Bablicon – The Orange Tapered Moon

November 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Misra Records, 2000Image

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.

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Witches With Dicks – Manual

October 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Kiss of Death Records, 2006

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.

Melissa Auf der Maur – Auf der Maur

October 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Capitol Records, 2004

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.

See and hear what Melissa Auf der Maur is up to at her website, or you can simply go to MySpace as well.

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.

CoCoComa – Things Are Not All Right

August 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Goner Records, 2009

Oooh, quite the color scheme.  Orange, white, and fuchsia.  Through the fluffy clouds and bright rainbows are five missiles heading towards some unfortunate destination.  So, I suppose one couldn’t ultimately decide this was going to be a light pop band.  Maybe without those missiles, but they’re there, so there has to be some sort of edge involved.  I also figured that songs like “You Better Beware”, “Lie to Me” and “Suspicious” hinted at some sort of relationship entanglement.  Like an obnoxious rubbernecker nearing the result of the traffic jam they’re stuck in, I had to stop and see/hear how CoCoComa were going to explain that cover art with music.

This second album from the Chicago-based group is a rock ‘n roll release, nothing less and nothing more.  The missiles proved true when the guitar feedback introduced the foot stomper “You Better Beware”.  It’s got all the rousing elements of rock with its tempo, group shouting during the chorus, and its general disregard for deep, intricate verses.  “The Right Side” continues with the theme with its rambling style and more group shouting (including the ever effective “Yeah Yeah!” between lines … when has that never worked?).  It’s very evident early on that CoCoComa want to overdose everyone immediately with their energy and zeal.

After only a few tracks in I recognized where I’ve heard lead vocalist Bill Roe’s tone before.  His voice sounds a lot like a combination of the lead vocalists from Television and the Futureheads where it always sounds like he’s got a cold.  It blends in well with his group mates during the choruses, but on its own it could annoy after awhile.  Thankfully the music tends to be the primary focus, and songs like “The Right Side”, “Lie to Me”, and “Water Into Wine” are straight forward, good time rock ‘n rollers.  Since every song is rarely above three minutes, there isn’t any time to think a tune has gone on too long.  One could say that the band knows how modern attention spans work, eh?

Perhaps the best song on the disc is the last one, “Alright, Alright, Alright”, which references the album title.  It’s got group singing (plus), constant pounding of drums (plus), and repeats the song title over and over again with increasing emphasis at the end of the song (plus!).  The song practically puts you in one of those rockets and launches you into the great silence that occurs in the aftermath.  It’s kind of like leaving a great party and, upon staggering around the streets, you come to wonder why you left at all.

Have a listen to many of CoCoComa’s tracks from this album on their MySpace or Last.fm pages.

This is a good energy-inducing album, though it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.  For thirty minutes you get to hear a band that sounds like they’re having a great time blitzing through their cadre of upbeat rock compositions, so at least there is no room for downers.  CoCoComa is still around as far as I know, though with this record it has been about three years.  It’s getting into that territory of unknown future, but I hope they’re still packing the bars with their raucous style.  CoCoComa may not be original but they’re a lot of fun, so I imagine people will always want more of that whenever it is available and ready to break out some new tunes.

Alan Braxe and Friends – The Upper Cuts

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Vulture Records, 2005

Truth be told, I thought I had stumbled on an early eighties folk rock act that wanted to be edgy.  Whenever “and friends” accompanies a guy’s name I’m thinking those friends are the ones with fiddles, slide guitar, and perhaps backup vocals.  The brash font of the album title, as well as the vinyl wear effect behind it, just screamed Chicago or Billy Squier.  I’ve seen enough of those record covers at flea markets to be wary of them, but I thought that for just a quarter I had to know (HAD to know) what Braxe and his honky tonk buddies sounded like.

I am so glad I was completely wrong about Braxe, but I am also so glad that I stumbled on an excellent record as well.  Alan Braxe of France is apparently a dance music maker that releases vinyl singles very infrequently, so this record serves as a compilation of twelve of his efforts.  One of his apparent friends is Fred Falke, known for his own dance music, so with two of these types of artists this turns out to be one big hip shaking party with no signs of haystacks or cowboy hats.  Score!!

I could go into each track, but a big surprise for me was my recognition of “Music Sounds Better With You”.  I have heard it somewhere before, really liked it, then forgot about it.  It’s a modern disco song that repeats the chorus quite often in its nearly seven minute span.  Not that you’ll notice as you abandon all semblance of responsibility as you jerk left and right to the groove, sloshing your cocktail all over the place.  Or a coffee mug, as in my case.  It’s a light enough song so one doesn’t feel overwhelmed, but it’s also got a strong rhythm that should get a room full of people to get down.

I also loved the airiness of “In Love With You”, the warmth of “Love Lost”, and the straight on dance anthem of “Rubicon”.  Everything just sounds so easy and casual, so if you want to dance you can but you can also just soak it all in.  Despite the overall enjoyment, there are moments when some songs do sound a bit dated, even if one doesn’t mind so much.  “At Night” has a drum machine and a chugging synth effect that immediately brought “Miami Vice” to mind.  It’s a killer track, and I know Crockett and Tubbs would have approved its appearance during a chase scene.  “Vertigo” also clearly comes across as something from the nineties with its cymbal pop and, again, drum machine.  Sure, the song was actually made in 1997, but I’m thinking early nineties like Technotronic or La Bouche.  Hey, there’s still room for enjoyment of those kinds of tunes, right?

Listen to all sorts of great tracks from Alan Braxe on his MySpace and Soundcloud sites.  By the way, the groovin’ video for Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” may have been when I first heard the 1998 track.  Those silver guys should have been stars.

Scoring this for only a quarter felt pretty good, but the ultimate satisfaction came from spinning it.  This is exactly the kind of music I’m veering towards these days since I feel a bit maxed out on punk and rock.  I admit, I like to get some dancing in when I am in the swivel chair and have my coffee mug at a safe distance.  Perhaps that’s why I’m more forgiving of Top 40 these days since it’s all dance music to me (compared to that awful tripe from the early to mid-2000’s).  If Alan Braxe was an American artist who could pump out the hits every other week he would no doubt be huge.

But I am glad he’s not, for he’s more into taking his time to get that song right than throwing everything against the wall and hope a hit sticks.  Braxe is still busy these days, putting out exactly one single and quite a few remixes since “The Upper Cuts” was released in 2005.  Since he’s mixing, producing and doing other sorts of music jobs, one might not see output from Braxe for months.  However, if one keeps up with certain websites there will always be a reason to keep those dancing shoes nearby.

Oh, and Golden Dollar for sure.  That’s two in one week, woah!

Prince Fatty Meets the Mutant Hifi – Return of Gringo!

July 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Mr. Bongo Records, 2011

Whether it’s Clint Eastwood, “Red Dead Redemption” or an odd book here and there, I’ve had an affection for western-themed entertainment.  I know it has all been romanticized, for living on the edge with crime, natives, and hot weather abound does not sound like a good time.  But like those James Bond movies, I’ll throw away reality for a bit and sit through a spaghetti western if I’ve got the time (by the way, ever see “The Great Silence”?  That’s a pretty good one.).  Music with western themes isn’t as common place, but when I have heard it (like Spindrift) I’ve gotten great vibes from it.  So of course, seeing a varmint stare down another varmint in a dusty town far from here on a colorful album cover is a shoe-in for my money.  Plus, there’s a song called “The Good, the Vlad, and the Ugly” on here.  It’s gotta be good.

This disc is as good as its cover depicts.  Mixmaster Prince Fatty (Mike Pelanconi) and multi-talented musician Mutant Hifi (Nick Coplowe), as well as a huge accompaniment of instrumentalists, lay out some of the hippest ska-tinged western music I’ve ever heard.  Okay, perhaps it’s the only ska-tinged western music I’ve ever heard.  Regardless, the entire album paints a picture of a bunch of guys in bowling shirts and cowboy hats skanking at the OK Corral.  It’s not a typically rapid ‘pick it up, pick it up’ type of ska, though.  More along the lines of the Skatalites where you can sit back with beer, have a conversation, and nod your head slightly with the beat.

The first track “Transistor Cowboy” starts off with a gunshot (possibly the result of the album cover’s showdown) and bulls into a gritty tune that sounds like a combination of surf rock and ska.  Despite the audio violence, the whistling that transitions the first two tracks gives off another impression of that sixties western theme.  The multitude of saxophones, trombones, and trumpets on “Black Powder” certainly help invoke that feeling as well, so it isn’t long before one may wish that this really was the soundtrack of a movie one hasn’t seen yet.

It is a blaring start, but most of the rest of the album provides a more relaxing set of tunes.  “Plague of Locusts”, “Across the Border”, and “Up the Creek” show more of a ska influence than a surf one, which allows for a steady toe-tapping session for listeners.  There are no vocals to be heard aside from the occasional clip from a movie/TV show, so one doesn’t have to worry about getting disrupted during one’s low-brimmed, pistol-packing daydream.  The whistling returns on “Son of a Thousand Fathers”, as well as those fantastic horns in a sweeping enchantment.  Mutant Hifi even does his best Dick Dale impression with the guitar, making it one of the strongest tracks on the record.

Though every song sounds like just a cool ska-western concoction that one hasn’t heard before, “The Good, the Vlad, and the Ugly” will probably snap everyone to attention with its take on the “Tetris” video game theme.  The horns, guitar (of course), and the creepy chanting in the background give it a sound that could follow a gunslinger as he or she crosses a desert expanse.  Or it could just be a scene where a bunch of odd shaped blocks are shooting it out while yelling out “Four lines!!”.

Have a look at what Prince Fatty is up to on his website.  You could also listen to the entire record on SoundCloud, but I would be remiss if I didn’t send you over to Forces of Geek for a very comprehensive review and history lesson.  I can write a review, but that guy can take you even further!

This is a great disc.  It reminds me of all sorts of things, from old ska and reggae artists to those spaghetti westerns I like to sit through once in awhile.  It has been awhile since I’ve given out one of these, but Prince Fatty, Mutant Hifi, and the entire band deserve the Golden Dollar.  Not only does this album have a unique swing to it but it also provides an excellent soundtrack to whatever gathering one pulls together.  Not sure how the duo is going to top this one, unless it is a take on film noir or the musical.  Whatever it is I will certainly be there to hear it.

The Gymslips – Rocking With the Renees: The Punk Collection

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Captain Oi! Records, 1999

Well, you know how I am by now I would think.  I see something from Captain Oi! records with an album cover that has an illustrated story of what looks like someone’s day.  Then there’s the front-and-center pair of jubblies that sort of overshadows the fact all of the ladies involved on the cover have short hair and look a bit tough.  So yes, when I picked this up I figured it as a punk record which made it a bonafide gimme when it comes to attracting my hard earned quarters.  I was a bit confused by what the band name represented (turns out it’s a full length tunic with a pleated skirt that kids wear to school) as well as the fact that the title of the album references a group called the Renees.  Two group names?  Jubblies?  What’s going on?  Let this be a lesson to any dollar bin shopper that when one begins to over think their purchase, they should just pop themselves in the eye and hand over the money.  Why bother with the details?

The Gymslips sound as they look, and that is blue collar rock ‘n roll.  However, whereas one might think there’s a lot of yelling and abrasive guitar screeching the Gymslips actually have a pop edge with a bit of humor.  The introduction of “Renees” (pronounced ree-knees) includes a chorus of “We’re the Renees/here we come/1-2-3/and up your bum”.  Hmm, oh really?  One of my favorite tracks, “Drink Problem” follows with an exceptionally catchy chorus of “Whiskey makes you frisky/gin makes you sin/brandy makes you randy/and rum makes you …”.  The band trails off, but if you’re good with rhyming and can think of a word that relates to being randy, well, there you have it.  The speedy pop punk of these songs begin the record off excellently, and if you like that no frills sound then the rest of the record is your kind of thing.

Along with their British accents, which sound a bit cockney, the allure of the Gymslips are their song subject choices.  They have a song about “Face Lifts”, which details a woman’s unfortunate vericose vein issue as well as a lady who is “a big fat lump at 21 going thin on top”.  Oof.  The liner notes mention that the song “Yo Yo” is titled so because it’s about someone whose underwear tends to go up and down.   I merely like the title of “Silly Egg”, which is a term used as an endearing thing to call someone else for being goofy.  Oh, those British.  The Gymslips do manage to get serious once in awhile, for “Thinking of You” is a light pop love song about yearning for another.  This gives the Gymslips a little bit of depth, though most of their songs are lighter fare so don’t think you’ll be wrapped up in too much emotion during the 27 tracks.

Unfortunately as the album continues on the lyrics and liner notes go away in the booklet, which is a pity since they were enlightening.  Along with the loss of information comes with a dip in interesting songs, for they get more polished and a lot more eighties.  Synthesizers, proper singing, and a general departure from the pop punk origins turn the Gymslips into just another band from that era.  There are remnants of the old Gymslips on songs like “Wonderland”, which if one gets by the prominant synthesizers one will appreciate the nearly spoken vocals and the catchy refrains.  The group leans a little more towards Blondie’s path on songs like “Loves Not the Answer”, where nearly all of the grit is gone and is replaced by a band that is enjoying the comforts of lightweight, toss off pop.   It’s not the greatest send off given the earlier songs, but since these later tracks are from 1984 I suppose it is understandable (or even inevitable).

It is amazing to see that a rather obscure UK pop punk band band from the eighties has a French fansite up!  And it’s being updated … since 2001!  Definitely check that place out for pictures or go to the MySpace page to hear a few tunes.

Ultimately, half the album had the eighties garage pop/punk sound that I love, which made it worth the purchase by far.   Even with the latter half of the record saturated by eighties musical trends, nearly every song has a catchy element that makes the whole record fun to listen to.   It helps that this collection of tunes is most of what the Gymslips released via vinyl singles, so it gives a pretty good overview of what the Gymslips were about during their half decade tenure.  And really, aside from a few tracks on some seven inch records, this CD is pretty much everything one is needs to get a great taste of the Gymslips.  Given that I got it for an affordable price perhaps readers will have the same kind of luck if they look around.