Chris ‘N’ Cosey And… – “Sweet Surprise” (1985)

I fully admit I’ve been a bit infatuated with Cosey Fanni Tutti over the last year or so. It started with picking up some old Throbbing Gristle releases, then reading her autobiography Art Sex Music, and finally coming across some of her post-TG tunes as part of Chris & Cosey (♠) on some comps. So I was pretty stoked to find this 12″ of “Sweet Surprise” on the display wall over at Daybreak Records the other day, even more so when I realized the “And…” was for collaborators on this project, none other than Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, aka The Eurythmics.

Frankly I love everything about this record. It’s electronic, a little weird, and keeps you on your toes. The 12″ contains two versions – the 1984 mix (see video below) and the later, longer 1985 mix.

(♠) Chris is Chris Carter, her former TG bandmate and long-time life partner.

Sleep – “Dopesmoker” (1996 / 2003)

I was blissfully ignorant of the album Dopesmoker until I joined the “Now Playing” group on Facebook and started seeing it posted from time to time, inevitably generating copious amounts of comments like “this is so rad” and “killer”. It’s one of those weird albums that seems to have a tremendous amount of underground cred, and people who are into it revere it like it’s a holy book. Plus it has a bizarre backstory that others have covered extensively, but long story short the trio Sleep wanted to put out an album that would be one hour-long song, they got signed to do so and presented Dopesmoker to their label London in 1996, and London basically shelved it. It’s been released officially and unofficially by a number of labels over the years, both under the names Dopesmoker and Jerusalem. Most recently it has been put out by Southern Lord starting in 2012 in, as near as I can tell, approximately 216,523 different color variations and versions (♠). It’s one of these versions that I picked up the other day.

I enjoy doom metal, but the genre itself is at times given over to becoming monotonously repetitive if the band isn’t careful. And somehow Sleep managed to write an hour-long jam that manages to dance around that trap time and time again. It’s not that there aren’t segments containing repetitive elements, because there are. But Sleep never stay so long in those places that you want to get up and put something else on instead, and somehow pull that off without any significant quieter intervals, a trick sometimes used in black metal to give the listener a short reprieve.

You can give the whole thing a listen on Bandcamp HERE.

(♠) A slight exaggeration. Slight.

Ratt – “Ratt” (1983)

It’s no secret that I love Ratt. Their debut LP, 1984s Out of the Cellar, is probably the first album that I consumed regularly as an entire album, as opposed to only playing the one or two songs that I liked the most, and by the time I hit 8th grade I probably knew the words to every single song on it. I have their two follow-ups, Invasion of Your Privacy and Dancing Undercover, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally got a copy of their 1983 self-titled EP, Ratt.

This six-song not-quite-an-EP-but-not-quite-an-ablum has five originals and a version of the oft-covered “Walkin’ the Dog”. One track, “Back for More”, actually appears later on Out of the Cellar, while the rest remain pretty obscure. Right out of the gate with “Sweet Cheater” I’m struck by the fact that this feels more like legitimate early 1980s metal than does Ratt’s more popular stuff from just a year later; those drums are heavier and harder than anything on Out of the Cellar by a long-shot. “You Think You’re Tough” slows things down a bit and more to that sleaze style that later came to define Ratt’s sound, all dirty guitars and raspy vocals. “U Got It” (♠) sort of blends both styles, with the guitar solo giving things more of a metal feel by the rhythm and vocals pushing in a more glam direction, and the same is true of “Tell the World”. I feel like the version of “Back for More” on Ratt has a longer acoustic intro than the later version, but honestly I was a bit too lazy to actually do a comparison. “Walkin’ the Dog” is about what you’d expect – a Ratt-ized version of the classic.

I wrote before that one of the interesting things to me about Ratt is that the band’s first three albums are basically the same record – it’s like they got stuck in a time warp and spent their time trying to replicate “Round and Round”. Ratt is similar to those later albums, though still a bit more metal, which makes me wonder how they would have sounded if they’d moved in a more thrash or even NWOBHM direction. I think they had the chops to pull it off, but we’ll never know.

(♠) Can we all just agree that using “U” for “You” in song titles just has to stop? You can do whatever you want when you’re texting or something, but enough already with U. Using “N’ ” in the place of “NG” at the end of words because that’s how they sometimes sound when you say them. But “U” and “You” are the same damn thing.

Assfort – “Ejaculation” (1995)

As I sat down to write this I was surprised to realize that I’d never written about the other Assfort release I own, the 1999 collection Complete Assfortery <1990-’93>. I’m not even sure where I got that one, but it was probably on our trip to Japan a few years back.

As for the 18-song, 36-minute Ejaculation, this is hardcore at its best. I have a lot of respect for the intensity of Japanese musicians and to my ears this level of focus is best expressed in punk. Assfort brings intricate clarity to what is often a chaotic genre using their speed with the precise control of a Formula 1 driver, making it appear that they could go careening off the road and into a fiery crash at any moment while in fact being in complete control the entire time.

No specific favorites here – it’s all rock solid. You can check out a sample track below. I ran across my used copy the other day for six bucks and it was money well spent.

Sir Mix-A-Lot – “Seminar” (1989)

1989s Seminar was one of the first times one of my favorite artists put out a new album after I fell in love with them. Swass was in constant rotation in my ’84 Mustang and at all my friends’ houses, so we were all stoked that Sir Mix-A-Lot had new music coming out. And when it came out, well… I probably liked it more than any of my friends, but for some reason none of us were enthralled with it. And that’s probably not fair, because in many ways it’s superior to Swass – the beats are solid and Mix found his flow. Maybe it didn’t have the local feel of “Posse On Broadway” and the metal vibe from “Iron Man”… but man, “Beepers” and “My Hooptie” are as good as anything Mix-A-Lot ever did. Swass has a few songs that I like more than anything on Seminar, but I feel like Seminar is the more solid album top-to-bottom.

I’m rollin’ like a playboy,
Beep beep beep
— Sir Mix-A-Lot – “Beepers”

One observation here. Many an article and blog post has been written about how CD covers simply can’t compare to the size and detail of a 12″ record jacket. And sure, you can get way more detail on an album. But here’s the thing. I owned this on CD back in the day, and this weekend was the first time I’ve owned it on vinyl. And after all those hours playing it and looking at the CD cover, I’d never noticed before that the reflection of the Mix Crew on the table has them wearing different clothes than what they’re sporting on the main image – togas versus some militant stuff. I can’t believe I never noticed this before. I feel like somehow part of my senior year in high school was a lie. So I guess this validates that premise about the power of album covers.

Look, Seminar might be a bit inconsistent. But when it’s good, it’s great. “My Hooptie” slays all comers, that perfect blend of flow and humor that Mix-A-Lot did better than anyone. I mean, you know the rapper is from Seattle if he writes a song called “Gortex”. I’ve been on a bit Mix jag since seeing him live back in December – and it’s fun when what you remember being good still sounds good almost 30 years later. Thanks Mix, I will be seeing you live again.