Agony Shorthand

Monday, July 31, 2006

This release originally came out in 1979 as a compilation of 45s that AUGUSTUS PABLO had recorded with Clive Chin and with his holiness KING TUBBY from 1972-75, and it has seen its way to a couple of different LP & CD "versions" since that time. "Original Rockers" features a handful of dubs and some relaxed & spaced-out instrumentals, and some stuff in a netherworld between the two. Pablo's melodica is not as omnipresent as it is on the ruling "King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown" (simply put, one of the Top 5 dub records of all time & for many folks it's the hands-down #1), but he's definitely around on certain cuts, snaking his way through all sorts of drop-outs & whipcrack effects. In fact many of these backing tracks are heard on that record, as well as the two other Augustus Pablo discs I have, "El Rocker's" and "In Fine Style". Would it be too controversial to suggest that the way of the 1970s dubmaster was to source a couple of dozen great songs, and then mix, mix, mix the hell out of them into bold new forms? Either that or it's just coincidence that I feel like I've heard every backing track on here before - which is not at all to say this one isn't fantastic nonetheless. Anything by Augustus Pablo from this era is creepy, disjointed, sparse and yet totally beautiful, especially when he fires up the melodica and lets it slither around. This is just a great set of dub and near-dub, & I know there's lots more of his back catalog I still gotta get acquainted with.

Sunday, July 30, 2006
WE GOT NEW COMMENTS.......So I finally figured out how to bury myself deep in this site's code & replace Squawkbox as our comments provider. Their frequent outages - and the fact they're about to go out of business - forced my hand, so say hello to Haloscan, the new comments provider. Let's give him a try!

Unfortunately this means that more than 3 years' worth of comments - which may include comments you drunkenly typed at 4am in response to some inanity I wrote - are now deceased. I've already said my prayers, but feel free to say yours. Thank you for all that chatter, it makes the site worth reading in my eyes, and please feel free to keep it coming. And yes, I saved all the comments from the SWA post two years ago. Ain't no way they were taking those away from me. Say hello as well to a link to HEDONIST BEER JIVE, our sister site, up above you. I figgered out how to do that as well. Magic!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Not at all what I expected after reading a pre-release cover story in the SF Weekly on this duo, who came across as the most organic & earthen hippies imaginable, and who I expected would have a pretty predictable whisper-folk sound, a la ESPERS, DEVENDRA BANHART etc. No, instead BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT’s debut CD is a really great mélange of Memphis soul, backwards percussion loops that sound almost dub-like, and weirdly transcendent, fluttering instrumentation that exist in their space & no one else’s. I’m really into it, and have been listening to it nonstop for two weeks. The first track, “Everybody Daylight”, will be the one to grab you if any of them will – it’s got a real deceptively lowdown feel, with horns, quietly tinkling keyboards & grooveful organ, and like a lot of the tracks on here, it’s kind of a “jam” that goes on for a bit and I’m telling ya, you won’t mind in the least. The vocals on this are run through different effects boxes that give the impression of a chorus of dirty angels hovering over the molasses-paced grooves underneath. Very nice. It’s kind of a new step forward for indie rock in 2006 – I mean, there are bands like Calexico & Califone and even Giant Sand at times who’ve sounded sorta like this in the past, but those bands really do sound a bit too indie for my taste & this stuff’s too strange to truly be compared with them. Justin Farrar at the SF Weekly correctly states that “this 10-track collection of hushed, slow-drip gospel funk is the perfect prescription — I mean soundtrack — to skinny white boys lining their veins with gold at 3 a.m.”. If that sound like you, then come on aboard.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A couple of months ago I was able to break bread and sample adult beverages with Mike Atta and his family in Fullerton, CA, thanks to a mutual friend and his family. We all three of us have boys around the same age, and an abiding love for Southern California punk rock of the late 70s, though only one of us actually helped to invent it. Guitarist Atta and his fellow teenage brothers Jeff & Bruce created one of the gnarliest and crazed punk bands of any era, THE MIDDLE CLASS, and as heralded before on this site, their “Out of Vogue” EP from 1978 is a stone classic, one of the most berserk records of all time & a true rock and roll landmark. I’ve seen some references here and there over the past couple years to the Middle Class, that record, and their subsequent records (the “Scavenged Luxury” 7”EP and the “Homeland” LP), but their mythology has remained unpenetrated to date. Until now.

We talked punk rock and child care that balmy evening in Fullerton, and Mike was kind enough to agree to an e-mail interview with Agony Shorthand in the correspondence that followed. Here’s what transpired:

Agony Shorthand: We’ll start with probably the most generic of all questions about the Middle Class and the band’s legacy, such as it is. What do you make of the notion that “Out of Vogue” EP was the first hardcore punk record?

Mike Atta: It's nice to have something to be remembered for, but sorry kids, Middle Class was about as hardcore as Dr Pepper (which, by the way, fueled our speed). We were very fast, tense, tight, sonic, loud, young, excited, nervous, naive, and only slightly pissed...actually more annoyed than pissed. Our Out of Vogue era gigs did manage to whip up a frenzy, but nothing so aggressive or violent as hardcore would later be know for. As far as Out of Vogue being the first hardcore record, I'm not even sure I know what that means, but….um …ok. Something for the obituary I guess....

Agony Shorthand: What sort of response did the band get from the Hollywood/Masque crew? Was there truly a distinct bias against anything from South of Hollywood or did you guys fit in well with the Bags, Germs, Weirdos, X, Metrosquad, etc.?

Mike Atta: Early on Exene asked us "why do you guys have to play so fast?" I don't think anybody knew what to make of us, 20 songs in 20 minutes, we didn't look the part either but some people found that even more disturbing. Middle Class wasn't blues, rock, or pop based. There wasn't any reference for fans of "rock and roll" to latch on to. You either liked it or you didn't. Some responded well, some just ignored us.

As far as OC bias, that didn't exist when we started, there was plenty of bias, but not geographic bias. That would come later when the other kind of "Beach Boys" would trade in their shoulder pads and cleats for bandannas and engineer boots. Most people in the early scene were from somewhere else. At the time being from Orange County was just like being from the Valley, just another place off the 5 freeway.

We managed to slip in at an opportune time. The punk community was very small, so if 75 people found you less than annoying, you had a majority. The musical styles of the bands of the time were quite diverse. Anything that wasn't mainstream and had an attitude was given a shot. After playing our first gig (The Germs, The Bags, The Controllers and Middle Class for $2.00. Top that!) getting shows proved pretty easy, at least at first when we where content on opening. All the other bands from that era had been on the scene for sometime and nobody wanted to open. We were very happy to oblige. Looking back on it we got plenty of support from the other bands of the time, The Dils, Germs, Alleycats, Screamers, and Zeros in particular. We fit in so well with the Bags that my brother Bruce (Middle Class drummer) dated Alice for 4 or 5 years. We also got our fair share of Slash and Flipside press. For our third gig (at the Whiskey) we got a lengthy, great review in Slash. We went from zero to being in the middle of the LA punk scene within six weeks. It was pretty amazing to us.

Agony Shorthand: Second most generic question. How do you explain 3 brothers, all into punk rock, all playing in the same band, all playing different and complimentary instruments (your brother Jeff’s auctioneer vocals included, of course)?

Mike Atta: I really can't explain it. I think that's why it worked. We basically learned together. We had no musical background, training, or pedigree. I had been playing for about 6 months at the end of 1976 when I hooked up with my brother Jeff's high school chum Mike Patton. Jeff and Mike were always on the outside a bit, listening to The Stooges, Sonics, MC5, Eno, Bowie, Modern Lovers. So when punk reared its ugly head with the Ramones, they were ready. Urging me to drop my 16 year old Joe Perry yearnings, Mike Patton started a group with me, my brother Bruce on vocals, and some real "dude from HB" on drums. When the speed of Ramones covers became to much for the HB boy, Bruce decided he could learn drums, and Jeff figured if Bruce could just decide to play drums, then he could sing. We had nothing going on outside the band. You know, misfit types. So we locked ourselves away in a Santa Ana storage unit for about a year, figured out our instruments together, and what you hear is what came out. It was just the way you hear punk should be, four people just decide they can be a band and then do it.

Agony Shorthand: How did the Atta parents react to the teenage punk rock invasion under their roof? Any good stories of them having to bump up against Darby Crash or Black Randy at gigs?

Mike Atta: Our parents were very supportive. We grew up in a not-so-nice part of Santa Ana with six kids and very few dollars. Middle Class gave their aimless, bored boys purpose and confidence. I was on the fast track to loady-dom and Jeff and I stayed in our room a lot. So they were very happy that we found something. Plus, they thought our punk rock girl friends were cute.

Our dad never saw us play live. Our mom came to the Whiskey and saw us play with the Germs. She and my little sister (9 at the time) met Darby, Lorna and Dinky (Bonebrake) and Michelle. We steered her clear of Pat and Don. My mom thought they were all very nice people. She also liked Bowie. Darby would be happy to know that.

Agony Shorthand: You told me about a West Coast mini-tour that your youngest brother Bruce wasn’t allowed to go on, and that you had to hastily ask Don Bolles (GERMS) to fill in for. Tell us what that trip was like, including any Bolles stories you care to mention.

Mike Atta: Bruce was 15 at the time and our parents weren't quite ready for him to rock beyond the Grapevine. We played with the Germs a lot and asked Don to play drums with us. We practiced in the basement of the Canterbury two or three times and realized that Don had no desire to learn our songs. He ended up playing the opening drum riff to Lexicon Devil at Middle Class speed for all 20 songs in our set. My memory may not be correct, but this might have been the time that we were maced at the Mabuhay by disgruntled Marines who thought they paid their 5 bucks for a North Beach boob show and ended up with Middle Class. How awful for them....

I do have Don Bolles stories, but, as with a lot of Don Bolles stories, they don't end pretty.

Agony Shorthand: Back to Jeff’s vocals on that first EP – it’s one of the most distinct set of vocal performances in punk history I’ve ever heard, particularly on “Out of Vogue”. Please comment.

Mike Atta: My brother Jeff had a lot to say. The problem was he had to say it fast because we weren't going to wait for him. He had to force all the lyrics, verses, and choruses of a three minute song into a one minute speed fest. His vocals became like the drums or guitars. All down strokes. I think he had no choice, it just had to be that way.

Agony Shorthand: Since Middle Class were truly more of an “artpunk” band, even from the first record, than many of the groups you automatically got lumped in with – and since you played on bills that weren’t always just the punk-by-numbers bands – can you tell us a little bit about what you guys were digging at the time, and how that evolved as the band continued on to record your 1982 “Homeland” LP?

Mike Atta: We were always a band who was influenced by what was happening right in our time. Musically, politically, and socially. We fully embraced the Clash's '77 mantra "no Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones". Again, Jeff was always on the underground side of music buying all early '74- '76 punk releases when they came out or other bands that were branded punk 'cause there was no place else to put 'em My guitar influences were bands like Wire (12XU), Buzzcocks (Spiral Scratch ep), Ramones(1st LP). The oldest thing I was into at the time was The Modern Lovers. I always loved the diverse bands of our little universe. The chaos of the Germs, the tension of the Screamers, the spectacle of Black Randy, the political posturing of the Dils, etc, etc....It was all very brilliant.

A little later, when the definition of punk narrowed, bands like Pop Group, Gang of Four and Joy Division would have an obvious effect on us.

Agony Shorthand: The sort of jagged, skeletal stuff you were making in the 80s were not typically sounds one associates with Orange County, CA during the hardcore & beachpunk explosion. How was it received within the County, and were there any other kindred souls down there that you were regularly gigging with around that time?

Mike Atta: As usual, Middle Class was doing something slightly out of step. By the time OC and hardcore became big we evolved, by the time the other stuff was catching on we quit. A lot the kids in that beach scene hated us by 1981. A lot of the bands from OC that got their first LA gigs because of Middle Class didn't understand what was going on with us. They became OC hardcore. We ran from it. We started playing shows with bands that were formed from the ruins of past bands and bands formed by fans of the first punk wave. People who were listening to bands like Joy Division and Gang of Four. I can't really remember any bands from OC that were going in the same direction as us at that time. A lot of the original bands from LA reacted to OC hardcore differently a few embraced it, most were frightened by it, many were breaking up, exploring their inner folkiness, dying or becoming pop stars.

Agony Shorthand: I have a pretty good sense of what you’re up to in 2006 – what about your brothers Jeff and Bruce? Mike Patton (bass)? Matt Simon (post-Bruce Atta drummer)?

Mike Atta: Jeff works with my wife and I, running our art and design shop in Downtown Fullerton. It's next to our vintage modern furniture and clothing shop. Bruce is a philosophy professor at Cal State LA. Mike Patton was, the last time I checked, a union negotiator for bus drivers in the OCTA. I'm seeing him in a couple weeks so there may be an update. Matt Simon, who I see frequently, is a third grade teacher.

Agony Shorthand: Has Middle Class ever been seriously approached to reunite, even if just for a gig or two?

Mike Atta: I've said it before. History is remembering us pretty well, we shouldn't fuck it up by playing again.

I really have mixed feelings about this. That time period, that music, that band, that scene, the whole thing helped shape me, my opinions, my humor, my extreme likes and severe dislikes. Those bands really meant something; they changed music and broke down barriers. Bands were fans- fans were bands. Anyone can do it - this was true. Playing today is just pure nostalgia. It means nothing. And that bothers me. I have this fear that, in the not too distant future, all the bands that once stood for something different will end up on a public television special. A gala event, "The Stars of LA Punk Rock" Nicholas Cage will be the host in his "Valley Girl" punk get-up and everybody will have the same backing band. Exene will sing Los Angeles, John Denney will sing Life of Crime, all 35 Black Flag singers will sing Nervous Breakdown together, and because nobody really remembers, that fake and phony ER dude will still do Darby. It'll be just like those 50's doo wop shows....

We did come close to reuniting once. A couple of years ago, Brendan Mullen (Masque) who was always a fair guy to us, asked us to play the class of '77 show. To my surprise, my brothers agreed; the only stumbling block was the two week prep time. Playing that fast after a twenty five year layoff would be difficult at best. The Adolescents have asked us to be a surprise guest at a House of Blues Show, but....naw.

We were asked to do The Germs Return Show. They wanted to re-create the original show which featured The Germs, Middle Class, and The Minutemen. I responded that we had the only original singer that was alive and I didn't want to kill my brother to do the show. Jeff said he would do it if we got an actor from ER to play him. Maybe that Noah Wyle feller.....

If, down the road, we do a reunion show, please disregard all of the above.

Agony Shorthand: Your retrospective CD “A Blueprint For Joy” came out in the late 90s and can barely be found any longer. Is there anything else in the works that might get these crazed sounds out to a new generation?

Mike Atta: We will be releasing a retrospective on Frontier Records sometime this year. It will have all the studio material that appeared on A Blueprint for Joy, plus recently discovered studio demos from just before the Out of Vogue single and before we got our first show.

Out of Vogue will appear on the soundtrack of American Hardcore this fall on Rhino.

Friday, July 21, 2006

OPAL changed their sound fairly drastically after their first sets of 1983-87 recordings, most of which were completed under the name CLAY ALLISON. With the coming of 1987's "Happy Nightmare Baby", their only proper album, came a band with a huge debt to both first-LP PINK FLOYD and CAN, rather than the soft parade of their strummed "Madcap Laughs"-like whispers over a distinctly quiet 1983-84 paisley underground vibe. These recordings, though, were thankfully not lost to time for long, and in 1989, they were taken together on an LP called "Early Recordings". For a long time this was my favorite of the two Opal discs, particularly because I was so smitten with the tracks "Northern Line" and "Fell From The Sun", two perfect songs of dark night, languid-eyed moon blues. Every girl that I had the hots for and with whom I'd reached the crucial "tape-making stage" around this time got at least one of those two songs on her tape, without question. They're still great, and listening to this today I remember why I almost always played Side 2 of the LP and not the first side. Side A has some precious DOORS-like tomfoolery and is a little too gentle for my tastes, but the first song "Empty Box Blues" is fantastic. Side B really slides into the Opal stuff I really go for, not just the aforementioned tracks but even "Strange Delight" and "Harriet Brown", which some might argue suffer from a bit of preciousness themselves, but I don't friggin' care. I like how the band later developed into a more rocking and mystical beast, and I even hung on through the first MAZZY STAR record, despite Kendra Smith not being part of the band, because - well, because I just liked the overall cut of their jib. I suppose David Roback was instrumental in creating a great starry-eyed spiritual sound that was deceptively working its magick power while I dreamt. It's kind of nice to revisit this stuff the past month & a half and recognize that it deserves a corner seat at the "best of the late 80s" table.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Like you, I like to think of myself as having halfway decent taste in music. I have cultivated said taste over the past thirty-plus years, starting with my religious devotion starting in 1975 at Age 8 documenting & rating every song in Casey Kasem's "American Top 40" countdown (first #1 I ever rated was The Eagles' "New Kid In Town" - I didn't like it). But when I look at how I came to appreciate the nooks & crannies of American & World sub-underground rock music, and what those trigger events were that got me to the music-obsessed freak I am today, I can enumerate roughly five key events:

5. Tuning into a great college radio station (KFJC) for the first time in 1980 and hearing punk rock and burgeoning English post-punk - and liking it

4. Buying my first copies of NME, Sounds and Melody Maker at San Jose's Little Professor Book Center that same year

3. Getting dropped off on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue by my grandparents for 5-6 hours at a time in 1981-84, and spending all of that time looking at & gobbling up 45s and LPs at amazing stores like Rasputin's, Universal, Rather Ripped, Leopold's and even Tower Records

2. Having a clued-in cousin living in the same town as me when I went off to college in 1985, who played me my very first tastes of the Dangerhouse bands, the Flesh Eaters, the Germs and others too numerous to mention

and #1. Finding a copy of FORCED EXPOSURE #10 (the one with Lydia Lunch on the cover) at Rockpile Records in Goleta, CA, and learning just how extensive and inventive the American independent music scene was, while also learning some critical filtering techniques to separate the good from the crap.

During the 1980s I read every Forced Exposure magazine that came out with such a slavish devotion that it practically helped create the record collection that I have to this day. What I loved & still love about it was that it was the most accurate "consumer's guide" I'd ever read, in the sense that if Jimmy Johnson and especially if Byron Coley said it was good, it almost always was. That to me has always been the litmus test for a good fanzine, and in 2006, for a good blog. I've always admired those who were trustworthy gatekeepers, if you will, and there's no doubt this magazine helped me want to atempt to be one myself. I also thought, at age 18, the way Jimmy & Byron snottily but cleverly dismissed halfwits like Jello Biafra was unlike anything I'd ever seen from the mainstream press to that time, and those guys helped to give me more perspective about underground music than anyone else, ever, including items #2-5 in my list above.

I can also now take a look at those magazines from 15-20 years ago, and see that there was a sufficient amount of BS in their pages. In the coming months, I'm going to periodically review & explore each of the Forced Exposure magazines I own, which is all of them starting with #6 pictured above, and give some perspective on why this particular magazine was a treasured jumping-off point for so many of us. I'll also take my trusted sword to the things about it that are patently ridiculous today. I guess my goal is to generate enough excitement about this lost resource so that someone does the right thing and compiles them all into a book or a series of books, much like what Re/Search press did with the SEARCH & DESTROY magazines from the first wave of punk. Stay tuned - the first installment in this fascinating and life-changing series is only days away.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Take a look at this article in Sunday's New York Times (free registration required) and tell me that the death of the record store is not nigh upon us. I give them five years in their current form - if stores like those profiled in this article are still around in 2011, you have my permission to verbally and figuratively flog me for poor prognostication. For those of us for whom such stores have been like temples over our lifetimes, it's kind of a sad story, yet one I don't waste very much time fretting over. The music consumer is now in such an unbelievably rich position that only ill-placed reactionary concern for our pasts keeps us from celebrating the bounty before us. That said, when I would go to cities like Los Angeles, Seattle or New York for the day back in the 80s and early 90s, it was all about hitting as many record stores in that day as possible (before hitting the bars, of course). It recently dawned upon me that I never do that any more, and my half-hearted visits to Kim's Underground and Other Music in NYC in the past year reeked more of nostalgia and "courtesy visits" than anything I got truly excited about pursuing. I haven't thrown in the towel yet & just spent a couple hours poking around Amoeba Music in San Francisco, but hey, I can get just about anything I'm interested in, legally or illegally, digitally or via lightning-quick mailorder, on this here Internet within the next 5 minutes. What about you? Are you still holding on to the dream?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Back in early 2003 I panned what I thought was the debut CD from Detroit’s PIRANHAS, saying all manner of negative things about their overblown moves & their shticky pretend-panic style. I heard a few things from them in the intervening three years that threatened to shift my mindset, but the bitter truth held firm. Then, in one week, I got a CD-R in the mail from an individual “closely associated” with the band that featured their first 45 and 12”EP, and then four days later, this CD arrived in the mail from our friends at ON/ON SWITCH, a San Francisco label. The CD pretty exactly replicates the CD-R I received four days earlier. If this wasn’t enough to convince me that The Piranhas weren’t a totally on-fire carnival punk rock monster at one time (that time being 1999-2001), I don’t know what can. Every last track on here pounds like some wicked stepchild of THE SCREAMERS and (dare I say it) THE DICKIES, but without the cartoonishness of either. “Piranhas Attack” and “Future Primitive” from their EP are amazing Stoogeoid/Ubu-like gems that are as wild and frothing as anything served up by like minds The Hunches or Human Eye, and with this weirdo synthesizer action that really adds some brutal punch. Seriously, this brief CD, which I’ve played like a dozen times this week alone, is one of the touchstones of American rock lunacy this century. I am now a fervent convert. And get this - it's 5 bucks when ordered directly from the label. These guys must’ve been something special live around this time, and I’m bummed it took me until 2006 to get wise to their charms.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Broke this one out of storage the other day to re-live the majesty of the distorted, screaming Lou Reed solos on “I Can’t Stand It” and “What Goes On”, which are nothing short of transformative since that’s really all this bootleg is about. There’s a whole web page devoted to this terrific & unique Velvets bootleg, and here’s what they have to say about it:

On March 15, 1969, The Velvet Underground played its last show of a three-day engagement at The Boston Tea Party in Boston, Massachusetts. The entire set was recorded by a fan directly from Lou Reed's guitar amplifier. The result is that Lou's guitar is out in front of everything else. Vocals and bass are nearly inaudible, so the songs become raw blasting instrumentals. This is one of the most interesting Velvet Underground recordings available and definitively a very special experience...

At times Lou’s guitar is so overloaded that he sounds like later Japanese sound-shapers LES RAZILLES DENUDES, MAINLINER or MUSICA TRANSONIC, who undoubtedly all learned a few lessons from the shorted-out bursts of squeal the Velvets pioneered. What’s even more special about this double-CD bootleg is that the material is generally third album stuff – “the quiet record” – but live it’s anything but unless it’s “Jesus” or “I’m Set Free”. One thing that has to be appreciated in 2006 about the Velvet Underground is just how much transcendent material of theirs remained unreleased in their lifetime, and how many songs we all know by heart now (“Foggy Notion”, “I Can’t Stand It”) were only live songs back then in 1969. It wasn’t until the early 80s’ release of “VU” that this material started to trickle out, and even a few years ago more treasures came forth on the “Peel Slowly and See” box set. “The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes” is at its best on certain numbers where Reed just lets loose and fires away – I’m not as impressed with the “Heroin/Sister Ray” piece as others might be, except for about 5 extreme minutes in the middle of “Sister Ray” which are just genius. This bootleg tacks on a couple of other songs from the same venue in Boston, but from different shows, and these (“Run Run Run”, “Move Right In”, “Foggy Notion”) are just “average” Velvets live tracks due to the non-“guitar amp” nature of them – which is to say they’re great. If you’re looking for special documents of the Velvets’ live majesty, this is one for the ages, all because one stoned fella forgot to remove his pointed little head out of Lou’s amp.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The fountain of WACKIES reissues continues to spill over, courtesy of a German crew who’ve taken the rights to the 1970s Wackies label & are reissuing just about everything the New York-based label ever put out. Naturally I’m particularly interested in the dub stuff they’re doing, since a few of those Wackies dub CDs (“Nature’s Dub”, the “African Roots” series) are among the best spaced-out, psychedelic dub I’ve ever heard. BULLWACKIES’ ALL-STARS were really just the crew behind the label, particularly maestro Lloyd Barnes, with assistance at the mixing controls from Prince Douglas and Jah Upton. I can’t get a definitive story on whether these ten cuts were a fully-formed LP in 1976, or if these tracks are a collection of 45s and 12” mixes that came out around the same time. Doesn’t matter, I suppose. This is a solid, albeit quiet collection of non-explosive, almost completely vocal-free rhythm tracks. Having heard a few of these tracks in different forms from (truth be told) Wackies 45s I downloaded off of Soulseek, I would like to posit that this was indeed a full-fledged LP, since the 45 version of the track “Dub Unlimited” is full of crazy, echoey horns & this one’s much more streamlined. There are a couple of numbers on here (“Disco Dub” and “Dubbing Around”) that echo the dancefloor hit single of the time “Disco Lady” (remember that one? “Shake it up, shake it down…” etc.) without being danceable in & of themselves. The only time this thing really pops off & hits A+ status is track #3, “Dub to Jah”, but everything else is a handsome B or B-. This rapidshare site called SHRICKDRAAD posted an ultra-rare 1975 LP from this same cast of characters called “Free For All Dub” – that’s next on the headphone lineup. I’ll let ya know.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

At the risk of perceived heresy and the threat of great bodily harm from the unwashed army of Beefheart lunatics out there, I have to say I really don’t dig much of the great man's post-“Lick My Decals Off, Baby” (1970) stuff. Listening to "Doc At The Radar Station" all the way through for the first time just confirms it. Granted, it’s from 1980, and a few folks’ll tell you that the Captain was beyond relevance at that point – but you’ll also get a number of partisans ready to pigpile you for questioning anything outside of "Bluejeans and Moonbeams" (the one no one likes). I heard "Doc" years ago & it really bugged me; all the herky, addled avant-blues of his first 4-5 records was muddled with a sort of by-the-numbers patented "Beefheart" vibe that it was clear to me then (and more so now) that he was caught red-handed milking his own persona for the few remaining folks that cared at the dawn of the eighties. Some of it’s so stupendously, calculatingly daffy and Zappa-like grating (like the godawful “Telephone”) that I can’t even listen all the way through. What’s worse, this or ZOOGZ RIFT? Help me, I can’t choose. Let me state for the record that there's a little good on "Doc" as well, like the thumping opener "Hot Head", for instance, and a lot of the harsh instrumental dissonance, but when it comes to the great Captain a 20% "good" ratio is exceptionally sub-par - particularly when I can listen to "Trout Mask" and "Mirror Man" and "Strictly Personal" back-to-back & want to immediately hear them all again (I haven't actually tried it, but I'm pretty sure it might happen). Wanting to fill in the gaps and get a compleat Beefheart collection, just to say you did it? Hey, it's your money, esse!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

This fine new collection from Yazoo is a great example of attempting a “file sharing-buster” to keep folks actually spending money and buying CDs. It sure worked on me. The two discs of “super-rare” old 78s are housed in a DVD-like packaging gatefold – my copy had “not a DVD!” stickers placed on it by the record store – and contains a booklet with liner notes and cartoons by R. Crumb detailing record collector nerd-dom. It just felt good in my hand, and had a killer lineup of exclusive tracks, so I bought it. While not quite the eye-opener that last year’s “American Primitive, Vol. 2” was, this collection of 1920s-30s blues & hillbilly rave-ups has the added bonus of compiling some of the holy grail tracks that collectors & general Americana historians have been seeking for years. This marks the first appearance of two early SON HOUSE tracks that recently were found, “Clarksdale Moan” & “Mississippi County Farm Blues”, which is pretty amazing in & of itself. Neither has the blood-curdling power of “My Black Mama” or “Dry Spell Blues”, but “Clarksdale Moan” in particular is still something special, a mournful, complex, guitar-dazzle deep blues. My top pick, though, is a devastating Skip James-like blues from KING SOLOMON HILL called “Whoopee Blues (alternate take)” – and if I had heard the other one before (I haven’t), it’d still be the most amazing thing on here. Hill evokes the same sort of dragging, death-can’t-come-soon-enough feeling of James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”, and his guitar playing is evocative of personal demons. I can’t get enough of this one, and am going out this week to buy JSP’s cheapo “Paramount Masters” box set, which apparently has the guy’s complete works.

GEESHIE WILEY makes her second appearance in my life after last year’s incredible tracks surfaced on “American Primitive Vol. 2”, but this time she’s merely way above average, with a great lowdown “Skinny Leg Blues”. On the cracker front, the GEORGIA POT LICKERS’ 78 is evidently a huge find in collecting circles, and their 2 tracks on here are a blast – “Up Jumped The Rabbit” and “Chicken Don’t Roost Too High” will have you cacklin’ and gallopin’ around the hog pen, and deserve every bit of reverent praise they’re getting. Very little to whisper ill of on this 2xCD. The 20-page full-color booklet’s really nothing to speak of, just some meditations on collecting and the packrat nature of obsessives who load their house with ephemera (not simply 78rpm records). You gotta figure that collections like this are going to be few in number in subsequent years - even its existance in 2006 is sort of miraculous, as ultra-rare 78s are still turning up in thrift stores and liberated estate sale collections. But there's a rare WILLIE BROWN 78 out there that's never been found nor heard post-1960, and a handful of others, so.......keep those eyes peeled.

Monday, July 10, 2006

With over three years’ worth of reviews & postings accumulating on this site, and no easy way to filter & categorize them, I periodically take a stab at listing out some links to past write-ups that you might be interested in reading. Here’s this month’s batch:

CRIME (live reunion)

Friday, July 07, 2006

Undoubtedly like you and everyone else, I’ve always got at least three or more books sitting around at any given time that are partially read, waiting to be picked up a year or two from now to be finally conquered (or not). Their placement in this purgatorial limbo status is usually indicative of something that’s decidedly sub-par or disappointing in one way or another – either I thought I’d be interested in the subject matter & wasn’t; the writer’s just not wholly engaging but is good enough to not make you up and quit; or the subject matter’s really interesting but its presentation just isn’t. Clinton Heylin’s “BOOTLEG – THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE OTHER RECORDING INDUSTRY” probably suffers in some form from all three, and that’s likely why I only finished it this past week after putting it aside for six long years after beginning it & reading two-thirds of it (it came out in 1996). Heylin, of course, penned the first serious non-fiction treatment of the pre-punk era in 1993’s great “From The Velvets To The Voidoids”, and I lapped that thing in probably three days. Unfortunately, I found this one a real slow go. You’d have thought that a history of the shadow world of vinyl bootleggers and their triumphs, failures, arrests & legal machinations – and what their products meant to those consuming them – might have been a pretty fascinating read, and in the right hands, it might have been.

My problem with it is that Heylin – though he obviously knows a friggin’ ton about music and understands the freakoid nature of record collectors/music obsessers exceptionally well – seems to have taken this behemoth on as a “research project” or possibly even as an “assignment”. At least it sure reads that way. It has all the hallmarks of a meticulously-researched, exhaustively documented mega-encyclopedia entry, with only small bits of passion or drama peeking through from time to time. I honestly only want to know the very broad brush strokes of copyright law in order to discern a picture of what hoops rock & roll bootleggers were jumping through the world over to get their LED ZEP, STONES and DYLAN records to the collectors, but Heylin provides it all – every twist, turn and exploitable loophole in law that helped justify or shut down the bootlegger’s trade. The book has many fine photographs of rare & fabulous-looking vinyl LPs, and occasionally will help explain what made them special to their fans, but this is definitely an underground trade & commerce book first, a rock and roll book second. A distant third is the sociological and psychological underpinnings of the bootleg collector and what drives the market for, say, that Van Morrison concert in Monterey ’69. I find that sort of angle way more interesting (and naturally, personally relevant) than how Taiwanese law evolved to allow illicit record production for a brief period in the 1980s. So much of this is “skimmable” material that in the end my only real take-aways were few:

1. Bob Dylan is the most-bootlegged recording artist of all time, with the Stones and Led Zeppelin close behind
2. In the 1990s, bootleg buyers were far more apt to purchase CD bootlegs of Nirvana, Soundgarden and the Red Hot Chili Peppers than they were CD bootlegs of old Dylan and Stones shows (imagine that!)
3. The recording industry always seems to be fighting the wrong battle, fights them incoherently and irrationally, loathes their consumers, and almost always seems to lose

Furthermore, in 2006 the shadow world of 1960s-80s LP bootleggers seems remarkably quaint. Heylin in 1996 could not have completely foreseen the effect of file-sharing and Rapidshare on the bootleg (or on the recording) industry, but if it was fading out due to CDs at the end of his book, and it was, it’s just about dead as a doornail now. I can’t legitimately ask nor recommend that you invest the time required to complete this tome, as I could barely muster the courage to do so myself, but perhaps there remains an interesting and well-articulated story of this underground rock and roll shadow economy to be transmitted by someone else, maybe after the epochal 21st-Century upheaval in music consumption has settled down and taken hold for a few years.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Intense, layered, guitar acid-wash motorbike rock from a San Francisco act who, with one record, are now one of my favorite bands on the planet circa 2006. Imagine an ear-blowing cross between SUICIDE, “White Light/White Heat” VELVET UNDERGROUND, the guy that did that “Get Stoned Ezy With The Afflicted Man” record and some nut with a tape loop machine, and you’ve got WOODEN SHJIPS on this wide-grooved psychedelic head trip. The first side is the monster title track, which sounds like an army of bikers with guitars gone completely haywire on mushrooms & ready to mow down every pusillanimous punker in their path. They carry this on for many, many a minute, but no matter how long it is it’s just not long enough – the needle’s going right back where it started. W-o-w. This is truly one for the out-there “heads” and the “garage punks” to sit down together and break bread over. “Death’s Not Your Friend” is the ghostly Suicide-ish one and is just as great, sounding just like they got Eno to guest star on keyboards for the soundtrack to some modern vampire flick; “Space Clothes” is a bunch of bizarre looping, backwards shit & test-pattern guitar, and it’s totally eerie and mean. When your pals tell you there’s no good new bands poppin’ up in 2006, you need to grab them by their fine Dacron ensembles and force-feed them this gargantuan EP. Time to hit the hustings and learn more about WOODEN SHJIPS and ask why they’re literally giving it away when this should be $100 on eBay right now (!).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Those of you who stumbled hard for the HOME BLITZ EP might find this one from a sub-underground Oakland duo called the TOUCH-ME-NOTS nearly as right on. From my jaded perch, it’s better by a mile. When I spin the big-hole 45 grooves of their debut single I am catapulted back to the era of private-press American outsider rock that took place during the punk era but wasn’t exactly “punk” and sounded completely divorced from the present while occupying its own world – JOHN BERENZY GROUP, SCREAMIN’ MEE-MEES, and the like. This isn’t nearly as accomplished as the former nor as beguilingly retarded as the latter, but sue me if this just ain’t a fantastic debut just the same. The duo – a boyfren & a girlfren (or maybe husband & wife, not sure) pull off this real simple, fried 50s-style ruckus with aplomb, and could be a big-city cousin to modern backwoods greats like anything Jeff Evans or Walter Daniels are involved with. Yeah, and it gets better every time I hear it too. “Celebrity Roast” is the frothing, spit-flying rockabilly hit of the summer (a wild-as brother to CRÈME SODA’s awesome “I’m Chewing Gum”), and if these two take a step out of the basement this year & start really connecting with the kids, you can say that you got to hear the first one before anyone else did. That is, if you get it while it’s still around by emailing them at

Monday, July 03, 2006

I know that when Scott Soriano’s S-S RECORDS seeks to put a comp together, his stated model follows the anything-goes art/punk nexus of the early 80s Los Angeles scene comps put out by Mike Watt & Spot’s New Alliance and New Underground labels. These include “Chunks”, “Cracks In The Sidewalk” and the three volumes of the “Life Is....” Series – compilations that would juxtapose punk scene heavy hitters of the day like Black Flag, The Minutemen, The Germs and the like with jazzbo and experimental musicians from around the LA basin. After listening to this new LP from S-S of modern French acts, I know two things for sure – that the label has followed the New Alliance/New Underground model in a cohesive and exciting manner (better than their US/UK comp “Babyhead” from a couple years ago), and that the 2006 French avant-rock/punk scene has got some serious, serious heft to it. On point #2, we already knew that when we picked up those outstanding latest 45s by FRUSTRATION and CHEVEU, and earlier still when we heard records by the Royal/Polly Magoo crew centered around VOLT, LILI Z and CRASH NORMAL, but it’s nice to know there are even more hungry & wild young pups coming up through the French rock farm system.

In France, it appears, electronics and distortion combined with raw & panicked guitars rule the roost – at least until it doesn’t. Best of breed awards go to CHEB SAMIR AND THE BLACK SOULS OF LEVIATHAN, who pull off a sort of antique, thrown-together primitivism that makes first-LP GORIES sound sophisticated, and the continually fantastic CHEVUE, who almost never sound the same song to song (this time there’s lots some Eastern snake charmer keyboards over metronomic drums & shorted-out guitar, on a brief instrumental that you wish was three times as long). There’s also the weird, dislocated spazz-out “Testicle” by CRACK UND ULTRA ECZEMA , followed by a great 45-second artpunk flutter by LE CLUB DES CHATS that might’ve been performed by JOANNA WENT or 1/2 JAPANESE twenty-five years ago. Nothing save for the kiddie band DRAGIBUS’s number is anything but first-rate on this LP, and even Dragibus are a whopping hit with the youngest preschool-age member of our household. So it’s clear that “Tete De Bebe” has something for all comers, and clearer still that that trip to the dark clubs and cellars of Paris has simply got to happen before this unique & special little scene implodes.