout the two CDs; only a handful can be heard on easily-found CDs from Yazoo or Document. Once you buy this package, head straight for WALTER TAYLOR’s zippy “Deal Rag”; the terrific blues instrumentals from BAYLESS ROSE; a wild breakdown from TWO POOR BOYS called “Old Hen Cackle”, and the two near-comedy blues from (RED HOT) OLD MOSE, especially the joyous “Shrimp Man”. This guy just loves his shrimp. There are a few groaners that test the limits of patience for sure, most notably ranting acapella preacher MOSES MASON – but then, I’m not a god kind of guy. I also think the liner notes, which are beautifully written and incredibly informative, still lean a mite too heavily on the spiritual/higher nature hokum of the Greil Marcus school of writing – the kind that treats these original pluckers and fiddlers as beyond-holy ghosts and phantoms whose everlasting spirits still hover among us today. But there’s truly no need to quibble (it’s just my nature). “American Primitive, Volume 2” is an honest-to-god event worth celebrating and rewarding with immediate purchase, and another deep belt-notch for a label that’s just about run out of room on the belt.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

There was this guy Chris Nevis who I went to college with in the 80s & who DJed at KCSB-FM Santa Barbara the same time I did. He got into and out of punk rock in world record time, one day announcing out of the blue that he was immediately selling off his excellent record collection that he’d built up only within the previous 2 years. I don’t even think a girlfriend was involved. He let them go at fire sale prices, and that’s where I picked up this album, the first non-CRAMPS bootleg I ever owned. My copy of “Time’s Up”, unlike the one pictured here, has a black cover, but the photo is still the same. Some people think this is one of the greatest punk records of all time, and I am very sympathetic to the argument – it’s certainly my favorite BUZZCOCKS record of all time, though I’ve got no problem with the three official ones that followed it, despite not having listened to them in a coon’s age. “Time’s Up” features the original line-up the recorded the “Spiral Scratch” EP, one of the first 5-10 “punk” records as popularly defined, most notably the vocalist Howard Devoto. You think Pete Shelley had an unusual voice; where his falsetto was jarring enough, Devoto’s slurred slush approximates a developmentally delayed individual attempting to do tricks with vocal modulation. It’s great.

Beyond the top early versions of early hits like “Boredom” and “Orgasm Addict”, the real pleasures are found in two hard-charging, completely unreleased tracks that are as smoking as those from any KBD perennial: “Time’s Up” and “A Drop In The Ocean”. These are both slashing, echoey killers that are super tough, & that belie the general pop, harmony-laden trend the Buzzcocks followed on almost everything that followed this session. The band even tackles a BEEFHEART cover (“I Love You You Big Dummy”) and the TROGGS’ “I Can’t Control Myself” (still love the original line in this song – “Your slacks are low and your hips are showing”. Your slacks!). The band is young and hungry and intent on coming off as snotty as possible, which makes for fine listening. No need to hunt down the LP nor raid someone’s collection; it’s easily obtainable on CD here and here as well.