Category Archives: Vinyl records

CALEXICO – The Thread That Keeps Us (2LP)

Album: The Thread That Keeps Us (2LP)

Artist: Calexico

Label: City Slang

Release Date: January 26, 2018

www.cityslang.com

The Upshot: A bonafide Southwestern ambassador deftly integrating folk, rock, pedal-steel-powered country, reggae, psychedelia, and Mexican pop while also showcasing a newfound anthemic side.

BY FRED MILLS

By way of full disclosure, I’m hardly objective where it comes to Calexico, having known founding members Joey Burns (guitar, vocals) and John Convertino (drums) for years and additionally authoring the liners to their 2011 vinyl box set, Road Atlas. That caveat aside, I’ve long marveled at the group’s musical evolution, from a folkish desert rock duo with occasional Latin influences to a bonafide Southwestern ambassador deftly integrating folk, rock, pedal-steel-powered country, reggae, psychedelia, and Mexican pop. The single-LP or double-LP set (take your pick; it’s also available on CD) The Thread That Keeps Us maintains this sense of place, particularly on gorgeous, windswept numbers like the Morricone-esque cinematic psych of “Voices in the Field” and the Spanish-language Mariachi rock of “Flores y Tamales.”

The group also has perfected the art of the anthem—fittingly enough, as this is an overtly political album in places, its lyrics detailing and decrying the “age of extremes” we’re living in—with songs like the soaring, U2-like “End of the World With You” and heavy-twang stomper “Dead in the Water” leading the way.

Throw in a bonus LP with the deluxe edition, its seven tracks showing off a more understated, trancey side to the band, and Calexico emerges as one of the most diverse, free-ranging outfits operating.

Incidentally, fans who contributed the band’s pre-release PledgeMusic campaign were able to select an autographed LP or CD among various premiums, making for an instant collectible. (Calexico has long been prone to offering limited editions and collectebles, going all the way back to their annual calendars and tour-only CDs; the aforementioned box set collected those tour-only discs as a massive 12LP artifact.)

Sonically speaking, a forum thread at Discogs.com drew some lively debate over the quality of the mastering and mixing. For my part, I don’t detect any “pointlessly muffled” passages, but I did indeed have to turn the volume up on side A, which clocked in at 25 minutes. Calexico is also a large group, with 7-9 people performing at any given moment, so a bit more volume helps spread that density across the soundstage and allows their dynamic nuances to emerge. Other commenters speculated on it being a poor pressing, the 180-gm. European pressing reviewed here presumably being superior to the U.S. edition (single LP, 15 songs) on the Anti- label. Inconclusive, but still worth noting.

DOWNLOAD: “Voices in the Field,” “Flores y Tamales,” “Dead In the Water”

 

A version of this review originally appeared in Stereophile magazine. Also note that BLURT’s Lee Zimmerman has also reviewed the CD version of the album for us.

THE GREAT SADNESS – Weep

Album: Weep

Artist: Great Sadness

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 20, 2018

www.facebook.com/thegreatsadness/

The Upshot: Heavy-ass distorto blooze and sensual distaff trance-rock from a staggeringly powerful guitar/drums gal/guy L.A. duo. Check out their GoFundMe campaign as well if this review piques your interest!

BY FRED MILLS

Although Cathy Cooper and Stephen McNeely stake a claim, on their debut longplayer, for single-word nouns, adjectives, and adverbs (much like they did on their 2015 official unveiling, an eponymous 5-song 12” EP) as a songwriting M.O., the view from above definitely suggests a multi-hyphenate approach to music-making for the L.A. blooze-skronk power duo. The album, Weep, is populated by minimalist, cipher-like numbers, ranging from the Gun Club thud-boogie distorto-blooze of “Blind” and its more straightforward trance-rock counterpart “Tonight” (in which Cooper’s slide guitar steadily rises, in tandem with her haunted vocal, from a drone to a squall; think Nirvana covering Junior Kimbrough); to the yipping, yowlping, flanging, crashing “Never” (here, McNeely’s kit pounding eggs Cooper on to the point of mania), and the appropriately horrific, protracted sonic blood-letting that is “Suicide.”

It’s a breathtaking performance, no lie, equal parts deep-roots, slide-guit, electrified folk-blues, and latterday dissonance-mongering as perfected early on by the Birthday Party and the Lydia Lunch-powered Sonic Youth. Cooper is positively possessed throughout 150% of these 10 songs, somehow managing to find space to wield her guitar and lap steel amid quavering/quivering/howling extemporaneous flights at the mic, while compatriot McNeely thumps ‘n’ thuds with the dystopian, brontosaurian aplomb of a young John Bonham. The only contemporary outfit that I can reliably compare The Great Sadness to is Australia’s legendary, nigh-unapproachable feedtime. (By way of relevant contextual background: Cooper previously performed in Beaver Trap, Touchcandy, and The Shotgun Of Khando, prior to making some solo records and working as a sculptor; McNeely had cut his teeth in hip-hop and dance music, and after moving to L.A. from Colorado in 2011, he met Cooper through his sister, who heard Cooper was seeking a simpatico drummer.)

For all you record collectors in need of some kind of psychological respite from this mammoth wall o’sound: Weep arrives as a gorgeous milky/cloudy splotched white vinyl edition, housed in a gatefold sleeve with a staggering inner mural reminiscent of legendary underground artist S. Clay Wilson. Don’t blame me, however, when you drop the needle onto the platter and your visual reverie is gets shattered to pieces. (Preview and order at the band’s Bandcamp page.) Need you any additional urging?

DOWNLOAD: “Tonight,” “Suicide,” “Enough”

 

ONEIDA—Romance

Album: Romance

Artist: Oneida

Label: Joyful Noise

Release Date: March 08, 2018

https://www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com/

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Oneida, the great psychedelic kraut-groove outfit from Brooklyn, has returned to ecstatic, rhythm-driven form with Romance after a prolonged exploration of longer, more abstract compositions. Here again, for the first time since Rated O are the staticky, blurted keyboard riffs, held in tight formation by an endlessly repeated beat. Here are the explosive bursts of non-linear drumming, intervals of joyful chaos in a disciplined architecture. Here are the mournful, mystical vocals drifting up and away off of gleaming mechanical structures, a wondering, uncertain mind in the grip of a pulsing, pummeling body, a ghost in the machine. And those these explorations can go long (“Lay of the Land” judders on like a steam engine for more than ten minutes, “Shepherd’s Axe” bends light and sound into rainbows for well over 18), they are more like songs than Oneida’s recent work.

Consider, for instance, “All in Due Time” with its burp and fidget of conflicting keyboards, its expansive, horizon-extending drum build, its lucid dream-like narrative of candidates and their daughters, of love and poison. The voices splinter into pieces, so that a chorus in unison turns into a hall of mirrors doubled experience. You can get lost in this song, though it zooms inexorably forward; there are space-time bends in its relentless propulsion.

There’s a tension between tightly leashed iteration and euphoric release. Short patterns of sound execute over and over, in exactly the same way, but lead in their hemmed in hammering to wide-open escape hatches for the mind. Entropy is always lurking in the system, as in “Bad Habit” where the pummeling guitar riff moves in and out of sync with straight-fingered keyboard banging. They are almost together. They drift apart. They move in closer to alignment. It’s like watching a hand and its shadow, listening to a voice and its echo.

Oneida is a funny band, by which I mean that its members have always had a strange and infectious sense of humor, and you hear this in “Cockfight,” the “Captain Bo”-style banger that upends the album’s second side. More guitar, faster drums, rock-styled vocals (there’s a yelped “all right” and a few slurred and swaggering “baby”s) make this cut hark back to the old days, Secret Wars or even Anthem of the Moon, and it’s good to hear.

The disc is predominantly songs, with duration mostly under six minutes and recognizable melodic lines, even lyrics that enfold in a sort of verse/chorus structure, but it wouldn’t be Oneida if they didn’t take you on a trip. “Shepherd’s Axe” is a gorgeous, slow-motion closer, more like a Barn Owl track or Kandodo or even the Oneida of more recent years — of Absolute II, or A List of the Burning Mountains. They do this well, too, this gradual unfolding of gradiated tone, and “Shepherd’s Axe”, is a lovely track.

Of course, you can’t hold any band, much less a band like Oneida, to the early stuff. No matter how much you like what they used to do, going on from there, doing other stuff, is as much a part of Oneida’s DNA as hammered keyboards or head-banging repetition. Still, they’ve been in the long-form, drone-and-drift mode for a while now. It’s nice to hear them rock out a little, too. (Pictured below: a little clue for all you vinyl hunters out there.)

DOWNLOAD: “All in Due Time,” “Bad Habit” “Cockfight”

THE DAMNATION OF ADAM BLESSING – The Damnation of Adam Blessing (LP) / The Second Damnation (LP)

Album: The Damnation of Adam Blessing (LP) / The Second Damnation (LP)

Artist: Damnation of Adam Blessing

Label: Exit Stencil

Release Date: March 30, 2018

www.exitstencil.org

The Upshot: Remarkably engaging underground hippie rock from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s by a now-obscure Cleveland band that actually came close to grabbing the brass ring.

BY FRED MILLS

Anyone interested in a sampling of late ‘60s/early ‘70s underground band The Damnation of Adam Blessing while reading this review is encouraged to pop over to Spotify, where there’s a digital album called The Best of The Damnation of Adam Blessing. With 13 tracks, it has selections from all four of the band’s LPs, heavily weighted towards the first two discussed here.

Begins 1969-spawned The Damnation of Adam Blessing, tellingly, “You take your Technicolor daydream/ Aww, let your mind and soul unwind/ You walk a mile into a mirror/ Yeah, travel sideways into time…” This eponymous debut from the Cleveland-based quintet is impressive as hell, although sadly, the band’s fortunes would ebb and flow across a quartet of albums; their steadily diminishing returns, commercially speaking, would ultimately doom the group by the time ’73 rolled around.

It wasn’t for lack of talent or trying, however, and on multiple fronts (particularly since the band was signed to United Artists, at the time a moderately significant label with an eclectic roster). But despite some promising flirtation with the national charts, TDOAB failed to get much traction beyond the Midwest touring circuit of the day.

Instrumentally, the band had the chops to deliver sonic tableaux that, while in retrospect were clearly of the era, should’ve powered any number of their songs onto the playlists of freeform radio stations of the day across the country.  These were dark, dramatic numbers of metaphysical intent and wah-wah-fueled delivery, and they also boasted the potentially starmaking vocal charisma of frontman Bill Constable (aka the titular Adam), whose pipes were supple enough to make him a potential understudy to Ian Gillan or even Rod Stewart — check his performance in the group’s notable version of the Jeff Beck Group’s version of “Morning Dew.”

Yours truly was fortunate enough to be turned on back in the day to The Damnation of Adam Blessing by an older mentor, and several years later, after the group was no longer, I came across the first two LPs in a used bin. I never was able to locate their third or fourth albums, 1971’s Which Is the Justice, Which Is the Thief?, and 1972’s Glory, although most accounts suggest that neither record was exactly mind-blowing. But LP Numbers One (the aforementioned self-titler) and Two (The Second Damnation, from 1970) remain crucial artifacts, and the ever-diligent archivists at the Exit Stencil label have just rescued both platters from relative obscurity as fully-licensed reissues. Neither are nostalgia trips; period pieces, perhaps, but still churning with hirsute, hippie bravado ‘n’ passion.

The Damnation of Adam Blessing is perhaps the stronger of the two releases, should you have to choose between them. From the aforementioned “Cookbook,” which wouldn’t have been out of place on an early Free album, and moody, meditative ballad “Lonely,” a showcase for Constable’s estimable croon; to the baroque pop of “Strings and Things,” a lengthy (5:45) excursion that deliberately ventures into Jefferson Airplane psychedelia, what with its overtones of the Volunteers album, and a surprisingly rousing take of the Monkees (!) “Last Train to Clarksville”—this is a diverse, layered album that repays multiple spins with fresh sonic revelations each time around. And The Second Damnation doesn’t exactly fare poorly either, what with tuneful garage workouts like “Death of a Virgin,” full-on hard rocker “Driver” (somewhere there’s an unreconstructed Grand Funk fan who heard this once and to this day swears it was from a GFR bootleg), the lust-fueled, six-minute 12-bar blooze of “New York City Woman,” and the group’s unabashed pop anthem “Back to the River,” sensual and sinewy, and one of those “coulda-shoulda” radio hits that never was. (In fact, it almost made it to the Billboard Top 100 when United Artists release an edited version as a single, but for some reason it stalled at #102, taking with it any momentum the album itself might have been building.)

Pressed up on heavyweight vinyl and boasting sharp reproductions of the original sleeve artwork plus bonus inserts depicting photos of the original master tape reel boxes on one side and detailed liner notes by Ugly Things writer Doug Sheppard on the other, both LPs are essential listening for anyone even remotely interested in probing the less-explored corners of the era. I can feel my mind and soul expanding just writing about ‘em—somebody pass me my mirror, I’m ready to travel sideways…

DOWNLOAD: “Back to the River,” “Morning Dew,” “Cookbook,” “Strings and Things,” “New York City Woman”

DREW DANIEL & JOHN WIESE – Continuous Hole LP

Album: Continuous Hole LP

Artist: Drew Daniel & John Wiese

Label: Gilgongo

Release Date: May 04, 2018

www.gilgongorecords.com

The Upshot: As the press sheet announces, “Without using any sampling or MIDI sequencing, the rhythmic cuts evoke the tempo/BPM of footwork, juke or gabber, but they are constructed entirely from volcanic, gnarled abstraction, and eschew typical genre elements.” Amen.

BY FRED MILLS

… and on the 8th day, God created dissonance…

Minus any reliable reference points, I am loathe to pass even tentative judgment on such a challenging platter —all 11-songs/36-minutes/heavyweight-black-vinyl of it— but duty compels me to sing the song analog ‘lectric. The names above the title here, Mssrs. Daniel and Wiese, hail from known (though perhaps not altogether understood) quantities Matmos/The Soft Pink Truth and Sissy Spacek, respectively. Allied under one self-produced, Thomas Dimuzio-mastered banner, the duo constructs abstract, disorienting soundscapes destined to flummox the easygoing listener, but thrill adventure seekers for whom a musical mandate necessarily involves plundering any and all available uneasy listening.

I’ll admit to rank admiration here, of the so-uncommercial-it’s-downright-musical aesthetic on display; with concentration, the rhythmic intensity of the record threatens to turn martial, as if a high school football game’s halftime performance by the marching band had gone rogue. Disorientation is the order of the day, however, and within these analog grooves—pun intended—resides a deeply satisfying form of sonic subversion.

This mostly improvised set is apparently the end result of 10 years’ worth of SF, LA, and Baltimore home recording sessions. That’s 120 months spent, on and off, collaborating in both real time and as digital avenues permit. What, one might ask, would be the result if time constraints were, mmm, mere hours?

Preview the album: https://helicopter.bandcamp.com/album/continuous-hole

DOWNLOAD: Well, where should I start….

DIRTY SIDEWALKS – Bring Down the House Lights LP

Album: Bring Down the House Lights LP

Artist: Dirty Sidewalks

Label: No-Count

Release Date: January 12, 2018

www.facebook.com/nocountrecords/

The Upshot: Classic, anthemic shoegaze with a contemporary twist, and more vocal hooks per capita than a box set of Beach Boys ‘n’ Beatles.

BY FRED MILLS

Swervedriver. Ride. Chapterhouse. Jesus & Mary Chain. If none of those classic outfits twang your heartstrings, move along citizen, nothing to see here. But for all the smart people in the room, here, folks, is your new favorite band: Seattle’s Dirty Sidewalks, brothers Erik and Evan Foster on guitars and drum programming, plus “the other Evan” (O’Neil) on bass, debuting with a 12-song smorgasbord of fuzz ‘n’ drones, classic ‘80s anthemism and ‘60s Brit Invasion vocal harmonies, and no shortage of just plain kickass.

If Erick and Evan’s names sound familiar, that’s because you know their surf/garage combo, the Boss Martians. (Evan is also a contemporary member of NW garage legends the Sonics, just in case you need an additional CV reference.) But this is a whole ‘nuther thang, a veritable gobsmack of a record (on CD and vinyl) that does indeed pay homage to the aforementioned UK shoegazers but also updates the file to stake out turf that is utterly and undeniably theirs. It kicks off with some telltale backward-tape squiggles then launches into the manifesto-like “Rock & Roll (Saved My Life),” a thrumming, shimmering slice of JAMC pop revisionism that’ll have you swiveling your tailfeather in perfect synch with the shaker percussion. And the thrills subsequently pile up: the brief (2-min.), anthemic “Never Wanted to Be Love”; druggy, echo-drenched stomper “Euphoria”; experimental, samples-punctuated Black Holes, essentially an instrumental but with soaring Beach Boys-like wordless vocal harmonies. Oh, and for all the Oasis fans in the house, don’t miss “2nd Song,” which is more Noel Gallagher grand guitar symphony than Liam Gallagher vocal yowl/sneer, a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

That the Dirty Sidewalks use a James Dean-on-motorcycle as their band logo also speaks volumes. Get yer motor runnin’, punk.

Consumer note: In addition to Bring Down the House Lights being available on heavy vinyl, download card included, the band’s debut 45, “It’s Getting Better,” is apparently available on wax as well, in both super-limited white and very-limited black iterations. Act now before the word gets out on this gifted band.

DOWNLOAD: “Rock & Roll (Saved My Life),” “Euphoria,” “2nd Song”

BLIND IDIOT GOD – Undertow + Before Ever After (2LP reissues)

Album: Undertow + Before Ever After (2LP reissues)

Artist: Blind Idiot God

Label: Indivisible Music

Release Date: February 23, 2018

http://indivisiblemusic.com

The Upshot: The monstrous Bill Laswell-approved NYC outfit embarks upon a tantalizing colored-vinyl reissue program, including 1989’s Undertow and 2015’s comeback album Before Ever After. The former now comes in a deluxe gatefold sleeve and is pressed on brilliant tan/copper wax, while the latter goes even further with a trifold sleeve and luminescent green vinyl.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND & FRED MILLS

As Dr. Toland pointed out in his “Throwing Horns” metal roundup recently, ”the New York trio’s second LP found its patented blend of thrashing doom and jazzy dub in almost bifurcated form, with neither side of the band’s coin rubbing up against the other.  Undertow has the deep-dub hallmarks of a Bill Laswell production, and it also features a couple of the extended Laswell family intimates, Henry Rollins (vocals on two tracks) and John Zorn (sax on one of them). Yet guitarist Andy Hawkins, bassist Gabe Katz, and drummer Ted Epstein never surrender their stage in terms of their blistering jazz/skronk/hardcore approach to music making. Whether serving up a Bad Brains-worthy thrash epistle (“Atomic Whip”), a luminous meditation in the key of the aforementioned dub (“Watch Yer Step”), an improv-powered wall of noise (“Wailing Wall,” which justifies its title), or even a quick jazz-sax freakout (Zorn’s 2-minute appearance, “Purged Specimen,” may be brief, but it’s brutal), Blind Idiot God makes the most of its four vinyl sides.

And if you’re looking for some good old fashioned late-period Black Flag-meets-Rollins-Band, uh, boogie (term used loosely), there’s a long and a short version of the appropriately titled “Freaked,” from the Alex Winter film. Hank, we love the spoken word, but seriously, your rock audience needs you, and Blind Idiot God would be the guys to help you deliver the goods once again.

Sigh. 1989 was such a different time. At any rate, this 2017 remaster for double vinyl is essential uneasy listening. Grab it on sight. (—Fred Mills)

***

A baker’s dozen years since its last platter Cyclotron, Blind Idiot God came stomping back in 2015 with Before Ever After, a double LP that displayed the NYC instrumental trio at its BIGgest.

On the album, although joined by a new rhythm section, guitarist Andy Hawkins stays the course of the past three decades of his singular career, keeping one foot in amp-melting doom and the other in airplane-hangar dub.

As Hawkins terrifies his amp and bass/drums bash and crash, “Earthmover,” “Strung” and the appropriately-titled “Under the Weight” rumble like a Brontosaurus across the rubble of a fallen city, crushing debris underfoot as its stomach growls. On the other side of the bent coin, “Ramshackle,” “Shutdown” and “High and Mighty” skank through the dust as it settles, letting a little sunlight echo through the destructive aftermath. Not everything is quite so direct, however. “Voice of the Structure” alternates between spacy swirl and heavy pound, while “Barrage” fractures its rhythm in a manner not dissimilar to postpunk. “Fub” takes the band to the next level of development, its light-on-its-feet feel full of jazzy lightning and improv thunder.

Brandishing its weaponry with power and grace, Before Ever After both reclaims the legacy of Blind Idiot God and paves the way for its next epoch. (—Michael Toland)

 

 

 

 

 

 

TREES SPEAK – Trees Speak (2LP)

Album: Trees Speak

Artist: Trees Speak

Label: Cinedelic / Forced Exposure

Release Date: December 07, 2018

www.facebook.com/treesspeakmusic/ / www.forcedexposure.com/Artists/TREES.SPEAK.html

The Upshot: A kosmiche, psychedelic, improvisational slab of genius, spread across four beautiful clear vinyl sides, announces the arrival of a visionary new outfit from the Old Pueblo.

BY FRED MILLS

Trees Speak, hailing from Tucson, Arizona, is visual artist Daniel Martin Diaz’s musical persona, formerly of Blind Divine and Crystal Radio, and here joined by Michael Glidewell (Black Sun Ensemble), Gabriel Sullivan (XIXA, Giant Sand), Connor Gallaher (Myrrors, Cobra Family Picnic), Damian Diaz (Human Error), and Julius Schlosburg (Jeron White Acoustic Trio). They consider themselves more of a “sound laboratory”—crafting long, live-in-studio improvisations, then editing them in the studio, adding effects, and more—along the lines of early Can, than a straight-up rock band.*

Although that’s not to even remotely suggest that these cats won’t rock the fuck out, because like the Krautrock greats of yore, Trees Speak can shift instantly from a luminous, ambient electronic shimmer to a pounding, pulsing, powering wall of sound. Trees Speak, released this past December on the Cinedelic label, home to numerous electronic and experimental Italian artists (including several film soundtrackers—Ennio Morricone’s Eat It is among the label’s catalog), and distributed in the U.S. by Forced Exposure, is the group’s debut, and to these ears, at least, it is utterly unlike anything that the Old Pueblo had produced to date.

Side A is highly instructive. The ominous “Soul Machine” kicks things off on a heady Neu!-esque motorik note before yielding to a percussion segue leading the listener directly into throbbing, electronics-splattered drone territory, “Black Butterfly” and “Atomic Heart.” This in turn gradually turns into a series of restful, melodic passages via harmonium and nylon string guitar—although “restful” may be a misnomer, or at least misleading, since there are also some abrupt glitchy effects as well as some strange background vocal samples. The side concludes with the track “Trees Speak,” which synthesizes all of the foregoing into another moment of motorik magnificence—the key here being the use of repetition for both texture and dynamics, whether within the context of a minimalist or a full-arrangement composition.

One could similarly describe the other three sides, but it wouldn’t really do the music here justice. If the core elements of Krautrock appeal to you, along with the notion that genuinely transcendent psychedelia always is rooted in the improvisational aesthetic, then you won’t be able to resist this remarkable debut. I found myself playing certain tracks over and over—the aforementioned “Atomic Heart,” side B’s lengthy, aptly-titled “Spirit Oscillator” (which sounds uncannily like Can’s classic “Mother Sky” in places), the sizzling/searing uneasy listening of “Unconscious Through Control.” A single synapse-snapping composition, “Shadow Circuit,” takes up the entirety of sides C and D, split into Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, recalling at times fellow Tucson bands The Myrrors and Black Sun Ensemble in all their mystic, lunar-worshiping, Lower Sonoran glory; during the song, heady bursts of kosmiche guitar dart hither and yonder as if they were desert creatures engaged in their nocturnal hunts, only to be frightened back into their burrows by predatory rapid-fire percussion and zooming electronics—and then the cycle begins all over.

There’s a palpable sense of time standing still while Trees Speak performs, like standing on the floor of a rock venue, the lights turned off with only red LED lights on amplifiers for illumination, and simply letting the music wash over you. I realize that these tunes are the product of post-performance editing and tinkering, but they were also originally created live over a five-day period (at Sacred Machine Studio and Dust & Stone Studio in Tucson), and to their credit, the musicians retained that live feel for the finished product.

For you vinyl fans out there, the photo above should be all the motivation you need to scoop this up while it’s available: 2LP, 180-gm. clear vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, plus a 12” double-sided print, five 5” postcards, and two stickers. An artistic beauty, courtesy Diaz. And only 250 copies were pressed, so don’t sit ‘cos if you do, you won’t be able to spin.

————

* I usually refrain from quoting a band’s press info at length, but in this case I think it’s wholly appropriate to let them state their musical manifesto directly. It’s spoken like true Tucsonans: “Our intention is to create music with an unrehearsed minimalist approach performing simple beats, riffs, and sequences that take one inward. We attempt create a sonic environment to set one’s mind free and to become aware of the nuances of tone, melody, and structure. We organize our recording equipment with the same approach, in a transparent manner. Our recorded performances are never rehearsed. Our belief is that a brilliant rehearsal is a lost opportunity to capture a magical moment. We are chasing the mystery of music and tone. We let the musical performance sculpt its own destiny and create imperfect perfection. Our tool of creation is the anxiety one feels when they are unrehearsed or prepared for a performance. We believe this approach brings us closer to the authentic self. The result is genuine music without an agenda that captures the unfiltered spirit.”

Live band photo by Allan Robert Sturm, via the band’s Facebook page.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Shadow Circuit (Pt.1),” “Spirit Oscillator,” “Soul Machine”

 

U-MEN – U-Men (3LP box)

Album: U-Men Box (3LP)

Artist: U-Men

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: November 03, 2017

www.subpop.com

The Upshot: Crucial pre-history of the Northwest alt-rock scene, and a fascinating snapshot of an underrated but powerful, noisy, charismatic band. Warning: no grunge here.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

Before Sub Pop Records launched, before Nirvana made “grunge” a household word, before Eddie Vedder made flannel shirts and Doc Martens chic, before the major labels descended upon Seattle in a feeding frenzy, before silly national acts like Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20 turned the term “alternative rock” into a punchline—there were the U-Men, whose tenure spanned the ‘80s and spawned one full-length and a handful of singles, EPs, and compilation appearances. And while one hesitates to label the noisily primal, skronk-powered Seattle quartet along lines of “wildly influential,” it’s likely that the proverbial Velvet Underground Effect, whereby people who happened to see the U-Men perform back in the day or bought their records (issued by labels both well-known, such as Homestead and Amphetamine Reptile, and justifiably obscure, like Bomb Shelter and Black Label) went on to eventually form their own bands, was operative at least to a small degree. (Go HERE to read a lengthy testimonial from Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, who calls them “the undisputed kings of the Seattle underground.)

 

U-Men is a sprawling 3LP box set (or 2CD should you not be a wax fetishist) that collects everything the band released along with five unreleased tracks, and as an artifact from Before The Dawn Of Grunge, it’s absolutely essential. And I say that as a ground zero U-Men fan, so to speak, as I either purchased or was gifted with, promo copy-wise, the bulk of the group’s original output, duly reviewing them for some of the fanzines I was scribbling for at the time. They were an irresistible draw, from the Gun Club-goes-thrash rev-a-rama of “Clubs” (off the 1985 12” EP Stop Spinning), to the unbridled, possibly improvised, dissonance-rawk of the subsequent “Solid Action” / “Dig It A Hole” 45 (it sports two of unhinged singer John Bigley’s gruffest, most extemporaneous vocals ever), to the dark, swampy blooze of “Whistlin’ Pete” in which the U-Men solidified their rep as America’s answer to the Birthday Party (it appeared on the group’s lone album, 1988’s John Nelson-produced Step on a Bug, a collaboration that yielded a relatively expansive, dynamics-rich sound).

 

The vinyl set is gorgeous, smartly graphically designed, with a thick outer box housing an inner slip-box that contains the three heavyweight LPs in their individual sleeves. Both the LP and CD versions have a thick booklet with full track annotations and interviews from the members—who would go on to bands like Gas Huffer, the Crows, and Love Battery—arranged oral history style, and it’s a colorful history, to say the least. Fun Fact #1: the group got its name from the bohemian section of Seattle the members came out of, the U-District. Fun Fact #2: for a short stretch, there was a U-Woman too, a female bassist named Robin. Fun Fact #3: the U-Men mounted three national tours, although we should use that term somewhat lightly; at least one of those tours consisted of something like five shows in three months plus a month-long sabbatical in Austin hanging out with fellow sonic discombobulators the Butthole Surfers.

 

Ultimately, it’s a crucial pre-history of the Northwest alt-rock scene, and a fascinating snapshot of an underrated but powerful, charismatic band.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Blight,” “Clubs,” “U-Men Stomp” (previously unreleased), “Dig It A Hole,” “Whistlin’ Pete,” “That’s Wild About Jack”

 

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MUDHONEY — L.i.E.

Album: L.i.E.

Artist: Mudhoney

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: January 19, 2018

https://www.subpop.com

BY JENNIFER KELLY

The set starts in a monstrous wall of feedback, a fuzzed out roar that parts, like primordial swamp for the fuzz-clustered, two guitar crocodilian riff of “Fuzz Gun,” a form of guitar mayhem first plotted before Nirvana broke, before grunge became a fashion statement, when it seemed like the primitive stomp and psychedelia skree of Mudhoney might become, if not the next big thing, something bigger and more lucrative than the journeyman hard rock outfit they eventually turned into. That cut, and the one that follows is “Get into Yours,” from the 1989 S-T, are a quarter-century old when we hear them now, somewhere in Eastern Europe, but they sound just as relevant, just as hard and blunt and distended with volume as they must have when Mark Arm and Steve Turner first thought of them.

 

Mudhoney’s new live set, L.i.E. (Sub Pop), collected from a 2016 tour, is bluntly, ferociously coherent, though it spans three decades, seven albums and one Roxy Music cover.

 

The set list leans a bit on 2013’s Vanishing Point, then and now, the band’s most recent full-length (though a new one is coming in 2018), with an extended, pedal-fucked, guitar-spiraling, through-the-rabbit-hole treatment of “The Final Course,” followed by the slyer, more compact boogie of “What to Do with the Neutral” (“What to do with the neutral/It’s not an easy problem,” sings Arm, who has demonstrably spent more time on extremes). The post-millennial Mudhoney albums have an air of comfortable free-ness, of settling in with what the band has, of getting over undue expectations, and their loose, humorous bluster colors this live performance. But they make perfect sense in conjunction with older material — the explosive vamp of “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme” from 1995’s My Brother the Cow, the viscous chug of 2009’s Piece of Cake’s “Suck You Dry.”

 

You might think that covering Roxy Music is an odd choice, but “Editions of You,” is one of Ferry’s rougher, more rocking outings. Mudhoney gets at the twisted, clanging guitar line, pumping it up with pummeling drums, and obliterating any vestigial crooning in a barrage of Arm’s frantic shout-ranting. It sounds, in the end, like Mudhoney. It’s followed by the best cut on the disc, the long, fever-blistered rampage of “Broken Hands,” which encapsulates blues-like dirge and psychedelic freakery in its slow-moving, drum-rattling procession.

 

Which sounds completely different but also like Mudhoney, always what it is, always morphing, and always, always, always a monster live band.

 

Incidentally, Mudhoney and Sub Pop made an intriguing move with the album by not releasing it on CD, just vinyl and digital. And then they paid further tribute to vinyl collectors (Such as moi. — Blurt Wax Ed.) by also pressing up a special European-only, limited-to-500-copies version pressed on clear vinyl and boasting different gatefold artwork from the standard US pressing, it’s on 180gm CLEAR VINYL. And initial copies came with a 7” Bonus single. (“Touch Me I’m Sick” b/w “Where the Flavor Is”). Nice touch, gents.

DOWNLOAD: “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme,” “Broken Hands”