Tunic — Disappointment (2016, Public Tone)
While the band purports themselves to be fans of the Chicago School of noise rock, they sound remarkably fresh. Making use of the early-Albini’s midwest-y driving, frenetic pace, but ditching all the macho-loner bullshit. Frenzied eighth notes are to be expected on any punk release and are ever-present here, but so too are slightly unorthodox rhythms which manage to bludgeon the listener and simultaneously break with punk’s proclivity toward the straight eight. Among the most appealing aspects of the release are the band’s sheer emotional intensity and the fidelity of the release. It sounds on first audition to be live-tracked and fairly spartan. One hopes for the sake of authenticity, this isn’t some digital gimmick. Despite its brevity, this release is visceral enough to stand up straight and deliver a knockout blow. Done and dusted in under ten minutes. Pop open the deck and the tape is sizzling. Highly recommended.
Black Eyes — Cough (2004, Dischord)
Around 2000, there was lots of talk about the future of Dischord. Fugazi’s 1998 long play, End Hits was interpreted by many to be suggestive of a pending break-up of the label’s flagship group. Speculation aside, Black Eyes and Q and Not U both appeared on the scene around the start of the new millennium and breathed new life into the iconic Washington DC label. The second and final LP by art punks Black Eyes, ranks among the most interesting material ever released by Dischord. “Cough, Cough” opens with sparse instrumentation, dub inspired bass lines, and layered, erratic vocals. Like a stick of buttered dynamite the segue into “Eternal Life” ushers in a new era of Dischord. Miles away from Minor Threat, Void, SOA, Beefeater, Nation of Ulysses or anything else the label has released. Bursts of free jazz horn playing, skronky and angular guitars, and psychedelic keys that recalls the Monks at their most agitated. On top, vocals that are crazed and wildly enigmatic. Underneath, tight, bass heavy rhythms, reminiscent of the mighty Fugazi. The vocals on “False Positive” are part reggae toasting, part hip-hip. “Commencement” features a saxophone line which recalls Mulatu Astake and bizarre spoken vocals. With Cough, Black Eyes depart from the danceable noise punk on their debut and in the processes dually refuse to be pigeonholed as “another DC band” and reject genre conventions in their totality. Black Eyes are the text book definition of an experimental rock band: impossible to nail down and never derivative. They’re brave in their approach, humorous (perhaps unintentionally), and wholly original.
S.B.S.M. — Joy/Rage
(2015, Remote Outposts)
Most of the time the mere utterance of the words “punk rock” function as something of an emetic — a verbal/aural/linguistic ipecac, if you will. Hyperbole, no doubt, but the point is, following punk rock’s (very early) “recuperation” (to use Dick Hebdige’s term), the prevailing social order took whatever sting rock n roll offered, out of the tail. Enter: S.B.S.M. This band will fuck you up. Queercore from Oakland featuring three people of color—a fact that, as a person of color, I appreciate immensely. They’re as fun as kittens and cake on your day off, but they’re not messing around and they’re not to be taken lightly. If you could take Throbbing Gristle’s density and mix it with the anguish and ferocity of Damaged’s B-side, you might be in the ballpark. “Teeth” will have you singing “and they will decay” in your head ’til the cows come home. “Godzilla” opens with sci-fi soundscapes and barbed whirlwinds of sound before the twister gets sucked back into the heavens at around the 2:30 mark and the band lurch into a Slits meets Cocteau Twins meets the (early) Locust thing before the tune falls apart, like Tokyo in the monster’s wake. While the tempest thrashes the surface, ‘neath the waves lurks the darkness of post-punk and some salient melodic cunning. The four songs featured on Joy/Rage feature all the introspection, honesty, and intensity that any great work of art possess. This one will be in heavy rotation at Marginal HQ for the foreseeable future.
The Buzzcocks — Time’s Up (2017, Domino)
A long circulated bootleg, officially released in 2000 by mute, and reissued in March of this year (2017) to mark the 40th anniversary of the Spiral Scratch single, Time’s Up is a collection of Buzzcock’s demos that catches the group in their nascent and arguably most visceral (certainly most interesting) stage. Admittedly, this release only recently came into our Marginal paws, but as huge fans of Howard Devoto, Magazine, and the Spiral Scratch 45 at Marginal HQ, it was imperative to get these early recordings featuring Devoto pumping through the cans as soon as possible. Including the cuts that wound up on Spiral and a number of tracks that were later recorded with Pete Shelley replacing Devoto on vocals, this document preserves the urgency catalyzed by the infamous early Sex Pistols show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, along with the pomp, insouciance, and flippancy that Devoto offers. The four tracks that later feature on Spiral Scratch regrettably pale to those the wound up on the 45, largely owing to the drastically slower tempos. Among the highlights, an stripped down, but explosive rendition of Captain Beefhart’s, “I Love You, You Big Dummy,” which was later performed by Devoto in Magazine. The fidelity is remarkably clear for a young, broke, and at the time irrelevant band, who were effectively writing the guidebook for Mancunian punks to follow. This release is not an indispensable release by any account, but as someone who enjoys the extremely limited Buzzcocks output featuring Devoto, it remains exciting and historically fascinating to take give this rock n roll time capsule a spin and in the process, immerse oneself in the early pings of punk rock in the English Northwest c. 1976.
Alastair Galbraith — Seely Girn (1993, Feel Good All Over)
Few artists can so confidently oscillate between different genres as New Zealand’s Alastair Galbraith. Even more impressive, this 1990s retrospective, Seely Grin, featuring some of Galbraith’s early work manages to dip toes in an assortment of ponds, yet still retains a sense of continuity, coherence, and a singularness that reassures the listener that it’s the same person — and that they’ve done a hell of a job to craft the proverbial signature sound. Toying with Syd Barrett-esque psychedelia, lo-fi folk rock, garage punk, and a host of other stylistic undertakings, Galbraith sounds like a joyous traversal through a wistful dream where the aforementioned Barrett, Magical Mystery era-Beatles, the Velvets, Wire, and the Who, at their most pastoral, warp into and over one another to provide the soundtrack. Drastically different from Galbraith’s work with Bruce Russell in A Handful of Dust and an easier entry point for those who gravitate more towards conventional music(s) than some of his more recent work, this is sure to satisfy listeners from either camp. Dynamically broad, sonically rich, and well worth every cent, fans of early K records stuff, New Zealand garage and pop, or anyone who remembers when ‘indie’ wasn’t a genre, but statement, will dig this. As such, I urge all ye Marginal readers— familiar with the man or otherwise— a prompt and thorough listen of Alastair Glabraith’s early output.
Alternative TV — Live at Rat Club ’77 (1979, Crystal; 1993 reissue, Obsession Records)
ATV’s Live at Rat Club ’77 is as rough and tumble as they come, with a disclaimer on the jewel case professing: “this recording was made on a portable mono cassette player, and therefore is not of conventional sound quality.” Sounds like shit, which means it sounds like gold. Brilliant snap shot of London, 1977. Banter is readily heard and is as much a part of the document’s appeal as the band’s set. An audio snippet from Frank Simon’s 1968 documentary on drag, The Queen, finds its way into the recording. “Memphis Tennessee” features the group playing the tune which would become “Alternatives” on their debut, but features Mark Perry reciting Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” When Perry brings up the dole before “Life,” in the grand punk tradition of caustic, spontaneous dialogue, his friends yell “you’re not on the dole, Mark.” Unfazed, the group canter through the tune, make mistakes, and then gripe to the sound person about the microphone is falling to pieces. The polemical, yet introspective “How Much Longer” is a crown jewel of the set. The band revisits the “Alternatives” groove on “Alternatives to NATO” while Perry monologues what sounds like cut-up political poetry. Meanwhile someone near the tape deck (who sounds like Genesis P-Orridge, the producer of this record [!!!]) claims: “you can tell they can play really well if they want to, but they’re not pushing themselves enough […] they could be much more interesting…” And they got more interesting, but more on that in a moment. The final three tunes are the rousing “You Bastard,” followed by fairly status quo renditions of “Why Don’t You Do Me Right,” and “Total Switch Off.” A fun record replete with heckling and lo-fidelity. Although Wire receives all the platitudes for Pink Flag being the crème de la crème of 1977 punk, truth is, Flag, good as it is, is met blow for blow by The Image Has Cracked. In a year of that spawned nonconformist uniformity—sonically and sartorially—Alternative TV are a breath of fresh air. And this live recording catches the pot just as the steam starts to hover above.
Laddio Bolocko — Live and Unreleased 1997 – 2000 (2015, No Quarter)
Hard to imagine that some of the material on today’s featured release is already twenty. Alas, great music is timeless. Suffice to say, Marginal mouth’s watered when No Quarter released New York jazz punk quartet Laddio Bolocko’s Live and Unreleased 1997 – 2000 LP a few winters ago. Straight out of the direct spiritual-sonic lineage of This Heat, Laddio’s music is entrancingly bizarre, challenging, and a much needed relief as the late 1990s and early 2000s seemed to suggest rock music’s reeking corpse needed to be hastily added to the burning rubbish heap. Stink notwithstanding, it’s alive, it’s aliiiiiive. Veiled every so slightly beneath the psyche-free jazz freakouts, Laddio Bolocko possess surfeit technical ability. Tracks like “Columbia St. Dub” and “Realm of ideas cs” straddle the line between Tortoise’s slow, turtleneck and horn rimmed frame sportin’ clove smoking, Chicago long burners, mixed with Fugazi’s later, more abstract work, and Bitches Brew. No small feat. “How About This For My Hair?” (parts “A” and “B”) Sound like a head on between Mars Volta and Don Cab, who have both jettisoned the bullshit and the egos. Absolute barn burners. The live cuts hold their own equally well. I’m willing to wager that on an on night, no one could hold a candle to this band, save maybe This Heat themselves and Fugazi. It’s a bit spare at times, but given that it is a compendium of demos, ideas, and the like, that is to be expected. If you’re into that oh-so Marginal sound, that does not deter. The bigger question is, is this a document of rock music’s last stand? Might be, but might as well go out swinging.