Bitch Boys – “Continental” (1981)

By 1981 Sweden’s Bitch Boys had moved away from punk and towards new wave, with Continental falling somewhere between new wave and post-punk. I found this copy at Stockholm’s Trash Palace, and it was one of the records on my short list having become familiar with the band during our last visit to Sweden when I picked up a copy of H:son Produktion.

The Bitch Boys moved in a more synth-heavy direction with Continental, and it serves them well. There are some Talking Heads elements here on songs like “Krieg,” while “Tango for Two” has some strong Iggy Pop vibes. Joy Division; The Call; The Jam. All the influences are here. There wasn’t a ton that caught my attention, but there was still enough uniqueness to keep Continental interesting.

Auxpan / Oberdada von Brûtal – “Split” Cassette (2014)

When the Iceland-based label FALK (♠) puts something out, it gets my attention. Not necessarily because I think it’s going to be amazing, though it sometimes is. But because I know for a fact that at the very least it will be interesting. I’m always up for something different, and I know that FALK isn’t going to serve up some kind of Nickelback wannabes or ABBA knockoffs. No, FALK wants to hurt you. It wants to drag your soul to a dark place and kick it around a bit. If a dominatrix could be personified as a music label, her name would be Mistress FALK.

I’m not sure why this split cassette release by Auxpan and Oberdada von Brûtal just now made it into my hands, two years after its release. But somehow it ended up in my bag when I came home from Airwaves, and since I’m feeling a bit disjointed tonight it seemed like the perfect thing to put into the old Denon tape deck.

The cassette consists of three live tracks, all recorded in 2008 and each over ten minutes in length. Auxpan gives us nearly 20 minutes of pure noise, including a long segment that can be best described as static. At other times I’m convinced my stereo is possessed by the spirt of a serial killer, or at the very least someone wearing a leather hood/mask thing with a zipper mouth (♥). The set is broken down into distinct segments… but it would be a bit much to refer to them as songs. To me they’re more like scenarios. Disturbing scenarios, to be sure, but still. Not the kind of thing to play when mom comes over for dinner, unless you want her to question all that money she spent sending you to private schools all those years.

As for Oberdada von Brûtal… just… wow. The way the vocal sampling is done is a total trip, the two tracks overwhelmingly smothering in their pure intensity. Like a nightmare you can’t wake up from. Not one that is terrifying, but more one that is deeply unsettling in an existential way. I’m sure words can be used to describe von Brûtal, but it feels like symbols could do so just as effectively, so:

Once again, FALK delivered something interesting and challenging. Both Auxpan and Oberdada von Brûtal give us challenging compositions, well outside the mainstream. And I for one appreciate the impact these sonic designs, because they make me think about music differently, forcibly prying open the closed off parts of my brain and forcing them to engage with the sounds.

(♠) FALK = Fuck Art Let’s Kill

(♥) Perhaps “Machine” from the disturbing Nicholas Cage film 8mm. Somehow “The Gimp” from Pulp Fiction didn’t seem as dangerous, probably because he was on a leash.

Vök – “Tension” (2013)

Holly and I were fortunate enough to see Vök perform live way back in April, 2014, a few months before their five-song EP Tension was released. It was the last show we ever saw at Reykjavik’s Faktorý, with Vök opening for Prins Póló and FM Belfast. And not to toot our own horns, but we both remember being quite impressed by the then duo; little did we know what great things were ahead of them.

We ended up with their 2015 EP Circles on CD, so while I was tempted to buy it on vinyl I didn’t have to resist too hard since I have a “rule” against buying something on vinyl if I already have it on another format. That is until we showed up at the “record show” (and I use those words together VERY loosely in this case…) at Nordic House the weekend of Airwaves, and I found that one table was selling nothing but sealed copies of Tension and Circles at only 2.000 ISK (about $17.50) apiece. I couldn’t pass them up at that price. Sometimes a bargain is too good.

Sonically Tension is less dense than Circle, but the the overall vibe is similar and Margrét Rán’s voice remains incredible, one of the best kept secrets in music today. The songs are Tension are a mix of English and Icelandic, which is a change in pace from their more current material which is strictly in English. While this record doesn’t have a song on it as good as “Waterfall,” truth be told most albums ever recorded don’t include a song that good, so that’s hardly a criticism. Look, you need to check them out, so go HERE and listen to what they’ve got on offer. You won’t regret it.

Soundgarden – “Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas” (2016)

I was able to get both of the records on my RSD Black Friday “want list,” Alice In Chain’s Live Facelift and Soundgarden’s Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas. Fortunately for me Easy Street Records always makes sure to have TONS of copies of the Seattle limited releases on hand – I think I’ve only come away from there empty-handed once over the last three years.

Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas is a five track EP on purple vinyl, and I believe it’s limited to 3,000 copies. Now, to be fair I don’t think there are any new tracks on this thing – all these songs have appeared before on other Soundgarden releases, some only as part of maxi-singles. Side A consists of three covers: Black Sabbath’s “Into the Void,” Devo’s “Girl You Want,” and “Stray Cat Blues” by the Rolling Stones. Soundgarden has always had a pretty strong cover game, and these three tracks are no exception. I got turned onto their version of “Into the Void” way back in 1992-ish when it appeared on a CD maxi-single for “Outshined”. (♠) Different versions of this CD exist with differing track lists, and mine happens to the one that includes “Into the Void” (as well as “Girl U Want”). Cornell and the crew took the song in a bit of a different direction, though, substituting the original lyrics with the words of Chief Sealth, the Native American who Seattle is named after. I won’t lie, I’ve always preferred this version to the original, but for a long time most people had never heard it. Now it’s out there for a new generation to discover, and it even got played on KEXP the other day.

I’m a fan of the other two covers on Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas as well. Soundgarden’s version of “Girl U Want” is slower and heavier than the original, though with just a hint of longing in Cornell’s voice, fitting given Soundgarden’s style at the time this was recorded back in the Badmotorfinger era. “Stray Cat Blues” is definitely tuned down, sounding much more like a Soundgarden song than one written by the Stones.

The B side is given over to two original tunes, “She’s a Politician” and a live version of my favorite Badmotorfinger track, “Slaves and Bulldozers”. The former has a bit of an earlier sound, reminiscent of something that might have been part of the Louder Than Love (♥)  sessions. As for the live number, it’s pretty good… lacks a bit of punch though, and the high notes that are so awesome in the studio version are more screamed than sung.

Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas is worth it solely for how good “Into the Void” and “Girl U Want” are. I know I’m going to be dusting these off on my iPod and cranking them in the car again for the first time in a couple of decades.

(♠) I don’t remember where I bought this, but it still has the price tag on the front – $11.99. I’m surprised I still have it after all these years!

(♥) A painfully underrated album, IMO. It might be my favorite Soundgarden LP.

George Carlin – “Class Clown” (1972)

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in the US, which means eating turkey, watching football, going absolutely insane over “deals” at the stores, and arguing about politics with relatives you only see once per year. It’s also a time for reflection and specifically for giving thanks for the good things in your life. Even during a tough year Thanksgiving reminds us to look at the positive aspects of our lives and recognize them. It’s a powerful sentiment – it’s so easy to get caught up in both your day-to-day existence and the things causing you stress, and we can all use a little reminding about the important things and people who are in our lives and make it even a little bit better every single day.

I’ve been particularly reflective this year, because 2016 has been tough at the Life in the Vinyl Lane household. Not hard as in we couldn’t make the mortgage payment or couldn’t put food on the table, mind you, but things like job changes and tons of work related travel (I think I’ll end 2016 having taken about 26 business trips…), and also my dad facing some health challenges. The last of these, of course, is the most serious.

There comes a point in your adulthood when you come to grips with the fact that your parents are getting older and that chances are you will outlive them. You also come to accept the fact that you can’t be sure how or when that will eventually happen – will they have a slow decline, will someone get seriously ill, or will it happen suddenly and without warning? I’ve watched my friends grapple with these challenges, showing great courage when faced with heart-breaking situations. Well, 2016 was my year to join the club.

I was thinking the other day about the trips my parents and I used to take, most of which were by car (or to be more precise, by van). When we lived in the southeast, every summer we’d drive straight through in one day to Long Island to stay with my godmother. When we moved back to Seattle it was road trips to Lake Tahoe or Reno, once again driving straight through in one day with my dad doing pretty much all of the driving, taking maybe a one hour break for a nap. We even once offered to drive a friend’s Winnebago from Anchorage, Alaska to Lake Tahoe for them when they moved, and just so happened to do it at the same time that Mount St. Helens blew it’s top, the icing on what had already been a disastrous, Griswold-esque trip. The things I remember most about these endless drives are the van smelling like an ashtray, peeing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, and listening to comedy tapes in the front seat with my dad.

Like all fathers and sons, dad and I tried to bond over a number of things over the years. Things like bowling and chess I enjoyed, but he was just so good at both that eventually I lost interest. The opposite was true for those early Atari video games, which he enjoyed but I was so much better than him that it took the fun out of playing. We did, however, land on two things as I reached my early teens – baseball cards and comedy. He later turned baseball cards into a full time business, but comedy always remained a simple pleasure, not one we indulged in often together, but when we did we could go for hours at a time. And on those road trips we’d dust off all of our comedy cassettes and play them one after the other in the car. And the one comedian we both loved equally was George Carlin.

I was lucky enough to see Carlin live a few years before he passed away, down in either Vegas or Tahoe. His show was highly political, so while not perhaps as much fun as his earlier stuff Holly and I were both glad for the opportunity to see him perform. Fast forward to Friday and we find ourselves at Easy Street Records for the RSD Black Friday event, and the comedy section of the used records caught my eye. I wondered if they have any George Carlin… of course they did! And for five bucks I couldn’t not buy his all-time classic, Class Clown. It’s hard to believe that we used to buy comedy albums, even more so that we bought them on vinyl. But we did. The last one I remember getting was Sam Kinison’s Louder Than Hell right when it first came out in 1986.

But back to Carlin. I was wondering if this 44 year old material would still hold up today. And the good news is that it does, at least it does if you’re of a certain age. Great comedy is about telling a story and Carlin was one of the all-time greats in this regard, giving you very real-life stories that have funny twists to them. There’s nothing crazy, no massively bizarre and improbable scenarios; it’s just stories of growing up in New York City and attending Catholic schools. There’s no shocking turn at the end of the story, or the need to scream or yell or be extreme, just a man on stage talking to you and making you laugh.

One of the things that strikes me as I listen to Class Clown for the first time in probably 30 years is that for a guy who is so famous for his commentary on obscene words, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” he doesn’t swear much during his routine – hardly at all, in fact. But that routine was actually very important in a legal sense, as a dispute between WBAI radio and the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) about the station playing it on the public airwaves went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court determined that Carlin’s routine was “indecent but not obscene,” resulting in what became known as “The Carlin Rule” about words that you can’t use on public airwaves. Because the government needs to protect the children from hearing the word “piss”. I mean, after all, I’m sure they’ll never hear that word anywhere else…

Carlin resonated with dad and I in part because we both spent a lot of time in Catholic schools and Class Clown has some great stuff on side B about the Catholic experience. “I Used to be Catholic,” “The Confessional,” “Special Dispensation – Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and Limbo”… things that are funny in and of themselves, but a bit funnier if you grew up around this stuff. The side closes with what is undoubtedly Carin’s masterpiece, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” a combination of seemingly simple comedy that also acts as a biting commentary on society and government. Amazingly, and perhaps disappointingly, it still sounds fresh and relevant today, in part because we’re still worried about words.

Class Clown was a fun trip down memory lane. I may need to play this one again for dad and see if he still enjoys it as much as I do. Get well soon, pops.