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SoCal Runaways

10 Mar

Have had these stray reviews lying around my harddrive for SOME TIME NOW. Like wayward orphans, they somehow haven’t found suitable homes despite 175+ posts here at Pig State Recon. And I’m getting sick and tired at staring at their grimy little faces, lemma tell ya. So today, I give you this odds and sods collection of thoughts about records from that part of the world that created The Mess I Am Today, if only to get them outta my hair. These brats gotta fend for themselves from here on in.

RASZEBRAECheap Happiness of Lofty Suffering LP (Unseen Hand, 1985) In the proto-riot grrl sweepstakes, if SF had FRIGHTWIG, then SoCal had RASZEBRAE. KXLU radio spun “To Be Excessive” off this rec a lot back then, sometimes back to back with FRIGHTWIG’s “My Crotch Does Not Say Go”. Not unlike FRIGHTWIG, RASZEBRAE pooled together some severe components: Ingrid Baumgart’s minor key riffage, Janet Housden’s SIOUXSIE-like tribal beats, Katie Childe’s plodding bass runs, and Debbie Patino’s warbally, caterwauled vocals. They sound indebted to Eva O.’s SUPER HEROINES, though thankfully without the cornball Death Rock fixations. Plus, Ingrid sounds like she was probably digging some of the better SST gtrists of the period, which gets me listening closer than I really should.

That said, for what ever reason, this one lays sorta flat. Maybe it’s the lack of memorable material? The shaky rhythmic hold? Perhaps Spot’s no nonsense production just wasn’t right for a band that didn’t have any standout players, ala BLACK FLAG or THE MINUTEMEN. Either way, like with those early SWA records, I get lost somewhere during the second side of this. But these women were on to something here, really they were. This mid-tempo, post-punk psych trudge rock obviously influenced L7 in their formative days, who’d pen more radio-friendly songs and actually build a career of it for the next decade.

THE PIVOT FOOTSWingless Birds Of Flight (Snork Entertainment, 1989) Recenty scored the first, self-produced LP by a band that gave us the great Using Nature To Destroy Itself CD in the 90’s. If you’ve never heard these Long Beach-area fellas led by Brent & Blair Walker, you need to pull your finger out and listen RIGHT NOW. I am not ashamed to declare love for every project, obscure or otherwise, that the bros. Walker have lent their names to. This includes not only the FOOTS, but DEL NOAH & THE MT. ARARAT FINKS, LOVINGKINDESS, and Brent’s latest and tikiest, THE DING DONG DEVILS.

No disrespect to Brent’s contributions here, but I reckon THE PIVOT FOOTS were really Blair’s moment out in the smoggy sunlight, his delicate songcraft the perfect showcase for his beach croon and wonderfully wry lyrics. The promo 1-sheet included with my copy maintains that punk was the common thread tying this band together, and they do thank various punker types (FALLING IDOLS and VANDALS) in the liners. But it’s THE PIVOT FOOTS ability to draw from a much longer, checkered history of oddball musics – I hear spy jazz, hillybilly C&W, tin pan alley novelty songs, not to mention punk all referenced here – and then, reconfigure it into a charmingly low-rent but very coherent, harbour area affair. How great to find out that their suave style, hilarious wit, and keen musicality were already completely in place, way back in the 80’s.

ELECTRIC PEACERest In Peace LP (Big K/Enigma Records, 1985) If I have my facts right, ELECTRIC PEACE were a band from Pacific Palisades with some vague connections to the LEAVING TRAINS – indeed both multi-instrumentalist Eric Westfall & gtr-shredder Sylvia Juncosa pop up on various waxings. Not unlike the early TRAINS, the PEACE got lumped in with the paisley draped neo-psych crowd in LA at the time – and for good reason, too, as they knowingly aped dozens of ’66 Sunset Strip garage rock tropes on their recs.

But also like Falling James’ crew, they sorta stood apart from it too; the PEACE employed chunkier gtrs and more biker imagery than found on yr average VOXX release at the time, pointing less toward mid-60’s-influenced RAIN PARADE sounds than to the heavier psych rock sounds that THE FREAKS, L7, and SCREAMING TREES came up with later that decade. Their riffs were memorable and their satirical lyrical content a real big hoot – singer Brian Kild used a camp, Jello Biafia-like warble to undercut nasty sentiments (“Case Of Dynamite“) reminiscent of Jim Thirwell on his FOETUS projects. Local street blues ‘legend’ Honey Davis eventually joined up, but I thought later PEACE records got lost under the weight of muddy production, effectively silencing the mouthy angst so out front and on display here. So while I can’t condone everything they did, this rec (and the follow-up recording, eventually released as Road To Peace) are great slabs of cynical psych pastiche that still reverberate through smarter third eyes to this day.

SAVAGE REPUBLICProcession: An Aural History (LTM Recordings, 2010) A band whose reputation always proceeded itself, SAVAGE REPUBLIC were one of the few LA bands to flirt with industrial baggage in the 80’s, which meant a great deal to hundreds of independent rock types with university degrees back then. Their hand-created sleeves were as wonderful to behold as anything NURSE WITH WOUND came up with, their appropriation of Arabic/Persian/Greek trappings within the post-punk lexicon was certainly arresting, and their willingness to play & record in underground tunnel networks, desert washes, and all points in between spelled guerilla art happening in a particularly arcane font.

Judging from this collection, their early sides were but a blunt and primitivist take on JOY DIVISION w/ a bit of metal-on-metal as added colour. Nothing mind blowing, but decent enough if Anglophile Californians don’t rub you the wrong way. Their mid-period Ceremonial LP is more confident and hence alluring, seeing the band refocusing on a vaguely orientalised, surf-inspired instrumental rock. This might’ve prestaged any number of desert rock acts of the 90’s, except SR’s drummer was sorta crap and the echoey post-punk production they employed defangs any deeper rhythmic kicks. By the later 80’s they’d traded up on the drum stool – Brad Laner’s Jaki Liebezeit-inspired grooves were the saving grace of the 1988 SR gig I attended – thus allowing the band to sometimes attain circular, CAN-like levitation. Only by that point, others had carved out distinctive variations on SR’s up-turned oil drum clang, effectively sapping some of their enigmatic mystery. Thus as a purely musical proposition SAVAGE REPUBLIC neither scaled the experimental heights some of their contemporaries were shooting for, nor did they ever hit stride as a great instrumental rock band. Too bad.

But enough with the overanalysing: really this is quite listenable, from beginning to end. And if my reaction has less to to with the actual music than the fact that I sometimes get nostalgic for the days when make-shift gigs in underground tunnels were a real possibility, so be it. You can’t knock their awesome graphic design sense, no how.

THE FACTORYSmile/World Gone Mad 45 (Kick In The Eye, 1982) Just the best damn single to come out of the early 80’s beach punk boom down in OC, and hardly anyone makes a big deal about it. Here THE FACTORY gave us a couple of tight, well-arranged BUZZCOCKS-ian tunes here, and then proceed to rage the flying fuck out of them in rippin’, single fin fashion. These guys were based around Newport Beach/Costa Mesa and yes they did play out at The Cuckoo’s Nest on occasion. The singer was really distinctive and the rhythm section is totally hot – no wonder their bassist, Mark Hodson, got snapped up by SACCHARINE TRUST to play on the aggro Surviving You, Always LP. If you’re one of these guys that thought THE CROWD lost it after Beach Blvd. and that TSOL spent far too much time posing for their own good, you’d not only be right – but you’re the audience for this baby too. It’ll renew your faith in what an OC punker 45 really could mean all them years ago.

Southland Implosions

7 Mar

I was back in SoCal for a week this month – first time in two and a half years! While there, I spent some time cruisin’ freeways and highways and byways through those geographies known as the South Bay, San Pedro, & Long Beach. While at it, I got to wondering: has anything musically meaningful gushed outta these once-hallowed grounds since the 80’s?

In the intervening years, I’d come to believe them areas to be, in the words of Mr. David Tibet, “DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD!” Oh sure, I too heard all about bands with names like PENNYWISE, F.Y.P, and SUBLIME. But somehow, those yahoos just did not equate with meaning in my jaded mind. And I do not think I was the only local harboring such beliefs.

But as I’m still jetlagged, I’m feeling gracious. What follows is an attempt to reevaluate three turn-of-the-century comps that give an indication of what these three areas – each of which, at various points, I’ve called home – stood for when my wife & I up and jumped ship to the UK 3 years ago. Me, I didn’t give this stuff so much as a nod (much less a wink) at the time, but, in the spirit of fair play, I’ve come to back to really listen.

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bayafter.jpgThe Bay After (Raw Power Records, 1999) – The concept is obvious: 19 “nu skool” South Bay punker acts take on 21 “O.G.” South Bay hardcore tunes. And the results? Well, they depress the everlovin’ shit out of me. To think that at one time such inspired – nay, genius! – HC punk rock like BLACK FLAG, THE DESCENDENTS, RED CROSS, CIRCLE JERKS, hell even THE NIP DRIVERS once ripped forth from these zip codes still puts a big, shit-eating grin on my face. That UTTER CRAP like this would eventually follow, well, that’s one for the mystery books.

Hot tip: don’t ever go and do a straight cover of a BLACK FLAG or DESCENDENTS song with a clueless drummer in tow – you’re begging me to turn your music off. And that’s like a full third of this disc. Those bands who set their sights on less-ambitious groups like THE CIRCLE JERKS, NIP DRIVERS, RED CROSS and WASTED YOUTH [ed. note: since when were them West LAers a South Bay band?] at least have a fighting chance. The original stuff relied on rage/aggression as much as anything musical; kids of any generation oughta be able to replicate that. Outta this lot, WAR CALLED PEACE takes the cake – but wait, they feature singer Roby Rogers, who was an allumni of an actual early 80’s South Bay HC band, CON 800. So again, the old guys win. Only Mikey Theodore’s FISHSTICKS do anything fun with the material – but here, it’s with unreleased demos you probably never heard by the aforementioned CON 800, so you won’t be able to tell anyway. Watt does bob up playing old MINUTEMEN tunes with something called AGROKULTURE, but it feels like a vain attempt to legitimize things: too little, too late.

Can something this bad be blamed entirely on bogue concept? Does it speak more to the way many of these once-diverse, vibrant beach towns have been gentrified beyond all recognition? Maybe, just maybe, commodification of subculture leads invariably to SHIT.

triskaidekaphobia.gifTriskaidekaphobia (S.A.D. Cassettes/Recess Records, 2001) – I can’t say this is my favorite, but it is the most interesting of the lot, as the San Pedro terrain this maps has always been the most ornery and uncompromising of the these three areas. This collection sounds & feels homegrown/homebrewed, which gets my thumbs up from the get-go. And this documents crosscurrents that not only the punkers, but the metallers, experimentalists, and the aging ganja-rockers (yeah that’s you, Watt) will get a kick out of. Bill Bowman’s VIDA-sideproject, THE FARMERS (imagine that! A VIDA sideproject!) sounds tight, as does the overblown leslie organ that newcomers THE LEECHES base their garage madness around. The ubiquitous Watt sounds powerful doing a STOOGES cover with a trio called WE GO SPEEDRO, the F.Y.P guy sounds less annoying in his TOYS THAT KILL – and Pettibon did an eerily compelling cover. Craig Ibarra, who publishes The Rise and Fall of the Harbor Area fanzine, curated this with real affection. Gotta love that folks other than me were still groovin’ on a post-SST wavelength at this late date.

various_lbr_longbeachblvd.jpgLong Beach Blvd. (Skunk Records, 1999) – I lived in Long Beach in the late 90’s/early 2000s, and avoided all LBC tattooed white-guy dub action like it was Anthony Kiedis’ stillborn child. And this collection, not-so-subtly referencing the Beach Blvd comp. on Posh Boy from ’80, sprang from that fetid womb. But this comp’s ok, really it is! That’s probably cause Mudd (drummer of the original FALLING IDOLS) put this together. It starts really strong, with the reformed SECRET HATE doing songs found nowhere else. And those sound as eccentrically rockin’ as they did on their great Pop Cult Vomit CD from around this same time.

Somebody smart went and did a cover of a CREWD song, but I gotta admit the more rote-sounding stuff in the middle loses me. And just when I thought it was over . . . in swooped THE PIVOT FOOTS. These guys’ wry, lounge-punk stylings got me hooked and laughing but good. Could totally imagine them being a hoot and a half live someplace like Alex’s on Anaheim after a couple of those nuclear gin martinis they specialize in there. Yeah maybe I shoulda gone out more back then. If this comp. had only included the equally absurdist VANDALS-do-hotrod-music of DEL NOAH AND THE MT. ARARAT FINKS, I’d say it’d be a winner fr sure. As it is, seek out the individual CDs by SECRET HATE and THE PIVOT FOOTS, pretend you just ditched a nasty speed habit at Redgate Rehab facility out near Terminal Island, and get ready to live Long Beach Allday, everyday.

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Now I must admit, that really wasn’t too hard on my ears. Just don’t ask me to reevaluate Nu Orange County punker nonsense any time soon. I ain’t got the stamina.