By Justin Foley,
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The Golden Era of American Independent Noise Rock (GEAINR) was the early to mid 1990s and the GEAINR Golden Format (GEAINRGF) was the 7”. At the time, putting out a 7” was a potentially quick and cheap way for a band to get people interested in their music or maybe to keep appetites whetted between full-length releases. (Today, 7”s are about the least cost-effective way to release music.)
Two decades later and the format’s minuses are obvious. The sound quality ranges from okay to downright awful; things really scrape the bottom of audio fidelity when you cram 6 ½ minutes of amp-torturing mayhem onto a piece of vinyl that can barely handle 3. As far as artistic statements, a pair of sub-4 minute jams and slapped together artwork don’t do much to convey the overall idea of the band. And – by far most importantly –few have the time and patience to hover over a record player swapping out songs every few minutes as the jackets and plastic and inner sleeves pile up.
The minuses don’t really matter, though, because 7” records are cool. They feel good in the hand and their brevity gives a feeling of special-ness to the short blasts they deliver. Even the totally quiet, blown-out sound of an Amphetamine Reptile picture disc 7” (they had a whole series of them and they were nearly all really bad) makes you want to say “this sounds so raw and good” instead of the more accurate “there are at least three different types of unintentional distortion I can identify here.” A vinyl record can be a wonderfully accurate way to reproduce music with full range detail. That doesn’t happen with 7”s.
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I went through a bunch of 7”s I’ve got and came up with a mix tape of some of my favorite songs from that era. The accompanying file is my laptop-soundcard-recorded, Adobe Soundbooth “mastered” rips of the vinyl. Expect it to sound lousy because it does. The low quality rips here are either all that’s available or should be a teaser for the real thing. If you like a song and it’s available, buy it so that you can hear what it actually sounds like. In the meantime, download Vol. 1 and get ready for more snap-crackle-pop than a Chuck E Cheez ball pit full of Rice Krispies.
Helmet “Taken”: Right out of the box and the Gap-shorts-metal lads from the Lower East Side are delivering a jackrabbit punch with one of their signature taco riffs. This sounds like it was recorded in a closet which actually would have been a much better way to see Helmet then baking in a field at Lollapallooza.
Melvins “Night Goat”: There’s a few of these on this list – the shittier sounding 7” song handily trounces the more developed version you’ll find on the album. To the 1% of the metal listening public who have not heard this evil swamp crawler, get ready to hear a top ten of all time best drum beat AND top ten best bassline put to tape. I have no idea about the guitar, because I can barely make out what it’s doing. It is all so so good.
Don Caballero “Puddin’ in My Eye” – Drummer Damon Che is constantly hitting things in this song – total octopus drumming start until the thunk thunk breakdown at the end. I bet some folks think of this as “gateway metal” but the hell with that when I’m airdrumming everything in my car. Sweet chord mixin’ up at about 1:47; blink and you’ll miss it.
Table “Vaccum” – This is about the perfect 90’s noise-rock 7” song. Non-sequitor noun band name, steamroller bass line, screech-city on the guitar, profound nonsense lyrics, a few more time changes than needed, starts veering off to suckville 2/3 of the way through but boy do they save it by going back to fundamentals. Note the clam on the harmonics at about 43 sec. Charming!
Godflesh “Slateman” – This was a Sub Pop singles club entry before I had a subscription so I naturally ended up paying like $15 to get a used copy later (only to find out that it was a bonus song on their full-lengthCD). But as a bonus for those who only liked the molten agony of “Like Rats”: you can just leave your turntable on 33 and this would sound like the rest of Streetcleaner. Weirdly pretty, in a way, and I’m sure some folks hated that.
Evergreen “Remembering the Queen” – Only the barest hints of a song here, probably the result of a ½ hour or so at the band’s practice. But Evergreen could put that on wax and still have a winner because they had something special that you and I do not: Britt Whalford on drums. He’s barely doing ANYTHING on this song and yet I could listen to it all day long. Extra points to that sweet Louisville weed: this song has a different title on the jacket than it does on the record’s label. Stonebags. (Note: I saw them play once and Whalford had the St. Ides I painted on his bass drum head. I’m going to say that Evergreen were not a straight-edge band.)
Some Band “Some Song” – Another bit of heavy, understated drumming that carries the remaining song-wisps along. This is a B-side to a bigger hit that’s probably better but that you’ve also probably heard. A good reminder that Steve Albini was responsible for recording about 20% of my record collection as of 1994. I’m fine with that; the man knows what he’s doing.
Palace Brothers “Trudy Dies” – When this came out, Palace Brothers – Will Oldham – were a lo-fi weirdness that put out about eleven records a year that were (not surprisingly) hot and cold in considerable degrees. But the dude could nail it at times. And he’s nailing it here with the sad kiddie organ loop and the final verse. Plus, you almost have to respect how astonishingly bad the guitar solo is. I’m going to blame that one at “Louisville weed” as well. What was going on down there?
Tar “Deep Throw” – “Deep Throw” is a pretty smoking Tar song for about ¾ of the way through. The droning high power chords and weary yells of the singer were the band’s bread and butter and they did it well. But MAN OH MAN when they kick it open at around 1:30. If you listen to this whole mix a few times you’ll start to get fidgety when you know that part is coming because it is triumphant. Almost a shame that they packed it into a 2 minute song.
Jawbox “Tongues” – Similar to the Tar song, although it takes about twice the time to do something nearly identical. Jawbox probably got some grief for being not as ___ as whatever band you’d likely compare them to: Fugazi (they shared a label), Tar (they shared a 7”), Jawbreaker (they shared a Jawb*). But the final chorus here is solid as hell and was SUPER thrilling to those of us who suffered (repeatedly) through their first record.
Pitchblende “In the Flat Field” – Just for laughs I went back and listened to the original and this cover kills it in nearly every way. Pitchblende, who I think refused to tune their guitars anything close to normal out of some aesthetic principle, dropped all of the original’s gothy reverb bullshit and kept the 16th notes really dry which is where they should be. Plus its good that the vocals get demoted to secondary status here because those Bauhaus lyrics are preeeeeetty bad.
Brise Glace “In Sisters All And Felony” – I gotta be honest, I don’t remember much about this song other than the first 15 seconds, but those dueling distort drum sets RULE RULE RULE. Also good evidence that you can name your instrumental song whatever you want because it all means nothing.
Breadwinner “Knighton” – In 1991, Breadwinner guitarist Pen Rollings played without shoes, seemed to me like a bearded freak and later did one of the best rock interviews I’ve ever read. (http://www.chunklet.com/index.cfm?section=article&IssueID=2&ID=37) I was genuinely starstruck when I saw him doing merch for Superchunk, which is not where you expect to see your punk rock heroes. (Although, typing this, I realize that’s exactly where you should expect to see your punk rock heroes.) The bassist, Bobby Donne, had this great thousand yard hate-stare while playing that was honestly a little chilling. At the time I was struck at how fucked up and disjointed the music sounded, but their oddball structures have held up. Repeated listening is well-rewarded.
Part II will come soon if Andrew lets me do it.