"Loud As Ever" collection captures a time and place

loud as ever coverLoud As Ever – Various Artists (Sound As Ever)

Every generation of music lovers grows up thinking its era was the best. So it goes with those who ploughed through puberty in the ‘90s, a time now digitally immortalised  (as all things are) by a Facebook page, “Sound As Ever”, dedicated to Australian independent music from 1990-99.

“Sound As Ever” is a snapshot of what life looked and sounded like on the fringes of Australian music in the ‘90s. It has an audience of 72,000 Facebook users after just a year. Like any retrospective, some of what’s thrown up is gem-like and some is shite.

Personally, the ‘90s were a letdown: Once the tidal wave of grunge had subsided, it left a lot of mediocrity on the surface and it seemed there wasn’t much Real Rock and Roll left. Bands like the Powder Monkeys and New Christs that were grossly underappreciated at the start of the decade criminally remained so at the end.

Industrial strength riffage from one of Melbourne's best

waiting in a corner coverWaiting in a Corner - Jackson Reid Briggs and the Heaters (Legless Records)

Ever since The Enlightenment pulled away the fig-leaf of irrationality of religious justification, we’ve convinced ourselves that there is some rational basis for existence, some ultimate purpose to which we are cleaving, some end game of cognitive understanding.

Along the way there have been heated philosophical disputes, heresy trials, corrupted social policy programs, perverse economic theories and the same merry go-round of war, peace, famine and indulgence that has always characterised human history. No wonder Jean Paul Sartre decided to raid the top shelf of his local pharmacy in an amphetamine-ravaged attempt at deconstructing it all.  

Does existentialism belong in rock’n’roll?  According to the press release, Melbourne’s Jackson Reid Briggs and the Heaters’ new album, “Waiting in a Corner”, “explores the idea of waiting and searching for something that isn’t specific. Just a sense of something coming".

Detroit label puts out the trash - again

trash brats self titledTrash Brats – Trash Bats (I-94 Recordings)

Summa you cool kids might remember I-94 Records out of Detroit (as opposed to I-94 Bar Records out of Sydney, Australia) as the dead savvy tastemakers behind those vital and volatile “Drunk On Rock” compilations. The label introduced loads of underground punk-roll bands, as well as essential full-length releases by Cranford Nix Jr. and the Malakas, the Trash Brats and B-Movie Rats. They are back with the highly influential debut of the Trash Brats first album, previously only available on cassette. In the 80's.

Trash Brats were the most important punk band in the Midwest - part NY Dolls, part Candy, part Teenage Head, poppy, melodic, fun, with notoriously crazy shows known for big energy and wild abandon. Appealing to fans of Sloppy Seconds, Hanoi Rocks, the Dickies, and the Ramones, a Trash Brats concert was where small-town kids travelled to shake ‘n’ shimmy, to get fucked up and jump up and down, try out all their kookiest Alien Sex Fiend and Bat Cave makeup, and to meet all your favorite, lifelong, goth girl pen pals.

Blue collar contrasts make for an enjoyable trip

candy coated cannonball coverCandy Coated Cannonball – Jeremy Porter and the Tucos (GTG Records)

Detroit Rock was never just about the MC5 and the Stooges. Ask a Michigan native and they’re just as likely to nominate Kid Rock or techno as defining. Don’t even start anyone aged over 50 talking about Motown and the myriad of soul labels that sprang up in the ‘60s.

Jeremy Porter and the Tucos sound like none of the above. With origins in the city’s punk underground, the trio’s sound is a mix of power-pop, roots rock, alt-country and twangy blue collar garage. The title of their fourth album, “Candy Coated Cannonball”, is a misnomer – the album’s neither overwhelmingly sticky-sweet or explosive.

“Put You On Hold” is a super opener, a heady burst of gritty guitar, warm Hammond B3 and Porter’s emphatic vocal. It’s a rocking song and a juxtaposition, of sorts, that’s apparent in a lyric like: “Time flies by when the conversation is slow.”

The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs return with a blast

one more drinkOne More Drink – The Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs (Dead Beat Records)

Eighteen years after their last record and a quarter of a century since they formed, the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs have roared back to deliver their best yet. A baker’s dozen songs, overflowing with guitar power and pop hooks. “One More Drink” kicks harder than a toddler with a tooth-ache having a sugar-deprived tantrum in the confectionery aisle of a supermarket.

The Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs might be named for the Stooges but they’re from Los Angeles, a shiny and often cruel place that coincidentally did the Dum Dum Boys no favours, but they mix so many influences you might wonder which box to put them in. Don’t bother. There’s punk,Motor City jams, Cheap Trick-style pop and new wave, mixed in with Motorhead-flavoured metal, boogie rock and speedcore.

When Wayne Kramer was in the ascendancy as a solo artist in the early ‘90s, the Cheetahs were his touring support and backing band for a spell. Five studio albums, two live records, a split with the BellRays, singles with Cherie Curie and Deniz Tek, and another EP were the fruits of their hard slog before splitting in 2002. 

Familiar and still fun, The Fleshtones deliver again

face of the screeaming werewolfFace of the Screaming Werewolf – The Fleshtones (Yep Roc)

The Fleshtones always were always out of step with the rest of the pack . Rarely acknowledged in the same breath as the rest of the Class of CBGB partly because they didn’t pander to tastemakers and partly because they arrived from out of town and were slightly late, they were as guilty as any of their peers for washing up on the barren shores of over-indulgence at the expense of mainstream success. So it is that they’ve remained in their own universe for decades now. But they still deliver.

The Fleshtones really do exist on their own terms. They live for the road. They make great records with a touch of eccentricity. They’ve always soaked up classic influences (British invasion, blueswailin’ R&B, garage rock, soul and more) like a sponge to spit them back out like they invented them. There are other bands doing the same thing but few so it so well, or deliver a show.

Psychedelic savagery, deadpan destructions and grooviness

days of swine and rosesDays of Swine and Roses – Pigasus (Pigasus)
Cautionary Tales - Tim Hudspith and Goldentone (Dead Letter Records)
Dirty Paws - Swamp Kitteh (Swamp Kitteh)

All of these folks take me to that small area around Grote Street near Victoria Square in Adelaide, where so much of my life has been spent. Right near the Central Market, Her Majesty's Theatre (where I still remember Willner and Mingus's production of “Tommy” - the stage door was across Pitt Street from my boss's old shop); the Antique Market (where I alternately froze and steamed in amongst the pigeons and dusty volumes for nearly 20 years, formerly Wiggy's Auction Rooms); the recently established Broadcast Bar and the Metro, where I've seen all of the above bands.

All of these place’s are within a stone's throw. You'd think I'd be sentimental.

Not a bit of it.

These three CDs could be the veriest trash, fit only to throw at lepers (and my goodness, our current PM seems to have a collection of those in his Cabinet these days, doesn't he...)

Igneous rock

ultramafic coverUltramafic – Sonny Vincent (self released)

 Ultramafic: An igneous rock with a very low silica content and rich in minerals such as hypersthene, augite, and olivine.

This is a short run of 12-inch vinyl, each copy with its own bespoke, hand-painted artwork. They were put together for a series of art exhibitions in Switzerland, New York City, Holland, Germany and France about 10 years ago. It will look great on your wall and sound devastating on your turntable.

The music was recorded by Sonny Vincent and various bands from 1976 onwards – much of it in tiny studios while on endless tours of Europe and the USA. Some of it has been heard in other versions.

The line-ups include Vincent’s Max’s and CBGB staples, Testors, as well as members of Rocket From The Crypt, Sonic Youth, The Damned, the Stooges, Dead Boys, the Velvet Underground. There’s even an appearance by Ernie Knapp, a guy who drummed for Charles Manson as well as the Beach Boys (I shit you, not.)  Don’t expect polish. It’s all uncompromisingly raw, but always passionate.

Exhumation of an album gone wrong casts new light

always the bridegroomAlways the Bridegroom – John Kennedy’s Love Gone Wrong (Foghorn)

This 1987 album was a much-maligned chapter in Sydney artist John Kennedy’s back pages. For a few understandable reasons. The first long-player for Kennedy and his then-band, Love Gone Wrong, got a mixed critical reaction. Its sonic character rankled the band leader, and it presaged the line-up’s dissolution.

The story’s all there in Kennedy’s breezy liner notes (“The Album That Killed My Career”) and a few things stick out: The band was a relatively new line-up and lacked confidence. They’d tried too hard in preceding demo sessions that failed to raise interest from major labels, and the studio approach for the album’s recording killed any prospect of a vibe by using a click track to guide drummer Vince Sheehan.

There's logic in this meeting of Doom and Punk

caveman logic the limitCaveman Logic – The Limit (Svart Records)

Trust me on this if you haven’t heard the evidence first-hand: Sonny Vincent’s music punches harder than just about anyone else in the same space.

When those histories of New York punk are written, he and his late-’70s band Testors are never mentioned. Testors didn’t play well with others, in the “industry” sense, and never climbed off the lower rungs of the Max’s-CBGB ladder. History gets written by the few and it’s the way that Vincent has kept the torch of dirty, street-level, rock and roll burning since that really deserves credit.

For 40 years, Sonny’s been punk rock’s ultimate networker, working with members of The Damned, the Stooges, MC5, the Velvet Underground, The Replacements, Dead Boys and too many more to count, always with a vision that’s equal parts visceral power and lingering melody.  

I-94 Bar