Smack - “On You” (1984)

Generally my eBay searches are confined to either looking for a specific item that I want, or doing a general search for Icelandic vinyl.  When I find something Icelandic that I want, I’ll usually then peruse the seller’s other items to see if there’s anything else of interest there, and that often turns what was going to be a $20 purchase into a $100 one.  That’s the story of how I ended up with a copy of the original European release of On You by Finnish sleaze-rockers Smack - I found a Bubbi Morthens record I wanted, and the next thing you know I’ve got four more totally random (and non-Icelandic) things in my shopping cart.  Such is the life of the junkie.

I’d never heard of Smack before, but the album cover was intriguing.  It certainly looked metal (remember kids, we’re talking about 1984 here), though it wasn’t clear what subgenre - they could have been anything from hair metal to black metal.  It turns out their sound is much closer to the hair scene that was happening in Los Angeles at the time, with some raspy vocals and a heavy dose of sleaze.  Which I love.  Smack eventually garnered a little major label attention, with Enigma putting out a version of On You in the US and then some CBS releases in the late 1980s.  Apparently their music had some reach, though, as both Izzy and Slash from GNR name-checked them in interviews and Nirvana covered the Smack song “Run Rabbit Run” off of On You at some of their live shows in 1988.  They never found the same success in the US that they had in their native Finland, however, and broke up around 1990.  Unfortunately lead singer Claude (real name Ilari Peltola) passed away of heart disease in 1996 at the all-too-young age of 30, another impressive talent taken from us way too soon.

The guys from Smack were very young when On You came out - of the three original founding members, Claude and Cheri were only 18 and Kartsa was 21.  That makes the record all that much more impressive.  Sure, there were some great debut albums in that hair metal scene, like Mötley Crüe’s Too Fast for Love and Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, but most of those guys were at least a bit older and more experienced (Vince Neil was 20 when Too Fast came out, two years older than his Smack counterpart Claude) than the guys from Finland.

There’s a website devoted to the band, and their early influences are listed as performers like Iggy & The Stooges, the MC5, The Doors, and the Sex Pistols, and I can certainly see some of that, especially with regards to Iggy Pop.  But the big vibe I get here is of an updated version of Alice Cooper, especially on a song like “Completely Alone.”  Certainly the Los Angeles glam scene is part of their sound as well, and I have to assume the band was drawing some inspiration from what was happening there (the band relocated to LA in 1989 before breaking up in 1990).  But what’s interesting to me is the band that Smack most reminds me of, a band that didn’t exist at the time and wouldn’t put out its first and only album until 1990 - Mother Love Bone.  Claude reminds me more than a little of Andy Wood (listen to “Cemetery Walls” and tell me if you agree), and while Smack’s sound is a bit less polished than that of Mother Love Bone, that’s not so much indicative of talent as much as the way music was presented during the era.

On You is one of the better “new to me” albums I’ve heard in quite some time, and I’m definitely going to be looking for more of Smack’s stuff, particularly 1986s Live Desire.  If you’re a fan of the hair metal era, On You is definitely worth your time to track down.

The Anti-Nowhere League - “Long Live the League!” (1985)

The Anti-Nowhere League is another one of those bands that someone escaped my ears all these years.  It seems like I’ve know of them for a long time, but have no recollection of ever hearing their music.  But I was late to the punk game, so I guess it kind of makes sense.  It’s not like they ever had any songs that hit it big on American rock radio, so unless I heard them at someone’s house, there was no way for me to experience them.

I found Long Live the League! at Guestroom Records on my recent work trip to Oklahoma City, and I knew it was time to rectify my ignorance of the League.  Released in 1985, Long Live the League! is a 16-song compilation of the band’s first incarnation, including both studio tracks from prior releases as well as live material form their 1983 Live in Yugoslavia album. (♠)  A couple of tracks (“Let’s Break the Law” and “I Hate People”) also got a bit of a remix treatment, though since I’m unfamiliar with the originals I can’t speak to what was changed.  The sound quality is pretty good, though the censoring of some of the vocals on the live cut “So What!” is annoying and had me wondering of my receiver was having a meltdown.

The Anti-Nowhere League is a bit hard rock, a bit punk rock.  There’s a sneer and swagger to it, though the band’s biker wear screams NWOBHM.  The attitude is certainly punk, and these guys weren’t afraid to drop a bunch of F bombs all over the place - “Woman” and “Snowman” are filled with them, which is pretty unusual for this time in music. (♥)  Other songs are just sped up rock ‘n’ rollers, like “We Will Survive,” or the weird surf guitar influence on “Out on the Wasteland.”  Long Live the League! is a solid collection start to finish an interesting mix that in many ways shows the progression of their changing sound.

 

(♠)  Some of you may not remember Yugoslavia, the Eastern European nation that disintegrated into civil war in 1990 following the fall of communism, a protracted conflict that brought genocide back to Europe for the first time since 1945.  If you’re a little older, like me, you’ll probably remember it for hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, and that preposterous car aptly named the Yugo.

(♥)  Sometimes it’s hard to believe how blasé we’ve all become about profanity.  Back in the day you pretty much never heard it in songs, and the rare examples that did have it were known to everyone.  You started to see more of it in the late 1970s/early 1980s, but I think it was hip hop that really blew the lid off, with the first “Parental Advisory” stickers gracing album covers in 1985.  Which, of course, ironically made those albums like magnets that attracted young people (like me at the time), and in many ways made it easier for artists to get away with having explicit lyrics in their songs.

Mind Vice - “Humanimality” EP (2016)

Those dudes from Seattle’s Mind Vice are at it again, rolling out some new tunes on a tight little four-song CD called Humanimality.  The guys are kicking it off with a release party and show on Friday, February 26 over at the High Dive in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, home of some of the lime-iest and strongest margaritas you will ever drink in your life.  They’ll be joined on the card by Mother Crone, Piston Ready, and Hundred Now, and it sounds like it’ll be a fun night.  Not only can you pick up a copy of Humanimality there, but they’ll have limited edition, hand-paited copies available as a special treat.  Get there early, buy a CD, and have a margarita or three.

The EP opens with a blues rocker called “Bluesmotorwolf,” reminding me a bit of a heavier, more frenetic version of some old school Bad Company, at least until about the two minute mark when Ian drops that big bass hammer and things slow way dowwwnnnn, giving Walter a little more space to let his voice soar.  That’s followed by “Congress of the Crow,” a straight-forward and balanced rocker that feels like it’s coming at you right out of the 1970s in a burnt orange supercharged Ford Torino with the windows rolled down and the 8-track player blasting.

The biggest surprise on Humanimality is the third track, a cover of the 1995 Presidents of the United States of America song “Kitty,” which probably not coincidentally was recorded in the same basement as the original.  Mind Vice stays somewhat true to the Presidents’ version, but the bass really stands out, giving the whole thing an undercurrent of funk and putting a unique stamp on this old Seattle classic.  The CD closes with “Break the Cage (Little Monkey),” a song that covers a lot of musical ground from rock to funk to punk, a tune that gives each of the band members a chance to to step to the musical forefront for a bit.

Humanimality sees Mind Vice continue on their funky blues rock journey, continuing to show originality within the overall rock genre - something not so easy to find these days of played out formulaic noise.  They keep it fresh, and before the start of each song I found myself thinking, “OK, I wonder what they’re going to hit me with now?”  Hopefully I’ll be able to make it to the High Dive on February 26, but if not, have a margarita for me.

Update ->  Check out the single for “Bluesmotorwolf” and find out more info about the new CD HERE!!

Steve Roach - “Dreamtime Return” (1988)

From time to time my buddy Andy and I mail each other random records.  A couple of months ago I sent him something, though for the life of me I can’t remember what… and to return the favor he sent me a copy Steve Roach’s 1988 double album Dreamtime Return, which had apparently been a favorite of his back in the day.  I like Andy’s taste in electronica (we’re both big fans of Kiasmos), so I figured I was in for something interesting.

I got a bit more than I bargained for when I dropped the needle on Dreamtime Return this morning, a dreary, cold, dark and rainy one here in Seattle, where I was working from home at the dining room table.  Without looking up any info on Roach or this album, my initial impressions were that it was the sound of Aboriginal people from Australia being transplanted to Sedona, Arizona.  The Aboriginal influence is in the percussion and some of the instrumental sounds, while the electronic pieces that wander about, occasionally soaring, remind me of the vortex and crystal capital of the universe that is Sedona.  The music would be the perfect accompaniment to one of those nature documentaries where they put a time-lapse camera in the southwestern desert pointed at some red rocks and sky, and you watch as the sun rises, then sets, and then the sky fills with the density of stars you can only get in places that are a long way from towns and artificial light.

As it turns out, for once I was pretty spot on.  The notes notes on the jacket reverse go into detail about the Aboriginal influence, as well as noting that part of the inspiration had come from a conversation Roach had with documentary filmmaker David Stahl who was working on something related to Aboriginal rock painting at the time.  Damn, look at me calling my shot there!  But that really does say something about the music on Dreamtime Return - for being ambient-ish (though generally much fuller and richer sounding than typical ambient), it has a very strong undercurrent that runs throughout the two records, making it feel more like one cohesive piece of music than a group of songs.  The music conveys a clear emotional state and mood, putting you into a different time and place, which is no easy feat.

Dreamtime Return won’t appeal to everyone.  It’s not EDM, with it’s more nature-derived feel, and in some ways could be described as “the adult contemporary of electronic music,” which is both snarky and more than a little apt.  But I don’t mean it as an insult, because the composition is thoughtful and effective.  I feel like you need to be in the right frame of mind to listen to Dreamtime Return, but if you time it right, you’ll be rewarded.

Grísalappalísa ‎– “Sumar Á Gríslandi” (2015)

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to playing Grísalappalísa’s Sumar Á Gríslandi.  It’s been sitting patiently on my “To Play” shelf since we returned from Iceland Airwaves in early November, and I listened to the other Grísalappalísa album I bought on the trip (Ali) almost two months ago.  Yet there it sat.  Waiting.  Waiting to be played.

Maybe I’d been putting it off because it’s a double album.  Or maybe because finally making it through the last of the Icelandic vinyl somehow sort of closes out Airwaves 2015 in my mind, leaving me with just the memories and the longing until Airwaves 2016 arrives in a bit over nine months.  Nine months… may as well be forever, but at the same time, I suspect it’ll be here before I know it.

Grísalappalísa actually did an online fundraiser on Karolina Fund to finance pressing their first two albums on vinyl (both were previously CD only releases) as well as this new record, Sumar Á Gríslandi, a double album that at least for now is only available on vinyl.  What’s particularly cool about this new record is that it’s all live material, with three of the sides are given over to the band’s 2014 tour of Iceland, way, way up north in the town of Húsavík (population 2,237), while the fourth side is an assortment of tracks from other performances.  The recording quality of the live material is outstanding, so I’m guessing it all came straight through the soundboard.

Grísalappalísa sound both well-practitced and loose on Sumar Á Gríslandi - there’s a strong live vibe to the performance, but it never falls apart into sloppiness.  I think the B side is my favorite.  It opens with an excellent cover of Megas‘ “Björg,” which makes sense given that the band put out a 7″ in 2013 that featured a pair of Megas covers, including this song (the band celebrates Megas again on side D with “Grísalappalísa”).  That’s followed by the sort of blues rock-ish “Reykingar,” a Stuðmenn cover, a great one-two punch.

Start to finish Sumar Á Gríslandi is one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard.  Don’t let the fact that the lyrics are in Icelandic scare you off, because this is still a great record.  And thankfully our friends from Grísalappalísa will let you check out the whole thing for free HERE, so go check out some songs.