Regime: Demo 1991 + 3

demo1991+3This is a bizarre little release. I learned everything I know about this band from the bio in the album’s liner notes. They were from Texas and in 1991 recorded a four song demo before ever playing live. They never got signed. In the second half of 1991 they played some shows then broke up before the year was out. So far, no bizarre, except for the fact that I own their demo on CD. But then, at least according to the bio, the band became popular worldwide purely by word of mouth on this demo pressing of 1000. And here Stormspell Records has re-packaged that demo along with three bonus tracks, which were recorded live at a band rehearsal.

We’ll address the bonus tracks first, because, unfortunately, that’s the most prominent part of the collection, and not in a good way. They should not have been included, and you get the feeling that they were only so Stormspell could justify charging the price of a full CD for it. They sound absolutely awful, the songs aren’t complete (in particular, the vocal melodies reek of a work in progress), and the band can be overheard razzing each other and dissing their own performance throughout “Whatever Will Be Will Be” (whose title is two words too long), culminating in one member calling the other a gay slur (it’s the other f-word). The band admits in the liner notes the tracks aren’t fully-cooked, and maybe there are like a dozen hardcore Regime fans around the world who are, like, super psyched they have some more Regime in their lives, but couldn’t they have just released them for free on the Internet?

Anyhoo, the other four songs are all pretty good (though they still don’t sound fantastic, what with it being a demo and all). It’s like a faster Dokken or Queensrÿche with a guitarist in the style of Marty Friedman (Megadeth) or John Petrucci (Dream Theater) but not as good as either of those guys because, well, because they’re those guys. The emphasis is on technical skills, especially in the lead guitar, and soaring vocals, and the songwriting is complex but not at the level of what I would call “progressive”…it’s more of a NWOBHM feel, in fact I’m just now realizing the vocalist owes a lot to Rob Halford of Judas Priest.

I don’t know…did we need more NWOBHM? If you read my Reign Of Fury reviews, the answer is hells yeah. But there’s something that’s so fun and free about that band that makes it worthwhile. These guys, right down to the scowls on the back cover, seem to take themselves a bit too seriously, and that, along with the production values, keep it from being something I ever really want to go back to.

Really Like: “Sorrow’s Victim”
Like: “Illusions Of You,” “Amnesty Plan,” “Greeted By Confusion”
Meh: “Brave New World”
Dislike: “Angels Born Free”
Hate: “Whatever Will Be Will Be”
Filed Between: Lou Reed (Transformer) and Steve Reich (You Are (Variations))
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading


Buena Vista Social Club: Lost And Found

lostandfoundI reviewed Buena Vista Social Club over at one of the old places, and loved it, giving it 4.5 [clowns]. This album consists of a hodgepodge of tracks that were left in the vaults from that recording as well as some live tracks performed and recorded in the years since its predecessor’s release and worldwide success.

And that’s kind of what it feels like: a hodgepodge of leftovers. The album as a whole doesn’t have the cohesion of the first one. It lacks the overall direction and production that Ry Cooder brought to it. And there’s no “Chan Chan,” meaning there’s no track here that grabs you and throws you on to the bed and humps you ecstatically. The three Really Likes come close, but, I mean, they’re no “Chan Chan”…that fling was special.

Too often you’ve got songs that work but just not in a great way. “Mami Me Gustó,” with its energetic, flamboyant choruses is wonderful almost entirely throughout, and then there’s a clunker of a bass solo dropped into the middle of it. And there’s a reason songs like “Quiéreme Mucho” and “Rubén Sings” didn’t make the first album (though I don’t know if they were recorded during those sessions or afterwards), they just don’t add that much.

I’ve been hard on this disc, but it is very good. Most songs I enjoy most of, but don’t feel like they have the finishing touches put on. Though it’s quite possible that if I understood Spanish I’d hear that those touches are in the lyrics. This is very good, it’s just a tough break for it when it has to live up to the first record.

Really Like: “Bodas De Oro,” “Como Fue,” Guajira En F”
“Bruca Manugua,” “Macusa,” “Tiene Sabor,” “Black Chicken 37,” “Habanera,” “Pedacito De Papel,” “Mami Me Gustó,” “Como Siente Yo”
Meh: “Quiéreme Mucho,” “Lágrimas Negras,” “Rubén Sings”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Kyuss: Blues For The Red Sun

bluesfortheredsunWell the good news is I dodged a bullet. I was worried that by giving Kyuss’ debut album five clowns, I’d have nowhere to go but up as I worked into the peak of their catalog and be forced to give every album an indistinguishable five clowns. And let that be confirmation to me that I need to give every album the rating I think it deserves and not worry about gaming things too much. Because the bad news is that this album isn’t nearly as good as I remember it being.

The biggest problem with it is the sound. This is the album where they got away from the big, raw open sound they had on Wretch and really compressed everything and fuzzed it up big time. So why then, if it’s so super compressed, is it so quiet? Furthermore, everything’s muddled together when it should be dominated by fuzzy guitar tones.

The other big problem, and I actually do remember this being an issue when I listened to it back when it came out, is that it’s inconsistent, a feature exacerbated by the awful sequencing. After two great songs, “Thumb” and “Green Machine,” both of which would be mix CD candidates if the sound were halfway decent, they move into the meandering, downtempo instrumental “Molten Universe.” That type of song has no business being third. The album needs to start off with either “Thong Song” or “Green Machine” (probably the former) because they both start off with sparse instrumentation, as a way to bring listeners into the album and as a way to set off a song that doesn’t really fit super well with the album (another reason to put “Thong Song’ there).

In the end, there are just too many instrumentals, too many songs that sound too similar to each other, and too much time spent getting going rather than just going full speed ahead. I still really like this album, I like listening to it start to finish, but I think I’d given it too much credit for “Green Machine” and “Writhe” and I probably remember “Thumb” sounding a hell of a lot better, too.

As an aside, this disc has some of my all time favorite lyrics. You’ve got “You don’t seem to understand the deal/I don’t give two s**ts on how you feel” and “You tried to turn me on/But you couldn’t even turn me down” from “Thumb,” and then there’s “Allen’s Wrench,” which is like the best song to put together Ikea furniture to because it goes “Allen’s Wrench/That’s all you get.” I mean, I can’t see how it’s not about putting together Ikea furniture.

Filed Between: Kyuss’ Wretch and Kyuss
Mix: “Green Machine,” “Thong Song,” “Writhe”
Really Like: “Thumb,” “50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up),” “Apothecaries’ Weight,” “Freedom Run,” “Capsized,” “Allen’s Wrench”
Like: “Molten Universe,” “Caterpillar March,” “800,” “Mondo Generator”
Meh: “Yeah”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly

topimpabuterflyI don’t really know what’s going on here. And what’s more, I don’t really have much of a hip-hop history on which to rely when trying to comprehend what’s going on. And the times I think I do know what’s going on, I think I might disagree or dislike it. And that’s cool, because I don’t think Kendrick Lamar was aiming for a 40-year-old white software developer as his main audience. But I want to get it, and I really do like it.

I mean, given that hip-hop sits where rock and roll did as cultural influence when I was growing up, I feel like it’s important for me to make an effort to get into it. And I liked what I heard from Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, so yeah, let’s take some time with the top of the genre and work our way in.

This is a sprawling beast of an album that actually seems to achieve, if not surpass, its lofty ambitions. It’s all over the place lyrically and musically, yet remains cohesive. There’s jazz, beat poetry, and Prince and George Clinton influence oozing throughout the live instrumentation that dominates this disc almost as much as samplers and drum machines do. There’s a Black rags-to-riches story set in 2015 America containing on the order of 15 or so characters that’s probably more than a little autobiographical. Lamar (and his collaborators?) weave in and out of the characters, imbuing them each with a personality and diction that keeps each distinctly recognizable. Throughout there’s a poem Lamar (or his main character?) wrote given in pieces, finally revealed in its fullest in a pieced together imaginary interview between him and Tupac Shakur, using actual audio from a Tupac interview.

There’s a lot here. I’ve been listening to this for weeks, and I keep grokking more. There’s a ton I know I can’t get, at least in part because I just don’t know the dialect. It’s a rich universe. And yet I find myself getting hung up on a few misunderstandings here and there. Like, in “How Much A Dollar Cost,” is this an anti-panhandling, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps song, or is that just the surface and I’m missing that this is told from a character’s perspective? Or is the character going through some kind of development I’m not picking up on?

And then there’s “Mortal Man,” the last track, that ends with the Tupac interview. After name-dropping Mandela several times and asking “When s**t hits the fan is you still a fan?,” and then shifting to Michael Jackson…I don’t know, am I supposed to still be a fan even if he “touched those kids?” I can’t figure out if loyalty is good or bad here. And then there’s the interview with Tupac which (1) seems to be filled with questions about whether he’s a great rapper or the greatest rapper, and (2) feels like the two talking past each other, never answering the question or changing the subject without acknowledging what the other said. I mean, I know one of the guys was dead when this was recorded, but so did Lamar when he scripted the whole thing.

I don’t know. Someday somebody will write an analysis for middle-aged, white guys with dad bods and then maybe I’ll understand it fully enough to give it that last half-clown.

Love: “These Walls”
Really Like: “King Kunta,” “Alright,” “The Blacker The Berry”
Like: “Wesley’s Theory,” “For Free? (Interlude),” “Institutionalized,” “u,” “ForSale? (Interlude),” “Hood Politics,” “How Much A Dollar Cost,” “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said),” “i,” “Mortal Man”
Meh: “Momma”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Kyuss: Wretch

wretchI have only one hesitation about giving Kyuss’ debut album five clowns, and that’s that, with respect to the rest of their catalog, where do they go from here? If I give five clowns to the album the fanbase generally regards as their third- or fourth-best effort, am I then locked into just riding out the catalog at five clowns, without being able to improve the relative rating?

I don’t know, but I find myself looking for reasons to knock it a half-clown. The sound/production comes up a lot, but, while it could definitely be better, it mostly fits the rough, dirty vibe of the album. Later the band would move on to a different production team and they would smooth things out and massively compress the sound, an effective approach for Kyuss’ generator rock (so named because this Palm Desert band would give their concerts at parties out in the middle of the desert), but here they’re still grimy and singing about wanting “pussy from a bad b***h on a big bike yeah” (“Big Bikes”), and so it fits.

Another reason for knocking it down is that no band has any business releasing an album that’s both this innovative (nobody was anywhere close to this in 1991) and this freaking good. And so they must have been on the rock band equivalent of performance enhancing drugs. But, really, you don’t want to start faulting rock bands for writing great songs on performance enhancing drugs, because you’re going to eliminate a lot of great rock music then.

And then maybe there’s that three-song stretch of Really Likes from “Black Widow” to “Deadly Kiss” you could knock them for, but there are a few problems with that suggestion. First is that for just about any album, three straight Really Likes is awesome. Second is that a part of what makes them fall short of Love or Mix is that they’re sharing a disc with songs that are almost inconceivably superior.. At least one of those would be at least Love on a normal CD. Finally, the fact that they’re put there is perfect and just shows how well-sequenced the album is, with a brilliant start and a perfect second half. [And then I listened again in headphones and decided “Black Widow” and “Katzenjammer” were Love anyway. And if “Deadly Kiss” is the worst song on your album, yeah, that’s basically five clowns right there.]

So, screw it, I’ve always said that my favorite Kyuss album is the one I’m listening to at the moment, and that trend continues. Load up the truck on Friday night, light a cigarette, crank this up, and tear out of town to a place you can go wild without breaking shit, cuz we’re gonna get wild.

Filed Between: Kronos Quartet (Howl, U.S.A.) and KyussBlues For The Red Sun
Mix: “Love Has Passed Me By,” “Isolation,” “I’m Not”
Love: “(Beginning Of What’s About To Happen) Hwy. 74,” “Son Of A Bitch,” “Black Widow,” “Katzenjammer,” “The Law,” “Big Bikes,” “Stage III”
Really Like: “Deadly Kiss”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading