The man on the cover is flashing me the ace of hearts, so you know what that means! He lives for love, for he is the man who lives for love. He also apparently lives for chubby keyboardists, speeding tickets, and shootouts at gas stations according to the illustrations behind the late stage Jim Morrison look-alike. Along with the retro design and songs like “Zigaboo” and “(Chug Chug) It’s Not OK”, this looked to be a record worth a spin just to see what kind of colorful tale I’d get wrapped up in. Of course, if the background illustrations showed puppies sleeping, a few math equations and Christopher Walken, I’d probably still buy the record. I’m pretty easy to impress.
Spencer Dickinson is actually a side project for Jon Spencer (of Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion) and Luther & Cody Dickinson (of the North Mississippi All-Stars), so these guys bring a solid background of rock and blues with them. At nineteen tracks, this concocted group apparently had a lot to get on record that couldn’t be done with their usual bands, which is quickly apparent given the eclectic mix of style throughout the album. Some of the songs could be placed with either group, but some are just completely out there. I guess that’s what side projects are for, right?
“That’s a Drag” begins the album with a powerful blues guitar chug, with Spencer singing as if in personal pain. If one had to think of what an Explosion/All-Stars song would sound like, this gritty and straightforward rocker is it. With “I’m Not Ready” following in a similar vein, one may begin to think that Spencer Dickinson is just another predictably enjoyable blues rock album (sort of like the Black Keys and every record they have ever released). But no, as “Zigaboo”s jilting changes in tempo and addition of organ attests, these guys didn’t get together to pass the usual time. Spencer Dickinson’s momentum from the first two strong tracks takes a heavy sedative with the lulling slide guitar on “Body (My Only Friend)”. Spencer has even lost all of that early punch as he mumbles and whines his lyrics in this five minute journey.
And so it goes. With every tune that sounds like it’s a solid blues rock moment, there is one that causes one to rub one’s eyes. “Primitive” sounds like a trucker on a CB radio losing his mind over the course of the song. Can’t understand a word Spencer’s mumbling or screaming over the fuzz, can’t get past the jolting guitar pops, and can’t find a bit of replayability in the tune itself. That song couldn’t get over with fast enough, though I do know what to play if someone asks me to a recommend them a song that would devolve them into madness. “Flood (The Awful Truth, the Living End)” is collision of singing and shouting that culminates in a dismal screech-a-rific ending.
I suppose when nineteen tracks are compiled there are going to be duds, but there are a few particularly fun ones. “Sat Morn Cartoons” is two minutes of guitar solo aggression while “Love Without a Smile” is definitely a toe-tapper with its excellently peppy pace near the middle of the song. The funky title track has the lyric “I wanna mashed potato/down on my knees”, which illuminates the light-hearted feel that Spencer Dickinson delivers on the tune. Truly, if the guys just shaved off seven or so iffy tracks this would be a very strong album with all the good music on the record. I am not sure if that goal was really on their mind when Spencer Dickinson put this album together, though.
Since this is a side project that defines the term ‘off and on’, there isn’t a whole lot to go to on the Internet for them. However, you can listen to a few tracks by Spencer Dickinson on Last.fm.
The group that is Spencer Dickinson has only put out two records, with this one in 2006 and the previous one in 2001. Since nearly seven years passed after “The Man Who Lives For Love”, the slide guitar on this side act may have been put away. That may be even more evident with the fact that Jon Spencer’s main act has ended their lengthy hiatus (begun two years before this record), so one half of this side project may not feel that itch to dabble with the Dickinsons for awhile. Then again, if the point of Spencer Dickinson is to just be something to do when the main players want to get nonsensical and crazy, they might bring back the man and his ace of hearts. However, if they wait too long they’ll have to name the new album “The Man Who Lives For the Early Bird Special” or “The Man Who Lives For Grandkids”. Everybody, start brainstorming ideas for that fetching album cover…
When presented with the opportunity to buy a brand new, unwrapped record for less than a dollar, there are a few things that may pass through your mind. For instance, you may get some kind of inner seizure when the phrases “new album” and “one dollar” collide. Wha-a-a-a-t?! If you somehow can ignore your impulsive buying habits, you may also catch that the album is swathed in colorful art that features houses and people in berets. Forget that the phrase “The Victoria Lucas Hit the Ground Running Fast” is manically scratched across the album cover, or that the band comes from a foreboding record label; this is an album that demands one to take a chance on it. Okay, maybe I’m the one. The only one. Fine.
Based out of Brooklyn, this quintet has a fine, digestible pop rock sound. Early songs like “Tucson” and “Back to Junk” remind me a lot of some mid-to-late nineties indie rock. I hear a lot of Breeders in “Back to Junk” with the quivering main guitar lick, while “Tucson” just sounds like a collection of low key, jangling guitar types of bands from those days. The guitar riff from “Allegheny/Monogahela”, as well as the combination of Juan Stacey’s and Kathy Horne’s unflashy vocals, give an air of earlier Pavement. Note that these three songs, aside from a bit of strings, are pretty much straightforward pop rock. I like that these tunes don’t try to get too quirky for the sake of being different, which topples most rock efforts with the ‘trying too hard’ label.
The record rolls along very nicely before it runs into its first skippable tune of “Wheels of Commerce”, which qualifies as such mainly because it is overly long and strays away from that easygoing guitar sound by incorporating noisy horns and a prolonged ending. I know that eventually a band feels the need to mix things up a little, but man, it was going so well up to this point. Thankfully the following tune, “Finely Street Hooker Song” , has the upbeat pep of the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner”, which probably has something to do with the inclusion of a bouncing organ sound. The ending guitar bit tears it up excellently. “Narcissus”, the last track, eases out the record like Pavement might during one of their ‘fast’ songs during “Wowee Zowee” (which is to say, not fast at all but with enough energy to move it along well). I’m glad the Victoria Lucas decided not to get too mushy in the end, which usually makes for a dull impression after an otherwise exuberant effort.
Despite not being able to find anything about these guys on the Internet aside from a minimal bit at Allmusic, the Victoria Lucas still have a MySpace page to hear some of their music. Also, check out their charming video about their busted van and Pep Boys.
The Victoria Lucas have proved that at a mere dollar one can hear a very good pop album from an obscure band. I knew it could happen! Sure, it takes a lot of gambles, but I found that nearly every track on this record is worthy of a spin at least once. It’s too bad that despite the glut of pop rock acts already out there that no one has heard (or heard of) the Victoria Lucas. It might be partially due in fact that these guys were finished after one record, but if they bothered to make a follow up I think that with their abilities they would have made a blip in a few people’s minds. Maybe they found that there was a better career in album cover art …
Hey alright, an angry Japanese girl with a knife. She’s also wearing the Hamburger Helper mascot as a hat and thinks a sheer, white skirt with polka-dotted leggings are valid accompaniment. Then there’s the bright pink logo, which causes a conflict. Is this a fun, quirky pop album or is this a deadly noise effort by a batty songstress? I was crossing my fingers for the former when I picked this album up for less than a dollar, but you probably already know what it turned out to be.
There is no Japanese pop on this record. Forget anything cute, either. MU, otherwise known as Mutsumi Kanamori, is one truly aggressive Japanese chick. She may have some fun-lovin’ photos throughout the enclosed booklet, showing her in a witch costume or smiling happily in front of a peaceful audience, but every song has a sharp edge. Call it noise, art rock, or a violent stream of consciousness, but “Out of Breach (Manchester’s Revenge)” is a teeth-grating assault.
In the opening track of “Haters”, Kanamori screams and yelps about those who, of course, hate her music. It’s not hard to imagine who consists of this hater group, since it likely encapsulates most of the listening public. However, although Kanamori does confess that “Yes, I might have no talent” that does not mean that a woman is not allowed to express herself artistically. It’s just a rough venture to sit through twelve tracks of “no talent” noise that’s the rub.
The tune “Stop Bothering Michael Jackson” is another shout out to haters, except this is to those who complained about Michael Jackson’s success back around 2004. No mention of Jackson’s eccentricity or child-based accusations can be found within this six minute epic piece of confusion, for Kanamori is an angry fan. Kanamori comes across as angry in other places, like on “Tigerbastard” (“I’m holding you by the balls/Every time you restrict my freedom I’ll squeeze this hand tighter”) and “So Weak People” (“I’ll kick hard into your face/Put handcuffs and hold your neck”). Then there’s “I’m Coming to Get You”, which sums up that album cover nicely, eh?
There are some decent moments here and there, whether it be lyrics or the music (essentially, when she’s not singing the album is tolerable). On “Throwing Up”, there’s a solid instrumental bit at the end of the song that Boof (aka Maurice Fulton) puts together. Unfortunately, he’s also responsible for the manic background to Kanamori’s abrasive delivery on each song, so he doesn’t really get a pass. Kanomori, for her part, reconciles with her heavily drunk self on the tune after reflecting that the toilet is her best friend too often. There is something to learn here if you can get this far into the record.
If you want to hear the equivalent to a brick to the face, head on over to Kanomori’s MySpace page. She’s been updating it.
I got a bit of a headache listening to this album by MU, most likely because there was utterly nothing to grab onto. None of the electronic, thudding beats were cohesive and Kanamori’s vocals were like an ice pick to my ears. Unless you want to hear what the other side of the J-Pop spectrum sounds like then there is no reason to pick up this album. The album cover’s curious lure only serves to punish those who approach the lady with eclectic style. Still smarting from the audio ambush, I gotta throw this one in the Can.
I bought this record at a small record store that is known for its wonderfully unique taste. They have got psychedelic rock from the sixties, solo artists on no art, no frills CDs just getting their music out there, and tunes from bands you and I will never know or hear of ever again. Truly eclectic! Buying dollar discs from them has been quite the challenge over the years, and Bablicon’s album is no different. The art and print betray nothing, aside from possible chaos. Uh oh, chaos. If this is another one of those experimental records I get tricked into buying I’m going to open my window and blast it for my neighbors. I’M not going to be alone in this listening debacle. Take that old folks! Call the cops if you wanna, they won’t want to come anywhere near this place.
And yes, as it turns out Bablicon is experimental all the way. But at least they’re not screaming at me, or making noises my mind can’t comprehend. Well, not entirely anyway. Bablicon let it rip right away with a Liars-like tune entitled “Silicon Bucktown”. The singer sounds like he’s straining just to keep up with his humorous (re: choppy) delivery of the lyrics, which explains quite a bit when the rest of the record lacks vocals. Bablicon is mainly about the music, which for the most part on “Silicon…” consists of a steady bass, drum, and violin presence. “Muomed/Moy Mermotman” is much more experimentally typical, with some strangely random drum taps and mournful saxophone. At this point, I was getting a bit nervous about my patience level.
The third track, “Anne on an Infibulus” is similar to “Muomed…” in that the drums can be wayward and urgent, but the difference is that it actually has a pretty good intense build to it early on. The bass line sounds a lot like the “Doctor Who” theme, so if that show ever had a chase scene where a guy in a very long scarf had to pursue some kind of humanoid from another time (oh, watch the show already) this would be the theme song. Unfortunately, the tune fades out halfway through and is replaced by an eerie chimes concoction with a brooding piano stepping in periodically. Ah, that’s right, forgot I was listening to experimental music for a bit there. There are no rules.
Another song that stood out to me was “210”, which was a bit long for what it was but had some moments that made me think it was part of a movie score. The harsh oboe (or perhaps flute) sound early on sounded like something out of a Hitchcock film, while the rat-a-tats from a simple drum kit sounded like something from “Peter and the Wolf”. Some sounds on this one reproduced that tone you hear when your ears are ringing. Along with some other inverted, sometimes frightening sounds that sweep and fade across the speakers, I was impressed at what amounted to a short soundtrack to an unknown suspense film. A B-film director should give Bablicon a call for this tune alone.
Bablicon only have two songs on their Myspace page but there’s a few videos on Youtube that can get you interested in their live show from back when they were around.
Shockingly, I don’t mind this record all that much. Of course there were some discordant songs that didn’t work much at all for my ears (Mustacho, The Well Tempered Alligator), but a few tunes on here actually held court well. I could hear a solid jazz tune here, a meditation there, and not get too derailed by random assaults so that I would turn the album off. Bablicon, you have given me something to think about! Well, until the next musical bludgeoning comes along and makes me grit my teeth and bulge my eyes.
Bablicon only put out three records, the last in 2001, before calling it quits. It’s hard to say if the world is worse off with Bablicon gone, since there are so many who are capable of throwing some instruments together to make a cacophony of seemingly aimless sounds. However, as I mentioned earlier I think the group had some solid talent when they caught a directional vibe. According to a couple of sites, their third record is slightly better than this one, so I may even check that out for a dollar. I’ll even let the old folks sleep if I do.
So let me get this straight. These guys named themselves after transvestite dabblers in black magic? How many of those are there? Well, needless to say they didn’t have to worry about the old question of “Wait, what if someone already named their band ‘Witches With Dicks?” No chance guys, so congratulations. Given the typeface on the album art and a song called “Your Job Does Not Rock Balls”, I had a feeling this record was going to be punk all over the place. Ahem, I mean that it will more specifically be a punk rock record by transvestite dabblers in black magic.
Boston’s Witches With Dicks play loud, urgent punk that sticks with traditional speed and grittiness. The four guys in the band all sing/shout at various times during the record, and even though there is nothing pretty about it, at least they sound honest. On “How to Cook 40 Humans”, the band gets hopeful with the realization that despite a difficult time in one’s early days one can still come out on top if they just stick out the troubling times. At least, that’s what I could get out of the lyrics, which for punk rock came across as surprisingly thoughtful. The band’s unabashed dislike of certain types of men in blue on “One Whopper For the Copper”, a song that paints some of the more power-hungry policemen in a bad light.
I am still a fan of the title of “Your Job Does Not Rock Balls”, which of course is a quick denouncement of getting stuck in a cruddy job. I am making a note of that phrase to get my point across succinctly if a weary friend needs it told to him/her straight. Another example of Witches With Dicks trying to help out in two minutes or less, the band promotes cutting off deadbeat buddies in “Die Painfully”. Why hang onto a relationship if there is no reciprocation? Thanks Witches With Dicks. My favorite line is “So take a walk outside tonight cause it’s nice/There’s fireflies.” This is a sensitive punk rock band that wants to hold your hand and give you those knowing eyes!
And hey, any band that makes a reference to 8-bit Nintendo wins some review points automatically from me. The tune “Skate or Die Two is Going to Be Awesome When It Comes Out” is so true. Granted, the song doesn’t seem to have anything to do with “Skate or Die”, but it got me thinking that I should have another go at punching out that mohawked punk again in the 1-on-1 skateboard race. That guy always seemed to sideswipe me near the back alley finish line. And uh, let’s not get into my lack of virtual halfpipe skills, okay?
Give Witches With Dicks a few listens to a couple of punk tunes at their MySpace page.
This is not a bad record, nor is it a great record. It’s a punk record. Straightforward tunes by guys who knew how to turn up the volume and not drag it on too long. If one likes that nineties-to-now punk sound then this is a fine enough grab for a dollar to hear a few solid, quick ones. As for the band, according to a clip on PunkNews.org Witches With Dick are no longer together. So, aside from a few singles and this “Manual” album, Witches With Dick made a short, somewhat minimal stay in the Boston punk scene. Some may say that it’s no big deal since these guys sound like a lot of other bands, but for Boston fans, it’s a pity to lose a crew that were capable of blasting out some high energy.
I am going to admit something that may or may not be a piece of information you hear from too many people: I am a Hole fan. I used to spin “Pretty On the Inside” and “Live Through This” quite often back in the day and was thrilled to see the band on their “Celebrity Skin” tour. Even though I got mostly raised eyebrows from my friends, I thought Hole had a lot of good power despite some band member antics (ahem, Courtney) and a sudden shift to softiness after “Live Through This”. I wasn’t surprised when the band broke up after too much middling pop, but I was surprised when Melissa Auf der Maur put out a solo album. How often do bassists not named Paul McCartney put out solo albums these days? Though I’m late on the pick up, hearing Auf der Maur ‘s debut record was an automatic must for a dollar.
Unfortunately, it is quickly apparent that Auf der Maur isn’t much of a singer. On songs for “Celebrity Skin”, Auf der Maur blends in fine because she doesn’t have to be front and center and can keep a pretty enough tune to help back up the vocals. Unfortunately, Auf der Maur’s acceptable vocals are on display throughout this record, where she sounds like anyone who might be passable on a karaoke mic.
Songs like “Lightning Is My Girl” is a straightforward rocker that could use a powerful vocalist to carry it to a higher plane, but Auf der Maur mostly speaks her vocals and doesn’t do a whole lot to improve them during the droning chorus. The same goes for the obviously sexual “Taste You”, even though Auf der Maur’s voice does nothing to add to the content. On tunes like “I’ll Be Anything You Want”, Auf der Maur’s voice sounds limp during the blazing, high volume chorus. As much as she likes to bring the rock ‘n roll, Auf der Maur has trouble carrying it vocally.
The music itself is decent enough, but nothing one wouldn’t expect from a usual rock band. There are some catchy moments here and there, like the fast-paced chorus of “Real a Lie” (which does well to layer Auf der Maur’s vocals) and the snappy opening riff to “My Foggy Notion”. The “Barracuda”-like riff to “Skin Receiver” sets up the seat-gripping chorus quite well, though by this point in the album (the second to last track) the adrenaline comes quite late. Honestly, this tune should have been placed earlier in the album to spark some momentum, for most of the strong energy coming out of “Skin Receiver” gets wasted in the utterly dull and droning “I Need I Want I Will” conclusion tune. As for the rest of the tracks in between, many of them give off a drudgy, mid-to-late nineties vibe. One gets the impression that one will experience plenty of noisy energy at a live gig featuring all of these songs, but on a record their bombast has trouble translating. Again, Auf der Maur’s vocals don’t help much.
There are plenty of guest stars on this record, which look great on paper but ultimately might explain some of the sound issues. Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) writes and takes on the guitar for some tunes. James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) and Eric Erlandson (Hole) also show up for guitar work, while Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) even shows up for some backing vocals. Do those four names have something in common? Yeah, that late nineties rock sound. Like I said, they look good on paper.
Well, I really wanted to like this. I figured there would be quite a few tracks, especially with the hired help, that would be strong enough for a repeat listen. However, aside from perhaps “Real a Lie” and some aspects of “Skin Receiver”, the record is mostly forgettable. Auf der Maur continues to be involved in music, film, and photography and already released a follow up record in 2010. I know that six years is a lengthy amount of time to reinvent, revise, or whatever, so maybe that’s worth a spin since Auf der Maur is still a cool, redheaded rock ‘n roller from Canada. Unlike this record, I will likely spend time instead of money hearing a few online tracks to find out what Auf der Maur has evolved to.