Monday, July 27, 2015

MUDHONEY - TOMORROW HIT TODAY




The year was 1998, and this album by the Seattle rock band known as Mudhoney was released on the Warner subsidiary imprint, Reprise. I was not aware of its existence at the time. I didn't even know Mudhoney were still releasing records at the time. Did you? A band like Mudhoney at that stage of the game seemed, well, tres boring to this 20-something windbag, a relic from another era, a band who'd recorded and released a slew of cool sides approx. a decade prior but one who weren't even on the map regarding the Here and Now. And just what was the Here and Now ca. 1998? I dunno, probably some post-rock or glitchtronica nonsense I wouldn't listen to in a blue fit circa now, but then again, going into my time machine to 1998, I recall my taste in music in 1998 being unashamedly retro (lots of jazz, Byrds, pre-war blues and Hawkwind, if you must know). But whatever! The fact is this: a rock band by the name of Mudhoney, one whom possibly many had given up for dead by the end of the century, made a fantastic album for a major recording company: Tomorrow Hit Today, produced by the great Jim Dickinson (he shouldn't need explaining), and right now it remains completely out of print in all physical formats. I believe I've covered Mudhoney several times in this blog over the years: certainly there's been verbiage concerning their 2002 'comeback' record for Sub Pop, Since We Became Translucent (and what an excellent comeback that was), as well as the biography on the band published a couple of years ago (another fine thing).
I actually saw the band play live here in January of last year - the first time I'd seen the band live since 1990. I found them to be rather underwhelming and really don't like the current single-guitar format (w/ Mark Arm on vocals only) the band works with, as also evidenced on their last couple of recordings, which I also think have been weak, but what the hey, they're a heritage act these days and they can do what they want. Tomorrow Hit Today possesses an exemplary use of twin-guitar action as well as a sympathetic and full sound which never veers towards the mersh, compromised or slick. It's raw and powerful but with a real sense of clarity, and it also has some of the band's best songs: lordy, how I love 'Try To Be Kind' and 'This Is The Life', and their rendition of the Cheater Slicks' 'Ghost' works on several levels (conceptually, musically). The band hadn't 'progressed' musically much at all in the 10 years they'd been around - maybe less Blue Cheer in the mix with a bit more garage and Dickinson-style southern rock (but not 'Southern Rock') thrown in, but essentially they remained a post-hardcore rock and roll band. Got me? Over the past dozen years I have been reevaluating the musical legacy of Mudhoney: so far as rock bands go, they're better than most, and seriously one of the best. Don't ever dismiss them because they appear to be too damn obvious.

Friday, July 24, 2015




Word up - punkers, new wavers, rockers and progsters - listen to this cut by Genesis from their 1974 2LP set, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway - and tell me why it isn't absolutely fantastic. Really. There's my challenge to you for the day. Thanking you in advance.

Monday, July 20, 2015

PURLING HISS

Philly's Purling Hiss have been making records for half-a-dozen years, and they make very fine grunge recordings. The band is essentially guitarist/singer/songwriter Mark Polizze and whomever else he feels like dragging along for the ride. I have been particularly taken with the band's last two full-lengthers on the Drag City label, 2013's Water On Mars and last year's Weirdon. The group sound like an amalgamam/mash-up/tribute to 'the grunge years' on the former, with perhaps a slightly less 'heavy' approach taken on the latter, it bringing to mind a musical stew tipping the hat to the early '90s lo-fi scene (and what a scene it was, at least for a brief flash in time). I stand here under the impression that Polizze is a good decade younger than myself, which of course puts all this musical shenanigans into a slightly different context. After all, I was there, man... and do I need to revisit it?
During the Grunge Years - let's loosely frame them as 1988 - 1993 - I was underwhelmed by much of its musical output, feeling that a lot of the gunk the Sub Pop label, or even Amphetamine Reptile, spewed out sounded like B-grade post-HC heavy metal which had smoked too many bongs to various SST bands. Actually, that sounds quite appealing, and indeed, amongst the gunk there was still much to like, and excuse me while I get all nostalgic about a music scene which didn't thrill me a whole lot the first time around... OK, where was I? Nowhere, that's where.
Water On Mars is an excellent slab of grunge-rock - of that I have no doubt. Yes, grunge-rock. It sounds like Bleach-era Nirvana meets Mudhoney's first few 7"s with a bit of Taang!-era Lemonheads chucked on top. Throw in some U-Men 'tard-rock, even some Tad, fer chrissakes, a dollop of SST Dinosaur jamz and mix. Low-brow slob-rock with the tunes to match: loosen up your guard and soak it up, coz it really is a lot of fun. Upon hearing me blasting this one, my ever-judgmental brother screwed his face up and uttered, 'What the hell is this? Grunge rules, man'. Indeed it does.



Last year's Weirdon is equally as fine. It was in fact one of my favourite slabs of contemporary rock during that annus horribilis. Polizze and co. retained the wall of guitar fuzz, but without the grungoid heaviosity, meaning for me this one possesses a slightly En Zed flavour, with other portions bringing to mind the songsmithery and scattershot approach to composition favoured by primo Guided By Voices before they got boring (or awful), or maybe the Grifters' recordings for the Shangri-La label. Actually, just about everything Purling Hiss does sounds scattershot, like a beautiful accident. Their pre-Drag City career involves tapes and vinyl on an assortment of imprints, some of the output bordering on no-fi, but it's pulled together by the ability to throw in surprising hooks which worm their way to the surface at unexpected moments. Polizze hit strings with wunderkind/indie pin-up boy Kurt Vile back in the day or somesuch (there's a connection there which doesn't interest me enough to Google it), and it kinda baffles me that Purling Hiss don't enjoy a wider fan base, considering Vile's unit-shifting abilities in recent years (and I don't say this to besmirch Vile's good name: I think he makes fine records), but whatever. Whisper it to your buddies: Purling Hiss make great music.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

LOVE THE DEAD


Grateful Dead's American Beauty LP from 1970. You heard me right. I bought this album secondhand at Collector's Corner in 1988 (in its old split-level uber-retail outlet on Swanson Street, where it was a promised land of new and secondhand vinyl, CDs [then still a new-fangled gimmick - esepcially so for me, as I didn't even own a CD player until December 1989] and VHS rentals [one could borrow highly coveted Flipside and Target video cassettes there - now let me please escape this double-parentheses nightmare]) when I was but a 16-year-old spud hell-bent on ruining my brain with hardcore and SST-damaged noise. Along with Black Sabbath, Creedence, Hawkwind, Roky and Neil Young, Grateful Dead was an obvious pre-punk forebear to explore in the Solid State Transmitters universe, and these side routes into rock's back pages was a highly educational and rewarding thing indeed.


Of course, The Dead are a double-edged sword: there are pros and cons which one could debate forever - and people have been doing so for 50 years now - and while I acknowledge the negatives associated with the band, I would also contend that some such negative strikes against the band are either irrelevant or based on a misunderstanding of what the band is/was all about. Let's make a couple of things clear:

* The Dead were a live band. Most of their studio recordings are tepid-to-awful, and just about any studio endeavours they engaged in after the mid 1970s are not worth hearing. Their best studio album of the psychedelic ouvre is 1968's Anthem Of The Sun, but the other two fantastic studio albums definitely worth grabbing are about as psychedelic as a pair of dirty old socks: American Beauty and Workingman's Dead. These are unashamed country-rock albums, very much in the same vein as The Band's output from the same period, or the classic sounds of Sweetheart Of The Rodeo/Gilded Palace Of Sin, and you can either take that as a recommendation or a sign you should stop reading this blog entry right about... now.

* They are one of - if not the most - heavily documented live bands in the history of music, so you have a wealth of available live shows to listen to. Spotify - yes, the streaming service coming straight from Satan's anus - has a plethora of live shows available to listen to (more than you'd ever want to listen to, in fact) - and just about any of them from approx. 1969 - 1978 are worth the trouble. For me, this is the band at its best. There's a zillion different versions of their best tunes ('Dark Star', 'Playing In The Band', 'Turn On Your Lovelight', et al) where they really get to stretch out, as well as more outre feedback/percussive-oriented numbers which demonstrate where their rep as outward-bound musical 'heads' springs from. Use this as a guide: if their version of any song from this era is over 20 minutes long, it's probably worth hearing. If it's over 30 minutes in length, it's definitely worth hearing. The Dead are a band who were better the more they musically waffled. The shorter/tighter material is their weakest.

* The best widely available Dead album remains Live/Dead. Well, I should perhaps clarify that by saying that for me it's a dead heat between that and American Beauty, but the Dead album you'll probably want to listen to is the 2LP live epic from 1969 (released in 1970) known as Live/Dead, as it is indeed an excellent document of the band during their musically ambitious ballroom bong-hit phase when the lights were beginning to dim on psychedelia.

* Don't judge the band on their fans nor the occassionally annoying personalities which make up the Dead. And don't judge the band by its frequent fashion faux pas from the 1980s onwards. Look at any footage of the group playing live in the '80s: the music might've still been good, but the visuals made your retinas want to cease and desist: Bob Weir in a LaCoste shirt with a Sensible Haircut, complete with tennis shorts and gym sneakers looking like he just hightailed to the stage from a Republican Party BBQ/tennis match; Phil Lesh with tie-dyed t-shirt tucked in to cut-off denim shorts, librarian glasses and a headless bass FFS(!); and Jerry Garcia just being Jerry: opium-soaked noodling on the sidelines, complete with a Hawaiian shirt, on the verge of nodding off at any moment. And the fans?? Don't get me started. Don't think of even getting yourself started. Sure, the Meat Puppets, Henry Kaiser, Greg Ginn and Lee Renaldo smoked a bowl or ten to the band's extensive catalogue in their time, but other mouth-breathers laying claim to the musical legacy of the Dead include the likes of John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Phish and the band's nth wheel, AOR stalwart Bruce Hornsby. But always remember: plenty of great bands have and will continue to inspire a lot of muck. And I haven't even mentioned the zillion anonymous stoned yoyos who'd follow the band around the world to every damn show they played, but I figured I didn't have to. There's a part of me which unashamedly admires the dedication to the band and the 'alternative lifestyle' many of these fans partook in for decades, but the music fan side of me just has me thinking they should broaden their musical pallette and stop treating an alleged rock band as a cult. But hey: live the life you love, love the life you live.

These points don't sum up much of anything: just a series of vaguely-related rants and collected thoughts on the band. One thing I can say: the Dead weren't jerks. Watching a recent documentary on Bob Weir, he appears to be completely unaffected by his fame and obvious wealth, still living in the same hippie-ranch he bought in 1971. The band toured with Ornette Coleman in the late '80s, giving him wide exposure relatively late in his career, and even donated a chunk of change to Sun Ra and his Arkestra when he hit hard times. And American Beauty? It's the sweet, sweet sound of mellow country-rock, a point in time when the band's straight approach to studio recording totally worked. It even made an impact on my 16-year-old brain: I soon purchased a Grateful Dead t-shirt (the same one John Nolan would wear when playing live with Bored!, natch). That shirt fell apart 15 years ago, but that same copy of the LP remains. Playing it today on this crisp and sunny winter day, I can still testify that it's a recording well worth acquiring.