Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Chewers-Chuckle Change and Also LP (2011)

Most of the bands I review for Drug Punk wear their influences on their sleeves. Many of these bands also describe themselves as "weird" and "freaked out" in the emails they send me, or in their bandcamp pages. Very few of these bands come anywhere close to being as good as their influences, and almost none of them are truly weird. What do I mean by "weird," you ask, in an age when lawyers can go to work with red hair and any jerkoff can go from The Beatles to Pink Reason in an hour's worth of surfing the web, without having any sense of why the latter is so great and the former are, well, trite?*

For me, "weird" usually implies a refusal. A refusal to simply rip off your favorite bands, a refusal to go along with whatever stupid revival is current. And a refusal to apologize for this. The Chewers aren't radically new, but they are absolutely weird. This LP, twenty-two tracks of improvised curiosities and experiments, is clearly and unabashedly indebted to the Captain. Of course, Captain Beefheart is one of those bands we all claim to love, and most of you reading this probably have Trout Mask Replica safely tucked away in a zip file somewhere next to the porn on your laptop. But how much do you in fact listen to Captain Beefheart, for fun? And who have you heard, lately or ever, that actually sounds as fucked up and out of vogue as Captain Beefheart must have back in the late '60s?

No one, that's who. This isn't noise, this isn't neo-grunge, this isn't noisepunk, this is just a bunched of isolated goofballs doing their thing and I doubt they're all that interested in getting interviewed by Pitchfork or whatever bigdealsowhat blog. Either that, or they've done an amazing job acting like they just don't give a fuck about popularity.

Usually, 22 tracks would simply put me to sleep because of the sheer volume. But not only did I listen to all 22 of these songs, but most of them are good. Really good. They have a family resemblance, but don't really sound the same and this doesn't end up sounding like a simple Beefheart tribute. The first ten tracks are mostly sketchy, off-the-cuff improv scribblescrable. The Chewers really find their stride on "Smiling Samuel," a lilting, off-kilter tune that, i think, tells the tale of Smiling Samuel. It sounds like each member of the band started the song a few seconds apart from each other, and they're not particularly interested in sync'ing up. It's easily the funniest song I've heard this year. From there on it's pure pleasure listening to the Chewers throw together sounds that sort of gel into songs, in the way that a collage vaguely becomes a separate whole after you've finished cutting and pasting bits of newspaper and magazines together.

Instead of continuing to prattle, I'll simply urge you to check out The Chewers.

*Yeah, that's right. Fuck the Beatles. Rock coulda been anything before they dumped Sgt. Pepper on us, and they single-handedly set rock back a decade with all that faux-eastern, wanna-be spiritualist crap.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Janitors-Drone Head 2X LP (2013)

Swagger is acrucial element in all blues-based rock 'n' roll. Simply put: Can you do justice to the Son House and Blind Willie McTell riffs at the base of your sound, no matter how many effects pedals you got? Or are you hiding behind these effect pedals 'cause there's nothing worthwhile behind the distortion? Nick Cave brought this sort of bravismo to new heights with his pre-Boatman's Call work. Unfortunately, swagger and unabashedly macho posturing has gone the way of the dodo of late. Of course, nine times out of ten, macho posturing is boring at best, repulsive at worst: think of hair metal. But when done right, as an organic component of the music instead of as idiotic chest-thumping, it's a good thing.

The Janitors and San Francisco's The Chaw are two of the only contemporary bands that can pull it off. Along with Annesley's much-missed Meat Thump, these bands' heavy, sleazy vibe is perfect for sordid living of all sorts. The Janitors and The Chaw are similar in another sense: both have a heavily cinematic quality that fills out their rock 'n' roll core, and makes it more compelling after repeated listening.

Listening to the Janitors' debut LP, this cinematic feeling runs straight through the two EPs and several new tracks found therein. Heavy guitars and a prominent rhythym section are key components to their sound, but the organ and killer production create an entire world you can lose yourself in. It's a ballsy move for your vinyl debut to consist in large part of previously-released material, but the Janitors' debut EPs fit together into a whole, much like the individual bricks make up the bar you like to pass out behind, after a long bender.

"Strap Me Down" sticks in my head after repeated listening. Agonizingly, mesmerizingly slow guitar stomp; menacing organs that swirl in and out of focus; and muttered, then howled vocals that are an indecipherable but essential part of the vicious grey stew the Janitors specialize in. "A-Bow," however, is the LP's cornerstone. Clocking in at 12:29, it sums up everything fun in the Janitors' sound. The first five minutes sound like a Morricone out-take, straddling the line between spaced out rock and spaghetti western majesty. The tension finally explodes around 5:30 into heavy, drawn out classic rock riffing with enough organs to keep monotony at bay. "A-Bow" is
a glorious, and gloriously ambitious, piece of blues stomp with more depth and space than most music in this tradition.

Basically, the Janitors are what would happen if the White Stripes were as good as you always wanted them to be: innovative instead of simply adept; lewd instead of gentlemanly; and, ultimately, more interested in worming their way into your brain than in temporary aural fireworks. This is slow-burn scuzz rock with a vengeance.

Check it out here. The vinyl drops July 15th, complete with a gatefold sleeve perfect for staring at when blasted on speed and acid. You can pre-order your copy from Cardinal Fuzz Records.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dirty Beaches-Seaside EP (2007)

 "I knew my youth couldn't last forever/so I got the band together...."-T.V. Smith of The Adverts, 1977
"This person's had enough of useless memories..."-John Lydon for PiL, 1980

Dirty Beaches is one of maybe five current bands worth caring about. In an era where creating music consists of little other than selecting a previous era's art and ruthlessly (mindlessly) cannibalizing it, Alex Zhang Hungtai and his collaborators manage to be quintessentially nostalgic, without any of the necrophilia that adjective usually, implicitly, entails it in the early 21st century. At the risk of alienating those of you who hate reading, it's worth unpacking what I mean by that.

Before the advent of mass consumption and above all of the internet, nostalgia meant something quite different from our current understanding of it. To label something "nostalgic" today is to dismiss it: sentimental, perhaps, intensely emotional, hopefully, but fundamentally retrograde and derivative because of said qualities. It constitutes an objective, damning judgment that somehow grants the judge a certain gravitas.This was not always the case. Before the adjective and its attendant emotional state became pejorative, "nostalgic" was an intensely subjective, personal affliction: that of a person wrenched away from his/her homeland or natural setting, and deeply, desperately yearning to return to it. Melancholy, that strange, liminal state between depression and futile action, was its typical accompaniment. In the 19th century, American doctors treated nostalgia as a disease and a threat to masculinity, curable by warfare and the near experience of death it grants.*

My point is that Dirty Beaches' work, whatever form it takes, is fundamentally concerned with capturing a particular place, and all its attendant feelings and sensations, at the exact moment it slips away from you forever. Hungtai's records sound quite different from each other superficially, but this moment of transient attachment is what sticks them together like the glue holding faded photographs to a scrapbook nobody's read in decades. Dirty Beaches creates scenes of bittersweet beauty, only to shatter them. If only because all songs have to end, just like all relationships, and all lives, ultimately.

What better name for his best pre-LP work, then, than Seaside? For me, in any case, large bodies of water have always had a fiercely magnetic appeal. Oceans, rivers, and lakes are comforting, somehow, yet menacing. Especially the ocean: the noises of the sea are calming, but one is immediately overwhelmed by the relentless, inexorable continuity of the sea. Whatever subjective memories you have of la mer, it doesn't give a damn about you in the end.

Just like most lovers, in fact. Another reason Dirty Beaches' work is so good is that Hungtai manages to meld ambient landscapes and subjective feelings together much like particular places become indissociably tied to former lovers once they're gone. This is why Seaside is the best of the pre-Badland EPs: each song is a carefully crafted reconstruction of a particular place or relationship, that manages to gel with the other tracks.

I read a story, once, about a Greek leaving the Pelopponese for the U.S.A. around 1900. She had carried a stone from her village on board the steamer with her; her mother had told her that once the ship was out to sea, she should throw the stone into the Mediterranean. It was a ritualized, symbolic divorce from the Motherland: Americans would think of this as a brave severance from tradition, but for me, it sounds like a drastic attempt to cut short nostalgia before it starts. This is also the scene I think of when I play this EP: a definite departure that isn't anywhere near joyful.

"On the Streets of Shibuya" is a beautiful sonic landscape. It's simply begging for orientalist reconstructions of "The East," so I won't go into detail on it. "Sud Dud Bud Mud" hints at the more propulsive, destructively energetic tracks from Badlands: the chugging, retrograde synth beat in the background, the impossibly archaic, fleeting vocals, twinkling chimes in the distance. "A Hundred Languages" is the core of the EP: nothing but acoustic guitar and Hungtai's vocals, it's heartbreaking. At times Hungtai doesn't bother with real words, but simply hums. There are certain pieces of music that summarize in a single, savage, transitory moment all the misery we experience in any relationship worth starting, and for me, "A Hundred Languages" is one of them. "Blue Birds" is even better: again, nothing but vocals and guitar. These simple instruments say more in three minimal minutes than most bands manage to say in several albums' worth of overproduced garbage. "La Barca" manages to hover somewhere between obscenely obvious nautical sounds and another successful take on marine-based yearning.

Reading this review, you've probably come away thinking that Dirty Beaches and its music is nothing but depressoid, schizoid garbage made by and for depressoids (such as this author). Not true! And in any case, the whole point is that nostalgia, as an emotion, hovers somewhere between depression and exultation: Depression, because of our severance from the object of our love; exultation, because we anticipate returning to it. That's a clumsy reconstruction of an inexpressible feeling, so I'll shut up and tell you, once again, that Dirty Beaches deserves your fervent support and/or money.

....When I cross the border....   In large part, I'm posting this EP because DB just dropped a double LP that is well worth buying-get it HERE. DB is also on tour, so catch them if you're in Europe! Hungtai runs a blog that's well worth following, as well.

*Most of this spiel on the genealogy of nostalgia is heavily indebted to my reading of Svetlana Boym's "The Future of Nostalgia". It's a good book and one well worth reading. I first heard about it through reading interviews with Hungtai.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sick Thoughts-Deformation demo CS (2013)

I make an effort to post all sorts of music on Drug Punk, but Baltimore's Sick Thoughts is what I started it all for. Crude, lo-fi, loner rock that will never be popular among the masses. As usual with this sort of music, there's a crucial distinction between your records sounding like shit 'cause you're consciously aping a style, on one hand, and sounding like shit 'cause you're too poor and/or fucked up and/or ignorant to do otherwise, on the other. Sick Thoughts is definitively in the latter category, and kudos to this dood.

If you made it through that paragraph, you already have a pretty good sense of what Sick Thoughts sounds like. He's even cruder, however, than most of the lofi trash I post here: at several points on the tape, in fact, the guitar and drum(machine) are out of sync. My favorite track is "Something I don't Have": it opens with directionless tone, then the ram-bam-fuckyouma'am (almost) 4'4 time sleaze kicks in. Dood talk-sings like a drugged newscaster about "you and your bullshit," and I caught the drums sliding out of time at least twice. The song is so crude and slipshod it sounds like two tracks were mixed on top of each other without anyone noticing. "Ugly" continues the descent into wasted oblivion: choppy, clipped drumming and trashed guitar patterns partially mask the drunken burble-singing. "Ugly" is so crude, it's almost avant-garde at times. Fucking majestic.

 The blown-out 4-track (lack of) recording value and slurred vocals make for a grey, muddy porridge overall. This demo is the perfect soundtrack for drunken apathy, being depressed while zonked on speed, drinking too much cheap red wine too fast, yelling at your significant other when s/he is trying to help you out of your self-induced misery, and in general being a stupid dumbshit. I've done all of those activities, so I know what sounds good while executing said idiocies. This.

Make some bad decisions and get fucked to SICK THOUGHTS! Physical copies will be available at the end of July on Southpaw Records. Dood is apparently opening for Oblivians in August, so any drummers in the Bodymore area should help him out by playing. Stay tuned for more from this guy, which I'm hoping will be forthcoming very soon.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Shrills-Ghoul Kids

In case you're wondering why I stopped accepting new releases for review recently, this is a good example: it's a great record I received for review about a year and a half ago, and never listened to because it was buried in a pile of other submissions (in addition, I still pretend to have a social life while acting like an adult at times to earn a paycheck).

If you come to DrugPunk for the dirtyassrock'n'roll and loath my forays into other genres, you'll love this. Shrills is as much fun as making out in a bar bathroom after your eighth beer of the night. "Coconuts" is as sweet as the aforementioned fruit. It blatantly rips off a punk song whose title I can't think of. There's nothing complex about this band: it's just direct, unabashed garage punk that I'm pretty sure Californians were great at before they all started listening to Drake and Lady Gaga (or whatever it is my students love currently). There are moments of complexity-"Pink Hotel" veers dangerously close to Sex Church as far as guitars go-but this is mainly just straightahead garage fun. "Chthulu," however, is in a world of its own: it's six minutes of menacing, slow-motion cinematic tension that slowly segues into lurching, heavy caveman rock a la Bleach-era Nirvana. Totally makes the kids go crazy, I'm guessing.

Put quite simply, if I had gotten around to listening to this it woulda been in my Top 10 for 2011.
I dunno if any physical copies of the tape are left, but if so, BUY IT HERE!!!!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tonfiski Olja-s/t EP (2013)

Well, there's just no telling what the kiddies is gonna come up with these days, is there? For example: Tonfiski Olja, from eastern Finland. Most readers associate Finland with a robust, and robustly entertaining, hardcore punk scene. Among other gems, Finnish punks brought us aviator bands as a fashion accessory (look it up), as well as a horde of great bands I won't bother naming. Tonfiski Olja, however, is having none of that homegrown noisepunk slop.
That ain't what we got here. Tonfiski Olja's four tracks fall somewhere between a garage punk band still mastering its instruments and Submission Hold. I don't know if anyone remembers the latter band but T.O. reminds me of the contorted, plodding post-punk S.H. was dishing out around 2000. It's a strange mixture of juvenile punk rage and more complex song structures, and I still can't decide if it works. "Korrosio" is the best song here: spitfire drumming and simple, propulsive guitarwork that the singer shouts and howls over in blistering Finnish. Then there's the inevitable quasi-breakdown that you can't drag your knuckles to because it's a bit too clever for that. That's just it: when you think T.O. is a bunch of caveman ponx, they end up being clever songwriters. This band is just going with their instincts, and in an age when everyone is doing their best to sound like someone else, I commend that.

Get into it HERE.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ruptures-Deca LP (2013)

*Disclaimer: If you're 20 or younger, you're probably going to be pissed off by this review and condemn me for sneering at original young talent. Thus, ignore this and just check out Rupture's bandcamp page.*

Despite my better judgment, and every adult bone in my body (yes, there are some), this is a fun listen. If you're in your mid-20s, consider yourself an ex-punk, yet still love getting drunk to aural ignorance like American Nightmare, you know what I mean. Somewhere around 21, healthy people are supposed to outgrow the sort of bratty, immature noise represented by Ruptures. Healthy is the last adjective anyone would use to describe me or my dirtbag friends, though. Speaking of immature, Ruptures even includes the sort of instrumental bridge ("Rice") that Bane used to good effect on It All Comes Down to This. There's something about snippets of acoustic guitar that add more dignity to hardcore records than they otherwise would (should) have.

I was getting blackout drunk with a friend awhile ago and he was bemoaning the lack of top notch ignorant HC these days. He's right. Most bands are so fixated on sounding like [fill in the blank of a DC/Swedish/Japanese/Italian/LA band ca. 1982 here] that they forgot that half the fun of hardcore is just turning the distortion up to 10 and going berserk in a puerile sorta way. Ruptures proves him wrong, however. If I didn't have braces and glasses, this is the sort of music I would crowdsurf to. Heavy, heavy, heavy guitar, frenetic drumming that hammers and hammers and hammers away at you, a screeching/yowling/dyspeptic singer and breakdowns so fucking colossal they might be part of the Great Wall of China. And the's damn near suffocating. Anyone as hopeless as Ruptures insists they are on "Lack" wouldn't be nearly as passionate as they are.

Whatever, though-sincerity is a vice of youth, and this is a genuinely fun hardcore album in an age I assumed was inimical to such a thing. It all comes down to this!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Love in vain: A Rembtika mix

 "Come back here when you've learned to sin"-paraphrase of Sam Phillips to Johnny Cash, 1950s.

When you're down and out and in the darkest recesses of alcohol-induced torpor, you'd do worse than to discover rembetika. What is rembetika, you ask? A short and highly simplified definition: A south Aegean genre that probably originated in the Ionian cities and Constantinople. It arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and blossomed in the Piraeus after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-23 and the Population Exchange of 1923. Musically, rembetika is an eastern Mediterranean phenomenon that I'm not technically knowledgeable enough to comment on. Lyrically, topics included love (and loss thereof), drugs, crime, and the dissolute lifestyle any reasonable person would have lived at the time, given the conditions (in Turkey, a terminally decaying Ottoman Empire and mutual atrocities after World War I culminating in this, and in Greece the Venizelos and Metaxas dictatorships, followed by a horrific Nazi occupation). The men and women that made rembetika lived fast, died young, and most of them only recorded 2 or 3 songs, at most, before vanishing in a haze of nargila and ouzo. That's a worse record than American blues musicians.

Speaking of which, if you love the American blues, these folks in the Aegean littoral were on the same page as Charley Patton and Skip James, at the same time. They were just getting wasted on hash and raki melo instead of whiskey and weed. The music, structurally, isn't similar. But the fierce joy in the face of suffering is. It's the sort of attitude that says to the world, "Yeah. You suck, you dealt me a shit hand. But so what? Life is beautiful, and I'm going to have as much fun as I can while I'm here, so pass the booze!"
Antonis Kostis (Αντώνης Κωστής) -a pseudonym for Kostis Vezos (Κωστής Βέζος) -was one of the baddest muthafuckas of this genre as far as I'm concerned. He recorded a handful of songs in the 1920s and '30s, including some Hawaiian slide guitar cuts that aren't as trite as you'd think. He died in 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Greece. Check out his music. 

I first heard examples of rembetika when I was much younger and didn't come 'round to it until recently, after a lot of disgusting living. Maybe the listening experience is different if you're Greek, but for me, these are songs of experience, in Blake's words. It's hard to like this music if you haven't lived in the world long enough to get dirty, shameful, filthy, sinful, and still come up loving life no matter what it throws in your face.

CHECK IT OUT.  I cobbled together this mix from various rembetika compilations. The most comprehensive collection is, undoubtedly, the Greek Music from the Underworld series. A fantastic single-volume introduction is the Cafe Rembetika LP. Mississippi Records' Bed of Pain compilation is, of course, out of print, but they also released a discography of Marika Papagika's recorded output, which you can buy here.

Track listing:
1. Νίκος Πουρπουράkης-The Offenders
2. Α. Κωστής -Τουμβελεkή
3. Στρατός Ραγιουμτζής -Minor Key Song from the Taverna
4. Σταυροσ Ρεμουνδχος -Μάνες Χιτζασκιάρ Πιρεοτικός
5. Ανεσθης Δαλγας -Καροτσιέρης (The Coachman)
6. Στεφαναυα Γ. Πενχεβυα-Σελσκα Ρατσχεντιτζα
7. Στελλάκης Περπινιαδχης-Μάγγες, Μου Συμοφορθίτε!
8. Ρόσα Εσκενάζι - in the Taverna with the "Laterna"
9. Cavadhias Popular Orchestra-Karsilamas Tekirdag
10. Γιοργιοσ Κατσαρός-[untitled]
11. Εφ. Ραγιουμιδζης-Σφουγγαραδχες ("The Sponge Divers")
12. Κ. Ρουκούνας -Μη Μου Λες βος Δεν Με Θελήσ ("Don't Say that You Don't Want me")
13. Ρένα Στάμου-Bed of Pain
14. Γιώργιος Τράkης-Τα μάγια στο πηγάδι

Greek-speaking/-reading readers, please let me know if I've made any glaring errors in this post. I did the best I could with transliterating the song titles and performers' names; if any of you can help me, get in touch.
I know that the last track, by Giorgios Trakis, isn't rembetika, strictly speaking, but it's beautiful and deserves a wider audience.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cruelster-demo CS (2012)

There's not much to say about this cassette, but it's all positive. The songs are laughably crude, and as so often with punk, that's a good thing. This sounds like 3 or 4 teenagers in a basement in the middle of nowhere playing what they think punk is supposed to sound like, with more enthusiasm than skill, and it's great. What it doesn't sound like is a bunch of nerds precisely combining different elements of [insert big-time punk band here] in order to get on the Chaos in Tejas bill.

Of course, I know nothing about Cruelster, but that's the image I'm goin' with. The guitar parts sound like they were cut and pasted together with the singer shout-singing over the bludgeoning rhythm section. It's the first punk tape I've heard in awhile that makes me wanna throw beer bottles at passing strangers and pick fights with my room mates. Especially with "Crisis in local government," which could very well be the best piss-take on UK Oi! I've heard in years.

So go get fucked to the mellifluous sound of Cruelster!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Michael Wohl-Moonfeeder/Songs of Impermanence 7" (2013)

 As the Valdarno heats up, a nocturnal lifestyle is becoming more and more appealing: the daytime here is so hot it's like walking into an oven when I go out to buy a beer, so the day's become night and nighttime, like Fogerty said, is the right time.

Just in time for the Tuscan summer comes this bit of spartan folk from Seattle. As on Wohl's 2012 demo, this is barebones, standalone guitar music. In many ways, the demo was a tribute  to the blues and Americana influences that Wohl proudly wears on his sleeve. These two songs, however, find him starting to work out his own idiom within that tradition. His playing is thoroughly indebted to Fahey, still, but "Moonfeeder" is more measured than Fahey's spry, even effusive, plucking. The guitar is almost melancholic at times, without being heavy-handed. Wohl ends the tune with a flourish of upbeat plucking, though; an overnight train journey and not an all-night bender, perhaps, is the setting.
"Song of Impermanence" sounds like a tighter, more coherent reworking of the loose, improvised "Melatonin Blues," my favorite tune from the 2012 demo. The piece is a bit of lonesome midnight solitude crafted in a jaunty form. Around 4:21 the song soars off into ethereal heights, closing on a note of perfect, spacy elegance.

The musos among my readers will enjoy this two-song EP for the masterful guitarwork. The rest of us can get into it for the mood. Either way, give this a spin next time it's 5 am and you're too wired to sleep. Also, the cover is gorgeous and it's fun staring at it when you're stoned stupid.

Physical copies of the EP will be available in August, stay tuned.