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SSR Picks: March 25 2021

Daniel

Strike Under: Immediate Action 12” (Wax Trax Records, 1981/2020)

After my staff pick last week, which was the writerly equivalent of Derick Smalls’ Jazz Odyssey for Spinal Tap Mark II, I need to keep things simple and just tell you about an interesting record. I’ve listened to the Morbo LP more than anything else this week, but I’ve been pulling out this 12” EP from Chicago’s Strike Under since it came in.

I’ve had the original pressing of Immediate Action on my want list for about 20 years, but I’ve never found a copy. Honestly, I haven’t tried that hard because I wouldn’t call Immediate Action a great record, but it’s one that I like, particularly since it’s such an important touchstone for Chicago punk. After Strike Under broke up in 1981, three of the four members formed Trial By Fire (whose retrospective LP on Alonas Dream Records I highly recommend), and from there bassist Pierre Kezdy played in Naked Raygun and then Pegboy, two bands very near to my heart.

One thing I love about Chicago punk is that many of the bands—this is true of Naked Raygun and the Effigies—had a sound rooted in melodic, 70s UK punk. While later hardcore bands would focus on speed and/or heaviness, sometimes to the detriment of everything else, my favorite Chicago bands had strong songwriting. You can hear an embryonic version of that on Immediate Action, with tracks like “Context” and “Elephant’s Graveyard” featuring the style of big chorus that would make Naked Raygun hometown heroes.

The thing is, though, for all the strength of their approach, Immediate Action sounds kind of tired and restrained. The sound is clear and powerful and the playing is tight, but it lacks the explosive quality I want from punk rock. The closest they get is on the closing vamp “Immediate Action,” where they kick up the tempo to SOA speed. I just wish that energy level came through on the more melodic tracks. When I listen to Immediate Action I strain to imagine what Strike Under would have sounded on a night when they were on fire. I bet it was incredible.

Immediate Action is also important because it was the first release on the Wax Trax label, which would become central to the history of industrial music. In fact, Wax Trax recently relaunched their label, which is why we have this well-done reissue. Wax Trax has also released a 7” featuring songs from a different Strike Under recording session, and while we have that in stock, I haven’t listened to it yet.

Jeff

What’s up Sorry Staters?

This week I’m writing about the debut LP from Pittsburgh’s Illiterates. Not too dissimilar from the recent crop of bands from this area like White Stains or Rat Nip, Illiterates align themselves with a particular brand of beer-soaked, knuckle-dragging US hardcore. The best kind in my book. But whereas White Stains sounds a little more California hardcore, I feel like there is something distinctly East Coast about Illiterates.

The singer’s vocal style stands out. It’s an approach to singing hardcore that is very familiar. I don’t want to describe it as nasally, but to me the singer sounds reminiscent of Choke in Negative FX, or even Ray Cappo. But even making those comparisons, this band seems less concerned with sounding “hard” or refining their artistic vision than throwing down the most direct and urgent hardcore possible. Illiterates feels like one of those bands that probably thinks Deep Wound is way cooler than Discharge.

The cover artwork courtesy of Keith from White Stains gives a good idea of what you’re in for on this record: this whole LP is a hardcore record for delinquents. The pure irreverence draws me in. Between depictions of a troubled dunce drawing pot leaves and writing “skool sux” on his desk and song titles like “Urban Hillbilly,” there is an element of silliness with Illiterates’ whole vibe. I mean, their artwork for their previous tape depicts a Monster energy drink being poured all over the head of an infant. They do a Replacements cover too, which is an interesting choice considering how the rest of this record sounds. Trust me though, whatever I poke fun at doesn’t negatively weigh into my perception of this record at all. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s what makes this record so great. I’m all over it. Plus dude, musically this record just fuckin’ smokes from top to bottom.

The story of trying to get distro copies of this LP for Sorry State is even sillier! Daniel must have dug this LP too, because he asked the band if we could stock 100 copies. Come to find out, the band only pressed 100 copies. Like, TOTAL. Hilarious. If the copies we have at Sorry State are sold out by the time you read this, hopefully they’ll press another 100. Grab one if you can.

Thanks for reading.

‘Til next week,

-Jeff

Eric

Joey Ramone - A Closer Look 12”

Joey Ramone is one of the most prolific and influential punk and rock n’ roll vocalists of all time. From his unique, surfy, melodic voice to his height/appearance, he’s unmistakable. What I have here is a collection of Joey Ramone songs that he collaborated on or featured on that the average Ramones fan wouldn’t have heard (I hadn’t heard a lot of these songs). This slab has tracks featuring Debbie Harry, Furious George, and songs that he wrote with his brother under the name “Sibling Rivalry”.

I am a fan of all eras of the Ramones. I believe some records are better than others, but I will never say the Ramones put out a bad record. If you ask me, I think Joey Ramone’s voice and input can turn almost any crappy tune into an alright one. I look up to this guy a lot and from what I know he was a super genuine and kind person. Joey Ramone #1!!

PS: Somehow the only Ramones album I don’t have in my collection is Animal Boy. Someone sell me one.

Dominic

Hey there, gang. What’s happening? This week I wasn’t sure what to talk about and so took an in-store conversation with Jeff about cover versions as a jumping off point and picked one song in particular to focus on. Who doesn’t like a good cover, right?

We were talking about (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone, the 1966 hit written by Boyce & Hart that most people know from The Monkees and their version that appeared as the B-side to I’m A Believer but was also covered years later by The Sex Pistols and Minor Threat among others. The version I prefer was by English group The Flies who released theirs the same week as The Monkees. As they were unknowns it got lost in the shuffle. Years later when obscure psych and beat records were being appreciated by the next generation and compilations such as Chocolate Soup For Diabetics were coming out, this version got a new lease on life and has become a firm favorite with those into freakbeat and 60s sounds. Like most records of this type from that period, an original (if you ever see one) will set you back a good amount, but it’s been reissued and appears on quite a few comps. https://youtu.be/tifOC2GfBNA The Flies had two other singles, which are also sought after.

Following up from talking about that song, I was spinning Concrete by 999 in the store and remembered they cover another 60s tune and a personal fave, Fortune Teller. https://youtu.be/w4kwCWnx-CE

Even more than Stepping Stone, this song was covered by a multitude of artists and has some pretty cool versions out there. The Iguanas in 1993 slowed the tempo right down and made it sound quite different. Lords Of The New Church tackled it as part of their live set during the 80s. Recent versions also came from neo-garage group The Chains in 2002 and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss in 2007. I saw The Chains perform their version live as I was the DJ for one of their gigs in Brooklyn at the time of their album coming out.

The song was released by singer Benny Spellman and was a B-side to his Minit Records release of Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette) from 1962. It was written by Allen Toussaint although credited to Naomi Neville and is a classic slice of early New Orleans soul with a slightly Latin beat and feel about a young man’s visit to a clairvoyant. https://youtu.be/4vjaYyIS6qw

In the UK, the new generation of beat groups and Mods took to it big time and versions appeared from or were played live by The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Downliners Sect, The Merseybeats, The Hollies, and Tony Jackson to name six. Many people cite The Merseybeats’ version from 1963 as the best of the covers. https://youtu.be/Dv7gEvksjU

It is good but my favorite is the one by the ex-bass player from The Searchers, Tony Jackson, with his group The Vibrations that came out on Pye in 1965. This was also a B-side to another cover, Love Potion No. 9. I like this one because it has a Kinks like distorted guitar sound that gives it a tougher feel. The guitar solo is pretty tasty too. Just like the Flies 45 an original of this will cost you but it also has been reissued and compiled on several collections. https://youtu.be/xPlQaIWBX4Q

In the US, garage band The Hard Times also give the song a run through. Their version came out as a single in 1966 and again the following year on their sole album. It’s not a bad attempt and did scrape into the Billboard top 100, peaking at #97. They have one or two other songs from that album, Blew Mind, that make it worth the while having if you see it, particularly for the trippy title track.

In Australia, The Throb scored a pretty big hit with it, making the top five with their version. This version is cool https://youtu.be/eodq28LrBGM, but it’s the B-side that I prefer. That song, called Believe In Me is a moody killer and one I like to spin out. https://youtu.be/uT-IH0NFp2o

The Throb also released a 45 called Black, and that is great too. It’s a garage track that sounds like a cross between Them and The Chocolate Watchband whilst B-side Turn My Head is pure mod era Who. I do not have a copy of this one but have the tracks on comps.

As you can see, I’ve added some links in there so that you can check out a few of the versions and compare them. Which one is your favorite? Assuming you give a crap about this type of music, that is. I know all these oldies are not everyone’s cup of tea, but they are a part of the musical tapestry that brought us to where we are today. If nothing else, add to your knowledge but get some kicks too.

I’ll see you all next time for more record talk. Cheers, Dom.

Rachel

Sorry State got in a grip of old horror movie soundtracks (peep Instagram!!) and it’s been so hard not scooping them up for myself. I started to listen to them during one of my shifts but didn’t get past the Rosemary’s Baby record. I’ve seen this movie a few times and I love it, but I didn’t really remember the score. Two minutes into the needle hitting the vinyl I knew if I had to buy one of these records, it was this one. I’m surprised the music hasn’t been one of my favorite parts until now! I don’t think I realized how much atmospheric noise in the movie was written by the composer. Not to mention Mia Farrow’s performance, the plot... I guess I was more focused on other things when I watched Rosemary’s Baby. But, damn, this score is so fucking good. It’s bizarre in all the right ways and makes me feel like I’m watching the movie as I listen.

I’m so glad this soundtrack was in our bins because it’s becoming one of my favorites of all time. How can you not love chill jazz and Satanic chanting? I haven’t gone back and watched Rosemary’s Baby again after this new admiration for the music; it’s due for a rewatch. I was in film school for all of 0.2 seconds, so I think a lot of the nuances of nonvisual things like music went right out the window when I watched movies. I started collecting soundtrack records because I liked the art and the concept of owning something movie related that wasn’t a DVD. I think with every soundtrack I buy and listen to, my appreciation for movie scores increases. I pay way more attention to the music, and overall sound design, in almost everything I watch and I attribute it to the ever expanding soundtracks section of my record collection.

Rich

It’s 2021, and sonics are important. I say that not just because a hedgehog-fueled Carrey/Marsden/Schwartz vehicle proved the second-highest grossing box office film of 2020, but also because SONICS ARE IMPORTANT. As much as lyrics or hooks or looks matter, the WAY you sound often makes the strongest impression. For some—Sunn O))), Talk Talk, Disclose—sonics MAY (please don’t hurt me b/w #kawakamiforever) be the most important thing an artist offers. Now, I don’t mean this as a slight, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case for Austin, Texas’ USA/MEXICO, too. These veteran oafs (Butthole Surfers, Shit and Shine, more) have plenty of composition at play on their third LP, but it’s the band’s horrific auditory stank that gets me going.

“Del Rio” sounds like you shotgunned a rip into the CD-ROM tray of your old Compaq as it fails to install Windows 98 for the fifteenth time. It’s ones and zeros refusing to keep up, just blown to utter digital shit and hanging on by a bloody wire stitch. While 99 percent of “sludge” or “stoner rock” sobers me to tears, USA/Mexico ditches any postured misanthropy and/or YouTube gear breakdown dorkiness in favor of pure unadulterated WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT? Tunes get so blown… so crunchy… so GRANULAR that any lush’n’heady heaviness of an umpteenth Grief or Sleep clone looks even more childish and poser-y than before. USA/MEXICO IS NOT FUCKING AROUND.

Well, they kind of are, I guess. There’s a humor at play here akin to the noiserockniks of yore (Am Rep, obvz), but it only adds to the appeal. This record is three tracks long, and the first two songs are “Chorizo” and “Soft Taco.” Holy shit, that’s good! I’ve only visited Austin once in my lifetime, but the chorizo and soft tacos were the best parts of the trip. USA/Mexico could have joined those illustrious vacation ranks, but the band dropped from a Barracuda bill I was excited to attend and stuck me clutching 16-oz’ers while watching some Canadian Nirvana repro instead.

ALAS, “Del Rio” has redeemed any of that no-show disappointment, particularly on its second side. Because while I enjoy the crunchdaddy ridiculousness of the aforementioned rhythmic noiser “Chorizo” and its doomier “Soft Taco” followup, the album really, REALLY takes shape on the flip. The b-side-encompassing 16-minute title track crushes in a way I’ve never heard before. It’s like rubbing the coarsest sandpaper you can find across your face and feeling every ball of grit as it grinds in. The music gets so compressed that it’s minimal… just, like, the BIGGEST minimal ever. Added to that, the group incorporates a new vocalist for this album, Colby Brinkman, who literally does not sound like a human being.

Pardon if my pose is showing, but I’d never seen the term “bestial” used to describe music until recently. I first read it on a hype sticker for Nuclear War Now!’s phenomenal reissue of Beherit’s “The Oath of Black Blood” a couple months ago. It stated, “Enter the Satanic Baphometal Temple: The 1990 Classic of Finnish Bestial Black Metal.” Familiar with Beherit’s pained and savage howls, I thought, “Okay, that makes sense.” The vocals are unsettling on that early material, and I can’t help but think of Beherit’s unique inhumanity when hearing Brinkman here. Instead of accompanying blackened blasts, though, this BESTIAL, dying dog-bear anguish sits amidst some kinda glacial, future-neanderthal scuzz. Basically, SHIT’S WILD.

Even if “slow” isn’t one of your default musical settings (we’re all hardcore punk fans here, right?), I’d still recommend scoping that title track to bask in some abnormal sonic abuse—perhaps the likes of which you’ll never encounter again.

If slow isn’t an option, however, you could do way worse than the debut 7” from ANOTHER Austin group: Violent Christians. I don’t know who’s in this band, but I would imagine there’s a Nosferatu connection somewhere. VC’s six-song ep, “New Blood for a Dead City,” mines that same contaminated soil of fast’n’raw classic USHC while also using similar duct-taped, broken mic, FUCK YOU recording quality. It’s a little more meat and potatoes than Nosferatu, but it rips just about as hard. I had to pre-order this one from hi-contrast/lo-fidelity Brooklyn tastemaker Roachleg Records for fear of missing out on another raging rarity as I’d done so many times before, but I just got word that Sorry State should have a healthy stack in the store soon. Still, I’d urge you to move fast, cuz I imagine this kind of top-shelf gnar is gonna appeal to nuclear punker wardogs and clean cut collegecore youngins alike. Fuckin’ record collectors, huh?


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