Soundgarden – “Live From the Artists Den” (2019)

I pre-ordered the colored vinyl version of this release, and unfortunately production delays meant that while the black edition was in the stores earlier in the summer mine just arrived in the mail a few weeks ago. This was kind of a bummer, but it is what it is, and now that it’s here and I can see the attention to detail and quality of the overall package, I have to say it was worth the wait.

Somehow despite living in the greater Seattle area (though never actually in Seattle) since 1984, I never saw Soundgarden live. Clearly I have no excuse for this. I was buying their records before anyone outside of Seattle even knew who they were and there were plenty of opportunities to catch them. But such is life. Fortunately there are some great live recordings out there, like Live From the Artists Den.

I love that they opened with a sludgy classic from their debut, the weighty “Incessant Mace”. Those first three Soundgarden LPs (and the assorted EPs and Sub Pop singles) are my favorite parts of their catalog. One of the great things about Soundgarden live is that they don’t make an effort to sound polished – of course the songs are recognizable, but there’s a rawness as well, a sense that anything could happen at any time. Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in the vocals, with Cornell’s voice lacking the prettiness that came to define it on the band’s later albums. This is aggressive Chris, singing like a caged animal. This might be the one bummer I had on the collection as well, though, as he can’t (or maybe won’t) hit the high notes on one of my all-time-favorites “Jesus Christ Pose”. Other than that, though, this one is solid from start to finish.

DIY Synthesizer Kits #1 – Atari Punk Console

While I’m definitely a big music fan, I’ve never made much of an effort to learn how to play it (and given how bad my singing voice is, that was never an option). I played violin in fourth grade, and clarinet in fifth, but that was it for any formal attempts. I suppose I could read music at a basic level at one point, but that skill has long since disappeared from my brain. Later I owned a little Casio keyboard and an electronic drum pad, but never got anywhere with them. I wouldn’t say I’m incapable of learning – after all, at one time I could play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the violin. But the older I get, the less likely it seems.

Then a few weeks back I was doing something online and ended up coming across an article about DIY synthesizers. We’re not talking keyboards here, but various electronic components that you can build and use to make sound. That was an incredibly fascinating revelation, and after a few hours going down an internet K-hole I emerged at the website for Rakit, a UK-based company that makes a variety of these DIY kits designed for a range of skill levels, even first-timers like me who had never built anything electronic and in fact have never even used a soldering iron. So what did I do? I ordered six different kits from Rakit, that’s what I did, along with a soldering iron and some angled wire cutters from Amazon. And yesterday I sat down in the garage and made my first attempt at building a synth.

A quick disclaimer here. The folks at Rakit don’t know I’m writing these. I bought my kits from them at full price through their website – I didn’t get any freebies or discounts by offering to write about their stuff. I’m writing about them because I bought them and have been having fun with them.

I started with the Mini APC, the “Atari Punk Console”. The reason I began here was simple – it was the smallest kit and had the least number of pieces. I figured there was less to screw up, and since the APC only has minimal functionality I wouldn’t be too bummed if I screwed it up. The Rakit kits are great – everything you need is right here in this one bag, and the instructions are available online. You can even order the solder they recommend you use (which I did), plus add-ons such as a small speaker for the APC and connectors for hooking it up with some of their other kits, like the Baby 8 (which I also bought, but haven’t yet built). The kit comes to about $20 US (plus shipping) and the APC runs on a regular 9-volt battery.

After unpacking all the parts and spreading them out, this didn’t seem too intimidating even for a newbie like me. Only 15 things to attach to the APC board.

As a complete and total novice, this took me about 45 minutes to assemble. It would have been much faster had I displayed any common sense as to the order in which I mounted the pieces – a few times I found myself with some hard-to-reach soldering because I’d mounted other pieces around the spot I was working on next. Mounting from inside to outside would have made it a bit quicker.

I didn’t attach the little external speaker and instead tried to connect it to an old Mac laptop, but couldn’t get any sound. Oh man… did I mess something up? But then I plugged some headphones into the jack and it worked like a charm! There isn’t a whole lot to the APC – just pitch and depth knobs. That being said, it was a lot of fun to play around with, and while I don’t expect to make any hit songs using just the APC I know I can take some of these sounds and run them through some of the other Rakit kits to create something interesting.

All-in-all it was a fun experience building the Rakit APC kit. I learned some new skills and even as a middle aged guy I felt a sense of accomplishment in having put something like this together for the first time. I’ll be posting about other Rakit DIY kits as I put them together. If you’re interested in checking these out for yourself, visit the Rakit website HERE. Maybe you’ll find your next project. There are also some YouTube videos by various folk about putting together and using little DIY synths like the APC. But watch out – you might get sucked in. I sure did.

“Tokyo Flashback” Compilation (1991 / 2017)

Originally released on CD back in 1991, the eight song Japanese psych comp Tokyo Flashback got the vinyl treatment in 2017. A double LP with a gatefold jacket and slipcase, it carries all the hallmarks of high quality Japanese production, the printing flawless, the materials beautiful. The one complaint with the physical product, however, is how snuggly the gatefold fits into the slipcase – others have also remarked about how difficult it is to remove the jacket to get at the records, and I can attest to this from personal experience, with my slipcase suffering from a corner ding from when I dropped it while trying to separate the two. Such is life.

Japanese artists have carved out some special musical niches, and one of these is psych. I first got turned onto this scene thanks to Julian Cope’s 2007 book Japrocksampler, which introduced me to artists like Les Rallizes Denudes and Flower Travellin’ Band, and later after seeing a live performance by the insanely intense Bo Ningen. And while it’s not music I want to listen to all the time, I’m completely fascinated by the crushing sonic wall these performers unleash. And Tokyo Flashback provides plenty of fuzz and feedback and jamming, more than enough to make my brain feel like a scrambled egg.

The Godz – “Nothing Is Sacred” (1979)

The Book of Revelation speaks of four horsemen who will usher in the end of days, the so-called Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They will bring pestilence, war, famine, and death, and kill a quarter of the world’s population.

The Godz as they appear on the cover of their second album, Nothing Is Sacred, seem to embody this same image. Instead of horses they ride motorcycles (Bon Jovi’s “steel horse”…), and instead of pestilence, war, famine, and death they look to bring black leather, Miller High Life, Jack Daniels, and probably something that you can clear up with a course of penicillin. And by all accounts the image they portrayed on their album covers was legit – they had a reputation for fighting and driving fast and pistol-packing. Their core fanbase included actual bikers. They would not hesitate to throw down.

There are already some great articles on the band online, most notably HERE, so I’m not going to rehash a lot of that because it’s already been told way better and in way more detail elsewhere. They were a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll band, one that always seemed on the cusp of breaking but never quite getting there. They toured with Kiss, Judas Priest, Cheap Trick, and even Metallica. The one consistent member was bassist Eric Moore, who passed away earlier this year the day before he was going to perform with the band at their Godzfest event.

So what about Nothing Is Sacred? Well, it’s rock, pure and simple. Nothing fancy. I’m not sure why they felt the need to misspell every song title on side A (“Gotta Muv”, “I’ll Bi Yer Luv”, “Luv Kage”…), but whatever. It’s the kind of rock you could play in a country bar and get away with it. Even when they sneak some synths in like they do on “I’ll Bi Yer Luv” it still sounds rock (and the vocals on that track have an eerie similarity to The Cult’s Ian Astbury). The band’s attitude is exemplified in the lyrics of “Luv Kage”, a song that opens with the singer recounting that he and his lady had an agreement that they could have other things going on the side, but now she’s reneging on the deal and he finds himself in misery in a love cage. It is, quite frankly, insane, less like a song and more like the kind of drunken argument that eventually ends when someone is taken to jail for domestic violence. And in case you still weren’t clear, on “Snakin’” we’re explicitly told the three things the band is good at:

  • Pleasing the ladies
  • Getting really high
  • Rock ‘n’ roll

Do I like Nothing Is Sacred? I mean, I don’t dislike it. I don’t see it making it into heavy rotation or anything, but sometimes you’re just looking for something basic and honest, and this would fit the bill.

MYRKFÆLNI #3 Compilation Cassette (2019)

The MYRKFÆLNI zine is back for a third installment. The first release was combination of print zine and 19-track download chock full of Icelandic musical goodness. The second was another full-sized zine, this time with a 13-track cassette included with the first 200 copies (after that you got a download card). And just recently issue #3 came out, sticking with the cassette format but shrinking the zine to a much smaller size and packaging the whole thing in a plastic case along with some stickers. The 11 artists featured this time around represent a broad swath of the Icelandic music scene, from hardcore to coldwave.

I’m all about what these ladies are doing – the zine is high quality, the selection of bands diverse and interesting. If you’re interested in checking out the Icelandic music scene, MYRKFÆLNI is a perfect place to start. Check out their Bandcamp page HERE – you’ll love what you hear.