Lungfish – Indivisible

Lungfish
Indivisible
Dischord

Confession time. I wasn’t always a Lungfish fan. The story goes as such, a friend of mine was selling CD’s she wasn’t into and part of that stack included Indivisible by Lungfish. I asked if I could take it home and listen to it and if I was into it, she said I could have it for a few bucks. I went home, dropped the disc into my player and sat back confused at the weird “art” music that was being made. I managed to listen to all of it, annoyed at the number of instrumentals and backwards interludes and decided that it wasn’t for me. I returned the disc, none to politely, remarking that this “art rock bullshit” was what was wrong with music in the mid to late 90’s.

The only thing that was wrong was my filter. I saw Lungfish open up for Fugazi a few years later and was still off put but curious. Sometime after the release of Artificial Horizon was I turned in to Lungfish. I became obsessive. I desperately searched the bins of the used record stores I went to in search of their albums.

I don’t remember the chronology of when I re-discovered Indivisible. It was not one of the albums referred to me (most people seem to think Sound in Time is their masterpiece in my experience) by the many people I obsessively talked to about this band. But at one point I did stumble upon this album and remembered the dark, depressive, artless cover. It sat in my hands like a cold stone, shifting my comfort. I would have to confront this album, my past judgements against what I had built. I was afraid everything would come unwound and my new devotion would be for not.

Chronology is also a problem with these reissues. On the one hand, some of my favorites have already hit the shelves in my home. But its hard to go back and contextualize these superior presentations with the CD’s I have from the past. And as Indivisible can easily be seen as a the mid-point in the Lungfish output, it’s difficult to feel honestly without referencing other records (something I have tried to avoid since Dischord began this project).

As it stands, Indivisible is my personal favorite Lungfish album, it’s weirdness intact even amongst a most esoteric band. The album is cold and seemingly lifeless. It has musical tones not unlike Joy Division, but it’s also when Dan Higgs starts losing grasp with the reality the rest of us know. Yet it’s not the space and time re-con mission that Artificial Horizons would be or the mind origami give in Unanimous Hour. Instead, Indivisible was kind of subdued.

This album always was subtle, a collection of Lungfish ballads, if ever Lungfish were to write a ballad (they did, a few times actually, they are quite beautiful). But there was almost something old world about this album. Though it hits at all the points a Lungfish album should, it sounded and felt like it was made in another time. There was nothing contemporary about Indivisible. It doesn’t sound like anything anyone was doing at the time.

It remains, to my ears one of the most repetitious albums to date. Filled with lots soundscapes (“e=fu” and “William Fuld” named after the Baltimore native who launched the Oujia board into a household name) these atmospheric breaks make the other tracks stand out more. Anchored by “Tick Tock” and song reminiscent of Joy Division’s “Digital”, where in the concept of time leaves us and we are left frustrated, Lungfish created something wholly new and different. But fuck if that song also doesn’t have a groove, the verse and chorus only separated by Mitch Feldstein’s change in the beat. But rather than follow this up with something powerful and rocking Lungfish fall into another odd instrumental jam “Cut To Fit The Mouth”, where a layer of toy Casio piano sits harshly over a quite little jam. The album is quite frantic, manic-depressive maybe, like Wish by The Cure, but in Lungfish’s unique pallet.

Of all there albums, Indivisible is probably the Baltimore quartet’s most inconsistent. Never finding that groove and layered with way out sound escapades, Indivisible is not an easy listen, despite a band that is pulling back. Here we find Lungfish experimenting. After establishing their own sound, Indivisible finds the band stepping back and playing around. Much of what they would produce would weaves its way quietly into their songs later on. The white noise, the piano plunks, the use of space in different ways. Indivisible took context and twisted it, making it a turning point in an unpredictable career.

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Lungfish – Talking Songs For Walking

Lungfish
Talking Songs For Walking
Dischord Records

Sitting down this morning, no coffee, cobwebs in my eyes, a pit in my stomach and too much already on my mind, listening to Lungfish’s second album, Talking Songs For Walking, I am truly hearing it for the first time. This was back when Lungfish was raw and still sort of resembled a basic band. In fact as “Kissing” rings out as I write this, I see just how pedestrian of a band Lungfish was in their infancy. Yes, the beginnings of their own style were emerging, but it was still soaked so thoroughly in that DC energy, reminiscent of the mighty Rites of Spring, the gritty Ignition and the pummeling of early Fugazi. The repetition or hypnosis doesn’t feel so pronounced here in their infancy (though it’s certainly there).

What is great about these reissues of all these Lungfish albums is that we get to reconsider them. During their height I was a Compact Disc addict. I rarely bought vinyl and it hasn’t been until recently that I have succumbed to the mp3 hoarding nature prevalent among us nerds and assholes. My interaction with Talking Songs for Walking was on CD and thus also included their debut Necklace of Heads in one, very long package. The distinction between the two were not always easy to find. But now as Dischord remasters these great albums, I am compelled to take the time and sit here with Talking Songs for Walking.

A true rock record, the spit and sour of punk rock rests firmly in the veins of this band. John Chriest, the original bassist is most pronounced here, driving the songs into sonic fury where soon the band would step back into a more hypnotic groove. But here, the band is typical in giving just ten songs, but they shave a good ten minutes off the running time. It is only now I realize how economical Talking Songs for Walking was. Confined and compressed by speed, the band delivers a true rock record, made in their own recipe.

As Lungfish is presented here with more urgency, the same riff patterns from our man Asa Osbourne that normally sooth and calm the beast suddenly become more feet shuffling and fist pounding. Here, Lungfish is more of a war cry then a meditative om. It isn’t until we reach the lovely “Put Your Hand In My Hand” that the band slows down to the laid back groove they would become known for. And yet somehow, Asa lets the main riff rule space, somehow showing a complex dynamic. This song also has one of the most dynamic bridges that Lungfish has ever written. In fact, all over  this album moments of great change can be found, making this a rather unique entry into the known Lungfish canon.

We also get a young Dan Higgs, more poetic with his words, not quite embracing the bombastic military bark he would become known for. At this point he was more beat poet than psychic head trip, telling odd ball stories. I am immersed for the first time in the song “Descender”, delivered in a slacker cool that Higgs seemed to embody but never project later on. The weirdness is there, but the crazy hadn’t quite emerged. It’s an interesting contrast, a band known for being relatively laid back (in theory, not always in practice) and a front man being “out there”, Talking Songs For Walking gives us a rather subdued Higgs. Of course, what the remaster does is give us a better presentation of some of the accompanying vocal work, hinting at the bark and yell we would later find.

Unfortunately, the remaster process isn’t all kind. The deficiencies in the recording, obviously caught in the trends of the day unfortunately resonate more. The bass is muted and the drums sound far too treated, an insult to Chriest and drummer Mitch Feldstein, but unfortunately this was par for the course back then. More labor intensive and possibly even unattainable, a treatment of the original masters, stripping down the added effects and giving the bass it’s proper due might make for a powerful re-imagining. This is the first time a remaster does very little to bring forward the nuances and instead shows the deficiencies more.

To this guy though, that doesn’t matter. I am happy to have a second look at my favorite band once again (this was also remastered in conjunction with Indivisible, this writers favorite Lungfish album which we will write about very soon) especially the earlier part of the catalog I have not spent as much time with. It’s nice to find a Lungfish that was once interested in kicking faces in with some foot stomping rock instead of tearing them off with hypnotic, esoteric leanings. As Dischord continues this project, and hopefully unleashes more from the vaults like A.C.R 1999, us fans and devoted “dum dums” can find more nuance. For me, it reminds me to listen to music. To pay more attention and consume less. I can assure you for weeks, maybe months I will be entrenched in Lungfish.

Dischord, Old and New

Dag Nasty
Dag With Shawn
Dischord

25 Years Ago, four smelly dudes went into a studio and recorded their nine songs. One of those dudes was in Minor Threat and it was probably a big deal to hear on the streets of DC. Seeing as most post-Minor Threat activity was not quite up to par or that long-lived, the prospects of any of those dudes doing something new and potentially dangerous was probably quite stirring. Among those four dudes was a lanky kid named Shawn Brown. He could yell, boy could he yell. A pair of pipes had not been heard in that town since Ian Mackaye to be sure. They made something awesome and epic. Then Shawn Brown left the band.

In the years following, Dag Nasty would record a few more albums with a couple different singers that would have an undefinable and lasting effect on untold generations of punk rockers, some of which who would measure a lot greater legion of fans than Dag Nasty. Shawn Brown joined up with Swiz that is beloved by those in the know, but feels relatively unknown as time’s handles continue to churn. But what of the music these people made together?

These tapes are kind of legendary in the DC circles that I have wandered in for the past two decades. A very odd, crappy bootleg CD existed and has been copied by many completists. I even recently saw said disc at a used store in Seattle, proof that the legend extended beyond our little backyard swamp. But now, Dischord records, quickly proving the doctrine of archivists Ian Mackaye has stated for years, has pressed this fine bit of history onto vinyl.

Never seeking to be confused with being verbose or chatty, this nine song album is presented with no frills, and no tales of the humble beginnings of this seminal band. The Dischord website itself has just one short paragraph on the subject with an end post stating, “This is essentially the same album that was later re-recorded and released as Can I Say.”  This nearly undermines the project almost completely, if it weren’t for the strength of the record itself. For the first time Dag Nasty sounds like a gritty, no holes barred punk band, and it isn’t only thanks to the gruff stylings of Shawn Brown, whose approach was not mimicked by future vocalists. Instead, the song writing chops of Brian Baker are showcased in their rawest form and we get a powerful, aggressive and fast punk rock record. In fact, this is the link between the early years of DC hardcore and what would follow, in large part thanks to Dag nasty themselves.

The Can I Say album showcased a more polished, oiled sound with a dynamic singer in Dave Smalley. It has often felt, in hindsight to encapsulate a more career minded Brian Baker whose musical history includes a hair metal band and the inclusion of being a hired hand in Punk Rock grandfathers Bad Religion. Here however, we find a version of Dag Nasty that was hungry to be heard. As the music scene of DC seemed to slow and calm down, Dag Nasty still wanted speed and fury to be a part of the equation. And it isn’t just a repeat, because Baker’s catchy sensibilities are showcased in perfection.

This is Dag Nasty as I always wanted them. True, had they stayed the course and had Brown continued along with the band, they probably wouldn’t have had the impact they did on the legions of followers. Dag Nasty’s influence seems so often unnamed, but is so obvious to my ears, even now, when new bands add harmonies and slick riffage. But Dag With Shawn is a truly great piece of history and thankfully not lost.

Zomes
Improvisations 1 & 2
Imminent Frequencies

About a year ago I dropped fucking astral, metaphysical science on you by introducing you to Zomes. But you didn’t fucking listen to me. I know you didn’t listen to me because somehow Asa Osborne is still not on a cosmic tour about the galaxy and beyond throwing down his sonic awesomeness from a fucking space ship. Because if you did what you should have, you would have bought the CD, told your friends, they would have bought the CD and so on and so on and then he’d have like ten billion dollars to build an intergalactic space craft with amplifiers and speakers and shit and he could just fly around in the vastness of the celestial offerings way up in the sky. So seriously, this rant is a FUCK YOU. Why? Because you can’t get this fucking tape anymore, because some dude only made 150 of them and their aren’t gonna be anymore made. And yea, I did in fact transfer this tape to digital, but I’m not gonna share it with the internet. You know why, because you don’t deserve it internet. You don’t. You fucking don’t listen to me, and because of that really cool shit, like Asa Osborn in a space cruiser playing keyboards, doesn’t happen.  And that disappoints me. It disappoints me a great deal. It gets my blood pressure up. Which I don’t appreciate. I’m glad this tape is rare, I am glad it’s on a dead format that only shit heads like me care about, and I am glad I get to be withholding to you internet, because you pissed me off. You can redeem yourself, barely, by purchasing his full length that is still available from Dischord records, right now.

What Happened to Indie Rock in 2010?

Most regular readers of this blog probably think I am nothing more than a fat, drunken imbecile who only likes drunken punk rock. And that isn’t far from the truth. But, my musical awakening in Washington DC was not just ushered in by Minor Threat but also by the insatiable pop rock of Unrest. In fact, I was more a fan of Teen Beat than Dischord in my formidable years and it probably wasn’t until my mid twenties, when I first became a home owner, that I really started a deeper dive into punk rock. Sure I had Black Flag, the Misfits and even by then a good part of the Dischord catalog pre-1987 to my name. But I have Teen Beat records that no one should own. Like the Romania 7″ or Tel Aviv’s first album. Not that they are bad, but they are the epitome of 90’s indie rock that put kids on a path of destruction.

However, especially over the last few years, indie rock, that is, the lighter side of independent music has vastly fallen off the radar. I’ve explored Metal and Hip Hop more and more and tried to find more far out sounds. The straight forward, relatively soft sounds that indie pop had to offer started to feel boring. After Unrest and then the short-lived Air Miami I started looking at other local bands to fill my ears with. Indie rock just kind of started to suck.

So what is this little rant all about. Well this week I purchased three records by some indie rock staples who are, in one way or another still churning them out. Scotland’s Belle and Sebastian kicked out a pink covered missive, Indie Rock Network Gods Superchunk recently returned to the recorded spectrum and former Sleater-Kinney wailer, both vocally and on the guitar, Corin Tucker produced her first solo album. And, as you will soon read, the results are mixed. Part of me feels really good to be in the familiar, but part of me recognizes that the over saturated market place has created a different landscape for these now grown kids to exist in. There is more competition now to get heard and more importantly to get those snot nosed fucking kids to actually buy the music. A decade ago, these three bands would easily be the highlights of the year and the concept of them all having albums out so close to each other would have been mind numbing. But now the founders, ground breakers and forbearers of  not just a musical style, but a whole way of life and ethics are unfortunately part of an ocean of shit. Without further ado, strap down, grab a mountain dew, kiss your children, cuz we are gonna fucking go for it

Superchunk
Majesty Shredding
Merge Records

I first read about Superchunk in Spin Magazine, one springish, summer day in my parents suburban, Northern Virginia Home. Instantly their North Carolina based Merge Records reminded me of my beloved Teen Beat and the description of their then released album Foolish was tantalizing. I headed to the local Kemp Mill records for a purchase of said record (I also bought a Government Issue compilation that sounded like shit) as soon as possible. The opening of that album turned my brain inside out. It was both punk rock and pop luscious. Aggressive but sexy. The album, at it’s most basic level, kicked serious ass. My friends and I traded copies of it and that summer we saw them at the Black Cat the night before we were heading to Lolapalooza and they DESTROYED. Laura Balance played bass like an angry Kim Colleta and bounced around with equal abandon. Guitarist Jim Wilbur was a fucking rock star, fingers punching holes in the fret boards as he laid down sweet guitar licks. We all pogoed like well-behaved white people should, but it was sweaty and fun none the less and good not top any of the bands we saw the next night, save for their own performance on the side stage that we immediately caught. Superchunk were fast, smart, sassy, witty and could play really, really well, which was sometimes regarded as novelty back then. They were musicians who actually knew what they were doing instead of making it up as they went along like so many of their peers.

A few years later, I kinda fell off the bandwagon. None of the albums I heard that preceded or followed Foolish lived up to those feelings.  Maybe it was a time and a place, maybe it was bands that came out in the wake of that record, clearly inspired by The ‘Chunk with their own spin that kept my attentions diverted. But by 1997, a slew of singles, compilations and a record I wasn’t totally comfortable with (Here’s Where the Strings Come In has some of their best songs, but also some of their most overwrought in my opinion) I had moved past the band.

So you know, it’s been a while since I’ve even really thought about Superchunk. And I am not gonna lie, I’m still left a little bitter about the whole thing. This is why, and this is criticism you probably will not read anywhere else, the mastering on this record absolutely sucks. Now I know what your thinking, “Dude what the fuck is mastering? Either the songs are good or they aren’t!” and I will address both those points in a second. Mastering is the balance of the sound on an album. It dictates the levels of sound waves, the highs, the lows and all in between. It also helps determine the volume of all of these things. The hotter (or higher) the mastering job, the louder everything gets. The louder everything gets the more detail you lose. So, for me, a not really that learned listener, this shit is too hot. If I have to turn down my stereo to listen to a Superchunk album, somebody fucked up. Pig Destroyer, Slayer, Cannibal Corpse they are not. They are Superchunk, with driving, upbeat, high tempo songs that are supposed to be pleasant to listen to.

Now, what does this have to do with the music? Everything! Part of Superchunk’s appeal is the nuance of the music. It’s not just blistering, blazing and barking. There is a finesse, a sexiness to it all. Hormones are raging for sure, but the music has always had a classy way of presenting itself. When everything is so fucking loud, that nuance is gone. The parts that make Superchunk the predecessors of modern independent music get buried in the mix.

There are moments that reign through. I miss Mac McCaughan’s warble, his vocals have definitely matured or aged, depending on if these performances are intentional or not, but he’s got the strength to carry another performance all the way through. And some of the songs on here are just as great as some of the earliest material. “My Gap Feels Weird” which has Mac twitching his voice out on the chorus is probably one of my favorite songs by the group now. “Learned to Surf” features some of his classic lyrics and is a solid stomper. And of course “Winter Games” is by the book Superchunk and showcases a band that has not missed a beat.

There is nothing musically about Majesty Shredding that indicates Superchunk are trying to reassert themselves. There is no left field collaborations, overshadowing experimentation with drum machines, or letting of the drummer sing to try to catch people’s attentions or break out of the mold. Superchunk knows what they do well and they wrote songs that show that. However, I can’t help but think that the post production decisions were not in part influenced by a changing marketplace. Something about this feels like the band is trying to seek a new audience, burning up the space to give the kids what their fucked up ears are used to. The tragedy in this is that the kids don’t buy records, but us old folks still do. And our old ears, we can’t take this shitty mastering. So yea, we may buy the album, but we won’t be singing along when you come through town.

Belle and Sebastian
Write About Love
Matador

Admittedly, I am not the world’s biggest Belle and Sebastian fan. In fact, this is the first album of theirs that I have purchased in the new section since their breakthrough smash Boy With the Arab Strap (see, I wasn’t kidding when I was talking earlier about breaking up with the indie scene). Through friends and the used store I have collected their complete works, because I know a lot of people who love the fuck out of this band. Belle and Sebastian are just one of those bands that well-mannered, middle of the road, boring white people love. I think this is because they are non-threatening, non-controversial and, most importantly, totally brilliant.

Over the last three years, my appreciation for the band has increased. High Profile exposure from the film Juno and being introduced to The Life Pursuit certainly increased my enjoyment of this band and made me reconsider their music as more than weirdo, slacker rock with a cooky singer. You know, sometimes the onslaught of metal, grinding hip hop and sloppy punk rock is just too much, so chilling out to some Scottsmen and women.

Well, now they have a new album out and frankly Write About Love should be called How to Be A Dirty Hippie in Eleven Easy Steps because they really lay on the 70’s sugar pop on this one. They do it to great effect and frankly, this album is a grower and now a shower. At first I thought it was pappy crap. But it’s the details that matter most of all. Sure, Belle and Sebastian will probably never be the quirky indie pop band they used to be. It seems they are saturated in swanky organs and up strummed guitars lifting up the high registers. But man, they do it well. And let’s face it, Stuart Murdoch is a great fucking singer.

But there are some road blocks on this album. First track, “I Didn’t See it Coming” is totally sung by the wrong member. I am not insinuating that Sarah Martin can’t sing and this is not some bash against her. It’s just such an obvious and classic Murdoch song and I think he would have delivered a stronger performance here. A switching of roles would have done this great. Then, seriously, Norah Jones guys? She’s boring and lifeless and kills some great lyrics on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John. In fact, that’s where I would have put Sarah Martin had anyone had the decency to produce this album. But nobody did. And there is just something off about “I’m Not Living In the Real World”. It’s just too swanky, mid 70’s budget movie. That song just bugs the fuck out of me. I like the break down riff in it, but I can’t take the Monkee’s styled vocals. Ungh.

And it’s precisely these decisions that I doubt. The guest vocals of Carey Mulligan on the title track seems like a natural, fitting collaboration. I don’t doubt that Murdoch and Co didn’t immediately think of Jones for the album, but it comes off feeling forced. And some of the more straight ahead influences from days past leave a little to be desired. I’d prefer more of the Belle and Sebastian stamp all together. But perhaps that’s the whole point. How long can a band exist at a certain level and still make a living. Putting out an album after a five-year hiatus is a daunting task, no matter how well-loved you are and can be a bold career move. Belle and Sebastian have never been a dangerous band,  but even for them Write About Love feels just a bit too safe and familiar in some places, and too forced in all the wrong places.

The Corin Tucker Band
1,000 Years
Kill Rock Stars

I’m not even totally sure what to make of this album to be quite honest with you. When figure heads from bands go solo it ends one of two ways, usually. Either their true genius shines through and it’s determined that the band they were in truly was holding them back. I can’t cite a specific example of this because I don’t think it happens that often. The other road is that you find out, that lead singer or whatever you thought was so amazing was not as good as the sum of the parts behind them. Kele from Bloc Party released a luke-warm solo album this year. It has all the elements about Kele that I like, but it misses all the other great things that go on to the left, right and behind him that I like. Travis Morrison struck out on his own, and while we got his same sensibilities and playfulness, he never found people to match the power of the other guys in the band. Sure he was the principle, but no one plays bass like Eric Axelson on this planet.

So Corin Tucker’s first effort three years out of Sleater Kinney is an interesting endeavor. Now, I’m not gonna lie, I just got this album last night. I had to drive to my old house to pick up my misdelivered Amazon package the held the record. I listened to half of it late last night as I was reading Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution and then the whole thing on my rainy drive into work this morning. I am struck by how utterly different it is from Sleater Kinney. There is very little familiar in this album to me. In fact Corin Tucker’s voice sounds less like Corin Tucker then before.

None of this should be conceived as a bad thing. She doesn’t exceed Sleater Kinney here, but this is a very new voice for Tucker. This is not surprising really from a woman who was part of Dig Me Out which was such a great coming of age album where three people really begun to learn what they wanted to do together. Nor does it seem impossible for a person who was part of The Woods which was such a face fuck album with amazing guitar playing and totally unique song writing.

At times 1,000 Years feels like Corin is playing it safe. But in that moment, I realize that she’s never really wrote a fairly straight forward song before. Hearing her pick on an acoustic guitar is a totally new experience, simply because that instrument is in her hands. Countering that is “Half a World Away” which is such an interesting approach that I don’t quite know what to make of it. It’s something totally new once again that sounds neither like I’ve ever heard from this artists and yet it’s a product that I am not surprised she produced.

Corin Tucker is nearly Waits-like on 1,000 Years. It contains a language of music that is almost completely different from this artist’s past. And where it is more straight forward, it has Tucker’s great new singing voice on it. There are always enough twists and turns in the songs too that keep them curious and playful. Sleater Kinney was a dangerous, controversial band. Not because they were three women, or even that they were three women that “could actually play”. But because they made music no one else could have possibly made. They took so many chances in their career and never put out  records that people thought they should, they never repeated themselves. And all of that paid off for the band. 1,000 Years may not have been the far out exploration that people expected, but it’s a pretty solid, totally surprising album. No song sounds the same, but there is a context throughout the entire record.

Episdode #11

After a short Hiatus, We Give you Herpes
Smash Hits – Kid Canaveral
So, now that we have our STD results back, lets share with the group. Billy, how did you fail an STD test?
Race to the End – Police and Thieves
An Unforgivable Invasion of Privacy and a Complete Betrayal of Trust (I Wish You Wouldn’t) – The Gift
Real Mean – RVIVR
Dullards and Dreadful Prose – The Measure SA
Gimmie the Wire – Ted Leo
Now, that Billy has been sent to the principal’s office, lets talk about prevention. Jimmie, licking the floor is not a method of prevention. Jesus, you kids are idiots.

Said Gun – Embrace
Anger Means – Ignition
Anything Tribal – Branch Manager
Letter to Raoul Peck – Black Eyes
Solidarity – Scream
Okay Class, now what Jimmie did was not good, so we suspended him from class for the next three da…oh for fuck sake, Christan, get the fuck down from there, now, no now. Fuck it, I quit.
Parasites – Bankrobber
Buy/Sell – Thank God
Unanswerable – Night Birds
Back in 84 – Ceremony
Free Your Self – Striking Distance
Hello Boys and Girls, I’m your substitute teacher. My Name is Mister…oh for the love of god. You, what’s that kids name? Timmy. Timmy, put that back in your pants right now young man. That is not appropriate. No, that is not…we don’t do tha…no…no…Timmy. I am gonna beat your ass…oh for the fuck of sake….
Jay’s Big Date – Brainworms
(48:54)