Omega Sessions--Victory Records (PO Box 146546, Chicago, IL 60614)
This 5-track EP contains the product of the Bad Brains' first multitrack recording session way back in 1980, at Omega Studios in Rockville MD and comes packaged in a kind-of-neat-kind-of-annoying one-piece jewel box that requires sliding the tray out the right side, an operation that seems destined to mangle the booklet sooner or later. Diehard hardcore aficionados will enjoy the early versions of "I Against I", "At The Movies" and "Attitude", songs that ended up in rerecorded versions on early Bad Brains albums like Rock For Light (1983) and I Against I (1986, one of their earliest 'reunion' albums), but "Stay Close To Me" and "I Luv I Jah" are relatively straight reggae grooves without the Brains' trademark thunderous riffing. As many times as this band has broken up and reformed, both with the original members and lacking a couple, it's impossible to count them out, but as long as they stay out of action aggressive-music fans looking for something new to clean out their ears could do a lot worse than to go pillaging through the Bad Brains' back catalog, and this 16-minute blast ought to give any listener a good idea whether or not the Brains' brand of ripping rasta is for them.
Live--Universal Records Inc. (1755 Broadway, New York, NY 10019)
I guess Erykah Badu is (or was) pretty wrapped up in her pregnancy--this album is covered with pictures of her proudly bulging belly inside, outside, and on the CD itself, and is dedicated to her then-unborn child. Her timing wasn't so good, though, getting pregnant right around the time her debut album Baduizm was being released. Hence this quickie one-set-live-at-Sony Studios album to keep her in the public eye as much as possible during her extended absence. It's a bit thin on material, adding one new studio track to the live recordings, but in all fairness nearly all but the strongest artists don't really have enough good material after only one album for a strong live disc that can stand on its own. The sound is clear, presenting the Miles Davis-influenced (and quoting) languid grooves of the keyboards/bass/drums backing trio full effect while Erykah does her funky diva shtick on top of it and the backing vocalists coo along in harmony. After awhile I find myself wishing she'd change up the formula a bit; if nothing, else, Erykah Badu Live is too consistent and individual tracks blur into indistinguishable mellow moods. As a place-holder, though, it's perfectly adequate and will keep the fans sustained while Ms. Badu gets it together for that all-important second full studio album--plus, the new studio track, "Tyrone", is a keeper.
Bane - Holding This Moment CD (Equal Vision/Revelation)
The packaging of Holding This Moment says nine tracks, but my CD player says eight (upon further investigation, it appears the eighth track is two songs squashed into one track, though I wouldn't have been able to tell without the lyric sheet). Either way, the CD is just under a half-hour of thickly recorded time-shifting straight-edge punk metal that leans heavier on the 'metal' part of that equation than the 'punk' aspect. Prominently displayed X's on hands in the pictures on the booklet are echoed in the lyrics of "Count Me Out": "Just like this X on the back of my hand/I'm not going nowhere" (the smart-ass in me wants to point out that the double negative means that the statement actually means they're going somewhere, an irony too obvious to resist).
Interesting how often straight-edgers proclaim their supposedly tightly held beliefs--"Methinks thou dost protest too much" was how Shakespeare put it, if I can get pretentious for a moment. Point being, are they trying to convince us (the heathen nonbelievers) or themselves? I can't say I think it's a movement that's destined for long life--to me, it reflects a large group of scared kids, cowed into simplistic rigidity by damaged idealism, frightened by an increasingly complex world, instinctively banding into tribes, identifiable by visual markings.
The music that accompanies the straight-edge subculture is thus usually simply ritualistic tribal dance music, which serves its function for its audience in the same way that disco, electronic dance music, and rap serve theirs. If you need further proof, take this into account: the only place the beliefs of the artist are articulated are in the lyrics, and the lyrics of every straight edge album I've ever heard are all but incomprehensible even when reading along with the lyric sheet. But those chunky rhythms always come through loud and clear.
Be that as it may, there were parts of Bane's Holding This Moment that caught my ear, a nice chunky riff in the Megadeth vein here, a nice aggressive crowd shout-along part there, the way the band is so upfront about "the fire that keeps hardcore alive" (from "Every Effort Made"). It's actually kind of, well, charming in a naïve way if you can get past all the bluster, and the tight musicianship and clear production add a lot to the record. But hey, anyone who's into the 'life' doesn't care what I think; after all, I wasn't invited to the party. -Aaron J. Poehler
Blue Roots--Revenant (PO Box 198732, Nashville, TN 37219-8732)
Don Howland was one of the driving forces behind Columbus, Ohio's Gibson Brothers (no, nobody in the band named Gibson) for several years from the late eighties to the early nineties, and had been in the same city's Great Plains before that; Blue Roots was his 'solo' debut when originally issued back in 1992 on the In The Red label. The word that springs to mind when thinking about the music on Blue Roots is 'primitive': the sound is strictly basement, live one-take, probably reel-to-reel home tape deck, with the only sounds provided by Howland's barely-tuned guitar and yowling voice and drummer Rich Lillash. The simple tunes are blues/rockabilly hybrids with titles like "Judge Harsh Blues", "I Can Tell By The Way You Smell", and "Bald Headed Woman Blues"; retro in a relatively unaffected and unpretentious way that slides down easy. Resurrected for today's music-buying public by John Fahey's Revenant Records (maybe to cash in on the now-current again "Titanic Blues"? Maybe not), Blue Roots falls right in line with Fahey's own brand of traditional-music-for-people-who-hate-traditional-music, the type of thing that may look back fondly on the past but doesn't hesitate to remind you that the past sucked just as badly as the present, just in different ways. Not for everybody, but the so-inclined will be equitably rewarded for their listening.
Red Badge of Discourage--Epiphany Records (1303 W. 21st St., Tempe, AZ 85285)
The unlisted bonus-track cover of T. Rex's classic "Celebrate Summer" (complete with the "summer is heaven in '77" line--without updating the year) provides a useful touchstone for getting a handle on the music of the Beat Angels, as does the fact that former Guns 'N Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke produced, recorded, and mixed the whole thing. Another is that the name "Beat Angels" contains the name "Beatles" in its entirety--not to mention "Saturday Punks" namecheck to "the Beatles and the Stones", as well as "My Glum Sugar-Plum"'s "She looked like Marianne Faithful in 1967". The fifties pulp-novel album cover of Red badge of Discourage somewhat leads one to expect raw beer-fueled garage-rock, but instead what we have is radio-ready retro-seventies pop-rock dressed up in glam clothes and poppy guitar riffs, a kind of T. Rex for the Green Day generation. It's certainly not bad; it's certainly well-crafted and precisely, professionally played with nice harmonies and by-the-book hooks, perfectly major-label ready, but you can't shake that stuck-in-the-seventies feeling: it's an excellent pastiche of a very specific type of music but it's not really too interesting in its own right, at least partially because the type of music is so specific. It's all about the same breezy tempo, the same cheery demeanor, the same sort of let's-not-take-life-too-seriously lyrics, but in the end I guess it boils down to the fact that I can't imagine putting this CD in the deck instead of T. Rex's The Slider or Dandy In The Underworld (the recent reissue of which contains the original "Celebrate Summer") and the fact that though Red Badge of Discourage is perfectly hummable I don't really find myself wanting to hum along.
Beatnik Termites - "Ode To Susie And Joey"/"Termite Hop" 7" (Recess Records)
Doesn't take a genius to dope this one out; the song titles alone ought to be enough to figure that what we have here is Ramones-style punked-up rock & roll with 50's songwriting and harmonies. "Termite Hop" brings the "Wa-wa-wa-ooooo" in a typical sock-hop dance-party story, while "Ode To Susie And Joey" has the prerequisite tale of teenage romance and "Da-doo-doo, da-doo-doo". Granted, you've pretty much heard the record if you've just read the above two sentences, but if you dig this kind of thing you could do a lot worse than to pick up this 7". For one thing, this type of music is designed for 45s--two songs is just about right. For another, the Beatnik Termites almost pull off the unaffected exuberance of the first couple of Ramones albums, and despite the obvious (ahem) 'influence' there, they don't just sound like they might as well be playing actual Ramones songs, unlike many other derivative bands. No, the tunes aren't exactly founts of originality, but they do the job and will keep you humming "Everybody's going to the termite hop" for a couple of hours afterward. That still counts for something. -Aaron J. Poehler
Killer Cure CD single--Beggars Banquet (17-19 Alma Road, London SW18 1AA UK/580 Broadway, Suite 1004, New York, NY 10012)
This CD single contains three tracks of aggressive punk-inflected pop/rock--the title track, "Killer Cure" was produced and mixed by old Adam Ant/Siouxsie Sioux sideman Marco Pirroni; the other two were self-produced by the Beekeepers and don't sound quite as slick. The Beekeepers sound heavily influenced by American names like the Pixies and Nirvana as well as a few more independent names, drawing few elements of their sound from their fellow Brit countrymen excepting the classic pop songwriting structures. The overall sound here screams "commercial alternative radio"--after "Killer Cure" ends I expect a DJ to come on announcing the station's call letters. Not bad but not too unique either--the single doesn't exactly get me excited to hear a full Beekeepers album. Better than Bush, I suppose, but why go all the way to Britain for a band like this when there are at least two or three in every decent-sized American city?
The Ultimate Seaside Companion--HitIt! Recordings (1617 N. Hoyne, Chicago, IL 60647)
Based on the credits of The Bells' album The Ultimate Seaside Companion you might make some mistaken assumptions about this album: the two musicians responsible for its content are Chris Connelly and William Rieflin, best known for their work with Ministry and Revolting Cocks. The music here is a much tamer beast than that, though, the kind of thing that might fit on a bill with 10,000 Maniacs or Sting: shimmery pop music, very clean, very commercial, and quite well-crafted. Lord knows I don't begrudge these guys the chance to work in a nonaggressive music format, but a lot of this album goes a bit too far the other way, drifting along fairly aimlessly for minutes at a time and failing to hold my attention. The Ultimate Seaside Companion an expertly crafted, confidently skilled album, flawless in its realization of the formula as conceived by its creators, but ultimately empty and lacking in any burning reason to exist--it's pleasant enough in and of itself, but after the whole thing's done with the listener is left with few reasons to put the disc back in the deck. Still, the Ultimate Seaside Companion is an extremely good demonstration of Connelly's arranging skills; that he can make such insubstantial songs sound so attractive is testament to his abilities. Backing and producing a driven songwriter might me the best outlet for Connelly's soft-rock inclinations.
The Billy Nayer Show
The American Astronaut CD
Huh, well, that was interesting. This is one of those bands where there isn’t anyone in the band named “Billy Nayer”, which is why I alphabetized this under ‘B’ instead of ‘N’. This is also one of those ‘hard-to-categorize’ acts, so bear with me for a moment. Apparently this is the soundtrack to an independent film I’ve never heard of called ‘The American Astronaut’, which is written, directed and starring Cory McAlbee, the guy who wrote the lyrics and sings on this CD. The music sounds like the Residents went ‘no depression alt-country’—i.e. it sounds like a concept album where no one let me in on the concept in question. You’ve gotta wonder what the hell the film’s about that it requires McAlbee to squawk out a song like “Girl With the Vagina Made of Glass”. I went to the website to check out the film, maybe watch the trailer, but it turns out to be the slowest-loading website ever known to man and I gave up on it after a half-hour—and I’ve got cable! Might wanna check out the film before you rush out and buy the soundtrack, not that you were thinking of doing so. (BSG Records, PO Box 998, Canal Street Station NY NY 10013) – Aaron J. Poehler
Tragic Animal Stories--Alias Records
Barry Black is the pseudonymous outlet for Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann to make music that isn't that band's brand of collegiate indie-rock, but what brand of music constitutes Barry Black is a little harder to define in as few words as Bachmann's main concern. Tragic Animal Stories is nonrock, almost entirely instrumental music, arranged relatively adventurously with liberal use of cellos, trombones, tuba, marimba, and vibraphone among other instruments set alongside Bachmann's piano and guitar lines. The whole thing plays out like the soundtrack to a movie that was never made, but it could be a low-budget independently financed romantic comedy about a couple that falls in love at a college indie-rock club, shot mostly at night. You could even keep the same title for the movie as the album. Archers fanatics will eat this up, but they should be prepared for something a little different; fortunately, though side projects are notorious for self-indulgence, slop, and second-rate material, Tragic Animal Stories is carefully considered and has a relatively high success ratio among its experiments.
Black Dawn--Mia Mind Music Promotion & Marketing
This 6-song half-hour demo CD presents Black Dawn as a vehicle for leader Matt Kotten, who wrote the songs and played lead guitar and bass. No doubt the full live lineup will follow up with a full-length debut album, but the songs on this EP posit the band as successor to the position recently vacated by Soundgarden and keepers of the flame that Metallica moves further and further from with each successive release. I think it's a little odd that the band thanks themselves on the inner sleeve because "Without our endless hours of hard work, dedication, this project would have never been heard" (not to mention that sentence structure, but let's just pass that by); makes it sound like they think they're saving the world and feeding the hungry by playing gloomy metal. From the sound of things, though, I kind of doubt Kotten cares too much what others think. The truth of the matter is, you have to be committed to play this type of music effectively, and Kotten sounds like he just might have what it takes to stick it out: overweening self-belief. That debut full-length album will be the true test of Black Dawn's capabilities; once that appears we'll have a better idea of the extent of their skills.
The Black Heart Procession - 2 (Touch & Go Records, PO Box 25520, Chicago, IL 60625)
Listening to the Black Heart Procession's cleverly named second album, it's easy to see why they have attracted such rave reviews as "What's this, a wake? Sounds like the recording engineer's suicide note"--the cinematic expanses of their music leave enough empty spaces to get lost in. Others have noted 'goth' influences such as Swans and Cranes, but to me the sound of 2 recalls more 'trad' artists such as Will Oldham/Palace, Neil Young, J Mascis, Camper Van Beethoven and most especially 3 Mile Pilot--but better: where 3 Mile Pilot's use of keyboards evokes Supertramp, Black Heart Procession's tinkling piano is more evocative of the cabaret-pop of Nick Cave and Tom Waits; plus their songs are a lot more memorable, and they don't sound like they wish they could be opening for Plant/Page. A simple list of influences and smart-ass remarks doesn't encapsulate the simple pleasures of listening to this disc, though; sure, they're moody, but this isn't slit-your-wrist country-goth or anything of the like, at least it doesn't sound like it to me. There's a passion in the vocals that belies the darkness in the songs, and the arrangements help highlight how carefully crafted and eminently listenable the tunes are. Okay, the Black Heart Procession isn't exactly the next Green Day or Blink 182--if that's what you're looking for you wouldn't even be interested anyway. But there's something a lot deeper here, and it's not something that falls easily into any categories. –Aaron J. Poehler
Acceleration Zero--Tomato Head Records (PO Box 61298, Sunnyvale, CA 94088-1298)
Blindspot was one of the strongest bands on Tomato Head Records' debut release, the Bay Area Ska compilation, so it's no surprise to see them pop back up on Tomato Head's second release with their full-length album Acceleration Zero. The packaging is up to the luxurious standard Tomato Head set for itself with the compilation, and the band delivers with a twelve track, 35 minute set of hard-driving soulful ska that keeps the mood light and the tempo up. The band is tight and flexible, and their grooves are smooth and natural. Altogether a worthwhile purchase for anybody into current ska music--it's pretty unlikely that too many modern ska fans will feel let down by Acceleration Zero. I wouldn't recommend it unreservedly, though: it might not be the best first ska record one could purchase, for example, and the record's certainly not strong enough to win over any ska-haters, but anyone with a firm grounding in the classics and interest in the new breed will probably find this CD an interesting development on the formula. Still, I can't help thinking that I'm going to turn around one day and all the ska bands will have suddenly disappeared, and all their ex-members will be fiercely denying they ever did anything so uncool on the way to practice with their new rockabilly band or swing band or salsa band or whatever the next jump-on-the-bandwagon-and-hope-you-don't-get-lost-in-the-shuffle trend happens to be. It's just a formula, and one that's beginning to be a bit worn-out. –Aaron J. Poehler
The Body Lovers
Number One Of Three--Atavistic (PO Box 578266, Chicago, IL 60657-8266)
Michael Gira garnered more publicity for retiring his long-running Swans project a couple years ago than in the entire remainder of his career put together, at least in this country; the concurrently released 'final' Swans album Soundtracks For The Blind thusly garnered more positive reviews than its immediate predecessor, the infinitely more consistent The Great Annihilator. Now Gira's returned with his first post-Swans project, part one of a "psycho-ambient" trilogy under the moniker The Body Lovers. The 73-minute work is intended to be "audited" in one listening, according to the liner notes, but is divided into ten indexed movements "for the listeners' convenience" (although there are definite breaks between tracks), and cuts off cold at the conclusion of the disc implying that 'Number Two' will pick up the thread where Number One left off. The musical contents of Number One are essentially meticulously studio-constructed gothic soundtracks, something like what you might get if Brian Eno contracted to do the score for a Wes Craven picture. The elements weaving in and out of the mix include delicately plucked acoustic guitars, howling noises, swooshing synthesizers, an actual recording of an infant's circumcision, and a gibbering elderly woman, as well as contributions from past Swans mainstays including Jarboe, Norman Westberg, and Bill Rieflin, plus former (current?) Ultra Vivid Scene leader Kurt Ralske chipping in with a flugelhorn part. It's all pretty much in keeping with the 'soundtrack' work Gira explored on the final Swans releases Die Tür Ist Zu and Soundtracks For The Blind, only without the songs to break up the drifting textures--there's only one relatively brief lyrical Gira vocal to be found on Number One. Interesting work, but since I always found Gira's best-written songs to be the most rewarding Swans tracks I may end up preferring Gira's other post-Swans project, the upcoming and reportedly song- and touring-oriented Angels of Light (originally to be called the Pleasure Seekers but apparently someone else had the name), whose debut is currently scheduled for fall release.
David Bowie – Heathen
You have to hand it to Bowie—nearly forty years into his recording career, and he’s still hard to predict. Take his new album Heathen for example: not only is the record a reunion with Tony Visconti (producer of such classic Bowie discs as “Heroes” and The Man Who Sold The World), but it’s also the debut of Bowie’s brand new label, ISO Records. Plus Bowie’s coming off of 1999’s ‘Hours…’, arguably his strongest album in years, so naturally one would expect the new album to be a complete monster of a disc, right? Well…sort of.
There’s certainly some amazing material here, most notably the killer “Slow Burn”, which proves that the man is still capable of making the kind of alien torch song he pioneered years ago with tracks like “Loving the Alien” and “Station to Station”. Wedged into the album’s twelve cuts are three cover tunes, and an odder grab-bag of songs would be difficult to imagine: “Cactus”, the Pixies’ college-rock ode to obsession; “I’ve Been Waiting For You” by fellow rock elder-statesman Neil Young; and most bizarre, “I Took A Ride On A Gemini Spaceship” by rock history footnote the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. It’s hard to fault Bowie for wanting to pay the guy back for filching his name for Ziggy Stardust thirty years ago (this one song appearing on a Bowie album will likely provide the Cowboy with more money than he’s made in the rest of his career put together), but good intentions don’t necessarily make for compelling music. Conversely, the revamp given to “Cactus” is startlingly fresh, making the song even more compellingly creepy than the original--no small feat for a song with lyrics like “Bloody your hands on a cactus tree/Wipe it on your dress and send it to me”.
Arching over everything on this album, both covers and originals, is that voice. Seemingly unimpacted by a lifetime spent smoking those harsh French cigarettes, Bowie’s voice has rarely been recorded with such clarity, making Heathen an aural feast for Bowiephiles and more casual listeners alike. Even when the material threatens to veer off on a complete detour, it’s that voice that ties the album together—those who didn’t know better might be excused for thinking “I’ve Been Waiting For You” was one of the new Bowie originals after hearing his take on the song.
Altogether, Heathen is yet another intriguing chapter in the Bowie saga; if not a career summation point like Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind, it certainly continues the hot streak he’s been on lately and makes a surprisingly strong case for the possibilities open to rockers past age fifty: you don’t have to become a parody of yourself, endlessly rehashing songs you wrote when you were twenty. Or, as the man himself puts it in Heathen’s track 11, “A Better Future”: “I demand a better future/ Or I might just stop loving you”. Bowie’s pal Mick Jagger would do well to take note.
BOXCAR SATAN: Crooked Mile March: CD
What if the Jesus Lizard had been a blues band? Boxcar Satan is the answer. Anyone else out there remember the Beasts of Bourbon? Crooked Mile March is giving me Beasts flashbacks, though it’s a little less straight-ahead Stoogey and a little more atonal, balls-scraping-on-the-concrete Tom Waitsy. Traditional enough to cover “John the Revelator”, nontraditional enough to include vibraphone, melodica, and accordion, and self-described as “no-account no-wave blues from San Antonio, Texas” (which sounds about right to me), Boxcar Satan takes more left turns in one song than many bands take in their entire careers. If any of this sounds at all enticing to you, twisted individual that you are, you owe it yourself to mosey over to http://www.boxcarsatan.com/downloads.htm where you can download seven different Boxcar Satan mp3 tracks for free (including four cuts from Crooked Mile March) and check this crazed shit out for yourself. -Aaron J. Poehler (Dogfingers)
The Hurt Process--Vagrant Records (2118 Wilshire Blvd. #361, Santa Monica, CA 90403)
Boxer is a traditional four-piece punk band with song structures that remind me of Cheap Trick, but played at that breakneck punk rock speed. The Hurt Process inhabits the kind of world where it's always early morning, two or three A.M., and guys are always pining over old girlfriends who have moved on and poring over the details of their terminally fucked relationships. I'm sure this kind of music has struck a chord with many a emotionally needy teenager--otherwise so many of them wouldn't have grown up to form bands playing this type of music--but something about the Soul Asylum/Cheap Trick commercial punk-pop sound of Boxer combined with the uniformly 'soul-searching' lyrics doesn't sit right with me; it all seems a little too familiar, a bit too contrived and formulaic, too easily stepping in the footsteps of those who have gone before carving out the territory. All the tracks on The Hurt Process sound pretty much the same, and none stood out in my memory after finishing the brief half-hour, twelve-song album. On the other hand, the production and engineering is clear and listenable, presenting a clear, powerful picture of the live sound of the band, so if you happen to be the type who's prone to enjoy poppy punk music and you've been finding yourself sitting up late at night a lot lately, wondering if it all could have been different, you might want to give The Hurt Process a spin or two.
Last Grand Experiment CD (Tommy Boy)
Boy Genius is a punky, melodic power trio from Knoxville, Tennessee that combines Cheap Trick pop-rock with Descendents/All pop-punk; Last Grand Experiment is their half-hour, eight-song debut EP, recorded and mixed in a week for around five grand. None of this is too surprising. What is out of the ordinary is the fact that the label releasing this CD is Tommy Boy, best known for records by groups like House of Pain and Naughty By Nature. The beautifully packaged (great cartoon cover by Bob Clouse) disc is apparently their initial foray into the pop/punk/rock market. It's okay, but nothing that explains the label jumping on it like it's gonna turn over the dollars for them like Treach and company. Maybe they're just afraid the rap market is collapsing. I know I would be if my livelihood depended on it. Boy Genius is fine and all but a couple of albums down the line (assuming they survive that long) they're gonna sound like the Goo Goo Dolls or the Lemonheads; they're so radio-friendly and unthreatening that the smartass single "My Girlfriend's In Love (with Superdrag)" stands out sheerly on the basis of projecting some sort of personality. The rest blurs into an indistinguishable bunch of opening-band quality tunes, the kind bands stop playing as soon as they have a set of tunes for their first album. Last Grand Experiment is overall just too familiar-sounding; Boy Genius repackages the basic ingredients without synthesizing a unique blend from their sources--or in other words, it's not stirred up enough and it's underdone. –Aaron J. Poehler
BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE, THE: Braveryrepetitionandnoise: CD
I popped this into the player to give it another listen directly following listening to two discs worth of Syd Barrett bootlegs; ten minutes later I’d completely forgotten changing the disc and had to remind myself I was, in fact, now listening to the Brian Jonestown Massacre and not some long-lost early Pink Floyd rarities—that should give you some idea of the territory BJM traverses. A bit of the Cure creeps in, most prominently on “Open Heart Surgery”, but overall BJM seems to be getting slightly less derivative of their psychedelic forefathers and developing a bit more of an identifiable BJM sound that’s more than just “What if Brian Jones was in early Pink Floyd?” It’s still hard to resist characterizing them as the American version of Spiritualized, though: both ‘groups’ (which are really collectives surrounding one person) pillage their sixties vinyl collections with mad abandon, crossbreeding different strains of the rock music of thirty years ago as if the intervening years had never happened, barring only the occasional jarring nod to some seventies or eighties band (or, in the case of this BJM CD, the sampled sound of a modem connecting). Usually when I’m in the mood for this kind of thing I tend to go back to my own old discs rather than their modern derivatives, but then music made by BJM shows there’s some life left in the genre. And hey, how many times can you listen to The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn or The Madcap Laughs anyway? (Answer: it depends on how much acid you took and whether or not you left the CD player on ‘repeat play’ beforehand.) -Aaron J. Poehler (Bomp)
The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Give It Back!--BOMP(PO Box 7112, Burbank, CA 91510)
The Brian Jonestown Massacre lives up to their name by recording music heavily derivative of the Rolling Stones' music from the period when the short-lived Brian Jones had a say in how it turned out, modern garage psychedelia with vague occult overtones. Give It Back! is a meticulously crafted piece of retro-pop/rock whose primary characteristic is the sound of Americans copying British musicians copying Americans: the effect is rather like an American version of Spiritualized, but where Jason Pierce creates his music by drawing inspiration from across the breadth of his record collection, Brian Jonestown Massacre's guiding force Anton Newcombe focuses only on that brief period in late-sixties British rock when the fashion was to include Indian instruments like the sitar in your music and talk about how your guru charged your life through meditation in your interviews. The booklet even bears out the feel of the music down to the last detail, including pictures of Charles Manson, Jesus, the eye in pyramid, indecipherable glyphs, and vague revolutionary imagery, plus shots of Mickey Mouse in Fantasia and Ronald McDonald (both labeled 'evil') that are likely destined to be stricken from some future pressing when the respective corporate liars--er, I'm sorry, lawyers--get their claws into it. BJM is absolutely successful at recreating that vibe via brand new (if quite derivative) music but the effect is so slavish and specific that it begins to sound suffocating by the conclusion of Give It Back!; because they've proven how well they can do it on the first half of the album, there's little for them to do but do it again on the second half with slight variations. You begin to wish they'd acknowledge the existence of the remainder of the history of music at least slightly; the future for the Brian Jonestown Massacre's music would seem to lie in successfully integrating some other elements into the formula without compromising their core tenets.
Mark Bruback/Whorehouse of Representatives
Burn Down Nike Town split 7"--Outcast Records (2508 5th Ave., Ste 158, Seattle, WA 98121-1516)/Weak Publications
This elaborately packaged gray vinyl 45 pushes the limit of what you can cram into 7 inches; the A-side contains five literate rants by spoken-word artist/writer Mark Bruback and the flip has three powerful blasts by femme-fronted hardcore band Whorehouse of Representatives. The two complement each other well, both being Seattle-based and both going heavy on the political content, encouraging action, dissent, and change. Plus, the 7" sleeve folds out into an exceptionally well-designed 20-page booklet, containing all the words on the record as well as a few extra written pieces by Bruback and some striking graphics. Surprisingly (based on the title) the piece "Nike" is the shortest of Bruback's spoken pieces, but then I guess his message here is easy to get across: he merely details the imbalances between the miniscule pay given to Nike's Indonesian sweatshop workers, the $5.40 it costs to make an average pair of Nikes, and the "outrageous prices" they bilk from sports-obsessed teens every day, concluding with a modest proposal: "slave labor won't be tolerated/so I'm bringing you the news; BOYCOTT NIKE, don't buy their products and don't wear their fucking shoes!!!" Whorehouse holds up their end too, proclaiming "Let Freedom Reign", politely suggesting that the listener pour a scoop of "Sand In The Gears" of society, and presenting a harrowing portrayal of domestic abuse in "Suffer In Silence". Plus a sticker! What else could you expect to get for $4 postpaid?
Colma--CyberOctave/Higher Octave Music (23852 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 2C, Malibu, CA 90265)
It's hard to know what to think about Buckethead--on one hand, he's clearly a skilled guitarist in his own right, on a par with wizardlike technicians like Reeves Gabrels (Bowie's right hand since the late 80's) and Steve Vai; on the other, his chosen method of self-promotion (always wearing a KFC chicken bucket on his head and a Michael Myers Halloween mask) is so transparently idiotic that one is tempted to dismiss him as just another in the line of wacky-for-money's-sake losers. The only plausible explanation I can arrive at is that Buckethead is of non-white racial background and didn't want reams of reviews by unenlightened critics proclaiming him the next Hendrix or James Blood Ulmer or Sonny Sharrock (or, alternately, the next hyperspeed flying fingers import from the Far East). Regardless, on album all that comes through is the music, not the shtick (always the Residents' great failing), and Colma contains little of the frenetic riffing for which Buckethead is renowned, instead focusing on a more sedate, introspective soloing style which would not be out of place on a Dire Straits record. Percussive backing is provided by replacement Primus drummer Brain and guest appearances are contributed by Bill Laswell, Invisible Scratch Pickles' DJ Disc, and a cellist/violist, but otherwise Buckethead's guitar and bass tracks dominate the proceedings. By the end of Colma one is convinced of Buckethead's fingering skills, but his compositions come across as little more than pleasant background music, ready perhaps to be layered behind a prime-time soap opera in a scene where the male romantic lead stares out across the Pacific Ocean and thinks about his lost loves; the album is a thoroughly professional product, but hardly essential or even particularly interesting art.
7" (Ruff-Nite Records)
Four prime cuts of chunky, punky metal by four guys who look to be in their mid-thirties--either that or they've just done some serious partying in their time. Everything here sounds like a cross between prime Motörhead and "New Rose" by the Damned, except for "Mexico Pizza" which is like a revved-up version of "Rock & Roll Pt. 2" by Gary Glitter. Lemmy should consider looking up guitarist Jeff Martin next time he's in the market for a guitarist, though he'd have to go out to Austin from L.A. to check him out, since that's where Buzzcrusher is based--or as they say, "Texas, Motherfucker". Not too shabby, and impossible to get tired of in the 7" format if you're prone to this sort of thing and still have a functioning turntable. "Scorin' Dope From Bikers" is the one you'd put on a compilation tape, and the cover of "State Control" by Discharge follows close behind. They might need to broaden the formula a bit to make it listenable over a longer playing time, but then again maybe not--they've got plenty of energy which might just put them over even if all the songs sounded like "New Rose" or "Bomber" rewrites. –Aaron J. Poehler