Quick Review (EP): Glenn by Slint

slint glenn rhoda 10" Slint
Glenn EP
Touch & Go; 1994

My Rating: A+

Best Tracks: both tracks

Spiderland gets all the recognition, but when it comes down to it, this is the record that truly DOCUMENTS the reality of this band of bands. First of all, the recording is amazing, the sound of Albini completely redeeming himself after sabotaging Tweez. Second, the band never sounded better, more Slint-ish, than this. “Glenn” is perhaps the essential Slint track, immediate and mysterious, sprawling and meticulous, an epic crafted to precision that proceeds to blow your mind. “Rhoda” refurbishes the poorest track on Tweez, thrusting it forward as perhaps the best. When Walford crashes in near the end of the track (“One two three four!!!!!”) and the band goes insane, you get a sense of what this band was capable of live. Doubters, beware. This EP just might convert you.

AMG review
Wikipedia article
Hardcore For Nerds review

Quick Review (LP): Novelty by Jawbox

jawbox novelty Jawbox
Dischord; 1992

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Cutoff”, “Static”, “Tracking”, “Channel 3”

Bill Barbot joins the crew, and greatness is unleashed. The progression from Grippe to Novelty is without a doubt one of the most remarkable in the history of rock and roll. Between albums, the band learned how to harness massive feedback walls, wrote a killer set of songs, and slowed things down just enough to nail you in the gut. “Cutoff” is so good that they re-wrote it on their 4th LP, “Channel 3” leans heavily on the muscular pop that was starting to rock the mainstream, and “Static” is quite simply an amazing tune. The dueling vocal attack of Robbins and Barbot is something to behold as well, creating a sort of hypnotic effect that’ll suck you in. But it’s the emotional arc of the songwriting that makes Novelty such a giant leap. The highs are galactic, the lows are subterranean. Novelty is one massive moment of greatness, one of the greatest post-hardcore records of all time, and deserves to be cherished by you.

AMG review
Wikipedia article
Punk Mecca review

Quick Review (LP): Repeater by Fugazi

fugazi repeater Fugazi
Dischord; 1991

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Turnover”, “Merchandise”, “Shut The Door”

After their mighty debut EP, Fugazi struggled through a couple of shorter efforts before nailing it on this, their debut LP. Repeater is the ultimate Fugazi full-length. It’s the record you can imagine them playing to throngs of sweaty teenagers and good-for-nothings in packed all-ages clubs. It’s the record that defines the band, and even sees them hinting at the manic musical directions they would take on future albums (“Sieve-Fisted Find”, “Greed”). The first three tracks run seamlessly into one another, allowing the band to essentially out-do itself after “Waiting Room” and demonstrate the kind of pugilistic fury they were capable of. “Shut The Door” seals the deal, putting the lid on one of the most memorable records of the pre-alternative era, and most everything in between is great too. The thing about Repeater is it opens up, exploding into incredible mixes of melody and fury that are simply unparalleled. Highly recommended, and worthy every second of your time.

AMG review
Wikipedia article
The Daily Guru review

Quick Review (LP): Three Imaginary Boys by The Cure

the cure three imaginary boys The Cure
Three Imaginary Boys
Fiction; 1979

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “10:15 Saturday Night”, “Accuracy”, “Fire In Cairo”, “Meathook”

If you’re like me, your first exposure to The Cure was their poppy late 80’s/early 90’s fare, such as “Just Like Heaven” or “Friday I’m In Love.” It’s a bit startling then to go back and hear them toddling through the minimalist, sinewy rock of their early singles, akin to the wonder of the caterpillar and the butterfly. Though it’s not an excellent debut, 3IB is nevertheless a pretty good one. After all, you’ve got to appreciate a band that says hello to the world with a chorus that consists of the word “drip” repeated ad infinitum. The album has its missteps of course, most notably the cover of “Foxy Lady” that just about ruins the mood of the record, but tracks like “Fire In Cairo” and “Accuracy” are about as lean and mean as any post-punk you’re going to find from this era. Yeah, it’s sort of a hodge-podge, a record that’s more about a record label overstepping its bounds than an artist’s vision, but what are you going to do? There’s something primal about this record that keeps me coming back, and I recommend giving it a listen or two.

AMG review
Wikipedia article
Pitchfork review

Quick Review (LP): Grippe by Jawbox

jawbox grippe Jawbox
Dischord; 1991

My Rating: C+

Best Tracks: “Freezerburn”, “Impossible Figure”, “Consolation Prize”, “Bullet Park”

Grippe starts out promising enough with the double-header “Freezerburn” and “Impossible Figure”, but quickly slips into mediocrity, as if the band tried to pump out its debut LP before they’d really fleshed out a full set of truly worthy songs. The riffs are all a little too chunky and the production sounds altogether amateurish. It’s clear the band hadn’t quite identified that which would become its sound. While this initial misstep is easily forgotten due to the quality of the band’s later output, it is revealing to see where the band was prior to the addition of Bill Barbot. There’s little sense of the technocratic/technophobic ambiance they would embrace on later recordings, although about half the songs hint at the latent melodic ability of J. Robbins. Verdict: this suffers from the “what is this thing called post-hardcore supposed to sound like?” syndrome that seemed so common for DC bands in the late 80’s, so don’t dive into this record expecting something great. The place to start is Novelty, and then on through to Sweetheart and the last one. After you’ve been through the 3 latter LP’s, drop by and give this one a quick look, if only to catch a glimpse of the ‘box’s humble beginnings.

AMG review
Wikipedia article

Quick Review (EP): Jawbox EP by Jawbox

jawbox ep Jawbox
Jawbox EP
Dischord/Desoto/Slamdek; 1990

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Tools & Chrome”, “Bullet Park”

Jawbox didn’t really hit their stride until Novelty, and this, their earliest release, suffers a bit from a meat-and-potatoes aesthetic blandness. That’s not really a major complaint though, because the performances are energetic and full of conviction. Everything here rocks with a truly youthful abandon, and Robbins’ guitar work is already beginning to shine with that razor’s edge manic grace that he would perfect later on. “Tools & Chrome” hits hardest, but don’t miss “Bullet Park”, which was released as an extra track on the Slamdek-released cassette. “Twister” also begins to hint at the frantic melodicism they would embrace on later releases. Worth a pitstop for devotees.

Allmusic review
Slamdek write-up (very in-depth, don’t miss it)

Quick Review (LP): Tigermilk by Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian
Electric Honey; 1996

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “The State I Am In”, “She’s Losing It”, “Electronic Renaissance”, “We Rule The School”, “My Wandering Days Are Over”, “I Don’t Love Anyone”

The inaugural event – a reclusive Scottish kid emerges from a cocoon of chronic illness with a pack of songs so sensitive they make Morrissey seem like Axl Rose. Yet from the outset, Stuart Murdoch earned every ounce of success he achieved by writing excellent, wintry tunes that seem slight at first but carry quite a bit of weight after a few listens. Album-opener “The State That I Am In” is inferior to the later Dog On Wheels version, but as a statement of vision, it ranks right up there with “Radio Free Europe” or “Round Here.” Otherwise, this isn’t his strongest set, but it is one of the better LP’s in the Belle & Sebastian catalog. A personal shoutout to “My Wandering Days Are Over”, in my book the best track of their 90’s output. It’s an open-ended slice of escapism, a real winner, and well worth hearing.

Wikipedia article
Allmusic review
Pitchfork review
113th Street review

Quick Review (EP): Margin Walker by Fugazi

Margin Walker EP
Dischord; 1989

My Rating: B-

Best Tracks: “Margin Walker”, “Burning Too”, “Promises”

It’s always puzzled me that so many folks cite Margin Walker as one of Fugazi’s best releases. I’ll admit it’s okay, especially the first and last tracks, but it’s an afterthought compared to the first EP. Nothing here is nearly as iconic or tuneful as “Waiting Room”, or even “Bulldog Front.” The tracks all feel a bit rigid, as if it is too obvious they are studio recordings. Furthermore, the band seems increasingly doctrinaire, more obsessed with the message than the music. The result is that this is the only mediocre record the band ever produced. The songs lack the poppy punch of the 7 Songs set, and for that reason it is a less than memorable release.

Wikipedia article
Allmusic review
My review of Fugazi’s 7 Songs EP
Mark Prindle’s review of Margin Walker

Book Review: Spiderland (33 1/3 series) by Scott Tennent

Spiderland (33 1/3 series)
by Scott Tennent
Continuum; 2010

My Rating: A

I can remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1994, and I was a freshman in high school, examining a double-sided, photo-copied Slamdek Records catalog. My eyes fell upon a blurb about a band named Slint, and I fixated on a quote that went like this: “Even Stone Temple Pilots rip off big ideas from these guys.” Not that I was an STP fan, but it didn’t take me long to realize that these Slint guys were a big deal. A few days later, I boogied on up to Mike Bucayu‘s Blue Moon Records in Holiday Manor and bought myself a cassette copy of Tweez. So, when I popped that sucker into my bookshelf setup, and the first discordant notes of “Ron” came blaring through my speakers, I was a little taken aback. Was this really the pride of Louisville?

Suffice to say, eventually I got it, and that’s why I’m pleased to say that Scott Tennent has finally written THE BOOK on Slint, a band that was heretofore the subject of so much conjecture, hearsay, and legend that it was often hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Starting in 1982 with Brian McMahan‘s first band, Languid and Flaccid, the book not only serves as the definitive story on Slint, but it also covers just about everything you’d want to know about seminal Louisville acts like Squirrel Bait, Maurice, and Solution Unknown. Tangentially, it even goes quite a ways toward revealing some of Will Oldham‘s artistic roots as well.  Through in-depth research and first-hand accounts from Dave Pajo, Todd Brashear, Ethan Buckler, and the imminently quotable Sean “Rat” Garrison, Tennant takes the band from cradle to grave, telling the story of the band’s origins as a Pajo/Britt Walford side project, Steve Albini‘s early embrace of the band, the controversial Tweez sessions and departure of Buckler, the second Albini session that produced the Glenn/Rhoda 10″, their efforts to establish themselves as a live act in 1989 and 1990,  the Spiderland sessions, and the band’s subsequent demise in late 1990.

Along the way, Tennent’s account is revelatory, capturing the artistic dynamics that went into composing and making Spiderland, and demonstrates that Slint were truly aiming for something new and unique. They were a band driven towards the sort of precision and craftsmanship that is often dismissed by rock musicians, and one gets the sense from reading Spiderland that one of the reasons the record is so special is that those guys cared about the placement and performance of every single note. Tennent’s analysis of Spiderland‘s tracks is quite insightful as well, and even for those, like myself, who have listened to the record dozens of times, it refreshes the record and illuminates just what it is that makes it such an uncanny experience. Let me just put it this way: having just finished Tennent’s Spiderland, “Good Morning, Captain” sounds even greater.

It’s about time someone got around to writing this book. Tennent’s Spiderland is HIGHLY recommended for any Slint fan, Slint-curious music fan, Slint-skeptic, or fan of interesting music in general.

Scott Tennent’s blog, Pretty Goes with Pretty
Wikipedia article on Spiderland

Quick Review (EP): 7 Songs by Fugazi

7 Songs EP
Dischord; 1988

My Rating: A+

Best Tracks: “Waiting Room”, “Burning”, “Suggestion”

Yes, it is THAT good, good enough to warrant us forgiving them for inaugurating the punk/funk/hardcore fusion that would be mimicked ad nauseam in the late 90’s by all the Korn Bizkit’s of the world. From every conceivable standpoint, this debut is a masterpiece, with “Waiting Room”/”Bulldog Front”/”Bad Mouth” standing as one of the greatest opening salvos in rock history. Elsewhere, “Burning” is nearly as strong, featuring an incredibly memorable intro, and “Suggestion” achieves the sort of epic arc that was and still is quite unusual for hardcore. There’s really no other record that brims with as much conviction, passion, and ferocious melodicism as this here extended player, and every track is simply iconic. Furthermore, this is a landmark record, because it’s the point that hardcore punk made the case that it could be, like, capable of the Top 40. The fact is, “Waiting Room” is one helluva pop song, and it might be argued that every track that made it into the buzz bin on MTV in the 90’s somehow directly descended from it. You should probably own two copies of this one: one to listen to, and one to salute on your way out the door every morning. So much more than a hardcore or punk record, the 7 Songs EP is without a doubt one of the finest musical moments of the 1980’s.

AMG review of the 13 Songs compilation
AMG review of “Waiting Room”
Wikipedia article
Confessions of a Cultural Whore review