#17, NOVEMBER 2004



by Larry "Fuzz-O" Dolman

MONOSHOCK: Runnin' Ape-Like From The Backwards Superman: 1989-1995 CD (S-S RECORDS)
I knew about Monoshock when they were around, but I never actually heard 'em. Years went by. Then, Comets on Fire started exploding, and it was very good, but on the internet one music fan said "Comets are great . . . but they're no Monoshock." That was it, I had to hear these apparently mighty forefathers, and I immediately rushed out to my favorite used record store, where, as fate would have it, they had the Primitive Zippo 7-inch used for a whole entire two dollars. Back home listening, I could definitely see where Comets might have been taking some notes. After playing it on the radio a couple times I filed away the 7-inch. Almost two more years pass, and I'm listening to this new definitive Monoshock CD that compiles Zippo (which turns out to be their debut release) along with their other two 7-inches, 2 comp tracks, 2 tracks from their demo (which I guess is their true debut release), and another 5 tracks that are previously unreleased. And now I can see where Comets might have taken ALL of their notes. An important difference is that Monoshock can and do get as full-on freaked out as Comets always are, but they can also really lay back and get shaggy and let the weird stuff slowly creep up all over you until you go to scratch an itch and find that you're covered in some sort of weird sticky green space-muck! Actually, the liner notes to this CD really put the Monoshock sound in context by referring to it as "SoCal beach grunge," pointing out that the band, who I always thought formed in Oakland (California), actually were from the "decaying beach town" of Isla Vista (California, pop. 18,344). (Oakland came later, when they all ended up there and started playing together again.) Right there it all clicks: surf, decay, grunge, partying, and the result is every bit as deserving of the 90s grunge freakout crown as their more famous and slightly better-mannered contemporaries up north, Mudhoney. S-S Records have worked pretty hard on the mastering of this retrospective, and the songs jump out and sound great and alive while (thankfully) still sounding like they were recorded inside the world's smallest sardine tin (i.e. a San Francisco basement recording studio called The Insane Cat). "Nobody Recovery" really puts me in the zone -- so in the zone that I didn't even notice it was an instrumental the first two times I played it! "Halloween Party" has funny vocals coming from all over the place. "Burn My Eyes" is a Radio Birdman cover that scorches more than the original IMO. "Soledad" has lyrics so good they supply the comp's title and also are quoted at the beginning of the liner notes: "Runnin' ape-like from the backwards superman / Gunny sack in your gnarled hand / Here comes the rocktus-cocktus otto-man! / Resurgence from your slimy can / Livin' like a freakin', tweakin' meco-man." Throughout the whole alb I'm diggin' Grady Runyan's "wall of wah" guitar, for sure, but when you hear this many songs in succession, Rubin Fiberglass's trance backbeat really comes to the fore as well. Groovin' cover of "Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear In Smoke)" with hilarious Casio-type keyboard leads. Previously unreleased track "Terminal Roctus" might have more animal noises than the entire LP of Contact High With The Godz. The last track, "Destination: Soil," is the youngest of their efforts on here, from a 1989 living room Isla Vista demo session, but it sounds pretty 'mature', almost 7 minutes of super-thick and patient melodic drone rock that just never stops burrowing. Well, that's a few highlights, hear the rest for yourself! A truly great band. ("Hawkwind Show" is a current hit on your local left-of-the-dial radio station.)

MONOSHOCK: Photo and caption from Gompers zine (a/k/a Night Moves).

Blastitude’s choice for "Best Band in Chicago" three years running (yes, even better than Wilco and the Sea and Cake) are moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, and we're gonna miss 'em around here. At least they've left a farewell to this city that nurtured them for three years, a 20-minute EP release called ERP Saints. More specifically, ERP Saints is a tribute to the Chicago neighborhood that nurtured them, the one and only East Rogers Park, the gentrified ghetto by the lake, far far away from Chicago's other far hipper Parks like Wicker and Humboldt, somehow all at once a condo-happy yuppie neighborhood, a low-rent hippie boho hamlet, a sleepy tree-lined university town, a working-class beachfront community, an inner-city artists colony, and a gang-related ghetto, and it's all happening on every block. Throw in Gay/Lesbian, Mexican, Jamaican, Haitian, Bosnian, Thespian, Hasidic Jew, Indian, Pakistani, Progressive, Activist, Immigrant, Refugee, and you're almost there . . . maybe you're even here, in which case you should stop by some time! Through all this, the No Doctors walked for three years and formed a bond they called the “ERP Saints.” I asked them for a key to this mystery and their response was simple: “Respect your neighbors.” Respecting your neighbor and, um, sainthood are rather Christian sentiments, and, although this band has always shown itself to be more than conversant with the Devil’s Music, ERP Saints clearly marks a new direction by No Doctors that is somehow more elevated and enlightened than anything they have previously done.
        Not to say that this album is more Christian, or even Christian at all, but I will comment on three examples of this new direction. 1. Here, the band does not utilize the murk and obfuscation of the lo-fi and/or trash aesthetic (although it has previously served them well) -- the No Sides label points out that this is the band's first 100% professional recording (done at the reknowned Key Club studio in Benton Harbor, MI). 2. There is no bass player or other auxiliary members, the band a lean and mean gtr/gtr/sax/drums quartet. 3. Finally, and most importantly, the songwriting is notably different. The second track is a true-and-blue slow jam, a 1962-style doo-wop ballad with a hook ("It always hurts . . . . so bad!") that has been going through my head over and over and over -- and the CansaFis sax break has been too! Then, the third and final track is simply amazing, a ten-minute epic called "Future Awaken Widen." Over an expansive, yearning musical setting that sounds like the band has suddenly found themselves inheriting their Van Vliet and Coltrane and Coleman influences all at once, lead vocalist Chauncey Chaumpers lays down some intense shit, addressed to a "sweetheart," while the guitars and sax chatter emotionally above an eternal rock'n'roll precipice, the very sound of a Tower of Babel of the mind being sculpted and redecorated into a funky church spire in the name of love -- which is sort of like a vision of East Rogers Park, come to think of it.
       Perhaps in the interest of the eternal dialectic, No Doctors have simultaneously released a beautifully ugly grounding gutter companion cassette to the elevated ERP Saints that will really put you back down underneath the sidewalk. It's on the Freedom From label and is therefore called FF You. Side A is just one long jam. 20-30 minutes of extreme free hard rock action. I think it says it was played live to a film or something. Amazing vocals eventually bob to the surface of the maelstrom -- or is that a guitar solo? Very loud, very aggressive, hard to believe. Put this on after the Monoshock CD and you might just think about something called progress. I haven't listened to Side B yet, because it doesn't need to be anything but blank for this to be an excellent release.

A REAL KNIFE HEAD: Thought Paint Control CDR
I've always thought of the gtr/drums duo as one of the archetypal rock improv settings. Some of my favorite examples are, um, let's see . . . . Daily Dance from the Ohio wilderness of 1972, Ascension from the wild streets of London or something, and, also from yon olde Isle of Britain, the Han CD by Derek Bailey & Han Bennink (probably filed under jazz but it totally rocks) . . . . and, um, well, I'll probably think of more later, but for now, add these guys to the list: A Real Knife Head, also from Ohio (Cleveland!). On Thought Paint Control they definitely put the rock in rock improv, but there's actually something deathly still about the 7 tracks and 30 minutes herein. Even though the playing is good ole spirited freedom shrapnel attack, it's broken up by lots and lots of dead space; the room is dead, the fidelity is dead, and the vocals (they add some human voice to the mix on three of the seven tracks and it has that choice crappy-mic-plugged-into-a-shitty-amp quality) sound dead, and I mean all this as a great compliment -- I can't get enough of the way this disc sounds -- I think I'm on my seventh listen this week! The drummer's name is David Russell, while the guitar & recitation is by Matthew Wascovich, who poetry people might know as the guy behind Slow Toe Publications, and it certainly helps that the poetry is pretty fucking good . . . may I quote at length from "Montreal Whispers"? "no more tales of your bad calculations / every other label to the pious is drizz licks / wrestle the kings / ever ready heretic / elastic minutes / nominal salvation / yank at the hanging sky / over hear sirens / understand softcore / re-enter like a shooting / exit without second thoughts / all music made by the revered sucks dick / so it's historical and it's plastic." Right on?

GROWING: The Soul of the Rainbow and the Harmony of Light CD (KRANKY)
Hardcore Blastitude readers might be familiar with the Larry Dolman "Tangerine Dream" Award. It's only been given out twice so far, to the first release by The Moglass (from the Ukraine, can't remember the title, but it was really good), and to the RH Band's 122701 LP on HP Cycle. I guess it's not that often that a new album comes along that really has that same truly committed sci-fi mystery-drone aesthetic that you can find on the Tangerines' double LP Zeit, but this issue has a winner, this new CD from a little Olympia, WA duo with a very big sound. I guess they're carrying the torch for Pacific Northwest heavy earth-drone music since the Melvins moved away and Earth themselves aren't too prolific, leaving Growing as the only ones in the region to bring the true scary-heaven entire-silent-forest drone-jams that are like 35 minutes long. But lest you think this is just some low-end stoned metal dude stuff, there's some real variety, and elevation, and airiness to the sound as well -- hence the Tangerine Dream award. [also check the brainwashed eye and click on "Growing" to see some of the self-produced visuals they've been showing when they play live . . . one of the most Herzogian understandings of landscape I've seen from someone other than Herzog!]

Okay, so I knew about Cambodia and that Pol Pot was a very bad man and that a lot of people died a while back and they made a movie I never did see about it with John Malkovich, but it wasn't until hearing this music that I researched exactly what happened. And really, it's like some totalitarian sci-fi horror movie, Saló a hundred thousand times over, except tha
t it totally and completely happened in the very real calendar years of 1975 through 1979. In 1973, after the Vietnam War spilled over into Cambodia, the U.S.A. bombarded their countryside with more than the entire tonnage of bombs dropped on Japan during all of World War II. Apparently this was some tragically bizarre attempt to "assist" the already feeble Cambodian government, but since the U.S.A. had no intention of sticking around or anything, the devastated nation was easily taken over by a radical communist cell known as the Khmer Rouge. Using outright brutality, slave labor, torture, and brainwashing in the name of an "agrarian utopia," they proceeded to murder approximately 1,500,000 people in the next four (real calendar) years, with particular targets being teachers, intellectuals, journalists, musicians, artists, and poets -- the educated, the skilled, and the expressive. Tonight, inspired by this CD, I finally learned about this on the internet and looked at chilling photos of the Khmer Rouge leaders and the sites where it happened, my mouth literally hanging open in media horror, and then I go back to this CD and hear real Cambodians from the late sixties and early seventies, most of them soon to have their lives destroyed by their own insane leaders, for now fully alive and wailing on modern polyglot pop-rock-club-dance music clearly influenced by (among many others) Keith Emerson and Ritchie Blackmore, and it makes it all the more real, recent, and tragic.
       Which isn't to say that this release is some somber memorial wall with a long list of names on it; this is very joyous music and it's yet another great Sublime Frequencies release. The liner notes and artwork reveal an underground celebration-music culture in which cassettes were the preferred medium, and how this culture thrived in small pockets worldwide as the musicians who survived the genocide expatriated. Only 6 of the 20 tracks on here were recorded in Phnom Penh, the major Cambodian city, before the Khmer Rouge takeover. The rest come from "...Thailand, Rhode Island . . . Long Beach and points in-between," and all were found, on cassettes in the permanent collection of the Oakland (California) Public Library, by the one and only Mark Gergis (the man behind the monumental I Remember Syria 2CD, also on Sublime Frequencies, and a member of the band Neung Phak, who have clearly been listening to a lot of Cambodian cassettes). The rest is (a deeper understanding of) history!

Another Sublime Frequencies release, another trip to the atlas. Let's see, I know that Mali is in Africa . . . ah, there it is, an inland nation in the northwestern part of the continent. I see it's the home of the actual city of Timbuktu -- no wonder I didn't know where it was, the only place that gets cited more often as a metaphor for the middle of nowhere is Bumfuck, Egypt! I have also learned from this Sublime Frequencies release that Mali is home to the mysterious sub-Saharan people known as the Dogon, who you might know from the Ancient Africa wing at your nearest art museum, or from the SCG standard "Space Prophet Dogon." So, what about the actual sound of the CD? Well, it's all acoustic music and it seems like it's all played outdoors, featuring instruments like the ngoni (a sort of banjo), the balafon (a sort of xylophone), the tambin (a sort of ancient woodwind instrument), and this one crazy African instrument known as the guitar. Bush Taxi Mali is easily the softest and most laid-back of all the Sub Freq releases so far, a long slow dance of interlocking, casual modal guitar-string-percussive melody, pleasantly buoyed by the sounds of the great outdoors and living villages. Even though recordist Tucker Martine went in and around six different Mali villages to get these recordings, they all sound like they could've been played under the same nice shade tree out in someone's yard.

Also recorded by our man (who was) in Mali, Tucker Martine. This time he was in Thailand, Burma, and Laos, recording "insect electronica from Southeast Asia." That's the subtitle of this one, printed right on the cover, and it's right, this ain't no machine electronica, this ain't even electronic electronica, this is nocturnal insects softly humming on 4 different tracks totalling 32 minutes. Mastered kinda quiet, but turn it up and you'll get there. Certainly one of the most dependable Sub Freq releases -- you always know right where this one is going even as it contains chirping and clipping subtleties that are always slightly changing. Liner notes by Hakim Bey!

Man, I don't know what to say. I'm truly awestruck, and with all the raving I'm doing about Sublime Frequencies releases in every issue, I feel like that person you sometimes listen to records with who won't just shut up and smile and nod. So instead of describing at length how gorgeous and deep this 2CD is both sonically and visually, I'll just . . . . aw forget it, I was still thinking of Hakim Bey (see above) and therefore gonna try and write something about his concept of immediatism, and how Sublime Frequencies, by removing most or all musician credits and essays by experts, are able to peel back that many more of the traditional layers of mediation that compact discs place between you and the original. In other words, it's practically virtual travel, and you're on your own without a tour guide or even a guidebook, and you're loving it even though you don't fully understand it because the sounds and visuals are blowing your mind. But again, I won't really go into it, so just go here and buy Radio India and then while you're listening to it click here and read Mr. Bey himself and you'll TOTALLY see what I mean!

PAY TOILETS: Freedom Rock or Wet & Wild U.S.A. LP (WHITE DENIM)
Man, White Denim always has the best colored vinyl! This time it's pure milk chocolate brown, absolutely gorgeous! In fact, the graphics are great for this whole LP. Just check the A-side label graphic and the back cover band photo, both of which I couldn't resist scanning and putting at the bottom of this review. And, just look at the cover, all you USA-lovers! As for the music, it's wild and slightly slow gnarl-punk that makes me think of Drunks With Guns! Lots of bands cram tons of really fast short songs onto one side, but Pay Toilets cram tons of really slow short songs onto one side. Well, twelve songs anyway. And, they're not all slow, and even the slow ones aren't like doom-metal slow or slow-fetish slow. The singer does dress up as a gun-wielding red-white-and-blue arab though! Lyrical content is crusty but funny, anti-Bush's America ("i didn't want a war shoved in my face / especially on a day as beautiful as this / media cockfight -- gimme a break / and wipe that blood from my teevee screen / take that flag for a walk in the park / and show the stupid bastard the rest of the world / then we'll see if he flies so proud"), anti-punk ("Black Flag tattoo / How punk rock is that?"), anti-hype ("I can't believe / what you bought"), anti-life ("She fed the baby grain alcohol and watched that bastard try and crawl"). My favorite song is "Acid Trip '88." ("My nerves got fried / and Jesus lied / a crown of thorns / the devil's horns / it's all the same / I lost the game / in acid trip '88.")

The thing I like about this record is that it's not a punk comp, it's not a garage comp, it's not a trash or thrash comp, it's not a noise-rock or no-wave comp, but is indeed a punk trash garage noise thrash gnash rock wave comp (add your own hyphens), with just a toe or two dipped in the neighboring ponds of poppiness and straight experimental. In other words, it's all just happening, baby, and no one here pre-registered for a style before they had their first practice. Or, like the label says, "we were thinking of the great comps of the past that defined punk as an unstatic, multi-dimensional universe." Anyway, it's going by so fast I can barely even tell you highlights, and I don't need to cuz it's all good. I guess standouts from the first spin-and-a-half are Blutt (from France!), Sexy Prison (from "Northern California"), Antennas Erupt (from the city of Sacramento, where S-S Records calls home, also in Northern California) . . . . . . . let's see (side two), The Blowtops are from Buffalo, NY and lurch and yowl pretty heavily. Guinea Worms are from Columbus, OH and sound pretty retarded. Crash Normal are also from France and do a song called "Quit Looking At My Tits." Country Teasers (from the UK!) are on here with a song called "I Like The Cock"! I don't even know what it sounds like, and I've listened to it twice -- maybe some sort of electronic wall-of-sound power skiffle. Klondike & York (also from Sacramento!) contribute a nutty track that is a free-form aggressive drum solo joined at the last minute by some shredding Borbetomagian sax, recorded "in the ladies room at the Crest Theater in Sacramento." The vinyl is very white! I say that if you're out there looking for more open-plan punk-etc action, check out S-S Records! (They also put out the Monoshock CD reviewed above, if you didn't notice....)