Saturday, October 08, 2005

Various Artists: The Blasting Concept (Vol 1)

SST Records, 1983

... it's been much too long hasn't it (well, more than a week at least)? Well, the reason is that I'm playing another show this year and the rehearsal schedule has gotten frighteningly like a second job. I leave work directly to go to rehearsal (thank you Washington DC traffic) and then pretty much don't get home until 11PM. We have two more "hell weeks" and then performances start every weekend for several weeks. But I have two drum solos (Krupa style stuff) so I ain't complaining. At any rate, things may be a bit slow as my energy levels are getting depleted very quickly these days.

Here's an oldie that still has some listening value, if not just as an overview of the first five historic years of SST but then as a means to not just track the birth of a new subgenre but as a signpost to all the directions it might take from the political punk of minutemen, the pre-emo of Husker Du or the proto-C&W splatter of the Meat Puppets or even the free-weirdness of Saccharine Trust, the metalcore Overkill or the prog-metal-core Wurm.

I already have the best cuts from minutemen on here (the still relevant "Paranoid Chant"), and the Meat Puppets cuts (from their early releases) are no longer fresh enough to overcome their inherent awfulness (they got better and then got worse) and try as I might to like the more metal or formal punk groups here like Overkill, Stains and Wurm (with an umlaut), their cuts aren't just happening for me right now. No, the best cut belongs to a band I have normally disdained (here even!) and that's Saccharine Trust and their "A Human Certainty." This monster cut comes off their first (and perhaps best) album Pagan Icons although even at that, it's heads and shoulders above the rest of that album. I dunno - something clicked here between Baiza's distorto guitar-as-story-line or Jack Brewer's melancholy zombie vox. I never cut the consumerist mustard with S. Trust but I suppose if I did, I'd be seeking for follow-up to this most odd song.

Another treat here is listening to a progression of Black Flag songs from their first three records and how they give birth to a new subgenre without any sort of forethought and while they were still seemingly auditioning singers (three singers, three songs). "Nervous Breakdown" sounds pretty much like it would have fit in any late'70's L.A. It's good but nothing that would make you sit up and notice. It's in "Jealous Again" that they set themselves apart from the pack and give birth to hardcore. What were they listening to in the interim? Brit punk? Something definitely more angry and less ironic. An indefinable THING has crept in to the Black Flag psyche and smeared them with the blood of a new beast. The third song "I've Heard It Before" (from Six Pack) is ironic since you have heard it before as Suicidal Tendencies took the attitude and turned it into HC gold with their "Institutionalized" song. I've heard it again (and again, and again, and again). I much prefer the Black Flag version if only for the way it sounds like Greg Ginn has an angry rabid critter in his hands rather than just a guitar.

A word about the packaging. The cover illustration by Raymond Pettibon is among my favorites of his many, many illustrations. It shows a near-end coitus-murder act while a mushroom cloud spreads in the distance. Is the woman an active participant in the action or is she a victim? The nuclear cloud in the background doesn't help in deciding even if it indicates a inevitability. It could be one last brutal death-fuck before the end or somebody taking advantage of the breakdown in law and order in the final minutes. Her hair lays splayed out on the floor suggesting passivity and her grimace takes on a different meaning if you twirl the illustration around and look at it from a different angle (one of the interesting things that album art allows you to do, eh?). Also note that she's not really that passive as her finger nails are digging bloody scars into the man's torso. The album deserves a place in your collection if ony for this illustration.

The liner notes are a bit embarassing, though. I wonder if they paid Harvey Robert Kubernik (a Goldmine writer and consumate music industry insider) to pen this crap. It makes the record look less like a document of the first four years of an already legendary label and more like a desperate plea for attention from the "industry". Kubernik condescendingly notes "SST music has always reflected social and political consciousness. Gregory [heh] Ginn, Chuck Dukowski, Mike Watt, D. Boon and other lyricists on this round black document present evidence of their emotional expeditions for inspection and digestion" and it sounds like so much hippy pandering. At any rate, Husker Du's song "Real World" provides the answer to Kubernik and his types:

You're not a cop, or a politician
You're a person too
You can sing any song you want
But you're still the same

Chalk it up to the insular nature of the label - but I always wondered why Meltzer wasn't tapped.

Some Songs:
"Jealous Again" - Black Flag
"A Human Certainty" - Saccharine Trust



substitute said...

Thank you for this. These old SST records came out when I was in high school and early college and they really define California underground and punk music, along with the Theoretical/Independent Project/Anticlub scene. I never liked Jack Brewer's vocals, but Joe Baiza and the rest of the band were amazing. If you haven't done so already you should listen to some Universal Congress Of again!

Jim H said...

Thanks - I like UCO actually. I forgot to note in the above post that while Blasting Concept is long out of print, most of the bands like SacTrust and Black Flag and da Du still have the records in print that these songs originally appeared on.

Fire of lovE said...

That SST stuff is not really my cup of tea but Boduf Songs sounds great. Think I gonna get that one.
Any possibility of a review ?
Thanks for great postings.

Jim H said...

There's some newer S.T. stuff up at their myspace.

Courtney said...

Pettibon always had the best, subversive illustrations.

tescosuicide said...

Wow dude, you just sent me back 20 years!

Jim H said...

One of the things about Pettibon is that if you engage with his art you have to take a stand on what he's trying to say and usually the choices are, shall we say, stark. there's no middle ground or Hollywood endings.

Steve said...

Just to (semi) square the circle, Meltzer did get to write sleevenotes for Saccharine Trust's 'improv' LP (Worldbroken). Pettibon's notes for We Became Snakes are great as well. If only Pettibon's amazing original drawings and notes had been used for Blasting Concept Vol II... Oh well. At least they're still viewable in Carducci's book.

Admittedly they're an acquired taste (and Worldbroken is hardly the best place to start) but I *love* Saccharine Trust. Thurston Moore once described them as "the American Fall" which is on the face of it pretty ridiculous... but in terms of both bands' oblique relationship with orthodox punk, maybe not *that* ridiculous after all.

That first UCO LP is one of the great overlooked classics too.