Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Heater's "Temporary Power"

The first time I laid eyes on Heater, they were playing the outside stage at Lola's. Matt Hembree was standing next to me. We looked at each other and said, "Husker Du!" (Your referents might be different, but we are old.) Unlike a lot of young bands who seem to conflate surf, garage, and punk, the dudes in Heater draw primarily (and primally) on '80s punk progenitors, and cut their aggression -- exemplified by the Josh Lindsay-Jamie Shipman rhythm section's raging tempos and Travis Brown's raw-throated bark -- with melody, which comes at you fast and furious via Travis and Adam Werner's thrashed and scraped guitars. Austin-based Twistworthy Records released a 7-inch on these guys back in 2017. Since then, they've digitally released a compilation track and now this three-song EP, recorded and mixed in Travis' living room. Do-it-yourself catharsis should always sound so powerful. Heater's exhilarating energy pulls you in, pummels you, and leaves you wanting to prolong the pounding.

Friday, January 25, 2019


Speaking of my buddy Geoff from Philly, we were talking today about extreme volume in rockaroll. I've always maintained that if you start by turning up your amp until you can feel your solar plexus vibrating, you can't go wrong. Geoff takes it a step further: "If the volume is high enough, the music can get into your soul."

As if to prove his thesis, hot on the heels of their 2018 debut, CHORD -- the electric guitar duo of Nick Didkovsky (Doctor Nerve, Eris 136199) and Tom Marsan (Delta Garage, The Handler's Hand) -- just released a second installment in their ongoing exploration of the sonic possibilities of electric guitars and amplifiers driven to the outer limit of their capacity. Imagine a detail from a Sleep or Melvins song in extreme closeup (in the same way as those bands are like ECU re-imaginings of Black Sabbath's dark and durable sound), or the logical extension of the work of NYC noisicians Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham, and you'll have an idea of what's going on here.

Initially, the sound can be overwhelming. But listen to CHORD II long enough and you'll notice shades of detail and nuance amid the droning sturm und drang. On the opening "Signal," jarringly abrasive chords (starting with Hendrix's beloved augmented 9th and going progressively farther out) lay the groundwork for swooping feedback howls and shrieks, raging harmonics, and splintered shards of melody. The effect is curiously cleansing -- an atonal exorcism you could use (as Amiri Baraka once wrote of Trane's Ascension) to heat up the house on cold days.

"Our Or Us" begins with pealing midrange tones like tolling bells that multiply echolalically to serve as the launching pad for rapid-fire, high-register pummeling (the heritage of "Sister Ray" and Sonny Sharrock audible here). "Dust" is a shorter piece that's quiet and moody, but maintains an undertow of menace, segueing into "It Fails Me," which begins in a meditative manner that gradually gives way to increasing agitation -- like Sonic Youth at their most exploratory -- building to an intensity that fades abruptly to feedback wisps. "Yellowing" is the tour de force here, a Wagnerian blast of amplifier worship. (Funny: In recent years, I've come to realize that childhood exposure to Strauss and Wagner -- my old man's faves -- at pain-threshold volume actually prepared me for the Who and Hendrix.) "A Retreat from God" ends things on a surprisingly lyrical note, like "flying brick wall"-era King Crimson in repose.

A bold and bracing spin that's also surprisingly varied. Physical CDs are available from Didkovsky's label Punos Music (link above) or Bandcamp, where you can also obtain digital downloads.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Jim Lea's "Therapy"

Jim Lea was the quiet guy in the loudest band I ever heard.

That band was Slade, for whom Lea was the bassist-violinist-songwriter. I got my coat pulled to them (and Monty Python's Flying Circus) by a kid who returned at the beginning of 9th grade from a year he'd spent in the UK with his parents. I read the coverage of Slade's rabble-rousing ramalama in Greg Shaw's "Juke Box Jury" column in Creem, and Melody Maker (once the record store I'd later work in started carrying it), and bugged my future boss to order their records. I was one of two people on Long Island at the time who loved them beyond all reason, the other being a guy whom we called "Slade Kid" when he came in the store and used words like "coalescence" to describe the trainwreck clusterfuck at the beginning of "Keep On Rocking," which led off the second side of Slade Alive! (I never learned his real name, but I think his parents were college professors.)

I witnessed Slade's performance at NYC's Academy of Music in the spring of '73, at the bottom of a bill with the J. Geils Band and Frampton's Camel. The Noo Yawk audience hated them; the cries of "FUUUUUUCK YOU!" from the balcony were unmatched until the one (directed at WNEW-FM jock Scott Muni) that actually made it into the live broadcast of what would be released as Climax Blues Band's FM Live, although not the subsequent record. In Slade's case, however, the catcalls were totally obliterated by Slade's massive volume (corroborated by Thom "Tex" Edwards, who saw 'em in Texas, but with the same effect), especially after they turned on the siren on their set-closing cover of "Born To Be Wild." Having emerged from a period when ex-Hendrix manager Chas Chandler saw fit to costume them as skinheads (not realizing that racist skins ironically preferred Jamaican music to rockaroll), the silver-suited, proto-glam Slade tottered about the stage on four-inch heels as the mirrors on Noddy Holder's hat and Telecaster sent blinding shafts of light shooting around the room anytime he moved, further enraging the surly crowd. Dave Hill was an even worse guitarist than Mott the Hoople's Ariel Bender, whom I habitually rate as the lamest I ever heard with a name group. But I went home happy (if slightly hearing impaired).

Underneath the football hooligan anthems, you see, Slade's music was finely wrought Beatlesque pop, even including the occasional diminished chord, and self-effacing Jim Lea was its architect. At the end of their 25-year run, Lea and Holder left Slade, although the rump of the band continues touring even today. Lea sold real estate, obtained a psychology degree, was treated for prostate cancer, served as a caregiver for his Alzheimer's-suffering father. He'd make the odd solo single, and originally released Therapy digitally via his website in 2007. It was subsequently re-released on CD and vinyl by Wienerworld in 2016, but I would never have heard of it if I hadn't reconnected with my buddy Geoff from Philly, who's responsible for more one-liners I habitually quote than anyone since '65-'66 Dylan.

I first encountered Geoff Ginsberg online some 20 years ago, and we bonded over our mutual admiration for the Stooges and their fellow Michigan rocker Scott Morgan. Geoff had a label, Real O Mind, on which he released some 7-inches and CDs by Morgan's various groups, as well as good stuff by Nashville songwriter Tim Carroll's NYC band the Blue Chieftains, and Streetwalking Cheetah Frank Meyer's project Sweet Justice. We met in the flesh for the first time at a couple of shows Scott Morgan's Powertrane played in the spring of 2002, a week before I got fired from RadioShack. Geoff knows good rock from bad and holds a special affinity for quality songwriting with well-crafted lyrics. (The other band-axis he pulled my coat to was the Yayhoos' Eric Ambel-Terry Anderson-Dan Baird triumverate.) As a listener whose big beef is bands with distinctive sonic signatures but no memorable songs, I'm open to his recommendations. When we reconnected earlier this month after a couple of years, his parting comment (after an hour on the phone) was, "Jim Lea's Therapy is like Pet Sounds if it was a John Lennon solo album!" My interest was piqued, and the CD appeared on my front porch a few days later. Thanks, Geoff!

Like Chris Butler's Got It Togehter! from last year, Therapy is a rock record Soren Kierkegaard would understand. Kierkegaard is, of course, the Danish philosopher who once wrote, "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." That's right, this is old person rock, but if you'd pass it up on that basis (ageism being the new "last acceptable prejudice," in this era when people in my age cohort apparently think that you don't get "old" until your 70s -- our fear-based denial of death is comical), then oh well, more for me. I mean, if you grew up expressing yourself through the medium of rock music, how else are you going to say what you have to say about life approaching your seventh decade? (Just this morning I saw that a version of Mott the Hoople is touring this year on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of The Hoople -- admittedly not their best LP, but whatthehell: Ian Hunter will be 80 in June. The operative question becomes, "Wouldn't you, if you could?")

Lyrically, Therapy is, as the title implies, about the whole ball of wax, and sonically, it boasts some surprises. Perhaps Geoff's Pet Sounds comparison came from lead-off track "Heaven Can Wait (For Those Who Pray)," which carries a melody not dissimilar to the one from Brian's similarly-themed "God Only Knows." The swaggering "Big Family" reveals Slade to have been the missing link between the Beatles and Queen that I never noticed they were, with multi-instrumentalist Lea -- who basically plays all the instruments here, except for some added strings and brass and a couple of drum tracks -- employing Dr. May-esque saturated guitar tones. And the lines "You always hurt the one you love / The one you shouldn't hurt at all / It seems to be the way it is / When we love and hate our families" hit home. Hard.

"The Smile of Elvis" covers similar lyrical turf to the latter-day Who's "Real Good Looking Boy" (which I like) and Mick Farren's correcting his '80s shrink, who thought Farren wanted to have sex with Elvis: "No (you damn fool), I wanted to be Elvis Presley." "Deadrock U.K." shows where youthful idolatry can lead, eulogizing a litany of '60s and '70s greats over a chord progression that recalls the Small Faces' "Song of a Baker." "Could God Be A Woman" juxtaposes a surprising rap influence (not for the last time here, either) with string-laden balladry worthy of McCartney or Mercury. "Go Out in Style" pays tribute to Keith Moon in suitably anthemic fashion, replete with thunderous drumming and crashing chords. Slade's '91 swan song single "Universe" gets redone here, where it fits in perfectly with the concept, and Lea proves himself a worthy vocalist, owning the lyrics that Noddy originally sang.

"Time and Emotion" is, of all things, a love song -- sometimes even an introverted navel-gazer can sing one -- while "Your Cine World" takes a drama queen to task; everybody knows at least one. "But needing folks to need you / Simply is not love." In "The Valley of the Kings," Lea's aging rocker remembers past glories in a style reminiscent of mid-'70s Pretty Things, while "Why Is Youth Always Wasted On the Young" looks back wistfully on missed chances and roads not taken -- and name checks the Incredible Hulk! "Notice," another rap-rock hybrid, might be my favorite item here, and carries (for my two cents) Lea's most impactful line: "When  you offer  your tender underbelly / To the sword of experience." Perhaps the closing "Let Me Be Your Therapy" reveals why Lea never pursued a counseling career, post-degree. "Let me be the garbage in the cesspools of your mind," he sings, before concluding, "Let me turn you inside out / Then hit you with my bill."

This being the post-CD era, there are, of course, bonus tracks, and the Wienerworld Therapy is an instance where the 2CD is a better buy than the 2LP, because it gives you a whole 'nother disc of mostly covers (along with two Therapy songs, as well as some Slade songs Lea co-wrote), performed by Lea -- fronting the band and playing a surprisingly Hendrixoid guitar -- with a thrown-together trio at a one-off bar gig back in 2002. It's rough and LOUD (some things never change) and you won't listen to it as often as Therapy, but it's good noisy fun from a guy who's not so quiet after all, and more to the point, has a lot to say.