Mudhoney – “Morning In America” (2019)

This one came as a surprise – announced out of the blue in early August and on my front porch by September 14, like some kind of musical ninja.  Pretty much all of the info I can find online about Morning In America is what Sub Pop communicated when announcing it.  The seven songs were recorded during the Digital Garbage sessions.  One is an alternate version, three are outtakes, and the other three are songs that have appeared on various singles and/or limited edition releases (one of these, “Ensam I Natt” is a Leather Nun cover).

America hates itself.
America hates itself.
America would rather be someplace else.

— “Morning In America”

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Morning In America is definitely in the same vein as Digital Garbage, a disappointment-laden description of today’s America.  Now, certainly not everyone in America is disappointed by how things have gone over the last few years.  The racists seem to revel in being able to be out in the open with their views.  Personally I was surprised to see so many of them crawl out of the woodwork, and while it’s disappointing, at least now we know who they are since they don’t seem to feel the need to hide anymore.  Mark Arm casts his venomous net wide, covering the racists and ignorant, the liars and the corporate thieves, the zealots and the image-obsessed, while the sludgy and fuzz-drenched music carries the emotional content in viscous waves.

My heart is breaking,
My mind is racing,
And now I’m bracing
For the terrible things to come.
— “Vortex of Lies”

Sonically Morning In America is at times oppressive (“Morning In America”), but at others triumphant (“Let’s Kill Yourself Live Again”, a different version of “Kill Yourself Live”), though I suspect the latter is more ironic than literal.  After all, the song is about the perceived importance of portraying the perfect digital image, regardless of what your real life is like.  The only time the music doesn’t feel like an integral component of the overall message is on the cover, “Ensam I Natt” (“So Lonely Tonight”), a refreshingly straight-forward punk song reminiscent of Mudhoney’s early career (Mudhoney, like Green River before them, always pick great songs to cover and do them justice).

The Loser edition comes on white marbled vinyl and includes a download card.  If you want a sample, you can stream “One Bad Actor” for free over at the Sub Pop website.

Green River – “Live At The Tropicana” (2019)

Lots of people hate on Record Store Day.  I sort of get it given all the re-releases of stuff that frankly didn’t need a 57th version entry into Discogs.  Many see it purely as a money grab.  To be fair, record labels and stores aren’t non-profits, and I for one like having some local record stores, so if this gets some extra people through the doors and helps them keep the lights on, great.  RSD also has had the positive effect of shaking loose some recordings that otherwise might not have seen the light of day.  A case in point is Seattle’s ground-zero-grunge-rockers Green River, the band that spawned Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam.  For RSD in 2016 we were treated to 1984 Demos and this year a recently unearthed live show from 1984, Live At The Tropicana.  I doubt anyone would have bothered with these if it wasn’t for RSD.

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Live At The Tropicana was one of my top two or three “wants” for RSD 2019, but unfortunately I struck out locally.  This isn’t a surprise since I live in Seattle and, well, it’s Green River.  I waited a few weeks for the post-RSD nonsense to die down (copies were selling for $60-65 on eBay on RSD) and scored myself an unopened copy for $30, just a bit more than the retail price.  And you know, it’s a damn good record.  The sound quality is surprisingly good for what was basically a punk show in 1984.  The only downside is that it’s so early that it lacks some of the band’s best material, which hadn’t been written yet.  I’m a bit surprised some of the stage banter was left in, like probably two minutes of Mark Arm asking if anyone had any duct tap (though I enjoyed the part where he said their next number was a dance song, so put on your leg warmers), but whatever – it’s still a fun listening experience and a chance to hear a young band coming into its own.

Mudhoney – “Digital Garbage” (2018)

Mark Arm has something to say.

To be fair, he often has something to say, and he usually does so with healthy doses of snark and disdain.  On Mudhoney’s last studio album, 2013s Vanishing Point, Arm tackled a number of topics.  He imagined the frustration felt by the other guy Jesus raised from the dead.  You know the one.  No, not Lazarus (Fucking Lazarus got all the fame, as the song reminds us), the other one.  The one they didn’t even bother to name in the Bible.  The one wearing the “Jesus Raised Me From The Dead And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt” shirt.  The one only known as “The Only Son of the Widow From Nain”.  Raised from the dead, and still they don’t remember your name.  And he was first!  Arm also railed against his least favorite varietal on “Chardonnay” (You’re the grape that launched a thousand strippers / The soccer mom’s favorite sipper) and, well, douchebags in “Douchebags On Parade”.  Vanishing Point was clever and witty and funny, though not terribly angst-ridden.

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But fast forward five years, and this isn’t the same America we were living in back in 2013.  The political power pendulum swung from left to right and civil discourse has become, well, less civil.  These changes have not escaped Mr. Arm.  So if you’re looking for something quirky like “Chardonnay”, you’re not going to find it on Digital Garbage.  The Mark Arm on Digital Garbage is clearly pissed, and wants you to know it.  It’s said that baseball is America’s national pastime; in fact the game is literally referred to as “The National Pastime”.  But as much as I love baseball, and America, I think America’s real national pastime is righteous indignation.  It’s part of our collective national mythology, right up there alongside the concept of the self-made man and George Washington’s wooden teeth.  We love us some good indignation.  And Digital Garbage is indignant.

Right from the opening salvo Mudhoney let us know what we’re in for.  The plodding bass offset by the electrical discharge of the guitar on “Nerve Attack” sets the mood and Arm supplies the description (And all the darkness in my mind / Filled the world and struck me blind).  But that’s just an appetizer.  The main course starts with Paranoid Core”:

Vaccines, chemtrails, false flag plots
Government camps, Sharia Law
Invest in gold, squirrel away food
Stockpile guns, hoard your fuel.

I stoke the fire in your paranoid core,
I stoke the fire in your paranoid core,
I feed on your fear.
— “Paranoid Core”

There’s no mistaking how Arm feels about the current direction things are leaning, and everything and everyone are fair game.  Religious hypocrisy in particular is called out.  Whether it’s “Please Mr. Gunman” with it’s refrain we’d rather die in church countering the litany of sins the so-called righteous commit in their daily lives, or the cutting critique of “Prosperity Bible” (There’s a loophole / They’ve got a giant needle / If you can pay the price / They’ll let you ride a camel through the eye), or the blunt “Messiah’s Lament” (Look at what they’re doing / In my name), the lyrics don’t beat around the burning bush.  They’re blunt and clear.

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Mudhoney record release show in Seattle, September 29, 2018
Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane

You want more?  OK.  Digital Garbage also includes “Night and Fog”, which is frightening take on the Nazi Nacht und Nebel directive of 1941, one that spelled out their strategy for simply making opponents of the regime disappear.  The idea is to strike terror into the population of occupied countries by making the outspoken simply vanish with no explanation as to what happened to them.  The lyrics interweave the concepts underpinning Martin Niemöller’s poem “First they came…”, a poignant reminder that if we don’t speak up when “they” come for those who aren’t like us, there won’t be anyone left to speak up when “they” finally get around to coming for us (Who will cry for you / When you disappear?). (♠)

Arm does see some hope for the future, though it’s probably not the kind of hope most people share:

Don’t worry your head
The Earth will see peace
The world won’t end
Because we will be.

Replaced by nothing
Replaced by nothing
Replaced by nothing
In the next mass extinction.
— “Next Mass Extinction”

Don’t worry, kids; the earth itself will survive all this nonsense that we’re doing to it and to each other.  Everything’s going to be just fine…

Musically this is one of my favorite Mudhoney albums ever.  The production and balance is damn near perfect – there’s room for all three instruments as well as Arm’s voice, and everything is clear and crisp.  The bass in particular finds the pocket and gets the opportunity to drive the songs.

Will Digital Garbage make my Top 5 list this year?  I don’t know… but it will definitely be part of the conversation.

(♠)  Did I ever mention that I have a degree in history?

Green River – “Rehab Doll” (1988)

I’ve written about Green River a number of times, touching on their EPs Come On Down (1985) and Dry As A Bone (1987) as well as the 2016 RSD collection 1984 Demos, so I’ll make an effort not to re-hash all that stuff.  Let it suffice to say there is an argument to be made that Green River was the Patient Zero of grunge.  They were well known within the Seattle music community and their breakup led to the formation of some seminal bands, most notably Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, and Pearl Jam.  That’s some pretty good lineage right there.

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Rehab Doll was the band’s first and only full-length, nine songs of dirty, grimy rock ‘n’ roll.  The guitar work has a surprising amount of 1980s hard rock and NWOBHM to it, though things stay a bit slower and weightier than the more popular metal of the period.  You can almost feel what would become Mother Love Bone bubbling under in the music.  Add to that Mark Arm’s somewhat unorthodox, half-spoken-half-sung vocal whine and you get something unusual, something that didn’t fit neatly into a genre box circa 1988 (though it would very soon).

It’s interesting that Green River included “Swallow My Pride”, arguably their best known song and one featuring Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon on backing vocals, on Rehab Doll.  The song first appeared on Come On Down three years earlier, so it certainly wasn’t new.  I’m not sure if this is a different version, and frankly I’m too lazy to check.  It may simply be a matter of putting their best foot forward on this, their first Sub Pop release.  My version is actually the one put out in Europe by Glitterhouse, which is notable because it includes an additional track that doesn’t appear on any of the Sub Pop versions, a cover of David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”.

“Bobbing For Pavement” Compilation (1992)

My “To Listen To” shelf is getting ridiculous.  It currently has records from my last visit to Daybreak Records, at least one of my RSD pick-ups, stuff from our recent trip to South Korea and Japan, and this weekend I added a handful of comps I picked up while we were in Denver to see Devil Makes Three live at Red Rocks Amphitheater.  It’s an embarrassment of vinyl riches, and frankly it stresses me out a bit to see so many things I haven’t gotten to yet.  Because I’m neurotic that way.

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I spun Bobbing For Pavement the other day and initially didn’t plan on writing about it.  Not because I didn’t like it, but it’s another Seattle grunge comp, and it’s not like I haven’t written about a bunch of those in the past.  But hearing those great tracks by The Gits got me thinking about Mia Zapata, which lead to a downward internet spiral of interconnected searches and links, and now I feel a bit compelled to share.

I felt like I knew all the late 1980s/early 90s Seattle comps, most of which came out on labels like Sub Pop and C/Z and Glitterhouse and Amphetamine Reptile.  But I saw Bobbing For Pavement at Denver’s Twist & Shout Records, and I never heard of it nor the label, Rathouse Records.  A little digging revealed that The Rathouse was the Capitol Hill (♠) residence of members of D.C. Beggars and The Gits and anyone else in their music circle who may have needed a place to crash.  The location itself, 1900 E. Denny Way, is in many ways the poster-child of the gentrification and insane real estate prices afflicting Seattle.  Back in 1992 this was a fairly rough neighborhood, at least by Seattle standards, and I was able to confirm that this is indeed the right place thanks to a period photo of members of the Beggars on the house’s front porch, which match the general appearance of the house as it appears online today. The earliest sale info I could find have the house selling for $216,500 back in 1997.  Estimated value if today per Zillow?  Just over $1.2 million.  My, how times (and neighborhoods) change.

Was Mia Zapata of The Gits headed back to The Rathouse the night she was brutally raped and murdered in 1993?  We’ll never know.  I’m sure it’s a walk she did many times by herself – she knew the area and it wasn’t that far.  She had a powerful personality and her loss affected many in the local scene deeply.  I feel like I was vaguely aware of the murder at the time, but honestly I can’t be sure.  I’d just graduated college and was trying to find my way in the regular world on the other side of Lake Washington from Seattle, fairly sheltered in my very middle class apartment in a safe neighborhood.  I certainly can’t make a claim to having been part of the scene that was happening just a 20 minute drive away, other than through my collection of records and CDs.

The Rathouse crew are all over this comp, which includes multiple tracks by The Gits and D.C. Beggars as well as a pair by Big Brown House, a band that also included Beggars’ bassist Adrian Garver.  There are some other recognizable Seattle-scene names here as well like Gas Huffer and Hammerbox.  One of the things I love about Bobbing For Pavement is the number of women singers on it – three of the bands (The Gits, D.C. Beggars, and Hammerbox) were fronted by women and I enjoy the attitude they bring.  Riot Grrrl was bubbling up at this point, bringing with it a much-needed (and unfortunately short-lived) wave of female empowerment, and that’s reflected in the punk-ish sound of these artists.

Bobbing For Pavement is one of the great Seattle comps, one that captures the feel without relying on any of the big names.  It’s definitely worth a spot on your shelf and frequent spins on your turntable.

(♠)  I’ve also seen it referred to as being in the Central District.  It’s more or less on the border between the two Seattle neighborhoods, but given that it’s north of Madison I think that puts it more in Capitol Hill.  Long-time Seattle residents may disagree, but whatever.