Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989, Capital Records)

"Paul's Boutique" stands a clear ten times as interesting musically as the Beastie Boys debut, "License to Ill", was. There's very few outright rock samples compared to last time (a Beatles sample being a prominant exception) with lots of older, obscurer funk records being sampled. While the Beastie Boys themselves are still doing more or less the same boastful routine as last time, it's a lot better thought out (none of the songs are just for shock value) and while the songwriting is never really intelligent as some reviewers have claimed it is (like it matters) it is always interesting and usually with at least three things going on at once. The album really is a true feast on the ears, offering a diverse variety of music on each track. Some parts of the record, for example "Shake Your Rump" and the "Hello Brooklyn" portion of "B-Boy Bouillabaisse", point to the G-Funk sound that was so popular in the early 1990s yet the "Mike on the Mic" portion of "B-Boy..." sounds like a better produced "License to Ill". "Car Thief" is a great funky song but with very driving vocals, which gives the song a lot of energy. "Shadrach" is a triumphant, faster song that remains a total highlight of the album for me. In short, the album is so varied and easy on the ears that it's a pure joy to follow from beginning to end, making along the way revelations like "Looking Down the Barrell of a Gun" which features an original recording (I didn't say "original music") and "B-Boy Bouillabaisse", the twelve minute closing suite, which matches up a series of perfectly sustained 1-2 minute pieces successfully. The first few portions are fairly straightforward and less busy than the previous tracks, with a prominant Hendrix sample fairly enjoyable. At "Stop That Train", more prominant 'music' features alongside the vocals and from then on the song changes styles frequently and excitingly.

There's not much else to say - hip hop or not, one of the most aurally pleasing records I've ever heard and you owe it to yourself to listen to it once. It's psychedelic, driven, funky, exciting, sometimes even kind of pretty (you'll see), and the boys put probably the most passionate effort on vocals they ever would. The pop culture references are myriad but more enjoyable than last time - Alfred E Neumann, AC/DC, J D Salinger and one song alone samples Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Bob Marley and quotes Stephen King.

I could quote all of High Plains Drifter here, but I like this part:

"Went before the judge he sent me to the Brooklyn House of D.
He said you behave son or we'll throw away the key
Houdini'd out the cuffs I kicked the screw in the knee
Took the bailiff's wallet and went straight to O.T.B.
I had a good feeling easy come easy go
I bet on one horse to win and your mother to show
And sure enough that nag came in
Brought my ticket to the window and collected my win
Broke into my new car with a wire coat hanger
Hot wired hot wheeled and *Suzy is a headbanger*"

I also love this rather filthy part of "The Sounds of Science", which comes right before the big Beatles sample, sure to offend some:

"My mind is kinda flowin like an oil projector
Had to get up to get the Jimmy protector
Went berserk and worked and exploded
She woke up in the morning and her face was coated"

Anyway, there it is.

Friday, 23 October 2009


In case you don't know, Devo are a group of very nerdy, pervy and sarcastic musicians who chose to use the punk rock movement as a vehicle to make annoying, mechanical sounding music that mocked pretty much everything about society as they saw it. Definetely one of my favourite iterations of punk music from the early years.

Black Flag - My War (1984, SST Records)

The album cover, which I've heard described as a knife-weilding boxing glove punching Adolf Hitler, actually depicts a hand-puppet, complete with head, clutching a kitchen knife. This is what that little tie is supposed to illustrate.

Version reviewed: SST CD

"My War" is an album that divides fans. On one hand, it nearly totally abandons the Black Flag/hardcore punk sound, adopting a harder yet looser style with a lot of noise influence. On the other hand, it nearly totally abandons the Black Flag/hardcore sound for a series of badly produced noise rock songs that have a lot of angry screaming.

However, I think it's probably the best album this band ever came out with. There's no bass player really on the record, just Greg Ginn following his guitars (or playing the entirety of the rhythm as on the last two songs). The production is, yes, fairly lacking, especially on things like the backing vocals in the second half of "I Love You", which sound like they were accidentally recorded by the wrong mic, in the room next to the tiled echofest of toilet the band must've been singing in.

But none of that matters, these are nice, fuzzed out punk rock songs with anger in the right places and very nice vocal performance from Rollins, especially on "Beat My Head Against the Wall" and "Three Nights", both of which are intense Rollins vocal performances without being especially fast.

The second side of the original record (or last three songs on this CD) are three long "angst drones", meaning slower, downer melodies played on a bass guitar with a plodding rhythm behind it, while Greg and Henry spew off freestyle. Actually, "Nothing Left Inside" is a bit tighter than that, but the solo sounds like an early Butthole Surfers kind of solo. "Three Nights" has an intro that at first foreshadows the spoken word/instrumental dynamic of the subsequent "Family Man" LP, but then becomes inexplicable but powerfully effecting noise rock. It's endlessly defeated fuzz riff floats around the guitar noise overdubbed in the background like a black cloud. The solo is less noisy than other Ginn solos (especially on this album), but it's also a lot more melodic.

There's definetely a Saint Vitus influence here as well, on both the fast songs and the slower ones too, obviously. It's well known that Black Sabbath was one of Greg Ginn's (and the rest of the band's) favourite groups. In fact, parts of the record such as the opening of "Can't Decide" and some of the guitar work on "Three Nights" sound as much like Flipper as they do Vitus.

Dead Kennedys

The Dead Kennedys were a San Francisco punk and (sometimes) hardcore band, with political lyrics and a unique style of traditional punk songwriting.

They were signed to Alternative Tentacles, run by singer Jello Biafra.

1980 - Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
1981 - In God We Trust, Inc
1982 - Plastic Surgery Disasters
1985 - Frankenchrist
1986 - Bedtime for Democracy

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Stratus - Throwing Shapes (1984, Steel Trax)

Version reviewed: 2008 remaster by Krescendo Records.

I bought this album for some reason. I basically fell in love with the quintessentially eighties NWBHM/New Wave hybrid anthem "Run for Your Life" after hearing it on the soundtrack for "Class of Nuke 'Em High". I'm not even sure why I like it - it's catchy, sure, and not that annoying for an eighties shiterock song - but it is so fucking cheesy. Maybe I long for a world where a band could put out a song with some palm-muting, some big chords and a big catchy chorus. Now that's just "too easy".

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Black Flag

The logo and the four iconic bars.

Black Flag were an early, possibly the first, hardcore punk band. They had a lot of different line-ups and songwriters for a punk band and over a short but potent burst of creativity showed an impressive range of dynamics.

The evolving hair of Black Flag.

The earliest line up featured Greg Ginn on guitar, Chuck Dukowski (born Gary McDaniel) on bass, Brian Migdol drumming and Keith Morris on vocals. The music on the "Panic Demos" and debut "Nervous Breakdown" EP record is essentially a more "fun" orientated take on the Sex Pistols sound. The lyrics are darker and more downbeat, but the music very upbeat. "Black Flag" were also an early pioneer of the DIY approach/aesthetic, releasing their own records on Ginn's SST records.

Greg Ginn, the guitarist and principal songwriter of Black Flag.

Pretty soon Keith Morris left (and formed the great Circle Jerks) along with Brian, leaving Robo to take over drumming duties and Ron Reyes to take up vocals. Ron Reyes was quite annoying, but the energy on the "Jealous Again" record is undeniably threatening - songs like "Revenge" and the title track are considerably more innovative than the earlier material. Then, Ron Reyes (hereafter named "Chavo Pederast" by the band) left the band so Dez Cadena took over on vocals. Dez was angrier than either previous vocalists and the music on the "Six Pack EP" reflected this, particularly "American Waste" and the title track. Dez's songs on the 1983 "Everything Went Black" album, which consisted of the first three vocalists' attempts to record the "Damaged" LP, showed that he was handling vocals on the same harder material that subsequent singer Henry Rollins' more famously performed. Anyway, Dez Cadena decided he wanted to play guitar instead of sing, so the band began looking for another singer. Through a series of events recounted elsewhere, the band settled on a young man from Washington D.C. who worked in a Haagen-Dazs store.

Fourth and longest running singer Henry Garfield aka. Henry Rollins..

The band immediately set about a legendary tour of the United States with newly-rechristened Henry Rollins, who's intense, shouted vocals fit the band like no previous vocalist, though definetely having an audible similarity to Dez Cadena's approach.

The "Damaged" line-up, with Greg Ginn (far left) on first guitar, Henry Rollins on vocals, Robo (obscured) on drums, Chuck Dukowski on bass guitar and Dez Cadena on second guitar.

This line-up recorded the groundbreaking "Damaged" album which mostly featured a series of songs Ginn wrote when he was the band's only had one guitarist. This meant that the ultimate recordings have an indistinct punch, with either both the guitar lines seemingly mixed over each other, or Ginn's guitar far more prominant. There's not a lot of stereo seperation, giving the band a straightforward, angry punch. However, when the album was finished, Black Flag's major record label deal fell through (someone called it an "anti-parent" record) and it took two or three years to see release by SST records.

The post-Damaged line-up, with (from left) Dez Cadena, Henry Rollins, Greg Ginn, Chuck Dukowski joined by Bill Stevenson on drums (far right).

While the "Damaged" LP was held up, the band replaced Robo on drums with Chuck Buscuits, then subsequently Bill Stevenson. The Buscuits line-up recorded a legenedary demo in this time, widely available on bootleg, called "The Complete 1982 Sessions". It featured songs written for the two guitar line-up with similaritys to the "Damaged" style speed and song structure but far more progressive and varied. Songs from this era would be released on subsequent albums, but with a very different line-up.

1984 saw the release of three full-length Black Flag albums: the groundbreaking "My War", the confounding "Family Man" record and the troubling "Slip It In". The "My War" line-up featured only Ginn, Rollins and Stevenson and Ginn doubling the rhythm guitar with bass. From "Slip It In" onwards, the bassist on Black Flag studio recordings is Kira Roessler. The releases around this time were so varied and different that at one time Henry Rollins suggested to Greg Ginn they put out two records that are broadly similar so fans would not get so confused.

The final recording line-up, from "Family Man" onwards. From left; Rollins, Ginn, Roessler and Stevenson.

This unpredictable approach didn't change in 1985, where Black Flag released three more records - the more mainstreamed "Loose Nut", the suprisingly good "Process of Weeding Out" EP and the final "In My Head" album. This line up also recorded the "Live 1984" album, though a later live disc, "Who's got the 13 1/2?", featured Anthony Martinez on drums.

Black Flag on tour.

The band was pioneering in that it recorded it's own music, pressed, distributed and toured in support of it. They toured in places where there was no established punk scene and expected fans to travel to meet them. They promoted themselves with distinct flyers using artwork by Raymond Pettibon, Ginn's brother. Pettibon's artwork can also be seen in several other places, including the cover of Goo by Sonic Youth. By exchanging tour information with other national hardcore bands such as the Dead Kennedys, they were helping to make scenes in diverse areas.

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1977 - Panic Demos
1978 - Nervous Breakdown EP
1980 - Jealous Again EP
1981 - Six Pack EP
1981 - Damaged LP
1982 - TV Party EP
1982 - The Complete 1982 Demos LP
1983 - The First Four Years LP
1983 - Everything Went Black LP
1984 - My War LP
1984 - Family Man LP
1984 - Slip It In LP
1985 -Loose Nut LP
1985 - The Process of Weeding Out EP
1985 - In My Head LP
1986 - Minuteflag EP
1989 - I Can See You EP

The Stooges


(the original Stooges...except for the Three Stooges)