Here are the past reviews from about 1996-2001. These are not reviews of mainstream recordings-- many of these tapes and CDs are self-released or released on independent labels, and some of them (indicated by an *) are thrift store oddities which you'll probably never see anywhere, but are presented here for your entertainment.
"Vocal coaches throughout the world are still recuperating from their fruitless attempts to make a singer out of Leona", who is billed as "The world's most horrible singer". She supposedly attempted to begin a career as a serious opera singer, but found that her "assault and battery" delivery more suited to burlesque. On this "Unique Records" release, she screeches through standards such as I Love Paris and lesser known material like Limburger Lover ("I want a limburger lover, to take my breath away") It's a great way to clear out guests after a party.
MP3 of Limburger Lover (2.4mb)
Changing Faces is a collection of great material from Welsh folk singer Steve Andrews, including a bunch of alternate versions and live versions of his previously released songs. Highlights for me include two rocking versions of Andrews tunes redone with lyrics in Welsh. After hearing "Cariad Jwngl," and "Swn Yr Un" (known in English as "Jungle Love" and "Sound of One" respectively), I think Steve should put out a whole album in Welsh! There's also a funky slow reggae version "Real Love and Communication" with bleepy keyboards and a great Rasta rhythm. "Priest of the Venusians" is a bizarre psychedelic love song which has the lines "Boom shaka laka, shaka laka boom!" and "How's yer father?" in the same song. The original version of "Jungle Love" offers a bongo rhythm and some nice guitar work. Some pieces work better than others, but overall it's an interesting collection and a great sampling of Steve's songs.
Steve Andrews' Facebook page
K.D. Schmitz can make art out of anything and this tape is another experiment that proves it. He started with cassettes by various home recorders, and then he sampled and assembled these parts into something new and totally unique. I was lucky enough to have him use one of my tapes, Sinister Dexter: Acoustic and Electric, so I could see first hand how it worked. The results astonished me. The tape is completely coherent despite the wide variety of source material. Rich textures, clanky rhythms and flange-drenched ambiance make it almost seem like the soundtrack to a futuristic horror movie. It's not boring, though, because K.D. is a master of shifting samples to make his instrumental work quite interesting.
K.D. Schmitz emerges from his hiatus with this fascinating CD of new material. Sure, it's only 15 minutes long, but after two years, I'll take what I can get. For this project, K.D. asked people (including me) to send in vocal sounds which would be used for a recording that he described as "the Beach Boys meet Nine Inch Nails." The result is melodic, catchy, bizarre, and unmistakably K.D. Schmitz, built on vocal samples and electronic rhythms.
This is a tape of collaborations that's great fun to listen to, mainly because Michael J. Bowman is one hell of a musician. A lot of home tapers play a variety of instruments, but in addition to keyboards, smokin' guitar work and competent vocals, Mike plays a real live drum set! Not only does he play, but he kicks ass. This adds a lot of depth to his recordings and gives them a definite "classic rock" edge. Another thing he's great at is culling lyrics, in several cases reading almost verbatim from a couple of issues of Ten Thousand Things, and making great songs out of them (Secret Beach Boys Fans and Ten Thousand Things). I was astonished at what he did to my contribution-- reworking my answering machine message loops into something that sounds vaguely like Inna Gada Da Vida . Sheer genius!
This is an amazing compilation of Cambodian Rock n' Roll from Parallel Worlds Records. According to Allan Clark (who plays these songs frequently on his show), it was assembled by Paul Wheeler who went to Cambodia and found these tapes which the locals called "Circle Dance Music" without credits or song titles. These late 60's/early 70's era songs have a sound that's completely inexplicable despite the use of standard rock instrumentation and song structures. Much of it sounds like The Ventures with a Cambodian singer, and one singer getting funky with some James Brown riffs, complete with J.B's trademark "HUH". One of them even sounds like "Gloria" in Cambodian!
The only thing that I don't like about this tape is that it's only 30 minutes long. I like the songs so much that another 15 or 30 minutes would be great. The vocals are overlapped and harmonized over guitar melodies. A few of the pieces seem like they need a little more work, but the good ones are good enough to make up for that.
I love the music of both Michael Bowman and Scott Carr, but I never expected to hear them collaborate. This 4-song CD combines the keyboard textures of Carr with Bowman's rock guitar and excellent live drums. It's brilliant, a match that makes quirky, catchy tunes that work on many levels. Hopefully this will be the first of many releases.
It's not a John Oswald tribute, but you must get this tape. That's all there is to it. Brilliant tape manipulations, like Public Enemy rapping over Herb Alpert music, George Bush telling it like it is, or the hilarious and bizarre But I Don't Believe in Evolution!. Attractively packaged in an eight-track tape shell (mine included an aspirin), it's one of the best tapes I got in the 90's. Visit their website to download the whole album!
Dave holds forth with another great CD of his audio experiments. It's not really music, more like electronic psychedelic soundscapes without any real melodies or song structures. Sonic textures and rhythms overlap and contrast, distort and fade, constantly changing and evolving. It's curiously addictive and rewarding.
Dave Fuglewicz's website
This is an ambient two-tape set which features nearly 2 hours of sonic textures and "sound sculptures" created by processing synthesized melodies through layers of effects. After the opening title track, "Orange Mist Sunrise" which features some amazingly processed guitar sounds along with frantic synth drums, the sound mellows into beautiful shifting, shimmering walls of sound. Simple melodies are looped over and over with echo and flange effects. Waves of sound rise and fall. Be warned, though- if you're not into ambient (some would say "new age") music, you may find it kind of boring. Imagine a cross between Jean-Michel Jarre (without the classical training) and Throbbing Gristle (without vocals). The high point of the set for me is the epic length "Dancing Bear" which is completely built on a simple stereo rhythm effect and a digital delay melody. It's not really music, but the sounds are entrancing. $10 for set or trade.
Dave Fuglewicz's website
Homemade comics machine Michael Goetz recently sent me Footnote and Oh No! Not Again! on a single cassette. Both feature Michael singing a capella renditions of song parodies and original pieces. His songs often sound as if he found the words written on a bathroom wall in a junior high school, but they are maddeningly catchy. Case in point is "I've Got No Bananas In My Pockets," which I found myself singing for days.
Hebephrenic's music is complex and keyboard driven, at times reminiscent of early Skinny Puppy or Depeche Mode. Layers of bleeping and flanging synthesizer soundscapes interact with tinny vocals over elaborate or industrial rhythms. The songs are great, melancholy and expansive at times, neurotic and paranoid at times, but always interesting. The title track has a great bassline and rhythm track, and really captures the feeling of wanting to hide at home and avoid everyone. "Judgement" is a fantastic and wickedly catchy song that any number of new wave bands would be proud to call their own. Many of the instrumental tracks such as "Yellow" are somewhat reminiscent of Jean-Michel Jarre, with simple melodies being developed over a base of atmospheric keyboard sounds. There are a few overly repetitive passages, but on the whole it's engaging and fun to listen to.
Hokum is a punk band with jangling electric guitars, drums, occasional cheesy keyboards and dense lyrics. The music is excellent and catchy, and you'll be humming along with the great melodies from the get-go. The vocals sound almost new wave at times (somewhat reminiscent of Devo), and sound like they were sung through a cheap megaphone or over a telephone. They add a whole new rhythm to the music rather than following the guitar, much like another musical instrument. "Know Your Plan" from Marginal is a great song, with a guitar line that kicks ass. "Inactive Spawn" from Deture has an infectious lick that will be running through your head for days. The songs begin and end abruptly in true punk style, and my only complaint is that with ten quick songs, this tape is too short.
You know, it's really not fair how much talent Roger Radio has. I mean, he's a published novelist, poet, and talented artist, and this tape reveals a whole new dimension of his skills as a songwriter and musician. The Killer Rabbits were a band Roger and some mates were in a few years ago, and this tape is sheer comic brilliance. Everything imaginable finds its way into this album, from Hawaiian music (Hawaiian Hulluva Hula Holiday), 1950's biker songs (The Secret Nine), Moroccan fast food (title track), a brilliant send up of TV evangelism and gospel music (The Price is Righteous), and that's just the first side! The second side goes on to include a rap song, a creepy zombie number, Peter Gunn, cowboys, and even exhibitionist World War I flying aces. The songs all rock too, with great guitar work and great vocals, and the lyrics are hilarious. I only wish I had been able to see this band live... perhaps there will be a reunion
This CD is a sort of concept piece documenting a trip between two German towns. Spoken-word recordings of the actual journey (in German, with a bit of English) are accompanied by guitar-based improvisational music. The music sort of reminds me of The Grateful Dead's space jams at times, and the spoken word parts make me wish I had paid better attention in German class.
Imagine The Sex Pistols unplugged, or maybe Jello Biafra backed up by a string quartet, and that sounds a lot like Lach (pronounced "latch"). He calls his music "Anti-Folk," but whatever it is, it's pretty catchy. The songs range from angry, funny, sad, beautiful and ugly but all entertaining, sometimes with sparse acoustic accompaniment and sometimes with a full band. Highlights for me are Blue Monk, Teenage Alcoholic, Ungrateful, the nostalgic Kiss Loves You, and the hilarious Drinking Beers With Mom. The cover is made to look like the package of a Lach action figure "With Real Anti-Action!"
Max Gelt was a deli owner from Florida who up and moved to London and started a band, or at least that's the backstory that author Jeffrey Michelson created for his musical alter ego. The songs are pretty funny parodies of heavy metal-showtune-rock genres, with lines like "I call my penis Cleveland, 'cause no one wants to go there", and the yuppie anthem Almighty Dollar ("I've known Buddha, I've known Ghita, now I just want, what's in a parking meter"). The high point of the album is the southern-fried Brand New Truck which features a guitar solo stolen right from Freebird. The cover features Max in gold lamé, receiving the ten commandments. A friend got this record at a mall store in a sealed bag that said, "4 mystery records- $1."
This guy is going to be big someday. He's got the ability to write and play perfect folk/pop songs with excellent, beautiful lyrics. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to give up playing music because he does it so well and makes it sound so effortless. Also great: Open Mike: A Tribute to the Songs of Mike Merz, an audacious self-assembled tribute/AIDS benefit CD which showcases his excellent songwriting skills and features some great musicians.
326 Rue de Juniper, the A side of this 7" record starts off with murmuring short-wave radio-sounding noise, which unexpectedly changes into an interesting experiment in noise and feedback with guitar strumming and singing barely audible in the background. The longer second side, Poltergeist Over England, has a plodding rhythm with waves of noise woven throughout. The noise is echoey, clangy and wavering and quite interesting to listen to. It's somewhat disconcerting and I'm sure most people wouldn't like it, but I think it works rather well.
This full-length cassette of slow but loud noise-based music isn't for everyone, but for feedback fans, it's a great piece of work. The tape opens with "Perpetual Shift," a droning mantra of guitar distortion with a subtle drum rhythm in the background. Harmonic changes seem like revelations in this environment of simple music, but it's not boring in the least because of the density of the sound. From there the tape becomes more varied, but with the common thread of plodding, heavily distorted guitars and simple melodies. Spacemen 3 or Spiritualized come to mind as a comparisons, only with less music and more noise. Chaotic samples of TV, low-key vocals and drum machines enhance the environment, but it's experimentation with noise that's the star here. Sometimes it gets a bit too chaotic, but usually it works pretty well, and those moments make the tape well worth listening to.
More ambient destruction from Minmae. The first track, Of Sapience and Design, starts off sounding something like R.E.M. but soon disintegrates into a wall of noise and distortion. The rest of the album continues with droning, atmospheric noise and distortion (somewhat reminiscent of Spacemen 3), alternately soothing and disturbing. The packaging is great-- a hot pink CD in a hot pink case with no title, group name or track listings (those are on a separate piece of paper) only "Made In Canada" breaks the pink silence.
More jangly fun from Chris Underwood. Once again my only complaint about his new four-song tape is that it's over too quickly. He sings ranting lyrics over bouncy punk/rockabilly music, using the vocals as counterpoint to the bass. The music is irresistible, and the vocals fit in a way that make the lyrics secondary.
Chris Underwood compiles fifteen of his short, catchy tunes on one 40-minute CD. Scratchy lo-fi rockabilly recordings, crude instrumentation, infectious rhythms, and monotone vocals that are a breathless flurry of information and nonsense. Excellent.
Chris Underwood, PO Box 1229, Springfield, TN 37172, USA
Distorted psychedelic sax-and-guitar bar rock from the back alleys of New Orleans. Songs about drinking, candy bars, chili cheese fries, panhandling, stinking, brotherly love and professionalism (or lack thereof). Sure, it's juvenile and silly, but it's catchy as hell and lots of fun to listen to.
Before the Jerky Boys, there was this bunch... this is a hilarious album of prank phone calls to a Christian radio station, assaulting late-night hosts with tales of finding Jesus in a cup of frozen yogurt, the SubGenius Cult, masturbation to enhance prayer, and asking if they can recommend a "good Christian abortionist."
This is the most chilling record I own. It's a record of Marine Corps radio commercials, and encourages high-school students to sign up by pointing out that marines work in embassies all over the world, so you can travel and have a great time, and also they play a lot of sports and stuff, "Every sport under the sun". This was right as the Vietnam war was heating up, and I'm sure a very small percentage of marines end up working in those embassies.
This is a great sound collage work by Jim Barker. On a bed of subtle background textures, Jim assembles fragments of popular songs, BBC radio, and spoken word pieces, which are chopped up, looped and distorted. If Negativland were from England and didn't play as much music, they would probably sound a bit like this. Side one is a long piece called "Jim World (Internal Dialogue)" which is really well put together, and quite fun to listen to. Imagine being in a room with six broken radios which turn themselves on and off seemingly at random, playing fragments of cultural sludge. The second side consists of a group of shorter pieces, which relate to one another in odd ways. Excellent.
This is an excellent collection of out takes and miscellany by a wonderfully diverse band fronted by Kenyata Sullivan. This band can really rock, and Kenyata's lyrics are powerful and ironic. The style varies greatly from the wonderful piano piece "The Crossing" to incredible pieces like "Little Girl (Soliloquy of a Serial Killer)"
Space grooves from an Italian techno-rock band. This CD is catchy and funky at times and great to listen to, despite the sometimes off-key mumbly vocals (is he singing in English?). The beats are great and the guitar kicks, and there are even some sitar, cello and flute for the hell of it--what more could you want?
Pulpit Red is a gothic punk band from Oklahoma City. Lurk, their recent studio album, features catchy pieces of dark fun. There are not one but two songs (Cocked and Ready and Massacre On The Train) about a guy going nuts and shooting people on a train, and both of them are great. Freak Show is my favorite song on the CD, with a sideshow theme and a great carnival barker part in the middle and a refrain that goes, "baby, baby, baby baby baby!"
This two-CD set shows what talented people can do with ambient music (although they're more like "instrumental" recordings than ambient). Ian C. "Autoreverse" Stewart's Samarkand CD is quite mellow and atmospheric at times, but he's not afraid to crank out the "Macho Man" bass and lay down a groove. This one very much reminds me of The Art of Noise. Methuselah Junkie "MJB" Brown's Cloud lets loose with some great rhythm work and ultra-catchy riffs of his own, and he's a hell of a musician. His skill as a drummer is really what makes his work so exceptional, but his keyboard and guitar work are excellent as well.
OK, I know I spend a lot of time going on about K.D. Schmitz on this page, but honestly, the man is a conceptual genius. This time, K.D. plays the role of producer of a tape of collaborations between his five-year-old daughter and 11 assorted artists (including yours truly). Each participant is given a very difficult problem to solve and that is how to make something coherent out of a three-minute tape of Kayla making up songs and tinkering with a Casio keyboard. The approaches vary but the results sound amazingly consistent-- from techno sampling (Scientist Sam's ultra-catchy Game Show) to dada assembly and repetition (Half a Kitchen's I Love Drums) to the Blues (Ray Carmen's Mama Talkin' Blues), it shows K.D.'s brilliance as an organizer. Interspersed with these collaborations are Kayla's acapella compositions which are funny too. Kayla's voice may annoy some people, but if you can get past it, the results are quite rewarding.
This is a great collection of introspective, acoustic songs with beautifully layered, complex guitar work and K.D.'s trademark vocals. Fans of K.D.'s 1996 tape Words In My Mouth will appreciate hearing what he can do when he writes both the music and lyrics. Songs alternate between vocal tracks and somewhat improvisational instrumentals, which in and of themselves are rewarding for the moments of synergy the occur. The high points for me are James Taylor, a love song about how he won't sing love songs like James Taylor, In Pleasant Valley, a chilling vision of modern life and Hey Now, Come On, a catchy rockin' tune. Excellent as usual. If you are not familiar with K.D.'s music, this is a good place to start.
Scientist Sam is an audio collagist extraordinaire, looping bits and pieces of things into amazingly catchy compositions. Fragments of top-40, hip-hip, jazz, funk, classic rock and telephone messages are manipulated with a computer and blended into something with a great beat that you could dance to. Unlike a lot of techno music, however, it doesn't get boring because the samples and loops change constantly, repeating a few times then changing into something else. Each piece has a unique sound and feel, changing form from one moment to the next for upwards of ten minutes. It brings to mind the early work of ART OF NOISE, but is decidedly original in scope and technique, and very hard to stop listening to. Excellent.
Excellent improvisational jazzish Rock & Roll-type stuff, with lots of funky jams. It features Dr. Philo Drummond of the Church of the Subgenius, along with a cast of very talented musicians with a wacky sense of humor. There's loads of their tapes available for trade of any type.
This compilation of bands from Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina is fantastic- it must be great to go to bars in those towns. Fast-paced guitar punk dominates most of the 22 songs, and they really rock. EL SUCIO opens with "Dogs," a great bass-driven instrumental. STARPOINT NC's "Interested" has a singer who sounds an awful lot like MICK JAGGER, but they manage to pull it off just because the song is so great. LUD almost steals the show with a great sing-along tune called "Work in a Restaurant" which would appear to be about working in the food service industry. GERTY has a really great tune called "ICU" that borrows backup vocals from The Beatles' "Back in the USSR." SQUATWEILER has a great old-fashioned punk tune called "Jack Ball." The band GRAND PRICKS gets the award for best band name, and their "31 Flavors" features one of the worst singers I've heard in quite some time. THE MISHKI SANFORDS do a bizarre song called &qout;Pollyandrea" that scares the crap out of me.
This CD is a sampler for Helicopter Records of Denmark, and has some great stuff on it. There are techno dance grooves, drony rock ballads and bloopy Moog numbers, and some generally great material. Also from Helicopter records--Robot, a Danish rock band with an awkward homemade feel, a great female vocalist and a lot of ennui.
This is a really excellent concept tape of various artists' interpretations of poems written by K.D.'s ten-year-old niece (including Chris Ballew from The Presidents of the United States of America). The songs vary from spooky whispers over clanging noise to wonderful acoustic ballads.
This tape provides about 30 minutes of creepy apocalyptic industrial synth music that will scare the crap out of you. Artists include Dark Matter, Hebephrenic, Terra Firma and The Greyslade Project, but the tape has a darkly consistent feel to it. Distorted vocals and sinister harmonies accompany catchy keyboard riffs on this album based loosely on the book of Revelations. Although the tunes seem a bit too serious at times, the skills of the performers keep it entertaining.
It's really hard to explain ViperHouse because they're not like too many other bands... the only comparison I can think of is Branford Marsalis' band Buckshot LeFonque, but that's not quite it either. Maybe it's like Buckshot LeFonque with Bootsy Collins sitting in on bass, joined by a formidable horn section and a sultry female vocalist. Part of the problem is the material-- Shed contains songs written by such people as Ellington, Mingus and Young. Young? That's Neil Young, but you'd never know who wrote what because it all flows and funks so well. And then on tunes like In a Buffalo Bar and Swag, they lay down a groove like The Red Hot Chili Peppers only wish they could. There's even a moment of bluegrass to further cloud the issue. So, what kind of music this is? Heck if I know, but this CD hasn't left my CD player since I got it. Excellent.
This Christian record label has put out some of my favorite thrift-store sampling material. If you see the Word logo on the front of an older Salvation Army record, pick it up, and you're guaranteed a laugh or two.
Larry's a kind of "mod" Christian lecturer who gives speeches to school kids warning of the dangers of "booze, pot and lack of respect". The guillotine cover made this one a must buy. My copy is autographed.
It is the story of one rich woman's descent into a world of drugs and booze and how she found God, etc, etc. There's nothing more annoying than an ex-junkie who found God, let alone a wealthy ex-junkie who was boring to begin with.
This is kind of an instruction manual for Christian newlyweds, with the good Dr. Evans saying things to the husband that the wife is too dull to think up, and vice versa (kind of like an audio Hallmark card), telling the wife how she must support her man as he returns from "the din and the routine of the marketplace" with his "check on thin, small paper". Sample spotters will recognize this as the source of some material on Negativland's infamous U2
Kind of like a Christian Mamas & Papas, "these seven students are part of a generation searching and reaching and grabbing for freedom. All kinds of freedom!" These squeaky-clean kids tell you that Christianity is the only real freedom. "Frankly, nothing else really works for people in a space-age world."