Lee “Scratch” Perry, The Might Upsetter – “Kung Fu Meets the Dragon” (1975 / 1995)

Kung Fu Meets the Dragon seems to be in the reggae section of pretty much every single record store I go to, regardless of where it is in the country (or overseas for that matter). I’d probably had it in my hands a dozen times before finally deciding to buy it the other day. I’m not sure why that day was any different than the others, other than that I had some money in my pocket and I wanted some dub.

I don’t know squat about reggae and dub, really. Sure, I know a lot more than I did maybe three years ago, when the only performers I could have named for you all had the last name of Marley, but it’s not like I’m some kind of expert. Far from it. But I know one thing, and that’s that I enjoy it. Kid Hops does a reggae/dub show on Seattle’s KEXP radio on Saturdays from 9AM to Noon that we often catch while driving around (…king of the town… always got my windows rolled down…), and I highly recommend you check it out if you’re even remotely interested in the genres – you can stream it through the station’s website HERE. And I don’t don’t know enough to tell you anything about famous reggae/dub producer Lee “Scratch” Perry that you won’t easily find with just a simple Google search, so I’ll just leave you with this link to comprehensive article about the man and his body of work that appears on the Red Bull Music Academy website, which actually has some impressively researched articles.

Kung Fu Meets the Dragon is a relatively early work by dub standards, originally released in 1975. That being said, it’s out there. I mean like way the hell out there. It doesn’t strike me as being super echoey like a lot of dub, but more incorporating odd and interesting sounds, including some vocal clips that sound like they were either recorded specifically for this record or sampled from kung fu movies (the blonde serpent head on the far left of the album jacket looks an awful lot like Bruce Lee…). In a way it’s a more mellow experience, but still recognizable as dub, at least to my ears – though I did find a few articles/reviews online that indicate Kung Fu Meets the Dragon doesn’t technically qualify as dub (is it weird that whenever I hear or read the word “technically” that the first thing I think of is the line: “I don’t know what you mean by ‘technically…’” by Alison Ashworth’s mom in High Fidelity? Maybe. Probably.)

This is an enjoyable weekend morning record, perfect to start your day while you wait for the caffeine in that first cup of coffee to kick in and make you feel half way human again. It’s probably good for late night zoning out too, though I don’t do as much of that as I used to. This will get some continued spins for sure.

Mammút – “Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir” (2013)

I’m a bit late to the game in getting to Mammút’s 2013 LP Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir. I knew the band had a brand new album out before our April 2013 trip to Reykjavik… and I bought the wrong record by mistake! I meant to buy Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir, but instead picked up a copy of the band’s 2008 album Karkari. Mind you, this was no big deal really since I was already familiar with much of Karkari from having seen Mammút live a number of times, and I like their stuff. I rectified this oversight when I placed an order with my friends over at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records last month and included a copy of Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir.

My initial impression was that this is a much more mature album than Karkari, though the more I listen, the more I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. It’s a much quieter album for sure – slower paced songs that showcase Katrína Kata Mogensen’s voice, allowing her more room to sing and less to scream. Mogensen sounds hauntingly like Björk to me, both in terms of range and the pure power of her voice. But it’s not just the signing, because musically there’s a lot of richness here, with a deep, full sound and well structured songs. It’s almost not even a rock album but instead something that would have a much broader appeal, though one slightly hampered by all the songs being sung in Icelandic (though I certainly respect that decision).

It’s been a few years since we last saw Mammút live, so I wasn’t quite prepared for the new material and more mellow direction. That being said, I’m impressed with Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir… though I would have liked one or two rocking tracks just to mix it up a little. But that’s just a matter of personal taste. We’ll definitely need to try to see them at Airwaves this year so we can experience the power of this new material live.

Clock DVA – “Advantage” (1983)

I’ve been flirting pretty heavily with industrial music lately, though I’m not confident enough yet in how I feel about it to ask it to go steady with me. Sonically it still seems a bit “dangerous” to me, which is both attractive and repellant at the same time. There are some genres that I seem to like almost no matter what – for example, I’ve yet to hear a dub record I think is bad. Industrial, however, might be the most polarizing of genres to my ears – when I like it, I love it; when I don’t I want to break the record over my knee, light it on fire, weld it into a lead lined container, and bury it in a hole (because I don’t have any way to launch it into space, aimed directly at the sun). This can lead to a decision making disorder at record stores as I go back and forth in my mind as to whether or not to spend some of my mildly hard-earned cash on some industrial wax. Which is exactly what happened when I picked up Clock DVA’s 1983 LP Advantage the other day at Silver Platters. But I rolled the dice, and this time it came up a winner.

It wasn’t a sure thing, though. Clock DVA are part of that generation of industrial bands from Sheffield, UK that followed on the heels of Trobbing Gristle, and frankly a lot of that early stuff is just too jarring for me. But Advantage was the first release of the second iteration of the band, following its first break-up in 1981 and the death by accidental drug overdose of one of the group’s two original members, Steven “Judd” Turner. I’m not familiar with their pre-Advantage material, so I can’t make any meaningful comparisons to their earlier works. However, Advantage falls on the “lighter” side of industrial, or at least it does to modern ears. The synths are used in a very new wavish way, and the bass lines are at times funky as hell (“Beautiful Losers”); it’s very much like the soundtrack to a film noir or some mildly unsettled near future dystopia (They’re talking aloud in the city / They know the resistance is here / They’re meeting in secret locations / Just out of fear). There’s some edginess here, almost like a more approachable Skinny Puppy, one that retains some pop sensibility (<- overused pretentious phrase alert!). In fact, now that I think about it, it’s kind of like ground zero for the work of the Icelandic band Legend, who took this to a darker place while still keeping it musically structured and precise.

Don’t think that Advantage is just run-of-the-mill industrial-lite, because it’s not. It has some dark elements, some percussions that sound like the drummer is using metal heads, and a fair dose of experimentalism. This is especially true on side B, where we start to hear saxophones added to the mix and a bass line moving a little away from funk and towards jazz. In fact, “Breakdown” may be the first ever industrial-dark wave-electronica-funk-jazz fusion (oh yeah, and it includes both male and female vocals). “Dark Encounter” is crooning free-form jazz – nothing industrial to see here at all. It’s actually hard to believe that sides A and B are both form the same band, let alone part of the same album, with the heavy influence and clarity of the bass and the moodiness of the vocals being the only two common elements.

I’ve already come back to Advantage a few times before writing this, which is actually a bit unusual for me. Normally I’m either already very familiar with the album or artist, or I do my writing just as I’m getting my first impressions of the record (sometimes playing it back-to-back if I like it or feel like I need to explore it more). But we first played Advantage maybe 3-4 weeks ago, liked it, and put it back on the “new arrivals” shelf to come back to. The fact that I re-visited Skinny Puppy’s Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse in the interim certainly may have influenced my thoughts on this record. But the disparity between the two sides is still astounding, making it more like two four-song EPs than one cohesive record. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I prefer the more industrial side A, but the jazzier side B has a lot of depth to it and probably warrants further listens just to come to grips with it.

“Suicide Bong Mix Tape – Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1” (2015)

A few weeks back I binge listened to a bunch of cool metal and punk tapes I got in the mail from Philadelphia’s Sit & Spin records, THE place in Philly to get your metal and punk itch scratched. Ironically the one tape that didn’t make that post was the one that originally let me to contact Sit & Spin in the first place – the new comp tape from the Suicide Bong label subtitled Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1. I had put it aside because I figured it was going to be a bit more work than the other tapes given that it features 44 different bands, making at least a little note-taking essential.

Well, I just gave it a listen. And I have to say, the tape is indeed as advertised – this is some dope shit! Much of the music falls within the various punk/metal subgenres, but there’s some different stuff on here as well like “Stay Asleep” by Night Windows, a groovy shoegazeish number that somehow managers to not sound out of place. But the meat and potatoes is in the more aggressive stuff – there are some raging bands out there in Philly.

While I’m not going to take the time to go through this thing for you song by song, I did want to share my own personal “Top 5 Songs from Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1,” so away we go!

  • SGNLS – “Someone Else Is Here” : So remember how I said the more aggro stuff was the meat and potatoes? Well, the best song on this comp is actually more of a sped up early 80s style synth-wave number. And it’s awesome. Trippy synths on meth. Killer. I WILL be looking for more songs by SGNLS.
  • Janelle – “Bed of Lies” : Huh, well this isn’t on the fast side either, though it does have a certain weight to it. Heavy shoegaze vibe, sort of early 80s darkwave, and like SGNLS synths are a big part of the sound. This has a great groove to it.
  • The Magnificent Shithawks of Greater Northern America – “Kill the Rat” : In case you were starting to scratch your head and try to figure out why the first two picks off what I described as a punk/metal comp were neither punk nor metal, I bring you The Magnificent Shithawks of Greatern Northern America. They would like to open up a hardcore assault on your ears and remind you to Kill the rat / Shoot the fucking snitch. They do throw in a touch of bizarro electro feedback right in the middle of this act of sonic battery, but make no mistake – this is 1:25 of hardcore coming right at you.
  • No Stayer – “Stand On Your Own” : I previously wrote about No Stayer’s tape No Remorse, and they’re probably my favorite Philly band right now. “Stand On Your Own” also appeared on that EP, and it’s a fast hard rock train coming right at you. The guitars are like Ted Nugent back when he was making cool music, with vocals reminiscent of Lemmy from Motörhead.
  • The Dirty Cut – “The Biggest Loser” : Hardcore. The way it was meant to be.

Though not noted anywhere on the tape or packaging, Suicide Bong Mix Tape – Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1 is a limited cassette only release of 400 copies. The label still has it listed for sale on its website HERE… and for just $4. Four dollars! Hell, the shipping will cost you as much as the tape, but even then it’s well worth it with 44 bands and a download card. You might be able to get copies from Sit & Spin as well. So go get your damn credit card and order it already!

Wire – “Document and Eyewitness” (1981)

I not that familiar with Wire. I’ve listened to and enjoyed (and written about) their seminal 1977 debut LP Pink Flag, though that’s about it as far as their music goes. I also read Wilson Neate’s 2013 book about the band, Read & Burn: A Book About Wire, which I found to be a fascinating look at the inner workings of a band. I know just enough to be intrigued, which led to me picking up a used copy of the band’s 1981 live double album (technically one LP and one 12″ mini album… but still…) Document and Eyewitness from Seattle’s Georgetown Records the other day.

Now, I think it’s only fair to tell you something about my state of mind as I listened to this for the first time yesterday. I was in Kansas City this week for work, and getting from KC to Seattle is no easy task as there is only maybe on direct flight a day. Which I was not on. Instead I was flying from KC to Dallas, and there connecting to Seattle on Friday afternoon/evening. Except I was actually spending a lot of time waiting, because Dallas was experiencing Old Testament calibre thunderstorms and tornado warnings. There may have also been locust and rivers of blood, but the Weather Channel wasn’t reporting on those. Regardless, after a four hour delay and a turkey sandwich in KC, I made it to Dallas with 15 minutes to get across the airport to make the last flight out of Dodge, staring straight down the barrel of an entire day in airport limbo hell if I didn’t make it. I maneuvered through the airport like OJ Simpson on those Hertz commercials (not like white Bronco OJ) and made it to the gate just in time… and as a result stumbled into my house at 2AM. And, of course, was inexplicably awake at around 7AM. Which was fine for a while, but by time I put Document and Eyewitness on the stereo I had that sort of jet lag/sleep deprivation drunken feeling.

I’m not sure if that hurt, or actually helped.

So anyway, the first record on Document and Eyewitness consists of some live material from a show the band played on February 29, 1980 at the Electric Ballroom in Camden (UK). Maybe the fact the show was on Leap Day contributed to its overall weirdness. Neate covers this show and the resultant album extensively in Chapter 5 of his book, and notes that the crowd was not, for the most part, pleased by the type of performance Wire chose to give. “The atmosphere was ugly from the start, worsening as it became clear that this wouldn’t be a conventional gig. The crowd didn’t share the band’s artistic adventurousness and, for them, the dearth of familiar, recognisable songs, as well as the disjointed, chaotic nature of the evening, was a sources of irritation and frustration” (Neate, p. 155). Band members felt there was an undercurrent of pent up, potential violence waiting under the surface, and by all accounts that was the general vibe. Why? Because they gave more of an artistic exhibition, only playing a portion of one of their well known songs (“12XU,” which only appears for a few seconds on the record) and instead treated the audience to a sort of musical stream of consciousness. The fans wanted “Ex Lion Tamer;” instead they got a bunch of stuff they’d never heard before, stuff that didn’t sound like anything on the first three Wire studio albums, or even at times like music at all.

This whole concept of going out of your way to antagonize an audience is something I just don’t get. Look, I can understand that you get tired of playing the same songs over and over again every night. But guess what? I get tired of doing the same spreadsheets over and over again every day, and the people who do the front-line work in the office I work at get tired of making the same phone calls and having the same conversations over and over again day after day. I mean, it’s your right – you’re the artist, and I paid to watch you perform. But a little courtesy, please. After all, I’m giving you my hard earned money. Help a brother out.

The first two sides of Document and Eyewitness is live material from the Electric Ballroom gig. I’ll probably never listen to it again. The recording quality is lackluster (though not as terrible as some reviews indicate), and frankly the music isn’t that interesting. The second record, however, is comprised of seven live songs performed at Notre Dame Hall and one more from Montreux. Here we have a more recognizable version of Wire, including previously recorded songs like “2 People In a Room” and “Heartbeat,” as well as some new material. The recording quality is also better, making the second record a much more enjoyable experience overall. This one I’ll come back to at some point in the future. Overall, though, I think Document and Eyewitness will primarily appeal to the hard core Wire fan, and not so much to someone interested in post-punk in general, who would probably get more enjoyment out of the bands studio records.