VARIOUS ARTISTS – “FAST PRODUCT: MUTANT POP 78/79″ (1980)
This compilation of late ’70s singles on the Scottish record label Fast Product, put together for the U.S. market by the PVC label, is notable not just because it features a handful of early Gang of Four recordings, but because it simply is a great record all the way through. Here, The Human League’s “Being Boiled” is much more subdued and pleasantly not as bombastic as the version that appears on their “Travelogue” LP, The Flowers are a great girl band on par with the Au Pairs, Scars have some great basslines, 2.3′s jangly jangles are crisp, and the Mekons’ single “Where Were You” never gets old, even after a dozen consecutive listens.
Regarding the “mutant pop” concept, Wikipedia sez:
“Fast Product also produced ‘subversive commodities’ that problematised pop music (hence their early monikkers – ‘difficult fun’ and ‘mutant pop’) and politicised their youthful buyers into a consciousness of taking control of the means of expression, getting confident and reappropriating the means of production. Often packaging their ‘products’ with a caustic yet subtle sideswipe at consumerism (the image of a wall of gold disks on the cover of the Mekons first single etc), Fast Product showed how all aspects of the record business, from musicianship to design to distribution, could be taken out of the hands of the major labels.”
CRASH COURSE IN SCIENCE
I giggled a little to myself when I saw this as the sole paragraph under this band’s entry at Trouser Press:
“The two men and one woman who comprise this East Coast synth band don’t go along with the idea of electronics being used to mimic conventional instruments. Instead, their machines spurt and squeak, using static, distortion and all manner of noise to support minimalist vocals. Grating.”
Given the current minimalist electronic revival, this music sounds like something that might’ve been recorded a few months ago, except back then, the fear of computers mechanizing our entire lives was something tangible, instead of today, where the harnessing of powerful technology for mere things like personal entertainment holds greater sway over our mental energy. Besides, outsourcing to India’s a much more real threat than robots on the assembly line ever were.
MASKULL – self-titled? (1997)
This might be the single weirdest thing I’ve yet posted on this site. I know next to nothing about Maskull, other than the whacked half-anecdote I was told by an ex-friend who disappeared down the meth hole a handful of years ago, the same bloke who handed off a copy of this record to me: Maskull supposedly is/was living with AIDS, and in his ailing state, committed to tape this album of demented, simpering goth-osity. I can’t verify this story at all, or if Maskull’s actually alive or dead, since there’s absolutely no information available on him anywhere on the Internet, except for one brief editorial review on the CD Baby website that says:
“Troy Maskull’s ghoulish voice and imperceptible melodies are loathsome, detestable and incomprehensible. Perhaps music would be better off if Maskull crawled back under the rock that he came from.”
While the tone of the above two sentences is clearly more hostile than it needs to be, one thing’s for sure: this album is both ghoulish and imperceptible! Listening to it in its entirety might just produce in your body an effect akin to three days’ worth of starvation; what the man is doing with his voice could only be described as “anti-singing”, kinda like the way critics, at the release of “Kid A”, were describing the way Thom Yorke’s vocals sounded on “Everything In Its Right Place”, times eight hundred. And anybody who can pull off a song these days called “Working Hard For Your Love” with nary a trace of irony must be classified under the “outsider art” category. If anybody out there has any info whatsoever on Maskull, pleeze lemme know. I’d be very curious, although at the same time, I kinda like not knowing a lick of info about the guy.
SOCRATES DRANK THE CONIUM – “ON THE WINGS” (1973)
I often download albums off of Soulseek based upon band names alone, and this one certainly caught my eye: Socrates Drank The Conium. Who wouldn’t be intrigued? Turned out that the album “On The Wings” was above and beyond my standard heavy rock expectations. Also of historical note, according to one fan site: the band “…was playing to standing-room-only crowds in a small club in Athens during Greece’sÂ military dictatorship, a period when even Rolling Stone albums were hard to find, and for a time illegal.”
The Aquarius Records website has a great review of the record:
“Socrates Drank The Conium were a Greek band, and ‘On The Wings’; was their third album, originally issued in 1973. Psychedelic hard blues rock with ragged, rough-edged English vocals, and (this is key) UTTERLY RIPPING twin electric guitar. Definitely an early milestone in heavy acid rock guitar shred. Vangelis later joined this band, but you’d never guess there was any New Age connection from this kick ass album. The songs twist and snake around, with rockin’ and doomy riffs, dual guitar harmonies, and crazy leads , with both guitarists playing entirely different, complex licks that somehow meld perfectly. Brilliant stuff. Kinda progressive and utterly powerful.”
Another online reviewer, someone named G. Johnson, sez:
“[SDTC] released two competent records prior to ‘On the Wings’ and this was their last release (that I am aware of) before they joined up with ex-Aphrodite’s Child, pre-’Chariots of Fire’ composer/musician extraordinaire, Vangelis. I have yet to hear their album ‘Phos’, with him in the fold, but I can’t imagine it remotely comparing to the unbridled genius of ‘On the Wings’. Absolutely FACE-MELTING guitar work on this, one of those records where you just have to shake your head in disbelief every time you listen to it.”
BRUCE McCULLOCH – “SHAME-BASED MAN” (1995)
Nobody in my generation who grew up being babysat by television doesn’t know Bruce MuCulloch, one-fifth of the truly stellar sketch comedy troupe Kids In The Hall, who originally had their show broadcast here in America on HBO starting in the late ’80s, and then had its five seasons’ worth of shows re-run into the ground by Comedy Central (who sadly don’t do so anymore). Bruce’s characters on the show, whether it was the OCD-riddled little boy Gavin, the hapless Cop #1 (to Mark McKinney’s Cop #2), the eternally horny Cabbage Head, the short-tempered father Gordon or the frumpy secretary Kathie, always seemed to exist on a dual plane, with a thin layer of fragile reality disguising either a terrible fear of worldly concerns or seething rage bubbling just beneath the surface.
After the show ended its run, and the commercial lack of success of the Kids In The Hall film “Brain Candy”, each of the five Kids immediately split off to do their own things: Dave Foley went onto star in the U.S. sitcom “NewsRadio”, Mark McKinney was a cast member of “Saturday Night Live”, and Scott Thompson and Kevin McDonald went onto various film roles. One of Bruce’s first solo outings was the first of his two solo albums, “Shame-Based Man”, a searing portrait of what it’s like to be inside Bruce’s mind at 3AM, alone, sitting at the donut shop. 20 tracks, some of them skits, some of them songs, all of them bitterly depressing, nihilistic and devoid of hope for any kind of happiness; it’s as if Bruce could only afford anti-depressants when he had health insurance through the CBC, and once “Kids In The Hall” went off the air, back down the depression hole he might’ve went.
The first half of the album is very hit-or-miss, but halfway through, it all picks up steam, starting with the track that’s the absolute darkest it can get (and consequently the funniest), “Our Love”, one of the best examples of “list” humor I’ve ever heard. Also, “When You’re Fat” is way more mean-spirited than it needs to be, but…it’s… still…funny…somehow?