Monday, May 26, 2008

Wow. You know you're struggling when you start tackling an old chestnut like a Ramones album. Haven't felt like tellin' nobody about nothin' of late. Inspiration just hasn't hit me. Perhaps it still hasn't. I'll know by the end of this entry... and probably hit "publish" either way. I was quite the Ramones fan as a teenager, but not a fanatic as such. My brother had all their early, essential albums when I was about 13: he purchased certain bands, I purchased others. I'll let it be known that I didn't actually own a single Ramones album 'til my 30s. It suddenly struck me one day that I wanted to hear "Blitzkrieg Bop", yet had no access to it. Never had any reason to jump up and demand to hear such things before; in my teens I need only visit the room down the hallway, and in my 20s... well, I felt like I'd heard the Ramones approximately 30,000 times as it was, so the urge never hit me. And then it did. And so here it is. The band make a whole lot more sense to me now than they did as a 13- or 14-year-old. As much as I liked their smart/dumb no-holds-barred rockin' jams, they still struck me as too goofy to claim as my own. I needed angst or weirdness, or, better yet, a combination of the two. Stuff like the Sex Pistols or Flipper or the Bad Brains made perfect sense; the Ramones were seen as kinda, umm, bubblegum. Doesn't mean I didn't dig 'em. When I rediscovered the band as a 30-ish gent, I told a punker friend all about just how great they were, how absurdly and courageously minimalist their entire schtick was, and how indeed I considered them to be the ultimate NYC minimal rock outfit, outstripping even the likes of Suicide or the Velvets. He thought I was full of shit, simply trying to rationalise why a 30-year-old guy who'd just spent the last 10 years lobotomising himself w/ a load of art-wank nonsense would get such a boner over a well-worn subject as the Ramones. Well, he probably had a point. There's no rationalisations necessary and I certainly don't feel that angst is a prerequisite for music worth giving a hoot about, so let's call it what it is. Ramones was released 32 years ago, and yet it sounds fresher and more alive than any "new rock" or nu-metal or "hardcore" outfit you could strap me down and force me to listen to. That ain't because great rock 'n' roll doesn't exist anymore - in fact a good buddy of mine and fellow boffin known for equally long and tedious tirades as myself has informed me that the US is currently undergoing its greatest revival of cool underground rock bands not seen since the glory days of '91-'94 (ask me for a list) - but because the Ramones birthed a whole new form of music. You can call it punk rock. I'll call it that, along w/ being a total de-/reconstruction of all great pop/rock that'd hit earth up until the year 1976. The Ramones have now been given full credit for all their glories (and sins): in print, film and never-ending MOJO articles. I'd be happy for them, if any of them were alive today (other than a couple of drummers), though having seen End Of The Century several times (a brilliantly depressing documentary of the truly peculiar individuals who made up the band), I think I can say that any credit they received didn't seem to make 'em happy, nor would it make them actually like each other anymore. But you've still got this: the first 6 Ramones album, the template for just about any rock band worth giving a hoot for post-1976: Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket To Russia, Road To Ruin, It's Alive and the much-maligned (and now reassessed) End Of The Century. I challenge anyone to give me a better rollcall of flat-out rock 'n' roll released in quick succession by any other group in history.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Caught Collapsed Toilet Vietnam and Pissbolt last night. Both bands ruled. When I was leaving the venue, I turned to a friend and said, "Isn't it just ridiculous that a band like Collapsed Toilet Vietnam can just get on a stage with a taped-together drum kit and a one-string bass, make a bunch of made-up screaming and noise and actually find an audience with that nonsense?" "Yeah", he said, "and yet some putz will still buy their t-shirt". That putz is me. I was clutching my new purchase under my arm at the time. I will wear it with pride.

Monday, May 12, 2008

PELL MELL - Interstate CD (DGC/1993)
Been on a major Pell Mell kick of late, and got this sucka from ebay for about 99 cents a few weeks back (plus the obligatory $10.95 shipping - or whatever - which unfortunately negates the bargain status of such a purchase). Pell Mell? Been around for nearly 30 years. Don't confuse 'em w/ the Australian band from the '80s known as Pel Mel - a mistake often made by my peers - as I'm speaking of the long-running instrumental combo featuring such luminaries as Steve Fisk and Greg Freeman. Fisk didn't actually join the band 'til '83, though he's a fairly reputable producer known for cutting sides w/ outfits such as Beat Happening, Screaming Trees and zillion-sellers such as Nirvana and Soundgarden (you've probably heard of them). Freeman is a Bay Area-located knob-twiddler who manned the console for folks such as Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and Barbara Manning. But enough of the background material; let's see what this guy - upon Googling the band name - had to say about Pell Mell...
Pell Mell is hands down my favorite instrumental band. They had a long, if sporadic, run of nearly 20 years and 5-6 albums (if you count the cassette releases), most notably their three tremendous albums from the 1990’s. They had some line-up changes over the years, including the ’83 addition of future producer Steve Fisk and even later addition of guitarist extraordinaire Dave Spalding, made their way from SST to Geffen to Matador, and were known for writing by mail as the members often lived far away from one another (can anyone verify that factoid?). Hard to believe that at the height of grunge an instrumental band could make it as far as they did. Which wasn’t that far at all. But at least you’ve heard of them, right? Now you can’t turn around without a post-rock instrumental band rooting through your trash can. You should at least own the three 90’s albums Flow, Interstate, and Star City. Pell Mell were brilliant musicians, songwriters, and arrangers. I wish I was in Pell Mell.
I didn't reproduce that because it was the most mind-blowing summation of the band, or just to fill space. It's just there because it gives a different perspective and sums them up pretty neatly. As noted, Pell Mell, in their lifetime (and my guess is that they don't really operate as a unit anymore, since they've released nothing for years, even for their haphazard release schedule), released records on labels such as SST, Geffen and Matador. The album Interstate is on DGC/Geffen, released at the height of the "grunge" boom. You can thank Ray Farrell for that. He's one of the more interesting characters in American underground music of the last 30 years. Rumour has it he made his first splash as part of the original Maximum Rock 'n' Roll radio show in San Fran in the '70s/'80s (can anyone confirm this?) before finally landing at SST in the latter half of the '80s. He was also the manager of Pell Mell at the time, and scored them a deal w/ the label, then skipped on over to DGC and signed Sonic Youth and Nirvana... and the rest is history. Once Nirvana sold a squillion albums he was - I'm willing to assume - the golden boy of the Geffen empire and given carte blanche to indulge himself. And that he did. He signed Pell Mell to the label and released Interstate. It's a magnificent album which probably sold nothing. Soon thereafter they were dropped - as was just about every weirdo scooped up in the grunge boom by the mid '90s - and released their subsequent album, Star City (equally as good), on Matador.
Pell Mell are/were strictly instrumental, their sound and approach crystal clear, slick and never a dud note be hit. When friends ask me what they sound like, I usually tell 'em they're the mixing link twixt the Ventures, Booker T and the MGs, Link Wray and Steely Dan. I say that w/ a straight face, especially that last act. Pell Mell sound like they're recorded in a science lab w/ white gloves. The music is clipped and almost emaciated, though the clinical approach suits them to a tee. Their music was neither cleaned up (not necessary) nor grunged up for their major-label debut, since who would've cared anyway? This is the sound of a billion-dollar company indulging itself on the coattails of a "movement" it owned (at least in the public eye) for approx. two seconds, and Pell Mell came along for the ride. Glad they did. All of their records are out of print, though they're more than worth the trouble hunting down. The lyrical interplay between the different elements of the band - guitar/bass/percussion/keyboards - make them an absolutely unique combo in post-punk rock 'n ' roll. You'll find yourself humming along, possibly even making up lyrics. Pell Mell can be summed up in one word: inspired.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Saturday, May 03, 2008

FABULOUS DIAMONDS - CD (Nervous Jerk/2008)
That's either the best or worst album cover of the year. You'll see it soon in all its 12" glory when the vinyl version comes out via Siltbreeze. I saw this duo play about 18 months ago at a Missing Link Christmas party. I'd heard the surrounding hype and had my ears cynically pricked up high, ready for a slagging. I don't mean to be so contrary, but when a host of young, beautiful and oh-so-hip folks start singing the praises of a group, I go on the defensive. The band has to prove themselves to me. That night, Fabulous Diamonds did. Once I let my guard down, I let their dub-heavy post-punk skronk 'n' groove wash over me and I was convinced. Until last night, at their launch for this very CD, I had not seen them play since. In the flesh, they're still a very impressive proposition: a duo, Nisa Venerosa on percussion/vocals and Jarrod Zlatic on organ, sax, vocals, harmonium, tapes, etc., they never let their shrunken line-up become a hindrance nor gimmick. The sound is never cluttered nor does it sound too bare. Fact is, they're incredibly good at what they do, and this CD, which has been on repeat since last night, has me convinced they're absolutely one of Australia's best and most interesting combos. No need for song titles; there are seven tracks on this CD w/ nary a title in sight. What you get are musical sketches which tend to blend into each other. Venerosa prefers her tom skins and keeps most beats in tribal, shuffling mode, and her pipes sound like they were ripped from the throat of a Rough Trade 7" ca. 1979 (an overused comparison, but one which nails it). Jarrod jumps from instrument to intrument, from ghostly sax wails (kinda like a downtown NYC loft-meets-Dik Mik way) to Seeds-y organ grooves to minimal piano rolls. Some friends of mine think they're a con; the schtick's down pat, but there's not much else. Bully to that. I'd love to have a band which stole the best elements of Augustus Pablo, Arthur Russell, Raincoats and Can, too, and better yet would be a band with songs. FD have 'em - in the same sense that PiL ca. '79 and Can ca. '72 had 'em - and the fact that I've just played this CD 10 times in a row is proof of it. I'm converted. Absolutely one of the year's best.
And... yes, that is Jarrod's real back hair on the cover.