Several years ago a co-worker of mine was looking to clear some space in one of his closets when he came across a crate of records someone had forced upon him. The titles this friend of his had insisted he listen to had not appealed to this co-worker of mine in the least, so he put them in storage and basically forgot about them. When he came across this crate years later, he offered them to me, knowing that I am a big music fan. I was expecting a lot of crappy titles that I couldn't even sell at the local record shop, but was absolutely delighted to find that it was a small collection of punk and new wave in reasonable condition. Fear's The Record, Germs' GI, Minutemen's Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat, a few Lene Lovich 12" singles, and a number of other great stuff was suddenly mine!

Among these titles was a record by a band called The Residents with some very odd artwork and the enigmatic title Not Available. My knowledge of this band included the fact that they were covered by Primus on their Miscellaneous Debris E.P., and . . . well, that's about it. I put the LP in a protective sleeve, filed it on my shelf, and basically forgot about it for several years. Until this morning.

While doing some cleaning around the house, I decided to work on a project that I chip away at from time to time: taking my vinyl and ripping it to CD so I can file it in my iTunes where I can listen to the songs whenever I want without damaging the records. Today's choices included Madness' debut One Step Beyond . . ., and that strange looking album by that band that I didn't know much about. While One Step (which is a phenomenal ska record, by the way) was recording, I took to the internet to find out more about Not Available, and The Residents in general. It turns out that I have been missing out on a beautiful and challenging record with a great story around it.

The Residents are an art rock outfit from (possibly) Louisiana that have had a staggeringly prolific career since the mid-1970's. They firmly believe that the best art is created when the audience doesn't focus on things like the artists' appearance, race, gender, or basically anything that isn't the art itself. For this reason, The Residents have kept their identities absolutely confidential, performing on stage in eyeball masks and only communicating to the media through spokespeople (who may or may not actually be members of the band, though they deny it).

In keeping with this Theory Of Obscurity (as they refer to it), the band followed this line of thought to its logical end for what was their 2nd recorded album: what better way to create art that is free of the constraints of commercialism than by recording an album that the band has no intention of ever releasing to the public? Or, at the very least, as long as the members of the band remember what is actually on the recording. So they headed into the studio, recorded an album, and placed it in a vault never to be touched until such a time arose that even the members of the band couldn't remember what they had done. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the band's record label became impatient with them when they were behind schedule on a record just a few years later, and they pulled the masters for this album that was never meant to be available (hence the title), and released it without the band's consent. Which, strangely, keeps the Theory of Obscurity intact, as the band didn't intend for the music to be released, and yet it was.

The great back story aside, Not Available is a dense, haunting recording that vacillates between semi-tonal wailing, minimalistic chanting, and eerie ballad-like moments. It is presented as a rock-opera of sorts, though the story line is so obscure it makes Joe's Garage seem positively fluid in its narrative. The story is more or less the tale of a young woman named Edweena who heads to college with a porcupine named Knowledge, where she meets the Enigmatic Foe and a character named Catbird. Frankly, the plot (or, in this case, lack of one) isn't really important, since the music itself paints a vivid picture of confusion, uncertainty, and potentially impending doom while attempting to determine one's own identity (which is a fantastically accurate portrait of what many people experience when heading to college).

Not Available is an album that simply demands the listeners undivided attention (with a copy of the lyrics in front of them), and is absolutely unlike any other recording one is likely to ever hear.

Not Available - 8 out of 10
joshthevegan: (Roar)

We are deep in the heart of summer here in the northern hemisphere, and although I'm a fan of brainy pop punk all year 'round, the warm weather basically demands a steady stream of upbeat, fun songs about love and life's other disasters.

This particular summer, I have found myself turning to some of the classic releases from the hey-day of Lookout! Records. This is the label that brought Green Day and Operation Ivy (which would eventually morph into Rancid) to the world initially, as well as some other smaller act like The Queers, Screeching Weasel (who have a newish album out) and The Mr. T Experience.

The Mr. T Experience (or MTX for short) are considered to be the first punk band in the "Bay Area" punk scene of Southern California's East Bay. They built their following around gigs at the 924 Gilman Street punk club, where such punk heavyweights as NoFX and Bad Religion also performed back in the 1980's.

MTX's first few albums are a blend of pop punk that is heavily influenced by The Ramones, via Descendents and 1960's-style surf rock. While these first releases are rather enjoyable, it wasn't until their sixth album, and after all of the original members (aside from frontman "Dr." Frank Porter) had quit the band, that MTX started releasing their most memorable and enduring works.

Their first full-length during this peak era is Love is Dead, and it also happens to be the first album they offered after their former label-mates Green Day exploded into the mainstream with Dookie. Love is Dead is a masterpiece of peppy sunshine pop, which pairs perfectly with Dr. Frank's offbeat lyrics about love. Whether it is unrequited love ("I'm Like Yeah, But She's All No"), or love in the blossoming stages ("I Just Wanna Do It With You" which isn't nearly as dirty as it sounds), or simply love of playing music just for the fun of it, even though some of your peers are cashing in ("Dumb Little Band"), the full spectrum of love's possibilities are explored, and although love might be "dead", it sure is fun.

Love Is Dead - 8 out of 10

Punk bands were just starting to delve fully into the world of the music video in the mid '90's, and MTX put together a pretty excellent one for one of the songs from this album, "Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba":

joshthevegan: (screamy)

There was no shortage of punk bands in the 1990's that played speedy, poppy songs that were a cocktail of goofiness, heartache and angst. There were literally hundreds of bands that were playing and recording during that time period that could be described in just that way. What is it then, that made Plow United so memorable to the people that were fortunate enough to see them perform during their all-too-short career?

Well, first, it's the fantastic sense of melody that Brian McGee brought to his spirited vocals. Secondly, it's the superb musicianship by all three members on their respective instruments. But above all of that, there is just something really intangibly unique about Plow United's sound that set them apart from all their contemporaries. Their songs are anthemic, empowering, and inspiring, all without demanding allegiance to their cause. These songs exist to inspire, not to alienate.

When listening to their self-titled debut, a trained ear might be able to catch a slight country twang underneath all that distortion and speed (especially on the closer, "World According to Me"). In retrospect, this isn't terribly surprising, considering that McGee would go on to record a bluegrass album with his band Brian McGee and the Hollow Speed following Plow's breakup, but at the time, punk fans might have simply had a blind spot for the twangy strumming that makes an appearance from time to time.

Plow United is so peppy and enjoyable, by the time it's 20ish minutes are up, you are left wanting so much more. Fortunately, songs like "That Girl", "Poison Berries" and "St. Patrick's Day" hold up to repeated listenings. Even after 15 years, I can still listen to this album twice in a row without a second thought.

Plow United has been broken up since the late 1990's, and they have turned down opportunities to play reunion shows on several occasions. Because of this, when news started leaking that Plow United would be playing a music festival in Philadelphia this coming September, their old fans (myself included!) are ravenous to see these guys play again.

Plow United - 8 out of 10
joshthevegan: (screamy)

Save the baby! Kill the doctor! )
joshthevegan: (Bassy)

Where's Sly? )
joshthevegan: (screamy)

Nothing ever changes! )
joshthevegan: (Bassy)

Death is everywhere )

Oh, baby. Now you're such a drag )
joshthevegan: (Bassy)

But what about my bank account? )

With summer finally starting to go here in Pennsylvania, my mind immediately starts drifting to great ska records. Something about warm days and sunshine makes the warm, wonderful sounds of these records the perfect fit.

Westbound Train is part of the newer roster of talent over at Tim Armstrong's Hell-Cat Records, and they reflect everything I loved about the first batch of bands he signed. They are totally traditional ska (i.e. not punk-ska, ala The Mighty Mighty BossTones) with fantastic vocals and laidback instrumentation accented by tasteful horns. As with all great ska acts, gospel is just as important to their sound as reggae is. They have had a number of releases on various labels, and even a few on Hell-Cat Records, and "Come And Get It" is their most recent, having been released just back in May. Standout tracks include "Check Your Time," "Come And Get It," and "Lift My Voice Up Loud." If you are hosting a barbecue and need the perfect soundtrack for it, you could do a heck of a lot worse than "Come And Get It."

Come And Get It - 8 out of 10

Here is Westbound Train performing the song "Come And Get It" at a small show recently. This is just a taste of how great these guys can be.

September 2014



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