Ten Commandos: Ten Commandos

tencommandos

Wouldn’t it be awesome if Alain Johannes got together with Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden? You don’t have to wonder, because it happened and, yes, it is awesome. Dmitri Coats is the second guitarist, and Mark Lanegan joins the group for the first track, because that’s what Mark Lanegan does.

This is basically an Alain Johannes album but with the best drummer he’s ever had. Even guest vocalist Nikki Costa on “Come” sounds an awful lot like Johannes’ late wife and bandmate from Eleven, Natasha Schneider. The songs are moody, in minor keys, and have great, occassionally soaring melodies over interesting harmonies and tricky rhythms.

Honestly, I’m not sure what more there is to say. This is Alain Johannes’ aesthetic through and through. He’s not breaking any new ground for him (save, notably, for the wacky guitar antics by Peter Frampton on “Sketch 9”), but he’s still waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to the new ground he was treading over 20 years ago. It’s heavy, it’s sweet, it’s beautiful. If you ever wished there was another Eleven album, you should definitely check this out.

Rating:
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Mix: “War On The Peace”
Really Like: “You Might Forget,” “Sporthalle,” “Four On The Floor”
Like: 
“Staring Down The Dust,” “Outermost Sky,” “Come,” “Sketch 9” “Aware,” “Invisibility”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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Singles Soundtrack

Since I am so familiar with this album, or at least so intimately familiar with my experience with this album, I’m going to focus this re-review on what’s different for me now, 20 years later. By which I mean, what’s different between my experience now and what I remember my experience being then.

I remember liking this album a ton more than I did on these recent listens for this re-review. Specifically, I remember being hit much harder by Alice In Chains’ “Would?” and Pearl Jam’s “State Of Love And Trust” and really liking Pearl Jam’s “Breath,” Chris Cornell’s “Seasons,” and The Lovemongers’ cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Battle Of Evermore.”

I was kind of ready to be less enthused about those last two. I’ve cooled on Zep’s catalog in general, especially the deeper cuts, and I figured that time would diminish the novelty my high school self found in this version. The remaining interesting part of this track, and it’s not to be diminished, is the harmonic and contrapuntal interplay of the Wilson sisters’ vocals and how they evoke Robert Plant’s singular style.

I’ve almost completely soured on Cornell’s solo output after hearing everything that came out after the track here and finding that it all sounds exactly the same as this track. Cooling on “Breath” was more of a surprise as I remember it being something that was easily good enough to be on Ten. It probably still is, but I can hear now why it maybe fell into the B-side bin in the band’s mind.

“Would?” and “State Of Love And Trust” are still awesome, but they’re not completely flooring me the way they did in the past. I’m going to chalk that up to listening to ripped versions on my phone since I know I loved those two songs very recently.

On the other hand, I was expecting to like Soundgarden’s “Birth Ritual” less because over the years I’ve come to hear it as a B-sider of Soundgarden’s, not good enough to make Badmotorfinger, and it’s probably not, but it’s still pretty sweet (and gets bonus points for being in one of the best scenes of the movie).

I expected to like Paul Westerberg’s tracks more than I did back in the day, when I hated them. I still hate them. Though now I at least find some of the lyrics to “Dyslexic Heart” clever. Why those songs have not received more derision for completely bringing this album down and being utterly out of place, I don’t understand. I don’t know what dirt he has on Cameron Crowe to warrant his inclusion here.

It’s a bit sad that “Crown Of Thorns” has become Mother Love Bone’s legacy. They released a couple of great albums and have at least a handful of full-hearted songs. I understand why Pearl Jam’s gone on to play that and only that song, and it’s a great one, but its success has overshadowed the rest of the band’s output.

“Nearly Lost You” always was and still is the best track on the album.

It seems appropriate that Smashing Pumpkins round this thing out since they wouldn’t fit in any other place. Popular at the same time, but Chicago instead of Seattle (Paul Westerberg of Minneapolis is the only other non-Seattle artist) and not at all grungy. I have such an ambivalent relationship with them. Loved Gish, hated the too-clean production of Siamese Dream, though I can appreciate the songcraft there. This song fell in between those two releases. It has some great moments. But I think its verses are too long and quiet, meaning it falls just short of a full heart. It’s interesting to me that it’s not the feedback stuff at the end that takes away the heart but a big chunk of the more traditional song structure part.

I guess this ended up being a comparison of what I remember my old experience being, what I thought my new experience would be, and what my new experience ended up being. #navelgazing

Rating:
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– “Would?” (Alice In Chains), “Breath” (Pearl Jam), “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns” (Mother Love Bone), “Birth Ritual” (Soundgarden), “State Of Love And Trust” (Pearl Jam), “Overblown” (Mudhoney), “May This Be Love” (Jimi Hendrix), “Nearly Lost You” (Screaming Trees)
– “Seasons” (Chris Cornell), “Battle Of Evermore” (The Lovemongers), “Drown” (Smashing Pumpkins)
– “Dyslexic Heart” (Paul Westerberg), “Waiting For Somebody” (Paul Westerberg)
Filed Between: Frank Sinatra (The Best Of The Capitol Years) and Skeleton Key (Obtainium)
Song Notes: After the jump
Continue reading

Various Artists: Deep Six

deepsixOriginally released in 1986, this compilation album was a hallowed, storied holy grail of a record I thought I’d never hear as a kid turning on to the Seattle scene in the early 90’s. This legendary disc was always mentioned in hushed tones. Just check out the line-up:

  • Green River – Probably the single greatest seminal band to come out of the Seattle scene. Featuring Mark Arm and Steve Turner, later of Mudhoney, and Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, later of Mother Love Bone and then Pearl Jam. “10,000 Things” leads off this album, but the best song on the disc is the penultimate “Your Own Best Friend,” which would have been a full heart if they hadn’t gotten into cackling and spoken word weirdness at the end.
  • Malfunkshun – Lead singer Andrew Wood would join up with Gossard and Ament in Mother Love Bone. Guitarist Kevin Wood is still rocking around in Seattle in bands like From The North and All Hail The Crown. Drummer Regan Hagar would go on to rock in Brad, Satchel, and From The North. Malfunkshun was quite a bit different from Mother Love Bone. These guys were very sloppy, but in a determined way. A live version of “With Yo’ Heart (Not Yo’ Hands)” would appear on the band’s posthumous Return To Olympus and “Stars-N-You” is nutballs, basically a couple minutes of the band coming off the rails, in a good way.
  • Melvins – I don’t need to say anything more about Melvins except that they’re still kicking ass more than 25 years later. “Grinding Process” would appear on their Six Songs album, also released in 1986. “Scared” almost has an arena rock feel and includes xylophone (or glockenspiel or something?) and vocal yipping. Very fun. “She Waits” and “Blessing The Operation” are the band at their most simultaneously abrasive and progressive.
  • Skin Yard – Featuring Jack Endino, who would produce a ton of great albums, including ones by Tad, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Seaweed, and Nirvana. Both of the tracks here are slow throbs (one is even called “Throb”). Endino’s comments here.
  • Soundgarden – Need no introduction, but I’ll take the time to point out here that these guys seemed to be created fully-formed. Aside from Chris Cornell’s voice, which would evolve into the operatic feature it was, the band was making its best music early on. Two of these songs would be re-recorded for later releases and the other, “Heretic,” is one of the rawest things the band would ever do.
  • U-Men – The senior members of this contingent. In hindsight, I always revered this band for their inclusion here, not for ever having heard them. I still don’t think I’ve heard any of their songs besides the lone track here. Which is is good, screamy, fun rocking with a Reverend Horton Heat hillbilly demon feel to it.

This is pretty far off from what the Seattle sound would become. But it’s clearly that sound coming together. Younger, rawer, more garage-y, I love it as much as the later stuff, plus it’s an awesome historical document. You can nitpick the sound, performances, etc. as unprofessional all day, but to me it fits in perfectly with what would happen over the next decade.

Rating:
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– “Scared” (Melvins), “All Your Lies” (Soundgarden)
– “10,000 Things” (Green River), “Blessing The Operation” (Melvins), “With Yo’ Heart (Not Yo’ Hands)” (Malfunkshun), “Throb” (Skin Yard), “Heretic” (Soundgarden), “Tears To Forget” (Soundgarden), “Stars-N-You” (Malfunkshun), “Grinding Process” (Melvins), “The Birds” (Skin Yard), “She Waits” (Melvins), “Your Own Best Friend” (Green River), “They” (U-Men)
Filed Between: Deep Purple (Purpendicular) and Def Leppard (On Through The Night)