Friday, July 22, 2011

The Ugly Beats - Motor! (Get Hip, 2010)

Austin, TX? I've never visited the city, but that doesn't mean I can't make assumptions about the place. For the friends I may or may not have from the Lone Star State, please take any generalizations with a sip of Shiner Bock and a forkful of juicy steak. If my perceptions on the quirky college town were 100% truthful, I'd be on the next Amtrak departing from the Bad Newz terminal. Off the train, here's what I noticed during my imagined trip. Barbecue beef brisket is consumed for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Every person you meet is in a band of some merit. The ratio of record stores to Walgreens locations is 15:1. All street signs are adorned with "Keep Austin Weird" bumper stickers. Every person you meet has taken a ride in one of Billy Gibbons' classic cars. There's a taping of "Austin City Limits" around the clock. Every person you meet has experienced one of Daniel Johnston's freakouts in the flesh. Police officers here are much friendlier than in other parts of the state. Every person you meet claims to have attended every SXSW Festival and whines about it being cooler when there was less hype. More than twenty must-see shows happen nightly. Girls wearing long dresses and multiple bracelets exclaim, "I bet you're wondering how someone can be a vegan in a state where beef is what's for dinner!" Every person you meet has a story about eating dinner at Roky Erickson's house and taking bong hits with him afterwards.

Dreams and glass pipes extinguished, The Ugly Beats REALLY are a prime cut of contemporary garage rock 'n' roll from the same butcher's rack as earlier Get Hip beef slabs like The Cynics, Sons Of Hercules, Stump Wizards, Steel Miners on down. A suit holding a snifter might accuse the menu that's the liner notes of being self-serving, but those who lament the closing of The Grate Steak in Nawfuck wish they could still cook their own meat. With dry rubs from the early Beatles, Byrds and a host of seasonings found on the Nuggets box set, TUB are a well-done hunk of heifer that's grilled to my satisfaction. "Through You" and "Bee Line" sear like the Lyres' Mono Mann at his most manic, courtesy of the uptempo, organ-driven beats and howling vocals. "Don't Go" tenderizes a la the Fab Four's "Love Me Do" with the same plea for affection, but the sweet intones of a female accompanist hasten the USDA stamp of approval. "All Comes Back" simmers in the jangle that Peter Buck borrowed from Roger McGuinn, while the voice liberally blends in the unique style of another REM member. "You'll Forget" is a regional take on an old Neil Diamond B-side recipe, and the heavier approach raises the temperature just a tad. "Funny Girl" brings Babs to mind in a titular sense, but her Noo Yawk ass ain't anywhere near the kitchen. Someone should check to see if Linda Ronstadt is back there. She's one hot pepper, and if there's one thing that Texas loves...

Oh, all taxi cabs in Austin are Cadillac Eldorado convertibles with "Hook 'em, Horns!" hood ornaments.

-Gunther 8544

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Star Spangles- Bazooka!!! (Capitol, 2003)

More than baseball, hot dogs and apple pie combined, procrastination is America's favorite pastime. Which is the reason why this review wasn't submitted to Dirty Sheets in time for a themed piece on Independence Day. On July 4, 2011, my lovable laughing stocks from Crab Town were defeathered by the Texas Rangers sans Cordell Walker, a Ball Park frank was replaced by a Chicken BLT with sweet potato fries at Ruby Tuesday and the usual sweet treat was benched in favor of several pieces of Ferrero Rocher candy. The digital vinyl spun on my Facecrack wall didn't necessarily uphold the Stars 'N' Stripes tradition, either. Kate Smith, Lee Greenwood and Bruce Springsteen? Those old standbys might've been on your flag-draped granpappy's phonograph, but I chose to blow out the candles on Old Glory's birthday cake with some lesser-heard gems that smear the same shades of red, white and blue frosting. If Lady Liberty holding her flaming torch symbolizes freedom, then her NYC homeboys The Dictators are emblematic of the freedom to rock 'n' roll. Name a band from China or Cuba. I sure as hell can't. Their version of "America The Beautiful" (from the Every Day Is Saturday odds 'n' ends collection) expresses its loyalty with brash vocals, loud guitars and skipped stanzas. At a shade under three minutes, it's also a tribute to the short attention spans of our nation's citizens. Salute! Formed on a military base in Europe, America proffered an overseas take on "California rock" thousands of miles away from The Golden State. Still, "Sandman" is "Top Gun" before Tom Cruise. Prominent mentions of aircraft ("All the planes have been grounded") and alcohol ("We ain't had no time to drink that beer") would be welcome in any at-ease watering hole from Oceana to Oceanside. American Heartbreak paid lip service to Finnish transplants Hanoi Rocks with a cool reading of "Rebel On The Run." Could you imagine Michael Monroe and the boys moving to North Korea instead of Los Angeles and releasing album after album of top-shelf glam rock? It's a good example of the "Great American Melting Pot" that's versed in the "Schoolhouse Rock" bit. Lastly, I selected another Noo Yawk group who might be one of the few to have graced the stages of Chicho's in Virginia Beach (on 9/10/01 -- think about that date for a minute) and the Ed Sullivan Theater.

I don't know what David Letterman does with all the CDs he gets from musical guests on his talk show, but I'd like to think The Star Spangles' Bazooka!!! was the soundtrack to more than one backstage soiree with several fresh-faced CBS interns. The juxtaposition of Johnny Thunders-like sleaze with Paul Westerberg's corn-fed sensibilities suggests that the Indiana-raised host kindly asked his tryster for permission to drop the Worldwide Pants. Faulty wiring is the thread to many a relationship. Via a measure to curb arson-laced arguments, "Which Of The Two Of Us Is Gonna Burn This House Down?" (Ain't that a mouthful, Dave?) is up to code with the Dalmatians and their handlers ("Because the best thing to do for fire prevention week/Is if me and you just not speak"). Moving to a different breed of dog, track 8's opening lines flame like Michael Bolton driving a jacked NYC ladder truck in reverse ("If we can't be lovers/We can't be friends"). Later lyrics are sure to strangle the poodle with a hose ("Maybe I'll call you if I need a meal/Maybe I'll ball you if I need a cheap steal"). Fueled by a Steve Jones-style guitar octane, "I Don't Wanna Be Crazy Anymore" pays at the pumps and confesses on a cat-clawed couch ("I'm public enemy in my hometown/Parents tell their kids not to say my name out loud"). Prescribed medications in effect, "The Party" favors a less toxic approach to having a good time ("Fill the beer can with Coca-Cola/Makes you feel like a rock 'n' roller"). In the right frame of mind to meet a possible better half, perhaps the appreciative "Angela" will be the one you get to know away from the stage ("She's got my posters up on the wall/She used a box of tacks to make sure it just don't fall/And when I stare into that space/I will always see her face").

Stay tuned for my Labor Day story. It should be ready by Halloween. Or Thanksgiving. Or Christmas.

-Gunther 8544

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Subhumans- Incorrect Thoughts (Friends Records, 1980)

When I think of all-time-great first wave punk bands that nobody ever talks about, the original Subhumans are among the first that come to mind. While the majority of punk rock fans are far more familiar with the later, vastly inferior U.K. Subhumans, it was the Canadian Subhumans that made some of the finest and most ferocious punk rock to come out of North America in the late 1970s. Respect!

Often compared to Vancouver’s other classic early punk group, D.O.A., The Subhumans were similar for good reason. Singer Brian “Wimpy-Roy” Goble and original drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery were in The Skulls with D.O.A. singer Joey Shithead. The Skulls then splintered into two bands. D.O.A. and The Subhumans frequently played shows together and shared passionately strong opinions on socio-political matters. If both bands sounded kind of the same, that was strictly a blessing to the punk world. What could be better than a great political-minded punk band from Vancouver? How about two great political-minded punk bands from Vancouver? And as in-your-face as Shithead and company were in espousing their world views in song, the boldly anarchistic Subhumans took it to another level entirely! Incorrect Thoughts, the band’s 1980 debut album, relentlessly attacks on musical and lyrical fronts from the first raging strains of “Big Picture” to the final note of that tender love ballad “Let’s Go Down to Hollywood (& Shoot People)”. This is angry, explosive music that goes for the kill and never lets up. If you took the righteous indignation of The Clash, multiplied it by 100, and set it aflame on a runaway train, you’d get the seething ferocity of “The Scheme” or “Death to the Sickoids” (the band’s debut single from ‘78, ragingly reprised here). In essence, this is hardcore punk before the term really existed. Yet because it’s some of earliest hardcore known to man, it’s got just as much in common with ‘77 punk rock as it does with ‘82 hardcore. Basically it’s rock n’ roll played louder, faster, and way more angrily than it ever had been played before, and in these blazing tunes you can hear an affinity for everyone from the Avengers to The Ramones.

Like D.O.A., the Subhumans were propelled by one of the hottest & tightest rhythm sections of their time. And although Montgomery (older brother of Chuck Biscuits) did leave the band in 1979, replacement drummer Jim Imagawa was no downgrade. Imagawa and bassist Gerry “Useless” Hannah set a breakneck pace on Incorrect Thoughts, while Mike “Normal” Graham unleashes a righteous blend of melodic leads and heavy, scorching guitar. On lead vocals, Goble atones for a lack of a traditionally good singing voice with passion, conviction, and the sheer force to move mountains. The man sounds flat-out pissed, and he’s got a lot to say! While the term “anarchist punk” would be sullied in the ensuing years by several generations of really awful bands, what you hear on Incorrect Thoughts is some of the best music ever. It’s aggressive and hard-hitting, no doubt, but at the same time you’re pumping your fist, singing along, and itching to get out there and wage war against the powers that be! Whether he’s railing against new wave rock (“The Scheme”), bully jocks (“Greaser Boy”), poser punks (“Dead at Birth”), brainless sheep (“Model of Stupidity”), the mass media (“Death to the Sickoids”), or the forces that oppress (“Big Picture”), he’s at 11+ on an anger scale of 1 to 10. And the band behind him is bringing it hard! It may strike some of us as odd that the new wave bands we music geeks now romanticize are the object of derision in “The Scheme” (Goble did most definitely not get The Knack!). But there’s just no denying that it’s one of the greatest punk rock songs of the early ‘80s.

“Big Picture” opens the album with a proverbial bang. Hot on its heels are the classic anthems “We‘re Alive” and “Firing Squad”. At that point a lesser band might have shot its wad. But The Subhumans are just getting started, and the action doesn’t really hit its peak until midway through the album. The all-time classic “Death to the Sickoids”, the furious call-to-arms “New Order”, the satirical & metal-tinged “Slave to My Dick”, and the melodic sing-along “Greaser Boy” are four of the best songs the band ever did. They spearhead the album’s inspired back half, which seems to be gaining momentum even as closing track “Let’s Go Down to Hollywood (& Shoot People)” eases off the gas pedal a tad. What a rush! If you need a musical recording to get you fired up, or if you’re in a foul mood and crave some good old angry punk rock, this is the album you want! If punk rock music is about saying “Fuck you!” via song, then this is one of the punkest records ever made.

If you were actually there to see The Subhumans circa 1980-81, what an experience that must have been! Those were wild times, with many shows literally culminating in riots. The band gigged throughout Western Canada and the U.S. West Coast, playing with kindred spirits the Dead Kennedys as well as Husker Du, Black Flag, Bad Brains, X, and Minor Threat. Even after Hannah and Graham left the band in 1981, reinforcements were brought in and a second album was recorded for release on SST Records. By the time it came out, however, Goble had left to play bass for D.O.A. and the Subhumans were no more. Hannah would gain notoriety in 1983 for his role in the bombings of an environmentally unfriendly hydroelectric substation on Vancouver Island and a missile manufacturing plant near Toronto. He served five years in prison. Dormant since 1982, The Subhumans reformed in 1995 with Hannah and Goble on board for a Canadian tour. And in 2005, the band reformed for the long haul with Graham back on guitar and SNFU’s Jon Card taking over on drums. They put out a new LP in 2006 and last year re-recorded Incorrect Thoughts in its entirety due to a contractual inability to re-release the original album. I have not heard the new version, Same Thoughts, Different Day. But come on: if you’re gonna get Incorrect Thoughts, accept no imitations. Find the original album! A classic of hardcore punk and one of the best punk LPs of the early ‘80s, period, it’s worth tracking down. And if you don’t feel bad about screwing the band out of royalties, the CD Presents reissue adds two bonus tracks and comes with quite the nice booklet. Talk about a moral dilemma!

-Josh Rutledge