Hose - “Hose” (1983)

In a little over a week Life in the Vinyl Lane will turn eight years old. In that time I’ve posted close to 1,900 times (this post will be #1,890). My average posts-per-month has waned a bit over the years, having started out in the low-to-mid 20s to a more reasonable mid-to-high teens, but overall my output has been pretty consistent over the last eight years.

Until, of course, recently. This is my first post in over a month. There are a number of excuses I can provide. My stereo was in the shop for a couple of weeks getting serviced, and my wife and I got a new dog (Trigger, an occasional character in the ongoing narrative of Life in the Vinyl Lane, passed away a few months back, and we were ready for a new pack member). She’s a seven-month old Aussie named Evie who needs lots and lots of attention… lest she grab and chew everything in sight (needless to say the door to the room with my records is always closed). Plus working a ton. But these kinds of life situations never stopped me before. Slowed perhaps, but never stopped.

If I’m being honest, I also lost a bit of the drive and joy. That was a hard thing to admit after all these years, but it was true. For a while I resisted taking a break from the blog, but finally realized that if I’m doing it for me and for fun, which I am because trust me I’m not making money doing this, then I shouldn’t do it if I wasn’t feeling the urge, the passion, to do it. I still had the urge to write, though, so I actually started up a separate blog where I’m posting fiction, something I’d always been afraid to try previously, and I got sucked into how exciting it was to do something new. If you’re interested, feel free to stop by the Defenders of Phandalin Blog and let me know what you think.

All that being said I’m still buying and listening to music and some of it makes me want to write about it. Like this odd little punk EP from 1983 from a came-and-went band called Hose. There are a few interesting tidbits about this record, perhaps the most intriguing of which is it is the first release to ever feature the Def Jam logo on it (see below). In fact, despite the band not being even remotely hip hop, the first two Def Jam releases were by Hose - a 7″ in 1982 and this EP a year later. The reason, of course, is that there was a common element that tied Hose and Def Jam together - Rick Rubin. Yes, that Rick Rubin. The Rick Rubin who played guitar and did some vocals in the punk band Hose was also the hip hop aficionado and soon-to-be DJ for a fledgling outfit called Beastie Boys who co-founded Def Jam. Crazy.

I think I first heard about this record a few months back when Holly and I watched the well-done Rick Rubin documentary series called Shangri-La. As soon as I heard he was part of an early 80s punk band I went to Discogs and ordered myself a copy. Note, this sucker isn’t cheap. A playable copy is going to run you $60+ with a nice one close to double that. Mine is pretty decent and sounds great on the recently overhauled Rega.

Rubin wrote about Hose in the amazing 2010 coffee table book Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label (which I highly recommend).

The first records I made were for Hose. I remember that I didn’t care about the technical side of producing. The engineers were always telling me, “Oh, you can’t push the volume like that because the equipment doesn’t like it.” And I was like, “Well, we’re not breaking anything and I like the way it sounds, so leave it the way it is.”

A bit punk and a bit no wave, Hose feels like it could have only come out of early 1980s NYC. Socially it’s ambivalently raw, the down-tuned “Dope Fiend” having a proto-grunge feel to it, relentless in its pounding beat, the vocals strained. The cover of Rick James’ “Super Freak” is unrecognizable as such, the funkiness of the original obliterated by the pounding rhythm for most of the song - though there is a moment late in the track when you catch a glimpse of the original’s famous bass line. The same goes for their version of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing”. Wikipedia only mentions these two tracks as being covers, but I’m almost positive the third B side track “Fire” is based on the version by the Ohio Players.

The entire five-song record was recorded in a three hour stretch, and it more or less sounds that way. There’s nothing fancy going on here at all. Is it good? Well, beauty is in the ears of the beholder. I like it, but I enjoy this kind of stripped down rawness. Is it worth the $60? That’s a different question. Unfortunately Hose never received the CD treatment and the band’s songs aren’t available on Spotify (not sure about other streaming services). However, Hose does have two tracks on the great 1986 comp God’s Favorite Dog alongside awesome bands like Scratch Acid, Big Black, and Butthole Surfers, and four on what appears to be some kind of unofficial German comp cassette called A Drink For Wolfram Wuttke (Trash’N’Cash).

X__X - “X Sticky Fingers X” (2014)

The Cleveland art-punk/no wave band X__X only existed for a handful of months in 1978.  The brainchild of John Morton, they filled the gap between the demise of Electric Eels and Morton’s move from Cleveland to New York City.  During that brief period they recorded a couple of unusual singles before going dormant for the next three decades, re-emerging in 2014 with a compilation called X Sticky Fingers X.

I’d never heard of X__X until recently when I ran across a reference to the group in Henry Rollins’ new book Hey Fanatic!!! Vol. 1.  They seemed interesting enough so I tracked down a copy of the comp on Discogs.  Morton described X__X as anti-music and they were known for “playing” things like lawnmowers and power drills (and you can hear a drill on X Sticky Fingers X), with their few live shows often devolving into physical violence.

To contemporary ears the songs are hardly anti-music or even no wave.  Sure, they have some grating qualities, especially the oft-used repetitive guitar notes that quickly become like fingernails on a chalkboard (and that pesky power drill…), but for the most part the songs have structure, even if at times they are eccentric.  Most of the tracks were culled from live recordings, and while that’s evident the sound quality is decent overall, especially given the era.  It’s hard to pick a “favorite” track, but if I had to I’d go with “The Social Whirlpool”.  Your mileage may vary.

The cover is a bit, well, sexual, so I opted to post the back cover with the post.  If you want to see the front in all of its glory, you can see it on Discogs HERE.

OWT - “Good As Gold” (1989)

I’m not sure what to make of Good As Gold.  OWT was the partnership of harpist (yes, I said harpist) Zeena Parkins and percussionist David Linton.  The pair also brought some keyboards, digital, and even tape looping skills to the project, which in many ways feels like some kind of bizarre free-jazz-meets-no-wave thing.  Experimental?  Yeah.  Thought provoking?  Definitely.  Enjoyable?  Well… it’s challenging.  The compositions have quasi-structures, but there’s so much happening that the listener never gets comfortable, which may well be the point.  “Dream Mint” is my favorite piece, something a bit more restrained with some intriguing electronic elements thrown in for good measure.

Jungle Nausea - “Jungle Nausea” (1982)

Jungle Nausea weren’t around for long, but they did give us this impossibly good six-shooter of a 12″.  There are a few decent band histories online HERE and HERE if you’re interested, so I’m going to stick to the music this time around.

Two songs into Jungle Nausea, Holly and I were already tracking in the same direction, her commenting that it reminded her of the Lydia Lunch record we listened to recently and me thinking about it in terms of no wave.  And given Lunch’s role in that here-today-gone-tomorrow genre, we were both pretty much thinking the same thing.

One of the posts I found about the band online used the word “robotic”, and that’s a perfect description of Tammy Cates’ vocals.  The jarring aspect of the whole thing is that while the vocals are stilted and deliberate, the music is all over the place.  Most of the time it’s like a series of sonic exclamation points, musical laser beams being shot of the speakers.  But there’s variety here too. The horns in “What You Know” give the whole thing a futuristic free jazz feel, while the metallic clanging percussion of “Turn Off” feels like it comes straight out of your kitchen and played using spoons as drumsticks and pots and pans the surfaces.

In 2016 Jungle Nausea got the compilation treatment, a twelve-song collection that includes all six tracks from their 1982 release and a half dozen more that hadn’t been published before.  Yes, the hand-painted covers of the original are cool, but for the money you might want to stick with the more recent record - you can give it a listen as well as purchase it on Bandcamp HERE.

Lydia Lunch / 13.13 - “13.13” (1982)

The New York City of the 1970s is portrayed as some type societal breakdown, a massive and densely populated urban area spiraling around the drain of poverty, crime, and anomie.  Drugs, prostitution, garbage all over the place and buildings on fire due to arson, all that was left was to wonder about was what the bottom would look like when the city finally hit it, or if the sheer weight of NYC break right through the bottom and keep going.  I mean, the police force, who were in a labor dispute with the city government, put out a pamphlet called Welcome To Fear City that they’d hand out to tourists, a booklet that literally recommended people don’t walk around on the sidewalks after 6PM and to not use any public transportation.

Was it truly that dystopian?  I don’t know - I didn’t live there.  But I did drive through Queens a couple of times with my parents when in town to visit family, and even to my young eyes looking out the car window it seemed impossible to believe that people actually lived in some of these areas, with their boarded up buildings and endless piles of garbage and stripped cars.  It sure seemed pretty bad.

Of course, like modern-day Detroit, these situations also attract a lot of young people.  The rents were impossibly cheap, and squatting was a viable option.  You didn’t need to make a lot of money to get by, and if your expectations were low (like no hot water… the inevitable break-in…) you could live a type of life.  You could also pursue whatever artistic endeavors you wanted.  And that’s the NYC that Lydia Lunch moved to in the mid 1970s as a 16 year old.  By 1976 she’d founded the no wave band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with James Chance, pioneering the short-lived no wave movement that seeped out of the “no future” ethos of the city and contributing four songs to the genre-defining No New York compilation.  By 1980 she had her first solo album, the well-regarded Queen of Siam, and that was followed in 1982 by 13.13.

Even sitting here in my clean and warm home, with a huge TV playing silently across the room and a kitchen full of food, I can still get a sense of that version of 1970s NYC when listening to Lunch on 13.13.  There’s an almost plodding resignation to the music and vocals.  Yes, the frustration is there to be heard, but in the way people express it when they know it isn’t going to get any better.  Holly hears similarities between Lunch and Mudhoney‘s Mark Arm, and that’s a very reasonable comparison both sonically and lyrically, though Lunch lacks the disdainful sneer you can feel in Arm’s voice on recent Mudhoney records.  Trouser Press described the album as “simultaneously fascinating and annoying”, but lest anyone think that the annoying aspects of 13.13 are due to a lack of talent, in fact it feels quite intentional.  If “Suicide Queen” doesn’t make you want to start searching your junk drawer for a razor blade it’s only because you’re not absorbing the song, the drone-like quality of Lydia’s voice feeling like a slow cut on your own skin.  It’s probably not something I’m going to listen to on a regular basis, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.  The length of the last three songs, a combined 18 1/2 minutes, do perhaps strain the brain with their relentlessness, but I suspect that’s the point.