soundstreamsunday: “Ghost Rider” by Suicide

suicideIt’s not until it works its witnesses into a state of ecstatic frenzy, as if reading a preacher-inflected text so self-aware it reaches ascendancy, that New York rock satisfies itself and its audiences.  It’s a city of distillations and self-regard, and so in its great contribution to rock and roll, New York puked up a revival so dazzling in its love for rock’s foundations it sometimes barely reads as the punk it became known as (or maybe a common idea of punk): there is no rejection, it is all embrace.

Suicide played rock and roll, and even as they coined the term “punk” — or at least early-adopted it from Lester Bangs to describe what they were doing — in their world that meant you visited the monuments and tore them down to find what was left in substance, not shadow.  It was an intentional act of art, constraint-driven, that Martin Rev and Alan Vega followed in the rock they made.  And they made it howl.

The pulsing drone riff of “Ghost Rider” leads Suicide (1977), the culmination of seven years of paring and refining and filtering the pure rock spirit.  That Suicide did this as a duo with synth and drum machine was revolutionary to the point of riot-inducing, and to this day sounds outside a point in time.  Suicide denied time, even to the degree that Vega claimed he was far younger than his 39 years.  It was no nostalgia trip, Suicide’s rock and roll, even though that trip hung heavy in the air: this same year the retro band Sha Na Na debuted on TV, though they too had been around for a while, hocking the schlock of 50s rock, that shadow that Suicide made it their business to avoid.  Both were needed but only one was important.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday: “Isolation” by Joy Division

ian-curtis- joy-division-wendy-winder-obskur-magazineMusic critics tend to dismiss Joy Division’s posthumous Still as a hit-and-miss collection of studio scraps paired with a lackluster recording of their last show.  And in a specific context — compared to the brilliant Unknown Pleasures and Closer, it seems a bit of a rush job with less-than-pure motivations — this holds some weight, although I’d argue as its own thing Still may be more representative of the band as a whole, and that the live half of the double album contains fiery performances wildly joining hard rock, punk, and synth-y goth music.  My first exposure to Joy Division, over thirty years ago now, was hearing “Shadowplay” from Still, and it gave me the metal thunder frights.  It sounded as if Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, Ian Curtis, and Stephen Morris channeled the essence of Fleetwood Mac’s “Green Manalishi” through a punk filter, as they sped to the center of the city in the night.  Even as they rode their wave of goth punk popularity their songs betrayed the band’s primary strength: their music was as much about making connections as alienation, masked and revealed in turns by Curtis’s not-waving-but-drowning lyrics and delivery.

When Curtis made good on the promise of his lyrics a few days after the show, the band pivoted into New Order and went on to define electronic dance music in the 1980s.  It’s a remarkable story of artistic continuity in the wake of tragic change, but the strength of the group’s trajectory even before Curtis’s death can be found on Still and on “Isolation” in particular.  Stripped of producer Martin Hannett’s carnivalesque studio tweaks, the song’s live incarnation has a punch lacking on Closer, with Sumner’s keyboards threatening to submerge Curtis’s plaintive singing, and Hook’s and Morris’s stripped bass-and-beat backbone out-crafting Kraftwerk.  The big guitars so much a part of their origins were yielding to distilled, synth-led rhythmic and melodic lines.  While “Isolation” would sit comfortably next to its future cousin, the New Order calling card “Blue Monday,” it remains a place of passage rather than a destination, a liminal space aglow with potential.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

Left Hand Path

“This is so hardcore”, responded one of my colleagues at work. At that time, ‘Left Hand Path’ CD was running in my Jeep stereo. So, along with the engine, ignition turned on some Swedish death metal also. My usual reflex is to adeptly switch the channel, but he insisted on listening. Perception is really an evolutionary product; going headlong into the margins of a genre might just inspire bewilderment, not fascination. So, without that musical context, he was also quite puzzled about the incoherent riffs and that defiant buzz saw guitar sound.

Early death metal is a blend of punk like structures with melodic guitar. But, 90s Swedish scene exhibits significantly more punk influences. Someone evolving from hardcore punk to metal would certainly find Entombed and Dismember more familiar than Obituary. One of the main hurdles to grasping Entombed is also that punk like dissonance. It’s that same dissonance which separates Slayer from Metallica, and also Motörhead from Judas Priest.

Pitch and tempo progressions will sound chaotic; it sort of contradicts our mental conception of melody. These compositions will simply not progress in those familiar comforting directions. 80s crossover thrash also seems to be a part of this whole cross-pollination. They illustrate similar blast beat and riff patterns, but with significantly less speed and distortion. In fact, last month D.R.I played at SF, and it was difficult to ignore the striking similarity across these seemingly different genres.

Entombed’s first two records are absolute death metal classics. Especially ‘Left Hand Path’, it’s an unrelenting train of melodic guitar hooks, heavy down tuned riffs, exploding drums and deep growls. Even the leads are down tuned and always layered with grinding riffs. But, in between endless growls and distant echoing screams — almost like an accident – we have a full total of two seconds of desperate clean vocals. Undoubtedly, lyrics are even more morbidly tailored, and intended to finish off anyone who does manage to survive this buzz saw assault.


Within this broad genre, Entombed is an icon. I had actually weathered 60 miles of rain storm and flu on a weekday night to see them live. A relatively small venue, crowd was sparse and probably not more than a few dozen. Set list was dominated by songs from their first two records – it was an absolute head-banging feast. Swedish death metal legends, tiny venue, and tickets priced at an affordable $19 — the perks of listening to sounds not many care about.

IMAGE Attribution:

By commons: Lilly Lilly Mreal name: Małgorzata Miłaszewska (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

soundstreamsunday: “Marquee Moon” by Television

television-2Even with an acknowledgment that the guitar crossroads intersect and break and branch through Jimi Hendrix, there’s not an over-regard for Hendrix’s impact on New York punk in the 1970s.  But, in his quick transition from darling of the London psychedelic blues scene back to an American identity, in an atmosphere where racial politics and music were increasingly conflated in the funk and jazz musics of the late 1960s, Hendrix was central in the rise of a “street” culture that demanded a breaking of barriers of race and class.  While he outraged critics with his national anthem at Woodstock, he inspired a generation who saw in it both brutal truth and lovely homage, and as he spent his last summer building his Electric Lady studio in Greenwich Village, his presence as a New Yorker was inspiring to the small cadre of poets, visual artists, and musicians who would evolve into the New York punk scene.  To the members of the band that would become Television, Hendrix was proof that the electric guitar could continue to break ground, and that to do that you had to be uncompromising (this is probably the real ethic that links Hendrix to the punks).

It could certainly be argued that Television’s classic album Marquee Moon, a monument of guitar virtuosity that inspired players of all genres, is hardly a punk album in the same sense that, say, Ramones is a punk album.  But they both represent a culture that was inclusive enough to count among its members Lou Reed, Patti Smith, the New York Dolls, Blondie, and Talking Heads, and that inspired some of England’s most established progressive rock musicians, particularly Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, and Robert Fripp.  Marquee Moon‘s title song is representative of the record as a whole: guitarists Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine intertwine their playing like a Picasso-esque version of Duane and Dicky, it’s all angles, and with a dry production that lets Billy Ficca’s drums and Fred Smith’s bass pop in the mix.  As well, Verlaine’s approach to singing was revolutionary for its time, his high, nervy vocal delivering its Bowery poetics atop the killer riffs.  Both arty and danceable, this is the rock and roll truth, and, working within and at times breaking the boundaries and burdens of Hendrix’s legacy, it again transformed the possibilities and future of guitar-based music.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

soundstreamsunday: “Maybe the people would be the times or between Clark and Hilldale” by Love

love1967In 1966-1967 Los Angeles was Arthur Lee’s dark kingdom.  Brian Wilson owned the sun, Jim Morrison traveled the other side, and while the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield gave L.A. its folkie hippie face, Lee’s band Love fashioned a punk muzak masquerade that fifty years on will still not relent.  Their capstone album, 1967’s Forever Changes, is one of the handful of perfect rock records, but it is a difficult masterpiece, borne of a drug-addled band falling apart on the heels of some minor pop success (thanks to their cover of Bacharach/David’s “My Little Red Book” and the blazing protopunk of “7 and 7 Is”), as their chief admirers and competitors the Doors were surpassing them in popularity, commercially beating them at their own game.  Forever Changes is not instantly recognizable for what it is, and its easy melodic beauty — indebted to the Tijuana Brass, smooth jazz, and surf instrumentals — supports a poetry far more complex and subtle than anyone else in rock was writing at the time, save perhaps Van Morrison.

Forever Changes really began with Love’s second album, Da Capo (1966), its first side moving away from the Byrds influence so evident on their first LP (as good as that record is), towards a baroque fusion of Spanish-inflected pop jazz mixed with fierce punk aggression.  By the time they came to record Forever Changes in the summer of 1967, Lee had refined this sound to create, with the band’s other songwriter, Bryan MacLean, a seamless set of 11 songs beginning with the plaintive loneliness of “Alone Again Or” and concluding with a rumination on the album’s title in “You Set the Scene.”  Engineer and co-producer Bruce Botnick (known primarily for his work with the Doors, labelmates to Love on Jac Holzman’s groundbreaking Elektra Records), who had produced the band’s two previous records, has been credited with motivating the band to record, and in creating the album’s sonic consistency.  The airy breeziness of the tunes and Lee’s at times affected vocal approach are often in stark contrast, and yet ultimately work with, the grim lyrical themes — mortality, war, racial division (Lee and guitarist Johnny Echols were black men in a very white rock scene), broken love — and the words are so deftly written and rendered that there is no belaboring the evident point: the Summer of Love is bullshit.  These kind of dynamics create a layered masterwork that sustains prolonged discovery.  Forever Changes is a slow grower, it reveals itself over time, but once its hooks are in it will not let go.  I think it’s interesting that while the album tanked in America it hit #24 in Great Britain in 1968, and can be seen as being influential on both British progressive and punk rock.  It’s no mistake that it was in London that Lee so successfully revived the album as a live performance in 2003, the recordings from which demonstrate the undiminished power of the songs (and, surprisingly given his rough life, Lee’s chops).

“Maybe the people would be the times or between Clark and Hilldale” opens side two of Forever Changes and contains in its three and a half minutes a snappy, bass-and-brass driven portrait of the transience of life — the comings and the goings and the intersections — surrounding the Whiskey a Go Go and the Sunset Strip, the heart of Love’s Los Angeles.  Others feel more confident in their interpretations of the song, but it makes me feel good because wrapped inside this sunny tune, where at one glorious moment in the break Lee doubles the trumpet as if he’s Tony Bennett, there is room for thought and contemplation, and even if I can’t say for certain what was going through Arthur Lee’s mind when he wrote the words, perhaps that’s what makes this and other of Love’s songs feel so universal.

*Above image: Love, the Forever Changes lineup, in 1967. (l-r) Michael Stuart-Ware, Ken Forssi, Arthur Lee, Bryan MacLean, and Johnny Echols.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

soundstreamsunday: “I Can’t Stand It” by the Velvet Underground

392585-velvet-undergroundOutside the fact both groups employed players of a violin/viola in their lineups at one time or another, and possessed songwriters of legend, you’d be hard pressed to find common ground for Fairport Convention, last week’s soundstreamsunday feature, and the Velvet Underground.  But in an imaginary Venn diagram of live rock jams from otherwise non-jammy groups circa ’68-’72, Fairport’s scratchy, chugging take on “Matty Groves” would share a noisy, electric segment of that interlocking circle with V.U.’s live work during the same period.  In 1969 the Velvets, with aforesaid violist/bassist John Cale one year gone and a third album released (The Velvet Underground), recorded a handful of shows in Texas and San Francisco, showing an energetic, touring rock outfit whose songs of hustlers, dopers, and beloved Factory freaks worked even without Cale’s avant-garde contributions.  Indeed, Cale’s replacement Doug Yule, doubling on organ, more than adequately filled in Cale’s creeped-out carnival viola drone. The tapes — unreleased until 1974’s 1969: Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed (the full two-night run at San Francisco’s Matrix was released in 2015 in pristine glory and it is mind-blowing) — like the rest of their music, hold the seeds of punk.  But beyond that, the jams they insert, not part of the studio versions, have a live inventiveness and melodic sensibility that rank among the finest of their long-haired time.  On “I Can’t Stand It” — in its studio incarnation a proto pop-punk nugget of the variety the band could so effortlessly summon — the band opens up space for an extended guitar section that takes cues from Jim McGuinn’s intro to “Eight Miles High” and pushes its Coltrane-inspired riffing into the stratosphere. Mo Tucker’s relentless pounding and Yule’s bass background the song, never allowing the guitars of Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison to disintegrate into wandering exploration.  This is a lean-and-mean live band unharried by the legend they would become (Tucker has even noted that on this tour audience members would tell her they couldn’t even find the band’s albums for sale), at a time when rock-n-roll was meant to be rough around the edges, and maybe even exact a toll.

*Above image, Doug Yule, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Mo Tucker, 1969.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.


soundstreamsunday: “Winter Song” by Screaming Trees and “Whirling Dervish” by Thin White Rope

deserttruckstop-rightmid-1Years before the hybrid of classic rock and distorted garage psychedelia and punk became the legendary  Grunge that vanquished the Hair Metal Dragon in the early 1990s, Screaming Trees and Thin White Rope plied their trade in relative obscurity and penury.  Even as “punk broke” in America and they were afforded greater opportunity for exposure, as groups they had already cycled through lineup changes and masterwork albums, and the timing for broad success never really synced.  Yet you can sight through the lens of their recorded legacy an understanding of what Grunge in America was, where it came from, what it meant, how it drew upon American roots music, acknowledging what Greil Marcus called the “old, weird America,” of everything from 13th Floor Elevators and Neil Young to the folk revival of the 1960s to the hillbilly/race records of the 1920s and 1930s.  The references aren’t always apparent, but they’re embedded in the dust devils Thin White Rope appeared through and the rain-soaked northwestern pines the Screaming Trees turned dayglo.

By the time Screaming Trees came to record Sweet Oblivion (1992), they were already five albums deep into a psych rock career stamped by Gary Lee Conner’s guitar raveups and Mark Lanegan’s authoritative, rumbling wail.  On their sixth album, though, there was a changeup:  the band, with new drummer Barrett Martin, followed the Americana-nuanced maturity evidenced on Lanegan’s first solo album, 1990’s The Winding Sheet (a record that had a profound influence on Seattle’s rock scene and on Nirvana particularly — Kurt Cobain was a contributor on that record and Dave Grohl has commented that it had a big impact on their approach to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged performance).  On Sweet Oblivion, the band set their controls to the heart of the West, making the followup to 1991’s excellent Uncle Anesthesia a harder yet subtler, less ornate affair.  Gone were the psychedelic trappings, in their place a clutch of straight-up riff rockers and ballads, going deep by going personal rather than into the purple, foggy haze.  Beginning to end a great record that to this day sounds distinct and powerful listened to alongside Nevermind or Ten or Temple of the Dog or Superunknown or Dirt, Sweet Oblivion just never took off, and to my mind the greatest of Seattle’s bands never recovered.  “Winter Song” begins and ends with the line “Jesus knocking on my door,” and it’s as fitting an epitaph for a band that shouldabeen that I can think of.

Like Sweet Oblivion, Thin White Rope’s fourth album, Sack Full of Silver (1990), is an American music classic.  Ported through a Television-worthy twin-guitar attack, its power is in the finesse of its six-string thunder and Guy Kyser’s gruff, horror show bark.  It is a record that manages to contain both a cover of Can’s “Yoo Doo Right” AND a 7-11 parking lot rewrite of “Amazing Grace” and makes them work as if they absolutely belong on the same album.  Along with guitarist Roger Kunkel, Kyser’s vision of 1980s western America on Sack Full of Silver — highways and truck stops and stoned mirage images — is fully realized, but feels like it could have as easily been recorded, had the technology been possible, in the 1850s, with a mix of frontier terror and mundane everyday life.  Profound, pounding, and heavy, Sack Full of Silver is the distillation of all that Thin White Rope brought to rock.  As opaque as any of their songs, but endlessly interesting for it, “Whirling Dervish” is ostensibly about detritus caught in a duststorm, and may as a consequence be ultimately descriptive of all of us.

Sweet Oblivion on Amazon

Sack Full of Silver on Amazon

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