Culture Fusion has a new writer, Edwin Oslan, who will be contributing on Wednesdays. This is where I would normally go in-depth on what the writer is going to cover and their own style but Edwin helpfully provided this solid little self introduction. Tomorrow, I’ll post the first part of his epic Hawkwind discography review. That’s right: he’s doing all of them. He’s nothing if not incredibly ambitious (and he and I share a name: one of my middle names is Edwin…)
Without further ado…
I’m Edwin and I like weird music, old horror, cult and exploitation films and reading old E.C. comics like Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, Weird Science and Weird Fantasy along with Warren magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella. I collect things and like drinking. People think I need to write about something just so they don’t hear me talking about it so much.
The name “Savage Hippie” comes from a Melvins song. When asked about this in an interview Buzz Osbourne said that the song was a reference to Alice Cooper, Charles Manson and other long haired freaks from the late 60s and early 70s who may have emerged from the psychedelic era but did not share in the hippie ideology. After all it was Alice who said his group put the stake in the heart of the love generation. Also my friends Sarah called me a hippie once because of all the “psychedelic rock” I listen to.
You know there was punk rock once but the most unfortunate thing about it is that certain journalists give the impression that before the first Ramones album came out, the musical landscape was completely baron (excepting the Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls, etc.) and that, I feel is utter nonsense.
Aside from the bizarre notion that the punk rockers only listened to five bands, it’s clear just from John Lydon’s vast musical taste that there was so much interesting music available at the time. Sure, there were was corporate rock and arena rock and bands that played 20 minute guitar solos and sang about nothing but that doesn’t paint the whole picture, does it?
Thanks to John Lydon and Mark E. Smith name dropping their favorites, I got into (in no particular order) Hawkwind, Can, Captain Beefheart, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, the Pretty Things, the Monks, the Move, the Creation, the Other Half and the Groundhogs. And through those I found about so much more in the sub-sub-genres of psychedelic, prog, Krautrock, early heavy rock, proto punk and proto metal and who knows what else. There is also something called Zuul, which is seems pretty cool.
I like a lot of music but one thing that I’m absolutely addicted to are nicely packaged CD reissues – I know vinyl rules, blah blah, I buy a ton of that as well – but I love when you get a really nicely designed package with extensive liner notes, photos and extra tracks, so that the original issue of whatever is expanded to like three times its length with b-sides, outtakes, demos, live versions and the whole thing. And thankfully reissue labels like Castle/Sanctuary, Akarma, Cherry Red/Esoteric/Reactive/Atomhenge do this beautifully, making a bunch of old, obscure and ultimately weird bands available again.
Anyway, I digress. Although, I don’t know what from since this all seems like one long rambling piece with no particular direction but, I guess, the point I want to make is that I like music and writing about it. Also that I find the pre-punk era often times more interesting than the punk era. The old idiom holds true that in the spirit of “no rules,” they created lots of rules, didn’t they? That’s probably why I lean towards the weirder side of punk and post punk and experimental stuff.
So, then, it seems weird that punk introduced all of this chaos when prior that, the late 60s seemed a lot wilder and weirder. Plus, again, there’s a notion that the 60s was all peace and love. But, come on; biker gangs, satanic cults, bad trips and well, you get the idea.
Again I don’t really know where I was going with this. According to Frank Zappa the freaks in Hollywood were way freakier than the hippies in San Francisco. Oh, and I don’t plan to talk about the Stooges, MC5, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, T. Rex (though I might write about Tyrannosaurus Rex) and New York Dolls too much since that’s been covered ad nauseam. These are all great mind you but you don’t need another blog telling you about this stuff. If you don’t all three Stooges and MC5 albums, both New York Dolls albums and the classic Alice Cooper band stuff, then I really can’t help you. In fact, nobody can; you fail.
Culture Fusion is proud to present the work of Jonathan Brodsky, the frontman and composer for Canadian group The Orchid Show and one of the premiere Canadian underground rock and roll intellects. Jonathan’s knowledge of obscure music is practically unmatched as is his savage wit and inherent understanding of his topics. He will be a Sunday regular here.
Today he delves deeply into the past, present and future of punk n’roll by discussing the inherently crude yet endlessly fascinating world of Old Skull. The review follows the picture.
Punk rock has long been derided as a pastime of the inept.
Indeed, the long-espoused cliché that punk is the sound of the common man – as well as the notion that ‘anyone can play guitar’ – could certainly lend the unaware reader to conclude that the results of such an endeavour would more heavily lean towards exercises atonal chaos than anything of musical value.
But let’s take a brief look at the history of punk: while everyone seems to have a different opinion on its genesis, it ostensibly began as an American extension of both ’60s domestic garage rock and British R&B (a genre which once described the sounds of bands like The Who and The Kinks more than that of R. Kelly and Usher). This sound influenced bands as disparate as The Velvet Underground and The Stooges (retroactively categorized as ‘proto-punk’), who in turn influenced a second generation of like-minded bands who had a more chordal-based approach to their songwriting and placed a higher premium on their aesthetic presentation (The New York Dolls, The Sweet, etc.).
The marriage of a conscious image to the emancipation of blues-derived rock from its structural tropes begat a separate generation of musicians who – although not the most virtuous players relative to the prog-rockers of the time – were certainly competent (if not occasionally fledgling). And it’s not like it was truly unsalable – of the mid-’70s NYC Bowery/CBGBs scene, a surprising majority of the acts were snapped up by major labels – most prominently Sire, with Arista, Chrysalis, and Elektra, etc. Heck, off the top of my head, the only ‘legendary’ band of that time and place who eluded a corporate contract were art-damaged duo Suicide, who were especially against the musical grain of even that motley crew and were mostly considered punk due to their association with other acts of the time, as well as frontman Alan Vega’s confrontational behavioural toward their audiences.
However, no matter what anyone else concludes (I think that side 2 of German band Neu!’s 3rd album, Neu! ’75, qualifies as the first time that all the elements of ‘punk’ came together on record), ‘punk’ as widely understood stands in sharp dichotomy to the party line. If anyone can truly make punk, why is it that the bands that defined the term for many were, in actuality, surprisingly talented in terms of both their ability to write strong songs and perform them faithfully in a concert setting?
This is because punk, as defined, was a marketing tool. It’s not that it wasn’t youth music (although, admittedly, it was the early hardcore movement that first offered an honest subculture of rebellion to youth), but it was music that took advantage of its aesthetic qualities to present a portrait that, while not inauthentic, was based more in a fantastical interpretation of reality than reality itself. Even the hardcore movement, as based in truth and principle as it was, was rife with talent – though said talent might not be as immediately recognizable behind the blinding speeds and rough, low-budget aesthetic.
If 1976 was when ‘punk’ formed, when did punk as written happen?
Given the wasteland of private-press releases and horrible bands that never got recognition beyond their basements and friends’ ‘zines, I don’t think that anyone can truly pinpoint an exact moment, but if one thing has recently come to my attention, it’s that there was one band that completely typified the essence of punk as conceived.
And they were three tow-headed children from Wisconsin who, for lack of equivalent academic language, were shit.
But, much like a fly, I tend to wind up in the orbit of shit when I seek out art that entertains me, and as such, anything that threatens to compromise or challenge an art form by merely existing under the header of its classification is mighty appealing to me. As such, Old Skull’s 1989 debut album, Get Outta School, is a compelling listen, even aside from the novelty of its circumstances.
And those circumstances were as such: Wisconsin punk-scene mainstay Vern Toulon’s two pre-pubescent sons, Jean-Paul and Jamie, started a band with their friend Jesse Collins-Davies. This seems unremarkable so far: a lot of kids feel the inclination to play music at some point in their development, and given the nature of their fathers’ interests (Collins-Davies’ stepfather was a member of SST alumnus Tar Babies), the opportunity to do so was more available to them than most.
This is where the normality of the scenario drops off.
Given the sort of music that these children were in all likelihood subjected to due to the punk predilections of their parents, it’s not surprising that their sheer lack of musical ability didn’t turn them away from their aspirations. What was surprising was that Restless Records, a Californian record label with a rather eclectic stable of bands (their contemporary labelmates included The Dead Milkmen, The Flaming Lips, and Devo), signed the band.
Although their collective age was 29 (and they played as poorly as this entailed), the trio tackled surprisingly mature content, though they often revealed their lack of true familiarity with the subjects (‘What is AIDS?/Will I get them?’). This led some people to wonder how involved their parents were with the songwriting; while I don’t dispute that the Toulons were likely prodded towards dealing with certain subjects, the results are authentically juvenile – most lyrics come off like a 4th-grader’s book report. As well, given that Vern Toulon is credited with some of the more refined lyrics on their sophomore effort (wherein the word ‘spics’ is misread by the vocalist as ‘spice’), the structural patterns of the lyrics on Get Outta School tend to evoke a similar pace, vocabulary, and similar disregard for logic (‘How do you kill a dead eagle?/Just kill it.’) throughout its half-hour running time. This is certainly the work of children, albeit crust-punk kids who are a fridge short of being able to hang their drawings.
I’ve spent all of this time building an atmosphere so that I can tackle the music last, and this is because there’s not much one can say about it. It is truly punk beyond any of the music played by celebrated punk bands at the time of the term’s genesis: there is little regard for any metrical convention, key signature is an afterthought, and rhythm isn’t even a consideration. Jesse Collins-Davies’ drumming is more concerned with hitting the drums as opposed to considering why (or when) he’s doing so, and the Toulons’ instruments (guitars on every song, scant keyboards on a select few) offer nothing beyond rudimentary, chugging aleatory. The tracks are engaging due to their sheer abandon, but rarely demarcated from one and other.
Perhaps the easiest musical points of reference to make here are between Kidz Bop™ and Crass; the naïvety and childishness of the former are paired with the chaotic free-improvisation playing reminiscent of the latter’s underrated magnum opus, ‘Yes, Sir, I Will’. The two records even share a certain modus operandi – politically-charged lyrics are shouted arbitrarily and aperiodically over a spastic backdrop that serves to simultaneously propel and bury the message, but where Crass are educated and militant, Old Skull are young and half-informed. For me, it’s comedic that two bands of such disparate composition and degree of purpose arrived at similar aural conclusions. That being said, the Crass album obviously stands as the superior document, but it took them 5 albums to get there: Old Skull were everything ugly about punk’s manifesto from the get-go, and all that it took was moderate effort and minimal skill.
Sadly, by the time of 1993’s ‘C.I.A. Drug Fest’, Old Skull had left the purity of their salad days behind: Jesse was grounded by his parents for a month and was thrust from the band due to his inability to violate his punishment, and in his stead, the Toulons became a rather adequate (for their years) rhythm section, enlisting a new guitarist and vocalist (also similarly aged) for Old Skull. The playing (and writing) became a little more competent, likely owing equal debts to the years they spent playing in between LPs as well as the songwriting assistance of Vern Toulon on a handful of tracks. Old Skull were still certainly punk – and still more punk than most identified as such – but in adhering to the musical conventions that went beyond their consideration on Get Outta School, they left the impermeable purity of their uncompromising inaccessibility behind.
And then they did a bunch of drugs and died.
Editor: Sorry for the rather slow influx of reviews lately. Work has been steady. This summer will include way more reviews and even an expansion in our writers. I might not have to write every article every day any more! Anyways, here’s Sean M. Hebner’s latest, dipping his toes into his expansive metal music mind.
Top Ten Most Underappreciated Thrash Metal songs/bands/stuff
A list by Sean M. Hebner
The more I think about Thrash Metal…the more I LOVE it. The bulk of the communication about Thrash Metal revolves around “The Big Four.” For those not in-the-know, they are: Metallica, Megadeath, Slayer, and Anthrax.
However, a metal list recently counted Testament as a fifth member of this core group. The Problem with this list is that the Thrash Metal Universe is MUCH larger that five bands and it has evolved over the years into something quite different.
Thrash Metal takes many forms and bands of all shapes and colors make Thrash Songs. Metallica for example hasn’t written a Thrash song since the 80’s and Megadeath’s most recent album (‘13’ at the time of this review) is a Thrash Metal Masters course in what Thrash is/was/can-be.
There songs will be in no particular order. The only number that matters is Number one. I spose, I’ll get out of the way now.
Number One MOST underrated Thrash Song of all time:
GWAR- Crush, Kill, Destroy
Written and sang by Beefcake the mighty it contains 100% thrash metal and fucking KILLS at it. Second it contains 100% GWAR making it the Jesus of the Thrash Metal world. Can you HEAR how FAST this song is?!?!!? How Bone-Crushingly heavy it is?!!?! How it contains a reference to GOLDEN SHOWERS?!?!?!!? FUCK.YEAH. and that SOLO!?!? That BASS line?!?!?! Sweet Mother of FUCK. I LOVE this song. Add it to the list of shit you want your tomb stone to blare after your dead! They eat fucking Slayer for BREAKFAST, Slayer has not written a Thrash song this good. They. Just. Fucking. haven’t. Yes I know 2nd best trash album of all time. You heard me. But still.
Under Rated Thrash Stuff two-
That brings me to Kreator, the writer of the best Thrash Album of all time. That album is Enemy of God. The student ATE the masters HEART OUT with this album, as this album clearly would not exist without the original best Thrash Album of all time. For those being introduced to Thrash Metal with this article, that album is Slayers- Reign in Blood which I will touch on later. Some will disagree with me, saying that “there is no room for melody in Thrash Metal”
Counter point to that argument, go listen to the other 3 of the big four, then Testament, THEN listen to fucking Municipal Waste! ALL are (or where) Thrash as fuck, ALL use melody. Your argument is invalid. Can you point to a Thrash Album that flows better? Can you point to a band that has better musicians? Can you point to a band who rips THEIR OWN MUSIC a NEW ASSHOLE LIVE BETTER THAN KREATOR?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!!?!? no. Ya can’t.
Under Rated Thrash Song Three:
Iced Earth-Disciples of the Lie
The first album I ever bought was Ministry-The mind is a tribal thing to taste the SECOND album I bought was Something Wicked This way comes. You wouldn’t have said before this “I bed I can make the Iron maiden gallop FUCKING EVIL!” now you can! I used to skip this track out of guilt for liking it so much it was so Goddamed GOOD. How Awesome is this song?! SOOOO GOOD! Thrash Metal’s range of Anger got alittle wider with pot shots at organized religion. Iced Earth was Hateing on Pedophile priests before it was cool and for that ALONE do they deserve more credit than they get. They helped push Thrash Metal in an Epic Direction and make the idea that Thrash Metal and Heavy Metal are truly one in the same.
Next Under Rated Song Four:
Ensiferum – Slayer Of Light
Ahhhh! Folk-Thrash Metal, does a body good. The album Iron is a must own for any metal head, budding or otherwise. It’s not clogged up with satanic imagery so the parents only have the LOUD music and Growling to complain about and you get just Great fucking music. Even Folk metal can OUT SLAYER SLAYER!! See where I’m going with this!?
Under Rated Thrash stuff Five-
Slayer Covers that FAR exceed the original, case in point:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4JqY1vgIdE this is a pop punk band by the way…
I’ll let them speak for themselves.
Under Rated Thrash Song Six–
Testament- The Preacher
Dat Distortion. Long live Testament!! I can’t say enough about this song…first time I heard it…I COULDN”T HEAR FAST ENOUGH!!! The song was FASTER than my Brain could FUCKING PROCESS what I was hearing. I was listening to a lot of Slayer at the time too, to put it in perspective. I don’t want to rag on Slayer TOO much since Jeff has recently died. Jeff is truly a great loss for the Metal community and it sucks as a fan when one of the Gods fall. I have however been of the opinion that Slayer was over rated. Because when the best song you can write in a good 17 years is ‘Bloodlines’….there is a problem. Anyway back to Testament. When their lead Guitarist isn’t making the gods weep blood tear with joy, he is a well known jazz guitarist. The Alex Skolnick Trio plays the best version of Rush’s ‘Tom Sawyer” I’ve ever heard!
Under Rated Thrash Song Seven –
TV II by Ministry
I’ll be touching on the album and its influence on the Industrial Metal Scene in a future review. But in the mean time, CONNECT THE GODDAMN DOTS! This is Trash Metal REBORN I wish more bands would cross Thrash and Industrial, I can’t think of any off the top of my head; I mean yeah KMFDM the OTHER big Industrial Metal outfit. OOHHH I thought of two others!! Gravity Kills on the album “Gravity Kills” and Stabbing Westward. Both bands mentioned are fallen too far from grace to be called relevant but are CLEARLY ripened from Ministry’s seed.
Thrash Metal Underrated Song Eight –
Annihilator – Sonic Homicide
This whole BAND needs more love. This song is such a good cross section of what a) Jeff Waters can do on Guitar and b) Just how much they DESERVE to be in the conversation about great thrash bands. I heard that eairly on in his carrier that Jeff Waters thought he was the best Guitarist ever, so his ego was not in check. But the same has been said of Alexi form Children of Bodem as well as Danzig and that doesn’t subtract from the fact that they write phat tracks! Word! Anyway, the standards of Thrash Metal are both high (Dew-Sentenced) and Low (Metallica). Annihilator is defiantly in the former category don’t believe me?
Welcome back to the palace!
** Now Go Buy Alice in Hell**
Thrash Metal Under Rated band Nine –
I don’t own a Voivod album, though I need to buy RRROOOOAAARRR cause that’s the best title for a metal album EVER. I saw them and meet them before I saw Kreator Live. Let me tell you they still got it even though they got older. Like the band that they opened up for, their intensity and sense of humor poured off the stage. What songs I can remember from their set are KILLED live. They just need the kind of rallying cry that Anvil got a couple years back. Voivod was just as much an influence, if not more so than Anvil and to help me with this Dave Grohl!
Thrash Metal Under Rated Song Ten –
Strapping Young Lad- Dirt Pride
Devin Townsend is my favorite musician, he fronted a band, LOVE THEM.
Devin Townsend formed the heaviest band I ever heard and he did it IRONICALY! He’s Metals most precious jewel and he needs to be left to make whatever he wants! With the album City (which I am also inclined to review in earnest) is the heaviest album of all time(so far). While Dirt Pride comes from the album S.Y.L. Devi’s contribution to Thrash Metal is felt today in the ‘Djent’ movement. Along with Meshugga Strapping rewrote what Thrash Metal sounded like as well as Heavy Music in general. Devin gets it. He understands that this nebulous thing we call METAL is a ruse, its fucking hilarious. Just listen to “Far beyond Metal” a song ABOUT HOW AWESOME SYL IS!
I will just leave this here!
Its also about how much metal takes itself too fucking seriously. And it does. But that’s whats FUCKING AWESOME about!!! Let Devin take us home with this interview I found of him. Goodnight everybody!
The world can only contain so much…stuff…there’s only so much room. You cannot cram 50 pounds of horse shit into a 40 pound bag. Buildings can grow taller and we can civilize more and more areas of the world; bulldozing trees, swamps, grasslands, prairies and creating new and bigger parking lots. All our cars need a place to live and all our stuff needs a place to lie.
Sooner, rather than later, we’ll have to ascend into the straosphere and find a place to settle in space. And I know the album I’ll listen to on the way up: Ash Ra Tempel’s debut album.
That’s right: I’m snubbing the obvious choice, Pink Floyd (love them, but too obvious) and even more obscure yet still popular groups like Hawkwind (kick ass but way too cheesy, even if in a good way).
No, I’m sticking with the Ash Ra Tempel debut album. Not because it creates an accurate space sonic sensation (as that would be complete silence so severe your ears would burst) but simply because its one of the best pieces of Early space rock I’ve ever heard.
After all, if one is traveling in space, space rock IS a requirement.
What about this album entices me so much over the non-pedestrian sounds of early Pink Floyd and Hawkwind? Is it simply the fact that is is German?
Not quite though I do obsessively enjoy way too much 70’s German rock. Being German doesn’t automatically make it better but it does serve as a draw for me.
The musicianship on the album is vital to its appeal: the pedigree of the players is unmatched in the space rock genre. I don’t mean to knock early Pink Floyd as Syd Barrett and (eventually) Roger Waters were great songwriters but their musicianship (especially Syd’s) was somewhat…rudimentary sometimes.
Manuel Gottsching is a guitar God (mixing a 70’s hard rock style with near-shred levels of technicality mixed with experimental guitar textures and real emotion) who possesses a nearly unlimited level of intelligence and unmatched imagination.
Drummer Klaus Schulze is another German rock legend, known for his epic synthesizer symphonies that have inspired entire generations of trance and pulse electronic music. Here, he serves primarily as a drummer and he is an even better drummer than he is a synthesist.
The bass player is very solid too (I forget his name) as he holds down the fort, plays Entwistle level runs and who serves as a solid grounding for the rest of the band.
The other reason this stands out so firmly for me is the lack of vocals and vocal melodies. Of course, this is a draw back in many ways: you won’t be singing along to any of the “melodies” on this album. Ever.
But the lack of vocals dehumanizes the music in a way that makes it starker and more alien than the scraping landscapes of early Floyd or the heavy-metal-thunder of Hawkwind.
No vocals also means no lyrics which were always, always incredibly weak in Hawkwind. It never gets much better than “I got an orgone accumulator…and it makes me feel greater!”
Ash Ra Tempel doesn’t annoy you with trite space themed lyrics or inane fantasy poetry: instead, they just play. For 20 minutes at a time.
The epic lengths of the average Ash Ra Tempel composition will be a problem for many listeners but that’s part of the appeal for me: the band explores various textures, melodic ideas and rhythmic motifs throughout each track in a way that is naturally flowing and never, ever seems forced.
It’s always amazing to hear Gottsching and Schulze play together: they seem to have a near-telepathic ability to read each other’s musical thoughts and to predict where the other is going without fail.
There is always the chance, of course, that these tracks are heavily edited and pieced together. It wasn’t above Miles Davis (in fact, it was his whole fusion aesthetic) but somehow I just don’t sense that same kind of editing here.
The album follows a basic format that many “side long track” albums have in the past: the first side is the hard rocking side, while the second side is the “contemplative” side (Terry Riley influence?).
The first side, “Amboss” is a track that Ash Ra Tempel never really beat: they came close on “Freak N’ Roll” on Join Inn but they never matched this track’s dark, pulsing mood.
It starts out slowly, with some guitar drone and light cymbals and a bass moan but gradually builds up as Gottsching starts to solo and riff like a demented (and dangerous) version of Early Clapton. Schulze smashes and bashes like Keith Moon but generally keeps a better beat.
Describing tracks like this is a fruitless, thankless, nearly impossible endeavor: there are countless build-ups, fall downs, moments of climactic ecstasy and impeccable interplay and musicianship. George Starostin astutely compared it to “Live at Leeds” era Who in its interplay and that’s very accurate. There’s just no Roger Daltrey.
However, the second side is something the Who never would have done: a 20+ minute, nearly ambient tune that simmers at a lower level than “Amboss” but which still has its own sense of intensity and purpose.
Beyond the lower tempo, there isn’t any real way to tell apart the two tracks which is fine: it creates a more unified mood of space exploration that no band (including Ash Ra Tempel) ever topped.
After this album, Schulze left and the band floundered through a solid, but more conventional second album and a collaboration with Timothy Leary that never really caught fire.
The Schulze reunion album “Join Inn” (as previously mentioned) has the same structure and the same basic fire and drive of this album but without the carefully created atmosphere. After Gottsching created the fun, diverse and completely out-of-left-field pop-like album “Starring Rosi” he created a solo album, formed “Ashra” and explored more synthetic textures.
As a result, this album stands somewhat apart from the rest of Gottsching and Schulze’s discography, making it an even more worthy addition to your collection.
Songs to YouTube:
There are two songs. Listen to them both.
I feel a little content at the moment…rather contemplative and relaxed. I got all my “work” online writing done and I’m sitting at the coffee shop listening to “Friendship” by Ash Ra Tempel, the reunion album between Manuel Goestscling and Klaus Schulze from 2000. Ain’t nothing special but it’s chill and easy to relax to while I people watch.
Lots of beautiful girls out in town this summer. Normally, this town is completely void of any interesting and engaging females (not completely but damn close) but college is out and they have all come back to town. They fill up the coffee shop. They fill up the bars. They steal my hats and tickle my belly at bars on my birthday (true story and good alliteration).
I have a desire to review the first Ash Ra Tempel album right now. It’s a good album; hard hitting space rock with real fire and an edge to it that sits well with the modern generation. But I haven’t heard it in quite some time, so I don’t think it’s fair that I should review it.
Honestly, I’m feeling a bit PJ Harvey-like at the moment. A bit fiery and confrontational. Beautiful and mournful. Angry, happy, melancholic, depressed, elated and most importantly as free and refreshing as a God damn swam dive into a 50 degree pond on a 100 degree summer day.
“Rid of Me.” Not the first Polly Jean album I’ve ever heard. Perhaps the first Polly Jean SONG I heard…the slow build up of palm muted guitars, a near whisper of a voice, curling around a purr of a vocal melody and a lyric that contains all the rage of all the women who have ever been discarded like a candy wrapper in the wind.
Climax. Scream. “Don’t you wish you’d never…never met her don’t you…” Singing through a distortion pedal. “Lick my legs I’m on fire.” Whatever that means. A 5’1” ball of fury and English rage and semi-incoherency coalescing into a slow burn groove that threatens to fall apart under the eye of Albini.
I haven’t heard this album in ages but I can always come back to it and remember the songs that have always stuck out in my head: I can also re-live the songs that have never made an impression on me and make in-grounds on appreciating them more and more. It’s a slow process: I probably listen to this album less than once a year.
Albini casts his careless “production” eye towards this album, helping set up the instruments, pushing “record” when the band starts playing and hitting “stop” when they’re done, cutting up tapes to arrange songs into the right order. Refusing to touch up the tapes in anyway, leaving them as they stand on the performances and on the songs. After all, it was “recorded by” not “produced by” Steve Albini.
Forgive her, then, if the songs sometimes sound similar. The arrangements are usually just pounding/grinding guitars with a solid rhythmic bass and drum groove that pounds home the ideas, arguments and sensibilities of one Polly Jean Harvey who pulled back from such underproduction almost immediately on her next album and explored deeper sonic sensibilities with each subsequent release.
Deeper doesn’t always mean better but it doesn’t mean worse either. Deeper is just different.
“Man Size Sextet” comes before the tune its based on, which I always found amusing. It is highlighted by a grinding, plucking, frightening string arrangement played entirely by Harvey (unless I’m wrong). It stands out due to its sonic difference from the normal guitar, drums bass racket raised elsewhere on the album. And also due to Harvey’s frantic, pleading vocal…”I’m man size…” she despairs, chanting about her birth rite and creeping me the fuck out. In a good way. In a GREAT way.
The original “Man Size” isn’t quite as good to these ears: those scraping strings set the mood better than her relatively simple guitar playing. A whole album of “Man Size Sextet”-style tunes wouldn’t be my bag but on this album it’s poyfect.
Her cover of “Highway 61 Revisited” is also a stand out: not necessarily better than Bob’s original (I miss the wild whistle) and definitely not as easy on the ears. However, I believe it captures the intense, neurotic and apocalyptic vibe better than Bob’s take.
“HIGHWAY!!!! HIGHWAY!!! 61.” Not to hell. Sorry Bon, but as a wordsmith you’re no Bob Dylan. You ain’t even an Alice Cooper (who Dylan called an “underrated” songwriter) but at least you’re better than Brian Johnson (who never met seven metaphors he couldn’t mix) or the Young brothers (I’m sorry, but “you’ve been…THUNDERSTRUCK!” is NOT a good chorus).
Bon Scott is also no PJ Harvey but that’s only because she’d probably loathe his guts for being a sexist pig. But then again, it’s always hard to tell with PJ Harvey: one minute, she’s bashing out a song called “Dry” and bemoaning the fact that her man can’t get her wet and the next moaning about “Ecstasy” (not the drug, kiddies). She doesn’t hate men, as such: she just hates specific ones.
Some songs don’t really make much sense lyrically which is cool. It just means I haven’t listened to them carefully enough to decipher their meaning and it gives me something to focus on with my next listen.
For example, while I love the drive of “Yuri G” I have no idea what “I wish I were a Yuri G!” means? Is she speaking of Yuri Gregarian? The first man into space?
I hope so: I’d love to think that PJ Harvey was singing about her desire to be a cosmonaut.
Naturally, that desire to be a cosmonaut is most likely a metaphor for some other desire or dream, perhaps indicating Harvey simply wants to be a pioneer or a similarly important person. Great song, great album, strange, strange, strange…
What I like most about PJ Harvey and this record in particular is that she is a very small person who can create very hard hitting music while screaming incredibly loud (and on key) in a way that is emotionally moving in exactly the way she intended.
In that regard, she has a lot in common with AC/DC. Sure, they’re singing about how being cool and doing it instead of accurately detailing one woman’s rage in a harrowing manner. They seem worlds apart in that regard.
But what I like most about AC/DC is that they’re very small people (about 4’0” on average), who create hard hitting music while screaming incredibly loudly (on key) in a way that is emotionally moving in exactly the way they intended.
Sure, they mean to make you giggle and dance awkwardly while hitting on chicks in bars while PJ wants to touch your heart and make you think about the female condition. But then again, the devil’s in the details.
My original intention at Culture Fusion was to create a forum for a wide variety of writers to post varying reviews and essays on a wide variety of subjects. I opened it up to many writers but due to life getting in the way, most of them were unable to comply. However, my friend Sean M Hebner wrote up a review one day, of his own volition and I decided his drive and ambition would make him a perfect addition to the blog.
Sean will handle all Saturday posts. His posts are labelled “Dispatches from Chaos” and will cover a wide range of topics, from metal reviews (his preferred genre) to “Wife Purse” reviews wherein he reviews his wife’s albums (which are much outside of his own normal musical interests).
His first official “Dispatches from Chaos” review is on “Jagged Little Pill” by Alanis Morissette. Sean has an informal, excited and highly energetic writing style that contrasts well with my own occasional stuffy carefulness.
I’ll dispatch with the usual disclaimer: Sean’s opinions in no way coincide with my own. That said, here we go.
Jagged Little Pill: By Alanis Morissette
An Ironic Review from Sean M. Hebner
For The Culture Fusion Blog
OK …no beating around this bush here. I’m just going to say it: this is the best alt-rock album of the 90’s.
Yes, more albums lingered longer in the collective conscious. Some were definitely more influential, such as “Rid of Me” by PJ Harvey” or “Nevermind” by Nirvana but none more epitomized the 90’s alt scene than “Jagged Little Pill.”
Want Angst? Got it in spades! Want Anger? SPADES!!! You want clever lyrics and catchy hooks. NO FURTHER! How about adorable love songs that have extremely playful lyrics? Buy “Jagged Little Pill” …
After all these years, I just discovered the hidden track …oh my god…this is AWESOME… how pissed was SHE?!?!? SO MAD! Obsessed …she breaks into her ex’s house and gets naked and steals his clothes…BITTER!
Oi…I feel so bad now…I can’t believe I’ve missed that. It’s freaking FANTASTIC.
That discovery was in real time, people. Here at culture fusion, we love to deliver quality and deliver the true face of ourselves as raw as a blister.
On that note, here’s why I think this is the best Alt-Rock Album of the 90’s. For starters, it has six singles that are STILL in rotation on pop radio, all six I’m sure you know by heart. Admit it!
Quantifiably speaking, it sold 33 million copies, going platinum 33 times (those are Michael Jackson like numbers). It won 2 Grammies and made all the little people sing “LIKE RAIN/ ON YOUR WEDDING DAY!”
It DID in-fact rain on my wedding day as Eric can attest but my wife and I didn’t mind so much. (editors note: it sure did but that didn’t stop record breaking levels of booze from being ingested for hours straight).
BY the NUMBERS: A track by track break down.
Track One: “All I really want” – just a straight up alt-rock opus. Here, listen to it!
|“You Oughta Know”|
This is probably the most recognizable of The Singles next to maybe “Ironic”, if only because of the speculation as to who it was Written About…
Yeah Mr wholesome Uncle Cancer-of-Humor FULLHOUSE himself chased and then wanted to KNOCK-UP Jailbait Morissette. Yeah. Fuck. Chalk ANOTHER emotional episode caused by reading the Wiki. You get ANGRY!
Track Three: “Perfect” is the weakest song on the album. But I still like it. So there.
Track Four: “Hand in my Pocket.” This is another one of the six singles that set up the newest generation for Super Hip-Damn-Near-Daria levels of apathy and indifference.
“I’ve got one hand in my pocket/and the other is flicking a cigarette” and other nonchalant lyrics like it turn this song into a great tune.
Track Five: “Right Through You” – so many bands and artists have written songs about hating managers or producers or labels. Even the great Mike Oldfied told the owner of VIRGIN to fuck off in Morse code. I like them all. Every last damn one I’ve heard I’ve liked. Check out ART NAZIE by Sky Clad for another “fuck you!” tune.
Track six: “Forgiven” is a solid Alt-Rock ballad! The damaged sound of her voice makes the message of the song feel more real.
Track seven: “You Learn”- Another single from this album. It highlights the album fairly well, creating a mood of “pissed but positive.”
I guess it could be more “devil may care” but that’s not the point. It’s another great track and was well worth the single status. Glad its still popular!
Track Eight: “Head over Feet”- This I think is one of the most natural sounding and Delightful ballads of all time. Sometimes love is goofy and awkward and you need to respond sarcastically to the prospect of a GOOD nay GREAT fucking relationship. I can obviously relate to this. Very well.
Track nine: “Mary Jane”- Empowerment song. I do tend to like these a lot; I like how the song is trying to be “bouncy” but it starts on the brink of tears. Then it gets angry in the bridge and chorus. Nice emotional contrasts!
This is how people react in these situations in real life, and for detailing that accurately, this song gets props.
Track Ten: Ironic – Appropriately enough, irony is one of the undercurrents of the album. The modern Hipster was forged in this stuff (and it even influenced their poor understanding of irony!). However, “Jagged Little Pill” happens to be better formed than the modern Hipster.
I believe that this album and this single will last much longer than Irony as a lifestyle. A little Too ironic, don’tcha think?
Track eleven: Not the Doctor – This is one of those songs that fits SO well in the 90’s and its about the classic desire of “just fuck me and go.” It compares her to a “snack” that he should just “eat” and “get over.” Sweet!
Track twelve: Wake up – Ending track, smooth alt rock song. Like it. Love it. The whole album is fucking gold!
Final words: While it’s not the most influential album ever, or even of the 90’s, it is a perfect representation of all that was popular at the time.
Whatever The Barenaked Ladies were trying to do? Double Yup!
Sappy love songs? YUPPY YUP! The whole album is Cross section perfection.
If you grew up in the 90’s or want to know what pop music was in the 90s, buy this album. It’s a perfect time capsule of the 90s.
It’s amazing how the rise (and fall) of the subsequent ‘Meh’ generation was told in real-time by a pissed off hot chick from Canada!
See-ya next time with my list of underappreciated Thrash Metal songs! G’night!
I’m not an expert on old school rap but I’ve heard a little Run DMC and Public Enemy and I can dig. One of the most interesting things about old school rap is how much it differs from the “hardcore gangster” image that many modern rappers project.
Many semi-wise music sages point to NWA and their early 90’s “Straight Outta Compton” album as the birth of gangsta rap. This is true, in a basic way as it popularized the genre and neutered the more “fun” oriented Run DMC as well as the more “serious” approach of Public Enemy.
A wiser rap sage would point to Ice T as the original gangsta rapper (the “OG” if you will, and Ice T sure did). Songs such as “Six in the Morning” create a fully realized universe of gansterdom that is still followed by rappers to this day: a misogynist outlook that glorifies violence while simultaneously pointing out the pitfalls of such a lifestyle.
One can always dig deeper, of course, and when one does some more research, they find that even T had a musical inspiration: he points out Scholly D as being one of his primary influences, stating he believed D was the first gangster rapper of all time, pointing out “PSK” as the first song about and glorifying gang violence in America.
Schoolly D (Jesse B. Weaver Jr) is these days best known for providing the hilarious (if strange) theme song for “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” or for being mentioned in a song by Primus. As a result, many people tend to think that Schoolly is simply a goofy rapper or even focused entirely in humor.
Humor is a big part of his approach but it’s unfair to paint him as a simple “gag” rapper. In fact, his early work (compiled on “The Adventures of Schoolly D” which is what I’m reviewing now, in case you couldn’t tell) is some of the rawest, dirtiest, most basic rap I’ve ever heard in my life.
Musically, D worked with DJ Code Money. Code Money’s beats are…well…basic. Often, they consist entirely of a simple drum machine beat and basic, basic scratching. A few simple effects (such as phase) are sometimes employed as are a few instances of one or two overdubbed voices. Other than that, it feels live and raw.
The best example of this approach is the tune that originally turned me onto Scholly D: “I Don’t Like Rock and Roll.”
It opens with a simple high hat drum beat, scratched loops with Schoolly proclaiming “Yo, yo, what’s up man, this ain’t Prince man, this ain’t Prince…this is Schoolly…we RAP.” Astute ears spot the record Code Money is scratching is “I Love Rock and Roll.” Perfect.
Schoolly is obviously setting up a rap manifesto and contrasting it with that rather awful ode to rock and roll. The first line of the song says it all: “rock and roll living is the thing of the past/so all you long haired faggots can kiss my ass.”
Later, Schoolly explained that it wasn’t exactly rock and roll in general he had a problem with but what it had become in the 80’s i.e. the corporate rock, hair and glam metal nonsense. Naturally, using the word “faggot” is a bit of a no-no these days but isn’t (unfortunately) uncommon in the rap world.
Schoolly isn’t exactly the cleanest or most fluent rapper on these early cuts but he is an excellent wordsmith and story teller. I actually love his sometimes awkward way of spitting out rhymes: it adds to the murky, weird atmosphere of the songs.
“Saturday Night” is something like a “gag” song in that it features a drunk Schoolly bringing home a “fat bitch” and getting chased around the house by his mother with a shot gun. Misogynist as all hell, of course, but it sets the tone for further misogyny in rap music. Which makes it influential but unfortunately so.
And then there is “PSK” which is probably the earliest highly detailed description of gang violence in rap music. It’s a bit antiquated these days especially boasts about “knocking em out” but it’s a truly precedent setting tune who’s influence can be seen in dozens, if not hundreds of songs.
Other moments that stand out include Schoolly’s freestyle rap on…”Freestyle Rap” (much of his stuff was totally improvised) as well as the rather strange space instrumental “It’s Krak” which loops Steve Miller synthesizer effects to create something more spacy and interesting than that unengaging piece of garbage ever did.
Sorry I hate Steve Miller with a passion.
There are problems with the record, however. As influential as it is and as much as I like the atmosphere and approach, it simply gets wearing. The album is as DIY as it comes, basically recorded in a bedroom, but it’s lo-fi approach makes the songs sound too similar and hard to differentiate.
And then there is the obvious negative influence it has had on the rap world. While Schoolly is obviously rapping with a big grin on his face and Ice T could rap about these gangster cliches intelligently, too many horrible, horrible rappers have been influenced by this music. It also created a violent rap subculture that has led to the deaths of too many people.
However, one cannot shove too much shame Schoolly’s way: after all, influence is influence but music is music. And Schoolly definitely stands above his influence to simply become highly engaging and entertaining music.
Songs to Youtube:
Find the official video for “I Don’t Like Rock and Roll.” It’s a lot of fun.