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?

“Sub Pop 100” Compilation (1986)

Collectors often have those one or two items that they would just absolutely love to own but don’t have for whatever reason.  Sometimes the reason is price – it’s either way more expensive than you can afford, or sometimes you can afford it but you can’t justify spending that kind of money on an object, an object that more often than not has no practical purpose.  Other times it’s purely an issue of scarcity – the thing is just so rare or hard to find that you simply can’t acquire one.  I’ve been involved in a number of collectible-type hobbies over the years, and in all of them I’ve heard the same term used to describe these items – “holy grails”, or just “grails” for short.

Now, your grail and my grail are almost certainly different.  Even if we’re into the same stuff there’s a good chance that our biggest “wants” are different.  Sure, there are those high-demand, ultra-rare items that seem to be on everyone’s lists.  But for many their grail is an obscurity, perhaps something to which they have a personal connection.  The internet has, to a great extent, removed a lot of the barriers to acquiring your grail.  Sure, there are one-of-a-kind items out there that will always be almost impossible to find; but chances are if something is just plain “rare”, someone, somewhere on the internet will have one for sale, or at least it will appear for sale (or auction) every now and then.  Which means that more often than not it comes down to price. (♠)

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I don’t have an actual “Want List” of records I’m looking for.  I do have a “grail” (♣), but it’s not something that I’m pining away for with a hole in my soul as I desperately seek it.  Maybe when I was younger I felt the pull of things like that stronger, but as I’ve gotten older I recognize that stuff is just stuff, and while it’s fun to have, it’s not all that important.  That being said, one of my “want” items over the years, dating back to before I sold off al my vinyl back in the 90s, was Sub Pop 100, the comp that in many ways started it all out here in Seattle.  Yes, Bruce Pavitt had been putting out comp tapes for a few years as part of his Subterranean Pop zine, but I think this was the first thing the label put out on vinyl, the opening salvo of a soon-to-be indie label juggernaut.  I feel like my buddy John’s older brother Dave had it, and it was one of the records in his collection I coveted.  By time I started buying Sub Pop stuff over at Cellophane Square the 1986 comp was already out of print and moderately expensive as a used item – I feel like it was around $50, which was a lot for me in those high school days.  Ultimately I’ve had my hands on a dozen or so copies over the years, but each has either been too expensive, too trashed, or a combination of both. (♥)  At least that was true until last week when my favorite local shop, Easy Street Records, had their 29th anniversary sale, offering 29% off all used vinyl.  We made the rare mid-week drive to West Seattle the night of the sale, and there was an excellent copy of Sub Pop 100 (with insert) on the wall.  The price wasn’t cheap, but at 29% off it suddenly because reasonable, and I pulled the trigger.

It would be natural to assume that Sup Pop 100 is a Seattle comp, or at the very least one that focuses on the Northwest.  However, that’s not the case; in fact only four of the 13 artists are from the region, and only one (the U-Men) is actually from Seattle.  Not only are the contributors from all over the U.S. map, but there are three from outside the country as well – Vancouver’s Skinny Puppy, Mexico’s Lupe Diaz, and Shonen Knife from Japan.  So it’s more a celebration of indie music than it is local music.  According to Pavitt the record sold 5,000 copies (♦) and it’s never been reprinted, so it has a certain level of scarcity though it’s hardly rare.

Big Black’s Steve Albini offers up a crazed spoken word intro, and from there it’s off to the races with a very punk side A.  The live version of “Nothin’ to Prove” by Portland’s Wipers sounds killer, as does Naked Raygun’s surf-infused instrumental “Bananacuda”. This side of the record is definitely a preview of sorts of the kind of music that Sub Pop would soon become known for releasing – punk attitude and often raw.  It’s the B side, however, where the real magic happens.  Skinny Puppy’s “Church in Hell” still sounds dark and intimidating over 30 years later, and Steve Fisk’s “Go At Full Throttle” will make you wonder if perhaps you are just listening to a song or are in fact losing your grip on reality.  Boy Dirt Car’s “Impact Test” is industrial in the truest sense of the word, a collection of machine noises interspersed with some occasional electronic feedback.  The two most “song-like” tracks are Savage Republic’s “Real Men”, a song driven by guitar feedback and tribal drumming, and Shonen Knife’s “One Day of the Factory”, done in their typical pop-punk style.  It closes out with an untitled track that samples Barry White and ends in a locked track of him moaning.  Because why wouldn’t it?

Sub Pop 100 definitely lived up to expectations, collecting an intriguing group of relatively unknown and indie bands of varying styles.  So if you can find a copy for 29% off, I say go for it!

(♠)  Or, more precisely, the intersection of price and condition.

(♣)  Þeyr’s Þagað Í Hel, in case you want to get me something for Christmas.

(♥)  Plus of course it carries a premium out here in Seattle, home of Sub Pop.  Of course, as I noted before the internet has been available to me as a resource… but ultimately I didn’t want it bad enough, and I was a bit concerned about condition.

(♦)  Per the book Sub Pop USA:  The Subterranean Pop Music Anthology, 1980-1988 (p. 331).

Bruce Gilbert – “Instant Shed Vol. 1” (1995)

brucegilbertsubpopOne of the benefits of living in Seattle is that any time I go to the airport I can stop by the Sub Pop retail store.  Usually if I buy something it’s a shirt or a book, but of course the shop sells music too, including vinyl, so I always have to at least take a look.  Last week I was headed out to Grand Rapids, Michigan on a work trip and stopped by Sub Pop to pick up few 7″ singles for a friend’s son, and while there I came across this old (originally released in 1995) 7″ by Wire founding member Bruce Gilbert.  I couldn’t not buy that!

Packaged in a silver foil pouch, Instant Shed Vol. 1 is an interesting little record.  Both tracks are experimental.  “Bi Yo Yo” sounds just like its title, nearly five minutes of the same repetitive beat/pattern, ceaseless hitting you like a dentist’s drill.  The flip side “Byo (Sachet)” is a completely different experience, a minimalistic random collection of sound snipits, something difficult to consider music per se, more just sounds.  Probably not something that I’ll be sitting around one day when I suddenly think, “you know, I’m really in the mood for that Bruce Gilbert Sub Pop 7″ right now,” but it’s still interesting nonetheless.

“Is It… Dead?” Compilation (2001)

isitdeadI found this comp over at Denver’s Wax Trax the other day while in town to catch The Devil Makes Three at Red Rocks (♠).  The cover caught my eye, and when I flipped it over I was surprised to find it was Sub Pop related, something they put together in 2001 with Rock & Roleplay Records and Crash Rawk Records.  It’s a collection of 10 little-known NW hardcore, thrash, and grindcore bands, none of which I recognized.

My flirtation with hardcore came and went relatively quickly.  It’s not that I don’t like it, but I prefer it in small doses.  So that being said, it isn’t surprising that I prefer the more metal bands on Is It… Dead?  BlöödHag’s (♥) “Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922- )” is a solid, heavy track, as is Old Rawlers’ early-Pantera-like “Response Equipment” that blends metal vocals and drumming with hard rock guitars.  Also big props for the heavy, industrial “Wreck Everything” by Naha, a song that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the tracks on Is It… Dead?, but one I’m glad they snuck on there.

(♠)  Red Rocks has been on my bucket list for years, and it was awesome to finally see a show there, especially seeing a band we love as much as Devil Makes Three.

(♥)  BlöödHag described their sound as “edu-core”; basically they did grindcore songs about sci-fi and fantasy authors and often played shows at libraries.  For real.

“Hype! Boxed Set” (1996)

I’ve bemoaned the selling off of my precious Sub Pop singles many a time on Life in the Vinyl Lane.  I’m not entirely sure how many I had, but it was maybe around 20 or so, probably a few more, most of which came to me via the great indie record store Cellophane Squire (RIP).  I had some great stuff – Nirvana, Mudhoney, Dwarves…. tons of if on colored vinyl.  <sigh>  I promised myself I’d stay away from the nostalgia train and wouldn’t spend a bunch of money trying to reacquire that group, and so far I’ve been pretty successful in sticking to that.  The only one I have is a newer release, the 2013 Mudhoney 7″ “New World Charm” / “Swimming in Beer.”  But then I went to Easy Street the other day with too much time on my hands and not enough common sense in my back pocket, and walked out of there with the 1997 Sub Pop 7″ box set called Hype! Boxed Set.

But how could I resist?  Mudhoney, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Gas Huffer, U-Men… all in one box set!?  Eleven songs on four different color 7″ records.  Nestled all snug in a nice little box, with a poster inside.  It’s like the warm embrace of flannel and a mullet to keep the back of my neck warm on a cold fall day circa 1989.

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Hype! was a documentary about the grunge scene that came out in 1996, and this box set is a shortened version of the full length soundtrack.  As such most of the material dates from between 1987 and 1992, with only Girl Trouble’s “My Hometown” (1993) and “Return of the Rat” by Portland’s The Wipers (1979) falling outside that range.  “Return of the Rat” may seem like an odd choice, but the song is widely cited by Seattle musicians from the late 1980s as an influential track, perhaps most notably by Kurt Cobain, so it definitely fits.

One of the cool aspects of this set is that four of the songs are live recordings – Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick,” Gas Huffer’s “Hotcakes,” Mono Men’s “Watch Outside,” and Fastbacks’ “K Street.”

TANGENT:  Holly says The Wipers’ “Return of the Rat” reminds her a lot of the Ramone’s “Beat on the Brat” (1976).  I want to disagree, but she might be onto something here in a weird way.

The Mudhoney track is a bit trebly, but otherwise captures all the angst and sneering power of “Touch Me I’m Sick.”  The Wipers may have been the “Lucy” of grunge, but Mudhoney wiped out the Neanderthals and established its supremacy with this song.  The fact that that song is on a 7″ alongside “Negative Creep” and “Return of the Rat” may make this the coolest 7″ record ever.  Ever.  To me it’s 1980s punk rock in one little 7″ vinyl package.

I have to give some props to the Mono Men and Gas Huffer, both of who kill it with their selections (both live) in this set.  I have a Gas Huffer record, but I don’t think I’ve ever owned anything by the Mono Men before.  Bravo too to Fastbacks for their brand of lo-fi pop punk.

TANGENT:  Note to self.  Don’t try to eat a cup cake with gooey frosting while playing 7″ records.

This set of singles definitely took my way back, and while I’m still not a huge fan of the 7″ format (too much work!), it was a great way to recapture my Sub Pop glory days.  It’ll get spun again for sure, especially that Wipers/Nirvana/Mudhoney record.