Screaming Trees' major label debut features artwork by Mark Ryden, whose work is always beautifully crafted and mildly unsettling. Ryden would go on to design a more high profile album a few years later, but the acid-drenched hard rock kaleidoscope that is the Trees' sound suits the tone of his art much better.

Featuring alumni of the first grunge band ever (Green River), Mudhoney's first E.P. slated them as progenitors of that grimy, slow, metal-punk hybrid that their city would become famous for in a few years. Named for the distortion pedals guitarists Mark Arm and Steve Turner were using, Superfuzz Bigmuff has a boozy swagger and a defiant sneer permeating its six tracks which leaves the listener's ears ringing and desperate for more.

The cover art is a photo of the aforementioned guitar players on stage, and it perfectly embodies the wild, drunken antics the band was famous for in concert in those days. This is easily one of my favorite live shots of any band.
joshthevegan: (woody)

Around the time Pearl Jam was recording the follow up to their hugely successful debut, Ten, the members were involved in a number of struggles with the powers that be, most famously singer Eddie Vedder taking on Ticketmaster. In addition to these real conflicts, the media was painting a contest between Pearl Jam and fellow Seattle-ites Nirvana, which Pearl Jam has vocally said was a complete fabrication. It is for these reasons that they titled their sophomore effort Vs. (initially Five Against One for similar reasons).

The cover art, a black and white photograph of a sheep taken by bassist Jeff Ament, is representative of the way the band felt at the time. While they were grappling against things they found unjust with all their might, they still often felt like they were trapped in a cage.

On a personal level, I was 12 when Vs. came out, and the older guys that I hung around with at the time were all huge Pearl Jam fans, and they were among the 1.3 million people that purchased copies the first week the record was out. Seeing copies of this CD going around, I couldn't help but be drawn to this powerful image. It also didn't hurt that some of the best music ever recorded also happened to be included on the bright orange disc.

As I've mentioned in the past, my feelings about Nirvana are atypical, to say the least. Knowing that I would more likely cue up In Utero than Nevermind, it should come as no surprise that my personal favorite of Nirvana's covers is the one for Bleach. Sure, it's not as iconic as the baby swimming after the dollar (which, to be honest, is pretty damn great), nor is it as intangibly disturbing as the cover of Incesticide. But there is something about the negative of the shot of the band all rocking to the point their mop-tops happen to be flopping in their face at the same moment speaks to me about what I like about the early grunge scene, and Nirvana's first record specifically.

Mad Season was a supergroup consisting of members from some of Seattle's best known bands at the time, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Screaming Trees. Their sole release, Above is an under appreciated gem. Mike McCready's bluesy guitar work paired with Barrett Martin's melodic percussion work create a great back drop for Layne Staley's enigmatic vocals, the complete package of which is exciting and sounds nothing like any of the participating artists' main projects.

The artwork for the release was all designed by Layne Staley, and it is so immediately recognizable and memorable that long before I ever heard the record, I was completely aware of the art.
joshthevegan: (screamy)
Before I even start in on this, I want to put some emphasis on the title of this entry. It is "Why I'd rather listen to In Utero than Nevermind", not "Nevermind is a lame album that I, as a music snob, will turn my nose up at, and pretend like I never loved".

If I were to claim that In Utero is a better album, that would just be a subjective opinion, that many (most?) people would disagree with. If I were to claim that In Utero holds a bigger cultural significance than Nevermind, that would just be flat-out untrue.

I really like Nevermind. I do. But that doesn't change the fact that In Utero is the Nirvana album that I turn to far more often.

This could get lengthy )
joshthevegan: (screamy)

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

Singer Mark Arm has described Five Dollar Bob's Mock Cooter Stew as an opportunity to "get new music out to the fans between albums." It consists of seven tracks, four of which were brand new, two of which were released as b-sides to singles, and one is a re-recording of a prviously available song. The five new recordings were all finished in the span of about 45 minutes, but don't come off sounding rushed. Instead these songs exude intimacy, and a sense of levity.

The E.P. opens with "In The Blood", a drudging "ballad" of sorts with organ flares that complement the sloppy meandering of the band. "No Song III" is a youthful, punk-y whirlwind splattered with drummer Dan Peters' signature fills and flourishes. The country-western tinged "Between You and Me Kid" is fun and irreverent. It showcases the band's expanding arsenal of styles, and helps cement that Mudhoney is a lot more than just a "grunge" band. On the other end of the spectrum, "Six Two One" is about as classic-sounding Mudhoney as you can get. Piece of Cake's "Make It Now" appears here in re-recorded form as "Make It Now Again". (This song got its name from an experience Arm and Turner had in traffic. An ambulance was trying to cut through, and the driver got on a loudspeaker and shouted "Make a hole! Make it wide! Make it now!") Here, the song is sped up a few bpm's, and the muddy psychadelia accented a little more. This song is the first incarnation of a sound Mudhoney would perfect on Since We've Become Transluscent. The last two tracks, "Deception Pass" and "Underride" are peppy little alterna-rock numbers that are enjoyable, but sound like. . .well, like b-side material.

Five Dollar Bob's Mock Cooter Stew definitely rocks at some points, but overall, the feel of this E.P. is fun. The band even had fun in the writing of the liner notes. Producer Kurt Bloch is listed as "Curt" and "Kurdt", a little jab at Kurt Cobain who was known for purposely misspelling his name in liner notes. Fortunately they got this joke off when they did, as jokes about Cobain would become taboo just months later.

Five Dollar Bob's Mock Cooter Stew - 7 out of 10

Sometimes it breaks my heart to remember how good Chris Cornell was once upon a time (considering his terrible new album with Timbaland. . .and even Audioslave. Let's be honest about what a failure that project that was.) The term grunge got a bit thinned out over the years, but the original definition is the blending of slow, grindy metal (think Black Sabbath) with punk rock (this was, of course, first achieved on the classic second side of Black Flag's "My War." This performance of "Mailman" from their smash album "Superunknown" is Soundgarden embodying exactly that.

She beats the shit out of me )

Good riddance to the both of you, I hope you go far! )

Crawling out of the ashes of Green River, lead singer Mark Arm and original guitarist Steve Turner started writing songs under the name Mudhoney (taken from a Russ Meyer movie that neither of them had actually seen.)  The early recordings were more a melding of blues and early hardcore (especially "My War" era Black Flag) than the heavy metal sound that Green River was going towards at the end of their tenure.  The band released an e.p. called "Superfuzz Bigmuff" and a 7 inch single entitled "Touch Me I'm Sick" on local label Sub Pop.  These releases gained some recognition and grabbed the attention of Sonic Youth who asked the band to back them on their upcoming tour.  On this tour, Mudhoney received even more recognition, and "Superfuzz Bigmuff" became an underground hit in Europe.  

When the band returned home, they started work on their first full-length album: 1988's "Mudhoney."  Full of intentionally sloppy performances drenched in fuzz box distortion, the songs are short, gritty, and full of youthful bravado.  From the opening moments of this album, it is clear Mudhoney was not following anyone else's lead, but rather heading out into uncharted territory.  Shimmery tremolo leads constantly dancing over a simple two fuzzy chords set a fantastic back drop for Mark Arm to practically whisper into the microphone, "I've got something waiting for you, that's right. . ."  The band all snaps together for the chorus, and the full power of the cheap distortion pedals is unleashed in full.  

From Flat Out Fucked  to Here Comes Sickness, "Mudhoney" is full of rockers that are relentless and fantastic.  Arm belts out amazing vocals and Turner almost never stops soloing over the whole thing.  The centerpiece of the album, though, is definitely the hypnotic When Tomorrow Hits.  The song fades in the two, clean-tone chords, and it's not until almost a minute into the song that Arm starts mumbling some lyrics.  The whole song builds tension through repitition until the two-minute mark, where the distortion pedal is finally hit, and, as the song says, it hits you hard.  

Grittier than "Ten," cooler than "Nevermind," and more adventurous than "Dirt," "Mudhoney" is really the quintessential grunge album.  The band has released many albums since, but none had the magic that their first did.

September 2014



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