Sic Alps make music with their eyes on the past but their feet firmly in the present. Bits of psychedelia, folk, garage, punk and other fuh fairly well flow from their fingers, seamlessly worked together to render easy categorizations pointless. Over the course of numerous singles and albums on such fine labels as Siltbreeze, Mt St Mtn and Woodsist, Sic Alps' Mike Donovan and Matt Hartman have carved themselves a snug niche filled with fuzz, crackle, vibes and most of all cracking tunes. Now they're joined by kindred spirit Ty Segall, and the dynamic duo has become a true power trio. Their first release as a three-piece is L. Mansion, a swinging little folk/beat tune that is totally timeless/out of time in the way of Sic Alps' best songs. As straightforwardly "pop" as anything they've done, and a totally effective summertime single. On the flip we get a banging cover of Donovan's ode to puff -- "Superlungs." Wild and thumping, Matt and Mike have definitely taken the Sunshine Superman on a little side trip to Detroit rock city. Two great sides of Sic Alps then, and another genre-busting addition to their excellent discography.
Suck on the Pastels compiles a number of singles released by the band from 1983-1985, as well as a three-song BBC session from 1984. In the liner notes, Stephan Pastel alludes to the general apathy of the band throughout this period, also explaining the general poor recording conditions in which most of these songs were birthed. The band's laconic tendencies were matched by their arrogant tendencies ("We thought we were God," notes Pastel in the liners), so there's definite attitude and substance, albeit in patchy doses. The results are rather uneven, but there are some moments of undeniable greatness. The seven-minute drone pop of "Baby Honey" remains one of Creation's earliest gems, mixing the Byrds, the Velvet Underground, detached vocals, and a lazy near-funk rhythm in the best possible way. "Couldn't Care Less" and "I'm Alright With You" also rate with the Pastels' finest. The rhythm box and childish lyrics to "I Wonder Why" provide the perfect backdrop to a rumpus room filled with joyous toddlers. The BBC session is scattered throughout the disc, showing what the band is capable of in proper working conditions. Suck On isn't the first place to go for the Pastels, but it's a decent snapshot of their youthful beginnings.
A five-song EP bristling with energy and pummeling guitars, Metal Circus is the first indication of Hüsker Dü's greatness. With these five songs, the band shows more invention, skill, and melody than it did over the course of a full album with Everything Falls Apart, and both Bob Mould and Grant Hart emerge as significant songwriters. While they both stay within hardcore conventions on Metal Circus, their songs illustrate that they would break free of its constrictions on their subsequent, masterful double album, Zen Arcade.
Beginning and almost ending with an interpretation of the title track, a lesser known collaboration from the mid-century musical figures Victor Young and Harold Adamson, China Gate, edited down from one lengthy recording session, finds Cul de Sac fully coming into its own. Smack-dab in the middle of a post-rock craze which the band itself had no real part in or immediate affinity for, the quartet's combination of artistic inspirations from around the world into an at-once dreamy and energetic series of compositions won it long-due attention. Each of the members' specific talents get a chance to shine, all without seeming like a series of solo spots or showboating on their part. "Sakhalin" is one excellent example, with Jones and Amos trading off guitar and synth pieces in the best jazz tradition as Fujiwara and Proudman lay down a steady, swinging rhythm. Top that off with a bit of studio chatter after the song ends about the meaning of the title, and the feeling is of a band at once serious and relaxed about what they do -- a good balance that continues throughout. Everything from queasily disturbing synth and electronic lines from Amos to unaccompanied drumming from Proudman goes into the mix, the feeling being like an open-ended journey through a mystic mental landscape. One sign of the band's abilities lies in how it can tackle both loud and soft material with the same evocative grasp, as the quiet but never evanescent "James Coburn" demonstrates, building up just enough, but no more, for its ending. Other high points include Jones' chiming, almost rollicking guitar work on "Doldrums," Fujiwara's lovely bass on "Hemispheric Events Command," which stays just enough to the fore as the rest of the band kicks in, and the lengthy explorations of "The Fourth Eye."
Death Rides a Pale Cow is an excellent, 22-track overview of the Dead Milkmen's career, containing all of their cult classics -- "Bitchin' Camaro," "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything)," "Punk Rock Girl," "Smokin' Banana Peels" -- plus the previously unreleased "Labor Day" and "Milkmen Stomp," which was previously only available on a self-released cassette. For the curious or the casual fan, this contains everything you'd need, and it provides a fine, thorough introduction to the group's warped humor and amateurish punk rock.
A patient, layered, crypnagogic odyssey through a dystopian parallel universe metropolis glittering with towers of neon and cabalistic pawn shops (run by sharks like Rico) and outside-the-law loners down on their luck (enter Gordon), this is Ettinger’s weirdest and most baroque soundtrack to date. Wonky, echoing synths pitter-patter arpeggiated messages of retro-futuristic melancholy and blade runner blues while primitive drum machines pulse and whirr under the muted blur of the city. Repeated listens reveal strange secrets, hidden plotlines. Allegedly this is the end of Ettinger’s post-Moroder/robot sleaze/soundtrack era, so who knows what the future holds.
Misery may love company but the reverse is true as well. And few improv-y crews are as adept at coaxing delicious smoky noir heartbreak as City Terrace quartet Low Light Situations. It only takes a couple turtlenecks, two beards, three folding chairs, one clarinet, and a single sizzle-chain for these itinerant east LA session players to slow-roast a set’s worth of mesmerizing instrumental reverb chamber mystery-jazz. Whispery percussion, piano bar bass noodles, echo-twang guitar spiderwebs, and twilit ivory tickling slow-dance and romance in a tall-ceilinged hall of mirrors, occasionally spilling over into passages of dissonant drama or hushed emptiness. A great sustained mood melodrama parsed into six subtle micro-movements.
As a testament to Silkworm, a decade-plus existence has not resulted in a truncated amount of inspiration and vitality. Though the casual listener might not hear a great deal of difference from their previous three studio records, they're actually skipping merrily on that ever-treacherous tightrope concept: "Stay the same but change." That line they are prancing on can't be walked upon by many others. On their eighth album (by their count), they've made something that's just as good as anything else they've released. And so, yet another record can divide the opinions of Silkworm fans as to what their finest hour is. Thorough attention reveals increased writing proficieny and refinement, but the general makeup from recent efforts remains the same. Guest pianist/organist Brett Grossman reprises his standout role on Blueblood through the likes of "Contempt," and "Yrweb," serving the same important role that Nicky Hopkins provided on some of the Rolling Stones' best. Drummer Michael Dahlquist, who turned in a lead vocal turn on Blueblood, cashes in with one of the highlights, "Around the Outline." Andy Cohen again does fine double duty on rhythm and lead guitar. His get-it-over-with soloing does nothing to damage the craft. Tim Midgett's rumbling but agile bass again anchors the band's sound with Dahlquist's smacking kick drum leading the way. Lyrically, Cohen and Midgett's writing stacks up nicely with any of their best material. The themes largely remain the same; Cohen's has his wry anecdotal musings and Midgett has his personal phrasings of devotion and nostalgia. In a word, Silkworm are durable. Continually churning out the classicist-without-being-retro goods, they hold an accomplished spot between the likes of CCR and the Minutemen. Not as famous as the former, and not as wild as the latter, but as fresh and timeless as both.
-Andy Kellman, All Music
Finding a deep foundation in rhythmic post-punk and almost-funky basslines from Tim Midgett, In the West successfully dislocates Silkworm from obvious influences. A three-headed songwriting team -- matched with love for vaguely danceable beats and occasional guitar cacophony -- liken them to Mission of Burma, but nothing here truly sounds like them. But similar to Burma, the pointiness of the guitars is balanced by warm, thick rhythms. Somehow, the band avoids sounding derivative. It would be easy for a four-piece with a knack for noise to step all over each other's toes, resulting in a boggled mess, but only during momentary blasts of cathartic guitar wailing does this become problematic. Otherwise, the wide spaces provided in the likes of "Garden City Blues," "Parsons," and "Enough Is Enough" are effective, making the sonic barrages all that more special. Having three distinct songwriters in one band lends itself to a lack of cohesion, but that's forgiven through the excellence of each one. Joel Phelps' dramatic, scorched soul bearing is brought to the fore on "Dremate," resting uneasily for three minutes and eventually letting go, ending in screams chilling enough to make any emo vocalist run for mama. Whether Midgett's going on about romantic tension or his home town, frustration, wistfulness, and resentment flow throughout. Lines like "Enough is enough/Well come on/Give it up" read like a WASP song on paper, but Midgett's delivery is full of self-flagellation and fraught nerves. Andy Cohen adds one of the band's famed history songs on "Dust My Broom," name-checking General Pershing.
Out of all Lee Ranaldo's solo projects, East Jesus is one of the most open and listenable. A collection of lo-fi home recordings, the album captures the Sonic Youth guitarist at both his most accessible and his most experimental, ranging from soundscapes to quiet, meditative pop/rock songs. It's the least mannered of all of his solo releases, which makes it his most rewarding album.
With Steve Albini at the production helm this time out, 18th Dye took even more of a turn toward a Pixies/Nirvana/Wedding Present-style sound. Such influences had been present before, but now they're clearly brought to the fore, as the soft/loud/soft roar of the opening instrumental, "Glass House Failure," demonstrates. As before, though, the trio are able to avoid doing a simple rehash, resulting in the best work by the group yet. Though not the most original or distinct bunch of musicians, 18th Dye nonetheless succeed at making pleasant and, at times, quite emotional music. While no mean slouches at aggrothrash -- as evidenced by the squalling "Only Burn," armed with a wonderfully quavery guitar solo, and "No Time/11 (Spectators)," featuring a breathtaking opening surge of feedback and sound -- on Bus, the trio's abilities are best showcased by the slower, more delicate numbers, enabling the resigned but captivating vocals of Buttrich to stand out more clearly. "Sole Arch" is an early standout in this vein; when the upfront lounge organ starts, its blend with the band is marvelous -- an unexpected and affecting touch. Buttrich also lets loose with his guitars in more interesting ways, like the rhythmic snorts that punctuate the verses of "Play W/You." Radeker gets her vocal moment to shine on Bus' best song, the lengthy "Poolhouse Blue," which moves along at a steady pace as an equally calming and soaring guitar line unfolds throughout its length. With some nice extra sonic touches -- like a brief answering machine snippet and, on "Mitsuo Downer," a brief performance on bells in the middle of the main song -- Bus is a fine effort from a band who deserved at least a little more attention than what they got.
Conduct features 17 tracks of drawling indie-rock, with a smattering of minimal country-tinged ballads. It's definitely a bipolar release, switching between these two forms on a track-by-track basis, but the songs that work best are those that manage to incorporate both veins ("Straddle"). The most charming aspect of Conduct, however, is its thoroughgoing simplicity -- even through occasional bursts of humor (a '50s-pop knock-off called "Monkey Doll," or an unexpected punk tune called "Alice, All I Want Is Alice"), there's always the sense of a band enjoying itself, and never getting too ambitious or pretentious about their work.
As if their acronyms didn't get mixed up enough already, this tongue-in-cheek split EP features both Girls Against Boys and Guided By Voices going at it live in a radio station's studio under one banner. For an intentionally slapdash charity event, this one's actually not bad. Girls Against Boys get in the first four tracks, and between the gruff sonic muscle of "Vera Cruz" and the commendably messy "Kill the Sexplayer," the capture of the band's live brawn is worth the price of admission alone. Not that Guided By Voices slack off in the second half. Robert Pollard's vocals have that raspy strain well-known in college rock circles, yet thankfully -- as in "Shocker in Gloom Town" -- the lunkheaded AC/DC rock blasts of the band save the day. Easy as that. The judges may still be bickering about which band deserves the technical knock out, but a modest, pretension-free charity record like this deserves almost all of the points.
The live Crying Your Knife Away -- not a bootleg, but a well-distributed, band-winked-at semi-official release -- originally appeared on double LP in 1995 and was released on CD in 1998. It finds these then suddenly fashionable veterans drunk (causing quite a few flat notes from singer Robert Pollard) and raucous at Columbus, OH's Staches on June 18, 1994. In fact, the band was even more inebriated than usual, as the show was a birthday party for their friend Bela Koe-Krompecher, and the celebrations had begun with kegs in the honored guest's back yard seven hours earlier. Like any GBV disc, one must skip a lot -- they have an indulgent tendency to noodle/sketch, but where they're on, they're on, and that's the case through most of this. Best of all, this is the absolute classic lineup: not only the usuals (Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, and Kevin Fennell) but also hot wild-man bassist Greg Demos. Crying oozes and seeps rock & roll: the Grand Hour EP's "Shocker in Gloomtown," Bee Thousand's "Gold Star for Robot Boy" and "Tractor Rape Chain," and the then-unreleased dive-bomb "My Valuable Hunting Knife" -- now the definitive version -- all compete well with hissing cauldron classics such as Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers' Live at Max's and the Replacements' Stink. That is, it's hot. The material and the vocals are inconsistent over 24 cuts, but still, to paraphrase Pollard from an interview in issue 39 of The Big Takeover, "You need this."