Monthly Archives: July 2009

No Certainty Attached: Steve Kilbey and The Church

January 01, 1970

 (Verse Chorus Press)




Robert Dean Lurie really likes the Church.


In fact, Lurie is the sort of fan who writes, with perfect
seriousness, “The Church’s concert on the University of Minnesota
campus in June 1990 was quite possibly the first spiritual experience of my
life.” He goes on to describe himself as a person who spent high school
scribbling down Church lyrics in notebooks, who catalogued Xeroxed press
clippings and, later with the advent of the Internet, spent hours on
Church-related message boards.


In the summer of 2003, Lurie had an opportunity that
obsessive fans the world over might salivate over. To research No Certainty
, he travelled to Australia
for a series of interviews with Church founder Steve Kilbey, guitarist Peter
Koppes and assorted contemporaries.  (He doesn’t
seem to have talked to Marty Willson-Piper.) 


As a result, there’s a hero worship dynamic to the book that
is its primary strength and occasional weakness. It also must have been obvious
from the start. Kilbey, who met Lurie for one interview, then agreed to a
series of them, ended their first encounter by observing: “I’ve been in your
shoes. I’ve met my heroes. I’ve felt the disappointment when I realized they
were human beings. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Robert, even
though I think no one will ever read this book. No one will want it. No one is
interested in me or the Church.”


Well, no one except Lurie…


And that, paradoxically, makes the book interesting on
several levels. For one thing, Kilbey is an undeniably fascinating character,
moody and mercurial at best, a bit psychotic at worst, at various times in the
band’s history an egomaniac and a Buddhist, a heroin addict and a devoted
family man. Lurie’s unblinking interesting in everything about his hero
necessarily sheds light on the band’s process and personality.    


Yet there is also often a
disconnect between what Kilbey is telling Lurie and the worshipful light that
Lurie places him under.  The chapters on
Kilbey’s heroin use (starting about 1990, as the band frittered away the
massive success of Starfish), for instance, are extraordinarily neutral.
“Steve credits the fluid, rhythmic sound of Priest=Aura to the band’s
use of opiates,” Lurie writes – yes, heroin addiction has an upside — while
dispassionately observing that Kilbey, at about the same time, left his live-in
girlfriend and two infant daughters to pursue his addiction.


You might call it journalistic
objectivity, except that these relatively straightforward reporting passages
alternate with more personal reactions to the Church’s music. Nearly every
chapter concludes with several pages of track-by-track descriptions of whatever
the band had been working on during the period in question. Lurie makes an
attempt to integrate narrative with criticism, but there are still frequent
gear-shifts as we go from considering band member dust-ups, romantic
relationships, drug buys etc., to line-readings and music reviews.


Still, you can’t fault Lurie’s
attention to detail. The book, based on many hours of interviews, exhaustive
reading and a lifetime of simply paying attention to the Church, is detailed
and correct enough to win rave reviews on Church fan sites like Hotel Womb. Yet
he often focuses so hard on the band and its personalities as to fail to create
wider context. In one of the few sections where he does this – and one of the
most interesting to me — Lurie probes the different perceptions of the Church
in the United States and Australia.
In the US,
the Church was seen as part of the semi-underground college rock phenomenon,
alongside bands like R.E.M. and the Replacements. But in Australia, they had broken their
first single on a top-40 television and signed almost immediately to a major.
Down under, bands like the Birthday Party and the Go-Betweens were considered
underground – but definitely not the Church. But in other sections, other bands
hardly merit a mention, and non-musical events (which surely have as much
influence on the Church as other bands) don’t even make a ripple.


And yet while Lurie’s fan-hood
never completely disappears, the intensity of his contact with Kilbey, the
immersion in detailed research eventually transforms his love for the Church
into a less mystical kind of experience. “In getting that access, I too had
traded something away: the all-consuming passion, the fanaticism that had so
animated my teenage and early adult interests in this band,” he says. “The
understanding that my favorite band was comprised of complicated and fallible men,
rather than gods, came as both comfort and inspiration.” Er, yeah, and
also as breaking news.


Super fans will love this book,
but I’m not sure it will win The Church many new converts.












Various Artists – A Psychedelic Guide to Monsterism Island

January 01, 1970

(Lo Recordings)


Don’t let the title fool you into thinking this has anything
to do with psychedelic music as it came to be defined by artists like the
Beatles, Cream and Pink Floyd in the psychedelic psyxties, although hints of
Brian Wilson’s tripped-out dentist office vibe keep drifting to the surface.
Most tracks are closer in spirit to the psychedelic electronica of modern groups
like Super Furry Animals (whose lead singer Gruff Rhys contributes the aptly
titled gem, “Wild Robots Power Up”) or Lemon Jelly.


Which makes sense, considering that Monsterism Island is
inhabited exclusively by creatures from the mind of cartoonist Pete Fowler,
best known for the sleeves he’s done for Super Furry Animals. This is his
second compilation disc, and if the tracks all seem to blend together, chances
are, he meant to do that, sustaining a mood that takes you from the
ukulele-driven tropical exotica of Monsters at Work’s “Magic Morning”
(featuring Peter Brooke-Turner of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain) to
the Black Moth Super Rainbow-worthy psychedelic daydream of Richard (Grid) Norris’
haunting “To All The Wizards in Lockdown.” Jerry Dammers of the Specials also
gets in on the action with the suitably spooky soundscape, “Lonely Library,”
with Marc Shearer of Octopus does his best imitation of Money Mark stealing the
hook to Madonna’s “Material Girl.” It rarely reaches out and grabs you by the
collar but it doesn’t feel like it was meant to, either.


Standout tracks: “Wild Robots Power Up,” “To All the Wizards in Lockdown” A. WATT.


Live! In Concert

January 01, 1970

 (Rock Ridge Music)


There really is no middle ground with Reel Big Fish: You either like the
band or you don’t.  I guess that pretty
much goes for ska music, as well. Reel Big Fish rode the third wave ska
movement to moderate success in the late ‘90s alongside bands like Goldfinger
and The Hippos, bands that took the sound of their two tone founding fathers, added
a bit of distorted guitar, ditched any hint of thought-provoking lyrics and instead
relied on sophomoric humor to fill the void. Of those bands, Reel Big Fish took
themselves the least serious and have managed to carry on a decent career, with
a small but hyper loyal following. “Live! In Concert” brings out few surprises:
goofy outfits, groan-worthy jokes and a slew of 80’s covers, but there is no
denying the band and their audience are enjoying every single minute of it. The
songs are also undeniably infectious.


Clocking in right at two hours and packed with 20 songs, the concert is
virtually a greatest hits comp., including fan favorites like “Sell Out,”
“Everything Sucks,” “Beer” and “She Has a Girlfriend Now.”  Filling out the set, the band covers Mellencamp’s
 “The Authority Song,” Poison’s “Nothing
But a Good Time,” Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly,” and close the show with Ah-Ha’s
“Take on Me” –  all songs which improve a
bit (and in the case of Poison and Lita, a lot) with a horn section.


Recorded at The Grove in Anaheim,
CA, in front of a slew of teens
who clearly were not old enough to remember when the band was at its commercial
peak, “Live! In Concert” is RBF’s second DVD in six years. Juvenile? Hell yeah,
but still far more entertaining than most of the concert DVDs getting peddled
these days.




Summer Cats – Songs for Tuesdays

January 01, 1970



Had Australia’s
Summer Cats been around in the early ‘90s ,at the height of the indie pop
explosion, they would no doubt have been on one of the trio of Washington, DC
area pop labels:  Slumberland , Simple
Machines or Teen Beat (Simple Machines faded out years ago and Teen Beat, while
still active, is much more sporadically releasing records). The Slumberland
label, after a move to the west coast in the early ‘90s, is still going strong
and this hyperactive pop outfit seems to be a perfect fit on a label that has
given us Rocketship, The Ropers, Aislers Set, the early recordings of Velocity
Girl and too many others.


From the opening
cut of “Let’s Go” you know where you’re headed, down  bumpy road on a sunny day in the old ,
battered car you love with the windows rolled down and the stereo turned up up
up. “Hey You” has this great, jittery, scratchy guitar work while “Super” (and
“Christopher Wren”) has the same kind of keyboards we fell in love with the
first time we heard the Clean’s “Tally Ho” and “In June” is a pure janglefest
that brings to mind classic early recordings by The Razorcuts and Primal
Scream. The sounds here are instantly familiar and while Songs for Tuesdays isn’t the most original record you’ll hear this
year it’s a comfortable fit, just like those Bermuda shorts you seem to wear
way too often. You know they need a wash every now and again but you don’t want
to ever take them off.


Standout Tracks: “Maybe Pile”, “Super”, “In June”, “Lonely




The England’s Dreaming Tapes

January 01, 1970

(Faber & Faber)




It’s been almost two decades since
the publication of England’s Dreaming,
Jon Savage’s brilliantly historicized magnum opus on British punk’s roots,
genesis and its all-too-brief genuinely vital phase in 1976 and 1977.
Contextualizing his subject matter in cultural, economic and political terms,
Savage focused primarily on London and the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols,
tracing the repercussions around the UK and beyond as this initially localized,
underground scene quickly turned into tabloid fodder, its anti-establishment
sounds co-opted by the record industry and its DIY clothing and accessories
packaged as weekend fashion items.


Punk would become, arguably,
Britain’s most significant post-war pop culture event, exerting a paradigm-shifting
influence on style, attitudes, art, music and media, and Savage’s
groundbreaking book treated this epochal moment with the seriousness it
demanded. For all its depth and analytical rigor, however, England’s Dreaming never lost sight of the fact that punk spoke
directly to young people on an instinctual, gut level: Savage examined the
aesthetic and intellectual motivations of punk’s founding ideologists and
architects but always communicated the excitement, chaos and irreverence of the
period and its music.


Although it’s not necessary to
have actually lived through a historical moment to write about it
authoritatively and insightfully, Savage did witness punk’s emergence in
London, documenting it in his fanzine London’s
and as a journalist for Sounds. But while his credentials as the author of England’s Dreaming were unimpeachable, that book’s success owed
much to the contributions of others: alongside his own perspective, both from
old diary excerpts and his incisive theorizing of punk, Savage incorporated —
from interviews conducted in 1988 and 1989 — the perspectives of 100 or so
diverse characters who were also immediately involved (the musicians
themselves, producers, fellow journalists, assorted band and club managers,
record label employees, graphic artists, designers, DJs, photographers and
filmmakers). This eclectic gallery of voices was absolutely central to the
success of England’s Dreaming as a
vibrant archaeology of the punk era.


The England’s Dreaming Tapes, published recently by Faber & Faber, compiles roughly
two thirds of the interviews (“edited for sense and libel”) conducted
for England’s Dreaming. They’re
grouped in chapters covering the diverse sites where punk happened and the
individuals associated with those “sites,” which were either literal
locations or events or clusters of people (for instance, Malcolm McLaren’s
King’s Road store, SEX, subsequently renamed Seditionaries; the music press;
London’s Roxy Club; the Sex Pistols management team).


The book opens, appropriately
enough, with a look at McLaren, his art-school background and his store, as
told by McLaren himself, people who knew him in the ’60s and early ’70s and
those who worked and hung out in SEX; the closing chapter, featuring a grim
interview with Sid Vicious’s mother Anne Beverley, focuses on her iconic son,
whose death symbolized one of punk’s many possible ends. Savage also speaks to
each of the original Sex Pistols (even erstwhile guitarist Warwick Nightingale,
their own Pete Best) and to members of all the major bands to come out of
London in ’76 and ’77. Nevertheless, while an emphasis on the London scene, the
Pistols and their elite orbit is inevitable — since the activities of McLaren
and co. were undeniably British punk’s immediate catalyst — some of the book’s
more interesting accounts of punk are told by those who were, geographically or
philosophically, on the periphery of that scene and, in several cases, at a
considerable distance from it.


The Pistols played some of their
early gigs on the outskirts of London and outside the capital as McLaren sought
to develop the band away from the media. Consequently, they garnered a hardcore
following that wasn’t from the city proper. Take members of the so-called
Bromley Contingent such as Siouxsie Sioux, who, in spite of strong connections
with the Pistols, recount a suburban experience of punk. At a greater
geographical remove, Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto, Tony Wilson and Buzzcocks
manager Richard Boon present the view from the northwest of England, which, in
turn, would spawn some of the post-punk era’s most creative artists. Savage
looks even further afield, sampling American — specifically New York —
perspectives on British punk: for example, Heartbreakers manager Leee Black
Childers, who found himself in the UK in December ’76, accompanying Johnny
Thunders on the Anarchy Tour, and the photographer Joe Stevens, who documented
the early goings-on in Britain and also witnessed the Pistols’ ill-fated 1978
US odyssey.


Wire’s Graham Lewis and Bruce
Gilbert offer a particularly interesting point of view, their distance from
punk an intellectual matter rather than a fact of geography. Despite drawing
early inspiration from the Pistols and gigging at the Roxy (at the time, the
capital’s only dedicated punk rock club), Wire consciously separated themselves
from London’s burgeoning scene: as Lewis and Gilbert explain, they had no
desire to be part of an increasingly orthodox, stylistically homogeneous
movement, preferring to approach their work with a conceptual, arty orientation
that set them apart from their contemporaries.


One of the most compelling aspects
of England’s Dreaming was Savage’s
close attention to the important structures and discourses surrounding the
music itself: that is, the activities of filmmakers, photographers, management
personnel, designers and journalists — those who were engaged in framing punk
in different ways as it was unfolding, playing leading roles in constructing
the spectacle of punk and perceptions of it. In The England’s Dreaming Tapes, Savage talks to a number of these
individuals. Especially noteworthy are the parts played by journalists like
Neil Spencer (responsible for the first published piece on the Sex Pistols in
February 1976 — an NME review of a
gig at the Marquee Club) and Jonh Ingham of Sounds (who wrote the first feature on the band in April that year). They reflect on
the once-in-a-lifetime experience of observing a pop culture revolution at
close quarters, as well as negotiating how to convey that revolution to
readers, as representatives of the music press. The significance of this early
press coverage is highlighted by several interviewees whose introduction to
punk came via the music weeklies. TV Smith of the Adverts, Howard Devoto, Pete
Shelley and Penetration’s Pauline Murray remember the catalyzing effect of
Spencer’s article, which ended with the now-legendary Steve Jones quotation,
“We’re not into music, we’re into chaos.” Their imaginations fired,
Shelley and Devoto trekked from Manchester to High Wycombe the following week
to see the Pistols play; Murray came down from Newcastle, making McLaren’s
King’s Road store her first stop.


Jonh Ingham’s memories home in on
a watershed moment in British music journalism, when a new breed of writer began
to spring up, inspired precisely by the developments of punk. For Ingham, the
Sex Pistols gig at the Nashville Rooms on April 23rd, 1976, was an epiphany as
it dawned on him that it was futile to write objectively and analytically about
this music. Convinced of the enormous cultural importance of what he was
witnessing and believing punk rock was an absolute necessity — something that
young people had to know about — he
felt his role should be that of a fervent advocate, not a disinterested
observer: “That was the point… where I said to myself… the point is to
encourage this, because we need it… I saw it as propaganda, far more than
analysis.” Shortly after, he quit journalism to manage Generation X.


Another of the discourses crucial
to punk’s impact on the British consciousness was the unique visual language of
its clothing, record sleeves, poster art and band logos. Against the grain of
progressively more glossy, epic and overblown ’70s artwork, punk’s graphic
artists ran with the DIY ethic: immediacy, rough edges, recycling and collage
replaced craft, sophistication, slickness and high production values; genuinely
provocative and unsettling imagery replaced traditional rock and pop
titillation. Linder Sterling in Manchester (creator of the Buzzcocks’ notorious
“Orgasm Addict” photomontage, among others) and Pistols designer
Jamie Reid are two of Savage’s interviewees. Reid, punk’s most iconic graphic
artist, stresses that he considered it completely unnecessary to present images
of the band on his record covers — after all, the tabloid press was providing
that kind of exposure in abundance. Rather, he felt that his work’s purpose was
to encapsulate the band’s attitude and to represent visually what the songs were about.


The visual language of fashion
also helped construct the scandalous, confrontational spectacle of punk rock,
and SEX employees Alan Jones and
Jordan recall their experiences as some of first people to wear Vivienne
Westwood and McLaren’s clothing and accessories around town: bondage trousers;
PVC, leather and rubber fetish gear; dog collars; garments bearing provocative
wording and obscene images (such as shirts depicting the Cambridge Rapist or
featuring a Tom of Finland drawing of two trouserless cowboys). All of this was
immensely shocking in mid-’70s London. Outraged reactions were common on the
street; Alan Jones was even arrested and convicted of gross indecency for
sporting the lewd cowboys shirt in central London.


A significant aspect of punk,
underscored by Savage’s oral history, is the fact that just a relative handful
of like-minded people were responsible for launching and shaping this phenomenon
in the UK: punk definitely embodied and articulated what thousands of teenagers
were feeling, but it’s no exaggeration to suggest that its British origins
really can be traced to the activities of certain individuals and to specific
sites. This is emphasized by the numerous Damascene moments related to the
Pistols and their entourage, as experienced by interviewees: Derek Jarman, director of the
first and greatest British punk film, 1977’s Jubilee, encountering an outrageously attired Jordan for the first
time at Victoria station in 1975 (she was wearing a transparent miniskirt); Devoto et al reading Neil Spencer’s review; Joe Strummer watching the Pistols open for his pub-rock group
the 101ers at the Nashville Rooms in April ’76 and deciding, there and then,
that it was time to find a new band; Tony Wilson attending the mythic June ’76
Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall; X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene seeing the
band open for Welsh heavy rockers Budgie at the Hastings Pier Pavilion a month
later; and so on.


While The England’s Dreaming Tapes makes it
clear that a comparatively small group of people set everything in motion, the
book also covers some of the peripheral figures who have frequently been
overlooked in accounts of British punk. For example, lip service is often paid to the movement’s alignment with
reggae but beyond the oft-repeated assertion of an alliance between punks and
Rastas in popular narratives — and outside of academically oriented writing
like Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The
Meaning of Style
— there’s been little substantive coverage of the black
experience of punk. Savage redresses the balance somewhat by having
photographer Dennis Morris and Roxy Club DJ Don Letts tell their stories.
Similarly, although there was a pronounced camp flavor to British punk, few
histories have adequately accommodated gay perspectives. Savage pays attention
to this lacuna by including the voices of Berlin of the Bromley Contingent and
Alan Jones.


For all of punk’s apparent
accommodation of difference and outsider-ness, the display of Nazi symbols by
Sid Vicious and others has always been a fraught issue. Savage doesn’t shy away
from the subject in these interviews, broaching it with Siouxsie and Jordan,
for instance, both of whom infamously wore swastikas. Speaking to Savage more
than a decade later, they might be expected to take the opportunity to distance
themselves from their earlier, highly dubious choice of fashion accessories.
Disappointingly, they fail to take that opportunity, maintaining that their
appropriation of Nazi iconography had nothing to do with fascism and functioned
simply as a means of generational antagonism, with no other negative
resonances. Jordan digs a deeper hole for herself, praising some of the Nazi
artifacts she owned as “beautifully made” and describing Hitler as a
“genius.” (Not that it helps much but, in the same breath, she also
characterizes him as a “loony.”) Also disappointing is the response
of Alan Jones, who was once physically attacked by a stranger who objected to
his swastika armband. Asked if he has any regrets, he naively persists:
“No, no not all. It didn’t bother me. I saw it as a fashion. I never saw
it as making a statement for or against anything.”


The England’s Dreaming Tapes is undoubtedly
the best interview-based book on British punk published thus far. It’s an
indispensable documentary resource that offers panoramic insight into UK punk’s
most innovative and influential stage; it manages to immerse the reader in the
visceral rush and the sheer creative energy of the period at the same time as
it provides measured, incisive commentary on that period. Just as there’s no
such thing as a definitive historical narrative compiled by a single author, an
oral history is no less problematic. It’s not a simple, unmediated account of
events: it’s shaped by the interviewer’s own interests and by the questions
he/she chooses to ask, as well as by the interlocutors’ agendas and their
possibly flawed or deliberately selective memories. An oral history of this
magnitude is all the more tricky: the range of different sources and viewpoints
might be greater, but then so are the witnesses’ biases and blind spots, their
differences of opinion and their competing versions of events. Still, neither
in England’s Dreaming nor in The England’s Dreaming Tapes does Savage
entertain the illusion of narrative closure — on the contrary, he gives his
work over to the complexities and contradictions, to the anarchy of the moment:
the “chaos” that Steve Jones famously identified as punk’s essence.


By way of a footnote, it’s
important to recognize that The England’s
Dreaming Tapes
demonstrates how great writing is often grounded in
extensive, painstaking research: as a prequel of sorts to England’s Dreaming, the present volume lays bare the foundations of
Savage’s earlier book, in terms of the extraordinary amount of raw material he
assembled and the particular questions and ideas he pursued throughout these interviews.



Drive-By Truckers – Live From Austin, TX

January 01, 1970

(New West)


After a slight slip into the murky waters of line-up
transition-most notably the 2007 departure of Jason Isbell-the Drive-By
Truckers have now put together quite possibly the most solid touring unit in
the band’s extended history. An appropriate time, then, to release their first
live album in almost 10 years-a 13-song set culled from a taping of the PBS TV
show Austin City Limits last fall.


            Live from Austin, TX, a double-disc
CD/DVD combo, is heavily anchored
with material from the Southern anti-heroes’ latest studio album, 2008’s Brighter than Creation’s Dark. The show
sounds a little cleaner than the ear-ringing, smoke-filled, bourbon-drenched
throwdown that is a typical night with the Truckers. But there’s nothing wrong
with exhibiting a little nuance when the setting calls for it, especially in
the opening acoustic-driven country ramble of Mike Cooley’s “Perfect Timing”
and bassist Shonna Tucker’s rare vocal turn on the roadhouse ballad “I’m Sorry
Huston.” Even Patterson Hood’s endearing redneck punk rasp and primitive Dixie
guitar strokes get a newfound clarity thanks to recent addition John Neff’s
underlying pedal steel work on the common man perseverance anthem “The
Righteous Path.”


            Hood also
makes sure to include the group’s biggest live staples: the Crazy Horse charge
of the rural underbelly lament “Puttin’ People on the Moon,” the fist-pumping
arena licks of “Let There Be Rock” and an epic 12-minute storyteller rant in
“18 Wheels of Love,” which reaches back to the 1998 album Gangstabilly. The latter also features soulful vamps from new
keyboardist Jay Gonzalez, who throughout the show helps the band uncover some
of their Muscle Shoals roots. Hopefully we’ll still be seeing this version of
Drive-By Truckers years down the road.


Standout Tracks: “18
Wheels of Love,” “The Righteous Path,” “3 Dimes Down” JEDD FERRIS


Quieting Syrup – Songs About a Sick Boy

January 01, 1970



First, a quick word about band names. Has the well just run
dry on interesting things to call your band? The debut from Denali, Ambulette
and Pinebender member Stephen Howard is a harrowing journey through
illnesses, surgeries, and, inevitably, addiction — but the solo project is
afflicted with a moniker that, though an accurate reflection of the subject
matter, virtually says “Stop: Go Back. Nothing to Hear Here.”


But there is. Beginning with the opening processional,
“Passwords to a Fort
Full of Pills,” Howard
chronicles in a dozen songs – usually at a narcotic-friendly pace – the cycle
of injury/recovery/addiction that characterized his last dozen years (Howard
says he wrote one song per year). On the aptly titled “Winter of Our
Discontent,” whose ringing guitars and rolling percussion sounds like a blend
of East River Pipe and Pedro the Lion, Howard sings what must’ve amounted to a
mission statement for much this era: “Drove my car right into the lake/to show
that there are faster ways/to sink to the bottom/but I’d rather take my time.”
His hospital visits are evocatively adapted in tracks like “Night Nurse Calls”
and “So This Is Dying,” and elsewhere we hear Howard negotiating with his
habits, as on “Goin’ for the Gold” when he sings “Not giving in, just getting
high, that’s the way some of us get by.” But that song is emblematic of the
self-indulgence that anchors any addict’s behavior, as its eventual crescendo
doesn’t quite merit the nearly nine minutes it takes to get there.


And with a limited sonic palette – guitar, bass and drums
are only occasionally augmented by keys, Wurlitzer or lap steel – and little
variance in the tempos, the songs, though individually strong, tend to haze
together as the record plays out. But ultimately the real issue is that over
the course of a dozen odes to the fucked-up life, and the loneliness and
depression at its core, sympathy for Howard’s legitimate plight is tempered by
a general fatigue at what is, in the end, one of the oldest stories ever told.


“Stars Will Save Me” “Dec. 7th, 2003″ JOHN



Stardeath and White Dwarfs – The Birth

January 01, 1970

(Warner Bros.)


You may have heard that tripped-out cover of Madonna’s
“Borderline” this Oklahoma City band did with the Flaming Lips, which was
genius, but nothing to do with what they’re up to here. Lead singer Dennis
Coyne is Wayne Coyne’s nephew and he definitely shares his uncle’s tendency to
push his vocals just beyond the limits of his upper register, which results in
the heartbreaking chorus of “Keep Score” sounding even more like Neil Young
than it would have if he brought it down a key or two.


The album kicks off with the Sabbathy sludge of “The Sea is
on Fire,” a stoner-rock anthem where head-banging church-organ riffs share the
spotlight with fat fuzz-guitar tones while Coyne gets extra trippy on the mike
and the drummer lags just far enough behind to make you wonder where you put
that other pack of rolling papers. Other highlights range from upbeat post-Lips
psychedelic pop with helium-sucking harmonies (“New Heat”) to “The Age of the
Freak,” an ominous slab of Pink Floyd worship. And they sign off with the
understated self-help ballad, “Smoking Pot Makes Me Not Want To Kill Myself.”


Standout Tracks: “The Sea is on Fire,” “Keep Score” A. WATT


Band of Skulls – Baby Darling Doll Face Honey

January 01, 1970



Britain’s transatlantic luxury-liner port,
Southampton is a long way — psychically, at least — from the rust-belt cities
that spawned the ogres of U.K.
metal. On Baby Darling Doll Face Honey,
its debut, Southampton’s Band of Skulls
reckons to stomp its way across the gap. But such massive-attack boogies as the
album-opening “Light of the Morning” don’t quite convince. In fact,
the trio is most effective when it quiets its riot.


happens fairly often on the album, which includes such delicacies as the
madrigal-rock “Honest,” sung by bassist (and album-cover painter)
Emma Richardson. The material tends to be catchier when Richardson shares vocals with guitarist
Russell Marsden: Although “Patterns” and “Hollywood Bowl” sometimes
veer into headbanging, both have hooks as well as thumps. “I Know What I
Am” even has a sense of humor, tempering its metallic wallop with a funk
beat and comic rhymes.


group’s brand of heavy rock derives from the artier side of the genre. Sung by Richardson,
“Blood” suggests fellow south-of-England blueswoman PJ Harvey. With
its minimalist riff and anthemic “I am a man” chorus,
“Impossible” sounds like something Pete Townshend forget to write in
the early ’70s. All three Skulls, including non-singing drummer Matthew
Hayward, are promising songwriters. But their compositional abilities make it
all the frustrating when the band uses a bludgeon rather than a rapier.


Standout Tracks: “Honest,”
“Impossible” MARK JENKINS







Bombadil – Tarpits and Canyonlands

January 01, 1970

(Ramseur Records)


A Durham, N.C. quartet that attended Duke University and is
named after a Lord of the Rings character, Bombadil gets stuck between the incongruity of being educated at one
of the nation’s top schools and being adults still enamored of Tolkienesque
innocence. On its second album, Tarpits
and Canyonlands,
the band sounds too smart for the wide-eyed sincerity and
whimsicality of material like “I Am” and “Oto the Bear,” yet too cute to sound
convincing with its interesting sound of layered harmonies and theatrically
folky, South American-influenced arrangements. Songs like “Sad Birthday” and “Kuala Lumpur” don’t rise
past being clever. One influence seems to be the Incredible String Band, a
worthy one, but maybe you just have to be them to carry off their kind of neo-psychedelic, semi-mystical, childlike
folk-rock convincingly. Another one is Tiger Lillies on the macabre
cabaret-style lyric of “Honeymoon’s” “throw the body in the lake.” But the
depth just isn’t there. 


Still, the music can be appealing enough – as on the cello
fills in “So Many Ways to Die” – that some songs are ultimately winning.
Bombadil has talent and potential, but the results here come off more as
pastiche than original vision. Incidentally, Daniel Michalak – who formed the
band with Bryan Rahija when they both studied abroad in Bolivia – has
been having serious hand problems lately that have resulted in show cancellations.
Here’s hoping he gets better soon and is able to perform vigorously.


Standout Tracks: “Honeymoon,” “So Many Ways to Die” STEVEN ROSEN