Monday, May 23, 2011
Lasterday I Was Been Bad shows the Happy Flowers bowing out of the recording realm, and its only major flaw is poor vocal micing. Mr. Anus and Mr. Horribly Charred Infant wield their preschool-perspective shouts as skillfully as they manifest joyful noise with guitar and drums (and a bass guitar allegedly stomped by Mr. HCI while he drummed) so straining that you need to listen closely to catch the gems -- Anus assuming both sides of a Christian ethics debate throughout "I Don't Want To Share," or Mr. HCI yelping that on his birthday "My Gramma gave me five bucks/ Whaddya think this is/ nineteen-fifteeeeeeeee!?!" -- it's almost frustrating, but finally becomes fruitful. Parts of this actually sound like a tight, passionate, punk three-piece; with Scott Pickering's muscular drums on about half the tracks. "Leave Me Alone," for example, could have snuck into the Replacements' Stink, though when Anus' guitar solo picks its way down the scale like a daddy longlegs and then emits a shower of sparks, you know he's elected to forget everything Bob Stinson learned from Ted Nugent. It's largely "the anal one's" show vocally until Mr. HCI takes over for the last quarter of the album. He dry-gargles with abandon throughout Big Star's "Thirteen," evoking -- perhaps deliberately -- that burrito-bake timbre Big Star's Alex Chilton brought to his first hit (the Box Tops' "The Letter"), and producing a cover anyone would put side-by-side with the original. Of the two other covers, UFO's "Rock Bottom" squeezes out satisfyingly, but the album closer, Silver Apples' "A Pox On You," zestily revives a snarly tune from a then-obscure act. Instrumental tracks "Embryo" (neither Sabbath, Floyd, nor Illinois Jacquet), and "Mr. Fuck" (featuring sitar and tabla) offer some much-needed seasoning, showing that the fellows could actually play their instruments; much as their cover songs always pulled back the curtain on their infantilism to reveal erudite fellows with decent record collections, or at least college radio station pre-sets. The instrumentals provide pleasant breathers, but aren't necessary. The dynamic duo's chops and leanings gave them room to roam. Their central conceit of "Two Who Can't Read (Or Reach The Table) Against The World took them much further than any side-road ever could have.
Happy Flowers - Lasterday I Was Been Bad - Cassette tape on Homestead Records
CALIFORNIA is one of the American Music Club's most straightforward, roots-rock-oriented releases. It's certainly the most country-flavored, as arid desert landscapes mix with twangy guitars and folksy acoustic strumming. The anomalous "Bad Liquor" turned out to be one of the most-requested songs in the band's repertoire. It's a raging, punky rocker in which singer Mark Eitzel plays the drunken fool looking for trouble or the next drink, whichever comes first. Conversely, "Jenny" is a quiet, ominous, acoustic ballad full of low-key sorrow, and there are parts of the harrowing "Laughing Stock" that are barely audible, as Eitzel's self-esteem vaporizes before our very ears amid gently rippling guitar arpeggios.The opener, "Firefly," is really the mood-definer for the album, and its ostensibly upbeat arrangement masks the lyrics' bittersweet observations about the fleeting nature of happiness. "Somewhere" and "Pale and Skinny Girl" are portraits of non-beautiful losers in the classic AMC mold, the former sounding like it could be a Replacements outtake. Eitzel's existential angst is at its most appealing on "Lonely"; over a steady-rolling folk-rock backing, he reaches new heights (depths?) of alienation with the chorus "If I have to be this lonely, I might as well be alone."
American Music Club - California - Cassette tape on Frontier Records
The precursor to the legandary Godflesh! Features the original line up plus exclusive original versions of classic Godflesh material, rare live recordings and previously unreleased tracks.
Fall Of Because: Paul Neville (vocals, guitar, tapes); Justin Broadrick (vocals, drums); G.C. Green (bass).
Additional personnel: Nik Bullen, Mick Harris (vocals).
Recorded at Richbitch, Birmingham, England in November 1986.
Fall Of Because - Life Is Easy - Pre Godflesh CD on Invisible Records
Friday, February 25, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Formed in the early '80s, the hardcore punk band 7 Seconds has been among the longest lived of any group from the first wave of Cali punk (forming in Reno, NV, and eventually relocating to Sacramento), though frontman Kevin Seconds has proved to be the only consistent member; changes during the mid-'80s moved guitarist Bobby Adams, drummer Troy Mowat, and bassist Steve Youth (Seconds' brother) into the lineup. The group released several 7" singles just after forming, and Seconds signed the band to the Better Youth Organization label by 1982. The three LPs released on BYO culminated in 7 Seconds' most authoritative album, Walk Together, Rock Together. Signed to Restless in the late '80s, 7 Seconds delivered Soulforce Revolution and Ourselves before moving again, to Headhunter. The band released three albums for Headhunter, but signed with their first major label, Epic, in 1995. The Music, the Message was 7 Seconds' first Epic LP, released in 1995. By 1999's Good to Go, however, the band was back on the indie front, now releasing material through the Side 1 label. In mid-2000, they released Scream Real Loud, followed five years later by their 13th LP, Take It Back, Take It On, Take It Over! Throughout the group's career, Seconds has maintained several side projects, including Drop Acid, Five Feet Ten Inches, and Mustard. He also released several solo efforts starting in the '90s, including a 2002 split acoustic album on Asian Man alongside Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba.
7 Seconds - Live One Plus One - Cassette tape on Giant Records
Green River was an influential Seattle band in the 1980s, lasting only four years and named after a (then at large) serial killer in Washington. They were one of the first grunge bands.
Green River arguably had little impact outside Seattle, though they did form a friendly alliance with emerging American indie rock bands, most notably Sonic Youth who would later quote the Green River song "Come On Down" in their 2000 song "Nevermind (What Was it Anyway?)". However, the impact Green River had on the music made in Seattle would eventually be felt around the world. Their influence could be felt on both their contemporaries (Soundgarden, The Melvins) (though influence on the part of the Melvins was a two way street) and later Seattle bands (Nirvana, Alice in Chains). Before Nirvana, or indeed Mudhoney, Green River was the flagship band at legendary Seattle label Sub Pop, and through the bands who would form when the band split up (Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney) the members went on to influence millions of people world wide.
Green River were the among the first bands in Seattle to mix metal and punk, heavily influenced by Iggy Pop's original proto-punk group The Stooges, leading to the sound known later as "grunge". Mark Arm, the group's vocalist, is widely credited as being the first person to use the term, though not in relation to the sound it has come to signify.
The members were Mark Arm (vocals), and original guitarist Steve Turner, both of whom went on to play in the Thrown-ups and later form Mudhoney (even further down the timeline they played together in the side project The Monkeywrench as well); Jeff Ament (bass) and Stone Gossard (guitar), who went on to Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam, Bruce Fairweather (guitar), who also went on to Mother Love Bone, and Alex Vincent (drums).
Green River - Come On Down - Cassette tape featuring Pearl Jam and Mudhoney one Homestead Records
This indie rock supergroup consists of Jenny Toomey from Tsunami, Mark Robinson from Unrest and Air Miami, and Rob Christiansen from the Eggs. Formed in 1991, Grenadine has a slew of 7"s to its credit, as well as two albums, Goya and Nopalitos, that show off the band's moody take on pop music. Toomey's compositions tend to be sullenly melodic, quiet epics that show off her rich, throaty voice, while Robinson's songs range from upbeat power pop to odd, 1920s-style ditties reminiscent of Rudy Vallee and other crooners. An unusual band even by indie standards, Grenadine allows its members to explore musical facets untouched by their other bands, making the group more than just a side project.
Grenadine - Goya - CD with members of Unrest Tsunami Eggs on Shimmy Disc Records
Saturday, February 5, 2011
With the Killer Klowns EP restoring the band to more of an active duty, the Dickies fully got their act back together with Second Coming, amusing angel/sainthood cover and all. The core Stan Lee/Leonard Graves Phillips partnership remains the same, while the core band, including bassist Lorenzo Buhne, guitarist Enoch Hain, and drummer Clifford Martinez, backs up everything with the expected élan. Things aren't quite at the same all-out just-insane-enough level of the original band in terms of performance -- volumes are sometimes lower, arrangement a touch less hyperactive -- but in terms of good spirit and good fun, Second Coming is an entertaining romp. Two covers continue the tradition of out-of-nowhere "you're covering that?" reactions -- while "Hair" and "Town Without Pity" aren't given the sheer high-speed/slam-dance treatment of times past, it's nice to see the group still tweaking the nose of what's hip and acceptable. The latter in particular is an amusing effort -- straightforward enough, but hearing Phillips instead of Gene Pitney's wailing makes for an interesting change! As for the originals, mostly from the pen of Phillips, things are off-kilter enough, as always, to make for a good time. "Magoomba" reappears from Killer Klowns, guest vocals from Phillips' mom and all, while "Monster Island" celebrates the legendary locale from the Godzilla series with surfy vibes. "Cross-Eyed Tammy" slots into the vein of sweet and silly power pop à la "Pretty Please Me" and "Out of Sight"; "Caligula" reads like the world's weirdest Iron Maiden parody ever (and why not?); and "Booby Trap" makes for a new way to look at goth girls. Even "Goin' Homo," which on the face of it would seem insulting, is good-natured silliness at quick speed -- "Why did god make men with nipples?" indeed.
The Dickies - Second Coming - Cassette tape on Enigma Records
Bastro was the more prominent of guitarist David Grubbs' two immediate post-Squirrel Bait projects (the concurrently running Bitch Magnet being the other). Grubbs originally joined the Louisville, KY-based Squirrel Bait while still in high school, and was actually one of the oldest members of the group; when he and bassist Clark Johnson left for college, it effectively spelled the end of the band after two important releases. Grubbs went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and formed an early version of Bastro in 1987 with bassist Dan Treado, who soon left. Even though Clark Johnson had gone to Chicago, he and Grubbs reteamed as the new core of Bastro, and pursued a more twisted and abrasive style of post-hardcore punk than their former band. Backed by a drum machine, they issued a six-song EP, Rode Hard & Put Up Wet, on the Homestead label in 1988. They subsequently played some tour dates with My Dad Is Dead, whose drummer at the time was Oberlin College percussion major John McEntire. McEntire wound up joining Bastro full-time for their LP debut, 1989's Bastro Diablo Guapo, which drew comparisons to the blistering extremity of Steve Albini and the precision and shifting dynamics of another Squirrel Bait offshoot, Slint.
Bastro - Diablo Guapo - Cassette tape on Homestead Records
Meshing dreamy, feedback-drenched guitars with airy, catchy melodies, Lush were one of the most prominent shoegazing bands of the early '90s. Led by guitarists Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, the British band earned a cult following within the British and American undergrounds with its first EPs, yet the group never quite attained the critical respect given to its peers My Bloody Valentine and Ride. Even so, Lush lasted longer than any other of their contemporaries (with the exception of the Boo Radleys), developing sharp pop skills as their career progressed. By the time of their final album, 1996's Lovelife, they had converted themselves into a power pop band with dream pop overtones, which resulted in the greatest chart success of their career. Their success was dealt a blow when drummer Chris Acland committed suicide in the fall of 1996, effectively bringing the band to an end.
Lush - Single Girl - UK import CD on 4AD Records
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Setting heavy metal's evolutionary clock back to the stone-age days of Saint Vitus with their debut Volume One was seemingly not enough for San Jose's Sleep, who decided to time travel all the way back to the pre-historic days of earliest Black Sabbath with their second album, 1993's Sleep's Holy Mountain. Indeed, while Kyuss' Blues for the Red Sun and Monster Magnet's Spine of God are more frequently cited as the most influential and important albums in launching the American stoner/doom metal scene, not even these landmark releases compare to Holy Mountain for sheer devotion to unadulterated doom and copious weed consumption. In fact, as monolithic opener "Dragonaut" descends into a bass solo at its conclusion, one would be forgiven for expecting the band to segue straight into "N.I.B." -- such is their similarity to classic Sabbath. Instead, they grind into "The Druid," which despite a quick nod to the Sabs' "Electric Funeral," actually begins to establish Sleep's personality, as riff upon massive riff in the form of songs like "Evil Gypsy/Solomon's Theme" and the groove-heavy "Aquarian" flow from the speakers like molten lava. In an age of machine-gun double-bass drums, Sleep's most startling quality had to be their seemingly endless patience. As they slowly embark upon the mammoth power chords of the title track and "From Beyond," they also prolong the buildup of tension before delivering a final release of cathartic proportions. Besides greatly inspiring next generation doomsters like Electric Wizard, such unwavering dedication to weed would also set the stage for their controversial and unfortunate swan song Jerusalem -- featuring a single, mind-bending 52-minute track.
Sleep - Holy Mountain - Cassette tape on Earache Records
Originally going under the moniker Vaalkyrian, Andreas Stoltz (vocals/guitar) Thomas Nilsson (bass) and Urban Wikstrom (drums) eventually changed their name to Hollow upon the recruitment of second guitarist Marcus Bigren. Feeling that the name of their band perfectly fit the mood setting of their personalities and musical tone, Hollow released their debut album "Modern Cathedral" in 1998 with the accompaniment of progressive rock chords and a love for classic Rush and Queensryche.
Hollow - Architect Of The Mind - CD on Nuclear Blast Records
The name of the album was taken from a section of a Childcraft book on health, and you probably can't find a better collection of childhood angst, phobias, and concerns. The drums pound and the guitars shriek and squall mercilessly, all while Mr. Anus and Mr. Horribly Charred Infant scream apologies/warnings/pleas like, "Pleeeeease don't spank me/I'm too big to be spanked!" Occasionally it congeals into something that resembles an actual song, as on "Not Fade Away" or "Jenny Tried to Kiss Me at Recess," but mostly the instrumentation just provides a backing track to these little slices taken from adolescent nightmares.
Happy Flowers - My Skin Covers My Body - Cassette tape on Homestead Records
Friday, January 14, 2011
Released before the group was forced to change its name to Dinosaur Jr. by an obscure psychedelic group, the band's debut, Dinosaur, is a noisy, impressive, but uneven array of pseudo-hardcore numbers, sonic experiments, and sprawling hard rock. Although the band doesn't land on any one distinctive style, its ambition of marrying Neil Young and Sonic Youth sounds intriguing, and it has enough outstanding moments to indicate that the group was capable of the stylistic breakthrough it achieved on You're Living All Over Me.
Dinosaur - S/T - Cassette tape on Homestead Records
The Swirlies' first full-length album melds noisy guitars, samples, and sweet girl-boy vocals into a disheveled take on dream pop. Where so many dreamy bands polish their sound into pristine oblivion, the Swirlies create a hazy atmosphere that is evocative and unpretentious. Blonder Tongue Audio Baton -- named after a vintage tube equalizer -- combines the elements of the band's early work with more complexity. Songs like "Bell" and "Vigilant Always" juxtapose gentle and brash moments for a spontaneous feel, while "His Life of Artistic Freedom" expands on the Swirlies' noisy, experimental side. The group also shows off their accessible fuzz-pop on the album's centerpiece, "Pancake." The combination of Seana Carmody's demure vocals, big guitars, and burbling Mellotrons makes for one of Boston's most memorable pop moments since the Pixies' "Gigantic." The crunchy rhythms of "Tree Chopped Down" and "Wrong Tube" complement Damon Tuntunjian and Carmody's limpid vocals beautifully, and the sweetly noisy "Wait Forever" sums up the Swirlies' homemade noise pop aesthetic. A mainstay of early-'90s indie music, Blonder Tongue Audio Baton still sounds fresh today.
Swirles - Blonder Tongue Audio Baton - Cassette tape on Taang Records
After the Three O'Clock went out not with a bang but with the whimper of 1988's too-slick-by-half Vermilion, bassist-songwriter-leader Michael Quercio joined his buddy Scott Miller's band Game Theory in 1990. (Quercio had produced Game Theory's 1984 EP Distortion, and Miller had contributed "The Girl With the Guitar (Says Oh Yeah)" to the Three O'Clock's 1985 release Arrive Without Traveling). Unfortunately, Game Theory was in a state of flux at the time, and Quercio only contributed to a trio of re-recorded songs on Game Theory's final release, the compilation Tinker to Evers to Chance, and a 1989 fan club release, "A Child's Christmas Saving the Whales," of note to collectors both because it's a very funny faux children's story and because it includes an otherwise-unrecorded Quercio ballad called "Water" that's among the loveliest things he's ever written.
Permanent Green Light - Against Nature - CD on Gasatanka Records