Had a request for this one. Since I really exhausted myself the other night with my Wire feature, I thought I'd take it easy and let this one sell itself. A solid live record from Britain's Mega City Four tracked on their Sebastopol Road tour in '92. For the unacquainted, MC4 were an intoxicating mix of early Wonder Stuff and Husker Du, the latter of whom they cover here.
01. Who Cares
04. Shivering Sand
09. Words That Say
15. What You've Got
16. Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely
For a lot of you the line of demarcation between cool/middle of the road, or commercial/alternative is blurry at best, especially if you came to appreciate music in the 1980s. I started on my wayward path as a pretty straitlaced Top 40 kid around 1983, but by 1987 I was supplementing my patently radio-ready diet with tasty tidbits like Julian Cope, Public Image Limited and The Smiths. At that time I made virtually no differentiation between these groups then say wildly mainstream acts like U2 and OMD.
But oddly enough, there actually was a specific date, place and time when I deliberately made my acquaintance with alternative/indie rock in earnest. It was the weekend surrounding New Year's Day 1989, and my first encounter with MTV's 120 Minutes. A VJ named Kevin Seal was the host, and to my good fortune, this episode wasn't just a random hodge podge of videos, but a nice and tidy countdown of the Top 20 alternative videos of 1988. For the bulk of that year my auditory field was crowded with equal parts metal, classic rock and rap. As it would turn out these two hours became among the most significant in my life. The three aforementioned genres weren't edged out of my collective soundtrack entirely...not yet anyway, but this two-hour "starter kit" of left-of-the-dial rock resulted in a phenomenal and enlightening sea change.
As countdowns go, 120 Mins distillation of the sights and sounds of 1988 started appropriately enough at number 20, which I believe was the slot claimed by a song called "Kidney Bingos" from a band I never, ever heard of before, plainly monikered Wire. My ears hadn't been treated to anything so outright modern in my life. The video consisted of an oblique, grainy montage of butchers, pedestrians, random mixed media imagery, and a silhouette of some dude dancing against a light blue backdrop. All of the inexplicably haphazard visuals aside, the song itself sold me in no more time than it's four+ minute duration. A sweet, chiming guitar with a touch of echo dominates "Kidney Bingos" from second one and doesn't dare relent. It's tight, mid tempo rhythm meshed seamlessly with the guitar chords, and the melody was equal denominations graceful and indelible. Such an advanced, forward thinking piece of music deserved innovative songwriting in tandem. Wire delivered with a pastiche of seemingly random imagery and verbiage where not only did any given line fail to correspond with the subsequent or previous ones, but most of the song's adjacent words didn't correlate in any logical way either. Try some of these on for size:
Dressed pints demon shrinks bread drunk dead drinks Stretch clubs models box draw skin black shocks
Surreal, yet not silly. Eccentric, but not loony. It feels insulting to call a song I love so much nonsensical, but it's hard to argue that "Kidney Bingos" offers anything remotely rational in the songwriting department, so no need for lyrical forensics. Nonetheless, the meter of the words, combined with the tune's collective sonic elements and aforementioned mystique are sublime and yield an astonishing amount of serendipity. The tune, released as a single, was also featured on the band's fifth studio album, A Bell is a Cup Until it is Struck, the second record into their mach II campaign. That album, and the ones surrounding it (An Ideal Copy, It's Beginning To and Back Again, etc) yielded more nuggets of gold, but frankly often housed an abundant amount of filler too. In the years following my acquaintance with Newman/Lewis/Gilbert/Gotobed I backtracked to their first era and found their first three albums from 1977-1979 (Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, 154) to be even more consistent, not to mention challenging. They became a staple and I follow them to this day, fractured as the lineup has become. I even featured some early demos of theirs a few years ago.
So what would this post be without some music to accompany it? This time, however, I'm not going to reveal the full nine-song track listing, but I'm about to drop a lot of clues. Seven of these are covers (with only three seeing official commercial release), and the remaining two are markedly different versions by the creators themselves. Trembling Star's spin on "Bingos" is likely the most well known, and actually sounds like they hired the Go-Betweens to "ghost-record" it. Artful Britpop-sters Moose turn in such a faithful rendition there's precious little that separates it from the original artifact. Entirely to the contrary, DJ Vrotdugi (aka MTP Tel.'s) "Crap Kidney Bingos" is a mucho-distorted, vaporwave enhanced piece that involves copious amounts of pitch-shifting, stretching the song in a myriad of mind-bending configurations. And then there's Hello Whirled's rendition, which is actually plucked from an entire album of Wire covers, recently unleashed on Bandcamp for free, so don't be afraid to indulge. The final cover I'll reveal is one I found on YouTube by a band I can't find any relevant info on called The Repeats. Their, strummy acoustic shakedown of the song in question paints it in a refreshingly casual, Americanized hue. It's a live audience recording, but try not to let the crowd banter distract you.
Instead of supplying you with the original single or LP version of "Kidney Bingos" I went for a pair of Wire versions that were definitely more unique, including a rawer alternate mix of the track, which by and large sounds like a completely different recording. It's taken from the band's 1997 Coatings collection, a smorgasbord of b-sides and supplemental versions. But wait, there's more! A remarkably unique live version from the Reading Festival circa 1990, that's a pretty ingenious mashup of "Kidney" and the band's dancier follow-up anthem "Eardrum Buzz." And if you're desperately hungry for more of this one, Elastica blatantly lifted the song's chorus hook for their 2000 Menace track "Nothing Stays the Same," not that I'm sharing it here. Enjoy (or not)
Prior to cutting his first (and apparently only) solo LP, Bond Bergland was part of San Francisco's Factrix, ambient/noise experimentalists whose stripe of post-punk I can't say I have much affection for. Luckily, the album he recorded under his own name is considerably more approachable. With a vocal acumen that sits somewhere between Peter Murphy and Steve Kilbey, he guides Unearth's ten songs with a measure of gravity to be certain, albeit you'll be hard pressed to encounter anything overtly morose or wallowing. The arresting and placidly contemplative "Found Wonder" is effortlessly sublime, and nearly worth the price of admission in itself. Unearth's opposing extreme (if you can even classify it as such) "Open Arms" is smart, assertive indie rock that strikes me as a could-have-been college radio staple. The brunt of the remainder of this disk is stocked with nimble, instrumental-centric forays wherein Bergland woos you down arpeggio-addled rabbit holes revealing dexterous guitar work with glints of everything from jangle to pesudo Celtic. I'd be remiss if I failed to credit Douglas Lichterman's tribal percussive instincts as well, particularly on the opening "Fountain of Youth."
01. Fountain of Youth
02. Open Arms
03. Found Wonder
04. The Mercy Seat
05. Trail of Years
06. Snake Train
07. The Time of My Life
08. After Raphael
09. Stone Cold Vision
10. Blue Wash
Was going through a batch of 10"s recently and was reminded that I bought this a good 25 years ago at Amoeba in Berkley when that store was in it's relative infancy. Anyway, the Darling Buds. One of those situations where I own all of their albums, but don't quite consider myself a "super fan." I hopped on board for their second album, Crawdaddy, and soon backtracked to their debut, Pop Said, which is the album this EP was contemporary to. Given the Bud's penchant for saccharine female vocals and guitar crunch, I often spoke of them and The Primitives in the same breath (further encouraged by the fact they both hailed from the UK). Still enjoy these tunes as much as I did when I first encountered them. Here we get one of their more notable signature tunes, "Hit the Ground," a buzzy and energetic non-LP b-side, "Pretty Girl." plus two relatively raw and unbridled live tunes on the flip side. All in all about a dozen minutes total with nary a second wasted. Enjoy.
01. Hit the Ground
02. Pretty Girl
03. You've Got to Choose (live)
04. When it Feels Good (live)
Needless to say, the past few months have taught all of us that there are far greater tragedies in life than our favorite bands throwing in the towel. Nonetheless, we're human and people are always going to want what they're gonna want. There were few events in the realm of indie rock that I wanted less than the departure of Big Drill Car, whom after their third studio album, 1994's No Worse For the Wear, called it a day about a year or so thereafter. Maybe the rationale for us not really ever "getting over" the dissolution of certain combos resides not merely in our selfish human nature but the fact that some artists/groups had something so singular and glorious to offer they were simply irreplaceable.
The Huntington Beach by way of Costa Mesa, CA quartet's mid-80s origins were inauspicious enough, with their nucleus consisting of frontman Frank Daly and guitarist Mark Arnold, both expats from the final lineup of the respectable, though never quite crucial Reagan-era, hardcore fixtures MIA. From the get go however, starting with 1988's Small Block ep (technically a demo from what I understand) Big Drill Car didn't buttress their punky forte with gratuitous speed or sociopolitical undertones, rather a delirious infusion of melody and offbeat topical matter. Cementing the lineup with bass wrangler Bob Thomson and drummer Dan Marcroft, BDC quickly built a reputation in the southern Cali skater-punk circuit and quickly garnered the attention of SST Records spinoff imprint Cruz.
Bearing a pop underbite a mile long, BDC's savvy for hooks and beefy but rich arrangements pointed to inspirational antecedents like the Desacedents/All (whom they shared a label and multiple tours with) and Husker Du. In fact, throughout the early '90s they seemed to be inseparably spoken of in the same breath as Green Day, prior to that band's juggernaut to stardom shorty thereafter. And it wasn't just stick-to-your-ribs songs that made these guys exceptional, but a secret ingredient in Mark Arnold's tendencies to peel off mind-bending flights of guitar fancy not dissimilar to clearly non-punk axe shredders like Michael Schenker and even Joe Satriani. It's a formula that worked wonders on Big Drill's first LP, Album Type Thing in 1989, a record of such consistency, chops and compelling tunes that I unabashedly regard it as on par with the strongest of Husker Du's deservedly lauded catalog. Their 1991 follow-up, Batch sported a slightly more lucid sonic aplomb, but not relenting an iota of vigor or charm. By '93 movement was afoot in the ranks of the band. Thomson and Marcroft had departed the lineup, and were replaced by a new rhythm section consisting of bassist Darrin Morris and basher Keith Fallis, just in time for what would be the group's last record, No Worse For the Wear. The album in question didn't disappoint in the least offering a dozen savvy but nuanced melodicore bangers that easily held their own to that year's slightly more sales-friendly chart toppers Dookie and Smash. Success beyond the punk-pop circuit just wasn't in the cards for them, and with sales of NWFTW not eclipsing those of Batch, Big Drill Car decided it was time to move on.
Presented here are eight prototypes for their swan song. In addition to shopping for a new rhythm section the band was also canvasing for a new label, which they eventually found in Headhunter/Cargo. I'm not sure how many copies of this tape were actually fielded out, but I recently became the lucky owner of one. Ironically, if you're already an established BDC customer you already have five of these demos, which surfaced on the group's odds and ends compilation, A Never Ending Endeavor in 2009. The fidelity of those songs on my cassette strangely enough aren't the least bit inferior to the ones that made the jump to Endeavor, and best of all we get an entirely unreleased tune here in the guise of "Dance Fuckers," an 85-second balls-to-the-wall slammer that bleeds the same cathartic ferocity of one of my favorite Batch selections, "Ick."
As an unrelated bonus I'm tacking on an unissued Beatles medley the band posted on their MySpace page, way back when that platform had some clout. BTW, Big Drill Car have reunited (very) sporadically in the twenty-first century for live shows and even contributed a handful of new songs to the aforementioned Never Ending Endeavor collection.
01. What You Believe (beginning fades in)
02. Dance Fuckers
03. Thin White Line
04. Friend of Mine
07. Step Right Up
08. The Shake plus: Polythene Pam/She Came Through the Bathroom Window
Yep, this is a reissue, though with no biographical liner notes to refer to there's only so much in the way of background details I have to offer. The Tickets were a power pop quartet (presumably from southern California based on tracking session locations) that left the world a single in 1986, and a full length cassette album, The Tickets Make a Record, four years later. The Tic's Beatles-esque tendencies were more subtle than blatant, but still identifiable. The overarching tenor of these songs weren't far removed from those inhabiting a bevy of hopefuls in the '90s power pop revival that would soon materialize on Yellow Pills compilations and the whole Not Lame and IPO circuits. Song-wise you won't find any throwaways here, but exceptional moments like "Way Down Here" and "Yesterday's Girl," the fantastic b-side from that '86 7" I mentioned are a tad scarcer. Although he didn't produce any of the material populating The Tickets, L.A. pop maven Walter Clevenger did a fine job in managing this retrospective.
01. Our Two Hearts
02. Dream About Me
03. Way Down Here
05. How the Good Things Come
06. I Don't Belong
08. The One That I Loved You
09. Nothing Else I Can Do
10. Last Dance for You bonus:
11. She Got Away
12. Yesterday's Girl
13. Way Down Here (alternate vocal)
14. I Don't Belong (alternate vocal)
I'm tempted to say that The Black Watch (or more accurately prime mover John Andrew Fredrick) is back with a new record...but then again it's not like he's been away or anything. For at least eight out of the last ten years B/W have dispensed a new LP, sticking to a recording and writing regimen that only Robert Pollard and Co. seem capable of superseding. I've lost count of how many albums specifically have accumulated in Fredrick's well stocked canon, but I'm apt to partake in his latest volley, Brilliant Failures, because it's downright gratifying, and one of the Watch's most consistent.
Negotiating a fine line between tension-inflected indie guitar rock and a sprinkling of forward thinking post-punk has always been this band's forte. Toss in some not-so-subtle melodic undercurrents and slyly melancholic hues and you've got a potent concoction that manages to hold everything together in a tight, lucid framework. They're vigorous without getting aggressive on the churning "Twisted Thinking," "What I Think," and "Mind You," all bearing some notably distortion-laden musculature. The Watch have always demonstrated an Anglophile bent, one that's more of a natural function than strained or contrived, and it shades Failures' heart-on-sleeve romantic lament "The Personal Statement" and even the lilting acoustic opener "Julie II just as capably as some of the comparatively high-strung pieces I mentioned. Better yet, there's plenty of movement skirting between the two variables, and Fredrick's overarching insistence on quality control alone should be enough to buoy established B/W clientele and virgin ears alike. Brilliant Failures is available in virtually any format that you're seeking including colored vinyl through the group's Bandcamp portal where you can sample some tunes for yourself. Amazon has you covered as well.
I went into MossesT.V. Sun cold, but the album in question turned out to be anything but. If you can be confident of anything this "tube" isn't remotely monochromatic, rather one that bleeds a beguiling technicolor array. The brainchild of gifted, multi-instrumental savant Ryan Jewell and co-conspirator Danette Bordenkircher eschew any elementary or hackneyed "pop" notions into last week (or year for that matter) and opt for an idiosyncratic potpourri of asymmetrical psych and prog inseparably tangled with miscellaneous audio collages and transcendental gestures for miles. The overall effect is that of Ozric Tentacles, Olivia Tremor Control, and perhaps less-so Beck, all slewn together into an often dizzying mesh of trippy caterwauls navigating an oblique path via sinewy connective tissue that entails the employment of sitar, nylon strings, mellotron, vibraphone, flutes and then some.
This is some profoundly textured stuff my friends, but Mosses' dense, labyrinthine sonic constructs are surprisingly porous, so much so that you'll find passages like "Another Plan" and "You Can't Fall Off a Mountain" to be as contemplative as they are ornate. Amidst all the surreal goings-on in T.V.-land you'll parachute back down to Earth on a relatively structured respite or two, best exemplified by "MSR" and the disarmingly benign opener "Tall Bearded Iris Speckled." And I'd be remiss if I failed to mention "Time in Your Mind" exudes overtones not dissimilar to Pink Floyd's Barrett-era mindbender "Astronomy Domine." T.V. Sun is yours for purchasing from Anyway Records Midheaven distro portal, and Bandcamp and Amazon would be happy to fill this gap in your collection.