Friday, August 31, 2007

Michael Schenker Group - M.S.G.

Back in the early days of high school, I was exposed to the record collection of an older classmate who was well versed in what was then considered to be album oriented rock. In other words, he had several Foghat albums at his disposal.
But within the clutter of second-tier rock acts was a few choice jems. One of those was the first two albums by the Michael Schenker Group.
Michael, the younger brother of Scorpions guitarist Rudolph Schenker, had gone the rounds with the first Scorpions album as well as the vital gunslinger for UFO’s best work. When his work ethic became interfered with his mental problems and substance dependencies, he sought to provide his talents elsewhere. The members of Aerosmith, who at the time were looking for a replacement for Joe Perry (ha!), briefly toyed with the idea of hiring Michael.
They should have known that no one, not even Aerosmith, can get Michael Schenker to play ball.
So Michael started his own band, as tortured guitarists often do, and set out to bring the rock under his own moniker, cleverly abbreviated as M.S.G., the shit that you want to avoid if you’re hungry for Chinese food.
I made a cassette copy of Schenker’s second album (M.S.G.) which was well received by anyone I played it for those who had an appreciation for hard rockin’ bands named after a Flying V welding guitarist.
Borrowing heavily from the same styles that made UFO such a joy, MSG features wonderfully subdued vocalist Gary Barden (who, at times, sounds like a restrained Ian Gillan) and some powerful drumming from the late Cozy Powell.
The emphasis is, of course, the guitar work of Michael Schenker who’s tone and soloing are stellar throughout M.S.G.
Starting with silly-yet-perfect opener “Are You Ready To Rock,” the band follows the call-to-arms with the silly-yet-rocking “Attack Of The Mad Axeman” which was either inspired by Jason Vorhees or the exploits of Schenker himself (get it?). In either case, the song rocks and it’s perfectly ended with an “Are You Ready To Rock” reprise before leading into the synth-aided “On And On,” the album’s highpoint.
Unfortunately, the eight songs on the album are incredibly top-heavy, leaving listeners with a great side one half and a very unmemorable second half. At the same time, those first four songs are so awesome that I’ve spent some time looking for it on cd, leading me once to buy a used copy of it through an online retailer. My excitement was reduced when the package arrived and I found that the retailer had mislabeled their inventory, sending me a McAuley-Schenker Group album (a shitty, early 90’s last gasp with a different line-up and an album titled M.S.G. that makes things even more confusing) instead of my original request for the 1981 offering.
Recently, the expansive collection of a great P2P website enabled me to revisit this lost treasure. What makes it even better is the fact that the file was totally gleaned from a vinyl copy (just like my original Maxell XLII!) complete with needle drops and surface noise.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Watch The Damned!

I don’t care what you think: Accept’s song “Balls To The Wall” is fucking awesome. It’s the video that nearly eliminated the song, and perhaps the band’s, credibility.
The notion that a short, fat, and ugly German leading a few additional ragtag Krauts behind him could possibly create one of the decade’s balls-out metal songs is pretty unbelievable.
But if you’re able to suppress the image of a cheap dummy riding a makeshift demolition ball into a Styrofoam wall, then you might actually hear the smart and brutal metal within.
Instead of subscribing to the formulaic metal themes, Accept decided to tackle a heady subject matter such as the oppressed rising up against the establishment
For them to actually make such an epic statement, the band had to enlist two important ingredients to make it work.
The first is the riff. Guitarist Jörg Fischer creates a memorable riff that it’s hard to remember what the solo sounds like. To remind you, it’s a brief and spastic series of quick trills and exploding rushes that is neither linear nor well thought out. Immediately before it folds on top of its own expectation, Fischer cuts the shit and begins riffing the memorable rhythm part over again.
Then, in an example of one of the best production tricks in all of metal, a chorus of Germaine bass and baritone vocals slowly rises up through the mix. It’s just a simple, repetitive “Ah ah ah,” but there’s so much reverb caked into the chanting that it sounds as massive as Hitler youth rally.
Lurking over everything else is Udo Dirkschneider, a vertically challenged, chubby dude with close-cropped blonde hair and a penchant for camouflage clothes.
Udo sounds utterly menacing, alternating between screams (“Watch the damned!”), hoarse whispers (“Make the world scared”) and primordial grunts. The way he matter-of-factly declares “Lets plug a bomb in everyone’s ass” was perfectly nihilistic and it worked nicely against a Ronald Reagan backdrop, and it works even better in the Bush II era.
It’s that video. That fucking retarded video. It completely erased every positive memory that you may have for the music and it happened to be the one format that most people remember the song from.
But give a chance to listen to it again, as loud as you can and witness how one of the most visually unappealing bands in metal made one of the most perfectly adorned song in metal.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Happy Birthday, Layne Staley

The fact that Layne Staley died before he turned forty isn’t a surprise when you listen to a lot of his work with Alice In Chains. It's not hard to imagine that he’s seen a few dirty needles, but when news of his death hit, it was shocking to learn how far down his addiction had taken him.
Emaciated and missing teeth, it wasn’t uncommon to go weeks without hearing anything from Staley. He had reached the point where even his closet friends allowed him to pursue grunge music’s Howard Hughes isolationism.
Metalheads still hold Alice In Chains in rightfully high regard and have secured a perennial spot on local rock stations to the point where I'm actually burnt on most of the band's catalog.
Nonetheless, there was something appealing about Alice In Chains back in the day and, as we later learned after Staley's untimely demise, a lot of it was the honest-to-God tortured soul topics that Layne so honestly wrote about and effectively voiced.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Happy Birthday, Joe Strummer

Joe Strummer would have turned 55 today.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Knack - But The Little Girls Understand

How do you follow-up a classic debut? For many bands that have pondered that question, the answer came as “Let’s try to repeat everything we did on the first album!”
Now honestly, there’s a good chance that, by doing so, you won’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes and there’s an even better chance that you won’t build the fan base by much after doing so.
The Knack certainly didn’t need to build their audience after Get The Knack, an album of such epic power-pop greatness that critics (and some fans of the genre) needed to look for ways to dismantle the quartet’s smugness and ungratefulness after the success of their debut.
Yeah, their image was a problem, but their music certainly wasn’t. So what The Knack did was conveniently ignore this and make another album chock full of great power pop songs that, as expected, fell short of the batting average of the Get The Knack but was certainly nothing to kick out of bed for eating crackers.
Smart move? Not really. The Knack’s sophomore album not only fails to address their Achilles heel, it exposes it even more. Not only is the title of the album a direct swipe at would be detractors, …But The Little Girls Understand has the audacity to not only name check one of the great blues lyrics of all time (“Back Door Man”), it also suggests that only teenage girls would be equipped at “getting” The Knack.
Indeed, the original artwork depicts a girl looking innocently upwards to something off camera (Doug Fieger’s penis?) and the inner sleeve shows the boys in a limousine that’s overrun with girls trying to get through the windows of the vehicle.
The photo looks incredibly staged.
Now add to all of this that the producer of the record, Mike Chapman, wrote a comment to potential purchasers of …But The Little Girls Understand buy more than one copy because, no shit, it would help his bank account.
Count ‘em: you’ve got four reasons to absolutely hate this album before you’ve played note one.
And when you finally put the needle on the record (literally for me: this is a review of my original vinyl release with the old Capitol Records’ rainbow band label done up entirely in pink) you’re met with the band’s attempt at “My Sharona” (part two): “Baby Talks Dirty.” With any sequel, you’re bound to be disappointed and, if you allow yourself, you’ll certainly be disappointed in “Baby Talks Dirty.” Not because it’s a bad song, it’s just nowhere as good as “My Sharona.”
But what is?
And what’s as good as Get The Knack while we’re at it?
Certainly not …But The Little Girls Understand, but consider how The Knack’s second album is probably better than the vast majority of power pop albums out there anyway.
“The Feeling I Get” falls short with its ‘The Knack as produced by Phil Spector” impersonation and “How Can Love Hurt So Much” is barely believable as a tender retro ballad, particularly after already disclaiming how Doug likes it when his chick’s utter “Hurt Me! Hurt Me”
At the same time, there’s some gems scattered across the sophomore disc, some of which rival Get The Knack. A good cover of The Kinks’ “The Hard Way” followed by the originals “It’s You” and the slide-happy “End Of The Game” starts side two with three up-tempo tracks while late drummer Bruce Gary has his way over the kit on “I Want Ya.”
There are a few hints and trying to expand their sound, but primarily ...But The Little Girls Understand finds The Knack trying to mirror the pattern laid down on their first album. By the time The Knack eventually addressed their image problem on their third album (Round Trip), the band lost most of their humor and (surprise!) most of their fan base. I suffered through that mediocre release, however, I wouldn’t have even bothered with it if …But The Little Girls Understand wasn’t as good as it is.

The Knack's Doug Fieger celebrates his 55th birthday today.

Additional proof of The Knack's badassedness: 1979 footage of the track "The End Of The Game."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Kate Bush - The Hounds Of Love

Don’t bother trying to label Kate Bush as one of the most important women in popular music, let’s suggest that her fifth album may be the most epic English record since Sgt. Pepper. And let’s also suggest that Hounds Of Love is a better album than Sgt. Pepper while we’re at it.
Any comparison between Kate Bush and The Beatles may seem a little far fetched, but listen closely: it’s clear that Kate heard endless sonic possibilities in those old Beatle album and, well, she had a forty-eight track studio at her house, so why the hell not give it a try herself?
Ironically, there is so much going on throughout Hounds Of Love that all of those over-reaching sounds, themes and arrangements are downright endearing. I can’t hear an ounce of pretension in this album, but I can hear a bunch of wide-eyed ideas going right to the edge of tackiness and stopping short of putting that last ornament on the lawn.
Separated into two suites (only a true Kate Bush fan could identify them and explain the suite’s concept), she places the clear single choices on side one and the continually segueing material on the progressive-leaning side two.
Lyrically, every song comes across as the CliffsNotes version of a larger read. And typically, Bush does a worthy job of promoting enough interest in the topic that, maybe for a moment, you actually want to pick up the original inspiration. “Cloudbusting” hints at Wilhelm Reich, “Running Up That Hill” hints of Sylvia, and the entire second side reeks of Tennyson.
The twenty plus years have demonstrated two things: the first is how dated the production sounds and, second, how remarkable it is in every other measurable area.
It’s true: the entire disc is marred in 80’s electric drum and, because every track is not spared, the bright and dark of the sonic landscape is whittled down to a muddy goo.
At the same time, there should be no shame in being a product of an era’s poor production strategies; Hounds Of Love probably would have sounded muddled in any decade, bogged down by the weight of Kate’s intention.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

OCD Chronicles: Lemonheads "Half The Time"

On that list to the right, one of those albums probably contains a song that is obsessively going through my head and altering my reality. At the present moment, that song is Lemonhead’s “Half The Time” from their album Lovey. A few weeks ago it was a song by Black Moth Super Rainbow (which had me singing like a robot at work), before Lemonheads it was Camper Van Beethoven’s “Joe Stalin’s Cadillac,” and on one occasion it was Axe’s “Rock & Roll Party In The Streets.” Hey, I never said all the shit was good; all I said was that there was one song going through my head at a ridiculous pace.
Now it’s a Lemonheads song; a band that I’m not terribly a fan of. At one time I enjoyed Hate Your Friends, Creator and the aforementioned album Lovey, but I believe I lost interest just around the same time most people started to fall for It’s A Shame About Ray. I was more of a fan of their heavier stuff, and Ray seemed to be an album hooky enough to woo the “120 Minutes” crowd. Evan Dando started to come across like this poster boy idol willing to compromise integrity for notoriety. It’s true: people in their twenties dwell on shit like that.
The irony isn’t lost on me that the song I was immediately drawn to from their album Lovey was a song that shares similar characteristics with “It’s A Shame About Ray.” It’s mellow, it’s hooky, its Dando showing interest in accessibility and it is, in short, a great little pop tune.
Set against a frolicking clean chord progression, Evan sings some of his best lyrical contributions that manage to be clever (“When day gets dark it seeps into my skin”) and tap into twentysomething observations (“Mountain Dew and Marlboro/While I stew over all I owe”) in less than three minutes. Some fairly weak-sounding distortion enters around the phrases that lead up to the chorus, but Dando hits paydirt when he finally gets to the chorus:
“Your one light slowly fading in my mind
The farthest from my head
Half the time”
There’s a little bit of color to Dando’s ambivalence as he sheepishly recalls an ex girlfriend that he treated like shit. Regardless of how stoned he is, or how callously he dismissed her, he’s now realizing that she’s harder to forget than he would like to admit.
Even the second verse of the chorus gives another good line:
“A simple point too bright to leave the sky
You’re dissolving in my eye
My closed eye
Half the time”
“Half The Time” stands as one of a handful of Lovey tracks that keep the album from completely floundering. It’s an album that reeks of Dando’s complacency; hinting one moment at a budding talents and slacking off with half-baked ideas.
The song spotlights his abilities while, perhaps, finding the confidence to expose his sentimental side on future efforts. He did, with great impact on subsequent albums, but “Half The Time” works better for me as Dando’s voice sounds “in the zone;” a stoner who just smoked his way towards attempting a sentimental statement.
It’s frustrating how Evan parlayed his good looks into a few years of not actually doing anything excepting coming across as the dude that chose drugs over banging every chick on the planet. Seriously: Dando always seemed like the bad boy chicks like Tonya Donelly would fuck and let walk all over them.
It’s by no means groundbreaking and the Lemonheads are hardly a band that I will pretend to be anything more than barely mentionable second-tier alternative act from the late 80’s/early 90’s. But for the time being, a song that they did seventeen years ago just happens to be the best song ever recorded.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Doors - The Doors

The Doors’ debut album is the musical equivalent of The Catcher In The Rye. Every boy falls in love with it, but the appeal is short lived; you just can’t relate to Catcher at thirty or forty the same way you do when you’re a teenager.
At the same time, that first spin of The Doors, like that first read of Catcher, is a remarkable passage. The drama, the mystique, everything about it works perfectly during those years, and only the advance of cynicism with each passing year diminishes it. By the age of twenty-one, I viewed The Doors as a caricature of overblown importance, led by a drunken buffoon who’s success created a bubble big enough for him to not hear the laughter whenever it was suggested that he was a poet.
Make no mistake: Jim Morrison was not a poet. Instead, he was the perfect frontman for a Southern California who, collectively and without knowing it, started a few sub-genres in the process of recording their debut album.
They would never scale to the same heights and, to be honest, the resulting album is great enough that they wouldn’t need to. The Doors stands as one of the greatest debuts in rock music, and its importance is enough that every subsequent album they released stood comfortably in its wake. Some of those, to be completely honest, were bad enough (Waiting For The Sun and The Soft Parade) that they could have provide an end to their overall significance.
“Break On Through (To The Other Side)” starts off one of the best sequenced side one ever, with equal parts of hunger and mythmaking. The first hint at traditional blues begins with “Soul Kitchen,” but by the third song (“The Crystal Ship”), they’re finding shadows in reverb and exploring areas never ventured to in rock music.
“20th Century Fox” makes it clear that the band is perfectly able to mirror the commercial structure needed to make a pop song, while “Alabama Song” provides a complete left turn to the four songs that proceeded it.
The listeners is forced to sit through five, non-hit songs before letting the money shot of their number one single makes an appearance. And, it’s the full length version, surprising those who were brought up on the "Light My Fire" that didn’t feature the classical-tinged organ solo or Robby Krieger guitar part.
Side two is almost as good, started with the album’s second cover, “Back Door Man,” perhaps the whitest version of the Willie Dixon song ever recorded, but it may be the most convincing version too. The way Morrison’s voice cracks during the “You may eat your dinner/You may eat your pork and beans” part completely sells his credibility while the yelp after he screams “Imma back door man!” hints that these SoCal film school dropouts may have unknowingly just recorded a song that surpasses the original.
“I Looked At You” probably made a great set closer back in the club days, while “The End” makes an obvious case for obligatory encore song.
With equal parts Oedipus Rex and Sunset Strip jive, “The End” spans eleven minutes of drama so effectively that you believe all that shit about dead Indians scattered on dawn’s highway, bleeding.
At the very least, you believe that Jim fucked his Mom once.
But seriously: you don’t need another album other than The Doors’ first album, but boy, you do need it. It may go unread for years like that copy of Catcher In The Rye, but it needs to be there, like a beacon to anyone glancing through your “D” section, letting them know that, you too, went through that obligatory Doors phase.
And, unlike Jim Morrison, you survived it.

A Six Pack From Dad

A few weeks ago, my parents came to town for the night and on the night before they arrived I asked my Father to bring up two items.
The first was a scrapbook my best friend from high school had created and left at my home a few years ago. The scrapbook was filled with nonsensical things, but there were a few incriminating things in it that I really didn’t want my parents to see, even though they had two years to rummage through it if they were so inclined.
The second thing was a pair of binoculars, as I acquired tickets to see Rush from 30 rows back and I’d like to see Neil Peart’s drum solo a little more up close than from behind 29 rows of air drummers.
These two things were the only things I asked my Father to bring.
He brought the two things and he also brought six albums that had been put into a closet and forgotten for thirty years.
No shit.
The albums were: The Beach Boys Best Of (which actually contained Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman album instead), The Bee Gees Rare Precious & Beautiful, Steppenwolf 7 (which actually contained The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album…on the old Capital rainbow label too), John Denver Windsong, John Mayall USA Union and Rare Earth Ma.
I vaguely remember these albums and, it’s true, there are several identifying marks throughout the sleeves that would indicated that they were in the possession of a seven year old.
None of the albums (aside from the original vinyl of The Beatles) appears to be played that much and nothing stands out as something that I enjoyed. I suppose the Steppenwolf was a favorite; I do remember that it fell out of the sleeve in my Mother’s Volkswagen Beetle and subsequently melted from the heat.
The other curious thing is, out of all of the shit (including music) that I’ve stashed at my Parent’s house, why did he choose these six albums? Is it a hint “Get your shit out of my house!” and, if so, why didn’t he bring all of the bitchin singles that may currently be warping in his attic?
Shit, I better get those.
Here, these half dozen obscure and strangely random titles sit, in my basement, as I ponder tossing them entirely. They smell musty, and I’m sure the surface noise is unbearable on some of them.
I did a bit of research and found that Ma (which features a seventeen minute long title track) was cited as one of the best Rare Earth titles in their catalog. I might keep that one, if anything, for the horrific cover art.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Glam-Racket Declared A No Frey Zone

Forgive me if I neglected to mention that The Eagles are nearly done with their new solo album, the first since The Long Run in 1979. According to Joe Walsh, the new album will feature a “new, different direction” and he stated that “It’s hard to compare to anything that I hear out there now.”
I’m willing to bet whatever Joe makes on the obligatory Eagles tour in 2008 that the new album is, essentially, the same shit that these drunken cokeheads dished throughout the seventies and is probably equal to most of the turds that pass for country music today.
A lot of my frustration is based on the simple fact that I understand that The Eagles are one of the most successful bands ever to walk the U.S. of A. and I understand that this is the reason why “country” artists outsell the artists of other genres; a lot of people like both of ‘em and, to my ears, there’s not a lot of difference between the two. In a world where everything has been segmented to death, The Eagles and the Eagles “sound” represents a safe haven for white Americans who miss the time when sweet harmonies, gentle melodies, and halfway clever songs managed to be the norm instead of the exception.
This is exactly the time of exception that Walsh is talking about when he said “It’s hard to compare to anything that I hear out there now.” Sure Joe, maybe in your out-of-touch world of playing with HAM radios and silly album titles, but whenever I listen to new country nowadays, all I hear is the fucking Eagles.
I don’t fault Joe, and I don’t fault people for liking The Eagles either; Hotel California, One Of These Nights and The Long Run were continual favorites of my parents growing up. But I do resent the actions of primary Eagle Don Henley for being a greedy little hypocrite for agreeing to reform the band after suggesting that he wouldn’t and then charge outrageous ticket prices when he didn’t need to simply on the notion that his ragtag band of everything wrong with the seventies were on the same level as The Beatles or The Stones. They are, you fuck, and I resent the fact that you backended your hippie ideology (remember the Walden Woods Project?) with a money-grubbing scheme that merely introduced an acoustic version of “Hotel California,” “Get Over It” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive” to the retards in the general public.
Why am I getting all worked up over The Eagles? Because, and it pains me to admit this, I actually liked a few solo records by Don Fucking Henley. There. I said it. I owned Building A Perfect Beast, enjoy the song “Dirty Laundry” and can sing every word to “The Heart Of The Matter” whenever I hear it while grocery shopping. It pains me to admit this, but I thought that Don Henley was a cool guy until Hell Freezes Over came out.
Supposedly, there’s some kind of deal where the new record will be marketed heavily in Wal Mart, which would clear-cut all of trees around Mr. Henley’s precious Walden Pond to put up a motherfucking Supercenter. I mean, Jesus, this dude just keeps making it easier to despise him!
And none of this will even register to the hundreds of thousands that will line up to buy whatever “new” material The Eagles put out, nor the millions who will line up to see these twelve step rejects perform “Seven Bridges Road” again, all the while, thinking about that night’s receipts and future tax shelters.
Do you wanna know why The Eagles are back together? It's because when they went solo, they were reduced to doing shit like this on their own.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Which One's Pink?

If the Doors are a rite-of-passage for teenagers, then surely Pink Floyd should be offered similar requirements. As a matter of fact, I specifically remember seeing a helluva lot more Floyd than Doors fans at my own high school. It was also easier to buy weed than booze there, so that explains a lot.
And while The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn may not have been a traditional favorite, all of the usual suspects like Dark Side Of The Moon, The Wall, and Wish You Were Here were. Occasionally, you’d see a few fans with copies of Atom Heart Mother, Meddle, or Ummagumma, but the general consensus was the required listening would be the albums listed before.
I used to think The Wall was brilliant. Not only did I think it was Floyd’s best album, I thought it was one of the greatest albums ever made. Keep in mind; this was my middle school years, a time when I still spent cash on shit like Styx, April Wine and 38 Special albums.
When you consider those acts, it’s easier to understand why The Wall would be so highly regarded.
I’m sure the news of my favorite album being made into a movie with “punk rocker” Bob Geldoff playing the lead made me stoked. And, truth be told, I’m pretty sure that I thought the movie adaptation of The Wall was an awesome piece of work.
The more time I spent with The Wall the album, the more I started to feel that perhaps it was a tad too lofty. It may have started with discovering Floyd’s album before The Wall, Animals. With its long song times and arrangements, it sounded more like a band than The Wall did. Indeed, looking at the credits for The Wall pointed to a slew of hired guns to achieve was ultimately was Roger Waters’ singular vision.
And now I view The Wall the movie as another extension of Waters’ vision, to the point where it verges on catering more to his ego than of an artistic statement. While the concept may have been enough to tie together a double album, the movie points to several gaping holes conveniently hidden underneath cartoon vignettes and WWII imagery.
This realization happened in college, ironically around the same time I started to fancy Barrett’s work over Waters, but I think that the pretentiousness of The Wall the movie helped it along.
Twenty five years ago The Wall made its U.S. premiere to stoned fans and ambivalent critics. What may have seemed like high-art to the potheads merely remains as an extra curricular activity for a band that was already over-reaching on the album itself.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

Admittedly, some Summer of Love documents sound hopelessly dated. Regardless of their quality, there’s always a sense of opening up a time capsule, looking into a period where grandiose statements seem corny (The Moody Blues Days Of Future Passed), political viewpoints seem naively silly (Country Joe & The Fish Electric Music For The Mind & Body) and groundbreaking production seems hopelessly limiting (Jefferson Airplane Surrealistic Pillow).
Pink Floyd’s The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn doesn’t sound like it was born in 1967. It sounds like it was born completely out of time. Jumping from fairytales, space travel, cats, the I Ching, gnomes, and other oddities within the span of the album’s forty two minutes, Piper is the product of Syd Barrett’s limitless imagination and pending mental illness. Norman Smith’s archaic production helps the album achieve something rare for an album of its age: an eerie sense of unease within a completely organic environment. The listener always has the sense that the songs were composed, arranged, and performed by musicians seeking to expand their own horizons without a hint of pretension.

Although it was considered to be highly “produced” during its time, the technical limitations have aged well, giving the organs a creepy vibe, the guitar some added rawness, and the bass…well, you can’t really hear the bass all that much.
No worries: Roger Waters would later run the roost, but in 1967 the rest of the members were following the lead of a certifiable crazy man who seemed intent, or oblivious, that some of his notions might lead to a certain commercial suicide.
The fact that the band were able to achieve some success with Piper in England is particularly mind-blowing and a testament to that country’s openness towards different directions. I suppose that some of the reason for its acceptance is because Piper does feel strangely European at points; while U.S. bands like the Dead and Moby Grape harnessed American elements, Floyd’s beginnings come directly from the past of the old country, mixed with a large dose of lysergic vision.
It would take several years before Floyd gained favor within the American market, but its first album not only sounds unlike anything else in the band’s overall catalog, it may be their finest moment too.

Boris with Michio Kurihara - Rainbow

If the idea of “Japanese Psychedelic Rock Underground” doesn’t blow your mind completely, then allow the Grandfather of the Japanese Psychedelic Rock Underground’s (Michio Kurihara) collaboration with that country’s premier Japanese Psychedelic Rock Underground band (Boris) trigger your synapses into a state of otherworldliness.
While Boris’ Pink, their stunning breakthrough from last year, actually added a few novel elements to the genre, the results of the pair’s collaboration (Rainbow) doesn’t soar to the same places.
At the same time, the areas that they do manage to reach are pretty far out.
The title track takes a slow-paced rhythm and gentle electric guitar for a redundant five minutes, allowing a knarly, fuzzed-out guitar solo to become the song’s centerpiece.
“Starship Narrator” puts the drum kit high up in the mix, while a fuzzed drone guitar becomes the song’s foundation. Then, you guessed it, another destroyed ’n frazzled sounding guitar solo comes in to knock the whole fucking thing to its knees.
Fans of The Bevis Frond and Flying Saucer Attack should really find comfort in Rainbow’s explorations, which usually follow the aforementioned formula (slow, marauding songs with an intensely charged guitar solo) while the occasional softer pieces follow the same territories as latter-day Comets On Fire. At no time does the language barrier (all songs are sung in Japanese) become an issue or distraction; this is, after all, an album fueled entirely on vibe and headspace, to the point where the instruments are the main form of communication anyway.
But it can be forgettable, much like the also-ran bands that Boris and Kurihara try to emulate. Sure, it’s a shame that a band like Blue Cheer never got their dues (thanks, mostly, to their own internal problems), but there’s something pretty cool about running into those 60’s relics for the first time and discovering something that most people would have no idea about. Which may be the exact thing that Rainbow is trying to accomplish anyway: a modern-day cult band completely devoted to the acid freakouts of their own record collection.
If that’s the case, then mission accomplished

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond

When J. Mascis released More Light (with The Fog) back in 2000, I went to one of my favorite local record stores to pick it up. The owner of the store (who started it with, literally, a crate of records back in 1982) noticed me as a regular and offered to assist me in his quest to capture as much cash out of my wallet as he could. When I asked him if he had the new J. Mascis record, he sheepishly admitted that he didn’t, sadly hinting at my out-of-touchness by saying “We don’t have that much demand for Dinosaur Jr. anymore.”
So not only did I feel downright old, it troubled me that the youth of America seemed to have abandoned one of the forefathers of ear-damaging guitar rock. Sure enough: the store’s used bin was littered with the various titles of Dinosaur Jr.’s spotty 90’s output, the same ones that I can admit to owning while also admitting that I understood how J. slowly fell from his Marshall stack throne.
Sure, there were some grand moments during Dino’s Sire years, but nothing seemed to capture his guitar workout phase better than the pair of SST releases, You’re Living All Over Me and Bug.
I’m fairly certain that the reason for this is because the band’s other creative force, Lou Barlow, wasn’t present when the band jumped from SST to the majors, deciding to lend his talents towards his own Sebadoh and Folk Implosion projects. Admittedly, Barlow typically only contributed a lone title to each one of those early Dino efforts, but it seemed that (in retrospect) J. at least had someone in rehearsals to impress upon when weeding out an album’s song list.
I won’t get into the dynamics of J. and Lou’s relationship here, but I will admit that it took me by surprise when I learned the two were burying the hatchet a few years ago when they decided to reunite to support the re-release of the first three albums in the Dino Jr. catalog. “At least they’re playing together again.” I thought, with no hopes that they might actually get along enough to make new music.
Beyond, the first record of the original Dinosaur Jr. line-up in nineteen years, not only shows them making new music, it shows them making great new music. Within seconds, you can hear the band picking up exactly at the same point where Bug left off.
It is, dear friends, a heavenly racket.
Mascis mewls with a newfound purpose, and while his slacker stance may remain in tact, his pen has got some new ink. Even the song titles reflect some sort of rejuvenation: “I Got Lost,” “Almost Ready,” “Pick Me Up,” “Been There All The Time,” it’s as if Mascis is lyrically acknowledging that he’s been treading water for well over a decade, only to find an inspiration in a long lost bassist.
Barlow seems to be feeling a little sentimental too. Consider his last vocal performance with the band (“Don’t” from Bug) where he screamed “Why don’t you like me!” over and over, an almost unhidden reflection of the problems that he and Mascis were having with each other at the time. He finally acquiesces his relationship with J. on Beyond during the song “Lightning Bulb” (“You know what they would say…Can’t we all get along?”) who, in turn, allows him to contribute two songs on the new album.
The most recognizable element of Dinosaur Jr. has always been Mascis’ Jazzmaster torture, which rightfully remains as the absolute selling point throughout Beyond. His solos are loaded with emotion and technical precision (the solo on “We’re Not Alone” nearly brought me to tears) and almost every other one could promote a collective “Fuckin’ A” among fans of guitar shredding.
To simply call Beyond an excellent reunion album doesn’t do it enough justice: Beyond is…in fact “beyond” that kind of description. Not only does it rank alongside the band’s SST necessities (hell, even the album art looks straight out of that label’s heyday portfolio) it ranks as, quite possibly, the year’s best rock record.
And I’m willing to bet that it’s good enough for that old record store to stock it due to some rejuvenated demand for Dinosaur Jr.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.