Scrap Book is the 2009 release by writer and Trunk Records founder Jonathan Benton-Hughes, professionally known as Jonny Trunk.
Disregarding greater compositional structure for works in miniature, Scrap Book is a showcase of dense textural collage. A series of vignettes, a pure charcuterie of sound. Notable standouts from which include the quaint K Piano, the mellow saccharine How Sweet It Is, and the deeply haunting and eerie Snowblind.
On Snowblind, Scrap Book’s clunky cartoon-ish revelry is displaced by the haunting, encroaching exterior world. To paint a mental picture, if Scrap Book was an ensemble-casted cartoon Christmas special in which everyone was snowed in together, Snowblind is a haunting foray into the cold and eerie outside. Disney could never.
While each track is its own little nugget of joy, Scrap Book as a whole will delight you with unease throughout the entire journey.
“Pornography is simply the most familiar visual language through which we appreciate the disparity between the intensity of imagined experienced and the disappointment or disgust of its realisation.” – Hugh Aldersey-Williams on This Is Hardcore from the article Living Dolls, which appeared in New Statesman Magazine, on 8 May 1998.
Riding on the intoxicating waves of britpop and cinema-chic, Pulp’s 1998 release This is Hardcore is an intoxicating ride of pleasure and disappointment. An entire essay could be written about the album’s depiction of consumable sex, narcissistic dissatisfaction, the album’s place in the conversation of sexism within media, and arguing points over intent, self-awareness or lack thereof. That said, I’ll spare you any bigger questions on life and morality in favor of getting on with it.
Almost immediately, This Is Hardcore showcases a tendency to crowd itself. There is little space for songs to breath, which shows both in its ‘don’t bore us, get to the chorus’ song structuring (understandable/forgivable/expected) and corner-cutting song endings.
Opening track The Fear, like much of the album, is much too indebted to this way of song writing to allow itself the room to see its moody composition to fruition. There’s choral arrangements, layers of guitar and then some more layers of guitar, leaving the recording feeling crowded, busy, and at the same time a little flat. Regardless, the actual songwriting across the album is incredibly well crafted. As a result, front-man Jarvis Cocker and crew’s songwriting is, to recontextualize a quote from journalist Edgar Nye, ‘…better than it sounds’.
I feel slightly sorry for the teenager buying this album in a second hand shop, expecting something more, well, hardcore, and hearing a song like Dishes: a mellow pop piece on the doldrums of being 33. But This Is Hardcore makes a lot more sense once having worked one’s way in. It’s an album of repercussions wallowing in melancholy and want.
Uh, hello? Teen angst? Ever heard about it?
The album’s energy takes a step up with Party Hard while simultaneously dating it alongside 90s alternative rock groups EMF and Spacehog. The following Help The Aged does a much better job. By balancing wailing power pop choruses with soft psychedelic lounge-pastiche verses, Help The Aged gives itself room to breath while continuing to apply layer and layer of sound.
The album’s titular track may be the best singular work on this album. This Is Hardcore is an incredibly dark song. Taking a steady 2 minutes 30 seconds to reach its first chorus, its repetitive motif does more to help the song breath slowly and fully until reaching a magnificent… er, climax, nearly 2 minutes later before its emotional downward spiral: a clearing of the fog of fame and the burnout which succeeds it.
Jarvis Cocker has been on record about the song’s meaning a few times, albeit different angles: a song literally about porn, about fame, society’s aggressive appetite for ‘new faces’, the thrill of burning bridges and so on and so forth. Regardless, the emotional sleaze and excitement of excess followed by destructive fallout is a transition perfectly exemplified in the synthetic melting tones of the song’s outro, which leads into the introductory cold drone of following track TV Movie.
Even across its Beatles-inspired pop rock, TV Movie’s bleakness further reveals the emotional fall-out of narcissistic-consumptive pleasure: the depressive sense of isolation and dissatisfaction.
A Little Soul, however heartfelt, is too cheesy for me to be caught listening to. And from here This Is Hardcore seems to drift out of focus, until its rallying finale. This could have been an album of exemplary pop writing had it reallocated some of its space to letting its songs breath, and perhaps trimmed the fat. Even with a stream of fairly consistent hitters, This Is Hardcore is bloated, which makes the work susceptible to becoming banal. That is to say, from A Little Soul to The Day After The Revolution should have been lifted and reconfigured to their own release, leaving Like A Friend to close the album after TV Movie. Perhaps in this process, the masters to songs like A Little Soul and Glory days could have been destroyed in a fire, leaving all traces of the songs lost to time…
The age of the CD lead to the exploitation of new possibility, which in turn lead to occasional negligence of the art being created for that medium. This tends to happen whenever there is a new medium or fashion of doing things. But this was only the first step in the slow expedition of digital possibilities. More recently, Kanye West – Life of Pablo (2016) became infamous for this very neglect. Having taken advantage of digital possibility, the album was only finished months after its release. This brought into question the criteria of what finished or completed an album and if we had possibly surpassed the age of the solid album.
This Is Hardcore‘s recording sessions spanned from November 1996 to January 1998, and upon its original release didn’t feature one of my favorite songs on the album, Like A Friend. For clarity, I reviewed the non-deluxe version of This Is Hardcore that was available on the Apple Music store (can’t we just call it iTunes?) in October of this year. But what does this mean for reviewing work? What constitutes an album in the post-artifact age? Going forth, how do we group parts of a larger work? What IS mu-… no, I said I wouldn’t go there. Right then. Getting on with it;
There is absolutely amazing work to be found on This Is Hardcore, but as a collection of work it has a tendency to get in its own way. I’m (figuratively) curious what the outtakes of this album have to offer, but I sense the truth is they’re still very much present.
Iguana Man is back with his first solo material since 2010’s Galaktus LP! He hasn’t been sleeping though. With projects like Strange U, Gawd Status, and features galore, Kashmere is seemingly busier than ever.
Work ethic not wasted. Kashmere has refined his sound over the past decade, and it shows on Soul Calibur. His delivery is stronger than ever and displays the calm control only an MC two decades deep could. Soul Calibur is a beautiful work of music and it makes me excited to listen to hip-hop again during a period of my life in which I’m too glum to get into much of anything.
Soul Calibur’s instrumentation was produced by Alecs DeLarge and brings the criminally smooth lounge sound. Vibraphones, flutes, snappy snares and kicks; it’s perfect. Watch the music video, then go cop this bad boy on Bandcamp or stream it on Spotify.
You read that right, folks. Record is the 1981 release by Boston avant-aware new wave group Family Fun. A project of Arf! Arf! Records owner Erik Lindgren, the band consists of Sara Goodman (vocals), Russ Smith (bass, vocals), Erik (Moogs, keys, theremin) and Rusty Lindgren (guitar, vocals),
Family Fun kicks off Record with opening track Games. Surf-y guitar and bass reminiscent of The B-52s is punctuated by agile drum-machine patterns. It’s fun, if not a little predictable at first.
Sara Goodman’s rock vocals are somewhat reminiscent of Missing Persons, while Russ Smith’s bass playing is notable across the entire album. This provides some steadiness to the avant garde antics of the Lindgren siblings, a necessary contrast keeping things from going too far one way or the other.
This contrast in steadiness and chaos makes Family Fun stand out from others’ forays into new wave. Family Fun is part Devo, part Suburban Lawns, and part outsider music. It’s interesting and exciting to hear the risks taken by Family Fun, as they have held up incredibly well.
That’s not to say Record is a masterwork waiting to be rediscovered and put atop the throne of music revisionism. The a-side comes with the trappings of new wave in 1981. Its compositions in rock can be a little predictable for the time, while tonal aesthetics haven’t aged well either. Simply put, often the song writing isn’t quite strong enough to break away from the rabble of new wave.
That is until we get to the b-side: EZ Listening Music.
“WARNING: Do Not Listen To This Side.” The behemoth of a track totals out with a 16 minute run time, the b-side’s label adorned with the aforementioned warning. EZ Listening Music slowly swells into being like the beauty of day break underscored by looming anxiety of life. Sara Goodman’s spoken monologues pin an all too real human element. Guitar strings are held on, agitated more than strummed while blips of Moogs and other electronics tweak in and out of ear shot. All of this underscored by slow swelling bass guitar. Ultimately, the song’s direction finds itself much like a movie score.
“Elevator music for 1990. Right, Erik?” is etched on the b-side runout. I can’t even imagine.
I will refrain from calling it one of the worst records I’ve ever heard only 30 seconds in.
Perhaps high on the fumes of possibility, Eponymous is a slathering of 80s cheese processed through the band’s take on new wave hard rock. It’s got keytar, out of place sax licks, masturbatory guitar noodling, cowbell, and a bunch of other stuff we gave up on as a culture 30 years ago. With even the slightest air of authority, anyone could convince me that Eponymous was an avant garde novelty record, made this way entirely on purpose. The unbridled audaciousness of Bronx Irish Catholics goes past respect, past disdain to a new level of respect.
There’s almost too much to bite off to even begin a rundown of individual songs. Eponymous is litany of crimes against the arts. Typically championed on this site, artistic exploration should be balanced with doing at least a few things well. Instead, Bronx Irish Catholics fails to claim merit in any of the directions they’re pulled towards.
Both presenting and sounding like Julee Cruise on PCP, Irish Bronx Catholics consisted of core members LaRaine Warfield (vocals, synthesizers) and John Jansen (synthesizers, vocals), along with a slew of session musicians. To give credit or fault to either member would be nearly impossible, as all points of instrumentation blend into one unattainable slurry of sound. While the tonal qualities of the instruments work fine together, the composition is so busy with inconsequential instrumentation that it all means nothing.
LaRaine Warfield’s barked vocals are possibly the only memorable part on the album. But even Warfield’s performance as a powerful front person isn’t utilized well. As the instrumentation flounders on, Warfield is left exposed to criticism. While the lyrics are still a point of contention, LaRaine Warfield’s vocals are at least delivered with bold confidence.
Be it hard rock, new wave, ballad, synthpop or even the broad yet recognizable ‘rock n roll’, no one angle is played well enough to warrant a sense of accomplishment.
Closing track Ulster Defense is a surprisingly good turn of events for anyone having held out long enough. It’s stripped of most bells and whistles, with exception to Warfield’s gated reverb vocals. Distorted guitar overlays a heavy undercurrent of pummeling drum machine gallops. A quasi-psychedelic cacophony of vocals twist and melt from their barked origins. Ulster Defense could have easily worked on a split 7” with Alien Sex Fiend or even Paul Barker-era Ministry.
Perhaps they really were high on the fumes of possibility. At their most raw, Bronx Irish Catholics not only make-do but make something quite enjoyable. It pains me to think of the overwhelming facility granted to beginner musicians in today’s digital era. It’s clear we aren’t pushing the artistic limits of our newly granted facilities but obsessing over and creating a smorgasbord of inevitably dated ‘must have’ sounds.
Cut the crap. Learn to set healthy artistic limitations and remember: don’t get high on your own supply.
Nonnie and The Onnies is far from a household name. The group’s singular 12″ release isn’t much more than a relic of an industry in an era, but perhaps we can find new respect for such an album.
I’m in Love With A Rent Boy‘s sound is what’s to be expected from an American pop group only 2 years after the release of Madonna’s self-titled debut, albeit lacking Madonna’s synthetic-disco sound for something straddling the Bangles.
The mix is delightfully punchy, the album’s cover art amusing, and its absurdity somewhat intriguing. Rent Boy may be brief, but that only makes it more consumable.
Titular a-side opening track Rent Boy comes with all the trappings of new wave overindulgence and electronic trend following, much to the anguish of any current listener. The absurdity of I’m in Love With A Rent Boy may be the only thing not somewhat forgettable about this track, unfortunately.
Under all of Rent Boy’s commercial cheese is an extravaganza of American generica. Flavorless, plugged in, and devoid of self-reflective or interpersonal emotion. An overproduced musical jingle reminiscent of over-the-top TV ads.
A swing and a miss perhaps, as following track My Hearts in Bondage (Dance Mix) is so satisfyingly engaging. Hearts inches towards EBM with pounding drum machine rhythms driving under dark synth pads. Choppy self-sampling punches up the song’s pop vocal delivery. Its lyrics may not be particularly inspired, but Nonnie’s performance sells me on the emotions at play.
A shame, really, that a track so good would be hidden behind a pop single so bad. Hearts in Bondage may have been overlooked by a loving audience due to the EP’s titular track, but perhaps our current state of retromania will help unearth previously overlooked gems.
Rent Boy‘s A-side closes out with the instrumental …And The Car Was Stolen. It explores a further industrial element over it’s 42 second runtime before disappearing into the void. Far from a substantial song, Car Was Stolen functions as the perfect cinematic mood-setter for a would-be album of Hearts in Bondage.
The album’s b-side should at least be mentioned as a formality; a radio edit of Hearts in Bondage with an instrumental remix of Rent Boy to close out the EP. Unforgivably 80s in an unlovable way.
There is good work to be found on Rent Boy, if only the right crowd were to find it.
If you’re curious what Nonnie Thompson has been up to since, this article from 2006 will have to suffice. Ariel Powers wracked up some more credits to her name throughout the 90s, and is still playing to this day. Gary Pozner, last I heard, is playing music around the south-west US.
For fans of: Madonna, Bananarama, Ministry (With Sympathy-era)
Another rainy Tuesday; some band from Japan was coming and playing a show at the record shop/bar I worked at. I knew nothing about them except their name: XL Fits.
The band showed up, loaded in and played to a room of 7 people including the staff. It was a half-hour of madness and confusion. What the hell was I watching? What the hell was I hearing? Loud, crashing chaos; The few attendees stood still, beer in hand, watching these 3 guys grind, wail, rock and thrash about.
As quickly as it started, the band finished and the attendees left. One of the members and I gestured a conversation the best we could to negotiate his beer order (a singular PBR) and I tried to express how great their set had been.
I quickly bought up all their merch, then XL Fits packed up and left with barely a word spoken between us. The shop owner left and I closed up. I walked to my car, avoiding the broken glass and drunk tourists, thinking about all the people who had missed out on such a life changing show.
Cut to now; sitting down to write. XL Fits are a band so specifically weird that it was daunting to even take notes while listening to Hands + Knees. It truly is a 7″ single. There is no b-side, not even a runout groove.
A 3-piece avant garde punk rock group, XL Fits could be best described as 1 part Sex Pistols, 1 part Oxbow, and about 3 parts DNA. Rarely does it seem any two notes play at the same time. The drumming on Hands + Knees plays out like a hyper-specified algorithm, while Morricone-esque bass thumps out the same refrain. Vocals wail, groan and moan their way over a guitar that is ever shifting between wailing digital noise and clean, drawn out strums.
Each and every part is played with the confidence that things will line-up at the right moments, something that most of us listeners take for granted. And really, that’s all it needs. Far too tight and far too good to be reminiscent of The Shaggs, Hands + Knees plays as if by a three-headed being, able to regroup with precision timing.
XL Fits’ work remains mostly unknown and underappreciated by western audiences. Hands + Knees, as amazing and strange as it is, can’t convey the reassurance that there could be something new out there on the musical landscape in our age of retromania and artistic stagnation. A spiritual experience lost in translation, if I’ve ever seen one.
Evil is the final 7” single by the original American psychobilly band HellBillys. Fronted by vocalist Barrie Evans, the band consists of Greg Langston (drums), Rick Tanner (bass), and Dan Watson (guitar, formerly of progressive thrash metal band Hexx).
A-side titular track Evil is an exhibition of rock’n’roll aggression packed full of chugging palm-muted guitar. Always on the verge of rupturing forth, Evil growls along before Dan Waton’s expressive guitar work cries out in an explosive solo.
Vocalist ‘Hell’ Barrie Evans snarls, drools and seethes his way through a violent (yet reserved) performance. The “squeakin’, squakin’, [and] squealin’” Barrie’s vocal delivery, while at times indecipherable, is delivered with a nuance rarely seen in psychobilly.
The Evil 7” is mixed in a manner atypical to rockabilly revivalist tent genres. Unlike the compressed records of their contemporaries, Evil’s heavy low-end brings so much warmth as to justify calling it a weed mix.
In an interview conducted by Jessica Thiringer for Razorcake issue #31 (2006), Barrie Evans (going under his childhood nickname Scary) speaks about his time living in Japan and how it inspired the creation of The Hellbillys;
“When I was living in Tokyo, I had just left Christ on Parade and I was kind of sick of rockabilly. A friend invited me to a rockabilly show and I was blown away by how everybody looked. It was the same sort of vibe you get now (2006), but much earlier. Everyone’s dressed in vintage everything. I met the guy from the Falcons and went to see his band a week later. It was fast and heavy and had a cool look. I knew what I wanted to do.”
B-side opener Captain Scarlet is a reworking of Barry Gray’s theme for Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons; a 1960s UK children’s show exploring themes of morality dualism, social-integration, and nuclear devastation through the lens of interplanetary war. Did I mention that it was made for children? And used puppets?
HellBillys’ punched up take on Captain Scarlet features Barrie Evans’s vocals taking over the predecessor’s horn and vibraphone melody. Paired alongside themes of blatant evil, Captain Scarlet invokes the disturbing nature of a truly indestructible being.
Evil closes fittingly with Murder; a somewhat typical psychobilly romp of bass/snare syncopation and whammy’d western guitar chords topped with lyrical themes of internalized voices and, well, murder. It’s a great track, while not particularly inventive, predates the rigidity of today’s psychobilly scene.
In the same interview with Jessica Thiringer, Barrie unknowingly utters a forewarning of psychobilly’s inevitable stagnation.
“There wasn’t a template to follow. I think the regimentation of rockabilly has a lot to do with Continental Restyling (French magazine)— not that it’s bad, but it sucked the originality out of it. It’s however you interpret rockabilly. Psycho has a lot of room to grow. Let’s hope psycho doesn’t get regimented. I’ve always had a huge pomp. People put so much emphasis into looking correct, but back in the punk days you’d put together some kind of non sequitur outfit. Rockabilly used to be the same way. During the ‘80s, Macy’s (department store) even had a line of clothes called ‘‘80s Rocker,’ inspired by the Stray Cats.”
‘Stealing’ from one’s predecessors is completely natural, dare I say should be encouraged. Nothing is completely new under the sun. But it’s about that time of year when we need revisit an oft-repeated T. S. Eliot’s quote;
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it came.”
Or, to quote the back of the record jacket:
“THE HELLBILLYS ARE INDESTRUCTIBLE. YOU ARE NOT. DO NOT TRY TO EMULATE THEM.”
For fans of: The Misfits, Nekromantix, Koffin Kats
Released on Estrus Records in 1995, the Heads Up EP by The Monarchs is a rudimentary garage rock romp. The Ann Arbor, Michigan 4-piece consisted of Sarah McCabe, Tommy Oliver, Greg Hughes, and Andrew Claydon.
Hit That B*&¢# takes up the entirety of Heads Up EP‘s a-side. It’s not entirely certain why a band like this would lightly obscure a word both obvious and repetitively used within the song. Perhaps it’s part of a band’s kitsch, conflicting morals, or someone’s mom. Tinged with only a slight degree of internalized misogyny, Hit That B*&¢# is the #girlboss take on a long lineage of toxic-relationship jealousy songs.
Were they being serious? Probably not. Revivalist genres naturally repeat the tropes of their predecessors, even when those tropes only existed due to societal ills. Perhaps there was a degree of subversion to the song, lost to the record’s somewhat blownout recording. Regardless, Was it maybe a little stupid? Yes. Then again, everything in the 90s was a little stupid. We move on and move forward.
Instrumental titular track Heads Up takes pole position on the album’s b-side, despite the sleeve’s listing. The most ‘true’ to the original wave of garage rock, Heads Up ditches Sarah McCabe’s shouted-out vocals for organ. The general inoffensiveness of Heads Up still manages to keep up with the punk-influenced tracks on either side of it. With secret agent surf riffs and classic garage rock structuring, Heads Up (both song and album) thrashes in a way that only garage punk can.
While not as rewarding as Alien Blood Transfusion, this garage rock exploit still manages to capture the feeling of John Waters and b-movie film nights with friends. Even when embracing a ‘low-risk/low reward’ artistic approach, The Monarchs put together 3-tracks of punch-y garage rock fun.
The Monarchs may hit too hard for garage rock purists, but the kids don’t care.
There is nothing too ground breaking or distinct about this 7”. Mari Amachi was considered “Sony’s Snow White” in Japan, as well as the start of Japanese idol culture in the 1970s/80s. Maybe from an outsider (both in time and place) this translates to a lack of appreciation for what would make this record in particular stand out.
Taking up the record’s a-side, a cinematic quality pervades Whispering Green Leaves. Instrumentation plods along, complimented by exciting flurries of strings. Whispering Green Leaves’s cinematic qualities are best exemplified by lush Mancini-esque string arrangements which thrust the composition into amplified emotions.
Nearly a decade prior to electro pop, this record manages to escape the fetishism of retromania’s preferred sonic tropes. Maybe this allows the listener to hear the record as objectively as possible. Even then, it’s impossible to eradicate personal tastes (however manipulated they may be).
B-side track Wishing Upon The Sea (海にたくした願い) is made-for-TV (70s TV, that is). I mean that as a good thing, somehow. Relying on my outsider’s ignorance, Wishing Upon The Sea’s 1970s trappings weren’t the antagonizing cheese of my childhood.
Backed by Sony’s impressive session musicians of the time, Mari Amachi’s singing is particularly beautiful here. Each piece of instrumentation compliments each other in hopeful melancholy. It’s not quite a powerhouse of emotional display, but still delivers a mildly entertaining listen.
Perhaps it is as it appears to be, a mildly enjoyable but somewhat forgettable pop record of yesteryear. Whispering Green Leaves may not be heavily sought after in this day and age, but if you can get your hands on it, Wishing Upon The Sea is a delightfully pleasant b-side worth the occasional spin at home.