Guitar Wolf – “Wolf Rock!”

So last weekend I went down to Portland, Oregon to attend the annual beer festival and, of course, shop for records.  We decided to hit up Mississippi Records because on the way day because after hours and hours of relentless stop-and-go traffic we needed a chance to get out and stretch our legs, and getting off the packed highway in north Portland to take the surface streets the rest of the way put us right in the path of Mississippi.

Mississippi Records is both a label and a record store, but make no mistake about it – these folks aren’t tied to a specific genre, style, or philosophy, other than the ideal of bringing all kinds of different music to the people and doing so at very reasonable prices.  They had a large punk section, but also healthy selections of rock, jazz, blues, gospel, folk, bluegrass, metal… hell, if I’d looked long enough, I suspect I’d have come across at least one bin of 1970s Bulgarian Prog Metal Opera.  Which is saying a lot since the shop is pretty small, though I have to admit if I found some of that music I’d feel compelled to check it out.  They had what appeared to be a custom wooden card-catalog (kids, if you don’t know what a card catalog is, go to the library and ask to see one… it’ll blow your mind) type cabinet built for 45s, plus a bunch of cassettes, some of which the woman working there was eagerly recommending to a customer she obviously knew.  This followed the ten minute conversation with the guy working there about what they were going to get for dinner.  I believe they settled on vegan Indian food.

It was early in the trip so I resisted the urge to go hog wild and limited myself to four records, one of which was Guitar Wolf’s Wolf Rock!  If you want to know why I was interested in this record, just look at the cover.  I mean, seriously.  This cover screams rock ‘n’ roll.  Turns out Guitar Wolf is a Japanese rockabilly band, which is every bit as cool as it sounds.  Unfortunately Wolf Rock! is marred by some pretty poor sound quality which, if I’d read the insert, should not have come as a surprise:

YEAH so there’s a lot of NOISE on these tracks, ON these tracks, IN YOUR
HEAD.  If you don’t like it, go fling it out the window and buy some more
ROCKABILLY REVIVAL CDs.  Or real records from some REAL LABEL.
I don’t know where/how these songs were recorded, I don’t know how they
ended up sounding so FUCKED on this Lp, hey I’m not a scientist. I’m
a MORON.

That, my friends, is truth in advertising.

Wolf Rock! sounds like it’s a live recording, though only one track has any discernible applause or crowd noise.  The mix is super low and bass heavy, and the low stuff is distorted a bit it’s so heavy, so unfortunately it’s tough to get a lot out of it and a lot of the songs come out sounding more or less the same.  “Red Rockabilly” was my favorite track, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you why exactly other than that I liked the beat… and it was hard to follow much else.  Which is too bad, because Guitar Wolf sounds like they’re a pretty solid punk-surf-rockabilly outfit.  They’ve got five albums available on iTunes, so I may need to go check out some of their studio stuff and see if it matches what I’m envisioning in my head, and I’ll certainly keep my eyes peeled for some of their other stuff on vinyl in the future.

The Lewd – “Live at the Mabuhay”

The Lewd may very well be the genesis of the Seattle punk scene.  The band opened for The Ramones when they came out to the city in the late 1970s and had a solid local reputation before eventually moving down to San Francisco in an attempt to further their careers.  Remember kids, this was before grunge, when Seattle was kind of a cultural wasteland with no music scene to speak of.  In fact The Lewd were catching on just about the time I moved out here for the first time, though at the ripe old age of six I wasn’t ready for punk yet.  Plus I lived in a town called Issaquah (try to pronounce that if you’re not from the area…) which while all of 15 minutes from Seattle didn’t even have a traffic light.  I didn’t have it in me to get on my big wheel and try to make it to the big city for an all-ages show.  I missed out.

Live at the Mabuhay was recorded live (duh!) at the Mabuhay Gardens on March 1, 1980.  The Gardens was a combination Filipino restaurant slash nightclub that quickly gained a reputation as one of the primary venues for punk and early new wave bands starting in the 1970s.  The sound quality is actually quite impressive for being an early live punk album – it’s a bit bass heavy to be sure, but not so much so that the guitars and vocals get buried down in the mix.  If I had an EQ I could probably get this to sound great, but even without it the balance is good.  The one criticism of the quality is some odd sounds that made me think initially that someone was walking around or dropping something on the roof of my house until I figured out that it was coming from my speakers.  Not sure if what causes it, maybe someone screwing with the mics, but whatever.  Once you know what it is it’s not too distracting.

The Lewd play classic early punk.  Of the eight tracks on side A, only three run longer than two minutes.  They get in, get after it, and get out.  They also include a Cher cover in the form of “Bang Bang”, which is pretty damn good, and one of “Boss Hoss” by Seattle garage proto-punks The Sonics.  The flip side gives us four more live tracks, plus another three songs recorded in studio the same year as this live show.

Good sound quality and great classic punk rock make Live at the Mabuhay a winner.

Record Shopping, Portland Oregon Style

I made the trip south to Portland, Oregon this weekend for the annual beer festival.  Co-piloting was my buddy Norberto, who in addition to being one of my best friends since high school has also traveled to Reykjavik with us for Iceland Airwaves each of the last four years, and is making the trip again this year.  Living in Portland is another of our high school friends, so as an added bonus we had a free place to stay.  We’ve all been friends for long enough that we in fact bought records together at Tower Records when we were in high school back when new releases always came out on both CD and vinyl (and cassette…), before the “dark ages” when vinyl succumbed to its predator the CD and made it onto the endangered species list until making a comeback in recent years.  So while the driving force of this trip was beer, hitting up some record stores was a must.  Basically that means it was just like high school.

Portland has a ton of indie record shops – sources indicate there are about 15 in all.  We only made it three on this trip, though I went to another when I attended the festival last year, so I’m including it on my recap as well.

Mississippi Records
5202 N. Albina Ave

Very cool, small, funky shop.  The selection is broad with decent sections for a wide range of genres.  The punk area may be the biggest, but there’s a strong jazz section as well, and even a few rows of bluegrass.  The store is also a label, so of course you can get their bands there too.  Prices overall were good – nothing seemed particularly high.  I ended up with some random ska comp, a Japanese band called Guitar Wolf, and a 12″ version of the Love Battery EP Between the Eyes that I used to have as the original Sub Pop 10″ release before I lost my mind and traded away all my Sub Pop records (don’t ask).

Everyday Music
1313 W. Burnside Street

We have an Everyday Music in Seattle as well, and like it’s northern neighbor the Portland store has a ton of used vinyl.  The generic rock section is enormous and filled with the usual suspects, but a lot of other genres also have a decent representation.  Prices were good here too – I don’t think I put aside anything due to price alone, and a lot of the brand new releases were less than $20.  I even found another copy of the Datura Blues/Mindless Thuggs record I reviewed previously, which really blew my mind because I figured I’d never see another one (and to make it even crazier, the inserts were different!).  I also found a bunch of copies of Be Bop Deluxe.  Go figure.  I walked out with a few discs, all of which were total shots in the dark, so we’ll see in the upcoming weeks how I fared.

Crossroads Music
3574 SE Hawthorne Blvd

This was the stop of the trip, basically a big used record co-op with stuff from tons of different dealers but all run out of one cash register.  One dealer, fittingly #666, was heavy into punk and metal and had some incredible stuff.  I scored two different live Dead Boys records, a Swell Maps compilation, Fugazi, a new wave EP from early new wave band The Nails, and even another ska comp to add to the one I’d bought earlier at Mississippi.  The pricing overall here was decent, and there were probably more hard-to-find, collectible, and downright scarce records here than anywhere else we went in Portland.  I could have easily stayed for hours if we were hadn’t had other things to do.

2nd Avenue Records
400 SW 2nd Avenue

I didn’t actually make it into 2nd Avenue Records, which is pretty ridiculous considering it’s only a few blocks from where the beer festival was held, but it was awfully hot and we were headed out to dinner so I took a pass.  However, I did visit last year, and I liked it enough that I wanted to make sure to give it an honorable mention because I got some cool stuff there (though I did get some attitude when I asked if The Gun Club would be filed under “Punk” or “Rock”…. apparently it’s under “Rock”… sorry to have offended you by implying they were punk…).  They’ve also got a bunch of shirts and other stuff.  Certainly worth a stop.

I like Portland.  As in I really, really like Portland.  It’s a funky town with lots of stuff going on, and well worth the visit not just for the record stores but also for the food trucks and brew pubs (and the arcade that specializes in old school video games where I tried to relive my glory in Track & Field, making all the way to, but not past, the high jump).  Most of the stores also carry a brochure that maps out all the indie shops in town, and they tend to be grouped together so even if your time is limited you can probably hit a couple.  And while you’re in town, make sure to stop at Cascade Brewing Barrel House and pick up a glass of their Oblique B/W Stout.  You can thank me later.

Meat Beat Manifesto – “Strap Down”

I knew exactly zero about Meat Beat Manifesto when I came across this three song 12″ at Silver Platters the other day in a box filled with electronic, dance, hip hop, and other assorted craziness.  The guy working the counter knew of them and told me this was a cool record, though I was already committed at that point and ready to get it home for a spin.  I still don’t know much about the band, but the one thing I know for sure is they have some killer electronic industrial hip hop.

The three songs on Strap Down are meaty, clocking in at around 19 minutes (longer than a lot of 12 song early punk albums), and all three are quasi different styles.  The title track “Strap Down (Roar of the Underground)” is heavy electronic hip hop.  On the flip side, “Give Your Body It’s Freedom” is the most heavy industrial track on the record, while “Wall to Wall” is the most consistently dance/electronic.  Three or four years ago I would have had nothing to do with this kind of music.  Today I can’t get enough.

Strap Down was released in 1988, a year after Meat Beat Manifesto formed, and if this early work is in any indication I need to find some of their other stuff – it’s got a great industrial sound without being too over the top to the point where you can’t dance to it.

Glamorous Hooligan – “Wasted Youth Club Classics”

The cover fooled me on this one.  I found it in the section Silver Platters dedicated to the recently purchased vinyl collection that used to belong to DJ Masa, and I assumed based on the names of the band and the album, along with the cover photo, that this was probably something punk.  And I was wrong.  But in being wrong and buying this album for the wrong reasons, I ended up winning anyway, because this is some kick ass electronica.

Released in 1994, Wasted Youth Club Classics was partially a response by Dean Cavanagh and his bandmates to the dance club scene evolving at the time, one that often involved expensive tickets to see name DJs, which kept a lot of the younger people from attending.  There is a sense of DIY here, and crediting Robert Anton Wilson on the jacket reverse harkens to The KLF and breaking down the walls of society through discordianism.   They also give thanks to Hunter S. Thompson, the originator of gonzo journalism, which also fits with the overall sense of that Glamorous Hooligan was all about.  I have to admit, though, I find it interesting, odd, and perhaps a little unnerving that it appears a small group of musicians in the UK during the late 1980s/early 1990s seemed so heavily influenced by Robert Anton Wilson.  But I have to give credit where credit is due – the music those groups were putting out is outstanding, so maybe there’s something to it after all…

Musically Wasted Youth Club Classics is a killer double album.  Some of the songs, particularly those on side A, seem more downtempo and not exactly dance floor material, but the tempo picks up on some of the other tracks and there is certainly stuff here that will get you moving.  Side C is absolutely my favorite, and “Stoned Island Estate” is by far my favorite track, with some hip hop style vocals and repeated use of the “We is stoned…” portion of “Stoned Immaculate” by the Doors.

Wasted Youth Club Classics might be the best record buying “mistake” I’ve ever made, and I’m glad I made it.  This is going to get more spins in the future.