Agony Shorthand

Friday, July 29, 2005

Gotta say, the debut of St. Louis’ basement geniuses the SCREAMIN’ MEE-MEES on CD is well past time, and to say a bit ironic would perhaps be understating the case. The band’s 1975-76 recordings that came out in ’77 as “Live From The Basement” are an all-time benchmark for how tuneless and out of time a “band” can sound while still kicking the proverbial ass of virtually other act surrounding them. That four-song EP has been long held dear to the bosoms of countless fans of low-fidelity home-studio inepto-punk, or, as many called it in subsequent years, “lo-fi” or “DIY” (if you will!). But if that was all there was, then that wouldn’t be all that much, right? Eddie Flowers, in his liner notes to this recent-vintage, complete non-LP discography Gulcher CD, puts it this way:

“….Dig them long enough and you’ll eventually realize they’re much better musicians than a quick listen indicates. They just have no respect for the musical rules that even most punks lived by for way too long. An important factor is that the Mee-Mees had been doing this craziness since 1972, and were in fact older than the typical 1977 punk rocker. They had already digested things like Amon Duul and the Godz long before the Ramones happened”.

Tracks like the insta-classics “Hot Sody” and “Pigs” will always have a spot in that era’s limited pantheon – there’s just no getting around how dead-on these guys were in creating a distinct musical tongue out of their own relatively limited abilities. “Max Factor” is even tastelessly written and sung from the point of view of a harelip. All children and adults must hear this. 1978’s four-song “Home Movies” EP is only slightly less great. “Vacation” sounds like a distant US equivalent to bizarre British DIY crudities like “I Don’t Want To Work For British Airways” by THE SCISSOR FITS, I JOG & THE TRACKSUITS’ “Red Box” or “Please Don’t Make Another Bass Guitar, Mr. Rickenbacker” by DANNY & THE DRESSMAKERS. And that’s saying something. The band went into something of a hibernation through the 80s, emerging in the early 90s with a meatier sound & a slightly more improvisational outlook (at times). That “Clutching Hand Monster Mitt” album from 1992 was a real hairy beast, and of course it disappeared quickly. But the Mee-Mees still played fuzzed-out raw guitar punk in keeping with the times, and a cool 1993 45 called “Pull My Finger” was the result (always dug this one – now it’s on CD). After this point, aside from a great detour playing a cover of the SILVER APPLES’ “Oscillations”, they lost me a bit....I think they took their own wacky/retard ethos to heart a bit too much & put out a dud 45 called “Answer Me! / Arthritis Today” and a so-so LP on Bag of Hammers, yet at that point I reckon the DIY punk angle had been played out by the band anyway, & they were more keen on the sort of improvisational searching & droning displayed on the four 1997 BRUCE COLE solo tracks that close this out. Those somehow straddle this strange Maginot line between well-conceived space-out drone & pointless random bleating. You will hear what you want to hear. Despite living in two different Midwestern states, the pulse of The Screamin’ Mee-Mees beats to its own defined rhythm to this day. If you feel like getting involved with it, and I think you should, then drop everything and start clicking here.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Another record that’s been criminally under-heard and that remains way, way out of print – and it was a posthumous collection to boot. THE GIRLS were a Boston group mucking around the edges of that city’s punk scene around 1976-79, but who had far more in common with the weird noise and avant-futurisms of kindred souls PERE UBU and THE RESIDENTS. They epitomize the free-thinking boundary pushing that a sub-section of the early American punks quickly made their own into after letting punk fuel the internal fire. Where The Girls differed from the aforementioned is the general lack of art-damaged abrasiveness in their music – though there are squiggly oscillations and heaps of guitar and Allen Ravenstein-worthy synth feedback all over their songs, it’s tempered with a real 4/4 rock and roll structure that keeps a solid beat moving throughout. Ubu’s Hearthan Records imprint actually put out The Girls’ first 45, “Jeffrey I Hear You / The Elephant Man”, the only non-Cleveland thing the label ever thought worthy of bothering with. There’s also traces of MODERN LOVERS playfulness in tracks like “Pedestrian Walk”, which bounces like a Gidget beach party number played in the MIT quad after science class. The rockers that have been my favorites since I first heard this record are “Methodist Church” and “Keep It Simple” – fast, short, sharp shocks of spazz guitar and very busy keyboards shorting out the mixing board in short order. Singer David Hild often affected this sort of “demented clown” persona in his vocals and lyrics, which conjures up images of a depressed sad sack pouring his scribblings out of notebooks & onto stages with not a care in the world how it’ll be received. True or not, it’s how great art is often made, very similar in feel to the early HALF JAPANESE in that pleasing who-in-god’s-name-are-these-guys-&-where-did-they-come-from way. You probably won’t mistake the Girls’ “Reunion” LP for great art from a higher strata, but as a lost artifact that’s worthy of serious crate digging – well, I hope you don’t have to for long. Reissue of this, like the Morlocks EP reviewed Tuesday, will likely cause well-deserved buckets of digital ink to be spilled and untold hundred of dollars to be spent.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

In the limited universe of 1980s garage-revival bands who’re any good, THE MORLOCKS are the ones that stand mophead-&-slumped shoulders above the rest, on this single EP’s merits alone. “Emerge” is a total monster, a record that pre-dated the hallowed early 90s let-it-rip garage punk by almost a full decade. It’s the razor’s edge of that overloaded, screaming 60s punk made famous on “Back From The Grave”, updated for 1985 stylings by a gaggle of cretinous San Diegans who absolutely lived 1965 in every way, shape and form. Most of the time bands that dress the part just blow. The Morlocks did not. “Emerge” is easily their high-water mark, and it’s a stone drag that the only other full-length LP they put out was a live record. We hate live records! (Though rumor has it that it was a fake live record – it sounded like dog dribblings nonetheless). I also don't care much for the GRAVEDIGGER 5, the loins from which the Morlocks sprang. But that's me. This guy Leighton, the lead Morlock, with bangs obscuring just about everything save his chin, was quite a mod/punk scene hero among the mod/punks I met around & after this time. I heard lots of Leighton drug and Leighton drinking stories -- in fact, the San Francisco house I moved into in 1989 was said to have been recently vacated by The Morlocks, who did in fact move to SF after this record to do more drugs and toughen their sound, as if that was possible. They died there as well -- figuratively -- and I never found out if Leighton was truly shagging birds in what later became my bedroom.

"Emerge" has some covers of 60s punk staples that stack up extremely well against the originals, and given that the originals -- MURPHY AND THE MOB 's "Born Loser", THE ESQUIRES ' "Judgement Day", "By My Side" by (I forget) -- are some of the most ferocious rock firebreathers ever, that's not half bad. But it's an original howler called "In The Cellar" that made this band's rep in 2 minutes flat -- an overmodulated, fuzz-filled catastrophe that goes way, way beyond "in the red" and into something very deep crimson. It's really ugly, and I mean that as the highest of praise. If you crossed some of the Japanese fuzz/noise bands of relatively recent vintage with, say, THE SONICS, you might get a sense of how boss this is. Hopefully someone will get busy and put this 8-song 12"EP onto a CD, and dig up any other hot Morlocks tracks that never made it out during this era. Hey, how about you?

Monday, July 25, 2005

"We Jam Econo : The Story of The Minutemen" is screening all week in San Francisco as we speak; I was fortunate enough to find a scalper on the sold-out opening night last Friday kind enough to sell me her extra with no markup. Yeah, the legend has grown, no doubt about it, but I remember even back in the early/mid 80s -- those people who were into THE MINUTEMEN were really into The Minutemen. In high school I tried in vain to convince some friends to go to Palo Alto (!) with me to see the SST tour (known as "The Tour") featuring the Minutemen, HUSKER DU, MEAT PUPPETS, SACCHARINE TRUST and -- wait for it -- SWA. Missed it, and later that year when D. Boon died -- and I had just really fallen hard for the band's back catalog -- I kicked myself up & down the dorm room for not being a brave 17-year-old & hoofing it there by myself. It was very small penance to have seen several of the earliest fIREHOSE shows that next year, but because I did, I at least got to experience many of SST's best & worst either opening or headlining, from the DIVINE HORSEMEN to GONE. But jesus, enough about me -- how was the friggin' film??

It's great. The two guys who put it together obviously passionately did so on a shoestring, an irony not lost on them, doubtless, given The Minutemen's admirable overall working man, "econo" ethos. They gathered footage from about 5 different shows spanning the band's career, and feathered it in liberally between dozens & dozens of testimonials from scene celebs of the day. A few things struck me watching folks like Jack Brewer, J. Mascis, Ian Mackaye, Kira Roessler, Dez Cadena, Byron Coley & many many others talk up the band -- first, this band touched a ton of hearts in a way that most bands never will. It may be in small part to the Minutemen's tragic end, but I'm certain it's far more attributable to what an incredible trio of guys they were -- intelligent, funny, down-to-earth, dedicated to spreading the good word about art & music, and about as non-condescending to the audience as any band's ever been. I mean the Minutemen talked about having shows that started at 7pm & in the suburbs or blue-collar outlying towns "so the working man can get to the shows". As a working man, though I doubt they meant me, this would have been fantastic, and would probably have cost the band a significant amount of hipster points. Like they cared. They also took the meathead 1981-82 punk rock scene head-on, and quite literally challenged the jocks with abstract, crazy, bullrushing jazz lines woven into the fabric of of traditional punk. They played softly, or flat-out jammed improvisationally when opening for Black Flag in Huntington Beach or wherever. The name "Beefheart" comes up often in this documentary, and little wonder. These guys didn't expand the punk rock canvas, they exploded it in a way that slid under the radar of virtually everyone but the musos. (They're well represented here, too, in the persons of Joe Baiza, the Urinals/100 Flowers guys, the Slovenly folks etc.). Watt mentions his then-love for WIRE and the POP GROUP, and that makes a whole heck of a lot of sense as well.

Another thing I noticed, just because it's impossible to escape for all of us, is how old everyone is now. Far more time has passed between the Minutemen's untimely end & this documentary's release -- 20 years -- than I thought could truly be possible. The 28-year olds of 1985 are the 48-year-olds of today, with lots of hard drinking and overall heavy lifting having taken their tolls. Say what you will about such a superficial observation, but it was jarring nonetheless, recognizing of course that I myself am well on the same path. The documentary is held together by two intertwined MIKE WATT interviews, who naturally serves as the defacto narrator and key historian. I was gonna get really pissed about the initial overdose of D. Boon/Mike Watt play and the lack of George Hurley recognition when the film sort of turned and devoted about 5 minutes to Hurley's genius drumming. I didn't used to vote him #1 drummer in the Flipside poll every year for nothing! As great as Boon & Watt were, without Hurley's bebop-infused, rimshot pounding and cymbal manipulations, this band wouldn't have been half the champions they ended up being. Still probably my all-time favorite drummer in rock and roll, and a total unlikely drumming lunatic -- a toiling-class surfer & initial drummer-for-hire who sort of stumbled onto the Minutemen (then called The Reactionaries) and learned punk rock from them via near-osmosis.

"We Jam Econo" is an excellent documentary about a very special band. The fact that I feel more so about the band than I have in years means the film did its job quite well. I recommend it with a man-falling-out-of-chair if it happens to hit your town on the film tour now underway. Oh hey -- one more thing. We got to ask the filmmakers a bunch of questions after the screening, and they said that a 2xDVD set is in the works, a set that will contain the film, tons of extra interviews, and four complete Minutemen shows, the ones that were all over this documentary. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, punker!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

by Dinosaur Mahaffey

The late great Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt offers the best ever classification of music: “There’s two kinds of music. There’s the blues and then everything else which is just zip-ah-dee-do-dah.” Townes, although unhelpfully micro-classified as a country accented folksinger, played the blues. John Darnielle, aka The Mountain Goats, is a gross purveyor of zip-ah-dee-do-dah, although far too many fans as well as so-called rock critics mistake his self-indulgent mewlings and his Pop-Goes-the-Weasel cookie cutter lo-fi “music” for the blues, as classified by Van Zandt.

Here’s a typical, recent gush from Dusted Magazine about The Goats’ latest offering, The Sunset Tree: “Darnielle has always written with a greater attention to descriptive detail, narrative perspective, semantic coherence and similar critical concerns than any other underground artist, or any of the folk songwriters of previous eras.” Wow. “Greater” than Guthrie. Joni Mitchell. Dylan. Townes Van Zandt. That’s just off the top of my head.

Well the proof for such a bold, sweeping, profuckingfound claim is in the songs and I have a handy comparison. I’ve just listened to The Sunset Tree (ostensibly a quasi-concept record about Darnielle’s alleged abuse at the hands of his step-father, more about this later) where I was confronted with this “descriptive detail . . .narrative perspective… semantic coherence”:

Now you see it
Now you don’t
Now you say you love me
Pretty soon you won’t

And right now I’m listening to Dylan singing “Tangled Up in Blue”:

She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type.”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century.
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you,
Tangled up in blue.

Now , I—or you—could fake a comparison like this, by cherrypicking the worst of Darnielle and the best of Dylan, but my comparison is as close to random as it could be. Jump into any song on The Sunset Tree (I hope to never listen to it again) and Blood on the Tracks (though I’m actually listening to a boot called Outtracks, I think) and the results would be exactly the same. If folksingers had an army, Dylan would be the Supreme Commander and John Darnielle would be the hapless buck private who, in basic training, shoots himself in his dick with his own rifle.

Darnielle’s hagiographers will counter about how “prolific” the guy is and they’d be right. Over 400 “songs” in 15 years. But there’s a missing middle here: Prolific does not mean good. In Darnielle’s case, it doesn’t even mean something you should have the slightest of passing interest in.

Perhaps a more apt lyrical comparison for Darnielle is Jim Croce who in “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” offers:

“Bad Bad Leroy Brown
The baddest cat in the whole damn town”

While Darnielle counters:

“It took all the coke in town
To bring down Dennis Brown”

That last Mountain Goatish gem is from The Sunset Tree’s “Song for Dennis Brown” which I mention because I see no relation between the reggae singer and Darnielle’s alleged abuse, the supposed focus of the record. I guess if you listen carefully and extrapolate and suffer the endless spew of The Sunset Tree’s self-indulgent, juvenile rhyme & tired cliché—“I will mend my ways/And walk the straight path to the end of my days”, “Put the pedal to the floor/listened to the engine roar”, “I was 17 years young”, “I am young and I am good”, “ . . .rise above my station”, “The full light of the moon/The magpie comes at noon”, “I don’t want to die alone”, “When there was something left to see”, “The tears roll down my face”, “The lion roars…the King of the Jungle”, “ . . .lighter than air . . .”, “There’s gonna come a day when you feel better”, “ . . .fighting trim . . .” only a relatively small sampling of the fetid wordstew which constitutes the record— there are a few hazy, muddy references to the ogre-like stepdad. But my theory is that everyone’s jumping on board the abuse bandwagon because—as is his wont—Darnielle told them that this was a record that catalogs his abuse and if the adoring crits forgot that, well The Goat reminds them in the liner notes. Twice.

Made possible by my stepfather Mike Noonan (1940-2004): may the peace which eluded you in life be yours now.

And this fuckin’ Oprah-like jewel:

Dedicated to any young men and women anywhere who live with people who abuse them, with the following good news: you are going to make it out of there alive

you will live to tell your story

never lose hope

The former is a semi-clever passive-aggressive, somewhat imperious, cheap shot against a dead guy who can’t defend himself (or sue for libel) and serves only to actually chastise and run a public guilt trip on those other survivors of Noonan who, at least in Darnielle’s dull-witted perception, enabled the guy.

The “heartening” message to kids who are suffering that follows is maybe the single stupidest thing ever written about a parent’s physical abuse of a child because if a boy or girl who’s getting batted around doesn’t step up and take action to improve his/her situation, then s/he’s going to die, no matter how many units The Sunset Tree moves.

But okay I’ll buy that the odious Sunset Tree is a Goat-opus, the be-all and end-all artistic insight re. child abuse. Here then, to my mind, is the record’s key passage, the climax of a scene (song) where the villainous Noonan has cornered the young wretch John:

The scene ends badly as you might imagine
In a cavalcade of anger and fear

So, in the new century’s unquestionably finest depiction of the tragedy of child abuse the post modern Charles Dickens, the man who, more than any other folksong writer ever in recorded history, has mastered the concepts of narrative perspective, semantic coherence and descriptive detail has chosen to tell you what happened rather than show you.

If you want a quick object lesson in the show/tell difference, and the failings of the latter artless method, just give me a second while I pick up this nearby book of verse by gutter poet Charles Bukowski (R.I.P.) and open it at random. Ah yes, here we are, showing (via rhythm, image, dare I say semantic coherence . . .)

my father, never a good man
at best, beat my mother
when it rained
as I threw myself
between them,
the legs, the knees, the
until they

“I’ll kill you,” I screamed
at him. “You hit her again
and I’ll kill you.”

. . .

all the households were under
siege but I believe that ours
held more terror than the

By the way, Bukowski didn’t wait around for things to get better. When he turned 16 he sucker punched his old man and the abuse ended.

In lieu of a vivid scene like Bukowski’s (one of thousands rendered by the old shitheel over the years), The Goat meanwhile offers:

Some things you do for money
Some things you do for fun
But the things you do for love
Will come back to you one by one

Okay, so I’m not being entirely fair. Darnielle does endeavor to get deep during The Sunset Tree. Here’s a couple of trenchant examples:

We scaled the hidden hills beneath the surface

We raised a tower to broadcast our dark dreams

Our mother has been absent ever since we founded Rome
But there’s gonna be a party when the wolf comes home

In the long tresses of your hair I am a babbling brook

Ahem. Hmm. Wait! Now I think I know what this clueless reviewer was striving for when she drooled, “There has always been something about John Darnielle’s lyrics; even when you’re not exactly sure what he’s talking about . . .”

And now briefly to The Sunset Tree’s “music.” That hapless Dusted guy informs us that it’s “good” which it is if your idea of “good” is finding yourself on the quad of any major land grant midwestern university where the hackysack people are taking a break from the “ring” and jamming out on some skewed Dave Matthews arrangements. Apparently there are famous Chicago underground session men playing on the record, one sawing on a cello, another farting into a pan flute and so on? Maybe they can start their own band. I even have a name for it. Toto Junior.

My title here comes from Lester Bangs’ infamous 1971 tirade, “James Taylor Marked for Death” where he pitted the twee singer-songwriter (“My spleen is reserved for . . .James Taylor, all the glory boys of I-Rock. I call it I-Rock even though I just made up the name, because most of it is so relentlessly, involutedly egocentric that you finally actually stop hating the punk and just want to take the poor bastard out and get him a drink, and then kick his ass, preferably off a high cliff into the nearest ocean) against the magnificence of lout-punks The Troggs (“If you take ‘Wild Thing’ to heart and somehow attain its at least Kilimanjaroan level of godawful beauty, you will have so much sheer sheen-gleam of pure fuckin KLASS that your brain will explode . . .”). Guess what? Compared to Darnielle, James Taylor is The Troggs.

Dead Lester—and you—should know that I-Rock has never gone away and instead has metastasized into something—hey I can make up words too—I’ll call The Cult of Underground Nullity. Darnielle and his slackjawed acolytes and followers are but one of many gaggles that exemplify this disturbing trend. Bangs went on in his piece to claim that he wanted to stab Taylor w/ a broken Ripple ( . . .”twisting it into James Taylor’s guts”. . .) bottle. Regarding Mr. John Darnielle and his adoring quasi-masses, I’m not that far along. Yet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

BOBBIE GENTRY was a big-haired hottie with one giant 1967 hit ("Ode To Billie Joe"), as we all know, but with purchase of this 2004 collection I've learned quite a bit more about this fair lass. First, she was every bit as lyrically bent & inventive as LEE HAZELWOOD, and she shared his passion for the patently absurd & articulated it almost as well ("Bugs" and "Casket Vignette" in particular). If Lee wasn't relishing the thought of chasing this kindred soul around the breakfast table at least a dozen times in the late 60s I'd be mighty surprised. Gentry was a little bit country, a little bit R&B, a little bit schmaltz, not so much rock and roll (though she namechecks The Stones on one number). She wrote just about all her own songs, and had a smoky, at times raspy singing voice borne deep in the Mississippi Delta, a voice she could maneuver into sweet Nancy Sinatra-like playfulness ("The Girl From Cincinnati") or husky Tina Turner-like belting (the incredible R&B workout "Mississippi Delta", a.k.a. the song that brought me here). The first half of this collection is gold standard 60s wackjob country pop, the kind Hazelwood invented. It's outstanding and well worth your time.

By the time Ms. Gentry started plying her skills in the casinos of Vegas and Reno in the early/mid 70s, she turned toward a lush, almost baroque sort of balladry that's halfway between English folksinging and Dionne Warwick drek, with a bit of the Chickasaw sweetness still intact. By any other name, it's "adult contemporary" music when you come down to it, and not for the easily bored. Of course, as I'm often reminded by astute readers when I review a career-spanning retrospective, the uncovered gaps are often far more interesting than the easy pickings that make up a beginner's comp. Fair enough. I don't know enough about her work to dig deeper, and right now I think I'll hold up right about here. That said, "Chickasaw Country Child"'s definitely strong enough to seek out regardless.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A footnote in my regrettably overflowing stacks of CDs, but to hear original recipe late 70s Boston punks talk about LA PESTE, their hard-pop punk action was something to shout about. You can hear it in parts on this 1996 posthumous collection, which is mostly live from a 1979 show at The Rat. The opening live track "Don't Wanna Die In My Sleep Tonight" is a jacked-up power pop roar, sort of trending toward CARS-style limp new wave in the guitar chords but otherwise a wallop (and just a great song all around). The 15-song set is mostly average-to-very good, the sound of your favorite bar band amped up to ear-ripping levels & making quick stabs at the hot new punk rock sound. Much is mid-tempo, like their excellent, desperate 45 "Better Off Dead". I wish the other studio tracks had the muscle of that one, but they're all fairly weak, even the Ric Ocasek-produced "Don't Wanna Die..." (imagine that!). The band definitely had a "tough look", though, I'll give 'em that! I keep this around for the 45 and a few of those live rippers; otherwise it's one for the Beantown nostalgics.

PS - Can anyone tell me why so many in Boston have seen fit to hype up a radio station's (WBCN) "Rock and Roll Rumble" battle-of-the-bands competition for years? Is it really a citywide badge of honor to be a finalist in such a thing? Groups from MISSION OF BURMA to GANG GREEN have been in "the rumble" & hey, when you win. You're the best band in Boston all of a sudden. Wow! Why does this parochial nonsense continue to captivate that town?

Monday, July 18, 2005

I'd always heard that FREESTONE were LA hippies who were actually mocking the then-early (1978) punk sound on their incredible retard classic "Bummer Bitch". With some intrepid detective work, I've found this explanation from Freestone member Billy DeMoya, who confirms that it was indeed meant to be "taking the piss", and yet for so many of us this is a high water mark for berzerk, revved-up dumb rock. A total happy accident. It not only kicked off the second "Killed By Death" LP upon that comp's release in 1989 (and made me a fan for life upon the first opening bashed chords & tinkly piano), but it's now one of the most collectable punk 45s around. It literally defines KBD, along with a few other heavy hitters like the NERVOUS EATERS' classy "Just Head" and THE EAT's "Communist Radio". Many a night I've lain awake wondering about that A-side "Church". What wonders or horrors would await me when I finally heard it? Well now that I have, it's apparent this San Francisco-based group really had their hearts set on prog -- make that really badly-played, pseudo-"Bats in the Belfry" Tull prog, albeit with some quite blasphemous lyrics (which are always a treat). It's awful. In reading DeMoya's tales of free shows in Golden Gate Park, I have to wonder if they were bold enough to bust out "Bummer Bitch" at top volume and instantly ruin the goodtime freak vibe. I'm sure with various tellings the tales get taller by the year. On the evidence here, Freestone just happened to get lucky once, for two minutes flat, and created a monolith of foul, tasteless punk rock lunacy. Hear hear.

Friday, July 15, 2005

(Note - revisiting this post in early 2016, I'll say it's one of my more favorite posts from over a decade ago,'s pretty off-base. Took a while, but the whole wild world of L. Voag and The Homosexuals really grew on me and took over my brain. Read this as a first reaction to the box set and an attempt to get a rise out of some people, and not as gospel, OK....?)

No, not the sexual preference, but the overhyped, overloaded, overrated genre-hopping early 80s UK DIY rock band THE HOMOSEXUALS. Are you with me here? I’ve struggled two years to come to this conclusion – that for all the limited edition 45s, all the bedroom-closet recordings unleashed under a plethora of pseudonyms, and for all the hype that surrounded last year’s “Astral Glamour” triple CD box, The Homosexuals were really a C-level, not-so-bad-to-listen-to-once-a-decade sort of band. Not the coming of the four horsemen. Not the rebirth of the messiah. Check out some of the needless frothing that accompanied that thing’s release:


"Astral Glamour might be the collection by which the best punk band that no one heard finally get their due… This is the sound of history revising itself toward perfection."

Not sure what that means, and while it’s true that virtually no one heard them at the time, that’s hardly a yardstick for accomplishment. After the big unearthing, however, we’re left with a mediocre set of tracks of which maybe 2 are fantastic ("Flying" and "Total Drop"), 6 are B+-level, another 5 are at about the tolerable level of early ADAM AND THE ANTS, and the rest are either worthless, boring or unlistenable. 13 tracks out of 81 -- not good, a .161 clip that's good for a one-way pass back to AAA if you know what I'm saying.

WFMU’s New Bin:

“Simply put, one of the most flawlessly great British punk/post-punk bands”

Flawless? Come on. All of Disc 2 alone is wholly flawed outside of the mediocre mewling pop track "Prestel"– a sprawling, chaotic mess of experiments and tinkering while even the tape machine snored. There's good "look what we did while the tape ran" 80s DIY, usually British, and this isn't it. Disc 2 makes the SWELL MAPS’ “Whatever Happens Next” flailing sound-search come off as balls-out as THE HUMPERS or something. Why not call a duck and duck and admit that you can't really listen to this shit? Or that you smoke illegal marijuana cigarettes without informing the police??

Maximum Rock and Roll:

"A one sitting listen is mind bending....Certainly the best reissue of the year, if not the last few".

With all deserved due respect to author Henry Yu, a one-sitting listen to nearly 220 minutes worth of The Homosexuals would certainly be mind-bending, in a “Jesus Christ when the fuck can I get something to eat, hit the loo, smoke a fag, sit me arse down on the bog, play some Nautical Almanac – anything to make this stop??” way. Sure, I'm very impressed with the packaging and the general completeness of this collection of micro-obscurities -- it's Hyped2Death's most Revenant-like release to date -- but digesting this over even three sittings, a disc at a time, is a triumph of the will that no way am I man enough for.

I think it's a case for many of itching to find the perfect lost band to wrap some cheerleading & discography-digging skills around. Because it's fun. I'm one of you, folks -- I've been there, but you must truly be careful and expose chaff where it exists. I gave "Astral Glamour" my best shot -- paid for this thing earlier this year after being made a CD-R of much of this stuff two years ago. Bought the hype, despite finding The Homosexuals a third-tier band back then, a level that sinks each time I listen to this set, and I am now renouncing the hype. Speak truth to power -- that's what we said back in the fuckin' 'Nam days, man! Anyone with me here? The Homosexuals = Overrated!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

I was weaned on a college radio station called KFJC in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1980s, a station that had one of the coolest rotations imaginable for the time. Actually I doubt they had a rotation, as I myself was a DJ there later in the 80s & we played whatever we wanted. But the 1980-83 crop of regulars included the GUN CLUB, THE FALL, DOLLY MIXTURE, ANIMALS & MEN, CRAMPS, REVILLOS, GANG OF FOUR, 100 FLOWERS, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, AU PAIRS, BLACK FLAG, and dozens more I’m forgetting. Not sure if they did “charts” at the time, but I can remember two tracks that I heard so many time they’d have to be near the top – “Cowboys In Africa” and “Snakes Crawl” by New York’s BUSH TETRAS. The Tetras’ funky, limber take on late 70s no wave was pretty radio-friendly for a cross-section of hipsters, since you could probably dance to it in a club (as many in the “Downtown ‘81” scene did) while still classify it to a burgeoning small-press American 45 DIY scene. Their compatriots across the sea were Britain’s Au Pairs and DELTA 5 – three bands with hollow, matter-of-fact female singers either speaking or bellowing over a disjointed, bass-heavy slow rush. All had their weak tracks, but the Bush Tetras’ collection “Boom In The Night” still holds up well. It contains all of their “Too Many Creeps” and “Rituals” EPs, their 3rd 45 + numerous strident funk numbers laying around from the era. Some have said something about an African influence, but outside of a few horns and tribal percussion, I’d have to call that a “critical reach”. I really dig Cynthia Sley’s disaffected vocals and Pat Place’s choppy noise guitar, and the two tracks from the KFJC days + “Too Many Creeps” are probably the best (“Snakes Crawl” is a little cloying, though). This is a band that I pictured as the living embodiment of “night club” when I was too young to get into one.

Monday, July 11, 2005

In the early-mid 1990s a slew of incredible reissue comps came out detailing the wealth and bounty of American 1960s soul music: "Downtown Soulville", "All Night Soul Stomp", "Pow City", "Buttshakers", "Shakin' Fit" and so on. I thought it was truly a bottomless pit of riches at one point and couldn't believe how many great 45s came out during that period, but then the following 5-6 years there'd been very little (outside of a few decent funk comps) to help me keep the faith. Figured the jig was up and everything truly classic had been comped & sold. That was until I started listening to the WFMU "Downtown Soulville" show online fom time to time -- this guy has just cratefuls of honking 45s from the deep South, Detroit etc., and I knew that as soon as someone secured the rights (or didn't) to a lot of the rare indie soul 45s "Mr. Fine Wine" was spinning, there'd be more knockout compilations on the way.

Here's #1. "THE SOCKER" is as quaking as any of those mentioned above, and weighing in at 28 boss cuts, there's over an hour+ of ass-rattling entertainment to be had. I wasn't sold one bit after the first two medicore cuts, but starting at track #3, a whomper called "The Soul Stroke" from KING EARNEST, "The Socker" is as hot as it comes. Listening to these things I can only semi-wistfully picture myself frantically flipping through boxes of unmarked, no-sleeve 45s in some musty record store to secure these gems -- hard sometimes to balance the thrill of the hunt with the ease & relaxation that comes from letting someone else bring it all to you. No, maybe it really isn't that hard. Top picks are HARVEY CLARK's massive "Do Your Own Thing" and a way over-the-top strutter called "A Lady's Man" by THE VOLCANOS. I was surprised to see CASH McCALL's awesome "I'm In Danger" on here -- my musician uncle actually toured with & played piano for that guy around the Pacific NW in the 80s. Bold stuff through and through, and since the CD "only" lops off a couple of the tracks from the two previous LPs that make it up, I'm recommending going digital this time to keep the joint greased with no flipping required.

Friday, July 08, 2005
A LIST OF PAST RANTS......I'm too chicken to make many changes with the "HTML" for this website, which a friend helped me set up 2 and 1/2 years ago, so that's why I don't have a regular links page or all sorts of crap running up and down the Agony Shorthand page. Sparseness worked for Google, right? But what I do know how to do is create links to things you and I have discussed together in the past, so here's another batch of postings from February 2003-today. Make sure to read the comments, since they're usually more interesting & better informed:

X (Australia)

GO THERE, NOW.......Two must-click links to share today: First, there's a new clip of THE BAGS performing the all-time masterwork "Survive" live in Portland 1979 over on Alice Bag's website. Some outstanding pre-slamming from the crowd & a terrific sped-up performance of an already lightning-fast song. Also, Scott S. who runs CRUD CRUD mp3 blogsite has a weekly one-hour radio show on KDVS in Davis that, with a little detective work, you can actually find and download as a full mp3. I snagged my first one today & it's just a great show, full of rare 45s and soul, instrumental and weirdo vinyl you're never gonna hear elsewhere. Did you know that the B-side to BOBBIE GENTRY's "Ode To Billy Joe" 45 is called "Mississippi Delta", and it's a total smoker? Now you do, but to hear it you've got to go here. Have at it!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

One of the most straight-up fun releases of the year from this 2-person garage/slop/soul act called THE KING KHAN AND BBQ SHOW, who’ve written 12 killer numbers to create a unified whole. Recorded in Louisiana, produced in Germany, performed by Canadians. How about that? They’ve taken on some wacky nom de plumes (“BBQ”) in the process of serving up some real tasty vittles, and inked a deal with Goner to put out the CD version of what was earlier a European LP. This thing fits in so well with the Goner aesthetic you’d have thunk that Eric himself played in the band – it’s rollicking, R&B-driven gutbucket rock and roll, perfect for a Saturday night beer stomp where only 40oz. specials are served. One of the tracks, “Waddlin’ Around”, is so good they wrote it twice, and called it “Shake Real Low” the second time (exaggerating to make a point here, but the songs are nearly identical doo-wop-ish rump-movers). Apparently these guys respectively held court in bands “The Spaceshits” and “Los Sexareenos”, two outfits I just ignored for their names alone the whole time they were around. Then BAM, out of left field comes this wild, outstanding, highly recommended platter. Try listening to this CD for a week and then expunging lead tracks “Waddlin’ Around” and “Fish Fight” from yer head. I sure can’t.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

This was played for me a few months ago as a great example of a drunken and/or strung-out STONES performance recorded as the height of Keith Richards’ drug abuse. Indeed, the photo of him napped out on the front and the wild “magic fingers” guitar riff opening on “Brown Sugar” had me thinking that this would be one of those bootlegs you get for a good laff only, like “Elvis’ Greatest Shits” or whatever that one was that only featured Elvis post-1968 spoken vignettes, mumbling to the crowd under the influence of massive loads of barbituates. But “Will Keith Wake Up In Time For His Afternoon Show In Perth Australia 24/2/1973” is awesome, one of the best Stones live records I’ve ever heard. It doesn’t hurt that it was recorded when the band had just finished their run of recording 3-4 of the greatest rock records of all time (“Sticky Fingers” notwithstanding), so naturally the material played is superlative: “Rocks Off”, “Tumblin’ Dice”, “Happy”, “Gimme Shelter” etc. The 8-minute “Midnight Rambler” is outstanding as well. Jagger might actually be the one who’s loaded this time; everything he says and every word he sings seems driven by that funny substance that makes a 33rpm individual perform at 45rpm. His vocals are hyper and loose, and it’s all the better for this very hyper, loose performance. Keith and Mick Taylor’s guitars are cranked way up to the front of the mix, yet not at the expense of the rest of the Stones. Nicky Hopkins also gets a quick “Happy Birthday” played for him at the end. Better than “Get Your Ya-Yas Out”. I wonder if they’ll be this good when I’m set to see them in November? Probably, hunh?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005
ED BELL : “MAMLISH BLUES 1927-1930” CD.....

After hearing ED BELL’s soulful 78rpm pre-war blues for the first time on “Times Ain’t Like They Used To Be, Vol. 7”, I posted an entreaty to Agony Shorthand readers for more info on this stellar enigma, and was quickly directed to this 100% complete collection of the man’s entire works. Bell also recorded under the names “Barefoot Bill” and “Sluefoot Joe” – at least blues scholars think so, but the liner notes to this admit that at least half the collection has the potential to not be Ed Bell. Well, I think the guy who created the excellent “Mamlish Blues” and “Hambone Blues” in 1927 is probably the same fella who recorded in 1928-30 under those two other names. The vocals are similar, the style is that deep-worn but sometimes bouncy BLIND WILLIE McTELL-ish blues, but the quality just isn’t up to the same standard as his first couple of 78s. It’s not just that the recording quality is awful – though it is. In fact, you know how a lot of these pre-war releases carry stern warnings about the quality of the transfers, e.g. “We have made every effort to preserve sound quality but these records are so fucking old, blah blah blah.....”? This CD doesn’t carry such a warning, but “House Top Blues” and “Rocky Road Moan” sound like a stylus dragging across a pile of gravel while some blues guy plays down the road about a mile away. Kinda jarring, to say the least. By 1929-30 Bell was a third- or fourth-stringer by anyone’s measure, but his earliest stuff is top shelf. An added bonus is the one and only 78 from his co-conspirator PILLIE BOLLING, tacked onto the end of this Document CD. “Brown Skin Woman” and “Shake It Like a Dog” are two you’ll definitely want to add to your collection of first-string, lowdown, crackling deep country blues.