Sluglords – “Trails of Slime” (1984)

I don’t know much about this 1980s hardcore band from San Francisco. I actually bought the record thinking it was a completely different band. While there was some initial disappointment when I realized my mistake, that quickly disappeared as soon as the beginning of “FxTxWx” kicked in, because this is a killer record. I’m not normally into hardcore, but Trails of Slime has some thrash elements to it as well, reminding me a bit of Wehrmacht and maybe just a hint of DRI. My only complaint here is that the runout groove runs all the way under the label – so you need to bring up that tonearm before the stylus hits the paper!

The Best of 2019

And here we are, another year rapidly approaching the finish line, a half dozen days left before we close the book on the second decade of the 2000s, the 2020s anxiously awaiting their turn. Will it be another Roaring 20s like the one that happened a decade ago? I don’t know. All I do know is that the older I get, the faster time seems to pass, slipping almost unnoticed until a season change makes you realize another three months slipped away, until another New Year’s moves another bead to the wrong side of the ledger.

All in all 2019 was a pretty great year in music, at least from my perspective. We got some travel in and saw shows in four different countries. We discovered some new favorite artists. We made some new friends through music, and strengthened our bonds with old ones. And I bought a lot of music. A LOT of music. Records, tapes, CDs, downloads… in the era of free and streaming, I’m still a bit of a luddite in preferring the physical, the tangible.

So, without further ado, here it is – the 8th annual Life in the Vinyl Lane “Best Of” post!

Top 5 New Releases in 2019

  1. I Don’t Know How To Be Happy – Deli Girls (US)
  2. Return – Foreign Monkeys (Iceland)
  3. Shlon – Omar Souleyman (Syria)
  4. OHMelectronic – OHMelectronic (Canada)
  5. Blizzard People Compilation (Iceland)

By my count I posted about 51 different 2019 releases this year, excluding re-releases. There were also handful of things from this year I heard but didn’t write about for various reasons, including laziness. While I posted about a few more new releases in 2018, I feel like overall my consumption of new music was about the same as last year.

My favorite release for 2019 is Deli Girls’ I Don’t Know How To Be Happy. This is perhaps an unusual selection for Life in the Vinyl Lane not because of the genre, which is in fact difficult to define, but instead because it never came out, to the best of my knowledge, on any kind of physical medium. Nope. This one was digital only. And I’ve played the hell out of it. A blend of techno, experimental electronica, power electronics, and punk, I Don’t Know How To Be Happy is one of the rawest things I’ve heard in a long time, like a hot spot on your arm that you can’t stop scratching even though you know you should. The music grates on your sanity to create an emotional edginess before the vocals come in and pummel you into paste. I couldn’t get enough of “Officer” and “I’d Rather Die” on my iPod, though that might say as much about my daily commute as it does about anything else.

Next up was the triumphant return of Iceland’s Foreign Monkeys after a decade-long hiatus, the appropriately named Return. We loved their debut , and the follow-up put more emphasis on the garage rock side of their sound, stripping things down to the core elements. For years we regretted that we’d never caught them at our first few Airwaves festivals, but this year we got the chance and jumped at it – and the album captured their live set well. Omar Souleyman tried to sneak one past me late in the year, but I caught wind of Shlon in time to pre-order the vinyl (which comes out in January) and get the digital download. I’m considering this part of 2019 since the download is available now. Shlon definitely sounds like a Souleyman album, but it also shows more range than some of his previous works with some slower and more sonically emotional moments. You can never go wrong with Omar Souleyman.

The Top 5 rounds out with some great EBM/industrial from Canada’s OHMelectronic and a comp out of Iceland called Blizzard People. I debated on whether or not to include Blizzard People, since putting a comp on a list like this seems a bit lazy. But here’s the thing, or more precisely things. These six tracks are all relatively new. And I’m certain I played this album more than any other in 2019. Every song is a burner, and Logitech’s “Leather Forecast” is the best jam I heard all year. Plus it’s my blog so I can do what I want, so there.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Deli Girls
  2. OHMelectronic
  3. Blóðmör
  4. Hula
  5. Hvörf

I already mentioned the first two artists in my Top 5 New Releases list, so let’s start with Blóðmör. I’ve been in contact with the band’s guitarist/vocalist Haukur for a number of years – we connected online due to our mutual love of the bands HAM and DIMMA. What I didn’t know until this year, though, is that Haukur had his own metal band, and they had a huge 2019, releasing both a demo and the six-song Líkþorn. Plus, you know, they won Iceland’s annual battle of the bands. Pretty killer year. We got to meet Haukur after the Blóðmör show at Gaukurinn during Airwaves, and he couldn’t have been nicer. I’ll be keeping my eyes on these guys in the future.

Hula is a sort of industrial dub band I discovered in the used section of Seattle’s Jive Time Records and over the course of the year I picked up a half dozen of their records, each one of them all-killer-no-filler. There are still some titles I don’t have and I’ll definitely pick them up as I come across them. Last but not least is Hvörf, a new collaboration between two tremendous Icelandic musicians, Jóhannes Birgir Pálmason and Þórir Georg. Their debut, Music Library 01, is an impressive collection of eight tracks in two distinct styles, a more classical-based mood-setter and one that’s a bit more spacey with dialogue sampling. It was an unexpected surprise at the end of the year, and a welcome one.

Top 5 Purchases/Acquisitions

  1. Þagað Í Hel – Þeyr
  2. Soðin – Blóðmör
  3. Nælur Compilation
  4. Artoffact Records Sale
  5. Three Boxes of Free Stuff

It’s a bit odd that of the top three purchases on this list, only one was vinyl. But oh, what a huge one! While I still try to resist describing myself as a “collector”, I do have a handful of items on my “want” list that are probably there as much due to their rarity as they are for the music. And at the number one position for probably the last five years has been Þeyr’s 1980 debut Þagað Í Hel. As part of the first wave of Icelandic punk most of their stuff is hard to find, having been pressed in small quantities and rarely exported. But Þagað Í Hel takes it to a different level, as I’ve been told that much of the print run was returned due to pressing flaws (and my copy has one of these on the B side) and the masters were destroyed so the songs themselves exist only on this vinyl release. I had an alert set on Discogs for it, and the second a copy showed up for sale from Sweden I bought it, no questions asked. That process seemed a bit anti-climactic, but I’m still glad to have the record.

Blóðmör’s super-limited live demo tape Soðin and the Nælur compilation CD both came to me via a good friend of mine in Iceland who always hooks me up with amazing stuff, and these two have been getting a lot of play since our return from Reykjavik. The Artoffact label online sale resulted in a huge box of vinyl and CDs arriving on our doorstep, turning me onto a bunch of new-to-me bands like OHMelectronic, Individual Totem, and Images in Vogue, as well as giving me my first exposure to Die Krupps. The last spot on the list is held down by three massive and heavy boxes of 1960s and 70s rock I got for free from someone at work. A lot of it was stuff I’m not interested in, and quite a few of the jackets were water damaged and moldy, but I still pulled some gems out out there, and even though I had to throw out the jackets of the firs six Sabbath albums, the records inside were pristine, so I can’t complain.

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. A-Ha – Royal Albert Hall, London
  2. Fufanu – Urban Spree, Berlin
  3. Hatari – Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik
  4. Hermigerville – Lucky Records, Reykjavik
  5. Foreign Monkeys – Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar, Reykjavik

We weren’t able to attend Iceland Airwaves in 2018, an absence that broke our nine year run of consecutive visits. And in reflecting on it I realized what I missed the most was not, believe it or not, the music, though that was still a gaping hole in my November. No, what I missed the most was seeing all the people who have become our friends over the course of a decade’s worth of Airwaves. We have an entire crew’s wroth of friends who live in Reykjavik – Ingvar, Mumbi, Gestur, Jóhannes, Einar, Bob, Reynir, Leana, the hilarious shit-talking guy who runs the restaurant Shalimar… plus all our friends who travel in from points all over the globe – Tristen and Andy (US), Matt and Tanya (Canada), the KEXP crew (especially Kevin and Jim), Paul (Scotland)… it takes a village. And this year we extended our Airwaves family even further, spending time with Rob and Olie and Oscar and Sarah… that’s what makes Airwaves so special.

Anyway, now that I’ve waxed poetic about that, the best show was, hands down, A-Ha at Royal Albert Hall (below). When I told people we were going to that show I was surprised by how many people my age did not remember A-Ha at all, and those who did generally only knew them for “Take On Me”. I forget how much of a nerd I am sometimes, as well as how big of an A-Ha fan Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane is. So we made a special effort to see this show, and it was worth it. The first set saw the band playing the entire Hunting High and Low album in order, and after a break they then went into a second set of their other material. The venue was amazing, the sound perfect, and the video work tremendous.

Fufanu playing in Berlin while we were there was an unexpected surprise, one we made sure to take advantage of. Seeing them in a small venue like this was great and they were on top of their game. The other three shows on the list were all from Airwaves, and two of them were off-venue. Hermigerville’s set at Lucky Records was, unquestionably, the most fun I had at Airwaves this year; his joy in playing the music is infectious and the crowd was happy to come along for the ride. The Foreign Monkeys set was in a hotel and there were only a few dozen of us there, but the guys tore it up and even some friends who tend to be a bit more ambivalent about rock clearly enjoyed their energy.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America

  1. Easy Street Records, Seattle
  2. Reckless Records, Chicago
  3. Daybreak Records, Seattle
  4. Ranch Records, Bend (OR)
  5. Silver Platters, Seattle

The Rest of the World

  1. Lucky Records, Reykjavik
  2. Space Hall, Berlin
  3. Sister Ray, London
  4. Rough Trade West, London
  5. Hard Wax, Berlin

The top spots on both lists are pretty much on lockdown, at least on any year we make it to Reykjavik. Easy Street is our local Seattle area go-to, and Lucky is a home-away-from-home in Iceland.

I didn’t do much traveling in the US this year, but a January business trip to Chicago found me in a hotel just a few blocks from Reckless, and I went there every night. We also made it down to Bend, Oregon for a wedding and got to spend some time (and money) at Ranch Records where I found a few intriguing punk titles. Daybreak in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood continues to impress with its variety and good prices, and the massive selection at the Seattle branch of Silver Platters is always worth a visit.

The international list was a bit tougher to narrow down because we went to some outstanding shops in the UK, Germany, Denmark, and Iceland. Berlin’s Space Hall (listening stations – right) is an essential stop, especially if you’re into electronic music. Hard Wax, while not nearly as large as Space Hall, was well-curated and every single thing I flipped past seemed interesting. In London I had my best used buying experiences at Rough Trade West and Sister Ray – I’m pretty sure I could have easily blown my entire vinyl budget for the trip in either of those stores. There were some other great stops as well – London’s Phonica Records and Potsdam’s Silverspeed Records would have probably made the list any other year, but in 2019 the competition was steep.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 1 by Henry Rollins
  2. Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD by Martin Aston
  3. England’s Hidden Reverse by David Keenan
  4. The 33 1/3 B-Sides by Will Stockton and D. Gilson (eds.)
  5. Revenge of the She Punks by Vivien Goldman

I think I only read six music-related books in 2019, so this list wasn’t too hard to put tighter. Henry Rollins’ Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 1 just came out in November and it’s basically a journal-format love letter to music and record collecting covering a three year period. It looks like Henry and the team have the next two volumes already in the works, so I’m sure I’ll devour those when they come out as well. Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD was another high point as it opened my eyes to the 4AD label and turned me on to a number of bands I hadn’t heard of before, which is a big plus. Same with England’s Hidden Reverse, which expanded my knowledge of some of the more fringe quasi-industrail performers who later became at least a bit more well-known like Coil, Current 93, and Nurse with Wound.

 

It’s hard to believe 2019 is in the books, but here we are again my friends. We’re already starting to talk about travel plans for 2020 and it looks like the new year may take us to some new places on the planet, which means more new music to discover. I can’t wait.

“Ohrensausen” Compilation (1986)

The other day I posted about “difficult” music, and today I’m continuing along in the same vein. Ohrensausen and the previously reviewed The Elephant Table Album share two artists, Coil and Nurse With Wound, but that’s it. The only other artist on Ohrensausen I’m remotely familiar with is Asmus Tietchens, so I’m a close to being a blank slate here.

The comp comes out of the gate strong with the somewhat schizophrenic “Split and Well Hung” by Chrystal Belle Scrodd, a jarring piece that feels like a few different tracks spliced together. Nurse With Wound’s “The Cockroach of Del Monte” is one of Nurse’s more coherent track, one that certainly has many seemingly random elements but arranges them in a way that makes sense. The Coil track is surprisingly bombastic and militaristic, though that shouldn’t have come as any surprise given its title, “His Body Was a Playground for the Nazi Elite”. Probably my favorite song on the copy is H.N.A.S.’ “Speck Des Jahres”, the second half of which is a great, driving industrial jam.

I have the second pressing of Ohrensausen from 1987, which is on white vinyl. If you do find a copy of this in the wild, check and see if it includes the inserts – there should be four total, though mine only had three (dammit!). And for what it’s worth, it’s a lot more difficult than the self-described difficult The Elephant Table Album I posted about the other day.

“The Elephant Table Album: A Compilation of Difficult Music” (1983)

What do we mean when we describe music as “difficult”? I know I’ve done it before here on the blog, but I suspect it means different things to different people. Is it music with unusual timing signatures? Disturbing lyrics? Experimental work with sound that doesn’t fall into any kind of recognizable pattern or framework? Genres you don’t personally care for? Something that creates an unsettled mood in the listener? Or maybe all of the above… or none… I don’t know. When I use the term difficult, I usually mean something I find musically well outside of the norm, something I can’t quite wrap my mind around. This includes non-music and noise, as well as experimental and avantgarde. It’s music that challenges my preconceptions of what actually constitutes “music”, and I find it valuable in that it expands my mind. I don’t always like it, and often I only listen to a given album once, but that doesn’t mean the listening experience wasn’t valuable.

So I was intrigued when I ran across this record yesterday over at Easy Street Records, because it says right on the cover that it’s “a compilation of difficult music”. I wondered what that meant to the label, and the first artist name my eyes fell upon was Chris and Cosey. Hmm… I don’t normally think of them as difficult. Is that because I’ve listened to them a bunch over the last few months? A little further down is Coil. OK, I sort of get that, at least some of their stuff. Nurse With Wound. Now this is making a bit more sense. I only know a few of the other 17 performers (♠), specifically SPK, Muslimgauze, and Legendary Pink Dots. That gave me enough context to know that this was an album I needed to buy.

The genesis of The Elephant Table Album was an article Dave Henderson wrote for the May 7, 1983 issue of Sounds entitled “Wild Planet!” (the text of which can be found HERE). It was a survey of the more extreme music being made at the time, a listing of dozens of bands with blurbs on each. Four months after that article appeared this double album came out. I’m not sure how it was received at the time, nor do I know how I would have reacted to it back in 1983 (probably badly), but rough 36 years later in my living room it’s tremendous. 400 Blows’ “Beat the Devil” is a high point, along with the Chris and Cosey jam.

Styles mix on this album, though there’s still a general cohesion. The Elephant Table Album opens with an industrial dance track, Portion Control’s “Chew You to Bits”, then takes a sharp left turn to Chris and Cosey, though their “Raining Tears of Love” is less poppy than their later sound, a methodical electro dystopian dream sequence. From there we take another sudden swerve and find ourselves listening to horns and synths and piano and disconnectedly haunting vocals in the very avantgarde “Musak from Hawthorne Court” by Metamorphosis. And it just keeps going on like that, song after song, surprise after surprise.

I can’t say enough good things about The Elephant Table Album. It was re-released on vinyl in 1989 with a different set of liner notes, and that same year a CD version came out, though the CD only has 17 tracks. It also sounds like the CD version was actually recorded directly from a vinyl copy and not from the masters, so buyer beware.

(♠) The track listing on the reverse of the record goes up to 21. However, Muslimgauze is listed twice, both times numbered 9. So what’s the deal? Looking at the grooves on that side it looks like the record only has five tracks, which would mean that despite Muslimgauze being listed twice there is in fact only one track devoted to him on the record.

“Tales From the Pit, Vol. 3” Compilation (2013)

My buddy Travis liberated this record while vinyl digging at an antique mall. It’s been a while since I’ve done that, but my recollections are groups of crappy records with asking prices about 5-10 times their actual value, with most of the records being very common or very obscure. Travis has better luck in those places than I do, and when he came across this copy of Tales From the Pit, Vol. 3 he recognized immediately that, well, it didn’t belong there. This is simply not the kind of record that does or should end up in an antique mall. Plus there’s a local connection because the record was compiled by Whidbey Island Pyrate Punx and Whidbey Island is just a 20 or so minute ferry ride from Seattle. And he knew just who would want such a record… Thanks Travis!

I actually hung around on Whidbey Island a bit back in high school. My friend’s grandfather had a small, rustic cabin on the water and sometimes we’d all pile into my Mustang and head out there on the ferry for an overnight. When the tide was out a long sand spit would become exposed that was a very short rowboat ride from the beach. Needless to say, there were some bonfires had on that spit. And some beers may have been drunk as well. I can neither confirm nor deny that last part (confirmed). So I’ve always had fond memories of Whidbey.

As for Tales From the Pit, it’s crammed with 21 different bands. Most of ’em are from the greater Seattle area, including four from Whidbey itself. There are also a handful from Boise and one each from Portland, New Hampshire (?), and Bejing (???!!!). Stylistically it’s a lot of punk, but there’s some thrash here (Coven’s “Mow ‘Em Down” is pretty rad) and even some high-octane rockabilly. The recording quality varies a bit, but overall it sounds decent. High points include the previously mentioned Coven as well as The Jerkwadz’s “Already Owned”, which is catchy as hell.

I don’t know much about the record itself, other than that my copy is on marbled orange vinyl, as is the one shown on Discogs. No clue about the print run size or any of that. So if you find it, and the price is right, grab it. It’s worth the listen.