Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How many of you have listened to this album, Zen Arcade? If you haven't and liked Nirvana and similar bands, then you owe it to yourself to check this one out. First off, this album was originally released on the SST label family. Husker Du was a hardcore band that took innovation past the threshold within a genre not known for evolving beyond loud and fast. The alternative rock concept was yet to be conceived in 1983, as well. So what in the hell were they, then? They were originals, the vanguard, practically unknowns.

Here's what you need to know: Bob Mould is a guitar wielding beast. Need proof? Just listen to his solo album "Black Sheets of Rain" and the album "Copper Blue" from his group Sugar. He also has a keen lyrical sense and infuses his white noise raging with melody. This is why I can listen to "When Pink Turns to Blue" and feel the horror and the sadness of discovering the girlfriend dead from an overdose. Variety is the word: most hardcore can get "samey" real fast. Not Zen Arcade, however. The album needs to be taken in as a whole. It changes with fluidity and where the seams get ripped in transition, it feels appropriate. It is a concept album.

The feeling of never getting to leave your hometown. That loneliness of being left behind. The defeat of moving away in spite, then realizing that you're screwed. The pain of being abused, drug addiction, and settling for the safe hometown job and girlfriend, only to see all your dreams go down the drain. It is depressing as hell, but it is an emotional journey. One that many kids have gone through in one way or another. I have had a portion of this story played out in my life. I can feel it, touch it, and taste it. It is bitter, but the music and the words console me. It calls out to me with understanding that someone knows, and the loneliness is shared. It says to me, "A shared burden is less heavy".

What is a Zen Arcade? It is a place where you play and get played. A place where peace is for sale, but at a price unattainable. Where the games that you play take you further away from your best intentions, with every quarter spent. It is, in every sense, Pleasure Island. I hope you come back.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Meat Puppets

This is one of those records that you'll either love or hate upon first listen. For those whose Meat Puppets experience has been limited to the song "Backwater" and the appearance with Nirvana on MTV's Unplugged, then this record will be a shocker. For hardcore enthusiasts, this will be a must buy record. In fact, if you buy the newly-reissued CD, it features the mega-necessary "In a Car" EP. I have the LP, so I still need to get that EP. The one cool thing about this LP is that it is a 45 and not a 33RPM, which means you can slow it down and make them sound like monsters.

The Kirkwood brothers and their friend Derick Bostrom, formed the Meat Puppets in 1982 and hailed from Phoenix, Arizona. This the place of my formation as well, so it's all rather cosmic--wow. Back to our story, The first song hits you hard in the head, which is either good or bad. You either come to the conclusion that this is not for you, or you go, "Hell yeah, I can't understand what this guy is screaming about, but it sounds like he's vomiting his guts out on to the floor." How can I describe it in more contemporary terms? It's like if Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon, singer) was killed, buried, then brought back to life as a zombie, then started singing in a hardcore-punk band.

(Meat Puppets, from left: Derick Bostrom, Kurt Kirkwood, and Chris Kirkwood)

The guitars, courtesy of Kurt Kirkwood, are fantastic. He did something different, incorporating humor and atonal jamming into hardcore. His brother Chris' bass has a bouncy quality that just wants to come out and play around with his brother's guitar. This is the key relationship that makes the Puppets' magic. The overall sound fluctuates. You can hear the origins of their sound to come, with a nugget of country hidden in all the noise.

My favorite tracks on this record would have to be "The Gold Mine", "Saturday Morning", and "Walking Boss"--a classic track. I also love the two instrumentals: "Our Friends" and "Milo, Sorghum, and Maize". Another thing that I always look forward to when taking out my Meat Puppets albums is the artwork, done by the Kirkwoods.

In addition to the humor and country influences, the Puppets weaved elements of psychedelia into their songs. Most of this album sounds like a few guys in a garage thrashing away after dropping way too much brown acid. So, go forward with caution on this one. I warned you. You just might find that you're sick enough to like it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bad Brains

I've been listening to Bad Brains self-titled debut album lately. This is not their SST label contribution and I know that I promised SST label stuff, but what the hell. This album is from the ROIR label. I don't know enough about that label to comment any further.

Bad Brains are hardcore, and often fused reggae with their hardcore, or just regular old reggae. Bad brains are one of the best hardcore-punk groups ever. They are also black. Not your typical punks. They started playing jazz-fusion and are accomplished musicians. Why in the hell would they start playing the hard, loud, fast style hardcore that was all the rage with the white boys in the late 70's? Simple, they had aggression, they had anger, they had something to say, and they needed to say it loud.

So, what do a bunch of rastas sound like playing hardcore-punk? Well to put it short, ungodly awesome. HR, Joseph I, or the "throat" (as the band called him) was a yelling, yelping, and grunting (I like the grunts) dynamo. The rest of the band kicked as much ass as anyone ever did before and after them. They were masters of the hardcore riff, thanks to Dr. Know and his massive guitar work. Just listen to "Pay to Cum", "Big Take Over", "Supertouch/Shitfit", or "Banned in D.C." and you'll be converted.

I like "Attitude" and "Sailin' On" personally. On Attitude, HR sings about having a PMA (positive mental attitude), so these guys weren't about gloom and doom, but being effective and positive. My favorite track is "Right Brigade". All I can say about that track is holy shit on a ham sandwich! I just want to keep turning it up and up, 'till my ears start bleeding.

Bad Brains did include some pretty decent reggae on this album, but if you want their best hardcore/reggae or just plain reggae offerings, then get "I Against I" on the SST label. But this one, Bad Brains, is the essential hardcore album along with any Minor Threat, Black Flag, Misfits, or Germs album. It was first released only on cassette, but now has been re-issued on CD. The sound quality is not top notch, but this was the 1981-82 underground D.C. hardcore scene. So, this CD still has a underground demo feel to it that finds a way to explode through its technical limitations. If you really care about hardcore, or if you need a lesson (because your punk vocabulary is limited to Greenday), then get this album right now, Bad Brains.

Play it loudest!!!