Agony Shorthand

Friday, May 30, 2003
COUNTRY TEASERS: "SCIENCE HAT ARTISTIC CUBE MORAL NOSEBLEED EMPIRE"....Just got hipped to this great 2001 collection of 45s and odd tracks from Scotland's COUNTRY TEASERS, who've been poking around the edges of obscurity & political incorrectness for over 12 years now. I've always enjoyed their Edinburgh two-stepping garage-friendly punk rock take on early FALL, and the one time I saw them live around 1995 or so they weren't half bad either. Seems they made a bit of a push since then into what you kids are calling "hip hop" as well; but it's the sort of hip hop you make when you're very white, very Scottish, and can program a computer to pump the beats for you. The CD's got twenty tracks spanning 1991-1996; evidently the 2xLP's got forty (!). The track selection & programming is excellent; no sooner does the opening electronica beat-off "Compressor" quickly cut short than the siren-led MESS that they call "Getaway" begins -- a true bomb blast of a song, easily the best I've ever heard from these guys. No time for feminism for these gentlemen (re: "Some Hole"), no sir; let's just be generous and call them "lovers of women" (as we all are). There seems to be a general dissatisfaction with their station in life, with an equivalent inability to express it, save for super-raw meandering around the edges of American roots and distorted UK punk, a la the aforementioned Fall circa "Fiery Jack" and "Psychic Dancehall". They'll just keep pressing on, and one of these days they'll meet some girls, I'm sure. Until then, this is an excellent place to start if you're ready to build a Country Teasers wing in your collection.

Thursday, May 29, 2003
TROJAN UPSETTER BOX SET….If you’re anything like me, god help ya, you love early Jamaican ska, rocksteady and dub, but when full-stop reggae rears its ugly head, its all you can do to keep from busting out THE MEATMEN’s “Blow Me Jah”. There’s the rub, and I admit it’s a perplexing one; I totally endorse the pioneers of early Jamaican music, particularly the dancehall groovers (PRINCE BUSTER, PARAGONS, SKATELLITES, JACKIE MITTOO etc.) & later studio wizards (AUGUSTUS PABLO, KING TUBBY, IMPACT ALL-STARS, LEE PERRY of course, etc.) – but I can’t bear to hear the college-campus, smoke a bowl, Haile Selassie, I-and-I bullshit reggae that unfortunately defines the genre for most of us. So if you’re anywhere near the same wavelength, you might be wise to avoid the otherwise compelling “TROJAN UPSETTER BOX SET”, featuring 50 of Lee Perry’s productions and/or creations, at the usual reduced Trojan box set price (these are going for $12.98 now!). No question that this stuff is innovative and special in its way, but it's marked by two discs packed with praise-be-to-jah reggae – the kind that’s being cranked in the UC-Santa Cruz dorms this very second – and even Perry’s double-vocals & radical overdub techniques can’t stifle visions of dreadlocked hippies, passed-out rastas and hacky sacks flying in the summer sun. The first disc, “Early Shots at Randy’s & Dynamic Sounds (1968-1972)" is pretty good, but you can get a bunch of these tracks elsewhere (like the excellent “Upsetter Shop, Volume Two” CD) and can thus take a pass on this one. Instead, why not take a gander at the Trojan Rude Boy or Skinhead Reggae box sets, “seen”?

"10 EAST-COAST POST-PUNK LEFT-OVERS 1977-1981"....Matthew over at the Hollow Earth / T.W.A.N.B.O.C. blog has a good piece on ten NYC/NJ-area records that missed the cut for most folks, outside of THE FEELIES' "Crazy Rhythm" (which I've never even heard, having grown up in California). Then again, these folks are Brits, so there must've been some extreme ninja record collecting going on across the Atlantic. All hail impLOG and ARTO/NETO!

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
A PLEA FOR RAW AND AGGRESSIVE ROCK & ROLL NOISE....Speaking of the old-school 1990s garage punk heyday bands (see review below of related newcomers RIGHT ON), I have to say I’ve been well out of the garage punk rock loop for at least 5-6 years now. See, back in my day, around 1989-1995-ish, the top picks in this horse race were the ones that most everyone’s citing as big influences now: GORIES, NIGHT KINGS, SUPERCHARGER, OBLIVIANS, TEENGENERATE, CHEATER SLICKS and the like. Back then you had a torrent of raw and blistering 45s from these players + others with less staying power like JOHNNY HASH, FIREWORKS, MOTARDS, and so on. Once every band of this ilk started speeding up their sound, aping whatever was out on Rip Off & therefore gaining the embrace of Maximum Rock and Roll, well, I sort of fell off the wagon. I know there are still some hotshit bands now – HUNCHES, A-FRAMES, DAN MELCHIOR’S BROKE REVIEW, RIGHT ON and others – and some of them aren’t even on In The Red! So help me please: what are their names? Who can aspire to the heights scaled by the Gories and the Night Kings over a decade ago? Where should my entertainment dollar be next spent? Your comments are most appreciated!

THE NO-WAVE GUIDE TO LATE 70s/EARLY 80s L.A. PUNK….If you’ve ever read Tim Ellison’s excellent MODERN ROCK MAGAZINE (long known as ROCK MAG during the 90s), you know that his approach to rock and roll is slightly more intense than the party/rockin’/pukin’ angle the rest of us often take. It may not be for everyone, but I’ve always had a real affinity for Tim and his didactic writing, as our tastes in underground rock bands are more or less aligned, and he’s not one bit afraid to aggressively deconstruct a band or rock movement to its bowels if he feels that it merits such an approach. I also dig that he’s about as non-kiss ass as they come in the fanzine/rock writing world; he’ll go way, way out on a limb for or against something you might scoff at or cheer, but never is he carrying water for a label or even a friend. More often than not Tim will be leading the cheers for a band that you might consider long past their coolness shelf life (though even I had some trouble with the No-Wave Guide To Emerson, Lake and Palmer).

The preface should prepare you for Mr. Ellison’s latest coup de grace in the pages of Titanium Expose magazine – “NO WAVE PARALLELS: A Study On The Aesthetics Of No-Wave Outside Of No New York”. Tim explores in depth the influence or parallels between the late 70s No New York bands & their progeny, and the Los Angeles punk rock and sub-underground rock scene that followed shortly thereafter. Each of the following icons and more are academically analyzed and are then dispatched with for the next: SCREAMERS, NERVOUS GENDER, URINALS, FLESH EATERS, DREAM SYNDICATE, and SALVATION ARMY. Trust me, you will never, ever read a deconstruction of THE DILS’ chord progressions like this again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
THE SPITS / RIGHT ON / THE BLANK ITS, SEATTLE 5/24/03....Spent a nice weekend away with the wife in Seattle this weekend. While she was combing her hair, I snuck out to the Crocodile Cafe on Saturday night to see some of the City's young & not-so-young garage punk bands. Actually the real reason was so I could finally watch Rob Vasquez play live and in person -- Vasquez, you may recall, was the barnburning guitar maniac responsible for some of the hottest garage-based punk rock of the 80s and 90s with his bands THE NIGHTS AND DAYS and the NIGHT KINGS, both criminally ignored in their day and to this day as well. Now he's got a new-ish trio called RIGHT ON and I couldn't miss the clarion call staring at me in the entertainment listings promising 45 minutes of his distorted, Link Wray-meets-James Williamson genius. But first, the other bands: THE BLANK ITS were quite good in that Rip Off records/Rezillos-meets-Supercharger style that's been front & center for a good decade now; definitely in the "learning to play" stage, but I was fully entertained. THE SPITS, who headlined, were surprisingly good, though it might've been the general enthusiasm of the crowd that had me going....they really lost big points early by coming on stage with that most tired of gags, KISS masks, but thankfully had them off & on the floor within a couple of songs. Their shtick is fast, fast & very tight keyboard-driven punk rock, sorta reminiscient of the DICKIES and RAMONES (complete with count-offs) played in a more, robotic, semi-"new wave" style. This last note is potentially disturbing, and I spent a few minutes during their 20-minute set wondering just how poseurish they really were. Were these no-spring-chickens playing bad grunge in the early 90s, a la THE BRIEFS? Were any of these guys once members of CANDLEBOX or BLOOD CIRCUS? There were no skinny ties, yet I'm still assigning some agents to look into the band, and will be giving them the benefit of the doubt for now. They did, to be fair, play a CAR (Coalition of Aging Rockers)-friendly 20 minute set!

But the real draw was Vasquez’s RIGHT ON. I missed the NIGHT KINGS in 1993 when visiting Seattle due to being otherwise engaged during one of their bafflingly rare shows, and then when I actually lived in Seattle from 1997-99, Vasquez was hiding somewhere raising children or some such. In any event, they were well worth the wait. Starting with a couple of mid-tempo, more rockish – but fiery & raw as hell – numbers than I’d anticipated, they led into 30 more minutes of shit-hot razorwire garage punk, with the heft of a quartet of distorted guitars roaring out of one small amp & one medium-sized man. The other fellas were spot-on pros, too – so maybe they don’t play out much, but you certainly wouldn’t have known it by watching them. They even killed the assembled multitudes with a couple of NIGHT KINGS tunes: “Death” and “Little Drag” from the find-it-however-you-can-LP “Increasing Our High”. I mean the kids actually dug it (this was a band – Night Kings – suffering from a real lack of hometown goodwill when I interviewed them back in 1992) and acted like they wanted more. So maybe the public palette has finally been whetted by other bands for the unheralded royalty of first-class garage-based, 60s-influenced-but-not-defined punk rock music. I’m hoping for a tidal wave of RIGHT ON cover stories in the months to come – these gentlemen are the real thing & worth traveling north for.

BLATANT TOADYING, NAME-DROPPING SUCK-UP....While perusing a number of publications on the racks this past weekend, I came upon a henious interview conducted by mediocre filmmaker JIM JARMUSCH with rock and roll group "The White Stripes" in Interview magazine. It's got some of the worst band name-dropping toadyism you'll ever see from Jarmusch -- totally geared to impress the band, who naturally come off bored and unimpressed. I think the word count goes something like 75% to Jarmusch prattling on, 25% to the band -- and there's two of them. "You know, some say that (such-and-such song of the White Stripes') sounds like the Velvet Underground meets Elvis; me, I find it has more of a Young Marble Giants-meets-Charlie Feathers vibe going on. Wouldn't you agree?". Response from band: "Mmm, yeah, hmm...haven't thought about that...."

Friday, May 23, 2003
AUGUSTUS PABLO: "IN FINE STYLE"....My first DUB CD ever was Mr. Pablo's classic early 70s "King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown", featuring the ghostly echoes and haunting melodica that not only defined his career but the genre itself. My next foray into his work was the "El Rocker's" CD, but that turned out, give or take, to be a slightly rehashed mix of "King Tubbys" and didn't really open that new mental portal I'd been hoping to explore. This new one on Pressure Sounds, on the other hand, is the real deal. Subheaded "Original Rockers -- 7" and 12" Selection 1973-1979", these are thick, meaty slices of ultra-heavy reverbed dub from the genre's golden days. You can't cut through the pot-haze density of this stuff without an industrial-grade fan; it's just a pack of 17 top-shelf instrumental studio killers that take reggae music about as far into deep-murk wizardry as it can go. Many of the 45s included on here are included only to give context to the longer, more tripped-out 12" "disco mixes". Truly fine style & one of the best unearthings of lost 70s reggae since the IMPACT ALL-STARS a few years back.

Thursday, May 22, 2003
TIME TO GET TO KNOW THE SLUGFUCKERS…..The SLUGFUCKERS were a brutally experimental 1980-81 Australian post-punk group whose complete works I’ve recently had the pleasure of hearing for the first time. Their first 45 called “Instant Classic” consists of two rhythmic tracks, “Deaf Disco / Deaf Dub”, & grinds a real heavy P.I.L. funk-influenced bass line into the mud until the singer shouts “Have you had enough? Have you had enough???" over a crazed background of yelps, yips and screams. At this point, yes, you have. Pretty good and most unique, but an acquired taste. The real meat is to be found in their amazing second single, the “Three Feet Behind Glass/Live At Budokan” 7”EP that made one rogue’s top 100 DIY singles of all time -- #5, no less. It’s great! Raw, underproduced mayhem with militaristic drumming, auctioneer’s vocals (like a less punk, more drugged version of the MIDDLE CLASS), and a real bleak, desperate feel. “Cacophony” skitters forward with an angry attack despite the presence of what sounds like a toy piano being played down the hall; you can here this one on the fine “Can’t Stop It” compilation of Aussie post-punk that came out last year. Even better is “Mechanical Boy”, a jarring & equally aggressive mood piece that immediately goes right to the head of my “top ugly Australian thug-punk of 1980” list. Fantastic, and a real discovery for those of us who wrongly keep assuming we’ve heard all the genius this era had to offer.

Once the band put together their follow-up “Transformational Salt” LP they’d tipped a little further off the deep end of experimentation than I’m usually willing to go – the songs are more about textures and sounds, & less about rock and roll per se. But my crossable line is drawn fairly conservatively close to rock and roll; yours may be a bit more bold. Either way, these guys were no doubt rattling some heads in Sydney during their time, and I hope the world gets to see this stuff collected legitimately in the near future. Of course our friends at NO NIGHT SWEATS have made some available for your downloading pleasure right now – good on ‘em!

SIMPLY SAUCER : “CYBORGS REVISITED” – IT’S HERE…..As promised, Canada’s Sonic Unyon records have now officially re-released what some have righteously called “the greatest Canadian record ever”, the killer and long out-of-print posthumous LP from 1974-78 Hamilton, Ontario legends SIMPLY SAUCER. A wise man once had this to say about the now-available-again “Cyborgs Revisited” LP:

“….some of the most jarring & transcendent rock and roll ever laid down….combining a dense, guitar-heavy surge with a bizarre dose of space-age electronics, Simply Saucer set up a uniquely futuristic sound marked with a lyrical vision of modernity gone very, very wrong. The band hued well to classic rock structure while flailing wildly within its borders. It's not just the lyrics that call up images of robotic dominance and the dreaded black helicopters; the often Teutonic music does the job almost as well. Yet it would definitely be a misnomer to compare the band to the Germans who were busy creating an avant-garde rock wave of their own in 1973-75. This shit definitely kicks out the jams....

All right, so you already know about all that. So what about the extra tracks? It appears that rather than go deeper into space rock freak-outs, the Saucer turned into North America’s hottest bar band circa 1977-78, and I mean that in the very best sense. All were recorded after the 1974-75 heyday of the original “Cyborgs Revisited” tracks, and the four demos (especially “Low Profile”) have a real hard-hitting “Loaded” -era VELVET UNDERGROUND approach that, while not quite in the league of their early stuff, is still quite fine to hear. I’m not crazy about the 1978 “She’s A Dog / I Can Change My Mind” 45 that closes out this release, but you power pop simps may have some fun with it. The key thing is to get on board & grab this while it’s around this time – I’m telling you, “the greatest Canadian record ever” thing is right on. Even better then fuckin’ 2112!

Tuesday, May 20, 2003
I FINALLY HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT HOMOSEXUALS….The early 1980s British DIY art-punk band THE HOMOSEXUALS that is. A while back I put out a plea on this site for some validation on their worthiness, given that I hadn’t heard them. I figured that since it was Johan Kugelburg who made such a big deal about them in UGLY THINGS, there was perhaps some room for doubt. JD was kind enough to make me a 2xCD-R of their archival “Homosexuals Story” so I could render an opinion. Here it is: I’m kind of into ‘em. The more aggro tracks pick up where ADAM & THE ANTS left off on “Dirk Wears White Sox” (a good record, if you ask me) and move more toward the SWELL MAPS zone. There are some real neat, sharp shocks of guitar and absolutely jarring falsetto vocals, and it becomes obvious quite early that this is a real band made up of musos who know how to play. The experimental ones – and there are many – veer off into relatively interesting dub or fake jazz, as well as into some not-so-interesting noodling of no particular regard.

I will say that while no single song on the 52-track bonanza grabs me especially hard, it’s more the feel of the thing that’s worthy of at least some degree of your attention. You have to be a pretty big cheerleader for the whole early 80s post-punk UK DIY thing, though, and ready to carry water for a decided underdog, because this is strictly third tier rock and roll when compared to the real European “new wave” giants of the day (all of whom are far more famous; you know, your FALLs and GANG OF FOURs, your YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS and your KLEENEXs and the like). Disc One is all Homosexuals material, while Disc Two sifts through side projects and pals like SIR ALECK & THE PHRASER, SARAH GOES POP (a couple real good ones there like the buoyant “Arab U Harab”), GEORGE HARASSMENT and NANCY SESAR & THE MELODIARES (unlistenable). Qualms aside, it’s something the public needs to hear & they’re a good addition to the canon.

VARIOUS ARTISTS : “…AND THE ANSWER IS”….I picked up an authoritative 1950s country compilation CD a few weeks back, this one featuring the stock-in-trade country music favorite, the “answer song”. I guess this is a big thing in that horrible rap music you kids listen to nowadays, but the early country folk were doing it first (actually, as a semi-aside, there’s an entire book out now that I saw the other day dedicated to the Stagger Lee myth & the 1,001 blues songs that sprang from it – so maybe the white folk stole from the black man on the “answer song” tradition as well). Some well-known examples included here are HANK THOMPSON’s “Wild Side of Life” vs. KITTY WELLS ’ fantastic hall of fame warbler “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”; WEBB PIERCE’s alcoholic lament “There Stands The Glass” vs. BETTY CODY’s rejoinder “Please Throw Away The Glass”, and EDDY ARNOLD’s “I Really Don’t Want To Know” vs. BETTY CODY (who obviously made a career out of this – the “Lil’ Kim” of her day) and her “I Really Want You To Know”. Underlying all these dueling tales of cheating and lament are the wonderful tools of the 1950s country trade: mournful strings, early pedal steel and tearjerking tempos. Arguably the best country music of all time was created during this decade, and this 1994 Bear Family compilation does an excellent job of avoiding the fluff & going straight for the extramarital fireworks. I’d give it a big yeah-hup.

Monday, May 19, 2003
KITTY WELLS, HORRIBLE SELL-OUT TO THE MAN….One last note on the “…And The Answer Is” 1950s country compilation (above). This well-told tale from Colin Escott’s liner notes deserves your attention:

“Academics, don’t be fooled into thinking that Kitty Wells' “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” is a statement of neo-feminist values. Not only was it written by a man, but it was written by a man sniffing out an easy buck. J.D. Miller later cut wonderful swamp blues records as well as the ultimate politically incorrect records (“Move Them Niggers North”, “Lookin’ For A Handout” etc.) for his own Rebel label. He realized that the melody of “Wild Side Of Life” was in the public domain, which meant that he wouldn’t have to surrender half the copyright to the writers of the original, as most writers of answer songs have to do. The melody had in fact come from England several hundred years earlier, although it’s doubtful Miller knew this. Inspiration struck him on Rte. 90 in Louisiana, and he pulled his car over and scribbled down the sequel. The then-unknown Kitty Wells cut it not because she empathized with the lyrics, but because she needed the session fee. The capriciousness of the music business is such that she still has to sing it twice a night…”

Sunday, May 18, 2003
UNION CARBIDE PRODUCTIONS : "IN THE AIR TONIGHT"....I'd like to pay tribute this afternoon to one of the most over-the-top, raw, animalistic rock and roll LPs of all time, the godhead 1987 monster "In The Air Tonight" from Sweden's UNION CARBIDE PRODUCTIONS. You know that band Soundtrack Of Our Lives that's been getting so much ink of late? The one you heard & said in your best 12-year-old girl voice: "whatever"? Turns out that two of those guys were in the mighty UCP, & at one point had three UCP alumni among their ranks. None other than Rolling Stone had this description of UCP in a TSOOL puff piece: "Union Carbide Productions were Sweden's majestic combined answer to the Stooges, Black Flag and the early freaked-out Pink Floyd, a Next Big Thing doomed by missed opportunities and inner turmoil". That's a good enough description as any, but what they're not telling you is what a quantum leap in quality it is traveling backward through the band's history until you get to their incredible debut.

"In The Air Tonight" is one of those legendary records with a rep that keeps growing. When it came out it was a bolt from the blue for those of us who'd never found a Swedish band to dig (I hadn't heard the amazing late 70s punk from Sweden yet), and it was hailed in pretty much all corners who dared to listen. Even Lydia Lunch weighed in with a typically hyperbolic, all-caps review in Forced Exposure that had all the right adjectives: heavy, killer, bloody, blistering, raw, and of course, "over-indulgent fuck inspiring". Whatever. From Mikael Funke's history of the band on UCP's website: "Here were five guys from Gothenburg who dressed either as slobs or in suits, wore their hair long and uncombed or shaven to the skin. The music was loud, vibrant and - unlike most bands - full of groove and energy. UCP fused the Detroit Sound of The Stooges and MC5 with the weirdness of The Fugs and Captain Beefheart. They let the Stones, Doors and other great sixties acts shine through their songs long before Primal Scream. UCP was the band that did everything right in the wrong time"

This record was also given the full worship in UGLY THINGS magazine #16 in 1998, a perplexing turn for the paisley and romulan scenes, but minor complaints notwithstanding, one that spoke volumes of Mr. Stax's commitment to high-quality, high-decibel rock and roll. You read this reminiscing about the band now and it appears that everyone seems to think if it had only been 1994 instead of 1987 these guys would have been huge. I don't think so -- we're talking about defiantly non-commercial heavy punk rock, with sprawling textures, sandpaper vocals and what sounds like fifty guitars roaring at once. The closing 10-minute "Down On The Beach" recalls Husker Du's "Reocurring Dreams" with Steve Mackay's maniac sax on "LA Blues" -- not a recipe for Nirvana-style success, but a fantastic listen for the rest of us. My personal take is that their quality plummeted precipitously on the next two records (both were just okay, even though one had a song called -- gasp -- "San Francisco Boogie"), and by the time of the 90s hit I'd stopped paying attention. But get this: the band's been reuniting in Sweden from time to time, and there's talk of a box set & worldwide reissues of "In The Air Tonight" on CD (you can find it on CD now, just not as easily as you should). Sounds like a project for Revenant, & definitely worthy of joining their lineup.

CLOTHILDE “SAPERLIPOPETTE”…..Hey French speakers and ye ye fans, what does the title of this fantastic collection mean: “super little popette”? If so it’d be most apt, as CLOTHILDE, as heralded by one JV in these pages, made some of the most gourmet candy-coated 1960s French pop music you’ll ever hear. “Saperlipopette” collects both of her 1967 4-song EPs into one very short CD, and is produced with just enough bells & whistles (and horns & triangles & keys & other cool effects) to qualify as a gallic OS MUTANTES at their most pop-friendly moments. The “popettemaster” in Clothilde’s closet was one Germinal Tenas, who ought on this work alone to be standing well astride the 60s pop producer pantheon, along with Joe Meek & Phil Spector. From the Ye-Ye Girls website:

(Clothilde was) a protege of renowned producer Germinal Tenas (an alias for Christian Fechner). Germinal worked with punk Antoine et les Problemes, Christine Delroche and he later formed his own band, Chorus Reverendus. He enjoyed mixing traditional pop sounds with weird instruments like the French Horn. The result was a strange and splendid baroque pop, not dissimilar to Shadow Morton's productions for The Shangri-Las, and every one of the eight songs Clothilde and Germinal did together are musts!

I heartily concur. The kick-off track “Fallait Pas Ecraser La Queue Du Chat” may very well be the “Please Don’t Talk To The Lifeguard” of the 1960s French pop genre – pure sunlight and production genius, with enough mile-wide hooks to hide a whole decade’s worth of weapons of mass destruction in. It’s so goddamn great you also get it in Italian at the end of this CD. Here’s where to continue after you’ve tapped out on the compilations.

Thursday, May 15, 2003
THE GOOD NEWS ROLLS RIGHT IN....Agony Shorthand HQ just got a super-secret update "on the QT" that Kurt at Atavistic is going to re-issue the first and fourth FLESH EATERS albums on CD. The first, "No Questions Asked" will include the landmark "Disintegration Nation" 7"EP (the record from which Agony Shorthand takes its name), as well as an otherwise completely unheard demo that predates that first record. How about that?? The fourth LP, "Hard Road To Follow" seems to be the one the most folks are least familar with, which is a cryin' shame as it contains some of the heaviest hardcore roots/metal/punk throttle & top-notch songwriting you'll hear anywhere. Great to hear that these records will be available again!!

There's also an even more ultra-secret rumor (or "rumour", for our British friends) that a certain label from a certain large California coastal city has agreed to re-issue the 3rd Flesh Eaters LP as well -- "Forever Came Today". That would put "the big four" all on CD and in the racks for your purchasing pleasure, joining their world-class counterpart "A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die" -- arguably one of the Top 5 greatest rock and roll records of all time! Kudos to my source for the news.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
I ALMOST FORGOT TO MAKE MONEY.....I was reminded this week that I actually have back issues of SUPERDOPE to sell to you for a small sum, should you be interested. Of course! Superdope was a music magazine I put together from 1990 to about 1998, focusing on many of the same topics/bands you see here -- probably a bit more reflective "of its time" than the nostalgic backward-looking paens of Agony Shorthand, but the spirit remains. In today's electronic age, it is easy for you to order the few copies I have sitting around, as long as you're set up on Paypal. Here's what I've got:

SUPERDOPE #8 -- A digest-sized issue from 1998 with a very long, multi-page article called "FORTY-FIVE 45s THAT MOVED HEAVEN & EARTH", featuring my summations & opinions of what I considered the best 7" records of all time. Featured bands include PERE UBU, THE CRAMPS, MC5, ELECTRIC EELS, GERMS, BAGS, FLESH EATERS, PAGANS and more. Kinda punk rock. There are also a large handful of reviews of records of the day. I'll let this go for $3 US, $4 US to Canada and $5 US to the rest of the world.

SUPERDOPE #6 -- A much larger, full-sized issue from 1993, featuring interviews with COME, DADAMAH, DON HOWLAND (fresh out of the Gibson Bros), JEFF EVANS (also fresh out of the Gibson Bros) and Japan's HIGH RISE. Also has a ton of reviews. This one's $4 US, $5 to Canada and $6 US to the rest of the world.

If you're at all interested, you can use my e-mail address of for Paypal, or e-mail me if you want to pay using another method.

Monday, May 12, 2003
PRINCE BUSTER “FABULOUS GREATEST HITS”….One genre that I came upon to appreciate rather late in life is SKA – that much-maligned, perhaps guilty-by-association music loved worldwide by clothes horses & 11-year-old kid brothers. The fertile, dance-crazed Jamaican 60s ska scene got a new lease on life and was introduced to most of us when British pop groups took it mainstream in the early 80s (and for the most part, not at all badly, I might add). But then the Americans got involved and things got ugly. I remember the living, breathing definition of poseur in 1982-83 San Jose, California being a newly-minted “mod” or “ska-boy” with a Two Tone jacket, porkpie hat & a Vespa – to say nothing of the ska/punk crossover that many atrocious, unmentionable bands attempted in the years to follow. It really stunk up the entire genre for a lot of folks. I remember Forced Exposure making ska the punchline to many a review (“…At least this band doesn’t play ska…”; “nothing could be worse than this, except maybe for ska” etc.).

Lost in the bile were the true heavyweights of 1960s Jamaican music that started this hep sound in the first place, foremost among them PRINCE BUSTER. I have been gobbling up a ton of 60s Jamaican music the past few years, but this is really my first full-length foray into The Prince. It’s a hell of an introduction! I’m sure there are plenty of greatest hits packages spilling off the shelves of your local records stores, but this one collects some of his most killer sides from the Fabulous label circa 1964-67 or thereabouts. The standouts are the uptempo, ultra-fast songs that define the genre: “Earthquake”, “Texas Hold-Up” and of course “Al Capone”, later turned into “Gangsters” by the Specials. He’s a great vocalist who melts butta on the slow ones & hollers like the insane conductor of the dance floor on the frantic ones. Naturally his band is hot & tight and ready to explode w/ a wall of horns when called upon to do so. I’m not really sure where ska ends and something called “Blue Beat” begins, but the liner notes make it clear that Prince Buster was all over them both. A terrific introduction if you’re so inclined.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & THE MAGIC BAND “SHINY BEAST (BAT CHAIN PULLER)”….Am I way off base here, or does this record kind of blow? I’ve had it peeping at me in the racks for years – it was part of my must-buy-everything-Beefheart-ever-released project of some time ago, and after giving this one a sympathy spin again this week, now I remember what it was that stopped me from completing the endeavor. Instead of the deadly demon blues and stuttered noise of previous, much-heralded efforts, this 1978 record is mostly turgid, half-assed boogie competing against the shadow of punk rock USA exploding all around them in Los Angeles. Oh all right, it’s got some pretty good exceptions – I think I’ll burn myself copies of the opening “The Floppy Boot Stomp” and “Owed T’Alex” – but this is the bored and uninspired late-period Captain Beefheart that so many compare with boring and uninspiring Frank Zappa, not the half-baked musical oracle who launched a thousand ideas in the same riff whom we know and revere. I want to dig it, really, but it’s impossibly limp & I just can’t get my Beefheart jones going. Can I get a witness here, folks?

Friday, May 09, 2003
JUKEBOX JURY, ROUND THREE…..It’s time once again to face down the demons of our past and bring those now-dated bands and performers that marked my (and perhaps your) college-era experience (1985-89) to their final day of reckoning. Did they really have any relevance beyond the boozing, record collecting 19-year-old demographic? Can we honestly bring ourselves to listen to their once-unchallenged music in 2003 with nary a wince? If you missed the first installment, in which we took it to KILLDOZER, LAUGHING HYENAS, THE FLUID, PUSSY GALORE, and SCRATCH ACID, you can find it by clicking here. In our second installment, we rendered swift military-style justice to the LAZY COWGIRLS, DINOSAUR JR., NAKED RAYGUN, SPACEMEN 3 and SOUL ASYLUM, and you can find that one here. As before, the ground rules are as follows:

"Just as in our criminal justice system, these musicians will be judged either INNOCENT or GUILTY. If Innocent, they have successfully stood the ravages and judgment of time, and their music still sounds good to this day – not a small matter when the original jury was 18-19 years old. If they’re deemed Guilty, these bands are already being judged harshly by history, and will likely be wholly forgotten when the college students who bought their records in the 80s slowly begin to die off".

Let us bravely confront the mistakes of youth together. Here are this round’s sacrificial lambs!


1. BUTTHOLE SURFERS – There was a time when this band was the be-all & end-all for many a young parent-hating, drug-taking college student. Their 1980s live shows were absolute carnival freak shows, with absurd props & pranks, horrid medical accident films, crazed light shows, and unholy, droning noise that either sent one on a search for better stimulants or straight out of the room. But the records? Well, as the band themselves admit, it was never really about the records, and listening to them today I have to agree. There are a few screeching slices of low-end croak like “Concubine” or “To Parter” that still stand up, but mostly the Surfers on vinyl come across these days as gimmicky, unfunny and straight-up boring. I remember laughing hard at “The Shah Sleeps In Lee Harvey’s Grave” in the 10th grade – today it sounds like something only Jello Biafra or a 10th grader could still cop to digging. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Line up those old LPs for a ritual unloading on eBay – the Butthole Surfers are GUILTY.

2. DEATH OF SAMANTHA – These Ohioans got little respect and less glory for their rarified NY Dolls-meets-80s indie rock swagger, but I always thought that Death of Samantha were one of the absolute best bands going in 1985-89. They put out four terrific 12” records that showcased exceptionally clever wordsmithery & guitars that could jangle & shred in the same riff: “Strungout on Jargon”, the EP “Laughing In The Face of a Dead Man”, “Where The Women Wear The Glory and the Men Wear The Pants” and “Come All Ye Faithless”. For many, it came down to whether or not you could handle John Petkovic’s snarky, semi-abrasive vocals and his determined-to-piss-you-off personality. I could, and I still can. And those clothes – god, those clothes. Fantastic band, very much deserving of CD reissues of the aforementioned LPs. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Death of Samantha are INNOCENT.

3. DRUNKS WITH GUNS – Could be a real easy one for most to dismiss without actually listening to their late 80s output, as their shtick revolved around way-“heavy” topics like blood, guns, deviant sexual behavior etc. All well and good when you’re in the naïve, blossoming flower of youth, but it doesn’t wear so well on a 35-year-old. But St. Louis’ Drunks With Guns, who barely released anything back in the day that you could actually find without resorting to extreme ninja record collecting tactics, mitigated all of their youthful stupidity with the most flattening, bottom-heavy creepy crawl THUD that moved well beyond the benchmark set by FLIPPER into new realms of heavy ugliness. I listened the other day to some of their achievements, and tracks like “Drunks Theme” “Hellhouse” and, uh, “Dick In One Hand” still have it. They also were blessed with a terrific vocalist (Mike Doskocil) who “sang” with an affected miserable, angry white trash drunkard’s voice, and actually pulled it off. Many lesser lights have tried, and for all their raw, chapped vocal cords and belligerent posturing, their bands’ records are sitting in the 99-cent bins today (Iowa Beef Experience or god forbid, TAD, anyone?). Meanwhile, Drunks With Guns vinyl changes hands for $50+ for each of those impossibly rare 45s. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Never mind the rarity – for their bloodthirsty music alone, I call DWG INNOCENT.

4. HALO OF FLIES – I’ve already had an impassioned plea on one of the earlier comments to pronounce Minneapolis’ Halo of Flies innocent, but let’s go through the motions here first. Here’s another one who made their mark on the collector scum circuit first with gimmicks like edition-of-100 45s. Thing was, ALL of their 45s are killer. Tom Hazelmeyer, despite his crafted fake-racist/thin-skinned/uptight military man persona, was a phenomenal guitarist, capable of shooting sheets of guitar noise through a wah-wah & coming up with some of the most sonically invigorating up-tempo punk rock this side of the MC5 or his heroes THE CREATION. Every CD collection needs a well-played copy of “Music For Insect Minds”, which contains their complete recordings – every 45 and EP and comp track is fully represented. JUKEBOX JURY VERDICT? INNOCENT of course, but I might bring Hazelmeyer himself up for a parole hearing in a couple of years to see if some of his 1980s fanzine rants check out.

5. DIE KREUZEN – Finally we end with a decision on Milwaukee’s Die Kreuzen – ah, what to do with them? Their self-titled first LP, which unfortunately falls outside of the ’85-89 period we’re covering, is quite honestly and simply the greatest hardcore punk LP of all time (depending on whether or not you count "Damaged" and "G.I." as hardcore – if so, number three is still not a bad place to be). That record will joyfully peel the skin off your arms and scramble your synapses, an all-time heavyweight in the hard & loud hall of fame. So what did they do next? Well, it may have sounded good back then, but I now think any enthusiasm I was throwing at “October File” and “Century Days” back then was simple basking in the glow of the debut. They now sound like warmed-over, art-damaged metal at their best, and they obviously grope for U2 popularity at their worst. I saw them open for Sonic Youth in 1988 at San Francisco’s Fillmore, and was so eager for a good-time first-LP-style thrashing that I tried painfully hard to overlook the big hair, the power ballads and the exceptionally mediocre songs. It was tough, and for years I kept my feelings about it tightly bottled up, and kept telling everyone that Die Kreuzen were a damn good band. I talked this one over with my Midwest correspondent/expert DP, who saw Die Kreuzen many more times that I did, and he helped me with the final, painful, self-confronting judgment. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? GUILTY Dave Lang’s eloquent protestations to the contrary.

Come back next time when we wrap up our series with decisions on BIG BLACK, SQUIRREL BAIT, DAS DAMEN and more!

Thursday, May 08, 2003
ART & COMMERCE ARE AT IT AGAIN…...The battle rages between those longtime enemies art (music) and commerce (embodied by digital technology) in a very good article in this month’s PERFECT SOUND FOREVER entitled “The Technology Trap”, written by one Brian James (from The Damned?). Mr. James, while not dismissing digital/electronic advances out of hand, makes a pretty compelling case for a dismaying alteration of musical expression springing from the increasingly widespread use of electronic sound generators, digital recording, click tracks and sound effects. Let’s just say he’s not into it. From the article:

“….We have allowed this to happen because we have lost track of music's purpose. I daresay that it was not invented so that it could culminate in the shiniest, most technologically sophisticated knob that man could ever hope to twiddle, and if that’s an unconvincing reason, then I simply find such a climax unworthy of much personal investment. The simple truth is that despite the superficial alterations that garner such excessive attention, music specifically and art in general express the same things they always have. They remind us of eternal themes much more than they discover them, and there is nothing wrong with that. We need to be told the same things over and over again and yes, we need to find new ways to express ourselves, but the former part of that sentiment is kicked to the margins by those who continue to doubly delude themselves into thinking that art doesn't merely change but progresses, and that technology is the engine for this progress. Formal discoveries are worth welcoming only if they remain firmly in service of content and worthy of rejection when they eclipse it”.

James has some very provoking thoughts on the matter, so I’d recommend reading the whole thing. I’m not sure I agree with him wholly, as I still believe a case can be made for music’s natural evolution within a capitalist, free-to-choose society, in which we – the buyers – can demand our poison of choice. Those who rightly argue that the recording industry needs to update its business model to keep pace with the technological achievements of the 21st century get themselves into something of a hypocritical bind when they also argue that music itself can’t evolve to reflect society’s achievements. Just as intentionally shitty production can gussy up a song, and make it sound even better than it would live (calling MIKE REP!), so too can state-of-the-art digital production & click tracks.

That’s not to say that I don’t easily prefer the music from a Robert Johnson 78 (the example cited by James) to that of some laptop hound. I don’t personally have to like that shortcut-taking garbage, and I don’t. James himself is exercising a fundamental societal value in his protestation of it. If he swings enough minds with this piece, who knows, maybe the worship of the electronic musician that marks our era may be taken down a notch. It was interesting to read in this week’s San Francisco Bay Guardian, however, this quote from James Marlon Magus, an “electronic rocker” associated with the BULB label. He vividly illustrates exactly the mindset that James is miffed about:

"You hear a real 808 and you go, 'Ah! This is what it's supposed to sound like! That's the sound I was trying to get for so long but just couldn't do it with the 505!' " Magas says. "[After recording Bad Blood] I eventually started increasing my sound palette, little by little, basically limited by the amount of money that I had. I'd pick up one piece here and covet it. Then I'd get a little more money and another piece. It becomes almost like an obsession, gaining access to certain sounds."

“Gaining access to certain sounds”. Hunh. Forget musicianship or ability – it’s now all about filling up the hard drive!

BUT WAIT PUNKERS, THERE'S MORE -- A NEW BAGS RELEASE....JB let me know that someone IS putting out some lost material from blazing first-wave Los Angeles '77-'78 punk rock heroes THE BAGS (see below -- dreams do come true). You can get the whole story here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
THE CRIME BOX SET!!!.....While on vacation I took some time to wade through the latest issue (#8) of SOUND COLLECTOR magazine, the first one I'd ever perused. Not a bad read at all; sort of a brick & mortar version of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER, run by music freaks like you & me, and with a fair amount of quality control so the writing is quite meaty. I learned a few things from this issue. First, in an interview with Revenant Records music packaging designer Susan Archie (she did the mesmerizing Charley Patton and Captain Beefheart box sets), I learned that the long-promised box set from all-time-great 1977-78 punk rock destroyers CRIME is finally going to see the light of day -- Ms. Archie is working on the packaging now. Wow. One can only imagine that it'll have all three 7" singles, the tracks from the "Hate Us Or Love Us, We Don't Give A Fuck" and "San Francisco's Doomed" semi-legit LPs, and hopefully some long-suppressed recordings that approach the raw, cacophonous quality of those first two singles. One can dream, right? This is one of the last punk rock excavation projects to get excited about -- this is until the BAGS CD comes together. Anyone have more information about the CRIME thing?

ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS TOUR.....You may have read in our very pages a while back about the recent Los Angeles show by mid-70s Cleveland proto-punk legends ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS; now it seems the momentum has built enough to justify a brief Northeast swing (with hopefully more to follow). Here are the dates:

Tue, June 3, Columbus OH Little Brother's
Wed, June 4, Chicago, Abbey Pub
Thu, June 5, Cleveland, Beachland Ballroom
Fri, June 6, and Sat, June 7 New York City, Village Underground
Sun, June 8, Philadelphia, North Star
Mon, June 9, Hoboken NJ, Maxwell's

From the "official press release": Rocket From The Tombs existed for less than a year, played fewer than a dozen shows and was probably never seen by more than a few hundred people but it has over the decades since 1975, due to a frenetic trafficking in bootlegs, acquired an international status out of all proportion to its popularity. When the band split in 1975, David Thomas and Peter Laughner went on to form Pere Ubu, taking along rock classics such as "Final Solution, "Life Stinks," and "30 Seconds Over Tokyo." Cheetah Chrome and John Madansky formed the Dead Boys, taking "Sonic Reducer," "Ain't It Fun," "Down In Flames," and several others.

In February 2003, for the first time in 27 years, the band played at the Disastodrome Festival at UCLA, Los Angeles CA. Richard Lloyd from Television stepped in to complete the original two guitar attack. "An explosive, revelatory set," says Los Angeles Times. "Garnered awed approval," says Daily Bruin. Mr Lloyd continues as a band member for a short tour in America in June 2003....