Wednesday, October 10, 2012

HEAP- Live At Arlene's Grocery (Rave On Records, 2008)

Usually, live albums aren't the best way to hear your favorite bands. The cliched "You had to be there!" line is often attached to any description regarding their merits. Generally, I agree with such reasoning. I'd much rather spin KISS' Dressed To Kill or Cheap Trick's In Color (And In Black And White) than subject myself to their respective Alive and Budokan concert clatter. Hell, a lot of the action on the discs was subsequently doctored up in the control room. Gene and Paul even had the chutzpah to include bonafide studio cuts on their "live" records! Make no mistake, I'm not saying that live albums are completely worthless. The "fast" version of Queen's "We Will Rock You" from Live Killers is the only way the song should be played, because it eliminates the annoying "Champions" part that plagues the second half. Yeah, yeah ... you won your Super/Gator/Toilet Bowl. Who gives a turd? Flush it down the pipe with a million other classic-rock crap formations. Don't think Bob Mould has ever heard Husker Du's posthumous The Living End CD, which was released more for Grant Hart and Greg Norton's benefit. I mean, it's an OK collection of Hu Du on various stages, but I haven't held the thing in over eight years. I'm more apt to grab Candy Apple Grey, New Day Rising or Everything Falls Apart. Oops, forgot to mention Land Speed Record. Well, I'll cite it here to reinforce my point concerning live albums. I buried that tuneless piece of tripe under the sands of Bonneville over two decades ago.

Since acquiring them several years back, HEAP's first two releases have been very close friends with my Magnavox CD player. Their fun, energetic, rock 'n' roll chops conjure up the veteran know-how of label mates The Reducers, the "Do the boob!" behavior of The Real Kids and the songwriting smarts of The Replacements. (With all those "Re-" band references, I'm surprised HEAP aren't known as REAP!) The studio slabs are plenty potent, but Live At Arlene's Grocery makes me want to return this review's first sentence for a refund. Recorded in December 2004 amongst their NYC faithful, HEAP deliver fourteen blows that punch just as hard in posterity as on that hot night. In addition to other comments on the fair species, "Women" contains a couplet ("'Cause every aging centerfold/Someone's grandma getting old") that could work as a tribute to the sadly missed Kitty Foxx. Martha Stewart gets chowdered on "Not A Good Thing" ("Filthy-rich, horse-faced queen/I don't read your magazine/Why you're living, I don't know/While I'm changing past your show"). "The Sober Life" examines the back-and-forth between staying straight and being shit-faced ("I'm not often mistaken/For a genius [on] Friday night"). Musical taste and a language barrier prevent one from getting to know the "Puerto Rican Girl" on the train ("The tragedy?/No habla espanol"). "Two Speeds" closes the show and commences the post-game by stating, "We're in the bar drinking. Bye."

The next time Born Loose return to Norfolk, I hope they bring HEAP along for the fun. I'm almost certain the Belmont House Of Smoke has Jameson's in stock.

-Gunther 8544

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Mongrolls - Truth Or Dare (Hideout Records, 2011)

From the wild woods of Middleboro, MA, a frustrated leader of a one-man band ixnays the high-priced position on a therapist's couch and confronts his demons in a more direct way.  Greg Mongroll chooses the punch of a sledgehammer over the pill of sedation on "Smash It," and the recorded evidence makes a strong case for leaving doctors and their obnoxiously displayed diplomas behind for good.  Archaic answering machines, tapped-out televisions, innocent Coke cans, useless tapes and a Feederz album (seriously?) are demolished beyond recognition and donated to the worst thrift store in Hell, Delaware.  To label "Smash It" as a Damned song sans adverb (or is "Up" an adjective in this case?) would be a somewhat inaccurate price tag, but there's plenty of good punk-junk in the tune's trunk.  New Englanders should appreciate the snot-covered trinkets modeled after The Queers' Wimpy era, while those flying their Union Jacks high would salute the lo-fi treasures recalling the best of Billy Childish and Eater.  Much like Teengenerate's "She's A Dumb," "Smash It" is poised for a sweet spot on an upcoming Dirty Sheets mixed CD.  Try to be gentle with it, Greg!

With utmost certainty, there ain't a goddamn thing delicate 'bout "I Tell You."  Suicide suggestions are delivered in a tone redolent of the angry Germanity put forth by punk Fuehrers PVC/Pack.  "Drunk Again," "I Don't Want Your Love" and "No Way" intoxicate at the BAC levels of Cincinnati lager legends The Slobs.  Yo, Shawn Abnoxious:  I don't invoke  that esteemed name lightly, so think on it before you scream "FOUL!"  Speaking of The Slobs, The Minds' "Night Drive" is the sort of swag they would've covered on a 45.  Haven't yet heard the original, but I will after tonight, mang.  Killer take, 'Rolls!  How do I own the Unnatural Axe tribute disc without possessing recordings from the group itself?  "Three Chord Rock" (reprised on Truth Or Dare) is an apt description of both UA and Greg's musical leanings.  Menace's "GLC" spits like "jealousy" when said aloud.  The Mongrolls' version should make pseudo-garage shits with four times the members and one-fortieth the talent feel exactly that way.

When Pussy Riot are released from a Russian prison, The Mongrolls should be the meat on a sandwich bill with Madonna. The concert could be held at the same arena where Rocky Balboa defeated Ivan Drago.  Maybe Greg can get a few attendees to cheer ... FOR HIM!!!

-Gunther 8544

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Psychedelic Furs- Talk Talk Talk (Columbia Records, 1981)

Every time I've ever tried to name the most underrated rock bands of all-time, The Psychedelic Furs have been one of the first groups to come to mind. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to think of a more underrated band, ever, than the Furs. It's not that the Furs have been completely forgotten. And I certainly can't say that they didn't sell a lot of records. But for the most part, I don't think people realize just how good this band was - especially in its early days. In an era in which so much incredible music was being made, The Furs were one of the most creative and unique bands going. They may be best known for their slicker new wave pop hits, but prior to that they made two of the greatest post-punk LPs of the early '80s. The second of the two makes my short list of desert island discs.

In contrast to the Furs' dense, brooding debut, Talk Talk Talk is a bundle of energy. It adds a brighter pop sensibility to the band's modernized fusion of Berlin-era Bowie and Roxy Music, and it's the one Psychedelic Furs album that clearly shows the group's punk roots. Compared to its predecessor, it's a far more accessible record. Yet it's no less of an artistic achievement. From start to finish, it's the finest collection of songs the Furs ever wrote. And Steve Lillywhite's large-scale production, which came off a bit "grandiose" in his work with U2, is a perfect fit for the Furs' crackling wall of sound. Spearheaded by Vince Ely's powerhouse drumming, Duncan Kilburn's ebullient saxophone, and John Ashton's textured guitar lines, Talk Talk Talk is as rocking as it is arty. And it is both, with a huge injection of '60s pop melody to boot. The influences at play are hard to miss, yet the Furs were a classic case of a band that borrowed certain elements and proceeded to "make them their own". Sure, there's a little bit of David Bowie in Richard Butler's vocals. But ultimately, no one in the world sounds like Richard Butler (although many have tried!). Gravelly-voiced and emotionally charged, he's an absolute force on Talk Talk Talk. This is an album chock full of classic tracks ("Pretty In Pink", "Into You Like A Train", "Mrs. Jones", "Dumb Waiters"), and it's hard to imagine any of them with a different singer. No doubt about it: Richard Butler is the man!

Talk Talk Talk would be the Psychedelic Furs' last album as a six-piece. With the departure of Kilburn and second guitarist Roger Morris, the band's sound was scaled back and gradually commercialized (their next album was produced by Todd Rundgren - talk about a dramatic change!). And while I'd classify all of the Furs' later records as good to very good, there's something truly special about their first two. Talk Talk Talk in particular is one of the seminal works of "alternative" rock. It's the perfect bridge between the band's arty beginnings and later pop success, and in a good way it brings together all the best qualities of early '80s new wave rock. If you mixed the sexy sophistication of Roxy Music with the sonic experimentation of Kraut rock and the "edginess" of punk, then somehow made it all appealing to the masses without sacrificing an ounce of artistry, that would be the Furs in their prime. I won't discourage anyone from going out and buying a quality Furs best-of collection. But this is one of those bands, like the Pretenders, where you really miss out if you pass on their best album. Save the greatest hits package for later. Talk Talk Talk is where you have to start with The Psychedelic Furs.

-Josh Rutledge

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Nine Pound Hammer- Hayseed Timebomb (Crypt Records, 1994)

I'd love to tell y'all cowpokes that this Kentucky-bred bunch of shitkickers coined their band after a reactionary tool used to drive Trent Reznor's industrial-lined nails nine feet into the ground.  Sure, you could rank Nine Pound Hammer alongside REO Speedealer and Jon Cougar Concentration Camp as hefty handles dumping fescue all over established artists.  The stupendous name, however, is lifted from an early country classic by the rather refined Merle Travis.  Because the fine folks in NPH were raised amongst agriculture, the twang in their bang comes across as naturally as sipping 'shine outside the general store.  Indeed, the amphetamine-laced readings of jukebox joints from Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Hank, Sr. split the toxic shots between reverent and ragged.  Early shows at dives like Great Scotts Depot in Lexington added cover tunes from the likes of Ramones, The Clash and Eddie Cochran to the raging repertoire.  Lest you think heavy metal gets the shaft, Ozzy Osbourne receives a dual citation in the band's own "Headbangin' Stockboy" ("I'm the 'Iron Man' of the produce aisle" and "Sharing SpaghettiOs with 'Mr. Crowley'").  Conversely, an American Eagle is defeathered in the absolutely scathing "Bye, Bye Glen Frey" (sic) ["Gonna get a gun/Shoot Glen Frey/Radio's playing/Reason why"].  Pile on terse comments on religion ("Jesus or Jack Daniel's/Fuck, it's all the same to me"), family relations ("He and his brother/Married the same girl/If you're still confused...") and pop culture ("Chuck Norris is her favorite movie star"), and Nine Pound Hammer sizzle the thick-cut bacon like a suvvern-fried Dictators or a displaced Devil Dogs.  If the producers of "My Name Is Earl" had been more in tune to good music, the Smokin' Taters! collection would've been blasting outta Mr. Hickey's beater.

For the Earl in all of us, Scott Luallen (vocals), Blaine Cartwright (guitar), Matt Bartholomy (bass) and Bill Waldron (drums) team up on Hayseed Timebomb and further their tongue-in-cheek tales of backwoods behavior.  "Shakey Puddin'" runs the going-after-girls gamut from fooling around with a sister's friend as a youngin' to pondering marriage and kids later in life.  'Tween those years, the "little cad" thumbs thru his father's Playboys and puts fingers on "Catholic girls (who) like to play along."  Two slices of "Fuck Pie" are filled with the respective fruits of inexperience ("Back when I was young and naive/I wore my influences on my sleeve/Preached from the safety of my bedroom floor") and wisdom ("One day, you're gonna see/That all the powers that be/Always make enough crosses to go around").  "Skin A Buck" emanates with the joint aromas of skunk piss and cheap brew.  While endlessly perched in a tree stand, the would-be Ted Nugent slips into the stranglehold of a camo-covered coma ("Last night while I was huntin'/I fell asleep and had a dream/That all the deer had rifles/An' they were comin' after me").  The two-fisted roughneck in the title track subsists on an anti-Dr. Oz diet of crank, pork rinds and cold beer.  Profits from the sale of his worn boots are used to line the pockets of one-eyed hookers.  "Outta The Way, Pigfuckers" steers the rusty F-150 towards an off-ramp leading to pastures away from Podunk ("With your Wal-Mart gossip and country-fried philosophy/Toothless witticisms about farm machinery").  Weary truckers "Stranded Outside Tater Knob" only have a "wax museum of dead 'Hee Haw' stars" and "fat girls stripping to Molly Hatchet songs" to decompress from long hauls.  The whorehouse that "used to give special rates before the Baptists burned it down" is greatly missed.

Fun fact:  I've never eaten pork rinds.  Maybe Burger King will soon serve them in their sundaes.  That's no less bonkers than the chain selling pulled BBQ sandwiches.  WTF?

-Gunther 8544

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ruts- The Crack (Virgin, 1979)

Out of all the punk bands to come out of England in the 1970s, Ruts in my opinion remain the most underappreciated. In fact, if I had to name the ten best U.K. punk bands ever, Ruts would easily make that star-studded list. Seriously, who was better? The Clash, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Damned? Sure. Generation X? Probably. X-Ray Spex? Okay. Adverts? Perhaps. But that’s about it. And eighth place all-time, amongst that kind of company, ain’t too shabby! If you like ‘70s U.K. punk rock and aren’t into Ruts, that situation needs to be rectified promptly.

Ruts probably arrived on the scene too late to garner the sort of accolades and mass popularity of The Clash, Pistols, et al. And tragically, they weren’t around long enough to grow their renown over time. But in their far-too-short existence, they did produce one of the great albums of early punk in their 1979 debut, The Crack. While Ruts’ blend of socially conscious punk and reggae merited comparisons to The Clash, they were far from copycats. In fact, Ruts had as distinct of a sound as any early punk group. Infusing a proto street-punk sound with the advanced instrumental prowess of arena rock and the chilling clang of post-punk, Ruts were a distinctive presence at a time when cookie cutter punk bands were the norm. If there was ever a missing link between Slaughter and the Dogs and Joy Division, Ruts were it! The Crack, while historically undervalued, was hardly a flop. It generated two Top 40 UK singles in “Babylon’s Burning” (#7) and “Something That I Said” (#29). And the album itself peaked at #16 on the UK charts.

The Crack kicks off with a bang. “Babylon’s Burning” is an anthem if there ever was one – as urgent and compelling as anything The Clash ever did. And you know I love The Clash! But it doesn’t take long to establish that this is no ordinary punk album. “Dope For Guns”, with its finessed guitar work and nimble bass lines, wouldn’t sound out of place on a mixed tape next to something off of Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp. And “S.U.S.” fully establishes the album’s tone - coming on with a slow, menacing guitar crunch, sophisticated rhythm parts, and a generally haunting feel. That vibe reaches its apex on the epic “It Was Cold”, an eerie slow-burn driven by hypnotic bass work, multi-textured guitars, and an unsettling vocal from Malcolm Owen. The musical chops on display throughout the album are pretty mind-blowing. Some of the instrumental parts on “You’re Just A” and “Savage Circle” will have you thinking you’re listening not to Ruts, but rather Rush! But never does the technical proficiency of the playing detract from the prevailing mood of the album. The Crack is a gritty, desperate affair, and even its “punkest” tracks (“Backbiter”, “I Ain’t Sofisticated”) will never be mistaken for generic three-chord thrash. And “Jah War” may be the best reggae song done by any punk band in the ‘70s.

A mere ten months after the release of The Crack, Malcolm Owen was dead. Although the surviving members carried on as the very respectable Ruts D.C., it was never the same. As incredible as Paul Fox, Dave Ruffy, and Segs Jennings were on their instruments, they had a special chemistry with Owen that could never be rekindled. It’s tempting to talk about what Ruts might have become – how they would have been the band to keep punk music going strong into the ‘80s. Surely they would have picked up the slack as The Clash began going to shit, right? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll never know. What we do know is that The Crack was one of the best albums of its time. There are a lot of legendary punk albums from the same era that don’t hold up nearly as well today. Check out The Crack. Bask in its greatness. What a band. What a fucking band!

-Josh Rutledge

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Crumbs - s/t (Lookout, 1997)

Earlier this year, Lookout Records (According to former boss Larry Livermore, the name was never intended to be written with an exclamation point) made the decision to cease operations. Though I'd paid scant attention to the imprint's later releases, it was still somewhat shocking to hear the news of Lookout's demise. Like Amphetamine Reptile, Junk, Pelado and others before it, so smothered another flame from what time has proven to be a productive '90s for likeminded labels. The first album I owned from Lookout was Screeching Weasel's Wiggle. A friend had picked up the disc for me as a belated birthday gift. The bratty vocals, cultural references and thoughtful lyrics laced their Chuck Taylors as tightly as the Ramones' most beloved pairs. Twenty years on (Where in the hell did the time go?), Wiggle remains one of the best punk rock platters of any era. In 1996, the same bud passed along a dubbed tape with The Mr. T Experience's Love Is Dead on side "B." (The Humpers' Positively Sick On 4th Street covered the front half!) Whereas the Weasel mostly fed on a 1-2-3-4 diet of Bowery-like blasts, MTX balanced their "Gabba Gabba Hey!" intake with the smoother hooks of power pop. I've got fond memories of Love Is Dead powering the cassette deck as my friend and I drove around aimlessly on Independence Day in search of a free cookout. We ended up at Kempsville Inn with a pitcher of Miller Lite (100% drank by yours truly), three plastic darts and an otherwise empty room. I'd dug The Queers' Killed By Death-compiled cuts like "At The Mall" and "I'm Useless" for a great while, but I only recently became a convert of their 'Mones-meets-Beach Boys proper catalog. With statements such as "Ursula Finally Has Tits" and "I Can't Stop Farting," 1993's Love Songs For The Retarded is a spirited celebration of eternal juvenile behavior. All of the aforementioned LPs are prime staples in the now-gone Lookout catalog. However, my favorite leather-jacketed lads from the label hail (Yeah, they're still making music!) from the decidedly non-rock outpost of Miami, F-L-A.

My first nibble on The Crumbs was on the shared space of a Stiff Pole Records 7-inch single with fellow Sunshine State roustabouts Pink Lincolns and Gotohells. "What Do They Know?" flew its Ramones flag high with a punchy patchwork stitched by snottiness and uptempo beats, but the threads of Aussie punk popes The Saints and '50s greaser rock also pledged allegiance. The Chris Bailey-esque snarl and the familiar Lower East Side trademarks shine their stripes even brighter on The Crumbs' self-titled effort. Around the time of the album's release, an Arizona trader sent me a tape containing a broadcast from the nearby college radio station. Finest moment from the mix? "Get On With My Kicks." Framed by some serious rock 'n' roll riffin', it's the tale of a reckless woman who's constantly on a first-name basis with trouble. She's got no qualms about dropping everything and hitting the road with a Clyde to her Bonnie in search of illicit substances. Indeed, the willing tag-along is "all shook up even more than Elvis allowed." "No Time" shares a title with a Saints song from (I'm) Stranded. Even with different lyrics, the feeling of being trapped by a Timex is most relative ("Are you stuck inside the classroom?/The teacher always putting you down/The bell never rings and the minutes go by too slow"). "Long Distance Luv" tracks a lonely heart beating strongly for a displaced crush made possible by the USPS ("I've only seen her once/She lives a thousand miles away/But every time I get a letter/In this world I wanna stay"). Descriptions of a modern "Shakespeare": "He got no money and he got no home/He got no place to go/He got no license, no degree/Got no PHD." Tasting toast with diet pills and raiding liquor cabinets satiate the cool kids who exhibit "All Style." "It's Gonna Take All The Time I Got" sets its broken Swatch on drunk o'clock ("Here comes a girl from another land/She said she saw me playing in a rock 'n' roll band/Turns out she's the daughter of this clingy place/Drinking without paying 'til I fell on my face").

So long, Lookout Records. I'll still keep my eyes on you.

-Gunther 8544

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Jellybricks- Soapopera (Rite-Off, 1999)

Planet Music (OK, it's been called fye for years, but I prefer to reference the place by its former name) in Virginia Beach produced some interesting finds in the 2-for-$3.00 bin last Sunday (1/22/2012). I'd seen Lava Love's Whole Lava Love in discounted piles for nearly a decade without taking it to the register. What an idiot move! The female-fronted jangle-pop rings as clear as any prior Mitch Easter production. Now that LL's other album is on my list, it'll probably never turn up at Planet again. Flop were spotlighted in the Northwest-themed "Hype" documentary, but I'm having trouble recalling their scene. (Side note: My friend Holly bought the film on VHS for a buck at said store in 2002) World Of Today is stuffed with the sort of crunchy guitar-pop favored by famed knob-tuner Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks/Young Fresh Fellows). Led by vocalist/guitarist Don Fleming (formerly of Norfolk's own Citizen 23!), Gumball spat out several discs agreeable to fans of peer groups Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. Super Tasty was the one I bit on BACK IN THE DAY (TM), but Revolution On Ice blows a bubble that's just as big. The prime artifact from the Planet visit, however, comes in the form of a wonderfully squishy slab based out of Harrisburg, PA.

Possessing the winning wordplay of early Elvis Costello, the sensitivity of Material Issue, the down-at-the-pub punch of The Figgs and the radio-friendliness of Matthew Sweet, The Jellybricks' Soapopera might've only cost me $1.50, but its true value is akin to a moon rock in NASA's display case. A manly man like Victor Newman would never have to seek female companionship at a laundromat, but a dollar-changer like the dude in the title track should Bounce at such an opportunity ("She got me through my color separation/Was this my chance to ask her out, or just idle conversation?"). Once hook-ups by the machines become painful routines, "Fingernails" might claw in the direction of that factory reconditioned washer/dryer combo at East Coast Appliance ("Mouth to mouth in sight/Nothing else seems right/Thirsting for this pain/Unwashable blood stain"). Clogged with lint from the dryer trap, "Speechless" requires a service call to restore sweet sentiments ("I love you when you're miles away/I'm speechless in your presence/I'll think about you twice a day, and smile through my sentence"). How many cups of Gain would it take to coat the loads of cynicism in "Martyrs"? ("You can beat yourself 'til you're black and blue/Maybe Elton John will sing for you") "Bone-crunching, blistering, bad-acid bowling for premature pregnant teenagers with no soul" crams the Kenmore by explicitly defining a "Prerequisite Rocker."

According to the message on the CD's back cover, "the music found here is an appropriate accompaniment for dancing, staring at the walls, light snacking and many other activities." It's time to place a clean pillow over my face, dream about that one woman with a fresh scent and play Soapopera at a volume exceeding a washer pumped by the blood of yearning hearts.

-Gunther 8544