Sunday, October 04, 2015


Sometimes even the greatest marketplace failures enjoy a second life. The sole LP from LA's Stains, released on the SST label, has never fully enjoyed the life of a full revival and reappraisal, but it should. Some label such as, say, Superior Viaduct or Southern Lord (who have done a good job w/ Bl'ast!'s catalogue) should get on the case, but then again, you'd have the iron will and ninja legal team of Greg Ginn to contend with, and one would probably get nowhere fast.

The band's roots go all the way back to 1976, though the one album they recorded - all 21 minutes of it - didn't see release until 1983, two years after it was recorded. Look up any old LA flyer ca. 1980 - '83 and you'll undoubtedly see their name pop up. They played w/ all the greats and not-so-greats, and from all reports were a scorching live act. Circa 1983, SST was getting all 'heavy', digging into the worlds of '70s hard rock and metal with the likes of Overkill (their debut 7" from '82 is actually pretty straight 'punk', though once Merrill Ward took over on vocals they became worshippers at the altar of Lemmy), Wurm (Dukowski's pre- and then post-Black Flag outfit, who released a great 7" and equally great LP which deserve reappraisal [and reissue]), Saint Vitus and Black Flag themselves. SST made kind of a deal of the Stains' 'proto-crossover' fury and the metal angle, though to my ears it does them a disservice, nor does it accurately describe their music. I guess, for one, when I think 'crossover' I think hardcore mixed with speed/thrash metal with flashy riffs and double-kick drums (and I hated that shit), and the Stains didn't partake in such shenanigans. One spin below and you'll hear and rough and ready LA PUNK w/ some hot leads straight out of the Ginn handbook. Actually, the influence between guitarists Robert Becerra and Ginn went both ways.

Whatever. The album didn't set the world afire, and I remember seeing a secondhand copy of it for a ha'penny back in the late '80s - when I was knee-deep in my teen SST fixation - and I didn't buy the fucking thing! I think I suspected that it would be second-rate clobber of the SWA/DC3 variety and passed it up for an Always August 12" or something. Now it'll set you back a hundreds bucks or two, its reputation grown beyond the obvious. Wrangling rights out of the House Of Ginn to reissue such a thing, I imagine, would be more trouble than it's worth. You may just have to enjoy the Youtube link below for now.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


The pointless minutae of life can be, uh, fascinating. That's what this blog exists for. You want the big issues?? Forget about it. Life's tedium is documented here. For instance, let's belatedly talk about the NURSE WITH WOUND LIST (lookee here). This was brought up in discussion on a certain well-used social media platform just the other day - brought up by myself, in fact - and took a couple of entries before it succumbed to the kind of fiery debate you could only expect from seasoned music dorks with an axe to grind and nothing better to do w/ their lives.

I hadn't even thought about 'The List' for many years, but it had come up in conversation with a couple of friends lately, and there was one thing I observed. THERE'S NO SUN RA! How did that ever happen? How does a teenager from London become aware of, say, the Debris' LP (proto-punk glam-damaged rock/limited private-press monster/Screamers associations) or Sonny Sharrock or the Reverend Dwight Frizzell (whose 1976 LP was in an edition of 200 copies) the dozens of ridiculously obscure European art-rock outfits which litter the list, and yet Sun Ra - the great American avant-garde innovator of the second half of the 20th century - not get a guernsey? There were three trains of thought here contesting my befuddlement, none of them satisfactory...

 1) Sun Ra was perhaps too obscure for Stapleton. I'll call a huge BS to this claim. Look at the esoteric nonsense on the list! Have I already mentioned Debris'? Yes. Lard Free? Check. Le Forte Four? Check. Supersister? Check. Sun Ra was on the cover of Rolling Stone in the early '70s. He and his Arkestra played throughout Europe and (I can only assume) the UK in the '70s. This argument doesn't hold any water. 2) Sun Ra was too obvious to list. A pox on this bogus line. Also in the NWW list is Frank Zappa, Kraftwerk and King Crimson. They all had Top 10 records. King Crimson were big news in the UK in the '70s. Kraftwerk charted high in the US with 'Autobahn'. Both the Velvet Underground and the Stooges also make the NWW grade. By 1979 they were already part of The Punk Canon, their stock raised to a new level. Their obviousness - or at least the obviousness of their greatness - was well known, even if that meant they still didn't have platinum LPs to line their walls. This argument is a crock. 3) Maybe Stapleton just didn't like Sun Ra. Maybe he didn't. In which case he had tin ears. Maybe he also didn't like Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Art Ensemble and Don Cherry either - all of whom made brilliant avant-garde records - in which case he had ears made of shit.

Anyway, perhaps one day this mystery will be solved. I have nothing against Mr. Stapleton. Au contraire: I am still in possession of about a dozen and a half NWW albums to prove my point. This discussion has spurred me on to take them off my shelf for the first time in a long time for a re-spin. The very early albums really aren't all that good. A Chance Meeting..., the debut from 1979, is an amateurish collage/kraut collage mess which sounds like it was strictly the work of young people who had little idea of what they were doing (it was), but it's not without its charm. For my two cents, the albums I always return to are Soliliquay For Lilith from 1988, an epic 3LP/3CD ambient set designed for getting his daughter to sleep (hence the title), which to me is a great update on something like Tangerine Dream's Zeit (again, little happens in there, too, but it's a pleasant place to be); 1986's Spiral Insana, a mixed cut-ups of ambience and audio clutter which is a perfect combo of the two and is probably overall my fave NWW album; and especially his 'sell-out' records from the late '90s and thereabouts - 1996's Who Can I Turn To Stereo, 1999's An Awkward Pause and 2001's Funeral Music For Perez Prado. The 1st and 3rd were strangely viewed by some as pandering to the 'dance' crowd, though all I can hear w/ my tin ears are two terrific avant discs with rhythm, and An Awkward Pause is mostly straight-out Kraut-rock in a twisted Amon Duul 2/Ash Ra Tempel sense of the word. All three are quite excellent.

I haven't followed what SS and co. have been up to for a decade or more. You can see a pretty cool doco on the man here, which is him giving the viewer a guided tour of his abode in Ireland, where he has lived w/ his partner and children since the late '80s (and it's worth a look), and the Nurse With Wound List, a list derided by a good buddy of mine as 'the ultimate wankers' list', is still an item of great beauty, and must be placed firmly within the context of its time: it was the ramblings of an uber-nerd attempting to spread the gospel in the pre-internet times. It helped give such artists as the Hampton Grease Band and Agitation Free a second shelf life in the post-punk universe. It sparked a genre unto itself. What the hell have you done with your life?

Monday, September 07, 2015

GODFLESH - Streetcleaner

What's old is new again. I originally bought the Streetcleaner CD in 1990, as many did around that time. It came out the year previous, but it was a bit of a creeper, a slow-burn release which appealed greatly to a certain breed of music fan who missed the old Swans of yore, was enjoying the Melvins of the Ozma/Bullhead days (ie. the records the Melvins were releasing right about then), the then-current school of UK heaviness a la Head Of David, Terminal Cheesecake and the first couple of longplayers from Napalm Death and Carcass (both of which are fucking essential, whether you know it or not).

Having been through the HC wringer for a half-decade, being out of high school and actually having a disposable income of sorts due to warehouse/office jobs throughout breaks in higher learning, I was going off in a thousand different directions: grindcore, noise, hip-hop, AmRep sludge, Shimmy Disc, the last dying gasps of the SST empire (both Pell Mell and Slovenly still had something up their sleeves), NZ sounds, Touch & Go's then still fine output (Didjits, Killdozer, Slint) and more. Some of this stuff has aged like last week's bread, and some of it still lights a fire under yer backside in a most amenable manner.

And then there were Godflesh, then a trio formed by mainstay Justin Broadrick. As a young gent, Justin spent some time in a nascent Napalm Death, was briefly in Head Of David and has since enjoyed an unlikely career as some kind of Godfather Of Heaviness dabbling in all manner of projects (the first Jesu album, self-titled as it is, I covered in this blog about a decade ago, and for me it remains the finest thing he ever did - or at least the finest I've heard). Godflesh were the first band to really make his name a name, if you get my drift, and Streetcleaner made a major splash at the time and is now herladed by all and sundry as a 'classic'. Indeed it is.

After Streetcleaner, Godflesh kind of changed tact and veered off into a number of musical directions, none of them particularly good, I must say. I heard some of the post-Streetcleaner material at the time - I think my brother made an error of judgment and purchased a CD of theirs - and it was some variety of shitawful 'techno-metal' which had, as you'd expect, metal riffs intertwined w/ techno beats, and whilst that's obviously some people's idea of a good time, it ain't mine. In the late '90s they 'went back to their roots' a bit and even recorded an album or two with an acoustic drummer (can I recall these album's names? No), and I recall them being kind of listenable. Perhaps. Anyway, I speak of the debut...

I sold my CD copy some time in the '90s, and, as can sometimes be the case, found myself repurchasing a special 2CD remastered edition a couple of years back, which contains a fancy foldout digipak sleeve with a ton of liner notes, and a bonus live/demos CD which I think I might have listened to once or twice. I find myself enjoying the album a lot more now than I did a quarter of a century ago. I recall that, as a young man, I would play the first two or three songs, get bored by the middle of the album and skip to the bonus EP at the end, their self-titled four-songer from 1988, which is slightly rawer than the album (still w/ a drum machine) and contains four impeccable tracks: 'Tiny Tears', 'Wound', 'Dead Head' and 'Suction' (Youtube and ye shall find). All of those songs are worth hearing. In fact, if you only hear four Godflesh songs in this lifetime, make them those. But what's also worth spinning, now as I stroke my paunch in middle age, is the rest of Streetcleaner. That middle section of the album - tracks like 'Dream Long Dead', 'Head Dirt'... whoah, dude! - sound much less meandering than they did in my impetuous youth - almost composed, and fitting to make Streetcleaner a goddamn album to be reckoned with.

Nearly everything which makes up the album - the dark lyrical matter focussed on decay and death, pounding drum-machine rhythms, downtuned guitars and barked vocals - became a bad cliche almost upon release; lord knows, Australia suffered a small outbreak of similar bands in the first half of the '90s, and they were tough times, but as an album, Streetcleaner works and delivers as promised. You could say it's strictly a perfunctory album of 'heaviness' - I play this loud in the car when I want a dose of badassness as I'm going to pick up the kids from school or whatever - but it's got more depth than that. Hell, I'm all grown up now, and Godflesh's Streetcleaner sounds A-OK to these ears.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THE WHO - Total Rock Power

Lordy, I am getting old and pathetic as time goes on. I am literally getting older and patheticer. The past 12 months has seen me in the thick of a Who phase. That's not too surprising: along w/ the Kinks and the Beatles, I rate 'em possibly the best of the Brit Invasion bands of the 1960s. I'll be generous and even throw the Stones in there, too. The Move should be there, too, but they're more a second-gen Brit band who made their moves (fnar) in the early '70s, even though much of what they did was a '60s throwback. Plus, I've been a massive fan of the Who-produced Quadrophenia film since I was but a wee lad: I still view it annually, and it stands up as one of the greatest UK youth-cult pics of all time, a terrific movie about the pre-hippie '60s made with a real punk energy. And The Who - at least their main songwriter and brain's trust, Pete Townshend, did like punk a lot, even though he was initially jealous of it stealing his thunder (and his thunder was getting creaky by the mid '70s, anyway). He wanted John Lydon in the film's lead role, but Mr. Rotten reneged. A friend of mine saw Townshend play on a CND bill in a small venue in 1979 with the Undertones and The Pop Group supporting. Huh...
As with most of their contemporaries, The Who blew their artistic wad by the early '70s and it was all downhill after then. They still cut it as an ace live unit, but most of the recordings thereafter aren't items you should spend your free time listening to. I like the Quadrophenia LP set from 1973 a lot - another pompous thematic epic from Townshend telling a grand story - though my sentimental attachment for it may be born from my love of the movie. But play it I do. I've slogged through the entire Tommy set a handful of times, and it remains exactly that: a slog. It's one of those albums which clueless types hail as the band's best release, their meisterwerk, much like Sgt. Pepper's (the Beatles' worst album by far), Exile On Main Street (solid, but it's no Beggar's/Let It Bleed) and Pet Sounds (again, it's good, but Holland and Surf's Up are better). They figure they're supposed to make such a claim without even thinking about it. I'm not here to debate The Who's best album (The Who Sell Out probably gets my vote), but certainly the most untamed is their Live At Leeds recording from 1970. By then they'd let their hair grow out and adopted a 'heavier' musical approach which wasn't a thousand miles removed from the likes of Cream or Led Zep - both of whom they'd undoubtedly influenced - and whilst I used to be of the opinion that this era in the band sucked (epic blues clunkers, Roger Daltrey with that denim and that fucking hair), for a couple of years this incarnation of the band absolutely blew the roof off. There was no greater rhythm section than Entwhistle and Moon. No more smart mod suits and three-minute ditties about East End life: it was about Total Rock Power. Well, before they started to blow, the band was always about TRP, but the loose and expansive nature of the band ca. 1969 - 1971 was indeed something to behold, and beholding it is what I've been doing.
I even found myself reading Townshend's rather epic autobiography, Who I Am, from start to finish. By midway through I was starting to feel the conviction that the guy was an utter fucking creep and jerkoff, but by story's end - when he'd acknowledged what a creep and jerkoff he'd been - he had redeemed himself in my eyes. Well, above is a clip of the band covering Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" from their Isle Of Wight concert. It's rippin', scorchin' and other good things. You can see why the likes of the MC5 and the Dictators - and myself - held/hold 'em up in such high esteem. The Who's candle of greatness blew out pretty quick, as did many of those making their mark in 1960s Britain, but people made a bunch of noise about them for good reason.

Monday, July 27, 2015


The year was 1998, and this album by the Seattle rock band known as Mudhoney was released on the Warner subsidiary imprint, Reprise. I was not aware of its existence at the time. I didn't even know Mudhoney were still releasing records at the time. Did you? A band like Mudhoney at that stage of the game seemed, well, tres boring to this 20-something windbag, a relic from another era, a band who'd recorded and released a slew of cool sides approx. a decade prior but one who weren't even on the map regarding the Here and Now. And just what was the Here and Now ca. 1998? I dunno, probably some post-rock or glitchtronica nonsense I wouldn't listen to in a blue fit circa now, but then again, going into my time machine to 1998, I recall my taste in music in 1998 being unashamedly retro (lots of jazz, Byrds, pre-war blues and Hawkwind, if you must know). But whatever! The fact is this: a rock band by the name of Mudhoney, one whom possibly many had given up for dead by the end of the century, made a fantastic album for a major recording company: Tomorrow Hit Today, produced by the great Jim Dickinson (he shouldn't need explaining), and right now it remains completely out of print in all physical formats. I believe I've covered Mudhoney several times in this blog over the years: certainly there's been verbiage concerning their 2002 'comeback' record for Sub Pop, Since We Became Translucent (and what an excellent comeback that was), as well as the biography on the band published a couple of years ago (another fine thing).
I actually saw the band play live here in January of last year - the first time I'd seen the band live since 1990. I found them to be rather underwhelming and really don't like the current single-guitar format (w/ Mark Arm on vocals only) the band works with, as also evidenced on their last couple of recordings, which I also think have been weak, but what the hey, they're a heritage act these days and they can do what they want. Tomorrow Hit Today possesses an exemplary use of twin-guitar action as well as a sympathetic and full sound which never veers towards the mersh, compromised or slick. It's raw and powerful but with a real sense of clarity, and it also has some of the band's best songs: lordy, how I love 'Try To Be Kind' and 'This Is The Life', and their rendition of the Cheater Slicks' 'Ghost' works on several levels (conceptually, musically). The band hadn't 'progressed' musically much at all in the 10 years they'd been around - maybe less Blue Cheer in the mix with a bit more garage and Dickinson-style southern rock (but not 'Southern Rock') thrown in, but essentially they remained a post-hardcore rock and roll band. Got me? Over the past dozen years I have been reevaluating the musical legacy of Mudhoney: so far as rock bands go, they're better than most, and seriously one of the best. Don't ever dismiss them because they appear to be too damn obvious.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Word up - punkers, new wavers, rockers and progsters - listen to this cut by Genesis from their 1974 2LP set, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway - and tell me why it isn't absolutely fantastic. Really. There's my challenge to you for the day. Thanking you in advance.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Philly's Purling Hiss have been making records for half-a-dozen years, and they make very fine grunge recordings. The band is essentially guitarist/singer/songwriter Mark Polizze and whomever else he feels like dragging along for the ride. I have been particularly taken with the band's last two full-lengthers on the Drag City label, 2013's Water On Mars and last year's Weirdon. The group sound like an amalgamam/mash-up/tribute to 'the grunge years' on the former, with perhaps a slightly less 'heavy' approach taken on the latter, it bringing to mind a musical stew tipping the hat to the early '90s lo-fi scene (and what a scene it was, at least for a brief flash in time). I stand here under the impression that Polizze is a good decade younger than myself, which of course puts all this musical shenanigans into a slightly different context. After all, I was there, man... and do I need to revisit it?
During the Grunge Years - let's loosely frame them as 1988 - 1993 - I was underwhelmed by much of its musical output, feeling that a lot of the gunk the Sub Pop label, or even Amphetamine Reptile, spewed out sounded like B-grade post-HC heavy metal which had smoked too many bongs to various SST bands. Actually, that sounds quite appealing, and indeed, amongst the gunk there was still much to like, and excuse me while I get all nostalgic about a music scene which didn't thrill me a whole lot the first time around... OK, where was I? Nowhere, that's where.
Water On Mars is an excellent slab of grunge-rock - of that I have no doubt. Yes, grunge-rock. It sounds like Bleach-era Nirvana meets Mudhoney's first few 7"s with a bit of Taang!-era Lemonheads chucked on top. Throw in some U-Men 'tard-rock, even some Tad, fer chrissakes, a dollop of SST Dinosaur jamz and mix. Low-brow slob-rock with the tunes to match: loosen up your guard and soak it up, coz it really is a lot of fun. Upon hearing me blasting this one, my ever-judgmental brother screwed his face up and uttered, 'What the hell is this? Grunge rules, man'. Indeed it does.

Last year's Weirdon is equally as fine. It was in fact one of my favourite slabs of contemporary rock during that annus horribilis. Polizze and co. retained the wall of guitar fuzz, but without the grungoid heaviosity, meaning for me this one possesses a slightly En Zed flavour, with other portions bringing to mind the songsmithery and scattershot approach to composition favoured by primo Guided By Voices before they got boring (or awful), or maybe the Grifters' recordings for the Shangri-La label. Actually, just about everything Purling Hiss does sounds scattershot, like a beautiful accident. Their pre-Drag City career involves tapes and vinyl on an assortment of imprints, some of the output bordering on no-fi, but it's pulled together by the ability to throw in surprising hooks which worm their way to the surface at unexpected moments. Polizze hit strings with wunderkind/indie pin-up boy Kurt Vile back in the day or somesuch (there's a connection there which doesn't interest me enough to Google it), and it kinda baffles me that Purling Hiss don't enjoy a wider fan base, considering Vile's unit-shifting abilities in recent years (and I don't say this to besmirch Vile's good name: I think he makes fine records), but whatever. Whisper it to your buddies: Purling Hiss make great music.