Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe – I Declare Nothing (A Recordings)

2015 has been a very different year for Anton Newcombe, musically speaking. Though he’s best known as the singer and leader of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, this year he’s put out two anomalies in his discography – a mostly instrumental soundtrack to a non-existent French film (Musique de Film Imagine), and this collaborative album with Canadian singer Tess Parks. I’ve been listening to BJM long enough to know what to expect from Anton, who writes, plays almost all the instruments, and throws in vocals on two tracks. However, the spotlight on I Declare Nothing is really on Tess Parks, a wildcard to me, as I was unfamiliar with the 2013 album she recorded for Alan McGee post-Creation label 359 Music, titled Blood Hot. She’s got something interesting going with her voice, which combines a gravelly Joan Jett-esque tone with the dreamy melodies of a Hope Sandoval. It’s not the most flexible singing voice I’ve heard, but she does her one thing and does it well. As for I Declare Nothing, the songs are rather simple which is what you expect when one guy is playing most of the instruments, and the whole collaboration feels a bit rushed, yet despite all the limitations in place, I’m impressed with just how enjoyable the album is. “Cocaine Cat” is pure Anton-by-numbers in it’s melody and chord structure (both of which harken back to “Hide and Seek”) , but Parks’ voice shines hardest on the track, making it a winner. “Gone” is cool too, with a slinky garage-folk beat and Anton’s voice making a rare appearance (he also sings a bit on “Melorist”). I would like to see what kind of album these two could make with a full-on band and some additional time to further develop their ideas, but for now this will do just fine.

Various Artists – 60 Songs From The Cramps’ Crazy Collection (Righteous Records)

This is the forth compilation of songs from Lux and Ivy of The Cramps’ vast personal collections of ’50s/’60s vinyl oddities to be released on Righteous Records, which has me wondering “how is this a thing?” Don’t get me wrong, I love The Cramps, but commercially they were just a moderately successful cult act. So, how exactly is there enough of a marketplace to warrant four discs of music taken from their record collection? As for me, I was initially excited by these comps, which focused on all shapes and sizes of pre-Beatle oddballs in a variety of styles, from rockabilly, to surf, to R&B to doo-wop; but now that I’ve spent some time with them, I hear the concept getting stretched super thin and I’m worn out on songs that focus on “zaniness” over songcraft.

The latest volume is a double-disc with no less than sixty(!) new entries, which is simply too much volume for the gatekeepers to keep any kind of quality control in place. Worse, with four similarly themed compilations (not even counting those on other labels) and over one-hundred songs, many of the musical tropes are repeated in multiple songs. There are a couple of good rockabilly numbers here but the only track that really stands out among the sixty is a doo-wop number by The Blenders called “Don’t Fuck Around With Love”. The song is garden variety doo-wop, but it is still legitimately shocking to hear a song with cursing dating all the way back from 1953, when profanity was almost non-existent in recorded entertainment in America. I just wish the rest of the songs could deliver the same shocks.

Really Red – Teaching You The Fear: The Complete Collection 1979-1985 (Alternative Tentacles)

Teaching You the Fear: Complete Collection 1978-85

Politics and punk rock have always gone hand in hand, but their relationship got a little deeper in the early-1980’s when hardcore bands in every city across the country were spitting venom towards society, Reagan, and pretty much anything else mainstream America was forcing down the throats of disaffected youth. This was especially true in Texas where outfits like The Dick, Big Boys, MDC and Really Red were all lashing out hard against their straight-laced surroundings. Teaching You The Fear compiles Really Red’s entire recorded output, some of which has been nearly impossible to find for decades.

The band hailed from the then ultra-conservative city of Houston, and they were definitely not shy about putting their opinions in their songs. Over the course of 44 tracks they mouth off on a large variety of political/cultural issues, including racism, starvation, nuclear war, entertainment as commerce, and the mob mentality of small-minded punks. With such intense socio-political fervor it should be no surprise that they found a supporter in Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra, who released this double-disc retrospective on his Alternative Tentacles label, and also handled the remastering.

It begins non-chronologically with 1981’s Teaching The Fear album. While you’d have to call the music hardcore, their approach to the genre was anything but standard, sporting a musical vocabulary that included post-punk, free jazz, and even a double-time VU-styled number called “Nico” (and yes, the song is about Nico). 1985’s Rest In Pain follows, and while the music is similar in scope, there’s a less appealing metallic edge to the recording. It does however feature a live cover of Red Krayola’s “War Sucks” and a 19-minute sound collage (“Just The Facts Ma’am” – which is separated from the rest of the album and relegated to the final track on disc two) which again show that the band had more to them than your typical hardcore outfit. Disc two features the band’s early singles, compilation appearances (punky cover of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” anyone?), live tracks, and the New Strings For Old Puppets EP from 1982, which features more of a standard hardcore sound, but also some of their best songs, like the absolutely raging “Teenage Fuck Up”.

Almost as crucial as the music are the liner notes, which feature an interview with Really Red’s singer Ronald “U-Ron” Bond, that vividly detail the struggle and frustration of being interested in underground culture in a haven of extreme Right Wing conservatism. It also explains why the band stepped outside the conventions of punk and hardcore so frequently – quite simply, they were older, and had a good decade or so of music fandom in them before hardcore was hatched, as evidenced by Bond’s stories of seeing concerts by The MC5, Velvet Underground and 13th Floor Elevators as a teen, and being totally inspired by them.

Garage D’Or Records – 11 Album Mega-Review

I recently received a package of eleven CDs from Garage D’Or Records, including many releases from three decades as prime documenters of the Minneapolis music scene. Since there hasn’t been much else for me to review lately, here’s a rundown of all eleven albums:

The Suicide Commandos – The Commandos Commit Suicide Dance Concert

This is a recording of the last Suicide Commandos concert, which happened at Jay’s Longhorn in Minneapolis on 11/24/78. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, you should probably investigate their lone studio album (Make A Record) first, a fiery platter of Midwest rock and roll released on Mercury’s punk subsidiary Blank Records in 1977. But, if you have that album, and you need more Suicide Commandos in your life, this live album is a corker. The Commandos (they dropped the “Suicide” from their name by this point) split time between originals and well-selected covers over the course of 32 songs (selected from 50 played that night!), attacking each with the kind of live-wire energy you expect, but also a level of musical precision that most “punk” bands couldn’t match.

The Suburbs – High Fidelity Boys: Live 1979

Another 32 track live album recorded at Jay’s Longhorn, this time documenting Minneapolis five-some The Suburbs over the course of several concerts throughout 1979. I have to admit this is my first exposure to the band, who were popular locally for about a decade from 1977-1987, but never could break through nationally. It’s not a good first exposure either. While I imagine these shows were fun for those who attended, the recordings are lo-fi, and the band’s defining characteristics are bad vocals and sloppy playing. Skip it.

L7-3 – Men of Distinction

L7-3 were Chris Osgood and Dave Ahl’s post-Suicide Commandos outfit, with local engineer Steve Fjelstad handling the bass. Men Of Distinction collects their recorded output for the first time, featuring 18 tracks from 1980-81 that sat on Fjelstad’s shelf until 2009. Much like The Suicide Commandos, the playing is tight and energetic, but with a meatier bottom end than the Commandos, likely a bi-product of having bassist also do the engineering. This album should feel be a revelation of New Wave and Punk Rock crossing paths, but I can’t quite jive with Osgood’s goofy Devo-aping vocals.

Barefoot & Pregnant

A 1982 compilation meant to document the burgeoning Minneapolis rock scene of the time. While the album is well known in some circles for featuring rare early recordings of The Replacements, Husker Du and Loud Fast Rules (who would become Soul Asylum), don’t go forking over your money just yet. These songs were all donated from really crappy cassette recordings, so it’s not a great representation of any of the bands. In fact, on The Replacements’ contribution (a live cover of Motorhead’s “Ace Of Spades”), you can almost hear the song beneath the tape hiss if you try really hard. While the comp is commendable as a document of the different elements that made up the local scene (everything from Mecht Mensch’s thrashy hardcore blur to Lou Santacroce’s solo country/blues) the sound quality is consistently awful.


Similar in concept to the aforementioned Barefoot & Pregnant, the Kitten compilation significantly ups the shitty sound quality quotient significantly with songs from two nights of live shows recorded at local punk dive Goofy’s Upper Deck. If Husker Du sound sloppy and out of tune on their three songs, then what chance do garden variety HC thrashers Todlachen, Ground Zero and Willful Neglect stand? Loud Fast Rules, moonlighting under the moniker Proud Crass Fools, deliver the set’s only highlight with their album-opening take on CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising”.

Man Sized Action – Five Story Garage

Although Man Sized Action were part of the Minneapolis scene dating back to 1980, 1984’s Five Story Garage was just their second album. The album’s eight songs sound great and are performed with the kind of verve you want to hear from a band spawned during the hardcore zeitgeist. Perhaps you could make an argument for Man Sized Action as an alternate version of Mission of Burma or Husker Du (whose Bob Mould recorded their first album in 1983), or even a next generation take on Wire. That’s an interesting proposition; however, they’re a decidedly second tier talent, displaying very little grasp of songwriting or band dynamics. Everything sounds pretty similar from song to song, which is a real shame. Eight bonus tracks from a 1986 live show give a glimpse into what a third Man Sized Action album might have sounded like had the band stayed together. To me it just sounds like more of the same.

Baby Grant Johnson – A Lonesome Road and All Over Your Town

Two albums, dating from 1997 and 2000 respectively, in the early folk-blues style. A mix of covers and originals, Johnson’s voice doesn’t have the natural grit and grime needed to successfully pull this kind of music off. He actually sounds a bit like Paul Westerberg, which is great for fronting The Replacements, but wrong for acoustic covers of Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes and the like.

The Blood Shot – Wake Up and Die Right and Straight Up

Early hard rock and heavy metal rule the day on these two albums, dating from 2003 and 2004. Normally that kind of thing hits my musical sweet spot, but The Blood Shot are at best clumsy practitioners, and at worst complete amateurs. Andrew Kereakos sings like any random guy in his twenties, the production stinks, and their cover of Pentagram’s “Forever My Queen” found on Straight Up is as horrible as the original is amazing.

Mazhar ve Fuat – Türküz Türkü Çagiririz! (Shadok’s Music)

I always jump at the opportunity to review late-60s and early-70s Anatolian rock reissues. The combination of hard-edged psychedelia and Turkish folk motifs, best exemplified in albums from Baris Manco, Erkin Koray and Cem Karaca, usually makes for a fun listen. However, this 1973 album is one of the weakest I’ve heard. The band’s two principle members (Aziz Fuat Guner and Mazhar Alanson) first met as teens in 1966, bonding over The Beatles. Seven years later they recorded their sole album, and by that time their tastes had moved on to folk rock with mild remnants of psychedelia. That’s all good and well but their execution leaves a lot to be desired. The duo’s biggest flaw is the their vocals, which are largely devoid of emotion or personality. In fact, two songs with lead vocals from an unnamed female guest singer (good luck getting info from the clumsy liner notes) are the album’s best. But singing isn’t the only shortcoming – the duo also fall victim to stale songwriting and boring musicianship. The worst offender is also the album’s only English language song, “Upside Down”, which combines generic hippie-dippy folk-rock and terribly dated protest lyrics about how “we gotta turn the whole damn thing upside down”. Oddly enough, the album has provided beats for Action Bronson and Oh No tracks. So there’s that.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Musique De Film Imagine (A Recordings)

Paying homage to the great European film directors of the ’50s and ’60s through a largely instrumental soundtrack to a film that doesn’t actually exist? That’s a pretty far-fetched premise for most bands, but The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s music has often required (and rewarded) a certain open mindedness and suspension of disbelief from listeners, so it’s no surprise that they’re tackling such a lofty concept. I’ll warn you now: don’t pick up Musique De Film Imagine because you’re expecting it to sound like any of the other albums in the BJM discography, because you’ll be disappointed. Pick it up if you like the band, but also like soundtrack music. This means that you don’t get to hear Anton’s voice on the album, or anyone else in the band’s voice for that matter. “Philadelphie Story” and “Le Sacre du Printemps” are the only songs to feature vocals, but both are sung in French by non-band members SoKo and Asia Argento, respectively (yes, Asia Argento the film actress). Elsewhere, just like a “real” soundtrack, there are several incidental pieces and full band instrumental explorations that develop repeating themes and motifs over the album’s forty minutes. While I probably won’t be listening to Musique de Film Imagine as frequently as other BJM releases from the past 20 years, it still works well as a cohesive piece of film music, reminding me of Air’s soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides or perhaps some of Tindersticks’ soundtracks for Claire Denis’ films.

Dengue Fever – Deepest Lake (Tuk Tuk Records)

If you’ve been following Dengue Fever’s music for the past decade, then chances are good you know exactly what to expect from Deepest Lake. The band’s fifth full length gives listeners ten additional slices of their trademark mix of surf pop, garage rock and psychedelia, with Chhom Nimol’s distinctive Khmer-language vocals still the their defining feature. You won’t find any major shake-ups or curveballs on Deepest Lake’s grooves outside of the song “No Sudden Moves” which delivers minor surprises in the form of a brief rap section and some ’60s-styled horns that have me thinking the band would make good touring partners with Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings. Besides that, it’s business as usual for the band, albeit with a sharper production than any of their other albums. Although that’s not enough to make Deepest Lake a vital album that will be the cornerstone of many music collections for decades to come, it is good fun and that’s enough for me to recommend it.