Day 1H: Africa Addio, Round One
In the West subdivision, we have…
#1 The Mentors, “Sandwich of Love”
#16 Brazzaville, “Ocean”
I am not at all a fan of LA’s pop/jazz combo Brazzaville, the brainchild of ex-Beck saxophonist David Arthur Brown. In fact, the only reason 1998’s 2002 (ha! See what he did there?) is still in my collection, and the only reason “Ocean” has any place on this list, is that I am a very, very big fan of radio dramatist Joe Frank, who contributes vocals to this track. Unfortunately, I can’t find a way to divorce Frank’s wonderful, characteristically surreal story from the bland backing music that accompanies it, so I turn to the other track in the matchup, and thankfully it’s a good one. Or at least an amusing one. “Sandwich of Love” is the first track on the first full-length (1985’s You Axed for It!) from LA porn-metal legends The Mentors, who are probably now better-known for late vocalist El Duce (born Eldon Hoke)’s claim that Courtney Love offered him money to kill her husband, which fuels “Kurt was murdered” conspiracy theories to this day. More on the Mentors when they reappear in Round Two.
#8 Diehard, “My Turn to Judge”
#9 Prick, “Communiqué”
Two Ohio bands go head to head, and this one turns out to be easy. I am always getting Diehard mixed up with Washington, DC hardcore band Battery (whose first album was called Only the Diehard Remain), and thus every time I see them in the roster I think they’re a better band than they are (they actually sound kind of like a more rudimentary Possessed, but with even less in the way of production values). They’re up against Prick, the solo project of Lucky Pierre frontman Kevin McMahon, which is pretty much all I need to say about Prick here given that “Communiqué” basically got a free pass into Round Two.
#5 Machines of Loving Grace, “The Soft Collision”
#12 Infrastructure Zero, “Scaffolding Rusting in Stormwater”
I have had a very long, and mostly very complex, relationship with the music of Tucson, AZ’s Machines of Loving Grace since the release of their 1993 album Concentration. If the band continues on past Round One, I’m sure we’ll get into some of that (though probably not TOO far…). Concentration, which got the band signed as part of the big industrial major-label push in the wake of Nine Inch Nails’ success, was their biggest album (spurred on by the success of the single “Butterfly Wings” and their appearance on the soundtrack of The Crow in ’94), but I always liked its follow-up, 1995’s Gilt, just a little bit better; core members Scott Benzel and Mike Fisher had retooled the rest of the band, adding David Suycott (Stabbing Westward) and Ray Riendeau (Halford), as well as guitarist Tom Coffeen, now a solo artist; Coffeen is basically the guy who drive the Gilt sound. While MLG were always considered an industrial act, I always thought that was something of a misnomer; they sound like a straight-ahead hard rock band to me. MLG have fallen into obscurity since their 1997 breakup, and need to be rediscovered. They’re up against Infrastructure Zero, one of the many recent bands on Hospital Productions about whom no one seems to know anything (at which point I always assume it’s Dom recording under yet another name). With a track title like “Scaffolding Rusting in Stormwater”, you’d expect this track to be some sort of field-recording-y thing, wouldn’t you? No indeed. This is ugly black noise. Did you ever read Joseph Payne Brennan’s short story “Slime”, a favorite of kiddie horror anthologies back in the seventies? (If all those parents trying to ban Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark had read THAT stuff…) This track reminds me of the story’s titular character, acting solely on instinct, crawling across the forest floor on a neverending quest for human flesh. Very nasty stuff, that, and I am quite the connoisseur of very nasty stuff. I’d thought IZ would be taking this one, but Machines of Loving Grace did quite a good job coming back after three or four listens here. Sending them on to Round Two.
#4 Heathen Shame, “The So-Called ‘Arts’”
#13 Muslimgauze, “Bhutto (Radio Rabbat Remix)”
Cambridge, MA power trio Heathen Shame contribute a track to the competition that I have no idea how it got into my collection (as I have previously mentioned, this usually means I got it on one of mp3.com’s “The [anywhere between 100 and 125] Best Songs You Never Heard” CDs back in the late 90s/early 2000s). This track, from 2005’s Speed the Parting Guest, rocks and rolls with the same kind of high-energy slam-dance-ability one gets from, say, Football Rabbit (whom you met back on Day 1A). They’re up against one of the most prolific artists on the planet, British trance artist Bryn Jones. The majority of his work has been released under the Muslimgauze moniker, including this 1991 CDS on Extreme. If this were a different kind of competition, I would have definitely gone for one of Jones’ longer compositions, to illustrate that for him, “hypnotic” was not a genre description, but a goal (his masterpiece in this regard, IMO, is the twenty-five-minute 1994 track “Hebron Massacre”), but we’re stuck with a three-to-five-minute piece here. “Bhutto”, which was already pretty short by Muslimgauze standards (nine and a half minutes), was remixed by well-known British “hard trance” DJ Mark Lawrence to come up with something of a more radio-friendly length. Radio play always eluded Bryn Jones, which must have been terribly frustrating to him given the overtly political nature of his work; Muslimgauze was an arm to proselytize with, and Jones never made any bones about that. It’s frustrating to the fans as well, because this stuff should have gone over like wildfire on the radio in places where there isn’t a heavy ethnocentric vibe at work; it’s wonderfully composed, groove-laden electronica that works perfectly (and I say this as someone who generally despises electronica). While “they’re usually better at longer durations” has been a weak spot for a lot of artists here, Lawrence knew exactly what he was doing, and this is a small gem; Muslimgauze move on.
Live in Somerville.
#6 The Dream Academy, “The Love Parade”
#11 The Missing, “Lead into Gold”
British easy-listening act The Dream Academy, a one-hit wonder in America with their 1985 single “Life in a Northern Town” released three albums full of the classical-cum-dreampop that propelled them to the top of the American record charts just once; they deserved much better than they got. “The Love Parade”, which also comes from their eponymous 1985 release, is just as good as “Life in a Northern Town,” but didn’t get as much play. They’re up against perennially-unsigned Queens-based industrial metal outfit The Missing, which recently disbanded after lead vocalist DM got married. I first encountered The Missing on mp3.com back in ’99 or 2000 whilst looking for information about the third single by the band Lead into Gold (mentioned back on Day 1F) and thought they were kinda fun. (They had no idea what to do with ME, however; XTerminal was definitely not the kind of stuff they normally linked to…) All these years later I still drop this song on the mp3 player on a fairly regular basis; it suffers from low-budget production values, but it’s as solid a slab of industrial metal (with the emphasis definitely on the latter half of that moniker) as you’re likely to find coming out of New York in the late nineties. Yet another that could easily go either way; both of these songs are perennial favorites on the mp3 player, and both would have a good chance to make a deep run. I’m giving the edge to The Dream Academy here solely on the basis that the type of music they make is represented far less here, which should make them stand out in later rounds. The Missing head to the sidelines.
#3 The Cure, “Shake Dog Shake”
#14 M.A.S.O.N.N.A., “Inner Mind Mystique 1”
This is another one I thought was going to be easy… I’m a massive Cure fan (of everything up to Disintegration, anyway), but ask me what my favorite Cure album is and you will always get the same response, 1984’s The Top. You could have stuck any track from that album in here and I’d have bet you money it would roll over anything it encountered in the first round. But the first track from M.A.S.O.N.N.A.’s 1996 release Inner Mind Mystique came up on the mp3 player this morning—a track from an album I probably haven’t listened to in ten years—and it just plain blew me away. This is what hyper-chaotic Japanoise form the mid-nineties was all supposed to sound like. Maso Yamazaki took what was supposed to be a rout and damn near turned it into an upset. It took me three days to decide that the Cure would indeed go on to Round Two, and I am only sending M.A.S.O.N.N.A. to the sidelines with the greatest regret; Inner Mind Mystique will be one of the first albums to go onto the mp3 player once I start loading up music outside the scope of the competition once again.
#7 Breathe, “Hands to Heaven”
#10 Del Amitri, “Food for Songs”
In the realm of the guilty pleasure song, where my collection is concerned it’s pretty damn hard to beat “Hands to Heaven”, a multi-million-selling 1988 smash hit for Hampshire soft-rock quartet Breathe, who would disband in 1990 after their second album ran into promotional resistance. (Half of the band now play in the quintet Stroke the Toad). Come on, you’ve heard this song before, I don’t need to say anything about it. You’ve also heard Del Amitri, who were responsible for a string of easy-listening hits in the late eighties and nineties (“Kiss This Thing Goodbye”, “Roll to Me”, etc.), but you may have never heard “Food for Songs”. It opens the band’s 1995 album Twisted, and is a harder-rocking number than those the band are known for, with a definite undercurrent of “fuck you” driving it. Not at all what one expects from the normally-affable Glaswegians, indeed. I was originally thinking this one was going to be tough, but come on now, is there anyone reading this who wouldn’t have taken Del Amitri in a heartbeat over Breathe? Del Amitri roll to Round Two.
#2 The Scorpions, “Big City Nights”
#15 HIM, “Behind the Crimson Door”
The battle of the European hair metal bands commences! And let’s call a spade a spade here, Ville Valo and his Finland-based HIM (which, we are told, used to stand for “His Infernal Majesty”, but is no longer an acronym) is nothing more than twenty-first-century hair metal. I do not mean this in any pejorative sense; after all, it’s been twenty-nine years since the release of Love at First Sting, the Scorpions album that produced “Big City Nights” (it was the album’s third single, and was the one that had just been released when I saw the Scorps on that particular tour), and I’m still listening to it. The differences to be found are of degree here; the flashier Teutonic twin-guitar attack of the Scorpions or the darker, brooding emphasis on the rhythm section put forth by HIM? I have to say, I kind of expected HIM to take this one when I first looked at the matchup; that section of 2005’s Dark Light that is framed by “Behind the Crimson Door” and “Venus” is just sublime, and any of the five tracks therein could have easily made the initial list. And despite Klaus Meine’s voice getting on my nerves every once in a while and “Big City Nights” actually having been my second choice (“The Zoo”, which would have been my first, runs 5:22), I ended up going with the big-and-flashy over the gloom-and-doomy in this matchup, for reasons I still don’t quite understand, and sending Scorpions on to Round Two.