“Sub Pop Rock City” Compilation (1988)

There are two things you should know about being a record collector in Seattle:

1. It’s easy to find Seattle and Sub Pop stuff here.
2. It’s impossible to find Seattle and Sub Pop stuff here.

Ok, that makes no sense on the surface, but play along. You’ll probably find more Seattle and Sub Pop stuff here than anywhere… but rarely the stuff you’re looking for. And on the off chance you do find what you want, it’s way more expensive than anywhere else in the record collecting universe. Case in point – I’d like to pick up the Sup Pop 100 vinyl. I finally ran across it the other day at a local shop for $175. Now, I’m all about buying local. I’ll pay more to buy local. But not when I can find this same record on eBay for $55-75 all day long. Welcome to Seattle

So this is why I ended up buying the elusive Sub Pop Rock City comp on vinyl not in Seattle, the home of Sub Pop and lots of the bands on the record. Oh no. I bought this record in Stockholm, Sweden, where I ran across it in the absolutely incredible punk store Trash Palace. I laughed when I first ran across it. Then I realized that for the price, the Glitterhouse version of this release was reasonable and worth picking up and schlepping back home with me. Go figure.

Sub Pop Rock City was released in 1988 (though the Green River track “Hangin’ Tree” was recorded in 1986), just before the Seattle scene blew up nationally. I had this record back in the day, back before I sold my original vinyl collection. So I was kind of stoked to add it to my new, growing vinyl library this summer. The selection of bands is impeccable. Sure, Nirvana is here. And so is Soundgarden. But let’s not overlook not one but two classic Mark Arm grunge bands, Mudhoney and Green River, alongside Tad, The Fluid, and Blood Circus. Also included are some early bands on the scene, Cat Butt and Thrown Ups. If you’re looking for a true grunge primer, Sub Pop Rock City is it.

I’m embarrassed to say I missed most of these bands live back in the day, but I’ve seen Mudhoney twice in the last couple of years (and I’m going to see them again in February), and they’re still amazing. I also caught Tad Doyle in his current band, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth (the first time as an opener for Mudhoney in a classic double-bill). And while the crowds still have a ton of energy, watching a bunch of 40-somethings mosh isn’t quite the same thing as what you see on the cover of Sub Pop Rock City. No matter how much we try, there’s always the danger of someone breaking a hip.

I know a lot of people don’t like comps, and I get it. It’s not the same thing as getting a real feel for a band over the course of an entire album. Regardless, the mix here is solid, and unless you’re a serious student of grunge you’re not going to try to track down albums from all these bands – I mean, I only have albums by seven of the eleven bands featured. I don’t pretend to be the be-all-end-all grunge fan, but I like it… and I still don’t have all this stuff. If for no other reasons it’s worth picking up for Tad’s “Sex God Missy” and Green River’s “Hangin’ Tree”.

Put on your flannel shirt and work boots, grab a PBR tallboy, and put this sucker on the turntable. Sure, your hair isn’t long like it used to be… but you can still rock out.

The Garbagemen – “Take It Away” (1986)

Toronto’s own The Garbagemen!

Now, I didn’t find this record in one of my “usual” spots. Instead I ran across it at a used book store, of all places. And while I freely admit I probably overpaid, I do like it a lot, so that takes the sting out of it.

What can I tell you about The Garbagemen? Not much. They were formed in Toronto, and Take It Away was their second, and I believe, final recording, and the only one to come out on vinyl (their debut was cassette only). According to the jacket the recording was done live at the Cameron Public House in Toronto on July 16, 1986… after punk had come and gone… hell, after new wave had basically come and gone. Released on the Craps label, it’s definitely a live recording, though probably in a small club and you usually can’t hear the audience – but it does have that certain hollow, echo sound I associate with live recordings. The Garbagemen were a three-piece, perhaps most notable for the fact that their lead singer, Howard “Howeird” Szafer, also played the soprano and tenor sax as well as the bass clarinet.

This is a song about astrology. It’s called Uranus Rising.
— Howard Szafer, song intro to audience

I was playing this the other day when Holly came home from running errands, and she made a point of asking who it was and telling me she liked it. That generally doesn’t happen, so I took it as a good sign. What kind of music do The Garbagemen play? Tough to say. The bass lines are certainly funky. Is lounge punk a genre? If not, it should be, because it sounds like it would be awesome, and it sounds like The Garbagemen’s sound. Lounge punk. It has a nice vibe and goes well with the cocktail I’m enjoying as I write this, so there you go.

Take It Away is funky, it’s loung-ey, but has a bit of an edge to it. And the lyrics are, on the whole, both smart and funny. “Dustbin Dissidents,” “Donkey Dick,” “Opiates, Religion of the Masses,” and “Boy Scouts in Bondage” (among others) grace side A, and catchy jams like “Wild Thingie” and “Bills Bills Bills” (not about football) on the reverse.

Life is full of things you can hold onto,
You can grasp the chance or tie your shoe,
But the devil has work for the idle thumb,
Is that how it found its way up your bum?

A lot of people don’t like “funny” when it comes to their music. I sort of get it. But you know, sometimes funny is funny (or as Huey Lewis famously sang, “Sometimes bad is bad”), and when the music is interesting, a little wit in the lyrics adds some charm. The Garbagemen aren’t disgusting, even though though could be based on their topics… male members, drugs, the clap… They’re more witty. Plus that funky bass line… yeah, musically the band has something going on, and it’s pretty cool.

My ice cubes are dry. Time to flip Take It Away and listen to side A again while pouring another round.

Momentum – “Promo CD”

I’m sure some of you get tired of me writing about Icelandic bands. Yeah, well, fine. The fact is that there are some cool bands coming out of Iceland worth checking out, and it’s a great place to visit. So sue me. Or better yet, go to Reykjavik and see for yourself!

So… Holly and I walked into a venue on Saturday night at Airwaves this year to see a band I really like called Dr. Spock. It was about 11PM, and since they weren’t on yet, I strolled over to the merch table to see what wares were being offered. There I met one of the guys from Momentum who showed me some of their stuff. I thanked him, but I didn’t know the band so I took a pass. But as I turned to leave he handed me a copy of their three-song promo CD for free, and a button. I thanked him again and left with my CD and button, figuring they must have just wrapped up their set. But no. Momentum wasn’t going on stage until 2AM… THREE FULL HOURS AWAY. My man was manning the merch booth THREE HOURS before their show. Now if that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is. That’s someone who believes in his music and wants to get it in people’s hands. And that means it’s worth writing about.

Momentum’s Facebook page describes the band’s style as “surreal/psychedelic metal”. Well, I agree with the metal part. It’s heavy. It’s deep. It’s got those sort of screaming, growled vocals you hear from Scandinavian metal bands. And it’s really good.

Promo CD (for lack of a more apt name…) has three songs: “The Freak is Alive,” “Holding Back,” and “As the Skies Break.” All three are heavy, and at 16+ minutes it’s longer than some 8-10 song punk albums. “The Freak is Alive” is to me a more typical Scandinavian metal song. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it’s pretty straight forward. “Holding Back” starts off in a similar fashion, but about half way through there is a break, and the song slows down and becomes much more melodic, with some decent singing. The tempo starts to slowly build as it moves toward it’s conclusion, mixing both singing and growling, before closing out with just a piano… maybe I’m starting to get that surreal feel! “As the Skies Break” is an even further departure (it’s as if the three songs progressed from heaviest to most surreal…) from the other two tracks, though still with the same metal vibe.

If your musical tastes are somewhat broad and you like metal, Momentum is a band that may give you something new and enjoyable. It’s a different take on metal, not just the standard “we do all of our songs like this, except for the one slow song we put on every album.” It feels like the guys in Momentum are trying to explore music, and offering to pick you up in their van and take you with them. So if your thumb has been out for a while, waiting for something new to come by, get in the van and let Momentum take you on a road trip to explore some Icelandic metal.

“Here’s to the Losers – A Storeroom Comp” Compilation (1994)

I lived in the Seattle area at the perfect time to experience the city’s musical ascendency. I was the right age (late teens/early 20s), was maybe a 20-30 minute drive from the city, and bought pretty much any Sub Pop single that came out (my one regret of having sold my first record collection years ago was the loss of those singles…). But I didn’t go to live shows. I just didn’t. At the time I wasn’t a big fan of live music, and I really wasn’t into the bar thing. So despite being at ground zero of an amazing music scene, I more or less missed it. So goes life.

That being said, the one small live show I did go to during that period was in a tiny rented hall to see a band called Bone Cellar. I made the trek out to that show because I sort of knew one of the members of Bone Cellar, guitarist Dave Keppel. He lived down the street from a good friend of mine, so I’d see him from time to time hanging out at the house when we were skating, listening to music, drinking beers, and all those other things we did to pass the time. Man, I don’t even remember where exactly that show took place. If I recall correctly, there wasn’t even a stage – the band was on floor level with the audience. And it was loud. Really loud. I was impressed that someone I knew was actually good enough to be in a legit band that played live shows that people actually paid to see. Plus Dave was a very cool guy, so it was fun to see him play.

So… while I was digging through records at Easy Street Records on the Black Friday Record Store Release Day, Holly was poking around among the used CDs. As she’s wont to do, she made sure to check out the comps, and showed me this gem. What caught her eye is that it included a Bone Cellar track, which was awesome. Plus at $3 it seemed like a bargain. Normally I try to keep my ramblings confined to records, but some stuff just never came out on vinyl, so you have to work with what you’ve got. And the music is the important part, not the format.

The Storeroom was a Seattle tavern located at the south end of Lake Union. I’m not sure if it’s still there or not… might be worth a field trip to take a look someday. One of the bartenders described The Storeroom in the CD insert this way: “A grand ole time was had by all especially if you liked hot, sweaty, stinking masses of people packed in like sardines, getting all tanked up and throwin’ cheap beer or diving off the bar (or any other available surface) at you.” Which sounds both interesting and intense. Regardless, The Storeroom hosted a lot of live bands back in the day, hence the Here’s to the Losers compilation which includes 33 tracks from, as near as I can tell, 23 different bands, all recorded between 1991 and 1994. Most of the songs are short (only six are longer than three minutes, with Bone Cellar’s track the only one longer than 3:31), but the album still clocks in at a rather robust 77 minutes, so it’s got a ton of music on it.

Stylistically this probably is not what a lot of modern fans of Nirvana and Pearl Jam would expect. A lot of musicians bristle when their music is described as “grunge”, and frankly I think that by the time grunge became popular it had sort of spun off into a totally separate genre. You could call it whatever you want – post-grunge, pop-grunge, indie, alt, etc. While genres are perceived as limiting by musicians, they’re valuable reference points to at least give people a rough idea of what a band’s sound is like. So how would I describe the music on Here’s to the Losers? Well, there are a lot of bands here, so it sort of requires some broad generalizing. I guess if I had to label it I’d call it something like punk-grunge. This is more what the genre sounded like before it got cleaned up and popular on the radio. And please don’t take this as me trying to be pretentious about that – I really love a lot of that music that became popular grunge. This is just something different. Earlier. Rawer. Coming from someplace deep inside. Someplace darker and aggressive. Someplace that smells like stale beer and floors that haven’t been cleaned in a decade. There are a few exceptions, such as Nothing’s “How Long”, which is basically a straight up pop song.

The bands vary enough that I think there’s at least something here for most punk/early grunge fans. Among my favorites are Lectra Shave’s “Idiot”, Patchouli Sewer’s “Golden Boy”, and Zulu Chainsaw’s “Jack Dammit”. One really positive thing about the comp as a whole is the quality of the recordings – the mix sounds really good. It’s not blown out, nor is it recorded way too low, two typical faults of live recordings, especially those made in smaller venues. It sounds like it was recorded in a studio, but while still maintaining that raw sound and energy of live performances.

He’s an outcast,
An oxymoron,
An oddball,
— Patchouli Sewer, “Golden Boy”

Most of these bands are long gone as near as I can tell (though I confess I didn’t try to find all of them), but the Piss Drunks are still alive and well, and I believe a version of Bone Cellar (minus Dave Keppel) is around too.

If you want to get a feel for what was going on in the small bars and clubs in Seattle in the early 1990s, Here’s to the Losers gives it to you. Finding a copy is another matter entirely though… you’ll have to hunt around online or dig through the compilation bins, I guess. But if you can get your hands on one, buy it!

Halleluwah – “K2R” 10″ (2012)

Halleluwah is the newest project from Icelandic musician and economist (no, seriously, he’s an actual economist who is currently pursuing his Ph. D.!) Sölvi Blöndal, who previously gained fame with the rap metal group Quarashi from 1996 to 2005. Although I started becoming a big fan of Icelandic popular music in 2009, I’d never heard of Quarashi before, so I wasn’t able to associate Quarashi with Blöndal’s new project. Thankfully my main man Ingvar at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records practically insisted I buy this 10″ single, basically telling me that when he’s working in the store he constantly rotates records on and off the turntable… but when he put Halleluwah on there for the first time he just kept flipping it over… and over… and over, listening to it multiple times in a row. High praise from Ingvar, so I picked up a copy.

The K2R 10″ has two tracks, “K2R” and “Whiplashes”, and as an added bonus the vinyl came with a CD of the for easy digitizing. The lyrics/vocals are not Blöndal’s, but in fact contributed and sung by Egill Ólafur Thorarensen, a.k.a. Tiny, who was a bandmate of Blöndal’s in Quarashi. The two tracks are relatively standard length, clocking it at a combined 7:24, and it appears they’ve been getting some radio play in Iceland. Both songs are sung/rapped in English.

The song “K2R” opens with an old school 60’s style pop beat, and “Whiplashes” follows a similar trend but with a more surf-style psych sound to it. Tiny’s rapping is pretty straight forward, making for an interesting mix of two musical styles that you normally don’t find together. There is a touch of sampling here as well, with “K2R” pulling a line from Little Anthony & The Imperials 1964 classic, “I Think I’m Going Out of My Head” (plus I think there’s at least one other sample in there that I couldn’t identify).

Bitch you got a degree for that body?
Shake that ass magna cum laude,
Young and excited,
Every single thing about her is erotic.

If you can find me another rapper who turns a phrase about degrees and magna cum laude, and uses it to describe a woman’s body, I’d like to know.

Halleluwah has two other tracks out there that can be found on Soundcloud – “1000 Eyes Instrumental” and “The Christmas Krautmix 2010”. The first is a more standard electronic hip hop number, while Krautmix is a 26 minute electronic marathon with some vocals and sampling.

I’m disappointed we didn’t see Halleluwah live at Airwaves this year. So many bands, so little time, though to be honest had I listened to the CD while we were there, I probably would have sought them out. Hopefully they’ll be back in 2013 and I’ll get my chance.

Halleluwah has a great fresh sound, and I encourage you to take a listen to them on Soundcloud. I think you’ll like it.