Agony Shorthand

Monday, October 31, 2005

Friday, October 28, 2005

I attempted some ominous and self-preserving foreshadowing when I reviewed the FIERY FURNACES' singles collection a couple of months ago, as an ill wind was blowing in from Brooklyn that promised some bitter gruel in the form of what all parties are now bitterly calling "the grandma album". Yes, I too was frightened by the concept and knuckleheaded audacity of the Freidbergers' grandmother singing lead on the band's new album, but the results are far worse than I expected -- and it's not even Grandma's fault. Poor Grandma, wanting to support her progeny and their chosen career path in alternative music, forced to give voice to all her old-time stories of relationships & family quarrels & her mundane travels throughout Chicago, all so the kids can giggle and titter about their bold creative masterstroke. You might ultimately get used to the old woman’s voice – which is definitely not a “singing” voice – but you’ll never, ever forgive the band for foisting it on you.

Meanwhile, the Fiery Furnaces, once a rock band, have quickly devolved into pure tin pan alley schtick, full of waltzing pianos, burbling techno nonsense and straight-up 42nd-and-Broadway blather right out of “The Fantasticks” or “Annie Get Your Gun”. You might have previously hated how their songs often stopped on a dime and became something completely different, a tactic they employed on the excellent “Blueberry Boat” to strong effect. Here it’s just going-through-the-motions idiocy, a method delivered on every track just because that’s the way they do things now, not because it sounds good or results in a killer song. Eleanor Freidberger, she of the deep and playful voice I happily compared to PATTI SMITH not 18 months ago, now annoys every time she speak-sings her lines on this one. Maybe it’s because the band insists on throwing out tons of vague arcana about their former hometown of Chicago in every other breath, which is something that’s ill-making even when a San Francisco band does the same about the neighborhoods I love. Or maybe it’s because Eleanor decided that instead of being a rock and roll singer, the one who blew me away on their debut “Gallowsbird’s Bark”, she’d rather be some nonsense-spouting weirdo gadfly instead. Or one who makes Grandma do the same.

Look, I hate to summarily eviscerate a band that I’ve been holding up as a shining example for others to follow, but “Rehearsing My Choir” is an abomination. Worse, I’m fairly certain that the band knows this. My guess is that the Freidbergers wanted to cleverly make the recorded equivalent of a "Midnight Movie", something that would garner a cult-ish following from dare-to-be-different alternajerks -- but uh oh, they made a steaming pile of crap instead! Unless they come back shortly with a record nearly the equal of their first two, which is unlikely, I think that this month of bad reviews and unsold CDs will be the last month in which the Fiery Furnaces receive any significant attention.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Rather than crap out into formless noise-clogged borecore irrelevance as I was afraid they would, LIGHTNING BOLT have instead tightened up their attack and, with few exceptions, committed themselves to some pretty wild speedcore that sounds little like anyone before them. I can only envision that there will be noisehounds that will call this 4th album a “sell out” record, and while the pummeling's a little more recognizable in form & function from the worlds of blitzkrieg metal and fuzz-blurred Italian slam rock, it's still a power jolt to all but the easily bored. The only quarter I'll broker with any complainers is that if this ends up as a soundtrack for some Extreme Sports DVDs or Games, I won't be surprised. In fact all the "Woooo", "weeeee", "hooooo" sounds throughout the disc sound like me trying to pop a raging 360 ollie off the half pipe, when I can barely stand up on a skateboard. Terrifying stuff.

I like this one better than their previous, "Wonderful Rainbow", because it's generally more frenetic and consistent in its pulsating, overmodulated overdrive from song to song without a lot of wankery to please the pundits. I still can't believe they can make a bass and drumkit sound like Motorhead, Black Flag and Teenage Jesus & The Jerks rolled into one fat-assed sherman. Come on people, are they putting us on here? The opener, "2 Morro-Morro Land", and track #4, "Riff Raff", are wild BMX rides to hell, fast and angry and full of terror but still listenable enough to get the pit hopping. Even when the pace throttles down for a bit it's still as heavy as thick aural syrup. Word has it there's no touring to support this one in the short-term, so I guess I'll just have to wait to see their "floor show" sometime in 2006 or later. In the meantime, their hottest blast since 2001's meisterwork "Ride The Skies".

Wednesday, October 26, 2005
“TERMINAL BOREDOM FIELD GUIDE TO SF ARTPUNK 1977-82”.....I was kicking around an idea recently to put out a one-off AGONY SHORTHAND print magazine, featuring a bunch of cut-n-paste from this site + a few new interviews and articles. The linchpin was going to be a comprehensive investigation into the San Francisco Bay Area’s deep but ignored scene of bizarre art-damaged DIY synth/noise/punk acts from the late 70s/early 80s. I recently was hipped via CRUD CRUD blog to MICON; have been reinvestigating CHROME of late; got interested in weird records by POPE POL POT and the GERMAN SHEPARDS, and thus thought it might be the time to tie it all together into a real killer deep dive into the scene. Then I read this new article in the latest TERMINAL BOREDOM, in which the dive has already been executed with precision. Congratulations to “Sgt. Slaughter” (I know who you are!) for an excellent piece – check it out here.


I put out a print fanzine in the 1990s called SUPERDOPE, primarily between 1991-94, then took a 4-year break before pumping out a small, final issue in 1998. If you're interested, I've got multiple copies left of two of the issues that you can purchase via Paypal, using the address Let me know if this interests you:

SUPERDOPE #5 -- On your left above, a full-sized issue from 1992; full interviews with FLY ASHTRAY, THOMAS JEFFERSON SLAVE APARTMENTS and THE NIGHTKINGS, as well as a ton of reviews written by myself, Tom Lax, Doug Pearson and Grady Runyan. You can get this one for $4, incl. shipping.

SUPERDOPE #8 -- This was the mini-sized swan song issue from 1998; aside from a few reviews of new stuff, the issue is one long article called "FORTY-FIVE 45s THAT MOVED HEAVEN AND EARTH". It was my attempt to dissect my favorite singles by the likes of PERE UBU, the ELECTRIC EELS, the BAGS, the CRAMPS, CRIME, the MC5, etc. You can get this for $3, incl. shipping.

How much for both? How about Six Dollars, incl. shipping??!? Again, that Paypal address is

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

As our president is alleged to have said, "Fool me once shame on...shame on…um…a fooled man can't get fooled again." I, however, have been the fooled man twice now, first when I purchased the mediocre 2002 Soul Jazz post-punk disco-dance compilation “In The Beginning There Was Rhythm” and then again with this one, “GRLZ”, which is an even more bland set of female-led dancefloor 1979-81 funk/pop tunes. I’ve got no quarrel with dance music per se, given that music is employed the world over to help the common man and woman shake their collective rump. In Thatcher-era Britain, many a pasty white rump was engaged by punk-influenced bands who morphed into self-styled “mutant funk” bands when the booty call came from the clubs. Some of them were even pretty good, such as the DELTA 5, PIGBAG (who doesn’t love “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag”, right?), MAXIMUM JOY, early SIMPLE MINDS (“Cacophony”! “The American”!) and the newly-funky GANG OF FOUR circa 1981. But with the likes of BOW WOW WOW and some mershy atrocities like JAJAJA and RIP, RIG & PANIC (name taken from a great ROLAND KIRK LP) clogging up the proceedings – and with the CD only going 12 short tracks in any event – “GRLZ” is a wide miss by just about anyone’s standards. Their label, Crippled Dick Hot Wax, had a couple of winning Italian porn soundtrack comps a few years back, but their first entry into quote-unquote post-punk will neither leave you hungry for more nor satiated in any way, unless you’ve never heard Delta 5 or Maximum Joy and want to ingest two of their best tracks & ignore the rest.

Monday, October 24, 2005
GALACTIC ZOO DOSSIER #6 fanzine + 2xCD......

Now this is a fanzine, one put out by Steve Krakow a.k.a. "Plastic Crimewave" of PLASTIC CRIMEWAVE SOUND, a man who has apparently devoted his life to all things even tangentially psychedelic. This is the first one of these I've bought, but I reckon I'll line up from here on in appreciation of the sweat equity Krakow puts into this compendium. He not only writes most of it -- by hand, no less (i.e. no typewriters or Word Documents) -- but illustrates it too, including renderings of STACKWADDY, KEITH ROWE, JOHN RENBOURNE, EDGAR BROUGHTON BAND and others from a scene I barely recognize. "The freak scene", I think I've heard it called. He's so into it that he includes a bunch of clipped Marvel & DC comics from the 60s/70s in which one or more character was vaguely drawn as either "psychedelic", a rocker or a hippie, with some ultra-enthusiastic commentary scribbled in the margins ("This is great!", "Check out this cat!" etc.). It's a really fun read, covering the axis of heavy guitar, damaged folk and acid-blues of yesteryear & today, full of warmth & worship for the giants of the form.

Krakow was also kind enough to include a double CD of fellow travelers past and present, with pretty much everything on here being unavailable elsewhere. Unlike most freebie CDs or 45s that fall out of 'zines and into my trash can, this one's got some hot, frothing stuff. One disc is pre-21st Century psych/acid/noise/folk/etc., with the winners (for me) being a 1971 DENNY GERRARD pop number called "Hole In My Shadow"; a couple heavy or abrasive 1990 Kansas bands called SKOG and TOOL; and an "Unknown Acetate" that's exceptional hard R&B-meets-demented all-thumbs rock. The other disc is virtually all recent stuff, with excellent hum like the lilting lo-fidelity tweaker "Leader Soldier" from Josephine Foster and CHILDREN'S HOUR and a wild folk-ish ride from a Nashville act I've never heard of called THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS. Imagine The Shaggs jamming with the HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS or something -- what a great song! Anyone know how I can track down their stuff? Other interesting obscurities appear from the SAWDUST CAESARS and (SOUNDS OF) KALEIDOSCOPE. Whew. I think the choice is clear -- Galactic Zoo Dossier needs to be added to your reading & listening pile for the holiday season, and with Drag City keeping this stuff in print, there's no better time to order than right about now.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Jazz and blues spring off of the same root, but whereas a major branch of jazz music went "free" some 45-odd years ago and never looked back, I don't think I've ever heard music that could quantifiably be categorized as "free blues". Until now. LITTLE HOWLIN' WOLF is James Pobiega, a white Polish male from Chicago who is said to have released 32 seven-inch singles and a couple LPs over a span from the late-70s to mid-80s. This is the second of a planned 3 volumes of CD-Rs put out by the fellas in extreme non-music act NAUTICAL ALMANAC, who apparently took a shine to this stuff and took on a personal crusade to popularize it. It's some wacked, outsider stuff. Imagine a real soulful and deep blues that plays in the background of instruments & patterns have never before associated with the blues, uh, "idiom", like weird percussive time signatures, jew's harp, free jazz honking & squirting, and disembodied vocals. Like remember watching "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" for the first time and getting all bent out of shape with the way Altman miked the background conversations above those of the lead characters? That's sort of the effect here -- Pobiega is often leading the show way off in the back, while a host of other players are doing some bizarro, out-of-time jamming right in front of him. First comparison I thought of was ABNER JAY, but Abner Jay is far closer to Robert Cray and "Keb'Mo" in spirit than he is to Pobiega. I can't admit to having the stomach for this raw free blues anytime, anywhere, but it's definitely something to get on the radar for a deeper exploration of stoned, blank-palette sound.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A more textbook band to inherit the Datapanik / Anyway / Siltbreeze / MIKE REP-affiliated mantle in 2005, more than a decade after that make-believe scene earned its stripes, could not exist unless we made them up -- and if we did, they still they wouldn’t be as good as TIMES NEW VIKING. Right before their very fine CD “Dig Yourself” came out this year, there was this Love/War themed 45 on “Columbus Discount Records”. Like the CD, it was lovingly engaged with by Rep himself, so there’s a lot of dense aural glop to deal with, adding beauty rather than obscuring it. Times New Viking sound like they just sort of magically appeared on the continuum, armed with San Francisco ’68 analog keyboards, jarring, discordant “harmonies” (if you can call ‘em that), and a spasmodic smack-it-around approach to playing the guitar. Their songs on this one sort of yelp and yip and stay real simple in a fractured & unwhole manner, take a few melancholy turns around the bend, and then flame out satisfyingly. Yes, there are still unassuming yet exceptional 45s being made like this in 2005, and you might want to consider doing the little extra work it’ll take to seek this one in particular out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Having declared MODEY LEMON one of the hottest bands on the planet in multiple posts on this site, I was hoping that their third album would stand proudly in tandem with my assertions & give me the ammo I needed when challenged. Just last month I saw them live for the first time and was suitably impressed, even with the new batch of raw power smokers they rolled out for the occasion. “The Curious City” meets me about halfway, I reckon – it’s a fine record by just about anyone’s standards, but immediately takes its rank as the third-best of the band’s 3 albums. For the uninitiated, Modey Lemon are now working a sub-terrain of dissonant rock halfway between BAD COMPANY (or BAD CO. as we call them around here) and CHROME. That means boss 70s power riffs that split into weirdo shards of synth hiss and brain-erasing guitar when the band’s at peak form. They are a l-o-u-d band, even on record. This one cleans up some of the more overt distortion and crackle heard on their last record “Thunder + Lightning” (for my money, their best by a mile), which helps the listener laser in better on the songs themselves. Is that a good thing? You be the judge.

If you have an aversion to songs about hobbits-n-hares, kings and magic castles, well, you might find yourself a little rankled with this one – I know I was. That Renaissance Pleasure Faire BS is about as lame as it comes. At the same time, the songs that deal with said subject matter are few in number, and it’s all so opaque and fuzzed-out that it’s not worth getting too chuffed about. And the smokers that had me doing the dance live are still white hot on “vinyl”, uh, disc – “Mr. Mercedes” and “Sleepwalkers” in particular. But a 16+-minute album-closer (“Trapped Rabbits”) is 9 times out of 10 a bad idea, and this one’s just boring and plodding and could have instead been broken into four distinct wallopers instead of one time-to-eject-the-CDer. Dave Martin, am I right on this one? But let’s be clear on something – for all my bellyaching, MODEY LEMON have still got it in spades. The bass and synth are run through all sorts of effects so as to maximize the roar, and as mentioned in a previous post, the bashing drummer is Big Bonzo incarnate. Modey Lemon’s multiple layers of thud can be truly spine-rattling when they want it to be, and taken in sum, “The Curious City” is a real beast, just one with a dumb wizard’s hat and a few straight, gleaming teeth.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Far too airy and gentle to get even a delicate kitten claw into my noggin, VASHTI BUNYAN’s second album 35 years after her first one is just too precious for words. Granted, it’s hard for me to lay into a 55-year-old woman who’s decided to make music again after so many years fighting the good fight on the domestic front. And let it additionally be said that a year ago I hadn’t even yet heard “Just Another Diamond Day”, her 1970 debut, nor did I have a chance yet to proclaim it the album that officially obliterated the snobby defense perimeter I’d built around British folk music of the late 60s/early 70s. But “Lookaftering” is missing a lot of that record’s buoyancy and bounce – every song is almost like a weepy classical chamber music piece, lilting and lovely for sure, but to a fault. There’s certainly none of the winking spirit that made “Just Another Diamond Day” a fun record in its way -- no “Jog Along Bess”, no “Timothy Grub”, not even a “Lily Pond” in the bunch. Vashti’s voice is gorgeous in the way that some non-classically trained singers can still really knock you flat, but when paired with sub-standard musical backing or just pure nothingness, its effect is kinda dulled if you know what I mean. For the young folk-devouring generation of 2003-05, the hallowed return of Vashti Bunyan from the Hebrides will be a blessed event in any case, but those who want a lasting record for the ages will definitely not find it here.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The 1979 sessions from this exurban British lark of a band are among my favorite ramshackle DIY recordings anywhere, ever. When I heard ANIMALS & MEN's "Don't Misbehave In The New Age" on college radio around 1981, it cemented in my head as genius, and it took me nearly 20 years to find out the name of the band that performed it. The Hyped2Death label has taken Animals & Men on as one of their pet reputation-restoration projects, and we're all the better for it -- if only for the terrific set of early demos that start this thing off. Those first nine tracks are more raw and throbbing than any nine tracks from female-fronted postpunk giants to whom they’ve been compared – AU PAIRS, KLEENEX, DELTA 5, etc. (Well, let’s hold off on Delta 5 for now – they probably had nine tracks the equal of these). A sort of slipshod accidental greatness surround the band, one that’s ever more acute after reading the humble liner notes written by the band 25 years later. Apparently they constantly vacillated between shooting for indie stardom and the comforts of Somerset, UK home & hearth, and even with the half-helpful intervention of ADAM ANT, who took a shine to the band after they named themselves after one of his early songs, ANIMALS & MEN couldn’t quite figure out where it was they wanted to end up.

So after the first batch of 1979 recordings, which pulsate with basement-bred glee and the lessons learned from a hundred sloppy punk bands, Animals & Men tried to graft Chicago Blues onto their jagged, fuzzy teutonic garage rock, and in the process, changed their name to THE TERRAPLANES. In came harmonica (which had been popping up before but really took a droning lead later on) and schlocky covers of “Baby Scratch My Back” etc. They also did some dabbling into surf and girl-group pop with mixed results, before sort of returning to their early roots around 1981-82. This CD does not include their world-beating 45 “Don’t Misbehave In The New Age” – you need to pick up “Terraplane Fixation” for that, which I highly recommend you do – but it does cover pretty much everything else they recorded, with some overlap with the previous CD. They’re one of those bands made up of regular folks who, to me, really define the anything-goes burst of homegrown recording activity across the British hinterlands circa ’79-‘81. Some of their songs are just so alive and exuberant (“The Suspect”, “Waiting For My Stranger”, “Render Us Harmless”) you just gotta hear ‘em. It’s been said before, but not enough – kudos to Hyped2Death for spending cash & time on worthy excavation projects such as this.

Friday, October 14, 2005
A-FRAMES : “POLICE 1000 / TRACTION” 45.....

There are two different A-FRAMES at work these days: the bleak, techno-blurred mechano-garage band of this year’s CD “Black Forest”, and the ones who keep releasing new 45s from their 2001-03 youth as a thudding, precision punk rock band. I love ‘em both, and I’m glad they’re both still “going at it”. This one is from their earlier days, the same sessions that yielded the last few 45s, and it’s a real gem. “Police 1000” is a rollicking, carnival-like romp with obscured vocals and a big-ass bass bringing the low end noise to your living room loud-n-fast. “Traction” is booming 1974 T.Rex/Slade glam panic mixed up with an early-SPK level of screech & feedback whine, a total winning mix that I haven’t heard them tackle before quite this well. Whoa. I’d call this the band’s hottest 45 since the world-beating debut “Neutron Bomb / Radiation Generation”, and since these things tend to disappear into the murky collector netherworld rather quickly, best get involved with an order for it right away.

Thursday, October 13, 2005
THE WILLOWZ / THE TIME FLYS / KILLER’S KISS, 10/11/05, 12 Galaxies, San Francisco CA.....

The last time I headed out on a "school night" (a Tuesday, no less) to see some rocknroll with zero notice to myself was probably appx. 1994, but I’m glad I made the five-minute trek down the hill to this bill. KILLER’S KISS were just back from tour, playing their first show ever w/o keyboard player Jen, who voluntarily decoupled herself from the band in New York. The journalistic code of ethics mandates that I not write about them, so I won’t. THE TIME FLYS (pictured left) are probably the swankiest garage/punk act in town right now, if not across the US. Pure entertainment from the word go, with a seemingly bottomless pit of fast & shimmering 90-second bolts of full-stop energy. Absolutely a band that was just made for the live stage, and they look & act like creatures who slithered out of the proto-punk-meets-KBD book of who's who. Total teenage sleaze from a foursome who may or may not themselves be long out of their teens. Only the little girls know. I heard THE WILLOWZ' debut CD a couple months ago via a good friend who used to go to all the same LAZY COWGIRLS shows I did circa 1986-89 in the company of one of the Willowz' dads. Yeah, they're that young. But for a quartet of whippersnappers, they sound like they've been practicing their Redd Kross "Teen Babes"-era rawk eight days a week. I liked the CD enough to play it twice and file it til 2008, and live, I got the same sorta middlin' feelin'. The kind of band you'd be pleased as punch to walk in on as an opener with three songs left to play; the sort of headliner that has you checking your watch and shuffling to the bar after those same three songs have been played. You know what I'm saying? In any event, best Tuesday night rock show of 2005 so far -- you should have been there and I'm sorry you weren't.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

When I was 19 I worked as an intern for SOUND CHOICE magazine as a way to get free records and contribute somehow to the fanzine underground. They were an hour away from my college, lurking in a very normal suburban house in Ojai, California, and committed to a very erratic & bong-intensified publishing schedule. I always thought the “underground cassette culture” was kind of bullshit, at least with regard to the revolutionary aura that Sound Choice cloaked it in, but there was bound to be some neat stuff buried on musty tapes from those years, and sure enough, there is. BABY 63 was the bedroom project of one 21-year-old Karen Fletcher from 1984-86, and she embraced radical industrio-minimalism at a very young age & proceeding accordingly. She was in with those Virginia-based PSYCHODRAMA nutballs, remember them? Unlike them, her clanking racket was very listenable and pretty creepy to boot. The very hot B-side “Shark Watch Maker” approximates the sound of a buzzing army of cicadas with big teeth marching in formation with a direct beeline for your children, with drone-vocals and clattering percussion keeping time; the angry/weird A-side's not half bad either. Sort of like similar lost closet-case DIY acts from the early 80s a la REDNESS, SILVER ABUSE, or the REVERSIBLE CHORDS, Fletcher conveyed a real deep sense of doom and dread in the most disjointed manner. I dig it, and it’s nice to have it resurrected out of the goodness of S-S Records’ cold, cold heart.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A little over two years ago this duo “impressed” (not always a positive term) me as noise-for-noise’s-sake flailers who had some frenzied magic locked deep within, but who then buried it under two tons of meaningless feedback and distortion. And as a guy who loves feedback and distortion as a general rule, it really hurt to cut these fellas down a peg. But this new one from THE HOSPITALS is a step in the right direction. “Jocks and Jazz” is a bit of a mess, but at times they sound like they’re attempting to cut ribbons around some berserk HC-inspired noise squawker like HARRY PUSSY’s “Fuckology” and mash it up with a plodding shambler like THE FALL’s “Deer Park” or “Winter”. Not bad! You know who else they sound like? Seattle’s INTELLIGENCE, that’s who, except The Intelligence lean far less heavily on wild echoes, uneven dirges and tape-manipulated cut-ups. The Hospitals aren’t exactly rockin’ – and make more sense on a label like Load than on In The Red, where they previously logged time – but there are moments where their sound just revs up, spreads out and roars. I think I’ll go see ‘em next time they visit.

Monday, October 10, 2005
SCRATCH ACID : "THE GREATEST GIFT" CD.....(and a side trip to the gnarliest opening band I've ever seen).....

I think even back in March 1987, I knew I was pretty lucky to have seen SCRATCH ACID play live, not simply because I could sense that they'd break up soon (which they did), but because they seemed fairly groundbreaking in their way even at the time. The show was at a dumpy club in small college town San Luis Obispo, California with two bands I'll have a hard time forgetting: "GROUP SEX" and the "WIMPY DICKS". The latter were some dumb-ass local favorite funnypunk band with songs that ragged on their town, but the former were just on fire the night I saw them. Whenever someone asks me about memorable shows I've seen -- which, truth be told, never actually happens -- I tell them about Group Sex in SLO, CA. (We're going to talk about Scratch Acid later, don't worry). The band came on stage with two identical-twin bearded drummers with full kits, the sort of beer doggie dudes you'd expect to find sucking down Coronas at the Cabo Wabo Cantina, and this boyfriend/girlfriend pair on guitar and bass respectively. (I later learned that their names were "Ron E. Fast" and "Janey"). The two drummers started in together with this ripping-fast hardcore-tempo pattern, and the guitarist started to hiss and feed back and play some generic HC riff. After about 10 seconds, though, someone -- it appeared to be the bass player -- screwed up, with unleashed a torrent of filthy invective from Ron E. Fast ("You motherfucker goddamn sonofabitch whythefuckcan'tyouplay etc."). Janey actually started to blubber and cry right into her mic, and profusely apologized to the crowd.

So the two goofball drummers started up their hardcore beats again, but this time "Fast"'s guitar shorted out or something, and everything ground to a quick halt. He immediately hefted his guitar, and shattered it into a bazillion pieces with one swing against the brick back wall behind the stage. The shocked whole crowd let out a collective "whoooa....", and then Janey just started crying again. She stood there at the mic bawling and shaking, "You don't understand you guys, he's really a nice guy, he really is, we're really a lot better than this, please don't hate us you guys....". Just then, the house lights came up, and the soundman quickly threw on some 1976 vintage disco music, "I Love The Nightlife" or something, and in seconds, Ron E. Fast and Janey jumped from the stage and immediately started disco-dancing together on the now-cleared floor. As everyone stood watching them in total awe, a "little person", also bearded, scampered out from behind the sound board and started picking up the guitar pieces from the floor. It was beyond belief, and they were only the opening band! We ran out to the car immediately to relive and retell the moment over a 6-pack of Mickey Bigmouths. W-o-w.

So thanks for letting me get that tale off my chest; it has only lived on via the oral tradition thusfar, and of course, it was far more weird and ridiculous than it likely reads to you on the screen. SCRATCH ACID were great that night, of course, a total blitzkreig of gutteral grunting & aural assault, just as we'd all hoped. At that point in my life I was listening to their 1986 LP "Just Keep Eating" almost every day, and what strikes me listening this past week to this retrospective near-complete CD is just how uh, "multi-disciplined" the band was. I mean, you hear flamenco flourishes, spaced-out post-punk shambling, horn-driven funk, cowboy C&W and even droll fake jazz sprinkled in amongst the filth and the fury, which made the band a real deceptive cluster of musos (and we thought they were just a bunch of evil junkie hicks at the time, except for the drummer Rey Washam who everyone knew was a God). This collection is one of those compleat things that they sequenced chronologically exactly as they should have, from the barrelling 1984 debut EP, into the awesome "Just Keep Eating" and right through their swan song EP "Berzerker". Never liked "Berzerker" much at the time, still really don't, but I fell so hard for those first two records that nearly anything would've been a letdown. David Yow comes off as a snide, intelligent and somewhat dangerous freak, a pretty accurate desciption of what he seemed like when we pumped up his ego after the show. I understand from a little tiptoeing around the web that a whole new generation regards these guys, not Yow's mediocre subsequent band the JESUS LIZARD, as some real-deal pioneers of demented drug rock. Sometimes the kids -- they get it! A 100% recommended disc for anyone's CD shelves, even your mom's.

Friday, October 07, 2005

For years my favorite Velvets LP (and Top 5 record of all time) has been the first one, though I went through about a 6-month stint proclaiming that the 3rd record was truly their masterpiece. But as you surely know, all four were masterpieces in their way, even the less-than-perfect-but-almost “Loaded”. I felt like I hadn’t busted out “White Light/White Heat”, the first one that I bought way back in high school, in a while, so I gave it a couple of eardrum-shattering spins at tip-top volume & took some good notes. Here are 10 amazing things about this off-the-charts incredible, life-changing record, which can be your favorite with no qualms from me:

1. The jarring surprise I get every time I hear Reed shout “Sweetly!!” smack in the middle of a “Lady Godiva’s Operation” verse. It’s so incredibly out of place, and the rest of song so lulling, that it quickens my pulse for a frightening half-step every time
2. The first four minutes of “Sister Ray” – perfection
3. The fact that the first verse of “Sister Ray” starts right after the music does, and rushes quickly to a second verse. You’d have no idea, hearing this at a bar or something, that the song continues on for nearly 18 blissful and difficult minutes
4. The ridiculously great faux black man/jive talker voice used by Lou Reed throughout the title track
5. The serenity and peacefulness of “Here She Comes Now” at the end of Side 1, an extremely brief oasis of calm before the continuing storm
6. Turning the balance knob on the stereo fully to the right during “The Gift” so that all you hear is the fuzzy, squalling instrumental music track
7. The vocal harmonies in “I Heard Her Call My Name”, which hint at normalcy when the song that surrounds them is evil personified
8. The motoring chug of the riff that underlies “I Heard Her Call My Name”, which has become one of several de rigeur “Velvets” riffs that bands have been apeing for nearly 40 years now (!)
9. The legendary guitar “solo” that follows the legendary phrase “…And then my mind split open…” on “I Heard Her Call My Name” – sweet jesus, what a glorious mess!
10. Deeply pondering the overall sonic attack and distortion caked all over the record combined with its chaotic, transgressive subject matter (drugs, botched surgeries, murder, gay sex, transvestitism), and then pondering additionally how this must have hit the rock community of fans & critics in 1967, even after the sweetly-wrapped slug punch of the “The Velvet Underground and Nico”. I need to read that Clinton Heylin book one of these days to find out.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

About three months ago I finally devoured this book in a single 6-hour plane trip to New York, and at the conclusion of my journey I declared it to be one of the Top 5 rock and roll books I had ever read. I was so excited about this oral history that I was going to write a 10-paragraph oratory of my own about it for Agony Shorthand, imploring you to read it and enumerating all the reasons why you should do so immediately. Well, I plum forgot what I was going to write, and don’t have the book on me right now to jog my memory, so here we are. I think the reason I didn’t jump on this when it came out a few years ago is because it was released mere months after BRENDEN MULLEN’s LA punk scene oral history “We Got The Neutron Bomb”, a large chunk of which concerned The Germs and their effect on Los Angeles and the greater American punk movement. Reckoning that “Lexicon Devil” would be a mere expansion of the stories told in “Neutron Bomb”, I resolved to read it in a couple years’ time. Maybe that made “Lexicon Devil” that much better, I don’t know, but where “Neutron Bomb” was merely an adequate retelling of the greatest punk rock scene in the history of the form (Los Angeles 1977-83, baby!), this book is sooo much more. “Lexicon Devil” takes the story of Darby and Pat (Jan Paul and George) and positions it against the broader freakiness of the 1970s, and does so masterfully. The very best chapter in a book packed with incredible stories is the tale of their alternative, Scientology/EST-like high school-within-a-school at University High during the mid-70s, an experience so warped and beyond comprehension you have to figure those teachers would be behind bars if their tried their hippie mind-control BS on the school kids of today. But it sure made a man out of Jan Paul Beahm, hunh? He took these formative learnings, combined them with massive amounts of drugs & alcohol, and a deeply-repressed homosexuality that, in 1977, was definitely very uncool, and created the “Bobby Pyn” and “Darby Crash” characters of legend.

What I loved about the book, though, was just how well the interviews were threaded together to tell a much larger story than that of The Germs. Existing as it did on the edges of Hollywood flash and cash, there are many stories of the punks’ rubbing up against movie idols or mainstream rock folks and the sometimes inevitable troubles than ensued. The whole book is filled with the most seedy and depressing characters imaginable. Of the ones still alive, like the reprehensible “Gerber”, you get to read their puffed-up yarns from the old days, and almost feel drunk with enthusiasm for their heedless youth & reckless stupidity as a result. I mean, these kids were answerable to no one but themselves – very few had jobs, all were either alcoholics or drug addicts (with a few notable exceptions), and they rocked 24/7 to some of the great bands of all time – WEIRDOS, BAGS, GERMS, DILS, X, MIDDLE CLASS, FLESH EATERS etc. – and all had wild sex with each other and each other’s friends. Doesn’t that sound like a blast? Of course it does, except when you’re creeped out & repulsed by the goings-on described herein. Characters who were very much in the center of things, like BLACK RANDY and DAVID BROWN, get their stories told better than any other account to date, and this in a book ostensibly about The Germs. Amazingly, Don Bolles comes across as the voice of reason and normalcy in this book, and as anyone who’s met the guy will tell you, those are not words that leap to tongue in his presence. But he’s a survivor, and as cliché as that might sound, once you read the accounts of the crazed lives the first-wave LA punks lived, you develop a newfound respect for the resilience of those who came out with their brains intact, and continue to play music or contribute in other ways to this day (hello, Alice Bag and Chris D.). Darby, of course, did not, and this book does an excellent job letting others put him on the posthumous therapist’s couch to try and dissect what went wrong. I can’t recommend “Lexicon Devil” highly enough – it’s a riveting read, and can even be appreciated by audiences far removed from the rabid LA punk admiration society.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I have a secret: this one time, I downloaded music illegally! It was earlier this year and I was browsing some fella’s files & he had a record from KING LOUIE ONE-MAN BAND called “Chinese Crawfish”. Now, I’d heard some of Louie’s stuff before and was curious, so I decided to gobble up the whole folder, not knowing it was an unreleased set of recordings not even ready to be unleashed on the public yet. I liked it quite a bit, in parts at least, and so I wrote up a review that you can read right here. Now that it’s out officially, I wanted you to know about it. And I’ll never, ever, break the law again.

Monday, October 03, 2005
STRANGE NOTES, 10/3/05......

Been listening to a little rock and roll music lately that I’d like to talk with you about. Let’s start with a brand new LP collection of punk also-runs called “STARING DOWN THE BARREL – RARE PUNK 1979-83”. It’s pretty common knowledge among the KBD set that the mother lode of eye-popping punk obscurities has already been stripmined, but hidden away in the veiny tentacles of ore are a few cool scorchers. This comp is full of unknown American middlers like the DUCKY BOYS and the PSYCHOTIC FROGS, but it also contains the snarling “Who Needs Wildlife Anyway” by GRACKIES, which is as godlike as anything from 1978 Australian heroes RAZAR or the LEFTOVERS & brings the white heat in a similar fashion. Another great number is UNKNOWN SOCIETY’s “You Hippy”, a fast one with the same snarling hatred of longhairs as the germinal DEADBEATS song that kicked off the whole hippie-destructo micro-genre. Top-tier stuff, and reason alone to go hunt this comp down.....A couple of weeks ago we were discussing England’s LONG BLONDES and their well-done post-punk rehash pastiche; way back then I hadn’t heard their debut 45 from last year, “New Idols / Long Blonde” – now I have, and it’s outstanding. Sharp, somewhat danceable stutter-pop that plays well in both the raw DIY and “alterna-rock” ghettos, and maybe the best of their three seven-inches if you ask me.....The LB’s label ANGULAR RECORDS appear to leading a UK revival of smart & tuneful weird pop, and their label sampler “Rip Off Your Labels – More Angular Product” has got some real neat stuff, not the least of which is the Long Blondes’ fantastic “Autonomy Boy”. Others to keep on your radar are heavy-breathing girl-led rawk bands THE VIOLETS and THE SWEAR, and the shambling art looseness of ART BRUT and THE SHOWBOYS. There’s some “bollocks” on here, too, but what label comp doesn’t have at least a pinch of that?

Two albums in and I can’t get a handle on THE GRIS GRIS. Their brand new CD “For The Season” sports terrific surround-o-phonic production, some explosive musical ideas, and a lot of searing guitar chops spurting out where you least expect them. But all told, the album’s a stone bore, guilty of fantastic overreach. The band’s unfulfilling, haphazard song cycles appear to be written as if creating a dark psychedelic masterpiece for the ages was utterly non-negotiable. I’m sorry, but they’re just not there yet. You get the sense that some someone is thinking as if they were a step removed from Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett, and proceeds with songwriting accordingly. I remember people came down hard on THE FLAMING LIPS a couple albums in for many of the same reasons, and hey, their best work was still ahead of them. Maybe the benefit of the doubt would be a good pose to strike with The Gris Gris, since the kernels of truth and enlightenment are hiding in there somewhere.......One surprise LP reissue that I’m really enjoying is a set of 1997 sessions from Sacramento’s defunct KARATE PARTY on S-S Records called “Black Helicopter” . Their one and only 7”EP is collected here, along with a passel of throbbing, mechanical robo-punk that sat on tapes for 8 years. In fact the unreleased stuff (“Quality”, “Trouble”) is even more killer than their EP, a little less daffy and more full of precision-pinpointed blood and fire. Excellent!.....Finally, I’m starting to go on a LEE HAZELWOOD bender again, like I did three years ago until I flamed out hard. It’s not pretty. I think my wife hates Hazelwood more than anything I’ve ever played her, so I’ve been listening to my new “Requiem For An Almost Lady” CD on the iPod & car CD player like a bat outta hell. This is the most troubadour-like of Hazelwood’s 60s LPs, the least corny and the most sparse. No syrupy strings or angelic female voices, just Lee acoustically meditating on love & loss & of course, all the babes he’s slept with. It belongs in any proper Hazelwood collection for sure, right alongside “Love And Other Crimes”, “Cowboy In Sweden” and my very favorite, “Poet, Fool or Bum”.....That’s all for now, keep your feet on the ground etc.!!!