Anatomy of a Mix, #1.

This is the first in what will probably be a regular series. I have lots of music that I love at any one time and want to talk about on here, but I often have trouble finding the time to sit down and write an entire blog entry about each one. As you guys have no doubt realized, if I sit down to write about one record, I invariably come up with 3,000 words or something. If I tried to write that much about every record I heard and loved, I'd never have the time and energy to do anything else. That said, there's a lot of stuff that I never end up talking about on here that I want to give space to, so I'm hoping that posting track-by-track writeups of mix CDs can fill that void a little bit. I make lots of mix CDs for myself, at least one every couple of weeks or so, and those are going to be the ones I'm usually writing about here, but this one is actually for my friend Kevin, and therefore takes a slightly different form than usual, as you'll see.

1. Sample from "Wild Guitar" (1962)--I wrote recently about seeing the movie "Wild Guitar," a ridiculous B-movie from the early 60s that was the first directorial effort of Ray Dennis Steckler, best known for "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies," a movie I am almost sure appeared on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" at some point. Well, in addition to Ray Dennis Steckler, "Wild Guitar" also featured Arch Hall Jr., a teenaged rock n' roller who was mercilessly pimped out by his father, and who is probably most (in)famous for appearing in the movie "Eegah," another MST3K entry. There's a compilation out there called "Wild Guitar," which collects a lot of Arch's early 60s recordings, and since most of them are only preserved as music that he recorded for films he appeared in, "Wild Guitar" contains not only songs but short instrumental pieces and even samples from Arch Hall Jr's movies. This is one such sample, and it's six seconds of Ray Dennis Steckler, in his role in "Wild Guitar" as the shady toughguy "Steak," saying, "Kid, this is uh... Daisy. She's gonna teach you how to swing!" I figured it was a good way to start the mix.

2. Fast Cars - The Kids Just Wanna Dance--This song was the A-side of a power pop single from 1979 by Manchester's Fast Cars. Apparently there's an album available by them now called "Coming... Ready Or Not," but it's a mixed bag of original 1979-1980 era singles and demos and recent re-recordings by a reformed version of the band. I didn't get this track from there, though, so I'm not sure if that CD contains this version of "The Kids Just Wanna Dance" or not. This version is from the original single, and was uploaded to a message board I used to post on a couple of years ago. I only listened to it recently, though, while trying to finally catch up on the backlog of music I've downloaded but never listened to. It's a pretty great song, as power pop goes. Because of the time frame and music scene it was released as a part of, some of the online discussion of it refers to it as a punk single, and while I think it counts more as power-pop than anything else, I'll still give it credit as a great slice of DIY energy.

3. Greg Summerlin - Shine On Where You Want--From his album "All Done In Good Time," which is apparently pretty obscure. I had to hunt for it for quite a while before locating it. Originally, I just had this song, again, because someone uploaded it to a message board. I thought it was a great catchy indie rock tune, and while I really liked the entire album when I finally located it, I still think this is the best song on it. It's sad, actually, how rarely I come across good indie rock like this anymore. I feel like a lot of bands that are now associated with indie rock play such light, mellow pop music that I can't see what's really "rock" about it anymore. Sure, there are songs by bands like The Shins, The Decemberists, and The Wrens that I like, but I have trouble listening to most of their entire albums, because I just get bored. In contrast, "Shine On Where You Want" has plenty of rock to it, even if it is an overtly pop song with obviously catchy melodies. This is the kind of thing I want from indie rock. More, please.

4. Rosita - Santa Poca's Dream--Rosita was a short-lived offshoot of the late 90s Britpop band Kenickie, who didn't even last long enough to record a full-length. I missed that entire scene--too busy listening to chaotic hardcore--but in recent years have gone back and discovered some really great pop gems hidden within the whole Britpop morass. Not all of it works for me, and in fact, I feel like Rosita's predecessor, Kenickie, were inconsistent at best, but this song is great fun. It's got a great mix of acoustic and distorted electric guitars, a catchy, upbeat verse that gets me pogoing around my room, and a great chorus that highlights the singer's awesome high-pitched voice. It's not too far from "Simpatico" era Velocity Girl, though the fact that Rosita actually are a bunch of British kids instead of just wishing they were couldn't be more obvious.

5. M83 - Graveyard Girl--I've been hearing about this band for a while, and people speak particularly highly of their first album, "Dead Cities, Red Seas, and Lost Ghosts," but I never bothered to listen to their music until they released their most recent album, "Saturdays = Youth," and everyone familiar with them started to refer to it as their shoegaze album. Now, as much as I hate the "shoegaze" genre classification, I do love a lot of the bands that are considered part of it, so I was intrigued to hear such a term being tossed around. Well, once I heard the album, I didn't really think that the term applied, but I still liked it quite a bit. "Saturdays = Youth" is a pretty even mix of more ambient tracks and tunes that sound like synth-heavy 80s New Wave. "Graveyard Girl" probably goes farthest in the direction of 80s New Wave, and I told someone on a message board that it sounded to me like New Order on downers. That's not a bad comparison for something I tossed off with 5 seconds' thought, but it's not the whole story. The more melancholy melodies here are probably a little too dark for New Order, but I nonetheless think they are poppy enough that they could have been a hit song in 1985 or whenever. The lyrics, though, take this song out of that realm, focusing as they do on a teenaged goth girl who just wants to escape from her ordinary suburban life to go live (or maybe die) in the graveyard. Towards the end of the song, there's a moment where the music goes quiet, moves into the background, and the male voice of the singer is replaced by the graveyard girl herself, speaking directly to us. "I'm gonna jump the walls and run," she says. "I wonder if they'll miss me? I won't miss them. The cemetery is my home. I want to be a part of it." She talks about wanting to be like the gravestones, "wise and silent," then ends her speech by saying, "I'm 15 years old and I feel it's already too late to live. Don't you?" I would probably see this as just another vaguely downbeat but overall catchy pop song if it weren't for that line, but it reaches right out of the speakers and grabs my attention every time I hear it. How many times in my life have I had a thought like that? Too many, I'm sure.

6. Sample from Barack Obama's "Dreams From My Father"--There've been these audio clips floating around on the internet lately, taken from Barack Obama's reading of the audio version of his first memoir. They're all lines spoken by his high school friend Ray, and they're all full of very colorful language. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds it incredibly amusing to hear the president deliver lines like "You ain't my bitch, nigga. Buy your own damn fries." That's why this is on here.

7. Parts And Labor - Brighter Days--Another band I just discovered when sorting through the backlog of stuff I've downloaded and never listened to. This song is from their album "Mapmaker," which is about a year and a half old at this point. "Brighter Days" serves well as an introduction for everything I like about Parts and Labor. Their songs are driving and catchy, fueled by interplay between rocking guitar and more melodically oriented keyboard lines. The real power in the songs, though, is delivered by their drummer, who plays frantically, never willing to just sit back and play a simple beat when he can fill each riff with speedy fills and rhythmic variations that add unexpected textures to the songs. For example, he ends "Brighter Days" by playing a blast beat under the last few bars of the final verse. It's an unorthodox choice, one of many he makes on the album, but it works, adding a new layer to a song that would have still been interesting and enjoyable even with unadventurous beat choices. Since recording "Mapmaker," Parts And Labor have apparently lost their drummer, and I'm not at all sure they'll be able to live up to the standard he set. If the new drummer isn't just as adventurous as the guy who played on "Mapmaker," I have a feeling I'll be disappointed by their upcoming material.

8. Railhed - Sell My Revolution--For the longest time, the only song I could locate by early Jade Tree Records band Railhed was on the "Food Not Bombs Benefit" compilation LP, which also included Swing Kids, Indian Summer, and Current. Recently, I located a digital copy of their LP, "Tarantella," and while it's halfway decent throughout, it just doesn't measure up to "End Song," from the "Food Not Bombs Benefit" LP. "Sell My Revolution" is the best song on the album, and even it isn't quite up to that level. I really just put it on here because I know Kevin had the "Food Not Bombs Benefit" LP back when we were teenagers, and like me, he never heard anything else by Railhed. He'll probably enjoy hearing this song, even if he doesn't think it's that great. And I mean, it's still pretty good. If it were terrible, I wouldn't have put it on here at all.

9. Motorpsycho - 's Numbness--I've written about Motorpsycho here before, about how much I loved their 2008 album, "Little Lucid Moments." Since discovering that record, though, I've delved into Motorpsycho's back catalog, and found quite a few more excellent songs and albums buried back there. I wouldn't say that any of their albums other than "Black Hole/Blank Canvas," the double disc that immediately preceded "Little Lucid Moments," really live up to the standard set by that album, but I do like quite a bit of what I've found in their back catalog, and it's way easier to pick some of the highlights from earlier albums to put on mix CDs rather than picking one of the 12-to-21 minute songs from "Little Lucid Moments." This track is from their 1995 LP "Blissard," and while it's definitely the best song on there, as earlier Motorpsycho albums go, that one is one of the better ones. "'s Numbness" in particular does a good job of capturing that Superdrag-ish power-pop sound that shows up on their better, more recent material.

10. The Measure [SA] - Hit the Ground Running--I only ever heard this song because it was on their split with Off With Their Heads, but I ended up liking this song better than anything Off With Their Heads put on that EP. Unfortunately, I haven't found any other songs by The Measure [SA] that live up to the standard set by this track, either on this split or on their full-length, "Historical Fiction." They've got some other good tracks, but at this point, this one is kind of a fluke. I can only hope that it's a sign of improvement to come, though. One of my favorite things about it is that the vocals are handled by Lauren rather than Fid. Her brash vocals have elements of twang and of snarl, which mix together well to create the impression that she's singing this song, about looking for a place in a dead-end world of crappy jobs and out of touch politicians, from both a frustrated and a vaguely amused position. The quiet opening verse, driven by handclaps, sets up an energetic and upbeat chorus that is the best thing about this song, except maybe for the part where she sings the lyric, "Because a god I don't believe in hates me." Who hasn't been there? This song is one of the most recent releases by The Measure [SA], so I'm looking forward to others of this caliber in the future.

11. Juliana Hatfield - Perfection--This song was supposed to be on Juliana's fourth major label LP, "God's Foot," but instead, that album never came out. Her label shelved it, saying that it was too dark in tone, and released her from her contract. She's rerecorded a few songs from this album for later independent LPs, but "Perfection" is not one of those, so this version comes from a rather crappy-sounding bootleg of "God's Foot" that I found floating around on the internet. I can see why the label felt this album had a dark tone, including as it does both this song and one called "Can't Kill Myself," but of course, knowing what I know about Juliana Hatfield, I would never in a million years sign her to my label if I was worried that she might write really depressing songs. Come on now, that's kind of what she does. Personally, I'm way more than OK with that. Take "Perfection," for example, since we're talking about it. The chorus to this song about trying to find happiness in relationships reminds me of something I myself sometimes think: "Do I want too much? Would perfection be enough? If it came to me, would it be what I really need?" I don't know. Sometimes I think I'm too fucked up and broken, where relationships are concerned, to ever have a happy one. Sometimes I think that even if I were given something that really made me happy, I'd overthink it or panic about it until I managed to fuck it up. Who knows? But yeah, add this one to the long list of Juliana Hatfield songs I relate to. And also love.

12. Visqueen - Zirconium Gun--This is one I've loved for quite a while. Visqueen is a power-pop band from Seattle, started by guitarist/singer Rachel Flotard and former Fastbacks bassist Kim Warnick. Warnick was what got me to check them out, but I ended up liking Visqueen a little bit more than I liked the Fastbacks, since they were able to easily resolve the problem the Fastbacks had with consistency. This is the best Visqueen song I know, from their first LP, "King Me," but unlike the Fastbacks, who would write pop classics like "Whenever I'm Walking" and "Gone To The Moon" but fill the albums they were on with mediocre tracks, Visqueen's albums are generally awesome all the way through. Kim Warnick isn't even in the band anymore, in fact, but I certainly plan to check out their third album when it's released (which will supposedly happen this year). Awesome distorted-guitar pop songs are my shit.

13. Be Your Own Pet - Bicycle, Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle--I believe I've written about Be Your Own Pet on here before, but for those who missed it, they're a band of teenaged Nashville punks who got a major label record contract due to a member's father being a big-time record label executive. I'm not sure that major label exposure was really the right way for these guys to go, since they were really just a bunch of snotty punk kids, but anything that worked to bring singer Jemina Pearl into my life is A-OK with me. The best part of this song is when, coming out of the bridge into the final verse, she says, "Have fun, but be safe with it," then immediately contradicts herself: "Just kidding, FUCK SHIT UP!" The real shame here is that a lot of other punk rockers and hardcore kids who might have loved this band probably skipped out on listening to them because of their major label connections. But what self-respecting punk rocker wouldn't love a song about riding bikes and fucking shit up? Especially one that sounds like later, better-songwriting era Bikini Kill crossed with Deep Wound? Answer: none of them.

14. Sample from Barack Obama's "Dreams From My Father"--"Now, you know that guy ain't shit. Sorry-ass muthafucka got nothing on me. Right? Nothing." Awesome.

15. Kings Go Forth - One Day--Heard this song, the B-side of this band's first single, on a funnyordie.com video called "High Five Inauguration" in which Jake Szymanski and Bob Turton run around giving prominent Democrats (and even a few Republicans, presumably ones with a sense of humor) high fives. There are some really random people in the video too, such as former Cosby kid Raven-Symone. I laughed my ass off the first time I saw it, but I also kept thinking, "What is this super-awesome funky song on the soundtrack?" Fortunately for me, the video's credits included one for the song, and I was able to track this thing down. It's incredibly infectious, and sounds like something that should have come out in 1973, but instead it's a current single, one that makes me want to keep an eye out for future releases by Milwaukee's Kings Go Forth. You should too.

16. Obits - One Cross Apiece--This is the A-side of the first single by Rick Froberg's new post-Hot Snakes band. Apparently, when Hot Snakes split up, he started this band, while guitarist John Reis and bassist Gar Haywood started The Night Marchers. Now, based on my experience with Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, Pitchfork, Rocket From The Crypt, and The Sultans, I've always found that John Reis and Rick Froberg together make great bands (Jehu, Hot Snakes, Pitchfork), but Reis without Froberg generally equals subpar music (RFTC, Sultans). I wasn't sure how this equation would apply to Obits, since for the first time it was Froberg without Reis, but this song assured me that I needn't have worried. It's along the rock n' roll lines of Hot Snakes rather than the guitar-obliteration of Drive Like Jehu, but that works for me, especially since this song still features the excellent songwriting capability that Froberg's always seemed to have. Now, it never really gets wailing the way Jehu and Hot Snakes used to, and Froberg's vocals are calm throughout, so it's not quite what I've come to expect from his projects, but the bottom line is that this is a great song, catchy and rocking in exactly the measures that I wanted it to be. Interestingly enough, my initial listens to The Night Marchers have also found that band to be pretty great, so maybe I will actually end up liking a Reis-without-Froberg band too. There's a first time for everything, I suppose.

17. The Litter - Feeling--This track is from their third album, "Emerge," the one on which they switched from a pretty great garage-rock style that produced one of the all-time Nuggets/Pebbles classics, "Action Woman," to a more proto-metal sound, as was fitting for the changing times. I've always really dug that album in general and this song in particular, with its uptempo, driving feel. It's really not even that different from what The Litter did on their first two albums, and while the cleaner production and the choice to include a drum solo on side two of the album may have made them seem like they were switching scenes and following the trend, I really just see it as a natural evolution in their sound. And this song is a pretty great example of that.

18. Randy Alvey and Green Fuz - Green Fuz--Recent investigations into the "Songs The Cramps Taught Us" comps have led me to rediscover this ridiculous slice of horribly recorded garage-psych noise, another pillar of the more lo-fi-oriented Pebbles series. The Cramps covered this track on "Psychedelic Jungle," their second album, and I gotta figure that they were guessing at least a little bit on what notes and chords to play, because there's almost no way to tell what anyone in the band is playing even when the singer isn't singing. The vocals are mixed so far forward that, when the singer is singing, the band just sounds like a vague rumble in the background. For all that, this is a pretty fun tune, which no doubt is what led the Cramps to cover it in the first place. Supposedly there's distortion on the guitar, but it sounds more muffled than anything else. The chord sequences the guitarist is playing are pretty catchy, though. Really, this song is probably better known as a novelty than anything else, and you've probably gotta be a major garage rock nerd to appreciate it, but I am one of those, and I love it.

19. The Phantom - Love Me--This 1958 rockabilly single is 90 seconds of insane howling by an Elvis Presley acolyte named Jerry Lott, who went by The Phantom and wore a mask when he performed. This is another one the Cramps covered, on "Bad Music For Bad People," and this is one of the few times (another being their cover of "The Crusher" by The Novas) when I feel like the Cramps created a subdued version of the more intense original. From the scream that begins the song to the gasping pleas of "Love me... love me..." that end it, this single is pure madness, and was one of the most impressive things on the generally excellent "Loud Fast And Out Of Control" box set, which I first encountered a few years ago. As a 50s version of the Nuggets set, it does pretty well, but there are only a few moments of craziness approaching the far-out insanity on the Nuggets box sets. This is one of them.

20. Angry Angles - She's Dead--This relatively short-lived Jay Reatard project, featuring his then-girlfriend Alix Brown on bass and sometimes vocals, was the last band he had before becoming a solo artist. There are, in fact, live recordings of Angry Angles playing songs that later appeared on Jay Reatard's solo album, "Blood Visions." One is forced to assume that Jay's romantic split with Alix Brown is what prompted the end of Angry Angles, and it's a shame, because their few EPs showcase a tougher, more energetic sound than the one that typically shows up on Jay's solo stuff. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love the Rough Trade noise-pop sound of the Matador Singles LP, and I would hate for those records not to have been released, but it would just be cool if Angry Angles had continued to exist long enough to make a few more records, or had stuck around as an occasional side project. This is my favorite of their songs, from the "Crowds" EP.

21. Sample from Barack Obama's "Dreams From My Father"--"Man, I'm not going to anymore of these bullshit parties." Me neither, Mr. President. Fuck that.

22. The Warriors - Slings And Arrows--Back in the early 90s, when Earth Crisis was dominating the hardcore scene with their mosh-part-uber-alles sound, I fucking hated it. I thought it was an enforcement of boredom and lack of talent upon the sound of the scene, creating a style of music that was like the most club-oriented techno, in that it only sounded good if you were dancing to it. I think my disgust with that early 90s sound was a big contributing factor in my diving headfirst into the chaotic hardcore scene, and for that I feel lucky. That said, in recent years, there's been some moshier stuff that I've heard that has really done it for me, and none moreso than The Warriors. This song, the first track on their first LP, "War Is Hell," is straight up mosh riffs throughout, but it seems like Earth Crisis's suppression of talent through one-chord breakdowns only worked for a little while, because The Warriors spew out catchy riffs galore, filling them with several chords apiece, and overlaying them with reasonably complicated guitar leads. Furthermore, their vocalist has a great tone, screaming with the sound of real anger and frustration pouring from his throat. It's almost enough to make me want to revisit those Earth Crisis albums and make sure I didn't miss something. Almost.

23. Will Haven - Veg--This song, from the first Will Haven EP, is one I wrote about in detail mere weeks ago. I don't really want to retread such recently covered ground, but I will say that I thought this song did a great job of bridging the gap between the brutal mosh of the Warriors and the more chaotic freakout of Medic.

24. Medic - La Grippe--This song is from their vinyl-only split EP with Triac, which is why it doesn't sound the best (though certainly not as bad as that Juliana Hatfield track earlier, or, for that matter, the Measure [SA] track that immediately preceded it--not that any of you are hearing most of these tracks, so I don't know why I'm even telling you). Despite whatever sound limitations might be present, nothing can stop Medic from churning out a cyclone of heavy, violent riffage, which switches back and forth between pounding mosh riffs and much more hectic fast parts. Medic write the kind of riffs that would make you think that their songs could only sustain 90 or so seconds of length apiece. Many of their songs are three and four minutes long, though, and the way they're able to sustain interest over this length is by wringing dynamic shifts and surprising permutations from their riffs to an extent that you'd never expect from even the most chaotic of hardcore bands. Their gift for writing such interesting and excellent songs makes it all the more depressing that they only stayed together long enough to release two EPs and a split.

25. Bound - Cain Rose Up--This song is from a 1993 compilation EP called "Soundtrack To The Revolution." My old roommate owned one of the 500 copies of this EP that were ever pressed, and despite the fact that this EP now changes hands for obscene amounts of money on Ebay due to the Converge song it contained, the song I always loved the most from it was this one. Bound were a Massachusetts group that later evolved into Hatchetface, a band whose LP, "Vol. II," was noticeably inferior to this song (and, from what I hear, to the EP this band released under the name Bound, which I've unfortunately never been able to find). Inbetween the recording of this song and the recording of the LP, Bound/Hatchetface moved from concentrating more on chaos and brutality to focusing on fast, straight-ahead hardcore. The LP they released sounded like 1982 era stuff, and was decent as far as that goes, but couldn't touch the craziness they generate on this track. Screeching vocals and a heavy, pounding verse riff give way to a blasting, ranting chorus, only to drop into a midtempo bridge and then finally back into another brutal verse before ending after only 90 seconds or so. As chaotic hardcore tracks go, this shit is pure genius. I only wish I could find more material recorded by this incarnation of this band.

26. Ganglion - In The Walls--This song is from Ganglion's second EP, "Astride The Loathsome Night," which was released on both LP and CD. I only ever found mp3 copies of the songs, helpfully hosted on Ganglion's website, apparently to compensate for pressing errors with the CD. Maybe I shouldn't have downloaded them, but I did; I'd heard too much good stuff about their music to skip out on a chance to hear it. Boy, is this stuff great. Apparently the LP had H.P. Lovecraft's face silkscreened onto the cover, which makes sense in light of the album's title, and also explains the lyrics to this song, which appear to be based on his short story "The Rats In The Walls." Ganglion mix black-metal howling vocals with clean, intricate guitar and bass lines and complex, technical drumming, for something that harks back to the mid-90s chaotic hardcore age while at the same time featuring almost none of the predominant qualities of that scene. I don't know why I feel like this band would have fit in well with the great bands of that era, such as Born Against, Heroin, Universal Order Of Armageddon, and Antioch Arrow, but I can't help but feel like I'm right. The hectic, stop-start verses, the noisy, bizarre vocals, the riffing that's totally off but somehow incredibly catchy... this stuff is awesome. That's true regardless of what genre or era you consider it part of.

27. Orange 9mm - Suspect--Having seen this band in 1995 with Sick Of It All and 108, and having written them off at the time as boring midtempo rapcore, I was really surprised recently when this song came up on my Ipod's shuffle function and I loved it. Obviously, I was at least considering reevaluating Orange 9mm, or they wouldn't have been on my Ipod at all, but I certainly didn't expect to come to a different conclusion about them now than I did 13 years ago. Imagine my surprise, discovering as I did that they weren't really rapcore at all. Instead, Orange 9mm have much the same sort of heavy yet emotional midtempo groove as Quicksand. Vocalist Chaka Malik doesn't have the singing chops that Quicksand's Walter Schreifels had, which might explain why, in a live venue with bad sound, I thought he was rapping. I was wrong, though--he's singing, or doing the best at it that he can. Orange 9mm are hardly an overlooked classic; the fact is that, if you've heard Quicksand, they don't have too much new to offer. That said, they do what they do quite well, and this song in particular is a shining example of what they were capable of.

28. The Fall Of Troy - Chapter V: The Walls Bled Lust--Having written about "Ghostship," aka "The Phantom On The Horizon," very recently, I don't feel the need to say much about this song. I do, however, want to point out that its ridiculous, brutal 7/8 mosh ending is the perfect way to end a mix CD. I'm not all that sure that I picked the best version of this song, since the original version on "The Ghostship Demos" had a more abrupt ending, rather than trickling lightly out over a minute after the mosh part ended, but in the end, it was the version I picked because it's the one I'm listening to more often right now, having intimately familiarized myself with the "Ghostship Demos" version years ago.

OK, I've been working on this blog entry for three hours. So much for avoiding a huge torrent of verbiage. At least I got to write five thousand words about two dozen bands instead of just one. Hah.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm often surprised at the number of people who write off RFTC. State Of The Art Is On Fire, Hot Charity - These are masterful records.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Andrew TSKS said...

I will admit that I liked "Circa Now." Other than that, though, they've always left me cold. That whole big-soul-flourish sound they had on "Scream Dracula Scream" and all the other later stuff I ever heard doesn't work for me at all.

10:33 AM  

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