Wednesday, August 29, 2007

This Moment in Slack History: Morsels from the Last Great Era of the 7 Inch Record

"This Moment in Slack History" collects songs from 90s indie 7 inches. For further explanation, please see my original post here.

Helium "Hole in the Ground"
You all probably know Helium. At least everyone I knew back in 96 or so did. Mary Timony's post-Autoclave project put out 2 full lengths and a handful of EPs on Matador in the mid 90s. "Hole in the Ground" is from their second 7" released on the quite excellent Pop Narcotic label in 1993 just prior to the band being snatched up by the multi-conglomerate. In all seriousness, it was probably this single that convinced Matador to sign them and it's easy to hear why. It remains one of my favorite songs from the band and it's sadly out of print and unavailable anywhere else. (Though I believe the B Side, "Lucy," is on the "rarities" disc of What's Up, Matador? compilation/label sampler.) Give it a listen and dig that female empowerment, sister.

Play or Download Helium "Hole in the Ground"

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Yes, it is scary

Sidebar ad on my g-mail today:

I don't know what's worse: this or the ad on myspace that keeps telling me about the rerelease of Soupy Sales' 1965 album. Granted, Soupy's kids were pretty good as the rhythm section for Tin Machine but still...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Make this band your Myspace friend: Tyvek

Best record I've heard thus far this year? That would be Tyvek's "Summer Burns" double 7 inch. I've been hearing this band's name thrown around for months: sharing a 7" with the excellent Cheveu, going on tour with the also excellent Cause Co-Motion!, doing a session for the Cherry Blossom Clinic on WFMU, being name dropped by none other than Ted Leo. It's easy to see why. Many bands who drink from the post-punk fountain are stiff and rigid, recreating the formal elements of whatever aspects of the sound they choose to emulate but not the enthusiasm, and are generally too cool for school (but not cool enough for my turntable, motherfucker). Tyvek play their songs with the ragged fervor of a lo-fi garage punk band. (They're from Detroit so maybe that helps.) They're all about immediacy, not detachment and these four songs will penetrate your soul to evoke memories of your 16 year old self scouring 7 inch bins for Datapanik/Anyway singles or hearing Delta 5 or the Fall for the first time. (Okay, that's probably more my 16 year old self than yours.) The 2x45 has me clamouring to hear anything else the band has to offer as I suspect it will for you as well.

Mucho props to the folks at What's Your Rupture? for presenting this gift to the universe. They are quickly becoming of the best labels in the world. If only they would release the 3rd Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves album they would almost certainly get the top spot. That's called a suggestion, guys!!

Make Tyvek your myspace friend.

Friday, August 17, 2007

This Moment in Slack History: Morsels from the Last Great Era of the 7 Inch Record

For those of you who lived through the 90s you may remember that it was a remarkable time for music. If you think that's hyperbole or nostalgia I will remind you that 90s were a time when someone like Lou Barlow could have a side project that was little more than a tribute to the Sliver Apples score a top 40 hit. The 90s were also the last time when the market for 7 inch records was viable and healthy and 1000s of bands took advantage releasing 45s on their own imprint or (if they were lucky) getting an indie label to press it up and distribute it for them. It was the perfect way to introduce a band to the listener: 2 or 3 of the band's best blasts in a small, attractive and affordable package. The bubble burst on this market around the same time that the mainstream alt rock boom went bust and the insidious beasts known as post-grunge (in the mainstream) and emo (in the underground) rose to prominence. Bands are still releasing 7 inches today but in lesser numbers. Why waste the money on making a material item that you then have to go through the process of getting into hands of the public when you can just throw a couple of MP3s on your website (or myspace page) and potentially have the entire world able to hear your work? It's certainly more convenient and economically sound. I won't say which approach I consider better but speaking as someone who is a collector by nature I do miss the ability to possess an actual object as a memento. But that's neither here nor there.

Unfortunately, this era has yet to be documented in any kind of meaningful way. (Hell, I'm still waiting for Rhino to release their inevitable alt rock hits of the 90s compilations.) Certainly, a few labels and artists have released retrospectives of their own 7 inch releases but there's been nothing in the way of a "Pebbles" or "Killed by Death" style collection for 90s indie 45s. So being the semi-ambitious fellow that I am, I took it upon myself to right this wrong. But being the somewhat lazy fellow that I am, I decided, much like the hypothetical band I described above, that pressing up and distributing records would be too much of an undertaking and that converting 7 inches to MP3s and posting them seemed like the more practical thing to do. (Not to mention having to track down all the bands and pay them. I could release a comp as a bootleg and bypass this step but I'm the above board, straight and narrow type.)

Thus, this feature will be something of a piecemeal compilation. I'll provide you with the track and a little background info and you can go ahead and assemble you own comp if you'd like once there are enough cuts posted to fill a CD. Or you can just take it as it comes. That's really up to you. What's up to me is providing you with quality. Though not the kind of quality that one would file under "sound." This was the lo-fi era after all. So all that surface noise you hear from the vinyl to MP3 is there for ambience. Ambience or the fact that I can't figure out how to make them sound any better.

(Note: If any of the artists responsible for these songs object to them being freely available please get in touch and I will delete them without hesitation. I'm not here to tell you that you should be giving your music away though you should consider that maybe demand for those 50 copies left in your mom's basement will suddenly and sharply increase. Another note: The claim that no one else is documenting this era is not entirely true as the good folks at Static Party have been posting cuts from 90s 45s for some time. However, their focus is entirely on the garage punk genre and while some overlap is possible and even likely this feature should be a bit broader in scope. But do go and pay them a visit, will you?)

The Bartlebees "Winter in the City"
Let's hear it for German twee pop!! Twee is not usually my cup of tea (too much sugar!) but the Bartlebees pull if off better than most. Or maybe it's just more appealing to me to hear cutesy lyrics sung in broken English through thick German accents than the seemingly ubiquitous infantile vocal stylings of most indie pop. In any case, this Munich trio was quite prolific in the 90s releasing several LPs and 45s mostly on their own Little Teddy label. Most of these were only sporadically available in the US though the fine New Jersey-based label 18 Wheeler released a CD (From Path of Pain to Jewels of Glory) combining the band's first two full-lengths along with some fairly hilarious liner notes. "Winter in the City" is from a 45 featuring some lovely glued on artwork that came out on the Tout Le Monde label in 1997 or so. It's one of my favorite cuts from the Bartlebees though I have to admit I have little to no clue what they're going on about. Something about a "human blankie" and the Shroud of Turin. Um, yeah. Also be sure to check the band's ace cover of punk troubadour Patrik Fitzgerald's "Safety Pin Stuck in My Heart" available on their myspace page.

Play or Download The Bartlebees "Winter in the City"

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Paleontology for Dullards: A Consumer's Guide

This feature is for you, the consumer, to use when rummaging through used LP bins. Some of you may find a record by an artist with whom you are unfamiliar and think "I've heard of these guys. Are they any good?" or "How do I know this isn't their one dud album and a terrible entry point to their body of work?" or, most importantly, "Is this really worth $3.99?" This guide is for you, least your home become filled with nonessential vinyl and your significant other begins giving you the evil eye whenever that damn Radio Shack commercial comes on. Not only will I review a plethora of used LPs amassed from many a used bin but I will assign them actual cash value. In other words, you, the consumer, may rummage with confidence knowing full well whether or not the piece of vinyl in your hand is worth the same as a value meal at Arby's.

Ratings are based on the percentage of the authentic value of an LP in ratio to what I actually paid for it. For example, if I paid $5 for an LP but it's only worth $4 the LP will receive a rating of 80%. If I paid $3 and the LP is worth $1 the rating is 33.3% and so on. Please note: scarcity is a factor in determining value. Black Sabbath LPs are much easier to find than Go-Betweens LP so while they both groups may be of equal musical value the rating of the latter will be inherently higher. This is not snobbery, it is simply the economic principle that mass production degrades value. You should never pay more than $2 for a Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac LP (if it's Tusk). Also note: when records receive maximum ratings of 100% it is not necessarily the top dollar amount you might want to pay for that particular LP. You may want to pay more if you wish. A top-of-the-food-chain, life-affirming album for which I happened to pay $7 may be worth picking up for $8. Or even $15 or $20. Or not.

Feedback on ratings will likely be erroneous but is welcome and will amuse me. And finally, no, I will not tell you where I found these LPs. Frankly, if you're blowing up my spot and finding all the bargains, this feature will become expendable. And we couldn't have that.

(Ed. Note: this feature was inspired by "$2.99 Wax Necessities" by Tim Midgett (formerly of the excellent Silkworm, currently of the similarly excellent Bottomless Pit and well respected rock crit) wherein Mr Midgett gave you a host of LPs worth purchasing for $2.99. I would link this but it seems to have disappeared from the world of the Internet. Nonetheless, I tip my hat to Mr Midgett and note that while his writing may have the edge in insight and general scribe skills I make up for it in hubris.)

Penetration Moving Targets
Pentration is probably best known for their fine class of 77 single "Don't Dictate," a neat little proto-riot grrl number that seems to be included on nearly every 70s Brit-punk compilation. It's not on this however, their 1978 debut long player, which is too bad because Moving Targets could really use a shot of life. The album is far from terrible but as a UK punk artifact it's not exactly Germfree Adolescents or Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts. Despite Jon Savage's waxing poetically on the band in England's Dreaming there's not too much of note going on here with the best cut being a cover of contemporaries The Buzzcocks' "Nostalgia." A nice curio of the era perhaps, but not much else.
Price paid: $5 Rating: 60%

Great Plains Naked at the Buy Sell and Trade
I'm a bit ashamed to say that this is the first record I have ever owned from Ohio's Great Plains. This is despite a) my total adoration of singer Ron House's post-GP project Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, b) their fantastic ode to/mockery of the 80s underground "Letter to a Fanzine" (heard by yours truly via Homestead Records' excellent Wailing Ultimate comp) has graced many a mixtape of mine and c) an easily available double CD compilation of the lion's share of the their material came out a few years ago. After listening to Naked at the Buy Sell Trade I can only conclude that I am a fool for depriving myself for so long. "Letter to a Fanzine" isn't even the best thing here. A less aggressive affair than TJSA, Great Plains were nonetheless an equally perfect vechile for Mr House. House may not exactly have a classic voice-as-instrument (his nasal whine is reminiscent of Jad Fair) but I can say with no reluctance that he's a fantastic singer. His melodies are genuinely inventive and his lyrics are frequently hilarious. House displays the sharp, self-effacing wit of someone who's seen enough to be skeptical about everything yet never falls in love with his own cleverness or gets bogged down in negativity. Quite the opposite actually, as this record is a joy to listen to from start to finish. I've been walking around singing "Hey hey the dream's gone away/I'm living in the hall of shame" ("Hall of Shame) and "Don Howland has to take a piss/ Real bad!" ("Real Bad") for days. Great Plains make as good a case for unpretentious punk rock played by a bunch of "regular dudes" as the Minutemen did and that's just about the highest compliment I can give.
Price paid: $5 Rating: 100%

Teenage Head Frantic City
Often referred to as the the "Canadian Ramones" which I suppose is an adequate description if you think "Canadian" is synonymous with "bland and inoffensive" and you confuse the Ramones with the Stray Cats. For a bunch of rock n roll revivalists Teenage Head's songs sure lacked punch which is absolutely necessary if you're making a point of how derivative your sound is. Even the covers of "Wild One," "C'mon Everybody" and "Brand New Cadillac" fall totally flat. They supposedly had an incendiary live show but from the evidence here I have a hard time believing it. You would think a band named after a Flamin Groovies song would know a thing or two about making a good rock n roll album but you'd be sadly mistaken.
Price paid: $2 Rating: 25%

Marianne Faithfull Broken English
For those who don't know, Marianne Faithful was an icon of 60s swinging London known more for her beauty than talent as a singer whose career and personal life hit the skids in the 70s before she released this as her comeback album in 1979. You can file this one under "baby boomers respond to new wave" along with Rust Never Sleeps, Tusk and Linda Ronstant's Mad Love. While it's not on par with Rust Never Sleeps nor is it a fascinating mess like Tusk, Broken English does work and has it's share of great moments. (I can't compare it to the Ronstant album as, having some taste and dignity, I've never heard it.) Chief among those moments are the title cut, which opens the album, and it's closer, the trenchant "Why d'Ya Do It?" The title track is a nice piece of chilly atmosphere ala Bowie circa his Berlin era warmed up by Faithfull's all too human vocals. "Why d'Ya Do It?" is the real stunner though, one of the best spurned lover songs ever. Over a repeating slinky riff, Faithfull sings frank (and, frankly, filthy) lyrics about a relationship gone very sour made all the more effective by the profanity strewn throughout. Lines like "Why'd ya do it, she said, why'd you spit on my snatch?/Are we out of love now or is this just a bad patch?" are absolutely gut-wrenching. Give Faithfull some credit for doing this sort of thing when Liz Phair was still tooling around on her big wheel. As for all the songs in between those two peaks, they're all solid to good if a bit on the adult-contemporary side though Faithfull's voice and the new wave leanings of the arrangements keep things from getting too smooth. (I know the version of "Working Class Here" on here is much celebrated but honestly its no better than Tin Machine's.) All the songs though convey the feeling that Faithful has seen it all and she's done taking shit from anyone, including you. It's been a pleasure being told off by you, Ms Faithfull. Thank you very much.
Price paid: $4 Rating: 100%

Nick Heyward North of a Miracle
The Rock Snob's Dictionary called the debut solo offering from ex-Haircut 100 frontman Nick Heyward a "lost masterpiece of jangle-pop." After listening to said album, I can't help but think the authors were being facetious. North of a Miracle isn't a masterpiece by anyone's standards nor is it exactly jangle pop. It is, however, an affable bit of pseudo-sophisticated fluff, something that might perk up the ears of your average Britpop fan. The album's best moments evoke what a much slicker, more trival Go-Betweens might sound like. Its lesser songs are occasionally overblown but mostly pleasantly vapid though none are as puerile (or as catchy) as "Love Plus One." It's not exactly the stuff of legend but if you like your pop dainty and inconsequential it might be worth a listen.
Price paid: $3 Rating: 67%

Lou Reed Berlin
Sometimes said to be the most depressing album ever made. I don't know about that but I definitely wouldn't play it at parties.
Price paid: $4 Rating: 75%

Golliwogs Pre-Creedence
As you might have guessed from the title, the Golliwogs was the moniker of Creedence Clearwater Revival before they changed their name for their debut album. In this embryonic stage the group released 7 45s all of which are collected here. Sequenced chronologically, it's a treat to hear the band evolve. Early cuts are C+ garage rock typically aping the popular styles of the time. "Brown Eyed Girl" is not the Van Morrision tune but is so derivative of Them's "Gloria" they might as well have given him a writing credit anyway. There are some good tunes from this stage though like the much comped "Fight Fire" and the bluesy "You Can't Be True," which wouldn't sound out of place on first Pretty Things LP. By the end of the LP the classic Creedence sound is pretty much in place with the final two A-sides, "Walking on the Water" and "Porterville," winding up on CCR's debut. "Porterville" is the same version as the one on the debut but "Walking on the Water" was rerecorded and the version here is more of a garage stomper than the LP version. I wouldn't say it's superior to the album version but hearing it in its more primitive form definitely brought a smile to my face. I can't recommend the Golliwogs LP across the board but Creedence fans will probably find this more satisfying than Centerfield.
Price paid: $5 Rating: 80%

The Rubinoos s/t
In my post from a few weeks ago about Avril Lavigne's theft of their signature tune I called the Rubinoos "a band that in some ways, for better and worse, epitomized the power pop movement of the late 70s." Not to pat myself on the back, that's pretty on the nose. The Rubinoos' debut long player is almost relentlessly upbeat with really sappy teeny-bop boy-meets-girl lyrics for almost every cut. Personally, I prefer my pop with a little pathos. I was with them for the first couple of songs, including their cover of "I Think We're Alone Now" (about 10 years before Tiffany) and the buoyant blue-eyed soul original "Hard to Get," but by the time they around to their goofy cover of the Cadallics' "Peek-A-Boo" I was pretty much done. There are some excellent bands who are generally recognized as power pop of whom I'm quite fond mainly because they either transcend the genre's limitations (i.e. Big Star, The dBs, Tommy Keene) or their songwriting prowess is so strong that the efficacy of their pop asipirations is undeniable (i.e The Records, The Nerves, Cheap Trick). The Rubinoos, however, don't have the ambitons of the former or the chops of the latter. This LP has the effect of eating an entire meal of cotton candy. It's a tasty treat for the first couple of bites but by the end you'll have a toothache. Not to mention the lack of nutritional value.
Price paid: $2 Rating: 100% (but don't pay more than 2 bucks, seriously)