There have been three bands, or rather, two basic bands and another band that evolved from one of the basic bands, that I haven't been able to stop listening to for the past week or so.
So why not blog one of them? This week's particular band was on my future "I should probably blog these guys" list, but as is the case with most of my postings, bands move up and down the schedule - or are completely unplanned until I sit down to write the entry - with reckless abandon.
So, seeing as how last week we featured Slint, this week I chose one of Slint's compatriot bands, the North Carolina (by way of Oberlin College, Ohio) postrock pseudohardcore proto-math-rock combo Bitch Magnet. Slint and Bitch Magnet are related by band interbreeding, if you will: Slint's root band Squirrel Bait bequeathed Slint's Brian McMahan and Britt Walford, and that same band also bequeathed free agent guitarist David Grubbs, who played with Bitch Magnet for a duration.
But besides a terrific appreciation for dynamics, that's about the end of the similarities (though Slint's Tweez can be a good starting comparison point with Bitch Magnet in terms of dynamics, and raw sound). While a fan of Bitch Magnet will probably also enjoy Slint, fans of Slint's later material (i.e. Spiderland) may not appreciate the getting-away-from-hardcore basics underlying Bitch Magnet.
And besides, Bitch Magnet featured one of the BEST drummers ever in the annals of 1980s/1990s indierock, Orestes Delatorre (aka Orestes Morfin). The only comparison I can think of for Orestes's amazing drumming is Scratch Acid and Rapeman drummer Rey Washam - widely thought of as one of the greatest indierock drummers EVER. Orestes is absolutely up there with Rey: one of the best drummers I've ever heard, and criminally underrated amongst those who should know better (Pitchfork, I'm looking at you). There are transcendent moments all over the place with Orestes's drumming, touches such as the recurring "ting ting ting ting" of his bell-like ride cymbal slay me every time.
The only consistent Bitch Magnet members were Sooyoung Park (vocals, bass), Jon Fine (guitars), and Orestes (drums). Guitarist David Galt joined the band for their first full-length - 1989's Umber, and David Grubbs played on one track on 1990's Ben Hur. Galt did not play on Ben Hur.
Bitch Magnet's oeuvre was rather limited, with mainstream releases consisting of just a brief EP (1988's Star Booty) and the two previously-mentioned full-length albums. The band also released a few 7" and 12" singles, but those are VERY hard to find and I personally have never heard them.
Bitch Magnet broke up for unknown reasons following Ben Hur, with members going on to found Seam (Sooyoung Park), remaining in Bastro (David Grubbs), or disappear from the scene entirely (Orestes - though he did join Minnesota's Walt Mink for a brief spell in the mid 90s).
Star Booty, their 1988 debut EP, was engineered (or only mixed, the Internets are not clear on the details) by Steve Albini and I have to be honest here: it's really crap sounding. I wonder if the record label screwed something up in the mastering for release, because I'm really surprised such product passed Albini's legendary no-bullshit quality control. Granted I've not heard this on original vinyl, only the CD version - it's entirely possible the vinyl version sounds spectacular ;) The music is OK - I do like the proto-Seam melodicism of "Sea of Pearls", and "Hatpins" is a nice blast of 1980s hardcore, but overall this EP isn't what made me a Bitch Magnet fan. The songs eventually blur into a samey miasma that, while noisy, does seem lacking. (This EP was appended to the CD release of the following LP by their record label.)
Umber, the band's 1989 LP produced by Mike McMackin, is what made me a fan. I simply love this record. From wigout opener "Motor" to the understated beauty of the closer "Americruiser", the full 10-song set grabs you by the proverbial balls and never lets go. I hear audio references to Big Black and Scratch Acid (Austin, TX mid-1980s punk and Jesus Lizard ancestor) all over the place. "Navajo Ace" is a BLISTERING punk workout with some utterly jaw-dropping drumming courtesy Orestes. The languid soft/loud/soft dynamic beauty of "Clay" - another proto-Seam track - leads nicely into the very-Scratch Acid "Joan of Arc". Then we get an amazing quieter number "Douglas Leader", the first 2:30 or so consisting only of Sooyoung's gently-melodic bass and spoke/sung vocals. Orestes comes in with a nice touch in restrained drums, and finally we hear guitars washing over the track with icy-cold feedback. A standout. Then we have a few more brilliant post-punk mini-epics in a row, all with amazing drums and noisy guitars, and finally bring matters to a close with the stunningly beautiful "Americruiser". I can listen to this song on repeat all day, the gentle verses leading into the swelling choruses is so Seam-like it's ridiculous (and wonderful). And I have no idea what Sooyoung's vocals are about, though the musical phrase from his last vocal "sure could use a good place to sleep" leading into the overwhelming chorus of guitars and drums is spectacular. Yeah it sounds like Slint - but remember, this was before Slint's own take on this same style.
Overall rating? Almost 10 fucking stars.
1990 saw the band add Bastro's David Grubbs to replace the departing David Galt for one track (after touring with the band in 1989), and released the swan song LP Ben Hur (track 2 recorded by Howie Gano; tracks 4 and 8 recorded by McMackin; and tracks 1, 3, 5 and 7 by "Arden Geist" - which I suspect to be an Albini pseudonym, because 1) there is zero biographical, or anything for that matter, information on "Arden Geist" on the Internet besides mention of these particular BM tracks, and 2) the tracks bear every single hallmark of an Albini recording). While more a refinement of, than a dizzying progression from, the sound established with Umber, Ben Hur shows the band increasingly exploring a more textured side of their music: "Dragoon" is a nearly 10-minute epic beginning with feedback-laden guitar and Orestes' simple ride cymbal tings, before exploding into a melody-laced all-out assault of guitars, frenzied drumming and barely-audible spoken word vocals. "Valmead" (featuring a pseudonymous Grubbs as "Shannon Doughton") and "Gator" are instrumentals, "Valmead" exploring dissonance while "Gator" returns to Umber's pummelling in-your-face guitar and drum workouts. "Mesentery" is brilliant, while "Ducks and Drakes" and the amazing, beautiful closing track "Crescent" foreshadow Sooyoung's future Seam project: in fact "Crescent" could easily fit on either of Seam's first two LPs and nobody would bat an eye.
Overall rating? Not quite as strong as Umber, so almost 8 fucking stars. I wish the band explored more of the Seam/Slint textures they explored briefly on Umber, and touched on a bit here, and there are no absolute stunners (to me) on this record (as opposed to Umber, which features several), but this is still a fine, fine record the likes of which is almost never seen today.
I present all three records described above, slightly remastered for your listening pleasure, in glorious lossless FLAC. I really attempted to fix up Star Booty but essentially it's helpless, someone needs to revisit that from the original master reel.
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BITCH MAGNET Essentials
remastered from redbook CD by thepowerofindependenttrucking.blogspot.com
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STAR BOOTY (1988, Communion Records)
Recorded by - or only mixed by, it's unclear - Steve Albini
02 C Word
03 Sea of Pearls
06 Circle K
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UMBER (1989, Communion Records)
Recorded by Mike McMackin
02 Navajo Ace
04 Joan of Arc
05 Douglas Leader
06 Goat-Legged Country God
07 Big Pining
08 Joyless Street
09 Punch and Judy
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BEN HUR (1990, Communion Records)
1/3/5/7 recorded by "Arden Geist" (Albini)
2 recorded by Howie Gano
4/8 recorded by Mike McMackin
03 Ducks and Drakes
05 Lookin' At The Devil
07 Spite y Malice
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edit #2: removed link. Watch for official deluxe reissues!
edit: some factual updates thanks to Fred in the comments...
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