Sunday, November 30, 2008

Faxed Head - The Four Freshmen

(Japan Overseas, 1996)

Shucks, one more Faxed Head 7” to review, and this one’s a knee-slapper, hoo boy! The A side is a tribute of sorts to the Four Freshmen, a drug-addled love letter to the famed vocal group that drops samples of horn-kissed harmony goodness from that band into Faxed Head’s comically sludgy grind. The sense of loss and disappointment is palpable as the vocalist notes that, when he attended the group’s Reno concert in the early ’90s, there was “only one Freshman left / The others had quit and died” – who sez goof-metal can’t be moving? On the other side, “Heavy Metal Cookie Cutter” is the standard metal-plus-electronics schtick, but it has tuff-guy-in-the-kitchen lyrics that stand proud next to anything else the band – or even Zip Code Rapists – released. Overall, this is one of the better Faxed Head records, and, as an Asian import, a swell reminder of their head-scratchin’ popularity in Japan. (Speaking of which, that new “live in Osaka” DVD, which also features coveted footage of rival act The Bon Larvis Band, currently tops my Christmas list.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Faxed Head - Necrogenometry EP

(Amarillo, 1993)

It’s a more musically “together” Faxed Head this time around, with mucho-macho metal vocals and prominent electronic scree that occasionally sounds like it might be a ghastly approximation of a bagpipe. The lyrics remain right-on in their violent stoopidity (“Pantera takes the stage / The girls, the coke, the rage / I’m shifting my weight around / I have 20 pounds of shit stored up / But these people and I are one / Rockin’ together / I’m uncomfortable but free!”), but the relatively tighter playing sacrifices some of the yuks, and the total package just isn’t as conceptually delightful as the “Coalinga” single. The turntable-less curious can investigate both records – plus more more more! – on the Uncomfortable But Free compilation, at which point they’ll admit that I’m right on all counts.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Faxed Head - Show Pride In Coalinga

(Coalinga, 1993)

Amarillo Records’ contribution to (and send-up of) the world of death metal, Faxed Head is a costume band with one of the best backstories in town: A group of depressed teens is left mentally and physically ruined after a botched shotgun-suicide pact, and while rehabilitating they form a band as a therapeutic/inspirational exercise. Decked out in masks to cover their disfigured faces, they play fast, ugly metal and growl about civic pride, drug abuse, and Al Gore. This single, a tribute to the group’s hometown, comes packaged with a hilarious letter from the mayor and a sticker outlining the city’s history – which also announces that the record is brought to you courtesy of the Coalinga Area Chamber of Commerce and Taco Bell, Burger King, BP Service Station, Chevron Food Mart, Coalinga Sporting Goods, Texaco Service Station, Motel 6 of Coalinga, and the Coalinga Inn. “Show Pride in Coalinga” rather innovatively mixes a pep-squad cheer with ridiculous shit-thrash, while the semi-competent, speedy “The Colors of Coalinga” is overlaid with random explosions of brutal electronic noise. The choked, guttural vocals are tough to make out, but there are some lyrical doozies here: “In spring, at Burger King / They put up orange banners / In December they put up red / In their parking lot I shot myself / As I bled into my can of glue / I felt a communion with my hometown.” As with many of the projects coming out of the larger Amarillo camp, Trey Spruance, Brandan Kearney, and Gregg Turkington are all involved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Favourite Sons - No One Ever Dies Young

(GSL, 2005)

Favourite Sons exists as something of a supergroup in my mind, as the lineup consists of Ken Griffin from Rollerskate Skinny backed by most of Aspera Ad Astra. Both source bands have been personal top-shelfers for a long time, and Aspera’s best period (the Insound Tour Support EP, TigerStyle split with the Lilys, and Sugar & Feathered album) showed that those guys were themselves big fans of Rollerskate Skinny’s two mid-’90s LPs, records that combined the huge melodies of Jones-era Flaming Lips with the sonic maximalism of My Bloody Valentine. The Favourite Sons don’t wander too far from those roots on this first single, though the dizzying layers of sound get peeled back a little for a more streamlined rock sound that emphasizes punchy drums and Griffin’s commanding lead vocal. And while parts of the subsequent Down Beside Your Beauty do indeed get a shade too rawk-y for me at the expense of the shoegaze/weird-out elements, the band’s loopy songwriting smarts are firing full-on with this early stab at “No One Ever Dies Young,” a driving, shoulda-been hit that flips easily between jagged and blissed out in a doggone AOK synthesis of pop, dreamcore, semi-punkiness, and basic r’n’r. Hear it before death, or feel like a chump as the worms get at you; this as good as such things get. No kiddin’. “Pistols and Girls,” however, appearing here in what may be demo form, lacks the creepy psychedelic doominess of the album version and suffers for it; it’s messy, third-tier material in this state and hardly shows any glimmer of what the band would later whip it into.

Inconveniently, this single was made available only through GSL’s “Special 12” singles series, which had to be bought online – expensively – as either a set or a half-set. Since the label’s shuttering in 2007 I’m not too sure where one would come by the record, so be sure to keep them fingers crossed as you paw through the used bins, if such a thing is physically possible. Betcha it isn’t!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Faust - Faust Party 3 Extracts #2

(Recommended, 1980)

During Faust’s retirement period, outtakes from the early ’70s trickled out on a series of generally interesting EPs and LPs released by the Recommended label. This hand-colored and hand-stamped 7” is one of the earliest, and it shows off the band’s dual tendencies of either pounding a melody/riff into the ground or absolutely refusing to stay in the same place musically for more than a few instants. “Extract 2” (also called “J’ai Mal Aux Dents”) is the same acoustic guitar, drum part, and vocal chant repeated for seven minutes, with heavy waves of distortion and narration weaving in and out of the song. Hypnotic, catchy, and rhythmically light on its feet, it would have fit well on the relatively accessible So Far or Faust IV. A bit closer to the hyperactive cut-up styles of the band’s first and third albums, “Extract 6” (a.k.a. “Lieber Herr Deutschland”) begins with a field recording of a student protest, explodes into a freeform freakout from which a stoner-Kraut groove emerges, gets chopped apart in a brief tape-manipulation section, and then closes with a Floyd-style relaxo-jam. At under five minutes, it’s a maddening simulation of being stuck in a car with a compulsive radio-knob spinner. Pieces like this work better when stretched over a full album, as on the debut LP, but, even if it is frustrating to hear them presented in collage form, the individual elements of “Extract 6” are at least interesting glimpses at studio sketches.

This material, and all of the label’s companion releases, ended up (sometimes with new titles) on the five-disc Wumme Years box set in 2000, by which time Faust was again putting out new, still-unclassifiable records. Many of those – particularly You Know FaUSt, Faust Wakes Nosferatu, Ravvivando, and the untitled “gold” album – stand up surprisingly well next to the original lineup’s work and make for good supplements to the must-have box.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fat Worm Of Error - Feelin' Fine

(Yeay, 2003)

Man is it frosty inside my apartment. And whyzat? Aha! Because my landlord, forgetting that it’s mid-November, hasn’t gotten ’round to turning on the building’s heat quite yet. Perhaps tonight’s snowfall will remind him – stay tuned! But, in honor of this single’s title, I’m flipping the old bird to the elements and still “FEELIN’ FINE” right now, bundled as I am in my $1.99 Street Stylez sweats, trusty bathrobe, and a pair of woolly slippers better described as “booties.” Roasty toasty! It’s like I always say to friends and strangers: might as well be comfortable in a, like, bodily sorta way while listening to Fat Worm of Error, cuz your EARS are sure gonna get yanked around in a manner not so gentle. Ho ho?? This is freewheeling clatter-crash at its extremiest, with extra studio-fuck manipulation steamshoveled on top to further de-rockify things. The blurps and urps of the costumed singerlady offer the closest hints of underlying structural semi-sanity, but instrumentally, everything handy seems to be getting abused with top force at, for the most part, random – the sound of noizeboyz getting thrown down the stairs, the breaking of eggs before the omelet. Meaning, uh, it’s a fun and unsettling record for all seasons, to be sure. Please note that the dancers in the crowd might want to ease into FWOE’s universe with drummer Neil’s unbeatable dubtown crushers, released solo under the name Bromp Treb.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Julian Fane - Special Forces Promo

(Planet Mu, 2004)

Planet Mu shipped this 7” as a limited, not-for-sale promo pushing Julian Fane’s first record, Special Forces, and I, as the warehouse boy for the label’s American distributor at the time, dutifully slipped a few copies into each big mailing over the course of that summer (so what’d YOU think of it, Revolver, Carrot Top, Caroline, and etc.?). I also “slipped” one into my own pocket, of course, and listening to it now, four years later, I remain impressed by the warm, Caribou-like, one-man beat-psychedelia that Fane pulls. “Safety Man” swipes Sigur Ros’ cooing falsetto for maximum creepy-crawliness, while non-album rarity “Joyce Lang” is startling in its resemblance to a glitchy Kid A outtake. As software psych goes, it’s surprisingly human and accessible; the flesh-n-bones aspect hasn’t been killed off by tech obsession. I’d recommend the full album over the promo single, obviously, but the decent B-side certainly deserves to be heard by those who generally dig Fane’s work. Worth tracking down on the cheap, so hop to it if you’ve got both legs.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Family Fodder - Playing Golf (With My Flesh Crawling)

(Parole/Fresh, 1979)

Cheeky UK/French artoids with a strong fondness for percussion and stronger attraction to the bizarre. Even if the band’s debut, “Playing Golf (With My Flesh Crawling),” isn’t a classic on the level of subsequent Dominique Levillain-sung LSD-dub-punkers like “Debbie Harry” or “Savoir Faire,” the chanting gnomes, dark/surreal lyrics, and unpredictable synth abuse that make up the song give a decent sense of where Family Fodder was coming from. Just as freaked lyrically and choppy musically as Barrett’s ultimate Floydian weird-out, this one is essentially “Scream Thy Last Scream” rethunk for the late ’70s. “My Baby Takes Valium,” overtly jokey and cheerfully bloop-bloopy, sounds like a Talking Heads novelty record: obviously not a good thing at all. Still, the single remains well worth having for the A-side.

Even today, those original discs are surprisingly cheap when they turn up (why haven’t collectors glommed onto this stuff?), but those interested in efficiency should note that most of the best songs are crammed onto an out-of-print Dark Beloved Cloud comp and a more comprehensive double CD from Jungle.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Harold Faltermeyer - Axel F Theme

(MCA, 1985)

So… apparently I own “Axel F Theme.” Far as I can remember – and there’s some foggin’ in my noggin what with the passage of time – I picked this up as part of a large box of 7”s that had been discarded in the lobby of my apartment building when I was a senior in college. Well! Nice thinkin’, younger me, because now, years later, I can slip into my Kmart robe and hear Kool Keyboard Kat Harold Faltermeyer give his synthy all on this wannabe-Moroder soundtrack jive whenever I please. Antiseptic cocaine funk for taste-free sleazebags everywhere, the A-side remains a classic with both the braindead and mall-display keyboard autoplay-demos alike. Yes, truly it stinks, friends, but let’s accentuate the positives and note that there’s at least some catchy fake clave on B-side “Shoot Out,” and of course we must grant that no one who ever hears that stupid, funky synth hook on “Axel F” is ever going to dislodge it from their brain region. Ever.

Damn you, Eddie Murphy! Not even the pleasures of Norbit or Pluto Nash will let me forgive you for this Beverly Hills Cop soundtracking travesty! Harumph.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jad Fair - In A Haunted House

(Derivative, 1995)

Skinnyboy Jad nerds it up vocally with some retro-suits from Shadowy Men On a Shadowy Planet, singing dud Halloween lyrics over semi-meaty old-timey tom-heavy instro-blugh. OK. Sure. B’s a buncha un-song ghost sounds a whoooo-in’ and a-howlin’ and a-screamin’, but gosh, I heard the same shit while trick-or-treating back in the ’80s, and don’t need to re-hear it now minus the miniature Milky Ways and Three Musketeers. Record’s definitely Not Cute. That Jad was always a Forced Exposure fave, yeah, but then again they also dug that clown Dredd Foole for years, so take any such rec with a poopload o’ saltiness.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fablefactory - Fowell Byrd

(Uncomfortable Chair Co., 1997)

Waitin’, waitin’, waitin’ for my Papa John’s pizza to arrive. Doodly doodly doo, I’m just waitin’ for that pizza to make it to my mouth. Hum. Hum. Hum da dum hum. (END OF SONG.) Yes, life sure is good when you’re waiting for some tasty pizza and singing a song to yourself about it. Reckon those PRICKS in Fablefactory are just as whimsical as I, for here they are with a concept record about the life and death of wing’d things spread over a MERE 7”!! The music’s the kind of wobbly, 4-track-y, fuzz-loaded psychpop that the Elephant 6ers built their reps on, with – hang on, pizza’s here.

Boy. I don’t know exactly who the individual was who came up with the idea of offering miniature tubs of butter for customers to POUR ONTO THEIR PIZZA, but that person deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor. None more tasty. None. Thank you, Papa John, wherever you are. Now I am fat.

But as I was saying: the music’s about what you’d expect from the E6 camp in the ’90s, though the lyrics veer a little too far into the cutesy lane for me to handle. Like: “You make me feel like an idiot, bumble bee / A woodywoody pecker picking pickled peppers over me.” Gnash, o teeth! Grind, too! Side two is stonger overall, with its dark melodicism and stronger lyrics, sounding much like the excellent records Elf Power was releasing at the time, and is perhaps good enough to nudge the record just over the E6 par line. Not a bad effort at all. I’d maybe sell/trade my fifth-born for a copy of this??

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Experimental Audio Research - Data Rape (Part 9)

(Earworm, 1999)

“Data Rape (Part 9)” is, you guessed it, a companion to the Data Rape album, and Sonic Boom uses his banks of modified Speak & Spells to create chattering, insectile noises over a machinelike throb. Alienating and distinctly unpleasant; soundtrack to a bad hell-trip. Furthering the scam is the non-audio side B, which is your standard monsters-chasing-each-other Savage Pencil etching… Aw yeh, and KILL YOURSELF NOW if you forget to nab the “special” limited edition, which comes wrapped in a blue outer sleeve. Are you doing it? Are you killing yourself? Wheeeeeeeee!

On that upbeat note, I’ll mention that I’ve been reviewing these crazy 7”s for exactly one year now. So color me thrilled! Thrilled in a blue outer sleeve!

Experimental Audio Research - Transistor Music

(Earworm, 1998)

Releases by Experimental Audio Research tend to deliver what the group name implies, as Sonic Boom and a rotating cast of friends screw around with various electronics in a non-pop, non-“song” context. Unfortunately, with the exception of some early drone-oriented discs, these recordings come across as far more interesting to create than to listen to, a problem that worsened as the ’90s dragged on. The “Transistor Music” single is all Sonic Boom (credited with E.M.S. Synthi VCS 3 & AKS, Serge Modular Music System, OSCar & Custom Human Voice Synthesizer), who produces layered whooshes, whirs, and voop-voop-voops in a chilly, Doctor Who-esque spacescape that’s admirable for its ambition, but not a whole lotta fun coming through the hi-fi. A much more intriguing failure is the near-contemporaneous Forever Alien album (released as Spectrum), which marries EAR’s electronic fiddling to semi-traditional rock/pop structures for a way-out, uncompromising take-off on what mid-period Kraftwerk only hinted at.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Evil Army - Conquer Human Life

(Contaminated, 2003)

Yeepers, these are some pissed off fellas. Fast, angry thrash with a dirty garage-style production (by Jay Reatard, it seems) that does a swell job of avoiding anything you might consider “messing around.” All fist-clench power, esp in the vocal department. Lyrics about killing abound, making this an appropriate musical companion to my afternoon viewing of Last House on the Left, a blood-soaked flick I betcha the gentlemen of Evil Army have also seen once or twice in their day. Brutal. If anyone out there remains on the fence, get tipped to the “buy now” side with this money quote from a mag interview: “The album cover just has our logo and a skeleton soldier impaling human soldiers on a bayonet, and I think it’s straight to the point, just like I like our songs to be.” I’ll tip a hat to that any day of any week.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Essex Green - Happy Happy Birthday To Me Singles Club, April

(Happy Happy Birthday To Me, 2000)

Four gentle, folksy pop nuggets that, home-recorded as they are, take a more sparse instrumental approach than any of the Essex Green’s full-lengths. And while none of the music on here is as necessary as what’s on the first EP and LP, a rougher version of the group’s chamber folk still makes for a pleasant late-night listen. The band, in its early days, was interesting in a mid-60s Kinks style for writing pretty guy- and gal-sung songs about mundane subjects – cats, golf, the weather – and these lyrics are suitably rootsy and down to earth (the in-defense-of-squares Dylan parody “My Guitar’s Too Cool For Me” is a fine joke). The band later reissued most of this single on an obscure, self-released version of its debut EP, but mysteriously left off both “Yesterday & Today” and the radio static that linked each track.