Punk and New Wave

Mudhoney “Mudhoney” (Sub Pop, 1989)

Seeing Mudhoney tear it up at SPF30, the free outdoor festival held August 11 at Alki Beach celebrating Sub Pop’s 30th anniversary, reminded me again why y’all need to listen to their explosive debut album with fresh ears. This thunderous slab tends to get overlooked by its predecessor, Superfuzz Bigmuff (which we reviewed in this space in 2010) and Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge—both of which are crucial, of course. But clear some space in your busy life for Mudhoney, too. It really holds up. You can verify that due to Mudhoney’s insistence on playing a lot of material off this one in live sets 29 years after its release.

The sinister and seething “This Gift” boots the album into life with an oblique homage to the Stooges’ “No Fun”—a fantastic way to open your first LP. As a bonus, the phased guitar shivers recall Butthole Surfers’ “Cherub.” In the liner notes to the March To Fuzz best-of comp, Steve Turner quipped, “I’ve always figured Mark was talking about his dick here.” Songs like“Flat Out Fucked,” “Here Comes Sickness,” and “The Farther I Go” are anthems of rage, highly torqued hard rockers that writhe with youthful truculence and ill wah-wah destruction. I remember dudes with bald heads and graying ponytails slamdancing to this at the Tractor Tavern a mere six years ago.

The explicit Blue Cheer tribute “Magnolia Caboose Babyshit” is 65 seconds of ozone-depleting, speed-gobbling biker-rock—hell-raising elevated to a debased art form. “Come To Mind” is the “ballad” of the album, sort of like “Ann” was the “ballad” of The Stooges. Meaning, it still has violence in its heart and steel in its phallus. “When Tomorrow Hits” represents yet more Stooges love, as it’s sorta Mudhoney’s “We Will Fall.” This badass glowering tune was covered by Spacemen 3 on their Recurring LP, and it almost seems as if Mudhoney wrote it for those opiated British blokes. Album-finale “Dead Love” encapsulates Mudhoney’s nearly unmatched ability to summon unstoppable rivers of magmatic rock.

While Mudhoney captures the Seattle grunge pioneers (sorry, guys, but you’re stuck with that tag) at an early peak, they have barely slipped from that lofty level of high-energy, powerful rock action three decades later. Freaks of nature, for sure… -Buckley Mayfield

This Heat “Health And Efficiency” (Piano, 1980)

Slotting between the twin towers of This Heat’s 1979 self-titled debut LP and 1981’s Deceit, Health And Efficiency is no mere stop-gap release. Rather, it’s a peculiar peak in this short-lived yet crucial experimental/post-punk group’s discography.

Health And Efficiency” itself is simply one of the greatest songs ever, an art-rock tune so grand and uplifting, it deludes us into thinking that humanity is going to continue to evolve into a peaceful, super-intelligent species that values equality and yes, health, over all else. Seriously, its melody and ecstatic vocal arrangements are that powerful. Then, two minutes in, This Heat say, “Fuck it, y’all don’t deserve this much euphoria,” as they slam into one of the nastiest (lock) grooves to which you’ve ever had the good fortune to lose your mind and spastically jack your body. It’s a real bucking mechanical bull of a rhythm, cantilevered to the max and laced with an array of rolling bottles, children’s screams, and enough noisy distortion to start a wildfire in your brain. The freakout near the end will tear your ever-loving head off and punt it into the sun (the star to which “Health And Efficiency” is dedicated).

Health And Efficiency” is a definitive example of what radical explosions can be realized with (mostly) typical rock instruments when the musicians disregard orthodoxy. In the liner notes to the most recent reissue, This Heat drummer Charles Hayward says that the track was “improvised pretty much fully-formed, an 8 minute stretch.” He notes that Charles Bullen plays an electric/upright piano that the Rock In Opposition band Henry Cow left at the Cold Storage Studio through some distortion pedals. Now you know.

On “Graphic/Varispeed,” This Heat revamp “24 Track Loop” from the self-titled 1979 debut album into a supremely resonant, ASMR-inducing drone that the band manipulates ever-so-subtly, so it changes pitch and intensity in minuscule gradations. An early example of remixing and sonic deconstruction, “Graphic/Varispeed” puts a particularly industrial, northern English spin on ambient/drone music.

Originally released on Flying Lizards/General Strike member David Cunningham’s Piano label, Health And Efficiency received a deluxe reissue in 2016 via Light In The Attic subsidiary Modern Classics, with liner notes by Mr. Hayward, thereby earning the eternal gratitude of all right-thinking music fans. -Buckley Mayfield

Butthole Surfers “Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis” (Touch And Go, 1985)

For a stopgap EP released between two mind-boggling LPs, Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis sure has had legs. Three of its four songs became staples in Butthole Surfers’ live sets and lead track “Moving To Florida” has become the pinnacle of blues mockery/homage among white rock groups. And the title Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis exists on a whole other level of sacrilegious brilliance, to boot.

Slotted between Psychic…Powerless…Another Man’s Sac and Rembrandt Pussyhorse in the Surfers discography, Cream Corn finds these Texas psychonauts flexing blues, psych-rock, industrial, and country-rock muscles with rude intensity. I’ve heard “Moving To Florida,” a ludicrous send-up of blues-singer machismo, over a hundred times, and it still cracks me up. No, I can’t believe it, either. Most songs that lean heavily on humor begin to pall after a few listens, but “Moving To Florida” has retained its absurdist potency for over three decades. Every line out of Gibby Haynes’ mashed-potatoes-filled mouth—uttered between bursts of spasmodic blues-rock demolition—is a comedic gem. I’m tempted to cut and paste the whole lyric sheet here, but a few examples should suffice. “I’m going to move down to Florida/And you know I’m gonna have to potty-train the Chairman Mao/…I’m gonna grind me a White Castle Slider out of India’s sacred cow/…They be making tadpoles the size of Mercurys down in Florida/That be telling Julio Iglesias what to sing.” Fuck me running, Gibby’s a walking advertisement for the rewards of daily hallucinogen-gobbling.

“Comb” sounds like a Big Black song being played at 16 rpm. It’s a sluggish, brutish slab of disorienting industrial-music waste that you should play for your worst enemy; I mean this as a compliment. “To Parter” begins with the Surfers’—and indeed any band’s—most ominous riff (thanks to mad-genius guitarist Paul Leary), building to a tumultuous, sinister, psychedelic ordeal that makes you feel as if you’re being sucked into a vortex of bilge water. “And all the teachers who were flunkies/They all taught you and me,” Haynes bellows, before he approximates the gibbering and wailing of a dementia patient. “Tornadoes” ends the EP with scathing, speedy punk-rock as played by maniacs, becoming ever more unhinged as the song progresses. You could probably see this sort of finale coming, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling.

Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis (did showbiz legend Sammy, the subject of the title, ever hear it, one wonders?) is an essential piece of the crazy puzzle that is Butthole Surfers’ catalog. -Buckley Mayfield

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark “Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark” (Dindisc, 1980)


The first four OMD LPs represent some of the most affecting and influential electro-pop creations ever to ruffle a synthesizer manual. Their first one has always been my favorite of the bunch… and not just because of the rad Peter Saville die-cut cover design. Beyond the brilliant packaging, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark set an incredibly high bar for swoonworthy melodies, efficient, heart-pumping beats, and clean-blooded male vocals. Mofos are still biting their style in 2018.

Even better than Soft Cell and Depeche Mode, OMD songwriters Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys struck upon an approach that fused instantly hummable tunes with unusual textures. Of their debut album’s 10 songs, a mind-boggling nine could logically be singles. The only exception is “Dancing” (irony!), an amazing anomaly that’s almost Residents-like in its subterranean otherness and strange array of FX’d voices; shockingly, its rhythm is closer to that of Throbbing Gristle’s “20 Jazz Funk Greats” than to anything on Top Of The Pops.

But, as I said, the majority of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark bursts with a striking accessibility that is anything but LCD. The cleverly titled “Mystereality” boasts a sax part that lends the morosely peppy song a Roxy Music-like air, and the singing even resembles that of Brian Eno’s early solo efforts. “Electricity” is a fairly blatant homage to Kraftwerk circa Radioactivity, but it’s done with so much poised panache and sugar-rush urgency, slack is cut. The synth arpeggio in the heartbreak anthem “Messages” signifies an almost unbearable wistfulness, and the keyboard solo in the song’s middle section bears the grandeur of Kraftwerk at their Trans-Europe Express haughtiest.

My favorite OMD track of all time, “Julia’s Song,” contains the group’s most seductive bass line, which anchors some of their richest drones and a gorgeously sinuous melody that I wouldn’t mind being the last thing I heard on this mortal coil. “Red Frame/White Light” is an instant classic of frantic, spine-tingling effusiveness that would be a career highlight for most acts, but on this record it’s about the fifth-best cut.

You really can’t go wrong with any of the first four OMD full-lengths, but if you can only spring for one, go for this zenith of emotional synth-pop. -Buckley Mayfield

[You may also want to read our 2014 review of OMD’s Architecture & Morality.]

Fire Engines “Lubricate Your Living Room” (Pop:Aural, 1981)

A fascinating book could be written about Scotland’s original post-punk scene, and I hope somebody’s on the case. One band who should figure prominently in such a tome is Fire Engines. Led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Davy Henderson, Fire Engines were a pop group, but spiky as fuck, buoyant yet abrasive, and terminally enamored of Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band. You can glean that from one listen to Fire Engines’ breathtaking 1981 single “Candyskin,” which nicks the melody from Beefheart’s “Sweet Sweet Bulbs,” and adds a phenomenal spring to its step.

Coming out slightly before that 45, Lubricate Your Living Room was a revelatory mini-LP that established Fire Engines as one of the UK’s most exciting rock bands. With a lineup filled out by Graham Main (bass), Murray Slade (guitar), and Russell Burn (drums), the Engines used Captain Beefheart’s guitar sound circa Trout Mask Replica and Doc At The Radar Station as their foundation: a nerve-fraying, traumatically trebly tonality. But instead of distorting the blues and translating rock into intimidatingly difficult math equations as the Magic Band did, Fire Engines sped up No Wave to a splenetic, amphetamine shriek, with Henderson yawping about consumerism’s pros and cons and problematic relationship dynamics. He begged listeners to “get up and use me” as if he were just another good on the marketplace.

Like contemporaries the Fall, Fire Engines lived for repetition in their rhythms and riffs. Unlike the Fall, the Engines loved manic cowbell patterns and had a propensity for freaky funk that distinguished them among their Scottish peers. These Edinburgh speed demons plowed so compulsively into their grooves, you expect their instruments to burst into flames, and/or for the needle to fly off the record.

Fire Engines only lasted a couple of years (1980-1981), but they staked a claim to immortality with a catalog consisting of a mere 18 songs. (Acute Records’ 2007 Hungry Beat CD comp might be your best bet—outside of streaming services—to hear what all my fuss is about.)  Lubricate Your Living Room is probably the definitive document of their raw, jagged, Beefheart-on-bennies rock.

Also, as with many records reviewed on this blog, this one could use a reissue. May this critique—however infinitesimally—help to make that a reality. -Buckley Mayfield

The Slits “Cut” (Island, 1979)

Over a decade before riot grrrl was a term or a movement, the Slits embodied its spirit on their uniquely radical debut album, Cut. Consisting of British musicians Ari Up, Viv Albertine, Tessa Pollitt, and Palmolive (the band’s drummer, who left before Cut was finished, opening the door for Budgie, a dude who’s also played with Siouxsie & The Banshees, the Creatures, and others), the Slits bust out of the gate with their busts bared on the LP cover, while caked in mud. (Yep, they gave zero fucks.)

Now that they’d snagged your attention, the Slits went for the jugular with their crazy rhythms, dubbed-up punk, left-field funk, raw reggae bastardizations, and ramshackle feminist anthems. Credit should also go to producer Dennis Bovell, whose aptitude at the console made these unlikely elements cohere into a vivid collection of sonic sucker punches that makes you feel wonderfully woozy.

Cut‘s first two songs—“Instant Hit” and “So Tough”—fail the Bechdel Test, in that they reportedly are about drug-addled PiL guitarist Keith Levene and the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, respectively. No fear, though, feminists: The oddly buoyant reggae and clattering new-wave/dub eccentricity of them compensate for their focus on men. The proto-riot-grrrl content will come soon enough.

The charmingly askew “Spend, Spend, Spend” critiques the emptiness of consumerism to a zombified reggae lurch while its conceptual counterpart, “Shoplifting,” captures the churning anxiety and accelerating pulse rates of the titular subject. As a bonus, it possesses one of the most marrow-curdling shouts in music history, courtesy of Ari Up, and a killer descending dubwise bass line by Pollitt.

FM” equates radio’s frequency modulation with “frequent mutilation,” set to music that’s too radically oblong for most stations, although the sporadic, tom-heavy beats bang hard. Later in the album, a couple of soured-love tunes follow: “Ping Pong Affair” pairs slack, slanted reggae with lamenting lyrics over a familiar story of botched romance. Even better is “Love Und Romance,” a ferociously torqued piece of dubbed-out rock laced with sarcastic observations about relationships, skewering their tendency toward triteness and possessiveness.

Cut peaks on “Typical Girls,” the Slits’ greatest song, musically and lyrically. A masterpiece of sarcasm, its disdain for restrictive expectations toward women makes the patriarchal status quo seem horribly banal, thereby spurring women to lead more interesting, fulfilling, and progressive lives. Musically, the song epitomizes the Slits’ penchant for surprising dynamics and hairpin-turn rhythmic shifts, as it looms and sprints in a bizarre, exhilarating ska-rock fusion.

The 2000 CD reissue contains two bonus tracks, including a cover of Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” The Slits’ brutal, gut-wrenching version ranks among the best among very stiff competition (e.g., Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight & The Pips, CCR; note also that 4 Men With Beards reissued Cut on vinyl in 2005.).

I’ve played Cut nearly 100 times in my life, and it never fails to send shockwaves of delight through my body and mind. It’s a classic of femme-powered subversion that, for all its inspirational moments, is nearly impossible to replicate—almost in the way that nobody can really follow in the footsteps of the Shaggs’ Philosophy Of The World. This stuff is just too distinctive for the imitators.

(Bellingham, Washington-based director William Badgley completed a documentary about the Slits last year; keep your antennae up for local screenings of Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits.) -Buckley Mayfield

Grace Jones “Warm Leatherette” (Island, 1980)

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Grace Jones’ cover of the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette.” It must’ve been on a specialized program via Detroit public radio in the early ’80s. I was familiar with the original, by future Mute Records boss Daniel Miller. I loved—and still love—its relentless minimalism and abrasive synth tones going off like a haywire car alarm—apt for a song about the unexpected eroticism of a vehicular accident. (Thanks, J.G. Ballard.) Miller sings the macabre song with all the emotion of an automaton, which was somehow perfect for its lyrical circumstances. Jones, a black Jamaican woman, made “Warm Leatherette” sound even colder and more menacing than the nerdy white Englishman mustered.

How could this happen? The short answer is, Grace Jones is a freak of nature, an enigmatic woman who’s more man than most men will ever be, while also being a legit goddess. Why did this happen? Because, if I may conjecture, Grace Jones loves to take risks and subvert unlikely songs until she overshadows the original versions. The result with the title track of her fourth album is supremely unnerving and riveting.

Jones’ decision to cover “Warm Leatherette” must’ve seemed like a total WTF?! to Island Records’ execs, but in hindsight, it was a genius move. With a band full of session badasses like Sly Dunbar (drums), Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Wally Badarou (keyboards), Barry “White” Reynolds (guitar), Michael “Mao” Chung, and Uziah (Sticky) Thompson (percussion), Jones’ “Warm Leatherette” is bound to sound vastly different from the Normal’s synth ditty. She and the band use a crescendoing power chord to sub for the original’s synthesizer wheeze, while Badarou quotes James Brown’s “Sex Machine” riff. The rhythm is a juggernaut of funky skank, helping to transform this “Warm Leatherette” into a vastly different vehicle, as guitars and keys emulate siren sounds near the end. You could almost party to this rendition, if you were perverse enough.

Whew, it’s exhausting just trying to do justice to that Normal cover. Warm Leatherette has seven other tracks, most of them covers that deviate with almost as much idiosyncratic panache. The Pretenders’ “Private Life” sounds like a Sade tune, but with much more dubwise gravitas. Jones & co. inhabit Roxy Music’s “Love Is The Drug” as if it’s a skintight blue-velvet jumpsuit, slightly skanking up the disco-funk rhythmic chassis and adding staccato guitar-clang punctuation.

The silky Motown soul of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” gets an uptempo revamp with much more robust drums and bass and an extended percussion breakdown. Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” lends itself easily to slouching into a laid-back Jamaican groove, and Jones stretches her usual taut delivery as far as it can go. It can’t surpass the late Mr. Petty’s yowl, but she gives it a valiant try.

The two songs originating from Jones and her band—“A Rolling Stone” and “Bullshit”—are, respectively, rollicking R&B that bubbles with erotic promise and strutting R&B that bumps and throbs with S&M promise. To be honest, though, everything here pales besides “Warm Leatherette.” It is simply one of the greatest covers ever, a radical transformation of such unlikely provenance that it feels and sounds like a cosmic joke. But as a later Grace song put it: cry now, laugh later. -Buckley Mayfield

Snapper “Snapper” (Flying Nun, 1988)

 

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Snapper came to my attention with their 1988 debut EP; it was awed love at first hear. This was at a time when anything from New Zealand—Snapper hailed from Dunedin—carried a wonderful mystique, but here was a band that didn’t really sound like the other Flying Nun groups whose records somehow made it to the US. They radiated much more sinister vibes than did bands like the Chills, the the Clean, and the Bats.

The four songs on the Snapper EP are Möbius strips of mantric Kiwi surf rock wreathed in barbed-wire guitars and ornery organs. If you care about meticulous, traditional rock songwriting as blueprinted by the Beatles et al., Snapper will frustrate you. However, if you think the idea of British Stooges acolytes Loop jamming with synth-punk innovators Suicide is smashing, you’ll love Snapper to death.

The EP—which Captured Tracks reissued in 2013—kicks off with its best-known track, “Buddy,” which Wooden Shjips have covered live and on record. The number’s all razor-sharp organ ostinato, cut with stinging shoegaze-rock guitar and metronomic drumming, topped with subliminal female/male vocals by Christine Voice and the late Peter Gutteridge. The chorus goes, “No more buddy buddy/No more messsin’ around/I’m not gonna be your, be your fucking clown.” You’d best believe they mean it. “Cause Of You” is a full-on speed-freak rush down death’s highway. You can totally hear how this paved the way for bands like Stereolab, Moon Duo, and Thee Oh Sees.

“Death And Weirdness In The Surfing Zone” offers relentless waves of organ and guitars riding one lethal chord for the song’s duration while drummer Alan Haig does his best Klaus Dinger impression. Like everything here, it induces a kind of adrenalized hypnosis. The grinding throb of “Hang On” sounds like Suicide transposed to Loop’s psychedelic-rock grandeur, then fed a fistful of leapers. If these descriptions are becoming repetitive, well, it’s because repetition is Snapper’s lifeblood. In order to pull off this sort of monomania, you have to zero in on the most compelling chords and timbres; Snapper do that over and over. If your eyes don’t become two kaleidoscopic pinwheels by the end of “Hang On,” I feel bad for you. Gutteridge’s mantra of “You gotta feel good about doing wrong” could be his band’s motto.

Snapper’s brand of minimalist, one-chord jams that have no beginnings, endings, or many variations would sound dull in most other bands’ hands. But they found a way to turn these limitations into assets, injecting an unlikely sort of charisma into monochrome drones. Martin Rev would approve. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Jody Harris/Robert Quine “Escape” (Infidelity, 1981)

 

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Talk about an unheralded masterpiece… Escape is a ludicrously under-acknowledged gem from New York City’s fertile early-’80s sonic crucible. Masterly guitarists Jody Harris and Robert Quine had their tentacles in some of the Big Apple’s most important groups of the ’70s and ’80s, including Contortions, James White & The Blacks, Implog, the Raybeats, and Golden Palominos for the former and Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Material, and Lou Reed for the latter. For Escape, Harris and Quine use guitars, bass, and electronic percussion to create a uniquely otherworldly work of rock that has few peers.

The 12-minute “Flagpole Jitters” must’ve boggled freaks’ minds aplenty when it first came out, even among those who traveled in the headiest of No Wave and post-punk circles. Oddly funky electronic percussion pistons nonchalantly while Harris and Quine engage in a frenzied guitar duel that sounds like Television—if Verlaine and Lloyd’s axes were retuned by Harry Partch. The shrill tonalities and frazzling intensity of the playing shove this epic song into a WTF plane of its own, a communiqué from an advanced species recreating rock according to its own utterly bizarre instincts. Seriously, it’s damn near impossible to hear rock the same way after you’ve been exposed to “Flagpole Jitters.”

By comparison, “Don’t Throw That Knife” can’t help seeming a tad anticlimactic; it tones down the extreme timbres and settles into an intoxicating, low-slung cha-cha groove as Quine and Harris brandis pointillist, crystalline six-string origami. The effect is not unlike some of the more tropical cuts on Can’s Ege Bamyasi and, perhaps coincidentally, some of Robert Fripp’s extended and exotic sonorities on King Crimson’s Discipline. Be very excited. On “Up In Daisy’s Penthouse,” relaxed drum-machine rhythms percolate under slanting, clangorous guitar murmurs and enigmatic sighs. It makes me think of Muzak™ that might be heard on Pluto, which is a high compliment.

Escape‘s most urgent, driving rocker, “Termites Of 1938” zips with persistent hi-hat tsss and guitars that bite with the alien causticity of Chrome’s Helios Creed; eventually, said guitars pile up into huge parabolas of barbed wire; voilà, a new kind of raveup. “Pardon My Clutch” ends the album with what sounds like a 11-minute rockabilly pastiche from a couple of futuristic dudes who genuinely respect the style, but can’t help subverting it with slurred slivers of Harvey Mandel-esque guitar ectoplasm that are humorously at odds with the jaunty, canned beats.

I would say seek out Escape ASAP, before mugs read this review and start jacking up the price beyond its current reasonable $10-$15 range. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Pere Ubu “Datapanik In The Year Zero” (Radar, 1978)

 

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This five-track EP is a neat, efficient way to experience epochal Cleveland rock band Pere Ubu’s early material, derived from four singles released before the classic debut LP The Modern Dance exploded in the underground scene. Datapanik In The Year Zero contains some of the group’s greatest songs, plus “Heaven,” a rare descent into mawkish sentimentality. I know some of you dig it, but it strikes me as a misguided attempt at radio airplay, albeit through the unconventional backdoor of American white-boy reggae (that Tim Wright bass line is no joke, Jah bless). Anyway, let’s get to the all-time classics, which appear here in slightly altered form.

Heart Of Darkness” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” of course, stand as canonical slabs of rock existentialism rarely matched in the four decades since their release. The former’s lines “I don’t see anything that I want” and “Maybe I’m nothing but a shadow on the wall” compose some of the most shattering lyrics in rock. They remind me of Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” in their poignant estrangement from societal norms. The whole song’s so fucking ominous and full of unimaginable portent; too bad Joseph Conrad never had the chance to hear this. “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” is one of the most chilling pieces of music of the last 41 years. It recalls early Black Sabbath’s churning doom, but ruptured by an instrumental section full of noisy urgency and chaos, depicting the nervous system of a World War II pilot carrying the atomic bomb. By the end, the song appears to be splintering and tearing apart at the seams, which is an ideal way to finish such a harrowing composition. It’s a perfect convergence of the heaviest of subject matter with utterly gut-wrenching sonic abstract expressionism.

Relief comes from “Cloud 149,” one of Ubu’s most frantic and debauched pieces; it’s like a splenetic, sped-up version of ska, albeit sidetracked by a strain of garage-rock rave-up à la the Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction.” Yet another peak in Ubu’s bulging catalog. “Untitled” is a rougher, earlier version of “The Modern Dance,” which, of course, appeared on the 1978 LP of the same name. Undulating and angular, the song moves with implacable, subliminal swiftness, until it pauses for a combustible jazz-fusion interlude. Tom Herman’s needling guitar origami nudges this track into a higher echelon of post-punk. And while I badmouthed “Heaven” above, it actually has too much understated weirdness—especially from Allen Ravenstine’s ill synth emissions—to attain hit status. It’s just that compared to everything else on Datapanik, it sounds rather conventional. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Pavement “Perfect Sound Forever” (Drag City, 1990)

 

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For a long time, I was a Slanted & Enchanted guy. I thought that had to be Pavement’s pinnacle… because that was the one that sounded most like the Fall. Impeccable logic, right? When Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain came out, I thought Pavement had gone a bit corny, a bit too R.E.M.ish. Pavement’s difficult third album, Wowee Zowee, restored my faith in Stephen Malkmus and company’s ability to get weird and unpredictable while still keeping things pretty structured. And then, for reasons I can’t really pinpoint, I stopped following Pavement. I just plain ignored Brighten The Corners and Terror Twilight. Maybe it was because I got intensely into IDM and drum & bass. One of these years I’ll go back and explore the last two Pavement full-lengths, but right now I have more important matters at hand.

Anyway, this preamble is just a roundabout way to say I’m reassessing my internal Pavement ranking system. I would like to argue that Pavement peaked on Perfect Sound Forever. (It originally came out on 10-inch, the fourth ever release on the esteemed Drag City Records; you can also find it on the compilation Westing [By Musket And Sextant].) Perfect Sound Forever‘s only 12 minutes long, but it epitomizes Pavement’s early phase, and it’s an exemplary bridge between their first couple of scrappy singles and the accomplished indie-rock obscurantism of Slanted & Enchanted.

“Heckler Spray” is one of the most brilliant opening salvos ever, a bravura noise-rock intro that separates the wheat from the boys and the men from the cream. These are the most heroic and needling guitar tones Malkmus and Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg ever wrangled from their axes. Bow down to their majesty. If you want to hear how best to create a subdued rock anthem, study “From Now On.” On “Angel Carver Blues/Mellow Jazz Docent,” heavy and jagged guitars menacingly lurch, punctuated by staunch, hard beats. Then cooler heads prevail with the “Mellow Jazz Docent” section, which is still a deceptively scathing yet laid-back rejoinder to the first segment. Malkmus and his cohorts sound so effortlessly assured, blending melodic chops with an exhilaratingly caustic guitar attack.

“Drive-By-Fader” and “Krell Vid-user” form very strange and distorted bookend interludes on the second side. These brief, bizarre noise experiments represent Pavement’s most unhinged moments. By contrast, “Home” is some kind of slacker rock apotheosis. But then comes “Debris Slide,” Pavement’s zenith. It’s the catchiest, most raucous, and coolest song in their canon—like a bubblegum Sonic Youth tune, and perfectly titled.

Speaking of titles, Perfect Sound Forever cleverly deflated the music industry’s laughably overblown compact disc hype while also marking Pavement as world-class wise guys who could pen indelible hooks and blowtorch your ears at the same time. Best. Pavement. Record. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Thomas Leer “4 Movements” (Cherry Red, 1981)

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Scottish musician/vocalist Thomas Leer made some of the most interesting song-based electronic music of the original post-punk era, but he’s never achieved much more than cult status. In all honesty, though, he should be as well known as Soft Cell, if not as widely loved as New Order, to name only two contemporaneous UK acts. 4 Movements was the first Leer release I heard, and it remains my favorite to this day, although Private Plane EP and the Contradictions LP are also highly recommended. As another British group, Hot Chocolate put it, every 1’s a winner.

4 Movements‘ opener, “Don’t,” is a gleaming jewel of continental dance music overlaid with Leer’s elegantly pained vocals. It strikes you as accessible and danceable synth pop on one level, but there’s something deceptively complex happening under the surface: a sneakily wiggly bass line, frosty and fibrillating synth whorls, spectral backing vocals… or are they yet more synths? Whatever the case, you’re paying close attention and working up a sweat. “Letter From America” shimmies into earshot with a quasi-cha-cha rhythm and an exotic array of synth tones, which elevate this song into the vicinity of Haruomi Hosono’s all-time stunner, Cochin Moon. Perhaps the EP’s most poppy cut, “Letter From America” finds Leer singing with a seething, Howard Devoto-like suavity.

“Tight As A Drum”—which bears a vague resemblance to David Byrne and Brian Eno’s “The Carrier” from My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts—is staunch, five-dimensional dub in a hall of illusory synth mirrors—very disorienting. I love to play this track at DJ gigs and watch people try to make sense of it. The final track, “West End,” slithers with a silvery, slick rhythm and bursts with tightly controlled, ecstatic synthetic horns. Again, there’s a lot of subliminal sonic sorcery going on: contrapuntal synth lines, bizarre burbles and ripples. It’s like a new kind of snake-charmer music, and it’s incredibly sensuous.

Thomas Leer was on fire creatively during this period, and you should seek out anything with his name on it from then—especially 4 Movements. (Oh, by the way: Someone should reissue this… perhaps Superior Viaduct or Dark Entries?) -Buckley Mayfield