Album Reviews

Nation of Ulysses “13-Point Program to Destroy America” (Dischord, 1991)

nationof.13point.hiSelf-aware and theatrically coming off as far-left wing nutcases, Nation of Ulysses was a short lived band that burned brightly for the Dischord label into the 90s. Ian Svenonius, as ringleader and intense frontman, comes across as just that on recordings set to match their legendary and ecstatic live performances.

“13-Point Program To Destroy America” is, at it’s core, made up of a belief system stemming from juvenile delinquent behavior and leftest radicalism, but the mashing of these views is comedic and not overly serious, except maybe in their instrumentation. Their roots are in D.C. Hardcore, but at the turn of the decade most groups in the area had become more harmonic… Nation did this, but listening to a heap of free jazz records might have also led them down more interesting avenues. Svenonius even picked up a trumpet on some tracks. Whether he plays like a jazz man is up for, uh, debate. I’d say not, but he’s a great noisemaker.

The album is really two minute blasts most of the way through (“Spectra Sonic Sound,” Ulythium”), with some slower numbers including the mocking “Diphtheria.” It’s a song against, of all things, eating sweets, which really shows straightedge ethics held up to ridiculously high standards. This was when kids in the scene were going so far as refraining from caffeine consumption… It was time for a laugh. -Wade

Bad Company “Straight Shooter” (Island, 1974)

Straight_shooterBad Company! Their second album from 1975 must have been one of last few kicks of hard rock worth hearing before Punk prompted a reboot on the unending rock culture most record companies contributed to. Bad Company were one of those groups that signed to play stadiums, but luckily they could deliver arena rock goodness with a gifted rhythm section and the emerging “supergroup” status.

Make that a rhythm section with members of Free and King Crimson, plus the management backing and brawn of Led Zep. So there really was no way they could miss during the age of mid-70′s rock. And once “Straight Shooter” arrived, they had their hits fleshed out too; especially on rock radio staples “Shooting Star” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” Side two also has that coveted “incendiary” guitar work on “Deal With The Preacher.”

“Straight Shooter” is actually pretty light on guitar solo’s and instead weaves six strings through the rhythms on most of the tunes. The mix is clean (not sanitized) and democratic, with guitar heroics set to swing, making this an album to slide next to your ZZ Top collection. But you can probably find this one easier than “Tres Hombres” in a discount bin… Good deal! -Wade

Sun Araw “The Inner Treaty” (Drag City, 2012)

homepage_large.a1efc341Cameron Stallones, the man behind the wonderfully weird vibes of Sun Araw, gave us a more “sanitized” sound on “The Inner Treaty.” But don’t flinch, he hasn’t let his hot and dubby drone-rock go the way of sterilized studio work. Instead, he’s gone to the moon. And if you didn’t know this from Scientist, space is also a place to get dubwise.

If you picked up “On Patrol” or his collaboration with the legendary Congos then you’ll be ready for this one, though it is sparser to start instrumentally. It’s in the space between that he’s allowed his work to breathe and get weird(er). Opener “Out of Town” seems stretched to it’s furthest nth listenable, with reverberated vocals bounding in to keep you hanging on. As the album goes along the space closes in, until you reach the undeniably catchy and squiggly “Like Wine,” ending side one.

Cameron’s enthusiasm for his own decadently interesting tunes are exclaimed in simple statements of “Alriiiight!” and “Yeeeeaah!” throughout the disc. If each Sun Araw album could represent a time or place, they would actually all be considered very now and very near. “The Inner Treaty” is another beautifully contorted act committed to vinyl; Sun Araw brings a fizzing concoction of musical updates to your stereo. Reason to cheer! -Wade

Boards of Canada “Music Has the Right to Children” (Warp, 1998)

poster_shIt’s the work of Eno and Klaus Schultz fleshed out without ego, for the satisfied id’s of post-rave home listeners. Well, Boards of Canada are actually not those guys, but two fellows from Scotland recording for Warp around the second half of the Nineties on…

Along with the likes of Aphex Twin and contemporaries on the Planet Mu label, Boards of Canada made music that seems to work best before and after dancing, or any space between for that matter. Such is modern life. Prompt command line:

C:\Users\prepare-for-abandon-re-load-normalcy-settings.exe

Actually, “Music Has the Right to Children” has a number of sketches as opposed to straight ahead dance tracks like opener “Wildlife Analysis” and “The Color of Fire” that show very different moods using the same equipment. These songs go any direction they please other than directly heavenward.

But don’t get the idea that this is purely ambient swirl working within techno parameters, though. Many of these songs are up front and fully formed, just not quite dance floor optimal. Give “Rue The Whirl” a spin and the downtempo vibe of Boards will be apparent. -Wade

Arto Lindsay “Invoke” (Righteous Babe, 2002)

51MuII-GVFL._SY355_A culmination of noise, Bossa Nova and The Face have wrought the career of “pop musician” Arto Lindsay. He made a big splash as one of New York’s favorite noisemakers in the three-piece of DNA. His Latin roots set in more firmly later on, when he fronted Ambitious Lovers and began work on his solo albums.

Arto became comfortable making sultry Brazilian music and made exception to cover Prince’s “Erotic City” plenty of times in the 90′s. “Invoke” shows Lindsay treading new ground away from his jet-setting idea of soul and into cerebral mood music of sorts… With his newfound confidence in sampling abilities, he plays with these forms as much as he did earlier with Brazilian crooning and detuned guitar. It’s a pretty tall order, but in Lindsay’s hands these styles come together well. Not that he’s some fancy fashioner; Arto remains earnestly self-taught and his stints in North and South America lead to genuine results and a modern, international sound.

The real standouts seem to sound as lush as luxury in NYC. “Ultra Privileged” and “You Decide” are bright tracks of mood music. Arto’s signature guitar work has been subdued from terrible noise to playful chirps, asserting itself into many song rhythms. More a studio effort than a document of his live abilities, “Invoke” is, in short, an Arto album to hear while drinking wine and wearing silk pajamas, particularly with a hip lover. -Wade

Cat Power “What Would The Community Think?” (Matador, 1996)

WhatwouldthecommunitythinkMammal music was how Richard Meltzer described Chan Marshall’s music. Probably one of the last positive statements he said about anyone musical (that wasn’t playing jazz, blues or country maybe), since he called the decade of the 90′s an “empty room” and had long before pulled the plug on rock in most any form.

After the double barrel shots of “Dear Sir” and “Myra Lee,” Marshall went for something a bit prettier and more ornate than her stripped-down debuts. Not that Chan’s themes have changed much; it’s all nervous woman-breakdown content, but each song doesn’t sound so morbidly hopeless this time around. Steve Shelly of Sonic Youth is still drumming and some SY feedback rubs on the production in places, but for the most part this is Chan’s vision, and while the songs are brighter with chimes and steel pedal all is not well in this Southern girl’s world.

Originals “Good Clean Fun” and “Nude As The News” can leave a slab in the back of your throat with their honesty and moments like “They Tell Me” are very country-derived and sound just as true. Gearing up for Moon Pix, Chan shows that she can work people into her own personal foil and come up with something more elegant. But her own reinterpretation of “Enough” near the closer is still anxious and skittering, like what the inside of her head must’ve been like. -Wade

The Fugs “Virgin Fugs” (ESP Disc, 1967)

220px-Virgin_FugsGross, confusing, sexy and a good laugh, “Virgin Fugs” comprises outtakes from previous Fugs albums and has a number of new songs to deliver their messages of vulgarity.

They are from the East Side, they hate the war, they love sex, and next thing you know they are awake all night on amphetamines making a racket. Any music produced is square one primitive stuff; maracas and tambourines shake, guitars chug and anything that can act as rhythmic engine is used for brothers Kupferburg and friends to push their righteous smut.

As famous as The Fugs are, they may be most well known for having C.I.A. Man covered by the even more popular Sun City Girls. You may remember that charting hit when you were a kid, you know, the one about how the C.I.A. operates:

“Who has got the secret-est service? The one that makes the other service nervous?
Fucking-a man! (Fucking-A! C-I-A!)”

Released by ESP early on, these guys are the best parts, comedically anyway, of hippiedom around them and punk rockers ahead. But mostly they are just The Fugs. -Wade

Jah Wobble “The Legend Lives On… Jah Wobble In Betrayal” (Virgin, 1980)

Jah Wobble - Betrayal -The first big solo effort of Jah Wobble would be the pronounced reason he got the boot from PiL under orders from long-time buddy John Lydon. There was probably word of build up to the acrimonious departure, but it would depend on who you asked. Apparently Lydon didn’t like the fact that Wobble’s album used pieces of scrap from Metal Box, and pulled the trap door.

Funny really, considering PiL was meant to be an umbrella for all sorts of weird, vague projects that tended to never, ever get made. Wobble went and did it though, and it’s even funnier because what little fragments do come from Metal Box / Second Edition were all just fragments to begin with at that point. Punks in the studio using whatever they could fashion together as avant-garde.

But the results of Wobble in the studio go far beyond dub-edits of older PiL material; some songs are actually full of dubbed up love like on “Beat The Drum,” and an eccentric and unexpected cover of “Blueberry Hill” make for great bits on Side 1. On the flip there is a featured female vocalist named Snow White who performs on the odd “Tales From Outer Space” and the great disco track “Today Is The First Day of the Rest of My Life.” Who knows where she went off to after cutting the record.

Wobble arranges just about everything and it’s obvious that like PiL he’s not about to sit in one place when the studio can take him anywhere. Unlike PiL, more World music influence is heard in earnest fashion compared to oh say, the Wobbless “Flowers of Romance” by Lydon and the remaining PiL founders a bit later. And by then they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. -Wade

World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love’s a Real Thing (Luaka Bop, 2005)

145917Those getting hip to oh say, the sounds of African Guitar Pop have it a lot easier. No need to sift through tapes, for one, and no need for reliable blogger uploads anymore to get at all those World Guitar “Nuggets” available in 2015.

There are comps atop of comps in the World Music bin, and while many may be reaching, David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label seems to have a particular set of ears for the stuff. The tag here is “funky fuzzy sounds” on “Loves A Real Thing,” the third offering of the World Psychedelic Classics series. By the time you warm up to Keleya’s “Moussa Doubia” it’ll be clear that this comp has the funky sounds it promises, whether they be produced through a Brownian approach or P-Funk filter. Expect horn sections here and there… but not on the obvious standout of William Onyeabor’s odd electro-funk, which includes icy synths and sparse metronomic beats. More of his particular work can be found on “William Onyeabor World Psychedelic Classic 5,” if you haven’t seen that album everywhere yet.

Apart from the funk, there is the fuzz of distortion on a number of tracks here, best example probably being “Allah Wakbar” with it’s harsh guitar work and churning organs. It’s interesting how the selections enclosed aren’t so locked into one vibe necessarily, but one thing is concurrent with these groups other than their origins; tightness. Despite the shifting of recording quality between tracks, these bands present their most rhythmic songs to stud this comp, and Byrne and co. obviously took the time to arrange the results. A new favorite each play! -Wade

The Smiths “Strangeways Here We Come” (Rough Trade, 1987)

0f14733c89d93d64beea7e7a6079347773c61194The last album by The Smiths may be the last one you’ll pick up. And while popular consensus would rank “The Queen Is Dead” and “Meat Is Murder” as their best full lengths, I’d vouch for this one. This decision didn’t come overnight, rather, it came after my formative years of Smiths-fandom in a moment of clarity, when Morrissey’s rants seemed to have less wallop but a bit more pronouncement.

Not that Steven Moz has become any less angsty on this release. If anything his wit is at it’s most refined here, just before his solo career dulled it, turning him into a caricature. His musical foil, Johnny Marr, shows off more chops than ever as well. “Strangeways…” puts the studio to use more than ever before, but don’t let that scare you into thinking this was a last-ditch effort assembled in post before the fall. Studio adventuring leads The Smiths to some of their most spacious and interesting recordings yet, like “Death of a Disco Dancer” and “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.”

Lyrically, Moz touches on themes that you’ve heard before, but there is more humor here that may touch long-haul fans of Morrisey’s work rather than those jumping into Smiths albums during adolescence. The key here is time, not for wisdom gained but for longing, even for those dour times. Life is funny like that. – Wade

Fugazi “Red Medicine” (Dischord, 1995)

090-webHearing “13 Songs” today and identifying it as a punk milestone isn’t too hard. But when it was released reception was a bit different, even to the ears of folks dedicated to Dischord. Joe Lally’s dubby basslines probably had something to do with it.

After further experiments with dub production on sharp rhythms (courtesy of ex-Rites of Spring members), Fugazi took an artier route on “Red Medicine” that rocks most of the time and power-plays the studio for stints and segues. Early straightforward blaster “Bed For The Scraping” is a fun bass-propelled track that’s hard, aggressive and danceable. It’s probably the most uplifting rock track they got. Then on the production side of things, instrumentals arranged behind a board like “Combination Lock” or “Version” further push musical ideas. The trick pulled here is that these songs sound fine right alongside their rock numbers.

What makes this piece worthy of placing next to “13 Songs” or “Repeater?” It’s another fully realized album, for one, and while more musical ideas are explored Fugazi never spread themselves to thin. And while the members of this esteemed group share morals and standards set staggering high, lyrically you’ll catch a break. The album is chock full of personal political points, but delivery here is generally less declaratory, more obtuse except where it sounds great (Lockheed! Lockheed!).

On “Red Medicine,” Fugazi are miles away from where they started, with bars set even higher on playing, producing, boundary pushing… -Wade

Ric Ocasek “Beatitude” (Geffen, 1982)

ea9234a756d1d56c2875efae1a5Very much a studio creation and a work evoking distillation and sanitation, “Beatitude” might as well be Ric with Kraftwerk as his backing band, if they’re willing to add stadium-worthy guitar, lovers bass and shmoozy sax all over. Since The Cars made a bit of a weak Rock effort (with a capital R), going New Wave was probably Ric’s most viable option, and it has to be said, he didn’t hold back during his solo year.

A drum machine (affectionately named “Miss Linn” in the liner notes) beats metronomically, and a series of vocoder chirps kick off Ric Ocasek’s first solo effort. Seems like a great foil for his brand of punchy New Wave… “Jimmy Jimmy” and “Prove” are pure electro-pop nuggets of the freshest variety. And “Connect Up To Me” looks like it would fit next to Gary Numan’s “Cars” or anything by Wang Chung on FM band. Well, maybe a radio edit, it’s all sequencers and drums with Ric riffing over chimes and crisp keys, going for about seven minutes plus… It’s not even a dance track, necessarily.

This is New Wave in it’s truest capital form, far from the streets, floating somewhere in space. Interestingly enough, it’s when New Wave as a genre gets further from it’s source material (punk template, let’s blur no lines), when it’s clean, detached and empty, that it really becomes it’s own thing. Play this with Gary Numan’s “Dance” or Japan’s “Gentleman Take Polaroids” for maximum posh. And watch out for rockets! – Wade