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Hammerhead – Into the Vortex

July 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Amphetamine Records, 1994

Apparently there are eight bands out there that have been named ‘Hammerhead’, though I’m sure only one of them released records that had killer retro sci fi covers.  The group’s photos on the insider cover make them look rather grim in what appear to be futuristic spaceman uniforms, yet that sullen look combined with the festive cover art made the record a bit of a mystery.  The band’s name does look sort of surfish, but the way that astronaut guy is running away from it I had a feeling these guys might be loud.  Then again, astronaut guy could hate country music and that’s why he looks so fearful.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, I had no idea what this was going to sound like.

It turns out that Hammerhead sounds like the typical rough around the edges hard rock band, though unlike the groups that tend to smash it out all the time, Hammerhead have enough creativity to make the music a little more interesting.  “Swallow” is an introductory track that lays out the noise and shouting, but it’s ultimately not a strong tune.  It’s when “The Starline Locomotive” comes on where Hammerhead begin to show what they can do.  It has a menacing bass intro by Apollo Liftoff (aka Paul Erickson) before Interloper’s (aka Paul Sanders) guitar wavers in.  The calm build up to a heightened conclusion show that Hammerhead aren’t in any hurry to get a song over with and prefer to draw the listener in to their sometimes melodic noise.

Other songs that stand out for me is the droning yet angry “All This Is Yours”.  The lyrics sounds as if the author is infatuated with a female celebrity from an old magazine, which I guess is understandable if it’s all about Farrah Fawcett or Cheryl Tiegs, right?  “Brest” is one of the more aggressive songs that has an utterly merciless showing from the drummer Isolation DH-9 (aka Jeff Mooridian Jr).  The heavy instrumental “Galaxy 66” is a nice break from the raspy vocals, but it merely is a setup song for the long “Journey to the Center of Tetnus 4”.  Unfortunately, “Journey” is seven minutes of solid hard rock with poor wordless vocals.  Regardless, it’s a pretty good send off for a decent rock record.

Go listen to a few tunes from Hammerhead at their Last.fm page.

I’ve heard a lot of hardcore bands over the years and many of them sound very similar as to go forgotten.  Even though Hammerhead contain a lot of qualities of those dime a dozen artists, their periodic forays in tempo variation, as well as their cover art, makes them stand out a little more.  Hammerhead put out one more record after this one before calling it quits, but it apparently was one of their better ones.  If you like what you hear from this record, or wish to find some older hardcore albums to mix up the modern playlist with, go pick up “Duh, the Big City” if you can find it.

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Seks Bomba – Operation B.O.M.B.A.

July 27, 2011 2 comments

Ya Ya Records, 1999

I’m an absolute sucker for James Bond films. If they’re on the tube and I’ve got some time to kill (or not), I will watch whatever daring episode Bond finds himself in no matter what cheeky humor is going on amidst the gunfire. I know that after Sean Connery left the series there was this big hullabaloo over the merits of Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and some guy named George Lazenby. I thought Pierce Brosnan was okay, even if the movies were much too sheen. Thankfully Daniel Craig rekindled some of the grittiness aspect of the films and, thus, my interest. Therefore, any record that has this fetching of a cover will automatically get some money thrown at it on my behalf. Plus, and I wasn’t sure if it was for real, but the record hints at being a soundtrack for a film. I’m not so sure if I’ve heard of a movie entitled “Operation B.O.M.B.A.” (even if I wish there was), but who cares?! I figured this was going to be good.

Seks Bomba were a band out of Boston, surprise, that specialized in surf and lounge music. Boston is certainly more known for its garage rock and pop, so it’s nice to see that there was a little variety in the scene. “Operation B.O.M.B.A.” does showcase the talents of the band along the lines of a soundtrack, even if it would be hard to gather any sort of continuous plot line from the song titles. Regardless, the whole album an invigoratingly entertaining spree of music.

One could say that Seks Bomba opted to show three sides of themselves. The first, most obvious side is their surf rock affection. “Jet City” opens the album alternates between a frenzied cacophony of organ and drums and a cool, pensive surf style. “Klown Car” sounds like “Jet City” ignited, where it doesn’t opt to cool off at any point during its nearly two minute tenure.  The last track on the record, the double agent of “Seks Bomba Theme, pt. 1-2”, alters between a peaceful accordion introduction and a rousing surf track that befits the band well as its theme.  If you’re looking for some good modern surf music Seks Bomba know how to do it right.

There is also a lot of swing going on throughout the record, including a bouncy “The Right Track” sung by the very crisp, strong vocals of Chris Cote. He gives off a sound that one could easily mistake as being from those days of fedoras and speakeasies, or at least, the type we have seen in the movies anyway. “Bright Lights and You, Girl” is even better with its tone variation between tense emotion and splashy love song. Cote sounds like a guy that could be depressed late night on the strip or skipping through the slot machines as he passionately finishes up the song with one last round of the chorus.

While Seks Bomba has a lot of dazzle with its surf and swing songs, it is their lounge act that transitions each number quite smoothly. “Theme from ‘Mondo Edgar'” and “Rum Holiday” are typical lounge instrumentals, where the latter makes one feel that they’re vacationing on a secluded beach somewhere with drink service.  Seks Bomba’s chippy cover of Burt Bacharach’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” has all the cute aspects of the original, except this time Dionne Warwick’s vocals are replaced with what sounds like a distorted guitar.  Those classic “woah woah woahs” and “bah bah bahs” are all there, though.

But oh man, the BEST track on the record is easily the surf force that is “Main Title & Love Theme From ‘Satan’s Shriners'”. It is an absolute tear through a rapid clashing of drums, organ and guitar.  After about a minute and a half it comes to an abrupt halt with some eastern-sounding vocals, only to conclude in a blitz.  Although the following song of “Last Call” (a live, raspy and rambling track) could be deemed as the only dud on the record, the energy buzz from “Shriners” carries the listener on for a few tunes until the end of the record.

Check out everything you need to know and hear on Seks Bomba’s comprehensive website!

Unfortunately, if you had noticed the past tense from earlier, Seks Bomba no longer exists. After releasing three records, playing 250 or so shows, and hanging up the instruments after a show in 2005, Seks Bomba are now part of the history of the Boston Scene. Even though they played a lot of music that was mostly popular in the sixties and seventies, Seks Bomba showed with their longevity that there’s still an audience for such genres.  Since I haven’t heard this kind of music since the last time I saw one of those James Bond films, I have to give this record one of my golden dollars due to the good vibe I got.

Suarasama – Fajar Di Atas Awan

July 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Drag City Records, 2008

The trippy, nearly information-less cover art tells me this record could be either psychedelic or the lightest indie pop around.  I guess the latter inflection was gotten from all those flowers I see, which could make the music lying within one big skippy trip across a meadow.  Well, that’s my opinion of that light indie pop stuff, I guess.  I was sort of hoping for a psychedelic record, maybe, to give a soundtrack to these extremely hazy days across the nation.  However, with no track listing or, for that fact, much of anything on the back cover I had no idea what this was going to sound like.  I did know that I may need to pick up some 3-D glasses as the art had a double layer of different colored lines.  I should just be more prepared when music shopping, y’know?  Not only will I see the art for what it is immediately, but I would blend in immediately (or even start a new trend!) with the hipsters sifting through music around me.

Suarasama are a duo of musicians that tend to surround themselves with even more musicians.  Irwansyah Harahap and Rithaony Hutajulu have actually been together since 1995 and have released two records, including this one, nearly a decade ago.  It seems that Drag City thought that this album warranted a re-release, but that is up for debate.  As the liner notes discuss, Suarasama’s compositions are a combination of Indonesian music as well as many other world music backgrounds.  If you want to hear something that doesn’t sound like what you usually hear off the radio or IPod, this is it.

But do you want to hear it?  Much of music sounds like you might need a few pillows nearby just in case.  “San Hyang Guru” and “Merankai Warna” weave their soft, mystical guitar strums and Sudanese kendang taps while vocals float periodically throughout.  Speaking of vocals, much of the vocals in the songs consist of variations of “aaahs” between Harahap and Hutajulu.  I suppose you could say the vocals are mainly used as instruments versus trying to tell a story during most of the six or more minute songs.  Although the title track is certainly pretty, Hutajulu’s delicate vocals and sparse instrumentation from the band nearly knocks one out right away.

Thankfully, some of the songs have more energy to offer to break up all that serenity going on.  “Playing Gambus” is a nearly nine minute rousing number involving the fervent playing of a Malay gambus.  One could almost envision an Indiana Jones-like chase scene through an eastern set of streets while listening to the tune.  Like “Gambus”, “Zapin Rindu” is another spritely jam fest that features dueling vocals by Hanrahap, Hutajulu and Syainul Irwan.  It also features the gambus instrument, which has now carried two tracks in a row.  If these guys decide to go the edgy world music route, make sure it involves lots of gambuses.

That rippin' gambus! Turn it up!

There’s not a lot out there about Suarasama, but their Last.fm page at least gives you a chance to hear them.  Their label’s website for the band has a few interesting things to look at as well.

It is hard to really place how I feel about this record.  As with any album outside of one’s usual music realm, one has to have an open mind to give all music a chance no matter if it’s something one can’t stand or can’t understand.  This is one of those records, where I know it’s got a lot of talent emanating from the musicianship and singing, but I there’s no way I can say that I am a dedicated fan of Indonesian music.  However, I know through repeated spins that this is good, quality music and that treating it as anything other than a positive effort would likely be blasphemy.

I’m still rather bored by it, though.  There are only a few intermittent moments when it has an active groove as most of the songs could be observed as lullabies.  I imagine it is a more rewarding experience in public, as Suarasama has been known to attend many festivals with their music.  Since this record originally came out back in 1998, as well as their last original record having been released in 2002, it’s hard to say whether or not these guys are still performing.  I guess if Drag City felt the need to reissue the album, perhaps there’s still a chance you can go catch them live somewhere.  You may have travel a little farther than your downtown bar, though.

Dollar Bin Tragedies: Missing Discs

July 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Greatest dollar bin find ever? Or WORST NIGHTMARE?!

After years of thumbing through stacks upon stacks of unwanted music, sometimes I feel like I deserve something.  I don’t know, maybe by merely flopping a CD approximately ninety degrees to lean to its other side shakes up some dust and maybe makes it more attractive to someone else.  I have also, er, reorganized a few dollar bins to make certain discs stand out more so that others can pick them up.  Hey, there are some good ones that I already have!  I am a music avenger, trying to rescue music that deserves to be heard by fellow music avengers looking for a few good tunes.  I am a hero.  I am a hero!  I need a cape.

So … so yeah, I think I deserve a good disc now and then as a sort of high five for my good deeds and time spent working on my attractive hunched over posture.  It is when I find a disc that seems to grab my attention with a very light, yet dingy golden glow.  Its case looks immaculate, the artist is still getting plenty of spins in old and new circles alike, and I have been willing to spend a mere dollar on it for years.  It is the great find.  It’s the possible keeper of a disc that will make me wink at myself in the mirror at home while mouthing the words “you the man, you the man” over and over.  I may even impress the wife with the band and title (after a few reminders of who is in the band, what songs they sang .. well, anyway).  Needless to say, excitement floooows through my arms as I reach out to check its condition.

Then the lights dim and the dark laughter creeps into my ears from far away like Vincent Price returned.

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Discography Discoveries: The High Llamas and Mary Lou Lord

July 20, 2011 Leave a comment

When sorting through collections of discs that are marked way, way down, it is usual to see a disc from nearly every artist represented. Aside from maybe the Beatles and Radiohead, there aren’t too many musical artists that don’t have a dud somewhere in their discography. However, it is very rare in my journeys to discover multiple releases of an artist’s discography all in one place.  But behold, how rare is it to find two artists?!

Pictured: Featured artists' reactions upon hearing they'll be featured in one of my dollar bin commentaries. C'mon guys, it's not all bad!

I do not know very much about the High Llamas or Mary Lou Lord aside from the fact that they released most of their music in the nineties. You may say that well of course, a lot of bands in the nineties have long dwelled in the discount bins, perhaps even starting their descent as early as the late nineties. True, there (Sugar Ray) are plenty (Smashmouth) of those (Marcy’s Playground) types (Geggy Tah) of groups (Hootie) found (Ace of Base) in bins everywhere. However, these two are different from that usual crowd and I don’t see them sold cheaply anywhere, especially in groups. So what gives?

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Boards of Canada – Geogaddi

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Warp Records, 2002

Rarely does one scope around a bin of cheap CDs and find one that is actually on one’s want list.  Boards of Canada’s “Geogaddi” had been a target of mine ever since it had been named one of the better CDs of the last decade.  I had read articles referencing it and heard a few people speaking high praise for it.  There was no way it was going to sit there collecting dust.

Boards of Canada are a Scottish duo with guys named Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin.  They’ve only put out three full records, including this one, but their adeptness at sweeping, soothing compositions is quite impressive.  “Geogaddi”, when listened from beginning to end, might send you into a state of rolling your eyes into your head.  Disclaimer:  If you listen to this record based on my review, I am in no way responsible for if your eyes do not roll back to their usual forward position.  Instead, please accept my apologies for the likelihood that you now resemble a zombie.

The record consists of the interweaving of transitional tracks (a minute or so) and longer players.  Most of the shorter tunes are curious blips, though the pretty tones used in “Dandelion” and “In the Annexe” could have used a few more minutes.  Given that a few of the lengthier tracks have no problem with being repetitive, it’s curious as to the reasons why the duo cut these two tracks short.  Maybe I’ll have to go read around somewhere.  I did have to go look up the situation with “Magic Window” and its nearly two minutes of silence.  Was this a message from the band that the best calming sound is silence?  Or is there an importance to the album run time of 1:05:54?  Ah, who knows.  I’m just a writer.

I am glad that when Boards of Canada go long, they go for about four minutes or more.  “Alpha and Omega” uses the same notes progression for most of its seven minutes, but the infusing of dark static, vocal utterances, and fades makes the whole thing a mesmerizing experience.  One could very easily put one’s head back in a chair and phaaaase ooooutt.  “Sunshine Recorder” sounds like something Rjd2 might appreciate due its introduction that includes a sort of smeared electronic note and an active drum beat.  Like “Alpha and Omega”, it is a fine tune to listen to when calming down is necessary.  A song that feels like it is twice its three minute length, “Corsair” just makes one feel lobotomized.  It’s just so serene.

After listening to the whole disc a few times, my favorite track is one of the earliest.  “Music is Math” is not only a true statement in my mind, but it also epitomizes the beauty that Boards of Canada are capable of constructing.  The light, warm tones float above each other while an unobtrusive back beat provides harder texture just works so well.  Regardless of what I think about the rest of the album’s enjoyment level, this song makes it all worth it for me.

Boards of Canada have the requisite website to seek various information, but I recommend the group’s Youtube channel for listening.

As time has gone on, I have grown a deeper appreciation for electronic music.  The boom and crash that is rock n roll is still a great thing to have at the ready, but sometimes one just needs to concentrate or cut back on the distraction of vocals.  Boards of Canada excel in this type of electronica and will always be worth listening to when they put out new material.  The duo’s last record, “The Campfire Headphase”, came out in 2005 and though six years is about the maximum line where a band is either about to put out a new one, I’m worried.  The News section of their website hasn’t been updated since 2006!  Uh oh.

It’s possible that Sandison and Eoin are working on side projects, family, etc.  Until an official announcement of the band’s existence comes out, people should go out and listen to some Boards of Canada.

De La Soul – Stakes Is High

July 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Tommy Boy Music, 1996

Aside from their big “Me, Myself, and I” track, the main reason why I fondly recall De La Soul is their “Ring Ring Ring” track from 1991.  Its message about people leeching off of them for their own gains was not as much noticed as the light, catchy hook underneath the lyrics.  Since my idea of enjoyable hip hop is A Tribe Called Quest and the first two albums from the Black Eyed Peas (aka when they were credibly good), I figured that an affordable De La Soul record was going to spin right for me.  I was De La Sold.

According to RateYourMusic, “Stakes Is High” concludes a well regarded quartet of records put out by De La Soul back in the nineties.  I knew nothing of this when I picked it up, but apparently the record came out after one of their main song producers, Prince Paul, departed to do other things.  Regardless of what Prince Paul may have brought, the trio don’t sound like they miss him too much due to a large quantity of really solid tracks.

“Supa Emcees” has a classic swing that can make one bop along to a tune about hip hop posers.  “The Bizness”, featuring an early cameo by Common, has got a simple yet effective bass hook that allows the group to seemingly rap about … I guess … themselves.  Well regardless, tunes like “Dinninit” and “Brakes” keep the good tunes flowing early on.  Overall, the record definitely has a cool, effortless feeling to it that makes it quite listenable.

Given the time frame, I enjoy seeing a few of the cameos from artists just starting off.  Mos Def makes a fine contribution in “Big Brother Beat” while the ladies of Zhane, as in “Hey Mister DJ” Zhane, show up wonderfully on “4 More”.  Truth said, these cameos stand out even more so due to their infrequent number.  There’s only four cameos listed on the seventeen tracks!  Nowadays hip hop artists can’t get away with a cameo-less tune, it seems.  Aside from those (agh) skits.

For all its consistently smooth songs, the title track is the one that really stands out.  It’s got some J Dilla production, the sound of people fervently shaking some dice, and a more upbeat hook.  It turns out to be an aggressive tune about the state of violence, drugs, and poor neighborhoods and how that has translated into the hip hop scene.  That’s how I heard it anyway.  Great tune.

I don’t have a whole lot to knock about this album.  I suppose the only complaint one can have is that the whole record sounds very laid back and, when spun front to back, a few of the songs actually seem to blend together a bit.  But hey, I like laid back.  But most modern hip hop has a really hook-heavy, in your face tune once every three tracks or so.  De La Soul is consistent and, aside from the particularly head-turning title track, most tunes maintain a cool groove.  Perhaps this is what one needs to listen to when they want their hip hop to be chill for awhile.

De La Soul can be heard at their very colorful website or, of course, MySpace and Last.fm.

If the modern sound of hip hop isn’t satisfying enough, or the artists these days all bring the same message, perhaps you could use a listen to De La Soul.  The lyrics make you think, the beats are smooth enough from track to track, and you get the small bonus of listening to something that carries an old school vibe.  Plus, anything that reminds me of A Tribe Called Quest puts me in a happy place.  If for some reason you see some De La Soul lying around in a dollar bin, I highly recommend grabbing them to fill your ears with something good.