I have a few Nitzer Ebb 12″ singles and a CD or two. They’ve felt like one of those bands I needed to explore more deeply, but for whatever reason I never seemed to get around to picking up more of their stuff. That changed last week, however, when my copy of 1982-2010 The Box Set arrived. Released in October 2018 by Pylon, I ran across a mention of it online and realized this was the opportunity I’d been waiting for, even before I knew it existed.
There are two versions of the set. The first includes the band’s five albums between That Total Age (1987) and Big Hit (1994), each re-packaged as a 2XLP and chock full of remixes and bonus tracks, all on black vinyl. It also contains a 28 page gloss book about the band, all of it packaged into a sturdy slipcase. The slightly more expensive version ($20 more) includes all of the above plus Nitzer Ebb’s 1983 Basic Pain Procedure, all on colored vinyl and limited to only 500 copies. I went with the latter, not so much because of the colored vinyl or limited nature, but because for $20 extra I wanted to have Basic Pain Procedure. I’m glad I made that decision, because Basic Pain Procedure kicks ass, with synths straight out of the Terminator soundtrack and cymbal crashes that remind me more than a bit of Peaches (and of course pre-dating both). Throw in elements of Dead Kennedys and Warsaw and you have something truly astounding.
At $210, 1982-2010 The Box Set isn’t cheap. But compared to many box sets I’ve seen, and even a few I’ve bought, the value is clearly here. With eleven records worth of music, including plenty of remixes and extras, you’re getting a lot of great stuff and all of it in a nice package to boot. My only complaint, such as it is, is the lack of digital downloads, which would have made a nice addition. Definitely worth the money, though, especially if you’re like me and don’t already have a bunch of these albums.
Most of the time I dig at Half Price Books I come away empty handed. But every now and again there’s something interesting hidden in there among all the beat up Chicago and Gordon Lightfoot records. Something that leaves you scratching your head and thinking, “how did that get here?” One of those albums was this 1982 UK Daevid Allen release Divided Alien Playbax 80. I bought it because it seemed weird. I didn’t realize at the time that Allen was also part of Gong and New York Gong, not that that would have necessarily impacted my decision. But these random connections both surprise and intrigue me.
Like New York Gong, Divided Alien Playbax 80 has a certain avant garde-ness to it, albeit in a different way, brining more synths, electronics, and tape looping to the recording. Much of side A is given over to brief vignettes, the longest of which clocks in at just over two minutes. The album is bookended with a pair of extended jams, opening with the eight minute “When” and closing with the nine minute “Smile”. Much of it is instrumental and when there are vocals they tend to be something strange. The whole thing is a bit hard to wrap your head around. If I’m picking favorites I’d probably go with “Disguise” and “Bodegas”, the later of which sort of reminds me of my Argentinian friends Farmacia.
Fast Forward To Hell……. is a 1987 label comp from Metalworks featuring thrash and speed metal bands from England and Germany. Seven bands, ten songs, and a whole lot of speed and power. High points include Angel Dust’s “Legions of Destruction” and Necronomicon’s “Possessed By Evil”. The recording quality is variable – a few tracks sound more like demos that were recorded in someone’s practice space, though most are at least adequate.
I’ll definitely be on the lookout for albums by these German bands when I’m in Berlin this summer. Looks like most of the Germans have had their 1980s albums re-released in the last few years, so while I’ll try for OG pressings it looks like I should have some luck one way or the other.
I’m not sure what to make of Good As Gold. OWT was the partnership of harpist (yes, I said harpist) Zeena Parkins and percussionist David Linton. The pair also brought some keyboards, digital, and even tape looping skills to the project, which in many ways feels like some kind of bizarre free-jazz-meets-no-wave thing. Experimental? Yeah. Thought provoking? Definitely. Enjoyable? Well… it’s challenging. The compositions have quasi-structures, but there’s so much happening that the listener never gets comfortable, which may well be the point. “Dream Mint” is my favorite piece, something a bit more restrained with some intriguing electronic elements thrown in for good measure.
Johnny Cash is one of those truly rare musicians who not only have come to define a genre but to also have massive cross-over appeal and popularity even with people who claim to hate that genre. While I realize it’s overly simplistic to refer to Cash as a country artist, arguably that’s the style he’s best known for, and whether you’re a metal-head, a fan of classical, or anything in between, everyone can seem to agree on Cash’s stature and merit. If you only have one country album, it’s probably by Johnny Cash. The other musician who can make the same claim is Bob Marley, who defined reggae for multiple generations of music fans. It seems like everyone has owned a copy of Legend at some point in their lives, or at the very least heard it. The only other person I can think of along these lines is Pavarotti, who is the one opera singer that most people can at least name. But my guess is most people have never owned or heard an Pavarotti album and likely couldn’t tell the difference between his version of “La Donna È Mobile” from Placido Domingo’s “Nessun Dorma”, so I’m not sure he counts. Pretty much everyone knows at least one Johnny Cash song.
One of the things Cash was famous for was his prison concerts. He had an empathy for men who found themselves behind bars. While there’s a myth that Cash too spent time in prison, the truth is more that he had a number of run-ins with the law and spent a few overnights in jail, but that’s it. Regardless, he connected with the cons and his “Folsom Prison Blues” is one of his most popular and well-known songs. I’m stuck in Folsom Prison / And time keeps draggin’ on…
I snagged this 2010 re-release of At Folsom Prison the other day, figuring it was about time that I listened to some of Johnny’s live material. It opens with his trademark, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”, then immediately launches into “Folsom Prison Blues”. You can hear the prisoners cheer when he laments I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, and a again when he calls out the guards with a pig call of Sooie! It’s clear they love him. The songs at this show were picked to resonate with the inmates, like “25 Minutes To Go” chronicling the last 25 minutes of a condemned man’s life and “Cocaine Blues” with its tales of drugs and arrests. He has an easy rapport with the audience, all the more so due to his baiting of the guards and prison administrators.
At Folsom Prison sounds great. I like that they left in some of Cash’s talking as well as some of the stage announcements by the prison staff, letting individuals in the crowd know that they needed to report here or there on various prison business. It’s a great collection of lesser known songs played simply, with the emphasis on Cash’s voice.