Agony Shorthand

Friday, April 28, 2006

Got to hand it to Seattle’s BLANK-ITS, they’ve done a mind-meld on several different modern garage punk shoots & branches (classic ’77 punk, robotic CHROME-style noise squall, power pop and MONOSHOCK-esque spazz-out), and in process helped to invigorate and keep the sound wild and alive. Their debut CD “Happy Accidents” is great from top to bottom, and will clean your proverbial clock in roughly 20 minutes flat. I actually thought it was only “good” the first time through, but the more I rocked the house with it the more it stuck with me. Often one 2-minute marvel like “Road Rage” will bleed into the one after it with much feedback and spark-shooting fanfare, sort of like “TV As Eyes/Zombie Warfare” on Chrome’s third record......and the guy behind the mic on all these songs appears to be singing through some bizarre bullhorn/modulator that gives his voice an eerie, big-brother-ish quality. Other times the Blank-Its are more straightforward & bouncy, and even have a song called “Puppy Love” (ouch!). I didn’t particularly care for the fact that out of 9 brief tracks, three are “remakes” of the sole three songs they’ve already put out on 45s, but what are you going to do. It’s been three years since I saw this band play live when they were fragile & young – I’m itching to see the road show now that they’ve incorporated loads more out-and-out damage into their shtick. Meanwhile, this is one hot record and I urge you to give it a hearing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I guess THE GROUNDHOGS, a heavy 1960s-70s UK stun-blues act still recording & playing under that name today, have been out there all along, waiting for me & you to get wise to them. Me, I didn’t get there until I heard this 1970 LP, their third, called “Thank Christ For The Bomb”, which is revelatory in its fluid, ear-ringing heaviness. I would have to lump these guys in with similarly bent, blues-influenced characters of the era like the HAMPTON GREASE BAND and the PINK FAIRIES, but the Groundhogs also have elements of the MC5’s explosive power when Tony McPhee fires up his axe and lays it down for a minute or two. Seriously, some of the best “solos” I’ve spun on the hi-fi in a while. “Strange Town” and “Soldier” and two of the hottest rock songs of their time, and given how strong & clear the vocals are and the fact that this is accessible enough to have been huge – well, wouldn’t you have thought these guys would have been at least half as world-renown as friggin’ LED ZEPPELIN? There’s something about “the British blues” of the 60s and early 70s that is just so inherently awful to me that if I’d believed the press I’m seeing online in digging up information on this band, I’d probably have avoided this without fail. Thankfully a few online scribes recently threw educated props the Groundhogs’ way & got me to take a peek, and I love what I’m hearing. So where does one travel to next in the band’s rich tapestry of recordings?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Those of you who were paying attention and connecting the dots around the children of great late 70s/early 80s labels like FUCK OFF or STEP-FORWARD probably had your own name for the distant, skeletal, closet-recorded punk coming out of England at the time -- for the rest of us, it wasn't until Chuck Warner's quasi-legit MESSTHETICS CD-R series came around that this sound had its moniker. I was fortunate enough to get on the Messthetics bandwagon early, and gathered each of the discs Chuck put out around 1999-01 thanks to a CD-roastin' pal with a big heart. I got so intrigued by the bands I was discovering via this series (and from the arguably more consistent "Instant Pop Classics" bootleg LPs as well) that I made my first ever comp CD-R out of my favorites, which include the all-time DIY kingpins the DESPERATE BICYCLES; the joyous chug-splat-blues-noise of ANIMALS & MEN; T. Rex-meets-The Fall STEVE TREATMENT; ANOREXIA, PETTICOATS; early SCRITTI POLITTI and so on. I must've played that thing 50 times or more, so far. The hallmarks of the sound - which in truth encompass a great many sounds - are found more in spirit than in form, though one can usually count on at least one of the following: muffled recording quality, decidedly un-"punk" cheapo keyboards, vocalists who sang like accountants rather than rock stars, sparse guitar lines, and first-person lyrical accounts of the mundane and the normal.

Now Chuck and his HYPED2DEATH label have gone all legit and put out an official CD of greatest hits from all the MESSTHETICS to date. Naturally I would like to quibble with his song selection, wondering as I do about the exclusion of standouts like anything from BEYOND THE IMPLODE or 'I Don't Want To Work For British Airways" by the SCISSOR FITS. Yet if this is your first time to the micro-genre, well welcome aboard, and this is a fine one to get crackin' with. Hyped2Death had the good sense to include the fantastic aural headache "Don't Make Another Bass Guitar, Mr. Rickenbacker" by DANNY & THE DRESSMAKERS, as well as brazen DIY classics from the aforementioned Steve Treatment & Anorexia. The treat for me was hearing stuff so good that I hadn't "heard correctly" before, and thus left it off own my CD-R....among these are a stunning keyboard/guitar piece by TAKE IT called "How It Is" (clocking in at over 4 minutes , it's easily the longest thing on here) and the paranoid stumble-punk anthem "Sus" by REACTA. I don't get what anyone hears in tracks by the SCROTUM POLES or the THIN YOGHURTS, but I have a feeling it has more to do with the rad band names than anything else (hard to believe that Johan Kugelburg can actually claim that a Scrotum Poles song, no less, " going to be played at least three record collector funerals I know of...", since it's a shitty song from a totally marginal band). I don't think the excavation of this micro-genre is anywhere near complete, and I'm sincerely counting on the Messthetics series to get rolling again in 2006 & lead me by the nose for a few more years. I've got another CD-R I need to make.

Monday, April 24, 2006
CHEVEU : “DOG / MAKE MY DAY” 45.....

Like last week’s magical discovery FRUSTRATION, CHEVEU come courtesy of S-S Records, and it’s just as wacked and wonderful. The A-side “Dog” has what sounds like a lurking creep muttering filthy nothings in the background over a twanging NY scumrock-era HONEYMOON KILLERS or PUSSY GALORE dirty guitar riff, and it’s heavier than heavy. B-side “Make My Day” also channels much of the same vibe but lightens the attack a bit to incorporate Velvets/New Zealand droning keyboard and Una Baines-era FALL repetition & collapse, as well as a completely different sandpaper-throated vocalist than on its flip. Another smashing success from this killer label, and they’ve got a whole comp LP’s worth of new French kicks called "Tete de Bebe" right around the corner as well, so stay ready.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Hotshit mechanized garage art-spazz from veteran (two years!) French band FRUSTRATION with their first US EP. S-S Records, which appears to be single-handedly championing the new French avant-punk underground, have done us all a service with this one. Frustration are tightly-wound, dark power-panic of the highest order, and this is no question going to be one of the best 45s of my year. Hints of a toy keyboard poke through the throbbing muck, but except for the last weirdo cry for help (the distressing “Faster”), it’s all straight-ahead pummel. Their own press materials – OK, their MySpace site – compare themselves to KILLING JOKE and JOY DIVISION, and yeah, the excellent “Premises” is a total Warsaw/”Ideal For Living” rip-off, but it’s also that good. And as you know, that’s real good. Real real good! Snap this monster up while it’s still around if you get the chance.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I had my first bout of existential angst since the “Audio Galaxy” days a couple evenings ago while wandering the floor at AMOEBA MUSIC in San Francisco, looking for CDs to exchange my credit slip for. I found myself in the “girl group” section (as I so often do), and later roaming the “psychedelic” section digging for obscure fuzz-drenched acidheads, and in both areas I asked myself a momentous question that reverberated to the core of my entire being. Why, I recall myself asking, am I spending $15.98 on Volume 3 of the “Dream Babes” series, when I have just found that “Endless Mike” has plopped it up on his site for the low low price of $0.00?? Why do I need to buy the “Acid Dreams Testament” comp CD for $17, when CHOCOREVE posted the whole thing for free back in January, and where it still remains for the taking to this day? For these treasures and more you can thank the wildfire spread of record-collecting bloggers who use Rapidshare and programs like it to post entire CDs in the time it takes to write a single paragraph, tops. Rapidshare compresses a 78-minute CD into a digestible and easily-downloadable folder (much like a Zip file) that can be extracted in seconds by using a free program like 7-ZIP. Figuring all this out took me some time & digging, and was only made possible by readers of Agony Shorthand emailing me their preferred methods for getting items off of Chocoreve. But the spread of Rapidshare and the multiplying of the blogs who use it and technology like it represents a tipping point in my mind, one more profound and far-reaching than the growth of simple file-sharing programs like Soulseek or the Torrent sites.

It was an easier dilemma (for me) when swiping music from those. Typically, my M.O. is to search on Soulseek for a particular artist I’ve read about, download a couple songs, and if I truly dig it, go out and buy the record or the CD. If it’s good-to-great, but not something I want to spend my money on, sometimes I’ll “forego” purchasing it and just download the whole thing, and roast it up on my CD-burner. In some ways, it’s even easier to do this from a Rapidshare site, since the files seem to stay up for months and months (Chocoreve appear to have never deleted a single album they’ve posted). Here’s the estimated cost outlay for such a transaction – let’s say using the “Girls Will Be Girls Volume 1” I snagged from Endless Mike last week:

1. One blank CD-R – 16 cents
2. 1 sheet of paper – 1 cent
3. A small amount of colored and B&W ink to print the sleeve – 20 cents
4. A plastic poly sleeve (ordered from Bags Unlimited) to put the sleeve and CD-R in – 10 cents

Total outlay: 47 cents
Total actual physical time spent downloading, burning to CD-R, creating sleeve – 15 minutes

This compares favorably at least to the 15 minutes or far more that it might take to actually shop for said CD - not to mention the wait time had I ordered it online. Do you think cool specialty labels like ACE, CHARLEY, NORTON, REVENANT etc. are getting nervous? I sure would be. When it was major labels and large indies who were getting screwed, it was easier to rationalize the out-and-out theft. When the small boutique labels find their bread & butter posted & then downloaded by the 500 people left in the world who might care about such a CD, thus eliminating them as potential purchasers of said product – well, you do the math. Now was I really going to buy “Girls Will Be Girls Volume 1” anyway? Not sure, but I could see it happening, but now, 47 cents later, I don’t need to. My whole collection is filled with these sort of middling CD-Rs that people burned me or that I burned myself, a percentage of which are actually replacements for something I would otherwise have paid for. Yet as I scanned the aforementioned sections at Amoeba, I saw all sorts of CDs that I knew were out there for the taking right now on the Rapidshare sites, and I guess it gave me pause. The Future of the Music Dork in the Digital Age is coming way faster than I anticipated.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

More proof that CURSE OF THE BIRTHMARK are one of the more exciting bands going right now, and yeah, we know they're still around because a member of the 'Mark commented so on this here blog a month ago. Even more grinding and loose-limbed than their monstrous 12"EP, "Alibis" sounds like Mark E. Smith commanding the troops through a crackling bullhorn from atop a speeding car in the middle of a citywide riot. The hip priest shouting his way through this one has to compete with a symphony of squealing synth, whipcrack guitar and effects all around, but the results are totally rhythmic and oddly danceable. The frantic flip is darker and more dissonant, and zooms by at an inhuman, brain-blinding tempo. The 45 is grade-A urban noise for gnarly punk rockers, and it most definitely kicks out the motherfucking jams.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Monday, April 17, 2006

Perhaps the best 45 of 2005 that we didn’t write anything about was the ANGRY ANGLES’ “Things Are Moving” EP – particularly the title track. This Tennessee boy/girl twosome and their pals are roughly approximate to a punked-up, spazzed-out SCREAMERS, MISSION OF BURMA or URINALS, even taking the Urinals’ hollow, blank-eye guitar sound to new vistas. This brand new single is their best to date. “Apparent-Transparent” is a frantic art punker with dueling male/female vocals, much like that NERVOUS PATTERNS 45 we loved so much a year ago, and who not coincidentally share a bedrock member with the Angry Angles. “You Fell In” is a subdued version of the same, and their cover of “The 15th” from WIRE’s “154” is a beautiful thing to behold, immediately going on my “best covers” list and certainly the best Wire cover since the TYRADES nailed “Former Airline”. With this sort of progress from release to release I can imagine any forthcoming LP is going to be among the hottest releases this year. So when’s it going to be, gang??

Friday, April 14, 2006

Remember that tidal wave of LP-only reissues of third- and fourth-string 70s punk bands that started spewing forth on Italian label Rave Up in the late 90s? Sure you do. Well, they just kept on coming – a recent addition to the pile is this one from Lousiana’s wrestling-loving 1980-1983 cheeseballs THE SHIT DOGS. We at Agony Shorthand have always been huge fans of these guys both in theory (they’re called The Shit Dogs, man!) and in practice. We first heard them as a 19-year-old LAZY COWGIRLS fanatic who followed every Southern California show of said band circa 1986-89; they debuted a new cover of the ‘Dogs “Reborn” during that epoch, and always took care to announce from the stage who had originally penned it. Great crap-fi, meathead punk number, and a few years later I heard the original on a “Killed By Death” along with the even better “Killer Cain” from the Shit Dogs’ “History of Cheese” EP. Their second 7”EP was called “You Bet!” – it’s all on here, along with some strong unreleased material – and it’s just as good n’ trashy as the first single, “Calling Dr. Modo” and “Flippin’ Burgers” in particular. One sore-thumb standout is “Under Slithery Moons”, a piece of ringing San Francisco psychedelia that’s well played and not jokey in the least. What’s not on here is the fine “Dog Style!” LP, which is nearly as bent as the 45s, and which completes a stellar discography of joyful obnoxo-punk unparalleled in their region and for the most part, in the USA. The band seem to have existed on the same who-cares, crap-for-crap’s sake mental plane as the SCREAMIN’ MEE-MEES, PENETRATORS and of course THE RAMONES, none of whom were crap in the least. Lousiana’s best rock band of all time? Hey, can you name a better one?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I didn't get the memo about the lore & legend behind this incredible 1950s-60s label, nor that DUST-TO-DIGITAL had put this quintuple-CD box set out late last year, until it was highlighted by Byron Coley in one of his ARTHUR columns. FONOTONE was the nation’s last 78rpm label, and was run pretty much out of a basement by legendary record collector JOE BUSSARD, whom we last discussed in this forum when reviewing 2004's "Down In The Basement" collection. The way it worked was that Bussard would record local and itinerant old time country/bluegrass/blues musicians whom he admired, or who happened to buzz by his place by chance -- seriously, there are numbers on here in which the liner notes reveal that the players just rang the doorbell -- and later that night or that weekend they had a 78rpm record cut in Bussard's basement, which he then sold by mail (and according to the 160-page book that comes with this, they sold quite well). Bussard was not only the most well-known record dork/crank of his time, he had a cool radio show that kept these pre-WWII sounds alive throughout the "northern South". So he gathered up a like-minded posse of local spirit-keepers from 1956 to 1970 and kept the 78rpm flame burning just a few years longer than it otherwise would have - and in the process, laid down some raw, beautiful tunes - including multiple early recordings from Blind Joe Death himself, JOHN FAHEY.

The collection here is a whopping 131 songs on 5 CDs that does not even come close to documenting all the 78s that Bussard pressed up. Surprisingly, a great deal of the recordings, roughly a quarter, feature Bussard himself playing a variety of string instruments. He and his inner circle of equally obsessed friends recorded under a variety of relevant monikers like JOLLY JOE'S JUG BAND, TENNESSEE MESS AROUNDERS and the BALD KNOB CHICKEN SCRATCHERS, and laid down work that in many cases was as enthusiastic and joyful as the original mountain giants they were worshipping. It was a life with these guys, and that included not only collection but note-pure emulation. Since these recordings and performers are a generation removed from their original pre-WWII heroes, you’ll probably find them "cleaner" than the pre-war stuff, but the instrumentation and the cackling country ethos is identical, and some of the playing is just as mesmerizing. Imagine another excellent box set – “ROOTS AND BLUES” from over a decade ago – and imagine that their progeny kept the faith for 30 long years and then set out to recreate it, note for note, including originals in the old time style. Some of the originals are totally goofus compositions about current events, like JFK’s assassination or the moon landing. Besides his buddies & himself, Bussard recorded all the like-minded talent he could get his hands on, and lots of it is knockout, particularly the breakdown fiddlers on the first 2 discs whose names escape me now (suffice to say, mastering everyone’s names over 5 CDs requires a bit more research. I’ll get there).

The true draw for most folks will be the legendary set of 78s a very young JOHN FAHEY recorded with Bussard. His complete set of Fonotone recordings is not captured here – for those, we’ll need to wait for a rumored Revenant collection – but there are enough guitar wonders here to keep your whistle wet. Several of these showed up on the first couple of proper LPs, “The Legend of Blind Joe Death” and “Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes”, and are in keeping with the bluesy spirit of his nascent career. The mindblowing "Weissman Blues" sounds like Fahey's playing it with 12 fingers, and blind polling of just about anyone would have them guessing at at least 2 or 3 guitarists in the room. There are still other recordings by the “MISSISSIPPI SWAMPERS” where there are two guitarists present – Fahey and “Backwards Sam Firk”. All are essential, except for perhaps the one where Fahey sings (!). In total, this cigar-box-encased Fonotone set is a beautiful thing (bottle opener included!), and it can be had online for as little as 50 bucks. To steal a quote from Coley's review of this in The Wire, "it's weird to think that some of this stuff was still being played this way in the latter part of the 1960s, but I suppose that just emphasizes the increasing velocity with which culture has changed in the meantime". Well put, and precisely why this terrific set feels genuinely authentic, and not like a county-fair or street-festival snapshot of a modern olde-timey band from today.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

This is one of the comprehensive, homemade CD-Rs that used to be peddled on Paul Marko’s UK PUNK ’77 site until that part of the program went dark. I can only assume a CUBAN HEEL or a FRUIT-EATING BEAR took offense and dialed Scotland Yard. Marko had a great collection of pretty much every UK 1977-78 punk band’s demos, raw live recordings and of course legit stuff, and put together some real CD-R doozies. Unprofessional and mislabled at times, they still dug up stuff that no one else had before. I bought this SUBWAY SECT one around 2000 as a huge fan of their only well-known song “Ambition”, which makes an appearance in different guises on this thing three separate times. The Sect were led by a fella named Vic Godard, who is one of those figures who was lionized by the English music press for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. It has seemed for years that all it takes to impress the music journalists in the UK is to talk loudly, write “poetically”, and declare whatever it is you’re doing as the vanguard of a musical revolution. Godard was a star at this sort of pracing, poseur-like posturing, and better still, the press loved it when he flamboyantly "renounced" punk early on, right when it was just getting in big with the hoi polloi. His stuff while he was still a borderline punk, though, was pretty good. The two 1978 45s, “Nobody’s Scared / Don’t Split It” and “Ambition / A Different Story”, are punk in spirit and energy, but move at mid-tempo to its own sort of primal pub rock, nearly glam-like motor. I can imagine that some “gob” must have greeted some of these challenging songs in particularly rough locales in those heady days. “Chain Smoking” and a live track called “Why Don’t You Shoot Me” are especially good, and are full of random shouts and razor-sharp guitar – in fact the guitarist in this band’s early lineup was just deadly. I tip my John Courage to him. At the end of the day, though, I’m left with “Ambition” as Subway Sect’s only lights-out song, a classic weird keyboard-driven noodler that’s heavier than heavy. I would have probably loved them at the time if they were playing my pub, but today they’re not much more than a footnote. Don’t you think?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Last September 12th I ventured an ill-considered opinion about this disc that I've since come to regret. I said:

"...I was hoping to be a little more blown away by JOSEPHINE FOSTER's recent "Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You" CD, the way I recently was by her incredible record with THE SUPPOSED called "All The Leaves Are Gone" (one of the single best set of rock recordings the past 2-3 years). Ms. Foster often squeaks and warbles like KATE BUSH circa "Army Dreamers", and while that actually bothers me not one bit, the lack of any real throat-grabbing folk songs sorta does. She's got something pretty special going on, I just don't think it's located here.....

You know what? It is located here. The more I went back to Foster's official 2005 "debut" (though she has a small liferaft of CD-Rs and releases with other band configurations), the more I clutched onto it as a great leap forward into the psychedelic folk beyond. As I think I've blathered at least three times in other raves for her work, she really takes a little getting used to, and I even I was beguiled and boggled by this one before falling headfirst. I love the delicate complexity of each ringing tone she coaxes out of the guitar in strange tunings and stranger patterns, and with a voice that's equally as eerie (and beautiful beyond doubt), this CD is rewarding in spades. Those of you who can handle folk when it's served up in raw, druggy slices will lap this up, and if you can take in baroque music from the inner chambers then you'll get even warmer. "Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You" is deeply absorbing, and now that I've lived with it for a while I kick myself for ever thinking otherwise. JOSEPHINE FOSTER is a singular talent and one of America's finest. It's probably somewhat timely to publicly embrace this one, only a day before the official release of her new album, which oh by the way is in German. I'll settle in with my pipe, slippers and altbier before embarking on a rush to judgment on that one.

Friday, April 07, 2006
THE FLESH EATERS, live 4/5/06, Slim’s, San Francisco.......

Barring some catastrophic Chris D. on-stage meltdown or a crippling slampit injury to myself, I was probably going to enjoy this show no matter what they threw up there, as the prospect of actually seeing the true, living lineup that recorded “A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die” – my favorite album of all time – was just too good to be true. And yeah, I know, I’ve certainly ranted about it enough already in preparation, so I’ll close the books on the event and say it was easily as great as I’d expected. Better, even. Mark Arm, bless’m, asked the 1981 line-up of the FLESH EATERS to reunite to play “All Tomorrow’s Parties” in the UK in a few weeks, as they’re one of his longtime favorites as well. They accepted, and then realized they needed to get the mojo working again after 25 years and planned a brief 3-city west coast tour. San Francisco was Wednesday; LA was last night; San Diego’s tonight. Since I never saw the original recipe band in the first place (though I’ve seen Chris D. in several Flesh Eaters incarnations, in the Divine Horsemen and in Stone By Stone), I can’t tell you how it compared to seeing this group perform back then, but based on the Target Video I’ve seen of one of their ’81 shows, this one was roughly as powerful and as raw as they were way back when. Sure, a fan always believes that when his heroes play a reunion show, but my informal post-show polling, which was uniformly positive, definitely proves that I am right.

Anyway, what’s a few years, right? The “backing band” – John Doe, Dave Alvin, DJ Bonebrake, Bill Bateman, Steve Berlin – are all fellas who’s made their living for decades as professional musicians, and all seem to be jetting off on one tour or another at any given time. So it wasn’t a surprise that they were tight – but the fact that all 6 of them (except for the always seemingly-dour Chris D.) appeared to be having a stone blast was refreshing. Particularly because this was their first show together in so long, you could just see how stoked they were to be together, and to be playing these songs again. Because I always hoped to hear these numbers live, it’s not hard to pull the set list up from Wednesday’s memory banks – here’s what they played, in order:

1. Digging My Grave
2. See You In The Boneyard
3. Miss Muerte
4. Cyrano DeBerger’s Back
5. song from “Ashes of Time” that I forget the name of
6. Pray ‘Til You Sweat
7. Satan’s Stomp
8. River of Fever
9. Pony Dress
10. So Long
11. Divine Horseman


12. She’s Like Heroin To Me (Gun Club)
13. Cinderella (Sonics)

Yeah, “She’s Like Heroin To Me” is only my favorite GUN CLUB song from my favorite album of theirs (which Chris D. produced), and they did it justice for sure. I expected “Cinderella”, since that was always either the set-closer or the encore when this lineup was together in ’81. But the real “transcendent” moments were “River of Fever” and “Divine Horseman”. The band locked into both songs, both of which feature repetitive, loud riffs and a lot of space for all sorts of instrumentation (horn, marimbas etc.), and just went off. I couldn’t wipe the stupid smile from my face the whole set. During "Divine Horseman" I took the revealing, high-resolution picture of the band with my camera phone that you see here. Oh, and it was a strong turnout as well, the lack of which had worried me a bit during the week – as much as one can be worried about utterly inconsequential matters such as turnout for a rock band – and the crowd totally lapped it up, hooting for their favorite songs from an album few bought in 1981 and which is completely out of print on both LP and CD today. It was neat. For years the FLESH EATERS fraternity had felt like a half-secret society, and once you were in, you were really in. (My cousin was a rabid fan who saw this lineup a few times in LA, and introduced me to the band as sort of a wisdom-of-the-elders rite of passage when I entered college in the town he lived in). Those who weren’t (of their own choosing) usually had seen the band live back in the day and couldn’t get a handle around Chris’ ungainly yowl of a voice, or the fact that they weren’t true punks, their metal-ish tendencies, the song lengths, or whatever. But what do I know. I turned fourteen in 1981. Anyway – there’s still time for you to hoof it to England for the final Friday, May 12th show. It’s only money, right?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A rare dub LP that has yet to see the light of digitization, 1978’s “Guerilla Dub” has got some exceptionally deep, tuff dub sounds within its grooves. The opener, “Cuddoe Dub” is bombs-away, drop-out experimental dub, the kind that’s made me such a slathering fan of the form. Channels disappear, bass slithers quietly in the background, and then a huge KING TUBBY-produced shock of whipcrack sound rattles the eardrums before echoing into a million shards. Track #3, “Paul Bogle Dub” is just as killer – in fact these two tracks alone will infect any dub C-90 I make for pals in the years to come (making tapes – I’m gonna help bring it back). A few others are nearly up to that standard, others not so much, but when you get classic Jamaican 1970s backing acts like THE AGGROVATORS and THE REVOLUTIONARIES together for a dub throw-down, the results are bound to be at least halfway stellar. This one easily tops the “Aggrovators Meets The Revolutionaries At Channel One” CD, and I hope that at least a few of these ditties end up on a comp at a minimum.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006
STRANGE NOTES, 4/5/06........

It has now rained for 347 days in a row where I live, so I helped combat an overwhelming sense of ennui and generalized inner rage by kicking it down to a bunch of radical jamz over the weekend. First up was the new one from the FIERY FURNACES called “Bitter Tea”. No surprise, given their most recent abomination, that this one’s weaker than watered-down English Breakfast. They have ceased being a rock band, and now seem quite content with lots of blooping and bleeping technobabble and nerve-grating non-sequiters, both musical and lyrical. The band has traveled miles backward from the wonderfully weird guitar/piano/effects/voice duo I fell for in 2004, and while I admire their we-don’t-care-if-you-hate-us chutzpah, I am officially closing the book on ‘em, as this one’s nearly as annoying as the last one......another 2004 favorite with an album soon to come out that I’m not feeling the love from is by San Francisco’s VETIVER. They’ve got a new record called “To Find Me Gone” that sees them moving from hippie-hazy to baroque-indie. It’s not bad, it’s quite pleasant even, but it lacks the sort of backporch folk melancholia of their debut. I have taken more barbs, slings and arrows for liking this band than for liking any other (people who read this blog seem to loathe Vetiver with a passion typically reserved for, say, Devendra Banhart), but am I off the hook now since I’m lukewarm on the new one?

Thankfully when new releases are getting you down you can always cuddle up with some old friends. Take the “Hit and Run Demo” from hardcore heavyweights VOID, which is their first set of recordings from a Maryland studio in 1980, before their “Flex Your Head” stuff and of course before their walloping side of the FAITH/VOID LP. Now this is nowhere near as berserk as their side of that LP, but man, Void (pictured above) just had the most bizarre, atonal definition of what American Hardcore was – they ran everyone else’s idea of this sound (loud/fast/angry) through their own wacked filter and came out with a wild sound like no other. Many of these recordings didn’t even hit the 20-second mark, and while some are nothing like their later work (“Summer Sucks” brought a particularly goofy grin to my face), while others are just bent beyond belief. A true original. Get it on Soulseek. I did.....I kept passing this “BOONIAY! : A COLLECTION OF WEST AFRICAN FUNK” CD in the stacks for a couple of years before getting deeply involved with it. It’s nearly top-shelf. Imagine a collection of ten unique African mid-1970s artists who’ve ingested years of JAMES BROWN and P-FUNK and are pouring out their learnings in a unique, percussion-heavy Afro-funk “long jam” style. Very strong collection, maybe not as good as the GHANA SOUNDZ comps but an admirable next step in your research process.......Well, someone finally broke through my unbending, intolerant stance against late 70s “powerpop”, a rock subgenre I hold in roughly the same regard as I do “grindcore” or “spoken word”. Hyped2Death just put out a comprehensive collection from Milwaukee’s SHIVVERS called “Lost Hits from Milwaukee’s First Family of Powerpop, 1979-82”, and I have to admit that after approaching it with fear & trembling, it ended up giving me a warm feeling where it counts. They remind me of a cross between THE PRETENDERS’ first album (my 7th grade favorite) and early FASTBACKS, and have one bonafide knockout “hit” – “Teenline”, the one that Hyped2Death named an entire series of compilations after. Bouncy, upbeat and full of roaring hooks – but still very homemade-sounding, like a local band who wowed them night after night in Milwaukee yet were never heard two counties away. That’s all for me now. Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars, OK?

Monday, April 03, 2006
CHEATER SLICKS : “DON’T LIKE YOU” demos, bootleg cassette, 1994......

Calling this a “bootleg” is too generous, since I know of no format in which these recordings truly exist, outside of a tape that the CHEATER SLICKS’ label head was kind enough to make for me 12 years ago. Forgive me if I may be so bold, but I will go on record as stating that not only is this the finest set of recordings ever produced by the Cheater Slicks (by a mile – and this is one of the five great rock bands of the 1990s), but it’s potentially the hottest set of uncirculated rock music recordings I’ve ever heard. At least until someone takes up the cross and finds a way to digitize these & give them the proper release they’ve always deserved! Let me provide a bit of background, at least as I understand it. In 1994, In The Red received these from the band and were targeting a release of them as the follow-up to the previous year’s destroying “Whiskey” LP. At this point the band were bar-none the most raging and hard of the class of early 90s garage punk acts – and they were light years ahead of the pack, incorporating controlled feedback, feral drum bashing, a double-play of raw, throaty, vocalists, and a demented 60s psych approach that has started to creep in and lord over the sound like an unseen, angry hand. When I heard the demos for what would (sort of) later become the “Don’t Like You” album, I was floored, and couldn’t believe they’d topped “Whiskey”, which was a near-masterpiece. This was the track listing for said tape:

1. Feel Free
2. Trouble Man
3. When She Comes
4. Wedding Song
5. Spanish Rose
6. Lost Inside
7. Sadie Mae
8. Walk Up The Street
9. Hook or Crook
10. You Ain't Good
11. Mystery Ship
12. Ghost

I played the magnetic backing off the thing, and was ready for the band’s dominance at the top of the rabid punk/psych/puke food chain, where they belonged. Unfortunately, and I could be telling this wrong so let me know, but the band got it in their head that their best set of songs ever could be improved by bringing non-producer – and then indie rock star – JON SPENCER into the studio to re-work and “produce” the album. The thinking was with the Spencer “brand” on the band, the better the chance to shift a few units and unearth a few new fans. I can’t argue with the logic, but I’ve been arguing with the results for years. Sure, what eventually emerged as “Don’t Like You” was a hotshit record, but I was so let down by how much they’d jettisoned – and how songs that had soared were now mucked up with tons of aural garbage & atonally weird bits that added zilch to the sound – that I refrained from playing it much after the first spin the month it came out. I was seriously bummed, as we say in California. I hated the one with Jon Spencer intoning in that dumb Elvis voice of his about the band over a moronic slow riff – a complete waste of LP space that would have been far better served by including the ear-destroying original version of “Sadie Mae”, for instance.

2 tracks from the sessions that produced the tapes did come out, eventually, as a 45 – the “Walk Up The Street / Wedding Song” single on In The Red. If you’re a Cheater Slicks fan, and I know you are, then you’ll probably agree that this is finest single in their outstanding discography. I will also say that I saw the band live on this tour twice, and they were nothing short of incredible, but I still pine for this tape to come out and bring an entire generation to its knees, 12 long years after it should have. Of all of the 20th Century's many crimes (the gulag, the Great Leap Forward, Rwanda and all that), this is the one that personally hurt me the most.