“Hype! Boxed Set” (1996)

I’ve bemoaned the selling off of my precious Sub Pop singles many a time on Life in the Vinyl Lane. I’m not entirely sure how many I had, but it was maybe around 20 or so, probably a few more, most of which came to me via the great indie record store Cellophane Squire (RIP). I had some great stuff – Nirvana, Mudhoney, Dwarves…. tons of if on colored vinyl. <sigh> I promised myself I’d stay away from the nostalgia train and wouldn’t spend a bunch of money trying to reacquire that group, and so far I’ve been pretty successful in sticking to that. The only one I have is a newer release, the 2013 Mudhoney 7″ “New World Charm” / “Swimming in Beer.” But then I went to Easy Street the other day with too much time on my hands and not enough common sense in my back pocket, and walked out of there with the 1997 Sub Pop 7″ box set called Hype! Boxed Set.

But how could I resist? Mudhoney, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Gas Huffer, U-Men… all in one box set!? Eleven songs on four different color 7″ records. Nestled all snug in a nice little box, with a poster inside. It’s like the warm embrace of flannel and a mullet to keep the back of my neck warm on a cold fall day circa 1989.

Hype! was a documentary about the grunge scene that came out in 1996, and this box set is a shortened version of the full length soundtrack. As such most of the material dates from between 1987 and 1992, with only Girl Trouble’s “My Hometown” (1993) and “Return of the Rat” by Portland’s The Wipers (1979) falling outside that range. “Return of the Rat” may seem like an odd choice, but the song is widely cited by Seattle musicians from the late 1980s as an influential track, perhaps most notably by Kurt Cobain, so it definitely fits.

One of the cool aspects of this set is that four of the songs are live recordings – Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick,” Gas Huffer’s “Hotcakes,” Mono Men’s “Watch Outside,” and Fastbacks’ “K Street.”

TANGENT: Holly says The Wipers’ “Return of the Rat” reminds her a lot of the Ramone’s “Beat on the Brat” (1976). I want to disagree, but she might be onto something here in a weird way.

The Mudhoney track is a bit trebly, but otherwise captures all the angst and sneering power of “Touch Me I’m Sick.” The Wipers may have been the “Lucy” of grunge, but Mudhoney wiped out the Neanderthals and established its supremacy with this song. The fact that that song is on a 7″ alongside “Negative Creep” and “Return of the Rat” may make this the coolest 7″ record ever. Ever. To me it’s 1980s punk rock in one little 7″ vinyl package.

I have to give some props to the Mono Men and Gas Huffer, both of who kill it with their selections (both live) in this set. I have a Gas Huffer record, but I don’t think I’ve ever owned anything by the Mono Men before. Bravo too to Fastbacks for their brand of lo-fi pop punk.

TANGENT: Note to self. Don’t try to eat a cup cake with gooey frosting while playing 7″ records.

This set of singles definitely took my way back, and while I’m still not a huge fan of the 7″ format (too much work!), it was a great way to recapture my Sub Pop glory days. It’ll get spun again for sure, especially that Wipers/Nirvana/Mudhoney record.

“Monkey Business: Green Monkey Records 1986 Compilation” (1986)

The title of this record is actually very specific…. it’s a comp, from Seattle’s Green Monkey label, and it came out in 1986. Nothing fancy. Just the facts, ma’am.

The first incarnation of Green Monkey Records existed from 1983 to 1991, during which the label put out 44 releases (per its website). It was re-launched in 2009 and has already tallied another 20 releases, so things appear to be going pretty well for them. They consider themselves supporters of “underground” music in various forms, and that was certainly true in 1986 as well, given that this comp has bands from a number of different styles… though much of it could be roughly characterized as early alternative (sort of college radio oriented alt-rock-folk). New wave was running down, arena rock and hair metal were huge nationally (but not included here), and the early proto-grunge bands were still trying to find their sounds (and fans).

Like the previously reviewed Seattle Syndrome albums from earlier in the decade, most of the bands on Monkey Business had limited recorded output, generally appearing solely on one or two comps. There are, however, some notable exceptions in the Green Pajamas, The Walkabouts, and The Fastbacks, all of which had prolific and relatively long recording careers, with the first two both releasing new albums within the last two years and Green Pajamas even back on the Green Monkey label. With 14 tracks by as many bands, Monkey Business provides a decent amount of music, covering a number of different styles.

The album opens with the Green Pajamas… but they really don’t make much of an impact. It isn’t until the third artist on side A, Pip McCaslin’s track “Americans Like That”, that my interest is first aroused – it actually reminds me a bit of something the Presidents of the United States of America could have done. It’s quick, bouncy, and quirky. “Fiasco” by Melting Fish sort of breaks out of the mold of side A, being a very new wavish punk tune that’s short (1:35), with synths and modulated vocals, and sort of all over the board. It’s like some of the punk/early new wave that was being produced in Iceland (I originally wrote “coming out of Iceland”… but then realized that pretty much none of that music ever really made it OUT of Iceland!) in the late 70s/early 80s. Arms Akimbo concludes the side with a sort of Caribbean sounding track, sounding a lot like something Paul Simon would have put out once he stopped making traditional pop music and instead starting playing with musicians from countries you’d never heard of. I didn’t find the rest of side A very compelling.

The post-Duff McKagan Fastbacks open side B with “Time Passes”, a bit of an odd tune though one consistent with their sort of pop-punk style. The guitar work in the middle of the song actually rocks pretty hard, while the vocals are very lo-fi pop. Danger Bunny slows things down a bit with “For This”, a sludgy new wave track and one that shows the plodding style that would be successful for many bands in later years. Prudence Dredge takes the whole thing off in a different direction with “Botherin’ You”, a sort of 50s rock/rockabilly/swing tune, and I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be ironic or serious given the obviously campy vocal stylings, though the music itself (especially the horns and keyboard) is quite good. “What Do You Know About Love” by the Bombardiers is another decent track, and alongside the Melting Fish song on side A represents the most punk-like performances on the album.

Monkey Business isn’t a comp that will blow you away with its music, but it remains important as a placeholder that marks a specific time in the Seattle scene during which it was in transition and only a few years away from making its mark world-wide. As a cultural artifact I give it a thumbs up; as a record… maybe not a thumbs up, but definitely not a thumbs down. I’d recommend the Bombardiers and Melting Fish songs for sure, and Pip McCaslin deserves an honorable mention. Much of the rest simply wasn’t my style, but it may appeal more to Seattleites of a certain age.