November 2010

Satan Panonski: Eastern Block Rock

Each individual scene has a load of politics and history to deal with. And being a daft American without a wide ranging view of international history doesn’t help suss out why which music occurred where and why. It makes sense that Israel has a pretty nasty hardcore scene – it’s a war zone after all. But a giant blind spot in regarding Easter European history has served to obscure punk from what was at one time Yugoslavia. And if there’s another body Stateside that detail the break up of that nation and its resultant countries, lemme know.

Thee Mighty Caesars: Hail Early Caesars!

It’s either utterly ridiculous or a monumental sign post detailing the creativity of humanity that Billy Childish is associated with so many different recordings. Beginning towards the early eighties, Childish and whatever group of bums he could find would crank out some extraordinarily engaging pop induced garage tunes, stick around for a while and then dissolve into the mess of independently released Brit music from the period.

Of course, remaining completely detached from pervasive tastes over there in the UK is pretty impressive when considering the expansive backlog of records Childish has had a hand in. But it’s also kind of nutty that one guy has seen fit to record in roughly the same mode for just about thirty years and folks still eat it up – I’m one of them.

Anyway, after the Milkshakes fell apart, it didn’t take Childish too long to soldered together the group which would constitute Thee Mighty Caesars – and no, I have no idea what all the ‘Thees’ are a bout. Ask Thee Oh Sees, maybe.

During the first two years of the band’s existence it issued some ridiculous number of singles and no less then three albums – or four depending on what dates you dig up from the interwebs and not the dust jackets.

Tandoori Knights: Garage as Seen through the Eyes of Brown Folks from Canada

Miriam Linna and Billy Miller have become something of garage and RnB curators. The pair’s Norton Records is responsible to re-issuing the catalogs of folks as far ranging as Link Wray and Sun Ra. There might be serpentine reasonings as to why or how those two folks are related musically, but even if there’s not, each ranks as good music. And that’s why Norton’s involved.

But in addition to digging up old treasures, the New York based imprint issues new groups, who for the most part have an eye to the past, it’s recordings and its heroes. So, in putting work out by Arish Ahmad Khan, better known to garage enthusiasts as King Khan, and his various pseudonyms, Norton’s in effect cementing more music’s historical import. At some point in the next few decades, it wouldn’t be too much of a shock if a compilation cropped up with a number of disparate players redoing Khan’s various compositions. There’re surely enough to go around.

Either way, this latest project called Tandoori Knights plays on Khan’s background, he’s joined by Bloodshot Bill whose own album as the Ding Dongs is being sent off into the world by Norton as well.

Lora's Essential Logic

Just to get it out of the way, X Ray Spex’ “Oh Bondage, Up Yours” is one of the best first wave of Brit singles to be issued. That song’s so engaging, dudes that don’t even like punk too much enjoy listening. Of course, the fact that it was worked up by a handful of teenage girls doesn’t hurt. But that doesn’t detract from how engaging the song is on a purely musical level.

Either way, as with many of those early punk groups, line ups were pretty volatile and there didn’t seem to be any real end game in sticking around in one group for to long – stasis and all. You know. Either way, when Lora Logic and Poly Styrene called it quits with that aforementioned group, it wasn’t long before Essential Logic sprung up.

What’s weird is that there isn’t too great a difference between this latter group and the X Rays. Granted, funk and dub get ratcheted up a bit, but that seemed par for the course. It mirrors, to a certain extent the changes John Lydon would go through when moving from the Sex Pistols to Public Image Limited.

Circle One: Let's (Illogically) Blame Rollins

The entire record output of SoCal’s Circle One can easily play from beginning to end without a listener realizing what’s just transpired. The band, at this late date, is really recalled as a part of a much larger group, with the individual attributes being ignored, to a certain extent, to revel in historic glory.

But the early hardcore scene in SoCal, much like in NYC, was riddled with violence and shows were frequently places for music as much for settling scores. In reading various punk histories, including Steven Blush’s American Hardcore, a gang aesthetic gets related. And while that might be a bit much, there’s something to it in light of the Youth Brigade film Let Them Know.

And while that last band seems more important for what it did behind the scenes than for the music it actually recorded, first hand accounts are pretty unrelenting in depicting a few groups – Circle One for sure – as a bunch of tough guys who insinuated themselves into the scene. All of this could be layed at Rollins’ feet. After all, who was a tough guy in the manner he was before a member of Black Flag? I dunno, no one?

Johnny Dole and the Scabs: Apparently, Punks want to get Drunk

If one were to blindly listen in on a Johnny Dole and the Scabs recording, it would probably get lumped into the vast catalog of relatively obscure British punk bands out there. The thing is, Johnny Dole and his cohort hailed from Australia – Sydney specifically. Of course, there’s no way to pick that up immediately from a quick listen. But if we’re paying attention here – and happen to be well versed in the Saints’ catalog – there’s a rhythmic delivery present in the singing here referencing that better known band.

It’s not at all necessarily completely detached from the Brit punk thing. At the same time, though, there’s a reason all that funky post-punk stuff cropped up in the UK and not down under. Partly, that’d be due to different immigrant populations surrounding each disparate scene, but music is a visceral thing as much as a cultural thing. And for whatever reason (we could easily pin it on the criminal element), Aussie bands subjected audiences to a more straightforward, and in some cases more aggressive, take on the genre than elsewhere – Sick Things for instance.

Either way, Johnny Dole and the Scabs showed up in time for the feeding frenzy that prompted major imprints to sign up their very own punk band and crank out poorly produced albums just to cash in. Because of that it seems as if the ensemble were caught up in a professional jive that they weren’t really prepared to engage with.

The Ralphs: (Weirdo) Punks from Down Dallas Way

It’s always a bit confusing when there’s virtually no information detailing a band’s rise and subsequent fall in the virtual stacks of the internet. Surely, some of the best music ever crafted on this planet has gone unnoticed – and probably even unrecorded. Those are just the odds on something like this. It’s almost as weird to think that there are more dead folks buried in the ground than there are walking on it.

Richard Hell: Disappointing Second Takes

First off, when Richard Hell sports some shaggy, long locks he looks like Gene Simmons. That’s not good, bad or indifferent. It just is. And will remain amusing to me until the end of time.

Either way, after helping solidify the direction of Television alongside Tom Verlaine and subsequently an early line up of the Heartbreakers, Hell went off on his own to write one of the definitive songs of the initial wave of punk stuff. “Black Generation,” although endlessly interpreted in different ways, remains a readily identifiable landmark in the genre’s develop, both musically and lyrically. Basically, it’s just good stuff.

Parasites Of The Western World: A Lesser No Wave

The vast field of auld time recordings being dug up yields good, bad and indifferent. It’s pretty rare, though, when a disc arrives that’s equal parts of those things. Granted, some no wave clunkers do exist. But finding a disc sporting mountainous highs and depressed canyon lows is truly bizarre.

I suppose, the Parasites of the Western World aren’t in the same realm of music as DNA or whoever you’d care to pluck from that New York scene. And considering that this duo - Terry Censky and Patrick Burke – sussed out this conglomeration of noises up in the Northwest, Portland to be exact, it’d be fair to cut ‘em a bit of slack.

The group’s first release spurt out around 1978. And while that’s not early for New York, Los Angeles or other major, metro hubs, it’d be difficult to name another group or two from Portland with an eye towards these sorts of aural abstractions. Maybe that’s simply my own ignorance speaking, but there you have it.

Beginning with “Mo,” listeners might figure the stuff to follow remains in line with the aural proclivities on display here. The punky tempo, grinding and phased guitar – not to mention that barely tenable guitar solo – hint at what the confluence of aggressive rock stuffs and utter noise should be. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many other moments resembling this one. And in fact, the following song winds up being a two minute rumination on a single bouncing snatch of reverb. While that’s all well and good in theory, it doesn’t do too much in the realm of entertainment. Arguments can be made for this being art. But I don’t listen to art, I listen to music.

The Dicks and Austin's Hardcore Scene on the Run

Apart from MDC it seems as if the Dicks are the better known than most any other punk group coming out of the late seventies and early eighties Austin punk scene. Fronted by Gary Floyd, these guys should be credited for espousing a sound that refused to allow punk to be frozen in time and codified – for a little bit, at least.

The Big Boys were around at least a year earlier and mined a surprisingly similar sound as the Dicks. But we can all just chalk that up to each group springing from the same scene. Both ensembles felt it necessary to include more than a passing wink and nod to other musical genres – funk being an obvious influence. The Minutemen, a San Pedro based SST group, weren’t too far away from settling on roughly the same conflagration of noise, politics and rhythm – that group, though, also benefited from living in a town not too far away from Los Angeles’ huge scene.

When considering the Dicks and the Big Boys, the latter of sports a more sprawling discography despite not being picked up by a major-indie label or high tailing it outta town, it becomes difficult to understand each group’s current position in punk culture. Given the fact that the Big Boys, as fronted by Randy "Biscuit" Turner, were serious purveyors of queer culture and guitarist Tim Kerr has gone on to a successful career as producer, artist and all around good dude, there should be that yawning gap in popularity. Who doesn’t like fat guys in drag? No one.

Exerting Femme Punk: Kleenex x Lilliput

It’s sometimes difficult to crap all over someone’s party, but at the same time a necessity and kind of entertaining. So, here it is...

Kleenex and LiLiPUT are not the greatest, early punk related group comprised by women. Greil Marcus might disagree. And I can’t claim any sort of total knowledge regarding this specific sub-strain of pop musics, but after hearing these guys girls hyped for so long and then getting an earful, it’s not too difficult to figure that someone, somewhere surpassed this troupe

Classic Compilations: Live at the Rat

Yes, I realize that this is the second consecutive compilation to exclusively feature Boston based groups. Perhaps that points to the immense power that city wrangled for something like fifteen years. That’s not to say there’s nothing going on there as we speak. But few ensembles are ever going to match the sheer abandon that the early(ish) punk(ish) groups and those eighties hardcore bands were able to muster.

Willie 'Loco' Alexander – This gentleman, outside of Boston at least, is probably better known for replacing Lou Reed in the Velvet Underground as the band was going to pot being led by the Yule brothers. So, it might not even count as the Velvets. No one was left, just ringers. Either way, the reason Alexander got a shot at the big time was his time the group anthologized here. At points, it’s not difficult to hear subtle similarities between his voice and Reeds. But not enough to warrant one replacing the other. Beyond that, though, the music the Boom Boom Band works up as backing doesn’t get too far past hard rock ala Aerosmith. And no, it’s no a coincidence that both bands hail from the same joint. Not at all. Either way, Alexander opening Live at the Rat, despite the song being about the venue, doesn’t make for a good start.

Sonny Vincent an the Testors: A Boring History Lesson

After reading this piece over here, further comment almost seems useless. Here we go, though.

The Testor’s are a name, as is singer Sonny Vincent, that resounds throughout all of punkdom as some sign post of the genre’s spreading from some insular New York thing to the world wide phenomena that we all know today.

Before the onslaught of repressed punk obscurities, the Testors existed in a corner of the punk kingdom that only a few folks had been exposed to. Basically, this entire story can be applied to San Francisco’s CRIME as well. That West Coast band, for the most part, worked up a bunch of middling punk inflected tracks and cemented a legacy that easily surpassed the music’s actual importance. At this late date, copping that CRIME discography has got to be a tremendous bummer.

And so is gettin’ an earful of the Testors’ Complete Recordings. In that aforementioned review, there’s mention of a nation wide tour with Cleveland transplants the Dead Boys. And the connection makes total sense. That band, sporting the always charming Cheetah Chrome on guitar, really released only a handful of tracks that could today exist independent of the band’s legacy and still be afforded too much deference. That’s not to diminish anyone’s historical contributions to the genre, that’s just how time works. What was once shocking is no longer a surprise.

The Membranes: Other Musics Will Seem More Palatable

The history of relatively obscure, Brit bands akin to New York’s No Wave has yet to be written. Gang of Four is obviously a well understood commodity. And with the mainstreaming of Simple Minds as well as Scritti Politti, it’s a wonder there hasn’t been more written about this crop of woefully creative weirdoes. That being said, some of the music really comes off as difficult to wade through as the most damaged offerings on the Eno produced No New York. Either way, the music’s rad – the Membranes being particularly nutso.

Classic Compilations: This Is Boston, Not L.A.

While each disparate part of the country eventually developed a scene, distinct sound and aesthetic, there was still a pretty easy to hear thread running through a bunch of works. That doesn’t mean whatever eighties’ record was derivative when examined alongside stuff from the previous decade. But it’s funny that this (classic) compilation is called This is Boston, Not L.A. considering there’s a torrential Black Flag influence inherent in some of these bands. What’s the difference, though?