20 Disks For 20 BucksOur local Tower Records closed down recently, but not before I raided their newly (and apparently pointlessly) created dollar bin. With prices that cheap, I was able to take a chance on bands whose names I'd only read, or even artists I'd never heard of but whose cover art I dug. Following is what I picked up and what I thought at the initial listen, with qualifiers. First impressions only.
A Bullet For Fidel—Cold Before Morning (Scat) (1996)
ABFF is really singer/songwriter Brian DiPlacido, who's obviously enamored of Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and other such would-be troubadours. He's got a decent, plainspoken vocal style and solid songs, and occasionally rocks out. Not bad; I'd like to hear more from Mr. DiPlacido. Shame he never followed this up.
Repeat listens? You bet.
Pay more than $1? Definitely.
The Almighty—Just Add Life (Castle) (1996)
I've read about this British act in reference to the early 90s mini-movement of punk/power pop/metal bands in the U.K. Ricky Warwick's got one of those classic English working class voices, gruff and crude but still soulful. The hooks, while not drop-dead brilliant, still catch, especially on "8 Day Depression." Kind of a dumbed-down Therapy? or a meaner, uglier Wildhearts, though it also kinda reminds me of obscure Canadian hard rockers Sons of Freedom, though that's not meaningful to anyone but me.
Repeat listens? Yeah, mate.
Pay more than $1? Sure, though I'd still prefer less than $10.
Altamont—Civil War Fantasy (Man's Ruin) (1998)
There were a shocking number of disks in the bin from the now-defunct Man's Ruin label, and I think I picked up a copy of every one that I didn't already have. Altamont is/was Melvins' drummer Dale Crover's entry into the stoner rock sweepstakes. He puts down his sticks and picks up a Les Paul to blast through some Southern rock-inflected Sabbath ooze, plus a free noise reminder ("Down Wind") of from which band he comes. Crover's vocals ain't the best, but this is solid stuff for fans of this kind of sludge.
Repeat listens? Most likely.
Pay more than $1? Yes.
Altamont—Our Darling (Man's Ruin) (2001)
More of the same, only with a slightly more prominent Southern rock influence and a lot of double entendres in the graphics, including a pistol, the Washington Monument, a rocket, a plug and a photographic depiction of D.H. Lawrence's infamous "baby's arm holding an apple." Plus a song called "Chicken Lover," an ambient track called "Stripey Hole" and covers of Johnny Thunders' "Pirate Love" and Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues," just to show there's more to grunge life than Sabbath and Skynyrd. And any band that makes reference to the great comic book Preacher (as with "Saint of All Killers") will win my heart every time.
Repeat listens? Of course.
Pay more than $1? Surely.
Beaver—Mobile (Man's Ruin) (2001)
Well, let's see, this trio is Dutch and on Man's Ruin—think that means it's loud, heavy rock? Well, duh. The singer croons like a grittier Ozzy, the tunes are fairly melodic and the band plays a bit lighter on its feet than stoner rock patron saint Black Sabbath, though there's still plenty o' riffs to go around. Beaver is kind of generic, but not bad.
Repeat listens? Maybe.
Pay more than $1? Jury's still out.
The Demonics—Formaldehyde Injection (Man's Ruin) (1998)
The Demonics are (were?) a very Ramones-like garage rock band with a worldview that seems to encompass mainly cars, motorcycles, monsters and tough chicks. "I met a girl from Venus/She had purple hair/She wants a man with a bionic penis/I want her underwear," the guitarist declares in "She's So Gone," which gives you an idea of the outlook here. Pretty simple stuff, but catchy and fun.
Repeat listens? I'd say so.
Pay more than $1? Probably.
The Demonics—Demons on Wheels (Man's Ruin) (2000)
The emphasis on biker movies is more explicit, but it's the same cheerful punk/pop, both tighter and sillier at the same time. "Anesthesiologist" is the catchiest ode to a medical professional I've yet heard and the cover of the Beach Boys' "Little Honda" also serves as a tribute to the Demonics' primary musical inspiration, the Ramones. Trouble is, after listening to the first one, this one has a certain "been there done that" feel.
Repeat listens? Probably, though I'm not sure I need more than one Demonics record.
Pay more than $1? Maybe.
The Doublehappys—Nerves (Flying Nun) (1992)
The Doublehappys were an 80s New Zealand band that put out a few singles and EPs (collected here) but who are best known to indie rock snobs as the first band for Shayne Carter of Straitjacket Fits. The bass-less trio plays mostly energetic jangle pop, the raw recording of which keeps it from being too sweet. My favorite songs are the ballad, "Anyone Else Would" and the epic "Nerves," but my fave lyric is "Everybody get double happy/Jesus loves you so do we" from "Needles and Plastic."
Repeat listens? Most likely.
Pay more than $1? Considering that I probably wouldn't have bothered with it if it hadn't been a buck, I should say no, but having now heard it, I think it's worth more.
Dozer—In the Tail of a Comet (Man's Ruin) (2000)
Wow, could this Swedish band sound anymore like Kyuss? I mean, hell, not only does the quartet have the groove and guitar tone down, but singer Frederik even sounds just like John Garcia. The flattery doesn't get much more sincere than this, man…
Repeat listens? Sure, since there won't be any new Kyuss music anytime soon.
Pay more than $1? I think paying a buck for something this blatantly derivative is about right.
Electric Wizard/Orange Goblin—Chrono.Naut/Nuclear Guru (Man's Ruin) (1997)
I love both of these bands, so I'm pleased to have this disk, which is essentially a split CD-single. The Wizard's "Chrono.Naut" (and "Chrono.Naut Phase II [Chaos Revealed]") is the most psychedelic thing I've ever heard them do, like the Bevis Frond covering Black Sabbath. Groovy. The Goblin's "Nuclear Guru" (also on the band's Time Travelling Blues album) is more derivative of Sabbath than usual for them, but still high quality. Naturally a Sabbath cover ("Hand of Doom") follows.
Repeat listens? Oh yeah.
Pay more than $1? I wouldn't want to pay too much for only four songs, but yes, definitely worth more than a dollar.
The Infidels—3 in the Morning (Worldpool) (1994)
This band (which is essentially songwriter Raoul Graff and whoever's in the studio with him) thanks the Church's Marty Willson-Piper in the liner notes, covers the Cure's "Boys Don't Cry" and has Go-Betweens violinist Amanda Brown as a guest. So that tells me something about it right there. Actually, the Go-Betweens link is the most crucial, as Graff writes and plays a melodic, heartfelt style of folk pop not unlike the Go-B's late 80s album 16 Lovers Lane. The Lilac Time sounds like a touchpoint as well. Very nice stuff, right up my alley when I need my ears to stop ringing. The Cure cover is great, by the way.
Repeat listens? Yep.
Pay more than $1? Most assuredly.
Into the Void—s/t (Flying Nun) (1993)
This bunch of New Zealand indie rockers can't seem to decide if they want to imitate Black Sabbath's pounding sludge rock or the Laughing Hyenas' noisy blues belch. Alas, they're not particularly good at either approach. The production is too thin to let the thundering rhythms and skronky guitars do their jobs, and the vocalist is pretty hopeless. "Love Bitch/Devil Woman" is probably the most annoying song I've heard in months, and it pretty much dissipated whatever good will towards this disk I had left. If you're gonna give yourself such a cool name, you're gonna have to do a lot better than this.
Repeat listens? Doubtful.
Pay more than $1? Nah.
Tim Lee—Crawdad (DB) (1993)
Every experiment has to have a ringer, and this is it. I'm already familiar with Lee's work as both solo artist and member of Southern power poppers the Windbreakers, so I knew I'd get exactly what I got: a graceful, jangly guitar pop record with solid songs and dry, unfancy production. Nice.
Repeat listens? Yup.
Pay more than $1? Of course.
Loretta's Doll—XXI Degrees (World Serpent) (1993)
I kind of get the feeling that this band thinks it's Pere Ubu, but it's more like a pomp-Goth cousin, trying to be oddball and majestic but coming off as pretentious and overblown. While Ubu singer David Thomas is so quirky he's riveting, Doll dude Bryin Dall is just irritating, like Christian Death's Rozz Williams on Quaaludes. Worst of all, Loretta's Doll commits the unpardonable rock sin: they're boring. Feh.
Repeat listens? Highly unlikely.
Pay more than $1? Not a chance.
The Mad Scene—A Trip Through Monsterland (Flying Nun) (1993)
A spin-off of the Clean (like half the New Zealand music scene), the Mad Scene is Hamish Kilgour and Lisa Siegel and friends doing a multi-instrumentalist pop thing. As with a lot of NZ indie rock, I'm not as captivated as I think I should be, though it's not bad at all. So much of it seems a little too…casual for my tastes, though I quite like "Bee," which anticipates the Raveonettes. I'm reluctant to give it up on it too soon, however. I've read that their follow-up on American indie powerhouse Merge is much better. Maybe this will grow on me.
Repeat listens? At least one more.
Pay more than $1? Eh, probably not.
Neither/Neither World—Alive With the Taste of Hell (World Serpent) (1996)
Creepy Gothic acid folk from the mind of one Wendy Van Dusen. It's reasonably melodic and conjures the appropriate atmosphere of otherworldly menace, but her vocal affectations undo her intentions with silly portentousness and overblown gravity. If she'd reign in her "listen to me, I'm so damn spooky" voice, I'd have a much easier time enjoying the attractive music.
Repeat listens? Maybe one more.
Pay more than $1? Nah.
The Puddle—Into the Moon (Flying Nun) (1992)
More New Zealand pop music, simple and straightforward. George Henderson's songs seem to be pretty solid, but he has that "who cares if I'm on key when I'm so emotional" warble and the production is, quite frankly, terrible. The tunes aren't strong enough that I feel like digging through the murk only to hear what's apparently Will Oldham's vocal inspiration. Yecch.
Repeat listens? At this rate, I may not finish the first one.
Pay more than $1? No way.
The Robots—Day of the Robots (Man's Ruin) (1999)
Swedish garage rock, very similar to that of their countrymen "Demons," though not anywhere near as ferocious. (Which isn't a slam—nobody's that carnivorous outside of Japanese death metal.) Nordic garage punk originators the Nomads are another touchstone, so it's appropriate that Nomads guitarist Hans Ostlund rips it up on "The Good Times are Killing Me." Catchy songs, energy, enthusiasm—everything you need for good garage rock & roll is here. Nice.
Repeat listens? Affirmative.
Pay more than $1? A bit more, at least.
Shock Headed Peters—Several Headed Enemy (Cyclops Prod./World Serpent) (1992)
A British electro rock duo, with guitars and vaguely deranged vox over the usual throbbing beats. Is this a more radio-friendly Ministry, or are they trying to be a less manic Alien Sex Fiend? Or is it Foetus minus the misanthropy? Frankly, not being a fan of the whole industrial disco rock thing, I can't bring myself to care in any case.
Repeat listens? Hardly.
Pay more than $1? Hell no—a dollar was too much.
Solid Gold Hell—Swingin' Hot Murder (Flying Nun) (1994)
From New Zealand, natch. Sounds like Gallon Drunk without the talent. Which means it sounds like a fifth-rate Birthday Party, a bunch of drunken louts who never realized that under all that fucked-up blues noise on their BP and Laughing Hyenas records are actual songs. And the singer just plain blows. There's some decent guitar work, and "Sugar Bag" is OK, but that's not enough to make this tolerable.
Repeat listens? No way, José.
Pay more than $1? I think not. Michael Toland