Friday, July 6, 2012

Los Angeles Post-Punk, Vol. 8


Featured Acts:

20/20, 3D Picnic, 5uu's, Agent Orange, Ann DeJarnett, Artiphax, Battery Farley, Bulimia Banquet, Cigarettes, Del Rubio Triplets, Demolition Gore Galore, Doubting Thomas, Dr's Rx1, Drowning Pool, Invisible Chains, Irritators, Jane's Addiction, Kommunity FK, Los Illegals, Luther Davis Group, Mind Games, Minutemen, Mr. Epp And The Calculations, Motor Totemist Guild, No Right No Wrong, Pilgrim State, Saint Vitus, Schematix, Scott Goddard, Starforce 1, Steaming Coils, The Bangles, The Death Folk, The Motels, The Toons, The Witch Trials, Transport, Vagina Dentata, Vicious Fish

A Beginner's Guide to COMA (Rotary Totem Records, 1985)
Disk 1
1 The Motels — Art Fails (1981) 2:58
2 The Death Folk — Hobos (1989) 3:36
3 20/20 — Alien (1981) 3:42
4 Saint Vitus — Clear Windowpane (1987) 3:19
5 Starforce 1 — Space Agent (1981) 3:34
6 3D Picnic — Dizzy (1989) 2:00
7 Invisible Chains — Old Speak/New Teeth (1986) 2:14
8 The Bangles — Going Down to Liverpool (1984) 3:43
9 Steaming Coils — 4/10 (1987) 3:12
10 The Toons — Video Games (1982) 2:46
11 Demolition Gore Galore — Long Gone Blonde (1986) 4:17
12 Irritators — Voodoo Boogie (1981) 2:55
13 Ann DeJarnett — Eyes (1988) 3:36
14 Schematix — Second Story (1980) 2:30
15 Scott Goddard — Cowpunk (1984) 4:53
16 Vagina Dentata — Golden Boys (1984) 5:32
17 Doubting Thomas — Fourteen Or Maybe 8 (1987) 5:30
18 Cigarettes — Oh Oh Oh (1978) 2:55
19 Vicious Fish — Foreign Cities (1982) 4:00
20 5uu's — The Birth Of Compromisation (1985) 3:02
21 Los Illegals — The Mall (1983) 4:33
22 The Motor Totemist Guild — Farmer Without Strings (1985) 4:06

The Toons, Looking at Girls (Rhino, 1982) 
Disk 2
23 Agent Orange — Blood Stains (1980) 1:46
24 Battery Farley — New Deals (1985) 4:07
25 Drowning Pool — Weaving Petals (1987) 3:43
26 Luther Davis Group — You Can Be a Star (1979) 4:40
27 Mind Games — Don't Take The Car (You'll Kill Yourself) (1981) 2:05
28 Del Rubio Triplets — Chica Chica Boom Chick (1989) 2:40
29 The Witch Trials — The Tazer (1981) 6:20
30 The Motels — Only The Lonely (1981) 3:28
31 Artiphax — Mystery Eyes (1985) 3:34
32 Mr. Epp And The Calculations — Mohawk Man (1982) 2:53
33 The Bangles — How Is The Air Up There (1982) 2:52
34 Kommunity FK — Is It Your Face (1990) 6:17
35 Bulimia Banquet — Naked Movie Star (1986) 2:03
36 Transport — Isotope Tan (1982) 3:14
37 No Right No Wrong — Girls Girls Girls (1986) 2:34
38 Dr's Rx1 — Crunch (1983) 5:11
39 Minutemen — The Anchor (1983) 2:34
40 Pilgrim State — Fuck Society (1983) 0:44
41 Irritators — Whack the Dolphin (1981) 4:20
42 Jane's Addiction — Thank You Boys (1988) 1:04
43 Battery Farley — Flag Waving Idiots (1985) 3:44
44 Invisible Chains — Sal Mineo Youth Growing Up (1986) 3:57
45 The Toons — Mind Death (Sally Only Had One Eye) (1982) 6:38

The Motels’ third album, after the relatively minimally produced self-titled debut and Careful, neither of which produced national hits, was the highly experimental Apocalypso, produced by Val Garay, hot off of the success of producing Kim Carnes “Bette Davis Eyes.” The album was rejected by the label and sat on the shelf for thirty years, only to be released last year on colored vinyl and CD. Some of the tracks reappeared on the more commercial sounding All Four One, which produced their first big hit “Only The Lonely,” but I prefer this earlier version, along with this grittier version of “Art Fails.” They probably made the right decision to scrap this album as they wouldn't have made a dime off of it, and now they are lucky to have had it in the kitty for us retrophiles to buy later.

Another famous act whose sound changed dramatically was the Bangles. I was surprised to read that they were associated with the Paisley Underground since all I ever knew of them was “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Manic Monday,” which are both pretty solid pop tunes but could never be called underground. I just assumed they were a label concoction. These two tracks, both covers, show the transformative talent the band had (the songs themselves are nothing special), not to mention savvy with harmonies and some nice guitar work. “How is the Air Up There” is a cover of a pretty obscure 60s track by Changin' Times – they also knew their history – while “Going Down to Liverpool” features a very odd, completely non-sensical but cute video starring Leonard Nimoy as a sexually repressed chauffeur driver (not a huge stretch).

Also on the commercial end of things is this track from Ann DeJarnett, the lead singer (and violinist) for Mnemonic Devices who appeared earlier in this series sounding rather Siouxsie-esque. Here, she’s obviously shooting for mainstream success, but it eluded her despite her striking resemblance to Cyndi Lauper on her EP album cover. Dr's Rx1 is another mainstream act, kind of a pop funk act in the Herbie Hancock mode that uses a lot of the sounds and stylings of the Ghostbuster’s theme song. I found this album in a used LP bin and only bought it for the great cover and the fact that their representation was in Los Angeles. I actually don’t know where they come from, and the text on the back is so small and illegible, I was barely able to make out the name of this track. It has period charm. I tossed in an uncharacteristic ditty from the first Jane’s Addiction album, just for fun.

Bulimia Banquet again makes an appearance here with another track from Eat Fats Die Young, the giddily offensive “Naked Movie Star.” This track by Kommunity FK is probably the last they recorded before their long hiatus and appeared on the comp Viva Los Angeles II. This is much more commercial, even a bit soulful, than their LPs, though a bit too long for my taste (the lyrics just run out of steam halfway through). Catchy, though. I’ve included another track from the prodigious Minutemen, and will move on to fIREHOUSE – Mike Watt and Ed Crawford's band and after D. Boon’s death in a car accident – for my next collections. I’ve also included two earlier tracks from the ominous Battery Farley, the first a New Wavey bit that could have been from their LP Dressed for Obscurity, the second a raunchier, “political” one that has obtained some infamy with its many comp appearances (in the same obnoxious spirit of this track, "Bagman on Sunset," performed live in a studio with an underaged androgynous synth player and never released on vinyl).

Other bands who have previous appeared are Doubting Thomas (not the Skinny Puppy side project), Cigarettes (this is the B-side of their only single), the Chicano punk band Los Illegals with an unusually subdued track, the “original” Drowning Pool (another beautiful vocal track from Satori, available for purchase), Schematix (you now have 2/3 of their complete output) and Transport, who answers Geza X with their own variation on the “isotope” theme. This track from Steaming Coils is from their LP the Tarkington Table, and might be incorrectly titled – it’s pretty difficult to tell where one track ends and the other begins on this LP. It points forward toward the song forms and harmonies of their masterpiece Breaded, though much of the record seems largely improvised or at least more loosely constructed.

The late Scott Goddard was the force behind the Surf Punks, who appeared earlier in this collection. This is a pretty mischievous, sophisticated piece of pop – he put out quite a bit of work, all of which appears on a compilation You Break It, You Bought It, available for digital download. Not nearly as prolific is Vagina Dentata, Pat Smear’s band after the demise of the Germs – they only recorded this one track, Smear’s first attempt at rendering the song “Golden Boys” which he and Darby Crash had written together. I prefer his solo version (which appears in Vol. 7) but this one has some terrific demonic drive. The song has actually gone on to be covered several times by acts such as the Dickies and Pavement, but I think the two Smear versions are the best. Death Folk is another post-Germs Smear project, an actual folk collaboration with Gary “Celebrity” Jacoby (who himself coverd "Golden Boys"). Smear has an amazing singing voice, and can cut through all sorts of guitar noise by being just off-key.

Among the bands I know nothing about except the few shreds of information I’ve found on blogs (you’ll have to do your own research on these) are synth-instrumentalists Starforce 1, Mind Games (who only released a single), the somewhat cloying (unless you really love poppy New Wave) Artiphax, Vicious Fish (also commercial sounding despite the great Breton-ish name), 3D Picnic (I included a track of theirs earlier), Mr. Epp And The Calculations, No Right No Wrong, and Demolition Gore Galore, though this latter does appear on the Celebrity Skin-produced compilation Let It Bleat: Six L.A. Bands, released just on the cusp of the hair band invasion of Los Angeles. That’s all bad enough, but I also don’t know anything about the Irritators, though I paid a pretty hefty (for me) sum for their single “Whack the Dolphin,” based on my enthusiasm for the title and cover art. I’ve included both tracks here – let me know if it was worth it! There’s another single floating around out there called “Gotabona” (another variation on the masturbation theme?) which is selling for nearly over $200 – I think I’ll pass, but I'm really curious. “Whack the Dolphin” was packaged in a water-proof plastic case with a flap, I guess for retail under water.

The Toons are a real curiosity. They actively aped the sound of the Beach Boys – most L.A. bands acknowledged the debt through occasionally complex harmonizing, even in punk songs! – but injected their lyrics with a lot of weird, puerile humor which that sentimental slug Brian Wilson would never have approached. This first track really evokes for me that crazy glee that us young’ens felt for the first video game arcades in the 70s, while the second is some sort of odd mixture of the sci-fi hallucinations of early Bowie and the horror-kitsch of 45 Grave. Another fun discovery was St. Vitus, who are probably very famous in some quarters – they are one of the foundational doom metal bands – but was news to me. I imagine the guys from Spinal Tap paid pretty close attention to their sound and lyrics – I love the way the guitars are layered on this track. The Witch Trials was a one-off collaboration between L.A.’s Christian Lunch, the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra and other Bay Area figures – somewhat unlistenable but amusing the first time around.

Jeremy included a track from 20/20 – the incredible “Yellow Pills” – in the last set. This one is taken from their second album and is not quite as brilliant but is in the same mold. Pilgrim State was a one-off art-hardcore act that included the protean Brad Laner – “art-hardcore” in the sense that I don’t think any of the members particularly liked hardcore at all, and if anything wanted to take the piss out of it. But I have this theory (as Redd Kross’s spoof hardcore act Anarchy 6 seems to support), which is that you can’t parody hardcore – unlike, say, heavy metal, new wave, lounge music, even punk – without simply being hardcore. It just sounds like hardcore no matter what, there's just not enough room for ironic distance. (Is “Fuck Society” successful as a spoof title?) The only solution would be to do a hardcore song that is 40 minutes long and takes two sides of an album. Just an idea. Both sides of the Pilgrim State LP end with a locked groove – where the needle just spins forever in a circle, a favorite technique of another LA-associated radical, Boyd Rice – as you can hear on this track. It took me a while to figure this out, as you'll hear.

Invisible Chains was an act featuring Carla Bozulich, later a founding member of Ethyl Meatplow (featured earlier in these volumes) and singer/co-founder of two bands I never heard of, The Geraldine Fibbers and Evangelista. These two tracks somehow link the percussive minimalism of a lot of underground acts in L.A. and the space-jazz elements of someone like Sun Ra, if you can imagine that. Sal Mineo, by the way, is the actor who played Plato in Rebel Without a Cause. A real tragic figure, he had a hard time getting work after being a child star, was one of the first actors to come out as gay publicly, and was stabbed to death by a pizza deliveryman-slash-thief at the age of 37.

I ripped this track from the Del Rubio Triplets from one of the Rodney on the ROQ LPs. Actual triplets and born in 1921, they were about 60 when they recorded this. Jeremy included The Luther Davis Group on the first version of his set from the last collection, but then nixed them for the final cut – that’s about as much as I know about the act, which only produced a single. Not brilliant, perhaps, but I’m interested in obscure black acts from this era as well, even if they are not in any way “post-punk.” Agent Orange is a very well known hardcore band – this is their first A-side, and was produced by Dan Van Patten who did work with the amazing Null and Void (all over my earlier volumes), Ann DeJarnett, the Beat-E-O’s (I've included their entire output in these collections) and a bunch of other obscure acts. He also played on and produced Berlins’ first LP before moving to Belize to, it appears, hang out at bars (living off of royalties from "The Metro," no doubt). He’s something of an unsung hero in these collections, too bad he didn't hang around.

Lastly are two acts associated with COMA – aka the California Outside Music Association, the more classically and/or jazz-inclined sister organization to LAFMS. Dogma Probe and the Rhythm Pigs, from earlier in these volumes, appeared on their only compilation, a Beginner’s Guide to COMA. Motor Totemist Guild, the brainchild of James Grigsby, performed work that wouldn’t feel out of place in a survey of light early Modernist orchestral work, while the 5uu’s (who are not-surprisingly easy to Google, unlike X or Q) used more jazz instrumentation and rhythms. But they obviously liked each other a lot, because the two bands eventually combined (after recording a collaborative LP together with their separate names) and released a pair of LPs as U Totem. I’m really coming up short on ways to describe their music, and their history has twists and turns that will be described more fully in a book-length work by Charles Michael Sharp on experimental music communities in LA that is coming out soon – so you’ll have to wait until then to learn more. 

6 comments:

  1. Awesome project. There was so much amazing music at the time, with the incredible humility of The Minutemen standing as an anchor, or beacon.

    You should check out some of the Happy Squid Records bands of the era - Urinals, 100 Flowers, God and the State. The essence of post-punk right there, with the LA slant.

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  2. Great, thanks. It's funny you mention those bands because they're all in the next collection. Urinals/100 Flowers really excellent. I'm also be including other stuff from the Happy Squid catalogue later, like from Radwaste (haven't heard them yet).

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  3. It's funny that you have heard of Invisible Chains & Ethyl Meatplow but not Geraldine Fibbers. I'd always thought the Fibbers were at least as successful as the Meatplows! Shows what I know. Nels Cline (now of Wilco) was in the Geraldine Fibbers, and later in a duo with Carla called Scarnella that was fantastic.

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  4. Yeah, I understand. I've only come upon a lot of these bands by plowing through music blogs, sites like Allmusic and Discogs, etc. so I had never heard of Invisible Chains and Ethyl Meatplow before starting this project. But I stuck to them because they are (almost) 80s bands, and (nearly) stay within my 77-87 frame. Really a stretch, but what I've read about Ethyl Meatplow has been pretty interesting, and the name itself is pretty great.

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  5. They showed the video for Ethyl Meatplow's Devil's Johnson on Beavis & Butthead!

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  6. Is it possible to re-up disk 1? Thanks and saludos.

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