Saturday, February 1, 2014

Unnatural Helpers / The Intelligence split 7” – Dirty Knobby

Eddie Schneider bought the copy of this split that the record store I worked at had, so I missed my chance at purchasing this record the first time around. Luckily the hype behind both of these bands died off so hard that I ended up being able to buy a copy for $1.50 a few years after it came out. This is one of those records where each band covers each others’ songs, but the back of the record gives no mention of this, so if you passed on buying this because it only had 5 songs that were already on LP’s, go find it. I could do without this kind of record in general, but there have been two records in the last few years that ruled: the Jay Reatard / Deerhoof split that has a brilliant cover of “Oh It’s Such A Shame”, and this 7”.
Unnatural Helpers playing Intelligence songs falls a little bit flat because what I loved about Unnatural Helpers is the pop that oozes from their lazily played songs. Intelligence write great songs with hooks, but they don’t utilize vocal harmonies the way Unnatural Helpers do, so when they force the background vocals into these songs it just ends up being kind-of-good, but not phenomenal. Hearing a heavier version of “This Is A Gift” is the highlight of this side. It’s much more chaotic sounding than the Intelligence version, and it makes you wonder what Lars’s Intelligence project would sound like if you jammed some more Mayyors down its throat.
As it turns out, Intelligence really kill the Unnatural Helpers tracks. Three songs that are pretty good on the self titled LP end up being total rock’n’roll sing-a-longs. The twisted guitar riffs that play a key part in songs like “Fake Surfers” are used exactly enough to turn these Helpers songs into beach-side romps. It could be used as evidence to show how truly talented Lars Friedberg is, or you could go ahead and say, “Well they were good songs to begin with.” And isn’t that kind of the problem with this format? It ends up being the band with the better original songs that enable the other group to create a cool track. But when your band can write sing-alongs and can’t really capture excitement with covers, you find yourself with the Unnatural Helpers side of this record (or the Reatard side of the Deerhoof split).
This 7” is worth tracking down for a few dollars, but it’s really not a great place to start for either of these great bands. I think the first LP on Hardly Art, or the “Sunshine/Pretty Girls” single on the same label would be the place to begin with Unnatural Helpers, and my favorite Intelligence records are either “Deuteronomy” or “Fake Surfers”.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Brilliant Colors – “Brilliant Colors” – Captured Tracks

Brilliant Colors was top-of-the-pile Slumberland resurgence bands. They were one of the most solid 7” bands that I can remember, so a 12” containing their first two 7”s makes total sense to me. The first side of this compilation is the really wonderful self-titled ep on the amazing Make A Mess Records (Rank/Xerox, Gun Outfit, Grass Widow, etc). It’s funny because I remember really digging the Make A Mess ep when it came out, but probably haven’t listened to it in 3 or 4 years. The songs are definitely there, but it doesn’t have the impact that the follow up 7” on Captured Tracks had. Actually, I take that back. I think that the first side of this compilation (the Make A Mess 7”) sounds like a band trying to find their sound. Each song sounds a little bit like a different band, and this sometimes ends up being a turnoff for me. “I’m Sixteen” might be the most punk sounding song Brilliant Colors wrote.
The second side of this LP contains the two songs from the Captured Tracks single (“Highly Evolved” and “Takes So Little”) as well as a bonus track (“I Start With Your Name”). This single wasn’t something that necessarily stuck with me, but when I listen to it now I totally understand why this band was so awesome. “Highly Evolved” is a beautiful song that could very well have been on the original Slumberland comps. It’s not too far off from Raincoats, but the harmonies are still a little bit more punk sounding. I think that when this came out, under the shadows of the Brooklyn-“girls” bands, this probably just blended in. But after a few year break from the Viv’s, I can safely say this record rips. It’s just sloppy and lazy enough to come off as punk, but just dreamy-sounding enough to be a solid genre release.  I'm glad I grabbed this for the steep steep price of $1.50, otherwise I might have continued to kind of forget about these jams.

The bonus song sounds like a throw-away track and isn’t reason enough to buy this compilation, but if you don’t have the first two records, its well worth the bargain basement price that I paid for it.

here's an awkward youtube video to make you feel good:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Saturday Part Time Punk

I'm playing records at the Wythe Hotel rooftop bar in Brooklyn on Saturday. Lots of protopunk/mod/uk/garage is getting played. Come if you want, It's free.

Calabi Yau – “Elitist” – Lunchbox

Calabi Yau were hands-down the best band in North Carolina for a few years. There was no other band pushing music as hard or as out-there as this band, and they opened every single rad show that came to Charlotte. By the time this record came out, they had already been a band for close to four years and had changed sounds quite a few times, always holding on to the off-kilter feeling of near collapse. Between the time that this record was recorded, until it was released the actual sound of the band had changed so dramatically, that seeing them sell this record was actually strange. They mellowed out and a lot of the intensity had left. They had also gotten quite a bit more popular, which led me to believe most of the squares that bought this record after seeing their more subdued live show were left scratching their heads.
This single does a great job capturing the most no-wave sounding that Calabi Yau ever got. The two-guitar rambling is very routed in the Mars/DNA camp, but the drums are off the chart in terms of defining. Davey, who later went on to play in the very good Moenda, is probably my favorite drummer. There are points in these songs where it sounds like he actually wrote the songs and had the other two members write parts to accompany his incredible drumming. The first side of this record sounds a lot more like the Contortionist than the second side, but I could never figure out why until I accidentally listened to it with the bass cranked: the bass line on the second side is just amazing. It pulls a bit away from the New York scene and starts drawing more into the Skin Graft arena. Some of the back-and-forth between the stringed instruments is reminiscent of Arab On Radar, but there is nothing abrasive about the actual sound of the record. It’s recorded well, and it’s beautifully packaged, but there are moments when the drums kind of disappear in the recording. I wish that I could remaster just the drums on this record and put that out again because I feel like it would be a game changer.
This record never really sold well for a variety of reasons. When the band was most active they were touring and playing out all the time, but by the time this came out some of the energy seemed to have disappeared. I think the delay in getting the covers assembled definitely contributed to this problem. It’s hard to sell a record when you know you only have half of the pressing to sell. Bo White, who sings and plays guitar and bass on this went on to play in Yardwork, as well as putting out a number of solo recordings and running the now-infamous, Yau Haus in Charlotte. Robin and Davey, who played guitar and drums respectively, went on to form the really incredible Moenda, who put out an LP and in my opinion, one of the best demo tapes I’ve ever heard.

This video isn't from this ep, but you get to see at least a little of what was going on with this group-

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Diet Cokeheads – “Nasal” - Drugged Conscience/Vinyl Rites

Diet Cokeheads went on a tear for a few years where it seemed like everyone that was into noisy punk was extremely excited for them. They toured pretty extensively, put out three records and split in less than two years, and then disappeared into the swamps of Florida. The “Nasal” ep I believe is the first of the three 7”s, but I could be wrong. The two songs on this record definitely sound similar to a lot of the things that were happening in Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Brooklyn at the same time. It’s very influenced by the AmRep/noise rock scene of the early 90’s, but I’d argue that most of the music that was coming out around 2009 in this vein was much less flat sounding than a lot of the 90’s bands that many reviewers so frequently mentioned. I think it’s that the beefy bass, noisy guitar, and occasional sketchiness of the collective group of punks making this music had more in common with those that had made music the decade prior.
“Oedipussy Complex” is a screeching mess of pounding bass, stomping drums, and spoken lyrics. The vocals remind me a little bit more of John Sharkey on this song than on any of the other Cokeheads tracks, but after Brian (or possibly Daniel?) stops singing on this track, the female vocals take over until the outro. It ends up much creepier than a lot of their other songs, and the literal tracks of just static only add to the very unhappy listening experience.
The flipside, “High Country”, is a slower, almost Butthole Surfers sounding song that plods along until a dramatic short-lived tempo shift. It’s heavy, noisy, and a real head-banger. When the tempo shifts for an extended period of time and the Viv’s vocals come back in, it really drives the song home. There are a few bits where the guitar noise combined with the vocals actually make this song sound a little bit like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, though I’m not sure it was intentional.
This record was released by two excellent Florida labels: Drugged Conscience (Cult Ritual, Dead Friends, Libyans, Neon Blud, Tenemant, etc) and Vinyl Rites (Mauser, Pollution, Bukkake Boys, Nazi Dust, Church Whip, etc). It was also recorded by Carson Cox of Merchandise fame. Post implosion Brian moved all over New England but is now playing in Ukiah Drag and Cottaging, while Daniel opened the really excellent Arrow’s Aim record store in Gainesville, and Viv is living in NYC.
Everything Diet Cokeheads put out was perfect, so do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Buster Poindexter And His Banshees of Blue – “Hot Hot Hot” 12” – RCA

I couldn't think of a better way to end 2013 than with Buster Poindexter.
Oh you like the New York Dolls? Have you ever heard the stuff that David Johansen did afterwards? You mean when he played in the Saturday Night Live Band? No… You mean the string of somewhat mediocre solo records? No… You mean when the Dolls reformed recently to put out a shitty non-Thunders album? No… I mean the most fabulous post-dolls performance ensemble: Buster Poindexter!
Is “Hot Hot Hot” one of the greatest 80’s pop club songs that makes you want to kill yourself? Almost certainly. This 12” however features not just one version of the Caribbean cruise-destined single, but FOUR! First on here, you have the extended club mix that will have you dancing for a very long five and a half minutes. After you’ve finished grinding your hips to the dance mix, is of course the radio edit that was also released as a 7” (which is probably a better buy because it has the song “Cannibal” along with one version of “Hot Hot Hot”).
The second side of this DJ single is of course, the “Caliente Dub Mix”. If you wanted more slap-back-reverb soaked Johansen screaming and an almost PiL level rhythm section along with sampled headache-inducing Hot Hot Hot chants, then you have to hear the Caliente Dub Mix. It’s kind of unbelievable that they thought this version needed to exist along with the last cut, the “Spanish Club Mix”, but we are all lucky to have them both at our palms for basically pennies.  It's kind of amazing Mr. Johansen managed to pull of this character so successfully.  More power to him, and given that he's currently playing shows every few months in New York, maybe I'll get a chance to see him do this jammer.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Shitty Limits – “Here Are The Limits” ep – Sorry State

I didn’t hear this ep until after I’d worn a hole through my copy of The Shitty Limits first and only LP, “Beware The Limits”. I was already singing along to modern punk classics like “Television” and “Your Limits Are My Limits” and I knew that I needed to track down the four 7”s that preceded the LP.
“Here Are The Limits” emits the same upbeat punk vibes that their LP does, and all the songs could have stood alone as singles. I’m actually shocked that the title track of this ep didn’t chart in the UK, but with a name like The Shitty Limits, I guess making it probably wasn’t ever an option. The first two songs on this ep bleed together and create a feeling that the whole first side was recorded live. “I’m A Square” is the poppiest of the three tracks on this, while “All The Rage” finishes out the A side with a song that’s probably the most similar to US hardcore that this band would ever be.
The flip side is another three tracks of catchy UK punk. The songs on this side seem longer and more thought out than the previous, but that might be because the first song is such a stomper. Instead of relying on the single slow riff, this songs switches back into another racing punk song that owes at least a little bit to the LA band with circle tattoos. “In Your Shoes” is another song that given the right circumstances, could have been a huge hit. Honestly, if the vocals on this record hadn’t been recorded through a megaphone then this could have been used during a beachside Coca-a-Cola add. “Leave Me Alone” closes out this ep with a real blitzkrieg speed pair of riffs that will have even the most hardened punk bobbing their head or pogoing in their living rooms.
I’m sad that this band is no more. I was lucky enough to see them a few times and they did not disappoint. If you dig this 7”, I encourage you to check out every other record, especially their long player, along with the new Golden Triangle LP on Sorry State.