Friday, March 08, 2013

Hi. I'm back. You may, or may not, want to read a brief piece I wrote on the "vinyl revival" here in The Music Network recently. TMN is an online (and physical, I'm told, though I've never seen a copy) periodical by and for music-biz twits, and hence they asked me to contribute something to the debate regarding the non-issue of the revival of the vinyls. I was given 200 words to state my case. I can barely even clear my throat in less than 300 words. I think I made some kind of point or other, or possibly not. They actually edited my original piece slightly for word-space, though the crux of it is intact. Here, in case anyone cares (and they don't, but I'm a grand fucking pain in the arse when it comes my printed words coming out exactly as I'd like it to), is the unedited version:

When someone of the youthful persuasion tells me they've been buying some "vinyls" of late, as if they just discovered the wheel, I have to laugh. For myself, coming from an independent music background, it never went away. The major labels tried to kill the format in the 1980s, desperately urging on the rise of the "superior" compact disc (it isn't), as they saw opportunities for more shelf space for their product (given the smaller format) in the megamarts and a public willing to buy the back catalogues of their artists yet again in a fancy new format alleging superior sound quality. That was nearly 30 years ago. Now we sit here in 2013, scratching our heads and wondering why CD sales are falling and record sales are skyrocketing. Whilst I would call myself a vinyl enthusiast as opposed to purist, the digital age has seen a sizeable portion of the younger generation rejecting the digitalism of the CD in favour of the LP. Older fans - the gullible who sold or even gave away their records in favour of CDs back in the '80s/'90s - are even coming back to the format. I would pinpoint the reasons as being 33% sound (never believe the hype: vinyl does sound better), 33% size (LPs just look better, feel better and look more impressive on a shelf) and the other 34% being fashion. The fashionable will be selling their LPs all over again within the next 15 years - maybe some time ‘round the Great CD Revival Of 2026 (nostalgia knows no bounds) - but for the faithful, and there's enough of them, vinyl is here to stay.

Anyway, speaking of the vinyls, a CD I've been listening to lately is Scratch Acid's The Greatest Gift, a "compile" (somehow that verb has converted itself into a noun in recent years) of all of their recorded works from 1982 - 1986, released on Touch & Go. The band, as you may know, called it quits in 1987 before singer David Yow and bassist David Sims formed the Jesus Lizard in 1989; from 1987 - '89, Sims and drummer Washam were in Steve Albini's largely forgotten outfit, Rapeman. Well, we all remember Rapeman, but when was the last time you listened to your Rapeman LP? Thought so. (Likely coming soon: Lexicon Devil blog reappraises the recorded career of Rapeman and realises they weren't so terrible after all). And whilst we're talking about family trees, I can't help but mention that Washam, who, along w/ George Hurley was one of the finest skin-hitters in the original hardcore era, also played w/ the mighty Big Boys (see below. No, really, see below) and later played sticks w/ everyone from the Didjits to Ministry(!). So! Where does that leave us? I play this CD for about 3 -5 days solid once every 18 months or so, and that hits the spot. Scratch Acid were one of the finer underground aggregates of the US of A in the '80s, and this CD is ample proof. Back in the day - actually that'd be the dawn of the '90s, so it's posthumous - I was a big sucker for their Berserker 12" EP on the Touch & Go label, their finest recorded work and the only piece of their discography which seemed to be widely available here at the time. My brother had a beat-up copy of their Just Keep Eating LP on Rabid Cat, and whilst we liked it and then some, it lacked the ferocious production of Berserker. Berserker really is one beast of a platter, a perfect meeting point of HC aggression, Texan acid-punk of the Buttholesian/Dicks/Big Boys variety and the expected Birthday Party damage everyone noted at the time ('s true). I remember reading at the time - it might even be an old issue of Chemical Imbalance - that Yow & co. always considered their two biggest influences to be Led Zep and the Birthday Party. That nails it: bad-ass riffery and the lurching bass/crazyman persona of Yow meeting head-to-head w/ guitarist Brett Bradford's spiky outbreaks (heavy shades of Rowland S. Howard, as expected). I think it was in the same interview that one of the members said he dug on Flipper, Ry Cooder and jazz fusion(!). There ya go. Maybe that was Flipside. Maybe I shouldn't give a shit. Along w/ the likes of Sonic Youth, Big Black, Swans, Die Kreuzen, Killdozer et al, Scratch Acid fall fair & square in the neat little bracket of post-HC noisy rock & roll which was all the rage ca. 1986-'87, an alternative to the bong-hit jams at SST (although SY were stationed there) and, in some ways, a precursor, or at least influence (on), to the more lumpen sounds brewing in Seattle which would gain a major spotlight in the subsequent 5 or more years. You can't discuss Scratch Acid w/out at least giving a nod to their more famous cousin, Jesus Lizard. I liked their debut 7" a lot - still do - it's a medley of early Chrome tunes which is a total knockout (listen here), but their subsequent records never budged me much of an inch. I bought both Goat and Head in '91, upon the former's immediate release, and I tried, oh how I tried to like them both, but I found them to be insufferably boring and traded them in. Years later I heard snippets of '94's Down, and its ace riffery and dynamic energy (two things I thought Goat lacked) really took me by surprise. That was about 15 years ago. They may be revisited one day. For myself, Jesus Lizard lacked the freeform sense of space that Scratch Acid possessed; JL were "rock" to SA's "jazz" or something or other. Anyway! They earned themselves a considerable fanbase for their troubles, were hailed as one of the best live bands of their day and all that belongs for now in a different blog. For my two cents, Scratch Acid still sound hot, hot, hot 25 years after the fact. I'm a-keepin' this one.

Saw these guys a few weeks back play this album in full. Let me rephrase that: I saw David Thomas and some other people play it at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Altona 3 weeks ago on a stinking hot day surrounded by a crowd of similarly sweat-drenched types. Much like The Fall, Pere Ubu really is just one guy these days, and his surrounding band of musicians is largely irrelevant. During the concert experience, 'Ubu played all of their early Hearpen/Hearthen (I've heard it pronounced about 5 different ways over the years) and then slipped into The Modern Dance from start to finish, note for note. I was excited about seeing PU strut their stuff in a live setting - I saw them here and '99 at the Corner Hotel and they were really, really good, but I was left cold by this recent experience, even though friends of mine were impressed and figured I was just being a grumblebum. For moi, there were two problems which arose: firstly, I'd have to say that The Modern Dance isn't my fave PU platter - that'd be the follow-up, 1978's Dub Housing - and it's not exactly the kind of party disc which will get your hips shaking on a hot summer afternoon (that's no reason not to actually like it - I do - but it's a cerebral record which doesn't tend to make one do a modern dance); and secondly, the band played the album absolutely to the letter like they were lab scientists in white coats. It was completely bloodless with zero organic flow, like a highly competent, perhaps near-perfect PU cover band, but not the real thing. Sure, you had Dave Thomas up there doing his Crazy Old Man routine, but his studied curmudgeon persona (or maybe genuine insanity) didn't amuse me as much as it obviously did others. Regardless, I didn't dislike it; it just didn't move my loins a millimetre. The band known as Pere Ubu ca. 1975 - 1982 remain one of my all-time favourites music-making ensembles; I have stated before how much I love their sorely underrated LPs from 1980-'82 (I would personally state that Peter Laughner's positive influence on the band is overstated by many), although I caned their records into the ground so hard back in the '90s that I haven't spun them too often in the 21st century, and hence I haven't given the band much coverage in this blog. That will change in the future as I go full-circle back into their classic works w/ aplomb (that's guaranteed; it just hasn't happened at this moment), but for now, there you have your mediocre and slightly disappointed Pere Ubu live review. Next!

I bought Motorhead's Ace Of Spades LP about 5 years ago. Other than a cheapie Best Of CD I've owned for about 15 years, it's the only Motorhead recording I've ever actually owned. You can only pursue the acquisition of so many recordings in this lifetime, and so far I have capped it at this, although I suspect that before I drop dead, I will have pursued the recorded glories of Motorhead further. That's because, much like their brother band, the Ramones, a similar unit who redefined rock music in the '70s, Motorhead were an unstoppable beast for a good 5 or 6 albums before changing line-up and settling into a more careerist unit who, good as they were (and are), don't quite match the absolute peak glories of the earlier albums. Similarly to the Ramones, my hesitancy in actually purchasing any of their LPs was possibly brought on by the fact that I'd felt like I had already heard any and all of their worthwhile songs in my life at friend's places, parties, etc., rendering a private purchase pointless. Got me? Many have tried, but Motorhead remain an impossible beast to pin down, and therein lies their beauty. Byron Coley once noted than in the late '70s he had them pegged as simply a long-haired punk rock band. Coming from the Hawkwind/Pink Fairies school of hippoid White Panther rock & roll, flirting w/ punk (touring w/ the Damned), possessing the heaviness of second-gen UK HC and crust (Discharge, Amebix, Rudimentary Peni) before it existed and the pace of US HC when it was still germinating (Motorhead had perfected this by their Bomber/Overkill discs from 1979) and speed metal when Lars and his hesher buddies were still trading Budgie bootlegs, Lemmy and co. were a crude, purist rock & roll unit who crossed all musical barriers and couldn't give much of a fuck for any regardless. They played w/ HC bands back in the '80s when they'd tour there (they wanted Black Flag to support them across the country at one point, though apparently their deal, which included BF "renting" Motorhead's backline and support, would've left the punkers out of pocket), although they were equally at home playing arenas w/ the metalheads. Back in high school, I thought metal was for sissies and posers. Pyrotechnics, supernatural lyrics, spandex pants, endless solos and a dunderhead sense of machsimo left me cold to much of it, although I've since learned that there was a lot more to '80s metal than I knew at the time (of course most of it still blows chunks, but so did most HC). Motorhead was the one glaring exception, a band who appealed to all because their schtick was a certain charmless yet utterly charmed assault on the senses, a barrage of reckless noise which compiles the best of '50s rock & roll, MC5, Hawkwind, Black Sabbath, Ramones, The Damned et al with a dose of those they inspired: Discharge, Black Flag, Slayer, Voi Vod, Die Kreuzen and just about any rock band worth a damn post-1976. Ace Of Spades is one fucking adrenalin rush of a disc, much more than a famous title track and a bunch of filler. Motorhead made great albums, knew the dynamics and tension/release aspects of what made a great song and the 12 songs here from 1980 are something I could prescribe to all and sundry.

Here's a quick one: Modern Classics Recordings, an imprint of Light In The Attic (who must be rolling in dough after the recent success of Rodriguez's catalogue), have done a good thing and reissued the Big Boys' classic debut from 1981, Where's My Towel?/Industry Standard. I've written about the Big Boys several times before in this blog, and even interviewed Tim Kerr about the band many moons ago, so I won't dwell too much on old turf. But I will say that it's a mighty fine thing that this has been done; there are but 3000 copies of this sucker, it's a particularly swish edition (as you can see from the picture above), and in keeping w/ the ridiculous nature of unpopular culture in the 21st century, it rears its head for the first time on cassette. Ugh. Anyway, Where's My Towel? sees the band still in a relatively early stage of their non-career: recorded in 1980, the band hadn't yet (musically) gone "hardcore", their sound caught somewhere twixt the world of raw power-pop, angular & funky post-punk (the Minutemen comparison is always on the money) and the Oi! Randy Turner and Chris Gates loved so much. The Big Boys were one of the finest musical units this universe has ever been given - they bring a smile to my dial each and every single time I hear their output within my aural vicinity - and this edition is a gift you should give yourself.


Pig State Recon said...

Oi! fr sure - that Big Boys cover art could've graced a Cockney Rejects LP

Anonymous said...

Which year would that MötörFlag tour would have been? Trying to picture which albums they would have supported...


Dave said...

Not sure when Motorhead wanted BF to support. Carducci wrote about it in (I think) the Naomi Peterson book. My guess is that it would be '84/'85 period.

bippy zootflute said...

I actually listened to Rapeman's 2 nuns album recently for the 1st time in many years and loved it - might be Albini's best production job (esp. drums. And the song's are constructed in a kind of loose and interesting way. I liked it anyway' - better than i remembered and i liked it then, too.