Saturday, June 30, 2007

Weekend video: Bongwater

New feature! If I stick with it, I'll try to post a new video every weekend.

Night Music was a late-night show on NBC in the late 80s that featured an incredible array of guests competing fitfully for the viewers' attention with host David Sanborn's mind-bending hair. If you've got Sonic Youth's first video comp, you've seen the clips of their appearance in which they perform "Silver Rocket" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog". Nowadays it seems like old hat to see Sonic Youth on a TV show, but at the time they were still indie and largely unknown, and their style of music seemed light years from its eventual mainstream acceptance.

But that's not even the most radical guest ever to appear. For your consideration: Bongwater. On network television. Covering Roky Erickson. With Screamin' Jay Hawkins (and he's a bad man so bug off). Being introduced by Bob Weir. Presumably you're starting to understand why this clip rules. I think this might be the most surreal in-studio performance I've ever seen on television. Why isn't this show on DVD yet?

I wasn't kidding about Sanborn's hair, was I? Airplane week starts Monday.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Guided By Voices - "Captain's Dead"

Which brings us back to the first full-length, the surprisingly good Devil Between My Toes. There's a bunch of good cuts on this one, but the closing one always grabbed me more than any other, possibly due to the way it reminds me of the Jefferson Airplane. Seriously.

Granted, the Airplane's rhythm section never sounded this relentless, nor did Jorma ever crank up his guitar to such Ramonesian buzzsaw levels. But hearing the close vocal harmonies and the oblique, vaguely anti-war lyrics, I can't help but think of the 'Plane's three lead vocalists warbling away at the Fillmore in, say, '68. The Airplane were rarely this brief after '67, either, but Pillow's pair of hits were both under three minutes.

I actually had the pleasure of hearing this song live once. I saw the Voices several times in their heyday, but I'm pretty sure this was a show at New York's late, lamented Tramps. Uncle Bob gave a brief, expository introduction during which he seemed to be warning the crowd that this was an old one they might not have heard, and the band launched into it. What a treat.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Guided By Voices - "Captain's Dead"

Which wraps up half a dozen Voices tracks in two weeks. And leads us to... the Airplane. Much to the chagrin of some of my college roommates, who had to listen to Baxter's way more than they wanted to back our younger days. But they don't read this.

I'll be out of town next week, so Airplane week starts 2 July.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Guided By Voices - "Long Distance Man"

Having heard and enjoyed GBV's first and third albums, when I finally obtained the Box I was surprised to find that their second full-length is absolutely awful. Sandbox is not only the worst record in the Box, it's the Voices' worst album of the pre-Cobra Verde years by a pretty clear shot. I didn't listen to it again before selecting a track for this post, I just picked the one good song I could remember.

And what a terrific song it is. The vocal harmonies, the heartbreaking melody: as John Madden might say, this is what classic GBV is all about. But believe me, this is the only song you need to hear from this album.

There's a sentimental element at work here as well. This song has always made me think of my dad, whose hobby is running marathons. Nothing beyond the title, of course; I have no idea what the rest of the lyrics are about. But that's enough for me. Happy father's day, pop.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Guided By Voices - "Long Distance Man"

Monday, June 18, 2007

Guided By Voices - "Navigating Flood Regions"

Once they achieved sudden underground fame after years of obscurity, Guided By Voices immediately reissued all of their pre-fame LPs (five!) as one comprehensive box, cleverly entitled Box. Thought the quality is spotty throughout, these remain a must for Pollard devotees.

When I was going through one of my obsessed-with-GBV phases sometime in the mid-90s, G— (my roommate at the time) picked up a couple of stray CDs from the Box, the first and third full-lengths. Such was the depth of my obsession that I was hooked on even these lesser efforts for a couple of weeks.

This cut is from the third, Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia. I was originally planning on posting "An Earful O' Wax" (a title which would later be recycled for an odd German-only compilation of tracks from the Box), which I recalled as a favourite for its incongruously blistering guitar solo. However, upon listening to it again I realised it was just a shitty song with a terrific coda. Instead I present this one. Like most Voices cuts from the pre-fame era, it's hardly a classic, but the infectiousness of the rhythm can't be denied.

I picked up the Box later that same year using the unspoken friend-of-employee discount at the legendary Mondo Kim's; thanks, G—.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Guided By Voices - "Navigating Flood Regions"

Friday, June 15, 2007

Guided By Voices - "Scalding Creek"

One of the things I always loved about the Voices was their perverse willingness to leave the most ridiculous flaws in their recordings. After generating some underground buzz for 1993's Vampire on Titus, anticipation was high for the next record. Bee Thousand had the potential to (and ultimately did) make the band underground superstars if they pulled it off. So when the guitar accidentally shut off during the heroic kick-in at the start of "Hardcore UFOs" due to, I don't know, a loose cable or something, did they start over and get a take without technical glitches? No, they kept it as is. And not only that, they made it the opening track on the album.

In the middle of the first verse of this track, from the Get Out of My Stations EP, a loud crash goes off that's louder than the rest of the track. It sounds like someone bumping into a combo amp with a reverb coil. Anyone who's ever owned a Peavey Bandit 112 will know exactly what I'm talking about. So what did they do? They made it the opening track. You can just imagine them pissing themselves laughing at it during mixdown. Then cracking yet another round of Buds. I wonder if any of them were so blotted that they were surprised to hear it when they listened to the 7" later on.

The other reason I'm posting it is, of course, because they mention drinking. As usual.

Another Other Music tag, this time only $3.99. Hardly a great bunch of songs, but they're always worth it when you love the band.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Guided By Voices - "Scalding Creek"

I'm gonna stick with GBV for another week. Starting Monday, I'll post a few gems from the early albums. The ones in the first box set. Seriously, how many bands can you name with a "first" box set? As opposed to their other box sets? Los Voces have at least four that I can think of. But next week'll be all from the first.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Guided By Voices - "Glow Boy Butlers"

Of course, the downside to being as prolific as Robert Pollard is that you get a hefty side of chaff with your wheat, exquisite though said wheat may be. Listening to these old 7"s again for this week's posts makes me realise just how many of them were duds overall.

Take 1993's Static Airplane Jive EP. Seven songs, three of them decent, four lousy, no real knockouts. The Other Music price tag says $8.99; thanks Bob. I can remember buying this; I think it was a reissue. At the time I was just buying everything with the GBV name on it.

This cut's a pretty good one. Strong (uncredited) work by the rhythm section, cool vocal melody. Check out that bass line!

More than anything else, posting these tracks is making me bummed that I've misplaced my copy of Fast Japanese Spin Cycle, my favourite of the 7" EPs from the glory days. Available, along with this one, on the Hardcore UFOs box.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Guided By Voices - "Glow Boy Butlers"

NOTE: The vinyl link above is not to a static page; it runs a live search on GEMM. When I posted it just now it returned a result of "(None found.)" If that happens, try again in a week or so.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Guided By Voices - "Mice Feel Nice"

The Tigerbomb EP was an exciting event for fans of Guided By Voices. Containing re-recorded versions of two tracks from that year's Alien Lanes full-length, it was a teaser announcing a new era for the Voices: no more 4-track. Here was the world's greatest rock n' roll band captured in a real recording studio, their awesome live power at last reproduced with a full, professional sound.

And it delivered, too; the version of "Game of Pricks" leaves Alien's version in the dust. Granted, the 4-track sound was never without its charm, but the prospect of the band trying a new and ambitious project was enough to make the die-hards salivate.

Buried at the end of side one was this lo-fi throwaway featuring, to my mind, one of Pollard's finest vocal performances. I can only assume this is a first-take improvisation; Pollard warbles away in no particular direction, spouting whatever non sequiturs pop into his head at the moment. I think it's the meaninglessness of the lyrics that make this track such a perfect showcase for Pollard's vocal powers. Even when he's just horsing around, the amount of passion he can convey is simply astounding. Listen to the way he holds back when the music shifts to a minor key, then goes all out again as it hits the root chord. As the song fades out you can hear that he's still singing, with no sign of letting up. I like to think this "song" is a snippet from somewhere within a ten-or-so-minute session during which he rambled away until the others got tired.

Of course, little did we know at the time that this track contained a harbinger of what would eventually spell the end of the band's classic line-up. It's right there in the credits on the back of the sleeve: "Doug Gillard–Guitar on 'Mice Feel Nice'". But then, nothing this great lasts forever, does it?

I didn't get this right when it came out because a roommate had it, but a couple years later I picked it up while living on my own and filling out the GBV section of the library. At one point after a few few moves it, along with a couple other GBV 7"s, turned up missing. I've never figured out where they could have gone. So I found a copy on-line to replace it. Of course, this and all the other 7"s have since been compiled on the Hardcore UFOs box. (Scroll down a bit through the "buy" link below.)

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Guided By Voices - "Mice Feel Nice (In My Room)"

Friday, June 8, 2007

HP Zinker - "Dancing Days"

Ending Zinker week on an appropriately mediocre note, And There Was Light was the record that sparked my recent Zinker kick. I came upon it during an all-too-brief trip to the Princeton Record Exchange. Having read about it, I knew it wasn't very good, but the $4.99 price tag tempted me mostly for archival purposes. Plus, it had an early version of "Sunshine".

I have yet to mention in either of the previous posts this week that HP Zinker happen to be the answer to the ultimate indie rock trivia question:

What band recorded the first ever releases on both Matador and Thrill Jockey Records?

That's right, the two labels that arguably defined 90s indie- and post-rock more than any others (American, at least) both set foot into this world via a humble Zinker platter. Perseverance, the parent album of Wednesday's track, was THRILL001. And Zinker's first EP was OLE001. So I kind of wanted the record for that reason more than any other.

It stinks, by the way. The whole thing was recorded with a drum machine (foreshadowing Platzgumer's post-Zinker career, perhaps), with which I have no problem in principle, but it just doesn't work for pseudo-epic rock songs. The version of "Sunshine" is particularly bad. Still, I wanted to post one track here just to talk about the record, so I'll go with this Led Zeppelin cover just for its mild weirdness factor. It's not half bad, really.

Interesting post-script to this whole saga: check out the list of past artists at Matador's website. Notice anyone missing? Their album is nowhere to be found in the online store, either. It's as though all traces of Zinker have been expunged from the Matador archives. Embarrassment over such an inauspicious beginnings? That was my first theory, but doesn't explain how the Demolition Doll Rods are still in evidence. I suppose one could always just ask Gerard about this.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: HP Zinker - "Dancing Days"

In conclusion: if you're interested in HP Zinker, Staying Loose has all their essential tracks, including the ones on Monday and Wednesday's posts. Starting price for a used CD copy on Amazon is $0.01, so dive right in.

Next week I'm doing Guided By Voices. Speaking of Matador's illustrious roster. I might even do two weeks on them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

HP Zinker - "Mysterious Girl"

Zinker principals Hans Platzgumer and Frank Puempel formed the band in New York after relocating from Austria. So in spite of their attempts to absorb as many U.S. indie rock influences as possible, they still have an intangibly European edge. Maybe it's the way the musicians tend to sound over-trained and the songs over-arranged.

Listen to "Mysterious Girl", one of their best and best-known songs. Check out the rhythm section's carefully synchronised little tricks during the chorus. Even as they do their best to sound like that magical cross between Urge Overkill and Dinosaur Jr of which we've all dreamt for so long, they still sound a little bit like the Scorpions.

Still, this remains a personal favourite, a lost gem of 90s indie rock, methinks.

Found this one new in the bins at Kim's. It wasn't a recent release at the time, so I really have no idea why they were stocking it. Hardly a classic. But not bad.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: HP Zinker - "Mysterious Girl"

Monday, June 4, 2007

HP Zinker - "Sunshine"

The first time I ever heard of HP Zinker was from an off-hand comment by Evan Dando in some "cheeky" interview in one inane British music mag or another. Asked whether he ever "shags" to his own records, Dando replied "Yes, to my AC/DC and my HP Zinker records." Yuk yuk.

I read their TPRG entry and was mildly intrigued, but didn't rush out to find anything. Several years later I came across Staying Loose: A Compilation in the bins at... Generation, maybe? I picked it up and found that it was about half good, with maybe three or four real stand-out cuts. In other words, par for the course for a band of Zinker's also-ran status. Why buy more?

Bands like Zinker present a strange sort of quandry for my collecting habit. They're not very good, but have a good sound and just enough good songs to make me think the next record I buy just might be that overlooked masterpiece that they may or may not have in them. So I keep buying their records (I'm up to five as of the pair I just had shipped to me from Italy last week), and none of them is a complete disaster, but I really don't need more than like, one. Maybe two.

Bands like that are murder on a compulsive collector because they wind up nudging potentially better as-yet-unheard bands out of the budget. Granted, the "unheard" aspect is no longer a factor in the age of digital music, but there are certainly plenty of classics I ought to have in the collection and don't. Like, I still don't have any Big Star records, but I have at least half a dozen by Steely Dan. And I mean don't get me wrong, the Dan's pretty good, but Aja and the first one are perfectly sufficient; do I really need Katy Lied? Becker and Fagen don't even like that one.

So anyway, I got on kind of a Zinker kick lately during which I decided that I don't have one of their very best songs on vinyl, and I ought to, and it was a single so I don't have to buy a whole album, all of which led to me mail-ordering a copy of said single from some record store in Italy for only about five bucks, although the shipping pushed it over ten. Stupid? Yes. But it's an awesome song. Check it out.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: HP Zinker - "Sunshine"

Friday, June 1, 2007

Dr. Dooom - "No Chorus"

I saved the best for last. Following a legal dispute with Automator over ownership of the name Dr. Octagon, Keith rechristened himself Dr. Dooom [sic] and unleashed First Come, First Served. Dr. Octagonecologyst is widely considered Keith's masterpiece, but this one remains my personal favourite. The beats (by Keith and KutMasta Kurt, billing themselves as the Diesel Truckers) are shit-hot and Keith is in top form, mowing down phony-ass MCs left and right. Even the artwork is hysterical. The album contains so many unstoppable cuts that I couldn't settle on just one, so here's two.

"No Chorus" remains one of the fiercest dis tracks I've ever heard, even though its target is hypothetical (I think). In just over two minutes, Kieth shreds some unnamed rapper's lyrics, flow, production, fan base, posse and stage show, even going so far as to offer constructive criticism of the mix-down ("...the vocals are too low..."). "You Live At Home With Your Mom" has one of my favourite titles, and marks the beginning of what would eventually grow into a full-fledged obsession for Keith: accusing other rappers of eaggerating their financial success (q.v. the Matthew LP). It also contains the lyric "It don't need to be the Fourth of July for your rectum to see fireworks," a uniquely disturbing threat.

There's really not much more I can say. Bought it new when it came out, I think at Other Music of all places. I'll just let Keith take it from here.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Dr. Dooom - "No Chorus" and "You Live At Home With Your Mom"

So I just got a couple (more) H.P. Zinker records in the mail this week and I think I need to post a few tracks. So far I've tried to keep some sort of continuity going, with one week leading into the next, but there's no way I can come up with a connection between Kool Keith and Zinker, so fuck it. Keith's something of an aesthetic cul-de-sac anyway, so why not just start over anywhere? Next week: H.P. Zinker week.