Saturday, June 28, 2008

Recently I said something in a post about there being a "Golden Era of US Underground Music ca. '91-'94". Someone attempted to shout me down and call me a putz. I called their bluff and reeled off a list of artist/labels/zines from the period which I believe stated my case: Cul de Sac, Grifters, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Fly Ashtray, Royal Trux, Sun City Girls, Mike Rep and the Quotas, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Refrigerator; labels such as Shrimper, Datapanik/Anyway, Teen Beat, Siltbreeze and Majora; and fanzines of the time which gave these folks an airing: Superdope, Feminist Baseball, Your Flesh (which was a very hit-and-miss publication, though its writing staff from this period was the best they ever had), Speed Kills, etc. Now, I don't wish to live in the past, and if you think I don't listen to all that much contemporary music then you probably don't know what it is I do for a living, but to me there was so much great music from that period, with so many cottage-industry 7" and cassette labels releasing such a wealth of worthy product, it's pretty damn impossible for me not to give it a serious airing, and I haven't even mentioned all the primo European, Japanese and New Zealand sounds from the time.
So... this evening the ladies of the house aren't around - that's the Mrs. and the kiddo - and thus I actually have a spare hour to myself to dig through my 7" collection of the time and throw a few chestnuts onto the fire. This may (hopefully) become a regular occasion...

GREENHORN - Conversations With Myself/Callous 7" (Anyway-Datapanik/1992)
What can one say about Greenhorn? No, really, what can one say, because I wouldn't have a clue! They were yet another great Columbus band from the dawn of the '90s who released a bunch of 7"s on labels such as the Anyway/Datapanik empire (essentially I think the story is that Datapanik was "absorbed" into a new imprint, Anyway, when it was taken over by someone else) and the 3 Beads Of Sweat label (run by Tim Adams, who used to steer the estimable Ajax Records boat) and then disappeared into the ether some time in the mid '90s. The Columbus music scene centred around Datapanik/Anyway was something of great interest to me at the time. Along w/ a few old-time eccentrics from the burg, such as Ron House, Jim Shepard and Mike Rep, all of whom had been 'round the traps since the mid/late '70s, there was a flurry of activity with a truckload of newer garage outfits such as Appalachian Death Ride, Stupid Fuckin' Hippie (love that name), Monster Truck Five and even soon-to-be-kinda-big acts such as Gaunt and the New Bomb Turks. Throw some V3, Mike Rep and the Quotas and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments into the mix and you have a party of flannel-wearing, booze-drinking awesomeness. The best place to start w/ all this is perhaps the Bumped By Karaoke: Datapanik's Greatest Hits II CD which came out around '91/'92. I wouldn't imagine it's easy to come by in the this day and age, though it's possibly easier to find than the original 7"s (of which I've got plenty!). So, in the mix is this 7" by the little known Greenhorn. At the time they were constantly compared to Screaming Trees, a glove which fits them well. Though not a huge fan of the 'Trees (I still like and own their first few albums), Greenhorn do manage to capture that widescreen, arena-level of expanse the band had at the time, with an obviously more lo-fi aesthetic. Let's bring it down to the basics: this is good rock 'n' roll. It's got guitar hooks a-plenty, engaging lyrics about messed-up relationships and the drudgery of life and amps turned up to 11 throughout. It's not ball-to-the-wall head-kicking stuff, more mid-tempo - and I hate to use such a word, but never has it been more applicable than here - swagger. This grooves. Another band from nowhere who went right back there, but a cool little legacy they have. Who knows, they're probably all raising families and selling insurance or working in warehouses right now...

CUL DE SAC - Devil/Rain Moths 7" (New World Of Sound/1993)
This has got some neat-o Dame Darcy art adorning its cover - another postmark of early-'90s "cool", right up there w/ Dan Clowes and Peter Bagge - and remains an essential find for any CDS nut needing everything the band has laid to tape. I was one of those guys at the time, too (I've raved about them several times before... really, have a look). By the late '90s, possibly around the time the band released their thoroughly underwhelming Crashes To Lights, Minutes To Its Fall CD in '99, I figured they'd either hit a dead end or a serious mid-career slump. I didn't care to stick around and watch the car wreck. That was, until the band was resurrected and released two rather excellent studio albums in 2003... but let's talk about this 7". No info whatsoever regarding what sessions these tracks were taken from, though they certainly sound like they were recorded some time around their world-beating ECIM album from '92: Fahey-ish guitar twang adorning a Can-like backbeat w/ 'Ubu-esque synth bleats scattered over the top. I think I once described the band as exactly that back in 1995, but since the basic reference points haven't changed one iota, it still sits well with me in 2008. There's also a cool 7" by the band - "Frankie Machine"/"K" - on the Lunar Rotation label from the same period which I just gave a spin, and it, too, holds up to weathered scrutiny. Although much noisier and almost No Wave in its approach, compared to the usual smooth 'n' crisp approach the band was known for at the time, it adds a nice dimension to the band's catalogue. Like I've said before: I just about never play my 7"s, and have bought maybe a dozen of the things since the mid '90s, though it's moments like these which make me glad I haven't just thrown the lot in a huge box and taken them down to the local second-hand dealer. Instead, it's just more pointless crap to offload onto my daughter once I leave this mortal coil. Let's raise a glass to that!

BUGSKULL - What I had In Mind 7" (Dalmation Records/1993)
Portland's Bugskull started out as a one-man project in the early '90s - that's Sean Byrne, thanks - and released a couple of cassettes on the Shrimper label. They're much more experimental (and I'm jogging my memory into exhaustion here; I have those tapes in a box and haven't dug 'em out probably since Clinton was in office) and primitive in their approach, though by the time this 7" came out, Bugskull had expanded to take on the world as a fully-fledged band. Browsing their All Music Guide entry, I've also noticed they released a whole bunch of LPs throughout the '90s (I bought the debut, but stopped after that for whatever reason) on various labels, but again, let me stick to what I know. There's two songs on this 33 RPM disc: "All Members Please Rise" and "What Shall I Give To The King", and for myself it remains one of those rare records on the seven-inch format which I still get a kick out of playing on a yearly basis when I feel like (and am able to) having a 7" party of one. Listening to it now, I can see that it was of its time: post-hardcore smart-alec drone-pop, not too far off similar compadres such as Thinking Fellers Union, Grifters and way early Pavement, though a hook is a hook for life. These songs nail it every time; they twist and turn and never stay in the same place for long and never outstaying their welcome, even over their considerable length... speaking of which, the girls are home and I gotta get outta here. Until next time...
The final piece of the Holy Trinity which is Pell Mell's great succession of studio releases in the 1990s: 1992's The Flow, '95's Interstate and this, their 1997 swan song, originally slated to be released on Geffen before being given the dumpsville treatment from that corporate giant, only to be subsequently released on the mini-corporate giant, Matador Records. I'm pretty sure this isn't in print anymore. Pell Mell remain a band those in the know like to speak of, though I'm not so sure as to how any of their sales figure shold up. Hey, prove me wrong! Star City is probably their best album, a disc of such immense studio spit 'n' shine - in a good way - with a sound so crisp and melodies so subtle and sublime, and yet so insidiously catchy after repeated listens, you'll find it hard not to revisit. The opener, "Sky Lobby", borders on muzak, with an airbrushed quality which once again has me thinking of Steely Dan, as if a dud note would mean pay docked. I'm probably making it sound like not a whole lotta fun, though that's not where I'm going here. The second track, "Salvo", takes a different course; it's all clipped melodies and Beefheart-ish guitar lines, kinda like 'Ubu during their early '80s death throes (records I love, even though it appears few others do). The rest of the album carries on in a similar fashion, a melange of ambient, surf, Duane Eddy guitar twang and kraut-ish motorik. God bless 'em for ending on a high note.
Been a long time between blabbin', so let's get down to business. Picked up that LP above: Fatso Jetson's live LP on the Cobraside label), recorded at Safari Sam's in Hollywood in March of last year. I've cottoned onto Fatso Jetson real late. Knew the name for years - two albums on SST back in the mid '90s, plus a 10"/CD on Man's Ruin I recall picking and packing countless times back in my Shock days - but they just passed me by at the time. Now I'm making up for it. I scored a copy of their Flames For All CD (on Man's Ruin) on ebay recently, and it is indeed a hot-wired brew of heavy, punkish aggression, almost like a slightly poppier, more psychedelic take on Black Flag ca. Slip It In, and I've rattled on about their two, excellent outings on SST in previous posts, in which I remarked that, judging by those releases, they didn't strike me as a "stoner"-oriented outfit at all, despite the god-like status they hold in that scene. Well, now I get where their "stoner" tag comes from, not that there's much of any 'Sabbath-like riffery to be heard in the bulk of their output. The sticker on Live describes them as "punk blues". Gulp! They may just have a point, though you should get The Black Keys outta yer head (and quick!). When I'm thinkin' "punk blues", I'd like to throw you in the direction of the Dicks, MC5 and the Groundhogs, three bands FJ remind me of a lot on this record. Mario Lalli's hoarse throat wails have me thinking of no-one else but Gary Floyd (and a bit of D. Boon), and the band, aided by plenty of sax work c/o Vince Meghrouni, break out into epic free-rock territory w/ the opener, "Too Many Skulls", the kinda track High Time shoulda finished with. Throw in plenty of mouth-harp and an aggressive, punked-up take on the blues as a backbeat, and I'll throw in the name "Groundhogs". Fatso Jetson, despite what I've just said, sound like no other contemporary band. It's almost like a complete reinvention of loud rock music, absolutely unique in its approach and shamefully underappreciated by rock hipsters who should pull their collective heads out of the sand. God knows it took me years to find my way here. Hats off to the frameable gatefold sleeve, which features a great photo of what I could only describe as an ornamental display gleefully showing off the elements that make Fatso Jetson as a band: LPs, ephemera and photos of their heroes: Ramones, Germs, Frank Zappa, Howlin' Wolf, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Saccharine Trust, Minutemen, Devo, Black Flag and more. Best live disc you'll probably hear all year, if you'll make the effort.

Monday, June 23, 2008

R.I.P. OLIVER DE COQUE - 1947-2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008

KRAMER - The Guilt Trip 2-CD/3-LP (Shimmy-Disc/1992)
Not sure if I've mentioned this one before... Going by the number of times I've discussed various things Shimmy over the years, the chances are kinda good. The Guilt Trip was originally released in 1992, just as all things Shimmy were starting to go a little pear-shaped. For me, the label simply started releasing way too much stuff, a lot of it not being particularly good, and it was around that period (I think) when Kramer and Ann Magnuson became involved in a law suit w/ each other, the end result being the bankruptcy of the label and Kramer disappearing from view (or at least my view) for quite a number of years. There's a fellow who likes to comment on this blog by the name of "Noisejoke"; my educated guess is that this man is in fact Dave Rick from Bongwater, so he'll probably be able to fill in the gaps. For moi, Kramer still remains one of the great figures of u/ground US rock from the last 30 years. Starting w/ his tenure in the reformed early-'80s version of The Fugs, right on through to Shockabilly, Bongwater and his many project aliases, collaborations and solo albums - as well as Shimmy-Disc's near-unbeatable catalogue from its first 5-6 years - his discography has some real gold throughout. I'd rate this uber-epic as being his finest, right alongside Bongwater's Double Bummer. Seems like dropping Kramer's name is about as fashionable as last month's milk these days. I can't figure it. I don't know the guy personally at all, though it seems like he's a guy who's pissed some people off along the way. Whatever. For me, his music, most especially on The Guilt Trip, a true sprawl which hits somewhere 'round the 150-minute mark, is the perfect distillation of all the sounds which have turned Kramer's head the last 40 years: Beatles, Yoko, Fugs, Roky, Robert Wyatt/Soft Machine, Led Zep, Eno/Fripp, Residents, Mothers Of Invention, Syd Barrett, etc. "Head music", these young folks call it. Bongwater started approaching a kinda fruity satirical stage by their last effort, The Big Sellout, which didn't sit too well in my craw at the time, and The Guilt Trip was the perfect antidote. This baby is heavy, both musically and lyrically. The guitar freakouts - of which there are plenty - are multi-tracked and multi-layered, giving the songs a real density, especially when aided and abetted by Kramer's distinctive bass fuzz underneath, and whilst it's the instrumentation (and its many instrumental tracks) which push it along, Kramer always had a great knack for the song. "I Love You" stands out for me; an acoustic, Roky-esque ballad which sounds like it coulda been lifted from Easter Everywhere. 36 tracks and, honestly, there's too many really good ones to mention. Dig the guitar aktion on "The Maximus Poems": soaring string wails caught in the worlds of Eddie Hazel and Greg Ginn. Lots of u/ground aficionados love their broken heroes - Syd, Roky, Skip Spence, et al - and whilst Kramer never fried himself the way those folks did, The Guilt Trip is a brilliant slice of a man falling apart and recording it for all to enjoy.


I'm curious to know who actually watched the Decline Of Western Civilisation III film I listed below, available to view on Google Video. God knows I tried, though I didn't make it past the first 30 minutes. Perfectly bloody awful, it was. Lunkheaded dimwit punkers who only serve to remind me of how freakin' miserable it was walking around the Haight-Ashbury district in '99, only to be constantly harassed by drugged-out panhandling punkers w/ bones through their noses and rainbow-coloured mohicans, mumbling out dopey lines through rotted teeth like, "Hey man, I like your Black Flag t-shirt... you got a dollar?". Mix that up w/ a bunch of tediously "politically-aware" dullards spouting off rad cliches and you have a movie. Is this "hardcore punk" in the late '90s?! I guess it was for some, and what a depressing spectacle to behold. Decline III is a total misfire, a documentary on a "scene" with very little to say and zero musical innovation (don't even get me started on the insane depths of awfulness of the bands here: Naked Aggression, Final Conflict, Resist, etc.), I can certainly see why it was never picked up for proper distribution. I told you I was prone to watching just about any half-assed documentary lending an ear to this thing known as "punk rock", but life is too short to waste 84 minutes on this.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

's funny how things work out. I'm beginning to think that Pell Mell may just be the great, "lost" American band of the last 25 years. Yeah, I say that kinda shit a lot. I'm obsessed w/ 'em. Of course, it's not often that a band who's "lost" winds up w/ a bunch of records on some big-time indie labels (SST, Matador), one on a major (DGC), a song on a Microsoft ad and a track on Six Feet Under... but I'll still call 'em "lost", if only because just about every release of theirs is currently out of print (all of them except for that release above, a Starlight Furniture reissue of a 1982 live cassette), and I guess because not too many people talk about 'em these days. I had their Bumper Crop LP back in high school and foolishly sold the thing over 10 years ago. I just bought it back last week... along w/ every other longplayer they released: '91's Flow, '95's Interstate, '97's Star City and '82's It's A Live Cassette. Slovenly's brilliance never made a dent w/ most folk. Same goes for The Scene Is Now. Pell Mell, TSIN and Slovenly are, come to think of it, three fairly similar sounding bands: combinations of slick-dick musicianship and highly inventive and completely non-generic interplay between the members. You could say they remain the ultimate post-Beefheart/'Ubu art-pop outfits. In fact, I just did. I hope that's recommendation enough.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

, I love this internet thing. Here's why: you ever seen the Decline Of Western Civilisation films by Penelope Spheeris? Of course you have. There's the first one, which centres on the nascent, awe-inspiring LA punk rock scene, and there's the second film which documents the mid '80s LA hair-metal circus. And then there's the little-known third one... It came out in '98 and played at various film festivals, but never saw release, not even on home video or DVD. I heard about it at the time, though it disappeared so quick I kinda forgot about it, and to be honest, my interest in late '90s crusty-punk - the scene it concentrates on - isn't something which sparks my interest greatly. But still, you know it and I know it: I'll sit through just about any dumbass film which lends a serious ear to this thing known as "punk rock" (unless it's one based on the candy-assed 21st-century notion of punk rock being something to do w/ extreme sports, arena shows, baggy shorts and all that emo drivel I dare not touch), and this might just be one of 'em. I haven't watched this yet - I'll do that on the weekend when I have some spare time - but perhaps you may care to give it a viewing. Ladies and gents, here is The Decline Of Western Civilisation III...

Monday, June 02, 2008

The album in question - Whatever You Love, You Are, from 2000, is probably The Dirty Three's overall best effort, though there's one track in particular you should pay attention to: it's track three, "I Offered It Up To The Stars And The Night Sky". It's over 13-and-a-half minutes long, and rates to these ears as one of the great prog/avant-rock epics of all time. It builds slowly from what sounds like an old Morricone Spaghetti Western motif before driving deceptively into a sweeping melody for a few minutes. Then the slow build starts once more, dives into the melody yet again, but this time with feeling (as they say) and then builds and builds, screeching violins, scattershot percussion and churning guitar. It's the shit, and it lasts over 13 minutes. If you think I'm being trite in writing about the Dirty Three in these pages, then you have your head - and your ears - up your ass. I'm mighty glad to've rediscovered the band in the last 12 months, and fill in some release gaps in the meantime, and a song as righteously good as "I Offered It..." reaches such transcendent peaks it makes a man realise why he wastes so much time w/ all this musical shit in the first place. A-fuckin'-men to that.
Jay Hinman over at Detailed Twang has done the unthinkable: a political blog. Should be interesting to hear a bunch of dudes (it's always dudes) talking about gun control and the Iraq war, as opposed to coloured-vinyl 7"s and ripping punk-rock 10"s from yesteryear (and you can include me in that bracket), and so you should peruse First Principles and make up your own mind. Frankly, I think Jay's nuts taking it on. The workload alone of keeping up regular entries on three blogs would be enough, but then there's the fanatics and browbeaters such a blog will have to endure. I've already put in my two cents in his comments box, and hope to make it a regular thing.
EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING had their launch this last Saturday evening for their recently released sophomore effort, Primary Colours. I wasn't there - damn, it sold out over a month ago (and that's at the Corner Hotel, its capacity being 500+, I'm sure) - and didn't feel like going after hearing it sell out so quick. Sure, I could've scammed my name on the door, but ultimately I just wasn't up for it. The album in question is great, don't get me wrong; a note-perfect follow-up to a terrific debut, its approach is just as shambolic as the first LP, and pretty radical considering its critical and commercial success down here, and I'm happy for their success (even though ECSR appear to be quite befuddled by this newfound popularity)... but they ain't gonna be that local band you can see w/ 50-150 other like minds any more. I got over my musical snobbery years ago (really), so don't get me wrong in thinking I'm bummed by their new success: I just like to keep the bulk of my gig-going activities up close and personal. But anyway, the LP is now out in the US on Goner, and I'm pretty sure they'll be hitting American shores by year's end, so all you Yankees keep yer ears peeled, and we'll see if their charms work their magic on the eyes and ears of folks halfway 'round the world.