Unexpectedly, I picked up a few fans, friends, and influenced a few people in the music industry. Guitarist Dave Rick of King Missile was a regular reader of mine, and boasted to bandmate John S. Hall that I was a “writing machine”. Ken Katkin, then with Homestead Records, read my review of Love Child, and decided to give ’em a listen – which resulted in the band getting signed to the label. Some of these bands would be regular house guests of mine when on tour. Others would pick up conversations – when we met in person – where the reviews left off, which transcended the normal levels of “fan”-dom that only serves to humiliate far too many music writers. All of these stories and more, now relegated to a headful of memories, but what a bunch of memories they were. I still actually enjoy going back and reading some of these words, and occasionally they remind me of even better stories that go along with them… maybe someday I’ll share those as well.
American Music Club
United Kingdom LP
This record possesses a nearly surreal quality, but I guess that the term hardly would apply to something you know is real. Mark Eitzel – vocalist and writer – comes through as every man’s reluctant hero, the articulate silenced voice of the unseen angel resigned to watching meaningless lives decay in their search for the warring forces of beauty and truth. His story is that of a branded man, virtuous by default, who can offer no satisfactory answers for the frightened and self-centered interrogations of desperate lovers. Knowing that we have only the slightest interest in what awaits us after a long and pointless battle with our wills, we remain victims of our urges – redundant and whimsical. Also knowing that it would be pointless to interfere, Eitzel instead observes the process from places most of us wouldn’t dare stand, never passing judgment on what he sees, but also sparing no details. Imprisoned within our flesh, the mind’s eye functions as nothing more than a referee of values, conducting a frail and embarrassing symphony for which new meanings are invented every day.
United Kingdom is a stark record, both in terms of production and perception. Some candid acts are witnessed, and while the general tone is solemn, it avoids grimness because it expresses no shock. Mark Eitzel would be the first to tell you that he is not a spokesman for the living, but on hearing him recount the tortures of kindness and the fragility of those who endure, you can’t help but wonder who has taken on the more difficult task – those whose sight falls short of pain or those who stare death In the eye each and every day. This is one of the most reassuring records I have heard in years, a sharp contrast to the patronizing camaraderie of scene bondage. If you feel strong enough to look reality in the eye, United Kingdom provides one hell of a focal point.
Babes in Toyland
Spanking Machine LP
The girl smiled back demurely, ravaged by the holocaust that was still taking place around her. Undaunted by her misfortunes, she held a steel-like glint in her eye and forced a thin crease of a smile to her lips. She knew she would survive, having made it this far. Death was no longer a threat to her, she had stared down that faceless angel in more than one dark corner. Still, it had taken something from her, something she would never get back, and this caused her no small amount of pain.
Broken glass lie all around her feet, nowhere was there a mirror. She wondered what she looked like these days…the only clues were in the eyes of others less fortunate than she, telling her nothing. They had figured out that she was a young girl, that much was evident, but why that seemed to matter wasn’t clear, They obviously had no respect for something they could not understand. She picked up a piece of glass with a jagged edge and tried to catch a glimpse of her reflection. She saw a pale blue eye that reached into infinity. That was no good. She looked into another shard of glass and saw a tiny mouth that beckoned to the edge of the earth.
Growing tired of this, she set about the task of sending a message to whatever might remain of civilization beyond this desolate wasteland, in the hopes they might be able to protect themselves. The angel of death loomed above her, and he seemed larger than ever before. Looking around for a weapon she saw only the broken fragments of her reflection. She looked death in the eye one last time, and threw back her head, screaming… [Twin/Tone, 2541 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., MN. 55404]
Too Much Slow LP
Damn. This is easily some of the catchiest ear-pleasing, altered-state pop muzak to drift my way since the endless dream of tuneage that culminated in last year’s Double Bummer CD. Bongwater doesn’t restrict itself to the stuffy confines of any mainstream-oriented pop format, and thus remain free to explore relationships between toe-tapping rhythms, conversational storytelling, classical vocal stylings, and a myriad of philosophical inversions through displaced verbal and melodic kinetics. Their freedom from inhibition In turn sheds light on the most mundane elements of everyday-ness, sparing us any need for shame or apology. Bongwater aren’t pointing any fingers at anyone, nor are they turning their backs – au contraire – it would seem their voyeuristic fascination with minute details easily exceeds your basic religious fervor, yet maintains a quality of sheer fluid transcendence. You know their music before it happens – it’s inside your television, your lover, your unanswered childhood questions (remember?). If this sounds like madness, Bongwater does their best to reassure you with their soothing air of indifferent resignation. You could do acid or meditate to this and it wouldn’t create much of a disturbance. The idea isn’t to freak out so much as to sedate, in a manner no more or less feasible than our own environment, or the degree to which we’ve been saturated with it. Purity still lives, it just suffers from constant redefinition, and for what it’s worth, this is purer than life itself. It should be worth a lot. [Shimmy Disc; JAF Box 1187, W, NY 10116]
Better Dead Than Alien LP
This is a steady ride on the razor’s edge separating dogma from the doghouse. There’s a lot going on inside, but the elements just don’t seem to gel – assuming that the point is consistency, that is. Chambre Jaune presumably hail from Holland, this being their 4th LP, for the record. The fact that they’ve been around awhile is evident in terms of nuance and production, but not much is offered in the way of impact. Musically this is interesting enough, owing a huge debt to the punk-influenced end of the industrial genre, while not quite capturing the intensity of said realm. Most of the energy seem to exist in the lyrics, which just don’t carry much of a punch in the pragmatic sense. In fact, the most confusing thing about this record is the incongruity between the over-driven rage of the poetry therein and the restrained heavy-handedness of the rhythms afoot. The sad result of this mismatched energy is that the LP fares no better as a collection of songs in an entertainable vein than as a manifesto of social purgatory, and the problem here is that this record desperately wants to be both. I’m not one to write off politically oriented pop music, but the form still has to dictate the function or else it just isn’t going to work. All good intentions aside, I’m afraid this LP’s title provides it’s own epitaph. [Schemer, P.O. Box 549, Village Station, N.Y., N.Y. 10014]
This record is proof of the “universal” notion held about the language of music. Mainly because, even though it’s all in French, it never fails to convey a raw, unhindered emotion on a more primal level that transcends dialectical barriers. This music doesn’t appeal to the senses; it penetrates them. Dazibao is a four-piece group not tethered to any genre, and this is used very much to their advantage, as it becomes apparent that they can tackle just about any musical style energetically and with integrity.
Amok is, in itself, an exercise in technique as well as whatever a translation may reveal of its’ topical nature. Dazibao are not only capable in the styles they employ, buy nowhere on this LP do I detect any sign of contrivance or mimicry. There would seem to be a recurrent them within these grooves, although the shifting arrangements and fluctuation of styles do little to betray any concrete attitudes. Percussion ranges from kit drums to acoustic, and what sounds like neo-industrial materials as wall as a very unsophisticated drum machine tirelessly tapping away with the precision of a heart palpitation. Steel stringed acoustic guitars bearing motifs of the Middle East and Spain are drenched with massive waves of ringing harmonic tones and dosed liberally with screeching feedback harmonies and sweaty, acid-soaked solos that redefine the roots of most of the post-New Wave / Avant-Garde / Psychedelic shtick. Add to this a vocal barrage of melodic primal screaming, nerve-pinched angst amidst sighs of resignation, tremolo-infected crooning and droning Gregorian chants, and you have to hope that this force is with you, not against you.
I’ve never been a big fan of comparative reviewing, but the import status of this LP won’t bring this band the attention they deserve. Suffice it to say that if you remember the formidable stages of Wire, Killing Joke, Suicide, or The Stooges, then for you Amok will serve as a revitalized look at a halcyon era of a sound that will not die. If that era preceded you, you could do a lot worse than to introduce yourself to ’em all by way of this LP, and as a bonus you got a continental tour that predates and out-modes any notions of World Beat or any other such nonsense. Aside from my ignorance of French, the only complaint Amok raised for me was it’s length. At slightly under 25 minutes, it left me wanting to hear more. I suppose a modest price tag and decent distribution could make all the difference in the world, but no precedents have been set in that area, so it’ll probably cost you – but it will be worth it. [U.S.A.; BP 51, 93101 Motreuill Cedex, France]
Colouring in The Edge and Around The Outline EP
There was once a time when records measuring under 140 decibels (the level breaching the threshold of pain) weren’t even allowed within the anarchic sanctum of my home, and anything that remotely resembled easy listening or “light rock” was regarded by yours truly as some sort of environmental white noise/emotional flatulence. Well, things have changed over the years, myself having located a soft warm place in my heart for such groups as Hugo Largo, Shelleyan Orphan and the like. Face it, everyone’s got to relax at some point in their life, and the opportunities to hearken back to one’s long lost innocence are precious few and should not be overlooked. I have long recognized the disdain hold by some narrow-minded twerps for any sort of spiritual or passionate expression not fueled by rebellion, but I say if it’s sincere and it works, it’s not pretentious; and “art” never claimed to be lofty, only some of it’s critics.
This is admittedly unfair; I’m writing this with serious reservations about how the music biz function, but some things just have to be called by their name. Colouring in The Edge… is a difficult record to listen to, but only because of the insight provided by Anna Domino’s previous works. Through no fault of her own – other than the need to make a living – this EP is a blatant attempt to package and sell the artist by cashing in on a style that bears no relevance to the essence of her work. The logic implied here is that the strategy has worked for others, so let’s try and boost those sales figures, shall we? The real irony in this appalling ploy is that the people Ms. Domino’s publicists would lump her career alongside have all been diluted by the industry in much the same fashion, and no bear little resemblance to the celebrated visionaries they once were. Don’t be misled; if you want to hear what Anna Domino really sounds like, I suggest you pick up her 1987 LP, This Time and disregard anything after that as more documentation of yet another trusting soul who got thrown to the wolves so somebody could make a buck by making her out to be something she is decidedly not. Ignore all the New Age hype, Anna Domino coloured in her own outline with no help from anyone some time ago. [Giant; PO Box 800, Rockville Centre, W, NY 11571]
Long Stem Rant LP
If you’ve ever been in a band, had a friend who was in a band, or seen even a third of the bands in your hometown, you have no doubt experienced the painful cultural evolutionary phenomenon known among musicians as “jamming.” Hailing from a mid-section of the US that stubbornly refuses to fess up to its state of cultural bankruptcy, I’ve soon more than enough would-be bank tellers and future real estate agents living out their fifteen minutes of glory as air-guitar gods, which ultimately led me to believe that “jamming” was nothing more than a lame euphemism for the rape of Blues, Country and Western, or any authentic genre that these thwarted rock rebels could never come to terms with first-hand.
Jamming as a form of high art doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell unless the parties involved have a clear sense of direction and the courage of instinct to edit – as in weed out. There are God-know-how-many bands on the planet at any given point in time, precious few of which having more than a vague idea as to what they hope to accomplish, I’d be willing to wager. Maybe a checklist would be in order here, comprising all of the possible reasons for being in a band. Let’s see … 1) Entertainment value, 2) Social commentary, 3) Artistic license …That seems like plenty for the moment. If held accountable to such a criteria, it’s a fair assumption that over sixty percent of the world’s would-be and has-been rock stars would vanish, and I for one couldn’t be happier about the mortality rate of bands under such circumstances.
From all I can gather about Long Stem Rant the idea was to make a record and nothing more. That mission having been accomplished, I can only wonder why. Is it that bloody important to have a piece of plastic somewhere in the world with your name on it, regardless of how little substance it holds for those who have to pay for it? In all fairness, I confess to have heard none of Giant Sand’s previously and highly acclaimed body of work. Not that this changes anything; a few spins of their previous LP, The Love Songs, served only to reaffirm any criticism directed toward Long Stem Rant. Having recognized the brilliance of which Giant Sand is capable, I detect an attempt to rest on their laurels, a career move which surely should prove to be the acid test for the most loyal of fans. If this album was intended to document the creative process it falls in its attempt, and in fact implies that sheer luck—not genius—has been responsible for their work to date. The D.I.Y. ethic has been established for some time, and has manifested itself in forms which are more easily justified, the ever-growing independent tape network, for example. The fact that Giant Sand have garnered such a large following is a poor excuse for such a bogus attempt to cash in on the reputation they may have established, a reputation on which this album sheds no light whatsoever. [The Amazing Black Sand; 2509 N. Campbell, Box 2OZ Tucson, AZ 85719]
Candy Mantra LP
Never would’ve guessed these guys were from New York – they don’t have the boldly underscored look or attitude that I’d been expecting from that part of the scene these days. This is in fact a smartly produced LP from a fast-thinking band that manages to implode in your eardrums on impact. Where their first LP – Turn! Turn! Burn! – went straight for the gray matter with an egg beater, this record aims for any limbs you may have left dangling and shoves a jackhammer under your feet. Me thinks you’d better dance. “Honeymoon Mowdown” really ought to have a regular rotation slot in any college station’s playlist, and while the band’s brain-sizzling pop appeal is fairly obvious, they avoid the cutesy packaging concept associated with most bands in this genre. Electrocutioner-style psychedelic thrash combining childhood memories and nightmares, brain juices gargling beneath your skin and whispering into your ears like a holocaust, uncontrollably pushing their way out through your feet like a regurgitation of hot coals and blasting caps. Better start dancing, I’d say. [Fabian Aural Records; 655 Carroll St, Brooklyn, NY 11215]
Mystical Shit LP
I’ve been a big fan of Pee Wee Herman and his ilk for years now, having missed out on actual childhood and hoping to recap on my possible loss. Mind you, this is after disappointing forays into the academic sub-structures of “punk rock”, “existentialism”, “art”, “anarchy”, “love”, and various other dead-end avenues of decadence. For me, Pee Wee was probably the closest to an ideal for living since Baby Huey, representing innocence, imagination, self-determination and fun. It came as no small surprise that all my skinhead pals at the time – along with countless other peers in subversive logic – were smug in their rejection of the values represented by Pee Wee, as well as other central figures in the “art-fag-wuss” matrix (as conjured up by my “brothers” in arms). It was contrary to the nature of our masculinity to heap such praise on anyone who dared make light of machismo-based idealism, I was told. “Sensitivity” and “deep shit” had nothing to do with being a “dude”, unless you were a “fag”.
Years later, I’m spinning King Missile’s second album (for the umpteenth time) and recalling the aforementioned lessons in manliness, as well as the informative one-liner “your karma just ran over my dogma”. Appropriate enough as a metaphor for Mystical Shit, which seem to be the going rate for the meek’s share of the earth. KM vocalist John S. Hall shares a vision which penetrates a shitstorm of hypocrisy and corruption, focusing only on that which is pure, reducing judgmental validations of good and evil to nothing more than good or bad feelings. Like label mates Bongwater, KM are sympathetic to occurrences that disturb the natural order of humanity, while maintaining the ability to sooth and entertain the psyche with familiar endearance.
King Missile aren’t about to throw any sand back at the bully on the beach – In fact, they barely seem aware of such crass denizens – suggesting instead equal validity (or worthlessness) for all concerned. Actual involvement is more of a focal point – situations of interest, which in turn serves as a pinnacle for the band to drape with their neo-psychic musical tapestry, sparse and hypnotic. In direct contrast to much of the over-hyped “psychedelic” syndrome, their ambient symphonies suck the listener directly into the eye of their attitudinal vortex, rather than assimilating an aural escape vent. King Missile are probably better than any acid you could ever hope to find, leaving you out of the big picture and leaving you alone at the same time. Now that is mystical shit. [Shimmy-Disc, JAF Box 1187, N.Y., N.Y. 10116]
Wow. Out of nowhere this amazing little 7-inch wonder sneaks up and does a paper-shredder number on my brain, and all I can do is wrench out a twisted grin and ask ’em to do it again. Not much I love more than a really nasty sonic stream of guitar overdrive and flesh-pulled-back muscular bass throb, so it would stand to reason then that I go nuts when I hear this bunch. Not only are these three groove-demons deadly fast and chameleons of pace, but they leap in and out of so many black holes of the imagination that they must really be mutant offsprings of love, ’cause normal people just don’t have the ability to be deep and have fun at the same time.
Noise blast number one, “Know it’s Alright” opens your ears up like you open a can of sardines, only fast as a switchblade – and with as much effect. Grabs your ears firm and hard with a hyper-whirlwind of guitar, not unlike some of the early bands on the Homestead label (which might make a suitable home for this lot – hint, hint). “Things I Noticed” is appropriately short and as obnoxious as you might expect, as though your nerve endings were being tapped with a rubber sledgehammer. There’s a pastiche of bits from old Pere Ubu songs and other jolly noises that pays homage of sorts to Ubu vocalist David Thomas, entitled “Crocus Says,” a reference to Thomas’ original stage moniker, Crocus Bohemoth.
“Asking For It”, “He’s So Sensitive”, and “Sofa” all feature the spunky vocal outburst of Rebecca Odes, who is also responsible for the painting that graces the back sleeve of the single – a very pregnant woman in front of an oven, which might be symbolic on some levels. Ah, the naive bliss of romantic impact rears its innocent little head once again, as charming as it ever was. “Sensitive” and “Sofa” take the opportunity to clue in all you big lugs as to what girls really like in a guy, while the guitar chaos in the not-so-distant background suggest something other than what the word balloons have to say. If this group comes to my town, don’t even think about blocking my way to the front row. Meantime, I hope somebody signs ’em in a big way with lots of distribution, so they don’t end up working in a factory or a restaurant. [Trash Flow, 411 First Street, Apt. #3, Hoboken, NJ 07030]
Helter Stupid LP
I’m assuming by now everybody is aware of the “controversy” surrounding Contra Costa County’s Negativland, in which the band attempted to boost interest in their media infiltrations (i.e., their “music”) by issuing a press release implying a link to a Minnesota teen’s act of patricide, and then watching the various media swallow and regurgitate each others insufficient data under the pretentious banner of reporting. Great job of exposing the absurdity of mainstream journalism, to be sure, but it would seam that the whole incident has now become a recyclable forum for the group’s fascination with media as well, as indicated by the release of this LP.
As with previous releases from this group, this Is not so much under the heading of music as environmental studies, perhaps. An aural montage of dialogue concerning the David Brom ax killings and Negativland’s phony “press release”, all of which runs on a bit unless one is actually expected to sit and listen to all of this with no misgivings about the misplaced use of the vinyl medium. Ditto the “Perfect Cut” B-side of the LP, another lengthy assemblage of pop music’s schlockiest moments, under the subheading of “Moribund Music” of the 70’s. Yes, the 70’s – the decade of polyester leisure suits and wide collared shirts, brothers DeFranco and Gibb. Also the decade of the novelty song, which is what this entire LP could be viewed as In another decade or so, but for now it’s just instant re-hash of a situation and an era that aren’t yet far enough behind us to begin commemorating already.
Again, I can’t help but feel that a different medium might have been more suitable for projects like Negativland’s explorations into the cause and effect syndrome of popular media, particularly since they are so much a part of the whole concept themselves. Kinda seems like they could aim for a different market, such as the independent tape network, video perhaps, but vinyl as a medium is generally associated with a different kind of marketing approach than I suspect these fellas are into. [SST; PO Box 1, Lawndale, CA 90260]
Nice Strong Arm
Stress City LP
Stress City. What began as an easy way out – an excuse – has evolved into a bulging overfed megalopolis. A convenient cliché with which to dispose of responsibility, a theoretical haven for neurotics and fringe lunatics and others for whom coping is an impossibility. The only way not to live there is to outrun it’s encircling shrinking wall, or stare it down and keep it at bay. A little unflinching nerve behind yr glare makes a big difference, muscle enough to back it up means you’ve won.
Stress City – Anytown, U.S.A.; Nice Strong Arm – every mother’s son, embarrassed at the ridiculous facade their community has become. Sensitivity is the key here, and although I know it’s not in everyone’s dictionary, the context of this LP is a lot more honest in its’ simplicity than most of yr garden variety trend-watch guidebooks could ever hope to be. This is thinking man’s rock music, with no more predilection for emphasis on any one word.
While foraging deeply into a well-traveled thicket of sonic-noise-thrash-ambience, Nice Strong Arm – unlike many of their highly revered and oft-referenced peers – know how to harness the fury of their aural onslaught, preventing it from becoming more pointlessly clichéd residue on the “noise-syndrome” slagheap. From their first excursion onto vinyl (1987’s Reality Bath LP) to present (this being the 3rd L.P.), Nice Strong Arm have yet to compromise their relentless yet soothing style for the sake of flimsy “sounds”, while one can readily measure their steps in refinement.
Stress City offers some weighty, muscle-driven melodies, carried by Jason Asnes’ sturdy fiery bass lines, accented by Jeff Hoskins’ sparse yet inventive percussion. The focal point however (especially for anyone whose ever seen them live, is arguably guitarist/vocalist Kevin Thomson, whose manic restrained outbursts appear at once psychotic and articulate in his perceptive strategies. Knowing the value of control as wall as a good hook, Thomson’s playing owes nothing to any influences, other than a desperate psyche-shattering vengeance on all his eyes have absorbed of humanity at it’s most self-deprecating. His brilliance and depth are particularly evident in “From Heaven”, a rare praise of carnal pleasure, motivated by intense heartfelt passion. In fact, this LP shows a much wider scope of observation arid style than their previous records, and debatably comes the closest to capturing their amazing live sound, albeit with a bit more clarity.
Raw, noisy, moving and sensual, lines drawn just short of excess, Stress City actually serves as a brilliant antidote for whatever hangs at the end of your rope. Pull yourself up and leave yr pathos far behind. You’ll be in fine company, rest assured. [Homestead]
Our American Cousins
Nitro Baby b/w Only in My Head 7″
Now here’s a puzzler: what happens when you take basic three-chord rock’n roll of the garage variety, soup it up beyond any resemblance to it’s original form, then strip away all the embellishments? It would appear that what you’re left with is what you started out with, in this case the question begs to be asked: why would one do such a thing? Beats me. “Nitro Baby” turns out to be a no-frills paraphrased rendition of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Some Candy Talking,” and while it qualities as alright-enough ’50’s kinda folk-influenced rock in a celebrated tradition, l can’t for the life of me figure out why they chose to attempt such a risky method of establishing a connection between the current noise-throng and its’ humble origins. The title of the B-side may hold the answer to that and other questions I have about this single or the group’s intentions, but sheds no light whatsoever. I might be interested in hearing some other direction this band may have explored, but this 45 only adds to the glut of an already over-saturated genre based on rewriting history, the logic—or appeal—of which completely escapes me. [Our American Cousins; 1186 Broadway #611, NY, NY 10001]
The Comforts of Madness LP
This LP has the feel of many an excursion into the razor’s edge of infinity, each time returning with a piece of a different puzzle. Suddenly the journey is over, and you’re holding an assemblage of tiny fragments of endless daydreams that somehow fits quite nicely together in its’ new and vaguely familiar form. Pale Saints could be considered art brats if they didn’t have one quality that separates them from those to whom the term usually applies – talent. Their musings are lush and soporific one moment, deadly as an icepick the next, while maintaining its cotton candy sensuality. …Madness is an alluring gateway to all the dark places you’ve been afraid to venture into alone. While capably soothing, there is an element of surrealism—or at least drama—that falls short of terror, but does it’s best to keep you on edge nonetheless. A hall of mirrors in which both sides of your reflection are revealed at once, as though you’ve been let in on some age old secret of existence, although you’ll never be certain of the significance it holds. Ah, but who cares? The bliss of your own ignorance awaits you. [4AD; 611 Broadway, Suite 311, NY, NY 10012]
Live Nymphomania CD
Okay, I admit it – I was reluctant to tackle this one from the outset. Sure, the Pandoras have a name and an established reputation and Marshall Amps, so what’s the problem? See, it’s like this: “girl-band” hype has virtually no effect on me whatsoever, it’s simply an entity that must be dealt with in the same manner as anyone else playing any kind of music at all – it has merit or it doesn’t. With this release, the Pandoras have simply added to a glut of un-spectacular rock and roll – which I hope has less to do with gender than the general lack of imagination among rock-star wannabes – and do further discredit to their sex than any misogynist critic could ever hope to achieve. That’s an accomplishment, at least. [Restless Records; Culver City, CA 90231-3628]
The Freed Man LP
If hell is indeed other people, Dinosaur (Jr.) stands guard it its gates like a NY doorman, screening out the miscreants who may be less than worthy of such mind-inverting entertainment. As the story goes that first had me searching for this obnoxious masterpiece, the Dinosaur Jr. LP You’re Living All Over Me was partially a result of the twisted fragments of bassist Lou Barlow’s participation in what has evolved into the Sebadoh album. Apparently this record can be traced back to two different independently released cassettes comprising the brain-stretching experiments in terror and songwriting of Lou with accomplice Eric (who is not in Dinosaur Jr., incidentally), who segue their hilarious and perverse insights on lust and mental health with what seem to be a cameo by every stray kid in the neighborhood. The thought that was put into assembling this Saturday morning cartoon romp through hell’s back 40 is icing on the cake, rather than a saving grace.
Lo-fi though these recordings may be, their giddy and perplexing deadpan delivery and innocent wit is where the heart of this LP lies. Amazingly enough, the close quarters/low-volume overdrive technique carries as much punch as the mind-surgery aural assault that Dinosaur Jr. provides, with virtually no production whatsoever. There’s new hope for the home-taping enthusiast with this record, demonstrating that such projects needn’t be regarded as tom-foolery with no potential. [Homestead]
Under a Purple Sky LP
While this Belgian 5-piece (one member receives credit for visuals) instantly whips me back to the aftermath of early ’80s punk and it’s more insightful successors who were able to shrug off the rubble of mock contemptuous fashion, this isn’t exactly retro-anything. Siglo XX holds firm their own ground as purveyors of intrigue and suspense, utilizing combinations of devilishly quirky pop hooks and tribal rhythms alike, telling moral-less stories in spellbinding gypsy fashion. The “purple sky” seems to be a recurring theme throughout this LP—their second WaxTrax release—but I’m not about to give that away – you’ll have to latch onto meanings yourself. There’s something hidden deep enough within these grooves that couldn’t be severed by the inclusion of two different producer/keyboardists, pulling the songs together as a conceptual gem of penetrating vision.
With almost a decade behind them, Siglo XX comes off as a lot more mature and committed than a lot of American groups I know working within a similar vein, which is more important than some of you white folks may think, considering the re-emergence of an I.N.S. bill which may prevent deserving bands Ike this from ever actually touring here. So do your bit and give this a listen, show ’em that you love ’em, and give ’em a home – hell, they’re showing you theirs. [WaxTrax; 1659 No. Damon Ave, Chicago, IL 60647]
Everything Is Nothing b/w Don’t Like 45
Now here’s a band with a good idea: keep the energy and passion up front and the redundancy completely out of the picture. It seems like such a simple thing really, I don’t know why more bands can’t pull it off like these three Philly lads do. Could be ’cause these guys are sharp enough to not draw lines between the various influences that feed their creative energy, and it sounds like there are more then a few, too.
“Everything” hits you like a sledgehammer, then caresses the blow with a velvet glove. Sensual and disturbing, this ought to appeal to fans of dirge-metal and thrash, without alienating either camp, and possibly invites a few other fans as well. “Don’t Like” is equally furious and compelling, displaying the band’s propensity for not crowding each other or their music. This band could probably turn your bones to milk with a live set – here’s hoping that there will be an album in the near future, and they’ll got the exposure it would seem they deserve. Cool drawing on the sleeve, too (presumably by the group’s manager). Recommended for a daily morning spin, by the way. [Broken Giraffe; John Good c/o Slag, PO Box 1055Z Calder Square, State College, PA 16801]
Enter 12″ EP
The A-side of this 4-song EP is a downright pleasant slice of post-industrial ambience, particularly the title track. With music such as this it would seem that the function of instruments is less important than the combination of sounds therein. Hence guitars undergo treatments that assimilate rapid-eye-movements that reverberate like buzz saws, while any pattern of sound that could constitute percussion resonates from within a dangerously overloaded cranium. Voices (when definable as such) feel like the sky is clearing it’s throat in your face on a dry day, in tandem with the trusty pelvic thrust of a head-bobbing bass line, which of course has you bouncing your knee in that old familiar way. This would be good dance music for those folks who crave a little danger with their sensual appeal.
B-side restates the same torture-or-pleasure? dance ethic with more funky beats and a reprise version (medley, perhaps?) of the title cut, which makes me think this would have fared better if each side had been pressed as a separate single and marketed to different audiences. In it’s present format, the diversity of this EP could overtax the casual listener’s perception of a rather bold crossover strategy. All in all, no harm done; this is cleverness without pretension, and depth without alienation, while retaining subtleties that steer clear of mindlessness. This is a well thought-out, structured approach to the modem dance, and even if certain elements do recall some aspects of early Chrome, methinks it merely coincidental, as these three folks seem more intent on drawing some definite lines around human behavioral patterns with more than a nod to machinery as the new flesh. At any rate, a relaxing primitive atmosphere surrounding a joyride to your nerve endings or nirvana, depends on how squeamish you are, I guess. [Flesh Alloy c/o Vinyl Solution; 231 Portobello Road, London, W11 1LT]
Hand b/w Flow Plow 7″
Ahh, this is more like it. This punchy little single bears out what I expect is Tar in the raw, as if their previous EP (Handsome) wasn’t enough of a jackknife thrust to your arse, if only complicated by less-than-dynamic production (no names mentioned for that one). This little gem suffers no such fate, in fact sounding much as though Tar is a band that requires no production whatsoever, a hunch I hope to prove by actually being able to catch ’em live sometime. As with so many other bands of this genre, Tar doesn’t need to rely on tried and tested methods of gaining acceptance from any established scene moguls, as long as they keep putting out vinyl of this standard. (Obligatory criticism here: how about a full-length album?)
“Hand” is a steady drive through an anxious state, where every guitar comes at you like a nervous tic with a blown fuse. Jackhammer rhythms are a trademark of this lot, which collide and scatter for opposite ends of the universe in the space of a skull-shattering heartbeat. Some nasty tones wriggling around in the mix, trying their best to keep all the notions of harmony at bay, but that’s ear candy to me. “Flow Plow” sounds like fun, the irresistible urge to create something that you know will fail apart, just to watch it happen. Staccato bursts of muscular guitars dodging random cannon-shot drum blasts, and when it all comes back together again you feel like you’re God Almighty and you’ve just invented a world that works or something. Can’t wait for that LP. [Amphetamine Reptile; 2541 Nicollet Ave., So., Minneapolis, MN 55404]
From Another Planet LP
If only this record could have lived up to the press kit they sent along, chock full of flyers from various gigs – all pretty steeped in the EC horror/sci-fi comic aesthetic – and clippings which suggest a sort of apocalyptic punk nightmare, this would have been the record I’ve been waking to discover for about ten years or more. Alas, it only reminds me of countless other such bands who seem content to affiliate themselves with the “punk” label without having the vaguest notion what the premise of that genre (movement, if you will) was based upon. Actually, this reminds me more than anything of a girl I once went out with who stated that “punk seemed like such a “fun lifestyle” – you can bet I bailed on that relationship, and if you don’t understand why then you’ll probably love The Thing. I might suggest jumping ship to members of this band as well, but the fact that they’re darlings of New York’s Lower East Side scene has probably pumped them up for taking the world by storm – something I would definitely not suggest. There are still a few of us left who take great offense at seeing certain ideals viewed with such mockery or represented so contemptuously. A trendy counterculture was never part of the bargain, believe it or not. I sincerely hope this bunch have good solid day jobs lined up, I don’t imagine they’ll have as much trouble finding girlfriends. [Contempo]
Three Women In Black
Grace of God & Cards b/w Submission 7″ EP
Jeez, what is it that makes being in a band so appealing to everybody and their sister? I mean, if you were thinking of being in a band, wouldn’t you at least invent some kind of a concept or something to disguise your lust for sensationalism and thrill-seeking? Anyone can sling an axe over their shoulder and wail a semblance of a melody (I’m bein’ generous here), but what if everybody did just that, huh? I get the feeling sometimes that it’s too late to stop it – everybody is in a band already, and of course, there were only so many original ideas to go around, leaving folks without a clue to leech off someone else’s inspiration and hope they could pull it off.
Both songs on the A-side here are extremely typical post-new-wave clichéd rock enveloping oft-overused lyrical clichés as well. Nothing spectacular in that, but the really amazing thing is how this lack of attitude was grafted onto the B-side Sex Pistols cover as though they weren’t even aware of that group’s significance within the genre they so desperately want to be a part of. Nothing has ever led me to believe that it was “fun” being in the Pistols’ heyday of punk, unless your idea of fun included getting the shit beat out of you because someone objected to your clothing or attitude. Attitude is in fact the key word here, making talent a more recognizable factor and telling others that yours is a risk worth taking – not the case with this bunch, I’m afraid. [Dionysus; PO Box 1975, Burbank, CA 91507]
Slipping Through the Cracks Video Compilation
Running time over one hour, and me stuck with not a beer in the house. Not that it would have helped much. There are people for whom this collection of incestuous West Coast back-slapping might be considered entertaining, but the charm is lost on me, bub. Sheer dedication alone is what pulled me through the entire length of this celluloid nightmare, with mixed reactions as to whether or not I should pull out my hair or pull down my pants. Least offensive clips include pretty straight-forward tracks by Red River (nice bit of electrified slide guitar there, bro), Link Protrudi & the Jaymen (instrumental Fuzztones offshoot in a spaghetti western tribute to Link Wray), Droogs (tip o’ the hat to Steve Wynn for the tune), L-Status (first cut on the whole dad-blamed compilation that acknowledges a post-70s influence, at best), and the Clints (actually some alright fast paced and imaginative footage).
To got right down to the bone here, you have to understand that a video is an entity of its own doing. Imaginative (or as the case is more often un-imaginative) props, exaggerated expressions (tongue-wagging included), and well-rehearsed moves, are all wasted on the lens eye of a video camera, which is completely indifferent to cleverness and shtick. The basic function of a music video is to capture energy, not supply it. The camera is not God, and therefore cannot restore health or revive the dead. It’s true what they say – the camera never lies. Which proves that former Runaway Cherie Currie had her day (and is incongruous in her performance with Redd Kross), Sky Saxon had his best moments with the Seeds (and not in a self-conscious “live in the studio” situation, in no way enhanced by the special visual effects seen here), and the Fuzztones’ claim to fame goes over my head once again, as they plod through a Mysterians tune (featuring a bored looking rock babe fondling her tits pretty non-enthusiastically, presumably, a metaphor for posing and wanking).
Some of the bands included go for a more theatrical approach, which was conceptually interesting, but fell short of the promise suggested. Imitation Life approaches sit-com level status with a Seeds’ cover, to the scenario of a major label cheese wailing on some would-be star (the implication in this case is that it’s really Sky Saxon, who makes an appearance at the end of the clip). Dramarama provides a fairly uneventful soundtrack to a pastiche of boring TV images, which seems redundant somehow amidst all the cock-rock posing. Groovie Ghoulies appear super-imposed over a lot of cars (essential rock’n roll iconography) in a purposefully anti-choreographed lip-synch which would be hilarious if it were about two minutes shorter, and Jigsaw Seen play some jangly ’60’s pop amidst a cavalcade of brightly colored balloons and a dead ringer for one of the Killer Klowns From Outer Space. While we’re talking comedy, let’s not overlook the Nuns’ hilarious suicide scenario, every darkside poseurs most grandeur fantasy. This is punk? Go figure.
All in all, an invaluable educational experience for anyone interested in putting together a promotional vehicle for their own artistic license. This video sports all the necessary do’s and don’ts of video-making, the major drawback being that the viewer is kit to decide which is which. [Ice World; 6 Valley Brook Dr, Middlesex, M W84]
Teriyaki Asthma (Vol. III) 7″ EP
This comes as more than a pleasant surprise, featuring two personal faves (homegirls Babes in Toyland and SF’s Frightwig) and two new instant raves (L7 and Dickless). Babes, in typical fashion, lay it on the line about forbidden fruit as few groups can, reaffirming just one of the reasons I like ’em so much. Unlike so many of their peers and fans, Babes aren’t trying to wave a “girl group” banner over their heads, or draw up any sort of separatist manifesto concerning sexism in rock music. All of the bands on this EP drive the point home pretty well, I think, and if people would just stop assassinating their heroes and heroines with such stupid labels, you’d probably notice that there are an awful lot of really cool bands who really don’t need any such shtick to make themselves heard. Got it? Probably not; it’s a little unlikely that history can be rewritten on account of a record review, I suppose.
L7 contribute your basic nightmarish slice of social grace, and if you can’t relate you’re probably reading the wrong mag to begin with. Know what it’s like when everyone knows what’s best for you? Maybe something along the lines of “rich boys” (OK, “girls” if you wanna be defensive about gender boundaries), and “cheap thrills” – tell me you can’t relate and you’re lyin’ through your teeth. Frightwig returns from the land of the lost in fine and familiar hard-edged form to sear your ears with a passion that comes from the gut, not the hip. Noticeable advancements have been made in their production, which is definitely in their favor, resulting in the most forceful sound I’ve heard from any of their previous vinyl. First time on these ears for Dickless, but it won’t be the last. A slow and steady sonic assault on brain and parts unknown, with the promise of nightmares about the whole “beauty is skin deep” thang. Which is the bottom line with this record, truth be told. A few different takes on life, a few different things you can do with yours. No-balls held rock & roll, and whoever said you needed balls to play rock in the first place? Somebody with their head so far up their ass they couldn’t see beyond their own, I’ll bet. [C/Z; 1407 E. Madison, Seattle, WA 98122]
Twelve O’Clock High Video Compilation
Atavistic, longtime playground for conceptual video enthusiast Kurt Kellison, has become a niche for some of the more cutting edge bands of the past five or six years, sporting an impressive roster of releases: Sonic Youth, Killdozer, Flaming Lips, Big Black, Live Skull, etc. Kellison’s lens eye has always stared into the bowels of horror and beauty, underscoring the less-than-subtle link between the two. Starkness and point-blank confrontation seem to be the elements Kellison has a steeped interest in, reflected in his choice of bands featured on previous live footage videos as well as this compilation – in itself something of a milestone for the format. Interestingly enough, Kellison plays the role of editor on this compilation as opposed to his usual stance as filmmaker, expanding on the promise of band documentation by providing a greater ratio of slices of life to sink one’s teeth into. The spectrum here runs from pictorial narratives (the Soul Asylum clip features an outrageous mock-horror scenario directed by David Roth of Ferret Comix fame, clips for Carbon and Nice Strong Arm convert scenes from everyday life into images of labor and bondage, and Crime and the City Solution are presented in a semi-surrealistic shadowplay), to graphically embellished performance footage (Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney, Live Skull, and Pussy Galore), and ventures forth into visual interpretation of more “experimental” pieces (Lee Ranaldo presents further evidence for his nature-inspired aesthetic, Tall Dwarfs drag subliminal theory into broad daylight to eliminate boundaries between art and propaganda, and Selektion Optik transcend the broad gap between danger and mediation.)
Although some of these clips fall short of the brilliance of the bands themselves (Savage Republic lost a little of my attention due to dizzying and blurry camera angles, Thin White Rope and American Music Club were both incongruously paired with clichéd visual effects) – the overall packaging is a work of art in itself. All clips are seamlessly tied together with fragmented segues provided by Atavistic directors Kellison and Paula Froehle, and display a penchant for images that intensify through deconstruction, regenerating into pure patterns which suggest other possible uses for the medium itself . It would be to Atavistic’s credit if other video-makers would care to expand further on the ideas explored within this compilation, although they will most certainly have their work cut out for them. The lowly music video—once viewed as novelty or promotional gimmick—has finally been done justice, and comes into its own as a credible art form. Let’s hope somebody takes notice. [Atavistic Video; PO Box 578266, Chicago, IL 60657]
Thing of Beauty Double LP
Whew! 75 minutes of sheer unadulterated breath-snatching hot sweaty anxious fun. Few bands would be better qualified for such an endurance feat than a group led by one of the former members of Boston’s legendary Mission of Burma, themselves madcap rascals of angst and thrash. Drummer/vocalist Peter Prescott, conductor of musical mayhem and mirth, is probably a little weary of references to his old band, although I mention this to make it clear that he is by no means relying on his laurels to bring attention to Volcano Suns, something that lesser men would stoop to in the space of a heartbeat. So what makes the Suns any different than every other bunch o’ slobs crashin’ and burnin’ up the tour circuit and sendin’ vinyl slabs flyin’ like spittle and shrapnel? It’s like this, brother – unlike about 80% of their peers, the Suns know how to work out their ideas while sacrificing none of the spontaneity or originality, and seldom a moment goes by on …Beauty—or any of their previous four LPs—where you aren’t overcome by an irresistible urge to work your feet like you’re on hot coals or sing along at the top of your lungs like a campfire rally. And lest you start thinkin’ that four sides of stops-pulled-out, gears-a-burnin’ hellfire and fury be on the excessive end of things, the Suns prove to be masters of mood right when you need it, tossing in a couple of even-tempered contemplative numbers as though to remind you how you feel between fits of impulse and passion.
If you happen to be a convert to compact discs, take heart – the CD features rousing cover versions of MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams” and Devo’s “Red Eye”, – aside from the cover of Brian Eno’s “Needles In the Camel’s Eye” already on the LP. This is after all, the same band that used to do Amboy Dukes’ “Journey to the Center of the Mind” back in their formative years. Not a smirk on their faces, either. This band makes no apologies for their sense of history or their degree of sincerity, and after seven years haven’t lost that sophomoric energy so many bands forsake the minute they hit their first stage. Thing of Beauty carries on a grand tradition, reminding you of every gut feeling you’ve ever experienced, without guilt or pain for thoughts not sanctioned by church or state. Volcano Suns not only offer beauty, but wide-eyed childish innocence, playful reverie, and most of all dreams, hope, and the good will and energy to back it all up. Like the colorful panorama of a quadruple-scoop sundae pictured on the LP cover, nothing good lasts forever. Don’t be left wishing you had done it right the first time – grab yourself a gutful before it disappears. [SST, PO Box 1. Lawndale, CA 90260]
S/T 12″ EP
In a perfect world, we would all be at least a generation removed from anything that could be considered “influential” in the creative evolutionary ladder. That way nothing could be cursed with the reminder of something else, and preconceived notions band on idiosyncratic coincidence would likewise be a thing of the past. Since it’s not a perfect world, most of us uphold the grand and pompous tradition of celebrating success or assassinating failure based on whatever may have preceded the occasion. A case in point: association with a much-heralded “sound”, like the “Chicago-guitar-sound” for example. Me, I got suspicious when I see a lot of bands toting this particular banner, particularly when said records we produced by one of the presumed forerunners of the aforementioned “sound”, in this case former Big Black honcho Steve Albini. Not to discredit either the band or the producer in terms of credibility, but the whole pattern smacks a little too strongly of a bandwagon ride. I admit that most of this is typical critical nit-picking, possibly bordering on a clique-ish prejudice, but this does represent a lot of what bands like this are putting their reputations an the line for.
Okay, hyperbolic assault aside, I like this record. A lot, in fact. The whole point behind all the critical rant is to let two guys off the hook they would otherwise dangle from, and hopefully allow them to chance to find their own strength without anyone else’s laurels being used as a lever in the niche they will probably be able to carve out for themselves. Wreck is not another minnow in the endless stream of post-Big Black/Naked Raygun/etc. copycat bands, and to their absolute lowest advantage are still a logical successor to that “sound”, without having to use any sort of reference to justify their existence. The fact that Albini produced this energetic offering is neither here nor there, as his trademark approach of guitar overdrive is unfortunately absent. Notwithstanding, this band could go a long way with their snappy sense of melodic headrush rhythms. Dean Schlabowske’s vocals are a display of sheer guts, often heading for parts unknown, ultimately pulling off a walloping dynamic range, while keeping a tight lid on the guitar pyrotechnics and allowing the melodic groove to just fall short of total bombast. Bart Flores’ drumming is smart and economic, ingenuitive and seamlessly tight rhythms with a short reign that almost suggests restraint, accentuated by the even-tempered bass thrust of Die Kruezen alumni Keith Brammer.
Wreck is one good reason for the label of “power trio” while undeserving of any comparisons beyond that point. With an album due in Spring ’90, I suspect—and hope—that they will hold their own ground as one of the freshest sounding post-anything bands out of the ashes of the ’80’s scrap heap, and maybe pound open a few yet-unopened doors in the process. Wreck has an attitude that says they can live up to their name without having to rely on any genre-established credentials, and could be a milestone in the Wax Trax / Play It Again Sam catalogue if they stick to their guns. [Play It Again Sam, 1659 North Damon Ave., Chicago, IL 60647]
…And There Was Light mini LP
Something about old dogs learning new tricks and having the last laugh comes to mind here. The photo on the back cover of the album jacket says it all for me, a pile of instruments used in the creation of the sounds contained within. This defies metaphoric referencing, the two guys who makeup this unit are just too honest for their own damn good. There’s a haunting but warm familiarity afoot here, the tone of which is hinted at sideways by the first cut, a surprisingly no-frills rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days”. This proves to be no clue whatsoever, as the group is neither Zep-rehash or any other brand of psychedelia-toasted metal aggregate.
H.P. displays a rather typical stops-pulled-out rock enthusiasm on songs like “Hurdles On My Way”, and in doing so are showing their Achilles’ Heel. While capable rockers, this group’s real strength lies in the way ” flaunt their affection for marrow-curdling guitar solos amidst strained tensions and unexpected signature changes. “My Days Seem To Be Long” and “Sip Of Death” are standouts here, both cuts utilizing an acid both of guitar assault that has you reaching for your own air axe before you know what came over you. “Down In The Basement” actually comes off as atmospheric as one of Brian Eno’s earlier (and more playful) excursions into uncharted sonic ambience, while holding it’s own peculiar spunkiness. I might have liked this record a little longer (it runs about 30 minutes) and spread out in a few more directions to see what all these follows are capable of, but all that’s really saying is I’ll be looking forward to their next record, I guess. Based on the theory of minimal maximization, a live show could be a real treat if it happens. [Matador; 472 Greenwich St, #5, NY, NY 10013]
© J.Free / Your Flesh; 1990; 2022