Thursday, July 20, 2006

2006 Half-Year (with one word reviews)

1. Lady Sovereign: "Public Warning" CCR.
2. The Federation: "18 Dummy" Masterpiece.
3. Lily Allen: "LDN" HVN.
4. Giant Drag: "Kevin Is Gay" True.
5. Sonic Youth: "Do You Believe in Rapture?" Yes.
6. The Coup: "ShoYoAss" No.
7. Da Backwudz ft. Caz Clay: "I Don't Like the Look of It (Oompa)" Blueberries.
8. Quiet Village Project: "Free Rider" Beautifuuuuuuuuuuuuul.
9. Simon Bookish: "Terry Riley Disco" White.
10. Skeletons & The Girl-Faced Boys: "Fit Black Man" Shapeshifter.
11. Masanka Sankayi & Kasai Allstars Feat. Mutumilayi: "Wa Muluendu" Litch.
12. Gil Mantera's Party Dream: "McCoojah & Kizmit" SXSW!
13. Herbert: "Something is Not Right" Wrong.
14. New York Dolls: "Dance Like A Monkey" Evolution.
15. 1990s: "You're Supposed to be My Friend" Dolls.
16. Lupe Fiasco: "Kick Push" Psychogeography.
17. Danielle Peck: "I Don't" Ouch.
18. Neil Young: "Let's Impeach The President" Let's.
19. Prince: "The Dance" Persistence.
20. Abby Travis: "Shoot For The Stars" Inspirational.
21. Indian Jewelry: "Partying With Jandek" Never.
Total time: 79:51

Saturday, July 15, 2006

What's my favorite Pebbles?

Further proof that history is written by the rockists (in case you needed more) can be found in the legacy of Nuggets. Few people remember Lenny Kaye’s original 1972 artyfact for the stylistic mashed potatoes that it actually is. Instead, it’s celebrated as THE garage punk wellspring partially due to the fact that it has since been refracted through Pebbles, the gazillion-volume series a punk-bored Greg Shaw kicked off in the late 1970s. Pebbles sought to rarify the Nuggets aesthetic by disentangling one string out of all the generic threads Kaye mashed up. Afforded only two slabs of vinyl, Kaye necessarily had to weave together the garage punk (“Let’s Talk About Girls”) with the Beatles clones (“Lies”), the psychedelia (“My World Fell Down”) with the hard rock (“Baby Please Don’t Go”), the pop (“Sit Down, I Think I Love You”) with the proto-bubblegum (“Run, Run, Run”), the acid punk (“Psychotic Reaction”) with the acid rock (“Open My Eyes”). Despite the occasional surf or mod comp, Pebbles built The Great Wall of Garage Punk with 20-plus volumes proper and offshoots such as Highs in the Mid-Sixties. Only the snarlier variants of psych got over the wall and R&B tinges were rare indeed. But pop? Forget it. If there were obscure carbon copies of The Third Rail or Clefs of Lavender Hill out there, Pebbles wasn’t going to tell us about it. Maybe Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley would.

So nowadays we have great minds like Luc Sante homogenizing Rhino’s Nuggets box when in fact it replicates Kaye’s original eclecticism in triplicate: "Lotus eaters like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and frat boys like the Swingin' Medallions, who might then have spat at each other, turn out to have more in common than not." That’s history refracted through a Boomer lens, a discourse that tries to bring together all of 1960s youth under one banner before fragmentation set in long about 1972 (hmm…noteworthy date there). It’s also a rockist distortion, again ignoring that Third Rail singer Joey Levine had little in common with a Roky Erickson. Still, if we can place part of the blame for this selective deafness on Pebbles’ doorstep, there was at least one volume that managed to ferret out a mighty pop-like subgenre of garage punk. By turning on the very distinction that would have led a Medallion to spit on an Elevator, Pebbles Vol. 3, long my favorite Pebbles, chipped away at The Great Wall and, by extension, a monolithic view of the 1960s.

To be precise, Volume 3 is sort of a fusion of those two bands, the end product of what happened when The Swingin' Medallions ate lotus. As Greg Shaw/Nigel Strange writes in the liner notes, “Tim Leary and his intellectual friends were wafted into oriental mysticism, but imagine the effects (of psychedelic drugs) on the kids in punk bands whose mental worlds up to then had revolved around cars, girls, beaches and detention.” Those effects comprise the drop-in subgenre of acid punk - psychedelia racing forward on two chords; punk marveling at all the gewgaws in the garage. Significantly, these kids weren’t singing the “virginity blues” as Simon Reynolds calls garage punk’s eternal subject. The Driving Stupid, for instance, were too preoccupied watching “tiny green lobsters throw spider eggs” to chase after that action woman or sweet young thing. As a result, the exhibits in “The Acid Gallery” (Vol. 3’s handy subtitle) sound much less heavy and menacing than the Pebbles norm, running towards the good-natured novelty one-shot.

To be more precise, though, many of the tracks on Pebbles Vol. 3 are the end product of what happened when garage geeks and frat dorks only pretended they ate lotus. I don't believe for a second that The Bees ever saw "Voices Green and Purple;" their own voices are simply way too jokey, failing to conceal the typical sardonic garage snarl. And that's one of the key pleasures of this disc, a sort of postmodernism avant la lettre whereby you sing that which you are not – in this case, high. In the postmodern late 1980s, two of my record geek buddies and I took it all as a vicious and very welcome parody of countercultural pretensions. It was the perfect soundtrack as we tried to write a Desperate Teenage Lovedolls-inspired anti-hippie screenplay.

And to be even more precise, not all of Pebbles Vol. 3 is given over to acid punk. After a brief radio transmission, you get rip-offs of several 1960s avatars, straight-up novelty numbers, a blast or two of garage punk proper and a bonus pebble of oriental mysticism. And all this amongst individual songs already freaked-out by their own kaleidoscopic shifts. “Could you imagine this album being the product of one band instead of seventeen? They’d be the greatest group of all-time,” I told my friends way back when not realizing that Camper Van Beethoven had already come close.

Best of all, Vol. 3 works like a well-plotted album, something that can be said of no other Pebbles comp I’ve heard (and indeed, few compilations of any stripe). Superbly paced and programmed, it has exposition, rising and falling action and a dénouement from deep in the winter of the counterculture. The two truly nihilistic numbers are separated one to a side and the rip-offs gain poignancy in proximity to the freak-outs. It’s difficult to remember the one track that rocked out more motherfuckingly than the others on Pebbles Vol. 11. Here, each song serves a higher dramatic purpose and you remember not only the song but its place in the overall picture.

So allow me to pay respect to each one in its place.

1. Dave Diamond & The Higher Elevation: “The Diamond Mine”

Dave Diamond was a popular Los Angeles DJ who apparently suggested to The Doors that they release an edit of “Light My Fire.” Smart guy. That left more room for his psychedelic psychobabble approximated on this furnace blast of a prologue. But soft – what’s that familiar racket Double Dee monologues over? Why, it’s The Monocles’ (under their subsequent nom de garage The Higher Elevation) “Spider and The Fly” from later in the record. How the hell Greeley, Colorado’s own hooked up with a disc jockey in the City of Angels remains a key research question in acid punk laboratories the world over. And what programming! The backing track (which kicks off with some howlin’ wolf/jet plane musique concrete) functions like a motif, a sample even. Motifs? On a Pebbles comp? See why I love it so?

In any event, “The Diamond Mine” is your final warning. If you can’t hack wisdom along the lines of “the hand that cradles the rock can certainly roll the world,” get off this ride now! A perfect introduction.

2. Teddy and His Patches: “Suzy Creamcheese”

More sampling already. Peering out like some mysterioso seer from Creatures Features organ fills and telltale heart drums is one Teddy Flores, Jr. of San Jose. But the message he has for us comes not from Poe but rather Frank Zappa. For no particular reason, Teddy lifts the spoken word intro from “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet” off The Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out! album. Significantly, though, there was no girl around to play Suzy Creamcheese probably because they didn’t know any girls. But this is a boy’s boy’s boy’s world. The Patches let out some frat kegger yelps and then settle into a “Louie Louie” rip that circles round and round in the demented roller rink of your mind. Only their rip out-primitives the original via the principle of subtraction. Where “Louie Louie” goes “duh-duh-duh duh-duh,” “Suzy Creamcheese” airs it out with a mere “duh-duh duh” pattern that gives the drummer some room to dance. DJ Plastik Patrik should jam this fucker into his sets Friday nights at Saphir.

And that only takes us to 1:13. Next we get the requisite freak-out with speeds getting up to damn near thrash metal BPMs. Finally, such nice boys, they provide us with a 51-second come down coda even though Teddy swears we’ll “never wanna touch the ground.” This is classic writing in parts which reveals the centrality of Attention Deficit Disorder to the structure of the very greatest pop products (if not to the maintenance of capitalism itself).

My guess as to its origin? These boys met each other in church (Catholic, please) and fashioned themselves into a Ventures-style combo. But soon they saw all these newfangled hippies in the audience and were forced to recreate the hallucinogenic experience without ever having sucked on a sugar cube. Gotta give the people what they want.

Speaking of which, I swore never to post a picture up here but the people (well, really just Carolyn Cunningham) implored. So check out their pic (note eye patch over Teddy’s left one).

O lordi! D&D anyone?

Read their very short saga here which raises more questions than it answers.

3. Crystal Chandlier: “Suicidal Flowers”

Gawd, I was hating The Doors when I first heard Pebbles Vol. 3 and I still deem them the most overrated band ever, a pronouncement on which I’m willing to backpedal with prolonged exposure to Simon Reynolds. Nevertheless, for a Doors closer like me, the chief pleasure of this slinky track lies in the blatant Morrison wannabe up top because he would’ve undoubtedly embarrassed Jimbo. I mean, dude can’t even spell chandelier correctly. Also noteworthy is a guitar figure that looks forward to “Skank Bloc Bologna” and the fact that the band died after two singles (whereas you-know-who has become immortal).

4. William Penn V: “Swami”
5. Jefferson Handkerchief: “I’m Allergic To Flowers”

After three slabs of cannibalization, two jokey novelty numbers that look askance at the counterculture. Todd Kristel says here that “Swami” is “such a self-conscious attempt to evoke 1967 that it's hard to believe it was actually released that year.” A jaw-dropping idea! Instant nostalgia is supposed to epitomize the digital era. But here it is happening in that most 60s-ish year of the 1960s. Not everyone who lived through the Summer of Love was “there” as poor William’s tale makes clear. Amidst fuzztone flurries and swarming harmonies, he discovers that the local swami is actually from Hoboken (or a recently capsized pirate ship). In the end, he makes off with the mystic’s tent as echoes of “swami, swami, fooling people all the time” chase after him. Hmmm. Maybe it’s not so funny after all.

Unlike the latter which was pure product from Los Angeles session musicians who had the good sense to relegate their cheap jokes to one single rather than across an entire career (e.g., Frank Zappa). Shame on those hippies for not taking the allergy-prone into consideration at their pollen-infested love-ins! But hey – dig that helium-cured chorus. As well as this couplet: “At last my mind is really free/Expect for my stupid allergy.”

6. (bonus track)

The vinyl Pebbles Vol. 3 contained a bonus minute of “Prana” from an unlistenable album by The Unfolding called How To Blow Your Mind And Have A Freak-Out Party (Audio Fidelity 1967). In Incredibly Strange Music, Vol. 2, Jello Biafra lists it under “pseudo-psychedelic” which refers to the biz’s pathetic attempts to sell the counterculture in Squaresville (and hopefully rope in a few unsuspecting hippies in the process). Still, I’m glad to know this snippet else I would never have learned that “man is like a flower and within that flower there are seven other flowers yet unawakened.” Neither would the apparently deaf gentleman who repeats the same information in Helen Keller tones. And really, one-minute of sitar puke is a nice breather before…

7. The Calico Wall: “Flight Reaction”

My favorite track on Vol. 3. Do your palms sweat as profusely as mine during a flight? Does the slightest bit of turbulence remind you that, holy shit!, I’m on a fuckin’ plane?!? Do you try to distract yourself with a book but wind up reading that one sentence over and over again? And then have you ever wondered “Gee, I wish there was a song to express the terror in my mind?” Then Minneapolis’ The Calico Wall would love to worm their way into your earhole. On this flight, you will experience: paranoid mumblings about the ocean; a chorus of “And I swear I’ll never fly again;” a trebly surf riff so simple even I learned how to play it; a W.C. Fields impersonator lecturing unintelligibly about George Washington; kazoo farts; barking goosesteppers; cuckoo clocks; machine guns. There is a singer somewhere in there and maybe even a song. But he recites his fear of flying like a beat poem. And this is really a tape collage in verse-chorus drag, “Tomorrow Never Knows” on a garage punk budget. The chorus haunts the mix in snippets, reappearing insistently with such sample-like contours that it just couldn’t have been sung live (could it?). To my innocent 1988 years, it sounded like freakin’ It Takes A Nation.

Also check out their remarkable “I’m a Living Sickness,” truly oppressive proto-punk. They meant it, man!

8. The Hogs: “Loose Lip Sync Ship”

This is The Chocolate Watch Band in swine drag and I cannot better the description on Julian Cope’s website here. But I do want to reiterate that this is an instrumental for the first half until it slows down and then launches into the freak-out party. Gimme textual disruption over pimple-poppin’ speed any day.

Oh and it came out on the short-lived Hanna-Barbera (!) label. Check out the label discography here. They put out some absolutely nutter stuff. Soul Jazz or whoever, get on it!

The vinyl version included a skip during the instrumental portion. My friend heard “Loose Lip Sync Ship” on WNUR in Chicago and a skip occurred in the same place. Clearly, it was the Pebbles Vol. 3 version. But the DJ pretended he was playing the actual single, saying something like “I think this appeared on a Pebbles comp.” Tsk-tsk.

9. The Driving Stupid: “The Reality of (Air) Fried Borsk”
10. The Driving Stupid: “Horror Asparagus Stories”

There are punks and there are brats. These Joisey boys were brats. They would’ve definitely ruined the vibe at a love-in and cracked too many bad jokes for the droogs in the garage. But they had each other at least for the duration of this double-sided faux-dementia. “The Reality of (Air) Fried Borsk” is Weird Al as a hollering back porch bluesman. I l-o-v-e the parentheses parody. I’ve never understood that phenomenon in song titles and once came up with my own parody, something along the lines of “I (Love You so much that I never wanna let go of your Hot Throbbing Lust Log, You Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Man Root).”

“Horror Asparagus Stories” was supposed to be the second to last track on the vinyl Vol. 3 but the Pebbles gremlins left it off. Too bad cuz it’s better, beginning with an inept temper tantrum on guitar and more dumb Mad Libs lyrics. You can tell from the first line (“My father was a big old toad”) that the singer has never taken anything seriously in his life. The stoopid guitar solo is “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and is a stroke. The whole thing plays out like a drunken game of “I went on a trip and I brought a…” Ends with the confession “My cousin was a kangaroo/And I, my friends, am the square root of two.” Math rock before its time.

Sundazed unearthed some unreleased recordings with names like “Happytime Springface and Flowers,” “Green Things Have Entered My Skin, Gladys,” and “Water My Doing Here?” and apparently rawer versions of their greatest hit.

11. The Third Bardo: “I’m Five Years Ahead of My Time”

As Todd Kristel says, they don’t sound five minutes ahead of their time. But what’s so great about this one is that the swellhead at the mic might actually mean it which makes this cut funnier than The Driving Stupid’s grade school surrealism. Whatever the case, he’s rendering explicit the gargantuan ego of the 1960s. Funny, five years doesn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore. But I suppose being Sgt. Pepper a year before “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is reason enough to brag.

12. The Bees: “Voices Green and Purple”

By contrast, these guys don’t mean it. And they rock out harder (and shorter) than anything else on Vol. 3 which is how it ended up as the second to last track on Rhino’s Nuggets box. The precise meeting point of the garage and acid strains of punk. That all-or-nothing fret run (which my Pebbles buddy taught me on the family Harmony guitar) signifies both a (mock) bad trip and too many reserves of male love jelly.

13. The Monocles: “Spider and The Fly”

These hearse-drivers beat Cronenberg to a remake of The Fly by twenty years. But lo – I just found out that one Bobby Christian with The Allen Sisters beat The Monocles to it on a 1963 Mercury single which I’ve never heard (somebody mp3 me!). That’s right; this horroshow is a freakin’ cover! Less a song than a nightmare collage of sci-fi dialogue, booming backbeat, an alarm clock, and no guitars, it contains possibilities tech-steppers sadly never exploited.

14. Godfrey: “The Trip”

Kim Fowley is walking slime, the quintessential rock ‘n’ roll hustler (here's my favorite sleazoid pic of him with the poor Murmaids; he's the one with a stache leering in the middle).

That he’s amassed a sizable recording anti-career on the side (of what, though? collecting “Alley Oop” royalties?) is the real trip, especially for Gen Xers, because records like “The Trip” and his hilariously grotesque 1969 album Outrageous bear all the traces of crass marketing that more “organic” 1960s artists tried to deny or efface. This is a cover of “The Trip” from (what else?) a Los Angeles disc jockey which makes it a rip-off of a rip-off. But what the world needed in the 1980s was some Bob Hope psychedelia and Godfrey’s trip fit the bill. Note: “The Trip” comes before “Spider and The Fly” on the CD.

15. TC Atlantic: “Faces”

Most great albums in the vinyl era would dip about halfway through side two and here’s Vol. 3’s only misstep. Paint-by-numbers fuzztone psych.

16. Mike Condello: “Soggy Cereal”

Ok look, I’m not kidding myself here. I know that most of these songs would sink into their own archness on a full-length (if one ever existed). But hello, great compilations allow us to forget that; it’s their raison d’etre. And I know many of these names come at the music from somewhere else – television or radio or film. But you could say the same of any of the bands that urped up one single and then disappeared back into the DMV or wherever. And besides, how exactly are television or radio or film outside of music? Tell me, flower child!

Mike Condello was the music director of a popular Phoenix kiddie show called It’s Wallace? He released some piss-taking EPs in the mid-sixties one of which contained “Soggy Cereal,” a parody of Communist paranoia. Brezhnev & Co. launch a plot to compromise the firmness of our Corn Flakes. Condello runs out of breath recounting all of the evil details and then busts out with some ersatz Russian fiddling.

This was left off the CD version. Why?

17. Lea Riders Group: “Dom Kellar oss Mods”

A relatively straightforward but strong rocker from Sweden. It translates as “they call us misfits” and comes from a youth culture documentary of the same name. The lead singer does a great Rod Stewart impersonation and speed raps some of the lyrics. During the extended freak-out, he seems to float free of the mix, transforming the entire instrumental track into a sort of appropriation. Creepy bit of string quartet-typewriter musique concrete at the end.

18. Race Marbles: “Like a Dribbling Fram”

Yet another disc jockey, this one from Toronto. A fitting end to Vol. 3 because there’s nothing remotely youthful about it. This really is the end, “Like a Rolling Stone” told by an old coot. Dribbling – yeah, that’s how I imagine Dylan will go out as he babbles incoherently in the nursing wing of his castle.

19. Painted Faces: “Anxious Color”
20. Adjeef the Poet: “Lekk! I’m a.…Freak!”
21. Adjeef the Poet: “Squafrech Lemon Comes Back”
22. Beautiful Daze: “City Jungle, Pt. 1”
23. Catfish Knight: “Deathwise”
24. Oshun: “Rattle of Life”

These are the bonus tracks added to the CD and you can live without them. “Anxious Color” is not as fun as "Voices Green and Purple," a "Paint It Black" rip that they took way too seriously. “Lekk! I’m a.…Freak!” has a certain dread in the melody that I won’t remember next week and “Squafrech Lemon Comes Back” is pure Mothers-style freak-out. Adjeef was Ad Visser, a radio DJ (no way!) from Amsterdam. “City Jungle, Pt. 1” and “Deathwise” are utterly forgettable psych bites. Only “Rattle of Life,” another freak-out collage, would’ve worked nicely on the vinyl because the lysergic sermon at the center is loud and overwhelming. “Cocoon head” and “turtle brain” sound like insults more than kozmik wisdom.