Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Well, Son, A Funny Thing About Regret Is...

..."That it's better to regret something you have done than something you haven't."

An appropriate lyric beyond the fact that it's from the album in question: I've said that immediate first impressions are unhelpful, and so I tend not to do them--few (if any) of my rules are hard and fast. I'm breaking that totally and completely right now--or, well, near enough to it.

In celebration of an upcoming "holiday" of sorts, as well as an increase in pay and a more palatable job and things like that, I went out to the last stores I'd not visited recently, namely the Nice Price Books in Chapel Hill, CD Alley (I know, isn't it surprising I hadn't been there?) and the Edward McKay in northern Raleigh. I managed to fill a bunch of gaps as well as start myself on a few paths I'd been meaning to over the course of time anyway.

One of those, I'm going to preface with a bit of peculiarity: I have a strange relationship with labels. Record labels, I mean. I have some I trust almost implicitly (DeSoto springs to mind), some I'm pretty sure I trust, some that give me genre indications, some that make me wary, so on and so forth. But I've often developed these impressions with no overarching awareness of a label's work. I identify them with a single artist I know, or work backward from the first artist I saw on the label. In this case, that's the "problem" in question. In my days on eMusic when I first began attempts to expand my horizons, I started going alphabetically, so I ended up with one band before any other: !!!. Yeah, that's their name.

Truth be told, that's less a surprise to people these days. !!! are actually relatively well-known now (no, that does not decrease their quality, and, indeed, they've improved with age and popularity), to the point that some record stores will actually file them under "C" for "Chk chk chk," the way that they give to pronounce their band's name. Technically, it's any three repeated mono-syllabic onomatopoeic-type sounds (Bam bam bam, pow pow pow, etc), but nevermind that. The important part is I hate it when record stores put them under "C" because, well, that's dumb. Wait, no, that's not the important part.

The important part is their first album, !!!, was on Gold Standard Labs. Let me stop and add: this was the most difficult thing in the world to search the internet for back in 2002--they were relatively unknown and you didn't have an album title you could search with either. I'd end up having to search by song titles, which some databases don't or didn't always allow for (it was a huge pain to look them up on AllMusic, for instance). Anyway, I'm actually off the point again: I knew GSL because they released the first Mars Volta EP, Tremulant. They also released albums by The Locust and Melt-Banana, just to name a few, which gave me the impression of esoteric, hipper-than-thou, obscure, up-to-the-minute-but-not-a-minute-most-of-us-recognize releases. If you have low tolerance for noise, avoid those two bands. If you thought, say, Carcass was bad, avoid those two bands. I cannot make this any clearer.

Anyway, I then got the impression that !!! was hopping--each of their first three albums was released on different labels in the U.S. and they are an American band--weird indie labels, until they hit Warp Records on the third album and I figured now they were just popular enough to not be on some tiny, unknown new label. Turns out Louden Up Now, their second album, was actually released on Warp in the rest of the world anyway. But, as soon as I name their U.S. label for that album, some folks in the world will sigh and shake their heads at me, for thinking it was a tiny, new obscure label: Touch and Go Records.

I associated the label's logo, a font choice I couldn't name if I tried surrounded by a border of intermittent diagonal strokes, with new and "hipster-y" music only liked by people who liked to prove their intelligent taste, or whatever (and I felt !!! was a fluke, as they have a clear sense of humour).

So, imagine my surprise on finding out an album from 1987 was on Touch and Go. Oops. I had no idea the label was that old, nor that they released things like this:

I'm not operating completely without knowledge here. One of my friends when I was very young had a copy of a Butthole Surfers album. Electriclarryland, of course, because "Pepper" was a pretty big hit.

I consulted my college and high school best friend who introduced me to punk and strange experimental music and post punk and other things like that, saying, "If there's anyone I can ask, it's you: Locust Abortion Technician--ja oder nein?"
"Versprechten ja! One of their best!" John replied.
That was enough to sell me.

I'll admit, too, that my reviewing "nemesis" of sorts--who does nothing but review with absolutely no knowledge of music, backed by single-day listens to albums with sometimes laudably open ears, sometimes an absolute refusal to open them, and no sense of context--said of this album:

I don't think I've ever wanted to listen to an album less than this album. First of all, their band name is upsetting. Then, the name of the album just gets worse. Unless they are the most poorly named pop act, this was going to be the worst.

And oh it was.

Oh good lord, what was this?

I seriously felt like I was strolling around hell as I listened to this album. There was scary whispering, strange guitar noises all done over news reports of sexual assault. Then there were the songs that layered Spanish language folk songs over the foulest version of the Pink Elephant song from Dumbo. That's two songs...welcome to the worst.
Now, the people of the world convinced I'm a hipster might think that I would appreciate this just to be contrary, but my ears are very, very bad at liking what I want them to. They have their own mind, even if it's still mine. I'll be totally frank and admit I was giving Galaxie 500's Today it's first listen, and came to a stop next to a middle-aged gentleman in a convertible and thought, "Oh, God, I have to listen to that album," having had the mischievous pleasure of sending someone speeding off after a light change while listening to Public Image Ltd. at an obnoxious volume. Truth be told, I was doing that because I wanted to hear it. I'm starting to lose track of what will annoy people unless it's obvious.

Unfortunately, there's a pretty low-key intro to this album, so my deviant wishes were left unfulfilled. So off I went, listening to this allegedly impenetrable, awful, terrible, grating, unpleasant album. I skipped the first track, unsure what to make of the apparent silence (I had the windows down as it was quite warm, and it takes a bit to reach the part that would have been audible), but as I moved on, I was left with tracks that she described above, like "Graveyard" and "HAY." When "HAY" started, I suddenly realized: this album is fucking amazing.

It's obvious, once I got home and could hear "Sweat Loaf," the opening track (which cops a riff from Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," if you can imagine), that the sense of humour this band has always had--which I knew--is right out there. I still find the album cover inexplicably disturbing, despite no present fear of clowns. But the album itself? It's weird, and bizarre and, all I could think was "It sounds like someone is trying to play records and tapes after someone took a shotgun to their stereo system."

And that's what some of it sounds like. And it's fantastic. Don't ask me how that makes sense, I can't tell you. It just does. Gibby Haynes' demented vocals, over the amusingly tasteful and often intentionally monotonous drumming of King Coffey and Teresa Nervosa, occasionally reaching that lovely dual-drum sound that is most often described as "tribal" for some reason. Whatever the reason, I use the same word, so there you are.

If you haven't got the sense of humour--I really cannot fathom how anyone can listen to "Sweat Loaf" and not at least roll one's eyes, if not smile, chuckle or outright laugh--I guess this could all seem like hell, but it's got melody and rhythm. It's weird, and experimental and strange, and bits are dissonant or discordant--"Graveyard," for instance, starts off sounding like an amateur first picking up a guitar and trying to play something about eight levels above their skillset, but it always blends or shifts into something that makes a twisted kind of sense. Even "Graveyard" and its hideously detuned guitar are backed by steady drumming and bassline, with slowed vocals overlaying and helping to morph it all into a weird kind of sense: yeah, everything's off, so that part being off just ends up making sense.

A lot of people would hate this album. I get that. A lot of people out of those who are willing to read the things I write would hate this album. I get that, too. Some beautiful music I love is considered vile and horrendous by people I know, so this is nothing new, and I can at least hear how this could be, uh, off-putting to put it mildly.

Let's just listen to that track she called horrendous, "The O-Men":

Pounding drums, unintelligible gibberish vocals, shifted vocals, weird keyboards, but, DAMN, it just works.

See, the thing is my "arch-nemesis" (called this, incidentally, for that totally oppositional, refuse-to-do-research-either approach) is pulling albums from the book 1001 albums to hear before you die. Nevermind the eye-twitching from the fact that she's downloading the albums in modern forms which often re-arranges, dilutes, or confuses their content. But there's a reason those albums are in there, all of them. Even probably some I don't care about, or even dislike or hate. It's not total crap, randomness, or useless sound, it's not a joke or anything. It doesn't have to be serious and literate and ground-breaking in a palatable sort of way, or all the things that have somehow been used to pigeonhole artistic value in all but many of the artistic communities that actually create the stuff. This is fun and weird and disjointed and yet somehow utterly brilliant.

The weird half-comedic, half-lift "Sweat Loaf" turns into the discordant "Graveyard" turns into the plodding, blues-y "Pittsburgh to Lebanon," turns into "Weber," which seems like it's going to be another "Graveyard," but I'm pretty sure Paul Leary's guitar was in tune for it, and it's very short, as it turns into the bizarre, tape-skipping-reversed sound of "HAY." And on the album goes.

"HAY," which is actually a partial reversal of album-closer "22 Going on 23."

I was increasingly delighted as I imagined further that this horrifically mangled stereo system was trying to play warped records, a tape deck--or other tape-based player--was eating tape, and in general failing to sound like it was supposed to, but managing to sound interesting anyway.

I fully expected to find this off-putting and difficult, and in need of repeated listens before it worked, but this is, uh, my third run through, right now, actually.

Let me leave you with the most song-like song, "Human Cannonball" to cleanse the palates of the more sensitive amongst you:


  1. Dear anyone who stumbles into this blog entry: the above comments are spam, and you should not click on the names on them. However, their content strikes me as hilarious in the context of a blog entry on the Butthole Surfers, especially Locust Abortion Technician, so I'm leaving them.


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