Saturday, February 28, 2009

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Instrument (1999)

I'm going to throw this in here, not only because I feel it's completely relevant, but also because I watched it for about the tenth time the other day. Whenever I start going through my yearly Fugazi phase, I always end up throwing this movie on. I finally replaced my VHS copy with the DVD last year, and I hadn't watched it all the way through since then, either. So, it was inevitable.

Instrument is truly a film like no other, a labor of love by Jem Cohen, who put it together after spending over a decade shooting the band whenever he could. It's not your typical rock-doc; not even close. It's not linear, not chronological, and at times, it's what some might consider "slow." Songs start and then aren't shown finishing, interviews are present but very few were actually conducted for the film, and the segments featuring kids waiting outside to get into shows might really test the patience of some.

Guys: unless she is a fan, don't make your girlfriend sit through this movie. She will not like it. It is a solid two hours, and it feels like it. For me, that's great. For somebody who doesn't follow the band religiously, it might be too much. So having given that little disclaimer, let's move on to why this movie is fantastic.

While there are are only two songs that are shown in their entirety (though three additional performances have been added to the DVD release), there are tons of great live clips. It is a bit frustrating when it shows the band starting a song and then cuts off right when they're getting into it, but this isn't a concert movie, so I guess that's part of the deal. The live version of "Shut the Door" at the beginning and "Glueman" at the end are tough to beat, and shown almost unedited.

Some random clips of the band pulled from TV shows are really cool to see, as are some semi-grainy VHS recordings of shows from the 80's. Like I said, it's not chronological, so you sort of feel like you're jutting back and forth at times, but the on-screen captions do a fine job of informing you as to when the performances took place, and the detailed liner notes are another great reference.

The interviews with the band are few and far between, but the ones that are there are great. And the footage of them in the studio is fun to see for both a peek into their creative process and to confirm that what so many dipshits are wrong about: they do, in fact, have a sense of humor.

If you're a fan of the band, you've already seen this. If you're just getting into 'em, you should see this. It'll make you like them more.

"Glueman" (from Instrument)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fugazi - Instrument Soundtrack (CD, 1999)

I don't think anyone could have guessed that Fugazi's final release of the 90's would be a soundtrack to a film about them. But, once you learn the facts about the project, especially that the film was over a decade in the making and it was put together by their good friend Jem Cohen with full band participation, it seemed less shocking and more exciting. I went immediately from "that doesn't seem like them," to "holy shit I cannot wait to see this movie."

For the life of me, I can't remember if I saw the movie first or if I bought this album first. I know that I bought this right after it was released, because I was looking for the vinyl and the store didn't have it yet. (In fact, the clueless clerk at Ozone informed me that it probably wasn't going to be released on vinyl–dolt.) I couldn't wait, so I picked up the CD, which leads me to believe that I heard this first.

The Instrument Soundtrack is, in my opinion, for Fugazi fans only, though I certainly could see the casual listener getting plenty of enjoyment from a lot of the songs. However, with all the demo versions of existing tracks, I can't help but think having a frame of reference as to what the songs ended up sounding like in their final versions wouldn't aid in the listening quite a bit. Of course, that's the only way I've ever heard it, so my perception is definitely skewed in that direction. Either way, this is a really interesting record. Some of it is challenging, some of it is rough, and some of it is really pretty. Between these songs and the corresponding film, it felt like the band was finally beginning to open up a little bit, allowing us to see something other than a finished album or a show on stage. They were just little glimpses, but hearing how some of these songs started out proved to be fascinating for me.

"Pink Frosty Demo" - An early version of the penultimate track on End Hits, before any vocals were added. The melody is clearly identifiable, and this rough take shows where a song like this starts.

"Lusty Scripps" - Dating from '94, this little jam seems fairly free-form, complete with Guy wailing on the clarinet off in the background.

"Arpeggiator Demo" - A rough version of the instrumental that would end up End Hits, especially notable for featuring Brendan playing guitar, drums, and bass. Picciotto assists on guitar and "drum machine bass drum," and that's it. In case I didn't mention it before (and I didn't), these guys really are a collective, each being proficient on multiple instruments and taking part in the songwriting.

"Afterthought" - Fugazi without Guy, and one of the only songs where MacKaye is credited with playing keyboards. A nice short and sweet one, circa '94.

"Trio's" - Another mellow instrumental, again notable for Brendan playing melodica and the absence of Picciotto. This song works really well in the film.

"Turkish Disco" - The traditional Fugazi lineup, jamming over a basic bass line (by Lally's standards). Great song title, and some sweet improv guitar pluckery.

"Me and Thumbelina" - This song makes little to no sense unless you see the movie, but it's only about 45 seconds long, so whatever.

"Floating Boy Demo" - A considerably shorter (and vocal-less) version of the song that would be on End Hits. Really sparse and sort of skeletal, but you can hear it forming.

"Link Track" - The only composition from the 80's on this whole album, and though it doesn't sound completely out of place, you could probably pick it out as the band's earlier work if you tried.

"Little Debbie" - Apparently this was just a one-off jam from '94 (you can hear Ian say "go to the A" at the beginning), but it's a pretty badass song. It's the first song with real vocals on this album, and though the guitar tones are ass, it's still a lot of fun. Though it fades out before the end, which is a bummer.

"H.B." - Brendan on drums, Ian on bass. Yup.

"I'm So Tired" - Oh, how many mixtapes have I put this on? If there was ever a two-minute gap to fill (especially to close out a side or the whole tape), this was the go-to song. The most un-Fugazi track they ever released, and really the show-stealer on this soundtrack. "Im so tired/ Sheep are counting me." That is great.

"Rend It Demo" - The only demo not from the End Hits sessions, and perhaps the most personal of the all recordings, as it features only Guy on his four-track cassette recorder. You can tell what the song is, but only barely. Maybe the only song ever featuring "dehumidifier percussion."

"Closed Captioned Demo" - Another one with Brendan taking the reigns (guitar, bass, drums), only aided with some help from Guy on the guitar. The recording is scratchy, but the song seems pretty fleshed out by this point. By far the longest song on this set, though that's mostly because of the crazy drumming that takes up the last three minutes. It's worth sitting through.

"Guilford Fall Demo" - One of the stronger recordings on this record, as this feels almost completely done. There are no vocals, but the parts are quite close to the finished version.

"Swingset" - A minute and a half of a four-track cassette thing from '94. Sounds like a little jam, and it's nice.

"Shaken All Over" - Little dickaround in the studio from '91. If you listen on headphones you can hear some fun weirdness in the background.

"Slo Crostic" - This song plays a huge part in the film, and really sums up this record perfectly, especially given its wise placement at the end. Probably my favorite song after "I'm So Tired." And yes, it is a slow version of "Caustic Acrostic."

I had a slightly hard time with this album when I first heard it, but I've really learned to enjoy it over the years. It's probably the only Fugazi "rarities" compilation we'll ever see, and I'm happy there's one at all. It's not for the first-time listener, but anybody who likes the band should be able to find something here.

"Slo Crostic"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fugazi - End Hits (LP, 1998)

A lot of time passed between Red Medicine and this record (by Fugazi's standards), and when we looked at the title, I think we all took the finality implied in it a little too literally. But, I also remember shrugging it off just as quickly and not attempting to speculate on it too much. There was no reason to believe the band was over or anything like that. In the end (!), it's a sweet title, and the fact that it's inherently confusing makes it even more fun, I suppose. This is also one of my favorite Fugazi album covers, as it seems very unlike the band, and the bright, bustling landscape is the exact opposite of the barren monument shot on the front of Kill Taker. It's about the most color you'll ever see in any Fugazi artwork.

This was the first Fugazi album I purchased on LP upon its release, and when I took it home and unwrapped it, I was elated to see that it had been pressed on gray, swirly, thick vinyl, and had a gatefold cover that, when opened, has a great black & white shot of the band playing live. Combined with the thick-grade lyric sheet insert, you've got some of the band's best packaging. Not something they're known for, but it seems like it's worth mentioning.

End Hits has always struck me as the great underrated Fugazi album, but I'm not sure what I'm basing that on. For all I know, it could have been received quite well. I know I love it. Red Medicine had completely restored any faith I had lost in the band (which wasn't much), and I couldn't wait to see how they would follow it up. Turns out, they didn't fix what wasn't broke. Though it came three years later, End Hits is a fantastic follow-up to one of their best records, and it did even more to secure their status as one of America's most important rock (for lack of a better term here) bands.

I bought this LP a few months before moving to a new city, and it was definitely my soundtrack for some solitary times. It served me well, and got me revved up for the next phase of the band's output, which none of us were expecting. We'll get to that. For now, let's look at this one:

"Break" - Did I mention the band was incredible at opening their albums? This track jaggedly shimmies in, quickly nailing down their inimitable sound, then stops short for the only lyrics in its two minutes:

Can't ask for more
So why unfulfilled
We take apart
Everything we build
Had it right here
But now it's gone
On and on


Yeah, so that rules.

"Place Position" - Guy Picciotto has a way of writing a hook that you wouldn't dare refer to as a "hook." This song is reminiscent of "Do You Like Me," but it's darker and somehow harder. His cries of "legal illegal" are the backbone of this track, and the way he intones them over the harrowing guitar line is just great.

"Recap Modotti" - Joe Lally gets moved up in the lineup, and somehow outdoes "By You." Another great song title, and his lyrics are some of the strongest on the whole record:

Entrapment through belief
Disclosure would decree
Accusations would be shed
We stand over the dead
The vultures all well fed
Killer running free

That's some good lyric writin', Joe. His vocal confidence has also increased since his last effort, and the song is a really solid first-sider.

"No Surprise" - I've often wondered if this song isn't maybe a minute too long, but that sort of nit-pickery will get you nowhere, so I try to squash it. It breaks in the middle, and the part at the end features some nice whispery vocals by Guy followed by Brendan Canty drum-beatery that is, as always, great.

"Five Corporations" - Ian's short and sweet entry this time around (I should have noted these from the get-go like Guy's slow ones!), and he delivers. The lyrics are more linear than a lot of other Fugazi songs, but the inclusion of the phrase "clusterfuck theory" makes certain that they're anything but plain.

"Caustic Acrostic" - The shortest song on the record, and another great one. Vintage Picciotto, all the way. Another incredible song title, and the chorus on this one is commanding. Sounds like it could be from '88, in a really good way.

"Closed Caption" - The only Fugazi song I can think of right now that finds Picciotto and MacKaye trading vocals mid-verse (correct me if I'm wrong). That small section alone makes this song awesome, but the careful structuring of the verses and eventual chorus is weirdly great as well. And quite an ending, giving Canty some real room to stretch out.

"Floating Boy" - Guy's slow one, and up to this point, the longest Fugazi song, at almost six minutes. I like this song, but I can't lie: it's a little challenging. I'll leave it at that.

"Foreman's Dog" - A huge song, filled with lots of variations in the guitar parts and plenty of sections. I dig it. Ian's vocals on the chorus really beef it up, and the lyrics are great, open to plenty of interpretation. Seems like it might be another commentary on the fucked state of the youth, but who knows.

"Arpeggiator" - If this isn't my favorite Fugazi instrumental, it's in the top two. It's a bit long, but the melodies in the guitar lines are great, and it's proof (not that we needed it) that these guys can really play.

"Guilford Fall" - Another Picciotto special, and he hits the mark again. Some weird shit going on with the vocals if you listen to it on headphones. It follows the odd structure of the rest of the songs on this record, breaking and building and crashing all over the place.

"Pink Frosty" - One of the most un-Fugazi Fugazi songs, and I've always thought it was great. It's dark, slow, and features MacKaye's most restrained vocals ever. The melody is really something on this one.

"F/D" - A giant closer, as if you would expect anything else. It's not as monumental as some of their other ones, but it's great for this record; sprawling and falling all over the place and cutting itself short. You can almost picture Picciotto writhing on the ground during the choruses, and then the song ends, leaving room for some odd bits that sort of trail out.

"No Surprise"

Some other fine videos that really embody the band (and the shit they had to put up with) here and here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Special Report: Faith No More Reuniting!

Sorry to interrupt the Fugazi fest, but if there was any news worth breaking up the party (other than the announcement of a new Fugazi record), this is it. After more than a decade, Faith No More has decided to give it another go. The official statement, taken from

Faith No More has always stood out as some sort of unique beast; part dog, part cat--its music almost as schizophrenic as the personalities of its members. When it all worked, it worked really well, even if the chemistry was always volatile. Throughout our 17years of existence, the mental and physical energy required to sustain this creature was considerable and relentless. Though amicable enough, when we finally split, we all followed paths seemingly destined to opposite ends of the universe.

Yet during the entire 10 years that have passed since our decision to break up we've experienced constant rumors and requests from fans and promoters alike. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, none of us kept in regular touch, much less to discuss any possibilities of getting together.

What's changed is that this year, for the first time, we've all decided to sit down together and talk about it. And what we've discovered is that time has afforded us enough distance to look back on our years together through a clearer lens and made us realize that through all the hard work, the music still sounds good, and we are beginning to appreciate the fact that we might have actually done something right.

Meanwhile we find ourselves at a moment in time with zero label obligations, still young and strong enough to deliver a kickass set, with enthusiasm to not only revisit our past but possibly add something to the present. And so with this we've decided to hold our collective breaths and jump off this cliff....

We can only hope that the experience of playing together again will yield results erratic and unpredictable enough to live up to the legacy of FNM.
Who know where this will end or what it will bring up...only the future knows. But we are about to find out!

Mike Bordin, Roddy Bottum, Bill Gould, Jon Hudson and Mike Patton

I'm assuming this was written by Billy Gould, because he's always been the de facto spokesperson, but that's, as are a lot of things regarding this announcement, speculation. Let the fanboys congregate, and still, somehow, complain that Jim Martin will not be joining them. People are the worst.

Anyway, I can't help but think that my extensive overview of the band's catalog on this blog not only reinvigorated the fanbase, but reassured the band members that there is still fervent interest in the group's music. So, to the world I would like to say: you're welcome.

On a slightly more reality-based note, I'd like to say that while I'm excited about the prospects of the band reforming, we must remember that this was (is) a group that was notorious for their dysfunctional relationships, and I worry that maybe we should collectively wait to see how this all plays out before we start making our "'The Perfect Crime' rulez!" signs to take to the concerts. There are, as of right now, no North American dates scheduled, and this all still seems very preliminary.

But, I'm excited to have something else to write about in this blog, so expect more FNM news of the interrupting-the-flow-of-things nature as it is made available.

Back to business.

"Digging the Grave"

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fugazi - Red Medicine (LP, 1995)

While In On the Kill Taker may have been given a lukewarm response for not being as "intense" as some of their previous work, Red Medicine proved that Fugazi still could turn on the juice. Calling any Fugazi album a "return to form" doesn't make any sense given the diversity of their output, but this record feels like the work of a group with a score to settle. Their anger is manifested throughout the course of these songs, but it's also balanced out with some of the most prettiest songs the band had ever written at this point.

I became immediately obsessed with this record upon its release, listening to it repeatedly during a summer job painting my mom's neighbor's house. It worked wonders for me in that regard, providing a perfect soundtrack for back-breaking work in the searing July sun. We weren't worried about the band's direction after Kill Taker, but we might have held some silent fears about what the next album would sound like. After hearing Red Medicine for the first time, I felt like a fool for ever doubting them. I'm a die-hard Repeater fan, but this one gives it some competition.

We saw the band play at La Luna on this tour, and it was one of the most exciting shows I've ever seen. If I thought they were in their prime in '93, I had to admit terms like that were wasted on a band like this. They were apparently going to be near-perfect forever. It's almost 15 years later and I can still listen to this one without skipping a track.

"Do You Like Me" - There are rumbling screeches that usher in this track (and the album itself), but when they clear the way and the opening guitar kicks in, all bets are off. Picciotto's vocals in this song seem like they're going in one direction, then they quickly jut to incorporate held notes and quick-jumping refrains ("Lockheed Lockheed Martin Marietta"). Strategic but filled with feeling.

"Bed for the Scraping" - Oh, how this song gets to me. The dancing bass line that opens it is pure Lally, and when Ian comes in yelling, "I'm sick with this, I'm sick with this," I always end up singing along. And another great song title, and amazing lyrics throughout.

"Latest Disgrace" - A rare Fugazi song where it sounds there is a mild effect on the vocals, and it gives the entire track a texture that works incredibly well. The two guitars fill everything up with precise noise, and Guy again proves he has a way with words.

"Birthday Pony" - Yet another shining example of MacKaye using loud against quiet and crafting a song that is both brutal and occasionally serene. There's a line in the middle where he gut-wrenches "I needed something to do and so I split into two" that is unforgettable, especially when it's followed by sinister screaming that turns to maniacal laughter. Awesome.

"Forensic Scene" - A great melody by Picciotto, on one of his two "slow songs" on the record. The guitar is strangely clean for Fugazi, and the chorus is amazingly pleasant. They could really open this one up live.

"Combination Lock" - The first of two instrumentals on the album, and it features some intricacies that remind us of something we rarely acknowledge: these guys can really play guitar.

"Fell, Destroyed" - Guy's other "slow song," and it makes a great bookend to the two songs that preceded it. Features the sweet guitar trick of strumming the strings right next to the tuning pegs, and seems to address claims that the band is too serious: "Can't you sense my sense of humor?"

"By You" - Joe Lally steps up to the mic to sing the longest song on the record. I have to admit, hearing this for the first time was jarring, but we learned to love it. It wasn't hard; this is one of the strongest songs on the album.

"Version" - One of the oddest songs on a Fugazi record, not counting the demos and bits on the Instrument soundtrack. In that movie you can see Guy playing a clarinet, and it makes the unrecognizable noises in this song make a lot more sense.

"Target" - The lyrics to this song continue to blow my mind, and so does the guitar riff that heads it up. Seeing them play this live almost made me barf a few times; that's how much I love this track. This is an oft-discussed song, as it's the one where Picciotto sings, "I hate the sound of guitars." He also says "We could be making it oiling like crime/ We could be making it staking last dimes," which still makes my skull hurt with its goodness.

"Back to Base" - If Guy has his slow songs, Ian has his under-two-minute fast songs (See: "Great Cop," "Greed"). This song feels like it's barely getting started when it barrels to the end and checks out as fast as it checked in. "Whole lot of not."

"Downed City" - Another track on this album that starts with some slow-paced noise and then busts into a tightly-woven punk-ish song that will knock you back. Thank goodness for printed lyrics, because I can't understand a word Guy says on this one.

"Long Distance Runner" - Fugazi knows how to open an album, and they damn well know how to close one, too. If you study the lyrics to this whole record long enough (especially the songs on which Ian does vocals), you'll get the sense that the band is weary and warped from life on the road, continually moving and feeling removed from home. Or at least that's what I take away from it. This song seems to both embrace and curse their chosen existence. It's poignant and fantastic.

Not that anyone's keeping track, but if you're looking for a Fugazi album to get your feet wet with, this one ain't a bad choice.

"Bed for the Scraping"

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fugazi - In On the Kill Taker (LP, 1993)

In the summer of 1993, my brother and I took a two-week trip to the East Coast to visit family, with a weekend scheduled to be spent in Washington, DC. We joked about the possibility of Fugazi playing in their hometown while we were there, but agreed the odds weren't in our favor.

When my brother eyed a poster adhered to a light post advertising a free show, he stopped, did a double-take on both the headliner and the date, and almost started screaming. Now I don't believe in, well, anything really, but something had aligned for us. Not only was Fugazi playing in DC the next day, they were playing a free show down the hill from the Washington Monument. We knew this would be a rude inconvenience to our relatives who were showing us around, but even then, we were more than aware of this being once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We told them we were going to go, and we did.

In On the Kill Taker had been released a few months earlier, and in fact, I had just purchased the CD while we were on the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ, the previous week. I'm fairly certain I didn't even have a CD player with me, but the idea of buying a Fugazi CD on the East Coast seemed pretty cool to me. My brother had the cassette, so we had been listening to the album since it was released. It was certainly different than their previous efforts, but to me it sounded like a fully realized Steady Diet of Nothing. The band was getting more diverse in sound and words, and they sounded huge.

Losing ourselves in sea of Washingtonians (is that what they call them in DC?) that day, we felt both a million miles from home and more comfortable than we had in days. We were finally back with people our age who had their priorities straight: why would you not be on this grass in the blaring sun, waiting for the best live band in the world to play on their home turf? We couldn't believe we got to be a part of it, to the point where it almost didn't seem real. In On the Kill Taker seemed to be turn-off for some Fugazi fans (when Spin gave it a less-than-favorable review I felt incredibly betrayed), but watching them that day I think we knew the band was in their absolute prime. Maybe the new record was a little more "experimental" (whatever that means) than their other shit, but weren't we ready for it? This was a group that thrived on never sounding still, and we wanted nothing more than to follow them wherever they went.

I can't listen to this record without thinking about that day, especially when I look at the cover. It just made too much sense. There are a handful of shows I've attended in my life that I place a notch above others in my mental list, and this one is usually at the top. At one point we were standing ten feet away from Guy and Ian as they were watching the opening bands from the crowd, and we did what any self-respecting Fugazi fan would do: we left them alone. And then we saw them play for almost two hours, running through old stuff, as well as a lot of these songs.

"Facet Squared" - One of my favorite Fugazi song titles, and a perfect track to start this one off with. Watching Ian flip the Rhythm switch on his guitar to get the blippy sound at the beginning was an extra treat live. His vocals on this song are classic MacKaye.

"Public Witness Program" - While some of Picciotto's lyrics were getting longer and more complex, he was still more than capable of writing fast songs with minimalistic structures in the words. This is a perfect example of Fugazi moving forward with their music but not abandoning what made them great in the first place.

"Returning the Screw" - We didn't know what to think about this song the first time we heard it. Rarely was the band slow and haunting, but they border on it here. It's a slow build, and I think at this point we weren't used to being so patient waiting for the inevitable crash-in. I quickly learned to love this song.

"Smallpox Champion" - One of my favorite tracks on this album, and it features Picciotto really outdoing himself. The "cha-cha-champion" part that bubbles up towards the end was uncharacteristically poppy (relatively), completely unexpected, and incredible. Still is.

"Rend It" - Another great song title, and another case of Picciotto completely owning the track. MacKaye comes in on the chorus, and it becomes really powerful. Another loud-quiet-loud Fugazi special like only they can pull off without sounding overly formulaic.

"23 Beats Off" - I have a feeling it's tracks like this one that threw people for a loop when this first dropped. I know I wasn't expecting something so quiet, semi-sparse, and deliberate. And long. MacKaye has a melody in the middle of this one ("He used to pretend...") that is almost buried under the wall of guitars, but when you hone in on it, it's strangely pretty. An almost seven-minute Fugazi song? Unheard of. But apparently not impossible. Great noise.

"Sweet and Low" - Following the three-plus minutes of feedback and clamoring that wrap up "23 Beats Off" with a slow-moving instrumental was a bold move. This is a great song, though not nearly as urgent as almost any other Fugazi instrumental.

"Cassavetes" - After the wordless mid-section on this record, they wisely bust back in with this densely-packed number, a song led by Picciotto and filled with wild guitar screechery. This song is nuts.

"Great Cop" - If people worried that Fugazi was maturing to the point where they wouldn't be button-pushers, this song should have easily assuaged those fears. The fastest and most aggressive track on this whole record, and also one of the best.

"Walken's Syndrome" - Guy taking the reigns again and brutalizing a melody in the best way possible. This song starts with some weird noises, but when it kicks in, there's no going back. "Fragile stem," what a great first line.

"Instrument" - A catchy melody that only MacKaye could pull off hammering home the way he does. I love the lyrics to this song, and while I was a little thrown by the structure of it the first few times I heard it, I quickly learned to enjoy the shit out of it.

"Last Chance for a Slow Dance" - The first official "Guy's Slow Song." There's a clip on the Instrument DVD of the band playing this song that focuses mostly on Picciotto while he's wrenching his guitar and belting this one out, and it makes a great case for why this is such a fine song. If you need further convincing, read the lyrics. They're some of the finer ones he ever wrote.

I'm realizing now that I have a Fugazi Live Series CD of that show in DC, so I could probably have saved that story for then. Eh, I'm sure I'll figure out more stuff to say about it.

"Last Chance for a Slow Dance"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fugazi - Steady Diet of Nothing (CD, 1991)

This was the first Fugazi album I ever bought, and for some odd reason I can remember it like it was yesterday. Or maybe a few years ago. I had read a lot about the band (again, back when Spin could be trusted), and was eager to check out this group who had managed to vehemently buck the system and still make some great music. In the early 90's, "selling out" was not to be done, and these guys sounded like they were literally the farthest thing from it. They were the only band I have ever heard of who actually turned down a major label deal. I was ready to get on board. I recall staring at both Repeater and this one, and finally deciding to go with the most recent one.

Steady Diet, as I touched on in my previous post, turned out to be a slow burn for me. A few of the tracks grabbed me the first time around ("Polish," "KYEO"), but as a whole, the music was not what I expected at all. After hearing other albums and gaining a point of reference, they would make perfect sense. But as an introduction, it was slow going at first. I guess I can credit both my empty pockets and my resilience for forcing me to stick with it. I could only afford new tapes maybe once a month, and when I made my choice, I was stuck with it. I stuffed Steady Diet into my Walkman and made it my mission to get to know it.

This record has always struck me as the odd one out in the Fugazi catalog. It's more sparse, the lyrics seem almost intentionally impossible to comprehend, and the production is noticeably more trebly than their other releases. If I were to recommend a Fugazi album to start with if you're trying to get into the band, this wouldn't be the one. But after repeated listenings, I learned to love it, and I now look back on it with fondness reserved for innocence: this was my rite of passage with a band that I would eventually call one of my favorite groups ever.

"Exit Only" - Yep, the first Fugazi song I ever heard. Picciotto just repeats the word "exeunt" over and over in the beginning of this track, and it immediately made me wonder if I may be in over my head. By the time he broke out "sympatric," I was sure I was. I would love to know what this song is about.

"Reclamation" - Ian's pro-choice song, and strangely, one of my least favorite Fugazi songs. I mean, I still like it, but something about it just never clicked with me. I love the lyrics, love the message, always enjoyed it live, just always wondered why I felt like it never quite fit here.

"Nice New Outfit" - Another Picciotto song that could easily be about major labels courting the band, but could just as easily be about something else. I really like this track, and always thought the "There's blood in your mouth, but not in mine" line was perfect.

"Stacks" - When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher gave us an assignment to bring in printed lyrics to one of our favorite rock songs, promising to pick a few to go over with the class and analyze. I spent hours deciding which song I would choose, hoping to not only increase my indie cred but also to stump the teacher, who I thought was an asshole. I settled on "Stacks," and this is what I typed out on my mom's old typewriter and handed in:

This time is real
I feel it passing through the telephone
No one is home now
No one is home.
These stacks
They keep me down
So I build some more.
America is just a word but I use it.
Language keeps me locked and repeating.
This time is real
I see it passing by the avenue
Nothing to do now
There's nothing to do.
I see them spinning on
So I spin out.
America is just a word but I use it.
Language keeps me locked and repeating.

While we were going over "Stairway to Heaven" on the overhead (seriously), I realized mine probably wasn't going to be chosen. And, it wasn't.

"Latin Roots" - The band's lyrics were really starting to branch out, and this song is a great example. No idea what it's about, but the words read like poetry and the song itself is a good one.

"Long Division" - One of the many Fugazi songs with a memorable Joe Lally bass line rolling in before anything else. One of my favorite songs from this record, and it also contains some of my favorite lyrics: "This is a parting/ Some separation/ We lay in pieces/ Cracked to survive." Ian's great when he screams, but he's just as good when he sings.

"Runaway Return" - Another lyrical powerhouse by Picciotto, and another song that grew on me like a weed. The chorus in this one is really something, and it's yet another shining example of Guy's prowess on the mic as well as his always-increasing songwriting skills.

"Polish" - Another one of my favorites on this record, and I've always wanted to know exactly what it's about. It seems to be anti-TV, but not all the way through. Eh. Ian really brings the vocals on this one, doing the slightly melodic screaming thing like only he can.

"Dear Justice Letter" - Just realized there's not really a "Guy's slow song" on this album. This one is the closest thing, a sort of choppy track that I've really learned to appreciate over the years. "Your sorry lungs are all leaking" is a great line.

"KYEO" - The best song on this record, and a wise one to save for the end. The guitar line here is a bit of a precursor to the sounds the band would come up with next, and Ian sounds perfectly pissed and ready to take action. "We will not be beaten down" is a great line to end this song and this album.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fugazi - Repeater + 3 Songs (CD, 1990)

There are records that I have romanticized over the course of my life, some to the point where I almost convince myself that they can't possibly be as good as I make them out to be. (Back in my hard-drinkin' days, I was notorious for rampant hyperbole when making outrageous claims about albums that I merely liked a lot–that has thankfully ceased.) But I've realized that the records I've spent so many hours discussing and dissecting really are as good as I say they are, or at least they are to me.

If you haven't picked up on it yet, this is one of those records. In the past 15+ years, I have sung the praises of this album to anyone who will listen, and probably to many people who were just too polite to tell me to shut up. To those people, I want to say thank you for being polite, and I apologize. But if you haven't picked this up yet, I clearly didn't get my point across. Call me. We'll chat.

I purchased the first three Fugazi full-lengths out of order, so I'm pretty sure I heard this one second, after initiating myself on the challenging Steady Diet of Nothing. I'll talk more extensively about Steady Diet in the next entry, but the point I want to make in its relation to this record (from my perspective) is this: it wasn't until I heard Repeater that I felt I really "got" Fugazi. Upon listening to this album, it suddenly made the tracks on Steady Diet make a lot more sense, both musically and lyrically. While Steady Diet sort of chipped away (and sporadically bludgeoned) its targets, Repeater proved to be the initial full-on assault that needed to be launched to get things going.

At the risk of both sounding flowery and failing at an analogy, I'll say this: If Fugazi were a fighter coming up, their first two EPs were the ascension through the ranks, Repeater was the title fight, and Steady Diet of Nothing was their first title defense after learning some new tricks. But I digress.

I am always hesitant to crown one Fugazi album as my favorite or the one I consider the best, but over the years those titles have definitely been thrown around more when talking about this record than any other. There just isn't a bad moment here. I've been listening to it for so many years, I always come back to it, and it's always there for me. My teenage years wouldn't have been my teenage years without these songs. Alright, enough fawning, let's do it.

"Turnover" - Fugazi was one of the only bands that had me reaching for the dictionary when I was younger. It was usually on the songs sung by Guy Picciotto, that literate bastard. The first lyric of this excellent opener is "Languor rises reaching/ To turn off the alarm," and even though they misspell it as "langour" in the lyrics, I can credit them for teaching me the meaning. It was always great to see them play this live, watching them using the volume knobs on their guitar to replicate the ominous opening that fades in and out. They had some tricks.

"Repeater" - We may never know how they got their guitars to sound so fucking awesome in this song, and that's OK. Just realize that they do. And also take note of how this is the best song ever written about the judicial system's "3 Strikes" laws.

"Brendan #1" - The first of Fugazi's instrumentals bearing the name of a member of their rhythm section, punctuated by its placement as the third track. Not only is it not a momentum-killer, it's an incredible song, featuring some of Brendan Canty's most rumbling drum work.

"Merchandise" - When Fugazi took on issues as broad as "people purchasing things" and rolled their commentary up into a 3-minute song that managed to sum up their stance on it with razor-like precision, it almost seemed too easy. This is one of the great Fugazi songs, right up there with "Waiting Room" as far as direct association with the band. The first article I ever read about Fugazi was called "We Owe You Nothing," which is the first line in the chorus to this tremendously infectious track. And it turns out they don't even need three minutes to pull it all together. As Ian screams the last line, he not only brings it all around full circle, he renders the rest of the lyrics as merely preface: "You are not what you own."

"Blueprint" - It became a Fugazi tradition: on each record, there would always be what we would refer to as "Guy's slow song." While this track can't officially be labeled as such, it's planting the seeds for the ones that would follow. It starts semi-slow, builds, and ends with an MacKaye-Picciotto chant that seems to almost work as an addendum to "Merchandise": "Never mind what's been selling/ It's what you're buying." Though I've often wondered if this song isn't about major labels trying to woo the band.

"Sieve-Fisted Find" - What a great song title. I couldn't even begin to speculate as to what this track is about, but again, it doesn't matter. When Ian breaks it down on this one, singing a few lines after Guy handles the rest of the song, it's stirring and just great.

"Greed" - Again, Fugazi taking on a huge issue and distilling it down to the essence: "You wanted everything/ You needed everything/ Everything is greed." Not even two minutes long, and as good as any other song on this album. Ian rarely showed clear traces of his Minor Threat upbringing in Fugazi, but this song hearkens sweetly back to that simpler and overtly angrier time.

"Two Beats Off" - Guy Picciotto has a unique vocal style, and its effectiveness isn't exemplified any better than on this track. The rhythm and cadence in his voice playing off the uncharacteristically calm and tight riff in the verse is just too good.

"Styrofoam" - When MacKaye sings "We are all bigots/ So filled with hatred," it's hard to know exactly what to make of this blanket statement, but it makes for a great song. This has always been a favorite, a track that keeps teasing towards a payoff, and when it finally shows itself at the end, it's more than worth it.

"Reprovisional" - A reworking of "Provisional" from the Margin Walker EP, spruced up a bit and made to fit perfectly in this batch of songs. This was clearly one of the band's favorite tunes, as they played it live all the time. Classic Picciotto.

"Shut the Door" - The last song on the proper Repeater LP, and a track that couldn't have been anything but the closer. It's a lulling song with a huge chorus, and MacKaye outdoes himself with the quiet/loud juxtaposition throughout. By the time he calmly sings "Shut the door so I can leave," you should be spent.

"Song #1" - This is the first of the "3 Songs" originally released as a 7" and tacked on here for CD release. I've always loved this track, and also understood why it made a great single-type song. It's very declaratory, very upbeat, and more matter-of-fact with the lyrics than other Fugazi cuts of the same era. And awesome.

"Joe #1" - The second (though probably technically first) instrumental track named after a member of the Fugazi rhythm section, and another great one. Joe Lally: the absolute perfect bass player for this band.

"Break-In" - One of the all-time shortest Fugazi songs, and also one of the fastest. I've often wondered what this song is about, but never too hard, because I don't think I want to know. But I do know that I enjoy it, and that's quite enough for me.

If you don't own this record, I genuinely feel sorry for you.

"Sieve-Fisted Find"

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fugazi - 13 Songs (CD, 1989)

This CD compiled the first two Fugazi EPs: 7 Songs and Margin Walker. So technically, the first seven songs on this disc were released before my previous entry, but this CD was released later in the same year. So there's the explanation on the chronology, just so we're on the same page.

The last six songs on this one are Margin Walker, so we're just going to go over the first seven. This album is a huge deal to a lot of people, and it should be. If you chose to make this collection your rock bible, I think you'd be in good shape. I should mention that this was not the first Fugazi album I owned, but I was damn glad to discover it when I got into the band a few years after this.

"Waiting Room" - The first Fugazi song on the first Fugazi record, and arguably the most well-known Fugazi song. It's fitting that Joe Lally's rolling bass line starts this track, as he manages to encompass the entire "sound" of the band in five seconds. Seeing them play this live and listening to the entire crowd scream "I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait" was always annoying and reassuring at the same time. I somehow still really love this song.

"Bulldog Front" - First off, a great title for a song. This is another composition (it would seem) that's urging people into action, and it makes a good case. Also may be the only song ever to begin with the word "ahistorical." A great build at the end, and a huge payoff.

"Bad Mouth" - The jump that Ian MacKaye made as a songwriter in the years between Minor Threat and Fugazi is unreal. Most people would kill to write a song like this, and he makes it seem like it's no big deal, rattling off what seem like non sequiturs through a melody that is impossible to launch from your head. And the "you're always talking talking talking talking shit now" part? Incredible.

"Burning" - Part one in the Fugazi "Burning" series ("Burning Too" being the sequel). Another short one featuring Picciotto on lead vocals, and it's strong, but stuffed between two Fugazi classics, it too often seems like a breather, which is a shame, because it's a great song.

"Give Me The Cure" - Vintage Fugazi, pure and simple. If you wanted to play one song to give somebody an idea of what the band sounded like, this wouldn't be a bad choice. It starts a little wild, breaks down, and when Ian and the second guitar kick in about a minute and a half in, it all comes together. Seeing this song live is almost too much for one man to handle.

"Suggestion" - I was watching a Riot Grrrl documentary a few months back, and in the special features they had an extended interview with Ian where he talked about how some of the ladies turned their back on him after he wrote this song, because it details sexual harassment/women-as-objects from the woman's point of view, and they didn't feel it was his place to do that. They're a fickle bunch. I always thought it was pretty gutsy to even address the issue, and I think they actually pull it off really well. Of course, I would think this was a fantastic song regardless of the lyrical content. It's got a bunch of different parts, and it was one of the first "long" Fugazi songs, clocking in at almost five minutes. I used to play this one over and over.

"Glue Man" - Probably my least favorite song on this whole disc, and I have never really known why. The first time I saw them do it live, I felt like I got it. I think maybe it just doesn't translate well on this recording. Still a fine song, to say the least. Who doesn't like songs about inhalant abusers?

"Bad Mouth"

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fugazi - Margin Walker (LP, 1989)

Fugazi has, for 18 or so years now, been one of the most important bands in my life. It's rare that you find a group with a dynamic like this: two lead singers, both great, both incredible lyricists, powerful apart but even more powerful together.

And that's just scratching the surface of their brilliance. Ugh. I could write a book about how Fugazi is one of the most important bands of not only the last twenty years, but in the history of rock. I think they're that good. And when I start talking about it, I realize I feel really strongly about this point. Being a teenager when Fugazi was still actively making music kept life exciting. Their music could get me riled and nervous to the point of almost vomiting, and there's only a handful of bands that have really got to me like that.

So, we're starting with the Margin Walker EP, which is going to make the next entry slightly out of order, but not really. I'll explain in that one. Is Fugazi worthy of a song-by-song breakdown? How dare you even ask.

"Margin Wallker" - One of the great things about Fugazi is that they always print the lyrics inside their albums, but never talk about what the songs are actually about. This is both endlessly frustrating and the best conversation piece you could ask for. I think any hardcore Fugazi fan has spent an embarrassing amount of time studying their lyrics and still getting nowhere. This will be common thread throughout a lot of songs, especially the ones written by the consistently indirect Guy Picciotto (Ian MacKaye's lyrics are sometimes easier to decipher).

This track is one of those. If I had to guess what it was about, I'd say an assassin at an open window, but that seems too obvious. Another common thread: it doesn't matter. Guy would slow down as the years went by, but here he's young, aggravated, and wrenching over the inimitable guitar while he backs himself up on the barreling chorus. MacKaye yelps in the background on key parts, and this song will run you over.

"And the Same" - Basically a call on MacKaye's part to get your shit together as a human being, and not the first or last time he'll address the issue. As is the case with a lot of early Fugazi tracks, Joe Lally's bass line and Brendan Canty's drums own the verses, and then the song crashes in massively on the chorus. I always loved the hook on this one.

"Burning Too" - MacKaye and Picciotto together, urging us to not fuck up the planet. I realize that doesn't sound like too compelling a topic for a post-punk song, but trust me, it is. Again, the chorus is just too good.

"Provisional" - Picciotto sings lead on this one, and I'm not going to venture a guess as to what it's about. This is a Fugazi favorite, a song that seemed to get played live a lot. And with good reason, Guy's vocals are great on it, and the guitar work really stretches out.

"Lockdown" - Short but sweet, another track that finds Picciotto in a frenzy and the guitars matching his intensity. I still don't know how they got guitar sounds like this. An oft-overlooked early Fugazi track.

"Promises" - When you're a disaffected youth, you dream about songs like this, ones that you feel sum up exactly how pissed off you are. "Promises are shit" skips any efforts at lyrical trickery and gets right to it. And we loved it. And when I listen to it now I can still hear why. Stupid fucking words, indeed.

"Margin Walker"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fudge Tunnel - Creep Diets (CD, 1993)

It's an absolute shame that this is the only Fudge Tunnel disc in my collection right now. The fact that I don't own Hate Songs in E Minor on CD is something I'm not proud of. That will be fixed at some point.

In my impressionable youth (and I've mentioned this before, I believe), Spin Magazine was my bible. As often as I could, I'd pick up cassettes by bands who had received favorable mentions or reviews in the pages of Spin. This worked out well for me sometimes (I actually discovered Fugazi this way), not so well in other instances (why did I think I would like Scatterbrain?). In a 1991 issue of the mag, they mentioned Fudge Tunnel almost in passing, in a small sidebar that, if I recall correctly, summarized recent notable metal-ish releases.

I'm not going to lie: the name intrigued me. Part of me wanted to say that I liked a band called Fudge Tunnel. I also wanted to hear what an album called Hate Songs in E Minor sounded like. I found the tape at the local record shop, and picked it up. It certainly wasn't anything like the music I was listening to at the time. It was sludgy, the screaming vocals were way down in the mix, and above all, it was heavy. And not like Heavy Metal heavy. Like a cinder block resting on your head heavy. I quickly embraced it, and when I found a Hate Songs poster at the same record store in the "free" bin, I made room for it on my wall. My mom was not stoked on it, but she let it ride.

I had their Teeth EP (which was released between Hate Songs and Creep Diets for a long time, too, but that must have made its way into my brother's hands. So, here I am, with only this one on my shelf. I haven't listened to it in forever, and as it's blaring through my headphones right now, I'm not sure why. This album is great. It seems a little less purposefully dense than Hate Songs, but it's only leaving the songs sounding more complex and just as good.

The one tough thing about Fudge Tunnel is that it's virtually impossible to make out any of their lyrics. Track two on this one is called "Tipper Gore," but it's hard to make out much other than "Do what I say/ Not what I do." Whatever, it's still a great track. The title track here is almost seven minutes long, and features a rare guitar solo. Not bad.

Well, time to put this in the iPod.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

John Frusciante - Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt (CD, 1994)

I'm pretty sure I bought this for a dollar sometime last year. The price was right!

A lot has been made of this record over the last 15 years, and most of it's bullshit. If you want to choose to believe that this is some misunderstood work of genius, that's your business, but come on. Come on. Is this really much more than the incoherent four-track ramblings of a dude strung out on heroin? Nah.

There are a few tracks on here that are relatively interesting, but I wouldn't call them good. But, Frusciante has such a devoted group of fanboys all over the world that this has been elevated to cult status amongst his devotees. And really, it's one of those records that works perfectly for the I-get-it-and-you-don't crowd, much like Mike Patton's solo records (which we'll get to), or Lou Reed's Transformer (which we won't). It's fun to like something that a lot of people consider shit. I should know–I'm a big Zappa fan.

So, I get it. And maybe that's why I keep this CD. I keep waiting to hear what some people must hear in this thing. It's just never happened. One of my friends bought this when it came out, and I distinctly remember being surprised by two things: 1.) That Frusciante was coherent enough to release a 25-song album, and 2.) That he had called track 10 "Your Pussy's Glued to a Building On Fire."

I have no trouble understanding why that's great.

"My Smile Is A Rifle"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Doug E. Fresh & The New Get Fresh Crew - Doin' What I Gotta Do (CD, 1992)

Listen: if you're gonna put this on sale for a couple bucks, I'm going to buy it.

And buy it I did. And it's ended up being well worth a few dollars. I get the vibe that this record was intended to bring Doug E. back to the mainstream, and clearly that didn't happen, but this certainly wasn't a wasted effort. There's a disconnect that runs throughout the album that may have hurt it a bit. It's constantly shifting gears from The Nine-Deuce to Back In the Day, and it gets awkward. If Fresh was trying to be relevant in the New School, he sure does a lot of talking about how dope we was in the Old. It plays better now, but in '92, I bet it sounded a little off.

Between "Back In the Dayz," "The History (interlude)," and his lame (and slowed down for some unknown reason) take on "You Make Wanna 'Shout,'" dude manages to sound anything but ultra-hip. But, tracks like "Imagine Me Just Pumpin' It Up" are vintage early-90's rap; some really cool shit. In the end, this record needs more of these and fewer slow jams like "If I Was Your Man," "Come In From the Rain," and "I Need My Woman Tonight," which all push five minutes and inexplicably are sequenced right in a row.

This is another album that, while I don't often put it on, when it comes through the shufflin' iPod, I let it ride.

"Bustin' Out (On Funk)"

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Black Francis - Svn Fngrs (CD, 2008)

Finally, on "The Seus," the first track on this seven-song EP, we find FB (or BF, as it were) going back to some of the weird vocal shit that he had done so well on some of his early solo records. The results: one of the best solo songs he's done in years.

This one takes off from there, surpassing Bluefinger in everything except running time. This disc has me excited about the man again, and always pissed that it's only 20 minutes long. "I Sent Away" and "The Tale of Lonesome Fetter" sound like vintage FB (finally!), songs that wouldn't have been out of place on some of his classic early-to-mid-90's work.

He's kept his wife off the backing vocals this time around (she's on bass), and instead layered all the shit himself. His dueling guitar, while sloppy sometimes, is fun to listen to, and hearing him whip out his unmistakable falsetto on "Half Man" is a welcome touch. Again, I don't want to jump the return-to-form gun, but I think he's really onto something here.

Now we'll just have to wait and see what he comes up with next. I hope it's more of this.

And what's with the "finger" motif, you ask? Your guess is as good as mine.

"I Sent Away"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Black Francis - Bluefinger (CD, 2007)

I wasn't sure what to think when I heard Frank Black was going to release an album under the name Black Francis, which he hadn't used in over 15 years. I got the feeling that the name change was intended to keep the excitement over the Pixies revival going, but it didn't seem to matter much. Bluefinger was released without a lot of hoopla, and the music it contained wasn't anything too out-of-left-field.

However, if there's one clear difference between the songs here and those released under the Frank Black name for the last few years, it's the rockin'. These are, for the most part, stripped-down and guitar-heavy songs that seems purposefully more abrasive than any of this other recent work. It's not exactly a return to the Pixies, but it does seem to be a record devoted to getting out some of the aggression that was put on hold during the recording of Honeycomb and Fast Man/Raider Man.

The songs are solid, and though they are often rowdy and ragged, they aren't without focus. They seem more deliberate and less loose than some of his recent "rock" efforts, with lyrical quirks to match. "Threshold Apprehension" is reminiscent of FB lyrics of old, and the opening riff on "Test Pilot Blues" sounds very Cult of Ray-era. I struggled to really embrace this album at first, but since its release, I've grown more and more fond of it.

"Lolita" starts like it could end up being a slamming rocker, but the chorus turns poppy, almost cheery, and hard to get out of your head. "Tight Black Rubber" has been a harder sell for me, but I keep warming up to it. Not all the songs are heavy; there's still some with acoustic guitar, and still tinges of the Americana-ish stuff that FB's been favoring for years now.

The album is sequenced well, with the slower ones broken up with the rambling force of tracks like "Your Mouth Into Mine," the steady thump of "You Can't Break A Heart and Have It," and the fun pop of "She Took All the Money." FB's wife Violet provides backing vocals on a lot of the songs, and I guess you could say she's playing the Kim Deal role. Her voice isn't as overwhelming and invasive (in general and production-wise), so she's good at providing texture and not commanding the track.

Could he have called this another Frank Black record and not have had anyone notice any difference? Yeah. But it's sort of fun that he's using his old name again. And when I saw him play some of these songs around the time of this release, he wasn't even playing guitar. Now that was a change.

"Tight Black Rubber"

Friday, February 13, 2009

Frank Black Francis - Frank Black Francis (2xCD, 2004)

Another oddity the Frank Black/Black Francis/Charles Thompson/whatever-you-want-to-call-him-here category, this is a 2-disc set featuring Pixies music both old and new (which is why I file it under Black Francis).

The first disc is a tape of rough solo demos that were recorded prior to the proper recording of Come On Pilgrim. So, the sound quality is less-than-ideal, but it's really not that bad. My main beef with these demos is that I had to wait until 2004 to hear them. I can't express how much I would have jizzed in my teenage pants if I would have had this in the early 90's. Almost all of the songs from Surfer Rosa and Come On Pilgrim are included here, and hearing them broke down to their essence (if you will) is just great. Of course, I'm one of what Frank refers to as "the uberfans" in the liner notes, so I consider this a piece of history in its own little way.

The purpose of this tape was to give their engineer some songs to take notes on for the recording session, so Frank is often speaking little asides ("This is the one we want to sound like Hüsker Dü," etc.) that are interesting if you know what the end product sounds like. There's also extra parts in a few songs, a couple tracks that wouldn't see the light of day for some time ("Rock A My Soul," "Build High"), and one that I've never heard anywhere else ("Boom Chickaboom"). So, if you like to nerd out on early Pixies demos (and who doesn't?), this is a prime place to start.

The second disc is 2004 reworkings of Pixies songs. And when I say "reworkings," I mean tearing them down to the ground and building them completely back up. There are synths, rarely any drum beats, and enough effects to make your head swirl. I get the vibe it ain't for everybody, but I've actually listened to this disc way more than I ever thought I would. It's a little much if you're wearing headphones, but it's a great one for cleaning house or otherwise dawdling to.

I could do with "Monkey Gone to Heaven," but I've never been of the opinion that the world was in need of another version of that song. But, the versions of "Is She Weird?," "Caribou," and "Levitate Me" are awesome. And, if you can make it all the way through the 14-minute version of "Planet of Sound," you'll find it's not without its many merits as well.

So, it may be a Pixies-nerds-only release, but it's a must-have if you fit that description.

And I can't find any audio of it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stallion Alert Book Review: The Show I'll Never Forget - Edited by Sean Manning

Thought I'd try another fun feature on the site. I'm always reading books about music, so why not write 'em up, eh?

I just finished this one, a collection of 50 essays from a broad selection of writers, each taking their own approach to recollecting their most memorable concert. It's made clear in the intro that the "most memorable" part is key–it's not necessarily the best show they've ever seen, but the one that stands out the most for whatever reason. Strangely, a lot of the writers admit to barely remembering anything about the shows they've chosen to write their pieces on. This is mildly annoying, because a lot of the essays end up focusing more on personal stories that surround the event, instead of the actual act or music in question. The most entertaining prove to be those that shoot for an equal balance, explaining the circumstances of the show, but also providing some solid details on the performance.

The entries are arranged chronologically, starting with Miles Davis in 1955, and ending with Metric in 2005. They're scattered well, with a surprising number of years represented by the shows that coincide with them. The music is all over the place too, with "big" artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Prince getting some ink, but lesser-known acts like The Lounge Lizards, Redd Kross, and Mink DeVille also getting in there.

I'm always game for reading about artists that I have I either don't know about or have no interest in, and only a few of the essays here tried my patience. The final one on Metric (by Daniel Handler and Andrew Sean Greer) was self-aggrandizing, four pages too long, and ultimately very boring. An unfortunate one to end on, for sure, especially since it's followed by the list of essays that didn't make it into the book (Pavement!). The other one that stood out as patently egregious was Max Allan Collins' take on a Kevin Spacey (seriously) show he saw when Spacey was doing a short nightclub tour to promote Beyond the Sea. He spends four pages simply doing a mini-biography of Darin, then tells us how his fame as a writer (and some shameless badgering) allowed him to meet Spacey after the gig. Neat-o.

Other than those, the rest were solid, or at least short enough to not push it. Charles R. Cross predictably writes about Nirvana (Halloween, 1991), but it's a sort of all-access view of the show that paints a quick but noteworthy picture of Cobain at a true precipice in his life, and a band at a huge moment in theirs. Chuck Klosterman writes a comical essay on Prince, Jerry Stahl tries a little too hard in an interesting take on an interview and show with David Bowie, and Marc Nesbitt's entry about seeing the Beastie Boys in 1987 with Public Enemy as the opening act was both funny and awkward. One of my favorite combos.

My favorite recollection came from John Albert, a writer I'd never heard of, who wrote up his memories of seeing Black Flag (pre-Rollins) in the fall of 1979. Hearing about his punk rock shenanigans made me both laugh and cringe. Also a great combo. I've since ordered his book on Amazon. It was only a penny, which makes me want to read it even more.

All in all, a damn fine book. I breezed through it quick, and actually learned about some artists of which I was sadly unaware, and was reminded that Rick Moody is a tremendous blowhard.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Freddie Foxxx (Bumpy Knuckles) - Konexion (CD, 2003)

At some point, I remember Bumpy promising that he had a trilogy in the works. Konexion was just phase two, he said. Seeing that it took three years to get this record out, I decided not to hold my breath. Good thing, because his next record has never shown up. There's been mixtapes and lots of talk, but nothing substantial. Anyway.

Konexion isn't bad, but for some reason it just didn't seem as punchy and hard-hitting as his previous work. Although he pretty much nixed the skits on this one, starting the album off with "Interview w/" seemed stupid then, and still does now. It's only two minutes long, but it prevents the record from getting going. When it finally does, it seems Bumpy's beats are a lot more generic, and don't match the power of his voice.

One thing's for sure: he's not a lazy man. This is a deep album, going almost 75 minutes, and like I said, without much filler. But without memorable beats and with choruses that aren't really his style, I can see why this one was considered a disappointing follow-up to Industry Shakedown. I still have it. I'll keep it.

When it comes to Bumpy, I can always find something to like. Now where's that Amerikkkan Black Man record I've been hearing about for three years...?

"Mega Bomb Dropper"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Freddie Foxxx (Bumpy Knuckles) - Industry Shakedown (2xLP, 2000)

I didn't know the name Freddie Foxxx before the year 2000. Once I put together who he was, I realized he was one of the dudes from Flavor Unit, and the guest MC from Naughty By Nature's "Hot Potato," which I had been listening to for years. He had been under the radar for years, a victim of shady record deals and other misfortunes. All of a sudden he was back. I think I read an article about him in The Source the same week that my brother got hooked up with a promo copy of this album. The article got me curious; hearing the tracks made me rush out to find the LP.

Bumpy Knuckles (as he's known these days) is an odd one. He demands respect from the industry, but makes music that isn't quite mainstream enough to get any play there, and he wouldn't want it anyway. It makes for some great songs, and this record remains one of my favorite hip hop albums of the era. Bumpy just raps. There's not much pretense, there's not a lot of wasteful hooks. He just talks about how he's a better MC than you, anyone you know, and anyone out there. If you care to disagree, he'll bust your fucking face in.

Bumpy is one of the only rappers I've ever really believed. Just in general. Anything he says. The dude is certifiably huge, and while most rappers are talking guns, he's talking fists. And you can't help but get the vibe that he means what he says, especially on this record. As you can tell from the title, Bumpy's been wronged, and he's back to take what's his. He makes a good case, spending 20 tracks dissecting MCs, the industry, and any motherfucker who dares to get in his way. And it's 90% solid.

The 10% that isn't solid are the skits and interludes, which should have been left off the record, because a lot of them are too long, and a lot of them are just repeating the same shit that he says better in the songs. But when he sticks to rapping, he's hard to beat. Great one-liners and a flow that never gets old.

And the LP came with a full-size comic book starring a futuristic Bumpy. Not bad.

"Who Knows Why?"

Monday, February 9, 2009

Foo Fighters - One By One (CD, 2002)

I make it sound like a clean break, but I kept giving the Foos chances. I actually picked up There Is Nothing Left to Lose on vinyl, but I couldn't hang with that "Learning to Fly" bullshit, so I eBayed it and made my money back, while making some fanboy happy because it still contained the original temporary tattoo that accompanied early pressings of the record. I was happy to get rid of it, but also sad to admit I didn't like the band anymore.

Which brings us to this one, which I don't remember how I acquired. I think it was either dirt cheap or free, because I know I didn't rush out to buy it. I may have thought "All My Life" was a badass song when I first heard it, maybe that's why I wanted it. I got sick of that one pretty quick, and when I heard songs like "Have It All" and "Times Like These," I officially felt embarrassed for owning this. "Times Like These" manages the once-thought-impossible feat of out-sucking "Learn to Fly," and sounds like it was not much more than an audition for sports and graduation montages everywhere.

I ended up thinking "Halo" was an OK song, but mostly because it sounded like Grohl trying to be Gerry Rafferty and pulling it off. Tracks like "Overdrive" and "Burn Away" sound just as phoned in as their titles, and I kept getting the impression that Grohl just wanted as much TV time as possible, as all the songs were beginning to be way too accessible and less and less what anyone would consider "edgy." Maybe the Foo Fighters never were edgy at all, and I'm the loon. That's probably partly true. Either way, it's been sort of sad to see them turn into the band that your co-worker who has shitty taste in music likes, but I guess that's the way it goes.

They had a good run.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape (CD, 1997)

Right from the start, it's clear this wasn't to be the Foo's debut part II. What it ended up being was a bridge between the rough-but-rugged precision clamoring of their first record and the more pop-ready rock that they would represent after this. Of course, when this arrived in '97, we had no reference other than the previous album. So really, this one stood out mostly for being considerably more polished and featuring singles that seemed consciously radio friendly. I was still on board.

Knowing what we know now, this will always be, to me, the last great Foo Fighters record. At the time, it was a better follow-up to their debut than I feared they might come up with. I figured Grohl had stacked their first album with all the best songs he'd been working on during his years in Nirvana, and making a fresh run at continuing the success of the band might prove it to be a one-off after all. Not the case. What he came back with was something that hit as hard as the first record, but seemed more removed from the fading lights of grunge. This was the band setting out on its own, with Grohl seeming less like "the guy from Nirvana" and more like his own thing.

Sadly, the crappy videos continued.

Maybe I shouldn't have liked "Monkey Wrench" and "Everlong," but I did, and I do. They were perfect singles for this record and for the time, and certainly showed that the band was capable of writing some semi-dense and mega-catchy songs. "My Hero" never really did it for me, but I think I was alone in that. There are a slew of other great songs on this record, as well. The one-two punch of "My Poor Brain" and "Wind Up" clean up the mess of the Tonic-sounding clunker "Hey, Johnny Park!" and make sure the album doesn't lose track of the rock. "Wind Up" is, for my money, one of the top five best Foo Fighter songs, and probably the best song on this record. The line "I want a song that's indelible like Manimal" gets me every time.

"Up In Arms" starts off like it's going to be this album's "Big Me," but speeds up and rocks the pop. Thankfully it stays short enough to not push it, because it lays that pop on pretty thick. "See You" is another short one that could almost be categorized as a novelty palette-cleanser in the middle, but it ends up being a tad better than that. "Enough Space" is a sci-fi themed Pixies-style rocker that really works, and it's followed by "February Stars," a ballad that starts soft, builds, and is probably the most forgettable song here.

"New Way Home" is a solid closer, but you can hear the mainstream rock sounds taking over. I had some fears about this when I was getting into this record, even realizing at the time that some of these tracks weren't really in line with what I normally listened to. But, it was Grohl; I figured I'd go along for the ride. I didn't know it would end here for sure, but I had a feeling.

I was looking at the Wikipedia entry for this album the other night (you know, doing my research), and the first lines read like this: "The Colour and the Shape is the Foo Fighters' second album. It was released May 20, 1997 through Roswell/Capitol Records. It is the best album ever." Those crazy kids. It's since been corrected, but it let me know I'm not the only one out there who still thinks this is a pretty damn good batch o' songs.

Oh, and this is another one you can put in the "great album/terrible album art" category.

"Wind Up"

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Foo Fighters - Foo Fighters (CD, 1995)

I didn't know what to expect from the Foo Fighters, but I didn't get my hopes up. Part of me just wanted the whole of Nirvana to die with Cobain, for Grohl and Novoselic to be too devastated to go on in any capacity, and to feel that it wouldn't be right anyway. I think a lot of us just expected them to disappear. Or to release records with new bands and not have anybody really give a shit about them. (Novoselic managed that one some years later.)

When Foo Fighters popped up, I wasn't shocked (Grohl sang and played guitar on the Nirvana b-side "Marigold" only two years earlier), but maybe I was a little surprised at the quickness with which Grohl had picked himself up and was moving on. It still felt wrong to me, but as I've stated before, Nirvana is one of the only bands that I can manage to get protective about (when I see shit like this, I get more upset than I would like to admit), so I was wary, but remained reticent.

The first time I heard "This Is A Call," I breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't anything like Nirvana, but it was good. It was great. It had lyrics that didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense but seemed to work incredibly well on a rhythmic level. It was rough, but not messy. And Grohl could sing. And he could play everything else, apparently. When they didn't make a video for the song I became even happier. He was sticking to it. This wasn't about him, it was about these songs he'd been working on for years in his spare time.

They ended up making a video for the second single, "I'll Stick Around," but it was very nerdy, very anti-MTV, and Grohl said he only did it because one of the dudes from Devo wanted to direct it and he didn't want to turn him down. Of course, MTV played the shit out of it. Somewhere between this song and "Big Me" (I guess the precise moment was somewhere around the time they decided not to make a video for the excellent "For All the Cows"), the Foos went into cheeze mode, made the fucking Mentos video, and things started going downhill.

But for those few months, they were shaping up to be the cool band to help us all into the last half of the 90's. That didn't work out, no harm done. They managed to make two incredible records, and that's more than I expected.

So, yes. This is a great record. Forget all you know about the Foo Fighters now. Forget that acoustic self-indulgence and the videos that aren't cute now because they never really were in the first place. Instead, think about a dude who has just lost his band (which happened to be the biggest band in the world), one of his best friends in the world, and is 26 years old. Picture that dude recording every single part on a 12-song record and making it sound angry and sad and weirdly optimistic and also like it's four separate guys all locked in like they've been playing for years.

Then listen to this album and tell me it's not one of the best rock records of the 90's.

"This Is A Call"

Friday, February 6, 2009

Flo & Eddie - Illegal, Immoral and Fattening (LP, 1975)

I can't believe I still have this.

I don't want to take the time to tell the long and fabled story of Flo & Eddie, so I'll give the quick version: they were the guys from The Turtles, then they were the guys with The Mothers. If you listen real close, you can also hear them on T. Rex's "Get it On." They're sometimes hilarious, often annoying, and really great singers.

I think this was my brother's record (though why he ever wanted it is beyond me), and he gave it to me as a b-team supplement to my extensive Zappa/Mothers collection. And that is why I still have it. I'm realizing now that I haven't listened to it in forever, and that's probably fine. It's very jokey and not always clever, with the highlight being a cover of "Eddie Are You Kidding?," a song they originally performed with the Mothers.

And that record cover creeps me the fuck out.

But I'll tell you what: if I was super blazed on some Maui Wowie in the mid-70's, I wouldn't get up and take this one off the turntable.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Flaming Lips - Fight Test (CD, 2003)

This is the only Flaming Lips CD I own. It's a promo version of this EP, and I know I didn't pay for it. I used to have Transmissions from the Satellite Heart on cassette, but it's gone now. That's OK; I didn't really like it anyway. I don't really like this CD, either. I liked The Soft Bulletin for a little while, but not that long. I don't really like The Flaming Lips. I realized that while I listened to this today.

I know. I'm not cool.

They cover Beck's "The Golden Age" on this EP, and it's not good. There's also a nine-minute techno/dancy remix of "Do You Realize??" that would be totally sweet if I were someone who liked shitty music. And "Thank You Jack White (For the Fiber-Optic Jesus That You Gave Me)"? It's every bit the name-dropping self-indulgent toss-off that the title indicates.

Wow. Not only do I not like The Flaming Lips, I'm realizing now that they piss me off. That is odd.

"Fight Test"