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Classic Album Review

ALBUM REVIEW: FLIPPER- Album- Generic Flipper

ALBUM REVIEW: FLIPPER- Album- Generic Flipper

BEST TRACKS: Ever, Life is Cheap, Sex Bomb

It was on a 1983 Bay Area public access television performance that Flipper’s Will Shatter told his increasingly frustrated interviewer that Flipper wasn’t a punk band.  Now, this could simply be relegated to the band being characteristically difficult; after all, they had spent the last hour in their shaved heads and ratty jeans screaming through a comically overdriven bass.  They may have not literally been the Ramones, but sonically and rhetorically, Flipper fit well within the emerging West-Coast scene among Bay Area contemporaries like the Dead Kennedys or the Units and LA bands like X, Germs, and Black Flag.  But Shatter’s prescription can’t fully be dismissed as a punk insistence on outsiderdom. Flipper was different. The core of punk rock insisted on a visceral release of frustration, a direct line from a performing band to its audience and, on a larger scale, the entire surrounding society they were so disillusioned with.  With an insistence on such caustic expulsions, simplicity is required. Any ornamentation would impede the central thesis behind the music’s very insistence, and therefore, punk’s simplicity is indirect. Flipper, however, made this simplicity the main tenant of their musical philosophy. Rather than a necessity placed to prevent collapse under the weight of anger, they distilled and subverted music itself into their own warped, inflamed expression.  Flipper wasn’t a punk band, it was a deconstruction band.

Flipper was born out of 1979’s San Francisco to parents Ricky Williams, Ted Falconi, Steve DePace and Will Shatter. Falconi, a Vietnam vet, distinguished himself as a guitar player through his insanely distorted, mid-heavy, disgustingly compressed tone while Shatter’s bass was almost equally as overdriven while relishing in the uncomfortably trebly territory.  Williams was replaced by Bruce Loose before the band could record anything, and both Loose and Shatter switched between bass and vocal duties. After releasing a handful of singles (most notably Sex Bomb, an eight-minute sludge of Shatter screaming “She’s my sexy bomb, yeah” over and over) Flipper came out with their debut full length, Generic Flipper, on San Fran’s Subterranean Records in 1982.  It was slow; it was sardonic; it was annoying. Today, it remains Flipper’s most recognizable and fully representative work, melding Black Sabbath’s distorted doom into the Sex Pistol’s irreverence and debauchery. Caught in between the two distinct phases of punk which respectively emphasized excess and self-discipline, Flipper existed as a band without a country. The band took no issue with excessive drug use (Shatter died in 1987 of a heroin overdose), yet didn’t romanticize their self-destruction.   They were a crusty group playing crusty music that made even the crustiest fans squeamish and irritable.

In a time where punk was getting faster, angrier, more confrontational, Flipper insisted on slowing down and laughing at the crushing weight of the world rather than trying to move it by force.  In Generic Flipper’s opening track, “Ever”, Bruce Loose belts out mind-numbingly basic, yet frighteningly resigned lyrics such as “Ever live a life that’s real/Full of zest, but no appeal, Ever want to cry so much/ You want to die”.  The bass and guitar are both distorted to oblivion, melting into one syrupy entity and trudging the song along at a tempo that is frustratingly slow.  Do-wop claps are placed behind the horribly mixed drum kit, all culminating in a song mocking every single person who has ever expressed any sort of happiness at any point in their lives.  And the rest of the album continues in this exact same vein. Shatter and Loose take turns being obnoxiously sarcastic, yet it’s hard to believe that the defeat that they so adamantly preach isn’t at least a partially lived-experience. “Life is Cheap” begins with a doom metal riff played with Falconi’s ridiculously cheap sounding tone, and the drums (which sound like they were recorded by a teenager in a laundry room) begin about 15 seconds in to lock the 4-minute long song in a seemingly unending groove.  And Sex Bomb makes another appearance. The eight-minute fart of a song features Shatter screaming at the top of his lungs while his typical sludge infested backing is supplemented by a saxophone of all things. It’s as if Flipper dressed up like the Rolling Stones only to pull down their pants and shit directly on the stage.

By the early 80s, punk was getting faster, angrier, more macho, obsessed with self-discipline and abrasively bettering the world.  But Flipper was decidedly not that. As the Black Flag’s sped up to explore the capabilities of what punk could mean, Flipper insisted on slowing it down, making it increasingly unpleasant and wholly nihilistic.  They were hated and probably rightfully so. However, whether intentional or not, Flipper was responsible for generations of noise and sludge expressions which defined American post-punk alternativism. Generic Flipper was a brutally simple collection of noise paired with often juvenile pessimism. It can kind of be looked at like the piece of modern art that’s just a white canvas.  You could have done it, but you didn’t.

-Cliff Jenkins 

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Classic Album Review

CLASSIC REVIEW: THE GERMS- GI

CLASSIC REVIEW: THE GERMS- GI

BEST TRACKS: Communist Eyes, We Must Bleed, Manimal, Lexicon Devil, Richie Dagger’s Crime

By the time the Ramones had condensed rock and roll into its brattiest possible unit, punk’s death was already long set in motion. Though “punk rock’ was not a magical intervention by a sympathetic God tired of listening to Fleetwood Mac, the ultimate cultural amalgam that became the genre’s first (and arguably “purest”) wave burned incredibly hot and equally fast.  And all by design, of course. So if one were to grab their leather studded microscope to set distinct barriers within punk’s seemingly never-ending canon, the Ramones’ first “1,2,3,4!”s at CBGB are finalized through the Darby Crash’s 1980 suicide. Through his band, the Germs, Crash brought punk’s ethos to the end of its first crescendo by making it harder, faster, and, most importantly, without any apparent control. Though the rise of hardcore punk following the Germ’s demise was faster and harder by technical standards, this was a controlled catharsis.  In fact, the highly disciplined blasts of noise made famous through bands like Minor Threat, 7 Seconds, and Rollins-fronted Black Flag, were at least partially in response to punk’s initial reputation of being so decadently caked in debauchery. But whatever catharsis is found within the Germs is chaotic, almost accidental. As the logical conclusion to a genre founded on white-hot excess, they were possibly the most extreme practitioners of debauchery. Their sole studio album, “GI”, is an absolute mess of feedback-riddled guitars, frantic drumming, and incoherent snarls of anti-authority.  It is every promise of punk rock fulfilled, and because of that “GI” is a horrifying record. By the time it’s thirty minutes are up, you realize that this is it. As Darby Crash burned out in a wild thrash against every perceived establishment, so did the first wave of punk rock.

Jan Paul Beahm was born in Venice, California in September 1958.  Moving to West LA by the late 60s, Beahm’s troubled childhood was patterned with episodes like his brother’s drug overdose/murder, his mother’s frequent bouts with psychosis, and the abrupt death of his stepfather.  An avid reader, Beahm was enrolled in Innovative Program School, an LA alternative high school which combined Erhard Seminars Training and Scientology. It was here that Beahm met Georg Ruthenburg, and the two frequently took LSD on campus.  Fearing that the boy’s increasing novelty as spaced out cult-esque figures within the school was brainwashing other students, Beahm and Ruthenburg were kicked out of IPS before graduation. They decided to form an incredibly raw, amateur band in the vein of proto-punk acts like the Stooges or MC5 and began purposefully recruiting unskilled musicians for their chaotic project. Eventually settling on the name “Germs” (after others proved too long and therefore expensive to print on T-Shirts), Beahm and Ruthernburg became Bobby Pyn and Pat Smear, respectively.  After being joined by bassist Lorna Doom and drummer Donna Rhia, the Germs recorded their first single, “Forming”, a minute and a half pounding, meandering expulsion in 1977. Soon after, Bobby Pyn was rechristened Darby Crash, and the Germs began their infamous circuit within LA’s burgeoning punk scene.

Crash, the clear frontman of the group, would spend shows loaded on booze, painkillers, and heroin while babbling his song’s lyrics seemingly everywhere but the microphone (which apparently had to be taped to his hand at one point).  But it was punk; the Germs embodied a pure disorder that LA’s underground was craving by the late 70s. Live performances were often violent, with Crash frequently confronting members of the audience while stumbling about, rarely confident in his ability to stand.  Eventually, the band’s notoriety blacklisted them from every club in the city, forcing them to perform under the moniker GI (Germs Incognito). And perhaps not coincidentally, this also was the name of their first/last studio album; a record which has now been bestowed a legendary status for fans of punk akin to “Never Mind the Bollocks” or “Damaged”.  For an LA who had only witnessed the germs through their increasingly messy live performances, 1979’s GI was a moment of clarity that forced every listener to sit back for a second and think “holy shit these guys are actually talented musicians”. Smear was finally given a stasis upon which he could clearly show off his incredibly tight and fluid guitar playing, while Crash’s songs could actually be consumed as, well, songs.  But what was most surprising were Crash’s lyrics which, up until the recording of GI, were largely impossible to comprehend through hectic live shows. Under his dyed hair, broken teeth, and skin often sliced by glass on stage, he was a poet obsessed with his own inevitable destruction. At once, it became clear that Darby Crash knew he was the final fetid breath escaping his movement; he knew his anarchy was destined to end soon.  And it did. After GI’s recording, the Germs found it even harder to perform live within the city, as the LAPD would often come to violently disband crowds which they saw on the edge of a riot. Crash appeared to know the Germs were not sustainable, becoming increasingly removed from the band before purposefully administering himself a fatal dose of heroin December 7, 1980. LA’s most notorious punk band was over. Don Bolles, the band’s final drummer, went on to join a handful of other LA punk bands while Pat Smear eventually joined Nirvana, as a touring guitarist, and the Foo Fighters, as a full-time member.  

Musically, it can be hard to differentiate between every track on GI.  Within each two-minute snot-fest one will find a crispy guitar, loose and pounding drums, and a Darby crash snarl (of course!). But the third, fourth, or maybe fifth time scratching your head while attempting to consume this spoiled rotten album will elucidate a surprising amount of depth. For instance, “Manimal” opens with a simple yet devastating Smear riff which sounds akin to early Black Sabbath, demanding attention while Doom’s fat, rounded bass acts as an anchor before dissolving into Crash’s fiery yelps.  “Manimal” also contains Crash’s most explicit recognition of his otherness and ultimate destiny outside of civilization with “I came into this world/Like a puzzled panther, waiting to be caged/but something stood in the way, I was never quite tamed”. “Lexicon Devil”, the groups most well-known song, is revamped with a new penchant for barreling speed, with a four-chord, percussive guitar lead doubling Crash’s cultish growls which entice the listener to surrender to the Germs and all of their promised damage in lines like I’m a lexicon devil with a battered brain And I’m lookin’ for a future, the world’s my aim

So gimme, gimme your hands, gimme, gimme your minds”.  “Richie Dagger’s Crime”, probably more playful than any other track, is shockingly optimistic.  Smear’s crunchy, aggressively uncompressed blues leads weave between Crash’s sputtered autobiography of a boy who exists purely to rebel against every person he meets. “We Must Bleed” is the Germs’ most concentrated display of their inherent bend towards deconstruction, is a simple four-chord descent into nothingness which holds both the beginning and end of the Germs within it.  The song goes longer than its peers, though Bolles drums become quickly resigned to a tribal thump which Crash spouts “We Must Bleed” over and over again. As it thuds on, the song destroys everything around it, and when even the air begins to fall around Darby Crash he begins to bellow “I want out now!” as his band becomes looser and rattles into oblivion.  Crash runs out of things to destroy, and in the terror that follows he realizes that the only thing left to fall is his own body.

The Germs existed for only five years.  But in their attempts to become the most vicious and unhinged bands in Los Angeles they cemented a legacy as the final, and brightest, flame of 1970s rock music. After a culmination of disenfranchisement, drugs, and snottiness birthed punk in New York, a trajectory was set that could have only ended with the Germs.  And through GI, the germs have left a permanent record upon a movement which was dangerously close to only witnessing them in their brief shenanigans while still on this Earth. In my opinion, Darby Crash is the unheralded king of the punks, and GI is the contract which bestowed his domain.

-Cliff Jenkins

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Classic Album Review

ALBUM REVIEW: ELLIOT SMITH- Elliot Smith

ALBUM REVIEW: ELLIOT SMITH- Elliot Smith

BEST TRACKS: Christian Brothers, Needle in the Hay, Coming Up Roses, Alphabet Town, St. Ides Heaven

While it’s true that Elliot Smith burst upon Soundscape SuperhighwayTM with “Miss Misery”, which played during the end credits of 1997’s “Good Will Hunting”, Smith’s 1995 eponymous album is clearly his best work.  I’m absolutely serious. There’s absolutely no question. Any piece of Smith’s musical legacy found itself originally fully realized on this album.  Thin, croaking vocal lines; meandering guitar plucked by spindly digits; a gloom which rests on delicate instability; it’s all here. And by no means am I disparaging his later work.  Either/Or, XO and Figure 8 still employ everything that distinguishes Smith’s incredibly unique songwriting, but it’s through “Elliot Smith” that this was first done with full confidence. Here, Smith is momentarily plateaued in all of his strengths; stuck in a moment where his songs operate as an extension of him with perfect efficiency.  So, I admit, the soggy singer-songwriter in 2019 is a little played out. But in 1995, Elliot Smith perfected it. I guess if you like that stuff, you might want to steer clear of this album. Otherwise, everything else will fall tragically short.

It’s hard to say whether Elliott Smith fits ridiculously well into the niche of mid 90sdom or invented it.  Smith, while still playing with his INDIE ROCK band Heatmiser, had released his debut acoustic album “Roman Candle” in 1994.  On it, Smith first made evident his ability to blend inconspicuous yet incredibly intricate guitar parts with a wire-thin vocal line spouting perplexingly intimate lyrics.  And beyond that, Smith was able to manipulate all of these assets by simply layering lo-fi single mic recordings. Now that’s what I call DIY. To no surprise, Smith quickly gained a following in Portland (Christ this has to be the fourth album I’ve reviewed that’s included Portland being really into something before everyone else) despite extremely limited success anywhere outside of the city.  Smith’s first encounter with, albeit limited, success came when Mary Lou Lord happened upon one of his shows and was understandably blown away. She immediately asked him to tour with her, and he was subsequently signed to Kill Rock Stars. So what does an up-and-coming, yet under-appreciated, mid 90s sad guitarist/singer who recently got signed on an alternative label following a groundbreaking live performance do, you ask?  Well, write an insanely depressing album of course. And so, “Elliott Smith”, the album, was born.

Similar to “Roman Candle”, this album perfected the lo-fi, single microphone in a room approach which Smith’s music is usually automatically associated with.  Expanding upon simply double-tracking his vocals while plucking a guitar whose leads gasp from being drowned by an open-string drone, “Elliott Smith” manages to further manipulate this sparse pairing by weaving the two together in incredibly subtle ways.  “Needle in the Hay”, the album’s opening track, is the pinnacle of Elliot Smith’s art of master production. I’ll try to do this song justice here but I can’t make any promises that I will. Smith begins strumming down on five chords that have been stripped of all but their bare essentials, building a tension which creeps up your spine as Smith barely mumbles out the melody which has been placed directly on the listener’s ear.  It’s unsettling, to say the least. But right as you think you’ve found a center to the song, a stasis in its delivery, the chorus begins seemingly out of nowhere. Smith’s classic double-tracked vocals slide into to layer above what first appeared to be a standard verse. It’s a deeply disturbing song which most exemplifies Smith’s ability to articulate a soul in decay. Christian Brothers and St. Ides heaven manage to accomplish a similar feat, though through a more straightforward approach.  Christian Brothers, especially, highlights Smith’s use of barren, inverted chords and hauntingly beautiful vocals, with its chorus whispering with a careening falsetto. Coming Up Roses offers a more upbeat sampling of Smith’s songwriting prowess, but still reverberates with the same energy of defeated instability that blankets the entirety of the album.

Elliot Smith’s second album is definitely the darkest, emotionally raw output of a career which unfortunately ended abruptly. Though Smith’s 2003 suicide(?) should by no means be romanticized, it’s impossible to remove this album from an artist who was clearly disturbed.  Listening to it sometimes sucks, because Elliott Smith does such a good fucking job of making music about absolute desolation.

-Cliff Jenkins

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Classic Album Review

CLASSIC REVIEW: Ariel Pink- The Doldrums

CLASSIC REVIEW: Ariel Pink- The Doldrums

BEST TRACKS: Let’s Build a Campfire, For Kate I Wait, Among Dreams, Don’t Think Twice (Love)

When first listening to The Doldrums, you might find yourself asking, “is this a joke”.  And to answer your question, dearest reader, yeah. Or maybe not. But how could it not be? If it is a joke it’s a really good one in the sense that it’s really funny, but an absolutely moronic one when taking into account how much Ariel Pink put into its setup.  So as of now, we’ll look at it as something in the middle, a comment, if you will on, say, society. Even then I’m probably giving it more of a serious analysis than it deserves, but at the end of the day, it’s an album. A really fucking good album, one that makes you question why you even like music.

So it’s 1999 at CalArts.  One Mr. Ariel Pink is disillusioned with the entire concept of art school, is heavily in the midst of a drug binge, and has his Senior Project coming up.  So what does he turn in? Well, his debut album of course. Well, we should call it what it really is: an anti-album. Concocted deep within the infamous, denatured Pink brain, The Doldrums sounds like an assortment of samples taken from daytime television that Ariel recorded him singing on a whim after returning home shitfaced.  But the instrumentation is his. Placed far behind his vocals, Ariel reverbs and generally distorts his self-made backing tracks to shellac over them an air of dissociation and lethargy akin to when you watch too much TV in the middle of the day. But at the end of the day, the compositions sound good and are written well. So when Ariel cries over them in a mocking falsetto it’s confusing: who is he making fun of if not himself and music itself? In all honesty, it’s probably both.  And in case you were wondering, Ariel set up a booth that he sold his CD out of for his senior project. There’s no word on well he did academically, but the CD eventually made its way to Animal Collective, who subsequently signed him.

It’s really difficult to actually analyze the songs on this album.  First of all, the “mixing” melts together synths, guitars, knee-drums, random chirps, TV samples all into a honey-lacquered stew that doesn’t quite sit still within the belly.  Secondly, The Doldrums goads you to take a deeper look into it, only to eventually point and laugh at you once you’ve already spent hours dazed in its taunting sweetness. That’s the most infuriating part of this album.  It’s really clear that Ariel is making fun of saccharine stock music, cheesy love songs, and just popular music as a whole. But he does it with really amazing melodies. “Among Dreams” and “For Kate I Wait” strike me as the easiest examples of this, though not the best.  I mean this in that they benefit from a mix which favors Ariel’s vocals so my point is most readily available. Both live in a rounded synth line that blankets everything but Ariel’s falsetto delivering some of the catchiest melodies I’ve ever heard. Occasionally, the listener may get confused into thinking they were just listening to a lo-fi pop song, but then there’s something up there in the corner of your ear.  What is it? Well, it’s a three-stringed guitar of course, or maybe some knee slap drums. Ariel Pink does not give a fuck about this music, it just springs forth effortlessly. Songs such as “The Ballad of Bobby Pyn” only suffer in that Ariel draws them out too much, stringing along a drowsy atmosphere for over ten minutes while occasionally delivering some half-sung half-line. And just as you go to get mad that you’ve been listening too long, you realize that that’s the point. You’ve been duped.

 – Cliff Jenkins

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Classic Album Review

CLASSIC REVIEW: CALEB FRAID- The Old Rugged Me

CLASSIC REVIEW: CALEB FRAID- The Old Rugged Me

BEST TRACKS: 50/50, Anxious to Live, Vertical Blind

 

Fine, fine, this isn’t what would regularly be denoted as a “classic”.  But there’s something in this album which I haven’t found within really anything else.  It isn’t clear whether this is a result of a personal absence of knowledge surrounding this genre or simply that I have stumbled upon a long forgotten masterpiece (there’s a good chance it’s the former), but The Old Rugged me contains such a distilled spirit of creativity and self reliance that it manages to make me feel wholly lacking in every creative endeavor I’ve ever attempted.  While Caleb Fraid’s 8-track gem has been, to the extent of my knowledge, widely ignored, I would argue the (in)famous Velvet Underground quote is equally applicable to this album. Every person who listens to The Old Rugged Me is guaranteed to start a band.

 

Picture this, it’s the mid 90s, cassettes still reign supreme simply in their pragmatism.  Wow, what a time! Of course, I won’t try and make the classic “I was born in the wrong generation :,(“ argument, but the music environment facilitated by mid-90s technology is still really fucking cool.  Though the advent of the internet has virtually eliminated 90% of distribution costs, making everything DIY an actual possibility, the inherent magnitude of the World Wide Web makes this distribution infinitely more diffuse.  With cassette tapes, the distribution wasn’t presupposed. As such, not only was the content itself DIY, but so were the means by which it was sold, advertised, and shipped. So what does all of this actually mean you ask? Super localized tape scenes where labels often simply consisted of a handful of bands recording songs on a boombox and then having their stuff advertised in a mailer and shipped out from some dude’s house.  Labels like Shrimper, Amateur Anarchy, and Asswipe all existed as “companies” which refreshingly removed barriers between artists and consumers, and built an underground (hell yeah) music scene which attracted musicians whose creativity could be fostered on something as simple as something like an 8-track. And that’s where Caleb Fraid, a Houston native, comes in. While perusing BandCamp like a certified cool man, I came across FraidAid: a decent collection of lo-fi songs.  Admittedly, I wasn’t blown away. But then I looked at what else Fraid had released and, to my surprise, found over 100 tapes recorded between the mid 80s and early 2000s. Most of the covers were plastered with doodles Fraid appeared to have drawn on napkins. And so I finally came upon The Old Rugged Me, a collection of tracks whose minimal production quality initially mask the startlingly good songwriting beneath it. But don’t be fooled, this album is genius.

 

The funniest part about The Old Rugged Me is that it doesn’t really sound that far off from the Beatles’ White Album. No, no, I’m serious.  Fraid obviously isn’t concerned with clever recording techniques; rather, he spends two to three minutes using his limited resources to display his phenomenal songwriting.  And it is phenomenal. 50/50 offers us a horribly thin guitar line coupled with Fraid’s double tracked vocals that occasionally diverge to weave in and out of harmony before returning to the binary drone by the chorus. I swear to God, it sounds just like the Velvet Underground.  And the production here actual begins to work to Fraid’s advantage, turning a pretty standard sounding blues-rock track into a playful build which can only be described as a guy playing singing and playing guitar at himself. Similarly, “Anxious to Live” and “Vertical Blind” find their tenderness significantly boosted by its rawness. Whatever may exist within Fraid’s mind for these songs is probably impossible to decipher, but there is no mistake that it’s genuine.  Honestly, it’s difficult to choose a handful of songs to highlight on this thing; every song is a rotation of impulse which sees Fraid’s sparse, yet intricate songwriting ultimately speak for itself.

 

This album is the pinnacle of everything classified as DIY.  Devoid of pretension, The Old Rugged me exists as an entirely pure expression of an artist who is clearly fully invested in what he makes.  

 – Cliff Jenkins

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Classic Album Review

CLASSIC REVIEW: ATARI TEENAGE RIOT- Delete Yourself

CLASSIC REVIEW: ATARI TEENAGE RIOT- Delete Yourself

 

Atari Teenage Riot’s 1995 Masterpiece “Delete Yourself”  sounds as if a punk modified with a synthetic heart and iron lungs was pumped to the seams with amphetamine.  It’s political, it’s blunt, there’s no camp in its rawness. In a decade which saw punk reinvented as a handsome nihilism,  “Delete Yourself” returned the genre to its roots in political panic and aggression. Every song rotates through a handful of ingredients: thrash guitar, screamed one-liners, maybe a movie samples, and a simple techno drum sample.  But it was through this simplicity that ATR captured the essentials of punk’s vigor without a hint of nostalgia (or punk for punk’s sake). There is no close-reading with “Delete Yourself”. It is a pure, volatile reaction.

 

ATR, a trio consisting of Alec Empire, MC Carl Crack and Hanin Elias, combined elements of hardcore punk, thrash metal and breakbeat with, often extreme, anti-fascist lyrics. The result was Digital Hardcore; a far-left subculture pioneered by ATR which quickly spread in reaction against rising neo-nazi subcultures in Berlin’s electronic scenes.  The genre’s namesake is derived from Digital Hardcore Recordings, a label set up by Empire which signed similar acts such as EC8OR, Sonic Subjunkies and Christoph de Babalon. For eight years, ATR reigned supreme in the Digital Hardcore scene before the subculture’s eventual decline at the turn of the millennium. In 2000, Crack was found in his apartment, dead at age 30 from a drug overdose.  With that, Atari Teenage Riot disbanded: Empire continues to release experimental electronic compositions and Elias has established a career as a solo artist and created her own label: Fatal Recordings.

 

When first dissecting Delete Yourself, one should familiarize themselves with ATR’s first single, which happens to also appear on the 1995 LP. “Hetzjagd auf Nazis!” (“Hunt the Nazis!”) can be examined as a microcosm of ATR, exemplifying their urgent simplicity and unadulterated fury.  An overdriven three note synth line layered over a breakbeat with Empire screaming “go” over and over for five minutes, “Hetzjagd auf Nazis” descends further and further into ambient obscurity as it progresses. Undeterminable echoed noises fill the space surrounding the mid-heavy synth line which, along with the repeating beat, grounds the track while its peripheral components drift further into madness.  “Speed” begins with a speed metal guitar sample which stands solitary for a mere moment before being swept up by the beat. From here on it’s only a breakneck barrel towards the finish, Empire sputtering out unintelligible lines like News, Drug abuse to the future and the hypocrites cry: Who dies next? while Elias bellows out the song’s half-melody hook. There’s no room for breath, no room for contemplation; there is only an immediacy of terror which ATR thrashes again in futility.  Even slower cuts like “Sex” embrace a gritty tinge of cyberpunk, as Elias delivers spoken word over a wet-reverbed breakbeat coupled with droning ambience. As if the band were lying face up underwater, occasionally able to grasp a breath before being flooded back down, “Sex” embodies Delete Yourself’s thesis of titanic cyberpunk anxiety.  Atari Teenage Riot knows it’s too late; the powers which will overcome all of us are too large to stop.  And Delete Yourself is trying to, even if just for a second, outrun our doom.  

Delete Yourself does not exist to meticulously explore art as enrichment.  Its lyrics are a simple, grotesque indictment of fascism, technology, and the institutions we have created which now rule us.  It finds relevance today among those who feel alienated and exploited by every facet of their existence through its direct plea for individual uprising. It is a rebellion in its purest form.  

Categories
Classic Album Review

CLASSIC REVIEW: WIPERS- Over the Edge

CLASSIC REVIEW: WIPERS- Over the Edge

Best Tracks: Doom Town, So Young, Romeo, No One Wants an Alien

 

Wipers weren’t the first to fuse punk and introspection.  They weren’t the first to rely on atmosphere above blunt force.  And they certainly weren’t the first to rely on raw production to communicate desperation. But Wipers put all of this together in what became a necessary precursor to alternative music as we know it today.  Nowhere is this more clear than on their third album, 1983’s Over The Edge: an album which bellows out a simple, singular message.  Doom.

 

I know, I know, of the first two classic reviews I’ve pumped out, both are 80s alt-punk born out of the Northwest.  But I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, the double edged sword of being adjacent to Kurt Cobain means that while bands that otherwise would have been long forgotten have received a decent amount of a spotlight, that spotlight is still dwarfed by the shadow of Nirvana.  And Greg Sage’s rotating cast punk rock trio, AKA Wipers, deserves so much more than that. In mixing the ferocity and simplicity with lo-fi, feedback driven atmosphere, Over the Edge lies bathed in an eeriness which trudges the listener into Sage’s desperate pleas.  It’s a simple dread which seems to speak universally of alienation.

 

Wipers were, effectively, Greg Sage.  Sage, a wiry native of Portland, was pretty old at 25 to form a punk band in 1977.  And so, he had an edge on his younger, primal counterparts. He grew up on classic guitar heroes such as Hendrix and Clapton, and while Sage certainly wasn’t a proponent of theatrical face-melters, he understood that a guitar had the potential to convey abstract, monolithic human expressions.  When first conceptualizing what would become Wipers, Sage originally planned for his band to be an exclusively studio act. Sage, notoriously self-disciplined, would record the songs and they would be subsequently self-released sans any promotion. While I’m personally glad this plan wasn’t actualized, since it probably would have inhibited the still-limited fame Wipers see today, they would admittedly be the best candidates for this treatment.  Sage’s songs sound as if they’ve been pulled out of an ether; a despondent catharsis in the face of an impending doom. When they fully formulated Wipers by the late 1970s, Sage and an amorphous combination of bassists and drummers decided to release their 1980 debut Is This Real? on Park Avenue Records in an attempt to gain some semblance of a following. And it worked.  Is This Real? became an instant cult hit while Wipers gained notoriety in Portland through their live shows.  And with that, the American Northwest had their first punk band.

 

While Is This Real? offers a wholly solid introduction to Wipers’ doom punk, Over The Edge is a complete fulfillment of driving introspection.  The album’s opening three songs; Over the Edge, Doom Town and So Young, are all constructed around the same four chords.  But they somehow circumvent repetition. I honestly haven’t fully figured out how Sage managed to make these songs sound so different; maybe it’s the blunted bass subtly moving beneath a thin overdrive, Sage’s simple and ephemeral guitar leads, or his reverbed croon which varies from a gravely plea to a panicked shout.  Romeo offers the first break from standard three-chord punk with a fuzz-coated rockabilly trudge coupled with Sage’s lyrics of absolute isolation and longing which eventually erupt into a singular screech.  No One Wants An Alien is an exploration into variation in that it appears unconcerned with any motif established by the preceding cuts.  Opening with a surprisingly clean guitar carrying a tidy, yet rough melody, the song churns out three minutes of new-wave which could have easily been found on an early New Order album.

 

Though Greg Sage likely did not know at the time how influential his choice to chimera punk rock and dread-heavy vulnerability would ultimately be, it’s impossible to omit Wipers from the canon of American alternative music.  So as someone who works for a college radio station, I feel pretty obligated to recognize how crucial Wipers were in my current employment. Without Wipers, the Northwest alt-punk underground may have been horribly crippled; something which would have surely impacted the Grunge explosion which current indie rock necessitates.  So to all of you DIY, baby jeans wearing kids out there: take the time to thank a Wiper.

Categories
Classic Album Review

CLASSIC REVIEW: THE U-MEN- Step on a Bug

The U-Men- Step on a Bug

Best Tracks: 2 X 4, Willie Dong Hurts Dogs, Solid Action

To call the U-Men a precursor to the Seattle Grunge scene is extremely tempting, but ultimately sloppy.  Admittedly they had all the check marks: a hardcore punk foundation that had been warped into its own separate entity, a charismatic front man in John Bigley and a disgustingly mysterious otherness. This otherness, however, was so pronounced that to categorize the U-Men as “grunge” or “proto-grunge” would be an offense to the band and all of its fever-addled, swamp-o’-billy greatness.  Their sole full-length album, Step on a Bug, is half a half hour trip of humid lunacy; a moment where fuzz-drenched guitars and rockabilly drum patterns build a surprisingly stable arena for Bigley to writhe as if his skin were melting off right there in the studio. It should be required listening for, well, everyone.

Conceived in 1981 Seattle adjacent to the “second wave” of west-coast punk which was becoming harder, more subversive, and (somehow) even less commercial than its mid-70s parent, the U-Men stood among out even among the most libertine acts, like the Germs, in their ultimately holistic embodiment of chaos.  They didn’t appear so much as rebels as they did an unstoppable entity which existed completely separate from reality. Their sound wasn’t just speed for the sake of aggression; it was a bastard of western swing and grimy, overdriven guitar; it was the sonic equivalent of a bloated frog with an oversized cowboy hat doing an Elvis impression after inhaling too many cursed swamp vapors. They called it “swamp-o’-billy”.

The U-Men were Seattle’s flagship band from the early to mid-1980s.  That’s right, less than a decade before the Northwest became an American Mecca for dirty melodrama, before even legitimate precursors like Mother Love Bone or Green River, its underground was ruled by a gothic hillbilly quartet whose lack of explicit metal influences were replaced by a drunken swing.  And their popularity, at least before Kurt Cobainification, was strictly limited to Seattle simply because of their complete inability to tour. Unsurprisingly, any U-Man effort to take on the globe was hampered by a combination of drugs, mischief, and destruction which followed the band’s condensed chaotic energy.  So Seattle was the only place to be.

Again, Step on a Bug’s greatness lies in its throbbing, pronounced otherness.  Take, for instance, its opening track “Whistlin’ Pete”. Pete begins with an overdriven, mid-heavy guitar blast, and is followed up by a moan. Oh yes, a moan.  A moan eases into a growl by the next blast. The drums kick in: Bigley’s cue to slip comfortably into an unhinged persona who dry heaves out poisonous gravel.   His (or hiss) vocals lurch while his rhythm section doubles his vocal line, proving that his performance isn’t meandering by adding a distorted structure to the song’s belching path.  The U-Men sound as if they are panicking through their caricature of Americana romanticism. But Whilstin’ Pete is only an introduction to the rest of the album, and by the time its growls are fully audible the listener has likely surrendered to a feverish catharsis.  The remainder of the album offers episodes of the same ridiculous frenzy in Juice Party or Flea Circus. Unflinching, the Brothers U only begin to slow things down in Papa Doesn’t Love His Children, a mocking ballad which acts as another reminder of the bands’ classic country blues, uh, roots.  Solid Action is crazy.

The U-Men’s, and Step on a Bug’s, popularity has unfortunately been relegated to a study of the conditions which made bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam possible.  It’s not a malicious connection, they could fill the hypothetical gap between hardcore punk and the Seattle sound, but it is an oversimplified one. To afford the U-Men a proper appreciation, they have to be treated as a force of themselves. Their unbridled madness is unlike anything I’ve ever listened to.  There is no discernable goal within it: no violent rebellion and no camp for the sake of theatrics. The U-Men seemed to have been sick and depraved before they recorded their first song.

Cliff Jenkins

Categories
Classic Album Review

All Hail The New Flesh

There are many great metal albums that were released in the decade known as the 1990s. However when you ask many metal heads to name some of their favorite albums, and what they think some of the best ones are, you generally hear the same albums listed. Generally the albums mentioned are Death’s Human, Sepultura’s Arise, Carcass’ Heartwork, Megadeth’s Rust In Peace, Cannibal Corpse’s Tomb of the Mutilated, Slayer’s South of Heaven, Blind Guardian’s Nightfall In Middle-Earth, Iced Earth’s Burnt Offerings and many many more. Now don’t get me wrong, these are all great albums and I enjoy them every time I listen to them. However everyone I talk to about this always seems to leave out one album, and not even mention it. Or if I do mention it, will say that they have not listened to it. This album is Strapping Young Lad’s City.

This is one hell of an album, and quite possibly one of the best albums of the 90s. Every song on this album flows perfectly, and Devin’s rage is controlled, but at the same time wild and untamed. From the opening bells of “Velvet Kevorkian”, we are set up to some of the most intense 40 minutes I have ever listened to. As soon as Devin kicks in screaming “HEY! I WANT TO BE WHERE THE ACTION IS!!”, we get a picture of the rage that Devin has pent up and he wants to release on us. With his tirade on how fucked up we are, and how much our society is pissing him off, we then get sucked into the vortex of “All Hail The New Flesh” with swirling guitars falling out as he wails into our ears with a piercing scream before telling us to go fuck ourselves.  With blistering guitars and drums just pelting us sonically we are then thrown to the ground to be kicked in the stomach by “Oh My Fucking God”.

This song adds to the one-two punch that goes with the song before it.  With the sound byte saying how they can’t fail, the drums suddenly kick in with a brutal solo, until Devin screams and his wall of sound comes in and blows us away with his guitars.  A nonsensical tirade of words that are nigh untelligable until he gets to the chorus screaming “OH MY FUCKING GOD!!” Until it suddenly cuts off and leaves us with “Detox” and quite possibly the catchiest song on the album. This song showcases perfectly all of Devin’s abilities. From his brutality to his ability to express his pain while still being heavy as hell. A catchy riff, and catchy lyrics make this a catchily brutal song.

As soon as the song quietly goes away, “Home Nucleonics” blows you away with a wail and blistering guitar wall. Belting to us about how we have failed as a society. With stop and go riffs, the song feels like it is picking you up and slamming you on the ground with its sonic assault. Constantly beating you until it dissolves into all the members of the bands screaming madly, fading into to “AAA” which is a catchy song about Devin’s various addictions, slowly building up intensity until it hits you square in the face with its chorus screaming “NO ONE! NO ONE FUCKS WITH ME!!”. “Underneath The Waves” then blasts us in the face with double bass pedals and Devin taunting us with his voice repeating “on and on”. Until kicking in with the signature wall of sound and Devin singing about how he’s tired of the shit of world, making this not only intense sonically, but also vocally. After this song, the album begins to slow down it’s sonic intensity for a more brooding intensity.

“Room 429” is a cover of a Cop Shoot Cop song. It’s very dark and very mid tempo, but it still has all the intensity of the earlier tracks.  How dark and empty the city is, how we go through the motions of life. “Spirituality” is the final track of the album, with layers and layers of guitars stacked upon each other. This sheer heaviness of the stacked guitar tracks just seem to pile up on you, putting all the wait of city on you, making you feel overwhelmed. Which is the purpose of this album, to make you feel insignificant and tiny. That you are really nothing in this world, an insignificant speck in the grand scheme of things.

All these songs are catchy and instantly memorable. As soon as you hear one of these songs, you will be humming along with it, singing along with it, or just going buck wild. It is a classic album, and it should be remembered as one of the best albums of the 90s, if not one of the best metal albums ever made.

-Noobhammer