TAPE mix tape (MAXELL)
Blastitude columnist Charles Lieurance enjoys this here
mag so much that he actually made a mix tape congratulatin’
me for the second ish. It’s called, app. enough, Blastitude
Congrats Tape, and it even has "review copy"
written on the spine, as if to say "hint, hint."
Well, hint taken, Charles, I love reviewing mix tapes.
You might remember in Blastitude #2 when I reviewed Metal
Extravaganza, a mix tape made by Lincoln’s own Kevin Chasek.
Well, hopefully someone’ll give me a mix tape every month
so this sort of thing can be a regular feature.
isn’t the first mix tape Charles has given me….when I
was playin’ in his band The Black Dahlias he gave me a
tape on which he had written "A Black Dahlias Comprehension
Tape." He had a distinct aesthetic in mind and he
figured (correctly) that the best way to impart it to
his band-mates would be to make each of them a bitchin’
mix tape. In doing so, he not only gave me a really good
idea what kind of music he wanted to play, he seemed to
define a veritable ‘new musical aesthetic’ of some sort,
the type of thing that Smithsonian could do an anthology
for, and if they decide to, they’d sure as hell better
have Charles be their Harry Smith. Let’s see, how would
I define this aesthetic…well, to simplify it as much as
possible I’d say it’s equal parts American garage-rock/trash-rock/proto-punk
and American folk/country /blues/rockabilly. I think The
Cramps might be Charles’s single favorite band of all-time,
as they combine all those things, douse it appropriately
with reverb and whiskey-smoke, and wrap it all up in the
kind of hot rod/drive-in/monster movie/junk collector/pin-up
culture package that gives Charles (and many other daring
really, really wet kinds of dreams.
But there’s more to the Lieurance aesthetic than the Cramps
– he also really likes pretty music, especially if it’s
pretty in that kind of slightly overwrought, slightly
unadvisable psychedelic teenage-symphony-to-God kinda
way. Anything with a good atmosphere – it doesn’t have
to be strictly uptempo, shit-kickin’ or ravin’, it can
also be calm or ‘nice’ or sensuous. (He’s a big fan of
Calexico, and for that matter Madman Across The Water
by Elton John.) He likes psychedelic music of all kinds,
and has been threatening for years to write a 200-page
essay called "rural psychedelia," or "rustic
psychedelia," I can’t remember which. He may back
off a bit from certain strains of totally song-formless
psychedelic noise jamming, because he is at the end an
adherent to the power of a song. I don’t think there are
any sounds per se that he’s afraid of, no matter how extreme,
he just prefers them couched in a song rather than sprawling
out the fuck on their own. He can dig that shit for 5-10
minutes as some gone section of some side of some LP,
but there had better a song right before it, and a song
right after it, or the same song right before and right
after it, like what happens on "The Diamond Sea"
by Sonic Youth or "Heroin" by the Velvet Underground.
That’s really what ties down the Lieurance aesthetic –
songs. He very rarely puts an instrumental on a mix tape,
and if he does it’s almost always of the short, punchy
variety, 3-5 minutes long, with some sort of familiar
verse/chorus pattern. He likes fuzz and trash and noise
and mania, but there’s always a singer on top of it all,
laying down a song, usually something uniquely American
about fucked-up times, intense visions, hard love, derangment
of senses, trials, tribulations, and celebrations….that
sorta thing. Let’s see, maybe I can coin a ‘genre tag’
for the Lieurance aesthetic…how about "psych-Americana"?
Maybe…. "fucked-up folk music"? Yeah, but "folk"
is too limiting, ‘cause he’s also into all types of rock’n’roll
and country, which I know, they’re all strains of folk
music too because ‘it’s all by folks’, but you know, I’m
talkin’ record-store genre-tag here, and if you see the
word "folk" in a record store you think Peter,
Paul & Mary, because all the good folk music is usually
in the rock section anyway. How ‘bout, instead of ‘singer-songwriter,’
we call it 'shitflinger-songwriter’? Who knows, maybe
that’s it. But nah, that’s not it either. How about ‘romantic
about we just check out the tape he gave me, and I just
do what I do best, which is sit at the computer and ‘write
about cuts.’ Cuts meaning tunes, sides, tracks, songs,
pieces, releases, etc. of MUSIC. And maybe if I write
about the cuts Charles gave me as I listen to ‘em, some
sort of succinct description of his aesthetic will emerge.
I’ve got my newly purchased cassette walkman with me right
here (bought so I could review cassettes at the computer
late at night because my computer sits nowhere near my
cassette deck). Alright, get the headphones, push play,
whaddaya know, I’m spoutin’ on and on about "Americana"
and the tape starts off with a song by The Renderers,
a band from New Zealand. Of course, this is a band heavily
and admittedly influenced by classic hard death-ridden
American country music, like that of Hank Williams Senior
(dead at 29), and all the tales of life, lust, and woe
that come from beyond the grave and appear on the Smithsonian
Anthology of American Folk Music. "Death country,"
you could call it, which wouldn’t be a bad tag for the
Lieurance aesthetic either, though still not quite complete
enough. This particular Renderers track is "Out of
the Forest," and it’s a very swampy low-down groove
bathed in some perfect broken-amp feedback, the kind of
sounds that all those NZ noise bands take and turn into
fucked symphonies all by themselves. (Renderers guitarist
Brian Crook is in one of those NZ noise bands, Flies Inside
The Sun.) Wait, I got it: "country garage death psych"!
You know, I think that just might be it! Or how about
"a distillation of gravedirt, whiskey and lamb’s
blood"? That rather stunning phrase was used by the
great Nick Tosches to describe the music of Jerry Lee
Lewis, but I think it applies to the whole Lieurance aesthetic
pretty well too. (Except maybe for the "teenage symphony
to God" part. I don’t know if you get that from either
gravedirt, whiskey, or lamb’s blood. Lambs maybe, but
on the tape is 68 Comeback, which is the band that Monsieur
Jeffrey Evans formed after he left the legendary Gibson
Bros. There’s some gravedirt here, that’s for sure, and
probably some whiskey and blood too. Evans is paying homage
to the jump blues night life howlers from back in the
day, or maybe he’s a present-day night life howler himself.
is a really great, truly bleak song by Johnny Cash &
Will Oldham called "I See A Darkness." Cash’s
voice just sounds amazing, singing "You know I have
a love…a love for everyone I know….and you know I have
a drive…to live I won’t let go…" in an intense, almost-teary
voice. Will Oldham joins in on the chorus, and he sounds
alright, but Cash is the man here. He goes on to sing
"Well I hope that someday buddy…we have peace in
our lives….and we can stop our whoring…" and it’s
straight-faced and serious and intense. Actually, Oldham
really helps the song by singing along on the chorus,
‘cause Cash is so stark and gripping here that it would
just be too much for him to sing alone all the way through.
comes a band Charles has really been raving about, the
Rock*a*Teens. It is pretty cool, a song called "Black
Metal Stars," kinda of a slow, loud, sing-to-the-heavens
song with a big epic sweep and lots of ampage and reverb.
The singer is unique and appealingly near-bombastic in
his delivery. Still, something’s not quite dizzying about
it…maybe the way the main hook, though excellent, is basically
over and over, except for the chorus, which doesn’t change
things up much either. Next is "Clarissa, Just Do
It Anyway" by the Rock*a*Teens, which, gosh, I’m
not all that crazy about. Again, it’s good, they have
an arresting sound – oh shoot, there they just pulled
out a little bridge riff that killed in a revved-up spaghetti-western
kinda way….yeah, they’re good, and the guitars are sounding
better and better as the song goes along.
by the Gourds is striking because the singer has a really
clear twangy voice. It’s just him and guitar accompaniment,
probably just a solo song by the singer of the band, and
it’s got a nice lonesome sunny feel, almost like a vintage
1975 Southern Rock ballad. These are the guys who did
a really good version of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s "Gin
& Juice" which is being advertised on the Napster
as being by both Phish and Ween.
really like what happened with the next song…I was listening
to the tape while driving and, without checking the J-card
to see who was next, I really started getting into the
groove, a hollow, stumbling near-retarded riff over tribal
garage-rock drums, with freaky gutbucket vocalists shouting
at each other in great call-and-response bits. Who the
hell is this? I asked myself, checking the J-card….why
The Black Dahlias! The song is called "Harpoon the
Backslider," which explains the lyrics about Nantucket,
scrimshaws, and, um, harpoons. I’d say Charles and band
are really getting somewhere, if his own music blends
in so well with the other stuff on his gravedirt/whiskey/lamb’s-blood
mix tapes that I assume it's some great band from somewhere
About Twilight Now" by My Morning Jacket has a queasy
garage-rockabilly vibe to it with strange haunted (or
maybe just shy) vocals. Who the hell is My Morning Jacket?
Thomas ain’t bad, but after hearing that Andre Williams
CD (Tasty, I think it's called...) it sounds a
little quaint, really. And it’s not just quaint ‘cause
he’s old, ‘cause Andre Williams is probably the same age,
and he’s crankin’ out the least quaint
music I think I’ve EVER heard. Something about the production,
but again, if it came on the "good times great oldies"
station I kind of reluctantly enjoy sometimes it would
sound incredible. Still, I woulda preferred a recording
of Rufus singing the song "Break Down Children"
live at the Wattstax festival, as depicted in the concert
movie Wattstax, which Charles showed me a few months
Minded Breakdown" by The Blacks would also sound
good on the radio…but hell, everything Charles puts on
his tapes would sound good on the radio. Some of it might
be ‘unique’ or ‘underground’ enough that you might only
hear it on a college radio station, and even there it
would sound pretty damn fresh. I mean, have you ever heard
of The Blacks? I haven’t either, until hearing this song.
It’s a good but not great but pretty good song, kinda
spooky, or minor-key-ish. Sounds like part of the ‘hillbilly
vaudeville’ subgenre -- you know the scene, it’s like
an alt-country sub-scene where rockers, often music majors
gone to seed or trying to go to seed, dress up in period
costumes and play note-perfect banjo parts and that sort
of thing. The Squirrel Nut Zippers would be the most famous
example. The Blacks aren’t near that sugary sweet, which
is a definite improvement.
of Souls" by the Renderers is a bit surprising considering
the slow narcotized death-swamp groove of their last appearance.
This one’s almost upbeat, and almost more Kinks-y or early
Who-y than the expected death country-y. Great near-retarded
in-and-out fuzz soloing, and a great sorta pouting glammish
vocal, which I can’t tell if it’s by a guy or girl, which
is always a wonderful feeling. (I know both a guy and
a gal share lead vox in the Renderers but I don’t know
the band well enough to recognize which one is singing
See You" by the Pretty Things is pretty striking.
Kind of a slightly demented, eerie song about "the
forest of my mind…" It almost sounds like early Alice
Cooper, but it’s very British…I’ve heard of these guys
for years but other than a brief late-night listening
session at Charles’s this is all I’ve heard by ‘em. I’d
like to hear more…
this comes a great Lieurance touch as he sticks on an
actual 30-second radio ad for a Rufus Thomas concert "at
the Marigold Ballroom" (the name of the city isn’t
mentioned, not in the ad, or by Charles, ‘cause he didn’t
list this track on the J-card and I haven’t asked him
about it yet) on June 24th of some long-past
year. After that it’s only a few seconds of tape until
the end – another mix-tape art is to ‘fill the side’ so
that very minimal rewinding needs to be done when flipping.
Two kicks off with June Panic, who I’ve heard of ‘cause
I remember when Bright Eyes went on tour with him back
in 1997 or thereabouts. I’ve also heard that he’s
from North Dakota, which has gotta be about the most unknown
state in the country. He’s also pretty androgynous, and
not only in name, with a very unique singing voice.
Desperation is also a band I’d read some intriguing zine
articles about, and once again Charles comes through –
despite us never having a conversation about the Starlite
Desperation, he sensed that I might be interested in ‘em
and put ‘em on a tape so I could hear ‘em. I’m about to
be fed up with the scene I sense this to be part of…think
garage rock, some sort of San Diego and/or Detroit connection,
pageboy haircuts dyed jet-black, either vintage suits
or some sort of jeans-and-leather fashion, and a restrained,
cool level of irony. Listening to the Starlite Desperation,
I immediately like ‘em better than that connotation. This
is good garage rock’n’roll, mainly because it’s pretty
sleazy and pumping without having any of that way-tired
Jon Spencer "I’m a CRA-zee R&B SHOU-ter!!!"
shtick goin’ on.
Who Cares" by the Only Ones is a striking tune –
kind of a wide-eyed sad Jonathan Richman voice, although
at a higher almost-June Panic pitch, but I know it’s not
June ‘cause this sounds truly British and of an earlier
vintage, perhaps….1981? Hell, it could even be 1975, ‘cause
it’s the sort of restrained majestic Bowie-influenced
power pop that hearkens back to the time before the Sex
Pistols came on the scene. If it indeed came out in the
early Eighties it serves as a huge missing link between
British glam rock and British techno pop, between Bowie
and Depeche Mode.
is "I Wanna Go Back to Mexico," one of the aforementioned
Andre Williams’s more restrained efforts, beginning with
a rather cute rock vamp that you could probably play for
your Grandma, even with its mariachi stripper music undertone.
Of course, you might wanna turn the volume down a little
before Andre starts singing "I wanna go back across
the border….I wanna go back to see my whore…I wanna go
back to get some marijuana…I wanna go back because I wanna…."
Of course, it only takes a couple minutes before all pretense
is dropped as the guitars start freaking out in an almost
Dick Dale way, and Williams starts grunting and howling
the lyrics like the madman that he clearly enjoys acting
like when he's singing. Man, I’ve got to get this album….Andre
Williams meeting up with Mick Collins and all those other
Detroit guys is one of the rare ‘great rock’n’roll events’
of the 90s.
next song has that old June Panic sound, lemme look…yep,
it’s "Only Give Light to the Morning" by June
Panic. Really cool instrumentation here…minimal kettle-ish
rock drumming, what sounds like a subtle pumping organ
but might just be a fuzz bass, an insistently circular
rock guitar riff, pianos tumbling in and out of the mix
like a dub reggae effect, and Mr. Panic singing away,
and as fine as the music track is, I think the singing
is what really makes this song. This guy has a bizarre
and great voice.
next is more from the Black Dahlias (if you're a musician
making a mix tape it's always pretty cool to intersperse
your own music, maybe one or at the most two tracks per
side). Two songs from a live performance on KZUM radio.
"Daddy’s Circus Clothes" is a song I’ve heard
before, and it sounds great here. It’s one of the Dahlias
more endearingly lazy tunes, with an old-timey chorus
of "Oh my she’s wearing daddy’s circus clothes,"
a great hook repeated many times but not too many. There
is an out-of-nowhere quasi-flamenco bridge/interlude thing
that seemed kinda interruptive and incongruous, but it’s
probably supposed to be and I did like it better the second
time, especially its goofy melodramatic hits and violin
flourishes. And, when they come to the end of the song,
I like the way the DJ applauds by saying "Yahoo!
Black Dahlias, y’all!" I hope they put this stuff
out sometime, and I mean these versions, as well as the
studio versions they'll probably record soon. Next song
is good too, "Wastin’ My Time (Lovin’ You),"
which sounds like a real old-time song, has a harmonica
break that'll stick in your head, and a weepy chorus that
will do the same.
Me A Liar" by Will Oldham. Wow…I’ve heard from various
people who've seen him live lately that Will has been
chasing some sort of classic rock dream for awhile now.
You can see it in the beards, the cowboy hat. You might
be able to hear it in the records, but I couldn’t tell
ya, cuz I haven’t heard anything since the first one.
That was a great album, but this song is great too…what
record it’s from I don’t know, but it sounds like Oldham
is playing and singing literally from inside that classic
rock dream, rather than just dressing for it, at least
for these four to six minutes. It’s the kind of song that
should be six minutes, a wind-blown, kinda sly, mostly
tight but just-loose-enough cowboy-rock ramble.
next song…who’s that ranting "You bore me! I know
I bore you…" Oh, why it’s our old friend Monsieur
Jeffrey Evans! The song is "Polaroid Portrait"
by 68 Comeback. Pretty demented stuff! The guitar is just
plain wheezing out what was once a one-chord blues through
some evil pedal, and Msr. Evans’s vocals are so gone they
put the psycho right in the billy.
Continent" is another Renderers song. You know, these
Renderers songs sound great but they don’t really stick
to you. They aren’t masters of hook-writing. The melodies
and lyrics are good and totally there, but they sound
almost interchangeable from song to song. What really
matters are atmospheres, which the band excels at, especially
with what sounds like one full-time drone/texture/noise
guitarist lurking somewhere in the corner. (Who is that,
Danny Butt??) This ‘stun’ guitarist does a great job on
this song, which really starts to live up to its title
somewhere into the instrumental meltdown that follows
the singing part. See, you can’t really call the singing
part a "verse" or a "chorus," and
the instrumental stuff is really what makes the music.
Still, the Renderers need to sing something, they really
do have a need for a song each time, or else they’d just
be Flies Inside The Sun or Rain again. And even if none
of the melodies or lyrics from the song part especially
stick, they sing it well enough to make the long instrumental
interludes sound even more heavenly—the sly trance riffs
they build to after the long meltdown are really something.
a background vocal on "Across the Piedmont"
by the Rock*a*Teens that you can hear, faintly, mixed
very strangely, before the lead vocal even comes in. You
can barely hear it again as the song goes on, but there
it is, lurking around the corners of the singer’s words,
keeping the song floating in a mysterious zone. This float
is aided by the sweet, symphonic reverb hangs over the
recording, making it sound like the Phil Spector wall
of sound without having near as many overdubs. Some mellotron
or mellotron-like sounds are also hovering in the theoretical
cathedral of the song. It sounds like it’s from the 70s,
it really does to me, like some lost 1977 or 1979 attempt
at British pub soul or something. But it’s not, it’s rock
from the late 1990s
or maybe even 2000. I like this better than the two Rock*a*Teens
songs on the other side of the tape.
Turn My Head Around" by Lee Hazlewood and Ann Margret.
Oh gosh, if you’ve heard anything by Hazlewood you know
this is gonna be wacky, and it is, a demented girl-group-sassy
pop-rock song with surprisingly loud guitars wailing on
the mind-melting bubble-gum chorus. The quiet parts in
between choruses are, on the other hand, very quiet, and
there’s even a great pre-verse bit where the accompanying
acoustic guitar threatens to get loud like the chorus…but
then pulls back suddenly to keep things quiet for another
Well, according to
the 'liner notes' that should be the last song...oh
sheez….okay, here’s where mix tapes can really be something.
There’s an unlisted closing song on this side too, and
it’s "Hard Water" by the Black Dahlias. I think
this is one of the finest country ballads I’ve heard since
"Tennessee Whiskey" by George Jones, for real,
and earlier in the mix tape I was even thinkin’, "these
Dahlias songs are nice, but I’d really like to hear a
recording of that ‘Hard Water’…", and see, Charles
knew to tack it on the end of the mix tape ‘cause
he knew I liked it--hell, he's probably heard me shout
out the title at Dahlias shows, 'cause I have. And it’s
a great version; sounds like they’re playing live in a
big empty bar. Great lyrics in this song: "I’m kissin’
each bead of your spine…like a rosary….
but this new sharp look in your eye…
is like a vacancy sign…and those tears you’re cryin’ tonight…are
Hard Water…." Just when I’m about to shed a tear
myself, the tape cuts off. Well, I’m gonna have to get
a dub of the whole thing from ya Charles, but thanks for
the near-epiphany anyway….
in closing, should we go with "gravedirt, whiskey,
and lamb's blood"? I think that gets my vote. Thank
you to Nick Tosches.