Wednesday, December 31, 2008

5 songs: Chicago-area bands

Besides the recurring "variations on a theme" theme I've got going that spotlights various key indie producers/engineers, another idea I had was to do a random, recurring "5 songs" list of 5 songs that represent some particular theme. Sort of inspired by High Fidelity but not.

We'll kick it off with 5 songs by Chicago-area artists that aren't Smashing Pumpkins. I'm stretching Chicago to mean from Champaign on north to the Wisconsin border.

The most difficult bit here is picking 5 songs from about 30 artists to choose from! So this particular 5 Songs, Chicago edition may end up having multiple sub-postings.

On with it, no particular order...

In retrospect, this list is actually 5 songs by Chicago artists recorded by Steve Albini. Perhaps the next 5 Songs, Chicago edition segment will feature 5 songs by Chicago artists, NOT recorded by Steve Albini. Or perhaps not.


TAR / "Short Trades"

(from the 1990 Amphetamine Reptile LP Jackson, recorded by Steve Albini)

DeKalb, IL's finest export that's not named Cindy Crawford. These guys were known in the "scene" for their custom-built alumininum guitars, and at their last show (at Lounge Ax in 1995/1996 or so) they auctioned the guitars off to audience members (really!).


SILKWORM / "That's Entertainment"

(from the 2000 Touch And Go LP Lifestyle, recorded by Steve Albini)

Longtime friends of Steve Albini, this band (originally formed in Missoula, MT in 1987 before ultimately relocating to Chicago in the 90s) plays just good, propulsive indierock with touchpoints Neil Young and Minutemen evident throughout. Unfortunately, drummer Michael Dalquist (along with two others) was killed in a car accident in July 2005, caused by a woman attempting to commit suicide. The band essentially ended then.


the JESUS LIZARD / "Dancing Naked Ladies"

(from the 1992 Touch And Go LP Liar, recorded by Steve Albini)

A piledriving, massive, explosive attack of a song. It grabs you by the throat, swings you around and slams you onto the floor. You better shake it off.... David Yow is perhaps the most unique singer ever, at least in indierock annals.



(from the 1996 Touch And Go LP Terraform, recorded by Albini/Weston/Trainer)

We ought to name a song after you, call it Canada. Imagine a country so blue, backwards it's adanac. A delightful tribute to our neighbors up North.



(from the 1991 Twin/Tone LP Daisychain Reaction, recorded by Steve Albini)

Loud guitars, amazing drum sounds, tight dynamics, the summation of the Albini sound is right here. And a damn good song as well - many believe that this record is the Poster Children's finest hour, including myself. Champaign/Urbana must be proud...

-------------------- SPECIAL BONUS SECTION!!! --------------------

Since we're talking Chicago-area acts recorded by Steve Albini, how can we forget Rockford's very own Cheap Trick???

CHEAP TRICK / "Hello There"

(from the unreleased re-recorded In Color album sessions, recorded in 1997 by Steve Albini)
(sorry for the mp3 lineage, if I find better I'll upload a new link)


From the internets:
The background (as far as I know) is this: Back in the late 90s Steve Albini produced a record for Cheap Trick. While in the studio, they got to talking about how In Color fell short, in their minds, sonically. On the spot, they decided to re-record every song (along with a few extras) from the classic album.

Here's a little more info from Rick Nielsen:

As for the re-recorded Albini In Color album, "we haven't made any plans for it, but we didn't record it for a joke," he quips. "We didn't go at it trying to come up with crazy new arrangements, but sonically we never liked In Color. The songs were good, but sonically it's wimpy and we're not wimpy. We left before it got mixed and were told 'We'll fix it in the mix' by our record company (back then) and our ex-manager. Well, they went the other way," Nielsen says finishing his thought.

So this has never seen any official release, which is too bad because it's a great album.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

variations on a theme: Iain Burgess

edit: New post here with a much more comprehensive compilation of Iain's recordings, in light of his recent passing...


Iain Burgess, for many years, was the "architect" of the Chicago classic punk sound in the 80s and early 90s. If your record wasn't engineered by Iain, it seemingly didn't exist. Virtually every Chicago punk/alternative band used him at one point or another.

Iain in 2003-ish, at his residential studio Black Box in France

Oddly there's little to no biographical information about him on the internets. I do know he came to Chicago from the UK, did a lot of production, and eventually moved to France to open his own studio. Steve Albini credits Iain for introducing him to a lot of recording techniques he uses today, especially about preserving the sound, presence and impact of a loud punk band playing in its element - live.

Iain in 1988 behind the boards at Chicago Recording Company, recording the Poster Children (see below)

Having searched the vast, wide web of the world, I do believe this is the first blogpost ever to spotlight Iain Burgess's works. Hooray!

So enough blathering - what about the music?

EFFIGIES / "Fly on a Wire"

(from the 1985 Ruthless LP Fly On A Wire, long out of print)

Chicago's Effigies were among the first postpunk bands to make a name for themselves outside Chicagoland. This is a terrific proto-indierock blast that shows how they've moved on from hardcore to something maybe more melodic.


BIG BLACK / "Kerosene"

(from the 1986 Homestead LP Atomizer, currently available on Touch And Go on vinyl, and on CD as part of The Rich Man's Eight Track Tape)

From their first real full-length (not counting Lungs or Bulldozer), really, what else is there to do in tiny smalltown America than jump kerosene? Iain really makes the guitars scraaaang and that walloping piledriving drum machine hammer.



(from the 1987 Pravda 7" EP Hang Ten, long out of print)

I saw these guys open for Naked Raygun at the Riviera, Chicago in 1989 and ever since been on a quest for Defoliants material. Even then you couldn't find the records, and even today the utter lack of Defoliants--age on the internets is disappointing. This is the only track I could find and it just doesn't do the memory of these guys live-on-stage justice. Think Dick Dale fronting a punk band. Amazing stuff.


NAKED RAYGUN / "Soldiers Requiem" and "Vanilla Blue"

("Soldiers Requiem" from the 1988 Caroline LP Jettison, "Vanilla Blue" from their 1987 self-released 7", also on the CD issue of Jettison)

The torch-bearers of the Chicago punk scene, probably the band with the greatest national and international recognition. These guys were/are something else live, yet they never were afraid to themselves laugh at the whole spectacle of it all - even having John Haggerty's guitar lowered to him from the rafters at the Cabaret Metro. Amazing, amazing band, this lineup was their classic lineup that lasted from 1984-1989. 1989 saw Haggerty quit to form Pegboy (see below).



(from the 1989 Limited Potential LP Flower Plower, currently on the band's own Twelve Inch Records label)

Formed at University of Illinois - Champaign/Urbana in the late 80s, this band really lived (and still lives) by the Minutemen "we jam econo" credo. This track is from their first full-length record and a great snapshot of the energy and spunk the Poster Kids carry.


PEGBOY / "Through My Fingers" and "Strong Reaction"

("Through My Fingers" from the 1990 Quarterstick EP Three-Chord Monte, "Strong Reaction" from their 1991 Quarterstick LP Strong Reaction)

Pegboy was formed in 1989 after John Haggerty quit Raygun, joining up instead with his brother Joe on drums and two ex-Bhopal Stiffs on vocals and bass. Really, the only reason to listen to Pegboy is Haggerty's guitar sound, he's got one hell of a roar and his playing style is perfect for the music.


JAWBOX / "Static"

(from the 1992 Dischord LP Novelty)

The first non-Illinois band here, Jawbox came from the Washington, DC Dischord scene and in fact J Robbins was former Government Issue - another key hardcore touchpoint band. Dischord and the Chicago Touch And Go scene shared a lot of friends, commonality and ethics and they cross-pollinated quite a bit. Here we have these guys traveling to Chicago to record with Iain, on their last independent record before skipping Dischord and signing to Atlantic.


After the mid-90s Iain was relatively quiet production-wise, concentrating on building his own studio in France. There have been a a couple really fantastic records made there and with his assistance, including.....

NINA NASTASIA / "Superstar"

(from her 2003 Touch And Go LP Run To Ruin, recorded by Steve Albini and Iain Burgess at his French residential studio)

This Brooklyn, NY singer/guitarist is amazing - and this record is a perfect example of how you cannot pigeonhole Steve Albini's production style.


Like these? Thoughts?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

variations on a theme

One of the things I've been debating posting here is an "A-Z" of various indie/punk/etc producers and/or engineers. Names that, without which, we'd not have some of the landmark records we have today.

Some say "no, fool, it's for the bands that we have these records" and they're right. The producer or engineer was just the person who happened to be sat behind the boards when the tape was run, the musicians played their music, and so on.

But there have been some people who, over the course of history, have left their mark on a great string of records that without whom the indie scene would be forever poorer.

Martin Hannett (above, with Joy Division's Bernard Sumner at Cargo Studios).

Steve Albini.

John Fryer.

Chris Nagle.


Brad Wood.

Brian Paulson.

Alan Moulder.



Iain Burgess.


Mitch Easter.

I could go on of course - there's countless more. But what I'm going to do, in an occasional series starting shortly, is to highlight some of the more essential tracks and/or bands these guys have left an imprint with. I won't cover every producer, I won't even guarantee I'll get to everyone I listed above. But at the very least it'll bring forward music that you may not have heard yet - the whole point of the enterprise, one might say.

If you have any suggestions of course, by all means drop them in the comment box!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

they keep calling me...

(Joy Division live at Prince Of Wales YMCA, London UK 2 Aug 1979, photo by Jill Furmanowsky)

If you're a Joy Division fan, and you purchased 2007's reissued 2xCD packages, you would have seen in STILL's liner notes a blurb about "Ice Age" being at the wrong pitch/speed (it's too fast making Ian Curtis sound like a chipmunk), and had been so since its initial release in 1981.

Here's my returning-the-favor:

Ice Age at proper concert pitch, as it should have been.

(pitch-corrected, from the 1981 Factory LP FACT40 STILL, reissued in 2007 by Rhino)

And a bonus!

"Colony" from Closer, and "Dead Souls" from STILL (and 1988's Substance collection) also are not at proper pitch/speed. Whether this was intended as such by the band and legendary producer Martin Hannett, or not caught at the mastering session and is an error, it's interesting to hear them at proper "concert" pitch (matched up with live performances and properly tuned guitars).

I'm suspecting they should have been at this corrected pitch/speed all along, it's likely they were futzed-with in studio to help Ian sing in a more natural key for him during their respective recording sessions ("Dead Souls" at Cargo Studios 10/79 with "Atmosphere" and "Ice Age"; and "Colony" at Brittania Row, 3/80 for the Closer sessions), but weren't brought back to proper speed/pitch at mastering time.

(pitch-corrected, from the classic 1980 Factory LP FACT25 Closer, reissued in 2007 by Rhino)

-- and --

(pitch-corrected, from the 1981 Factory LP FACT40 STILL, reissued in 2007 by Rhino)

home, and the idea of missing it...

So it's Christmas Eve, my daughter's playing in her bouncer behind me, and I'm really bummed that I can't be home with my parents (her grandparents), my gram (her great-gram), my sister and brother, and other assorted family creatures and friends etc.... We are spending it with my in-laws, who see my daughter almost weekly as it is. Not fair but that's what we get when my family is 600 miles away in one direction, with another faction of my family 500 miles the other way.

So here's two songs about home, missing it, a sense that I'm not there and it being a long way away.

R.E.M. - Good Advices
(from the classic 1985 IRS LP Fables Of The Reconstruction)


(edited by me, from the 1992 Creation LP Going Blank Again)

greetings and salutations

Steve Albini, in the liner notes to this album, stated:
Every good Vegas act has an opening theme, some appropriately triumphant fanfare to welcome the delight of the audience. It helps convince them the show was worth their thirty bucks or so.

Translated: Every blog needs an opening post, something to convince the teeming hordes that their mouse-clicking was worth the effort and to feed the expectations of terrific material to come. Though had Albini written those words today, I don't think he'd be stating thirty bucks or so. Try hundreds...

(1987 Touch and Go Records)

I discovered this record in high school in 1987 or 1988, about a year or two after their scheduled 1987 breakup. Founder/guitarist/singer/songwriter Steve Albini says they broke up at the right time, they were getting to the point where their popularity was exceeding the amount of energy and effort it would have required to maintain it. Guitarist Santiago Durango also was about to start law school so all things just fell in line to call it a day after this record - an ending which the band pre-announced. There's another school that states this record took Big Black about as far as they could within their framework, and some think it didn't better their previous LP Atomizer - it wasn't a progression, it was just a continuation of the themes and attitudes brought forward with terrific impact by Atomizer.

This LP still sounds as jarring and "ugly" as it did twenty years ago. Not many bands can you say that about today - what seemed earth-shaking then might be commonplace today. I figured it was an excellent way to lead off the blog - and the first song having bequeathed its title to the blog, why the hell not?

1 The Power Of Independent Trucking (1:27)
2 The Model (2:34)
3 Bad Penny (2:33)
4 L Dopa (1:40)
5 Precious Thing (2:20)
6 Colombian Necktie (2:14)
7 Kitty Empire (4:01)
8 Ergot (2:28)
9 Kasimir S. Pulaski Day (2:28)
10 Fish Fry (2:06)
11 Pavement Saw (2:12)
12 Tiny, King Of The Jews (2:31)
13 Bombastic Intro (0:34)
14 He's A Whore (2:38

The future belongs to the analog loyalists. Fuck digital.