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Various Artists – Secret Recipe From the Far East

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Nice and Neat Records, 2005

I’ll be honest that when I picked this album up for cheap I was under the impression that a band named Secret Recipe created an EP with songs like “Prambath” and “The Nailclippers”.  Hey man, when you don’t put the song titles next to the band names, you’ll believe anything.  So, it was with a bit of surprise that when I got home and flipped through the booklet there were six Japanese rock bands looking at me from their well-crafted band photos.  Well hey, even better!  I’ve always been a fan of Japanese rock as they all seem to have modeled themselves after the Ramones, and any country that does that has got it right in my book.

Psychotic Reaction begins the compilation with a fantastic tune “You’re Around”, which begins with a blitzing guitar and rapid fire dual vocals from a couple of singers.  Though their second song, “Crossing Gate”, doesn’t consist of the same amount of fire, the first track would have been enough for me to pick up something else from them.  The next group, Prambath, have a very squeaky sounding lead singer.  That can certainly irritate, yet she’s fantastic on “Play Loud! Play Loud!” as she keeps/squeaks up with her band’s aggressive pop punk sound.  Unfortunately, on the second song (“Silly Talk”) her coy quirkiness comes across a little too thickly and works against her.  The band still sounds excellent, though.

Unlike Prambath, Nylon has a female singer who sounds like she has been drinking razorblades with her sake.  Definitely a rock chick voice with a band that has a fantastic sixties rockabilly sound to it.  Both of their songs sound similar, which can be great news who like their rockin’ rambunctious and dirty.  Neither song, however, really stands out as a ‘must listen’ even if Nylon surely must be quite an experience to see live in a Japanese club.  Don Flames are probably the fastest band on the compilation, as their guitars are louder and their drums are heavier.  The vocals, therefore, are utterly incomprehensible and drowned out, but that doesn’t matter if a song like “Groovin’ ” is so fantastic with its chorus.  I can’t hear much in terms of lyrics on the freight train-speed song, but there’s a lot of “groovin’ groovin’ groovin’ ” all over the place.

The Nailclippers sound like a traditional pop rock group that easily fits in today but could have existed in the sixties during that psychedelic era.  “Mess You Are” cools one off a little bit from Don Flames’ assault, but it’s a good cool off as it has plenty of hooks, solos, and tempo changes one needs for a good rock song.  The curious title of “Hello!  Mr. Drain” unfortunately doesn’t match up with full scale song enjoyment, but I did like the high-pitched chorus (which may or may not contain the title because I think it’s in Japanese).  Finally, the possibly best group of the bunch is the last one, where Teenage Confidential pull off two excellent songs to finish the compilation.  The first, “Anyway You Want It” (originally done by the Dave Clark Five, NOT Journey … awww), is an immediate room crasher.  I can just picture tons of spiky-haired Japanese bopping around to this one, for it sounds like a sped up surf pop song a la the Ramones.  “Sick On You”, by band member Mickey Romance, is a little slower and contains some simple chord changes, but ends the compilation well as a fine mid-tempo tune.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a whole lot on these groups for you readers to listen to, but there was some success.  You can hear Prambath on their MySpace page while Mickey Romance (of Teenage Confidential) has his own Youtube channel.

It has been six years since this compilation has come out and, as we all know, six years is a long time for a band to stick together.  Who knows how many of these groups still put out the wonderful rock ‘n roll?  As you read above, I couldn’t find a whole lot on these groups aside from Prambath, who at least still have some music available that might even be current.  Regardless, this compilation showed me that while some of us were toiling with what passed for rock ‘n roll on this side of the globe, the Japanese were clearly having a lot more fun.  I imagine that if one dropped by a Tokyo club on a whim some Saturday night they’d get to hear bands just like these guys.

Various Artists – Look Directly Into the Sun: China Pop 2007

September 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Invisible China, 2007

I know nothing about Chinese music, popular or underground.  Therefore, seeing an affordably priced compilation that declares it represents China Pop in 2007 easily captured my attention.  I have heard a lot of Japanese and Korean pop, so I thought that I might have to wade through quite a few sugary numbers.  With bands like Queen Sea Big Shark and Voodoo Kung Fu I felt I could survive a few cute dance numbers.

Apparently this compilation was put together by a fellow named Martin Atkins, who traveled out to China some years back and wanted to put together a collection that represented the Chinese underground scene.  Great concept!  He actually is a member of China Dub Soundsystem (on this disc with so-so flare) and created a film entitled “Sixteen Days in China” about his Beijing trip and the bands he ran into.  Whatever one thinks about this compilation, I bet that film would be fascinating to watch.

So, on with the music.  I know that compilations are a real crapshoot when it comes to hearing tracks that are interesting enough to spin again.  Unfortunately, this album required some serious effort to find much of anything that was agreeable with the stomach.  The compilation starts off with two serious clunkers, the first being Snapline’s “Close Your Cold Eyes” that has a vocalist that sounds a lot like a really bored Damon Albarn in an elecro noise effort.  Then China MC Brother’s “JaiJung” rap rock gave me the Limp Bizkit chills.  Like I said, awful start.

Thankfully, a pure pop punk number by Caffe-In saves the disc from a preliminary chuck out the window.  The female vocalist squeaks a little bit as the power chords speed through “Mario and Peaches”, which would be great to have the lyrics to for this Nintendo enthusiast.  After digging up a little bit more about them, it turns out the group is actually made up of Japanese folks.  Other good tunes on the album are an excellently blended guitar instrumental by White and a live ska-like track by Rococo.  “Panda” by Carsick Cars is also a solid straightforward rock song that reminds me of that 90s indie sound, but the vocalist is dull.

Alright, now for the outright junk!  Aside from those first two songs, Subs pulls a Linkin Park and tries to sound very soft and then blow up in your face with shouting.  However, at four plus minutes the song is tedious to listen through with its disjointed guitar and repetition of “Shut up, shut up, shut up” and top volume.  The Scoff’s “Nasty” probably is the equivalent of an American grrl band, so I guess one can’t ding too much on a punk song whose vocals that are intentionally ragged.  Unless, of course, it’s a guy singing.  HoneyGun stole a riff from Alice in Chains’ “Man in a Box” and Voodoo Kung Fu is just … out there.  I guess they are an artsy metal screamo band, which is fascinating to listen to once given the country of origin I guess.

Those looking for more about the music on this compilation might find something on the record label website:  Invisible China.  I also managed to find the Chinese MySpace page for Caffe-In if you want to listen to what pop punk out of China sounds like.

I feel sort of bad labeling this collection as a Bust, for I do like Atkin’s idea of promoting music we might not otherwise hear.  Unfortunately, aside from a few good songs from Caffe-In and Rococo, I couldn’t recommend this compilation to anyone unless they just want to hear what Chinese underground music sounds like for the experience.  According to these eighteen bands, it simply sounds similar to American underground music.  Glad to hear that bands are trying to make it over there in the East, but there aren’t many on this collection that makes me desperate to buy a plane ticket to go see what I’m missing.  I suppose this hurts my diplomacy score, eh?

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.

Various Artists – Let’s Get Rid of L.A.: 15 Bands From Underneath the Ruins of Southern California

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Revenge Records, 2003

Ah, what the hell is with that cover?  It is uuuuugggly.  In fact, when I dug this out from my stack of stuff to review I could barely read the title on the spine it was so dark.  Black and green indeed.  But hey, check it out:  wolves.  They seem to be eating something, likely some band that had stars in their eyes and forgot that L.A. is a tough racket.  Well, given that there are fifteen bands on this compilation that I had never heard of, I figured I’d give them all a whirl for a few cents.  Who knows, maybe one of them might get a call from a dude in Massachusetts saying they’re about to make it big, Big, BIG because they are now featured on humble music blog!

As one might expect, this is one of those compilations that is all at once loud but contains its share of greatness and crumminess.  My usual ratio of tune enjoyment is something along the likes of 1: 2: 4, where ‘1’ is a great song, ‘2’ is a decent song that one can take or leave, and ‘4’ is forgettable pap.   Therefore, let’s see how “Let’s Get Rid of L.A.” fares against the usual expectations.

Since I’m a pop punk enthusiast, I really did appreciate the Orphans’ “Miss Easy Rider”, the Pinkz’s “Right or Wrong” and the Checkers’ “Is He In?”.  Quick guitar riffs, urgent vocals and a two minute track time are all that I require for a sonically good time.  It helps that the two groups have female lead vocalists, with the Checkers sounding like they have two.

One of the best tracks on the comp is the Flash Express’ “Beat That Kills” due its classic rock n roll brutality.  The pounding drums and cymbals do it for me as well as the vocalist’s fuzzy, deep voice.  No fancy vocal effects, just singing it like it is.  Then there’s the epic bridge that reminds you that not every rock song has to stick to the verse chorus verse predictability.

Amidst the punk and more punk on the album is the Alleged Gunmen’s “New Bo Diddley” which is like a blues rockin’ oasis.  Considering that the next few tracks barely take a breath, the track’s inclusion is a good varietal choice by Revenge Records.  It’s a pity the label didn’t bother with anything else like it on the rest of album.

And of course, as it usually goes with compilations, not every song is engaging.  “An Ave Maria” by the Fuse! is a loud, thrashing mess, but it at least breaks up the prevalent garage punk on the collection.  Other tracks that don’t quite work for me are “Hangar” by Squab Teen, “Clifton” by Miracle Chosuke and “T-T-T-T-Tet” by Fast Forwards, mainly due to the groups sounding like they’re making noise for noise’s sake.  Despite some of the more stumbling, incoherent tracks, the compilation is a strong package of hard rock from the west coast.

Here you go, found the Flash Express song on Youtube!

Going back to my ratios, I would say that this 15-track compilation scored a 3: 6: 6 (or 1: 2: 2) which is better than usual.  Therefore, even with just the three great tracks I’ve gotta call this a Bargain.  Even if I never spin the whole thing in complete succession again, at least I’ve got three or so new songs that I can throw in a mix somewhere.  I could also fly out to Los Angeles and start flaunting my recently acquired indie cred by name dropping some of these older underground bands.  Ahhh never mind … I imagine I’ll just get run over by rollerbladers.

Bonus Compilation Speech:  Compilations are not for everyone.  Sometimes the idea that you are forced to listen to a group of bands that you’ve never heard of is a major turn off.  On the flipside, since not every song is the listener’s preference one doesn’t have to wait long for a different song and band to come along.  And hey, why are albums by a single band so great?  What if you hate the first three songs?  Usually that means the rest of the album is deemed as crap, whereas on a compilation that just means there are ten or so more tracks to go before a final evaluation is reached.  This is why paying very little for compilations, especially rock ‘n roll ones, are just my thing.  Go find a cheap compilation somewhere and discover some obscure bands under a rock, will ya?  You’ll be surprised.

Various Artists – MOJO: Studio One Selector

March 5, 2010 Leave a comment

MOJO Magazine, March 2005

I don’t know what I was reading in 2005, but I certainly missed out on a couple of great months for MOJO compilations. I already reviewed this disc that I got for a dollar in a bin somewhere and now I’m reviewing the compilation that preceded it on the newsstands.  Despite my previous assertion that most MOJO compilations are sketchy at best, this will be the third compilation that I’m actually fond of.  I still think they put out a lot of hit or miss stuff, especially this past year’s collection, but when they go with a genre that can be enjoyed by anyone who doesn’t mind a little relaxation then they really can’t fail.  I didn’t think I could either, so I made sure to snag this undoubtedly appealing MOJO compilation of early reggae tunes.

I will confess that although I have recently enjoyed everything reggae, I don’t have a whole lot of knowledge about its origins, its various sub-genres, or really any of the artists aside from the usual popular ones.  I suppose that is why anyone picks up a compilation, which by definition is a smattering of tracks that some producer thought might interest a casual listener to consider following up on an artist or two.  I’m not sure if that was in my future, but I did know that Studio One was one of the earliest and most influential reggae record labels that made the genre as big as it is today.

There are a few of the mainstays like Bob Marley and the Skatalites on here, but the compilation also contains some names that don’t necessarily jump out but just sound good.  The first track by Johnny Osbourne, entitled “We Need Love”, is just the kind of light, simple reggae that permeates a very easy feeling right at the start.  The gentle, steady guitar riff that is evident in most reggae tracks slips behind the high crooning of Osbourne’s voice.  It’s definitely got everything one would expect from reggae in the sixties and seventies, and it certainly sets the listener up for what the rest of the record pretty much sounds like.  Ernest Ranglin’s “Surfin” doesn’t sound like anyone’s soundtrack for barreling under the curve of a wave.  Instead, its quiet pace and solo guitar instrumental makes me think of surfers just bobbing up and down the water waiting for the next big one.  The echoed group vocals of the Eternals on “Queen of the Minstrels” is utterly soothing when combined with the song’s lazy, relaxed sound.  One is further smoothed out when the foggy horns enter and exit from the haze.   There are many other tracks that this record that I could go on about, but each sentence would pretty much say the same thing.  This is a good, solid reggae compilation.

Honestly, I really can’t find anything on this compilation that I don’t like.  That’s the way it is with reggae and me in that unless the vocalist is terribly annoying I almost never have a problem with the musicianship and can listen to reggae for hours.  I like this compilation a lot because it is primarily the older reggae sound that I like.  Even though the new stuff coming out these days is a little louder, brasher, and certainly more produced, it still contains many of the same elements that the artists on the Studio One label helped cultivate.  Looking inside the liner notes, it seems that a slew of Studio One-themed compilations came out at the time of this release, so it may be difficult for the casual reggae listener to pick just one.  If you find this compilation somewhere like I did, trust me that this is a great starter for new fans and an excellent party mood-setter for those looking for something to keep things chill.

Various Artists – MOJO: Beyond Punk!

January 27, 2010 1 comment

MOJO Magazine, April 2005

Well look, it’s another one of those free compilations that come with those great MOJO magazines and yet usually sells individually for a few bucks (or more) at record shops.  Lucky for us, some of these can be found cheaply here and there.  No, I imagine you’re not shocked that this compilation has the word ‘punk’ in it and I bought it, but you may be surprised that I still held this record with hesitation.  I have to say that I am not a huge post-punk fan and, if I am going to be honest, the Siouxsie song I’m most familiar with is “Peek-a-Boo” that I heard a lot of from watching “Beavis and Butthead”.  Yeah, I know, my credibility just took a hit there (even if I scored major points with the mundane humor crowd!)  Therefore, this record read like a list of bands that I should know more about, so I suppose that the choice to pick it up was even more obvious.

Post-punk, by definition, really does mean ‘beyond punk’ when put in context of the time.  Punk was getting played out and musicians were trying to be more creative with elements of punk but without resorting to the typical thrash and yelp that was common in most punk outfits.  What you get on this compilation is a wide array of sometimes complicated, sometimes noisy tunes that won’t always necessarily mesh with your tastes.  However, there are quite a few great tunes on here, like Mission of Burma’s “Academy Fight Song” (mislabeled on this comp) which is a classic song that is right up there with their “Revolver” tune in greatness.  Wire, my favorite post-punk band, gets their soothingly enjoyable yet essentially nonsensical “Kidney Bingos” on this disc, which highlights their later period of music more than their earlier raucous.

Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Mirage” comes across as the most punkish tune, with the speed and hard riffs required to cause a bit of pogo-ing.  The band that I had hoped would be great is Bird Blobs, if only because their name is rather amusingly curious.  However, they are rather noisy without being memorable, which I suppose appeals to some.   A few more modern bands, like Radio 4 and Death From Above 1979, get a tune on this record due to their post-punk style in the more modern day.  It’s too bad that the latter have disbanded and the former hasn’t put out anything particularly good since 2002.  Those two groups, once promising in 2005, are now just another addition to the post-punk back catalog.

Unlike some other genres, I’m not sure if there are many people out there who like everything that is post-punk, but this is a great introduction to the sound of the genre.  Some of the artists on this compilation are still putting out music, like Mission of Burma and Siouxsie Sioux, but it’s mostly a collection of tunes from time gone by.  One would have to check out some post-punk revivalists like A Place to Bury Strangers and the Walkmen to get their modern day fix these days, but that shouldn’t be too much of a chore since I can vouch for the Strangers’ excellent live show.  Still, is there any chance we can rewind a few decades to when the music scene was utterly fantastic?

Various Artists – It Came From Beneath L.A.

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Triple X Records, 1995

A combination of factors makes one pick up a cheap record, never mind a cheap compilation.  In this case, zombies with briefcases wandering around in an apocalyptic city setting got me thinking that this must be mine.  Plus, it’s from Triple X records which has been known to release records from little known L.A. bands that rock as hard as they can given their lack of exposure.  Bizarre album cover, record label, zombies … this disc had some potential!

Only six bands are included on this compilation as the people at Triple X figured that each of them needed two songs each.   Either that, or there weren’t enough good bands on the label at the time that they had to double up just to fill the record.  As each song unfolds, it is quickly apparent that those people were terribly mistaken in releasing a compilation, period.  It doesn’t help that this compilation was conceived in the mid-nineties when music tended to be grunge or bust.  When a band tried a different direction in those days they were either named Yo La Tengo or they usually failed in their mission to entertain.  As it turns out, of the six bands on this compilation, about four and a half spewed absolute garbage.

Lifter is the designated rote rock band that sounds like a bar grunge band impression with their plain, local sound.  The first track on the record is Lifter’s “Shutout,” which is just a terrible way to begin the compilation since it has zero appeal and virtually no originality.  Their later song of “Nova” at least gives the group a fair chance at roping in standardrock fans, but it’s still a headshaker of a tune.  The Penny Dreadfuls are a female-led rock group that channel a bit of the Throwing Muses without the aggressive Tanya Donnelly vocals.  They’re just another hohum act.  A band called Nameless tries much too hard to be noisily different that one can’t help but quickly skip past them.  E.Coli actually mix a bit of punk in their streamlined rock and, in truth, prove that they might have been alright enough given time.  The songs they contributed are listenable and so I must give them some credit for sorta succeeding.

Congo Norvell … I don’t even know what to make of this duo.  They want to sound artsy with sensual female vocals and disjointed musicianship, but it all comes across as very tedious to listen to.  I guess one member of the group, Kid Congo, used to be involved with the Cramps.  Could’ve fooled me with this pretentious crap.  Snap-Her is a another female-led band on the compilation, but they go with a promising punk vibe.  Unfortunately, they opted to include a tune entitled “I Want to Beavis You”.  Huh huh, uh, yeah.  They do, however, resemble a band that I thought was going to encapsulate this compilation and do turn out to have at least one song on here (“Name Brand Society”) that sparks a bit of energy.

There aren’t any mp3s I could find online, but I did find this Beavis tune on Youtube.  The song begins about one minute in.

The text inside the booklet claims that there are “plenty of terrific up-coming groups in Los Angeles”.  Unfortunately, none of those bands were included on this compilation.  Sure, E.Coli and Snap-Her had some potential but they’re nothing one couldn’t have easily heard elsewhere.  Overall, this compilation is a real disappointment and certainly fails in delivering any kind of inspiration to follow up with any of these now-defunct groups.  Bad bands, the nineties, and a mostly unsuccessful song list qualifies as a dead ringer for the Golden Garbage Can.