Friday, February 20, 2009

Finally: Best Singles of 2008

It wasn't so much deliberation as procrastination, if you are still following, that delayed this list. Once again it was another great year for singles. We saw a couple of singles clubs re-emerge, one (CDR) standing heads above the other, but then again I'm biased. We saw a couple of artists releasing singles in place of actual full-lengths, though some (Jay Reatard) are more prolific than others (Mayyors). A handful of other bands successfully debuted with the self-released 7-inch platform to launch big years, bands like Box Elders and Nodzzz aiding from rapid word-of-mouth, internet style. And of course there were quite a few labels that established themselves as premiere singles labels, some new (Sweet Rot, Sacred Bones), some getting older (S-S, CDR, Florida's Dying) and one grandpa getting back into the singles action (Matador).

So, let's get to it. The best of the best, '08:

Blues Control, "Snow Day" b/w "Paul's Winter Solstice" (Sub Pop)
Box Elders, Hole in My Head (Grotto)
Catatonic Youth, Piss Scene (HoZac) - The only single to make my list two years in a row.
Eat Skull, Dead Families (Skulltones)
Electric Bunnies, Chewing Gum (Florida's Dying)
Guinea Worms, "Box of Records" b/w "I'm a Cobweb" (Columbus Discount)
Little Claw, Why/Why Not EP (Physical Sewer) and Race to the Bottom (Siltbreeze) - Little Claw revealed a new depth with these two singles by stripping down their sound and playing with structure. They mesh well with the 7-inch format.
Mayyors, Marines Dot Com and Megan's LOLZ (Self-released)
Meth Teeth, Bus Rides (Sweet Rot)
Nodzzz, "I Don't Wanna (Smoke Marijuana)" b/w "We Are the Only Animals" - Probably my most-played single this year. Both sides are so strong, and the b-side actually wins in a
Jay Reatard, See/Saw 7"and Painted Shut 7" (Matador)
Sandwich, "Assisted Living" b/w "I've Had a Few" (Columbus Discount)
Times New Viking, Stay Awake EP (Matador) - This one took a little longer to sink in. I guess that means they are getting more difficult to pin down, their influences more and more obscure (save for the TVP homage, "Sick and Tyred") or non-existent. Every listen reveals a new favorite.
Tyvek, Sidewalk (M'Lady's)
Unholy 2
, "Kutter" b/w "Porky$" (Columbus Discount)
Wounded Lion, "Carol Cloud" b/w "Pony People" (S-S) - If "Pony People" didn't hook you in and make you a fan of Wounded Lion, you simply weren't listening. One of the more unconventional pop songs of the year, it was the party cut for those of us who consider garage and soul "dance" music. One foot in retro organ-and-bongos exotica, the other in some post-modern Ouroboros shit. Should've been a one-sided 12" with the extended version in place of the edit.
Zola Jesus, "Soeur Sewer" b/w "Odessa" (Sacred Bones) - I did a complete 180 on Zola Jesus this year. If you go back and read my bit on her debut, it didn't sound all that enthusiastic. I ignored this one because of my indifference, but once I heard the ZJ track on the XXperiments comp I saw her in a different light and revisited this single on Sacred Bones. Zola Jesus is the sort of worldly, post-grunge chanteuse we need right now, taking big chances, stacking chunks of crumbled buildings to form new structures.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Outstanding LP's of 2008

There were quite a few great albums this year. I could have added at least ten more, but decided to keep it relegated to the very finest. So without further adieu, I bring you thee most excellent LP's of 2008, in alphabetical order:

Blank Dogs, On Two Sides (Troubleman) and The Fields (Woodsist) - Some of the year's best ideas can be found between the grooves of On Two Sides, from the schizophrenic guitar work in "Blaring Speeches" to the wobbly synth and breathy chorus of "Epic Moves". The album's centerpiece, "The Crystal Ladies", could be stripped of everything but its vocal melody and still be perfect. The Fields strips another layer of gauze from the limbs, revealing not necessarily a more "Pop" sound, as some are insisting - go back to the first two weeks and you'll hear plenty of hooks - but a more consistently adventurous (and comfortable) relationship with the song.

Cheap Time, Cheap Time (In the Red) - Americans taking what the Belgians like Hubble Bubble and Raxola stole from the Brits (glam riffs, snotty lyrics, dramatic changes), somehow making it sound very much like a Memphis thing. There's nothing remotely original about Cheap Time and that's okay, because there's nothing remotely bad about all fourteen songs and the effortless swagger they are brought forth with. And no, it doesn't matter that the best song here was actually written by Jack Oblivian.

Cheveu, Cheveu - (S-S) - The late-Winter night Cheveu spent in Columbus was one of the most excessive of the year. Two feet of snow didn't stop the loyal from witnessing one of the best shows at Cafe Bourbon St. ever, as the Parisian garcons partied onstage and off like it was their last, when it was in fact their first, night on tour. Their debut LP sounds exactly like that night: drugged and deranged, with little care of what came before and what would come of the mess after.

Children's Hospital, Alone Together (Sacred Bones) - The best thing any A-Frame has done since A Frames 2. Children's Hospital are not as horrific as the name and sleeve's imagery would have you believe. Instead they opt for a more nuanced sedative, lulling the listener in with layered grooves and vocals caressed through the hospital intercom. The vibes are not good, but not altogether evil either. But then again sometimes the scariest shit happens from where you least expect it.

The Dutchess and the Duke, She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke (Hardly Art) - I tried my damnedest to hate this record. Something about this group just really bugged me. Maybe it was the Seattle thing, or it could have been a song I heard from their first single. Long story short, I took a shot at a used copy and immediately changed my story. The sentiments on this record are heartfelt and sincere without the trite cutesey-ness usually associated with modern acoustic folk. Killer vocals, incredible songs and great performances. Just a great, great record.

Eat Skull, Sick To Death (Siltbreeze) - I LIVE NEXT DOOR TO A POWER PLANT. One of the more memorable opening credos in recent memory, and it just gets better from there. Eat Skull took hardcore and removed the macho bullshit, replacing it with flourishes of 90's lo-fi and 80's DIY. If you held a gun to my head and made me pick a favorite record from '08, this would probably be my choice.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Primary Colours (Goner/Aarght) - It was very early this year when I scored a copy of their debut LP and played it regularly until the new one dropped. Goner saved Primary Colours from becoming an Australian obscurity and we must thank them for this, because ECSR are a band for the people. Taut punk grooves that sound tough as nails and riffs that revel in their simplicity, while singer Brendan Suppression, leather gloves in tow, recites thug haiku. Brilliant.

Fabulous Diamonds, Fabulous Diamonds (Siltbreeze) - The Fab Diamonds have come a long way from where they were a year ago - an unknown Aussie duo with a sole 7-inch and little else to their name - having toured the states to ecstatic results and releasing this incredible debut long-player. Nothing else sounded remotely like Fabulous Diamonds this year, or any year in recent memory, with its dubbed-out fusion of European femme-punk and esoteric dance. The world fell in love with Jarrod and Nissa in 2008.

Factums, The Sistrum (Sacred Bones) - From my post earlier in the year: of their synapse-frying debut on Siltbreeze last year will not be disappointed with this doozy. But don't expect to be handed all the barbed hooks they passed out last time. The Sistrum has more of a cohesive feel, as many of the songs are allowed room to breath, venturing into the four- and five-minute range. Opener "Mushrooms" is the Peter Gunn theme played in a German bunker, while "Origami" pounds out sub-motorik pulses beneath layers of guitar feedback and tuneless organ. The second half cools down into a series of sinister grooves, a few of which you could even dance to. The midget from Twin Peaks would approve.

The Hospitals, Hairdryer Peace (Self-released) - There's Shitgaze, and then there's this. For some people, Hairdryer Peace was the line in the sand, and Adam Stonehouse is the guy swimming out beyond the buoys. I'm not exactly sure if this would make more sense to civilizations future or past, but what I am sure of is that most people who hear this are left scratching their heads like a chimpanzee. I know at least one individual who's goal next year is to top the utter out-ness of this album. To this person I say good luck.

Los Llamarada, Take the Sky - (S-S) - Zoinks! The gang from Monterrey take their sound to another dimension, riding the ship to Sun Ra's palace with Malcolm Mooney and Nico navigating. Wait, that's not even close enough to the energy, the fuckin' energy this album exudes. Apparently it took a couple tries to nail down all the right stuff for this album, and it's no surprise when you hear how out of control most of it gets. Take the Sky is an album with hundreds of brilliant ideas unleashed like a herd of cattle, with only a few cowboys to lasso them in.

Nodzzz, Nodzzz (What's Your Rupture?) - Of all the great records to come out of California this year, Nodzzz might be the purest distillation of that state's, er, state of mind. Listening to songs like "In the City" and "Losing My Accent" you get the feeling they've discovered the nerd-party Rosetta Stone and have decided to share it with the masses. I can't wait to see these songs live.

Nothing People, Anonymous (S-S) - From my post earlier in the year: ...You could play "name that influence" along with most of Anonymous, but that's not the point. At their best, Nothing People play by a new set of rules. That they're so impeccably well versed in all things cool should not go down as a detriment. Instead, enjoy Anonymous knowing that this genre of outsider rock has a new leader.

Thee Oh Sees, The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In (Tomlab) and The Peanut Butter Oven EP (Awesome Vistas) - The evolution of John Dwyer's most prolific project has been a fun one to follow, as it has progressed from an acoustic-based experiment to his full-fledged garage powerhouse. Last year's Sucks Blood was the perfect balance of the soft and loud, but it was no preparation for the onslaught of thumping rhythm and echo-drenched freak-outs on The Master's Bedroom. And then he goes and puts the cyclical doom of a song like "Kingsmeat" on the collectible Peanut Butter Oven EP. AND there's another LP from this year that I haven't even heard, with an additional DVD accompanying it. What did you do this year.

Sic Alps, US EZ (Siltbreeze) - I really liked this one. Still do.

Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador) - What I like most about this record is that Jared, Adam and Beth stuck to their guns. When I first heard the final mix I wasn't exactly sold, and I'm sure even Matador was taken aback a bit by the noisy, jumpy mastering job. But as with everything of theirs, TNV believed in their material, knowing eventually everyone else would get it. And sure enough, the songs I liked least at first are now my favorites. TNV, molding our minds with their sweet little anthems.

TV Ghost, TV Ghost (die Stasi) - I feel like this one has been overshadowed by the band's underage/on the road antics and consistently excellent live show. And there are those looking ahead to the upcoming full-length on In the Red. But this LP, especially upon re-evaluation, finds the band tooling with their sound and experimenting with recording techniques. Matt Horseshit's presence can be felt throughout, especially on the album's closer, "Long Talk", and his dry studio sound allows each member to stand out. One-two punch of "The Amputee" and "Babel" beats the shit out of just about anything released this year.

Various, XXperiments (die Stasi) - Damn. A truly excellent compilation expertly sequenced by Lane at the die Stasi label. I will provide no references, because there has never been a community of women making avant garde music of this caliber, ever, at least in modern history. That may sound like hyperbole, but in my mind it is simply hopeful thinking that these ladies are just getting started, and that XXperiments will be looked back on as the foundation for a monolithic movement rising out of Midwestern bedrooms and beyond. I want more from every artist involved.

Vivian Girls, Vivian Girls (Mauled By Tigers) - Say what you will about where they are and how they got there (and what they will do next), but there's no denying the greatness of this, their debut record. Each song stands tall on its own, especially such instant-classics from the melancholic back side like "Where Do You Run To", "Damaged" and "I Believe in Nothing", but the album is strongest as a whole. Not once did I listen to one song from the album without listening to the rest. In the future, when I look back on Summer 2008, this the record that will take me back. It's the truth.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sacred Bones Year End Gifts: Children's Hospital and the Rebel

As posted earlier in the month at

December, 2008: the end of a rough year for many and a time for many of us to get all reflective about what was good about the year, things we are thankful for, etc. Allow me a minute of your time to say that if you are reading this column, one of the items at the very top of your list should be the fact that tiny record labels such as Sacred Bones still exist, and that there are still people out there—like the folks who run this label—who are sticking their necks out so lousy folks like us can hear, see, and hold their beautifully-packaged and thoughtfully assembled discographies.

I am not joking. This is important stuff for a handful of us.

If it doesn't make sense to you to treat a tiny record label, still practically in its infancy, so seriously, it may be that you haven't purchased their offerings from 2008, wrapping up neatly with two monstrous LPs, the debut of Seattle's Children's Hospital and the anticipated full-length from infamous Country Teasers side project the Rebel. Both records, while quite different in sound and approach, could be exemplars of the Sacred Bones experience.

In one hand you have Children's Hospital, out of the A-Frames/Seattle experimental axis, a duo with male and female vocals beneath a cauldron of apocalyptic, industrial disease. Seattle can be a bleak place for seasons at a time, but the sound coming out of Alone, Together is much more sinister, as the band crawl from guitar-spiked dirges ("Unseen") to slimy, pulsating, keyboard driven mood pieces like "After the Aftermath." The two are obviously indebted to some of post-punk's permanent inmates, from Throbbing Gristle to This Heat to the less obvious SPK. But leftfield influences like the Sun City Girls and David Lynch-cohort Angelo Badalamenti can also be detected, refreshing for a record with such a thick, industrial oil on its surface. A seperate edition of this is album is a CD version featuring a full-color photo book with shots from a single pre-war children's hospital. Look for their ornate boxed set on the Vinyl-On-Demand label in 2028.

In the other hand is a full helping of Ben Wallers, lead man of the Rebel, Country Teasers, and a small but devoted legion of scumbags from both sides of the pond. Few musicians these days can truly call themselves rebels, and Wallers is one of them, offending without trying, touching all the wrong spots without asking, and usually hitting the nail right on the head. Recorded in a single day at WFMU studios, Northern Rocks Bear Weird Vegetable is a record many years in the making, as it sees Wallers picking some of his previously released staples along with plenty of new material, while recruiting a full band separate from his Teasers to enact his inconveniences.

With Northern Rocks, Wallers has officially stolen the drunkenly waved gun-as-torch from Mark E. Smith, in the process mocking the defenseless old man with lines like, "Is there anybody there?/ I am losing my hair." Because Mr. Wallers is out front here as the Rebel, rather than with Teasers, his words attract the most attention. In a way, this makes it a somewhat flawed release, as he tends to let his disgust for mankind get in the way of fun more than once. The band is great and keeps up and down with all Wallers has to say, but they never really get into it like his other group does. So there's a bit less to bite into, and more of you getting bit.

Taken as a whole, though, the record is as good as much of his Teasers output, a very worthwhile 45 minutes into the mind of a modern social scientist. Wallers' barbed tongue lashes modest civilians ("Bums on a Rock" is revisited, thankfully) and celebrities (Scarlet Johansen, England) alike. This album's special edition is apparently the most extravagant limited release yet in the Sacred Bones pantheon, with hand-stitched black velvet sleeves to soften Ben's harsh realities. Put it on while you put a few back, naturally, just don't expect to dance to it unless you're alone, pissed and behind locked doors.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Outstanding Reissues of 2008

2008 has been a great year for reissues, though it seems as if with each passing year labels become more and more in-tune with exactly what we buyers are looking for. I don’t know, maybe I just pay more attention to this stuff as I grow old and develop a taste for the old stuff. But take Drag City, for example, who have decided to begin not only repackaging essential out of print pieces of their catalog on vinyl, but have also begun to reissue lost or obscure classics in beautiful packages, including worthy bonuses, digital coupons, the whole she-bang. Another label typically known for small-scale new releases now on the reissue track is Secretly Canadian, who've followed up two incredible Bobb Trimble records with their ongoing Dead C packages, more of which we will see in the near future, along with two Zero Boys reissues. Radio Heartbeat have continued their run of vintage power pop with Milk N' Cookies and the 20/20 7-inch, and look to have a full plate of goodies for next year. Psych labels like Shadoks, Void, World in Sound and Sundazed have unleashed essential platters, as have Sublime Frequencies, who look to frequent year-end reissues lists every year. Portland's Mississippi Records have become a major player in the reissue game, and a somewhat controversial one at that, but their discography is becoming something even the most amateur collector cannot ignore. Even my good pals at Columbus Discount have entered the fold, contributing two must-owns from Harrisburg, Ohio: Tommy Jay’s Tall Tales for Trauma and their Harrisburg Players Vol. 1 7-inch. And there is plenty more from Central Ohio to come in ’09.

The most revelatory musical experience in recent months has been the discovery of Cosmic Lightning, the package of the (almost complete) recorded output from Chicago street poet J.T. IV, brought to you from the aforementioned Drag City. The story of John Henry Timmis IV is just beginning to unravel for those besides a small handful of mostly Chicago-based punk enthusiasts, and it is one all of you should make yourselves familiar with, as his art was an all-encompassing package containing five-day long movies, music videos, battles with public transit, cries for attention and of course his glammed-up folk-cum-punk drug music.

The music alone is enough. Not unlike many punkers from the era, John nurtures healthy obsessions with Bowie, Roxy, Bolan, Lou and Iggy, even Dylan, but rather than attempt to re-write the book like other punks were around this time, John chose to re-imagine his heroes' stories in a conglomeration all his own. The man had some good ideas - "Destructo Rock" pins a Stooges riff beneath a jangly, Ziggy Stardust melody until two minutes in it becomes a phased-out, balls-to-the-wall psych scorcher that wouldn't sound out of place on an early Chrome record. The three-song acoustic suite sequenced at the end of the first half is as touching as "Destructo" is terrifying, unveiling a tortured soul simply wanting a chance at his fifteen-minutes (and maybe a bit more), staying up for days gobbling amphetamines and writing songs about diamonds falling from the sky.

J.T. IV was a truly unique songwriter and also a trailblazer with visual aides, as he self-produced a series of videos to accompany his songs which were compiled onto a video tape in the early 80's, included in full here. These video mostly feature John lip-synching his songs and ogling the camera, save for the couple of bits where he fakes a concert performance, full band intact, though it is hard to tell if any of the members had heard his songs before the day it was taped. This is not your average bonus DVD for the sake of it though, as it helps us dig into the paranoid, somewhat desperate persona. It has been rumored that his 85-hour long film Cure for Insomnia will be issued somewhere down the line, at least in abbreviated form, though I doubt Drag City will take the plunge with a 50 DVD box set.

Meanwhile, back in Ohio, Tommy Jay and his Harrisburg cronies were attending a similar yet more more earthy version of the same Punk Rock University that J.T. IV graduated from. The same basic influences are in full bloom on both Cosmic Lightning and Tommy Jay's Tall Tales of Trauma, especially both artists' affinity for Lou Reed. Tommy Jay and John Timmis IV were men out of their element in the 80's when these records were origianally compiled, speaking a language perhaps too simple for any sort of audience to form.

Tall Tales is also a greatest hits/life-encompassing work that cover a span of over a decade, featuring friends he's grown up with and songs he's grown connected to. This music out of the tiny village of Harrisburg, Ohio, along with the work of Jay collaborators like Mike Rep, Nudge Squidfish and others, has re-written the oral history of rural Central Ohio. Time is no longer an issue in this world, only the people who exist on this plane and the spirits that carry them through to death. There are ballads, moral tales, the ghost story of a Civil War fighter, and much, much more, played lovingly by a cast of the most real people you will ever come across. If I learned one lesson in 2008 it is that Tall Tales of Trauma is the unquestionable masterpiece of indigenous Ohio folk music. If you haven't yet heard this record I ask that you to visit Columbus Discount before reading any further.

To bookend their Tall Tales reissue from earlier in the year, Columbus Discount compiled four songs from the Harrisburg vaults, including an obscure Tommy Jay track, for the November edition of their singles club. The Harrisburg Players Volume 1 7-inch is another enigmatic batch of songs this time from a few you may not have heard of. This brief collection proves that others were sipping from the same weird well that Tommy and Rep had tapped, and word that this is only the first of many volumes makes me all fuzzy inside.

The Midwest reissue road trip ends in Cleveland, where a mysterious label has unearthed an essential piece of the Electric Eels puzzle, packaging a few impossible to find tracks onto the Dave E. & the Cool Marriage Counselors "Searching for Sears" 7-inch (Xmas Pets). The title track is some post-Eels skronk of the highest order, embodying all that is great about Cleveland - then, and it underscores now - in its oddly kitschy Beefheart and Mr. Ed-referencing way. It's an image only Dave E. could summon, a haggard and grumpy (still young) ex-punk stumbling through the aisles of his favorite department store, leaving a trail of melting black slush and beer breath behind. Listen to it during the commercial breaks of A Christmas Story, also set in Cleveland. The B-side features a a capella version of "Love Meant to Die", a Jazz Destroyers (Dave E.'s brief post-Eels project) song found on the Cleveland Confidential comp. Takes me back to Lakewood every time!

Other notables:

Milk N' Cookies, Milk N' Cookies 2LP (Radio Heartbeat) - best package of the year.
Cold Sun, Dark Shadows (World in Sound) - most expensive reissue of the year.
The Mirrors, A Green Dream 2LP (Hook or Crook) - remastered and expanded vinyl version of Greg Ashley's psych-punk opus.
Gary Higgins, Red Hash and Mayo Thompson, Corky's Debt to His Father (Drag City)
The Bachs,
Out of the Bachs (Void)
Animals & Men
, Never Bought, Never Sold (Mississippi)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blank Dogs, Eat Skull, and others in Manhattan, ie Show of the Year

I don't usually like to do live reviews, especially when they're over a week old really old, but his one has been dangling in my head like a loose tooth waiting to be pulled. There have been many shows of note these past few months here in New York, most of which I've passed up. But this one was not to be missed, the official coming-out party for the two-year not-so-secret Blank Dogs project, along with the second of three Eat Skull NY gigs, amongst others.

But first, the setting. Sunday nights in Chinatown are apparently the time when the community retreats to their apartments for family dinner, or something, as my search for booze, or even a decent bodega, proved futile. There was a festival being broken down in Little Italy, but no pints of whiskey to be had there either. The venue for this show was an old converted fire house on Lafayette, which is now home to a media center upstairs and a roomy, concrete garage downstairs. The bands set up in the far back of the garage, and it appeared at first that the crowd would be too thin to soften the aggressive PA as it rattled back and forth between the lacquered walls. By the end of the night a good 120 or more people filled the deafening room, but at that point the problem wasn't the space itself so much as the fact that I was without earplugs.

The Intelligence opened up to a handful of people sipping expensive Busch Lights. They were the first of two bands this night to be without the drummer they left for tour with, the other being Eat Skull, whose drummer apparently was to join the Intelligence for the remainder of their tour after this set. DRAMA. A respectful punk dude with large glasses filled in nicely, and Lars and co. performed a solid twenty minute set of mostly new(ish) material, along with a cover of the Urinals "Black Hole". Lars ended the set knees on the floor, hovering over a feedback-inducing theremin that resembled a sex toy more than your typical antennae oscillator. Next up were Little Claw, whose two drummers, two guitars/vox set-up engulfed the room. I'd heard they were a live act first and formost, that their recorded output was put to shame by their live sets, and the rumours were true. Heath and Kilynn lock in and wail away, trading strangulations with heavy, blues-based riffs, back and forth, while a pair of drum sets pound in unison like neanderthals summoning pagan gods. Somehow melodies emerged, mantras in the form of Kilynn's howl rose above the loud pulses. You can use all the cliches imaginable - primal, transcendant, gutteral, etc. - they all work in relation to the thirty minutes when Little Claw take the stage. I'm kicking myself for not attending any of their other shows that week.

Columbus' Psychedelic Horseshit countered with Sir Jared Phillips on bass, thee most competent player to hold down the position in Horseshit's three year run. Jared held his bass high up towards his chest, playing bouncy, rhythmic notes not far from the style he utilizes on the guitar in TNV. Matt set up a real live not-piece-of-shit-casio keyboard in front, which both he and Jared played while incoherently stumming other instruments. It's always a mess, especially with Matt's new sampler syncing up with Rich's carboard kit only when it was convenient. But this gang was tighter than the usual Horseshit unit, and nestled between some serious competition, Matt always seems to come through as victorious. The new songs are a tad better with the loose, five-piece Rolling Thunder-style group he conducted a few months ago in Columbus, but that sort of group doesn't lend itself to touring well these days, so a trio had to do. It was good to see Psychedelic horseshit under a little bit of pressure and time constrictions, something you never see at their gigs in Ohio. The mood brought out the best in Whitehurst and the ever-smiling Rich and their set was as good as anyone's that night.

Now onto Eat Skull, a set I anticipated for months. As I mentioned earlier, they were without their original drummer and were forced to find a stand-in each night for the rest of the tour (Jared had played the previous night in Philly). Despite this setback, the band ripped through a rather long set list of their two-minute powerhouse fun punk. They were extremely loud and cartoon-like in their expressions and playing. Eat Skull are the perfect contrast to the Midwestern stuff I've devoured for the past decade, the quintessential West-Coast band; two seperate halves, Portland's scruffy caffeinated style and California's concrete-and-acid suburbia, sewn together to make a Frankenstein for us to raise our fists to. They were great. Not quite as life-affirming as the records, but great enough. And LOUD.

But somehow not nearly as loud as Blank Dogs. By now you likely know the story, the two-year long history shrouded in afghans, indigenous masks, internet pseudonyms, evasive artwork and delayed boxed sets, all informing a secret society that wasn't so secret if you cared enough to figure it out. Mike Sniper was and is the brains behind the Blank Dogs recordings, and the night before he unceremoniously (as it should be - spectacle not needed) revealed the truth with a short set in a Brooklyn gallery. But this show was, according to Sniper, the official debut, as he and the band could tweak the technical glitches from the night before, push the volume to dangerous extremes, and perform their set with a touch more confidence. The set-up was an analog-lover's dream: outrageously large drum machine resembling something from a Fritz Lang set, vintage synths galore, warm and fuzzy sounds from towering amps. Mr. Sniper led from the middle and seemed comfortable with the sound of the band despite the obviously lack of monitor power leading them through the noise. They were great, taking pieces from the many variations of the Blank Dogs sound and maximizing it all into waves of jangly, buzzing pop.

We left directly after, needing immediate respite from the suffocating, deafening air inside. I would've liked to have a chance to party with the bands afterward, but I don't think I would've heard a word anyone said. For weeks my ears rang to remind me of the sweet, sweet damage done to them. And for the first time in my life I began to consider taking a pair of earplugs to shows. But for nights like this you just have to take everything in unadulterated. Who knows when Blank Dogs will return to the stage? I hear it could be this Spring, at SXSW and out on the left coast, but you never know. I'm just glad I got to witness the unofficial debut of one of New York's most intriguing musical figures, along with a handful of some of the best stuff going down in the nation.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Send Me Stuff

Somebody please send me money to buy a new receiver. Or send me a bat to beat up my old one so that I am forced to get a new one.

I'm off to the local pawn shops to haggle with dudes over stolen electronics.

While I'm at it, here's my new address. Send me stuff. Concealed cash is fine:

239 Kingsland Ave. 1R
Brooklyn, NY 11222

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sic Alps Take Flower Power to New Heights

As much as I really wanted to love Sic Alps last year, after the all the hype that snowballed into the Description of the Harbor breakthrough near the year's end, I must admit their recordings weren't marriage material for me. Astute readers will note that I placed the "Strawberry Guillotine" single on my best-of-07 list. Well, looking back, it's not all that great of a 7", and I'll admit to listing it because of the incredible live set I had seen a few weeks before that list was pieced together. I liked Sic Alps and thought they were brilliant live, and Harbor was nice enough, but let's just say I wasn't head over heels for the band's records.

Enter U.S. EZ on, you guessed it, Siltbreeze. Leave it to Tom Lax to get the best effort out of his athletes. I've seen him during practice and the man is nothing short of a drill sergeant. You know Sgt. Hartman, from Full Metal Jacket? Well, Lax makes that character look like Beetle Baily. But his teams know that all the hard work pays off. They sign on the Siltbreeze dotted line, endure training camp and eventually hole-up in a studio until a masterpiece is ready for the boss.

Mission accomplished. Sic Alps have eased into a recorded sound all their own, one that is noticeably more loose than their contemporaries but packs no less of a punch. Their live shows are some of the loudest I've seen in the past few years, but this record relies less on the volume of their sets (and previous records) and puts on a pedestal their brilliant song-craft. The palette is simple and pure: guitars, drums, voice, some bits of piano. The warmth of the recording tells me not a whole lot of overdubs were used. I could be wrong. It just feels like the rooms they record in are a member of the band, as they implement echo, distortion and feedback into the recordings as meticulously as (sometimes more so) any note struck.

The songs alone are surprisingly original creations, surprising because this genre of music usually relies on a structure put in place over forty years back. Take the minute and a half-long "Bathman", which begins as an acoustic Lennonesque echo-laden lullaby, until, thirty seconds in, a transitional burst straight out of Who Sell Out sets into motion frenetic pounds and squawks for the next minute. Then comes "Everywhere, There" a song as beautiful as leaves falling or clouds drifting, but is taken to new heights with their fuzzily loose execution. That it rivals the heart-wrenching renditions The Band performed of Dylan songs says enough. Songs this sweet have never graced the Siltbreeze racks. And there's the whimsical "Gelly Roll Gum Drop" a nod to the classic '66 psychedelic era in Britain, with it's stuttering word-play and one-note piano clanging along, it would make Kevin Ayers proud.

That time and place, mid-60's Britain, is obviously their inspiration for much of U.S. EZ, right down to the newspaper headline-themed artwork found inside. Tin Pan Alley on acid in Autumn is the feel, and you could very well file it next to such classics as Something Else or Soft Machine Vol. 1. But filing this one away is not on the minds of anyone who's heard this magnificent record, which when it's all said and done, is likely the best album you'll hear all year.

Go buy it straight from the Laxman himself at S i l t b r e e z e d o t c o m.