ISSUE 13    FALL 2002
page 6 of 16



Blastitude reviews a small dump from

"The best fucking band on the planet" (or is it "the best band on the fucking planet," can't remember) put out their first full-length. You might not think 26 minutes constitutes a full-length, but believe me, it does with Sightings. With something this blasting and red-zoned, a freakin' 7-inch is a full-length. 26 minutes is like a box set. How blasting and red-zoned? Well, it's like they plug a contact mic into a Marshall stack and stick it on a handful of electric wires, then rip the wires out of the wall and then, while they're showering sparks all over, the drummer kicks in with a beat at just the right time so that the whole mess can be a song. It's also a song because one guy gibbers along with vocals that sound like Crocus Behemoth after drinking 12 screwdrivers. They lurch and chest-punch and repeat. They know how to get into a groove, too, which makes me wonder...just when did Jon Spencer finally take his Blues Explosion on home, three, four, five years ago?

This here's the reissue of the first Lightning Bolt album. I was way on top of this back in '99 or whenever thanks to listening to DJ Tom Smith on WFMU via the internet. The very next day I mail-ordered the album directly from Load (excellent service, by the way) and couldn't believe my ears. It was like The Melvins if they were possibly even more heavy and, what's more, could power-groove their asses off for a change instead of all that stop-start bullshit.
        I felt like no one in Lincoln, NE had heard them but me, which was probably true. I wanted all kinds of people to hear it. That week I played it on my radio show and one of my I've-heard-it-all type friends called up. "Who the hell is Lightning Bolt??" "They're from Rhode Island. It's two guys, a bassist and a drummer." There was a long pause. "You don't like it?" I wondered. "No, I....I don't know! I don't understand!" I dubbed the whole album for another guy, a coworker who thought Godhead Silo were impressive. He was also heavily into The Melvins and King Crimson, and, thanks to Mike Patton, he was starting to figure out who Merzbow was -- you know, all the gateway artists -- so I figured Lightning Bolt would be the perfect band to annihilate 90% of his CD collection. I guess he never really did tell me what he thought of it, which makes sense; he was young, and I don't think he was ready to die.
       But you, on the other hand, if you've been listening to your daily Andrew W.K. (keeps the doctor away), know that you had better get ready to die, and trust me, there is no better way to go than by listening to the first Lightning Bolt CD. What's more, there's unreleased bonus material on this reissue! Not only do you get the greatest song ever, "Into the Valley of the Whirling Knives," and that one guy saying the whole "Just because you think everybody is into the alternative charts..." rap in crystal-clear digital hi-fi, you also get two bonus tracks, "Zone" and "And Beyond." "Zone" takes the "alternative charts" soundbite and does crazy cut-ups with it, as well as incorporating all sorts of other strange field recordings, such as the band practicing. Oh yeah, and it's like 32 minutes long. Consider this the Arc to the regular LP's Weld. "And Beyond" is actually another live 15-minute jam like the ones that made it onto the LP. This one is different, though; it has more vocals, for one thing, and it also shows the band trying out some different 'moods.' The first half has a pulsing 'dark' feel that sounds a lot like Sightings, and the second half has a pulsing 'light' feel that sounds a lot like the...Ramones! Good bonus tracks!

You thought Outkast's "Bombs Over Baghdad" was intense, this is an entire No Wave concept album about the Middle East. You might think they're being goofy and politically incorrect -- a lot of the Arab characters in the libretto are performed with Darth Vader-like evil vocoder voices -- but the lyrics are well-written and well-informed, if not outright poetic. At least according to the lyric sheet, they are -- it's hard to understand them as sung, due to the general No Wave weirdness of the vocal approach. Here's two examples of the lyrics: from "Working for the Mossad," "Plant a bomb in the calm of the fronds of a palm/Hop a cab to the red eye to Dar Es Salaam/Giza to Gaza to Derna to Dubai/You're a stranger at the airport with a twinkle in the eye," and the entire text of "Rabble, Wretches, and Lepers," which reads "A man in Amman on a road with no name/Alone, drunk and in the wrong lane/Wretches in the courtyard, rabble in the street/A leper sleeps in a TV dish with maggots on his feet." See what I mean?
       As for the music, Men's Recovery Project, whom I've never heard before, should really play in Chicago sometime. They've been doing this kind of stuff since at least 1996 (when these recordings commenced), and nowadays at the Fireside it seems like there's a different band every week doing crap a lot like this but not near as well. (I mean, they all have great masks, but other than that...) It's a keyboard-driven sound, but not overly quirky, with a pushing, rocking ominousness that gives it that futuristic wasteland edge which is perfect for lyrics about desert peoples sleeping in TV dishes. There's a member of Six Finger Satellite on Bolides Over Basra, and you can hear that band's nervous kick driving things. I don't know much about the other people, except apparently there's a Rah Brah in here and Neil Burke is a well-known person (he's in Danse Asshole anyway) and perhaps the founder of the group.
       As an aside, I think the one thing that keeps me from totally falling for this whole avant-tarde scene is the quirkiness. I could be wrong, but I think these acts are stuck in the giant shadow cast by (the eyeball heads of) The Residents. The no wave scene talks about "rocking" a lot, but The Residents were not a rock band. How can you be rockin' when all your keyboard melodies are so damn quirky? (Yeah, I know, there's exceptions to every this case it's Neon Hunk, who most definitely rock in a way that actually lives up to the masks they wear, which are the very best on the scene.) The Residents may have been sonically amazing, but they were so emphatic about removing all blues-rock/bar-band overtones from their music that they went too far in the other direction, thus diluting an otherwise raw strain of music with thespian aspirations. That was back in the 70s, but to this very day so many electro & no wave bands sound samey and affected because of it. Maybe it's because I was raised Christian, but I just can't help think of these musical differences in dichotomous terms, as Quirk vs. Soul, and I'm learning that I gravitate towards the Soul side of things, because I'm just a player like that. For example, let's see where the Chicago OOPS! lineup sits. Wolf Eyes: Soul. Grand Ulena: Quirk. Rah Brahs: Quirk. Erase Errata: Quirky in the Rough Trade kind of way, meaning it's danceable enough to count as Soul, and the the crazily charismatic talk-singing of their singer makes it Soul all the way. Flying Luttenbachers: hmm, definitely more Quirk than Soul, but Soul does enter into it for me somewhat with the whole 'superhuman endurance' aspect of their shows. Arab on Radar: Tough one, eh? Quirk wins, but you can't deny that there's some seriously singular Soul coming off the stage too. Lightning Bolt: Soul, baby. The Locust: Quirk. Quirk wins 5-3. All the screaming bugs me too. Can't anyone in this scene actually sing? Sure, the music is freaked-out, sick, and convoluted, but why do all the vocalists feel like they have to catch up to it? Can't anyone try to subvert the subversion? For a scene dedicated to providing a contrast to the norm, you'd think they'd experiment with contrasting themselves a little more. But they really never do. Men's Recovery Project do.

Maybe 10 years ago this would've been on Amphetamine Reptile. If so, it would've been one of their very best records. This dirty wall-of-noise Funhouse-rock would've fit on that label, but from the stunning singing and subject matter, right down to the cover art, no AmRep act ever did get this coldly true-crime. The Swedish-accented lyrics can be surprisingly easy to understand, exploring the mind of a homicidal psychopath while the band grinds away. "I'm a sick fuck! I live to hate whores!" he agonizes in "Slutmaster," and in "Driving Through Leeds" he describes a day in the life: "Smashed her head with my hammer/Screwdriver through her chest/Blood on the seats," and then the kicker after the gore, "Tired, so tired," an ever so slight poetic twist, the kind of thing that makes a band not just good, but also NEW. The Brainbombs are a new angle indeed on the same sturdy Load Records manifesto, which is the Revenge of the Nerds. Bad-ass rock music without all the chain-wallet mechanic chic.

Just a couple moons ago there was a brief discussion about rap group the Hawd Gankstuh Rappuhs MC's (Wid Ghatz) on the WHPK rock format list. Should I even call them a rap group? That was kind of what the discussion was about. One debator was just refusing all white hipster rap on principle. The other DJ didn't really give a shit if the Hard Gankstuhs were rap or not, because he liked them. That's more my tack, and now that I've actually heard the band, I don't think they intend to be 'real' rap music at all anyway. Even if that was their plan to start with, this is the most disdainfully non-rap rap music I've ever heard, more like some sort of jivey lumbering electronic rant-rock. The white boys in Your Lord & The Infinite Soul Tribe may be ludicrous (see next page), but they're still playing it straight compared to these freaks. The only things that keep the 'rap' tag appropriate is that 1. on some tracks, they ably use old-school Bronx beats and fat basslines, and 2. the vocals, whether they're rapping, ranting, or just plain babbling, are total jive-talk. Honky jive maybe, but jive nonetheless. The good news is that the songs and rants are kept short, and with almost each new track the band pushes their beats/backings into more creative corners, such as the slammin' frequency overload of the bassline on Track 11, "Monster Manual." What's more, the track starts with an actual hip-hop gangsta skit, recorded with a fidelity so much lower than the average hi-fi hip hop skit, that it'll have you thinking more of Jack Smith and John Waters movies than Prince Paul and Dr. Dre. Somehow, "Monster Manual" ends up being a 10 minute long 'posse cut' that amazingly doesn't overstay its welcome. They keep pulling goofy-ass voices out of their bag of tricks, like having a really nerdy tinkerbell voice deliver bad-ass disses, and having other verses delivered by a ridiculous Cookie Monster character. I believe it's Barkley, from Barkley's Barnyard Critters, who appear courtesy of Bulb Records. (I'm confused too.) MC Paul Barman has a turn at the mic too, uncredited, according to fellow listener Colby Starck. Anyway, these guys are ridiculous, and the first hipster hip-hop I've heard that truly reminds me of Baltimore's apparently on-hiatus The Dogg & Pony Show (possibly the best live show I've ever seen -- okay, top five). And I can't go without mentioning the last track, "The Bong (Get In The)," which is a parody of Cypress Hill. Of course it's hilarious, a 'goofy album closer' in the great tradition of (and even funnier than) "Boogie In Your Butt," the 'goofy album closer' of Eddie Murphy's self-titled debut.

LIGHTNING BOLT: Power of Salad & Milkshakes VHS/DVD (LOAD)
This is a something like a defining moment, a well-done documentary about a band that really deserves it. In fact, it's almost too well done -- I had already seen Lightning Bolt three times before watching this, and now that what they do is preserved on video, I feel like all their secrets and surprises have been permanently revealed, and going to a Lightning Bolt show won't be the same again. Oh well, it was bound to happen, and Power of Salad is still a great document of the scope of what these guys do, taking the physicality of rock and metal to superhuman extremes while inspiring giant 'group hugs' at live shows throughout the country. (A good 15 or 20 different shows are excerpted within the 60-minute running time.)
       The interviews are good too, with both Brians describing what they bring to the band in a nutshell. Bassist Brian Gibson explains how he's spent years working on his bass rig and has finally achieved a distortion tone so "perfect" that he can play anything -- any notes, any sounds -- and have them automatically sound good. (Interestingly, it turns out to be the same tone Cliff Burton got on "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth).") Drummer Brian Chippendale, also a notable visual artist, says he plays drums like he draws. In both cases, he feels the need to cover all available space. I feel like I'm just rewriting Liz Armstrong's appreciation in the Chicago Reader here, right down to her spot-on Cliff Burton comparison. She's right; Lightning Bolt's whole mission could be described as remaking Kill 'em All as one non-stop performance of "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)." Gibson certainly knows his way around a heavy-metal triad, a la Burton, Maiden, Lizzy, et al.
         If you'd like to pick up your first Lighting Bolt album, and don't know which one to get, I think this VHS/DVD would be just as good of a place to start. It's got just as much music, and, as I said, it gives the added bonus of actually capturing the feeling these guys create in a live venue. One priceless segment where the band plays in Lubbock, Texas demonstrates just how dedicated they are to what they do. Though they often play to large crowds, in Lubbock they have to set up in someone's kitchen in order to play for just 9 or 10 locals, most of whom didn't seem to know anything about the band. These locals would be described by your average snob as "scary" or "redneck," and there is a striking tension in the scenes of them setting up, but of course, their music knows no class distinction, which is apparent as soon as they start playing. The band comes off as downright brave, and possessors of a music that really can cross over perceived boundaries. It's all right here on celluloid; kudos to filmmakers Nick Noe and Peter Glantz.



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