“Into the Vortex” by Hammerhead – Review

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As a decent-sized fan of the Cows, I was nominally familiar with Amphetamine Reptile Records, the now defunct label that signed them and a quarter-million other skronky rock bands. I had also read Mark Prindle’s review of Halo of Flies’ compilation “Music for Insect Minds,” in which AmRep chief Tom Hazelmyer compared his old band’s compilation unfavorably to this particular Hammerhead album. He called Into the Vortex a “great [example] of a band fleshing out an album in its entirety.” Hazelmyer also referred to it in an interview with Terminal Boredom as an “amazing peak hit” and “an apex, possibly,” for the noise-rock genre. How could I not? (aside from hypothetically finding it horribly expensive on Discogs or really just hating what I heard on YouTube)

Some other idiot reviewed “Into the Vortex” as well for a “dollar bin” review blog or something. Give him some shit if you read this — he called them a “typical rough-around-the-edges hard rock band” and uncharitably appraised the first and last songs, while lukewarmitizing the second and eighth. Lame.

After all those “quotation marks,” the reader will probably be “glad” to resume the “regular” review and (“shit!”)

Get me not wrong — there are certainly problems with “Into the Vortex.” The biggest of these is the vocals, whose main perpetrator seems to be guitarist “Interloper.” It is safe to say that the sung parts of this album have grown a little bit on me (a sort of rubbernecking interest), but they are pretty certain to turn off much of the electorate. They make Guy Picciotto sound like fucking Caruso.

In addition, the album does not sound all that revolutionary at first. Most of its songs sound similar to other heavy and “heavy” nineties-rock bands: “Starline Locomotive’s” chord progression echoes the Melvins’ “At the Stake,” “Galaxy 66” has a galloping beat like one of those typical Johnny Cash songs, and “Empty Angel”‘s elastic groove even recalls that first Stone Temple Pilots album. (I was young, alright?) Like the moron at the dustbin review site, I didn’t really comprehend what made the album good — I had only listened a little bit.

Let’s begin, shall we? Good. “Swallow” is an interesting track. Compared to the other songs, its chord progressions rather drift out of the head during instantaneous recall, and the sole remaining components in my mind are the vocals and drums. Before I catch my tasteless self, I often will mutter “My mother she hates me… she turned my father against me…” under my breath in the computer lab. (I don’t know how many other people’s serene moments I’ve ruined with such exclamations.) The song itself turns almost hideously funny, in spite of the repulsive emo lyrics, when the singer’s voice squeaks during the verses.

“The Starline Locomotive” features more tonal and emotive singing, and the music gets correspondingly more digestible. As I mentioned earlier, its sweet chord progression comes mostly from elsewhere, but (it’s late and I need to go to bed)

Shit, this is good. Pardon me, I’m about a week distant from the horribly smug review I had been preparing for Hammerhead’s Into the Vortex. It more than deserves a second listen — it deserves a third, and a fourth, and maybe a tenth or thirty-seventh. As many times as you can without becoming unstable from loss of sleep. In fact, forget sleep — this will clean your brain of the chemical waste that accumulates during the day, the by-products of thinking around your fellow humans and respond to the alternating inanity and mind-boggling horrid putridity they are capable of displaying. When the words and the music are professed junk, only the noise makes sense; when the institutions are devoted to nothing, only the nothing can be devoted to something. So it is with Mr. Hammerhead and his second album.

Now, I realized today on the bus that a track-by-track review for such a unified album is more or less totally pointless. Instead, I plan to comment on the feel of the music, and perhaps include some shit about standout songs’ place in the whole. (Bring your pillow — keyboards make for uncomfortable dozing.)

The music, as a whole, benefits immeasurably from the distorted bass. It gives the recording a lumpy, substantial texture, like that of a baked potato, that (I kid you not) I can almost taste when I listen. Like Violet Beauregard chewing the forbidden gum, I feel the bass crackle between my teeth, and it is immensely crunchy. The guitar atop such scrumptious low-range frequencies is less punchiful than one might expect. It has a bit less distortion than one might expect from a “noise-rock” band, and plays a different sort of riff: what should, in theory, be standard Black Sabbathy shifts in tempo and mood end up somehow distinct. Perhaps it’s the diminished-fifth power chords that are often wedged alongside the root-note-based ones, but these riffs are subtly dissimilar to anyone else’s. And they change so quickly! Lead-off track “Swallow” chews through almost half a dozen in its four minutes, and “Journey to the Center of Tetnus 4” at least as many in seven. Did I mention that they’re not superfluous, either? Each pattern serves not to show how many riffs Hammerhead can cram into a song, but to advance the whole piece. It’s masterful composition, and displays a knowledge of songcraft uncommon to the hard rockers who occupy somewhere to the conservative right of Hammerhead’s niche.

The drums are another matter entirely. They are mixed into the background, serving as a kind of trebly flourish on the guitar’s antics, lacking a great deal of the immediacy that percussion often brings to the songs. On some tracks they plod agonized over the riff (“All This Is Yours”, “Journey”‘s introduction) but more often are an asset to a song: the drums give “Zesta” its water-treading, flailing-in-place feel, carry “Galaxy 66” at a daring gallop, lend a lopsided circularity to “Brest,” accent the elastic snap of the “Empty Angel” riff. Even if they lack in power and impact, the drums are more than essential to the atmosphere that hangs over Into the Vortex like a cloud of carnivorous bricks. If only they were more prominent.

I won’t mention the vocals. They are low-hanging fruit, which turn the stomach with their diffident mumble and hideous screech (traits which do not come together often, or well). Any idiot can listen to the album and make fun of them — it takes a genius like me to get past them and hear how great the backing band is. I also will not mention “All This Is Yours,” a musically repulsive song with absolutely abominable lyrics and no redeeming social value except as a delirious case study. (Fuckin’ A, this one is bad.) No point in listening again.

Again, I will not mention them.

My personal copy of this terrific(ally out-of-print) CD came from a Discogs order placed to Amoeba Music, but that’s probably not the only place you’ll find it. Used-album bins across the Midwest are surely pregnant with its brothers and sisters, so seek them out. Also, if you find Killdozer’s Twelve Point Buck, I’d appreciate a description. I hear it’s good.

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“Out of Aferica” by the Heroine Sheiks – Review

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I’m not familiar with the Sheiks’ other work (two previous albums and a pair of CD singles), so I can’t comment on this album’s place in their discography or whatever. However, I have ONE point of reference to describe the experience: the twentieth-century composer Louis “Moondog” Hardin.

The main connection that Moondog has to the Heroine Sheiks is that I bought their albums at the same time; this is probably why I think of them together. Anyway, in his liner notes for the reissue of Moondog/Moondog 2, Hardin opines that his own originality (which he, incidentally, does not believe in) comes from the fact that he adheres to traditional forms, but implements weird elements within those forms. Indeed it does — Moondog 2 contains bizarre time signatures, beautiful harmonic-minor melodies, and percussion that the composer invented during his time as a New York hobo. Still, it falls squarely within the medieval “rounds” or “canon” format, in which the short theme is presented an infinite number of times. He stays weird within a traditional context.

The upshot is that the Sheiks sound like a rock band, and their songs usually conform to the intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus mode to which pop and rock have stuck for the past several decades, but they ultimately can’t help themselves when it comes time to bonk and squall. Christ, their leader was the singer for the Cows, and the guitarist, an awe-inspiring axe murderer (haw haw) named Martin Ros, played in an alleged noise band called La Pistola; I can’t vouch for the rest of them, but the drummer is rock-solid and the keyboardist is as well-versed in the use of close-placed clusters as I am in ultra-hyphenated descriptors. The bassist, as in many bands, gets short-ass shrift, though he plays great distorted Hammerhead-ish basslines in “You d’Etat” and “Break Up,” and makes a monumental contribution to the humid and simultaneously spine-chilling “closer” song.

In the “Day In the Life” segment from 9/3/16, I compared Out of Aferica to the Melvins’ Stoner Witch; that does not do the Sheiks justice. Certainly, Stoner Witch is great: it displays a pop-music orientation that, considering the Melvins’ major-label status and Buzz Osborne’s legendarily shameless taste, should have been an obvious step to take. The Heroine Sheiks, however, had nothing to lose in 2005 by releasing esoteric noise on level with the more difficult Cows material (think “The Woman Inside”). What Out of Aferica tells us is that this is a band that actively pursues a melodic and “traditional” direction, in accordance with the members’ own inclinations. They want to make noisy stuff that’s based on pentatonic pop and rock, that follows the structures of pop and rock music. They are grounded in earthly music in a way that so many “pure noise” auteurs are not, and I personally love it.

Having covered what makes the band itself special, I will return to the songs themselves. They cover a great deal of stylistic ground: scary ambience bookends the recording, as mysterious, substantial synth tones define “Stabbed By an Angel” and a few muttered Casio chords in “Harmonic Fix” encourages a second glance at the nasty pun in the band’s name; between these two blocks of wonder, however, sits some truly great down-home rock and roll. “Cock Asia” recalls the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For the Man,” if only because of the pounding saloon piano; its leaner, tougher cousin, “Brooklyntown Romeo,” beats rhythmic new relevance into the usually generic root-pentatonic third-fourth riff of its verse. (Can’t forget that chorus shout, either: “I am the Brooklytown Row-ow-ow-ow-OWOOOO yeah! Romeo!”) “Break Up” is absolutely hilarious, as Shannon Selberg impersonates three different people — a bickering man, a bickering woman, and their pissed-off mutual friend — who argue with one another throughout the song. (We don’t get a definitive ending, which may be for the better.) In “Jaws of Life,” it sounds as though the keyboardist played on the far left keys but turned down the bass, producing the series of dry oinks which make up the song’s motif. It’s a lot creepier in practice than on paper. “Through” has a decent bassline and a guitar solo that makes you look twice at Martin Ros, and “You d’Etat,” while it sounds very similar to the Melvins’ “Revolve” (another reason for the Stoner Witch comparison), is my personal favorite song on the CD. The introductory guitar lines in the right speaker makes me wheel my arms through the air, trying to slash those imaginary strings. (When air-guitaring, I never miss a note or hit a wrong fret.)

The attempts at lounge-lizardry are even more varied than the out-and-out rock. Compare “Pillow Talk” (which Grandma can never be allowed to hear. Ever) to “The Obscenery”: one is an unmentionable piece of understated (fun? atmosphere? shit?) and the other is a melancholy examination of Selberg’s life set to a pair of minor chords that come straight from the works of Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg. Nobody has to like both, but it’s hard not to be attracted to at least one of the two. The bonus track is not bad, either; I especially like the tripletted last line in each chorus: “I – am – out” growls a pair of Shannons over each drum hit. It lends the song a greater menace, as though the speaker rolls his shoulders forward a little bit with each syllable until he looks like absolutely feral in the mind’s eye.

My only concern is the slight misstep “Mr. Innocent,” which isn’t by any means bad. It comes off hokily, though, to put prancy, taunting, mock-confrontational funk-rock after one of the album’s best tension-builders (“Jaws of Life”), and I can’t really tell if it was a good idea to include it in the final album. However, it certainly breaks the tension between “Jaws of Life” and “Through,” both of which are subtle, dynamic pieces. Really, it’s not bad.

In the big picture, this is one of the most terrific albums I think I’ve ever heard. For your own sake, listen to it if you have any interest in bizarre music that was clearly crafted lovingly and without regard for anyone else’s prejudices. The Heroine Sheiks won’t seek you out, but they’re always available.

A final note: pay attention to Shannon Selberg’s free-jazzy bugle solos throughout the CD. I thought they were unnecessary at first, but over time they reveal a great deal of dramatic intuition, and don’t muddle or detract from the music. Try them on!

A finaler note: also, read the Sheiks’ great “biography” from their old website. It rules. http://www.heroinesheiks.com/biography/index.html

“Damaged” by Black Flag – Review

Cunning Stunts update: I listened to it again during passing period 5th-6th, and it is growing on me! The Cows’ “classic” (hate that term too) album grows more and more tight in my estimation. As with Damaged or I Sing the Body Electric, its apparently formless mess grows more and more distinctly organized with each absorption, so that I can hear the tremendous attention that seems to have been put into each song. More to come!

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Young Henry Rollins attends the Bullis School for Boys

Black Flag’s Damaged began as a surprisingly difficult album for me. I had read more Buzz Osborne interviews than official articles on Black Flag (which is really the way to go with music journalism, isn’t it?) and thus received the impression that the following work, My War, was the more noteworthy of the two. When I wandered into that CD store in Claremont, CA on a school vacation,  I scanned the “Punk” section under B in the hopes of scoring My War. Imagine my disappointment upon finding nothing but a used copy of Damaged, saleable for six dollars. Shrugging, I went up to the counter. The haul was pretty good — I had also captured the Tony Williams Lifetime’s Believe It, a surprise copy of Guru Guru’s Dance of the Flames (excellent and unfairly maligned; I should review it someday), and most crucially, the Birthday Party’s Junkyard. Now was hardly the time to bemoan the wrong Black Flag CD.

I did not listen to it in the car with my dad on the way back up to Central California. He was a classic-rock guy, whose favorite bands were the likes of Rush and Boston and Led Zeppelin. For him I played the Tony Williams and Guru Guru albums. There is very little in the world more beautiful than driving through rolling wine country, the sun setting behind the hills on your left, and “The Girl from Hischhorn” getting to that good part.

Beauty, however, is not a recurring theme on Black Flag’s first full-length album. The closest thing to hope is expressed in the lead-off track, “Rise Above.” In fact, I adore it. In the future, some English-speaking country with wise leaders will choose Black Flag’s “Rise Above” for its national anthem, and have the crowds chant along before each game, instead of that “Star-Mangled Scammer” drivel. Damn and blast.

After that, it all just goes downhill.

Track 2, “Spray Paint,” is even shorter than most songs by Rollins’ old band State of Alert (whose sole EP was eight minutes and ten tracks long). It measures about thirty seconds  from tip to tip, and crams three verses and a blistering chorus (“SPRAY PAINT THE WALLS!”) into these tight confines. Little else can be said for or about it.

From here, we plunge into the absolutely badass tracks. There is “Six Pack,” musically the first alt-rock song; listen to that obviously minor-key bassline and you will see what I mean. (History’s second alt-rock song is Fugazi’s “Blueprint.”) There is “What I See,” the catchiest song that ever described existential horror at being surrounded by numb, nervous drones. There is “TV Party,” which never fails to make me laugh like a maniac with the couplet “Don’t even bother to use my brain anymore/There’s nothin’ left in it!” There is “Thirsty and Miserable,” in which the treble is jacked up considerably, and the mix places Greg Ginn’s searing leads up front where not even Henry Rollins’ typically unhinged howling can’t displace it. If one could sum up songs with images, “Thirsty and Miserable” would be a strand of unspooled barbed wire, thrashing in a high wind.

“Police Story” begins with that weird siren-like noise. I can’t figure out if it comes from tape manipulation or from somebody’s amp, but it’s certainly distinctive. In fact, most of these songs are like that: they start with or include a bizarre, distinctive sound or riff (the whine in “Police Story,” the diminished fifths preceding “Life of Pain,” the unaccompanied voice-drums part of “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” the chord drone that introduces “Depression”), head through the familiar Black Flag chord progressions, and after every verse or so, they throw in two or four bars of searing noise one string lower on the neck. It takes a listen or two to distinguish, but these structures manifest again and again throughout the album. This kind of compositional uniqueness wasn’t present on their earlier work (see The First Four Years), and leads me to believe that Greg Ginn was trying to make good on his promise to turn the Flag into a band that played more than three-chord punk. Applause.

Anyway, “Gimme Gimme Gimme” is terrific. Here is where people in 1981 flipped the record over. (In our civilized age, we listen to music digitally, as God intended.)

They say Damaged is an album divided into two parts, with shoutable slogans galore on side 1 and ball-clenching rage dominating side 2; I can confirm these reports. Yes, Officer, I was there when Black Flag perpetrated the damage. First the band started playing this big distorted drone, and then they got bored after a few seconds and started in on one of those horrible skrankly rock and roll songs. I think they called it “Depression.” Then there was this hoarse little bald guy who compressed his backing band until they sounded like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and he stage-whispered about killing me unless I got him his meds or something. I tried to run away, but he tried to explain to me that we were both confused, and that he didn’t want to be confused. I stopped again to listen, being a sympathetic woman, and then I asked him where his EpiPen was because he was screaming like crazy about his reaction. “No more no more” etc. So crazy. He even blamed CNN for something and called them a bunch of maniacs. Heck, I don’t know. It only got worse when his greasy guitar friend tried to aggravate him by playing a bunch of diminished fifths. They call those the devil’s triad, you know. There was more scary punk music after afterwards.

Then the drums started in on “Damaged I,” and the EMT told me I suffered a severe concussion when it blew my mind.

Are you chartreuse yet?

Riot-Inducing Saxophonist Ornette Coleman Was Delaying Metallica Show

In 1958, Ornette Coleman, the jazz saxophonist responsible for the creation of the “free jazz” subgenre, played a festival in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Eyewitness accounts report that the watching crowd members were displeased with Coleman’s performance, which culminated in their chasing him off the stage, seizing his tenor sax and heaving the innocent instrument off a nearby cliff. It was widely assumed that the unconventional song forms and lack of chord progression in Coleman’s music was what set off the riot, but the truth comes to light 67 years later, in an interview with one of the very men who gave Ornette Coleman’s instrument its first real airtime.

According to Robert Gillen, a now-retired trucker from Alabama who attended the concert, the cause of the crowd’s discontent was not the music Coleman played. “Actually, we all thought it was pretty darn good, especially in retrospect. His emphasis on melody instead of chords, as well as his total disregard for the popular modal changes of contemporary jazz, was a revolutionary thing at the time. We felt like something special was on display, something we had never seen before. Like most Dixie boys, I love my jazz. I mean, when you make a visit to our neck of the woods, the first thing you’ll hear is Coltrane and Mingus and Bird, comin’ outta every window.” What got their collective goat, Gillen claims, was the delay it was causing. “The problem was, we thought Metallica was gonna play on that same stage at eleven-fifteen, and Mr. Coleman’s show went on well past noon. I said it once and I’ll say it again, I love my jazz, but there’s an itch that only good ol’ thrash metal will scratch for ya.” His gaze drifts away, settling like an errant housefly on the records above his mantelpiece: copies of Slayer’s “South of Heaven,” autographed by saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool,” bearing the signature of Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing. There appears to be a trash-burning pile in the backyard, which upon close inspection is actually a scorched and battered heap of CD’s by various modern country stars, among them Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Sam Hunt and Florida-Georgia Line. “Then some people – myself included, I admit – started yellin’ at the stage, and when he didn’t respond, we ran up there an’ chased him away. In the confusion he dropped his saxophone. Now, we respect a man’s instrument, and somebody tried to bring it back to his bag backstage, but he slipped on a grease spot or somethin’ and it flew up in the air and went over the cliff behind the venue. We were all real sorry.”

By interesting coincidence, one of the concert-goers that day was jazzcore crossover bassist Josh Stevens, who was inspired by the event to write his early-Sixties blackened yachtcore hit “Smoke On the Water” for the band Deep Purple. The song was later used in testimony against him in 1692 when the Parents’ Music Resource Center accused him of backmasking the words “Hail the Prince of Darkness” into the lyrics; Stevens did not deny that the words were there, but called them a tribute to trumpet player Miles Davis.

The 1958 Baton Rouge Jazz Festival was abruptly terminated by a full-scale riot against the lying promoters upon someone’s discovery that Metallica would not exist until 1981.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Ornette Coleman, 1930-2015.

“The Firstborn Is Dead” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Review

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Foreword: I meant no disrespect to the Heroine Sheiks’ fine 2006 CD Out of Aferica by reviewing it as part of a “Day In the Life” segment; same goes for the Cows’ Cunning Stunts, and whatever the other ones were. In fact I intend, upon fully absorbing Cunning Stunts, to give it the honor of a full-page evaluation, because I feel that there is so much more to appreciate, than what I hear right now. That mention yesterday was intended to serve as a kind of journal entry, so that I can track how one’s feelings might emerge about such a perplexing album. Now, to meaner pastures:

Starting one’s official reviewing career with an album that said reviewer considers one of his/her favorites is usually a tricky proposition. One must appear to exercise some kind of restraint (if one is not Lester Bangs, who gets away with whatever he says because no one sounds quite like Lester Bangs) in opining about such a great recording. Luckily, I managed to stop referring to myself in the hypothetical third person and get on with praising it.

Anyway, the first thing I should probably mention is that “Tupelo” is not my favorite track here. This may shock a good many of you reading Cave fans — more than once, I’ve seen the album referred to as “the one with ‘Tupelo’ on it” — but I get a sinking feeling, even as I write this, that the song just goes on a bit too long. Two chords do not sustain a seven-minute song, no matter how biblical the lyrics get. Yes, the drums thunder; yes, the thunderclap  intro is cool. But I can’t help feeling that even “St. Huck” from the last Bad Seeds album was a better fulfillment of Nick Cave’s narrative promise. At least it managed to maintain a mood.

What then, you tru-believers (TM) ask, is this philistine’s favorite Firstborn song, then? Turns out it’s track four, “Black Crow King,” which Nick himself once declared ought to be “safely disposed of down a public toilet somewhere.” I vehemently disagree. I have always had a soft spot for the Bad Seeds’ chain-gang chants, like “Well of Misery” and this particular track, and “Black Crow King” delivers in spades. The introduction sets it off nicely, as Mr. Cave hums along to Mick Harvey’s single-chord motif (that tone! that tone! How does he get that tone? It sounds like a waterfall of jewels, of diamond windchimes outside the door of a Death Valley hermit. It sounds like spilling water, one droplet at a time, down a black stone aqueduct and into the mouth of a man dying of thirst) and declaring, in one of his strongest voices on record, that he is the Black Crow King. No effortful sneering or running out of breath mid-line — Nick moans with the best of ’em. Meanwhile, we hear his fellow prisoners engaged in brutal warfare with the rocks (“A-bam-bam-bam-bam”), but are shown some kind of redeeming wonder at the expansive and captivating place where they labor, a place where the clanging hammers talk, and the crumpled nails, like the prisoners, sing defiantly as they are pounded into place. Then the song starts; and that rhythmic stomp takes hold of my subconscious; I sway back and forth, back and forth, a human metronome for the crack of the snare — I rejoice inside at the words “king ruby on each spine” (blood on the crown of thorns) — I hear the guitar grow louder and louder as the band pleads along with Nick, and the snaps grow more and more insistent — I gaze inward at the black clouds rolling over the intolerably vast horizon, and am transfixed with the breathless declarations and yearnings of my own West-addicted soul.

And all that in one song. Returning to track order:

After “Tupelo” comes “Say Goodbye to the Little Girl Tree,” which used to be my favorite song on the album; its sober, spare guitar line is a bucket of cold water after “Tupelo”‘s hazy bombast. The backing drums, especially the occasional cymbal crashes, are excellent substitutes for punctuation. Nick’s lyrics are rather chilling for a song about a child, but seem to illustrate some kind of overprotective father sealing his daughter away for her own good. He accuses her of trying to subvert him by growing up, and locks her in a tower and throws away the key. Or something. Hell, being familiar with the rest of Nick Cave’s discography, he probably killed her.

Next is “Train Long-Suffering,” one of the few outright rockers (I hate that term) on this record. With the amount of ballads and mid-tempo numbers (also fake terms, all of ’em) included on The Firstborn Is Dead, you might doubt the veracity of the group to pull off such a feat. Luckily, half of the Bad Seeds is equal to forty percent of the Birthday Party, the world’s most outrageous rock-and-roll band bar none, and they pull off a fast, driving song that has about the rhythm of the metaphorical train described. Despite Cave’s lyrics to the contrary, this is a song of jubilation first and foremost; its words describe a man abandoned by his lover (sort of like every third song on FM radio), but no music this joyful can be brought down by a mere lost-love tale. Just listen for the organ to kick in around verse three, along with the tambourine — they absolutely make the song!

See above for “Black Crow King.”

Side two (or what it would be if I had bought the vinyl version) slouches off with “Knockin’ on Joe,” probably the moodiest and most indulgent song contained herein. No Mick Harvey guitar — he’s relegated to drums, as Nick’s piano colors the song and Blixa Bargeld’s guitar quivers in the right channel like an anemic mosquito stuck under my headphones. For eight minutes, we hear Nick’s impression of a nineteenth-century prisoner, oppressed by the warden, the judge, the jailer and pretty much everyone else in his jail’s hierarchy. (I once read on a framed piece of paper at my local Outback restaurant the testimony of a condemned man who declared that, in Australia, the police would terrorize people in isolated towns and deny them habeas corpus and all — “You can run, you can hide/You have yet to be tried”. Maybe Nick relates this to the traditionally American narrative of how the cops tend to stomp on our ethnic minorities. Beats me.) The song is not the best of the bunch, but is still purty durn ketchy for a sad, sad lament that nearly reaches the eight-minute mark. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked as well if it were performed by a less raw group, but the fact remains that it does work, and (I might add) drags less than “Tupelo.” Here comes the hate mail.

Track six is not a Cave song, but the work of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash! He admits to being a big fan of both, and lets it shine in this six-minute nitroglycerine blast. It pounds, it pounds, it rolls in the mud of its own knowledge of American geography (which, embarassingly, outstrips that of most Americans), it POUNDS! Basically, Nick names a bunch of towns where his character is wanted by the law, and throws in an original verse every few minutes. The problem with that last sentence, though (as with most synopses), is that it undersells the awe-inspiring might of the song itself — I walk away from listening with wind-burns on my face. (Should probably cease listening whilst sticking head out of car window at sixty-five miles per hour.) Anyway, I should stop trying to describe such an epic song with words.

On most editions of Firstborn, “Blind Lemon Jefferson” is the final track. Here is one of those rare tracks where Blixa Bargeld’s sometimes-questionable guitar “style” comes in efficacious handy. It opens the song with the stealthy anticipation of a slowly turning blues key, as Nick Cave’s harmonica toots its way through the intro; then he starts to sing, and hits some low notes (finally!) after a career’s worth of attempts. He reaches down to E1 with some strain throughout the first bars (previous threshold was almost F1, in the Bad Seeds’ version of “Avalanche”), sneer-whispering a surreal tale of the titular bluesman being summoned to judgment at his death. As the setting grows more bizarre, so Nick’s voice become more and more strident, until he plays the part of conductor on the “judgment train,” shouting “Get all aboard!” As in “Train Long-Suffering” and “Black Crow King,” the music paints a more redemptive than sad picture, in spite of the rather despondent tales that ride along the rails of each song.

As any real fan would tell you, however, the album doesn’t end here. Instead, the album’s essential companion is the B-side of the “Tupelo” single, a 12″ affair which sells for about seven or ten bucks on Discogs (or on Disc 2 of the reissue — see below paragraph). On the second half of that single resides one of the most haunting songs from this “blues” period in the Bad Seeds’ development: “The Six Strings That Drew Blood.” Do not confuse it with the Birthday Party song of the same title — that one is frantic and gleefully nihilistic. This is spaghetti-western doomism all the way, and would probably fit somewhere on a post-hiatus Earth album. Legend (liner notes) has it that Nick and Mick recorded this all by themselves, returning to Berlin after the rest of the band had left; they felt they had one great song left in them. Boy, were they right. If ever an argument needs to be made for the merits of multi-tracking, “Six Strings” is exhibit A for the defense. Singer and guitarist play off one another’s cues for striking the chord at just the right moment. Mick Harvey’s famous marimba, which would later make egregious appearances on some of the best songs from Your Funeral… My Trial, introduces each new verse with a descending blues-scale pattern, as a weird counterpoint to the tortured treble guitar: a round-toned mourner’s response to the crier’s scream.

Epilogue: I must mention this as well: if you buy this album off of Amazon, make sure it’s the reissued version, no matter what format. I got the CD-DVD edition with an excerpt from a documentary on people’s opinions of the record; the DVD also included “The Six Strings That Drew Blood.” The CD, meanwhile, had apparently undergone some kind of beautiful clarifying remaster, so that the instruments don’t muddle into one another; overall, it leaves a slightly soupy impression. Here, the drums are crisp and defined, the beloved “Black Crow King” guitar shining like a string of opals, the backing vocals a distinct, center-channel presence, instead of floating up towards the vaulted ceiling as with the original. It’s almost hard to listen to the original now. Which is why I don’t. Trust me, the remastered CD-DVD edition is more than worth the extra five dollars.

Along with Tom Waits’s “Blood Money” and the Ninth Amendment’s “Soft Sunshine Soul,” this is one of the only albums whose every single song has been stuck in my head at least once. FIN

P.S. In tribute to the useless, flow-killing bonus tracks present on CD’s throughout the 2000’s, I have appended to my review a professional remix of the penultimate paragraph. Here ya go!

As any real fan would tell you, however, the album doesn’t end here. (Check: hipster “you don’t know shit” declaration) Instead, the album’s essential companion is the B-side of the “Tupelo” single, a 12″ affair which sells for about seven or ten bucks on Discogs (or on Disc 2 of the reissue — see below paragraph). On the second half of that single resides one of the most haunting songs from this “blues” period in the Bad Seeds’ development: “The Six Strings That Drew Blood.” (Check: rare, indispendable, pocketbook-thinning “document” that isn’t on the original release) Do not confuse it with the Birthday Party song of the same title — that one is frantic and gleefully nihilistic. (Check: mostly non-important distinctions) This is spaghetti-western doomism all the way, and would probably fit somewhere on a post-hiatus Earth album. (Check: gratuitous “mystery band” reference) Legend (liner notes) has it that Nick and Mick recorded this all by themselves, returning to Berlin after the rest of the band had left; they felt they had one great song left in them. (Check: pointless “legendary” anecdote) Boy, were they right. If ever an argument needs to be made for the merits of multi-tracking, “Six Strings” is exhibit A for the defense. (Check: pretended knowledge of the studio and recording technique) Singer and guitarist play off one another’s cues for striking the chord at just the right moment. Mick Harvey’s famous marimba, which would later make egregious appearances on some of the best songs from Your Funeral… My Trial (Check: anticipatory reference to later, presumably superior work, and also to a marimba), introduces each new verse with a descending blues-scale pattern, as a weird counterpoint to the tortured treble guitar: a round-toned mourner’s response to the crier’s scream. (Check: stupid poetry) (Check: ironic self-awareness throughout) (Final verdict: drop the self-awareness = ready for Pitchfork)

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A Day in the Life – 9/3/16

It being September 3rd, there is no reason why I should post a biopsy of my day to the Internet for all to see. However, the sheer amount of music that passed through my brain in the past sixteen hours is incomparable to that of any day’s haul in recent memory. I have cycled through about five hours’ worth of tunes today, not entirely on purpose. First I consumed the Melvins’ Gluey Porch Treatments record in reverse side order — that is, beginning with B1 “Glow God” and ending with A9 “Leeech” — in a Costco parking lot, under the pretense of doing homework; now that was a blast. It feels so weird to put “Eye Flys” right in the center of the album, or “Over from Under the Excrement” anywhere but last. They were basically meant for their ordained spots. Plus, you must listen to tracks B1 thru B3 in order, or else some horrible chain-letter fate will befall you. Fill in the blanks yourself.

Dogma aside, I got home to do some work for real and plugged into my new and improved “Andrew Relaxes” playlist. At present, it is approximately eight hours and fifteen minutes long, and I have beaten my way through about four of those as I write this; both totals will likely increase in the future. I added a good forty-five minutes’ worth of material today alone. I am probably fortunate that so many of my great albums are vinyl-only, and cannot be transferred to the hard drive, or else I would be elbow-deep in a dozen other great bands as well. (Side note: Isn’t it weird how many of Bowie’s favorite groups end up in my collection? Devo, Kraftwerk, Blondie, Tangerine Dream, Mott the Hoople… it’s probably that antique store in San Juan Bautista where I get some of my stuff. Still waiting on a used Stooges album, though.) I feel a little tired out after all the music, as should probably be expected. However, the stuff itself was uniformly excellent, and I plan to listen more tomorrow. Someday I might even publish the contents of the “Andrew Relaxes” playlist. For now, though, I shall list a few of the albums I am in the process of evaluating:

The Cows’ Cunning Stunts has grown slightly on me since I plopped it on my turntable for the first time last Saturday. “Heave Ho” is still a little underwhelming, but I now pledge allegiance to the remainder of Side 1, and #2 isn’t bad either. The only problem with their earlier record Daddy Has a Tail, I thought, was that “Sugar” and “Sticky and Sweet” tarshished the blasterpiece that was the first half; that complaint — and suspicions of B-side slump (like sophomore slump but more abrupt) — have no basis in this record. People complain about “Terrifique” and “Ort” sometimes; I think both are great. I wanna learn to play that riff from the former. It sounds so cool! Conclusion: even though I felt ambivalent at first, Stunts has begun to impress, and I think it will continue to improve in my estimation.

More astonishing, David Bowie’s first Berlin album has me at Lowggerheads with Mark Prindle himself. As I expected, I have begun to enjoy the fragmentary songs of the first half, with their fun little melodies and Iggy Pop guest appearances. However, like a deceptively benign tumor, appreciation has grown within me for the second side’s moody ambient crap, and I need serious psychiatric help before this enjoyment gets more acute. What will I do walking through the grocery store from now on? Hum along to that unbearable garbage on the speakers, so desperate to be inoffensive that it offends more than the most vile of honest expression? It’s not like I can wean myself off it.

On a lighter note, I am diving headfirst into the Heroine Sheiks’ brain-feeding CD Out of Aferica. The vocals here are certainly out in front. Occasionally — on “You d’Etat,” or “Mr. Innocent” or “Cock Asia” — they can overpower the music slightly, as they might with Captain Beefheart or Jimi Hendrix’s first album. However, this Selberg-centric mix allows us to hear the man himself in a way that was impossible with the Cows’ noisiest work (which was, admit it, ALL OF IT) without his traditional nose-howl. While his Cows period was enjoyable by itself, Out of Aferica gives him the opportunity to show off the timbres of which his voice is capable. He plays three different characters in a single song (“Break Up”) and ranges between ecstatic (“Brooklyntown Romeo”), foreboding (“Jaws of Life”) and what sounds like delayed, mounting terror (“Harmonic Fix”). An unrelated note: On the whole, this record reminds me of the Melvins’ ‘93 album Stoner Witch, and not just because “You d’Etat” sounds a bit like “Revolve”; the two albums follow the same general arc: opens obfuscatorily; suddenly shifts into blistering cock-rock aimed at a different audience than usual. Then a funky, distorted, single-worthy track in drop-D slaps us face-wise and before it even registers, it’s replaced by a hilarious, nonsensical narrative bit with unusual instrumentation. Then there comes another rocker which fades in and out of semi-acoustic sections, and after that a creepy bastard of a track that exemplifies pretty much everything great about the band. Flip it over (if they ever release the digitally-recorded Out of Aferica on vinyl), and you get a slightly more conventional track (in the Melvins’ case, prefaced by three minutes of what sounds like a washboard with heavy echo and applied distortion pedal), which we can kind of forget without feeling too bad. Now, the two recordings switch it up a bit, so that the Sheiks place a surprisingly catchy ambient pop piece after a decent but applause-worthy rocker (the Melvins do the reverse with “Shevil” and “June Bug”); finally, in both cases comes a bizarre, gradually intensifying experiment in rhythmic, somewhat-tonal noise, which dies away soon on the Sheiks CD but is replaced, about eight and a half minutes in, with the album’s title track: a piece called “Out of Aferica,” a laid-back psychopath’s sort-of reprise of the sociopathic howl that was “Cock Asia.” It isn’t quite as good as the rest of the album, but it’s not as out of place as many “bonus tracks.” In all: not a very appealing album for the easily offended or tonally inclined, but absolute gold for a guy with my tastes.

Moondog, Celtic Frost, Fugazi and the Stooges are all very tired after listening to so much music, and would like to go to bed. As fun as it would be to keep doing this all night, I must respect their wishes, and so I must sign out. Good night, readership!