Sunday, February 28, 2010

Nirvana - Bleach (LP, 1989)

Like most people, I didn't discover this record until after Nevermind came out. But discover it I did, and listen to the shit out of it I did also. I lost my old cassette copy somewhere along the line, and I actually didn't have a proper copy of this album for a long while. I've since purchased a fairly early original pressing on clear pink vinyl, and I think it's pretty sweet. I would love to one day own one of the first pressings on white wax, but they're a little out of my price range at the moment. (For a sweet breakdown of this LP's release history, check this page out. Wikipedia's got it all wrong.)

The LP I have does not include either "Big Cheese" or "Downer." The original cassette copy I had included "Big Cheese" but did not have "Downer." The CD version had both. Not sure why I'm mentioning this, other than to point out that I was always bummed to not have "Downer" on my tape, because I loved that song. Still do. But I also understand how it doesn't really fit too well with the rest of the record. Moving on.

Bleach really threw me off when I first started listening to it, because it sounded nothing like Nevermind. After digging deeper into their other material (via dubs of collected tracks like "Spank Thru," "Aero Zeppelin," "Mexican Seafood" - this was before Incesticide was released), I realized that it was a more a case of Nevermind sounding nothing like the rest of the band's output. Not only was the production on the old stuff grittier (to say the least), Cobain's voice was gruffer, deeper, and even more mush-mouthed. So ingesting Bleach was a bit tougher than I thought it would be. Still, it wasn't too hard. Tracks like "Blew," "About a Girl," and "Love Buzz" were catchy as heck, and a song like "Negative Creep" is not tough to sell to a teenage boy.

But songs like "Paper Cuts" and "Sifting" noticeably lacked the hooky qualities I so loved about the band, instead opting for a sludgier approach. They took a little longer to sink in, but it was easy to give them repeated listenings. The sequencing on the album helped a lot, with the faster numbers crowded around the slower ones, making nice transitions.

Cuts like "Mr. Moustache" and "Swap Meet" were sort of swept under the rug after the release of Nevermind, but they're great songs. Sure, Cobain had definitely moved forward in his songwriting by that time, but it's a shame that some of these tracks don't get brought up other than in really detailed writings about the group. But, it is fair to consider this Nirvana's finding-their-sound album. They were young, the songs were famously cut in record time for a minuscule amount of money, and the lyrics fall a bit short of the ones Cobain would write a few years later.

Still, this record isn't great just because of what it portended. I've been listening to it a lot lately, and it still stands up quite well on its own. Would it be so widely recognized if it wasn't for the eventual success of the band? Of course not. But that's another thing I love about it. Mostly, I just love that it exists. When I heard that Nevermind was Nirvana's second record, I couldn't wait to get the first. I didn't listen to Bleach quite as much as I listened to Nevermind(I've never listened to anything as much as I've listened to that record), but I listened to it a lot. And I still think it's incredible.

(Side note: Sub Pop recently released a Deluxe Version of this album, and I have that too. I'm going to write it up as its own entry, so don't worry.)


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Nirvana Preface.

Here we go.

Few things to admit before we dive into the Nirvana catalog. To anyone who knows me, this won't be anything new, but I feel it warrants stating anyway. (Even though I'm pretty sure that only people who know me read this blog.) All right.

I don't hold a special place in my heart for much in life, aside from the usual: family, friends - basically, people and things (and by "things" I mean animals and my record collection, mostly) that I know personally. I'm not normally a sentimental guy. But I've found, over the years, that Nirvana is the one band that I actually feel protective of - the closest thing to a "sacred" musical group that I can imagine. I'd think I was crazy (and I probably am, a little), if I didn't know that so many people feel the exact same way. I think the general consensus on the feeling has dissipated a little as the years since Kurt Cobain's suicide have passed (and as people my age have grown older), but it's definitely still there.

I bought that new Guitar Hero game that all the Nirvana fans were up in arms about toward the end of last year, and I knew going in that Cobain was in the game, and I didn't think it would bother me. But it did. The same way that it bothered a lot of people. Meanwhile, Jimi Hendrix is in that same game (and given the same avatar abilities as Cobain) and no one cares. So what's the difference? It's more recent, sure. But it's also that Kurt Cobain was never supposed to end up in a video game. Or on shoes. Or in a Doc Martens ad. Or as a talking action figure.

This is already going off on a tangent, and that wasn't my intention, so I'm going to reel it in. The point I'm trying to make is this: I am still surprised at how upset I get when I read about these things. But it's simultaneously reassuring, because it reminds me how much the band's music meant to me as a teenager. It still means a lot to me today, but it's all based around my memories of that time, and how exciting it was to be one of the scruffy kids who felt like they were a part of something that was actually making a difference. Looking back, of course, it was all very wide-eyed and semi-naive, but it was supposed to be. I was a teenager, for chrissake.

But the things that I'll defend till the day I die, and the things that I don't think are naive at all, are the tenets and beliefs that were behind the music that Nirvana was making, and the fact that Cobain brought them up whenever and wherever he could. Whether or not he wanted to be famous is irrelevant. He was. And he used what little time he had as the "Spokesperson of a Generation" to promote gay rights, respect for women, and tolerance in general. And while I don't think it ultimately changed the world, it changed me. And I can honestly say that it made homophobia very uncool at my high school. And it made being pro-choice a "duh" decision.

I mean, Motley fucking Crue was topping the charts a few years before this, and Third Eye Blind was a few years later. I've always been glad I was born exactly when I was. There was nothing better than watching those hair metal bands get shit out the bottom of society, and nothing worse than watching bands like Bush try to pick up the pieces after Cobain was gone.

I could go on forever. You get what I'm trying to say. This music means a lot to me. I didn't cry when I found out that Kurt Cobain was dead, but it hit me pretty hard. And while I'm well aware that I'm on my way to becoming one of those "The music was better in my day" old dudes, I will make no apologies for that. Because it was.

So if I start making wild claims about Nirvans's music and their place in history, you should understand why.

Here's a clip of Nirvana playing "Breed" at the Portland Meadows in September of 1992. I was at the show, and it was the only time I saw them live.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema (CD, 2005)

I think I said that Electric Version is my favorite New Pornographers record, and I'll probably stand by that. But it's not by much. This one is great as well, though a little more smoothed-out, which drops it a notch for me towards the end.

Still, it's not till the last two tracks that this one starts to slip, so really, I shouldn't complain. And I won't. So, this record doesn't sound vastly different than their previous stuff, but there's a slight jump in the production quality that's noticeable, and that's not a bad thing. There's a lot going on with this group's songs, and it's great to be able to hear all of it.

The title track is possibly the best song on the album, and while I might say that they blew their load by putting it first, it stomps in so authoritatively that it shouldn't be anywhere else. And the songs that follow it, while maybe not quite as forceful, are nearly as good. "The Bones of an Idol" is mad pretty, and "Use It" is ridiculously catchy. "The Bleeding Heart Show" is the song of this record that, even if you don't realize it, you probably know. It's been used in a few prominent commercials - or at least one section of it has - and is, not surprisingly, ultra-catchy as well.

The whole damn thing is. I've been listening to this album for the past few days and I'm really starting to regret not buying their LP that came after this one. There's still time, people. I'm going to make it happen.

Also: I saw them on this tour and it was good.

Also: They have a new record coming out in a few months.

Also: If you need some new music to get into and don't feel like struggling through anything, I would recommend these guys. They'll suck you in quick.

"Use It"

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The New Pornographers - Electric Version (LP, 2003)

What a fine record this is.

I first got into The New Pornographers via this clip for "The Slow Descent into Alcoholism," from their first record, Mass Romantic. This was years ago. I used to have a dubbed copy of that album, but never took the time to buy a proper one. So that's why we're starting here, with their second one. Anyway, I loved that song, and I still do. They were another one of those bands that I kept reading about, and it sounded like it might be something up my alley. I was delighted to find out that it was.

This LP is my favorite record of theirs, though I'm ashamed to admit I never bought Challengers, their most recent one. Not sure why. I still see it in the record stores, and I just haven't picked it up yet. I go through phases with this band, and I guess I haven't been paying them a whole lot of mind in the recent past.

Still, Electric Version is always nice to come back to. It's hard to nail down the Pornographers' sound, but they've managed to craft a fairly distinct one. They've got multiple vocalists, a whole lot of folks in the band, and they make use of all of it. The first three cuts on this record are incredible, and really, so is the rest of it. "The Laws Have Changed" is one of the finer pop-rockers in recent memory. And that's really the deal with this whole album. It's just really catchy. So if you're in the mood for hooky melodies, this is a great place to go.

The band has a new record coming out soon. I feel a New Pornographers phase coming on. I'm going to embrace it.

"The Laws Have Changed"

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (CD, 1998)

After reading the praises of this album for almost a decade, I decided to pick it up a few years back. And when I say "praises," I mean rock critics declaring it one of the greatest albums of the last twenty years. So maybe I went into it with high expectations, or maybe I was too far removed from the time frame when it was originally released.

Either way, though I can see the appeal of this record, I guess I just don't get why so many folks are unbending in their desire to cup its balls. It's great lo-fi rock, and the songs are certainly solid. Why it has become one of the most heralded albums in the history of indie rock, I might never understand. Clearly it has affected some folks tremendously, but I've also come to the understanding that's it's quite divisive in its appeal. And while I certainly don't think it sucks, I don't find it good for much more than a casual listen every once in a while.

If someone wants to break down its genius for me, I'm all ears. Until then, I'm content with thinking that it's a fine record. And there's nothing wrong with that.

"Two-Headed Boy"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Naughty By Nature - IIcons (CD, 2002)

Kay Gee left, and they just kept going.

This is the self-congratulatory, look-how-many-friends-we-have album from Naughty By Nature, and it's a mess. I don't know how else to put it. Method Man and Bumpy Knuckles supply some swift guest spots (duh), but I can't say the same for Lil' Jon and Pink.

Yeah: Pink is on this album. Yikes.

Kay Gee's back in the group now, so hopefully they'll put some new shit out so this isn't their final go at it. Because it's not a good one to end on.


"Feels Good (Don't Worry Bout a Thing)"

Monday, February 22, 2010

Naughty By Nature - Nineteen Naughty Nine: Nature's Fury (CD, 1999)

I can't act like I'm crazy-familiar with this album, because it's the one Naughty album that I've probably spent the least amount of time with. I haven't listened to it in a while, but going back and revisiting it now, it's coming on pretty strong. The group sounds a little bit harder on this one, and though the beats are very late-90's, they could be worse.

By this point the group was giving in to the demands of rap at the time: there's feature spots from Big Pun, Mystikal, Krayzie Bone, Silkk the Shocker, and Master P. I guess no one could have known how much that would instantly date this thing, but it certainly does. And the beats, while hard-hitting, also sound pretty dated.

But, Treach is firing back on this one, and he single-handedly takes some songs that aren't especially memorable music-wise and lyrically wrecks shit all over them. Maybe not the comeback that he was hoping for, but it's not far from it. And Vin Rock, as usual, sounds mad enthused.

The radio song on this one is "Jamboree," which is easily my least favorite radio jam of theirs. But it was still a hit, so they accomplished their mission. And they left out the shout-out song on this one, which is a plus. But they were getting guest-spot happy, and that's always dangerous ground to tread on. It would come to a head on their next release.

"Dirt All By My Lonely"

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Naughty By Nature - Poverty's Paradise (CD, 1995)

Naughty might have gotten a little ahead of themselves with this one. There's too many skits (there's two intros, for cryin' out loud), beats that are frustratingly smoother than any of their stuff up to this point, and just a general feel that suggests they were stuck between radio friendliness and street credibility. It's really just one of those post-fame awkward albums.

That's not to say it's bad, because it's not. But I've just never been able to dive into it the way I've been able to with their first two albums. Treach sounds more deliberate (you can actually understand most of what he's saying...!) and, at the risk of tossing out a hip hop cliche, the group just doesn't sound as hungry. Tracks like "Holdin' Fort" and "Sunshine" sound a bit lazy, and though they work some decent grooves, I've always enjoyed Naughty By Nature more for their all-out freneticism than their mid-tempo soul-type jams.

Still, tracks like "Respect Due" and "Craziest" are pretty dope. But most of this thing is just so noticeably slowed down that I spend most of my time listening to it in a lull that I keep thinking the album's going to bust me out of, but it never really happens. "Feel Me Flow" is the radio single on this one, and they also include another seven-minute shout out at the end. Sadly, those are the only things that follow the Naughty formula on this one. Maybe they felt that they were growing up, or maybe they were trying to shift shit in a new direction. And I appreciate that. But there's just not enough of the old shit left over in this one for me.

"Clap Yo' Hands"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Naughty By Nature - 19 Naughty III (LP, 1993)

I cannot remember what possessed me to buy this cassette around the time it came out. I had not particularly been a fan of "O.P.P.," though I did like it - but I never bought the group's first record. I seriously think - and I have some weird memory of this - that I just thought the fact that Treach was holding a chainsaw on the cover of the album was so simultaneously badass/ridiculous/hilarious that I had to see what these dudes were up to. I've always been glad that I took the leap.

In 90's hip hop, there were some great songs that started off albums. You've got MC Ren's "11:55," House of Pain's "Salutations," Dr Dre's "The Chronic (Intro)," N.W.A's "Prelude"; I could go on. But I don't think any of them topped the title track from this LP.

And, of course, I can't find a full version of the song anywhere. That is fantastic. Anyway, trust me: it's awesome. And it's a tone-setter for what would easily be the group's best album. This time around, the radio single was "Hip Hop Hooray," and again, MTV played the shit out of it. And again, it's one of the weaker songs on the album. The other two spotty-ish tracks are "Written On Ya Kitten," Treach's pussy-wranglin' anthem, and the seven-minute shout-out number, "Sleepwalkin' II." Luckily, these are both at the end of the album, so they don't really get in the way. Other than those, this thing is a go-getter.

Tracks like "Daddy Was A Street Corner" and "Sleepin' On Jersey" are uptempo, frantic, and just incredibly awesome. The whole group apparently doubled their skills between their debut and this album, and it's clear they're not interested in dicking around. Kay Gee's beats are less repetitive, more complex, and are just generally more well-crafted. Vin Rock sounds fully comfortable on the mic, and his verses throughout (though I always wish there were more) are solid. But this is Treach's album. The guy is out of his head on this thing, and I'm not sure if he ever really got the recognition he deserved for his performance on this album. It's just nuts. "Ready for Dem," "Take It to Ya Face," "The Hood Comes First" - he slays 'em all. And when he teams up with Freddie Foxxx for "Hot Potato," it's fantastic.

So look past "Hip Hop Hooray" and see this thing for what it really is: one of the finest hip hop albums of the 90's. And the high point of the group.

"It's On"

Friday, February 19, 2010

Naughty By Nature - Naughty By Nature (LP, 1991)

"O.P.P." got played to death by MTV in the summer/fall of 1991, and with good reason: it was a great single. And as annoying as the omnipresence of the video was (especially the "Dave - drop a load on 'em" part), you had to admit: dude could rap. "Dude," we would later find out, was Treach, the cornrowed leader of this Illtown (East Orange in Jersey - act like you know) trio.

I go back and forth with what I think about Treach, but it never has much to do with his abilities as a rapper. The guy's good on the mic. And, though he didn't get a chance to show it on "O.P.P.," so is his partner, Vin Rock. They make for an interesting pairing, but work well playing off each other. Come to think of it, Naughty By Nature used the Soul Assassins formula, didn't they? Treach was the main rapper, Vin was the secondary rapper, and Kay Gee was the man behind the wheels of steel - and the beats.

Naughty By Nature also knew exactly what they were doing. Each of their albums, starting with this one, contains a radio-ready single that strives to be anthemic and is definitely softer than the rest of the record. The goal was big-time MTV play and lots of record sales, and it worked. It's a good move - ask Eminem.

So, other than the playa rhymes of "O.P.P.," the saptastic horn-jammery of "Ghetto Bastard," and the relatively smoothed-out flow of "Rhyme'll Shine On," this album is hard as steel. Tracks like "Yoke the Joker," "Guard Your Grill," and "Every Day All Day" flex hard, and they're dope. But shit really gets going on two of the best cuts on the record, and the ones where Treach really lets loose: "Let the Ho's Go" and "Pin the Tail on the Donkey." Both are upbeat, both are just a little bit gritty, and both feature Treach just wrecking shit. I like it.

I actually didn't buy this album until after I bought the one after this, so this has always sounded like their up-and-comer to me. The recording quality is a little dicey, and the beats are rough. But the raps more than make up for it. And this album will make you miss the days of the hip hop album with twelve five-minute songs. This this is bulky. And that's a great thing.

"Ghetto Bastard"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nas - Illmatic (CD, 1994)

I missed the boat on this one the first time around, and really didn't even hear it until a few years ago. By that time, I had heard so much about it that I didn't even feel I could form a logical opinion about it. People have had their lips on the nuts of this album - really locked on there - for so long, that there is no perspective anymore.


That's all you get to say about it, or risk getting shouted down by the same people who argue about what the best Jay-Z album is. Those people are dime-a-dozen claptrap hounds who listen to Lil Wayne, and they are part of the problem. Don't be part of the problem.

Of course, that isn't to say that Nas is in the same league (as far as I'm concerned) as those go-to, knee-jerk artists who everybody defers to out of fear of reprisal. (I mean, seriously. Lil Wayne is the best rapper alive? Then we're in big fucking trouble, people.) Well, let me rephrase that. He is in that same league, because he will always get the finger pointed in his direction when the pointless "best lyricist" argument comes up. But, I'd argue - and this is where the "as far as I'm concerned" part comes in - that he's got a better head on his shoulders than most of the other rappers he gets lumped in with. I'm not a huge fan, but I dig some of his music. I think mostly I dig this album. I tried some of the other shit and it didn't sit as well with me.

Anyway. I thought Nas's verse on "Verbal Intercourse" on Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... was solid. So I thought I'd check this album out. And you know what? It's really good. And isn't that enough? One of the greatest hip hop albums of all time? Depends on how long your list is. The fact that this thing is consistently ranked in the top five in lists like that is a bit weird to me. And don't get me wrong: it is a fine album. Sure: a great album. It's also only got nine actual songs on it and is less than forty minutes long.

Maybe I just don't get it. Maybe I'll never get it. I dunno. But I'll hold onto this CD. Because I do like it. And because I feel like I should. That's a bad reason.

"The World Is Yours"

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: N.W.A - Efil4zaggin: The Only Home Video (1992)

I remember knowing that this was out on VHS when it was first released, but I either never saw it in a store or didn't want to shell out twenty bucks to see it. The DVD came around in 2003, and that's when I ended up with a copy.

Clocking in at less than an hour, this thing isn't a whole lot more than decently-edited amateur (seems Eazy shot a bunch of it) home video footage, with the bonus addition of three uncensored videos for "Appetite for Destruction," "Alwayz Into Somethin'," and "Approach to Danger." There's little bits of interviews, behind-the-scenes tour footage, and just all sorts of random shit. The little bits of concert footage end up being the best parts. N.W.A shows were rare, so it's pretty cool to see some actual film of the shit going down, even it's from a single camera that seems to be in a balcony.

The music videos are a weird bunch. "Appetite for Destruction" features a strangely edited version of the song, and though it contains the same verses as the album version, there's a start-and-stop thing that goes on with it that's distracting. But seeing the dudes dressed up as Capone-era gangsters is hilarious. Easily their highest-budget video.

"Alwayz Into Somethin'" is a little less polished, featuring the group kicking it, for the most part, on the street. There's a little bit of bullet hole trickery and some jail shit that doesn't really work. And watching rasta dude Admiral D spit his tongue-twisters is even more annoying than just listening to him.

The video for "Approach to Danger" seems to be unintentional, like they just cobbled together some footage of them dicking around and tried to fancily splice it. It's not terrible, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Like I said, the rest of the video is just shaky handheld footage of the group. The stuff in the studio is cool to see, but the relatively long-ass segments that take place at the group's pool and pajama parties (!) are really depressing for some reason. The wet t-shirt contests, the gaggles of drunk hangers-on, Dre fondling ass; it just doesn't work.

Neither does the Ice Cube-dissing skit they try to pull off, which lasts way too long. But if you're a hardcore N.W.A fan, this thing is worth seeing, if only to watch the scene where Dre and Eazy argue over the structure of a track they're working on. The look on Dre's face is priceless.

"Approach to Danger"/End Credits

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

N.W.A - Efil4zaggin (LP, 1991)

MC Ren.

MC fucking Ren.

Never has a dude, faced with stepping up and carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, delivered with such bravado and ferocity. Well, perhaps that's exaggerating a little bit. But you get the idea: MC Ren is borderline untouchable on this LP. He was great before this and he'd be great afterward, but for this one release, he was flawless. Couple that with astounding production from Dr. Dre (I beg you to listen to this album on headphones) and well-placed use of Eazy-E, and you've got yourself one of the greatest gangsta rap albums ever. I have listened to this album at least a thousand times, and I still love it. Yeah, I take years off from it here and there, but I keep coming back to it. And almost twenty years after its release, it still hits.

And it hit initially when it came out, but it fell out of favor pretty quick. 1991 was a weird time. I know I didn't buy this right when it came out, and a year earlier I was shitting my pants at the sight of 100 Miles and Runnin'. Maybe the change in the musical landscape - sorry to use that term - had something to do with it. Maybe everybody really just wanted the exact same shit that they heard on Straight Outta Compton. Maybe some of us grew up a little bit, and all of a sudden listening to songs like "One Less Bitch" around your Tori-Amos-fan girlfriend didn't seem like such a keen idea. I know I didn't play this tape when chicks were around.

I remember someone telling me that it came out, and that it sucked. I remember one of my friends having the tape in his Walkman on a road trip to a baseball game that summer and him telling me I needed to hear some of it, and I didn't really give a shit. I mean, come on, I had heard that it sucked. Then he let me listen to it, and I realized that it did not suck. Then I found a used cassette copy shortly after that and I listened to it in my car when no one was with me. I still have that cassette, and I was listening to it today. It is completely unidentifiable, because all the writing on the tape wore off years ago.

You know what else I remember? Girls thinking that "Automobile" was hilarious. Ugh.

This album is not about "Automobile." This album is about Dr. Dre having something to prove, and him proving the shit out of it. This record is so detailed, so finely tuned, and so calculated that it almost runs the danger of going against the "fuck everything" attitude that N.W.A stood for. The way Dre put a beat together was only part of it. It was also the way he way he positioned rappers (including himself) on the track, playing to their strengths.

He knew when and where to use Eazy-E, and made him way more potent than he ever would have been otherwise. (You ever listened to an Eazy-E solo record that Dre didn't have anything to do with? They're brutal.) And this didn't just mean putting Eazy last. It meant putting him first on "Findum, Fuckum, and Flee." It meant giving him short verses here and there (but not too much) so that you know that he's there, but when he finally busts shit wide open on "Appetite for Destruction," you feel it. It meant not putting him on a bunch of tracks at all.

He also divided the album into two distinct sections. The first half ("Prelude" - "Real Niggaz") is filled with predominantly "gangsta rap"-type songs. The second half ("To Kill A Hooker" - "The Dayz of Wayback") is, aside from the last two cuts, "bitches-and-hos"-type tracks. I thought this sort of held the material back a bit the first few times I heard this record, but I quickly realized it was perfect. The sequencing could have gone a different way, but the album flows really well the way it is. Dre knows how to put together and intro ("Prelude" is great, as far as hip hop intros go), knows how to start strong ("Real Niggaz Don't Die" is huge), and he knows to save the slow, retrospective song till the end ("The Dayz of Wayback"). And he knows to tuck the one awkward track ("Approach to Danger") away towards the end, where it fills a nice transitional slot.

I could go on. This album remains underrated, though I guess that depends on who you talk to. It seems that people either think it's genius or a letdown. I'm in the genius camp.

"Alwayz Into Somethin"

Also: if you haven't watched the N.W.A on Arsenio clip on YouTube, I highly suggest you do so.

Monday, February 15, 2010

N.W.A - 100 Miles and Runnin' (CD, 1990)

I was with my dad on a motorcycle ride to who-knows-where in the summer of 1990, when I begged him to let me stop at a Tower Records that we passed by. As I've said before, we never knew when new records were going to come out, so all you could do was check the racks. I had a list of artists I always looked for when I made it out to record stores, and N.W.A was on it. That day, my usually fruitless checking paid off. New music from Dre, Yella, Ren, Eazy, and... where the fuck was Cube?

When I got home and listened to the tape, a few things were made clear to me: 1.) Cube was indeed gone, and they were now referring to him as "Benedict Arnold." 2.) The title track was one of the greatest songs I had ever heard in my life. 3.) Their love for pussy had graduated to pornographic levels. (Not sure I ever wanted to actually hear Eazy-E getting his dick sucked.) 4.) This was a tide-the-fans-over-till-the-album-drops release, and it absolutely worked to both satisfy my cravings for new music and get me salivating for the full-length.

Even in this short format, it became clear that N.W.A was not looking to crank out Straight Outta Compton Part II. The production was much more dense, the rhymes were much more developed, and the entire feel of the EP was just bigger. It took me a few listens to adjust, but once I did, I was completely on board. The title track was a surge, the perfect cut to declare their intentions to keep on going without Cube. MC Ren was clearly making it his mission to take over as lyrical leader of the group, and all his appearances on this EP made a solid case for that.

"Just Don't Bite It" took the bitches-and-hos approach to an uncomfortable level, again showing that the group was pushing things forward. Musically, it's a great song, but the title track and "Sa Prize, Pt. 2" (which is actually "Fuck tha Police, Pt. 2") both run circles around it. "Sa Prize" is everything that's great about N.W.A, and Ren's verse on the song is untouchable. "Real Niggaz," which is the only cut here that would end up on the next LP, is another great one, with all three vocalists dropping fast-as-fuck lyrics and trading verses smoothly.

"Kamurshol" is basically an announcement for their upcoming full-length, and when they announced the title, it just sounded like some backward-masked garbling. This would later make sense, but for the year between this and their next release, it annoyed the shit out of me.

I always thought that I dug this EP a little more than some folks I played it for. I think some people really didn't want anything more than a continuation of the group's previous effort. This was far from it, and it was brilliant. Still is.

"100 Miles and Runnin'"

Sunday, February 14, 2010

N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton (LP, 1988)

I meant to come up with a copy of N.W.A. and the Posse before I got to the N's, but they crept up on me and I couldn't find an eBay auction to my liking. So, we're sadly skipping that one. But really, this is a fine place to start.

When people talk about this record blowing up without the aid of television or radio play, they're not kidding. Though the group would eventually get their "Express Yourself" video in minor rotation on MTV, prior to that, it was strictly word of mouth. In 1988, that was unheard of. But that's exactly how it happened. Somebody at my school (junior high, which was a perfect time for this to come out) had a copy, and pretty soon everybody needed to hear it. It wasn't that we hadn't heard dirty rap before - Too $hort and Ice-T had already made the rounds - but we hadn't heard dirty rap like this.

Parents always assumed that kids listened to N.W.A because it was swear-filled, violent, and generally raunchy. And while that was certainly part of it, I know none of us would have listened to it so damn much if the music itself wasn't so great to begin with. Too $hort swore a lot, and though I tried, I could never get into him. Same with Ice-T. This kid at my school would always recite T's track "Colors" to us (from the film of the same name), and it intrigued me until I heard the song. Then I didn't give a shit about it, because it wasn't particularly good. This kid, the kid who was singing it all the time, he would listen to any rap music that had swearing in it. And he had terrible taste in music. He just had negligent parents that would let him buy (and listen to freely) anything he wanted, so he was our sad source for 2 Live Crew dubs, which I liked about as much as Too $hort, maybe a little more. (I only listened to 2 Live Crew because they were hands-down the dirtiest group ever. Might still be. And that is the only thing they'll ever be famous for.)

The rest of our parents weren't so lazy or oblivious, so purchasing an actual copy of an N.W.A or Eazy-E cassette (Eazy's Eazy-Duz-It was released at roughly the same time) was a struggle. Holding onto it, hiding it, and finding a place to listen to it were the struggles waiting for you after you got your hands on a copy. Parents loved to take these tapes away, and plenty of us got busted with our copies of Straight Outta Compton. I never listened to my copy (purchased while I was shopping with my girlfriend's parents, who were clueless) without headphones on, but my mom found mine somehow anyway. Eight bucks down the drain. I promptly bought it again.

The stories of getting caught with your N.W.A tape made the rounds at school. While most weren't very interesting (mine certainly wasn't, but it was embarrassing), my best friend had the pleasure of his mom opening his bedroom door right as Ice Cube was revving shit up on the remix of "Dopeman." The first words she heard were "If your girl kneels down and sucks my dick." She just put her hand out, he ejected the tape and placed it in her palm, and it was gone. He bought it again, too.

While any stable-minded kid of 12 or 13 certainly knew that these guys weren't actually killing people, hearing them talk about the 'hood they grew up in - a place none of us had even heard of previous to this - was infatuating. But, like I said, I didn't really buy that they were hardened criminals. They were too young and too smart. Drug dealing? Maybe. Bitch-fucking? Sure. But cap-peeling? Nah. And it didn't matter. They knew how to talk the talk, and that was good enough for us. I would tell anyone who would listen that these guys were reporting from the streets, and we had a right to hear about reality. Because to me, from the way they told it, it sounded really fucking real.

But it wasn't just that. It was Cube's lyrics, his delivery, and the way that you somehow just knew he was the leader. It was MC Ren busting shit out on the solo creep on two "clean" songs ("If It Ain't Ruff" & "Quiet On tha Set"), trying to out-rhyme the rest of the group and arguably pulling it off. It was the way Dr. Dre knew just where to put Eazy-E (last) so he had the most impact. It's the way Dre fooled the world into thinking Eazy could rap. It's the way he used live drums and a funky-ass bass line to dial in one of the greatest posse cuts of all time, "Parental Discretion Iz Advised." It was the way Dre sequenced the album so you could listen to it all the way through, every single time. (Well, maybe you'd skip "Something 2 Dance 2," but that's at the end.)

I could ramble on about this album forever, but I don't really need to. Everyone knows all these songs; you know how great they are. I wonder if kids still listen to this record, or if it sounds completely ridiculous now? I can't even tell if it's aged well, because it's so far driven into my brain that I have no perspective on it. I could still recite almost all the lyrics to this album. Give me one day with it, I guarantee you I could re-learn "Quiet On tha Set."

I don't listen to this record much anymore, but it's nice to know it's there. I have the 2002 reissue on double-vinyl, and while it adds a few remixes with a few bonus bars of lyrics, they're not especially notable. I still need to get an original copy. It's on my list.

"Straight Outta Compton"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mykill Miers - The Second Coming (2xLP, 2001)

Boom. One year later, another hour of tracks. Didn't I say he was hard-working?

While the vibe on this album is a little different (note that he's now officially calling himself "The Hitchcock of Hip Hop), it's not too far gone from his debut. The beats are more fluid because he uses fewer producers, and while he had six tracks with guest spots on his first album, this one only has one. Clearly the dude was just cranking out songs at this point. Still, they don't sound rushed, so what the hey.

I dig this CD, though maybe not quite as much as his first one. It's darker, and while maybe that's a plus for some folks, it doesn't get to me as much. There's a bit more murder talk (even if a lot of it is metaphorical), and just a general grim vibe that tends to make it slump a little bit.

Still, there's a lot to like here. Miers, just like Freddie Foxxx, doesn't fuck around. The dude gets on a beat and just straight raps. And even back when this was released, that was becoming a lost art. I'll always love to hear a dude just get on the mic and blow through four verses in four minutes. And this album is great for that.

I need to check out some of his newer stuff...

"The Second Coming"

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mykill Miers - It's Been A Long Time Coming (CD, 2000)

After Freddie Foxxx released his Industry Shakedown LP in 2000, I made it a mission of mine to track down all of the guest spots he had done on other folks' albums. It led me to some weird shit (Black Gangster soundtrack, anyone?), but it also turned me on to some music I may have never heard.

Mykill Miers kind of falls into both of those categories. He's ostensibly a fairly standard battle rapper (at least in regards to his approach), but once you spend some time with his music, you realize he's smarter than a lot of MCs, and willing to work a lot harder. Not that that's weird, necessarily, but it makes him a rarity.

Anyway, Freddie Foxxx does a guest spot on this album, on the track "Wanna Be an MC?," and that's how I ended up hearing him for the first time. I'm pretty sure my brother bought this CD before I had it, but apparently I liked it enough to pick up my own copy. I actually have no idea when I got this, but I have it now, so that's the real point. The other point is that after hearing "Wanna Be an MC?," I wanted to hear more from this dude. And, amazingly, this album did not disappoint in the least. (I always expect to be let down; it makes it easier when it happens.)

Miers doesn't have a terribly distinct voice, and track names like "Doin' My Thang" and "Who Am I?" are strictly Hip Hop 101, but his lyrics easily make up for his nondescript voice and any pandering he pulls in the hooks. His flows are rock-solid, his words never get lazy, and he sounds intense on every track. My kind of hip hop record.

I hadn't listened to this album in years, but I rocked it hard last night and it stands up. A lot of the focus revolves around the title, with Miers talking about where he's been to get where he is. It makes for interesting subject matter, and the dude can make you feel it. That's really all I ask for.

"Wanna Be An MC?"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Murder City Devils - The Murder City Devils (LP, 1997)

I always forget that I still have this record.

The year was 1999 or 2000, and I was still in college in Portland. I was taking a film class with an English professor I had taken a few Comparative Lit classes from, a guy who was - and still is - one of the better teachers I ever had the pleasure of being schooled by. The film class was a night course, and it was, unless I'm completely spacing something here, the easiest class I ever took at the college level. We watched movies, took a few quizzes that were a complete joke, and as long as we showed up, we were guaranteed an A. This dude just wanted somebody to watch movies with him and then discuss them for two solid hours afterward. We were happy to. The class was small, and as our final approached, our teacher decided to scrap whatever test was on the syllabus, instead opting to have us over to his apartment for a cocktail party, where we would view some Spanish film with subtitles and discuss it. I just heard "party."

These were the sort of things you imagine when you think about college - you may even hear stories about such events - but you never think you'll actually get to participate in such a thing. A party at your teacher's place for your final? I couldn't wait to check out the guy's book collection and see how this professor - who was also a lawyer in his spare time and had a notorious reputation for banging his students since he and his ex-wife, who was also in the English dept. divorced - lived.

The get-together was in the early evening, maybe on a Friday, and we were instructed to bring our own beverages. I showed up at his high-rise apartment in the West Hills with a six-pack of some Deschutes beer, and during the course of the short evening, while watching the film, talking with my classmates, and probably inappropriately ogling his astounding book collection (it was like a mini-library in his apartment, and he lived at least ten floors up - it was surreal), I cashed out at least five of 'em. Probably the whole sixer. I was "buzzing hard," as the kids like to say, when I left his place. I remember the teacher asking me if I was OK to drive, and I said that I was. I probably wasn't, but I didn't have far to go. The rock show that I had a single ticket to was less than ten blocks away.

The Supersuckers were playing at the Crystal Ballroom that night, and I don't remember if I couldn't find anyone to go with me, or if I didn't bother to try, or what the deal was. But I have rarely attended shows by myself, and I remember thinking it was a dicey idea. But I had no intentions of missing one of my favorite bands. And by that time, the amount of beer in my stomach not only convinced me that it didn't matter if I rolled solo, but that it might actually be a badass thing to do. Nothing was going to stop me from rocking! Or something sad like that.

The lineup for the show was Zeke, Supersuckers, and Murder City Devils, in that order. I had, of course, seen the Supersuckers many times, but I had never seen either of the other bands. I always heard people say that Zeke were awesome, but as I rolled in and they started up, I was not impressed. (They continue to suck.) Since I wasn't digging the music and I had no one to talk to, I hit the 21-and-over section and proceeded to get stupid, curing my boredom by chugging vodka and cranberry juice. By the time the Supersuckers came out, I was a mess. I stumbled out to the main floor, ran into this guy who worked in the meat department of the grocery store I worked at in Eugene (who I didn't really know that well), and spent the next half hour frantically mouthing the words to the Supersuckers songs, while taking breaks to yell in his ear and sloppily hit on his sister.

The rest of the evening is hazy, but I know that I stuck around for the Murder City Devils. You know how you can get so drunk that you can't even hear right? That was me. Swaying, toggling in and out of being blacked out, and thinking to myself that this band, despite the fact that I was seeing triple and could barely make out any discernible riffs, was blowing my fucking mind. I have flashes in my mind of this dude with glasses just screaming at the top of his lungs, and to this day, that's all I can really remember. And it was all I could really remember the next day, but I was still stuck with the idea that the band had just come in and slayed the entire place with their full-force rock assault. And maybe they did. And maybe everybody there was as loaded as I was. I really have barely any idea what happened that night after the Supersuckers left the stage. But I kept holding onto this idea that I liked it.

It wasn't until a few weeks later when I purchased this record that I realized - or maybe remembered - that I don't like this band at all. It's punk rock for hapless drunks, and that sort of shit just bores me to death. But that night, that hellish night, it might have made perfect sense to me.

And apparently I keep this record as some frightening reminder of how depressing that was.

"Dance Hall Music"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Nerdcore Rising (2008)

I had this flick sitting in my Netflix queue for months, and for some reason I kept putting off letting it slide into the top spot. I fiddle with my Netflix roster way too much.

Anyway, I finally watched it last week, and though it wasn't exactly what I expected, it was a fun little documentary. For some reason, I thought it would be more of a straightforward documentary about Nerdcore culture - and there was some of that - but it's mostly based around MC Frontalot's first tour, which took place a few years back. The cameras follow the Nerdcore hero and his small band of cohorts from town to town, focusing on every aspect of the tour: the shows, the hotels, the downtime. Mötley Crüe these guys ain't, so it's really interesting to see what some nerds without any of the typical vices spend their time doing on the road. (Spoiler: at one point, Frontalot visits a chiropractor. Wild!)

The guys are all (after they get comfortable on camera) interesting fellows, and though the tour is very short, the footage is paced well and makes for a solid narrative. There's not a whole lot of musical genres that haven't been ruined yet (and even Frontalot is way more well known than he was when this was made), so it's cool to see some guys on the forefront of a previously unexplored movement. Given, it's a small one, but Frontalot's fans are hardcore, and the short interviews with them outside the shows are hilariously nerdtastic.

As with most indie documentaries, I felt like this thing could have been a good half hour longer, and the deleted scenes don't add a whole lot more. But if this is the only Nerdcore doc going (it is, isn't it?), it does its job. But I would still like to see a more thorough exploration of the genre as a whole. Still, definitely worth a Netflix. Queue that shit.

Oh, and Prince Paul is in it, and as usual, he is awesome.

Nerdcore Rising Trailer

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I Get A New Record Shelf.

There comes a time in every record collector's life when he outgrows his allotted shelf space. This is both exciting and troubling, or at least it is for me. My wife and I just moved into a new house, and I had everything situated according to my then-current two-shelf system. But as you can see from the top photo, shit was starting to get a little cramped in my shelving, especially in the three compartments on the top left, the two on the bottom, and the one second from the bottom on the right.

Here's how I had my records organized:
Those dates aren't completely accurate, but they're pretty close.

So, I made the executive decision, as I was having trouble getting one of my new records to fit on the shelf after returning from the record show a few weeks back, that is was time to get myself some new space. Luckily, I determined that I had enough room on the right of the two shelves to fit another one, though it would render the wall outlet (which you can barely see in the picture) obscured and unusable. This is the price you pay.

So. These record shelves rule, and I will accept no substitute. They are slightly expensive, but worth every penny. If the guy who makes these things dies, I'm fucked. I should probably buy one more just to be safe. But I won't. Since you are my friends, I will tell you where to get them, while also mentioning that they come in various sizes, this one being the tallest. You can also buy individual cubes and ones with two or three (and maybe four?) compartments. The only place to get them - or the only place I've ever seen them - is at Periodicals Paradise at 1928 NE 42nd, just north of Sandy.

I headed there on Superbowl Sunday, which is officially the best day of the year to go shopping because the shops are dead, and got the last one of the five-shelvers. They come "natural" when you get them (just raw wood), which is how I kept mine for a long time, but my wife insisted I stain them when we bought a house, so stain them I did. And stain this new one I had to, to make sure it matched. After lodging it in the trunk of my car and getting it home without incident, I propped it up in the garage, slapped on a coat of stain or varnish or whatever that shit is, and left it out there for a few hours with two fans pointed at it. I was antsy. Some hours later I hit the outside with another coat, let the fans do their work, and by late that night, I dragged the thing inside.

I keep my shelves propped up on cinder blocks, because I am paranoid about flooding, spilled drinks, or someone kicking my records. And it raises up the bottom shelf a little, which makes it easier to get to. Here's how the new shelf looked when I put it in place:

Sharp. I have to attach the shelves to the wall with brackets, both to make sure they don't tip over, and to assure that they're somewhat flush with the wall so they don't look wonky. You can see those white bars on top of the two shelves on the left; those are the brackets. Here's a different angle of the new one I put in:

Boom. The new shelf was stained, up, and securely fastened to the wall. Now for the fun part: reorganizing. After I worked my magic, here's what I came up with:

I like what I've done, and there's plenty of room for expansion. And I think it makes my collection look bigger, which is a plus. Big day for me.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mudhoney - A Fulminant Live Act in Early Summer 1992 (CD, 1992)

To think, I almost forgot about this, one of my oldest and most prized bootlegs!

Back in the mid-90's, you couldn't get bootlegs from anywhere other than tapes that people kept re-taping for each other, or, if you were lucky, CDs from stores that would dare to sell them. In Salem, we had a few stores that dared to sell them. And while you would think the shoddy quality coupled with the extreme illegalness of these albums would equal a lower price point, it was instead quite the opposite. CDs like this one, with nothing more than a one-panel insert and a hastily printed disc (this one says, simply, "MUD HONEY") cost somewhere in the range of thirty bucks. That amount of dough, to teenage me almost twenty years ago, made the purchase of one of these things a special occasion.

If I recall correctly, my brother got this for me as a gift for my birthday, and I could not have been more stoked. I had been eying it for months, but never had the money to lay down. I was incredibly happy to have it. My copy still has the typewritten (yeah, on an actual typewriter) track listing insert that I made for it, because this thing was so bare-bones that they couldn't even get that together. In fact, in three different cases, one track on the CD actually contains two separate songs. This was annoying if, say, you wanted to hear "Dead Love" - you had to fast-forward through "No End In Sight" to get to it. (Though I don't know why you'd ever ff through that song.)

This is a great live set, capturing Mudhoney at their arguable peak. They run through a lot of shit from Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, a nice mix of early stuff, and the aforementioned "No End in Sight" is a slightly different version than the one that ended up on Piece of Cake later that year. They also do "Make It Now" and "Living Wreck" from that forthcoming album, so those must have been treats for the audience.

The show wraps up with a scorching version of "In 'N' Out of Grace," after which they come out and do three covers for the encore: "You Stupid Asshole," "Fix Me," and "Hate the Police." Nice move.

The recording is shit, but I couldn't have cared less. And I'm still damn glad I have this thing. It's a keeper.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mudhoney - The Lucky Ones (LP, 2008)

Wanna hear about what an idiot I am?

Mudhoney played a show in Portland last night and I didn't find out about it until today. I am unstoked. I heard it sold out really quick (it was in a tiny venue - double argh!), so maybe I wouldn't have been able to get in anyway, but it would have been the best topper to this Mudhoney spree we've been on! I am old, out of the loop, and really feeling like a dunce. I'm actually sort of embarrassed by how legitimately upset I am by this. I've been on a huge Mudhoney kick lately and I would have loved to have seen them.

Anyway. On with the entry at hand.

Like a lot of great bands who have stayed together longer than anyone expected, Mudhoney experimented with some shit, made some great albums while trying that new shit, and then returned to their bread and butter. This is the revival of raw-rock Mudhoney, a horn-less album that was recorded in a scant four days but doesn't sound rushed or compromised at all.

It's really great to hear the band get back to the guitars-and-a-little-bit-of-organ approach, and there's some really great songs on here. The title track is the only one of any notable length (4:52), and it features a sweet mini-drum-solo by Dan Peters, which will make you wonder why they never left room for that before. The reason I mention the length is to point out that the long jams are gone, with the band back to the ol' three-minute rock song.

"And the Shimmering Light" is a great example of this, a fairly mellow little ditty that features the band flirting with pop, but kind of in the way they did on "Good Enough" in 1991. It's great. The rest of the record mostly sticks to the rock, and like I said, it's damn nice to hear the band do the no-frills thing. The songs are solid, and they'll grow on you. The LP comes with a bonus 7" that includes two cover songs, one by Pere Ubu ("Street Waves") and one by The Troggs ("Gonna Make You Mine"). Not often that Mudhoney does covers, so that's cool to have.

I'm pretty excited about this record right now, mostly because it's their newest one. I sometimes whine about all the bands I love breaking up, but I've never been able to add Mudhoney to that list, and that's a great thing. Now I just need to keep better track of their touring schedule.

"The Lucky Ones"

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mudhoney - Under a Billion Suns (LP, 2006)

Are you ready for Mudhoney to get political?

If you had told me in 1992 that Mudhoney would someday put out an album filled with horns and anti-war sentiments, I would have guffawed and gone back to listening to their version of "Hate the Police" for the fifth time consecutively. But things change, and honestly, I appreciate the fact that Mudhoney changed. (Though I probably would have been equally happy if they would have just remade their debut over and over.)

Under a Billion Suns is actually a lot like their previous LP, Since We Became Translucent. Both begin and end with monster songs, both have a few tracks in the middle that aren't too notable, and like I mentioned previously, they both have horns. However, Under a Billion Suns tends to rock a little bit more, and that's never a bad thing.

After the wide-open weirdness of "Where Is the Future," the opening track that finds Mark Arm wondering why we don't have flying cars yet (?), the band gets a good one-two punch together with "It Is Us" and "I Saw the Light," two tracks with thick layers of guitars and nice build-ups. "It Is Us" is the first song where you get the vibe that Arm is getting worked up about the state of national affairs, talking about bombs and whatnot. This continues in a later track, "Hard-On for War," and possibly in a few others, depending how you want to look at them.

Admittedly, it's weird to hear Mark Arm singing about anything serious, but it does make a nice switch from the vagueness of most of the other lyrics on the album. And while Mudhoney albums used to be as much about the lyrics as they were about the music, the longer the band went on, the more it shifted towards the music side. This record features some of their more complicated tunes (the horns certainly add another element), and they still seem eager to experiment, which is great.

This record ends strong, with "On the Move" and "Blindspots" (the third-to-last and last songs, respectively) being two of the best songs on the album. Mudhoney were full-on veterans at this point, and though the songs aren't quite as strong as they may have been 15 years previous, they're smarter and more confident. And that makes it really fun to listen to.

"I Saw the Light"

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mudhoney - Since We've Become Translucent (LP, 2002)

Mudhoney took four years off, got themselves a new bass player, went back to Sub Pop, and released a record that is probably pretty divisive among their hardcore fans. I don't know about anyone else, but I never really expected the band to incorporate horns into their music.

But incorporate they did, and this album ends up being probably the most "mainstream" (it's a relative term here) album the band has made. That is, after you get past the eight-and-a-half minute opener, "Baby, Can You Dig the Light," which features the band going psych-rock a little bit. Not the greatest song they've ever done, but I respect the shit out of putting it first. A gutsy move, to say the least.

I haven't had this record for very long, so I fear that I'm not going to have a ton to say about it. But I've been listening to it fairly steadily for the last few days, and it's growing on me quick. The sound is definitely different, but it's not that different, and if the band was attempting to write catchier tunes (for whatever reason), they pulled it off. "The Straight Life" and "Where the Flavor Is" are both crazy infectious and don't fuck around at all. They're solid little three-minute songs that get the job done.

"In the Winner's Circle" and "Our Time Is Now" both bring the blues vibe back a little, which works, and "Dyin' for It" is a propulsive rocker that follows them nicely. "Inside Job" is another steady track, and it features some gritty guitar work that is tough to deny. "Take It Like a Man" threatens to bring the album to a standstill (it is probably my least favorite Mudhoney song ever), but thankfully it's only two and a half minutes long.

The album is capped off by two long ones: "Crooked and Wide" and "Sonic Infusion." Both sound remarkably like their titles. The latter clocks in at almost eight minutes, making it a nice bookend, along with the opener. Apparently the band was getting into the long jams. It's a weird move, but they pull it off. The song closes things out with chaos, which is a good way to do it.

Like I said, I'm still settling into this one. But it feels pretty damn good so far. And the clear vinyl (you can't title the album that and not press it on translucent wax) is super schweet.

"The Straight Life"

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mudhoney - Tomorrow Hit Today (LP, 1998)

This record marks the end of an era for Mudhoney. Not only is it their last album on a major label, it's also their last record with bassist and founding member Matt Lukin, who, as everyone knows, was the supreme stallion of the band. In fact, I feel terrible for not mentioning him until now. Mudhoney is still going, and they're still great, but they just aren't the same band without Lukin.

But he went out with a bang. This album remains one of Mudhoney's lost gems, a record that has gotten nothing but better with age. I bought this right when it came out, and I'm glad I did. (Not only for the music. The vinyl seems tough to find these days.) This was one of the first records I picked up when I moved to Portland from Eugene, and it was the sort of dark, slightly dreary rock I needed. But it took me a while to come to that conclusion. This record's a creeper. At first, it seems like the band's showing some restraint. The songs aren't as immediately forceful as they had been up to this point. But once you settle in, you realize that the group was experimenting with some new sounds. They might have even been - gasp! - maturing.

But not too much. Tracks like "I Have to Laugh," "Oblivion," and "Poisoned Water" are classic Mudhoney. But "A Thousand Forms of Mind," the album's opener, is in retrospect a real harbinger of where the band was headed. The track's thick, chugging guitar line, accompanied intermittently by organ, builds nicely, eventually breaking into a bridge unlike anything they've ever done before. It's pretty nuts to hear Mark Arm half-rapping, but it absolutely works.

"Try to Be Kind" is structurally a pretty standard Mudhoney track, but the guitars twang a lot more than usual, and the song is loose but groove-y. The album gets more bluesy as it progresses, and it works nicely to let you settle into the sound. The bluesier stuff is also coupled with a more garage-type sound than the band ever really attempted before, which was also one of the things that threw me off initially. (It's amazing how much the effects they use on their guitars can completely change the vibe of a song.)

The album ends with the five-minute-plus epic "Beneath the Valley of the Underdog," and this track in particular is a sign of the band getting into some new shit. It's long, slow, and more sprawling than a lot of their other songs. It took me a while to embrace this one, but I've done it. Same with this whole record. At the time, I wasn't really ready for a Mudhoney "transition" record, but now it makes perfect sense. I've been listening to this record a lot this week, and I'm loving it all over again.

"Poisoned Water" and a few others.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mudhoney - My Brother the Cow (LP, 1995)

Ah, the angry Mudhoney album.

When Mark Arm says he's at the end of his rope in the opener, "Judgement, Rage, Retribution, and Thyme," he sounds pretty believable. By the end of the first verse of "Generation Spokesmodel," you can tell he means it. "Into Yer Shtik," with its "Why don't you blow your brains out?" appeal, seals the deal. This is Mudhoney in the aftermath of Seattle, standing on the ashes of grunge, and trying to navigate the post-Cobain musical world. And they're not stoked about it. And it's great.

1995 was an awkward year for rock music, with bands like Mudhoney still signed to major labels (this record was released on Reprise), but with interest among the public waning. I have to admit: I didn't even hear this record until a few years after its release. It still grips me as the Mudhoney post-war album, the weird one that finds them trying to pick up the pieces of what the fuck happened to them in the early part of the decade. Again, you can't blame them for being pissed. And this record, in parts, is a venting of all those frustrations. Which shouldn't overshadow the fact that it's filled with some of the band's most unique - and strangest - songs.

"In My Finest Suit" is dark and dreary, a song that almost sounds like it could have been on one of their first records. It leads right into "F.D.K. (Fearless Doctor Killers)," which, unless I'm missing the point, is one of the most socially aware songs the band's ever done. "Orange Ball-Peen Hammer" is a mashed mix of slide guitars and blues-rock, and ends up being a damn cool song.

But the real jam here might be "Execution Style," one of the more "Classic Mudhoney"-sounding songs. It's angry, of course, and also a bit sloppy. And mixed in with all the other styles they tackle on this record, it makes even more sense somehow.

"1995" is the big closer here, and the way it gets dragged out at the end is fantastic. It's a fine ending to a fine album, and another one that remains sorely underrated. Never has the band been so bitter and so willing to focus that ire. I'll take it.

"Generation Spokesmodel"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mudhoney - Five Dollar Bob's Mock Cooter Stew (LP, 1993)

Released about a year after Piece of Cake, this EP collects a group of seven disparate tracks that actually make for a nice little album. I'm just now realizing that this whole thing has been tacked onto the deluxe version of Piece of Cake, which I have yet to purchase and probably won't. So there you go.

If nothing else, this album features Mudhoney's worst (or best?) album title and cover art, taking a left-field approach that they wouldn't really ever come close to again. I don't really care for it, but that's just my opinion.

The songs here, like I said, are a mixed bag. "No Song III" is the most single-ready of the group, with the band using guitar tones that almost echo the ones used on their previous record, but the whole thing sounds popped-up a bit. I think it's a pretty cool track. "In the Blood" sounds like a nice mix of old and new Mudhoney, with the darkness of their oft-used organ making a sweet appearance. "Between Me & You Kid" would have made a nice partner to "Blinding Sun," though it's much more twangy than anything the band had done up to this point.

"Six Two One" sounds like a leftover from Piece of Cake, and it's a solid track. "Make It Now Again" is a rerecording of "Make It Now" from their previous effort, and I'd like to know the story behind why the redid it. Anyone?

So, those tracks were all recorded in one burst, and the final two tracks are pulled from a 1992 recording session, apparently, and you can tell. They sound different, both in the recording and the feel of the tracks. You can sort of see why they weren't deemed album-ready, but they're good songs nonetheless.

I hadn't heard this thing in a long time, and I recently picked up a used copy on CD. I'm happy to have it.

"No Song III"

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mudhoney - Piece of Cake (CD, 1992)

This was to be Mudhoney's big push, their major label debut that would catapult them to grunge superstardom. The time was right, the band was ready, and then... It didn't happen. Which just goes back to what I was saying in one of my earlier posts. I don't think Mudhoney ever had a chance of making it big.

This album, while arguably not quite as good as Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, is a great record. A fantastic record. Possibly my favorite Mudhoney record. And I think it still remains sorely underrated. I was just re-reading the Rolling Stone review written around the time the record came out, and if this dude's review was any indication of how the masses saw Mudhoney, they were fucked. The reviewer missed the point completely, and seemed to somehow scold the band for - gasp! - becoming ambitious.

And maybe that's why this album didn't resonate with people as much as it should have. It's not EGBDF part 2. It's Mudhoney, for the first time, expanding their sound and taking advantage of (what I assume to be) higher-quality studios. Or at least more time in the studio. These songs, while not outwardly complex, are really a step forward for the band, both musically and lyrically. Not that they lost their sense of humor - it's just more subtle, for the most part. (The exceptions being the interludes with the fart sounds.)

I bought this album right when it came out, and I was singing its praises to anyone who would listen. And I feel like people liked it, but maybe they were still looking to Mudhoney for "Touch Me I'm Sick"-type songs, and tracks like "Blinding Sun" and "Make it Now," which were more rooted in the four-minute rock song sort of form, just didn't give the immediate satisfaction they were looking for. (And whoever thought Mark Arm would use the word "countenance" in a Mudhoney song?) I actually liked the fact that this record - or at least parts of it - didn't grab me immediately. They grew on me, and because of that, this album is one I've listened to hundreds of times and never grown tired of.

And I don't mean to put too much emphasis on my "It's a whole new Mudhoney!" point. The band still cranked out songs wouldn't have been out of place on their previous record. "Suck You Dry," "Living Wreck," "Ritzville," and "No End in Sight" are all fast, ragged, and completely awesome.

The band must have been slightly pissed when this thing didn't connect the way they thought it would. Or maybe they didn't give a shit. That's what I'd like to think.

Another sweet thing about this release: The alternate cassette cover.

I really need to get this on vinyl...

"Blinding Sun"