Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Exploited - Horror Epics

Year: 1985
Genre: UK Punk

Highlight Tracks: "No More Idols", "Don't Forget The Chaos", "Race Against Time"
Weak Tracks: "Down Below"

Horror Epics is a great album that doesn't get the credit it deserves. The Exploited have a very strong early catalog and this album at the extreme end of their heyday gets glossed over as their transition from punk to thrash. But that's not what it is. Horror Epics is a masterfully produced punk rock album; I know that seem like an oxymoron but hear me out.

First of all, musicianship has never been the Exploited's strong point. They've always done a passable job but their passion has always made up for their lack of skill. Not so on Horror Epics where they turn the traditional punk three chord progression on its head and focus on drums and bass like never before. This is by far the most musically mature album the Exploited ever generated.

Which gets me to the production of the album. The drums are mixed out of control on this album. Especially on the newly remastered edition. They are mixed way up front and almost eclipse the guitar as the star of the show. Take the title track and "Dangerous Visions" as exhibit A and B on that count your honors. When the drums aren't wrecking your world the bass steps up in the mix to destroy everything you know about punk rock bass playing. The two elements combine to make Horror Epics a rhythmic monster of an album.

That doesn't mean that the guitars or vocals are slouching. The guitars play like humming saw blades in a 2x4 factory from beginning to end. Maybe one could argue that they are tuned for metal over punk but to my ear it just comes across as a variation on the Exploited's original style rather than a departure from it. Wattie Buchan's vocals sound as howling pissed as ever. The one significant change to his vocal style on this album is that he occasionally steps back off the mic to let the music takeover for longer stretches than on previous albums. This raises the impact of his lyrics by spotlighting them and gives the musicians a chance to impress like never before.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Depeche Mode - Violator

Year: 1990
Genre: Post-Modern Underground

Highlight Tracks: "Enjoy The Silence", "Waiting For The Night", "Policy of Truth"

Does anyone remember Dave Kendall and his show Post-Modern MTV? It was aired on weeknights at 130am in the late 80's and early 90's and introduced a ton of great underground music to the nation. It was a reduced version of 120 Minutes which would air Sunday nights. Kendall was a dorky British bloke but he had wicked music taste. His show 120 Minutes would go on to become the launchpad for the 'alternative' music explosion after a few short years and he would be replaced as host by someone much grungier. While I have no problem with the grunge/alternative explosion, I always did prefer Post-Modern MTV because it never strayed from the music it covered and it went off the air rather than change with the times. Because of that it remains a perfect artifact for the music and time it represented.

I was introduced to a ton of bands on Post-Modern MTV and back in those pre-car-ownership, pre-internet days I had no access to genre resources like All Music Guide or even an underground record shop. So my solution when referring to these bands was to lump all them all together and call them 'post-modern underground'. A genre of my own devising that probably confused more people than it helped whenever I name-dropped it. After all these years I still consider the bands I found on that show to be in that special personalized genre. So since this is my music website, and I make the rules, I'm going to resurrect the genre name and use it first on this write-up.

I saw a Depeche Mode video on the first episode of Post-Modern MTV that I watched and then subsequently on just about every episode after. Kendall frigging loved Depeche Mode and soon after seeing his show so did I. To me they are the quintessential post-modern underground band.

Violator is a masterpiece of songcraft, electronic production, and atmosphere. In Depeche Mode lore it is rivaled only by Music for the Masses for best album. The two albums represent Depeche Mode at the height of their powers. Violator focuses on a minimalist electronic sound that is epic in its simplicity. Every electronic sound is isolated and amplified for maximum effect. This makes for a very clean sound that lets you really hear every single note. This is a success of the album that I think is often overlooked. The production zeros in on every note with laser clarity. There is never any noise or cross-chatter. Each note stands out and each note is perfect.

The production makes Violator one of the best electronic albums of all time. Building on this foundation of great, ground-breaking music the band then up the ante by injecting the album with a great emotional arc. Gore's lyrics and Gahan's vocals combine to take on the highs and lows of addiction, failed relationships, letting yourself down, hitting rock bottom, isolation, and fooling yourself into thinking you've worked through your problems. Emotionally it is a devastating album. But at the heart of it all you feel the narrator is a decent human being. The listener feels the narrator's pain and empathizes with him. The listener even roots for him to pull through his trials and tribulations. That kind of interaction with the listener makes Violator a phenomenal album experience.

Individually every song is extremely strong except for possibly "Blue Dress" which is necessary to wrap up the relationship sub-plot of the album but isn't really an exciting song in itself. What makes the other songs so excellent on their own is that each one is almost an archetype for the mood it represents. So if you want to feel the rush of the narrator's highs simply put on "World In My Eyes" or "Personal Jesus" and let fly. They make for great songs in the concert hall or the club. And if you're feeling vunerable, depressed, or strung-out then you are in luck because there are a plethora of songs here to comiserate with.

Finally "Enjoy The Silence" is one of the greatest songs ever written. It contains the emotional gamut of the album with a message of self-imposed isolation. It can be interpreted a hundred different ways but to me the song is really about knowing when you've got it good and getting the hell out while you still can. Reaching a moment of happiness or peace and escaping from the assault of society to preserve that moment for as long as you can.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Charlatans UK - Simpatico.

Year: 2006
Genre: Britpop

Highlight Tracks: "Blackened Blue Eyes", "City Of The Dead", "When The Lights Go Out In London"
Weak Tracks: "Glory Glory"

This is an extremely strong outing from britpop veterans (and my personal favs) The Charlatans UK. Over the course of their 18 year career they have never put out a weak album; not even when they were tinkering with their trademark sound. Simpatico. is definitely one of their tinker albums and it works swimmingly.

The album blasts out of the gate with the only traditional britpop numbers to be found here. "Blackened Blue Eyes" is a terrific Charlatans single that gets the listener bobbing along while Tim Burgess belts out lyrics that are dark and ambiguous. "NYC (There's No Need To Stop)" is a great late night sing-along anthem for the endless party that is the illusion of New York City.

With their two barn-burners out of the way the band slow it down for the rest of the album. This is the Charlatans like you've never heard them before. With a slower tempo the band explore their craft by building a series of songs that dazzle in their rhythm and sonics. The majority of the album falls somewhere between two-tone ska and The Clash in influence but never completely crosses the line into those previously perfected territories. The Charlatans walk a tight-rope between inspiration and imitation like seasoned acrobats by adding their own unique twist the whole time.

Simpatico. is a very atmospheric album but deceptively so. If you slightly modify the volume in the upward direction the album becomes a great foot-stomper with its deep bass lines and unstoppable percussion. This album has got cool rhythm to spare. The keyboards and piano playing are front and center once again but in the form of more direct piano compositions rather than as a rhythm instrument as on some of their previous albums.

Tim Burgess' vocals are pitch perfect on every track on Simpatico. He has always been a competent front man, but I think that on this album he has found a perfect middle-space between the many directions he has taken his vocal style over the years. Now as a slightly older performer he has the mastery to dip into each of those past styles when needed without letting any one eclipse his excellent natural singing voice.

"City of the Dead" is my favorite track on the album. The name is a nod to The Clash while it sounds like it would be right at home next to the Specials' "Ghost Town" or Madness' "Night Boat to Cairo". It is an incredibly different kind of song for The Charlatans to be playing but somehow they make it sound current and completely natural. It is the most exciting song on their best album in years.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Blondie - Autoamerican

Year: 1980
Genre: New Wave

Highlight Tracks: "Angels on the Balcony", "Do The Dark", "Rapture"
Weak Tracks: "Here's Looking At You", "Follow Me", "Faces"

This is an uneven album. A full quarter of its tracks end up on the "weak" list due to silly style choices. The rest of the album works but sounds like it is from a bunch of separate recording sessions with different producers and guest musicians. As an album I don't think it really works or flows. It sounds too confused.

It opens with the epic instrumental track " Europa" that makes you think you are settling in for a Blondie concept album. The track borders on musical science fiction. The disco-inflected "Live It Up" is a good track but brings the listener back to normal Blondie territory rather quickly. The illusion of a concept album is then completely shattered by the 1920's style of "Here's Looking At You"; an awful stylistic misstep that is only saved by Debbie Harry's unrelenting charisma.

The middle section is the album's saving grace. This strong core of five songs are classic Blondie and a joy to listen to. "The Tide is High" is one of Blondie's enduring hits with its Caribbean horns and lazy summer daze tempo. "Angels on the Balcony" opens with a weird Devo-esque prelude but then turns on the pop charm with its dreamy vocals and new wave instrumentation. I think this song is the best example of Blondie as a band on Autoamerican. "Go Through It" and "Do The Dark" are both strong Blondie toe-tappers that deserve to be spotlighted since they are usually lost to obscurity by being on one of their lesser albums. "Do The Dark" in particular should be resurrected to show all the Goldfrapp fans how it's really done.

"Rapture" is my favorite Blondie song. The music is crazy good and Debbie Harry's vocals and sex appeal are out of control. The song's first section alone would stand as one of Blondie's strongest offerings. The addition of the early hip-hop tribute on the song's tail-end is pure genius. It shows how tiny the NYC music world was back in the swirling chaos of the late 70's but also how fun it must have been. The lyrics of Debbie's "rap" are insane nonsense as she plays around with the 'new style' emerging from the NYC playground battles between the Sugar Hill Gang and The Furious Five. It is such a weird thing for this model-looking-but-punk-at-heart girl to do. It is even more bizarre that the song works so well. "Rapture" is a classic tune.

The four songs that close the album swing drastically from fun to atrocious. "Faces" and "Follow Me" are just terrible songs with Debbie Harry singing torch-style over snore-inducing music. Maybe these two songs are Blondie's nod to Broadway; if that's the case then there are some things that even my musically open mind can't stomach. "T-Birds" and "Walk Like Me" however are both decent new wave tunes that keep the album's second half from completely plunging into a self-indulgent audition for Cats.

Monday, June 18, 2007

African Head Charge - Great Vintage Volume I

Year: 1989
Genre: Dub

Highlight Tracks: "Beriberi", "Family Doctoring", "Hole in the Roof"

This first volume of Great Vintage collects the best tracks off the first two albums by African Head Charge (My Life In A Hole In The Ground and Environmental Studies). The series was produced by Adrian Sherwood for his On-U Sound record label.

Dub music is some of the best background music there is and the style of dub showcased on Sherwood's On-U Sound label is my favorite kind. Sherwood is an uber-producer who adds a spacey, electronic element to traditional dub to form a sort of industrial-dub. I have always felt that dub music is a direct ancestor of electronica and this African Head Charge volume provides a lot of evidence for that.

I don't know how dub musicians get the ideas for their music. Their music is almost alien in its use of bizarre sounds and super-complex percussion. The song structures are densely layered, with new elements being added in when you least expect them. All of these dub trademarks are reflected in trippy ambient electronica. The major difference is that the music here is being made organically rather than by machines. A fact that I find mind-blowing.

Through the use of production and recording tricks African Head Charge make drums, guitars, bass, and keyboards sound like instruments from another planet. Which is what I have always liked most about dub; the fact that it sounds so damn strange.

The two albums represented on this collection display two different aspects of African Head Charge.

The first seven songs sound a lot more cling-clang. Almost as if the music was being made with recycled junk. The pots and pans sound is enhanced by reverb mutated tribal chants and nature sounds filtered through blown boom-box speakers. A great example of what I mean is found on the track "Hole in the Roof" where rain sounds trickle over a percussive jam that sounds like it is coming from down the street while warbling buzzsaws echo over a faded-out horn section. The combined effect sounds like an orchestra made with broken instruments and yet somehow the song works beautifully.

The second seven songs benefit from much better production values and focus much more heavily on horns than the first batch did. The use of horns here ranges from traditional (almost slow ska) to the extremely bizarre. The genius of dub is what is done to alter trad instruments and what African Head Charge does with their horn section is incredible. Take for example the song "Beriberi" on which they apply an echo effect to the tail end of a repeated saxophone warble; it goes 0 to 60, from soothing to unsettling, in the blink of an eye. Another neat trick AHC pulls is cutting and looping distorted horns so that we only hear the tone-heavy middle of a horn blurt or the chopped off end of a trumpet blast being used to enhance the beat.

The press on African Head Charge usually focuses on their unique approach to percussion, which along with bass are the traditional centerpiece of dub music, but what makes them so exciting to me are the odd extra sounds they discover with their effect-laden horns and junk-pile instrumentation.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Satellite Eclectica DJ

For any readers in the Washington DC area - the above is a flyer for my DJ night with my partner Chris Diamond - it's tonight at Rock and Roll Hotel - come out and join us!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

OST - Desperate Hours - David Mansfield

Year: 1990
Genre: Original Soundtrack

Highlight Tracks: "Too Many Memories", "Albert Pursued", "The Chase"
Weak Tracks: "Dumping the Body"

I wish I had a scanner so I could show you the back cover of this album. The front cover is almost serene, a man in a suit standing in front of a nice house. Turn the case over (as most are want to do after putting a CD in) and you are met by the bloody image of actor David Morse standing in a stream as he is torn to shreds by hail of bullets. It is a startling contrast of images that matches the music as soon as the CD begins playing. Even if you have never seen the movie Desperate Hours, the music from it evokes tension and conflict.

The score is mostly comprised of a hard-working string section, eerie low-toned woodwinds, and a bombastic brass line. Each section of instruments serves a specific purpose. The strings come across as frantic; the villains on the run after a daring jailbreak. The woodwinds are the family that will eventually be taken hostage; a slightly sad theme for a broken home. The brass instruments are the action; exploding in your face they can't be ignored, much like our hero family can't ignore the gang of cons invading their home. Mansfield composes these elements to openly conflict when needed, but he also has them weave in and out of each other to create an atmosphere of menace through the majority of the piece.

While it is hard to separate the film's imagery from the music, the score plays as entertainment in itself. If you have never seen the movie the score is still a very dramatic listen. The score comes across as eerie and full of conflict. For the most part the focus on the woodwinds makes this a relaxing listen, but the expertly crafted layers of conflict could be a bit unsettling to some.

One element of the score that I really enjoy is that after the initial rounds of action early on the album, the score settles into the restrained conflict of its elements. By the end of the score (which is also the climax of the story) the composer chooses to focus on some of the quieter themes rather than blast the listener through the sofa. "Albert Pursued" is a great example of this, featuring drums prominently for the first time to add the element of an FBI SWAT team while maintaining a quiet atmosphere to lend magnitude and emotion to this two-bit thug's final moments.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Various Artists - DIY: The Modern World: UK Punk II (1977-78)

Year: 1993
Genre: UK Punk

NOTE: After I complete a run through of the alphabet each month I will cover a couple of miscellaneous categories. I will write-up one various artists compilation and one film soundtrack.

These days, with their massive box sets, Rhino is a major compilation label but back in the early 90's they put out mostly classical music. They were just getting started dipping their toes into the modern music compilation game. The DIY series was one of their first. It focused on the geographic centers of street level rock music of the 70's and 80's. I love this series because it is great source material for the classic LA/NY/UK punk arguments.

This is the second of two entries in the series that highlights punk from the UK. For those familiar with UK punk there aren't a lot of surprises here other than what bands were left out because of licensing costs. However, the exclusion of some of the genre heavy-weights (like The Clash and The Damned) left room for the inclusion of some of the scene's smaller acts (like The Rezillos or 999). This creates an unusual track list that makes this compilation a fun listen for both punk neophytes and seasoned scene veterans.

This particular entry in the DIY series revisits the UK punk scene by focusing on some of the fringe acts and finds the scene about to split into various subgenres. The beginnings of the Oi!, post-punk, and gothic movements are all hinted at here by the inclusion of acts like Sham 69, Magazine, and Siouxsie & The Banshees among others. There are plenty of classic punk rockers here as well with some staples by The Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Jam. This is a very well balanced mix of music that shows at least some thought was put into the song order (unlike some other punk compilations).

While my unabashed worship of the music here makes it impossible for me to pick out just a handful of highlight tracks - one real highlight I can point out is the compilation's excellent liner notes. The text follows the second half of 70's UK punk by briefly introducing each band and explaining their place in the punk universe. The text is accompanied by some great B&W photos of the bands in their prime.

For the uninitiated DIY: The Modern World is a great (if slightly skewed) introduction to this amazing music scene. For old hands like myself it makes for a really fun playlist of punk favorites that is better than your run-of-the-mill compilation.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Zen Guerrilla - Trance States In Tongues

Year: 1999
Genre: Noise Rock

Highlight Tracks: "Mod Riot", "Heart Attack", "Preacher's Promise"
Weak Tracks: N/A

As far as I know these guys are the best band to ever come out of the state of Delaware. Yeah, that's right, Delaware. Since when do kick ass rock bands come from Delaware? I mean, Delaware has got to be one of the most boring states in the union. Hell, they even joke about it in Wayne's World. Delaware is basically Pennsylvania's flaccid wang. The whole damn state is a narrow strip of flat farmland with a highway splitting it down the middle. Maybe this music was inspired by the mean streets of Wilmington, Delaware? I've been to Wilmington, the city is basically a bus station, a train station, and eighteen discount cigarette outlets. I can only guess that it was the very boring nature of their homeland that prompted Zen Guerrilla to form; with the mission of getting a record deal and getting the hell out of fucking Delaware. Or maybe it was to shake their sad little tax-free state out of the doldrums? This album could certainly do that.

Trance States in Tongues is a top to bottom rock and roll ass-kicker. This is a noisy, whiskey-soaked, dance on the table-tops party album. It sounds like an insane collision of late-60's garage punk, blues rock (the good kind), and stoner rock. Although I don't know that fans of any one of those genres would particularly enjoy it. This is a bizarre album that some folks will love from its first noisy 'lawn-mower' guitar ignition and others will resist to its final fade out.

If you stripped away all the album's weirdness it might sound fairly typical, but thankfully it is chock full of musical oddity that injects it with an irresistible charisma. The vocals howl at the moon through an array of effects that make it sound like they are echoing back to earth off of the cratered face of that celestial body. The singing never sounds like it is coming from inside the room, almost as if the lead singer is performing outside, drunk in the parking lot, while the band pound away indoors. The music is mixed really clean, even though the individual instruments are twanged, tuned and distorted to put a noisy spin on traditional rock song structure.

The collective sound Zen Guerrilla generates feels huge; like these guys should be rocking apart giant arenas. They go full-throttle on every track in a way that other noise rock bands often shy away from at times. Sometimes the production of other noise rock bands seems to acknowledge that the music is for a smaller audience. Not here. Even though I could never see Trance... appealing to a wide audience (its just too noisy and weird) the album rocks along completely oblivious to its obstacles. These guys just don't seem to give a damn about rock politics and they set out to cut an album for the ages. Which in my opinion they succeeded in doing. This album is one of my favorite rockers.

I just can't believe it came out of Delaware.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth

Year: 1980
Genre: Post-Punk

Highlight Tracks: "Searching for Mr. Right", "N.I.T.A.", "Music for Evenings"
Weak Tracks: "Colossal Youth"

So far 'O', 'Q', and now 'Y' have been the letters with least amount of albums in my collection. I had to dip into my vinyl collection to find a 'Y' band for today and I'm glad I did.

Colossal Youth is a terrific gem of post-punk minimalism from the formative days of the genre. Allison Statton's vocals are the bizarre focal point of this very odd album. Her delivery is almost deadpan but then every once in a while she teases us with a strain of emotion; usually longing or the suppression of longing. Her whole vocal effect brings to mind an attractive woman who has become numb to the relationship game but secretly hopes to have her inner-romantic swept away unexpectedly. It would be heart-breaking if not for the fact that there is also an inflection of fun in Statton's singing that keeps this album out of wrist-slashing territory.

The music that accompanies Statton's voice is an incredible array of minimalist keyboard and guitar tricks set to a drum machine. The music on this album could be printed instructions for post-punk instrument tuning. One of the things that set this album apart from the rest of the pack is the odd pacing of the bass and drum machine. Another is the space between notes. This album isn't crowded with squall, squelch, and noise. The band let their music breath (much like John Cale of The Velvet Underground did) so that each note stands out, highlighted like an escaping prisoner caught in front of the prison wall by a spotlight.

Both elements, voice and music, combine for quite an interesting effect. The album is very minimal and therefore a great relaxing listen. But the mood of it is chameleon-like in that it amplifies whatever mood the listener brings to it. The album can be extremely lonely and sad just as easily as it can be an uplifting and exhilarating musical experience.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

XPQ-21 - Destroy to Create

Year: 1999
Genre: Industrial - Synth

Highlight Tracks: "A Gothic Novel (Body)", "Monster", "Synthesizers"
Weak Tracks: N/A

Combining industrial synth style with classic techno beats Destroy to Create is a great album.

The industrial sounds and techno beats make this a very danceable album while at the same time the synth work here is beautiful enough to put this album on while chilling at home. If Underworld ever cut an industrial album it would probably sound like this. That is probably because Jeyenne, the mastermind behind XPQ-21, spent most of the 90's as a European techno god and he brings his bag of tricks from that genre along with him.

Jeyenne also brings a great vocal style. His german accent adds nicely to his range of dramatic vocals. He often shouts, growls, and mutters before busting out into full-on gothic crooning. Whenever a singer goes the goth route on an industrial album they walk a fine line between drama and farce. Thankfully Jeyenne pulls it off nicely on Destroy to Create.

On this album XPQ-21 is a duo rounded out by a woman called Nicque. When I saw XPQ-21 open for Funker Vogt in 2001 it seemed like she was the one handling all of the music while Jeyenne was singing. On this album I assume they share the programming duties.

The highlight of the album is the programming; especially on the awesome instrumental track "Synthesizers" where XPQ-21 unleash an awe inspiring amount of keyboard and synth layers to bury the listener in sound. At other moments, such as on "Aog", the band slow the tempo down into Kraftwerk territory. The band sound like they are having so much fun on every track that really the entire album is a joy to listen to. The song "Monster" is itself a monster dance track that shows off a range of tempo and techno/industrial musicianship that makes your head spin. Meanwhile the album's single "A Gothic Novel (Body)" is a moody piece of synth brilliance being equal parts atmospheric and danceable.

I really love this album. I'm not the biggest fan of the industrial synth movement but this album really works for me. Probably because it is so much fun to listen to. I often think I would like more industrial synth bands if they would lighten up a bit. Destroy to Create is by no means light fare, but its techno elements do make it more fun to party too than some of the genre's other albums. Where many industrial synth groups pull off fun and beauty on an occasional single or dance-floor hit, XPQ-21 managed to produce an entire album of well-crafted wonders.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

White Zombie - La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1

Year: 1992
Genre: Alt. Metal

Highlight Tracks: "Black Sunshine", "Thunder Kiss '65", "I Am Legend"
Weak Tracks: "Starface", "Warp Asylum"

Tired of the usual rummage sales and flea markets we went in search of something different. We heard about the Double Crossbones swap meet from a blind guy selling fake shrunken heads at the '66 yard sale. We followed his directions to the letter: wait til nightfall, drive down past the chicken factory, through the railway switch station, turn left on the dirt road after you pass the rusted out caboose on cinder blocks, drive until you reach a covered wood bridge, park, then walk across.

As we crossed the creaky wood bridge in deep darkness, I could hear small things climbing around on the roof and the sides of the bridge. From the far end of the bridge I could see the flicker of torches and I could hear faint music drifting in. As soon as we emerged on the other side somebody or something grabbed Sally. She screamed and I grabbed one of them. He was a hunched giant wearing a sickly, over-sized, paper-mache skull over his face. He hit me in the stomach with the torch he carried. I crumpled to the ground, wind knocked out of me, beating the flames out of my shirt. Another twisted giant in a straining Luchador mask dragged Sally through the mud by her hair. He carried a torch in his other hand. It cast light onto cages filled with all manner of bizarre mutant creatures and near-nude women wearing rags tattered with age. The skull-faced giant grabbed me by the back of my neck and swung me around. I lost sight of Sally as I was dragged around to face the Double Crossbones swap meet.

Imagine the largest flea market you have ever seen. Now imagine it stretching on for eternity. Tables of junk and sad souls selling from them as far as the eye can see. The horizon blotted out by card tables covered with cheap trash and decades old novelties. The massive used-junk hell was shrouded in gray mist and torches hung from poles to illuminate each table's junk. The skull-faced giant forced my face close to a table, compelling me to examine its wares.

The table was covered in gore: beating organs, shattered bones, curios fashioned out of small animal carcasses, Asian snuff videos, Nazi jewelry, and bottled fetuses in a variety of species (including human).

Each time I tried to turn my head away from the blood and the stink of the table the giant shoved my head back toward it. I looked up to see what manner of ghoul would be selling such horrible items and an empty lawn chair chair met my gaze. Confused I looked at some of the tables nearest me. Behind each sat one or more horrible visage, grinning with greed and desperation. I looked back to the empty chair in front of me. Was this meant to be my station?

Then I heard Sally scream somewhere in the distance. With this I slammed my head back into the skull giant's groin. I heard a crunch and the giant let me go. He crumpled into a 90 degree angle as I leapt to my feet and spun around seeking out Sally's scream.

When a voice commanding me to "Stop" emerged from the darkness. I turned to face the gaping mouth of the old covered bridge. Weird, green demon creatures crawled all over the bridge cover. And a tapping sound echoed from within. The skull giant recovered and grabbed me by both arms, I twisted but couldn't break free. The tapping sound got closer and more familiar.

With horror I looked to the nearest hanging torch. It was a shrunken head set aflame!

I looked back to the bridge just as the darkness parted. Out of the gloom walked the blind man; his cane tapping in front of him, a sack of shrunken heads slung over one shoulder, and a depraved smile on his face!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Veruca Salt - Eight Arms To Hold You

Year: 1997
Genre: Power Pop

Highlight Tracks: "One Last Time", "Benjamin", "Sound of the Bell"
Weak Tracks: "Awesome", "Shutterbug"

I have always felt that Veruca Salt were one of the 'sell-out argument' casualties of the early 90's (along with Jawbox). They were accused of just going indie to get cred after rapidly selling to a major label. As if these bands were part of some grand conspiracy with the major labels; where a major secretly agrees to sign a band but they both decide it would be a wise move to gather the indie scene's support by surreptitiously 'going indie' for a few months to a few years before announcing the deal officially. As if any of these hard-working bands are that devious. Give me a break. I am so glad that the world of music has moved beyond those inane, small-minded days (well it hasn't really, but at least that particular argument has become moot).

On Veruca Salt's first album they sounded a lot like an American version of Elastica and that was a very good thing. On this, their follow-up, they sound like a cross between Elastica and Courtney Love's hard-rocking Hole which (bad pun aside) is a pretty good thing too. The production here is straight-out of the mainstream grunge days, big loud arena guitars and a knee-slapping rhythm section. Sometimes the big-sound production detracts from the album's quieter moments. Such as on "Benjamin" which is a beautiful song but would be even better if it had been produced with a little instrumental subtlety.

On the other hand the production style makes sense since the majority of the album is totally rocking summer music. This is one for blaring from the boombox at the beach. It's an album that gets toes tapping and heads nodding. Which makes it a perfect little bit of pop music.

There aren't a lot of surprises on Eight Arms To Hold You but I don't know that I want any. The hit single "Volcano Girls" is essentially a sequel to their original single, "Seether" and while it rocks out it pretty much transmits to the listener that the band are staying within comfortable territory. Which lets us sit back to enjoy the ride for the rest of the album. Louise Post and Nina Gordon both deliver a great range of vocals swinging between near RRRiot Grrl intensity and beautiful siren song; a range that's displayed nicely on "One Last Time". My favorite song on the album is probably "Sound of the Bell" which features a weirdly haunting keyboard element that adds a new dimension to the band's sexy rock chick sound. Finally, "Earthcrosser" is an epic rock track regardless of the creators' gender. They slow it down on "Earthcrosser" and enter PJ Harvey territory with a little twanged-up guitar before the song gloriously swells up into the stratosphere.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Unsane - Blood Run

Year: 2005
Genre: Noise Rock

Highlight Tracks: "Make Them Prey", "D-Train", "Latch"
Weak Tracks" N/A

Entering in the release date for this entry I found myself almost typing 1995 out of habit. Blood Run is the new millenium return of noise rock stalwarts Unsane but the album feels and sounds like any one of their classic barn-burners from the height of the early 90's scene. Pretty much the only part of the Unsane trademark that has changed in the many years between their break-up and this 2005 reunion album is the amount of blood-splatter on the album cover.

I'm going to see Unsane in concert in a few weeks and after relistening to this album I can hardly wait. They are one of the only bands playing today that are still really cranking out the old-school noise rock sound. The music on Blood Run would almost feel retro if not for its richter-scale disturbing sound. Long guttural screams strain against a wall of teeth-gritting guitar while the rhythm section rumble like air-brakes on a semi seconds before collision.

The whole album experience is like listening to a bombing raid from under a pile of rubble. After a while the hum of the restrained guitars becomes an air raid siren. The bass thumps like slow-motion ack-ack guns while the drums pound like bursting flak. The vocal bombs scream from the heavens to explode on the buildings below. Finally the guitars open up like flames and consume everything in their path.