Dead Skeletons – “Live In Berlin” (2016)

So good.

I was stoked to hear that the Icelandic psych band Dead Skeletons had new vinyl release coming out this year, even more so because it’s a live album. We’ve been fans of artist Jón Sæmundur Auðarson for years, and I even have a few of his screened prints done on records hanging on my walls. His musical project, Dead Skeletons, is some trippy-ass psych and pretty damn awesome, so I made sure to pre-order Live In Berlin.

Released by Fuzz Club, there are multiple versions of this on vinyl. It’s a three-sided double album, the fourth side being a screen print of the band. I can’t unravel all the different versions… sounds like there’s a white splatter edition of 1,000, a black with yellow splatter edition of 300 (hand numbered on the reverse… this is the one I have), and a hyper-limited black release in an edition of 10. It’s all very complicated. I can’t even keep track of all these random editions.

Regardless of the complicated nature of Live In Berlin, it’s pretty fantastic. In fact, it’s some pretty heavy, deep psych, a la Singapore Sling or something. Some Joy Division here too, maybe a touch of Mallevs. It just sounds good, man. Heavy and rich and deep and trippy. You can check out the whole thing live HERE, and if you ever find yourself in Reykjavik, do yourself a favor and track down Auðarson’s gallery HERE. You might just come home with some cool stuff.

Red Scare – “Then There Were None” (1984)

I’ve been doing a ton of travel for work lately, most of it to the Los Angeles area. Unfortunately from a record store standpoint (though kind of fortunately from a traffic standpoint) I’m spending that time away from downtown and Hollywood and most of the good shops, and most nights after grinding out an 11 or 12 hour day I don’t feel like going anywhere that doesn’t serve drinks. However, the other day a co-worker and I carpooled to the airport in Burbank, and since her flight was earlier than mine I had an hour or so to kill before I needed to drop off the rental car, so I headed down the road to Atomic Records.

Holly and I had been to Atomic once before and my recollection was that their selection leaned heavily towards rock. And that was partially right – they have a very healthy jazz selection too, but not much in areas like electronic, reggae, metal, etc. Still, I had time, so I perused all the “assorted” parts of the rock section and found a few nuggets, including a super-clean copy of Red Scare’s only full-length album, 1984s Then There Were None, which is only available on vinyl. (♠) Score.

Then There Were None is an intriguing album. There are elements of both hardcore and darkwave, but guitar flourishes that are very metal and some parts that are pure pop. When I re-read that sentence I find myself thinking, “this music probably doesn’t come together very well,” but in fact that would be 100% incorrect, because the pieces all seem to fit. It’s maybe a bit like X-meets-Black-Flag’s-My-War. Sometimes fast, sometimes heavy, with deep female vocals.

Red Scare come at you pretty hard right out of the gate with the quick paced “Last Request,” a song fast enough to be early hardcore and with Bobbi Brat’s vocals coming at you full force. “Mind Inertia” is another hardcore-like track. Oh, you prefer a more metal sound? That’s cool, because Red Scare have “Red Rum” on here just for you. If you like the heavier, sludgier style check out “Don’t Look in the Basement” or “Looking for the Why” (though the latter breaks hardcore during the second half of the song). Darkwave? “Then There Were None.” And kids, that’s all on side A.

Red Scare singer Bobbi Brat left us in 1988 at the all-too-young age of 26. She wasn’t a casualty of the LA punk scene the way so many others were – it wasn’t drugs or self destructive behavior that killed her, but cancer, that scourge that doesn’t care how young you are or how bright your future is; it just takes. Red Scare was an excellent band, but Brat’s vocals are so good and so perfect for the era that her individual success seems like it would have been a sure thing. But fate had different plans, and we lost another great talent too soon. Her sister has a website devoted to Bobbi’s memory (HERE), and I recommend that you check it out. Not only is her story interesting, but you can also listen to Red Scare tracks there as well as some by Brat’s other projects.

I feel quite fortunate to have stumbled across Then There Were None – it’s undeniably one of the best new-to-me albums I’ve heard in 2016. Go give it a listen on the website linked above, and if you find a copy of it out there, snatch it up

(♠) The entire album was re-released in 1995, packaged along with demos and live tracks on a CD called As Promised (1982-1988).

Madonna – “True Blue” (1986)

Last night I dreamt of San Pedro,
Just like I’d never gone, I knew the song…

In the summer of 1987 you couldn’t walk 50 feet anywhere in France and not here “La Isla Bonita” coming at you from some direction. I know, because I spent six weeks there bicycling around the northern part of the country with some other kids from school, and everywhere we went, there was “La Isla Bonita.” In the cafe. In the shop. Coming out of the open window of that car that just passed you in the middle of nowhere. It was inescapable. And being a rocker dude who still thought that liking one kind of music (rock) meant you had to automatically hate others (pop), I pretended to hate it, even though secretly I thought it was awesome.

I’ve written before about my musical relationship with Madonna. Without rehashing all the details, for a long time I felt like I somehow had to dislike her music, even though in fact I liked a lot of it and flat out loved some of it. Eventually I picked up her quasi-greatest hits The Immaculate Collection and figured I finally had that itch scratched. But getting back into vinyl meant rediscovering the magic that is the 12″ maxi-single, and it’s moving me towards being a full-on Madonna superfan, at least with regards to her pre-1990 catalog. And I’m finally man enough to admit it and accept.

I finally bought my first Madonna studio album the other day from my local shop Vortex. I’ve had vinyl copies of Madonna and Like a Virgin in my hands a number of times in recent months, but haven’t been willing to drop $18-25 for clean copies, which is a hang-up on my part. But this copy of 1986s True Blue was eight bucks, so it seemed like now was the right time.

Looking at the track list I figured I was going to know two songs on True Blue – “Papa Don’t Preach” and “La Isla Bonita”. Turns out I was way wrong; on the first side alone I knew three of the four, plus a couple of more on the reverse. I shouldn’t be surprised by this. After all, I watched a ton of MTV from 1983 to 1989, which was right in Madonna’s prime hit-making years. I mean, prior to True Blue she’d already had six Top 5 singles in the US (including two that made it to #1) and nine Top 5s in the UK (♠), so pretty much every song on every album she put out was going to at least get a shot at being a single. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “deep cut” on any of her first three albums – they were completely and totally consumed.

One thing I did notice in listening to True Blue all the way through is that the songs sound a bit formulaic, as if selected from parts of a very small option menu. Drum machine? Check. Dance beats? Select one from the following: samba, calypso, EDM. Lyrical topics? Love or the unfairness of it all. Mix together and viola – Top 5 hit! (♥) And it worked on True Blue, which generated five Top 5s including three #1s in both the US and the UK. You can’t do much better than that. But if there’s a criticism here, it’s that my ears got tired of Madonna by the time the last song faded out.

I know I’ll eventually get to Madonna’s earlier catalog and who knows, maybe I’ll move forward past 1990 as well – I’ve heard some of her “later” material and it’s pretty good as well. It all seems like yesterday, not far away…

(♠) The UK has always been more Advanced than the US in it’s recognition of musical genius.

(♥) On a completely unrelated note, it was when I reached this point in typing the post that I spilled my mocha all over my laptop.

Fats Comet & The Big Sound – “Bop Bop” 12″ (1984)

I don’t know where all these On-U 12″s are coming from that seem to keep randomly showing up at my local shop Vortex. Someone out there had some pretty great taste back in the day. This is the third time I’ve found a Fats Comet 12″ there, and I’m almost positive it’s not because they were all there the whole time and I was just missing them.

Bop Bop has that style of On-U dub production that I love so much, though musically it’s a bit of a different direction. The title track has that funky bass line that I expect from Fats Comet, but then blends in samples from 1950s doo-wop songs and funk jams. The sonic disconnect of the component parts does create a bit of a trippy sense, making you wonder if you’re hearing a whole song or just parts of different pieces crammed together. Sometimes the flow is there and it grooves, but that doo-wap kind of sets me on edge a little. The B side, “Zoop Zoop,” is a gem of a basic dance track, one that leans slightly towards IDM with the aggressiveness of its beats, but that still funks out at times.

There are still a few more Fats Comet 12″s that I need to track down, so let’s hope I keep finding ’em on the shelves at Vortex!

The Replacements – “Stink” and “Let It Be” (2016)

The Replacements. Yet another in the seemingly endless list of “bands I feel like I should be familiar with, but am not.” Fortunately I have some cool friends, and recently one of them sent me re-release copies of The Replacements’ albums Stink (1982) and Let It Be (1984), so today I can rectify this musical deficiency.

Stink is most certainly a punk album, one that veers off towards hardcore with it’s pure speed (only three of the eight songs are longer than two minutes, and none go for more than two-and-a-half). But unlike some of the more politically aware lyrics that defined a lot of early hardcore, The Replacements treat us to tunes with titles like “Fuck School,” “God Damn Job,” “White and Lazy,” and “Dope Smokin’ Moron.” And they’re pretty great, almost like a hardcore version of Gang Green. They also aren’t opposed to throwing some decent, albeit brief, guitar solos into their songs, something viewed as very un-punk in many circles. “Go” is the one place where The Replacements move away from fast straight forward punk rock and move into a more post-punk space, a bit of foreshadowing as to their future direction. All in all Stink is a decent punk record.

What a difference two years makes. You’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s no way the band that recorded Stink was the same one that put out Let It Be. The latter maintains some of the speed of the earlier album, but musically it moved in a more indie/college rock direction. There are still a few punk numbers here like “We’re Comin’ Out,” but in general The Replacements are giving us longer songs (over half the songs are three minutes or longer) that are more radio-friendly. However, they’re still not all that serious, treating us to songs like “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Gary’s Got a Boner.” That being said, the critics agree that Let It Be was an important album, making into the Top 50 in a bunch of Best Albums of the 1980s lists and posting up at #239 on Rolling Stone‘s Top 500, some fairly high praise. I do find it weird, though, that a number of sources refer to The Replacements’ sound on this album as post-punk, which doesn’t make sense to me; it doesn’t have any of the gloominess that I normally associated with that genre. To my ears it’s a classic 1980s college radio kind of record, albeit one with a nice sonic variance across its 11 tracks. From the punk of “We’re Comin’ Out” to the pure rocker “Black Diamond” to the funny lyrics of “Androgynous,” The Replacements keep it fresh throughout Let It Be, and that’s hard to do.