In some ways, I felt at the time that I might be somewhat out of my league. Helping to book shows across the country for a band no one had heard of yet, called Helmet, with nothing more than a paragraph and a polaroid. Late-night chats on the phone with a relatively unknown singer from Portland named Courtney Love. Hanging out with all the AmRep bands, and slowly starting to “get” a lot of music I myself had never heard before. Well, I did upset one of Run Westy Run’s female fans with my less-than-favorable review of her heroes, in this issue – to the extent that she couldn’t wait until the magazine started a letters-to-the-editor column, so she could colorfully express her displeasure with my (presumed) gender favoritism. Then again, there was that time Pete Davis asked my opinion in regards to booking some up-and-coming band called Nirvana, and after listening to the Bleach LP, I suggested we pass … ( …oooh, that smarts … )
The Law Of Things LP
This is smart, pure pop that rides the razor’s edge ‘twixt warm abrasive nuances, far removed from the self-patronizing “jangly” variety. This batch o’ nifty tunes packs a whomping beat and nerve-riddling rhythmic melodies that could coerce just about anybody into having a good time while listening to ’em. Apparently the lead visionary in this bunch is Robert Scott, who also heads The Clean (reviewed elsewhere this issue), though I dare say I prefer his contributions to this furry winged contingent a wee bit more on the basis of exceeding conventional parameters. His sweeping, hypnotic vocal style has the capability to lull the listener into a comfortable soporific haze, as though you’ve entered a dream state in which you have the privilege of choosing your own dreams. Enveloped by mesmerizing guitars and sedate rhythmic structures, the overall production of the LP hearkens you to enter a swirling netherworld of forgotten childhood musings and romantic inclinations best kept at a distance for most. Pleasant and rewarding in its own tranquility and wonderment, and undeserving obscurity. [Communion, P.O. Box 95265, Atlanta, GA 303471
Stripped-down, no-frills pop with a slight air of detachment, not exactly poised for the big time, but therein lies its appeal. The Clean economize in terms of showiness and cash in on sincerity and simplicity. The rub here is that vocalist Robert Scott also fills in the same slot in The Bats, and seems to reach for a wider scope in that group, here trading in surrealism for pragmatism, obtaining a slightly more commercial feel in the exchange. The Clean shows Scott in a somewhat more self-conscious stance, thus rendering a forced edge into his otherwise effortless vocal range. Flanked by the rhythmic snap of the brothers Kilgour, Scott’s slightly eclectic sentiments are swooped up in smart and sparse arrangements and straightforward delivery. If this trio can steer clear of big production and social commentary, they’ll probably go far-and deserve it. If they can garner a reputation in the States on their own terms, it’ll be a fine day for pop music indeed. [Rough Trade, 611 Broadway, Suite 311, New York. NY 100121
State Of Mind Cassette
Before all of the so-called vanguards of industrial music got the bright idea to scare, shock or otherwise de-sensitize listeners to every horror imaginable, some—like the members of Frontline Assembly—were exploring the possibilities of technical scores that drew their strength from subtler qualities. The result: music that was highly developed in terms of the industrial nature which spawned it, while possessing a sensual, atmospheric, meditative quality. One of the members of Frontline Assembly was an early departee from Skinny Puppy, and stylistically speaking there is no grounds for comparison between the two camps, given the horror show tactics of Skinny Puppy as of late.
This album-length cassette is a re-release of the group’s second LP, originally released on the Berlin label Dossier in 1988. Long out of print, its re-emergence sheds some light on an often-overlooked aspect of the industrial genre – simple enjoyment. This album reflects die simple, danceable nature often associated with the form, without sacrificing its accessibility to popular media samplings or funk-derivative basslines. Granted, music such as this has a definite “processed” feel, but a compositional nature underlies this with a decidedly human element, reexamining the often-underrated “ambient” form without deliberation or pretension, sparing the need for a debt to an already well-traveled spectrum.
Since the LP’s original release, the duo of Frontline Assembly have experimented with a number of styles, both diverse and inconsistent at times, but here at least exists a document of technological invention for its own sake, for anyone who cares or dares to give it a chance. [ROIR, 611 Broadway, Suite 411, New York, NY 10012]
Versohnt Mit Der Welt LP
This one’s almost entirely in German, and here I am a lowly white boy with no capacity for foreign languages other than the semi-literate rant that most of my neighbors would pass off as English, which this does sort of remind me of in places, so I guess it’s safe to say this is a cross-cultural record. By the same token, this reminds me at times of the sounds my neighbors emit during domestic squabbling, so I guess it could be called a passionate record as well, even if as I suspect the emotional spectrum being dealt with is not incredibly broad. I think it’s a safe bet that this group does not consider themselves a rock group by definition in any language, as the most consistent element throughout the record’s eight … er, tracks (“cuts” might be more appropriate) is the good old primal scream. There are a few minor allusions to some sort of post-hardcore noise grunge, for instance more than a fair share of fried-to-a crisp guitar damage, likewise a good deal of percussive banging and pounding that Spike Jones might have loved as a rhythm section in his orchestra. Overall, it’s the sort of din that I have come to associate with street-corner jams, or maybe some aspects of the independent tape network – where at least no attempt is generally made to imitate people who are in the business of making records. The composer Edgard Varese once remarked that his music was not to be considered “experimental”, on the grounds that once he deemed it fit for public presentation it was finished. In a manner of speaking, the same can be said for this record. [Human Wrechords, P.O. Box 610335, 1000 Berlin 61 Germany]
The devil you say? It depends–what else have you got? Personally, I’ll take my chances with the horned beast; at least it sounds like it’s been around the world a time or two, and as the saying goes, if it don’t kill you it makes you stronger. Lubricated Goat have definitely gained some strength over their last few releases, apparent the minute the twin lead guitars that open Psychedelicatessen scream their way into your cerebellum. Everyone is on the menu, and quite a feast it turns out to be. Newcomer Lachlan McLeod broadens the dimensions of the Goat’s sound with the use of sampling [!], bringing tracks like “Stu” into the beatbox genre without compromising the band’s hard-hitting aural muscle.
As usual, the tag-team riffing of Stu Spasm and Renestair EJ burn up enough grooves on this disc to limber up a corpse’s pelvis, complemented by Martin Bland’s precision drumming, which benefits from exceptionally crisp production on the behalf of one Phil Punch, Renestair’s snappy sax fills are less predominant than on previous releases, but occasionally pops up to add to the carnival-esque sway, relying on brash, off-kilter phrasings uncharacteristic of reed instruments in rock-much less this edgy brand of wicked tuneage. The resultant glorious din, pulled taut by Stu’s deliberate and urgent vocal onslaught, makes it clear why this group is getting more attention than ever currently. The devil’s music? Sure, and why not – at least this band of hell-raising demons knows how to have a good time. [Amphetamine Reptile, 2541 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55404]
Forlorn b/w He Didn’t Say 7″
Jean Smith, vocalist of this Vancouver-based duo, has a lot on her mind and knows how she wants to say it. Regarding critics’ whimperings about the supposedly disturbing quality of her voice, methinks it more likely that it’s her choice of subject matter that gets under their skin. These are not songs as much as impressions. and need no further validation as such. Smith’s partner, David Lester, accompanies her on acoustic guitar, and avoids falling into the common niche of “folk” stylings by simply underscoring the lyrics where emphasis is to the point. Both of these songs deal with the incongruities between men and women, but unlike so many before her, Smith isn’t pointing any fingers, she’s only observing and taking a few notes; inevitably, some questions are raised, but more than likely on the part of the listener than the artist. A nice touch is on “He Didn’t Say”, on which she accents the sparse sentiment with some appropriately-disjointed guitar, demonstrating an ability to express emotion without relying on words. Come to think of it, her voice alone has that same quality, in that you know what is being said without even listening to the words themselves. Unfortunately, that doesn’t say much for the critics who have been unable to handle it; likewise, this should make you feel some satisfaction. If you can. [K, Box 7154, Olympia, WA 98507]
Run Westy Run
Green Cat Island LP
It’s a shame that when the Westies finally put out a record that displays some real commercial promise, it’s at the expense of the erratic and surreal vision that earmarked their earlier sound. Two albums ago, the group seemed to be carving out a cozy underbelly of a netherworld in which they could run rampant through their sometimes distracted and sometimes disturbing perpetual childish wonder. Now they’ve clearly grown up, and their sound strays dangerously close to a dog-eared chapter of “Bad Boys of Rock’n Roll,” in which every vocal inflection owes its whole existence to black suffering, and every thought drips with pubescent schoolboy daydreams. Personally not having fallen under the libidinous spell these boys seem to hold over at least their female contingent of fans, I can only express disappointment that this is the direction they have apparently chosen to follow to success. Sorry, fellas, you’ll never convince me that rock & roll is nothing more than a metaphor for displaced sexual energy, and along with a pack of stock hooks and clichés, it becomes a tired old shtick that doesn’t deserve my further attention. [Twin/Tone, 2541 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55404]
Lurking somewhere beneath the murky stew of human dignity is a holy terror of wide-eyed innocence that knows no bounds. Having survived the shock of birth, this four-headed mutant schoolboy prowls the alleyways and bayous of the Western Hemisphere with an insatiable appetite for flesh and controlled substances. Armed with an unbridled sonic ferocity to match its naiveté, this monstrous aberration rips the throat out of discipline and sends chastity crawling for mercy.
Following up this year’s “Feedback” single (reviewed in YF #19), Surgery whips out their first long player, and their most thunderous chunk of vinyl to date. Two-fisted production by New York noise veteran Wharton Tiers, Nationwide has a scope of sound as big as is name. Even in its most restrained moments and there aren’t many – Scott Kleber’s guitar spouts off like it’s emanating from the depths of hell, solidly mired in place by John “Lapper” LaChapelle’s taut bass lines. Drummer John Leamy proves at times that there’s more to keeping a beat than just keeping it – throwing timekeeping to the wind, while Sean McDonnell emits electrifying, flesh-scraped-yowl vocals.
Surgery lays claim to a vast territory littered with post-hardcore thrash energy, swampland drenched blues wailing, speed-metal’s fury and poise, and a liberal dose of sun-baked desert air. The combined effect is hypnotic and hair-raising, as Surgery nonchalantly proves that there are still some good ideas left untapped within the over-saturated compost heap of rock & roll. There’s no escaping their voodoo gutter sway, once it gets its hooks in you, your limbs are no longer your own. [Amphetamine Reptile, 2541 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55404]
Fast Food For Thought LP
“Maybe if I write a bunch of really politically correct dogmatic poetry and disguise it as song lyrics, everyone will know that my heart is in the right place and they won’t notice that I’m not really singing”, the young man thought, as he contemplated his aspirations in the exciting world of rock’n’roll stardom. “And maybe if I use the same funky-sounding rhythm for every single song, I can sell it to all the kids out there who like to dance at parties but would never listen to real funk music or even politically oriented rock, for that matter.” The young man glowed with the anticipation of newly-won hordes of fans and the validation their praises would bring him. “I know”, he mused aloud, “If I throw in the occasional snappy guitar lick like they teach at the Guitar Center, there will be a little something for everybody, and the crossover appeal alone will let my songs be recognized for the High Art they truly are.” The major label deal he had secured for this record had given the young man high hopes indeed. “And … maybe I’ll make a few bucks on the side”, smiled Henry Rollins to himself. [Chrysalis]
I hope it will be sufficient to say that unless someone is able to inject a fresh, original element into the format of “Album Oriented Rock” (or, for that matter, it’s bastard counterpart – the “hit single”), the concept itself is a dead issue and should be put to rest for good. The genre has been for the most part monopolized by white-collar types for decades, the trends being largely conservative even when presented through a thin veil of “contemporary” appeal. The question remains: How much of a glut do we really need or want in the entertainment business anyway?
Most of the groups on this sampler certainly have acquired any number of tried-and-true sounds, the grounds having been well broken-in by as many pop bands as you care to mention. A few of these newcomers, it should be noted, have even made efforts in the past to pass themselves off as successors to some previous chapter in the Rock History Legacy, a bit of a joke on themselves if you consider that the best modern music owes no debts and isn’t afraid to take a risk – something hardly any of these bands have done here. I’d name names, but I have a firm policy of not giving anyone the opportunity to benefit from even bad press, and that would include all of the bands on this sampler with the sole exception of blackgirls, who have been willing to go out on a limb with their creativity, and shouldn’t have to be lumped in with such mediocre acts as the ones featured on this CD. [Mammoth, 5 W. Hargett SL, 4th floor, Raleigh, NC 27601]
© J.Free / Your Flesh; 1990; 2022