Monday, April 16, 2018

Notes from the Record Room: Bring on the Kill Taker

I was in Ocean City, New Jersey with a friend, sitting outside on a deck with a boombox resting between us. It was 1993. On this particular evening, I had something new that I wanted to pop into the tape deck I’d picked up earlier at the Surf Mall, a boardwalk superstore packed with clothing, posters, and other youth-marketed, alterna-junk. It was a cassette of Fugazi’s latest release, In On The Kill Taker. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was eager to hear it.

In the song “Facet Squared,” frets are gently tapped, a couple sharp notes are plucked, a relatively understated rhythm gains traction and the sounds gradually build. And then all you hear are guitars cycling through a couple of glorious phrases as all other elements go silent. I felt elated when those riffs peaked, as if triumph had beset my ears, offering assurances that I’d found something for me, something that was going to be important to me for the rest of my life. I’m admittedly romanticizing this experience, (likely to a fault), but I distinctly remember feeling some sense of relief once Ian MacKaye had begun to shout his throat raw over Brendan Canty’s bucket snare, caught up and enamored by the loud. I may have exclaimed, “YES!” I didn’t know it at the time, but In On The Kill Taker was my introduction to one of the greatest rock groups ever. 

 

Fugazi’s In On The Killer was the band’s third full-length release. Out at a time when music industry hunger for “alterna”-fodder was perhaps at its zenith, Fugazi stayed their own course, refusing MTV airplay and keeping to a self-sustaining model that enabled the band to maintain independence, release the albums they wanted to and guard their own philosophy. As the underground became farmland for major labels, Fugazi rejected all offers. Ticket prices were $5 for every show, which were performed for crowds of all ages and completely free of t-shirts and merchandise. I think it’s fair to say that no major label would’ve agreed to any of that.

In On The Kill Taker was flipped a lot during the subsequent months of summer into fall, from the remaining shrieks of feedback at the end of “23 Beats Off” to the lonely strums of guitar notes that carry “Last Chance For A Slow Dance” to a close. The excellence and intensity of “Facet Squared” was taken up a notch by the immediate rush of “Public Witness Program,” a hook to remember (“I like to walk around and… I’m paid to stand around and…”) as vocalist/guitarist Guy Picciotto applied hardcore-level speed to his distinct register. I hadn’t yet really explored hardcore, the exception(s) at the time being Black Flag releases and In God We Trust, Inc. by Dead Kennedys. MacKaye’s vitriolic, sans-chemical musings via Minor Threat were unknown to me, as was Revolution Summer and the bands (One Last Wish, Rites of Spring, Happy Go Licky, Embrace) and circumstances that ultimately led to the formation of Fugazi. 

 

I was wise enough, however, to understand what evolved punk rock was, acknowledging that the early 90s was the time for that sort of thing. Every alterna-weirdo-flannel-donning-buzz-clip act had a punk foundation even if they weren’t making what could be categorized as punk music. With 1992’s Check Your Head, the Beastie Boys provide a great example of this, having seen an opportunity to explore their hardcore roots, returning to their instruments and merging rock, funk, punk, and hip-hop into an (for its time) unconventional concept. The album was perfect for its era and sold me on the notion that punk rock provided a solid primer for more creative possibilities.

Fugazi did this as well. As an overall assessment of the band’s catalogue, a consistent and flawless body of work I will add, the band’s principles and integrity recall their days of fast-loud-n-angry while their willingness to experiment and progress could’ve been viewed as elitist by the hardcore set. As comparison, I think of Black Flag’s ambitious, albeit inconsistent, musical growth. 

 

As the hair grew lengthy and the jams more complex, it’s unfortunate that Black Flag’s development is so poorly documented, mostly due to legal trouble that barred the band from releasing albums for a stretch of time following 1981’s milestone LP, Damaged. By the time their follow-up, My War, was released, the band was exploring new ideas and the resultant injection of Sabbath-ian metallic sludge was deemed alienating by hardcore kids who wanted more of the same. Doubling down with jazz-centric instrumental (The Process of Weeding Out) and spoken-word releases (Family Man), Black Flag’s want of creative freedom speaks to the avenues that punk rock can and should open, though disillusioned fans will often perceive this level of momentum as some sort of violation. 

Fans get pissed off when they feel left behind. For as often as “sell-out” is applied to any artist deviating slightly from the script, it’s important to take inventory of a band whose members wish to move past their younger selves. I eventually connected with Minor Threat’s very seminal discography. And while the dramatic setup of “Returning the Screw,” the desperation of “Rend It,” and the implied longing I always gleaned from the instrumental “Sweet and Low” don’t share much with the hyper-realized aggression of “Seeing Red,” “Screaming at a Wall,” or “In My Eyes,” there’s no actual loss of conviction or even volume. Fugazi is just less black and white in sound and content. The anti-colonial sentiment of “Smallpox Champion” is as strong a societal and political indictment as “Bottled Violence” is a statement against alcohol-fueled conflict. There’s still plenty of rage to distill, plenty of passion to absorb. “Selling out” isn’t facilitated so much by modifying how the message is delivered as it is the complete and total abandonment of the message itself. At least that’s how I feel about it. 


While I can’t say that this cassette is solely responsible for the record collection I’ve been amassing for the past couple of decades, it’s informed a heavy portion of that collection. In On The Kill Taker granted me access to independent rock music and widened my scope of performers, bands, and albums to locate and absorb. And for all that access, I still consider Fugazi’s output as essential as any albums from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, or any other decorated pillar of rock’s continuing story. 



Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, March 01, 2018

No Ripcord: Keiji Haino & SUMAC

A review of the recently released experi-METAL (buh-dum-chck) collaboration between Keiji Haino and SUMAC is up at No Ripcord.  The album, American Dollar Bill - Keep Facing Sideways, You're Too Hideous to Look at Face On, is available to purchase from Thrill Jockey Records.

Keiji Haino & SUMAC
American Dollar Bill - Keep Facing Sideways, You're Too Hideous to Look at Face OnThrill Jockey Records
Released: 2.23.18





Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

TRAX! — The Common Cold, Once and Future Band, Never Betters, Earthless, Ripped To Shreds, For Esmé, Wand, Belong

The Common Cold: "Stop The Traffic"
(via mutante-inc./Action Records/Soundcloud)

"Stop The Traffic" is the lead single from The Common Cold's upcoming new album, Shut Up! Yo Liberals.  The album is scheduled to release May 4th and is available for pre-order at Action Records.

Via mutante-inc.:
Only 300 copies of the vinyl will be released and the first 100 copies include a hand painted inner sleeve, a free badge, and other goodies


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Once and Future Band: "Destroy Me"
(via Tell All Your Friends PR/Castle Face Records/Soundcloud)

Via Castle Face:

We're happy to be able to speak of this now that the cat's out of the bag — Once and Future Band have graced us with another tasty morsel of everything they do best. Vault-dust begone; this EP deserves your attention. Rarely do the words "vitruosic" and "tasteful" collide so often in my mind as trying to describe these guys. Chops for days on all sides, but in service of such heartbreakers of tunes that you almost forget that this is new, vital stuff - they sound like they could have ruled the airwaves and head shops of the 70s of an alternate universe. Indelible tunes and very deserving of your attention. You can check out "Destroy Me" here, this will be out in early March!

The EP is called Brain and it will be out 3/9 from Castle Face.  Tell All Your Friends PR thankfully confirmed. 


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Never Betters: "Pictures"
(via Never Betters/New Noise Magazine/YouTube)

"Pictures" will be featured in Never Betters' upcoming split release with Grievances, which is scheduled to release, 3.16.18.  The split is available for pre-order at the group's Bandcamp.

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Earthless: "Black Heaven"
(via Speakeasy PR/Nuclear Blast/YouTube)

"Black Heaven" is the title track to the upcoming new Earthless LP, which will be the band's first release for Nuclear Blast.  The album is available for pre-order and is scheduled to release, 3.16.18.   
Via Speakeasy PR:
Black Heaven was recorded at Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, Calif. with Dave Catching (Eagles of Death Metal) handling production.


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Ripped To Shreds: "Craven Blood"
(via Clawhammer PR/Soundcloud)

Via Clawhammer:
One-man OSDM band RIPPED TO SHREDS, featuring extreme mult-tasker Andrew Lee (ex-DISINCARNATION), will release debut album Mai-zang on Malaysia's Necrolatry Records (cassette) and Mexico's Craneo Negro Records (CD). Reamping/mixing/mastering was handled by Damian Herring (HORRENDOUS) at Subterranean Watchtower Studios. Album artwork was created by Skaðvaldur.

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For Esmé: "Doubtmouth"
(via For Esmé/YouTube)

"Doubtmouth" will be featured in the upcoming album from For Esmé, Righteous Woman, which is scheduled to release, 5.25.18.  This single can be purchased at For Esmé's Bandcamp.  

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Wand: "The Gift"
(via mutante-inc./Drag City/Bandcamp)

Via mutante-inc.:
If the emblem of Wand's Plum was the stark blue cloud - a condensation, a linking between longing molecules, data hungering for more data, a flotilla of vapor between eye and sky - then Wand's new EP reeks of something more forceful, more seductive, more intoxicating, more insidious: this is Perfume. Here are six electric hues, shocks of light that flagrantly provoke the dark, a posy's clutch of purple, fuchsia, green and snowy white that curl against a stench of plague. 

Recorded between tours and fire seasons in Grass Valley, CA by Tim Green,
Perfume potent, expansive tunes were mixed in Woodstock, NY by Daniel James Goodwin. The band features Sofia Arreguin, Evan Burrows, Robbie Cody, Cory Hanson and Lee Landey.

There's a kind of return here, a haunting, the deja vu you only take in through a curious nose. Your nose invites the world inside your skull. A familiar fragrance finds you when you thought you'd let a lover go, but it won't linger like a lover, flickering away with the breeze toward a yawning future. Spray
Perfume freely on 5/25!

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Belong: "Red Velvet or Nothing"
(via Modern Matters/Spectrum Spools/Bandcamp)

Via Modern Matters:
Belong - its member Turk Dietrich is also part of Second Woman (two albums on Spectrum Spools), and collaborated with Nine Inch Nails and Telefon Tel Aviv - is the shoegaze/experimental/dark ambient duo from New Orleans, somehow further digging since 2006 the sonic path outlined by Tim Hecker, GAS and Fennesz

Their album debut
October Language has been released in CD via Carpark Records in 2006, and in limited quantity vinyl pressing 3 years after via Geographic North imprint. It went sold out immediately and the vinyl became a classic rare gem. Spectrum Spools releases in April October Language in vinyl again, with a new "reimagined album art".

3 exclusive bonus tracks will come with the vinyl purchase, from the ultra rare, self-released
Tour EP sold as a CDr at live shows back in 2006, when Belong opened for Ariel Pink. The bonus tracks won't be available through digital outlets.

The only other, sophomore album of Belong has been put out via an amazing label such as Kranky, known for releasing artists such as Grouper, Jon Hopkins, Deerhunter, Dedekind Cut, Labradford, Loscil, Tim Hecker, Greg Davis and more.



Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Buys & Receipt: Saccharine Trust, Smart Went Crazy, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Glenn Branca, and Joseph Loduca (Evil Dead 2)




Saccharine Trust: "A Good Night's Bleeding"


Smart Went Crazy: "Song of the Dodo"


Charles Mingus: "Hearts' Beat and Shades in Physical Embraces"


Sun Ra and His Arkestra (featuring Pharaoh Sanders and Black Harold)


Glenn Branca: "Lesson No. 1 for Electric Guitar"


Joseph Loduca: "Ash's Dream / Dancing Game / Dance of the Dead"


Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, February 26, 2018

Gotta Read The Labels: Stroboscopic Artefacts

A selection of Italian artists' electro-centric ditties have been amassed into a four-sided new compilation from Stroboscopic Artefacts entitled, Flowers From The Ashes: Contemporary Italian Electronic Music.  While I'm not familiar with the label's roster, it was based on the strength of this Caterina Barbieri composition, "Virgo Rebellion," that I entered this collection onto my wishlist.   

You can listen to this track here:




All of the info on this compilation was provided by Modern Matters.  You can preorder the album here

Flowers From The Ashes: Contemporary Italian Electronic Music


Flowers From The Ashes is the latest multi-artist project to bear the acclaimed Stroboscopic Artefacts imprimatur. There is a sensibility of decadence and corroded grandeur etched within its four album sides, reminding us that historically “decadent” times have nonetheless resulted in some of the boldest acts of individual and collective creativity. Like the “floral” theme that has remained a consistent feature of S.A.’s graphic presentation, the music here equally presents fragility and intensity in a way that really drives home this visual metaphor for good, while still holding out the promise that similar creations will be seeded in the near future.


Though many of the artists involved have set of residence outside of their native Italy, all contribute here to make a captivating portrait of a shared spirit and cultural memory. The album opens with ‘Errori’, deceptively fragile sonic ornaments crafted and suspended in space by Blackest Ever Black artist Silvia Kastel. This is followed closely by the mellifluous, warming glow of percussionist Andrea Belfi’s ‘Spitting & Skytouching’, and then by the resolute electric bass patterns and luminous fog of ‘Lux et Sonus’, from Eeri label head Marco Shuttle. Hospital Productions alumnus Ninos du Brasil open the B-side with a similarly dense, amorphous construction built from tribalistic chants and rhythmic patterns, to be followed by Mannequin label boss Alessandro Adriani’s ‘You Will Not Be There For The End’, showcasing his distinctive take on the “paranoiac breakdance” aesthetic of classic EBM. S.A. veteran Chevel rounds out the first record in the program by interlacing several percolating synth lines together into a richly conversational piece.

The journey continues with ‘Starving The Mind’, an undulating mini-epic from S.A. founder Lucy that is animated by his signature balance of seductiveness and concentration. The bright, biting acid synth tones of ‘PRV-HH3-X’, by Lory D, then takes a sharp right turn into an invisible metropolis ruled by reflective high fashion and hidden intrigue. The imposing architecture of ‘Virgo Rebellion’, designed by modular synth futurist Caterina Barbieri, acts as an excellent companion piece, and sets up the closing ‘4G’ from Spazio Disponibile co-founder Neel – a crepuscular serenade that accurately sums up much of the foregoing activity.

A1 / 1. Silvia Kastel - Errori
A2 / 2. Andrea Belfi - Spitting & Skytouching
A3 / 3. Marco Shuttle - Lux Et Sonus
B1 / 4. Ninos Du Brasil - Noite Atrás
B2 / 5. Alessandro Adriani - You Will Not Be There For The End
B3 / 6. Chevel - Friends Electric
C1 / 7. Lucy - Starving The Mind
C2 / 8. Lory D - PRV-HH3-X
D1 / 9. Caterina Barbieri - Virgo Rebellion
D2 / 10. Neel - 4G

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

No Ripcord: U.S. Girls

For my first proper review of 2018, I focused on In A Poem Unlimited, the latest album by U.S. Girls.  You can check it out at No Ripcord.  The album is currently available at 4AD.  I can't recommend this one enough. 

U.S. Girls
In A Poem Unlimited
4AD
Released: 2.16.18








Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, February 19, 2018

Buried in a Good Mixtape: All About "The President"…

It's President's Day.



I've spent enough time reflecting on this vomit bath of an administration, so I'll happily compile some of my favorite President-related songs instead.  If you have any additions you'd like to add, hit me up in the comments or Tweet at @letterstapehead.



Killer Mike: "Reagan"




The Evens: "Dinner with the President"




Dead Kennedys: "We've Got A Bigger Problem Now"




D.O.A.: "Fucked Up, Ronnie"




James Brown: "Funky President (People It's Bad)"




Marvin Gaye: "Abraham, Martin, and John"




Public Enemy: "Son of a Bush"




Frank Zappa: "Reagan at Bitburg"




Arlo Guthrie: "Presidential Rag"




Death: "Politicians in My Eyes"




Minutemen: "If Reagan Played Disco"




Frank Zappa: "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk"




XTC: "Here Comes President Kill Again"




Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Marriage + Cancer: "Honour, On Our Knees"

Along with METZ, Pissed Jeans, and KEN mode, I recommend Marriage + Cancer for your Subterranean/Reptile/Dischord/Touch & Homestead rock needs.

And, no, that's not a diss.

"Honour, On Our Knees," a new single from the band's upcoming self-titled LP, is certainly evocative of an era.  For those of us who enjoyed our adolescence glued to a Walkman, the volume too high as the spool wound through a primal, undulating mire composed of guitar-aggravated stress and angst, Marriage + Cancer will revisit and tug relentlessly at those sensibilities.  And, you'll like it, goddammit.  Guitarist Robert Comitz apparently has some legacy with K Records as a member of the band Nucular Aminals.



This track premiered at New NoiseMarriage + Cancer will be out February 9th via Self Sabotage Records.  All info was delivered courtesy of the excellent people at Us/Them Group.  


Marriage + Cancer premiere new track from forthcoming debut
Rising Portland, OR melodic-noise band RIYL: In Utero-era Nirvana, Drive Like Jehu, METZ, Jesus Lizard

Hear and share "Honor, On Our Knees" (Soundcloud) (New Noise)
Hear & share "God Is Tan" (Soundcloud) (CvltNation)

"A perfect example of the Portland, OR quartet's compelling merging of In Utero-era Nirvana's raw emotional intensity with Drive Like Jehu and Jesus Lizard's musical prowess and melodic contortions." -- New Noise Magazine

Portland, OR quartet Marriage + Cancer premiere a new track from their forthcoming full length debut today via New Noise Magazine. Hear and share the gut wrenching "Honor, On Our Knees" HERE.

CvltNation recently launched the first track, "God is Tan" HERE.

Marriage + Cancer are a quickly rising noisy melodic band from Portland, OR. Their heavy, driving, chaotic sound has captivated audiences in the Pacific Northwest, grabbing the attention of Austin label Self Sabotage, who jumped to release the band's full length debut. The album was recorded LIVE at vocalist/guitarist Robert Comitz's Stop/Start Studio, engineered by Billy Anderson (Sleep, Melvins, Neurosis) and mixed by Brent Asbury (Pinback).

Marriage + Cancer sounds off from the jagged recesses of domestic landscape, their self-titled debut letting out a bellicose & harrowing howl into today's political & social voids. Rising from the ashes of K Records band Nucular Aminals, vocalist/guitarist Robert Comitz reformed the band under its new moniker, shedding the former's organ grinding & jaunty goth riffs for a heavier approach ranging from the thumping bass of album opener "Command + Comply" to the early-Sonic Youth-esque riffing of "Gound" to the rhythmic expanse of "View From A Cross."

The band is comprised of Comitz (who also plays guitar is Ssold [w/ members of Get Hustle, Rabbits]), guitarist Jay Mechling, bassist Christian Carmine (also currently in Marmits, previously in Fist Fite) and drummer Chase Hall (also of The Swan Thief).

Marriage + Cancer will be available on LP and download on February 9th, 2018 via Self Sabotage Records, a division of Super Secret Records. Pre-orders are available HERE.

MARRIAGE + CANCER LIVE:
02/10/18 Portland, OR @ Tonic Lounge - album release party

Artist: Marriage + Cancer
Album:
Marriage + Cancer
Label: Self Sabotage Records

Release Date: February 9, 2017
01. Command + Comply
02. God is Tan
03. Honor, On Our Knees
04. Headache
05. Six Feet + a Box
06. Flora + Fauna
07. Gound
08. Thirteen Stairs
09. View From a Cross

On The Web:
facebook.com/marriageandcancer
marriageandcancer.bandcamp.com
selfsabotagerecords.bigcartel.com

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

TRAX! — Young Fathers, Blackwater Holylight, Tal National, Blakk Pearl, Holy Wave, Six Organs of Admittance, Fun Fare

Young Fathers: "In My View" (via YouTube)

"In My View" is featured in Cocoa Sugar, the upcoming new album from Young Fathers.  The album is scheduled to release 3.9.18 via Ninja Tune.



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Blackwater Holylight: "Sunrise" (via Us-Them Group/RidingEasy Records/YouTube)

From Us-Them Group:

Portland, OR quartet BlackWater HolyLight announce their forthcoming self-titled debut album today with an advance listen to lead single "Sunrise", available to hear and share via YouTube HERE.

The notion of "heavy music" is continuing to expand of late, with many intrepid artists finding new ways to incorporate the power of traditional metal into new music, but without all of its trappings. Enter Portland, OR quartet BlackWater HolyLight to further swirl musical elements into a captivating hybrid of emotional intensity. Heavy psych riffs, gothic drama, folk-rock vibes, garage-sludge and soaring melodies all collide into a satisfying whole with as much contrast as the band's name itself.

"I wanted to experiment with my own version of what felt 'heavy' both sonically and emotionally," says founder and vocalist/bassist Allison (Sunny) Faris. "I also wanted a band in which vulnerability of any form could be celebrated." BlackWater HolyLight — Faris, guitarist/vocalist Laura Hopkins, drummer Cat Hoch and synth player Sarah Mckenna — formed upon the breakup of Faris' longtime band and she sought a fresh start. "In my last band I was the only female in a group of 6, so I wanted to see how my song writing and vulnerability could glow taking the drivers seat and working with women."

The band's self-titled debut begins with a simple, almost grunge-like riff as a chorus of voices introduce a melodic line in call-and-response until the band kicks in, slowly building into crescendo like a lost outtake from Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy. Elsewhere, "Sunrise" begins with a chorus-drenched post-punk groove until a sonic boom of heavily distorted guitar skree erupts out of nowhere. Nearly as suddenly, the song returns to its lulling core, subtly building the tension until it ruptures completely in a blast of noise. Likewise, "Carry Her" establishes a dark, sparse melody and distinctly thin sounding drums not far removed from early work of The Cure. However, BlackWater HolyLight's penchant for surprise attack finds a sudden shift into a doom-like dirge, colored with eerie synth notes and pounding shards of fuzz. Throughout the album, their songs shirk traditional verse-chorus-verse structure in favor of fluid, serpentine compositions that move with commanding grace. The band expertly, yet subconsciously, incorporates hints of Chelsea Wolfe, Celebration, Captain Beefheart, The Raincoats, The Stooges, Pink Floyd, Jane's Addiction and more to form their unique brand of dark'n'heavy transcendence..

BlackWater HolyLight was recorded by Cameron Speice at Gold Brick Studios and The Greenhouse, and with Eric Crespo at Touch Tourcher Recording in Portland. The album will be available on LP, CD and download April 6th, 2018 via RidingEasy Records. Preorders are available for LP & CD at www.ridingeasyrecs.com and digital at blackwaterholylight.bandcamp.com.



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Tal National: "Akokas" (via Us-Them Group/FatCat Records/Soundcloud)

FatCat Records will be issuing Tal National's third LP, Tantabara, on February 9th.  The album is currently available for pre-order.  



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Blakk Pearl: "Cowboy" (via Big Mouth PR/YouTube)

Via Big Mouth PR:

London born, France resident singer Blakk Pearl released her debut single 'Cowboy' at the end of last year. Sleek and commodious and driven by a subtle backbeat and a warm marimba sound, the track perfectly showcases Blakk Pearl’s haunting, mellifluent tones floating atop a lush and otherworldly dreamscape.

Blakk Pearl has now shared a video for her debut single, a video she has put together herself:
"I love 1930's era cut-out animation, and when I came across this clip of these beautiful trio of fairies trying to help a soldier, who had lost his way in the woods, I knew it was the perfect video for 'Cowboy.' It tells the story of 'Cowboy' so beautifully and delicately, and in such a feminine way".


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Holy Wave: "Adult Fear" (via Force Field PR/Brookly Vegan/Reverberation Appreciation Society/YouTube)

"Adult Fear" is the title track from the upcoming new album from Holy Wave, which is available now for pre-order in a variety of formats via The Reverberation Appreciation Society.  Adult Fear will be released 3.30.


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Six Organs of Admittance: "Things As They Are" (via Rarely Unable/Drag City/YouTube)

Taken from 2017's Burning The Threshold.



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Fun Fare: "The Smile Song" (via Späti Palace/Bandcamp)

"The Smile Song" is featured on Fun Fare's upcoming album, Trifles & Events are your Concern.  The album is available for pre-order at their Bandcamp.



Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Notes From The Record Room: Quarter-Century Nod to the American Jesus...

As a perpetually bummed out teenager, I’d like to pretend that I wasn’t culling my chosen social identity from MTV’s hit parade, but that wouldn’t be true. I was as tuned in as most of my peers, especially once the channel began to venture beyond the plasticity of pop music and expose us sheltered types to the language, garb, culture, and sounds of the underground. The college set of the late 80s were already up on 120 Minutes, but us budding types were suddenly becoming hip to it as well, a younger generation now fascinated with Seattle’s dirt rockers and a sudden slew of maverick bands whose preceding years of blood and sweat was suddenly paying off.

You know the rest.

In 1994, the same year Green Day released its major label colossus, Dookie, I pulled the cellophane off of a CD called Stranger Than Fiction, another major label debut but from a veteran band whose origins dated back as far as 80s hardcore. The band was Bad Religion.

As the majors continued to hit up the indies for talent, Bad Religion signed with Atlantic, leaving their home at Epitaph Records. Stranger Than Fiction was my BR primer, and it led to a strong fascination. I explored BR’s back catalogue, enjoying the early hardcore of their 80-85 compilation, the hyper-melodic edge of both Suffer and No Control, and the emotional resonance of Against the Grain. Generator? It wasn’t my favorite at the time, though I was a fan of “Atomic Garden” and “Heaven Is Falling.” I enjoyed this period of discovery, fortifying my developing CD library with what I thought were intelligent albums, the band’s penchant for complex language written out as harmonized stanzas with aggression as their backdrop.

While in the throes of a nostalgia bender recently, I located and listened to a couple of old episodes of 120 Minutes on YouTube. I wasn’t necessarily looking to relive anything, but instead be reminded of a time when music belonged to me and reacquaint myself with this now-antiquated medium of delivery. “American Jesus,” the lead single from Bad Religion’s 1993 album, Recipe for Hate, came on. At that point, I hadn’t listened to Recipe for Hate in quite some time. Some albums just gather dust, either falling victim to overplay or just forgotten for a little while. Other times, you just grow out of certain bands or genres. I’ll admit that other bands of BR’s ilk, namely Epitaph’s own NOFX, Pennywise, and Rancid have become points of embarrassment as the years have advanced. Many of these relics of my skater days have been traded away. But, not my Bad Religion CDs. I can’t say that they’re so meaningful to me that I would repurchase my whole collection on vinyl, but I’ll certainly keep them forever.

 

Anyway, that wiry intro riff from “American Jesus” began to play and I had to listen. I felt some level of enthusiasm, perhaps calling back to how I would’ve responded to this song at 16 or 17. It’s still a good song: Certainly of its era, but that riff stays with you and the hook is gratifyingly anthemic.

I didn’t immediately clean the dust from my copy of Recipe following this, but the CD made its way to my car stereo a day or two ago. I remembered every word, every change, every vocal inflection. I hadn’t realized how indelibly present this album remains, permanently etched into the grey matter. Recipe was never my favorite Bad Religion album, but it was the one that fascinated me the most. It’s a more varied listen, its rapid pace, ten-dollar vocabulary, and harmonized resolve offered different means of presentation. There were indications of a desire to experiment a bit in Against the Grain and Generator, but this desire sounded like more of a commitment in Recipe, the structural oddity of “All Good Soldiers,” the Western influence of “Man with a Mission,” and the dirge-laden folk of “Struck A Nerve,” which featured vocals from Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano.

There’s also “Time to Die,” a militaristic snare roll leading into a sturdy and melancholy guitar rhythm that never really breaks its stride. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder contributed vocals to this song, which in some ways solidifies the album’s significance and relevancy to the era. 

 

Recipe was initially released by Epitaph. After the ink dried on their contract with Bad Religion, Atlantic picked up the album and reissued it almost immediately. I’m speculating, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Vedder’s involvement with this project had fueled that move, his star power bolstering the album’s potential for sales.

In June, Recipe for Hate will be 25 years old. I’m going to be thinking a lot about 1993, the year I’d finally acquired a CD player and really began to build a personal soundtrack. I’m normally not one to reminisce, but ’93 was a pinnacle year for the music of my generation and for me. So, expect a few potentially self-indulgent strolls down memory lane in the coming months. You’ve been warned.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead
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Notes from the Record Room: Bring on the Kill Taker

I was in Ocean City, New Jersey with a friend, sitting outside on a deck with a boombox resting between us. It was 1993. On this particu...