Gary Clail/On-U Sound System – “End of the Century Party”

So the other night I was swilling some Jack Daniels and poking around on Discogs.  That can often be a dangerous combination, one that results in me waking up in the morning and wondering, “did I buy some records last night?”  Fortunately I don’t get too crazy when this happens (♠), and my most recent episode only resulted in the purchase of one record for around $11, which included shipping.  I had been looking at Gary Clail‘s page and realized that he was also credited on a  separate page as Gary Clail/On-U Sound System, which is how I came to discover a Clail album I didn’t have – 1989s End of the Century Party.

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This album looks like Clail and producer Adrian Sherwood simply put out an all-call to everyone they knew and invited them to come jam.  Clail gets writer credits on all eight tracks, with Sherwood as co-writer on six of them (credited as A. Maxwell), but form there it’s a mix of performers.  Clail splits vocal duties with Bim Sherman and Andy Fairly, while no less than five different people are credited with playing bass (including Jah Wobble), three on keyboards, and another three on various types of percussion.  It’s a team effort and that comes across in the songs, which vary in their approach to vocalized EDM.

Stylistically End of the Century Party flows between EDM to light industrial to Barmy Army-like Oi! to dub reggae, and Clail sticks to his guns with some politically charged lyrics as he’s wont to do.  It came out at the end of the decade, and also at the end of what I find to be Clail’s best period of work, 1985-89.  Definitely a worthwhile pick-up.

(♠)  Unlike my buddy Greg who, years ago, woke up one morning to find that he had bought a used limousine on eBay.  Fortunately it ran and he made the best out of having it for a bit.

“Seattle… The Dark Side” Comp Tape

seattledarksideGrunge put Seattle on the music map, and don’t think artists from other genres didn’t try to capitalize on the city’s new-found notoriety.  The local hip hop scene never got much respect nationally, at least not until Sir Mix-A-Lot scored a mega-hit with “Baby Got Back” in 1992.  To be fair the Mack Daddy himself scored a couple of Top 10 singles on the US rap chart with “Beepers” and “My Hooptie” off of 1989s LP Seminar (a woefully underrated album, IMO), but outside of Mix, Seattle MCs struggled to get national attention.

The 1993 comp tape, Seattle… The Dark Side was an attempt to ride the “Baby Got Back” wave all the way to shore, a shore they hoped would be populated by bikini-clad ladies and record contracts (except probably for Jazz Lee Alston… I’m guessing she just wanted the contract).  Mix-A-Lot contributed a single to the collection, one of my favorite of his lesser-known tunes “Just Da Pimpin’ In Me,” and also appears on the 3rd Level track “Don’t Play Me.”  His protégée Kid Sensation, who is name-checked in a number of songs on 1988s Swass, also contributes a tune in the form of “Flava That You Can Taste.”

But the highlights are the two singles by E-Dawg, “Drop Top” and “Little Locs,” the two hardest tracks on the collection and the only ones besides Jay-Skee’s “12 Gauge” that approach gangsta territory.  Music tastes are fickle, so who can say why neither of these two found significant success outside the fact that so much of the game was dominated by the whole east coast (New York) versus west coast (Los Angeles) dichotomy.  So unfortunately these fall into that “lost gems” category.  I’m just glad Mix was able to use the influence he had at the time to get these tunes out into the world, because they’re solid.

Victoria’s Bullets – “Victoria’s Bullets”

vicotriasbulletsI picked this up the other day in Minneapolis because it was a local private press, it had a super-cool cover, and it was pretty cheap.  I assumed it was something jazz-like based on the instruments involved (lots of saxophones and flutes), plus the participation of percussionist Fred Masey, but it turned out to be more pop / adult contemporary, with some occasional rock guitar and mid-80s style new wave synths.  Honestly it’s all over the place, and the songs are hard to pin down – there’s a lot going on here, and it makes it hard to identify the framework of the songs.

Victoria’s Bullets came out in 1986 and it feels like it was a bit late to the new wave party, possibly anticipating a direction the music would take, but one that never materialized.  Let me be clear – these four songs are not bad; there’s plenty of musical talent on this record.  The sheer volume of flute playing is impressive for something this poppy, yet it remains subtle enough that it doesn’t run off into a Jethro Tull rabbit hole.  Perhaps the best description I can give is it sounds like an adult contemporary version of Pat Benatar.  An interesting listen, though not one I’m likely to come back to time and time again.

Three Torches – “Hex”

An unexpected CD showed up in my mailbox the other day, a pre-release copy of a new album entitled Hex by a band out of North Carolina called Three Torches.  I’d never heard of them before, and wasn’t expecting anything in the mail from them, but I’m not one to refuse a musical invitation, so into the CD player it went.

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The “About” section of the Three Torches Facebook page describes the band’s sound as “junkyard jazz and latinesque emanating from a scratchy radio in a late model vehicle w/ expired tags,” and I’m definitely buying it.  My guess is the ashtray is full of butts and there are some questionable stains on the upholstery as well, because the music is a bit old-timey and the vocals booze-soaked.    Some songs are of woeful regret and others salsa-esque, all of them calling to mind certain slightly rundown neighborhoods, the kinds where you find the most interesting bars and the greasy spoons that have the best all-day breakfasts, whether you’re just getting started with your day when you walk in at 6AM or just ending it.

Methuselah and Medusa, one-eyed kids and monkeys on your back, they’re the types of things that populate Three Torches’ world.  It’s not a cheery place, and the deliberateness of the strong rhythm section keeps the pace slow like a tired drunk trying to walk a straight line, while the guitar sometimes keeps pace and at others shoots out like an electric boomerang before quacking coming back to the hand that threw it to once again join the beat.  The vocals have a wandering restlessness, with even the more crooning numbers like “Wherever Dreams Go” retaining a certain weariness-of-life, I-can-take-it-or-leave-it quality to them.  It’s music for the perpetually down on their luck, but also for those who achieved a certain level of satisfaction in being able to afford smokes and booze and still have enough game to occasionally bring a like-minded lady home for the evening.

You can check out some of Three Torches’ tracks HERE, a number of which will appear on Hex when it’s released (no official date at this time).

Mystery Date – “Love Collector” and “New Noir”

mysterydatelovecollectorAs I was flipping through the vinyl at Minneapolis’ Extreme Noise Records I had my eyes peeled for any local bands, something I generally try to do when visiting shops in cities outside of Seattle.  The cover of Mystery Date’s New Noir caught my eye, looking all old-timey and mod-ish, and when I learned they were from Minneapolis I made the decision to buy a couple of their records sound unheard.

First up was 2014s Love Collector, which is actually a compilation of the band’s earlier output all squeezed onto one cool white splattered record.  It’s got a lot of pop-punk flavor in a sort of Elvis-Costello-meets-Blink-182 kind of way, uptempo without being fast and with guitar work that runs the gamut from rock to rockabilly.  2015s New Noir, an all-new-material LP, continues with the same general sound, but the pace picked up dramatically.

You can give Mystery Date a listen on their Bandcamp page HERE.  Personally, I’m more partial to their earlier stuff on Love Collector – I find the slightly slower tempo more approachable and conducive to being able to better hear the nuances of their music.