ISSUE 14   WINTER 2002/2003
page 20 of 27



RECORD REVIEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"A tepid bog to sift through is the CD review section of any periodical, truly the lowest rung of writing. To read something poorly written about usually poor material that the very few care about is utter masochism. I could go on." -- Robert Dayton, from the previous page.

Thanks to everyone who sent records. I apologize if I didn't get to yours in this ish, it should definitely make it into the next one. Oh, and if I failed to provide a link to your label's website, e-mail me and I'll fix it up. -- L. Dolman


25 SUAVES: 1938 CD (BULB)
People, do not miss the 25 Suaves if they come to your town. I saw 'em like a year and a half ago in Chicago at the E. Bottle and it was hammer DOWN. It's a duo, Velocity Hopkins on guitar/vocals and DJ Party Girl on drums, but they still seemed every bit as heavy as, like, a five-person band, such as the MC5, whom I was reminded of by the crazed chug and Hopkins's exhortative vocal style. Listening to 1938, however, I am reminded of a different hard rock group: Motörhead. Literally every review I've seen of 1938 has said this, but I was thinking it too, before I read any of 'em.
      Thing is, the Suaves actually kind of leave the idea of Motörhead in the dust. For one, they aren't quite as dissipated, and besides it's like 15 years later, and this is the "Information Era," and time and progress tends to turn expression up a few notches. Most importantly, they aren't trying to act like long-hair speed-freak bikers from England in 1975, which is what most bands do when they want to rock like Motörhead. The Suaves are just themselves -- this is Michigan Rock. (But really, Hopkins’ double-tracked vocals sound a LOT like Lemmy's, and during the 3-month process of rewriting and editing this review -- not three months solid, but you'd be surprised -- I've read somewhere that the title of the album was derived when Hopkins "multiplied the title of Motörhead's album 1916 by 2." Just what I was saying about everything being turned up of a few notches these days.) (I know it's 3,832, but it works for me. And by the way, what is a notch?)
      Anyway, last paragraph: The press release claims that 1938 is "one of the most incredible hard rock albums of the past 30 years." This hyperbole is truth. The past 20 years anyway -- even AC/DC's best work was almost completely finished 23 years ago, in 1979, by which time good hard rock had gone almost completely punk/underground, and all the kids had was hair metal, nu metal, and grunge balladry. The Suaves are definitely punk/underground. In fact, this whole magazine always has been, but this is, simply, great hard rock. Again. Some of this stuff is almost huge like Andrew W.K. -- I think Hopkins is doing some multi-tracking here, even though he doesn't seem to need it live. (The difference is that the Suaves, like Motörhead and unlike W.K., use some minor thirds. That’s one of W.K.’s secrets, by the way, that the irony-worriers haven't noticed: he doesn’t use minor thirds.)


Is this just Neon Hunk before a name change, or a completely different band? I think it's just the same thing, except maybe slightly more punk-formal, with vocals you can understand the words of and somewhat less obtuse riffs. It's just a little more obvious where the songs are going than it is with the Hunk. They did have sonic power already in place, with more of a 'loud band' aesthetic than the Hunk, which startles in a few places. 11 songs on this veritable EP. Essential for the Hunk completist, of course. Crazy bubble gum colors abound on the vinyl and cover
. . . Liquid Death/Hello Pussy, your source for day-glo treats.

THE ALPHABET: When The Sun Calls Your Name…Or, Ghost World CD (NASHINAL)
Detroit band that I hadn't heard of before getting this in the mail. I'm listening to this immediately after listening to Atlanta’s Duke Fame (see review elsewhere), and it almost seems like the same genre, which might just be an obscure independent MOR rock. The band itself says, on their web site (see link), “This is the lo-fi psych masterpiece which was originally to be released by PopTones.”
       I don't know about lo-fi psych masterpiece, but it does have a lot more reverb everywhere and on everything than Duke Fame. That's kind of a sound coming from Detroit right now, this sort of Spector-laden psych/folk/rock reverb scene, which has nothing to do with the post-Gories & White Stripes sound in Detroit. I’m thinking specifically of Cary Loren’s Monster Island and Fred Thomas’s Saturday Looks Good To Me, and now John Nash's The Alphabet. Maybe Slumber Party sounds like this too, haven't heard 'em. The Alphabet's a little MOR but, I don't know, they're pretty good. (They look pretty good -- see below.)
       By the time its done, their album has a few standout tracks. I don't like the third track, "A Woman's Prison" -- its bouncy rhythm is surprisingly close to something like "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" by the Spin Doctors, and the lyric "When you're wet without a raincoat, I'll keep you dry with the umbrella of my love" is kinda eehhh. But then track four hits. It's the title track, and it's decidedly the best one so far, the first I would play on the radio/play for a friend. (Psych-rock songs with "Sun" in the title really are almost always good.)       
        And track six "Queen of Genocide" is just as good, starting immediately with the chorus, a lovely classic rock ballad hook that goes, "She sleeps alone on another plane/Fighting demons with her mind/Cleopatra at her side/In her nightime world/She's the Queen of Genocide." Bell-like sounds and background vocals hover above the basic reverb tunnel ballad. 'tsgood. And hey, I have a third song on here I really like called "GEE." I love the simple line that, sung twice, makes up the chorus: "She/was so sweet and good looking and nice to me." Good lyrics and singing throughout the song, with its 'young man brooding alone out on the city' plotline. And, the last song "Above the Clouds" is a short anthemic space-rock song (one line repeated over and over, I think "If you want you can live above the clouds.") I have an immediate distrust of this kind of thing, because there are so many pop bands these days who have someone just turn on a synth and paste it into the sound like it was a 'psychedelic' filter in Photoshop or something, but The Alphabet make it just searing enough and non-ironically triumphant enough to rise above.

AUM SHINRI KYO/SHOKO ASAHARA: Sounds of the Japanese Doomsday Cults 7-inch (FAITHWAYS INTERNATIONAL)
Side A is utterly innocuous pop muzak. The only thing not innocuous about it is that the performers are members of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, who released deadly sarin gas into the Tokyo subway at rush hour in 1992. 11 died and 5500 were hospitalized. Since that's not innocuous at all, there's a 7-inch of this innocuous music. It was always said that Charles Manson was a talented songwriter, and you do realize that the Beach Boys recorded one of his songs for an album, before he was arrested for murder, don't you? Side B is a little creepier, precisely because it's so damn cheerful -- the previously innocuous cheer starts to turn, well, nocuous. In fact, its so damn cheerful I wonder if 45 RPM is the wrong speed. Hmm. It's over now. Well, I probably won't listen to this again too soon, and I don't wanna be the guy at the next countercultural get-together going "no dude, listen to how extreme this is"....but it is a nice record, quality printing all around, including a booklet with a long and informative essay about the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, and it is kind of exciting that owning this record can get you in trouble in Japan, and probably in the U.S.A. too. I'm sure it would count as a 'red flag' in your average homeland security investigation, but you'll be cool because this 7-inch single was put out by a label called Faithways International, which just has to be a Christian record label, releasing this music as an educational warning message. Right?

THE BAND: Music From Big Pink LP (CAPITOL)
Contemporaries with but better than Bread. (See below.) Bread were one of the greatest soft rock bands ever, but The Band were one of the greatest soul bands ever, almost definitely the greatest white soul band ever. (Unless you count The Stones, I guess.)
      On the down side, this is the sound that John Hiatt mines today....what is that sound, some kind of thoughtful sports-bar ballad-rock?? Believe it or not, the root of that sound is The Band. I've known about The Band and loved their popular songs "The Weight" and "Up On Cripple Creek" since I was kid, but up until these days I'd actually spent more time listening to friggin John Hiatt albums! (Because of co-workers at a record store warehouse that would always spin his albums and bore me to tears.) As always, it's good to discover the roots. Standouts on here that I wasn't expecting (that is, songs beside "Tears of Rage" and "The Weight") are the nutty cheerfulness of "We Can Talk" and the heavy organ jam "Chest Fever" and the absolutely heartbroken Richard Manuel vocal on "Lonesome Suzie." (Seriously folks, "Lonesome Suzie"....poor Richard, indeed....approach this song with caution.)

BERG SANS NIPPLE: music for the short film Marie-Madeleine, CD (GUMSPOT)
Shane Aspegren was a member of short-lived but legendary High Knee recording artists TV City and of course Lullaby for the Working Class, but Lincoln, NE couldn't hold him and now he lives in Paris, France. He made a film called Marie-Madeleine, (yeah, the comma's supposed to be there) and this is the soundtrack music. Berg Sans Nipple is a duo of Shane and a Frenchman known as Lori Berg. They are very much in that post-post electronic rock style -- you could compare them to Air, but only at their most interluded; Berg Sans Nipple maintain a rock undercurrent, and a rock conciseness. And, the CD foldout is just plain well-done by unknown/indie standards. I'd say that my old friend Shane seems to be at the top of his game.

Man, this CDR stinks, and I just figured out what the smell is: one of those big black permanent makers. Apparently the black stool picture on the cover is a 'hand-made' touch.
(Dig the Eastern influence, I've always maintained that MSG is one of the few true Zen masters.) That's cool. Freedom From rules. I wish more Freedom From records existed. Oh, by the way, the CDR stinks, but the music doesn't. Or, it does, because it's supposed to, what with titles like "Babies. Screaming, Crying, Dying." The concept is acoustic death metal, and it's played with a straight face, too. The riffage is all right there (none of No Wave's prominent I'm-only-acting-like-I'm-playing-death-metal strategies), and the vocals are straight-up. And at 5 tracks in 10 minutes, the joke doesn't have time to wear out. (As if it ever would, right?)

BREAD: Best of Bread LP (ELEKTRA)
There's this sweet ballad on here that starts off with the line “I found your daddy beneath a tree,” and it gives me chills every time, because I think it sounds like the narrator is discovering a dead body. The next line is “and started reading about me,” which seems to be quite a non sequitir, which trips the sense of dread I get from the first line, putting the song back into wishy-washy soft-rock territory where it belongs.
      Never mind, the line goes, "I found your diary beneath a tree, and started reading about me," which makes more sense. The song is called "Diary." If I'd been looking at the sleeve while listening to it I might've figured that out. Either way, wishy-washy soft-rock was never done quite this well by anyone whose names weren't Todd Rundgren or Carole King or Lindsay Buckingham. (Of course, A Wizard, A True Star blows all this out of the water, but it's not really soft rock, is it?)
       “Baby I’m A Want You,” in spite of the baby talk name, is triumphant! One time I closed a bar called the Video Saloon in Bloomington, IN with some actual noise musicians from Minneapolis and Argentina because we’d done a show in town that night. Somehow the bar was able to play Bread songs for hours on end -- maybe they had a Bread Box Set, or it was the Bread Channel on the cable music system, because the shit was never-ending and we floated to it, high on pitchers of Miller High Life that cost $3.50 apiece. I’m pretty sure it was at a moment during “Baby I’m A Want You” that Courtis of Reynols exclaimed: “I love Bread!" and went on to tell a parable about how easily the bass player of Bread would be admitted into heaven by St. Peter.
       How about the watery keyboard arrangement on side one closer “If”? Elephant 6 bands wish they could. And they would never start a song with such a plain soft-rock question as, “If a picture paints a thousand words/then why can’t I paint you?” or end it with such a sweet ascending, “Then you and I would simply fly….a…..waaayyyyyyyyyyyyyy…..” David Gates does both, and that’s just side one.

Starts with sick solo horn playing by Frank Wright. Alan Silva knows its sick and throws in some off-mic war whoops. Pianist Bobby Few joins in with rolling jazz that keeps it just McCoy enough for the festival crowd. Muhammad Ali (not the pugilist but the brother of Rashied Ali) gets in there too. Damn, I gotta admit I’m not in the mood to hear sax the way Wright's playing it on here. I'm almost always down for a little gnashing and moaning but if someone's going to do it for 9 minutes straight, I'd rather it wasn't this loud in the mix. I’d love to hear this as a piano trio, actually – the Few/Silva/Ali interplay is, well, cooking! Wright does eventually sit out for a long chunk o' time, but there's still a good 50 minutes to go after that. It’s hardcore fire music, y’know, but I'm not really feelin' this one.... Once you've got Wright & Silva's ESP and Actuel records you really do almost have it all....

COCK ESP: Three And A Half Inches Of Floppy Cock 3.5 inch diskette (144MB)
Big Hagstrom handed me this diskette at the University of Chicago Festival of Marginalized Subgenres. I haven't listened to any new Cock ESP since the If She Says You Can Have It LP, which was great, but that's been a couple years ago now. The set they did at the Festival was downright languid compared to the screamo shit they used to do. (Don't worry, they still did a lot of rolling around on top of each other for all two minutes.) This music is the same -- vocals aren't really in evidence and it has an extremely versatile feel. This isn't mere noise, not by a long shot. It's only a minute and a half of music, but oh well, some of Cock ESP's very best live sets have been even shorter than that.

COMETS ON FIRE: Field Recordings From The Sun CD (BA DA BING)
You might've caught a review on these guys in a previous ish, where I called 'em "High Rise meets Foghat." I still call 'em that, but they're definitely branching and sprawling out with this second album. The songs are longer and slower and there are less vocals. The band is less about riff 'n' shout and more about simply heavy pressure and texture.
        Ben Chasny sits in on acoustic guitar to open track three ("The Unicorn"), creating the record's most introspective moment, but three minutes in the band has completely obliterated his melancholy finger patterns for the album's loudest moment. The album's finale, a 10-minute piece of drooling heaviness called "The Black Poodle," is pretty damn full too, thanks to a three-guitar lineup in which singer/guitarist Ethan Miller is joined again Chasny as well as Tim Green from that band The C4AM95. They and the rhythm section & full-time echoplexer take Melvins/Mainliner riffage through all kinds of mud and lightning for the album's greatest track. Altogether, one of the picks of the issue in the 'best hard rock album' category (along with 25 Suaves 1938 and Black Oak Arkansas Keep The Faith), and they pack it all into a vinyl-length 42 minute album. (See "All killer, no filler.")

Total bedtime. Spaced-out clouds and mumbling vocals. I would never call music "sonic codeine" in review, but that's what Continental Fruit is. But it's definitely not ambient, more like just laying flat on the ground and zoning out while spooky voices talk. (Wait, I guess that would technically be ambient.) It ain't black metal either, but it was recorded in Bergen, Norway, and that mythic fjord/forest vibe is in there somewhere. Do check out Humbug Records....fine music, and also somehow doing something worthwhile with cheapo 'plastic bag' CDR packaging. This one uses some exemplary extra-bumpy/ridged paper and has a golden pear-shaped seal!

First track was great and not what I was expecting at all, pretty much straight improvised musique concrete, refreshingly balls out and NOT SKITTERY NOODLE MUSIC!! Finally. By track two, the band has sort of slipped into the expected NOODLE, but they do it with a lot of sharpness from the drums, and a nice electric fuzz bass presence in there. (Actually, that's a guitar. -- ed.) Actually, I just realized what makes the second track noodly while the first isn't: the presence of a saxophone. I don't mean to single out the player here, but I just can’t handle wailing saxophones anymore. No one out there in the free scene is playing melodies, hardly ANY of them. They're just blowing without stopping, just trying to keep up instead of playing music. That said, this is a good raw free improv release (track three is especially vortextual), it's not overlong, and any track would sound excellent on like the WNUR morning jazz show (Evanston/Chicago, and on the web), which plays good to great music, sure, but could use a few more blasts from the true grotty jazz underground. Things really do seem to take on a museum air around the Chicago scene; maybe it's because the winters are long and we have to spend lots of time inside. Control R Workshop is from Oakland, CA, which might explain why their sound is a little scruffier.

COTTON MUSEUM: This Old Man Doesn't Have Any Hands CDR (IHTR! RECORDS)
Another hard electro disc comes up in the changer. Who sent me this? I'm not sure what it is. Pretty good shit in the no-beat electro-void vein. Electronic power splunge highly committed enough that it's quite easy to imagine William Bennett himself having a tizzy fit over it. Thank god he doesn't, now I can actually listen instead of just cower against the wall.
Okay, I'm thinking this is that Cotton Museum disc I got from Hanson Records. It's not released by Hanson, but that's who sent it to me. More and more from Michigan, this time the town of Lake Orion to be exact. Hard fry free-fall music, just as obtuse as, say, Kevin Drumm but crazier (haven't heard KD's Miasma yet though, I'm sure it's pretty raging).

DEAD RAVEN CHOIR: ...But Inside They Are Ravening Wolves CDR (LAST VISIBLE DOG)
Dead Raven Choir is something of a find for the Last Visible Dog label, a guy from Poland known only as "Smolken" who lives in the States and writes and performs really involved cabaret-style horror-folk in various duos with an ever-changing cast of "mysterious women" (according to the Dead Raven Choir website). His voice could be compared to Nick Cave, of course, or the Bryan Ferry of "In Every Dream Home A Heartache," but Smolken's accent is stranger, and the songs are more windingly and obtusely complex, possibly coming somehow from that Eastern European cabaret tradition.
      Anyway, DRC has got the spook, sounding quite appropriate during this Halloween time of year. I don't follow what he's going on about with the lyrics, but it turns out they're adapted from texts by W.B Yeats, A.A. Milne, and Hillaire Belloc. The singing and overall sound is quite striking and not really like anything else in the LVD catalog or in any catalog. Is this what Coil or Current 93 sound like? I've never heard 'em.

I like the 3-way split format. It's the format of the future, a way to release 3 EPs for the price of one. Here we have more music from LVD's discovery Dead Raven Choir, in the exact same vein as his LVD full-length, but with the effective addition of spooky, sparse piano by one Matt Rosin.
        Second, we get more from the great Furisubi (a/k/a Kris Lapke, member of MCMS and Football Rabbit), this time a low-key soft-noise 'slow movement of huge object(s) in the vast silence of outer fucking space' piece. Ultimately quite heavy, and just as spooky as the Dead Raven Choir.
       Third and finally, we have Timothy the Revelator, which is Timothy Renner from Stone Breath. I thought I had heard the Revelator project was formed to play only songs from The Smithsonian Anthology of American Folk Music (his alias referring to Blind Willie Johnson's amazing "John the Revelator"), but these sound like Renner originals to me, in more or less the same 'wyrd folk' category as Stone Breath. Haven't heard Stone Breath but once though, three years ago on a Terrascope comp, and these songs are probably darker, and, like those on Jandek's first couple albs, seem to all be variations on the same chord. I like this 'wyrd folk' shit, for the same reasons I like black metal. (Except it's even wyrder, it's so wyrd that you even have to put little quotation marks around it when you mention it by name.)

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS: Swamp Gas CD (END IS HERE) Another release from the reunited 1990s version of Destroy All Monsters, which consistently surprises me by being more or less as good as the original group that was documented on the Grow Live Monsters 1974-1976 box set. After all, it is the exact same lineup of Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, and Cary Loren, minus Niagara, who didn't do too much on the box set recordings anyway. While the boys were making all kinds of noise, as boys will, she was in the other room painting or doing some housework or out gleaning for amazing clothes, only occasionally joining the noise to lay down a vocal.
       Ah, but those occasional vocals were unforgettable, the frame and nail that the trio hung all their noise-art with. To this day "You Can't Kill Kill" reverberates in my head. As adept as DAM may be at making noise, they're best when they have that framing device. They supply the ground, but they also need figure. With the new Swamp Gas, they've still got it. Niagara is long gone, but they've capably replaced her with a sort of 'overlaid text' technique (the same that Loren used via John Sinclair for his Monster Island production Peyotemind, reviewed last issue).
       To wit, the first track features a European woman speaking heavily accented English. (Who is that, Madame Blavatsky? Or Countess Bathory?) The backing track is the low monster-movie hum that accompanies the front cover of Blastitude 13, continued for six more minutes. It gets louder, but its generally quite overshadowed by the voice of the European woman. On the second track, a 17-minute epic called “Dexter 66,” Mike Kelley steps to the mic for a downright heroic performance, reciting his lengthy take on an actual 1966 reporting of a UFO sighting in the small town of Dexter, Michigan. His calm rant incorporates actual Dexter news reports, lyrics from pop songs of the time, and his own brand of Burroughsian sci-fi prose/poetry, as in, “The shit hit the fan/The ship didn’t show/The problem was/The transmission was low/Mistakenly translated/The medium-receiver/Uncalibrated/Instead of a pickup/There was a drop-off.”
        The “Dexter 1966” text is reprinted as a poem in an accompanying 8-page folded newsprint broadsheet called Swamp Gas Gazette, which the CD is packaged inside of, rather than a jewel box. The main theme of the gazette is UFO lore, but it also publishes poetry by Sun Ra, lore about Question Mark & The Mysterians, and Cary ‘no pun on lore intended’ Loren’s fevered history of The Iron Butterfly (also published in our last issue, somewhere on this page).
         Track three, “Spiritual Help,” also features text: a recorded interview with Sun Ra is transmolecularized onto the jam through faders and panners and editing tricks. Later, on track five, “We Lost It,” Ra is still providing text, DAM making a loop of Ra saying “No class! No class!” (You think Bill Cosby ever heard that original interview? He might've.) Underneath the “no class!” figure DAM supply the
ground, a chugging garage band guitar/percussion jam, taken to that next level (i.e. development of new figure/ground relationships) by incredible vocal chanting -- "biddy biddy boop boo biddy biddy boop boo" or some shit and it's rock 'n' roll just like "a loo mop a lop bam boo" was (Faust knew too). Funny too, I compared Loren's other band Monster Island to NNCK in the last ish, and as this track develops into the last track, “Probe X In The Quilted Pyramid,” there’s a “YEAH!” sample (Beastie Boys I think) repeated here and there over a few minutes, which is the exact same way NNCK rode out the last track on their Letters From The Serth CD a few years ago, except they didn't sample it, they had a guy in the band actually saying “YEAH!” live.

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS: Backyard Monster Tube And Pig CD (END IS HERE)
Another reunion release, again right in the 1973-1975 spirit, although this time they present themselves as a basically text-free instrumental unit, without a vocalist like Niagara, or the Swamp Gas penchant for overlayed extended text. The closest thing here is very occasional unintelligible monster-movie sounds seeping through the cracks in the clatter, and I might just be imagining them. Anyway, DAM reunited in 1995 when Cary Loren travelled from Detroit to Los Angeles, where original members Jim Shaw and Mike Kelley had relocated. There and then, they recorded tracks 1-11 on this release, aka Backyard Monster Tube. ("Biddy-Bye Bo Bo" is another version of the same jam that appeared on Swamp Gas Gazette, as described in the previous review. A year later, 1996, they traveled to the home of Godzilla and Rodan, their imagined spiritual locus of Tokyo, Japan become real, and played in front of an audience at an art gallery. This performance is Pig, the 22 minute jam that is the 12th and last track on the CD. (Both Backyard Monster Tube and Pig were previously released on cassette.)
       It's amazing how little the DAM sound has changed in 20 years, even with the band now being a ‘double trio’ (the Kelley/Shaw/Loren core joined here by the perfectly unknown to me Art Byington, Dave Muller, and Xavier Bousslron). The lack of all text is a drawback, though. This disc compiles 2 separate 30-minute releases, and hearing them together is a bit too long -- until the very end of it, when, to close Tokyo performance the band reads in unison an anonymous rant found hand-written on a piece of paper discarded on some unknown urban street. At least that's what it sounds like.







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