Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You might know WARREN SMITH from his smoking chicken-fed rockabilly “Uranium Rock”, the one the CRAMPS covered to much applause in the early 80s. At least that’s how I knew him before this comp hit my desk. Found out that there's an internet-only "rockabilly hall of fame", and Smith is in it! How about that? I guess I can see why -- his roughshod, country-hick style screams "1950s rockabilly on Sun Records", and as one of that label's middling-to-major players, well, you may not have heard much about him but you probably know a small handful of his songs. The very tasteful and politically correct "Ubangi Stomp" is an all-time classic, and another dilly from this krazy Memphis kat is his debut, "Rock N' Roll Ruby". Honestly, though, it's hard for me to get too worked up for much on the way out-of-print "So Long I'm Gone" collection outside of those deserved attention-getters. (I am, however, glad that this 1987 Charley comp is a nearly-chronological overview of his 1956-59 singles). His country 45s -- like the far superior CHARLIE FEATHERS, he was cutting both rock & country sides for Sun to see which style would take him beyond local radio -- totally sound like Hank Williams knock-offs, mostly devoid of anything outside of opportunism. I'm sure there's a handful of Fonzies who will beg to differ, and that's cool. Post-1958 stuff is just dead as a door knocker. I reckon my take on Smith is that he may be a rockabilly giant, worthy of a web-only hall of fame even, but he's just a burned CD with xeroxed artwork stuffed into a plastic sleeve to me. Sometimes -- lonely times -- that's just enough, right?

Monday, January 30, 2006

You know what’s a good record? THE SADIES“Favourite Colours” is a good record. Take equal parts BYRDS, BAND & BURRITOS and stir in some searing QUICKSILVER-like guitar, & top off with a dollop of fuzz positioned in just the right spots, and you’re got this record on its finest tracks. I can say that honestly had no idea. I checked with a band expert, and he told me that these Canadians started off life as a mostly-instrumental twang/tremolo surf group on the mold of fellow Canadians SHADOWY MEN ON A SHADOWY PLANET. That stuff’s all well and good, and you can hear it all over this brief record as well. But no doubt The Sadies have taken the Festival Express back to 1967-71 on this one, especially on the majestic “Translucent Sparrow” (hey, I didn’t title it). This is primo harmonic convergence, of a par with Moby Grape or other moderately psychedelic San Franciscans, expect with an incredible burst of open-wide guitar distortion to close off the proceedings. I listened to it 3 times this morning and I’m gonna listen to it again tonight. What’s more, the CD is really a series of clipped, short tracks, each with a different take on moody, countrified, fringed-jacket sounds. After 30 some-odd minutes, it’s over, and though it might’ve been nice to see them stretch their legs a bit on some 10-minute monster near the end, it has certainly left me wanting more. I’m going to investigate the back catalog and file a report posthaste. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 27, 2006

The litmus test for the "outtakes" bootleg (as opposed to the live bootleg, the demos bootleg or the every studio piss-take bootleg) is whether or not you discover tracks greater or equal to the band's studio material of the era. By that token, "The Great Lost Kinks Album" is a whopper. By my count there are not 1, not 2, not 4, but three golden outtakes from the band, spanning several conceptual periods in their early development. They have every right to be called classics, or -- if I may be so lame -- "klassics". The first is "Time Will Tell", a guitar-driven, "Kinks Kontroversy" outtake, that's so instantly catching I only needed to hear this Brit-invasion stomper twice before it became my perpetual inner soundtrack for days. Then there’s the raucous singalong “She’s Got Everything”, which isn’t really an outtake, since it was a late 60s b-side that later turned up on “The Kinks Kronikles”, but man – what a number. The solo alone is just vintage Kinks, and why this wasn’t a Top 10 a-side is beyond me. I’m also really smitten with “Rosemary Rose”, a “Something Else” leftover from 1967 that’s a sensitive portrayal of a fellow lost soul. But hey, those are just 3 of the 30 songs on this collection, and most of the others are pretty fetching as well.

Just one question, and it regards the vaudevillian, fake-comedy “When I Turn Off The Living Room Light”. I had my own spit-take when I heard the opening lyric, “Who cares if you’re Jewish…” when coupled with other physical transgressions of the woman in question (garlic breath, bulbous nose, ugly hair, spotty face). He said what?? Call me old-fashioned, and I’ve never heard of any peeps raised about this decidedly sub-standard song before, but isn’t listing a person’s god-given ethnicity as a shortcoming, alongside and of a par with her physical deformities and her character flaws, a bit – uh – uncouth, to say the least? I know it’s supposed to be playful, and that Uncle Ray ends up loving her anyway, but it’s a fucking bizarre sentiment to hear pop up in a Kinks song. I say you need to procure this excellent bootleg by any means necessary, and then write your protest letters to Melody Maker and Record Mirror, or turn up with shouted slogans & picket signs the next time the Kinks turn up on Hullabaloo or The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Just realized this past weekend that I wrote the following thing on Meltzer's music writings book for a now out-of-print 2001 issue of Modern Rock Magazine, and that all I needed to do to share with you again is cut-n-paste it from my hard drive. Enjoy!

There’s a school of thought – which I pretty much subscribe to – that says that it doesn’t necessarily matter which side of the social/political/cultural fence you land on, it’s the force and passion and contrariness of your convictions that matter – or at least that make for the best reading. Putting it straight, those with loudly-expressed opinions that fly in the face of what our man Richard Meltzer might call the “hand-as-dealt” are far more entertaining and thought-provoking than the writerly “whores” that cough up 99% of the purple prose out there, no matter how much their positions contradict what you and I might hold dear. In the political and social commentary realm two of the most refreshingly agitating are Camille Paglia and Christopher Hitchens; in rock and roll writing there is/was Byron Coley and of course Lester Bangs, and then there’s this woman Ingrid Schorr now writing in the digest Hermenaut who is one of the funniest new bare-knuckled critics I’ve had the pleasure of chortling to.

Standing right there with and possibly astride this pantheon of modern critical “wit” is Richard Meltzer, a guy who boldly and not without some embarrassment proclaims he flat-out invented the whole rock & roll writing shtick that spawned Bangs and Coley & a bazillion others. It’s a shtick he’s been spending 30-plus years trying to find a way to get away from, and which he spends the greater part of this collection attempting to justify. For Meltzer, even having to put this music-writings thing out is a tremendous let-down and something of a sellout, but as he himself reminds us time and again, you gotta pay the bills – and besides, Meltzer needs above all else – what? – that’s right, his DUE. I’ll begin on the premise that those reading this piece are already somewhat familiar with Richard Meltzer and his work, and then admit that I have been a big Meltzer skeptic for as long as I’ve seen his stuff. What wasn’t a total drag to try and actually READ (think every fourth word chopped and punctuated just because, capitals screaming and squirting all over the page, etc.) was full of adolescent sexual longings and untold messy confessions about relationships gone sour. Not the sort of filler I wanted in my long-playing record review, but then, as I found out in the course of reading "A Whore Just Like The Rest", reviewing records straight-up is about as far from where Meltzer wanted or wants to be as John Updike is from writing Wu-Tang lyrics. I’m not going to say I’m eating a bunch of crow over this, because there’s still a ton about the man and his writing that annoys, but I will say I misjudged his oeuvre pretty harshly and that this collection is a darn good read.

Best of the almost-600-page bunch are the pieces that bookend the collection, starting with his initial forays into writing about his then-passion of rock and roll – writing that is so addled, deliberately ridiculous and mocking of the business of rock that it’s easy to see why Meltzer was a total conundrum to the promo-mailing record labels of the day. A lot of it is just piss-your-drawers funny, too. A late 1960s piece called “Marty Balin: Artist as Madman” is an exclamation-point-riddled jester’s tale of non-sequiturs that takes the wind right out of the Jefferson Airplane’s Balin, who Meltzer nonetheless described as a personal friend and drinking buddy:

If no one’s ever called him a raving maniac let it be said right now. He doesn’t like to hunt with a shotgun but if he did he’d rather go for polar bears! Unlike most San Franciscans, he wears a full complement of underwear! It’s a quarter to ten and he’s still not asleep in bed! He’s out carousing! What a wild guy! He’s even been on boats! His hobby is reading! He is approximately 27 or 28 years of age! And yet he believes in astrology and the zodiac! For $7.95 he could have himself an electro-plating kit! Yet he’s never purchased one! He played defensive cornerback for the football team and never made an interception! In the early days he used to guard Grace from the male fans! You couldn’t get near her if you tried, unless you became Marty’s friend!…More than slightly crazy is what he is, crrrazy man!

Unlike Bangs, who gets an entire chapter of reminiscence from Meltzer here, or Byron Coley, you can’t really judge Richard Meltzer by how many cool bands he hipped you to. Record reviewing as consumer’s guide – well, that belongs to Bob Christgau and all those dorks. By the time Jim Morrison was sporting facial hair, Meltzer was just about checked out of writing about this stuff in any way that resembled meaningful “modern” rock criticism, which makes the stuff he did write all the more entertaining and unique. A caveat would be his excellent take on the late 1970s LA punk rock scene, when his brief faith in rock music’s potential is restored for a short time, only to be dashed by the usual twin suspects of stupidity and greed. One is reminded time and again in this collection that Meltzer has seen through the art vs. commerce bullshit long before most of his peers, and he has no qualms with fully taking them to task for it. Anyone who could be derided as a sellout whore in this game is called onto the carpet, sometimes so viciously that you wonder if Meltzer’s been personally burned or cheated by the person in question. Turns out that he’s all-too-willing to let you know when he has. Robert Christgau and Sandy Pearlman’s crimes come up so often in this collection, and with such searing hatred – and remember, this isn’t everything Meltzer’s written, just a selection -- that you start wondering when it becomes time to begin “considering the source”. But when he keeps the bitterness at bay and instead heaps a big helping of ridicule on rock’s lesser lights, all the while filtered through the events of his own ludicrous involvement in “the scene”, his writing is transformed from the absurd mess I once saw it as and into a consistently great and laugh-out-loud style that has all the hallmarks of a true original.

Then, once Meltzer has thoroughly rejected his rock-crit past and is delving into lengthier non-rock pieces, not to mention his several “under-appreciated” (Just ask him!) works of fiction, he gets this call from the San Diego Reader saying they want his name on the masthead, and all he has to do is pretend to review upcoming shows in the San Diego area, even for bands he’s never listened to or heard of. This almost always involves Meltzer writing about something wholly unrelated to rock music and plunking the band’s name in at the end. The result is so fantastically stupid I wish he’d included a ton more of these gems. Here, from a “preview” of the upcoming 9/5/98 show by a band called the Cigar Store Indians:

Just got back from Biloxi, where I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the National Soup Museum, and lemme tell you it is a lulu. Featuring more than 80,000 soups, the pride of such acclaimed purveyors of canned pottage as Campbell’s, Stouffer’s, Heinz, Progresso, Eat-Rite, Soupco, and Ethel Mermen’s Gourmet Kitchen, this thousand-acre edifice is a marvel of exhibitional enterprise.

Most fascinating, perhaps, are the displays in the Extinct Wing, devoted to flavors which for various reasons have through the years been removed from company rosters. These include:
Olive and Watercress, Homemade Gull Chunk, Dawg, Marachino Kidney, Cream of Pupa, Turkey Glutton, Olde Fashioned Gruel, Chicken With Starch, Scrod Gill, Striated Mutton Pulp, Sour Barnacle, Horse Nuts (yes – it’s what you think), Rat Specks and Gouda, Lentil Banana, Gizzards with Talc, Prenatal Chimp, Tartar Control Moth, (Meltzer enumerates about 50 more)…and not one, not two, but three Cigar Store Indians: Painted, Unfinished, and Kaw-Liga (with a full-color likeness of Hank Williams on the label).

Great museum!

This isn’t to say the man doesn’t occasionally miss the mark so badly you want to slam the book down. If his pal and sometime-collaborator Nick Tosches has a bit of a problem with overstating his sexual prowess, Meltzer has a far worse problem with particularizing his hatred for the cruel world outside -- and hatred for himself. It’s not enough to be bitter about a few things – not making much cash as a writer, not getting any more than sub-underground kudos for being a very good writer, the triumph of consumer culture, whatever. No, Meltzer seems to only be able to find redemption in picking apart how poorly he and his fellow travelers have been treated, and then reflecting that ill will right back on himself, without seriously asking if maybe his condemnation of everything outside of a narrow sub-stratum of coolness is more than a little self-defeating. And when you tar and feather a broad group of diverse human beings with the same brush, you’re inevitably going to sound whiny, cloistered and just out-and-out mean.

Easily the worst piece in the book is called “One White Man’s Opinion”, written just after the LA Riots. Meltzer sounds like the fourteen-year-old who’s just been to his first Rage Against The Machine concert and about to hit the head shops for the perfect Che poster as a result. This piece – in which Meltzer takes a rational premise of pride in the pure fuck you-ness and rage of the riot and then carries it into ridiculousness – reads like it came from a verrrry bored writer hoping for a few hostile letters to the editor and a little reverse ego-stroking. I’m sure he got them. Ostensibly, if you believe his intro to the piece in this book, it’s really an apology from Meltzer on behalf of white musicians for ripping off black musical culture. I mean, DUH. The few “No shit, Sherlock” points he makes about the criminal treatment of American blacks throughout US history are obscured by the worst junior revolutionary twaddle and statistical inaccuracies imaginable:

The language of this country is BLOOD. In the last five years, more blacks have been killed by American authorities than the total of all Americans killed in Indochina.....The white American family is a nest of coiled serpents, a den of rabid wolverines.....this country cares about NO ONE without a white face, a home in the suburbs, $75,000-plus a year, and a job that brings death to the planet.....By no stretch of the imagination can the federal government even hypothetically want drugs out of the ghetto.....There is no drug as harmful – as lethal – as television....

And on and on and on. Conclusion drawn from this piece, had it been the only one I’d read: Richard Meltzer doesn’t understand politics, race relations, history or humankind in general, and should not be allowed to write about them with any seriousness. I’m glad he’s got rock & roll and pop culture to fall back on.

"A Whore Just Like The Rest", to its credit, is constructed in such a way that allows warts-and-all viewing of the history of Meltzer’s rock writing, with several non-rock pieces thrown in as there’d probably be no other way of getting these takes on a variety of topics (wrestling, a tour of San Diego’s seedy side, a trip to the opera) widely published otherwise. So certainly there’s going to be a measure of bad to take with the good, and I have to say overall that it’s a pretty miniscule measure. I think his sheepishness about a lot of what he’s written that comes out in the intros to many of the pieces here is genuine, which is also quite refreshing when even the best writers fall down on the job from time to time. So hey, maybe he was the first guy to write about rock and roll in any meaningful, critical way, but like the guy who first married the word “punk” to “rock” – BIG DEAL. It’s what you actually wrote that counts for anything, and I don’t believe Meltzer deserves many kudos as a “rock and roll writer”, since he was then and he is now more inventive, interesting and idiosyncratic than that. For a guy who essentially writes like we’ve all pretended Jack Kerouac did – words and thoughts spewing out quickly, totally unedited and then rushed into print – Meltzer’s style is coherently funny and contrarian to a fault. It just works. I’ve struggled to say it myself, but after reading this collection – yes, warts and all – I’m ready to come out and proclaim Richard Meltzer, a guy I used to loath, is now Richard Meltzer, a guy I kinda like.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

So this is a joke, right -- the Brazilian post-punk scene of the 80s? I'm sure it will please forward-thinking, booty-shaking Brazilians to no end when I say that I had no friggin' idea. But let's not get too worked up about it, folks -- it's cool, us Americans, Europeans and Australasians can still sleep solidly knowing that our post-punk, our dear, dear post-punk was still so much better than that of the South Americans. But hey, Brazil was the home of some pretty incredible music in the early 70s (OS MUTANTES being my faves), it stands to reason that no matter how many freaks the rightist death squads tried to silence during the interregnum, there'd still be some lingering pixie dust of wackness left over. And that'd be right. Particularly in the case of AS MERCENARIAS, who wisely were picked to kick this compilation off in fine style with two sizzlers -- "Inimigo" and "Panico" - both outstanding exponents of the oft-discussed 1980-82 British movement of female-fronted, bass-driven scorch. DELTA 5 and all that -- we sure talk about it enough. Fairly eye-opening that it would not only catch on in Brazil, but that it would be played so incredibly well & sped up with Latin fire in the belly. Excellent. I've also recently heard their LP "Cade As Armas" and there are some whoppers on there as well. Soul Jazz, who put out this comp, put out an As Mercenarias compilation as well last year that's now been moved onto my to-do list.

Honestly, though, that's about it -- unless you're a "waver", then you might still get excited. This "post-punk" is very UK-chart-pop-of-the-80s-influenced, and no matter how much the reviews throw out Public Image Ltd. and The Pop Group, I hear zilch of it. And I don't even really like those groups, so I'm not blindly defending anyone's honor. A Certain Ratio, maybe. Whatever. I hear a lot of bands shooting for ABC and PSYCHEDELIC FURS country and succeeding rather well, and others that are just so godawful that they sound more like synthesizer-era TUBES to me. Worst offenders have got to be FELLINI (ouch!) and their mopey synth tracks "Rock Europeu" and "Zum Zum Zazoeira" - kill me now. Seriously, if you've got to hear it then go right ahead, but I'm betting you'll be roasting up the two AS MERCENARIAS tracks and then firing this thing into your to-sell pile faster than you can say "Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva".

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Note: This thing was written for another publication back in 1997. I stand by its dubious assertions to this day.... :

The art of ROYAL TRUX has given rise to much hyperbole over their many musical journeys -- they have alternately been outcasts, saviours, sell-outs and saints to the same talking head. Their most lavish praise, however, has generally been accorded to their work between 1988 and 1992, the bookend recording dates for this mind-bending 45. The record effectively serves as a marking point between periods, a time when the delightfully idiosyncratic duo were drifting from the drug-fueled bafflement of their double LP "Twin Infinitives" into the spaced-out but rock-structured sonic freedom of their third record. Linear thinking was only now becoming part of Royal Trux's musical vocabulary, and "Red Tiger", its actual pre-"Twin Infinitives" recording date notwithstanding, is their unequaled masterpiece.

Comparisons to past psychedelic warlords are futile, because Royal Trux were decidedly of their own time and place. As one pundit put it, "it is as if they compose their works in Esperanto". Theirs was not a universal language of the world, however; "Red Tiger" moves to a rhythm that is jagged, semi-improvisational, and yet ultimately rooted in rock. Its chorus is a distant chant, and its last minute is a slow, heavy-lidded fade into another world. One expects to flip the disc to hear a continuation, a "Red Tiger Pt. 2", For a band that until this time had eschewed cover songs, their take on Jefferson Airplane's "Law Man" is wonderfully in character. It fits in snugly with their sorta hippie-ish, sorta rebellious, we-oughta-be-busted vibe. They churn through the tune with great dual vocals (Neil Hagerty's voice was the duo's secret weapon) and a throbbing bass sound -- new equipment, new regimen, new attitude! Where they actually thenceforth traveled with that attitude is up for debate, but for a few years there Royal Trux were quite possibly among America's leading lights.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Given the high-profile reggae 45s these deep dubs backed circa 1974-1979 - including CULTURE's "Two Sevens Clash" and GREGORY ISAACS' "Babylon Too Rough", you'd have probably thought this stuff would have been widely available before now, and you'd have thought wrong. Chalk another one up for Adrian Sherwood's PRESSURE SOUNDS, who in 2002 collected 18 of the most killer dubs of the era from "The Mighty Two" -- producer Joe Gibbs and dub pioneer engineer Errol Thompson. These versions are typically buried miles below the original roots reggae fare, layered underneath gurgling water, car horns, and fantastic echoes of all kinds. "No Bones For The Dogs" is something I got clued into vis-a-vis a comment left on a December post I did on the Impact All-Stars -- and kudos yet again to Tom the commenter, who has done more than any single individual to steer me down the proper righteous path when it comes to dub. He's dead-on with this recommendation as usual, given its predilection for bizarre instrumentals and completely blurred acid-trip vocal effects. These B-sides, taken as a whole, actually evolve from puritan roots beginnings into a weirdo sort of electronic dub as the decade closes, completely in line with the path the genre was taking -- or rather, Gibbs & Thompson's stuff was so ace, they were undoubtedly leading the flock there themselves. Seriously, do the riches from this era never cease? I'm beginning to get the sense that they don't.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Last time I wrote a piece of this nature I plucked 5 old fanzines I used to read out of my memory banks before I started writing & wrote up blurbs accordingly. This time, I’m not even sure which ones to pick, so I’m going to start thinking of some right now to reminisce, review and rake over the coals if need be. I’m writing this on an airplane and don’t have internet connectivity, so I can’t even cheat with a few surreptitious dips into Google. So let’s start with.....

TRULY NEEDY – I believe this was a Washington DC based ‘zine from the post-hardcore era, yet one that didn’t hue too tightly to the “emo” scene that nearly destroyed music in that town for a subsequent decade. No, the one I remember buying had THE MINUTEMEN on the cover, had a gaggle of informed and well-spoken reviewers, and put a lot of thought and effort into a pretty packed newsprint-based fanzine. Professional enough to be sold on the newsstand & to have been a strong, relatively snark- and irony-free voice at a time when that the rule for East Coast fanzines. Either I never saw another issue or they folded up the tents around 1985 or so.

TOUCH AND GOOverrated. No, I don’t dispute that Tesco Vee & co.’s taste in hardcore punk during its glory years wasn’t impeccable; they were situated in one of its Ground Zeros (Michigan/Ohio) and were active players in the scene themselves. But I guess pee-pee humor and homo-bashing hijinks really would seem a little – uh – dated if I deigned to pull one of these from my musty garage boxes today. Their “articulation” (far too much credit is given in the word alone) of an anti-MRR, anti-PC stance was refreshing, but it was replaced with nothing of substance aside from coverage of some rad bands at a time when learning about said rad bands came only from fanzines like this. Its modern equivalent is HORIZONTAL ACTION, who, with all due respect for a mag that’s turned me onto some smoking garage blazers, starts virtually every interview with “What’s your favorite sex position?" and continues downhill from there.

BRAVE EAR – This San Francisco-based digest printed on higher-quality stock than its contemporaries and always came off as the leftist intellectual big brother to the slammin’ Sandanistas over at MRR. If I remember correctly, their heroes tended to skirt the more experimental elements of 1984-87 indie rock – your SAVAGE REPUBLICs, your SLOVENLYs, while still honoring long-servers such as THE MEKONS and ROBYN HITCHCOCK. Looking back, I can’t think of a single band they turned me onto, nor can I remember a single writer for the mag, but I probably have a good 4-5 issues sitting around waiting for a 20th-anniversary thumb-through.

DISASTER – I’m not going to write about it again, but a while back I did a little thing about Bill (Smog) Callahan’s excellent 80s ‘zine here.

COSLOY YOUTH – And speaking of Cosloy Youth, I DJ’ed with one of the fellas behind this short-lived project, Ray Shea, at KFJC circa 1989-90. He told me then that, like just about every other dork with an expensive fanzine-purchasing habit funded with Dad’s college loan checks (I count myself in this category several years earlier), he and his pal were so enamored with Gerard Cosloy’s style and rapier wit in CONFLICT that they decided to up the dose and put out their own approximation. I can’t remember much about how well they succeeded in said endeavor, just that they liked the same bands I did and that I got a few guffaws out of it. Ray was a cool guy & I hope he’s living large somewhere.

(CAN’T REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE ‘ZINE) – In the early 90s I had my own fanzine up & running, and in the same year, maybe it was 1991 or 1992, I got two outstanding ‘zines in the mail from San Diego & made two new pen-pals as a result. One was Tim Ellison’s ROCK MAG, subsequently MODERN ROCK MAGAZINE and now the online MUSIC CHAMBER. Tim & I have been longtime correspondents, even if we rarely dip into the same music any longer. The other was from Glen Galloway, an extremely cool, fiercely independent individual who was soon to start up his band TRUMAN’S WATER, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name of his short-lived, digest-sized photocopied ‘zine. I remember that he wrote eloquently about freakier, jazzier acts like Saccharine Trust and/or Can, while also getting down to the heyday of third-wave garage punk as well (Gories, Night Kings, Cheater Slicks etc.). Like Ellison, he adopted a completely non-antagonistic tone in his writing – just the facts & the summation, with none of the bitter baiting that admittedly makes many ‘zines and blogs a little more fun to read. That said, he didn’t need it, as (fill in the blanks) was one of the better fanzines of its times.

And with that, I invite your comments. Last time I posted on fanzines I think you set an Agony Shorthand record for # of comments posted, which speaks to the connection they had to many of us music obsessives in pre-Web days. Maybe if I can think of 5 or 6 more to rattle off I’ll do another round of revisionism in a month or two.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006
“PUNK: ATTITIDE” documentary DVD.....

Watched a pretty dumb DVD the other night called “PUNK: ATTITUDE” that had some terrific footage at times, but laid on the “punk means fuck you” BS so thick you could barely cut it with a liberty spike. Sure, I know that THE WRECKS taught us back on “Not So Quiet On The Western Front” that punk is an attitude, and for millions of disaffected youth and aging dullards, that’s gotta be a pretty liberating method of self-definition. Aside from the teenage adrenaline that comes from flipping the bird and slamming your ass off, though, punk is just another slice at the rock and roll pie, one that happened to come along & was going strong when I first heavily got into music, and is therefore one aggressive sub-genre or rock that’s very near and dear to my heart. So looking for some good video snaps of some wild-ass rocknroll bands, I invested nearly 90 minutes into Don Letts’ documentary on the matter. I will say that he threw in some terrific but clipped clips of the NEW YORK DOLLS doing “Personality Crisis” on German TV that were just rabid; and some cool SLITS footage that I’d never seen before of the gals galoomping around a park carousel to the funky reggae beat. One surprise was that this Brit actually got it right and focused his lens and storytelling on the American roots of the genre, and only went back home across the pond when he’d fully explained the UK version’s true lineage. Nice magnanimous touch there, and one that I didn’t expect. In fact once the UK version was played out around 1978, he gets in some digs at the homegrown EXPLOITED/GBH ridiculousness that followed it up before turning his camera eye back to America and the exploding hardcore scene.

With so much to cover over nearly 40-odd years (he starts the tale with Jerry Lee Lewis!), it’s probably a given that any individual stories would need to be told VH1-style – quickly and omittingly. So when you get 10 seconds of any particular act you like, you scarcely have time to focus and take it in before Henry Rollins pops up on the screen and flips off the camera again to underscore the rammed-home point that Punk = Attitude. Oh, and those clown princes of punk commentary, John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil, make far too many passes at the camera and only serve to devalue the entire enterprise – nay, the entire genre of punk itself. Ah well. At least Alice Bag got in there for 2.7 seconds, Brendan Mullen for maybe double that. And as we all know, punk continued on and was best represented post-hardcore by AGNOSTIC FRONT, who live large on this DVD with some awesome sweaty stomping and burly man hugs that Letts takes admirable pains to not take condescending swipes at. Punk then turned into Nirvana (and late-90s Sonic Youth!), and then into BLINK 182. And here we are today! Punk is still an attitude (Jello Biafra often checks in to tell us so), parents hate it, and it’s for the little guy who wants to stand up, thrust out his middle fingers and say, "Fuck you, cop/mom/society! I don’t need to play by your fuckin' rules!” . And yes, with all the problems we have today (cue photo/video montage of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, a big-ass bomb, some consumer blindly shopping in a supermarket – no, I’m not kidding, it ends the film), what we really need is a little more punk attitude, right? Like I said, a pretty dumb DVD to spin for 90 minutes, when I could’ve instead glued my can to Stormwatch 2006 footage. Is it true that the bonus disc has rare footage of TAMPAX, KRIMINELLA GITARRER, DESPERATE BICYCLES and RUTTO? And a long interview with the guys from the VOMIT PIGS? You’ll all have to let me know if that one’s any good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

POISON IDEA are one of those bands like MOTORHEAD or BLACK SABBATH that have always sounded better on paper than they actually have over a full album’s worth of brutality; the hits are always bone-crunching and the music’s a total face-wash, but until I heard “Pick Your King” this month I admired the ‘Idea more for their generous girth and on-paper power than I had for anything I’d ever actually ingested by these Oregon beef boys. Yeah yeah, I know, “King”’s been everyone’s favorite for years – I’ve just been real real busy, you know what I’m saying? But when they called this 1983 dozen-plus 7-inch a “hardcore landmark”, "they" weren’t kidding. Razor fast, angry, louder than even my all-time favorite brute force 45, the NEGATIVE APPROACH EP. It blows by with total g-force fury, and makes stuff like NA’s “Ready To Fight” sound about as dangerous as MDC or THE RED ROCKERS. It's also thirteen songs on a 7" -- the only (decent) record I know of with more tracks than that is that first DRI single ("I Don't Need Society"!!!), one I'm sure you all have, right?

I guess I missed the “blurred stage” in this band’s early evolution and had them filed more on the fist-pumpin’ speed metal side of the aisle. And going on that late 80s/early 90s stuff, some of which is still pretty balls-out, I don’t think I was too wide of the mark. But I implore you to listen to the next fella that tries to get you to listen to “Pick Your King”, a rule I chose not to follow to my eternal disgrace for over 20 years. And can someone let us know how many of these gentlemen are still alive? I used to get a real vicarious kick out of reading about their drunken hijinks and shenanigans.

Monday, January 16, 2006

My rabid enthusiasm for the recent riches unearthed on Soundway's' two "GHANA SOUNDZ" volumes led me to plunk it down for this one as well - same label, just covering Nigeria's raw and soulful "afro-sound" this time. You know, I'm getting so schooled about this stuff now that the other day I won a free dessert treat from a local cafe just for answering the trivia question, "What is Africa's most populous country?". Why, my barrista friend -- that's Nigeria of course. Thanks to Soundway for helping round me out a bit, pun definitely intended. And it came as little surprise, given how hot those "Ghana Soundz" collections were, that this one smokes as well. Solid up and down the lineup, with 12 bold tracks of post-highlife grunting, sweating and horns-a-plenty.

What's become clear as I've attempted to read up on African funk/jazz/soul of the 70s was just how high FELA KUTI lorded over this scene, & what a continent-wide force the man was. In most folks' eyes, there was Fela -- and then there were Fela's imitators. I myself don't know enough to comment, but there are some tracks on this one that destroy just as mightily as Fela's own "Fogo Fogo" on here does. Take BOLA JOHNSON's "Lagos Sisi" - sure, you definitely hear a JB's-style funk workout being copped a bit throughout this one (nay, throughout this CD), but it's a lowdown, percussive, thoroughly Africanized version, with hints of jazz exploration ready to pilot the 20-man group to the proverbial moon. ORLANDO JULIUS & HIS AFRO SOUNDERS also clock in with a rabid 7-minute funkster called "Mura Sise" that's simply gotta be heard. I've been bored by African collections before, where I've felt I'm listening more as a cultural anthropologist than a music freak, and in such cases, I call a duck a duck and get the hell out. Not so on the three Soundways discs I've heard - I can't recommend this scorcher and the Ghana Soundz stuff highly enough.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Rumored for over two months, it appears that MUDHONEY, the hosts of a full day of self-chosen rock acts at the UK's All Tomorrow's Parties fest on May 12th, have actually secured the OK of THE FLESH EATERS' "A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die" line-up to reunite & play the gig. Which is pretty neat if you ask me. Maybe because that's like my favorite album of all time, or maybe because it was probably a semi-herculean effort to convince Chris D., John Doe, DJ Bonebrake, Dave Alvin, Bill Bateman and Steve Berlin to all hoof it out to England for one show. Whatever - it's done, and since I'm not going to myself hoof it to the sceptered isle for a rock show, it's time to get on the horn & start talking up some US dates for these guys.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Lost in all the clamoring over genius worldwide early 80s post-punk experimentation were a couple dozen great bands crafting their own murky, homemade, low-fidelity sound in deepest New Zealand. Some of these acts, such as THE CLEAN, built long careers out of their art; others sputtered and died on the vine rather quickly. One of my very faves from the latter camp were Christchurch’s PIN GROUP, an act who toiled long enough to release two doomy, psychedelic 45s and a 12”EP that would have been manna for those clamoring for a note-perfect VELVET UNDERGROUND / JOY DIVISION hybrid, had such a plea been actually rendered in 1981-82. Siltbreeze packaged all this stuff up on a CD in the late 90s, and we’re all the better for it. The band featured younger versions of characters who would come to define the South Island scene in the 1980s and 1990s – Roy Montgomery (excellent solo work, Dadamah, Dissolve), Peter Stapleton (Terminals, Scorched Earth Policy), Ross Humphries (Great Unwashed) -- during a time when they were the vanguard of the dissonant, heavy-reverb New Zealand scene taking shape. In point of fact, their first 45 was even Flying Nun’s first release.

So like I said, at times the band mournfully augmented their very choppy, Velvets-inspired guitar attack with a general sense of foreboding and dread, similar in overall feel to the then-forming but as-yet-unlabeled “goth” scene. Not for nothing was Roy Montgomery nicknamed “Roy Division”! Yet these guys incorporated harmonies at times, and an array of post-psychedelic paisleyisms in the guitar sound that often kept the feel a lot lighter than, say, BAUHAUS or whatever. In fact, lest you sense that there was no sense of humor in the Pin Group, I direct you to their fine, understated cover of WAR’s “Low Rider” (!). Some real classics abound here – my favorite has always been the chipper “Coat”, which has a winding riff that coils downward into a slow grind and springs back up again to generate a healthy, warm, low-fidelity glow. I put this CD on the roundabout again this week and found nothing to shake my belief that this is one of the great forgotten bands of the early 80s. Now if we could just get that KIWI ANIMAL stuff out to the people.....!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

While this band was around the latter half of the 80s, I counted them among my very favorites. That hadn't really been at all apparent the last 12-13 years, given the amount of times I've actually listened to DEATH OF SAMANTHA during that recent epoch is about this many: zero. Okay, I believe I played the excellent "Strungout on Jargon" in my bedroom once in the late 90s. Not really sure why I hadn't been coming back with glee, but maybe the band just got time-stamped as retro/dated in my head as one of those college-era acts that I probably wouldn't get too hopped up about in my advancing age. My recent foray into a digitized version of this 1989 LP tells me that -- for the most part -- that just ain't so.

"Come All Ye Faithless" was their final release after two other fine LPs and an EP, and in a lot of ways I think it was their best one. Man, at the time (1989-90) I played the cover off this record, and hearing it again years later with thirtysomething ears was nearly revelatory, in the minor, vaguely pleasing way that hearing something you once knew like the moles of the back of your hand but had completely forgotten is revelatory. Take "Geisha Girl", the record's most pumped up Dolls/Stones/'77 punk-like hybrid; I plum forgot every riff and verse in this song until I heard it again on Christmas Day, and then remembered that not only is is just a flat-out "boogie" blast of a rock song, but that I had also played it to death, nearly every week, on my '89-'90 KFJC radio show. I proceeded to play it over and over in my car at top volume, and ahhhh -- just took in those golden, fading memories. I then remembered how, at the time, I had to actively & stridently defend my love of this band to some folks, since many were totally off-put by John Petkovic's weirdo, tin pan alley cabaret voice , and the fact that the band were inclined to dress up in platform heels and feather boas on stage, just for a laff. I remembered seeing them headline over THE DWARVES and a young GREEN DAY at Gilman Street in Berkeley (!) shortly before they broke up, when all of 6 people stuck around to check it out (why, lord, why?). They were great, just as they'd been in Santa Barbara in front of three times that many people circa 1988, when touring on their second album.

So, now having remembered why I'd been such a Death of Samantha partisan, let's turn our attention to this record. Byron Coley, in this excellent Cleveland Plain Dealer piece, called this one of their "mature" records, but I certainly detect a little tongue-in-cheek w/ that proclamation, as these guys seemed to be about taking the piss out of rock and roll with exaggerated, theatrical sweeps, both lyrically & musically. On the latter front, despite a pretty simple plan of attack, they weren't that easy to pin down -- like a uptempo, punk-infused Vegas bar band with a lot of Cleveland Rock City ghosts to draw upon when needed. The first couple of tracks, "Roses Rejoice" and "Rosenburg Summer" are easily going to make or break you when it comes to this band; if you can stomach these maudlin, overwrought semi-rockers then you're on for life. I love 'em. The aforementioned "Geisha Girl" and "Now It's Your Turn (To Be a Martyr)" are probably the two best songs they ever wrote outside of their classic "Blood and Shaving Cream", but then the second side's a pretty weak pot of lukewarm Cuyahoga Grey. I couldn't even remember these ones, because I didn't even flip over to listen to them back in the day. But when you think about how ripping some of this band's stuff was, it's at least a venal sin that absolutely none of it's on CD. At least a best-of, right? The band essentially soldiers on to this day as COBRA VERDE, and try as I might to get interested, I've just never connected with the cut of their jib. But if this is the first you're hearing about DEATH OF SAMANTHA, think about scouring the used bins a little for this stuff - you might find one of the singularly great late 80s bands' complete works available for a mere song.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rather than an entirely new gush about this fantastic record, I'm going to repurpose something I wrote in 1997 for an old fanzine....

Many fans who looked to skirt the boundaries of rote hardcore aggression during the early 80s fell in love hard with two genius bands: FLIPPER and the MEAT PUPPETS. The latter were the wacked-out anti-hardcore band circa 1981-82 that lived to torment the legions of wasted kids that showed up to see Black Flag or whoever, and instead found themselves taunted by 2 longhairs and a regular guy screaming their way through country standards like "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds". Only the creator knows where these Arizona lunatics got their singular vision from - a vision that has them rumored to have once performed "The Decline of Western Civilization" soundtrack, talking and all, in its entirety live at just such a concert. Probably from a big bag of pot? That's the most likely story we've heard so far.

Their first single is a monument to creatively destroying the punk rock idiom by working from within. "In A Car" and "Dolphin Field" burn by at 1:20 and 1:06 respectively, and contain the crazed, wild-eyed Curt Kirkwood vocals he later ditched in favor of a laid-back stoner twang (of course the band did a countrified 180-degree turnabout a year or so later on "Meat Puppets II"). "Out In The Gardener" is a confused, loping 60-second instrumental, and the closing "Foreign Lawns" contains what might be the single greatest final second of a song ever: duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-CLANG. Clang!!?? It's as if they hopped off the distortion box one second too soon, and it's totally fried. The Meat Puppets are also responsible for perhaps the greatest opening second of a song as well - The drumstick/cowbell intro to "Teenager(s)". SST have re-released this beauty several times - it's pure American brilliance that belongs in every home and hearth.

Monday, January 09, 2006
COME RIDE MY BOOKMARKS.......Every week another interesting or elucidating mp3 blog pokes its pointed head up, full of new crap to download. Sometimes the finds are just fantastic, as it's getting more "fashionable" to put up vinyl-only stuff that's been carefully converted into mp3s. These sites are the best, full of stuff you have to pay top collector dollar for -- and for vinyl fetishists, hey, you still might pay for it, but now at least you get to hear it for the most minimal investment possible. I've toyed with the idea of starting my own mp3 blog, separate from Agony Shorthand's old-school reviews & rants format, but I don't have the friggin' time. Maybe later this year. In the meantime, here are the ones I look at at least once a week:

CRUD CRUD - No surprise here, this is probably the best of the bunch, full of rare 45s & LP tracks from all corners of the musical universe. Some thrift store weirdness, some obscure DIY stuff, some hot funk & soul. You never really know. I've even recently made up a 77-minute CD-R of my best finds from this site, and I fully intend & expect to keep making them in the months to come, given the rate of winners posted here nearly every other day.

CHOCOREVE - I don't even really know how to extract the files I've taken from these guys, but just look at the full psych/60s punk/50s R&B/krautrock LPs he posts every single day....! If there's an easy way to extract an "RAR" file, I haven't figured it out, but this could end being an amazing find once I/we do.

FUNKY 16 CORNERS - Rare soul 45s from the 60s from a collector with just about everything.

LITTLE HITS - Mostly pop, almost entirely out-of-print vinyl from 1970-present.

THE OF MIRROR EYE -- Wild card rock of all stripes, including Japanese psych, improv, freak-folk etc.

PROBE IS TURNING ON THE PEOPLE - Phil Milstein's site of rarities, often of the thrift store/inept/nyuk nyuk variety.

POPTONES - New 45s and indie stuff, along with a few oldies -- sometimes atrocious but often very choice.

POST-PUNK JUNK - Like the man said, but not entirely true. Recently featured THE CONSUMERS, LA DUSSELDORF, LARRY WALLIS and ALTERNATIVE TV.

RECORD ROBOT - The best and certainly the most entertaining of the "thrift store" sites, but rarely do you find anything you truly want to hold onto here. I'll keep trying.

SEVEN INCH PUNK - One of the "big three" rare punk 45s sites. Not as good as the other two, but hey, he's a Clash fan. I just got fuckin' Discharge's "State Violence State Control" for free here!!!

SEX KITTENS COMPARE SCRATCHES - All the way from Japan, lots of garage punk & no-brained two-chord rock. Doesn't post too often, but maybe they're just now getting "the Internet" over there.

SHORT TERM MP3 LOSS - On the page right now: THE GORDONS, THE CREATION and the DIRTY LOVERS. How about that?

SOMETHING I LEARNED TODAY - One of the best punk sites imaginable, often posting full 45s and EPs you never thought you'd have a chance to grab again.

SONIC POLLUTIONS - A video blog, something we'll undoubtedly see a lot more of in 2006. So far, this one has some killer 60s KINKS material and more.

SPREAD THE GOOD WORD - An exclamation-point laden site with some strong blues, instrumentals, R&B and general pre-1970 lowdown ore.

STATIC PARTY - Brand new! I can fully get behind their mission statement: "We think punk rock has had three "golden eras": The 1975 - 1979 period, the hardcore years of 1980 - 1984, & the 1990s. Here we will retred some of our favorite underground punk 7"s from 1990 to 2000". Expect an absurd level of quality from two guys with record collections that are far better than yours and mine.

STRANGE REACTION - Incredible finds, nearly a post a day, virtually all obscure punk, hardcore & DIY 45s from the 70s and 80s. Even when he posts garbage, he lets you know it's garbage.

THE HYPE MACHINE - Imagine if this "audio blog aggregator" had existed in, say, 1985. I can't tell you how much time I would have wasted easily clicking & bringing in music from all known corners of the galaxy into my house. If this doesn't prove the fulfilled "promise of the internet", I'm not sure what does.

TOE STUBBER - Just discovered this one this week via the Static Party fellas -- superlative taste, from jump-up R&B to KBD punk to garage crap, this one's gonna be a surprise every post & is one of the few on here that can probably fill an entire CD's worth of great, unheard stuff in about 4-6 months.

VINYL MINE - An old veteran of the mp3 blog saltmines, Vinyl Mine's pretty unpredictable & can bring forth genius or mediocrity with each passing post, but his trove is deep and it's vinyl only all the way. Special emphasis on the early/mid 80s, his (and my) vinyl-hoarding "glory years" (*sigh*).

WFMU's BEWARE OF THE BLOG - Finally, a predictably scattershot but excellent mp3 site from the music fiends at WFMU. You can get entirely lost in this site and its links, but if you've got time to kill, preferably at work, I suggest you make this a frequent stopover.

Friday, January 06, 2006

One of the new CDs in my ongoing JOSEPHINE FOSTER excavation series. BORN HELLER's debut is one sparse, somewhat difficult nut to crack, but having spun it six ways from Sunday over the past couple weeks, I think I've got it figured out. This is truly what folks are referring to when they yammer on about "avant-folk", as this is as icy-distant and morosely shimmering as NICO's "Marble Index" while treading on something approximating an acoustic, non-percussive, no-horns-at-all sort of guitar-based jazz. It's some intense shit, brother, and you better not riding a bummer when you tote this disc to the changer. I guess it came out in 2004 on Locust Music, and Born Heller are a duo comprising Ms. Foster and another guitar/bass picker named Jason Ajemian. She does most of the singing, sounding almost disengaged or even haunted at times, but he contributes a few ghost whispers as well. Subject matter is almost universally downbeat; then again, there might have been a few glimpses of sunlight buried in there somewhere. I'm sorry, I was busy sobbing, in big, heaving gasps. I see the reviews online on this one throwing around references to both "Appalachia" and the "English countryside", and with all due respect, since I do that sort of thing all the friggin' time, that's some lazy-ass shorthand. BORN HELLER are a naked and frozen beast who will demand your rapt attention if you may be so bold as to offer it. I know I've already bought a ticket for their February San Francisco show so I can slam in the pit & obnoxiously yell out for "more ukulele".

Thursday, January 05, 2006

First got a load of the wild, raw/fuzzed early Swedish punk band KRIMINELLA GITARRER when I mailed off the first MONOSHOCK 45, which I was fortunate enough to have been allowed to release in 1994, to Tom Lax of Siltbreeze Records. I can't remember whom he paired the x with in "Monoshock sound like a cross between x & y", maybe it was Chrome or Hawkwind or the Lemon Pipers, but I do know the y was Kriminella Gitarrer. I said "tell me more, o wise one". He told. Right around that time the band's 1977-78 tracks began showing up on collector scum punk comps, most notably those excellent "Bloodstains Across Sweden" records, and I quickly added them to my internal pantheon of the most fire-breathing, raw, devour-you-alive punk bands of all time. I resolved to tell others the news. I played KG for the Monoshock guys and they couldn't see the resemblance, but what are you gonna do, right? A few years later a Swede of my acquaintance kindly sent me this LP compilation of their complete works and then some, and it is this work that we will be briefly discussing today.

I review this having learned mere minutes ago in my travels across the world wide web that a CD version of this record (with even more extras) is now available, called "Forbjudna Ljud 1977-1979" - how about that? Reasons to get this thing: One, Kriminella Gitarrer released three 45s that are so over-the-moon killer & slashing, you'd have to be a Mountain Goats fan to stay away -- of course I'm talking about the records with the immortal "Silvias Unge" (whoa!), "Vardad Kladsel (wow!), and my favorite, an easy candidate for Top 40 punk songs of all time, "36 Patroner". Two, the guitar on these is like a rubber band rocketing off its hinges directly to your exposed eye -- totally wobbly & weird, but run through acres of distortion pedals so the cumulative effect is muy dense, and still incredibly fast & propulsive. Three, the demos on side B, while nowhere near the quality of the official stuff, are even louder & more cutting; total ear bleeders that sound like a particularly sweaty practice session run through 50 amplifed cheese graters. Four, us fans of the Scandanavian languages can't get enough of titles like "Knugens Kuk" and, that's right, "Anarki"! I'm usually waaay behind the curve in recommending unheard punk bands to folks, since that plate's been cleaned long ago, but if you haven't heard these guys, and I reckon there's a few of ya, sounds like there's a new CD out there waiting for you to get involved with it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The UK's LONG BLONDES continue their relative hot streak with another fine ultra-limited 45 of boistrous, tuneful heat-seeking pop music, this time especially raucous-n-fast. It reflexively recalls the choppy, static-filled early 80s bass-driven post-punk combos to whom they're so frequently compared, but this time I'm hearing something more zippy & yeah, maybe a little more commercial -- but like you always say, a great tune's a great tune, and "Motorways" is one of those. I more than half expected that anything they put out since their last merely decent one was going to blow, given the natural trajectory of bands fronted by good-looking, sharp-dancing, clear-throated people, and I was dead wrong. I also like the capitalistic notion of selling it as a physical 45 (which sold out in about ten minutes -- I'm telling you, the kids are all over this band like white on rice, baby) and as a cheapo download. I opted for the latter, lest my cashier's cheque get lost "in the post", and it was kinda weird plunking down .77 pounds per song over at something called 7 DIGITAL. But it was worth it, supporting the scene and all. Anyway, I keep getting the sense through records like these that there's a new beachhead being opened in 2005-06 for smart, minimal, hooky pop, maybe the best stuff of its ilk since the early 80s. The Long Blondes are my "favourite" of the bunch, at least until they're not. I'll also cop to the fact that where I'm hearing KLEENEX and the DELTA 5, you might be hearing BOW WOW WOW. Check out the free video for "Separated By Motorways" and see for yourself.