Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Yaggfu Front – Action Packed Adventure! LP


Mercury (1994) 

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

I've mentioned more times than I can count that I have found a lot of really interesting hip hop records digging through lists on the internet.  My best friend for a while was the obligatory 'forgotten hip hop records of the 90s' type lists, of which there are no shortage of.  One of the very first groups I came across from those lists was Yaggfu Front.  But hot damn was it impossible to find a copy of this bad boy on vinyl.  I kept holding out hope that someone would reissue it, but it just never happened,

After passing on copies priced well over $200 and sometimes quite a bit more than that, I finally stumbled across a copy that was more reasonably price.  Note that I said 'more reasonably priced,' it really wasn't as reasonable as I would have liked.  I definitely overpaid for it, but I had been searching for so long I had to grab it.  Why was I willing to search for so long?  It's the production on this record, which is as strong as anything released in 1994.

Lyrically, no one in Yaggfu Front is an elite MC.  They're fine, there's nothing bad here but there's never a track that gets me thinking I'm in the presence of an amazing lyricist.  They are all mostly there to serve the beats, and they serve the beats just fine.  Or maybe it's more accurate to say the beats serve them, and truthfully pick the album up in a way that makes the record sound really great.  The beats, hooks and samples on this record are so good that the rapping on it is almost an afterthought.  Again, the rapping isn't bad at all, but the production hits that sweet spot of what I'm looking for in a hip hop record so perfectly that I'm really distracted from paying attention to much else.

I really recommend giving this record a listen.  It might not be worth hunting down a copy for everyone, but it's certainly worth finding it on youtube or whatever.  And if anyone does ever rerelease it at an affordable price, it's absolutely worth a pickup.

Yaggfu Front – Action Packed Adventure!

Friday, September 15, 2023

Bad Idea - Sonic Hellride LP - Yellow Vinyl


Self Released (2023)

Bad Idea hail from Minneapolis, a city that has produced more than its fair share of bands that I really dig.  And while the bulk of bands I have enjoyed from this fine city have skewed towards the pop punk side of the spectrum (with some detours into Big Drill Car sounding territories), Bad Idea are playing a old school/garage-y sort of punk rock that I don't typically associate with Minneapolis.  Granted, I don't live there so it's possible a thriving community of likeminded bands exist, but they aren't typically on my radar.

Most people that know my taste in punk rock will know that Bad Idea don't immediately fit the bill.  It's not as hooky as I would prefer and there certainly aren't many vocal harmonies as are on a lot of records I own, but they still resonate in a way that most bands like this do not.  A major reason is because of the quality vocals.  So many groups like this are shouting and hollering and yelling in a way that my tender ears do not appreciate.  This singer is one that can actually sing.  It's gruff, maybe in a less gravelly Lemmy sort of way, but he's carrying a tune and that goes a long way with me.

Some of the songs are straighforward in a beat you over the head sort of way, and I don't click with those quite as much.  But then there are a few that lean more towards my wheelhouse like "TV Brain" and "Act Of Violence."  I wouldn't call them pop by any means, but there's a different level of dynamics there that elevate them higher.  As far as the songs that are of the more straightforward variety, if you like your punk rock a little more old school and traditional, particularly with a tinge of garage energy, this is probably a record you should check out.  They do this style better than most.

Bad Idea - Sonic Hellride:

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The B.U.M.S. - Lyfe 'N' Tyme 2xLP + 7"


90s Tapes (2023, Reissue) 

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

Lyfe 'N' Tyme originally came out in 1995, and if you are even a somewhat casual reader of my Wednesday nonsense, you know that year is the cut off for following hip hop.  1994 and earlier, I was paying very close attention to what was happening.  1995 and beyond was a total mystery to me for decades because there wasn't anything catching my interest.  As a result, I ended up missing out on quite a few really good records.  I still contend that very few albums from after '95 can hand with anything from what I consider the Golden Era of 1988-1994.  But again, there are some that have popped up as I've been digging around the last few years.

The B.U.M.S. are one of those groups that ended up on my radar looking for something new that I hadn't heard before.  I checked out their only album Lyfe 'N' Tyme and while I liked it, it wasn't one of those albums that made me think I must pay collector prices and get this record in my collection immediately.  Not rushing into that paid off in the long run as my favorite hip hop reissue label, 90s Tapes, stepped up and rereleased a great version of this album.  Double LP with a bonus 7", you really couldn't ask for a more definitive version.

As far as the music goes, I still contend that it's a good record, though it never really crosses that line to be considered top tier.  The beats are mostly laid back and rely on some jazzy samples, but they don't really have the energy of something like Tribe or Gang Starr.  There's laid back and then there's slow, Lyfe 'N' Tyme is really riding that line between the two.  Lyrically is where the album really shines, with dynamic flows and rhymes.  Being from the Bay Area, you could draw a dotted line to the Hieroglyphics folks, but The B.U.M.S. are a bit more straightforward and don't experiment quite as much.

It really is a solid record and had it come out when I was in the thick of my teenage hip hop obsession, I probably would have been playing this in my car fairly often.  Today, it's a solid record and a nice change of pace when I'm looking to listen to something I'm less familiar with.

Monday, September 11, 2023

The Subjunctives - Let's Try This Again LP - Pink Vinyl


Top Drawer (2023)

When I think about it, it seems kind of inconceivable that the last Subjunctives album came out four years ago already.  Sunshine and Rainbows still feels like a new record to me and while I'm fully aware that my sense of time has been distorted over the past few years, it's wild that I'm holding the band's new record thinking 'boy, they sure pumped out another one of these pretty quick.'  Yet the entirety of how long it takes to get through high school has happened since the last one.  Feeling old yet?

Let's Try This Again picks up where Sunshine and Rainbows left off, with Ean, Jeff and new drummer Wendell crafting poppy punk songs that lean on Bob Mould style guitar crunch as much as they do Sicko style irreverence and tight hooks.  I had mentioned when I wrote about the first Subjunctives record that this was the Ean band that was able to scratch my Sicko itch, and while there's probably a better way to phrase the sentence in a way that doesn't make it seem like I'm dealing with some sort of rash, it's still true.  This makes me feel like it's 1996 again, hanging out in the record store and just enjoying the way the music was making me feel.

Lyrically, Ean is really in top form here.  We've got songs about smart pop punk vs. dumb pop punk, career paths, Covid, fuckers and Lance from J Church/Cringer.  It's subject matter that certainly resonates with me and it's refreshing to hear an album that feels thematically targeted to someone in their 40s and 50s.  And that's not to say the kids won't be able to get down with these funky sounds.  I'm sure many in their 20s will agree that these tracks slap.  Which is a somewhat obnoxious way to say that this kind of pop punk always feels universal to me.  Even if the specific topics might skew to an older demographic, the overall feelings of battling insecurities, fears and trying to celebrate the things that help get you through each day are common themes that everyone can relate to.  

Start to finish, it's just as strong a record as Sunshine and Rainbows.  We've got short fast songs, we've got mid tempo guitar pop and we've even got a cover of the Sicko song "Believe" played even faster than the original.  To me the biggest difference between Let's Try This Again and the last record is in the vocals.  The way they are recorded is much more slick and it's dripping with massive harmonies on just about every song.  It sounds full, crisp and and impeccably recorded, though it is missing a little bit of the scrappiness that I tend to associate with Sicko and the first Subjunctives album.

2023 is a year that, for me, has really been lacking in new albums that I've connected with.  There's been a some, but I can't remember a year where I've bought fewer new records.  Luckily, The Subjunctives were aware of my plight and put out a record that reminds me that there's more to life than 90s reissues.  There's also people from the 90s still writing great music.

The Subjunctives - Let's Try This Again:

Friday, September 8, 2023

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Original Series Soundtrack 2xLP - Blue w/ Black Smoke Vinyl


Milan (2023)

I don't buy a lot of soundtracks on vinyl, but I have been picking up some of the cooler ones that get released.  If it's Godzilla or Toho related, that's probably an instant buy.  Then there are others that pop up randomly like Cowboy Bebop and Star Wars type stuff.  I don't buy all of it, but I will pick up the occasional record that I think is cool.

I don't watch much anime.  In fact, I really don't watch any.  The only exceptions are the aforementioned Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion.  I stumbled across Evangelion in college, maybe in 1997 or so?  It was recommended to me and I started buying the VHS tapes that were being released at the time.  Two episodes per tape and lots of trips to Suncoast Motion Picture Company.  I loved that show and though it was so interesting and powerfully written.  Until the last couple of episodes anyway, then it just kind of goes a little crazy and I don't really understand what's going on.

The thing I always remember about the soundtrack is "Angel Attack," a rousing piece that captures the sound of impending doom perhaps better than anything since the Imperial March.  The rest of this soundtrack is only kind of OK.  I mean, nothing is bad or anything, but when I listen to it I'm not getting that immersive experience that I tend to while listening to other soundtracks.  Maybe I'm just not as familiar with the music of Evangelion, but it's not until the closing version of "Fly Me To The Moon" that those nostalgic memories hit again.

This was out of print for a while, as best I can tell.  It recently got repressed and I was able to pick it up for pretty cheap, so I did.  I'm glad to have it, but as far as soundtracks that I'm going to listen to often, this one will end up being lower on the priority list.

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Original Series Soundtrack:

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Gang Starr - The Ownerz 3xLP


Virgin (2015, Reissue) 

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

The Ownerz was the final Gang Starr album of the group's original run.  It came out while I was working my radio promotion job and a buddy that was working at Virgin at the time hooked me up with a CD copy back then.  So unlike a lot of hip hop from 1995 until recently, I did actually hear this right when it was released.  It got to a point where this album was the only one of theirs that I didn't have on vinyl, so I finally picked it up to complete the full length collection.

Gang Starr has pretty much always been amazing.  Even in 2003, when the bulk of hip hop was absolutely not my cup of tea, Guru and Premier put out an album that still felt like the sort of thing I would have listened to at the height of my hip hop fandom.  The beats still feel like classic Premier and Guru's lyrics are as sharp as ever.  If it was primarily the two of them over the album, it would be another classic.  But to me, that's the album's biggest problem.

There are way too many guest appearances for me.  I know that's what hip hop turned into, everyone on everyone else's albums, but if I buy an album, it's because I want to hear the person or group putting out that album.  Of The Ownerz' nineteen tracks, eight of them have guest verses on them.  It makes everything feel watered down to me and I think the album would be significantly stronger if those verses were replaced by more from Guru.  That aside, it's still a solid album and considering when it came out, it's certainly one of the better post-golden era releases out there.

Friday, September 1, 2023

The Pretty Flowers - A Company Sleeve LP - Opaque Blue Vinyl - Record Release Sleeve (7/47)


Double Helix (2023)

This will be a quick write up today as I just posted a much lengthier missive about this fabulous record the other week.  Please go here if you want me to tell you how great the music is:

For today, I wanted to show off the limited, alternate sleeve version from The Pretty Flowers record release show.  They did 47 of these in total and they were sold at the show, with a few leftovers winding up on Bandcamp.  The folks at Pretty Flowers Inc. were kind enough to make sure that my alternate sleeve came with the opaque blue version of the vinyl, so I have both colors now as well.  It also came with a signed promo photo straight out of 1997.  I haven't seen one of those since my time writing at my college newspaper many, many moons ago.

This is one of those variant hunts that I've tried very hard to keep from overtaking my record collection.  For the most part, I'm much better about only buying one version of a record when it comes out.  But there are sometimes bands or variations that tug at my heart strings and I just can't help myself.  This is one of those records and I'm happy to have it.  

The Pretty Flowers - A Company Sleeve:

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

J.U.I.C.E. - The Man 2xLP


90s Tapes (2023, Reissue) 

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

This is another 90s Tapes release by an artist I had never heard of prior to this album going up for sale.  Doing some digging, I found out that J.U.I.C.E. was a force on the freestyle battle rap scene in the late 90s.  It's admittedly a scene I don't know very much about as I had kind of moved on from hip hop by that point and was pretty wrapped up in punk and indie rock by then.  Apparently J.U.I.C.E. crossed paths with Eminem as both were working their way up the battle rap circuit and during that battle, J.U.I.C.E. came out on top. 

Their careers took different paths from their, as I'm sure you have figured out.  And again, I never heard of J.U.I.C.E. until this 90s Tapes double LP came to light.  In 1998 J.U.I.C.E. put out a four song cassette EP called The Man.  This double LP takes the demo versions of the songs from that release and adds in a myriad of extra, unreleased tracks from the same era.  While hip hop in the late 90s typically doesn't resonate with me the same way the releases at the beginning of the decade do,  there's a lot to like about these songs.

The production is solid, but maybe not as strong as the early 90s beats that I usually gravitate towards.  The drums, bass lines and samples can be understated at times, but they are still good and have a lot in common with the more backpacker indie rap sounds of the early 2000s.  I can appreciate that style as well.  It's really the lyrics and delivery that makes this album stand out.  J.U.I.C.E. obviously a very gifted MC and he uses his freestyle skills to put together tracks that showcase those talents.  

He has a complicated flow, but not one that's outlandish just for the sake of it.  Some tracks have strong narratives while others have J.U.I.C.E. just throwing down battle rhymes.  It's a good mix and I think it would be difficult for anyone to not walk away impressed by his skills.  I feel like if he had come around five or six years earlier, he probably would have ended up among my very favorites if the production was a little more in line with the sounds of 1992 or 1993.  But that's just my personal bias on hip hop production.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Skiploader - From Can Through String LP - White Vinyl


Tim/Kerr / Geffen (1996)

Skiploader is a band whose name I remember being kicked around in the 90s, but they weren't a band I had ever spent any time with.  In fact, I'm not even positive I ever heard a single song by them back then.  One of my buddies, Jason, had mentioned them to me a little ways back and it reminded me to give them another listen.  I did, and then I picked up a sealed cutout of their first full length, From Can Through String.  It was cheap and sealed, so that was a bonus.

My original expectations were that this would be the sort of slow twinkly emo that was in vogue in 1996.  Sad sack music lamenting all of the things wrong with the world.  The fact that it was on Geffen should have clued me in that it would need to be more exciting than that, and it is.  Skiploader's album is an energetic blast of catchy songs with big, crunchy guitar chords.  Is there an emotional undercurrent to the songs?  Absolutely, but it's done in a way that makes everything more dynamic and interesting than your by the numbers pop punk band of the era.

In fact, the band this album makes me think about the most as a comparison is actually Seaweed.  Both vocalists have the strained, but powerful delivery and the guitar riffage also has moments of similarity.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that Skiploader is quite as good as Seaweed was.  Seaweed had an intensity level that Skiploader can't match.  But Skiploader is carrying on a similar tradition and this record is way better than I would have figured based on everything I knew about them before actually listening to it.

Skiploader - From Can Through String:

Friday, August 25, 2023

Unwound / Karate - Fantasma Split 7" - Red Vinyl


Numero (2023)

This 7" was originally available at the Primavera Sound Festival that took place in Barcelona.  Unwound and Karate both played on day three and were grouped as part of the third font size (out of four) on the poster.  As both of these songs are also available on albums by each band, I assume this was mainly released to be a take home trinket of the experience.  Lucky for record dorks like me, Numero put some extra copies up on their website, so I was able to keep my Unwound 7" collection up to date.

On the Unwound side we have "Look A Ghost," from their Leaves Turn Inside You album from 2001.  While the later era Unwound records are definitely not my favorite of their overall discography, this song does stand out as one of the best.  It's not quite as noisy as I usually want my Unwound songs to be, as they rely more on a clean (as in not distorted), but muddy guitar tone.  The playing is intricate though and it's not sleepy like some of the band's other later era songs. 

Karate is a band I never listened to.  I'm not entirely sure why as they aren't a band that I can point to and say "I don't like them because ______."  I just never listened to them and I think I always thought of them as a slow, kind of boring band.  Now that I've heard their contribution to this 7", "There Are Ghosts" from the 1998 album The Bed is in the Ocean, I'm not sure my assumption was incorrect.  It's not a bad song, it is pleasant enough, but it has that slow, smooth jazz sort of indie rock vibe that never did anything for me.  Maybe they have other songs that are a bit more dynamic and exciting, but this one is kind of just there.

If you didn't go to the festival and already like either band, I'm not sure this is an essential release as you probably already have the song.  But for that segment of people that need to hunt down things like this, you can get it at a reasonable price from the fine folks at Numero.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Concept of A.L.P.S. - The Classic Collection 3xLP


90s Tapes (2023, Reissue) 

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

I have something of a backlog of 90s Tapes releases, so you might see quite a few of them in the upcoming weeks.  This particular album and group I had never heard of prior to this reissue being made available for purchase a few months ago.  The Concept of A.L.P.S. (or as they are sometimes called, The Alps Cru) hailed from St Louis and in 1994 started releasing a string of independent 12" singles.  They had three singles in the mid 90s, but never put out a full length.

Then starting in 2008, they began releasing more singles and stayed relatively active putting something out every few years.  Again, they never put out a full length during this run either.  Enter 90s Tapes.  They have compiled everything from those 12"s from the 90s and most of the tracks from the later singles as well and put them all on one convenient triple LP (though one of the 3 LPs is the instrumental versions).  The label is based in Germany, so their on sale times are in the middle of the night for me.  I don't typically have a problem getting my hands on the albums of theirs that I want, but Alps sold out before I even woke up that morning.  I spent a little bit of time hunting, and I did have to pay collector prices, but I was finally able to track down a copy for myself.

And it was important that I did hunt this down.  It's a great album full of slower tempo, jazzy beats that still have a rugged feel to them.  I'm at a loss for an easy comparison point to another group, but certainly if you are into Tribe Called Quest or Gang Starr, you will be able to appreciate what the Alps Cru are offering, even though they don't really sound a ton like either of those groups.  Regardless, this is an album that my hip hop ear can enjoy, they are of their era enough that I'm interested, but left of center enough that they still sound like the sort of thing indie hip hop folks of today would enjoy.  Worth checking out, but be prepared to pay for the vinyl if you find it.

The Concept of A.L.P.S. - The Classic Collections:

Monday, August 21, 2023

The Pretty Flowers - A Company Sleeve LP - Translucent Blue Vinyl (/250)


Double Helix (2023)

Of the records I've written about over the past five years or so, I'm not sure that any connected with a certain segment of my friends more than Why Trains Crash, the first album from The Pretty Flowers.  I wrote about it back in 2018 and most of the people whose taste in music most closely matches mine seemed to love it.  And not just love it, to further evangelize it to others.  Watching that happen for a record I loved so much was really quite wonderful.  My circle of music friends often agree on what bands are good, but there was something pretty special about the way every seemed to connect with The Pretty Flowers.

Fast forward to 2023 and five years have gone by.  That's a pretty long time since their last record and factor in that the five years that went by felt more like thirty and I wondered what would happen when A Company Sleeve finally came out.  Well, everyone I know loves it and that includes me in a big way.

Despite being fully aware that I do it, I often fall victim to the trope of trying to compare a band to other bands to try to help explain what they sound like.  There's only so many times you can write things like 'catchy' and have it really be a description of the music that you're listening to.  I still think that the bands that I most associate with The Pretty Flowers when trying to come up with a comparison point are The Weakerthans (for the storytelling component and hooks) and early Built To Spill (for the band's ability to weave in more complicated guitar attacks, but not overwhelm with unnecessary solo wanking).  

Even without referencing these touchstones, it's impossible to not gush over how expertly this entire album has been crafted as a body of work.  The individual songs are all spectacular, but the way they flow from one to the other is a masterwork in sequencing and thought put into making this feel like an album and not just being a pile of twelve songs.  This is not a concept album, but the concept of these songs being an album was obviously something that was taken very seriously.

I can't say enough great things about this record.  It's hands down the best record I have heard all year so far and I'm not really sure anything else is even close.  If you are ever the sort of person to put stock into anything I write and didn't pick up on the first Pretty Flowers album, listen to me this time and make sure you grab A Company Sleeve.  A shoe in for album of the year if John Reis doesn't put out anything before January.

The Pretty Flowers - A Company Sleeve:

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Al' Tariq - God Connections 2xLP + 7"


90s Tapes (2023, Reissue) 

 Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

Before he was Al' Tariq he was known as Kool Fash and was part of The Beatnuts.  While I wasn't really familiar with The Beatnuts as a group back in the 90s, I was aware of them via their production involvement with several groups that I did listen to at the time.  I discovered the first Beatnuts full length many years later and was definitely a fan.  After that album originally came out, Kool Fash left the group and changed his name to Al' Tariq.  

God Connections is Al' Tariq's debut album and it originally came out in 1996, which is way past my typical hip hop expiration date of 1994.  What I've learned over the years is that for the most part, I'm right - the vast, vast majority of rap that came out after 1994 is pretty terrible.  But I've also learned that a blanket statement like that just cannot apply to everyone.  I have found some post-94 jewels over the last few years, and God Connections is one of them.

It's not a a perfect record by any means and I do with that the production was a little more upbeat and dirtier, for a lack of a better word to describe it.  Things are pretty polished and you'll never mistake it for something that came out in that 88-94 golden era.  That said, it is still quite good.  The beats do still hit relatively hard and the bass, while smooth, still thumps.  Lyrically, Al' Tariq is great and he's the main reason the album's highs get as high as they do.  As good as he was on Beatnuts' records, he' elevated his game further and spins killer stories on each track.

God Connections may not be an essential record that everyone needs to own, but if you are like me and are hunting for records outside of your comfort zone that can really hang with golden era classics, you could certainly do worse than Al' Tariq's debut.  It's definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Lifer's Group - Living Proof LP


Intercord / Hollywood BASIC (1992)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

While I never heard any music from Lifer's Group back when it was originally released in the early 90s, I was aware of their story.  Born out of the Rahway State Prison's program that was highlighted as part of the Scared Straight documentary, the group came about as another idea to reach out and share their message through music and try to dissuade young people from activities that could lead to imprisonment.

What I didn't know is that the record is pretty great.  It came out in 1992, which you could really make a case for being the highlight of the Golden Era (it's either that or '93, for sure).  The beats are pretty much what you'd hope to hear on a record that came out at this time.  It's hard hitting, with aggressive drum breaks and tons of low end.  While not anywhere near the perfection that EPMD was producing at the time, there is something about the sounds on Lifer's Group that does make me think of Erick and Parrish's production prowess.

Lyrically, there's a bunch of MCs an the album and all of them are pretty great.  To be honest, I don't really know who is who from song to song, but everyone steps up to the mic and does an excellent job.  Lyrically it's a mix of positive lyrics encouraging people to stay out of trouble and tracks that play out as cautionary tales of what can happen if you engage in some of the activities that led to the participants being in Rahway to begin with.

At the end of the day, it's just a really strong, entertaining listen.  The beats are always what opens the door for me, but in this case the lyrics are what keeps me coming back for more.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Pharma - See? 7"


Big Neck (2023)

I feel like the 7" is a dying art form.  The cost of getting one pressed these days is so high and the resulting price that you need to sell it for to not lose money seems a bit crazy to me.  I'm not saying that labels are over charging for them in general (though some probably are for sure), but it's just how much they cost now.  As someone that's been buying 7"s since my dad let me buy the "Walk Like An Egyptian" one at Sam Goody as a kid, it's kind of crazy to see $15 7"s becoming the norm.

Now, Big Neck isn't charging $15 for theirs, so kudos to them for that.  And kudos to them for releasing a 7" at all.  So many bands and labels have given up on them completely.  In some ways, Pharma is the perfect band for a 7".  It's five songs long and all but one are under two minutes long.  A throwback to punk rock 7"s of yore.

That said, there were a lot of punk rock 7"s back in the days of yore that I didn't buy because they were kind of like this.  There's lots of yelling over distorted guitar, at times frantically placed and kind of sludgy at others.  It's just not the kind of punk that ever really connected with me, though I have to give the band credit for their ability to make the vocals sound truly otherworldly and insane.  There's a chaotic energy captured that really is above and beyond a lot of bands playing this sort of thing.  Unfortunately, this sort of thing isn't really my speed.

Pharma - See?:

Friday, July 28, 2023

Knapsack - This Conversation Is Ending Starting Right Now LP - Blue & Yellow Pinwheel Vinyl - From The Complete Discography Box Set (/300)


Spartan (2023, Reissue) 

I recently got my hands on the vinyl box set of all three Knapsack albums. Rather than try to write one really long review that encompasses all of the albums, I figured I would break this into multiple parts like I have with other box sets I've written about. For the next three Friday's we'll visit each of Knapsack's albums. Even though I have the original pressings of each album, the box set was just too cool to pass up. For the final week we'll focus on the third Knapsack album, This Conversation is Ending Starting Right Now as well as the box set as a whole.

This Conversation is Ending Starting Right Now came out right when I was starting out at my college radio station.  When I started college, the campus station was playing a top 40 format and was really seen as a training ground for DJs.  But in my fourth year, that teacher split and a new guy came in and decided to change the format to a more traditional college radio station.  I went over there immediately and became a DJ.  

No one at the station had any real connections and didn't know how to get music sent to them, I had a lot of contacts from my time writing at the college newspaper, so I used them to get records and became the music director of the station in fairly short order.  One of the first people I reached out to was my contact at Alias and one of the first new records he sent was This Conversation is Ending Starting Right Now.  He also hooked me up with a ton of back catalog to help jumpstart a library that didn't exist, so I was grateful for that as well.  Unfortunately, I don't remember the guy's name, but he was a good dude.

I had my copy before Alias sent one to the station, but I'll always link that record to my time there as it was so pivotal.  Having already been a Knapsack fan, I was really excited that a new album war coming out and was expecting it to be good.  I was not expecting to think it was even better than Day Three of my New Life.  But, I thought it was and still think it is.  

Both are insanely stellar records, but something about how well the songs are structured on This Conversation is Ending Starting Right Now takes it over the top.  I hesitate to call the songwriting mature, as there is still a nice amount of that angsty energy that is so important to Knapsack working, but there's definitely growth.  The songs are more complicated, but are never overwrought.  The hooks and choruses shine even brighter than before and for me this is the quintessential Knapsack album, with Day Three a very, very close second.

Now for the box set.  I'm not going to spend multiple paragraphs singing its praises, but hot damn is it beautiful.  The outer box is high quality and has a nice, hefty feel.  The records themselves have good weight and sound great, though I do question some of the colors that were pickled.  I think some of the individual releases had vinyl colors that played better with the album art, the box set ones tend to feel a little wacky to me.  This particular album has a good color to match the art work, but the first two really don't.  And none of them match each other in any sort of cohesive way, so it feels kind of jumbled and disjointed.

It also comes with a large, awesome book that has an oral history of the band with input from all of the key players.  There's even a listing of every show they ever played.  They only did about a dozen more shows after the time I saw them in NYC with Archers of Loaf in 98, until the reunion shows kicked off.

It's an incredible set.  I really couldn't be happier with it aside from the vinyl color weirdness.  It is sold out a few times over at this point as they ended up making more boxes with other versions of the vinyl from other pressings.  Some of those look better than the exclusive version, but I ordered my set right away, so there were no choices to make when I was buying.  At the end of the day, I'm just happy it sounds great and the box and book look awesome.  I wish more sets like this could be made for other bands that I love.

Knapsack - This Conversation Is Ending Starting Right Now:

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

De La Soul - Stakes Is High 2xLP


Chrysalis / AOI Records (2023, Reissue)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

Of the De La Soul records I have written about thus far, Stakes Is High is the one that I really knew nothing about.  While I'm familiar with the phrase 'stakes is high' as part of the vernacular, I never had listened to this record prior to purchasing this reissue.  I wasn't even sure I was going to buy it as it came out in 1996, which is typically a few years removed from any hip hop I've historically cared about.  I've gotten more open minded about hip hop that came out after 1994 in recent years, but I'm still often trepidatious about release post-Golden Era.

Now that I've spent a little time with Stakes Is High, I could make the argument that it's the best De La Soul record.  It doesn't necessarily have the best songs, the highs aren't as high, but as a consistent record, it's pretty aces.  A big help is the fact that it's not bogged down with a bunch of crummy skits, you can actually listen to this as a record without getting interrupted by nonsense that ceases to be even remotely funny after about the third listen.  

On Stakes Is High De La just brings great beats and great rhymes.  No Gimmick.  This was the first album they recorded without Prince Paul helping out with production, but that doesn't hurt the beats at all.  Even though this is a '96 release, the feel is absolutely of the era I always gravitate towards.  I was pretty sure I was only going to buy the first three De La Soul reissues, but I took a chance on this, their fourth, and I'm really glad I did.  Does that mean I should give their next record, Art Official Intelligence a try?  I'm not sure, but I'm considering it.

De La Soul - Stakes Is High:

Monday, July 24, 2023

Chinese Junk - Fly Spray LP - Clear Vinyl


Big Neck (2023)

I wanted Chinese Junk to sound like Chinese Telephones, but that's an unfair expectation to put on a band only based on their name.  Funny enough, they do have some sonic similarities, but the tunefulness of the songs is a separating point between the two bands.

Chinese Junk are playing fast, Ramones-style, downstroke heavy punk rock.  Musically, it's catchy in a similar way to Johnny & co., but it's very much a rougher, lower fidelity version.  All but one of the albums fourteen tracks clock in at under two minutes and that one outlier only breaks the two minute mark by four seconds.  It's maybe a bit trashier than is my usual cup of tea, but there are endearing qualities about a band that just sets up and blasts through a dozen of so songs at warp speed.

The vocals are where things are a little dicier for me, and it's the same observation that I've made a thousand times.  The recording quality of the vocals is just a bit too rough and distorted for me.  Now, I don't like over-produced, slick vocals, but I don't prefer them to be blown out to this extent.  The Marked Men are about as distorted as I can take before they've gone overboard, Chinese Junk is a bit past that.  That said, I really think the record is pretty strong for this style of band.  If the vocals were reigned in a bit more, I could probably get behind it.

Chinese Junk - Fly Spray:

Friday, July 21, 2023

Knapsack - Day Three of My New Life LP - Orange Vinyl - From The Complete Discography Box Set (/300)


Spartan (2023, Reissue) 

I recently got my hands on the vinyl box set of all three Knapsack albums. Rather than try to write one really long review that encompasses all of the albums, I figured I would break this into multiple parts like I have with other box sets I've written about. For the next three Friday's we'll visit each of Knapsack's albums. Even though I have the original pressings of each album, the box set was just too cool to pass up. This week, we're on the second Knapsack album, Day Three of My New Life.

Day Three of My New Life was the first Knapsack record I picked up.  It made an immediate impact on me in 1997 with its angsty, impassioned vocals over those thick, crunchy guitars.  I listened to the album on repeat and even picked up a T shirt with the album art on it from a store, as I didn't see them play when they toured this album.  I traded the shirt away for a 7" and that shirt is way harder to find now than the record is.

Of all the albums in this box set, this is the one I'm most excited about.  It's not because it's my favorite of the bunch, but because the pressing I've always had is the double 10" version that Alias put out.  While it is unique and neat looking, it's always been a pain to actually play, having to flip or change the record three times to get through the whole thing.  Now, I can finally listen to it as a normal LP along with the bonus track "Drop Kick," which was originally on Knapsack split 7" with Stuntman.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Terminator X & The Godfathers Of Threatt – Super Bad 2xLP


Rush / P.R.O. (1994)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

I had the first Terminator X album back in the 90s and was quite the fan of it.  While not every song was incredible, it was a solid listen all the way through and the highs were pretty high.  The follow up to that album wasn't released until 1994, and honestly I had no idea it even existed.  1994 was definitely a year where my taste in music was starting to change, as hip hop was also changing.  I guess I wasn't paying as much attention as I thought as this one just slipped by me until I discovered it a few years ago.

It's never been rereleased, so it took me a minute to find a copy in good condition that was also at an affordable price.  That second part was very important because while this is a solid record, it is absolutely not good enough to pay collector prices for.  The highlight of the album is the production.  Terminator and Chuck D crafted a record full of interesting samples and beats and there's a consistency there that I wish carried over to the vocals.

There are moments of lyrical excellence.  Chuck D, Ice Cube, Ice T and MC Lyte all contribute to "Sticka," a fiery anti-censorship screed over a laid back beat.  There are also a lot of appearances by those considered old school at the time like Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Cold Crush Brothers and Fantastic Five.  These appearances are kind of uneven and for me, only Whodini's run on "It All Comes Down To Money" really sounds like something from 1994.  And even that song is almost ruined by the nonstop repetition of the sung hook.

All in, it's a fun record and one I'll definitely listen to on occasion.  But if you only have room for one Terminator X record in your collection, go with Jeep Beats.

Terminator X & The Godfathers Of Threatt – Super Bad:

Monday, July 17, 2023

The Mr. T Experience - Road to Ruin LP - Yellow Vinyl (/300)



Sounds Rad (2023, Reissue)

I'm a much bigger fan of The Mr. T Experience than I am of the Ramones.  I know the Ramones' hits and they range from 'fine' to 'pretty great,' but they aren't a band that I ever connected with and I think part of that is just because of my age.  They were an older band and I was more focused on what was going on around me during my formative years than I was about what was going on in the past.  And on top of that, they weren't old enough for my parents to care about them, so I didn't hear them growing up like I did The Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra, Tom Petty and that sort of thing.  The Ramones were just in that sweet spot where they were somewhat invisible to me.

The Mr. T Experience, on the other hand, was front and center in my life, particularly in 1998 when I was twenty-one and the original version of this album was released.  Clearview Records was doing a gimmick where they were having bands cover entire Ramones albums and when Road To Ruin was up, The Mr. T Experience stepped to the plate.  I have the original version of this from when it first came out.  It had a felt cover and was on split color vinyl.  I remember being psyched that I had gotten my hands on the limited, fancy-pants version, though I don't actually remember listening to it very much.

Now that I have this newly re-released and revitalized version, I'm still not sure it's going to be an album that I revisit with a ton of frequency.  It is better than I remember it being and I think a lot of that is because of how they spruced up the way everything sounds.  It's much fuller where it needs to be and brighter in the other spots.  MTX does a perfectly serviceable job on these songs, though I can't pretend to be super familiar with several of the originals.  "I Wanna Be Sedated" is still a lot of fun, no matter what band is playing it.

It's a little perplexing to me why this album was prioritized so high on the list in the Sounds Rad reissue series.  It certainly should be reissued, of course, but if you were to ask me, there are other albums I would have put in line before it.  Regardless, it's important to own and I'm happy to still be getting the 'dibs' versions of these albums.  I am eagerly awaiting the earlier Mr. T Experience albums, in particular, and am hopeful that Making Things With Light is coming very soon.

The Mr. T Experience - Road to Ruin:

Friday, July 14, 2023

Knapsack - Silver Sweepstakes LP - Clear w/ Multicolor Splatter - From The Complete Discography Box Set (/300)


Spartan (2023, Reissue)

I recently got my hands on the vinyl box set of all three Knapsack albums.  Rather than try to write one really long review that encompasses all of the albums, I figured I would break this into multiple parts like I have with other box sets I've written about.  For the next three Friday's we'll visit each of Knapsack's albums.  Even though I have the original pressings of each album, the box set was just too cool to pass up.  This week, we're starting with their debut, Silver Sweepstakes.

While this was the first Knapsack record that was released back in 1995, it was not the first album of theirs that I heard.  I started off with their second album, Day Three of My New Life.  I had to backtrack and get this album.  It was also the last album of theirs that I picked up on vinyl, having only added it to the collection about ten years ago or so.  I did have the CD for ages, having picked it up in the late 90s.

Of the three, it is the Knapsack album that I listen to the least.  That's not to say it's 'the worst' record or bad in any way, it's just that the band improved so mightily over their next two albums that they kind of left this one in the dust.  All of the necessary components for Knapsack fun are here.  The crunch guitar riffs, impassioned vocals and general feelings of angst are all exactly what I want from a Knapsack album, but the band managed to pull them off even better on the next two releases.

The reissue that is part of this is an exclusive colorway that only came with the first 300 copies of the box set.  When they sold out, the label did through together a little over a hundred more with some vinyl variants that were also available separately.  It sounds great and they have also added the song "Don't Mind," originally the B side of the Trainwrecker 7".  I'll write a bit more about the box itself when we get to the last album, but know that the box is pretty crazy with a big old book full of Knapsack information.  A very nice set and really makes rebuying these albums again worth it.

Knapsack - Silver Sweepstakes:


Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Chubb Rock – I Gotta Get Mine Yo! LP


Select (1992) 

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

Chubb Rock was a name I was very familiar with in the early 90s, but I never had any of his records.  I'm not exactly sure why, but I don't remember seeing him too much on Yo! MTV Raps.  I'm pretty sure most of my memories of him came from reading the source.  This album, 1992's I Gotta Get Mine Yo, is the one I remember seeing, but this was Chubb Rock's fourth album by that point.  Over the last few years, Chubb Rock was one of those rappers that I took another look at, having missed their heyday.  And I was recently able to pick up a sealed copy of this album for a very nice price on Discogs.

As a whole, it's a really strong record.  When the Chubbster has a strong boom bap beat, he's as good as anyone from the '92 era.  And the majority of the album provides him that opportunity.  Where the album falters for me is when Chubb goes against that formula.  Be it the slow jams with R&B background crooning like "The Hatred" or "My Brother," or when there's a little bit of reggae flavor added on tracks like "The Funky" or "I'm Too Much."  That's only four of sixteen tracks on the LP though, so you're still getting twelve great cuts.  

After a pretty prolific career in the late 80s and early 90s, Chubb Rock pretty much vanished after this album for the remainder of the golden era.  I'd be curious to hear what he could have come up with as hip hop was really starting to peak in '93 and '94, but it wasn't to me.  He has another album that he put out in 1998, but I haven't listened to that.  Right now, my focus is on finding an affordable copy of his 1991 album, The One.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Navel - Rainfall Flexi 7"


Hello From The Gutter (2022)

Navel is a band that I have been listening to for quite some time.  There were part of the initial wave of Japanese punk rock that I got into via split 7"s on the Snuffy Smile label.  I originally bought these splits for the likes of Broccoli, Chopper, Skimmer and Hooton 3 Car, but I walked away being fans of bands like International Jet Set, Blew, Lovemen and Navel.  Navel initially appeared on split 7"s with Travis Cut and Skimmer/. Eventually they started releasing some full length albums and I've been chasing their records ever since.

This 7", so the liner notes on a couple of websites say, was originally going to be part of a 7" released in 2000 on an American label.  I'm pretty sure I know what label that is, as I think they were going to try to put out a Chester Copperpot 7" as well, but I'll not name them right now.  It's coming out all of these years later as a flexi that was originally sold at a show they played, with the leftovers making their way out into the world.  I got my copy from Servo from Bloated Kat records, so many cheers to him for helping me out.

Both of the songs did end up on Navel full lengths, though these are early versions and different recordings.  "Rainfall" is the first track and also was on their album Heartache.  It's a midtempo song, perfectly capturing Navel's ability to write a catchy song, even when drifting into territory that some might say feels a little melancholy.  It's not too dissimilar from the album version, though to me the backing vocal harmonies are a little more pronounced on the 7".  

The second song is a quick, hardcore blast called "Bystander."  It ended up as the closing track on Navel's second album, Depend.  Super fast, shouty punk rock has never really been my thing, but it never bothers me when a pop punk band throws something like this on one of their albums.  Snuff does it all the time.  Mostly, for me, this album is another great Navel 7" for my collection.  I dig the artwork and am happy to add it to the pile of great records this amazing band as released.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Spells - Loose Change, Vol. 2 - Red w/ Black Smoke Vinyl (/300)


Snappy Little Numbers / Motorcycle Potluck Records / Big Neck Records / Keep It A Secret Records / Shield Recordings (2023)

It's been about ten years since I first discovered Spells when I picked up one of their 7"s on a lark while buying an LP by Hooper.  In those intervening years, Spells have unleashed a torrent of releases.  A couple of full lengths, yeah - but their bread and butter, to me, feels like singles and one offs.  Loose Change, Vol.2 compiles eighteen songs that had previously been available on singles, splits, comps and some that were digital only.  That's a lot of songs, and I'd like to point out that this is the second volume of Loose Change.  Vol. 1 just came out in 2018.

For a band as prolific as Spells, there's sort of a little trepidation.  Is a band releasing this much material just recording every idea, noise and fart that they can think of?  Which is why it is always so surprising to me how high the quality of all of their songs are.  Everything on this LP is really great.  There a a few really short songs, but there are no throwaways on this edition of Loose Change.

I always compare Spells to having a similar vibe to Rocket From The Crypt.  That's not to say they sound alike, because they don't most of the time.  But, they are a band that exudes that same sort of infectious energy and every time the next song fires up, it's a party.  I'm always psyched when a new Spells record is released, and even though I've heard some of these songs before, having everything put on a single LP just makes my life so much easier.  It's a blast to be able to throw this LP on, sit back and join the Spells party.  And yes, I see that Zoinks! sticker on the cover.

Spells - Loose Change, Vol. 2:

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Freestyle Fellowship - Innercity Griots 2xLP


Be With (2022, Reissue) 

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

I wrote about the reissue of the first Freestyle Fellowship album a few months ago and while I liked it, I wasn't blown away.  Some of that certainly stems from it not being a record that I heard in context when it actually came out.  I think I can probably say something similar about their follow-up, 1993's Innercity Griots.

Right off the bat, I can say that I think this album is a little be stronger in the production department.  The beats feel fuller with a lot more low end.  I'm not sure that it means the album is better than the group's debut, but it definitely lands in that golden era 1993 style sweet spot for me.  It's the lyrics that might be something of a step backwards for me.

I had mentioned on their debut that sometimes it sounded like the lyrics were complex just for the sake of complexity.  That's the case here a bit as well, but I'd take it a step further and say that a lot of the lyrics and rhyme structures seem weird just for the sake of being weird.  The flows go offbeat, the internal rhyme schemes layer on top of each other and the vocal deliveries can just be kind of odd at times.  

It probably sounds like I don't like the record, but that's not true.  It is good, but when I listen to it I tend to feel like it could have been even better if they just calmed down with the wacky a little bit.  As Del famously said, "If he go off beat and it's on purpose/he gotta come back on beat or the effort is worthless."

Monday, July 3, 2023

Rick Froberg - 1968 - 2023

I'm sure it goes without saying, but trying to write about someone whose art has affected you is very difficult at times.  When that person passes and you want to sum up what they meant to you in a few paragraphs, that task is even more daunting.  Within the past few years I've tried to let the world know what artists like Sam Jayne from Lync and O from fluf have meant to me.  I'm not sure I was successful, but it was important to me to try.  With the news this weekend that the world has lost Rick Froberg, I'm really struggling with how to explain just how important his music and art have been in my life.  Needless to say, he has had an outsized impact on me.

My initial introduction to Rick was the first Drive Like Jehu album.  No, I wasn't ahead of the curve and a fan of the band from their earliest beginnings or anything like that.  I just happened to buy their debut album first.  I was a pretty huge fan of Rocket From The Crypt and by 1995 or so I was really starting to dig in and hunt for anything of theirs I could find.  I had heard that John Reis was also in another band called Drive Like Jehu, but he didn't sing in it.  As this was the mid 90s, there really wasn't an easy way for me to check out this band to see if I would like it.  You kind of just had to commit to buying something.

What I ended up doing was something of a scheme to try to minimize my financial risk.  There was a record store in Montclair, NJ called Let It Rock.  It may not have been the best store in the area, but it was another one to check out.  They did the old 90s gimmick of opening all of the CD cases, leaving the cases on display and putting the CDs themselves behind the counter, to help deter theft.  They had the first Drive Like Jehu CD there.  My friend Joe had a birthday coming up and my master plan was to buy the Jehu CD and listen to it since the CD was already unsealed.  If I didn't like it, I could just give it to Joe and no harm, no foul since Joe knew that's how Let It Rock rolled.

I listened to that CD and I did enjoy it.  It didn't change my life at that exact moment or anything, but I definitely liked it. I don't actually remember if I ended up keeping that exact CD or if I gave that one to Joe and bought my own copy anyway.  I think I kept the one from Let It Rock, but some of these memories are lost to the sands of time.  Regardless, I did become a Drive Like Jehu fan in that moment.  Fast forward a few weeks or months later and I saw the second Drive Like Jehu album at my usual record store, Flipside in Pompton Lakes.  I picked it up having enjoyed the first one.

I was absolutely, completely unprepared for Yank Crime.  The opening, rolling bass line of "Here Comes the Rome Plows" started and the moment that the chaotic ferocity of the rest of the band kicked in, I knew something in my life had changed.  I had never heard anything like this before.  The jagged, screeching guitar riffs swirled around a propulsive and driving rhythm section.  And then there was that voice.  Rick sounded like he was trying to claw his way out of some type of confinement using only his voice.  As if the sheer power of his vocals could knock down any door or wall impeding him.  I liked what I heard from Rick on Jehu's self titled album, but this was a revelation.

What hit me more than anything else was how the intensity of his vocals varied based on the needs of the song.  He showed a surprising amount of vulnerability and in the next breath eviscerated what stood before him.  Combine that with the absolutely magical connection he had with John and it's no wonder that to this day Yank Crime is one of my favorite all time albums.  Top five of forever, desert island whatever.  No matter the gimmick you want to use to categorize it, Yank Crime is as important to me as just about any other record I can think of.

We're in 1995.  Jehu was essentially done at that point, so the years went by with no new music and no shows that I could see.  They were a band frozen in amber, one that I just barely missed but had such a monumental influence on how I felt about music.  This brings us to the year 2000 and the rise of Hot Snakes.

I don't remember the first time I heard about Hot Snakes, but there's pretty much no way that it wasn't on the old Rocket From The Crypt message board.  That thing was where I've met so many people that are important to me to this very day.  At the time, it was the number one news source for Rocket related information.  When word got out that John and Rick were making music again, it is hard to explain just how excited I was to hear it.  When Automatic Midnight was released, my jaw hit the floor.

This wasn't Drive Like Jehu, this was something different.  Tighter, with more economical songs.  Hooks and passion and everything you want rolled up into one perfect, Wipers influenced band.  Yes, you could hear echoes of Jehu.  You could also hear bits of Rocket and Pitchfork, there was something special happening with this band, the sum of its parts reflecting all of the member's past triumphs.  It was magic again.

I saw Hot Snakes twice on their very first set of East Coast tour dates in 2000, which I think were among the first handful of shows they ever played.  I saw them at Maxwell's in Hoboken and also at Mercury Lounge the next night in NYC.  I don't remember how I got in to the Mercury Lounge show as myself and my friend Justin were left standing outside of a sold out show in December.  Justin was trying to convince me to try to use my Rocket tattoo as some sort of leverage to get us into the show, but that wasn't something I was comfortable doing, nor is there any reason it would have worked anyway.  I think ultimately we ended up being able to buy tickets from someone with extras on the sidewalk.  I'm just glad we were able to get in.

Those shows were amazing, they played the entire first album and one extra song, which I think remained unreleased, though I don't actually remember what that extra song was anymore.  The biggest part of the experience was that I finally got to see Rick in person.  When the band was playing, he was as I imagined, commanding the performance and just being the center of the maelstrom whipping around him.  He didn't have the natural banter or innate on-stage charisma that John has, but he had a presence and a gravitas that let you know he was the anchor and emotional center of what the band was presenting to the world.

I saw Hot Snakes countless times whenever they played the East Coast.  At least twenty times and I have so many memories from the various shows.  I remember when they played Bowery Ballroom and broke out the Drive Like Jehu song "Luau."  I was so blown away that I broke my watch jumping around like a maniac.  

It was Hot Snakes being a group that I first connected with John on a level other than just being a dude at all of the shows.  I worked at a radio promotion company called AAM and got in touch with John through a contact I had at Vagrant records.  When the second Hot Snakes record, Suicide Invoice, came out, I knew I had to help out and I ended up being able to.  We worked something out and I got to send out copies of the album to college radio stations all across the country.  This was the first Swami release we got to be involved with and it opened the door to help out with every single record until I eventually left the music industry in 2007.

That meant I got to promote Yank Crime to college radio when it was rereleased in 2002.  Talk about a dream come true.  It's funny looking back on it now.  Yank Crime felt like a record from another generation, even though it was only eight years old at that point.  Compare that to how long ago those first few Hot Snakes records came out in relation to 2023 and it sure feels like time warps the older you get.

I don't have too many personal stories about interacting with Rick.  I've always known John better.  But I have two that stand out during my time at AAM.  The first is that he designed a logo for us that we used as part of a CMJ party we had.  Someone in my office wanted a design with a wolf it and I got in touch with Rick to ask if he could make us something that said AAM and had a wolf on it. He did.  I don't even really know why as he didn't charge us anything.  

He came up with a boy scouts inspired logo that we used for flyers, put on pins and even had a couple of sweatshirts made up with it on.  My sweatshirt is up in my attic somewhere, so that's why I'm not putting in a picture of it now.  I also cannot find the actual files of the logo and was only able to find a really pixelated version using the Internet Wayback machine.  But I do have these two pins that we had made using the wolf logo.

The other story I have about Rick from my AAM days was at the Knitting Factory in 2004.  Audit In Progress had just come out and we had sent it out to radio.  I came to the show early with a bunch of album artwork posters.  The goal was to have the band sign them and personalize some for some of the college radio stations that were being particularly supportive.  This sort of promo work isn't really fun, but it means a lot to the college kids that make college radio work.  

John was writing lots of funny messages to stations, Mario and Gar were also getting in on it a bit, but Rick was different.  I'm not going to say he was annoyed or bothered by the process, in fact he was very nice and generous with his time, but when he was signing stuff he was doing so in the most exaggerated and funny way I've ever seen.  You couldn't possibly ever tell it was his signature, just making the broadest, wildest pen strokes.  The resulting signed items were absolutely unique and I'm really happy I hung on to one, even though it's been in a poster tube for almost twenty years now.

Hot Snakes would eventually called it a day (for now) and stopped playing in 2005.  A few years later, Rick resurfaced with Obits.  Obits had a lot of the styles and sounds that I expected from Rick, but filtered through a band that was not as loud and aggressive as Hot Snakes or Jehu.  These songs were a little more open, they were textural and dynamic.  It was interesting hearing Rick without John, but the ending result was three more albums (four if you count the singles comp) full of classic Froberg brilliance.  I saw Obits several times during their run.  

The shows that jump out the most to me are both shows they played with Night Marchers (John's band at the time).  The first was at Santos Party House in December of 2008.  I had never been to that venue before and have never been since, but that was one of the louder shows I have ever been to.  Both bands just killed it.  The other show was a secret show in Brooklyn somewhere at this tiny little bar whose name I do not remember.  It was the night after Night Marchers played Siren Fest in 2010.  Carlos from The PeeChees gave me the heads up that it was happening and it was a wonderful, intimate show surrounded by friends.

Hot Snakes came back in the early 2010s playing sporadic shows at festivals and some familiar haunts on mini tours.  It was great seeing them again, but I wasn't at all prepared for the mother of all reunions when Drive Like Jehu started to play again.  It began with a show at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in San Diego.  I just couldn't get out there from a money standpoint and was heartbroken to miss it.  I did watch it live on the organ's web stream and have vivid memories of sitting in my apartment at the time, hugely inspired and hugely bummed out all at the same time.

Luckily additional shows followed and I made my way out to Chicago for a one-two punch of the band playing at Riot Fest and also a club show the night before.  That club show in 2015 at the Bottom Lounge is one of the greatest shows I have ever been to.  Surrounded by Swami friends from over the years, it was a night over 20 years in the making.  

They played amazing and I left the show just floored.  Rick was unbelievable, just moving the crowd with his guitar work and unbelievable vocals.  The Riot Fest performance the next day was equally great, but lost a little something in the festival atmosphere versus the far superior club experience.  

The only other time I got to see Drive Like Jehu was the next year at Irving Plaza in NYC.  I don't know why I didn't go to the Brooklyn show on that same tour, I assume because it was in Brooklyn, which can be a giant pain in the ass to get to from NJ.  I can't say this particular show was as otherworldly as the others.  Rick didn't seem to be in good voice that night and the show suffered a bit as a result.  I mostly bring it up as it was such a bizarre outlier.  I've seen Rick play dozens of times, and this is the only time ever that something was off.  But even with that, it was an incredible experience and was the only time I got to see Jehu with my wife, so it is a night I will always treasure,

I was able to see Rick was with Hot Snakes in Jersey City in 2019.  They were coming off of their incredible 2018 album, Jericho Sirens.  An album that seems impossible to have been made fourteen years after their previous record as it sounded every bit as vital and ferocious as the three that came before.  As usual, the show was amazing and you could just feel what a special band they were.  In particular it was very evident what a special connection Rick had with John.

That Jersey City show was the last time I would see Hot Snakes and Rick.  I certainly had no idea that would be the case at the time.  Hot Snakes didn't play any shows after early 2020 that I'm aware of.  It's hard not to feel like everyone was robbed of more time with a great band.  A few weeks ago, Rick had posted online that the next Hot Snakes album was nearly done.  I don't know if we'll hear it, I don't know how much of it was completed.  I know that I hope to hear it someday, but if I do, it seems inconceivable to me that I'll never hear those songs live.  Or any of the Hot Snakes songs live. Or Jehu.

It is completely unbelievable to me that I won't see Rick again, standing on his side of the stage.  Generally inconspicuous and good natured.  Just a guy standing there.  Until the music started.  Then he became a force of nature that moved me in a way that few musicians have ever moved me.  Nothing I have already mentioned even touches on his incredible work as an artist.  I could say so much about the imagery he used on album art, T shirts, zine ads and proper gallery style artwork.  His visuals cut through the bullshit and showed the same type of raw emotion that his music and lyrics did.  But it also showcased his sense of humor and ability to engage in commerce while poking fun at it.  

I didn't know Rick personally to the point where I can comment on him too much as a person.  Though everything I have ever heard or read about him makes it seem like he was a really grounded guy with a wry sense of humor.  That shows in his art.

Rick Froberg is one of the most important musicians that has existed in my life.  Despite blathering on for far too many paragraphs, I don't feel like I've really explained just how important he has been to me.  I can rattle off and describe experiences I had over the years, but I can't really describe how his music has made me feel.  It is cathartic and hopeful, messy and meticulous, beautiful and ugly.  But more than anything, to me it has been inspiring.  I am so grateful I have had his music and art in my life for nearly thirty years.  It is so tragic that he isn't with us any longer, but the world he created will be with me forever.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

De La Soul – Buhloone Mindstate LP


Chrysalis / AOI (2023, Reissue) 

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

Buhloone Mindstate is the third De La Soul album, and of the first three it's been the one I've spent the least amount of time with over the years.  As these albums have been reissued, I've been picking them up as it's the first time in a while that they have been affordable.  Though I have never been the biggest De La fan in the world, I really wanted to give the albums a fair chance.  And the only way I can really give them the attention they deserve is a dedicated vinyl listen, not just playing in the background.

I can say that as a full album, Buhloone Mindstate is probably my favorite of the first three.  That's not the same thing as saying it has my favorite songs of all three, but as far as a start to finish listed, Buhloone Mindstate is on top.  Why?  Honestly, it's mostly because it isn't crammed full of stupid skits.  There are a couple short interludes, but it's not like the first two albums where the flow of the record is constantly interrupted by unfunny bits of tomfoolery.

That's not the only reason it's such a good listen, they definitely bring the tunes and beats on Buhloone Mindstate.  "Patti Dooke," "Ego Trippin' (Part Two)" and "Breakadawn" as as strong as any songs in their catalog.  By the time we get to 1993 in the history of hip hop, there are some pretty insane all-timer type albums being released.  I can't say that I would personally rank Buhloone Mindstate in my list, but I also don't have thirty years of history with it like I do with so many others.  But even if I don't consider this album to be quite on that level, there's no denying it's a great album and one that I unfairly ignored for way too long.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Toeheads - A Cruel Winner's World LP


Big Neck (2022)

Toeheads aren't a band I was familiar with prior to listening to this album, but it looks like they've had a bunch of singles and tapes and the like released over the past few years.  This is their first proper full length LP on Big Neck.

I can't say that I love this album, and it's really down to the vocals more than anything else.  They have that echo-y, howlin' from a cave thing that is kind of prevalent in some garage rocking bands.  I'm not saying I need smooth, clean vocals - Frankie Stubbs is one of my all time favorite singers, after all - but sometimes when vocals are this blown out, I feel like it takes away from the overall package.

Musically, I think this record is pretty fun.  The guitars are loud and cutting, the rhythm section has a stomping propulsion and the energy level is right where it needs to be. You can tell this is a band that is into what they are doing as it really shines through.  But for my personal taste, the vocals are just a little too rough around the edges and it takes me out of the album a bit.  

Toeheads - A Cruel Winner's World:

Friday, June 16, 2023

Night Court - Humans! LP


Snappy Little Numbers / Debt Offensive (2023)

Night Court released a double cassette salvo in December of 2021 and May of 2022.  These were really fun albums and as usual, my biggest lament was over the fact that they had not been released on vinyl.  Well, Night Court is back with their new album and this time, we've got wax.

Much like their last two releases, Humans! is full of tight, economical pop songs.  I've compared the band to So Cow every time I've written about them, and I'll do it again now.  The way they construct their low-medium fi songs is similar to my ears, even though the vocals are much different.  I've always struggled to find a good touch point for the vocals, but listening to this album really crystallized everything for me.  I can't listen to Night Court and not hear a little bit of Ween in there now.

Night Court is not as goofy or silly as Ween is, but if you've spent any time with Ween's catalog, you are well aware of their pop chops.  There's a similar spirit here and in the vocals I can definitely feel a kinship as far as inflection or delivery.  There's probably a little bit of Mike Krol in there two, from the garage-y side of the equation. 

No matter how you want to try to identify their influences, there's no denying that Night Court has a winner with Humans!  It's a fun, fuzzy pop record and that's before we even get to the album closing Abba cover.  Despite the exclamation point in the title making my sentence structures look ridiculous while writing about it, Humans! is a record worth going out of your way to check out.

Night Court - Humans!: