Mudhoney – “Morning In America” (2019)

This one came as a surprise – announced out of the blue in early August and on my front porch by September 14, like some kind of musical ninja. Pretty much all of the info I can find online about Morning In America is what Sub Pop communicated when announcing it. The seven songs were recorded during the Digital Garbage sessions. One is an alternate version, three are outtakes, and the other three are songs that have appeared on various singles and/or limited edition releases (one of these, “Ensam I Natt” is a Leather Nun cover).

America hates itself.
America hates itself.
America would rather be someplace else.

— “Morning In America”

Morning In America is definitely in the same vein as Digital Garbage, a disappointment-laden description of today’s America. Now, certainly not everyone in America is disappointed by how things have gone over the last few years. The racists seem to revel in being able to be out in the open with their views. Personally I was surprised to see so many of them crawl out of the woodwork, and while it’s disappointing, at least now we know who they are since they don’t seem to feel the need to hide anymore. Mark Arm casts his venomous net wide, covering the racists and ignorant, the liars and the corporate thieves, the zealots and the image-obsessed, while the sludgy and fuzz-drenched music carries the emotional content in viscous waves.

My heart is breaking,
My mind is racing,
And now I’m bracing
For the terrible things to come.
— “Vortex of Lies”

Sonically Morning In America is at times oppressive (“Morning In America”), but at others triumphant (“Let’s Kill Yourself Live Again”, a different version of “Kill Yourself Live”), though I suspect the latter is more ironic than literal. After all, the song is about the perceived importance of portraying the perfect digital image, regardless of what your real life is like. The only time the music doesn’t feel like an integral component of the overall message is on the cover, “Ensam I Natt” (“So Lonely Tonight”), a refreshingly straight-forward punk song reminiscent of Mudhoney’s early career (Mudhoney, like Green River before them, always pick great songs to cover and do them justice).

The Loser edition comes on white marbled vinyl and includes a download card. If you want a sample, you can stream “One Bad Actor” for free over at the Sub Pop website.

The Best of 2018

Where did the year go? In my case, most of it seemingly went to work. It was a busy year professionally, with a major work project consuming most of it and even keeping us from attending Iceland Airwaves, our first absence from that festival in a decade. But the good news is that the product launch was pretty successful, so things should return to normal next year. And to make sure we already bought our tickets for Iceland Airwaves 2019, so hopefully we’ll see you in Reykjavik in November.

It wasn’t all work in 2018, even though sometimes it felt that way. We took a great trip to Japan and Korea in the Spring and enjoyed long weekends in Portland, Denver, and New York City, all of which involved record shopping. The blog suffered a bit, however. This was my lightest year of posting since Life in the Vinyl Lane started back in 2012. I’ll finish the year somewhere just north of 180 posts, which is a lot, though not even close to the 222 I wrote the year before (and that’s even less than the years before). Trust me – the reason had nothing to do with not having enough great music to write about. It was just a matter of time.

Whether you’re a regular reader of Life in the Vinyl Lane or just pop by from time to time, I’d like to thank you. Feel free to drop me a note any time and let me know what you think, or what I need to listen to, because I love hearing from you.

So with all that being said, here’s Life in the Vinyl Lane’s Best of 2018! Keep it punk.

Top 5 New Releases In 2018

  1. Lies Are More Flexible – Gusgus (Iceland)
  2. Electrostatic – Individual Totem (Germany)
  3. Death Is A True Prophet – ERZH (Iceland)
  4. Bring Down The House Lights – Dirty Sidewalks (US)
  5. Digital Garbage – Mudhoney (US)

2018 was a truly outstanding year for music, both generally and for me personally – quite a few of my favorite artists put out releases. In fact, of the 24 different performers who have graced my Top 5 New Releases lists since 2012, 10 of them put out new albums this year, including three who held down the #1 spot on a previous list. To get to the Top 5 this year we started with about 60 albums, whittled that down to the final 20. and then listened to those again over the last few weeks. Arriving at the final seven was easy, but trimming that down to five… man, it was tough.

The top spot, however, was a pretty easy choice for me. I’m a huge fan of Gusgus and have been through their various iterations and changing styles. Their latest release, Lies Are More Flexible, found the group down to just two core members and moving in a more heavily musical direction with outstanding results. I know not everyone is sold – most of my friends who are also Gusgus fans lean towards either the instrumental or the vocal tracks on the album, loving half of it and not caring as much for the other. But to my ears it’s all outstanding.

The next two albums weren’t released on vinyl, but that wasn’t going to keep them off the list. I was a latecomer to the world of Individual Totem, but their new CD creates a dark electro buzz in my brain that has me wanting to explore their back catalog. ERZH’s Death Is A True Prophet is the third heavily electronic album on the list, one physically released only via cassette from Iceland’s FALK label, which continues to pump out infatuating albums by little-known hyper-talented artists. The Top 5 rounds out with a pair of Seattle-based bands, newcomer psych-stars Dirty Sidewalks and grunge/punk veterans Mudhoney. Mudhoney edged out a few other challengers (most notably Fufanu) for the #5 spot primarily on the strength of Digital Garbage‘s lyrics, a combination of snark and venom aimed at the direction things are taking in American society these days, which I found to be poignant.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Rammstein (Germany)
  2. Executive Slacks (US)
  3. Chinas Comidas (US)
  4. GRÓA (Iceland)
  5. Holz (US)

Oddly enough the top artist on this list is one I’ve never written about, nor do I have any of their albums on vinyl, even though they’ve been around forever. I decided to finally check out Rammstein after, believe it or not, seeing the opening scene to the original xXx movie which featured the Germans playing the song “Feuer Frei!” in a club. Within a few weeks we had about half a dozen Rammstein CDs and were playing them constantly on our iPods.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

  1. Medical Records Catalog
  2. Unholy Death – N.M.E.
  3. Ork Records: New York, New York
  4. Korean Metal
  5. Ravno Do Dna – Azra

Over one of the holiday weekends earlier this year, Seattle’s Medical Records label posted on their Facebook page that everything on their Bandcamp page was something like 30% off. I shot them a quick note asking if that included the package deal they offer whereby you can order one copy of every single release they still have in stock, figuring there was no way they’d say yes. And they said yes. I did the mental math, factoring in how many duplicates this would mean for me based on stuff I already had, and pulled the trigger. In just a few days two massive boxes showed up on my front porch. The final count was just over 50 assorted LPs and 12″ vinyl, plus a few 7″ records and even a cassette. I still haven’t managed to get through all of this synthy goodness, but everything I’ve pulled off the shelf so far has been awesome.

Unholy Death has a local tie and led to Holly and I taking a field trip, which you can read about if you click the link above. I got a screaming deal on a used copy of the Ork Records: New York, New York box set, and was excited to find that the unused download card were still inside. Buying 1980s Korean metal in an (literally) underground market area that included a half dozen stores made for a fun afternoon in Seoul, and the copy of Ravno Do Dna had a surprise inside, three old postcards from Yugoslavia, which was kind of cool.

None of this stuff was particularly valuable or ultra-rare, but instead things that resonated with me. The money is just a means to get more music!

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Roseland Theater, Portland
  2. Henry Rollins – Neptune Theater, Seattle
  3. Dream Wife – Barboza, Seattle
  4. Mudhoney – Neptune Theater, Seattle
  5. Devil Makes Three – Red Rocks Ampitheater, Colorado

We only saw five shows in 2018. Given that we didn’t make it to Airwaves, that’s probably about typical, though. This year’s clear winner was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (right). We first saw them a few years back at an outdoor show in Salt Lake City, which was fun, but BRMC are a band that feels like it belongs in a dark club somewhere. And while the Rosalind isn’t a club, it’s pretty intimate and plenty dark inside, and the band sounded incredible.

I wasn’t sure if Henry Rollins qualified for the list, since we saw his spoken word travel photography show. But he’s a musician, and it’s my blog, so I guess I can do what I want. Henry talked at 100 mph for 2.5 hours straight, never once stopping for a break, sitting down, or even taking a single sip of water. And I’m not exaggerating. Henry has more energy than should be humanly possible.

It was exciting to see Dream Wife outside of Reykjavik, even more so since I’d just done a 30 minute phone interview with lead singer Rakel a few weeks prior for the newly released issue of Reykjavik On Stage. For Mudhoney, this was our second time seeing them do a record release show, having gone to the one for Vanishing Point as well, and the mosh pit was off the charts. The list rounds out with our second time seeing Devil Makes Three at Red Rocks. They’re alway outstanding – this was either my 6th or 7th time experiencing them live and they never disappoint.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America (excluding the greater Seattle area)

  1. 1709 Records, Vancouver (WA)
  2. Green Noise Records, Portland
  3. Twist & Shout Records, Denver
  4. Academy Records Annex, Brooklyn
  5. Mississippi Records, Portland

The Rest of the World

  1. Time Bomb Records, Osaka
  2. Stereo Records, Hiroshima
  3. Seoul Record Mall, Seoul
  4. Compufunk Records, Osaka
  5. Jet Set Records, Kyoto

I decided to not include any Seattle-area shops this year. After all, Easy Street Records, which just got named to Rolling Stone‘s top 10 record stores in the US, will probably be #1 on my North America list from now until forever, and there are a number of other local shops I love too. Plus we traveled enough in the US this year to easily come up with a list of five stores that I want to get back to again someday.

1709 Records was a very pleasant surprise when I found myself with a few hours to kill on a business trip to Vancouver, Washington, and I came away with some cool Green River and Scratch Acid vinyl. Portland’s Green Noise has been around for a while, though this was the first time we’d ever stopped by. It just moved to a location a few blocks from another perennial Top 5 favorite, Mississippi Records (#5 this year, and remember kids – always bring cash, because they don’t take plastic!), so I’m sure it’ll be a regular stop on future visits to Rip City.

As for the rest of the world, this is the first time no stores in Reykjavik made the list, which gave me more space for other stuff. Osaka’s Time Bomb was perfectly laid out and organized, and every single record accurately graded. I could have spent hours there. Stereo Records wasn’t even on our list of shops to visit in Hiroshima – we found it because it was across the street from a shop we were actually looking for, and it offered a deep selection of excellent condition titles. I almost included the Osaka branch of Tower Records, and not just for nostalgia reasons – the CD selection was of course filled with Japanese releases, both artists as well as special editions, plus I got a cool old-school Tower t-shirt that always elicits comments when I wear it. Bonus points to Compufunk for also being a club, a fully stocked bar, and an amazing view of the river in Osaka.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Beastie Boys Book, by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz
  2. Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, by Joe Hagan
  3. The Mudd Club, by Richard Boch
  4. Zounds Demystified, by Steve Lake
  5. Factory, by Mick Middles

I should confess that I only managed to read six music-related books in 2018, so this wasn’t too tough to put together. The Beastie Boys Book is a great journey through the lives of Mike and the two Adams, with tons of pictures and commentary from assorted friends and fellow artists. I also enjoyed Sticky Fingers, an in depth biography of Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner. Wenner is extraordinarily driven, and while at times Hagan’s portrait of him is less than flattering there is no denying Wenner’s ambition and confidence (and the one-time magnitude of his cocaine habit). Richard Boch’s memoir of his time as the doorman of NYC’s infamous Mudd Club is a seemingly honest portrayal of the grittiness of the city in the late 1970s, a city populated by young people who were simply surviving day by day in a dystopian urban environment that offered little in the way of a future and plenty of drugs. Zounds Demystified is a stream-of-consciousness history of the post-punk band Zounds written by a former member, and Factory tells the story of the infamous and influential Factory Records label.

 

It’s hard to believe 2018 is already in the books. Mind you, I think I say that every year – the older I get, the shorter the years seem to be. I’m excited for a fresh start in 2019 and can’t wait to see what it has in store for us!

Mudhoney – “Digital Garbage” (2018)

Mark Arm has something to say.

To be fair, he often has something to say, and he usually does so with healthy doses of snark and disdain. On Mudhoney’s last studio album, 2013s Vanishing Point, Arm tackled a number of topics. He imagined the frustration felt by the other guy Jesus raised from the dead. You know the one. No, not Lazarus (Fucking Lazarus got all the fame, as the song reminds us), the other one. The one they didn’t even bother to name in the Bible. The one wearing the “Jesus Raised Me From The Dead And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt” shirt. The one only known as “The Only Son of the Widow From Nain”. Raised from the dead, and still they don’t remember your name. And he was first! Arm also railed against his least favorite varietal on “Chardonnay” (You’re the grape that launched a thousand strippers / The soccer mom’s favorite sipper) and, well, douchebags in “Douchebags On Parade”. Vanishing Point was clever and witty and funny, though not terribly angst-ridden.

But fast forward five years, and this isn’t the same America we were living in back in 2013. The political power pendulum swung from left to right and civil discourse has become, well, less civil. These changes have not escaped Mr. Arm. So if you’re looking for something quirky like “Chardonnay”, you’re not going to find it on Digital Garbage. The Mark Arm on Digital Garbage is clearly pissed, and wants you to know it. It’s said that baseball is America’s national pastime; in fact the game is literally referred to as “The National Pastime”. But as much as I love baseball, and America, I think America’s real national pastime is righteous indignation. It’s part of our collective national mythology, right up there alongside the concept of the self-made man and George Washington’s wooden teeth. We love us some good indignation. And Digital Garbage is indignant.

Right from the opening salvo Mudhoney let us know what we’re in for. The plodding bass offset by the electrical discharge of the guitar on “Nerve Attack” sets the mood and Arm supplies the description (And all the darkness in my mind / Filled the world and struck me blind). But that’s just an appetizer. The main course starts with Paranoid Core”:

Vaccines, chemtrails, false flag plots
Government camps, Sharia Law
Invest in gold, squirrel away food
Stockpile guns, hoard your fuel.

I stoke the fire in your paranoid core,
I stoke the fire in your paranoid core,
I feed on your fear.
— “Paranoid Core”

There’s no mistaking how Arm feels about the current direction things are leaning, and everything and everyone are fair game. Religious hypocrisy in particular is called out. Whether it’s “Please Mr. Gunman” with it’s refrain we’d rather die in church countering the litany of sins the so-called righteous commit in their daily lives, or the cutting critique of “Prosperity Bible” (There’s a loophole / They’ve got a giant needle / If you can pay the price / They’ll let you ride a camel through the eye), or the blunt “Messiah’s Lament” (Look at what they’re doing / In my name), the lyrics don’t beat around the burning bush. They’re blunt and clear.

Mudhoney record release show in Seattle, September 29, 2018
Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane

You want more? OK. Digital Garbage also includes “Night and Fog”, which is frightening take on the Nazi Nacht und Nebel directive of 1941, one that spelled out their strategy for simply making opponents of the regime disappear. The idea is to strike terror into the population of occupied countries by making the outspoken simply vanish with no explanation as to what happened to them. The lyrics interweave the concepts underpinning Martin Niemöller’s poem “First they came…”, a poignant reminder that if we don’t speak up when “they” come for those who aren’t like us, there won’t be anyone left to speak up when “they” finally get around to coming for us (Who will cry for you / When you disappear?). (♠)

Arm does see some hope for the future, though it’s probably not the kind of hope most people share:

Don’t worry your head
The Earth will see peace
The world won’t end
Because we will be.

Replaced by nothing
Replaced by nothing
Replaced by nothing
In the next mass extinction.
— “Next Mass Extinction”

Don’t worry, kids; the earth itself will survive all this nonsense that we’re doing to it and to each other. Everything’s going to be just fine…

Musically this is one of my favorite Mudhoney albums ever. The production and balance is damn near perfect – there’s room for all three instruments as well as Arm’s voice, and everything is clear and crisp. The bass in particular finds the pocket and gets the opportunity to drive the songs.

Will Digital Garbage make my Top 5 list this year? I don’t know… but it will definitely be part of the conversation.

(♠) Did I ever mention that I have a degree in history?

Green River – “Rehab Doll” (1988)

I’ve written about Green River a number of times, touching on their EPs Come On Down (1985) and Dry As A Bone (1987) as well as the 2016 RSD collection 1984 Demos, so I’ll make an effort not to re-hash all that stuff. Let it suffice to say there is an argument to be made that Green River was the Patient Zero of grunge. They were well known within the Seattle music community and their breakup led to the formation of some seminal bands, most notably Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, and Pearl Jam. That’s some pretty good lineage right there.

Rehab Doll was the band’s first and only full-length, nine songs of dirty, grimy rock ‘n’ roll. The guitar work has a surprising amount of 1980s hard rock and NWOBHM to it, though things stay a bit slower and weightier than the more popular metal of the period. You can almost feel what would become Mother Love Bone bubbling under in the music. Add to that Mark Arm’s somewhat unorthodox, half-spoken-half-sung vocal whine and you get something unusual, something that didn’t fit neatly into a genre box circa 1988 (though it would very soon).

It’s interesting that Green River included “Swallow My Pride”, arguably their best known song and one featuring Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon on backing vocals, on Rehab Doll. The song first appeared on Come On Down three years earlier, so it certainly wasn’t new. I’m not sure if this is a different version, and frankly I’m too lazy to check. It may simply be a matter of putting their best foot forward on this, their first Sub Pop release. My version is actually the one put out in Europe by Glitterhouse, which is notable because it includes an additional track that doesn’t appear on any of the Sub Pop versions, a cover of David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”.

“Singles” – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Deluxe Edition (1992 / 2017)

easystreetcornellUnless you’ve been living under a rock or the terms of your probation don’t allow you to access the internet, you know that Chris Cornell passed away a few days ago. Chris was an icon in the Seattle music scene, first with OG grunge rockers Soundgarden and later with Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and his solo projects. He was a supremely talented man and music fans in Seattle probably feel his loss just a bit more deeply than do people everywhere else. He was one of ours, born and raised. I’m certainly old enough to have experienced the loss of other musicians who were part of my formative years, including more than a few local talents. Cobain, Staley, Wood… But Cornell. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He had survived the reckless years. He’d won Grammy’s. He did a James Bond theme song for Christ’s sake. And he was back with Soundgarden and touring. And then he was gone, choosing to exit the stage permanently.

Holly and I were playing Louder Than Love the evening he died, possibly right around the actual time his death occurred. And we were already planning on heading out to the record store on Saturday to buy the new deluxe edition of the Singles soundtrack that was coming out that Friday. So Chris was, even if a bit indirectly, in my thoughts this week, and perhaps that’s what I’ve been feeling so reflective about his passing. Many of the others weren’t terribly surprising. Heroin has taken its pound of flesh from the Seattle scene, and many of the previous casualties had struggled with the dragon for years. But Chris had made it through. But the scars were still there, and ultimately the pain was so overwhelming that in his mind there was only one resolution.

A piece of my remembered teenage innocence died with him.

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We watched Singles on Thursday night for the first time in a long time and it helped a little, putting a smile on my face and giving us a quick glimpse at a young Chris Cornell looking on as Bridget Fonda’s new stereo blows out all of her car windows. And we went out to pick up the soundtrack on Saturday morning like we planned even though we knew the entire city was sold out of it on vinyl (♠), so we settled for the CD.

The first disc is the original soundtrack, 13 tracks that could almost be a Seattle best-of album in their own right had only Nirvana contributed a song (I can’t really explain how Paul Westerberg and Smashing Pumpkins ended up on it… though I have to begrudgingly admit that Westerberg’s “Waiting For Somebody” is, to me, the song that best captures the overall feel of the movie). It’s an eclectic mix of tunes, though. It opens with the menacing bass line of Alice In Chains’ “Would?,” a dark way to start the soundtrack of what is in effect a rom-com. Pearl Jam gets us a bit more into the vibe of the movie with “Breath,” and then it’s Cornell’s turn. I can remember originally buying this CD back in 1992 and being blown away by “Seasons,” a very un-Soundgarden-like song that was the perfect vehicle to showcase Chris’ voice, exposing a side of his musical talent that I’d never heard before. I still think it’s the most beautiful song not he album, though “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns” gives it a run for its money.

There were some intriguing selections on Singles and I respect director Cameron Crowe for staying with Seattle even when he goes back in time, using Jimi Hendrix’s “May This Be Love” in the scene when Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick play records together in Scott’s apartment and also getting Ann and Nancy Wilson (Crowe’s wife at the time) involved performing as The Lovemongers with their near-perfect interpretation of Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore”. There was a real effort here to make this as Seattle-centric an experience as possible.

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Left to Right: Chris Cornell (RIP), Jeff Ament, Matt Dillon, Layne Staley (RIP), Cameron Crowe

I’d actually forgotten that Mudhoney contributed a song to Singles. Well, technically two songs, I suppose, but only one that made it onto the soundtrack. They were given a budget of $20,000 to record “Overblown,” but as the story goes they hit up a local studio and paid producer Conrad Uno $164 for a day’s work, banged out their song, and walked out at the end of the day $19,836 the better for it (♥), which is a pretty punk move. The movie’s fictional band Citizen Dick, fronted by Matt Damon, also performed a song called “Touch Me I’m Dick,” a modified version of the underground Mudhoney hit “Touch Me I’m Sick”. Somehow this didn’t end up not he soundtrack (♣), but was eventually released as a 7″ single on Record Store Day back in 2015 and also makes an appearance on this deluxe edition, opening the bonus CD.

The original soundtrack was every bit as good as I remembered, but what I was truly excited about was the bonus disc full of extras – live tracks, demos, acoustic versions, you name it, a decent amount of it never-before released. Cornell is all over this thing, contributing seven of its 18 tracks, one with Soundgarden and the rest as a solo artist, including an early pre-Superunknown version of “Spoonman” and the Beatles-esque “Flutter Girl”. But the three live tracks, “Would?” and “It Ain’t Like That” by Alice In Chains and Soundgarden doing “Birth Ritual” (complete with the intro, “Cue musicians, go!”), are the highlights to me, well-recorded and capturing both bands in their more formative and energetic years.

And then there’s Paul Westerberg again, and dammit, I want to resent him for bing a non-Seattle musician on this soundtrack, but his songs are just so damn good I can’t do it. The bonus disc gives us four Westerberg tracks – beautiful acoustic renditions of both of his soundtrack contributions “Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody,” as well as a pair of previously unreleased tunes in “Blue Heart” and “Lost In Emily’s Woods.”

The two biggest “surprises” on the bonus disc were tracks by Truly and Blood Circus. If I’m being completely honest, I’d never heard of Truly before even though two of its three members came from Soundgarden and Screaming Trees. I may have to track down some of their stuff if I can. As for Blood Circus, I’d forgotten how grimy they were. “Six Foot Under” is heavy, hitting you like a grunge version of a country song.

While I’m still a vinyl junkie, I have no regrets about buying Singles on CD as it was the bonus material that interested me the most. It’s too bad they didn’t do the whole thing on vinyl, like a four record special edition box set – now that I probably would have bought. But regardless, I’m very happy with the both the quality and price (got mine on sale for $15) and highly recommend it to any fans of the old school Seattle sound.

(♠) The vinyl guy at Easy Street told me they’d ordered 200 copies and only got 20. They’ll certainly have more, but given that all the bonus material is on CD, even with the vinyl release, I figured I’d just save myself $20 or so and buy the disc.

(♥) Mudhoney: The Sound and Fury From Seattle by Keith Cameron (2013), p. 157-58.

(♣) It probably had something to do with the literal use of the word dick, along with the euphemism “little Elvis” and the repeated phrase “I won’t cum”. Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center would have had field day with that song.