Le Rug has got pretty good timing, coming at us with a track like “Jailbait,” just in time for the Summer. This track is sure to end up on more than a few playlists designed to accompany roadtrips down a sunny highway to nowhere in particular in the coming months. It’s just one of those carefree and energetic rockers that’s catchy as hell from start to finish.
Of course, being that it is only one track from a 32 track compilation that spans several years, it is by no means representative. “Harold Camping” is a bit more varied in its approach, with the same wild vocal but a guitar sound that is more restrained. Each song throughout the compilation sounds new and familiar at the same time, and though I usually prohibit myself from saying such meaningless-sounding wordfiller type things, it’s really true. Though “Godstar” reminds me of maybe The Burdocks, in the sound of the vocals, and some of the melodies. The rhythms here are less angular, that is for sure, but the melodic sensibility is pretty similar.
Other tracks, like “Get it Over With” and “Dead in a Hole” explore a synthier side that isn’t necessarily any colder timbrally than the other guitar driven tracks, but certainly explore a whole other sound in general. The guitar is ever present, at varying levels of grit. The songs always have the ability to soar and find a way to pull the listener in.
The good news is that there is a whole lot more where this came from. These songs are coming off a 32 track compilation that is set for release June 17th, and can be pre-ordered right now on cassette (recommended) or as a download from Austin’s Fleeting Youth records. According to the press release:
Press Start: The Collection features 5 magnetic and pulsing post-punk releases from Brooklyn’s Le Rug (32 tracks overall)– 3 albums from when Le Rug was more active years ago and 2 new recent EPs released earlier this year.
For now though you can download the tracks above for free. Take some time to ruminate with them. No doubt you will find yourself wanting to listen more and more.
I know that I have mentioned before of my recent conversion over to the cult of the cassette tape. This has lead to some great discoveries, of course forcing me to ask the question, “What have I been keeping myself from for the past couple of years?”
It was through another tape purchase that I discovered the band Chat Logs. Maybe part of my love for this batch of songs is partly because of the element of surprise. I wasn’t planning on buying this album, didn’t even know that it existed, and now I have it here with me
What I got was an aggressive bass assault with grinding guitars and menacing vocals. The perpetual, circular bass-line of “Eat Your Heart Out” is intermittently interrupted by a heavily echoed, distorted and pitch shifted guitar that’s doing it’s best interpretation of a blues break, but is run through a experimental noise-rock filter. And many of the songs take on a similar structure, with persistent bass holding everything together while the guitars and vocals buzz, screech and echo all around it.
“Am I Right, Or Am I Right?” clocks in at just over 19 minutes with its 4 tracks, the perfect EP length. Personal favorite “Mooks” is mostly instrumental (or at least has a lengthy instrumental break in the middle) with a great winding lead guitar line that sounds like a more unrestrained Constantines track.
The album is available now through Already Dead Records and Tapes, a limited run, specialty press label run out of Chicago that is absolutely worth checking out for fans of sometimes obscure, experimental, electronic, hard-edged garage and all other genres in between.
Whenever I think about Sonic Youth (which is a lot, as you can probably tell) I can’t help but link it all back to Glenn Branca. When I was first introduced to Branca’s work I came to think that he is where Sonic Youth got all of their ideas from. In Branca’s symphonies appear the larger (much larger) versions of Sonic Youth’s descents into chaos. It’s not that just those parts recall one another, but the guitar tone in general, and the visceral, defiantly experimental energy all do as well.
I’m sure by now that the two are sick of being linked to one another, as both have gone in completely different directions; Branca’s language has drawn him to increasingly bold ideas of gargantuan scope, while Sonic Youth (before their dissolution), for the most part, went the “song” route.
But Branca’s work is not all captured in his symphonies. In 1980 he released his first solo work, “Lesson No. 1” that featured two tracks, that is one for each side. Side A consists of a single chord, gradually and continually growing, adding little bits and pieces while the static harmony remains. It’s similar to his later, larger, symphonic work, yet distilled to the basic essence. Minimalist music with distortion. It’s a mix of several conflicting ideas; meditation and tension, focused and loose, contemplative and aggressive, celebratory and intimidating. It’s all there, packed in to 8 intense minutes.
Something completely different is found on the B-side. The contemplation and focus derived from the steadily growing and singular harmony has given way to a jagged part structure, increased dissonance and pounding percussion. “Dissonance” is exactly what it says it is, wild and aggressive, grinding, dissonant. Where “Lesson No. 1” continually picked up the pace, growing to massive proportions, “Dissonance” chugs to a near halt, with the ominous bass and drums beating out “and-1, and-1, and-1” throughout. Melodies clash and ring, strings rattling against guitar necks, psychotic strumming on the high strings play against the low wobble and tenuous pitch of a 2nd guitar. Everything explodes in the end, and one can just picture various scattered bits of wood and metal where drums and guitars once were.
Thankfully all of this beautiful early (No) New York is being resurrected, and rightfully so. It’s really important that music like this, that was way ahead of its time in its brazen originality, gets another release. Though collecting old and rare records may be great for some, there are also those people that just want to have it for their own for the first time. People need to experience this music, no matter how they came to it, and now they can. And, of course, to bring everything back full circle to Sonic Youth, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore were two of the guitarist used in the “bonus” (you can think of it as a bonus, but really it was originally a separate release entirely) track “Bad Smells,” another side-long expedition into the noisier side of things, though those noise filled moments only last so long before an awkward, stilted kind of groove begins to set in.
Superior Viaduct is re-releasing “Lesson No. 1” in an expanded edition, set to hit stores on February 18th. It’s currently available for pre-order from the label. You can hear “Lesson No. 1” on the pre-order page of Superior Viaduct. Give it a listen and then scoop up the vinyl.
Well, this is the first time that I have had to actually listen to a Sonic Youth album for one of these posts so that I could actually talk about some of the music in detail. If you’ve been reading the previous posts from this series then you’ve read about how it was around the time of A Thousand Leaves where Sonic Youth and I were going through a separation. Well, during that separation this album came out and when I finally got it I had no idea what the hell to even do with it.
My memories of this album were buying it much later, I think in about 2003 or so, because I had been listening to “Murray Street” a lot by the time I finally heard any of these songs. But other than that I don’t have any particularly vivid memories about the album. I just remember over the years trying to get into it. I remember putting it in the CD player in my car and just leaving it in there, hoping that something would jump out at me and stick, something that would give me a foothold. But, after listening and listening I just cast it aside. For some reason, and this doesn’t happen that often, or hardly ever, really, but the only parts of the album that stuck with me were the “awful” parts. I mean, they aren’t objectively awful, they are just things that make me cringe kind of. Maybe I’m cringing because I’ve practically grown up with this band and I felt like I didn’t even know them anymore; maybe I was starting to question if I should have ever really loved them in the first place. I’m not sure, but that is definitely what kept me away from this album for pretty much a decade. Until this evening, listening to it in anticipation of having to write this post and realizing that I didn’t think that I was going to have anything to say about it.
You’ve probably read the “famous” review of this album on Pitchfork. I won’t link to it, you can find it on your own if you really want to, but they gave the album a o.o rating. Now, that’s different from a 0.0, you see? It’s less. Basically they were saying that not only was this the worst Sonic Youth album, but it’s maybe one of the worst albums that they had ever heard, which I fail to believe. I also think that back then (and continuing to this day) Pitchfork survives partially on sensationalist stunts like this to help bring in people that may not normally go to their site (like their review, also famous, of that Jet album. Did they really need to do that? People don’t come to Pitchfork to read reviews of bands like Jet. Was that them simultaneously trying to show their diversity and acceptance of all forms of music, while still allowing themselves to be pretentious assholes? I think so, yes).
After listening to this album, I mean really giving it a deep and thoughtful listen so that I could write something un-biased or inflammatory for the sake of being inflammatory, I realized that it really isn’t as bad as I (or Pitchfork) previously thought it was. Considering what it is that they were doing at the time (another 2 SYR albums, nos. 4 and 5, had been released between “A Thousand Leaves” and “NYC Ghosts & Flowers”) and where they were in their career, I think that this was a pretty reasonable way to go. Now, of course, I can only speak for myself. I can’t imagine what anyone hearing Sonic Youth for the first time with this album would think. I can’t even imagine what someone that happened to get into Sonic Youth only since they signed to DGC, someone that hadn’t dug into their back catalog, what would they think? It’s insane to think that this came out on a major label, and not only that, it is insane to think that this came out on a major label and that that label didn’t drop them immediately afterward. Let’s be honest, this isn’t the kind of music that is really going to be getting a lot of radio play, none of these songs would be able to be used for commercials or anything like that. There is no “Bull in the Heather” on this album.
There are, however, some pretty good moments on the album. Lee’s sole track, sharing its name with the album, is definitely a highlight, and the noisiest point on the album. To be fair though, Thurston’s “Small Flowers Crack Concrete” is a tough one to get through. I mean, this also isn’t the best review of the album. The most that I can muster is that this album is “ok.” But really what I’m saying is that this album really isn’t as bad as everyone thinks that it is. It’s a grower. You have to listen to it several times, maybe over the course of 14 years just periodically trying it out, in order to find things that are worth checking out.
Although, putting on “Murray Street,” one can immediately realize what it was that this album was missing after all…
Not that I knew it at the time, but this would be the last Sonic Youth album I would listen to regularly for a while. They started to fall off significantly after “Washing Machine” came out and Sonic Youth and I started to part ways for a while. It definitely wasn’t because this is a bad album, because it isn’t. I think that this is one of the stronger albums in their oeuvre. They seemed to attach themselves a little bit more to that wide open and thinner aesthetic that showed up on “Experimental, Jet Set…” The sound of “Winner’s Blues,” if you will, became the guiding voice. At least that is how I hear it.
Everyone that’s reading this already knows that the wheels started to come off not long after this album was released. A lot of gear was stolen (stolen SY guitars are still turning up here and there) which found the band not just investing in new instruments, but a whole new approach given the instruments that they had at their disposal. More on that later.
This album is most notable, not only for having, strangely, their most instantly recognizable cover art since “Goo,” but also for the magnum-noise-opus “The Diamond Sea.” It was no surprise, yet still an odd choice, to release the 19+ minute track as the single off the album. Obviously it needed to be edited down significantly for mass consumption, which seemed like something very un-Sonic Youth, while at the same time sending out a song such as “The Diamond Sea” as a single is very Sonic Youth.
One definitely got their money’s worth when they purchased this album. At about an hour and 8 minutes the album is only a minute or two short of maxing out a CD. Come to find out even the 19+ minute version of “The Diamond Sea” is an edited down version. The fact of the matter is that it stands as one of Sonic Youth’s most intensely beautiful and emotionally driven tracks. It sounds like an ending, a farewell of sorts. If I had been old enough to think about such things when I was 14 and hearing this for the first time I would have been worried if it was going to be their last album. What a way to go out, with 10+ minutes of pure guitar feedback and a wall of noise.
The whirling cloud of howling guitars is at once acknowledgement of past work, looking back from an entirely different world. It’s a farewell of sorts, and little did they know exactly how fitting that farewell would be for at least a little while. I think that a song that epic, especially when used to conclude an album, can’t help but sound like a closing off of something, or maybe everything. It has so much power that everything afterward can be viewed as a coda in their career. They had made it this far, 13 years and 9 albums, without a misstep. Maybe “The Diamond Sea” is the band reminding us that even after a career that at that point had surpassed nearly all their contemporaries in longevity and (relative) commercial success.
Whereas “Bull in the Heather” was a “hit,” a song that even people that didn’t know Sonic Youth, knew; “The Diamond Sea” resonated deeply with long-time fans. At least this is how I perceived it when I was hearing “Washing Machine” for the first time.
It would be a few years before another “proper” Sonic Youth release, meaning another release on DGC. Two years after “Washing Machine” was released the band started working on their SYR series of albums, showcasing their instrumental and more experimental material. To me the albums are sonic sketchbooks, where material for future albums will occasionally appear within different contexts. That was the power of “The Diamond Sea,” it fits well within the context of a mass market album, yet guides us smoothly into the band’s own world of music exploration.
As if you couldn’t already tell, I’ve been angling toward the noisiest, most abrasive music that I can find. The more messed up the rhythms, the faster the songs, the more angular and distorted the guitar parts and the less intelligible the lyrics the better.
Bbigpigg is currently on tour through the beginning of November and is also offering a five song EP, “Phantom Photography,” for free at their site. There is also another free download at their main site here.
Similar in overall sound to THIGHS, Bbigpigg takes their energy over the top and keeps it there. Something comparable in texture to At The Drive-In where it’s impossible to discern where one guitar ends and another begins. Everything is just a cloud of interconnected squeals and accents pinned to the ground by a rumbling bass. “Bitch-Hogg” takes a completely frantic approach rhythmically, with air-raid guitars cutting across everything in its path. Everything is just heavy as hell, and worth more than a few listens.
Check their site for tour dates across New England and make sure to grab that download.
Showing up to the Tiny Tavern just before 8pm, because I know the place is small and I always get nervous that shows are going to be too full or something, seems now like it was a bit excessive. I sat at the end of the bar for about an hour listening to the members of So So Glos and Diarrhea Planet talking and making fun of the horrible musical selections coming in through the speakers of the bar (Counting Crows, Bush, The Wallflowers, Sheryl Crow. I think it must have been from the compilation “NOW That’s what I Call Overplayed Watered Down Corporate Shit Rock from the Late 90s that Attempts to Fill in the Enormous Void Left by Kurt Cobain’s Death Vol. 3”) and eating, though I don’t think that any of them really enjoyed the food as when they all got up and wandered outside there were about 8 bowls of weird looking beef stroganoff lining the bar.
I was sitting there just awkwardly observing and catching bits of conversations between the bartender and the bands. “Hey guys, and don’t forget,” the bartender leaned in to whisper to one of Diarrhea Planet’s guitarists, “that there’s a radical discount on the food for the bands and roadies and anyone that is traveling with the band.” I remember trying to figure out after he said “radical” whether he was using it as a synonym for “significant” or if he was one “hang-loose” hand gesture away from trying to be “cool like the kids.” I came to the decision that, based upon his inflection that it was the latter. Another uncomfortable interaction came a few minutes later when the drummer sat next to me at the bar in order to get some food. After ordering, the super-hip bartender with the black pageboy hat (though strangely lacking in the soul-patch department) said “how ’bout we call that….4 bucks?” and right as the drummer was saying “Ok” the bartender gave him a sideways glance and with a half winking eye said “you can talk me down to $3,” to which the drummer replied through an uncomfortable laugh “…whatever man.” I knew he and I were on the same page in regard to our thoughts on the bartender.
At about this time I was watching a dude that came in with some mic stands set up the monitor. The monitor was pretty much next to the stage in front some overturned tables and surge protectors that were dangling delicately from the ceiling, a perfect compliment to the partially working blinking icicle lights (check the date). As he set up the monitor the mics blared feedback for a good 10 minutes at 5 second intervals. A delightful array of ear piercing ultra-high frequencies assaulted our ears, yet nobody seemed fazed. As the monitor guy walked back toward the bar to excitedly talk about the app that he uses to single out the frequencies that are feeding back he said “Ok, I’ve gotta run.” It was at that point I realized that there was going to be no sound guy, he came in, set up the mics, made them squeal a bit, turned a few dials counter-clockwise a bit, drank a beer and left. All in a days work.
It was quarter to 9 and I was still the only person there not in the band. Well, that’s not completely true, there were some unsuspecting regulars that had no idea there was going to be a show and the possibly domestically challenged man in one of the booths that had drank a pitcher of PBR and fallen asleep. One of the guys in So So Glos wondered aloud “So where is everyone?” This was followed moments later by “…so it’s just gonna be that guy at the end of the bar?” Despite that being said in a bit of a hushed tone as he headed for the door it was audible from my position at the end of the bar.
Thankfully, about 20 minutes later the audience showed up. I think that they must have coordinated it earlier, like a punk rock flash mob. It seemed as if the entire audience literally walked in at once. The first opener (didn’t catch their name because the sound was terrible for some reason) tore through twenty or so minutes of noisy originals and a few covers (was that the theme to Full House?) to an appreciative crowd.
So So Glos took the stage next (and by stage I mean area of the floor in front of the fireplace, next to the aforementioned tables and surge protectors and underneath the Coors Light neon dry erase board with “Don’t forget to try the special!” scrawled onto it in that generic font that must be taught to all owners of bars everywhere) and immediately invited the audience to get up, move closer, no… closer, no… closer. They then proceeded to bring out their intense energy song after song. Lead singer/bassist Alex Levine could not be contained, and didn’t resist the urge to jump into the audience and climb atop the bar. Despite mistakenly stating, “it’s so great to be back here in California,” to sarcastic boos (someone yelled back “Yeah! Eugene, California!” we’re nice here, we don’t care and we forgive quickly) he apologized profusely and carried on. The crowd was amped up after their set, and not wanting them to leave after their “last song” began chanting “USA! USA! USA!” together with “ROCK AND ROLL! ROCK AND ROLL!” until they gave us one more tune. Off to a great start.
I think that part of the reason that we were all so ready to forgive the “California” faux pas is because of their tour schedule. So So Glos and Diarrhea Planet are doing things Japandroids style and touring non-stop up and down the coast and across the country, adding dates as they go. Speaking with lead singer and 1/4 of the shredding department of Diarrhea Planet, Hodan, he said they had been on tour since about the beginning of July and would be going almost straight through until the end of December. So, given that, fine. Call us California, call us Idaho, it doesn’t matter.
Diarrhea Planet swiftly began setting up (tooling with the monitor, as if there was a point by now. I think that every member of each band had been tweaking it all night), did a quick check and were off and running. The crowd moshed wildly, resulting in a cascade of beer flying through the air and pooling around our feet. Shirtless dudes gesticulated wildly at the closest guitarist mimicking the hand motions of Jimi Hendrix as he incited flames from his guitar. The band tore through song after song with little effort; these guys could really play well, truly well. And despite there barely being enough room for the 6 of them on the “stage” there was enough room for some true rock showmanship in the form of hair-whipping headbanging, and thrashing about on the floor while flying through a guitar solo sometimes with Hodan on his knees arching such that the back of his head rested on the floor as he continued to wail. There were a few covers as well, one as (I think) a comment to the garbage that was on the radio while they were (not) eating at the bar. That song was another from the wasteland of late 90’s corporate shit rock: Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” which was started on a whim by one of the guitarists and the rest of the band just picked up on it. They managed to get through an entire verse and chorus, with the crowd dutifully singing along and thrashing about before the band said “Ok, we can’t do that shit anymore.”
It was a great show. All the way through from the opener to So So Glos to Diarrhea Planet. It was such a great show that as everyone began to realize that it would soon come to a close we all kept yelling “ONE MORE!” until Levine came back to the stage sans bass to lead in an amazing 4 guitar version of Beastie Boys “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!).” The crowd went insane, yelling along, hoisting people in the air while watching the leader of So So Glos climb onto the bar again. Things got a little crazy as the crowd sort of invaded Diarrhea Planet’s space, but they all had giant smiles on their face. Everyone in there was having a great time.
Speaking with guitarist Emmett after the show, while buying some merch, he kept saying how great the tour was going. I mentioned that it must be awesome to have been getting attention from NPR and the New York Times (the review was published only two days prior) and a tour that will not stop. He was genuinely excited and said the entire band was still amazed and incredibly grateful for all the press. He swore that they would be back, as they loved the crowd and our city. When they do, I’ll be right there at the front again screaming along with everyone else.