Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 9:57 PM

Cap'n Jazz / 'Que Suerte'

I won't let a year go by without posting anything here. Anyway, this is my favorite new old thing right now.

Cap'n Jazz's record, Burritos, inspiration point, fork balloon sports, cards in the spokes, automatic biographies, kites, kung fu, trophies, banana peels we've slipped on and egg shells we've tippy toed over, which I'm proud to say I still own on vinyl and will never part with, made me feel alive like no other album. It was one of the classics of the nineties and without it -- for better or worse -- music on rock radio today would not sound the way it does.

So there's no MP3 (audio is so 2005), but I do have a live video, which I think is preferable anyway.

Expect me to do a lot more of this video stuff, as YouTube has proven an incredible indie archiving tool.

Monday, March 06, 2006 at 7:38 PM


Since I started this little rarely-updated project, I'm happy to report that I've found some of these bands alive and well, at least on the internet. And by "the internet," I mean MySpace.

Swig. They were from South Carolina, not North. And it seems that they've reactivated, which is great news. The awesome Pat Duncan played a 1995 live set from the band from the WFMU archives not too long ago. I would highly recommend giving it a listen.

Greyhouse. They claim the discography is coming out. Having made this claim in reference to my own band, I'll believe it when I see it. I'm trying to talk a friend into starting a re-issue label to help bands like this. He seems to be warming to the idea. Either way, Greyhouse will someday be widely recognized as one of the greatest underground bands of the nineties.

Dahlia Seed. It's so nice to open your MySpace friends request to read "Dahlia Seed would like to be your friend!" Tracy is still active with her project Ringfinger, Chris does not seem to still be active with his project ECHELONS, and Darin is still playing drums in The Nolan Gate. No word on whether or not anyone is working on a Brokenmouth site.

Samuel. I can't vouch for everyone, but James Marinelli, whom I love for becoming something of an active commenter here, has been rocking out with an indie folk punk solo thing that is quite awesome and highly recommended.

Until the next song, then...

Thursday, February 02, 2006 at 8:36 PM

Chisel / 'Chiefs'

As a teenager, Chisel mystified me. Only somewhat a Jersey band, with Ted being a Leo brother and their records being released by Gern Blandsten, Chisel was a bit larger than life to me. I'm not quite sure why. They played the same hall shows as other bands. Perhaps it was the fact that they were headquartered in Washington, DC. More likely, it was just the fact that they were so damned talented.

I still remember seeing Chisel for the first time. It wasn't live, but rather via a video tape of a hall show they played in Ridgewood. I'd been to other shows in Ridgewood, and it was a near religious experience every time. Always sweaty and cramped, those shows still exemplify for me why the Jersey scene was so amazing. There was such a sense of camaraderie and euphoria and joy. Even through a television screen by way of an 8mm camcorder, the atmosphere came through and Chisel didn't fail to impress.

Obviously, Ted Leo went pretty far in the ensuing decade. After Chisel broke up, one of my bands was lucky enough to play one show -- a festival -- with Ted's first post-Chisel band, The Sin Eaters. That band seemed to have broken up before anyone even had a chance to form an opinion. The next time I saw Ted, he did a solo set at a small hall show in the middle of nowhere in suburban Jersey. As far as I know, it was one of the first solo sets he played. Two interesting things stand out in my mind about that show. One is the fact that I now live a few blocks away from that hall. The other is that Elliot Smith was there, just hanging out.

The last time I saw Ted play solo in person (watching him on Conan O'Brien doesn't count), my band played a live radio show with him at William Paterson University. The show's host wasn't very well prepared (sorry, Derek), so Ted and I had to go DIY, each playing through his guitar amp and singing through mine. I think it worked out pretty well. After his set, we talked for a bit while we dismantled our makeshift PA. I told him I really liked the solo stuff and ventured a Billy Bragg comparison. He said he'd been getting a lot of that, but admitted he wasn't much of a Bragg fan.

Nowadays, Ted Leo is crazy famous and well-respected. He mentions Billy Bragg in interviews somewhat regularly. During the 2004 election, I e-mailed him to see if he minded me posting an MP3 of 'Shake the Sheets' at my political blog on election day as a kick in the ass for my readers. On tour, he text messaged me from his cell to give me the go ahead. Ted Leo has always been as cool as he is talented. It still mystifies me to this day.

Chisel's 'Chiefs' was released on the 1997 Sudden Shame compilation, 'The Storm of the Century'.

Right-click, save as to download

Friday, December 09, 2005 at 9:21 AM

Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan / 'That's Alright Mama'

I haven't posted anything in a long while, and I've been feeling kind of bad about that. So here's a quick one. It's not punk or indie really, but it still feels kind of punk to me. Everyone's been making quite a big deal about Johnny Cash and 'Walk the Line' lately, and for good reason. The movie's great and Cash is a timeless American icon.

So with that in mind, here's a virtual quilt of timeless American icons. In mid-February 1969, Johnny Cash got together with Bob Dylan for a few recording sessions at the Columbia Studios in Nashville. The version of 'Girl from the North Country' from that session was officially released on Dylan's 'Nashville Skyline' album. The rest of the tracks have found their into Dylan and Cash fans' hands by way of any number of bootlegs. The tracks are clearly just a few guys having fun with some of their favorite songs. Even though the sessions weren't meant for public consumption, I'd say they're certainly worthy of official release (which I'd imagine will probably happen one day).

So here it is. Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan covering Elvis' first single for Sun Records, originally written by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. As if that's not enough, the guy on lead guitar? Yeah, that's Carl Perkins. If you're not impressed, you're brain damaged.

That's Alright Mama
Right-click, save as to download

Monday, May 02, 2005 at 8:24 PM

Samuel / 'Sideways Looker'

No mid-nineties band bridged the gaps between punk, post-hardcore, and indie rock quite like Samuel. For the members of the last band of my high school days, Samuel was the only band all three of us could consistently agree on. The drummer was all about the '77 sound, at the time nurturing a growing love of mod-punk, ala The Jam. The bass player was firmly entrenched in the world of California screamo, worshipping at the altar of Still Life, HeartattaCk, and Ebullition. I was caught somewhere between intelligent pop-punk and indie rock, still pretty familiar territory.

For us, Samuel had it all. The music was downright propulsive, while managing a nice balance of melodic and abrasive. And vocalist Vanessa Downing had a voice that effectively blended urgency, pain, indignation, and optimism into a beautifully tight package. I remember someone once describing them as Velocity Girl if every member of Velocity Girl could kick your ass. (That's probably a bit too simple; back then, every indie-ish band with a female singer was compared to VG.) On our way to shows, Samuel was the perfect compromise between Generation X, Indian Summer, and Superchunk.

In retrospect, the craziest thing about my love for this band is just how little there was to love. As far as I know, their discography was limited to two seven inches (one issued later on CD with two extra tracks) and one split seven inch with Texas Is The Reason. So it's quite possible they released only seven songs. But Samuel was definitely a band where quality won out over quantity, anyway. This track is by far one of my favorites from the band. It really perfectly showcases both their gritty, angular pop songwriting as well as their immense musical talent. Listen for the twenty-second-plus snare roll near the end, with the lyric "yeah, that's fucking pretty" being spit out on top, right before the song seems to fall back together for the climax. Pure punk pop perfection.

As for a 'where are they now', I'm not 100% sure. Vanessa Downing and guitarist Dean Taormina relocated to Rhode Island and formed the indie outfit Rosa Chance Well, playing with a variety of New England indie luminaries like Jeff Goddard and Gavin McCarthy of Karate and Chris Brokaw of Codeine and Come. Some of their music can be found at Epitonic.com. Drummer Eric Astor went on to run the Art Monk Construction label, which seems to be defunct, and Furnace CD Manufacturing, which is far from defunct. He also continued playing drums in the breakfast violence band Mancake with members of Frodus. And if you missed out on the breakfast violence scene of the late-nineties, I sincerely pity you.

Sideways Looker
Right-click, save as to download

Tuesday, April 19, 2005 at 9:33 AM

Strawman / 'No Generation'

Strawman were something of an important band to me in the early nineties. To this day, I still consider them one of the most thought-provoking political punk bands I've ever heard of. This was a band who dedicated one of their albums to the Russian anarchists who resisted the Bolsheviks immediately following the revolution of 1917. Now, I had some preconceived ideas about politics at that point, but I was still very young, so nothing was very well-formed. And anarchist resistance to Soviet communism was not something I would have learned about in junior high school history texts. I didn't run out and become an anarchist, but Strawman definitely set me down the path of understanding that in history and politics, there's no such thing as black or white and that the simple narrative rarely applies.

This song is a scathing attack on the punk scene circa '95, and appeared (appropriately) on the Allied compilation Invasion of the Indie Snatchers. Remember, this was the time of Green Day's arrival on MTV and the subsequent signings of Bay Area stalwarts Jawbreaker and Samiam. In fact, Jawbreaker's Adam Pfahler had served as Strawman's drummer for what was probably their most popular album, Shoot Me Up. Here's what the band wrote in the liner notes for this song:

'Punk Rock' in the U.S. has become a bunch of cartoons in costumes that feel the Ramones are a progressive musical force and care more about who is a 'sell-out' than the now dirt poor worker next door - a bourgeois clique with insipid middle-of-the-road politics dancing with joy in the belly of the beast.

While I don't agree 100% -- one wonders what Tommy Strange must think of 'the scene' as it exists now -- there was definitely some truth to that. And there was even more truth in the lyrics:

All the punks have got haircuts from '81 sitcoms
And all the workers they sold their songs to
Are blind, young and so happy to be used.

No generation with fortitude
Nobody with guts or vision enough
All the punks got lawyers
All the brats got lawyers

My artist friends just turned into whores
And all the morals they painted our struggles on
Have just become one more advertising song

I always considered Jawbreaker's "Chemistry" to be a response to Strawman's charge, with Blake Schwarzenbach singing:

My stupid hair is so '82 to you
At least I don't fit in

Who knows, though. The rest of the song was all about high school, so it's quite possible he really was just singing about chemistry class. But I still think the whole thing was a metaphor -- the punk underground as high school. You don't need to give it too much thought to get the significance.

After the breakup of Strawman, Tommy Strange and Diane Glaub went on to form Songs for Emma, whose music can be found at eMusic. Strange also now runs the anarchist book store 6th Street Books in San Francisco. I can't find too much info about the shop, but I'm sure it's worth checking out.

No Generation
Right-click, save as to download

Tuesday, April 05, 2005 at 9:01 PM

Greyhouse / 'November 26'

There isn't really much for me to write about Greyhouse. The band was legendary in certain circles in New Jersey and certain circles in the national punk and hardcore scene in general, but I'd be lying if I said they were ever huge.

Sadly, I never got to see them play as they were just barely before my time. And though I did get to know two of the members of the band in later years, I never asked either of them about Greyhouse. Basically, as far as I knew, they didn't get along too well, and I didn't want to piss anyone off.

In the late nineties, a label called GrapeOS (whose website is hilariously still active and quite out of date) got the band back together to record a few songs for a discography disc. A good friend of mine did the recording and it reportedly came out awesome, though I've never heard it. Hopefully it's not too late for the disc to see the light of day.

Until then, here's a live track I pulled from WFMU's Pat Duncan show. It was recorded on September 19, 1991. The recorded version appears on their 'Revolution by Numbers' 7". I have a few more tracks on vinyl and on (get this!) a tape comp that I hope to post in the future as well. Hell, if I get someone's permission, I'll post every damn song they ever recorded.

November 26
Right-click, save as to download