Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Access to both the Internet and a credit card can be a lethal combination, you don’t need me to tell you that. Without the sight of actual cash exchanging hands, one can be hopelessly deluded into believing that anything purchased is for free. Well, at least that’s the excuse I’ll use for my shameless splurge on a little while back. I finally received the goods last week (and unsuccessfully snuck them past the wife when they arrived at 8AM), have given them a while to digest and am now willing and able to play the hanging judge. On with the show!

FLESH EATERS – No Questions Asked CD; A Minute to Pray, A Second To Die CD
The only Flesh Eaters discs I’ve previously owned (and still do) are the “Best Of” LPs SST put out well over a decade ago, both of which are pretty essential introductions to the greatness that was – and perhaps still is – the Flesh Eaters. Due to the elusive nature of their albums – which have mostly been out of print forever - it’s taken me ‘til now to search ‘em out. I guess the funny thing is that the Flesh Eaters also appeared on the second “punk” album I ever owned: The Return of the Living Dead soundtrack, which I bought as a clueless 13 year-old after being blown away by the movie (and figured it was cool because it had the Damned and the Cramps).
Anyway, No Questions Asked is their debut from 1980, fully remastered with bonus tracks from the good people at Atavistic. Great liner notes by Byron Coley, excellent sound (this sucker is loud), swish packaging, this sounds a whole lot better than I remember it being (my brother has the original vinyl, which I used to have a habit of playing every time I visited him), with their resemblance to (GI)-period Germs being almost uncanny. Or predictable. Either way, it’s a timeless slice of peak-era US punk rock and you need it.
A Minute… is their 1981 “masterpiece”, or so everyone tells me (it is Coley’s all-time fave album, a big call if ever there was). Hype aside, this Rhino edition suffers from a fairly weak sound (way too quiet; will Atavistic be touching this?), though the songs make up for it. With an expanded all-star line-up featuring members of X, the Blasters and Los Lobos(!), this is Chris D. and co. straying from the LA punk formula of yore and branching into a more rootsy territory. Think Black Flag, Exile-era Stones, The Fall, Funhouse and the down-home shenanigans of the Gun Club, stir and serve. A definite keeper, though a disc that wouldn’t even scrape a Top 100 for me, never mind a Top 10 (and whilst I’m at it, I should add that I prefer No Questions Asked. Go figure).

SLEEP – Dopesmoker CD
I’m confused. What the fuck is up with the discography of the almighty doom titans Sleep? Signed to London/Polydor in the early ‘90s (and who was responsible for that money-wasting exercise? The same guy who saw the massive commercial potential of Steel Pole Bathtub and Clawhammer?), they very quickly destroyed any chance at success by giving the company execs their major-label debut recording: one song, an hour long, of unadulterated mile-a-day sludge. Not surprisingly, the label balked and they were dropped. This is the “uncut” version, which, if I’m not mistaken, has been released before in varying forms. Maybe this is remixed… Who cares? Me? Nope. This is righteous and fills all three categories I listed in a previous entry as to what qualifies as great Doom: heavy as a mountain, slow as a sloth and just brimming in a bong-split haze of sociopathy. The bonus live track slays me, too.

WARHORSE – As Heaven Turns to Ash CD
More doom from the land of gloom, here’s Massachusetts’ finest purveyors of heaviness. I listened to this quite a bit a few years back when it came out and was working in a music store willing to allow me to play such anti-social tunes to the unsuspecting customers, so now I can enjoy it in the comfort of my own home. On the worthy Southern Lord label, Warhorse take the bluesy looseness of Sleep, mash it up with the psychedelic antics of Electric Wizard and hammer it. A downer, for sure.

ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO – The Spiritual CD; A Jackson In Your House / A Message To Our Folks CD
I was peeved off when I received The Spiritual: one look at the cover and I knew I was in for a dud. Why? Because I ordered in this very CD for a store I used to work at a few years back and was bummed out by its sonics the first time around. Actually, I think I ended up putting it in the bargain bin, so hesitant was I to recommend it to a potential fan. Two questions you may ask: why is it bad, and more importantly, why did I buy it?! OK, firstly, the sound quality – from a live Paris concert in ’69 – is woeful, and with large segments of inactivity from the band on the recording, I can only assume they spent most of the gig in the dressing room rolling joints or something, because it certainly doesn’t sound like much is going on on-stage. Secondly, I bought it because the Amazon site has a different cover on the screen, what looks like a Black Saint release, not the turkey I ended up receiving. What a crock…
The second AEOC CD makes up for it: primo BYG-era Paris recordings when the band was at the peak of their game. If you’re curious, start here.

GUN CLUB – Fire of Love CD
Now this is a weird one… Friends of mine will laugh at me buying this, for the sole reason that I’m usually the first one heard denigrating the Gun Club and everything they ever recorded. “Over-rated”, “lame”, “tepid”, “half baked”, “contrived”, my list of insults is endless. So, why did I buy the thing? In an attempt to convert myself. Why? Because I needed to finally sit down in solitude, listen repeatedly and make a final call on the worth – or lack thereof - of the Gun Club. The verdict: all insults still stand, though it is beginning to grow on me. Some nice pop tunes, though maybe that’s the problem for me: Gun Club are/were never anything more than a “pop” band. With Blondie fanatic Pierce at the steering wheel, this album possesses absolutely none of the grit similarly great bands from the era – the Cramps and the Birthday Party, for example – achieved in spades, and suffers for it. I’ll hang onto this, though the accolades this group still receives baffles me, and don’t say I didn’t give it a try.

FUGAZI – 13 Songs CD; Red Medicine CD; The Argument CD
What in the mother of fuck am I doing buying Fugazi CDs? Isn’t that the sole domain of skateboarding teenagers, Punk Planet readers and first-year sociology/philosophy majors? If so, let me jump on board! Seriously, this is probably my most peculiar purchase of the last 18 months. In essence, it doesn’t really make sense. Outside of a freak purchase of their Instrument soundtrack a couple of years back, bought after hearing it at a friend’s place and being speechlessly impressed with its dynamics (still their best, I say), I hadn’t bothered to listen or purchase anything they’d done since roughly 1991. It’s not like I disliked them – at one stage in my life (‘89/’90) they were bedroom gods – it’s just I didn’t care about them. There were other, more immediate, fish to fry. So here I am, it’s 2004, and I’m playing catch-up. Huh? I can’t figure it either. This is about art, not science, kids; sometimes there’s no rational or explainable reason, so just take it as a given: Dave Lang is going back in time to check out the Fugazi albums he missed out on the first time around.
13 Songs was in fact the very first CD I bought back in 1989. Five years later, over “that kind of music”, I sold it. 10 years later, and I’m “back into that music” and I like it. You going to deny this is great rock'n'roll? Fuck you.
Red Medicine, upon initial listen last week, I suddenly realised was an album I was more familiar with than originally aware of. I’ve never owned it, so I can only assume my familiarity is through years of working in music distribution warehouses and “punk” record stores throughout the last 10 years and being insidiously brainwashed with its contents by work colleagues without my conscious knowledge. Hailed by well-meaning people as their finest moment, this 1996 effort is ass-kicking rock of a very high calibre.
The Argument, from late 2001, is their most recent recording, and possibly their last, as the band is on indefinite hiatus as members pursue other avenues (mostly family duties, apparently). Well, with almost 3 million(!!!) albums sold worldwide to date, I’m sure they’re not struggling to pay the bills at this stage. The Argument carries along similar lines to their previous two or three discs: angry screaming mixed up with elements of funk, dub and more experimental textures, my only complaint centres on the first track: “Cashout”, which bears a disturbing resemblance to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Excuse me whilst I lie down.
Verdict: Fugazi are one of the very few – nay, possibly only – group of ‘80s/’90s indie survivors not to’ve disgraced themselves in the ensuing years of success and status. My hat is tipped.

SONIC YOUTH – Bad Moon Rising CD; Murray Street CD
And now for the flipside of the coin…
Bad Moon Rising I bought for the simple reason that I’ve never owned it before, have heard it many a time and knew I liked it and needed it. Even back in my SY-obsession days of the late ‘80s I stuck strictly to the holy trinity of Evol, Sister and Daydream Nation, so it’s time to backtrack, bite the bullet and consume. I’m glad I did.
I’ll delay my biblical essay on the worth of Sonic Youth until after their concert they’re playing here next month (as well as the release of their new album, Sonic Nurse), but I should add that their latest, from 2002, Murray Street, is quite the fine item. I heard this frequently when it came out and I was stuck in the backroom at work processing stock, growing on me to the point where I made the massive investment of paying something like a whopping $2 for a second-hand copy of the cassette to play in the car (which has subsequently been chewed up). Given this predicament, I figured I’d go for a more durable format in the “compact disc”, and what better version to invest in than the “special enhanced edition”, which features the following: a screen saver that doesn’t work, a link to a “secret Sonic Youth site” that took me nowhere and an “exit” sign that takes forever to get me the hell out of this completely useless CD-ROM. Still, the album in itself, minus the token Kim Gordon track (someone really should keep her away from a microphone), is pretty OK for a Sonic-Youth-stuck-on-autopilot effort.

It’s cheap and a necessary document of an important scene in underground rock music of the last 25 years, one I was quite a fan of as a teenager, so what the hell, add it to my cart. That’s my philosophy, Marty. This is a nice thing to have, and here are the positive aspects of note: great, informative booklet giving the history of the label and bands featured within, with lots of nice photos; a ton of tuneage, including unreleased and rare songs from some classic bands like Minor Threat, the Untouchables, Teen Idles, Void, Scream, Embrace, Rites of Spring, Fugazi, Faith, Artificial Peace, etc.; and an enhanced CD featuring clips from Void, Teen Idles and more. Here’s the down side: has Dischord, outside of reissues and Fugazi’s albums, actually released a listenable disc since, well, 1990? Judging by what’s on display here, I’d say not. I gave all the following a hearty listen, and the result is a unanimous thumbs down: Jawbox, Holy Rollers, Nation of Ulysses (who were a whole lot of hype over nothing), Make-Up (ditto), High-Back Chairs, Autoclave, Branch Manager, Hoover, Slant 6, Trusty, Smart Went Crazy, Warmers, Bluetip, the list is almost endless. If the tracks chosen by these bands are their high points, I’d hate to think what their albums are like. I have the highest respect for Ian and Jeff and the way they conduct business, but for the life of me, I can’t fathom what they see in any of these bands, and even more so why anyone would buy their records. They are dull beyond human comprehension. Plodding post-hardcore collegiate shit-rock with nary a tune in sight, give me the angst and rage of Rites of Spring, Embrace, Scream, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Void, One Last Wish or even 3 (late ‘80s pop-punk outfit w/ Jeff Nelson who put out a scorcher of an album in ’89; seriously, the great lost Dischord album, if ever there was) any day of the week. Great effort, but no cigar.

FELA KUTI – Expensive Shit/He Miss Road CD; Open & Close/Afrodisiac CD; Confusion/Gentleman CD
I haven’t bought any Fela in a couple years, and have been getting the itch all over again. Fela Kuti is one of those great “can of worms” artists, one whose discography is so massive that the clueless may be left either stabbing aimlessly in the dark and perhaps starting off on the wrong foot, or more cautiously simply sticking to a “Greatest Hits” package and leaving it at that (which is exactly what I did for about 18 months after the 1999 release of Black President, an excellent, cheap 2-CD Best Of). Then the avalanche started: Universal started the onslaught with their reissue campaign and I was knee-deep in Fela: Zombie, No Agreement, Shuffering & Shmiling, Coffin for the Head of State, I.T.T., etc. I left it a couple of years, pursued other avenues, and now I’m back on course. This is because, much like other greats of whom I seem to be in ownership of a large chunk of output: Coltrane, Miles, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Ornette (I don’t know why, but they all seem to be jazz artists), every Fela Kuti album points to a piece of a puzzle, and every one is different.
All six albums purchased rock my boat – a blow-by-blow on each is unnecessary – though the standout is easily Confusion, its title track being a 25-minute cosmic keyboard/drums freakout that’d give Can or Mr. Ra a run for their money. Completely unlike every other Fela song I’ve heard, it’s a stunning slab of Afro-futurism that’ll boggle the mind. A can of worms well worth investigating.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Isn’t that the sole domain of skateboarding teenagers," ahem, I am sorry to tell you this but you are not a person, you are a consumer identifying yourself with demographic s.