Agony Shorthand

Friday, April 29, 2005

Much like "Outlaws In My Eye" may be the definitive document for 70s Texas punk, so too is "Groovy Little Trip" for 60s Texas punk and fuzz-heavy psychedelia. And it's probably just as legitimate, which is to say not very. While not all of the heavy hitters are on here -- the best 60s punk tune of all, MURPHY AND THE MOB's "Born Loser" is missing, as is the TWILIGHTERS' "Nothing Can Bring Me Down" -- it's a pretty ripping batch of sweaty garage and heavy, drug-fueled, seeing-eye psychedelic rock. I recognized a few classics from that 90s series of CD compilations called "Texas Flashback" that turned me on to The Twilighters -- including the buzzing keyboard-led "Hangin' Out" by THE BLOX and the absolutely wild fuzz killer "On The Road South" by the STEREO SHOESTRING. But much of this is brand new to me, and it is truly mind-expanding stuff. Did you know the ZAKARY THAKS of "Bad Girl" infamy (pictured above) actually morphed several times, going distorted & loud (as opposed to raw and bashing) first, then out-and-out heavy mid-tempo psych later? Neither did I until I heard "Green Crystal Ties" and "My Door" by the band. Moreover, THE LIBERTY BELL and THE LIVING END have several true winners as well, and though I probably read about them in "Kicks" at one point and forgot about 'em, I can honestly say I've never heard of these bands. Another one that startled me right out of the gate is a straight-up 60s punker by THE REDDLEMEN called "I'm Gonna Get In That Girl's Mind", which I've since learned is on some comp I already have but really stands proud here as the disc's kick-off track. In 30 numbers, I'm hard-pressed to find one that's not at least moderately hot. I'm starting to think Texas is at least half as culturally relevant a state as California.

Thursday, April 28, 2005
GET HIP TO SEX KITTENS COMPARE SCRATCHES....Wanted to alert you to a great new mp3 blog operating out of Japan called SEX KITTENS COMPARE SCRATCHES. With posts on Hasil Adkins & The Lazy Cowgirls so far, Greg's certainly on the right path (and now that Hasil has regrettably passed away, here's where you can start exploring some of the web resources devoted to him in rememberance). I guess Greg was one of that core of 50 or so regulars who, along with me & my friends, went to virtually every single Cowgirls show in Los Angeles from 1986-89, even when there were 3 in a month. I later found out that among those 50 were Larry Hardy and Eric Friedl/Oblivian, though I didn't know those fellas then. Anyway -- Sex Kittens Compare Scratches. A super fine addition to the exploding mp3 blog roll.

THE MONEYCHANGERS : “MISSED CHORDS AND BAD VIBES” 7”EP....Good thing kick-ass rock and roll stage names haven’t gone out of style, else we wouldn’t have drummer “Sara Hot Stix” and keyboardist “Hot Rod Diamonds” from Portland, Oregon’s MONEYCHANGERS to cheer on. The band’s debut comes across like a junior varsity KILLER’S KISS, with the same sort of big 2-guitar sound, handclaps and snaky keyboards that scream "beer run!!!". “Lay Low” even sounds like they pumped it out in front of three awake pals in an after-hours club long after everyone else had passed out. Singer Mark Death doesn’t have a vocal coach, that much you can tell with one listen, but something about the dank & seedy vibe on this EP reminds me of similar 80s/90s trash-rock from the Portland micro-scene like RANCID VAT and ALCOHOLICS UNANIMOUS. I didn’t always dig that stuff at the time, but you knew it was about as D.I.Y. and as hometown as it got. The Moneychangers are the 21st Century equivalent, long may Sara Hot Stix pound.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005
"THE FUTURE OF THE MUSIC DORK IN THE DIGITAL AGE".....So last night Kim Cooper & David Smay, the editors of "Lost In The Grooves", hosted an event -- a reading, if you will -- at Moe's Books in Berkeley, CA. I was kindly asked to contribute a little something, and not wanting to embarrass myself by reading a flippin' record review out loud, I wrote the following "piece" for the audience. I wasn't heckled, I wasn't jeered, but my wife and I did have to hustle out of there quickly so we could stop the babysitter's clock from bankrupting us. A real goddamn hipster, that's me. Anyway, the night was a fun one. Chas Glynn and Max Hechter in particular brought the house down with respective tales of bizarre thrift store LPs & the joy of discovering THE SILVER.

My thing here was written for a listening, not a reading audience, but I reckon my predictions may hold true just the same. Here it is:


The winds of change have long been beating down upon the record collector dork and his old, archaic, socially alienating ways, with trends having accelerated at warp speed just the past five years. Modern music dorks, like many of us in this room, find ourselves both enlivened and thrilled by the digital age of eBay and of instant access to other people’s record collections via file-sharing, while completely befuddled by how we’ll exist in a world where our music collections are an intangible assortment of 1’s and 0’s. A book like “Lost In The Grooves” is a rapturous celebration of the tangible: finding and holding and nearly making love to some holy grail LP in a thrift store, being turned on to a life-changing record by discovering it in your older sister’s record collection, or holding on to the knowledge of some secret LP that only existed in a small pressing & only you and your hipster doofus friends know about. It’s old school to say the least, and it’s a way of life & of thinking that’s looking increasingly anachronistic every passing year.

Now it’s come down to the music, the music, with all of the trimmings starting to wither away. Today I can go onto a file-sharing network like Soulseek – which seems to be where all the modern collector dorks congregate – and pretty much find anything I want, including way-out-of-print 45s, obscurities from the punk era, rockabilly compilations made in Luxembourg, and private-press LPs that someone digitized and loaded onto the network for quick consumption. If somehow I’m still missing something, I can always find someone over the internet who’s willing to burn it for me if I search hard enough and send nice emails, because with each passing day more and more long-lost 45s and LPs are being transferred to MP3 format. All it takes is one lonely, socially-inept misfit with a large record collection and the right software, and in a few months, a million copies are literally there for the taking.

Let’s project to how this might play out five years from now for you, for me, for all of us – the proud, yet frightened music dorks of 2005:

1. There won’t be any worthwhile song that isn’t incredibly easy to find online. Music dorks will find it nearly impossible to trump someone else with their ultra-rare find, because as soon as some tastemaking blog or site posts the file, it will be snapped up & spread like wildfire over what will by then be an internet hundreds of times faster than the one we have now. Music dorks will move on to flaunting their bizarre ephemera that no one else has, like some paper-based fanzine or some ridiculous limited-edition promotional tie-in. A deep sense of loss and ennui will set in. Many will throw in the towel and become stamp collectors – or Christians.

2. People will think nothing of emailing or somehow zapping large chunks of their collection to many friends or associates at once. I foresee a time shortly when the discovery of music is not you going to a website or mp3 blog to download something, but some pal of yours sending you twenty files for you to listen to when you wake up in the morning. We do it with photos now, why not with music files in a couple years?

3. The storage capabilities of an iPod or some other portable device in 2005 will look ridiculously limited, but these fist-sized devices are where we’ll be housing our collections. I know it isn’t radical to say that portable devices like iPods will be popular, since they’re wildly popular now, but think of the ramifications when every single track you buy (or steal) is digitized and intangible. You think you were pissed off when LP jacket artwork shrank to CD size? I was, in that way that only people who need a girlfriend and some exercise can be. You’ll be even more pissed when that CD sleeve shows up as a tiny thumbnail on your iPod, or ceases to exist completely.

4. Even the mainstream writers at the New York Times or whatever have recognized that a collection of tracks assembled in some artist-defined order is soon to be dead. No longer will new artists record an album – they’ll record songs, period, and release them one at a time or in very small batches. This will re-shape the way we think about what it means to consume a quote-unquote “record”, and the term “filler”, when applied to a 40-minute LP or to a 70-minute CD, will no longer exist, since filler itself will no longer exist.

5. Those who still collect LPs – maybe even CDs -- will be looked upon by others as the equivalent of Civil War re-enactors or Renaissance Faire freaks – hopelessly bent, stuck in some weird-ass time warp, and lonely and frustrated beyond belief. These people will seek to broaden their obsessions and alienation from society by diving in deep to collector minutiae like flexidiscs, cereal-box records and handheld-camera concert DVDs.

6. Finally, all this abundance will by necessity lead to some filtering. Crap music will still dominate what most people listen to, but as now, you and I won’t concern ourselves with that. What will happen is that the truly great stuff will be heard, and heard by a great many more people than hear it today. The mediocre and the lame will also be heard by many more ears, but there will be a network of gatekeepers, often your friends, or sometimes a web site you like, whose tastes will help govern what you’re downloading and seeking out.

So hey, it’s not all bad. We can either become Luddites and rail about the injustice of technology & write Ted Kaczynski supportive letters, or recognize the glorious bounty before us and give up some of the cachet that came from having something no one else did. We’ll share in this wonderful, collective harvest of sound from here on. You’re all a bunch of communists anyway, right? We’re in Berkeley! To put as fine a point on it as I can : These next five years are when the oft-spoken, but rarely-believed mantra "It’s all about the music" will truly be put to its final test.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Super panicky, up-tempo and razor sharp garage pop from a Seattle group who’ve come a ways since I saw them play up there a couple years ago. If Regal Select were still pumping out pressing-of-400 singles by the likes of THE NIGHTS AND DAYS and FALL-OUTS, it’s not at all a hard stretch to see the BLANK-ITS as their labelmates in slashing, well-informed & non-cliché garage moves. It’s like you either get it or you don’t, and unlike the Northwest bands who dress up in monkey suits, KISS masks or skinny ties, this crew certainly gets it. “Johnny’s Tongue” is live-from-the-basement stupito ignoramus rock, in the best sense of the term – just wind it up & let it fly fast, hard and waaay loose. “I’m OK” is like a sloppy DICKIES minus any cornball stupidity, just loud chords & solid action. Also highly recommended: their side of a split 45 with THE FEELERS; the Blank-Its' “Master Intellectual” is echoey, robots-taking-over-the-planet garage punk with phaser vocals. Even if that’s their new direction, I’m strongly in favor – 3 for 3 in 3 quick trips to the plate – take that, Jeff Kent (you fuck). PS -- check out the band's incredible web site!

Friday, April 22, 2005

The best thing about this band so far is there's a dude named "Monty Buckles" in the group, which might be the single coolest rock and roll name since Rubin Fiberglass. But Mr. Buckles and his trio of slash-n-burn thug-garage pounders are also in good form on their debut LP, which has some real ugly charmers nestled amongst the standard and the true. I hear hints of In The Red stablemates the NECESSARY EVILS (who, in the end, kinda blew) and THE HORRORS (who I kinda like), but better than both. It could be those urgh-argh vocals, which are pissed-off and hoarse & which make the overall vibe a little tense and standoffish; maybe an acquired taste for those of you who are a bit "light in the loafers". I also take minor issue with the drumbeats on this, which seem to have an unvarying Gories-style pattern, like THE LAMPS were ultra-primitive juke joint drunks instead of a well-rehearsed hard-blues garage band. The tippy-tapping soft touch just doesn't match the roaring panic of the guitars. Yet it's pretty hard to touch the opening "Rototiller" or the Gun Club-reminiscent "Bertha Walt" for slamming, loud, melt-your-face-off rock music. With a few beers in ya and a 3am curfew, these guys could definitely be top-shelf entertainment. I intend to find out next time they bomb up the I-5 from Los Angeles to rock me. Not one half bad!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

My knowledge of Erickson's solo stuff more or less starts & ends with the quite excellent "Don't Slander Me" LP, aside from a few of his minor hits that others have covered, so I'm by no means well-informed on the twist and turns of his post-THIRTEENTH FLOOR ELEVATORS career. This is so much worse than I expected that it's hard to believe it wasn't thought of as a major stain on his reputation, rather than held up as the pinnacle of his solo career. PAT BENATAR and REO SPEEDWAGON had nothing to fear from Erickson in this 1980 incarnation, which is total FM radio shlock if Roky's voice itself wasn't so sinister. Some people seem to think it's the second coming. WTF!?! So he was into demons and monsters -- hey, that's just great. The preposterous and patronizing deification of the mentally ill rocker continues, one of the lamest critical trends of all time. No wonder Disc 2 is devoted to a show he played on KSJO radio in San Jose, CA. KSJO was one of the two big-deal album-oriented rock stations in San Jose, where I somewhat regrettably spent my teen years, and even though the set is from the "Modern Humans" show (so new wave!), the whole feel of this pop-heavy hard rockin' set of CDs is barely one step removed from Tom Petty & John Cougar (pre-Mellencamp). It was released on a major label in the UK and on a pseudo-major label in the US (415), and while that's not indicative of much -- a lot of new wavers & punks were getting signed during that 1978-79 period -- the mersh sounds herein help one understand why the A&R suits thought they could "break" Roky on the KSJOs of the world. I'm trying to get down with this one, I swear it, but what is it that you kids see in this thing?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Taking the lazy man's approach to review-writing this time in order to herald the release of the official PRIMITIVE CALCULATORS CD. A year+ ago I reviewed a CD-R that had their live album + debut 45 on it -- this one takes out the 45, but adds an incredible batch of unreleased bonus tracks that are leagues better than their official stuff. In particular, a piercing indutrio-punker called "Glitter Kids" from 1979 rules the roost here, & sounds like everything you wished THE SCREAMERS had been, with a cranked-up metronome keeping time over scattershot guitars and screeching keyboard blips. Moreover, there's this hot, metallic, shards-of-sound number called "Casualty Ward" (1977!!) that approximates the URINALS' "U" and SPK's "Mekano" in barely over a minute. You'll flip. Here's what I said last year about the live album:

"...Among the lost artifacts of the late 1970s Australian underground that are now beginning to surface are recordings from Sydney’s PRIMITIVE CALCULATORS, a polyrhythm- and experimentation-heavy synth-attack outfit who probably tilted closer to their outré countrymen SPK and the SLUGFUCKERS than to similar combos in the UK and US. After being wowed by their berserk “Pumping Ugly Muscle” on the Australian post-punk CD “Can’t Stop It”, I then had the fortune to become privy to a CD-R containing their debut 45 from 1979, “I Can’t Stop It / Do That Dance”, as well as tracks from their 1979 live album (recorded supporting the BOYS NEXT DOOR, aka the nascent BIRTHDAY PARTY). The whole package is decidedly not for the faint of ear; there are not a few moments where the band’s funky, African-influenced slop-rock breaks down into a maelstrom of raw electronic chaos and pure gibbering idiocy. And yet it’s not so messy that you couldn’t stack it next to New York’s leading “no wave” of the day and have it compare quite favorably. A little bravery, patience, and love of well-crafted, ultra-savage electronics will go a long way here. Aficionados of early industrial racket, the aforementioned no wave, or those still bitter over what PiL should have been should check out the Calculators...."

That sentiment has now been multiplied by the discovery of these lost tracks, with the aforementioned caveat and strong warning of bravery & patience. The live album is still not an easy nor consistantly pleasurable listen, but the outstanding bonus crap certainly makes up for it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Couldn't tell you a whole lot about DAVID ALLAN COE before I heard this collection, just that he was one of those Texan redneck outlaw types that got lots of self-proclaimed hellraisers at his gigs & who looooved to tell you about much he looooved his whiskey. Interesting, though, as I plowed through this CD I decided to check out some stuff online & found that someone registered and is trying to link Coe with JOHNNY REBEL, the notorious racist fake country singer. Coe, on his own site, is working at distancing himself from the racist stuff and says, "I, (DAC), AM NOT JOHNNY REBEL. NEVER WAS & NEVER WILL BE!". OK. Then there's this CD. I'll tell you, I have swung from the highest highs to the lowest lows with this one. At first, primarily during his mid-70s stuff, the collection introduces us to a real funny drawler, with clever lyrics and a terrific barroom country sass. 1975's "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" and "Longhaired Redneck" have got to be classics in someone's book, I'm sure. Good times. Even his cover of "Please Come To Boston" is all right, and that song is middle-of-the-road garbage on a stick, right? There are times when this overview makes one think that Coe was one of the better-than-good ones we all need to get acquainted with. Then there's the rest of the CD.

Start with "Divers Do It Deeper", one of the most godawful, innuendo-laden pieces of stupidity I've ever heard, like something the cocaine cowboys of Laurel Canyon might've dreamt up while snorting a barrel of blow off a mixing board with Don Henley, Lindsay Buckingham and the guys from Toto. As appalling as that is, the mediocrity that follows in the late 70s/early 80s is just maddening, particularly when he obviously could (and did) come back with good 45rpm material like "Now I Lay Me Down To Cheat" in 1981. For an outlaw, this guy really laid the hammy synths, the "fonky" country bass and operatic backing vocals on thick. I got called out behind the schoolyard when I made a similar career-sweeping, based-on-a-greatest-hits-record judgment about WAYLON JENNINGS some time back, but I think that Coe might've peaked early & fell hard. Tough to reconcile with the goofus image he still throws up to the people at the county fairs and livestock shows. I give it a C+ & pray to Jefferson Davis there's more to his shtick than this.

Monday, April 18, 2005
THE PACK : "THE PACK" CD.....If you can imagine a gravel-throated version of "Something Better Change"-era DOA teaming up with prime-era OBLIVIANS to play ultra-sweaty, raw-ass 70s punk -- well -- you just might have Germany's THE PACK. The Pack! The Pack are not of this era, no sir, if fact they predate both aforementioned bands (1978) and are sort of the lost wandering minstrels of the second-tier 1970s punk scene. I've barely paid attention to them until forced to (thanks BT), and now I'm squarely, firmly in their camp. About a decade ago Tim Warren was making some serious noises about them in his Crypt catalog and what was a then-recent limited-edition CD, but I ignored it (and it's not wise to ignore Warren's taste too often). Now them I'm dialed in, let me tell you about it. Like I said, these guys had a boatload of heft and muscle behind their sound a la DOA, but there's no doubt that one of our teutonic friends (drummer "Daniel Dynamite", perhaps?) was a serious garage rock freak. His handprints are all over this thing. These guys beat & crash like an early KINKS trying to cop a 1977 "no future/no values" sort of vibe, and the lyrics tend toward the "We're going to kick your ass" variety. But there's something about that 60s rawness that really takes this one way over the top, that and the fact that while no one single track is a "classic", every single one is more than solid. It could've been from Germany, it could have been from Holland, it could have been from Vancouver. You'd never know. But it's really friggin' good. So why can't I find a single thing on the "Wide World Web" about it??

Saturday, April 16, 2005
MASTERPIECE : LORETTA LYNN "HELLO DARLIN'"......A simple Diet Pepsi purchase this week netted me one free song from the "iTunes store" online -- how about that? Where does one start? I thought about some favorite weepers from my LP collection that I don't have digitized yet & hit upon this selection, LORETTA LYNN's majestic version of the oft-covered "Hello Darlin'" . I think CONWAY TWITTY, who wrote it, is the one who popularized this template track of pure country music syrup, but his version comes nowhere near what Loretta does to it. In her hands, or vocal cords, this song is out-and-out heartbreak written in the boldest of bold type. Loretta's dumped her man, meets him again after a dozen-odd years, and postively chokes on how much she's dying to get together with him again. Yet at the end, she knows better & pushes the all-too-willing horndog away. Hey, we've all been there, right? She sings this with every ounce of feeling and sappy sentiment this music deserves, and if you've made your peace with this era (1960s) of country music hitmaking, you'll likely agree with me that this single track is one of the all-time greats. It's nestled onto her "Coal Miner's Daughter" collection, which is right this very second sitting in the 99-cent bin at your local thrift store.

Friday, April 15, 2005
YESTERDAY'S PAPERS, PART WHATEVER # WE'RE UP TO.....When times are tough and time is tight, it's an easy out to put up links to past writings for a quick sense of accomplishment. Here's a sampling of musical topics Agony Shorthand has tackled over the past 27 months:


Wednesday, April 13, 2005
WACKIES : "AFRICAN ROOTS, ACT 2" and "ACT 3" CDs......

I doubt that most visitors to this site are stoked beyond belief when they see Agony Shorthand dipping into yet another dub CD. "Blow me jah" and all that, right? Compounding things is just how redundant my reviews of said music are. I've compiled an easy checklist of things I look for in a dub LP or CD to judge it worthy of my continued time and listening effort. We'll apply this standard to these two late 70s compilation CDs from the NY-based WACKIES stable and see how they hold up:

1. Deep, entrancing, echo-filled reverb? CHECK.
2. Heavy, intense, murky stumbling and crashing? CHECK.
3. A distinct lack of vocals -- almost entirely instrumental, with no awful toasting or paeans to Jah Rastafari? CHECK.
4. Moderately experimental & a little bizarre compared to quotidian reggae? CHECK.
5. Sampling that nearly destroys the original "vocal" version? CHECK.
6. Use of strange effects like phasers and broken analog synths? CHECK.
7. Does it sound a little dangerous, like something that would make a Vermont college kid scream? CHECK.

Wow, these WACKIES comps really hold up. These are the gold standard, folks -- who knew? I'd barely heard of this crew until a few weeks ago, and now I'm lapping their stuff up. I've also heard the "Creation Dub" compilation and a few 45s, and they're OK, but these three "African Roots" discs are where it's at. A bonus is the "70s fanzine"-style packaging, which they felt no need to tart up for a 21st-century release. These guys get it. Highly recommended if you're inclined to dip even a finger into weird-ass 70s dub.

Monday, April 11, 2005
THE TIME FLYS : “THE WET ONES / CHRISTINE (HUMBLE WARRIOR) 45.....Saw Oakland, CA crew the THE TIME FLYS live a few weeks back and was suitably impressed with their NYC ’77-meets-Texas ’78 punk rock action. Despite their strutting singer’s ham-handed attempts to manufacture a rock & roll riot with the 15 people watching by going to great lengths to punch out a light bulb and then make mad dashes into the crowd, his band delivered a super energy-laden and well-kicked out show. And the singer made a believer out of me regardless – the dude’s got it, just don’t tell him to his face, lest he start wearing makeup & perfume. So it is with this recent 45, which is a no-frills, no-bogus-attitude trip back to what some folks like to call “real” punk rock. The fidelity is just about perfect for a Killed By Death volume with both tracks parked between some knockout no-brainer from SHIT DOGS and another from VAST MAJORITY or whatever. Knowing that these guys have done their homework (not one but two Texas punk covers when I saw them), I see them occupying a niche covered by few other bands in 2005: the wise, non-nihilistic, no nasty-words, straight-up good clean raw punk rock group with long hair and a girl drummer. Give them a try – this fine 45’s going to easily make my Top 20 this year, along with the 19 others I haven’t heard yet.

AIR CONDITIONING 45.....Who or what is AIR CONDITIONING? I don't know, but this 45 showed up in my in-basket a couple weeks ago with no information on the sleeve and plain black labels on the single itself. The old “delibro-obscuro”, hunh? You noise cats are just bonkers. Both songs are live-to-small-drunk-audience. One features some near-rock at about the halfway mark, along with an opening field recording of the audience waiting for the band to tune up. The other black side features more “we left the mic on” found sound and a bunch of shapeless noise and feedback. A real motherfucking time bomb, these fellas!

Friday, April 08, 2005

If you haven't seen this 2003 RAMONES documentary yet, I wouldn't get too worked up about its recent release on DVD. It's essentially a glorified "Behind The Music" episode with shakier footage, taken to 1:40, with a more indie/rough feel than that, um, guilty pleasure of a show. The arc of birth-triumph-despair-renewal is followed somewhat, only to be trailed again by despair as Joey and Dee Dee regrettably pass away. I'd rent it again had I not seen it, but it's really nothing out of the ordinary, and if you know this band's story well, there's only a few things worth noting:

-- Joey and Johnny just loathed each other for years. Their misery together through decades of touring in the same vans/planes was pure torture for them & everyone around them, as numerous parties own up to (my favorite being 1990s bass player "CJ Ramone", whom I totally forgot about).
-- The band were Rolling Stones-huge in South America. There's some eye-popping footage of the band playing to 30,000 freaks at a soccer stadium in Brazil, and then almost getting brutally mauled by a frothing crowd of 200 wild Ramones-crazed kids while leaving their hotel the next day.
-- The tape of the band playing at CBGB to a 1975 crowd of maybe twenty people is priceless. They sound like something that would have changed your life, your wardrobe & general approach to music in a single night, as they did for so many (side note - a friend saw The Ramones, who he'd never heard of, open for Black Sabbath in the late 70s and turned into a punk the next day, later becoming the foremost "industrial" DJ in the SF Bay Area, when industrial meant Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse etc.).
-- Johnny was really the glue of the band the whole time, managing their image, their finances and their dogged consistency for over 22 years. He comes off as a self-centered but intelligent visionary of sorts who never suffered anyone, fools or otherwise, gladly.
-- Dee Dee's rap record was even worse than I'd remembered it. The footage from his ungodly video looks like it was filmed straight off of a running TV (!), and it's more painful than any children's record or Starship LP I've heard. It's like that Mr. Show "rap, rap, rap, rapity rap rap" bit with a few obligatory "coloreds" thrown into the background for street cred. Wow.

The genius of the first record and "Leave Home" cannot be overstated, and the bulk of the documentary focuses on those first incredible years. Still, I'm not prepared to shower the same level of praise on the DVD simply because of its subject -- it's a nice B- effort worth unspooling on a quiet, unplanned Wednesday night.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I tried to force a 21st-century reckoning with this band, one of my late 80s favorites, a couple years back, but I found the purging process difficult. If you can't hold on to your memories, man, your fuckin' drunk goodtime memories, man, well then what do you have, brother? But not reckoning with the sins of the past can certainly be painful later, so when a pal roasted up this twofer for me a couple months ago, I knew it was high time to speak truth to power (or whatever). In other words, the LAUGHING HYENAS are either a comically cartoonish "junkie hate noise" band from the AmRep/Your Flesh school of wank, or they were a streamroller of depresso drug blues with an incredible throat-ripping singer. Two years ago my thoughts were as follows:

"....Tough one here. Going on my pronouncements at the time, this was one of the best live bands I’d ever, ever seen – and I’ve no doubt that was true. They were a goddamn powerhouse, especially on the You Can’t Pray A Lie tour, with a caterwauling, bluesy heavy attack rooted in the Detroit rock-n-roll pantheon and extending into 80s giants like Black Flag & the Flesh Eaters. So why does listening to the records today seem kinda, I don’t know – silly? First, check out the lyrics. They’re godawful. John Brannon’s screaming? Still sounds raw and powerful, but heeey – my BS detector is starting to act up......"

When their first full-length LP "You Can't Pray A Lie" came out in 1989 I was already fully bought in to the band, having played the bejesus out of their debut EP on my college radio show. Their next LP "Life Of Crime" -- not so much. Their shtick had already worn a bit thin on vinyl, and the ratio of great-to-mediocre tracks had slipped so far that "Life of Crime" had maybe 2 semi-hot songs, with the rest being nothing short of completely unremarkable and unrememberable filler. But live -- hell-lo! I only saw them twice, but at the time I called them two of the best live shows I'd ever seen. The first time, I was trying to balance getting to the show on time with my crude machinations in courting a special lady friend whom I wished to become intimate with. As the night was winding down with no Old Testament-style results or relational progress of any kind to speak of, and showtime looming in minutes, I sped across town & bounded in just as the Hyenas launched into the show with a screaming "Here We Go Again" (then their brand new 45). It was cathartic, sweaty, loud, incredibly intense and left me virtually gasping at what I'd seen. Who needs girls after that, am I right? Can't remember much about the second show in San Francisco a year later except for their brutal version of the MC5's "I Want You Right Now", which brought the goddamn house down.

My run-through of the two LPs again on this CD brings up a couple questions: First, who at Touch and Go came up with the backward idea of putting a mediocre, more recent LP before a (far better) earlier LP? "Life of Crime" kicks this off, and by the time the somewhat dreary work of listening to it all the way through has been achieved, the pick-me-up wallop of "You Can't Pray a Lie" (especially "Love's My Only Crime", "7 Come 11" and "Sister") is seriously blunted. Touch & Go really blew it on the DIE KREUZEN CD, actually leading off with the spooky mersh metal of "October File" before the first album, which some folks call "the greatest hardcore record of all time" (and who talk about it way too much). Second, what's with all the screaming? Answer = if you've got holy pipes like Brannon's, you're going to want to show them off, and show them off he does. In NEGATIVE APPROACH, it was a hoarse but powerful yell; in the Hyenas it's a terrified howl from the depths of the charnel house, even when the subject in question is lovin' or huggin'. I guess I'm still a fan of this stuff, though it strikes me as kids' music at times. Like something that college DJs in the 80s might go for, but that adults should take in with a fair degree of skepticism. I sure can't let go of my attachment to the band 15+ years on, and I even dig Brannon's new act EASY ACTION. So there it is. What do the rest of the adults in the house have to say about it?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Made reference to these guys a few posts ago and got an email saying, "who??". Well. MORTY SHANN & THE MORTICIANS were unknown to history until Norton found their unissued 1960 recordings of these two songs and quietly set them loose along with all the other sleeveless 45s they pushed out a few years back. I sort of picked this one out of a catalog on a whim and was just floored when I heard it. Primitive Shit Music? Puh-leeze. This is so raunchy and bug-eyed insane it puts even the TRASHMEN to shame. Morty is a frog-voiced, gravel-throated belter and his band plays off-the-rails, poorly-tuned madman's rock that's completely frantic and pulse-quickening. Before your breath can be caught and your nerves steadied, each 90-second retarded wonder is over in a big unexpected flame-out or quick fade. Fans of BUNKER HILL, THE PINETOPPERS and the fastest of the early lo-fi rockabilly pioneers will be very pleased, but this really ain't rockabilly, nor R&B -- just pure white frat trash. It'd be real nice to know who these guys were and where the hell they came from & if they ever tried to inflict this sound on a paying audience.

Saturday, April 02, 2005
HOT BLOG ALERT....Since I started this site, the main thing that's likely kept "traffic" high is the fact that Agony Shorthand has a crew of semi-regular commenters who are exceptionally informed, interesting and well-versed in what's worthy & not. Why listen to one opinionated music jerkoff when you can read the rants of 20? Scott Soriano's one of the folks who pays fairly regular visits here, and now he's started his own excellent site called CRUD. Go there. And bookmark it. A few others I've found recently that I recommend (among others): STRANGE REACTION, YE WEI BLOG, SPIN AGE BLASTERS, HONEY, WHERE YOU BEEN SO LONG and BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN. Any others we should know about?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Long overdue reissue CD from Wisconsin's TAR BABIES, who, when they really let it rip ("Confusion", "Be Humble" and especially "Native Son") were one of the most explosive and berzerk American hardcore bands of the early 80s. Lying semi-latent during that time, as this packed-with-extras CD makes abundantly clear, was a real downer white funk/noise vibe that was probably closer to "no wave" than anything else. If you can imagine that vibe somehow coexisting with raw, loud, Black Flag-intensity hardcore, well, here it is. Guitarist Bucky Pope calls it a "weird funk-rock hybrid that we coasted on the rest of our career", and I'd throw the emphasis on weird, at least during their 1983-84 incarnation. Anyhow, it's great to see those first two EPs out & about again. Seriously, the sucker punch of their blink-you-missed "fast" songs from "Face The Music" are as crazed and aggro as anything this side of the first DIE KREUZEN LP. Never felt that the Tar Babies got their due for those two records, perhaps because 99% of any self-described punks from that era would have created another half-dozen Germs burns during the aforementioned mid-tempo, weirdo spazz/riff artcore the band were pushing on most tracks.

This CD's packed with extras, and is essentially a full discography of everything they did up to signing with SST and releasing the very worthy "Fried Milk" LP in 1986. And though there's a warning to audiophiles right there on the package, man, the 45rpm EPs themselves sound hotter than this 2005 digital age reproduction does. Hunh. Couldn't Roy Thomas Baker or Jim Steinman have been brought in for some clean-up? Maybe it just wasn't in label Lexicon Devil's budget this time. I'm giving it the "strong buy" recommendation anyway -- you need to hear one of the dozen or two hardcore bands who really did anything cool & original with that very limiting format. If you don't slam your ass off during "Confusion", I have it on good word the label will provide a full refund.