Saturday, December 31, 2005

Hayden Childs reviews "Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In The Aeroplane Over The Sea'"

Over at From Here To Obscurity, Hayden Childs, esteemed contributor to the recent anthology Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed, has some very kind things to say about my new book on Neutral Milk Hotel:

What a beautiful dream
That could flash on the screen
In a blink of an eye and be gone from me
Soft and sweet
Let me hold it close and keep it here with me

If you're like me, you love Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea with a passion that few other albums achieve, and you have been looking forward to the 33 1/3 book for as long as you've known about it. Well, ok, there's probably only 1000 or so people in the country who fall into that category, but MAN, what a great album and what a great book about it.

Kim Cooper (the editrix of Lost In The Grooves, Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, and Scram Magazine) gets to the heart of the story about this album. As NMH fans know, Jeff Mangum produced only one prior NMH album, On Avery Island (released in 1996), which was pretty much created without a band, then brought in a group that became the NMH that we all knew and loved. NMH put out the amazing In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in 1998, went on a short tour to support the album, then more or less disappeared. I remember when they came to Chapel Hill on that tour, but I didn't go see them because I thought I'd have plenty of options to see them again. I was wrong.

Cooper spent some time with Jeff Mangum while researching the book, and it shows, despite his unwillingness to be directly quoted, in her insight into his elusive genius. She also spoke with the other major members and friends of the band, who provided her with the in-stories that show exactly how this band bottled the lightning in 1998. Cooper's depth of research and sympathy for her subject are wonderful to read.

I pitched Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights to 33 1/3, and I can say with confidence that this is exactly the sort of book I'd attempt to write about that album if the editors give me the go-ahead. Some of the other 33 1/3 books have been too much about the ego of the author; Cooper disappears into her narrative, and her book is infinitely better for it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mike Furber & the Bowery Boys Just A Poor Boy CD (Radioactive)

London-born and finely-coiffed, Furber was just what Brisbane garage band the Bowery Boys wanted in a singer… well, aside from not having a great voice. On their sole LP, the band displays a fine hand with the jangly and punky stuff, which is unfortunately interspersed with some pretty dopey blues covers. Highlights are the deliciously messy, Easybeatsy take on “That’s When Happiness Began” and a snotty “Diddy Wah Diddy,” both better suited to Furber’s range. Later in his brief career, Furber was a Barry Gibb protégé, again to no great notice.

Two vintage Gene Sculatti Scram articles are online

Newly added to the Scram back issues archives, our man Sculatti on the top ten fake Dylans and on the confounding, delicious Beauty of Bruno.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Chesapeake Juke Box Band S/T CD (Rev-Ola)

In 1971, NY songwriters Steve Sawyer and Freddie McFinn sequestered themselves in the Record Plant with Archies keyboard whiz Ron Frangipane and engaged in arcane alchemical rituals focusing on the letter B. The Beach Boys, the Beatles, the sensibilities of Broadway and the British are just the most blatant elements blended into the sole release by the CJBB, a lush and schizoid demonstration of studio wizardry featuring a scattering of Wings sidemen. From the name-dropping opening track, it’s obvious that we’re in meta-territory, where pop eats it own tail. There aren’t many records that leap about so frenetically (or comfortably), a little Doo Wop here, five seconds in Nashville, or is that the Hollies’ Manchester, and whoops! now we’re in a radio drama. It’s pop as Disney ride, speedy as reading Burroughs on a train, also glib and ridiculous and elegant and finely-honed. Of course it sank like a juke box, but thanks to this reish, new generations of tail-tasters can unpeel its layers.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Beyond the Valley of Carol Kaye

L.A. session bass queen Carol Kaye has a message board... and an attitude. Over on the Smiley Smile list, banned posters are chiming in with how they got bounced from her kingdom. Insist the Beach Boys or Doors played their own instruments? Think Motown's hits were recorded in Detroit? Dare to promote a Jan Berry tribute album? Buh-bye!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Q: Are We Not Men?

Mike Appelstein meets Mark Mothersbaugh at an art show in St. Louis and remembers how seeing DEVO turned him into a teenage badass:

I had my official Devo energy dome with me. I bought it for $6.00 at their Rutgers University show in November 1981. That was the first real concert I ever saw, and perhaps still the best. I'll never forget it. I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. In 1981, it was still dangerous to be a known punk (or new wave) sympathizer. High school jocks and burnouts would call you "Devo" as an insult, or they'd sing "Turning Japanese" to you sarcastically. When word got out that I attended an actual Devo show, the abuse only increased until I finally told the burnouts to, and I quote, "fuck off." I got the crap beaten out of me that afternoon. I didn't care. I felt righteous. So to be in a room with hundreds of people who actually liked Devo, and who weren't going to make fun or hit me for my musical taste, was like nothing I experienced in my own daily life. Of course the band was great as well; They opened with videos (still a novel concept at that point) and played songs from all their albums. They were still riding a wave of fame from "Whip It" and Freedom of Choice the year before, and apparently used the money on their stage show: the set resembled a futuristic jungle gym, complete with treadmills. For the encore, Booji Boy came out and sang "Beautiful World."

To Devo it was probably just another unremarkable night on tour. But to me, this concert was a life-changing event. By 1981 I was already a hardcore music nut: I'd been buying new wave albums since 1979 and had discovered college radio and Young Marble Giants earlier that year. But actually attending a concert, being surrounded by other Devo fans, pushed me over the edge. For the first time, I knew for sure that I wasn't alone in my interests and obsessions. It was a revelation. Nothing would ever be quite the same.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Neutral Milk Hotel book limited numbered copy auction

The first auction for one of the numbered copies of my NMH book ended at just over $100 and a went to a nice fellow who is surprising his wife with it for Xmas. I've just listed book #28/30 on eBay, and would be happy to entertain offers for the few remaining books in the series, via email at

The auction URL for #28 is

Nervous Norvus Stone Age Woo: The Zorch Sounds of… CD (Norton)

Jimmy Drake was a self-trained musician who loved Red Blanchard’s kid’s radio show and started composing original novelty tunes in tribute to the DJ. Blanchard liked what he heard, and transformed Drake—who just thought he was a demo man--into the wild Nervous Norvus performing character. This daffy comp includes Norv’s sole hit, the 1956 auto-crash ballet “Transfusion,” and scads of unheard primitive oddities that flesh out Drake’s uniquely unsettling take on the American pop songbook. From the leering “I Like Girls” to the hysterical “Does A Chinese Chicken Have A Pigtail?” to the first person tale of a sexy space alien called The Fang, Drake’s lo-fi rockabilly paints a picture of a deranged, yet strangely gentle, hillbilly maniac. You just want to hug the nut.

Monday, December 19, 2005

cult of the week - Hybrid Kids

artist: Hybrid Kids

title: Claws

year: 1980

label: Cherry Red Records

personnel: Morgan Fisher (all instruments except...) Maggie Nicols (voice), Lol Coxhill (sax), Joel Cutrara (xmas appeal), Iain McNay (speech), Chris & Valerie Ross (voices)

tracklisting: we three kings, o come all ye faithful, deck the halls, coventry, holly and ivy, no st. bernard, listen the snow is flling, dead ducks, good king wenceslas, happy xmas (war is over)

cotw say…

this week, what could be more appropriate than to review a Christmas album? however, i doubt that 'Claws' (geddit?) will be played at many Christmas parties.

hatched from the warped universe of former Mott the Hoople keyboardist (!) Morgan Fisher - with a notable guest slot from saxophonist and friend Lol Coxhill - the basic premise of 'Claws' is to take traditional Xmas fare such as 'O Come All Ye Faithful', and seriously mash it through a Flying Lizards' filter. the results are, at times, truly bizarre. by keeping the songs moving at a frantic pace and almost exclusively using a pitch harmoniser to raise his voice, Fisher's efforts hurtle headlong towards the realms of other high octane kitchen sink experimenters like Renaldo and the Loaf. as you would expect, much of it is meticulously pieced together, particularly the percussion loops and mandolin (?) of opener 'We Three Kings'. side two is thankfully more sedate. 'No St. Bernard' features label boss Iain McNay providing an amusing 'I hate Christmas' monologue over gentle synths and samples of old Xmas hits drifting in and out of the mix. meanwhile, Maggie Nichols' a capella folk song 'Dead Ducks' remains genuinely affecting. concluding with Pinky and Perky's very own version of 'War is Over', tongues are firmly returned to cheeks.

guaranteed to excite the child in you at Christmas, 'Claws' is a cracker!

erik -

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Brian Heater reviews the Neutral Milk Hotel book, NY Press

In the final chapter of Kim Cooper’s meditation on Neutral Milk Hotel’s album In the Aeroplane over the Sea (Continuum Press, 104 pages, $9.95), the author tells of visibly fatigued frontman Jeff Mangum getting up in front of a crowd, apologizing for the “sick parts” and introducing a new composition, then launching in to what, to date, is the only post-Aeroplane song he’s performed in public, ending with the couplet “Knowing God in Heaven never could forgive him / So I took a hammer and nearly beat his brains.” The words, coupled with Mangum’s physical state and his subsequent retreat from the public eye may not help in a defense of Mangum’s much-debated sanity. They are, though, the stuff of rock legend, and Aeroplane is lousy with the stuff. Issued in 1998, its cult following has grown ever since. Neutral Milk Hotel’s sophomore record means an awful lot of things to an awful lot of people. This may not be Let it Be, but it certainly warrants the in-depth treatment that is the 33 1/3 series’ forte.

The book’s opening chapters relate the history of the Elephant 6 Collective, beginning with Mangum’s humble beginnings in the tiny college town of Ruston, La., as told through interviews with fellow Collective members including The Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider and Scott Spillane of The Gerbils and NMH. (Noticeably absent are any quotes from the notoriously reclusive Mangum.) While the back story is thin, Cooper works with what she has, telling some nice stories about musicians sharing boom box recordings.

A later chapter finds Cooper analyzing the record track-by-track, offering some compelling readings of the album’s often impenetrable imagery. The book concludes with an account of Mangum’s suspected psychosis, using quotes from his close friend (and longtime Elf Power bandmember) Laura Carter to refute them. When it’s all over, there seem to be more unanswered questions than we started with. Still, the ride is certainly worth the price of admission.

—Brian Heater, NY Press

Neutral Milk Hotel book reviewed by Rob Harvilla

The Aeroplane Flies High
The devout, ever-multiplying cult of Neutral Milk Hotel should perhaps prepare for a second coming. By Rob Harvilla

The most influential indie-rock record of the past decade reverently declares I love you Jesus Christ, features the songs "Two-Headed Boy" (parts one and two) and "The King of Carrot Flowers" (part one, then parts two and three combined), uses semen as a lyrical motif, crushes heavily on Anne Frank, lists a zanzithophone player in its liner notes, and whips up an unholy racket like several punk rockers and a Bulgarian wedding band trapped in an elevator together, desperately screaming for help. Stranger things will never happen.

Fortunately, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, a carefully guarded secret upon its release in 1998, has been happening ever since. The record's vibrant, chaotic Salvation Army Marching Band sound and surrealist wordplay has inspired current big-shots from the Decemberists to the Arcade Fire to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Mysterious NMH mastermind Jeff Mangum -- who all but disappeared shortly after Aeroplane's release -- became a full-fledged reclusive genius deity, a beloved Salinger for the Pitchfork set. Pitchfork itself, meanwhile, recently deep-sixed the tepid Aeroplane review the online rock-crit site had originally run and replaced it with a fawning, triumphant 10.0 coronation.

Seven years later, the record's influence and capacity to fascinate have swelled to gargantuan proportions. Now, Los Angeles-based writer and critic Kim Cooper -- a devout lover of bubblegum pop and so-called "unpopular culture" via her zine Scram -- has taken the first real crack at unraveling Aeroplane's mystique, penning a tome for Continuum Books' immensely popular 331/3 series. Each selection is a pocket-sized hundred-or-so-pager devoted to the genesis, construction, and aftermath of one record, and although the series has enjoyed success with paeans to classics like the Smiths' Meat Is Murder and Prince's Sign 'O' the Times, Cooper's Aeroplane volume might be its biggest hit yet.

The record's ongoing critical revisionism has helped, of course, but Kim insists that word of mouth has slowly turned Neutral Milk Hotel from near-unknown to near-mythic. "I think it's just based on how many people love it," she explains. "People get very evangelical about this album. A record review can't do that. Who really cares if the record's got a 10.0, compared to sitting down with a friend who plays a song for you and it blows your mind?"

Kim's book is a fairly straightforward rise-and-fall narrative, beginning with a gang of Louisiana college radio rats who migrate on a whim to Athens, Georgia, while slowly coalescing into the Elephant 6 collective, a loose-knit crew of psychedelic-pop artistes who've found success with bands like Olivia Tremor Control and Of Montreal, but undoubtedly peaked with Neutral Milk Hotel. In-depth interviews with friends and collaborators -- including pop aficionado Robert Schneider, who produced Aeroplane at Pet Sounds, his Denver studio -- fill it out, but the famously distant Mangum transcends and haunts it all. He doesn't talk to Kim on the record -- "He didn't immediately say no, and ultimately he didn't say yes," she explains -- but you get just enough of a sense of the guy, from his affinity for rehearsing in the bathroom to his night terrors to his apparent obsession with Anne Frank's harrowing WWII artifact, The Diary of a Young Girl.

Aeroplane perfected a psychotic carnival sound (from expertly fuzzed-out barnburners like "Holland 1945" to sweet, cryptic ballads like the title track), but Mangum's surrealist lyrics still dominate, filled with lovesick two-headed freaks floating in jars, semen-stained mountaintops, and flaming pianos, apartment buildings, and human heads. Cryptic Anne Frank references abound, but on the chilling "Oh Comely" -- a showcase for Mangum's mournfully strummed acoustic guitar and braying, famously polarizing voice -- he careens though verses of fantastically twisted imagery before settling on the shockingly direct:

And I know they buried her body with others

Her sister and mother and five hundred families

And will she remember me fifty years later

I wish I could save her in some sort of time machine

The Jeff/Anne love affair is a strange and sometimes uncomfortable pairing. "Picture the Franks in their Dutch hidey-hole, 1944," Cooper writes. "Picture the Elephant 6 gang fifty years later, rock 'n' roll and road trips and DIY. Incongruous worlds, but the sets collide, and somehow fit perfectly together." Maybe not perfectly -- though plenty of critics hate E6 and Neutral Milk in particular, it's doubtful they've ever seriously considered genocide.

Over the phone, Kim explains it a bit more convincingly. "I think it was a personal connection with her as a writer and as a person, this really lovely adolescent who was just kind of flowering and becoming an adult and an intellectual, and it was all just wiped away by forces so much more powerful than her," she explains. "Some people think that he was in love with her."

Does she think so? "I think he loved her the way that you love anyone whose story really touches you. You want the best for them, and you can't help them, and that's where you get I wish I could save her in some sort of time machine."

At first it's off-putting that Kim largely avoids probing the meaning or backstory behind Aeroplane's beguiling lyrics -- she tacked on a track-by-track analysis at her editor's request -- but ultimately it makes sense to leave all that to your own inclination and imagination. Mangum's seclusion is also a fuzzy affair, but though his refusal to record, perform, or submit to interviews shortly after the album's release was partly due to private, personal issues, Kim's book heavily implies that much of it was showbiz, borne of Mangum's desire to go out with a bang, slowly work his devotees into a deifying lather, and then descend from the mountain years later with a spectacular follow-up. Urban legend insists he's gone completely bonkers, but the facts suggest he knows exactly what he's doing -- in her text, Kim makes the point of noting that Mangum is alive, lucid, and sane.

"If you listen to the music, it's obvious that there's a lot of thought that goes into everything," Cooper says. "It's not very random. ... There's a certain elegance to just walking away and leaving this kind of resounding note in the air."

And lo, just as Kim's book comes out, new Neutral Milk Hotel demos surface online, capping a year that also saw Mangum show up onstage with old E6 buddies such as the Circulatory System and Olivia Tremor Control. The Aeroplane revival has reached critical mass, and the Great Comeback may in fact be upon us.

"That's certainly what [paramour and, coincidentally, zanzithophonist] Laura Carter thought he was doing," Kim concludes. "That he was echoing artists from the past he liked who disappear for periods, and then come back when nobody's expecting something, and really blowing people's minds. I hope he does." Whether you know it or not, so do you.

This review appeared in the East Bay Express, December 14, 2005

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Secret History of the Whippets, a NYC girl group

A few nights ago--the anniversary of John Lennon's death, actually--my friend Sean Carrillo sent me a link to a deliciously goofy MP3. It was a novelty single his wife Bibbe Hansen recorded with two girlfriends in 1964 as The Whippets, "Let's Go Go Go With Ringo." This primitive girl group 45 would be a hoot in its own right, but it becomes all the neater when you reflect that Bibbe Whippet was the littlest Warhol superstar, daughter of happenings artist Al Hansen and later mother of Beck, while Janet Whippet (link includes audio) was the only child of Jack Kerouac. Charlotte Rosenthal, meanwhile, had interesting taste in friends.

So before posting a link to "Let's Go Go Go With Ringo" so you, too, can get this thing stuck like goo in your noggin, I had to ask, how did three New York City girls end up faking British accents in an aural love note to the schnozziest Beatle?

Bibbe replied with the inside scoop:

"Charlotte Rosenthal, Janet Kerouac and I were all downtown street kids in 1964 New York City. While panhandling, we three met songwriter Neil Levinson ("Oh, Denise") and hustled busfare from him. On the bus ride we fell to chatting. The Beatles had just come out big in the US and Neil had written a girl-song response to “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Would we be interested in hearing it? We met him later that day at Steinway Studios on 57th Street and together finished the lyrics and music for “I Want To Talk With You.” It was a classic girl group riff and we dug it. That same day we went to a half dozen record companies auditioning the song without any takers. As a last resort, Neil called Colpix label’s Don Rubin from a payphone. When Don said he would see us we ran all the way over to the audition. We sang the song and within the next couple days we were signed to Colpix and to DuLev Productions. DuLev was Levinson’s company with his partner, Steve Duboff. For the B-side Neil brought in pal Jean Murray (Jean Kauffman) who had co-written the Darin hit “Splish Splash” with Darin and her son, DJ Murray the K. Oh, that she only wrote us another “Splish Splash!” Instead it was the rather silly and insipid “Go Go Go With Ringo.” We loved the A-side but weren’t too wild about the Ringo song. Over the next few weeks we rehearsed daily, shopped for matching outfits and had 8x10 glossy promo pictures taken. At one point we were introduced to the group The Tokens who apparently were now 1/3 owners of our act along with Dulev (1/3) and Jean Murray (1/3). Our percentage was apparently not accounted for under this bookkeeping arrangement. Similarly, I have no idea how Don Rubin and Colpix were supposed to get their cut.

Within a few weeks we were recording. The record was pressed—at least dj copies. We got a box of these records to split between us. I believe it was released however briefly but nothing much happened with it. I heard our masters were sold to Laurie Records at one point. Later I heard we’d charted somewhere in Canada. Shortly before she died, Janet Kerouac told me her Rhino Records lawyers were looking into that and had found that we were owed a little bit of money. Apparently not enough to bother collecting from what I can tell.

I ran into Steve Duboff once around ten years ago in LA. We talked on the phone. He’d been living in Hancock Park and was just then packing to move out to the beach. He thought he had some copies of the record somewhere and said he would look for it as he would love to give me a copy. We lost touch and I never saw him again. I heard only last week, he’d died of cancer in LA, February 2004. Janet Kerouac came to visit Sean and I in California a couple times in the early 1990’s. It was great fun to reconnect. I haven’t seen Charlotte Rosenthal since 1965."

Ladies, gentlemen and little children, click to hear The Whippets Sing.

Dirty Angels - Sealed With A Bosstown Kiss

I don’t have a problem: punk does. That there remain writers and enthusiasts, catechism-ically (cataclysmically?) convinced that the sole bearing which determines a music’s quality lies within its influence on or relationship to that great bondage-trouser renaissance of ‘76/‘77, should surprise no one - P.T. Barnum gave us the logarithm, NME made it orthodoxy, Greil Marcus carved it in pseudo-intellectual stone (the majority is nearly always wrong about everything else anyway - why then should ‘hip’ music be exempt…but I digress).

What is certainly surprising and ultimately dismaying is the sheer volume of music that - much like the title of this blog - becomes lost; that this exclusionary interpretation passes over. To these ’77-told-the-truth’ cretins and their Q‘ed-in coterie, the whole of the 60’s can be pared down to approximately five groups (Stones, Stooges, Velvets, Silver Apples, MC-5) while the cupboard of the early-to-mid 70’s echoes back even barer (Eno, Bowie, Mod Lovers, New York Dolls).

...And the fate of a band like the Dirty Angels - non-Marxist, American, all male with one member sporting a mustache and no members playing the electric lathe? ‘Well…they just ain’t ideologically groovy enough, mate, sorry, have you heard Flux of Pink Indians yet?’ All groan.

Condemned to trample the outer court of paradise forever though they are - as well as surely destined to never grace the jacket-backside of any self-respecting Vice Squad fan or receive an invite from Thurston Moore to play at All Tomorrow’s Parties - Boston’s Dirty Angels were a truly marvelous Stonesy guitar band who played upbeat, driving pop to the obvious delight of very few. No one remembers these guys it seems, which is odd because to me the Boston ‘indie/punk’ scene was always one of the more forgettable - notable exceptions (Reddy Teddy, Real Kids, Nervous Eaters, DMZ) aside. For those that care though, the core of the Dirty Angels grew out of a funky, soul and blues group called White Chocolate (one LP, ’73 on RCA - don’t stop reading yet!) which had actually begun its life as Arthur Lee’s backing/touring band in the early 70’s (they don‘t sound anything like ‘Vindicator,’ I assure you). Adjusting the name of the band to something less distasteful, the DA’s became one of the first signings to Seymour Stein’s newly reorganized and nascent ’new wave’-friendly Sire label in late 1975. Nevertheless, the relationship between Sire and the Angels did not last long, the band remaining on the label just long enough to issue its debut single: a competent airing of Tim Moore's ‘Rock ‘N‘ Roll Love Letter’ (yes, the same one the Rollers did - how’s that for ideological commitment!) which, with no label support, unsurprisingly failed. Still, it appeared that at least someone had taken notice of the band; for as quickly as the band had been dropped, New York’s Private Stock label scooped them up, pairing them perfectly with early Blondie producer and ex-Strangelove, Richard Gottehrer.

Now, here’s the part where I am supposed to succumb to the predictable string of Bangs-ian hyperbole. About how not since Icarus has one band of believers soared so high amongst the vaulted heavens. About how the Dirty Angels struggled like Solzhenitsyn in a Stalinist gulag of merciless mediocrity and universal downer-despair. And how the LP produced by Gottehrer and the Angels cries out for reissue like that child in the burning rubble of Nanjing.

Well…uhhh, it’s pretty darn good actually. Amazing even, in light of the amount of cachet spewed over even the most middling of New York or Boston 'punk' acts, that has somehow - for whatever reason - managed to leave this stone undisturbed.

Sounding as if the poppiest tendencies of Richard Llloyd and Tom Verlaine mated with the classic girl-centric themes of very-proper-Bostonians Piper and the Sidewinders, the Dirty Angels first LP, ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,’ is every bit as seductive as the Cagney film from whence it takes its name. The production is patent ’Instant Record’ Gottehrer - sparkling and pristine - while the lead-off track and first single, ’Tell Me’ - with its ascending chorus and Telecaster riffing, seemingly tailor-made for a Greg Shaw end-of-year list - is every bit as good, if not better, than the Sidewinders’ ’Rendezvous’ or Piper’s ’Who’s Your Boyfriend.’ Though nothing else on the record quite equals it, the remaining eleven tracks on the album are all above-average pop - offerings stacked high with ample licks of spry, non-groin-grinding guitar.

Former New York Dolls champion Marty Thau is also thanked on the record’s reverse sleeve, leading me to believe that - contrary to the utter lack of information - the group were at least somewhat well-regarded amongst the New York/Boston cognoscenti. Be that as it may or may not, the Dirty Angels would no doubt have done better to engage the services of the mighty Thau on a more official, business basis; for despite a captivating LP’s worth of music of a consistently high quality and extreme hum-ability, ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ failed to make a commercial or lasting critical impact. Following the LP’s almost pre-ordained death, Private Stock and the DA’s soon parted ways and no one wept.

The most common pit-fall of groups playing pop in the mid-to-late 70’s could best be summarized in a borrowed lyric from Howard Devoto - ‘shot by both sides.’ Spurned by the heavies, ignored by the teens, bands like the Dirty Angels were left to wither on the vine. And though the group did manage another LP on A&M two years later, it’s nothing on the strength or promise of their debut. As earlier stated, there is a dearth of available information on the Dirty Angels; seemingly, their only legacy was to groom the future bassist for the Joe Perry Project (!!!) - a fate I would not wish upon my worst enemy. ’Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ is an amazing and important record and not simply because it predates much of Boston or New York punk. It’s a record that should have succeeded in making the band stars…but, for whatever reason, did not. Still, if you come across ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ in the mass graves of the cut-out bin or have ever wished for a more poppified Television in love with Tommy James instead of Rimbaud, the Dirty Angels are your band.

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Alastair Riddell - Space Waltz CD (RPM)

In 1974, far from the gritty urban Glam strongholds of London and NYC, New Zealand birthed its own Ziggyesque character in the form of A. Riddell, a corpse-white, hollow-eyed jeepster whose clever, robotic pop provided an excellent balm for local kids jonesing for David. While extremely dramatic and silly in spots, packed with zero-gravity battle sounds and arch prose declamation, Space Waltz does that most essential Glam thing: it rocks. The band shattered not long after these tracks were recorded, with a couple members joining Split Enz.

The Misteriosos - S/T CD (Triptone)

The debut from this tuff little Philly-by-way-of-Boston trio kicks off in impressive ticked-off fuzz garage traditionalist mode, but quickly slips into psychedelic experimentation highlighted by Tula Storm’s dreamy singing and some very nasty acid guitar by one “Jelly Roll,” who also handles the snotty male vocals. Trippy and unpredictable, if all over the map.
Chicago blues legend Nick Gravenites, who appears in a previously unpublished, extremely candid 1985 Denny Eichhorn interview in the forthcoming Scram #22, is just one of the celebrated blues players using the internet to connect with fans and young musicians in a new open forum. According to the press release from the ever-hip Bob Merlis:

Chicago Blues Reunion is the house rocking collective of six legends of the blues behind Buried Alive In The Blues, the critically acclaimed DVD/CD package from Out The Box. Just awarded a four star review in the current issue of Rolling Stone, Buried Alive In The Blues documents their history, music, inspiration and legacy and now the band members are making a direct connection the cyber world on (click on “Online Forum” in spinning wheel).

Barry Goldberg (Hammond B-3), Nick “The Greek” Gravenites (vocals/guitar), Harvey “The Snake” Mandel (guitar), Tracy Nelson (vocals), Sam Lay (drums/vocals) and Corky Siegel (harmonica/vocals -- each one, individually, an icon of the genre -- have come together, not only in the band but online, as well. Each is now manning an interactive discussion board on where fans can get their questions answered and discuss aspects of their respective careers. Mentoring younger musicians is another facet of the new feature that has just been launched on the band’s site.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Echo Park Germs reunion (minus Darby) reviewed

The Germs reunion
at the Echo, Los Angeles, Tuesday, October 25, 2005
by Falling James

Death has been good to Darby Crash; the paradox, of course, is that he hasn’t been around to enjoy it. Though there used to be a certain finality to his foolish suicide overdose in December 1980 – precluding the possibility of his ever selling out and becoming a stadium-level rock star -- it’s since become somewhat acceptable when the Doors, INXS, Human Hands, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and even Pat Smear’s faves, Queen, carry on without their presumably irreplaceable leaders. (Or when bands like the Misfits, Dead Kennedys and “Creedence Clearwater Revived” continue without their still-breathing former singers.) So why not the Germs? Punk’s not dead, even if Darby Crash is. If nothing else, these reunion séances are a clever promotion for the upcoming Germs movie. The crush of nostalgia trumps authenticity.

The twist here is that the three surviving Germs are joined by actor Shane West, who portrays Darby Crash in the biopic. West doesn’t look or act much like Darby (he’s physically more suited for the lead in The Metal Mike Story), but at this what-we-do-is-secret show he did a decent job of mimicking Darby’s surly singing growl. The problem, however, was his incessantly annoying chatter between songs, saying obvious things Darby never would have said. His tuff-guy bravado was punk enough, but just the narcissist macho rambling of any generic singer. West loved himself too much, it was clear, to channel the suicidal despair and complexities & contradictions of the real Darby Crash.

West tried too hard, when more mystery would have sufficed. Of course, he had the thankless job of replacing a legend, much less trying to communicate Darby’s poetic acuity or the irony that such a wasted punk rocker, who garbled incoherently, often away from the mike, was actually singing such refined poetry as “Let me brush the tips of inculcated desire.” Perhaps West will settle down given time. He kept throwing beer bottles into the packed crowd; he's lucky no one was hurt. The rest of the band should seriously consider giving West a shorter leash . . . or a script.

Didn’t Darby realize they’d just get some actor to replace him after the proper 25 years of mourning had passed? If only he'd realized that the simultaneous John Lennon assassination would crowd his performance-art rock & roll suicide out of the newspapers . . . Oh, Darby Stardust, you just needed a vacation, maybe some sunlight and vitamins. You shoulda stuck around.

When I arrived at The Echo, poet/belly dancer/singer Pleasant Gehman was stalking around outside with some lucky boyfriend. She looked like a vintage movie star/garishly glamorous goddess. After a set by the Adolescents and several delays, Donnie Popejoy introduced the Germs, while Don Bolles made smart-ass wisecracks about Donnie’s rambling remarks. Guitarist Pat Smear stood smiling impassively by his amp; reclusive bassist Lorna Doom showed up last onstage, out of nowhere. It was genuinely thrilling when Bolles kicked into the extra-splashy cymbals intro of “Circle One,” which skittered madly out of control once Pat and Lorna locked down into those flapping, slapping quick chords. “Lexicon Devil” followed with stomping exhilaration. “American Leather” was crushingly powerful, while Smear’s searing arpeggios lit up the slower-pulsed “Our Way” with sinister beauty. Lorna played those classic, simply doomy bass lines in between Don’s snare-spanking and cymbal-hectoring. Smear chopped up compactly crunchy, fuzzed-out-wacky riffs, dotted with occasional short-&-woozy solos among the fat power-chord punches.

The crowd was a weird mixture of surly young punk types, old scenesters like me, and a bunch of indifferent beautiful people who didn’t seem to be fans -- perhaps they were crew from the film or in the Industry or there to be cool. A couple of guys were filming, with big, expensive cameras, and were bumped around occasionally by the folks who’d taken over the dance floor with their crazy sideways dancing. The pit stirred fitfully, especially on “We Must Bleed” and “No God,” but the moshers, whoever they were and why ever they were there, were lethargic much of the time, slamming showily then getting tired halfway into a two-minute blast. How punk. Don’t dance if you can’t finish the song.

The Germs didn’t whip out rarities like “Golden Boys” or do any covers; they mostly ran through songs from G.I. (though not “Shut Down”) and the first E.P. Not that I’m complaining: Even at this strange and partial theatrical re-enactment, I enjoyed hearing the classics live, including “What We Do Is Secret,” “Media Blitz” and “Manimal” -- the stuff that rearranged my teenage life patterns. On “Strange Notes,” Pat Smear didn’t play the album version’s overdubbed bleary, sliding lead, which sounds so mesmerizing in the midst of this fast pre-hardcore song, but he filled the spaces live with his trademark harmonic shuffle-strum accents. He’d muffle his strings but still play with power and attack and get some great, ominous chunka-chunkas without having to thrash all six strings blindly like most guitarists.

An unexpectedly extended version of “Let’s Pretend” tripped out with Lorna’s primal bass throb and Don’s tom-tom rumble, as Pat’s psychedelic solo soared up the neck like a supersonic (youth) jet. Astonishing. That alone made the concert worthwhile. (Bolles pointed out that everybody got their money’s worth – it was a free show.) The set closed savagely with “Lion’s Share” and the Sisyphean patterns of “My Tunnel.” Darby once sang, “We don’t care how you get your kicks/We just care about Lorna’s trip,” so we tried to revel in this rare visit by the enigmatic Ms. Doom, and the chance to be to get torn up again by Smear’s flurry of rabid chords, instead of lamenting that Elvis -- and the ghosts -- had already left the building.

Maybe we shouldn’t have been there. Maybe this reunion without Darby was wrong and should never have happened. Maybe we were breaking into a haunted house, but it was inspiring to hear those Pandora’s-boxy chords and lyrics again, the manically thrashed and rushing drums, the coolly nonchalant bass plucking . . . these echoes at The Echo of the late or maybe just too early Darby Crash, echoes of his scabrous help-me-hurt-you baby wailing and sky-clawing nihilist poetry. “Gather up the broken chairs . . .” It could have been worse, and soon it all will be.

cult of the week - Proof of Utah

artist: Proof of Utah
title: A Dog, A Dodo And A Fool
year: 1984

label: Smiley Turtle Records

personnel: Louie Simon (voice, drums, percussion, vocoder, bass, piano, tapes), Mike Bosco (voice, guitars, bass, piano, percussion, toy saxes, tapes, synthesizers) + guests

tracklisting: mrs. delicious, betty's pleasure, whatever happended to protocol?, a dog a dod and a fool, amber mitchell, beverly, crack in the mirror, she's a fish, pronto bill gets born, bomb me baby, the world's largest egg

cotw say…

POU weren't even from Utah. they were from Ohio, although I have no proof. where we do have evidence, it is of a desperately overlooked combo who managed to hone the, at times, ubiquitous Devo/Xtc/Residents-influenced 'rock' of the eighties to absolute perfection.

 'A Dog, A Dodo And A Fool', marked the first in a series of excellent albums. not unlike the much lauded Tall Dwarves, Simon and Brosco are like two children let loose in a couple of music shops, raiding the vinyl racks and instrument drawers to produce deliciously warped songs that demonstrate real inventiveness and a talent for infectious melodies. tracks such as 'She's a Fish' and 'Amber Mitchell' showcase the band at their most eccentric (but still charming), whereas the likes of 'Betty's Pleasure' and the amazing 'Crack in the Mirror' are simply excellent songs with mildly unsettling undercurrents. the use of sampled vocal snippets throughout, plus the very different vocal timbres of Simon and Brosco themselves (one hiccupy and high, the other soothing and low) keep the album diverse and thoroughly engaging. the warm instrumental piano ballad, 'Beverly', and tempered audio experimentation of 'The World's Largest Egg', simply serve to extend the programme even further.

Proof of Utah managed to successfully cram so many influences into their albums, that they should appeal to almost anyone. of course, the only way to prove it would be to get your hands on this classic lp.

erik -

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bridget St. John - Songs for the gentle man CD (Cherry Red)

Imagine a Nico of the buttercups, all sunshine, smiles and cautious optimism. On her second album, Bridget St. John’s voice is eerily similar to Nico’s Teutonic burr, with the same warm timber and oddly precise enunciation. She even brings out the harmonium for the tiny final snatch of a song. Affected, adenoidal, plying a formal language so narrow it recalls Dorothy Parker’s jibe about Katharine Hepburn running the gamut of emotions from A to B, the effect is nonetheless quite captivating. St. John collaborated with producer-arranger Ron Geesin (Pink Floyd) on this little sweetmeat for John Peel’s short-lived Dandelion label, a set of cool, pastel originals garnished with a pinch of John Martyn and a splash of Donovan.

The chamber group and vocalists that accompany her lilting folk-rock meanders are utilized in unsettling ways that highlight the record’s understated weirdness. On the opening track, “A Day Away,” the players’ subdued burble rises gently like the sound of a band just downstream, while the listener floats closer, not knowing who or what he’ll see there. Elsewhere, they hum like bees in the garden, just out of reach, sometimes buzzing along with the lady, sometimes in opposition. Through it all, St. John slides along unflappable, a Fernand Khnopff sphinx on the River Cam. A small record, yet one that fills the room and lingers. (Kim Cooper, this originally appeared in the book Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed)

Stained Glass - Aurora CD (Radioactive)

Released in late 1969, Aurora was the finale of a two-album career at Capitol (Crazy Horse Roads came out earlier that year), but this San Jose trio had been a singles act on RCA as far back as 1966. This is supposed to be the better of the pair, but that recommendation is good only for 1) a few joyful minutes of fine Lennonesque disdain on “The Kibitzer,” 2) some nice phasing and reverb on “Inca Treasure” and 3) a loose-but-definite air of late-sixties punky improvisation. The band is admirably tight, but their material largely confined to Beatle-scrapings with a pellet or two of Moby Grapeshot. Jim McPherson wasn’t the worst singer a big-label sixties psych act had on offer--Mad River’s Lawrence Hammond had a voice to crisp an aardvark’s nosehairs--but he’s wildly uneven and hippie-hammy. To say the cover of Lincoln Chase’s swamp-rot standard “Jim Dandy” was ill-advised would be to detonate a twenty-megaton understatement. Stained Glass cracked up about the time this record hit the shops, but McPherson managed to retain enough of Capitol’s interest to record a solo album. In 1971, he and John Cipollina (late of Quicksilver Messenger Service) formed Copperhead, who was signed by Columbia’s Clive Davis for over one million dollars. In 1973, their eponymous lone release sank like the Empress of Ireland. (Ron Garmon)

Spirit - The Model Shop CD (Sundazed)

Since Jacques Demy’s pretty and brainless The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) was an international hit, Columbia bankrolled his 1969 U.S. debut despite an underslung concept and the French darling’s near-total unfamiliarity with spoken English. The Model Shop was one of many pop-art buzz-bombs Hollywood majors financed in the late sixties. Once Roger Corman, Richard Lester, Dennis Hopper and others appeared to discover a winning anti-formula, the international big-money all took flyers on the youth/drug/rock & roll movie. Some of these grotesqueries later found audiences (Performance, The Magic Christian, Head), others survive as winningly wonky curios (Candy, Skiddoo), but The Model Shop is as insipid and featherbrained now as it must’ve been thirty-seven years ago. A fateful day in aimless life of an L.A. counterculture drone after an induction notice appears in the mail, the studio insisted on Gary (2001) Lockwood, a stick of unsympathetic furniture, for the lead (Demy’s choice of then-unknown Harrison Ford would’ve brought an interesting naturalism to an even worse film). Despite some superb footage of a now-dead Sunset Strip, what one hears on the soundtrack is infinitely more involving than what’s happening on the screen.

Demy wanted the ominous throb of a brightly horrible city, and so brought in L.A. pysch maestros Spirit after seeing their live act at the Kaleidoscope. The band (formed in 1967 out of the Griffith Park love-ins) was in the middle of recording their sophomore LP (1968’s The Family That Plays Together) when Demy offered them the score and small roles in the movie. Some of the tracks wound up on Clear, the band’s next release, and the perceptible chill of that album hits absolute zero on this soundtrack. Spirit’s one national hit, the joyous “I Got a Line on You,” climbed into the Top Twenty just before the Model Shop sessions, and future prospects were excellent.

Spirit’s jazzbo/psych sound is indispensably Angeleno in its hard-edged hippie drooginess, evoking the skullbake irreality of the city’s pink sunsets and unhinged loners. Here the wit and cynic mysticism expressed in songs like “Fresh Garbage” and “Silky Sam” is bypassed in favor of cold atmosphere and improvisation. Usually given to mixing and matching songwriters, band compositions predominate on this disc, with hypertrophied solos and gnomic lyrics bobbing in an icy groove. Jay Ferguson was the band’s signature vocalist, addressing the Cahengua Ave. mob on “Now or Anywhere” in his doomfreak Yippie politician’s yawlp and returning to blister again on a spare version of Family’s album closer “Aren’t You Glad.” John Locke’s keyboards form the spine of these sessions, with Ed Cassidy’s drums and Randy California’s freakish guitar slapping brawler’s muscle onto the melodies. Tracks like “Fog” and “Green Gorilla” are revelations as to where soundtrack jazz might’ve gone had not Isaac Hayes invented soundtrack funk soon after.

Spirit’s discography can well stand as the loose-limbed American answer to late-sixties Traffic and Pink Floyd, with this missing piece as essential for jazz and movie-score enthusiasts as the original lineup’s first four albums are for everyone else. (Ron Garmon)

Friday, December 09, 2005


At Subcrawl (tomorrow's zeitgeist today), NOLA-resident Melissa just posted some great links to online stores based in New Orleans. If you've still got some holiday goodies to order, why not send some of your cash where it'll be truly appreciated? Besides, doesn't everyone need some Cajun Caviar?

Death of a Small-Press Legend

Zinester Mike Appelstein points us to this tribute to Bill-Dale Marcinko, the gonzo college newspaper editor who inspired him to open his brain and write. Marcinko, who had been supporting himself selling CDs on eBay, apparently died in a house fire when firemen were held back by cardboard boxes full of his collections. Still, he did fake his death several times before. His friends, most of whom haven't spoken to him in years, are hoping this is just a more elaborate prank.

the beginning of a tribute page to Bill-Dale Marcinko and his work, including AFTA zine, described as perhaps "the first comics 'zine distributed to book and comic shops that combined comedy, politics and reviews on books, films, and comics. It was very much an underground version of Crawdaddy, though with vastly personal content."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Limited, signed NMH book on eBay

Last week I found a signed, numbered William Saroyan short story collection in a thrift shop (whee!) and it reminded me how much I dig the idea of bookish rarities.

So I have put a cap of 30 on signed, numbered copies of my new Neutral Milk Hotel book. 25 of those have already been assigned to the members of the band and the people who helped with the book. Book #30/30 is currently being auctioned at the link below. Maybe it would make a nice holiday present to the Neutral Milk Hotel lover in your life (or yourself).

thanks for looking,

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Scram Holiday Madness Sale ON NOW, bblblblblblbllb wheee!

Holiday Madness Sale! We at Scram have lost our minds. Our noodles are fulla doodles, and that's why for a limited time we are offering the following insanely crazy deals:

Subscribe your friends, three for the price of two. That's right, when you purchase any two Scram subscriptions, you get a third one free. Renew yourself or a pal, and provide names and addresses for two more friends to get four issues of Scramtastic joy in the months ahead. See subscription prices and much more info here.

Pay $25, get a priority flat rate envelope stuffed with Scrams. (Non-US customers, it's $33.) How many Scrams fit in a flat rate envelope? Around 9, give or take. Please state if you want Denny Eichhorn's Real Stuff book in place of some of the Scrams.

All Scram Holiday Madness Sale prices are valid through December 30, 2005. Payments can be made by check, money order or cash to Kim Cooper, PO Box 31227, LA CA 90031, or via paypal to scram @ scrammagazine . com. Please note what you are ordering and all subscription addresses and instructions, and include the words "I'M GLAD SCRAM'S GONE INSANE!"

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Rezillos - Can’t Stand The CD (DBK Works)

Pretty much the greatest new wave outer space Scottish monster goofball pop combo of all time, and this 1978 Sire release is their debut, swan song and masterpiece. Vocalists Faye Fife and Eugene Patterson were magnificent postmodern creations, hyperkinetic comic book kids made flesh, while the band laid down spastic rhythms on delicious confections like “Top of the Pops” and “I Can’t Stand My Baby.” What used to be called side two lags a smidge, but the hit to miss ratio leans heavily to hit. It’s all silly yet strangely menacing—with the album’s final grunted line making it clear that these spacepups are not to be trifled with.

Lori Burton - Breakout CD (Rev-Ola)

“Yeahhhhh, no boy’s worth the trouble that I’m in.” That’s the perfect first line of the Whyte Boots’ classic death rock anthem, a sexy, shocking, deliriously catchy girl-fight-gone-wrong raver that takes the Shangri-Las’ template, pushes every musical and emotional meter into the red, and leaves you feeling like you’re the one face down on the hall linoleum. Well, forget about those sexy Whyte Boots gals, because they were a fraud hired to play at being a girl group, and their oft-comped “Nightmare” just one of the fantastic tunes penned and sung by Miss Lori Burton and her British writing partner Pam Sawyer. This release compiles Lori’s sole album (Mercury, 1967), the mono single version of “Nightmare” and a non-LP single, and it’s essential.

For while the Burton-Sawyer team were highly skilled soul-pop craftswomen providing hits to the Young Rascals, Lulu and others, Lori Burton had the vocal chops to sell songs that would have tried the best singers of the day. Raunchy, breathy, emotional-yet-controlled, eating stupid boyfriends like hors d'oeuvres, hers is one of the great forgotten voices, and the big Spectoresque production serves it beautifully. “Nightmare’s” isn’t even the best first line on the disk. If you dig distaff sixties pop, you want to hear this.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

cult of the week - The Nits

artist: The Nits
title: Omsk

year: 1983

label: CBS Records

personnel: Henk Hofstede (vocals, dulcimer, keyboards), Robert Jan Stips (vocals, polysix, variophon, grand piano), Michiel Peters (vocals, mandolin, guitars), Rob Kloet (drums, lyra)
tracklisting: a touch of henry moore, unpleasant surpirse, vermillion pencil, springtime coming soon, tons of ink, jardin d'hiver, nescio, walls have ears, spirits awake, walter and conny, the cold eye, shadow of doubt
cotw say…

those in the UK get a very special treat this week when one of the world's most overlooked bands takes to London the stage for it's first ever full UK concert. despite clocking up no less that 30 years of boundless creativity, Dutch group The Nits still remain all but unknown outside pockets of continental Europe.
'Omsk' was in fact The Nits' fifth album, and it signalled a colossal leap forward in the band's outlook from eccentric new wave to an esoteric, if arty, maturity. 'A touch of Henry Moore' is quick to ring the changes. with its layered synthesized percussive textures and counterpointed vocals, it simply sounds like no-one else but...The Nits. even better are tracks such as 'The Vermillion Pencil' and the evocative 'Nescio', which show Henk Hofstede to be a Lennonish songwriter of enormous talent. similarly noteworthy are the subtle keyboard, drum and production touches that have become central to The Nits' sound. the drum fx on 'Spirits Awake' and aforementioned 'Nescio', are a handful of very many examples. and whilst the occasional track is unsubtle enough to remind you of The Nits of old ('Unpleasant Surprise' - very apt!), 'Omsk' remains one of the most defiantly individual, and adult, synthpop records of 1983.

from this point on, The Nits just got better and better, accumulating a massive body of work in the process. take your (nit)pick. you won't regret it.

erik -

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Bubblegummy Side of... Stephin Merritt

Ernest Paik blogs the influences on Magnetic Fields mainmain Stephin Merrit. In a recent entry, he explores Stephin's love of sugary-sweet bubblegum music, and gives our bubblegum book a nod.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Inside Track with a Hardy Boy

Before mid-70s dreamdates Shaun and Parker there was another pop adaptation of the venerable Hardy Boys mystery series, a Chicago-based rock and roll / cartoon combo who blew some nifty bubblegum.

Over on the weirdly formatted livejournal blog Zatara2000's "Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict," there's a great interview with Norb Soltysiak, who played Chet "Chubby" Morton in the live action Hardy Boys. Check the archives for more Hardy Boys scholarship.