Friday, February 28, 2020

New Japan Pro-Wrestling - The Piano Collection CD


Yamaha (2019)

To those that know me or follow me on Twitter, the fact that I am fairly obsessed with New Japan Pro-Wrestling is not a surprise.  I have been watching it for years and years and they have been a part of some great times in my life.  When this CD was announced towards the end of last year, I pretty much shrugged it off and thought it was a funny idea.  But after I stumbled across the songs and gave them a listen, I knew I had to own this.

This album contains entrance music from New Japan wrestlers, but played on a piano, classical music style.  It really hit me when I listened to this of just how lodged into my brain some of these songs were.  It also hit me that the writing of and musicianship behind these songs was at a much higher level than I originally thought.  When broken down to a single piano, you can really see the complexity of the way lead parts interplay with rumbling low end and chord changes.

Most of the main wrestlers from New Japan have their entrance music represented here.  Pretty much of them work well, with the standouts being the themes of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hirooki Goto, Tetsuya Naito and Minoru Suziki's classic, "Kaze Ni Nare."  I told my wife that if this CD had been out when we got married, I would have had to try to get Suzuki's theme into our ceremony.  She disagreed with that statement.  I guess we'll never know.

The one instance where I don't think the piano captures the theme as strongly as some of the others is for the entrance music of Kazuchika Okada.  For some reason the piano version just doesn't quite hit the same highs as the regular version of the music.  Something got lost in translation for this one, but for the other eleven songs, it's pretty impressive what the piano player was able to pull off.

Unfortunately, I can't find any of these songs streaming online.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Da Lench Mob - Guerillas In Tha Mist - Orange w/ Green Splatter Vinyl


Get On Down / EastWest (2019, 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 25+ 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.

In 1993, my aunt asked me what I wanted for a holiday.  I assume birthday or Christmas, but I can't remember which as they are both in December and that was a long damn time ago.  I told her that I wanted this album by Da Lench Mob.  Instead, she got me a CD by a band called Lynch Mob that had a bunch of dudes with long glam rock hair on the cover.  I remember having the feign some sort of enthusiasm while opening it and then having to explain what I had actually wanted.  In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have asked anyone to buy my this album.  The grownups were bound to not understand what I was after.

While I definitely saw the video for Guerillas In Tha Mist on Yo MTV Raps, what actually drew me to the group the most was that Del The Funky Homosapien had been part of Lench Mob when they were a crew with Ice Cube.  In 92/93, I had no internet so I didn't really know if Del was on this album at all or not, so the only way to find out for sure was to get it.  Unfortunately Del isn't a part of this, but the record is still a really fun listen, especially when it goes into extreme points of over the top ridiculousness.

Anyone who has seen the video for the title track knows what I'm talking about.  Ice Cube and Da Lench Mob standing around in the woods with Predator style heat signature visual effects.  They're rapping about King Kong and Godzilla and Tarzan.  Then there's this part where Ice Cube loses his mind and starts going on about "With a boom ping, ping/listen to the ill shit that I bring, bring." It's all kind of insane, but it works and is helped by how great the underlying beat and production is.  Shorty can also hold his own on the mic and leads the lion's share of this album.

All of the songs are solid, but I would never say this is an all time classic, must have album.  It's really good and I think it holds up pretty well all things considered.  There are important issues tackled in the lyrics on quite a few songs, but it is so over the top and weird at times that it's hard to take in the messages with all of off center imagery and general strangeness that takes place.  That said, it is still entertaining to listen to and I was pretty psyched when the reissue came out last year.

Da Lench Mob - "Guerillas In Tha Mist":

Da Lench Mob - "Freedom Got An A.K."

Monday, February 24, 2020

Polvo - S/T LP - Green Vinyl


Merge (2019, Reissue)

Now that it is completed and has wrapped up, I feel pretty confident in saying that the Merge Born Under A Good Sign 30th anniversary subscription thingy was not an effective way to spend my money.  When I originally signed up for it, I mainly did so assuming there would be an exclusive Superchunk release.  And while that did happen, I was pretty disappointed that the exclusivity was only the color of vinyl it was pressed on.  Not to mention it was an acoustic reinterpretation of the album Foolish that, while interesting, is not something I expect to listen to all that much.  The rest of the subscription's offerings ranged from 'pretty ok' to 'this is kind of terrible.'

That brings us to Polvo, a band who at no time have I really understood.  With apologies to my buddy Scott, I have never been able to figure out what Polvo brings to the table that I can't get a better version of from other indie rock bands of the 90s.  Their claim to fame seems to be the way they bring in noisy passages and noodle-y guitar solos to their songs.  Archers of Loaf do that much better on their first two albums, plus they hit with significantly stronger hooks and vocal melodies.  The times that Polvo did actually stand out to me, it was usually in a bad way.  I did a radio show in college with a guy named Todd.  He loved him some Polvo and I tended to only notice them when he played something terrible of theirs.

All that said, the songs on this LP (which is an LP reissue of songs from some of their early 7"s) is probably the best of Polvo that I've heard.  I suppose this was before the band got a little too nutty and these songs tend to be a bit more straightforward in a low-rent Archers sort of way.  Nothing really stands out to me as great, but these are average indie rock songs that aren't offensive or anything.  The green vinyl is exclusive to the subscription, but but the album is floating around out there on black vinyl for sale online and in stores.  Me? I've already sold this green version on Discogs.

Polvo - S/T

Friday, February 21, 2020

Alpha Hopper - S/T LP - Coke Bottle Clear Vinyl


Radical Empathy / One Percent Press / Swimming Faith (2019)

I wanted to like this album more than I actually do.  One Percent Press has put out some really cool records over the years and I'm always grateful that they take the time to send some to me to check out every now and again.  I also really like the colorful artwork and palm trees on the front cover.  Not too mention the little note that was packaged in with the album made reference to all of the Weird Al reviews I did last year.  It was a charming little package and I went in with positive expectations.

Unfortunately, the tunes are a little too out there for me.  It's an arty style of punk rock with dissonant chords and vocals that veer a bit too much into yelling for my personal taste.  There are elements of the song construction that are positives, such as the Unwound style riffage, but there's also a few unnecessary sound effects/synths that spoil the party for me on a few tracks.

One of the things I have liked about bands like Unwound was their ability to go from quite whispers to uncontrolled roars in a surprising, but totally effective way.  Alpha Hopper seems to be stuck on loud throughout the record and it's missing some of the dynamics I look for when venturing out of my pop punk bubble.  In particular, the vocals just seem to sound the same to me on every song, regardless of what the music is doing.  As a whole, it's not a bad record, but it's somewhat one dimensional and it just isn't my cup of tea.

Alpha Hopper - S/T:

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

EMPD - Unfinished Business 2xLP


Priority / UMe (2017, 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 25+ 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.

1992's Business Never Personal is my EPMD record.  It's the first one I heard and is one of my favorite hip hop records of all time.  When it came out while I was in high school, I was pretty obsessed with it.  But EPMD broke up shortly thereafter and I didn't really explore their back catalog at the time.  It wasn't until the early 2000s that I decided to backtrack a little bit and try out some of the others.

While many point to their debut, Strictly Business as a classic, in my mind it was on Unfinished Business where I see EPMD first stand out as something really special.  The production is light years ahead of their debut and both Erick Sermon and Parish Smith are significantly more comfortable on the microphone.  Their flows hit a little harder and you can feel a growing energy that wasn't as present on the laid back delivery of Strictly Business.

EPMD is one of those groups that I think just got better and better as they progressed (at least until their first break up, their reunion albums after that have never really hit me the same as the first four).  Their third album, Business As Usual, is even better than this one (I'm still looking for a nice copy of that record on vinyl as it isn't one that's been reissued in the last few years) and their fourth album is my favorite of the bunch.  Still, all of them are worth checking out as they are integral building blocks of the golden era of hip hop.

EMPD - Unfinished Business (Full album YouTube playlist):

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Suitesixteen - Mine Would Be The Sun - 2xLP


Self Released (2020)

The Suitesixteen is a project that Rob Nesbitt has been working on for quite some time.  You may know Rob from his work in Bum, one of my all time favorite bands.  They have a little slice of perfection called Wanna Smash Sensation and I highly recommend you check that album out if you haven't heard it before.

I have heard Rob talking about this record for years in interviews and social media posts.  You can feel the passion he has for it and see the work he has poured into it.  Mine Would Be The Sun is very much his magnum opus.  To be honest, I was worried about how the album would actually turn out.  The way that Rob has spoke of it over the years, you could tell it was super important to him and he was in deep.

My concern was that it would lose the energy and fun that made Bum such an enjoyable listen.  Often when an artist really dives into a project like this they can very easily fall into traps of self indulgence and over thinking things.  I was worried this might turn into another example of someone with an upbeat band take things in completely the opposite direction and write a bunch of sad sack songs.  How many times have you seen a solo record turn out shit because the artist was trying to make it more important than what they did with their band?

I can happily report that Rob avoided all of these pitfalls and has released an absolute classic of an album.  It retains all of the spark that made Bum work, but still manages to further his songwriting and storytelling abilities.  This is a record about the sort of love, heartache and loss that you experience when you are young.  Those emotions hit so much differently when you are in your teens or early twenties and you find yourself feeling, saying and doing things that sometimes don't make sense when you look back through more experienced eyes.

Rob has documented those triumphs and follies throughout the course of this album's sixteen songs.  In some ways it may be the most perfect embodiment of youthful longing that I've ever heard.  It resonates with feelings I had when I was nineteen that I look back on wondering what I was doing.  But at the same time, they're experiences I wouldn't change as they were part of the journey that got me to the present day.

The best part about this album is while Rob is telling these stories, the music rules.  This isn't an album full of somber, melancholy songs.  These are songs that sound like they could be on a Bum record in 2020.  The vast majority are uptempo with the sort of driving rhythm section and punky chord progressions that were so prevalent in the 90s.  At the same time, there's more of a power pop vibe than Bum typically presented.  The vocal harmonies are Electric Light Orchestra level glorious and bring the hooks and choruses to new heights.

Plus there is the simply insane artwork.  Triple gatefold.  52 page booklet.  Double LP.  Lyrics.  The whole shebang.  It's one of the most insane packaging set ups you'll find.  Though I will say, I wish the band name and album title were on the spine as I think it's the thickest non boxset spine I've ever seen in my life.  That minor issue aside, this is such an amazing package for an amazing album.  It's set the bar extremely high for 2020 and I'm unsure how another record is going to beat it for album of the year.

The Suitesixteen - Mine Would Be The Sun:

Friday, February 14, 2020

Gino And The Goons - Off The Rails LP


Big Neck (2019)

Whenever I see a band name that is _____ and the _____, I usually assume there's going to be some garage rock going on.  Gino And The Goods doesn't disappoint my judging of this book by its cover.  We've got ten tracks of stomping, outcast written rock and roll from these folks from Tampa.

For me personally, if you're a band dipping a toe into the garage sound pool, I like it best when you've still got the other foot firmly planted in power pop or pop punk.  My brain needs those hooks.  Gino And The Goons are ankle deep in a garage swamp, though they do cast a spare glance to some pop hooks every so often.  It kind of reminds me of a looser version of some of the songs on the first Sultans record.  Off The Rails has some similar style riffs, but everything is played with a bit more recklessness and some Marked Men-esque vocal fuzz.

I actually like this more than I thought I would the first time I listened to it.  There's the sort of energy that I like, there's enough catchy choruses to keep me engaged and they never take the slop too far and actually go off the rails.  It's a fun listen when you're looking for something brash and in your face, though it's not the sort of album that I would probably go to super frequently.

Gino And The Goons - Off The Rails:

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Cypress Hill - S/T LP - Red Vinyl


Get On Down / Sony /Ruffhouse / Columbia ‎(2017, 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 25+ 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 first dozen or so times I heard the song "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" by Wang Chung when I was a kid, I absolutely hated it.  I would cringe when it came on and wanted nothing to do with it.  For whatever reason, that song was omnipresent in 1986 and I just couldn't avoid it.  But a funny thing happened, I started to enjoy it.  I'm not exactly sure how it happened or why I had a change of heart, but I asked my dad to buy me the 7" of it.  I played it to death.  To this day it's my favorite song of the genre of music people are talking about when they say 80s music.

How does Wang Chung play into a Cypress Hill review?  For me, Cypress Hill was a very similar thing.  The first song I heard from their self titled debut was "The Phuncky Feel One" and I saw the video for it quite a bit on Yo MTV Raps.  I really did not like that song and was pretty annoyed that Yo was wasting their very valuable time with this video.  Eventually it went away, but soon after that the video for "How I Could Just Kill A Man" showed up.  Much to my surprise, I was taken in by that song.  While B Real's nasally vocal delivery annoyed me in "The Phuncky Feel One," here it was a real positive and meshed wwell with the more upbeat production.

I ended up buying the album and just played it so, so many times.  It became one of my absolute favorites and to this day I still get a fuzzy nostalgic feeling when I listen to it. I never really liked any of the other Cypress Hill albums as much as this one.  Black Sunday had some good songs on it, but "Insane In The Membrane" kind of got played into the ground back then.  But, this first album is a little slab of perfection and was a key album to pick up as I replace my hip hop CDs with vinyl.

Cypress Hill - S/T (YouTube Playlist):

Monday, February 10, 2020

Doo Rag - Barber Shop Cassette


Self Released (1995)

Doo Rag is one of those bands that I have just loved ever since the moment I first heard them.  The two times I saw them live rank as some of the more memorable shows I have ever seen and I adore  their records, particularly their second album, What We Do.  I've been on the lookout for this cassette for quite some time.  It was self released and sold at shows in 1995, the year before their second full length album was released.

Of the six songs on this tape, five of them would end up on What We Do, but on this cassette every one of them is a different version than the one that would end up on the full length.  We get early takes on some of my favorites like "Kick Walkin," "Mop Down" and "Rectifier."  There's also one song that is only available on this tape, "Barn Pornstar."  That one is more midtempo with a vibe somewhat similar to their song "Crooked," but not as blown out and wild sounding.  "Barn Pornstar" is strong and I'm not sure why it never ended up on anything else.

While Bob Log III has definitely put out some fun releases over the years since Doo Rag disbanded, I've always thought that there was a special magic when he was still playing with Thermos Malling in Doo Rag.  That's the 90s reunion that I want to see.  Someone make it happen.

Doo Rag - Barbershop:

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Wannadies - Yeah LP - Pink Vinyl


Music On Vinyl (2019, Reissue)

I've recently written about the Wannadies albums Be A Girl and Bagsy Me.  I had picked up reissues of each, even though I already had the original pressings of both.  The reason I ended up buying them was actually because I was also purchasing this Wannadies album Yeah.  This is one that I didn't have on vinyl in any capacity and it was a glaring hole in the collection.  I was even fortunate enough to get the limited pink vinyl version.

While I do like pretty much every Wannadies album, I consider Yeah to be the last of the big three releases of theirs.  It's not as good as Be A Girl or Bagsy Me, I think in party because it's a bit more adventurous than the band typically was.  More risks are taken and there's a lot of extra 'stuff' in many of the songs.  But even with the extracurricular electronic noises, you can't change the fact that few bands on this planet could write hooks as catchy as The Wannadies.

The songs I like the best on Yeah tend to be the most straightforward.  "No Holiday," "Idiot Boy," "Ball" and "Big Fan" stand up to anything in the bands catalog.  In particular, "Big Fan" has one of my favorite choruses that The Wannadies ever put to tape.  While Yeah isn't quite as consistently great as some of the band's other records, the highs are really high and it's always a fun listen.  The band's last album, Before & After, wasn't part of this reissue campaign, but that's OK as I already have the vinyl version of that.  I would be interested in someone reissuing the first two Wannadies albums.  While I don't ever listen to either of them as much as the others, for completist purposes, I'd like to be able to add both to the rest of the collection.

The Wannadies - "Big Fan":

The Wannadies - "Idiot Boy"

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Eric B & Rakim - Don't Sweat The Technique 2xLP


UMG/Geffen (2017, 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 25+ 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.

Eric B & Rakim are one of those revered hip hop artists from the early 90s.  I remember from reading The Source at the time that Rakim was always lauded as one of the top 2 or 3 MCs on the planet back in those days.  My first exposure to them was the title track from the Juice soundtrack "Juice (Know The Ledge)."  After buying said soundtrack I was primed and ready for the song "Don't Sweat The Technique" to be released as a single.  That's the one that prompted me to buy the full album on CD in 1992.

While maybe a slightly unpopular opinion, it has always been my favorite Eric B & Rakim release.  Others sing the praises of Paid In Full and how ahead of the curve it was and others will die on the hill of saying Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em is the best.  But for me, Don't Sweat The Technique is where the beats and production finally caught up to Rakim's lyrics.

Sure the record isn't perfect and in fact starts off with my least favorite song "What's On Your Mind."  It's kind of a slow, sappy track that doesn't showcase Rakim or the group's production chops all that well.  It sounds like a grab at some sort of crossover that never panned out.  But once you get past that, the album is hit after hit.  "Pass The Hand Grenade" and "Casualties of War" are a one-two shot of fierce beats and imagery and are some of the real standouts.  But just as strong are "The Punisher" and "Kick Along."

Though, to this day, my very favorites are "Know The Ledge" and the title track "Don't Sweat The Technique."  All these years later it's striking how perfect these two songs are.  It's kind of funny how they are buried at the back end of the album and it makes me wonder if the fact they had both been out before the album itself led to their placement.  Sequencing aside, this is such a great album.  Eventually I will likely need to add some of the other Eric B & Rakim albums to the vinyl collection, but it was important to me to make sure I added this one first.  It will always be my favorite of theirs.

Eric B & Rakim - Don't Sweat The Technique (Full album playlist):

Monday, February 3, 2020

Hot Snakes - Checkmate 7" - Blue Vinyl


P U (2019)

Oh those Joh Reis bands.  Always putting out records to sell at shows that are difficulty to acquire.  While I am all about a tour only release, it always seems to feel like it is in conjunction with a tour that's not stopping by me.  That just might be me complaining, but I've bought far fewer myself than those that had to be bought for me. 

This 7" was released as part of a UK tour and I was lucky that a friend of mine was willing to pick up a copy.  However, once they got home, Hot Snakes actually sold a handful of these on their website.  That's the first time one of these tour releases was made available online.  I hope that's a trend that continues, or that they make these exclusive releases more available for the East Coast tours.

The two songs on the 7" show once again why Hot Snakes are one of the best bands on the planet.  "Checkmate" is a middle tempo track that reminds me a little bit of "Hair and DNA" as far as the way that the chorus hits.  The verse is a bit more dynamic in the way that the guitars interplay.  "Not In Time" is built off of straight ahead guitar downstroke riffige, maybe a little similar to a song like "Why Does It Hurt?"  Both songs are stellar, just like pretty much everything else in the Hot Snakes catalog.

It makes me wonder if this is leading up towards another album.  Jericho Sirens came out in 2018, so 2020 sounds like a good year for the next record.  I am hopeful that I'll get a new Rocket From The Crypt record at some point, but I'm certainly not going to complain if we get another Hot Snakes release this year.

Hot Snakes - "Checkmate":