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SSR Picks: May 20 2021

XV: S/T 12” (2019)

I was super excited to get my copy of this LP by Michigan’s XV in the mail this week. About a year ago, perhaps a little more, I was driving around listening to the Dynamite Hemorrhage podcast when they played a song from this album. I can’t remember which one, but it stuck out enough that I had to irresponsibly tap out a note to myself on my phone to look up the band when I got home. After a little searching (XV is not a very Google-friendly band name), I found XV’s Bandcamp page only to learn their LP was limited to 100 copies and had already sold out. I checked Discogs and copies were already selling for around $70, not that any of the 100 lucky souls who picked it up would part with one. So, I bought a digital copy via Bandcamp and added it to my Discogs want list in case a copy popped up.

Despite not having the vinyl, I listened to the album a lot in the coming months. XV reminds me of a lot of music I already love—particularly the rougher and more ramshackle end of the Rough Trade / UK post-punk scene and the most chaotic and lo-fi songs by the Fall (“Spectre vs Rector,” “Papal Visit,” etc.)—but they doesn’t really sound like anything else. The playing is so loose and chaotic that the music seems to dissolve in front of you, yet there are loads of hooks that I look forward to every time I listen. The vocals are distinctive too, with the main singer employing this nasally valley girl kind of sound and more disaffected-sounding backing vocals from the other members. The lyrics deal with the typical banalities of modern life, like the catchy opening track “Lamp” (my copy of the record came with a pencil emblazoned with the song’s chorus, “I would like a lamp.”). While most of the record is steeped in the artiest, most lo-fi end of the punk/DIY spectrum, the record ends with an extended period of silence and then the most shambolic cover of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” I could imagine. Like XV’s own songs, it drifts in and out of focus, Black Flag’s teenage frustration recast as a wandering, medicated haze. It is glorious.

Information on XV is scant. Some Discogs searching revealed a connection to fellow Michigan band Tyvek and several other projects whose names I’d never heard. Despite being very unconnected to XV’s world, when I bought the digital version of the record I was added to their list of Bandcamp followers. A few months later I got a notification when XV released a cassette of ephemera called Basement Tapes, which I bought immediately, and then during last month’s Bandcamp Friday I got a notification there was a new pressing of the album, this time on Gingko Records. I could not hand over my PayPal bucks fast enough, and now that the LP is in my hands, once again I can’t stop listening to it.

Unfortunately this repress seems to have disappeared as fast as the first version, otherwise I would have tried to get copies for Sorry State. However, XV’s Bandcamp site lists some distros and shops that are carrying the record, so if it moves you, you can try reaching out to those places to find a copy.

What’s up Sorry Staters?

Let me preface what I’m about to write by saying that I’m a DUMBASS. Here comes some serious embarrassment…

Earlier this week, Daniel and I were both working at our warehouse location. Daniel typically plays music in his office while he’s working. He asked if I would mind if he played the Michael Monroe solo record that I wrote about in my staff pick from a few weeks back. I was stoked that my glowing endorsement made Daniel wanna give the record a closer listen. I asked him what he thought about the record. Daniel said he liked it, but he thought the cover of “Shake Some Action” is not as good as the original… I sat there for a second, stunned, and asked, “Wait… ‘Shake Some Action’ is a cover?”

Like I said, I’m a dumbass. For those of you that read my staff pick where I talked about Nights Are So Long by Michael Monroe, I pointed out “Shake Some Action” as my clear favorite song on the record. I definitely wrote about it as if Michael Monroe wrote the song. I very much appreciate all you readers who noticed this for not calling me out and making me feel embarrassed for not knowing that it’s like THE most well-known song by Flamin’ Groovies. At this moment of realization, my palm hit my face with full force. I even asked Daniel, “in all the years I’ve worked at the store, how have I never heard this before?” With a big smile, he just responded, “I have no idea, it’s a pretty famous song.” Hilarious. Then Daniel told me that if I’ve really never heard it, I should cue it up.

I went and sat at my work computer and put my headphones on so I could shamefully give the original version a listen. The track started playing, and almost immediately, I felt a tumor-sized lump develop in my throat. Even having heard the Michael Monroe cover and having a previous awareness of the melody and structure of the song, all the elements that make this song so great stood out so much more in the Flamin’ Groovies version. The ear candy was hitting me like a sweet ton of bricks. I almost felt emotional. Have you ever had one of those moments where you hear a song for the first time and you almost feel angry that you’ve never heard it before? As I was sitting there silently while the sound that was hitting my ears isolated me from all other stimuli, it literally felt like one of those moments where you hear your favorite song for the first time.

While I love my hardcore, metal and “extreme” music in general, I’ve always had a weak and mushy patch of flesh that is vulnerable to the syrupy pop tunes. Not unlike the subtle melodic mastery of songs I love like “Hangin’ On the Telephone” by The Nerves or “Black and White” by The dB’s, “Shake Some Action” scratches that itch perfectly. Every moment of this song is a hook, right down to the perfectly arpeggiated guitar melody. But the songwriting rides the line perfectly, because it’s not so sweetly poppy or corny in a way that makes you feel like you’ve got a mouthful of saccharine bubblegum. It’s also funny because while I’ve admittedly never listened to Flamin’ Groovies, it also seems like none of their other songs measure up to how well they nailed it on “Shake Some Action?” Even weirder that this song came out 1976 and the band already had records out in the late 60s. You can totally tell that Flamin’ Groovies still had a foot in the Byrds-influenced sounds of the 60s, but to me, this song fits along with proto-punk and hints at what’s to come. Everyone who already loves Flamin’ Groovies is probably thinking “Duh Jeff.”

I feel like a big dork now. Is my face red?

Thanks for reading.

‘Til next week,

-Jeff

Here at Sorry State Towers, we listen to all sorts of music during our shifts. It’s quite a choice deciding what goes on the turntable next. Something we all agree on and love are the original Two-Tone groups that spearheaded the Ska revival of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recently, through some connections made in Japan by Usman, we were able to bring in very cool Japanese pressings of early singles and albums by The Selecter and The Specials. I will never tire of hearing these records and the quality of those pressings was superb. Plus, the Obi strips and inserts made them extra cool. Duly inspired by the voice of Specials frontman Terry Hall, I came home and pulled out a record he did in the early 00s in collaboration with another artist and it is that one that I am choosing as my pick for this week.

Terry Hall & Mushtaq: The Hour Of Two Lights. Honest Jons. 2003

When The Specials were active, I thought they and Terry Hall were the coolest people on the planet. Against the backdrop of the political landscape, threat of a Third World War, racial injustice and union bashing, groups under the Two-Tone umbrella along with others really meant something and were a beacon of hope for the new generation. It was a sad irony that a movement that was built on racial diversity and socialist ideals was almost derailed by right wing fascists that had co-opted the skinhead movement. Early gigs were tremendous fun, but there was always a sense of danger in the air from some sections of the crowd. Anyway, when things began to break apart and Terry went on to form Fun Boy Three with Neville Staples and Lynval Golding, I followed them also. It can be argued that the FB3 records aren’t as good as the records made with Specials, but I would say that they are different and certainly more pop but still good records. It was a changing time and people were experimenting and bringing different aspects of sound and culture into their music. Some corners hated what Paul Weller was doing with the Style Council for instance or how The Clash had changed. I went with the flow. All of this set the ground for the post second summer of love and the mixing of the tribes that was the 1990s, I think. The 80s has a lot to forget for sure but I think in the world of music a lot of the changes were for the good and helped to expand people’s views and tastes.

Terry Hall put out a couple of solo records in the 1990s, Home from 1994 and Laugh from 1997. I wouldn’t say either of these are essential but for fans of his there are moments. Of the two I probably enjoy the latter more. The production is a little fuller and it has a retro 60s pop feel in places. Certainly, don’t expect anything hard or heavy on either of these records.

Fast forward to the new millennium and we find Terry partnering up with Mushtaq for this one-off project that is labelled as Electronic, Tribal and Downtempo on Discogs. I guess some of that is true but like all decent records that stand up years later, it almost defies categorization and doesn’t sound that dated. I’ve dropped tracks from this record when DJing to good reactions. People recognize Terry’s voice but can’t place the music. It makes for good transitions into other styles also.

The artist Mushtaq is mostly known as being a member of the group Fun-Da-Mental, where he was known as MC Mushtaq. Fun-Da-Mental were popular during the 90s and were the perfect example of the tribes mixing. They combined hip-hop sensibilities with Indian and Pakistani elements through use of clever samples and were quite political with strong civil rights and Islamic messages in their lyrics. It is this Middle Eastern/Asian aspect that Mushtaq brings to the project and I think it works out brilliantly.

Lead track Grow sets out their stall perfectly and is worth the price of admission alone. The blend of sounds from the Middle East provides mystery and hooks in equal measure. Hearing Terry’s distinctive vocals amongst these sounds is a cool juxtaposition. Being as the record was released on Honest Jons, it is not really surprising that Damon Albarn makes an appearance. He lends his voice to tracks and plays Melodica. On the song Ten Eleven hearing his voice does remind you of his other group, Gorillaz , which may be a good thing or not depending on how you feel about those records. I don’t think it distracts and fits in with the vibe of the rest of the record.

Elsewhere, title song The Hour Of Two Lights is a highlight along with lone promo single They Gotta Quit Kicking My Dog Around which came out as a single-sided 10” for all you collector nerds out there. Second song A Gathering Storm predicts the future with uncanny accuracy. I wish I could write more eloquently about the music itself and describe it better for you in detail, but that’s not my strong suit. All I can do is point you in the direction of stuff that may or may not float your boat. I do stand behind all my choices though and will never pick a record because it is rare and obscure or because it is expensive or the hip new thing as the only deciding factor. These are albums that I have built a relationship with since discovering them and my primary thought is always that someone else might like to hear them if they haven’t already.

Here are a couple of links to get you started. I hope you like ‘em.

Before I sign off, I just wanted to give a shout out to my DJ buddy Matt Pape whose Brazilian inspired mixtape I had on the other night as I watched the Man Utd Vs Liverpool game. I enjoy watching matches with the volume off and music on and there were moments where it blended perfectly, especially when Bobby Firmino scored twice. It was the perfect soundtrack and had me dancing around the room in celebration. We might not have had a great season this year but beating Utd in their place is always worth cheering about. The Brazilian magic carried over on to the next game when our Brazilian goalkeeper scored a last-minute winner and kept our hope of a Champions League spot alive. Thanks again Matt. You can find his show, Worldy, and his mixtapes in the archives of TheFaceRadio.com

As always, thank you for reading and enjoy listening to your records. Until next time - Dom

Irreal “Demo 2018” (Manic Noise 04)

This demo originally came out in 2018 on Spanish label Sangre Azul. I don’t think I had heard of this label until this week. Since they originally released this killer demo, I decided to dig deeper into their catalog that dates back to 2014. The sound is pretty much all over the place but each release is killer. I haven’t found a band I disliked yet. If yer looking for raw HC Maquina Muerte was pretty sick, it reminds of 90s Disclose. Pantalla was really cool too, raw as fuck, but in a different kind of way. Desenterradas was fuckin excellent, but be warned they are not hardcore. It reminds me of Crete, my literal all-time favorite local band. There were a few bands in the catalog who I enjoyed who share this like all-encompassing mid-tempo vibe. The riffs and rhythms are great, but the songs don’t like ever “take off.” I think most bands who do this would turn me off, but what I heard sounded really good. Nine times out of ten when a band plays mid-tempo HC it is too tough for me or just like rocked out shit, and that is a line that is easily crossed for me haha. The only rocked out shit I like is Skitkids. No I do not like Thin Lizzy. Anyway, Irreal plays lots of mid-tempo HC but they never cross that line. When they play a “hard” part it’s more like teeth-grinding outta yer head style, not like, “Now I will punch the nearest person in the FACE!” kinda vibe. I didn’t know who Irreal was until the EP that came out last year on LVEUM. It immediately caught my ears with their primitive but compelling song-writing, the perfect combination. Sorry State has some copies of that EP in stock if you slept on it. I try to pay attention to everything we got in the shop, but it’s easy to fall behind. I didn’t realize we got copies of the Irreal demo or the Hellish Inferno tape like three weeks ago! Hellish Inferno was a Staff Pick of mine back in January when the band had just released the tape. They were limited to 50 copies only, so of course they went fast. Manic Noise has done as all a favor by putting more tapes from these killer bands into circulation.

Doug Kershaw - Ragin’ Cajun (from the collection of Miss Veola McClean)

I’m keeping this week short and sweet. Especially because I’m talking about a record that’s sealed (again) and have no plans of popping that shrink off. I always make these arbitrary rules for myself and end up breaking them. After my first tattoo I told myself I’d get no color tattoos...third tattoo was full color. I should know by now not to hold weird expectations for myself!

I really thought my last SSR Pick would be the only record in my collection that would never be opened. But then, as I’m sure you’ve seen on our social media, we acquired an absolutely insane collection from Southern Pines NC native Miss Veola McClean. There was a lot of talk about where a lot of the records came from. We assumed she acquired a lot in her quest to collect all things relating to Black culture, just picking up more artifacts without a ton of consideration. None of us had the pleasure of meeting Miss Veola before she passed, but I think we are getting to know an interesting side of her through these records. Before anyone dug into the boxes, there was a handwritten list of a lot of the collection, leading us to believe she acquired the majority of the records from someone else’s curated collection. But now we’re finding SIGNED RECORDS! Some are just signatures from the artist but Daniel found a Richie Havens record actually addressed to Miss Veola. Now, we’re learning that a lot of this music IS her curation. Not only that, but now we know she met a lot of cool artists in her lifetime.

ANYWAYS, I mention all of this because I purchased my first record from her collection. I say first because I’m sure there will be WAY more. I hope at least one of you read my pick about Cocaine and Rhinestones and started listening to it! One of my favorite episodes is about the Kershaw Brothers, Rusty and Doug. Definitely one of the more fascinating episodes from the first season of that podcast. LISTEN TO IT! As I was trying to find something on our Discogs for a customer, I, of course, found a record I had to buy. Doug Kershaw’s Ragin’ Cajun album is a country cajun classic so I’ve been looking for it anyways. This copy, though? SIGNED! And from Miss Veola’s collection; I logged into my personal Discogs account so quick and bought that shit up.

Sealed records, though. That was the whole point of this. This signed copy is sealed in the shrink and signed ON the shrink. I thought about carefully opening the record and trying not to ruin the signature, but I know it’d happen over time. Even putting my fingers over the Sharpie marks made me nervous, so I took the record home and immediately grabbed a frame off my wall and put ‘er in there. I always thought it was silly to get 12x12 frames to put records in but look at me now. I love that I have this artifact from country music AND this amazing woman’s collection.

Go on our Discogs and come to the store to shop Miss Veola’s collection. I know you’ll find something you just have to pick up!


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