Rock

Pussy Galore “Dial ‘M’ For Motherfucker” (Caroline, 1989)

In a review on this blog of Pussy Galore’s Sugarshit Sharp, I wrote that if you can only own one record by these NYC scuzz-rock scoundrels, make it that one. But I placed an asterisk at the end of that statement and noted that Dial ‘M’ For Motherfucker is also worthy of your time/money. So here I am six years later recommending that you clear some headspace and shelf space for Pussy Galore’s penultimate long-player.

If nothing else, Motherfucker is remarkably consistent. It’s a full-throttle avant-garage-rock record that gives zero fucks about audio fidelity or your impending tinnitus. The tension between trad roots rock and fuck-your-landlord noise causes sparks all over the place. Although PG vocalist/guitarist Jon Spencer and bassist Julia Cafritz attended the Ivy League school Brown University, their music comes off as stoopid and brutish… albeit in the best way. They were rich kids playing as if they were dirt-poor and desperate to outrage listeners; they strove to be perceived as outsiders of polite society. Song titles such as “Dick Johnson,” “Eat Me,” and “Solo=Sex” telegraphed the provocative sleaziness Pussy Galore flaunted. It was shtick, but they actually convinced you that they were white-trash idiot savants, with a surplus of energy and an epicurean taste for distortion.

Motherfucker‘s opening track “Understand Me” starts with a bleeped-out tirade by Spencer, then the song arises out of this baffling turmoil, with Bob Bert’s scrapyard drums kickstarting a filthy primitivo stomp, Spencer and Neil Hagerty’s guitars coloring outside the lines of rock decorum and bleeding heavily into the red, as the whole rumbustious apparatus causes fight-or-fuck juice to spurt through your lymphatic system. This sets the tone for the rest of Motherfucker, as evidenced by the next song. A runaway junker spewing soot and loose radiator clanging in the chassis, “SM 57” is the best song ever titled after a microphone.

The theme continues with “Undertaker,” which abounds with unexpected tempo changes and radical dynamics and timbres, qualities that lifted PG above their scum-rock peers. “Dick Johnson” begins with a blues-rock guitar intro that would impress the iconoclasts in Hampton Grease Band, then accelerates into a junkyard boogie that could score your next outdoor orgy. The merciless, hard-punching rock of “Evil Eye” makes most everything else in the genre sound too decorous and bloated by half. The first three-fifths of “Kicked Out” predates the grotesque, disjointed approach of 21st-century experimentalists Black Dice, then shifts into an MC5 barrage of lighting-fast jammage.

The freewheeling riot rock of “1 Hour Later” sounds like if all the hyperbolic mythology about Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones were actually manifested in Americans who came of age in the ’80s and were savvy with rebellious rock signifiers. The album’s main anomaly, “DWDA,” is an XXX-rated shuffle with a bulbous bass blurge that’s like a fucked-up, serrated foghorn. The song sounds like it’s repeatedly being sucked into a vortex. Hinting at Hagerty’s future Royal Trux magnum opus, Twin Infinitives, it’s some vicious rock deconstruction.

Pussy Galore proved that rock can sound revitalized with its basic tools and minimal studio trickery, as long as the players possess a boldness and inventiveness—qualities not exactly in abundance in the genre over the last 35 years. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

J.J. Cale “Naturally” (Shelter, 1971)

J.J. Cale’s debut LP sounds as if it were recorded while the leader was on the verge of nodding off to sleep. Even though Naturally is a party album, a driving album, a sex album, a crying album, a mourning album, everything on it sounds muted, swaddled in fluffy blankets, as intimate as pillow talk. The record established from the get-go that ain’t nobody as laid-back as Tulsa, Oklahoma’s J.J. Cale, and ain’t nobody ever leveraged that posture to such sublime songs which somehow achieved commercial success—mostly in the hands of other artists (Er*c Clapt*n, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, et al.).

Now, Cale was relatively old for an artist making his debut full-length (32), but that’s fitting when you take into account the man’s proclivity for doing things unhurriedly. The advantage to this is, Cale’s music burst into the world fully formed and honed to perfection. Naturally proffered all of J.J.’s styles and tics in one 12-song, 33-minute platter, and he spent the ensuing 40-plus years further polishing these modes (country, bluegrass, jazz, blues, and rockabilly, with sly nods to funk). But for many fans, Naturally remains Cale’s peak.

“Call Me The Breeze”—Cale’s first song on his first album—could be his definitive work, something that rarely happens in the music world. In it, J.J.’s spindly, rapid blues-guitar calligraphy wreathes the metronomic drum-machine beats, like Canned Heat in mechanized-mantra mode. It could be classified as “hick motorik,” as one writer for The Stranger put it in a 2009 feature on Cale. Even Cale’s driving songs choogle at a relatively slack pace. This friction-free, country-rock ramble was covered/homaged by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, Spiritualized, Bobby Bare, and others.

Cale’s blues songs don’t seem very brutal, but rather something with which he handles with a minimum of fuss. Nevertheless, his sentiment seems genuine and the spare architecture of tracks such as “Call The Doctor,” “Don’t Go To Strangers,” and “Crying Eyes” convey a light gravitas that appealed to Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, among many others. Cale’s intimate, gruff vocal style makes every word seem confidential and crucial. Even as he sounds as if he’s a second away from napping, Cale rivets on these blues tunes with his hushed, sandpapery tones. You can hear this to stunning effect on the unlikely single “Magnolia,” a spare, dewy ballad of exquisite beauty. The song is as evanescent as a teardrop, with Cale’s voice so full of regret it can hardly attain audibility.

But Naturally shows that Cale can also go jaunty and celebratory, too, as he does on the Dr. John-like “Woman I Love,” “Bringing It Back,” and “Nowhere To Run,” Cale’s idea of a rowdy Rolling Stones rocker, but still as laid-back as a yogi after a cup of camomile tea. And then there’s “After Midnight,” a subdued party jam that Clapt*n made famous even before J.J.’s album dropped. The subliminal funk of “After Midnight”— thanks largely to Norbert Putnam’s bass, Chuck Browning’s drums, and David Briggs’ piano—turns this classic into a boudoir-friendly slow-burner. (Grateful Dead comrade Merl Saunders covered it on Fire Up. You can read a review of that album here.)

Now let us reflect upon “Crazy Mama,” Cale’s only Top 40 hit and perhaps my fave song by him. From today’s perspective, it seems like a miracle that a tune as minimal and unobtrusive as this would chart, but those were different times. Even mainstream ears had the capacity to cherish music with subtlety in 1972. Despite its hedonistic title, “Crazy Mama” is prime hammock-lazing blues rock, with a slide-guitar solo by Mac Gayden that embodies libidinal ache as articulately as anything I’ve heard in my long life. “Crazy Mama” exemplifies the less-is-more ethos in rock.

Some artists try strenuously to reinvent themselves with every new release. Cale was completely at ease doing his own thing, with minor tweaks, decade after decade. Like the protagonist in “Call Me the Breeze,” Cale “[kept] blowing down the road… Ain’t no change in the weather/Ain’t no change in me.” So gloriously chill, that man and his music were, and the peacefulness that emanates from the latter is priceless. -Buckley Mayfield

Wendy & Bonnie “Genesis” (Skye, 1969)

The perfectly named Wendy and Bonnie Flower made one great album, Genesis, and then dispersed after Skye Records went bankrupt following its release and its producer Gary McFarland died as they were planning their sophomore LP. The Flower sisters thereby became members of the cherished one-and-done club, which includes Skip Spence, Billy Nichols, Ceyleib People, Friendsound, the United States Of America, McDonald & Giles, and Baby Huey, to name a mere handful. That Wendy & Bonnie were 18 and 15, respectively, when Genesis came out adds to the luster of their legend.

These teens obviously were extremely precocious songwriters and singers, but Genesis likely wouldn’t have ascended to its burnished status without contributions from a cast of stellar session musicians such as drummer Jim Keltner, keyboardist Mike Melvoin, and guitarist Larry Carlton. They all play their asses off for these gifted upstarts, and it’s goddamn precious to witness. Production from bossa-nova/jazz vibraphonist McFarland and label support from Skye co-owner and Latin-jazz percussionist Cal Tjader, who’d heard and loved the duo’s early demos, further bolstered the recording sessions.

Genesis busts out of the gate with “Let Yourself Go Another Time,” a seductive, low-slung rocker with the ladies’ unison vocals racing with Michael Lang or Mike Melvoin’s kozmigroove keyboard whirlwinds, like Ray Manzarek on amphetamines. Auspicious! “The Paisley Window Pane” dips 180º in the opposite direction with a delicately beautiful and morose ballad buttressed by Carlton’s languid acoustic guitar picking. Wendy and Bonnie’s intertwining vocals are exquisite, full of Karen Carpenter-esque yearning. “I Realized You” is a ballad that shifts into a featherlight psych-pop brooder somewhere between the 5th Dimension’s pensive pulchritude and Laura Nyro’s sophisticated chords. It’s yet more proof that the Flower sisters are sophisticated beyond their years. “By The Sea,” a spare yet complex ballad illuminated by ice-crystal piano coloration, was covered by Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier and sampled by Super Furry Animals.

Things pep up on “You Keep Hanging Up On My Mind,” a Margo Guryan-esque sunshine pop tune with a few clouds around the edges. During the poised, rocking coda, Carlton and bassist Randy Cierly go off on brilliant serpentine runs. The uptempo, driving psych of “It’s What’s Really Happening” approaches the sublimity of the United States Of America, with bonus gorgeous vocal harmonies. The baroque, lacily beautiful psych of “Five O’Clock In The Morning” could make the dudes in the Left Banke nod in appreciation. The understated psych of “Endless Pathway” highlights the radiance of Wendy and Bonnie’s unison vocals, but they’re just different enough to create a ghostly undercurrent. Utterly beguiling, “Children Laughing” is a swaying lullaby pitched somewhere between the Millennium and Broadcast. Genesis ends with perhaps its strongest cut, “The Winter Is Cold,” a rocker with chill-inducing, contrapuntal vocal harmonies. The song has moments of seriously groovy psychedelia, with Carlton unleashing distorted solos that recall Howard Roberts’ work with Electric Prunes circa Release Of An Oath.

I recently saw someone online selling an original pressing of Genesis for $160. Luckily, Sundazed has reissued the LP three times in the last 14 years. A record this gorgeous should never be out of print. -Buckley Mayfield

Josefus “Dead Man” (Hookah, 1970)

A human skull on a record cover usually leaves me cold, as I associate it with the sort of metal subgenres I find unappealing or the kind of edgelord industrial music for which I have no patience. For that reason, I avoided Josefus’ Dead Man for years, pre-internet. Finally, enough praise from reputable sources eroded my bias and I copped Numero Group/JR’s 2014 reissue. Ever since, the Southern-fried, hard-rock good times have been rolling at the Mayfield domicile.

The obi strip of my reissue hypes this Texas quartet as “being far ‘too psychedelic’ and skull-crushing for Houston’s International Artist label to touch.” I dunno about that, record-company guy, but Kenny Rogers’ bro Lelan did sort of blow it by not signing these sensitive hombres. I mean, Josefus were no Bubble Puppy, but come on…

The album starts with “Crazy Man,” whose midtempo, wistful boogie recalls Led Zeppelin’s “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” and is buoyed by Pete Bailey’s biker-rock soul belting. Bailey comes off as something of a Lone Star State Robert Plant (but way more vulnerable), lending his singing a higher degree of pathos than Bob’s. “Crazy Man” establishes Bailey’s habit of choking up at crucial moments, which intensifies the songs’ poignancy. On “I Need A Woman,” Josefus grind out some testosteronic, ominous blues rock in which Bailey leers in a manner that would make ZZ Top blush, if not Greetings From L.A.-era Tim Buckley. Lust never sleeps.

Dead Man‘s nadir is, perhaps surprisingly, “Gimmie Shelter” [sic]. This adequate cover only serves to spotlight how awesome the Stones’ original—and indeed, Merry Clayton’s rendition—is. Josefus simply fail to invest the song with the ominous gravitas it demands, treating it more as an opportunity to rock a party. Dudes, you went on a fool’s errand (and misspelled “Gimme”), but Mick and Keith’s accountants surely appreciated your effort. However, Josefus rebound spectacularly with the album’s greatest cut, “Country Boy.” Drummer Doug Tull’s fantastic breakbeat in the intro gives way to a killer riff that lilts with a frilly panache. Bailey wishes/laments, “I’d love to spend some time being a rich girl’s toy/Because it seems so sad to be a country boy/Ain’t nobody out here who’s on my side/I’m so ugly I gotta stay in and hide/Sweet rich darlin’ let me be your toy/Because it seems so sad to be a country boy.” Even though I’m one of the world’s most urban mofos, I can sympathize with Bailey—which is a testament to the freighted emotion of his delivery.

With its marauding riff, unpredictable, prog-ish dynamics, and Plant-like wails, “Proposition” scans as the heaviest track on the record. So it’s apt—and kind of funny—near the end when the band quotes the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.” Album-closer “Dead Man” begins with a methodical ramble, its rhythm akin to the Doors’ “Five To One” and Ibliss’ “High Life.” Ray Turner’s bass riff is a master class in strutting hypnosis. The track’s marathon length allows guitarist Dave Mitchell to flex many of his flashiest riffs and Turner to generate a relentless, low-end cascade à la the MC5’s “Black To Comm.” There’s enough exciting ebbing and flowing dynamics and showmanship here to reward the listener for the duration of its 17 minutes. When the music’s over, turn out the lights.

Original copies of Dead Man have gone for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. The only one for sale on Discogs now lists at $2,750. Pure insanity… Thankfully, reasonably priced, legit reissues shouldn’t be too hard to find. Find out once and for all why it seems so sad to be a country boy. -Buckley Mayfield

Billy Preston “Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music” (A&M, 1973)

With his inspirational presence and formidable keyboard prowess still fresh in the minds of folks who watched Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary, it seems germane to review an album by Billy Preston. The late William Everett Preston, as you may know, is the only musician who’s played with the Beatles and the Stones—except for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones. No matter your feelings on those bands, you have to respect a musician who could convince two of the biggest acts in entertainment history to request his services. Add the fact that Miles Davis named a track on Get Up With It after Preston and you have a man with certified legend status.

Aside from his stints with those biggies and other luminaries such as Little Richard, Ray Charles, and the Everly Brothers, Preston created a lot of treasurable music on his solo releases, but his heavy-handed paeans to god and Christianity can grate on non-believers’ nerves. Nevertheless, it’s worth enduring the sometimes cringeworthy lyrical sentiments to hear the dazzling music accompanying them, and Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music certainly has its share of the latter. The opening title track is a luscious soul mantra that doubles as a banally obvious thesis statement for the album, as Preston leads his band through boilerplate snippets of jazz, rock and roll, gospel, while name-checking “My Sweet Lord” by his buddy, George Harrison, which Bill covered on 1971’s Encouraging Words. Not the most auspicious start, but it gets better… much better.

Moving on, “You’re So Unique” is brash R&B with understated yet urgent propulsion, delivering Sly Stone/Stevie Wonder-esque complexity within a convivial party-jam framework. David T. Walker’s stinging guitar leads lend a freak-rock vibe to the song and Preston’s flamboyant keyboard vamps strut with trademark nonchalance. If you dig rousing gospel romps replete with massed handclaps (bolstered by Preston’s soulful, consoling pipes), “My Soul Is A Witness” will make you want to sprint around your house of worship. “Sunday Morning” (not the Velvet Underground song) possesses a bouncy rhythm akin to the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and is surprisingly buoyed by Dennis Coates’ banjo. “You Got Me For Company” is a well-crafted orchestral ballad, up there with your Nilssons, Van Dyke Parkses, Jim Webbs, and, indeed, your Paul McCartneys.

Speaking of Macca, one of the album’s better deep cuts, “Listen To The Wind” carries faint echoes of the “Blackbird” in its intro before wheeling into a soaring, Rotary Connection-like psych-soul showcase. Speaking of the Beatles, “I’m So Tired” is not the White Album tune, but rather a variation on the triumphant “Space Race” theme (more of which later), with Preston singing with utmost passion and improvisational verve. “I’m so tired of being around people who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground,” he laments, and who can’t sympathize? The keyboards ripple at absurdly high pitches, and you can imagine Dick Hyman getting jealous of Bill’s nutty tones curlicuing in the stereo field.

On a similar vibe, “Space Race” was a rare instrumental hit (#4 in the US) and one of the exemplars of ambitious ’70s funk. The keybs are practically Gershon Kingsley/Jean-Jacques Perrey-level quirky and timbrally extreme. Every second of this track is crammed with excitement and invention. I still cane this ultimate futuristic driving song and that other far-out Preston instrumental, “Outa-Space,” in DJ sets and can’t foresee ever stopping. They’re aural Ecstasy, without the inevitable serotonin depletion.

Another highlight is “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” At 3:50, it’s about half as long as Bob Dylan’s epic skewering of hypocrisy, consumerism, and bellicosity from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home. Instead of stark folk-guitar strumming, Preston generates an orchestral-funk dark storm that evokes David Axelrod and Jean-Claude Vannier while singing with a cool stoicism à la jazz hepcats Mose Allison and Ben Sidran. Billy swaps out Dylan’s stern menace and weathered ruefulness for some stained-glass testifying, in keeping with his gospel roots. Consequently, he bestows us one of the most inventive Dylan covers extant.

Honestly, Preston should have ended the album with this song, but instead he tacked on “Minuet For Me,” a short, piano-heavy classical reverie that flexes his strident virtuosity. It’s impressive, but would’ve hit harder near the record’s beginning. Whatever the case, it’s yet one more piece of evidence for Preston’s stunning skills and range. Respect. -Buckley Mayfield

Ciccone Youth “The Whitey Album” (Enigma/Blast First, 1988)

When The Whitey Album came out, many Sonic Youth fans and critics treated it as a trifling post-modern prank. And yes, it does have its share of shtick, starting with the project name and nudge-wink title. You wondered if Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley were trolling their underground-rock fan base with two Madonna covers, a karaoke take on Robert Palmer’s MTV smash “Addicted To Love,” a clever-clever homage to John Cage’s “4′ 33”,” and an embarrassing rap fiasco. But while at the time those moments dominated the discourse around The Whitey Album, the record actually contains some of the Youth’s most interesting anomalies.

Remember, the recording of The Whitey Album occurred between 1986’s EVOL and 1987’s Sister—Sonic Youth’s peak period. So even if they were just screwing around, they couldn’t not create fascinating shit. Plus, they had fIREHOSE bassist/vocalist Mike Watt in the studio with them. Back then, Watt was depressed about the tragic vehicular death of long-time Minutemen bandmate D. Boon. When Watt traveled to the East Coast with girlfriend/Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler, who was headed to Yale for an internship, he stayed with Sonic Youth for a bit and ended up recording two songs with them destined for EVOL. The Ciccone Youth side project was part of an effort to inspire Watt to start playing music again and lift him out of his funk. It worked, and in the process SY fans got a nice little curio.

As for the Madonna and Palmer covers, they inspired yuks back in the day, but did Ciccone Youth do it for the lulz or because they genuinely loved the songs? With 20/20 hindsight, I’ll say both. Another goof, the self-explanatory “Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening To Neu,” finds Gordon and Suzanne Sasic talking about managing Dinosaur Jr. while listening to “Negativland.” Near the end, there’s a short burst of grandiose noise rock with what sounds like guitar god J Mascis going the fuck off on his axe. But “Tuff Titty Rap” [insert Beavis & Butthead laugh] is the group’s nadir, with Moore “rapping” over clunky, rudimentary drum-machine beats. 40 seconds of it is too long.

Now let’s move on to the good parts that compose the majority of The Whitey Album. “G-Force” pits Kim Gordon freestyling a spoken-word story about a brash woman up for adventure against oneiric, slow-motion psychedelia with subliminally funky drum-machine beats. “Platoon II” offers more basic, funky beats, which are swathed with ice-cold guitar feedback and gently delayed klang. It’s a real low-key head-nodder that foreshadows Dälek, who are the only hip-hop crew ever to collaborate with krautrock legends Faust. “Macbeth” is rugged, ruthless funky rock that stands among Sonic Youth’s best songs. “Children Of Satan/Third Fig” excellent hypnotic rock with a pseudo-robotic beat that augments the sonorous clangor and chiming of the guitars, until a bass riff ruptures the mesmerism at song’s end. The revelation here is how damned groovy this unintentional (?) funk comes across.

Some other highlights include “Moby-Dik,” a minute of Dieter Moebius-like electronic weirdness; “March Of The Ciccone Robots,” which sounds like a cover of PiL’s “Chant” with a ton of sludge caked on it and powered by pummeling, quasi-techno beats; and “Making The Nature Scene,” a scouring, beat-heavy rework of a harrowing Confusion Is Sex song that sounds like Big Stick.

So, look beyond the gimmicks and you have a fascinating oddity from an underground band who, when The Whitey Album received its delayed release, were ascending to alt-rock-mainstream success. More than 30 years later, the record stands out not as wry meta-commentary, but as a brilliant lark/tangent in Sonic Youth’s sprawling catalog. -Buckley Mayfield

Nazz “Nazz” (SGC, 1968)

Look at that cover—four heads floating in inky darkness—and try to distinguish the individuals, besides leader Todd Rundgren. Damn near impossible. That’s because Nazz were going for a unified look in haircuts, clothes, and, it seems, even facial features. This Philadelphia quartet basically started in the mid ’60s as a boy band geared for the teen-pandering rags of the time. But the songs on their debut LP were anything but LCD fluff. On the contrary, Nazz is chockablock with stunners of varying styles. Right here, the 19-year-old Todd established his prodigy bona fides with some of the most dazzling work of his long and idiosyncratic career.

Rundgren’s genius smacks you upside the noggin from the first seconds of lead-off song “Open My Eyes.” When I first heard this on the radio as a teenager, I was in a hypnagogic state; I thought it was a cover version of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” whose weird, supercharged energy had sent the song whirling off its axis. It’s simply one of the most exciting specimens of garage-psych ever waxed. The swerving rhythm, the mind-melting bass and guitar riffs careening around the bend, the handclaps, the cymbal splashes, the flanged vocals on “eyes” and “mind,” Rundgren’s sizzling guitar solo—it’s all too much, and yet you never want it to end. If Nazz had only recorded “Open My Eyes,” they’d still be all-time legends. And yet it only peaked at #112 in the singles chart. I’ve heard this song over 100 times, and each new listen turns me into a hyper ball of hyperbolics.

Despite such a blazing start, the album’s remaining tracks don’t at all seem anti-climactic. I think people underestimate how heavy Nazz were, because “Back Of Your Mind” finds them crafting hooky hard rock with a proto-grunge riff that Mudhoney surely lifted over 20 years later… and about which Blue Cheer must’ve felt jealous in real time, assuming they heard it. Another case in point is “Wildwood Blues,” a proto-glam strut that overtakes the titular blues, like some strange melding of Cream with prime-time Slade, years before the latter rose to prominence. I can imagine the freakout crescendo coda making a young Tony Iommi shout “Cor blimey!” Nazz‘s third-best song on the album, “She’s Goin’ Down,” is another proto-grunge adrenaline-burner with a killer chorus that foreshadows power-poppers Shoes. The action packed into its five minutes is off the charts (literally): wicked zig-zagging dynamics, freewheeling guitar solo, flowery and fiery prog keyboard action, euphoric vocal harmonies, Blue Cheer-like guitar/bass detonation, and a robust drum solo, to boot. The second-best song here, “When I Get My Plane,” aptly soars during the chorus, with the word “plane” extended and falsetto’d to dazzling effect. The dynamics are ingenious, with the build up to the chorus perfectly engineered for optimal vertiginous splendor. Plus, the “ba ba ba”s and “la la la”s are to die for.

Of course, Nazz had a tender, mellower side, too, as anyone who’s heard their most popular single, “Hello It’s Me,” knows. “See What You Can Be” offers complexly harmonic pop that could segue relatively smoothly with a Mamas & The Papas or Turtles deep cut, while “If That’s The Way You Feel” is a sumptuous ballad that strives for a Left Banke baroqueness, but isn’t quite as melodically inviting or subtle as that group. The strings bear a harshness and overbearing desire to knock you out with emotion, although the vocal lead and harmonies are luscious. As for “Hello It’s Me,” I prefer this version over the lusher, more MOR-radio-friendly one Todd issued on his 1972 solo album, Something/Anything? Nazz’s rendition is a lovely, spare ballad bolstered by Rundgren’s crucial vibraphone accents, gorgeous vocal layering, and heart-melting sincerity. “It’s important to me to know that you know you are free/’Cause I’d never want to make you change for me” is a pretty mature and reasonable sentiment for a 19-year-old male songwriter.

In his liner notes, Jon Landau observed, “To listen to the Nazz is to understand immediately what rock and roll is all about. There is an exhilaration and joyfulness to what they are doing which expresses completely the attitude that rock has always sought to express. They play with such finesse and solidity, it amazes me that anything can be so simple yet so complex at one and the same time.” I don’t often agree with a Rolling Stone writer, but Landau nailed it. -Buckley Mayfield

High Rise “High Rise II” (PSF, 1986)

Japan has produced a fair number of musical units who go to sonic extremes that you rarely hear in the West. To name just a handful, Merzbow, Massona, Boredoms, Fumiya Tanaka, and even Teengenerate boast catalogs that often make their Anglo-American counterparts seem a tad restrained. High Rise, too, occupy a lofty place in the pantheon of tinnitus-inducing terrorizers from the Land Of The Rising Sun. Their sophomore full-length, II, pushes rock to a precipice of oblivion where few have gone, straining song form to near-bursting point and going so far into the red that they push the needle into oxblood on the VU meter. It’s a helluva thing.

The 53-second opener “Cycle Goddess” offers a revved-up, raucous appetizer to tip you off to the ramalama banquet ahead. The next song, “Turn You Cry,” could almost be an early Ramones or Clash tune; this is what passes for a radio song in High Rise land. Bassist Asahito Nanjo’s vulnerable, slightly reverbed vocal gets buried beneath a squealing, pummeling rock avalanche that sounds like guitarist Munehiro Narita has two more axmeisters supplementing his barbed-wire wall of rococo squealing and metallic sheets of clangor. Dr. Euro’s wrecking ball drums miraculously punch their way through the ultra-thick guitar/bass lava flow. Hard to believe only three humans are creating this monstrous sound.

The dense, adrenalized rock of “Cotton Top” roils in the tradition of MC5’s “Black To Comm,” Spacemen 3’s “Revolution,” the Stooges’ “L.A. Blues,” and Blue Cheer’s “Parchment Farm.” Rolling and tumbling relentlessly toward a termination station, “Cotton Top” is noisy hard rock distilled to a lethal essence. You know the drill, but you’ve never felt it this hard and this intensely. “Last Rites” ups the ante yet again, its bulging, aggressive rock making you feel as if you’re on top of the world, even as High Rise are intent on blowing it up. Narita proves himself a guitar guerrilla, spraying bullets and throwing flames in every direction at once, mowing down apathy and inertia with killer instincts. He crams in more ideas per minute than most guitarists do over a full LP.

Even though it’s over 13 minutes long, “Pop Sicle” is the album’s single, a quasi-’60s-style beat song that’s as hooky as anything on Jesus And Mary Chain’s Psychocandy and almost as blurred and riddled with feedback and fuzz. High Rise knew they’d hit on a seductive riff here, and they wring every last drop of psychedelic-groove juice out of it. “Pop Sicle” accelerates in the second half until your eyes are pinwheeling in their sockets and your ear drums are pulsating at 180 bpms. The song’s a psychedelic speed freak apotheosis and makes nearly everything else in the rock canon seem earthbound and moribund.

In 2018, Black Editions did a beautiful remixed and remastered vinyl reissue of II. Even that may be hard to score now, but you should put in the effort. Streaming is not the proper way to absorb High Rise’s shock tactics. -Buckley Mayfield

Love Battery “Dayglo” (Sub Pop, 1992)

Love Battery are the semi-forgotten men of Seattle’s early-’90s rock explosion. And that’s not right. Too psychedelic for grunge purists despite having Sub Pop’s imprimatur and too grunge-y for psych-rock purists despite cutting a righteous cover of Pink Floyd’s “Ibiza Bar,” Love Battery never caught on like some of their Emerald City brethren: Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, etc. But it was not for lack of quality songs and albums. Sometimes shit just doesn’t break for a band—even with major-label backing, which they received from PolyGram subsidiary Atlas after departing Sub Pop. (/sarcasm)

But Love Battery—who were named after a Buzzcocks song off 1978’s Another Music In A Different Kitchen, although they don’t really sound like that British pop-punk group—released at least one dynamite full-length: Dayglo. Now tragically out of print on both vinyl and CD (prices for the latter are outrageous), Dayglo holds its own with the strongest early-era Sub Pop releases: Bleach, Prison, Superfuzz Bigmuff, Pigeonhed, Severe Exposure, etc.

Right away on “Out Of Focus,” Love Battery establish the bossness of their twin-guitar attack, with Kevin Whitworth and Ron Nine’s radiant fuzz tones intertwining in perfect disharmony. The song moves with a juggernaut stateliness, exuding psychedelic vibes that sting rather than mollify. Nine’s exasperated vocals are like a less abrasive cousin to Kurt Cobain’s. He even had the Nirvana frontman’s blond hair, making Love Battery’s lack of commercial success seem like a cruel conspiracy. I mean, listen to “Foot,” with its speedy, surging rock geared to put said appendage to the pedal to the (heady) metal. More exhilarating than “Rusty Cage” and “Even Flow” combined, it should have been a hit, but maybe it was too exciting for radio. “Damaged” wows with a woozy slide guitar motif that leads into a riff/chord progression that alludes to Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine,” and the Whitworth/Nine guitar army proves it’s just as mighty as that of Mark Arm/Steve Turner.

Talk about a strong opening triptych. But then “See Your Mind” raises the bar even higher. It’s pure fucking adrenaline, mercurial, revved-up biker rock with liquid acid in its gas tank. The way Nine and the band sing “mind” here will blow yours. By contrast, “Side (With You)” is a massive, lurching power ballad on which Whitworth peels off a wonderfully serpentine solo. Things return to uptempo fireworks with “Cool School (Trane Of Thought),” a slamming, turbulent tribute to jazz and Beatniks that sounds closer to James Blood Ulmer playing Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” than to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, or Charlie Parker, all of whom are name-checked on this bad boy. The vicious coda will flip your wig and then incinerate it. “Sometimes” and “23 Modern Stories” prove that even Love Battery’s ballads hit with a bludgeoning beauty and a slurring majesty. “Blonde” boasts fantastic, swerving dynamics and melismatic guitar riffs with horn-like tones. It’s a real tour de force of their dueling guitar alchemy. By album’s end, you realize why Dayglo is an apt title; because this record stood out from Seattle’s grunge status quo, soaring above its muddy jams purling in the garden of sound.

The main goal of this review is to spur a quality label to reissue Dayglo on a physical format, with liner notes, previously unseen photos, bonus tracks… the whole (Ron) Nine. It’s too good and important to be relegated to the streaming services. Jonathan Poneman, white courtesy telephone… -Buckley Mayfield

Nancy Sinatra “Boots” (Reprise, 1966)

It must’ve been great to be a young Nancy Sinatra. She had father Frank’s DNA, the gilded singer’s music-biz connections, and an easy in with his record label, Reprise. On the other hand, it must’ve been awful to be a young Nancy Sinatra. She had to perform in the shadow of the 20th century’s most celebrated vocalist, an entertainer whose accomplishments she could never come close to matching. And she was a woman trying to assert a degree of autonomy in an industry and an era not conducive for female artists to do so.

Despite all of those hindrances, Nancy Sinatra carved out a nice little niche for herself as a quasi-kitsch pop-cult icon who parlayed a brief but brilliant creative partnership with Lee Hazlewood into at least three all-time classic songs—two of which are “Some Velvet Morning” and “Sand.” Sinatra’s 1966 debut album contains the other tune and, woman oh woman, has she ever gotten a lot of mileage out of those walkin’ boots. More on that later.

With the wily composer/producer Hazlewood, Sinatra transitioned out of her bubblegum image into something more sophisticated. Her debut album, which peaked at #5 in the US, was produced by Hazlewood and arranged by Billy Strange. It starts unpromisingly with “As Tears Go By,” the Andrew Loog Oldham-Jagger-Richards ballad. Done as a bossa nova with persistent, mellow shakers and rimshots as percussion, “Tears” proves that lachrymose melancholy is not Nancy’s best mode, although she really nailed it with her interpretation of Dolly Parton’s “Down From Dover” on Nancy & Lee.

Day Tripper,” the first of two Beatles covers here, is Vegas-y but not annoying about it, with horns and women backing vocalists singing “ba da ba ba” in place of the famous guitar riff. The drums stomp like Motown’s Funk Brothers on steroids and I’m guessing Lee decided to sneak in the “Boots” bass line. When DJing, I like to follow this with Hazlewood’s “In Our Time,” which was his sly homage to “Day Tripper.” (Nancy did “In Our Time,” too, but with less pizzazz than Lee.) The other Beatles cut is “Run For Your Life.” Sinatra reverses genders on Lennon’s problematic, stalker-ish rocker from Rubber Soul as the musicians give it a proto-Austin Powers-esque treatment: brash horn charts, swinging piano, twanging guitar. Sinatra emphasizes every “little boy” with withering disdain, and that took ovaries at a time when the Beatles were indisputable gods.

The second best Hazlewood song on the record, “I Move Around” is one of Lee’s, uh, most moving songs. The backing “ooh”s and “ah”s are to swoon for and though the expensive session-player sheen that glazes these songs suggests a desire to win over mid-’60s squares, it can’t dim the song’s poignancy. Lee’s “So Long, Babe” is swanky country rock with a deceptive middle finger raised. You can imagine Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval drawing deep inspiration from this. A cover of the Knickerbockers’ sassy Nuggets standard “Lies” fits snugly in Sinatra’s wheelhouse, with its wronged romantic partner perspective. However, the backing vocals verge on Chipmunks-level hilarity.

And now for “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” Reviewing this song is like critiquing Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In logo or Johnny Carson’s nicotine chuckle or Richard Nixon’s jowls. It’s so ingrained in American Boomer consciousness that describing it seems superfluous—and that’s exactly why I’m writing about it. It’s music that makes the lizard brain wiggle, thanks largely to that descending, twangy double-bass line. “Boots” is perhaps the most seductive anthem of vengeance ever penned, and Sinatra owns it, her take-no-shit, deadpan delivery a distaff simulacrum of Hazlewood’s. The “Boots” single deservedly sold over a million copies.

Interestingly, the original plan was for Hazlewood to release “Boots” himself, but Sinatra suggested that she sing it to change the power dynamic to a vengeful woman, which at the time had a more radical charge than vice versa. She was so right. (Lee later did it, too, because those expensive vices of his weren’t going to pay for themselves.) “Boots” has been covered dozens of times, including by the Supremes, Megadeth, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Crispin Glover. And just by reading the title, you’ll have the song stuck in your head for hours. You’re welcome.

Light In The Attic Records recently kicked off a Nancy Sinatra reissue campaign by releasing the great 2xLP comp, Start Walkin’ 1965-1976. -Buckley Mayfield

Loop “The World In Your Eyes” (Head, 1987)

Loop’s heyday was brief (1987-1990), but it burned intensely. Over three studio albums, 11 singles and EPs, and a few compilations, the British group—who were named after an obscure Velvet Underground track—combined the best qualities of indomitable rock icons the Stooges and Hawkwind. (Many listeners and critics in the ’80s accused Loop of ripping off Spacemen 3, but the latter were such blatant emulators of older rock legends that the claim strikes me as absurd. Both Loop and Spacemen 3 siphoned inspiration from similar unimpeachable sources and possessed similar sonic aesthetics, so no wonder their music bore close resemblances. It was not at all hard for me to embrace both artists with conflict-free gusto.)

Why am I reviewing The World In Your Eyes—a comp of early singles that later grew to an odds-and-ends triple CD release in 2009—instead of a studio album proper? Because it most impressively represents Loop’s strengths and range and it contains my favorite track by them: “Burning World.” They are the rare band whose every release is worth copping, though, so if you see anything bearing that wavy Loop logo, grab it.

The World In Your Eyes begins with Loop’s weakest track, “16 Dreams,” whose linear, fuzz-and-grind guitar/bass attack (Suicide-al throb transposed to Neanderthal rock dynamics) is the closest they came to the C86 indie-rock aesthetic that still lingered in Britain then. John Wills—who later formed the sporadically great Hair And Skin Trading Co. with Loop bassist Neil Mackay—brings the boxiest drum sound ever, and it’s not right (Stooges reference intended) for Loop. Better is “Head On”’s methodical, serpentine rock—on the prowl like Iggy’s younger, less confident brother. Bandleader Robert Hampson lets off a wonderfully elastic wah-wah guitar solo, but again, the 4-square beats sound as if they’re coming from a lethargic drum machine.

The aforementioned “Burning World” slows everything the fuck down to an opiated plod and piles stacks and stacks of delayed and phased guitars over tambourine-enhanced beats that clomp out a laggard tempo. Mackay’s bass line is sly seduction itself, bobbing elegantly eastward. The band leverage a lysergic, languorous whorl that rhymes perfectly with Opal’s “Soul Giver.” Nine minutes is just a tease for the gilded eternity that this blissfully apocalyptic song betokens. Hard to follow that, but Loop made their cover of Suicide’s “Rocket USA” even more ominous than the original through the armada-of-wasps buzz that the guitars and bass generate. Hampson & co. were utterly in synch with Alan Vega and Martin Rev’s unstoppable monomania, so it was no surprise they took a stab at this song. (Side note: Loop had fantastic taste in covers: Can’s “Mother Sky,” Pop Group’s “Thief Of Fire,” Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” Godflesh’s “Like Rats”; you can hear ’em all on that triple-disc comp mentioned earlier.)

With “Spinning (Parts 1 & 2),” Loop really hit their primal-rocking stride. One guitar drones and one emits solar flare solos over the memorably buoyant bass line and brute, Klaus Dinger-esque Apache beat. Now they wanna be Iggy’s dogs. “Deep Hit” is the most Spacemen 3-like song here, a sexy, sloping head-nodder that induces total understanding of the raptures of heroin without ever having to inject it. I could wander pleasurably through all of eternity amid these shivering, fuzzed-out guitars that are funhouse-mirrored to heaven and back. “I’ll Take You There” is not the Staple Singers song, but rather a pinwheeling orb of caustic guitar radiation that hovers with malevolent intent. The insistent maracas action seems to be lifted from Steve Reich’s Four Organs, which I appreciate.

Brittle Head Girl” is essentially a tribute to Faust’s “Jennifer,” its see-sawing bass line and woozy guitar shimmy complementing Hampson’s earnest paean to a… brittle head girl. It was the closest Loop ever came to writing a pop song (even if “Black Sun” was their “Black Hole Sun”), but dense, regressive radio programmers weren’t ready for such hushed sublimity.

As their name implies, Loop were all about the trance-inducing power of repetition. They blew out the minimalist exoskeletons of their songs to firmament-filling dimensions, troweling on the guitar effects, generating the most brutal yet mind-expanding textures, and Moebius-stripping themselves—and you—into deep, asteroidal space. -Buckley Mayfield

Meat Puppets “Up On The Sun” (SST, 1985)

Kurt Cobain’s favorite Meat Puppets album was II. Obviously. And it’s not hard to understand why Nirvana covered three songs off of it (“Plateau,” “Lake Of Fire,” and “Oh, Me”). Its combo of poignant, desert-fried mysticism and virtuoso, Tasmanian Devil punk packed a distinctive punch—especially for 1984. As great as II is, though, I like Meat Puppets’ follow-up even more.

When Up On The Sun tumbled off the SST Records conveyor belt of awesomeness in 1985, it hit fans like a solar flare. Curt Kirkwood (guitar), Cris Kirkwood (bass), and Derrick Bostrom (drums) had taken another great leap forward, leaving behind their punk roots for a bizarre agglomeration of psychedelia, country/bluegrass, and prog rock. I’m happy to report that Up On The Sun still blazes as hot as it did over 35 years ago. Either that or I’m stuck in my 23-year-old mindset. Anyway

The opening title track finds Curt in mellow stoner sage vocal mode (think Jerry Garcia crossed with Steve Miller) as the group slouch into a Grateful Dead-like, implied-funk amble. Then the buoyant chorus shocks you into a body-wide alertness, as if you’ve actually found yourself on the titular star. Helluva way to begin your best album. The intro to “Maiden’s Milk” barges in with a Zappa-esque motif of absurdly frilly prog-jazzitude, then the song shifts to a swift, Leo Kottke-esque bluegrass romp, with bonus chipper whistles. Here, we become aware that Curt switches into different styles and tones with an unparalleled, speedy nonchalance that would make Frank’s mustache curl with envy.

The album’s greatest achievement, “Away” recalls both the Police’s “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” and the Feelies’ “Away” (what are the odds?). There’s a faint undercurrent of swerving, Möbius-strip insistence in Curt’s guitar riff that speaks of Afrobeat knowledge, and the track feels as if it’s going to fly right out of the grooves into that fiery orb in the sky. The mercurial country funk of “Animal Kingdom” is awash with wonder about said domain, and the bridge features Cris’ bass mimicking noises of imaginary creatures. Nice!

Another highlight is “Swimming Ground,” which combines head-spinning country-rock euphoria and touching nostalgia for a childhood idyll. It’s as if the Puppets spiked the concept of “Americana” with the strongest amphetamines and LSD—both of which it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine the band consuming in those heady days. “Buckethead” is not a tribute to the Guns N’ Roses guitarist, as he didn’t hit public consciousness till the early ’90s, but the fleet, fluttering filigrees Curt peels off here would surely make him doff his KFC container in respect. The song sounds as if Fear Of Music-era Talking Heads had lost their uptightness and put pedal to the metal. It gives quirkiness a good name.

Up On The Sun‘s remaining five songs offer nonstop excitement. “Enchanted Porkfist” is a clunky pun, but this fast and furious instrumental zooms and curlicues like an American Southwestern Gentle Giant. It’s a new breed of prog rock in which unpredictable tempo changes and virtuosity sound as natural as getting a sunburn in Arizona, Meat Puppets’ home base. Throughout, Curt flaunts superhuman reflexes yet an unbelievably gentle touch that enables him to generate riffs that zip by at an astonishing clip while also sounding velvety, twinkly, and pliable—it really is miraculous, like the Dead’s “Dark Star” at 78rpm. “Creator” abounds with Curt’s faux-wise gobbledygook about deities—which is just as valid as any “good book”’s gobbledygook, and it boasts the advantage of rocking way harder than the Bible or Koran.

Every Meat Puppets release after Up On The Sun receded farther away from its unprecedented incandescence, and that’s okay. Cobain and company knew that trying cover anything on it would be a fool’s errand, because the songs here are too dauntingly sui generis. You have to know your limitations. -Buckley Mayfield