Wild Dogs - “Wild Dogs” (1983)

If you’re wondering what prompted me to pick up this copy of 1983s Wild Dogs, take a look at the jacket photo below.

Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

OK.  You can obviously see why this caught my eye.  I’m not going to lie to you here - my first thought was “is this band legit, or is it some kind of joke?”  And I don’t mean that as an insult to the guys in Wild Dogs - because they’re dressed EXACTLY how a lot of metal dudes dressed back in the day.  But it’s almost so stereotypical, so perfect, that it seems constructed.  But no, this is a real-deal metal album, and the band is from just down the road in Portland, Oregon to boot, so for a ten spot, why not?

Wild Dogs was the band’s debut LP, and it’s a classic piece of early 1980s metal.  It has a strong NWOBHM current running through it, with Matthew McCourt’s vocals sounding a bit like Rob Halford meets Ronnie James Dio, though he keeps his voice consistently lower than either of those two, who could certainly take it up high (to be fair, he does get after it a bit on “Two Wrongs”).  Jeff Mark’s guitar work is suitably intricate, but not conspicuously so - his solos aren’t overly flashy and extended, but instead integrate well into the songs (his style reminds me a bit of Ted Nugent).  Some of it is strictly rock, such as “Born to Rock,” (♠) but most of it keeps up the metal theme.

All in all Wild Dogs is a sold 80s metal record if that’s what you like (and I do).  It seems that a version of this band might still be around and playing gigs from time to time, so I’m going to have to keep my eyes open for any shows they might do down in Portland, because I’d probably head down to check them out.

Keep rockin’!!!

 

(♠)  Many people don’t know this, but their was a little known law passed in 1975 called the “Songs About Rocking Act” that actually required hard rock and heavy metal bands, defined as any band that incorporated studded leather accessories or black leather jackets/vests into their look, to include at least one song about rocking on every LP they released.  If you don’t believe me, go back and look at all your hard rock/metal records from the late 70s and early 80s.  They’re always going on about how they rock, how you rock, and how you need to fight for your right to rock.  The law was repealed in a special session of Congress after the release of Starship’s “We Built This City (On Rock ‘n’ Roll)” in 1985, because Starship cited the law as the reason they included that particular song on their album Knee Deep in the Hoopla, and no one wanted to ever see a repeat of that again.  Ever.

Circle Jerks - “Wild in the Streets” (1982)

I think that writing and music (specifically lyrics) have certain similarities, the most notable of which is the tendency to write what you know and feel right now and not being able to take that step back and consider that, “man, what I’m thinking/feeling right now would make a great piece of art… but boy, I’ll bet I’ll be able to express it even better a little bit down the road when I’m more mature and better at my craft.”  I think this contributes to the “such-and-such band’s debut release was so awesome, but their later stuff sucks” syndrome.  The truth is they had  lifetime of experiences to draw from on that first record, and now there’s a much smaller pool of new experiences, or old ones that weren’t powerful enough to make the cut the first time, to use on the follow-up.  This also contributes in a way to the dreaded “recovery album,” the one that follows the musician’s trip to rehab when he/she is full of powerful new experiences… all of which are tied to their stint in rehab and the resultant self-reflection.

What does any of this have to do with the Circle Jerks’ second album, 1982s Wild in the Streets?  Well, listening to it this morning got me thinking about punk rock as protest music, which got me thinking about other types of protest music, which got me thinking “hey, that would be a good blog post,” which got me thinking, “dude, you probably shouldn’t do a whole thing on protest music as part of a Circle Jerks post but save it for something bigger and better when you can spend more time on it.”  But screw that.  This is a blog, not a research paper.  If you see a footnote on Life in the Vinyl Lane it’s probably a rant about Jethro Tull or something.

There will be some overgeneralization here, and your mileage may vary.  But here it goes.

Popular music has, for a very long time, been a way for the up-and-coming young generation to rebel against “the man,” which is a loosely organized group of people like parents, the government, cops, teachers, and anyone who says “back when I was your age…”  Hell, rock ‘n’ roll itself WAS protest music back in the 1950s, with it’s swiveling hips and ability to reach across racial lines.  You can even go back further and look at things like swing and the “flapper” movement.  So the early rock of the 1950s was the protest of the World War II-era babies protesting against society.

Probably the most famous musical protest movement was the late mid-1960s to mid-1970s, for lack of a better term the “hippie culture.”  If the 1950s rebellion was more about music and movement, the next wave was about the message.  The early rebellion was about just trying to break free, the latter about actually believing you could make a change in the world.  Bob Dylan, CSNY, Buffalo Springfield… there was an idealistic dream of escaping the mire of the atomic age and Vietnam (or Algeria if you were French… or the Franco regime if you were Spanish… or the Berlin Wall if you were in West Germany… or hosting a NATO base full of Americans if you were in Iceland…it goes on and on).  But that idealism bled to death slowly, and eventually most of those hippies ended up doing a lot of the same things their parents had done - got jobs, bought houses and cars, raised families, and destroyed their economies.

Which brought us to punk rock.  Which was not only a rebellion against society, but perhaps just as much so against “the hippies,” who you hear referred to often in early punk interviews.  The hippie rebellion was idealistic.  The punk rebellion was nihilistic. (♠)  I think some of the disdain the punks held towards the hippies was simply because the hippies though they could change society, whereas the punks had what was, at least to them, a more realistic view of their place in the social order.  They were outside of it, pure and simple.  From punk we moved on to hip hop, and then later possibly grunge, which was a lot like punk but even less idealistic (and in more flannel).

Wake up tomorrow, do it again.
Yes sir,
Yes ma’am.

No sir,
No ma’am.
Get so fed up
With your fucking scams.

Chewed my fingernails to the bone.
Get off my back,
Just leave me alone!
— “Leave Me Alone,” Circle Jerks

The Circle Jerks were one of the earliest Los Angeles punk bands.  They’re all over the place in the seminal punk rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, with their high-intesity early hardcore style and look.  Even their name is a big “screw you” to authority, as are the names of some of their albums like Group Sex and Golden Shower of Hits, which were sure to offend most of society.  But that was exactly the point.  They knew how they were viewed, and they were giving it right back.

The songs on Wild in the Streets are about alienation, crappy jobs, and people telling you what to do.  While the music and message is hardcore, it’s early enough in the movement that there’s still a strong emphasis on keeping the vocals up front in the mix and singing clearly to get the message across.  The songs are quick bursts - the longest clocks in at a mere 2:35, and 10 of the 15 tracks are under two minutes.

In many ways Wild in the Streets is the perfect example of early 1980s LA punk.  The bands is musically tight, the message is clear, and the anger is right on the surface.  No subtlety, just in your face punk rock.  Accept no substitutes.

 

(♠)  This is of course a massive oversimplification.  There were nihilistic elements to punk, but there were absolutely some pro-active undercurrents - vegetarianism, animal rights, women’s rights, straight edge, etc.  It was really about wanting to be left alone to live your life your way, not a complete rejection of hope… though there was certainly a recognition that their dream was unlikely to become a reality.

Albino Father - “II” (2015)

This was an impulse buy from the “local” section at Diabolical Records when we were in Salt Lake City last month.  I didn’t know squat about it, but the prices on everything were great so I was just adding stuff to my pile without giving it a whole lot of thought.

Damn I’m glad I bought this record.

Albino Father’s II is one of the Top 5 new releases I’ve heard so far in 2015.

What’s bizarre is that it’s also the second album entitled II that I’ve reviewed this year, the other by Philly’s retro-electro-darkwavers SGNLS. Coincidence… or sign of the apocalypse?  You decide.

So what’s the story with Albino Father?  Well, let’s ask them.

Albino Father is a dad band. But only one member is actually a dad. Most of the songs are about horses. Some are about being afraid of things. Mostly they are loud.

I didn’t pick up on the horse vibe, but I’ll take their word for it.  Right from the opening chords of the first song, “WTTV,” I knew I was going to like II.  The guitar work has a lo-fi, simple, but aggressive sound that reminds me more than a little of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (who were, ironically, the reason we were in Salt Lake City in the first place).  But Albino Father has a trippy psych kind of thing going on here too, one that rears it’s head on the next song, “Disappear,” a slower, heavier number that provides even more of that lo-fi feel that defines so much of the band’s sound throughout II.  It reaches its trippy zenith on the fourth song, “Heavy Fucking,” an eight-minute late 1960s style ball of acid and lava lamps and heavy and echo, a song you could lose yourself inside of for a while if you catch my drift.

For my money, the last third of the album is the best, starting with the faster paced “The Milk Comes In,” a song that just makes you want to get up out of your chair and do something.  Something really, really fast.  If this comes on while you’re driving, you’re getting a speeding ticket, no questions asked.  “I Can See For Myles” slows things down again, pouring sweet, sticky goo into your ears and seemingly actually causing time to slow down.  The album closes with “Joust Wurst,” featuring heavy echo on the vocals and more cymbals than you can shake two drumsticks at.  If you’re only going to check out a few songs, I’d start with this part of the album then jump back to the very start.

You can listen to the entire album for free HERE, and get yourself a digital download for just five bucks if you like what you hear.  Plus it looks like they still have copies of the vinyl available for $15 (which comes with a download), a pretty good price for this limited edition (of 150) release.  So go give ’em a listen and kick ’em a few bucks if you like what you hear.  And tell them Life in the Vinyl Lane sent you.

Gunjogacrayon - “Gunjogacrayon” (1980)

I bought this on a  lark the other day.  I was buying a few items from an eBay seller, and this caught my eye.  Japanese, noise, and unopened… sounded like a win.  And after playing it… I’m not sure I’d call it a “win” per se, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a bust either.

I’m not sure why, but the Japanese seem to have had the experimental noise thing down in the 1980s, and Gunjogacrayon’s five-song 1980 self-titled EP is a great example (see also Les Rallizes Denudes).  It probably doesn’t technically qualify as “noise” - for the most part it sounds like actual musical instruments are being used, and there is a certain general structure to the sound of each song, especially on side B (which might be more a result of me having a greater level of comfort with what they were doing).

I’m wondering if the Japanese had a more established scene for this kind of music than what existed in the US, or if it was more a matter of there being more people willing to release their material.  I’m sure there was a whole sub-sub-subgenre sort of like this somewhere in the US that I don’t know anything about, and there may even be a handful of albums.  Sometimes it’s easier for a “foreign” band to establish a reputation in another country simply because they are “foreign,” i.e. different.  It sort of creates an air of mystery about them.

Regardless, Gunjogacrayon is intriguing, though a bit challenging to truly absorb.  Caveat emptor.

Zoviet France - “The Tables Are Turning” (2013)

I feel very fortunate to have come across a still-sealed copy of Zoviet France’s 2013 The Tables Are Turning a few weeks back down at Portland, Oregon’s Mississippi Records.  Not only is it one of a rare edition of 400, but because it was at Mississippi the price was certain to be extremely reasonable, bordering on a bargain ($45, which is cheaper than any of the copies for sale on Discogs, and below the median price sold on that site to boot).

I had no prior experience with Zoviet France other than recognizing the band for what it is, which is a trend-setter in the electronic genre, one adept at the unusual.

The Tables Are Turning was created as the soundtrack for a dance piece called Designer Body that was intended to represent the relationship between people and their clothes… and it shows in the packaging, with the two records (only three sides, as the fourth side is blank and unetched) packaged in between a folded-over layer of thick felt, all inside a green satin bag with a hand-stitched “ZF” on the front upper right corner.  Simple, yet complex, packaging, much like the music itself.

Musically The Tables Are Turning is best described as ambient, particularly sides A and C which are the two more relaxed, minimal sides of the album.  It’s on side B that the tempo increases and you feel like you’re listening to something more robust, something richer, something approaching house but never quite getting to the proper pace to fit into that label.  It’s that side that resonates the most with me, though I have to confess the other two were a perfect soundtrack to an evening on the sofa enjoying a Jack on the rocks, so it’s more a matter of selecting the right side for the mood.

I enjoyed my first foray into the world of Zoviet France, and I came away feeling like I need to explore more of their catalog, particularly their earlier releases from the 1980s.  We’ll see where my digging takes me and if it unearths any more nuggets from this group.