Friday, July 28, 2006

Underneath the Underside of Underachieving

In the history of hip-hop, Black Sheep may be no more than a footnote, the stepchildren of the Native Tongues, a one hit wonder whose hit, "The Choice Is Yours" featured a memorable refrain ("You can get with this, or you can get with that") and an innovative video. That refrain, and that video, are still being copied today.

Those who bought the first Black Sheep album A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing probably did so (like me) for the single. It appeared there in two versions, plus there were some skits, an unmemorable guest spot by Q-Tip, and repeated boasts about soliciting prostitutes and the size of the DJ's penis.

The track that stood out from all that was Black with NV (No Vision), in which Dres calmly and eloquently dismantles the notion of equal opportunity in education and employment. Heady stuff from a rap group that made a point of being apolitical.

Bust my ass in school to be a certified fool
Now intellect of curb is my only tool
But street games are so uncouth;
I took the SAT, and that's the Sad Ass Truth.
I'm not gliding, but I'm striving
Hanging on by a thread, and it's called surviving...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Reissues, Reunions, Retrospectives

I was invited to contribute to a post on the Atlanta-based music blog Cable & Tweed. Rich invited opinions from Southern musicians and tastemakers (and me) about the best new music released so far in 2006. My contribution was too long and didn't directly address the question. Typical for me. I decided to publish my full text on my own goddam blog. Here 'tis:

I don't listen to a lot of new bands. I prefer to wait until after they break up, when their recorded legacy is completed and safely tucked away. Then I can bemoan the fact that they were unappreciated during their creative lifetime. When I (and Influential Others) have whined long and loudly enough, someone will issue a handy retrospective that collects all those messy b-sides that I didn't bother to listen to when the band was together. And maybe they will reunite for a brief tour, and then I can complain that they're not as good as they used to be. See how nicely that works?

2005 was a great year for reissues and reunions, and 2006 is shaping up to be even better. The surviving members of the Replacements recorded several songs, two of which were released on their newest career retrospective. Legendary Aussie punk band Radio Birdman reunited and recorded an album of new material which will be released in August, and they will tour North America for the first time ever. Dance punk pioneers ESG and the Slits have also recorded new material. Scritti Politti is back (at least in the person of Green Gartside), the surviving New York Dolls have a new record, Eno will record with Roxy Music, and Redd Kross and the British band TV21 are playing live gigs. So is the Bonzo Dog Band (go away, Death Cab fans. Nothing to see here.)

One reunion that I didn't think got enough attention in the US was that of the Belgian band dEUS, who emerged from a ten year hIATUS with a new album, Pocket Revolution. It isn't as good as their first album, or even their last one, but the single "Seven Days, Seven Weeks" is a silky smooth, dark and bittersweet Belgian confection. Flat Pack Philosophy, this year's record by the reunited Buzzcocks, contains the perfect single, "Wish I Never Loved You", in which Pete Shelley puts every other punk-pop songwriter to shame with the spiraling melody of the chorus. Shelley has ensured himself a corner office in the tower of song.

As far as reissues and retrospectives this year, I highly recommend Mcluskyism (get the three CD version, which should only cost you $15) and the Au Pairs' Stepping out of Line, a 2 CD set that includes both of their studio albums plus lots of bonus material. Mclusky was a Welsh trio whose rabidly aggressive music should make fans of the Pixies and the Jesus Lizard delirious with joy. The Au Pairs were feminist post-punk contemporaries of the Gang of Four and Mekons. AllMusic's Andy Kellman said of the Au Pairs, "No one could possibly give this band's music too much attention." The members of Wire have remastered and reissued their first three classic albums, plus two discs of live material, under the title 1977-1979. I know that this year's retrospective of the British experimental group This Heat has been long anticipated, but Out of Cold Storage retails for about $100, and I can't pretend I've heard it.

Last but not least, I have it on good authority that later this year one of my favorite US 80's/90's alt-rock bands, Hypnolovewheel, will release a compilation of rare material from their seven year recording career. Hypnolovewheel guitarists Stephen Hunking and Dave Ramirez have started a label, Geodesic Recordings. Stephen and Dave each have solo albums available there. Could a reunion be in the offing? And what is an offing?

I'll finish this mid-year wrap-up with two predictions: first, Sufjan will abandon the 50 states project. (Shocka!) Second, a Syd Barrett tribute album is being planned somewhere, by someone, right now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sometimes You Gotta Be a Ragamuffin

It's hard to believe Jeff Buckley was once a guitarist for Jamaican-American rapper Shinehead. Jeff is not credited on Shinehead's first album, Unity, but a number of Adrian Sherwood's sidemen from On-U Sounds backed Shinehead on that record.

Once in awhile I get the urge to hear something I probably haven't listened to in fifteen years or more. This time that urge led me to retrieve Ragamuffin from the Underneathica analog archives, dust it off, and buff it up with a digital sheen. This post is dedicated to my lifelong nemesis, Piehammer. When I'm locking horns in bloody bloggy battle with my fearsome foe, today's song reminds me to stand firm, with my two foots on the ground.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Give 'em Headbutts!

I'm surprised no one posted this song following the fracas over Zidane's offense during the World Cup. Headbutts by John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett was one of those novelty songs that I remember hearing a lot on college radio (WMSE, circa 1981).

John Otway still performs live: here's a recent review with a photo. (Cor, is that really him?) Wikipedia says that Otway plans a world tour this fall!

Check out my guest post today on the blog Feed Me Good Tunes. I wrote about the Stooges' album Funhouse and posted cover versions of all the songs (except "LA Blues", which the Stooges reportedly claimed was a Nico cover.) Feed Me Good Tunes invited bloggers to write about their favorite artists, so there should be some great stuff ahead (artists covered so far include Sonic Youth, the Meat Puppets, Hybrid, and Medeski Martin & Wood).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Underneathica Hates Your Friends

When I told my friend Chris that I had started an mp3 blog, he wanted to know when I was going to write about him. So this post is for Chris. Let me describe his best qualities: he is easily the wealthiest person I know, which is the main reason I stay in touch with him. He lives in a turret of Victorian wealth in an exclusive gated community with his wife and their umpteen children. He has more money than sense. Chris plays the stock market now, but he made his fortune at an early age by cheating retirees out of their pensions in elaborate Ponzi schemes. He was a precocious white-collar criminal. In fact, he was a teenage bankman.

People may read this and ask, "Jon, why do you hate your friends?" I don't. I love my friends, despite their fetching frailties and feeble foibles. It's YOUR friends I can't stand.

Lemonheads: Hate Your Friends
You Am I: Fifteen
Union Carbide Productions: Teenage Bankman

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Underneathica Hates the Kids

Does Tim Rogers sound a bit curmudgeonly on the latest You Am I album? Like his hero Paul Westerberg (circa "Sixteen Blue"), Tim has the ability to get inside the teenage head on songs like "Purple Sneakers" and "Fifteen". Unlike Westerberg, Rogers has continued to make great records. But on the new You Am I record, Convicts, Mr. Rogers' lyrics take a dangerous detour into grumpy old fart territory on songs like "By My Own Hand" and "Nervous Kid". Does the world need another GrandpaBoy?

Tim Rogers has a new album coming out this fall, a collaboration with Australian singer Tex Perkins (former frontman of the Beasts of Bourbon and The Cruel Sea). The duo, called TnT, are actually planning a few US dates (NYC, Austin, LA, and Seattle) at the end of August after they tour Europe. Details (and a picture of the creepy album cover) are here. You can read my last post about You Am I if you are unfamiliar with Tim Rogers' main band.

You Am I: Nervous Kid
SOA: I Hate the Kids
Christmas: Stupid Kids

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Underneathica Hates Music

Do you ever get bored with music? Do you sometimes feel like there's nothing new that will excite you the way your favorite music once did? Or do you ever even find your favorite music uninspiring? I get in those moods from time to time. I'm not there right now, but when I am there's nothing to do but wait it out: leave music alone, or listen to a genre you know nothing about. Here are a few sour grapes from disgruntled music fans:

Replacements: I Hate Music
Thelonious Monster: Lookin' to the West
Tim Rogers: Letter to Gene

Monday, July 10, 2006

Wanna Rollerskate?

Another great show was put on by the Atlanta Rollergirls last night. Despite the valiant efforts of Demi Gore and her teammates, the Denim Demons could not overcome the mighty Apocalypstix. The Stix had a 30 point lead after the first period, which they increased to 70 points by the end of the second period. I think the final score was 137 to 47. Lola Lixxx, Foxfire, and Viva Hate led jam after jam. There was a great Turbonegro cover band called Das AssJugend during the breaks.

This coming Saturday (July 15) from 10am to 12noon, there will be a meet-and-greet for prospective Rollergirls at the All-American Skating Center in Stone Mountain. If you or someone you know wants to be a roller derby queen, pass it on!

The Figgs: Rollerskate
The Figgs: F--ks Off

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Friday, July 07, 2006

The Expensive Sound of Empire lists five different bands called Empire. The band that released an album called Expensive Sound in 1981 was fronted by ex-Generation X guitarist Bob Andrews and drummer Mark Laff. It's an album that was overlooked by almost everyone except Ian MacKaye and others in the DC scene who were casting around for a new direction after hardcore reached its terminal extremes of velocity, negativity and infighting.

Jack Rabid captured what's really special about Empire's sole album in his Allmusic review. Andrews had an amazing guitar sound, great songs, and a plaintive singing voice that is both affecting and unaffected. There's lots of open space in the band's sound, which allows for greater dynamics than Gen X (or most any other punk band at the time). Andrews isn't a showoff; he takes a decidedly post-punk solo on the album's title track, but most of the time the bass and drums don't get overwhelmed by the guitar. It's easy to hear what appealed to Fugazi about Empire.

Expensive Sound was reissued on CD with bonus tracks, but the reissue is out of print. (I'd love to find it.) I have the vinyl, which I bought because I admired Andrews' guitar playing on the Gen X albums. I didn't know it would become a touchstone for early emo or post-hardcore or whatever, but I'm glad the record found appreciative ears.

Empire: All These Things
Empire: Expensive Sound
Empire: New Emotion

Seely Reunion

Atlanta band Seely will reunite for a show on Saturday, July 8 at the EARL as part of a benefit for Shannon Mulvaney (bassist for Anna Kramer, and an original member of Magnapop). Seely once released records on the Too Pure label. Here's my favorite Seely song, "Exploring the Planets", which always reminded me of Eno's "Third Uncle".

Seely leader Steven Satterfield recently recorded this wonderful story-song, "Great Pretenders", under the band name Silver Lakes. The song bears many of the hallmarks of the Seely sound. It appeared on the International Hits compilation of Atlanta bands, Don't Doubt Rock, Vol. 2.

Seely:Exploring the Planets

Silver Lakes:Great Pretenders

Visit Atlanta's own International Hits label. The label's music is available on iTunes and eMusic. Also, the latest albums by Atlanta bands Luigi and Hot Young Priest were recently added to eMusic.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Blogs Bow Out

One of my favorite blogs, Audio for Drinking, was ably run by the Bros. Mueller. They have decided to end their blog on its one year anniversary, which strikes me as a classy move, though I will miss their writing and their musical selections. Catch their farewell posts (with a sad, sweet song that explains the title of their blog) while they're still online.

My favorite blog from Down Under, Invasion of the Reverb Snatchers, is on hiatus while Stove does some traveling. If the plural form of octopus is octopi, is the plural form of hiatus "hiati"?

On with the Offs

I was planning a post about SF ska-punk pioneers the Offs, but I was beaten to the punch by The Last Days of Man on Earth. What can a poor blog nerd do but pick himself up, dust himself off, and grab desperately at whatever tattered shreds of credibility remain? (Come to think of it, Strange Reaction posted an Offs single back in the fall.)

So, with a pitiful cry of, "Wait for me!" I stagger after the hipster train as it pulls away from the station. My three cents about the Offs:

$.01 - They were the first American ska-punk band. The Offs' first single was released the same week as the Specials' first single. The Offs also incorporated dub, funk, R & B, and a smidge of Krautrock into their sound.

$.02 - The Offs were unique among the first wave of West Coast punk bands in maintaining a home base on both coasts. In SF, their manager discovered the Deaf Club as a live venue, and the Offs released records on the labels CD Presents and 415 Records. In NYC, they hung out with Basquiat (who scrawled their album cover), and released a single on Max's Kansas City Records.

$.03 - The Offs' singer, Don Vinil, was one of the first openly gay people in the West Coast punk scene. V. Vale of Search and Destroy and RE/Search introduced Vinil to guitarist Billy Hawk after Vinil was kicked out of his first band, Grand Mal. Don Vinil died of a heroin overdose in 1983. Billy Hawk is apparently still around.

My favorite Offs song is their 1979 b-side, My World.

The band tears it up on James Brown's Think at the Mabuhay in 1980. They give the Contortions a run for their money here.

And here's the Offs' epic original, Die Babylon, from the compilation LP Can You Hear Me? Live at the Deaf Club in 1979. Kind of amusing to listen to Don Vinil decry "Jimmy Carter's cattle/Jimmy Carter's slaves" -- there was a far worse president to come, who was the governor of Don's home state at the time!

Buy The Offs Live at the Mabuhay Gardens from Vampir Records.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Watcha Gonna Do About It?

It has been said that the song "Watcha Gonna Do About It" rips off the R & B chestnut "Everybody Needs Somebody". Fair enough. Both songs have been covered a number of times. "Everybody Needs Somebody" has been butchered by the Blues Brothers, among others. "Watcha Gonna Do About It" seems to have found favor among the punks.

See how many of these you recognize without looking them up.

Watcha Gonna Do About the 1960's
Watcha Gonna Do About the 1970's
Watcha Gonna Do About the 1980's
Watcha Gonna Do About the 70's (again)