90s Post-Punk MP3s. A bunch of them. Below the fold.
These days, I'm not really a kid anymore, by some accounts (mostly listener emails) I'm still pretty stupid, but I think I've finally learned to stop acting like an arrogant, sonic svengali when it comes to the music I feel strongly about. (A job that's much better left to the presumably unemployed people who hang around on most internet discussion boards.)
In other words, I've accepted the fact that A.) I don't know what I'm talking about, and B.) no one else does, either. Being right isn't important, having (and exhibiting) a convincing personal aesthetic is.
That's the ideal I wish I'd had the gumption to aim for back when the odometer rolled over to 1990, but the truth regarding my interests of that era speaks to a different reality... I was a lowly fanzine editor who hung out at the 24 hour Kinkos all night at the same time I was a townie DJ at the local college radio station. Driven by the above-mentioned youthful arrogance, I felt it was my responsibility to "document" a slice of what I perceived to be the baddest sound on the block at that time. As a result, I spent a few years being the sort of opinionated but enthusiastic guy who spent unhealthy amounts of time seeing bands play in people's basements and buying 45s at places like Pier Platters (Hoboken), the old Reconstruction Records (NYC), and Princeton Record Exchange, supplemented by the odd trip to Philly or to parts unknown. Although I blew tons of money on music of all different stripes during those years, I'm not interested in presenting a digital overview of the crap that's been under my bed for years. Nope, I'm here to shine the spotlight -- however undeservedly -- on a singular slice of my teenaged/early 20s obsessions.
The problem is... in these genre-fied times of neatly categorized musical ideologies, the stuff I'm talking about doesn't really have a name. To throw around a popular reference point from that era, it's a fair bet
that all these bands got compared to (or were accused of ripping off) Fugazi in the hastily-photocopied
text of their town's podunk fanzines (mine included.) And of further tragic detail, the bands representing the genre here comprise a total sausage party. I.E., it's all dudes for this go-around, though I'll work on correcting that if there's a followup post. There were plenty of women involved with this scene, to be sure.
Also, all of this music was released by small, in some cases self-run independent labels. I'm purposely avoiding anything well-known or on a big name label because everybody knows about that stuff already and because bottomfeeding on the esoterica that falls through the cracks is more interesting, right? RIGHT???!
Most importantly, since this musical outburst occurred during the 7" single's umpteenth (and apparently final) reign over the independent music world, all of the tracks here are ripped directly from that format. No CDs, no compilation LPs, and no cassettes. Inspired by William Berger's recent reports on his adventures in the Nurse With Wound (NWW) List, I've decided to give this genre a suitably snappy name that's evocative of the Post-Fugazi Wankery that inspired so much of it. To wit, I present for your workday distraction, the first installment of my Adventures in The PFW List.
Pitchblende - Lacquer Box (Download MP3)
From Washington DC, this band found a second home on some of the sassier indie stations with the release of their first single (Sum/Lacquer Box) on Durham NC's Land Speed label. Though the band went on to release three albums of churning, Wire-tinged artpunk on Jade Tree Records, (including the excellently named GYGAX! LP, named after dorks-know-who) it was this scorcher that always did it for me. When performed live, anyone standing withing 20 yards of the PA would find their hair unfashionably pasted back against their skull due to the windblown fury emanating from the stage. I, along with many of my dorky radio cronies, shamlessly overplayed "Lacquer Box" upon its release in the summer of 1992, prompting a number of listener complaints. You can listen to Pitchblende's more mellow but similarly amazing "Sawed off City" from the WFMU archives by clicking here. (Real Audio.)
Blunderbuss - Road to Arizona (Download MP3)
An unusual release from the third, distinct chapter in the legacy of Homestead Records (that being when label management shifted from (Matador honcho) Gerard Cosloy, to (former WFMU fill-in DJ) Ken Katkin, to (current AUM Fidelity dude) Steven Joerg.) Blunderbuss was from Pittsburgh and showed up to the party in 1993 with this single of ringing, Rhys Chatham-like guitars, as well as songs twice as long as what any of their contemporaries were bringing to the table. I saw them once, and I don't remember so much as a peep out of their mouths between songs. Listening to them again 10+ years later, that seems appropriate given the downbeat tenor of what they were doing. The All Music Guide calls them a "hardcore punk" band, which is as inaccurate as it is laughable. There was at least one more single that I recall, and the internet tells of an LP called "Conspiracy", but I don't remember a damn thing about either.
Fiddlehead - Bleat (Download MP3)
The late, great Allied Record Label did god's work for the PFW genre throughout much of the last decade. Label owner John Yates (a British ex-pat living in San Francisco who also did artwork for many Alternative Tentacles releases and was the editor of the great, political artzine Punchline) had a trustworthy ear for blowing past the copycats and poseurs. Fiddlehead (who first appeared on the "Bag of Jakes" compilation 7") released a handful of singles and a great CD EP, mostly on Allied, all of which borrowed somewhat from the Jesus Lizard school of off-kilter rhythms and convincingly married the sound to a variety of popular vocal styles including: shouting, yelling, "singing", screaming, warbling, and shrieking.
Hot Glue Gun - I'll Kill You (Download MP3)
Direct from the It-Shoulda-Been-A-Hit-Single camp, we have Hot Glue Gun's summer of '91 smash "I'll Kill You" - a song that shamelessly employs the "whoaa-oooooh!" choral section (I think 7 Seconds could have possibly sued them for copyright infringement) with quasi-embarrassing success. Better distribution, some more fanzine reviews, and perhaps with Butch Vig at the production helm (dude, turn that guitar phaser OFF!), this would've been huge. It was the debut release for Mud Records, who later put out records by more popular bands like The Poster Children, as well as big-with-the-kids mopes Braid & Sarge. I believe there was also a nebulous (or not) affiliation with that band Hum, too. Parasol Records still carries a 2xCD comp with everything Hot Glue Gun ever recorded. Fair 'nuff.
Cole - N. East by N. East (Download MP3)
Musically, this is miles and away the best song included in this post and it also offers the biggest break from the paradigm at hand. Most noticably, it's slower (like, a lot slower) than anything else offered here and carries a more mature and cinematic sense of musical complexity. The lyrics, which don't kick in until there's less than a minute left in the song, seem almost like an afterthought -- although the wordless plot laid out prior to that point carries as much weight in the implied narrative as anything that comes after the singer's mumbled, Tom Waits-like closing remarks. Have no idea if they ever put out anything else, but this was released by Hep-Cat Records in 1996.
Dissent - Stress (Download MP3)
Every generation of noisemakers has its closeted prog-rock contingent, and this single by Dissent rests them comfortably at the top of that heap. They were from South Dakota and this single ("Expression") was released by Amity Records in 1991. (I trust that Pseu Braun and Monica will be glad to distribute mad props to these handsome fellas of northern stock for appearing butt-nekked on the sleeve.) It's not completely out of line to call Dissent a musical foreshadow of technically-schooled noiseniks like Oneida, especially given the all-over-the-map time signatures and some of the more meaningful lyrical passages (including: "AY-YAI-YAI-YAI-YAI" and "HWOOAH!") This single still stands up as a remarkably tense rager, and exists in stark contrast to what I remember about their other releases, which were more musically pedestrian. When band member Bob Baker passed away more than 10 years ago, the world lost someone who by all accounts was as sweet a man as he was a gifted musician.
Johnboy - A New Jersey Roadbase (Download MP3)
I've still never been to Texas, but a lot of the music that's come from there has tempted me to catch a redeye from Newark to walk among the people of the Lone Star state. That's clearly the only shot I have at ever understanding how such a collectively diseased intellect could give rise to filthy, disgustingly feedback-drenched goodies like this and to George Bush. This song, from the band's Calyx 7" (1992, Undone Records), worked a minor miracle by being the 2nd song I'd ever heard featuring through-a-bullhorn lyrics that I didn't completely hate. (The first was by the Butthole Surfers, also from Texas, and weirdly, the ones who went on to release Johnboy's "Pistolswing" LP on King Coffey's Trance Syndicate label.) This single caused such clench-fisted devotion amongst my pals of the time, it very nearly turned greater Mercer County into a lawless playground of sin for years to come. Well, we all liked it a whole lot anyway.
Sleeper - Display (Download MP3)
Like a lot of my friends who were 16 at the same time I was, I had what is now historically regarded and referred to in embarrassed tones as "The Dag Nasty Summer". Characterized by the sort of earnest teenage melodrama and urgency exemplified in the mid-80s by that particular DC band (and today heard in artists as varied as The Streets to, ehhh, I dunno... Is that why people like that Bright Eyes dude?), people my age who profess to have been any sort of punk rocker in the 80s either admit to having had the Dag Nasty summer, or they are lying through their fucking teeth . Either way, it's exactly the sort of thing that now makes me wince in embarrassment. I've played Dag Nasty precisely once on WFMU, and I recall that it immediately felt like a severe DJ misstep, having not actually listened to the record for years prior to that moment. Staten Island's Sleeper on the other hand, who feature a bona fide relative of no less a woman than Cherry Blossom Clinic hostess Terre T., mine territory similar to Dag Nasty, but somehow managed to age with much more style and panache. Which is to say, I can still listen to this today and not be overpowered with the desire to chew my own leg off out of sheer age discrimination. Sleeper (later called Serpico) is hard for me not to still regard as a complete anomaly, given the one time I saw them was at ABC no RIO in a full-throttle opening slot for Plaid Retina, Buzzov*en and Schlong -- a tough lineup for any band to reckon with, but they handled the responsibility like champs.
Tin River Junction - Drunk in San Fran (Download MP3)
Anyone here at WFMU would agree that audio mysteries are a good thing, audio mysteries with incredibly hissy, lo-fi production values are an even better thing, and audio mysteries with incredibly hissy, lo-fi production values that are from fucking Long Island are the greatest thing in the world. Witness Tin River Junction, who released this needle-pinning single on the Behemoth label (Yo, Lindenhurst! Rep-ruh-ZENT!), the a-side of which still destroys speakers and eardrums to this very day. Aside from featuring what seems like the longest false ending of any song I am personally aware of, the most remarkable thing about this single is how furiously and harshly it's all executed. An ancietly-coded website declares them to be "The Kings of Space Trash Noise!" Damned if I'll argue.
Phleg Camp - Cut the Robe Shit (Download MP3)
Another John Yates/Allied Records production, this one from the Canadian band's brilliant "Bully My Pushy" double 7". Proving once and for all that PFW didn't have to follow the no-dancing-allowed philosophy, these guys effectively channeled the ideology of their great grandpappies of groove, Soul Side. (A band that, like Phleg Camp, knew that roomfuls of be-dreadlocked white kids in homemade Swiz t-shirts had dance steps trapped in their noggins somewhere, and with a classy bit of funky bass in the mix, asses would be freed in moshpits across the nation.) Phleg Camp had at least one other great single ("Decision Argentina") and a sort of weakly received album on Cargo called "Ya'Red Fair Scratch" that I don't remember a damn thing about. I saw 'em once in John Hiltz' basement in Westfield, NJ -- a popular local venue for touring bands during the Clinton era -- but all I remember is the guitar player being repeatedly (and badly) shocked by his effects pedal and eventually hurling his guitar to the floor and storming out of the room.
Young Ginns - Waist Basket Kid (Download MP3)
Evil, twisted, and heavily stewed in its own rank juices, like the afterbirth of some demon being. The Young Ginns foretold of a great deal of lesser music that would follow (however unknowingly) in their mighty footsteps. This single (Gravity Records, 1992) set the sonic and visual tone for a lot of the messier and more demented bands that came slightly later (Heroin and Clikitat Ikatowi primarily, the latter of whom released a killer live album in 1997 that I don't think anybody liked) and it was this same sort of feel that was reigned in and beautifully refined on most of Unwound's recordings. One couldn't help but wonder if the name"Young Ginns" was a quiet tribute to the axe-wielding namesake of Black Flag fame, and the chirping feedback of this track certainly speaks to the possibility. Most interesting of all were band member Tim Green's other musical explorations, most notably with Nation of Ulysses, but most interestingly with The Vile Cherubs, a virtually unknown DC combo from the late 80s who had a CD of brilliant, garage/freakbeat demos released on some puny, gone-forever label around the same time the Young Ginns record came out. But that's a blog post for a whole 'nother day, no doubt.
That's also enough singles for this time out. Up until 3 years ago, I would've had enough of these records to last for five more similarly sized blog posts, but it was at that point in my life where I had a minor materialist freakout, decided I had too much crap in my apartment, and combed through my records for the purpose of giving a few hundred of them to some teenagers I knew. (Clearly the work of someone with a guilt complex and who's convinced he's going to hell.) Fortunately, I seem to have held onto the best material and tossed the crap that was too steeped in bad highschool poetics or guilty of shameless riff-heisting. Next time: Dahlia Seed, Garden Variety, Table, Blank, Dogs on Ice, Christ on a Crutch, Crain, more.