Around The World in 60 Minutes Volumes 2, 3 , & 4, CD
Wow, three comp CDs sent with absolutely no packaging whatsoever—not even a cheap paper envelope, so of course they’re scratched all to hell. Way to promote your music, guys! That’s really going to entice me to listen—“Hey, these guys not only didn’t care enough to even spend the 30 cents for a jewelbox, they couldn’t even be bothered to keep it from getting fucked up on the way! It MUST be good! I’ll put it in RIGHT NOW!” Yeah, right. There’s not a single band I’ve ever heard of on any of the discs, and though the website address provided is down (another coup for the House Of Jordan promotion department!) so I can’t check, I think this is likely one of those ripoff deals where the bands pay outrageous amounts to have their music put on these useless comps because the people involved say they’re going to ‘promote’ it, when as we see they just pocket as much money as they can and do the absolute minimum of effort to technically fullfil their obligations. Technically legal I suppose, morally reprehensible I’m certain. Regardless, I’m not wasting my time on this shit. Normally I’d put these discs into the bag to sell but who’s gonna buy three loose shitty comp discs? So into the trash they go. (House of Jordan Entertainment) – Aaron J. Poehler
Various artists - Bay Area Ska
Tomato Head Records (PO Box 61298, Sunnyvale, CA 94088-1298)
This debut release from Tomato Head records features 21 tracks of--what else?--Bay Area (California) ska music, straight outta Santa Rosa, Saratoga, San Jose, Santa Cruz, and Gilroy. The record label must have some deep pockets because this CD has the most elaborate packaging I've ever seen on a local compilation. Each of the five bands gets four to five tracks plus two full-color pages to fill with their propaganda in the slick booklet, for a total playing time of around an hour. This one's a no-brainer: if you're into new, youthful, American ska bands, pick this one up and you'll be jumping around like a lunatic or peacefully nodding your head (according to your preferred method of enjoying music) in no time. If you're one of those who thinks that any ska recorded later than the early Wailers sides or the original Skatalites records deviates from the 'true nature' of ska, this probably isn't for you. But if you're one of those who enjoys the English two-tone records like the English Beat or the Specials, you just might be surprised with some of the new ska music being cooked up out on the West Coast, and checking out Bay Area Ska just might be your best move. And if you're among the many who can't stand ska at all, you're not even reading this review, having skipped over it as soon as you saw the title of the album. Aaron J. Poehler
Beer City Underground Invasion Vol. 1 CD (Beer City Records)
A wide-ranging compilation of what the compilers call "hardcore/punk/oi bands": from the Eating Disorders out of Beer City central (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), to Low Life and Antibodies from England, to Mega Stink Man and Judgement Disorderly from Japan. A lot of stuff that sounds vaguely like the Dead Kennedys or the Misfits (more than one tune made me go "What is that song? Oh yeah, 'Earth A.D.'") but some more original and striking sounding stuff too; altogether a driven batch of intense noise. The variety of stuff included and the brevity of the songs (the longest is 2:44, most are under two minutes) helps--as soon as you're sick of one band, their song is over and the next one is gonna be fairly different (or at least a different accent, anyway). Lotsa youthful energy and commitment and such, as they say, and a good cheap way to get in touch with a bunch of bands from all over since the addresses (and even most of the phone numbers) are all included. --Aaron J. Poehler
Concrete & Cornfields: A Collection of Central Illinois Musik!! CD (Fanatic Records)
We all know the notorious reputation local compilations have: shitty cover art, flat sound, spotty song selection, half-assed and amateurish bands, inbreeding, etc. etc. etc. Despite all these faults, though, local comps are still the only real way to take a snapshot of a particular scene at any given point in time and get a view of the variety of musical activities going on. The music on Concrete & Cornfields originates from Central Illinois, specifically East Peoria's Stinky Pete Studio, where the vast majority of these 17 tracks were recorded, and the guys there did a pretty good job engineering a wide variety of music ranging from sore throat punk rock, riffy metal, chunky rock & roll, bluesy neo-classic rock, and electronic gothica. The opener, Lisa Leathers' "Loser" actually got my significant other to suggest the volume be turned up! Inevitably, though, it's definitely the best track here, stepping ably into territory Joan Jett hasn't approached in years. Little else here is so solid, but at least you get the feeling everyone's trying hard--the music may not be great, but the groups acquit themselves well and the effort shows; unlike many compilations the tracks don't sound like songs that were cut from albums. From the sophomoric ("Meg Ryan" by Ham) to the mean-spirited (The Pissed Midgets' "Hippy Shake (Shake One By The Neck)") to the just plain freaky (The Purty Mouths) Concrete & Cornfields is surprisingly (relatively) consistent. The packaging is still kind of cheap, but if you're gonna skimp better there than on the music. --Aaron J. Poehler
Various artists - Denver Vs. Phoenix
Blue Moon Recordings (2075 S. University Blvd. #264, Denver, CO 80210)/Dirty Records (PO Box 6869, Glendale, AZ 85312-6869)
This compilation, a co-released venture between Denver's Blue Moon Recordings and Arizona-based Dirty Records, pits the best of Denver punk up against the cream of the Phoenix scene. Each of the six Denver bands and seven Phoenix bands contributes one track, leading off with Denver artists Pinhead Circus (with their name rendered as Pin Head Circus) whose track "Asking For A Beating" is up to the standard of their debut Detailed Instructions For the Self-Involved on BYO Records and is one of the standouts here. None of the bands lets their local pride down, and as always in these clashes of the titans it's impssible to declare a clear winner when the real result is not competition, but collaboration between the two scenes--or at the very least, awareness of their parallels and differences. Hey, it's cheaper than buying a seven-inch by four or more of the bands involved, and if you're looking for fresh punk rock talent you could do worse than to pick up a copy of Denver Vs. Phoenix. As with all local compilations, in a few years it'll be an interesting curio, a relic of long-gone scenes which will have mutated into different forms even if many of the musicians remain the same. It just depends whether you find that sort of thing priceless or worthless--opinions run the gamut.
Grita! Check Eet Out CD (Grita!)
Check Eet Out is a label sampler for Grita! Records, and contains a selection of Latino rock. As such, obviously a majority of the lyrics here are en español; however, a good number feature a mix of Spanish and English lyrics and a couple of numbers are totally in English. It's interesting to note that the tendency to ape the Soundgarden angry young man bellow isn't confined to Anglo youths, but as regards the heavier stuff, the language thing might even be a plus--lord knows I roll my eyes a lot when I pay attention to the lyrics of most heavy music, but if you can't understand the language you're not even aware when the band is committing the most dire aesthetic crimes. That's the theory, anyway. There's a lot more than just straight rock here, though--the compilation's purview encompasses hip-hop (Latino Diablo), ska (Todos Tus Muertos, Negu Gorriak) and, of course, punk (La Polla Records, the Pleasure Fuckers, Cerebros Exprimidos). Even the most straight-ahead rock combo here has a slightly different spin than usual, but not strikingly so--replace the Spanish lyrics with English and in most cases here you'd have no idea anyone was Latino, or any reason to care about the musicians' race one way or another. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not--I guess it depends on your point of view. Not much here stood out as exceptional music in either language. --Aaron J. Poehler
Guillotined At The Hangar: Shielded By Death Vol. 2 CD
Never heard Shielded By Death Vol. 1, in fact I’m not even really sure what “shielded by death” means (or “guillotined at the hangar” for that matter)…but the explanatory subtitle “Original Punkrock from Eastern Connecticut, Western Massachusetts, 1979-1983” makes everything clear that’s relevant. I’ll spare you the “now this is back when punk rock was really punk rock” speeches, but seriously…a band putting out a 7” in 1983 was a big fuckin’ deal, which is kind of hard to understand now that everybody can do their own record and put it out over the internet and all that shit. A couple of these bands are making their official release debut here! I think the thing was that getting to record was a big deal in itself, so when a band got in there they put their all into the two or three songs they were able to do—there just isn’t the same sense of pressure when you’re recording on your bass player’s computer and you know you can come back and do it again tomorrow and the day after that, ad infinitum.
For the most part these bands rock and they have some good tunes; it’s a well-put together comp. Really, this is some cool shit. Not cool because it’s obscure, or because it’s something you haven’t heard of, but cool because it’s pretty good, and it’s way punker than any band with spiked hair, period. Plus they weren’t ripping off something somebody else did better twenty years ago! (Dionysus) – Aaron J. Poehler
Various artists - Live At WREK--WREK 91.1 FM (165 Eighth St. NW, Atlanta GA 30332-0630)
WREK is the student radio station of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and judging from the materials included with this CD the station's a few steps up from Bloomington's own WIUS, at least technologically speaking. It's certainly convenient in one respect: most of WREK's equipment was built by students, including all the station's amplifiers and lots of other stuff WIUS couldn't afford even if IU cared about the station. The Live At WREK CD contains just what the title promises, live music recorded during over-the-air broadcast performances between 1985 and 1997 by a variety of acts including then independent touring circuit mainstays the Minutemen, wacky surf/sci-fi instrumentalists Man Or Astroman?, local heroes like the Forty-Two, Estrada, Flap and Charlie Parker (a Atlanta jazz ensemble, not the deceased jazz legend), plus (my favorite) a four-minute excerpt from an interview with Sun Ra, talking his usual delightful almost-comprehensible doublespeak about music being otherworldly and pyramids lighting up. Though the tracks on Live At WREK were selected from over a dozen years, the compilation still suffers from the spottiness endemic to compilations; and while about half of this music falls into the category of 'things I don't need to hear twice', everything here is at the very least interesting in its own way, and frankly more adventurous than what I can recall coming across the airwaves here in Bloomington--those with a taste for the noisy and experimental will likely want to lend an ear.
Various artists - Los Punkeros: Raza Punk Y Hardcore (various artists compilation)
Aztlan Records (PO Box 347376, San Francisco, CA 94134)
This compilation presents fourteen Hispanic or mostly Hispanic bands doing the punk rock and hardcore thing, the best known of which is Manic Hispanic, who check in with a note-perfect version of the Sex Pistols' classic "God Save The Queen" en español that neatly sets the tone for the remainder of the disc. The more unknown acts acquit themselves well, although nothing here is particularly earth-shattering--it's basically good, solid, punk rock, just in Spanish (excepting Union 13's "Why" and Bay Of Pigs' "Everybody's An Asshole/Todo El Mundo Maldito", which features the lyrics once through in English and once in Spanish), without many musical differences between the Hispanic acts and their Anglo brethren, and since you can't understand the lyrics in a large percentage of punk music anyway what real difference is it going to make to you? One thing that I find interesting is that these bands tend to draw their influences from the original wave of British punk bands like the Pistols, the Clash, and the Buzzcocks (plus a little of Jersey's Misfits) rather than the whitebread punkpop of the Descendents-derivative So. Cal punk bands. The result is a convincingly committed group of bands, entertaining even for those of us not fluent in Spanish.
Various artists - Noise Reduction II
various artists compilation--Alleysweeper Records (PO Box 361, Clawson, MI 48017-0361)/Invisible Records (PO Box 16008, Chicago, IL 60616)
Noise Reduction II is the second (hence the title) compilation of material from the Alleysweeper label, and contains four tracks by Waterwheel, three from Otraslab, two by Dijislov, and one each from Romance, Tribes Of Neurot, T.V. Pow, Resident Phase Shifter, Solaris, and Final, totaling 71 minutes of material, including otherwise unavailable tracks. The music on Noise Reduction II is somewhat drifting, ambient electronica, always with a beat but one that's less suited to dancing than just spacing out. As always, fans of this type of music will likely find something here to suit their fancy, while others will file it away as moody background music. I imagine it must be more rewarding to people who take certain types of drugs--otherwise it's more interesting than enjoyable, at least to me.
various artists - No More Heroes, A Tribute To The Stranglers--Elevator Music (PO Box 1502, New Haven, CT 06511)
The Stranglers never got the acclaim or sales that followed some of the other bands involved in the original English punk explosion of '76-77 like the Clash or the Pistols; instead, they tend to occupy a rung slightly below the Damned but above Eddie and the Hot Rods. Nevertheless, they were one of the most persistent and long-lived of these bands--in fact, they're still around and touring (albeit without founder Hugh Cornwell) and recently released a live album celebrating their twentieth anniversary. No More Heroes is a compilation of acts like U.S. Chaos, the Reducers, Wat Tyler, Dead End Kids, and the Sisters of Morrissey (whose seemingly unending version of "Always the Sun" is unfortunately not as funny as their name) covering classic Stranglers tracks, although the record's proceeds don't seem to be going to charity like many tribute albums claim. Maybe the Stranglers themselves are the charity case. Nobody takes a stab at their one near-U.S. hit, the ode to masturbation "(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)", opting instead for more relatively obscure but more punk-rock tracks as "Vietnamerica", "Choosey Suzy", and "Bring On The Nubiles". It's hardly unexpected that the versions on No More Heroes don't improve on the originals; the songs don't stand up to much reinterpretation--the Stranglers weren't exactly the best tunesmiths around, deriving more of their power from their menacing sound. Anyone looking for a good entry point for the Stranglers' music would probably be better off picking up one of the band's own 'greatest hits'-type compilations; No More Heroes is like most tribute albums--good intentions, but no substitute for the real thing.
Various Artists - Object Lessons: Songs About Products CD (Inconspicuous Records)
The inaugural release on Beer Frame: The Journal of Inconspicuous Consumption zine creator Paul Lukas' new label, Object Lessons: Songs About Products, is unsurprisingly a Beer Frame tie-in EP. In keeping with Beer Frame's all-consuming focus on consumer products, each of the five songs celebrates a different commercially marketed product. The most successful, the Mountain Goats' "Golden Boy", leads off the compilation with Goatman John Darnielle lamenting an Asian brand of peanuts he can't get anymore and actually creating a singable, hummable, catchy song out of his 'assignment'.
I've never been into Franklin Bruno's Nothing Painted Blue and his "Miracle Thaw" doesn't sit on my ears any more easily than any of his other work, but he gave it a good shot by trying to stretch the metaphor of the Miracle Thaw defrosting tray to warming a frozen heart. The Scene Is Now, the briefly reformed Men & Volts, and Vehicle Flips round out this brief (fifteen minutes) comp with similar stabs at the idea here, but the concept doesn't seem to lend itself too well to meaningful tunes--I don't foresee a craze of 'product songs' being touched off by the work here, in any case. It's hard to picture many people going out of their way to buy this CD as a separate item; it might have been more appropriate (and more widely heard) as an insert in Beer Frame itself. I'm sure the desire to create a separate consumer product overwhelmed Lukas, though, so I'll let it go. --Aaron J. Poehler
Various artists - Oldies But Goodies!
Negative Progression Records (PO Box 15507, Boston, MA 02215)
This compilation features current punk rock bands like Face To Face and MxPx doing 50's chestnuts by artists such as Buddy Holly and the Crystals, with a portion of the proceeds going to the environmental action group Earth First. Most of the bands take a similar approach, revving the tempos up, often following an intro at the song's original speed but then leaping into the breakneck punk beats. Gob gets the blue ribbon for creative interpretation for their track, which interpolates a portion of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" into the Chordettes' classic "Mr. Sandman" , but most of these tracks don't do their origins justice--in most cases, the 50's versions "rock" harder than the 90's interpretations, since most of these bands seem to think "fast" equals "rock". It's all pretty predictable, but at least it demonstrates that some of the musicians in the punk rock scene (which is quick to discard its heroes as soon as they start getting anywhere) have memories (or more likely record collections) that reach back past the punk rock prehistory of the first Stooges and Ramones albums, and who knows, maybe it'll even lead some of today's punk kids to some music they might like better than the weak crap that gets pushed on them from all angles. It could happen.
Various artists - Possible - Sonics Everywhere--Possible Records (Unit 28 Birmingham Business Centre, 31 Mount St., Nechells, Birmingham B7 SRD UK/Invisible Records (PO Box 16008, Chicago, IL 60616)
This 2-CD compilation of the UK Possible Records label contains electronic tracks by PCM, Scorn, SIMM, Jupiter Crew, Ambush, Quoit, and Interceptor, in that order, and I mean in that order: the second disc contains tracks by the same artists in the same order of arrangement as the first, even containing two tracks by Scorn and two by Ambush, one Ambush track before and one after the Quoit track. This approach sort of implies that it doesn't make a whole lot of difference how you sequence this music--either that or the music made by these artists is so consistent that one track by an act will go just as well as another track. In any case, disc one of Sonics Everywhere is somewhat more dancefloor-appropriate material while generally speaking disc two goes along slightly more chilled lines. Mick Harris gets a lot of space on both between his vehicles Scorn and Quoit, garnering about one quarter of the total time, but then that's not too surprising considering that he's the founder of Possible. The clear winner of the 'creative sampling' sweepstakes is Jim Plotkin with his Jupiter Crew track "Heads Of Children", juxtaposing synthesized state-of-the-art breakbeats with well chosen, crushing live drum samples and keeping the whole thing melodic nonetheless. Eraldo Bernocchi's Interceptor gets points for his creative rearrangement of material from Timothy Leary's You Can Be Anyone This Time Around on "Last Bad Trip" and "Slowly Dying", effective tributes to the deceased psychedelic leader, but a lot of the remainder of this material is just too repetitive to hold my attention for long, although it certainly serves its purpose of up-front beats to keep the mix moving perfectly well.
various artists - Skaliente CD [Grita! (PO Box 1216, NY NY 10156)]
Just as Check Eet Out is the Grita! compilation of Latino rock, Skaliente is their overview of Spanish-flavored ska. Skaliente is a bit heavier on starpower, featuring cuts by Rancid, Hepcat, Mephiskapheles, and Voodoo Glow Skulls alongside Grita! acts Blind Pigs, Niños Con Bombas, and Todos Tus Muertos. As a promotional item, Texas sauce company Screaming Sphincter (now there's as evocative name) has whipped up a special Skaliente cayenne pepper sauce to accompany the disc, but unfortunately I didn't get sent any.
I think I would have rather had the sauce than the disc. The music isn't too bad, in fact it makes for a fairly consistent compilation that keeps the tempo notched up high, but it doesn't light my fire either, and it definitely doesn't make chicken tasty the way the sauce might have. Frankly, my problem with this album is one that I tend to have with every ska album--I get sick of the same old beat song after song, and hey, it's not ska if it doesn't have that rock steady beat, right? The formula can only be stretched so far before it snaps. The dilemma would seem to be the difficulty of making music that is simultaneously fresh and original while conforming to the requirements of the genre. The Latino edge certainly doesn't disqualify this from being ska, but for a style that originated in Jamaica and always has a certain amount of rock incorporated into the mix in America (despite the flood of 'ska' bands that has deluged clubs, almost none play pure ska, and the bands on this disc are no exception), the introduction of another step of removal from the original source material isn't necessarily a benefit. The novelty of Spanish lyrics simply doesn't justify itself as a concept for compilation in any sense other than for marketing to the Latino market, and thus serves little real musical purpose. Sorry--it's just not spicy enough to stay with me. -Aaron J. Poehler
various artists - United Kingdom of Punk--Music Club
Many years ago, before I'd gotten too deep into record collecting, I figured that there had to be a good number of solid various-artists compilations out there: after all, there are always hundreds on the racks, and how hard could it be to pick out an act's one or two best songs, put a chunk of them together, and slap out a good compilation? Well, apparently it's harder than it looks, since there are so few good compilations of any kind around and even fewer that bear up to repeated listening over a period of time. United Kingdom of Punk is one of them. Sure, there are dozens of punk comps around, but United Kingdom of Punk successfully isolates that elusive blend of genre classics, collectible singles, and live rarities that comprises a good compilation. The record provides a insider's view of the UK late-seventies punk explosion, featuring tracks by mainstays the Sex Pistols, the Damned, Wire (whose track here is not unreleased as the liner notes claim, but is on the early-era Wire demos comp Behind the Curtain) and the Buzzcocks, but dipping below the surface to include less-acclaimed acts like Suburban Studs, Spizz Energi, ATV, and the Lurkers. Over half of United Kingdom of Punk is assembled from raw live cuts, most of them from seminal (and short-lived) London club the Roxy; the remainder of the tracks are sourced from demos, rare single A-sides, and in the case of the Vibrators from a 1991 reunion. It may be a 1997 CD, but it feels like a compilation cassette of the best of the local scene made by a friend who happened to live in 1977 London. It could only be more authentic if it had a Xeroxed cover.