Monday, February 28, 2005

 
Welcome back to the "guest version" of Mystical Beast... This week I want to cover various aspects of, for lack of a better term, do-it-yourself (DIY) culture and music. We will be examining 80's American cassette-culture bands, the current self-produced music scene in Eugene Oregon, and then close up with some "bigger" bands from the greater West Coast who I feel maintain these ideals on some level today.

The bursting-at-the-seams cassette explosion of the 80's has been tragically under-documented. The book Cassette Mythos (Autonomedia Books) gives a fascinating glimpse of a fairly random selection of practitioners, but fails to capture the true scope of what was going down - this was at a time when the music industry was fighting digital tape recorders tooth and nail. The International Discography Of The New Wave (somebody please put this on the net) gives a little more info on some actual releases, but cuts off around 1983 before things really exploded. Most alternative media at the time (Option, Spin, Alternative Press, etc...) either didn't review tapes or devoted minimal space to them. Forced Exposure was actively hostile to the format. Only Sound Choice (the "other" spinoff from Op Magazine besides Option) devoted any real time, energy, and space to the onslaught of bedroom tape mania. And I got my whole collection stolen about five years ago, so no reference library for me...

I'm talkin' labels like Audiofile, Sound Of Pig, Harsh Reality, Ladd/Frith, Generations Unlimited, and SSS (in the U.S. alone). Plus a ton of independent artists. Many of these people moved on to other formats of music, but the beginnings were crafted from magnetic particles and 4-tracks. Collaboration and improvisation were also heavily explored.

One of the most prolific bands in this period was California's Crawling With Tarts, who continue to release music as far as I know. From their massively creepy, towering, and LONG double 90-minute tape Bled Es Siba, here is the obliquely titled:
"9/3 (2)"

Many more were just forgotten. Under the name of Amor Fati and/or Will To Live, Amaury Perez (sometimes with others) released a string of intensely personal cassettes and vinyl throughout the mid-80's on his own Flesh Records and in collaboration with others. None of this stuff seems destined for a deluxe import reissue with bonus tracks, but who knows... from the "Rock N' Roll" 7", here is a personal favorite, "Economics 101 (part 2)". His Body Without Organs LP is a lost 80's classic of lo-tech basement howl.

New York City's Sue Ann Harkey, another personal favorite, also eventually released vinyl. You can see the evolution of her improvisational style by comparing this early cassette piece (from I Tell You Everything, Just Not Out Loud)

with this LP track:

"Hear The Distance" (from The Ancient Past And The Ancient Future Are Both Seconds Away)

Schlafengarten was an artist who released numerous tapes on many of the aforementioned labels, but never (to my knowledge) put out other formats. From the Audiofile label's Narcotica cassette, here is
"Hi Hi Yessir".

Another influential label at the time was Tellus, who released an extensive series of thematic "audio magazines" on tape only throughout the 80's. The "Guitar" issue, #10, has some especially rare tracks by Glenn Branca, Rudolph Grey, Steve Albini, Lee and Thurston, etc... Here's the Glenn Branca piece. The "Power Electronics" issue (#13) had more Amor Fati, plus an early F/i track - still not reissued along with the bulk of their tape output. I'm including this spooky Maybe Mental track from that tape - the band later turned into Life Garden, who I believe are still active.

"Memories Of My Birth"

And closing out the "where are they now" section, we have Cyrnai, formerly (I believe) the bass player for old-school SF peace-punk band Crucifix, and definitely later in Trial (whose album I have). She also released at least two cassettes and a 45 RPM 12" EP. From the second tape To Subtle-Drive, here's:

"Suppressionist".

As a special bonus for the indie kids, here's another infamous cassette release... Pussy Galore's Exile On Main Street full-length cover album from 1986 or so. They made the original tape, there was an abridged bootleg (?) LP, and all of "side 3" was released on the Corpse Love CD. The rest languishes in record-scum oblivion. So here's the lead-off track, featuring one of my all time favorite intros.

"Rocks Off"

On Wednesday we explore another element of do-it-yourself production, the local scene where I live in Eugene, Oregon...

Friday, February 25, 2005

 

Nevermind Sleater-Kinney, here's The Woods!!!

My guest host Sleeve will be taking over again next week. Last we talked, he was planning on doing a feature on the cassette underground from back in the days, as well as posting about some underrated west coast bands. I had planned to lead up to this with a bit on my own cassette culture hero, Linda Smith.

But (and this is part of the reason I want to post on that topic in the first place) I, like many other people, no longer have a cassette player, and I've been having trouble borrowing one. (Much of Linda Smith's music has come out on CD, but not all of it.) I'm still working on this, but it looks like the bulk of my Linda Smith feature is going to follow Sleeve's posts instead.

Very briefly, Linda Smith was possibly the first woman to write, sing, play, record, release, and actually get any real attention for her music with little to no outside assistance. Call her a female version of Emitt Rhodes, if you will, though she didn't get help from a record label for a long time. If you're the type to read liner notes of obscure albums, you may have noticed that she sang back-up vocals for Crash (that pre-Ultra Vivid Scene band that I go on about from time to time).

Around the same time as that, she was in a band called The Woods, along with a few other people who some of you may know. Brian Bendlin would end up collaborating with Robin Crutchfield (ex-DNA keyboard player) on some of his Dark Day recordings, and Steven Cheslik-De Meyer later helped create the cross-dressin' country-western band Y'all (that's probably not the best way to describe them, but it's the briefest).

So, in the mid 80's The Woods were kind of playing around, doing the things that young bands do, and Linda Smith bought a 4-track to record demos. This eventually turned into using the 4-track to record some pretty fantastic self-released cassette-only albums that are probably more obscure these days than they should be. There's a bit about her at Allmusic and she's done an appearance on WFMU, which I mention to emphasize that she's not just some random person who once recorded a tape of her songs.

But, back to The Woods. As far as I know, they only released one single. I have this nagging feeling that I have a tape of them somewhere, though I can't remember if it was live or studio or what, and now I can't find it. I'll have to check on that at some point. The single came out in 1985, and that's a close-up of it up above. Side a is credited to Steven Cheslik-De Meyer and side b to Linda Smith.

The a-side is kinda interesting. I know that The Woods were in touch with Calvin Johnson with the thought of being on his K label, and I know that there's kind of a long story about why The Woods never ended up on K, but I'm not going to get into it (though don't worry...you're not missing any juicy Calvin gossip).

Anyway, I have no idea when Beat Happening wrote the oft-covered Indian Summer (released in 1988) so I'm not going to jump to any conclusions, but give a listen to Love Me Again This Summer (released in 1985) and tell me what you think. We're talking possible influence here, btw, not plagiarism or anything exciting like that.

The b-side, Miracles Tonight, is written and mostly sung by Linda, and it's in her early style, which often sounds (to me) not far from the Paisley Underground. I know from her list of favorite albums that she knows her Game Theory (note also the appearance of Swans on that list!). Kind of mid-to-lo-fi pop-psych with one of those cool repeating bass lines that I tend to love. It kicks off on a strangely folkie note, so don't get freaked out by the song's opening. It's not all like that.

This is one of those bands/records that's so obscure that I'm not sure how many of you will be interested, but it does make for a nice transition to next week.

Take it away, Sleeve...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

 
Featuring no songs from the new Damon & Naomi CD

...because they've been teetering on the edge of becoming one of those Art institutions for a long time. Their new album is plenty listenable, in a tasteful sort of a way, and if I were planning to make out with the NY Times Arts Section I would totally put The Earth Is Blue on in the background. It's much like a psych-folk David Byrne, if you will. Some people are gonna love it, and I wouldn't want to put much effort into standing in their way. Despite the fact that D&N came off as preciously off-putting on the DVD that came with Song To The Siren, I'd guess that they're probably basically good folk.

I'm sure that some other blog will post something from The Earth Is Blue soon (if it hasn't already happened), like their cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps which seems to be going for "Ha ha, we've done obscure covers, but look what we can do with the hits." It was never my favorite Beatles song, and I'm not sure that slowing it down and prettying it up was what was called for, and they've removed the only truly exciting bit from the original (the guitar solo on the new version isn't anything to write home about).

Leaving others to embrace the dubious present, let's go back to Damon & Naomi's first full length album More Sad Hits, produced by Kramer. Back when they were a little loopier and less formally proficient (though more melodically adventurous) and writing incredible songs like Little Red Record Co.. Aaaah. And I'm not just saying that because I write Mystical Beast while looking up at a portrait of Chairman Mao. Maybe Kramer just got them stoned all the time. Seems like it might have been the right idea.

Just for a little excitement, here's D&N's cover of Dylan's It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, which came out on a single wherein they collaborated with Masaki Batoh and Michio Kurihara (of Ghost) with the b-side being a sort-of cover of Can's Yoo Doo Right (my favorite Can song -- kind of their version of Sister Ray -- which doesn't sound much like this cover). Here's that b-side.

And here's more of D&N's early flirtation with Ghost, Awake In A Muddle from their 1998 Sub Pop release Playback Singers. This one's a cover of a track from Ghost's Second Time Around album.

Meanwhile, in the Dean Wareham camp, I notice that he and Britta were recently working on the soundtrack for the new movie by that hack Noah Baumbach. Sigh. Hope it's good. If you're one of the large number of people wondering why Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic was...somehow unsatisfying, you might want to rent co-writer Baumbach's Kicking And Screaming wherein we discover the answer to the question "What if Whit Stillman were less intelligent but better connected."

On the other hand, Dean & Britta's Christmas song is nice enough.

(Disclaimer: I went to college with Noah Baumbach, though we didn't know each other. I think we were in one class together. He never struck me as a writer with much to say, but I have no particular axe to grind, other than the axe that dislikes lousy movies. It could very well be that his new one is dandy, though the fact that it's set in Park Slope doesn't bode well.)

Monday, February 21, 2005

 

Mystical Beast gets on board with the emo thing

I was a busy bee here over the weekend, so today's post is brief.

I wonder if everyone knows that Emo Philips' first two albums finally came out on CD last year. He's still around, though his new material doesn't seem as sharp. MTV watchers may remember him as the creepy guy with the pageboy haircut from back in the days when comedy was popular. He looks different now, which bothers me more than it probably should.

People sometimes say that he's hard to describe, but in fact his schtick is incredibly easy to describe: shaggy dog jokes that head in one direction, then swerve, delivered in a goofy voice. The execution is often close to perfect. His debut is one of the best comedy albums I know of, and it contains my favorite recorded comedy bit:

Equustentialisma

I cannot turn on WFMU these days without hearing Jeffrey Lewis' History Of Punk On The Lower East Side. Go here to enjoy a modern classic (and to brush up on your rock history). This is required listening, btw.

Black Lipstick (not The Black Lips) released one of my favorite EP's several years ago, called The Four Kingdoms Of Black Lipstick, neatly combining The Velvet Underground, Television, Pavement, and a barrelfull of snotty slacker attitude. The following full-length Converted Thieves thrilled me less. They have a new album out this month called Sincerely, Black Lipstick, and you can download a pretty decent web-only mp3 here and a very decent song from the album here. Pretty much everything you could want to know about the band (and a few more song samples) is here.

From that EP that I loved so much, here's White Jazz.

Friday, February 18, 2005

 
Gotta get to bed, 'cause I'll be helping someone reduce his belly fat tomorrow at 6:30am! (I'm writing this late Thursday evening.)

So, until later tomorrow morning when I'll get to put up a real post, go here and download (at the very least) Zadig by The Gordz and Gal by Oxbow.

The former is a short and to the point visceral near instrumental with the most wonderful guitar "scree" noise popping up about halfway through. Love it!

The latter is by a band that I'll probably talk about more in the future. My description (this track only) would be a cross between Ween's Common Bitch (Oxbow probably wouldn't approve of that comparison, but I stand by it) and the more abrasive side of Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 like, say, Sports Car. And since I love both of those bands, that's a good thing.

The Ween track, incidentally, is from the remastered version of GodWeenSatan, which is beyond essential and sounds about a billion times better than the original.

G'night.

And Good Morning!

I had a request earlier in the week for some Game Theory. Here's their track Crash Into June, from their album The Big Shot Chronicles. Less quirky than the side of Game Theory/The Loud Family that I like best, but it's nonetheless a great pop song.

And here's the track that finally won me over to Game Theory after many near misses, 24, from their Real Nighttime album. I had heard tracks by Game Theory and/or The Loud Family for years on compilations, but somehow it took this one to put them on my map (after which I bought and fell in love with every frickin' thing by Scott Miller). It's got one of Scott's best sounds-easy-after-the-fact-but-don't-try-this-at-home chord progressions.

Incidentally, there's a sort of competent power-pop band called Crash Into June (I'm not a big fan of or a good judge of power pop, in general) who had an album produced by one Neilson Hubbard who opened for the Loud Family on one of their later tours. And singing on that Crash Into June album is one Garrison Starr, who used to be in a band with Neilson Hubbard called This Living Hand (their unreleased album The TV Sounds Worried, while good, isn't quite the classic that you might have been lead to believe). And, coincidentally, the blog Womenfolk currently has Starr's great version of the Beatles' Taxman posted, here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

 
A couple of bands on the fledgling MoRisen label that probably deserve some attention:

I'm told that I'm the first blogger to talk about Elevator Action, which surprises me. I was initially intrigued by one of their mp3s, a song called Modern Sickness. It's not hugely different from songs by a lot of bands that have sprung up in the wake of the Strokes' success, but I took note that during the chorus, at the exact point where you'd expect some catchy little pop-punk hook, Elevator Action's lead singer instead decides to start screaming his lungs out. Always a good sign. Incidentally, I don't want that word "Strokes" to scare you away...it really is a good tune.

More importantly, it lead me to their album It's Just Addiction. Where I discovered that Elevator Action are possessors of a seriously world-class lead singer (Eric Gilstrap, who can go from Bowie to Bonn Scott in an eyeblink) and a track called Come On, Hate Me which is my favorite song of the last week-or-so. It features an amazing Lydia Lunch impersonation on the chorus, presumably by their bass player Laurie Ruroden (who should -- hint hint hint -- sing more).

They've got great raw material (basically a blend of Bowie, early punk r.o.c.k., and AC/DC) and great snarly/snarky attitude. Ultimately it's going to come down to production (nothing exactly wrong with this album, but I think they can do better), songwriting (they need to up the quality about one notch), and a dedicated Johnny Thunders-style lead guitarist wouldn't hurt. But, It's Just Addiction is a verypromising start. Although the band say that their CMJ NYC show wasn't so hot, I'd guess that they can really rip shit up live on a good night.

Lurking on the MoRisen website are old friends Jennyanykind. I've written about them before, so I'll keep this brief. They do "American Rock" (The Band, Bob Dylan, etc.) about as well as it's been done, and their one major label album Revelater (quickly deleted and it now sells for like one cent, I kid you not) is an absolute lost classic of cosmic proportions. While I was initially resistant to his formulation, the Amazon reviewer who compares it to Pavement meets Creedence Clearwater Revival isn't actually that far off. From Revelater, here's You Better Get Right With God.

Jennyanykind just about disappeared from the national map after that, but kept on recording. Though they've pretty much ceased to operate at this point, their final album Peas and Collards is available from MoRisen. On it, Jennyanykind stretch out and loosen up (and they were already pretty loose to begin with). Most of the songs are at least four minutes plus, and the album definitely sounds better after you've had a shot or two of whiskey. It's got a nice relaxed, swampy atmosphere and I'm looking forward to listening to it this summer while sittin' in the back yard. From it, here's the great track Do You Feel Alright.

I mentioned it last time, but there's an amusingly awful old Pitchfork review of Revelater here, apparently written by Madelyn Murray O'Hare.

The Jennyanykind website is here, and they have some mp3s in the media section.

The Elevator Action website is here, and there's an mp3 there for a song not posted here.

MoRisen's website is here. Also, their catalog is on eMusic. TTIKTDA recently did a feature on their band The Talk who will be playing at SXSW this year.

Monday, February 14, 2005

 

So long-delayed that I wonder if anyone cares anymore, Joy Zipper's American Whip is scheduled to finally come out in the US on February 22nd, though I'll believe it when I see it.

Readers with good memories may remember that this was in my top ten for 2003, when I got the promo. Then again in 2004 when it actually came out after something like a year-long delay, though in the UK only. Not sure if I'll have it in me to put it in the 2005 top ten...we'll find out.

The problem, as I see it, is that presumably everyone in the US who was interested has already either downloaded this, paid big bucks for an import, or paid big bucks to Tabitha Tindale on eBay for one of her promo copies. So will anyone be left to care about the belated stateside release? Besides, they have a real new album coming out in a few months. UK only, supposedly. Of course.

Anyway.

Tabitha Tindale being the business savvy half of Joy Zipper and the owner of the kind of face that you normally see on a group of sisters from Michigan who've just committed suicide. The other half of the band is Vinny Cafiso, who's a spitting image of the good looking guy from stage crew who always smelled like cigarettes and who listened to a lot of Pink Floyd and didn't get to date cheerleaders named Tabitha.

I read reviews of Joy Zipper that go "blah blah sunny blah blah trippy blah My Bloody Valentine blah blah insubstantial" (quite a few follow that format) and my first thought is: doesn't it tip you that something is 'off' about a band whose members are named Tabitha fucking Tindale and Vinny fucking Cafiso, who look like some strangely conceived high-school couple that never was and hail from Long Island, home of the casually bizarre? Did you really listen to the full lyrics of any given song, not just the dippy cute parts? Doesn't it seem odd that the cover photo for their first album (young Tabitha and mom, so we're told) looks not like a homemade dream pop album, but rather like an advertisement for feminine hygeine products, torn from the pages of Vogue? That their new album American Whip is named after...you guessed it...ice cream? Have you not seen the video for Out Of The Sun, where it's all too apparent that this duo is ideally suited to lead its own ultimately mass-suicidal cult. Are none of these things tip-offs to the fact that Joy Zipper is a massively strange band, smooth surface notwithstanding?

(This website, which hosts the all-too-appropriate Out Of The Sun video, seems to understand better than many how not at all normal Joy Zipper are.)

I'm not the slightest bit clear on how Tabitha's delivery of the line "our death is inevitable" (on a track from their first album called Transformation Fantasy) can just slide by. I'm not talking about the line itself. I'm talking about the way she sings it, like she's just been kissed by an extremely cute puppy. Which is how she sings everything. Or the fact that they write song after song about "heavy" topics (philosophy, disease, love, death) that say absolutely nothing remotely substantial about their subject, and with a breathtakingly un-nuanced insubstantiality, to the point where it travels all the way around the dial and back to nuanced. Case in point being a track called Alzheimers, which has lyrics by Ms. Crabtree's 6th grade class, written for their production of "Old People Get Sick Too" and sung by several members of the bible school up the lane. Fleshed out with samples of a very real Alzheimers patient, played not exactly for yucks or for serious effect. God knows what the point is, but it's creepy as hell. You can easily imagine the Joy Zippers stumbling across a pretty flower, or a dead body, and writing a gently trippy little song about either, beaming all the while with those fresh-scrubbed faces.

Joy Zipper once endorsed a description of themselves as being like a candy apple with a razorblade in the center, but they've always struck me as being more like a candy apple with a razorblade in the center, said apple bearing a giant sign that says "There is a razorblade inside this apple, oh and about the Kool Aid..."

You notice it more when you listen to the full albums. It's a matter of accumulated creepiness.

From American Whip, here's Alzheimers.

Here's Moon Moon Moon, from a single.

From their debut self-titled album, here's The Power Of Alan Watts. Double time on the chorus! And what did we learn about Alan Watts? Um, he's dead and he seems to have written some books.

But seriously, watch the video first. I think it puts everything else in a clearer light.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

 
A while back I announced that Hilly Michaels, our favorite drummer turned power popping early MTV hero, had finally established a website. I discovered this just as I was about to turn to his second and final solo album, Lumia. But you know what? There's been no action on his website and he hasn't responded to my emails, and I'm sorry but Hilly Michaels is just not out of my league at this point. So I don't know what's what, but I'm thinking it's not so likely that we'll be seeing the promised CD editions of his two solo albums (plus some unreleased stuff) anytime soon.

So, without further ado...Lumia. The somewhat disappointing but occasionally worthwhile follow-up to one of the greatest albums ever made. By which I mean Hilly's debut, Calling All Girls. Don't believe me? Every time I post tracks from that, I get emails for weeks from people asking me to hook them up with the whole album. That doesn't happen with anything else. And so, just to get you in the mood in case you've missed all of my previous 5,000 posts about the Calling All Girls lp, I begin by posting the title track Calling All Girls and the final track Something On Your Mind once again. The latter was on the soundtrack to Caddyshack, for what it's worth.

Ok, so here's the cover art for Calling All Girls:

And here's the cover of Lumia:

and you can kind of tell that things have changed. Darker. More groomed. No more taking phone calls during photo shoots. Someone's decided to get serious, and in Hilly's case that's a mistake. There's one song called I've Got No Right To Love You and it's about the fact that Hilly's got no right to love her. Oof. (Someone's also bought a new set of synth-drums and a truckload of 80's keyboards, and while by itself that's not a bad thing, in Hilly's case it might not be playing to his previously demonstrated strengths.)

Did I say serious? Well, that's true part of the time, but there's still the occasional gem like Reach For The Vitamins. Featuring one of my favorite lines of all time, "How was I to know she would be this fair? The clock was ticking and my hands were there."

Elsewhere, Hilly goes all synthy with style with Russian Girls ("I can't pronounce your name, but I like you just the same"). Would he have used the word "balalaika" were it not for a certain song by Paul McCartney? We'll never know.

Those are probably the high points. Other tracks are going for a kind of power-ballad-let's-request-it-at-our-prom feel that's occasionally fun, but I'm probably being too open minded about this. Here's Look At That Face, which is great until you realize that it's a rewrite of Shake It And Dance from the first album, and here's the more typical Our Love Will Last Forever.

And that was it for Hilly's solo career. Someday. Someday. Someday someone will reissue Calling All Girls on CD, and millions will fall down and beg god for forgiveness for ignoring such a classic. If anyone ever finds the video for the title track online or elsewhere, that's something I would dearly love to posses! I swear, young people: it used to be on MTV all the frickin' time.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

 

Enon, Fuzzbox, and The Invisible Cities

Fluxblog had a track the other day from the forthcoming Enon album Lost Marbles and Exploded Evidence, but I'm not sure he properly conveyed how weird the album as a whole is. It's a singles collection, so maybe "album as a whole" is a strange way to look at at, but the CD really hammers home how all-over-the-place this band has been over its short (in album terms) life. I'm finding myself alternately enthralled and exasperated, and it'll be a while before the dust settles. On the "enthralled" list is Fly South, which starts in Pavement land but quickly commences bobbing and weaving in an effort to emigrate. Love the ending where the guitars all come back at once, after a temporary banishment at the hands of electronica.

The first 7" single I ever bought was Fuzzbox's (née We've Got A Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It) Love Is The Slug. I had come home from school, flipped on the tv, saw the end of the video and turned right around and ran up to the nearest record store who (strangely) had a copy. That's how good it was, and that's why you should listen to it right this second if you've never heard it. It did come out on CD, but I did a side by side and there's some indefinable charm to my slightly scratchy vinyl version that I prefer. The song was recently mentioned on I Love Music, which jogged my memory and sent me running for the singles box.

Saving the best for last, I was sitting around last night still feeling sick when I got an email from someone asking me to check out their band. Bumper Cars by The Invisible Cities knocked my socks off enough that I emailed them back about five seconds after I'd finished listening to it for the third time and asked for an mp3 to post. Call it Bangles meet post punk or something along those lines. The rest of the album can be streamed (via a better-than-usual interface, btw) here. It's got the genial feel of a certain kind of wide eyed early-90's indie rock that I though had gone out of production in the grim 00's, and it's making me extremely happy and slightly nostalgic. Recommended strongly for anyone with a Small Factory/Versus/Tsunami/Unrest/Velocity Girl/etc. album in their collection. Check also the track Tentacle if you stream the album, but really the whole thing's great.

Monday, February 07, 2005

 

Feel Good Now

In actual fact, I do not feel at all good right now. I have a sore throat and fever, on the one hand, and on the other hand I have a job that involves picking up heavy weights and looking healthy. The two don't mix well.

Nonetheless, Feel Good Now by Swans is that rarest of rarities: the essential live document that's actually essential. It used to bear the additional badge of honor of being the even more unusual "bootleg that's actually worth the money" but it was officially reissued several years ago.

I've bought and downloaded a lot of live concerts/unreleased stuff, and you probably have too, and the sad fact is that (if you're brutally honest) unofficial releases are rarely really worth more than one spin. Feel Good Now features better sound, a tighter song selection, and better performances than its studio analogue, Children of God, which is arguably the best Swans album and certainly their first reasonably accessible one. I can't think of any other example of a band hitting all four of those points (sound, selection, performance, peak period) on one live recording. If you know of one, comments are hereby solicited!

Side by side comparison is probably in order. Here's the somewhat stiff title track from the studio Children of God, and here's the Carmina Burana to the max version from Feel Good Now, with Michael Gira sounding genuinely posessed as he rants over the Jarboe choir. Yow! Obviously you want to play these loud. Those little speakers hooked up to your computer aren't going to convey this properly.

My favorite track from Feel Good Now (also one of my favorite songs period) is the bludgeoning (until the heavens part and Gira offers up an actual catchy chorus-type thing) Sex, God, Sex. By the way, guess what Children of God is thematically about. Give it a shot! The first time you hear it, Sex, God, Sex starts off sounding like it's just going to repeat two notes forever, but be patient. There's a payoff.

Sadly for the thrifty Swans completest, the reissue on Atavistic differs from the original CD, which differs from the original vinyl. The Atavistic CD's sequencing is weird, as it starts with what should obviously be the last song (and what is the last song on the original CD and lp: a something like 18 minute long Blind Love that's a little intense as an opener). The Atavistic CD also cuts out some spoken parts that are kind of interesting and/or amusing.

The CD versions of this are missing one song from the vinyl: Our Love Lies. If you can find the original CD (good luck) it's probably my favorite format: better content than the reissue but more convenient than the vinyl. Oh, when I say it was a bootleg, I mean like Sonic Youth's Walls Have Ears. The kind of release that you could buy in a normal store that didn't usually sell bootlegs. "Official Bootleg" is the term, I believe. Most Swans discographies that I've seen online seem to give the tracklisting of the original CD.

Here's what Swans looked like around this time. (45Mb Windows Media file, probably only available here for a day or two, totally worth watching!)

I like the fact that they almost come across as goofy...there's none of the choreographed theatrics that you get from later noise merchants. It lends a certain honesty to the group's efforts. In the "2000" version of this, Gira would be cut up like a body builder and there'd be strobe lights and fireworks...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

 
Sunday Updates

Just some general housekeeping and follow-up stuff.

I got my Deux Filles Double Happiness CDR from Colin Lloyd-Tucker. Shipping was quick. The package isn't incredibly slick (the booklet was printed on a regular printer/non glossy paper so the resolution isn't the best) and there is some slight vinyl noise left. On headphones it bugs me a bit, but over speakers you don't notice it at all. Given the chances that you'll find a vinyl copy (slim to none), the fact that this isn't otherwise on CD, and the fact that the master tape is lost, I'd still recommend it highly. Comes signed by Colin, which is nice.

I've added Lacunae to my links. You probably read it already, and I've been meaning to add it forever. Good place to go for obscure 90's indie-type mp3s, though that's not all he does.

Also added La Blogotheque, even though it's in French.

Mike Appelstein pointed me in the direction of the new chickfactor (yay) which is internet only (boo). Somehow I fell less old every time chickfactor publishes.

Ultragrrrl reveals that we've all been had! Shocked readers now deep in self-analysis, trying to decide if they really like The Killers. Ultragrrrl's pal just about simultaneously posts satire of the Post article that's to blame for this weekend of twenty-something soul-searching, but it's not one of her best efforts. Personally, I recommend Majorska vodka (assuming you're mixing) and avoiding mediocre bands like The Killers, but you'll never know if I'm being paid to tell you that.

This site apparently links to me somewhere, and I would kill to know what it's all about.

This made me laugh today, which was a tough trick since I seem to have the flu.

Friday, February 04, 2005

 
Jarboe, Pinkie, and John

So just in case anyone missed it, there've been a bunch of Jarboe reissues lately, Jarboe being best known as the female foil to Michael Gira's manly id back when NYC noise-pulverizers turned goth-folkies Swans were around.

The reissue that I find most interesting is called A Mystery Of Faith. It contains a bunch of tracks that feature Jarboe on vocals from around the time that Swans were moving away from crunch bang suffer suffer boom crunch and towards music that you could play for your open minded Renaissance Fair friends. All are either unreleased or got left off of the Swans reissue series.

Details are here. The main things to know are 1. this CD isn't something you're probably going to sit down and listen to straight through, since there are multiple versions of most of the tracks and 2. some of these versions are great and some not so great. Personally, I find that a little Jarboe goes far, especially without some Gira to clear your sinuses, but not everyone feels that way. In fairness, Swans were a band whose alternate versions were often worth the hassle of acquiring.

Buying advice: when I saw this album at Kim's, it was kind of pricy ($22, I think). Then I noticed that it was available from eMusic. So I downloaded it from there, and discovered that the track names don't match correctly. I don't know if this has been fixed, but eMusic's customer service is traditionally the pits, so I'm not holding my breath. Also, the CD liner notes presumably give details about what the various versions are. So your best bet is probably to buy the CD.

I still wish that Gira would just reissue Ten Songs For Another World without bonus tracks, as it's a perfect album as is. Even though most of it is now available elsewhere, it's one of those albums where sequencing matters.

Another place to go for your mid-period Swans fix might be Pinkie Maclure and John Wills. I don't think either of these two are well known in the US...um...anyone remember Loop or Hair and Skin Trading Company? John Wills was their drummer.

[Actually, Hair and Skin Trading Company put out one album that I really love, with the easy-to-remember title Psychedelische Musique (Lava Surf Kunst). I think I'll talk about it next week.]

Anways, John and Pinkie have a new album coming out later this year called Cat's Cradle, and recently sent out a sampler to people who signed up at their website. It's really nice folk-influenced soundscaping, with a tinge of goth (in a good way) and reminds me very much of World Of Skin with less tunes and more atmosphere. Fans of Nico might also be on board, as well as devotees of this new-fangled mystical-folk thing that's been going on in the US lately.

From it, here's The Bending Wood.

And here's an earlier track, Memorial Crossing. If you ever thought that KLF's Chill Out would sound better if it was only five minutes long and performed by a pagan cult, this is the track for you. I like it muchly.

While it's not officially coming out until April, Cat's Cradle is apparently available for purchase now if you're on their mailing list (that's what the insert to the sampler CD says) so write to them and see what's up.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

 
Touch My Stuff (You Can Die)

Someone did touch my stuff, a few years ago. Specifically, my copy of Beachbuggy's Sport Fury CD, which is very likely the best of their three full length albums. That someone touched it, borrowed it, took it to work, stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it. I'm not saying who it was (though no, it wasn't Mrs. Mystical Beast) but they didn't die (though they got a long speech about respect for a man's CD collection).

Now, following a desk cleaning and an awkward apology, it's safe back chez moi, and just as good, if not better, than I'd remembered.

I love bands who are easy to describe. Pixies + The Fall. Couldn't be easier. That's Pixies riffs, repeated Fall-style, with Mark E. Smith vocals. Maybe a smidge of Wedding Present lurking around.

You gotta love a band who write a song based on the between song banter of another group. Here's Beachbuggy doing Touch My Stuff (You Can Die).

And here's their song about Science Fiction. I wonder if this would appeal to depressed McLusky fans.

And, since this never did come out in the US, here's one more: Kickin' Back.

Not much news on their website's news section, though the message board seems to indicate that new material is kinda sorta on the way.

I've only lost one CD for a longer time than Sport Fury went missing. And, as it happens, that one was an at-the-time-near-impossible-to-replace live semi-bootleg. And, as it also happens, it was and is my choice for best live album of all time, and possibly the only truly essential live album I've ever heard.

Guess I'll write about it on Monday. (It's not rare now, so this won't be one of those taunting you with impossible-to-find-CDs posts.)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

 

Rick Rubin, The Early Years
(that's Rick on the left with bandmate Mike Espindle on the right, performing at Maxwells around 1985)


Sometimes I spend months and months chasing after interviews (where the hell are you, Dyan Diamond?) and sometimes they just fall into my lap. Today's piece fell into my lap.

The story starts with a compilation called God's Favorite Dog that came out on Touch and Go records back in 1986. I buy it because I like the Butthole Surfers and Big Black...I'm just graduating high school at the time. Another band appearing on the compilation is a group called Hose, but I'm not a real rock obsessive at this point, so I don't bother to find out who they are.

Years go by, and I've turned into the world's biggest Dustdevils fan (for those of you who keep track of such things, note that The New Yorker's music critic was once a member). After searching for ages, I finally track down a copy of their Matador debut Geek Drip. Which isn't actually all that hot, but features an amazing cover of a song called "Mobo" (though the Dustdevils call it "Mobo Girls"). I go looking for info, and there's not much on the internet. Ok, there's almost nothing on the internet. I finally learn that it's by those same Hose guys, and I start looking for it...

...and finally find it. It's a great Flipper-sounding track, and I'm fascinated by the fact that it features Rick Rubin and appears on a 7" that's Def Jam release #1. You know, Def Jam? Beastie Boys, etc. How can this have been such a hard thing to find out about? It's also totally bizarrely put together. It comes in a paper bag with stickers on it:

and instead of labels, someone has gouged little drawings into the center of the vinyl.

I've posted the track Mobo in the past. Recently, the guy who sang it found this web site. I asked if he'd be interested in writing a bit about Hose, and he was nice enough to oblige. And here's what he had to say:

I was a sophomore at NYU, living in the Weinstein dorm. My roommate Warren Bell brought by a freshman named Rick Rubin he had met who also lived in the dorm, and my first clear memory of Rick is asking him to hit his favorite power chord on this great vintage Gibson Les Paul Jr. he had (Kwaaannng). He had already made a name for himself as a "child prodigy" on Long Island (he had a band called The Pricks in high school that actually made some noise, had a gig shooting pro wrestling matches for magazines before wrestling went mainstream and had some level of involvement with the Plasmatics or something). He was smart, driven, talented and appropriately horny and silly enough to be a 'bro, although he didn't drink or do drugs. He (guitar) and Warren (bass, although he never picked one up before) concepted a band along with this guy Joel Horne (drums, and who was also an NYU student but was floor-crashing because couldn't afford dorm space or something like that). They wanted to do stripped-down "slow-hardcore" versions of pop-soul songs and some originals Warren and Rick wrote and they needed a singer. They opted for the name Hose (I think inspired by a "I wanna be a fireman when I grow up" vibe) over the other leading concept PIBB (Power in Black Brotherhood, based on our favorite beverage option at the dorm cafeteria soda fountain). I auditioned with Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thang" and blew it (I still can't sing that fucker). So the lead vocalist spot went to a Canadian NYU student named Rick Rosen. First gig was at Mudd Club with Warren playing in a seated position and an Electrolux vacuum mic'ed offstage. They cut the EP with Ed Bahlman from 99 Records help (although Rick did all the producing, really). Songs I recall on that were covers of "Superfreak," the damnable "Sexy Thang" and originals "Dope Fiend" and "Only the Astronaut Knows the Truth." The four of them went to S.F. that summer with plans to play with Flipper (it never happened--as much as Hose were Flipper fans/supporters, and to my mind very different from/maybe not as good as Flipper and, remember, we were all "kids," I think Bruce maybe saw Hose as a threat). Back in NY, there were more gigs and eventually Rick Rubin thought Rick Rosen was throwing out the wrong vibe. I was invited to join them on stage at CBGB for a few numbers and it turned into a punk-rock sing-off for the vocalist spot. To the wails of "Bring back the fat guy," Rick Rosen departed the band amicably and I entered. My first official gig in Hose was at Folk City with the Meat Puppets in 1982 or 83 (or maybe it was the Big Boys--not too sure on that one).

We gigged in and around NY, Warren left the band due to a serious girlfriend thing (always the stupidest band-leaving excuse). Another NYU buddy named Steve Williams subbed at bass (Steve was great and really good guy, but had his own band projects and really wanted to just be a guitarist). Joel ran out of cash and went home to Maine for awhile, so we were drummerless. About this time, the dorm was having a goofy "air-guitar" contest and Rick and I spotted this girl Autumn Goft and her roommate air-wailing a power version of "Walk This Way." Autumn just seemed like this very cute Queens metal chick we would never have the balls to talk to, and we asked her if she really played drums and she fucking did and she was just great! (She and Rick became involved eventually). Her bluesy, slightly off-count Bonham-like sensibilities really brought something new to the party. Like a lot of bands from that time we found ourselves moving from a structured, almost novelty in retrospect, no-wave thing into more blues/soul (and yes, in some form, folk) inspired deal with something like a melodic focus--just trace Husker Du for what I'm talking about. Speaking of Minnesota's finest, we did a Midwest tour at some point (with another dorm rat, Tony Scheitinger, on bass because Steve Williams was in a petulant mood) and played with them at Aldo's in Milwaukee (I remember a lot of drinking with Grant Hart--another great one. Bob was good to, supportive in his own spacey way).

We recorded the Mobo/Girls/Zoo single somewhere in Long Island City on my 21st birthday (it's amazing to remember how truly young we were). Mobo was a cover of an obscure French disco song, Girls was a 20-second thrasher based on some shit I once said when I was really wasted, and Zoo was our nod to the folk-kiddie song "We're All Going to the Zoo Tomorrow." Rick produced and got the idea to etch the master plate instead of printing labels and shipping the single in a brown paper bag with a sticker (it was total DIY aesthetic, but the etching, specialty vendor for the bags--standard bags won't fit a single--and so on actually ended up costing as much as the conventional route would have).

We hit the West Coast in support of the single and stayed with Flipper's manager Debbie Dub and played in S.F. and Berkeley (but, once again, not with Flipper, but I did drink and do drugs with some of them). I liked Will best, just a sweet, saddish guy who picked up stray people, but very cool. Steve DePace was a real burly drinking-type man, Falconi was cool in a Zen master kind of way and pretty 'nam-fried, Bruce was kind of a tool to us. In the Bay Area we picked up a Flipper friend named Sweet (or Sway) on bass; I remember playing with Shark Attack (whose lead singer went on to stab his girlfriend, but I thought he was a hot shit) and I think Suicidal Tendencies. We went down to L.A. and played 3 gigs in one night (one at Cathay was one of those "with the Minutemen if they show up" thing: they didn't, we also played some shithole in Hollywood with Red Kross, and somewhere else I can't recall). And we played a hardcore-athon at Perkins Palace in Pasadena (with the Circle Jerks and a cast of thousands).

Back in NY we continued to play a little. We did the Touch and Go compilation (with Terry Tolkin?--but totally Rubin-produced on our tracks). We covered (and pretty interestingly, too) Zeppelin's "How Many More Times" (what balls) and swiped some notes from a long-forgotten Blue Cheer song and added lyrics I wrote called "Down by the River." Rick started with Def Jam, and I got to be around a little for all that, and saw it was taking all his time and it was going to really be something special. Our last gig was with what I consider the golden line-up: Rick, Steve, Autumn and Myself--at Irving Plaza in 1986 with the Butthole Surfers (without knowing it both bands worked up cover versions of "Sweatleaf") I drank a pint of tequila on-stage and remember collecting the door for the night--by far the largest we'd ever received: $600.


Here's the single:

Mobo
Girls/Zoo

And here's my favorite Flipper song, on the off chance you don't know that band:

Ever

(Gonna twist your arm a little bit. Ever is an incredible song from an incredible album that everyone should probably hear at least once. Ultra sloppy yet strangely tuneful guitar mess with a far-better-than-average sense of humor.)

And there you have it. If anyone can find the French single that started this whole thing, I'd be eternally grateful. And big thanks to Mike Espindle for taking the time to write!

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