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Flashback Paul Westerberg Review!

30 Dec

suicainePaul Westerberg / Sucain Gratification: Capitol, written in 1999

For better or worse, Paul Westerberg has become a kind of Jonathan Richman or Alex Chilton, whose bands the Modern Lovers and Big Star were seminal and luminescent, but whose solo careers and consequent records (in Jonathan’s case, at least ten) have at times misfired. As the Replacement’s ornery and raspy lead singer, Westerberg was at times the perfectly cast, no-frills barroom poet and connoisseur of 1980’s broken hopes and dreams. Even though the band was less than sure-footed, especially towards the end, they captured the total curve of that curious decade, from the DIY garage punk rapture of their first single “Trouble” and the hardcore ravages of their Stink EP to the noisy Midwestern pop bravado of  the Let it Be LP all the way through the high-wire, confused stardom of  Tim, Pleased to Meet Me,  and Don’t Tell A Soul. In effect, the band was its own monument to the regenerative spirit of furious twentysomethings at war with fake bands, and nothing has come close since.

As a wily, snot-nosed, flannel-garbed youth whose songs were taut and explosive, Westerberg crafted songs from almost nothing. Fucked-up schools, neighborhood convenience stores, clickety-clack drum machines, and old Kiss albums became a fertile mound of inspiration in which hope was buried beneath angst and utter disappointment. Later, he tended more towards easy-going odes to Minneapolis’ skyways, or the pent-up rock’n’roll beauty of dirty pool playing, or even somber soliloquies to chapels.

Even though he was partly reborn during Seattle’s grunge reign when he released two punchy, weltering tracks on the Singles soundtrack, his following two solo albums, 14 Stories and Eventually, felt played-by-numbers at times. As curiously unrealized testaments to his own uncanny writing abilities, each had a handful of notable tracks, including “Black Eyed Susan” and “Mama Daddy Did.”  Unfortunately, concurrent with this same period, Westerberg’s live shows were equally boiled down. Poor record sales didn’t seem to absolve him much, so he languished for two years somewhere on the fallout-scattered perimeter of post-punk, post-eighties limelight.

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Sleeping in the Aviary/Self-titled: SOS Records, 2007

3 Oct

Demented instead of demure and irascible more than ironic, the high-wire taut (and taunting) pop overtures these Madison lads unleash revels in the same league as Jay Reteard, the more manic slabs of firestorm Britpop, and Dirtnap Records’ entire oeuvre. This doesn’t mean they don’t slow down (“Love Song”, “Sign My Cast”) to revel in Sebadoh style languor and loss, but those snail-pace rhythms are offset by truly Herculean coiled cuts like “Only Son,” which hits one’s ears with the precision of early Wire sucking helium. Even the broken heart shrapnel like “Maureen” shoots its load in thirty seconds, fleeting and furiously frustrated. A teeny touch of the Beatles underlies “Gloworm,” while impressions of the Kinks invade “Lanugo,” replete with Ray Davies wit and shuffle. I prefer the muscular madness of “Pop Song,” which flails with finesse, as if a pop ditty for the duress generation. Meanwhile, the snotty “Face Lift Floats” reminds me of Buzzocks, in their darker Howard Devoto early incarnation.

7000 Dying Rats / Season in Hell: Hewhocorrupts Inc.

11 Sep

For the first time in five years, and with just the singer left standing, these irony-clad, pantomining, and grindcore metal maniacs return with avant-garde alumni like Gatlin gun drummer Weasel Walters from the Flying Luttenbachers behind some of the sonic guns. From what I understand, their earlier records were sly and “stoopid,” a comedic meld of mountainous metal cliché and post-modern, rusty razor, slice and dice antics. This is perhaps represented on the new album by the retarded rap “We Want Weez-E” or the space age jazz meets ambient soundtrack of “Balls of Bigotry,” not to neglect the folk ballad record store ennui of “Your Studied Indifference is Duly Noted.”  In-between those extended jokes are  nightmares and maelstroms, like the ice cap melting “Altar of Goat Skulls” and easy prey “Eddie Money,” which lines up behind the foaming mouth of rabid hatecore “Death Hammer of the Bearded Ones.” That tune arrives right before the boogie woogie Sunset Strip, slippery cock rock of “Rock n Roll Weapon,” which ends in a free-jazz freakout meets cinematic abomination. Nothing less than a cut and paste mindf*ck.

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God and Texas ”Landslide” single / Love Hammer Records

23 Aug

Though they later emerged on Chicago’s shore as blistering brothers-in-arms to the nimble ferocity of  Tar and the mutant caterwaul of Jesus Lizard, these lads originally hailed from the confines of Columbus, OH, where they first started to cut their path into the post-hardcore landscape. In early stages, they offered a homegrown, basement version of early 1980’s Husker Du soaring with caustic melodicism. On this venerable vinyl, tunes like the psych-rock miasma “Landslide” quickly give way to the blast-off “Through my Head,” which makes Du’s “In A Free Land” feel like a slo-mo soundtrack immersed in quaaludes. The God and Texas overall guitar sound is like abrasive aluminum turned to up to sizzling 11 on the volume dial, the vocals rasp with deep down dirty midwest Shakespearian drama, and the drums sound like they consist of cardboard boxes and plastic tubs full of potato chips. Still, the effect is uncanny: the band is ferocious and heart-pounding. Later they evolved into a more plodding industrialized Amphetamine Reptile-style unit, but these early stabs are shambolic and scissory, slicing through the lame “return to rock’n’roll” of so many hardcore bands.

Didjits/ Lovesicle: Touch and Go Records

13 Aug

Though Rick Sims went on to forge an even more restless garage-burning-down rock’n’roll with the Gaza Strippers, few bands could vie with the Didjits during their peak: their uncanny prowess and power-hooks were decidedly Buzzcocks-meets-chainsaw. From Mattoon, IL (truly flat-ass prairie cornfield nowhere), this melodic monster came like a prairie fire of unrepentant pop hooks snatched from the Dickies and welded onto a ten-ton punk rock wise-ass tow truck. I saw their second drummer vomit right in the middle of a song in Carbondale, Illinois, and he never missed a beat. In many ways, they were the Cheap Trick of punk, and Rick’s fave slices of vinyl included Lou Reed and XTC, so no wonder “Goodbye Mr. Policeman” bounces at a speed more like The Professionals and the Ruts rather than blazing hardcore or lame indie rock. “Dead Hippy,” replete with a slightly twisty turny beat, weighs in like a taut winner too. The Marked Men often seem like pale shadows of this unit, with heavier leanings towards the Real Kids’s swiftest and most succinct cuts.

Trenchmouth/Snakebite: Self-released

27 Jul

Made the year I left  high school (1989), when Trenchmouth had two blistering guitarists, Damian played crazed congas, and the band was much less jazzified and deconstructed, this whirling bass and near-funk with bursts of molten, glass-melting punk is still my favorite slab they produced. Limited originally to 430 copies, replete with Fred Armisen’s (Saturday Night Live) handwritten phone number on the back, this Windy City post-punk fills in the void between primitive acid-jazz grooves, world beat brazenness, and fetid Fugazi formula. To me, it reads like a cross mingling of Beefeater and Agit-Pop. The best part : it aims for a musical territory that acknowledges and embodies the flavor of the city coming to grips with the soon-to-be post-rock era (or error! to some critics), crowned by Shellac, Tortoise, and others. Shamanistic and lo-fi.

Hypstrz/Live at the Longhorn: Bomp!

19 Jul

Just when you thought there was nothing new under the American music sun, you realize there isn’t, then you turn back to the quintessential year 1980, when punk really broke, and you find this truly amazing document stuffed under some pile of ragtag years and years. With tons of stirring mod soul mayhem, pop explosity, and pub rock rickety-rackety revolution, this is really the only band I have heard that actually meets the challenge of being the stateside version of Dr. Feelgood, the Jam, and Eddie and the Hot Rods rolled into one burning hot dog. For years people have talked about the live Joe Ely album from the same period as being the perfect postcard of American music, rootsified, of course, but this is the real deal, blowing up all preconceptions about Minneapolis being a second-tier American city. With the likes of Suicide Commandos behind them, and the Replacements and Husker Du ahead of them, it’s time to see the Hypsterz as occupying a sense of place like Kansas City was to Robert Altman’s sense of jazz. This is whacked, blistering, full-throttle– an organic melting pot that makes every cover, from “In the Midnight Hour” to “96 Tears” feel as if they had just been invented. Do yourself a favor, get the early Jam singles, listen to the live B-sides, hear what those trousered boys did to reinvigorate rock’n’roll in England, then listen to this epic testimony of how some suburban go-nowhere boys with funny ties could replace imposter power pop with discharged, atomic-heavy, Flatbush-busting rock’n’fucking roll. This is by the far one of the great records of the ennui era.