Monday, August 27, 2007

Hole were, I swear, once a very good band

First of all, yes, we know that Hole technically formed outside of the Northwest—specifically, they formed in Los Angeles, although Courtney Love grew up in Oregon and, of course, lived in Seattle around the time that Live Through This broke big. Eh, close enough

And second of all, yes, I mean what I wrote: Hole’s early material rocks. Live Through This never appealed to me; I didn’t care for the slicked-up vocals or the rather obvious reference to Kurt Cobain’s suicide in the title (and probably elsewhere on the record) or the songs or the hype. And the few tracks I heard from Celebrity Skin sounded pretty dismal. Those records, however, represented Love at the peak of her mainstream fame: Courtney Love of Versace ads and Milos Foreman movies, Courtney Love of ACLU awards, affairs with Edward Norton, and Golden Globes.

A friend-of-lamestain knew guitarist Eric Erlandson in the mid-80s, before Hole, when he was “pretty shy, straight-laced . . fresh-faced and innocent.” The earliest shows sounded completely shambolic—an inept bassist (not on any of their records) who would periodically scream in the microphone, a third guitarist who generated massive amounts of feedback, etc. He reports that Hole attempted to channel “the NYC, lower east side, scuz rock kinda thing,” even to the point that they had hoped to recruit ex-Sonic Youth/Pussy Galore member Bob Bert for drums. Whatever ambitions the band may have had at the time, they certainly didn’t involve photos in Karl Lagerfeld clothes.

Their first single and LP (“Retard Girl” and Pretty on the Inside, respectively) capture the band midway through their trip from scuz rock to radio rock, when the songwriting had sharpened a bit and the band members had figured out how to play off each other. It still amazes me, however, that Love would later achieve such red-carpet success, considering how reckless and wrecked Pretty on the Inside sounded at the time—or even sounds now, for that matter. Some annoying LA-isms pop up here and there (for example, a phone message of Love saying, “Your reputation is shit in this town” gets repeated a couple of times), and I always skip the track in which the band bangs out the chords of “Cinnamon Girl” repeatedly, but overall, it’s a fine record.

(I confess that I didn’t own this record until recently. I picked it up from after revisiting the Garbadge [sic] Man video on YouTube, although I certainly knew the music from way back when.)

Some things to clarify about Hole:

1) They were not riot grrls. They may, however, have been part of the “foxcore” movement. (I mention that only to make fun, once again, of Thurston Moore for coining that jackassed term. I mean, come on. “Foxcore”? Ha ha ha.) But riot grrls? No.

2) According to our friend in the know, Eric Erlandson deserves more credit than he often receives for shaping the band. Love may have provided the (anti-)style, the sneer, the self-hatred, and the songs, but Erlandson gave those songs texture and shape. It’s reported that he later even played all of the guitar tracks in the studio. So it’s a bit unfair to think of Hole as Courtney Love + a backup band ( Speaking of which, Jill Emery plays bass and Caroline Rue plays drums on these records.

3) “Retard Girl” is actually just so-so.

4) Hole released a single on Sub Pop, “Dicknail,” between “Retard Girl” and Pretty on the Inside. It’s pretty good, but we don’t own it.

Retard Girl
Phonebill Song
johnnies in the bathroom

Teenage Whore

And the .zip file is here.


P.S. Coverage of Geezerfest will be up soon!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Here Ain’t the Sonics – The Only Tribute LP without a Sonic Youth Song

Listening to the new Sonics Busy Body Live in Tacoma 1964 LP on Norton Records serves as a reminder that the band was easily one of the best Northwest bands of all time. The Sonics were still young and hadn’t quite broken out of the Wailers mold (especially on side A, which is mostly instrumental cover songs), but you can still sense the greatness that was about to happen. As far as original garage rock goes, the Sonics were one of the loudest, hardest-driving, and coolest punk bands in the land. Really, 40 years later, bands are still unsuccessfully trying to outdo the Sonics. As part of Norton’s brilliant Northwest garage rock series, the live LP--along with the Here Are the Sonics, Boom, and to a lesser extent, the Savage Young Sonics--are must-haves for thee garage rock sect.

It’s also common knowledge that great tribute records are hard as hell to pull off. Nonetheless, Bellingham’s Estrus Records and Conrad Uno’s Seattle-based, Popllama Records put in a valiant effort with the 1989 Here Ain’t the Sonics LP. The Northwest garage rock scene was pretty small at the time, so the labels searched across the US and World (well, at least, England and Sweden) and picked out some of the heavyweights. Unfortunately, the record is only so-so. While we are sure that nobody involved expected to accomplish the impossible and one-up the Sonics, we do wish that some of the bands tore it up a bit more.

The record starts off well enough with Sweden’s original garage punk rock revivalists, the Nomads, who were still a few years away from kick-starting the 90’s Swedish Punk and Roll scene with bands like the Hellacopters and Gluecifer. (The Nomads, who have impeccable taste in their cover songs, have also done the Sonics songs “Boss Hoss,” “He’s Waiting,” and “Psycho” on various other recordings.) Tacoma’s pride and joy Girl Trouble do a respectable version of “The Hustler,” but in my professional opinion, they don’t quite own the song like they do with their Elvis covers. The Mono Men also performed better Sonics covers in the later Mort-era of their career; their versions of “Boss Hoss” and “He’s Waiting” on numerous other records are looser, louder, and more in the Sonics spirit than this version of “The Witch.”

Brother JT’s phenomenal former band, The Original Sins, do a fairly good job with “Like No Other Man,” which then begs the question why this band wasn’t appreciated more. If there is ever a 90’s garage rock record that demands to be heard, it’s their Bedlam records release Turn You On, which you can finally now buy on CD here. (Ripping off the Mummies or Supercharger is old news, kids; try writing a song as good as “Just 14” or “O Misery” instead.) Brother JT also continues to make great records to this day.

Screaming Trees then take one of the punkest Sonics songs and somehow make it sound like a bummer. Obviously, Mark Lanegan wasn’t known as a screamer, but you shouldn’t cover “Psycho” unless you are willing to rip your throat out. Bellingham’s Game for Vultures featured Mort fresh out of the Dehumanizers, and Oregon’s long-running Surf Trio do a version of “Strychnine” that is missing some of the menacing quality of the Cramps’ earlier cover version.

Side two begins with Billy Childish’s legendary band Thee Headcoats, who released records on more Northwest labels than most Northwestern bands; besides this record, the band released records on Regal Select, Sub Pop, Estrus, Super Electro, and K Records, and amazingly, they are all great. Pittsburgh’s The Cynics, whose members split their time in band with running the very cool Get Hip Records, were also one first and longest running American garage rock revival bands. The Young Fresh Fellows, of course, deserve their own post someday, and this song features Kurt Bloch on shredding lead guitar.

It’s a mystery whether Pippi Eats Cherries were a one-off or a real band, but this band-featured ex-Gun Club and Pontiac Brother Ward Dotson before he formed the much better and sorely underrated Liquor Giants. (The Liquor Giants’ “Play Along” 45 on Seattle’s Lucky Records is a lost power pop gem.) The still-sounding-great Fall-Outs provide another album highlight and were able to make the song sound like their own. Marshmallow Overcoat proves that Black Sun Ensemble weren’t the only psychedelic band in Tucson in the mid-1980’s; they’re still around playing shows.

Former U-Man and part-time Drills drummer (uncovered here first, bubba!) Tom Price leads the Kings of Rock through “Boss Hoss.” (The band also covered “The Witch” on an early In the Red single.) The album then ends with San Diego’s Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, whose claim to fame in the 1980 was celebrity parody songs. A track by the Nights and Days, the Night Kings, or whatever Rob Vasquez was doing at the time would have been cooler and more fitting, but hey, the label has got to make some money someway.

This record was also not the only local Sonics tribute. In 2000, the Experience Music Project hosted a concert by the New Strychnines, which featured Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, Steve Turner, and Dan Peters; the aforementioned Tom Price; Girl Trouble’s Big Kahuna; Young Fresh Fellow and Minus 5 head-honcho Scott McCaughey; and Craig Florey. They later changed their name to the New Original Sonic Sound and recorded a CD for Munster Records.

Cinderella - Nomads
The Hustler - Girl Trouble
The Witch - Mono Men
Love No Other Man - The Original Sins
Psycho - Screaming Trees
He's Waiting - Game for Vultures
Strychnine - Surf Trio
You've Got Your Head on Backwards - Thee Headcoats
Shot Down - The Cynics
High Time - Young Fresh Fellows
Dirty Old Man - Pippi Eats Cherries
Going Home - Fallouts
Maintaining My Cool - Marshmallow Overcoat
Boss Hoss - Kings of Rock
Have Love Will Travel - Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper

Get them all through the zip file here.

-- MC Tom

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tales of Brave Calvin Johnson

Over the course of the past several weeks, I’ve started and ditched several drafts of this post about the four-song Beat Happening/Screaming Trees collaboration, which K Records/Homestead Records released in 1988. I planned jokes in some, and in others, I considered the role Beat Happening and Calvin Johnson’s K Records played in the Northwest, with consideration of the influence on everyone from Nirvana to Kill Rock Stars to Sleater-Kinney to every band in the country that eschews bass.

Then, I remembered that I’m talking about Beat Happening here. It would be more fitting to talk about, I dunno, cookies or hugs or freckles or something.

Which is why, even to this day, it strikes me as odd that hard-psych grungers the Screaming Trees ever collaborated with Olympia’s most famous twee-pop stars Beat Happening.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t be so surprised. The Trees Gary Lee Conner and Mark Lanegan co-produced Beat Happening’s seminal Jamboree (the one with “Indian Summer”) with Steve Fisk. And Fisk, who also produced this EP, sat behind the boards for the first few Screaming Trees records (Other Worlds, Even If and Especially When, and Invisible Lantern). Those early Screaming Trees records certainly didn’t sound like Beat Happening, but they aren’t so radically different either. The two bands would diverge sonically even more not long after they released this EP. Trouser Press notes, accurately, that Beat Happening runs the show here.

Lanegan would later release a few very well-regarded records of country death songs and also serve as a sideman with Queens of the Stone Age. Johnson, among other projects, made basement funk jams with Dub Narcotic Sound System. Let’s consider ourselves lucky that the two worked together in 1988 and not 2007.

Anyway, while nobody would argue that this EP attains the heights reached by the respective bands on their own, it’s still worth a listen. Also, if you can find it, hunt down Velocity Girl’s cover of “Tales of Brave Aphrodite,” which surpasses the (already good) original.

Sea Babies
Tales of Brave Aphrodite
Polly Pereguin
I Dig You

And of course, the zip file can be found here.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

By Popular Request: Room Nine!

As writer Clark Humphrey noted way back in 1993, one of the biggest clich├ęs when describing Northwest bands is that such-and-such a band "is not your typical Seattle band." Chances are you have seen everybody from Sky Cries Mary to Forced Entry to FCS North described that way. In truth, only about a handful of bands defined the “typical Northwest sound,” while the rest of them played hard rock, punk, garage, metal, new wave, or whatever. Obviously, labeling everything “grunge” or “not grunge” makes for crappy and lazy music journalism that only gives a narrow view of what happened in Seattle over the past couple of decades.

That said, Room Nine weren't your typical Seattle band (har har). If anything, their rainy day sound had more in common musically with 1980's UK post-punk bands like the Chameleons, Echo and the Bunnymen, and, at times, the Psychedelic Furs than with all the My War-era Black Flag meet Black Sabbath influenced punk bands. They played mid-tempo songs with plenty of reverb and chorus, which would probably sound a bit dated today if it weren’t for such a renewed interest in that sound among so many modern bands. Seattle, of course, had its fair share of other UK-influenced pop bands, such as early Pure Joy or Weather Theatre, which goes to show it wasn’t just stinky guys in flannel shirts abusing their Big Muff fuzz pedals in the club scene.

Room Nine was formed in the early 80s by singer/guitarist Ron Rudzitis (or Ron Nine), bassist/keyboardist Scott Boggan, and drummer Scott Vanderpool and was probably one of the few local bands that had their own lightman, Michael Laton. They made their live debut opening for Student Nurse and were signed to C’est La Mort records, which might have been Louisiana’s only independent label that specialized in synth pop, goth, and post-punk. Scott Vanderpool eventually moved to Olympia and showed up in bands like the Young Pioneers and Chemistry Set and was replaced by Shawn Allen, who stuck with the band until their break-up in the late eighties.

Room Nine contributed “Angel Sings” to the 1986 C’est La Mort compilation record, Doctor Death's Volume I, and “A Thousand Years” to the 1987 Ironwood Records compilation, Lowlife. The Lowlife compilation, which features a photo of Chris Cornell on the cover, was recorded Jay Follette and Paul Scoles and also featured songs by Vexed, Walkabouts, Pure Joy, Feast (featuring a pre-Mudhoney Dan Peters), Bundle of Hiss, Terry Lee Hale, Melting Fish, Clay Alien, and 5 Sides Collide. (Incidentally, Ironwood studio is also where Chris Hanzsek recorded Soundgarden, Melvins, Skin Yard, etc. for the 1985 C/Z records debut, the Deep Six compilation.) Room Nine then released their only full-length, the Voices….. of a Summer’s Day in 1987, played around town a lot, and then broke up around the turn of the decade.

Ron went on to form Love Battery and has since reunited with Scott Boggan and Vanderpool as the band, Down with People. Both Love Battery and Down with People will be playing the Geezerfest at the Crocodile on August 25th and 26th.

Circus Floor
Revolving Door
Seas Without a Shore
White Summer
Don't Look Back
Red Dog

For some reason, mediamax won't upload the last couple songs, but you can get them all in a .zip file here.

- MC Tom