Zero Boys – “Vicious Circle”

My company has this bonus program where you can earn “points” for various things – meeting certain goals, participating in projects, that kind of stuff – and these points can be saved up and use to buy items out of a catalog. Now that may sound kind of lame, but my current iPod came to me via this program (i.e. it was free), and I have a number of other nice pieces of schwag to show for my points.

It turns out that in a dark corner of the online catalog you can also buy books, movies, and music. And yes, even vinyl! Admittedly the selection isn’t heavily weighted towards stuff I’m interested in, but I surfed the list the other day and found a gem – a re-release of the Zero Boys 1981 punk masterpiece Vicious Circle. I had points to burn (20 points, if you must know), and all of a week later it showed up in my mailbox. Free. Thank you very much.

I only picked up my first Zero Boys record a month ago, the re-release of History Of, and there is very little cross-over between the two albums with only “New Generation” and the band’s unofficial anthem “Livin’ In The 80s” appearing on both. Not that there wouldn’t be room, because this 2009 version of Vicious Circle has 16 songs but is only 27 minutes long… and that’s with the addition of “Slam And Worm” and “She Said Goodbye,” which don’t appear on the 1981 original and account for four minutes of the run time. The Zero Boys get in, and get out. Fast.

Side A is early hardcore – it retains sort of the old school punk sneering and sound, but it’s played super fast. Only “Livin’ In The 80s” breaks the mold of the speed fest on side A, and none of the songs are faster or cooler than “Amphetamine Addiction,” undoubtedly my favorite tune. But there are other solid efforts here as well, like the Ramones-esque “New Generation,” the D.O.A.-like “Drug Free Youth,” and the Rolling Stones sounding “She Said Goodbye.”

(TANGENT ALERT! I’ve been racking my brain for hours trying to figure out what “Livin’ In The 80s” reminds me of. The song is undoubtedly the slowest on the album, more of a psych rocker. And then it hit me. The vocals sound just like Spinal Tap’s David St. Hubbins on “Gimme Some Money.” Which is, of course, preposterous. But also true. And I’m glad I won’t be going to bed with that question bouncing around in my brain.)

Vicious Circle is top notch early hardcore, and if you’re a punk fan it’s a must-have for your collection.

Psychic TV – “Those Who Do Not”

And now for something completely different.

And no, it’s not a man with three buttocks.

But it may be just as strange.

Genesis P-Orridge may very well be the father (and mother, given his/her relationship to the concept of gender) of industrial music. P-Orridge fronted the visual-musical group Throbbing Gristle in 1975, a group that broke down all kinds of boundaries, not the least of which was the exploration of pure noise as a musical form. Music writer Simon Reynolds wrote that Throbbing Gristle’s “gigs were sadistic assaults on the audience.” Many members of the collective could not even actually play their instruments, and much of their material was completely made up on the spot. They were known for their interests in the darkest aspects of human society – fascism, murder, rape, mind control, psychopathology… and gruesome visual images in the forms of film or pictures were parts of their performances. Though sometimes the entire “show” was someone placing a tape recorder in front of a microphone and playing whatever was on the tape. You never knew what you were going to get from Throbbing Gristle.

P-Orridge formed Psychic TV with Peter Christopherson in 1982 following the demise of Throbbing Gristle, and the band immediately raised eyebrows because, well, they actually played music. They were prolific to say the least, once releasing 10 albums in a single year, and while they were much more musically inclined, they were still bizarre in a way that defies categorization. I’d been looking for a copy of this locally for a while, and finally find one in the new arrivals section at Hi-Voltage Records in Tacoma the other day… and I didn’t buy it, mostly because the jacket had some water damage. I stewed about it for a bit while Holly and I had lunch down the street before I reminded myself of my commitment to buying from local small businesses, especially record stores (don’t bitch about how there aren’t any good record stores if you don’t shop at them… that’s why they’re a dying breed), so I walked back up the street and bought it.

Those Who Do Not is a 2X12″ album released in 1984, and I have to admit I’m primarily interested in it because much of the material was recorded live in Reykjavik – it was released in the Icelandic Gramm label. There’s even some chanted rímur on side A. All I can say about this album is… wow. Industrial is probably as good a word as any, but that doesn’t do it justice. The first two sides are kind of like playing three or four different albums at the same time… some of them backwards… some of them on skipping records… and every now and then it sounds like there’s a fight or something going on.

Even the weird stuff is pretty musical. Side C opens with “The Full Pack,” and although there are some hard to identify elements that almost sound like animal noises (pigs?), it’s a relatively quiet song that is carried along by bells, chimes, and strings, with P-Orridge talking over parts of it. It’s actually quite stunning in its own way… though part way through P-Orridge all of a sudden sounds like a caged beast, like a man burdened with a deep, primal pain… until he brings it back under control in time for the song to end. Side D starts of with “Meanwhile…”… is this a Velvet Underground song? Because damn if it doesn’t hold together and have singing that sounds a lot like Lou Reed. Wild.

It’s difficult if not impossible to write about an album like Those Who Do Not – it’s something you need to experience for yourself. I will say I very much preferred the second record to the first… but that could just be because I’d gotten used to the band’s sound over the course of the first two sides. I’m not sure. But it is less industrial and more musical than the opening record, for whatever that’s worth.

There’s a good chance you’ll hate this record. Hell, I might hate this record! But I have to admit, the more I listened the more intrigued I became. It will definitely survive to spin on the turntable again another day.

The Nomads – “Outburst”

If you told me that The Nomads put out Outburst in the late 1960s, I would have totally believed you. They play stripped down, lo-fi garage psych… except they started playing it in the early 1980s… in Sweden. Huh. Go figure.

The proto-punk garage style of the 1960s is one that has always captivated me. The combination of psych, distortion, and feedback played in a sort of poppish style has a lot going for it, and The Nomads come pretty close to perfecting the sound, adding in elements of surf and rockabilly when it suits their needs. Outburst (1984)  opens with a very pop sounding “They Way You Touch My Hand,” reminding me of bands like The Birds and The Vaselines with it’s trippy, poppy hooks and vocals. Contrast that with the rawness, speed, and 50s style rockabilly on “Real Gone Lover,” the instrumental surf track “Rat Fink A Boo-Boo,” the sort of Clash-esque “Bangkok,” and the proto Gun Club “Stranger Blues,” and you’ve got a band that’s sort of all over the place. But in a good way.

All the vocals are in English, making The Nomads very approachable and a must for fans of the Pebbles albums and those into stuff like the White Stripes and the Gun Club.

Crime – “Exalted Masters”

Crime was a punk band that came together in San Francisco in 1976, and like so many other punks they quickly gained a reputation for loudness and bad behavior before flaming out and disbanding, leaving behind little more than three 7″ singles and some bootleg live recordings. Fortunately for us, however, they got back together and in 2007 released Exalted Masters, new recordings of some of their previously written but never recorded original material.

If I were to try to describe the Crime of Exalted Masters to you, I’d say they sound sort of like the more rockish material of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with vocals by Lou Reed circa his time with Velvet Underground. The songs aren’t fast, nor are they “loud” – this is more rock ‘n’ roll fare. So while Crime earned their rep as a punk band, this isn’t a punk record, at least not to my ears. That’s not to say it’s bad – I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s just not what I expected from Crime.

Funkadelic – “Maggot Brain”

I’ve run across this album what seems like a million times over the last few years of digging, and I decided the time had come to see what it was all about. And, as often happens, I didn’t get what I expected. I thought Maggot Brain would be a lot more funky. After all, the band’s name is Funkadelic – it has “funk” right in the name! Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a weird record, and in that respect it is funk-ay… and there are some funk tracks here like “HIt It and Quit It,” but there’s also some just plain out-there spacey stuff like the ten minute title track “Maggot Brain” and more or less hard rock numbers with burning electric guitars like “Super Stupid.”

I’m not sure what to think about Maggot Brain. I feel like Obi-Wan may have played some kind of a Jedi mind trick on me – “This isn’t the funk you’re looking for…” I’ll have to give this one another try at some point and see if I can figure it out.