Scram #19 reviews (all by the editrix unless otherwise noted)
AI Phoenix The Driver is Dead CD (Autonomy)… Somnambulant Norwegian dream pop, all white vistas, nasal female crooning and restrained precision. Sounds like music made by people without metabolisms.
The Apparitions Oxygen Think Tank CD (www.wearetheapparitions.com)… A variety of influences bubble up through this, direct and indirect: indie rock, ’80s new American folk, Meat Puppets, Flaming Lips, Red Krayola. Sometimes sounding like the Beatles filtered through Guided by Voices. One vocalist sounds like an even-more-blasé, twangy version of David Byrne, the other a nasal, rocking manifestation of Nick Drake. Give it a couple of spins to start getting a feel for the subtly complicated music. It’s worth the trouble. Occasionally dark and melancholy or poppy and bright. This release will probably end up on the shelves of many a collegiate, intellectual type if the Apparitions ever break out of Ole Kentucke. Very good. (Margaret Griffis)
Ben Atkins Mabelle CD (Hightone): It’s a good story: a small-town Texas kid who still lives at home, works a day job at the veterinary clinic, really, really likes the old stuff (Bob Wills, et al) and reveres the modern greats like Townes and S. Earle. So I ignore the Jesus-thanking in the liner notes and listen. He’s got a nice, tight voice and a way with a simple lyric that makes it sound pretty fresh, but there are a couple of cuts here, like "Mabelle" and "The Same," which exist in that mid-tempo country rock slot that seems like both sincere flattery and sniping. There’s a good songwriter somewhere in here, but the record betrays him by continually shifting tone, the low points being the several full bore rock songs which are so utterly unconvincing that you start to wonder if Atkins gets out much. But then he comes right back with a pretty little thing like "Ask Me Why", which is very much in the mode of Earle’s great "Goodbye", and your first instinct comes back–we’re just going to have to be patient with this guy. (Ken Rudman)
Beam S/T CD (Antenna Farm)… Led by French import Hélène Renault, this Bay Area combo’s gentle, sixties-inflected pop is sweetly cinematic and slightly skewed.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music CD (Drag City)… The former Will Oldham, lady thrushes and many of the original players revisit the early Palace catalog, giving those shambling, weird ballads more of a trad country setting, though they’re still beautifully odd.
Boss Martians The Set-Up CD (Musick)… Each new Boss Martians disc comes on like a Jocelyn Wildenstein facelift: how have they remade themselves this time? For 2003, the Martians (last seen performing a credible Small Faces act) have set the wayback machine to 1979, internalizing Leonard Graves Phillips’ manic whine and Elvis C’s screw-you energy. Several of these swell tunes could’ve topped Rodney’s chart back in the day.
Brother JT3 Hang In There, Baby CD (Drag City)… Pretty sleepy set from the king of bedroom stoner rock, though “Shine Like Me” kicks in like a wild party happening halfway down the block. Pick hit: top-heavy manifesto “Head Business,” as in “what I do with my ____/ is my own damn ________.”
Dick Campbell Blue Winds Only Know CD (Rev-ola)… Dick Campbell is best known in record geek circles for Sings Where It’s At, a high-concept faux Dylan disc previously lauded in these pages by Gene Sculatti. Übergeeks know he later worked behind the scenes at Gary Usher’s Together Records, and this posthumous collection compiles demos of gossamer-light Campbell/Usher tunes in the sunshine pop idiom. It’s all sweet as penny candy, with nary a Zimmy sneer in the joint. Does this utterly gentle music represent the “real” Dick Campbell? Unlikely, but it’s a charming exercise sure to appeal to Millennium heads (though how didn’t a bunch of Byrds associates notice that “Maybe” was basically “I’ll Set You Free This Time?”).
The Canterbury Music Festival Rain & Shine CD (Rev-ola)… How’d a 1967 Queens soft-pop band get a name evoking the UK prog-folk scene? Well, it seemed like a good idea to their producers, the Tokens, who wisely loathed We Ugly Dogs. Their sole album, pressed in microscopic quantities, is revived now as part of Rev-ola’s assault on the B.T. Puppy label vaults. Recording a mix of originals, tunes by the Tokens and Brute Force, and a somewhat aquatic instro take on “Son of a Preacher Man,” CMF’s low-key, harmony-rich Associationesque pop is sugary and tasteful, if not especially memorable. Includes an alternate version of “Mr. Snail,” also recorded by the Tokens and comped on Night Time Music.
Neko Case Canadian Amp LP (Lance Rock)… Vinyl issue of Neko’s self-released, home recorded solo set proves she’s one of the finest interpreters we’ve got. Her own songs blend seamlessly with prime selections from Lisa Marr, Neil Young and Hank Sr., to mournful, shimmery, intimate effect.
The Checkers Make A Move CD (Teenacide)… Robotic new wave revivalists with a dash of guitar snot, led by Ms. Julie Vox, a walking, squealing vision in checker and leopard print. Instant 1982, just add you.
The Creatures of the Golden Dawn “Blood from a Stone” +3 45 (Butterfly)… New tracks from a respected nineties garage revival act whose smart, moody sounds make me wanna peruse their back catalog.
The Del-monas Do the Uncle Willy CD (Get Hip)… Re-ish of the mid-’80s grungy girl group gem featuring the three lasses who backed up Billy Childish’s Milkshakes. It basically anticipates the Headcoatees’ shtick: moody, primitive rock and roll with enthusiastic, somewhat wandering multitracked female vocals. Dumb and fun, this edition includes several previously unreleased demos. I used to play their Stooges cover on my radio show.
The Destroyed Outta Control CD (www.bertswitzer.com)… After Boston punk/noise drummer Bert Switzer self-released his career survey Bert Switzer 1977-2002, former seventies bandmates J.D. Jackson and Henry Kaiser got in touch and separately joined Bert in the studio. The stripped down Switzer/Jackson Destroyed offer six servings of instant punk, newly written and barely rehearsed expressions of old school angst delivered with a nasty leer. The Kaiser Switzer sessions are free jazz freakouts, Kaiser’s limber, rubbery guitar twining around Switzer’s dense, meaty rhythms. The package is filled out with a vintage ’77-’79 Destroyed practice tape, a raw document of their ugly Stoogey swagger.
The Evaporators Ripple Rock CD (Alternative Tentacles / Nardwuar)… Chief Evap is the incomparable Nardwuar, mad interviewer and bane of humorless pop stars. His band plays catchy, nutty high concept punk that’s not scared to slot in heavy metal, polka, girl group or new wave gimmicks when they serve the songs-the prettiest of which is called “Shittin’ Party.” Utterly silly.
Felt Stains on a Decade (a singles compilation) CD (Cherry Red)… Felt-songs lope and shimmer around Lawrence’s unmistakable, ritualistic phrasing, neat and tidy as the stitches on a sampler. Over the eight years documented here they take a style already startlingly refined and hone it ever finer, until by the end they’ve birthed Pulp. I quite like Felt, while finding their material essentially interchangeable. These singles are slightly more varied than the LPs, which might not be the point.
The Flash Express Introducing the dynamite sound of… CD (Hit It Now)… A simmering self-referential punk-soul stew from the kids who were too frenetic to properly back Andre Williams. There was just too much personality on that stage. The shtick works much better as a trio, thanks in large part to the jaw cracking rhythm section of Tommy Branch and Lance Porter. Add Brian Waters’ constipated howl, mugging and power chords and you’ve got an act that would be as welcome in Detroit circa ’68 as it is right now, as they rewrite “Doin’ the Banana Split,” wanna know who stole the soul, grunt a lot and cover Grandmaster Flash.
Judson Fountain Completely in the Dark! Tales of Mystery & Suspense CD (Innova)… Wow. These utterly retarded (yet compelling) homemade spooky radio “drammers” were apparently actually aired by regional east coast stations in the late sixties and early seventies. While the experience of stumbling onto such lunacy on the airwaves can’t be approximated by finding it compiled on CD, this screwball vision is a delight in any context. Every tale on the comp is a reductive morality play scripted around young Fountain’s specialty voices-an incredibly irritating old woman/witch, a mush-mouthed and seemingly senile gang boss, a tough-as-nails gun moll obsessed with her own name, and old guys with varying (horrible) Irish and Scotch accents. The simplistic, repetitive plotting, recurring snatches of dialogue, casual xenophobia and broad exposition have a weirdly rhythmic quality that will infect your brain and leave you thinking like Fountain. “No one blows the whistle on Pop Serriano!”
The Fuse! Fisherman’s Wife CD (In The Red)… Punkity rock heavily indebted to late ’70s, especially Pere Ubu and Buzzcocks with nods to Neil Hagerty’s squawky guitar work. Would be totally perfect for the current renaissance except it’s too good and skronky for MTV audiences. Songs are memorable and catchy, though. Really good stuff. (Margaret Griffis)
The Gentlekin S/T CD (International Tape Association)… Bay Area duo channeling a delicately psychedelic pop/country hybrid, with nice harmonies and jangle, though the songwriting doesn’t always hit the mark.
The Goldstars Gotta Get Out! CD (Pravda)… Fun, Farfisa-soaked retro-moderne garage punk featuring players (from New Duncan Imperials, Krinkles, Poi Dog Pondering) who’ve clearly slept with the Nuggets box under their collective pillows so long that their skulls are misshapen, with a surf-tinged cover of the Gestures’ “Run Run Run” and some mid-period Clash-isms to keep things unpredictable.
The Guilloteens For My Own: Complete Singles Collection LP (Misty Lane)… Elvis’ favorite rock band, signed to the connected Hanna-Barbera label (though admittedly Yogi didn’t have much pull down at KFI), Memphis’ Guilloteens’ failure to connect with the charts is inexplicable. Maybe it was a spelling/pronunciation issue? Sounding like a sloppier Knickerbockers with a dash of Kinks aggression, these lost ‘teens tracks (and one by the posthumous Buddy Delaney & the Candy Soupe) are eminently fruggable and (in the case of “Dear Mrs. Applebee”) almost poignant.
Wayne Hancock Swing Time CD (Bloodshot): A live album is not usually a great place to discover an artist you’ve ignored for too long. The songs never sound as good as they did on the original record, the jokes are not funny, the crowd just sounds like a bunch of lame drunks. But this is a great goddam live album, and I feel like a dope for not having any of this guy’s records in my collection. First of all, there just isn’t anybody playing music like this anymore, certainly not with this kind of conviction. I never thought I would actually compare somebody to Hank Williams, but that’s sure what his voice sounds like. Not an impersonation, just that whiny nasal lonesome sound with a razor’s edge. The band sounds like something between that classic country swing sound and Bill Haley and the Comets. Which should by all rights suck worse than Andy Williams fronting Sha Na Na, but it doesn’t. Because Hancock takes that voice and imbues it with the kind of I-don’t-give-a-fuck edge that pushes each and every one of these "old fashioned" songs right up into your face. And as they rip through Hancock originals and classics like "Route 66" and "Summertime" something comes over me–it’s jealousy: Those lame-ass drunks in the audience have known about this guy longer than me. (Ken Rudman)
Wynonie Harris Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Very Best Of… CD (Collectables)… These twenty-five sides from Harris’ King Records years (1947-57, running well past his charting sell-by date, though the quality remains strong throughout) are a crash course in rock’s origins-a sleazy, horn-drenched r&b using barnyard metaphor and a sly wit to sell an alternate America of misbehaving gals, liquor parties, “churning” “butter” and orgasm machines. Harris sounds a bit like Louis Prima, but with a midwestern raunch that seems somehow dirtier than the N’Awlins variety. Delish.
Penny Ikinger Electra CD (Career)… Stunning debut from Australian singer-guitarist who’s played with Kim Salmon, Wet Taxis and Louis Tillett, but only recently started writing her own songs. With eerie whispery vocals, hypnotic hooks and delicate guitar parts that give way to monstrous feedback, Ikinger’s songs are haunting, seductive and marvelously feminine.
Jade Fly On Strangewings CD (Lightning Tree)… The strongest tunes on this lost 1970 folk-rock disc play like a more naïve version of Denny-era Fairport, Marian Segal’s warm voice conjuring up a dreamy, innocent England of ghosts, childhood friends, and the poor mayfly, who lives only a day. Jade was essentially a trio, Segal with David Waite and Rod Edwards, and you can hear the bare trad structures of their sweet songs beneath glistening augmentation courtesy various members of Pentangle, Fleur de Lys, Ivy League and Colosseum who dropped in on the sessions. The rockers don’t quite make it, but Jade’s softer side is lovely.
Denise James it’s not enough to love CD (Rainbow Quartz)… Convincingly retro jangle-pop girl stylings from this French-born Detroit lass who’s got the sixties romantic ice queen thing down, and plenty of help from the usual local suspects. Understated and mood-drenched.
July Fourth Toilet Something For Everyone CD (Pro-Am)… Vancouver branch of the musical genre spearheaded by Thinking Fellers and Caroliner. You know, straddling the line between "serious" musicianship and songwriting and pretending they don’t care about anything except being weird and quirky in a trippy sort of way. It’s a hard fence to keep your balance on, but JFT do an excellent job. The result is a fairly interesting mix of songs that tend to sound like a 1970’s children’s album, but clearly for hipsters. There really is something for everyone, too! A couple of tunes sound a bit "folksy" in a Lou Reed sort of way and another pair remind me of John Entwistle’s brand of kookiness. Charmingly fun. Of note is participation by one or more members of Canned Hamm. (Margaret Griffis)
Jupiter Affect The Restoration of Culture After Genghis Khan CD (Dionysus)… These guys have a well earned following and managed to get the attention of "real world" music media. The songwriting is great and the playing is tight, which you would expect from veteran Michael Quercio, but it just falls short of being really great. It’s as if they devoted too much attention to getting everything just right instead of capturing the very soul of the music. Admittedly, these songs sound like they would be better served in a live show environment–maybe a live album would do them justice?–but the release is still worthy of a listen, especially if you dig pop psychedelic/rock, like an old Beatles or Kinks "theme" album. Heavy touring should make these guys superstars. (Margaret Griffis)
The Kelpies Television CD (Head Miles)… The Kelpies were an Australian postpunk band with a rabid, ill-behaved following that frequently got them banned from venues, and too many personal chemical problems to put much effort into getting their stuff released. This retrospective kicks off with thirteen edgy, clever songs recorded live on cassette in their practice space in 1981. You can sense an exciting group through the mud, and what lyrics you can make out are unusually introspective. Stay tuned, because tracks 14-21 are many of the same songs recorded in a proper studio, a little too tidily. Somewhere between the sheen and the crud lay the Kelpies, an intriguing voice from the depths.
Kid Icarus Maps of the Saints CD (Summersteps)… Originally issued in 1999 on cassette and CD-R, Kid Icarus’ debut is a nervous DIY pop mood piece, walls of fizzy guitar framing cracked harmonies, muttering ghost voices and a somewhat terrifying version of the Bee Gees’ “Holiday.”
Albert King Live ’69 CD (Tomato)… Even in 1969, the blues was no longer a living growing genre, having been passed on by blacks in favor of R&B, soul and funk and co-opted by honky college kids looking for a safe way to mask their own tighty whiteness. Since then it’s only gotten worse, as every frat boy and balding ponytail and beer-gutted NPR type continues to embrace the modern minstrel show known as electric blues. Even dago movie directors have TV specials about the blues, presuming themselves somehow connected to the music that slaves invented to reduce the tedium of their workday and keep threaded to their West African roots. If it is possible to hear this previously unreleased recording out of that sad, sorry, societal context, it would stand as an excellent set. The backing band is not as stellar as on King’s studio LPs of the period, but the spotlight is on his vocals and hugely influential lead guitar, which are both uniformly great. But it’s hard not to imagine fat white guys screaming “WOOOO!” next to me as I listen to this. (Keith Bearden)
Les Baton Rouge my body – the pistol CD (Elevator Music)… This Portuguese combo, now based in Berlin, plays old school femme postpunk, as influenced by Nina Hagen’s frenzy as Siouxsie’s austerity.
Little Bare Big Bear “Little Man” b/w “Dr. Morgan’s Panacea” (Butterfly)… Hard-edged poppy freakbeat from Jon “Mojo” Mills & company, with a delightfully daffy spoken passage worked into the flip. I didn’t know Toe Rag could turn out stuff that sounds this crisp. Comes in a nifty collaged sleeve.
The Little Killers S/T CD (Crypt)… The idea of white folks cooking up another garage punk blues hybrid is enough to make my lunch head north, but amazingly, The Little Killers pull it off. What’s the difference between them and Jon Spencer “I hang out with poor old black guys” poseurdom and White Stripes academia? Head Killer Andy Maltz has developed into a fine mutant Chucky Berry geetar slinger over his 15-plus years slugging it out in NYC combos like the Sea Monkeys and the Spitoons, and he has soaked up enough different forms of classic trash, twang and howl where the influences actually merge into something fresh (God forbid). First time banders Kari and Sara keep things chugging along in lean classic punk style. The Little Killers deliver the goods with spit, spirit and skill. Put ’em on the Warped Tour and teach the kiddies what it really feels like to rock. (Keith Bearden)
Lost Sounds Rat’s Brains & Microchips CD (Empty)… Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. There was never enough punk rock to go around in the old days, I think. That’s why its popular appeal had to be limited: we couldn’t afford to share it with normals. Although there’s been an outbreak on MTV lately, there’s also been a lot of great punk/new wave that hasn’t quite made its way up the ranks to the televised wasteland. Something special just for us losers. Lost Sounds is one of the better bands. They remind me of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Avengers and Los Angeles’ Screamers (for a band literally no one has ever heard, their influence sure has gotten around). Rat’s Brains is one of the more interesting releases in the last couple of years. Yes, the goofy synths that scream nu wave are there and so is the dark gothic atmosphere, but so are some industrial embellishments and a touch of quasi prog rock à la Rush. It’s a supercool balance of specific trends that were boiling in the late ’70s, come together once again in a nice sophisticated (thanks to twenty years of hindsight) package. (Margaret Griffis)
Joe Mannix White Flag CD (Bongobeat)… Although he’s got the name of a TV detective, this cat sings like a Go-Between. Sweet, thoughtful singer-songwriter stuff, with some unexpected production frills.
Manta Ray Esratexa CD (FILMguerrero)… Aggressive Spanish trance-cum-rock outfit with a warm, organic energy like the inside of a beehive. Impressive and unpredictable stuff, with lots of tasty rough edges.
Dom Mariani and the Majestic Kelp Underwater Casino CD (Head)… Don’t expect power pop like DM3’s Rippled Soul. Mariani shows off his instrumental chops here. But this is soundtrack stuff, not Dick Dale surf. Knowing it’s hard to keep such tunes separate, each song has distinctive touches: sitar, Hammond organ, 12-string, percussion. “Sergio Leone” conjures the Spaghetti Western Territories. “Indian Ocean” is where Perth surfers shoot the curl. “Cherry Red” and “Let It Hang,” are scorchers. “Starline” has ocean effects and Acetone organ. “Roulette,” is a punchy, tough rocker, and the standout is “Tijuanna Dreamin’.” (P.J. Lozito)
Mink DeVille Le Chat Bleu CD (Raven)… On paper, Mink DeVille main man Willy DeVille has it all–a great voice, a moody junkie continental vibe, and a passion for early ’60s pop melodrama ala Ben E. King and the Drifters. When he hits it, it’s stellar (I’ll be damned if “Spanish Stroll” isn’t the best song Lou Reed never wrote), but all too often on this reissue of his 1980 LP, it gets contaminated by a common ailment of ’70s NYC rock–Springsteenitis. The help of legendary songwriter Doc Pomus certainly helps on tracks like “This Must Be The Night” and “Just To Walk That Little Girl Home,” but the working class New Yawk tough guy thing comes off as authentic as the soundtrack to Grease comes to real ’50s rock. His take on the Jive Bombers’ “Bad Boy” soars like a falcon, but the real meat here is the looser live bonus tracks, where the songs come to fore and the party really begins. (Keith Bearden)
Minor Threat At DC Space, Buff Hall, 9:30 Club DVD / First Demo Tape CD (Dischord)… Ha ha ha! This is great. They look like babies!!!! At the time, I thought they were "old men" but, dammit, I guess they were practically kids themselves. The quality is about as good as can be expected and we’re lucky there are any video documents available from the era. A definite must-have for any Minor Threat fan, but of interest to the general musicologist for the accurate portrayal of a typical "hardcore show." This is the real thing that unfolded in countless rec halls across the country during the early ’80s. There’s also a screwy interview with Ian MacKaye. Because of the stupidity of the interviewer they felt it necessary to separate the answers out from the questions. Funny, I guess. Also released is an "official" version of their first demo tape. Bootleg versions have been available, but it’s nice to have a copy that hasn’t been duped 30 times previous to yours. (Margaret Griffis)
Modey Lemon Thunder + Lightning CD (Birdman)… This rough ‘n’ raw Pittsburgh trio sounds like a tight little mod combo that got dosed on animal tranqs and woke up sore and confused, three states away. Then they started screaming.
Thelonious Monk Monk in Paris: Live at the Olympia CD (Hyena/Thelonious Records)… While this previously unreleased 1965 live set from jazz’s premier
nutcase/genius/clown adds little to expand his legacy, it’s great listening throughout (though the unraveling dissonance of the 10-plus minute “Well You Needn’t” is for far goner minds than mine). Makes you wonder what other wonders lie in the family vaults. The bonus DVD (a perk usually reserved for bogus NuMetal moneymakers) is the real treat. It’s a pert near perfect go at three classics filmed (in glorious black & white) in Oslo with the same band a year later. Watch Monk peck and slap his piano like a disobedient pet, and then hide from the camera during Larry Gale’s bass solo. Delightful, essential stuff. (Keith Bearden)
The Monsters Youth Against Nature CD (Voodoo Rhythm)… Originally issued on vinyl in ’97, this Toe Rag-recorded trash-punk horror is delightfully retarded.
Mr. Airplane Man C’Mon DJ CD (Sympathy)… Tara and Margaret moan their sweet and sultry blues like Radio Ethiopia-era Patti, aggression and dreamy sweetness fused into a tasty little dumpling.
Angie Pepper Res Ipsa Loquitor CD (Career)… After too long away, Aussie songstress Pepper returns with her first true solo album (though I treasure a tape of the unreleased 1981 Angie Pepper Band sessions), recorded with husband Deniz Tek, Donovan’s Brain and various US and Australian players. Pepper’s voice remains a marvel of husky, moody eroticism, and the eclectic material (psych, girl group pop, Exotica, Lipstick Killers and Link Wray covers, even some rap!) shows more facets of her art than we’ve previously seen. “Doesn’t Seem Right” sounds like a lost Passengers track, the perfect blend of surfy-cum-Searchers guitar and sad girl pop longing. RIL is cool, but scattered–I’ll be curious to see if the next Angie disc will have more of a unified sound.
Radio CPR Begin Live Transmission compilation CD (Dischord)… Mostly typical compilation featuring Dischord family/friendly bands with the twist of it being a benefit for a DC-area pirate radio station. The tracks run into each like you would expect to hear on a live radio show, but considering this is supposed to represent "community" radio, it falls short of the diversity found scanning big city commercial radio stations (maybe having lived in Los Angeles and Miami just makes me lucky?). With the earnest ranting about "white supremacist and corporate-centrist mass media" on the insert I’d have expected more than a clichéd mariachi version of "Cielito Lindo." The audience for this is rather slanted towards Dischord-friendly consumers and several of the tracks are quite good irrespective of that. I can forgive them since they are trying to make a little scratch for community radio. (Margaret Griffis)
Kimberley Rew Great Central Revisited CD (Bongobeat)… The dead walk on this eclectic solo disc from the erstwhile Soft Boy / Wave, which juxtaposes an achingly sad memory song for Screaming Lord Sutch with a hepped up blues for Eddie Cochran among other examples of sweet, playful, thoughtful pop.
The Riverboat Gamblers Something To Crow About CD (Gearhead)… RAWKUS in the grand tradition of driving garage punk. Upbeat, melodic, passionate about R’n’R– something sorely lacking in the ’90s which were crunched from both ends by lukewarm irony and ice-cold emo. "Last To Know" and "Ice Water" are two of the finest songs released in the last few years. Double A-Sides. "Lottie Mae" would’ve been a great ballad for the Replacements to have released. I only wish I could listen to all the songs at the same time. (Margaret Griffis)
Roll Cage A Whole Summer of Pussy LP (Head Miles)… Kelpies / Brother Brick / Panadolls drummer Ashley Thomson takes a break from the skins to lead this loose ‘n’ trashy party band through a set of tasty Stonesy morsels calculated to horrify the squares. The titles alone will tell if this is for you, and if you’re not down with an obviously heartfelt expression like “God Bless Hookers,” well… shame, that. You gotta be pretty smart to make such fine dumb stuff. Limited to 500 copies.
The Screaming Tribesmen All Hail the Tribesmen Anthology 1982-1993 CD (Raven)… Like post-Birdman peers the Lime Spiders, the Screaming Tribesmen specialized in penning high concept, b-movie garage-pop anthems. But the Tribesmen had a way of making their absurd themes pulse with a convincing romanticism, giving songs like “Date With a Vampire” and “Igloo” (“Well I live in an Igloo at the polar zone/ And at night I dream of a red telephone…”) unexpected emotional power. Nasal leader Mick Medew played host to various Fun Things, Birdmen, Lipstick Killers and Died Pretties over his band’s life, with the highest points coming when Chris Masuak added his wild guitar to the mix. I checked out around ’87’s wimpier, hook-deficient Bones + Flowers, but the first 9 tracks here (of 22, arranged mostly chronologically) are prime, and while they couldn’t keep it up, the late “Ayla” and “Got You On My Mind” singles are swank returns to form. A useful tribute to
a momentarily great band.
Judee Sill Judee Sill and Heart Food CDs (Rhino Handmade)… Forgotten among the slew of singer-songwriters that gushed from L.A.’s early seventies canyons like so much February mud, Judee Sill was the first artist signed to pre-mogul David Geffen’s Asylum label, the most original, most difficult, and likely the best. Raised in her dad’s tavern and later in a stepdad’s icy alcoholic version of privilege, the valley girl grew up bright and bitter, turning early to psychological games, armed robbery, heroin and a highly personal form of mystic Christianity informed by Rosicrucianism and failed romance. Just when it seemed like she was going to O.D. or get shot, the Turtles hired her as a staff songwriter, recording the lovely lullaby “Lady-O” before disbanding. Over two weirdly beautiful albums that hold together like an oft-shuffled tarot deck, Sill orchestrates portraits of cryptic characters who seem to dwell between two worlds: a primal, archetypal realm of moral absolutes, and one more human, suffused with the agonies suffered when others behave badly. The musical dichotomy mirrors the lyrics. Sill sings with a casual, loping Western cadence and she drawls, the slightly dopey/hokey tone in contrast with her elegant symbolist lyrics and the occasional sustained ecstatic incantation, like “The Donor” with its round of “kyrie eleison” and visions of ancient inspirations that come unbidden during sleep. With haunting melodies and powerful language, these songs are strong medicine, leagues from the “laid back” image of label-mates like the Eagles (though a bad scene with J.D. Souther inspired her to write “Jesus Was A Cross Maker”). Both records are extraordinary, though Heart Food gets the edge for “The Donor” and “The Pearl,” songs which distill Still’s unusual obsessions down to their essence. Rhino’s expanded reissue includes an alternate “Donor” take that’s the finest thing Sill ever did. Aside from some uncohesive demos, Judee Sill recorded nothing further. She injured her back and returned to heroin, overdosing in 1979.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum Live CD (Sickroom)… Darkly scenic documents of the SGM’s public appearances, where singer Carla Kihlstedt’s nursery rhyme prettiness rubs right up against found loops and agonized industrial scrapes and squeaks, all more delicate and evocative than most such experiments. Nightmarish, yet nice.
The Spectors Beat is Murder: Cockfights & Cakefights 1992-1996 CD (Get Hip)… Every town worth a damn should have its own pet garage band for the locals to get misty over: the Spectors were Minneapolis’. From the Monks cover to love/hate-that-girl workouts, this seven-piece approached every song as if the cops were about to pull the plug on the amps. Towards the end they of course went psychedelic, and effectively, with “Rhubarb Ruby” and the sticky-sounding “Treacle Toffee World.”
The Stems Mushroom Soup CD (Citadel)… The Stems, Australia’s greatest eighties garage rock band, surveyed. Fuzzed-out guitars, skin tight drumming, cheap organ and pumping bass provide the framework for wonderful songwriting. See why “She’s a Monster” was big in Boston, along with the groovy “Under Your Mushroom.” Compare the demo of “Mr. Misery” (Bo Diddley beat!) with the version on At First Sight Violets Are Blue. “Power of Love” is amazing, with a sound the band “moved on from,” while “Lon Chaney Junior’s Daughter” is an instruMENTAL. This supersedes 1991’s Buds comp. (P.J. Lozito)
Meic Stevens Outlander CD (Rhino Handmade)…If there’s a stupider introduction by a major label for a potentially major singer/songwriter to the earhole public than “the Welsh Bob Dylan,” I’m sure it’ll be attempted over at Interscope any minute now. Native of Solma, Pembrokeshire, Meic Stevens was certainly Welsh, played guitar and harmonica and did honk satirically Bob-nosed a few times on his 1970 Warner Bros. (UK) debut, but he dazzled a disintroduction on the very first track. “Rowena” comes on like another Donovan-ride through inner space, but Stevens has the hectoring magniloquence of a drunken Cardiff MP egging on a miners’ strike. Soon the thing lifts into babble, mantra, transcendence, not to return to earth. It’s the greatest British folk-psych song you never heard; the like of which Dylan was no more capable than the overture to HMS Pinafore. The feel of this album is much closer to a collection of sketches by Skip Spence or Roky Erickson, but with top-end production and the ineffable advantage of Meic’s voice. He sounds like a great actor or con man high with language and stoned on hearing his skull hum. “The sailor and madonna” and “Ghost Town” sail over the next three decades into late-nineties alt-rock, superior at that. “Dau rhosyn coch” looks forward to the next thirty-plus years Stevens has spent as the most influential Welsh-language pop artist. This release apparently did well enough for Warners to offer another try, but Stevens turned them down to sing for his own people. This edition includes the original album plus nine bonus tracks. It will improve your existence in ways you can’t even imagine. (Ron Garmon)
The Stupor Stars “Bernadette” b/w “Born to Run” (Honeyhole)… Hopped up lowbrow punkarama from L.A. And yes, it’s the song you think it is on the flip, only reimagined as a much uglier vision.
The Sun Love & Death CD-EP (Warner Bros.)… For a moment I thought it was going to be a straight Cramps rip-off. Then hot-rod music. Then I stopped myself for a moment and turned off the “major label suspicion reflex” briefly. Here comes a Clash reference and, hey, weren’t the Clash on a major label? (Margaret Griffis)
The Tol-Puddle Martyrs Puddle with the… 7′ EP (Misty Lane)… Here are both cool singles released by an Australian beat band in 1967 and ’68, on Spiral and Festival respectively. The ’67 tunes are driving fuzzed out rockers with a slight surf influence, but a year later they’re reinvented themselves as an Antipodean Something Else Kinks-and quite convincingly! Oh, and the name? According to Mike Stax’ liner notes, it was derived from nineteenth century Dorset trade unionists sentenced to transportation.
Toys That Kill Control The Sun CD (Recess)… Beholden to postpunk with a decent helping of the more interesting aspects of the Clash, Toys That Kill punch out wonderfully melodic pop tunes with enough crunch to mercilessly shake the ass of their most robotic enemies. Despite the "hair" band name, the San Pedro band reminds me of nineties Midwest acts like Thomas Jefferson Slave Apts. (Margaret Griffis)
Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players Vintage Slide Collections from Seattle, Vol. 1 CD (Bar/None)… I still haven’t gotten over the irritation of seeing the Trachtenbergs’ live during their much-hyped Los Angeles residency. The Silver Lake Lounge was so packed, you’d see little spinning fire marshalls when you closed your eyes. And although the band’s hyperactive factotum brought a bribe of drink tickets to my moaning, notebook-scribbling sweetie, there was no way we were getting near the bar. Showtime came and went, but Mrs. T hadn’t bothered to set up her slide projector, and now the room was too crowded to find sightlines. The heat and tedium were such that hipster scum (me included) were reduced to sitting on the dirty floor like a bunch of hippies-well, it was better than getting a mouth full of ponytail every time the chick in front of me turned her head. Things didn’t improve once the technical problems were resolved and daddy Jason and little Rachel took the stage in their ugly matching outfits. The Trachtenbergs’ shtick: take some dead person’s slide collection, cobble together a loose visual narrative, and write a cloying indie rock ditty ostensibly celebrating the person’s adventures-but insert mean gags whenever possible, and give off a palpable reek of self-satisfaction. Jason Trachtenberg, drunk on his own publicity, rambles interminably about imagined rivalries and the family’s purchase of a new minivan. As annoying as the songs are, the patter is a hundred times worse. I start zoning out, wondering what Rachel will think when she’s older and realizes that her innate kiddy cuteness was used to facilitate a musical career for her talentless old man. Will there at least be a trust account to finance plastic surgery and a new identity? Or will the slandered specters of Seattle drag the whole family down into a fiery netherworld where the fumes from their polyester stage wear finally silence this unfortunate gimmick? Some weeks later, I was sent their album.
The Trouble Dolls Sticky CD (Half A Cow)… Terrific fuzztone bubblegum obviously recorded in a haunted castle by brilliant, dangerous babies.
V/A Hey! It’s a Teenacide Pajama Party! CD (Teenacide)… Jim Freek said, “Let there be tomfoolery,” and lo, a whole slew of goofy, glammed-out girl groups roamed across the land, and made merriment for the man in the stripy shirt, and he heard them and was glad. Featuring the Neptunas, Pinkz, Checkers, Cheap Chick and Nipper & the Seaturtles singing about a perverted turtle. F-U-N.
V/A Inside Information LP (Bubblewrap)… Ted Liebler sent me this some time back, but it got lost in review limbo till now. A one-sided, six-band ltd. ed. indie pop sampler with the instant psych caché of tracking from the inside out, it features the Morning Stars’ crunchy drone, a bizarre Sweet-meets-Devo kinda sound courtesy the Fiction Four, a “1-2-5”-style organ raver from the Autumn Leaves, plus songs from Basement Apartment, the Kites and the Pine Marten Group, and it plays like a fun night out in miniature.
V/A In the Garden: The White Whale Story CD (Rev-ola)… The label the Turtles built specialized in licensing great singles that mostly didn’t go anywhere, but since costs were low, there was nothing to stop them from tossing more at the wall. Varese put out a comp called Happy Together five years back, but with minimal overlap, either release offers plenty of pleasure for the pop spelunker. Rev-ola’s picks include Dean “Laughing Gravy” Torrence’s reimagining of the Beach Boys’ abandoned “Vegetables,” Gary Zekley’s gorgeous production of “The Shadow of Your Love” by Bittersweet (which sounds like the Clique because it is), Dobie Gray’s haunting “Do You Really Have A Heart” and Freddie Allen’s kinda clunky original version of “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
V/A It Came from Uranus CD (Pro-Vel)… First release from a St. Louis label keen on spreading the word about the bands working the midwest corridor offers 21 otherwise unreleased tracks from acts as diverse as the (Hollywood) Cavern-ready Tomorrow’s Cavemen, the surfy Knuckel Dragger and a whole slew of raunchmeisters plying that uniquely midwestern brand of sloppy, edgy garage-punk. A fun introduction to an unfamiliar and vibrant scene.
V/A Night Time Music: The B.T. Puppy Story CD (Rev-ola)… Intriguing label sampler for the Tokens’ rarely-charting baroque soft pop imprint (1966-68). B.T. Puppy seems to have been the east coast version of White Whale, churning out delirious mini operas by a succession of unknown acts. Highlights include Pennsylvania’s Sundae Train, represented here by four swell sides, Amanda Ambrose’s Brute Force-composed “Amanda’s Man,” plus a bonus, from the WB vaults, Margo, Margo, Medress & Siegel’s daffy Pepperesque “Mr. Snail.” Elevator music with a soul.
V/A South American Teenage Garage Punk volume one 45 (Butterfly)… Four contemporary bands who follow in the scuzzy paths of Los Saicos and Shain’s, including Los Peyotes’ frenetic “Vampiro” and a version of “Ain’t No Friend of Mine” where Elio “The Mummy” (of Thee Horribles) gives up on the phonetic English and just babbles in tongues.
V/A Tunesmith: The Songs of Jimmy Webb double CD (Raven)… Instant Jim Webb completist in a box: 46 covers of varying degrees of obscurity and fame, a psychedelic passage through Webb’s weird world of Brooklyn Bridges and Magic Gardens, significant plane flights, philosophical failures, reincarnations and rages. Sound quality is variable and it would be helpful to have labels and dates for all the releases, but since it would be the work of years to accumulate all these oddities, Tunesmith is a real treat for the novice or intermediate Webbist.
Alan Watts This is IT CD (Locust)… F is for Freak Out. Had this primer of the intersection of Zen philosophy and California weirdo excess been released in 1968, it would be considered a groovily deranged addition to the tripster subculture, but when you consider the true date of issue (1962), this mad thing seems like a voice from another planet-assuming, that is, you buy the myth that the world was square until the Beatles arrived. Watts suggestively intones his metaphoric deconstructions of self with frequent babbling interjections from a turned on group including radio collagist Henry Jacobs and percussionist William Loughborough. IT shows the jazz path of psychedelia, absent electric guitars and tight pants, a nerd’s psych that’s mostly gentler, but whose rages are truly startling. Could the repeating “blobbyblobbyblobby” mantra have inspired British novelty artist Mr. Blobby?
Wide Right S/T CD (Poptop)… I knew Wide Right leader Leah Archibald years ago when she lived in L.A., and her husband Dave was instrumental in getting David Smay and I our book deal with Routledge for the upcoming Lost in the Grooves… none of which has any bearing on my thinking that Leah’s band totally rocks! Raunchy, poppy, smart and crunchy, with a delicious fusion of aggression and sweetness, Wide Right turns on a distinctively extra-urban sensibility fueled by memories of Buffalo-bred boredom, longing and entropy. Pick hit: “Another Way,” a classic countryish love song for a girl’s best gay buddy.
The Willowz S/T CD (Dionysus)… Love it! Sneery, fearless Voidoids-referencing punk rock in the old school weirdo tradition, energized, distinctive and scads o’ fun.
Young and Sexy Light Through One Speaker CD (Mint)… File under: sweet and brainy / Vancouver Division, a frothy bowl of innocent boy-girl vocals, acoustic strums, electric piano frills and word-portraits of sensitive hipsters in mild extremis.
Warren Zevon The Wind CD (Artemis)… You want me to review a man’s last words? It’s a good, sloppy Zevon record, with a few stunners, a few throwaways and the simultaneously tasteless/perfect choice of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” as a cover. If you love the guy you’ve gotta hear it, and it’ll be hard to listen to, and sometime in the middle of “She’s Too Good For Me” you’ll get sad about the song and forget how much sadder is the situation, but then you’ll remember. Warren Zevon did good work until the end, he fought hard and stayed alive to see his grandkids born, and he still put that fucking smoking skull logo on this disc. Godspeed.