Monday, June 24, 2013

Let's punk it up, kids. I bought the reissue of the Dicks' classic debut, Kill From The Heart, on the Alternative Tentacles label, in the vinyl format earlier in the year, and yet for no particular reason, it's escaped a spiel on this blog until now. Originally released on SST in 1983, prior to its reissue it had been out of print for eons until last year. Fact is, this is the first time I've ever owned the thing in any format, since it's been an elusive record to grab hold of. Its early deletion from the SST catalogue remains inexplicable to me. Gary Floyd was obviously still on good enough terms w/ Ginn & co. in the late '80s to remain on the label w/ Sister Double Happiness. I interviewed Gary about 5 years ago for an article on another site which never eventuated, and I don't believe I even covered that topic as well as I should have (ie. - 'why [the fuck] was the Dicks' debut deleted so early on from the SST catalogue?'), so I guess I'm no Woodward & Bernstein (and I can't locate the interview in question, or I'd print it here). So!

When I was in the US in '99, I spotted bootlegged copies of KFTH in hep record outlets in every city I visited. Someone booted it w/ a paste-on sleeve at the time, and it was omnipresent. I kept on passing on it, figuring I'd locate a copy back home somehow, and also because I didn't want to be lugging a box of LPs around the country. Which brings me to to this edition. Remastered by Biafra, the LP edition also comprises a swish bonus 'Hate The Police' 7": a nice thing to have, since that infamous track isn't reprised on the LP itself. The original Dicks, featuring Floyd on vocals, Glen Taylor on guitar, mohican maniac Buxf Parrot on bass and Pat Deason on skins were a very different beast than the band evolved into a mere year or two later. After KFTH was recorded, the original band imploded, and Floyd headed for San Fran and reformed the group w/ a bunch of rad SF hippie punx. They then recorded and released These People on the AT imprint ca. 1985. That was the Dicks I grew up on.

 My old high school pal, Warwick, one of the very few people in my school tuned into the punker vibes, lent it to me when I was 15 and it scorched enough brain cells for me to tape the thing for a semi-regular perusal. The original Dicks were an unstoppable force of gross-out shock-rock, lewd lyricism and way-over-the-top radical politics. They were, especially given the lasting testament of their recordings (which also includes the ace Live At Raul's split LP w/ the Big Boys), one of the best bands of their day. Gary Floyd still has one of the finest set of pipes of anyone hailing from that era - he's got the soul of a bluesman trapped in those lungs - and the fact that he'd walk the streets of Texas (OK, it's Austin, but it's still Texas!) in 1980 w/ a large-size gay man donning a baby mohawke and hammer-&-sickle t-shirt goes to show he's tougher than you or me.

Here's a controversial opinion: I actually prefer the later Dicks to the original, far more chaotic version of the band. KFTH is a great record: mostly mid-tempo, rough and relatively lo-fi punk-blues (or blues-punk) just teeming in hate and loathing for everything in the Amerikan landscape, and it's got killer cuts like 'Rich Daddy', 'Little Boys' Feet' and the title track, but... I can't go past even stronger tracks on These People such as 'George Jackson', 'I Hope You Get Drafted', 'Dead In A Motel Room' and 'The Police Force'. The production on the second album, c/o Klaus Flouride, is much punchier and clearer than Spot's on the first, and, heretic as it may sound, but I much prefer of Tim Carroll to that of Glen Taylor. He's got the same, slightly psychedelic/surf sound as East Bay Ray, and Sebastian F's bass duties on the latter are also nothing to sneeze at: intricate and techically proficient melodies which work in perfect counterpart to Carroll's twang. Taking the comparisons one step further: the basswork brings to mind that of producer Flouride, and the album's post-'core rad vibe - more serious and lacking the caustic obscenities of the debut - reminds me a lot of the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist LP. That reference may frighten some, but I guess that's their problem, not mine.

The fact remains: the Dicks didn't release a dud disc. 'Hate The Police' was the perfect punk rock 7" for 1980; Kill From The Heart is classic '82 HC released a year too late; and These People, along w/ Rites Of Spring's debut from the same year, represent two of the best 'hardcore' releases of the mid '80s, at which point the entire 'movement', at least musically speaking, was past its peak. You, of course, need to acquire them all.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sheesh!.... What to make of this? I've tried getting through the whole 10 minutes about 3 times, and each attempt is exactly that: an attempt. At its top-flight best, this clip of 2013's Black Flag - the Greg Ginn/Ron Reyes vehicle for reputation destruction - would possibly pass for a D-grade BF covers band. At its worst - which is about 80% of the time - it's an effin' embarrassment for all involved. There's something so damn sluggish about this performance. Wait a sec... that'd be the drummer's fault, wouldn't it? Why, yes, it would. That's Gregory Moore, the shoeless 'n' clueless wonder who whacks the skins like a klutz on heat. Ginn has usually possessed a sound ear for hot musicians of many stripes. Even when he roped in a couple of zeroes like Anthony Martinez and C'el Rivuelta as the rhythm section for the final line-up of the band in the mid '80s, he eschewed sound fashion sense in the pure pursuit of the music (ie. - those guys could play). But the rhythm section in BF 2013 sounds like amateur night, and whilst Ginn is many things, that's one thing he's not... although I'd also say his chops sound a bit rusty in this clip, and Ron Reyes' Rollins impersonation should've been kept in the rehearsal room. The band has, from what I can gather, received a lot of flak for their less-than-inspiring shows, and sure, mocking Ginn and his pursuits at this point in history is like shooting a fish in a barrel... so take your best shot.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Vagtazo Halottkemek's 1988 album, Teaching Death A Lesson, has graced my stereo system of late for its annual brushing off. Huh? They also go by the name of the Galloping Coroners, and hail from Hungary, where they've been an on/off concern since the mid '70s. Teaching Death... I happen to own in the compact disc format, featured as the 'bonus' component to their 1990 live album, Jumping Out The World - Instinct, released on the Alternative Tentacles label in 1991. I bought it 22 years ago and am still in possession of the thing, which I guess counts for something or other. A lazy summation may have one describing them as a loose outfit which bridges the gap between the psychedelic and punk eras, and since I'm in a lazy mood, I'll stick w/ that. The fact that they did all this under the thumb of the Iron Curtain for many years, also makes 'em an interesting cultural proposition. Often seen as a punkified hybrid of Amon Duul and Hawkwind, there's some truth to that claim, although this studio effort is slightly more mannered and clean than their cacophonous live works. The live album it accompanies has its great moments - the epic "Spinning In The World - Instinct" is an awesome Amon Duul-ish jam - but the live recording, at least to me, doesn't necessarily do the songs justice. The energy is definitely there, and some of the shorter tracks possess a suitably fried Buttholesian take on things, but for moi, much like the MC5's debut, it lacks a certain, shall we say, definition. Anyway! The studio debut from '88 is the one I usually go for, even if it often sounds like a different group. Some folks have compared 'em here to the powerdrive psych overload reminiscent of the Fushitsusha/PSF school of damage, and I suppose their non-Angloid take on psychedelic rock has some similarities, especially on the opener, "Get It Out, For God's Sake!" (I'm using English translations here; it'd sound a whole lot more exotic in Hungarian). There's only five, long tracks here, and they're all worth a shot, building up slowly over extended tribal beats and flanged-out guitar stabs which, frankly, wouldn't sound out of place on an early Siouxsie disc, although the folkish, indigenous melodies wouldn't have you mistaking this as 'goth' in this lifetime or the next (they also have an obvious interest in Native American culture/music, and their blending of this into their ouvre is pulled off w/out a bogue move in sight). Galloping Coroners, at least on these two discs, are worth your trouble beyond the need to simply search out strange music from unexpected locations around the globe. There's a cool eastern European basement vibe to much of what they do, similar to the Plastic People Of The Universe back in the day, and now that the global village is about as big as an iphone in your shirt pocket, this sense of, err, 'foreign-ness' is being lost by the minute. The band is still around and does the occasional festival show in Europe and the US, counting the usual mouthpieces such as Iggy and Hank (and, obviously, Mr. Biafra) amongst their fanbase, and whilst this CD is deleted, it's not hard to track down and shows two sides to the band worth an earful.

The UK's Trembling Bells remain one of my fave contempo 'rock' outfits, and this album, The Marble Downs (Honest Jons/2012), which they recorded w/ beard-groomer Bonnie 'Prince' Billy last year, is another excellent addition to their expanding discography (it's their 4th full-lengther, if you wanna know). I've written about the band before; for me, what makes them interesting are two things: the fact that the unofficial 'leader' of the band is their drummer, Alex Neilson (veteran avant skin-hitter who's bashed the drum for Jandek, Six Organs, Ashtray Navigations et al); and the rather bloody obvious fact that they are really, really good at what they do, namely updating a distinctly English take on folk-rock (insert band/artist from the '60s/'70s at will: Incredible String Band, Fairports, Pentangle, Comus are good for starters) into the 21st century which both pays homage to their obvious roots yet contemporises it perfectly for modern times. It's a balancing act which, in a sense, gives them a timeless sound. More than that, Neilson is an excellent songwriter; Trembling Bells aren't merely about creating an atmosphere of Merry Ol' England - they have terrific songs worthy of repeat spins. The getting-together of TB and Billy/Oldham is no great surprise: he's sung their praises since their inception, and Neilson has played in his touring band on and off for years. There's no culture clash here: Oldham may be viewed as a purveyor of Americana (he is, actually), though as anyone w/ a passing knowledge of American folk music could tell you (that's me), much of it can be traced directly back to its Anglophilic/Celtic origins, making Oldham's drawl, which could pass for Irish at times, a perfect accompinament to the band's psychedelic merriment. Michael Hastings' guitar work is mind-melting: it's drenched in feedback w/out never tres moderne overtones, and the rest of the band, bassist Simon Shaw and (the lovely) vocalist/keyboardist Lavinia Blackwell, all come together to create an organic, free-flowing, free-rock, free-folk, free-you-get-the-fucking-idea unit which provides an ace balancing act of musical exploration and precise songwriting. Like I said: Trembling Bells are one of the best operational units currently in existence, and The Marble Downs is close to being the best thing they've done.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Let's see what nonsense can be spilled at this moment in history... One blog which has taken my fancy of late is Waitakere Walks. Huh? Don't ask, I have no idea. In fact, I still have no idea who's even behind the blog, but it's a good 'un. It features archival articles/clippings of yore, Youtube clips and commentary which attempt to put the past 50-odd years of music - much of it punk/u-ground rock-focused, but it goes well beyond such constrictions and into the worlds of folk, hair-metal and elsewhere - into context of something or other. In other words, posts are almost of the train-of-thought variety, though somehow as a whole, the blog stitches together a story of the writer's musical journeys, the who's, what's, why's and the what-the-fucks. It's one of the finer blogs I've stumbled across in recent years.

Remember those The Scene Is Now reissues I put out on the Lexicon Devil label about 4-5 years back? I'm still living high on the hog from the proceeds. No, really, judging by the sales figures, you don't recall them, let alone felt an urge to purchase such discs - some of the finest recordings Underground Amerika produced during the Reagan years - but regardless, I'll point you in this direction: it's an article from the UK's Quietus web site [a site, I might add, which I feel has slowly but surely transformed into one of the finest general music onestops on the interwebz] detailing their greatness, particularly their finest platter, 1988's Tonight We Ride (a def' desert-isle disc for moi).

Slint's debut, Tweez (Jennifer Hartman/1989, and later reissued by Touch & Go), has been given its annual airing as of late. When I first heard Slint in 1991, it was a track from Spiderland being played on 3RRR on the week of its release. I didn't hear the introduction and figured it was some odd, new Fugazi track I hadn't yet heard (it was "Good Morning, Captain", a number I swear still sounds like early Fugazi). Crazy, huh? I bought the LP the next day, and soon learned the story of Slint. You need me to do that for you, too? No, you know that the band hailed from Louisville, Kentucky, and featured ex-Squirrel Bait members. So, now that that's out of the way, I'll also state that the first time I heard Tweez, which was probably not until 1998, I didn't know what I was listening to. A workmate had put it on the workplace stereo, and it sounded to me like some sort of weird art-metal band. The production was tinny, the ryhthms scattered and nominally 'arty', but the guitar work was a strange blend of smashing power chords and metallic, Ginn-like solos. It didn't sound like the Slint I had known up to that point. I've never been much of a fan of Steve Albini's production work (see below re: Butch Vig - must be my issue of the week) - I find he's all high- and bottom-end w/ not much in between - and the sound here isn't that different. Lots of booming drums and screeching, even irritating, guitar squeals, and whilst I'm probably not painting a pretty picture here, Tweez has elements to recommend. There are moments here which have a disjointed beauty a la The Process Of Weeding Out, and when they're hitting a tight groove it's like early '70s 'Crimson w/ chops ahoy, but for me, Tweez still sounds a bit half-finished (not half-baked), like it's a series of musical sketches not fully formed. Had they not gone onto write, record & release Spiderland a few years later (Tweez was actually recorded in '87), then maybe w/ a mere Tweez under their belt they might enjoy the reputation of, say, a Bitch Magnet (a fine band who had a record or two back in the day which I enjoyed) as opposed to being heralders of a new musical form aped by idiots worldwide. That's not meant to detract from what they were: line up the three Slint recordings available - Tweez, Spiderland and the posthumous s/t 10" (which is most certainly worth hearing), and the pieces of the puzzle make sense and can be enjoyed.

Not sure why I've felt an urge to spin some Killdozer of late. I have rarely spoken of them on this blog, perhaps in passing, though never in detail. I bring their name up because I've been spinning their Twelve Point Buck LP (Touch & Go/1987), possibly in a pathetic fit of nostalgia harking back to my listening habits in the early '90s (both this and their hilarious covers album, For Ladies Only, were spun quite a bit back in the day), but possibly also because I heard a 'special' - an hour-long special - on the band on 3PBS a little while ago, and it had me thinking that a 15-year drought in between spins was way too long. It may sound funny, and indeed it is, that a radio station in Melbourne, Australia in the year 2013 would dedicate an hour of airtime to a band as seemingly obscure as Killdozer, let alone one as seemingly one-dimensional as them, but hey, that is funny! I bumped into the radio host in question at a recent show and congratulated him on such a ridiculous feat. I think he took it as a compliment [it was]. The band, '80s/'90s relics from Madison, Wisconsin, who made a big splash in the day when the term 'pigfuck' was used to describe an actual genre of music, can be a blast in small-to-medium doses. I mean, you wouldn't want a two-hour special on 'em. They even toured here back in '94, though I missed 'em due to a broken leg. B-Side mag was the great trumpeter of their cause back in the day, and, along w/ the likes of Australian noise-makers Lubricated Goat and King Snake Roost, helped make up a particular school of audio obnoxiousness which was pretty fun for a couple of years. How do they shape up in the 2013? Not badly. Killdozer are a band who possibly would have worked better w/ a different vocalist, or maybe even no vocalist at times, although the smart-arsed lyrics from Michael Gerald, a beautiful pastiche of pop/idiot-culture references, would be missed. But man, that growl, it can be wearing. There are two things which shine here: guitarist Bill Hobson's guitar work and the ace production from Butch Vig, years before he tortured the universe with Garbage. I often complain about some of Butch's work - to me, the 2nd and 3rd Die Kreuzen LPs [their best] always sounded a tad thin - although he garners a wall of noise here w/ a simple three-piece. The guitars were possibly overdubbed to the craphouse, but the layers of sound give Twelve Point Buck some real density and movement. Listen to the opener, "New Pants and Shirt": it's monumental. Killdozer started off as more of a Birthday Party-ripping proposition, but here you've got the crushing weight of the likes of Swans and Melvins on board, and it sounds tasty. Killdozer were more one-dimensional than the Melvins, and perhaps not one-dimensional enough to pass for the purity and wretchedness of early Swans, but their own brand of midwestern grunt-rock is still pretty hot a quarter of a century down the track.