Archive for February, 2009

Psychotica – Self-titled (1996)

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A thousand apologies for the length of time between posts, but it’s kind of hard to enjoy music with an ear infection. The ear’s all better now, though, so, as penance for being a bad blogger, I give you this, one of the top 5 albums of all time.

First of all, Psychotica is the most amazing band you’ve never heard (and if you have, I commend you) and their self-titled debut is the perfect representation of everything that is incredible about them.

I discovered Psychotica at Lollapalooza 1996 when they opened the festival. Frontman Pat Briggs emerged from some crazy cocoon dressed in a silver skintight space-suit with a silver-dreaded mohawk and a painted on purple bar across his eyes. And he looked totally fucking awesome and way cooler than the flannel-clad dipshits in the big bands during that time. Truth be told, I was probably sold on this band before they even played the first notes, but it was a good instinct because if possible, their sound was even cooler and more innovative than their look.

I initially acquired the album on tape, which is actually the format it seemed to be recorded for, as there are clearly “sides” to the album. Side 1 kicks off with Ice Planet Hell – the obvious single. Booming bass and eerie screamy-but-good-voice vocals continue into crunchy guitars and an easily singable chorus, “It’s so cool, it’s so swell, living here on ice planet hell.” Other standout songs on Side 1 include Starfucker Love, which –  in addition to the vocal stylings of Mr. Briggs – features a dark reggae-rap breakdown by a blonde swedish chick named Reeka who found a way to incorporate the phrase “bloody glove” in her rap. Awesome. Little Prince is the ballad on Side 1 and it’s really beautiful and inspired me to re-read a childhood favorite and determine it truly is one of the greatest books ever written and is in no way really intended for children. Freedom of Choice is a cool cover of a Devo song – and really, who covers Devo songs? – but compared to the band’s original stuff it’s just kind of whatevs. 180 degrees is a slightly darker ballad, but Pat’s vocals are intense and strong and gorgeous and I will sing along from my gut when I hear them. And then closing Side 1 is an instrumental track called The Sleep which is violin and piano and has a classical sound that is actually really appropriate for a sad lullaby.

Side 2 is wonderful but not quite as strong as Side 1. Starts off with a power-rock song called Flesh and Bone, but hits its stride with Blue Fear, which incidentally also has lyrics about flesh and bone. The “single” on Side 2 is Barcelona. It’s got a Spanish-inspired sound – not surprisingly – but the real beauty of this song is a unique and incredible vocal ability of Mr. Briggs’ that allows him to hit two notes at once for a strange captivating sound that I’ve never heard anyone replicate. New Man is the last “real song” on the album and is also beautiful and then the album closes with another instrumental, a sort of bookend to The Sleep, called The Awakening, only this one is more synth-based and much weirder.

I can’t even express with words how different and spectacular and cherished this album is for me. It is perfect from beginning to end and has really withstood the test of time as a regular rotation in my various music players. I’ve successfully converted dozens (or at least a dozen) folks into fans, which is kind of a lot since so few people have ever even heard of them. And the rumors on web-town are that they are kind of back together and planning another tour. So get with it, get with this album, and see me at the next show.

Also, here is a photo of me and Pat, from an album listening party in 1999:

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The Beatles – Rock-n-Roll Music

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For my debut guest column at the wonderful “I <3 Rock-n-Roll”, what could be better than than this? It’s an album that I obsessed over as a child, it’s arguably the greatest rock-n-roll band of all time, and it’s a band that Ray can’t stand. 🙂

It would be silly to attempt to sum up the size and scale of influence that The Beatles have had on rock-n-roll and the art of music in general. For me, my first exposure to the music of The Beatles was through a cartoon. When I was a kid in the 70s, a Pittsburgh-based public access TV station began re-airing the Beatles cartoon series. Each 30-minute episode was divided into two 15-minute cartoons, with each cartoon’s plot revolving around a Beatles song. I tuned in religiously, and I loved every single song.

This infatuation, of course, led me to harangue my mother until she bought me some Beatles albums. Of all the albums that I wish I had cared for and saved as a child, “Rock-n-Roll Music” is the one my heart aches for the most. A double album released in 1976, it is a 28-track compilation of both original material and (perhaps more importantly) cover songs. The Beatles cut their teeth as performers in British and German clubs playing amphetamine-fueled originals as well as interpretations of their idols’ music, and “Rock-n-Roll Music” attempts to showcase that era.

With almost half of the songs being Larry Williams, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Carl Perkins covers, this album highlights the influence that America’s rock, rockabilly, and R&B pioneers had on The Beatles. Songs like “Long Tall Sally”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and “Slow Down” are classics in their own right, and here they are executed with that unmistakable early Beatles sound. The rest of the album is a collection of some of the best Beatles-penned rockers, including “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Drive My Car”, “Revolution”, “Helter Skelter”, and possibly my favorite Beatles song, “Taxman”.

But the music was only half of what I loved about this album; the other was the physical product itself. The jacket was shiny silver – different than any other record that I owned at the time – with a portrait of the band on the front. Being a double album, it opened to a larger picture inside and a detailed listing of the songs. Ironically enough, the album’s artwork is dominated by 50’s-era imagery (neon, a jukebox, Marilyn Monroe, etc) even though The Beatles didn’t form until 1960 (perhaps in homage to their influences?).

If you can appreciate the scene in “Almost Famous” where the main character leafs through his big sister’s albums with fascination, then you can appreciate my love of this album and what it represents to me. It was a cornerstone of my musical youth and, even though the copy I owned is long sold at a garage sale, I still think about the countless hours I spent listening to it. In fact, writing this review inspired me to finally purchase another copy via eBay. Even at that, it won’t be that same.

Thanks Ray – glad to be here.

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Fugazi – 13 Songs (1990)

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My relationship with Fugazi has had its up and downs. I originally liked the idea of them – local guys with an activist edge and the coolest (unendorsed) t-shirt of all times (This is Not a Fugazi T-shirt {incidentally, this is a t-shirt I have to have at some point, even if it needs to be made DIY}). So, anyway, in theory, big fan of Fugazi, but in actuality…. The real problem was over-saturation. One summer my primary mode of transportation had a constant running soundtrack of Fugazi Repeater and Sublime 40 Ounces to Freedom and it sort of ruined them both for me forever. And an unfortunate side effect of that experience was that I thought it meant I disliked all Fugazi.

Fast forward a few years to me having an iPod and my boyfriend’s (now husband’s) entire MP3 collection at my disposal. So, a quick song shuffle brought up Waiting Room, which I sort of remembered hearing on the radio once or twice and enjoyed. And I listened to the whole track and thought, “hmm, Fugazi may not be all that bad after all, this song is awesome.” It was catchy with a great bass line. So I listened to it again, and decided, what the heck, let’s give the whole album a try. And I did. And it was fine, even though nothing quite compared to Waiting Room, except maybe for Suggestion, which I love if only for the lyric, “Blame her for being there.”

I can’t say any of the other songs really stand out. None are bad and the entire album is worth a listen, but even with a track listing in front of me, I couldn’t identify any of the other songs.

I’d say the album is absolutely ideal for at-work listening or anything where an inoffensive background sound is appreciated. It makes for a great soundtrack when you’re doing mundane busy work like filling in spreadsheets, assembling folders, or labeling envelopes (all things I used to do to the tune of 13 Songs regularly).

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Raooul – Jail-bait Core (1990-something)

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First of all, how upset am I that I can’t find the original release year of this album. I looked all over the cd and cd-cover but it wasn’t there and the information on the web is totally wrong (I’m pretty sure I didn’t time-travel in 1995 to acquire a cd that was released in 2001). But oh well, suffice it to say, it came out sometime before December 1995 cuz that’s when I got it for christmas.

Second of all, this is actually a split cd with a British band called Skinned Teen. I had a bit of a dilemma trying to decide how to review a split and decided I really just want to talk about Raooul, so that’s what’s going to happen. Perhaps Skinned Teen will find themselves on here later.

Enough pre(r)amble. I read about this band before I heard them and ordered the cd by mail from Lookout Records mostly just because this was a group of high school girls – girls my own age (at the time) – playing punk rock and actually signed to a label and I thought that was pretty cool. I wouldn’t say that I had low expectations, but I thought of them more as a curiosity than anything else.

So, quality-wise this is not what you’d call an extraordinary album. It was pretty poorly recorded – probably on a non-existent budget – so the sound is not great. And as musicians, the ladies aren’t exactly skilled. But what they lack in that sort-of lightning in a bottle talent, they more than make up for in the sense of creativity and fun they convey.

The best part of the album is that you can hear them laughing in almost every song. They don’t take themselves too seriously and instead of trivializing the music, it actually strengthens it. They possess a confidence to take risks and draw the listener in on the joke. In Miguel they make merciless fun of their friend the way most dudes do of each other. Rotten Dead Monkey is a shrieky good time. And Masturbatory Song reminds me of every dumb kid trying to look cool in high school: “I drink beer, smoke pot, drop acid, do lines, I shoot up, take speed…I’m not lying.” And as a closing tune, “I had Jesse Blatz,” is a standout. There’s something delightfully indulgent about the idea that any of these girls could take a punk icon and make him her bitch. So fun.

I don’t love Dark Coffee House or Spirit of ’78, but that’s mostly cuz they’re less funny. I don’t want to give the impression that this is a comedy album, either. They’re not out to be Weird Al, in fact, I’d compare them more to what The Offspring do silliness in their music. But I appreciate Raooul most for their sense of humor.

All in all, a fun listen, but not a regular rotation kind of album. It’s nice for road trips, particularly on the way to see a punk show, like a good warm-up act in case the actual warm-up act sucks.

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Bikini Kill – The CD Version of the First Two Records (1994)

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I felt compelled to try to redeem myself following the previous entry, so today I will be reviewing one of the greatest albums ever recorded. I say this with no measure of exaggeration, The CD Version of the First Two Records was a life-changing album for me. Now don’t get me wrong, I had heard female rock bands before, even ones where there were more girls than just the singer or the token guitar player/bassist/keyboardist/whatever, even ones that were a little bit angry (gee Alanis, you’ve got so much rage!). But from the opening declaration, “We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution, girl-style, now!” through to “I remember the back of your head, leaving.” I knew I was dealing with a force of young, passionate, feminist brilliance I had never before encountered.

Although Bikini Kill had a hand in spawning a musical (really cultural) movement called Riot Grrrl, the sound is punk rock through and through. The basic voice/guitar/bass/drums combo powered by little technical skill but a ton of creativity generate fast loud songs that any of your friends’ high school bands could learn by ear in under half an hour, making for great covers at coffee houses and vfw shows. And the lyrics are smart and raw – angry, thought-provoking, and surprisingly hopeful, belted out by a force of nature. It’s no wonder I still count Kathleen Hanna among my great heroes.

So, to the life changing. I was a wee 15-year-old who liked punk rock and wore chucks and wanted cool friends. I knew about feminism and social justice and such but never felt any sort of applicability to my young mind. And I made a friend who was also into punk rock and pretty cool and she put this cd in my hand and I’ve never been the same. For the first time I finally got punk – that it was an expression, an outlet, a community. That there were things going on in the world that deserved my attention and efforts that were not a part of my daily schooling or news consumption. And feminist I became.

Now, who’s to say that this would not have occurred anyway, prompted by some other event or realization. But how lucky am I that it happened and coincided with the discovery of some incredible, powerful, and surprisingly uplifting music? Totally lucky.

Standout songs include the opening track, Double Dare Ya – a singalong kind of anthem with the twin message that things are effed up, but that we can take action to fix it; crank that business! The follow up, Liar, samples the old hippy lyrics “all we are saying is give peace a chance” against a background of blood-curdling girl screams, it makes a lot of folks feel uncomfortable, but it’s sheer genius. Suck My Left One appropriates a delightfully chauvinistic catchphrase and turns it against child sex abuse, awesome! People who complain that the whole album is just an angry bitch screaming, can consider themselves served with the two quiet tunes, Feels Blind (“I eat your hate like love”) and Outta Me. Honestly, the entire album is a gem and no song should be considered skippable, although, Rebel Girl is kind of bore in comparison to rest of the cd, in spite of its “single” status. Might just be me.

I think the thing about this cd is that for the first time music was truly 100% relatable and actually targetted at me. Not the me who was a generic teenager, or a generic girl consumed only with thoughts of boys, or a generic alternative that was just out to be different. This cd was targeted at ME, smart, female, angry, confused, ambitious me. And nearly 15 years later it is still as relatable and powerful as ever.

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