Monday, 20 February 2012

Dystopia - S/T LP

As much as I wish all the bands I listened to were first heard on warped old tape-traded cassettes, it simply isn't the case. I have no friends into anything resembling the same music as myself, no-one ever told me to check out a band, no other person is responsible for my shitty taste in unlistenable noise. Every band I've ever had an interest in, bought a record, tape or CD by, I've hunted down for myself. I've never tried to impress anyone with what I listen to because there isn't a soul for 100 miles around worth impressing. New discoveries are primarily made through the endless sites like this one, isolated, lonely weirdos screaming out into the digital void, trying to get across what certain music means to them. It's through hours trawling these collections of 1s and 0s looking for someone who hears music the same way that I kept seeing this name popping up. Dystopia.

They are described by endless copied and pasted biographies as 'a sludge band from CA, USA. The band formed in Orange County, California in 1991, and were popular in both the heavy metal and crust punk scenes, due in large part to their bleak misanthropic imagery. Their lyrics often dealt with human emotion and sociopolitical issues such as environmentalism, racial equality, animal rights, and veganism.
Dystopia is a soundtrack for the world as we know it today. Their sound embodies all of the horrors, pain, agony and desperation of modern day society.'
I remember reading that and thinking holy fuck, how could I NOT like this band?!
I mean, I'm all for not killing the planet, the abolition of every -ism from sex to race, but the vegan part, not so much. I try to be a good person in as many ways as I can, but it's not my fault animals are so goddamn delicious.

So with the indirect recommendations of endless internet nerds, I set about tracking down some of their releases. This self-titled album was their swansong, released in '08 shortly before they disbanded.

I just want to comment on how refreshing it is to see something different in terms of artwork. I am so fucking sick of every single goddamn crust/sludge/powerviolence/whatever record using that long-redundant cut/pasted flyer, photocopy, scratch-y logo aesthetic. It's the 21st century, who even uses photocopiers anymore?!
So to look upon this sleeve with it's weird hand-drawn '90s graff-style fonts and detailed full-colour collages is a sight for sore (and bored) eyes. Though all the usual thematic staples are present; tyrants/leaders, disaffected dissidents, nuclear armaments, landscapes of destruction, mental patients, capitalist symbols, it's nice to see them shown in a more interesting manner. That said, I'm gonna get down to the music now...

The album opens with the buzz of warm amps and feedback, and an extended sample of various Eckhart Tolle philosophies, on everything from fear, politics, materialism, to the sense of self. I'm not overly familiar with Tolle, but a few things heard in this overlapped rambling fragments ring true. I'll investigate further, my curiosity is sufficiently piqued. The background drones on forebodingly, backing the sample for a couple of minutes before anything resembling an actual riff enters the picture. The riff has a Sleep-y tone, warm and enveloping.
'Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry...' are easily discerned from the sampled self-help, and those are feelings that become all too familiar throughout the listening of this record.

Just over 3 minutes into the first track, the pace picks up, the riff digging into a creepy crawly little groove. Reading along with the lyrics, it seems that they used the samples as the basis for debate, questioning Tolle's ideas of rejecting past and future, living in the now; "if past and future don't exist, where the fuck does that leave us? [...] I hang my head in sorrow because the now is too disgusting to see".
It's an interesting approach, most sludge bands just use samples because it's a trademark of the genre, and it's the 'cool' thing to do, to sample the most obscure and shocking horror movie / police report. I prefer the sample to actually mean something relevent to the song.

The second track 'Control All Delete' jumps straight into the song, no buildup or sample. The tempo ain't exactly breakneck by any stretch of the imagination, but seeing as Dystopia are loved by both sludge obsessives and crusties alike, it sits comfortably between these two paces. The vomitous dual vocal attack keeps things interesting, switching between voices as the song changes gear, developing a groove, a swing. Things switch between these two tones and tempos until the track careens to an abrupt end.

'Leaning With Intent To Fall' is another sample-led song, it's first couple of minutes taken up with the warped logic of a junkie. I have a deep loathing of anyone weak enough to fall prey to heroin, so listening to this, presumably real, interview take place really boils my blood. A couple of sentences in the most filthy, atonal guitar abuse starts up in the background. It's not a riff, it's not feedback, it's a hacking, violent thing. It's the sound of a pickaxe for a plectrum and rusted wire for strings. Improvised drums are an accompanying assault.
This death rattle music is like the free jazz to the beat poetry of empty justifications.

The defeated words of the substance abuser give way to an eruption of the RIFF! This is one of those moments where it doesn't matter what you're doing, you NEED to bang your head or do SOMETHING immediately. Lamentations on those lost to the filth people put in their veins, and the difficulty in living with the choices that other people make comprise the lyrical content. It's a weird juxtaposition, considering it's such a musically enjoyable song, that riff just DARING you not to move yourself.

The next track is just a sample with eerie ambient backing. More audio collage, overlapping samples all vying for your attention, each barely discernable among the throng of mad rantings and ravings.
The passages I can make out seem to be an interview with a mentally ill meth/coke/speed-fuelled woman, spewing forth her broken life story, conspiracies plotted against her, the paranoia and giddy glee with which she recounts her harrowing lowest points, leaving you terrified that those deemed 'cured' and 'fit for society' by whatever body thinks itself worthy of passing such judgement, are really very fucking far from it. These people are out there, walking the same streets as you.

Side B opens with 'Illusion Of Love', a song originally written by drummer Dino's old band Carcinogen, recorded for posterity here. It's opening riff is more traditionally crusty, buzzing to life for a coupla bars before manic grinding drums crash in behind it. The vocals are delivered in a throat-shredding acid-gargling yell. The speed section shifts down MANY gears to an ascending riff, sounding more menacing with each move up the fretboard.
The tempo increases, the sound of a drunk and belligerent behemoth staggering and mutter-growling to itself. Weird, the mental images you get from something as simple as 4 notes and some distortion, huh?
The giant lumbers until the song's grind finale. See what i did there, eh? Eh? My shitty wordplay humour is wasted on the internet...

Penultimate song 'Number One Hypocrite' is probably the most straight-ahead undiluted sludge track here, nailing all the genre staples in a succinct 3 minutes. There ain't much else I want to say about this track. I'm starting to get pretty burnt out on typing all this shit. It's a good song, there, done.

'My Meds Aren't Working'. Fucking hell. What a way to end an album. It's a slow-burner, even by sludge standards. Well, at least for a couple of minutes until one of the most corrosive, downright nasty sounding songs ever comes spewing out of my speakers. I'm surprised the air doesn't start to blacken and reek as the notes fill it. If that makes it sound like a bad song, it ain't. It still 'rocks', though that is a terrible term. This disgusting mess actually grooves.

Actually, I'll use that last sentence as the summation of the whole damn album.

You can still pick this up from a few places. I got my copy from the always excellent
Take a look at the rest of their selection while you're browsing, it veers mostly towards the crustier end of the spectrum. A tonne of great stuff available from that distro.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

His Hero Is Gone - Dead Of Night In 8 Movements 7"

I can't stop listening to this band. They're pretty much all I want to hear these days, everything from the music to the words, it all just fits. I got this 7" through a few days ago now, and I've spun it a bunch of times, not knowing whether to write about it or just fucking enjoy it. I've decided it deserves writing about.

Opening with piano of all things, this debut record sets the tone for what would be an extremely short-lived, but extremely prolific and important band's output. 'Epidemic' lulls you into a false sense of security with those haunting chiming notes before the drums burst through like a dawn raid. The majority of bands working within the crust ouvre stick to the tried and tested d-beat rhythm, but HHIG are not like the majority of bands. They have complex rhythms, tempo shifts, blending styles without any sense of showing off. They might have created filthy, distorted, snarling beasts of songs, but goddamn these guys could play.

So the first track gives you a taste of this being something far higher than your average blast of disortion and rage. The heavy section gives way to gently plucked strings, calm before the storm, a dynamic they would use many times throughout their future discography.
Anyway, the guitars and bass growl to life, prowling the perimeter before Todd Burdette's hoarse howl joins them. My interpretation of the lyrics 'Conquered lands will soon forget the human cancer that infects...' are of the cold, raw desolation of the Earth that almost inevitably awaits the extinction of mankind (little crust reference for ya there!). The world has been turning long before we were a single-celled organism, and it'll be turning, a shallow husk, long after we've all rotted into the barren earth and our bones are dust.
They perfectly encapsulate the post-apocalyptic mindset in a single line. Most artforms spend hundreds of pages, hours of film, and whole albums trying to achieve this.

'Headcount' continues in much the same vein, adding in a dissonant guitar tone that countless bands since have emulated. It makes for uncomfortable listening. Which I suppose is the point. This was an band uncomfortable with the way the world was going, who decried advancements in technology, the computer age, as the surveillance tools of the governments and big business. In fact, I'm sure they would hate the idea of me sitting here analysing their music and words instead of being out making a difference for good in the real world. I'll do it tomorrow. Or sometime. Apathy will be the death of us all.

I don't think I've ever rambled so much during such a short record (grand running time of just under 13 minutes). But they make me think, to fire up long-dormant synapses in my brain, to have an original thought or two for once in my life.

'T Minus Zero' is a short sharp shock of despair, clocking in more misery in 29 seconds than you'd hear in an entire My Dying Bride album.
'Unvisited Grave' is a song for our uncaring modern age. More distortion and shredthroat ranting about man's inhumanity to man. The most posi person in the world would be left contemplating just how despicable we are as a species by the time the needle pulls up from this side of the record.

The second side opens with 'Internally Bleeding' isn't any cheerier. Face it, by this point all optimism you once had has been drained. This is the audio equivalent of Clockwork Orange-esque brainwashing, determined to increase your cynicism and hatred for mankind tenfold. I bet these guys were great fun at parties.

'Richter' is the sound of the split-second before the bombs drop, when you realise no thickness of concrete can protect you. There are thousands upon thousands of nuclear warheads still in existence out there. Just incase you needed reminding, y'know? Amidst your day-to-day hardships and personal problems, your entire life and everything you ever cared about could all be reduced to wasteland and rubble for reasons entirely unconnected to you. Not something people like to think about as the try to get by in each of the 6 billion plus lives being lived. See what I mean about rambling? THIS SONG IS 45 FUCKING SECONDS LONG AND LOOK WHAT IT MAKES ME THINK!

'Marry and Reproduce' is a subject a bit closer to my own personal views, and is one of my favourite songs full stop, not just by this band. The continuation of the species is a basic function in most people's wiring, they need to see their bloodline extended, their name carry on. I see no sense in it. Bringing another life into the world seems a selfish act. People buy into this life pattern out of a sense of duty, because it's just what you're supposed to do. Everything in society is geared towards setting you on that path. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, all I'm saying is that most people never seem to question it. There are other ways to live your life, you hold obligations to no-one. I have had people laugh in my face for believing this and daring to want a life different from theirs.
'Senseless perpetuation of the human race in the name of tradition'.

Piercing feedback introduces 'The End Result Of 11 Months In Prison', a roar of righteous revenge plotting, before it gives way to more sparse piano notes. The music fades out as it faded in 13 minutes and a million thoughts ago.

Listen to this band. REALLY listen. They're not just another white-on-black scrawled name sewn onto someone's fashionably-ripped, crust-chic leg garments. They were, ARE, important, and they will open your mind.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Walkabouts - Setting The Woods On Fire

This was one of the first records I ever bought, and it fucking pisses me off that more people haven't heard it.
I've had two conversations about it total, one with the guy who recommended it to me, author John Connolly, and the other when I was very, very full of whisky in some pub one night, and almost hit the roof when discussing music with a much older guy I met through mutual acquaintances, and the topic somehow switched to this album.
I think I actually followed him around all night babbling about everything from the Gun Club to why he was a fuckin' asshole for dismissing Black Flag as 'bratty skater punk'. He was probably glad to get the fuck away from me after just 5 minutes of my wild-eyed, whisky-breathed ravings.

This is why I need an outlet like this shitty blog, because no-one ever talks to me about interesting music, and as soon as there's the slightest HINT of it in casual conversation, I latch on like a goddamned leech and don't let go until I've bled the subject dry.

So more people need to hear this album. And I'll tell you why.

The Walkabouts write songs like stories. They're not so much lyrics, they're tales to be told. The songs on this record take place in towns, they have characters, characters with relationships, motives and history only hinted at.
From the conspiratorial escape planners of opener 'Good Luck Morning', through the vengeful arsonist's warnings in 'Firetrap', to the grave-robber with the very best intentions of 'Up In The Graveyard', each song feels like a cautionary tale set to music.

And then there's that music. Stories like the ones in these songs could only be soundtracked by what sounds like the house band of the dimly-lit bar on the edge of town, where if you know whats good for ya, you'll keep your eyes on your drink and nowhere else. Guitars snarl and strain, the drums drive, the organ (YES, the organ! Ahh not enough bands have organ players...) lending a moodier tone, all topped off with the shared vocal duties of Carla Torgerson and Chris Eckman.
The word soulful gets tossed around to describe people who warble notes over every octave, desperate to show off their range, but rarely to describe singing that is just that, full of soul. And that's all I can think of to describe Torgerson's voice, the way she inhabits the words of the songs she sings. That sound fuckin' pretentious enough for ya? It's the best I can do to describe it.
From the first time I heard 'Bordertown', with it's aching string-bends and funeral party piano, her mournful voice given space by the music to shine, I was hooked. The vocals being split between her and Eckman, though, mean you're always left wanting more of each, neither vocalist ever outstaying their welcome, and giving a (literally) different voice and tone to each track. Going from 'Bordertown' to the following track 'Feeling No Pain', Eckman's deeper, grittier timbre couldn't be more different, but each voice suits it's respective song perfectly. It always feels cohesive.

Not every track gives me the same rush or chill as the one's I've mentioned, the mid-album track 'Old Crow' leaves me cold, it's just never grown on me, it's upbeat tempo and boogie piano seeming out of place. Same with 'Hole in The Mountain' a few tracks later, with more lively piano and a fucking horrible-sounding brass band parping all over the damn thing. But when only a couple of tracks marr an otherwise flawless record, I guess I can't complain. It's just, like, my opinion, man...

I really can't say enough good things about this album. At the young age I first heard it, when I was more concerned with finding the fastest, slowest, loudest, most abrasive music possible, they opened me up to restraint, loud/quiet dynamics, actual singing, and real narrative structure.
I'm still waiting to hear something that tells stories anything like this record almost a decade later.

Since I am trying to whore this album out so more people will hear it and talk to me about it, I'm going to do something I said I would never do on this thing... for fans of... urrrgh, here goes...
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (especially Murder Ballads/Let Love In era),
Neil Young (dig his one-string solos that go on too long? they have some of that in here!),
Mark Lanegan (that whisky-soaked baritone wouldn't sound out of place as a guest vocalist),
and even Murder City Devils, if you like escape-from-a-small-town attitude and spooky organ sounds.

You can look over their website at, somewhat predictably,
And you can pick up this album and more that I haven't heard yet through download-only apparently. Get a re-press done, Sub Pop or whoever...

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Murder City Devils - Every Day I Rise 7"

Okay, going from the origins of this band, to their first new material in a decade. This review is sort of cheating because I can't actually listen to the record, as it has that damn big hole shit going on. Who does that?
Assholes who want to be purposefully obtuse and awkward, thats who. But it did come with mp3 copies of the songs, which will have to do for now, I guess.

Opening with a chunky one-string rhythm, the production value alone belies the fact that it's been ten years since this band last put out a record. Those two notes alone sound richer, less tinny and distorted than much of the band's back catalogue. And that's by no mean a slight on the classic records, they sound perfect just the way they are. It's just that this sounds totally different. How the songs themselves sound, well, I'm getting to that.

'There's a machine between me and the page...' is the opening line from Spencer Moody, whose voice has grown from a youthful cracked yell into... well, much of the same. But there's a new-found world-weariness, sounding genuinely despondent on the chorus line of 'Every day I rise and no-one cares...'. It's a maturation from the youthful cries of a preacher's mouth with the rock n' roll heart.

When Leslie Hardy's forever-haunting organ kicks in at the 30-second mark, this starts to sound more like the band I love, like they never went away. The tone of the song is darker, more mournful than anything they ever recorded during their first go around, with the exception of parts of Thelema. It sounds like the decade away hasn't brightened their collective demeanour any.

Melvins co-drummer Coady Willis eschews his usual intricate patterns in favour of a relatively straightforward driving beat. With so much going on, from the two guitars and the organ, to Moody's howls, anything more complex would have sounded too busy. Everything about this song is perfectly judged.

B-side track 'Ball Busters In The Peanut Gallery' opens with Willis exhibiting some rhythmic flair, before warm, plaintive guitar strings are picked atop it. Fairground organ is laid over the whole thing for a couple of bars. Here comes that weird chill again. The energy level is way down on this song, but that's not a criticism.
It sounds like if the band had never called it quits, had kept plugging along for all these years playing dive bars and empty rooms, like they were determined to go down with a sinking ship.
Obviously that's not what did, or would have happened, it's just the feeling I get from the music, the strained vocal chords.

Just shy of two-minutes in, the track pauses for breath, the many layers of instruments each doing their own thing, none eclipsing the others. It sounds great. I'm not sure if it's something I'd listen to a whole lot of, but I can definitely appreciate that they didn't just throw together any old shit after all these years to give the fans something new. These sound like songs that needed to be sung, and this is the only band that could have ever played them. Nothing else sounds like this.

It is still kind of hard to associate this record with the songs I've been listening to for years, it's definitely the same band, but the feeling I get from these songs is completely different to the rush I feel hearing their older material. I guess it'll just take some time to sink in.

Order it from the band here:

Death Wish Kids - There's Nothing in School They Can't Teach You On The Streets 7"

Death Wish Kids, named after the Poison Idea song of the same name, were a chaotic, screeching, snotty seizure of a band, who were only around for a coupla years before they broke up. During that time they only released this 7" of fast, abrasive punk rock.

Pulling no punches, the record opens with the scree of feedback, driving bass and drums, before the guitar gets itself together long enough to spew out the minute-long 'AA'.

No pause for breath before discordant guitar intros the next track, 'Hood'. More verging-on-out-of-control music backs some classic bratty adolescent lyrics on this track:
'if you wanna drink... fucking drink
if you want to gamble... fucking gamble
if you want something... fucking steal it
live your life don't let anyone get in your fucking way...'
Pure poetry. Vocalist Andrea Zollo's terrifying terrier delivery doesn't give you too much chance to decipher and deeply think about what she's saying, it's all about how she says it.

The next minute of howled angsty fury, '13' goes by much the same, three chords and a whole lot of fuck you.

The second side opens with 'Lucky'; more piercing feedback, Dann Galluci eshewing actually playing the guitar in favour of just letting it ring out messily. Zollo's lyrics would have terrified any meathead sexist pigs who saw them play during their brief tenure as a band, threatening to 'fuck your shit up' and 'get your head kicked in' if anyone tried anything untoward. Pure bile and righteous fury.

'Outsider' is almost easy-listening in comparison to the rest of the record, featuring a yelled gang vocal chorus that verges on melodic. It's all over in 54 seconds though, so the respite is brief.

Next up is a cover of OG punks The Vibrator's 'Whips & Furs', so yeah... it sounds like a more insane version of that, basically.

Closing with 'Traitor', a song you might be familiar with if you're a fan of the band that two Death Wish Kids went on to form, they end the record only eight minutes after it began. An old home video clip of this song was shown in a few seconds of Rock & Roll Won't Wait, the Murder City Devils documentary, showing the band playing what looks like an instore show to a bunch of mid-90s punk creeps in Screeching Weasel jerseys. They spend most of the few seconds of footage thrashing both limbs, guitar necks and shoving audience members around. Pure chaos.

After Death Wish Kids broke up, Dann Galluci went on to form Murder City Devils with DWK bassist Derek Fudesco. After MCD broke up a few years later, Fudesco was back playing with Andrea Zollo in Pretty Girls Make Graves. When THEY broke up, Galluci and Zollo became involved with ex-Murder City Devil Spencer Moody in the awesomely named Triumph Of Lethargy Skinned Alive To Death. Murder City Devils occasionally reunite to play shows in America which I will never get to see. Expectations for a Death Wish Kids reunion, however, are low.

I have no idea where you'd get a hold of this record these days, try eBay and discogs, the usual nerdy outlets.
More info on various pressings here: