Gas - Compressed Gas 7" (2009)

Gas is a Christchurch trio whose members have fronted/rocked some of that city's more key outer fringe bands (McGoohans, Scorched Earth Policy & The Shallows to name but three). Recorded between 1996 to 1998, the six tracks that make up 'Compressed Gas' are a heady mix of unspecified Nuggets era Garage/Psych meets the miasmic, Post Industrial streetwaves of Hearthan era Pere Ubu.

Grifters - Crappin' You Negative (1994)

Among the best albums to come out of the '90s lo-fi D.I.Y. scene, Crappin' You Negative ebbs and flows on oceans of spliced and diced vocal melodies and noisy guitar effects. The band's songs are confessional and psychedelic in equal measure, though the clicks of a four-track recorder still cue changes from verse to chorus to bridge. But songs like "Maps of the Sun," "Holmes," "Bronze Cast," and "Skin Man Palace" are dense with riffs that make sense in a familiar, classic rock sort of way, even if the latter opens with the robust confession, "I am the mambo king!" The album's downer ballads, "Felt-Tipped Over" and "Junkie Blood," are ready-made for radio play on a much darker, stranger planet. Many of these songs first appeared as singles on tiny independent labels; perhaps that's why it's surprising how well this album holds together. It's as if the band translated its recording technique to sequencing, too. The resulting album is a stellar example of a band at its creative peak.

Guided By Voices - Static Airplane Jive 7" (1993)

For a man who's no doubt written at least three new songs in the time it will take you to read this review of six old ones, Bob Pollard is nevertheless best enjoyed in small doses -- though clocking in at well under ten minutes, Static Airplane Jive still measures favorably against anything in the Guided by Voices catalog, eliminating the half-baked ideas and ill-considered experiments that overflow GBV full-lengths to focus on Pollard at his most direct and accessible. At least half of the material ranks among Pollard's very finest efforts: the opening "Big School" is the first of his great anthems -- the kind of ridiculously infectious pop song that he writes better and more often than anyone else -- "Gelatin, Ice Cream, Plum" is the very definition of lo-fi aesthetics, and "Hey Aardvark" effortlessly encapsulates White Album-era Beatles in the span of about 30 seconds. Indeed, the brevity of Static Airplane Jive as a whole is shocking given both how much ground it covers and how truly memorable all the songs are -- there's not a hint of self-indulgence to be found.

Black Flag - Damaged (1981)

Perhaps the best album to emerge from the quagmire that was early-'80s California hardcore punk, the visceral, intensely physical presence of Damaged has yet to be equaled, although many bands have tried. Although Black Flag had been recording for three years prior to this release, the fact that Henry Rollins was now their lead singer made all the difference. His furious bellow and barely contained ferocity was the missing piece the band needed to become great. Also, guitarist/mastermind Greg Ginn wrote a slew of great songs for this record that, while suffused with the usual punk conceits (alienation, boredom, disenfranchisement), were capable of making one laugh out loud, especially the protoslacker satire "TV Party." Extremely controversial when it was released, Damaged endured the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism (some reacted as though this record alone would cause the fall of America's youth) to become and remain an important document of its time.

The Cheater Slicks - Erotic Woman 7" (2009)

The Cheater Slicks have been around for 20 years, have released 13 LP's and 10 or 12 singles and have been directly or indirectly responsible for some of the best things that have happened in underground rock and roll in the last two decades, maybe ever. This year, they released the fantastic, all improv, instrumental LP Bats In Dead Trees, a record that proves, again, these guys can do about anything and it will be great. This single is a return to the traditional Slicks form. The A Side is a hilarious Dana Hatch penned punker called Erotic Woman. The B-Side is Tom Shannon fronting the band on Can't You Hear (My Heartbeat) by obscure-o Garage band the Outcry. Both songs were recorded exclusively on mics and gear from the 50's and 60's at Columbus, OH's historic Mus-i-col recording. It's a real honor for us to present this record.

Guru Guru - S/T (1973)

The self-titled fourth album from this Krautrock underground group is a fierce display of droning fuzz psychedelia that easily holds its own on the shelf next to the Stooges' Funhouse, Can's Tago Mago, and Kraftwerk's first three albums. While the group remains one of the more obscure footnotes in the German psychedelic underground, their first three albums were profoundly influential of the global neo-psychedelic scene, with groups such as Spacemen 3, Bevis Frond, Nurse With Wound, Fushitsusha, and High Rise citing this album as a key influence. While the lineup changed periodically throughout the '70s, the core group of Ax Genrich on guitar, longstanding member Mani Neumeier on drums and keyboards, and Bruno Schaab on bass cut this masterpiece with the aid of Krautrock legend Conrad Plank on guitar and keyboards. This sprawling, guitar-driven workout relies on a couple of chords and a heavy dose of distortion worthy of early Hawkwind with riffs as crunching as Black Sabbath. One of the defining albums in the movement known as space rock or drone rock, this album is well deserving of the attention of those tuned into that axis.

Klaus Schulze - Moondawn (1976)

Klaus Schulze is one of the most legendary e-musicians of all time. He is also one of the best and most original. Moondawn is one of the true classics of the genre. For many serious listeners, this was the first and/or most important electronic music purchase. There is good reason for such sentiment -- this is a great album. It is definitely hardcore Berlin school electronica and much more. Like his contemporaries, Schulze added some extra flair to his style. This album has loads of ambient atmospheres accompanying the deep sequences. While the original album is an analog creation, it still holds its own with new millennium digitalia and is uniquely old school. This CD bears comparisons only to Schulze's peers of its era: Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese, T.O.N.T.O.'s Expanding Head Band, and Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company.

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Beyond The Implode - Last Thoughts (1979)

Only 250 copies of the EP were released and mainly distributed in local record shops (in Liverpool and Runcorn). The Ep received positive reviews in the music press, and John Peel played some of the band’s songs during his shows. In 1980 the band’s personnel changed. Ian Gardler replaced is brother on guitar, and new members were added: Keith O’Connell (aka Keith Discreet, later Avant Garde Elitists) on bass, Kev Shields (later Havoc of Fusion) on keyboards and Nick Evans on drums.

Sonic Youth - Made In USA (1986)

A soundtrack to an obscure 1986 movie, Made in USA captures Sonic Youth trying to fit their expansive ideas into the brief space allotted to incidental film music. Keeping the atmospherics but scaling back the noise, the band manages to evoke textures different from its albums, textures that are drier and less overtly avant-garde. The disc is still quite listenable, which shows how good the band was in 1985 and 1986.

Earth - Earth 2 (1993)

Subtitled "Special Low Frequency Version" on the front -- and if one opens up the CD, the reverse of the booklet shows a wide selection of pills -- arguably Earth and its stoned and droned appeal in a nutshell. If Carlson and his bassist du jour, in this case Dave Harwell, weren't quite Sub Pop's answer to the ranges of U.K. guitar extremism from the likes of Godflesh, Main, and Skullflower, Earth still came pretty darn close to it, creating a record even the Melvins would find weird. Consisting of three long instrumentals edited together as one long monster slam of feedback and howling, Earth 2 dedicates itself to the proposition that there's no such thing as too loud, trudging, or doom-laden. Opening track "Seven Angels" does show that for all the semi-chaos, things are still based around riffs, or at least one key riff endlessly repeated and drove directly into the ground through layers of hum and delay. Had Tony Iommi written it, nobody would have blinked an eye, but not even Sabbath gave itself over so thoroughly to the power of the amplifier -- and all this without drums. Without even a slight pause, "Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine" takes over, namely all 27 minutes of it. With a more paced, clock-chime-from-damnation melody leading the way deep into the track, stretching out and getting even more end-is-nigh as it goes, it's a bizarre but strong, weirdly fascinating performance -- ambient music completely and totally suffused with threat and fuzz.

Klaus Schulze - Irrlicht (1972)

Schulze's solo debut is a masterful album featuring some of the most majestic instances of space music ever recorded, all the more remarkable for being recorded without synthesizers. "Satz Gewitter," the first of two tracks and the highlight here, slowly progresses from oscillator static to a series of glowing organ lines, all informed by Schulze's excellent feel for phase effects.

Sun City Girls - Horse Cock Phepner (1987)

The Sun City Girls' third album (titled in honor of a pet nickname for Ronald Reagan, apparently) burbled like a sewer somewhere below the sunny facade of The Gipper's America circa 1987. Overloaded with political and sexual obsessions, the Phoenix trio spouts out a disturbing and dizzying diatribe borne of first-hand knowledge of pornography and high-level government trickery. Taking off from somewhere near the axis of the Fugs and Holy Modal Rounders, Rick and Alan Bishop and Charlie Gocher plow through rants like "Porno Shop" (which is visited by Edwin Meese), "Kill the Klansmen," "Aristocrats of Impertinence," "Eyeball in a Quart Jar of Snot," and a bracing charge through the aforementioned Fugs' "CIA Man," updated to include relevant references to Middle Eastern overlords. Also here is one of the band's most brilliantly twisted inventions, "Nancy," wherein Mrs. Reagan is involved in seedy sexual situations with Mr. T, Ted Koppel, and Sam Donaldson. Though several winding, stream-of-consciousness tracks (e.g., "It's Underneath the House" and "Saint Bernard's Observation Booth") threaten to derail the momentum, there are moments of pure brilliance (the rock-en-Espanol harbinger "Esta Susan En Casa?") that save the record from succumbing to overindulgence. Despite not containing the kind of instrumental and improvisational magic that highlighted later releases, Horse Cock Phepner reveals the Girls at their most dementedly manic, and is essential to understanding the group's cockeyed philosophical mastery.

Polvo - Vibracobra 7" (1991)

A very early 7" from Chapel Hill's finest. The A side "Vibracobra" has a serpentine krautrock chug while the B side "The Drill" is a wonderful balance of dissonance and melody.

Harmonia 76 - Tracks & Traces (1976)

Recorded in 1976 -- after Brian Eno had proclaimed them one of the best groups around -- but for whatever reason not released until 20 years later, Tracks & Traces is a fascinating release not merely for Eno's participation but for the hints of music that would become mainstream in the future. Indeed, opening cut "Vamos Companeros" has an intense guitar line from Rother that in its nervous, choppy way suggests everything from Wire to Bauhaus, not to mention Eno's own noted production clients, U2. Having already created two excellent albums, the core Harmonia trio was easily placed to whip up a third, with Eno the wild-card factor who turned out to be a perfect addition. While contributing some lyrics and singing at a time when he was steering away firmly from both in his own solo work, most of the time Eno lets the band speak for themselves musically, most notably adding snaky, quietly threatening basslines. Compositions range from the lengthy to just fragments, and while it feels at points more like a collection of sessions than necessarily a complete stand-alone album conceived as such, the end results are still well-worth hearing. The contemplative "By the Riverside," which could easily have turned up on Eno's Before and After Science (where his related collaboration with Cluster, "By This River," appeared) is a slow treasure, a core keyboard loop providing the slow-paced rhythm. "Almost" is another killer, with a lead guitar/piano melody that's pure gentle heartbreak if ever there was such a thing, gently descending and softly surrounded by an elegantly flowing arrangement. If there's less of the glittering glaze of the earlier Harmonia albums, the explorations in ambient sound and mysterious and murky textures make for a more-than-fair exchange.

The Breeders - Head to Toe EP

The last new Breeders studio recording for eight years -- their comeback effort, Title TK, wouldn't appear until 2002 -- the three-song "Head to Toe" 7" was produced by Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis, also the subject of the set's Sebadoh cover, "The Freed Pig." According to legend, when the Breeders began playing Lou Barlow's poison-pen classic in the studio, Mascis didn't even recognize the song and insisted the band record it; Kim Deal's vocals lack the vitriol and pity of Barlow's original, but the Breeders' version is compact and explosive, and indeed all three songs here capture a punk-inspired aggression further explored on Deal's Amps project. "Head to Toe" is the sole original, a wonderfully primitive sonic whiplash; rounding out the single is a rendition of Guided by Voices' "Shocker in Gloomtown."

The United States of America - S/T (1968)

Originally released on Columbia in 1968, The United States of America is one of the legendary pure psychedelic space records. Some of the harder-rocking tunes have a fun house recklessness that recalls aspects of early Pink Floyd and the Velvet Underground at their freakiest; the sedate, exquisitely orchestrated ballads, especially "Cloud Song" and the wonderfully titled "Love Song for the Dead Che," are among the best relics of dreamy psychedelia. Occasionally things get too excessive and self-conscious, and the attempts at comedy are a bit flat, but otherwise this is a near classic.

Guru Guru - UFO (1970)

Guru Guru's debut album shows why the band, even if it never reached the levels of appreciation and influence the likes of Can or Neu! did, still maintained a healthy reputation over the moons for its early work. Opening number "Stone In" has a quite appropriate title for a starting track -- it is wonderfully tripped out, to be sure, and if Manuel Gottsching was more of a guitar god, Genrich kicks up a lot of frazzled noise. The principle of the Trepte/Neumeier rhythm section seems to have been "find loud weird grooves and then play them, sometimes chaotically." Again, they aren't Can's wickedly effective combination of Holger Czukay and Jaki Leibezeit, but they're not just falling over themselves either. The title track is the most memorable song, almost entirely eschewing conventional rhythm for an inward collapse of feedback and noise that sounds either like the Stooges' "LA Blues" even more strung out or early Main with a conventional band lineup. "Girl Call" and "Next Time See You at the Dalai" (a classic example of a just-groansome enough Krautrock pun that only Germans seemed to love) makes for a good combination, the increasing freakiness of the one leading into the start-stop chug and explosion of the latter. Genrich really gets to show off a bit on both, demonstrating that there is such a thing as technical ability that doesn't equal pointless fret abuse. "Der LSD-Marsch" is actually the most conventional of the tracks -- while a good-enough slow burn up to a freakout (mostly provided by Neumeier's drum solo), it's too short to be truly epic and not otherwise distinguishable from many similar songs by the likes of Amon Duul II, say. For all that, though, it ends this enjoyable effort well enough.

Late! - Pocketwatch (1992)

Pocketwatch is a cassette album by Dave Grohl, under the pseudonym Late!, released in 1992 on the now defunct indie label, Simple Machines, as part of their Tool Cassette Series.

In the summer of 1991, Dave Grohl went into WGNS Studios and recorded four songs, playing all the instruments himself. The recording was combined with six songs from a previous Upland Studios session recorded in late 1990. Although both sessions were recorded after joining Nirvana, Grohl unobtrusively acknowledged their existence. A tape of the songs, given to Simple Machines co-founder Jenny Toomey by Grohl, immediately became a candidate for the labels Tool Cassette Series.

The Tool Cassette Series started around 1991 as an experiment, and as a way of keeping music "in print" on an as-needed basis without having to finance vinyl or CD pressings, since Simple Machines dubbed the cassettes as the orders came in. With five cassette decks and a lot of volunteer help, this was a manageable project for the label. Shortly after Nirvana released Nevermind, its unexpected success was big enough that Pocketwatch became noticed. It gained even more exposure when the Foo Fighters debut was released in 1995. Some of the songs appeared on subsequent releases, creating even higher demand for the cassette. Suddenly, Pocketwatch was being mentioned frequently in interviews, and the label became flooded with orders.

With very little help and deteriorating master cassettes, Simple Machines got in touch with Grohl about releasing the Late! album as a CD, to keep up with demand. However, Grohl was more interested in keeping it as a cassette only release, which the label honored. When the two master cassettes for Pocketwatch came to the end of their useful lives, and with some of the other artists masters from the series in the same condition, Simple Machines decided to discontinue the Tool Cassette Series from their mailorder.

Silver Jews - Hot As Hell 7" (1993)

David Berman gets raunchy covering "Cocksucker Blues" by The Rolling Stones and keeps it just as sleazy on the b-side with "The Walnut Falcon".

Silver Jews - The Arizona Record (1993)

The Arizona Record expands on the appealingly disheveled feel of the Silver Jews' first EP. This time around, Bob Nastanovich drums, but the band keeps the answering machine-fidelity of their recordings. "I Love the Rights" and "Jackson Nightz" feature competitive duets between Berman and Malkmus, while "West S" and "The War in Apartment 1812" have the sunny, sprawling feel that warmed the Jews' -- and Pavement's -- future recordings. "Welcome to the House of the Bats" captures the group's random, off-hand sense of humor, and "Bar Scene From Star Wars" uses a four-track for a slightly smoother sound. Tape hiss has rarely sounded so enjoyable.

Sonic Youth - SYR 1 (1997)

Sonic Youth invested the money they earned as Lollapalooza headliners in 1995 in a new studio. Owning their own studio gave them the freedom to experiment as they were recording, since they no longer had to pay rental fees. To inaugurate their new studio, they set out to record a series of experimental instrumental EPs with engineer Wharton Tiers, all of which would be released on the quartet's own label. With its winding, elliptical improvised instrumentals, SYR 1 set the tone for the entire series. Musically, the EP isn't far removed from the instrumental sections on Sister or Daydream Nation, but this music isn't merely waves of feedback -- it's considered, detailed, and bizarrely accessible. Like the epic "The Diamond Sea," the four songs have shifting sonic colors, as simple riffs build and intertwine, crossing over each other before finding a new path. It's closer to avant-garde than rock, but the music isn't purely cerebral, either. Recognizable statements float in and out of the mix, providing something of a touchstone for the free-form explorations. SYR 1 also has brevity on its side. The EP lasts 25 minutes -- which is just enough time to provide an exciting blueprint for a new era of Sonic Youth.

Sonic Youth - Silver Session (For Jason Knuth) (1998)

Of the many strange recordings released by Sonic Youth over the course of their long career, few measure up to Silver Session for Jason Knuth. On the inside of the CD sleeve, guitarist Thurston Moore explains the unique situation involving this record and what sort of music to expect. Sonic Youth have been known to drift away from the pop/rock precedent with their tendency to incorporate untraditionally tuned guitars, feedback-driven noise, incoherent lyrics, and odd song structures into their music. On this record, though, they completely abandon any sort of rock-related clich├ęs, instead delivering eight songs of lively guitar feedback. According to Moore, while the band tried to record the vocals for their A Thousand Leaves album one evening, a band in the neighboring studio proceeded to play "some funky metal overdrive." Frustrated over the incident, Sonic Youth turned every amplifier in their studio to ten-plus and leaned as many guitars as they could against them, creating a cacophony of ear-piercing feedback. The group recorded the session and mixed it into digestible sections. Surprisingly, the resulting record has quite a serene feel, with the feedback taking on a beautiful ambient aura. The record also functions as an ode to Jason Knuth, a Sonic Youth fan who committed suicide. Proceeds from the CD went to San Francisco Suicide Prevention Hotline. Don't consider this one of the influential group's most important albums by any means, but do consider it an interesting addition to their catalog, intended mainly for loyal fans.

Boston Spaceships - The Planets Are Blasted (2009)

Much of Robert Pollard's recorded output of 2008 suggested the man was going to slow down and focus on quality control rather than cranking out as much product as possible, which seemed to be his modus operandi during the first few years of his post-Guided by Voices career. But The Planets Are Blasted, the second album from his group Boston Spaceships, has emerged a mere six months after their debut, Brown Submarine, so it seems the man is back in prolific mode. But Pollard also has a pair of worthwhile collaborators in John Moen (of the Decemberists) and Chris Slusarenko (of Sprinkler and the Takeovers), and though Boston Spaceships' sonic identity clearly comes from Pollard's songwriting, The Planets Are Blasted is every bit as satisfying as the band's debut, and at its best this hits the same giddy melodic heights as GBV's golden era but with a grander sense of scale and drama. Songs like "Queen of Stormy Weather" and "Canned Food Demons" could pass for classic-era GBV in dim light, but most of these tunes carry more muscle and heft than Pollard's usual miniature pop constructs, and Moen and Slusarenko (along with a handful of guests, including ex-GBV guitarist Greg Demos and fellow Decemberist Chris Funk) give this music the aural grandeur of the '70s arena rock and prog rock Pollard clearly loves without its crippling pretension or pomposity. "UFO Love Letters" and "Keep Me Down" nearly beat the Who at their own game, and "Headache Revolution" offers a vague notion of what King Crimson might have been like if they were any fun. And The Planets Are Blasted is that rare Pollard project that leaves you wanting more -- the 14 songs here each sound complete and fully realized, and at under 35 minutes, this set doesn't run out of ideas before it draws to a close. (Pollard sings up a storm, too.) So maybe Robert Pollard didn't need a different work ethic -- he just needed a good band in his corner, and Boston Spaceships is helping to reestablish him as one of the most satisfying talents in indie rock.

Robert Pollard - From A Compound Eye (2006)

Given Robert Pollard's profligacy, it's only natural to greet his 26-track, 70-minute post-Guided By Voices "debut" solo album with skepticism. First off, it's not really his debut anything. Pollard has been releasing solo albums throughout his 20-year stint as GBV's frontman, and given that he was the band's only constant member, it could be argued that every Guided By Voices album was essentially a Pollard solo album. But the singer-songwriter-rocker insists that From A Compound Eye marks a new beginning, and the music bears that out. It doesn't sound substantially different from what Pollard has done before—F.A.C.E. features the usual thick guitar riffs, gruff vocals, impressionistic lyrics, sturdy melodies, and lo-fi production—but the record cycles through Pollard's disparate influences in songs as charged-up and fully realized as anything he's delivered in maybe a decade.

Because From A Compound Eye is so lengthy and explosive, each high-caliber song tends to dissolve into the next. The opener, "Gold," is a clear highlight, with its snatches of harmonica and piano filling in the gaps in a freeform ballad structure. On the opposite end of the accessibility scale, "Dancing Girls And Dancing Men" serves up a bouncy hook and simple lyric, like power-pop with the polish removed. The album's standouts either dabble in odd instrumentation (like the banks of synths on "Flowering Orphan" and the jaw-harp and tin drum on "The Right Thing") or go deeper into homage than Pollard has gone before (like the Badfinger-indebted "I Surround You Naked" and the overtly R.E.M.-y "Light Show"). The disc is eclectic and overflowing, in the tradition of deck-clearing double LPs like the Minutemen's Double Nickels On The Dime and The Beatles' White Album. And like those records, From A Compound Eye espouses no clear theme, save for the boundless possibilities of rock 'n' roll.

Robert Pollard - Kid Marine (1999)

Recorded in five days and released in a month, from beginning to end, Kid Marine is Robert Pollard's third solo album since 1996, a time period that has also seen the release of three Guided by Voices albums, all with the lion's share of writing credits going to Pollard. Opening with an odd, stuttering vocal hook on "Submarine Teams," the song quickly leads into a perfect Who-like riff, and on into what may be Pollard's most consistently excellent solo album yet. Kid Marine comes on like a combination of Pollard's Not in My Airforce and a less-polished version of GbV's Mag Earwhig!. In other words, there is an immediacy to the recording and playing (courtesy of GbV mates Greg Demos and Jim Macpherson), but with careful production touches throughout, such as the keyboard that imitates an accordion on the wonderful see-sawing pop of "Strictly Comedy" and the bongos on "White Gloves Come Off." Each song is fully composed and performed, and includes some of Pollard's finest writing, from "Far-out Crops," with its gently chugging guitar lines and emotive vocals, to the quick, wistful Snatch Candy" to "Town of Mirrors," one of the finest love songs to a town, which explodes into a cacophony of Oh, alrights after two minutes of Oriental-like guitar strumming. And when Pollard's vulnerable voice shoots lonely over the strummed acoustic guitar of "Flings of the Waistcoat Crowd," it is so heartbreakingly beautiful that it makes everything seem okay, if just for that instant. As usual, you can't be certain what Pollard is trying to convey because of his enigmatically abstruse lyrics (can anyone decipher the lyric "Wolfing the creamskin for all the right stuff?"). But he is well-entrenched in his pop pulpit and flings his off-the-cuff philosophies with purpose and flair. Taking the time to listen closely to his sermons always result in (as he sings on "Living Upside Down") "stretching a perspective."

Guided By Voices - Half Smiles of The Decomposed (2004)

Ever since they first burst into the consciousness of indie rock fans across our great nation in 1994 with Bee Thousand, Guided by Voices seemed like one of those bands that was always going to be there for us, letting loose with a steady stream of albums, singles, EPs, live shows, and side projects that even devoted fans had trouble keeping up with. But in April of 2004, GBV commandant Robert Pollard announced that the band would be calling it quits at the end of that year, and that Half Smiles of the Decomposed would be their last album. Given its status as GBV's sort-of-official recorded farewell, Half Smiles of the Decomposed carries significantly more psychic weight than previous albums from the group, so it's a bit surprising that the results hardly equal a "typical" Guided by Voices CD. Comprised of a mere 14 songs in 42 minutes, half of which are over three minutes in length, Half Smiles of the Decomposed is a final departure from GBV's tradition of compact pop masterpieces, and while the production (by occasional keyboard player Todd Tobias) doesn't approach the slickness of Do the Collapse or Isolation Drills, this may be the polished and attentive "indie" album Pollard and GBV have ever made. And the songs appear to be reaching for an epic quality that goes beyond their length; Pollard's way with a melody is very much in evidence, but rather than going for simple blissful hookiness, this set approximates a homegrown version of the big-screen sweep of, say, The Who on Who's Next or Mott the Hoople on Mott. But even though Half Smiles of the Decomposed sounds great, the band plays with impressive skill, and it represents one of Pollard's most successful attempts to balance his lo-fi musical impulses against the demands of proper record production.

Lou Reed - Metal Machine Music (1975)

One would be hard-pressed to name a major artist who ever released an album as thoroughly alienating as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music; at a time when noise rock and punk had yet to make their presence known, Reed released this 64-minute aural assault that offered up a densely layered soundscape constructed from feedback, distortion, and atonal guitar runs sped up or slowed down until they were all but unrecognizable. Metal Machine Music seems a bit less startling today, now that bands like Sonic Youth and the Boredoms have created some sort of context for it, but it hasn't gotten any more user friendly with time -- while Thurston Moore may go nuts on his guitar like this for three or four minutes at a stretch, Metal Machine Music goes on and on and on for over an hour, pausing only for side breaks with no rhythms, melodies, or formal structures to buffer the onslaught. If you're brave enough to listen to the whole thing, it's hard not to marvel at the scope of Reed's obsession; it's obvious he spent a lot of time on these layered sheets of noise, and enthusiasts of the violent guitar freakout may find it pleasing in short bursts. But confronting Metal Machine Music from front to back in one sitting is an experience that's both brutal and numbing. It's hard to say what Lou Reed had in mind when he made Metal Machine Music, and Reed has done little to clarify the issue over the years, though he summed it up quite pointedly in an interview in which he said, "Well, anyone who gets to side four is dumber than I am."

Can - Tago Mago (1971)

With the band in full artistic flower and Suzuki's sometimes moody, sometimes frenetic speak/sing/shrieking in full effect, Can released not merely one of the best Krautrock albums of all time, but one of the best albums ever, period. Tago Mago is that rarity of the early '70s, a double album without a wasted note, ranging from sweetly gentle float to full-on monster grooves. "Paperhouse" starts things brilliantly, beginning with a low-key chime and beat, before amping up into a rumbling roll in the midsection, then calming down again before one last blast. Both "Mushroom" and "Oh Yeah," the latter with Schmidt filling out the quicker pace with nicely spooky keyboards, continue the fine vibe. After that, though, come the huge highlights -- three long examples of Can at its absolute best. "Halleluwah" -- featuring the Liebezeit/Czukay rhythm section pounding out a monster trance/funk beat; Karoli's and Schmidt's always impressive fills and leads; and Suzuki's slow-building ranting above everything -- is 19 minutes of pure genius. The near-rhythmless flow of "Aumgn" is equally mind-blowing, with swaths of sound from all the members floating from speaker to speaker in an ever-evolving wash, leading up to a final jam. "Peking O" continues that same sort of feeling, but with a touch more focus, throwing in everything from Chinese-inspired melodies and jazzy piano breaks to cheap organ rhythm boxes and near babbling from Suzuki along the way. "Bring Me Coffee or Tea" wraps things up as a fine, fun little coda to a landmark record.

Guided By Voices - The Grand Hour (1992)

The first Guided By Voices release after being signed to Scat Records, the Grand Hour is a short, ragged mess most noteworthy for its inclusion of the fantastic lo-fi rocker "Shocker in Gloomtown." Though only about 90 seconds in length, "Shocker" became a GBV concert staple and was covered by fellow Dayton natives the Breeders on their Head to Toe EP. The other five songs are indicative of other Guided By Voices material from this era: unfinished pop melodies buried in hiss and disjointed noise. "I'll Get Over It" and the Tobin Sprout contribution "Off the Floor" have the most promising melodies, but each clocks in at less then a minute in length. The other notable achievements here are the closer, "Bee Thousand," which may be Guided By Voices' silliest moment and "Break Even" which captures Robert Pollard's heavy garage rock influences.

The Deep - Psychedelic Moods (1966)

The Deep's Psychedelic Moods is probably one of the most fascinating and sought after psychedelic albums of all time, and this Radioactive reissue of the incredibly rare stereo version is the one that all collectors want to own.

This was a Philadelphia-based studio-only project. The album, which is an extremely rare and quite costly collectors' item, has until recently been shrouded in total mystery. It's a very strange album, full of weird sound effects, haunting vocals and acid-soaked lyrics. It is based on a psychedelic folk format. Some, such as Color Dreams and Your Choice To Choose, sound very Seeds-like. Others, like Shadows On The Wall and Wake Up and Find Me are haunting acid ballads.

Pearls Before Swine - Balaklava (1968)

A record that virtually defies categorization, Pearls Before Swine's 1968 epic Balaklava is the near-brilliant follow-up to One Nation Underground. Intended as a defiant condemnation of the Vietnam War, it doesn't offer anthemic, fist-pounding protest songs. Instead, Rapp vented his anger through surrealist poetry, irony, and historical reference: Balaklava was the 1854 Crimean War battle that inspired Alfred, Lord Tennyson to write his epic The Charge of the Light Brigade; in reality, the "Charge" was a senseless military action that killed scores of British soldiers. Balaklava begins with "Trumpeter Landfrey," an 1880's recording of the actual voice and bugle charge of the man who sounded the charge at Balaklava. It makes the transition into "Translucent Carriages," a mix of acoustic guitars, a basic vocal, and ghostly narration ("Jesus raised the dead...but who will raise the living?"), all the more stunning. "Images of April" continues the mystical feel, combining flutes, cricket chirps, and frog croaks for a nether-worldly effect. Rapp virtually cries "I Saw the World," backed by a powerful string arrangement that makes the song even more impassioned. Like One Nation Underground, Balaklava is somewhat unfocused: "There Was a Man" is a little too Dylan-esque, and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" detracts from Rapp's compositions. Unfortunately, the record closes with "Ring Thing," a morbid piece that refers to Tolkien's famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Still, this is superb psychedelic music, successfully merging exotic instruments like marimba, clavinet, French horn, and swinehorn with Rapp's unique lisping vocals. But Balaklava isn't just acid-trip background music. It's probably the best example of what Rapp calls "constructive melancholy" (also the name of a recent CD collection of Pearls songs), a combination of the real with the surreal, and it's indispensable to any serious '60s rock collection.

Animated Egg - S/T (1969)

The mysterious Animated Egg's self-titled album consists entirely of psychedelic instrumentals, often featuring somewhat freaky fuzzy guitar, but usually grounded by rather generic swingin' Sunset Strip mid- to late-'60s Los Angeles rock rhythm tracks. Jerry Cole's lead guitar does have admirable smoky sustain, but the songs -- all Cole's as well -- sound more like hastily written, basic riffs around which to hang the psychedelic dressing than distinctive melodies or arrangements meant to express artistic aspirations. In fact, "'T' Tomorrow" is quite derivative of the Spencer Davis Group classic "Gimme Some Lovin'," and though song titles like "I Said, She Said, Ah Cid" and "Sippin' and Trippin'" are none too subtly suggestive of the psychedelic experience, the whole thing sounds like a soundtrack to a psychsploitation B-movie that was never made. Cole does sneak in slyly faithful replication of Roger McGuinn's 12-string electric guitar work with the Byrds on "Sippin' and Trippin'," and "Dark" could have almost as well fit onto one of Cole's earlier hot rod or surf recordings as a psychedelic one. With its wild eerie reverb, "Sock It My Way" is easily the most explosive track, while "That's How It Is" ends the LP with an detour into Latin-soul-rock boogaloo.

Fifty Foot Hose - Cauldron (1968)

Fifty Foot Hose's Cauldron is erratic but fascinating. When married to routine blues-rock, the electronic squiggles seem to be covering up the inadequacy of the basic material, and the occasional bleats of pure electronic passages will bore rock-oriented listeners. Yet when combined with lilting-but-disquieting jazz-psychedelic compositions, like the title track and "If Not This Time," it's genuinely original, similar in feel to the oscillation-toned rock of the United States of America

Dr. John - Gris Gris (1968)

The most exploratory and psychedelic outing of Dr. John's career, a one-of-a-kind fusion of New Orleans Mardi Gras R&B and voodoo mysticism. Great rasping, bluesy vocals, soulful backup singers, and eerie melodies on flute, sax, and clarinet, as well as odd Middle Eastern-like chanting and mandolin runs. It's got the setting of a strange religious ritual, but the mood is far more joyous than solemn.

Chocolate Watchband - No Way Out (1967)

Released in September of 1967, No Way Out came at the end of the band's first 15 months of existence, a period that encompassed the recording and release of four singles of generally extraordinary quality, and as good as anything heard from any garage band anywhere during that period. Just two of those single tracks, "Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)" and "No Way Out," ended up on the original ten-track LP, but even they could (and should) have been the core of an immensely powerful LP. Instead, out of the remaining songs, only two -- the group's nicely cranked-up version of Chuck Berry's "Come On" (obviously influenced by the Rolling Stones' debut single, which was, itself, a good trick, since the latter had never seen a U.S. release in any form) and the psychedelic Bo Diddley-based "Gone and Passes By" -- were recorded by the entire group and released in the form intended. The other six tracks included Watchband recordings, such as "Let's Talk About Girls," "In the Midnight Hour," and "Hot Dusty Road," on which lead singer David Aguilar's vocals had been replaced by those of session singer Don Bennett (co-author of the band's single "Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)") and also embellished with extra instrumental overdubs; two instrumentals, "Expo 2000" and "Dark Side of the Mushroom," recorded by a group of studio musicians put together by engineer Richie Podolor; and, finally, the bizarre "Gossamer Wings," a psychedelic digression by Bennett and company that used the band's basic track from the 1966 single B-side "Loose Lip Sync Ship" as its jumping-off point. So what's here is not really representative of the Chocolate Watchband that was seen in the movie Riot on Sunset Strip, or heard on those four killer singles in 1966 and early 1967. All of that said, No Way Out is still an extremely impressive and enduring album that nicely straddles the garage punk and psychedelic genres; the Watchband's "Come On" still gets this reviewer's pulse bouncing to Chuck Berry's beat, and it and the other three finished band cuts are still highly potent, slashing, exciting, clever pieces of music. "Gone and Passes By" and "No Way Out" are sharp works of psychedelic punk music, the former mixing sitar music with a shimmering Bo Diddley beat to superbly seductive effect, while the latter is built on a twisting, jagged blues- and raga-based lead guitar line that recalls the late-1966 vintage Jefferson Airplane's work. And "Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)" is a stirring, even threatening anthem to youthful defiance. Of the rest, "Let's Talk About Girls" is still a very good track and a killer opener for the album, despite the tampering by the producers, and "In the Midnight Hour" and "Hot Dusty Road" are not too far behind. As for the instrumentals, "Dark Side of the Mushroom" and "Expo 2000" are decent filler, even if they have nothing to do with the band. So the record, though flawed from day one of its release history, is still an essential '60s album in any collection, in its vinyl version or either of two expanded reissues on CD, from Sundazed and Big Beat, respectively.

Download Links

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Blues Control - Local Flavor (2009)

After a series of one-off releases on Holy Mountain, Woodsist & Sub Pop, Blues Control finally delivers on the greatness that those releases only hinted at on label where they couldn't possibly be more at home... thee mighty Siltbreeze!. Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho clearly have been refining their craft and it pays dividends throughout the albums four tracks. From the relatively straight forward (for them) stomp of the opener "Good Morning" (feat. horns by Kurt Vile & Jesse Trbovich) to the Harmonia-esque "Tangier" Blues Control shows their stylistic range without ever feeling contrived or over staying their welcome. This is easily the best Blues Control release and a strong contender for the best Siltbreeze release so far this year. What are you waiting for? Download it. Love it and buy a copy right here.

Sun City Girls - Grotto of Miracles (1986)

Even as far back as the mid-'80s, this group's versatility was the stuff of legends. There was the gig where all the Sun City Girls did was an extended cover version of an old soul song, forcing the entire audience of skate-punkers out into the street. There was the gig in the jazz club in Rochester, NY, where Rick Bishop stayed on piano and they imitated the Paul Bley trio all night. There was a gig in an Arizona wrestling rink, when the group's entire set consisted of a note-perfect cover version of the entire score from the surreal film El Topo. Okay, take a deep breath, here comes this album, cut early in the band's career for a combination music label and skateboard manufacturer for whom at least one bandmember toiled in the warehouse, packing boxes. Side one kicks in with a wonderful rock instrumental version of what is identified as the Tangier Radio Internationale theme. Wow. From then on it is a shift back and forth between superbly played trio tracks, often instrumental but also making use of vocals in an always creative manner, and passages of what is best described as weirdness. The group can be gentle, savage, rocking, funky, and swinging. Sure, the swing on "Swing of Kings" is more the swing of garage bands, despite drummer Charlie Goucher's ambitions to finally mutate Max Roach into Sunny Murray. Yet when this track goes into its herky-jerky, "out" middle section, the performance is brilliant. What the band always seems to do best is music coming from any kind of Arabic influence. In this context, the Sun City Girls simply have no peers. The traditional "Kal el Lazi Kad Ham" is given a magnificently intense ride, complete with wall of noise guitar buildup. Typical mid-'80s analog recording gear gives the music an earthy sound, helpful because of the sometimes thin sound of the band.

Sun City Girls - Fruit of The Womb / Polite Deception (1987)

Fifth reissue in the Cloaven Cassettes series by Sun City Girls. Both cassettes were released in 1987. About Fruit of the Womb: 'Recorded 1984-85 between the first and second Sun City Girls LPs in mono. The performances on this tape are superb. Near Eastern instrumentals, extended improvisation, ostracized jazz plus impossible versions of Sun City Girls standards.' Like the other titles in this series, some tracks from the original tape releases have been removed for the LP versions and some unreleased tracks are included, too. About Polite Deception: 'Side one is a continuation of the previous tape listed (Fruit Of The Womb). And side two was described by an Albanian diplomat as: 'An industrial Mesopotamian environmental piece followed by Egyptian trance jazz.' Of course, we all know that this description is false.' Recordings are from 1984-1985.