Tuesday, April 29, 2008

You Don't Know Them

But they still rule.

This post is about the Doughboys.

Before I delve into sentimental "what the record means to me" waxing and a summary of their career, I want to give a shoutout to mah boy Tony Pence at Celebrated Summer Records. His recommendations never disappoint.

A few months ago I had a jonesin' in me. I'd been playing Husker Du's Warehouse: Songs and Stories record now and again ever since I'd found it on cassette last summer, and couldn't get enough of the Descendents' classic Milo Goes to College. Something inside me was thirsty for punk-based music imbued with melody–and not in the manner of Green Day-Blink-182 crap I'd been subjected to all of middle school.

So I walk into Celebrated Summer one fine Friday and try to explain to Tony the sort of sound I'm looking for. He hardly hesitated before whipping out the Doughboys' second record, 1988's Home Again, on CD and popped it in. It wasn't as intense as the sound I'd wanted to hear, but the conglomeration of the music and the imagery in the jacket completely sold me. In the former department, the lo-fi production grabbed me immediately (in a good way) and everything about the tunes seemed to simply sound honest. In the latter, I opened the sleeve to see pictures of guitarist/lead singer John Kastner doing an insane jump with his Les Paul outstretched. Other guitarist/singer John Cummins was in mid-headbang. Brock Pytel was sweating his ass off on the drums and John Bondhead, crouched with his bass, almost looked like Mike from COC did in the mid-80s. I couldn't help but feel the hair length kinship, even though the dudes' dos were in crusty dreads. To top it all off, they all sang lead in every damn song. Sweet.

I bought Home Again on the spot and I'm still listening to it all the way through these days. Right from the disc's opening seconds, "Buying Time" has you jumping stokedly up and down. There is a whimsical, nonchalant youth about the album that seems to revel in its state of semi-slackerdom. "I don't care/if I never sleep again," sings Kastner on "Never Sleep." "I don't care/if this highway never ends." The record closes with the sole tune Bondhead penned, the ballad "She Doesn't Live There Anymore," a downright charming jam with soft acoustic plucking underneath the usual wash of flanged-as-hell distorted electric guitars. It also features a fantastic simile in the description of the girl Bondhead focuses on: "She had hair just like the wheat in Colorado/and every time we pass those fields I have to wonder/because they're waving there just for me/I can't wait to get back home again and leave."

After purchasing the previous album Whatever (1987) on vinyl and having it mailed home to Seattle (I have no turntable out here at school), I downloaded the album digitally for further investigation. A solid batch of tunes, to be sure. There's certainly more intensity as most of the
record melds a blazing hardcore punk sound with the pop that would eventually become more prominent down the line. Amusingly, the video for "You're Related" reminds me of '90s Nickelodeon. Pssst...click here to check the record out.

As of today, I've got their third record, 1990's Happy Accidents, headed my way on purple vinyl. I'm substantially stoked but haven't been able to find it online yet. With that said, if the songs are a tenth as awesome as they are in this live footage from what I believe to be the tour for the same album in Florida circa 1991, color me excited.

Their next full-length, 1993's Crush, marked a change to a predominantly powerpop sound. "Shine" was evidently a Top 40 hit while I was still in preschool. After this record, Cummins was the latest casualty of the band's semi-frequent lineup changes (the rhythm section from Home Again was long gone) and was replaced by Mega City Four's Darren "Wiz" Brown, who unfortunately passed away due to a blood clot in his brain on December 6th, 2006. According to Tony, the record is still good–better, even– than the band's early material. It can be found for a dollar darn near everywhere...so don't be a moron like yours truly and pay $5.50 for it.

At this time the band was signed to A&M. They put out Turn Me On in 1996 and broke up after touring as the opening act for the Offspring. Their La Muejere demo was reissued in 2003, and I've seen a rare live German tour 7" from the Home Again days on eBay. This band is worth your money.

And now, the band/their crew talk about their cocks backstage.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Top Five Records

In no order.

The Who- Who's Next

The rock record I was raised on. Can't say I've heard too many of their other records front-to-back, but I can say with full confidence Who's Next never loses its powerful stride. Everyone knows the so-often-mistitled opener "Baba O'Reilly," and the delightful commentary of "Won't Get Fooled Again," but there's hardly a subpar cut here. "Love Ain't for Keepin'"? "Going Mobile"? "My Wife"? I can't really articulate the sentimentality I feel listening to this album, remembering a time when (if you can imagine) I wasn't really into music and the Who's rock and roll swagger just seemed to reach out and grab me. As an aside, how amazing a bass player is John Entwhistle?

My father was fortunate enough to see the Who many times (including once with me in 2002) over the years and, if I recall correctly, saw them on the tour for this very record at Anaheim Stadium in 1971. So many audience members were jumping that the foundations of the stadium were shaking– and the promoter had to stop the show and tell everyone to knock it off. A pretty awesome experience, I'm sure, but nothing to the time where Dad saw Cream for three dollars...

Third Eye Blind- Third Eye Blind

A confession: When in elementary school, the only music I really followed was Radio Disney and its respective catalog of teenybopper bullshit. But the summer following fifth grade brought a drastic change in my radio dial. It was now set to Star 101.5, home to much more 'adult' pop.

Perhaps it was the melodies or the catchy lyrics, but Third Eye Blind intrigued me. This was way back in 1999, where despite being out for a whole two years their self-titled album's holy triumvirate of singles–"Semi-Charmed Life," "Jumper," and "How's It Going to Be"–were still in HUGE rotation on commercial radio. I didn't have much of an allowance at the time but I bought the album rather quickly.

My attention span had some troubles in my youth and it was no different in regard to music or academia. As such, I would put the CD in my lil' stereo/alarm clock combo and only listen to the singles. It seems entirely stupid now, but in those days of prepubescent anxiousness all of the songs sandwiched in between just seemed like fluff.

Fast forward to 2003. I was a freshman in high school and my copy of 3EB's album was gone somehow. My newfound friend and I somehow got to talking about how we both had a soft spot for it and after he hooked up a burned copy I listened to it all the way through and was blown away.

Simply put, 3EB may be pop...but it's pop of a different caliber entirely. The musicianship is top-notch; Stephan Jenkins may be sporadic in his live vocal capacity but there are some truly special moments on this record. The one that really comes to mind is the chorus in "God of Wine." "A sadness I can't erase," he sings, and then, going to vulnerable higher pitch that sounds more wounded than like a castrata, "all alone/on your face." Chills, man. Arreon Salazar is one hell of a bass player too, lurking subtley beneath the surface for those not too keen on keeping an ear out for low-end dynamism. Listen to "Narcolepsy"- in addition to having some pretty odd lyrics, the bass is practically spastic countermelody is astounding given the musical genre.

Perhaps it was my relative innocence at the time, but the adult world of relationship Stephan's lyrics discussed made me desperate to grow up and date women. "I Want You" was his rather intimate (to say the least) solo piece, a tale of honest-to-God lust that somehow didn't seem to objectify like, say, a mainstream hip-hop song might. "An open invitation to the dance/Happenstance from the vibe that we're in/No apology because my oath is genuine/And the mystery of your rhythm is so feminine." BAM! SEXY!

I hadn't even had a girlfriend yet at the time (and wouldn't for a while...) but wanted to feel these feelings somehow. The lust of "I Want You," the melancholy of "How's It Gonna Be," the rivalry of "London," the alcoholic wreckage of "God of Wine." To this day, however, what really stands out to me is "Motorcycle Drive-By," with its gently-plucked acoustic intro (and liberal bass melodies, holy wow). Lyrically, it's also fantastic. I crushed pretty to hard to the following verse once: "Visions of you on a motorcycle drive-by/The cigarette ash flies in your eyes and you don't mind/You smile/And say the world it doesn't fit with you, I don't believe you/You're so serene." BAM! SEXY!

My Bloody Valentine- Loveless
At the risk of sounding like a Pitchfork reviewer, I'll still maintain that the first time you hear Loveless is an experience in and of itself. Maybe you're curious; maybe you hate it; but ultimately your ears get stretched in one way or another.

I'd only heard their name tossed around until freshman year of college, where a friend did a presentation on the song "Sometimes," which was also featured on the Lost in Translation OST. I was enveloped from the moment he hit play. The guitar sounds weren't so different from parts of the Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream album, but drew me even more into the aural world contained within the song (and when I later bought it, the record).

So I went right out and bought Loveless. I then went months during which hardly a day passed where it wasn't listened to in its entirety.

As the band never once printed lyrics and used the oft-buried-in-the-mix vocals as more of a melody instrument, personal meaning plays a serious role in how these songs are interpreted by the listener. I was in love for the first time when I first bought this, and it became a somewhat distant soundtrack to that time of my life.

Loveless manages to balance a consistent but varying set of tunes. Perhaps “When You Sleep” could be considered the song on the record to touch straightforward pop structure, but was offset by the whalesong of “Touched” and the strange dreampop/noise/dancehall combo of “Soon.” The entire record (save for “Touched”) was the brainchild of guitarist/vocalist/band leader Kevin Shields, who toiled for endless sleep-deprived nights to coax enveloping, swooping distortion from his Fender Jazzmaster by recording through multiple overdriven amplifiers simultaneously and carefully bending the guitar’s tremolo arm down in pitch as he strummed chords in various open tunings. Second guitarist/vocalist Bilinda Butcher played no instruments on Loveless, but her soothing, cooing whisper-singing is the sonic equivalent of kiss on the cheek. Her modest beauty and simple-yet-beyond-attractive dancing in the video for “Soon” only cements her sheer natural beauty...what a fox. The proof is in the Youtube link below.

Smashing Pumpkins- Siamese Dream

In the aforementioned "judging-by-singles-only" phase, I always overlooked Siamese Dream because I thought Mellon Collie was going to be better. But then it was always too expensive and I always passed on buying it.

While on a family trip to Arizona, my cousin Chad, a substantial musical authority himself, mentioned that not only was Siamese Dream fantastic, but that it also featured "Mayonaise," which was "the best song they ever wrote." This is absolute truth. After purchasing Siamese Dream in the 10th grade, that song was an anthem for rainy days and not wanting to wake up– although my teenage life was not one tenth as miserable as the song is lyrically.

"Mayonaise" simply has all of the Pumpkins' strongest elements in one composition. The intro and outro are beautiful, acoustic guitar duets. Billy's vocals alter from his audience-dividing nasal tone to his gentle, whispery voice at the bridge. The solo rips too. A non-single track that's better than any single.

But the singles were good, too. "Today," is perhaps the best-disguised suicide song of the past few decades. "Cherub Rock," with its commentary on the rock business, is a bit interesting to look in retrospect given the Pumpkins' present state. "Rocket" always reminds me of a beautiful summer day. I think it's the guitar tone.

"Disarm" is kinda lame when compared to the others, really. Not the best but also not the worst song they ever did.

Like Loveless, this is an album of amazing texture. What continually fascinates me is that Billy Corgan and Kevin Shields had completely different ways of getting similarly emotive guitar atmospheres. Shields claims there are never more than three guitar tracks in his songs, but it's well-known that Billy went into an overdub frenzy on Siamese Dream- "Soma" alone has over sixty guitar tracks.

"Soma" also heads off three straight songs of awesome. It builds from a tranquilly picked fade-in intro as Billy narrates a tale of a relationship disintegrating (from both sides!), then builds into the huge, wailing crescendo with that nasal shout of his (which somehow completely works on this record). Then it's right into the cathartic, slash-and-burn "Geek U.S.A." which rips off some of the best solos ever put to tape, as well as some of Billy's best and most emotionally-charged-yet-quite-poetic lyrics. Finally, its explosive end leads us right into the acoustic dawning of "Mayonaise"'s intro. Three brilliant works all in a row. Even the songs afterward are good; "Spaceboy" is about Billy's brother and "Luna" is a cute love ditty.

Siamese Dream is quintessential rock 'n' roll for my generation, and moreso than anything that Cobain guy ever cut in the studio. It's also the most I've ever spent on a record- forty bucks for the first-pressing, second-run orange marble vinyl 2XLP.

Iron Maiden- Powerslave

How can words describe the first time you hear Powerslave? Especially when it's your first metal record ever? Here goes.

I was a on a bus on the way to Ashland, Oregon, for a school trip. I was twelve. Sitting next to me was Ben, a newfound friend a year younger. His older brother had gotten him into old punk and metal and he was wearing a denim jacket covered in patches and pins.

We both had cassette players– him for his homemade mixtapes, and me for my Bar Mitzvah reading I should've been listening to. Ben handed me a tape marked with our destination.
"What is it?"
"Iron Maiden."

I'd only heard the name before and had no clue what to expect. So I popped it in. Then "Aces High" happened. A catchy little guitar harmony riff hinted at something better coming...and it did! This band seemed to amplify everything I loved about the little classic rock I listened to before then– melodic guitar parts, huge vocals and an overall sense that the musicians were over the top. It was a such a rush that I had no idea how to react save for smile with eyes bugged out in amazement.

Once I scrounged up the money and did some research, I bought Powerslave, which "Aces High" opens. Frankly, it's surprising the CD still works for how many times it's been played. While some of the record could be considered "filler," it's still great metal songcraft and musicianship nonetheless. "Flash of the Blade" and "The Duellists" may lack the lyrical grandiosity of the album's better-known tracks, but they certainly make up for it in riffage. Steve Harris was my first hero as a bass player, and I still can't get enough of how Dave Murray and Adrian Smith harmonize and trade off. Fuck that Janick guy...Maiden never needed three guitars.

But what really makes Powerslave is the sheer epic might contained within the speed rush of "Aces High," the doomsday-invoking "Two Minutes to Midnight" (possibly one of the worst music videos ever), the Egyptian groove and orgasmic instrumental section of the title track and the towering poetic might of the fifteen-minute closer "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

The fact that Maiden is doing a "retro" setlist consisting mostly of Powerslave material on their summer 2008 tour is fantastic...even for a 77-dollar ticket.

Most folks start metal with Paranoid. That ended up being my second record. I'd still heartily recommend this to anyone just getting into the genre.

How Do I Shot Nerf Gun?

If you don't go to school with me and have talked with me about my college experience so far, you've probably heard about where my money goes. In the following order, it's something like this:
1) Records
2) Food
3) Nerf guns

Every semester at Goucher, we play Humans vs. Zombies, a game of nerf war/tag that's spread to many other campuses and national fame and is this weekend's cover story in the Washington Post Magazine. Go watch the awesome audio/slideshow report by photojournalist Alexey Tolchinsky, then read a very accurate article by journalist Laura Wexler here. You'll need to register to read Laura's article, but it's worth it. Both she and Alexey were "embedded reporters" last fall when we played and were both professional, humorous people. I'm actually in a rather serious-looking opening slide, but had trouble screencapping it. So here's yours truly looking nerdy with the Zombie Horde and repping a Voivod shirt...

Also in this photo: Niles at his sketchiest, Ben looking at his newly-damaged thumb (from running into a glass-covered fire extinguisher) and Erika/Mama Zombie likely giving a pep talk. (Photo credit: Alexey Tolchinsky)

BONUS: This Friday was zombie field day, where a sort of "survival" gladiator game was played. Grab some Nerf guns and socks, hop in the ring, and see how long you can last. It's been once again reinforced that I'm a terrible shot, but oh well...I think these pictures still entertain. Adam fared better. Photos by Melissa Tillery.

Adam: "Mmmf."

Lunging forward while shooting: entirely uncalled for.

I should probably be looking up at this point.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Grand Opening

A Bit of a Confession
I caved in again and did it. I usually hate these things–they just seem to be a narcississm vehicle for most anyone starting a blog NOT dedicated to a political purpose or, better yet, downloading out-of-print or rare albums.

But frankly I need an outlet/excuse to write every day and impose musical recommendation
upon the masses. I'll be posting download links for stuff, too...but please not I won't be uploading anything I link to. Coming in the next few days:
-My top five records
-An album review and a download link
-Some graphics for this here Squid Lair

Why Does Asa Nickname Himself That Weird Nickname?
I don't really know. I've always liked the color red. Squids are pretty cool creatures. The "Redwood" part came in as a height joke. I guess the rest is (rather unimportant) history.