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The Hissyfits – Letters From Frank

August 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Top Quality Rock and Roll, 2001

The cover of this record looks like someone had a heck of a time with their typewriter.  All the duplication of letters and even the inclusion of a star key seems to indicate that the person was all sorts of ticked off as to why their typewriter was giving them issues when they just wanted to type the name of the band.  That ‘h’ key looks like it particularly got sticky and the user was just mashing it repeatedly.  I do the same thing with Control-Alt-Delete on days when I have had enough of frozen windows and buggy software.  Wham! Wham! Wham!  So needless to say, I identified a little bit with the cover art as well as the thought that a band called the Hissyfits was probably going to be a good rock ‘n roll time.  So I picked the album up.  I figured I owed the frustrated typewriter guy that much.

The Hissyfits are a three piece, all lady band that specializes in punky pop rock.  Given that the three, full-square headshots of the ladies show them all to be smiling kind of makes sense with that kind of genre, since all the grrl and hard rock girls tend to grimace and look like they don’t want you talking to them.  Although the Hissyfits might have made themselves a little typecast, what they do defy are the conventional song lengths of pop rock.  Some of these songs usually stick around for three and a half minutes!  Either the band wants the listener to pay some attention to their valued lyrics or the band likes to pull a freebird with some instrumental dabbling.

The early songs on the album fulfill what I figured the Hissyfits were all about.  The opener of “Something Wrong 2001” isn’t a particularly strong track, with some room temperature rock tempo and a some very timid vocals, but it fits that cute energy the band was giving off from its cover.  “Baby” sounds a little better with the light vocals from the main singer (I’m assuming of the three vocalists, it’s the one who goes by ‘Princess’ aka guitarist Holly Jacobs), though the tune warms up with a sort of sixties-sounding duet exchange early on.  “Superstar” seems to continue where “Something Wrong 2001” left off, and though it has some pretty harmonizing over the power riffs, I’m still waiting for the stand out track.  Unfortunately, the songs are starting to get longer …

When looking over the time stamps of the songs beforehand, tracks that I was weary of listening to were “So Sweet”, “Bloodsugarsister”, and “Giant Ants” since they all lasted longer than four and a half minutes.  I thought oh man, what kind of pop rock song lasts that long and retains its interest?  Well, it’s a mixed bag.  I think “Oh Sweet” is actually one of the stronger songs on the record with its grim, urgent tone and uncharacteristic seriousness from the Hissyfits vocalists.  The build up and chorus sound engaging, though at about three minutes one could easily argue that the song begins to overextend itself.  When the guitar takes over and the chorus repeats itself periodically without anything new, a casual fan of the song could begin to edge that finger closer to the skip button.

Unfortunately, the other two tracks don’t fare as well.  “Bloodsugarsister” starts off really slow with some really light vocals, yet thankfully picks up after about a minute and a half.  The song itself isn’t all that interesting to wait out the rest of it.  “Giant Ants” suffers from a chugging riff that just goes on and on while one of the singers ‘raps’ about Bruce Lee.  It is apparent she’s been labeled a vocalist so as to fit in, but really, it may be because the band is still trying to figure out who in the group can actually sing.  You either have the rapper girl who can’t sing, the very light vocalist who sometimes is overdone by the rockin’ raucaus, and the incognito vocalist who seems to prefer to stay in the background.  Despite all the noise going on, it’s the vocalists as well as the over-extension of the song that makes it forgettable.  The Hissyfits just do better when the songs don’t require a marathon length.

Speaking of short songs, I think one of the better tracks on the disc is the thrashing “Lock ‘N Load” that nearly ends the album.  It completely stands out as some kind of lark by the band given that nothing else matches its tempo, but it probably fits the band’s namesake most accurately.  The band quickly moves on back to its usual slower speed with “Today is the Day”, though this time Jacobs’ vocals are all fuzzed out.  It certainly gives it a nice summer feeling, especially with some summer thoughts-inducing hand claps included.  The song ends up as a nicely calming ending to a somewhat confusing album.  Oh by the way, the song is nearly five minutes long.

If you must hear some pop rock by three or so women *right now*, well, have a listen at Last.fm.  (Edit:  Unfortunately, their old website is down as of 2013.)

The Hissyfits have gone through quite a few lineup changes in their time, though the lead guitarist Holly Jacobs has been the consistent element.  Either way, the band hasn’t put out a record since this one and, though the band toured for a few years afterward it unfortunately looks like the Hissyfits have thrown their last tantrum.  As promising as the Hissyfits looked when I picked up this record I can’t say it fulfilling delivered, though I would have been interested to see what the group put out next to see if they got a little more exciting.  As it is, the Hissyfits left some fun untapped on the floor amidst the toy wreckage.

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Two Years! Two Years!

August 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Two years, two chicks, two wild hats! CRAZY TIIIMES!

So here’s how it went down.  Upon realizing that it was the eve of this blog’s two year anniversary of existence I wanted to go all out to celebrate.  I knew that the mere fact that I have been writing reviews of forgotten music has easily qualified me for the Internet’s Hall of Historically Important Lore, so I wanted to pull out all of the stops and spend tons of dough on a HUGE party!

Early today I called up this really ritzy club in Boston and said I planned on getting 200 of my friends and readers together.  We wanted to arrive in limousines while decked out in crisp Hot Topic gear, and I wanted to make sure we had kegs of root beer a’flowin’ at the club by the time we got there.  Well, the club wanted a lot of money ($2,000 for a half hour) and I figured ah, who needs a club anyway?  I’ll go spend my money on some great food instead for my great guests!

I staked out multiple restaurants in the area to see who could accommodate my 200 hardcore partymongers.  They all said “You must be crazy” and I said that yes I was and that I planned crazy parties.  Unfortunately, no one was willing to take on all of my people for a Friiiidaaaay niiiight! (said while leaning back and waving both hands in the air) Yeah okay, that’s fine too.  Let’s just get the people together and we’ll figure someplace out to bombard with bodies.

I then created an Evite entitled “Dollar Bin Lays a Deuce!” and enticed people with free dollar bin CDs, gallons of root beer, and my treasured company.  It must have been a real busy day for people, for out of the 200 people I invited 152 said No, 47 said Maybe, and 1 person said Yes.  That person was me.  But I was totally there and banked on the 47 Maybes as surefire boogie downers later that night.

Well, the night came and I got 47 text messages that said they were at some ritzy club in Boston and couldn’t make it, sorry.  Dang!  Looking at me and the other party guest (me in a mirror), I decided to go to a last minute Jimmy Buffett cover band concert at a Coat of Arms.  My reasoning was that I might as well watch someone else party, I guess.  I ordered a cheeseburger and, burger in hand, waited for the band to come on.  Then I spotted these two chicks with wild hats in the front row.  I walked up to them and said, hey ladies, did you know that today is the two year anniversary for my Rummaging Through the Dollar Bin music blog?

And they went APESH*T CRAZY!

I managed to snag the above picture with my cell phone before I was attacked by the equivalent of savage harpies (for all you Greek mythologists out there reading).  I mean, they started grabbing my clothes, my hair, my eyeballs … I did not know that these two women just happened to be my biggest fans *and* liked Jimmy Buffett a whole lot.  I scrambled out of that place in tatters, realizing too late that my cheeseburger was in their clutches.  I had to let it go (r.i.p) and managed to grab a cab home.

It may not have been the 200 person mayhem party that I was thinking of, and I may or may not have been winked at by the cabbie, but I gotta tell ya … I can’t wait for three years, baby.

New Model Army – Great Expectations (The Singles Collection)

August 22, 2011 4 comments

Superperfecta Recordings, 2003

I hate feeling behind the times or ignorant of something important that has occurred.  I occasionally worry that someday someone will ask me for a particular detail of a war fought or a famous person that lived and I will draw a befuddled blank.  When I picked up this record and saw that it was a singles collection of some group named New Model Army, I looked around nervously.  I, uh, have never heard of New Model Army.  I know a little more about NWA than I do about NMA.  Opening the CD case I saw a few pictures where the lead singer was shown with four different haircuts, meaning the group had been around awhile.  Unlike a previous group I reviewed, these guys looked legitimately like long term veterans.  (gulp)  Before I risked further musical cred indecency, I brought the album up to the counter and picked it up.  I refrained from saying “I love these guys” to the lady at the counter…

When I looked up the band when I got home the truth hit straight and center:  New Model Army has been around for thirty years and they’re rather big in England.  (sigh)  Well, better really, really, really late than never, right?!  Since this collection of songs range a full thirty years, one is going to hear a whole lot of fluctuation of sound.  Songs like “Great Expectations” and “The Price” sound like they’re from that big hair, bright clothes era, while “Orange Tree Roads” gives a more modern impression.  Before I get into song specifics, I will say that despite some instrumental differences the band has been quite consistent in its sound for thirty years.

Most songs on the collection are uptempo rock ‘n roll with a few slower tracks here and there.  The band really doesn’ t get all that creative when it comes to instrumentation, nor do they bother with gimmicky silences, sax solos, or any other sort of sound that diverges from their usual drive.  “Here Comes the War” is a typical song of theirs with a consistent drum tempo and rousing choruses.  Along with the band’s ability to simmer with drawn out energy, Justin Sullivan’s vocals probably serve as the strongest instrument.  When he delivers the verses he sounds resigned with hints of frustration, yet on the chorus he is shouting a call to arms.  Sullivan tends to do this throughout the entire album, preventing the listener from assuming too much of how a song will flow.

What is quickly evident about the early New Model Army songs is that they don’t have your usual light-hearted, whimsical lyrics like most eighties songs.  The “Great Expectations” song could easily be considered as a straightforward rocker from the post-punk days, but it has a real yearning about having hopes dashed due to the expectation of joining the capitalist legions.  “Green and Grey” reads as this love letter to a disgruntled man who is fed up with living in a small town and heads off to the city, only to leave his confused buddy behind in the small town.  The song “51st State” definitely rings a bit close to home, considering it appears to be about the fact that England is a little too friendly with what the United States are interested in.  Yeah, given that this song was written back in the eighties during the Reagan years with Tony Blair and 9/11 still in the future, the song’s stinging words still seem to resonate.  Just these three songs alone show that while the U.S. was feeling good about lucky stars, walking like an Egyptian, and oh Mickey you’re so fine in the eighties, these guys were bringing the serious over in England.

I found that of all the eighteen tracks on this collection, one of the songs that would make me want to hear more of New Model Army is “Orange Tree Roads”.  This song surprised me, for the song came out in 2000 and track record has it that a band tends to lose a lot of its allure the older it gets.  For instance, rarely would I even bother to listen to a Stones, Bowie or Who track now over something they did thirty years ago, for usually the recent tune sounds tepid and watered down.  However, with New Model Army’s consistency “Orange Tree Roads” sounds rather fresh and engaging as if the group was many years younger.  Though Sullivan is the last original guy left, the band still sounds like it could entertain long time fans as well as curious new listeners.

Of course, a band around this long has a website and MySpace page.  However, if you’re up for some British history as well, check out the original New Model Army.

The fact that I actually scored this album for a quarter adds to its Bargain status, but ultimately it’s a solid collection of rock tunes from a band that isn’t all that well known here in the States.  I imagine that if one were to hang around London for awhile they’d not only get a better idea of the band’s popularity but also a chance to see them live once in awhile (which would very likely be worth the time).  For those looking to explore a group that has some real history and fans behind it, put a few spins aside for New Model Army sometime.

Red Aunts – #1 Chicken

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Epitaph Records, 1995

Ahh, nothing like picking up a record and seeing that one of the members on the cover is giving you the ‘Loser’ sign.  Does the music store owner see a patron shudder whenever he or she picks up this record?  Psychological effects aside, the scratched out band and album name, as well as the bleached blonde smokin’ with shades in the passenger seat, gives off the air of something edgy.  The fact that it’s an Epitaph Records release seals it, as this was going to be some kind of punk or hard rock.  I was definitely intrigued with the thought of hearing what “Rollerderby Queen” sounded like, never mind that plushy song title of “Satan” (hmm).  And hey, I had to review this album or that girl was going to drive by and flash me the ‘Loser’ sign again.  NOBODY ‘Loser’ signs ME and gets away with it, MAAAANNN!

As a California grrl punk band in a decade of grrls, the Red Aunts are abrasive, raw and a little rude.  However, they know that in two minutes or under they can make your adrenaline rush.  “Freakathon” has no slow introduction and immediately begins its jilted assault of heavy riffs and Terri Wahl’s screamy vocals.  No sooner has it gotten started than “Tin Foil Fish Bowl” and “Hate” barrel in with similar quick tempo.  Along with Kerry Davis, Wahl sings in various tones depending on the situation.  Both ladies often sing/scream high pitched, but on songs like “Detroit Valentine” they sometimes opt to sing at a lower, sultry level.  This at least gives the impression of variety and skirts the worrisome ‘monotonous’ label.

The Red Aunts rarely ever take a breath on the record.  “Krush”, after a slow guitar intro (aka breath), the song turns into an exciting noise and scream fest.  “Rollerderby Queen” consists of some clever tempo changes, as the beginning has Wahl wailing while the backup girls sort of sneer.  Then the song quickly changes into a slower swing, before accelerating all the way to the end.  “When Sugar Turns to Shit” is another great punk tune that actually has some slide guitar and harmonica in it, though damned if I know what the heck Wahl is squealing throughout.

Cowbell actually shows up in “Poker Party”, but unfortunately that’s about the last of the interesting items of the record.  The rest of the songs until the end of the record don’t have any unique “Freakathon” or “Krush” moments, so though the band does power through a solid instrumental of “Mota”, it is apparent that their best songs are contained earlier on.  For a record that easily finishes under thirty minutes, it is doubtful that many will notice or care that the band had to squeeze out a few so-so tracks to make it past twenty minutes.  They’re listening for the rush of it all.

Though you can listen to them on MySpace, I prefer this amusing video of the ladies on skates in “Rollerderby Queen”:

I like the Red Aunts for what they stand for and how they delivered it.  With so many grrl bands of the day, the Red Aunts not only sounded rough for four women but also managed to construct a few catchy tunes as well.  I found that a lot of grrl stuff tended to be one-and-done to listen to, as they were understandably heavy on the message but less so on the return value for the casual fan.  I thought this record succeeded in its spinability.

The Red Aunts put out a few more records after this one before disbanding in 1998.  The popularity of the grrl movement was about done at that time, but I would like to think that the band motivated a few other girls in the California area to start up their own rock bands.  Though one doesn’t hear this kind of sound these days, I recommend giving a listen to this record if you want to hear something that positively represents the grrl era.

Letting Go: My First Foray Into Selling Used CDs

August 12, 2011 Leave a comment

It is true, the painful anguish of selling music really does feel like being fed to a sumo wrestler.

This blog is entirely built around the idea of buying CDs, so rare is the time when I actually try and sell them back.  Some of you might even say it is blasphemy to return music, for one should always try experience an album through repeated listening, song background research, and artist appreciation.  Uh huh.  Well there has come a time when the plastic and paper has taken up a little too much space in the apartment.  I have already tried to convince the wife to throw out some things or to sell some things or anything, really, that didn’t involve my stuff.  But alas, it was my stuff that was causing the visual distress.  Therefore, it was time to sell some of them.

I have a lot of CDs as it is.  There are many, many that I would not think of parting with.  Truthfully, the only way they would all be gone from my sight would be if I suddenly became deeply in love with digital music.  My views on that is a conversation for another time, but needless to say it ain’t gonna happen.  There are quite a few records that I no longer listen to mainly due to changing tastes, changing times, or a bad case of accumulation (which I wrote about here).  After giving many of them one last look, I stuffed about eighty or so CDs into two reusable shopping bags with plans on selling them.  These discs consisted of discs from my days in the nineties as well as old dollar bin purchases that didn’t pan out.  With even more consisting of those promotional freebies detailed in my Court of Flippant Reviews (1, 2), I set off to see what I could get.

Will the hero actually gain any money from this adventure?  Does he really think anyone would actually buy his dusty Guns N Roses CDs?!  Read on, skeptical traveler …

Read more…

Surface of Eceon – Dragyyn

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Strange Attractors Audio House, 2003

I have been known to read literature that deals with elfs, swords, and epic battles, so it’s not much of a stretch to understand why this record appealed to me when I saw it.  With its flame-riddled digipak and jagged writing, Surface of Eceon (or Surface of Eceyon) looked to be worth a listen.  Plus, they put two y’s in place of the “o” in “Dragon”.  It’s possible that these guys were either trying to get seriously mystical with their printing or they were absolutely fed up with the way “dragon” is spelled.  I mean c’mon, we never say “drag – on” now do we?  It’s always “drag – in”.  And i’s suck.  So two y’s are cooler, at least according to these guys.  I’m with yya, Surface of Eceyon.

One of the more notable aspects of the record is that, upon opening the digipak, one sees a lengthy story entitled “Myths From the Surface of Eceyon”.  Written as a spinoff of something Tolkien might have inspired, it tells of the journey of the five band members (with fantasy warrior monikers, of course) in their quest to slay a Tussyan beast.  Whether the tale or the music came first is unknown, but the simultaneous experience of the two might make the album easier to understand as a soundtrack to the subject’s quest.  I like the idea, though I don’t think I would have been chosen ‘Eceyonic Man’ as my warrior name, Phil Jenkins.  Sounds like you’d get defeated by Batman with that schtick.

A six track album consisting of all instrumentals, “Dragyyn” is a journey of contemplation.  You would think that with such a cover that the band would be tearing into combustible rock n roll, or even metal, to lay waste to the towns of listening citizens.  However, the record really plays out quietly as  “Council is Called” is nine minutes of calm, concerned music.  You can actually picture a group of grizzled warriors talking about their impending adventure around a battered, long oak table in a dark room.  “Over Land, Over Ice” picks up a little more activity with echoing guitars and increased overall volume, probably because the warriors are now, ah, moving.  Still, this isn’t a bouncy “Lord of the Rings” movie soundtrack, folks.  These warriors sound as if they’re walking a long, peaceful distance with only their thoughts to motivate them.  Sounds like an independent movie, actually.

After “Victory of Ice and Magyk”, which has the most pep and is probably something akin to a battle tune, “By a Curious Vessyl” is a lengthy space out of a tune.  Maybe the adventurers discovered opium on their trip, I dunno.  It’s eleven minutes of delicately sheer relaxation.  “Freeing the Winds”, which apparently matches up with the story as the point in time that the warriors slay the dragon only for it to turn into a whole lot of wind, picks up very nicely during its nearly twenty minute trek.  The composition combines everything that came before it; it has the serene beginning, the swirling guitars, and the rock out climax that succeeds in giving the impression that a real fight is going on.  After a build up of nearly forty minutes, the raucous that depicts the end of the journey is totally worth it.  The fact that the track concludes with the sound of wind, which is how the record began, is a nice touch.

They haven’t been doing much since 2003, but they still have their website and MySpace up if you’re interested in reading and hearing what you’ve missed.

I was pleasantly surprised by this record, as I found the whole idea of a story intertwined with music made for a really enjoyable experience.  Even if the story was crafted after the music was created, Surface of Eceon made an album that works well as a continuation of their music style while simultaneously appealing to another angle of their creativity.  As mentioned before, the group hasn’t released a record since 2003 and don’t appear to have toured recently.  Perhaps after this record they dropped their instruments and started walking towards an icy mountain in the distance rumored to hold a dragon.  Good luck, dudes.

Various Artists – Cheese Borger’s Pie and Ears Volume 2

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Smog Veil Records, 2002

With one of the more revolting covers I’ve seen in awhile, there is no chance I would pass on picking up a compilation of Cleveland punk rock.  I, ah, recognize the name of Cheese Borger from a previous review regarding his cadre of Pink Holes, so for twenty-three tracks for much less than twenty-three dollars this was a surefire grab.  To think there was a previous volume of Cleveland punk released is hard to believe, but I guess when the Browns and Indians aren’t doing much of anything people are driven to high volumes.  Better than reading I say!

So what does one expect from a punk compilation that is nearly a decade old?  Well actually, this compilation was put together in 2002 but consists of mostly punk tunes from back in the eighties.   Therefore, consider this collection as a group of musicians who were recently influenced by the big punk movement from the seventies.  Given that the state of music today mostly consists of interchangeable dance pop tunes and irony-maxed indie rock, a compilation with some raw, lightly produced garage rock from back in the day can actually be refreshing.  Who knows, one may even find a highly unheralded band to dig into more deeply.

After a few muddled compositions by Kneecappers and Disciples of Death (band name props), things really get revved up with Idiot Humans’ “Toppling Stairs”.  The main riff thoroughly reminds me of the Wipers’ “D.7” with its foreboding sense of doom, yet the song doesn’t bother with any of the slow stuff and consists of pure acceleration.  The cover of the Pagans’ “Eyes of Satan” by Styrenes doesn’t have much for lyrics aside from the title track.  Is it punk to essentially skip verses?  Still a fun blitz of a tune, though.

Those songs aside, apart from a few stand outs there are many tracks that sound like what one might expect from a local punk band compilation.  There’s a lot of low production, speed, inattention to lyrical clarity, short song lengths, and guitars, guitars, guitars.  Many songs tend to blend together for the most part, but there are a few nice exceptions.  New Salem Witch Hunters’ “Plain to See” sounds like a great bar room pop song with its sixties style and fine keyboard inclusion.  The Clocks sound very fresh with their garage rock  during their detailing of a literal “Family Feud” while the Pink Holes throw in a solid, fuzzy surf track.  I can’t get enough of the surf stuff.

Since a bunch of these guys were out before MySpace came along, perhaps you will find something interesting to buy or listen to at Smog Veil Records’ website.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable compilation of punk tracks of varying quality.  I didn’t find any that were just too awful to sit through a few minutes with, which either reflects the time period’s style or the general talent of the musicians.  Or perhaps I was too busy stroking my leather jacket to notice, who knows.  Truth is, compilations are hard to utterly pan given that there always tends to be enough variety to make anyone appreciate the disc in spurts.  All I know is that if I ever find myself in Cleveland I’ll be seeking out this Cheese Borger guy to tell me which shows to catch.