Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My Mood Is Black When My Jacket's On

I can trace the initial cause of my tinnitus back to about 1985 pretty easily. I blame two ex-factory workers from Scotland, brothers, surly bastards. They unleashed a big wad of bubblegum wrapped around a nail bomb onto the world and my ears were never quite the same again. This is not a complaint, however.

(l-r: William Reid, Jim Reid)

Over the years, I've heard dozens of hilarious stories about Psychocandy being used as sonic terrorism by sullen mid-80's teenagers. If you were pissed off, between the ages of 15 to 18, and had a propensity for both black clothing and not combing your hair, then the Jesus and Mary Chain were your own personal H-bomb. Guaranteed results. Needles were yanked from spinning vinyl. Volume knobs manhandled. Mothers would scream up steep staircases. My father used to think I was purposely listening to radio static on my Walkman, slouched down in the backseat of the family car, just to annoy him, but no, it was only Psychocandy. It summed up every last shred of 16 year-old fury I was experiencing over being trapped in the car on long road trips to lamp stores and wallpaper showrooms.

(An amusing aside: I had a JAMC shirt that I wore incessantly at the time, it was pretty inoffensive, just a black tee with big chunky letters on it saying The Jesus and Mary Chain. It wasn't like it had a nun in pasties and a g-string on it or anything. Anyway, I took a trip to NYC, my first, with my parents in the Summer of 1987. We were staying in Times Square, which was still enticingly scummy/weird at that point, and I'd worn the shirt our first night there, despite my mother's protests. It took no less than ten minutes before an agitated street preacher with a megaphone had caught a glance at the shirt as we walked past. We were followed for the better part of a block, the preacher shouting "The Jesus and what? Turn around, young man!! The Jesus and what??" into his loudhailer. I told Jim Reid this story when I interviewed him in the mid-90's and he seemed greatly pleased by it.)

The way I saw it, there was the Smiths for the introspective, gazing out over the Moors (well, Anaheim, but whatever) moments, and then there was the Mary Chain for when your mood was black and your jacket's on. "The Living End", with its mumbled lyric of "I feel so quick in my leather boots" always made me smile, but it took some distance from the self-absorbed murk of adolescence to realize that the line that followed shortly - There's nothing else but me - summed it all up even better. You could lose yourself in these roaring surges of white noise and feedback and echo. Escape.

(clockwise from top left: Douglas Hart, William Reid, Jim Reid)

Sure, this stuff still sounds completely crucial and brilliant 20 years on, but there's no comparison to how it felt when you first heard it. It's a bit of a noisepop cliché now, the whole "it sounded like my stereo was broken!" initial-Psychocandy-listening experience story, but this band and this album summed up a fat chunk of suburban teen ennui and restless boredom for a lot of kids in the mid-80's. When you discovered it, you'd never heard anything like it before, and I've often wondered if this wasn't a bit like the hair-raising intensity that the Ramones evoked in a lot of 70's-era music kids. The music just lunged at you. Survivors of those early, thunderously loud-fast-attack-attack-attack Ramones gigs spoke of the proceedings in shell-shocked terms afterwards. Jaws dropped. Eardrums were blitzkrieged. One thing was certain about Psychocandy, though - it was impossible to be on the fence about it, either it swept you up with it or you went and listened to Simply fucking Red instead, you miserable loser.

One of my very favorite early Mary Chain rarities was their fine cover of Syd Barrett's "Vegetable Man", something I'd only owned on a 7" prior to the magic of MP3 technology. I'd remembered there being a cover version of Subway Sect's fantastic song "Ambition" as an early b-side as well, but I somehow never came across it until just recently. A true punk classic, "Ambition", as knocked out by the Jesus and Mary Chain, is pure '85-style, all clattering drum-machine and cheese-grater guitars, and (to the best of my knowledge) wasn't ever given an official release on CD, although it would've nestled among the early rarities on Barbed Wire Kisses just perfectly.

The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Ambition"
(MP3, 128kpbs, 3.2MB)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Coachwhips vs. Your Ass

There's something entirely cathartic and wonderful about making a huge racket. Noise just feels good, and some of the sickest, gnarliest distorto-splatter I've heard in the past couple of years was made by none other than San Francisco's beloved Coachwhips.

(photo courtesy of Virgil Porter)

Led by floppy-fringed madman John Dwyer (whose previous bands include Pink & Brown and Ziegenbock Kopf, among others), the 'whips served up heaping helpings of jagged, spastic and truly asskickin' grind-n-stomp over the course of three great albums, Get Ya Body Next Ta Mine, Bangers Vs. Fuckers and Peanut Butter and Jelly Live at the Ginger Minge. Sadly, Dwyer announced the end of the Coachwhips sometime this past summer, with his continuing efforts being channeled into his latest band, the Hospitals.

Imagine Hasil Adkins being electrocuted with a fistful of amphetimines stuck in his throat and you're just a fraction of the way to describing the beserk, raw and unhinged sound of the 'whips. Despite the pummeling wall of mayhem these freaks dished out, their songs were ultimately f-u-n and raucous, serving as the perfect soundtrack for an evening of casual vandalism or Scotchgard-huffing. Yeah, this is Party Music, to be sure, but it's a party where all of your dishes get smashed and you wake up the next morning in a kiddie pool of Jack and Twinkies. On fire. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Today's featured track is "Dancefloor, Bathroom", taken from the band's 2004 Narnack Records album, Bangers Vs. Fuckers.

"Dancefloor, Bathroom"

(MP3, 199kbps (VBR), 3MB)

Check out this pretty great Coachwhips live performance at Burn My Eye! (Download or Stream, 20MB, 12 min.)

Out next update will be Tuesday, December 13, 2005.

**Correction/deep shame/apologies: I was just informed by Dan of the Bunnybrains that Mr. John Dwyer has never been a member of the Bunnybrains, as was previously stated here. You, as well as I, can discover more information about the Bunnybrains at this site. Thank you for the clarification. Dan.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Early Hardcore Gay Sound Of Young Glasgow

They came from Glasgow, bespectacled, skinny things with Jerry Hall fixations, a healthy amount of Fall records in their dusty collections and the trebliest, wobbliest guitar sounds heard since the Golden Age of the C86 heyday. Weird kids. Wired kids. They were, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Yummy Fur.

Bursting onto the already vital Glasgow pop scene in 1992, the Yummy Fur began life performing short, sharp, spiky songs about things like "British Children on Smack", "The Optical Meat Dress" and obscure 70's-era character actress "Candy Clark". The band's aesthetic was wonderfully ramshackle, lo-fi and smudgily-Xeroxed. Much like the Nation of Ulysses, their liner notes were ripe and bursting with weird, completely self-contained manifestos and "political" "communiques". The whole thing was firmly tongue-in-cheek(y), but it was so utterly realized and delivered with such fervent conviction that you couldn't help but be hooked in.

The Yummy Fur, however, were truly in a world of their own, a sort of tawdry, 3 A.M. post-clubs land of overflowing ashtrays and "ten million liters of red lipgloss". Lyrics were cryptic, dense and obscure, but frequently hilarious, featuring sinister references to Deathclubs, prostitutes, Ultrabras and various other sundry, sordid topics. Lead singer and guitarist John McKeown would yelp out his surreal lines in a thick Scottish burr over a spindly, Fall-circa-Grotesque-era slash 'n' scratch, and many of their earliest tunes didn't even last over a minute in length. Kinky Cinema: Early Hardcore Gay Sound Of Young Glasgow, the band's 60-song, 78-minute anthology of early singles, compilation cuts and reworked, mutant versions of previously-released favorites is a beautiful example of pure economy in action. The songs get in, they do what they need to do and then they get the hell out. One track, "The Yummy Fur vs. The Stooges" is eight seconds long. It sounds like a medium-sized cat being sucked into a jet turbine. It's like the sonic equivalent of a pea-sized chunk of wasabi on the back of your tongue, and it's quite funny.

Instead of swamping their songs in distortion and noise, the Yummy Fur followed prior bands like the Fire Engines and the Minutemen (both of whom McKeown's cited as key influences) in keeping their sound clean and sparse; the guitar lines carved the melody straight into the song, and there was a gritty, simple directness to these early efforts that was both bracing and refreshing.

The Yummy Fur's proper debut album, Night Club, came along in 1996 on Guided Missile, adorned in a lurid pink sleeve with drawings of disco balls and scribbled references to Alfred Jarry and Bryan Ferry on it. I was intrigued, to say the least. "Comedy permeates this record like shit ideas permeate most indie LPs" lept out at me from the overload of information on the inner sleeve, and there was certainly no denying it - this band, and these songs were acidly, buzzingly razor-sharp and hilariously droll. From the paranoid narrative of "Kirsty Cooper", with its "housing scheme goths", to the sweaty, shifty Cassavetes-tribute of "Chinese Bookie", Night Club was thirty-five minutes and fifteen seconds of something entirely fresh, new and funny. And, honestly, any band that can kick out a pop song about a Pasolini film ("Republic of Salo") in under two minutes - and make it catchy as an ice-cream-truck jingle - is alright by me.

The band's sound thickened up with their ensuing efforts, including the swaggering Policeman 7" single (featuring the lyric, "oh, Policeman, I'd love to spend an evening / snorting cocaine off the stomach of your girlfriend"), the Male Shadow at 3 O'Clock mini-album, and their final full-length, Sexy World, where they brought in the buzzy synths and nudged up the electro-robots-in-skinny-ties chic long before the Williamsburg kids ruined the joke for everyone else.

Sadly, the Yummy Fur never quite made it to America, either via a domestic record deal or an actual tour, but there's at least been a flicker of recognition for them in the press over the past couple of years, due to both Alex Kapranos (going by "Alex Huntley" at the time) and Paul Thomson of Franz Ferdinand having been members of the band's final line-up.

Oddly enough, the first time I heard Franz Ferdinand, I was instantly reminded of the Yummy Fur -- the stompy, playfully sinister vampings of "Van Tango" (and, to a lesser extent, "Shopping for Blood") are pure Fur, and it was too on-the-mark to be either just a homage or a coincidence.

(l-r: Huntley, McKeown, Clare Gorman)

The Yummy Fur broke up in late 1999, and many of the other bands associated with the early 90's Glasgow scene also fell off the map in the years since. I've heard McKeown's in a new band, the Mars Hotel, but I have yet to hear or find out much about 'em. With Domino's new Fire Engines collection, Codex Teenage Premonition having just been released, and renewed interest in the rich history of Glasgow Pop coming back around lately, now seems like as good a time as any for some much-needed Yummy Fur reissues.

Our featured tracks today are "Policeman" (a rip from the 1996 seven-inch single on Guided Missile, featuring some delightful vinyl pops and cracks during the first 10 or so seconds) and "Department", from the aforementioned 1998 Male Shadow at 3 O'Clock release. "Policeman", to me at least, is quintessential Fur, sparklingly smart-arsed and brimming with attitude, while "Department" finds the band in a more muscular, propulsive mode than usual, and features some fetching wah-wah guitar and nifty machine-gun drumming.

The Yummy Fur - "Policeman"
(MP3, 192kpbs, 2.6MB)

The Yummy Fur - "Department"
(MP3, 192kpbs, 4.3MB)

Until our next installment, keep dancing on the coffee table and playing it loud.