This is an mp3 blog attempting to document the gross amount of music I listen to. About once a day, I'll post something I like. If you're a copyright holder on anything I host, get in touch, and we'll settle things in a steel cage instead of a courtroom.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Jenny's poppin' birth control and still wearin' braces" - The Exploding Hearts

News item the first: Saw The Prestige last night with my good friend Chris (who writes over at the excellent film blog, Movie Mash - It wasn't bad, and serves as evidence that superb filmmaking can surmount average acting and virtually no emotional attachment. Besides, my future wife Scarlett was in it, so nothing to complain about on that front.

News item the second: Big ups to my homies at the Tokyo Inn on Backlick. Them shits is delicious!

I'm going on a brief hiatus from The Kids Are All Dead, so barring my ability to find Dokken's "Dream Warriors" for a Halloween posting, you won't see an update here until at least the 6th of November. The reason I'll be away is that I will be in Atlanta for most of the next week and half, and thus unable (and too uncaring) to update.

I thought I'd use my last post for a while to hype something you can buy when I'm gone. Scratch that, should buy. Dirtnap Records is reissuing the entire Exploding Hearts vaults, which amounts to their lone full-length and a rarities and singles collection called Shattered.

If you're wondering why it's got such a morbid title, well, there's a reason. Once one of the more promising bands to come out of the Pacific Northwest during the early 00's (along with groups like the Epoxies, the Briefs, and the Spits), the Exploding Hearts met a tragic end when their van flipped on I-5, killing everyone but the guitarist and the group's manager.

It seems especially tragic because they had hit hard and fast with their amazing debut, Guitar Romantic, and were generating enough positive attention to get offered a deal with the large indie Lookout! Records. Listening to Guitar Romantic three years after the accident that claimed their lives, it still boggles me how fresh and vital it sounds, especially when you consider they're channeling glam rock's giants. If you're a fan of the New York Dolls or the half of T Rex songs that aren't folky unicorn horseshit, you'll get a kick out of these guys.

"Getting Modern Kicks" is a crunchy rave-up about, what else, girls and drugs that rings high and kicks your gut. "Sleeping Aids and Razorblades" is a song I listened to bunches after I broke up with Kate and was still in the "man, whatever, I don't need you" phase, and to this day, still sing along to the "the dog don't remember your name" line. "Making Teenage Faces" is from their final single, put out months before they died, and it might be the best song they ever did. The 7" has been on my wishlist forever, but I'm not holding my breath - I've seen it go for $150+ before. However, if any of you loyal readers wanna change my lack of ownership, well, you know, I don't suppose I can stop you.

See you in November!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Matt's Rare Tracks #1

Sometimes people ask me how I find so much obscure music, especially for my (I think) killer party mixes. I typically dismiss them as Plebians who will never attain the luster of being a pop nerd. However, there is a dirty little secret to how I fake it.

Using SoulSeek, type in "rare" and the name of a genre, like "rare funk" or "rare polka." You'll get comps made up by freaky genre fanatics, like the ones I used to make for 80's hardcore. Download as much as you can, and you'll pluck between 2-5 decent tracks per outing. I've decided to start sometimes posting the fruits of some of these searches as a segment called (duh) Matt's Rare Tracks.

To qualify, most average music nerds (of which I consider myself one) need to have never heard of the group and it must be virtually impossible to find out anything significant about them using Google. Putting out a single song on a comp that only got 500 copies printed = good, four albums no one just ever bothered to listened to = bad. Got it? Good.

Today's two groups are the Letters and National Soul Review. The Letters were part of the cash-in Mod revival of the late 70's. They released a lone single (of which "Don't Want You Back" was the b-side) before promptly breaking up. I found absolutely nothing abotu National Soul Review. Perfect for parties, though.

"I don't wanna get over you" - The Undertones

I think it goes without saying that the Buzzcocks are the godfathers of pop-punk. Sure, some people may argue otherwise, but it's generally agreed upon that those four Mancunians with bad haircuts are the cornerstone of the genre. Of course, this doesn't do much to explain away the waves of endless pop-punk groups seemingly stuck in eternal adolesence, hung up on fickle girlfriends, black-and-white emotions, and wishing to God that just for one day you could be beautiful and have a nice car, just to see what it was like. For all their torch-bearing romanticism, the Buzzcocks were still a very adult band. They were sophisticated in their feelings and prone to using pessimism and cynical detachment as a tool to keep from again falling prey to the crushing defeats of youth. They were definitely not Pete Wentz sleeping on his girlfriend's porch like a histrionic dork or the dudes in Hawthorne Heights hanging outside your window with their radios because they take 80's teen movies a tad too seriously.

While most modern pop-punk bands who sing about girls would point to bands like their 90's forebears Green Day and Screeching Weasel and primary influences, in reality they are filtering the two primary influences on snotty teenagers in pop-punk bands: the Descendents (more on them some other day) and a group of goofy Irish kids called the Undertones, who were more concerned with girls than the IRA, unlike almost all of their more strident contemporaries in the first wave of UK punk.

Like pretty much every single band formed in the first wave of punk, the Undertones started off as Ramones fanatics who would quickly incorporate other styles to create something that still sounds distinctive. Hell, by the time their first (and only) indie single came out, they had taken the Ramonesy buzzsaw guitars and velocity and added an icing of ridiculously catchy pop melodies. Said first single, the immortal "Teenage Kicks," makes quavering singer Feagal Sharkey sound like he's yearning/begging for sex in the way only a frustrated teenage boy could. (I'm not going to post the song, because everyone and their mother has heard it, so there's no point in going to the effort.)

Initially a chart failure, it was saved by John Peel, probably the most well-regarded DJ of the last 40 years. In a story told so many time it's become boring (like the story of the first Christmas), Peel announced that it was his favorite pop record of all time, and played it frequently on his show, resulting in a quick signing by Sire and the recording of a classic LP in 1979.

The Undertones is one of the single best pop records, well, ever. It perfectly captures the petulance, longing, sarcasm, and defiant emotionalism of the teenage experience in the western world. The Buzzcocks recognized it when they fell "in love with someone you shouldn't have fallen in love with" and understood that it was for the best that it was ended, time to move on. The Undertones? "I don't wanna get over you/It doesn't matter what you do." The difference between the two groups is all in the "wanna." The album has so many classics that it would be pointless to list highlights. The first three tracks offered here are from this record.

Even with the spate of recent (and even somewhat decent) reunions abounding in the world of fringe rock lovers, I've always said the Undertones were a band that needed to die, or at least break up and stay broken up. A group that so represents youth needs to stay young forever. An old man with jowls singing about teenage kicks is painful to imagine. I mean, I know Roger Daltrey still goes on every night and belts out "My Generation," but that doesn't make it right.

Of course, the boys had a few more albums in 'em. 1980's Hypnotized was by and large an attempt to ape the first record, but it lacked the wound-up livewire sound of the debut, and as a result, ended up sounding tired. It still had some cool numbers (like the title track and "See That Girl"), but it was obvious that primary songwriters the O'Neill brothers were straining against what now seemed like restraints on their sound. Their next LP, the ambitious Positive Touch, wasn't that bad (all things considered), but it wasn't very inspired.

The Undertones bowed out with the incredible single "The Sin of Pride" (the version posted here is from their final Peel session, which I thought was an approriate circle), which is the title track of their last album. Sharkey went on to a career as a middling pop vocalist, and the group called it quits in 1983, barring a 2003 reunion minus the aforementioned singer. The resulting album, Get What You Need, was better than it should have been, but really, stick to the albums done by the original line-up.

Blaming the Undertones for the simpering groups of emotionally damaged teens that formed groups in their wake would be like blaming Nirvana for Nickelback or 3 Doors Down. Accurate, but not really fair. As lways, just let the music speak for itself.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Why I love Samantha Adolfo

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"I'd rather be without you than be anything like her" - Tiger Trap

News item the first: I'm hitting the road October 28th for what's looking to be the most partyriffic vacation of my young life. Stay tuned.

News item the second: 25 minutes on the phone with Hank Williams III is a rather bizarre experience, as you can see here: It takes a bit for him to warm up, but once you get him going, his disjointed, largely hilarious rants take over. The "Auschwitz Museum gift shop" exchange is easily the most offensive thing I've ever been involved in as a music journalist.

Yet again, I open another posting with a description of what this post was going to be but is not. However, since I've learned to count to ten and not be a sadsack on the internet, it's not going to be Matt: The Emoing. As such, it doesn't consist of me writing "GODDAMMIT." followed by a bunch of Patsy Cline and Alkaline Trio mp3s. I was thinking of doing This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, but then I realized the only TBIAPB album I like is Three-Way Tie For a Fifth, which is probably a reference to sharing or some other equally gay anarcho punk ideal.

Instead I'm going to post yet another indie girl-pop group I like, because I can't get enough of them. I'm a ravenous, insatiable predator for their bottomless cuteness and sad harmonies. At least, this is the excuse I offer for the Talulah Gosh bootlegs I have on my CD shelf.

Tiger Trap is an indie-pop nerd wet dream come true. Named after a Calvin and Hobbes strip, sounding like Heather Lewis' songs in Beat Happening, coming from a town not known for producing good bands (Sacramento, California), lasting scarcely more than a year (thus disappearing before they could have achieved anything resembling underground popularity), and being signed to K Records ("now 33% more hipper to tell patrons of your record shop!") all add up to the kind of trump card people in sweaters name drop at parties in order to one-up each other before they get drunk and have a one-night stand that spawns some heartfelt b-side to their band's debut 7".

I'd be cynical about all this if their lone LP wasn't so stunning in its quality. Other than Beat Happening's final two albums (Dreamy and You Turn Me On), I can't imagine a more essential K Records release. You might recognize singer Rose Melberg from her other projects, including Go Sailor, the Softies, or her coffeehouse solo albums. For as much as I love all her latter-day records, though, none of them come close to touching Tiger Trap. Maybe it's the tempo appealing to the punk in me. Maybe it's the heartfelt melancholy and inner hopeless romantic Mleberg spurts with every note. Maybe it's how catchy the songs are or how the sweet harmonies crack your smile and break your heat in the same breath. It's probably all these things. If I posted every song I liked, I'd probably end up posting the whole fucking record, so you'll have to settle for these tidbits...which are still 1/3 of the album.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

"You'll never understand me/[unintelligable groan]" - The Jesus and Mary Chain

News item the first: Wanna know what's really hurting music? Find out here:

News item the second: My diet has started consisting of beef jerky and warm beer. Guess it's time to find a girlfriend.

So the latest mix CD I've been working on has been kind of an odd one. I'm putting together a CD for an ex documenting some of the music I was listening to around the time of our break-up about a year and a half ago. There's been enough distance that it's not a depressing exercise, but it's not exactly skipping through the tulips, y'know? It was a pretty emotionally intense time in my life, and I'll never be able to hear "Fire Up the Batmobile" by Liz Phair or "Prayer to God" by Shellac without having something churn inside me, especially in this context.

One of the songs I'm putting on the disc is "Never Understand" by the Jesus and Mary Chain, probably one of my 20 favorite songs of all time. While she, the classical musician, will probably disagree, to me it is the saddest song ever made. It's what my sadness feels like. It also captured the divide between us. While there was something deep and inarticulate that made us love each other intensely, we were very different people in a lot of ways. There were a lot of time, especially towards the end, where I felt like she would never understand me or why I do the things I do.

I don't mean to turn this into a post about an old break-up. It's about what's probably the best rock band to come out of Scotland. Formed by the Reid brothers Jim and William in 1984, the Jesus and Mary Chain started out by clanging out a noisy brand of feedback-laden pop music and ended with something of a whimper. In between, they made some of the most compelling pop music of the last 25 years.

Their first record, Psychocandy, is rightly regarded as a classic. It sounds like the Beach Boys surfing down a blood chute in a slaughterhouse. While listening to the Velvet Underground. At the bottom of a canyon. It's a definitely a line-in-the-sand record. Either you hear the sweet pop songs, or you hear white noise. There are so many amazing songs on it ("Just Like Honey," "Trip You Up," "My Little Underground") that I don't even know where to begin. Basically, it's as essential a record as any I own. All the band members at the time delcared their fondness for LSD, and it seems like all the shrieking white noise was the bad side of acid. Fuck all the hippy dippy dorks and their flower power nonsense.

At was also in this early period that the band began developing a reputation for insane gigs. They wouldn't talk to the audience, they would play noise for 10 minutes and leave, they stared at their feet while the crowds rioted, etc. It got to the point where the British press (which, in all fairness, has a habit of hyperbole) declared them the new Sex Pistols. One of my favorite ever band interviews was when they were featured on the BBC, and the interviewer asked bassist Douglas Hart why he only had the "E" and "A" strings on his intrument. He replied with words to the effect of "these're the only fucking strings I play, so bother with the other two?" They definitely had a the-fuck-with-you attitude that I've always found very appealing in performers.

In the aftermath of Psychocandy and the controversial "Some Candy Talking" single (including a drug bust in Germany), the Reid brothers let go everyone else in the band and recorded their sophomore album almost entirely on their own using a drum machine. Darklands saw them shed the ferocious white noise that had made them unique, leaving them to be merely a nihilistic new wave group. Still, Darklands was a killer record, even if it doesn't sock you in the gut like Psychocandy. The singles were the record's highlights, including the sullen "Happy When it Rains," the brooding "Darklands," and the relatively uptempo "April Skies." The Reids tried touring in support of it without the benefit of a drummer, and it was so poorly recevied that they quickly went back to using a live band.

1989's Automatic lives up to the title, as it sounds like the Reid brothers are going through the motions. A few decent singles (like "Head On") aside, it sounded tired and uninspired. Things were a better for their next record, Honey's Dead, which struck a middle ground between their two main sounds. Leadoff single "Reverance" was a classic slice of alternative rock, and "Sugar Ray" was so catchy as to be used in a Budweiser commercial.

Things were a bit different for 1994's Stoned and Dethroned, which had more country flavor than anything else. Aside from "Sometimes-Always," there are only a couple of decent songs on the record. The group was getting long enough in the tooth and short enough on the sales reports that they were finally dumped by Warner Brothers and released their next (and final) record on indie label Sub Pop. 1998's Munki was a painful album, and typical of last records for bands that burned white-hot in the beginning and then began cooling as their careers progressed. Mercifully, they split up acrimoniously the following year.

So what did they leave in their aftermath, aside from two classic albums and a disaffected attitude that has cast its influence over pretty much all brtpop made since the mid-80's? Well, what the fuck else do you need?

PS - Blogspot is being a bastich about photos right now, so I'll trying posting some again later so you can see these totally photogenic Scotch dudes.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Feeling you up and feeling disappointed" - Flin Flon

So I was hanging out at Record and Tape Exchange this afternoon because I knew when I got home I'd have to cut the grass and do stuff to make sure it doesn't die this winter. I was talking to some girl who was in there flipping through the Hip-Hop section. She looked like some weird amalgamation of Andrea and Kate, so that should have been a clue from above not to bother. Anyway, she was looking for some old-school rap that was mostly instrumental. I asked if she'd ever heard Afrika Bambataa. "Oh, yeah, I have," she said. "It's way too fast for me." I blinked at her a couple times and then made an excuse to head over to the Country section to look for Webb Pierce records. If "Planet Rock" was too fast for her, thank God I didn't try to push that Trouble Funk album on her. Yeesh. She was just giving off the vibe of "I have Coldplay CDs in my car," so maybe I dodged a bullet this time.

But yeah, decent outing. Found the Joy Division Peel Sessions EP, an Electronic single, and comps from Doc Watson, Woody Herman, and the Lewd. I also found a record apiece by Johnny Cohen and Blast Off Country Style, and I realized it's been a while since I've listened to any of my old TeenBeat Records albums.

For those not from DC, there are three big indie rock labels - Dischord, DeSoto, and Teenbeat. Dischord is the older cool kid, DeSoto is his charming kid brother, and TeenBeat is the crazy cousin that puts Elmer's on his hand so that he can wait for it to dry and pretend that he's peeling off his skin. Dischord and DeSoto have always had more of an intellectual edge, while TeenBeat is more sex, drugs, love, and the morning after. Started by perennial scenester Mark Robinson (Unrest, Air Miami) in 1985, it's been home to some of DC's weirder pop acts, like Eggs or Bossanova.

When I got home this afternoon, I logged onto the TeenBeat site to see what was new, and holy shit Flin Flon has a new record out! Why was I not informed? From the promo song posted, it sounds like it's gonna be more of the drums-and-bass heavy sound that I love about them. It's nice to hear an indie pop record where the guitars aren't mixed higher than everything else. Once I get the record, I'll let you know if it's worth picking up.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Man...Or Astroman?

I'm sending this off before I go and get wild with Chris and a bunch of lunatic Irishmen Friday night, so enjoy it, as it might be the last thing I write in The Kids Are All Dead before I succumb to alcohol poisoning. Yeah, I know Guinness has a pussified alcohol content (something like 4.1 %), but if you drink enough of it, you're still gonna get fucked up your liver's quivering little brown starfish.

So before I die in a hail of Irish draught, darts, and Pogues jukeboxage, I'd like to share with you one of my favorite surf rock bands. Well, "surf" may not be the correct word, as it implies terrestrial pursuits. This is more like "space" rock. I like to imagine this is what the Silver Surfer jams on when he's hanging ten through an asteroid belt. It's surf rock that has more in common with peers like Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet than past heroes like Dick Dale or the Chandelles. It may not be virtuoso, but it's got reverb out the ass. When you're stoned enough and hanging out with a buddy who plays a Fender Mustang like it owes him alimony, you begin to appreciate the reverb. Accept it, love it, become it.

I've been into Man...Or Astroman? for a while now, but I only thought of them recently when I stumbled across a copy of Destroy All Astromen! at Crooked Beat Records. (Stop in if you're ever on 18th St. in Adams Morgan - it's in the basement of the building that used to be known as Madame's Organ.) As always, I snap up all vinyl that says Man..Or Astroman? on the cover, because you're virtually promised a great time.

They're one of those bands that's virtually impossible to be obsessive over. Touring under ridiculous pseudonyms (including their various "clone" tours) and releasing more albums that Robert Goulet in the 60's, Man...or Astroman? is a group you stumble across more than find and become completist about. They're everything you ever loved about Davie Allan, cheesy sci-fi movies, 50's comics, and Greek scales all rolled into one. If the Stingrays are too soft and Agent Orange is too hard, you will almost assuredly find Man...Or Astroman? to be a booster shot in the ass.

I'd advise starting with their two classic LPs, the aforementioned Destroy All Astromen! and sneer-inducing Experiment Zero. Both are great for highway drives or for cooking. Save the space surfing for Lance Bass and drunk Russians.

"Get outta here kid, ya bother me" - Danger Doom

Ever hear a record so good you want to put it on your end-of-the-year list, only to find out it came out last year and you're just late to the picnic? That's what happened to me with Danger Doom's debut album, The Mouse and the Mask. Chalk it up to me not really getting into rap until about halfway through this year, when I saw Aceyalone and Ugly Duckling perform on The Storm Tour. Guess that's just what I needed to make it click. I do have to admit, though, that lately I've been on a kick for rap, country, and metal, so I figure I might as well just shave my goatee into a soul patch, pierce an ear, buy a truck, and move to a small town somewhere.

Danger Doom is one of those made in heaven collaborations that they used to have only in jazz. I dunno why it takes those involved so much effort to realize it's a brilliant idea for a bomb MC and a killer producer to work together. Ice Cube and the Bomb Squad, Aceyalone and Rjd2, Common and Kanye West - why is it so hard to get collaborations this good?

In this instance, the two "superstars" working together are indie rap cause celebres MF Doom (also of MadVillain and about a million other pseudonyms) and Dangermouse (of the Gray Album and Gnarls Barkley). I'm surprised this got as much attention as it did, because both are very idiosyncratic and not apt to going with the mainstream verse-chorus-verse beats and monotonal flow. Dangermouse is more likely to sample Hong Kong Phooey and a free jazz solo than he is James Brown or some repetitive, three-note synthesizer hook. And really, when you look at most mainstream rap, it's like a breath of fresh air. Most of what I see on BET and MTV is just guys in retro jerseys chanting a slogan over a ringtone (say, Yung Joc or T.I. - off the tops of y'all's heads, can you remember anything from "It's Goin' Down" or "What You Know About That?" other than the title being repeated ad nauseum like some boring mantra?). I'm glad Danger Doom makes rap difficult to digest, because it forces you to actually focus on the music and words as opposed to just absentmindedly nodding your head to background noise.

Your reward is a helluva listen. MF Doom raps like meat being churned out of a grinder, which seems like it wouldn't mesh well with Dangermouse's horn-driven neo-soul and Adult Swim samples, but it fits like a specially-made glove. As with Albert Ayler, it may not always be easy to listen to, but those who stick around will definitely hear something great.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"It only gets inconvenient when you wanna get high alone" - The Hold Steady

Probably the main criticism of the Hold Steady's frontman Craig Finn is that he kinda speaks more than sings. The same people who get their panties in a bunch about this are also the same kind of people who love the Velvet Underground's "Waiting For The Man." Indie kids are hypocrites and whiny dorks who'd rather have something to nitpipck than enjoy. Case closed.

Anyway, for those of you who didn't run off just now to comb your hair in front of one eye and crank out a poorly-written blog about an opinion on the internet you disagreed with, the Hold Steady just put out a record called Boys and Girls In America that's aces. It seems Finn and co. have been playing the part of Sisyphus in a never-ending struggle uphill against the force of low expectations. When Finn disbanded much-lamented Minnesota group Lftr Pllr (buy a vowel, anyone?), no one thought his new group, with their Springsteen keyboards and bar-band melancholia, would be very good. Then they put out The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, which was tits and already showcasing their fairly unique sound. "Well," the snots said, "it's not like they can keep this formula interesting for another album." They were answered with the universally praised Seperation Sunday, which just amped up their sound and brought them a lot of attention. (As a side note, I would just like to add that the album included the song "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," easily one of the 25 best songs of the 00's so far.)

This was followed by a recording deal with Vagrant, a notoriously atrocious record label with exactly five good acts (Paul Westerberg, the Lemonheads, the Futureheads, and the Alkaline Trio being the others) crammed in between wall-to-wall screaming emo horseshit. Combined with all the attention they received after their last record, all the shitsuckers thought it was assured that the band would do a "sellout," "commerical" record that caved into trends of the day.

Hopefully, after everyone gets a chance to hear Boys and Girls In America, the bullshit will finally stop. Classic-sounding riffs, epic pianos, and Finn's poetic narratives of the gutter generation should resonate with anyone who cares to give it a chance. If you've ever been drunk and felt fucked-over by reality, this will have you rocking in your living room all night, doing blow to stay up just long enough to call in sick to work. Finn is a Howard Cosell for a generation of kids and young adults who are feeling the sting of an indie culture that champions detachment and self-absorption. It's like he's sitting on the back porch, swigging a Budweiser and surveying the trash, filth, sewage, and broken washing machines.

I guess if I had to sum it in one sentence, it's road trip music for your memories, and let's leave it at that.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"One hand will wash the other" - Jawbox

News item the first: This weekend has been kind of a bummer in some ways, not in other ways. Channels cancelling their show, the Hank III show tonight being sold out by the time I got there, Hank III's publicist not calling as scheduled for the interview, yadda yadda yadda. But, there have been good things. I think I might get involved in literacy programs again, got to see The Departed with my buddy Chris, and my dad's birthday is tomorrow, which means at the very least a decent steak. Also, I have Monday off, which means I'll probably be hitting up Record and Tape Exchange, Crooked Beat, and/or Orpheus to see what's new.

News item the second: I've discovered probably the tackiest porno series since Fart Hammer and Slap Happy. It's called Border Bangers, and normally respectable Latina actresses like Ava Devine ham it up as barrio sluts trying to avoid deportation by getting freaky with INS agents. It's awful in the best possible way.

News item the third: Finally started working again on my next novel, the working title of which is Jesus Christ's Lust For Glory. I imagine most people are turned off by the title, but it's more a satire on the nature of Western celebrity than anything else. And yes, I know how awful and pretentious that sounds. As someone who's read Occidentalism twice, please just trust me on this one. All I can say is that it will be about a million times better than In the Presence of Hipsters.

I've been on an alternative kick this week (I'm sure my friend Beth would be proud), so expect other posts this week to include Matthew Good, Squirrel Bait, Handsome, the Lemonheads (the new album is better than it has any right to be), and the Stones Roses.

Jawbox are one of the best bands ever to spring forth from my hometown. In a country where the indie kids are more apt to look to New York or LA for the next great band, I think DC has been criminally underrated, no matter how many articles are written about Fugazi or Q and Not U. I think part of it has to do with the transitory nature of the groups. As I noted in an earlier post, a lot of would-be significant DC groups break up before they have a chance to really flex their muscles beyond a brief but white-hot entrance. Look at Void or the Holly Rollers.

After he joined Government Issue as a bassist during their we-wanna-be-Husker-Du phase (aka right before they broke up), J. Robbins was introduced quickly into the passionate (but fickle) DC scene. It's where he "paid his dues" (just ask my best friend Jon about the movies Jake Steed made with Peter North) and cut his teeth. Almost immediately after G.I. broke up, Robbins formed Jawbox with bassist Kim Colleta and drummer Adam Wade. They put out an EP on their self-created DeSoto Records (which is still around), and then proceeded to put out two records on DC's perennial Dischord. The first one, Grippe, was done as a result of the "hey, we wrote 12 songs" mentality that seems to plague most bands, and it's telling that the best song on the album was a cover of Joy Division's "Something Must Break." Their sophomore album, Novelty, was a big improvement, but still lacking in something. It was above average DC post-punk, but that's all it was, y'know? Once again, it's telling that the epochal single "Tongues," which wasn't added until later, was the best song on the album.

During this perod, their line-up was shifted. In 1991, Bill Barbot of Clambake signed on as second guitarist, and Wade left to join Shudder to Think. Enlisting new drummer Zach Barocas (who brought a jazz-influenced sound than was more DeJohnette than Tommy Lee) was a big step in the right direction and promised better albums from the group.

Then in 1994, Jawbox did something no band had ever done before. They jumped ship from unber-indie Dischord for Atlantic Records. No one had ever left Dischord for a major before, so Jawbox's move was more surprising that the bands that jumped from SST or Twin-Tone. Unfortunately, the pallor it cast over their two major label albums obscured the fact that both records were easily the best things they had ever done, not to mention two of the best albums of the 90's.

1994's For Your Own Special Sweetheart is a killer record, and one that still manages to sound accesible in spite of the deliberate rhythm changes that Robbins' songwriting always dictates. The qausi-not-really hit "Savory" is probably the most immediate song on the album, but tracks like "Jackpot Plus!" and "Cooling Card" demand more than a passing listen. Unsurprisingly, Sweetheart failed to generate any mega hits. It didn't follow the LOUDquietLOUD formula of the time and required two or three listens before it really sunk in. This, of course, has always been a hinderance to commercial success.

None of this can explain, however, how their fourth and final record, 1996's amazing Jawbox, was relegated to the cut-out used bins almost immediately upon release. Standing with In Utero or Beautiful Midnight as one of the best alternative rock albums of the last 15 years, Jawbox is an album that seems like it would be impossible not to garner a hit from. Fiery intial single "Mirrorful" (about how full of shit history classes are) seems like it should have been a huge hit in the ages of the Cranberries. "Livid," "Won't Come Off," "Excandescent," "Desert Sea," "Capillary Life," and the stunning "Empire of One" (after which my close friend Josh Washburn named his killer band) should have all been huge hits. Once again, I have to ask myself why shit like Bush or Stone Temple Pilots hit the top 40 while bands like Jawbox remained mired in the bottom of the charts.

Of course, no band make two flops at a major and lives to tell about it. Jawbox broke up about a year after their last record came out. What they left behind are some killer songs, two albums better than what most of their peers were putting out, and a tradition of J. Robbins putting together bands with amazing drummers. Don't you dare write the history of alternative rock without a chapter on them.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"We must pull it with shackles around our necks" - Burning Spear

News item the first: I'm coming back to Atlanta for a visit. Check the appropriate sources for the details.

News item the second: So apparently liking R.E.M. and Eminem is cause for angry hipster backlash. Is it my fault the mainstream gets it right sometimes? This was by far the worst, most condesceding: "Eminem? R.E.M.? Common, I thought better of you." Fucking idiot music snobs.

News item the third: I'm interviewing Hank Williams III before his show at the Black Cat this Saturday, so any help with the questions would be mad appreciated.

News item the fourth: Watching three James Cagney gangster pictures in a row certainly gives you perspective on a lot of modern acting styles.

Normally, I don't listen to a lot of ska or reggae. There are plenty of artists I like I a lot from both genres: Desmond Dekker, Alton Ellis, Dillinger, whatever. I can't listen to a whole lot because it starts to bleed together. I guess it's because I'm not a genre fanatic. I listen to a lot of early-to-mid-80's punk and hardcore, which I'm sure all sounds alike to the listener that doesn't really care.

This issue was brought up once when I was getting stoned at a friend's apartment. We wouldn't listen to much reggae when we smoked because even when we were baked, we couldn't turn off the rock critics inside each of us, and we both thought too much reggae involved palm-muted two-note noodling and virtually identical rhythms. Our post-spliff music schedule usually consisted of classic rock - Sabbath, Rush, AC/DC. However, one roots record we would always make an exception for was Toots and the Maytals' incredible Funky Kingston, as much a tour-de-force as any reggae record ever released.

One such record is Burning Spear's classic Marcus Garvey, which was purchased on a whim after one of my favorite clerks at Record and Tape Exchange (the one I drink and remix old hip-hop singles with) was selling off his considerable Jamaican music collection. (I almost bought his copy of Big Youth's Screaming Target, but he wanted $50 for it, which he got from someone else.) Despite the fact that I deplore Marcus Garvey's racialist politics (same goes for the National Front), it's a good record, and I tune out the back-to-Africa crap as well as I can the Rastafarian nonsense present in many reggae songs.

I don't know much about Burning Spear - it seems every time I try to find out anything about any reggae group, the same words and phrases keep popping up: Studio One, Jack Ruby, Lee Perry, Jah, Jack Ruby, Robbie Shakespeare, blah blah blah, so much so that it begins to run together as much as the reggae music itself. Just know that this album (and the song I picked out for y'all) is killer and worth a spin or five.

Burning Spear (essentially Wintson Rodney, now with greyed dreads) often plays Atlanta, and I keep missing him. Maybe I should go next time, but only if I have the proper Rasta offerings in my pocket.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"They put bombs in my dreams!" - Channels (and Medications, too)

Holy shit, readers! Has it really been a week since I last updated? I'm quickly turning into the Mitch Clem of audio blogs. Well, I imagine my drinking problem is more refined, but whatever. I've just been super busy reacclimating to the working world, partying in Richmond with some truly awesome people (big props to Cristina and Landis for putting me up and driving me around), working on features for Racket (my new article, "How To Name Your Band," should be up pretty soon), and prepping for interviews with Hank Williams III (rock!) and Good Charlotte (yuck).

Anyway, onto today's post. This Friday, the Black Cat mainstage will be hosting two of DC's best contemporary groups, Channels and Medications. I'm fairly excited to see headliners Medications, but I'm super fuckin' stoked for Channels.

Channels is J. Robbins' (Government Issue, Jawbox, Burning Airlines) most recent project. They only have one release out - 2003's Open EP - but they've got a full-length in the pipeline that's supposed to come out really soon on Dischord. They've got kind of an alterna-rock sound, but so have all of other Robbins' other projects, and anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves. However, instead of the post-grunge formula of chugga chugga chugga + grunted angst = $$$, Channels takes a lot of angular twists and turns, and the deliberate rhythm changes are all classic Robbins. Besides, he always manages to find great drummers - Darren Zentek kills it on the skins. I'm expecting a thoroughly rockin' stage show this weekend. If nothing else, come out of respect for a man who did a big part to make the DC scene as good as it is.

While I'm looking forward to seeing Channels more, I expect Medications won't be half bad. Even though vocalist Devin O'Campo (Smart Went Crazy, Faraquet) frequently ventures dangerously close to the Thom Yorke school of I-sing-like-I-had-a-stroke-last-week, it's pretty interesting. Compared to most math rock, it's warmer and more interesting than, say, Mars Volta (if not as immediate as Tabula Rasa). The melodies certainly help keep one's attention when the band goes in eight different directions in the course of five minutes. I'm pretty excited to see Andrew Becker behind the drum kit, 'cause that dude fills gaps like an Alabama dentist. Anyway, this track is from their first full-length, 2005's Your Favorite People All in One Place, which I mostly endorse.

If you're coming to the show, let me know so we can drink and yell things together. It may be a benefit show, but that doesn't mean it'll be lame.