Scram #20 reviews (all by the editrix unless otherwise noted)
Atomic 7 …en Hillbilly Caliente CD (Mint)… The whammy bar gets a workout on this all-instro set of fun, upbeat originals sporting wacky titles like “Funeral Hotpants.”
Automat just imagine drive CD (Ravenna, indiepages.com)… Recorded over six years in basements and bedrooms, this is Scram contributor Mike Appelstein’s very lo-fi, indiepop one-man-band. Sort of a sonic snapshot of young adulthood, it includes songs written in law school classes, half-remembered Miracle Legion covers and a musical wedding present for Mike’s wife-to-be. Charming, conversational and understated.
Devendra Banhart Rejoicing in the Hands CD (Young God)… Mythic obscurism, intimate and tender, with a languid, drunken cadence that welcomes the ear and soothes the spirit.
The Beat Farmers Tales of the New West CD (Rhino Handmade)… This reissue shares it’s title with the rollicking San Diego band’s Steve Berlin-produced debut, but adds live and later studio cuts to provide a career overview. An ultra-tight roots combo with great taste in cover tunes, a goofball sense of humor and a secret weapon in the form of drummer-vocalist Country Dick Montana, for a couple years in the mid-eighties the Farmers could probably make ordinary people feel better than any band in the country.
Bobby BeauSoleil Lucifer Rising OST double CD (Arcanum)… Purely on a technical level, the existence of this music is astonishing: disc #1 was recorded on homemade equipment on the grounds of Tracy Prison (1977-79) by erstwile Manson associate BeauSoleil and his all-inmate Freedom Orchestra. Kenneth Anger made several attempts to find an alternate composer for the soundtrack before reconnecting with the now-incarcerated guitarist, reviving a collaboration that had ended in enmity a decade earlier. Taken out of cinematic context, the music is ethereal yet intense, suggesting solar winds and timeless, slow processions. Disc #2 has several recently unearthed tracks from BeauSoleil’s pre-Manson, SF ensembles the Orkustra and the Magick Powerhouse of Oz, and 28 minutes of outtakes from the prison recordings. The excerpts from the Orkustra’s songs reveal a slinky, chaotic jazz-rock groove that must have made the stoners nervous. MPofO is represented by the original Lucifer Rising recordings, which are more varied than the second version, with heavy guitars, flute solos and jazzy meandering. This piece may jibe better with the film, but as a music it’s fairly discordant. With handsome packaging and informative notes, this is a most welcome discovery.
Black Eyes Cough CD (Dischord)… Free jazz and dub rammed through the ole punk rock/noise cheesecloth, but squeezing out fairly well put together. (This kind of thing can so easily go the wrong way.) Such combinations can’t help but be reminiscent of Pere Ubu, PiL, Sonic Youth and even Crass or the Crucifucks, but still with a bit of that DC Fugazi flavoring. Lots of saxophones, bass and percussion. It’s an album of contradictions. The production makes it sound sparse, yet it’s crammed to the gills with erratic noise. Emotionally, it seems passionate yet cold. Two vocalists share singing duties and you guessed it, one is staid and one’s a screamer. Pretty interesting stuff. (Margaret Griffis)
Brian Jonestown Massacre …And This is Our Music CD (Tee Pee)… If you thought you could forget the disconnect between Anton Newcombe’s obnoxious personality and the layered, lovely sound of his band, you thought wrong: their latest commences with an answering machine message from a sputtering, pissed-off girl. The trick is in understanding that Anton is as proud of hurting her as he is of these songs. You want one, you get the other. And all your heroes were assholes, too.
Vashti Bunyan Just Another Diamond Day CD (Spinney)… Reish of the orchestral folk debut of Ms. Bunyan, an early Andrew Loog Oldham discovery who passed up the chance to be another Marianne Faithfull to travel the British Isles in a horse-drawn buggy. Briefly returning to London mid-journey, she recorded this mysterious, very pretty disc with Joe Boyd producing and musical accompaniment from Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band and Fairport’s Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol. While the songs aren’t especially catchy, Bunyan’s husky, ethereal voice is sure beautiful. Fans of Nick Drake and Bridget St. John will want to seek this out. This expanded edition includes several unreleased songs.
Matthew Burtner Metasaxophone Colossus CD (Innova)… If Burtner’s saxes were flesh, they’d be bionic: wired for feedback loops and computerized programs aping Tibetan prayer bowls and imaginary strings. “St. Thomas Phase” samples Sonny Rollins at maximum velocity. Burtner explores the outer edges of live performance potential, and makes some terrifically weird sounds along the way.
Canned Hamm’s Karazma Reimagined – As Performed by Today’s Top Artists CD (Pro-Am)… Inside their fertile little brains (and in those of the lucky hundreds who’ve witnessed their hyperactive Vaudeville), Little Hamm and Big Hamm are mega-stars. And mega-stars get tribute albums, of which this sassy, genre-bustin’ set is probably just volume one. Hamm fans here include Neil Hamburger, the New Pornographers, Monotrona, Bobby Conn, Carolyn Mark, the Goblins (and their pet monkey), Nardwuar and even Canned Hamm themselves, interminably singing the credits ala Skidoo!
Chagall SoundLight CD (Seven Thunders Music)… The misguided cover art screams new age dope, but Columbian-born Keith Chagall is actually quite a good McCartneyesque singer-songwriter. Cool backwards guitar on “Watching the Seasons.”
The Cinch shake if you got it CD (Dirtnap)… A chaotic, melodic feminine swirl of rough guitar and tomb-deep, witchy vocals, run through with a beguiling sweetness.
The Claudia Malibu “Star” CD (Claudiamalibumusic)… Warm and bubbly indiepop with sing-song, Kinksy vocals.
Clouseaux Lagoon! CD (Dionysus)… Space age exotica music as a genre is now doubly outdated, but it’s always a treat to find a new stereo testing disc. This Houston ensemble conjures up a spiffy soundtrack to an imaginary island-set spy flick, packed with energy, wit, danger and an occasional splash of honcho horns.
Bobby Darin Aces Back to Back! CD/DVD (Hyena)… From the official Darin archives, in advance of Kevin Spacey’s bio-pic, comes this offbeat career sampler mixing high-schlock ’72 TV variety show live cuts with scarce jazz spots for the American Dairy Association and rootsy Big Sur sessions from Darin’s Dimension label. The DVD reprises the TV material, and adds bits from a lost, self-produced documentary including footage of the ultra cool Darin taking a drag on a cigarillo before laying down a vocal track. Much as I love his folk material, the brassy Vegas stuff leaves me mildly impressed, but unmoved. More intriguing are the simple Milk recordings, which include a lovely “Moon River.” Too stylistically varied to hold together as an album, Aces works as a broad introduction to a multi-faceted artiste.
The Dirtbombs Dangerous Magical Noise CD (In the Red)… Mick Collins & co. strap on their treble-powered rocket packs and spew out a soul-punk miasma that’s just the latest piece in the puzzle that spells out “Without Detroit, Rock And Roll Don’t Mean Nuthin’.”
The Dwarves The Dwarves Must Die CD (Sympathy)… The beauty of all those “Question Authority” bumperstickers is that they tell you do so so authoritatively. Similarly, I hear a lot of punks lately, those most freethinkinest of folk, grumbling about the Dwarves and their recent delve into the realm of orchestral hip-hop pop, or whatever it is they’re doing. Well, the Dwarves, nor anyone else, could do no finer work. Certainly, there are the many traditional Dwarves tracks on Must Die: “Dominator,” which you’ll remember from How to Win Friends…; “Blast,” whose screamin’ reminds of “River City Rapist”; and a few others, but with some nice twists—“Relentless” could have come off of Blood, Guts… save for the chorus of children, and “Bleed On” and “Fefu” are top-notch archetypal Dwarves, but with surf and ‘60s garage crunch. What stand out, though, are “Salt Lake City,” best pop song of the year; and “Runaway #2,” acoustic new wave a la the Violent Femmes, although Gano never wrote about daddy’s white candy water. The church organ in “Christ on a Mic” is truly strange, but the most ado has been made about Blag “Def like Beethoven” Dahlia’s rhymin’ and designin’ on “Demented” and “Massacre,” which, in the latter, he drops the hip-hop dis-bomb on those pussy-ass bands what sweat him. (The album also includes a dizzying collection of guests, from Gary Owens introducing the opening track [a faux-“live” recording reminiscent of the Ventures in Japan album] to National Kato at its closing, with rappers and punkers in between.) Despite all the musical departures, and some thematic dabblings into Queens of the Trust Fund, and the nature of the afterlife, Blag & Co. don’t stray far from the lyrical conventions of fuckcore: fucking, violence, drugs, teenage girls, and more fucking. Nevertheless, Blag is still rock’s premier wordsmith, a lust-mad Hogarth living, exposing, hell, destroying the underbelly of America. To our eternal gratitude. Blag sums it all up in the opening track—it’s “the childish defiling the mild/ and we know that it’s making you smile.” (Nathan Marsak)
The Electric Degenerate Doses CD (Pro-Vel)… The vocals are the first thing to hit ya, Wayne County’s loopy drawl fused with David Thomas-style shriek apocalyptica. Fast, frenetic and a little silly, this St. Louis quartet turns the usual retro elements into something fresh and their own.
John Felice & the Lowdowns Nothing Pretty CD (Norton)… This 1987 “solo” album from the Real Kids mainguy is one harrowing listen. Imagine the early Kids’ innocence and spirited love of all kindsa buoyant three-chord rock’n’roll filtered through the ravages of a decade-plus heroin addiction and a career self-destroyed. “Perfect Love” and “Dreams” are prime Kids-style pop made all the more poignant by Felice’s audible wastedness, but the strung out title track (“there’s nothing pretty in my life anymore”) and “I’ll Never Sing That Song Again” (which ends with a coda of Felice’s big “hit” “All Kindsa Girls”) are the real highlights—the honesty on show here cuts to the bone. “Real Kids don’t get old/their hearts grow empty, their blood runs cold” Felice sang at the beginning of the ‘80s, and it’s a credit to the guy’s strength of will that he’s still touring a decade and a half later (and probably a testament to his ability to fuck-up that he hasn’t made a full-length record since this). A lost classic, in more ways than one. (David Laing)
The Feminine Complex livin’ love CD (Rev-Ola)… Reissued reish (of Teenbeat’s 1996 release) of the sole 1968 sophisto-pop recording by a Nashville girl group that recorded for indie label Athena. The album, backed by session players under Lee Hazen’s supervision, is soulful sunshine pop with strong songs by singer/ guitarist Mindy Dalton, but stay tuned for the bonus tracks, including several harder edged demos with all five girls playing and singing as they did before college and marriage broke up the band.
Henry Flynt & The Insurrections I Don’t Wanna CD (Locust)… Avant-noise fiddler Henry Flynt is known to NYC Hi-Awt cultists for his collaborations with LaMonte Young, Yoko Ono and the Velvet Under-ground, but his scattered recordings have lately won slobbery love from aesthetic punx and garage geex across our baking mudball. A classical musician from rural North Carolina turned ultra-modernist turned psychedelic rootsman, Flynt came from people who proudly call each other “hillbillies” and cheerfully cripple outsiders who let the word find their mouths (don’t ask why, it’s just something we do). “My music is a sophisticated, personal extension of the ethnic music of my native region of the United States,” wrote Flynt in 1980, shortly before he traded playing music for writing philosophy. This punk godfather’s resurrection-in-his-own-lifetime should give little joy to the cash-money shade of Frank Zappa. I Don’t Wanna is Flynt’s sole rock album, an unreleased proto-punk masterpiece recorded in 1966 that is far more advanced than Freak Out! and cruder than the early Fugs. Flynt plays guitar and fronts a brute mix of proletarian rage, wall-to-wall mod raga and “Wooly Bully” spread over nine songs. Like any of our tribe, Flynt has a near-genetic understanding of imperialism and exploitation. Like none of the avant-gardists around him, he knew and channeled the power of swampwater rock & roll. When listening to these tracks, keep in mind they predate White Light, White Heat and Creedence Clearwater Revival by two years. This vastly important discovery, along with recent reissues of Linda Perhacs’ Parallelograms, Cosmic Mind at Play by the Paisleys and the Stark Reality’s glorious mauling of Hoagy Carmichael, suggest everything we know about sixties rock is probably wrong. (Ron Garmon)
Evan Foster Instrumentals CD (Musick)… The Boss Martians’ boss briefly returns to his sometimes goofball surf roots before launching into eclectic genre explorations ranging from synth-drenched cinematic sounds to bluesy raunch, lowbrow spy jazz to garage rock, all featuring Foster’s crystalline guitar leads and memorable melodies.
The Frantics The Complete Frantics on Dolton CD (Collector’s Choice)… You know the Frantics’ “Werewolf,” since it’s on every Northwest/ horror/ Cramps comp you’ve got. Therefore, you know it’s one of the top coolest, creepiest instros of all time. So what else were these labelmates of the Ventures up to? Well, unlike the Ventures, the Frantics never really found their “sound.” Nevertheless, with 26 tracks, twelve previously unreleased, there’s plenty you’ll find to quicken the pulse. The raw, R&B-tinged sax-and-sleaze that defined the NW—whence came the Kingsmen and Sonics—is never more direct and driving than in “The Whip,” and the loungey stuff, like the exotified “Delilah,” makes your head swim and eyes see double. In fact, there’s flamenco here, and tiki, and Latin jazz, and even a Ventures take off called “Ventura Blvd.” Like I said, never found their sound, but I think it’s because of that that this one is worth a listen. (Nathan Marsak)
The Girls S/T CD (Dirtnap)… Utterly spastic punk-pop with mock operatic vocal whoops, faux significant lyrics and scrappy guitars fighting for prominence with relentless synthesizer swirls.
Al Green The Immortal Soul of box set (Hi/ The Right Stuff)… The four discs are split between the themes that dog Green’s life and art: love, sex and the Lord, with one disc simply labeled “soul” to catch the post-1975 overflow. There might not be a slinkier, sweeter sound than the one Green, Willie Mitchell and the Hi rhythm section created together on the floor of Memphis’ old Royal Theater during Nixon’s reign. Discs one and two are the strongest and most interesting, commencing with two pleasant 1967 ballads by Al Greene & the Soul Mates, then moving chronologically through the development of Green’s signature softly funky sound. Once the pot of grits was thrown and Jesus came between Al and Willie, things were never the same, but ooo, when they were hot…
The Gris Gris S/T CD (Birdman)… This is nuts—in a good way. Some Seeds, some Doors, a ghostly Velvets pastiche, Latin romanticism and hypnagogic sound-forms swarming together into an absurd yet compelling spaced-out
The Gurus S/T CD (Rainbow Quartz)… Lush retro pop from Barcelona, where young boys dream of growing up to be Jim McGuinn and do.
David Hemmings Happens CD (Rev-Ola)… One of my favorite-ever dollar bin scores, this daft ’67 collision between the Don’t Make Waves-contracted Byrds and the star of Blow Up splices free-form psych-jazz (the improvised insanity credited to Hemmings-McGuinn-Hillman) with a Gene Clark demo re-cut with Hemmings’ quite passable tones in place of the ex-Byrd. Opener “Back Street Mirror” is primo solo Clark, while “Talkin’ L.A.” is the cream of the trippier crop, the sound of studio cats being devoured by Byrds. Joe Foster’s liner notes handily solve some of the project’s abiding mysteries, and leave you wishing they’d had a few more days to refine their aims. But still, a most entertaining oddity.
Doug Hilsinger with Caroleen Beatty Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy CD (DBK Works)… What a cool project. The Waycross bandmates explored their mutual fondness for Brian Eno’s 1974 LP by remaking it sans electronic instruments, passed the recordings to Eno himself after a lecture appearance, and totally blew the artist’s mind. I haven’t heard the original in years, but even without it fresh in my mind, this is some powerful, weird and deeply felt art rock.
The Hi-Risers Lost Weekend CD (Spinout)… Lively, silly retro act more interested in having fun than sticking to any strict rules of genre. Instro, country, garage, frat, surf ‘n’ twang.
Holy Curse bluer than red CD (Nova Express)… Some quirk of earthly geography made France the nation most appreciative of the Sydney school of rock’n’roll—I once spent a fruitless few minutes failing to communicate with an excitable francophone gent who couldn’t get over the Radio Birdman patch on my jacket. Holy Curse have that cool, dry Oz/Detroit thing down, the brusque Younger-style vocals, swirling, aggressive guitars, lyrics focusing on life’s reductive essentials, and the raw energy to bring it all together. Real cool.
Penelope Houston Pale Green Girl CD (DBK Works)… The teenage Avenger has grown into a mature singer-songwriter more concerned with personal politics than global ones, though she’s still clearly a hardcore idealist. Jangly, muted tales of screw ups, let downs and hope.
Penelope Houston Snapshot CD-EP (Flare)… Yet another pretty side of a Penny. Accompanied here by the Maydays (featuring chief Zombologist Alec Palao), she covers interesting, well-arranged selections by the likes of Pentangle, Shocking Blue and Colin Blunstone. Strangely, her voice is more distinctive on these songs than on her own.
Jim & Jean Changes / People World CD (Collector’s Choice)… Married folkies Jim Glover and Jean Ray’s career was shaped by their friendship with onetime roommate Phil Ochs, who wrote notes for 1966’s Changes, which sported three of his songs. With twining harmonies that straddle the line between east coast coffee house and Mamas & Papas pop sophistication, Jim & Jean’s electrified discs have some gorgeous moments. But despite the songwriting star power in evidence (Ochs, Dylan, Eric Andersen, fine, otherwise unissued David Blue), it’s Jean’s original “Topanga Road” from People World—revealed by Richie Unterberger’s liner notes to be inspired by a Buffalo Springfield drug bust—that’s the heart stopper, haunting and ethereal, but really tough. A lost classic. The rest of People World is interesting if not always successful, with soul and pop strains infecting trad folk forms and mutating fast. The record didn’t sell and Jim & Jean split up, leaving their fans in Fairport Convention to feed the culture they’d begun.
Sharon Kraus Songs of Love and Loss CD (Camera Obscura)… Ancient-sounding (though mostly modern, original) cyclical folk balladry that’s equal parts lovely and scary.
Roy Loney & the Longshots Drunkard in the Think Tank CD (Career)… Still plenty Groovie, Loney and his NW band mix trad ravers with a new wavey pop sensibility charged with snotty energy that belies the clock. Also in the set, a most-Kinky tribute to Ray Davies, “He Talks to Himself.”
Michael Lynch That’s Not the Way It Should Be CD-EP (Michael Lynch Appreciation Society, email email@example.com)… All by his ownsome, Mr. Lynch makes rather wonderfully arch and jangly sixties-inflected pop. Let’s hope he finds a bunch of twenty year olds to help him bring these nifty morselsto a live setting.
The Magnetic Fields i CD (Nonesuch)… The precious, precocious Mr. Merritt finds fourteen musical ways to paint himself the perfect loser, accent on perfect, and along the way gets in dozens of prickly digs at the expense of anyone who ever believed in their own failed experiments with love. Super-tasty androgyne pinky-lifting pop.
The Mello Cads Gentle Explosion CD (Manzoku Music)… Uneasy listening for mod modernists. Drenched in sap-wet strings, bedecked with horny horns, Mr. David Ponak explores the lonesome fingerlings of bachelorhood, begging and promising things he won’t want come morning. The very sexy space poppers Seksu Roba join the Cads on a nighttime tour of Roppongi.
Miracle Chosuke The 7/8 Wonders of the World CD (Dim Mak)… Oh my goodness. When I heard the opening track I thought I’d accidentally put on some Yes record—which isn’t a terrible thing, but it sure is an eye opener. The rest is punky new wave with a touch of the progrock interspersed here and there. There’s spazzy synth a la Screamers, but overall the driving tunes are more Buzzcocks than anything else. This is turning out to be one of my favorites CDs in months. (Margaret Griffis)
Mushroom glazed popems double CD (Black Beauty)… Two sides of the Mushroom (“London” and “Oakland”): pastoral space rock fever-dreams flavored with Mellotron giving way to cool, urban instro scenes dotted with brass, conga and electronics. Hypnotic, cinematic and kinda nutty, featuring Absolute Grey’s Pat Thomas on drums.
Mystery Girls Something in the Water CD (In the Red)… Young, stuck in Wisconsin and blasting out a fierce ‘n’ chaotic blues-garage spew, these “girls” sound like they’d just as soon pick your pockets as getcha to you dance.
Nervous Eaters Eat This CD (No Tomorrow)… Boston punk-era legends on schedule with album number three in as many decades. “Punk-era” is maybe a bum-steer—despite their oft-covered/ bootlegged couple of singles for the Rat label, “Loretta” and “Just Head,” their roots go back further and here it’s like punk never happened. This is hard rock how it should be played—lean and bullshit-free. Mainman Steve Cataldo sings, plays and writes as tough as nails and cracks wise to boot—checkout mean streets killer “Call Kevin,” with it’s picture of a local crime boss with “a slice of lime in his gin, an old cigar stuck in his grin;” and has a knack for high rev chord sequences—he calls it his “gear-box” songwriting technique. “5-6-8” is a great tribute to the Boston scene of the ‘70s and name checks the Real Kids (Allen Paulino, who was an Eater before he was a Kid in ‘76, plays bass here), and hey, if other reformed bands of the era, from Radio Birdman to Rocket from the Tombs to the Real Kids themselves are/were able to come up with albums this great we’d all be happy. (David Laing)
Ness Up Late with People CD (High Pilot)… Brash, bubbly pop that could eat AM radios for breakfast.
The New Planet Trampoline The Curse of… CD (Elephant Stone)… Led by the Volta Sound’s Matt Cassidy, NPT ply a path of wonky Anglophile psychedelia, their deep immersion in the canon crossed with a trashier, garage-bred side. Like a dreamy acid idyll dragged earthbound by a snort of speed.
Nichelle Nichols Down To Earth CD (Collector’s Choice)… Not a demented cash-in in the Shatner vein, Lt. Uhura’s 1968 Epic debut is a tasteful jazz-pop outing highlighting Nichols’ breathy supper club phrasing on standards like “That’s Life” and “Tenderly.” And if there’s something a little otherworldly about those strings, well, who could blame ‘em? A more soulful side turns up on the bonus tracks.
Norfolk & Western Dusk in Cold Parlours CD (Hush)… A spaghetti Western ghost story viewed through the wrong end of the telescope.
Greg Parker On the Break CD-EP (Whitewall)… Pin-up pretty Nashville kid who croons and yodels like an old timey countrypolitan by way of Chris Isaak.
Patience and Prudence The Best of CD (Collector’s Choice)… The adolescent daughters of songwriter Mark McIntyre had a cutie-pie career on Liberty in the late fifties, chirping old timey tunes that, despite vocal doubling and some elaborate arrangements, had a sweetly amateurish sound that illustrates how varied American radio used to be. This comp pulls together scarce 45s like “A Smile and a Ribbon” (Enid Coleslaw’s fave) and “Very Nice is Bali Bali,” plus a few cuts with boy singer Mike Clifford and the original demos that caught Ross Bagdasarian’s ear. The sonic equivalent of a two-foot long Pixie Stick.
Sam Phillips a boot and a shoe CD (Nonesuch)… Framed in relentless junkman percussion, Phillips moans her existential, ultimately hopeful, origami tunes. I suspect repeated listenings would be rewarding ones.
The Pilgrims Telling Youth… The Truth CD (LRL)… Would you believe… a sixties, Midlands UK R&B/pop band preaching the gospel in language that couldn’t possibly be misread as referring to girls and cars? I’m not sure I do, either, but whoever put this package together (or, if you will, the Pilgrims) clearly had a blast melding godly lyrics with convincing vintage arrangements and production. And “Wait and See” has a great primitive drum line that might justpresage Mo Tucker… or not.
Sandy Posey Born To Be Hurt: The Anthology 1966-1982 CD (Raven)… Posey’s reading of Martha Sharp’s “Born a Woman” is one of those great “did I really hear that?” pop moments, a cheerily masochistic affirmation of everything feminism was supposed to eradicate. And while Posey played the sad little skirt on tracks like “A Single Girl” and the stunning, Dreiser-esque “Hey Mister,” she could also spit out a P.F. Sloan kiss-off like “See Ya Round on the Rebound.” Raven philanthropically strips out the considerable dross from her increasingly countrified recorded work, and it’s worth picking up for the above mentioned tunes, and a great version of “Love of the Common People.”
The primeTime sublime Community Orchestra A Life In a Day of a Microorganism CD (Corporate Blob)… If you’ve ever cared at all about subcutaneous life, you need this disc. A big fat art-joke spliff with damp purple buds bricolaged from Bernard Herrmann, David Axelrod, The Bonzo Dogs and Faust rolled in, this 45: 29 of recorded whimsy is the second album from a near-anonymous collective (accurately) described on its website as “Monty Python’s illegitimate children flunk out of music school.” Or you could call it “The High Llamas without songs” or “High Modernism hits the corn-shucker” or “Listen While High.” The title composition is preceded by four short pieces, with “Fashion Flag For a Part-time Patriot” displaying much quicksilver wit amid mock sonorities, Gershwin wheezes and Aaron Copeland’s fruity plains. The main piece is subjected to an unfortunate mugging by our good friend, the Narrative, much in the same way as the old science educational films it satirizes bludgeoned cool nature footage. That American civilization resembles such society as one might find in a dingleberry subjected to intense magnification is not a new idea. Still, the fifty thousand or so ears on this planet attuned to this rare level of genre-smash will need this very badly indeed. (Ron Garmon)
Red Planet We Know How It Goes CD (Gearhead)… Recipe for a Red Planet cocktail: take one part cheeseball ’78 synth, one part eternal teenybopper, two parts snappy hooks, shake in a sealed Camaro, chill to the temperature of a summer skinny dip and serve… often.
Reigning Sound Too Much Guitar CD (In the Red)… Maximum treble overdrive, with snappy hooks, slobbery harp, subterranean Misfits choruses and this relentless, snotty urgency that’s too rare these days.
The Robbs S/T CD (Collectors’ Choice)… Kicking off with a mildly martial, boyish take on Eric Andersen’s romanto-folk classic “Violets of Dawn,” the faux Robb (actually Donaldson) Bros.’ debut soon veers into wonderfully snotty bubblegum territory with “Cynthia Loves,” an exuberant warning about a world class heartbreaker. The Robbs were the house band on Where the Action Is out of L.A., but went home to Chicago to record, and these tracks have that midwestern goodtimey soul-pop vibe, drenched in cool organ and twining fraternal harmonies. Good songwriters, too: the originals hold their own with the few covers, including a Sloan-Barri number and a terrific jangly traditional tune, “Jolly Miller.”
Rocket from the Tombs Rocket Redux CD (Smog Veil)… Sure, it’s the rock and roll equivalent of raising grandpa in a seance, but turns out the old man’s still got balls. Richard Lloyd’s incendiary guitar stands in nicely for the truly departed Peter Laughner, David Thomas gene-splices his Ubu vocal stylings into what used to be straight ahead rock songs, Cheetah Chrome can’t sing and doesn’t care, and I think I’m smelling smoke. Since the ultra-influential (proto-Pere Ubu, -Dead Boys) combo could only previously be heard in a live ’75 radio session and demos, it’s just a damn fine thing to see their vision formally realized.
The Sadies Favourite Colours CD (Yep Roc)… Channeling a corduroy-bedecked dream Burritos by way of Gene Clark’s Byrds, Toronto’s Sadies bring heart and class to an again popular, but oft hollow genre. And yeah, that really is Robyn Hitchcock singing on the last track.
77 Sunset Strip OST CD (Collector’s Choice)… Fridge-cool cop jazz soundtrack from the show that spawned a million jive spinnin’, comb wieldin’, wannabe Kookies. There was no lingo on the original Warners disc, and it’s a shame Collector’s Choice doesn’t do the bonus track thing, cos the addition of Edd Byrnes’ “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)” 45 would provide some useful cultural mapping. Nevertheless, the disc’s a tasty slab of moody backgrounds redolent of late night busts and failed capers.
The Shakes Gigantes del Pop! CD (Teenacide)… 14 fresh slabs of brainiac pop-punk delight from the sweetly surly Shakes, whose addition of Dan “Gremmy” Collins on bubblegum organ (and mental hospital vocals on the Mumps’ “Crocodile Tears”) has given them a nice new edge to flick around our ears.
Shark Pants Porno Snakehead CD (Recess)… When I cracked open the case I looked at the cover art and wondered whether this was going to be more like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Black Flag or their misguided love spawn. Thankfully it’s closer to Black Flag, not too much though. They’re more beholden to trad sixties garage punk than hardcore, but played at a breakneck 78 rpm. Zoom. Good good stuff. Loud, fast, still rules and it brings a tear to the eye. (Margaret Griffis)
The Shemps Spazz Out with the Shemps! CD (Reservation)… We live in a world where frat boys are listening to the Hives. Good for them, I guess, and maybe they’ll graduate to the Humpers with our help. I had the occasion to entertain a collection of these beefy-armed types recently, where I put on the Shemps and they started slamming around in my tiny apartment, breaking up all my furniture (which I duct-taped up only days before after a particularly nasty Mummies-playing destructionfest). Everyone was happy as drunken, bruised clams at the Shemps, especially when I showed ‘em the cover art, an illustration of Japanese schoolgirls gleefully killing some beefy-armed guy. It’s Northwest ‘60s punk filtered through NYC ‘80s hardcore. The Shemps get an A+. (Nathan Marsak)
Richard Shindell Vuelta CD (Koch)… This is the first of Shindell’s six records I’ve heard, so I can’t say what changes moving to Argentina has brought to the East Coast folkie’s sound. He’s a compelling, if low key, performer, restrained yet emotive, who brings traditional melodies and themes smartly into the politicized present. Pretty, thoughtful, understated and refined.
Skeemin’ NoGoods S/T CD (Idol)… Raw midwestern punk/boogie running a fever and ticked off to the point of maximum efficiency. I dig.
The Slats Pick It Up CD (Latest Flame)… Although they need a little work, the new release by the Minneapolis/Iowa City trio has intelligent songwriting with solid musical back-up. My only complaint is that they don’t go far enough down the paths they seem interested in. More skronk, more melodies, more more more. Drink to excess or take drugs or get laid or whatever it’ll take to loosen up those sphinctie muscles. Bows to nineties’ favorites Guided By Voices, Pavement and Nothing Painted Blue, but otherwise good. (Margaret Griffis)
Sloan Action Pact CD (Koch)… The first half of Action Pact is such catchy, crunchy, pure seventies pop fun that I was singing along to songs I didn’t know by the first chorus. The second half is just good-not-great rocknroll. But averages are meaningless when talking about songs this strong, and at least they sequenced ‘em right. Get it.
The Smithereens From Jersey It Came! Anthology double CD (Capitol)… The eighties weren’t just Aquanet and lycra, not even on major labels. The ‘reens were a real live rock and roll band that, while sounding cool enough to linger in hipster obscurity, somehow managed to hit the charts. Graced with Pat DiNizio’s neat hand with a hook, stellar taste in producers (Ed Stasium, Don Dixon, Andy Shernoff, Alan Betrock) and deep catalogue collections heavy on the British Invasion, doo wop and Brill Building, these cats made some great contemporary pop. The Especially For You tracks are particularly compelling, transforming noir film titles into gotta-hear-‘em-twice lovesick janglers. Demos and live cuts make this set appealing to fans and neophytes alike.
Solger Codex 1980 CD (Empty)… The horrible production values can’t cover up the qualities of this nearly lost hardcore record. Solger lasted just a few months in 1980, but left an indelible mark on the nascent Seattle hardcore scene. Cleaned up (but not too much) by Jack Endino, the CD includes their complete recorded works (slim) and a live show. The CD is probably better suited for the hardcore or grunge completist than a randomly interested listener, but it’s entertaining. (Margaret Griffis)
Nikki Sudden Treasure Island CD (Secretly Canadian)… Apparently Nikki’s new band dresses in couture pirate drag. This hasn’t dissuaded masters like Ian McLagan, Mick Taylor and former partner Dave Kusworth from dropping by the sessions, which for all I know were held on a cobweb-draped galleon in a secret inlet off the Irish coast. Small splashes of gospel choirs drape Nikki’s bluesy, circular riffs and romantic lyrics starring doomed loves, incorruptible beauties and wasted wastrels.
sun zoom spark transmissions from satellites volume one CD (SlowBurn)… It’s four in the morning, and you’re stoned, thirsty and covered in burrs, and just over the next rise there’s this suburban house with a garage and a band and cold beers. Just as you see the light in the kitchen window there’s this terrible lurch and then… just nothing.
Sharon Tandy You Gotta Believe It’s… CD (Big Beat)… A brassy soul-pop chick from London by way of Johannesburg, Sharon hooked up with the Fleur de Lys, who backed her on her best known track, “Hold On,” a freakbeat track unusual for its mix of mod aggression and husky feminine vocals. This 26 cut comp includes mid-sixties recordings for Pye, Atlantic and Atco, plus a few unreleased songs, with the common factor being Sharon’s big, emotional voice, which is simply overwhelming on the more ordinary tunes. But “Hold On” and “Daughter of the Sun” are quite deliciously out of control slabs of psyched out girlie pop, and there are some nicely Dustified moments on the tunes recorded at Stax.
Deniz Tek and Scott Morgan 3 Assassins CD (Career)… Detroiters speak of Scott (Rationals, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band) Morgan’s vocal prowess in awed tones similar to those Australians apply to Radio Birdman guitar whiz Deniz Tek. Send these two out on the French and Italian road with the brutal backing of the A-10 and the results are predictably fiery, from the stunning opening take on the MC5’s “Future Now” through recent Tek originals, SRB classic “City Slang” and the Stooges tunes that close the set. Let’s hear it for assimilation.
The Thanes evolver CD (Rev-Ola)… Generous career survey of the ever-cool Scotch garage revivalists who, while steeped black in vintage sonic styles, never sound like they’re doing it by the numbers. Lenny Helsing was just born too late, but he never let that stop him and his mates making great, moody psych-folk-punk-ravers that really feel timeless. With tracks taken from scarce singles, EPs and albums, plus a few unreleased gems, evolver pulls together material that would be tough and costly to replicate. Includes liner notes by Mike Stax, a Helsing interview and detailed song notes.
Thee Fine Lines S/T CD (Licorice Tree)… A swell little bit of Billy Childish/ Headcoatees-style lowbrow garage action, all throb, fuzz and swagger… only with better teeth, cos they’re from Austin.
Thee Shams Please Yourself CD (Fat Possum)… The trad blues folks down at Fat Possum have signed themselves a band of electrified youngsters, and they’re serving up a tasty, sloppy scene that’s somewhere between the psychedelic Stones and the Cynics at their raunchiest, with unexpected sidetrips into atonal piano balladry.
David Thomas and Two Pale Boys 18 Monkeys on a Dead Man’s Chest CD (Smog Veil)… The wacky cover art and jokey title (not so jokey once you begin to obsess on it) didn’t prepare me for what I’d assumed would be another Thomas effort even more atmospheric and electronic than the great 2001 platter Surf’s Up! But the sonic novels—Thomas’ description—Thomas has penned for 18 Monkeys is Cle-punk Americana at its darkest and finest in years, maybe ever. (Apols for the comparisons, but) the first side thumps and lurches like a looser, early Cave (the opener “New Orleans Fuzz” = what? “Swampland?” “Tupelo?”)… and the record then slides into Waitsian territory, with melodeon and musette and Thomas’ muttered narratives, narrating what I don’t know or need to know. Elegiac and, dare I say, buoyant in places. This is music to detox to, sitting in the dark, alone, sweating, or at least that’s how I enjoyed it. Twice. Intones Thomas in “Habeas Corpus,” “maybe the darkness won’t hide what we’ve done.” Even with all the noise, Thomas and the Boys don’t shed light on chaos, but on an interior, as opposed to exterior, trembling. And you can’t hide that. Anymore. Shuffle nervously, don’t walk, to go fetch this disc. (Nathan Marsak)
timewellspent S/T CD (Parasol)… Not all orchestral pop is hatched in grimy urban climes. This delicate, occasionally spacey set is the brainchild of a pair of South Floridians, though they did send the finished tapes up north for Thom Monahan to apply his patented Pernice Brothers sheen to the mix.
Trembling Blue Stars A Certain Evening Light: Uncollected Recordings 1996-2002 CD (Shinkansen)… Being the worthy b-sides and rarities of a most elegant and worldly pop phenomenon; hushed, clever, lovely stuff, no less human for the bits of electronics and Martian dub.
Twink Supercute! CD (Mulatta)… In his toy piano, uke, cardboard box etc. ensemble, Mike Langlie and pals explore the outer reaches of kiddie sound, layering serious and goofy noise into a dense, cartoony electronic net punctuated with the squeaks of real and stuffed animals. This material is available in a conventional CD, or in a beautifully packaged box of three-inch CDs with a tiny picture book featuring Twink himself, a little bunny. Jazzy, dark, silly, bizarre, and yes, sometimes supercute.
The Ultra 5 Denizens of Dementia CD (Green Cookie)… Cool ‘n’ moody organ-swathed garage rock with the unexpected addition of some very sweet femme vocals. Ultra trashy, and fuzzed to the gills.
Townes Van Zandt Acoustic Blue CD (Tomato)… A tasteful blend of late European live recordings of Townes standards and a stark last studio remake of “Nothin’,” laid down three weeks before he died. As with pretty much everything he ever did, truthful, beautiful and raw.
V/A Dirtnap Across The Northwest CD (Dirtnap)… Incredibly strong selection of unreleased punkity roque songs from thirty-one of the Northwest’s finest like the Spits, Rotten Apples, Hunches, Gloryholes, Briefs, etc. The gathering is fairly diverse: Ramonesrock, synthy Nu Wave, glammy tunes, hard and junky rock, so there’s something for practically everybody here that has a taste for fresh punk. Highly recommended and one of the best comps of the last few years. (Margaret Griffis)
V/A Heart So Cold! The North Country 60s Scene CD (Bacchus Archives)… Upstate New York and some place called Vermont were darn fine partsatheworld to get warm in the winters between ’61 and ’65. Everybody was goin’ to the Rollerland, as is evidenced in the comp’s finest, craziest track, “Everybody’s Goin’ to the Rollerland” by Empire recording artists “Wild” Bill Kennedy and the Twiliters. No, I take that back, the craziest track is the Ravens’ “Oobie Doobie Do,” a previously unreleased (!) slop-screamer whose lyrics have been described as “Gertrude Stein singing rock n’ roll.” Some of the tracks go Liverpudlian, and Hawaiiana from New York always makes me cock my head, plus there’s spysurf and garage snot and lotsa beat, beat, beat. Me, I’m going to Plattsburgh—goin’ to the Rollerland. (Nathan Marsak)
V/A Heroes & Horses: Corridos From the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands CD (Smithsonian Folkways)… Very pleasant sounding ballads from the Arizona-Mexico borderlands. The corridos are the border version of the blues. The songs tell the old stories of revolution and generals, but also the lower brow interests of horse racing and the difficulties of mining and even jail. The musical style is recognizable from old Mexican or even Hollywood movies. It’s very familiar and sentimental. Good for a hot day at the cantina drinking una cerveza bien fria. (Margaret Griffis)
V/A The Midnite Sounds of the Milky Way CD (Big Beat)… Solid mid-sixties label sampler highlighting Danville, IL’s Milky Way Records and the frantic garage and novelty slabs cut at their Midnite Sound studios. Among a slew of terrific folk-rock, spaced out instros and sneery rockers lurks Willie & the Travelaires’ “Fiery Stomp,” the fascinatingly amateurish surf-meets-bubblegum vision of a rockin’ Amish man who showed up at the studio in a horse-drawn buggy!
V/A Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo CD (Or Music)… A truly amazing cast—Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Bob Neuwirth, the Faces’ Ian McLagan, Mott’s Ian Hunter and nearly thirty more—pay tribute to the songs of ailing Austin, TX-based troubadour Escovedo, who Scram readers are most likely to know through his time in early SF punks the Nuns and Slash-signed cowpunks Rank & File. This guy is the rarest of breeds—a singer/songwriter-type whose songs are as informed by the Velvets, Stooges, Stones and all manor of ‘70s rocking as they are by the Townes Van Zandt/Steve Young/Rodney Crowell tradition. This record is a revelation—I’d only paid scant attention to the man’s records over the years—but truly, the number of jaw-droppingly great songs on evidence here has had me scampering to pick everything he’s done. (David Laing)
V/A Shakin’ In My Boots: A Texas Rock N’ Roll Compilation CD (Licorice Tree)… Brand new comp from a brand new label out of Texas–this baby goes crazy-beyond the Elevators and the Thaks, kids. Shakin’ is a heady brew of rhythm n’ booze, slop rock, organ scuzz, garage assault, plus a great outer space-laced surf instro that’s worth the price of admission right there. Of course, with fifteen songs of raunch-rock there are bound to be a couple soundalikes, but when they sound like this, you can quit yer damn complaining. All in all, one xtra-fine house-party rocker if, you know, you’re skipping town the next day and blowing off the security deposit. (Nathan Marsak)
Vetiver S/T CD (DiCristina)… Vetiver mainman Andy Cabic writes, plays and tours with Devendra Banhart, and his debut has a similarly loopy, arcane feel, with strings for sweetening. I can imagine all the musicians in this friendly, tight-knit scene gathering in an ancient roadhouse and summoning ghosts with their gentle, spooky songs. Let the folk bats fly.
Tony Joe White The Heroines CD (Sanctuary)… Just got hepped to the early work of swamp-rock legend Tony Joe (thanks, James!), and am pleased to note that his latest is everything you’d want the inventor of “Roosevelt and Ira Lee” to be playing thirty-five years later. Tony Joe comes across like a wisely raunchy soul whose seen and done a lot, and that experience informs his gruff vocals and fluid, incisive guitar lines. Alternate tracks showcase duets with Emmylou Harris, Jessi Colter, Lucinda Williams, Shelby Lynne and Michelle White, but it’s the solo “Robbin’ My Honeycomb” that’s the knockout, an understated tale of cuckoldry seasoned with a hint of menace.