Agony Shorthand


Friday, March 31, 2006
OUR TENTACLES ARE SHOWING.......In addition to HEDONIST BEER JIVE and the AGONY SHORTHAND MYSPACE PAGE, our empire continues to expand. Kim over @ Lost In The Grooves has been kind enough to syndicate this site’s content on her own site, which you can find here. Actually LITG is fast becoming an exceptionally worthy destination site, as it aggregates & syndicates multiple other worthy blogs and is adding other cool music-related content daily. Bookmark it and you’ll eliminate the need to do so for a whole bunch of others.




SILVER DAGGERS : “WE DIDN’T PAY” 7”EP......



Los Angeles’ SILVER DAGGERS are part of a new breed of exploratory, pummeling agit-noise acts operating on the NOT NOT FUN label, and for my money, and based on the evidence, they’re the best of ‘em. This EP from last year is a strange mix of aggressive, guitar-heavy EX-style sturm und drang, and freeform honking and tooting. Since they’ve taken their name from an ELECTRIC EELS song, I’m sure you’re as curious as I was to know which era Eels they’re emulating. The early “Agitated”, “Cyclotron”, “Refrigerator” Eels? Or the later “Pleasure Boating”, “Spin Age Blasters” Eels? I’d have to go with the latter, given the jarring sax and clarinet all over this EP, and if there’s not a serious STYRENES fan in the band then I’ll be damned. The lead track “We Didn’t Pay” is a monster, and has got to be a nutbuster live for all of its 75 seconds of pound. This one in particular should win the band fans from those who refuse to believe that Amphetamine Reptile are no longer putting out records. Heads up on this bunch – I suspect they’re not done wowing us quite yet.




Wednesday, March 29, 2006
CARTER FAMILY : “GIVE ME THE ROSES WHILE I LIVE” CD.......

I started collecting the 9-volume ROUNDER series of original CARTER FAMILY recordings when they started trickling out in 1993, and this one that arrived in the mail last week was the last piece of the puzzle, despite its having come out in ’97. All nine CDs are now deleted and are increasingly hard to find (got lucky and got this for a normal price, but typically they’re $30+). The CDs that really converted me to the Carter cause were the first two, “Anchored In Love” and “My Clinch Mountain Home”, as these were their earliest 78s from 1927-29 and contain their most classic raw country ache, including the grand majority of the songs they’re most popularly known for. The way Rounder did this was to pretty much stack up all their 78s in rough chronological order, cut them into batches of 15-16 songs, and then released them in order on CD. As I understand it, they didn’t get absolutely everything ever waxed (there were a lot of “border radio” recordings, for instance), but they did get virtually everything recorded by Maybelle, Sara and A.P. for public vinyl consumption. This one, “Give Me The Roses While I Live”, features material from the middle of their career, 1932-33 (I think it was the 6th in the series). One instant classic that I love is “The Church in the Wildwood”, which’ll have you burning the holy cross into your skin & awaiting the rapture by song’s end. I mean, if I heard this sort of genius in church maybe I wouldn’t be such a godless anti-theist. While this CD is as sweet and as timeless as any of their work, I truly get the sense that by the time the group had honed their formula & been popularly recognized as the top act in the nascent field of country music, they really started “phoning it in”, if you will. At least in terms of creating dynamic new material. No, a lot of this one draws upon ballads and spirituals that were floating around Appalachia since time immemorial, and often features the exact same strum and warble as a dozen other Carter Family numbers you’ve grown to love. That keeps me from an unqualified raving endorsement of this one by its lonesome, and only leads me to recommend it as part of the greater whole. Get the first 2 in the series if you can find them, or if you’re pinching pennies (and who isn’t), then the JSP box set will do you right.




Tuesday, March 28, 2006
PUBLIC IMAGE LTD.’s “METAL BOX” – A REAPPRAISAL.......



Having more or less summarily dismissed PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED for many years – notwithstanding the time I saw them live in high school, nor the few songs of theirs I’ve always enjoyed – I’ve nonetheless tried to keep a generally open mind about this record, which I disliked intensely when I first heard it a couple years after it came out. Being a teenager at the time, it was likely a “hey – this sounds nothing like the Sex Pistols” thing, though I never really gave much more than two hoots about them either. Yet every now and again I’d hear a snippet of something like “Poptones” or “Careering” and wonder. Maybe all the hype added up to something. In 2006, I decided to find out for sure. Perhaps it was Simon Reynolds’ use of the band to bookend his “Rip It Up and Start Again” book – though I’m “dubious” of the supposition, let alone the pedestal he puts these guys on. He was positing that PIL’s explorations out of punk and into the great beyond represented the single most representative example of “post-punk” in all its forms. I always figured rock critics who said stuff like that were the ones who barely looked past the Sex Pistols when discussing punk, and whose mental image of punk was safety pins, gobbing and anarchy in the streets. But Reynolds, to his credit, got me to check it out again after 20+ years. Here goes.

I think “Metal Box” is one of the best dance records of the 80s. To call it a “krautrock” or a “dub” record is beyond absurd – it’s dark, understated disco music, with a bleary heap of negativity slathered into every nook & cranny. In fact, when it’s not at its funkiest, it loses a bit of steam – though it’s hard to get weirdo ambient synth instrumental “Radio 4” out of my head now that I’ve been playing this on headphones repeatedly the past few weeks. My absolute favorites on here are “Memories” and “Swan Lake”, which have the same sort of dense, moody qualuude feel of some of the danceable early 80s New York groups (Liquid Liquid, ESG, Bush Tetras), with warbling, unsteady vocals on top. Because of the original wide-grooved 45rpm nature of this set (three 12” in one package), the only way to hear it is in the remastered form, where the static shards of guitar and whomping bass leap out in surroundsound. Of course you’ve got to put up with Lydon’s vocals as well, but one becomes immune after being pummeled with them for thirty years now. I guess Keith Levene and Jah Wobble earned their stripes on this one – lord knows how many times I’ve read of their genius without having any sort of inner soundtrack to validate such claims on my own. I suspect that now that I’ve officially joined their team, I’m only going to continue liking “Metal Box” more each spin.




Monday, March 27, 2006
TIMES NEW VIKING, live 3/23/06, Eagle Tavern, San Francisco CA......

If I wasn't already calling this band one of my modern faves last year, I am now. Columbus' TIMES NEW VIKING are out on their first US tour as we speak, & brought their jarring electro-spasm pop panic rock to one of San Francisco's most popular "Bear" bars for a night of Thursday evening entertainment. I thought the set-up was great -- female electronics/weirdly-tuned keyboard player out front, wildman singer/drummer way back, 9-foot-tall heroic guitarist feeding back & spazzing out off to the side. It was a set that was just long enough to satiate, short enough to inspire a sense of want, and good enough to make me want to hop in the van as a rock stowaway for a few nights. Times New Viking truly sound like no one else right now, but I reckon the closest I can come on evidence of the live act is '76 MIKE REP & THE QUOTAS (easy pick I know) jamming with the PATTI SMITH GROUP and "Propeller"-era GUIDED BY VOICES, with an overlay of tape hiss and digital fuck-effects. Loved it. If you're in Portland, Seattle or Minneapolis this week, you need to see this band - and be sure and ask them for a couple free cassettes, they're fantastic & a hint of noise to come on their upcoming triple 45.




Sunday, March 26, 2006
FLESH EATERS IN MAINSTREAM MEDIA SHOCKER......

As I moved to toss - I mean recycle, of course - the always-unread San Francisco Chronicle pink/entertainment section this morning, my wife called to my attention an article about THE FLESH EATERS' reformation within it by Sylvie Simmons. I guess we're only t-minus 10 days until the 25th anniversary re-emergence of the "Minute to Pray, Second To Die" line-up of the band, April 5th in San Francisco, and the scene is boiling in anticipation. I've tried to mark the blessed occassion for my part by soliciting Chris D. to conduct an exciting email interview with the hugely influential and widely-read Agony Shorthand blog, but to date, no confirmation of my exceptionally generous offer has been tendered. I will say that last time I brokered such an interview offer with him, 1990 for an all-Flesh Eaters radio special I did on KFJC, he called me on my work phone a mere hour before the show & I fumbled for the words to thank a hero I'd only met briefly once before. The interview went off without a hitch, thankfully. In any event, Chris, if you're out there, let's see if we can't help sell this goddamn show out 8 times over.




Friday, March 24, 2006
DWARVES : “LICK IT” CD......



I was a “college radio” DJ when THE DWARVES“Horror Stories” LP came out in 1986, and like everything on the Voxx label at the time, it mostly went in one ear & out the other. I couldn’t believe how thinly those records were produced, and it was a couple years before I’d developed a true palate for 60s punk – so a lot of the nuances of the band’s covers went right over my head. For those of you that only know The Dwarves in their post-1988 incarnations, they were actually once a died-in-the-wool 60s throwback band, with paisley shirts, a farfisa organ, and a roughly 50/50 mix of covers to originals. This CD from a few years back collects that era, and then picks up the very beginning of their explosive shift to out-and-out feedback punk screech. That era – easily their best – is well documented on the “Toolin’ For Lucifer’s Crank” and “Free Cocaine” CDs. I remember how my ears flapped to the back of my head the first time I heard Example #1 of the “change” – a song called “Fuckhead” on a forgotten promo comp called “The Secret Team” (this roaring blast with Herculean levels of distortion is nothing like subsequent versions of the 30-second song – it’s the only one you’ll ever need). From that point on I started to pay attention. Recently I decided to step back to 1985-87, the era documented on this one, by purchasing the CD. Let’s discuss.

I guess the seeds for the band’s change to gonzoid punk act were planted in the “Lick It/Nothing” 45, which is a masterpiece and which is on here (sort of). It’s a different version of “Lick It” than on the 45; I think the original’s on one of the aforementioned comps. This CD actually comes off pretty great, as all the band’s bile and distorted obnoxiousness is intact, just as a slightly lower “volume”. Tracks like their cover of “I’m a Living Sickness” and “Oozle” are fantastic thuds of Neanderthal rock, bashed out by suburban beasts without opposable thumbs. And you know, before “Horror Stories”, which is on here in its entirety, the band were a Chicago-based act called THE SUBURBAN NIGHTMARE, and all their material’s on here too. That’s maybe not as great – lots of recorded in-joke gags, spoken bits, and halfway-decent 60s garage. The band was definitely a little “green” around the edges, going so low as to perform a non-ironic CLASH cover (ouch!). But doing a regression analysis over 34 tracks, you get a pretty smoothed-out quality line here that makes this one worthy of purchase. The early (late 80s) Dwarves were a special band who had a direct lineage to great panic-rock precedents like THE PAGANS, first-EP MORLOCKS, THE KEGGS and MURPHY & THE MOB, and this one’s good enough “bait” to help any Dwarves neophyte go deeper.




Thursday, March 23, 2006
CAN : "SOUNDTRACKS" LP/CD.....



Is “Mother Sky” one of the most screaming rock songs of all time, or what? The nearly 15 minutes it takes to crank it through headphones or wherever one chooses to take in its propulsive majesty in is 15 minutes exceptionally well spent, every time. You could throw away the whole of 1970’s “Soundtracks”, CAN’s second album, and leave “Mother Sky” intact and it’d be an all-time classic record regardless – lucky for us the rest is pretty all-good as well. Depending on how one defines “krautrock”, I’d posit that CAN at this point weren’t consistently making any (for me, the template song of the genre is NEU!’s “Hallogallo”, but I recognize the krautrock table is wide enough for many comers). Each song is weird and/or lovely in its own way – for instance, “Tango Whiskeyman” is a dark, spooky creeper that morphs into a lush – well, a lush tango. “Deadlock (Titelmusik)” is a jarring snippet of an instrumental that is the only one on here that sounds like something truly from a film, and “She Brings the Rain” is a balladic hippie waltz through the psychedelic mushroom forest (it’s also a nice “cool down” to end the album after the raging sonic scree of “Mother Sky”). I suppose I’m more inclined to throw on “Tago Mago” or “Ege Bamyasi” when I want to get a more consistent taste of CAN, but “Soundtracks” is right up there among their best.




Wednesday, March 22, 2006
SIBYLLE BAIER : “COLOUR GREEN” CD......



I’ve been accused of favoring winsome female folk artists when I do indulge the form (folk), and I guess I have to cop & say: OK, guilty as charged. At least until I find some fellas who are up to minimalist beauty and unusually dreamy, lonesome vibe of VASHTI BUNYAN’s “Just Another Diamond Day” or of my new favorite, SIBYLLE BAIER. Like Vashti, Ms. Baier was recording her skeletal voice + guitar beauties around 1970-73, but Baier never actually got that album out – in fact the material on “Colour Green” is just now coming out for the first time, 36 years later. (Apparently J. Mascis had a hand in its release). It’s fantastic, simple stuff, with no single track throttling any of the others around it – just achingly pure folk from start to finish. Baier was German, and it says somewhere on the web that she once contributed a song to an early Win Wenders film. She sings with barely any trace of an accent, and her voice just oozes sadness and somberness without ever dipping into cliché. If you want to try a single song, you can download “Tonight” right here. Everyone loves the half-baked story of the easygoing non-musician who just sat down one day with his/her guitar and knocked out a classic, but with Sibylle Baier there’s very something close to truth in the tale.




Tuesday, March 21, 2006
YOU TUBE MANIA......



Months from now when YOU TUBE is roundly hailed along with Amazon, eBay, Google and Hedonist Beer Jive as one of the paradigm-busting web sites of the digital age, we'll all remember the first time we logged into the thing & found ourselves still up way past our bedtimes hours later. I spent a little time rooting around in the You Tube universe a few days ago looking for unseen gems of a musical nature, and I found plenty. Here's the absolute best of what I've found so far:

1. VOID - "Who Are You" live 7/1/83 Washington DC
2. ROXY MUSIC - "Remake/Remodel" live in the Eno days
3. THE BAGS - Live 1979 Portland, OR
4. NEW YORK DOLLS - an amazing "Personality Crisis" live on German TV
5. PAGANS - "Dead End America" video (!)
6. THE CRAMPS - "Tear It Up" from Urgh: A Music War - the single clip that set my musical taste on its current bent course and turned me into a Cramps fan for life
7. DOW JONES AND THE INDUSTRIALS - "Ladies With Appliances" live
8. PRIMITIVE CALCULATORS - "I Can't Stop It" video
9. NECROS - live and interviewed on public access TV
10. THE CRAMPS - "The Way I Walk" live @ the Napa State Mental Hospital
11. VICTIMS - "Television Addict" live (yes, the Australian Victims!)
12. AU PAIRS - "Come Again" from Urgh: A Music War
13. ROLLING STONES - Rice Krispies commercial tune that flat-out smokes
14. MISFITS - "Hybrid Moments" video
15. DOLLY MIXTURE - "Been Teen" video




Sunday, March 19, 2006
AGONY SHORTHAND HAS A NEW LITTLE BROTHER.......

I actually have one or two interests outside of music. One of them is beer. Not in the gettin' loaded way, but in the ultra-snobbish, "underground" microbrew sorta way. What a surprise, hunh? Until today I've tried to keep from writing about them in this forum, preferring to keep some purity on this site and not "dilute the brand", if you know what i'm saying. Living on the West Coast of the US has provided me with untold bounty of fine beers to sample over the years. For some crazy reason I decided to write a little bit about it. Thus was born HEDONIST BEER JIVE on March 19th, 2006 -- a new companion site devoted to the arcana surrounding beer, and my enjoyment thereof. I have completed my online "statement of purpose" and have posted it right here in case you're at all interested. Please bookmark it and come back to it often, because we're hosting a goddamn rager over there.




Friday, March 17, 2006
THE MUMMIES : “FUCK CDs, IT’S THE MUMMIES” LP......



I moved to San Francisco in 1989 and quickly adopted four bands as the ones I’d rush out and see anytime they played: WORLD OF POOH (who soon broke up), THE DWARVES, THINKING FELLERS UNION LOCAL 282, and THE MUMMIES. Of the big four, I only still routinely listen to music from the first two – somehow the Thinking Fellers stuff, while interesting & convoluted & at times a total blast of Beefheartian glee, just never came off as wild on 45 and LP as they did on stage during their 1989-1993 heyday (though I once called an album of theirs a “masterpiece” in print around 1991, a move which I remember skeptically pondering the long-term consequences of, even as I was typing it). The Mummies, well, I must have seen every show in the greater Bay Area there for a few years – they were the most honest and raw bunch of 60s garage aficionados around, at a time when all sorts of second-wave 60s punk freaks were forming bands and blowing doors off the inferior 1980s move-coppers. At times, they howled like the everlovin’ Sonics howled, and even though they dressed up in costumes – almost always an inviolable, guilty-until-proven-innocent Crime Against Rock – every show was a total mess of sweat, beer and shattered eardrums. A 6-pints-a-night affair, if you know what I mean. Their cover picks were superlative , and they very consciously sounded like what we’d all imagine a band like LARRY AND THE BLUE NOTES sounded like live, unlike how they undoubtedly sounded for real in 1965 (tame teenybopper music for sock hops, with a little crazy distortion on the guitar, right?).

Why, I remember how “proud” I was when The Mummies’ first album (the one we’re discussing today) came out on Billy Childish’s Hangman label; I believe the deal was a direct outgrowth from a set they played opening for MUDHONEY and THEE HEADCOATS that was just aces.....Childish (who was already pretty beaned up at the time; I know because I tried to kiss his ass for a minute or two - “So great to have you in the United States, Mr. Childish”, etc. – only to get gibberish back) stood up front and positively glowed at the band, and all of a sudden, the nascent San Francisco garage punk scene was validated. Anyway, we got this LP out of the deal, the only real full-length The Mummies ever waxed, and it was all well and good in its day. But until I put it on again last week, I’d almost completely forgotten about it for a decade, and remembered not having spun it much at the time. Why not, you ask? Well, unlike other early 90s garage landmarks like SUPERCHARGER’s “Goes Way Out!”, THE GORIES’ “I Know You Fine, But How You Doin’” and the CHEATER SLICKS’ “Whiskey”, the Mummies stuff suffers from a sort of “tribute” mentality that suffuses the whole thing. Everything sounds like an updated 60s punk band or maybe 50s rockabilly/R&B act, with more raw oomph and a deliberately precipitous decline in fidelity, sure, but not much like a truly great band in its own right. I mean don’t get me wrong – some of this just smokes, like “Red Cobra #9” and “Your Ass (Is Next In Line)”, and there are a few stud instrumentals on here too that show off the band’s “chops” without a lot of showboating. But a lot of bands pulled off records like this around 1990-93, and while this might be better than most of ‘em, my enthusiasm has diminished with advancing age and years of distance between me and my live-music-three-times-a-week twenties. A fine band, love ‘em to death, but worthy of canonization? Come on.




Thursday, March 16, 2006
VERTIGO : "TWO LIVES/FRONT END LOADER/PHIL 105" 7"EP.....



When I put together my mp3 blog in a few years (when I can finally "live the dream"), "Two Lives" is definitely going up for all to sample & cherish. Until then, here's a thing I wrote about it 'round 1998 and that, if pressed, I would defend to this day......! :

Here's one I'm young enough to remember - the 1988 debut 7" from this Minneapolis trio came out in a tiny pressing on a nowhere label called Skidmark. Once the mystery of this darkly jarring set of songs spread across the phone lines and printing presses of the US, Forced Exposure magazine pressed up their own big batch and sang its priases six ways to Sunday. VERTIGO were, for about a month, the basement geniuses on every clued-in hipster's lips. Little wonder, because the beauty and power of these three numbers will stand up in any age, whether the record was a simple accident of history or not. Vertigo's debut remain the absolute pinnacle of what the indies were offering in the late 80s, a time when labels like Amphetamine Reptile and even Sub Pop were exciting and forward-looking. Except this was a case of the farm team upsetting the big leaguers, because Vertigo came in from nowheresville, and once called to the majors, just couldn't deliver any big blasts in the clutch (cc: their AmRep material).

The fucked-with stills from some ancient monster movie on the record's sleeve hinted at what was inside. "Two Lives" is foreboding and weird throughout its 3+ minutes, when barely-harnassed feedback providing the bedrock for a simple, hanuting guitar squall. The singer - when there are vocals at all - sounds distant and a little bit annoyed, like he's parked in a bedroom behind a locked door & not entirely capable of providing his disinterested commentary. "Front End Loader" is a crazed instrumental with a hall-of-fame riff - it makes sense that these guys covered CRIME's "Murder By Guitar" later on, because I'm telling you, they are easily in the same league. Finally, "Phil 105" might be the best of them all, with thinly-disguised melodics that are the diamond in a showering frenzy of heavy guitar-shard feedback. If this one passed you by 10 (editor's update = now 19) years ago, do yourself a big favor and track it down, because until someone cobbles together a Killed By Death for the late 80s, this gem will remain far too elusive.




Tuesday, March 14, 2006
VARIOUS ARTISTS : "ALTERNATIVE ANIMALS" 2xCD/CD-ROM.....

When was the last time you played a "CD-ROM"? The time you plunked down for a bootleg DVD in a CD jewel case in Chinatown, & later tried to unsuccessfully crank it through your new DVD player? (oh wait, that was me). If you're not thoroughly learned in the rich glories of nutzoid '77-'79 Australian punk (yet), you might want to think about giving this "ALTERNATIVE ANIMALS" set a spin. It's nuts. Disc 2 is a "pedestrian" set of classic gonzo Aussie punk rock, with some slashing triumphs for the ages -- X's "Home Is Where The Floor Is" makes its first digital appearance, and X, my friends, the Australian X, knew virtually no peers in the gnarly, blazing grunt-punk world of the time. THE PAGANS, maybe. Other ragers, perhaps more well-known, include THE LEFTOVERS' "Cigarettes and Alcohol" and the PSYCHO SURGEONS' "Horizontal Action", with a couple of ballistic live SAINTS tracks to kick it off as well. A strange selection, though, when new waver acts like WHIRLYWIRLD and THE ORPHANS are in starring roles next to knuckle draggers like, say, ROCKS and THE BABEEZ. And whose idea was it to ignore RAZAR and THE VICTIMS??? One hot little # I'd never heard before is the wild "Sex Crimes" from Nick Cave and his BOYS NEXT DOOR, a.k.a. the embryonic BIRTHDAY PARTY. Huzzah! This one's rabid, fast and very p-u-n-k, if you can imaging Cave & the gang as true punx.

Disc 1's the one that's probably shifting the units on this thing, though. An "interactive" walk through virtually every punk band of the day, it includes family trees, interviews, some live footage, fanzine snapshots, and photographs of every 45, LP or comp that came out of Australia & had a good-for-nothing punk in the band. It can either be a total time suck for a few hours, or one can choose to be schooled in small bites. I chose the latter path, as navigating around a CD-ROM feels so nineties. I reckon I got through most everything I was interested in, but I'm sure there's an "Easter egg" or two hidden that I didn't tap into. Seriously, if Aussie punk is kinda new to you and you're looking to connect some dots (and it's been said before, but this was probably the single most roaring per-capita punk rock nation on the planet outside of the small nation of Los Angeles), this affordably-priced set is the single best place to start. If it's just the music you're after, get the "Where Birdman Flew" bootleg, the "Murder Punk" CDs, the first couple SAINTS albums, and then get this, and you're well on your way to a professorship.




Monday, March 13, 2006
PHIL BOYD & THE HIDDEN TWIN: "PHIL BOYD & THE HIDDEN TWIN" CD.....



Got a hankering for something TYRANOSAURUS REX-ish this morning? You could do a heckova lot worse than the new CD from Modey Lemon's PHIL BOYD -- that is, PHIL BOYD & THE HIDDEN TWIN. Phil's got a seeing eye peeking up the slacks of Bolan and Townes Van Zandt, at times it's almost TRUX-like in its surreal portrayals of weirdos and outsiders, in a musical language that's probably unreadable when splayed upon the page. The disc is mostly acoustic, mostly distant in tone & feel, but lightens up a bit at times like on the "sweet" closer "And You Glow", which might be the best thing on here outside of the excellent wanderer "Axeman Of The Glass Forest". The ghost of Othar Turner might've been bumming change around the studio as well the day this was laid down, as some out-of-place fife or something like it pokes its noodling head up from time to time to add a strange touch of the otherworldly. I'm still a little nervous Phil and the Modey Lemon guys actually believe in unicorns and faeries (for real), but outside of that, this thing's a mighty fine gust of uncalculated loner folk.




Friday, March 10, 2006
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN : “THE LIFE PURSUIT” CD......



My wife was the one who turned me onto this group, shortly after their second record “If You’re Feeling Sinister” came out. A couple songs in and I had them (somewhat wrongly) pegged as a quiet mix of SYD BARRETT circa “Terraplane” and NICK DRAKE, with a dollop of early 80s Scottish pop; subsequent listens (and records) revealed much more of a swinging 60’s Carnaby Street vibe, with brassy horns and clever turns of phrase. What didn’t happen, at least until 2003’s “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” came along and nearly ruined the party, was that I never lost my unabashed fandom for the band. Even though they were ever-so-more “twee” than I’ll usually allow myself to succumb to, they were just so friggin’ great at it, and their records usually had about a 3-to-1 hit/miss ratio, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is unusually high. Saw them live the first time around the US, and they were fantastic – it felt like a big ‘ol 60s soul party with a dozen people onstage, with me & you & all your friends invited. Anyway, didn’t really like that last CD much, but I have a feeling the band was trying “the process of weeding out” to get rid of temperamental, overly critical fans like me by latching onto somewhat non-twee forms like Philly Soul and honest-to-gosh indie rock. I’m happy to report that though they’ve kept some of the chaff intact, taking the quality quotient down to a still-healthy 2-to-1, BELLE AND SEBASTIAN have still got it, and this record’s pleasures are definitely there.

These pleasures are overwhelmingly concentrated in the CD’s first half, which is always telling in its way. I mean, if I put out a record (I’m not), I’m going to rank my songs in quality from 1 to 12 or whatever and then sequence them in ascending order. That way the casual illegal downloaders, the in-store headphone listeners and the marginally curious DJs can focus on the good stuff & therefore get a deceptively inaccurate view of how great my record really is. Well it ain’t gonna work with me, B&S, because I listened your new record multiple times front-to-back, and then a few more times after that. The opener, “Act of the Apostle”, is the sort of near-perfect maudlin, winding Belle and Sebastian “template” pop song that’s been winning this band slathering converts for a decade. I think it’s the single best song they’ve written since the girl left – “Family Tree” from three records ago (what was that, like 2000?) – and exactly why I’m still a partisan of the band. Anyway, one after the other for another 6 or so and it’s just a terrific set of songs, at times adding in nods to the boogie of T. REX and his fellow travelers, and the weirdo-ballad majesty of some of their own best stuff as well, complete with the de rigeur “curse words” -- which I’m sure they’re aware are marginally jarring when uttered by a fey Scotsman. But I’ll be honest, using HAIRCUT 100 (“We Are The Sleepyheads”) and 70s American dreck like TODD RUNDGREN, STARBUCK and whoever it was that sang “Get Right Back To Where We Started From” (“Song for Sunshine” and, um, “Funny Little Frog”) as a influence, no matter how couched in irony or uncouth verbiage the lyrics are, is just plain unlistenable and a unpardonable crime to boot. Thus we’re left with a disc that’s tailor made for the iPod or the car CD player, with skip buttons only a forearm’s length away. That kinda sucks, I reckon, because it’s plainly not the case with their earlier records, but what are you gonna do? I’m just pleased to hear them writing pop songs that are still so good that when other bands try to mold themselves around this microgenre-defining sound (hello CAMERA OBSCURA, who are great), they automatically (and somewhat unfairly) get tagged as B&S clones. That’s what happens when you’re on top & you’re still good enough to set the ground rules, and I guess Belle & Sebastian still are.




“MAKING NOISE: TOM LAX HAD LEFT HIS SILTBREEZE LABEL FOR DEAD. NOW HE’S DREDGING IT UP AGAIN".......SILTBREEZE comeback mania continues – first a web site, now a story in the highly influential Philadephia City Paper by one Brian Howard. It’s a good article, so much the better by the fact that I was quoted in it. Read the whole thing right here......!




Thursday, March 09, 2006
VIOLENT STUDENTS : “VIOLENT STUDENTS” CD.......

Sporting easily the worst cover art I’ve seen since MURPHY’S LAW’s “Back With A Bong”, this debut CD from Philadelphia’s VIOLENT STUDENTS is an odd one. On the one hand, it’s a beefy brew of solid-gold death dirge like a weirdo marriage of SKULLFLOWER and FLIPPER; on the other, it’s really unpotent and fairly unimaginative – making it a case of hearty intentions, flawed execution. Keeping with the sleeve’s awful drawings of rampaging, ejaculating punks, the “secret weapon” overlayed on top of the all-instrumental drone jamboree is this bizarre atonal grunting that’s omnipresent on every track. It’s as if the band sampled and mic’d every musclehead slamming his ass off in the pit @ the ’82 SS DECONTROL/JERRY’S KIDS/GROINOIDS show, and then looped the results back into the mix, Mission of Burma-style. This isn’t all bad, mind you – in fact it brings a man down to a very sweaty, primal place that we men sometimes forget to call “home”. But I suppose I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little disappointed to hear something so uninspiring from PARTS UNKNOWN Records, the label that brought you the stunning PISSED JEANS. I know the Pissed Jeans, and you, sirs, are no Pissed Jeans!




Tuesday, March 07, 2006
CURSE OF THE BIRTHMARK : “WELCOME TO THE HARD TIMES…..YOU’RE LATE” 12”EP......



This is my usual lame-o pattern with great, sub-underground bands from my hometown: 1.) Read snippets about them in the local papers, dismissively decide that those writers don’t know dick, and reflexively ignore them; 2.) Hear something surprisingly great by the band a year later, get floored, decide to immediately seek out everything by the group & see them next time they play; 3.) Find out that the band broke up already (usually a week ago), and that my caution once again kept me from yet another rendezvous with some goodtime rocknroll muzak. Such is the case with San Francisco’s CURSE OF THE BIRTHMARK, though who knows, maybe they’re just on hiatus. I sure hope so, because this 2005, 5-song ear-pillager is the electro-zap my ass needed to get the foam coming out of the mouth again. “Welcome To The Hard Times….You’re Late” is the sort of dark, aggressive “industrial rock” I used to envision in the early/mid 80s whenever I’d read about TEST DEPT. or EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN or whatever, whom invariably let me down. C.O.T.B. do not let me down; on the contrary, this EP is full of frothing, electronics-filled no wave guitar, some absolutely thumping drumming, and enough bleeding ear tones to keep you in the isolation chamber for hours afterward. There’s a rabid, mysterious churner at the end of Side 1 called “Too Many Ministers” that I cannot stop playing – in fact, presuming it’s still up when you click here, you can hear the thing yourself at the band’s MySpace site. I wasn’t going to say it, but it’s unavoidable – the fact that this guy “Walter Weasel” is in the band, a guy responsible for one of 10 worst, self-referential, cluelessly dorkified fanzines of all time (“Nice Slacks”), in no way diminishes my love for his power-stun trio. That’s how good it is. Curse of The Birthmark, can you please help me roll back the clock to the magic hours of early 2005 so that I may rock with you?




Monday, March 06, 2006
VARIOUS ARTISTS : “FUZZ CLUB” 7”EP......

The name “Tom Guido” is whispered around these parts (San Francisco) with a mixture of swelling admiration and out-and-out mocking glee. The guy is infamous for being the living embodiment of insane party host “Z-Man” from “Beyond The Valley of the Dolls”, except plied with far more drinks and possessive of far fewer faculties. His deserved claim to fame is that he turned a series of occasional “club nights” featuring late 80s garage acolyte bands called “The Fuzz Club” into a regular ownership/management gig at The Purple Onion, one of San Francisco’s most famous 1950s-60s comedy & music nightclubs, set smack dab in the middle of North Beach, the entertainment hub of the city at one point (and later the center of the city’s stripping & porn industry). That such a “character” was able to build and nurture such a cool scene around such a great venue was always nothing short of miraculous to me. His inebriated on-stage rants, most often conducted in the middle of a band’s set while they glared at him, featured some of the great ridiculous quotes in rock & roll history, and each night coming home from a Fuzz Club or Onion show was usually spent recounting those gems as much as they were recounting the sets one had seen.

Anyway, I spent a good amount of time at these venues, though I missed a few of the 1989-90 acts documented on this somewhat recent live EP called “Fuzz Club”. DRIVING WHEELS, who I definitely missed, absolutely rip – fast shredding caveman garage, of a par with the pre-lunatic speedburning Dwarves, or the Mummies at their best. If I had made some better entertainment choices in 1989 and not gone to so many friggin’ Thinking Fellers shows or whatever, I might’ve been able to tell you more. I do remember Guido personally telling me around 1990 or so that I should forget San Francisco, that the "real scene was down in San Mateo" where garage bands like THE MUMMIES, the VANILLA WHORES and WILD BREED were uh, “bred”. All three appear here, but you won’t likely get any whiff of that magickal San Mateo scene of yesteryear, since all 3 are blurry, weak live tape deck versions of bands that were arguably better on record or truly in person (though I could truly care less about the ‘Whores or the Wild Breed). My favorite of the 7 acts featured here after the Driving Wheels is hands-down THE GAPING WOUNDS, whom I once stumbled upon at the Chatterbox around 1989 or so and never saw nor heard again until this here record. Imagine “Toolin For A Warm Teabag”-era DWARVES with a sneering, pissed-off heroin hottie on vocals instead of Blag Jesus, blowing through a bunch of gnarly ‘core for maybe 10 minutes – oh, and two members actually were in the Dwarves, and around ’89 no one could touch the Dwarves. So there you have it. I love that my 45 is #423/777 and that it’s personally autographed by Guido himself, but I can’t imagine that anyone outside of European garage collectors and folks who saw one or more of these bands live could ever listen to this thing more than twice. But what do I know?




Sunday, March 05, 2006
HOME BLITZ : “APOCALYPTIC GRADES 2005 A.D. 7”EP......

HOME BLITZ is for sure – this 200-copies-limited 45 is super-primitive, homemade indie garage with some screwy chops & time signatures, sort of like bedroom college savant music from a punk modeling himself on "tasty fuckin’ lickmeisters" of the prog era. The young feller’s enthusiasm can’t be contained, and his record’s about as ultra-personal as your navel, & as professional as me trying to stand up on the speed skating track. My only real beef is with the vocals, which are a little too eager beaver for my tastes -- but that’s what effects boxes are thankfully for, right?




Friday, March 03, 2006
STRANGE NOTES, 3/3/06.......



Never thought I’d see the day, but located right here are the limited dates for the FLESH EATERS’ “A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die” 25-year anniversary tour – with the original Chris D./John Doe/DJ Bonebrake/Dave Alvin/Bill Bateman/Steve Berlin line-up, no less. After promising myself I’d travel the coast and shack up in multiple Motel 6’s to make them all, reality and good sense settled in & I’ll be settling for the simple reemergence of the band, April 5th in San Francisco. Come out come out wherever you are......You know what band I’m not that into? I’ll tell you. TOY LOVE, that’s who. I got the promising 2xCD “Cuts” set from this 1979-80 New Zealand post-punk pop act featuring Chris Knox, later of the equally underwhelming TALL DWARFS, and it’s just way too namby-pamby mediocre for me. I love a lot of Knox’s solo stuff & was hoodwinked by the few Toy Love comp tracks I’d heard into going whole hog for the reissue, but it feels like most of their stuff was only halfway there – halfway fuzzy and bent, halfway hooky, halfway weird enough to compete with their excellent NZ peers. Boring, to put it straight.....Not boring is a terrific 2002 compilation of late 60s/early 70s funk and soul that blew me clean away the past couple of weeks – of course I’m talking about Stones Throw records’ “FUNKY 16 CORNERS” compilation, a buoyant collection packed with uncomped instrumentals, dance crazes, and general rump-rockers from across the soul/funk galaxy. It strikes me as being the product of extreme 45rpm collectors, obsessed fellas like you & me who surveyed the landscape of available compilations for their obscure favorites, and reckoned that most of theirs were missing. These are fellas with some regent taste and stellar selection abilities – I suggest you get involved.

Just got word that SILTBREEZE RECORDS has their first web site, 10 years after everyone else got one – nice work! Doesn’t that just make sense, though, considering the label’s niche, loosely described as homemade microscene avant-garage noise art? Anyway, looks like they let a blogger loose on the site – check that noise out here.....Finally, I’m finding the ART FOR SPASTICS radio show to be my home sweet home for learning about the new weird Los Angeles. Yeah, I plugged the show before, but it’s really tapped in to a handful of wacked-out bands from LA, of all places – why, bands that you might even call homemade microscene avant-garage noise art. Of course I’m talking about the SILVER DAGGERS (point alone for cribbing their name from an ELECTRIC EELS song), but also MIKAMIKO, ABE VIGODA, BUSINESS LADY, MAE SHI, and more. Each has a MySpace page, each appears to be sub-22 years old, and soon they’ll all be bigger than Fleetwood Mac, baby. That’s all for me right now – keep your feet on the ground etc.!!!!




Thursday, March 02, 2006
VARIOUS ARTISTS : “NEW YORK NOISE 2” CD.....

This burgeoning series of early 80s no-wave and weirdo dance/funk from New York City is a fine addition to the canon, and one that establishes stylistic connections between micro-genres you probably wouldn’t expect. For instance, even on “New York Noise 2”’s loudest and most scraping no-wave tracks, there’s almost always some thumping tribal percussion or rhythmic ass-shaking of some kind that slots in well with, say, the more pedestrian danceable stuff from PULSALLAMA or VORTEX OST. By virtue of the number of interlocking bands hitting stages at the time, that early “Downtown ‘81” scene in New York seems larger and more interesting than ever in retrospect -- though I’ll cop that I probably would have hated a lot of it had I been around the Eastern seaboard at the time (like “funky African” novelty act Pulsallama, for instance). This comp re-introduces some tracks that are absolutely essential to your life, the most monumental of which is the insane berserker “Not Bite” by Von Lmo & Rudolf Grey’s RED TRANSISTOR. This single track is no wave’s crowning moment in my eyes, more damaged and wild than anything the “No New York” bands & their peers cooked up, and a total rabid classic for the ages. Previously only available on a posthumous 45, it’s seriously worth picking the CD up for this one all by itself. (Though, in the digital age, you can probably find a download site to snag the track for 99 cents).

The other big winner is a track I wasn't familiar with before from RHYS CHATHAM called "Drastic Classicism". It is the ringing echo of metal careening wildly off the rails, the soundtrack for some imaginary video of a subway train plunging through a tunnel engulfed in flames. You know what I mean? At least that's what I see when I hear it. It's fantastic, and a call to action to check out his "work" from this era. A non-funky, tamer version of sounds found on this comp can be found in SONIC YOUTH's ethereal "I Dreamed I Dream", a track I'd truly forgotten was so great. Other good finds are MOFUNGO's avant-electrode rock "Hunter Gatherer", UT's searing "Sham Shack" (need to learn more about them as well, I'll just ask Tim Ellison) and surprise surprise, something from Jim Jarmusch I can actually stomach - his very of-the-era band the DEL-BYZANTINES and "My Hands are Yellow". Oh sure, there's some dogshit to be found - look no further than CLANDESTINE and FELIX for fourth-rate, warmed over limp disco -- and am I the only one who thinks "My Relationship" by the Glenn Branca's THE STATIC is so jaw-droppingly bad as to be unlistenable? Yeah, I probably am. I remain very impressed after enjoying "New York Noise 1" so much a few years ago, & given the obscurity of much of this jazz, I wonder if they can extend the magic into a third volume?