Audio Lore

A Positive Music Blog

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Out Of The Vaults #2 - Quicksand - Manic Compression

In our new apartment there is one wall with 10 cabinets stacked from floor to ceiling with a sliding library style ladder to reach the high ones. These cabinets were custom built by a previous owner. Inside each cabinet is four shelves, each one the perfect width for a CD. This is what sold me on the apartment.These are the "Vaults" were the music is stored.

Each week or so I will ask my wife to dive deep into the cabinets and pull out a random CD. The chosen album will then be given to me and I will "muse" on the disc for awhile in this blog no matter how good, bad, or embarrassing the chosen disc is. Where did I buy it, how old was I, first reaction to hearing the album, do I still listen to it today and anywhere else my stream of conscious will take me in regards to the "Out Of The Vaults" weekly pick.

Out Of The Vaults #2 - Quicksand - Manic Compression

If my wife had come out of "The Vaults" with Quicksand's debut Ep I could have said how the first time I saw Quicksand live I had no idea who they were. It was at the 9:30 club and the Quicksand was opening for the band Helmet. I also would have to add  that when leader Walter Schreifels and the rest of the band began playing they were so tight I was immediately hooked. I could not leave out  how halfway through their set guitarist Tom Capone accidentally knocked over his amp sending it off the stage. I caught the amp as  it made it's way over the edge and to thank me Tom gave me a copy of Quicksand's then brand new 1990 debut Ep'

But unfortunately that Ep was not the disc that was picked.

 If my wife had come out of "The Vaults" with Quicksand's first album, the 1993  Slip I could have gone on to say how unbelievable the album was. I definitely would have talked about how every song from the lead off track "Fazer" all the way through the closer "Transparent" is  chock full of angular guitars and hidden metallic hooks that  run smoothly from one song right into the next . I couldn't leave out  fact that every time I am making a mix tape/cd play list of instrumentals to listen to while writing or studying  Slip's "Baphomet"  is one of the first tracks I go for. I also would  have mentioned the first time my ears took in this incredible debut album was when we played and advance copy over the loudspeakers of one of our C.W. Post auditoriums prior to a spoken word performance by Henry Rollins. A very short Henry Rollins, I found out that day as he stood next to me.

 If Slip had been the pick I would definitely need to relay how this album was a mainstay in my CD player for well over a decade and still gets taken out every few weeks to blast over my headphones. 

But unfortunately  Slip was not the disc that was picked.either.

The Cd that was picked was Quicksand's second album Manic Compression.

When this album came out I had extremely high hopes for it. For the past two years I had been listening to Slip non stop.

During the Winter of 1995, 120 Minutes (MTV Alternative show) aired an interview with the band with famed New York Hardcore producer Don Fury. The interview was held at the New York City location of The Royal Canadian Pancake House. While the band ate their obnoxiously large pancakes they talked about the new album and revealed the fact that Don Fury had once done time in the band Twisted Sister. Then they  premiered the video for the single "Thorn In My Side". The video which had the band driving around New York City in go-karts, was the perfect image for the song that definitely was driving  and  had hooks with  the great Quicksand way of going to the edge of becoming Metal without going over it. The song and video was awesome.  I couldn't wait for the album to be released.

The album starts off with "Backwards". It is a basic Quicksand song incorporating all the elements that made Quicksand stand out from other bands. All the elements many bands would try to copy over  the next few years. Quicksand was back.

Then from the first few guitar riffs, the second song "Delusional" reminded me instantly of the Beatles's "Come Together". Maybe it wasn't intended but the whole song does sound so much like the Beatles's track I am a bit surprised Michael Jackson did not come after the band for royalties.The next two tracks both come off a bit like a train wreck with awkward choruses fighting it out with repetitive guitar riffs.

Tracks 6 and 7  turned out to be decent Quicksand songs. They have rising guitars here and there plus a few hooks. What takes away from these songs is the production. There is no bottom end. The songs  sound two dimensional. They do not have the full 3-D sound displayed so awesomely in Slip's tracks "Dine Alone" and "Freezing Process" where you can hear each instrument clearly coming from every direction. Although Wharton Tiers (Manic Compression's producer) may have done some great jobs for Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, he appears to have not been the right choice for Walter and crew.

Halfway through the album "Thorn In My Side" finally appears and right away the image of the band driving around the city I loved instantly comes to mind.

The following track "Landmine spring" you can hear the hooks trying to come through but they have to struggle to find they way out of the way out front heavy guitar sounds and Walter's vocals. Track 8 "Blister" proves to be the best song on the record. Definitely the old school Quicksand sound but kicked up another notch. The rest of the album follows suit with the other lesser songs on the album. Except "East 3rd St" which automatically gets a few extra points from me for being named after a new York City Street. A street I would actually live on 8 years later.

Overall Manic Compression is not too bad of an album. The songs get repetitive a lot of the time but they are decent songs. Except of course "Thorn In My Side" and "Blister" which are awesome songs.

When this album came out the biggest problem for me was that it wasn't a bad album but that it was following a GREAT album. After a few years of giving Manic Compression chances, somewhere down the line a few years later this disc was traded in to a used CD store.

But of course we can't end there. This is a POSITIVE music blog.

A few years back while scanning through the 99 Cent Cd bins at Academy Music I ran across a used copy of Quicksand's Manic Compression. At such a low price i had to pick it up and give it another shot. With the extremely high expectations I had 15 years ago for this album now long gone, I can really appreciate this album by one of hardcore's defining bands. Even through I mainly only listen to "Thorn In My Side" and "Blister" the whole album does remain on my iPod

Now let's check out that awesome "Thorn In My Side" Video


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mickey's Lost Control

Joy Division was a band from the UK. The band was one of the most influential post punk groups. Their slow, somber, music, fronted by lead singer Ian Curtis’s deep baritone voice would influence many bands from rock and roll, new wave, industrial and Gothic music. Joy Division’s debut album Unknown Pleasures was released in 1979. The album was critically acclaimed right from the beginning.

 Because of emotional turmoil caused by the relationship with his wife as well as another woman, epilepsy and the pressure of dealing with his new found fame, Ian committed suicide on May 18th 1980. Even though Joy Division had released another album Closer before Ian’s death, Unknown Pleasure’s cover, with it’s pulsar image taken from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy, would go on to be one of the images Joy Division would most be known for.

 So it only make sense to take one of the worlds most recognizable and beloved cartoon characters Mickey Mouse and parody the Unknown Pleasures cover image. Not only that but take this new Disneyfied pulsar image, put it on a t-shirt to sell at Walt Disney World.

I wonder who the "imagineer" was that brought this design to the table. An image that pretty much will always be thought of as a symbol of musical starkness, despair and tragedy is on a t-shirt for sale at "The Happiest Place On Earth".

I could understand a t-shirt parody of other classic albums. Maybe the Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Donald walking across the Abbey Road crosswalk or something along those lines.Even the image of Donald Duck smashing a guitar on stage in the style of The Clash's London Calling album would not be too startling. But Joy Division? A band who was named after a fictional group of women kept alive at Concentration Camps for the purpose of satisfying German Soldiers.

Were sales of A Nightmare Christmas merchandise on a decline and Disney is attempting to hold onto their "goth" demographic? Is Disney attempting to attract a new "hipster" phenomonon? Was the "imagineer" not fully aware what the design was know for? How was he able to slip this design the know for being very "attentions to detail" Walt Disney World corporation? Maybe the "imagineer" was an avid follower of Astronomy and had no idea of the images connection to Joy Division. Was the "imgineer" let go as soon as the history of Joy Division was discovered?

What would Ian and the rest of the guys in Joy Division (of course all now in New Order) would think about this shirt?

Either way I was totally stunned when on the first day of my recent trip to Walt Disney World, (and you can bet you will be hearing about that trip in future posts) I walked into Epcot's Mouse Gear store and laid my eyes this shirt up on the racks next to all the classic Disney World shirts.

During the rest of the trip I spotted at least a dozen other people sporting the shirt around the parks and hotels. A quick Google search when I returned home shows this to be a highly sought after piece of Walt Disney World attire.It looks like the Unknown Pleasures "imagineer" may have just known what he was doing.

The title of this post was totally stolen from my friend Carlos A. Thanks Carlos!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

AVAIL - Four Albums Strong

Everyone has a band or a few bands that at the time you do not realize how great that band is. How historical that band will become to musical fans once they are gone. How many people will be so jealous you had a chance to see that band live. You may even forget about them until one day a song of theirs that you do not even remember putting on there comes over your iPod's headphones bringing back all those great music memories.

For me one of those bands would be Richmond, VA's Avail,

My first exposure to Avail was around 1994 while I was in my junior year of college. The album Dixie was scheduled to be released on Lookout! Records along with a reissue of their first album Satiate.

Just a few weeks before we left for Winter Break I was walking by the WCWP Radio Station window and heard the song "Sidewalk" blasting out of the outside monitors. I went inside and asked my friend Joe, who had been manning the FM control board, who it was coming out of the speakers.

Handing over two CD's Joe told me how the radios station had just received the promo copies the day before and he had been playing them non stop since.

On the cover of Dixie under the "Promo" stamp there was the name AVAIL and a drawing of a stick figure holding a flag. This would become the symbol AVAIL would be known by. A symbol you would still find on stickers on the back of street signs and tattooed on the bodies of many people for years to come.

Later that day Joe came up to me in the cafeteria and handed me a 90 minute cassette. Side A was labeled "Dixie" with "Satiate" on side B. Over the next few weeks I listened to them over and over, eventually wearing out the tape. Finally on Superbowl Sunday 1994 I picked up true copies of both the CDS and still have them 17 years later.

AVAIL put out six studios albums. The first four: Satiate, Dixie, 4 A.M. Friday and Over the James are all unbelievable albums. Each of them showing the bands development. The last two albums are not as great. One Wrench has a few good songs but they really just sound like attempts to copy tracks from Over the James. The sixth and final album Front Porch Stories is the band just going through the motions. For me at least, it was no surprise when after Front Porch Stories the band decided to call it quits.

But over those for albums AVAIL was something special to me. Here is why:

Satiate, originally self-released and then on Old Glory Records before being reissues on Lookout! Records is a great introduction for a new band. When you press play one of the first things coming through the headphones lead singer Tim Barry singing "Set me free". Then the drums kick in. Then the almost marching band drums of the first track "March". You can almost picture the band marching over a hill introduce themselves and show what they've got. When track two comes on the it gets a little harder. We are here and we can get angry! Over the next 11 tracks Avail would show the beginnings of the styles they would known for. Styles that no other band could really pull off.

When Quicksand came out millions of bands attempted to recreate the sound that made that band so great. The same thing happened when Hot Water Music became popular. Kid Dynamite and Against Me! also had many imitators. I cant even think of one band who attempted to copy AVAIL. If there any they were so far off the mark you can't even hear a resemblance.

Getting back to Satiate, some of these examples of these budding styles are the driving melody of track 4 "Bob's Crew". The melodic to hard to back to melodic of track 5 "Observations". Even the acoustic track 12 "Hope" is a great closing number with a title showing a band that will go on to do great things. The title of that song also signifies there will still be good and fresh bands in the hardcore punk world.

The Lookout! Records reissue, as well as the Jade Tree Records reissue a decade later both include the very early AVAIL 7" Ep Attempt to Regress with the tracks "Connection" and "Mr. Morgan" tacked on to the end. On the two songs of the 7" I hear a strong FUGAZI influence. An influence probably explained by Richmond close proximity to DC. An influence that  had all but disappeared by the time Satiate was recorded. "Connection" begins as an intense song but becomes even more and more intense the guitars get sharper and sharper and singer Tim Barry's sings "Why" more and more intense until it sounds like his head is about to explode. So intense that if the band had not gone on to release more material I would have thought it had.

The b-side "Mr Morgan" ( I found out later) was named after a Senior resident of Richmond who was beaten to death for just a few dollars, is a little less intense. You can begin to hear the smooth  melodic, hard, back to smooth melodic sound emerging from the FUGAZI influence.

Then came the Dixie. The album kicks of with the roaring "On The Nod". It arrives at your headphones like an old friend returning after not seeing them in some time. Tracks "Clone" and "Treading on Heels" show AVAIL has not lost the knack for switching from melodic to hard to melodic all in the same song. Five tracks in comes AVAIL's best song. "Sidewalk" is a solid driving , upbeat song with hooks and an awesome chorus. After "Sidewalk", "25 Years" slows it down a bit, letting you catch your breath the piercing guitars of "Virus" kick in upping the albums temp all over again.

The album (almost) closes with "Southbound 95", which has a sample of the actual classic song "Dixie" before the song takes off. The song, about returning home to the South after a tour is fast and loud. Probably AVAIL's fastest and loudest song. 
Supposedly they would only play this song on the last night of a tour. I was lucky. The one time I did get to see AVAIL live was at the Capital Ballroom in D.C. the last show of the tour before they returned home. That night they played this song with a whole new level of urgency.

The album finally closes with a very good cover of Jon Cougar Mellencamp's "Pink Houses". The song is done with not a trace of cheesiness. The lyrics about living in a small town could easily fit into any AVAIL song. Even through AVAIL would go on to cover Elvis's "Suspicious Minds", Billy Joel's "You May Be Right" among others, I will always think of "Pink Houses" as AVAIL's signature cover.

To grasp an idea of the transition from Satiate to Dixie, check out the Live at The King's Head Inn 10" (also included on the Jade Tree reissue of Dixie). It has a few songs from each album as well as a pretty good cover of the VIOLENT FEMMES's "Kiss Off"

The next album 4 A.M. Friday still remains AVAIL's most underrated album. Perhaps because it's sandwiched between the strong breakthrough of Dixie and the maturity of Over The James but there are many great songs on the 4 A.M. Friday. The best being "Simple Song" which is just that: a simple song. Also a simple song with driving groove and strong hooks. My favorite AVAIL song, "FCA" is also on this album. The songs is a not only another example of the hard to melodic to hard style that AVAIL does so well, its also a tribute to their friends Bob Baynor of the band MAXMILLIAN COLBY who had passed away. I'm not sure what exactly happened to him but the song does mention a "Spiderco" which is a very serious knife so I am sure it was not good . The album's title 4 A.M. Friday comes from the time and day the band found out about Bob's death.

"92" and "Armchair" are two more fantastic fast moving songs, both complete with a great hook. Track 11 is a quick acoustic version of the classic " Swing Low". Not only is this a nice salute to the South AVAIL calls home but a sign of things to come when lead singer Tim Barry explores acoustic "roots" music almost ten years later.

A few years later the last of AVAIL's four great albums Over The James  was released. Almost immediately there is no denying the production is seriously beefed up and more polished than  4 A,M, Friday. The songs are overall more melodic but in by no means in a sell out way. This album would allow AVAIL to bring in a larger fan base (before making the move to Fat Wreckords ) but also not oust the band's loyal fans of the past decade.

Song 3 "August" slows the tempo down but the roaring guitars are still present. Track 5 "Nickle Bridge" was given a sneak peak on the Live at the Bottom of The Hill CD. Here we get to hear it all it's studio produced glory. Once again we get to catch our breath when "Nickle Bridge" winds down with a little jingle-jangle at the end before "Scuffle Town" (also on the Bottom of the Hill) revs it up again  with it's driving chorus which also brings us the album's title. "Still it's a beautiful day. The sun is still shining over the James"

It may have taken a bit of time but at track 7 "S.R,O," we once again get to hear the melodic to hard to melodic AVAIL sound which won us over years ago.

At track 12 "Cross Tie" you get your last chance to take a breath . Looking back it is almost as if AVAIL is taking a second to look back at their years on Lookout! Records and that awesome four album run before they hammer it home with the powerful "Ask" and even more unbelievable (as well as one of my favorite AVAIL songs) "Fifth Wheel".

Like I said at the beginning of this entry, AVAIL did move on to the bigger Fat Wreckords and release two more albums but for me AVAIL's greatness ends when at the very end of Over The James a kid's voice says, "Thanks for buying this hardcore product". Basically with this blog entry I am thanking AVAIL for putting them out for us.