Saturday, April 30, 2005

Help Solve This Mystery!

Good evening, I'm Robert Stack with Unsolved Vinyl Mysteries. Tonight we have a particularly peculiar case of the Mysterious Test Pressing from Australia.

(scene: the back of the head of a man sitting in his living room... there is a stereo and speakers in front of him and music playing in the background)

Robert Stack: On the night of April 30th, a young man was going through his record collection when he pulled out a record from his box of 45s and 7"'s. He pulled out what he thought was a Downliners Sect 7" of "Showbiz" b/w "Killing Me" from their late 70's (attempted) comeback... but to his surprise, the record had been replaced (music swells) by an unknown and unnamed test pressing.

(scene: man's head tilts and holds sleeveless record with white label up to the light. He scratches his bald spot.)

Narrator: To his surprise, he had no idea where this record came from or how it landed in his collection. Nor does he know where the Downliners Sect record got to because he was planning to blog about it this weekend (music does a suspenseful attaca).

Man (faced obscured): I, I, I was just planning to groove a bit on "Killing Me" but the record should have come out on Raw. This record is a test pressing from CBS Records, Australia.

Stack: Investigating further, the man noticed a mysterious run off groove inscription on the A side that said "From Kings Cross to Hollywood." We asked Dr. Cole Lector, a noted vinylologist and rock and roll expert.

Dr. Cole Lector (an erudite man with a pipe sitting in front of a wall of vinyl albums) : A "run off groove inscription" (Lector does the quote marks sign with his fingers) appears between the record label and the grooves that contain the music. Typically the artist uses this to make some obscure statement, usually about hookers. My guess is that this inscription suggests that the artist is from Sydney Australia (where the famous Kings Cross nightlife neighborhood is) and would like to go to Hollywood. This is, of course, where all the best hookers are so its not surprising that a "rocker" (quote marks again) would want to go there.

Stack: Hmmmm.... (long look at camera). When we return... more clues are found, a possibly damaged artist is revealed, when (orchestral music swells) we listen to the record itself.

((Advertisement for The Disc Doctor Miracle Cleaner!))

Robert Stack: Welcome back. Our mystery tonight is the strange test pressing. Here is a picture of the record. There is handwriting on it that says "CAT 002" and what appears to be a date of 7-8-89. We will provide a way later in the show to contact us in case you have any information. But first... (Stack looks hard at the camera)... the mystery deepens.

Record owner (in shadows): I had never heard it before. There are a few records in my collection like that. I got them as review copies and just never got around to playing them. So I put this record on and...

Robert Stack: At this point, the owner of the record was even more stupified!

Record owner: It was like no one or nothing I had ever heard although it was clearly made by someone on a four track recorder or very cheap recording equipment. There's a Casio keyboard drum beat machine and a very fuzzy guitar that sounds like it was plugged directly into the recorder. The singer is a male but somewhat effeminate and refers to himself in both songs as a "queen" or "Godess". He also claims he is "God's gift to the universe." Weird!

Robert Stack: But that's not all. In the A-side of this mysterious record, the singer refers to a "big machine in his living room ... and its coming for you." Ian Moody is a psychological expert.

Ian Moody (a short-haired, wide-eyed dorky looking guy): Clearly a megalomaniac. But then almost all rock stars are. While its not clear that the singer is actually threatening anyone or make a sexual innuendo, it is somewhat troubling to hear this as it is no doubt a reference to his penis. Also the second side refers to magic rituals, Sanskrit and secret alphabets -- he sounds a bit like Iggy Pop had he hung out with David Bowie for too long (winks at camera). He believes that he alone is "the pleasure of your masturbation" which is obviously hinting at the artist's problem. He also talks as if he is on speaking terms with Pan, the satyr God and refers to himself as the Mother of Creation. Clearly this individual is disturbed. It is a cry for help.

Dr. Cole Lector: I'd have to disagree with Dr. Moody. In fact, I would say that it is preposterous. He's apparently trying to channel a swishy Marc Bolan or Ian Astbury. But to state that lyrics suggest some disturbed state or that he is mad is, well, mad in itself and presumptuous. Many artists who are perfectly sane adopt odd personnas in order to make a statement or to shock their audience. In fact his lyrics are quite poetic and probably refer to a male hooker - here's a few lines from the song we are tenatively calling "Sanskrit Secret" (makes quote marks)

You're Pan my man
you understand
I kiss the wind
you breathe it in

soon our magic mask
will bring me back again
if I should die before I wake
you will guide me
Obviously, the magic mask refers to this imaginary personna. And Pan is probably a hooker.

Robert Stack (looks at screen with befuddlement and does a double take): In any case, authorities in Sydney, Australia and Hollywood, California have been notified to be on the lookout for an androgynous home taper with a guitar and a casio. He is known to hang around hookers.

(cut to shut of Dr. Lector nodding vigorously)

(return to shot of back of man's head listening to record and pulling at his hair)

Record Collector (in shadows): Really, I'd like to clear up just who this is. I've done Internet searches on the lyrics and have turned up all nil. But I'd really like to find out what happened to my Downliners Sect record!

Robert Stack: Um. Maybe next week. For now... (looks at camera with his famous Robert Stack gaze)... Please download the songs. If you have any information, please leave a comment at the end of the posting. Otherwise stay tuned for messages from our sponsor.

"I'm The Fucking Queen of the Universe"
"Secret Sanskit"

Friday, April 29, 2005

Hagged & Bagged and Nothing to Listen to This Friday?

Even those homebound homeboys (and girls) need something to groove on while they change diapers, perform their spousal duties and empty the trash (and yes, in that order)... they need something to put a smile on their faces. And shouldn't it be appropriately loud and nasty?

Here's a cut I missed in my March SXSW Mp3 harvest and it was right popular on the other side of the pond in 2004 - making a few end of year lists, even. Since the artist's new website doesn't offer too much in terms of MP3s (seems to be a common trend among those folks we help make famous), better take it while the takin' is good.

It's a great way to start of the weekend with a healthy sneer and a Ramone-ish swagger. I wish I had written these lyrics but they make a perfect accompaniement to dampening jealousy against those folks that get to go out and party all night....

Hey man you think you got it made
Groovin' and you stink on your fender bass
Got on your aviators shades
Yeah man you're looking really ace
So what the hell you're doing here
Filling the space between my ears
Why don't you all just disappear

And speaking of which, now that the sole surviving Ramone has announced he's going into alt-country, we need a new punk rock power pop hero. Ladddies and Gentleworms, I present to you:

Graham Coxon

Song download: "Freaking Out" - download courtesy SXSW

This song is free and legal (freegal)


This weekend I've got the following oldies in the B is for batter's cage. Drop me a line if you have any good Dicks stories, fucked Billy Bragg (just kidding) or think Boy Dirt Car was the best noise band from the upper Midwest ever:

Big Boys and The Dicks Split LP
Billy Bragg Brewing it up with ...
Boy Dirt Car

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Songs for Nao

Fourteen Bands from Japan
Chapter Music CD, 2005

One of the frustrations for music fans in the U.S. seeking the exotic and challenging is the dearth of information about the underground and indie scenes in other countries. Much of this music and bands, as I found in my foray to Malaysia several months ago (here and here) are challenging to find even in a country where my own native language is spoken widely and fluently. Japan offers a more significant language barrier to me because, well I don't speak or read Japanese. Most band websites are in Japanese and its hard to navigate through their band community sites (although with the introduction of Japanese translation in Google, this may become a little easier). Forced Exposure, Aquarius and a handful of other mail orders have some of the hard-to-find Japanese music (for instance, Songs for Nao) but generally carry the more esoteric jazz/improv noise or the older more established groups (Acid Mother's Temple, Boredoms, Ghost, etc.). Beikoku-Ongaku (buy at insound), a Japanese zine that covers the indie side of the J-Pop scene helps (especially with their CD comps) but usually doesn't veer into lo-fi, psyche-folk territory. In this case, one needs a patient and knowledgeable guide to make their way through this. Enter Guy Blackman, the chief of respected Australian lo-fi/indie record label Chapter Music. Guy took an 18 month sabbatical in Japan between 2002 and 2004 in order to find out more about the music scene and make friends and Songs for Nao is the most welcome end-product. It comes with a useful 16-page color booklet wherein Blackman and Shintaro Kiyonari provide liner notes on each band and Eigo Shimojo's intriguing lo-fi pictures of surreal life in modern Japan (see the cover picture and below).

Songs for Nao is a fascinating look into a music scene that very much mirrors the US scene but with subtle differences, as if through a distorted glass caused by distance and culture. Most of the music in Nao centers around the Majikick record label, a loose collective of friends and musicians and artists run by husband and wife Takashi Ueno and Saya. Both of them play and sing in several of the bands here - most notably Tenniscoats and Puka Puka Brians and they are friends (and often play) with many of the other bands. Jon of Worlds of Possibility has described Japanese underground's unique ability to "grab genre conventions and exploit them to near-parodic excess." While I understand what he is saying (and he means it in a positive fashion), I can't entirely believe this after listening to Nao several times. It is true that most of the songs here are some combination of lo-fi, world, psyche, folk (both Eastern and Western), pop and drone/raga. The more obvious touchstones are American - The Velvet Underground, Jad Fair, Daniel Johnston and some of the various psyche-folk acid collectives. But one hears Indian, Eastern European, traditional Japanese influences and the more contemporary Japanese pop and rock bands. In the latter case, I'm talking about the aforementioned AMT, the "softer passages" of Ghost and even the raw enthusiasm of Shonen Knife -- there's probably more here but that's about the extent - not counting Japanese hardcore - of my knowledge of Japanese rock.

The themes of many of the songs are familiar to the neo-folk scene - although there is less "inward" direction and story telling than in their Western peers. For the most part, the bands and songs suggest love of community and nature. Band names come from mystical experiences in nature - one band derives their name from a song on the radio playing at the same time that they see words on a beach get wiped away by the sea, another is described as forming on a river bank. The Tenniscoats' name came to Saya while she was watching fireflies in a rice paddy. Songs are about friendship - making and keeping friends through distance and fate as well as recording interpreted images of nature. One song (Nikaido Kazumi's "Temperature of Windowside") is said to illustrate the images of "A strong wind blowing, tepid air in spring, and the creaking sound of old windows in an old house."

"Here is Very" by My Pal Foot Foot opens the record. An amateur trumpet and guitar trade off verses with an acapella female voice. It is soothing and yet tentative as it describes the relationships of three different friends living in different places. One thing that is interesting is that there is a vein of traditional Japanese music theater (I think it is called No) that alternates between a female singer and a small orchestra and I wonder if this is being subconciously or deliberately referenced here.

Yumbo's "Cake" is a soft rocker that the author openly admits was heavily influenced by "Sunday Morning" but its upbeat "happy" sound masks the lyrics which are said to be about family dysfunction.

Maher Shalal Hash Baz is a sprawling band with a floating line-up of ten or more musicians reading leader Tori Kudo's scored pieces. Here is a sort of sacred softly sung song (in English) called "Book of Life." As with other bands, the musicians are of varying talent, leading to an interesting texture in the music.

Andersens, a young band formed by three boys in high school (now apparently in college) make an impressive three-part psychedelic piece called "Swan" - one can hear similarities in the vocals to the Jewelled Antler collective as well as some of the more indie shoegazers. But one interesting aspect is how they make their soft dissonant guitar riff recall a Koto.

Puka Puka Brians, a band named after Brian Jones floating in his swimming pool, stopped me dead in my tracks and I had to play the track over and over again. Entitled "Goodbye from India", its a meandering, noisy raga jam with sitars, brass, percussion, noises and saxes that roam all over the place. A real lovely din is raised here. Like Maher Shalal, this is a large band but somehow, like those Japanese puppets controlled by multiple people, it makes for a cohesive piece.

"Summer Days" is an innocent and simple pop piece by a band named after a fanciful Japanese toy store - Merci-S. It seems tailor made for the cinema, perhaps a young love scene. If I could, I'd slip this in Chris Douridas' iPod for his next Dreamworks soundtrack.

Every good compilation should have a couple cuts that are different. Here Eepil Eepil's "Kilmanjaro", a sort of Birthday Party garage romp about a childhood experience of the late drummer (Uchibori) is a welcome diversion from the more poppy and folk songs. As is "Blue Wave", a Shonen'ish rocker by two heavy metal go-go dancers. But before you reach for the J-Pop filter, consider that the band digs German prog rock and NYC new wave. the song is supposed to conjure up the image of a girl surfing in a "blue sea under a blue sky, with her mind totally in a trance."

The final cut ("Telen Pa Wu") is an improv masterpiece of theme and counter-theme by Tenniscoats trading between two melodies as played by instruments (again with the trumpet, keyboards, guitar and what sounds like a toy synth) under differing levels of competency and singers (the male off-key and playful and the female exactly on target and ethereal). One instrument (guitar) seems to be playing a totally different song. It goes on for 10 minutes and needs to be listened to in full glory with perhaps candlelight or watching the sun set.

The other cuts are fine and worth exploring - Pervenche's "Good Night" is perhaps the most indie-pop of the songs and the band has a growing reputation outside of Japan. The aforementioned Nikaidoh Kazumi's cut is deceptively complex and seems to borrow from the Bulgarian folk singers - it can't be dismissed without a concentrated listening. And I can barely muster a complaint about any other the songs I didn't cover here. I'll leave it to the listener to discover Place Called Space, Kinuta-pan and Nagisa Ni Te on their own. The music is spectacularly recorded but is best listened to direct from the CD (uncompressed) and with a set of headphones. Mp3s do not do it justice. It is, to quote my betters, a "mind-zap." The good news is that if this compilation is a success - then perhaps Mr. Blackman and others will be encouraged to get back catalogue of the Majikick (and their peers) and upcoming releases into wider distribution.

"Swan" - Andersens
"Goodbye From India" - Puka Puka Brians
"Summer Days" - Merci-S

These songs are posted for a limited time WITH the permission of Guy Blackman of Chapter Music and are (c) 2004 Chapter Music.

Chapter Music
Majikick Record Label
An interview with Andersens

Purchase Songs for Nao at Forced Exposure. Hopefully decent sales may encourage FE and Aquarius to carry more of the Majikick back catalogue and give Chapter Music a higher profile there.

Currently, Majikick records are hard to find in the US but GEMM's Jet Set Records partner provides a solution at reasonable prices. Go to the GEMM mainsite and use the search term "majikick" with "record label" selected.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Squirrel Bait

Self-Titled 12" EP
Homestead/LSR, 1985

I know that kid on the cover of this record. He's the one that was at the bottom of the hill - you know the hill, the one where shit rolls down from. If you were "lucky", you were a few feet above and got to pile your own turd-balls on the poor geek (whilst simultanously dodging the work product of the lucky others). You suspected that there was maybe more to the kid than he let on. He was always in his own little world and seemingly oblivious to the taunts and torments dreamed up for him. Little did we know he was just looking forward to when he went home, strapped on a guitar or a grabbed a pair of drumsticks- or turned on his computer keyboard or fired up his video games - and all his revenge fantasies could be purged. He's the Elvis Costello, the Kurt Cobain, the Bob Mould, heck, the Colin Meloy and Rivers Cuomo. Yep. And there's only one thing worse than teenage angst and that's teenage nerd angst. And while most teenage angst records are plagiaristic or, to quote Fitzgerald, "marred by obvious supressions", this record has it down in sonic geniune boatloads...

David Grubbs, the guitarist and probably the principal songwriter said about this record that "it all came crashing together quite well... whereas [ Skag Heaven (the 2nd LP) didn't ] have the same gel nor similar snapshot-accuracy". And I think this has to do with the intensely personal nature of this record. One senses a deep, although temporary, connection being made among all the band members that may have evaporated by the 2nd LP. I don't sense the same level of intensity in Skag Heaven although it also explores themes of the downtrodden and abused, albeit in the third person. Squirrel Bait, the EP, peers in this respect where the Rites of Spring LP and Zen Arcade.

Yes, Grubbs - crash it does and smash, mash, thrash, gnash and clash as well. Funny how all those words rhyme, innit? Oh yeah, I forgot bash. As in bash in that bully's imaginary fuckface with my guitar - in front of that girlyoulike who saw you getting humiliated by him, verily in front of everyone in school and your brothers and sisters who heard the rumors. There's an inner tough guy in all nerds. Just ask those guys in that movie. Just ask Steve Albini, who befriended the band. While I don't know for sure whether this was the intent, that revenge fantasy is exactly what I get from "Hammering So Hard." And while I won't relive my own torment, I remember hearing almost exact lines like: "I'm going to beat you up at the end of this," and feeling that my problems (and fantasy solutions) were the be-all end-all and above everyone else's. The song mirrors that emotion from the the excited breathe-in / breathe-out of the stop-start thrash verse, the angry stabbing chorus and the finale where everything goes into slow motion as your revenge fantasies climax.

Then there's "Sun God" which is the strangely realist flipside of dealing with that teenage pain. "Take it away" wails singer Pete Searcy in that post-pubescent growl of his like he's in some sort of Garden of Gethsemane - yeah, that's how big these things seem to be, don't they. We can laugh at it now, I guess. "Take it away" is the wail of the guy who realizes that he can't have it all, be the perfect specmen of manhood, be the top dog, the "sun god" of the campus. This song also appeared The Wailing Ultimate (how appropriate!) compilation in 1987 and, for many, was the introduction to the band. Damn, it was a genius choice by Mr. Cosloy and the band. And while I'm not the first to note the parallels to this and Nevermind, I do think that "Sun God" is like Nirvana's "Lithium" but without the lithium. This only makes it more real and the latter song more flat in comparison.

Overall, this record is still a pleasure to listen to, as is most of this record even if it is painful to remember what being 16 years old was like.

"Sun God"
"Hammering So Hard"

  • The source for the quote from David Grubbs (above) was via an Outer Sounds interview with him by Brent Burton. A Google search will find many more interviews with Mr. Grubbs.
  • A fine retrospective and non-flack essay on the band by Sean Koepenick from Ear Candy - RECOMMENDED READING!
  • Rather than going into all the bands Squirrel Bait begat, just go look at the Squirrel Bait family tree from FASCINATING!
  • The question of why so many good bands come from Louisville is posed in this article with a not entirely proven hypothesis that there is a Chicago connection
  • A not entirely successful attempt to compare Squirrel Bait with Nirvana
  • David Grubbs trivia: while he was living in Washington working on his graduate degree, Dave taught high school English to the convicts of DC's notorious Lorton Prison
  • The opening paragraph is a slight yet loving rip off of Henry Rollins' "I Know You" piece, mea culpa

Buy it:

This is required for every decent indie-punk 80's collection, doncha know? The most recent reissue was in 1997 by Drag City and was overseen by David Grubbs himself. It reportedly includes liner notes by Grubbs and inner sleeve pictures of the band in its high school nerdliness.

It is still in stock and you can buy it directly from them in either CD or 12" EP format.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Your "I Live for the Weekend Pseudo Russian Historical Disco" Pick for Friday

I have no idea why Robert Weinberg, a Professor of Russian history, feels a Eurokraut mid 70's Disco group has anything to do with serious studies, but I guess these days it must take a lot to get his slacker students inspired, so who am I to argue? Certainly, it is offered in fair use, because, you know, higher education and all. And if you don't believe, the good Professor has offered a ton of Russian history links to bone up for the next pop quiz. But I do wonder if at the end of his lesson on the Stalin years, Prof Weinberg ends the class with, "oh, those Russian!"

We thank you, Professor, then from the bottom of our hearts for your fine educational innovations and encourage all Swathmore students to download this gem post-haste.

"Rah-Rah-Rasputin" - Boney M

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Reasons to not go camping in the rain this weekend

Supersystem - Thursday night w/Mary Timony.

I liked the El Guapo tune (MP3 link) "Fake French" from my SXSW romp last month, so I made it a point to look closer at Supersystem (their new name), a local DC band.

But I really like the single "Born Into The World"(MP3 link, ID3 tags need to be added) off their new album. Alas, the rest of the record is kinda generic indie dance pop, more upbeat than New Order, more "indie" than Tears for Fears and less intense than Love and Rockets - what might distinguish them from others is the north east African guitar riffs. But in my opinion, the single is all you should know from this album. You can stream the album here from T&G & make up your own minds.

Nevertheless, I may go see them tonight. They're playing at DC's tiny Warehouse Next Door.

Mary Timony (ex-Helium), who is opening, is getting a lot more blog love lately for her Ex-Hex album wherein she tries to banish the fairy princess persona her previous records got by adding Dischordians (Brendan Canty will be her touring bass) and it looks like Devin Ocampo will be joining her more permanently on drums. Together, they sound like what might happen if Marcy Mays and Meg White got married and formed a band. MP3s can be found on inSound and on Mary's page whenever she notices that the links don't work. She's worth arriving early.

Also opening is No Things - described as a Brooklyn rock band with the rhythm section from Liars who have a record on the Blast First (Petite) label. Alas, since I can't find any MP3s and the press flack description doesn't exactly enlighten me, I'll probably skip 'em.

As for da weekend in DC - Friday: The Silos (!) are still together and playing at the Iota but the real retro scene will be at the Black Cat with Har Mar Superstar and Ben Lee.

But forget the Silos, check out Saturday night a band that I thought was long dead...

((cymbal crescendo))

You're motoring...
what's your price for flight...
in finding mister/missus right
you'll be alright tonight

Yes, the one, the only ...celebrate 22 glorious years with Night Ranger... in Towson Maryland (that's Baltimore).

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Coffee & Cigarettes MP3 Mix #12

photo by warren ellis hosted on flickr

Some low volume songs for drinking the morning coffee with the windows open...

halycon (beautiful days) - mono
i will never see the sun - great lake swimmers (misra)
what would the community think? - drekka
to the birds on the limb - crix crax crux (h.t. to herc)
a light - nagisa ni te

(all songs believed freegal)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

State of the Union: Soulside

Dischord 32, 1989

Someone real smart and real dead (I believe Pliny the Elder quoting a war hero) said that "the ultimate valour is to vanquish fortune" and those are certainly words to live by. But where you and I see fortune, or maybe where I see fortune, others see "slavery" or "apartheid". The solutions offered to these serious charges by Positive Force is to boycott Morton's salt and nearly everything else and to live a simple non-consumerist life (except for buying Dischord records).

So in addition to no drugs, sex, alcohol - no gas or fast food for you. Thanks, baldy!

As for the music: Eric already identified Three's "Swann Street" as a standout and I tend to concur, mainly because it is a slight glimpse, if you care, of what an acoustic version of a Minor Threat song might have sounded like. But it veers a bit too far for me into Guitar Mass land - just replace some of the lyrics with "holy holy" and replace the guitar solo with a recorder solo (those little flutes) and it would be indistinguishable from Saturday night church nightmares of yore.

I almost converted the Fidelity Jones song ("Blood Stone Burn") as well because, well, Tomas Squip and Dug of Beefeater and their crazy ass religiosity (sample lyric: " till the sky split and light return / let evil reap evil and blood stone burn") but then I realized I had enough songs in my playlist with guitarists who didn't know a fret from a hole in a guitar. Ah, where have you gone, Fred Smith?! Another decent cut (tho' muddily mixed) is Ignition's "Anger Means" but since I've already digitized that from the single, I passed on this one.

Despite Soulside's Bobby Sullivan's crushingly obvious lyrics, "Name in Mind", it's a fine blare of a song showcasing the talented Scott McCloud ( of the even finer bands - Girls Against Boys, New Wet Kojak) on guitar - Scott had the ability and still does to magically reach out of the headphones and pull your guts up into your brain and squeeze them out of your ears. And that's cool.

The rest of the record is disappointment -- the most laughable being Broken Siren's demurring whine about street harassment ("No You Cannot Go"); Kingface's cut is no standout and those fancypants Fugazi, as usual, underwhelm me - will I ever 'get' why people love this band?...

Despite part of the money going towards a cause that I like (ACLU), there's not much to recommend about this album beyond Soulside... but by all means check it out for yourself - it's still available on a remastered CD.

"Name in Mind" (160 kbps, 4.8 Mb) - Soulside (southern records)

Guest disclaimer from Republic of Replicants: Any MP3s on my site are available for a limited time only and are here for sampling purposes- so check them out. And if you like what you hear, go out and support the artist and purchase the CD. If you are the creator or copyright owner of a song or anything else that might be posted here, [and don't like it] please contact by sending an e-mail to me.

An Opposing View:

Other links:

Friday, April 15, 2005

Bongwater: Breaking No New Ground

Shimmy-Disc EP, 1987

Back... then (you know when)... I'llhaveyouknow...classic rock was the bane of our existence, blaring at us from, like, everywhere -- reinforced by the smug Boomers from their ever increasingly crowded perches in the mainstream media, the recording industry and the academic hallways. We were constantly reminded of how supeeeeerior "their" music was. Some of us even believed it - I remember a poll in the 80's reporting a good deal of college students felt they had "missed out" on the '60's and wished they had been born 20 years earlier. Kids increasingly embraced the infantile aimlessness of retro and the recycled garbage that was being foisted on them as "new" music. What. Ever. Its a wonder we didn't go collectively mad. Maybe we did, though.

A couple of our (hey, they started it) artists embraced some of the recent past - fur instants - X identified with the trippy misfitism of The Doors (and it didn't hurt when you are sucking up to Ray Manzarak to play some of his songs) and then there was the ever contrarian minutemen and their beloved fellow working-class BOC (bleecch). OK, The Ramones covered scads of the "classic rockers" but then they covered everyone with mindless abandon and rarely took it that seriously. And nearly everyone covered The Stooges or a Nuggets garage classic or VU - I point out now eruditely that none of these bands were ever embraced by the classic rock playlists and Rolling Stone and all, just saying. FOR... the most part, when we covered a real "classic rock" tune, it was done with a sneer and followed with a set of middle fingers. Think Dead Kennedys and their version of "Back in the USSR" or those chucklehead Dickies packaging "Nights In White Satin" 7" in a KKK robe.

Bongwater made it cool again to love those "old" uncool songs by taking them apart and smooshing them back together into something cooler, stronger, better, lo-fi, immediate, direct and with muchus sonicus maximus. We so expected a goof band when I came home with this - I mean Kramer had been down here hanging out with 1/2 Japanese and seemed like one of us even with that Wierd Al haircut thing going.

Much to my surprise, however, Bongwater picked up these old discarded and dusty tunes and reowned them. In most cases, the covers that appeared on the album reflected whatever the "concept" was that they were trying to explore - in the case of Breaking No New Ground, Double Bummer and even (to lesser extent) Too Much Sleep, they seemed to be songs about picking up from the wreckage of their post-punk lives. By putting on a sixties' pose, they were able to be somewhat removed from the present day. It was also easy to make clear associations with the death of the 60's rock and the implosion of new wave. Although comparisons stopped when you looked around to take a toll of the dead. Hard drugs just never had the impact that the AIDS plague had on that world. Ann Magnuson once estimated that she lost a full third of her "surrogate family" and associates from the Club 57 days - her friends Keith Haring and Klaus Nomi among the notable dead - but many many more.

In happier sadder times... (courtesy AMG)

Their original songs here beat that theme home. "Barely Coping," the second song on this album isAnn in the white walled room, beating her head against the doors asking to be taken out of her misery. This is certainly a gem out of all the cuts. Magnuson's performance artist tendencies are held at bay on this cut and it's reminiscent, perhaps a prophecy of the reverb heavy slow-core sound Kramer would become famous for in his records with Low and Galaxie 500, although its hardly characteristic of the minimalism that genre expressed - instead its healthily embroidered with unfettered acid jazz guitar and snippets of organ and all sorts of noise.

The second side's "His New Look", another original, is a recounting of a dream of Magnuson's ostensibly wigging out over a boyfriend who left her. She ends it with a primal scream of "total" devastation and abandonment that goes beyond some mere old boyfriend issue. Even "U.S.O." which on the surface seems like just a sludgey acid screed against Marines and the go-go girls who fuck them ( it also recalls Apocalypse Now! - another look back at the '60s). The refrain is the USO chick demanding "bloody sex" and the song is laced with automatic gunfire, helicopters and falling bodies. Maybe it is just an anti-military song, callously mocking a military service that had only recently (Lebanon) sacrificed so many of their own, but I'd like to think its more of a self-critical atonement for the abandonment and carelessness of those early '80s. Something that would have been hard to put into explicit words. So, yeah, Bongwater as a post-AIDS band. Sure, Jim. (hey, it's my website - editor)

The other covers are "Four Sticks" and "Julia." The former is a very loose acid jam take-off on the Led Zeppelin original (from Led Zep IV). I dug this song out of the archives and the original sounds REAL flat by comparison (and I have like the 20th remastered version, nyah). It seems more like it was thrown in for fun -- Kramer wrote that those early years in Bongwater and at the original Noise New York were mostly an excuse to get together with musicians he admired. One gripe about this record and others is worth bringing up. I wish someone, upon the next re-release, would go back and provide some liner notes as to who plays where. I sure would like to know which cuts Frith plays on and which cuts Chris Cochrane is playing. Just a nit.

Ann Magnuson's singing on "Four Sticks" is worth noting, too. Sure, she's given an assist by the one or several of the black boxes that Kramer loves to employ but she shows the wide range that would characterize the new few albums. Although I (and most everyone) never saw them live, from the recordings I've concluded that this was no performance artist pretending to be a rock star. She was genuine.

The final cut is Lennon's "Julia" - I'm pretty sure that is Kramer singing in falsetto (does anyone know? it's hard to tell with the processing). It begins with an angry phone message (the whole record is peppered with tapes of radio and phone machines from mostly sad people). It's one of those messages from a fuming landlord that make you want to go hide in a closet in shame. Or at least it would I would want to do that.

"Julia" like "Barely Coping" and "His New Look" is a song about abandonment - Lennon's dead mother was named "Julia" but it's also a song of hope as it references, however obliquely, Yoko. It has some incredible chord changes (lots of minor 7ths) and a non-traditional song structure which Kramer takes full advantage of. In a way this song, is a rosetta stone for some of his future work. Totally sublime.

It ends with a smidgen of hope - a young girl - we assume its Kramer's daughter saying hello to her Daddy.

"Barely Coping"

All cuts adapted from original vinyl with as minimal post-processing as I can handle. Not for commercial purposes. All copyright is retained by the original holder. Links to MP3s are to engender discussion and encourage further research into our shared culture. Space is limited so songs only are available for about two weeks after the original date of the posting.

Magnuson sleeps in Scharf's closet


Yes, I am aware of the sordid and long lawsuit brought about by the break-up of the band. By most accounts, it ended up with Shimmy Disc being taken over by Knitting Factory and Noise New York/New Jersey closing. All I have heard is hearsay and gossip on the matter, so I choose to just ignore it and concentrate on the great music and art Bongwater made.

  • With the exception of their Power of Pussy release, Bongwater is currently hard to find new - even though there was a box set released a few years back - Check Gemm Records.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Why I've Been So Quiet...

The short answer: I've been writing and rewriting and then rewriting a post until I get it right is the short answer. I haven't even had time to go mining through Flickr for cool images. The new post will come soon (tonight I hope) and I'm sure you will be all suitably underwhelmed by it. Or overwhelmed - I don't know. Well, at least I think you'll like the music I'm fixing to post...

The longer answer is that I've been spacing out listening to some of the tunes I downloaded from Liz Durrett's website. I totally ignored her during my lengthy swim through the SXSW tunage but then some stuff was bound to fall through the cracks. So, I heard the strains of an unearthly version of "Somewhere" from West Side Story (one of my fave TV movie yearly events as a kid) coming from another room. I ambled over (in my socks, as you can only truly amble in socks) and saw the tail end of a commercial for some company (ok, it's called TIAA-CREF) of which I have no idea what they do - the commercial doesn't really help either but that's beside the point. Something to do with preparing for the future (maybe they sell gas masks?). Anyway, after tons of searching through the net to find out who is behind this cover, I was directed to Durrett's site where she has so helpfully added uploaded this song:

"Somewhere" - Liz Durrett(duet with Vic Chesnutt)

She has cover of Tom Waits' "November" and Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" at her site and her song "Ablaze" is still available from the SXSW site.

Meanwhile in other places and spaces... BSV explains the new tardcore movement and the photo (recently featured here) which is to this genre what the running naked Vietnamese girl was to the Vietnam War. Eric spruces up the hardcore clubhouse at Something I Learned. Jane of Firedoglake imagines what SHOULD be on the President's iPod as does Can't Stop The Bleeding. Johnny is a Man begins his recollections of appearing on Rock and Roll Jeopardy. And finally, Scott Stereogum puts together an indie yuppie MP3 mix. What, you never heard the term indie yuppie? - go here for an explanation (link also courtesy 'gum). Do you think indie yuppies listen to tardcore?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Speed Trials

Various Artists
Homestead Records (HMS-011), 1984

The Speed Trials compilation featured music from The Fall, Beastie Boys, Live Skull, Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, Carbon (Elliot Sharp), Swans and Toy Killers (Arto Lindsay).

From the slightly pretentious liner notes:
SPEED TRIALS was a 5-day festival of music and performance held May 4-8 at White Columns gallery in New York City. Over 100 musicians, dancers and artists were featured, encompassing a wide range of styles, attitudes and ideas. This record does not attempt to document the whole scope of SPEED TRIALS ... but focuses instead on a few specific bands and the music they were making that time:


Recorded by Mark Roule at White Columns, NYC May 4-8 1983 Mixed by Wharton Tiers and the bands at Wharton's Studio, NYC Executive Producers: Tom Paine and Peter Wright.
In his typical bombastic style, The Fall's Mark E. Smith spoke about 1983's NYC Speed Trials festival in a 1989 interview:
That band [1983 incarnation of The Fall] inspired all those what I call Fall rip-offs, like Sonic Youth; we did the Speed Trials and all that. It spawned a whole movement. I'm only realizing this now. You talk to people like Live Skull, a band I admire a lot. They said, "where can we get you (sic) tape?" I was shocked at how many groups were following us from New York. About 10 of the groups at the Speed Trials were really into the Fall. But for the previous year or two nobody was talking about us much.
Alas, listening to some of the bands here gives not only credence to Smith's claims but documents that a lot of them weren't doing it very well. Sonic Youth's contribution to this record- "Dig This!" - is an unlistenable collage of Confusion is Sex era songs and "essential to collectors only." I'm putting it nicely but in their defense, they were in their formative state and learning how to play live (the cover photo of Speed Trials is obviously Thurston Moore's guitar). At any rate, you can understand why a lot of people dismissed them in the early '80s.

Less forgivable is Lydia Lunch and members of Swans doing an apparent improv interpretation of one of her plays ("Me and Main Kelly on a Bender" - written with Nick Cave). A two-chord dirge interrupted by a reading of the play by Gira in which Lunch can't help giggling throughout is disappointing to say the least. AS for Swans, they prove here that the only thing holding them back was the guy who wrote their music. I'll say it out loud, as a front man, Michael Gira always struck me as a big fucking pretentious bore who couldn't sing for shit. "Weakling," the cut included here is no exception. That said, I praise him for the work he's done of late with his record label and how he has nurtured Devendra Banhart. He's much better as a behind the scenes guy (the graphical design of Swans' records only rivaled Big Black at the time).

Of historical interest is a pre-rap Beastie Boys doing "Egg Raid on Mojo" - silly hardcore was their forte at the time - the studio version later showed up on Same Old Bullshit EP. Kate Schellenbach (Luscious Jackson) is on drums here. She was later eased out by Rick Rubin because I guess she didn't look cool in a track suit and gold chains. Also of historical note also is a cut from the jazzbo percussion centered Toy Killers minus founder Mark Miller but fronted by Arto Lindsay. There's probably a story here but Charles Noyes does an admirable job picking up the slack.

Besides the Fall, the high notes are the cuts by Live Skull and Elliot Sharp. Skull prove here that they had one of the best live bands bar none at the time. On the other hand, perhaps their forte were compilation albums as their ideas and sound didn't always expand well onto full blown LP releases. Sharp's Carbon was really a name for the musicians he was playing with today (here he borrows Jonathan Zane from Swans and Rick Brown from Fish and Roses). Prior to this, he had been kicking around the NYC and Euro avant-jazz scene for a few years - along with John Zorn and a few others, he eventually crossed over into the indie-punk scene several years later with a series of still stunning albums on SST. This was merely an augur.

The real thrill, though, of this album is hearing The Fall as they sounded in 1983 with the mighty Steve Hanley's bass and double drummers (Paul Hanley and Karl Burns) to boot. They perform two songs which would later appear on Perverted by Language. The version of "Tempo House", a song that will be attempted to be deciphered by fans for next 1000 years is agreed to be better than the album version (well, at least if 'agreed' is defined as what some punter said on The Fall's messageboard). "Smile" suggests that Smith is not far off-base in saying that the NYC bands of the era were mere imitators of The Fall. The song has been said to be an exhortation of his audience to not look so dour -- something I'm sure all the NYC hipsters took to heart as they closed their gaping jaws.

The Songs:

"Tempo House" (93 kbps VBR) - The Fall
"I Was Wrong" - (131 kbps VBR) - Live Skull
"YTYKYO" - (147 kbps VBR) - Carbon

  • The Speed Trials poster was lifted off The Fall's official website as was the fanzine interview with MES.
  • A discussion on the meaning of the lyrics of "Tempo House"
  • This was The Fall's third US tour. Only a few days prior to Speed Trials, Mark met Brix in Chicago. She would later join the band and marry Smith.
  • Someone has found and scanned in the entire set of the Lydia Lunch - Nick Cave plays
  • Kate Schellenbach's role in The Beastie Boys via Beastiemania
  • Jonathan Kane on leaving the Swans after Speed Trials gig
  • The Sonic Youth song database entry on "Dig This!"
  • Where is the Live Skull fan tribute site? Thank Blog for Trouser Press
  • Elliot Sharp discography
  • The liner notes also say: "Special thanks to all participating bands and artists NO THANKS to Studio 54" - why? Did 54 originally agree to host the closing Tuesday night party with Flipper and back out?
  • White Columns, who hosted Speed Trials is still in operation as a non-profit outlet for artists. Pay them a visit next time you are in Manhattan.
  • Another curious liner note says that a complete video-documentation of Speed Trials was made. Richard Dallett is listed as the point of contact. The stills on the back cover (available at the Sonic Youth database here) were taken from this video. To date, I've heard hide nor hare of this potential goldmine. Sonic Youth's discographer asks the same question. It would seem to me, in this age of DVD and online video, to be time to get this out of the closet.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Telegram Sam

b/w "I Like to Boogie"
T. Rex (Marc Bolan), 1972
Old Gold Recordings, UK (1985)

Here's a great old song for the Friday evening buzz, guys and gals. I found this in the bargain bin for about 50 cents back in the '80s which was pretty good considering that the album it came off, The Slider, was only available at the time at stratospheric prices. Since then, the Italian Get Back Records has reissued this and you can snag the album (T. Rex's 2nd best record) off Forced Exposure.

"Telegram Sam" shamelessly recycles the guitar riff from Bolan's biggest US hit - "Bang a Gong (Get it On)" off his more popular album, Electric Warrior (also released in 1972). Do you think that A&M was trying to encourage them to repeat the formula? The Slider was a follow-up to Electric Warrior but the singles from it never captured the same buzz that "Bang a Gong" received in the US (did well in the UK, however), making him somewhat of a one-hit wonder (although "Jeepster" did okay).

So if you can forgive the riff recycling, the real hook here is the chorus (replete with strings): "Telegram Sam/ yer my main man." The silly lyrics about all his wild friends (and himself) are kinda cute ("I ain't no square with my corkscrew hair") but not too much so as to give up the trashy glam personna he was cultivating at the time.

The flip-side alas is from his later period (1976) and is not nearly as good or original, a sort of predictable, embarassingly self-referential song about how Bolan likes to boogie, perhaps a play to the burgeoning disco scene.

The Song:

Listen to "Telegram Sam" (recorded from vinyl and for "fair use" purposes only)

  • Peruse the T. Rex catalog at Forced Exposure. Some other options for buying The Slider.
  • A great T. Rex fan page from Brian Shunk
  • Per Shunk's fan site, May 16th sees the release of Ringo Starr's Rex film, Born to Boogie
  • Bolan died in 1977, the victim of a drunk driver. Here's the original BBC report.
  • Bolan's son, Rolan, is rumored to be in consideration for INXS's new singer, which would be fitting since it always seemed obvious to me that Michael Hutchence had stolen some of Marc's moves
  • iTunes has Electric Warrior available. "Bang a Gong" always seems to liven up this mix for me if you want to download it ...
Final Jerry Springer Thoughts: T. Rex brings back memories of of clandestinely listening to "Bang a Gong" on the radio because Bolan and a host of other performers -- including Neil Diamond and Cher -- had been banned in my Catholic household. Bolan with his orgasmic chirping at the end of the song probably deserved the banning - Neil Diamond's only sin was singing "Hot damn, hot damn" on his Song Sung Blue LP and my Mom's problem with Cher had to do with her Time Magazine cover (the nipples, the nipples!). Well, I still had my Elton John and BTO (so long as I didn't play the songs about trashy girls too loud). And if I sweared, I could always look forward to getting my mouth washed out with soap. Mom, I know you meant well, and I turned out, sorta kinda okay, didn't I, despite having to hide my National Lampoons and listen to my radio through a pillow? But there's a difference between banning speech in a private home and a government criminalizing speech. In an age in which we have political leaders talking about criminal prosecution for talking naughty on cable TV, its amazing how little we have changed in 30 years. First they'll come for Howard Stern (who incidentally once considered covering T. Rex's "Jeepster") and then they'll come for the musicians and artists. Oh sure, it wouldn't happen next year but maybe in 20 or 30 years. We keep on focusing on the wrong things -- trying to make people hew to some version of morality at the expense of art and free speech. Marc Bolan died in an auto accident due to a drunk driver. Drunk driving continues to this day to be a major cause of death in these United States. When I think of all the energy and money being put into squashing speech -- speech that doesn't lead to people dying, well, the Jerry Springer in me just wants to puke. The only positive thing to think about is that maybe people will finally realize they made a bad choice in giving one party so much power and change the makeup of Congress in 2006.

Lots of vinyl minage coming this weekend - so check back often! Or put me in your RSS Reader. I promise I won't touch anything.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Some Need Change - MacRoCk 2005

Our Trees Are Snakes

Songs of the moment to listen to while reading:

"Hold On Tight" - en francais (CD-R)
"Limits" - en francais (from CD-R - contact them at enfrancais at gmail dot com if you want a copy)

"There was a lot of dancing... and a lot of fighting"

Actually there wasn't much of either but when I got home this was the only thing I had written in my journal, a random snippet I heard while waiting for the last band to set up on Friday.

Lots of wool cap, trucker hats and even a hoodie spotted on the bands. For the most part, the bands I saw were great and entertaining. I arrived in the middle of Pattern is Movement's set. Their singer, a big man, with a red wool cap and three days beard growth and a fantastic man in the moon chin was charasmatic to say the least. They sound very different live than their CD, the latter is very much a Sufjan Stevens rip - that's not to say I don't enjoy their CD - it and the Saxon Shore EP were fine accompaniement to an early morning Skyline Drive drive (picture above).

had at least two impressive songs - most notably "The Devil's Interval" and the final song (I didn't catch the name). Their "effects" guitarist is amazing - if you get a chance to see them, stand on the right side of the stage to witness him. I missed En Francais but I bought their CD-R - which is innovatively packaged as an old 5 1/2 inch floppy disc. It's some very fine twee shoegazer pop. Shapiro also played at one point but I went out in search of some hot tea. Unfortunately, all I could find was a soda machine as the University cafeteria ("please, Sirs, may have some chickpeas in the salad bar?") had just closed.

Saxon Shore were up next. They're a new agey-shoegazer-instrumental band. One thing I noticed is the amount of tension between the two guitarists - one is a spastic noise-feedback guy and the other is a passive space-head. They never looked at each other during the show and when the space-geek's guitar strap broke, spastic guy almost beaned him with a replacement strap. The tension, though, helps the band create an interesting live sound. Their reformed skinhead bassist and drummer anchor their sound. Now all they need are some lyrics.

Chris Leo performed songs from his book. In case you don't know him, he's written a novel called White Pigeons in which the 7th Chapter is a CD which is inserted in the book at exactly the seventh chapter. It's a fake band from the book called The Breaks as played by Vague Angels. Although the leader character in the book is named Chris, he says in the forward that he isn't the Chris so I suppose the The Breaks aren't Van Pelt either. He played with an acoustic guitar and a vaguely Lou Reed in a modern stream of conciousness type delivery.

My Uncle Is Over There

The ineptly named Decibully (sounds like a skinhead band), played a fine set of, what do we call it? - Eclectic rock - country-indie-rock-classical-pop. The highlight was the 1st song from their new CD ("I'm Gonna Tell You") and an amazing cover of "John Walker Blues" (Steve Earle) - they plan to put up a live MP3 of the latter on their site. Their new CD, Sing Out America!, was one of the highlights of the ride back home (through pouring rain and foggy Virginia hills. They deserve to be considered right up there with the other Eclectics such as Arcade Fire, Shins and Decemberists. I would support a name change, though. Ignore at your own risk.

Travis Morrison combines a sort of self-efacing stand-up and funny, bittersweet songs. He apologized often saying that he's on tour with a band and felt real out of place doing the solo thing. He played some new songs and a few from Travistan ("The Internet really liked that album" - he noted sarcastically). He told some good stories, both musically and in words and had the best time with the audience out of all the performers.

By the time Sunburned Hand of Man set up, I was pretty burnt out but so was the rest of the audience because everyone sat down. The band is like a more edgey extended Grateful Dead Space jam. With a collective of seven unique musicians playing all sorts of instruments, one could have curled up and gone to sleep to the din. The only band that seemed to get the Harrisonburg cops and the University security guys uneasy but all in all I wished I had gone over to the Black Mountain show but the rain was pretty nasty and the walk from the parking lot to the other venue was too long.

Up Yonder, Sallye found a Sailor's body

Here's the booty I returned with:

Fall Records Label sampler, volume two (free)
Exit Clov promo (free)
ahleuchatisias - the same and the other CD
astralwerks New Music 05 comp (free)
Mortar and Pestle CD
sheet rock records comp (free)
Immigrant Sun records comp (free)
Jacob Zachary Fury and Spin CD
pattern is movement - the (im)possibility of longing CD
ambiguous city sampler CD (free)
insound 2005 spring/summer catalog
Dinosaur Jr (1st album remastered - sounds great) on Merge records CD
A Dinosaur Poster (free)
A iTunes code for Radar Brothers song from Merge
Polyvinyl 2005 CD (free)
Saxon Shore untitled 2005 EP-CD
Equal Vision Records New Sounds Vol 2 CD (free)
Decibully Sing Out America CD
en francias CD-R
White Pigeons book/CD by Chris Leo

Friday, April 01, 2005

More MaCRoCk

Travis Morrison by daftchris

Given the weather forecast (rain followed by rain with intermittant bursts of rain), I think I'll just be hanging out at College Center Ballroom rather than trying to shuttle to the PC Ballroom to see Crystal Skulls and Black Mountain ... good news is that we'll see Travis Morrison (pictured), Decibully, Chris Leo, Sunburned hand, Paul Michel, codeseven ...

Here's a final round-up of some of the other notable arteestes playing this weekend:

"let the formula forge itself fantastic" - chris leo (vague angels)

"i think its beautiful that you are 256 colors too" - black moth super rainbow
"trees and colors and wizards" - black moth super rainbow
"i am the alphabet" - black moth super rainbow

the following MP3s are hosted by the undersound - they have a bunch of other bands plus some of the bands below have more than one MP3. I just listed the ones I liked.

"being shown blues" - the strugglers
"the cascade range" - the strugglers

"closer" - the tiny
"in my back" - the tiny

"plastic fangs" - fin fang foom
"in harm's way" - fin fang foom

"one at a time" - rahim

"illegal flights" - the navies

"tell me a lie" - del cielo

"twine time" - medications

"times like these" - paul michel
"it's only a problem" - paul michel