Friday, December 31, 2010

Joseph's Picks Of The Week 12/31/10 - Wavves and The Mummies

I first caught up with Wavves through a small batch of 7” records back in 2009. At the time I thought they sounded fairly hep and worth the effort, but for no tangible reason I didn’t end up hearing any of their LPs until fairly recently. Listening to all three with fresh ears and in such close proximity definitely spotlights the huge leap made by Wavves’ main guy Nathan Williams on the most recent record KING OF THE BEACH, but it also helps in nailing down certain common themes. The first two Wavves long-players were the product of a duo featuring Williams and ex-drummer Ryan Ulsh, and the mixture of accessible, at times even catchy pop songs drenched in the counterpoint of dense, noisy, off-kilter, low-fidelity production finally felt more like the result of a bedroom home-taper’s “project” (in a good way) than the workings of a two-person “band”. At their best, the early Wavves reminded me a bit of Columbus, OH’s Times New Viking attempting a scaled down approximation of UK shoe-gaze. 2009 was a tough year for Williams, with personal turmoil causing Wavves to fall apart and be rebuilt as a trio featuring bass and drums courtesy of Stephen Pope and Billy Hayes, both vets from the band of the late Jay Reatard. As a result KING OF THE BEACH feels like a strong, solid, professionally recorded rock album, though still invested with enough quirks to help it stand apart. For a while now some folks have been drawing comparisons between Wavves and The Beach Boys, and though that’s not at all inappropriate, it does need some qualifying. Yes, a whole bunch of this new one is clearly linked to the endless fount of ‘60s pop, with a specific line of inspiration leading to Spector-derived girl group sounds, but I don’t hear anything beyond an occasional vocal flourish that overtly conjures comparison to Brian Wilson and Co. Instead, The Beach Boys influence seems most detectable in songwriter Williams’ mode of operation, in how he keeps it relatively simple, catchy, direct and concise. This strain of indebtedness to The Bros. Wilson and ‘60s-style pop in general is in the same grand tradition as The Ramones, with BEACH giving off a heavy whiff of hyperactive melodiousness that’s congruent to the Cali beach-punk impulse, most prominently on the snarky “Idiot” and the pogo-ready “Post Acid”. But there are other tricks in store, with “Take on the World” feeling a bit like a lost Robert Schneider-helmed nugget from the early days of the Elephant 6, and “Convertible Balloon” presenting a flakier, harder to tag form of smart-alecky avant-pop. But it’s “Mickey Mouse” that comes strongest out of left field, beginning with a sly loop of the opening of The Crystals’ stone-classic “Da Doo Ron Ron” and quickly rising to an Animal Collective/Panda Bear zone of advanced contemporary psych wrangling. It’s surely true that the murkier, more underground manifestations of Wavves’ earlier sound only appear in intermittent flashes, but in my estimation that’s okay; Williams seems better suited for pop songwriting than being a low-fi maestro, and if he keeps his ear to the grindstone he could potentially hang with esteemed contemporary company like Girls’ Christopher Owens. If so, that’d make Williams Joey Ramone (or Dee Dee, take yr pick) to Owens Elvis Costello, and that’s what I call an attractive proposition for the future.

There are days when I think The Mummies were the best straight-up rock band of the ‘90s. It’s on those days that I find myself in complete emotional synch with the notion that rock is best when it’s blunt, pissed and over the top. And The Mummies are all of those things in spades. There was an idea floating around in the post-grunge ‘90s that the essence of “punk” had finally broken through on some mass level thanks to the largely retro-rocking then bursting out of the Pacific Northwest. Well, time and common sense has shown that notion to be a bogus one, and that the ‘90s bands to best exemplify the eternal punk aesthetic remained steadfastly underground, often by design, and San Francisco’s The Mummies were most assuredly punk in all its unhyphenated glory. NEVER BEEN CAUGHT, originally released in 1992 on LP only, is one of the defining texts of ‘90s oppositional underground activity. While the era’s reigning locale for nostalgia fell to the ‘70s and on elements as disparate as hard rock and disco, The Mummies defiantly and arrogantly struck out for the pre-Beatles ’60s, plumbing the depths as heights of garage rock at its primal (some might say primate) best, and even occasionally harkening all the way back to the start of the whole damned thing, the 1950s, gleaning tough lessons from teachers as diverse as Eddie Cochran and Bo Diddley. What continues to make digging The Mummies such a pure gas is the bloody-fingered zealousness of the band’s attack, which fully absorbed post-’77 levels of aggro in a manner similar but in no way beholden to Thee Mighty Caesars/Thee Headcoats-era Wild Billy Childish. Also, these foul-mouthed gents grappled well with smart cover choices, so sticklers should be well impressed by their treatment of The Young Rascals’ “Come On Up”, and anybody that’s been smacked around but good by the majesty of The Sonics will get served up all over again by their grand rendering of “Shut Down”. It’s true that the magnetic stench of The Mummies is an experience best had in the heavily bandaged flesh, and that fact leads to personal regret. Sadly, I never saw The Mummies, who flamed bright and brief, throw it down in a live setting, and while musing upon that gaping hole in my education can leave me rather sullen, I can at least take solace that NEVER BEEN CAUGHT is the next best thing to having been there. The take-no-prisoners, fully costumed style of the band is in blatant celebration of a time when rock ‘n’ roll was little more than cultural detritus, the soundtrack of teenagers across the land. It was a time when a band called the Pirates dressed up like pirates. Matey. And as such, The Mummies’ total package was and still is a very punk line-in-the-sand. Once, when having a marathon long distance phone chat with an old friend who’d just visited San Fran way back when The Mummies were still extant, I enthused about the band and how I was chomping at the bit to see them play and to hear more of the records. My friend scoffed and dismissed them as “dumb” music. For a moment, I was ready to argue, but instead just casually registered my disagreement and decided to change the subject. For like Gene Vincent in ’56, The Sonics in ’65 and The Damned in ’77 you either got The Mummies in ’92 or you didn’t. Dumb? Yeah, like a fox…..

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's a Dischord kind of day!

Got my Dischord shipment in today!! I am happy to finally be able to get their records in and I hope you guys are too.

Here's what I have.

FUGAZI: 7 songs, Repeater

Minor Threat: First 2 7" Lp

The Evans: s/t

Medications: Completely Removed

Make-up: Destination Love

Flex Your Head

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Joseph's Picks Of The Week 12/24/10 - Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band and Roscoe Holcomb

Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart has exited this mortal coil, and it’s certain we’ll never see another like him. It’s true that he never sold a lot of records, particularly in proportion to the level of his influence, which was vast, yet mostly implicit. The guy’s considerable discography had a huge impact on my still developing mind as it navigated the yawning chasm of young adulthood, and in a manner that was much different than the seduction of my senses by the Velvet Underground. By the time I’d heard VU, they’d inspired a legion of often rote copyists that were clogging record bins all over the globe. A big part of the reason for this phenonenon was (and still is) that The Velvet Underground = Cool. But the Captain was just too flat out weird for that designation. Instead, Beefheart = Out, his grand manner registering as puzzling, fascinatingly so, attracting the attention of misfits of all stripes like ants to a deluxe picnic. And this weirdness wasn’t in the slightest bit affected; like Dali, William Burroughs and David Lynch, Don’s artistic whatsis was both sui generis and sincere, his only put-on being when he tried unsuccessfully to go commercial. For a long time Beefheart was synopsized in the mainstream press as a curious satellite/appendage of Frank Zappa’s formidable yawp, but even a cursory inspection illustrates that their personalities were substantially different, and as much as I dig Frank’s massive run from FREAK OUT to HOT RATS, I know I’m not alone in considering Van Vliet the greater artist. Zappa’s weird side was leavened with Lenny Bruce influenced satirical elements that eventually found him donning a suit in the ‘80s to combat toads like Robert Novak. By this point Don was a wizened recluse, having abandoned music for the greener pastures of visual art. Van Vliet was the rare bird that could effectively express in a variety of forms, and one of his most agreeably striking traits was a wild and twisted poetic streak, often delivered a cappella through a gnawing buzzsaw voicebox. If the young Zappa was ultimately a satirist with a love for Modern Classical (Varese!) and the untapped potential of rock, then the Captain is rock music’s foremost surrealist. And his finest document is undoubtedly TROUT MASK REPLICA, which stands as rock’s first truly uninhibited outsider document. Simply beyond psychedelic, the 28 tracks spread over four sides of vinyl combine spoken imagery, alien blues and angular skronk into an acidic, precise whole informed by the dry desert climate of California and the labyrinthine expanses of the unbound imagination. While the early work of the Magic Band, best represented by their debut album SAFE AS MILK and THE MIRROR MAN SESSIONS, fell largely between elevated garage rocking and Delta-blues infused psych, TROUT MASK was legitimately something new under the sun, so unique in fact that subsequent bands have very infrequently and then only fleetingly dabbled in approximating its essence. It’s a dangerous sound, requiring jazz-like discipline and comfort with caustic abstraction, and it’s no surprise that the greatness of this specific version of the Magic Band was like capturing lightning in a bottle. Even the greatest of his later units lacked the discombobulated telepathy of the TROUT MASK group, and if I was forced to whittle down my rock collection to just a handful of titles it’s a clear-cut cinch this would be one of them. Beefheart left the spotlight for the desert and a well stocked supply of canvasses just as my interest in music was beginning to take shape. I caught him on a rerun of Letterman around ’83 or so, where I got a glimpse of the video for the title track to ICE CREAM FOR CROW, his excellent final LP. It took a few years for me to track down the records, but once I did it was quickly obvious I’d found the true path, and TROUT MASK REPLICA sat at the apex of the journey. At this moment all I can say is thanks, Don - For the guidance and the music, and for pointing the way forward. Maybe someday we'll catch up.

Bob Dylan once described the music of Kentuckian Roscoe Holcomb as possessing “an untamed sense of control”, and if you think that reads like Bob being his often inscrutable self, well I can only guess you haven’t heard Holcomb’s stuff. My own introduction to the work of this diamond tough American original came from the soundtrack to Michelangelo Antonioni’s misunderstood counter-culture classic ZEBRISKIE POINT, where his “Single Girl” (titled on that LP as “I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again”) made a huge, mysterious impression, Holcomb’s raw falsetto leaving me unsure if I was listening to a man or woman, the playing open and violent like a fresh wound covered in dust from the ground. Looking back, that song almost certainly served as my gateway to the wide open style often called Old Time. This was back before Greil Marcus presented his detailed thoughts on the Old, Weird America and previous to my being hipped to the Harry Smith compiled ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC. Sure, I’d been listening to a bunch of the early Delta-blues stuff, a form of music that at its undiluted best is undeniably heavy and strange, but the alien atmosphere of much early blues still registered to my young ears as the roots of a style that was very much a part of contemporary culture. At this point, the only context I had for Roscoe Holcomb was bluegrass, a framework that was somewhat appropriate since the title of the first LP dedicated solely to his work is THE HIGH LONESOME SOUND, a term coined by John Cohen that was used by bluegrass kingpin Bill Monroe in well considered assessment of his genre. I emphasize only somewhat appropriate however since the difference between Holcomb’s music and the bluegrass style is instantly palpable. Where the latter is inherently band/group music like jazz or rock, the work of Roscoe Holcomb is a fully formed expression of the self, performed solo (with few exceptions) and informed by deep traditions that were, by the time he began recording in 1958, inseparable from his daily life and vital to his musical expression. The intent of the folklorists that were capturing and preserving the music of rural musicians after World War II was largely anthropological, with the focus on the documentation of history and culture threatened with extinction by modernization. But in the case of Holcomb it was immediately clear that his music possessed an unusually high level of artistry, full of weary knowledge that ranged from dark menace to tender beauty, and it’s no surprise that he was recorded more extensively than many other “rediscovered” musicians. THE HIGH LONESOME SOUND does a great job of displaying the range and assured mastery of this Appalachian giant, with particular emphasis on his skill at both blues and Old Regular Baptist traditions. For those unfamiliar with Holcomb but versed in the above referenced ANTHOLOGY, the music on this classic LP recalls such similar yet singular artists as West Virginian country blues man Frank Hutchison, North Carolinian folklorist, lawyer and banjoist Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Tennessee songster and key rediscovery figure Clarence Tom Ashley and even hints of the wild style of another Tennessean, early country singer and Grand Ole Opry legend Uncle Dave Macon. The main difference between the work of these artists and THE HIGH LONESOME SOUND is how Holcomb’s style was allowed to age to an often eerie, haunting vintage as a pluperfect example of high folk expression un-tampered with by any commercially-minded interests, his late documentation delivering the wide spectrum of his work through the loving auspices of the aforementioned anthropological goodwill. If you own the CD version of THE HIGH LONESOME SOUND you already have most of the contents of this LP, but most ain’t everything (any grade-schooler with tell you the same), and by the end of the second side’s epic ten minute closer “Little Bessie” it becomes quite clear that the considerable thought and careful selection of this vinyl edition stands as a superior testament to the natural grace and eternal vision of Roscoe Holcomb.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A few more in before Christmas!

Just got a few more in today. If you haven't got your Christmas shopping done come on down and get that special someone the gift of VINYL!

Bad Brains: Omega Sessions 10"

Floored by Four: S/T W/Download Card

the Mummies: Never Been Caught

Wanda Jackson: Live at Town Hall Party 1958 10"

the White Stripes: S/T and White Blood Cells

Joseph's Picks Of The Week 12/17/10 - Circle Pit and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane

The new record from Sydney, Australian duo Circle Pit is a sprawling mass of sincerely tweaked rock logic that’s built largely upon a non-urban tradition. Pressed up on vinyl for stateside consumption by the Siltbreeze label, BRUISE CONSTELLATION is saturated in youthful ingenuity, specifically the strain that values confidence over competence. Also on display is the ability to combine seemingly disparate influences into a workable whole, an impulse that proliferates quite often in small towns, out of the way places and forgotten, neglected cities. In this case it all really starts with the incongruence of the name, which frankly inspired images of jack-boot clad, stubble-domed hardcore youth to dance through my consciousness in predictably macho fashion.  But a solid gander at the album cover presented a wildly different animal (see above), appearing like a possible snapshot of two trashed out warriors reenacting John and Yoko’s legendary Bed-In for some appreciative pals, replete with mink coats and lap dogs. And don’t worry, Circle Pit’s music pales not one bit next to this mouth watering imagery. In many ways the overall direction of this pair (plus help) could be summarized as a non-drugged-out, far less knowingly hipster version of the great Royal Trux, but that really doesn’t do much to stress the elements that make this wonky LP such an outlandish yet cohesive listen. One minute they remind me of a rural high school incarnation of the Red Kross, the kind of sincerely goofy and gangly band comprised of excitement-drunk glam-addled teenagers that somehow manage to win first prize at a punk-rock battle of the bands hosted in a skanky backwoods roller rink. The next moment they give rise to the aura of oddly tuned bedroom 4-track private-press lonerism. There is a dollop of acne-riddled DIY shambling, a strong dose of mustachioed Phil Spector worship that sounds extracted from the toxic sweat glands of Lester Bangs’ fresh cadaver, and the sort of stunted riffing that screams “amateur” in the best way possible. You ever sit around listening to Straight Records-era Alice Cooper while smoking skunk-bud from a corn-cob pipe? Yeah, me either. But I wouldn’t be surprised if these two have. Circle Pit’s combination of effects-pedals and punk rock isn’t comparable to Grunge, not even the raw early stuff from before the hype, but there are some shared hard-rock sensibilities in the DNA. It’s just that the Grunge-boys influence was largely overt and direct and Circle Pit’s inspiration is stretched-out and freaked-up. And to be clear, I feel both Angela Bermuda and Jack Mannix are quite skilled musically, it’s just obvious the twosome holds a shared jones for non-polished, un-streamlined roughage. A jones that is refreshingly non-ironic. Instead, BRUISE CONSTELLATION is lovingly tapped into the mainline of unabashed rock love, manifesting and extending the impulsiveness of the adolescent need for sound, a need that caused kids worldwide to rifle through older siblings (and parents) record collections for sustenance and to forego sleep to catch a glimpse of Midnight Special or Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. This knowledge was then put into service in garages and carpeted basements via practice amps and crappy pawn-shop instruments. Combine Ramones, rudimentary blues licks, T. Rex and Nazareth? Sounds suspect if not downright inappropriate, but kids in the sticks have managed to pull it off in the past, and it’s just the sort of wacked-out alchemy these Aussies are reveling in and commenting upon so well right now. Make no mistake; this type of sound is a fleeting one, so it seems totally proper to predict that Circle Pit is ripe for further development. I’m staying tuned.

By the latter half of the 1950s the tide was turning in Thelonious Monk’s favor. Sure, many folks were still playing catch-up ball, but ’56 saw the release of his first big seller BRILLIANT CORNERS (with Sonny Rollins), ’57 found him with a six month residency at New York’s Five Spot, and ’58 saw the first release dedicated entirely to Monk compositions from another artist, Steve Lacy’s excellent REFLECTIONS, to give just three examples of how the man was slowly moving from the fringes of obscurity. That Five Spot engagement featured John Coltrane in a fine quartet that managed a slight bit of recording for the Riverside label, though contractual problems hindered its release until the Jazzland imprint issued THELONIOUS MONK WITH JOHN COLTRANE in 1961. That LP has been expanded upon in the digital era to include additional cuts and alternate takes, but in this case I don’t think the extra padding, while certainly welcome, manages to better the original’s succinct portrait of Monk’s artistic range, and the added stuff actually negates the album’s graspable functionality. The aforementioned Five Spot quartet is the core of this record, featuring mainstays Wilbur Ware on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums tackling three Monk tunes with the rich interaction of a working band. In addition, Coltrane and Ware appear on two cuts as part of a septet that includes heavy hitters such as multi-instrumentalist and composer Gigi Gryce, drum kingpin Art Blakey, underrated trumpeter Ray Copeland and one of the greatest of all saxophonists Coleman Hawkins (this is essentially the band that appeared on the ’57 LP titled MONK’S MUSIC, though Coltrane’s name couldn’t appear on the cover). Bringing the track count to a killer half-dozen is “Functional”, a solo piece originally from the THELONIOUS HIMSELF album. Now, those unfamiliar with this record just might be thinking it’s a bit of a hodge-podge, but let me reemphasize: artistic range. The quartet cuts, particularly the side openers “Ruby, My Dear” and “Nutty”, make it clear that Monk was as adept at leading a long running band as his contemporaries Miles or Mingus, and the septet stuff shows that he could hang in a more studio-bound atmosphere, even one featuring the big-bandish/Benny Golson-like feel that Gryce so often brings to the table. And that solo track, the LP’s closer, finds the pianist disassembling and rebuilding the blues in his own grand image. It’s also indicative of Monk’s slowly changing fortunes that Hawkins, one of his earliest employers and advocates, was invited to join the septet in a distinguished supporting role. Coltrane sounds quite fine here, though finest on the quartet cuts, particularly on “Ruby…”, where his strong tone is already hinting at the tough balladry that would turn up just a couple years later on “Naima”. All the contributors are in fine form, displaying the sort of no-nonsense post-bop professionalism that helped make this era the heyday for mainstream jazz. Of course, Monk was never really of the mainstream, but the effect his compositional greatness had on the heart of jazz culture is simply immeasurable. Indeed, 2005’s THELONIOUS MONK QUARTET WITH JOHN COLTRANE AT CARNEGIE HALL, the commercial issue of unearthed tapes from Thanksgiving 1957, was one of the most important releases of the last decade. And as such, it sorta stole a big batch of the above LP’s thunder. And that’s not really cool for a rather big reason. Specifically, this quartet isn’t that quartet, since Ahmed Abdul-Malik replaces Wilbur Ware on bass. For that matter, was the quartet that started the famous ’57 Five Spot run the same as the one that ended it? Were they even the same quartet night for night, set for set? Not to bring out the heavy guns, but Heraclitus was surely correct regarding stepping in the same river twice: you can’t. So when it comes to a couple of fathoms-deep dudes like Monk and ‘Trane, the idea that one (admittedly masterful) live recording adequately summarizes their collaboration is a fallacy, and for ears not graced by the fruits of that righteous alliance, THELONIOUS MONK WITH JOHN COLTRANE is a great place to start. A person could spend a few lifetimes branching out from there.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Joseph's Picks Of The Week 12/10/10 - Weekend and Sonny Rollins

Weekend sound like the accompanying music to a wiry, slightly disheveled figure walking briskly down a crowded afternoon sidewalk, all outward slouch and internalized stress, as a slight drizzle intensifies the surrounding urban grey. If that description feels a bit Anglo, well yes. Comparisons have been made to My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus & Mary Chain, Joy Division and Killing Joke, so it feels appropriate to liken their full length debut SPORTS to the soundtrack for a bleak, overcast city scene. If I were forced to sum them up with a brief current comparison, I’d say Weekend feel like a more experimental, noise friendlier version of their label-mates Crystal Stilts. What label, you say? Slumberland Records, which began at the dawn of the ‘90s as one of a handful of quality upstart indie concerns dedicated to assorted strains of underground pop, with many quite important bands registering in the matrix of their early discography, including but not limited to Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine, Swirlies, Stereolab, Lilys and Lorelei. After a long dormant period the label has refocused and resumed operations, with Weekend being one of their latest discoveries. It’s worth noting that Slumberland always had an overt streak of Brit-derived influence, at times feeling like a younger US-bred sibling to the excellent Sarah Records. Weekend’s flashes of Kevin Shields-like influence might reframe the lines of comparison to the Creation imprint, but in the end that’s a minor shift in emphasis. The larger point is that Slumberland are no Johnny-Come-Latelys to these strains of Brit-styled damage, and the type of quality control that grows out of experience is part of why Weekend have risen above the chaotic whirlpool of contemporary names. The biggest part of their success would be the band and the record of course, and at this juncture Weekend’s development is far more about sonic texture than skillful songwriting. This shouldn’t be perceived as a slight. After all, Sonic Youth had three records in the racks before anybody really started talking about their ability at smithing a tune. And speaking of the Youth, they lead me to another observation. Weekend conjure up the sort of heavy density that was a huge component of ‘80s American underground rock, specifically the stripped down and blunt analog anathema directed toward the era’s sterile corporate production model. This helps a track like “End Times” to amplify its Joy Division-ist qualities (in particular a strong Peter Hook-style bassline) without the risk of pale imitation. Instead it sounds agitated, chilly, aggressive and rocking. A listen to SPORTS’ opener “Coma Summer” will tell you all you need to know regarding the band’s potential though, combining submerged vocals, chiming strings, layers of buzz-saw feedback and insistent rhythmic chug into an inspired package. It even opens with a drum bit ripped straight from Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia”. ¡Qué cojones! The best of the rest of SPORTS features promising flashes of high quality typified by the sort of powerful, well-considered sonic construction that will always deliver best in the live setting, inspiring visions of a small but tightly packed and heaving club on a brutal winter’s night, the air so cold that upon exiting the building the perspiration in the show goers’ hair immediately turns to ice. Wow. I’m starting to think the best descriptor for Weekend isn’t Anglo, but rather cinematic. It’s almost like they named themselves after a Godard film on purpose…..

Sonny Rollins impact on Modern Jazz might sound like a fable if it weren’t indisputably true. In 1956-58 he recorded seventeen LPs as a leader, of which at least ten are classics, and then took a three year break to hone his chops and get his head right before coming back strong as a major factor in the tumultuous ‘60s scene. These days his enduring achievements are often boiled down to just a few of his most powerful statements, and it can be a bit of a pain seeing him take what’s probably a permanent back seat to the majesty of John Coltrane, but Rollins’ stature as one of the true greats of the tenor sax is secure. One of his most immediate and positive qualities is a warm, old-fashioned, romantic sensibility that might seem on paper to be at odds with his historical role as improvisational innovator. Upon listening however it becomes sweetly obvious that he’s so much more than a mere throwback, and there is really no better source for evidence of his vast brilliance than what’s probably his most famous album, SAXOPHONE COLOSSUS from 1956. Many canonical selections can inspire deep jazz heads (like me) to sneer and stump for a lesser known entry in a performer’s discography, but in this case I can’t work up much disdain. Surely there are many other Rollins records from the period that are ripe for the choosing, but upon deep listening and consideration, I doubt there exists a document that better exemplifies the seemingly disparate poles of the man’s magnificent artistry. One major factor in the record’s success is how it so deftly mingles progressive tendencies with honest accessibility while one eye remains solidly focused on the past. I’m wondering if Rollins has ever released a record of all original material. I could check but won’t since in this case the question doesn’t really require an answer. COLOSSUS opens with “St. Thomas”, a wonderfully conceived and delivered calypso tinged tune that’s very much of its decade, the sort of musical cross-pollination that’s chronologically well-placed between the Afro-Cuban work of John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie and the Bossa Nova excursions of Stan Getz. It’s shortly followed with “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, a ballad standard taken at an appropriately brooding pace sharply opposite from the stately fire of “Strode Rode”, an up-tempo blower (and tribute to the great athlete and actor Woody Strode) that closes out the first side. These are all superb statements, but the largest sum of greatness is savvily weighted to side two, which features just a pair of cuts, an extended reading of Kurt Weill’s “Moritat” (aka “Mack the Knife”) and the beautifully approachable abstraction of “Blue 7”.  The increased exploration of the second side develops naturally, never feeling disconnected from the session’s thematic thrust, and much of this relies on Rollins’ sturdy, impeccable tone. Unlike Coltrane, whose use of standards was often a launching pad for improv-fireworks, Sonny seems to take extreme joy in lingering over the inherent beauty of the tunes he chooses, with this emphasis often reenergizing the hackneyed to the level of the sublime. His delivery is never fussy and always in control, so when his bands broke new ground it was achieved with apparent ease that often proved deceptive. But probably Sonny Rollins’ most valuable attribute is his heightened sensitivity; even when he blows hard he’s never disconnected from his romantic inclinations. He’s also an amazing communicator with an unerring eye/ear for collaborators with which to speak, and this ultimately brings SAXOPHONE COLOSSUS to its current level of distinction. Bassist Doug Watkins was an inaugural member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and pianist Tommy Flanagan was part of an influx of in-the-pocket post-bop keyboardists that included Wynton Kelly, Kenny Drew, Hampton Hawes and Sonny Clark. Needless to say, a bum note is impossible to find. Watkins’ walks the rhythm and promulgates the agenda as well as anybody ever has, and Flanagan is given ample opportunity to display his crisp, advanced solo construction. Drum giant Max Roach was working regularly with Rollins at the time and it really shows, the interaction attaining the telepathic feel that can come only with intense familiarity. Additionally, Roach’s solo on “Blue 7” is simply one of the greatest ever recorded, lacking even a trace of cliché. SAXOPHONE COLOSSUS isn’t the only masterpiece Rollins cut in the 1950s, but it is perhaps the most well-balanced and concise, frankly a flawless record, and any jazz collection without it is shamefully inadequate.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lots of new vinyl in today

Just got a good amount of records in today,I'm really stoked at what came in!!

So come by and flip through the bin.

Jello Biafra With The Melvins-Never Breathe What You Can't See

Circle Pit-Bruise Constellation

The Gaslight Anthem-Sink or Swim

Girl Talk-Night Ripper

GOVERNMENT ISSUE-Boycott Stabb Complete Session

Roscoe Holcomb-The High Lonesome Sound

Nobunny-First Blood

SCREECHING WEASEL-Television City Dream (Reissue)

SPITS-Fourth Self-Titled Album

Friday, December 3, 2010

Joseph's Picks Of The Week 12/03/10 - Tyvek and Hank Williams

The global punk rock explosion of the late ‘70s was such an aggressively antagonistic turn of events that it initially alienated far more listeners than it won over. While the socio-economic situation in the UK was so severe that it propelled legitimate and often great punk songs onto the charts, in the US the manifestation of the era’s malaise was substantially different, which meant, somewhat paradoxically, that the country where punk was born largely reacted with apathy or hostility to the form’s return to core principles. For a long time some folk’s faulty minds equated punk with failure simply because the appropriate commercial levels weren’t immediately attained. These days of course, all but the foggiest of fogeys understand the long view, which is that thirty-five years after first rearing its spike-haired and snotty noggin, punk rock remains quite relevant to the present tense. This relevance is certainly largely implicit, often picked up third and fourth hand: numerous bands are currently influenced by those impacted by Nirvana, who happened to be heavily and vocally indebted to Black Flag and The Wipers, for just one example. But occasionally contemporary bands are explicit in their indebtedness to punk precedent, and frankly, to mangle a metaphor, the vast majority of these acts are undone by the chaff-like quality of their din. It’s not a totally barren scene, however, and intermittently this wasteland of well-intentioned folly produces a meager bounty that stands up tall, shining like shafts of golden wheat. Detroit’s Tyvek are, along with such names as No Age, Fucked Up, Hank IV, Vivian Girls, Blank Dogs, The Oh Sees and The Fresh & Onlys, part of the current bumper crop. What I initially loved about Tyvek is how they lovingly embrace the heavy while not eschewing the arty. This means these Michiganites have a special relationship to the geographical gauntlet thrown down by The Stooges while being simultaneous sons across the water to those stern Dads of the PINK FLAG-era Wire. What sticks to the ribs with Tyvek is their abstinence from any habit forming popish behavior and an additional lack of any “garage”-isms in their attack. Instead, it sounds like they practice and record in a ceramic tiled bathroom. On NOTHING FITS, the lavatory just seems a tad bit more spacious compared to previous efforts. Ultimately, Tyvek’s success is reliant on strong, fittingly basic songwriting intersecting with appropriately blunt, skuzzy delivery. That’s punk in a nutshell. And in less than half an hour they nudge up against a host of worthy ideas. The angularity of their artiness feels a slight bit removed from direct Wire adulation, and at this late date that’s refreshing. Instead, the FLAG-isms feel filtered through the loveliness provided by California’s legendary Happy Squid label. And yeah, describing Tyvek as Urinals on steroids and bennies isn’t inaccurate. But it’s definitely not the whole picture. I’d surely throw in that NOTHING FITS is drenched in deep knowledge of the subterranean punk underbelly as documented on the KILLED BY DEATH/BLOODSTAINS bootleg volumes, and how they spread that level of goodness across a whole LP, even a suitably brief one in classique punk terms, is a major feat. And that’s because great punk albums are far rarer as a breed than are great punk singles. But when a great punk LP does step up and spit out its harsh essence, that’s ample cause for celebration. The title track here actually manages to harness some of The Electric Eels’ anti-social glory, and “Outer Limits” falls into a fine tradition of sci-fi themed punk classics behind The Twinkeez’ “Aliens in our Midst” and Tampax’s “UFO Dictator”. The whole quick mess gives testimony to the still beating heart that resides in the Motor City, and Tyvek are clearly moving into the elite territory of Detroit greats like Negative Approach, The Gories and those aforementioned almighty Stooges. Play FUNHOUSE, TOTAL RECALL, HOUSEROCKIN’ and NOTHING FITS in rapid fire succession and try and find the weak link. I just did and couldn’t, and that should read as the highest of praise.

Due to his widespread influence across genres and generations, Hank Williams is one of the musical icons of the last 100 years. People still cover his tunes because the depth of the songwriting resonates with contemporaneous fire, and listeners still go to the source because the direct, harsh beauty of his voice cuts with the ease of a fresh steel blade. The golden years of country music are unimaginable without him, and it can be convincingly argued that rock ‘n’ roll would sound significantly different if Williams hadn’t stepped into the studio with his live band The Drifting Cowboys. The solid if subtle link between Hank and Chuck Berry still holds an indirect impact on the dirtier forms of rock music to this very moment, and that’s just for starters. These aren’t new ideas by any yardstick, and I’ve been privy to numerous folks testifying to Williams’ stature since the days of skinned-knees and short-pants. His relevance branches out into a variety of diverse areas however, and that’s a big part of why he’s such a big deal to not only anti-rockers and punks but also hardcore honky-tonkers and deep folkys.  Like his predecessors Dock Boggs and Jimmie Rodgers, Hank is one of the foremost white bluesmen, integrating structure and feeling from the blues into his style with subtlety and forward thinking vision. Additionally, he could play secular and spiritual material with equal conviction, which is noteworthy coming from a guy whose life is essentially the prototype for the hard living rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, plagued by bad luck, addled by booze and drugs and dead in the backseat of a Cadillac at age 29. While Williams’ legacy is best served by the tough-as-nails full band sides he cut for MGM, he also whipped-off a slew of solo demos that aid in further widening the scope of his talent. NASHVILLE SESSIONS, a 2LP set from the Doxy label, compiles a bunch of these and throws in some radio broadcast material on side four. Those air checks are a study in contrast, with the Farmer Jim Tapes suffering from very prickly sound quality while documenting a loose, relaxed session that’s quite a bit different from the clean audio of a rather mild-mannered March Of Dimes broadcast. These live tapes are just dandy as a slice of pure history and hold more than a measure of thick sonic honey, but the demos are truly, as once was the parlance, where it’s at. Included is a sprinkling of well known numbers ( “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” “Kaw-Liga” and "Your Cheatin' Heart" are here) and a large batch of less celebrated secular and gospel songs, all given a stripped down treatment that places Williams closer to the folk tradition of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie than ever previously heard by these ears. It is one lonesome man with an acoustic, but still immediately identifiable as Hank Williams, and this serves as a bit of a personal corrective. For a long time, I promoted the essentially rockist notion that the largest part of Williams’ success and importance was due to the innovations of his band. And I still feel The Drifting Cowboys are one of the finest examples of collective 20th Century gusto (North American division) to ever hit the marketplace, but I no longer consider it to be the MOST significant part of his work. The version of “Weary Blues From Waitin’” found herein provides tidy clarification. The greatness of Hank Williams begins with the song, intensifies through his singular voice, and with basic yet sublime self-accompaniment delivers everything suggested by his legendary reputation. And more. NASHVILLE SESSIONS is an expansive yet easily digestible chapter in the short, fast and tough story of Hank Williams, and the music just brims with raw vitality that’s equal to anything he ever committed to disc.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hot off the UPS truck!!

Got a few more goodies in today, CHECK EM !!

Earth - A Bureaucratic Desire For Extra-capsular Extraction (2lp)

Wavves - King Of The Beach

Tyvek - Nothing Fits

Hank IV - III

Weekend - Sports (2lp)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Joseph's Picks Of The Week 11/26/10 - Mount Carmel and Charlie Parker

Mount Carmel arrive on the radar screen via the Siltbreeze label, an eclectic, stridently underground concern that has slowly accumulated one of the strongest discographies of the last twenty-five years. Rarely has a Siltbreeze release garnered much ballyhoo outside of the deep pockets of the subterranean scene, most often because the artists are gleefully hanging out in the deep weeds of left field. Occasionally though, certain acts on the imprint were plainly ahead of the pack: Guided By Voices and Times New Viking being two examples. Naturally, Siltbreeze was done with ‘em before they hit the major leagues. Mount Carmel however is a much different affair, for they feel absolutely frozen in time somewhere around the midsection of Nixon’s first term. “Blue Cheer gone blues rock” might be a fine one sentence description of what these guys are up to, shedding illuminating brevity on their mixture of blunted, strychnine-laced hooliganism and stern non-studious heaviosity. Another descriptive avenue would entail how the record vibes mightily like a collector’s curio of the rough mixes from a 1970 LP by an unknown band whose one chance at notoriety never made it beyond the test pressing stage. Bummer for those guys. I should add that the blues rock on display here lacks the critically approved touches of John Mayall or Cream or the early Allman Brothers, opting instead for the hard, unsubtle unrefined attack associated with names like Humble Pie. Thankfully, Mount Carmel sidesteps an often unfriendly aspect of that sound, namely the tendency for the vocals to sink into overly emotive, strained caterwauling. Matt Reed’s pipes instead strive for a doomy restraint that’s quite effective. Even with tasteful vocals, this is still dangerous territory, since inspection of the field has shown that what once felt novel and progressive is now bombastic and retrograde. It’s become an established part of rock lore that Black Sabbath began as an unrecorded blues-rock venture named Earth. While the first Sab album certainly retains remnants of bastardized bluesy mauling, I’ve always fancied that Earth excelled at a dense, swollen sound that coalesced on the British countryside and bludgeoned the handful of mead-blasted rustic pub-dwellers that actually managed to hear it while lounging by a hearth full of burning peat. And of course this is wishful thinking: there is simply no way Earth were this good that early. If they were, we’d have some recorded evidence. But Mount Carmel suggest this fictive woodshedding with well-practiced precision and are thoroughly descended from the short hazy period when hard rock had yet to begat the problem child known as heavy metal. Their cover of Ten Years After’s “Hear Me Calling” speaks to the band’s deep catalogue sensibility, and listeners with a kind disposition toward STONEDHENGE (from whence “Here Me Calling” originates) or The Jeff Beck Group’s underrated TRUTH should be similarly disposed toward this fine debut. That it brushes up against the dusted hard-psyche of the Cheer’s OUTSIDEINSIDE is seriously bonus. When people utter the words “like punk never happened”, it’s usually either a putdown or a falsehood (or both). In the case of Mount Carmel, it’s as fitting as a joy buzzer in the sweaty palm of a gills-loaded Legionnaire, though the impact is substantially more powerful. Is this stoner rock? Hmmm. That’s open for debate. It certainly could be. The ball, as they say, is in your court. You holding?

Charlie Parker’s influence on the shape of Modern Jazz was so widespread that he’s now in a weird historical spot where his significance is undeniably respected, his impact is still felt and his actual recordings are undervalued. To be clear, his stuff is still actively listened to, but Parker’s style was so transformative on the subsequent avenues explored on the alto sax that when many people hear him for the first time, which is quite often out of chronological context (as it was for me), his playing sounds very familiar. Like Elvis Presley, Bird was a mammoth game-changer, but as an instrumentalist in a non-pop form his legacy surely suffered from legions of players adapting his moves wholesale, a fate that Elvis escaped. Or to clarify, when people ape ol’ El’s moves they’re called impersonators. In Parker’s case, they get categorized as disciples. It’s true that many who fell under the saxophonist’s influence were exceptional artists in their own right (Sonny Criss, Cannonball Adderley and Phil Woods to name three), but as Charles Mingus later so eloquently editorialized on MINGUS DYNASTY, “If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats”. While many copied him artistically, others copied him onto tape playing live, with Dean Benedetti’s obsessive documentation of Parker’s solos (just the solos!) being the most notorious example. Future Mingus trombonist Jimmy Knepper, a running partner of sax player Benedetti, also made recordings during the same period that later appeared on Mingus’ Jazz Workshop label. Few musicians can survive the brutality inflicted upon their art by a rudimentary tape recorder in 1950. On BIRD AT ST. NICK’S Parker does, though a curious newbie should definitely begin with the Dial and Savoy Masters, simply some of the most beguiling and enduring music ever recorded. In addition there are numerous professionally rendered live dates on disc that amplify Parker’s stature as the undisputed master of the bop alto. And while those recordings help form the foundation of Bird’s oeuvre, ST. NICK’S hangs on the outskirts, serving as a raw directive to the commonplace brilliance of the man before his habits and demons took their toll. Make no mistake though, if you’re coming to this platter looking to hear underrated pianist Al Haig or bop bass mainstay Tommy Potter you might just end up pacing in front of yr stereo in a huff. But then again, listening to Parker and young drummer Roy Haynes improvise in relative audible isolation, where Haig and Potter aren’t heard but rather felt,  could possibly present an alternate path of appreciation. It’s in these serendipitous exercises of intense devotion where the ear can begin to locate Parker as a human figure, as just another working musician making incredible strides in the huge upswing of creativity splashed upon the American canvas post-Second World War, his sharp and fluid expression somewhat unburdened from the canonical status he holds as a genius of collaboration and advanced melodic ideas. Yes, the existence of what are essentially urban field recordings (or some of the earliest bootlegs, perhaps) intensifies the rush of adoration/worship that Parker instigated, but it also accurately depicts him as a player who paid the bills by doing gigs, just like any number of less fortunate and now forgotten figures on the scene. In jazz, even the most innovative of musicians must prove it on the bandstand with regularity and routine, elevating the everyday to the profound. Here, Bird flows casually but with cutting intensity, with Red Rodney’s trumpet occasionally announcing its presence, distant and a little bit ghostly. Probably due to the basic nature of the recording, Haynes’ kick-drum attains a disproportionate prominence that, while certainly inaccurately representative of this outstanding drummers’ style, can still acquire a pleasingly thunderous momentum. As the music progresses there are moments of sonic clarity that allow for Haig’s talent to explicitly register, particularly on “Out Of Nowhere”, and “Hot House” initiates a three-track sequence where all the participants’ contributions are actually (imperfectly) audible. Again, many will find this record frustrating instead of revelatory. BIRD AT ST. NICK’S is definitely not for all temperaments, but as it plays it’s readily apparent why Mingus prompted its release, for the flawed but vigorous glimpse provided deepens the portrait of a truly valuable artist. To my ears, the essence at its core exceeds any sonic limitations at hand, and pulls Charles "Yardbird" Parker blowing and wailing from the hallowed halls of fame (way up there) and into the hot here and now (right down here). Maybe you’ll feel the same.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Come on by Friday in the A.M. for Chester Records and The Winchester Book Gallery BLACK FRIDAY SALE!!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

In today!

Hey there record fiends! Just got in a few more things today and I hope to have some more this week. Get down and check em out!

Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes

Conan O'Brien - And They Call Me Mad? 7"

Dead Weather, The - Horehound

Dizzy Gillespie - The Real Thing

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

Wanda Jackson - Thunder on the Mountain 7"

Friday, November 19, 2010

Joseph's Picks Of The Week 11/19/10 - Deerhunter and Muddy Waters

It’s becoming clear that Deerhunter, like their indie homefrys Liars and Dan Deacon (for just two vaguely analogous examples), are in it for the long haul. Flash-in-the-pans come and go, and the overhyped have a tendency to betray the true magnitude of their nature, but long haul bands and artists share the knack for cutting through all the extraneous distractions and temptations to get down to the brass tacks of making quality records. It can be a romantic notion to surmise that the long haulers are the true lovers of music and the hypers and panners are merely self-serving or careerist in purpose. Attributing qualities to those we don’t know is a dangerous activity however, and just because a record from a flavor-of-the-month is shallow or uninspiring doesn’t mean the intentions of those who made it weren’t pure. But in Deerhunter’s case, designating them as music lovers is quite appropriate, since their latest release HALCYON DIGEST is explicitly about being inspired by the lovely (and sometimes lonely) tumultuousness of musical passion and fandom. There are many facets to the terminal need for sound, and where Sonic Youth’s string of Geffen releases often attained an aura of hipster erudition, or You La Tengo’s continuing Matador run feels like the crystallization of the greatest used record store ever opened, Deerhunter’s new one pleasantly reeks for much of its duration like a very well programmed set of late-night college radio (remember college radio?) or an expertly crafted mix-tape handed down from an older sibling. There is tangible disparity from track to track, but also a considered thread of similarity, a connective tissue that erases any threat of facile genre hopping. No, the quality of the songs here is striking, and Deerhunter’s continued movement away from their more noisesome roots is frankly not the trajectory I would have predicted and also not the slightest bit disappointing. While they never really gave Wolf Eyes or Merzbow a run for the cacophonous money, Bradford Cox and Co certainly began more as experimenters/manipulators/disrupters of rock-based sound rather than subverters/extenders of essentially pop-oriented song form. This type of streamlining progression often results in diminishing returns, but happily not in this case, since it’s become obvious that Deerhunter couldn’t make a “normal” album if they tried. Again, they have been heading in this direction for some time, but never has the migration sounded this advanced and surefooted. What once felt like dabbling and growth has moved past the point of no turning back. And maybe it’s just the label switch to 4AD, but I’m detecting a hazy anglophile vibe on HALCYON DIGEST that if traced all the way to its origins would likely lead us into a walk-in closet full of Bowie’s high-heeled boots. What a clothes horse! Additionally there are flashes of ‘60s-inspired transistor radio guitar jangle mildly reminiscent of San Fran’s Girls, hints of the new-new-new-psychedelia (possibly due to producer Ben H. Allen) that continues to place these guys in the general proximity of Animal Collective and an overall commitment to quality that’s heartening in these days of shoddy or underdeveloped product. Closing with a very fine tribute/dedication to the late, much missed Jay Reatard, HALCYON DIGEST is a very necessary proposition, and any survey of the contemporary music scene is incomplete without giving ample time to these considerable cats. Deerhunter’s been at it now for over half a decade, which in contemporary indie scene terms is a real long time, and it seems like they’re just getting warmed up.

Muddy Waters’ deserved reputation as one of the greatest of all bluesmen basically rests on his steadily evolving flow of exceptional material from the 1950s. By the middle of that decade, he’d essentially perfected the groundbreaking ensemble sound that would pretty much define the following twenty years of Chicago Blues (Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Magic Sam, Charlie Musselwhite etc) and would additionally play a pivotal role in rock music’s fitful growth (ever hear of the Rolling Stones? How about Eric Clapton?). The sparks and grease of Muddy’s innovation actually transpired on the bandstands of clubs and joints, and when the Brothers Chess finally relented and let his working band unleash their stuff in the studio the results were pure, thick gravy. While amplification of the blues had been a practical maneuver, allowing the music to be heard over the din of clamorous nightlife, Waters’ band took it a vital step further by synching themselves into one huge, rhythmically pulsating entity that’s effectiveness was only enhanced by their growing facility with the elements inherent to electrification. Brilliantly combining density with agility, they also deftly mixed varying degrees of smooth, suave urbanity with the tough rural Delta roots that made up the core of Muddy’s sound. The boldness of tone remains astounding. SINGING THE BLUES 1954-1959 is twenty-four tracks spread across two LPs that successfully provide a deep immersion into the still vibrant power of this estimable man’s grand repertoire. It combines a sprinkling of well known ringers like “I’m Ready”, “Mannish Boy” and “I Got My Mojo Working” with a strong helping of less bandied but just as worthy numbers such as “Evil”, “Diamonds At Your Feet” and a cover of his rival Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’”. Muddy’s guitar and vocals sustain a uniformly high level throughout, and the players surrounding him are in the top tier of post-war blues artists. The set extensively features the majestic walking bass of Willie Dixon, mouth harp by sublime blowers Little Walter Jacobs and James Cotton, the faultless piano of Otis Spann, sturdy second guitar from either Jimmy Rogers or Pat Hare, and the crucially unfussy drumming of Francis Clay. As the music’s power accumulates, nary is a note laid wrong. The majority of the songwriting is roughly split between Waters and Chess house maestro Dixon, who in addition to bass duties served as a songwriter, producer, and general all purpose conduit between the brothers Phil and Leonard Chess and the constant flow of talent they captured. The difference between Muddy’s Delta-descended stuff and Willie’s considerably more pop oriented material is complimentary, with Waters’ splendid delivery tying the strands together, and the sheer range on display means this sets’ listenability across four sides of vinyl is quite a rare achievement. Even the greatest blues artists can become a bit or a lot monochromatic as separately released sides are compiled and presented as a single entity, but by this point Waters was swinging so hard and wide that 1954-1959 solidifies and gains momentum as strongly as any long-playing release in the genre. “Good News” and “Evil” include some unexpected and not overdone tenor sax, and “She’s Into Something” finds the group finessing a wickedly shifting dynamic that’s about as progressively urban as Muddy ever got. Add in three cuts from the rather unheralded MUDDY WATERS SINGS BIG BILL BROONZY LP and the breadth of this mighty baby should be readily apparent. The man’s track record up to around ’65 or so is unimpeachable, and I’ll always have a serious soft spot for the diamond-tough extremity of the early material, but 1954-1959 is simply the stuff of legends. By this point Waters had the sure-footed swagger of a Mississippi man transplanted to Gotham and made good. And instead of slacking off, he just kept turning up the heat. What a benevolent mastermind he was.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In today!

Ok got a few new ones in today. Come by and pick up some new vinyl!

Animal Collective-Strawberry Jam
Mumford & Sons-Sigh No More
Andrew Bird-Useless Creatures(instrumental)
Sonny Rollins-Saxophone Colossus

Friday, November 12, 2010

Joseph's Picks Of The Week 11/12/10 - Dag Nasty and The Stanley Brothers

Post-hardcore was a vague catchall term used in the late-‘80s to describe various advancements being made in the underground scene by aging punks looking for new kicks. Some of the noisier/artier bands that once fell under this description are now categorized as indie-rock, Dinosaur Jr. being a fine example. But many post-HC units were distinct from their peers in that instead of subverting or moving beyond the rudiments of hardcore punk they actively sought to expand the genre into something less rigid or predictable. Probably the two biggest locales for post-HC were Chicago and the Nation’s Capital, and this makes total sense. The Windy City’s geographical position made it less likely to fall victim to faddism or to develop niche scenes that were in direct opposition to the punk/hardcore impulse, and DC’s function as the nerve center of the Federal Government played a large role in shaping how many in the District elected to transform hardcore, which was quite often a very political genre, instead of abandon it. Dag Nasty were part of the initial wave of DC post-HC bands, and until the emergence of Fugazi, they were likely the most popular. Featuring Brian Baker (ex-of Minor Threat), Dag Nasty made a huge impression with the 1986 release of CAN I SAY, presenting a fresh sonic recipe--retain the heaviness, increase the melody and eschew rage and didacticism in favor of angst and introspection. I first heard CAN I SAY roughly a year after it hit the racks, and while it did play a big part in my personal growth away from standard punk and hardcore, I must confess it didn’t affect me the way their artier, wordier DC contemporaries Rites Of Spring did. The members of Dag Nasty were all veterans of other bands, and it’s obvious from listening to their debut that the shared goal was to play more accessibly and connect with a wider audience. In this case, that’s cool. By 1985, the standard hardcore scene had stagnated considerably. And at this point, their music retained much from Minor Threat circa OUT OF STEP and held flashes of influence from such worthy melodic trailblazers as Descendents and Hüsker Dü. However, there was an earlier, tougher period in Dag Nasty’s genealogy which featured powerhouse vocalist Shawn Brown (later of Swiz). The recordings of that lineup have been floating around for almost two decades, but I’d never made the effort to check ‘em out until now. My mistake. DAG WITH SHAWN, Dischord Records’ archival release of the Brown-era tapes shows how different the initial version was in both texture and velocity. The raw-throated sing-shout of Brown essentially necessitates that the band respond with something approximately as heavy, and in so doing the entire session falls much closer to the wilder, more abrasive end of the post-HC spectrum. The whole sweet mess is coated with the sturdy chug/throttle that became very common (and welcome) as the better hardcore bands learned how to stretch beyond the limitations of the form’s standard beats and riffs. This tightly wound release really hits a qualitative peak with the jackhammer delivery of the song “Can I Say”, which raises the bar on an already classic tune. To my ears, Brown’s brawny, vein bulging roar is preferable to subsequent vocalist Dave Smalley’s streamlined approach, though it must be stressed how that more well-mannered style fit his version of the band like a pair of stretchy bike shorts. To wit: CAN I SAY’s “What Now?” combines a tuneful, almost popish dynamic with earnest lyrical vulnerability, resulting in a sound that helped inspire legions of alienated teen punks to scribble endlessly into battered composition notebooks all across the land. I know, ‘cause I was one of ‘em. Due to these palpable differences DAG WITH SHAWN doesn’t serve as a replacement for CAN I SAY, but instead stands as its own entity, falling in with the bolder, more workmanlike DC bands such as Marginal Man, later-period Scream and Ignition. Listening loudly is like a passport back to a sweaty “3 bands for 3 bucks” gig in the cramped confines of the old 9:30 Club. If my memory of those days sounds like a good time I can assure you they definitely were, and by extension this record most certainly is.

The Stanley Brothers weren’t the originators of bluegrass, but they do stand as one of the earliest and finest exponents of the style, helping to expand the possibilities of this still quite popular genre in its formative period shortly after the Second World War, and anybody who wants a thorough picture of the movement away from old timey string band traditions toward the development of a more progressive and modern sound simply must contend with this pair. While it’s generally acknowledged that they really hit their stride with the 22 tracks recorded for the Columbia label starting right at the cusp of the 1950s, the material collected on EARLIEST RECORDINGS: THE COMPLETE RICH-R-TONE 78S (1947-1952) is still fascinating and in my estimation essential for numerous reasons. Foremost, it catches the Stanleys at a crucial moment where their style did more than just hint at the influence of their predecessors. I find it impossible to listen to this record’s opening cut “Little Maggie” and not hear the resonant style of Appalachian giant Clarence “Tom” Ashley, for just one instance. Also, it’s quite apparent that the expressive melancholy that forms a huge part of the stylistic makeup of bluegrass, a feel the form's progenitor Bill Monroe called the “high lonesome sound” (a term also used to describe the art of another old time master Roscoe Holcomb), was an inextricable part of the Brothers’ work from the very start. To elaborate, their vocal harmonies possessed a chilly gripping beauty that many later bluegrass players and groups sacrificed in favor of flurries of technical flash and modest slickness. The Stanley Brothers’ music at this point is emotionally direct and strikingly pure in form, though at this early date any purist notions are still a long ways away. They easily attain a natural ache and a well balanced instrumental vision while essentially responding to other’s advancements in this newfound roots style (Monroe’s “Molly and Tenbrook” is covered here, much to Bill’s then disdain). And those brotherly harmonies fall into an estimable progression of sibling country acts that include the Delmores, the Louvins and the Everlys. One only need listen to “Death Is Only a Dream” to understand just how vital this pair was not only to bluegrass but to the intricate and often undervalued fabric of country music as a whole. Anybody with an interest in the weave of that tapestry needs this collection pure and simple. And please note that only the first ten tracks here truly qualify as the Stanley’s earliest recordings. The last four were actually done in the short interim between their Columbia and Mercury contracts. So this is a real gap-filler for budding musicologists as well as an indispensible slab of gorgeous rural science. Getting familiar with the earliest work of an artist or group can sometimes be just a completist gesture. And that’s alright. I’ve gestured in a completist manner many times, and am far the better for it. But completism is not the case here. Ralph and Carter Stanley were great from the get-go, and it’s wonderful to see their early sides collected and readily available.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Just in

Just got a new shipment in today of some real sweet vinyl! Come by and flip through the bin.
Here is what came in:

Black Flag-Damaged
Blood Sweat & Tears-Child is Father to the Man(180g)
Carter Family-Bring Back My Blue-Eyed Boy To Me
Deerhunter-Halcyon Digest(white 120g vinyl)
Elton John/Leon Russell-The Union(2lp)
Minutemen-Double Nickles On The Dime(2lp)
Mount Carmel-mount Carmel
Neko Case-Middle Cyclone(2lp 180g vinyl)
Pink Floyd-Darkside Of The Moon(180g vinyl 30th anniversery)
Stanley Brothers-the Complete Rich-R-Tone 78s 1947-52(clear vinyl)
Sufjan Stevens-The Age Of Adz(2lp)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Joseph's Picks Of The Week 11/5/10 - LCD Soundsystem & James Brown

The growth of producer/musician James Murphy as documented by his activities via the DFA label has been impressive. Initially, his group LCD Soundsystem was just one of a hot handful of names under the DFA umbrella dedicated to combining dance music aesthetics with a punk/experimental edge. All that worked out surprisingly well, with Murphy and partner Tim Goldsworthy becoming in demand remix specialists, tackling tunes from sources diverse as The Blues Explosion, The Chemical Brothers and Justin Timberlake. Along the way, LCD slowly kept gathering momentum, getting nominated for Grammys while expanding the scale of the group’s sound. I use the word group loosely; Murphy is the creative force behind the LCD moniker, and the Top Ten charting THIS IS HAPPENING finds him attaining a consistently high standard. Utilizing a smart set of influences is a huge part of his success, but songwriting has also come to play an increasingly important role. THIS IS features a handful of cuts that display a maturing pop sensibility married to Murphy’s sonic attack. “All I Want” features the sort of anthemic melancholia that’s reminiscent of and a worthy successor to Bowie’s “Heroes”, and “I Can Change” feels like what might’ve happened had Vince Clarke replaced Gary Numan in The Tubeway Army. Lotsa soaring high notes and boing-boing robotics, ya dig? Other parts of the record fuse this popishness to Murphy’s now well-established off-the-cuff quirk with fine results. Album opener “Dance Yrself Clean” is the best example of this savvy combination, feeling like an early version of Depeche Mode that honed their chops not in England but in the dank New York clubs of the early ‘80s. And those who love the making it all up as he goes along mouthy quality from the earlier records have nothing to worry about. “You Wanted a Hit” and “Pow Pow” continue the development of LCD’s more extemporaneous side, with the later displaying sonic touches of the youngish New Order until the arrival of a down and dirty bass-line seamlessly shifts the focus to percolating techno-funk throb, and all the while Murphy’s talking and talking. While it’s nice to name check the influences (amongst other elements, Eno is a major implicit presence, there are touches of Kraftwerk’s techno-pop period, and the cover photo is obviously inspired by artist Robert Longo), what’s more important is how these reference points are assembled. As a 40-year old dude, Murphy heard a whole lot of his inspiration as it happened, and he’s had a whole lot of time to reflect on just how to integrate those elements. The punkish vibe of LCD (and DFA in general) has nothing to do with snarly snotty posing and everything to do with reverence for a period in the punk chronology where Suicide were considered as legitimate an example of the form as The Ramones. Experimentation as one part of a well-balanced diet. Another major factor in the success of the sound lies in the avoidance of the use of computer software. Murphy has a stated preference for analog sound (the synths he uses are the kind you play, not program), and that really makes a difference, since a longstanding aspect of LCD’s success is the sort of clinical iciness that has inspired black-clad pale-skinned boys and girls to mope around for roughly three decades. Underneath that icy quality however is warmth provided by the instrumentation. This mix of cold/hot goes all the way back to Cabaret Voltaire and The Normal’s “TVOD”/”Warm Leatherette”, and it’s a big reason why Depeche Mode and New Order still resonate with people born after those band’s formative years. On THIS IS HAPPENING James Murphy has set his personal bar extremely high, with nary a dud or a tangible dip in quality, and it’ll be interesting to see if he continues to mine this fertile territory or lights out in a different direction.

Lucky for us, since the dawn of recorded sound, history has handed us a steadily growing resource of music that can reasonably be described with the admittedly somewhat overused term “great”.  Additionally, there exist a much smaller number of aural documents that sit at the highest level of esteem, what some would call essential listening and others might bestow as the absolute crème de la crème. The previous two sentences are a loquacious way of saying that there are records and then THERE ARE RECORDS: James Brown’s LIVE AT THE APOLLO is an example of the caps font variety. I’ll state the case and make it plain. This 1962 LP is almost certainly the greatest live recording of all time. Now, to expand a bit- the music found on this brief slab of vinyl is a rare glimpse of raw artistry distilled into a perfectly calibrated performance, where Brown, then at an early peak in his long career as a groundbreaking R&B bandleader par excellence, engaged in a glorious give-and-take/tug-of-war with his crack band The Famous Flames, their collective effort inspiring a feverish dialogue with a theater filled to capacity with passionate fans. It’s the personification of hard soul, and the ability of the band to navigate a varied terrain of raucous crowd movers/slow burners honed down to their very essence has lost none of its brilliance. Naturally, Brown presides over this dynamic showcase with faultless urgency and precision. Never is there any doubt that James is the crucial element of the show, and it’s his relentlessness, his joy, his anguish, his pleading that truly elevates the recording of this performance (just one of a weeklong engagement) to legendary status. The centerpiece of the record is “Lost Someone”, which takes up over a third of the album’s running time. Brown swings into a mode of extended gospel testifying before gradually shifting into a bout of call and response with the increasingly overwrought audience as the band sagely simmers and accents the proceedings, and then quickly, with an emphatic shout out of “Please Please Please”, the direction shifts into a medley of tunes that instead of feeling underwhelming or cheap (as medleys so often do), actually attains an aura of sensible grandeur. It’s almost as if playing the songs in their entirety would’ve caused The Apollo to spin into orbit from sheer euphoria. In the annals of soul music, there are two guys who basically invented it, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, and then two other guys who took that impetus and ran with it full steam into the 1960s, Otis Redding and James Brown (we’ll discuss the girls another time). All four of these names deserve a monument at least the size of Rushmore. But it was Brown who seized upon the essence of this most communicative of pop music forms and boiled it down to a simple equation. Lungs + sweat + groove x (crowd) = Star Time. Are you ready for Star Time?