SS – “The Original”

We’re headed back to Japan, this time to take a listen to one of the very earliest hardcore bands of all time, there or anywhere else, SS.  And yes, I know they’re named SS and I know what the Schutzstaffel was and did in the 1930s and 1940s… though I wouldn’t be surprised if the young dudes of the band SS didn’t, at least not in any real sense, when they formed in the 1970s.  Are there racist punk bands?  Yes.  But in the early days of punk using Nazi names and imagery was done for shock value and not advocating fascism or racism, at least it was most of the time.  Feel how you will about it (and I’ll admit it makes me slightly uncomfortable), but that’s pretty accurate.

The Original is a live recording from 1979, though it wasn’t released for the first time until 1984, well after the band broke up.  The original issue was limited to 500 copies, and it was re-released in 2002 on a clear, one-sided(!) 12″ in a limited edition of 900 copies.  Limited editions are, of course, a tricky issue.  Sure, 900 copies of the re-release (the version I have) can very well be considered rare, or at the very least scarce; but if only say 400 people give a crap, then it doesn’t matter, at least not from a value standpoint.  I have no idea how many people care about the re-release of The Original, but you can find copies online for about $15, so that probably tells you what you need to know.

The 12″ is broken down into two tracks, but don’t be fooled – as near as I can tell there are around 18 songs on this record, all of which are counted off Ramones style with a super-fast “1-2-3-4!”  And at only a little over 13 minutes in length, well, you can do the math.  SS plays their songs fast.  This is legit hardcore.  The even wrap it up with a cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” that’s faster than any other version of it I’ve ever heard.  The sound quality is decent for a late 1970s live recording, so if you’re into early hardcore you’ll definitely want to check it out.

Zulutronic – “Mission Zulu One”

I never got into electronic music back in my younger days, though Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane and my friend Tristen are both big fans and they send CDs and recommendations back and forth to one another.  Sometimes I feel like I’m missing something by not listening to this stuff.  I’m not sure if that was in the back of my mind when I was at Silver Platters the other day, or maybe I was just ready for something different after my recent two year exploration of punk, but when I ended up at the counter with my records I was somewhat surprised to find that all but one of my selections were electronic artists that I’d never heard of before.  I’ve done pretty well there recently picking through the DJ Masa collection, finding some great post-punk and industrial, so checking out Masa’s taste in electronic and acid seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

One of those purchases was Zulutronic’s Mission Zulu One.  I won’t lie – the plastic army man on the cover is what initially caught my attention since interesting covers routinely stop me in my tracks.  I’m sure I miss out on a lot of cool stuff that way, especially in electronic since so many of the 12″ releases are in generic, plan jackets, but I can’t help myself; it’s just the way my brain works.  A quick search of the web made Zulutronic sound interesting enough and the price was right, so it was worth a roll of the dice.

Near as I can tell Zulutronic is a project group comprised of German based musician/producers Cem Oral and Roger Cobernuss.  Reviewers online who at least seem to know a lot more about electronic music than I do describe this as mid tempo electro, which sounds about right to my ear.  There are no vocals per se, only various samples and snipits, and even these aren’t prominent on most tracks – it’s about the beats and breaks.  I had this playing while I was doing some chores on Sunday morning (Swiffering the floor, if you must know) and found that Zulutronic had me moving around a bit, and I’ll take any help I can get when I’m sweeping.

The most intriguing part of Mission Zulu One is side C (this is a two record, nine track on the vinyl version), which features both the best and the weirdest songs.  At nearly nine minutes “Evil Zombies in the House” is by far the longest track on the album and in my opinion the coolest.  The beats are great and the vocal samples are more prominent than those in most other tracks, which may be part of the appeal to me.  The other song on this side, “Farma Çörç,” is the shortest at just under three minutes and can be best described as futuristic martial music – it sounds like something you’d hear in a movie set in dystopian future fascist state that uses weird martial music in its ceremonies of state (think Brazil).  It’s disconcerting, to say the least.

In terms of electronic music in general, I have no idea how Mission Zulu One is perceived by fans of the genre.  It sounds pretty damn cool to my newbie ears though – I find that I prefer stuff that has at least a bit of vocal sampling and there’s just enough here to keep me from simply falling into a trance and drooling on myself.

Ólafur Arnalds (with Arnór Dan Arnársson) – Live in Seattle @ Benaroya Hall 9/27/13

We spotted Ólafur Arnalds on the lineup for Seattle’s annual Decibel Festival, but because my wife was traveling for business that week and not returning home until the afternoon of the show we figured we probably wouldn’t make the show.  But when we found out a week ago that our friend Arnór Dan Arnársson of Agent Fresco fame was coming to town to perform some vocals for Arnalds, reprising his role on For Now I Am Winter, that changed everything.  Tickets were purchased, plans were made.

Arnalds has done a number of performances for Seattle’s KEXP radio over the years, and the morning of the show he, Arnór, and their string performers did a roughly 20 minute live set over at the studio.  I reached out to a friend and he was kind enough to invite me down to watch, which was fantastic.  Not only did I have a chance to see Arnór for a couple of minutes, but I also got to briefly meet Arnalds who was great.  They played four songs – two instrumental (one from For Now I Am Winter, the other from Living Room Songs) followed by two off the new album that featured Arnór singing, “For Now I Am Winter” and the absolutely brilliant “Old Skin”.  The guys sounded great, and despite bets being made in the studio as to whether or not Arnór would be able to hit the high notes during the performance that he kept missing during practice (I believe the wager eventually involved Arnalds putting up an airport lounge pass, his health insurance card, and $10 Canadian…), he nailed both songs and sounded amazing as always.

The show itself was held in the perfect venue for Arnalds – the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital  Hall at Benaroya Hall, a 536-person room designed specifically for great acoustics.  German composer Nils Frahm opened the show with his ambient electronic and piano arrangements and was joined on stage by Arnalds for one number.  This was my first experience with Frahm and I found that there were parts of his performance that I liked a lot, particularly those that were less electronic based and had more emphasis on his piano skills.  His pieces are long, making them somewhat challenging, but I felt he got stronger as the set progressed (that may say more about me becoming more attuned to what he was doing than anything else) and he ended on a high note with the long piano part to close his final song, which was the pinnacle of his night.

Arnalds was joined on stage by a violinist and a cellist, just like he was when we saw him at Airwaves last year, but this was a much more enjoyable and intimate venue when compared to the raised stage and crowd sitting on the floor that made him seem a million miles away during that show in Reykjavik.  One of Arnalds strengths as a performer (as opposed to simply being a fantastic musician) is that he engages the crowd, not only being funny and telling us a bit about his songs (one of which was composed following a drinking bout during an overnight van ride while traveling to a gig in Poland, for example… “Sad songs don’t have to always be a out heartache… there are other kinds of sadness too!”), but also about how he was using technology during the show, capturing samples on his iPad and then layering them into the song as it continues.  Another of his strengths is that he loves to showcase the talent around him as was evidenced by the strong violin parts written into some of his pieces, one of which involved an extended solo that he simply sat and watched, obviously relishing it.

Arnársson joined Arnalds on stage for two songs it the second half of the set, the same two he performed at KEXP earlier in the day.  It was apparent that at least some members of the crowd knew Arnársson from his work with Agent Fresco, especially given that someone shouted the band name from the back of the hall when he was introduced (it was’t me, Arnór!).  He was emotional and brilliant, with Arnalds understanding exactly how to get the most out of his singer’s voice and showcasing it much as he did the strings.  And yes, he hit the high notes.  Frahm joined the entire ensemble on stage for one of these songs as well.

Overall it was a very enjoyable night of music.  With so much talent in the room you knew you were going to be impressed throughout, and blown away at times, and Arnalds and friends came through.  And given that Arnalds is only 26 years old, I suspect we can expect decades more of great music from him, and I for one will be watching… and listening.

HAM – “Sviksemi” / “Tveir Dalir” 7″

We are HAM!!!

I love the Icelandic doom metal band HAM, and I have no idea if they’re serious or just playing a role… and I don’t think I really care.

The “Sviksemi” / “Tveir Dalir” 7″ single was all over Reykjavik last year when we were there for Airwaves, but keep in mind that being “all over” Reykjavik could mean that 50… maybe 100 copies at most were out there in circulation.  The scene in Iceland is small by American standards – the whole country has less people in it that the Seattle metro area.  You can make it into the weekly top ten in album sales by selling dozens of albums.  And that is part of its charm.

 

I have no idea why “Sviksemi” was chosen as the A side of this thing.  No offense intended to HAM because, after all, they’re HAM (we are HAM!), but if “Dauð Hóra” isn’t the best single off the band’s 2011 record Svik, Harmur Og Dauði then I’ll turn in all my heavy metal albums to the nearest police station and start listening to Kenny Loggins.  Hell, the previously unreleased B side “Tveir Dalir” is better than the A side!  Still, this is a killer little single if you can track it down.

The Doors – “The Soft Parade”

Welcome to the fourth installment of my journey through The Doors’ musical catalog courtesy of the The Doors Vinyl Box.  Previous posts can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE in case you’re interested or are just a glutton for punishment.

Originally released in 1969 at the end of arguably the most rebellious decade in the 20th Century, The Soft Parade is probably The Doors album I’m the least familiar with, at least in terms of songs.  In looking through the track list, “Touch Me” obviously stands out as an FM radio classic rock standard, but as for the other eight songs… have I heard ANY of these before?  I seriously don’t know.

The Soft Parade opens oddly, in my opinion, with “Tell All the People,” a song that sounds more like an Elvis song than The Doors.  It’s got that crooner style to it, and while I don’t mean that as an insult, it doesn’t “sound” like The Doors to me.  That being said, as I’ve worked my way deeper into The Doors Vinyl Box I’ve come to realize that The Doors tracks that make it onto the radio seem to have a very similar sound to one another… but that doesn’t mean that’s what The Doors sound like.  This is a band that covers a lot of ground, often meandering and surely sometimes missing the mark, but much broader and experimental than I ever gave them credit for based solely on my experience with the canon of well-known songs played on the radio.

When we think about “The Great” bands (and The Doors certainly qualify) we recognize the great songs and the great albums.  But even then there are records that are easy to dismiss – “I don’t know what The Doors were doing on The Soft Parade, but I love ‘Touch Me’.”  But what’s more likely, that most of the album kind of sucks other than one or two songs that we like, or that we really have no clue what we’re talking about and in fact the band moved so far past us that we missed it completely?  Do brilliant musicians suddenly start to suck just because they’re making songs that we don’t like as much as their earlier stuff?  What’s more likely true, that Led Zeppelin suddenly got pretty lame with In Through the Out Door other than “In the Evening,” or that maybe they just moved straight past us…. leaving us standing on the side of the road still holding onto our worn copies of Led Zeppelin II or Dark Side of the Moon like they’re the ten commandments delivered to us directly from heaven when in fact the bands are still making brilliant music and we’re just too dim or closed off to feel it?  This is what The Soft Parade makes me think about.  And for that I owe The Doors a debt of gratitude.

The Soft Parade isn’t a lackluster Doors album; in fact the band’s albums may be getting deeper as we move away from their debut, an album I noted as possibly having the greatest single side of music in rock history (and it does!).  It’s got country, blues, and bluegrass influences all the hell over it, but done in a way that infuses those styles with jazzy horns (yes, they brought in horns for this one) and other less obvious touches.  The Doors didn’t lose it.  We (meaning I) missed it.  If you don’t believe me, listen to “Runnin’ Blues” on side B.

Music junkies wait around for that record or live show that blows their mind, and I am one of them.  We’re always chasing that high we got from previous experiences, but we’re all really just chasing the dragon and tend to find that feeling harder and harder to capture, so it’s all too easy to retreat back to the classics, the songs that gave us that rush when we were younger when so much was new and that high was so easy to find.  But as we get older we have to work harder and cast our net wider to maybe… just maybe… get a whiff of it, and once in a while, if we’re lucky and we look so hard that it almost seems like work, we find it.  And it’s like a weight being lifted from your shoulders.  It’s like having mental clarity for the very first time.

I don’t “like” The Soft Parade; it gave me something more.  It reminded me of what is important – having an open mind.  It’s as much about the journey as it is about the destination.  If you listen, really listen, to “Wistful Sinful,” you might feel it too.  Or you might think I’m an idiot.  But I don’t care, because The Soft Parade taught me a lesson tonight, one that I needed to remember.