Agony Shorthand

Friday, December 30, 2005

I listened to a heaping helping of music in 2005, so much so that I can make a proper best-of list for the first time in years, and further break it down into microcategories like Albums, 45s and Reissues the way real music sites do. I blame the addictive obsessiveness on mp3 blogs, music blogs like the one, trading piles of CD-Rs with geeks the world over, Soulseek, and that old standby – the record store. It’s not a lifestyle, it’s a life. I submit to you here the pieces of wax & aluminum/polycarbonate that most impressed me during 2005, with a caveat for the fact that some may have been technically released in “Q4” 2004 – but hey, you don’t mind, right? On with the dork-off!


1. JOSEPHINE FOSTER & THE SUPPOSED: “All The Leaves Are Gone” CD.....I wrote on 8/24, “Fuses twisted avant-folk with hard, squealing psychedelic rock...she has a singular set of pipes, well suited for both rock & roll and quiet balladry. Josephine Foster...has quickly become one of the standard-bearers for what modern rock music ought to sound like in 2004-05”

2. THE TIME FLYS: “Fly” CD.....I wrote on 8/4, “The Time Flys have immediately checked in with one of the most satisfying releases of PUNK ROCK MUSIC this past couple of years...Doubting thomases who scoff at moderne punk bands might be surprised to find they dig this one a whole hell of a sight more than most garage-based rock on the market”

3. MISS ALEX WHITE & THE RED ORCHESTRA: “Miss Alex White & The Red Orchestra” CD.....I wrote on 9/23, “I hear swaths and glimpses of underrated female-fronted punk bands of the first & second waves, most particularly Dee Dee Troit and UXA...begs for instant repeat play as soon as it’s over...Alex White comes from and resides within the modern 21st Century garage milieu, sure, but you can just see she’s going places fast that most of her older peers won’t”

4. A-FRAMES: “Black Forest” CD.....I wrote on 2/11, “…confirms once again why this is one of the more exciting, slashing post-garage noise bands of our time...(what) could come off as preposterous or just plain silly in lesser hands, the combination of these weary words and the icy mechanicalism of the music makes for a pretty smokin' bleak treat...I suppose they could have taken an easier route & put out something relatively easier to ingest for their big-indie debut, but they didn't”

5. LIGHTNING BOLT: “Hypermagic Mountain” CD.....I wrote on 10/27, “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 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”

6. THE BLACK LIPS: “Let It Bloom” CD.....Gets hotter with every listen. I wrote on 12/7, “Totally drop-dead simple jangle guitar, muffled cheap-mic vocals and what sounds like a full on Sunset Strip teenage riot breaking behind times THE BLACK LIPS sound as exciting and wild as the CHEATER SLICKS did roughly 12-13 years ago, and that’s high praise that I definitely would not throw around lightly”

7. THE KING KHAN & BBQ SHOW: “The King Khan & BBQ Show” CD......I wrote on 7/7, “One of the most straight-up fun releases of the year....rollicking, R&B-driven gutbucket rock and roll, perfect for a Saturday night beer stomp where only 40oz. specials are served”

8. PISSED JEANS: “Shallow” CD.....I wrote on 9/2, “…very quickly among the USA’s top tier electrified, riff-heavy musclebound rock bands….if you can picture being all hopped up on goofballs at a 1986 “Day on the Green” stadium blowout starring final-LP Black Flag, the Laughing Hyenas and DRUNKS WITH GUNS, it might come close to where this record will settle in your noggin as well....louder than most anything I’ve heard this year and about two steps to the right of an all-out noise war”

9. TIMES NEW VIKING: “Dig Yourself” CD.....I wrote on 9/6, “Take some of the more cacophonous moments during "Sister Ray" -- maybe about 1/3rd of the way in, when it's still a rock song, and liberally shmear it over a sputtering quarter-inch tape full of very raw male/female organ grinder pop. That just might sound like Columbus, OH's Times New Viking....The band do a superlative job trading off shouted vocals and caking everything in a warn glow of fine crud”

10. ALUMINUM KNOT EYE: “Trunk Lunker” CD.....I wrote on 2/8, “....fantastic -- raw & weird panic rock that just about busts a nut on every chord. Singer also has that crazy hot-oil-just-fell-on-my-foot caterwauling vocal style, and when he's not drowned out by an acre of feedback, he's pretty damn riffs (that) are very big and often very disjointed…”


1. JOHNNY BOY: “You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve” / “S-H-B”.....Didn’t actually write a review of this one (yet?), but “You Are The Generation” just might be the single boldest, most thumping wall-of-effects pop song of the millennium so far. Just about perfect, and hopefully indicative of more genius to come. I probably listened to this one track more than anything else in 2005.

2. A-FRAMES : “Police 1000 / Traction”.....I wrote on 10/14, “'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”

3. BLANK-ITS : “Johnny’s Tongue / I’m OK”.....I wrote on 4/25, “....super panicky, up-tempo and razor sharp garage stupito ignoramus rock, in the best sense of the term – just wind it up & let it fly fast, hard and waaay loose”

4. LONG BLONDES : “Separated By Motorways / Big Infatuation”.....Just got this, their 4th single, this week and it’s great! Review to come early next year.

5. HOT MACHINES : “Hole In My Heart / Draw Your Face”.....I wrote on 5/18, “SCIENTISTS-style knockout blues-drawler....a loose, dirty crawl through a thicket of slow, fuzzing ooze and combo sweet/spat vocals”

6. NERVOUS PATTERNS : “Beautiful Brutal / You Can’t Change”.....I wrote on 5/13, “Nervous Patterns are this twitchy, fragmented post-punk duo that have written two top-drawer movers, one sung by him (quite well) & the other by her. Think MISSION OF BURMA's "Max Ernst" or THE FUSE! for a more recent example”

7. PISSED JEANS: “Throbbing Organ / Night Minutes”.....I wrote on 6/14, “...(relies) less on sheer aggro wallop & screams, and more on the propulsive churning and sludgy rolling of guitars & thudding bass...Outstanding record”

8. TIME FLYS : “The Wet Ones / Christine (Humble Warrior)”.....I wrote on 4/11, “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”

9. PIPETTES: “I Like a Boy In Uniform / Really That Bad”.....I wrote on 6/7, “Who says pulse-rushing, mindless 60s-style girl pop is dead….I love it -- both tracks are 90 seconds of fast-moving pure saccharine, not that wimpy Splenda rock the twee kids are always pushing”

10. LONG BLONDES: “Appropriation (By Any Other Name) / Lust In The Movies”.....I ended up liking this better and played it more than the review I wrote about it on 9/16 indicated, “....weird, complex rhythm patterns; a sultry female vocalist; and moves gracefully copped from so many 1981 British acts you can smell the musty copies of MELODY MAKER and SOUNDS under the bed”.


1. VARIOUS ARTISTS: “American Primitive, Vol. 2 : Pre-War Revenants (1897-1939)” 2xCD.....I wrote on 11/2, “...some of this stuff unearthed by Revenant this time is going to blow you clean away...“American Primitive, Volume 2” is an honest-to-god event worth celebrating and rewarding with immediate purchase, and another deep belt-notch for a label that’s just about run out of room on the belt.

2. ANIMALS & MEN: “Revel In The Static” CD.....I wrote on 10/17, “The 1979 sessions from this exurban British lark of a band are among my favorite ramshackle DIY recordings anywhere, ever...pulsates with basement-bred glee and the lessons learned from a hundred sloppy punk bands”

3. THE EX: “Singles. Period. The Vinyl Years 1980-1990” CD.....This is the disc that made me an EX fan, something I resisted for years. I wrote on 9/29, “...skittering, creepy-flesh punk act that used a thudding, funked-out bass like other punk bands used guitar, and moved that guitar to a supporting role for pure noise damage and swirling, clanging effects...A more worthy reissue may be hard to come by this late in the game in 2005, and it’s so ace I’m newly invigorated to take a fresh look into those 80s albums again”

4. JOHN FAHEY: “The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick” CD.....I wrote on 11/17, “When JOHN FAHEY stepped onto the stage at San Francisco's Matrix club in 1968, I think it's fair to say that that could have been the very moment when he was at the absolute peak of his game...Fahey takes his ringing, intricately constructed acoustic songs and transports them in real time to someplace warm, lovely and complex”

5. VARIOUS ARTISTS: “Keats Rides a Harley” CD….I wrote on 9/15, “...laden with joyful experimentation from the scene that formed in the small clubs and cramped garages around Los Angeles....It's a great thing to again have this glimpse of 1981 LA bands independently operating far below the radar of those whom themselves operated below the radar.”

6. VARIOUS ARTISTS: “Ghana Soundz 2” CD......I wrote on 12/14, “…I think they've done themselves one better with this second offering of collected rare 45s and LP tracks from deepest Ghana, circa 1969-1973 or so....It's a CD that invites continued play, over and over, and it gets kids of all ages hopping around the living room. How does ironic detachment and hipster skepticism compete with breezing farfisa organ, an acre of drums going off in every conceivable direction, thumping P-FUNK bass, trumpets and screaming horns everywhere and rhythmic tribal chanting that you can't help but take up in your own special gibberish?”

7. VARIOUS ARTISTS: “Good For What Ails You: Music of The Medicine Shows 1926-1937” 2xCD.....I wrote on 12/29, “The Old Hat label is quickly becoming the chief “rival” to Revenant Records for incredible archival releases of pre-WWII blues, hillbilly and string band material...the two discs are a hoot...This one is just more about relaying some good times & providing the non-collector with some 78s that have rarely been heard before, and as such, it's an excellent companion to have humming in the background on "repeat" as you go about your day & consuming your own medicines”

8. VARIOUS ARTISTS: “One Kiss Can Lead To Another – Girl Group Sounds Lost & Found” 4-CD Box Set.....Review to come in 2006.

9. VARIOUS ARTISTS: “The Socker” CD.....I wrote on 7/11, “…weighing in at 28 boss cuts, there's over an hour+ of ass-rattling entertainment to be had….”The Socker" is as hot as it comes. Listening to (this) 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…”

10. TAR BABIES: “Face The Music/Respect Your Nightmares” CD.....I wrote on 4/1, “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”

Honorable Mention: There’s a hot, brassy new pop band out of Sweden called LOVE IS ALL who put out two of the absolute best weird, hooky songs of the year on different 45s – “Motorboat” and “Make Out, Fall Out, Make Up”. Had these two numbers been on the same record, it might’ve been my top single of the year. Unfortunately, the band’s quality control appears to be pretty lacking & the other tracks of theirs on both the singles and some leaked mp3s from their upcoming CD are limp alterna-pop. But if you can procure these two numbers in any way, shape or form, you will most certainly be the better for it & will be pleasantly acquainted with one of the new vanguard of loud-ass European pop bands (LONG BLONDES, JOHNNY BOY, PIPETTES) who will undoubtedly go on to riches & stardom far beyond the garage, punk & raw musics we normally cover on this site.

Happy New Year & come back in 2006, OK?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Old Hat label is quickly becoming the chief “rival” to Revenant Records for incredible archival releases of pre-WWII blues, hillbilly and string band material. Their last two packages – the Joe Bussard “Down In The Basement” 78rpm collection and this new double CD – are beautifully packaged treasure chests plum full of vintage, unheard material only previously obsessed about by collectors and 78 freaks. It seems to come with the territory these days that if you’re going to put forth a bunch of rare old material that the public’s never before heard, you gotta also spend the time and the $$ to ensure that the liner notes are bursting with information, rediscovered photos & old timey arcana of all stripes. Old Hat spared no expense in putting together “Good For What Ails You: Music Of The Medicine Shows 1926-1937”, nor in trying to forge a somewhat vague linkage between the songs herein and the 19th & early 20th century phenomena of medicine shows. These shows were traveling entertainment squads that went to primarily rural towns to huck cures & medicines of often dubious efficacy, and the story is that each of the performers on these discs were known to have performed at them at one time or another in their careers.

The liners make it pretty clear, though, that the heyday of the medicine show was really the latter years of the 1800's, so these 1926-37 recordings may or may not truly capture the spirit of show's chosen entertainers; think of the subtle but significant evolution of rock music from, say, 1965 to the present day -- a span of 40 years roughly in line with the timeline we're talking about here. In any event, the two discs are a hoot nonetheless. Very little "blues" are to be found here, as it was all about singin' and dancin' and partin' the good folks from their money, so a very "jaunty" feel is spread liberally over the 48 different tracks. Many are novelty songs, some quite funny to the hoi polloi in their day I'm sure, such as "I Heard The Voice of a Porkchop" by JIM JACKSON or "C-h-i-c-k-e-n Spells Chicken" by KIRK McGEE & BLYTHE POTEET (you can never get enough chicken songs, am I right?). My favorite of these is the excellent laff riot "Ticklish Reuben" by CHARLIE PARKER & MACK WOOLBRIGHT, with an extended chortle as the main verse. Try getting this laugh out of your head after a couple of listens and then try not to go totally bonkers in the process, since it can't be done. There are some frenetic fiddle breakdowns and some great male/female duets like the opening killer from DADDY STOVEPIPE & MISSISSIPPI SARAH ("The Spasm"), but what this collection is missing are the jaw-hitting-the-floor revelations that accompanied Revenent's latest unearthing, the "American Primitive, Volume 2" collection. This one is just more about relaying some good times & providing the non-collector with some 78s that have rarely been heard before, and as such, it's an excellent companion to have humming in the background on "repeat" as you go about your day & consuming your own medicines. I did just that through three entire spins of both discs just yesterday, and I still am quite fond of the thing, so drop your $27 now & see if you too end up in the same place.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hands down the best record of BILLY CHILDISH's most prolific career. I went hog wild scarfing up MIGHTY CAESARS vinyl in the late 80s/early 90s when the first Crypt best-of compilation turned me onto these guys, and at one point I think I had the entire discography before Thee Headcoats went off the deep end and tossed off onto the public every fart & titter committed to tape . This one from 1987, all 19 minutes of it, was by far the boldest and most raw thing this very bold & raw trio put to vinyl, featuring early wide-groove, near-45rpm versions of hits like "She's Just 15", "Devious Means" and "I Can Tell". This is when Childish & co. were deepest into their LINK WRAY fixation(s), so among the 10 tracks are incredible, hotwired versions of "Comanche" and "Run Chicken Run" -- the former is so booming & loud I'd venture to say I'd even take it over Link's version. Also features a thumper of a run-through of THE TROGGS' "I Want You" and several other fantastic originals that never made it to later best-of comps (to my knowledge), like "The Bay of Pigs" and my fave, "La-La, La-La, La-La-La" (easily one of the Top 3-4 Caesars tracks ever). This is a band it's not difficult to forget about sometimes, given their daunting discography and near vanishment from the historical record, but man, if someone was wise & precient enough to re-press this thing, I can think of a lot of ears that'd wanna hear it.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Not much tops getting your face melted off by some hot new jamz sent to you by your pals, and that’s what happened to me in 1992 when LH expressed me a cassette tape of Japan’s HIGH RISE, a trio I’d never heard nor heard of up to that point. It was a tape of their new second record, “High Rise II”, and to say I was pleased with what I heard does little justice to the emotion. I couldn’t believe how crazed the guitars sounded, how high these guys were setting a new bar for garage psychedelia, how feedback had never sounded so over-the-top before – and that was just the 1-minute opening track “Cycle Goddess”. The mystery of this band from Tokyo & their “psychedelic speed freaks” mantra was irresistible, so I got in touch w/ them & actually conducted a mail interview for my fanzine at the time. English being a second language for these fellas, the interview revealed little, but I was already hooked on as a fan for life & remain so to this day.

Still, all told, “High Rise II” remains their masterpiece. The debut record “Psychedelic Speed Freaks” was also insane & wild distortion overload, but it suffered from a SOLGER-like sound that was more akin to a boombox recording than something you’d wanna bang your noggin to; the 3rd record “Dispersion” was just fine but leveled out the chaos a bit and branched the sound into the great improvisational beyond. Others built upon that one, but continued to be a bit less frenzied and more expansive than the first few. But this one – look out. Any true “punk” worth his punker stripes should be getting down with this record in a jiffy, because it’s one of the all-time howlers. The solos are so over-the-top distorted and the drums are caked with so much reverb, it’s a total maddening echo chamber filled with the ghosts of Greg Ginn, Davie Allen, Sterling Morrison, Stacey Sutherland and Ginger Baker. Vocals are pretty much an afterthought, but there are present on just about every track, it’s just that they're buried under the dense layers. There’s a 13-minute “Sister Ray”-meets-“Mother Sky” classic on here called “Pop Sicle” that became a staple of their live show, sort of their own “Black To Comm” & a knockout wailer you’ve got to hear. But mostly it’s just fast, fast, fast and rawer than raw. A stone classic disc that I’d recommend to anyone with a pulse and a tolerance for maximum volume.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I am slowly making my way through JOSEPHINE FOSTER’s back catalog of CD-Rs and side projects after being floored by the mystical grandeur of her CD from late 2004 with The Supposed called “All the Leaves Are Gone”. While I wasn’t as amazed by her most recent solo disc “Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You”, my recent obsessive spins through 2004’s CD-R “Little Life” have me scratching my head as to just what it was I might’ve been missing. Because man, Josephine Foster has got some wacked, genius talent in her, and she is my favorite modern troubadour by a mile. Her songs travel the march of history via a ghostly linkage with the Appalachian porch whisperers of the pre-WWII era, with a pinch of the British Isles folk touch to boot. I excitedly played “All the Leaves Are Gone” for my wife earlier this year, who carefully listened and then asked, “So when did you turn into a smelly hippie?”. I shot back a wounded “I am not a fucking hippie!”, but the damage had been done. Later that evening, alone in front of a mirror, I observed my closely-trimmed locks and relatively conservative style of dress and concluded that fine, maybe I am a hippie on the inside, and that’s okay. Having made peace with it, I proceeded to blow my cash on Ms. Foster’s entire back catalog, some of which is still trickling in via mail order this week.

“Little Life” is going to be hard to top, though. 11 mostly brief, plucked tunes that all but announce “home recording” – but for a first-take home recording to come off so vigorous and full of life is rare, unless the artist herself is in a class above. Foster writes these little shards of whimsy like she can do it in her sleep – and I’ll bet it’s not for nothing that her web site is called “100 Songs I Sing”, though I reckon she's got far more than that up her sleeve. These 11 are all excellent – Foster maintains that this was originally meant as a children’s record, which shouldn’t put you off in the least, as only the buoyant nature of some of these (“Tom Peck”, “Shay Shay”) make them “child-like”. (though it’s not at all a stretch to imagine a kid totally getting down to it). The fact that Foster’s rich, trilling, Kate Bush-like operatic voice is an acquired taste might scare a few kids of all ages as well – but now that I’m used to how unique & cool her voice is, I can’t even imagine what these songs would sound like piping out of a more pedestrian vocalist. We’re going to be delving into more Josephine Foster-related material in the next few weeks/months on this site, but if you can get your mitts on this CD-R, you should rush-order a holiday present for yourself this instant.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hadn't listened to this for years but dusted off a CD-R that a friend sent just this past week for a reappraisal. I went through a massive fit of PAGANS-mania when I first heard that band in 1986 (remember the "Buried Alive" compilation? Whew!), and I bought everything and anything connected to the band, including all the weak live late 80s reunion stuff which was coming out on Twin-Tone at the time. This comp was a 1982 LP collection put out by The Pagans called "Cleveland Confidential", which followed a similarly-monikered 1980 7"EP. The CD brings you both, LP tracks first. Most area compilations have got dramatic swings in quality, but this one’s pretty all-right from top to bottom; figure that The Pagans’ influence and tastemaking made this the quality release(s) that it is. It’s surprising how, um, “grown up” the Cleveland scene as represented here sounded in 1982 – no kids farting around with hardcore (OK, the OFFBEATS’ speedy pop comes close), no novelty poop and no overly ambitious moves – just a lot of intriguing experiments along the borders of punk and deep-DIY art-spazz.

While THE PAGANS take top honors for their two screamers “Boy I Can Dance Good” and “Cleveland Confidential” (aka “1979” and/or “Real World”), the biggest surprise is a blobby mess of free horns, down-tempo funk and weird time signatures from RED DECADE called “Scars of Lust”. This band would easily have made sense on one of the experimental-meets-punk comps coming out of Los Angeles’ New Alliance/New Underground stable around the same time, slotting in next to The Slivers, The Plebs and Artless Entanglements. Nothing will beat the live-on-the-radio a capella take I've heard of "Love Meant To Die" by the ELECTRIC EELS' Dave E., where he unveils his soon-to-come record label "Christmas Pets", but his full-band JAZZ DESTROYERS version on this comp is none too shabby. Since I’m lazy, I’m not really sure if THE WOMANHATERS’ “Cry 816” and SEVERE’s “Her Name Was Jane” are truly the Pagans in drag, since both tracks were ditties that the Pagans were performing around this time, but they’re real fine to listen to no matter how they’re labeled. Other chooglers of note are THE DEFNICS’ “Suicide Trip”, the dark descent of the EASTER MONKEYS’ “Cheap Heroin” and AK-47s' “Accident”. The town’s musical victories in the 70s continued on into the first half of the 80s for sure, a fact lost on most dabblers & particularly those not yet acquainted with this collection. There’s no question that a night out by the banks of the flaming Cuyahoga circa 1982 could potentially be a night of mystery, discovery, tinnitus and inebriation.

Monday, December 19, 2005

On your short list of post-Velvets, pre-Ramones proto-punk treasures should be this outstanding collection from Cleveland’s MIRRORS, a band who’ve always been sort of looked upon as the stepchild third wheel to their 1973-75 Cle contemporaries ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS and the ELECTRIC EELS. Me, I think they blew away RFTT on all counts, but then I think that band, despite some obvious roots-and-branches genre-invention & a couple of great songs later vastly improved by Pere Ubu, are more than a bit "over-revered". The Mirrors, on the other hand, can’t skip by a review, including ones I’ve written (including the one I’m typing right now), without multiple mentions of their Velvet Underground fixation/worship. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Taken primarily from a first album that was never completed, with some other requisite odds & ends (including their spazz-tastic 1975 artpunk 45 "Shirley/She Smiled Wild") from different stages of their brief career, "Hands In My Pockets" is the premier collection of their work, beating out the killer 10" that was 1/3rd of the "Those Were Different Times" 3x10" Cleveland comp and the lost 1989 LP reissue "Another Nail In The Coffin" that I didn't cotton to at the time, but which since has been reissued on CD as "Another Nail In The Remodeled Coffin" & which has not been purchased in this house as of yet.

The raw, chip-on-the-shoulder confidence this band exuded during a time in which their music was a decided minority art permeates this thing -- you get the feeling that they were pumping out these anthemic masterpieces knowing full well that they were the hottest thing in town. At times crashing hard rock ("We'll See", "Cindy and Kathy") & other times lovely "Sunday Morning"-esque floss ("How Could I"), the MIRRORS were never more than two steps removed from their own unique amalgamation of 1960s garage, Velvets-style propulsion and feedback-laden psychedelia. Jamie Klimek, who sang & composed the majority of the tracks, is a lost genius with a great set of pipes who ought to be getting his due far more than he has -- perhaps in our time, he will. His spooky 1973 soundscape experimentations "Fog-Shrouded Mist" and the outstanding "Violent Shadows/House On The Hill" pre-date work he did right after this band's demise & well into the 80s with THE STYRENES. Just a terrific collection through and through, and easily as necessary to your collection as the SIMPLY SAUCER, DEBRIS and GEORGE BRIGMAN discs. Man, I wonder if Chris Stigliano's ever heard this band? I think he might get a kick out of 'em!

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Think of it, dude...", my cousin used to say as we were tipping 'em back while listening to this record, " entire album about drinking!". That in itself qualified as an event worth celebrating for sure, and for first-class, no-doubt-about-it early 80s drunks, you sure couldn't beat GREEN ON RED's Dan Stuart (only Top Jimmy or Black Randy might have out-drank this world champion). When he teamed up with the DREAM SYNDICATE 's Steve Wynn to record a single LP of debauched C&W-tinged saloon rock, the results could have gone anywhere & everywhere, but they mostly went in the right, wobbly direction. "The Lost Weekend" is a motley collection of drinking songs from the key movers of post-"Paisley Undergound" Los Angeles, when large parts of that scene just turned on a dime and went full-on roots Americana. I guess you’d call it a concept record of sorts, one whose theme is as fuzzy and vague as a night spent under a barstool.

The all-time classic here is a singalong called "Song For The Dreamers", which is a bizarre, funny tribute to random characters like ".....Fidel Castro, and Jackie O -- and the boys!!". If you’re not loudly singing along to this with a pint held high by the second time through, you have no heart and no soul, my friend. Sure, Dan Stuart’s rank, squealy-hick vocals take some getting used to, but that’s no less true of GREEN ON RED’s records than it is here. Steve Wynn, by 1985 already well into alt-rock troubadour mode a la his band’s very popular “Medicine Show” and duly recognized the world over as such, takes second banana status to Stuart throughout the LP, almost the “straight man” to Stuart's goofball persona. Chris Cacavas’ excellent electric piano tinkles and plonks throughout, which gives the record a sort of “Exile on Main Street” feel, just even more “barroom/saloon” than that great drinking record. Better still, I continue to see this record in used bins for next to nothing – it’s not a world-changer by any means, but is something you’ll have no problem slapping on when creating some cobwebs becomes a high priority.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

First off, in some weird sort of double-reverse logrolling, Scott at CRUD CRUD has re-posted the two fantastic Beatles remakes by twisted 1980 Omaha, NE synth punk act THE BETTER BEATLES, apparently at the behest of Agony Shorthand readers a few weeks ago. This lost 45 was one of my favorite discoveries this year, and you owe it to yourself to take 30 seconds to download them both (48 minutes if you’re on dial-up). Second, not only does Scott host a great radio show on Davis, CA college station KDVS – sort of like his blog, but on acid!! – but there’s another splendid radio show on that same station, hotter than pretty much any college show I’ve heard in years. It’s called “Art For Spastics” and it’s hosted by an assuming record fiend named DJ Rick. I’ve been downloading these shows in 2-hour blocks nearly every week, and sometimes even find time to listen to them all the way through. It’s one of the best spots you’re going to find anywhere for the newest weird-ass noise & punk 45s & reissue LPs, from a guy who obviously thinks that the peak of musical history accomplishment lies with TAMPAX, the ELECTRIC EELS, NEUBAUTEN, THE STALIN and the like. There’s a podcast available that I haven’t figured out how to work yet, as well as a weekly mp3 download of the show that I recommend without reservation. If you’ve ever heard even two numbers per show you’re a better woman than I.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Up to this moment the finest collection of 1970s afro-funk I'd ever heard, even more syncopated & rocks off than the more heralded Nigerian and Ethipioan stuff, was 2002's "GHANA SOUNDZ" on the UK's Soundway label. Yet I think they've done themselves one better with this second offering of collected rare 45s and LP tracks from deepest Ghana, circa 1969-1973 or so. This dose travels even further away from the rote JAMES BROWN-isms of the first one and features tracks layering in a rootsy, homegrown African psychedelia. So much of it is suffused with pure joy and unadulterated energy that it's hard not to imagine an entire village going nuts when the funky hard sounds of EBO TAYLOR JNR. & WUTA WAZURI's "Mondo Soul Funky" or the wild opener "Olufeme" from OSCAR SULLEY & THE UHURU DANCE BAND hit the huts after a long days' work. There are definitely numbers on this one that move so far away from any sort of American soul or rock influence that they're totally their own beast, like a great weird one from CHRISTY AZUMA & UPPERS INTERNATIONAL (these cats were total "heads" too!!) called "Naam". It's a CD that invites continued play, over and over, and it gets kids of all ages hopping around the living room. How does ironic detachment and hipster skepticism compete with breezing farfisa organ, an acre of drums going off in every conceivable direction, thumping P-FUNK bass, trumpets and screaming horns everywhere and rhythmic tribal chanting that you can't help but take up in your own special gibberish? I'm still learning the ropes when it comes to this era & scene, but the two GHANA SOUNDZ comps are just stunning through & through. For a deeper, more studied view, here's a good article from Andy Freivogel in DUSTED that might help shine a bit more light & tip the scales for ya.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

This arrived from a mystery man in the same package as the more recent “STARING DOWN THE BARREL”, and until Terminal Boredom’s recent article from a guy whom I believe to be the same mystery man, I thought these were both brand new, 2005 releases. As it turns out, “NO ONE LEFT TO BLAME” came out a couple years ago, and it comprised the punk 45rpm scrapings of two obsessive collectors who decided to give it one last anonymous-comp whirl, subsequently stretched into two last whirls. I like that these rabid accumulators and filtration agents were able to officially confirm for me again that once the Killed By Deaths and Bloodstains comp avalanche stopped, there really weren't that many choice punk 45s left to unearth. For this one, they found some sizzlers for sure, such as the fantastic dullard stomp of Worcester, MA's COMMANDOS and "Suburb Rock". This is the sort of dum-and-stupid two-chord classic that later trash punk bands like the SUICIDE KINGS cut their inglorious teeth on, and I love that the Commandos' ageless singer simultaneously sounds both constipated and totally loaded. You also can't lose with the tasteful "Dogshit" by ANTLER JOE & THE ACCIDENTS, nor with a great test-pressing only track from the BERLIN BRATS (here called just the BRATS) called "Psychotic". Oh, and you reckoned "Give 'Em a Fight" from Buffalo's WRECK'N CREW would be some dumb-ass oi garbage? No way hoss, it's a '77 style screamer, from a guy named "Oil Can" or something who later moved to Chicago to form THE EFFIGIES. It's a solid, high 3rd-tier punk compilation all around, featuring stuff insanely limited and available either for 50 cents (thrift store in Lincoln, NE) or $500 (eBay) -- or whatever it takes to secure the 20 tracks here in one convenient 12" package.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I feel like the only living soul who doesn’t “get” the hype machine on these guys. To me, BLACK TIME approximate the sound of 1990-era PAVEMENT attempting to “go garage punk” after listening to a couple CRIME records, yet not being able to pull off a new bold sound even half as exciting as their own existing mediocre meanderings. Seriously, it’s great to hear the British stand up and take notice of raw American punk in the Dangerhouse style, but how much greater would it be to not weakly ape it with dumb referential lyrics and titles (“First Blood”, “Catholic Discipline”), and instead bust out some true Dangerhouse-like moves? You’re not going to find them here unless you’re a little too easily impressed (and I say this with the utmost of dignity and respect for those wise friends whom I know disagree). Having delved into the deepest corners of this first LP, now CD, in search of the red-hot screaming berserk fury that others are finding, I’m locating only marginal songs and dishwater-gray stabs at dynamism & anger. I went and listened to their 45s and it wasn’t there either. It’s sorta like this band “The Lord High Fixers” whom I once saw, who flailed around the stage, threw shit, broke every string, knocked over everything, and generally did everything in their collective power to let you know that the electrified power of rock and roll was shooting through their veins & forcing them to go bananas. The music was mediocre and tame and I can’t remember a song to save my life. Now maybe if the BLACK TIME guys aimed their guns at some nice, clean, melodic indie rock instead, they’d have a little more luck, as they sound tailor made for alternative radio and the Matador label, and just need to lose all the fakisms that pervade this pusillanimous platter.

Friday, December 09, 2005
“RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN : POST-PUNK 1978-84” by Simon Reynolds.....

Like you, like everyone, I’ve got a time and place to pinpoint my warp-factor surge of interest in music that travels beyond the commercial Top 40. And in retrospect, though it’s kind of embarrassing, it explains why I felt the need to order this particular book the same day I heard about it. Though I was already a 13-year-old fan of offbeat groups of the “new wave” and had heard a little punk rock on the local college station, I think the day my mom took me to the “Little Professor Book Center” (I’m not kidding) in San Jose, CA in October 1980 might have sealed the deal. There I found a kid’s bookstore that was in the process of transforming itself into a New York City-style cornucopia-of-magazines store, and in the racks were copies of Britain’s NME, Sounds and Melody Maker. That day, I bought a copy of Sounds with Howard Devoto from MAGAZINE on the cover, and I’m serious, in the intervening weeks I must have read that single issue a dozen times back-to-front. Not knowing that the same thing was already going on in the US and had been for years, I was floored by the sheer number of new, inventive “post-punk” bands that were releasing 45s every week, gigging constantly across the UK, and that were generating rhapsodic hyperbole from the music writers of the day. I had thought in my youth and naiveté that the only two stands of the movement were punk (the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, The Avengers) and “new wave” (the B-52s, the Bush Tetras, Talking Heads). Mom took me back a couple weeks later and I stocked up on more Sounds, NMEs and Melody Makers, and that really helped beget the obsessive record accumulation that continues to this day. I bought many of the records discussed in this book sound-unheard (“Bela Legosi’s Dead” and even X’s “White Girl” 45, for instance), just because the UK music papers said they were the best of the best.

I relate all this because those same music papers were the blessing & the curse for Simon Reynolds, himself a current British music journalist about whom I know almost nothing about. Blessing in the sense that they compelled him as a teen, as they did me, to explore the abundance of cheap 45s & to listen to great radio (him, John Peel; me, KFJC) to figure out what to buy next, and therefore get the firsthand exhilarating rush of taking part in a particularly buoyant era of rock music. Curse in that Reynolds fell for the papers’ ridiculous hypotheses and outsized pronouncements about mediocre bands that had one intelligent, kindred-soul loudmouth, so that the whole book reads less like a history of “post punk” than of the UK music papers’ interpretation of post punk. I know, because I read their drivel repeatedly back then, and when it pops up on the internet today, it often reflects in hindsight just how bad and tone-deaf some of that writing truly was. I’ll tell you what I like about this book, though – Reynolds casts such a wide net in writing about “post-punk” that he reels in some great chapters about neglected or overlooked music. This book actually reads best when taken chapter by chapter, because one exciting chapter about the militant Leeds scene (GANG OF FOUR, DELTA 5, AU PAIRS) or early industrial music (THROBBING GRISTLE and WHITEHOUSE – surprisingly the best chapter in the whole book) will likely be followed by one that talks about uninteresting fops like Malcolm McClaren or the “synthpop revolution”. Hometown pride aside, I was pleasantly surprised to see an entire, well–told set of pages called “Freak Scene: Cabaret Noir and Theater of Cruelty in Post-Punk San Francisco”. It focuses on FLIPPER, the RESIDENTS, CHROME, TUXEDOMOON etc, and helps to rewrite a scene history that’s been given short shrift by most conventional accounts of this era to date. He revisits territory covered in other books as well – the SST scene, MISSION OF BURMA, GANG OF FOUR, and of course, perhaps the top exponent of the broadly-defined post-punk bands, THE FALL. Reynolds even writes well about the UK goth scene that I have a small soft spot in my heart for – Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, the March Violets, the Birthday Party and the Virgin Prunes. He comes off as a pretty affable guy who didn’t have to do much homework, as he was already making himself a big part of this era by religiously attending gigs and devouring the weekly rags.

Said rags would often build up these inane bands because they happened to have some blabbermouth “character” in their ranks who was given to grand pontification about the future of music and his band’s unique role in it. I’m talking about people like “Green” from SCRITTI POLITTI, or Julian Cope, or Pete Wylie from a forgettable band called WAH! HEAT. I remember when a band like WAH! HEAT or THEATER OF HATE or THE ASSOCIATES would be raved about every issue in the NME, all because some shameless schmoozer in the band had what it took to get the “mere pseug mag ed”s to write about him. Reynolds still raves about these people as if 21-28 years hadn’t passed and as if these acts’ less-than-meager roles in music development’s history hadn’t been firmly established. I remember these magazines would also get really worked up about great statements of ambition from total pop schlockmeisters like HEAVEN 17 and their “British Electric Foundation”, or the people behind ZTT Records -- the label that brought you FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. These stories are placed on an equal footing with those of The Fall or Pere Ubu, and while I know there’s no accounting for taste, the inanity of stacking this deservedly-forgotten music next to artists whose influence is felt in waves today could be called high treason.

At least Reynolds makes some sense out a previously-useless term. Post Punk is defined as what happened when the start-a-band ethos of punk got trickled down to towns outside of London and to people who might not have been particularly nihilistic nor punk-rock dumb, yet who already had a creative or artistic streak just waiting to be sparked. These people ran with it in creating new vistas for punk after the hype and excitement of the first wave had worn off, and Reynolds is pretty convincing at marking its apotheosis at about 1984 (in the sense that that’s when the creativity and spark started to run dry, in both the UK and US). He also thankfully does not claim that rock and roll was reinvented by NIRVANA in 1992. He proves to not be stuck in his glory years when he writes in the afterword about the bands of 2000-2005 that have taken ideas from his heroes & run with them in new directions (I’m actually far more cynical and critical about The Raptures, the Interpols and the Franz Ferdinands than he is). With the appropriate caveats detailed thus far, “Rip It Up and Start Again” has enough meat and interesting tidbits to be worth your while.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I’ve only a heard a few bands of recent vintage convincing enough to not just recycle ’66 garage punk & “make it sound fresh again”, but to truly make it sound as dangerous and raw as it must’ve sounded in 1966. Despite a little too much fuzz & some overdone snotty vocals, England’s MYSTREATED were pretty hot there for about a year or two, and pulled off the jacked-up American “Back From The Grave” sound real well. Best I’ve heard since them is the BLACK LIPS, particularly on some of their smoking razor-blues 45s like the outstanding “Freak Out”. This brand new CD, too, cranks it up real well early on, & the opening 90-second gate-crasher “Sea of Blasphemy” is nearly perfect. Totally drop-dead simple jangle guitar, muffled cheap-mic vocals and what sounds like a full on Sunset Strip teenage riot breaking behind them. It’s the same sort of a out-of-control cacophony you hear in awesome retreads like THE MORLOCKS’ “In the Cellar” & it is gonna be a staple for all the teen parties & sock hops I’ll be hosting the rest of 2005. The next one, “Can’t Dance” is wild 1977 SICK THINGS/KILLJOYS-like punk with an acre of fuzz & fuck-you attitude to match. Third track in, “Boomerang”, is another mid-tempo ’66 hustler that could’ve come right off of “I Was A Teenage Caveman” or some other ballistic punk comp from the early days of 60s unearthings. Man, this is gonna be an amazing record, right? I wish I could say the quality quotient stayed as knockout impressive from this point on, but it doesn’t. There are many different slices of the psychedelic 60s rainbow that are all performed adequately, and if there aren’t some serious, studied record collectors in this band, I’ll eat my hat. Maybe you get a 1-2-3 groin kick to start a record like this one does, you get all spoiled and expect superhuman feats that just aren’t possible from a gaggle of barely post-teen newcomers. “Let It Bloom” positions these guys as a stupendous 45s band for now, one who might benefit from a little wheat/chaff separation next time they sit down at the mixing desk. I’m telling you though, at times THE BLACK LIPS sound as exciting and wild as the CHEATER SLICKS did roughly 12-13 years ago, and that’s high praise that I definitely would not throw around lightly. I’m marking them on my can’t-miss-live checklist & expect to be suitably blown away when they play my town next.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Yesterday mention was made on this site of the ocean of bizarro, shoestring-budget obscurities pouring out of the Anglophilic countries circa 1978-82, many of which are slowly being brought back to consciousness thanks to mp3 blogs, tribute sites and comps like Hyped2Death’s MESSTHETICS and HOMEWORK series. One such record I remember quite well, but never owned until I found this web site & scooped up all five tracks, was the darkly weird INFLATABLE BOY CLAMS 2x45. KFJC, my teenage radio station of choice, used to play the novelty track “I’m Sorry” from this set all the friggin’ time, and the first time I heard it, it was my favorite song the whole rest of the day. Then I’d hear it three more times a day & the sheen wore off fast – and until last week, I hadn’t heard it in over 20 years (!). “Skeletons” sounds like the rarely-glimpsed side of 45 GRAVE that was keyboard-heavy & proficient in dark, campy cabaret rock. It’s a little goofy, but jarring and endearing nonetheless. The band were part of the small scene that sprung up around San Francisco’s Club Foot circa 1980-81, a scene that existed on the fringe of the far more extreme FACTRIX/MONTE CAZAZZA/SRL stuff that was big in play at the time & was certainly a ways off from FLIPPER, THE LEWD and their misanthropic ilk. If they’d been from LA, their pals would likely have been the LAFMS crew like MONITOR and BPEOPLE. I’ve never heard PINK SECTION (to my knowledge), but two members of that band were in the Clams as well. Lots more can be learned at the aforementioned Inflatable Boy Clams tribute site. They must have been together only long enough to record this one session, because a band with four females making their own off-beat, deliberately tuneless racket should have been a hot enough property for at least a Subterranean or even a Rough Trade record deal, wouldn’t you think? The more I listen to these tracks, the more they transcend the kitschy novelty aspect, and head toward something a little more timeless and interesting. Let’s reevaluate this thing again a few years from now, what do you say?

Monday, December 05, 2005

One of the great under-the-floorboard artifacts of the late 70s flowering of UK bedroom post-punk is the four-song EP from Camden’s STEPPING TALK. Low-key and aimless to a fault, it illustrates perfectly that special rainy, damp, cold leftist/labour D.I.Y. sound that encapsulates barely-pre-Thatcher Britain in 1979. As I understand it, the band were drinking pals with the early SCRITTI POLITTI, with whom they share that shambling, agitprop-infused approach. “Alice in Sunderland” employed the two-concurrent vocals trick popular at the time, where one guy sings and a girl tells a totally unrelated story on top of him. Weird horns float in, out & around a thumping but lackadaisically-played bass. The excellent “Common Problems” sounds as if the band, attempting but failing to play in unison for most of the song, had a piece of carpet pulled from under them midway through & scrambled to keep playing in spite of it. The form and construction of these little set pieces owe something to jazz, but more likely there were a very deliberate attempt to pull off something jazz-like by playing particular instruments in sequences exactly backward of what one would expect from the rock music of the day. The instrumental “John’s Turtles” is the most experimental of the bunch, and sounds like a strange & frightening tribute to some peculiar British-created white man’s dub. It’s a really cool period piece from an era in which it seemed like 20 of these warped, provincial slices of indie vinyl came out every week in the UK and US.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ever since I fell for Jamaican dub in a big way some 5-6 years ago, and particularly since I embarked on a half-hearted historical study of said form. I’ve been dying to hear the record that some authorities have called “the first dub album ever”, 1972’s “Java Java Java Java” by the musicians clustered around Kingston Studio & record shop “Randy’s”. Moreover, because one of the greatest sets of eat-you-alive early dub recordings (“IMHO”) is the IMPACT ALL-STARS“Forward The Bass – Dub From Randy’s” CD, and because many of those tracks have a lineage directly from the “Java x4” sessions, well, I’ve been hot to hear it for sure. Yet of all the dub riches flowing every year onto CD, no one’s taken the initiative (to my knowledge) to press up this landmark record onto digital, and I figured original copies were going to change hands for $100 and upwards and didn’t bother scanning the listings. Everything eventually turns up on CD or at least on Soulseek, right? Imagine my surprise when I inadvertently fell upon a reissued version of the LP last month at a record store in Santa Cruz, CA, a town very friendly to natty dread culture. Tearing off the shrink wrap, plopping my kid in front of the TV and slamming the door to my record sanctuary, this is what I found.

“Java Java Java Java” is strikingly pedestrian when stacked up against the ribbon-cutting manipulations of later pioneers like KING TUBBY and SCIENTIST. I suspect it’s because much of the source material in 1972 emanated from either late 60s rocksteady or the early straight-up soulful reggae music that was popular at the time, whereas Tubby and his peers had the harder-edged, cavernous bass-thumping “roots” music to work with circa 1974 and onward. Befitting its status as the first dub record, its cosmic experimentations aren’t particularly cosmic, which is definitely not to say they aren’t good. Rather, what you get is instrumentation that drops out, but not dramatically. You get vocals that echo and horns that are tripled & quadrupled, but not in a manner that fries the mind, or as my friend MM delicately puts it, “tears your face off”. Some tracks – like “Black Man Dub” and “Guiding Dub” (same rhythm as “Jaro” from “Forward The Bass”) are essential & are full of foreboding and mystery, whereas others sound like lightly-treated reggae of relatively minor consequence. Mostly, though, it’s a consistently solid slab of “version” before “version” had hit the mainstream of Jamaica.

Oh, and most online representations of this record have it as being performed by the “Impact All-Stars”, but it’s my distinct impression that that moniker was only conjured up after “Forward The Bass” came out in 1998, and that this record was only known by its working title until recently. Correct me if I’m wrong, dubheads linking to this site from the Terminal Boredom and In The Red links pages (by the way, a huge chunk of Agony Shorthand’s traffic comes from those links, so thank you to both of ya). That’s one of the things that makes weird dub perfect for collector dorks: the mysterious packaging, the ultra-limited pressings, the no-picture-sleeve 45s, and the immense quantity of the goods only available on vinyl to this day. Now that I’ve heard the fount of it all, I’m absolutely the better for it, and will continue my deep dive into all corners of this strange and challenging strain of creativity.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Another slab of high highs and low lows from a band determined to hammer out at least three distinct styles of heavy rock music each outing, only one or two of which they’re capable of pulling off. Their mid-tempo Stones/Dolls rawk numbers such as “Dance Alone” continue to be the least interesting thing about them, but they keep camping it up in this style every record and in the process sound like any other strutting bar band doing the same thing ad infinitum since ‘72. Far be it for me to recommend flaying their one unassailable trick repeatedly, but the only time the band is full of any honest-to-god fire & brimstone is when they scream and flail and chop violently at their instruments, a la the excellent “MindFUCKblues” on this 45 from a little over a year ago that we're just getting around to hearing now. Come to think of it, I’ve reviewed the band several times in this forum over the past couple years & I’ve said roughly the same thing each time: I want the obviously talented HUNCHES to keep the loose, ugly juggernaut of demon LAUGHING HYENAS-like bad seedism they do so well, and lose the remainder. And I dig competent rawk, just as I dig a decent ballad or love sonnet, but not from a band who have short-sightedly stocked their arsenal with one single bad-ass bunker buster.