Steve Wilson. On music.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rolling Stones - Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)/(Republic)

A broad critical consensus has emerged that 1978’s Some Girls was the last great Rolling Stones album. A case can be made. Sure, the Stones have done spotty work for the last, oh, thirty-five years. But Tattoo You – that was pretty good. Personally, I thought Undercover was underrated. And their last record A Bigger Bang from 2005 was about 2/3 great. But back to Some Girls. Yeah, it’s really good. The relative mediocrity of the three studio releases between the venerated Exile on Main Street and Some Girls (Goat’s Head Soup, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Black and Blue) left a still sizeable and devout Stones fan base ready for love. Some of those fans could have given a rat’s ass about punk rock. Others, however, moved by the racket that had blown out of New York and London during the (Sucking in the) Seventies, had a sense that the back to basics blood and guts of punk had thrown down to the Rolling Stones.

The Stones knew it. Mick Jagger in particular has always been, for better or worse, extremely sensitive to trends. Central to the energy behind the hard, fast and rockin’ tracks on Some Girls was Jagger’s own rhythm guitar playing. More square, less syncopated than Keith Richard’s playing, Jagger’s assertive guitar gave the album much of its foursquare thrust.

But wait, I don’t really want to review Some Girls. Been done. In summary, I think it’s terrific, but maybe rated too highly, and primarily by a lot of the same folks who have an unnecessarily dim view of the Stones’ subsequent output. What I really want to talk about is disc two of the deluxe edition of Some Girls.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thee Oh Sees - carrion crawler/the dream ep (In The Red)

Ah, it’s sweet really. The noise generation is meeting me half-way. I remember back in 2003 when a young pal tried to introduce me to Pink & Brown. I try to keep an open mind. Really, I do. My shelves are full of records and discs with music that the average listener would call noise. But I always viewed noise as something that best served as energy and expression tools for … I dunno, songs? From the MC5 to Sonic Youth the racket was seasoning and juicing to rock ‘n’ roll. So, all this Pink & Brown, Lightning Bolt shit left me perplexed. I love a racket, but this was a new kind of racket – primitive, artless, tuneless. Meh. Was I missing something?

Well, the answer is: a) not really and b) maybe a little something.

Which leads us to our man John Dwyer, he’s the prolific force behind Pink & Brown, the Coachwhips, Hospitals, and most recently Thee Oh Sees (among others). The Coachwhips wanted to be the Oblivians but were without the limited skills and lyric sensibility required for such homage. But they were better than Pink & Brown. The Hospitals? I never listened to them enough to have much of an opinion. When I heard Dwyer had yet another band - this one called Thee Oh Sees, I approached them with trepidation.

But from the beginning I kinda liked what I heard. In addition to the annals of noise racket, Dwyer seemed to have absorbed lessons from psychedelia (the kind with spaces between the noises) as well as the urgent, fuzz-toned rhythms of the bands that were featured on Crypt Records Back from the Grave compilations. Thee Oh Sees release something new every four months (okay, close to it). Seriously, they’ve put out about thirteen records in seven years (under various monikers, relying on TOS for the last four or so years), depending on what you count and who’s counting. The band’s latest offering carrion crawler/the dream EP (lower case is theirs’) is an arresting synthesis of the various strains that run through the band’s music, especially a combination of Help’s psycho-trips and Castlemania’s Cali-garage-pop, music that sounded touched by San Francisco garage peers like Ty Segall and the Fresh and Onlys.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rocket From the Tombs - Barfly (Fire Records)

When David Thomas dubbed Pere Ubu “Avant-garage” he did so in a playful, facetious manner, mostly to give rock critics something to chew on. Of course, as Bryan Ferry observed, throwaway lines often ring true. Pere Ubu, especially in the Seventies, combined primitive, aggressive guitar based rock and primal emotional expression with a unique performance (especially Thomas’s vocals) idiom and lyrics that derived from intellectual abstractions not common to the “Nuggets” generation that inspired the band. It’s hard to imagine the Shadows of Knight arriving at lyric conceits like “Non-Alignment Pact” (basically a desperate plea for fidelity built on a diplomatic metaphor … but still) or “Final Solution.” You know?

Ubu, arguably one of rock’s greatest and most important bands to remain little known, was an offspring of another tremendous band. That same band birthed the Dead Boys – a group that had everything and nothing in common with Pere Ubu. That mother of a band was Rocket from the Tombs. RFTT existed for about a year, straddling 1974 and 1975. They played a handful of shows, mostly in their native Cleveland. They never released a record.

But from Rocket From the Tombs' repertoire Pere Ubu took “Final Solution,” ‘Life Stinks,” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” while the Dead Boys derived “Sonic Reducer,” “Ain’t it Fun,” and “Down in Flames.” In other words, a chunk of the core repertoire that helped establish two pretty important punk era bands originated with RFTT. And it’s noteworthy that their sound could, pretty easily really, inform two outfits as rocking, but divergent as Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys. And you, by God, could call them Avant-garage.