Punk and New Wave

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

The Fall “Grotesque” (Rough Trade, 1980)

Grotesque_coverHot on the heels of the immortal “Totally Wired” single, The Fall dropped “Grotesque” and really outdid themselves. Right out of the gate you get the rocking “Pay Your Rates” and a 180 turn into the chipper sounding “English Scheme,” a seemingly jolly number with an absolutely dirty electric keyboard bouncing throughout.

Mark E. Smith really becomes Mark E. Smith here as well: “New Face In Hell” and “C ‘n’ C-S Mithering” spews broken working man poetry over obscene instrumentals embellished by kazoos and backing tapes of who-knows-what. Side one ends with a more straightforward rocker, “The Container Drivers.” It may seem odd, but then Mark has cited Bo Diddley and Link Wray as some of his favorites, right alongside Damo Suzuki. He’s not afraid to not be weird and rock proper.

Side two kicks off with a militant rumble in “Impression of J. Temperance” and works it’s way in a similar fashion (apart from the incomprehensible mess of “WMC-Blob 59”) toward the closer of “The N.W.R.A.” or “The North Will Rise Again.” Being from Manchester and proud of it, Mark E. had to end with a near ten-minute opus to declare it. Rough and tough, Manchester and Mark E. may be synonymous in most ways. You can say that for The Fall too. -Wade

LCD Soundsystem “LCD Soundsystem” (DFA, 2005)

R-472821-1118681571.jpgTen years old! And hardly a blemish on this self-titled LP by everyone’s favorite party group of NYC hipsters. James Murphy (alleged Mark E. Smith impersonator, former Six Finger Satellite sound guy) did most of the work on these tracks, with a little help from his friends and future live players.

Spotted with hits, tracks of mashed up genres come together in a mix of dance, punk and psychedelia drenched in electronic residue. After the release of the totally-meta “Losing My Edge” single, Murphy still had opportunities to sport irony and pretension. “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” kicks side one off and from there takes you to the bonafide pop of “Tribulations” and the Suicide-esque pummel of “Movement,” which probably has the most lyrical heft of the record’s time:

“It’s like a movement/without the bother of the meaning
it’s like a discipline without the discipline of all the discipline”

Bands have to try so much harder these days, not to succeed, but to avoid pastiche. Or in LCD’s case, work to rise above it and approach music making in earnest. What can all this familiar music mean? Or, what can it be perceived to mean? Real or imagined, these are the pitfalls that LCD manages to dance around. And you get to dance around too, especially on “Thrills,” “Disco Infiltrator,” etc;

Hardly being lumped in with other dance-rock diminished returns of the day (and there were a lot of them, oh boy), LCD’s first release manages to harken back and still sound fresh. And moments like “Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up” shows that Murphy is just as good a songwriter as he is a studio head. He loves his music, and if you like his long list of refs and citations, chances are you probably will too. -Wade

Dalis Car “The Waking Hour” (Beggars Banquet, 1984)

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Now this is an interesting piece of New Wave… an album where the members hardly ever met up and sent material to one another, patching vocals and rhythms together, wherever. And what members; Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy broods and self-taught bassist Mick Karn of Japan plays just about everything.

Dalis Car, named after a short Beefheart instrumental, only produced this one full length album, “The Waking Hour,” and it’s a humorless chunk of vinyl that I’d say is akin to PiL’s “Flowers of Romance” but a bit more listenable. No John Lydon caterwauling for one, but also these meditative sub-groove tunes put you in their strange headspace a bit more effectively.

Mick Karn’s bass lines really are the star of the show here. No other bass has his sound, though he lent his abilities to Japan, assisted Murphy here and did session work with Gary Numan. The best example of his style really comes through on the track “Artemis,” an instrumental with simple drum patterns, percussion and horns all sliding by Karn’s fluid, fretless work. Peter Murphy is more or less himself, but he is a bit more tame on this release, which is all the more fitting for such coldly produced material, and I mean that in a good way.

The meeting of minds for Dalis Car was promising, but unfortunately, by the time Karn and Murphy had reunited to make new material, Karn entered a battle with cancer and quickly succumbed. “The Waking Hour” is not only of interest to fans of Japan and Bauhaus, but a great slice of New Wave that could have potentially led down some interesting avenues. -Wade

 

The Minutemen “What Makes A Man Start Fires?” (SST, 1982)

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Being a pop culture staple now, many album lists cite “Double Nickles on a Dime” as The Minutemen’s number one release with a bullet. And being that it’s a double album chock full of material, it may seem like the only pieces of vinyl by them you would have to pick up to get a feel for who these guys are.

A few better and much more timely reviews are available from rock-write gods Richard Meltzer and Byron Coley on the topic of this full length, “What Makes A Man Start Fires?” – but I’ll tackle it anyway. After “Paranoid Time” and “The Punch Line,” this LP draws the line between the Pedro boys and a lot of the punk-funk material being released across New York and a whole lot of Europe. The songs are longer, change grooves more and more frequently and have a quality many of those groups lacked; combustion.

Yes, The Minutemen were a rock band and not just a West Coast post-punk outfit per se, or at least not in total. Songs, songs not tracks, like “Fake Contest” and “The Anchor” for a start, have undeniable grooves, and they could be extended dance numbers, but their short, punchy lengths and D Boon’s trebly guitar and spouting keeps them right in their very own proper rock context.

Meltzer: “…they told riffs, both unviable and viable, where to get off; used em’ only as suited their fancy, by which I don’t mean they were fancy ass fashioners, I mean they stripmined their musical souls…” and Coley on upping funky post-punkers: “…brings the band one conceptual step closer to the mainstream and demonstrates a firm grasp of (and delight in) the genre that previous demi-funk sorties inferred.”

For borrowed start/stop grooving of R&B and homemade rock, this is their most fleshed-out effort… and it was probably their transition point! How many groups pull that off? -Wade

 

The Flying Lizards “The Flying Lizards” (Virgin, 1979)

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London was home to many interesting musical artists of the late 70s, and The Flying Lizards may be one of the most shadowy outfits of the day. Made up of experimental musicians interested in pop music, their ranks included emerging music journalists David Toop and Vivien Goldman (the latter being a sort of Marianne Faithful type) and a number of improvisers.

On this self-titled debut, excursions into dub, sound collage and dressed down disco make a great backing for frilled or deadpan lyrical deliveries. “Her Story” simply describes itself as a love song with no need for further investigation, while “Russia” just lets the beat ride, sounding a bit like a Talking Heads “Remain In Light” outtake.

While the Lizards do experiment with pop forms, one of their only efforts to succeed at charting was their enigmatic cover of “Money.” Quote unquote singer Deborah Evans stripped down monotone delivery is prominent and in stark contrast to the shambling instrumentals and backing run-down by the Lizards, turning the cover into a cult favorite. It even meanders into an extended, dubby, musique concrete mess of sorts.

Many members of the Flying Lizards dispersed further underground or into obscurity. This debut is a real lynchpin of new music from post-punk London and still sounds exciting today. -Wade

 

Saccharine Trust “Paganicons” (SST, 1981)

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As well known as SST may be in America courtesy of releases by the near unswayable Black Flag and underground rock staples Minutemen, Meat Puppets and Sonic Youth, much of their roster still goes unnoticed. And even when Saccharine Trust got name-dropped by Kurt Cobain they still managed to slip into the ether.

Not that SacTrust really made it easy on themselves; their brand of rock isn’t as dope-smoking friendly as their more popular San Pedro brethren or the Puppets. Their first release “Paganicons” is actually about as conventional as it gets for them, and it’s still a challenge; but this EP is also tight interplay, great changes and aberrant lyrical prose from front to back.

Vocalist Jack Brewer comes across as if he’s just breaking through pubescence (that would change), or belting out his voice for the first time in his life, and his way of delivering just-so stories differs greatly from any other known punk rock affiliate of the day. And accompanied by a killer rhythm section, one of the final guitar heroes of our age, Joe Baiza, really trucks along with lines that would evolve into some of the most inventive playing put on disc, or on stage for that matter.

Going track by track would really be redundant, since each one is a great story or feeling conveyed. The voices at work are really unlike any other outfit before or prior, and their touring reactivation in the U.S. and Europe has finally gained them much deserved attention in recent years. – Wade

 

Public Image Ltd. “Metal Box” (Virgin, 1979)

PILMetalboxHIGH RESOLUTION COVER ARTDigging through the “P” section of a record file and finding a metal canister these days isn’t too uncommon. And if you are just getting into PiL, then it will probably be exciting, since the contents inside this “Metal Box” are some of the strangest, most vehement studio works to ever surface on vinyl.

While their self-titled debut willfully trailed off from the typical punk rock template of the day to show off experiments in dirges, spoken word excerpts and even some studio flirtations on it’s closer “Fodderstompf,” the three plates inside “Metal Box” show just what some open-minded troublemakers could do when they were allowed to goof off with corporate money backing them. The general idea behind PiL’s strange packaging was instead of releasing a bloated double album, they would be producing a bundle of “singles.” And we aren’t talking 7” singles. Which really meant that these “punks” were actually more into contemporary moments of the day that were released on dub-plates and extended disco edits.

Not only was the release a brave idea (or at least an opportune idea agreeably pushed along by Virgin, due to Ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon’s celebrity), but their approach in the studio was also informed by the production of those styles. It’s all just done about… atypically. Lydon, bassist Jah Wobble and former Clash guitarist Keith Levene were joined by a number of drummers to produce exciting, monotonous rock (“Albatross,” “Poptones”) derelict disco (“Memories,” “Socialist,” “Swan Lake”) and some simple sketches made to stretch across your speakers (“The Suit,” “Radio 4”). Taking these records out of their protective tin can be a chore, and the constant shifting of styles slapped together across each track can make make this parcel a bit of a challenge.

But approached one disc at a time, over time, “Metal Box” can be one of those truly rewarding albums that surprises you with every few listens. Luckily, this very strange slab of experimental pop has been reissued by the label 4 Men With Beards, and in it’s proper protective casing at that. -Wade

Mi Ami “Steal Your Face” (Thrill Jockey, 2010)

mi_ami_0420Two DC boys spawned out of some post-hardcore Dischord zone ended up in San Francisco with their strings and a Michigan-bred drummer in tow. Well into the 21st century, this power trio tapped into dissonant music stylings of all sorts and let it rip with rocked-out fury.

Mi Ami seemed set upon bringing the punk/noise axis a bit closer to dance, free jazz and world music, and if that sounds like it’s a repeat of The Pop Group or DNA or some other post-punk unit, then the description doesn’t quite work. See, what we have here on “Steal Your Face” is not as anti-rockist as those new wave forerunners. Daniel Martin-McCormick’s guitar playing can be a banshee in a snowstorm, or a series of direct hits with a serrated edge. Bassist Jacob Long maneuvers as a strained tightrope while Damon Palermo places his beats in a busy and danceable fashion.

And many of these tracks are danceable; “Latin Lover” is the closest thing to dance floor fodder you’ll find on the disc. Rending guitar shreds at all the right moments to lose your head to while the attacking rhythm onslaught keeps things grounded. But all the while, McCormick’s unique style of singing may be a turn off to some listeners; his vocals send up hardcore flags… Not that you’ve heard a hardcore-kid rip a Whitney Houston lyric before. And he makes his vocal delivery count just as much as his exciting guitar flaying.

Then a churner like “Dreamers” will have you seeing another interesting side to this group, one that has many interesting tangents to explore. Many of the numbers here can be expansive, sparse or confusingly full on first listen, and once collected together under an album dubbed “Steal Your Face,” well… Maybe they are more indebted to fleshing out sound in a manner more similar to the Dead rather than PiL?

Later albums of Mi Ami went sans-bass player and opted for a two man dance operation that’s a very different animal, but their energy and work ethic has spawned many prolific dance projects still ongoing. “Steal Your Face” is their last great statement as a modern power trio. – Wade

Hella “Hold Your Horse Is” (5 Rue Christine, 2002)

a2970431076_10Modern Rock’s possible reality as natural progression post-Hip Hop/Drum and Bass? A product of over-saturated media youth?

Hella fall short of being a traditional rock group by only having two members, but tradition isn’t a relevant factor when the stuff these guys push feels so immediate. Debut album “Hold Your Horse Is” would be as good a place as any to start with their brand of hyper-fast prog rush. An electronic doodle kicks off the album that brings to mind 90’s gaming console sound chips, before the live element crashes through with “Biblical Violence” and from that point never lets up.

To produce the sort of manic nowness of your active day, Hella’s self taught drummer Zach Hill actually uses (in a relative sense) slow punctuated beats… but fills the space between by hitting the skins and cymbals as fast as superhumanly possible, creating a striking sound that’s not start/stop but rather start/gogogogogogo/start et al. While Hill flogs his kit, guitarist Spencer Seim plays spastic melodies, creates strange drones and chips away at you with repetition. And whenever necessary, they make neck-breaking changes. It happens a lot.

As crazed as all this may sound, the overall tone here is not violent or oppressive but rather triumphant, it can be used sonic pick-me-up; like chugging a pot of coffee to get through a heavily scheduled day. Does that help you? “Hold Your Horse Is” is about as focused and concise as their albums get and a solid debut… After this, the duo felt free enough to experiment in more electronic territory and at one point expanded their roster.

This album is near-live instrumental music synced to modern times, man made jams informed by all sorts of media blitzkriegs, and a document that is as good a tool to your life as amphetamine might be, if that’s your drug of choice. -Wade

Scritti Politti “Early” (Rough Trade, 2004)

51WGS4T6D0LBefore becoming an equally interesting pop group, Scritti Politti were actually a band brought up like Amon Duul… As a commune collective. But the performing three-piece core were more than a political message in a musical vehicle; they had one of the tightest rhythm sections of the post-punk vanguard in their native UK.

This collection of singles on “Early” begins with Scritti finding their footing on rigid tracks like “Skank Bloc Bologna” and “Messthetics” which utilize odd rhythms that are very un-rock like. It’s hard to really grasp what their sound is, but the production here makes everything seem dank and bass lines are always high in the mix, bubbling to the surface next to itchy guitar lines, drums and chimes.

But the real gems in this collection are from their single “4 A-Sides” which kicks off the second vinyl of this double LP. Not quite rock, punk or pop, disparate styles are fashioned together in such a way that seems so natural, you may miss all the great lyrics vocalist/guitarist Green Gartside brings to the mix. Part of Scritti’s appeal is that vocals accompany the music here and not the other way around; listen closely and Green’s ideas of breaking down language blends perfectly with their sharp and wound up style.

And closing out, you get to hear the beginnings of their second stage as a sort of soul group infused with socialist theory and even more interesting linguistic axioms… Smooth, smooth music for language nerds. “Early” is a great assemblage of instrumental workouts and word play like very little else! -Wade