Monday, April 29, 2013

J.T. IV-Cosmic Lightning LP (~1980s//2008)

 "it's kinda hard to write a song/when you've been inside these walls so long...."

This one's personal for a lot of reasons. J.T. IV grew up in my general part of the Chicagoland area (Roger's Park and Evanston), seems to have been a perpetually (and partially voluntarily) marginal member of the Chicago punk scene, and his songs generally evoke a sense of being so fucking neurotic and out of it that they don't fit into any given context, no matter how much one wants to say "Velvet Underground tribute" or "proto-whatever".

One of the frustrating things about the age of digital everything is that chronology and genealogies of influence are totally skewed: Listening to J.T. IV's stuff in the early '10s, it's easy to say "Oh yeah this dude sounds like Pink Reason" or whatever, but he was blasting out a unique blend of garage punk and lonely downer ballads back when "Anarchy in the U.K." was still a novelty. It's hard to imagine these songs in their original context, but my guess is that it doesn't matter much, since I'm pretty sure J.T. (short for John Timmis IV, I think) was doomed to be a loner while alive and now, post-mortem.

That makes it all the more important to keep this guy's work available, even if the originals had almost no impact upon first release, and the Drag City comp is out of print. "I'm Waiting for the CTA" is, you guessed it, a goofy, localized rave up of the Velvets' famous tune. "Death Trip" isn't a cover, but it manages to almost match the Stooges song for hard-edged intensity and the nihilistic glee you get when blasting it. Between them, these two songs set the tone for this compilation: a quintessentially late-'70s mix of glam, hard rock, proto-punk, and sheer outsider weirdness that doesn't fit any of our categories. J.T.'s voice is frail and quavering on most of these songs-especially the beautiful "In the Can/Out of the Can" sequence and "One Fine Day with the Karma Man." On "In the Can," we get a view of life from inside a mental institution, from a guy who woulda known. It's not just a slice of dementia, though: J.T. IV eloquently communicates the experience of total isolation and frustration, of knowing your friends are out there and care about you but won't be in touch for awhile. The best couplet is "When I finally get outta here/I'm gonna buy me a bottle of whiskey and a case of beer!'

As with most of my favorite records, I could rant about this one for way too long. I'd like to expostulate on a wonderfully paradoxical verse like "there are sometimes when I feel good/and other times when I feel fine/but I wouldn't even know it/if I didn't feel bad sometimes" for several paragraphs.  In the interests of getting you fuckers to actually listen to this guy's work, though, I'll shut up. In my opinion, J.T. IV's songs are some of the best, underappreciated bits of outsider punk ever made and you should all listen to this. My boy over at In the Zen Arcade posted this back in 2011, but I'm guessing mediafire killed the link so this is a justified post. If you don't like this compilation you shouldn't be reading this blog: It's that simple.

Tripped over a junky in the hallway....
Then, go BEG DRAG CITY RECORDS to re-release this compilation. I would happily buy 50 copies of any re-pressing and give away 48 of them to friends for conversion purposes.

Punk double feature: The LTP/Skverna split & Bricks demo (2012, both)

Bricks plays heavy, bludgeon-like hardcore that smashes everything in its way much like a wrecking ball trying to clobber its way through the Great Wall of China. It ain't pretty, but it's violent and ugly, and that's most of what I look for in hardcore.

I didn't review this when it washed up in my review pile because I was mostly listening to OldSadBastardMusic like Leonard Cohen at the time. Now that spring has thawed out my inner punk geek, I dig this. Since I already panned Hoax once this week, I might as well do it again: Bricks is as heavy as Hoax without being so conscious of its own status as hardcore godheads, which makes this less self-conscious. The result is heavy, ugly hardcore that you can slam your way into oblivion to, without having to be the coolest kid in yr local scene. Throw this one on when you're so sick of Negative Approach that you can sing "Nothing" walking down the street, a cappella, in the June sunshine.

Get barbaric with Bricks over here.

Grindcore has never been my brand of noise. It always sounded like the noise J.R.R. Tolkien's orcs would make while marching off to war, and nothing else: nihilistic parody taken to its extreme. Far be it for me to deny anyone else their preferred type of aural annihilation, though. Especially when said annihilation is coming from Siberia, of all places.

In a frozen wasteland that used to be populated by future star humanitarians like the young Josef Stalin, grindcore might actually make sense. Enter The LTP and Skverna's split. The LTP deliver several tracks of heavy hardcore that verges into noise at times ("Love Music=hate people"); they also do a snazzy cover of "Fight Back." Skverna is blistering grindcore that I find impossible to assess as music. It's blastbeats, blastbeats, and more blastbeats, with an angry, frozen troll howling over the maelstrom. This is not my cup of tea by any stretch of the imagination, but that doesn't say much about it: if you like truly disgusting grindcore played by people who have a right to be as angry as most grindcore bands pretend to be, get this thing, pronto.

In noise we grind. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Makeout Creek-No Peace Forever EP (2012)

The Aussies have been carrying the torch for quality weirdo music in a big way lately: Royal Headache, Kitchen's Floor, Cured Pink, Meat Thump, Wonderfuls, Rat King, and now Makeout Creek. Dunno what it is about the Antipodes but whatever these fuckers have been drinking, someone oughta ship a case of it to the States, pronto!

Lester Bangs said in a Creem article back in ~1973 that, given the ossified nature of the music industry and fans' expectations of their heroes, the only places that were gonna produce any music worth a damn would be on the margins. I dunno shit about Australian culture but it's hard to get more isolated than the Land Down Under, geographically speaking anyway, and as far as I can tell it's done nuthin' but good for the music.

Anyways, Makeout Creek is firmly in the ultra-lofi tradition sketched out by brilliantly minimalist records like X (Australian, duh)'s "Live at the Civic, 1979" LP and Kitchen's Floor's Too Dead to Notice EP. If these chuckleheads didn't record live straight into a boombox, they did a good job of making a real studio sound like that. Sometimes that just sounds like coy affect, but on this EP it makes it that much more fun. The singer sounds like he's yelping to himself down in a fucking echo chamber somewhere under your mother's basement, the guitar thrashes along in its own idiosyncratically enjoyable groove, and I'm pretty sure the drummer only owns a hi-hat, snare drum and kick drum. Mo Tucker filtered through Beat Happening, dontchaknow.

I can't make out any of the lyrics except for scattered snippets, but I'm sure I'd agree with the charmingly snide commentary issued from abovesaid echo chamber. The songs sorta run together, granted. That can result in one of two conclusions: that the record is a muddlesome piecea shit, or that the band is going for a unified sound, and achieves it. It has a dirty, gutteral vibe that manages to avoid sounding contrived. That's quite the feat in this age of instant-access internet horseshit. Makeout Creek will be the soundtrack next time I decide to piss off my room mates with, and I quote, "that horrible American noise you love!" (I'm living in Italy so Anglo culture has a bloblike sameness to them, I think).

Listen to it! Then buy it!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Wound Up-s/t 7" (2004)

Wound Up was a short-lived Chicago hardcore band that played a handful of shows and recorded this 7” and an LP before disbanding in 2004. I’m guessing that virtually no one outside of the Chicago and Midwest hardcore scene remembers them, but for awhile there they were the toast of the town-or at least among us ~30 idiots who crowed into the DePaul Cheesgrater (locals only!) on Friday nights to see dumb hardcore shows. This may have had more to do with the personnel-the band was composed of members of other CHC bands whose names I can’t remember-but this 7” stands the test of time, for what it is.

Is it stupid? Yes. Crude? Of course. Retrogressive and atavistic? No shit. These qualities make the record so great. Jerky guitars that just barely hold together the general pattern sketched by the rhythm section; a singer that sounds like an emasculated Oscar the Grouch trying to sound like Springa; nonexistent production values: all of this in three songs, none of which last longer than a minute-forty. My favorite is “Fuck Fashion” because it’s so dumb. Back in the day-goin’ on ten years, now, in fact-everyone likened these guys to a non-racist Skrewdriver. I’ve never heard that bunch of fascist fucks, but this is crude, stupid, and fundamentally macho. Looking back, I don’t know why I was so enamoured of this band, but I guess it was one of those dumb “youhaddabetheah” things. Nevertheless, if you like American hardcore, you’ll like this.  It’s what Hoax might sound like if that band wasn’t so fucking self-conscious and stylized. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Yellow Spots-s/t LP (2013)

I'm pretty sure this one would make more sense if I spoke, or at least understood, Magyar. My guess is that Yellow Spots is absurdist anarchist rock theater in the grand tradition of bands like World/Inferno Friendship Society. Come to think of it, I haven't heard any other bands that sound like WIFS or Yellow Spots, so I guess it's more a feeling or state of mind that makes em equate the two. In fact the only thing the two bands have in common is that the have a brass section.

Whatever, Yellow Spots plays jaunty, up-beat music that sorta sounds like what'd happen if Jello Biafra took over a cabaret band after the audience is so fucked up on Sazeracs that it can't tell the difference. This would allow said band to slip in clever dissent in an otherwise downbeat sound. I don' tknow where I'm going with this metaphor (allegory? I flunked high school English), but there's a strong sense of the absurd running straight through this record. This is music meant to be played in public, preferably with a large audience. 90% of that audience is confused-tending-towards-hostile-tending-towards-calling-the-cops, 5% is amused and interested, and 5% is converted immediately. What that 5% will do with being so into Yellow Spots is really anyone's guess. I can't really wrap my head around music featuring so much brass (hence all the metaphors), but one thing I gotta say about Yellow Spots: if American punks had as much humor as this lot does, punk shows in the States might be worth going to as something other than a cult ritual.

Either way, you should check out Yellow Spots. I hafta repeat that this probably will make more sense if you're Hungarian and/or are familiar with Hungarian politics, but throw this fucker on when you're having a gin 'n' tonic party and maybe you'll get laid. Who knows.

Hang out with Yellow Spots over here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Psychic Blood-Drrrty 7" (2013)

A'ight kitty-cats, you got yr Black Flags, yr Sonic Youths, yr Huskers, Du or otherwise...but do you have Psychic Blood? Yeah, that's right, I ripped off Lester Bangs almost word for word, mutatis mutandis, there. Whatever, fuck you, with this release Psychic Blood should capture your eardrums if they haven't already and only let go once they've been dropped in a disgusting sewage pit of epic proportions. I'm thinking the Cloaca Maxima, but if yr not that grandiose then tunnels under Paris is just fine, too. We can't all be Romans, after all.

On this, their vinyl debut, Psychid Blood has really come into their own. That antiquated syntactical construction hides my declarative statement: This is the best Psychic Blood release yet. I still don't know what the hell these goofballs is talkin' 'bout vis-a-vis their band name, but holy hell is this 2-song EP a lotta fun! The opening notes of "Drrrty" had me thinking of some disgusting cross-fucking of Shoppers and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks but then it opens up onto the snide noise punk/stoner anger you've always associated this band with. Singerdude sounds as snide as any SoCal punk vocalist ca. 1981 (Tony Cadena, Dez Cadena, dude from Agent Orange, whatever), but the band is as heavy and offensively competent as a hairmetal band from L.A....well, ca. 1981. The point-and I may not have one-is that "Drrrty" is a fun song for getting wasted to. The bassline that opens "Bed Head" is so crudely sincere it coulda been stolen from Kitchen's Floor. But, again, the band belies the initial teaser: this is high-flyin', low-divin', disgustingly lewd gunkfuckrock for those of us who only screw when it can be done in a public toilet. Shrill guitar leads, snarled vocals, trembling bass lines. Get into it, shitbirds.

Buy the real deal over at Nerve Hold Records.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing-Eeling LP (2013)

This band has the worst name I've heard yet, in going on two years' worth of music blogging. It just sounds awkward: two gerunds in one band name? That's a little much. I'm not a nominalist, though, so heroic music critic (ha!) that I am, I'm willing to give everyone a fair spin before I change the soundtrack to Nino Rota.

Girls Pissing on Girls builds up impressionistic portraits of decrepit living, occasional outbursts of nightmarish action, and a barely-perceptible but pulsing rage beneath the static gloom. There's no forward momentum to these songs. They lumber along in an autistic sleep-walking nullnode procession, like someone who took too much Ambien and is stumbling around the hallways of their apartment at 5 am with the lights off.

The band is adept at sucking the listener into these freakish soundscapes, forcing one to keep listening even though the lumbering tension and lack of cathartic release winds you up something terrible. At the center of GPOGP (see? The name doesn't even make for a good acronym!)'s sound is the undynamic tension between the synthesizer and drumming: the synth is the canvas for the noisescapes sketched out by the rhythm(less) section and the harsh, flat intonations of the dual female-male vocalists. Best tune: "The Dance of Salome," which manages to maintain the eerie ambience of the previous few songs while making it almost warm. Fans of Swans will dig this; the LP also reminds me of Broken Water's majestically flawed Seaside and Semikrasky ropera.

Check out Eeling over at Tenzenmen Records. Then pick up a copy of it from the same peeps.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Get 'Em Tiger-s/t EP (2012/3)

 I don't really dig anthemic music these days, unless it's the Marseilles or Internationale. I dunno, there's something false about anthems in a society like ours in which the only communities most of us are part of are on the Interwebs (unless you consider indebtedness as constituting community). Anyway, I'm suspicious of rousing sing alongs, especially when they're earnest. All of which is to say that I haven't been paying much attention to music that reminds me of the Gainesville/Revolution Summer set.

Whatever, Get 'Em Tiger gives us two tracks of anthemic music I can actually groove to. Insofar as one can groove while sipping coffee with a splitting headache induced by bad wine. "Tigerlily" and "Stripes" are both good songs. The band's sound consists of  desultory guitar mixed at the same level as the march-step drumming, and a singer who declamates instead of singing. "Stripes" is a bit of a tease because you keep waiting for the tense guitar chords to explode into a flurry of hardcore or squalling noise, but it keeps marching along at the same pace. Reading the lyrics on the band's bandcamp page, I noted that they commit a cardinal sin: ending every line of their lyrics with periods. Full stops. I don't know where the fuck the practice of turning lyrics into truncated, declarative statements came from-probably the overly-earnest No Idea crew-but it's stupid. Lyrics are a form of verse-doggeral, usually, but still verse-and they're supposed to flow together. All you songwriters out there: don't put periods at the end of your lines unless what you're saying is as profound as Heraclitus' epigrams. And that's none of y'all, so if you print lyrics, don't use periods. Full stop.

If you dig Teen Suicide or Bad Liar you'll probably dig Get 'Em Tiger. Hang out with them, and buy the EP, here.

Look! Pond-CS (2005)

When I was younger, my friends and I enjoyed drinking 40 ounces of malt liquor and stealing bicycles. We finished off many a night by riding said bicycles into the lagoon and/or lake near our neighborhood and then smoking a blunt to commemorate our victory over fratboys and bike owners in general. Most of us were unemployed during this particular period, so owning a bike constituted a major strike against you in the adolescent class war being waged at the time. In print, this sounds childish, churlish, and any other manner of demeaning adjectives you can throw at it. It was. So fucking what?

Around the same time, Matt Kennedy of Kitchen's Floor fame and other n'er do-wells were recording this four-track bit of impotent rage out in the suburbs of Brisbane. It's a shame I wasn't on the Interwebs more back then 'cause this woulda been the perfect soundtrack to such inspired stupidity as described above. Mostly what I was listening to back then was a truly perverted mixture of Wu-Tang, Mars, and Bad Brains. Go figure.

What you get here is four tracks of sometimes-angry, mostly spiteful noise that always sounds a bit too intelligent and/or well-written to be the slice of hatred that it masquerades as. Of course, Matt went on to do Kitchen's Floor, which fleshes out a lot of the promise buried away beneath piles of synth goop and puerile anger here. But fuck it: these are four noise tracks I can happily blast at midnight while guzzling cheap red wine and feel completely happy with. Most noise I was listening to around 8 years ago ain't got that goin' for it.

Matt's such a nice guy he's posted the Look! Pond corpus for free download here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Shape Breaker-Eyes Wide LP (2013)

This washed up on my pile of submissions quite awhile ago and, with due apologies to the band for taking so long etc., this here is a fuckin' fun LP. Building on and progressing from the scuzz-fi-mired EP No Fun, Shape Breaker has carved out a warm, feedback-soaked little niche for themselves somewhere between the Stooges and MBV.

The former reference is due to the singer. He does a knockdown splendid job of sounding like Iggy at his soberest (is/was Iggy ever sober? The gods know). That means that he sounds like the lewd, crude, quite rude drunk leering at you as you feebly pass out in a puddle of your own puke on another wasted Saturday night. He only has the right to jeer at you because he's able to stand on two feet, and you, well, you're a feeble no-legged cripple at this particular moment.

Shape Breaker decided on a guitar sound for this LP, and followed it out to the absolute limit. Instrumentally, the record sounds like a mine shaft: it's all sorta the same, rocks 'n' dirts 'n' sounds like The Band in Heaven 'n' whatnot, but each level you bore into yields more weirdo enjoyment.

Holy hell, boppers, am I blasted outta my mind on this good Chianti red I've been guzzling like Night Train. So I'll sign off by demanding that you get yr ass over to Shape Breaker's bandcamp page and check this 'un out for yerselves.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sheepfarming in the Fucklands....

I'm still too much of a punk to pass Thatcher's death by without comment. I hated this woman long before I knew the details of her reign as Iron Chancellor (er, Lady...): Quashing the miners' strike. Starting a pointless little war in the Falklands that killed hundreds of Argentine peasants. Vicious class war against the poor, non-whites, and anyone who refused to subscribe to a mythologized, authoritarian view of British history. A successful campaign to push the British political spectrum so far to the right that Tony Blair won in the early '90s on a platform that wasn't much different from Thatcher's original platform in '79. Hopefully she's burning in hell with her good pal Ronnie. Together those fuckers and the oligarchs they fought so successfully for set the scene for the Second Gilded Age.

Anyway, in the early 1980s punk rock was still capable of speaking the truth about a given time and place, and I don't know of better testimony from the reality of Thatcher's England than British punk from about 1980-84. Crass exemplified that shrillest, most dogmatic but also fundamentally decent and humane response to Maggie's reign of terror. While the British press bombards us with tales of how great the Milk Snatcher was, tune into this classic bit of hysterical rage and don't believe the hype:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Rest in peace: Jason Molina, 1973-2013

I know I'm a few weeks behind on this one, but I just found out about Molina's death today and it's put a real damper on my night. I had just started listening to his music last month after a long break and was trying to find out what he's been doing lately...and then I found out. Secretly Canadian's site had mentioned awhile ago that he was trying to kick various bad habits, but I took that as a good sign. Guess not. Fuck.

For those of you not familiar with Jason Molina's work, he was a brilliant songwriter and guitarist who stumbled out of some beshitted Rust Belt town (somewhere in Ohio, I think) in the mid-'90s with his first project, Songs: Ohia. Since then he released a slew of records, sometimes under the S.O. moniker, sometimes as Magnolia Electric Co., sometimes solo. Magnolia Electric Co. was a great band, and I strongly urge you to check out their music-in particular, 2003's brilliant "Farewell Transmission," a wonderful piece of Neil Young-style, free range country-rock majesty. But it was his Songs: Ohia work that I always loved the best, and that's what I'll focus on here.

I first heard The Lioness around 2003/04, when I started working at a record store in Evanston, Illinois. I was probably whining about some girl I was in like with when my co-worker, who manfully suffered my puerile ravings for years, threw it on and said "nah man, this dude knows real heartbreak" or some such wisdom. I could rant and rave for several paragraphs about how much that album means to me, as well as Ghost Tropic. Instead, all I'll say is that even my acne-encrusted 17-year old self could recognize the genius of that LP: its beauty, its lush melancholy and baroque brooding. For my money it's one of the best LPs of the '00s, or any decade. Turn to it when your way gets dark, your girl/boyfriend leaves you, and there's miles to walk with only a bottle of whiskey to accompany you.

There's always a temptation when writing about the dead  to revel in romantic, maudlin purple prose. That's especially true when mourning someone whose art exuded as much personal torment as Molina's. That would be an insult to this guy. His music was humorous, fun, and brought a smile to my face as much as it was something I could drink myself to sleep with. Whatever personal problems Molina struggled with, his music never reveled in self-pity. At the risk of sounding overly familiar with someone I never met, Molina-from his music and the interviews I've read-seemed like a guy you could get quietly wasted with at your local dive bar, talking about Hank Williams or what it's like growing up in the Midwest.

Anyway. I'll sign off this obituary by posting the version of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" that Kevin Debroux did as a tribute to Brendan Annesley last year. There's no organic connection between the song, Kevin, Brendan, or Molina. Kevin and Molina, however, came out of a vaguely similar milieux (Siberian exodus excepted in Kevin's case): the Midwest independent music scene. That isn't an identifiable scene, but writing on another continent, thousands of miles from anyone familiar with the American Midwest, it feels like one. Also, Molina and Annesley have this in common: While dying too soon, they both did something beautiful and memorable with their time on earth. As nihilistic as I usually am, both Jason Molina and Brendan Annesley should be an inspiration and warning to all of you: an inspiration because of what they did; a warning, because you never know when you're gonna go (especially if your taste in booze and drugs runs as a strong as mine does).

Good night and good luck, Jason Molina.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Dicks-Dicks Hate Police 7" (1981[?])

I'm assuming most of you know this one, but if you don't, boyhowdy, bopper, are you in for a treat! Austin's Dicks, along with the Big Boys and MDC, formed the van guard of the States' queer punk scene. They woulda been a great band regardless of who these guys liked to sleep with, however: this 3-song EP is a blistering example of American punk in its prime.

The Dicks and Big Boys both went in for weirder, more durable sounds at a time when everyone else in the U.S. punk was trying, and failing, to sound like Bad Brains and/or Black Flag. Off-kilter guitar twang, Gary Floyd's deep, bluesy howl, and amusing commentary on this country's ills really set these guys apart. "Hate the Police" is a brilliant slice of disgusted analysis of a racist cop who's had a bad day; the guitar sets a slow burn lead that sounds more urgent than MDC ever could. "Lifetime Problems" ends with Floyd cackling maniacally and that goddam guitar squalls to match him. "All Night Fever" is my new favorite tune to start a bout of drinking to: a slender, sinuous bass line introduces a hammering beat that almost sounds funky. Any girls wanna dance to this? Well, I'm in Italy so how do I say that in Italian? Whatever.

LIFETIME PROBLEMS. Apparently the Dicks are alive and well and back together. Check 'em out if they're playing in a town near you.