Roht – “Demo” Cassette (2016)

Paradísarborgarplötur (PBP) is one of my favorite Icelandic labels. Perhaps best known recently for putting out music by the punk band Börn, they’ve been on the cutting edge of fiercely independent Icelandic music for years in support of bands/performers like Kvöl, Ofvitarnir, Norn, and Þórir Georg. Fannar, who is Börn’s drummer, is one of the forces behind the label and has turned me on to a lot of cool stuff over the last couple of years, not to mention helping me score some Fighting Shit CDs a while back. If you want stuff that is both hard and original, PBP has it.

One of the label’s newest releases is a five song demo tape by Roht, which is fittingly titled Demo. Roht’s Bandcamp page describes them as black metal, industrial, and punk, but after listening to this 10 minute scorcher a couple of times, I’m not quite sure how to categorize it… which is often a good thing. Demo opens with “Ekki Snerta Mig,” which definitely brings a heavy industrial vibe with sort of Skinny Puppy horror merged with those kind of sterile Big Black beats. By the time we get to “Einu Sinni Of Oft” it has turned into a full frontal sonic assault with anguished vocals overlaid on top of relentless militaristic beats. I think Roht are coming to take my soul. By the time you reach the modulated voice at the end of the final song, “Hundar,” I wasn’t sure if I was glad to have a reprieve from the attack, or if I masochistically wanted to go back for more. (♠)

Industrial beats, black metal vocalizations, and an overall punk attitude… I guess Roht were more spot on with their Bandcamp genre tags than I originally thought. And if you’re willing to risk your eternal (or not so eternal soul), you can check out Demo only for free HERE, and even buy a download for any price you want.

(♠) Turns out I’m a masochist. I immediately flipped the tape (both sides have the same five songs) and listened to the whole thing again.

“Sweaty Records VA_001” Compilation (2016)

I feel like I should open with a brief apology for the drop-off in posts recently. I’ve basically been commuting back and forth between Seattle and Los Angeles over the past four months, having made 14 separate trips to California over the last 17 weeks. When I’m there I spend almost all of my waking hours working, and when I’m home on the weekends there are lots of things to do and get done. I kind of hit the mental wall a few weeks ago and it’s been hard to get motivated to sit down and write, plus I haven’t had as much time to pick up new music, which is a bummer.

Fortunately I now have a bit of a break in my work schedule, and as an added bonus a box full of goodies just arrived from my friends at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records. There were a few things a I wanted to get my hands on that aren’t available here in the US, and I told my friend Gestur to add in anything new he thought I might be interested in hearing. And, as usual, Gestur came through in a big way, so I should have plenty of blog fodder for the next few weeks.

The most pleasant surprise so far actually isn’t a record or a tape, but a CD. Now, I don’t write about CDs very often, and for me to include one pretty much requires two things: (1) CD is probably the only format the music is available on, and (2) it has to be outstanding.

The Sweaty Records VA_001 compilation fulfills both of those criteria.

You can’t walk 20 feet down the mean streets of Reykjavik without meeting someone who is in a band. And over the last few years that level of musical depth seems to have expanded to include new micro labels, which are proliferating like the rabbits that run wild in the hill around Perlan. Sometimes these are simply ways for an artist to put out his/her music. Other times the artist uses the label to release other local talent as well, and that appears to be the case for Sweaty Records. Co-founder Volruptus is an Icelandic electronic artist, and he joins six of his friends to contribute some fantastic electro tracks to this compilation.

Volruptus opens the disc with his own track, “Seduced,” a mildly dark and electric thumper that uses a strong danceable beat for a foundation on top of which is added a buzzing middle layer and the occasional sexy moan. That first song sets the tone for the rest, with the entire collection keeping things on the darker and lower side, moody electro-goodness with some strong beats. Kosmodod’s “Komets” deserves an honorable mention, a track that could easily have been part of Gusgus’ dark masterpiece 24/7 – it’s that damn good. Lowdown Operation’s “Under the Radar” is a major bumper with a rich low end, while Stranger Reglur brings an almost chiptuney vibe to the mix with “Kuldaboli.” Truth be told, there isn’t a single clunker on the comp – all seven songs are excellent.

I believe the CD version of Sweaty Records VA_001 is limited to only 50 copies, but have no fear, my friends, because you can listen to the entire thing free online HERE and even buy the digital download by naming your own price. So you have no excuse not to check it out, and if you like it, why not kick the guys a couple of bucks and download it? Once you listen to the tunes you’ll know that it’s worth it.

Beastie Boys – “Paul’s Boutique” (1989)

If you’ve read more than a handful of posts on Life in the Vinyl Lane, you’ve probably noticed that when I write about a specific album that the focus is either on the album itself, or some personal experience of mine that is somehow connected to it. This post about Paul’s Boutique will definitely be the latter. It’s not like I’m going to tell you something about this album that is in any way new or fresh. I mean, hell, KEXP radio did a 12 hour show that broke down the entire thing and played, in full, every single song sampled on it (which you can listen to HERE, broken out into a number of different segments). There have been multiple books written about it. It’s been dissected and pored over and broken down countless times.

So I can’t bring anything to the table in that regard.

What I can do is reflect on what a brilliant album it is and how pivotal it was to me and my group of friends when it came out.

In October of 1987 the stars aligned and for some reason a group of five high school juniors went from being casual acquaintances to inseparable life-long friends. We thought of ourselves as a unit, so much so that we even referred to ourselves collectively as “the posse,” (♠) which probably sounds ridiculous if you’re not one of us, but nevertheless is still how we refer to group today. We got into petty trouble together, partied together, have traveled together… we’ve supported each other through break-ups, and we’ve been best men at each other’s weddings. While we’re spread out over four different states today, there’s still a sort of cosmic connection that will always in some way tie us together.

Ridin’ around
King of the town
Always got my windows
Rolled down.
Ready to throw,
You know I’m the egg man.

Now that I’ve waxed poetic, what does any of this have to do with Paul’s Boutique? Well, it came out in the summer of 1989, that magical summer after we graduated from high school but hadn’t yet started college and/or the military. A time of minimal responsibility as we balanced on the precipice between being kids and adults. When whether to throw the frisbee in the park or take the ferry to Whidbey Island was the biggest decision you had to make for the day. No bills to pay, just basketball and video games (♣) and skateboarding (♥) and music.

I actually reached out to the posse to get their individual recollections about Paul’s Boutique. I had my memories around it, but I know that memory is a fickle thing. I was fortunate enough in college to take a course on cognitive psychology by arguably the most well-known expert on the psychology of memory, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, and if there’s one thing I came away from that class with it was the understanding that our memories are highly inaccurate and in fact can change significantly over time. So I wanted to test my recollections of this album with those of my closest friends, people I experienced it with when it first came out.

I’m like Sam the Butcher
Bringin’ Alice the meat,
Like Fred Flinstone
Drivin’ round on bald feet.

Somehow we knew the day that Paul’s Boutique was scheduled to drop. That sounds like a ridiculous statement on the surface, but remember kids, this was before the internet was an actual thing. We probably read about it in Rolling Stone, because most of the local radio stations sure as hell weren’t playing the Beastie Boys, and chances are better than average that we also saw it on the “Coming Releases” wall at the Tower Records in Bellevue. I remember Mike and I going to Tower that day to buy our copies – mine on CD (which I still have) and his on cassette, then going back to his house and shooting hoops in the driveway while playing it on his boom box. Brent may have been there with us at Tower… or he may not… while Brent remembers the surprise of discovering that his copy of the tape was red while Mike’s was gray, it’s tough to say exactly when this happened. Was it that day, or later?

What I do remember is this – I didn’t particularly care for Paul’s Boutique when it first came out.

The cop knocked on my window and said,
“Boy, where’s the fire?
You got a mailbox on your bumper
And a bald front tire!”

Paul’s Boutique is an odd album in a lot of ways, but what I find most strange is that while it’s widely praised today as being groundbreaking and incredibly important, it was far from being the most popular release by the Beasties. Consider this. Their first album, License to Ill, went 4X platinum (four million copies sold) in the US in the first 12 months of it’s release… but it took Paul’s Boutique six years to sell it’s first million copies. In fact, the two albums that followed it, Check Your Head and Ill Communication, both made it to platinum before Paul’s Boutique. Of the band’s first five seminal albums, it remains one of the two biggest commercial disappointments from a sales perspective. Yet everyone seems to agree it’s their most important album.

But back to our story.

John recalls recognizing the greatness of the album right away. Norberto insists that Brent did as well, yet Brent remembers not being particularly impressed with it. Mike liked it, but I didn’t care for it much. We were all over the place with it, at least initially. The bottom line is it was a major deviation from License to Ill, which I think threw all of us off. It’s hard to comprehend just how game-changing this album was at the time, with it’s massive use of sampling and seemingly disparate yet somehow connected songs. It’s easy to see that now, but I won’t pretend I was able to understand it’s genius until a number of years later.

I got more rhymes
Than Jamaica’s got mangos.

I left for college about a month after the album came out (♦), and the rest of the posse came together over it during some late summer parties after my departure. It was at one of these gatherings when John’s older brother Dave, who we all looked up to because (1) he was older than us, (2) he had great taste in music, and (3) he could do way better tricks on the half pipe than we could, surprised everyone by coming into John’s room, asking what everyone was listening to, and giving it the Dave seal of approval. A couple of times the posse even ran tape in John’s bedroom during parties and sent the recordings to me, which was sort of like being in the room with them and helped me cope a little with the fact that I was about 3,000 miles away from every single person I knew. I suspect they never knew how important those tapes were to me, with each of them sitting down next to the recorder at various points and talking directly to me.

Brent and Norberto continued to listen to Paul’s Boutique in their shared dorm room, but it was quickly replaced by Straight Outta Compton, which actually came out the year before. Much like me, Norberto put Boutique on the shelf and more or less forgot about it for a number of years. And again, like me, discovered when he re-listened to it that in fact it was a completely brilliant album. I don’t know why it took us so long to recognize that, but it did. It was the first album he and I played when we drove down to Portland last year to visit Brent, cranked up not he stereo with us going back and forth doing the vocals.

Don’t touch the mic, baby
Don’t come near it!

I’m not sure what all of this means today, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all five of us still listen to this album today, and three of us put it in our “All Time Top 5” lists. It makes sense given when it came out and that we all listened to it, though at the same time we only had a limited amount of time listening to it together. Yet there it is, an anchor point in our collective memory, one of those things that has come to define our friendship experience. Even though none of us quite remember it the same way, it’s there, and we all agree it was important. Maybe that’s why I was so bummed when Adam Yauch passed away in 2012. It was sort of like losing a piece of that last summer of freedom with my friends.

When I got back into vinyl, I told myself that I wasn’t going to start buying a bunch of stuff on wax that I already had on CD. Despite that, on that very first re-introduction to vinyl shopping trip over at Easy Street Records’ Queen Anne story (RIP) one of the albums I bought on wax was Paul’s Boutique. I just had to. And I don’t regret it for a minute.

(♠) We chose this term, of course, due to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s song “Posse On Broadway,” which was in heavy rotation in our bedrooms and cars.

(♣) Mostly Ninja Gaiden, Contra, and Blades of Steel on the NES. I kicked ass at Blades of Steel… though John was definitely the better fighter in that game.

(♥) John’s mom moved overseas to take a job during our senior year, leaving him and his older brother living in the house. The first thing they did was build a half pipe in the backyard. It was awesome.

(♦) Missing the two big Metallica shows at the Coliseum by days…

“Bloodstains Across Yugoslavia” Compilation (1997)

Holly brought this record to my attention the other day when we were looking around at Tacoma’s Hi-Voltage Records. She’s always on the lookout for interesting comps from unlikely places, and given that Yugoslavia no longer even exists, it definitely qualifies. I can probably only name one band from there (Borghesia), and I like punk from the time period this comp covers (1978-81), so figured why not.

I have to confess that I’d never heard of the Bloodstains Across series before, which is sort of surprising since they’ve done a bunch of these punk comps, both for American locales (Texas, California, Midwest) and Europe (Sweden, Finland, U.K., Norway…) (♠). In general the series does the same thing as the more well-known Killed By Death. I’ll have to be on the lookout for more of these.

There’s some surprisingly good stuff on Bloodstains Across Yugoslavia. It opens with a couple of post-punkish songs by Pekinska Patka that capture that pre-Joy Division feel of Warsaw, and the A side alone gives us seven more bands playing old school punk rock. You can hear rockabilly influences in the songs by Kuzle’s “Smej Sei”, and what sounds like a punk version of early Ted Nugent on Prljavo Kazaliste’s “Majka.” (♣)

With 10 bands and 22 songs, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth from Bloodstains Across Yugoslavia. Per the liner notes all these songs were transferred from 7″ vinyl, but despite that the sound quality overall is very good and the recording level balanced, with the exception of one song late on side A that came blasting out of my speakers like fingernails on a chalkboard.

(♠) Too bad they never did a Bloodstains Across Iceland, because that would be a killer record. If anyone from the Bloodstains Across series ever reads this and wants to do that record, let me know and I’ll help!

(♣) It’s funny – when I read the liner notes after writing much of the above, I saw this quote: “Prljavo Kazaliste sounds a little bit too much rock ‘n’ roll for my liking…”, so I guess my take on it was the same as the curator’s!

“Triple Six 7-Inch” Box Set (2016)

A few months back a post on Facebook caught my eye. A Seattle-based art collective called Fainting Room started up a label called, fittingly, Fainting Room Records, and they were releasing a collection of six 7″ records each by a different Seattle area band. If that isn’t right in my wheelhouse I don’t know what is. So I sent them my $35, and in the mail arrived my six records, bound together with ribbon/paper (♠), along with a nice little canvas tote bag that Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane quickly claimed as her own. For some reason, though, I sort of lost track of these for a while, and I’m only just now sitting down to listen to them for the first time.

Haunted Horses hit you right between the eyes right from the opening track of their four-song 7″. “Crown” is an aggressive industrial rock monster, edgy and abrasive, a blend of horror and hopelessness. That’s followed by the relentless and equally haunting “Pariahs,” driven forward by pounding drums that don’t give you a moment of respite. I was trying to think of what I could compare Haunted Horses to, and the best I could come up with is Big Black meets Skinny Puppy, but what separates the Horses from that pair is the drumming, which comes across as real and organic, not the canned drum machine sounds I associate with those other bands. That drumming will be stuck in my head for hours, and it’s the key to Haunted Horses’ vibe.

The second record in the set is by Stickers and they represents a bit of a 180 from Haunted Horses, with a female-fronted poppy style of post-punk. The sound is driven by the dreamy bass that seems to meander through and around the songs like water, with the other sounds sometimes floating on the surface of it and other times completely enveloped by it. Gabi Page-Fort’s vocals are the icing on the cake – she can sing and she can howl, sometimes seemingly at the same time. I’m a total sucker for punk and post-punk bands with female vocalists, and I’m digging Stickers enough that I think I’m going to need to buy a copy of their 2014 LP Swollen. (♣)

Next up is Bali Girls, who deliver a more recognizable hard rock sound. In fact, this 7″ reminds me of the things I liked about early grunge – it’s raw and a bit disorganized without being sloppy. It just feels real. The guitars drive the music, which is heavy and driving like the footsteps of some kind of giant or something. The record only contains one song, the 8+ minute “Heavy Boots” which is split across the two sides of vinyl. The download is technically two tracks as well, but it plays straight through like it was one song.

Transmissionary bring a more dream-pop style to the mix, with occasional elements of prog, rock, and even some shoegaze. The bass pushes the tempo and the vocals are trippy and are like a wave that exists above the level of the music, completely separate and existing on it’s own existential plane. Each song feels like two separate pieces – the parts with the vocals, which are dreamy and floating, and the parts without vocals, which are more prog. It’s an interesting dichotomy.

I like me some sleazy psych rock, so I was into The Family Curse right from the opening of “Loving Kind.” Vocally these songs are fuzzy and lo-fi, though the music maintains a dose of sonic clarity that separates The Family Curse from other modern psych bands. “Firescene” sees the Curse move in a more metal direction, one that works for them and is my favorite of their four tracks. It’s aggressive and edgy, with a weight to the guitars that reminds me a bit of Pantera.

Last but far from least we have He Whose Ox Is Gored and their blend of shoegaze and psych, with distortion and reverb all over the place. Is metal shoegaze a genre? If not, it might need to be. There’s some serious sonic density here, with every microsecond of space being filed by a cacophony of sounds. Amy Billharz’s vocals are like a fourth instrument in how she contributes to the song structures, and she’s got a lot of power in that voice.

 

I’ve seen various numbers thrown around about how many copies of this release were put out, but it looks like 375 is the correct number. I haven’t actually opened mine yet (I listened to the downloads), so I’m not sure if there’s something inside that clarifies the situation. Regardless, the set is still available through Fainting Room Collective, so if you’re interested you can still pick one up. Top to bottom, all six bands are great, and the mix of styles means that there’s a good chance you’re going to find something you like.

(♠) While it’s described as a “box set” there is, in fact, no box involved.

(♣) In fact during the period between writing this and posting it, I did in fact order a copy of Swollen. I also learned that unfortunately Stickers have broken up.