Audio Active – “Robot War” 12″ (1997)

robotwarSometimes fate forces you to buy a record.  A few weeks back we were in Hiroshima, Japan with plans of stopping at Dumb Records.  When we got there they weren’t open yet so we decided to head back up to the main street and just wander around for a bit, but then right there on the corner we spotted the sign for Stereo Records and figured we’d just go check them out first.  Stereo Records is a great shop – small like most record stores in Japan, but well organized and full of awesome stuff.  I pulled a 12″ called Robot War out of the Japanese Pop/Rock section simply because it looked interesting, and imagine my surprise when I flipped it over and saw that it was recorded at On-U Sound and produced by none other than Adrian Sherwood.  My love for all things On-U is not a secret, and this just seemed like the perfect conjunction of events, as if the universe was trying to tell me that I needed this record.  And who am I to argue with the universe?

A blend of dub reggae and electronica, Sherwood’s fingerprints can be felt all over Robot War.  And is that Gary Clail I hear repeated saying “Robot War” throughout the song?  He isn’t credited, but it sure sounds like him and he would have been hanging out doing other stuff at On-U during this period.  The B side track “Stiff Wheel” puts aside any notions of reggae and instead comes at you like a cosmic dub space jam, the strong bass line keeping the beat while everything else flares off all around like a fireworks display.  Some classic On-U stuff.

Crash – “Endless Supply of Pain” (1994)

This is another gem I bought on our recent trip to Seoul.  Who knew South Korea was putting out such great hard rock/metal back in the early 1990s???  Not this guy…

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Crash let you know what you’re in for right from the get-go with the thrash tune “Scream,” it’s heavy and staggered guitar riffs not as much provide a flow as they do a series of jackhammer bursts to break up the rocks inside your brain.  The vocals are aggressive with violent lyrical content, which is why you’ll also sometimes see the band described as death metal.  What I find particularly interesting about Endless Supply of Pain when compared to the debut of Crash’s South Korean contemporaries Asiana, 1990s Out On The Street, is the production value.  Whereas Out On The Street felt sonically flat in the recording, Endless Supply of Pain is extremely well constructed, no doubt due to the able assistance of UK metal producer Colin Richardson.  This album is perfectly mixed, with each instrument (including the voice) finding space to be heard – even the bass is right there in front of you, not something you have to strain to hear as separate from the drums.  It doesn’t sound flat like Asiana does, but instead full and rich.

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The most intriguing song on the album is “최후의 날에” (♠), which closes out side A.  The only tune with lyrics in Korean, it starts slow and makes you think you’re in store for something ballad-like before exploding into a thrash-fest reminiscent of Pantera, and that’s praise I don’t thrown around lightly.  The riffs are cohesive with transitional sequences from one part to the next that give it a better flow that many of Crash’s other songs.  Crash also treat us to a very heavy cover of “Smoke On The Water”, shouting the lyrics at you like an accusation as if you were the “some stupid with a flare gun” who burned the place to the ground.  Guys, it wasn’t me, I swear!

(♠) “On The Last Day”

Asiana – “Out On the Street” (1990)

Loverboy tells us that “everybody’s workin’ for the weekend,” and that doesn’t change as you get older.  Seemingly endless hours of work and commuting don’t leave a lot of time for much during the week other than the essentials – eating, sleeping, and basic hygiene.  But the weekends?  That’s where you get to bust loose and go wild and party, right?  Except eventually you reach a certain again and you look forward to the weekend for other reasons, like maybe going to bed early, sleeping in, and, well, maybe a nap if you can fit it in.

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I decided to take my first foray into the vinyl we brought back from our recent trip to Seoul, starting with Asiana’s Out On The Street.  And man does this take me back to a simpler time, a time when the weekends were about going out and getting after it, rocking out with your friends and tossing back some beers if you could find someone old enough to buy them for you.  It still sounds great to my much older brain as I sit here on a Saturday morning, having gone to bed early last night, slept in this morning, and now waking up with my second cup of coffee. (♠)  The fast tracks scream NWOBHM with strong Judas Priest and Krokus influences, while the slower, heavy numbers like “Tom Kat” feel more like Guns N’ Roses.  It’s surprisingly good, though may have been a bit dated by time it came out in 1990.  But South Korea was relatively new to the metal game then, having only recently broken free from rule by a series of strongmen and de facto dictators to emerge into a freer democratic society.  The South Koreans were quick studies, however, because Out On The Street is a solid effort every bit as good as what was being played on FM radio at the time, plant of shredding guitars and lyrics that flip between raspy and soaring.  As an added bonus the whole thing is sung in English, making it very approachable to North American and European metalheads.

I picked this up at a nice little shop called Coda in the Myeong-dong Underground Shopping Center.  Seoul has a lot of these little underground malls – they look like entrances to subway stations from the street and serve the dual purpose of allowing you to get to any corner of the massive downtown intersections quickly and without having to wait on crossing signals, with the added bonus of being full of little shops.  This particular center has tons of music stores and is ground zero for any vinyl junkie visiting Seoul, packing half a dozen shops into a few hundred feet.  Unfortunately this copy of Out On The Street has some water damage on the jacket reverse and is missing the insert, but the vinyl is in great shape and it was the only copy of this I found, so there was no way it wasn’t coming home with me since Asiana is one of the few metal bands from this period that showed up in my pre-trip research.

The recording is a tad flat to modern ears, but I’m coming to see that as not so much a failing of 1980s and 90s recordings as to how the “Loudness War” changed the way we all hear music.  It’s a real thing, and for better or worse the damage to a large extent is done.  I’m partial to the title track which you can check out below.

(♠)  You don’t need coffee when you’re younger.  But the older I get, the more essential it becomes.

たろおみ – “たろおみの宿題” / Taroomi – “Taroomi No Shakudai” Cassette (2017)

I’m not much of a gambler.  I used to play poker with my friends in high school and college for pots made up entirely of loose change, and it was fun because over the course of an entire evening you’d lose maybe $10 if you really did poorly.  But poker ceased being fun maybe 15 or so years ago when it started appearing on TV and people got real serious about playing it, with all this talk of little blinds, big blinds, and buy-ins.  It all came to a head for me at a tournament a friend put together at his house where I ended up at a table with a lot of guys I didn’t know who were super serious about the whole thing.  The only thing fun about that evening was one guy in particular trying to decide if I was brilliant and trying to snow them all, or if I was really as bad as I appeared to be (answer – it was the latter).  As for Vegas, I’ve been there once in the last decade, on a trip for work, and I didn’t even so much as drop a quarter into a slot machine.  I’m the guy who goes to Vegas and has to pay for his booze.  Let’s be honest, those casinos aren’t there because there are ways for you to beat the house.  Frankly if I’m going to blow some cash, I’d rather just go to the record store.

Which is how I come to be playing this cassette last weekend.  A little over a week ago I was at Jet Set Records in Kyoto and I ran across a display of cassettes put out by Ocirco Records.  Given that I don’t read Japanese, I knew exactly nothing about these other than that the label the store put on them read “Indie/Rock”.  And if there’s one kind of gambling I DO like to do it’s rolling the dice on some random music, because worst case scenario I get to hear something new and still have the physical object which I could maybe sell or trade later.  So at ¥1,000 each (about $10 US) I figured I should pick one up, because why not?  It’s not like I’ll ever run across one of these at home.

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The one I grabbed is by an artist named Taroomi (たろおみ), 13-tracks of lo-fi weirdness recorded onto a standard Maxell 60 minute cassette, just like the kind we used to make mixtapes back in the day.  たろおみの宿題 is sort of bizarre, sounding very much like the kind of true indie music recorded in someone’s bedroom.  The recording quality itself is actually quite decent, with the songs themselves hard to pin down stylistically, though the whole thing has sort of a shoegaze vibe to it.  And I kind of like the fact that I don’t know what’s around the corner each time one song ends and another is about to begin.  As an added bonus it came with a download card inside because let’s be honest, how often does one have access to a tape player any more?

You, however, get the benefit of the power of the interwebs, because Ocirco Records posted this thing in its entirety on YouTube if you want to explore it.  It’s pretty cool, so you should definitely go give it a try.

Duran Duran – “Thanksgiving Live – The Ultra Chrome, Latex and Steel Tour” (2018)

This was a Record Store Day impulse buy.  My buddy Travis and I got down to Easy Street Records to queue up about 45 minutes before they opened, both of us with our want lists for the day.  As the initial surge of people funneled through we attempted to go through the RSD bins in alphabetical order, but it quickly devolved into a moderate clusterfuck.  However, as the taller of us I was able to quickly reach over to the B section to grab us both copies of the Baby Huey re-release, and as I was stuck in front of the Ds while trying to make my way down to the Ks to see if The Kills was still available, this Duran Duran double live album caught my eye.  And since Holly is a big Duran Duran fan, I figured why not?

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As I perused the track list while waiting in line to pay for my records I was surprised at how few of these 18 songs I knew, at least by title.  I’m no Duran Duran superfan or anything, but they have a pretty big catalog of hits, and at first glance I only recognized three tracks – “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “A View to a Kill,” and “Rio”.  You could make a greatest hits comp out of what’s missing, songs like “Girls on Film,” “The Reflex,” “New Moon on Monday,” “The Wild Boys,” “Is There Something I Should Know”… I mean, they have a metric ton of hits.  Of course, upon playing Thanksgiving Live there were some things I recognized but simply didn’t know by their title, like “Bib Bang Generation.”  But still.

This show was originally recorded back in 1997 (♠), and I have to give credit where credit is due – it sounds great.  Duran Duran doesn’t try to blow your eardrums out with volume, nor is their range particularly extreme on either the high or low ends, both of which help.  You get a bit of the crowd noise, though at times that almost sounds like it was added afterwards – I can’t be sure, but the audience seems a bit too loud and noticeable at just the right times.  Regardless, it’s an enjoyable listening experience.

(♠) It was originally released on CD in 2017 under the title Thanksgiving Live At Pleasure Island.  It appears that the CD version is missing the track “Buried in the Sand,” which opens Side C of the vinyl.