"Glory to the Brave" CD single (Nuclear Blast/EastWest)
Okay, I knew this one was going to be bad from the cover(five posed leather-clad metal dudes' photo superimposed under flames), the band name, and the song titles (the title track, "Ravenlord", and "I Believe [live at Wacken '97]") alone. Lame, weak metal somewhere between the Scorpions and Warrant, though they seem to be aiming for Iron Maiden or Dio or something like that. The singer can't quite hit those wailing high notes required by this type of music but he still goes for it anyway; the result is like nails on a chalkboard. After "I Believe" the singer tells the audience in accented English, "You know, I don't believe that you are the greatest. I know that you are the greatest." Aww. I about puked. The "radio edit" version of "Glory to the Brave" leads off the disc and goes on for five minutes, then the disc ends with the full 7:18 album version of the song. Jesus, I didn't think I was gonna make it. It wasn't even the kind of thing you can enjoy because it's so bad. At least this was just the single--the picture of the cover full-length Glory to the Brave album inside has a painting of a black knight with sword drawn in a medieval forest under a sky of fire. I bet that's a real prize. –Aaron J. Poehler
Harkonen - Hung To Dry 7" (Excursion)
If I remember my sci-fi correctly, Baron Harkonnen was the villain of Frank Herbert's epic Dune. Harkonen the band purveys a similarly villainous brand of hardcore that relies on sudden dynamics shifts to pummel the listener into submission. Vocalist Aaron Edge tends towards the kind of histrionics that make the lyrics indecipherable without the enclosed lyric sheet, screaming above the guitar roar, but the intricacy of the compositions (not exactly 'tunes') survives the assault thanks largely to guitarist Bill Quinby's more restrained chordings. Striking cover design, good layouts, and purty swirly green vinyl makes for an attractive package that evinces plenty of attention to detail; the first side of the vinyl is inscribed "It's a god damn secret" (a quote from "Bullet With A Name", the second song), the second side has "Momento mori" (your guess is as good as mine, though it's obviously Latin for something--'in a moment we die'? I dunno). Hung To Dry is nothing I plan to listen to very often, but it's plain to see that someone cares, and that's always a plus. Live, this stuff would have the crowd stomping. -Aaron J. Poehler
Hawkwind – Atomhenge 76 (Hawk Records/Voiceprint, PO Box 50, Houghton-Le-Spring, Tyne & Wear, England DH4 5YP)
If I had to break down and recommend one of this batch of Hawkwind records, Atomhenge 76 is definitely it. This is prime stuff, the spaciest tastiest space rock of the bunch. Good lineup, an amazing great version of “Reefer Madness” kicking it off, classics like “Brainstorm” and “Sonic Attack”, plus a bunch of tunes I wasn’t already familiar with. Up there with the best of my Hawks records, this is the one I find myself reaching for the most, of the stuff that’s newer to the Hawkwind section and hasn’t already been listened to fifty times like Complete ’79 or Space Ritual.
Hawkwind – Family Tree (Hawk Records/Voiceprint, PO Box 50, Houghton-Le-Spring, Tyne & Wear, England DH4 5YP) The actual Hawkwind content on this album is a bit on the low side, basically consisting of one ’79 version of “Motorway City”; the rest is extracurricular cuts by members of the current Hawkwind lineup. The first half of the record is the most un-Hawklike, since Brock didn’t have anything to do with it as far as I can tell. The second half features four all-Brock-all-instruments tracks (which sound pretty similar to what’s on Spacebrock), one track by Brock plus two Hawks, then ends with the live ’79 cut. Not at all a bad listen, but not as essential as the other Hawkwind/Voiceprint releases by any means.
Hawkwind – Spacebrock (Hawk Records/Voiceprint) Whereas the other Hawkwind discs I’m writing about here are archival releases, Spacebrock is an all-new for 2000 album. As you might expect, it sounds vastly different from the vintage stuff and features a completely different lineup other than titular mainman Dave Brock himself; actually, the largely electronic and sample-based sound of the disc in combination with the title tends to make one wonder if this isn’t effectively a solo album with several contributions by Brock’s touring cohorts. Regardless, don’t expect a spacerock retread or simulation here—I get the idea Brock’s basically trying to reinvent the spacerock idea for the present, and he’s often very successful. Someone who only liked, say, the Hawks with Lemmy-era stuff might be a bit startled—hell, they might not even recognize it as Hawkwind—but as long as you don’t come to the party expecting the familiar it shouldn’t be a problem. The oddest thing is the credit on the back that says “Life Form” was in the movie ‘Any Given Sunday’. Really? That Al Pacino/Cameron Diaz football movie? I didn’t see it—I’m not big on sports—but now I almost want to check it out to see if the Hawks are in the background there or what.
Hawkwind – Weird Tapes 1: Sonic Assassins, Dave Brock (Hawkwind Records/Voiceprint, PO Box 50, Houghton-Le-Spring, Tyne & Wear, England DH4 5YP) This initial entry in the ‘Weird Tapes’ series is basically a split release, combining half an album’s worth of the Sonic Assassins live on Christmas Eve 1977 with a bit less than half an album’s worth of Dave Brock solo tracks, plus one extant Hawkwind live version of “Who’s Gonna Win the War”, perhaps to justify the Hawkwind logo on the front, since the bulk of the album isn’t technically Hawkwind. Still, the Sonic Assassins (described in Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees as Brock’s local/second-string group of the time) here also feature full-fledged Hawkwind member Bob Calvert alongside the Assassins, two of whom would end up in the Hawklords in a short while anyway. It’s a bit less straight-up spacey as Hawkwind proper, with a few more jazzy overtones, but if you put this stuff on a comp in between Hawkwind tracks I doubt you’d hear a shocking difference. Brock’s solo stuff here falls a bit in the sparse-and-experimental category, and is overall of less interest except for “Assassination”, which is more successful.
Hawkwind – Weird Tapes 2: Hawkwind Live/Hawklords Studio (Hawkwind Records/Voiceprint, PO Box 50, Houghton-Le-Spring, Tyne & Wear, England DH4 5YP)
This volume of the Weird Tapes presents a five-track chunk from a 1977 Spirit of The Age tour Leicester gig, filled out with three Hawklords (the band Dave Brock formed after temporarily breaking up Hawkwind in the late ‘70s—which quickly evolved back into Hawkwind, naturally enough) studio tracks, presumably otherwise unreleased. Nice clear sound on the live stuff and a focus here on poet/vocalist Bob Calvert’s material: four of the five Hawkwind cuts have a Calvert writing or co-writing credit. Interesting contrast with the Hawklords tracks, which are sans Calvert although he was among the ‘lords initially. Creative tensions aside, he’s in fine form here, as is the rest of the group. The Hawklords cuts aren’t quite as striking, being a bit keys-heavy guitar-light, and the sound’s a bit pinched, but they’re not too problematic; if nothing else they certainly help justify the Weird Tapes heading.
Hawkwind – Weird Tapes 3: Free Festivals (Hawkwind Records/Voiceprint, PO Box 50, Houghton-Le-Spring, Tyne & Wear, England DH4 5YP) This one’s almost too good to be true: Hawkwind at Stonehenge! The first five tracks are, anyway—recorded at a free festival amongst the famous stones in 1977—while the remainding three come from a 1975 gig (the Watchfield Festival, apparently) with a totally different lineup besides Brock. The latter are a bit lower-fi than the Stonehenge tracks, which are nice and clear, but the Watchfield extracts only comprise about a quarter of the playing time anyway—obviously the Stonehenge stuff is the main attraction here.
Hawkwind – Weird Tapes 4: Live ‘78 (Hawkwind Records/Voiceprint, PO Box 50, Houghton-Le-Spring, Tyne & Wear, England DH4 5YP) The straightest-ahead of the Weird Tapes discs: it’s all (gasp) from one Hawkwind lineup, no ringers from side bands or solo projects tossed in, all live Hawkwind from 1978. Definitely more rockin’ than the bulk of these releases, and probably the most highly recommended of the Weird Tapes discs—if you only want to buy one (at first…) you could do worse than to start with v. 4. It’s got “Urban Guerilla”, probably my favorite Hawkwind song bar none, and the consistency of this disc makes it the most palatable to the ear in ways than the grab-bag nature of the other discs in the Weird Tapes series—it basically sounds like an unreleased live album, and a pretty good one at that. Definitely a worthy addition to the canon.
Hawkwind – Weird Tapes 5: Live ’76 and ‘77 (Hawkwind Records/Voiceprint, PO Box 50, Houghton-Le-Spring, Tyne & Wear, England DH4 5YP) Here we find unspecified (as to date-and-location) live excerpts from two different lineups, one from the seven-piece ‘76 band with Nik Turner and one from ‘77 following the departure of Turner, bassist Paul Rudolph and one of the two drummers. A bit more laid-back and less raging than the majority of live Hawkwind records overall, there’s still plenty going on here and unlike the first three volumes of the Weird Tapes it’s all Hawkwind and all prime. Plus, there’s even a vintage radio ad for Quark, Strangeness & Charm on Sire Records thrown in for good measure. (I wouldn’t mind hearing more of this kind of audio ephemera on the Weird Tapes series: after all, with the Weird Tapes name as a caveat emptor, it seems like about any kind of recording could be legitimately included, as long as it’s audible. Band dialogue, arguments, crowd noise, whatever. Hell, it’s not like people don’t already expect freaky shit from Hawkwind anyway.) –Aaron J. Poehler
Lili CD (Atlantic Recording Corporation)
Oh, boy, here we go--fasten your seat belts. I'd noticed this one from the ads Atlantic placed in various publications, making it quite clear that what we're dealing with here is a classically-trained woman violinist who writes and sings her own material. Now, this doesn't impress me because I play in a band with a classically-trained woman violinist who writes her own material, so I'm not giving Lili any points on that basis, which seems to be the only way they're marketing the CD: "Buy this! It's a classically trained woman violinist who sings!" The real surprise is that a label like Atlantic would put this out at all--it's likely it was because their staffers read all about the Lilith Fair and figured there was a market there to exploit. So how is the CD? It's fucking awful. It's a pretentious piece of shit. Is that clear enough? Let me elaborate. The material is hackwork, poorly written pastiches mostly cobbled together by Lili with one of six (!) co-writers, devoid of memorable melodies despite aiming for pop frameworks. It's clear they only really tried hard on one or two songs because they were the only ones that had even a hope of being played on the radio--one has drums added by the Red Hot Chili Peppers' drummer, that's how blatantly obvious this is. Haydn's voice is thin despite studio multitracking and sweetening: breathy, squeaky, and directionless, she clearly has no idea how to carry a tune in spite of vocal training to stay on pitch. The record is confusingly arranged, with a multitude of tracks scattered around to distract the listener from the fact that nothing's really going on. So can she at least play the violin? Well, technically, though her playing isn't anywhere near what's typical for classical recording, she's on a par with most of the violinists playing in a popular idiom. Her tone is weak and comes off tentative and wishy-washy, though; she has an idea where the notes are, she just doesn't have any idea how to put any emotion into them and she doesn't sound confident. She digs down hard with her bow in an attempt to simulate 'passion' when the effect that comes out is 'trying too hard', she throws flourishes in where they clearly don't belong, trying to dazzle but only hopelessly muddling thing up. When the songs get to her violin solos, the melodies completely drop out as she flails about trying to do something impressive. It sounds like her primary influences on the instrument are Zeppelin's "Kashmir" and the Guns N' Roses version of "Live & Let Die", though she doesn't have the sense to just play the melodic lines the way the strings in those songs do. It's a weak, horrifyingly abysmal combination of Kate Bush, Yoko Ono, Liz Phair, Jewel, Liz Fraser, Dale Bozzio (the singer for Missing Persons), and Sheryl Crow--she wants to be Jimmy Page and Yehudi Menuhin at the same time, but ends up just being annoying. –Aaron J. Poehler
Omala/Catch Supposes plus selections from H.A.L.O.-Immanent--WMO/World Domination Records
Being a longtime Wire fan, I was undeniably excited to receive this disc, which contains the He Said album Omala/Catch Supposes as well as a good chunk of the H.A.L.O. album Immanent, seeing as both projects are the domain of ex-Wire bassist/lyricist/vocalist E. Graham Lewis. A little over two months later, it just sits, and I don't listen to it. One main sticking point is that the He Said tracks are just so damned repetitive that any good points wear out their welcome long before Lewis is done with them; the six tracks comprising Omala/Catch Supposes occupy about twice the space on this disc as the five from Immanent . As a matter of fact, I wish WMO had made this disc contain the entirely of Immanent with selections from Omala/Catch Supposes instead, because the Immanent tracks are the only ones I have any desire to hear anymore. Where the He Said material just comes off as minimalist, ambient dance music just like a lot of minimalist, ambient dance music out there (only its creator used to be in a good band), the H.A.L.O. stuff is more along the lines of recognizable songs electronically constructed--and frankly, the greater the occurrence of Lewis' voice and his inimitably surreal lyrics, the greater the resemblance to late-period Wire (and Wir) and the closer to any reason anyone might be listening to Lewis' music at this point after making through the He Said tracks. I don't know whether to keep this disc just for the Immanent material or just tape the good stuff and get rid of it, but either way I'll need to avoid Omala/Catch Supposes if I want to keep from tuning the music out.
Pursuit In the Face of Misfortune 7"--Pin Drop Records (PO Box 238, Holden, MA 01520)
This 4 song, 33 rpm 7"conveys one thing above all else: perseverance despite consequence. The band name, the title of the record, the song lyrics, the liner notes: all communicate the idea that Holdstrong intends to continue pursuing their hardcore dreams regardless of the reactions (or lack of same) provoked by their music and actions. It's too bad the music is the same old crunchy, metallic hardcore blur with bellowed lyrics and shifting rhythms that people have been doing for decades now, because I'd like to like this band more than I do; they seem truly dedicated, with good intentions and all that. The band kicks out a powerful twin-guitar blast and they seem to have done what they intended to do with this record--it's just that it's so limited. It's impressive for what it is without being memorable. Hardcore has always been a live music much more than a recorded one, though--it's about action and participation and events and craft and shows more than it is about art and records and sales and distribution. Maybe there's some intrinsic quality to hardcore music that just doesn't come across on vinyl and aluminum. Holdstrong has clearly stated their tenets and principles, but it remains to be seen whether they hold true to them over the long haul. If they follow through, it's easy to envision them atop the hardcore heap in five years or so, as other bands drop out, sell out, or simply move on. The trick will be to come up with music that's more uniquely Holdstrong without compromising the hardcore code. Good luck, boys.
Viva La Dregs CD (Polydor Records)
The Hollowbodies is a vehicle for guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Philip Roebuck, who's obviously big on the Replacements--one tune's a rewrite of "Color Me Impressed"--although the tone of Viva La Dregs more closely resembles the lower-keyed feel of Westerberg's post-'Mats albums. Roebuck's lyrics are too clever for their own good in that wordy, look-at-me-I've-taken-college-level-English-courses Elvis Costello way--it's hard not to groan at a title like "When the Permanent House Guest Is Frank Lloyd Wright" to start off with, and the tune's not redeemed by lines like "Hemisphere blackened dance with the antmen crowded on the sweet-front/Galway Kinnel says she came like a comet tapping clear out of Clairmont". Viva La Dregs is the band's proverbial major label debut album, following one self-released demo album, Lame, which presumably got them their deal. Philip Roebuck's backed up by first cousin Shea Roebuck on bass and a drummer, but the backing is at best functional--no striking instrumental flourishes here--so basically the record rises and falls on the strength of Philip's songwriting. Even when he approaches a decent melody he usually clogs it up with impenetrable wordplay, preventing the songs from communicating with the listener to any appreciable degree, and the tunes just aren't strong enough to stand up on their own or stick in the mind without memorable lyrics. It's like Bono gone all esoteric instead of banal. The couple of times he does deign to include a hook line for the chorus he goes to the opposite extreme and repeats the phrase until the listener's completely sick of it. Viva La Dregs isn't without its merits, but there's a lot of room here for development and refinement, to say the least. –Aaron J. Poehler
"Frozen Live" Vol. 1--Blue Button Records (PO Box 940, Long Beach, NY 11561)
Boston's Hypnotic Clambake presents a unique blend of influences combining traditional musics like zydeco and bluegrass with the Grateful Dead and Dead-derived bands' jam-happy esthetic. Frozen Live (subtitled 'Vol. 1", presumably indicating future volumes are planned) is a selection of live recordings from the band's '96 tour and shows a fluid, groovy ensemble well-suited to an evening of herbal tea and clove cigarettes--you can practically smell the patchouli. There's enough rock in the Clambake brew to keep the former Deadhead audience interested, but the more traditionally inclined will likely be more attracted by the fairly uncommon instrumental lineup of accordion, banjo and horn, plus bass and drums. Fans of Dead-audience catering bands like Phish and Dave Matthews might also want to give this disc a spin or check the band out for themselves next time they come around appearing at one of the local hippie festivals.