Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I guess I'm still searching for another definitive balls-to-the-wall knockout monster 60s psych comp -- "Psychedelic Disaster Whirl" is the only one I've hunted down -- but this one'll do for now. "30 Seconds Before The Calico Wall!" , which came out on Arf Arf Records on CD in 1996, has got three lethal heavies I've never heard before, and they're all being queued up for my own definitive homemade CD-R compiling the form. HAYMARKET RIOT perform a smoking garage number loaded w/ fuzz called "Trip On Out", and it's a whopper -- the whole comp is filled with hippie drug freak titles like "Apothecary Dream" & "Light The Glass Candle". Another killer is the v. heavy choogler "Of Dreams" by MORGAN, which reminds me a little of a glass-eyed version of SHARON TANDY & FLEUR DE LYS' "Hold On", with sulty female vocals and all. My final killer is the wildest feedback-laden snorter on here, "He's Comin' Part II" by MAGIC SWIRLING SHIP. You gotta figure as spaced-out and expansive as the guitar histrionics on this one were, Part I was probably just the simple A-side lead-in to the explosion on the flip. Real, real nice. Nothing else totally disappoints nor lights the glass candle of enlightenment, but I figure that as psych comps go, this one probably blew a couple of collector minds ten years ago. I was just too busy hiding from those sorts of folks at the time to notice.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

As long as we're on the subject of sorta disappointing American freak-folk follow-ups (see last Friday's JOSEPHINE FOSTER evaluation), let's talk about this new one from ESPERS. Earlier in the annum we discovered their "Weed Tree" CD from last year & did something of a swoon, as we so often do. We then backtracked and bought the first one, and dug that too. But this one - not so full of confidence here, friends. It's really just some of the same delicate and fruitful old wine in new bottles, minus a lot of the snuck-up-on-ya thrills of the last two. My concerns stem from the lack of any real standout lovelies like tracks on their other ones like "Flowery Noontide", "Rosemary Lane" and "Hearts and Flowers", and perhaps from the fact that if something can be said in five minutes, you can definitely count on "Espers II" to say it in 8 or 9. This reaches its intolerable point on "Children of Stone", which might or might not be 38 minutes long - I just know I wanted it to stop, and stop it I have, every time it's come on. When the girl sings, man she's got a pretty voice, no doubt about that, but she's just so goddamn precious that you just wish you could watch her throw up on her shoes or stagedive or something to prove there's a pulse there.

Listen, I have not come to bury our good friends the ESPERS right out of the gate, I just find this a distinct drop-off, and rather quickly at that. All the parts are roughly in place from before - the gentle feedback, the male/female harmonies that easily slide into place like a goddamn baseball glove in September, the layman's noise experimentation that make Espers quite a bit less pedestrian than, say, VETIVER -- but I'd like to call this their Junior Year slump & hope they get the magic working in time for Senior Year finals.

Friday, May 26, 2006

I'm not sure what possessed Frau Foster, one of Agony Shorthand's 21st Century favorites (see here, here and here), to record an album's worth of 19th Century German folk tunes sung in the mother tongue, but they say it's a free country. Sounding like nothing so much as an eccentric German nana after a few too many kolsches, Foster tackles the work of composers like Schubert and Brahams with her distinctly rich and operatic "hippie mystic" pipes. The music trends toward the experimental, and lacks the hard folk edge of her better material found on "Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You" & instead wanders into the lonesome & weird BORN HELLER territory (yet another band of hers). The long and ark "Auf einer Burg" might make you slit your wrists in boredom, pain or terror, not sure which. I don't know, I can't say that the whole shebang does that much for me. Seems like this would have made a better CD-R to be mailed out to the fan club than a release in & of itself, don't you think?

Friday, May 12, 2006

This 1980 near-masterpiece is the key cog in THE FALL's transition from the plinking, plonking keyboard-driven minimalist punk band of the first two records to the greatest post-Stones UK band ever. "Grotesque" opened the gates of experimentation and true poetic/slur repetition that soon resulted in the 1981-83 classics "Slates", "Hex Enduction Hour", "Room To Live" and "Perverted By Language", all of which are high among my favorite records ever. This one's not far off. The Fall's third record really announced just how far ahead of the British post-punk pack the band were, in the sense that you listen to this record and it doesn't impress simply because it's "ramshackle", "personal" and "DIY". It's all these things, and it's also a full-on, well-crafted, every-song-a-killer one-chord-jam rock and roll album.

Take my favorite one on here for instance - "The N.W.R.A.". For over nine minutes, one simple four-second riff is ground into brittle submission as Mark E. Smith spits up a spleen with alternating pride and loathing for his half of the country. His lyrics are fierce and impenetrable to anyone except the most careful student, and lord knows I've spent some time in my day trying to deconstruct this man & his brilliantly wacked mind to no avail. "The N.W.R.A." is just an amazing statement, a radiant and ear-challenging simplicity the likes of which had never been heard in rock before. (Some 70s Germans come close, but this is truly its own deal). "New Face In Hell" is another complete stunner, The Fall's first attempt at a weird sort of dance music that they added a couple BPM to later on "The Classical". Is that a friggin' kazoo I hear? I believe it is, either that or a comb tucked inside a kleenex. A darker, ranting sort of mood takes hold on "Impression of J. Temperance" and the ambient, nearly-spoken "C'N'C-s Mithering", and helps make these guys the musical embodiment of Northern England as it existed at the time.

This album also marked the departure of any real "punk" left in their systems from the early Una Baines days -- "Pay Your Rates" and the excellent bouncer "English Scheme" were their final salvos in that realm until much, much later. No, "Grotesque" is really the first truly classic FALL record, and listening to it this week & my excitement therefrom is a hallmark that I'm about to enter another Fall bender. They come every couple years and don't stop til the catalog's been exhausted. See you in 2008 - I'm going under....

Thursday, May 11, 2006

This is the best 90s garage punk record no one wants to sign up for & admit they like. At least that’s been my experience since it came out in January 1996, since I can barely find anyone who can back me up on my adoration of this thing. It sticks out like a bright, shining beacon of raw & crazed filth in the midst of THE MAKERS’ otherwise unremarkable discography, I first heard of these guys around ‘94 when Jimmy Stapleton of Bag of Hammers records told me that “…these guys are wild, they’re always getting into fights. They go into record stores and beat up the clerk behind the counter”. That’s fucking awesome! Then I saw the covers of their records, which featured helmet-haired 60s poseurs & retro beat/garage packaging, and I figured they’d be totally l-a-m-e. Then I saw ‘em live in late 1995, and they knocked it out of the park. Sure, they took themselves way too seriously, but every song was just bang-bang-bang straight up and fast, like a combination of ’65 SONICS and ’85 MORLOCKS with a little snot-nosed classic LA punk (Weirdos/Germs/Bags) moves thrown in. Loved it. Became an instant evangelist. Bought this S/T record which came out shortly thereafter, and it blew me away. I still play it maybe once every 6 months – it’s so frothing and fast, most every song blazing by in 45-90 seconds, it seriously lives up to the dumb-ass middle finger graphic on the cover. Tracks like “I’m Not a Social Kind of Guy” and “Little Piece of Action” out-fuzz most anyone else who played revved-up punk rock through a cranked distortion pedal the last thirty years, and having just listened to this again this morning, I’m still wired from the experience.

Later on I’d see these guys around the U-District in Seattle when I lived up there and always had a big laugh. The singer piled his hair high to the heavens, dressed himself in Victorian-era waistcoasts and even a top hat, and I swear to god I once saw him walking around with a cane, despite no noticeable limp. It was times like those when it was hard to defend this record to my peers, but I stood firm and will continue to do so. They opened for MUDHONEY in 1999 and it was a totally different band – preening, flouncing glam garbage with none of the rough edges and broken teeth of this record. I chalked “The Makers” album up to a fateful lightning strike of out-and-out brilliance, amid a career of poor moves and an otherwise dearth of talent. (By the way, check out the comments section from this post I did in 2004 – lots of fine discussion about The Makers’ clothing habits and fighting skillz).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

BORN BAD Records were kind enough to send over this new CD EP from France’s FRUSTRATION after I got bowled over by their other new S-S Records EP a few weeks ago. Not sure if I’m feeling quite the same level of mania for this one. I think they’re trying a little too hard for an aggro JOY DIVISION vibe with pointlessly weird synth touches, to the point of apeing full riffs and basslines from Warsaw bootlegs and from “An Ideal For Living”. Like I said earlier, that’s some of my favorite rock music ever, and when Frustration get going they can really let it fly (“For Them No Premises” is fantastic), but some of what I like about that stuff is the atmospheric restraint and effortless mechanical goose-step sound Warsaw were able to conjure up, and Frustration on this EP act like the only way to sound that intense is to fuckin’ throttle the instruments, slash them with razors & wrestle them to the floorboards. I can still get pretty hopped up for that sort of noise given the right mood lighting, but for now I’m voting for the American EP as the definitive statement thus far (just got the first 12” in the mail yesterday – I’ll let ya know!).

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Not sure if I’m just poking around the wrong petunias, but ever since “The Golden Hits of Lesley Gore” I have not purchased nor owned a start-to-finish single-artist girl group CD that was five-star. Even the everloving SHANGRI-LA’s are inconsistent on their greatest hits comps, and it’s no different with this TWINKLE CD. Twinkle, you may remember from our post on the Rhino girl group box last week, was a young British lass from the 60s with an incredible song in the “he was reckless, now he’s my dead boyfriend” genre called “Terry”. That was her first single, penned by herself and released to much UK acclaim in 1964, and followed up in 1965 by another knockout 45 called “Golden Lights”. Her early singles are comped in order on this CD, and decline semi-precipitously in quality until her last mediocre one in 1969, “Mickey”. The best ones are pure booming beat-girl pop bliss, including “Tommy” and “A Lonely Singing Doll”, and you just gotta hear them. Better than anything I’ve ever heard from contemporaries CILLA BLACK and SANDIE SHAW by a mile. After that she worked on a subsequently aborted LP in the 1970s, and then put out one “Soft Cell”-ish single in the 80s, none of which is worth a second listen. I will say her brazen, logrolling tribute to all women in the radio industry (“Radio Station Lady”) is such a great gambit to get airplay, I’m reminded of all the other “radio” songs that got played by egotistical DJs in the 70s (anyone remember “Who Listens To The Radio” by The Sports?). Twinkle, I know Morrissey loves ya and I do too, but this $17.99 CD is exhibit A in my “Rapidshare Connundrum” CDs that I would have happily downloaded rather than fork out the cash I did.

Monday, May 08, 2006

This bunch are part of the Atlanta garage-spew axis along with the BLACK LIPS, THE LIDS & a handful of other young noisemakers – this record on RAW DELUXE is their 2nd before a “jump” to the hallowed halls of Goner Records. What I like about this record is the vague tinge of long-ago bash-it-out Radio X perennials like Supercharger & The Brentwoods; there are a couple of tracks that have an ultra-fine ramshackle oldies vibe that sounds more pre-punk (think late 50’s) than punk. I also admire the cover. It breaks down for me on the majority of the tracks though, which (yet again) spotlight the whole c’mon-baby-we-goin’-out-tonight, c’mon-baby-let’s-rock-tonight doofus punk that I can’t believe still has a chokehold over such a large percentage of modern garage punk heads. At least the RADIO BEATS lay their lyrical pablum down over blinding, hardcore-level raw screech; THE CARBONAS merely work up the standard chugga-chugga meathead riffs on about half this record that every other young punker & his brothers come up with. I suspect there’s more to them than meets the ear given the level of excitement budding around them & the fact that some of their hotter numbers are so full of vigor & piss (don’t have the album in front of me now but the last one on Side 2 just smokes); give ‘em a listen and take a song or two from their MySpace page & see what you make of it.

Friday, May 05, 2006

For my money, this was the last of the truly classic pre-1976 proto-punk bands to be comped and released on LP/CD. I’m talking about a set of revelatory, eye-popping releases that started with the ELECTRIC EELS“Having A Philosophical Investigation With The Electric Eels” LP, through SIMPLY SAUCER’s “Cyborgs Revisted”, and on and on until Anopheles Records put out this fantastic set of December 1975 recordings from Chickasha, Oklahoma’s DEBRIS in 1999 as “Static Disposal”. These are the bands that popular thinking once and frequently said “didn’t exist” during the supposed wasteland of 1970-75 rock and roll, and I was raised & suckled on the unquestioned assumption that, outside of Roxy Music, the Modern Lovers, Captain Beefheart and a few others, out-there, raw & bent rock-and-roll died for five years before being resurrected by The Ramones. Late-period Velvets and Stooges and MC5 notwithstanding, of course. (Actually the common consensus in my youth was that it was England’s Sex Pistols that resurrected the form, not the Ramones. Right!).

Anyway, DEBRIS have a nice little page over on MySpace that explains the mystery of a band so experimentally robust & bold that they sounded like a fucked-up meld of MX-80, THE GIRLS and PERE UBU – even before the first two of those bands really got humming. From said page:

“The town of Chickasha, OK, might seem an unlikely birthplace of a seminal experimental proto-art-punk band set on pushing the boundaries of rock. In the face of indifference, and even redneck hostility, and lasting only a year, Debris' forged a small legacy with its D.I.Y. ethic and improvised playing style. Charles Ivey and Oliver Powers played various instruments in various bands for several years before the summer of 1975, when they approached drummer Johnny Gregg for a new band. Debris' was quickly launched and by September, they had the first of the four live gigs of their short existence. Their chaotic performance style and dark, quirky sound — influenced by the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, Captain Beefheart, as well as English glam rock — did not endear them to their Oklahoma City-area audiences. At one such show, a Battle of the Bands competition where 50 bands vied for a new sound system, Debris' came in dead last while a cover band took home the prize.At the same time, they took advantage of a 1,590-dollar promotional package from a sound studio, which provided ten hours of recording time and a 1,000 LP pressing. With the lofty ambition to "cut the ultimate record of the decade," they recorded material in two sessions in mid-December and the record was pressed several months later (since released on CD as Static Disposal with much bonus material). The band started to mail it out to various record labels and rock magazines as a demo in hopes of getting a record deal and to more fully realize their project. With early negative reviews and no local support, Debris' disbanded, ahead of their time and in the wrong place. Within a year, more favorable press appeared and CBGB even offered them a gig and a chance to cash in on the burgeoning New York punk scene, but it was already too late.”

One of the things to note about this set – which contains the aforementioned promotional package recordings + a bunch of rehearsals, 21 tracks in all – is that while no single track is as throttling & instantly memorable as, say, “Heart of Darkness”, “Havana Affair” or “Oh! Those Sweet Bananas” (to name three contemporaries), all are white-hot slabs of dark, psychedelic drug punk, all weird & chaotic in their way but eminently listenable & approachable despite some challenging vocals. The spoken-voice songs, “Witness” in particular, are amazing. The singer takes on the persona of a stream-of-consciousness street-corner ranter who’s leagues ahead in IQ than you are, but who’s also hopped up on goofballs & barely able to spit a recognizable sentence out. A nice effect for sure. Certainly, in addition to Beefheart, these guys definitely noshed on some late 60s acid punk, as well as on some acid itself. Today we take for granted that raw & strange music such as this can easily reach all corners of the United States, even the globe itself, but in 1975 I’d have to reckon that you were one pretty far-gone music freak to actively be seeking out these sounds in Chickasha, Oklahoma. And to then internalize them & spit them out in such an inventive & bizarre manner – wow wow wow. Great collection. The original CD’s nearly gone, a CD-R version is available directly from Anopheles, and if you wanna hear the final, documented, great proto-punk band, you might want to think about grabbing one.

Thursday, May 04, 2006
THE KINKS : "LIVE AT THE BBC 1964-1967" bootleg CD......

Barely serviceable and completely non-essential collection of KINKS rarities, not all of them even live on the BBC. Truth in advertising, folks! Can you believe a bootlegger would do that? This one chuffed me off for several reasons - first, the perilous quality of some of the "live on the radio" recordings (it's not horrid, but some fade in early in the song, sometimes even when the vocals have already started); second, the average, workaday versions of songs like "See My Friend" and "David Watts" that were better in the real studio; third, my sneaking, probably ill-informed suspicion that at least two tracks -- "Mr. Pleasant" and "Susannah's Still Alive" -- truly are from the records and aren't "live" per se, and so on. There's some good German TV stuff at the end ("I'm A Lover Not A Fighter"!) that maybe redeems it as a salvageable collection, but barely if so. It is certainly not to be confused with a legit collection of Kinks BBC rarities, and is one of those that's so non-necessary that even up-to-date sites of Kinks bootlegs don't list it.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

If you've been forgetting to absorb the scintillating commentary, daring opinions, & bizarre non-sequiters related to the world of beer and beer drinking, well, here's a needling hint to go where the party is and head on over to our brother site HEDONIST BEER JIVE. Here's a foamy, hop-laden taste of what we've been discussing over there the past few months:


And so on. There are also around a dozen exciting first-person dispatches from the frontlines of beer-drinking criticism. Just keep the URL in your back pocket when you're thinking about what to drink tonight, OK?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The girl groups of the 1960s were quite the rage with some portion of the hipster cognoscenti around the time THE RAMONES copped a lot of the groups' sound to mix into the raw buzzsaw punk they flat-out invented. After that peak of attention, it’s seemed like only dorks like me and Tony Rettman have cared enough to care – or who can differentiate why these saccharine sounds are so much better than so much the rest of 60’s pop. I don’t know, I just fall for the sound of a gaggle of sassy, smack-talking, gum-smacking 15-year old brats singing about their crushes over booming beats, and I love the craft that went into these records. This 4-CD box set that came out last year packaged in a hat box (!) could be said to be the holy grail of girl group sounds. The folks behind the song selection looked way beyond the hits, and dug into the corners of rare 45s and album cuts to come up with an absolutely stellar collection of songs that keeps up the quality over nearly 5+ hours of music. It’s my favorite compilation of this stuff by a mile, better even than the Ace Records “Where The Girls Are” series, even bettering the French-only “Ultra Chicks” collections for overall song-to-song quality.

“ONE KISS CAN LEAD TO ANOTHER: GIRL GROUP SOUNDS LOST AND FOUND” has got something for every fan of swingin’ lizz-adies. If you dig the lush, sleigh bell PHIL SPECTOR sound, you’re in luck. Love producer’s tricks a la JOE MEEK? Some great ones of that ilk are on here, like the bizarre screecher “Egyptian Shumba” by THE TAMMYS. Dig the mersh stuff? The weird stuff? Bratty white girls? Soulful black girls? Climb aboard. You’re likely to hear a few things you’ve heard before – say, THE SHANGRI-LA’S' “Out in the Streets”, MARY WELLS' "Bye Bye Baby", LITTLE EVA’s “Trouble With Boys” or “Funnel of Love” by WANDA JACKSON (not a representative track on this box by any means) – but you’re also likely to hear some bombshell girl numbers that are super rare and barely/never comped. I've played the frilly knickers off this set and have come up with some previously-unheard favorites you've got to hear, like the motorcycle-accident lament "Terry" by TWINKLE; SUSAN LYNNE's similar plea "Don't Drag No More" (just awesome); "I Adore Him" by THE ANGELS and "Sophisticated Boom Boom" by THE GOODIES (read it about it for years, heard it here first). One that many folks haven't heard but is easily among the Top 10 on here is "Don't Drop Out" by none other than a pre-country & western DOLLY PARTON, with her trademark trill very much in action. It's a whomper. Another of note is the totally wack "Peanut Duck" by MARSHA GEE, featuring godawful quacking and choking noises near the end that scared my son in the car and nearly caused an accident.

Sure enough, virtually every non-"Peanut Duck" song is about boys, and was written primarily for local and national chart action (by the way, it's only the US and UK represented here). I can give or take the colorful "Dear Diary"-style booklet and the goofy hatbox, but packaging boxes these days seems like a gold rush to one-up the last box set to get hauled before the Grammy voters, so expect this trend to continue. Terrific collection, easily the best of its kind, and a stellar jumping off point for these sounds if you might want to get involved with some gum-chomping, toe-tapping, miniskirt-wearing, producer-servicing girls of the 1960s.

Monday, May 01, 2006

After our post from a couple weeks ago on "The Rapidshare Connundrum", Scott Soriano of S-S RECORDS and the CRUD CRUD & STATIC PARTY mp3 blogs sent us his take on the whole RapidShare/SoulSeek phenomenon and its implication for labels like his. I thought it might be a good marker for just how far easy downloading has come in a couple of short years & what it means for 2006-07. A return to vinyl? It's sure looking that way, isn't it? Here's what Scott had to say:

"....Just read your thing on rapidshare and your concerns about it. I am not sure if there is much of a difference between soulseek style filesharing of LPs and rapidshare downloads of full LPs (that are in print) on specialty blogs. Though you can trust a blogger's taste, same goes with individual soulseek posters. People not only search for specific things on soulseek, they also follow certain posters and hit all their files.

As far as the impact on a label's sales, I can't speak to the impact of rapidshare and a specialty blog, but I do know that the combination of soulseek, lower priced DSL, fast burners, and 10 cent cdrs killed my CD sales. I put out three cds, all great records, all that got great reviews and much airplay on WFMU and other stations. I pressed and sold 1000 each of A Frames s/t & A Frames II and sold them in less than a years time (slower than both vinyl sales by the way). I did a repressing of each thinking that they would sell the same or faster due to the Subpop signing. Funny thing happened with the rise of soulseek and the other things I mentioned: My sales of A Frames CDs ground to a near halt. Of the second pressing of both cds, I've sold about 300 of AF II and 500 of AF s/t and that after more than a year.

The Monoshock cd has sold about 500. Its release was unfortunately timed with the jump of popularity of soulseek. After we were done editing it Scott Derr thanked me for putting it out and hoped I was able to break even. I quipped that it would sell 1000 and download 3000. I was off. It sold 500 and probably downloaded (or was burned) 5000. Of the 500 I sold, about 450 was in the first 9 months. In the past year and a half I've sold 50. If not for Revolver pushing it, I would have sold far less.

Compare that to undownloadable vinyl. A Frames - Complication 7" sold 1000 in 4 months. 1500 of A Frames - Police 1000 were pressed in November and 150 are left. I pressed 500 each of Frustration 7" & Cheveu 7" and that was maybe a month ago. I have 200 left of Frustration, who have a following, and 300 of Cheveu, of whom few outside Paris knew about til the S-S record came out.

I reluctantly started doing CDs because there was a call for them and I thought the profit would make it able for me to put out more and more obscure vinyl. Plus it would enable me to actually pay the bands decent money rather than give them a pile of records with the words, "Here sell these." This worked for one pressing of each of the A Frames CDs and then the downloaders, filesharers and burners killed that. I now put out only vinyl because I love the format and it pays for itself. I can sell a small run of 7"s by a relatively obscure band in far less time than I can a CD by a known band. The way it is now putting out a CD by a known band is pretty much and announcement to people that it is now available for free on soulseek.

Because putting vinyl on to the internet involves a real time commitment and not point click copy download, only real obsessives do it. And real vinyl obsessives are always gonna track down and buy the vinyl even if it is available as a download. People also want an object that they think is real and so they buy vinyl. Cheveu's Dog was available on their My Space site for at least 6 months before the record came out and if anything its availability has helped vinyl sales. I think this is because people look at CDs as a cheap ripoff and as disposable as a bic lighter.

You might suggest that I get into the paid download game to make up for the loss of CD sales. Being a small label, doing the pay for download thing is cumbersome and really not worth it. The major distros of downloads dont deal direct with small labels. They want volume not one download a week. So to get in with something like itunes, I would have to go through two more layers of distribution, which means the distros make more than me for doing nothing but accounting. At the end of the year, I'd be lucky to split $500 between the label and the bands.

All that said, I do an MP3 blog, though it is of music that is very obscure and/or out of print, and I download off of similar blogs. I don't have a problem with it. What I do have a problem with is the mass denial by "indie" people regarding download/filesharing's affect on labels. There is this cavalier assumption that everyone who checks something out via unpaid download is going to buy it. In my experience, that isn't true. At least not with CDs. I say, just be frank. Downloading/filesharing is not home taping and it does have an adverse effect of labels, the impact being greater on small labels where 500 lost sales is a hell of a lot more than a major losing 5,000 sales. That is something that really needs to be kept in mind if one is truly a supporter of independently produced music. This isn't about greed. It is about finding a way to pay the bills."