Monday, August 28, 2006

Press Release Rock

There's so much new music competing for listeners' attention that even this humble blog receives emails offering promo copies of new CD's. I recently accepted a few of these offers, and thus I was sent an EP by New York band the Compulsions. One quote stood out from their press release. The Compulsions singer and songwriter, Rob Carlyle, said, "Originality is not nearly as important as authenticity." I think there's an argument to be made for the opposite; and one might say just as convincingly that both are equally important for any art form to remain vital.

If authenticity trumps originality, then what would be more authentic than a tribute band? And what if the artists you are emulating are themselves derivative of earlier influences? The Compulsions claim the Stones, Guns & Roses and the NY Dolls as influences. Here's an overly simplistic musical genealogy: the blues begat Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, who begat the Stones and the Yardbirds, who begat metal bands from Aerosmith to Zeppelin, who begat Guns & Roses. Which of these artists is most authentic? Taken to the logical extreme, authenticity would begin with the field hollers and work songs that evolved into the blues. Or you could seek the beginnings of human song.

Nothing against the Compulsions, who perform original songs in a familiar but convincing style: swaggering, raunchy hard rock. They have a particularly talented lead guitarist in John Andrews. It's great to hear some well-played electric slide guitar! Four of the tracks from their EP are streaming here.

The other promo offer I accepted was for Scott H. Biram's album, Graveyard Shift. The longer I listen to it, the more I disagree with the reviewer who pegged Mojo Nixon and Horton Heat as influences. Biram is no clown, and his songs explore the territory where the blues, country, and gospel overlap: the music of black folks and white folks in the rural South. These influences are evident in his lyrics, too, where he dwells on the conflicts between man's spiritual and carnal desires: the opposing forces of salvation and sin that have concerned artists from Robert Johnson to Hank Williams Sr., Gram Parsons, and Prince. Scott Biram performs as a one man band, accompanying his raw vocals and bluesy guitar with the rhythm of his feet stomping on the floor. It actually sounds more like a Fat Possum release than something on the Bloodshot label. I'd say he's both original and authentic. And I'm giving away a copy of his latest, Graveyard Shift, along with the new album by the Meat Purveyors. Details of the giveaway are here.

Scott H. Biram: Been Down Too Long

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fell in Love with a Band

My heart has been captured by a gang of Marked Men. The Marked Men formed in Texas after the breakup of garage-punk band the Reds. Their self-titled album was released by Rip Off Records in 2003. On the Outside followed in 2004 on the Dirt Nap label. (Both records are available on eMusic.) The Marked Men's latest full-length, Fix My Brain, was released in May on Swami Records, the label that is home to the Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, and Rocket from the Tombs (who will be playing the Drive Invasion in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend!) The Swami label's releases have recently disappeared from eMusic. Fix My Brain is an essential purchase.

There is a definite Buzzcocks influence in the catchy melodies and slightly nasal vocals of the Marked Men. The spirit of the Ramones, the Undertones, and the Dickies can also be heard in their harmonies and their buzzsaw riffs. I don't want to give the impression that the Marked Men are a Class of '77 revival band, but neither do they have much in common with the latter-day punk-pop of Green Day or Blink 182. What I like most about the Marked Men is their talent for writing songs that are melodic but powerfully raw and aggressive. They stir my natural emotions! None of the 13 songs on Fix My Brain tops the three minute mark, and the tempos range from fast to frantic.

Two songs in particular have been at the top of my personal hit parade. Here's the title track of the new record, Fix My Brain. The opening chords remind me of "Sand in My Joints". Right Here with You is from their second album. I love the way the harmonies bleed into distortion. The Marked Men are currently on tour in Europe; visit their website or their myspace to see if they'll be playing near you this fall. Their rare "Shit Sandwich" single is streaming on their myspace. That's right, a streaming shit sandwich.

Further Embarrassment

Here's a great article from a Lawrence, KS newspaper with links to VIDEOS for the Embarrassment's songs "Celebrity Art Party", "Don't Choose the Wrong Song", and "I'm a Don Juan", plus MORE mp3's. Get 'em all! This band is going to be BIG, I tell you. They... I'm sorry, what?

Reports from fans who attended the Embarrassment reunion shows were full of superlatives. The Mortal Micronotz were the surprise opening band in Lawrence. The Embos closed with covers of "Pushing Too Hard" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog". The good news for those of us who couldn't attend is that the documentary film should be complete by the end of this year, and there will probably be a two DVD set with the doc on one disc and music videos and live stuff from this past weekend (and earlier) on the second disc. Also, the Embarrassment website will have CD's and shirts for sale some time soon.

Today I'm posting another song from the Embarrassment's last reunion album, God Help Us (1990). Beautiful Day demonstrates the positively goofy sense of humor that the band members shared, plus it features a soaring chorus and great guitar work from the perennially underrated Bill Goffrier.

I can't listen to "Beautiful Day" without wanting to hear I Want More from Vortex, the final album from Beantown underdogs Christmas (who were calling themselves "the Christmas" at this point). I don't care for Martin Bisi's production on the album, but this uplifting song shines anyway. Liz Cox and Michael Cudahy have such a talent for harmonizing, which they also featured in their next band, Combustible Edison. Listen to these two songs, and have a beautiful day!

Did you miss my contest yesterday? It was cleverly designed for minimum exposure (no mp3's for Hype or readers). Fool that I am... Anyway, there's plenty of time to enter. Vote early and often!

Unknown Legends: An Oxymoron?

I have been reading Richie Unterberger's 1998 book, Unknown Legends of Rock & Roll. It's a great book, and I wonder if it will be updated to reflect some of the changes that have taken place, particularly this year (the author devotes sections of one chapter to Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee). In the same chapter, "Mad Geniuses and Eccentric Recluses", Unterberger complains about the difficulty of getting an interview with Scott Walker:
Walker never speaks to the press unless he has a new album out. Which, these days, is a once-a-decade or so event. There was an eleven-year gap between his last two albums, Tilt (1995) and Climate of Hunter (1984). Would I have to wait until 2006?

As it turns out, yes! The latest Scott Walker record came out this very year, as if on schedule. Unterberger probably has a call in to 4AD right now. Visit his website, and keep an eye out for his new book, The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film (due in October, 2006).

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Win a CD from Bloodshot!

Thanks to the generosity of Bloodshot Records, this blog is kicking off its first contest. I have two shiny new Bloodshot releases to give away: Graveyard Shift by Scott H. Biram, and Someday Soon Things Will Be Much Worse by the Meat Purveyors.

You may have heard that the Meat Purveyors have "gone electric" on their new release. About half of the songs feature electric guitar, and guest musicians provide piano and pedal steel. The Meat Purveyors cover songs by the Human League, Foreigner, the Monkees and Loretta Lynn.

Scott H. Biram is a one man band from Austin, Texas. Maybe you heard his 2005 release, The Dirty Old One Man Band. Maybe you read the very complimentary review that his new album received in the latest issue of Stomp and Stammer. It's not a record for folks who can't abide criticisms of organized religion. Nor is it for those listeners whose appetite is not whetted by the description "psychobilly gospel".

So here's the contest: I will mail these two CD's to the Underneathica reader who suggests the most songs about eating disorders. Song titles that include the words anorexia, anorexic, anorectic, bulimia, or bulimic don't count, because they're too easy to look up.

I don't mean to make light of the pain experienced by people with eating disorders (or the people who love them). But I recently started a list of songs about eating disorders, and I'm looking for more. The most famous is probably "4st. 7lb." by the Manic Street Preachers. "Beetroot" by the Mekons contains the couplet, "Now you've got anorexia nervosa/ We'll have to sleep a little closer." There's "A Knife and a Fork" by Rockpile, "Adam's Ribs" by You Am I, and "Ventura" by Lucinda Williams. How many more can you think of? Email them to me at The contest will end on August 31st.

ADDENDUM: I should have done a google search before I wrote this. I honestly didn't know that ILM had a thread on this topic last month. So the following songs aren't eligible, since they were submitted to that thread: "Binge and Purge" by the Lunachicks; "Me and Mia" by Ted Leo; "Paper Bag" by Fiona Apple; "Ana's Song" by Silverchair; and "Tunic" by Sonic Youth. Next time I'll do a simpler contest!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Embarrassment: The Greatest Band You Never Heard

The Embarrassment are reuniting for a series of shows in Wichita and Lawrence this weekend. If you are unfamiliar with this classic American alternative band from the 80's (a major influence on REM, Freedy Johnston, the Ass Ponys and many others), you can obtain their excellent career overview, Heyday, on eMusic. Dan Fetherston, the drummer for the Oxford Collapse, approached the members of the Embarrassment to do the shows, and apparently Fetherston (who has a degree in film) is working on a documentary about the Embos.

Visit the Embarrassment's website for more information, and there’s an extensive article in the Kansas City Star here. An interview with singer John Nichols, plus a half dozen mp3's and a podcast, are available here. You can also download four classic Embarrassment tunes from the band’s myspace.

I love reading about what members of old bands are doing these days. The KC Star says that bassist Ron Klaus is the captain of a whale-watching boat. Guitarist Bill Goffrier (who also led the band Big Dipper) teaches art to fourth graders. Drummer Brent “Woody” Giessman (who joined the Del Fuegos after the Embos split) is a substance abuse counselor, and the inimitable vocalist John Nichols is a airline cargo sales manager.

The Embarrassment have reunited at least once since their 1983 breakup, and in 1990 they made a reunion album, God Help Us, which some longtime fans found wanting. The band revisited four of their old songs, plus an Elvis cover, and some of the new tunes did lack the old spark. But for my money, the one-two punch of the leadoff tracks, “Train of Thought” and “Beautiful Day” were as good as anything the band had ever done, and their new version of the old Embos tune “After the Disco” demonstrated the power of their rhythm section and the innovative rhythm/lead playing of guitarist Bill Goffrier.

The Embarrassment: Train of Thought

The Embarrassment: After the Disco

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Underneathica, Please Try Harder

My kids started back to school yesterday, so I will be able to post more frequently again. On Sunday the 13th, there was another great match between Atlanta Rollergirls teams the Sake Tuyas and the Toxic Shocks. The Sake Tuyas are already in this year's championship bout (to be held on September ), and they won this match handily (105-80). The Toxic Shocks put up a good fight: two of their skaters, Queen Loseyateefa and SK8 Outta Compton, won their penalty challenges. But the Sake Tuyas (led last night by Belle of the Brawl, Raging C*ck, Big Red, and 18-Hour Broad) were unstoppable.

There's still a chance to try out for next season, if you want to be a Rollergirl! They will be recruiting tomorrow night (August 16). Check the website for details. Don't forget that on Sunday, September 10, the Sake Tuyas will face the Apocalypstix in the 2006 Championship Bout! The Rollergirls will also make an appearance at the Drive-Invasion on Labor Day weekend. And on Saturday, September 23, the Rollergirl Hootenanny will be held at the Masquerade (bands TBA).

Today I'm in a pub rock mood. Dr. Feelgood's first album, Down by the Jetty, has recently been reissued on CD. This record was an inspiration to the first wave of British punks, and members of Dr. Feelgood financed one of the first independent punk labels, Stiff Records. Today's song is my favorite from another pub rock band, Ducks Deluxe. Sean Tyla's vocal performance is excited to the point of being incomprehensible, and Martin Belmont spits out some classic Chuck Berry riffs.

Ducks Deluxe: Coast to Coast


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Incomprehensible Conveyance of Simplexity

Where did July go? It evaporated while I was reading about some of the new releases coming up in the next few months. August brings remastered CD's of the first three (John Foxx led) Ultravox albums, which are ultra exxcellent, as well as several Captain Beefheart titles that have been out of print. New releases that I'm looking forward to include the live Hot Snakes disc Thunder Down Under (Aug. 15), Radio Birdman's Zeno Beach (Aug. 22), and the Roots' Game Theory (Aug. 29). On September 12, Richard Buckner's new album Meadow will be released.

I also noticed a new Gin Blossoms album, their first in ten years, coming out this month. It is entitled Major Lodge Victory. Let us peer further into the future: in October (or "Rocktober" as the witty DJ's call it) the recording industry will unleash the Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America and the Pernice Brothers' Live a Little.

The funniest thing I read today was a press release for the new album by Deadsy, a California goth-rock group led by the clearly troubled son of Gregg Allman and Cher, wherein we learn that Deadsy "is adamantly committed to the realization of a comprehensive conveyance of simplicity and complexity's synergistic unions - a sort of 'simplexity' or 'complicity,' if you will."

No, I won't. But thanks for offering. The word "complicity" already exists, and it doesn't mean what you think it does, Dudsey. The word "simplexity" doesn't exist, and shouldn't. You get an "E" for effort, and a "T" for nice try. Stay in school, kids!