Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, September 28, 2004
LEARNING, GROWING, SHARING, DOWNLOADING TOGETHER.....As I look back over the grand arc of Agony Shorthand these past 20 months, I realize you and I have shared a lot of really, really “good times” together. In these 600 days, I’ve come to know you just a little bit better, and you, me. Together, we’ve learned a little something about music – and perhaps about ourselves. Here, in no particular order, are the twenty rock songs I’d never heard before this site debuted on February 5th, 2003, and which now mean more to me that sustenance itself. I encourage you to download them from your favorite paid MP3 site – or better yet, get them for free at the illegal site of your choice! :

1. THE KINKS : “Shangri-La”
2. GIRLS AT OUR BEST! : “Getting Nowhere Fast”
3. SPK : “Contact”
4. THE KINKS : “King Kong”
6. CLOTHILDE : “Fallait pas écraser la queue du chat”
7. HACKAMORE BRICK : “Oh! Those Sweet Bananas”
8. IRON KNOWLEDGE : “Show Stopper”
9. SEEMS TWICE : entire EP
10. MAESTROS & DIPSOS : “Backslide”
11. MARS : “Helen Fordsdale”
12. JOHNNY PAYCHECK : “Motel Time Again”
13. ZODIAC KILLERS : “Kamikaze Attack”
15. THE CHARMERS : “Looking For Trouble”
16. THE FALL : “Hands Up Billy”
17. RUTTO : “Ma Vihaan”
18. MIKE REP AND THE QUOTAS : “Mama Was A Schtizo, Daddy Was a Vegetable Man”
19. BEYOND THE IMPLODE : “Midnight Adventures”
20. THE KIWI ANIMAL : “Time of the Leaves”

Monday, September 27, 2004

Customarily, you'll find this thing perched on just about anyone's Top Whatever Records of all time, or at least on those of the punk- and proto-punk eras. It's certainly held a spot on mine for a long, long time, but until last year's "expanded reissue" I'd grown a little cold to the "Marquee Moon" scent. It was either general overplay, my disdain for Tom Verlaine's personality, or just a re-evaluation in light of the rapturous & building critical acclaim it got over the 1990s. Like "Forever Changes" or "Village Green Preservation Society", you begin to wonder if it's just the geeks that dig it, or if it truly holds up outside of its intellectualization. Duh. Of course it does. Particularly now, because not only do the original 1977 mixes sound concert-quality, but the add-ons are as good, if not as revelatory, as anything available you'd want outside of the whole of the "Double Exposure" and "Poor Circulation" bootlegs. (You can't create footnotes in Blogger, but if you could, this is where I'd have one saying that these two 1974-75 era TELEVISION bootlegs are mandatory Hell/Verlaine/Lloyd/Ficca recordings, one of the few batches of demos that burnishes a band's legend in a big way. Very few bootlegs of anyone can touch these).

The former Side One, of course, is where the band's genius and never-equaled chops are most apparent: "See No Evil", "Venus", "Friction" and "Marquee Moon". I have almost played the grooves off this side over time -- it's totally inventive, wildly original and way outside of its CBGB punk contemporaries. The heaven-pointed 10+ minute ascension of "Marquee Moon", perhaps the most technically & sonically creative rock epic ever, still rules. As do the other three -- you can't touch 'em, so far ahead of any NYC scene peers of the day it ain't funny. On the former Side 2, it's more of a mixed bag -- there are tracks that just don't hold up now or ever: "Guiding Light" and "Torn Curtain". Man, hearing them clunk again on this CD , I swear it was like they were brand new songs, so poorly have they been burned into my synapses. But then there's "Prove It" and "Elevation", both of which are studly guitar clangers sung in Verlaine's disaffected, cooler-than-you persona. The reissue adds both sides of the terrific Ork Records debut 45 "Little Johnny Jewel", three decent but fairly similar alternate versions of "Marquee Moon" tracks ("See No Evil", "Friction" and "Marquee Moon"), and then one unheard track. This, the "Untitled Instrumental" that closes the CD off, sounds like road music for a cooking show or something, one where some saucy chef with a mustache travels the globe on a dirt bike to go native and whip up a few wacky dishes. A little out of character, but hey, I'll take it. OK, this is the part where I'm supposed to pull out words like MASTERPIECE and NIRVANA and CLASSIC and GENIUS. I reckon if you're just getting interested in "Marquee Moon" now, then this reissue will give you more to be excited about than anyone's ever had. So that's something!

Friday, September 24, 2004
FAT DAY : "UNF! UNF!" CD......

This bizarro Massachusetts band seems to have been around for years, but the only time they've touched my music collection was as the other party on a THOMAS JEFFERSON SLAVE APARTMENTS split 45. I don't remember their track. I also know that FAT DAY were the perpetrators on one of the two "fake" KILLED BY DEATH volumes (featuring the great fake '77-'83 punk bands the FROTHY SHAKES, the FATTY BRATS and the CURLY FRIES). So given that fact alone, I'm predisposed to liking them a little bit, and after hearing this brand new Load Records release, I like them a little bit more. "Unf! Unf!" is full of apoplectic VOID-style spazz hardcore (with a female singer), every song under a minute or two and pretty goddamned crazed. It reminds me a little of that Siltbreeze 45 a long while back by Japan's SUNSHINE SUPER SCUM -- really out-there, hard metalcore if it were played by MFAs and gallery denizens instead of unwashed street kids. Adding credence to that theory are about a half-dozen numbers that I can only categorize as symphonic, electro-classical noodling -- keyboard-based rushes and operatic soaring, all played with a sense that this crew doesn't take themselves particularly seriously. There's even a track called "If Humans Had No Poops" that's a Kraftwerk imitation high school talent show disaster, so stupid you simply have to applaud. Other song titles: "Chick Tract", "Have You Got Cable?" and "Black Fucking Flag". Mostly it's about the out-of-control 30-second hardcore tracks, which they pull off quite well. It's not gonna shift a ton of units or hit heavy rotation in my house but FAT DAY are some real gone nuts, and I think I like 'em!


We just went through a move a quarter-mile away from our old place, which upset the fragile balance of just about everything and also unearthed all those SUPERDOPEs I never thought to get rid of. As I said, last time I peddled a few of these via Agony Shorthand, Superdope was this 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 #7 -- Another small digest from 1994 with DOO RAG and VIRGINIA DARE interviews and a bunch of reviews. $3 US, $4 to Canada and $5 to rest of world.

SUPERDOPE #6 -- A much larger, full-sized issue from 1993 (pictured above), 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.

SUPERDOPE #5 -- Another large issue from 1992, this one with interviews with the NIGHT KINGS, THOMAS JEFFERSON SLAVE APARTMENTS and FLY ASHTRAY. Dozens and dozens of reviews and lots of alcohol talk. Times were just like that then. $4 US, $5 to Canada and $6 US to the rest of the world.

#1-#4 are long gone. If you're at all interested, I'll offer creative discounting on multiple issues. You can use my e-mail address of for Paypal, or e-mail me if you want to pay using another method.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

It’s funny, you have to think that when someone takes the time and spends the postage to send you a fancy-looking, limited edition LP of shapeless noise, after reading a post mercilessly belittling one of the very bands on the record, there’s probably someone pulling some old-school reverse psychology mojo on you. It’s a cool gambit, playing up the relative squareness of hopelessly rockist dorks like myself while the noise nation clucks and winks in unison as another of their heroes are taken down & therefore elevated. Why, NAUTICAL ALMANAC themselves, bless their little hearts, have posted a review I wrote on their recent CD on their web site, with nary a shred of bitterness or rancor. If they can be that evenhanded and forgiving, well, why can’t I? OK, so now that one of the label heads at the C.I.P./SNSE labels has encouraged me to give the NAUTICAL ALMANAC / VERTONEN split LP a college try, I say, “thank you sir, and please bring it on!”.

The record itself is neat – the cover is hand-silkscreened! I don’t know if the record itself is “lathe cut”, but then I don’t know what that means. Looks like a vinyl record to me! Nautical Almanac’s side, I’m afraid to say, is masturbatory twaddle so ridiculously random and contemptuous of its audience that it’s really, really hard to take seriously. I know it’s being created with love and joy and peace and is all about opening up a radical, revolutionary new paradigm, but I have to think that there’s still a joke being played on someone. I’m just not sure who. It might be me. Don’t know how VERTONEN rock the fuckin’ house down more than their pals Nautical Almanac, but somehow their nonsensical noise stands up just a little straighter and is a little less light in the loafers, if you know what I’m saying. Their side’s got a sample of some olde tyme piano rag that cuts in & out and loops back upon itself for a couple of minutes. Neat! Eminently listenable! How about that?

HUNCHES : “FUCK DISCO BEATS” 7”EP....Hey, I hate fucking disco too! Wow! The “burnouts” in my junior high had this to say, and it still rings true twenty-some-odd years later: “AC/DC, rock and roll, disco sucks and so does soul”. Exceptionally well put. So as a disco protest, this recent 45 from THE HUNCHES is going to fall on a lot of deaf ears & cause a whole bunch more, but truth be told, it’s a pretty weak title track. Subject matter’s completely uninteresting, and it’s a middleweight screamer from a band who are better when they break the mold a little bit. In fact this time they’re ALL screamers – “When I Became You” is a solid garage-fortified pounder from the new CD, and “Jakob’s Voices”, the standalone b-side, is the not-even-close winner, easily one of the best things they’ve done. I’m tempted to compare this one, particularly the hot B-side, to SCRATCH ACID circa “Berzerker”, which was when that band really flew off the rails and whose brand of uneasy listening became something a little more dangerous than we’d ever heard before. I really dig The Hunches and am going to be patient when they make the inevitable rookie mistakes, because they’ve got a great god-given ability to harness a lot of raw voltage and pent-up teenage lust and let it loose in a wildly creative, locomotive and sometimes even pleasurably bent manner. Not a lot of bands with the ability to sound this full-on nasty these days.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I’ve heard the “Rodney on the ROQ” radio show live maybe two or three times ever, but if you’re even a little bit interested in LA punk days of yore – or hey, in LA glitter days of yore – you know who RODNEY BIGENHEIMER is. It always seemed to go without saying that Rodney was best – the best – at getting his picture taken with famous people, with his ability to drum up support for mediocre sugar pop or punk-lite bands a close second. Honestly, outside of the over-the-top belittling he took from the Angry Samoans in their song “Get Off The Air” (featuring the first-rate lyric “Glitter bands, and Bowie’s cock/Are his idea of new wave rock”) and that incredible I’ll-never-grow-up haircut of his, I’ve barely given him a second thought. He’s never done a thing to get me worked up pro or con. After watching this documentary on him, though, I feel like buying him a beer and personally apologizing to him for the hatchet job the filmmakers did on him.

This recent documentary, which held out the (delivered) promise of including a ton of great 1960s-70s photos and footage from underground & overground popular culture, has an agenda of laying waste to Bigenheimer by juxtaposing his supposedly fabulous life among the tinseltown glitterati with his own, somewhat painful family history. It’s obvious very early on that Rodney doesn’t really know how to conduct himself in this documentary, so he just sort of trails along as the filmmakers plop him into one uncomfortable situation after another. This includes getting the girl he’s crazy about to admit she has another boyfriend in front of Rodney; forcing his clueless Dad and stepmom to search for the one or two childhood photos of Rodney they’ve retained, trailing him around his squalid apartment as they subtly mock his lack of money, and so on. Rodney, who possesses very little of the smarts that might have gotten him out of this mess, just lets the camera roll and tries to nice-guy the filmmakers into liking him, as I imagine he’s nice-guyed many a star over the years. They don’t – they loathe him, just as they loathe anyone who might have a few demons they’re unwilling to confront. They also employ the most tired trick in the book – contrasting the LA of parties and sex and booze with the LA where people actually have to polish the sidewalk stars on Hollywood Boulevard or who might be too wasted or broke to sleep in a house or motel for the night. Can you believe it? Beneath the glitter and the tinsel there’s a whole ‘nother Los Angeles!!

It’s a documentary that might have been all right at a big-city film festival, where you know most of the films will be duds & you’re willing to forgive the young filmmakers their trespasses – you just want to be out & seeing something that’ll never hit the Cineplex. But beyond that, no way. It’s amateur hour as the film’s story halts and starts and halts again, with long stretches of incoherence that cries for an editor or some adult supervision. What does it have to do with rock and roll, you ask? Well, beyond the nominal subject matter, “The Mayor of the Sunset Strip” does have interviews with some self-aggrandizing people you love to hate like Courtney Love (who of course bring the subject matter back to herself almost every question) and Ray Manzarek. There’s also great footage from Rodney’s 1970s glam club “Rodney’s English Disco”, including a preening David Johanssen and a nubile MacKenzie Phillips, as well as weird interviews with members of groupie club The GTOs. Oh yeah, and KIM FOWLEY is all over this thing – there were times when I thought the film was going to veer off and become a documentary on him, something I’d definitely like to see if someone can brave it. There’s no doubt the ribald, quick-witted and quite possibly insane Fowley would have held his own against these mean-spirited charlatans far better than Rodney Bigenheimer did.

Monday, September 20, 2004

LILI Z. just gets better and better with every micro-release. This 21st Century French chanteuse, after a couple of super-minimal DIY electro/fuzz EPs, has now got her first American 45 out & for the most part, it’s a warped, loud, hot and angry synth dancefloor attack like some retro 1981-82 Northern UK industrial punk. I’m hearing some obvious precedents like “Nag Nag Nag”-era CABARET VOLTAIRE or the underheard RED LORRY YELLOW LORRY, but then I could just be hearing things. Imagine a squeaky-voiced, leather-clad Dominatrix cracking the whip over an aggressive programmed backdrop, sorta in the same sexual hothouse as those other hot leather-clad Europeans COBRA KILLER, and you’re in the ballpark. S-S Records has packaged it in a reverse Dangerhouse style, with a vertical fold instead of horizontal, but that doesn’t scare me one bit. Somehow the B-side needs to be trimmed, edited, spindled or reigned in a bit but that A-side is a real cooker!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Seems like you can't even go a month without one of the RAMONES dying off. Today it's Johnny, arguably the most talented and the "heart and soul" of The Ramones, and certainly a guy who wrote the template for loud-ass buzzsaw guitar playing (James Williamson notwithstanding) starting way back in 1974. He succumbed to prostate cancer. From the New York Times obituary:

"By stripping rock guitar of its ornamentation and playing almost every note in a violent, accelerated downstroke, Mr. Ramone helped create the sound of punk. His style — fast, repetitive and aggressive, though always tuneful — influenced, directly or indirectly, almost every punk guitarist since, from the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones to Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and contemporary players like Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and Tom Delonge of Blink-182...."

That's right, he influenced all the greats, up to and including Tom Delonge from Blink-182. There are some lessons to be learned here. Tommy, Marky, Clemmy -- time to start eating right (boneless, skinless chicken breasts) and working out (that includes the delts and quads). Fellas, don't forget the yearly prostate cancer screen starting at age 35. And ladies, don't make fun of us when we come home whining about the test. Best wishes to Mr. Ramone's family & friends.

THE REBEL : “EXCITING NEW VENUE FOR SOCCER AND EXECUTION OF WOMEN” 7”EP....And if you misanthropes or Taliban nostalgics are excited by that title, you’re sure to get some hefty titillation from this new EP from Scotland’s THE REBEL, aka Ben Wallers from the COUNTRY TEASERS. I am definitely more into this one than the EP we discussed in this forum last year; imagine, if you will, the very same FALL that made “Second Dark Ages”, now with access to samplers and 21st-century overdub techniques. There’s a lot less bleeping and Casio experimentation than that other one, and it sounds, well – it sounds more like something like some guy from the Country Teasers might attempt over a particularly inspired weekend. My pick to click is the brief (but frantic) “Please Ban Music”, which has a skeletal, skittering riff that coughs and sputters like an insect caught in the mixing board. Overall, pretty neat. On France’s SDZ Records.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

I’ve been praying a silent prayer every evening before tuck-in that someone would take it upon themselves to collect MONOSHOCK’s 45s and miscellaneous odds/ends onto a CD, but never in my deep talks with the Lord did I imagine the results would come out this tip-top. Before diving deep into this excellent 1989-95 overview of one of America’s hottest lost 1990s “local” bands, some disclaimers & a little history. My personal involvement with Monoshock goes back a ways, so for me to pretend there’s zero connection between us would be more than a tad disingenuous. I will say that I’ve had nil contact with anyone in the band for several years now. I took it upon myself to post an unprompted yet non-maliced warts-&-all discussion of Julian Cope’s experiment in extreme Monoshock hyperbole 18 months ago, pretty much the first real post on this site. I put some distance between myself and a subjective view of the band’s music a long time ago, and I think I can, in 2004, critically approach this CD as a non-jaundiced fan might.

That said, after reading the liner notes by “The Captain”, which provide a terrific overview of Monoshock’s life story, the dots began to reconnect. I played – OK, sang – in Isla Vista, CA’s UMBILICAL CHORDS in 1988 with a pre-Monoshock Rubin Fiberglass & Grady Runyan, and because I was a whiny 20-year-old purist of some sort & tried to keep their band rooted square in a dead-end fast/loose/hard Lazy Cowgirls-esque direction, I happily assisted in driving those much more visionary & talented gentlemen from the Chords, whereupon they created the more expansive proto-fuzz Monoshock that summer. Monoshock quickly became one of those rare bands that one sees live repeatedly not because your friends are in the group, but because they’re really, really good. Later, hard feelings assuaged, I played/sang in a 1989 one-time-only tribute band to the awful Mystic Records hardcore compilation “We Got Power” called, you got it, WE GOT POWER, featuring all three members of Monoshock + me decked out in our finest Ill Repute/Willful Neglect wear. Still later, after the band had broken up & reemerged in 1993 in the San Francisco Bay Area, I put out their first 7”EP on my exceptionally short-lived label Womb Records. All three tracks from that CRIME/CHROME-damaged 45 kick this CD off in screaming fashion, and that’s where the REAL story – the interesting one –begins.

The first thing you notice if you were at all familiar with this band is that the remixes of what were some of the dirtiest, filthiest, most buried SOLGER-esque rock recordings ever are now hot, frothing and bursting off the laser to grab you by the lapels of your fine Dacron ensemble. Now how did they do that? It’s a stone-cold miracle; the transformation of these crud-encrusted recordings into items for home fidelity systems are akin to a radical Queer Eye intervention. The band’s first three 45s are here, along with their two comp tracks and loads of unreleased gems. These sons of VOM are three of the most clued-in musical minds I’ve ever met or observed, and they breathed in and coughed out a whole host of killer influences. Starting with the most obvious: Hawkwind, The Stooges, Can, Black Flag, Pere Ubu, Pink Fairies, Von Lmo, the MC5, and Chrome. Later in their flickeringly brief career they trended more toward heavy Japanese-style PSF psychedelia and outré space rock experimentation a la F/i, Vertical Slit and any number of barefoot Germans from the 1970s. I’m not sure where they’d have ended up had the band not petered out in 1995 – it appears from the direction they were trending on the LP/CD “Walk To The Fire” that it was into a heads-down, dark & deep spastic noise murk rather than back to the bull-rushing primitive fuzz-punk squeal of these earlier recordings.

The revamped, post-college MONOSHOCK were the great white hopes of Bay Area sub-underground rock for about a year; the few of us that closely followed their comings and goings, best captured on those three loud-as-fuck 45s, were flat-out convinced that they were one big Forced Exposure write-up or one big WFMU endorsement away from selling the nation on their considerable charms. It wasn’t to be, and it was frustrating for lots of reasons. One of them may or may not have been related to the band’s motivation declining in an inverse proportion to their moderately ascending popularity. I could be way off base here, but Monoshock tended to wander off the reservation of coherence frequently enough that self-sabotage has to be considered as a worthy theory for salon discussion. That way they could remain fully sub-underground and in so doing, ensure they’d be so in there’s no chance they’d ever sell out. Witness the uncoached “special musical guests” on tambourine or sax who snuck in, stuck around and somehow became unofficial band members. Or how about weed-baked tracks on the CD like “Terminal Roctus” and “Cabalgando a la Luna” (as my pal RW said, when was the last time you broke out “Fuck That Weak Shit, Volume 3”, from which this emanates?), which, well, if you’ve got another word for self-indulgent, I’m all ears.

But this unpredictability and spontaneity was much more frequently a source of strength. Even way early on, Monoshock let plodding thud monsters like the 1989 demo that closes this CD, “Destination: Soil”, break out into impromptu, freakish, extendo Big Muff jams that left half the party in rapturous awe & the other half passed out on the floor. Grady Runyan was and remains a destroying guitar player, a guy who has done as much with distortion and pedal-based chaos as anyone has the past 15 years. Likewise Scott Derr (on the 1989 stuff) and especially Rubin Fiberglass (most of the 1993-95 tracks) were top-shelf vocalists; Fiberglass in particular had a snot-assed delivery that sounded like the gutter stepchild of Darby Crash and the McDonald brothers. This CD conveys their unrestrained powers far more cohesively than even most of their live gigs did, and with a far better mix than any of the vinyl that preceded it. It’s one that’s worth playing repeatedly and which’ll deservedly make them a whole lot more friends in the afterlife than they garnered in the here and now. Kudos to S-S Records for making the release happen & to Monoshock for allowing it to.

Friday, September 10, 2004

We're 3/4ths of the way there, folks. After decades in the wilderness, a time in which none of the almighty FLESH EATERS' four major works were available on CD and therefore available for instant canonization by a new generation of metal/punk howl lovers, we now have "A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die", "No Questions Asked" and "A Hard Road To Follow" out and available for purchase immediately (if not sooner). Thanks be to Atavistic and to Byron Coley for making it happen; now we'll all sit patiently on our hands for another few years until someone forks out some time and cash to get "Forever Came Today" in the bins. The reissues are something of a vindication for a band who, in their time, attracted a small posse of berzerkly partisan admirers, but who also missed a lot of potential converts who were either drowning in the plethora of great bands of the time; who couldn't get their hands on any poorly-distributed Ruby/Upsetter product; who perhaps were initially alienated by the band's over-the-top sonic power & banshee-like shrieks, or -- and this is probably the largest bucket of misser-outers -- were simply too young to get involved. I fell into the latter camp, and though I instantly clasped The Flesh Eaters to my heaving bosom only a couple years after these records came out, thanks to my clued-in older cousin (who like Coley & now like me has at one time or another called the Flesh Eaters his "favorite band"), it still bugs me no end that if only I'd been 2-3 years OLDER I'd have witnessed their ferocity myself. Stooges in 1970, Electric Eels in 1975, Bags and Crime in 1977, The Fall in 1981 and the Flesh Eaters in 1982-84 -- these are the shows I still need to attend. Maybe I will in heaven or hell.

So anyway, "A Hard Road To Follow" was the 4th and final album from the "initial" Flesh Eaters, and the only one that ever carried over the same line-up from the previous LP (in this case Chris D, Don Kirk, Chris Wahl and Robyn Jameson). Like its predecessors, it's a masterpiece of caterwauling punk rock, limned with the first hints of the boozy Stones-influenced blues and raw 60s soul that Chris packed up & brought to his next band, the DIVINE HORSEMEN (who I was lucky enough to see live). It's got some of the best "hard rock" songwriting you'll ever hear -- both in the "fantastic realism" of the fever-drenched lyrics and in the tempo-building complexity of the arrangements. Tracks like the superb "We'll Never Die", "Father of Lies" and "Everytime I Call Your Name" come on like heavy metalloid steamrollers, with a sort of rebel swagger that most bands could never pull off yet fit this pack of LA miscreants to a fucking T. In fact all of what was once known as "Side 2" is flat-out perfect -- in addition to the aforementioned, there's the jaunty alcohol paean "Fistful of Vodka" and the top-shelf pounder "Poison Arrow", all backed up with totally appropriate, soulful and deliberately muffled female vocals from Jill Jordan. "Rhymes" is a total oddity stacked next to this lineup of crunchers: a shambling, street-corner duet /harmonization between Chris and Jill that could have been performed by Marvin & Tammy or Ike & Tina if they'd come of fruit-bearing age around the Masque & Hong Kong Cafe scenes rather than in Detroit and Mississippi.

I can't in all good conscience give "A Hard Road To Follow" a full no-problems endorsement. This was the first Flesh Eaters LP (in four tries) that included a couple of mediocre tracks, in the form of "Side 1"'s "The Hammer Hits The Nail" and "My Destiny". It's almost stunning to hear any track by these guys that doesn't automatically pin you to the wall or send your emotional makeup in ten directions at once. If this thing's flawed at all, it's here, and that's not a whole lot to mar what is otherwise perfect. Best of all, the bonus tracks are just incredible. None are revelatory (translation: I had them all already) but all five rank among the top Flesh Eaters' tracks ever. "Lake of Burning Fire", a re-made "Impossible Crime" and "Hard Road To Follow" (the song) were once extras on the SST Flesh Eaters "hits" compilation "Destroyed By Fire", but that LP/CD appears to be long deleted. "Pony Dress", which many, including Coley, put as the apotheosis of Flesh Eaters glories, is also on here, as is a live version of the 8-minute soul-sucking firebreather "Divine Horseman". I see no reason for the band's name not to frequently breathed with those of the greats, nor to be horded as a special, you-wouldn't-understand record collector curio. Let's hope that the Atavistic reissue series is just what the doctor ordered in getting these guys over the hump in public consciousness-raising.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

THE HUNCHES are one of those bands where if you told me you thought they were a pack of prancing noise-rock poseurs I'd fully understand where you were coming from, and if you told me you thought they were rock gods walking the earth among the rest of us mere mortals, I'd understand that too. When I first got their new, 2nd CD "Hobo Sunrise" a few weeks back, I pretty much hated it & figured these guys were attempting to pole vault themselves into a pantheon they're nowhere near ready to join. I put it on the backburner for a bit & let it loose again this week, and now I'm pretty sure that it's some first-rate panic rock. I had my reservations about the first one, too, but it wormed its way into my shriveled heart and eventually made me a true believer & a preacher of the Hunches gospel (and by the emails I've received and frequent comments on this site, there's been some serious Hunches mania sweeping the garage punk microscenia these past two years).

I thought "Hobo Sunrise" was going to be a concept album or something, given its ridiculous title (which is one-upped on this CD by a track called "Turkey Timer Pinocchio", if you can believe it), but it's really more of the same bang-bang-bang rapid artillery fire, neatened up with a some nice mid-tempo NY DOLLS-meets-LAUGHING HYENAS gutter blues. When they truly let it fly like a careening CHEATER SLICKS/BIRTHDAY PARTY hybrid, which is just about the time the singer gathers all his pent-up shit & busts out his wailing John Brannon scream, it's a big, whomping gut punch that the band pulls off exceptionally well & which seriously encourages one to run around and break shit. The difference between this & their first is that "Hobo Sunrise" is probably more consistently spot-on -- every track is at least listenable -- and their chops have honed & tightened to the point where they can play a couple different flavors of noisy, spastic garage-based R&R. My only real gripe with The Hunches is the sense that they've been studying the grand sweep of rock history a little too closely, and have willingly or unwillingly internalized too many moves that are not their own. This is manifested in the singer's normal lackadaisical, disengaged, oh-so-rock-n-roll vocal drawl, as well as in a number of cool riffs copped from all over the underground rock spectrum. Nothing wrong with copping riffs, mind you, or even borrowing a lyric here and there, but I get the feeling that these gentlemen are trying a little harder to make themselves legendary than their young-buck talent yet allows. They're still one of my favorites, though, and I'm glad a record/disc can still polarize me in two extreme directions only weeks apart. Something interesting, different or unique must be in play. So can one write a review enthusiastically praising a band as one of the hotter combos around in 2004, while still admonishing them to do better? I think one can!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

My KINKS education continues apace. When we last discussed the band, I was spinning with glee over my newly-heard and -acquired "Arthur: The Decline and Fall of British Civilization", and decided to make up for lost time & get on the stick with the rest of these guys' back catalog. Already a proud owner of the band's first two records but little else, I took your recommendations and picked up (or was burned) "The Village Green Preservation Society" , "Something Else", and today's topic, the 1966 LP "Face To Face" (actually the "expanded compact disc" version). Fair to say that I'm now an over-the-top, somewhat chastened Kinks fan. When I get involved in a "classic rock" band that I've missed out on or only scratched the surface of, I dive in hard; my Beefheart, Neil Young and Creedence obsessions are testament. In all my rock literature perusing over the years, I really can't recall anyone waxing lyrical about "Face To Face" as a stand-along thing, though they should have. This record finds the Kinks in a transition from locomotive beat/garage merchants into homegrown English eccentric mode, while bringing forth the best qualities from either side of the divide.

For the former, there's "Party Line" and the classic "A House in the Country" (among other great ones), as balls-out smoking as the British Invasion ever offered up yet still rooted in classic 4/4 pop music. For you more maudlin sorts, you can't beat the lovely "Rainy Day In June", or the one song on this expanded version that I've been a fan of for years, the frustrated outsider/loner anthem "I'm Not Like Everybody Else". That track's disaffection is not only wrapped up in its alienated lyrics, but in the watery, distant, depressed-sounding music backing up the verses, broken up by driving, pissed-off power chords in the chorus. It's a cliché to be sure, but this album was obviously the band's "maturation" point, and it's a 100% essential own. I'm not yet ready to critically rack & stack it next to their following two LPs, "Something Else" and "Village Green Preservation Society", but right now this is definitely the one I'm playing the most often.

FLESH EATERS WEB SIGHTING......In lieu of my not-yet-completed long hosanna on the new CD reissue of the FLESH EATERS' "Hard Road To Follow", take a look at what Lexicon Devil has to say about FLESH EATERS mach 3, mach 5 and the fine in-between LP from STONE BY STONE. This boy's head's on straight, let's put it that way.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Probably the first Soul Jazz compilation that I can flat-out & wholeheartedly say I don't recommend. "Chicago Soul", despite a couple of polished soul/blues nuggets, is a total mess. Ostensibly it's a compilation of, that's right, Chicago-based 1960s soul, but thematically it's all over the map, dipping a toenail into bombastic rock-based guitar blues, reedy flute-based afro-soul, Tamla/Motown-style uptempo R&B, squishy soul balladry, and tepid half-gassed funk. Jumping from micro-genre to micro-genre's no big shakes if A.) the material's all first rate and B.) the sequencing gives the appearance of coherence even when it's not. That, alas, is not the case on this one; a good mainstreamy soul workout like EVE BARNUM's "Please Newsboy" is followed with a clunker like the pseudo-exotica Martin Denny-esque "Soul Vibrations" by DOROTHY ASHBY, then another mediocre R&B middler, then some more tropical nonsense (LOPEZ ALEXANDER's "Baltimore Oriole") that sounds like it sprang from a song-poem record. And HOWLIN' WOLF's remake of his own blues shouter "Evil" is just awful; I wouldn't be surpised if some white boy wanker is the one firing off the "blazing" Clapton-like wheedlee-wheedlee-wheedlee rock leads. Sure, the comp has ETTA JAMES' great firebreathing soul stompers "Tell Mama" and "You Got It", but you can get those anywhere. I don't have the benefit of liner notes that might get me a place aboard the programmatic logic train here, but the sad truth is that "Chicago Soul" is about as exciting as its title. Instead, why not go back a few years in the Soul Jazz catalog & a thousand miles South for their great New Orleans scene comp, "Saturday Night Fish Fry"? Your listening time is far too precious to fart around with anything less.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

For the most part I've got little truck with the branch of pop music the shrinking violet-types like to call "twee". Not because I'm a kick-ass rock and roller (though I am), but because so often the stuff (I'm thinking The Clientele, Trembling Blue Stars and even the much-heralded 1980s/90s Scottish bands) is deliberately cloying and oh-so-dandy to a fault. The aforementioned bands often sound like they're trying to all write the perfect tearjerking moonlit-beach love song, and come off about as radical and evolutionary as Elvis singing "Blue Hawaii" to Sandra Dee in glorious technicolor. But every now & again I'll hear a "twee" act that moves the needle in a big way. One day around 1996 or so my girlfriend played me her newly-purchased CD of BELLE AND SEBASTIAN's "If You're Feeling Sinister", and it just instantly clicked -- the band sounded like a muted, only half-serious version of what a Syd Barrett/"Forever Changes"-era LOVE hybrid might sound like, with first-rate hooks and lush orchestral arrangements that evinced an inborn songcraft and a filmmaker-like ability to shift emotions that few mortals can master. I remain a cheering B&S partisan to this day. So it was once more a few weeks ago when an MP3 blogger pushed me past my twee roadblock, and forced me to download a couple of tracks from Glasglow, Scotland's CAMERA OBSCURA. Hey hey! Hook, line and sinker -- this band, though flawed, sure are terrific when they want to be. "Underachievers Please Try Harder", which I rushed out to buy, is their second CD, and the first imported over by an American label.

Unfortunately for them, they've been saddled with a label of "Belle and Sebastian with a female singer", which is sorta fair and sorta unfair. Fair in the sense that Camera Obscura are already playing at that level of talent on fantastic tracks like "Keep It Clean", "Teenager" and "Books Written For Girls", full of clever lyrical puzzles on love and the human condition, and because their singer Tracy-Anne Campbell delivers her lines with a shy and even kinda sexy set of nuances, winks and smiles. What could easily come off as wimpy and foppish instead delivers the sensitive strum-pop goods like nothing since those first few tracks on MAZZY STAR's great 1989 debut. I'm struck by how the band incorporates acres-full of interesting sounds from instruments like maracas and distant horns, while still keeping everything so tranquil and restrained. The B&S comparison's unfair in the sense that Camera Obscura also add in a retro-1950s teen angel sensibility on a couple of tracks that wouldn't have been out of place in a Doris Day film or something (and no, that's not exactly high praise, but it does certainly mark them as distinct), and when they let the guy sing things just sort of fall apart and the songs sort of lazily drift into the ether, the kind where you're looking at the CD case to check how much longer the song's supposed to go on. For every one of those, though, there's at least 3-4 real, real good ones, and on a 13-track CD that's some pretty strong slugging. I think it's easily good enough for me to seek them out for a live rendezvous should they jet over from Scotland. I know that I'll be safe and sound in that crowd, huddled around young girls in granny glasses and young men who deliberately button the top button of their shirts, none of whom will spill beer on me and who'll gently apologize when they step on my boots. Sure, their patron saint, Tim Hinely of DAGGER magazine, will be there with his shirt off, stagediving and getting in fistfights, but hey, this is his scene and I'll just be a visitor standing to the side. Shuffle past your own biases and see if you can download a couple of these great Camera Obscura tracks; you may be putting your twee gameface on a lot quicker than you'd expected.