Friday, August 31, 2007

Experimental Audio Research - "Delta 6 (Hydroponic)"

So yeah, I went to the Spectrum show, it was two dudes playing drones on cheap portable synths, it ruled.

Kember's Experimental Audio Research (or E.A.R.) supergroup generated a bit of a buzz when it was first announced several years ago because of one of its members: reclusive icon Kevin Shields. Would this new band sound like some heretofore unimagined combination of Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine? Dreamy guitars playing one chord for ten minutes? Whispery vocals harmonising with mystical bellowings?

Actually, no. E.A.R. sound like Spectrum. Exactly what Shields and the others contribute is unclear. This particular track is one side of a ten-inch EP which was also the first release by Frank Kozik's impeccably curated (and dearly missed) Man's Ruin label. As you can see, not much difference between this and most of Kember's output, other than a bit more guitar than Spectrum. Don't know who's playing it, but it's nice.

Shields isn't on this one, by the way. Kevin Martin is. And some other guys.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Experimental Audio Research - "Delta 6 (Hydroponic)"

NOTE: Again, due to excessive track length, mp3 quality must be compromised slightly in order to get the file under the 10MB limit. If anyone knows of a better free online file storage place, I'm all ears, leave a link in the comments.

Also, as far as the purchase links go, I don't think this ever came out on CD, but all the tracks appear on the one linked above.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Spectrum - Songs For Owsley EP

Spectrum, people! Tonight at Brenda's! (q.v. previous post) So today I'll post some actual Spectrum tracks.

1997's Forever Alien was the last album on which Kember used the name Spectrum, at least until the new one (scroll down) comes out this fall. Alien is essentially 77 minutes of unadulterated Moog fetishism, which is great if you're in the right mood for it. Also, Pete Bassman from Spacemen 3 is in the band for this one, credited, as always, with "vibrations".

The album was preceded by the Songs for Owsley EP, a teaser of sorts that nominally contained five tracks from the album. (One of which, "Feels Like I'm Slipping Away", inexplicably appears at the end of side one and the start of side two. Identical versions.) I say nominally because the two posted here differ so completely from their corresponding album versions that one wonders if each can even be considered the same song. (Admittedly, "song" is kind of a subjective term here.)

I have no idea what Kember's going to play tonight, but if it's two solid hours of this shit I will be pretty psyched. Pun. In. Tended.

Incidentally, I have absolutely no recollection of when or where I purchased this record. Which is kind of fitting, I guess.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Spectrum - "Liquid Intentions" and "Sine Study #1"

NOTE: I'm pretty sure the CD is out of print, so no link for buying new, but I did try, and check this out; I'm certain it's not Kember doing all those weird muzak-y tribute albums, but who the fuck is it? Anybody know?

Also, believe it or not, the vinyl is still in print; that link above is to Birdman Records' online store; you have to scroll down to find Spectrum.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Spacemen 3 - "Starship/Revolution"

Spectrum is playing at Brenda's on Wednesday, so it's Sonic Boom week on the Shelf. Spectrum consists primarily of Pete Kember and whoever's playing with him that week. Kember got his start as half of the genius behind Spacemen 3 (the other being Spritualized's Jason Pierce), one of the greatest bands in the history of electrically amplified music and an obvious entry in the "Arguments For" column when debating the exstence of God.

If you're only familiar with the 3's often inspired but occasionally inconsistent studio albums, you really oughta take the time to seek out some of their live recordings; they were quite a different beast on stage. Whereas the albums skew more toward ambient experimental pieces like "Transparent Radiation", the live shows were pretty much all-out aural assaults with only an occasional brief interlude like "Lord Can You Hear Me?". "Suicide" is said to have sometimes lasted as much as 45 minutes, with the band simply taping down the keys of their keyboards and leaving the guitars right in front of the amps while they took a breather mid-song.

My copy of Live in Europe 1989 has an $11.98 price tag from the late, lamented Adult Crash, a terrific East Village record boutique that once stood in the space now occupied by the also-excellent Etherea. It's a bafflingly low price for Spacemen double-vinyl; I can't imagine finding this record for under $20 nowadays, particularly in New York. The recodings are taken from various shows in Germany, which is in some ways a shame; legend has it the Amsterdam shows were absolutely mind-melting. Wonder why.

I was torn as to whether to post "Starship", a cover of the MC5's cover of a Sun Ra tune, or "Revolution", a bad-ass one-chord raver with a rambling Kember sermon in the middle. "Starship" has the cooler riff, but it's shorter; what's the point of posting a live Spacemen 3 cut if it's under six minutes? So i'm posting both; they run together in the performance anyway.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Spacemen 3 - "Starship/Revolution" (live)

NOTE: Unfortunately, due to the track length, I had to use a slightly lower bitrate for the mp3, as my storage site won't take files larger than 10MB unless you pay extra. Also, that slight drop in volume at about 04:00 just after "Revolution" kicks in is on the original record as well. I suppose I could have tried to correct it in SoundForge, but if it's good enough for the Spacemen 3, it's good enough for you and me.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Weekend video(s): Garage Days Re-Re-Revisited

Yeah, so I've been slacking. And traveling. They're related. So blowout weekend video post today and then I'll get back to a regular schedule next week.

I got Metallica's Garage Days Re-Revisited on vinyl years ago on clearance from one of those mail-order record clubs for 99¢. Seriously. Well, plus shipping. But it was cheap, and it's worth a shitload on vinyl now.

I think it's my favourite Metallica record. I'm not saying it's their best, just my favourite. It's fun, it swings, the songs kick ass. I wanted to post videos of the originals of each song, and I found most of them.

Diamond Head - "Helpless"

Diamond Head are arguably the most revered of the NWOBHM bands; whether this is because or why Metallica have covered so many of their songs is up for debate. This performance is from some British TV show in 1980, and it's pretty awesome.

If nothing else, DH are champion headbangers. But as killer as this is, I think I prefer Metallica's version. It's just louder.

DH, incidentally, have a new album out. It came out about a month ago. I'm not kidding, click their website link above. I haven't heard it, so I can't vouch for it.

Holocaust - "The Small Hours"

Holocaust are basically cut from the same cloth as DH. They also may or may not still be playing (the "Latest News" page on their website was last updated in 2003). The rendition below is not great, but it's definitely them and it's original.

Not a great song overall, but I'd take the original over Metallica's rendition any day. The tempo just doesn't suit Metallica.

Interestingly, I found another video for this song that's fantastic, but was hesitant to post it because it may or may not actually be Holocaust (see the comments). But the performance and sound are far superior to the version posted above, and the cheap-ass trippy video effects are fantastic.

Killing Joke - "The Wait"

Metallica start mixing it up a little with this selection; rather than even more NWOBHM they chose an old cut by industrio-punk outfit Killing Joke who, like every other band covered on this EP, are still playing. KJ are best known for two songs: this one (because Metallica covered it) and "Eighties" (because Nirvana lifted the riff in "Come As You Are" from it).

The clip below is absolutely vicious, easily the best performance I found while putting this together. Also, check out Jaz Coleman's face paint.

No competition; this one destroys the Metallica version.

Budgie - "Crash Course in Brain Surgery"

First off, Budgie owns. You need to understand that. They're the oldest act on here by a long shot, and they're still rocking.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a performance of "Crash Course" anywhere, not even one taped at a recent show (which I was trying to avoid, but any port in a storm). So then I found a video for "Breadfan" (probably their most well-known song, and also covered by Metallica), but it's not a live performance. I wasn't sure at first, but when the acoustic guitar comes in in the middle it's pretty obvious. But what the hell, it's an awesome song and I can't find anything better, so here it is.

Does Burke Shelley sport Rock's Greatest Glasses? I think so.

Incidentally, I think Metallica's version of "Crash Course" wins by a nose. It's way heavier, and the way they nail those high sixteenth notes in the middle of each verse is the best moment on the entire EP. Which is not to say the original isn't terrific. Check out the lyrics, by the way, they're pretty weird.

So I found some videos of Metallica playing "Breadfan", and I suppose I could have posted one of those for comparison's sake, but none of them are as good, trust me. If I'm gonna link to a video of somebody covering "Breadfan", they can't be singing in English. Also, they have to be Japanese, play a face-melting guitar solo and shoot their video in black&white Super8. As it happens, we have a winner.

Oh, and if you're still bummed that I couldn't find the original, here's a video of actual brain surgery. It's really long, but if you skip ahead a little there's some pretty tasty shots of some dude's head cut open.

The Misfits - "Last Caress" and "Green Hell"

The only American band in the bunch, the Misfits are also the only band here who are arguably not still active. Oh, there's a band out there called the Misfits playing Misfits songs. But that band doesn't have Glenn Danzig. Let me conclude by saying that Michael Graves is a weak imitation of the real thing and Jerry Only is a fucking ass-monkey who needs to stop pissing on the legacy of one of the greatest bands of all time right now.

I found plenty of clips of "the Misfits" playing "Last Caress", but none of the Misfits. So I'm not posting any of that crap. Instead here's a clip of them playing "Astro Zombies" in 1982 that looks like utter chaos. Danzig doesn't even sing half the words, presumably because of the madness going on around him. This is one of those videos that makes me think about how lucky I am that someone shot it.

Any questions? By the way, this guy rules.

The Metallica versions, naturally, are completely inferior due to the fact that they lack Danzig. But they're a nice try none the less. Oh, and that riff they bust into at the very end of the record as the song fades out? Maiden.

See you on Monday.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Minutemen - "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs"

The career of the Minutemen is one of the primary reasons I wrongly believed back in 2000 that a Bush presidency might inspire some good music. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see how underground rock especially has become conservative, stagnant and boring.

But that's not the point here, I'm talking about the Minutemen. I think one of the coolest things about them, and I can't quite tell you how they do it, is the way they can yell strident political slogans without a hint of subtlety without ever sounding preachy. Whereas acts like Rage Against the Machine, Bad Religion or Fugazi often sound as though they're scolding their listeners, D. Boon still manages to come off like some friendly, well-read dude sitting next to you at the bar, even when he's issuing proclamations like

No no no to draft and war

U.S. out of El Salvador

Hardly poetry. But hey, it rhymes.

Mike Watt was always the bands resident lexicologist, and many of his lyrics deal with the deconstruction of language (check out esp. "Do You Want New Wave..." or "One Reporter's Opinion", for neither of which I can find lyrics posted anywhere). Here he attempts to declare his words "propaganda" with a sense of pride. These are my views, he says. I am experssing them through art in such a way that the music will distract you while the message slips through on a subliminal level. Hence, propaganda. Now pogo.

This is the version from Ballot Result, which I bought new probably ten years ago or so. The recording's a little fuzzy, but the performance more than makes up for it.

Buy it... on vinyl.
From my deck to you: The Minutemen - "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs"

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Minutemen - "Cut"

Not much to say about this one, just a sick tune.

I got Buzz or Howl recently. There were some songs I knew right away ("Little Man", "Gringo") and a few I didn't. "Cut" I didn't recognise. It's on Ballot Result, which I thought I knew backwards, but there's always something new to discover on that one. On further review the version on there doesn't really jump out.

This version's a killer, though. After the first minute I thought it was an instrumental, but they tacked on some lyrics at the end. But they're pretty inconsequential; this one's all about the riffs. An object lesson in just how many the 'Men could pack into a single two-minute song.

Got it from the SST store (which, once again, is down, hence other links below) in the same haul as Paranoid Time.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: The Minutemen - "Cut"

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Minutemen - "Sickles and Hammers"

The Minutemen, for as much as they evolved throughout the course of their career, were still (a) mad tight and (b) politically angry from day one. Look at this cut. It's an instrumental. It's just a killer riff, nothing more. So what do they title it? "Sickles and Hammers". Bad. Ass.

Trust me, if you didn't grow up during the cold war, there's no way to really make you understand how radical it was to ally oneself with the Soviets. It was one thing to be anti-Reagan (q.v. the Minutemen's "This Ain't No Picnic"), quite another to explicitly celebrate the enemy.

In hindsight, there was no real chance there would ever be a nuclear war, but at the time the threat was very real. There's just no way that anyone too young to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall can possibly understand just how anti-establishment a stance it was to write a song called "Sickles and Hammers".

Unless it was an anti-commies song. In which case forget everything I just said.

But still. This one's an instrumental, so I can assign them whichever side I please.

By the way, if you think you've heard this before, it's because Sebadoh covered it. It's the second track on III. Right after "The Freed Pig". You aging hipster, you.

Buy it... on vinyl

From my deck to you: The Minutemen - "Sickles and Hammers"

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Weekend video: Mr. Spock meets Dr. Know

I love mash-ups, I really do. Even when they suck. Even when they're completely devoid of ideas and originality. No matter how bad they are, they are always a product of someone taking the time to actively engage media, rather than passively consuming them. They are interacting with entertainment, responding to it, shaping it to fit their personal take on it then sharing that take with the world. And the world is free to take it or leave it. Wonderful.

I also love YouTube. I love it for a lot of reasons, but one of the best things about it is the treasures it unearths from the landfill of popular culture. Perhaps you've seen this monstrosity, which I'm not even going to waste enough space on your screen to embed here. If you don't feel like clicking, it's that Leonard Nimoy video where he sings about hobbits. Were it not for YouTube, I would have no idea it exists, let alone have seen it. But thanks to the Internet, my life is that much richer.

What's fascinating about it is the complete lack of discernible context. What the fuck does Leonard Nimoy have to do with Lord of the Rings? Why is he singing this? Whose idea was this? Why was this created? It's not just like staring at a car wreck, it's like staring at a wreck between a clown car and a truck shaped like a giant hot dog. Where the hell did the clowns come from? What are they doing on the Garden State Parkway?

I have no answers. I could have researched it, I suppose, but I don't care. Scratch that, I do care and I'd rather not know, it enhances the weirdness of it. Besides, the only reason I posted it was so you could see the raw materials for what follows.

This is one of the most hilarious video mash-ups I've come across so far, for several reasons:

  • the inconguity of the source materials; there's no irony in the juxtaposition of the music and the images, no cultural backstory; it's just ridiculous

  • brevity being the soul of wit, mash-ups, video or otherwise, are rarely funny beyond the two-minute mark; the length of this one contributes to the endless re-watchability

  • little attempt is made to synch things up perfectly; there's just enough convergence to suggest synching, but the creator clearly felt no need to overwork it; when you see that upside-down close-up of Nimoy's mug at the beginning of the vocals, you get the idea, and the lo-rez video quality takes care of the rest

Without further ado:

Incidentally, someone else made a mash-up using the audio from the Nimoy clip with clips from old Transformers cartoons: timely! Fun, and the lip-synching is almost eerily good, but you have to sit through that awful song with none of the Kroft-y visuals.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Soundgarden - "Mood for Trouble"

Soundgarden. Was on SST. Seriously.

The story I always heard was that A&M signed the band after their Sub Pop EPs, then licensed their first full-length to SST as a way of building indie cred (remember when that mattered?). What's amazing is that SST still has the rights.

SST's online store is a goldmine, but some of the best stuff is long gone: Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr and the Meat Puppets, to name three, have all had their catalogues picked up by other labels for re-issue. Negativland's albums are... not there anymore. But what's left is still some of the most crucial underground rock of the 80s: Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Descendents, Minutemen, all for $9 an album. Even Soundgarden.

I kind of liked this record when it came out because it was heavy and kind of weird, but I lost interest in the band when the follow-up stunk. The band hardly needed me, though, and went on to achieve world domination while my interest in "grunge" faded away. This track was one of my favourites on the album because it's fast. Most of the record is mid-tempo sludge, which is fine, but a change of pace never hurts. I learned how to play that intro when I was first learning guitar. It's only two chords, the strumming pattern is cool once you master it and it sounds menacing. Hell yeah.

Buy it... on vinyl (or, believe it or not, cassette).

From my deck to you: Soundgarden - "Mood for Trouble"

Not to keep pimping SST, but I just got an order of some Minutemen records from them, so next week's Minutemen week.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Bad Brains - "Re-Ignition"

If I could go back in time and see a vintage gig by any band whose peak occurred before I was old enough to go see shows, I'd pick the Bad Brains. Without needing so much as a moment to think about it. Their recorded legacy is frustratingly inconsistent, they shot themselves in the collective foot repeatedly throughout their career, and alienated almost everyone who ever helped or supported them. Despite this, when they were on they were, reportedly, really on. In Steven Blush's American Hardcore, everyone, and I mean everyone, interviewed for the book who saw the Brains on a good night recalls it as the best show they ever saw. Not one of the best, the best.

What was it about them that set them apart so completely from the competition? We can study the live albums and recent DVD, but anybody knows a recording can only capture so much of a great performance. Theory: coming from a jazz background, the Brains were head and shoulders above any other hardcore band as players; a tighter show is almost always a better show. That, along with one of the era's most iconic frontmen, put them over the top. But I'll never know for sure.

Recorded after several false starts, temporary breakups and legal troubles (legend has it H.R. recorded lead vocals for one track over the phone from jail), 1986's I Against I was something of a minor miracle. No one in their right mind close to the band from about 1984 on expected them to make another decent album, let alone a great one. I is not just a great album, it's groundbreaking. Rather than sticking with their old formula or busting out the interminable dub reggae jams that characterised many of their more ganja-soaked shows at the time, the Brains gave us one of the era's turning points in the breakdown of the barrier between hardcore and metal. The tempos are slower, the arrangements abrupt, the guitar lines sharp and bracing. The production's a little dated (What was it about the 80s that made people think that much reverb on the snare sounded good?), but it's still sounds pretty brutal. I picked this cut for no better reason than Goldie sampled it ("Temper, Temper", 1998); every track on the album is pretty equally killer.

Picked this up, believe it or not, brand new for ten bucks at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square just a couple months ago. I was there buying something else, spotted this one and decided on a whim to fill a long-standing hole in the collection. God bless SST.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Bad Brains - "Re-Ignition"

NOTE: This album is available on CD and vinyl from SST's online store, but when I tried to search for them I got a database error, so I posted the Amazon and GEMM links instead.