Agony Shorthand

Thursday, June 30, 2005

For thirty years MIKE "REP" HUMMEL has been creating and quietly releasing the sort of bent, outsider proto-punk rock that drives collectors and rock scholars wild with glee. His name as a performer and a producer is synonymous with "do it yourself" and "low fidelity", whether he'll cop to it or not. His 1975 single "Rocket To Nowhere" with MIKE REP & THE QUOTAS has become the stuff of legend -- a bizarre cro-magnon recording of two-chord, fried, ear-bleeding riffs and some of the most fantastic and desperate flat-out rock ever recorded. The Quotas are one of those bands that poke their head up maybe once a decade, usually for a year or two, and pound out a set of psych-laced noise punk & then slither back into day jobs & families. We're lucky that they've chosen 2005 to revisit us again, thirty years after that first 45. This week marks the release of their brand new CD, "Black Hole Rock", a walloping 10-song set of moody jams, reworkings of previous hard killers like "Rocket Music On" & "Village Idiot" and enough intense guitar/bass/drums space rock friction to power the Rust Belt electrical grid. Siltbreeze Records are set to reissue the early 90s comp of the Quotas' 70s/80s work "Stupor Hiatus Volume 2" later this year as well, so it's looking to be the right time to amp up the Mike Rep hype machine. The guy & his band are true originals and it's an honor to conduct this email interview with the man.

Agony Shorthand: How did something as raw and bent as "Rocket to Nowhere" come out of your brain in 1975? Were you already a full-blown, knowledgeable music addict or was this just a happy accident?

Mike Rep: I was just mirroring what I saw & felt, the decadence of my own life meets my rejected catholic upbringing with no future vision just total hedonism.....and lyrically it's very Ozzie or MC5 don't you think? There is a choice to be made, you must choose, brothers, or die in the dust..... "Rocket Music On" is very similar in theme - and a lot of wild fun was had too; of course I mean it WAS the fuckin' 70's & I did the WHOLE ENTIRE TRIP to the hilt. I'm not proud of everything I did but I would not change a thing. People tend to think the 60's was the generation of social change, but I think the mid-late 70's was much more....out of control, and reality for the common man was altered more significantly.

Agony Shorthand: I always think of the MOXIE label as the ones responsible for the worst 60s garage compilations on the market. How did they come to put out your 45, and is is true that it didn't come out until 1978?

Mike Rep: I recorded "Rocket To Nowhere" in 1975. To the best of my recollection it was pressed by Moxie in late '76 or early '77 , but Moxie really did not try to 'market' it for a year or two (Moxie Dave G. used to call it "my funny little record" , I don't even know why he really did it, then later he sold a few to BOMP! / Greg Shaw around '78 and that was the extent of 'distribution' for that record). Here is a FUN FACT about that record and the Moxie label! Moxie had their own ancient Mono pressing plant, and the original Mono release of the legendary "Louie Louie" was mastered & pressed on the same ancient 40's equipment! Then in the late 80's or thereabouts, that equipment was sold by Moxie Dave to DEAD MOON & they went on making their Mono Tombstone Records with it - Incidentally DEAD MOON are fuckin' living heroes to me. I love them all, I can truly relate to Fred we had some great talks about "D.I.Y. living" upon occasion - LONG LIVE the 'Moon!!!!

Agony Shorthand: I was made a tape a long time ago with the original "Quasar", "Rocket To Nowhere"'s b-side, and if I remember correctly it was not really music per se -- just some space sounds and soft feedback. Am I right about this, and what was the intention behind it?

Mike Rep: I got the idea from BUBBLEGUM music! Remember songs like "Yummy Yummy Yummy" and "My Green Tambourine?" The label they were on, Buddah Records, used to put CRAZY things on the "B" sides, to make sure the disc jockeys played the side that they wanted them to! Like they would put the "A" side BACKWARDS - the B" side to "Yummy Yummy Yummy" was called "Zig-Zag" and it was just "Yummy" Backwards.....Or they would put something equally unplayable on radio like a guy banging on one chord on a piano just yelling (1910 Fruitgum Co.'s "Sticky! Sticky") while a roomful of people beat on phone books and shouted along, GREAT DADA STUFF!!!.....However "Quasar" WAS a serious music piece, I wanted something to wash through my headphones while ingesting nitrous & pondering the universe......I am sure I had heard Fripp & Eno's "No Pussyfooting" by then, so draw your own conclusions. One last thing about "Quasar" - it was originally recorded in strict stereo, feedback between two hollow-body Harmony Rocket guitars & 50's Sunn Bass amps....The 45 is in mono, but the TRUE ORIGINAL STEREO MIX of "Quasar" can be found on the CD "A Tree Stump Named Desire", that is, the master mix of "Quasar", Jay, the way it is meant to be heard.

Agony Shorthand: A few years back a 45 came out with two more ultra-raw, very loud tracks from 1975: "Mama Was a Schitzo, Daddy Was a Vegetable Man" and "Rocket Music On". What were the circumstances behind this release?

Mike Rep: A mad Swedish beet farmer talked me into it! And he did a fantastic job too!! "Schitzo" was a track we left off the Siltbreeze LP because of time constraints. It was recorded in 1975, same year as "Rocket To Nowhere".

Agony Shorthand: How has the city of Columbus, Ohio influenced your music, your work, your life -- if at all?

Mike Rep: Well the #1 thing, Jay, is all these endless rows of corn everywhere, they make for great sound acoustics for D.I.Y. recording!!! (feel 'yer leg being pulled Jay?) That and the fact that Columbus is a true crossroads town or at least the "University District"; kids come from all over the midwest & the world to go to Ohio State University, I have worked at various music business jobs in the campus area on & off for over 30 years, seen four decades of bands obscure & famous pass through. In the 70's musicians from Columbus were not exactly proud of being Ohioans, but that started changing in the late 80's I think, maybe I should just speak for myself but I think in general we felt isolated in Columbus from popular culture in the 70's, but it all kind of trickled in with this influx of college kids. The worst thing about the late-70's / early 80's to me was the "go-to-New-York-to-make-it" mentality that permeated most band's dreams, it doesn't seem to be so prevalent with today's bands thank Christ - I am a MAJOR PROPONENT of making things happen in your own back yard, plant something back in the home soil- that's a huge part of my D.I.Y. philosophy & I preach it to all my cohorts, and Columbus is a great place to live cheap and grow dreams.....perhaps boredom is often the mother of invention, eh? But personally I love Ohio and do not imagine living anywhere else, though I could see doing the Capt. Beefheart thing when I get old, a trailer in the desert or my song "Out" on the new CD.... "A smoking stack / a one-room shack / I knew that it was ME in there..."

Agony Shorthand: A lot of people, myself included, heard the TRUE BELIEVERS for the first time when those tracks popped up on the "Homework" compilation series. Did the band record more than the tracks on your 7"? Did you play out much? What did you in?

Mike Rep: There of literally hundreds of recordings & original songs (including "True Believers" recordings) that probably nobody will ever hear. Some of them deserve to be heard, and maybe some day they will, most of them were just part of the learning/creative point is most of those years OUR FOCUS AS MUSICIANS was not so much being a performing band, we were natural studio rats with our makeshift equipment, woodshedding in our basements & living rooms & barns.....We did not start playing out until 1979, that was the True Believers period, through early 1981. We did not call ourselves The Quotas because we ALL wrote songs in the group, and Tommy Jay and his brother The General sang their share, live & in studio. Nudge Squidfish had his own D.I.Y. side activity and a hundred or so songs going too.... But the True Believers didn't last long - we'd practice our asses off for shows then just before we went on stage get as fucked up as we possibly could, acid, speed, quaaludes, WHATEVER and lots & lots of booze......more often than not the shows suffered from our indulgences and eventually it all got too hypocritical in a weird way and just was no longer any fun at least for myself.......but NOW we are much wiser, we play first, then we party. the music & the listeners comes first.....OK yes, there's still a bit of whiskey & weed mixed in there...... I'm the Evel Kneivel of D.I.Y., what can I say? I still like to take chances ha! But we try to put on shows now that are worthwhile for everybody, it's not so self-indulgent, or at least it's a much more entertaining kind of self indulgence.

Agony Shorthand: What made you want to come back in the early 90s with the new version of the QUOTAS -- were you pushed by Siltbreeze's desire to reissue your stuff, or pulled by the demands of your fans, the young garage/noise bands of Columbus?

Mike Rep: Getting involved with New Bomb Turks, Gaunt, T.J.S.A. ......I had dropped out of the "cutting edge" live campus music scene for several years previous, playing in a communal rural rock called "The Campfire Walkers" who nobody "cool" liked (OldAgeNoAge Casette 011 & now available on CD-R!), living in the boondocks & searching for prehistoric indian mounds.....I could go on, butI think you get the idea. Then I started working at Usedkids in '90 and started meeting these fresh young rockers who knew some of my songs & one thing led to another....for a while - my heart was still not into performing regularly, but Now it's what keeps me ALIVE! That and freshly squeezed baby adrenal glands....

Agony Shorthand: You once sent me an early 90s cassette you put out yourself called “Songs From The Old 3C” that was fantastic, particularly the one-take acoustic track “No Place”. Was there, or will there be, any plans to release this or any of your other cassette-only material to the people?

Mike Rep: No plans for 'an official release' no.... it was made to be copied & circulated - Jay, I think you should make a CD-R of it and start a label ha! "Sounds Of The Old 3C" is a good example of what I was talking about earlier, some of those hundreds of songs, many by the amazing circle of creative friends I have.....I have been blessed to know a LOT of great songwriters and made a lot of very creative friends, so that tape (future HINMAN RECORDS CD-R?) is a good example of our you see that Mike Rep & The Quotas is just one face or reflection of a much larger whole, that tape reflects the bigger picture of our lives then.

Agony Shorthand: When Mike Rep “lovingly fucks with” another band’s recordings, what does this usually entail?

Mike Rep: An oceanfull of Old Forester Bourbon (the 100 proof ONLY) and a skyfull of nitrous, while I twiddle a knob or two.......I just listen and twiddle make some suggestions, that's one of my talents - ever heard of the Spanish 16th Century portrait painter El Greco? He used to paint these oddly mystical 'elongated' portraits ......well recently somebody theorized that he actually had some kind of EYE STIGMATISM and was just painting reality as he saw it - my point is that I know that there are people who think that I must be next to DEAF or have some HEARING IMPAIRMENT because of some of the things that I have done (my LO-FI reputation), and maybe it's true, ha! But I can hear things like garage doors opening and police radar that most people can't so you tell me......I don't know what Lo-Fi means really, to me its "Mega-Fi"......but I can do the straight-up thing recording-wise also, there are many examples of that too, so.....

Agony Shorthand: Did you share any of the same nihilism that was all over Jim Shepard's projects in your own? I get the sense that there's always been far more humor in your stuff, but still pretty cynical and weary at times.

Mike Rep: In real life Jim was a very very funny guy; he would crack me up all the time and he liked to have fun! Many of his songs are very humorous I think, but I know what you are asking me....yes his dark side was a driving force behind his creativity too, especially more toward the end.....we have/had a lot in common & I sure miss that fucker.....on the new CD BLACK HOLE ROCK we do one of his songs he wrote for the Ego Summit LP, "Queen Of The Underground". I hear his voice inside of me when I sing it and it brings me a perverse joy to sing lines like "I heard your name spoken by Kim Fowley / He Tried to fuck you but you turned him down / But you don't have to give me case history / Queen of the Underground....." I want to do more of Jim's songs in the future, unfortunately there is a lot of bad karma to deal with regarding using his legacy of songs.

Agony Shorthand: Tell us a little bit about the longtime/current members of the new-deal MIKE REP & THE QUOTAS and what they bring to the proceedings.

Well, Tommy Jay has been there since the very beginning on so many of my works & Nudge Squidfish since '78, he recorded the True Believers EP, then joined the band a few months later - so we have been doing projects together for decades now. They know me & what makes me tick & vice-versa - Our 'mystery lead guitarist' Johnny Furnace has been there all along too as part of our backyard circle, he wrote the song "Just For Lies" which is on "Tree Stump....". So Johnny has played with us through most of the 80's & appears in many of our closet recordings, but a few years ago came out of his closet & into his own as a live player & he has become for me like Tommy Hall was for Roky & The Elevators, his playing style is a kind of psyched-out wash over our songs, and it takes a lot of pressure somehow off me on stage & allows me to be more....OUT THERE creatively too without everything falling apart.....that's why I am so proud of this band and especially of our new CD "Black Hole Rock" - I feel It is as good as ANTHING I / we have ever recorded especially as a whole entity & I hope people check it out - spread the word, brother!

For MORE INFORMATION bookings or questions, Mike's email contact is or write to: MIKE HUMMEL P.O. BOX 85 HARRISBURG, OHIO 43126

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Debut full-length from new Texas trio anchored by the mighty "noisy rocking guy" James Arthur on guitar, a man undaunted by multiple broken bands and short careers -- he picks up the shattered pieces and applies his purring, unharnessed feedback machine to the next hot garage act he can muster, year in/year out. (Editor's postscript - Thanks to those who noted in the comments section that Arthur actually plays drums on this record. He's still a hot guitarist, and hey, so is the Golden Boys' slinger). The GOLDEN BOYS' first 45 was something to write home about for sure, and at times, so is this record. Take the first three tracks -- Happiness/Whiskey Bottle/Friday Nite. None sound much like each other, but in their ways, each brings forth a pleasing oderama of eau de CHEATER SLICKS, GIBSON BROS, 60s teen rock and the front porch bands of the Texas Hill Country. If you bottled these three onto a musk-scented EP and released that only, there'd be wet panties and briefs clogging roads from Spring Branch to San Francisco. Taking the Cheater Slicks pinholing a bit further, think “Forgive Thee” through “Yer Last Record”, not the bombs-away raw screaming stuff. Naturally, there's a bit of a letdown to follow, perhaps because at times the lyrics are simple beyond embarrassment (a quick coaching session from the Zodiac Killers or Radio Beats could help) or because a couple songs are middling-to-mindless. But you gotta stumble before you can walk again, right, and their cover of LEE HAZELWOOD's "Cold Hard Times" is spot-on, like if LARRY & THE BLUE NOTES did it with a fifth of whiskey in their bellies. These Golden Boys are not quite in the Cheater Slicks' rarefied league just yet, but they're working on it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

If you've got a yen for near-perfect DIY pop played by three naif British females at the close of the 1970s/dawn of the 80s, then you're probably already a fan of the DOLLY MIXTURE. Or maybe, like most folks, you just haven't heard them yet. Now there's no excuse, as a public servant has posted their entire career & then some on a single page, all yours for the taking. Want to start slow? My favorites are the all-time classic 45 "Everything and More" and "He's So Frisky" from "The Demonstration Tapes". When this blog started in early 2003 I was frantically scouring record stores for this stuff & emailing folks around the globe -- it's about as rare as rare gets. I don't swoon for too much saccharine pop but this stuff is, like, genre-defining, and some of the best I've ever, ever heard. You can get it all right here.

Monday, June 27, 2005
MY TAKE ON THE "DiG!" DVD........

I've lived in San Francisco for 16 years now, and not once until this past Friday night have I heard a lick of music from THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE. Nearly half that time they were living here & playing chaotic, well-documented shows, but my "scene" and their shamelessly retro, Beatle-boot scene never actually crossed. Now I have had a little experience with the DANDY WARHOLS, I must say. A former co-worker who loved the band asked me to come along to a show in 2000 & I obliged thanks to the free ticket; what I saw didn't distress me much -- just a corporate alterna-rock band with a few very catchy tunes and a decent sound, obviously looking to get really, really big, that's all. Wouldn't you know it, the next company I worked for (2001-03) was Vodafone, the world's largest wireless carrier, and the company appropriated a slice of Dandy Warhols arcana for a massive European ad campaign -- next thing you knew and "The Dandies" were stadium-huge over there. It was kind of funny; I traveled to Ireland that year and I'd see Dandy Warhols CDs in the racks with stickers on them, "featuring the song 'Bohemian Like You', as featured in Vodafone's TV ads". Why, back in my day......hrrrumph. Anyway, the tune itself is actually quite good, a Top 40 song that deserved to be there. But I had no real interest in the "DiG!" movie, detailing the crossing career paths and intense pseudo-rivalry of these two bands, until the excellent reviews and raves from friends began pouring in.

"DiG!" is, in fact, more entertaining than most rock and roll movies you're going to find. Forget the subject matter -- though it's not easy once you've seen Anton Newcombe of the BJM in action for nearly 2 hours. It's the graphic portrayal of the players in the Brian Jonestown Massacre that makes this film, and their legend-making fucked-up-ness is just beyond belief. One part of me wishes I could party with them a bunch (particularly maracas player/court jester/drunk Joel Gion) while the other part recoils in horror at the abuse these guys gave thmselves & each other. The thing about both bands is, I reckon they really did have something of their own unique scene for a while in the mid-90s, one centered as much around their very caftan-and-scarf heavy 60s clothes (Brian Jones ain't namechecked for nothing) as their very 60s hippie/psych/love music. Some of it's actually really good, too -- going on the evidence here, all the great things everyone says about Newcombe's musical genius might be at least 10% true. He's one of those people that is completely unfathomable outside of being in a band and who will likely never work a job; problem is, his personality is so off-the-charts narcissistic and destructive that even that career has been nothing short of a wreck, and the guys that did stay with him for years (Gion, "Matt Hollywood") finally threw in the towel after one final on-stage boot-kick or heroin-laced tirade.

There are lots of well-edited clips and some self-serving voiceover from the Dandy Warhols' "Courtney Taylor". (Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, didn't anyone tell you not to saddle your poor boy with a girl's name? "Courtney" ends up having this total Paul Lynde-like voice and mincing stage persona, mixed in with an ego as wide as the day is long). Filmmaker Ondi Timoner positions the BJM's failures with the Dandy Warhols' dogged and unyielding eyes on the prize, though early on both bands are just broke, struggling pals & fellow admirers. Later this semi-fake feud between the bands ensues, which is more about Newcombe trying to create some British-style press war in a country (US) where no major journalists are willing to write about junkie bands with zero record sales -- in the UK it may be a different story. Newcombe is such an addled mess that when he creepy crawls the Dandy Warhols' CMJ show in New York (against a restraining order, believe it or not!), the camera catches him stumbling all over the sidewalk, into the street, mumbling incoherently into the camera, all the while handing out his latest 12" EP, a "put-down" of the Dandy Warhols called "Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth" to everyone under the sun, while wrapped in this ridiculous Russian-style fur hat. Great stuff. I had read these stories about these bands before, but Timoner's camera was there for something like 7 years, capturing it all. Definitely a must-rent if you haven't seen it yet, and I'm sorry if you're bummed it's not about Amon Duul and the Electric Eels.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The moment I became a believer in JOY DIVISION, particularly the Warsaw/”Ideal for Living” version of the band, was during my first listen through the incredible “No Love Lost”. This track exists in so many different versions on so many different bootlegs, let me be specific: the version on the “Special Limited Edition Collector’s Item” bootleg – which is a louder, more trebly version of the original track on “Ideal For Living”. It was during that drum break in the middle of the song that I realized what a punk rock powerhouse the original band was, and I sought out many a bootleg of that earlier material in the years hence. “Pearl Harbor!” was my first, and that and the “Warsaw” album were constant plays in my house for a long time. The band was so ferocious in their early years, super raw-ass guitar and terrific playing across the board, and still maintained hints of the brooding, atmospheric mopers they’d become (see the spaced-out ending solo in “Failures”, once of their hottest punk songs). Never been a big fan of “Closer” or “Unknown Pleasures” that much; I can appreciate that later band from a respectful distance but that’s about it (the incredible depresso-fest “Dead Souls” excepted).

“Digital Glass” was put together by the folks behind Punk Vault, a bootleg label that made many KBD collector hearts soar in the early 90s with their CRIME, BAD BRAINS and SAINTS unearthings. It’s no surprise that it hues to the 1978-early ’79 Joy Division, the ones who made “No Love Lost” and my other faves. But this band was also messing around with computers and synthesizers during this era as well, as the bleepy versions of “Transmission” and “Atrocity Exibition” make clear. This CD probably illustrates their straddle between smoking punk act to charting pop band better than any I’ve heard, and by the time you get to the 2nd “Transmission” and “Novelty”, you know this band’s got girls, large stages and Top Of The Pops in at least the recesses of their addled minds. Recommend for sure, but make sure you’ve picked up a few Warsaw items in your shopping cart first.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

More from Lloyd Barnes and his late 70s/early 80s Bronx, NY stable of sound magicians called WACKIES. Both LPs/CDs have also been peddled under the moniker BULLWACKIE’S ALL-STARS as well – same crew. “Nature’s Dub” is for the purists, those who like stretched-out, 7-minute+ dub experimentations that breathe deeply and slowly fry the channels of your personal inner sound system. Like me. When you get locked into one of these after about five minutes, it’s actually pretty liberating – you can let go of pretty much everything & take in this giant toke of massiveness. This one’s easily as good as the AFRICAN ROOTS series, and those are essential, right? At least that’s what I’ve learned over the past few months – I’m still a student of this stuff; not yet a wisened teacher. That said, I’ve finally found a WACKIES dub release I don’t like one bit. “Jamaica Super Dub Session” looked promising but fails due to very “light” source material – mellow reggae for that horrid authentic island breeze vibe, including a rendition of a Lionel Richie song (!) – and an abundance of goofy synthesizers that detract from the sparse, cavernous feel of the best dub. Could it have been toyed with in modern – 21st Century – times? Perhaps. I was taken in as always by the 1978 British DIY punk packaging and Wackies’ exemplary track record, but as we know, every label and every artist has a few duds lying around in the turdpile, and this one is theirs.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Fred Cole’s falsetto is truly something to behold. In 1975, the longtime DEAD MOON frontman was fronting a bombastic, R&B-influenced metal/psych/boogie combo called ZIPPER, a band so heavy and rocking that they often bordered on Spinal Tap territory. Cole’s falsetto – I don’t think I can ever really get used to it. It’s so raspy and womanly, you get the sense that there’s some underhanded comedy involved in his delivery, like he knows how preposterous he sounds but he’s gonna do it anyway for fun. Remember that awful Seattle pre-grunge group “MALFUNKSHUN”? That guy, “Landrew”, had the same sort of rawkin’ moony falsetto, though I doubt he was kidding – he’s the guy that went on to front “Mother Love Bone” (see the Worst Band Names of All Time post, below). Anyway, ZIPPER were one of Cole’s many bands on the road to Dead Moon, a road that started in the mid-60s with the LOLLIPOP SHOPPE. Their one and only S/T album is a pretty fun listen, in a smirk-and-rock kind of way. Lots of talk about bein’ on the road, gettin’ laid, a ballbustin’ woman – all backed up by this wacked-out set of howling guitar solos, thumping “We’re an American Band”-style bass, and heavy-heavy-heavy pounding drums. One track in particular is out of sight & a must-own: “Born Yesterday” is a screamer, total mid-70s longhair swamp metal that’d make BLACK OAK ARKANSAS wilt and tremble. The opener, “Bullets” is a little too fon-kay for me, but it’s so packed with bad sexual double entendres that you just have to laugh. The rest is certainly entertaining, while just as easy to mock and mercilessly ridicule at the same time. I used to see Dead Moon play a bunch in Seattle in the late 90s, and some of the wild, seen-it-all fiftysomething bikers that used to follow them up from Portland looked like they’d been smoking bongloads and beating up new wavers with Cole since the Zipper days. Their can-do spirit and general joie de vivre surrounds this crrrazy record!

Monday, June 20, 2005

The broad, growing appeal of the COUNTRY TEASERS is tough to lay a concrete finger on, since I can’t honestly cop to listening to their records any more than once a year, best, and that’s usually whatever the newest one is. But I keep ‘em around, and when a new one pops out I’m always enthusiastically diving on top of it. Likewise with their live act – a slipshod, half-drunken, tin pan alley-meets-The Fall vaudeville revue with loud guitars – it’s always a pleasure, and has been since I first saw them years ago. Speaking of their live act, here it is, documented on the band’s first “live album” – about as far from Frampton and Grand Funk-style live records as they come. This one’s full of studio overdubs – or interludes, I guess you’d call them, that puff in where a poorly-recorded solo or break might’ve otherwise lost the listener. Often you can hear a tape deck whirring and clicking in, as some hastily-thrown together one-take studio riff is laid in during the time it’d normally take to smoke a cigarette or take a long swig of Watney’s Red Barrel. Even the fully live songs often sound spliced together from different gigs, so when the band’s doing RANDY NEWMAN’s “Short People”, say, you’ll get portions with lots of crowd noise followed by another where they might as well be playing Lubbock Veteran’s Hall on a Monday night. Singer Ben Wallers always sounds like he’s one drink away from keeling over while his band chugs away with the jounty, two-stepping garage skiffle, hoping it’ll all come together when Wallers regains his form. It usually does, which is why the Country Teasers continue to please at this late date. Forget that it’s a live record – it’s a merry, cut-n-pasted ramshackle mess of good time gigs from across the globe from a pack of wandering minstrel/nihilists/entertainers. What’s not to like?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Few songs can convincingly be pointed to as the “first example” of anything – “Rocket 88” as the first rock and roll song, “Communication Breakdown” as the first metal song, etc. However, I am well secure in the knowledge that the MIDDLE CLASS’ “Out of Vogue” is not only the first “hardcore punk” song ever written and recorded (1978), but is one of the most blazing, innovative and exhilarating rock music songs of all time. A one-minute marvel/blur led by the methamphetamined, berzerk auction call of Jeff Atta, "Out of Vogue" approached true art like few of their peers. After the first “verse”, maybe 20 seconds in, the song actually speeds up, and Jeff's vocals effortlessly speed up with it. At this point the tempo is just incredible, drums are pounding like a 78rpm migraine and hey, wow, it's over. I know of non-punk experimental art types who adopted these guys as spiritual brothers, and while it may not be easy to spot on the surface, keep listening -- it's there. “Insurgence” from that first 1978 EP also has one of the best opening 3 seconds of any punk song, ever: a dim guitar ring – ching – and then this whumping THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP before the song rushes off. Man, I play those two constantly. The Atta brothers of punk were akin to the Alou brothers of baseball: all exceptionally accomplished, all playing for the same team. After the “Out of Vogue” EP the Middle Class wound the tempos down a bit, as everyone else was really speeding up. A lot of teeth were already being cut on their sound -- mission accomplished, I guess. Having played the fastest punk rock created to that point, they obviously had the chops to explore other terrain, and there were strong influences wafting in from all over the globe circa 1979, and many certainly on display in their own backyard of Orange County/Los Angeles.

The “Scavenged Luxury” EP was more at home with fellow LA basin travelers 100 FLOWERS (particularly the chop-static art-funk classic “Home Is Where”) or perhaps the WIPERS. The 1982 “Homeland” LP slowed things down even more and was well within the bounds of the nearly boundless term “post-punk”. It is not represented here on a strong 1995 compilation of their stuff called "A Blueprint For Joy, 1978-80" (not pictured above because no correctly-sized picture appears to exist on the WWW), which contains those first two EPs, the band's excellent contributions to Chris D.'s "Tooth And Nail" comp LP (tracksthere are still more like the first record but already unwinding & breathing a bit), and cool excerpts from shows all over SoCal in 1979 (Cuckoo's Nest, Whiskey, Starwood, Hong Kong Cafe -- for LA punkophiles, all the usual suspects of the era). The shows sort of confirm my impressions of the post-'78 band -- that they morphed into something tight, creative and occasionally explosive but a little dry. Not one of the live tracks leaps out & significantly differentiates itself from the ones that surround it, and I've listened to this CD quite a bit since its release & I couldn't hum a single bar of sound from any of the CD's latter half. But stack it up against SACCHARINE TRUST, B-PEOPLE, HUMAN HANDS, 100 FLOWERS and the rest of the LA punk-rooted experimental music lovers, and it holds its own pretty goddamn well. Guitarist Mike Atta still flies the flag in the O.C.-- he's a friend of a friend; goes on excursions with the kids together; hits the pool, etc., and when he's not changing training pants he's running his crazy vintage modern department store called, that's right, Out of Vogue. Look it up next time you're hanging out in downtown Fullerton!

Thursday, June 16, 2005
CAST YOUR INFORMED VOTES FOR THE WORST BAND NAME OF ALL TIME......I put some brief thought into it, and came up with these as my Bottom Five:


and what may be the single worst band name ever...


Who am I forgetting?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

This recent 45 bring me back, waaay back to the late 80s/early 90s and the glories of buying new $2.49 45s from DRUNK WITH GUNS, SKULLFLOWER, BRAINBOMBS and their anti-social, anti-parent ilk. Hey, and as a parent, I definitely find this single from Allentown’s PISSED JEANS to be an anti-parent record. It’s a riot, something I’m very pleased to call one of the very best records of the past fortnight at least. The band, if you believe Tony Rettman’s great not-entirely-about-the-band interview with them, “came from hardcore”, still love hardcore (even the lightning-quick New England baldie punk of the early 1990s), but have traveled beyond it to the brave new world of their own 2005 fractured noise/garbage scene. Just like White Pride morphing into Drunks With Guns, right? Pissed Jeans are a slow, angry “Wonderful Subdivision”-like throat-grabber of a band, and they’re even less comic than the Drunks were. On this evidence, they’re also a more dynamic & exciting band, relying less on sheer aggro wallop & screams, and more on the propulsive churning and sludgy rolling of guitars & thudding bass. "Night Minutes" is the piece de resistance, and it brings to mind the destroyo riff from the ACTION SWINGERS' "Bum My Trip". Vocals are mean & nasty without being ridiculous. Outstanding record. Rettman calls it “real deal zapped-to-hell insanity shit that practically foams off your box” and who are we to contradict?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Top billing to Kingston’s CHANNEL ONE studio on this one, in keeping with reggae/dub’s fetishization of the studio itself. Secondary in billing if not spirit are the musicians who created the rumbling low-end framework for each of these incredible dubs (they're almost all dubs, not instrumentals per se), the REVOLUTIONARIES. These guys are the lords of 70s reggae, studio pros who seemingly made this music with one eyed cocked on the "versions" that might arise like black magic from the mixing desk later. Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Radcliffe Bryan, Ansel Collins and the whole crew were aided & abetted by the Hoo Kim brothers who ran Channel One. According to the liner notes, the b-side dubs/versions were really targeted for the sound system market, blow-your-ears-out systems that were the bedrock for ganja-drenched all-night clubs & heavy-lidded backyard parties. Imagine if you will dubs that just rip down into your lungs and clatter around your noggin with percussion absolutely exploding hither & yon. That's just on my car CD player; now imagine it on a mammoth DJ sound system at 3am when you're barely able to stand. Good times! My pal MM taped me two of the outstanding tracks on this, "Natty a General Version" and "Ragnampaiza Version" and I was out the door ten minutes later flipping through the dub section at the record store. The former has some wacked Spanish muttering, obviously by a Jamaican, along with car horn noises and bizarre squawks and bleeps of no meaning but with full effect. Also choice are the deep & nasty "School Days Version" and the "Rema Skank 12"", no relation to REMA REMA nor anything happening off the island at all. This collection is fantastic on all fronts -- 16 tracks, and maybe a mere 1 or 2 that aren't top o' the shelf.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The LUNATIC'S ASYLUM blog beat me to the punch on trumpeting the 1975 LP from Milwaukee's CREME SODA; nice work, my Canadian friend! I sure had never heard of this private-press proto-whatever LP until Ugly Things' "Primitive Shit Music" feature a few months back, and even then it was only trumpeting the 45 "(I'm) Chewin' Gum / Roses All Around". I searched around a little & found that single and a whole lot more -- which was this LP, the band's only contribution to the canon in their brief lifespan. First, let me second and third the dimwit majesty of the song "(I'm) Chewin' Gum" -- a manic, echophonic, hopped-up rockabilly number all methed up & ready for a greaser knife fight. 1975?!? Are you kidding me? It's immediately top of the charts for 2005 discoveries, and what's more, it's nearly 100% at odds with the rest of the record. The vocals tell me it's the same band, but jeez, I don't know. CREME SODA's album has got some very pleasant psychedelia and laconic folk rock throughout, with good choruses and a laid back guitar hero ringing away in the background. Without knowing when the record was from, I'd have pegged it as a late 60s thing rather than pre-dating punk by a year. "Tonight", "Keep It Heavy" and "Give It Up (Man)" are the best tracks from that Creme Soda; the one that created "The Beat Song", a backward-looping, "Tomorrow Never Knows"-style droner are another beast entirely. So it's not hard to pass along kudos to such a virtuoso band of 1975 heshers & recommend this for those into the private-press US basement hippie psych navel-gazer sound. Moreover, you get "(I'm) Chewin' Gum", one for the goddamn ages!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I’ve touted this ear-bleeding band of low class 1980 Florida freaks for a few years on the basis on the two trailer trash tracks of theirs I’d heard: “Club Night” and “I Owe It To The Girls”. Both came from their only EP “Audio Suicide”, a record that’s achieved semi-legendary status as one of more retarded noisy shrieks of the punk/D.I.Y. era. Very soon after its release, the band quickly switched their name to the far more refined TEDDY AND THE FRAT GIRLS (as in Florida mass murderer Ted Bundy). Danger has always lurked in my mind knowing that Jello Biafra put out the 12”EP version by the new group in 1982 (same exact songs), and now that I’ve heard the band’s dumb poop song (“Alophen Baby”) and their dumb fake-German genderbender song (“I Wanna Be a Man”), I can certainly guess which half Jello probably fell for. But those other two, the ones available on compilations (KBD #5 and one of the HOMEWORKs, respectively), are just destroyed. If it’s true that the band were really sun-baked junkies, you’ll have no problem believing it in a country minute when you hear the gasping cries of terror and withdrawal at the end of “I Owe It To The Girls”. The woman who “sings” sounds about 16, and wise to the evil ways of the world far beyond her years. Her potty mouth and reckless disregard for taste & style is now the stuff of legend, and the music is this barely-registering herk-and-jerk minimalist guitar fuzz and bass. Totally weird and out of step with all that's right and true. Outside of maybe the first HALF JAPANESE record, I can’t think of a really good 45 that would piss off parents, neighbors and your alternajerk friends more then this one.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

This third CD from the COACHWHIPS does nothing to disabuse me of the notion that they’re a one-trick pony, one with a really good trick and a very small pen to play in. Maybe if they’d been prolifically cranking out these shit-distorted flailing garage records in 1992, when there were 20 good bands who sounded a lot like this, I'd be more forgiving (and they surely would've been one of my favorites in that most drunken of years). Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoy most of the tinfoil-toned GORIES-style spastic punk they produce. Contrary to the band's determined effort to portray themselves as the ultimate live "party" band, I decidedly prefer their records. Live, the Coachwhips are all hat and no cattle, with every move choreographed to remind you what a wild fucking party you're witnessing, and how the band just "showed up" all of a sudden to set up on the floor with their broken equipment. Revolutionary! Factor in as well lead guy John Dwyer's sacking of 2/3rds of his trio, including the very friendly young woman who originally pounded the keyboards for him. So one original member, just like Styx or TSOL!Not that you'd really know it -- record #3 sounds just like the first one & just the second one, though the 2nd, "Bangers vs. Fuckers" had a few more feverish sweat soakers than the others. "Peanut Butter and Jelly Live at the Ginger Minge" has some treble-driven diggers early on that really kick this thing into gear, particularly "I Made a Bomb" and "Body and Brains" -- but none of them are really bad, to be honest. It's all mid-level octane or higher. I mean, hell, there were a lot of folks who wouldn't go for the Blues Explosion early on because they thought Spencer was such a wannabe & a ponce. (I took the opposite approach, falling for it big & recoiling from it once I grew up). Maybe this guy Dwyer is as well, I don't know, but every time I want to write him off he puts out another hot, feral Coachwhips record. Now how does one solve a critical Rubik's friggin' Cube like that??

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Who says pulse-rushing, mindless 60s-style girl pop is dead? I have to thank MH for leading me this UK act's way -- THE PIPETTES' debut 45 from earlier this year came and went in a hurry, and it appears on this evidence and from some "internet research" I've done that these vixens are quickly turning some heads and lifting some pant seams. They take their cues from JOE MEEK and PHIL SPECTOR-style productions, and even have a full-fledged manifesto to rationalize why their blowsy sugar pop bombast has legitimate cultural meaning. Me, I love it -- both tracks are 90 seconds of fast-moving pure saccharine, not that wimpy Splenda rock the twee kids are always pushing. "I Like A Boy In Uniform" is as sweet as the DOLLY MIXTURE's best work and nearly as dazzling. You can hear both sides as a stream on the band's website. I'm sure this could eventually get somewhat annoying if it were on endless loop on my iPod after having my legs crushed & arms brutally pinned to my sides following a massive subway terrorist attack, but for now it's the best light, frothy pop thing I've heard this year.

PS -- The second best light frothy pop thing I've heard this year is a 45 track from a lush British act called JOHNNY BOY -- "You Are The Generation that Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve" (really). Like The Pipettes, this is booming 1960s-influenced girl group pop, & it's fucking great.

Monday, June 06, 2005

I figured I'd been a deep enough collector of reggae offshoots and precursors (dub and 60s rocksteady/ska in particular) the past half-decade that it was past time for me to learn something about the genre. This one looked promising, given that Katz was the guy (via the now near-legendary Grand Royal feature) that pretty much turned me onto LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY & who has served as Perry's official biographer and doppleganger for some years now. But the book's a stone-cold drag for the most part. Katz and his editors evidently felt it was extremely important to include the smallest morsals of minutiae (who played bass on which B-side; which producer worked with which engineer, etc.), and it's such a dizzying pouring-on of names and microscopic figures that the book quickly becomes a very difficult read -- or as I like to call it, a "skim". Which is what this turned into for significant chapters of this tome. (Don't worry, I read every page, I just didn't internalize every ridiculous detail).

An oral history should, to my way of thinking, be about the stories first -- oral stories told by the original participants, carefully pieced together in such a way that it captures the time/place and the essence of the "scene" like you'd traveled there yourself. As I'm sure you're aware, "Please Kill Me", and to a lesser extent, "We Got The Neutron Bomb" do this quite well with the late 70s NYC and LA punk scenes respectively. But Katz doesn't let the bazillions of Jamaican pioneers he chatted with do all the talking; rather, he does, while quoting them liberally and not quite well. He also quotes them in the Jamaican patois, which -- well, I'm sure I would've complained if he'd gone and anglicized it, but at times it's like trying to read an 8-year-old's book report. Katz's focus on the relentless recitation of trivia undercuts the whole notion of this being an "oral history of reggae", or a volume that lets anyone wanting to get into & truly understand Jamaican music have a chance at doing so. This is the way that so many jazz critics write, with an unnerving focus who played on what & what studio was used. I hung with it because I wanted to learn more about how dub became such a force in the mid 70s, and while I learned some new facts (did you know that the production of Clive Chin at his Randy's Studio of the IMPACT ALL-STARS' "Java Java Java Java" was likely the first true, full dub instrumental LP?), I also learned about what console KING TUBBY liked best, how often he rearranged his studio, and the 29 exact engineers he worked with in June 1976 (exaggerating to make a point, kids). It gets to be insufferable at times.

However! By sticking with this all the way through, I at least got a better sense of the hold that Jamaican music had on the British charts in the late 60s (some of the all-time great instrumentals were actually top 10 hits in the UK); how the great studio bands that backed up all the killer rocksteady & ska 45s really boiled down to like four -- Soul Syndicate, the Hippy Boys (Upsetters), All-Stars and Now Generation; and I even developed an ounce of respect for some of the more spiritual roots-based artists, even though I thoroughly can't stand that stuff. It's a long hard slog, though. I'd like to put a call out there, since I'm still a bit baffled -- where does one go to read well-written, informative prose about the less popular strains of reggae, dub in particular? This book might be a well-fitting piece of someone's lifetime exploration into the form, but as a starting point I'm giving it a big-ass thumbs down.

Friday, June 03, 2005

I got wise to the CLONE DEFECTS not too long prior to their split-up. Before I'd fully cracked their alien code and was ready to start following them around on tours, I heard they'd imploded, and main guy "Tim Vulgar" was already hitting the scene with a heroic new act called HUMAN EYE. This, folks, is them. Their debut on In The Red is better every time I hear it, to the point where it's now far past being a grower and is sitting perched at the top of the pile. The vocals were the best part of Clone Defects -- that and the KBD-meets-DIY art attack of the music -- and Mr. Vulgar's the same fella manning the mic here. More challenging and exciting even than his deep, Osterbergian set of pipes are the wildly bleeeeurping synths and careening oscillations that fill the dark voids all over this record; it's a panic-filled punk rock and roll record for sure, but one that's coated with a smoking layer of fuzzed-out analog grime that suits the hurtling songs quite well. Not like those candy-asses in COMETS ON FIRE; these guys actually know when to throttle back and kick out the jams without a bunch of dope-smoking improvisation & hippie histrionics. Top picks are the totally reckless stop/start track #2, "Episode People", and a crazed fuck-you toward the end of the disc called "Kill Pop Culture". Ballistic and ear-scraping, and probably a true hoot live. The screeching phaser guitars and synths may indeed remind one of CHROME, I reckon, but truth be spoken, Chrome only sorta rocked, much as I heart them. HUMAN EYE may not be hitting the bleary-eyed mysterious Chrome standard as of yet, but they're well on their way to being one of 2005's top newcomers, and are burying the needle in all the right places.

MIND-BOGGLING OBSCURITIES ARE OUT THERE IF YOU’RE GAME……Right now my favorite new music blog has gotta be CRUD CRUD. Scott’s got a couple of goner items posted as mp3s that I strongly suggest you download. The first is some wild mid-tempo primitive shit rock from Italy’s FPE, from a 1983 tape that sounds like Finland’s RUTTO or first-45 MEAT PUPPETS. Not hardcore, not garage, just creepily lurking in that wacked-out 1981-83 netherspace occupied by the likes of Flipper, Solger and the whole sick hardcore-destroying crew. Who knew? The other is a super-minimalist 45 from the BETTER BEATLES, an early 80s Nebraskan group who bravely take on “I’m Down”, and better still, “Penny Lane”, with loopy synths, deadpan Flying Lizards-like vocals, and a non-ironic ‘tude that neither insults nor praises its forebears. This is easily as good as (and right at home with) the Top 5% tracks found on Chuck Warner’s HOMEWORK series. Crud Crud is a testimony to everything an mp3 blog should be; there’d be virtually no chance to hear these gems otherwise.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

In doing a trued-up accounting of my favorite LP/CDs of the 1990s -- the ones I actually listen to several times or more each year, not the DEAD Cs and HIGH RISEs nor SLAVE APARTMENTS and THINKING FELLERS (all of whom I still at least partially agree with and/or worship to this day), I'm left with four distinct long players. They are COME's "Eleven: Eleven" ; SUPERCHARGER's "Goes Way Out!"; the CHEATER SLICKS' "Whiskey", and this one, the far-and-away tip-top record from Dayton, Ohio's pop wonders GUIDED BY VOICES. Man, I remember how these guys penetrated the public consciousness in record time after 4 LPs spent in complete obscurity....all it took was one hot 5th record, "Propeller", falling into the hands of the right folks & the party lines were off & yakking. Tom Lax of Siltbreeze told me about it, said I'd better hurry up & hunt it down like wild game or it would be gone. I got it on CD a few months later when Scat threw it on as a bonus with a mostly-crap 6th LP, "Vampire on Titus"; last I'd heard the LP itself changed hands on eBay for four figures. After "Propeller" were two terrific EPs, "The Grand Hour" on Scat (1992) and "Get Out Of My Stations" on Siltbreeze (1994), among many, many other releases. The cruel joke this band played on its fans was an awful sense of quality control & a "if we farted, it must be captured" ethos. How many songs did they end up releasing? 400-500? More? When it comes down to it I guess I can tolerate almost everything they did as an "indie" band -- even really dig "Mag Earwhig!" -- but the only ones I ever listen to with regularity are those two EPs and their 1995 masterwork, "Alien Lanes".

Somehow on this one, in 28 quick snaps of genius, their stitched-tight reworking of the British Invasion came together perfectly. Lopping off more than half of your typical 1965-era 2:30 single on most tracks, they managed to create a temple of micro-short, slurred garage-based pop classics as much forged from teenage basement rock, raw indie moves and 1979-81 post-punk as from the Beatles/Stones/Kinks/etc. "Alien Lanes" is just so much more melodic and joyous than their other ones, and while it's got heaps of lowbrow experimentation and a 4-track mentality (a few numbers were taped on an 8-track), it's really tracks like "Motor Away", "A Good Flying Bird" and "Game of Pricks" that set the tone. Like a 60s girl group in the manner of THE RONETTES or THE CRYSTALS, these are songs that worm in and won't leave. The AM radio I was brought up on would have been such a cool place to hang out if bent brethren like GBV had been peddling their wares to the rack jobbers and A&R dorks in 1975. With the band's popularity came many dejected detractors, and once GBV went pro on a major label it seemed they took a lot of hot-tempered slings and arrows, barbs that overlooked what it felt like to hear a record like "Alien Lanes" the week it came out. It was a cassette mainstay in my car for years, and one that you gotta revisit once (for me) if you were one of the pundits taking a critical dump on them the past 10 years.