Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Mekons - Fear and Whiskey

'Chivalry' (by the Mekons)

"I was out late the other night

Fear and whiskey kept me going

I swore somebody held me tight

But there's just no way of knowing

I saw your face in a crowded bar

"Excuse me please!"

At least I thought it was you

Now I just don't know where you are

My suit was smart when I put it on last week

All I could remember as I walked down the street

Was the rain and tears on your face

Oh gee, I guess I'm just a disgrace"

[Post composed at 6am]

Here's to absent friends, fallen heroes, and all the great pop songs that never were (hits that is).

The Mekons - Fear and Whiskey (1985) ; (UK post-punk,, pyschedelic rock, miner's socialism, slightly reminiscent of the Clash's Sandinista!). Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Husker Du - Metal Circus

For some time now, I have been intending to post the Leatherface/Hot Water Music split, an almost perfect expression of gruff, emotive post-hardcore. But, I realized, there are some things that have to come in a certain order, and one of those things is the sonic arc of thoughtful, emotionally affecting punk music. Put simply, you've got to mention the 'Du.

Metal Circus is in many ways a prelude to the band's iconic Zen Arcade. It is a kind of transitory EP before the largesse of Husker Du's concept double-album, but suffers no weakness from that fact. Rather, it embodies the creative lunge from hardcore to what, musically, lies beyond. Metal Circus is a story of two halves, and as the title suggests, is firm and well-rounded. To extend the comparison a little further, the contrast between Metal Circus's grey artwork and Zen Arcades's lurid pastels is emblematic not of a preceding barrenness, but of a preparatory study in relief. Metal Circus is a tonal introduction to Husker Du's artistic richness.

Musically, the EP begins with typically relentless and blistering hardcore. From 'Real World' to 'Lifeline' the let-up is only relative, a visceral slice of early 80s SST hardcore punk. Yet the creativity and variation is apparent: the mature, reflective politics of 'Real World'; the proto-Lifetime, post-Undertones affection of 'It's Not Funny Anymore'; and all with a nascent, unpolished covering of Husker Du's distinct melodic sound.

Slowing things down somewhat, on the second side is the song which defines the album, for better or for worse - 'Diane'. Basically, as far as anyone knows, the somewhat disturbing lyrics come from a real-life tragedy the band were personally connected to, or rather aware of, and their consequent black comedic/darkly sarcastic expression of it. Even if only musically, 'Diane' showcases the sheer brilliance of Husker Du - the whole record merely showcasing their excellence - in melody, emotion and sincerity. And yet it truly is a hardcore track, bathed in distortion, illustrating another dichotomy within the band; between the nostalgic, popular gentleness of 'Diane' and the following anarchic, masochistic destructiveness of 'Out on a Limb'; both songs, furthermore, lie underneath the impossible weight of as much emotion as any group, hardcore or not, have ever put into their music.

Finally, I might possibly say that this is the single best album I have posted up on this blog yet, at least from the purely aesthetic view of hardcore. When, next, I put up the aforementioned split, it will perhaps be a close second, but certainly it will be with the knowledge that the heartfelt words of Frankie Stubbs, Chuck Ragan et al. were merely building on what came before.

Husker Du - Metal Circus

apologies for the lack of umlauts...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Land Animal / Melt Yr Ears

I'll get around to the 'Coming Soon' list shortly (or, well, soon...) but first another mixtape post.


A new writer by the name of Land Animal has started up a blog devoted solely to mixtapes. LAB005 'One Step Ahead to the Time of Nothingness' has just been released there, featuring a selection of some of the best and less well-known Japanese bands of recent times. It is proof - as if we needed it - of the fact that every form of rock music that the Japanese touch turns to gold, as one blogger puts it. And what Japanese bands may lack in the clarity of their English translations (see: the name of the mixtape, the title of an Envy song) they more than make up for in the brutality of their guitar sounds (see: most Envy songs). As you can tell, I like Envy. But there are plenty more Japanese bands that you and I must discover in the near future.


This is a mixtape of my own, and a kind of sequel to 'Tickle Yr Ears'. As its name might suggest, it features some stranger and noisier sounds, as well as some of the more sonically inventive bands that I have had the pleasure to discover, either through blogs or my own knowledge of the (often far too bland) world of punk and hardcore. Anyway, here's a more prosaic description and a tracklist:

'Melt Yr Ears'

"This mixtape is meant to be a subversive statement on music, but is also a celebration of music (that is, pleasurable noise) in itself. Aside from all definitions and natures, part of it is heavy, and parts of it are beautifully lulling. Again, I find that the progression of songs works as much on the concept of contrast as on similarity. Regrettably, the sequence outlaid could not accomodate any Suicide (a severe omission for a work of this kind) but doubtless an intrepid soul somewhere, sometime, will make a mixtape containing 'Frankie Teardrop'. Finally, pay close attention to the instructions at the beginning of the first track."


1. The Black Keys - The Breaks

2. Buckets Full of Teeth - Dreams of Dead Bosses

3. McLusky - The All Encompassing Positive

4. The Clash - Lose This Skin

5. La Quiete - Sulla Diffrenza Fra Un Sorriso E Una Risata

6. Sugar - Tilted

7. Mohinder - Expiration

8. Slint - Rhoda


1. Lou Reed - Metal Machine Music III

2. Husker Du - Recurring Dreams

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fugazi - 13 Songs

Just a little drawing I did several years ago, back when I was young(er) & bored and listening to this album... which is fantastic by the way. Check it out here at Burning Down the Dreams of Forever; there's a great live video of 'Bulldog Front' as well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Clikatat Ikatowi - River of Souls

Of all the jazzy emo-hardcore albums that I have heard, Clikatat Ikatowi's River of Souls is the jazziest. Eight songs of riveting, experimental hardcore, replete with shifting rhythms and softly textured vocals, as well as that particular intensity of emotion which says, yes, this is a Gravity record.

Compared with their earlier album, Orchestrated and Conducted..., I would have to side with this record. The previous effort is just as worthy, and shares the same style, but River of Souls feels more crafted, more like the apex of an unsurprisingly short-lived band. Orchestrated has more, but shorter, songs while the River of Souls EP (as I have seen it described) restricts itself to seven fairly considerable pieces, with one untitled song at the end.

Clikitat Ikatowi fit quite well - naturally, since they contained a member of Heroin - into the 'San Diego' sound, perhaps in its more mature expression. That is to say, it incorporates the abrasive qualities of hardcore and emo, and expands them into a looser, even more 'jazzy' atmosphere. The term 'soundscape' springs to mind when listening to River of Souls - but this isn't post-rock, and it isn't even Slint either! When I first heard 'Affirmation' from Orchestrated, the first comparison I in fact thought of was 'Swing Kids played backwards through a washing machine'. River of Souls certainly never strays far from the musical viscera of that genre, and while my description may not make much physical or literal sense, it is the best I can do to describe Clikatat Ikatowi's swirling, dissolute style of hardcore.

To listen to this record is not just another exercise in abrasion and spastic dynamics, however, because what is so interesting is what the band do in and around the heavy parts. The drumming is the distinctive element here, the oblique propulsion for the very open sound of all their songs. Clikatat Ikatowi deconstructed hardcore - laid it all out together, not in the minimalist and coldly tense manner of Slint, but separated into a indefinable soup where all the elements mix and merge, without ever actually fitting together like they did before. Clikatat Ikatowi do for 90's hardcore what Patti Smith did for 70's rock - this I realized when the murmured wanderings of 'Pleiadian Dance' reminded me irressistibly of Horses. They dismantle it into pure jazz poetry, in which emotion cannot help but find its free expression.

Clikatat Ikatowi on eMusic

Also, blend77 over at Zen Face did a post a while back with both Clikatat albums. Just type their name into the search bar on his blog and you'll find it in the archives.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Bouncing Souls - How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It's that time of year again... the evenings are getting shorter. I'm a week back into my second year at college - studying History & Politics - and the headphones have been dusted off for the daily commute. Among the various things I've been listening to, then, as been this amazing album, my introduction to the 'Souls.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation is, simply put, the happiest album ever made. That may not be entirely accurate but that's how I felt when I first discovered this band, and it's pretty much still how I feel now.

The sound of the Bouncing Souls is difficult to describe. Bouncy, fast, loud punk-pop with songs about (what else?) love and life. Or more specifically, exuberant and glorious punk songs about growing up, moving on, feeling sad, cycling through the city streets or just listening to great music. Really, the Bouncing Souls are all that and more; they are so confidently and yet so generously themselves; they are a huge, immense presence in the world.

Summer Vacation, Anchors Aweigh and The Gold Record form a wonderful trilogy of modern punk-pop records (and here's to hoping that it becomes a quadrology!). The band themselves are long-established - in fact about as old as I am - but I think it is with How I Spent My Summer Vacation that they made the leap from goodness to greatness. The earlier records are quite enjoyable, but their later style both evens out and builds up their sound. Such is the skill, feeling and peerless sense of mundane beauty packed into some of the songs on this album - especially the closer 'Gone' - that every beat will move you. Pure emotion, or at least the stylistic expression thereof, is a crucial ingredient in their music, for all that it is standard guitar-based punk.

To put this particular record in context, it is necessary to sketch the development of the beating heart that is the Bouncing Souls. Before, their albums were short, sloppy slices of fun, full of jokes and silliness. Hopeless Romantic, which immediately preceded Summer Vacation, was in places wonderfully evocative, joyous and tender, yet overall its effect was somewhat diffused by the series of throwaway joke songs. Anchors Aweigh veered towards comparative 'seriousness', with broad Springsteenesque brushstrokes, and was overall a poignant album with, at times, an unusually overt political message. But How I Spent My Summer Vacation is, in its distinctiveness, the transition and the perfection of their style.

The Bouncing Souls are a rare kind of group; a combination of artistic creativity and soulful authenticity, but most of all, a true punk band.

put the needle on - How I Spent My Summer Vacation

(And if you want to know how I spent my summer vacation - at least, the part where I went on holiday, the rest being in fact this blog! - there are some pictures here)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The For Carnation - s/t

A couple of people have expressed interest in hearing this band, a post-Slint project of Brian McMahan, and I'm all for sharing with a purpose! Slint themselves are pretty well known by most people but the For Carnation seem to slip under the radar somewhat. Personally, I think this album rivals Spiderland itself for atmospherics, intensity and, of course, emotional potency.

Touch and Go have recently released the first two For Carnation EPs (Fight Songs and Marshmallows) together on CD under the name of Promised Works, so now is as good a time as any to promote the group. Blend over at Zen Face posted this album way back at the start of the year, but the link has lapsed so I'll take the liberty of doing this repost myself and putting in his excellent description of the band:

"The For Carnation's recipe is simple. Or more accurately, simplicity. With ex members of Slint, their modus operandi is to take the most basic principles of the formers sound and play them out over long dark expanses of time. The result is an extremely bleak and delicate framework of carefully placed notes and rhythms. Some songs drift by barely noticed like creeping shadows on the wall, others warp the air around you, building a slow and steady terror. The pulsating beacon of Being Held is near the point of utter devastation before a heavy beat brings it all together with menacing result. Nothing is in excess, and nothing is wasted. Even the vocals are bare and minimal, evoking a darkness not unlike the cover art. Despite the sparse use if instrumentation the songs slowly lurch into a deep and murky voodoo blues groove. The songs have a definite slow burn and almost a sexiness, like watching a flickering fire dance before your eyes. The playing and production are tops and richness and texture of the songs is very evident on repeated listens."

An inspired commenter also described this album as "like being inside the awful pulses of someone's neuroses". I don't think I would go as far as that, and I think a lot of the music is quite aesthetically pleasurable or even soothing, at least on a passing listen. Nevertheless, as with Slint, this is wonderfully and challengingly intense music, and you will quite likely be captivated by the unique, yet effortlessly smooth post-rock sound.

This time I have only uploaded the first three songs, for various reasons (among them being Touch and Go's rather touchy policy on music blogs), making up presumably the first side of the vinyl. From the standard bearer track and seductive opening of 'Emp. Man's Blues' to the gripping, claustrophobic mid-piece of 'Being Held', this should definitely be enough to get a good feel for this band.

The For Carnation - The For Carnation (Side A): divshare / mediafire

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Zen and the Art of Mix Tapes #008 - Tickle Yr Ears

I'm glad to contribute to the new series of mixtapes over at Zen Face. Here's my rather rushed description:

This is just a fairly representative selection of what I listen to really, mostly stuff I've been listening to for longer than I've been visiting this blog... just to show a bit of a back-story to how I got listening to these kinds of music. Hopefully there's a kind of a flow to the tape, (although a lot of it seems to me as a succession of songs arguing with each other) and a good mixture of familiar and unfamiliar.



1. Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop

2. Undertones - Teenage Kicks

3. My Bloody Valentine - You Made me Realise

4. The Radiators - Johnny Jukebox

5. Operation Ivy - Soundsystem

6. Rancid - Life Won't Wait

7. Fugazi - Turnover

8. Moss Icon - The Life

9. Swing Kids - 43 seconds


10. Sweep the Leg Johnny - The Blizzard of '99

11. Patti Smith - Ghost Dance

12. Radio Flyer - (312)

13. Hot Water Music - No Division

14. Leatherface - Gangparty

15. Lungfish - Non Dual Bliss

16. Green Day - Walking Contradiction