And welcome to another post of one-paragraph ruminations on music you’ve probably never heard of before…
STANDING DISCLAIMER: It would be ridiculous to try and do Full Disclosure on these. Just assume I know everyone here at least via the Internet, and most of them in person. You’ll be right far more often than wrong.
Abattoir, The Only Safe Place (Combat, 1986)
Abattoir’s first record, 1985’s Vicious Attack, wasn’t necessarily boundary-pushing, but it would be tough to find a more solid, reliable slab of thrash metal. Not surprisingly, expectations were high for their follow-up. Disaster struck when vocalist Steve Gaines (the band, in their short career, went through vocalists like Spinal Tap went through drummers) left to rejoin his former outfit and the band replaced him with ex-Heretic frontman Mike Towers. Towers is a solid vocalist, but he never really clicked with the Abattoir sound; the band broke up the year after The Only Safe Place. It is telling that both times the band has reunited, Gaines has been its frontman.
The full album on Youtube.
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Ayumi Hamasaki, A Song for XX (Avex Trax, 1999)
In retrospect, A Song for XX is an outlier in Ayumi Hamasaki’s career. She has since become one of Japan’s top-selling pop artists, and a popular subject for remixers, thanks to her unceasing experimentation into the melding of pop with harder dance music. Here, there is none of that sort of thing. A Song for XX is a perfect distillation of what American audiences often think of as Jpop; upbeat, sparkly pop tracks sit comfortably beside soulful ballads. What sets A Song for XX apart is the mournful tinge to many of the songs (as well as Hamasaki’s almost otherworldly voice); this is the Jpop equivalent of Danielle Spencer’s White Monkey.
The title track, with English lyrics included.
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Plague Mother, Obsessions (Compulsion Rites, 2012)
Obsessions is a C10. That is probably for the best. To call it one of the five harshest recordings in my collection might actually be an understatement. This is powerelectronics that exists, as should be obvious from the title, to explore the darker places of the mind. Once your head has cleared from the full-on assault in front of you–this may take two or three runs through, if you make it that long–you will start being able to pick out the tics, the repetitions, the places where these two tracks really show you where Roman J’s head was when he picked this title for it. There is a reward for taking this ride enough to become familiar with it, though I suspect that reward is greater for someone who already gets it.
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Prurient, Troubled Sleep (Truculent Recordings, 2003)
I would not call Troubled Sleep my favorite Prurient album; Fossil, a live document that came out around the same time, holds that title when it has not been nudged aside by And Still, Wanting, a 2007 album that showed a new level of dynamics and tension. Troubled Sleep, for most of its length, just wants to tear your face off. When albums do that, but then don’t bother giving you a payoff, it can get real old real fast. But on Troubled Sleep, Fernow started figuring out the stutter, the value of silence in a wall of powerelectronics, which he would use to such devastating effect at the end of his next album, Shipwrecker’s Diary. Here, you find yourself pummelled with relentless blasts of high-register electronics…and then you get to “Tarantella”, the most toxic, vicious track to be found here, and it still manages to sound like relief.
The title track.
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Short Dark Strangers, Dog Won’t Hunt (self-released, 2006)
Bobby Porter was a fixture in the Pittsburgh punk scene who first rose to prominence as the vocalist of the legendary band Thin White Line. Many years after TWL’s demise, Porter was between bands, and decided to try experimenting with bringing that magic back, so he formed Short Dark Strangers. SDS were essentially a TWL cover band, but formed with kids who had grown up in the next generation. A lot of TWL fans were… less than thrilled. I thought magic happened. (Full disclosure: I went to high school with SDS’ drummer.) Unfortunately, Short Dark Strangers were short-lived, as Bobby Porter died in late 2010.
Short Dark Strangers’ final show.
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Indian Jewelry, Sangles Redux (Girlgang Records, 2005)
Sangles Redux, as the name implies, is a collection of the singles Indian Jewelry (and, formerly, NTX+Electric, and a few other names) released over the handful of years before putting this collection together. As a result, it doesn’t cohere like Free Gold! or Invasive Exotics, but man, can these folks put together a single. There’s not a single track on this disc I have ever skipped over when listening to it in sequence. That is rare indeed. This is jangly, psychedelia-tinged rock of a rare vintage. If the influence of The Zombies and Pink Floyd had continued undiluted into the twenty-first century, a lot more bands light sound like Indian Jewelry.
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John Wetton, Raised in Captivity (Frontiers, 2011)
Am I alone in not having realized that John Wetton, frontman for about half the bands who ruled AOR radio in the seventies and eighties (King Crimson, Asia, Uriah Heep, The Family, Wishbone Ash, the list goes on), has also had a successful solo career as well? I didn’t find this out until Raised in Captivity, his (as of this writing) last album, from 2011. And it’s good, solid rock and roll that shows his roots, but doesn’t sound a blessed thing like any of those bands whose names I just rattled off. Wetton is definitely not resting on his laurels. It’s not doing anything new, but it at least shows that Wetton and co. realize that music has been made since the mid-eighties.
“Don’t Misunderstand Me”.
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Murderous Vision, The Times Without Gods (Live Bait Recording Foundation, 2002)
While by the time Stephen Petrus got around to recording The Times Without Gods, Murderous Vision had been an active entity for almost a decade, this was in many ways the birth of a new, different incarnation of Murderous Vision. While there are still remnants of (or nods to) MV’s goth-metal roots, The Times Without Gods sees Petrus, now the band’s sole constant member, really embracing the dark-ambient-with-a-temper-tantrum aesthetic that would eventually come to define the band. Petrus is a big fan of the entire Cold Meat Industry family, and that heart is never far away from his sleeve, but there is a desolation to MV that springs from Petrus’ northeast Ohio rust belt roots that makes Murderous Vision uniquely American.
“Fall Before Christ”.
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Jack Smiley, Law (self-released, 2006)
Law is, by turns, seductive, cold, beautiful, ugly, smooth, acidic, dark, light, heavy, soft. Pretty neat trick for a seven-track EP, especially when three of those tracks are three of the others backwards. As you can probably tell from that synopsis, it’s not a very coherent piece; it jumps around all over the place like a goldfish with a thousand-dollar-a-day meth habit. But, like Indian Jewelry’s release above, taken as a collection of songs rather than a coherent album, it’s sterling.
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Celtic Frost, Into the Pandemonium (Noise International, 1987)
Into the Pandemonium was really where Celtic Frost’s Cold Lake era started, but don’t tell any of those fans who claim they like every Celtic Frost album except Cold Lake (and, for the hardliners, Vanity/Nemesis). But come on, tell me you can’t listen to “One in Their Pride” and “I Won’t Dance” (to this day my favorite Celtic Frost track) and hear the stirrings of the sound that would come to fruition in “Cherry Orchards” and “Downtown Hanoi”. It’s certainly worlds away from the stuff they were doing on To Mega Therion. I have never considered that a bad thing. I love both of those albums, though for entirely different reasons. Into the Pandemonium has always struck me as an appeal to commercial radio. This is not necessarily a bad thing; in hindsight, in fact, the main problem with Into the Pandemonium is that it was six or seven years ahead of its time. In 1987, the idea of hearing something as crunchy as “I Won’t Dance” outside college radio was unthinkable. By the mid-nineties…
The full album on Youtube.