Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kiwi Rock

I know exactly two things about New Zealand. The first, obviously, is hobbits. The country is overrun with these furry-footed creatures. According to recent statistics, there are seven hobbits for every human in New Zealand, and they play a significant role in the country's economy. Hobbit fur is used to make Snuggies (a major NZ export), and their urine is harvested to make the local delicacy known as Marmite. The second thing I know about New Zealand is Flying Nun Records. Back in the 80's, there was a vibrant indie rock scene in New Zealand, and Flying Nun was the label that documented it. The bands on this label played catchy, lo-fi guitar pop, a sharp contrast to the hardcore and post-punk sounds being made in the U.S. at the time; it wasn't long before American bands heard this music and became influenced by it.
There were a ton of great bands on Flying Nun, but two of the better ones were the Clean and the Verlaines. Both bands made their best music at the beginning of the 80's, and these early recordings were eventually compiled on two classic LP's: the Clean's Compilation, and the Verlaine's Juvenilia. The former was upbeat and whimsical, while the latter was more romantic and folky. Both were full of great tunes and are worth hearing for anyone interested in the history of underground rock.

The Clean:

The Verlaines:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Neil Young - Time Fades Away

I am a huge Neil Young fan. His music was the soundtrack for innumerable road trips during my college days. I would even go so far as to say that I worship him like a god. In fact, I think everyone should set aside three hours every Sunday to sit down and listen to his albums. His name should be included in the Pledge of Allegiance, despite his Canadian citizenship. When you are faced with a tough decision, you should ask yourself, "What would Neil Young do?" His music will guide you to a better place, and for this we should all bow down and show him our utmost respect.
If there is a phase of Neil's career that I find particularly noteworthy, it would be the years 1973-1979. It was during this time that he released what I consider to be his best albums. The first of these was Time Fades Away. This album was unique in the sense that it was recorded live but consisted of entirely new songs. More importantly, however, it introduced a significant change in Neil's musical direction. The new songs were darker, more personal, and played in a much looser style than his earlier recordings. And of course, the songwriting was top-notch: rowdy rockers and fragile ballads, all of them essential listening. So it's a shame that this record was never reissued on CD. It's hard to imagine how this could be, especially with such a popular musical artist. Apparently, Neil Young himself was never totally thrilled with the album and has since prohibited his record label from reissuing it. To this I can only reply: KISS MY ASS, NEIL. Because your fans deserve better than that. They deserve to hear every note you played during those golden years. Sure, you can coast on your success and keep writing songs about electric cars and rapper jeans, but nobody really cares about that crap. In the meantime, I'll just have to listen to my worn-out copy of Time Fades Away and try to imagine what it sounds like without all the pops and scratches. And you can too:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Feedtime - Shovel

Sometimes simpler is better. Like, I'll occasionally go to a restaurant and just order a hamburger, even if there are more exotic things on the menu. Don't get me wrong, I have an amazingly refined palate and do enjoy a good gourmet meal from time to time. But I can tell you from experience that a plate of free-range dolphin sashimi just doesn't satisfy in the same way that a big ol' greasy burger does. Which bring us to this week's record.
Feedtime were a noise rock band from Australia who were active during the 1980's. They took the basic sound of punk, slowed it down, and simplified it even further. No solos, no choruses, just two or three chords repeated over and over. The point was to be as raw and direct as possible. Not that you'd expect anything different from these guys: the back cover shows pictures of the band members, one of whom is sporting a mullet and the other two looking like they just got released from prison (there's also a picture of a dog, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't play any instruments). But what they lacked in complexity they made up for in feeling. Underneath the noise was a primitive blues sound which made the music seem more genuine than other bands of the era. Unfortunately, most of their records remain out of print, but you can hear a sample from one of them here:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Slovenly - Thinking of Empire

Hey kids!
Welcome to the first installment of Sounds From The Cave. Each week I will dig up a long-forgotten album from my record collection and attempt to rescue it from obscurity. Now, I've gone the extra mile and posted song clips from these records. I say "extra mile" because I had to convert them to mp3's, upload them to on online storage site, and then stream them to this blog. It's tedious work, but I think you (and the records) deserve it; after all, it's probably the only way these hidden gems will ever get heard. So without further ado, let's get started with this week's selection: Slovenly!
Slovenly were one of the great, underappreciated bands of the 80's. Despite being on the same label (SST Records) as higher-profile acts like Husker Du, Black Flag, and the Minutemen, they never gained much of a following and have since remained a mere footnote in the history of underground rock. Part of the problem can be attributed to a phenomenon I like to call Annoying Singer Syndrome (ASS). This occurs when an otherwise decent band is hampered by a singer who irritates the living crap out of you, something that fans of Modest Mouse and Joanna Newsom are all too familiar with. Sometimes ASS can totally ruin one's listening experience; in other instances, the band is so good that the singing doesn't really matter, as was the case with Slovenly. Their singer's melodramatic vocals and pretentious lyrics were only a minor distraction from the otherwise amazing music. And music really was the focus of this band, particularly the interplay between the musicians. The two guitars, bass, and drums locked together in a way that formed tight patterns and grooves. The result was music that was full of tension yet still melodic and enjoyable. Thinking of Empire, from 1986, was their best album in my opinion; although it was never released on CD, the vinyl worth hunting down if you have the patience. It's solid proof that something that sounds like ASS can actually be pretty darn good. Here's a song from it: