Monthly Archives: December 2016

Muuy Biien 12/15/16, Denver

Dates: December 15, 2016

Location: Lost Lake Lounge, Denver, Colorado

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Live at the Lost Lake Lounge, the Georgia band wowed a tiny crowd with noisy, angular post-punk.

BY BEN CURNETT / PHOTOS BY TIM HINELY

Denver, you missed a great show. Last night the Athens quintet-playing-as-a-quartet Muuy Biien graced the stage at Lost Lake to a tiny crowd and played amazing, angular post-punk just like mom used to make. The songs were tight, noisy, and loud to every degree that such music is supposed to be, and the short-ish set was marked by accomplished guitar, bass, and drums skills across the board. Singer Joshua Evans’s manic Jagger-cum-Turretts delivery was a perfect fit for the music and vice-versa. But here’s what struck me: despite driving 24 hours from Seattle, despite only a few tiny Trump-sized handfuls of people showing up, the band played hard and gave every effort to make it a great show.

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I can think of lots and lots (and lots) of bands that would phone it in at that point, disintegrating into the wonky stage banter and half-assed instrument plunking that turns an awkward, mostly empty room into a disturbingly awkward, mostly empty room. Not Muuy Biien last night. And if they fooled me, if they were in fact going through the motions, I’ll be the first in line to see them in front of a packed house when they decide to let it rip.

Muuy Biien’s latest album is Age Of Uncertainty on Autumn Tone. Go HERE to read our recent review of the record.

STICK MEN WITH RAY GUNS – Property of Jesus Christ LP / 1,000 Lives to Die LP

Album: Property of Jesus Christ LP / 1,000 Lives to Die LP

Artist: Stick Men With Ray Guns

Release Date: November 04, 2016

www.12xu.net

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The Upshot: Classic Tex-ass punk revisited via a pair of killer live sets.

BY TIM HINELY

Back in the day I’d heard about this band only in hushed whispers ….and that was from the friends of mine who’d heard of ‘em, which wasn’t many. I think my real Stick Men with Ray Guns education came from Tom Lax (Siltbreeze Records) more like in the late 80’s/early 90’s when he would talk about ‘em. How they’re not even as well-known/remembered as even The Dicks or Big Boys is a bit mystifying. They hailed from, where else, Texas and were led by one Bobby Soxx, a truly bent frontman who is no longer among the living (and after hearing all the stories you’d be shocked if he was). The 12XU label is offering them as separate vinyl reissues (though they were released on cd at one time). Each one is the product of two lives sets from the mid-80’s, one from 1984 in Houston and one from ’87, apparently the band’s final gig, in Dallas. On the intro to the opening cut, “What Am I?” Bobby rambles on a bit about “I don’t care if you don’t like us, I’m from Texas……….FUCK REAGAN!”  (they (he) antagonized the audience on a nightly basis and the audience did so back….at their own risk).

He and the band (Clarke Blacker, Scott Elam and Bob Beeman) then rumble into a heavy, distorted dirge that sounds beautiful to these ears. Other cuts that definitely make the cuts are “Christian Rat Attack,” “I Wanna Throw Up,” “Kill the Innocent” and the stone-cold classic, “Hate in the 80’s” (which I think later re-recorded under his own name). The Dallas set starts off with the same opener (“What Am I?”) while the band then blasts out other scabs of noise including “I Am the One,”  the relentless “Christian Christian,” the truly twisted “Shaggy Has AIDS” and the bashing “Two Fists.” Some of the quotes about this band from assorted Butthole Surfers are both hilarious and terrifying (Gibby said, “I fondly remember  Bobby Soxx on his back porch, chopping bibles with a meat cleaver and throwing a color television set at a Mexican family This band murdered Dallas.” You really can’t sum it all up better than that.

DOWNLOAD:  “Christian Rat Attack,” “I Wanna Throw Up,” “Kill the Innocent,” “Hate in the 80’s,” “Christian Christian,” “Two Fists”

 

DARK BLUE — Start of the World LP

Album: Start of the World

Artist: Dark Blue

Label: 12XU

Release Date: November 04, 2016

http://12xu.net/

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The Upshot: If you’re vibrating with rage at the turn things have taken following the election, and who isn’t, you want it and maybe need it.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

“Bombs on the Beach” kicks in with serrated guitar and finger snaps, it lumber along in on the slow, swagger of bass, picking its way through blasted imagery that might be the apocalypse or the Turkish beach where that Syrian kid washed up or maybe just West Philly. John Sharkey III, who sings, croons in a demented baritone that acknowledges what a piece of shit the world is, but cedes nothing to that fact. The standout song on Dark Blue’s second album is desolate, defiant and curiously uplifting, the unsettling centerpiece of one of 2016’s best rock albums.

Sharkey, if the name rings a bell, was the front man for Clockcleaner, known for throwing beer cans and pissing on merch tables while holding down the anarchic mayhem of aught-punk’s finest. He was the main creative force between synth-garage-y Puerto Rico Flowers. Dark Blue – that’s Sharkey, Andrew Mackie Nelson (also of Ceremony and Paint It Black) and John Sneeringer (also Purling Hiss and Strands of Oak) – put out its first album, Pure Reality in 2014.

Like its predecessor, Start of the World blisters and lacerates, but it’s catchier and more anthemic. “Never Wanted to Hurt You” is a bomb-thrower, sporting the most beautiful guitar racket on the whole album, and pushing at alienation’s half-formed scab with a dirty fingernail. (When a song has the phrase “I never wanted to hurt you,” there’s always a “but” isn’t there?)  Bristling with misanthropy, charged with a euphoric wrath, the song is loop-end-of-the-noose dystopian, but somehow still radiates happy defiance.   Later, “Tired of the Poor” takes on income inequality, punching down at the less fortunate with sardonic glee (“I’m so tired of the poor…and all their sniveling beliefs and all their families, all of their servilely obese, all their recently deceased”) and a Clash-like chugging, hammering anthemry.

“Union of Buffoons” leads with huge, crashing guitar chords that splinter into beautiful dissonance. Sharkey’s echo-shrouded, goth-haunted voice intones ominously about daddies with secrets and baboons in cages and a pervading aura of fear. If it wasn’t a political song when he wrote it, it’s one now, presciently suited to post November 8th consternation. If you’re vibrating with rage at the turn things have taken, and who isn’t, you want Start of the World and maybe need it.

DOWNLOAD: “Bombs on the Beach” “I Never Wanted to Hurt You”

 

WAYNE HANCOCK – Slingin’ Rhythm

Album: Slingin’ Rhythm

Artist: Wayne Hancock

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: October 28, 2016

www.bloodshotrecords.com

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The Upshot: No-nonsense, uncompromising roots rock and country from Wayne The Train.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Wayne “The Train” Hancock’s affinity for hardcore country, roots relevance and Texas swing has been a staple of his sound ever since he won his first music competition at age 18 and subsequently released his first record in the mid ‘90s. Now, ten albums on, he’s firmly etched his place in the Americana firmament, and just as his music tends to lean towards what could be generally defined as an insurgent sound, he refuses to be compromised.

 

Hancock and  his band’s latest effort, Slingin’ Rhythm, sticks to the same template as his earlier efforts, a mix of swing, blues and honky tonk that not only puts the emphasis on authenticity, but tosses in plenty of sway, sashay and pedal steel for good measure. The title track serves as a mission statement of sorts, a concise definition of both his MO and dedication to purpose. Mostly though, Hancock and his crew confine themselves to a series of snappy three chord compositions, staying true to a formula that forms a well-defined continuum from first song to last. It’s a feisty collection to be sure, one that doesn’t shy away from dissing unfaithful companions, whether it’s a cheating wife who meets an unfortunate end (“Killed Them Both”) or simply a hardhearted lover reticent to offer further affection (“Divorce Me C.O.D.,” “Wear Out Your Welcome”). Hancock may be faithful to his muse but as always, irreverence is part and parcel of his purpose.

 

Granted, Slingin’ Rhythm often seems to restate the obvious — that is, that Hancock is determined to finesse a form that’s still a staple of country music and its traditions. That makes him more an archivist than an anarchist, but that’s just fine. Slingin’ Rhythm finds him committed to the cause and making a celebratory sound in the process.

DOWNLOAD: “Divorce Me C.O.D.,” “Slingin’ Rhythm,” “Wear Out Your Welcome”

Tranny, by Laura Jane Grace

Title: nny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout

Author: Laura Jane Grace

Publisher: Hachette Books

Publication Date: November 15, 2016

www.hachettebookgroup.com

 tranny

The Upshot: Against Me! founder details the life, the lifestyle, the music, and the transition in a remarkably candid memoir.

 BY JOHN B. MOORE

 Against Me! were being called sell outs years before they ever signed a major label record deal.

The Gainesville, FL-based band that played a brand of fiery acoustic DIY protest anthems were first slapped with the label when they tightened up their once sloppy sound, opting simply for better production and electric guitars in the studio. The second wave of slurs came when they left the tiny independent punk rock labels and opted to put out a couple of albums on Fat Wreck Chords, a slightly bigger independent record label. But, the suburban anarchists that keep score really lost their shit when Against Me! signed a deal with Sire Records (once home to everyone from The Ramones and The Replacements to The Dead Boys, all oddly considered beyond rebuke based on punk rock rules).

So, by the time Tom Gabel, founder and singer/guitarist for Against Me! decided to go public in 2012 and tell everyone about his struggles with gender dysphoria and that he would now be going by a different pronoun and changing his name to Laura Jane Grace, she was all out of fucks to give about what people would say. Her memoir, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, is just as defiant and compelling and she is. Written with the help of music journalist Dan Ozzy, the book includes plenty of Grace’s writings from personal journals giving the memoir an of-the-moment accuracy that is often missing from rock bios that rely mainly on decades-old recollections to fill in the details.

Deeply personal, the book dives into her childhood, being raised mainly by a single mother with a weedy relationship with her ex-military, conservative father. Plenty of space is devoted to the band’s founding, line-up changes and a sometimes rocky relationship with the punk community gatekeepers quick to judge every decision a band makes. It’s Grace’s journal entries about her at-the-time secret realization that she was born the wrong gender that is the heart of this memoir. It’s shattering to read the writings of a teen and eventually young adult struggling to keep this life a secret from every person in her world.

Defiant, at times heartbreaking, but ultimately empowering, with Tranny Laura Jane Grace turns in one of the most important rock memoirs in years.

 

 

A Fat Wreck: The Story of Fat Wreck Chords

Title: A Fat Wreck: The Story of Fat Wreck Chords

Director: Shaun Colón

Release Date: December 13, 2016

www.afatwreck.com

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The Upshot: What could have easily been little more than a 90-minute infomercial for a record company ends up being a pretty impressive look into one of the most influential indie punk labels.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

You kind of expect going into a documentary about a record label, produced by that label, that it’s going to be little more than a glorified advertisement; propaganda for punk rockers, in this case. And that’s sort of true, with this film about the Northern California punk label Fat Wreck Chords. But the only thing that you can really expect with the label co-founder Fat Mike is that nothing can really be expected.

Yes, a lot of time in this movie is spent praising the bands that have filled the label’s roster going back decades (NOFX, Rise Against, Lagwagon, No Use For A Name, among many, many others). And there are plenty of interviews with fellow rockers in bands like Bad Religion and The Vandals attesting to the fact that Mike was always a pretty determined punk, even as a young kid. But Fat Mike and the director of this doc leave plenty of time to talk about some of the labels criticisms as well, like the “Fat Wreck Sound” that many associate with its bands. The criticism is that many on the label started to adopt a cookie-cutter pop-punk sound thanks to the same producers and engineers many of the bands tended to favor. It’s this criticism in particular that seems to get under Fat Mike’s skin here the most. And while it would have been easy for the folks associated with this movie to gloss over it or take it out entirely, to their credit it’s here in all its awkward pauses and angry retorts.

There is also plenty of time in the doc devoted to the label’s Punk Voter movement launched by Fat Mike and the label in 2002, a failed effort to get young voters engaged in the political process to defeat George W. Bush in the 2004 election. Some of the more hardened anarchist punks mocked his efforts in trying to help Democrat John Kerry get elected, in particular, the Canadian band Propagandhi, who were on the Fat Wreck label at the time. Through interviews, the band talks about their disgust with the U.S. political systems and the label’s association with it at the time.

What could have easily been little more than a 90-minute infomercial for a record company ends up being a pretty impressive look into one of the most influential indie punk labels to come out of California, thanks to an unflinching look at it from the filmmakers.

 

 

TIM BUCKLEY – Wings: The Complete Singles 1966-1974

Album: Wings: The Complete Singles 1966-1974

Artist: Tim Buckley

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: November 18, 2016

www.omnivorerecordings.com

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The Upshot: Selective anthology of the late honey-throated folksinger/rocker that wonderfully showcases both his evolution and his maturation.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

Sequenced exactly midway through a revealing new compilation is arguably—to these ears, at least—Tim Buckley’s greatest song. Originally appearing on 1967’s groundbreaking Goodbye and Hello, the songwriter’s second full length, and subsequently released as a U.K. single, “Pleasant Street” ushers forth on a bold descending chord progression similar to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ’66 hit “Summer in the City” (a none-too-inconsequential fun fact: the Spoonful’s Jerry Yester produced GaH), the singer spinning a hazy narrative that, on the surface, seems to be about the thrills and perils of love. Buckley, in near-flawless voice, swoops and swoons in his signature high tenor, the subtly orchestral music swelling like a classic Motown arrangement while the lead guitarist emits upper-fretboard peals of delight. Sings Buckley:

 

At twilight your lover comes to your room
He’ll spin you, he’ll weave you ’round his emerald loom
And softly you’ll whisper all around his ear
“Sweet lover, I love Pleasant Street
I wheel, I steal, I feel my way down to kneel…

Down – down – down – down…

 

Cut to 2016: For the liner notes to Omnivore Recordings’ Wings: The Complete Singles 1966-1974, archivist/journalist/musician Pat Thomas is talking with the late Buckley’s close friend and lyrical collaborator, Larry Beckett, who chronologically discusses each of the set’s 21 songs—their origins, how some of them were written and recorded, their subsequent trajectory, etc. When they get to “Pleasant Street,” Beckett reveals that the song is actually about addiction, something Buckley would eventually come to know on intimate terms. “At twilight your lover comes to your room…” This knowledge may not necessarily be arcane, but it is unsettling, the same feeling you might have gotten when you finally learned that Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” was not about the giddiness of romance, but about the warm, glowing cocoon of heroin. How could a song so melodic, so sonically majestic, so gorgeous, concern a topic so brutal, so destructive, so devastating?

 

Part of Buckley’s genius, of course, was his skillful balancing of the sacred and the profane in his songs, both in their musical arrangements and their lyrical agility. These skills are on ample display throughout Wings, which takes you from the title track (a 1966 single and also a key track on his self-titled major label debut for Elektra that same year) all the way through “Who Could Deny You” (from 1974’s Look at the Fool, released about six months before his untimely death, at the age of 28, from an overdose). In between one encounters both evolution and maturation as a songwriter in sufficient quantities to suggest that not only was Buckley an artistic peer to other, more acclaimed West Coast artists such as Love, the Doors, and Brian Wilson, Buckley also was nowhere near his peak yet, making his death at a criminally young age all the more tragic.

 

There are numerous other Buckley compilations you can pick up in order to explore his oeuvre and his genius, of course. Just recently, Light In the Attic issued Lady, Give Me Your Key: The Unissued 1967 Solo Acoustic Sessions, pure unreleased manna for Buckley fans; that album’s wonderful title track, in fact, is included on the Omnivore record. As Wings omits material from Buckley’s middle period due to his not releasing any singles from some of his albums, it’s more buffet than banquet. But the tunes that are included, along with the Beckett interview, still make this a musical feast, even if you already have all of the albums that were released during his short lifetime.

 

More Buckley on the web:

 http://www.alwaysontherun.net/tim.htm (Fan tribute page)

http://www.timbuckley.net/prime_page.shtml  (Official estate of Buckley page)

http://www.angelfire.com/ma3/rebopper/timmy1.html (Fan tribute page)

http://www.furious.com/perfect/larrybeckett.html (Perfect Sound Forever Larry Beckett interview)

 

DOWNLOAD: “Lady, Give Me Your Key,” “Pleasant Street,” “Move With Me,” “Dolphins”

 

PETER CASE – Peter Case

Album: Peter Case

Artist: Peter Case

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: September 16, 2016

www.omnivorerecordings.com

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The Upshot: An expanded reissue of the erstwhile Plimsouls leader’s 1986 solo debut cements the notion of its songwriting/arranging brilliance—and inherent timelessness.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

In 1986 two albums captured my imagination so thoroughly they still reside in the firmament of all-time faves. One was David + David’s debut Boomtown. The other was ex-Plimsouls leader Peter Case’s self-titled debut.* A combination of record reviews and hearing “Welcome to the Boomtown” and “Steel Strings” on the radio drew me to both like the proverbial moth to the flame. While the former languishes in bargain bins and streaming sites, the latter gets a long-overdue reissue. Does it hold up? Boy howdy, does it ever.

The Upshot: As good as this record sounds, it’s all in service to the songs, and this is among the best set the erstwhile Plimsouls leader ever wrote.

 

BY

Produced by T Bone Burnett and Mitchell Froom at that distinctive time in the’80s when both men were trying to bring a modern aesthetic to roots rock, Peter Case sounds little like the Americana records that would come in its wake while citing it as an inspiration. Opening cut “Echo Wars” is a good example: a pop melody picked on swirling acoustic guitars and supported by swaying acoustic and electronic percussion lines that, at the time, sounded neither like the bands on the roots rock side of town (Jason & the Scorchers, the Long Ryders, etc.), nor the slicker ‘80s pop hitmakers. The whimsically introspective “More Than Curious” similarly rides a busy percussion groove, augmented by a rubbery bassline. The supremely catchy “Steel Strings” adds a burbling synthesizer riff under the irresistible hooks. Some might argue that these sounds and arrangements date the record – and plenty have – but to my ears they make it a more unique sonic experience that any other LP he’d go on to make.

 

That’s not to say there isn’t a more straightforward attack on many of the tracks. The guitar/harmonica simplicity of the menacing “Walk in the Woods” and the country blues stompin’ “Icewater” (which finds Case putting words to a tune from Lightnin’ Hopkins) need no extra instrumentation to be effective. “Old Blue Car” also uses the blues as a jumping-off point for a rollicking bopper, while the poppy folk-rocking “Horse and Crow” (featuring John Hiatt, a year away from revitalizing his career with Bring the Family, on harmony vox) is practically a blueprint for (the best of) the Americana movement 15-odd years later. Case even nods to his past life in power pop trailblazers the Plimsouls – the blazing “I Shook His Hand” hails from the last days of that band’s life, and “Satellite Beach” is just a hair’s breadth away from being power pop itself.

 

As good as this record sounds (and that’s as much due to Case’s near-perfect folk/rock/pop voice, cutting and soulful and winsome all at once, as the production and performances), it’s all in service to the songs, and this is among the best set he ever wrote. Rarely indulging in heart-on-sleeve emotion or bald confession, Case instead creates characters and plucks moments from their lives to celebrate, denigrate or simply inhabit. “I Shook His Hand” covers meeting a major political figure (JFK?), “Three Days Straight” describes the aftermath of a mining disaster, “Small Town Spree” (arranged and conducted by Van Dyke Parks) bares its teeth at a killer seemingly getting away with his crime. “Steel Strings” is the album’s anthem, a tribute to music and Case’s instrument of choice that never becomes sappy or clichéd. Case finishes the album with the Pogues’ masterpiece “A Pair of Brown Eyes” – aided by Roger McGuinn’s 12-string chime, Case burrows so deeply into the song’s soul he handily relieves its creators of it, making it forever his own. Case must agree with the continuing power and relevance of these songs – he still includes many of them in his sets thirty years later.

 

As is de rigeur for reissues, this one includes several bonus tracks. Stripped down acoustic versions of “Steel Strings” and “I Shook His Hand,” a mix of “Horse and Crow” that removes Hiatt’s vocal and adds clattering percussion and an early version of “More Than Curious” reveal what hardy songs they all are. Even better, there are three previously unreleased songs. The solo acoustic “North Coast Blues” and “Trusted Friend” deserve revival in his repertoire, while the full band pop tune “Toughest Gang in Town,” while perhaps a bit too close to the sound of “Horse and Crow” and “Satellite Beach” for inclusion on the original LP, scans well worth hearing.

 

Peter Case is one of those albums that, even thirty years on, is rarely out of my listening circulation for long. But this reissue is still a welcome chance to rediscover its brilliance. Indeed, if anything, Peter Case shines even brighter now than it did when it blew my mind the first time around.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Steel Strings,” “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” “Icewater,” “I Shook His Hand,” “Trusted Friend”

*I mention these two together not only for their impact on my future music nerd self, but also because they toured together in support of these records. I didn’t get to see any of those shows, alas.

 

THE SCIENTISTS – A Place Called Bad

Album: A Place Called Bad

Artist: Scientists

Label: Numero Group

Release Date: September 02, 2016

www.numerogroup.com

The Upshot: Career-chronicling box set for the Australian combo sets in motion more than just a reappraisal of an influential group—it makes a convincing case for the primacy of “negative energy” in the rock world.

BY FRED MILLS

“The Scientists, like the Birthday Party, were fueled on negative energy—a very negative sort of group. A bit like the Stooges, the way the group worked is very similar. There’s not many groups that have worked that way. I think the result is intense energy, but rather than force things out dynamically and theatrically like the Birthday Party did, we tend to basically unleash. The momentum is there, and we’re able to pick up on it and let it loose.” —Kim Salmon, 1989

Legendary Australian proto-grunge avatars the Scientists enjoyed—well, maybe that’s an overstatement; let’s just say, “indulged”—a career that lasted, initially, from 1978 to 1987. Co-founder/guitarist/chief songwriter Salmon subsequently re-formed the group in 2006 at the behest of Mudhoney’s Mark Arm to play that year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, and the band additionally has gotten back together a few times since then for events such as the ATP’s “Don’t Look Back” series and as opening act for Sonic Youth.

It’s that initial decade-long run, however, that put the “legend” into the “legendary” for the band, the mid-‘80s in particular cementing the quartet’s reputation as uniquely qualified to shoulder the mantle of “heir to…” such brutality merchants as the Stooges, Suicide, the Cramps, Gun Club, and fellow Aussies the Birthday Party. With this particular lineup in place—Salmon, guitarist Tony Thewlis, bassist Boris Sujdovic and drummer Brett Rixon—the scabbily hirsute, silk-shirt adorned Scientists assaulted frequently unprepared audiences with the demented, unfiltered glee of, yes, a mad scientist, charting paranoia, decay, and bad love against a thundering, howling backdrop of swamp-twang and dissonance.

Admittedly, the group’s name recognition factor may be relatively low in terms of how many rock fans, in 2016, have heard of the musicians, much less actually heard them. But for a certain breed of music lover weaned on the aforementioned icons—that would include Jon Spencer, Mark Arm, and Thurston Moore, who were talking up the Scientists years before either of the latter two had to opportunity to extend their direct support—and tuned in to what was happening Down Under during the ‘80s, it’s likely the name continues to loom large.  It certainly does for yours truly, having been smitten early on and obsessively collecting each and every official release alongside numerous live tapes; the ’82 Australian 45 “We Had Love” b/w “Swampland” retains a permanent lodging in my singles playbox, with that epochal B-side also a perennial of my Spotify playlists. (The title of this article takes its cue from a brilliant bon mot Salmon sneers in “Swampland”: “In my heart/ There’s a place called Swampland/ Nine parts water/ One part sand.”)

With the release of a comprehensive new four-disc box set by the astute archivists at the Numero Group label, hopes are high that a long-overdue reassessment by consumers of the band lurks in the wings. Following reissues of both The Scientists debut and the 1983 mini-album Blood Red River, Numero now drops A Place Called Bad, and it’s an essential collection. It breaks up the group’s history into three logical segments: “Cheap and Nasty,” covering the group’s somewhat poppier origins on the Perth punk and indie scene (Salmon had a pre-Scientists band circa 1977 called the Cheap Nasties—more on them in a sec); “Set It on Fire,” the fruitful years when they’d relocated to the Eastern edge of the continent, earning steadily-growing audiences, and ultimate making the pilgrimage to England as homelanders the Triffids, the Moodists, and of course the Birthday Party had recently done with reasonable success; and “When Worlds Collide,” the period during which personnel upheaval, clashes with their record label(s), and just plain bad luck all conspired to bring things to a close, although not without some equally compelling recorded output. The fourth disc for A Place Called Bad, “Live Cuts,” contains, logically enough, 23 live cuts recorded at various venues in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney during 1983, and for any right-thinking Scientists fan, they’re pure catnip. (I should know.)

Included with the box is a thick booklet boasting a nicely-annotated discography; photos (posed; why not live shots?) of most of the various Scientists lineups from over the years; a terrific eye-straining family tree done Pete Frame-style (count ‘em: nine separate versions of the group, plus such precursors as the Nasties, the Invaders, the Exterminators, the Mannikins, the Rockets, and the Helicopters, along with offshoots/members-overlapping-peers like the Hoodoo Gurus, the Johnnys, the Beasts of Bourbon, the Dubrovniks, and Salmon’s post-Sci trio, the Surrealists); and copious liner notes by box co-producer Erin Osmon, who managed to get fresh interviews with Salmon and several other principals. Throw in a remarkably handsome graphic design by Chunklet Industries majordomo Henry H. Owings, and you’ve got a box set guaranteed to prompt a Pavlovian drool among collectors.

Did someone say “drool”? Anyone worth his or her collector salt will have pre-ordered the vinyl edition as well, which replicates said booklet and graphic design in 12” gatefold format, the thick cardboard tip-on sleeve housing two heavy LPs (literally and metaphorically)—which of course means the tracklisting is a distillation of the choicer material contained on the CD box. But assuming you did preorder, you got an advance digital download of the entire thing, PLUS a bonus four-song 7” EP or cassette (!) by Salmon’s Cheap Nasties outfit, pressed on red wax at that, PLUS Cheap Nasties digital-only bonus tracks comprising the band’s entire 10-song demo from back in the day. Somebody please hand me a towel so I can sop up this puddle on my linoleum… I digress…

***

 “The floor was littered with beer cans and bottles of whatever. We got one full bottle thrown—it sailed by my head, missing by about a foot. We had to sneak out of that gig without getting paid, because there were so many people there that really hated us. There was so much hatred. When I say it was common for people to throw bottles at us, I should say we did set ourselves up for it a bit: We tended to work off it, working off negative energy.” —Kim Salmon, 1984

That interview quote (it refers to one memorable Sydney gig in ’83 that found the Scientists opening for the decidedly UN-Scientific Angels), and the one at the top of the page, come from a 1990 article on Salmon and the Scientists that I collaborated upon with Australian fanzine editor David Gerard, who’d kindly allowed me to work in the bulk of a Salmon feature he’d done for his publication Party Fears. Incorporating information from two other equally esteemed Aussie ‘zines, B Side and D.N.A., the story charted Salmon’s journey to date, starting as a teenager discovering the likes of the Ramones, New York Dolls, and Modern Lovers. Listening to some of those early Scientists tunes on Disc 1 now, it strikes me how effortlessly Salmon and his bandmates absorbed their influences: the almost-jangly “Frantic Romantic” sounds like a cross between the Ramones and the Flamin’ Groovies, while the rowdier “Shake Together Tonight” could pass for a Dolls outtake. And neither “Pissed on Another Planet” and “Sorry Sorry Sorry” would have been out of place in a UK punk band’s setlist (think: Clash, Eddie & the Hot Rods, etc.).

By way of brief digression: Salmon, speaking to me in a more recent interview (2008, when he’d collaborated with the Died Pretty’s Ron Peno as the rootsier-sounding Darling Downs), elaborated upon a number of the artists who have informed his musical sensibilities, many of whom surface at myriad points in the box set’s material.

Explained Salmon, “Some of it’s well-known to people acquainted with my music—Stooges, Suicide, Beefheart, Creedence always come up, especially for the Scientists. But I liked most of the U.S. punk/CBGB stuff—Ramones, Television, Blondie. Before that I liked British rock like Zeppelin, the Stones, Bowie and King Crimson… and when it was okay after the initial punk purges, I liked them again, ha-ha!

“I’ve also liked jazz since I was a teenager, especially Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and On the Corner have had as big an influence on my music over the years as any music. Of the blues artists, Howlin’ Wolf is definitely the one who I’ve taken the most from by a long shot, although I do like most blues. I have always felt a greater affinity with jazz and punk than blues, bizarrely, even though a lot of people think of my stuff as blues—which it is not.

“But none of this tells anything, really. Julie London’s in there, along with Nancy Wilson, Leon Russell —fuck, when I was a teenager I was a dog for Joe Cocker! — Hank Williams, Lee Hazelwood, Can, Blue Oyster Cult… the list could go on… British folk-rock stuff, like Cat Stevens, Nick Drake and Jimmy Page.”

Turning back to A Place Called Bad: In the band for most of the material featured on Disc 1, it should be noted, was drummer James Baker, en route to the Hoodoo Gurus, and Baker’s pop-punk inclinations no doubt influenced Salmon to a degree. But by late ’82, where Disc 2 commences via “This Is My Happy Hour,” a radical rethink of the group’s sound had transpired, as the band, and Salmon in particular, now sounded aggravated and very much on edge, with the term “happy hour” clearly meant ironically—or simply sarcastic, a sentiment underscored by “Swampland,” which with its metronomic rhythm, T.Rex-on-twang riffs, and Salmon’s part-moan/part-sneer, being anything but optimistic. From there the disc hits peak after peak (or mental low point after low point, depending on how you choose to psychoanalyze the Scientists): a whooping, ramshackle cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Clear Spot,” the malevolent, chiming minimalism of “Set It on Fire” (Salmon never sounded more desperate as a singer), some fetid swamp-blues for “Blood Red River,” the dissonant, buzzing “Fire Escape”—this is all the sound of a band who, true to Salmon’s words, was not just fueled by negativity—the Scientists personified it. Salmon, Thewlis, Sujdovic, and Rixon sound like men on the run and pursued by bounty hunters who aren’t necessarily going to be bothered with bringing their prey back alive. It’s no wonder that by mid-’85 the lineup was turning unstable.

Disc 3 can’t quite match its predecessor for sheer sonic and psychic oomph, but it’s not for lack of trying. Although in places it suggests a band for whom all that negativity was catching up with them and taking its toll, tracks like the Taxi Driver homage “If It’s the Last Thing I Do” (boasting the eternal lines “Sometimes I feel like Travis Bickle/ Just wanna shoot up all the bad that’s lurking in this town,” it’s a twangygrindingsexy sonic tour de force), punk-rockabilly pastiche “Atom Bomb Baby” (imagine Eddie Cochrane backed by Sonic Youth), and the subterranean rumble that is “A Place Called Bad” (it conjures an anthropomorphic drill press afflicted with a brutal hangover and puking its mechanical guts out), all conspire to send the band out on a high note. And trainspotters will want to know that, yes, the cover of John Fogerty/CCR nugget “It Came Out of the Sky” is undeniably great, simultaneously true to the original spirit while still utterly recognizable as classic Scientists. It’s unlikely that Salmon knew what or where “Moline,” namechecked in the song, was, but he chews the word around and lets it slide off his tongue like a man enjoying a particularly juicy bite of prime rib.

The live CD is a welcome addition to the canon, because while back in the day I’d heard plenty of ’83 shows via my tape traders’ network, having these tracks in official, cleaned-up, remastered format is a real treat. Highlights and left-field delights include a version of “Happy Hour” that completely wipes the original studio version for sheer, er, negativity, and “Set It on Fire” almost does likewise, particularly in Salmon’s edge-of-hysteria shrieks at the mic. There are several intriguing covers as well, including no less than three tips o’ the Sci cap to the Flamin’ Groovies (“Don’t Lie to Me,” “Have You Seen My Baby?” and a somewhat muffled, but revved-up and righteous “Slow Death”), a semi-throwaway take on “I’ve Had It” (originally done by the Bell Notes, it was covered by a number of bands during the punk era), and—just to return full circle to one of Salmon’s earliest inspirations—the Modern Lovers’ “She Cracked,” served up sleek ‘n’ snotty, just like mama ordered.

All in all, A Place Called Bad is everything a good box set is supposed to be: a collection that tells a specific story with coherence, precision, and painstakingly comprehensive detail. This is true for both the music and the overall package (did I mention how sweet that vinyl version is?), and if this is intended to be the final word—not counting the latterday reunions of course—then it hits that goal 110%.

Perhaps, then, a similar project might be mounted to chronicle Kim Salmon’s numerous projects he’s undertaken since the Scientists’ initial dissolution in ’87, most notably the Surrealists. (There was also Tex Perkins’ Beasts of Bourbon, the above-mentioned Darling Downs, Kim Salmon & the Business, a number of solo records, and just recently, separate collaboration with erstwhile Scientists drummer Leanne Cowie, aka Leanne Chock, and fellow Aussie legend Spencer P. Jones. You can find plenty of details, not to mention downloads, at his BandCamp page or at his official website.) When I talked to him in 2008, the Scientists had recently completed a handful of reunion gigs, and as he put it to me, “It’s always possible, given the right offer and person to negotiate things, that there could be more Scientists shows.”

Indeed, both anecdotal reports and the 2007 reunion album Sedition, recorded live in London in May of the previous year, offer ample testimony that the group hadn’t lost its formidable live powers. If anything, this was a tighter, more focused ensemble that any of the lineups of yore. Salmon confessed to me at the time, though, of having ambivalence regarding the revived Scientists cutting a new studio album.

“I do think, however, that the set of conditions that made that band work and evolve have passed on forever and that it would be an extremely risky thing to attempt to make another recording of new material with that band. Having reformation shows has been more a matter of setting things up for just long enough for us to recreate what we did have without it going anywhere. I don’t believe we’d go anywhere good if we were allowed to go on for longer than a short time. I haven’t heard any reformation albums that can convince me otherwise, I hate to say.

“It has been great revisiting what the Scientists did, and it has rekindled something that I can pursue with the Surrealists, who never actually broke up and are, I believe, able to grow and evolve. For me, Blood Red River [Scientists, 1983], The Human Jukebox [Scientists, 1987] and Hit Me with the Surreal Feel [Surrealists, 1988] follow a natural path that I got diverted from throughout the nineties. Anyway, it put me back in touch with what I was trying to do back then, and a lot of ideas that have been mulling over in my head for a decade and a half have just fallen into place since doing the Scientists tours…. [And] the Surrealists have just picked up all the ideas and run with them. It’s amazing. We’re definitely going to do another album and it’s going to follow on seamlessly from Hit Me With The Surreal Feel, which was so far ahead in time compared with anything I’ve done subsequently that it won’t be a step back in time.”

True to his word, Salmon’s Surrealists cut Grand Unifying Theory in 2010, and he has also mounted several brief Scientists reunion tours, including a 35th anniversary tour of Australia in 2015 featuring the group’s earliest lineup and then again a couple of shows in 2015. Maybe there will be more to come? Stay tuned.

For the time being, though, A Place Called Bad is a more than worthwhile step back in time. Get ready for some serious negativity—the good kind of negativity.

DOWNLOAD: Lord. Take your pick, punters.

 

 

 

 

 

PARQUET COURTS – Human Performance

Album: Human Performance

Artist: Parqet Courts

Label: Rough Trade

Release Date: April 08, 2016

www.roughtrade.com

p-courts-4-8

The Upshot: Transcending its past, the NYC-via-Texas quartet blends the backbone of rock ‘n’ roll—simple song structure, basic-level playing skills—with the clever street patter and sharp observation that made NYC acts like the Velvet Underground, Television and the Ramones so iconic in the first place.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

If you watched the first season of Vinyl, the HBO series fetishizing the 1970s New York City music scene, your takeaway was likely the opposite of what the show’s creators intended: If rock isn’t dead, somebody please kill it before it resembles this show’s Madame Tussauds waxworks.

Essentially a soap opera dusted with cocaine and tribute bands (stand-ins for David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Bob Marley and the New York Dolls all make appearances), the series—inexplicably green lighted for a second season—follows the tribulations of the fictitious American Century Records label as it staggers from one self-inflicted financial crisis to another in the early 70s. Its founder, Richie Finestra—played gamely by Bobby Cannavale, whose season as Gyp Rosetti revived a moribund Boardwalk Empire (also written by Terrence Winter)—blends Hit Men slime with rockist zealotry until it turns the heady early-70s firmament that birthed punk, disco and hip-hop into a caricature.

In the tone-setting premiere, Finestra has his mind blown at a Dolls’ show so epic that it collapses the club—though the metaphor alone could’ve done that. From then on, at least between lines of blow, Finestra puts American Century—reborn as Alibi Records—on a holy crusade to find other bands just as gob-smacking. In an oft-repeated slogan with all the subtlety of Soviet propaganda, Finestra fires up the troops by asking them to “Think back to the first time you heard a song that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Made you want to dance. Or fuck. Or go out and kick somebody’s ass!”

The alleged saviors emerge in an outfit called The Nasty Bits, a four-piece anachronism constructed from bits of NYC protopunk unknowns Jack Ruby, punk icon Richard Hell (a consultant to, and later critic of, the series) and the Sex Pistols—this last courtesy of lead singer Kip Stevens, played by executive producer Mick Jagger’s son, James, a sneering British guttersnipe with a junk habit. Finestra and his surrogates immediately begin sanding off the band’s raw edges, an irony somehow lost on the show’s creators. Still, the first season culminates in another epic Dolls gig, only this time it’s the Nasty Bits that steal the show—despite playing just one song. It’s a stunt, though, a bit of Malcolm McLaren Filthy Lucre-hood instigated by a Finestra phone call to the cops. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated, indeed.

Of the show’s many unintended ironies, there’s one that’s especially harmful to the cause it allegedly espouses. Viewers of Vinyl essentially have curators hectoring them about missing out on this magical moment—as if the present couldn’t possibly provide musical experiences as visceral. It’s the same era-centric arrogance—eventually enshrined by other waxworks like the 70s Broadway nostalgiagasm Beatlemania and the cinematic séance, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—that birthed punk, hip-hop and disco in the first place.

It’s testament to both the democratic form and its most enthusiastic practitioners that rock ‘n’ roll still even exists 60 years after the fad refused to evaporate, as nearly everyone predicted and expected. But it’s been nearly 50 since The Who first declared it dead, and another 20-plus since hip-hop, pop and commercial country relegated it to also-ran status in sales and influence. Still, new generations of kids yearn for that cultural and personal catharsis—the irresistible blend of libidinous abandon and tribal bonding—that rock ‘n’ roll built its reputation on and, on occasion, still delivers.

One band in the here-and-now whose DNA roots trace to some of the acts that Vinyl wants to immortalize, is Parquet Courts. The NYC-via-Texas quartet blends the backbone of rock ‘n’ roll—simple song structure, basic-level playing skills—with the clever street patter and sharp observation that made NYC acts like the Velvet Underground, Television and the Ramones so iconic in the first place. No surprise, then, that the band’s fourth full-length (fifth if you include Parkay Quarts’ Content Nausea) appears on Rough Trade, the label where the next generation of smart, arty punkers—Wire, the Fall, Swell Maps—kept the flame alive.

If those links were obvious in Parquet Courts’ previous work, the new Human Performance begins to alter the band’s trajectory without sacrificing the modern take it brings to those roots. The songs on Human Performance may lack the sheer velocity that “Master of My Craft” (from 2012’s Light up Gold) or the title track from 2014’s Sunbathing Animal gave the band’s previous releases, and instead trades it for a more nuanced songwriting palette. The tempos are slower, the guitar muted (by comparison), and new elements like Latin rhythms and various keyboards make their debuts on an LP that took a year to make.

 

The opener, “Dust,” is on its face a companion piece to Sunbathing‘s “Bodies” or “Stoned and Starving” off Light Up Gold—a simple infectious riff that’s a conveyance for a fun bit of lyrics nonsense that, with full-LP context, turn out not to be such nonsense after all. The pace slows here, and the song trades in guitar feedback for keyboard touches. But the chorus—”Dust is everywhere/Sweep!”—offers a metaphor for what Parquet Courts pull off throughout Human Performance: the songs are an emotional house cleaning that, left unsaid or un-swept, would “sneak in ignored” and stack up until they suffocate.

The title cut follows, with Andrew Savage turning that keen observational eye inward—shorn of irony or distance this time—to chronicle the collapse of a relationship and its haunted residue. The song veers between the verses’ loping tempo and furious blasts of shouted choruses, setting up the dichotomy between the indulgence of remembering—”Nothing moves without drifting into a memory”—and the point when the “witness and know, fracture and hurt” curdles into mere “Human Performance.”

Examining the duality of our motivations and emotions elevates Parquet Courts above most of their peers. Not only do they avoid the Vinyl-style embalming of their source material, but the songs transcend the romanticized hipster baggage that the city—and Brooklyn in particular—currently carries with it. New York City intrudes, of course, but mostly as urban setting and certainly not as hipster’s paradise. The LP’s fiercest track, “Two Dead Cops,” is a straight-up recounting taken at Buzzcocks speed of the killing of two policeman not far from Savage’s apartment; “Captive of the Sun”—whose quasi-rap and echo-y noises would’ve fit nicely next to Combat Rock‘s weirder, more interesting moments—captures the “skull shakin’ cadence of the J-train” and “car-honk duet” cacophony that’s “in the key of New York.”

“Berlin,” built around a seductive western Telecaster riff, pumping Farfisa, and a cantering beat, is a NYC love-song by subtraction, as Savage’s narrator questions the joys of traveler anonymity, noting that “Teutonic frankness” alarms because “it tastes so familiar and wild.” Similarly, the bongos-accented “One Man, No City” confirms that self-consciousness is more sleight-of-hand than wisdom-gift, no matter the locale: “‘Cogito ergo sum’ people say/But think again, ’cause I have no faith/I find building blocks filled with nothin’.” The song also sounds, at times, remarkably like vintage Talking Heads.

 

Comparisons to Pavement, which band members swat away regularly, aren’t likely to vanish thanks to slacker-friendly tracks like the homage to a shuttered Chinese restaurant (“I Was Just Here,” robotic enough to also recall Devo) and Austin Brown’s meta-apropos deadpan on “Keeping It Even.” But those claims were “smart songwriter”-reductive in the first place. And these two cuts are the closest to filler on Human Performance anyway, though the subject matter suits an LP that wraps up thematically as neatly as it opens—especially given that the subject matter is essentially confusion.

And what a finale it is, too. After the stark realism punch of “Two Dead Cops,” the penultimate up-tempo downer “Pathos Prairie” role-calls a litany of self-deceptions like an accusatory chest-poke—”The past like a servant that bends for our sake/Into the lines we tell it to trace.” But the Loaded-like LP-ender lullaby “It’s Gonna Happen” concedes that those lies we tell ourselves are survival mechanisms likely to “happen every single time.” Rather than clever Malkmus snark, it reads instead as something like grace and, if not forgiveness, at least a measure of understanding. For a punk band, that makes sense—the music matters only when it means something in the here and now. Only when it’s alive, and not a caricature. Only when it’s not embalmed with the past.

DOWNLOAD: “Captive of the Sun,” “Two Dead Cops”