This was the kind of writing I really enjoyed – basically, something I would enjoy reading myself. I perceived the style itself as somewhat conversational, characterizing basic middle-American dialects of a gruff yet astute working class, with a penchant for looking at the bigger picture. It was also a style of writing that wasn’t able to be sandwiched in between the name droppings and the hipper-than-than thou testimonials a lot of other writers were submitting to the syndicated publications. I received a fair amount of feedback from bands and label reps about my words and ideas – mostly favorable; a few local scene-sters and record-store clerks jeered at my “Creative Writing 101” approach to music journalism (I’m fairly certain that wasn’t meant as a compliment), and still others pointed out that I hadn’t told them whether or not to purchase the album I had reviewed.
Selling records never was my strong point, even when I actually worked in music retail – NYC being the exception to that rule, of course. When I wrote about a record, my intent was to give an impression of what effect the music had on me. Sometimes it was fairly straight-forward, other times a bit more abstract. I didn’t write using a template, and I tried not to let any sort of attachment to an artist influence what I said. I couldn’t say whether a record was “bad” or “good”, or the modern-day equivalent as to whether it “rocked” or “sucked”. Those kinds of references were a little too subjective for me.
Instead, I usually tried to tell a story – possibly about the actual record itself, but it might just as well have been about a feeling inspired by listening to the record, or even a completely unrelated tangent of thought suggested to me by something I heard. I’ve always been more interested in the process of art than cultural icons. Whatever I had to say came from the gut, and I wanted to believe that most readers would react from the gut as well. Whether that turned out to be true or not, I’ll likely never know. I believe that when you write for an audience, you’re little more than a celebrated hermit, and your readers are—for the most part—a silent majority, with whom you don’t really have the luxury of engaging in any sort of dialogue. Well, there are the self-congratulatory circle jerks that transpire when a bunch of writers all hang out with each other, but I guess I was too much of a hermit to breach that inner circle of mutual back-slapping.
Again, much of the material I’ve written has lost to the ravages of time, but until I’m done sorting through all the old floppy discs and faded printouts, here is a tiny smattering of what I’ve managed to salvage so far; for better or worse – you decide.
[appeared in: The New Puritan ReView No. 7 (circa 1990)]
(featuring a few scattered reviews by my former colleague in rock, Mike Wolf)
Kinda dragged-out late-night blues-inflicted grunge that provides a good argument for going to bed early and pullin’ the covers way over yr head. Demented ear-scrapin’ riffs a-plenty, rusty-throated yowls and a fuck-all plod of a rhythm big enough ta slip and break yr neck in. This approach works for the A-Tribe a lot better than dozens of other blues-damaged white-boy studs, but while these three cuts pound pretty hard against established genre barriers, they ultimately remind me of an old dog with a new trick, which is fine if you like old dogs. Show me a new dog and a new trick, and I’ll be completely blissed out – let’s see where they go from here. [Noiseville E.P.]
Amanda By Night
Meet The Emperor 7″
Three more quirky, eerie, mesmerizing pop tunes from this New Haven mystery contingent thankfully removed from the grungy blockbuster sound all the college kids are pay lip service to these days. The Amanda groove is a steady assemblage of subtle nuance that becomes the most likely “alternative” version of bubblegum pop. The one-take quality and straight-forward approach – not to overlook the diversity of styles – penetrates the surface softness and leaves a familiar sounding labeit uneasy sensation that lingers beyond the all-too-brief impression these tunes cut into the sub-conscience.
Jim Wilbur [Superchunk, ex-Humidifier] and pal Bob DeLuca create slightly spooky though affable vocal harmonies, off-kilter yet catchy enough to sing along to. The over-driven insect-like guitar rhythms employed by John King perfectly underscore the vocals, enhanced by sparse yet smart drumming by Denis Saulner [both also previously in Humidifier]. Amanda’s rotating door personnel [the third 7″ features yet another line-up] demonstrates the group’s ability to stay afloat and emerge through a series of random identities, reflecting a variety of songwriting styles that at the same time retain the Amanda “sound”. No two songs sound alike, yet the thumbprint remains tesimony to the band’s inimitable personality, from the jangled strains of “Sometimes Sweet Susan” to the hypnotic buzz-drone of The Godz’ “Permanent Green Light”. The brief thrash juncture delved into with “Sitting Here Sleeping” betrays a fondness for aggression in small but potent doses. A simple reminder of an era in which many heartfelt sentiments beat under a minute at best – a nearly forgotten ideal in the age of retro-”acid” brainwash, or whatever it is that most bands seem to be trying to copy these days. Amanda By Night suffer from no such ill pretensions – in fact they make playing pop music sound fun again, while displaying no small amount of invention at the same time. [Susstones E.P]
Babes In Toyland
“It seems to me if love and war are really that much alike, and if it’s true that all is fair in either of the above, I wish someone would issue guns because I can’t use my cunt to shoot my mother.”
[“Take This And Fuck Yer Head”, Frightwig / Words by Cecelia Lynch]
Sugar Babylon retrieves its’ young from the lips of deliverance. Harsh cries uttered from the throats who dare to live within the jaws of oppression. Singing a song in the darkness to ward off evil spirits, most of whom are past lovers that feel no shame. You can’t help but to feel, having been led to the threshold more than once but never taking that last plunge by choice. Someone has always been pushing, haven’t they?
Just as every wounded animal becomes more dangerous when cornered, Babes In Toyland have developed a more ferocious quality on their final Twin/Tone release, a dramatic follow-up to last year’s Spanking Machine LP. In contrast to the grittiness and angst-ridden excesses of their debut, To Mother is an even-tempered compression chamber of emotional distress always kept at arms’ reach. This 7-song E.P. boasts a more mature level of expression and a warmer production that places thoughtful emphasis on Kat Bjelland’s pushed-me-to-it throaty growl. Drummer Lori Barbero spotlights her own soulful and chilling vocal style on “Primus”, affirming the presence of more than one voice in this group. Kat’s nerve-bending surf-rock guitar surgery cuts a mean groove around Michelle Leon’s unyielding sexual bass strut to create intermingling patterns of violence and beauty. An intricate web of innocence in which naiveté has long been played out, and where sexual politics can only be deemed passe. [Twin/Tone E.P.]
Babes In Toyland
Handsome And Gretel b/w Pearl
If anger is an energy, this release is raw power. Packaged in a sleeve guaranteed to dispel the notion of “foxcore” once and for all, unraveling a sonic umbilical cord that feeds on nothing but sheer frontal frontal rage. Now that Babes In Toyland have become a major label commodity, this 7″ is likely the last “indie” release we’ll see from them , but the impact it carries resembles more of a death threat than an epitaph. If they can continue along this cutting edge in a commercial zone, their success will be measured only in terms of future barriers they go on to shatter.
Ironically, there is a twisted symbolism attached to a record like this. The songs themselves bid a not-so-fond farewell to complacency and empowerment. The photos on the sleeve mock the deification of femininity as beauty. The blunt tone this record carries issues a direct challenge to themselves as much as anyone or anything, cutting themselves no slack where future accomplishments are concerned. If this so much as a hint, may they not be even remotely subtle. [Insipid Vinyl 45]
Sonic Mind Candy
A live document from a gig in Lincoln, Nebraska, 1990, seized by a would-be bootlegger, much to everyone’s benefit. If you weren’t there, this will do it’s damnedest to recreate the sensation. The band whirls between a numbing soporific sway and a catatonic crunch of power chordage, all churned together through a mind-bending wash of special effects guaranteed to stand yr hair on end and rotate yr cerebrum into a flurry of vegetated pulp. Straight-forward bad boy rock ‘n roll hasn’t had it this good in a long time, only there’s nothing straight about it. Transcends boundaries of era-encapsulated rock attitude without sounding phony, plagiaristic, or pretentious – just a lotta wicked fun. Not recommended for audiophiles – there are enough psycho-sonic twists thrown at you to permanently crease yr eyebrows, but then again its’ probably past yr bedtime anyway. [Fuel cassette]
Big Red Ball
It’s Up To You b/w Madame Gray
It’s hard not to like this single, despite the obvious psychedelic mod influences. I guess it just sounds more sincere in its’ approach than so much of that retro-ilk. Right off the bat you’re struck by the soulful gentle power of Lisa Raye’s voice; the girl’s got a range and she knows how to use it. Flanked by two different line-ups on the A & B sides and recorded over a span of two years, it’s a shame that two tracks is all we get. The B-side features some stirring distorto-leads [courtesy of the Magnolias’ Tom Lischmann] playing in tandem with Raye’s vocals, and the effect is enough to make you weep out of sheer orgasmic joy. No kidding. Points for knowing when not to bang on a toy piano, by the way. Any attempts at novelty would’ve dragged this way under, but instead it sounds as though this outfit has got their finger on the pulse of yesterday, only it doesn’t sound as though they dragged it back through a time machine. Only your heart will know the difference. The result of all of this is simple, pure pop, and if you live for such things you’re taking a few years off of your life span by not hearing this. [Susstones 45]
Boiled In Lead
I’ll admit it: I’m an inherently biased little bastard not easily won over to that which smacks of novelty. Sometimes dragging such premeditation into the endless task of critiquing can be complicated indeed; little or no justification in some cases, the strictest of standards in others. It’s a tricky business, alright. Towards the high end of my irritability barometer are unnecessarily slick production, hype of almost any sort, name-dropping [especially producers], and fusion of rock’n roll with just about anything else. The real challenge, obviously, comes from dealing with any product which would at first glance seem to bear one or more of the aforementioned attributes, and find myself embarking into a new horizon of evolved taste. Orb, the fourth release from those devoted traditionalists Boiled In Lead, does just that, expanding my perimeters of contemporary rockers pulling page after page from history and making it somehow sound as fresh as today, without a trace of contrivance or pretension.
Orb provides a vast array of nationalities for the listener to indulge in; from “Klezpolka”, a spirited Romanian / Irish romp that barely prepares your sense for the madness to follow, to the LP’s finis, a Thai instrumental, “Kan-Lao Gratop Mai”, combining a distant relative of the melodica and a harmonica to create a distinctive Eastern feel. Interestingly enough, two of the LP’s original tunes are the most likely to have been traditional numbers, suggesting the devotion to the sounds the band dabbles in. “Son Oh Son”, a somber tale penned by BIL guitarist Todd Menton, utilizes the style of a traditional narrative involving incest and murder, but Menton is not as blackhearted as the gods of old, and refuses to let his character off the hook for his evil misdoings. Another Menton original, “Tape Decks All Over Hell”, provides an unlikely twist to an evening of merriment when the band find themselves on a bootleg parade in hell. Roll over Sartre, as producer Hijaz Mustapha [Mustaphas 3] lends some fierce acoustic strumming.
Another strategy employed by the band is the manner in which they straddle a range of eras, such as “Harout”, a dramatic Armenian instrumental that allows room for Menton and former BIL alumni Dave Stenshoel to trade riffs on guitar and mandocaster, lending an eerie sensation of having your feet firmly planted in two different eras at once. “Siege of Death”, a Scottish instrumental, is typical of the soaring fiddle style Stenshoel adds throughout, crossing the space of a heartbeat from tried-and-true Celtic motifs to a brief gasp of rock fusion, which in turn shakes hands with a heartland reggae feel before vanishing from sight. One of the highlights of Orb – “Glasena Klingar”, sung in Swedish and English alternately, features a traditional instrument often overlooked by purveyors of the past – the human voice. Sibban Erickson contributes her clear and far-reaching tones to this hauntingly beauitful song, with some sensitive emphasis in the production department as well, giving the effect of a ghostly chorus or a schoolyard of small children.
The “Orb” in this case would have to be the earth, as no small corner of it is left un-visited on what may be BIL’s most mature work to date. A fine alternative to homogenized “world” music and retro-fusions, this is instead a pure version of something old and something new. BIL didn’t invent this stuff, y’know, but they do have a deep and profound sense of what it feels like, and they seem pretty capable of making you feel it too. [Atomic Theory LP]
Boys From Nowhere
No Reason To Live b/w 1966
Nowhere must be Columbus, Ohio, and layin’ down tracks like these is at least one good reason to live, I’d say. The distance from the A to B-sides is like night and day, in any order you like. “Reason…” is a clean-cut revved-up mod rocker gone slightly over the edge; vocalist Mick Divvens spraying his searing larynx in every direction while wicked fuzzed-out guitars trade buzzsaw leads over a hot rod rhythm section. “1966” is a clever vintage piece that strives to be optimistic, playing on a youthful innocence somewhat short-lived during that often revisited era. Arguably naive lyrics that lend the charm of a long lost folk-hipster anthem of sorts. The sole giveaway lies in the production – they just didn’t have it that good back then, save for a few noteworthy exceptions. The sound fares better here though; to try and emulate that much of an otherwise good thing might’ve ruined it. The Boys trade off the cliche “cheesy keyboard” sound for a subdued yet expanded folk-tinged niche that swells around Divvens’ credible enough R & B vocabulary – the guy’s got pipes, no doubt about it. With any luck, this bunch’ll go on to explore all of their influences as well as they’ve done here, as it sounds like diversity is their strong point. You can pigeonhole ‘em if you want, but you’ll have to do it one song at a time. [Rubber 45]
One of a dying breed of bona fide songwriters who manages at once to be both clever and convincing, often combining unlikely metaphor with unaffected sincerity in a sparse and melodic vein. For those of you who may be aware that Bruno is also a driving force in the band Nothing Painted Blue, that knowledge won’t do you much good here, I’m afraid – even though N.P.B. members do lend the odd helping hand in places. On his own, Franklin benefits from the opportunity to shine as a lyricist without pop sensibilities completely taking over and obscuring his sentiments. It’s almost as though the different outlets allow him the freedom of an alter identity: the material here might appear bleak within the sprite-ly context of the band, but on its’ own appears simply to be a collection of emotional observations from a more introspective stance. Songs like “A Wealth of Reasons” and “Complications” are classic personal anthem-like ballads, appropriately solo [which Bruno adds is the best way to listen to these songs as well], just as “See it Now” is a mischievous bit of illusion-shattering vengeance – without a trace of maliciousness. Franklin’s forte is lyricism – his rhymes push the limits of nonsensical whimsy, while never losing track of the story at hand. Suggestion Box requires no further input, just an open pair of ears and a wish that there will be more of this playful seriousness to follow. [Shrimper cassette]
You Don’t Satisfy b/w Little Red Book
A smokin’ yellow seven-incher that sends good old fashioned rock ‘n roll screechin’ to a halt with its’ no-frills brand of two guitar crunch and neo-primal thud. Motor city scorch via Allston, Ma., suitable for blastin’ outta car radios everywhere. B-side is a token tribute to rock pioneers David & Bacharach, pogo-in’ rhythms’n all. The Coop drawings that grace the sleeve are the proverbial icing on the cake. [Sympathy For The Record Industry 45]
Sun Goes Black b/w Standing By [7″]
Atypical Nashville three-piece outfit conceived in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Eight, who obviously have no interest in whatever the popular trends in listening may be. In the wake of such nonchalance we are left with a finely-honed balance of melodic [key word here] easy-to-decipher vocalizing and crystalline guitar licks casually traded off with one split-second crash-and-burn voluminous assault after another – the combustible pairing of the two forces is somewhat groundbreaking in terms of originality and sincerity. These guys all seem to have their chops down pretty well, but unlike so many sophisticated “progressive” types, they don’t make a point of dragging out their encyclopedia of influences every time they write a song – they just play it. Members Byron Bailey, Matt Swanson, and Ken Coomer [guitar / vocals, bass, & drums, respectively] jokingly [?] imply a connection between Sinatra and Sabbath, but the novelty of such referencing is nowhere to be found in these obviously heartfelt tunes – public opinion be damned, at any rate.
Clockhammer’s use of pitch-perfect phrasings are never overworked or thrown in for the sake of eclectic value. Bailey’s vocals carry the same amount of passion whether wresting out a slow croon or a raspy scream, while the instrumentation demonstrates a remarkable interplay of style and temper noticeably absent from much of today’s “alternative” pop market. Most notable is the realization that although two separate producers contributed their talents to this L.P., this group is by no means studio-reliant in their ability to weave a diverse and textural wall of sound [the B-side of the single, recorded live at CBGB’s, reaffirms it]. Just the sort of thing to make you wonder how many bands you can possibly really like that all sound so much the same. [First Warning L.P. / First Warning 45]
Those of you who have never experienced a bad day or a hurt feeling will probably never be able to fully appreciate the sheer beauty of [the] Cows. If you’ve never experienced passion or desire left unfulfilled, the awesome megatron force of Shannon Selberg’s poetry will more than likely be lost upon your lily white sensibilities, and likewise the crude hypnotic sensuality of Thor Eisentrager’s guitar will catapult right over your untainted, clue-less perception of life in the great big world. Does this mean you have to suffer for this music? Fuck no. Are happy feelings okay where Cows are concerned? Well …sure they are, of course. Still, it would seem obvious to all but the most dunder-headed among ye that the world has a few very ugly parts, and it has become debatable how [long] mankind can lay claim to the title, “most intelligent species on Earth.”
In spite of such deplorable goings on, brother Shannon and his pals suggest that natural good feelings could almost be taken for granted, were it not for all of the bitter pills that simply will not leave well enough alone and allow others the bliss of their own little dream worlds. The narrative which Shannon employs on most of these tunes is perpetually victimized by such rationale, deluded by his own ability to translate pleasure from what others might perceive as criminal; harassed and hounded by fools who dole out their own measure of abdicable happiness on “acceptable” terms.
Fortunately, Cows don’t really seem ta give a shit whether or not anyone grants ‘em permission to enjoy anything. Its’ good for you ‘n me too, ‘cause Peacetika is one smoldering mindfuck of an LP, right up there with whatever you once thought were the best punk rock records of the last decade. Fuck ‘em all, this ain’t none o’ that kiddie shit primed fer the fashion disaster rags of next year. This album barely contains more than a lion’s share of abundant textural warpage and emotionally ecstatic rage, enuf ta send a lotta three-chord gits back to mama ‘til they get their teeth properly cut.
Peacetika is the fourth long-player from Mpls’ Cows, in many ways iconographic, but far from geographic. It’s also ironically the shortest one yet – maybe they were wise enough to not try and wear out a good thing. Cows demonstrate once and for all that they possess enough raw talent [not to mention personality] to completely shatter the illusions of pre-conceived regional barriers that far too many bands allow themselves to become enslaved by; but don’t question for a second the sincerity of this lot. So steeped in an attitude so powerful you can smell it. ‘Nuff said. [Amphetamine Reptile LP]
Sick b/w So What
Lead singer Marv’s crazed psycho-hypnotic vocal skree lays down a mean mocking testimony to the pitfalls of escapism through cheap thrills. Wanna get high? Wanna get sick? They’re one and the same, as the man who takes you there can testify. DareDevil namesake Matt Murdock relentlessly hammers yr desire to leave into the floor with his pummeling bass thud, while Marv tortures his guitar along with whatever senses you have left, putting yr nerve to the ultimate test. Further stretching the more-mileage-per-riff theory on the flip side, these guys know how to nail down a lean mean groove that’ll have ya pogo-in’ yr trousers down and wavin’ yr fists in the air just like all good rockers should, while Marv wails to demonic proportions and tells you to keep yr desires to yrself. A bad-ass debut from a top-notch power trio who cut through all the bullshit and rock lie it’s the only thing left to do. Now this is where some o’that Big Money oughta be flowin’. Extraterrestrial splotchy vinyl is icing on the cake. [Big Money Inc. 45]
Robb Lippert [a.k.a. “Digital Rob”] may or may not be an actual person [I couldn’t find his name anywhere in the credits], but I don’t think an honorary membership in the human race would be his idea of a good time anyway. At any rate, this music transcends a slew of social and cultural boundaries, ultimately maintaining a “timeless” quality not dependent on trendy restrictions based on style. Too slick in its’ constructive-ness for peer-conscious punks [a lot of synthesizer and guitar histrionics, not to mention melody], too aggressive and raw for even the “alternative” mainstream. Nine songs of soul-searching power that span a variety of musical approaches; often straying near enough to the lines of conventionality to allow you a glimpse of infinite possibility. The rotating personnel offer a range of attitude and emotion that should appeal to a variety of listeners, escaping “progressive” pigeonholing if you’re open-minded enough to listen with your own heart and not someone else’s. Basically, it all boils down to intelligent minimalistic rock with a soulful edge, that seems driven by a genuine passion – particularly songs like “So Don’t Feel Today” and “Larger Than Us”. There is an undercurrent of rage beneath the semi-polished surface that might creep into yr brain while the sway of the rhythm works its’ seductive charms on the rest of you, but who says you can’t think and enjoy yrself at the same time? Straightforward, cognitive, fun. [Poison Plant cassette]
Struggling, Electric & Chemical
Sonic landscaping of this magnitude should not be so easily dismissed as being unoriginal or derivative, especially not by people who spend much of their free time trying to figure out where Kim Gordon shops. At times sparse and [seemingly] unstructured, this record also displays mammoth walls of sound that put my senses on overload, surrounding me with collapsing rhythms and rising/falling layers of noise. On the back of the record it says, “Dustdevils are a noneprofit organization”, and unfortunately, as long as they make records like this, it’ll probably remain true. [Teenbeat/Matador LP] [Mike Wolf]
A Blow To The Hat
’Tis not an easy feat to summarize a three year lifespan of a raging driven artistic force in less than 30 minutes, but that is precisely what goes on here. Not presented in any sort of chronological order, this actually sounds like seven different bands; chalk it up to “phases” or “experience” or whatever equipment was within reach. The years represented here are 1986 -’89, the sounds represented are sheer blinding impact and laid-back whimsical cool. Whether or not the band could have outlived such a sturdy reputation is a question that goes unanswered save for this mighty documentive effort. From the self-described aural scorch of “Burn” to the dizzying whoop of “Cranes”, the sonic sensual purge of this seven song musical diary turns any notion of “basement” or “garage” rock on its’ ear and sends it sailing. Maybe that’s the way to listen to this 30-minute barrage of wince and wit – on the flat side of yr head – take no heed if everything pours right out, Empty Box’ll have it full again in no time. The only real drawback lies in the realization that this is after all a posthumous offering, and deserves a little more respect than it probably got during its’ heyday, although music that jumps boundaries of genre-lization the way this half hour of infamy does can never truly fade. [Sweet Portable Junket cassette]
Exploding Head Trick
Most bands who rely on “jamming” as a method of discovery bore the fuck out of me. They usually have very little – if indeed anything – to say, and through a series of random instrumental fumblings hope to “unleash” some musical “message” that listeners everywhere will “relate” to through some mystical rapport. a charming concept at best, highly improbable in most cases. On the other hand there are musicians who can “jam” with a genuine chemistry that goes far beyond the four walls surrounding them, and it would appear that Exploding Head Trick is such a group of people. No “songs” here, just two album-length instrumentals that explore a variety of dynamics and tensions, emotionally as well as stylistically. The first piece, “Crustacean Juice”, is the more riff-oriented of the two, highlighting the rhythmic interplay between guitarist Satoshi Shinozaki [S2] and bassist Ward Harper, not to mention a brief but prolific keyboard section by now former member Harry LeBlanc. Most notable in the approach taken by these geezers is the lack of repetitious motifs, a standard formula for most pop-based music, but then again there is nothing “standard” about the inward / outward explorations of this tightly-clad unit. “My Gramma Venus” is even more daring in its’ complete absence of identifiable form, yet still holds more than its’ weight in rhythmic interlusion. This piece also serves as a finely purring vehicle for remaining members Jane Anfinson [violin] and Joe Miller [drums], managing the tricky feat of simultaneously dodging predictability and abstraction. So what kind of music is this, you may well ask. Buggered if I know, but that’s what should make it that much more appealing to larger number of listeners than were originally intended to hear this humble cassette – limited edition, as they say. Fuck it, send ‘em a few bucks and beg ‘em to dub you a copy. If you end up not being dug by it, don’t whine to me about yr inability to experience something original for a change, ‘cos I’ll be knee-deep in salivation up to hear. [Independent cassette]
Foolish American Quartet, if you must. Fah-cue, if you really have to ask. It all boils down to four guys from Kalamazoo in love with both frequency and melody, and their crossing over several boundaries of style and technique; most notably a post – ’70s thrashy rhythmic foundation, with nods given to some of the best pre – ’70s power pop arrangements around. Lest ya be thinkin’ that this is some retro-infatuated conceptual hooey, cast the notion from yr head at once. FAQ lays down a sturdy rock bottom, whilst nimbly breaking into a number of lightning-swift changes and melodic twists that are equally uncontrived as they are unpredictable. FAQ rock like it’s none o’yr business, at the same time displaying no small amount of virtuosity at sonic interplay and intelligent songwriting to boot. Recorded nearly live-in-the-studio, the irony behind this L.P. is that it falls short of the aural impact the band delivers live on stage – you really owe it to yrself to check these guys out live to get the full scope of it all. Still, Pre-Pay is an enthusiastic stepping stone out of the post – hardcore/post – progressive rut that so many bands seem content to fall into these days. Who knows, with the release of the already completed Liverbox L.P., they may provide the next step as well… [Spikey Music L.P.]
Music for Restaurants
Given the oversaturated flux of “New Age” music over the last five or so years, there is sometimes a tendency to shun or dismiss most musics that fall into the following categories: 1) synthesized [excluding pre-programmed “dance” music, which is even more readily dismissible], or 2) meditative [often characterized by long, somber drones that offer no more purpose for pitch changes than to distinguish each tone]. Much of this “new” hybrid of sophisticated marketing ploys and over-intellectualized escapist tripe aspires to category #2, attempting to substantiate itself by the sheer elitist virtue of category #1, and all too often amounts to nothing more than pretentious noodling that conveys neither mood nor message. Having beaten its’ chest quite proudly, no doubt encouraged by its’ largely highbrow and earthy puritan following, “New Age” has been reduced to a cliche that carries even less weight than the mock-rebellious posturings it serves as an antithesis to, and ultimately does very little in terms of expanding the perimeters of twentieth century muzak.
Having thusly dispersed with the preceding long-winded diatribe on the aesthetics of composition, I should like to point out that the above is merely a fundamental stepping stone by which one might approach any medium given to notions of secular interest or smacks of elitist exclusivity. What then might any of this have to do with modern-day composer Julie Frith or her latest cassette release, Music for Restaurants? Not a thing, my friends. Just as Frith’s alter-ego Psyclones carries further the premise of electronic dance music through its’ rhythmic textural assault, “…Restaurants” is a surprisingly fresh breath of air within a largely dogmatic genre such as the aforementioned.
What sets Frith apart from her academia-burdened peers? Imagination, for one thing. Music for Restaurants is a dream-laden soundscape that fills in the imaginary spaces between nature and technology. Frith has woven together a mesmerizing pastiche of patterned sounds that never quite reveal their origin; meticulously balancing the possibilities between synthetically generated ambience and actual samples of natural sounds, carefully crafted into a single environment. What may or not be pan flutes, kyoto, flute, and xylophone, are fleshed out by the distant howling of wolves and the chirping mantras of crickets – or at least their convincingly thoughtful electronic counterparts. The sheer irony of electronic potential is brought fully to light by the realization that all of the sounds Frith has utilized here are – at least in their natural form – acoustic, and could conceivably be placed together in their respective environments just as they are presented in this form. For that matter, the title itself carries its’ own superlative brand of wit. Presumably in the tradition of such luminaries as Erik Satie and Brian Eno, this approach to textural composition could very well prove to be the perfect foil for such high-paced industrial environments. The vague recurring cycle Frith has constructed is at once deeply meditative and introspective, and should prove to be vastly inspirational to fans of “New Age” and other such work, hopefully opening some new doors in the process. [Ladd-Frith cassette]
Michigan & World at War b/w Children of the Revolution
“Michigan”…You know, that legendary hole which has spewed forth scorch and sludge that mothers raise their sons to proudly emulate; of which precious few are able. Gargoyles proudly defy the myth that Stooges influences are a dime a dozen, as the twin guitars of Lisa Lombardo & Doug Heeschen up the ante by not dwelling on the past but having it nailed down tight; aided by the jackhammer rhythm section of Julia Altstatt on bass & Brain Tyranny on drums. “World at War” is a thrashable encounter of the fastest kind, “Children…” an anthemic send up of a Marc Bolan tune intact via an assault of sonic subterfuge. Lime green vinyl, rock fans – the seven-inch lives. [Sympathy for the Music Industry 45]
Two Tons O’ Chrome b/w [I Saw You] Video
An adrenalin shot through a noise-festered history of garage inspired bomp; the kind that put …say, Detroit on the map in the annals of rock damage. Detroit is purportedly where these skree-mongers hail from, tho if I’m to believe my sources on this one, home is a wee bit closer to the Minneapple, as it affectionately gets called every now ‘n then. According to same said sources, if this group mapped out their family tree you’d find Halo of Flies and Breaking Circus amongst their lineage, but you’d never figger from the mutated kerrang that emanates from these grooves like so much diseased shrapnel. Kinda pushes aforementioned groups’ respective sturm und drang to the logical limits, dig? ‘Course, if one were to trace a nic-stained finger thru said genealogy to pre-punk mod roots and precision technical histrionics, then it all kinda starts ta make sense.The bad news is that there’s only 400 o’these in existence, ‘n can only be had by mail order, if indeed there’s any left at all by the time you read this. Once you focus yr bleary eyes on the classy black-on-black sleeve by Haze, you’ll know in yr heart you did the right thing. Was there ever any question? [Amphetamine Reptile 45]
The Man Who Loved Couch Dancing
The Gibson Bros. do it again, paying homage to their heroes, while at the same time strangling the Memphis blues and trampling on its’ grave. Side one is recorded in the studio, side two recorded live, with Jon Spencer and Cristina [Pussy Galore, Boss Hog] guest-starring. Don’t fear, the Gibson Bros. don’t overwhelm you with noise, they just make you feel stupid for not thinking of any of this first. Spliced-up samples, blues the way it should be played, and street fights backed with elevator music adorn side one, while more raved and crazed frantic blues-y stylings are found on the live side. The Gibson Bros. are shining examples of the American way, taking something that’s already been done and twisting it to their own purpose. [Homestead LP] [Mike Wolf]
Implosion – 73 b/w Transformation
Two slices of sheer art attack guitar that avoids at all costs any semblance of “conventional” melodic or rhythmic structure, opting instead for an over-driven excursion into the very heart of the instrument itself. “Implosion…” relies almost exclusively on a single bent-string nuance that fairly well mimics a train whistle at times, exploiting the effects of physical contact and extreme amplification. Former Coltrane drummer Rashed Ali contributes no-nonsense free-form rhythm in the last half, emphasizing the percussive properties of Grey’s playing. At 4’32, it seems a bit long considering the form itself [most singles typically being designed for “hook”-oriented dynamics and catchy rhythmic phrasings], but then this is somewhat of a pivotal stance in the singles game – it could go anywhere from here. “Transformation” is solo Grey, feedback that gently careens to a start, then mutates into a sonic tapestry evocative of several ways to gently leave your senses behind. An interesting mesh of old, new, and other – worldly influences. This seven-inch marvel comes to you on transparent vinyl, but Grey himself is not so easily seen through – maintaining a strong foothold in the doorway that links subconscience and the sublime, he’s halfway through already. Lest there be any doubt, consider producer Thurston Moore living proof of just one possible direction. [New Alliance 45]
Halo of Flies
Tired and Cold b/w Wasted Time
In which the Am/Rep head guy reveals to all the truth about his obsession with all things mod, going one further by tackling the genre on his own turf. Traditional Halos buzz abounds, with Haze hisself showing off a surprising range of searing vocal melody – not to mention that you get ta hear every breath the guy draws in.
The savage love affair between man and guitar continues on side B, and if you can pogo to this I’ll be there to dislodge yr head from the ceiling when its’ all over, okay? I hates ta sound like I’m payin’ lip service ta anybody, but this here’s a brilliant goddamn single by a band that technically doesn’t even exist most o’ the time, and I know some o’ you so-called hipsters are still peering outta yr rose-colored granny glasses pipin’, “who?” [Amphetamine Reptile 45]
Last Northern Train b/w Doghouse
Purportedly hailing from San Fransisco, Hemi sound as though they spent the late ’60s soaking up some fierce Detroit wattage via a dozen or so Marshall stacks. This has got a wicked edge to it, as might be expected, but unfortunately doesn’t really stand out in the midst of hundreds of other such bands all vying for the same attention span, despite the grind-’er-out power barrage and the ever popular red vinyl. Nothin’ new happenin’ here, I’m afraid, which only serves to detract Big Money funds which could give some of their other acts a much needed push. [Big Money Inc. 45]
16 songs touching on topics like, “Cosmic Cubes”, and “Divining Rods”, and other “Mysteries of the Unknown”. Totally wacky. The real mystery is how a band that seemed so promising on their last two records can do 16 songs that affected me so little. This isn’t bad rock, it’s just that like so many other “college rock” bands, the music goes right through you and leaves you with nothing. At some points, the guitars rise up and show hints of fierceness that they have known once, but there’s no consistency. Let’s hope they get back on track next record, whatever the hell that means. [Alias LP] [Mike Wolf]
James vocalist Tim Booth has a pretty fair idea of when not to fall into a patterned cliche. In “Come Home”, he understates the lyric, “…makes me want to scream” with a drawn-out growl. In “God Only Knows”, the cliffhanger sentiment is screamed, only to be sharply punctuated by a brass / keyboard amphetamine assault only a strobe light could keep pace with. A sharp departure from previous offerings, Gold Mother shells out an unlikely array of hooks as well – the inescapable hypnotic keyboard groove in “Come Home”, the psychotic guitar flare-up in “You Can’t Tell How Much Suffering (On a Face That’s Always Smiling)”, the dreamy sustained guitar / violin pairing in “Crescendo”, the sweeping violin sighs in “Walking The Ghost” coupled with sparse gasps of guitar bends and echoes. The coupling of instruments alone often outshines the songs themselves, such as the title track, which breaks from spaghetti western drama to bossa nova funk to spy movie thriller – often in the same phrase. Admittedly difficult to pull off, but a proud accomplishment nonetheless. Yet another outstanding effort from the humble working class region of Manchester. [Fontana LP]
Sunshine ‘N’ Water
Some 40 years ago in Port Antonio, Jamaica, the Jolly Boys nurtured a sound they called “mento” – an uncluttered hybrid of folksy roots and calypso rhythms. Since then the style has been modified and embellished beyond recognition, as newer mutations such as ska, rocksteady, and reggae have emerged. No matter, one listen to the second release from these spritely fellows brings the truth to light – the Jolly Boys are the undisputed champions of “mento”, hands down. While much attention has been given to the age of these distinguished gentlemen, and the group’s own amazement upon leaving their homeland for the first time in 1989, it is even more significant that they can still play like there’s no tomorrow, and are finally able to receive some of the credit due them and their music. Although only one of the founding members remains in the group, the four Jolly Boys have witnessed countless perpetrations of stylistic plagiarism, yet consider this a compliment – a credit to their efforts. What a remarkable attitude in itself, in an era where copyright infringement is hung upon an individual note of an artist’s work.
The Jolly Boys were first “discovered” by close friend Errol Flynn [!], who often hired the group to entertain guests at his Jamaican vacation home. These performances established the group locally, providing inspiration for younger, commercially enthusiastic performers in that region, while simply liberating the hearts and minds of their jet set audiences. Six nights a week, thirty years on, the group was “discovered” once again by singer / songwriter Jules Shear [whose first incarnation as the voice of Jules and the Polar Bears remains one of the understated milestones in pop history], whose enthusiasm led to his role as producer of the first Jolly Boys LP, Pop ‘N’ Mento, in 1989. That record’s release saw the Jolly Boys catching up with the rest of the world for the first time in their life, as well as providing the western world with a missing link in the legacy of reggae and Caribbean musics.
With the release of Sunshine ‘N’ Water, one may wonder, would the group’s sudden induction into the helter skelter pace of modern civilization affect the purity and passion of the original “mento” sound? I think NOT, my friends. The form is intact, almost defiant against contemporary standards, and partial credit must go to 2nd-time producer Shear for keeping it simple and straightforward. Original Jolly Boy Moses Dean leads his crew through twelve more frolicking tunes that range from heartwarming personal longings [could “Take Me Back To Jamaica” have been inspired by their visit to America?], to bawdy insights on the battle between the sexes-all delivered in an uptempo, upbeat, rhythmic manner that should easily captivate the imaginations of listeners everywhere. The innovative instrumental set-up employed by the group lends a timeless otherworldly quality for the most part unfamiliar to contemporary stylings. Dean’s matter-of-fact vocals and plucky banjo predominate much of this material, offset by the rapport between Joseph Bennett and his “rhumba box” – a crate-size kalimba that provides the bass timbre; thoughtfully fleshed out by the rhythmic accompaniment of of Allan Swymmer [bongos] and Noel Howard [guitar]. The complimentary weavings of banjo and acoustic guitar are spirited and pleasing to the ear, creating a Jamaican music-box-like feel that invites listeners to dance, and cast their woes to the warm breeze of a tropical island. [First Warning/Ryko]
Teenage Frankenstein b/w Intellectual Baby
Okay, we’ve all heard plenty of disparaged youth anthems by now, from the children of tobacco roads to the world’s forgotten boys and beyond. You don’t know the true meaning of irony until you’ve heard the anguished cries of a “Teenage Frankenstein” as he questions the reason for his existence. The Lazy Cowgirls drum up a strong and sensitive plea for the hapless monster in any of us, without laying it on too thick or playing on the novelty – in fact, the “monster” is never actually introduced as such; this could be any forsaken teen searching for a reason why, and pouring out his heart and soul in the process. There’s a real melancholy rock ballad on the loose here, and the lost soul in this case could even turn out to be you on a dark cold night.
Sigmund Freud would remain trapped beneath his mummy’s nightie for the rest of eternity, were he to cross paths with the “Intellectual…” whose praises are sung on the flip of this seven-inch red vinyl fetishist’s delight. How she fell in with this gut-bustin’, back seat thumpin’ bourgeois scoundrel is anybody’s guess, but it’s definitely one for the books. The Cowgirls have created a classic pairing of rock ‘n roll sentimentality and irreverence that’ll have you twistin’ and shoutin’ ‘til the crack of dawn. Catchy and clever, shameless fun. [Sympathy for the Record Industry 45]
Pray b/w Pulp
Awesome mega-decibel grunge/metal symphony from the Big Apple, only this time the worms have taken over. A blissful waltz through a ten-ton barrage of raw crud that simulates the experience of a slow grind inside a cement mixer – rocks ‘n all. A deliberate slow motion tension does more to keep yr hairs on edge than the sinister growl of the singer [both’ll keep you thinkin’ yr stylus is carvin’ out them grooves as it spins], but then again it’s not something to whistle along to, neither. Adding to it’s general appeal is some exquisite mind-altering guitar riffage straight outta hell, or at least Detroit circa ’69, though more of an inspiration than a direct cop. I’d be curious ta hear these guys at a faster pace, but they’ve got a good thing goin’ right where they’re at, so far. Rock minimalism is on its way back – or back out on it’s back. Blue vinyl, f’r all you collector scum. [Sympathy For The Record Industry 45]
Mark Spencer, formerly of Help Me Elmer and self-proclaimed David Soul wannabe, re-emerges as the mouthpiece in this raw and uncut combo that utilizes yet another aspect of his passion-charged vocal style. “Deluge the Water” is an exercise in pushing the limits of restraint, demonstrating the band’s power as a full-fledged unit. Rhythmic blocks of hypnotic tension and space weave and interlock to create a funk jamboree the overall impact akin to tumbling through a landslide in a 50-gallon drum, and coming out without so much as a scratch. Admittedly, much of the focus here is on Spencer, whose instrumental approach to vocal stylings maintains a fine balance between terse resignation and wide-eyed reverance.
“That Door” and “Now it’s Dark Out” are unexpected reversals in which the heart becomes a playing board for an ill-fated game of chance. “If You Lie (Smash Up My Car)”, written by former bassist Pete Van Dyke, is a contemplative hymn of reluctant acceptance, in a void often filled with anger and resentment. The surprise gem of this tape however, has got to be the untitled fifth track, a fill-in-the-genre-of-your-choice instrumental jam featuring some spirited melodica [accordion?] accompaniment and a 1 – 2 sucker punch groove that suggests even further channels in which to stowaway your senses. A fine first outing for a little fish in a big sea, this one you’d do well not to toss back in the water. [4 – song demo tape]
Actually 2/3 of Poughkeepsie’s bravest collegiate trio [sans founding member / drummer Will Baum]; Rebecca Odes and Alan Licht took a nod of the hat from Forced Exposure publisher Jimmy Johnson and laid down this tribute to NYC street legend Louis Hardin, AKA Moondog. If this material is even remotely true to the originals, Hardin is perhaps one of the most criminally overlooked figures in contemporary cult status history. It’s hard to say just how much of a transformation has occurred here, but on the basis of inspiration alone it seems safe to suggest that a divine intermingling of spirits has taken place. Suffice it to say that we are fortunate indeed to have this in our midst as actual proof.
While songs like “All Is Lonliness” and “Oren’s Expedition” aren’t of the brain-tingling pop ilk as the band’s 6-song E.P. released on Trash Flow last year, there is still the same uninhibited eagerness to push beyond obvious boundaries of style and form, vested further in these songs’ lack of similarity to one another. “…Lonliness” has an Eastern drone motif that somehow mutates into a hymn-like tonality, while “I Love You” and “Be a Hobo” are random examples of an imaginary meld in which are merged loose references to ’60s psychedelic pop and a melancholy cabaret-ish patter. Not yr everyday “alternative” fare, to be sure. “Oren…” sounds as though it were recorded to simulate a reversed tracking – or maybe it really is backwards – which creates harmonizing of Gregorian proportions. The Love Kids utilize a minimal assemblage of guitar, bass, recorder and casio, and are joined on vocals by Rebecca’s sibling Naomi Odes. Many of who who may have flipped – like I did – over the Love Child E.P. may wind up scratching a big hole in yr noggin’ over this one, but it just goes to prove that in spite of the long-awaited “not quite what it was supposed to be” Homestead L.P., they’ve got plenty of tricks up their collective sleeve, and will not be relegated to pigeonholing of any sort. [Forced Exposure E.P.]
Unplugged: The Official Bootleg
Those darned acoustic performances – they’re just all the rage these days. Some of the biggest names bandied about on the college “alternative” playlists have discovered that by yanking their plugs they can reach out and touch a more diverse audience, not to mention tripping over old roots they’d likely forgotten [or never knew they had]. The informal charm of such performances also caught the infernal eye of that monolith of marketable appeal, good old MTV. Ever playing the huckster’s role where it can smell a buck among the disenfranchised lot who actually comprise the alternative scene, MTV whipped up “Unplugged” so fast you’d think they’d invented the acoustic phenomenon. Yet and still, an opportunity was provided for some of the hottest acts on the charts to dish out a short but sweet no-frills set of straightforward songs and un-amplified persona.
Certainly many would agree that where personality is concerned, few performers today seem to maintain the enthusiasm that inducted them into the biz to begin with. Success has spoiled many a potential star, ditching them at the first available plateau and eventually watching them slide into vacuous obscurity. Not so however, for the grand old man who revolutionized the pop song, for better or for worse – Paul McCartney. Certainly no stranger to success, nor any worse off for having survived it, “Macca” ’s curious lyrical weaving and good-natured wit have earmarked one of the most understated yet immensely triumphant careers in rock history. For the 200 people who made up the audience for “Unplugged…” on the night of Jan. 25, 1991, it could only have been a rock fan’s dream come true. For the millions watching the televised performance, a chapter of rock history was being re-written within the space of a single hour.
McCartney originally had no immediate plans to release the set publicly, having only recently put out the documented set of his highly acclaimed ’89-’90 tour, Tripping the Live Fantastic, but after one listen knew that if he didn’t put this out someone else would. By sidestepping the liaison of actually coming out as a bootleg, “Unplugged…” benefits from the craftsmanship of both smart production and swift editing. Interestingly enough, McCartney chose not to cut segments amateur bands turn blue over, such as the botched intro to “We Can Work It Out” – in which he merely quips, “It’s been a long time.” Three songs which were featured on compact disc were clipped from the actual broadcast, including a do or die rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine”, on which Paul plays drums – no resurgence in the charts is seen, but it sounds as though a good time was had.
Many critics have pointed at McCartney as an evolutionary spark in contemporary pop songwriting, whereas “Unplugged…” reveals at last many sources of inspiration for Paul himself. “Be-Bop-A-Lula” opens the set, in remembrance of the first record Paul ever bought; also featured are Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Over Kentucky”, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’s “San Fransisco Bay Blues” among others. Perhaps most notable for inclusion in this set is the tender ditty which heralded the beginning of McCartney’s songwriting career at the age of 14 – “I Lost My Little Girl”, never before committed to vinyl, and in fact not performed since Paul’s early days with The Quarrymen in 1959. Hearing this early gem puts everything into perspective, and one can’t help but wonder if there’s more where this came from.
Although McCartney fans will likely be torn as to whether or not this is one of his finest moments or a quick ride on his own legend, “Unplugged…” stands nonetheless as a milestone in pop history, during an era in which there are precious few attempts to risk anything pure and out of the ordinary. That this performance is such a vast departure from what one might have come to expect is in itself an accomplishment, if only outshone by the obvious affinity between the artist and his material, shared here for the benefit of all with an unusual absence of polish. Even if you’re not a fan, you’ve either gotta admire this kind of perseverance and spirit, or you’re into pop for a lot of the wrong reasons. Now let’s see what happens when he releases that classical piece he’s so excited about. [Capitol CD]
Put Them Up As Lights b/w I Go With You
I don’t know who does what in this group except that Lori Wray sings, which is nearly enough reason on its’ own to have it. A moving singer/songwriter in her own right, her honey-edged vocal chords gently meld with the swirl of folksy strumming and bow-like electric leads on “Lights”. Harmony is this group’s strong point; their dynamics are subtle but firm, nowhere a trace of grandstanding. A short but sweet reaffirmation of this point concludes the A-side, a swift breathtaking instrumental that leaves you hanging on the last note, almost waiting for a reprise of their sparsely surreal lush guitar sound. The B-side shows Wray in a more familiar vein, her country roots intact through the mod-rockin’ driving tempo and upbeat soulful punch. In a perfect world, pop music such as this wouldn’t be considered “underground”, but at least with a killer single like this there’ll be no pressure for them to “sell out” either. [Susstones 45]
Like a Shield b/w Little White Line
From the heart of the midwestern mecca of of hip hails working man’s thinking man and rock crazed poet laureate Marv Olsen. Relying solely on a heart full of passionate acoustic rhythm guitar and a powerfully soul-stricken vocal style, Marv soliloquizes the plight of humanity, troubadour style. There’s a strong urge to refer to another Minnesota native who once took a similar approach, but this ain’t no sellout by a long shot. Truth be told, Marv totes one far-reaching set o’pipes, the diversity of which is exhibited further still in alter-ego project DFC. Owing nothing to a glut of ‘60s mimicry and a minor backlash of post-folk throwbacks Marv takes a tried-and-true approach to songwriting – doing what he’s genuinely good at – and beats everyone at a game he’s not even playing. No-frills, straightforward production adds to the charm of gutsiness and originality on Marv’s debut slab o’wax; sheer talent and unpretentious flair do the rest. [Big Money Inc. 45]
Mudhoney She’s Just Fifteen b/w
Halo of Flies Jagged Time Lapse
No joke, the “Mod Showdown” is the real event, two of the current underground’s biggest names paying genuine homage to a couple of the mod underground’s greatest. Whether you wanna judge ‘em on the basis of true-to-form exactness or total departure from their signature sounds, both bands’d come out ahead no matter what. Mudhoney takes on the Milkshakes [who could be considered the spiritual forefathers of everything this side o’ the Cramps], and an amazing transformation it is indeed. Jagged edged clanging guitars and the mod trademark pre-blue-eyed soul vocal harmonizing that ultimately do nothing to betray the Seattle origins o’ this bunch. A hard act to follow, but Halo of Flies know their mod handbook inside out, as they deftly demonstrate with their rendition of a tune by John’s Children [originally a stepping stone for one Marc Bolan, if ya was wonderin’]. The patented slash-and-burn of Hazelmeyer’s buzzsaw guitar undergoes some drastic tremolo surgery, and his spit-in-yr-eye vocal scree becomes a wash of sweet haunting melody that could give Mr. Bolan a run for his money. Not that anyone’s mentioned it or anything, but a series of this sort o’ thing could prove to be mighty satisfying. [Amphetamine Reptile split 45]
The more things stay the same…the more unnecessary it becomes to keep repeating them. I have a feeling that most of the people who claim to really like this record once said, “Dude, Naked Raygun will never do any wrong. I swear, no matter what, they’ll always be great. God, they fuckin’ rule!”, and now find themselves trapped. It’s not a sellout by any means. There’s plenty of melodic post [way – post] punk rock, and Jeff Pezzati’s rise and fall at all the right times to uplift most of America’s troubled, rebellious youth. Again. But so what? Is there anybody who really wondered what this record would sound like? [Caroline LP] [Mike Wolf]
Nation of Ulysses
“No rockin’ the cradle”, cautions vocalist Ian F. Svenonius, and it sounds like advice well heeded. You wouldn’t want to send junior sailing across the room, now would ya? Based on Nation’s live performances alone, too much o’this righteous soul explosion can only have a positive effect on the young ‘un’s state o’mind, but there’s no way you’re gonna be able to contain ‘im. “The Sound of Young America” is as lively as you could want it to be, sassy master Ian straining furiously over a collision of rhythmic fuzz-guitar and slaphappy beat sensibility, careening through yr brain alongside a glorious wail of feedback. Punk rock is back, kids – not the fashion ‘zine endorsed version, but the true heart and soul of creative youth rebellion, and it is something to celebrate indeed.
“Channel 1 Ulysses” makes it clear that this is no accident – amidst a cacophony of trumpet and a wide range mix of harmonics and radio band squelch, the message is plain; the Nation of Ulysses is “looking for you” somewhere in the thick of it all. Pray your loyalties are in order if you’re found. “Atom Bomb” is a bitter reminder about a basic fear that some people live with every day of their lives, even in the midst of trend-conscious consumerism. Yes, there are more important things to worry about than how tall yr mohawk is or how many studs are on yr leather jacket. Nation doesn’t pontificate though, simply delivers you a walloping brain-load of revved-up no-core punk rock that recalls its’ glory days. Yours if you want it – nothin’ to lose, a lifetime to gain. Think hard. [Dischord E.P.]
Paste has created an emotionally subversive world in which metaphor loses its’ grip, and dissonance sets a standard for melodic re-construction. Recorded unashamedly low-fi – the liner notes include an apology for “lo-fi-ness”, now if they’d added an “e” it would been “lo-fi-nesse” and more to the point.
Ever wonder what any of those “noise”, “grunge”, or “wah-wah” bands would sound like without their toys and Marshall stacks? Very likely with nothing but an acoustic guitar and an un-miked voice, it’d be the sound of Paste causing yr senses to shimmy uncontrollably. On one hand, this is sheer unsophisticated bliss, some delicate EST ritual to exorcize everyday demons of persistence. For each word countless impressions, for each impression countless lifetimes. Lesser entities than Paste have attempted this kind of approach and reaped moderate success on labels such as Homestead and SST – if there is any justice or integrity left in the “alternative” industry someone would at least offer these guys some studio time and a negotiable deal. Meanwhile dig on this, and hats off once again to Shrimper for making this available to one and all. [Shrimper cassette]
Plastic Eye Miracle
There are some very good arguments for and against the D.I.Y. audio network revolution. One of the favored points is that artists maintain total control over their creative output – not always the case when submitting to the powers of corporate lust. One of the least favorable points is that anyone who craves even the smallest amount of attention can get it for next to nothing, for no other reason than because they can. Popular criticism be damned, I suppose, if the medium itself allows someone the freedom to express themself in in any fashion that might not ordinarily be tolerated by smug self-appointed juries for the “good” of art or any other. ’Tis true, for some the very ability to produce takes precedence over the substance of the product itself, leaving many of us unsuspecting consumer types in a quandary when eager to shell out our hard-earned bucks for anything a little new and different, as they say.
Doug Wofsey and his pal Michael, collectively known as Plastic Eye Miracle [no relation to that God Bullies album, by the way] have at least justifiable grounds for contributing to the general glut of home recording mania currently sweeping the nation [world? I don’t know, to be honest]. Having released some six album-length tapes in the past few years, they have [perhaps unwittingly] opened up a niche that may well be their exclusive domain. The majority of their collaborations seems to lean more towards detached surrealist narratives, abstract in the sense that little or no explanations are offered for their choice of subject matter or given point of view.
From this angle, Plastic Eye Miracle have created a form of poetry out of a random series of observations, ranging from an unresolved impression of homosexual erotica [“Homa-”], to the always challenging task of a “Beer Run” [allegedly a soundtrack in four parts – is there really a film for this?], to a simple celebration of “The Nicest Day in New Jersey”. None of these tracks are going to revolutionize songwriting as we now know it, but the point seems to be that a different form altogether is in the process of evolution here, and whether or not Plastic Eye Miracle are merely a stepping stone for a much larger movement or the means to its’ own end remains to be seen.
Personally, I’d like to see the aforementioned film; this sort of aural-landscape-verbiage suggests strong possibilities being linked with another such medium. The natural depiction of visual images as presented here by the spoken-word material could also be further developed in both the direction of poetry with minimal electronic accompaniment. The only room for criticism with projects such as this are left up to the individual, the bottom line is that someone’s always gonna love it and someone’s always gonna hate it. At least it stands far less a chance of being reduced to a cliche than anything with the usual formulaic approach, and that alone is gonna be good enough for a lot of folks, I’ll wager. [Independent cassette release]
Plush Angus Gets Up
The only time I have a real problem with someone else’s idea of a good time is when it’s at my own expense. Take this tape for instance – take it far away from me, please! Ha ha, wasn’t that funny. Yeah, about as funny as having to actually listen to it for its’ full 45 minutes [either someone was extremely generous with recording time back in ’89 or these guys are overpaid at their day jobs], telling myself the whole time to be more open-minded. Hell, if I was as open-minded as this bunch I’d have nothing but wide empty space between my ears, and we’re not exactly talking Zen here either, folks. The scenario that comes to mind is what happens when you combine a bunch of marginality talented frat boys, too much cheap swill [Stroh’s, probably], and a decade’s worth of pent-up “rock star” idiosyncrasies – in other words, pure wank.
If I were Suzanne Vega, I’d throttle ‘em for the tasteless parody of “Luka”, for not making it funny enough. Child abuse is funny, right? Apparently they presume to be above such misfortune and can afford the luxury of reducing a child’s fear to a moronic stupor. They presume wrong. “Grandpa Was A Faggot”, now there’s a bit of insight for you. It’s a free country, let’s make fun of everyone and everything we don’t understand – it’s funny, right? Sure, just ask anyone who’s ever been beaten up for being one. In case we run out of imagination [heaven forbid], we can always steal a few gimmicks from other bands, and hope everyone’ll get the joke. Let’s see, a Bono-esque spoken intro, nods to patriotism, television, top 40, and soul [could stand a primer on that last one, guys] – think we’ve covered enough yet?
Dump everything mentioned above, and the remaining four tracks actually hold a glimmer of talent and the promise of an interesting direction it seems unlikely this group will pursue. “Evolution Revolution” [sans intro] and “Beach Blanket Beatnik” are actually entertaining rockers that make me wonder why they feel the need to get so silly the rest of the time. “Train To Verdun” and “In The Sea” are genuinely atmospheric enough to almost make one think of Plush Angus as being simply too diverse for their own good. Well, that might be stretching things a bit, I don’t know. Maybe rock music just isn’t their strong point, but they can’t suppress those mangy tendencies. Too bad. Of course, my picks here are almost all instrumental, but if you’re not a good songwriter you should face facts and work with what you’ve got going for you. Should truly be interesting to see what the next effort reveals, but if it’s as sophomoric in approach as this one was overall, I’ll pass, thanks. [Big Beef Productions cassette]
A Girl Named Yes
A 14-track compilation from one of America’s best-kept secrets, many of the songs appearing for the third time [first in original form, and some were on the quite amazing boxed set, “I’m Really Fucked Now”]. Prisonshake are probably such a good secret because most of their records were relatively small pressings and most are out of print now. The music is just great rock ‘n roll, no gimmicks, not particularly “underground” or anything. Standout track is their first single, “Fairfield Avenue Serenade”, which sounds familiar but you wanna listen to it over and over again anyway. You’ll also find blues-y rock, country-ish rock, acoustic rock, and rock. Prisonshake make most other bands seem obsolete. Listen to this [or just about any of their] record(s) and you’ll remember what you saw in rock ‘n roll in the first place. [Rubber LP] [Mike Wolf]
I Punched A Cop b/w Premature Ejaculation & Ronald Reagan’s Penis
Revolution is a tool of people. It can be utilized from within or outside of a system, but it will always exist as part of a direct relationship to the system itself – otherwise, no need for revolution, get it? Lesson’s over, now let’s play the game of Practice Vs Theory – first up are the Pseudonymphs from Mpls., and the challenger is the Mpls. Police Dept. May the best man win – oops! That’s theory. The practice in this case is that when the police break into yr home and beat up yr friends you don’t get involved. Justice? Sorry, more theory. In practice, to achieve justice, you have to do certain things that other people won’t always understand. Cops, for instance, too often think that “radical” “alternative” types can only be communicated with through violence, and having a vested interest in improving our ailing social condition are only too happy to demonstrate their tactics. Most of us have a threshold, however, that at one point in our lives is simply not to be crossed, and if you’re watching a cop beat the shit out of one of your friends, are you just gonna stand there? In theory, one helps out a friend in trouble. In practice, when you “interfere” with justice, you become just another criminal. Hmph. Oh, if this is boring you, go fuck yourself. For some people this shit is reality, and looking the other way don’t exactly make it stop.
God bless the Pseudonymphs for ripping apart some of those safe little lines that people like to draw between “us” and “them”. Following up last year’s Girls With Balls cassette release, this little hot pink seven-incher shows the band’s more aggressive side, with three more songs about getting fucked – only not in ways that you’d like to think about. “Cop” is a lot more upbeat than you might expect, lo-fi primal grunge that you can dance to – at a party even, the next time some uninvited “guests” drop by. The two cuts on the B-side are self-explanatory “problems” we have to deal with; “Ejaculation” a short-but-not-so-sweet ode to carnal acknowledgement, and “Penis”, presumably a metaphor for the shaft felt by many during the Reagan administration. A double blow beneath the belt, in other words; a cacophony of convulsive pounding rhythm laced with choppy staccato gasps that convey a quirky balance of frustration and humor, although carnal mood music it ain’t. Ditto the double-entendre attack on nobody’s favorite white male dominated government, guaranteed to make young republicans everywhere squirm. None of this is exactly pretty, as you might imagine, but Pseudonymphs are dealing with their anger here, not yours – that they’re able to turn it into something uplifting in the process is to their credit, and hardly requires validation. You won’t find slick production and guitar institute solos here, just three determined women who are committed enough to personal ideals to take a few risks – something that not many of their peers seem to be able to handle in this great big world we live in. Truth or sanity – it’s your choice. [Pigseye 45]
Here’s a band that’s certainly done their homework as far as drawing on popular influences; I listened to this tape a number of times before I realized that I don’t know what these guys sound like. A Dayton, Ohio 4-piece formerly known as the Killjoys, Raging Mantras offer very little clue as to their identity with this 8-song tape, which might well be titled, “Spot the Inspiration” [some of which were embarrassingly obvious]. It’s not that the band lacks talent or style, but simply fail to deliver a promise of anything remotely fresh or original-sounding to these ears. Possibly this is the means by which they work out of their collective system years of paying homage to their favorite listening habits, in which case I could randomly select a dozen or so reviews from CMJ and paste ‘em together, but alas I feel compelled to do the job personally.
I guess what I find most frustrating about listening to this is that stylistically the band seems indebted to the so-called “progressive” ilk of the post-disco / pre-punk late ’70s, whereas they seem to be drawing from the most commercially accessible post-new-wave modernists for formulaic approach. It just doesn’t sound as though they feel they have enough to offer on their own, but didn’t want to waste all that pent-up enthusiasm on an array of air guitars and the like. Lyrically there is a sign of intelligent life beneath the polished surface of this, now could somebody just second that emotion, please? [Big Beef Productions cassette]
Remember all the folksy-backwater balladeers of the mid-’60s, hearkening us all to earlier times and pleading social injustice? In those gentler days, who’d’ve guessed that the ultimate voice of the era would sound like a hot spring erupting from the parched bowels of hell? The boys in Railroad Jerk must’ve had some kinda clue as to where we were headed, as they have spat forth one ferocious proclamation of disgust and calculated beauty that predates the first rhythms known to civilized man and beast alike, leaving the future of rock as we know it in its’ wake.
Rendering immobile a hard-edged acoustic-based core of steel strings and reed-soaked harp blues, Railroad Jerk dig deep into their forsaken souls to plummet beneath the humble origins of ordinary white-boy blues-rock. The sound they have unleashed is an unforetold meld of apocalyptic industrial-style rhythms cum the bayous and swamplands and dusty desert plains that provide the northern continent with the only true beauty left intact. Wild-eyed wandering ramblings and spit-in-yr-eye passion runs amok throughout, making this debut LP an eloquent document of a nation’s rise to lust and decadence, guts and glory notwithstanding. Do the jerk, or be a jerk – it all adds up the same. [Matador LP]
Dennis Callaci’s Shrimper tapes label has unleashed upon upon us all a secret world of such pure, raw feelings that can’t be compromised for all the trendy, hip indie smugness in the world. Fortunately, it’s not even a consideration, and can all be had for the price of a song or two. Dennis and his pals are more than happy to spill their guts between yours on a whim, and if you’re lucky the effect’ll leave ya with a whim or two of yr own.
Dennis & Allen [both formerly of the Bux] provide a formidable sonic mindwarp of guitar and melancholy vocal mayhem, joined by Cyclops’ drummer Joel, to completely twist and mesh the concept of 3-piece rock ‘n roll further than lot of purists are used to dealing with. It sounds as though Dennis seldom tunes his guitar, which can cause one to wince at times, but in other places opens up hidden layers of sound that could easily be mistaken for added orchestration – give or take a couple frequencies. In this respect, the acoustic songs here work best, as you can actually hear more of the players subtle techniques, and witness how your combined imaginations carry them out even further still. Allen’s voice tends to dominate in terms of what might loosely be considered a mix, but probably only in terms of the absence of production. Actually, it might be an interesting excursion indeed, finagling this bunch into a bona fide studio, but only at the hands of an experienced lunatic fringe dweller such as Kramer or maybe even Wharton Tiers for that matter.
Hopefully this – like so much other fine Shrimper talent – won’t have to remain a secret from the world at large. The D.I.Y. network shouldn’t have to remain underground unless by choice, as much of the talent revealed here proves itself to be a formidable challenge to the rapidly diminishing “alternatives” of the last era. [Shrimper cassette]
Rena And Her Men
Call Me b/w This Is Goodbye
As an avid Petula Clark enthusiast, I can attest to the simple pleasures inspired by so many of her early hits, and the magic of being transported back to a moment in which the imaginary soundtrack becomes indelibly etched upon my mind for all time. Rena Erickson must have known something about that magic as well, bringing us these spunky renditions of two Pet classics, recorded in 1988 on a second-hand four-track with friends Jim Ruiz and John Crozier providing the musical accompaniment. Rena’s airy voice manages to capture the same fragile whispering essence of the originals, injecting into each the perky sing-song quality she established with her previous combo, the Cavegurls. Rena’s “men” as it were, carried the torch when a tragic accident ended her life in the summer of 1990; every attempt has been made to “produce” the recordings and release this 7″ as a tribute to their good friend. Rena’s energy can be felt throughout the unique reworked mixes of “twangy” mod-style guitar rhythms and distant drums; the heartfelt lovesickness of “Call Me”, the upbeat no-nonsense delivery of “This Is Goodbye”, which only in retrospect strikes me as equally sad and ironic. I understand that this single has been getting steady rotation on several East Coast college radio stations, a bittersweet tribute to what may have otherwise turned into a prolific career. At least, thanks to the dedication of Rena’s “men”, we all have something to remember her by. [Rena Records 45]
Since my first aural awareness of Screaming Trees was by way of offshoots Purple Outside and Solomon Grundy [both of whom were superlative in their own sub-sensual right, I might add], it seems that that my own drawstrings of perception are drawn even tighter with this release. Gary Lee Conner sets a moody tone with his sombre guitar leads, and when he decides to cut loose you can feel the energy flow right on through like a caged beast in restless heat. Conner’s steady rhythmic phrasings caress and cajole the senses ‘til you’re willingly led to your own nirvana. Brother Van Conner’s irresistibly penetrating bass hooks rumble smartly ‘neath yr soul as well as yr feet, enrapturing you into a hypnotic sway that is at once powerful and delicate.
The built-in swirling textural groove of this LP may strike a familiar chord of psychedelic melancholy with many a listener, but even on the surface alone there is nothing remotely superficial abt the sedate web woven by Uncle Anesthesia. From drummer Mark Pickerel’s merry percussive splash to Mark Lanegan’s soaring vocal-ease, darting ‘twixt every melodic bend [and there be plenty], the seductive muse of Screaming Trees gently but firmly will not let go until you have surrendered to yr own acceptance of pleasure. An outstanding effort from a Seattle group who can hold their own ground without resting on that region’s presumed laurels; revealing both a personal integrity and purity rare indeed from those parts. [Epic LP]
Gimmie Indie Rock (+ 4) 7″
“It’s a new generation of electric white boy blues”, screams former Dinosaur Jr. minstrel Lou Barlow, in a virtual roll call of barrier-crashing “indie” groups of the past decade.It’s kind of a tribute, kind of an in-joke for those familiar with even half of the bands whose names are rattled off here [and that’s probably a lot of ya], not to mention those aware of Lou’s abdication from the exalted perch of the aforementioned J. Mascis’ project. Actually, it doesn’t sound a thing like the two full-fledged Sebadoh LPs, trading the thumbprint acoustic hypno-drone and sing-sung vocals for an all-stops pulled, mind-bending stew of dry-throated yowl and and axe-wieldy bliss enuf t’ singe the hair inside yr eardrums. It should be noted for all you potential archivists of such detail that out of seven releases in the past three years, this see-thru 7″ documents Sebadoh’s first ever effort to have been recorded in an actual studio, and you can tell it was a field day.
Co-founder Eric Gaffney and accomplice Jason Lowenstein help create a solid enough foundation for Lou to rip through eight years of influences without ever sounding like any of ‘em. “Ride The Darker Wave” [from the 2nd LP, Weed Forestin] is reincarnated here as an electrified Scottish jig of sorts, in which Lou is cast as his own evil twin. “Red Riding Good” is pure Sebadoh in all their acoustic caustic glory. “New King” takes a playful jab at the overuse of sampling and tape looping, in which a pre-taped guitar is repeatedly rewound in a manner that places emphasis on the “found” sound relationship. Typical of the Sebadoh work ethic, little significance is attached to synchronization, pulling apart the boundaries between intent and chance – which seems to be, after all, what Sebadoh is really all about. Beyond Barlow’s poignant lyrical abilities and the desire to purge himself of emotional trappings lies a vast horizon of simple occurrence – something not subject to approval or criticism, merely acknowledgement. [Homestead E.P.]
Up Till Now b/w Sorry Soul
Melodic pop that hearkens back to younger days, without sounding dated or plagiaristic. A-side captures a mind’s-eye view of a simpler time, through a kaleidoscope of softly-treated electric guitar underscored by a lush vocal backdrop that features Ed Ackerson of 27 Various, also responsible for production. B-side is a janglier bouncier variety of uncluttered pop with an almost Latin undercurrent, offset by sitar-like solos and renaissance-era vocal harmony. If Sedgwicks have more of this up their collective sleeve, they’ll probably find a soft spot in the heart of radio-land, as well as the hearts of pop aficionados everywhere. [Susstones 45]
The Criminal Special
I recently read in a local paper how this band supposedly saved itself from pretension by actually having command of a few chops …sheesh, there goes that dreaded “P” word again. It seems like every time someone writes a few songs that have 1) intelligent lyrics, 2) intervals transcending the three-chord/five bar strategy, 3) words with more than one or two syllables or definitions, 4) slick production; they’re instantly crucified upon some preconceived pillar of rock critic-dom by which, presumably all creativity is measured. Sorry folks, it just don’t hold up here. Most pop-based genres have so overtaxed themselves that there are precious few rabbits left to pull out of the hat; the real trick at this point is to maintain any degree of credibility in the light of everything that’s “been done before”.
Senator Flux don’t have much to worry about in the credibility dept. – it sounds as though these D.C. kids have enough heart and soul crammed in between the lines of their music to skirt the edges of both mainstream and “alternative” tastes alike. Much of the slickness here is due to the fact that everything sounds conceived up front, rather than added after the fact for sweetness’ sake [i.e., “hit potential”]. Vocal harmonies where some groups would dub in a horn section; cello and sax that are inventive and melodic, rather than targeted filler, and come to think of it – not a whit of synthetically generated wind or string instruments, which in itself is a refreshing departure within a medium so often assassinated by overkill production tactics. This LP is loaded with genuinely fresh sounding pop hooks that’ll set yr hips a-sway while at the same time setting yr mind adrift, a delicate rhythmic feel that transcends nostalgia as though this lot wrote the very book. Words that paint a thousand pictures, presence beyond mere image-casting. Pop fans, this is your day. [Emergo LP]
A ruthless follow-up to last year’s ear-blistering Cockeye LP, this ‘un rocks harder & faster ‘n abt in as many directions as anything to be released this year, I’d guess. Psychotic jangled blues riffs twisted into sonic taffy for you to sink yr fangs into, only ‘til ya discover that the more you try to pull away, the deeper you’re sunk. The formula works like a sugar-coated charm, and you too can feel yrself getting fatter, as the heavy-handed libidinous beat swirls you into a frenzied raging heat and lets you fly…
Some of these cuts, such as “Two Marines”, are calculated cliff-hangers, seductively baiting you far past the edge of yr worst fears and then pulling the plug without warning and leaving yr impulses hanging. Where you find yrself standing is suddenly anyone’s business but yr own, but yeah, you fell for it – and loved it. Not only is vocalist Lesley one of the most charming and charismatic individuals in rock today, but she is possessed of a truly amazing high-end range, more ferocious than ever before; an able-bodied counterpoint to the avalanche of relentless rhythm and hyper-sonic rush provided by mates Chris, Stu, and Fuzz [one of the rock muse’s more aptly named – if not understated – axe wielders around.]
A fat Axl Rose, eh? Pity, Rose never looked – or sounded – half this good. [Touch & Go LP]
“Chicago” is written all over this E.P., from the production assist by the ever-popular Steve Albini, to the sewercap logo you’ve no doubt heard all Chicago bands use these days [even though it ain’t so]. Full of melodic hooks that meld the best of power-pop harmonies with a post-punk attack that builds and subsides’ leaving you wanting more, rather than opting for overkill. “Follow” is the short and sweet opener, doubling as an intro for the cyclical riff groove and anthemic sing-along chorus of “Someday”; tossing yet another ballot into the hat of street smart Windy City pop. “Angry Man” and “Two Feet on the Ground” reaffirm the attitude with a vengeance equalled only by their optimistic outlook; the former taking a more aggressive stance, and the latter reprising the melodic punch of which these five lads obviously have a sharp command. Can’t wait to hear more from this bunch. [Roadkill E.P.]
7th Free Record
This is one of those truly sublime recordings that nonchalantly strolls in between yr ears, packs up yr senses and sends them adrift, making you wonder if you’re just not better off without them after all. Smile is a group of four friends from the Windy City that to their credit do not sound like a half dozen other bands from the same region, adding a new dimension to the “big guitar” sound. Once this group has lulled you into their sensual sonic dream state, you may just decide to stay there. Songs like “Upon The Hill” and “Sea Ferry” transport you to tropical desert climes where you can be alone with your favorite dreams and live out the best endings. 7th Free Record is full of memories too, the kind you’ll swear are your very own. Sad and happy all get rolled up into one big feeling that just sort of saturates yr heart and makes you glad just to be able to feel.
No fancy tricks or gimmicks here, but what sounds like a lot of love and dedication, combined with enough imagination and talent to tie it all together. Smooth vocals that sigh and beckon against straightforward guitar ambience that demonstrates how subtlety is also a strength – there’s a lesson to be learned here. Ironically, the second side of the LP was recorded over a year after the first side was completed – a mere four months after the band was formed. Not that you’d notice, which is kind of the point – Smile were brave enough to commit their earliest spark to vinyl, then went on to show that they hadn’t lost their vision. Kinda just like the spirit of rock’n’roll, eh? Because, in the words of guitarist John Porcellino, “Without rock’n’roll, life would be ‘quiet’ .” [Starfyre LP]
Some Velvet Sidewalk
Appetite For Extinction
The fact that only two people can make a record that satisfies this completely should be an inspiration to …well, everyone on the planet. “A love rock explosion” is how Al Larsen and Robert Christie describe their band’s 1st LP, and it’s pretty accurate – 11 out of the 12 songs on “Appetite…” are plainly about love, and the lyrics are so painfully basic that you’ll find yourself singing (yelling) along quickly. “I’m a dinosaur/And I am big and dumb/And I am waiting for your love.” Holy crap! I can only think of one other band who could get away with that, and not coincidentally, they’re also from Olympia, WA, and their leader produced “Appetite…” Something in the water? Maybe, but Some Velvet Sidewalk have it and you can either be really jealous or buy the record and groove along. I strongly suggest the latter. [K/Communion LP] [Mike Wolf]
Another Day b/w Heather O’Rourke’s Nightmare & Gritos En La Noche
Wah-wah psycho guitar-swirl heaven, recorded quick, played quick, catches on quick. One man’s nightmare is another man’s bread and butter, natch. It’s a nasty cycle, but Cerebros Exprimidos pump it for all it’s worth, and the end result is a din too big to keep in the garage. Aggressive monster-rock that thrashes, squirms, twists & shouts, ‘n damned if I could put my finger on that last one – I’m sure I’ve got it in English somewhere, which either scores big points for being clever, or creating a truly punk-inspires classic hit! You tell me. [Simpatia Por La Industria Discografica 45]
Creatures of Habit
I’m not sure exactly when, why or where the lines were first drawn between the old school rock rebel mentality and the “new” wave after wave of angst-riddled psychosis that comprises much of today’s “alternative” scene, but releases such as this at least begin to shed a little light on one of the biggest pitfalls a singer / songwriter can face in the wake of their career: S-E-X. That’s right my friends, M-E-N [we who are purported to have but one thing on our measly little minds], and W-O-M-E-N [presumably, the metaphor for all that has ailed us since birth and all it takes to cure us of our myriad disillusionments] are still at it after all these years. The potential for amusement and enlightenment is definitely there, provided you’re not suffering from any Freudian slippage, or at best dwell not on any pointy-fingered inadequacies abt yr own sexuality. Be you lost without a sensual soul mate however, the old school macho sensitivity that permeates Billy Squier’s latest L.P. could have you drowning in yr own pathos by the end of the second song.
Yeah I know, rock ‘n roll has always revolved around the boy-meets-girl thing, the whoops-there-goes-my-heart thing, the I’m-gonna-cry-myself-to-sleep thing, for almost four decades now; the staggering implication remains that we might have evolved just a wee bit past such trivial concerns in the light of war, homelessness, etc. Squier acknowledges such concern in the LP’s opening track, “Young At Heart”, before falling head-over-heels into an emotional roll call of broken-hearted shattered dreams, hinting only at optimism by vague references to a lover who has given no reason to grieve. Not to bemoan here the agony of a skewed romantic ideal, but it seems slightly sophomorish to live and die for such a myth in the light of all of the myths that our social environment has been dishing out for centuries. If Squier really wants to address dysfunctional relationships, he could start by not assuming that what every man needs is a female counterpart to worship, and beyond that tackle a few of the social institutions that perpetrate such bullshit in the first place.
Such diatribes aside, the dialect Squier chooses to establish a bond with his audience is cliche-ridden and does not convey a strong sense of conviction. It would be be difficult to say which carries the least weight – lyrics that appear to be recycled ’70s sloganeering, or the over-glossed production values that bury any degree of sincerity or relevance these songs might actually contain. Admittedly, there exists the reality that rock ‘n roll is now as much a huge entertainment industry as it ever was a vehicle for personal expression, but need the compromise appear to be such a consummate consumeristic trade-off? Of course, rockers like Squier have been making records such as this one for decades now, so it remains doubtful that analytical jerks such as myself are really going to have much of an effect on an ever-growing mainstream culture anyway – or is that even an issue at this point? [Capitol CD]
Steel Pole Bath Tub
Arizona Garbage Truck b/w Voodoo Chile
Some ravaging psycho – lowdown soulful plundering and pillaging; B-side courtesy J. Hendrix, sounding here like a steel girder-loined skeleton giving the last rites to the whole noise-laced post -’70s acid shtick without lifting an eyebrow. The most hook – induced/oriented offering I’ve heard from the Steel Pole gang yet, like they just might rewrite the book of sonic splatter one more time. “Arizona” is a slow-motion tightrope skid down the back alley that scares you beneath an impenetrable veneer of voluminous guitar squeals and gurgling primeval rhythms that know not when to surrender. When this garbage truck takes its last ride, you go out with the garbage and feebly thank ‘em for the trip. [Sympathy for the Record Industry 45]
Sunday All Over The World
Kneeling At The Shrine
This is an album of lies; lies about freedom, lies about joy, lies about women, lies about violence, and other elements of shattered myths. How many lies can you count from your childhood? How many lies will you tell your children? Issuing a bold, direct challenge to many of the hypocrisies of our society is Toyah Wilcox, whose vocal contributions to this project are at once soulful and chilling, a mystery to which the listener holds the key but never opens the door. Toyah sings of burning at the stake for her inability to function as a “normal” woman – fiction or recollection? Allusions to religious allegory pervade the eleven songs on this penetrating album, their post-hypnotic-suggestiveness eerie only within the context of the stark truth they reveal about ourselves.
Joining Toyah is husband and past collaborator Robert Fripp, who requires no introduction to anyone who has been listening to “progressive” rock since the early ‘70’s, and whose past credentials need not be repeatedly dredged up as if to say, “here’s why you should listen to this”. Suffice it to say that Fripp creates themes the way most lead guitarists create riffs, the resultant effect a mixture of drama and sensuality that by far transcends the boundaries of standard 1/4 rock phrasings. Repetition is employed to emphasize whole measures rather than single notes, to create a feeling of deja vu even upon one’s initial encounter. This somewhat unorthodox approach to rock songwriting pushes the storytelling aspect of lyrical impact to the forefront, while making it apparent that the music itself is a combination of many elements on which it is equally reliant.
Kneeling At The Shrine is a startling departure for both Wilcox and Fripp, re-introducing both to rock audiences and old fans alike, and in the process discovering more of themselves as well. [Caroline/EG LP]
“My Noise”, is perhaps the closest thing to an actual anthem to emerge from the whole post-punk cum “noise” genre thus far, chock full of searing melodic interplay and yet breathtakingly subtle dynamics. This bunch is big on sound without undermining their own potential for the calm that follows the storm. “Slow” is an almost melancholy permutation of the same dense glorious din, but exemplifies the strong reliance on vocal harmony as well. “Slack Motherfucker”, while immediately dismissing any possibility of becoming a commercial “hit”, rides high on its’ own triumphant exuberance, easily one of the catchiest tunes within earshot, riddled with hooks – and conviction – aplenty. Superchunk manages to rewrite the past few decades of overtaxed pop theory through a few well-placed notes and a bundle of hyper-aggressive forthrightness. Pure and simple, loud and clear; in a class all their own. [Teenbeat/Matador LP]
Tell You More
This smartly produced album-length cassette is locked into a gentle hypnotic groove reminiscent of childhood summers lost but not forgotten, precariously perched on the verge of the first rude awakenings of adulthood. Mark Hasbrouck’s warm raspy vocals softly but confidentially slide through the pangs of youthful sentimentality shedding its’ skin to reveal an equally delicate framework of unshaken ideals. Lyrically, the eight songs on Tell You More convey a daydream range of naiveté and wisdom that stops short of judge-ment-ality, sharply focusing in on the ironies of modern living in a manner that avoids the trappings of a “dated” -sounding muse. Hasbrouck waxes prolific as both a rocker and a romantic, tossing off wry commentaries like “Legend in Her Own Mind” and “Beam Me Up”, with the same spirited insight as “Native in a Foreign Land”, or the title track itself; offering a number of perspectives on everyday life and an ever-changing world.
Not only do Surahoolies maintain their wits amidst the seemingly crumbling facade of civilization and civility, but their music is unavoidably catchy, if not uplifting. Melodic guitar hooks weave in and out of each song as though to seduce the senses of the listener into recognizing a sense of beauty and hope amidst the turmoil of life. Simple yet clever, unpretentious as anyone might dare to admit; pure pop for pure people that holds its’ own ground amidst a backlash of pseudo-sensitive artistes and poseurs. [Rock House cassette]
The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Boots On
Four cuts that rush out from the heart and run up to shake yr hand like this bunch’ve been waitin’ their whole lives just t’play these songs for ya – maybe they have, in fact, which’d account for all the gut-bustin’ passion lacin’ this spunky little debut from a not-so-typical Minneapolis five-some. The Tufnels groove is a subtly tracked upon welcome mat of C & W bebop rock that somehow has managed to never be soiled by any sort of “out there” grunge nor ripoff fusion gestures. Jeremy Jaros displays one well-oiled set o’pipes that’d fit in well anywhere between the back 40 and a back alley, nearly capturing the wide open space in between. On one hand, good old-fashioned rock’n’roll with a tip o’the hat to some very influential country-fied roots; on the other hand an urban dose of been-around-the-block worldliness that sounds ripe for AM radios and jukeboxes wherever there’s an eight-ball and a bottle o’Jack within reach. In less than the allotted fifteen minutes o’fame and glory, Tufnels have become a household word in my musical vocab, having taken the purest elements of their home-brewed influences and distilled them into a few precious moments that will never die. [Independent cassette]
Tapeworm in my Head b/w Basket Case
Every rock ‘n roll generation spawns its fair share of bad seeds, Unholy Swill digs deeper under the skin than most and leaves you with an itch you dare not scratch – not that it’d help, the infestation we’re speakin’ of here seems incurable, so you might as well enjoy it any way you can. The only hooks you’re gonna find in this twin terror are protoplasm-splattered meathooks, and if you don’t watch it you may even find a little piece of yrself dangling as well. Overdriven guitar skree that was made to slaughter yr average home speaker, driven by a relentless pummeling beat that wd put a wrecking ball to shame, along with a convincingly demented vocal reminiscent of a dentist’s drill. Kind of like what roots rock’d be in a parallel dimension where everything sort of resembles our own reality, only is a lot more fucked up – on red vinyl, to enhance the effect. [Noiseville 45]
Cowboy Tea Show Compilator, Vols. 1 & 2
Sometimes a label can be a genre unto itself, to avoid sticking it with a name would seem to be the real challenge. Certainly the eight bands represented on these two E.P.s account for a wide variety of styles, but could hardly be lumped together as a part of any “sound”. Yet and still, there is a strong bond links everything together quite nicely, as with previous offering s from this label and its’ various offshoots. All of the bands featured on these two records are indeed local, but beyond that you won’t find a very concise definition of Mpls. bands, and it’s about time too.
The first collection features a charming cover photo of Babes In Toyland drummer personality Lori Barbero, all decked out in her finest cowboy gear and suitable for framing. Hey, she’s as local as anyone, even if she’s not actually on the record itself. This garage wrecking compilation starts off with Morganatics, whose cut “Let You Down” would seem to be the likely pick of the bunch, if only for its’ ability to transcend the more apparent influences, one of which may well be Engelbert Humperdinck. Kind of “heavy” sounding pop, or “lite” metal, or somewhere around there. Monster Zero whizzed by rather quickly, I’m afraid, with their blend of trash-thrash power pop. Admittedly my hopes were up, based on the killer 7″ they have out, but I’d guess they just had an off day or something. The same could be said for Bone Club. although I must confess to never having been much of a fan, even though they seem like swell guys. Volume One wraps up with Superball 63, who smoke live, but here seem somewhat subdued by the production “Yags” totes a lot of excessive lead guitar smoldering, but post-70s prog/post punk-metal junkies’ll probably eat it up.
Volume Two is adorned with the visage of former Replacements drummer Chris Mars [seems to be a thing about drummers here], looking more like an extra from a spaghetti western, butt ‘n all. “Wheels Spinning” from grungy psychedelicists Third Eye shows the band in search of a sound, which is a bit odd considering their previous recordings, but I’m not giving up yet. Eyeball Bird display a hint of originality amidst what otherwise seems to be a fairly standard rock thang, although maybe not fully realized in the songwriting department. Big Trouble House are perhaps the reason to buy this record. “She’s Waiting” is a precision balancing act between silence and some riveting powerhouse guitar crunch, and easily outshines anything I’ve heard by this band so far. Three Car Garage contribute user-friendly power pop that aspires to rock hard, but needs to crash and burn a bit before it’s really ready. Based on riff value alone, this should be sticking in my head more than it does in real life, catchy though it is.
There you have it, a worthy attempt to shake the “Mpls. = garage sound” myth, by eight different bands with something in common, but can’t quite figure out what. Your move. [Rocket Sound 10″ E.P.]
Dope, Guns, and Fucking In The Streets, Vol. 6
The saga continues, with perhaps the most terrifying and unpredictable of Tom Hazelmyer’s compilations to date. “Short Time Left” actually sounds like its’ title as hometown boys Jonestown push everything they’ve got to the limit, laying out one relentless thunderous groove that turns everything standing in its’ path to post-nuclear ash. A pulverizing decibel whomp of percussive oblivion, under the gun of a would-be epitaph. Crows fare as the farthest out turn AmRep’s ever taken – nearly blues, ’twould seem, former U-Men vocalist John Bigley’s desert baked psycho-delic influences notwithstanding. A boogie beat like a river of molten lava, the only grunge you’ll find here is in the back of Bigley’s throat. Casus Belli twist the mod-deep-fried muse ‘round their mitts like a blackjack, throwing out an even dose of lumps for fans of both camps. Newcomers Hammerhead emerge as the band that’s gotta get their own record out – fast. Offering up an instrumental wallop of bottom-end driven fury and tightly-knit dynamics frothed ‘round the edges with one hell of an ear-blistering guitar skree that oughta curdle yr hair and have you leapin’ about like a rabbit in heat. Something to behold live too, by the way, having the benefit of being a lot less predictable than most bands I’ve sen cut loose from the land of ten thousand flannel shirts. The vocalist takes their steadfast sound off in other directions as well, but we’ll have to wait it out and see the proof, I guess. Overall the most diverse of the “Dope, Guns…” series yet – Haze’ll be hard pressed to top this one. [Amphetamine Reptile 7″E.P.]
Fresh Sounds From Middle America
A fairly well-rounded sampler that focuses on Lawrence, Kansas as a sort of cultural mecca, if not at least a fertile breeding ground fro a range of modern-day expressionists, lending to this collection a feel of diverse eclecticism. Seventeen bands, as well as a reading from the ever-illustrious William S. Burroughs, providing a subtle tourists’-eye view of the Lawrence “scene”. Homestead Grays kick things off – somewhat a safe place to start, although if this were the weakest leg “American Rock Music” as a genre ever leaned on, we’d still come out okay [any skeptics at this point please note that I can indeed be a bit hard on anything that owes too much of a debt to the ever-popular R & B / ”white blues” / rock format]. By the same token, Mahoots’ clean-cut and sophisticated rock fares in much the opposite respect. Leaning more towards their country roots might prove beneficial, as I detect a minor tendency to drift toward standard rock dynamics – unnecessary in this case. Ultraviolets on the other hand seem to be plunging head first out of the cliched mainstream muck, utilizing much of the same stylistic approach, but in a somewhat less explored vein.
I’d been previously warned about Kill Whitey, but recalled this too late – after vocalist Kim Czarnopys’ shredded larynx gouged its’ way into my heart, carving its’ initials somewhere deep inside. Not to say inaccessible, but kind of scary in a way that makes you want this person to be your best friend. Kill Creek [no relation, despite the homicidal bent] work their charm in a similar manner – dark and friendly, like a nightmare [or a social disease] that you really don’t want to go away. Not far removed is Mile Death Plunge, whose vocalist Jay Haptli delivers a maximum rasp treatment that reminds you what a warm sensation can be found within a well-paced chorus. If some nice catatonic guitar scratch deftly mixed with a frantic cowpoke yowl is more to our liking, Wilmas should certainly furrow your brow at both ends.
To be fair, there’s an old saying about a negative reaction for every positive action, and I’ll have to admit that a few of the cuts on “Fresh Sounds” rubbed me thusly, although certainly not in the worst way I’ve ever experienced. Joe Worker struck me as rather sophomoric schlock-punk, and I couldn’t help but wish Backsliders didn’t have such a familiar air about them – their hybrid of glam / funk pop failed to hold my interest due to a lack of punch anywhere along the way. In a fairly standard school of bland mainstream rock, Klusterfux wouldn’t cause as much notoriety with their absence of dynamics as with their embarrassing name. Misdirected attention aside, they could stand to kick out the jams and beef up the rhythm section a bit. Less squeaky-clean production might be an asset for Second Chance, whose brand of speed-metal at least fares as somewhat progressive, whereas Killing Drum suffers no lack of immaculate treatments, though their ’70s-ish acid / funk meld shows considerable restraint for the genre. [One might be led to ask at this point why killing seems to be such a preconception among Lawrence bands, by the way]. Further re-hashing some fairly stock rock habits are Ultraman, who ride out the late ’70s wave, providing at least a few truly exciting blasts of un-indebted passion via cool guitar squelching between the lines. Car Family’s orchestrated metallic funk never quite gels, despite massive hook potential – probably a lot of fun to play but losing something in the translation to vinyl. Hayseeds should be credited at least for pushing a truly un-dynamic rock formula to unnatural extremes, but the vocal overkill nearly did me in.
It’s easy to forget at times in the maelstrom of “big guitar” bands that other types of aural environments do exist, but Schloss Tegal reiterates the point with a fine space-like march that sops just short of sheer tedium. Personal faves Catherines cull a lush track from their second independent cassette release, giving a berth to a larger audience for their hazy ethereal sensuality. The esteemed William S. Burroughs does what he does best – scares the shit out of you by revamping reality as a fantasy of apple pie and death. Basically, a strong representation of a region whose previous achievements have been heralded among the hip “underground” for the past decade, and even at its’ least outstanding is still something to brag about. [j.free]
From Twisted Minds Come Twisted Products
Apparently a bunch of outtakes thrown together, with a real purpose unknown …I think it’s already [or almost] out of print, so you really wonder why, um, why I’m writing about it! Most of the songs fail to please, except for ST 37, who contribute a long, strained, irritating noise, and Jarmed Energy, who twist, mangle, and distort the blues. Unholy Swill and Surgery make noble attempts at covers of “Colors” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” respectively, but it’s just not worth the price of admission. [Noiseville LP] [Mike Wolf]
Ugly American Overkill 7″
Commemorating the AmRep 8-city European tour, there probably aren’t any of these around as you’re reading this, but keep yr eyes peeled anyway – this features 4/5 of the entourage [no Halos cut, but there’s always the Mod singles, whaddya want?] crammin’ into seven inches one smokin’ new tune apiece, all unavailable elsewhere. If you know of any collector scum hoarding a bunch o’ these, do the world a favor and break their arms, then get these back out in the open and onto the turntables of real music lovers everywhere who truly enjoy this brand o’ spleen-ventin’ eardrum crushin’ noise. Sportin’ the high end of tonal damage, ya get Helmet and Tar pushin’ the threshold of vocal assault and precision axe-grinding ag’inst yo’ haid in double-time. Rearing their ugly little heads from the depths of depravity, Surgery and God Bullies continue to burn and plunder like a huge crawling tank slowly tearing up everything between your ears. Guitars everywhere ya turn on this little 7″ delight, packed amongst double barrels o’rhythm big enuf ta knock you off yr feet. Kinda like a “Dope, Guns…” package, only a little more direct in terms of assault. Personal pick would hafta be God Bullies’ gnarled take on “Tie A Yellow Ribbon”, but that’s mostly ‘cuz it don’t sound nuthin’ like the original – more like it’s bein’ scraped from the bottom o’their souls than Tony Orlando’s glitzy little handjob back in the ’70s. Hunt one o’these down, f’r chrissake, and catch a huge chunk of AmRep’s finest – right between yr eyes. [Amphetamine Reptile E.P.]
Rub 4-song E.P.
They’re back with a vengeance. Revved-up and boasting a more pop-accessible attitude than on previous excursions, Vertigo sprawls out in four directions at once with this sadly pared-down release [apparently an LP’s worth of tuneage was recorded, but only these tracks passed muster]. Guitars that bite and snarl, propelled by a metallic drum sound and a death-rasp vocal bark. The title track lets rip with a sucker punch of arrogant pop-crunch that leaves your head dangling for the one-two punch of Crime’s “Murder By Guitar”; first a plodding grunge crawl, than a punk rock dropkick to the brain from a cleaned-up garage. “Snakes” and “Smoked” pull all stops out to create an eruption of scalding axe assault and vocal verve that leave you with your tongue hanging out and yr shoulders sagging, like you just escaped having yr ass kicked but you still wonder what it would’ve been like. Supposedly this is just a hint of the mood brewing on the upcoming LP, which oughta turn eardrums everywhere into singed puddles o’wax. Sinister restraint lurks among these grooves, despite some local couch potato critics’ claims that they fail to convey anger, or something stupid like that. I say don’t fuck with ‘em. [Amphetamine Reptile 7″]
Walt Mink / Gneissmaker
Walt Mink, who have got the Mpls. scene all in a tizzy as of late, released this gem last year, sharing a debut spot with the perhaps even lesser-known Gneissmaker, whom are in part at least responsible for the Skene! label. Walt Mink’s live shows are full-throttle amphetamine-paced rock at its’ deadliest; their contributions here reveal a cooler, gentler side of the same sonic assault. “Croton-Harmon Local” is a slightly blues-damaged ethereal psychedelia in which all members get to shine before its’ over. John Kimbrough’s guitar benefits the most from acutely compressed production values [isn’t that just like rock ‘n roll, though], while his vocals sail unerringly between the lowdown groove of bass whiz Candice Belanoff and Joey Waronker’s delicate but precise percussion attack. “Fragile” is more of a 90-miles-an-hour rock riot in which Kimbrough executes an amazingly subtle vocal spiral before plummeting the melody into a slow spaced-out jazzy counterpoint. Clever stuff here, and they’ve got lots more like it out by now.
Gneissmaker approach things from the already overblown standpoint, blasting their way through a distorted maze of guitar riffage calculated to pierce the inner ear, while utilizing a surprising amount of harmony in their vocal assault – undecipherable as though they may be. The effect is what you would expect speedmetal to sound like if it were slowed w-a-y down during playback and all but the vocals and lead guitar tracks were squashed in the mix. This is actually to their benefit, lest y’be reading me wrong on this one. Not exactly what you’d expect a song titled “Ore-Rev-War Cocksucker” to sound like, but hey – it works. “Truckhead” follows suit in a more traditional rock vein, with some very nasty gremlin- like vocal rasping its’ way through a couple of manic and otherwise unrelated guitar bends that probably set ‘em back a few strings – if so, ’twas well worth it. Four guys who have apparently chosen to remain nameless on this product [humility perhaps?] demonstrating yet another brilliant alternative to the lame garage rock that for so long has been christened the “Mpls. sound”. Any other questions, three-chord fans? Milky white vinyl, just to add to already outstanding package appeal. [Skene! E.P.]
Young Girls b/w Demolition Girl
Girls fans, this is for you. Love ‘em, leave ‘em, but don’t ever stop thinking about ‘em. White Flag have got the whole thing sussed – the joy and the sorrow, from the race of your pulse to the race out the back door. Tongue in cheek punk rock typical of this Hollywood clan; patented buzzsaw guitars and raspy-throated sentimentality intact. It’s the stuff heartbeats were meant to pound to and heartbreaks were meant to drown in. Either way its a rockin’ tribute to the “gentler” sex, on…er, virgin white vinyl. Chin up, dudes! [Sympathy for the Music Industry 45]
As Though I Wanted That
This four song “demo” tape aims directly beneath the skin, at least it definitely got under mine. That is, the lambast factor is peaking, or maybe a few of yr fave social icons have surrendered themselves to popular disfavor. Could be the brevity of the guitar/drum punch, or the desperate edginess in the singer’s voice as he breaks down moral fibre to a threadbare strand still tough enough to swing from [or hang yrself with, I suppose]. Songs, or poems, or both; too sophisticated for throwaway garage-brand thrash and too rockin’ to be shelved alongside nose-upturned theorizing. “Loss of a Halo” and “Bob Howe” particularly stand out for their in-yr-face delivery; somewhere along the way you realize we all like to give in occasionally to our worst nightmares. Angels and devils shake hands where this stuff is born, then they sit back together and watch the show. [Sweet Portable Junket cassette]
In A Conservative World
Rotcod Zzaj [get it?] appears to be somewhat of a paradoxical entity, in that his aesthetic politics would seem to be negated by the very structure which instigates them. Citing “improvisation” [quite often, I might add] as the fuel for his particular brand of creative outpourings, Zzaj [AKA Dick Metcalf] is – or at least was – stationed in a military base in Korea when much of his music was recorded. From this standpoint I can certainly accept his first-hand awareness of the deadly potential of governmental force, yet i can’t help but question the seeming contradiction of a military personnel espousing so much anarchic rhetoric. Assuming that there exists a sound logic for such a stance, I still admit to being puzzled at his constant reference to “improvisation” as a lifestyle, under any circumstances. Okay, maybe I’m just suspicious of certain names / words being tossed about so liberally, but I guess preaching to the converted seems like a waste of time / energy, and it would seem that if one hopes to win others over to an “alternative” consciousness, you’re gonna have to reach ‘em on their own level [unless you plan on totally brainwashing them, in which case you merely become another version of the enemy]. As far as the mainstream is concerned, it would seem Metcalf’s chances of expanding any consciousnesses are slim at best. His minimalistic keyboard improvisations are somewhat catchy, most of the time resembling futuristic sci-fi B-movie soundtracks. Slightly jazz/funk oriented, based on repetitious rhythmic and melodic nuances, these pieces are typically too far right to be considered “free” movement, yet too far left in terms of dissonance and pitch variance to fall in place as composition. Given the alternatives to either vantage point, this places Zzaj as both artist and his own genre alike in a precarious position – that of simply not making an impression one way or another. The occasional integration of slowed-down-pitch spoken word narratives often becomes lost amidst the uneven flux-tuation of patterned tempos, rendering their content nearly useless or trite. If the flow of the muse is what Zzaj is all about it might be a good idea let it stand on its’ own in terms of form, and find an alternative means of expressing the words, if indeed they need to be uttered at all. As for the shape of the music itself, one or two of these pieces would probably get the point across just fine; whereas an hour and a half variation on a theme eventually relegated itself to background ambience, during which time I was overcome with more than one impulse to put on a record or something… [Independent cassette]
7-song demo tape
Whew! Since I received this tape awhile back this band has changed their name at least four times that I’m aware of, due to a concern over infringement or misinterpretation. Aw heck, what’s in a name anyway, huh? Three names earlier, I blindly stumbled into one of their hometown gigs and found ‘em to be a bit shy, but figgered they’d probably work it out in time. My hunch was right – although they have yet to hit the cross-country circuit, the local gigs have been comin’ on strong, and the sound has become more fluid and confident than ever.
Zen Bishops innocently enough toss off a slew of accelerated pop tunes, propelled by treadmill-steady rhythms and slightly skewed hooks that welcome you like an old friend, though not in a derivative manner. Top this off with vocalist Jon Vandervelde’s expansive soulful drawl, and it’s not hard to figure out that this group is perched on the throes of discovery somewhere beyond the sleepy perimeters of Minneapolis.
Jon’s voice does seem to be the key element in these songs; playing the low-key frontman, he utilizes the limitations of his natural range as instrumental qualities, injecting unlikely dynamics and playing off of his own inflections. A curious lyrical perspective weaves throughout, of the boy next door who’s been around the block but whose observations remain neither pretentious nor jaded. The musicianmanship it takes to back this up is intact – straightforward with just enough slack to get down but still get through.
What might be considered stylistic influences here fall anywhere between early bossa nova and the spirit of the old west, shaking hands with doo-wop and folk-flavored rock along the way. Each track opens up its’ own individualistic niche, never staying in one place long enough to become tedious. “In Your Room” and “The Pilot” are good examples of taking standard rock elements and de-fusing them in a manner that avoids cliche. Dual cyclical guitar leads that hearken toward semi-acoustic psychedelia without the dreaded jangle, and an intercontinental leap through the brassy sound of 60’s African-influenced soul. “In Bondage” and “In / Outside” strip funk down to the bare essentials, allowing the rhythm section to strut their stuff and flaunt their grasp of the “less is more” theory. Another clue as to these bright lads’ future is suggested in an uncredited seventh track, which features some subtle yet frenzied guitar racket that couldn’t sound much better if it were produced by those guys from the Feelies, which might not be a bad idea, come to think of it. Oh hell, I almost stumbled into a comparison there, but what do I know anyway? [Shriek cassette]