Tuesday, April 06, 2004

ANOTHER FUCKING CASSETTE REVIEW or INSIDE THE DEPRAVED MIND OF A 21 YEAR-OLD JERKOFF

Yes, it’s another goddamn cassette review, but this is one with a difference: it’s a compilation cassette I made when I was 21. Again, I’d forgotten about the mere existence of this tape until last week when I dug it out of a dust-ridden box, but since it’s been doing the rounds in the car stereo over the last 7 days – and since it’s a spectacular curio item needing of some serious over-analysing from yours truly – I feel that it’s worth the trouble to give you all (yes, all three of you) the low-down…

Whilst listening to this tape the other day, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of two, hopelessly obvious films: High Fidelity and Ghost World. High Fidelity was brought to mind for the reason that this cassette – let’s call it “Tape Five”, as that’s what is written on its label – is in fact a compilation I made for my girlfriend at the time (now my wife, believe it or not), in the hope of “introducing” (re: brainwashing) her to some cooler-than-thou tunes I was a-diggin’ at the time. Ghost World sprung to mind for a less obvious reason. It wasn’t the collector-geek factor that runs rampant throughout the film, but instead Steve Buscemi’s classic response when he’s asked by Thora Birch if there are any girls out there with the same interests as him: “I don’t want to meet a girl with the same interests as me! I hate my interests!”. I think that sums it up perfectly. God forbid I would ever meet a girl on this planet with a rabid enthusiasm for such pathetic topics as classic US ‘70s/’80s punk, ‘60s free jazz and kosmiche space-rock: we’d probably bore each other to death.

There needs to be that slight “interest barrier” within every male-female relationship (or male-male, female-female… hey, loosen up, it’s the naughties!), that fine balance between a psychotic enthusiasm and complete and total disinterest in each others hobbies. I was simply lucky to strike that balance. For instance, when I’m lying on the couch reading a fanzine and espouse an amazing bit of trivia (this is, sadly, a true story) like “Did you know that the Germs and Love actually played a gig together in LA in ’78?”, I get neither a “Do I look like I fucking care?” or a “Holy fuckin’ shit, that’s insane: please tell me the details. Are there any recordings? Do you wanna check the ‘net for bootlegs?”. No, I get a “That’s nice, dear”.

Still, having a listen to this tape, you can’t say I didn’t give it a valiant effort, for this is called “Tape Five” for a very good reason: I made five of the goddamn things! Yes, five cassettes, 90 minutes a-piece of the most ludicrously esoteric, noisy, hopelessly obscure anally retentive music most people on this planet will never give two hoots about. Come to think of it, it’s a wonder she didn’t drop me upon first listen and enquire about a restraining order the next day. The contents of Tape Five aren’t really so offensive, though having scoured the box and retrieved the covers of previous volumes (the cassettes seem to be “missing”), I could only emit a howl of laughter as I browsed my choice of tunes for wooing women. Isaac Hayes, anyone? Maybe some Al Green or Marvin Gaye? Nope. How about some Current 93, Merzbow, Skullflower and The Haters? Not to your liking? Perhaps some Three-Day Stubble, Caroliner or Thinking Fellers Union Local 282? OK, let’s see what Tape Five from 1993 has to offer…

MX-80 – “Someday You’ll Be King”
This is the first track, taken from their life-affirming Out of the Tunnel LP, and it still sounds mighty fine to these ears. Can’t say I’ve seen the wife checking the bins lately for MX-80 boots, so it didn’t really work the magic in that regard, but in the year 2004, MX-80 hold up stupidly well. Scorching metallic art-rock ca. 1980 worth every bit of hype they’ve ever garnered, you’ll hear much more about ‘em in a forthcoming Top 50 Albums of All Time entry, so I’ll call it quits on them right now.

SLOVENLY – two tracks from Riposte
I swear, I really am trying to cut back on the SST thing ‘round these parts, but it just keeps on rearing its ugly head. But hey, there’s nothing ugly about Slovenly, they’ve always been on the A-List in my book. Two “ballads” from their beautifully sombre 1987 meisterwerk, Riposte, this is music for gents and the ladies.

THE SCENE IS NOW – four numbers from their brilliant Tonight We Ride LP
I wrote about this in my first entry of the Top 50 Albums of All Time saga, so go there for a brief if you’re feeling clueless. My taping skills were obviously honed by my bedroom-bound teen years, as the segue way from Slovenly to TSIN is nearly seamless, with both bands sharing a very similar aesthetic base. I’m blushing just thinking about it. But was my taping in vain? Did the lady dig the boss tunes? Take a wild guess.

THE WIPERS – a whole bunch of songs off Youth of America, Follow Blind and The Circle
Greg Sage would be proud. These selections paid off – he now has a #1 Wipers Fan in Australia: my wife! She’s such a fan, she even has a home screen-printed t-shirt and sings along at the top of her voice to all the songs off Is This Real? in the car. This is almost unprecedented in the history of partner-musical conversions: her fandom is now, 11 years later, possibly even greater than mine. Hear that noise? That’s the world spinning upside down. Mr. Sage, let me buy you a beer!

TELEVISION – “Marquee Moon”
I was surprised to find this one included. I mean, it’s a song I’ve always liked – hell, it really is one of the all-time greats – but I don’t usually associate it with the kind of head-up-backside snob-rock I was indulging in as a 21 year-old. In fact, I was such an insufferable asshole at the time, I’m shocked I included such an “obvious” classic that, you know, everyone knows. Still, it’s a pretty good litmus test for potential mates: if they don’t like “Marquee Moon”, drop ‘em at a moment’s notice. Yeah, that’s my relationship advice for the day. Take it or leave it, sunshine!

THE POP GROUP – “We Are Time”
Woah! Here’s a fave of candle-lit dinners worldwide! Man, I was NUTS about this band at the time: they were the fuckin’ shit, the bee’s knees, the band I’d been waiting to discover my whole life, the goddamn Second Coming. So what do I make of them now? “Feh, they’re OK”. I hate to admit it, but The Pop Group, despite the volumes of shameless praise I dribbled out regarding them back in the day, don’t really nail it for me at this point in my life. I gave their complete discography a hardy spin a few months back – the first in probably 5 years – and was left surprisingly nonplussed by the experience. It’s not like I didn’t enjoy it: much of the music is still fantastic, though it just didn’t move me the way it used to. The Pop Group, whom I discovered when I was 20, were definitely the right band for the right time: smart-alec noisy post-punk for alienated, insecure, pretentious Uni types with an almost claustrophobic sense of disgust in the world at large. Call me a boring old fart if you will, but once you grow up a little, get over yourself and come to the realisation that the world isn’t quite as scary as you first imagined, a band like The Pop Group can seem a little, well, silly. For the record, however, “We Are Time” is still a great song, Y will still rate a Top 50 mention somewhere down the track and I doubt the old lady could care less about them one way or the other.

THE DEAD C. – a couple of songs from God-knows-where
What in the hell was I thinking? Was this my idea of a good time with the chicks? Maybe a nice dinner, an opera and straight home for a bit of Dead C.? Last time I looked, New Zealand noise-rock wasn’t rating so high in the What’s Hot lists in the gossip mags, but back in the day, there was quite a hype a-buzzin’ around these NZ layabouts, and listening to these three tracks (which I think are taken from a Forced Exposure 7”), I’m kinda scratching my head and wondering why. Stumbling, noisy rock with mumbled vocals that mostly sounds either hopelessly incompetent in a contrived manner or, well, just hopelessly incompetent. Either way, it doesn’t particularly float my boat at this stage of my life, but still isn’t without its charms. I’m not sure if I’ll be pulling out my long-dormant Dead C. LPs anytime soon, but for now, I’ll hang onto them just in case.

ROYAL TRUX – Hero Zero 7” (both sides)
This is another strange inclusion, since it’s literally the only Royal Trux vinyl I still own, having (foolishly) sold off my early Royal Trux LPs some time in the mid/late-90s (and just like death and taxes, buying them all back again before I croak is something I simply can’t avoid). Must say, though, having not heard these songs for a good 8-9 years, they sound incredibly strong, and even had me dangerously fiddling with the rewind button in heavy traffic to get another earful of their sounds for repeated listens. Hero Zero, if I’m not mistaken, was actually the ‘Trux’s first ever vinyl output… or was it their debut LP then this 7”? Not sure, and more to the point, who the fuck cares?? The awesome Chrome-meets-Beefheart shenanigans on display here are enough for me to ignore the more anal debates I could engage in, even getting me curious about all those boogie-rock albums they released in the late ‘90s (all of which I happily ignored, despite pleas for tolerance from loved ones). The ladies may be saying “Royal who?”, but I think I’ll be too busy blowing precious cash on Amazon.com to listen.

JONESTOWN – two anonymous lame tracks
Err…Jones-who? Jonestown, man! Jones-fuckin’-town! Where the hell were you in ’93, listening to Sub Pop or something? Well, for better or worse, I wasn’t, and to distance myself from the “grunge” phenomenon taking the world by storm, I was busy ensconcing myself in the kind of scratchy, tuneless racket personified by Jonestown, the short-lived Minneapolis bunch who were aligned with similar agit-punk/No Wave outfits of the day like Dog Faced Hermans, The Ex, God Is My Co-Pilot, Dawson, Badgewearer, etc. And whilst the likes of the Dog Faced Hermans (whose early ‘90s efforts were a formidable poke in the eye) and Scotland’s righteous-yet-horribly-obscure Dawson still stand the test of time, to these ears, Jonestown come across like the runt of the litter. It’s not like these two tracks are bad, they simply elicit no reaction whatsoever. Mixing radical politics with a jazzy, vaguely Fall-ish backbeat sounds good on paper, though Jonestown’s vocals are way too polite and collegiate to be effective, the result being a kind of smarmy, over-educated vibe from a bunch of guys who sound like they’ve never toiled a day in their lives. Add to that their association with the AmRep label – anarchos rubbing shoulders with a right-wing ex-marine? – and Jonestown sound to me, in the 21st century, like a ghastly college prank gone horribly wrong. Still, if you’re 21 with a fistful of hate and a completely useless Uni degree near completion, this may just be your ticket to ride…

PERE UBU – a couple of choice cuts from The Modern Dance LP
‘Ubu need no introduction or explanation. I loved the shit out of this record back in the day and continue to do so. I guess the only strange anecdote I can add here is the bizarre fact that, for such an allegedly “eccentric” “art-rock” outfit like Pere Ubu, my taping of these tracks managed a conversion of the opposite sex. There’s even photographic evidence of this amazing feat: a lovely snapshot of a drunken Desiree Lang cuddling up to Dave Thomas at Pere Ubu’s 1999 Melbourne show. A portrait of the ages, I feel it stands testament to the fact that my youth was not just one great, spectacular waste of time.

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