Day Whatever – Flipper, Album Generic Flipper

Written by guest editor, John Edge.
Subterranean Records ■ SUB 25

Released in April, 1982


Produced by Gary Krimon

Side One: Side Two:

  1. “Ever” (Loose) – 2:56
  2. “Life Is Cheap” (Loose) – 3:55
  3. “Shed No Tears” (Shatter) – 4:26
  4. “(I Saw You) Shine” (Shatter) – 8:31

  1. “The Way of the World” (Shatter) – 4:23
  2.  “Life” (Shatter) – 4:44
  3. “Nothing” (Loose) – 2:18
  4. “Living for the Depression” (Ant/Loose) – 1:23
  5. “Sex Bomb” (Shatter) – 7:48



Or perhaps the album title is Album and the band name is Generic Flipper.  Who cares?

Anyway, RC roped me into writing these dopey record reviews which I really don’t have time for.  I’ve got a full time job, a kid, and all kinds of other shit begging for my time.  But whatever, I’ve had a particularly hard day at work and have about five brain cells to work on, so now’s the perfect time to write a review. 

This is one of those great punk albums I really cut my teeth on as a teenager.  The sludginess, the depressing/uplifting lyrics, the general us vs them attitude all made me think I wasn’t the only one who thought and felt that way.  Seem cliche?  Give me a break, we were all teenagers once and I was a damn good one.  Anyway, this album still stands lyrically as the closest to my personal worldview as any other I’ve ever heard in the intervening years.  

A little background on Flipper (the band, not the insufferable show): In the early eighties, punk rock bands and especially the offshoot hardcore groups were ratcheting up tempos and honing their sound to razor sharp clarity and tonality, Flipper hazily veered off in the complete opposite direction.  Their sound is mired in a drug fueled stupor. Flipper’s songs take the breakneck hardcore of Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, and Minor Threat and slow it to a slug’s pace.  Maybe they loved Sabbath?  Maybe they were just not good enough to play fast?  Or maybe they were just the perfect foil to Minor Threat: slow, sludgy, long songs, gleefully drunk and fucked up on all sorts of chemical entertainments.  They have two bassists.  That’s all you really need to know.  

Album represents the first LP offering scattered among various single releases, a sophmore studio album and two live albums before the untimely death of co-songwriter, co-bassist, and cocopuffs-singer Will Shatter of a drug overdose in 1987.  Unlike my usual M.O., one of my favorite things about this album is the lyrics.  Not that they are particularly nice or poetic, but their general tone veers from the pessimistic and depressive (Ever, Shed No Tears) to the (almost) bright and life affirming (Life) and the outright defiant (Living for the Depression) but also with a great dry sense of humor (do I really need another example in parentheses?)  The lyrics represent a wonderfully nuanced view of the world that was realistic and grey while still acknowledging that, as we’re all alive and in this world, we may as well make the most of it, right?  

The album starts with screeching feedback that quickly plunges into a rumbling, jaunty drum and bass led groove.  Perhaps ‘groove’ sounds too funky.  Think of it as a punk groove, down and dirty, rhythmic and repetitive, sloppy and uncoordinated.  Yet it all hangs together.  “Ever” asks the listener if they’ve “ever lived a life that’s real/full of zest and no appeal”.  Bruce Loose/Lose or Will Shatter or whoever paint life as a depressing set of contradictions (“ever wished the human race didn’t exist/then realize, you’re one too) and then nullify everything in the end (“have you ever? I have. So what?”)  It’s exactly this combination of barely controlled musical calamity and raw, yet flippant, lyrics that make Album (and Flipper) so appealing.  

Life is Cheap brings the lyrical tone down even further (“life is pretty cheap/it’s sold a decade at a time) while paradoxically cleaning up the sound somewhat (very somewhat).  Then, Shed No Tears kicks in with a similar feedback blast to Ever, leading one to believe more of the same is coming about.  However, the lyrics of Shed no Tears highlight one of the more interesting (and somewhat unusual for punk) positive facets of Flipper’s outlook.  Sure, singing things like, “shed no tears for the martyr dying/only in pain, suffering, and death/can the martyr become what he’s chosen to be” doesn’t necessarily come off as being too happy (well, maybe it depends on your personality), but in some ways it makes perfect sense.  Not every sad thing is necessarily so terrible when you think about it.  A martyr fulfills their role by suffering, despots being murdered frees their subjects (ok, it’s cops and prisoners in the song, gimme a break), a suicide frees a depressive from a cruel world.  Sometimes awful things fulfill a great purpose in life.  Or some shit like that.

(I Saw You) Shine (with random parentheses) somehow manages to slow things down a bit more before dying out at the end of side 1.  The record reaches funeral dirge like levels of speed.  Yet, despite the (lack of) tempo, the track still manages to find a groove and lock it in.  Perhaps this is one of the great triumphs of Flipper: the music sounds so sloppy you wonder if they even rehearsed beforehand.  Yet, the grooves stay so grounded it’s impossible that Will Shatter flopped out a beer-soaked bed and grabbed a bass before the engineer hit record.  

Ted Falconi… maybe.  

Which brings me to another great thing about Flipper.  Much like Gang of Four (who I imagine to be a powerful influence) but completely unlike other punk groups, Flipper are not led by guitar in the least.  Twin bassists Bruce Loose and WIll Shatter (see, I got around to actually describing who these people are) led the way, with drummer Steve DePace holding down a groove so tightly you’d think Jaki Liebezeit of Can had forsaken Germany for the Bay area.  Meanwhile, Ted Falconi sprayed feedback laden guitar riffs with wild abandon, adding a feral and uncontrolled sort of texture to the songs.  So, again, Ted may have just joined the proceedings straight from a previous night’s hangover.  

Onward to side 2, The Way of the World strips Will Shatter’s sense of humor bare for all the world to see… or something like that.  The song works up a bleak sense of how the world works (thus, the ‘way of the world’).  Such lines such as “there are eyes that cannot see and fingers that cannot touch” are inevitably demolished by the line, “there are hearts no longer beating and there’s entrails spilled on the floor/that’s the way of the world”.  The final verse paints a picture with such absurd colors that one can’t help but view the words beforehand as being just as absurd.  The deadpan singalong chorus probably doesn’t help matters much.  

Life is probably the most standout song on the record from a thematic perspective.  Here, Shatter lets loose an absolutely positive song exhorting listeners that “life is the only thing worth living for.”  Of course, he couldn’t keep his tongue out of his cheek the entire song.  Claiming that he has sung of death, chaos, mayhem, and depression (my words not his) but he’s “not going to sing that song anymore” (his words, not mine).  I’ll give him four minutes and forty-four seconds before he starts singing about that crap again.  

Nothing and Living for the Depression bring the pace up quite a bit with the latter almost becoming a hardcore punk song.  Too bad Flipper still manages to screw it up and make it sludgy and bassy.  Oh well, why defy expectations now?  We’re almost through!  By the way, I have no idea who the Ant guy who co-wrote the song is.  It’s probably Adam Ant.  In fact, it is Adam Ant.  I’m sure of it.  

Finally, we have Sex Bomb.  The Sex Bomb.  The “we’ll play Sex Bomb if you throw one more beer onstage” Sex Bomb.  Take a rolling, churning bassline.  Add a metronomic drum beat.  A pinch of synthesizer (or something) for flavor.  Add a dash of saxophone.  Shake well and yell “sex bomb baby, yeah (or waaaah)” over and over.  Repeat until the whole thing clatters to a stop.  

Ok, are you happy now?  Here’s a song by song overview for those who are still reading this crap.  

Ever is good.
Life is Cheap is depressing.
Shed no Tears is also depressing, but somewhat reassuring.
(I Saw You Shine) is long.
The Way of the World is hilarious.
Life is reaffirming.
Nothing is nothing much, but I want out.
Living for the Depression is almost hardcore.
Sex Bomb, baby, yeah! (Repeat x26)

Oh yeah, it was released by Subterranean Records or some shit like that.
[Editor’s Note: Sorry, John, I added the info above, I’ve got to have some consistency here!]


Now, in the immortal words of Will Shatter: “Is that enough?  Can we go home now?”




Postscript: all jokes aside, I really am quite honored that R.C. selected me to contribute to VoV in his absence.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my awful, contrived writing in the meanwhile.  Anyway, there should be more to come if I don’t drink too much scotch.  
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Various Artists – Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking in the Streets Volumes 8-11 (1997)

  Amphetamine Reptile Records ■ 9 25194-1


Released April 22, 1997

Technical Credits Unknown, Likely Varied



Side One (Vol. 8 & 9): Side Two (Vol 10 & 11):
  1. Superchunk – “Basement Life”
  2. Guzzard – “Bites”
  3. Jawbox – “Low Strung”
  4. godheadSilo – “Lotion Pocket”
  5. Bordeoms – “Pukuri”
  6. Supernova – “Sugar Coated Stucco”
  7. Chokebore – “Brittle & Depressing”
  8. Love 666 – “You Sold Me Out #2”
  1. Bailter Space – “Glimmer Dot”
  2. Steelpolebathtub – “A Washed Out Monkey Star Halo”
  3. Chrome Cranks – “Dead Man’s Suit”
  4. Brainiac – “Cookie Doesn’t Sing”
  5. Today Is the Day – “Execution Style”
  6. Rocket from the Crypt – “Tiger Mask”
  7. Calvin Krime – “Fight Song”
  8. Gaunt – “Kiss Destroyer”
  9. Servotron – “Matrix of Perfection”

I’m often wary, wandering into any record store for the first time. There’s no real guarantee of what anyone has or will carry, and in a used store it becomes even more complicated, as they can only carry what records they’ve acquired to sell. And that, then, depends on the locals. The first time I walked into Dead Wax Records, I wasn’t sure what to think. Between the place I now live and the places I work, there’s not a lot of music to be found. Even the oft-ignored (for financially justifiable reasons) FYE and similar “TWEC” (TransWorld Entertainment Company, who owns FYE, Coconuts, etc) stores make no appearances. There’s a Best Buy, a Wal-Mart, a Target–certainly nowhere you’d find vinyl (beyond the semi-kitschy ‘7″ with a t-shirt’ thing Target is doing–but I owned most of the ones that looked interesting to me, or saw no reason to get the 7″), and nowhere you’d find a good chunk of my music collection, vinyl or otherwise.

I found a small used record and used/new CD store about fifteen miles away and had a very strange experience there, locating both upstate New York’s Immolation’s third album and some Split Enz albums I was looking for on CD. I found some Throbbing Gristle material, too, which is only appropriate for this particular entry–well, parts of it. I couldn’t really make heads or tails of the place, though I’ve intended to go back a few times (never managing). When I started my current job just a bit further out, though, someone there mentioned a local record store, which piqued my interest immediately. I swung by after work that day, only to find it was closed on Mondays, deciding to come back the next. That next day, I wandered in and found it comfortably cozy and close, as you’d expect from a fledgling (only a few months old!) record store. However, its walls were papered with posters and fliers for bands I knew well–but knew well from my forays into music in the last few odd years more than anything else. Snapcase. Gluecifer. The Murder City Devils. The Supersuckers. Turbonegro. Mudhoney. All the sorts of things I’d tried (sometimes successfully) to push on a very picky person I know.

When I started flipping through the records there, I found I was in a store I could definitely see myself returning to. I brought a stack of 7 12″s up to the counter and was told I had really good taste. I was buying Prince, Black Flag, Alice Donut, The Church, Leon Russell, and The Fall albums–and this one. I later went back for a single volume that was hanging out there, Vol. 6 in the “Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking in the Streets” series, too. But that set–including my favourite Church album, Heyday–basically informed me this was a worthwhile stop. And, along the same lines, it was confirming that this set included Jawbox’s “Low Strung” that sealed that purchase and left me shrugging and stacking everything else in (Heyday was a no-brainer, mind you, and was the “gateway” to accepting that I would purchase more that day).

I knew the series, vaguely, because tracks from it will often appear on compilations now, such as the Sub Pop reissue of Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff, or, most pertinently, Jawbox’s My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents. My habit of relentlessly parsing out the bonus tracks on CD releases was fruitful, as it often is: it informed me both of the series’ existence, and its particular approach to art, meaning I recognized them as soon as I saw them–and it was that that sealed the store as worth digging in for me. Many bands have appeared there, the ones familiar to me including the above, Rocket from the Crypt, the Melvins, Helmet, Lubricated Goat, Tar (who did a split with Jawbox, which I own), Superchunk, and the Jesus Lizard. The last is a stretch insofar as familiarity, but those were the names I knew–in most cases, bands I owned full-fledged releases from (Lubricated Goat quite by–hilarious–accident).

If any of those names mean anything to you, then this is probably an interesting-sounding compilation. If they don’t, this is probably a scary-sounding compilation. And that’s probably fair–while Superchunk and Jawbox are by no means known for anything ultra-noisy, abrasive, raucous or otherwise “difficult” and largely any bands “known” for that aren’t known in the first place, unless you’re asking people who like that kind of thing (or they know the more popular and largely more accessible works of those groups–like the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper”, for instance). But this isn’t a noise compilation–at least, not completely. It’s a mix of alternative, noisy, post-, and various other kinds of independent music, though it largely eschews the “indie” variety, if you’ll allow that rather expansively-narrowed definition.¹

Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking in the Streets Volume Eight
(Superchunk, Guzzard, Jawbox, godheadSilo)Originally released in April, 1994
 

Naturally, Volume 8 was of supreme interest to me. Most of the Dope-Guns series is 4 tracks on a 7″, two per side, but there are variances throughout. Volume 8 was not an exception to this layout, though–even as it does have seemingly the strangest appearance that could be managed, starting from my own experiences.

Despite living in Durham and working in Chapel Hill for the majority of my adult life (no longer, in case the “there are no record stores here” wasn’t a tip-off), I never really listened to Superchunk. I kind of filed them with Guided by Voices and Pavement and a bunch of other bands I heard spoken of in awed tones with respect to indie rock in the 1990s. I tried a few out about ten years ago and nothing caught my ears, but the newfound love for Pavement in the past some-odd years and growing love for GBV has led me to soften my disinterests and try things. I picked up a few Superchunk singles in my last wanderings through used CDs, and liked what I heard. “Basement Life” is a bit more buzz-y than the singles (“Hello Hawk” and “Hyper Enough”) I’ve picked up, which didn’t bother me and seemed quite fitting for a release on a label that has “NOISE” built into their logo. It’s a stomping roll through a rumble-bass-focused track of fuzzy, catchy fun. What strains it has of indie rock–the only instance on this compilation of compilations–is the full-on Pavement kind (I’m betting also the Superchunk kind) that still carries the genetic trace of punk in its semi-sneering vocals and snarky tone–less “Revolution”, more “whatever”.

Guzzard apparently didn’t last much past this compilation’s original release (indeed, not long enough to see the release of the three volumes combined), but sounds more like you might expect from a label associating itself with noise, though it’s still pretty accessible. “Bites” grinds and buzzes a little more, and has a forward-leaning aggressive tone to it than “Basement Life” by far. Nice, strong, clear drumming that wasn’t always present or as well-produced in hardcore acts appears and backs a strained yell of a voice, as well as very clear hardcore origins for the group. It’s a nice, tight, buzzsaw follow up to Superchunk.

Jawbox’s contribution is a nice bridge between the work on their first two full-lengths (Grippe and Novelty) and the works for which they’d become best known and loved (For Your Own Special Sweetheart and Jawbox). Original drummer Adam Wade had left to join Shudder to Think (labelmates of Jawbox on Dischord–interestingly, both being the Dischord bands to hit major labels in ’94) and now the great Zach Barocas had joined and added a ton of spice to the group with his unique drumming style. He’s not quite in the front seat he’d be in the albums that would follow this recording, but his “voice” is clearly present. J. Robbins’ voice is “punkier” than it would be on most of those next two albums (with the possible exception of Sweetheart opener “FF=66”). It’s a smart contribution to the release, as it, too, is like the noisier edge of their range.

godheadSilo were a peculiar group, being one of few to work with the “bass and drums” set-up, lacking a guitar, keys, or other ‘focal” instrument. The track sounds like a strange amalgamation of the low-end droning of bands like SunnO))) and some of the (knowingly) sloppier garage rock of the last two decades. It’s the first clear sign of “noise” on the album, though it’s a clearly defined song, built on a(n admittedly repetitive) bass riff and simple drumming, with vocals shredded by distortion themselves. It’s a catchy number despite that–maybe the years of metal and rapidly increasing years of noise rock have inured me to those things and let me hear the underlying guts of a song, I’m not sure. Still, it works well, and feels like a nice comfortable medium stance between “noise” and the kinds of genres that didn’t quite cross that line, but sat snugly against it.

Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking in the Streets Volume Nine
(The Boredoms, Supernova, Chokebore, Love 666, Bailter Space)Originally released (later) in 1994


Spacial concerns obviously pushed the fifth track on this one onto the second side, but I can’t complain too much, as it’s still 4 of these put together, and each was a wild mix of artists, anyway.

I can’t say I’ve heard of a single one of these bands–maybe Chokebore, but that could just be the fact that my research around this has taught me that they, like many of the others, were Amphetamine Reptile “natives”, and would release their singles and albums through AmRep, too. Indeed, they did a split release with Guzzard and Today Is the Day the same year as these first two Dope-Guns. Still, otherwise? Completely new.

The Boredoms’ appearance with “Pukuri” immediately gave me a better impression of what AmRep was interested in including. Kazoo-like sounds and a tromping beat bring to mind the kinds of weird melodies and instrumentation that would sometimes meander through early Zappa/Mothers records (particularly “Mothers” ones), especially the brief “interludes” that appear between songs. It devolves into screaming, dissonant and semi-random guitar distortion and even more distorted recordings of drums–but seems to inevitably circle back to the same marching melody that it started with in spite of that. The drumming gets “tribalistic” at some point, and sort of takes on a kind of focus, though the track wanders through a variety of “movements” and sounds, wah-wahed guitar, strange wails–this is not the kind of track most people throw on for a good time, but it’s appreciably intentional, despite its chaos. I’m gaining a bit of a taste for this kind of controlled insanity, I have to say, though it still comes out a bit weird sandwiched in with “normal” songs, even if from punk-related bands.

“Sugar Coated Stucco”‘s intro makes it sound, at first, like it’s going to be even weirder than “Pukuri”, but breaks off into extra-nasal pop punk of the kind I’ve grown to like a lot (think Screeching Weasel, not Blink 182, if that helps at all–though I realize it probably won’t for most I know to read this). The vocals are so nasal, though, that they almost disappear into themselves. It’s catchy like all that stuff should be, though, simple and built on guitars and drums that are perfunctory–they’re there to build the beat and melody and nothing more, really, and that’s what they should do here. Interestingly, they were responsible for “Chewbacca”, the song in Clerks (which isn’t nasal at all–go figure). Hayden Thais ended up joining Man or Astro-man? though–and later Servotron, who appear on volume 11 here.

While their name implies something aggressive, speedy, and thought-to-be headache inducing, or perhaps the inappropriately aggressive name for a pop punk band (that sound just doesn’t seem to work as intimidating, despite the occasional name implying it ought), they’re more in the Mudhoney vein than anything else–sludgy, just-above-plodding and fuzzy as hell, with a vocal totally uninterested in sounding “pretty”, but staying firmly where it is placed, it might even bring to mind that of Alice Donut’s Tom Antona, too.² “Brittle and Depressing” doesn’t sound much like either musically, though–it’s strong, and has a nicely cranked out, unobtrusive lead guitar.

Love 666 contribute “You Sold Me Out #2”–it’s a great little track, that seems to somehow wind its way between hints of shoegaze conventions and sludge-rock ones. I’m not sure what, exactly, that adds it up to–but it’s interesting. Drums thump and guitars buzz loosely, while the vocals are clean, clear, near-spoken and very upfront. There’s a clear chorus, where the voices reach a kind of weird, amateur harmony that is endearing and lovely in its strange little way. The way the thumpy fuzz of guitar hammers down after it is really great, though–confusing what the track actually is without ever losing sight of itself in the process.

When Bailter Space’s “Glimmer Dot” drops, it’s totally unexpected. Unabashed shoegaze (!), it warbles along in the shoegaze vein of My Bloody Valentine, washes of guitar and production that seems to blur everything into a single stream of sound, despite the still recognizable variation in instruments. Vocals are in the half-lidded, drugged-out style that marks most shoegaze, and the whole track is great, but wildly unexpected. It’s entirely possible this track would be worth the whole compilation to someone who couldn’t stand the rest, if they liked shoegaze enough. 

Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking in the Streets Volume Ten
(Steel Pole Bath Tub, Chrome Cranks, Brainiac, Today Is the Day)Originally released (later) in 1994

I guess these records were coming fast and thick in ’94, which makes sense as the whole series of 11 came out between ’91 and ’94, but, dang, that’s three, and I know 11 came out years later…I figured they were spaced out more than that.

The name Steel Pole Bath Tub rings only the faintest of bells–nothing helpful, but something that insists I’ve heard the name before in the context of a band. I’m not sure how, why, or what context it came in, but I don’t think I would’ve gone with their actual sound if I was asked point blank before I’d heard this what they sound like. “A Washed Out Monkey Star Halo” at least is a track I’d be inclined to call instrumental even if it isn’t–a nice fat bassline opens the track and carries it a long under semi-unnerving guitars and over a steady drumbeat. Vocals are seeming babbles, distorted and distant, acting as a layer of sound more than a perfectly clear expression of thoughts as words. It sounds a bit like a story, but it’s hard to peel out of the music, seemingly on purpose.

The Chrome Cranks ride a rather rockabilly beat in “Dead Man’s Suit”, with the scattered slide of many of the more twisted modern interpretations of that genre. The vocals are like the more frantic and unhinged Nick Cave vocals–but with layered echo and even more punk influence. It’s like a rockabilly band through a carnival mirror and the spinning room of chemical influence. For all that it does seem ramshackle, the guitar finally takes off on a solo that is sharp and pointed in its quick run, deflating the song for a moment, before it takes off again. A fun track, and rather in contrast to what has come before on both of the previous records.

Brainiac has the frenetic drumming of a punk band, but the proximity-distorted (is he eating the microphone, perhaps?) vocals and the elliptical swing of the guitars makes the placement of “Cookie Doesn’t Sing” next to “Dead Man’s Suit” terribly appropriate. It’s a wonderfully weird track, in more the Birthday Party (I don’t know why Nick Cave’s on the brain right now) than the Butthole Surfers sense. It’s not an effect I haven’t heard before, but it’s exactly the right one in context, like a spitting flurry, slurred into a deceptively steady swing.

 It’s no surprise that Mastodon’s Brann Dailor and Bill Kelliher floated through Today Is the Day at some point, even if “Execution Style” isn’t an example of their time there. I’m reminded most immediately of the peculiar choices of time signature and stylistic variation in bands like Coalesce and Botch–the most aggressive, abrasive, and heavy ends of hardcore, but filtered through tight musicanship. The guitar here is beautiful in its knowingly unsteady vibrations–I cannot think of what it reminds me of (despite hearing it for the third time now) but it’s a sound I know, not derivative enough to feel obvious, though. It’s an odd track here, but aren’t they all?

Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking in the Streets Volume Eleven
(Rocket from the Crypt, Calvin Krime, Gaunt, Servotron)Originally released in 1997
 Man, where did time go?

Now this band, while I’m still only just getting a good feel for them, is the other that I felt assured in purchasing this record for–Rocket from the Crypt. I picked up Drive Like Jehu’s Yank Crime on recommendation a few years back, and quite liked it. DLJ’s John Reis would of course become “Speedo” of Rocket from the Crypt (as well as plain ol’ John Reis in Hot Snakes) and there we have the connection for me. “Tiger Mask” is a fantastic example of RFTC for sure, the semi-dramatic rumbling rock and roll that defines much of their work, under Reis’s affectedly rocking vocals, which turns more melodic and shaky for that great and catchy chorus. It’s probably the most fun song on this whole record–and I mean 8-11, not just 11.

Calvin Krime is apparently the band Har Mar Superstar was in before being Har Mar, and it’s actually a kind of cool song they contributed–“Fight Song”. It’s a series of layered “conflicting” tracks: multiple vocalists and a stop-start drumbeat, guitars gluing the two together. It’s actually very tight and solidly played and interesting. Unexpected and interesting, but fitting with the RFTC track, stylistically, in many ways.

Perhaps AmRep had abandoned a lot of their noisier strains by 1997–I don’t know. Gaunt continues the heavily rock/punk feeling of both RFTC and Calvin Krime, with the rapid patter of pop-punk drumming but a rather windmill-chord style rocking guitar. Vocals cross somewhere between the sneer of pop-punk and the sandpaper edging of a vocalist like RFTC’s Reis. The guitar is great, its lead loose and bendy, never showy, just pointy enough to make itself known. There’s a brief interlude for some cool tom drumming, and then a perfect ending.

Servotron may be the most interesting find, band-wise–even if not necessarily sound-wise–for me. One of those groups (actually like Supernova above) that decided to go whole-hog, naming themselves all with robot names and dressing up in costumes to emphasize their chosen subject matter and mythology, they sound like they listened to a lot of the B-52s, down to the choked-down male-female alternating vocals, but with hints of rather more Devo-style weirdness slathered over the whole thing. There’s a deliberate monotone to their vocals that is even given the “robo-voice” treatment here and there. Of course, the whole song is about robotic genocide of humans (so long as robots remain as limited as they do, we can find this weird and amusing instead of terrifying–but really weird for such devoted lyrics writing, I’d say anyway). The song actually ends up breaking down into something smoother and less stilted toward the end, with a rather warm and soft synth coating it, their vocals finally reaching the title: “Initiate! The matrix of perfection!” repeated until the song ends in a cleverly placed sudden stop.

When you find someone talking about the Dope-Guns series, they usually speak rather highly of it–and now I can see why. I’m going to have to resist the temptation to explore a number of these bands in greater depth now, but I doubt that resistance will last long. It’s a great mix of styles, never seeming like it wants anything more than to showcase interesting sounds from interesting bands–not force you to buy other records (indeed, these tracks are exclusive to the series, in most if not all cases, barring modern compilations and reissues), nor to give you that record to make you seem “cool” by annoying the hell out of anyone else with weird noises. The weird noises, instead, seem like just another iteration of interesting sounds.

Give this thing a spin, actually. You’ll probably find something you like in here somewhere!

  • Next Up: Guest Writers!

¹There are at least three largely useless genres I know of–not useless for content, but useless as labels, they’ve been stretched and abused so significantly that little if any clear thread is left to connect them. “Indie”/”indie rock” is one of those. It means way too many things, yet there’s a vague, nebulous idea there, of some kind. And it’s not on this record. Mostly. 

²I’ve been accused of writing things that require too much music knowledge to make sense to the unfamiliar on my last blog, but it’s hard to think of appropriate voices. Mudhoney was relatively popular during the early grunge surge, though never as popular as they were hoped/expected to be. Alice Donut have never left the underground, not really, so I’m sorry for that one. But it’s what I hear! And if you know those bands, cool–I’m talking to the lots-of-people-I-know don’t, and operating on statistical probabilities. Besides, it’s a footnote.

Day Forty-Nine – Needle-Scratch: Dan Friel – Total Folkore

Thrill Jockey Records ■ THRILL 324

Released February 19, 2013
Recorded by Dan Friel





Side One: Side Two:
  1. Ulysses
  2. Windmills
  3. Valedictorian
  4. Intermission #1
  5. Velocipede
  1. Scavengers
  2. Intermission #2
  3. Thumper
  4. Landslide
  5. Intermission #3
  6. Swarm
  7. Badlands

My last blog was actually named for a song by the band Parts & Labor, about whom I eventually wrote there,  and this was partly in the interest of a title that implied the aim I had, and partly as a result of my overriding love of the band, particularly the album Mapmaker. After they released the follow-up to that one, though (Receivers) I actually caught them live with my friend (and former manager) Gerald who had introduced me to them with that lasting and evocative phrase, “Music to melt your brain”. At that show, I expanded my awareness of their work by picking up BJ Warshaw’s Shooting Spires album (by his side/solo project, Shooting Spires, of course) as well as Dan Friel’s then-exclusive release (barring an extremely limited EP I am FAR too late for), Sunburn. Sunburn was a quick little release, 7 tracks and less than 20 minutes, and released on what could’ve been a 3″ CD but was instead a neat little partially clear one. It was the noisiest, strangest, most experimental side of Parts & Labor distilled, devoid of vocals, yet still imbued with hooks.

I intended to pick up the followup, Ghost Town, but things got a little maddening around that time, and it slipped by me. I did actually pick it up eventually, and it continued the aesthetic of Sunburn pretty openly, but with the increased fidelity that had begun to show up on Parts & Labor records around the same time. The tones and sounds Friel chose were indicative of the kind he was working into those records, though the solo nature of the project lends a different fele to them.

The magic of social media was the method by which I was informed that more solo material was forthcoming–a 12″ here (“Valedictorian/Exoskeleton”), a digital single there (“Thumper”)–and so when the record itself was announced, I was finally pushed over the edge by the fact that I’d started this blog, and it would mean an opportunity to talk about Friel’s solo work here. Perhaps that’s an odd reason–something like the reverse of a label sending me a promotional copy, but it was the final reason (coloured vinyl was icing on the cake, of course). I actually ordered it directly from Thrill Jockey, who were kind enough to notify me before shipping it that they were now bundling the LP with his previous 12″ (the “Valedictorian/Exoskeleton” one), and, since I had ordered both already at the same time, I was going to be getting the bundle price. I don’t know if a bunch of people did this, if it was a systematic decision, or if some kind soul just saw what I’d ordered and decided to cut me a break. Kudos to the label in any case, and you can grab the same bundle from the same link above (which I’ll go ahead and admit I recommend now).

I’ve had the record for about a week, and have been resisting listening to it because I do write here, and it seems like I shouldn’t break things in before their time here. However, I’m currently backlogged by two days in my normally more alphabetical progression, and was already planning on multiple entries for my day off anyway, so after waking up this morning, I decided I’d just go all-in with the idea, break the pattern and do so for the fact that I, for once, have a new release in advance (I’m still waiting on my copies of Eels’ Wonderful, Glorious and the deluxe vinyl for Coheed and Cambria‘s The Afterman, as well as a stack of stuff from Bill Baird, including his new album). I haven’t got much reach, but a “zero day” review for an artist I appreciate seems like the right thing to do–so I’m doing it. I’ll return to our regularly scheduled alphabet following this–hence the sub-title “needle-scratch”: this is an abrupt and sudden inclusion, and one that may mark a new, intermittent trend.

When you begin Total Folkore, “Ulysses” may throw you off a bit, depending on what you are expecting. A tone that grates in the sense that alarms do drops and holds for a moment, before a murky, distorted electronic beat begins at a very deliberate pace. Friel largely works in analogue sound manipulation, usually a keyboard with a stack of pedals all over it to modify the sounds being produced (live, at least–but I can’t imagine the studio is hugely different). This rumbling stomp is enhanced by revving squeals that all come together into one higher pitch, which gives way to the melody of the song, a catchy and appealing one that obscures the impression of purely abrasive atonal noise that the unfamiliar might be left with at first glance. It doesn’t speed the tempo of the song up much, though it is a bit faster than the underlying beat. It periodically frays into that same, unified note of noise that introduced it in the first place. Even in the space of a song almost thirteen minutes long (to call this a record for his solo work is an understatement: he hit half of that on a single song, and even that one was a good minute longer than the next longest) it’s hard to describe the feeling of Dan’s style. The melody does mutate and change over the course of the track, finding points of increased atonality and other moments of sweeter clarity. About a third of the way through, the melody circles upward like it was shot there, and some atonal pitches give way to a sort of pause: the beat dissolves into a series of foot-step like stomps, accented by fanning buzzes that rise up and disappear, shift in pitch and length. A pillar of sound that seems to shoot off distortion and pitches like crackling bolts and the seemingly acoustic rhythm of metal on glass appear and manage to return the song to its origins, enhanced by the “soloing” of that central tone’s modulations, throwing off sparks and flames as it runs forward, even doing so without the beat for a moment. It’s reminiscent of the layering of digital electronic music, strains added and removed as the song progressed, but with all the messy semi-unpredictable elements that come with analogue equipment.

“Windmills” sounds like a crowded, urban environment played at about ten times its regular speed, overlaid with the crinkled, limited bloomp of 8-bit-esque drum machine kicks and a skittering curl of melodious repetition, though the “environment” sound somehow fuses into a single buzz that permeates all of it. It’s like a broken dance track, almost, the beat still strong but the melody’s downward stroke giving it a sudden halt at each repetition.

Being the track “truly” released as a single, “Valedictorian” has all the hallmarks of latter-era Parts & Labor Friel sounds: the rhythm is built on a noise that more resembles a guitar, chugging along on a single chord for eight rapid beats at a time, though a drum-style beat is added later to fill the bottom end. The melody is the scratchy distortion of a rounded kazoo sound, though it first appears in swirling, ethereal form, undistorted, at the very opening of the song, and continues to hide in the background. The focus is pretty clearly on the “kazoo” form, though, as the “rhythm guitar” and the shortly appearing drums work at a regular pace to draw the lines underneath it. It’s interesting the way Friel uses them: they’re like a combination of lead guitar and vocal lines in the way that the song is built around them, as they seem to both draw out the melody of the song and “sing” out a rhythm that is codified to the beat established by the song. It’s worthy of its single release, being one of the less abrasive and catchiest of the songs on the album, the melody a great hook in spite of its strange manifestation. Keep an ear out for the introduction of a sort of piano-esque layer to the “rhythm guitar”.

There are three “Intermission” tracks on the album, and the first sounds largely like tuning rapidly through radio stations to create a rhythm, though it crackles just a bit too much to actually be such a thing.

A big soft-bottomed synth-style sound controls the beat of “Velocipede”, which ends up weaving something more like a set of varying melodies into its whole sound than a melody and a rhythm. A falling melody that harmonizes into a slowly rising one is around the same place in the mix as the pitched-beat synth, and has hiding in it (if one listens carefully) the viola of Karen Waltuch, which adds little bits of connective tissue to that central sound. The song seems to expand as it goes, ending in the two primary parts alternating in isolation from each other.

The introduction to “Scavengers” implies a scattered and expansive kind of track, but as all the sound collapse into each other and then out of existence, the determined poundings of sixteenth (at least) notes in rubbery bass-style keys begin to nimbly dance away in the background, as the sweeping squeal of electronic noise that is the signature of careful turning of knobs to modulate sound wails over top, the brilliant introduction of a drum machine beat gives the song serious legs–about eight of them, even if it’s only adding five beats (1,2,3,4&). It’s like a melding of pretty noises and the harder end of acid house–something to that effect. An absolute standout on the album, for its sheer energy.

The second “Intermission” sounds like a busy street corner or a train station, with the mostly clear, tube-like snakes of noise seeming to echo out alone and unnoticed–I like to think it’s the sound of someone like Friel acting as a strange, electronic busker, the crowds treating this as no different from an acoustic one. Largely that unfortunately means ignoring, but there’s something pleasing to me about the idea that someone is out on a sidewalk or up against a tube station wall playing strange, slightly dissonant (slightly in this case, anyway) electronically blooped melodies and no one is angry or swearing at the “weird noises”, but taking it as just another example of solo musicianship.

“Thumper” was released to music websites as the “single” for the album, and it’s no wonder. While “Valedictorian” made sense as an isolated physical release last year, “Thumper” carries a more distinct distillation of this album’s sound and the variegated sound of Friel as a solo artist. Another rapid beat, this one a mess of fuzz and chattering, though a booming stomp lands at a steady pace with it. The melody is piercing, gaining speed as it develops, hinting an upward turn repeatedly before it turns back down. Then the melody curls back in on itself and a new yammering beat slides in on top of the rest, shifting pitch steadily, and eventually being joined by a rhythm that wouldn’t be out of place in the more frenetic works of Squarepusher. Echoing out over nothing but the booming thump (ahem) of the low end of the beat, the melody soars out like a lone and proud beacon, but it’s rejoined by the wild yammer that carries the song off to–a sudden swipe, as if the song were wiped away.

The beat behind “Landslide” calls to mind a marching band, or at least the chest-mounted bass drum style of playing that goes along with one, though with a bit more soul than the most well-established pieces for such groups. A harmonized melody with little swirls of noise alongside it cruises in before holding, a new one developing underneath that seems to move along precociously in its simple changes in pitch. A chugging fills in behind it and fills the gaps that were left, but the piece suddenly drops all but the melody and a harsh buzzing beat in the midrange. The melody seems to almost lose pace briefly, but it’s actually an echo from another sound reproduction that’s just mirroring the melody slightly out of step. The buzzing beat, which is like a charging, riff-based guitar lead, takes over, but it’s chopped and re-arranged electronically, halting and turned up and down, the song becoming increasingly chaotic and tangled, with the melody its only rescue, played in isolation but for its companion swirls and squeals. And so it pounds off into the sunset.

The last “Intermission” has the sound of a train crossing, though interspersed with it are the tweets and bleeps of keys, a gentle and sustained, slow hum of a melody hiding deep in the background as the three beats of a sound I’m convinced is not (but is modeled after) the warnings of an approaching train insistently plays out.

“Swarm” has an introduction composed of the kind of stretched swells of electronic noise to no backing in its introduction that mark some of my favourite Parts & Labor songs, but the rhythms that follow are like an orchestra of power tools and industrial machinery, sampled and clanking to a defined beat. The melody is filled with nervous energy, trying to escape the boundaries set on it by the knobs that control its sound, attempting to work its way past each turn of them Friel gives, and seemingly succeeding partway through, a deep vibrating hum taking control of the song from below and centering its flares and tattered edges. The deep hum takes over like a rhythm guitar asserting its riff as the anchor of the song, but it all disappears in an industrial buzz.

The album closes with “Badlands”, matching a booming kick with snare follow to a melody that at first seems to just buzz and crackle, but soon resolves into a rollercoaster of melodic motion, riding up and down varying crests of electronic “bloops” that don’t seem to repeat themselves with much regularity, or even function as octave-changed repeats. There’s a kind of chorus where it disappears in favour of aggressive buzzing, making the track something like an industrial metal bit, but being betrayed by the appeal of a bright and cheerful melody.

The first thing that struck me about Friel’s solo work came from “Dead Batteries” on Sunburn, which I vaguely suspect is named because it either came from them, or because it does just sound like the limited output of a device’s dying batteries attempting to force regular work through. While the melodic style echoed the sounds he added to Parts & Labor, it was immediately apparent that nothing like the restrictions of vocal pop work were going to be applied to this music.

Total Folkore is not an exception to any of this: it’s abrasive, atonal, dissonant sounds sculpted into pretty, catchy little ditties, in complete defiance of the roars, squeaks, and theoretically grating aural palette they are built from. If you aren’t prepared for this, you might either find yourself plugging your ears too soon, or fainting dead away at the way that these two things are melded, completely without a sense of pretension or contrived experimentation. Like his prior two releases, Friel sounds like he’s making music from noises he appreciates himself, turning it into songs he likes the sound of, unconcerned with being specifically unique, or with being palatable to the point of homogenization or softening. The harsh elements, the aggressive, the speedy, the forceful–none of them really even seem like a direct and active contrast with the melodies or the catchy portions of songs, so much as part of an overall sound that just happens to be built from the two of them.  The new emphasis on rhythm, in contrast with the occasional absence and lighter focus on the last two is welcome and helps to bring a more complete and less skeletal feel to the work as a whole.

This isn’t an album that’s going to be ground-breaking in the sense of the kind you stick on a shelf and proudly look at, knowing you own a piece of history–if it breaks ground, if it holds a place it could easily deserve, it’s going to do so as it plays out of speakers, under needles, streams of binary data, under the light of lasers. It’s not going to be an album that you “have to” listen to, it will be one you want to listen to–maybe you will “have to” as well, but that will be secondary to desire, or will soon give way to it. It’s not the sort of thing you can readily expect if you haven’t heard this kind of music before, at the least in the form of bands that work it in with “normal” instrumentation, but if you keep your ears open and allow for the grating sounds to unexpectedly coalesce and become something enjoyable, you’ll find that’s exactly what they do.