Wednesday, December 27, 2006

You'd better watch out / You'd better beware: The Wipers

One thing that separates a scene from a simple group of bands in a region is that, somehow, elements of the geography make it into the music itself. I can't really explain why this is the case, but for some reason, those early Soundgarden, Nirvana, Green River, and Tad records simply sound rainy, damp, and muddy, and the reason has to do with more than just the guitar sound. One cannot imagine a group of fellas in Houston or Los Angeles writing and recording "Flower" or "Daisy"; the result simply wouldn't be the same. This is also true of Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, who embody the grimy, industrial nature of Cleveland; effete New Yorker scumbags like Lydia Lunch and Jon Spencer; and Minneapolis punks, like the early Replacements and Soul Asylum, who have a sniffly, sneezy, coughy, achy, stuffy head, feverish quality unique to regions where winters last for six months and reach bone-breakingly cold temperatures.

The Wipers also had that aforementioned rainy, damp, muddy sound, only they had it ten years before Sub Pop and grunge exploded: the Wipers' recorded and released their first record, Is This Real? (Park Avenue Records), in 1979. Although they have been correctly classified as a punk band, they formed well away from/before any larger scene (and thus, away from hidebound rules about punk rock appearance, song structure, etc.) and developed a unique, melancholy sound of their own. Although Is This Real? contains plenty of straightforward punk rock rave-ups ("Let's Go Away," "Don't Know What I Am"), it's the other material that interests me more. You can hear the (underappreciated) influence that they had on, for example, Nirvana. Even "Return of the Rat" shifts in a manner unlike most other punk songs.

Like The Fall and Guided by Voices, the Wipers' membership rotated around a single member--in this case, Greg Sage. On Is This Real and the Alien Boy ep, Dave Koupal plays bass and Sam Henry drums; by the time of the second Wipers record (Youth of America), they had been replaced by Brad Davidson and Brad Naish, respectively.

A pretty good history can be found here. Although the Wipers released records well into the 90s, it's their first three that are essential. Happily, Sage's label (Zeno Records) sells a box set containing all three records plus a ton of bonus material--for only $17! Also, Portland's Jackpot Records has reissued Is This Real? on audiophile-quality vinyl.

The first three songs come from Is This Real?, and "Alien Boy" comes from, erm, the Alien Boy ep. At some point, we'll cover Youth of America and Over the Edge. Also, the Wipers are one of those rare bands who have been covered quite well (by Nirvana, the Mono Men, the Melvins, Crackerbash, and many others); at some point, we'll devote a post to some of the excellent covers

The Wipers--Return of the Rat
The Wipers--Potential Suicide
The Wipers--Window Shop for Love
The Wipers--Alien Boy


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

We Will Never Forgive Sub Pop For What They Did to Swallow

As pretty any music observer knows, music genres get co-opted rather easily, and their definitions often change. For instance, wretched modern Emo bands like Dashboard Confessional or New Found Glory sound nothing like yesterday bands like Rites of Spring or Moss Icon. Often, originating bands will develop a trend, play many thankless shows, release a few ultimately obscure records, and inspire a legion of other bands that will go on to more have commercial success. Grunge was no different. The 1992 definition of grunge really did not make much sense if you were at all familiar with the 1988 definition. Blind Melon, Smashing Pumpkins, Paw, or Bush obviously did not have a lot in common with the early Sub Pop or Deep Six compilation bands. At Lamestain HQ, we are, of course, champions of the latter group. In our Bizarro World, it’s the Skin Yards and Cat Butts pictured on Teen Beat magazine covers, while the Blind Melons and Everclears of the world are lost to the cruel dustbins of history.

One early Sub Pop band that deserved better success than Silverchair was Swallow. Along with Blood Circus, Swallow were an early grunge band that didn’t make the major label jump. They cut some of the earliest Sub Pop records, shared bills with some future star bands, and broke up before the Alternative Nation frenzy. With two front men, Swallow also had two kinds of sound: Chris Pugh was more pop-grunge, and Rod Moody leaned more towards heavy grunge rock. At some moments, they also had a bit of an early Soul Asylum (and yes, that band used to be cool, too) feel to them.

Ex-Young Pioneer member Chris Pugh formed the band with bassist Andy Scheen (ex-Isolation), drummer Scott Schickler (ex-Limp Richerds & Thrown Ups), and future Blood Circus frontman Michael Anderson in 1987. Michael didn’t stick around for long and was replaced by former Deranged Diction member, Rod Moody. Chris’ old Olympia ties with Bruce Pavitt led to Sub Pop forming a verbal agreement with the band and releasing their debut single, the "Guts"/"Trapped" 45 (SP #14) in 1988. The band soon followed with the self-titled full-length (SP #24) and also contributed the song "Zoo" to the scene-defining Sub Pop 200 compilation (SP #25). After some touring, the band released their 2nd LP, Sourpuss, which Sub Pop/Glitterhouse only distributed in Europe. Craig Bradford then replaced Scott, and the band recorded their unreleased third LP but soon broke up after record label troubles. Why Sub Pop refused that record yet went on to release several Big Chief records remains a mystery today.

After the band broke up in 1992, Chris fully unleashed his inner pop songwriter demon with his band, Creep, and Rod formed the band Spike and co-founded Y Records (not to be confused with the UK Y Records, which released awesome singles by Pop Group, Glaxo Babies, and Pigbag) for a few years. The band did a few reunion shows around town with Blood Circus around 1993/1994, but I was underage, living in Bellingham, and probably listening to Witchy Poo, so I missed them. In retrospect, I should have gotten a fake ID. Swallow are doing shows again, and Flotation Records will be releasing their long lost third LP sometime next year. Go here for more songs and upcoming show & band news.

In the meantime, here are some songs from Sourpuss.

Sex Pig
In Effect

--MC Tom

Monday, December 18, 2006

I scream, you scream, we all scream for milk!!!!

Regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly, but first, we need to take a moment to welcome into the world the newest member of the lamestain community: Oliver Whitman Ojendyk, born on Wednesday the 13th at 12:37 P.M.

Clockwise from bottom: Oliver, Blood Circus LP, Tad.

To ensure that Oliver would rock later in life, my wife and I attended the Touch & G 25th Anniversary bash while she was seven months' pregnant, thus exposing Oliver to Killdozer while in utero.

So say hello to Oliver, everybody.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Miniskirt mob: Dickless

Of all the bands we’ve covered and are planning to cover, I’ve been most looking forward to writing about Dickless. Few resources on this band exist on the web. They lasted only briefly, releasing two proper singles (one of which we’ll cover later), one song on the Teriyaki Asthma compilation, and one limited-edition single credited to Dickless All-Stars (which we’ve neither seen nor heard). Their wikipedia entry is only one paragraph long, and only recently did somebody create a myspace page dedicated to them. To my knowledge, only the Teriyaki Asthma track saw release on cd, although that will soon change.

In the introduction to Charles Peterson’s collection of grunge-era photographs Screaming Life, Michael Azerrad wrote that “the visionary Dickless broke up before the rest of the world had caught up to them.” While I love to think that the world would have embraced Dickless, I doubt that the world agrees. Singer Kelly Canary’s vocals are on, shall we say, the abrasive side. (I mean this in the best possible way: she sings like a wasted hyena.) As you can see from the myspace page, however, many people fondly remember the awesome bludgeoning that Dickless gave them all those years ago.

It used to strike us as silly to see the term “grunge” applied to slick, carefully marketed, radio-ready bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Blind Melon (!), because Dickless embodied grunge better than perhaps any other band from that era, and nobody would consider them slick or ready for radio. Instead, they played a shambolic, fuzzed-out, assertive, and funny rock, and I regret that I never managed to catch them live. For at least a few months, they ruled.

I had some questions about their releases, so I donned my Sherlock Holmes hat, put on my tan-colored topcoat, and grabbed my best magnifying glass (I own several) and hunted down ex-Dickless drummer Lisa Smith to ask her some questions.

At one point, there was talk about a Dickless retrospective. What ever happened to that?

There is a contract we are signing right now for an anthology that is being put out with everything, ever recorded.

Who is releasing the retrospective?

Lance T. " Bored Housewife" is the label owner who is putting the Anthology out.

What ever happened with the All-Stars single? Were two of the songs on "Hey Lumberjack"? Did Sub Pop ever press any copies of it?

They did, but very few that they passed out at their 10-year anniversary party as a free give-away at the door.

I read that Megan Jasper replaced Kelly Canary on vocals. Did Jasper attempt to sing the same way?

Well, she screamed as well, but nobody can imitate Kelly's gravel.

Did Dickless ever tour?

We did short little jaunts

What are your best and worst memories from that time? Any shows in particular stick out?

We drove all the way to S.F. to open up for Tad and Nirvana on Valentines day, and as a gift to Tad, we learned “Sex God Missy” and changed the lyrics to "SEX GOD TAD."

Finally, I see on your profile that you've gotten into fitness (so have I). What's your mile time?
I am not very fast at all. I run an 11 min. mile on a good day without any injuries!!

* * * *

So there you have it. I personally cannot wait for the retrospective.

Thurston Moore, incidentally, coined the term “foxcore” to classify Dickless and like-minded bands, such as STP. Ha ha ha—“foxcore.” Thurston Moore, you jackass!

The first two tracks appeared on the Sub Pop “I’m a Man” 7”, and “Miniskirt Mob” was appended to the 12”. “Sweet Teeth” appeared on the Teriyaki Asthma compilation.

Dickless--"I'm a Man"
Dickless--"Saddle Tramp"
Dickless--"Minkskirt Mob"
Dickless--"Sweet Teeth"


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Buzzo Goes to Bitburg

By now, everybody acknowledges that the Melvins are the Greatest Band of All Time. For my money, the Gluey Porch Treatments through Lysol era is some of the best heavy music ever recorded. They are the standard that all other heavy music is judged against. The Melvins’ influence can be found from everything to grunge, "alternative metal" (truly an awful term), doom metal, stoner metal, and drone metal. Their inspiring story of small town boys turned international jetsetters is well known, so instead of that, here’s something about their first live album.

This record was recorded live in Alzey, Germany on January 23, 1991 and released as Your Choice Live Series Volume 12. At the time of this record, Lori Temple Black (aka Lorax, or Shirley Temple’s daughter) was playing bass in the band. The label was run by Tobby Holzinger, and other bands in the series were Ripcord, Neurosis, Poison Idea, Leatherface/Jawbox, Scream, Steel Pole Bathtub, and many more. The label also donated part of the proceeds to animal rights organizations. The record was released a few months before Bullhead and leans mostly towards Ozma material (“At a Crawl,” “Koolegged,” “Let God Be Your Gardener,” “Revulsion.” “Heater Moves and Eyes,” and “Eyes Flys” were from Gluey Porch Treatments or Ozma; “Anaconda” was from Bullhead; and “Tanked” was as early version of Eggnog’s “Wispy.” They also performed “It’s Shoved” at the show, but it was left off the record and can be found on the It’s Your Choice Live compilation.

This record is now out of print, but you can’t really enjoy a live record by listening to mp3s. MP3 breaks kill the record’s flow, so try and track this CD down at your local used record shop. The Melvins also released the great, recorded-in-Australia Alive at the Fucker Club on Amphetamine Reptile in 1998, but that’s sadly also out of print. You can buy the live Melvins / Fantomas Big Band and Live Houdini records here.

Heater Moves and Eyes
At a Crawl

-- MC Tom