Monday, February 26, 2007

Skin Yard's early years

We titled a previous lamestain entry “Always the bridesmaid: Jason Everman.” While the appellation “bridesmaid” certain applies to Mr. Everman, one could argue (as the Trouser Press Record Guide did) that it befits grunge progenitors Skin Yard even more. Indeed, Skin Yard guitarist Jack Endino was the primary architect of the Seattle sound because of his work behind the boards for Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Tad, Love Battery, Green River, and everybody else. It would be difficult to underestimate his sonic contributions to grunge. Skin Yard, however, never really attained anything more than cult status.

That cult has proven to be remarkably resilient. More than a decade has passed since Skin Yard folded, yet I still encounter people who love them. Of the bands from that era that I never saw live, the two I most regret missing were Dickless and these guys. But I can understand why they appeal deeply to some people yet failed to get much traction with larger audiences. For one thing, they took a 14-month hiatus right as the attention on Seattle reached its fever pitch. Also, grunge borrowed elements from the subcultures of metal and punk rock. Skin Yard added a third prong—they started as an “art rock” band, and I use that term only because it captures eclectic music that doesn’t comfortably rest in any particular genre.

Skin Yard formed in 1985 with Endino on guitar, C/Z Records president Daniel House on bass, Ben McMillan on vocals, and future Soundgardener Matt Cameron on drums. They appeared on the landmark Deep Six compilation shortly thereafter and released their eponymous debut the following year. Daniel House wrote that this record “bears only limited resemblance to the band which we later became. Not as heavy, more intricate and arty.” He neglected to mention that they’re also not as good. Personally, I do not like this record. At all. Nonetheless, it’s worth a listen, as Skin Yard arrived at grunge from a very different direction than other bands of that time, and this LP documents that sound.

Much better is their 1998 Hallowed Ground LP. Norman Scott had replaced Matt Cameron (with Jason Finn’s nine-month tenure falling in between), and the band had discovered their strengths. The paranoia of their debut remains, but they propel it forward with more urgency and volume. I found it difficult to choose representative mp3s from the first record because I don’t care for it; with Hallowed Ground, I like the entire LP so much that limiting myself to a small number of songs proved to be difficult.

Skin Yard released a few more records that we’ll cover at a later point. It’s interesting to note that, although Endino played a massive role in Sub Pop’s success, Skin Yard released only one 7” (“Start at the Top”) on that label, and House’s C/Z label released only the first record. Most of their records came out on Greg Ginn’s Cruz Records, a label better known for sunny Southern California pop-punk, like Big Drill Car and Chemical People—bands that couldn’t be more different from Skin Yard.

Deep Six
The Birds

Skin Yard

Skins in My Closet

American Nightmare

Hallowed Ground

Needle Tree
Hallowed Ground

We’re experiencing a serious bandwidth crunch right now, so your best bet for obtaining these songs is by downloading the zip file here. To be honest, I had more misgivings than usual about posting mp3s for this post, as Skin Yard’s cds and mp3s can all be purchased via Jack Endino’s homepage. Plus, he may even throw in a freebie with your purchase. Consider these tracks an introduction or a reminder of the band’s greatness, and make your way to Endino’s garage sale post-haste and buy everything he’s selling. Twice.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Did Mark Arm Ruin Bloodloss? Our Most Controversial Post Yet

Without reservations, we declare ourselves to be Mark Arm fanbois. Okay, so while the Limp Richerds or Mr. Epp & the Calculations weren’t too hot, Green River, Mudhoney, and the Monkeywrench were some of the coolest bands to ever come out of the Pacific Northwest. While it took us a while to warm up to him filling in for the late Rob Tyner, we enjoyed the MC5 reunion/tribute show, and we also think it’d be cool to throw some Thrown Up songs on a mix-tape in between Drunks with Guns and the Strangulated Beatoffs. For the longest time, though, Bloodloss kind of disappointed us. The rock pedigree was there, and on paper, any band that included Lubricated Goat, Monkeywrench, and Mudhoney members should be brilliant, but for some reason, they didn’t live up their promise. Our first run in with the band was the 1993 Belltown records single, “Broke,” and while it featured one of our favorite guitarists, Sir Richard Bishop of the Sun City Girls, on bass guitar, it only lasted a few spins on the turntable before we shelved it for nearly 15 years. We heard some other Bloodloss songs here and there, but nothing made us forget about the members’ other projects.

This all changed about two years ago. Some friends and I were discussing Bloodloss at our favorite Ballard tavern when one of us (who shall remain anonymous out of fear of Mark Arm’s reprisal) piped up with this claim: “Mark Arm ruined Bloodloss.” Since I wasn’t very familiar with early, Australia-based Bloodloss, and since later, Seattle-based Bloodloss didn’t do much for me, I was curious to see if this was indeed true. Some phone calls were made, and a month later, a copy of Bloodloss’ second LP, The Truth is Marching In, arrived straight from England to our Seattle Headquarters for further Lamestain investigation.

Even without listening to it, I could tell that I was going to enjoy this record. It had an Albert Ayler song for an album title and a song named after Archie Shepp, and it was released on one of the greatest Australian punk record labels, Aberrant (home to Feedtime, Venom P. Stinger, King Snake Roost, etc). Plus, it was limited to 500 copies, which means I could name-drop it at record geek sausage parties and impress one or two dudes. Luckily, my expectations about the record’s greatness were met. The band sounded like a drunken mix between the Birthday Party, Flipper, the Fall, and Captain Beefheart, and we were forced to reconsider our friend’s claim that Mark ruined Bloodloss.

In order to be fair to Mark, though, we needed to pick up those later Bloodloss records and give them a fair listen. After some digging through the used bins, we found the “Face Down in Mud” single on IFA records and the Live My Way LP on In the Red. We also wanted to make sure that Bloodloss’ genius second album wasn’t a fluke, so we tried to find some other early stuff, but didn’t have much luck. Their self-titled 1986 cassette and the 1988 Human Skin Suit LP (both on Greasy Pop Records) are impossible to find, but we did track down a cheap copy of the 1989 King Snake Roost/Bloodloss split single on Crack records. While that single is great and all, the Bloodloss song, “Nutbush City Limits” is an Ike and Tina Turner cover, so it doesn’t give us much new insight on their earlier sound. For this reason and to keep everything simple, we will just assume that everything the band did while in Australia was absolutely magnificent.

After thorough examination, Lamestain concluded that Mark Arm did not ruin Bloodloss. Even though we certainly prefer the rawness of The Truth is Marching In to the slightly more produced Live My Way, we cannot claim that the band was ever ruined. The “Broke” single still isn’t great, but Live My Way has some cool songs on it. But since we are lazy bastards and digitizing vinyl is such a pain in the ass, we aren’t going include any mp3s from that record and will instead give you the harder to find Belltown and IFA singles.

With the evidence in hand, I have tried presenting the argument that Mark Arm did not completely ruin Bloodloss to She Who Could Not Be Named, but she refuses to listen to me and insists that I am being “geeky” and that it is “borderline creepy” to obsess over a 2-year-old bar conversation. To that I say, “Nuh uh!”

Bloodloss - The Truth Is Marching In here.

"Hair of the Future"

"Face Down in Mud"
"Love Theme from Bloodloss"

The singles can also be obtained via a zip file here.

-- MC Tom

Monday, February 12, 2007

Gas Huffer Will Eat You Whole

When I was sixteen, I saw Gas Huffer for the first time in a small basement ballroom in Seattle’s Central District. Although the show occurred more than fifteen years ago, I can still recall it pretty well: the show happened sometime in the winter, I had a nasty head cold, I picked up my friend Mira in my car (a mid-80s Nissan Stanza), and the venue was practically foggy with sweat. Although the room had plenty of space, everybody crammed into a tight wad up front. There was no stage. Seaweed, who had only a single or two under their belt at this point, opened the show, and two or three times during their set, somebody in the band accidentally knocked one of the cables with his feet and cut off all the lights (a string of light bulbs) and sound. After this happened, Seaweed’s singer said, “Well, that’s punk rock.”

And Gas Huffer absolutely ruled. Before their set, they handed out “masks” featuring band members that they had drawn on paper and photocopied at Kinko’s. Drummer Joe Newton had dreadlocks (fake), and singer Matt Wright donned the most finely chiseled set of sideburns (real) to ever grace a human being. Although the sound wasn’t ideal, they played a blistering set. Their songs (by this point, they had only released a pair of singles) were quick as a whip, a little goofy, and melodic without sounding like pop. I enjoyed everything about that set, even though I felt sick as a dog.

Gas Huffer’s sense of goofiness and grease-monkey punk rock sound differentiated them from the slouchers and losers and long-haired junkies so ubiquitous back then. Former U-Man Tom Price’s augmented his chugga-chugga guitar riffs with a rockabilly twang, and bassist Don Blackstone’s added Misfits-esque back-up vocals. The rhythm section played tightly, too, which wasn’t too common at the time. Finally, Wright has a terrific voice; he sings deep from his chest and emits a huge amount of sound for such a small fellow.

The Huffers formed in 1989 and lasted until 2006. Shockingly, they never lost or replaced a single member that entire time. Starting with 1991’s Janitors of Tomorrow (Empty Records), they released seven full-length albums in total, all brought to you by the letter “e” (Empty, Epitaph, and Estrus Records). They also released a number of singles and EPs and made numerous appearances on compilations.

Video for “Crooked Bird”

So, we have blistering punk rock, a sense of fun, real personality, longevity. . . there has to be a downside, right? Alas, there is, and this is it: like Mudhoney (and, some would argue, REM), Gas Huffer’s definitive moment also happened to be their very first single, the absolutely terrific “Firebug”/“Jesus Was My Only Friend” (Black Label Records). Sure, they had plenty of great songs later, and they never failed to impress live, but they peaked with that first release. You could tell that the band itself tired of “Firebug,” as within a year or two, their performances of it became perfunctory. Still, I could think of worse fates for a band, being that I place “Firebug” in both the Pantheon of Greatest Ever Songs from the Northwest and the Pantheon of Greatest Ever Punk Rock Songs.

Although Price and Blackstone still occasionally play together in the Kings of Rock, it seems that the days of being a full-time musician have been left behind. The Seattle Times wrote a surprisingly good article on the eve of their final show in 2006. Sadly, it appears that Price developed Parkinson’s Disease in recent years, affecting his ability to play the whip-quick rock that put Gas Huffer on the map. Price has been a presence in the Northwest music scene for around 25 years, and Gas Huffer and (especially) the U-Men influenced countless musicians. We wish him the best.


If you have trouble downloading the individual songs, they can all be obtained via a zip file here.

"Firebug" 7"

Jesus Was My Only Friend

Ethyl EP

I Want to Kiss You
Eat U Whole
Buck Naked

Friday, February 09, 2007

Odds and ends

We have just a few odds and ends to report here. A couple of readers have noted problems downloading mp3s. Like several other music blogs, we’ve been shopping around mp3-hosting sites, and one of the sites we’ve relied on lately (MediaMax) limits the amount of data downloaded each month. We like this site, however, and are considering upgrading our account to allow for a greater amount of bandwidth. In the mean time, we may also store mp3s at, which requires downloaders to follow an indirect path to the mp3s) and/or make the downloads available in zip files through sendspace.

You’ll also note that lamestain recently switched to the bookish Times font a week ago. Now, you can feel like quite the smarty-pants when you read about Cat Butt.

Also, we’ve been wanting to recommend some other blogs—namely, those with links on the right-hand side of lamestain—for quite some time. First of all, you should check out Steve Mandich’s blog when you get a chance. Steve has been a friend of ours for nearly two decades, and he has plenty of excellent writing under his belt (including his now defunct zine Heinous and a fantastic bio of Evel Knieval, Evel Incarnate: The Life and Legend of Evel Knieval). He also wrote the excellent post about Girl Trouble that appeared here a few weeks ago.

Our favorite type of blog is that which revolves around a particular theme or region. So take a look at Antipodean Underground, a blog focused on 1970s and 80s underground music from New Zealand and Australia. We also heartily recommend False 45th, which combines posts about indie rock from around with world and tidbits specific to Vermont. In addition, Brian from False 45th provided us with a great deal of help when we launched lamestain and is a stand-up guy in general.

Postpunk Junk focuses on, erm, postpunk junk. Click there while you can, as the blog was forced to visit Dr. Kevorkian when Rapidshare decided that the high number of downloads overstrained their servers.

Generally, the here’s-a-bunch-of-music-that-I-like blogs interest us little, because really, how many resources does one person need for new mp3s from the Bloc Party, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, and the Shins. A few exceptions exist, though: the fantastic Vinyl Mine and Something I Learned Today. The former covers a wide variety of punk and indie rock from several generations, and the latter archives 70s punk, 80s hardcore, and late 80s/early 90s noise and indie. I wish I had discovered both sooner.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Gravel put Anacortes on the Rock & Roll Map

When most hip record store clerks think of the Anacortes music scene, the first name that immediately comes to mind is Microphones/Mt Eerie mastermind, Phil Elvrum. Unfortunately, we don’t know enough about that guy to form an opinion, so instead we like to shout out Bryan Elliott of the late, great Gravel. Gravel recorded two full-lengths on Bellingham, Washington’s, premier record label, Estrus, in the early- to mid-nineties, but they didn’t make much of a dent outside of Skagit and Whatcom County. And that’s a goddamn shame, because they were better than most of the peers and were miles above future Entertainment Weekly-dubbed “garage” bands like the Strokes. Maybe it’s because their sound was murkier than your typical garage rock re-revivalist, or maybe it’s because they chose to stay in a relatively isolated town like Anacortes instead of moving to the big city. At any rate, we like them and their sort of bummed out Mudhoney-like sound. We put them in the same category as Northwest bands like Dead Moon (R.I.P.), the Fall Outs, Girl Trouble, or any of Rob Vasquez’s projects (Nights and Days, Night Kings, Chintz Devils, Right On, etc.), who will forever be cult bands that exist outside of fashion or music trends and are probably more comfortable playing in sparse, ratty taverns than trying to grab that major label brass ring and playing only the coolest of rock clubs.

Unlike a lot of garage rock bands, Gravel didn’t have much of a gimmick. They didn’t dress up like monsters, play as out of tune as possible, record on broken 4-track machines, wear matching bowling shirts, or sing about hot rods. Plus they released a few singles on Olympia’s legendary pajama punk rock label, K records. If you ever want your garage rock record to get ignored by most sleeve-tattooed, greasy haired, matching-jean-jacket-back-patch-wearing, beat-up-classic-car-driving garage punk rock fan (and trust me, you kind of do), put it out on K Records. They won’t buy it. But Gravel weren’t trying to impress you or the Gearhead clique by being fancy or fake badasses; instead, they just wanted to play loud, bare-boned, rainy day rock music and that’s cool enough for us.

Gravel’s history started with the break up of Anacortes’ Pounding Serfs. The Pounding Serfs were one of the earliest K Records bands and featured Bryan Elliott, Dale Robinson, Frank Barcott, and Jon Lunsford. Frank and Jon later bailed, and the band mutated into Gravel with the addition of bassist Dale Robinson and drummer Bobby Vaux. Beat Happening’s Bret Lunsford (also known as the nonsinging dude of the band) released Gravel’s debut, the Bucket of Blood EP, on his Knw-Yr-Own records in 1990. K Records then released the “Yesterday” single as part of the International Pop Underground Series, and Estrus released the “As for Tomorrow” single, both in 1992. Estrus also put out their debut full-length, the Break-A-Bone LP, in 1992 and the No Stone Unturned LP in 1993. Recorded by Conrad Uno at Egg Studios, Break-A-Bone features 3 rerecorded songs from the Bucket of Blood EP, and according to the Trouser Press Record Guide, “is a remarkable debut, nine gloomy, glorious songs that suggest nothing so much as Crazy Horse fronted by an animated Mark Lanegan.” The idea of an animated Mark Lanegan paints a strange picture, but I think the writer is complimenting Bryan’s voice.

Their follow up record, No Stone Unturned, was also recorded by Conrad Uno and is a bit louder and tighter than its predecessor. Knw-Yr-Own also released the “Pissing in a River” (Patti Smith cover) single in 1993, and the band did some touring and broke up by the mid 90s.

Bryan and Bobby now play in Burl, whose name is probably a tribute to former Anacortes resident, Burl Ives, but we like to think that they named themselves after Killdozer’s hauntingly beautiful Burl EP (um, which is also a tribute to Burl Ives). Bryan, Bobby, and ex-Pounding Serfer Frank also gig under the name The Bryan Elliott Band, who opened for the reformed Mono Men last year.

While you are at it, check out Phil Elvrum’s Gravel tribute at the 2003 What the Heck Fest here.

Gravel - "Bucket of Blood"
Gravel - "As for Tomorrow"
Gravel - "Over the Edge"

Gravel - "Erase"
Gravel - "Hang Me"
Gravel - "Pissing in a River"

-- MC Tom