Been pretty quiet around here for all of us. Doesn’t mean we haven’t been listening to music though. I keep getting intimidated by the time it’s going to take me to write a “proper” review of something, so I do nothing. Finally I decided to just throw some records on while I’m working at home and jot down a few thoughts. I’ve been trying to focus on stuff that I haven’t listened to in a long time. Here’s the first installment.
ABECEDARIANS – Resin (Caroline, 1987)
Typical mid-80s indie rock draped with vaguely goth, Cure-influenced gauze — lots of delayed and chorused guitars and repetetive, looping bass and drums with monotonous mope-rock vocals. I remember even back in the day this being pretty much just a genre exercise. It’s pleasant enough, but not really worth revisiting more than once every decade or so.
Antioch Arrow – Lady Is A Cat (Gravity, 1993)
One of the first-wave of chaotic hardcore bands on Gravity. It’s prog-rock played at break-neck speed with lots of feedback, screaming, and crashing drums. Utterly exhilirating and hugely influential with repercussions still being felt today. The thing that strikes me now listening to this is how suprisingly tuneful and well-paced this is. Oh yeah, check the totally DIY spray-painted stenciled cover.
Appliances-SFB – SFB (self-release, 1984)
Absolutely brilliant hardcore-influenced post-punk from my hometown. When I was coming up, The Appliances (they later added “SFB” due to some name dispute which, reportedly, stood for “Shit For Brains”) were one of the Madison “big three” which also included Tar Babies, Killdozer. While those bands were on legit labels (SST and Touch & Go), toured internationally and gained a fair amount of notoriety, the Appliances, for my money, were the best of the bunch and never really got their due. This first record is crammed with catchy, noisy post-punk anthems brimming with all sorts of influences (surf, dub, hardcore, kraut-rock) that never distracted from the sheer forward momentum and unbridled chaos.
Arm – Arm (self-release, 1996)
Blistering Minneapolis noise-rock with more of a heart than most of their AmRep brethren. Arm seem to have drawn considerable influence from the Nirvana/Pixies school of loud-quiet-loud and the vocals especially exude a sense of longing and emotional pain. This gives the band much more depth than the classic cacaphony’n’screaming so prevelant with many of the noise-rock bands of the time.
Arsenal – Factory Smog Is A Sign Of Progress (Touch & Go, 1990)
After Big Black broke up, Santiago Durango recorded a couple EPs that closely followed the same blueprint. The pummeling drum machine and ice-pick-to-the-ear guitars proved that Durango was way more than Albini’s yes man. But the addition of keyboards, guitar solos, and more complex arrangements didn’t improve on the formula all that much and, ultimately, Arsenal isn’t really of much interest to anyone but die-hard Big Black fans.
Assembly Line People Program – Chicago IL (Constructive Interference, 1997)
Single-sided 45rpm EP from a spazzy, short-lived Chicago band. Their debt to Gang Of Four is obvious but they stray a little closer to atonal spazz-jazz at points. The shouted group vocals bring to mind Nation Of Ulysses and the arrangements presage the rock/jazz/prog hybrid that their peers Sweep The Leg Johnny would later perfect.
Babes In Toyland – Spanking Machine (Twin Tone, 1990)
Minneapolis all-girl grunge band whose attitude outstripped its abilities. The debut was kinda swampy and tribal with caterwauling vocals later made popular by Courtney Love. (Love was a hanger-on at the Babes’ inception but was never, despite later claims by her, actually in the band.) The record has a amateurish vibe and execution that makes it hard to recommend except as a relic of a bygone era.
Bastards – Monticello (Treehouse, 1989)
Excellent, but often overlooked, Minneapolis noise-rock band led by Joachim Breuer who later went on to front the also-excellent Janitor Joe. Crunchy and visceral, Bastards could go toe-to-toe with any AmRep band of the time but their record-label affiliation kind of doomed them to obscurity. Nevertheless, the muscular bombast and Breuer’s almost Killdozer-like vocal delivery make this a extremely worthwhile example of Midwestern noise-rock at its finest.
Bastro – Rode Hard Put Up Wet (Homestead, 1988)
David Grubbs first post-Squirrel Bait project and the first EP before Bastro got all weird. This is excellent slashing drum-machine-driven post-punk. Imagine Slint playing Big Black songs at break-neck speed and you’ll be in the ballpark. This record is a highly recommended jewel in the Louisville crown, especially the spectacular opening track “(I’ve) Ben Brown.”