Here are are some reviews which date back to the early print era of The New Puritan ReView, transcribed here from physical notes – presumably in the same finished form they would have appeared in the issues of the magazine. The dates on many of these cover a span of several years, so it seems these were what I was able to salvage at some point from all the material which was destroyed over time. C’est la vie!
Plastic Eye Miracle
Ed Wood’s Living Room
[independent cassette • 1989]
The D.I.Y. Revolution strikes again. The neo-beat-jazz / techno-funk of Doug + Mike has been aptly praised within these pages before, and deservedly so. At worst, the medium is reduced to a stripped-down recitation of hip, a string of familiar jargon pulled taut as a violinist’s bow across a hollow chamber of resonant impulses and eerie melodies. Sci-Fi Muzak, if you will pardon the more implicative references. Not always the ambiance intended for parties or passionate escapism, and certainly not designed to fade into the background of obscurity, these weird and repetitive soundscapes generally thrust themselves to the immediate perimeters that surround your imagination. Swing a little to the left, and you’re bopping an even cool air of hypno-funk; a little more to the right, you’re gliding in and out of an industrial soporific daydream that is both challenging and compelling, in spite of its obvious lack of polish. From the disturbing musical anecdotes of pieces like “Amazing” [a pointed narrative on the American workplace], and “Another Day, Another Dollar” [manic auctioneer repetition against a brooding bass], to various Latin-funk excursions like “Swinging Night People” and “Aye Yi Yi (Be Bop)” [hybrid Tex-Mex synth pop]; Plastic Eye Miracle remains a vivid testimonial to freedom of expression and diversity of style. Always leaves me wondering what’s coming next.
Time Flowing Backwards
[Homestead LP • 1990]
Okay, so I’ve been hearing all about this big “New Zealand Sound” from just about all of my more prestigious acquaintances, and to tell the truth, I was tripping in mild doses of euphoria to each new installment in my education: The Chills, The Clean, The Bats, Straitjacket Fits, The Verlaines, Look Blue Go Purple … Right, there is definitely something tingling in the atmosphere wafting from one of the planet’s tiniest continents. Mind you, I had yet to hear This Kind Of Punishment, brainchild of siblings Graeme & Peter Jeffries, or for that matter, the relatively small – but no less potent – output of either brother in their own right. All of which, I must hasten to add, would seem to be nothing less than more reasons to continue living.
Likewise, I had yet to hear The Cakekitchen’s 1989 Flying Nun EP, and if Homestead hadn’t re-released those 4 songs along with 6 new tracks that make up The Cake Kitchen’s debut LP, I might never have heard one of the decade’s most mind-numbingly shards of vinyl to ever run off with my senses. Graeme Jeffries exercises a subtle command of his songs that allows them a sweet lingering effect long after their initial catharsis. Soothing and melancholy, and filled with gentle nuance, yet strangely disturbing within the same pulsebeat; The Cakekitchen adds a refreshing dimension-ality to the art of song-sculpting. “Airships”, “One + One =One”, “Is It Only Monday” weave a surreal ambience about the senses, capturing the waking moment of a dream.
Jeffries’ voice fills the landscapes with an undying serene grace, amidst the enchantment of his sonic architecture. “Walked Over Texas” is an odd bit of pseudo-redneck banter that recalls the more nightmarish moments of late ‘70s industrial “new wave / art rock”, providing a further contrast to Jeffries’ typically calmer efforts. The opener, “Dave The Pimp” [from the inclusive first E.P.] is a steady powerful foray into a heavy bombastic guitar sound while compromising none of the melodic sensibilities which become the thumbprint of excellence throughout this entire LP. Personal faves are two more from the EP, “Witness To Your Secrets” and “Silence Of The Sirens”, which both characterize the warm sensation of Cakekitchen’s romantic disarming charm, and send the sweetest shivers up my spine, no matter how many times I’ve heard it before. My eternal gratitude to dedicated individuals like Graeme Jeffries, for freeing us from what otherwise might have imprisoned our adolescent memories of “classic” music, and greatly expanding the horizons within.
“A Demo” (5 songs)
Not actually an official release (yet), but a debut worth its weight in over-used adjectives, to be sure. Timco features the whimsical frenzy of former Nice Strong Arm axe-grinder Kevin Thomson, but this isn’t necessarily the continuing saga of that mighty legend. Timco is pure pop, believe it or not, via some formidable-yet-subtle layerings of vocal harmonies and daydream-inducing guitar leads. The tracks “Alegria” and Dragg Dab” are slated for release on a Communion double 7” any day now, and it sounds like a perfect end-of-summer release – full of wonder and delight, intense and moody, yet at once somehow serene and relaxed. The “heaviest” track here, “Cut In The Drive”, builds up a powerful momentum akin to a cloudburst, but what follows is a soothing rain that invites you along instead of sending you home.
[P.O. Box 2049 • Mpls MN 55402]
1992 issue – $2.00
Since taking the initiative to review other people’s ‘zines, I have to admit that the most profoundly entertaining among them all are of the self-proclaimed “Queer-zine” variety. For the most part free of music industry hype, almost always giving human sexuality more of a fair shake than most of us do in real life, generally hitting you on the head (in a manner of speaking) and screaming, “Wake up!”, where your poor manipulated libido is concerned.
Demure Butchiness is an instant hit, with features like the “Are You A Fag?” quiz, the editors’ twin “Top 10 Celebrities I Want To Boink” columns, a “Drag Hag” review, and enough poignant wit to re-ignite anyone’s tired hormones. There’s absolutely no preaching involved, just good clean and tastefully nasty fun. The bottom line is, can I be on top next time?
11 June 1992 [opening for Pavement]
Out of the ashes of one of my previously celebrated local discoveries [Poetry Grenade], one Paul Dickinson [now relocated to Boston, I believe] leads this grimly-named cast of merry men through a burly workout that belies the hype surrounding the headline act. The energy this band lets fly would be dangerous in lesser skilled hands – finely honed and loosely channeled rage whipped up into a post-adolescent slumber party that wears you out so you don’t hurt yourself. Boyish idealism and freely improvised guitar theory that never lets up, a rock bottom rhythm section and a voice that modulates awe, passion and desire as so many more notes. Loose talk about a forthcoming LP; maybe we’ll get a return visit as well.
[BMG / RCA cassette • 1993]
A fairly pleasant debut LP which includes two songs released a while back on a Kokopop single, which are probably the strongest offerings here – particularly the daydreamy “Messages”. Very likely, the production on this release robs the band of their true strengths; restraint likewise pervades their chunky rhythmic approach, and the raspy vocal growl is careened into the backwash of trippy guitar melodies. Already it sounds like they might be in a holding pattern; I suspect they should run free and trust their own instincts. Major label deals have killed many a good band – don’t let it happen to you!
Malcolm / Giant Sleeve / Swiss Cheese / Back Bite
[Hippy Knight 7”]
One in a series of commemorative releases which will hopefully maintain the legend just a wee bit longer, in the shadow of their untimely demise. Four songs from their one long-player, captured live at The Khyber Pass in Philadelphia. Even in the studio, it was obvious that Jonestown was a live adrenaline blast, and now, here’s the proof. Admittedly, it would have been nice to hear new unreleased material, but given the relatively small number of truly imaginative politico-rock bands, I suppose we’d better be grateful for what we’ve got.
Here are some Reviews from the final phase of The New Puritan ReView – meaning that the print version had ceased to exist, and it was an online publication only. A side effect of the dot-com crash (circa 2000) was that advertising revenue had dwindled for a number of syndicated publications, which resulted in fewer opportunities for many free-lance writers. In a related chain reaction, this also led to fewer labels sending out promotional materials, so the reviews I wrote were based on my own record buying habits, coupled with the generosity of various bands who were still happy to get reviewed anywhere. Ironically, this meant my own publication had now come full circle, and I was back to doing it just because I felt like it. The online medium felt sort of alien to me, so I tried to come up with different methods of writing, specifically for the online format. One thing I tried for a while was to just tap out a quick off-the-cuff reaction to a release, including an attempt at a rebuttal. Sometimes I think it might have actually worked.
Howlin Andy Hound
The Big Bad Sound Of…Howlin’ Andy Hound
[Mod Holland Enterprises • 1999]
From the gut:
For all the talk of an “underground” scene in Minneapolis, it takes a gem like this to convince me that there’s anything more to the myth than just hot air. Stepping out for a moment from the ranks of Mpls’ premier mod combo – Thee Viceroys, Howlin’ Andy dishes out the rock steady beats in the time-honored tradition established by the likes of Billy Childish, or even the early Who, for the less seasoned among you. Proving for the umpteen-zillionth time that slick production and a lot of extra notes don’t really have anything to do with quality, this collection of 4-track hits features Andy dishing out his heart and soul, upping the ante of home recording standards along the way. Guitars scratch and scrape and clang their way into yr heart, with an occasional nod to Mersey, propelled by percussion that mutates into a volley of gunfire and thunder; rife with eerie organ tones that will swallow you whole, and strangely distorted vocals that slip between every crack in yr skull, and head straight for yr liver. Timeless and classic, in ways that will surely sound as fresh and inspired in ten years’ time, proving that nothing can change the shape of things to come.
Albums like this are far and few and in between these days, and I’d like to know what other tricks lurk up this fellow’s sleeve, especially if the closing avant-drones of “Guitar Rock” are any indication.
Of course, a handful of Op-Ed pieces turned up, scribbled on random scraps of paper – napkins, placemats or whatever, and I couldn’t really tell where they fit into the general scheme of things. Still, it seemed unfair to leave them out of the mix, even though the issues they were written for seem to be long gone, and they’re probably all out of context. What the heck – I bet yr grey matter will be able to sort it all out. Or not.
Obligatory Fashion Regime
The New Puritan ReView
late / mid-’90s [?]
The whole idea of an “image” seems to hinge upon making an impression and maintaining a position of importance – righteousness? – in the eyes of whomever is watching. One of the great pitfalls of the “indie” label stance is the presumption that somehow it contains more integrity than the major labels which have for so long monopolized the music scene. Wrong. We’re all in it for more or less the same reasons – a sometimes uneven balance of doing something we love and something we hope might earn our keep, if not a few extra bucks along the way. U2, R.E.M., and Husker Du are just three examples of bands that became huge successes, trading an “independent” level of success for a broader commercial appeal, their “sound” changing drastically in the process. I’m not suggesting that these groups had to convert their style in order to become successful, but as each change occurred another occurred at the same time, one that caused many of us to think smaller in terms of what we liked about them in the first place. The outward grandiosity of the major label image / approach seems too often to completely smother the passion that made a particular band or artist worthy of our attention to begin with. Yet and still, if a release comes out on a major label that manages to captivate my senses in a good way, I’m going to listen to it – the snide opinions of trend-conscious peers notwithstanding. No one should feel obligated to pay lip service to an indie “scene” which exists along such an obvious parallel to commercialism, when for a lot of us, it’s the music that really counts.
The point? Listen to what you want, for no other reason than because you like it. Do yourself – and your favorite artists – a favor, by letting ‘em know you’re listening. Go to shows, buy records, start your own bands, write for ‘zines [like this one – hint, hint…]. For all you hardcore indie purists, the one thing that does validate the success of major label acts is that they sell, as strange as it may seem to you or I. Somebody actually digs it – which may well be how someone on the other side of the fence perceives the whole indie thing, by the way. Instead of trying to figure it out, isn’t it a heck of a lot simpler to just deal with what works for you, and leave others to their enjoyment as well? There’s not really much of a point in bad-mouthing someone else’s tastes, and it just creates a lot of bad blood by instigating a “good / bad” dichotomy which again is based on nothing more than someone’s personal opinion. Tune in, tune out, turn it up, or turn it off – or you can always ask someone what’s cool this week – be forewarned that if you follow my unaccountable taste as an example, most of your friends will laugh at you, but the bottom line is it’s your allowance you’re spending. Peace.
Here’s another rough draft Op-Ed piece that turned up, which if memory serves, appeared after I had been out of commission for a while, due to being assaulted in the melee of the post-Rodney King trials in the early ’90s. The incident had me out of work for a while, and interrupted the publishing schedule of The New Puritan ReView, as well as a few records I was trying to release. So, the ‘zine was a bit erratic for a while, and I guess I felt like I needed to respond to a few critics who were razzing me at the time for not being able to run at the same pace I had once been able to keep. Well, you can’t please all the people all the time…
The Pathetic Attempt at Removing the Editor’s Foot From His Own Mouth.
The New Puritan ReView
late / mid-’90s [?]
Uh, hi there. It kinda took a while to get this issue out, as some of you have no doubt noticed. The reasons are in detail too numerous and complex to go into, so I won’t bore you with the details, okay? For the record, there will be no “suspended publication” or for that matter, calling it quits – out of the question, rest assured. What has happened is that NPR has joined the ranks of the many publications whose appearances will be shall we say…intermittent, which kinda rules out the option of buying subscriptions, dated advertising, etc. This probably sounds lame to a lot of you “business” types who I know view all ‘zines as an extension of your marketing genitalia, but that’s not the purpose of NPR anyway, so don’t go stroking yourselves on my account. For future reference, any bands who have sent me material that has so far not been reviewed, calm the fuck down. Relax. I’m doing 99% of this myself, and it takes a little while to do it right. That means not dropping the needle in the grooves and reviewing it on the spot, y’know? Most of the stuff I get hangs out in my Walkman for weeks – months even, before I decide to commit myself to it. If you want instant gratification, there’s always your right hand.
I’ve been desperately trying to gain more head-on experience with live shows, performance, film and even literature than I used to, this accounts for how a great deal of my time is spent. There’s a very thin line between what I call my “leisure” time and the time dedicated to putting this ‘zine together, so be patient – I have to be. While I’m bitching about how hard it is to do this, I can’t help but recall the many times I’ve been asked to review a band at my own expense. C’mon you guys, ever hear of guest lists? Sheesh, I guess it is after all a big ego stroke to have all your friends watch you play, but if you are interested in getting a mention of some sort, help me help you, okay? ‘Nuff said, I hope. Money is always welcome of course under any circumstances, but even more welcome would be some new blood in the way of contributing talent – writing, photos, etc. – show that you care about more than the mere chance to read about your idols or seeing your own name in print. Last gripe goes out to the weasels who have promised to review stuff I’ve received just so they could scam a few free records – kindly note the abundance of contributing writers to this issue, if you will. There’s an equally un-explainable gap between the amount of promos I’ve received and the reviews appearing here. Maybe I oughta go into the protection racket – now there’s a way to turn a quick buck!
© J.Free / The New Puritan ReView; 1986; 2022