Friday, August 05, 2011

If you have approximately 90 minutes spare in your life at this moment in history, you could do a lot worse than watch the documentary above. I don't, and hence I've only watched the first hour or so, but it was an hour well spent, and when the gods smile on me and give me another half-hour, I will hopefully watch the rest. The film itself is Such Hawks Such Hounds and it was made a couple of years ago, documenting, as the blurb says, "the American hard rock underground ca. 1970 - 2007". In essence, it's the history of what the layman might term "stoner rock" in the US of A, from the likes of Sir Lord Baltimore and Pentagram through to Saint Vitus, Melvins, Kyuss, Fatso Jetson, Earthless, OM, Sleep and a myriad others. The film itself is surprisingly well made; I only say "surprisingly" because it's a special day indeed when a music documentary is competently handled, let alone interesting. This one is both.
Made by John Srebalus, he's gotten together the right collection of talking heads, stories and live footage and put them in place to present a reasonably comprehensible narrative. You can bitch and complain all you want about the lack of Black Sabbath in there, but A) they're British; and B) they obviously couldn't get the clearance or cooperation from the band. And the Melvins? Again, they're mentioned, but not actually featured in it at all. They wouldn't cooperate, curmudgeons that they are. But - and I'm making an assumption here not based on anything I've seen or heard - I think I get their point: a band such as the Melvins, one I would rate as perhaps the great American rock & roll unit of the last 20 years, probably don't want to be lumped into the "stoner rock" basket any more than I would. It became a tediously generic music form by the late '90s, if not sooner, when the likes of Man's Ruin were releasing every half-baked outfit w/ a Sabbath and/or Foghat riff up their sleeves. I was working for their distributor at the time, and I was shocked by the amount of crap coming out from the label, but I guess Frank Kozik thought he was on a winner at the time. He probably was (in fact I know he was, at least for a few years: we sold a shitload of those things), but muddied the waters w/ too much half-arsed material (much like SST did, I guess). Kyuss never meant anything to me, either, though I know for some they were the world and then some. My brother hung w/ them back in LA in 1990 when they were nobodies and came home w/ an autographed copy of their "demo LP" (when they were known as Sons Of Kyuss). We thought the record sucked, though he said they were nice guys. Nevertheless, I've heard much worse music in my life, and if someone played a Kyuss record at a party, I wouldn't leave the room in protest.
There's some fine music on display in Such Hawks...: Mario Lalli is one of rock's good guys, and the footage of Fatso Jetson only confirms in my mind that they are one of the most under-rated American bands of the last 15 years. And again, this is where the "stoner" tag should be used loosely. Lalli sums up their music as being a kind of Howlin' Wolf/Black Flag/Mahuvishnu/Devo hybrid - all quite true - but just as important is how much they don't sound like what people think stoner-rock is. I'd put them sonically much more in the Black Flag/Meat Puppets/Minutemen ca. '85 ballpark, but they've also got a heavy chunk of High Time-period MC5 running through them, as well as the psychedelic Brit blues-rock of the Groundhogs, as evidenced on their excellent live LP released on Cobraside a couple of years back (you can hear a killer track from that right here).
Which possibly takes me back to the point I was trying to make about the Melvins: there were those who blazed the trail - Pentagram, The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, Across The River and even the Melvins in their own way, as well as intersting stoner/doom-related outfits such as Sunn O))), OM and Sleep (all covered here, to varying degrees), and a whole bunch of boring crud not worth bothering with (some of those bands are covered here, too). One thing I noted: psych/stoner/doom bands made up of indie-rock hipsters tend to pale in comparison to the genuine article (bands made from rockers, heshers and metalheads); case in point: Comets On Fire. Their records always bored me, and the footage of them in this film didn't change my mind. The coverage of Sleep's recording of Dopesmoker (the legendary one-track/50-minute opus recorded for a major in the mid '90s but dumped and left unreleased for several years) not only borders on near-hysterical hyperbole - members, observers and critics appear to put this artistic achievement on a similar level to man's landing on the moon - it also had me wondering if anyone present had seen Spinal Tap for a reality check. But hey, this is entertaining and Scott "Wino" Weinrich is worth watching in just about any company, and he's predictably great here. High-quality transfer, too, so watch it before it gets taken down (or better yet, buy the DVD if you're really keen).

Here's a band I'll be keeping an eye out for: BLACK FACE. It's Eugene Robinson from Oxbow (and Whipping Boy, for all HC trainspotters) and Chuck Dukowski's new outfit. Actually, the "point" of the band can be explained in this article. I hate linking up to Vice magazine, as it stands as a template for everything I loathe about contemporary hipster culture, but sometimes their writers have a clue (or at least a deadline). The band was put together by Robinson and Dukowski originally as a possible attempt to get Black Flag together again w/ Robinson on vocals. Predictable legal hassles ensued and frankly, I'm glad that idea never got off the ground. What you have left is the band having recorded four songs that Dukowski wrote during his tenure in 'Flag but never recorded, and in a live setting they apparently run through a whole set of Dukowski-penned BF numbers. Pointless nostalgia? Perhaps... but the thought of Robinson - a formidable vocal and physical presence - and Dukowski jamming out and recording (and releasing: vinyl coming on Hydrahead soonish) such heretofore unknown songs has me as excited as all get-up.


And related once more, below is a previously unseen (by me, that is) mock interview Black Flag did, I assume, in 1982. I think it's 1982. You can usually pin it by the length of Henry and Dez's hair, so I'm assuming it's 1982. Enjoy.


Anonymous said...

Another great post but have you ever noticed that whenever you mention Vice you feel obliged to state how much you disapprove of it?! Why not just accept that it runs some great stuff and some boring stuff and as it doesn't cost a penny, it's not as if it's worth getting worked up about the latter!


Dave said...

Grrrrr... never!! Hehe...