This confused state was complicated further today when I bought Joeís
record, titled Plastic Songs of the Broken Radio. He shouldíve called it Shitty
Reverb and Too Much Guitar. Joeís voice, which sounds so friendly and
endearing on "All In All," sounds flat and vaguely tinny on most of the rest
of the album, the result, apparently, of lousy effects (or a really crappy sounding
room). Couple that with a tendency to rock harder than is suitable for a lot of
the songs, and the result is a record long on good ideas but somewhat short on
There are still plenty of bright spots, most notably Dana Kletterís
singing, which is scattered liberally throughout the album. I kept wishing it
were louder, though. Hell, I guess I really just kept wishing that the album
was another Dish album instead of a Joe Knowlton solo album, to be honest.
So while I was sitting around wishing that Dish were still together
recording, The Bad Checks went and put out a new album called High Dollar,
their first since that wild-assed Live at 9:30 thing from 1990. And it sounds
a lot like, well, all the other Bad Checks records.
I was going to make a snotty comment about the relative necessity of such
things, but I just remembered that their classic first LP, Graveyard Tramp,
and the not-so-classic followup, Innocence, are both way out-of-print, so I
suppose itís good that the young alcoholics of today can finally buy a little
recorded Bad Checks of their own. I myself wouldíve preferred a plain old
reissue of Graveyard Tramp, but then Iím not writing the check, so my vote
Actually, if my vote did count, Iíd probably be voting to hear more
About Dresden. Theyíve just released a nifty little 7", which they appear
to have pressed up on some of that shitty red United vinyl, because mine
is brand-new and already warped all to shit. Of course, since itís a fucking
record, instead of one of those silly CD things, it still plays just fine.
Anyway, Sorry About Dresden have taken a drink or three at the oh-so-
alkaline Archers/Pavement watering hole--theyíve got the discordant-but-
catchy guitars, and those sleepy, half-monotone Bachmann-style vocals.
I even seem to recall a handful of la-la-laís thrown in at the end of
"Me + Kim Il Sung."
This is the thing, though: neither Pavement nor the Archers are making
music that sounds like this anymore. Pavement are playing country and
classic rock, and the Archers just keep getting slower and more morose
with every passing day.
So as far as Iím concerned, the turf that S.A.D. are working is perfectly
fair game. And amongst the young upstarts with similar influences, Sorry
About Dresden seem to have a better chance than most of making some
Like the Archers and Pavement, Sorry About Dresden would appear to
understand that songs are supposed to be about something specific, even
if you never quite get around to mentioning exactly what it is. Thereís
some kind of half-explained back-story to both the songs on this single,
and thatís what makes me keep wanting to pull it out and play it again
Now if they could just figure out that youíre occasionally supposed
a chorus in there somewhere, between the verses and the bridges to nowhere . . .
So I went into Schoolkids the other day to get the new Hellbender
and walked out with both the CD and a little xeroxed broadside by
Hellbender's bassist, Al Burian, called "fuck music."
In it he makes yr standard Marxist attack on music-as-ideology--in
words, as the lubricant which permits all of us worker-drones to persist in
our pathetic alienated lives without going mad or rebelling.
But he seems to want to argue that the only correct, right-thinking
to this should be a rejection of music outright.
(Well, actually he makes a sort of naive Futurist proposal about
to nothing but fax machines and power tools, but his point is that they'd be
a more suitable soundtrack to our alienated Wal-Mart lives, not that they
would liberate us from those lives.)
Which, if nothing else, seems a little hypocritical coming from the
fingers of a guy whose brand-new CD I just spent $7 on. But even if we
overlook Burian's immediate implication in the system he's trying to destroy,
his argument still rings a little hollow.
Suppose, for example, we were to reject music outright, as well as
of the other, far-more pernicious forms of ideology (a.k.a. fun things which
make us forget that weíre tools of The Man) in our lives:
Drinking, smoking, TV, movies. Zines and broadsides (if we're going
rid of even the most overtly-political, anti-capitalist punkrock, I have to
assume that the zines don't get an exemption either). The Internet (For god's
sake, kill it first). Art in general.
What then? Without our blinders, we immediately perceive the alienated
conditions of our existence. We cast off the chains of Global Capital. We
re-acquaint ourselves with the means of production, and reap the fruits of
our own labors, without all those nasty middle-managers taking their cuts.
But what the fuck are we going to do for fun? Are we to assume that
artistic impulse comes not from within, but rather from Capital, exerting
its never-ceasing need for more Ideology? Once we've liberated ourselves,
are we just going to sit around all day silently weaving baskets?
See, I don't think so. Work is still work, whether your boss is yourself,
or some dude with a Beemer and a Brooks Brothers suit. And work can
be really fucking boring. Somewhere along the way, somebody's going to
be tilling, or reaping, or sowing, and they're going to start singing to pass
the time, to complement the rhythm of their arms and legs.
And at that point is Al (assuming he has survived the revolution,
ideologue that he is) going to step up, point a finger, and screech
"fuck music, man!"? I don't think so. I think he'll be damn glad to
put down his fucking hoe for 5 or 10 minutes and sing along.
Sure, under capitalism, most forms of cultural production have an
ideological function, keeping the masses just happy enough to keep
them from revolting. And certainly the punkrock community is particularly
guilty of singing incessantly about revolution in order to try and forget
the fact that none of them are doing anything else about it.
But there's more at work here than an audience of drones, forgetting
the alienated conditions of their own existence.
What about music which attempts to foreground its own ideological
even as it still performs its function, like most "political" punkrock
(and most rap, for that matter)? And what of audiences who believe
themselves to be well aware of the conditions of their own alienation,
whether or not they choose to do anything about it?
And what of the band members themselves? Are they knowingly
complicit in the subjugation of the masses, or do they believe they're
creating "art?" At what point is the deception committed, assuming
itís committed at all? Who is being fooled, and by whom?
Chumbawamba, for example, recently got some glowing local press
(John Valentine, writing in the 2/4/98 Independent Weekly) for their
well-publicized "anarchist" politics--but theyíre still on a major label,
and theyíre still selling scads of records in the malls for $15 apiece.
And as they themselves point out, they can readily afford to encourage
fans to steal their albums (the one bit of "anarchist" agitprop thatís gotten
a lot of coverage in the States), because they get paid for them regardless,
which is a pretty neat trick. I guess they forgot about the workers and
store-owners theyíre screwing over.
But I digress. My point here is that our relationship to music is
complex than Burian seems to want to admit, and we canít afford to simply
write it off entirely.
Case in point is Hellbenderís new album, Con Limon, which
one long sobfest about the tormented end of what must have been one
hell of a relationship.
Surely Al doesnít believe that Iím going to sit around and listen
guitarist Wells Tower whine and moan for forty-five minutes because
Iím looking to forget the conditions of my own servitude. Does he?
Isnít it the other way around?
Let me make this perfectly clear: Do they not realize that we encourage
them, by going to their shows and buying their records, at least partly
because being in Hellbender seems to make it easier for them to deal
with their problems?
Anyway. With the new albumís change in lyrical focus (from the more
general misanthropy of the bandís first two albums, to this new
heartbreaks-and-automobiles thing) comes a collateral change in sound.
To put it bluntly, Hellbender now sound more than a little bit like the former
Durham band Small .
Which is good news, I suppose, for all you die-hard Small fans out
Given my choice of now-defunct local Alias Records signees, Iíd much
prefer a resurrected Picasso Trigger. But as I believe I mentioned before,
nobodyís asking me (although I did hear a rumor about a new Kathy
Poindexter cowpunk band called Buckís Deluxe, so perhaps thereís some
hope after all).
While weíre on the subject of defunct local bands (and Kathy Poindexter),
I guess now would be a good time to make brief mention of the demise of
Polvo, who played a fiery pair of final shows last weekend.
When I moved to town, 5 or 6 years ago, I had a fairly low tolerance for
Polvo. Sure, I loved the "Vibracobra" single, but that was about as far
as it went. When it came out, their epic Todayís Active Lifestyles sounded
like one more obscure noise-and-mush-fest to my ears (and I said so, in print,
I think). (Still does, sort of, though my tolerance for noise and mush is
apparently a lot higher now.)
I donít know whether it was a live show that finally changed my mind,
or just a couple of well-timed listenings to their next record, Celebrate
the New Dark Age. Certainly Celebrate is light-years more concise and
aggressive than their previous stuff. Most likely, my conversion came
via slow immersion, thanks to a lot of my friends who refused to believe
me when I said I didnít like Ďem. And thank goodness.
Celebrate, and the records which followed it, have done as
much to shape
my notions of the potential boundaries of "rock" music as any records I
can think of--as much as, or more than those of Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo,
or any of the other senior "rock innovators" of this decade.
And this last weekend, watching Polvo play for a few hours in the
of the night, it occurred to me that one reason is that Iíve rarely seen a
band who so desperately wanted to just plain fucking rock, while at the
same time wanting equally desperately to shred the norms of rock itself.
There are plenty whoíll do a lot of one and a little of the other
just rock, whereas SY can do both, though apparently not both at once).
But Polvo seemed to organically integrate the two better than just about
anybody else Iíve ever seen. And thatís what Iíll miss, when I wake up
next week and realize just how much I do miss Polvo, because thatís not
the kind of thing that can be learned, or imitated effectively by anybody else.
When itís gone, itís gone.
Crap. Hereís the end already, and I havenít even started talking
our cover models, Dave Cantwell and Dave Heller from Analogue. Hereís
the short version: Analogue Fucking Rock.
The longer version: Analogue have many strong suits, one of which
uber-powerful drum stylings of David Cantwell. He can hit hard as shit, and
he can also play nice and quiet. Many Analogue songs take advantage of
this talent by incorporating quiet, repetitive keyboard-and-guitar figures,
with intermittent blasts of powerhouse drumming and great splooges
of synth noise.
The songs start out almost circular--one- and two-bar figures which
repeat for ages--but are just off-kilter enough that they spiral further
and further away from themselves, until Cantwell is thrashing away
and you feel like you're being warned to get the fuck away by some
kind of giant musical siren.
They are, to my ear, one of the 5 most consistently thrilling live
currently at work in the Triangle. The other four being, at the moment,
Six String Drag, Bicentennial Quarters, Spatula, and Cole (whenever
they get around to playing, which isn't often).
Oh yeah: Thereís a new Spatula album out, called Despina By Land.
I had every intention of writing many great glowing things about it this
time around, but for some reason Spatula inspire mostly inarticulate
thoughts in my brain. Iím quite fond of the new record, though, thanks
in large part to two crucial factors: Chuck Johnson is singing again
(on a couple of songs, at least), and Chris Eubanksís cello has been more
fully integrated into the overall sound of the band.
The songs are shorter, and more hyperactive, and many sound more
like soundtracks to old silent comedies, instead of soundtracks to cold
snowy European dramas. Is this an improvement? It makes me type
faster, which works for me.
Thatís pretty much all the room there is. You can contact Al Burian
307 Blueridge Road, Carrboro, NC 27510.
The records can all be gotten at any decent local record store. Oh,
Analogue play out all the time these days, so they shouldnít be too hard
to find, either.
As always, if you want to write to me, make your own fucking zine
leave it lying around. Iíll find it. (And thanks to Richard and Al for doing
just that after last monthís issue.)