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Wednesday, March 31, 2010


It's cleaner and more produced than any of their records, which is one reason why many Hüsker Dü fans have never fully embraced their second double album, Warehouse: Songs and Stories. Granted, Warehouse boasts a fuller production -- complete with multi-tracked guitars and vocal, various percussion techniques, and endless studio effects -- that would have seemed out of place a mere two years before its release. However, Flip Your Wig and Candy Apple Grey both suggested this full-fledged pop production, and it's to Hüsker Dü's credit that they never sound like they are selling out with Warehouse. What they do sound like is breaking up. Although there was a schism apparent between Bob Mould and Grant Hart on Candy Apple Grey, they don't even sound like they are writing for the same band on Warehouse. But the individual songs on the album are powerhouses in their own right, as both songwriters exhibit a continuing sense of experimentation -- Hart writes a sea shanty with "She Floated Away" and uses bubbling percussion on "Charity, Chastity, Prudence, and Hope," while Mould nearly arrives at power pop with "Could You Be the One?" and touches on singer/songwriter-styled folk-rock with "No Reservations." Warehouse doesn't have the single-minded sense of purpose or eccentric sprawl of Zen Arcade, but as a collection of songs, it's of the first order. Furthermore, its stylish production -- which makes pop concessions without abandoning a punk ethos -- pointed the way to the kind of "alternative" rock that dominated the mainstream in the early '90s. In all, it was a fine way for one of the most important bands of the '80s to call it a day.




Perhaps the most utopian aspect of the U.K. punk scene was that it offered creative, articulate young people the opportunity to express themselves, and to kick up an exuberantly noisy racket in the process. X-Ray Spex certainly came from this wing of the movement, the brainchild of two female schoolmates who re-christened themselves Poly Styrene and Lora Logic. X-Ray Spex was far from the only female-centered British punk act, but they were arguably the best, combining exuberant energy with a cohesive worldview courtesy of singer and songwriter Poly Styrene. As her nom de punk hinted, Styrene was obsessed with the artificiality she saw permeating Britain's consumer society, linking synthetic goods with a sort of processed, manufactured humanity. Styrene's frantic claustrophobia permeates the record, as she rails in her distinctively quavering yowl against the alienation she feels preventing her from discovering her true self. Germ Free Adolescents is tied together by Styrene's yearning to be free not only from demands for consumption, but from the insecurity corporate advertisers used to exploit their targets (especially in women) — in other words, to enjoy being real, imperfect, non-sterile humans living in a real, imperfect, non-Day-Glo world. Fortunately, the record is just as effective musically as it is conceptually. It's full of kick-out-the-jams rockers, with a few up-tempo thrashers and surprisingly atmospheric pieces mixed in; the raw, wailing saxophone of Rudi Thomson (who replaced Lora Logic early on) gives the band its true sonic signature.



Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Rather than try to capture their legendary on-stage energy in a studio, MC5 opted to record their first album during a live concert at their home base, Detroit's Grande Ballroom, and while some folks who were there have quibbled that Kick Out the Jams isn't the most accurate representation of the band's sound, it's certainly the best of the band's three original albums, and easily beats the many semiauthorized live recordings of MC5 that have emerged in recent years, if only for the clarity of Bruce Botnick's recording. From Brother J.C. Crawford's rabble-rousing introduction to the final wash on feedback on "Starship," Kick Out the Jams is one of the most powerfully energetic live albums ever made; Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith were a lethal combination on tightly interlocked guitars, bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis Thompson were as strong a rhythm section as Detroit ever produced, and Rob Tyner's vocals could actually match the soulful firepower of the musicians, no small accomplishment. Even on the relatively subdued numbers (such as the blues workout "Motor City Is Burning"), the band sound like they're locked in tight and cooking with gas, while the full-blown rockers (pretty much all of side one) are as gloriously thunderous as anything ever committed to tape; this is an album that refuses to be played quietly. For many years, Detroit was considered the High Energy Rock & Roll Capital of the World, and Kick Out the Jams provided all the evidence anyone might need for the city to hold onto the title.




The most immediately obvious aspect of the Gits' debut album, Frenching the Bully, is Mia Zapata's righteous, feminist-tinged punk rage. Her songs wind their way through tales of deception, insecurity, failed relationships, and hard drinking, while her hoarse, husky voice supports the combination of toughness and vulnerability projected in her lyrics. Even if Zapata's meanings are occasionally a bit obscure, and even if a few songs seem to lack adequate melodicism, Frenching the Bully is an invigorating piece of punk rock.



Sunday, March 28, 2010


It isn't hard to make the case for Patti Smith as a punk rock progenitor based on her debut album, which anticipated the new wave by a year or so: the simple, crudely played rock & roll, featuring Lenny Kaye's rudimentary guitar work, the anarchic spirit of Smith's vocals, and the emotional and imaginative nature of her lyrics — all prefigure the coming movement as it evolved on both sides of the Atlantic. Smith is a rock critic's dream, a poet as steeped in '60s garage rock as she is in French Symbolism; "Land" carries on from the Doors' "The End," marking her as a successor to Jim Morrison, while the borrowed choruses of "Gloria" and "Land of a Thousand Dances" are more in tune with the era of sampling than they were in the '70s. Producer John Cale respected Smith's primitivism in a way that later producers did not, and the loose, improvisatory song structures worked with her free verse to create something like a new spoken word/musical art form: Horses was a hybrid, the sound of a post-Beat poet, as she put it, "dancing around to the simple rock & roll song."

HORSES - 1975



Sometimes the worst tragedies can give rise to great things. Evil Stig is a side project formed after the murder (still unsolved) of the Gits singer Mia Zapata by the surviving band members and Joan Jett to raise money for a Seattle self-defense and support group for women called Home Alive. What began as a one-off gig as part of a series of Home Alive benefits held in Portland, Oregon, turned into a string of shows, songwriting collaborations and eventually this album. The material runs the gamut from Gits classics ("Second Skin," "Spear & Magic Helmet," and others) to Joan Jett tunes ("Activity Grrrl," "Got a Problem," and "Crimson and Clover") to an Evil Stig original entitled "Last to Know." There is also a song called "Whirlwind" that features Jett singing along to Mia's recorded voice, and though Jett's voice dominates, it's still a bit eerie. Jett does great justice to these songs and captures the fury and passion of Mia's lyrics as no one other than Mia herself could have.

EVIL STIG - 1995


Saturday, March 20, 2010

1.6 BAND

With 23 songs documenting the entire 1992-1994 recording history of N.Y.'s 1.6 Band, the aptly titled posthumous discography Broke Up is a nice package that documents an underrated hardcore force. Featuring everything from the group's initial demos to their final sessions, the group is a powerhouse of early hardcore styles reminiscent of much of the Revelation Records releases from around the same period. Singer Kevin Egen has a monstrous voice, and his style rarely shifts from straight screaming, but his vocal presence drives the music to some intense levels. The guitar lines drip with distorted metal riffs, giving an extra edge to the already brutal attack of 1.6, but the playing is actually pretty impressive in itself and makes the group sound like more than just an average hardcore act. There's even a bit of straight guitar shredding on a few tracks, which, though seemingly unnecessary, actually succeeds in adding some variety to the usual approach of constant screaming and shorter than usual track times. Broke Up is probably for hardcore enthusiasts only, but, for what it is, it is near the top of the field. The songs are consistent, the music is well recorded and energized, and there are some moments that are noticeably more creative than most of the band's peers. 1.6 Band isn't the first group mentioned when '90s hardcore comes up, but, after a few listens to this disc, it may seem like they deserve a little more credit than they've received.




With the exception of 1989's Hard Volume, Henry Rollins' solo profile had been relegated to the minor leagues following his departure from neo-punk stalwarts Black Flag. But with the 1992 release of The End of Silence, Rollins' first official effort for the burgeoning Imago label, everything changed, partly because The End of Silence was launched with the appropriate bells and whistles normally reserved for well-established acts. Rollins Band was paired with Andy Wallace, an established producer capable of bringing the Rollins vision to fruition, who intuitively placed the singer's voice at the forefront of the album's incendiary mix. The dead-on, ultra-separated, compact sound of The End of Silence went a long way toward broadening the singer's potential audience. Not only is the record a full-blown sonic assault, delivered with typical, deadpan Rollins honesty, it delivered in the songwriting department as well, making it the singer's most focused record to date. The first single, "Low Self Opinion," was bludgeoning and menacing, Rollins' visceral, introspective commentary taking no prisoners. On other songs like "Grip" and "What Do You Do" (which clocked in at just under seven and a half minutes), the singer furthered a vision that launched a hundred imitators. "Tearing," the record's excellent second single, was also a boon for the vocalist, benefiting from some substantial airtime on MTV Headbanger's Ball; it further cemented Rollins' profile with yet another audience: metalheads. Rollins released other solid records, but The End of Silence remains his best.



Sunday, March 14, 2010


Formed by brothers Ron and Scott Asheton (of The Stooges). The New Order was an American hard rock and proto-punk band. The band was based in Los Angeles and existed from early 1975 to October 1976. After the Stooges imploded in 1974, former Stooges lead guitarist Ron Asheton, forged a new band; ultimately acquiring MC5 drummer Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson, former Stooges bass player Jimmy Recca and former Stooges and future Iggy Pop keyboardist Scott Thurston.Victim of Circumstance, from 1989 Consists of 8 unreleased rehearsal recordings, and 4 bonus tracks.




In 1972, the Stooges were near the point of collapse when David Bowie's management team, MainMan, took a chance on the band at Bowie's behest. By this point, guitarist Ron Asheton and bassist Dave Alexander had been edged out of the picture, and James Williamson had signed on as Iggy's new guitar mangler; Asheton rejoined the band shortly before recording commenced on Raw Power, but was forced to play second fiddle to Williamson as bassist. By most accounts, tensions were high during the recording of Raw Power, and the album sounds like the work of a band on its last legs — though rather than grinding to a halt, Iggy & the Stooges appeared ready to explode like an ammunition dump. From a technical standpoint, Williamson was a more gifted guitar player than Asheton (not that that was ever the point), but his sheets of metallic fuzz were still more basic (and punishing) than what anyone was used to in 1973, while Ron Asheton played his bass like a weapon of revenge, and his brother Scott Asheton remained a powerhouse behind the drums. But the most remarkable change came from the singer; Raw Power revealed Iggy as a howling, smirking, lunatic genius. Whether quietly brooding ("Gimme Danger") or inviting the apocalypse ("Search and Destroy"), Iggy had never sounded quite so focused as he did here, and his lyrics displayed an intensity that was more than a bit disquieting. In many ways, almost all Raw Power has in common with the two Stooges albums that preceded it is its primal sound, but while the Stooges once sounded like the wildest (and weirdest) gang in town, Raw Power found them heavily armed and ready to destroy the world — that is, if they didn't destroy themselves first.

RAW POWER - 1973


Thursday, March 11, 2010


Wild in the Streets doesn't have the wild, appealingly offensive mixture of crude lyrics and frenetic riffs that made the Circle Jerks' debut, Group Sex, a minor hardcore classic, but there are enough tracks that nearly make the mark — including a tongue-in-cheek cover of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" and the title track, which is a version of the theme song to the '60s teen exploitation flick of the same name — to make it worthwhile for Orange County punk fanatics.




Based on its title, it's tempting to think of Life and Times as an autobiography, especially when armed with the knowledge that Bob Mould recorded this album while writing his actual autobiography (scheduled to hit stores in 2010). It's tempting, but not quite accurate, as this is less an orderly journey through the past than memories refracted through the prism of the present. Life and Times bears the unmistakable stamp of being latter-day Mould in how he consolidates his strengths, not embracing his electronica but not running away from it either, in how his writing has a casual, disarming frankness, particularly when recounting last night's sex on "Bad Blood Better." Still, there's no denying the reflective nature of Life and Times, how the past feeds the present in its subject and sounds, a description which suggests that this is a fragile, folky album, which isn't so — this is Mould's purest pop since Sugar, its ballads surging with grace and its muscular songs built on skyscraper hooks. As immediate as Life and Times isn't nearly as diamond-hard as Copper Blue, which is a great part of its appeal: it flows naturally, the music never pushes, it settles, comfortable in its own skin.



Sunday, March 7, 2010


If calling their fifteenth studio album The Latest doesn't exactly suggest enthusiasm on the part of Cheap Trick, keep in mind that the band has never shown much enthusiasm for album titles anyway, titling two albums after their band and one after their hometown of Rockford, IL. The Latest follows 2006's Rockford by three years and does indeed offer the latest spin on the band's classic power pop, flowing naturally from that quite excellent back-to-basics set, offering another collection of 13 guitar-heavy pop tunes. After the brief, ominous opener "Sleep Forever," a misleading slice of spacy, hazy, mood rock fades away, Cheap Trick tear into the overlooked Slade gem "When the Lights Are Out," suggesting that The Latest will be a high-octane rock-fest, but apart from a handful of other moments — including the raging "Sick Man of Europe" and the "Slow Down" revamp "California Girl" — a lot of the record consists of thick Beatlesque psychedelia, an appealing shift in tactics that makes this something a little bit different than yet another Cheap Trick record. That said, reinvention isn't the order of the day, staying true to the spirit of their classic '70s trilogy is, and the band acquits themselves admirably, turning out a tight, tuneful collection of proudly unfashionable power pop. And if the best song here is a cover of Slade's "When the Lights Are Out," well, it could be argued that the Move's "California Man" was the best song on Heaven Tonight, too.




Knocking the Skill Level is a volatile and immediately powerful blend of harder rock styles: musically, there are vague punk and hard rock touches in the angular indie guitar work, while the vocals and overall construction lean toward powerful and explosive emo structures. This blend is remarkably effective, and tends to sound bigger than most three-pieces would dare; through a series of well-constructed tracks, the band builds up frantic swells of sound, drifts down from them, and then returns to anthemic, punch-in-the-face riffing without ever seeming like they're trying too hard to be as powerful as they are. This very solid release will appeal to fans of driving rock, anywhere between Cap'n Jazz and Stanford Prison Experiment.



Monday, March 1, 2010


This 15-track discography of the mighty Merel features all of their recordings made during their existence from 1990-1994. Featuring a rhythm section who went on to help form New Jersey's brilliant Rye Coalition, Merel plays chaotic, abrasive, and quite loud experimental hardcore that separates itself from the norm with its unlikely musical creativity. Fierce vocals lead the way, and they are actually relatively understandable while still being quite aggressively screamed. The band toys with both straight-ahead hardcore and a much more explosive style comparable to a completely untamed Rye Coalition. The experimental tracks are culled mostly from the band's only full-length, while the earlier recordings show the more untamed but straightforward approach. Most of the material is extremely effective, but the eight tracks from the LP are what make this disc really worthwhile. Merel develops their hardcore with no boundaries, and wailing guitars along with unrestrained song structures push the music toward increasingly effective results. There are a few moments of purely forgettable and normally structured heavy tunes on the record, but the group knows where to add in a few extra touches that rescue tracks and in fact make them very noticeable. All in all, this record is a fitting memorial to a promising if not-so-well-known group, and their bearing on the music later made in Rye Coalition alone makes it a worthwhile disc.




The second full-length from Rye Coalition not only continues in the aggressively discordant style of their debut, but builds to an even higher plateau with new sounds directions and ideas. The opening pound of "The Prosthetic Aesthetic" is brutal but enveloping, and the chaotic sounds continue for the rest of the recording. With their second record the band finally seems comfortable and competent in the studio, and the resulting sounds are all over the map of charming musical atonality. The Shellac and even Fugazi influences still shine through, but the band is starting to sound more like a peer than an emulator on this LP; the songs are much more varied, and while the overall similarities of their powerful sound continue from track to track, each piece stands on its own. The Lipstick Game is a huge sounding rock record, and, on cuts like the title track, the group shows an outstanding grip on the science of writing loud rock tunes. There are changes, stops, and breakdowns all over the record, and these moments show Rye Coalition to be true innovators capable of doing whatever they want and somehow always pulling it off. Even the acoustic-tinged "Tangiers" and the instrumental closer "Through the Years" succeed, the second as a gorgeous soaring finale that avoids the band's usual in-your-face approach, and manages to prove their ability to write a subtle and still effective piece. Rye Coalition are still a raw rock force, and The Lipstick Game is their best release yet — it would be a shame for anyone interested in cutting edge (or just plain cutting) rock to miss out on it.