Agony Shorthand

Thursday, March 31, 2005
KING LOUIE ONE MAN BAND : "CHINESE CRAWFISH" LP/CD....I have not kept abreast of this Louisiana loon's output since his fantastic inepto-rockabilly '93 single "Jailbait/Little Girl" and a few raucous garage side projects like the PERSUADERS in the late 90s. As I understand, his main breadwinning gig is as a one-man band, in the hallowed Southern tradition of HASIL ADKINS and his inferior antecedents. Right out of the gate, thankfully, you know that KING LOUIE is for real. "She's a Big Bopper" is an absolutely manic, stuttering, teeth-spitting 50s-style howler, similar in its tear-it-up style to MORTY SHANN & THE MORTICIANS and all those early rock cats who loved to bust a gut over fat gals. Fantastic! This will kick off many "look at what I'm listening to" CD-R comps in 2005. It's only slightly less frantic from there -- his sound tightens up (a little), and for a single fella, he actually gets that swampy, voodoo Gun Club grunge sexbeat vibe going quite well. I suppose I could lose the overtly rednecky vocals, but who am I to say that's not how he sounds in the shower as well? It gets slightly annoying mid-way through, and the record goes into ballad-heavy free fall for a bit before picking back up into bonzai hollerin' around "Walkin' With The Light". Overall, it's solid. Real solid. Kids love one man bands, and now here's one that you can get involved with too!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

It was hard to pony up & admit it back in the day, but a lot easier to say now: late period BLACK FLAG were pretty awful, weren't they? I mean, talk about a band that's dated horribly -- unfair, but let's start with fuckin' "Loose Nut": "Loose nut / in my head / a bolt of lightning between my legs". Wow! And I know it got far more preposterous than that quality lyric snippet -- the metalhead hair-waving, the dolphin shorts, the untold quantities of marijuana, Henry's workouts ("When I go into the gym it's like I'm going into WAR"), the revolving cast of musicians, the thinly-produced, barely-applauded late albums, the incredible bong hit wankery, etc. The real "nut", if you will, is coming up with that dividing line that transitioned Black Flag from one of the single greatest manifestations of 20th Century underground culture (and one of my personal 10 favorite bands ever) to the rock caricatures/beach blanket bong-out heshers they turned into. Was it the day Henry joined? Was it "My War"? Was it the instrumental record? The half "spoken word"/halfbaked instrumental record? Seems like in the mid 80s there was always someone ready to apologize for how shitty Black Flag truly were, myself included. But even Dave Lang makes fun of those records now, and I've never seen anyone save my wedding's best man & Darren Cifarelli so ready as he to jump off a bridge for everything SST. All due respect, of course, and please remember that we like to yuk around here at Agony Shorthand. But try to watch the video for "Slip It In" today and not piss your pants laughing. These guys were not kidding.

All that said, I'm not ready to blame Henry, nor dismiss everything the band did after "Damaged". That would be just a little too punk, and I'm no punk. Take "The Complete 1982 Demos Plus More" bootleg CD. Am I willing to take down Greg Ginn's guitar playing on "Can't Decide" or "Black Coffee" or the general roar of their sound during this era to stand on principle? No. Can I admit that their bold 1982 push away from punk and into verboten hard metal was 100 times better and more wild than anything the Boston bands (SSD, FUs, DYS etc.) puked out? Easily. These sessions were the fabled 2-guitar lineup with Ginn & my hero Dez Cadena, crazy Chuck Biscuits on the drums, Chuck Dukowski on bass & Rollins on vocals. The band were embroiled in their Unicorn Records lawsuits and counter-suits, and were unable to release anything under the Black Flag name. When "My War" finally crept out a year later, slammers and stagedivers were really taken aback by its solos, shrieks and Sabbath-like metalcore, but what this release makes clear is that this dye was cast very soon after Rollins recorded "Damaged" with the band. Like later that year! So don't be hornswoggled into thinking that this is some sort of magic "B+" bridge between the legendary and the not-so-good. It's clearly across the chasm. What's cool about it is how quality the recordings themselves are -- Ginn sounds totally possessed, as usual, and these tracks from the Radio Tokyo studio are mixed way hot-n-loud, like a record that should've actually made it onto the streets. But that still doesn't excuse what a gratuitous bunch of chest-thumping he-man bullshit it all is. Come on, do you still crank up "Slip It In" or the "In My Head" album? Of course you don't. You won't get too exercised about this stuff either, most of which was parsed out in different versions onto the 4 vocal LPs that followed. Now if you put on "The First Four Years" CD instead -- one of the pinnacles of human achievement, right up there with fire creation & the wheel -- well hey, all bets are off. Those 45s, EP and comp tracks obscured Black Flag's subsequent crimes for nearly a decade.

Monday, March 28, 2005

I dig the Danes. My one evening in Copenhagen a few years ago taught me that the Danes savor fine food, celebrate with abandon the 11:30pm June sun, cultivate incredibly attractive women to the nth and generally live life to the hilt. I'm down with the Danes. I'm not so down with their pseudo-psych early 70s rock bands, however, at least not those pimped by Julian Cope on this "Danskrocksampler" he threw together a while back. The only one I'd heard before is the only one that gets it boiling, and that's SAVAGE ROSE -- a bombastic, Tull-like heavy rock/groove band with a cackling Medusa of a lead singer named Anisette. Their "Ride My Mountain" and "A Trial In Our Native Town" megarock jamz are big, loud and lighter-friendly, but still hew to a sort of bold, flowery psychedelia that makes the whole thing palatable. Beyond the 'Rose -- eh. I don't know. It's hard not to want to root for a band named BURNIN' RED IVANHOE, but you want to talk Jethro Tull, man -- whew. I just can't take it. Cope compares them to CAN and the VELVET UNDERGROUND. Some people will say anything to get a laugh! Others like POVL DISSING and ALRUNE ROD just don't even compare to their German brothers to the South in the hard-driving 70s minimalism sweepstakes, though a riff here or there will poke through the cliche rockisms or jazzisms to show that at least the right influences were present, be they musical or chemical. Let's not try & create a magical scene where there was only a collection of barely-decent retreads, though. This is an annoying 21st-Century music-jerk tendency -- elevating the very few remaining unheard bands of the 60s/70s to preposterous, undeserved heights simply because you got there first. Some call it "Ugly Things syndrome". With all due respect to the person who kindly & painstakingly burned this for me, I'm going to stick with my pepper kippers, pickled beetroot and skipper labskaus when I need a palate-pleasing taste of the old country.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

They told me that this was the one VELVET UNDERGROUND bootleg to get if I had to get just one, and you know what, I think they were onto something. "The Psychopath's Rolling Stones" is just as odds-n-ends as those excellent "Ultra Rare Trax" CDs and even as random as the official "Peel Slowly and See" box set itself, but it has got some incredible numbers & versions I've never heard elsewhere. Let's start with the definitive live version of "Run Run Run" -- for me, the most underrated Velvets song of all time and one that's easily in my Top 5 along with the other ones we all love. This one's a long version from February 8th, 1969 in New Hampshire, and as the back cover says, "features some remarkable guitar work". Remarkable! I'll say. The solos (Reed's?) are just blistering -- the song is transformed into the latter 2/3rds of "European Son" while still maintaining its bounce and chugga-chugga drive. Also revelatory is the demo version of "Chelsea Girl" recorded in those famous hotel sessions, just Lou and Nico and a beat-up old tape deck. That's my favorite song on her first record, and this version's better. Other hotties of note are a fire-breathing Cleveland 1967 "Guess I'm Falling In Love" (with vocals and another killer solo) and the 1966 tin pan alley studio outtake "Sheltered Life" that I've heard on other boots. John Cale on kazoo!

And what 70s-era bootleg wouldn't be complete without a hidden track not by the featured artist? This one's got one and a half: a warbling, half-insane live version of Nico doing "The End" (unlistenable), and a choogling 1920s-era jump blues called "Bootleggin' Blues" from someone certainly not from the lower east side. This collection is heavy on the first two VU records, so if the rough, sodom-and-gomorrah Velvets are your thing and you're pretty sure Yule's a fool, this digital platter of scorching obscurities is your ticket to hog heaven.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Maybe I'm the last to know, but have you ever wondered how you were going to find all those crazy razorwire agit-punk masterpieces from the DESPERATE BICYCLES, the kings of 1977-81 UK DIY? Tell you what -- you're going to find them right here, a full MP3 page with every track from every release. Kudos to Derek Erdman for putting this page together. Don't clog his servers all at once.


When I got a good look at SKIP SPENCE for the first time, in a MOBY GRAPE live TV performance of "Hey Grandma", he appeared like a vision of every cool-ass Haight-Ashbury hippie rock star rolled into one, the living epitome of the wacked-out righteous freak. Boss moves, boss goatee, killer nehru jacket, and even the band was great. A lot more together-looking than the towering "Skip Spence" of legend, the one who burned his mind and body on many mind-shifting chemicals & recorded this terrible-selling LP "Oar" while shuffling in and out of psychiatric institutions. I heard "Oar" once in college and instantly rejected it, and hadn't heard it again until this year. Once a curmudgeon, always a curmudgeon. Never cared how many hipsters' lips sang its praises; I know how those people operate. Someone of less than sound mind makes a weird record, and all of a sudden it's an "outsider" classic that operates on a different frequency than the rest of that fuckin' American corporate bullshit that everyone else listens to. Good news (for me) is that as my BS detector has sharpened over the years, my palate has also broadened, and what amounted to shambling drunkard's country-rock 17-18 years ago now sounds pretty ace. "Oar"'s far less bizarre and inaccessible than many have made it out to be; aside from Spence's cracked, musky, hollow voice (which is still great), what's so weird about this thing? It's a little loopy in parts, but mostly I hear some fine psychedelic basement Americana, true to the pre-war masters of the blues & hillbilly ethos while remaining firmly in touch with its own drugged-out era.

"Little Hands", the opener, was likely the 45 if there was one (too lazy to look it up), and I'm guessing that whatever FM airplay that "Oar" received back in the day was disproportionality tilted toward this sing-along, "everybody love your brother"-esque ditty. It's hella catchy, as we used to say in Cali. "Cripple Creek", which features Spence singing in a deep baritone that only the slugs and grub worms can hear, is a dark tale from the dark South, yet sounds so quintessentially San Francisco 1969 that I can see why it's one that always crops up in late-night discussions of the record, discussions that I have always had to recuse myself from. "Weighted Down", while a good hobo ballad, is itself weighted down by about three verses too many. Likewise with many of the other tracks -- some are just outstanding and instantly ready for near canonization ("War In Peace", the ultra-short 1:31 "Lawrence of Euphoria"), others just plod and wander and go nowhere slowly. But if this is the product of a deranged, mad genius, I sure can't tell. It's just a very good acoustic folk rock record from the hippie days. I might even play it again in 2 years!

Friday, March 18, 2005

I've been intermittantly in contact with ALICE BAG over the past few months and figured, hey, let's get an interview going. Ms. Bag/Velasquez/Armendariz has long been a heroine of mine, thanks to her lead role in one of the world's Top 5 original recipe punk bands of all time, THE BAGS. Their quartet of scathing, raw and poundingly melodic original recordings ("Survive", "We Don't Need The English", "Babylonian Gorgon" and "We Will Bury You") stand proud next to any 1977-78 group you can throw up against them, and it's high time the historical record began capturing this unambiguous fact. For years I'd been wondering where Alice stood in relation to her legacy, before finding out that she'd been keeping the flame alight through various under-my-radar musical projects all these years. Moreover, her website is an absolute monster treasure trove of original Los Angeles punk items, including fantastic Bags and WEIRDOS videos, audio recordings, flyers, stories, tales and whatnot. It's worth a few hours of poking around all by itself. Alice was kind enough to put fingers to keys to answer Agony Shorthand's questions, only mere days after her most recent band STAY AT HOME BOMB called it a day. Thanks very much to Alice for taking the time -- here it is:

Agony Shorthand: You're now, through your web site, one of the true keepers of the original LA punk flame. Did you feel that it wasn't being portrayed correctly in books & in articles, or did you just have a lot of cool ephemera to share?

Alice Bag: Both. Everyone has their perspective and their own reasons for trying to document the early L.A. scene. I certainly have my own agenda, one of the items being to shed light on the overlooked contributions of women. I once heard history described as "the distillation of rumor," and I saw that happening with some of the accounts of the early L.A. punk scene, many written by people who weren't even there at the time. The L.A. punk scene did not begin and end with Darby Crash, though one might think so by reading some of the accounts out there - not to take anything away from Darby and the Germs; they inspired me to get onstage and I considered Darby a friend. I still think the Weirdos have not been given their due - the scene really coalesced around that particular band. More than anything, I'm hoping that the website will spark people's imagination and inspire them to start their own movements. That would make me very happy.

If it had been left entirely up to me, the website would not exist. It was my husband's insistence that we build a web archive and make available to punk fans the considerable collection of photos, flyers and newspaper clippings that my mother had secretly kept after I had tossed them in the trash twenty five years ago. After my mother passed away, we discovered boxes and boxes of things she had squirreled away in a shed and in the garage. She was a pack rat and never threw anything away. I'm very grateful for that, now.

Agony Shorthand: What, if anything, do you regret most about The Bags' brief life?

Alice Bag: It's a difficult question to answer because I did what I thought was right at the time and I've never been one to second guess my decisions. Whether that's a good or bad trait is debatable, but I've tried to stay true to my own vision. I suppose I most regret not recording a full album's worth of material when the Bags were at their prime, with the lineup that recorded the Dangerhouse sessions. Listening to those songs now, many of them hold up. I'm sure that's a very common regret among my peers from the L.A. punk scene. I'm grateful that we had the chance to record the little we did because many of my contemporaries never had that opportunity.

Agony Shorthand: At the time, did you think of Los Angeles as just another punk scene among many (SF, New York, UK, etc.), or did you feel/know that LA had something special?

Alice Bag: My opinion is that punk started in and came from New York. That's because my first exposure to punk was through reading Creem, Circus and Punk magazines and because the Dolls and Ramones were from NY. Certain British bands I grew to love over time, but I was already listening to the Ramones before I'd ever heard the Sex Pistols or the Buzzcocks. When I saw the Weirdos for the first time, that was what did it for me. They were instantly the greatest band in the world and no one could convince me otherwise. So yes, I felt that Los Angeles had the greatest band in the world, so that naturally meant we were the best. That's where "We Don't Need The English" on the "Yes L.A." comp came from, the confidence that we were not a pale imitation of some other, better scene somewhere else, but that we had our own distinct sound and style which was the equal of any other punk scene. You have to understand that what people think of as the early L.A. scene literally consisted of no more than 50-100 misfits who all congregated within a one-mile radius of the Masque and Canterbury Apartments. In a city as sprawling as Los Angeles, ours was highly concentrated and very tight-knit community. We all knew each other. We did pretty much nothing aside from party, work on our bands, art, writing, Canterbury roommate Sheila and I worked at an Arby's Roast Beef for about two weeks before we got fired but that was as serious as we got about employment. I never compared our scene to San Francisco's, but they had their share of good bands and there was a lot of cross-pollination. In fact, Jello Biafra was a good friend of the Bags and he often hung out with us on tours. I remember crashing on Penelope Houston's floor when we were in SF.

Agony Shorthand: You told me that there's very little material to put together to make a Bags CD. What is out there that you know of?

Alice Bag: New stuff pops up from time to time. I recently received a copy of two live sets from a show in 1979, recorded in their entirety. I'm not sure if we'll be able to release any of it, but I'm working on it. The other stuff I know of consists of the four Dangerhouse songs, the Elks Lodge live set, the live set (video) from the infamous Troubadour show, various and sundry live bootlegs, Disco's Dead (which was not our song), an early recording of a song called "Bag Bondage," and a studio recording which the remaining members did after Pat's departure. This last recording has yet to be seen, but we are told it exists and Artifix is working with the owners. Also, I suspect that someone has the entire live set which was filmed for the Decline movie, but that footage does not "officially" exist.

Agony Shorthand: Everything I've read about Craig Lee makes me think he was an unheralded prime mover in LA punk, as well as one of the true driving forces behind The Bags' music. Can you say a few words about what he meant to the band (beyond what's on your web site)?

Alice Bag: I'm glad you surmised Craig's importance to the LA scene. He was not only the driving force behind the Bags, being chief songwriter and business manager, but he was actively involved in several other punk and post-punk bands, Catholic Discipline being the most infamous. He was a working "industry" writer before he joined the Bags, having actually penned scripts for 70's television shows like Room 222 and The Mod Squad. So he brought his writing talent to the Bags and his songs were so much better than what we had written, he naturally assumed that role. He was very much a take-charge personality and he would book our shows, collect the money, handle publicity, all the dirty work. Craig went on to become a music journalist and championed the L.A. scene in the LA Weekly and later, the LA Times. He co-authored and edited what is still widely considered the definitive book on the West Coast scene, "Hardcore California." He was very involved in the art punk scene that arose in the mid-1980's and is sorely missed by those who had the pleasure of knowing him.

Agony Shorthand: Tell me a little bit about how the band came to be known as "The Alice Bag Band" for the Decline of Western Civilization film.

Alice Bag: The short version is that after Patricia and the band parted ways, Patricia owned the name The Bags and we toyed with various names, but couldn't decide on one. When the Decline movie came up, we were labeled the Alice Bag Band for purposes of the film by the film's producers. We tried to keep it going under that name for a few months but the wind had gone out of our sails.

Agony Shorthand: You said something on your web site that I'd like to know more about: "Once we started trying to be "label worthy," we lost the energy that made the Bags and punk rock unique". Was there a really time when The Bags were being courted by labels, and how did your sound change as a result?

Alice Bag: The Bags were never seriously courted by any record labels, as far as I know. A&R people would periodically show up at punk gigs. The bands were getting press and filling clubs, so they must have sensed there was something there, but big record companies were cowardly then and they still are. There was absolutely no way that bands like the Bags, Germs or Screamers would have been signed to a major label. I still don't hear anything quite as confrontational as "We Will Bury You" or "Richie Dagger's Crime" on the radio, no matter what people say about punk being mainstream nowadays. One thing that will never come into fashion is challenging the expectations of the typical consumer.

Getting back to your question, the Bags' music did change fairly rapidly over time. Having recently listened to recordings spanning the short life of the band, I can hear how we progressed over the roughly two and a half years of our existence. Some of the changes were good. We practiced a lot and were pretty tight musically, but my live vocals were always inconsistent. I'd get excited and dance all over the stage and lose breath and pitch control. If we played a club with bad sound it was always tough because I needed to hear myself in order to stay on key. Anyway, I felt a lot of pressure to sing on key, so I tried to focus more on pitch and subsequently became more self-conscious. In doing so, I gave up the very thing that had made me different, which was the ability to lose myself on stage.

Agony Shorthand: How have you enjoyed going through the majority of your life with "Bag" as your known surname?

Alice Bag: Most days I just go by "Mrs. Velasquez" or just "Miss" because my students don't know me as Alice Bag, and that suits me just fine.

Agony Shorthand: There was that strange period in the early 80s where so much of LA punk seemed influenced by "horror" and the goths. Did Castration Squad see themselves as part of the Christian Death/45 Grave crowd, or were you something else entirely?

Alice Bag: Patricia Rainone (Pat Bag) and I used to have sleepovers in high school and I remember staying up late with her, watching vampire movies. I remember her wrapping a knee high sock around her neck before bedtime to ward off vampire bites. I'm sure she took that sock off in fairly short order, and she cultivated a beautiful vampire look long before the word "Goth" appeared. Mary Bat-Thing (Dinah Cancer), Shannon and Sheila (who were both in the Piranhas) were all similarly inclined towards the darker side. Shannon and Patricia came up with the idea for Castration Squad and that band pre-dated Christian Death and 45 Grave. In fact, Castration Squad gave Christian Death their very first opening slot and gave 45 Grave their lead singer.

Agony Shorthand: I may have missed something, but is Castration Squad happening again?

Alice Bag: We are writing again but there are time constraints. We're all moms now, except for Shannon, obviously, who is dearly departed.

Agony Shorthand: Does your daughter appreciate the irony in your (recently disbanded) group Stay At Home Bomb, and understand her role in the band's creation?

Alice Bag: No, and perhaps that's for the best. She might take offense. Maybe when she's older, if she has her own children, she will be able to appreciate the inspiration for Stay At Home Bomb.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Quite likely, this is the single best originally unreleased punk record of the 70s, a set of grotesquely, insanely over-the-top recordings that sat in a sad sack somewhere until the blink-and-you-missed-'em label Buster Bulb rescued them from oblivion in 1990. Greg Prevost and Andy Babiuk, who went on to form the mediocre Rochester-based 60s rehash band THE CHESTERFIELD KINGS, were two Iggy fiends who upped the dose on even Iggy's most wild-eyed, peanut-butter-smearing, razor-blade-wielding theatrics and created this howling vortex of blister and bile. First, they put out a legit 45 as the DISTORTED LEVELS in 1978, called "Hey Mister / Red Swirls". The former is a crazed glam-influenced pumper, with screams so beyond the pale that it actually ignites paper when played at "11". The B-side is a series of preposterous grunts and shrieks that makes no sense whatsoever, and is barely listenable. All in all, a nice debut. They switched the name to MEAN RED SPIDERS later that year, and took the sound even further on this 4-song set of recordings. It features "Rejected At The High School Dance", "I've Got VD", "Diabolical" and, my favorite, "Kick Your Ass Across The USA". Every track appears to be addressed to a female, and these jousters are comfortable bragging about punching, kicking and shamelessly defiling the female(s) in question. In the flip-the-bird world of 1978 punk rock, even that was one toke over the line. The guitar is James Williamson on extreme hyperdrive, and is mixed well past the point of bleeding. For a couple of Stooges fanatics, these guys really took that latter-day, "I Got A Right" template and did something fantastic with it. Wow. I can't believe this isn't in more folks' hands. These guys are selling it for $5.98. Don't pass it up -- this EP is worth every penny.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I broke this one out again the other day and am still a little off-put by it. The SWELL MAPS, birthed in a glam-art-punk acid bath but who soon turned into one of the weirdest batch of experimentalists of the late 70s/early 80s, are here stripped of virtually all non-punk artiface & are presented on this 1999 compilation as a nearly straight-up, balls to the wall punk band. Which they most certainly could be ("Dresden Style", the then-newly-discovered "International Rescue"), but that's not what bothers me. Far from it -- I come away from this every time blown away by just how fierce and non-compliant with trad punk rock these guys were, and questioning why they're not accorded even half the respect of great bands like PERE UBU or even "very good" ones like the early GANG OF FOUR. No, I just don't dig the fact that so many of these songs were remixed to sound like punk rock circa 1999, not 1979, and the fact that, unlike "L.A.M.F. Revisited" or "Younger, Louder and Snottier" or whatever, this fact isn't advertised. Lame. They were loud, and overamped, sure, but not this much. The CD's terrific, and I recommend it wholeheartedly for the unheard tracks, but you'll also need to immediately buy these CDs to get the full picture: "A Trip To Marineville", "Jane From Occupied Europe" and "Train Out Of It". I sold my "Whatever Happens Next..." 2xLP a few years ago. Now why in tarnation did I do that? And can anyone in the reading audience provide a word or two on this collection's subsequent companion release, "Swell Maps Sweep The Desert"? Buy or ignore?

Monday, March 14, 2005
RADIO BEATS : "READY TO SHAKE" CD....Two parts good news, one part bad on this brand new release from West Virginia garagecore speed freaks The RADIO BEATS. Good news is the pummeling, all-guns-blazing sound that pinned me to the carpet on their debut EP is still there -- just super overloaded, raw-as-nails punk rock. Imagine if THE FIX or NEGATIVE APPROACH survived through the 80s & 90s to end up as a snotty-assed garage band & kept their teenage frustration & bile intact. That's these guys. The guitarist picked the perfect amp & cords for this sound & his riffs come on like a friggin' train wreck. Their vocalist also has a tough, volcanic set of pipes, much like the crooners from the aforementioned hardcore heavyweights. I know that many discriminating and intelligent rock fans turn their back on the exciting bumper crop of garage shit, which is a goddamn shame, but I think I know why. It can be dumber than dumb, and these gentlemen are prime offenders. First, the record's titled "Ready To Shake". Ridiculous. Second, I've been privately calling the more moronic garage punk acts "Uh-c'mon bay-buh!" bands for years, cuz that seems to be a very popular lyric shared by the worst, and here it is, track #10, "Baby, C'mon!". Other titles include "Rock With You Tonight" (fuck yeah!) and "See You Die" (uh oh!). But since the lightning-quick blurring action of the music obscures most of the lyrics, I'm usually able to look away, and once again rest easy. I'm not sure if this is officially in the racks yet, but if you're a connoisseur of lowbrow Americana and the rarefied "Horizontal Action" ethos, these young fellas might be your new favorite band.

Friday, March 11, 2005
ICKY BOYFRIENDS : "A LOVE OBSCENE" 2xCD....I'm sure you'll agree that if any band deserves the 2xCD retrospective treatment, it's the ICKY BOYFRIENDS, right? Long in the making, "A Love Obscene" compiles their "I'm Not Fascinating" LP, most tracks from their 45s, and the posthumous "Talking To You Is Like Being Dead" oddities LP collection. The band's freakshow was one of my favorite live rock experiences during the first half of the nineties, and while they were likely a "you had to be there, and be drunk" experience for many, their vinyl offerings were often a demented blast. I was asked to write some liner notes for this collection that were ultimately chopped -- so here they are for your perusal:

by Jay Hinman

I must have seen the ICKY BOYFRIENDS a good dozen-plus times, maybe twenty even, but two particularly notable occasions stand out. By coincidence or not, these happen to be the first and last times I witnessed their crash-and-flail symphony of developmentally-delayed sound. The first time was in 1990 at a decrepit junkie bar called the 6th Street Rendezvous, located in San Francisco’s absolute worst neighborhood, and where I’d recently been punched and kicked during a previous jaunt down the half-block gauntlet off the bus line. Obviously these boys had come recommended. I walked in at a precise moment so quintessentially ICKY that it seemed to have been choreographed for maximum effect. There was Jon Swift, white man’s afro piled to the heavens, poised in the middle of a blood-curdling woman’s scream (his own) during what I later found out to be the flimflammed-consumer ode “Pay and Pak”. Swift was just so out-and-out wrong for the part of the rock and roll front man that watching him brought me an immediate and overwhelming feeling of pure joy. Coming into focus soon thereafter were what looked to be a hippie playing bass – no lead guitar, just a thudding lead bass – and a fists-of-fury drummer in constant (albeit unnoted) danger of spraying his kit into six different directions at any time. This was certainly a band I needed to see more of – and did, semi-religiously, over the course of the next five years.

Flash forward to 1995. The Icky Boyfriends have recently “wrapped” their dramatic film debut and are hungry for big-ticket gigs, the likes of which they’ve unfortunately – and criminally – never experienced. Due to mutual admiration (true), they are asked by underground rock heavyweights Mudhoney to open for them at a San Francisco club owned and operated by one Boz Scaggs (also true). The results were, shall we say, very interesting. My best recollection, standing in the center of the crowd at about mid-floor, were a number of requests by the audience to, and I quote, “Get the fuck off the stage!” and “You fucking suck! Stop playing, NOW!”. Yet it was the longest, most wearying Icky Boyfriends show I’d seen (and I was a fan) – a good 90 minutes of stop/start sixty-second bass workouts, bizarre medleys, screams, interminable broken string interludes and straight-up bashing garage punk. It was as if the band had somehow sensed the crowd’s buzzing excitement for Mudhoney’s “imminent” arrival and used transference to channel it into their own on-stage mojo. At the set’s terminus, a shattered audience and broken band parted company, this time for good. I wonder: Did Jon, Shea and Anthony each sleep alone that evening? Hell, I doubt it. My friends didn’t always get the Icky Boyfriends, nor did the rock community at large, but you know what they say about misunderstood visionaries: “...but the little girls understand...”.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

This series appears to be yet another "catch all" for all the pre-WWII hillbilly, blues and backporch musics that Yazoo have collected over the years. It might just be the single best overview you're going to get of the breadth of American non-jazz sounds of the day, despite the appearance of most of the tracks on other Yazoo releases. It all depends on where you're coming from. For instance, if you've never heard SON HOUSE's "Dry Spell Blues", hearing its scratched genius for the first time near the end of this CD might just be one of the most revelatory things that'll ever happen to you. Then again, if you're a hardened 78rpm collector (or, like me, an accumulator of 78rpm tracks in digital form), you might just get mildly annoyed that you've now got it on a 4th or 5th CD. Yet it's hard not to reckon that Yazoo have never really packaged up the wealth of their bounty into a package this plentiful or consistently great. Now up to eight 75-minute volumes, that's roughly 200 classics, or at least moderately adequate slices of every sub-genre the 1920s and 30s had to offer -- excluding, as I said, any jazz or big band. There are more diamonds than dirtballs for sure.

What'll get the pulse racing for most folks on this one are these insane, light-speed Kentucky fiddle breakdowns that are sprinkled throughout Volume #7. Top picks are the leadoff "Bust Down Stomp" by DILLY AND HIS DILL PICKLES (I'm serious!), "Texas Quickstep" by the RED HEADED FIDDLERS and an only moderately breakneck "Horseshoe Bend" by the STRIPLING BROTHERS. There's also a super-rare and super-bleak blues 78 that I read about in "78 Quarterly" (so sue me!) by KING SOLOMON HILL called "Times Has Done Got Hard", apparently one of the most rare records of all time. It's really strong, if second tier sub-Skip James/Robert Wilkins broke-down blues, but with this trebly, ringing guitar sound that cuts through 75 hostile intervening years like butter. And who is ED BELL? His "Ham Bone Blues" has the same flavor of about 20 other similar blues, but something about his vocals and sad-eyed delivery gives him a big edge. I'm going to start dialing his digits into Google posthaste to see what I can find. This CD's awash with new discoveries and old pals, and the series is well worth building up, one jam-packed volume at a time.

Friday, March 04, 2005

This quartet has all of a sudden turned into the discerning garage punk freak's pop band of choice, and little wonder with outtasite records like these. "Prosthetic Head" is the Chicago band's best single song to date, a really bouncy, keyboard-driven raver with hooks to hide a tank in. In fact the keyboards imbue this 45 with the spectre of THE CLEAN and other Flying Nun kindred spirits, and I'll bet if this were 1981 Auckland instead of 2004 Chicago, THE PONYS might be front & center on the FN lineup. Don't take that as a warning, punker -- this is still a guitar-drenched, fuzzy record, with those warbly, yowling vocals you've come to know & love and compare favorably to Richard Hell (as opposed to "Richard Hell"). The flip's a little heavier with more meat on its bones, but that A-side -- well, that's the sort of song 45s were meant for. Top pick for 2004, just nine weeks too late.

VARIOUS ARTISTS : "KILLED BY DEATH, VOLUME 1 - ENGLISH D.I.Y."......This one was a follow-on release after the mid-90s deluge of KILLED BY DEATH rare early punk LPs, sometime after the well had more or less run dry & when any lingering volumes might have had 2 or 3 hot tracks, tops. The lads behind this one decided to set the clock at "1" and start over again, and added a new "flavour" -- no, not antmusic, but punk-leaning English mega-obscurities. D.I.Y., you might say. A couple ringers on this one that I was familiar with, like the PETTICOATS' paean to suburban ennui, "Normal", with its super-trebly, ringing loud guitars and tippy-tap drumming, and a New Zealand Ubu-esque knockout from SHOES THIS HIGH called "The Nose One". New Zealand? All part of the Queen's commonwealth, right? But some of these weirder ones were way off everyone's radar, and it's nice to have them all in one angry and scratchy place. I like the raw, buzzing 1-2 military stomp of HORNSEY AT WAR, whose short eponymous track is something snotty and special, and another big chaotic mess from the PURITAN GUITARS called "100 Pounds in 15 Minutes" (that's pounds as in quid, not lbs.). There's a few middlers but it's mostly revelatory and a nice "net add" to the stacks. One pundit proclaimed that if "DIY arty-fartyness isn't your kind of thing you might want to skip this one..." and I suppose that's fair enough!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

It's always a crapshoot when you throw down a couple of beers before going out record shopping, as BT and I did two weeks ago in New York City. All of a sudden "$17.99" looks more like "$7.99", and items that you'd passed on for months all of a sudden find their way onto the credit card with zero hesitation. I was egged on to pick up something from the WACKIES label, given my affinity for heavy, effects-laden Jamaican dub from 1975-83, and it took some liquid courage to take the plunge and plunk down a hefty price to do so. But all I can say is w-o-w. I saw these Wackies comps all over Tokyo when I was out there a couple years ago, and the dirt-cheap crudity of the packaging (see picture above) and the lack of information promised either some incredible, rare, top-shelf "dub plate specials", or a swindle on the order of the stick-up at Brink's. Sober skepticism won the day out there, but not this time. Thankfully "African Roots, Act 1" is dub of the incredible, rare variety -- with a curveball. The curveball is that all this stuff emanated from New York itself (!), and featured a variety of Jamaican artists like HORACE ANDY and SUGAR MINOTT traveling to a studio in the Bronx to break bread and herb with producer/mixer LLOYD BARNES, aka "Bullwackie". I imagine that Barnes didn't actually record all the tracks on this CD in his studio, but mixed, spindled and folded them into various crazy shapes there.

The result, at least on this representative sampling, is fantastic, among the best I've heard (I'm sure it seems like I'm always saying that, but I just keep discovering more & more dub that tops what I've enjoyed before). Like my main man SCIENTIST, Barnes stripped all tracks down to a primer coat of thumping, reverbed bass, and tinny, echoey drums. Vocals are barely existant -- he rarely sampled a vocal sentence only to have it echo, fade & overmodulate like so many other dubsters did at the time. Too cliche! He also liked to dump in some rock instrumentation, and there's a number on here called "Wackie Rock Tune", if you can believe it, that you just have to hear -- particularly if you've been resistant to dub up to this point. Guitar fuzz squirms in & out of the mix, and is akin to the "what the fuck" feeling I first got upon hearing heavy rock/psych sounds in 1970s African music (see the incredible "Dakar Sound" compilation of Senegalese cuts). Like I said, whoa. I need to get on the stick with the Wackies back catalog in a big way. This past decade has been most kind to the genre, with CD releases pouring forth in untold bounties. This is just another piece of the puzzle, a way killer one at that.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I already wrote the intro paragraph to this post back on November 3rd, 2004, in a piece on Forgotten 1980s garage punk 45s. So no need to do it again:

"I guess some would surely quibble, but for me, the single best generational update on the 1964-67 American, UK & AU/NZ garage rock template was the award-winning class of the early 90s: the GORIES, the CHEATER SLICKS, the NIGHT KINGS, SUPERCHARGER, the OBLIVIANS, and all the others I've flogged on this site and in my fanzine from that era. Something about the 1990-95 time period lent itself to one killer 45 after another from these bands and their peers, and what they did to mold and expand that very simple 60s template (adding in Scientists-style feedback & hiss in the case of The Cheater Slicks; amping up and exploding into chaos in the case of The Oblivians -- for instance) puts these bands in a class by themselves....."

This sound was obviously only a small corner of the 1990s rock universe, but I think it was way exciting & distinct and singular enough to merit its own retrospective. Some outstanding labels popped up around this time to document this hyper-aggro activity, IN THE RED being far & away the kingpin. When In The Red were too slow on the point to discover some tiny regional act (like Supercharger or The Inhalants) or passed on a decent band, various other garage-focused labels stepped into the breach and ran charge: Bag of Hammers, Rip Off, Datapanik, Crypt, Womb and Pre-BS, among many others. While the latter half of the 90s also had many fine 60s-inspired combos, a 1977-style punk attitude really told hold among the "garage" bands, and therefore tempos sped up astronomically, Maximum RocknRoll began paying attention, and Rip Off more or less ruled the roost. At least that's what I thought at the time, though In The Red totally held strong, as they continue to do. The first half of this decade has seen a flowering of virtually every flavor of "garage punk" and a bazillion such bands of every stripe, to the point that one such band hit the mainstream charts in a big way, and the genre's acceptance is at an all-time high, however loosely defined. Yet there's still a sub-underground, powerhouse scene of tiny bands releasing boundary-pushing garage punk music on 45rpm singles (still!), hotshit bands like THE FATALS, the RADIO BEATS, HUNCHES, and yes, the A-FRAMES (whose latest 45 on S-S is punk rock on wheels).

Let's return to a time when only dorks like me bought "garage punk" singles, not Rene Zellweger and Scarlett Johansson!

1. GORIES : "Telepathic / Hate" -- The loose-limbed A-side's probably their most stomping song ever, and the B-side's a roaring 60s punk cover rendered in The Gories' patented tubthumping, inept way. The drums sound like they're being pounded with forearms instead of sticks. Remarkably, Mick Collins sings neither song yet it's still their best 45 ever, and maybe the best single 1990s 45 in this genre.

2. FIREWORKS : "Untrue / She's A Tornado" -- While they never came close after this debut single, FIREWORKS were pretty special for a few months. Raw, fired-up covers of two rockabilly staples, recorded on the cheap and delivered with a big frothing scream pasted on the singer's lips. Seriously, this is a holy grail record for fans of the genre and one you've got to hear before you ascend.

3. SUPERCHARGER : "Icepick / Want It Bad" -- Their first LP was all right, not nearly as clueless as they made it out to be, but this one-sided 45 that followed it heralded the blossoming of a true hellfire trio. One of the Top 10 records of the 90s, "Supercharger Goes Way Out!" followed this 45, but its overloaded, amps-on-11 sweatin'-to-the-oldies sound was born here.

4. CHEATER SLICKS : "I'm Grounded / Can It Be" -- I had a new favorite band within hearing the first sixty seconds of this stunning, head-spinning 45, and I still think the Slicks are one of the last great innovative guitar-based rock and roll bands. No one, but no one, has sucked more from, and added more to, the original sixties punk template than these guys.

5. TEENGENERATE : "Out Of Sight / Pushin' Me Around" -- Blazing speed garage on Rip Off Records, one of a dozen-plus 45s this Japanese band humped out in their career, and easily the best. Tight as a gnat's ass & faster than hardcore. You'd love it.

6. DIRTY LOVERS : "Teenage Love Bomb / All I Want" -- You know the In The Red logo, with the needle pushed all the way to the right & ready to shatter glass? That's this 45. I used to have to make a bunch of adjustments to my deck's recording volume for this single when I'd "tape" it for people, back in the days of "tapes". Unfortunately the band lost a couple of members in a car wreck down Australia way shortly after this was recorded. They could've been serious contendas!

7. NIGHT KINGS : "Bum / Ain't No Fun" -- Another overmodulated monster, with Rob Vasquez's howling pipes getting a real workout, even above his usual throat-scraping standard. Something tells me this 45 and all this band's vinyl is going to be paying my son's way into college 17 years from now.

8. JOHNNY HASH : "Blues Is Depressing" -- Drunken, animalistic slide guitar blues, backed with precision cardboard-box drumming and barked vocals. A gnarly, no-fidelity blues trash masterpiece that still makes me weep with desire for the LP that never came from these guys.

9. THOMAS JEFFERSON SLAVE APARTMENTS / MONSTER TRUCK 5 split 7" -- The A-side contains two retarded SLAVE APARTMENTS bashers, that, while not "garage punk" per se, are so primitive and underdeveloped and bursting with joie de vivre that I think they count regardless. You'll find them on the "Hey, You Lookin' For Treble?" CD compilation of their excellent early work. The flip is hyper noise rock of a rare vintage from the MONSTER TRUCK 5, who sound like they infused their Touch & Go-era noise punk with some hefty Union Carbide Productions-style ear bleed. They appear to have been completely and totally lost to time.

10. MOTARDS : "I'm A Criminal / The Fast Song / My Love Is Bad" -- Stupid simple, "learning to play" rock of the highest order, from a quartet of snotty Texans who never made one this good again. This gravel-voiced fuck-you style of garage punk seems to be what the kids today enjoy the most. This is the best of it I've ever heard.

11. CHEATER SLICKS : "Wedding Song / Walk Up The Street" -- Another whomper from the best band of their ilk, circa 1994. Crypt took up the Cheater Slicks mantle for a few shining months & did themselves proud with this crazed 45. If you believe Panache magazine, all sorts of bands are now pouring out of the woodwork & claiming the Cheater Slicks as a major influence. File under "I'm dubious". (Note: I've been corrected -- correctly, even. In The Red put this 45 out; Crypt put out another scorcher from the same sessions: "Trouble Man / Hook or Crook"...)

12. INHALANTS : "Kolchak, The Night Stalker / Middle Ages" -- More Texas ineptitude from a short-lived band who nailed it on their first try. Hectic, sloppy and chaotic in all the right places, played about two beats faster than the band themselves can keep up with. Singer has one of those punk rock voices for the ages, all nasaly and fried like a true barroom poet. Available for only four bucks here!