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SSR Picks: April 22 2021

Daniel

Napalm Death: The Peel Sessions (Strange Fruit, 1989)

I went crazy with my description of the new Rudimentary Peni album for this week’s Record of the Week, so I’m going keep my pick short this week. I’ve had a bootleg LP with Napalm Death’s Peel Sessions for years, but this week I scored the original Strange Fruit pressing, which sounds better. The word “extreme” gets thrown around a lot in underground guitar music circles, but the Napalm Death Peel Sessions are among the most extreme sound recordings I have ever heard. It’s like they took the very concept of “music” and attempted to turn it on its head at every level, to deliver the ultimate auditory nightmare. Both sessions feature the same lineup that recorded From Enslavement to Obliteration, and while I love that record (and the underrated follow-up EP, Mentally Murdered), the Peel Sessions are even better. There’s something perverse about forcing the BBC’s engineers to record these sounds, but, lord bless them, they did it, and by my estimation they did it with all of the skill and attention to detail they would have given a symphony for a Sunday morning classical program. I know there are records heavier / uglier / noisier / more intense in the power electronics world, but an arsenal of effects boxes and directly manipulating tape are performance-enhancing drugs. If you’re looking for the craziest thing human beings have ever created with guitars, drums, and vocals, this may be it.

Jeff

What’s up Sorry Staters?

Somewhere, lurking in the streets of Cleveland, there stand 3 pillars of true punk wisdom. You may find these figures claiming their usual spot at Now That’s Class talking mad shit or already day-drunk at a backyard barbeque. The band’s namesake alone, a reference to Limp Bizkit’s finest hour, only further captures the intensity of what lies within…

Alright, all kidding aside, I love this EP. Woodstock ’99 features a couple of my buddies from good ol’ NC. The band is made up of 3 out of 4 people that were in Cement Shoes. But after relocating to Cleveland, it seems like my dudes not only cranked up the “no fucks given” attitude in their music, but also in their whole vibe and lifestyle. I gotta say, it is pretty refreshing to feel like a punk record is not so serious for once.

Each song, both literally and figuratively, is a unique artisan dish of deep-fried redneck cuisine. Even with their silly, aloof and often contemptuous disposition, this record still fuckin’ RIPS. I find myself flipping between cracking up and being like “Damn, this is killer.” My boy Trev’s vocals sound like a demon, taunting you with menace that makes you feel simultaneously secure, like you’re in on the joke, but also really nervous, like something bad is about to happen. But once again, what the fuck is up with punk bands only pressing 100 copies these days? You should snag one while you have the chance.

To quote the masters themselves: “Popeye’s chicken is fucking awesome,” and you know what? So is this EP.

Thanks for reading. ‘Til next week,

-Jeff

Eric

The Muffs: Big Mouth / Do The Robot 7” - I’ve been waiting for an excuse to write about The Muffs but I haven’t owned any of their records until now (but ya know it was the 90s, not a lot of Muffs vinyl out there)! I unfortunately wasn’t introduced to the Muffs until after Kim Shattuck had passed. Once I heard their first self-titled album, I fell in love and wondered how they had flown under my radar for so long. Then I felt kind of annoyed that so many of my peers were fans and no one told me! Anyway, the more I listen to this band, the more I think Kim Shattuck has such a natural talent for melody and song structure. I have listened to that first album so many times in the past two years I could probably recite all the tunes from memory. Strangely enough, I always find a new way to appreciate them after so many listens. It’s melodic, angsty and loud… kinda like if Green Day was a bit more garagey and took themselves a little less seriously. This single I picked up the other day has a great track from their first record called “Big Mouth” on the A-side and a cover of The Saints’ “Do The Robot” on the B-side. “Big Mouth” is a classic Muffs song that is rockin’ and melodic about betrayal and vengeance (so classic). I had never heard the Saints cover until I picked up this single. It’s cool for sure, but “Big Mouth” is definitely the stronger track. I love The Muffs!

Various: WGH Authentic Virginia Gold 12” - I don’t have a lot to say about this one. I picked this up cheap recently at Vinyl Conflict because I was intrigued by the title and the cover. I thought it was a collection of Virginia surf bands, which would be awesome! But instead it is a collection of some of the top hits played at a Norfolk, VA radio station. It’s chock full of classics like Strawberry Alarm Clock, James Brown, The Association, etc. This seems to be a very limited press on cool rainbow sunburst vinyl. The vinyl is pretty beat and skips every now and then, but I have been enjoying revisiting some classics and educating myself on some artists I had never heard. Very glad I picked it up!

Dominic

Hey there, all of you in Sorry State Land. How was your week? This was another crazy one, right? We had two holidays to celebrate, 4/20 and Earth Day. Try to plant a tree for every one you smoke. We had the trial verdict come in for the George Floyd murderer-correct one but hardly a celebration of “justice served” as a man is still dead. Then in the middle of all that we had the news of the European Super League and that bombshell and the potential death of competitive football to deal with. If any of you follow the footie, you will know that this was massive. I have been a Liverpool FC supporter for close to fifty years and was close to saying fuck it and never following sport again. Thankfully the backlash was so severe that within forty-eight hours the plan died the death it deserved. Most of you probably have no idea what the hell I am talking about. Although the Beautiful Game is very popular in the US, so maybe you do? If that is the case, then you understand the magnitude of what happened. But this is a music newsletter and not a sports journal, so let’s talk about records instead, shall we?

I’m going to make my entry short and mention just one record this week, that album being Motherlight by Bobak, Jons, Malone, originally released in 1969 on the UK label Morgan Blue Town. More commonly known as just Motherlight instead of the artists, who sound more like a law firm than a musical act. You are certainly forgiven for never having heard of it or seeing a copy as only in the last twenty years or so has it been widely discovered. Old school psych collectors would exchange original copies for decent money, as they were pretty rare and just did not show up. In the late 80s a couple of different reissues popped up, which was the first chance for the wider record buying public to get a copy, but it wasn’t until the early 00s and in the last decade that official and widely available versions became available.

I remember my old boss in the New York store I worked at had an original copy and always spoke highly of the record and so when a copy of one of the 80s reissues came through, I bought it. We later stocked a CD version which sold very well. Over the years, I have really grown to like the record. I wouldn’t say it is the most mind-blowing psych-prog record ever but in its just over thirty minutes run time it certainly doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. It has a unique ambiance to it with a slightly ominous tone. Music and vocals are almost muted, and nobody gets carried away with over-the-top solos or screaming. The setup is pretty much keyboards, guitars and rhythm section with some studio magic sprinkled on top.

So, who were these solicitors posing as a rock group? They were actually three accomplished multi-instrumentalists who worked mostly as studio engineers and session guys. Wil Malone had graduated from his 60s psych band The Orange Bicycle and was the chief songwriter and composer. He played keyboards, lead guitar and supplied the vocals. The year after Motherlight was released, he released a solo LP of mostly acoustic folk. Jons was really Andy Johns, the younger brother of Glynn Johns who was already an established producer and engineer. Andy followed in the family footsteps and went on to become a name himself within the industry. Mike Bobak, a graduate from a couple of different London based bands in the 60s was also a staff engineer at Morgan Blue Town Studios and like Johns went on to have a successful career working as a producer and engineer.

The sound of Motherlight, if I had to name drop a few other bands names to give you an idea was somewhere between Pink Floyd, Procol Harem, Kaleidoscope, Mighty Baby and the types of one-offs that Apple Records seemed to sign and record during their heyday. Highlights are the title cut, the incredible On A Meadow Lea and House Of Many Windows. The trio of musicians used their knowledge of studio tricks to really produce something special and different. Coming out as it did at the fag-end of the 60s, it combines psychedelic elements with more progressive sounds and also some of the back-to-roots rural folky feelings that bands were introducing into their music. Recorded mostly on studio down time, the record was released with little fanfare and promotion and the “band” had no plans to perform live. As a result, as good as it is, it duly disappeared from public view and remained mostly unknown for the best part of twenty years. As I mentioned up top, there have been some reissues since then and we just got in a few copies of a current pressing at Sorry State. I highly recommend lovers of this era of British psychedelic and progressive music to investigate and grab themselves a copy. I would be shocked if you were disappointed. I’ll leave a link to On A Meadow Lea for you to check out.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy. Until next time, friends.

-Dom

Usman

I think I ended up on Relapse’s mailing list after buying the Detestation re-issue. I was sitting at work early one morning and got an e-mail announcing they had just released the pre-order for a Zouo re-issue and I was totally caught off guard, haha. I guess they did G.I.S.M. so I shouldn’t be surprised if they get a bit more “obscure” with a Japanese release. I always assume everyone who reads my Staff Pick knows all the same shit as I do when it comes to music, but maybe I am really wrong. Sometimes I wonder if the bands I feature on Hardcore Knockouts are more obscure than I think, based on the low amount of total votes cast on certain Knockouts. That said, I will give my take on Zouo even though you probably already know this shit. To me, Zouo is a very popular band, legendary even. They have influenced a tremendous amount of bands internationally from the mid ‘80s onward into today. They really pushed the boundaries pretty early in the game of extreme/harsh sonic elements in hardcore punk. G.I.S.M. is a band that sounds similar to Zouo in the same kinda “bunchafuckeduppeople” way, and predates Zouo, but G.I.S.M. has such a definitive metal approach to things while Zouo does not really at all. I consider Zouo a band for punks while metal-heads may like G.I.S.M. and not Zouo, if that makes sense.

I remember when I got the Frustration 7", a re-issue on Crust War that includes Zouo’s two tracks from the Unlawful Assembly 12". I was bummed it only had two songs, but at the time I didn’t understand the tracks were taken from a compilation, and the band only had four other studio-recorded songs released! Regardless of the number of songs, I was instantly obsessed. They are actually pretty long songs too, yet they don’t get boring to me. When I read the lyrics, I became even more obsessed. They are written in a such a cold, fucked up manner. Not in the dismissive, apathetic way that some people write, though. The words illustrate the vocalist’s deep contemplation and understanding of society and the way humans have been conditioned to treat each other. I got the Final Agony 7" re-issue on Crust War around that same time, too. I don’t think I had ever heard proper rips of the EP, so going into it I really didn’t know what to expect. And man... the fold-out poster really fucks me up, it is SO insanely cool. Relapse sized that down and it is featured on the back cover of the re-issue. They also include an insert that has all the lyrics and a pretty cool collage of artwork/pics of band. I do wish overall the Relapse re-issue had more stuff, like cool info/history of the band. But it is certainly a solid release, and it sounds damn good. All Zouo’s studio output was released in 1984 originally. The recording on Final Agony seems pretty “lo-fi” compared to the compilation tracks, but I think it’s kind of an illusion which I will do my best to explain.

On the compilation tracks, I think the band experimented more with presenting a “sonic atmosphere” that is not just fast-paced hardcore punk. On the comp tracks and EP, the vocals have varying effects on them and they are pushed to the front of the mix. But again, on the compilation tracks, there are additional elements of noise/sound effects that overwhelm the entire recording at times. It really fits into the song’s composition, and that pushes the band into the “pioneering” category, in my opinion. Back to the EP tracks; I feel like the band relied on their Discharge roots just a bit more with their song writing. But not just the writing, even the recording process... this is what I meant by the “lo-fi illusion” I mentioned above. I read the guitarist recorded 3 separate guitar tracks, each one to be panned in a different fashion on the sound spectrum. It gives the entire recording an extra layer of fuzz, really pulling off that Hear Nothing wall of sound. When you can hear the drums playing alone, they actually sound like they were done with very nice production. It’s just the guitar tracks (and vocals at times) that really take over most of the sounds you hear, which makes the whole recording sound a bit more “lo-fi” with all the fuzz that’s going on.

Alright, I will wrap this up. The first side of the disc is their complete 6 tracks of studio-output. The back side is all live recordings. I think most, if not all, of the live stuff was previously released on the 2012 Black Lodge CD/DVD box set and also A Roar Agitating Violent Age 12" (which was released in 2011 on Crust War like the 7" re-issues.) The Relapse Bandcamp page actually has a shit ton of extra live recordings that were not released on the LP. Like I mentioned when I began, I think this re-issue could have been more exciting, but overall it was done well. I can only compare to the re-issue 7"s I have, and I think the sound on this re-issue is excellent! (You can ask Rich to compare it to his original Final Agony EP...) The 7" re-issues from 10 years ago did a really really good job on the packaging, and I had hoped the Relapse re-issue would be a bit more exciting but it’s definitely solid, minimal in a punk way. If you don’t have those EP re-issues I mentioned, I’d grab this 12". The 7"s re-sale now for upwards of $30, so if you don’t already have em and wanna get more Zouo in yer life this is the way to go! kk thanks for reading, ‘til next time..

Rachel

Cocaine and Rhinestones

I think it’s time. I’ve alluded to this, and I’ve tortured my coworkers with it, so it’s only fitting I expose myself in the newsletter.

I fucking love country music.

It started out innocent enough: going to bluegrass shows with friends in high school, picking up a few bargain bin country records because of their cover art in college. Now, country is probably the most represented genre in my collection. I attribute it to most country records being under $3 and the podcast Cocaine and Rhinestones.

You may know Tyler Mahan Coe from his other show, Your Favorite Band Sucks, or through his outlaw country singer father, David Allen Coe (he doesn’t associate with or talk about his father, don’t worry). But Cocaine and Rhinestones is better than all of that. It is easily the best podcast I’ve listened to in years. Before you write it off—because who wants to listen to a podcast about country music, right?—this podcast is a must listen for anyone interested in the 20th century music industry. Sure, it’s focused on country artists, but it’s rich with information about how the industry worked back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. TMC’s deep dives into specifics like the careers of songwriters and producers, as well as following the rocky road a lot of artists had working with record companies, shed a new light on the (few) country records I had before listening to this podcast. This show has made digging through the country section at record stores so much more entertaining. I now have context to put behind the cowboy hats and beehive hairdos I flipped past without a second thought before.

The show first aired in 2017 and promptly stopped after season 1. Devastating. I felt like I was JUST getting into it and then there were no more episodes to consume! But a few days ago the podcast feed was resurrected and Tyler Mahan Coe has started publishing season 2! Seems like perfect timing to hopefully introduce y’all to this rabbit hole. All the episodes are fascinating in their own ways, but I suggest listening to the three-part series on Jeannie C Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA.” It’s incredibly in depth about the career of a “one hit wonder” and the people that were behind the scenes making the song so successful. And, honestly, that song is punk as fuck if you look at the context.

Rich

Relapse Records’ first bold step into the Japanese hardcore reissue game was certainly fraught with controversy. From unobtainable limited versions to pre-order website crashes to that whole swastika debacle (good band name, btw), the label was swallowing shit well before anyone had actually seen or heard its “Detestation” repress in real life. It just didn’t seem fair for such a seemingly well-meaning product. I mean, it’s a legit vinyl issue of Japan’s most notorious and heralded hardcore LP—one that hasn’t been in regular circulation since the mid-1980s (and even that’s stretching it). Y’all ease up a bit!

Sure, Relapse’s 2020 G.I.S.M. update wasn’t perfect. The higher-contrast art with fake, glued-on obi strip was baffling as hell, and the quieter, darker mix fell a little flat, too. But you know what? WHO CARES?! It’s a solid-enough reissue of a stone-cold classic, PLUS you don’t have to worry about Sakevi beating down your bootleg-buying door with a gol’dern baseball bat for owning it. A win/win, I’d say!

Assuming Relapse’s intentions stay true, I’m 1,000 percent on board for this new wave of artist-authorized East Asian cult punk repackagings. And up next: ZOUO!

I totally get following “Detestation” with a Zouo compilation because that’s exactly how Japanese hardcore trickles down. First, you hear G.I.S.M. and your world is changed. What IS this alien sound? It’s so psychotic! So demonic! I’ve never heard anything like this! Wait… IS there anything else like this? Is that even possible? Then somebody more in-the-know hips you to Zouo and the worldchanging starts all over again.

With a smaller catalog and a less-storied past, it makes sense you gotta dig past Tokyo’s G.I.S.M. to get to Osaka’s Zouo. But once you get there, OH MAN. We’re talking HardcoreHeavyMetalMayhem at its finest. Riffs and grunts and Satan, what more do you need? Zouo is basically Venom with mohawks, and I can think of few things more appealing than that.

The band’s lone ep, “The Final Agony,” is a true monster of hardcore… hellish, bizarre and—most importantly—HEADBANGABLE. It’s perfect. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty difficult to track down. There was a 2011 reissue on Crust War that’s become outlandishly pricy ($40+), and a 1984 AA Records original is gonna set you back at least 10 times that IF you can even find a copy.

Being a shithead record gremlin, you know I had to get that AA original, but the sucker whitewhale’d me for a LOOONG time, including a fruitless and heartbreaking Turkish money order I’d rather not get into. But, hey, I was FINALLY able to secure my own little 7” slice of Hell this past winter. It was a sweaty purchase, no doubt, but one I’ll never regret. After all, “The Final Agony” is one of the best 7”s ever made.

And because I’m lucky enough to sit here with a 1984 original AND this new 12”, I can do the A/B legwork for you and say RELAPSE NAILED IT. “Agony Remains” sounds GREAT. It’s very faithful to the original: crunchy, cacophonous, and grimy as fuck. It’s mid-fi heretical thrash at its most mid-fi and heretical.

The A-side gives you all four tracks from “The Final Agony” plus Zouo’s weirdly raging contributions from the “Hardcore Unlawful Assembly” compilation. As much as I appreciate faithful reproductions from head to toe, these six tracks flow together so well and sound so good together, any gripes I could find with Relapse’s faux-distressed cover art or barebones insert sheet are pretty much moot. At the end of the day, I’m just stoked these all-timer tracks are finally available to the mass market. The fact that you can walk into a record store and pick up an officially licensed, sweet-sounding Zouo reissue is fucking awesome, and the thought of some 12-year-old kid stumbling onto “Bloody Master” on Spotify warms the cockles of my drying, pre-middle-aged heart.

Oh yeah, the B-side compiles a buncha iffy-sounding live tracks that I’d put squarely in “For Fans Only” territory. Swing by my tent if you’re ever in the neighborhood.


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