I’m Just The Drummer – Bob Bert (Hozac Books)

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Bob Bert may be “just the drummer”, but he’s got a solid indie/No Wave/punk resume, having debuted with Sonic Youth in the early-80s, and shifted in and out of projects ever since, including time spent with The Chrome Cranks, Pussy Galore, The Action Swingers and a host of others. He’s even got a new trio with Mick Collins and Kid Congo Powers, called WolfManhattan project, that has a debut album hitting shelves later this year. In addition to his work behind the kit, Bert also documented the underground music scene via the photographs and interviews found in his self-published BBGun zine from the late-’90s and early-2000’s. I’m Just The Drummer finds a common thread through all these pieces, mixing Bert’s photos and zine interviews alongside some newly written passages about his life and musical exploits.

At just over 200 photo-heavy pages, I’m Just The Drummer is thematically very muddled. It’s part biography, part zine retrospective, but those pieces do all come together to paint a larger portrait of the kinds of unique and thoughtful characters that typically inhabit the art scene. It also leaves readers feeling that Bert can walk comfortably among his heroes, yet he still remains an enthusiastic fan at heart. Enthusiasm is actually the book’s greatest quality. Even though Bert mostly came up through the downtown No Wave scene of the late-’70s and early-’80s, he’s just as excited writing about Elliott Smith and Nancy Sinatra as artists from “his scene”, like Suicide, Michael Gira, and James Chance. The best interview is with Vincent Gallo, who’s exactly as candid, hilarious and abrasive as you expect him to be, speaking freely on subjects like Christina Ricci, Jim Jarmusch and Puerto Rican girls. The interviews are a lot like the book itself – brief to the point of feeling incomplete, yet usually just long enough for the subject to drop some really interesting thoughts and ideas.

Daniel Johnston – Daniel Johnston – Hi, How Are You/Yip Jump Music (Feraltone)

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Selling someone on these albums is no easy task. Ask a room full of people, even a room full of music aficionados, “can I interest you in two albums of a mentally ill guy’s 36-year-old homemade cassette recordings?”, and you’ll likely find yourself booted from said room. Yes, Johnston’s music comes from very leftfield origins – lo-fi sound, occasional off-mic/off-key singing, sound collage flights of fancy and even some straight up mistakes. However, there’s something magical in the combination of his voice, almost child-like lyrics and tremendous songwriting ability that transcends those “shortcomings” that would have been excised from most other performers’ recordings. Here Johnston’s music occupies a unique space, where it exists almost completely free of genre or influences. It’s no wonder songs from these albums have been covered by big name artists like Karen O, Yo La Tengo, and TV On The Radio, to name but a few who have fallen under Johnston’s spell.

These two albums are Johnston’s fifth and sixth releases, respectively, and were recorded a few months apart from each other in 1983, Don’t take my word for it though; the recording dates are proudly displayed on Johnston’s hand-drawn album covers! The differences between the two are negligible: Both feature Johnston by himself, playing chord organ, some piano, guitar and even throwing in a few a cappella songs. For some reason, I prefer Yip Jump Music, which is the longer of the two albums and includes song after song brilliance, including classics like “King Kong” (later covered by Tom Waits), “Almost Got Hit By A Truck”, and “Rocket Ship”. Maybe it is has the better songs, or maybe I like it more simply because I heard it first. Hi, How Are You is no slouch either, with “Big Business Monkey”, “Running Water” and “Hey Joe” (no, not the famous one) all high-points.

Feraltone’s reissue includes both albums in one 3-LP set, complete with super-crisp remastered sound, Johnston’s original album artwork, and even a fold-out poster of Hi, How Are You’s cover art. Take the plunge. Go in at the deep end. Love it or hate it, you’ll never hear anything else like it.

Des Demonas – “The Hyena”/”Flowers From Hell” (Trick Bag Records)

The Hyena/Flowers from Hell

DC’s premiere rock group Des Demonas are back with another seven-inch to satiate appetites while they put in work on album number two. These two new songs are good, but aren’t as bulletproof as their debut album, or the 7″ that followed. “Hyena” is a fireball, with the band’s trademark sound – mid-tempo punk attack tempered with ’60s -style organ – fully intact, but the murky recording makes Jacky Cougar’s vocals hard to decipher. He sounds pissed off about something, and I want to know what it is, but the answer remains frustratingly out of reach. B-side “Flowers From Hell” is stronger, possibly just for the simple reason you can actually make out some of the vocals. Look, I wouldn’t pull the needle off of either song, but if you want to hear Des Demonas at their best (and you do), you’d be better served by the rest of their discography.

The Action – Rolled Gold (Guerssen)

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The Action were one of those “why weren’t they huge?” British bands of the mid-1960’s. On the surface, the London quartet had it all: good Motown-inspired songs, a snappy Mod image, and perhaps most importantly, the support of Beatles’ producer George Martin, who produced their early singles. Despite how good The Action looked on paper, they consistently stunk it up at the cash register, never reaching the charts despite a series of strong singles like “Shadows and Reflections” and “I’ll Keep On Holding On”. Fast forward to 1967, and The Action were at a career crossroads. Like many others at that time, they were discovering LSD, and in turn opening themselves to spirituality and a wide array of new sounds, including jazz and West Coast psychedelia. They recorded demos for their next album, displaying their new psychedelically inclined mindset, but nobody listened. George Martin essentially resigned his position as their producer to focus on The Beatles (and really, can you blame him?), gigs were drying up, and singer Reg King was losing interest fast. In fact he left The Action in early 1968 to search for success via a solo career, and the band morphed into Mighty Baby. The album they demoed – Rolled Gold – was never made.

So, what ever happened to those demos? They basically rotted away until 1995 when they were released as Brain on the Dig The Fuzz label, who then remastered and re-released them again in 1998 under their originally intended title – Rolled Gold. Since then Rolled Gold has become something of a legend among ’60s fans, earning a reputation as the band’s psychedelic high-point. Many have said that, had it been fully produced and released in 1968 we’d be talking about it as a genre classic alongside Odessy and Oracle, Ogdens Gone Nut Flake and the like. Hearing the album now you’d have to agree with that original verdict. Yes, these are demos, but they’re well recorded ones, so the sound isn’t too far off from what you expect from a finished product. Yes, the band are often too self-serious in their notions of self exploration and the lyrics frequently dip into hippie drivel, but so what? They’re on fire here, striking a delicate balance between gentle harmony-laden psych and the harder stuff where fuzz guitars and pounding drums rule the day. Opener “Come Around” would have fit in perfectly with the wistful vibe of The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society, “Look At The View” gives The Move a run for their money, and “Love Is All” shows how the band’s expanding palette allowed them to absorb influences from jazz and The Byrds. The whole album is a pleasure, but “Brain” and “In My Dream” make the strongest impression. Had The Action recorded and released this album as intended in 1968 you’d hope they would have been smart enough to make these songs the singles.

Spanish label Guerssen’s 50th anniversary reissue sounds really good, sports great liner notes by Jason Barnard, and has a gold foil embossed cover for maximum shininess.

Cromwell – At The Gallop (Got Kinda Lost Records)

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Cromwell were an Irish band from the mid-’70s likely besotted with dreams of becoming the next Thin Lizzy, Mott The Hoople, or Rolling Stones. That never happened, of course, but they did manage to get a self-released album and a few singles out into the marketplace before receding into obscurity. Decades later that album plays like a minor entry into the hard rock fray. It’s never jaw-droppingly good, but there’s enough badass swagger and period charm to keep listeners leaning forward to see where the band goes next. Guitarist Patrick Brady is worth special mention for his tasteful licks and tone, both of which impress throughout. Vocals are Cromwell’s weakness, consistently staying too overly indebted to their influences, to matter. Opener “Ireland (The Wild One)” aims for Phil Lynott, but falls several yards short of the goal line. “Down on The Town” is as close to being a cover of “Jumping Jack Flash”, as the ballad “First Day” is to Mott’s “All The Young Dudes”…and that’s just the first three songs. “Guinness Rock” is a much heavier number, with a palpable Sabbath influence in the guitar work.

Cromwell’s pre-album singles are included as bonus tracks, including a raw high-energy number, “Stomp Stomp Stomp” and “You Hate It To Turn”, which sounds like it could have come from Zeppelin III. Like the album itself, none of these songs will have you re-thinking everything you thought you knew about ’70s hard rock. But if you cut your teeth on this kind of stuff, Cromwell is a valid reminder of why you liked this kind of music in the first place.

Top 20 New Releases of 2018

Pre- (r)amble: I spent a lot of time seeking out new music this year, so instead of the usual year-end Top 10, I’m going for a full Top 20 releases. I’m including EPs and 7”s because I can. Read it, check out the albums, then tweet me about how much my opinions suck.

Freedoms Goblin
1. Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin (Drag City)
Ty Segall, in various guises, played a significant role on six different albums in 2018, but Freedom’s Goblin is the best of the bunch. Over nineteen-songs, Ty expands the definition of classic rock to include punk, krautrock, no wave, funk, music hall, grunge and just about anything else good.

Subway Zydeco
2. Broadway Lafayette – Subway Zydeco (Hound Gawd!)
I’m probably one of 200 people who own this album, but this well-kept secret is a killer mix of rock and zydeco music, helmed by the inimitable Mick Collins. It’s lively, unique and refreshingly gritty.
Full Review

3. Iceage – Beyondless (Matador)
Beyondless is Iceage’s best album to date. Ear-catching opener “Hurrah” is a garage-rock tour-de-force, but songs like “Under The Sun” and “Catch It” show that the band are writing really effective slow-burners too.

Negative Capability
4. Marianne Faithfull – Negative Capability (Panta Rei)
I didn’t see this one coming at all. Working with a musical a-list including Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and Mark Lanegan, Faithfull has come up with her most personal and honest work to date. Pro tip: The deluxe edition has a great cover of The Pretty Things’ “The Loneliest Person”.

5. Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats – Wasteland (Rise Above)
Uncle Acid sets their retro-metal time machine back to the mid-70s for Wasteland. Black Sabbath’s influence is less overt than on previous albums, but their songs are as strong as ever.

With Animals
6. Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood – With Animals (Heavenly)
Mark Lanegan’s second collaboration with Garwood is, like their first collaboration, sparser than a “regular” Lanegan album, yet still captures the same haunting moods I like so much.

Smote Reverser
7. Thee Oh Sees – Smote Reverser (Castle Face)
John Dwyer and team’s latest full-length is a one-hour sci-fi prog-punk brain buster. There’s crazy sounds and ideas everywhere…and the album cover kinda reminds me of Judas Priest’s Painkiller.

Ruby Karinto
8. Ruby Karinto – Self-Titled (aka “Spray Bottle”) (Hozac Records)
The most original album I heard all year. So original that I’m not going to compare it to other music. It just sounds good.
Full review

Painted Doll
9. Painted Doll – Painted Doll (Tee Pee Records)
Comedian/musician Dave Hill (please follow him on Twitter where he pisses off Trump fans by claiming he porked their mothers) and death metal drummer Chris Reifert team up for an album of hard-hitting psych, glam, proto-metal and any other non-sucking late-‘60s/early-‘70s sub-genre you can think of.
Full review

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10. Richard Vain – Night Jammers (Big Neck)
This album just came out a few weeks ago, so I’m still getting familiar with it, but Jered Gummere’s (Ponys, Bare Mutants, Acquaintances) new trio debuts with just the right balance of narco-noise and garage pop. “Behind The Eyes” is the jam.

11. Des Demonas – Bay Of Pigs/Skrews 7” (Slovenly)
12. Ty Segall – Fudge Sandwich (Drag City)
13. Brian Jonestown Massacre– Something Else (A Recordings)
14. Wand – Perfume EP (Drag City)
15. Guided By Voices – Space Gun (Rockathon Records)
16. Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt (Fat Possum)
17. Charles Bradley – Black Velvet (Daptone/Dunham)
18. Velveteen Rabbit – Mind Numbing Entertainment/I Wanna Be Your Woman 7” (Hozac)
19. Black Moth Super Rainbow – Panic Blooms (Rad Cult Records)
20. Lovely Eggs – This Is Eggland (Self-Released)

The Germs – What We Do Is Secret (Slash/Rhino/Org)

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This Germs EP is a strange one. It was originally released in 1981, soon after the death of Darby Crash, collecting odds and ends from the band’s chaotic three-year run. It begins with a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round” from 1977, when the band were in their infancy. The performance is so sloppy that it threatens to go completely off the rails at any moment, and even a simple count-in seems beyond their skill set at this embryonic stage. The three songs from 1978’s Lexicon Devil EP are a much better indication of The Germs’ strengths. Sure, “Lexicon Devil”, “Circle One” and “No God” are sloppy proto-hardcore blasts, but they’re anything but generic thrashers. Beneath the wild exterior lies something mercurial and poetic in Crash’s performances. It’s too bad the lyrics weren’t included, because they’re actually really good. “Caught In My Eye” is an outtake from 1979’s GI album. It’s slower and more focused than the Lexicon Devil tracks, and you can really feel the white-hot intensity, especially in Crash’s animalistic vocal gnarls. It ends with two songs from the final Germs show, on December 3, 1980 at The Starwood in Los Angeles, just days before Crash’s suicide on December 7th. Darby sounds fall-down drunk, but the sound quality is pretty good. That counts for something right?

This reissue is a Record Store Day exclusive, limited to 2,250 copies. It comes on 12″ blue vinyl, which doesn’t match the shade of The Germs’ infamous blue circle logo as well as you would expect it to.