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Friday, December 31, 2004
AGONY SHORTHAND'S BEST OF 2004......
For the past 5-6 years I've been unable to make a Top 10 year-end list of music, mostly because I haven't heard enough new material pleasing enough to enshrine it on a public list for all eternity. That's a bitter, overly cautious curmudgeon for you. But if you throw in reissues -- well jeez, even I can squeeze out a list that includes those. Here's what I liked the best in 2004, potential hipster credentials be damned:
1. FIERY FURNACES : "BLUEBERRY BOAT" (new) -- Simply put, one of the craziest and most satisying new bands I've heard in ages. "Blueberry Boat" is a pop experimentalist's dream record, full of soaring nooks and perplexing crannies to get lost in, with a dozen new things to discover every time I play it. It does not introduce itself gently, and thus this band turns off many before they'd had a chance to really dig in deep. Here's what I recommend, since this is precisely how I got hooked on the band this year: Download track #2 from this CD, "Straight Street", as an introduction. It's 99 cents at the "iTunes store". If you think that this schizoid Velvets-meet-Patti-meets "A Quick One While He's Away" technoid number is to your liking, proceed gently into their first CD "Gallowsbird's Bark". If ya like that, well then you're hooked, pal. You'll then be calling their second CD your favorite record of 2004, like I just did.
2. VETIVER : "VETIVER" (new) -- We said on November 30th, "...stupendous, often jaw-droppingly gorgeous moderne folk music...His debut offering arrives fully formed and supremely confident, like he'd been writing sad, lyrical near-masterpieces for decades. Awash in cello and gently-plucked guitar, Vetiver's debut sounds like something Townes Van Zandt might've come up with in his darkest hours...."
3. FLESH EATERS reissues -- Both "No Questions Asked" and "Hard Road To Follow" made it to CD this year, loaded with extra tracks and helping many to realize why this punk/roots/metal/voodoo-conuring band might've been the single best rock band the late 70s/early 80s had to offer.
4. DAVIE ALLEN & THE ARROWS : "DEVIL'S RUMBLE" (reissue) -- We said on June 21st: "....the missing link between heavy-reverb surf music, early garage punk and psychedelic acid rock. This is all by virtue of one incredible set of fuzz pedals and a guitarist who at times was able to out-Link Wray LINK WRAY as he strode for new sonic vistas in heavy, loud, parent-scaring instrumental sounds..."
5. MONOSHOCK : "RUNNIN' APE-LIKE FROM THE BACKWARDS SUPERMAN" (reissue) -- We opined on September 14th about this fuzz-monster reissue of early 90s 45s and rare tracks, "...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..."
6. MIDNIGHT CIRCUS : "RICHARD, RODNEY, RASTUS, RAOUL, RODERICK, RANDY, RUPERT" (reissue) -- We had this to say on December 22nd regarding this great reissue of 1980-83 cassette & EP recordings : "....(Midnight Circus were) way tuned in to the rhythm & the motion of the times: recording on the dirt cheap, pushing ahead with boundary-breaking rock music despite a lack of native talent, sending out homemade cassettes of their practices & 4-track sessions to fellow travelers for the price of a blank, plugging into the most primitive synths imaginable, and firing off multiple attacking rounds of very aggressive, choppy guitar..."
7. REIGNING SOUND : "TOO MUCH GUITAR" (new) -- We said on July 9th: "....This is a lineup that you stealthily head to the world series with – not stacked up with the big boppers, just a bunch of .275-hitting grinders. And when I say multifaceted, I mean you get 60s teen rock anthem sounds (“Your Love is a Fine Thing”), you get harder-edged & croaking punkers like the hot opener “We Repel Each Other” and “You Got Me Hummin’” and some partytime sock hop boogie in the mix to boot. And even a couple of “tear in my beer” near-weepers, too...."
8. CAMERA OBSCURA : "UNDERACHIEVERS PLEASE TRY HARDER" (new) -- We said on September 1st: "....full of clever lyrical puzzles on love and the human condition...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....."
9. JOANNA NEWSOM : "THE MILK-EYED MENDER" (new) -- We said on May 18th: "...I’m totally fascinated by this woman’s beguiling blend of baby-voiced vocals, fantastic/poetic wordplay, and off-kilter harp strumming and piano plinking. That’s harp as in HARP, the big golden thing that you sit down to play while wearing dark flowing robes....Newsom comes across as a classically-trained, well-read, wide-eyed naïf who loves spinning grandiose, big-hearted shanties and romantic tales of kooks and old-timers..."
10. THE SILVER : "DO YOU WANNA DANCE / POPPER" 45 (bootleg reissue)-- We said on April 21st: "....It’s nice to hear something so perplexingly and genuinely wacked for a change. “Do You Wanna Dance” is a foaming-at-the-mouth, ultra-homemade take on the Beach Boys/Ramones “classic”, with what sounds like children being horribly crucified at the end. In fact I’d swear one of the two vocalists here is an 11-year old girl. Poor lamb! The feel is not unlike the pleasurable discomfort produced by Florida’s TEDDY & THE FRAT GIRLS a few years later – and if you don’t like it as first, you’ll learn to love it...."
Thursday, December 30, 2004
CHRIS D. AND THE DIVINE HORSEMEN : "TIME STANDS STILL" CD......
Another notch in the FLESH EATERS / CHRIS D. reputation rehabilitation underway over at Atavistic, and we're all indebted for their selfless servitude. After the Flesh Eaters made their final bow in 1983, Chris took a little siesta from ear-shattering rock and roll and settled in to write a nice cozy batch of folk songs. He gathered up a large collection of heavyweights from the multi-sharded Los Angeles punk/roots scene, many of whom were denizens of a late-night, hard-drinking, music-worshipping scene of their very own. Chris was something of a high priest within this group, as were Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Dan Stuart, Dave Alvin, John Doe, and relative newcomer Texacala Jones of TEX AND THE HORSEHEADS. All lent a hand on 1984's "Time Stands Still", and none went on to play in any live version of this band, for a live version of this band never existed. The purpose was solely to put music to Chris' words, and to create a landscape that fit in with some of Chris' favorite things: Mexico, drinking, Catholic guilt, sin and redemption, prayer books, drinking, and the love of a good woman. It also marked the debut of Chris' then-good woman, Julie Christensen, and although Julie's "I'm a lovely honky tonk angel" voice sometimes grates on me, here she provided an able foil to his various yips & yelps and guttural growls.
The album very deliberately stands in marked contrast to the overpowering Flesh Eaters records that preceded it. Here you have unabashed sentimentality worn on the sleeve of a man who's already starting to realize he's seen it all in the past 8 years. When Chris fires up his pipes for the great title track or for the jaw-dropping "Little Sister", you hear a weariness not present in any previous recordings, and it totally suits the languid, laid-back feel of the music just fine. "Lilly White Hands" has been a favorite of mine for years, and it provides something of a downer contrast to the preceding track, "When The Rain Comes Down", which is a light and airy salsa number for a scorching Ensenada evening. After this one came out to general indifference in '84, Chris and Julie reconstituted the band into a real touring unit, known to many and to all as the DIVINE HORSEMEN. This is the band I saw live in 1986, and they were superb. Those SST Records of theirs and the Flesh Eaters' masterpiece "Forever Came Today" are really the only Chris items remaining to be unleashed onto CD (I can take or leave "Snake Handler", but "Devil's River" should be next on the list), and that's a welcome spot I'm happy to find the discerning music world in at the end of 2004.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
DARN THAT KUGELBERG!......
Another piece in the new issue of UGLY THINGS that got my mojo all hopped up was this Johan Kugleberg two-pager on "Primitive Shit Music". Kugelberg makes a well-argued case for creating a defined sub-genre of raw rock and roll called Primitive Shit Music, or PSM for short. As I understand it, PSM is the crudest, most willfully inept rock music of all time -- not necessarily "lo-fi" (though that helps), but in pure posession of a certain je ne sais quoi that renders its releases stark, beatifully raw and nakedly flailing and full of chaotic noise. He then lists 10 records, all 45s, that he feels are the high-water marks of the genre, but are far more likely records that he owns that he'd now like to rub in your face. I've never heard nine of the ten -- only the DISTORTED LEVELS have ever shown up in my collection, and the screaming Stoogified rawness of that record is a fine benchmark for the genre, lending the rest of his list some credibility:
1. DANGEROUS RHYTHM -- Stray Cat (Blues)
2. OPUS -- The Atrocity / Good Procedures
3. KESSLER JUGEND -- Scoot 'Zem/Vastri Hoyre
4. TAMPAX -- O'Dio
5. DIRTSHIT -- Exit
6. REAL TRAITORS -- It's a Waste
7. DEATH TRIP -- We're Gonna Die Tonight
8. DISTORTED LEVELS -- Hey Mister
9. PANTANO BOAS -- Jesus, John Lee Hooker and Me
10. THE DOOTZ -- A.C.N.E. I've Got ACNE
So since the guy achieved his aim -- anyone know where we can find mp3s of this stuff? DEATH TRIP I remember from Bad Vugum's heydey, but I never bought that 45 and nestled with my LIIMANARINA instead. But the rest? I wanna hear 'em. Kugelberg then goes on to list ten "Pre-Punk Potentates of Primitive", containing some of the true masterpieces of 20th Century Popular Culture:
1. ELECTRIC EELS -- Agitated (band is pictured above)
2. CREME SODA -- I'm Chewing Gum
3. THE SNAILS -- Love Theme From The Snails
4. RANDY ALVEY & GREEN FUZ -- Green Fuz
5. CHURCH MICE -- Baby We're Not a Part of Society
6. CRAMPS -- I'm Cramped (bootleg)
7. MAD MIKE & THE MANIACS -- The Hunch
8. THE RATS -- The Rats Revenge
9. JERRY McCAIN -- I'm a Ding-Dong Daddy From Rock and Roll City
10. HASIL ADKINS -- She Said
Finally, he goes on to to list another 20-25 records that fit into the genre, ranging from killers like the SOLGER EP to the FUCKIN' FLYIN' A-HEADS single to the "Weird Noise" EP and the like. Nice work. One horrible, dreadful ommission that I would've put at #2 on the list above is an incredible 1966 single from THE MODDS called "Leave My House". This made it to numerous bootlegs before settling on Crypt's "Teenage Shutdown: I'm Gonna Stay" CD a few years ago. It is everything you'd ever want in a PSM record: what sounds like an acre of fur on the needle, raw and fuzz-laden guitar, drums in a closet two rooms removed from the studio (studio??), misanthropic lyrics, and snotty-assed vocals. I'd call it "60s punk" but it really doesn't fit because it's so out of time and bizarre -- why, some might call it Primitive Shit Music!
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
AIN'T THAT JUST THE DICKENS.....
Last night, while perusing the latest issue of UGLY THINGS, I read one of the funniest single articles I've come across in some time. First I had to hire someone to flip through the umpteenth Misunderstood article for me, but once they were done and I'd paid them their $59, I found myself cackling over this Phil Milstein-penned appreciation of this bombastic fake hard rock band comprised of NRBQ roadies (not unlike the bombastic fake misogynist punk/metal of Black Flag's roadies NIG HEIST) called THE DICKENS. Just like you and your friends probably did over a case of beer back in the day, NRBQ concocted this inane idea for a fake band with stupid names and dumb song titles, but their concept was so laugh-out-loud ridiculous that they actually pulled it off and recorded a 45 for a major label (!). Here's Milstein relating the band's concepts for their stage shows:
"...Another Dickens concept had the band entering from above, suspended on cables like Peter Pan, while, according to Placco, "big theatrical fans would blow us out over the audience, and would blow the audience out of the theatre." Shows were to be brief: "Half a song, or one song, or just no song at all," he continues. "We might blow up the equipment before the audience even got there."
So I thought I'd encourage you to get Ugly Things to check it out (which you should do anyway), but as it turns out, the article is right here, from a Phil Spector site called Spectropop. Enjoy. (And by the way, can someone get working on a Milstein writings anthology?).
THE GIZMOS : "ROCK AND ROLL DON'T COME FROM NEW YORK" CD.....
The udder of GIZMOS recordings began to run cold about 10 tracks into that first compilation CD "1976/77: The Studio Recordings", but that hasn't stopped Gulcher from depressing the shaft on this particular punk rock milking machine. How do you get over the fact that this 1979-82 version of the GIZMOS contained no original members, and sounded almost nothing like the Indiana band that recorded "Human Garbage Disposal" and "Amerika First"? You don't -- you just keep an open mind and hope that the name carried a little magic with it. I mean, this very, very long collection of power pop slop and buzzsaw UK-sounding punk is all right, like a surprisingly quick doctor's visit or a good sandwich for lunch is all right. There's nothing really funny about it -- though I know they were having loads of fun with tracks like "Melinda is a Lesbian" and the bold statement of a title track -- and there's really nothing particularly offensive. Or bad. But you've got to be a pretty dedicated Hoosier hometowner to lead any cheers for it, and if anyone's really listening to it more than twice all the way through, then my chapeau is off to ya. For a counterpoint view, check out this review by Dan over at Traumatic Harmony.
Monday, December 27, 2004
VARIOUS ARTISTS : "THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN" CD.....
This 2004 compilation of magickal modern folksters was put out by the annoying hippie broadsheet ARTHUR, and more specifically, chosen and cobbled together by modern hippie and compilation participant DEVENDRA BANHART. I've got no quarrel at all with Mr. Banhart; the more I hear from and read about him, the more I get comfortable with his freak-flag-flying shamanistic shtick. He's also got a pretty good ear for what makes an ear-pleasing folk song. The ratio of hits to misses on this compilation is pretty strong, and proves that there's something brewing out there that's causing young people to look inward, kick off their shoes and go acoustic. Not surprisingly, my favorites are the talented San Francisco triad of VETIVER, JOANNA NEWSOM and Devendra himself, who actually brings lost 1970s UK folkie VASHTI BUNYAN back from the outer Hebrides to duet with him on "Rejoicing In The Hands" (all three contribute album tracks, so if you're got their records then you've heard these numbers already). There's one other stunner in the top tier: JOSEPHINE FOSTER and her "Little Life", which is a real back-porch tearjerker, channeling both the Kentucky woods and Stonehenge to create something pretty friggin' special. This isn't the folk music my mom used to have lying around (Joan Baez and whatnot) -- this is as deep and as intricate as a loom, and about as anachronistic. And that's cool.
What else is good. Even though WHITE MAGIC's singer sounds like she's trying to start a Minnie Ripperton revival, their track ("Don't Need" -- sorry, not the Deep Wound song) is weirdly loopy and strung-out acoustic psych. There's this band TROLL who I once saw middle between NUMBERS and ERASE ERRATA (!) who sound like a Byrds-infused Mamas & The Papas (they're also the only ones who go electric on this CD -- Judas!!). Can you imagine actually enjoying music made by someone named SCOUT NIBLETT? You'd think with a name like that she'd be a scrappy lil' tomboy with dirty elbows, trying to show the big kids she can hold her own, and on this comp she sure does with a ghostly number called "Wet Road". What about the bad? Oh, there's a few: I'm sorry, SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE sounds like the sort of fumble-fingered poseur/dilettante fanzine people might pretend to rave about if the guy was also in a well-loved rocknroll band. This one's in Comets On Fire, and I can picture him waking up in a nervous sweat after a fantasy dream of John Fahey @ the Freight & Salvage, 1967. But then again, "San Francisco mornings can be so hazy/Everybody waking up drunk and lazy" is a pretty cool chorus, hunh? What about "ANTONY"'s closing rennaissance pleasure faire-meets-Bryan Ferry "The Lake"? Can you hang in there for all 4:48? I couldn't. But picking the bitter fruit off such a compilation is easy, fish in a barrel activity. Far more difficult is to curate a well-put together collection of modern folk-based oddballs, and Banhart's done a splendid job here. Send your money directly to Arthur Magazine, and make sure to tell them you don't want any of your cash routed to the goddamn war machine!
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
MIDNIGHT CIRCUS : "RICHARD, RODNEY, RASTUS, RAOUL, RODERICK, RANDY, RUPERT" CD......
This arrived in my inbox just in time to hit the north half of my best reissues of 2004 list. Had you ever heard of the MIDNIGHT CIRCUS? Only if you're a dedicated deep delver into ultra-obscure early 80s English DIY -- deep enough to have bought or heard the "Angst In My Pants" EP from 1980, or to have been trading micro-release cassette tapes in the UK around the same time period. In other words, this CD will be your introduction to the band, and I'm predicting you're gonna like 'em. The Midnight Circus took their name from a Pretty Things song & even at a very young age were way tuned in to the rhythm & the motion of the times: recording on the dirt cheap, pushing ahead with boundary-breaking rock music despite a lack of native talent, sending out homemade cassettes of their practices & 4-track sessions to fellow travelers for the price of a blank, plugging into the most primitive synths imaginable, and firing off multiple attacking rounds of very aggressive, choppy guitar. They were so nervous about the reaction they'd engender with this downscale approach that they never even played live. 1980 vintage FALL almost come off as classically-trained prog-rockers by comparison. Reference points include first-45 Mekons; other DIY linchpins like the Instant Automatons and Desperate Bicycles; anything on Fuck Off records; and, later, in their brief career (1983), all the UK bands who pumped up their sound with intense synthesizer layering and bizarre blurps without going whole hog into the gravy train of the "new wave".
The CD's presented chronologically, starting with recordings from their very first cassette. The loud-ass kick-off "Leather & Lace" is "primitive shit rock" to the nth, and will likely make any subsequent lists that seek to detail some of the cooler ultra-raw 4-track sputterings of the era. Later tracks burrow a hole into what I commonly think of as classic obscuro English DIY -- first-take recordings that sound distant and vague while cutting through the murk with hot fuzz and screeching keytones. Top picks are "The Hedonist Jive" (which comes from their only vinyl effort -- the "Angst in My Pants" comp -- and which'd make a great title for someone's blog or 'zine), the weird noise of "Pop Song", and the later "Obsession & Guilt", which almost sounds like something a real band might put out, if you know what I'm saying. I like the whole package far better than the retrospectives by the INSTANT AUTOMATONS, NATIVE HIPSTERS and THE DOOR AND THE WINDOW, perhaps because in three short years the Midnight Circus' sound grew & fiercely evolved without hitting a bum note that wasn't already meant to be bum. It's the best thing I've heard yet from the 80s cassette culture & I encourage you to get a quick multiple-item order in to Hyped2Death for the whole family -- only 3 shopping days left.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
BOOKER T & THE MG'S / MAR-KEYS : "STAX INSTRUMENTALS" CD.....
One instrumental compilation I reach for before almost all the others for mood enhancement & moderate toe tapping is this 2003 collection from 1960s Stax instrumental stalwarts BOOKER T. & THE MG'S and the MAR-KEYS. It's rather ingeniously entitled "Stax Instumentals". It's nothing that'll shake the foundations nor rattle the core of your being, but its thick grooves and bold hooks are FUN with a captal PH. If I'm not mistaken, the CD is all unreleased tracks as well, which is pretty stunning because the MG's stuff is as good as anything I've heard on their official releases -- and no Beatles BS either! An admission: I'd never heard the MAR-KEYS until I got this CD and obviously have a little crate-digging to do. Their rollicking, organ-driven pounder "Made In Memphis" instantly went to the top of my 60s instrumental list; in fact both acts were 2 of the best ivory-tinkling organ grinders of all time, with more soul and heft in a single track than most bands manage in a lifetime. AND, as I've found out, you can not only play it for the ladies, for your record-nerd pals, but even when the parents or in-laws are around too! How many in your teeming multitude of discs & vinyl can you say that about?
Monday, December 20, 2004
RADIO BEATS 45......
I'm a longtime sucker for all-guns-blazing sound barrier-piercing garage punk, the kind practiced at inhuman speeds just fast enough to blur the vocals and guitars into an overloaded, eardrum-busting fog. The first two ZODIAC KILLERS, BRIDES, TEENGENERATE, first BASEBALL FURIES single -- I'm all over that stuff. The public servants over at Something I Learned Today mp3 blog turned me onto a great moderne practictioner of the sound, the RADIO BEATS. They sound like the Radiators From Space all beaned up on adrenaline-multiplying goofballs. Download "Backseat Learnin'" from their new 7"EP and prepare to be pinned to the wall in record time.
Friday, December 17, 2004
JOHNNY PAYCHECK : "THE SOUL & THE EDGE" CD......
JOHHNY PAYCHECK, as I'm sure he's all too happy to tell you, is a guy who not only sang about it, he lived it. Lived it as in: shot a man, spent time in prison, committed multiple minor blue-collar crimes ranging from fraud to fistfights, drank a near-hole into his liver, sniffed a bucketful of cocaine, etc. And he was/is a little fella, too! There's a picture of him in the booklet that comes with the recent "Soul & the Edge" CD, standing next to George Jones -- why it's practically Manute Bol and Muggsy Bogues in this shot, with the rootin' tootin' pepperpot Paycheck trying to clamber up the microphone and harmonize with Big Daddy Jones. I bought the CD because I was floored by last year's "The Real Mr. Heartache" collection of his 1960s hits -- this one takes us into the 1970s and (gasp) 80s, and naturally includes the big kahuna, "Take This Job and Shove It", right up front at Track #1. Paycheck in the 1970s was a slightly different animal than in the decade before, a little more calculated and perhaps a little less authentic, whatever that means. Let it be said that while I truly dig this collection and recommend it, I'll include the caveat that Paycheck had obviously ingested a bit too much of his own bullshit by the late 70s, and therefore you've got to put up with a well-crafted "outlaw" persona on this CD that often comes off no better than a dirty dancing, hard-drinking songwriter's marionette. You're saying, "If Johnny Paycheck can't put on an outlaw persona, who the hell can?". I respond with: Sure, you're right, but recognize how often the words in these songs are arranged into a well-timed call, designed expressly to provoke a huge "wooooooooooo-hoooooooooooo!" response from belligerantly drunk crowds in Fort Worth, Abilene and Tulsa. It's called hitmaking, and in 1970s Nashville, Johnny Paycheck was one of the very best.
My taste on this one trend toward the mid-70s material, which is a little more bitter and raw, and rougher than the dulled edges of his post-"Take This Job" material. Paycheck was one of the ultimate practitioners of hard, middle-finger Deep South country, which was played in a real loose, "who cares" fashion, bundled with a sense of anger and disgust at the high-society world outside of blue collar America. When it works ("When I Had a Home To Go To", "Barstool Mountain"), it works real well. When it descends into barroom balladry with syrupy strings & overly lovelorn lyrics, it doesn't. Some of the 1978-85 stuff has this godawful funky bass that is just grating. And "Old Violin", with its lush synthesizer washes, sounds like fuckin' "Do They Know It's Christmas"! The collection and the one before it are good tracking devices for the heydey and overall decline of country music from its 1950s-60s peaks, through the 1970s "Urban Cowboy" slide into cartoonish rock-and-roll-infused country, into whatever it was 1980s country music stood for (pure pop music, shorn of any vestige of its rural, rough-hewn roots). Paycheck's way better than all that and has a set of lungs to beat the band, but this 60% great collection proves even the little man wasn't immune from the Decline & Fall.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
HAMPTON GREASE BAND : "MUSIC TO EAT" 2xCD......
A long Econoline van trip around North America with the members of CLAW HAMMER in 1993 introduced me to this little slice of dixie-fried American rock and roll lunacy, and I've pretty much been the better for it ever since. "Music To Eat"'s stature grows every year as more and more up-and-comers hear it, ingest its influences, write things about it being the worst-selling major label LP ever (not quite accurate, but close), compare it to the MAGIC BAND (right) and LITTLE FEAT (maybe), and then sell it back to the used CD store after roasting up the couple of good tracks. The Claw Hammer guys, they flat-out loved this thing, and their screaming cover of "Hey Old Lady and Bert's Song" put the Hampton Grease Band on a few hipsters' lips for a couple of months around 1989. But let's not kid ourselves -- 1971's "Music To Eat" is no masterpiece, nor is it something I'd recommend to everybody, nor is it listenable in its entirety without great swatches of frustration, anxiety and bemusement. For years I've held onto the notion that the 2-LP/2-CD set really only had two for-the-ages classics: "Halifax" and "Hey Old Lady and Bert's Song", and the rest were a little too self-consciously daffy or trending toward what we now like to call "jam band bullshit". It's a hard notion to let go of, based on the evidence I reviewed the past couple of weeks, but the Grease Band at their best still ranked as one of the more clever and musically inventive early 70s hard rock bands, particularly from the South (Atlanta in this case).
"Music To Eat" starts off with what might just be the single best 19 minute, 42 second song ever created. Ostensibly about the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, rumor has it that the band selected it based on the old blindfolded pin-into-the-map trick. The lyrics read like a combination Canadian travel brochure/history lesson created over a bongload of really good weed, and they're delivered in the exceptionally bent jester/pirate/mad scientist voice of Bruce Hampton. Song cycle-loving Johnny- and Jill-come-latelys such as my favorites the FIERY FURNACES are still learning from the twists and turns this number takes. It's a good 7 or 8 killer songs wrapped up in one, full of frantic fretboard runs, an outrageous stop-start guitar solo, loads of homegrown Beefheartisms, and a heartbreaking melody at its start and finish. It's a frostbitten sea shanty for the ages, and I'll play it every 3 months on my headphones until I die. The problem lies in the other three megasongs on this collection, the fusion-filled 19:31 "Six", the decent but too laborious 12:28 "Evans" and the 20:10 "Hendon", which also has some crazy moments and some great playing, but man, if you can stick with this all the way through you're a better woman than I. 20 minutes! I mean "Halifax" is long but it isn't 20 minutes, you know what I mean? That's 52 minutes of filler, and that's a little hard to stomach. Thankfully there's one more reward if you hang in through this & keep your patience up.
"Hey Old Lady and Bert's Song" is what will bring you in for good, and make your happy feet take off in diametrically opposed directions. It's a straight-up 45-friendly 3:22 rocker, nearly perfect in every regard, and wacked-out enough to sound like nothing else. It's really dirty, raw, messy and yet joyous Southern boogie rock, minus the boogie. It's another of my favorite rock songs, ever. I'll rack and stack it next to HACKAMORE BRICK's "Oh! Those Sweet Bananas", the STOOGES' "Down On The Street" and the VELVET UNDERGROUND's "Rock and Roll" for early 70s 45rpm-friendly classics, though I honestly don't know if it ever actually made it onto a single, and if it did, I do know that no one bought it nor played it. So there you have it: two killers and a lot of strong moments spread out through a bunch of mediocre and maddening middlework. I hope you find a way to hear these two tracks immediately if not sooner, and perhaps you'll discover something in the remainder that I'm still out there looking to find.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
MISSION OF BURMA : "SNAPSHOT" EP.....
After an experiment buying my first virtual LP/CD a couple weeks ago, it was only mere days later before I had to try it again. The reconstructed MISSION OF BURMA have decided to give a hefty boost to the nascent "Internet" industry by releasing an online-only EP called "Snapshot", and despite the general feeling I had that it might be something akin to a fan club throwaway, let me assure you that it is not. The cyberdisc's got eight super cranked-up live-to-studio versions of bold tracks spanning their career ("Max Ernst" to the new record's great "Absent Mind"), mostly early, recorded better than a radio broadcast should really sound. Burma are flat-out one of the tip-top live rock bands of their time, full of tape-loop screech and hardcore feedback & whine, and while I didn't see these gallant tunesmiths during their first go-round, the bootleg and file-sharing evidence continues to pile high.
This one has them taking on THE WIPERS' "Youth of America" and narrowly beating the original for tight chops & overall sonic power (I always thought the post-first LP Wipers were pretty overrated anyway). It seems to be part of a nostalgic west coast punk trilogy these guys are pushing now, along with live covers I've witnessed of "Class War" and "The American In Me". Not too shabby, hunh? Of the remaining 7, the knockouts are the kickoff 8-minute-+ "Tremelo", which you may remember from their live LP (this one's better) and a wild "Mica", which I'll argue is their best pop song, hands down. For seven bucks or whatever this was, it's a pretty satisfying set of packets. And keep your eye on a flood of these iTunes-only records in the months to come. Anyone know of any other good ones?
Monday, December 13, 2004
STRANGE NOTES, 12/13/04.....Hola, amigos. Been a long time since I rapped at ya. A few things on my mind....After all the excitement I spilled over those first two FIERY FURNACES discs, they were bound to take it down a notch with a mediocre release, and that's just what the latest 45/CD-EP "Single Again / Evergreen" is. Relentlessly mediocre MERSH, I might add -- lovely melodies and singing, sure, but nothing that 110 other indie rock bands can't pull off with aplomb, not the bizarre blood-rush of creativity and harmonic garage pop of their two full-lengths. I'll still stick around in the front row with my big #1 foam finger, cheering them on for the next one....Another disc I'm a little piqued about is that DR. ALIMANTADO "BEST DRESSED CHICKEN IN TOWN" thing. Years of others' hype preceded my ultimate purchase of it; then I heard the great "I Killed The Barber" with the loopy "Ali Baba" sample and insanely deep dub, and I took the plunge. The CD's not bad by any means, but it's woefully uneven from track to track -- at times wacked-out & bent beyond belief, other times smooth lovers' reggae/soul that you can hear in any California dorm room if you listen closely enough.
One thing I'm totally enjoying is the CD of "GIRLS IN THE GARAGE, VOL. 2", which has more sunshine 60s punk and under-produced, ham-handed AM radio wannabes than you can likely handle in a single sitting. Some crap, of course, but even better than the first CD collection, with the inclusion this time of some 60s ye-ye classics as well....Got a CD in the mail from the good folks at GULCHER by a lost 1982 Indiana college rock band called RED GLANCE ("Swirls Away"). At times it's got a terrific prototypical nervous Midwest underground pop vibe, like THE EMBARRASSMENT, MORTAL MICRONOTZ or non-Midwesterners EXPANDO BRAIN from a few years later, but I'd be lying if I told you I can easily digest those horribly out-of-tune vocals. They really do rain hard on an otherwise solid parade of above-average lite psychedelia....Finally, let it be said that I listened to your feedback on MILES DAVIS' "On The Corner", and thanks to a CD-R made by Good American DP, I'm now part of your ranks, the "On The Corner" partisans. That first side, the continuous track with 5 different titles, is just a monster afro-funk skronker, with a set of complex polyrhythms that, while not in the least impenetrable, is certainly not made for your dancin' shoes. I think that's why it was compared to "Ege Bamyasi" -- I sure see the connection, even if those krazy krauts and mean Miles never got wind of each other's latest adventuresome happenings. That's all for now, keep your feet on the ground etc.!!
Sunday, December 12, 2004
YESTERDAY'S PAPERS : THE COMPILATIONS.....In an effort to broaden the content choices available to the consumer, here's a batch of recycled reviews from the past two years of Agony Shorthand. Comps only! :
CHAINS & BLACK EXHAUST
N.Y. NO WAVE
DRINK UP & GO HOME - SUN COUNTRY VOL. 2
DOWN IN THE BASEMENT
ONLY IN AMERICA, VOL. 2
HOT WOMEN – WOMEN SINGERS FROM THE TORRID REGIONS OF THE WORLD
BUTTSHAKERS, VOl. 3
REMBETIKA – SONGS OF THE GREEK UNDERGROUND 1925-1947
CUMSTAINS OVER MY RECORD COLLECTION
FLOWERS IN THE WILDWOOD – WOMEN IN EARLY COUNTRY MUSIC 1923-1939
NEW YORK NOISE – DANCE MUSIC FROM THE NEW YORK UNDERGROUND 1978-1982
TROJAN UPSETTER BOX SET
MONEY NO BE SAND: 1960s AFRO-LYPSO, PIDGIN HIGHLIFE, AFRO-SOUL, AFRO-ROCK
...AND THE ANSWER IS...
GIRLS IN THE GARAGE, VOLUME ONE
WILD AND FRANTIC
VIOLIN, SING THE BLUES FOR ME : AFRICAN-AMERICAN FIDDLERS 1926-1949
SONGS THE CRAMPS TAUGHT US, VOL. 1
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
SYD BARRETT & PINK FLOYD : "HAVE YOU GOT IT YET, VOL. 1" CD-R.....
If someone pops off and tells you that there's no good 1967 PINK FLOYD/SYD bootlegs out there, like I almost did a few weeks ago, you can just tell that person to go and pound sand. Almost milliseconds after I wrote a review of the halfway-decent Floyd boot "Lost In Space", I received a telegram informing me of this free mega-volume series of CD-Rs put out by true public servants over "the Internet" called "Have You Got It Yet". At that time there were 10 CDs, just a few weeks ago I'm talking, and since then at least 9 (!) more have been added -- all prime-era "See Emily Play"/"Arnold Layne"/"Piper at the Gates of Dawn" Pink Floyd, with a ton of Syd studio and live oddities to match. It makes one marvel. Just a few years ago I was paying $25 for a single bootleg CD or LP; today I'm paying $0 for 10 CDs of the stuff, an embarrassment of riches so vast that I can't even listen to it all yet. In fact, of the 10 I've got, I've only explored #1 and #2. "Have You Got It Yet, Volume 1" is a real collector's trick bag, containing incredible finds like a 5-16-67 BBC version of "Astronomy Domine" that's just stunning warp-factor psychedelia, along with "acetate" versions of bent masterpieces like "Arnold Layne" and "Candy and a Currant Bun" (which sound like over-modulated, groove-bursting versions of the 45s). There are also radio show recordings that appear to have been recorded 20 feet from a transistor with a child's Fisher-Price tape machine, but there are completists and obsessive-compulsive archivists involved here, so let us not begrudge them their buried treasure. There's also a cool "stereo-enhanced" version of one of mankind's greatest rock and roll songs ever, "See Emily Play". I haven't heard the stereo version before, just the mono, you know what I'm saying? 4 big versions of "Interstellar Overdrive", too. And only 18 more volumes to tackle! We live in some pretty far-fuckin'-out times, hunh?
Monday, December 06, 2004
SIGHTINGS : "ARRIVED IN GOLD" CD....
This SIGHTINGS trio is a real odd duck. I had them pegged last year for an over-the-top, free-form experimental version of BLACK FLAG or first-LP MEAT PUPPETS, and then they throw this thing out there and confound me all to heck. Since none of the 8 tracks had much to do with any of the others, let me tell you what you'll discover instead: wildly divergent soundscaping and tonebending, some formed (as opposed to formless) noise, a weird Eastern guitar pattern on "Sugar Sediment" that slithers and creeps real nicely, and a heavy-hitting trio of rock songs around tracks 5-6-7, one of which sounds like those super-clanging early 80s UK funk/noise bands like MAXIMUM JOY and PIGBAG. And not a Ginn riff in the bunch. I'm not going to tell you this will be in heavy rotation on the shower CD tunemaster the next few weeks, but SIGHTINGS are one of the more agile & deft purveyors of the dark, shape-shifting noise arts I've heard in a good long while, and for three CDs in a row they've made me sit up & take notation. I'll bet there's some real talented and well-versed musical poindexters peeking out behind the chaos, what do you think?
BURMESE : "MEN" CD.....
Just found out over the weekend that this is the best band in San Francisco, according to one SF Bay Guardian tastemaker. God help us all. The sort of all-shlock/no action noise BURMESE and their pals must think is pretty far out & dangerous is the same numbskull, junior league hate rock that Peter Davis was flogging in Your Flesh aeons ago. Any nihilistic nitwit can string together the words "cunt", "rape" and "ass" and scream about it over an unthinking din, but it takes the least bit of soul or subtlety to make it even remotely interesting. Burmese have neither -- it's just pummel, pummel, pummel, and that godawful high-pitched, muffled male screaming that was passe & played out 20-some-odd years ago. I'd rather go on a weeklong road trip with a busload of Christian kids than be forced to watch these dangerous alterna-rockers grimace, mug & writhe all over a tiny stage. Who's really falling for this shit? Not you?
Saturday, December 04, 2004
"LOST IN THE GROOVES" BOOK NOW AVAILABLE.....
A couple of years ago KIM COOPER asked me to contribute to a book she was putting together highlighting underground LPs and other musical ephemera that had slipped through the cracks of consciousness. I've known Kim since 1988; she contributed to the fanzine I did in the early 90s until, (in her words) I commanded her to go and start her own 'zine. So she did, and now she's a book publishing maven as well. Go look in your old Forced Exposures and you'll find a great letter from Kim to Byron & Jimmy, lambasting them for their puerile and adolescent Lydia Lunch/Nick Cave 1-act plays, among other things -- written when Kim was an adolescent herself. Nice work. Anyway, I have but two meek reviews in her new collection "LOST IN THE GROOVES", yet the book looks like a blast, one I'm angling to read on a long plane trip on Monday. Contributors include MAX HECHTER, CHAS GLYNN, RICHARD MELTZER, DAVE THOMPSON, MIKE APPLESTEIN and a heaping helping of other players. I chose to highlight records by the GIBSON BROS and FLESH EATERS, cynically cribbing for the latter review from something I'd already penned on the band. Here's what I came up with -- now go buy the book! :
GIBSON BROS : "BIG PINE BOOGIE" LP......
The debut 1987 record from Columbus, OH blues and country archivists the GIBSON BROS arrived at the height of indie rock’s fascination with noise, “scumrock” and SST/Homestead/Touch & Go heavy punk rock. Somehow this roots-reverent band was quickly grasped to the bosom of budding - mostly east coast - scenesters , likely due to “Big Pine Boogie”’s loose-limbed Cramps-style primitivism and heavily reverbed, cranked-up guitars. The record has been seemingly lost to time, and criminally remains out of print and unavailable on CD. “Big Pine Boogie” has a fantastic front porch feel to it, like no one’s taking the whole thing particularly seriously, and there’s a big bucket of beers beckoning nearby for consumption when the set’s wrapped up. Guitarists Don Howland, Jeff Evans and Dan Dow and drummer Ellen Hoover took their cues from the pantheon of rough-hewn American genius, from shambling Bo Diddley thumping, deep-South country a la Charlie Feathers, and pre-WWII delta blues giants like Skip James and Charley Patton.
The thoroughly reworked cover of Furry Lewis’ “Kassie Jones” that kicks off the record is worth the admission price alone – in the grand tradition of their forebears, the band borrowed admirably and liberally from the aforementioned pantheon, and reworked it for a 1980s punk rock mentality. There’s also a muted sense of cornpone comedy in all this, from Evans’ ludicrously faux hillbilly accent to forced “rhyming” couplets like “He’s the cat that wrote ‘I’m A Man’ / Ate a whole bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken” (from “Bo Diddley Pulled a Boner”). Trouser Press generously called it “intentional amateurism”, which perhaps bestows musical abilities on the band they hadn’t yet earned. But you won’t care. There hasn’t been a muted roar quite like “Big Pine Boogie” since, and it’s high time this bandwagon got rolling again.
FLESH EATERS : "A MINUTE TO PRAY, A SECOND TO DIE" LP/CD.....
After a handful of years spent slogging around the exploding Los Angeles punk rock scene circa 1977-80 as a Slash magazine editor and the leader of a revolving series of Flesh Eaters lineups, Chris Desjardins (hereafter known an Chris D.) gave birth to the all-star roots/voodoo punk combo of 1981’s "A Minute to Pray, A Second To Die". In so doing, he created a schizoid masterwork of raw, netherworld blues and marimba & sax-led garage punk stomp. Joining vocalist/howler Chris D. in this ultimate Flesh Eaters configuration were John Doe & DJ Bonebrake from the by-now nationally recognized X, Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman from The Blasters (guitar and drums respectively) and sax player Steve Berlin, a year or two shy of joining Los Lobos. Though the "on loan" status of the musicians involved did not bode well for anything more than a one-off project, what these gentlemen created together was a landmark of brooding, often metal-tinged roots rock ramalama. Think about what you may know of the best work of X and The Blasters of the time, add Chris D. at the absolute top of his game, and some out-of-this-world arrangements that harken to some unholy trinity of the Stones, Stooges and Seeds, and you’ve got quite a goddamn record.
One could argue – no, I will argue – that this record is the premier calling card for the transformation of punk rock snottiness into a more literate, musically complex – dare I say MATURE – rock and roll beast. What reputation the FLESH EATERS still have left in the early ‘80s history books and with the Ameripunk cognoscenti is likely due to this album, which seems to be slowly gaining subsequent critical steam as an unequalled 80s masterpiece.
Friday, December 03, 2004
VARIOUS ARTISTS : "PLANET PUNK, VOLUME 3" CD.....
I missed the first wave of HYPED2DEATH CD releases and was altogether unaware of them until a pal roasted up everything that they'd put out up to that point, appx. late 2000. Those "Messthetics" CDs sent me reeling on a serious late 70s/early 80s English DIY bender for a couple of years (Animals & Men, Beyond The Implode, Desperate Bicycles, on and on); helped me go berzerk over some older US punk I'd never heard and didn't own (Rubber City Rebels, Vores, VKTMS), and introduced a whole new category of American 1975-83 underground classics on the "Homework" series (True Believers, Screaming Sneakers, Zoomers, X-X, Radio Free Europe, Stroke Band, tons more). Lost in all this running over of the cup were two worldwide punk CDs called -- wait for it -- "Planet Punk". I emailed Chuck Warner at Hyped2Death this week, and he tells me that he only put out CDs of #3 and #4, and #1 and #2 were cassette-only releases from the days when these things were used as advertisements for his retail catalog, not retail items in and of themselves. They're long gone now, I'm afraid. I pulled out my roast of #3 the other day and gave it a good twice-over. It's got some European punk curios you just have to hear to truly consider your life complete.
My key picks are a French synth-punk band called WARUM JOE from 1981 -- "Tchang" off the "Dans le Blizzard" EP is supercharged pogo-til-you-puke electro percussive punk, with an unyielding drum machine and upside-down riffage that's really something to behold. I need to know more about these guys, whom my French connection tells me are still active to this day (!). The other heavy hitter is "Intoxication" by RANCID X, who I believe are Italian & who would slot in nicely with the 1975 LA proto-punk contingent of The Dogs, Weasels, Imperial Dogs and their beer-besotted ilk. It's a real balls-out bruiser, but with killer hooks and a grinnin' vibe. For straight-up 1982 Italian 'core, it's hard to beat S.I.B., am I right? And even KLEENEX (pictured above) make an appearance, though it's with the ultra-repetitive "Hitch-Hike" that to these ears was a lesser moment in these Swiss chicks' fine oevre. Why do you think Chuck's keeping these Planet Punks away from the kids? It's miles better than most Bloodstains or KBDs that venture off of American shores and onto foreign lawns.
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