Thursday, March 31, 2011

Way back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about the Sydney "noise" trio from the '80s known as Thug. Read about it here. They remain a mystery for most humans on earth... wait, let me re-phrase that: most humans on earth will never, ever in this lifetime know of, nor care for, the band known as Thug, and that is nothing to shed a tear for, for that is the way of the world. I've known about 'em for 24 years of my life now, and once again that places me in a distinct minority (a good place to be). They were one of the greats. Their most famous member was one Mr. Tex Perkins. He's since made his name w/ outfits such as the Beasts Of Bourbon, The Cruel Sea and as a solo artist, one who writes and performs original material, and one who plays shows around the country to old folks singing the songs of Johnny Cash (that last line ain't a joke, for anyone from overseas who is unaware of this recent development in his career: Tex earns a rather sweet living down here w/ a touring Johnny Cash tribute show). None of these other projects are, were or will be - in this writer's opinion - of any great interest or worth. Tex's greatest artistic accomplishment remains his time in Thug, and that's despite what he may think of his past involvement in the small world of toilet-humour-ridden noise (or noise-ridden toilet humour). Check out the clip above: it's smut you can dance to. Thug were a visionary pile of nonsense and I'm glad someone saved some moving images of their brilliant rubbish and shared it in this digital age.

The latest statistics reveal that the world of blogging, for the first time in nearly a decade - or since the early '00s, when it first became popular - has decreased in the last 12 months. That is, people ain't blogging like they used to. The explosion of social media, namely Facebook and Twitter, can be blamed for this: who can be bothered penning paragraphs of waffle for no one to read when you can post a two-line hit seen by many? As well as that, many blame a lack of time, a lack of response from the readership, and, well, a lack of readership. I think that even moreso, the overwhelming onslaught of web-based opinion, especially regarding critique of music, films, books, sports events - whatever - has levelled the playing field to the point where everything means nothing and nothing means everything. It's one person's opinion in the sea of many, and if you don't like someone's opinion or what they have to say, you can see a thousand others at the hit of a key. So where am I going with this? Nowhere, really. I do this blog because it fills a void somewhere in me. Occasionally I check out that "real time view" people-counter on the right there; it shows me that folks from all around the world check out this site, whether by accident or design. I figure I should try to update this thing at least once a week, if only to retain my - and anyone else's - interest in it. I'll continue that effort, even though real life can often get the better of me.

Now, despite all this waffle and everything I've just said, I feel like I have very little to say right now, though I'm hoping the next few paragraphs will prove that statement to be a lie. You want record reviews? Glorified record reviews take up a great deal of my regular working life, so I'm not so keen on doing them right now. However, I'm still endlessly procuring audio goldmines which may require my two cents. Those discs pictured below do.

High Tide were a UK quartet formed in 1969 and recorded this debut LP, Sea Shanties, for Liberty soon thereafter. Founding member Tony Hill had briefly been a member of the UK-via-USA outfit, The Misunderstood, who were managed and spruiked for a time by one John Peel. One of the other founding members, Simon House, had played w/ David Bowie and would go on to play w/ other underground stalwarts of the day, Hawkwind and the Third Ear Band. All of this may (or may not) give you an idea of where their music was coming from, and where it was heading. Sea Shanties is a monumentally good, nay, great album for its days. It's 41 years later and still sounds a thousand times better than most of the bedwetting nonsense which passes for rock & roll in this day and age. One thing which strikes upon first listen, especially the first listen of the first track, is just how heavy this disc is. The guitar is layered on the mix, a slab of sound you feel like you could dig up w/ a spade. House's violin adds an extra component to their sound. It's not neo-classical nonsense; it's an exotic texture which perfectly complements the twisting-turning arrangements and Herculean wails of Hill's guitar. Sea Shanties sounds to me like the perfect combination of Do Re Mi-period Hawkwind and 'Sabbath ca. Master Of Reality. It's still steeped heavily in psychedelia, though it's veering more into a proto-prog-metal sound without the noodling nonsense that genre would soon indulge in (such as High Tide's second LP, from 1970, which is nowhere near as good as this). There's 6 songs, two bordering the 10-minute mark, and the crunch of their sound never lets up. Vocals are rare, and that's possibly a good thing, as Hills's pipes bear a striking resemblance to a tone-deaf Jim Morrison. But you still get that guitar crunch. Don't forget it. It's better than Blue Cheer, but nowhere near as good as Hawkwind. Sea Shanties has been reissued many times over the years, both bootleg and legit. It currently enjoys a rather deluxe reissue treatment c/o the Esoteric label out of the UK, including some rather pointless bonus demo tracks from the day. But what the hey, the album's never sounded better. You oughta be a sleuth and investigate.

Another Esoteric offering which has only just seen the light of day this past month is their CD reissue of The Tony Williams Lifetime debut 2LP set from 1969, Emergency!. It may or may not still be in print in the US (I had a Verve version back in the '90s... and very foolishly traded it in!), though those on the other side of the Atlantic will wanna grab their mitts on this one. And whilst your at it, throw on the pile the Esoteric reissue of Lifetime's sophomore effort, Turn It Over (not pictured). Strangely enough, I have no one but this guy to thank for getting me into these albums about 15 years back. Stranger things have happened, though having not received a Xmas card from him the past 5 years is not one of them. For their debut, Lifetime were jazz drummer extraordinaire Tony Williams (a man who'd played on various classic Blue Note platters when he was still in his teens), Hammond organist Larry Young (he'd also released a few Blue Note classics, notably Unity, and would go on to form the short-lived [and terrific] Love/Cry/Want and release an excellent album under his own name a few years later - Lawrence Of Newark, featuring James Ulmer on guitar) and noted Limey guitar maestro, John McLaughlin. Need I mention Mahuvishnu Orchestra? Thought not. Mahuvishnu's first 2 albums have their moments, though like the entire genre of jazz fusion as we know it, they began to crawl up their own backside much quicker than they should have. For Lifetime's second album, Turn It Over, which was released in 1970, they were joined by ex-Cream bassist, Jack Bruce. Bruce later went on to record a series of fairly fruity but occasionally interesting solo albums throughout the '70s. By decade's end, Williams was releasing disco-fusion LPs w/ Allan Holdsworth on guitar. Life truly went downhill for a lotta folks.

But what you do need to know is how just how apocalyptically brilliant the first two Lifetime albums were, both then and now. They were recorded at a time when the concept of "fusion" sounded like a good idea: a mixture of jazz's freedom within the context of rock & roll. These two discs have nada to do w/ the cheesecloth & moustache nonsense of most '70s fusionoid drivel. If you were going to throw them in any basket, it'd be alongside Sonny Sharrock's Black Woman and Monkey Pockie-Boo LPs from the same era and Miles' excursions into free-rock w/ Dark Magus and Black Beauty. More than that, Young's mashed-up key chords on the Hammond and McLaughlin's crunch - the crunch, always the crunch - on the strings gets me thinking of White Light-period VU and Monster Movie-era Can. This shit is raw.

There's nothing polite about these discs; the members sound fresh and ready to explode, and for 110 minutes - the combined duration of both - the energy rarely abates. Even Williams' slightly bogus forays into "singing" (more like ghetto rappin' for The Kids: this was '69) can't hold 'em back. I'd be willing to bet good money that a certain fellow by the name of Greg Ginn smoked a bong or two in his time to the sounds of Emergency! and Turn It Over: they bear uncanny resemblance to the 'Flag ca. The Process Of Weeding Out (a point brought up by music writer Robert Palmer at the time). If the MC5 had the cajones to back up their bragging rights as the ultimate combo of psychedelic high-energy rock and free jazz at the time, they might've sounded more like this and a little less like Bob Seger. I like the '5 just fine - a whole lot - though if they'd also sounded a little like The Tony Williams Lifetime ca. 1969/'70, I'd like 'em a whole lot more.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another rock & roll passing just this last week: ZOOGZ RIFT. His death went largely unnoticed, likely due to the fact that his musical profile was sub-underground back at the "peak" of his popularity in the late '80s, and since 1993 had largely given up music to pursue a career in professional wrestling. Not actually as a wrestler himself (something he had done previously), but in a backroom role. For a few years in the mid '90s, he was even the Vice President of UWF (Universal Wrestling Federation). He released a slew of LPs on the SST label in the latter half of the '80s, though that was hardly the beginning of his life in music: his first LP had been self-released back in 1979. I had a couple of his records in the last year of high school, and would often torture those around me w/ his music, if the occasion ever arose (it rarely did). A man whose music, and music persona, was heavily inflicted by the sights and sounds of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, it was an aquired taste, to say the least. Whilst heavily derivative of its obvious influences, it filled a gap in my brain which needed it. Put it this way: being a child of the '80s, his two main influences were either retired from music or should've been. That left Zoogz to fly the freak flag alone. Let's face it: had he not recorded for SST, I likely wouldn't have bought any of his records back in the day. Perhaps in the intervening years I would've, but it also likely wouldn't have made much of an impression on me. I didn't actually own any Zappa or Beefheart records in high school - they were in my peripheral vision but probably struck me as too "adult" at the time - so Zoogz was the man. Between the years 1991 and 2005, I don't think I played a single song of his once. I revisited his albums about 5 years ago, mainly because a friend who had a couple of his albums in his collection (and was amazed to find someone else on earth who'd heard of him. Of course I'd heard of him!) gave them to me, figuring he'd never play them again. I spun them for a month or two then filed 'em away. They're still there. I really should play them, but like I said, Zoogz's music is "difficult". I'll get back to them one day when I'm in the mood. He died last week from diabetes complications, aged 57. Check out the clip above, from Peter Ivers' great New Wave Theatre cable show in the early '80s, for a glimpse of the man at his best.
Once you've done that, have a read of this article: it's a piece by Duff McKagen about seeing the Bad Brains play recently at the South By Southwest festival in Austin. Duff made his fame and fortune via Guns 'n' Roses and, more recently, the shitawful Velvet Revolver. It may seem hard to believe, but G'n' R actually had some "hip" cache for a time. "Sweet Child O' Mine" used to get played constantly on community radio down here, and I'm not afraid to admit that I was quite a fan of the song. G 'n' R seemed a million miles at the time from most music I'd want to listen to, that being American hardcore and its offspring, though in retrospect that wasn't entirely true. Duff himself had been an active member of Seattle's punk scene as a teen, playing in bands such as 10 Minute Warning and The Fartz. When he moved to LA in 1984, he worked at a restaurant w/ SST staff photographer, Naomi Peterson, a job apparently hooked up via the 'Flag guys. In the late 1990s, he even played in the band, Loaded, w/ Dez Cadena. I can't vouch for them being any good (they never recorded, so far as I know), though I still regret not having seen them in San Fran in '99: they played the first night I was there, but I piked due to jet-lag. Guns 'n' Roses began to eat shit pretty soon after they became famous. In 1991, a friend forced - and I mean it: he wouldn't take no for an answer - me to borrow his copies of the Use Your Illusion double LPs, so convinced was he of their genius (his musical headspace was elsewhere). I gave them a perfunctory listen out of politeness, despite the obvious fact that I had negative interest in the band, and quickly concluded them to be a bloated pile of horseshit. Despite generally finding the appeal of 1980s LA cock-rock completely negligible at the time (as it has always been and still remains), I could at least credit Appetitite For Destruction with being the product of a fresh-sounding band (certainly within its genre, at least) who sounded like they could "rock", but the Use Your Illusion albums merely sounded like a group of layabouts who taken too many drugs and flunked around recording studios for way too long. I read an interview w/ Duff once in MOJO. He spoke of catching a plane back to Seattle in 1991 whilst listening to an advance copy of Nevermind he'd procured from an employee at Geffen. He predicted its likely impact on popular music, thought about the imminent release of the Use Your Illusion records, both of which he thought to be both overcooked and underdone, and figured his band would likely be considered irrelevant pretty soon. You could say there's some truth in that. In that regard, I'll hail him as "the smart Gunner". Anyway, none of this is particularly interesting, though his piece on the Bad Brains is. I can't say I'm likely to talk of his music career much again in this lifetime, but I'll credit him for not being an asshole... and for writing a passionate article on a band worth getting passionate about.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

MILTON NASCIMENTO - Clube Da Esquina 2LP (4 Men With Beards/2010)
This epic 2LP set has been what they like to call in the biz a "slow-burn" release, one which takes a little while to get going, but once it takes hold on the general populace, it gathers a certain momentum and takes on a life of its own. Put that into a little more personal perpective: that's the effect this album has had on me. It's taken a while - a good 2 months - but it's now something which I can't shake off. Each day now requires a daily doseage of Clube Da Esquina.
My persistence w/ the record - and once you get to a certain age, and in this era of chronic Attention Deficit Syndrome, when can you be bothered persisting w/ something which doesn't immediately grab you? - can be laid down to one fact: three major-league music-dork buddies of mine, completely independent of each other, all hail this album as possibly their all-time favourite piece of recorded music. And if not thee favourite, at least right "up there" (raise hand up high) on the list. When such grandiose statements are made by people I don't possess a total contempt for, I have to stand up and take notice.
The album itself was originally released in 1972 (its original label of release in Brazil remains a mystery to me; it's either a Universal or EMI affiliate) and was Nascimento's 4th full-length effort. As a white undie-rock enthusiast (I've done my demographic research) you may not be aware of Nascimento's work, though in his homeland of Brazil he is considered a bit of a national treasure, in the same way as, say, Bob Dylan is in the US or Van Morrison in the UK. He also enjoys a huge following in certain parts of Europe (especially France), and much like many revered music veterans of his era, his post '70s work has been a wildly uneven affair which likely wouldn't thrill you a great deal if you were to hear it. Again, it's the early work you need.
Clube Da Esquina was written and recorded w/ his cohort, Lo Borges, a musician/writer/producer arranger who not only cut some cool discs of his own in the early '70s, but was also a member of the Clube Da Esquina, the name given to the group of musicians from Nascimento's area. You taking notes on all of this?
But firstly, Nascimento was not really a "Tropicalia" music artist, that mini-movement in Brazil which combined rad (or at least anti-govt.) politics w/ a bizarre hybrid of Beatles-damaged psychedelic pop and Brazilian sounds, although he was friendly w/ many of its protagonists (he later recorded w/ Gilberto Gil). Which means that his music doesn't possess the bubblegum pop-art feel of Os Mutantes or Tom Ze. His songwriting strikes me as much more earnest and personal, and his style of songwriting, which is free-flowing and doesn't tend to rely on a regular verse/chorus set-up reminds me mostly of Van Morrison ca. Astral Weeks or Veeden Fleece and Tim Buckley's more psychedelic works. I have never heard his music compared to either artist - most people seem to bring up the Beatles - though at least in my mind they're most definitely who he sounds the most like.
His sweet, light voice soars over the mostly acoustic backdrop, which is also augmented by strings, choral voices, keyboards, Latin percussion and occasionally fuzzed-out psychedelic guitar. Track 19, "Trem de Doido", in particular, has the most awesomely beautiful guitar lines, soaked in distortion in a manner which makes the song peak like no other track on the record. Nascimento sings in Portugese, though the language barrier is no drawback from its immense power. Much of it contains the same wordless quality of Buckley's far-out platters: it's the feeling which counts (though there's a lyric sheet in English included, if you must).
Milton Nascimento also released two other albums I can vouch for: Milagre dos Peixes and Minas, both from roughly the same era and both were reissued on CD via the Water label (4 Men With Beards' "sister" CD imprint) several years ago, and so far as I know are still readily available. Clube Da Esquina possesses a certain quality which has taken hold of me in recent weeks. As a package and statement - 21 songs in just over an hour, housed in a front cover which explains nothing (that's on the back) - it has the same sense of impenetrability that other fave 2LP sets of mine contain, recordings such as Don Cherry's Orient and Miles Davis' Get Up With It.
I generally find vinyl to be a pain in the arse these days. Sure, they look nice and they impress your friends, but practically speaking (due to two infant children just waiting to destroy everything around them living under my roof) they're not something I can just throw on the stereo at a moment's notice, which means the CD format is usually my vehicle of choice. In this case, the 2LP format is what you need. Clube Da Esquina, just like Get Up With It, Orient or Space Ritual, makes more sense split between 4 sides of vinyl, just as it was intended, and its whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. It's way too early to start talking about its placement in Greatest Ever lists, but I can most definitely recommend Clube Da Esquina.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who woulda thought the bass player of Fugazi was responsible for two such fine albums? Not me, until quite recently. The guy in question - that's Joe Lally - played here two years ago, hooked up w/ a couple of local musos and did a few gigs around town. I was not in attendance for any of the shows - I think family responsibilities kept me from being present - but having now been exposed to these two discs, I'm kinda sorry I didn't make it. Scratch that: I'm really sorry I didn't make it. These are way better than I had expected, though I guess it's hard for me to articulate just exactly what my expectations were. Perfunctory, indulgent, bass-playing nonsense from a guy who played in a very famous and well-regarded band for over 15 years? Indulgent nonsense of a different stripe released for the sole reason that he was in said band? That's harsh, and not exactly what I was expecting anyway, for the truth is, I had no expectations. So far as I knew, both of these discs - released on Dischord, of course - might've been excercises in singer-songwriter folk, experimental noise or stoner boogie (a genre of music Lally is greatly fond of), but they are none of the above.
There's two CD/LPs here worthy of consideration: 2006's There To Here and 2007's Nothing Is Underrated. If anything, Lally's records are like a vastly stripped-down version of Fugazi ca. Instrument, a cop-out description which does them some justice, but also undersells their fairly unique sound. On There To Here he's got some of his old band buddies helping him out, Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, mostly on backing vocals and guitar, though more interestingly (or perhaps more uniquely), he also has his old room-mate, Scott "Wino" Weinrich (Obsessed, Saint Vitus, etc.) helping out on guitar on a couple of tracks. There are two cuts here, "Resigned" and "Billiards", which have Lally, Wino and MacKaye playing together, and the combo of Lally's Wobble-ish bass grooves, Wino's guitar strangulation (which aren't doom powerchords, but more boogiefied noodles) and MacKaye's backing vocals are pretty damn hot. Now there's a potential supergroup who should put some more tunes to tape. The combination of the three is like Metal Box-era PiL mixing it up w/ stoner guitar licks and Lally's nasally, vaguely collegiate vocals... and perhaps you think I've just described a musical abortion, but that it's not. A work colleague of mine just about spat his lunch out when he heard the semi-spoken word "Pick A War", a none-too-subtle dig at, uh, war... but like I've said before, in a world of irony overdose, I can easily handle such sentiments delivered w/ a straight face.
2007's Nothing Is Underrated carries along a similar path, so much so that both albums feel like bookends. Bookending what, you may ask, and for that I have no answer. Let's just say that both albums are like two halves of a whole. It also has MacKaye and Picciotto helping out on several tracks, but w/ also subtle keyboard assistance c/o Sam Krulewitch. Lally's lyrics are similarly cryptic, his vocals mostly spoken in an understated though slightly whiny manner, though this never detracts from the music, but instead embellishes it perfectly. Much like its predecessor, it's also musically stripped to its bare essentials: every song is based on a simple, slightly dubby bass/drums rhythm w/ guitars and keyboards being used for texture. "Scavenger's Garden" breaks the general rule of thumb with a wall of guitar noise from Eddie Janney and Picciotto, but mostly this is about subtlety and restraint. I dig both albums, a whole lot. Any kind of contemporary US underground rock has barely even registered on my radar the past 5 years. It was, in decades past, a long-running obsession of mine but has largely become irrelevant to me in recent times. Hell, my music diet the past 12 months has rarely reached beyond the year 1960, so it's nice to hear a couple of releases from the 21st century which really do register w/ me. I expected absolutely zip from Joe Lally, and he has a whole lot more to offer than that.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

THE SLOG MOVIE (We Got Power Films)
This film is an excellent capsule to a time and place I was not a part of, its essence and its core being suburban Southern California in the early '80s. More specifically it's about the hardcore punk scene of that period, though being directed by a young suburbanite punker of the time - Mr. Dave Markey - rather than an older sophisticate not necessarily living the life, it's a street-level portrayal of trash/pop-culture-drenched, bored middle-class youth which in some ways is more effective than Penelope Spheeris' The Decline Of Western Civilisation (though it's most certainly not a better film) or Alex Cox's Repo Man (two very different films, so I won't compare them).

The Slog Movie sees a young, 17/18-year-old Dave Markey documenting the music scene around him ca. 1981/'82. You've probably heard of him before. He's made a name for himself via cult films Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and Lovedolls Superstar (both faves of mine for many, many years), Reality 86'd (his documentary of Black Flag's last ever tour in 1986, one which has never seen the light of day due to lawsuits c/o Greg Ginn), video clips by the likes of Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Meat Puppets, Mudhoney, et al, his most famous documentary, 1991:The Year Punk Broke, as well as his two bands from the '80s, Sin 34 (generic but fun suburban punk quartet) and Painted Willie, a Ginn-damaged post-HC outfit who signed to SST at the time, played an OK take on stoner/hippie-punk and were hated by just about everybody (except me).

The film is Markey, his camera (not video, I'm assuming by its quality), the HC bands of LA and his buddies, notably Jordan Schwartz (later an SST employee and general dude-about-town) and Merrill Ward (you may remember him from his stint in the too-bad-to-believe, SWA). There's no story, no particular narrative line of what is being documented other than some live gigs by bands he obviously likes, but it still provides a fascinating fly-on-the-wall look at what being a white, suburban punk (thanks, Emilio) was like at the dawn of the '80s in LA. There's no harrassment from the cops, no one getting their ass beaten. That may well have happened (it certainly did for some), but this is really all about kids lazing around their parents' house, blasting out records from their speaker in their flyer-covered bedroom, microwaving food, practicing their minimal chops in the garage, hanging out at Okie Dogs (the after-hours food joint for punkers at the time. Hell, you might even catch a glimpse of Pat Smear there! [you do]), and even name-dropping another icon of early-'80s LA culture: E.T. It's like Fast Times At Ridgemont High meets Decline of Western Civilisation, except the music is better than the former.

Musically, you get footage of the Circle Jerks, Circle One, Fear, Chiefs, Sin 34, Wasted Youth, Black Flag, TSOL, Symbol 6 and Red Cross. Take yer pick as to what you think is what's hot and what's not. The generic stuff (Sin 34, Circle One, Chiefs, Wasted Youth) is still fairly embryonic, fresh & fun to watch; the Circle Jerks and Fear clips are fantastic (and I don't even like the latter band); TSOL are almost tolerable; the Black Flag clip is from just after Henry joining the band, though due to legal hassles (once again from you-know-who), it's billed on the DVD cover as "Henry Rollins, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena and Robo", and there's no audio to the clip, just commentary from Keith Morris, Jordan Schwartz, Dave Markey and Mike Watt, but despite this the brief clip is explosive stuff; and the musical highlight is Red Cross (apparently still using that spelling at the time) playing on Santa Monica Pier in '82 (see that clip above) when they were at the peak of their powers (though actually I like their Neurotica LP from 1987 the most) and pumping out a unique, trashed-out, suburban-LA-teen garage-punk take on the New York Dolls. Or something like that. Their music requires a deep analysis, but you won't get that here right now.

This period when suburban hardcore punk was fresh lasted but a year or two - '81/'82, to be specific - and it's a great thing that someone like Markey got it down on celluloid at the time. The Slog Movie is only 50-odd minutes long, is captured on scratchy film on a shakey camera, features choppy editing and occasionally terrible sound - and let's face it, over half of the bands featured really aren't worth listening to in 2011 - but none of that matters. It's the little things in this movie which make it worthwhile, the small moments which capture the scene. When young punker Jordan Schwartz is bitching about not being able to buy beer at a convenience store, getting hassled by its staff, there's a great moment when he utters in pimply-faced frustration, "Punk rockers are the niggers of the world, man!"

You can actually watch the whole film here. I assume Markey doesn't disapprove of its presence on Youtube, or he would've asked for it to be taken down, so go for your life.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

MINUTEMEN - My First Bells cassette (SST/1985)
A rediscovery on my behalf: I found this cassette buried under a pile of miscellaneous scraps of paper in the glovebox of the family truckster just the other day. Quite the find, especially when you're sick to death of driving the family around on the weekend listening to the same half-dozen tapes over and over again: Soft Boys, Pell Mell, Nirvana, Rolling Stones, Black Flag, T. Rex, Byrds. That's a mighty good selection, mind you, but repetition breeds contempt, and the umpteenth run-through of "Gimme Shelter" had me thinking I really should buy a stack of new tapes and put together a few new comps for weekend journeys... but who has the time? Me?? Not on your life. So I rummaged, and under the seat, possibly coated in a glucose-based substance and very likely having sat there for a year or two, I also found a few more: Marquee Moon, Gang Of Four, a mix of PiL's first three LPs. Not bad. These will keep me going for a while.
I bought My First Bells approximately 21 years ago. A Virgin "megastore" opened here in early 1989 in Bourke Street, central Melbourne; its selection of stock was off the map. They had Paper Bag on cassette, fer chrissake! You think anyone was going to pay good money for that level of SST twaddle? Correct you are: it was me. But in my defence, I did wait until it had all hit the bargain bin comes 12 months time. And hit it I did. One of the finds worth bragging rights to was a $5 copy of the Minutemen's My First Bells cassette, a 62-track beast which puts together everything the band released from the years 1980 - 1983. I already owned 90% of it on vinyl, but that was beside the point: it was a craftily put together compilation which boasted a couple of tracks I didn't yet own, it was the right price and I could play it on my Walkman to and from uni classes. Bad ass.
I have forever found the cassette format to be a gigantic pain in the butt. Its current revival sometimes makes me think I've woken up in crazyworld. People willingly want to go back to using that relic of a format, one inhibited by constant forward- and rewinding, sound dropouts, tedious searching for songs and tapes being chewed up in players? Good luck. I was quite the enthusiast for "tape culture" some 20 years ago - cassette-only releases usually dealing in the realms of extreme noise and power electronics - but that was a scene borne from necessity: CD manufacturing costs still priced a lot of small-time players out of the market, and for small-run releases, cassettes were the only viable economic option. That necessity bred an aesthetic. These days it's cheaper to press a CD than a cassette, and thus for me, its existence is pointless except as either a slightly insane nostalgia trip, or worse, as an extreme example of pseudo counter-cultural pretension. But I digress - and boy, do I digress - and I really should stick to the topic: Minutemen.
Back when manufacturing independent releases on both vinyl and cassette was still quite a rarity, SST was there on the frontline. They likely had the sales to back it up. There was a period in the latter half of the '80s when even their most esoteric (or terrible, you decide) releases were getting the three format - LP/CD/CA - deluxe treatment, and the fact that I managed to purchase titles by the likes of the Treacherous Jaywalkers, SWA and Paper Bag on tape lays testament to that. That may be testament to something else, too. My First Bells is something slightly different: it was never released in its form on CD or LP. It is a cassette-only release, one which puts together everything they laid down in the studio ca. 1980 - 1983. That is, it includes their debut 7" EP, Paranoid Time, debut 12" mini-LP, The Punchline, Joy and Bean Spill EPs, their sophomore LP, What Makes A Man Start Fires?, 12" EP Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat and various tracks from compilations at the time.
Listening to it all the way through, as I did the other day when taking the kids to an afternoon birthday party way out in the eastern suburbs (the things we do...), a journey long enough for me to hear it from start to finish, it makes for an excellent guidebook to the band's evolution throughout the first half of their lifespan. The 30-second sketches which make up their debut EP are a far cry from the more expansive, jazzy and lyrical nature of What Makes A Man... And they're also far removed from the anti-mersh fuck around of Buzz Or Howl, a relatively little-known record which combines some of their best songs ("Cut", "I Felt Like a Gringo" and "Little Man With A Gun In His Hand" - later reprised on Double Nickels On The Dime) w/ barely-together studio jams. Paranoid Time is even far removed in style to its immediate successor, the former being rough, loose and lo-fi, the latter being slick, tight and w/ chops to spare. Heck, Hurley's rapid evolution as a drummer - an instrument he apparently only took up a year before the band's formation - is staggering, his skills tightened to a point where one could hail him as the best drummer of the period w/ a straight face.
The band's ongoing hit rate, as demonstrated by My First Bells, was beyond par, as it was so the end. I've written enough about the band on this blog before. You either care or you don't. If there's been a better American band of the last 30 years, then give me a name. I don't want to write any more about it. I don't need to write any more about it. If I could only take an old Sony Walkmen to a desert island, I'd be packing this, too.