Thursday, April 30, 2020

Every Thought I Have Ever Had About the Melvins' "Lysol" Album

Writing late at night feels like the first time in forever, but with the Discogs livestream DJ set tomorrow, I need to be fully focused on that task at hand so knocking this one out with a doozy.

For nearly twenty-five years, the Melvins have consistently been one of the bands I have most enjoyed. Amongst a catalog that is just too vast to completely comprehend (let alone listen to or own) Lysol is without a doubt the record of theirs I have listened to more than any of their records.

The music, for starters, is sublimely perfect. Every note, every extended bout of feedback, every snare hit...there is nothing in the entire running time that is superfluous. Each action is essential in serving the larger statement.

Weirdly, when I first bought this record (roundabout July 1996 based on the Car City Records pricing sticker) I always listened to the sides in reverse order. So forever in my mind, the album starts with “Sacrifice.”

Seldom does a cover song surpass its original version. Never does it elevate to the level that the Melvins ascend to with their complete recontextualization of Flipper’s work.  Now don’t get me wrong, Flipper’s version of “Sacrifice” is really, really solid. One of their finer moments. But the Melvins….shiiiiiiiiiiiiit. At various moments of my life this song has fully encapsulated my reason for existing. It is, to this day, my go-to record whenever I’m setting up any new or reconfigured stereo equipment. I just know every last quiver the needle is supposed to make as it glides over this slab of wax, encoded into the dust that vibrates into strings that helix into the building blocks of my form. I may overuse this term (and for that I apologize) but I will absolutely fight to the death when I wholeheartedly exclaim that the Melvins’ version of “Sacrifice” is PERFECT.

The rounded bass tone, the dissonant squeal of the guitar feedback curdling into the song at the 36-second mark, the snare (triggered to a single snare hit sampled from Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker”) coupled with cannon-strength bass drum, room for those two stutter syncopated with all kinds of personal inflection and style, the whole thing really just being six notes repeated over and over and over for over six minutes, literally getting better and better the louder you play it, the lyrics blatantly anti-war and military industrial complex...I could live inside this song for days.

Follow that with a brief segue into “Second Coming” straight into cover of “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” (both originally by Alice Cooper) and the dusty, Western vibes feel almost anathema as to what I would’ve expected from the Melvins at 14 years old.  But man, it somehow flips the script and just works, bordering on Dust Bowl murder ballad vibes. I am only learning right now, at 1:36am, that Dwight Frye was an actor born at the turn of the century best known for playing maniacal characters in Universal horror films like Dracula and Frankenstein. Still, twenty years later, I am having trouble removing everything here from the Melvins, in my mind it all comes exclusively as their creation. 

Good moment for an aside...most copies of this record come with NO information other than the band name and band member first names. When I first sat with a copy freshman year of high school, I had NO way of determining anything about this music, what side to play first, who wrote the songs, just nothing. It was mysterious and alluring and gave me just enough entree to not be that concerned about the lack of context. Not until buying a CD copy of Lysol in 2008 did I realize that the album DIDN’T begin with “Sacrifice”, let alone that there was a song on it called “Roman Dog Bird.” Furthermore, the songs are mastered in a way that they all run right into each other, no telling where one ends or begins, so much so that on the CD it is just one 31-minute-long “megacomposition.” That shit is confusing! But oh so worth it.

The album ends on “With Teeth”, a song centered around a chord progression that I have trouble describing in any way other than optimistic, triumphant or positive. As a vibe that is NOT common from the band by any means, it showcases here well, with little effort it could be some weird half-tone or down-tuned demonic, but if anything, this album is full of odd pseudo contradictions.

Occasional Melvins drummer Coady Willis once said to me “I just can’t believe I get to play ‘With Teeth’ every night. That song is so important to me, meant so much to me when I was younger” and just little things like that, the insight into someone else’s perspective, gave me a wholly new perspective on a song like this. 

Circle round to the start of the album, “Hung Bunny” is an anti-song for nearly seven minutes, all wrung out power chords left to dissipate into the ether, drum accents barely punctuating anything, buried vocals that sound like disassembled chanting, avoiding annunciating any words, rather just honed in on differentiating vowel sounds. And THEN, around the 7:50 mark it kicks into an insistent, drum-propelled middle portion limbo, before settling on quintessential instrumental doom-inspiring Melvins 101. 

Quickly, without warning, it crash lands into “Roman Dog Bird” And not until now, 2am, twenty four years of listening to the album, do I know that the first damn lyric on the album is “Lysol to get me high”

I didn’t think I could love this album any more. But somehow, with revelations like this, I do.

Another good moment for an aside: the title Lysol caused this album to get tied up in all kinds of legal trouble. The term “Lysol” itself is trademarked, and the then-owners (Sterling Drug) actually sent an undercover operative to the Boner Records (greatest label name ever) warehouse, posing as a journalist. Right before the release, records ready to roll out the door,  Sterling drops the hammer, thousands of copies of the LP and CD need to have the offending words covered with black tape, crossed out with black marker, just completely asinine shit. Ben Swank recalls unwisely removing the tape from his copy as a youth. One of my prized Melvins-related possessions is an original copy without any signs of tape or marker, the title there in all it’s infringing glory. When Boner re-issued the album in 2015, they changed the title to Lice-All which is the perfect kind of clever. 

Additionally, I’m just finding out now, at 2:15am, that Lysol was marketed as a feminine hygiene product in the late 1920s and was even utilized to induce abortions for women who could not obtain them legally….giving me a whole new perspective on this album title, which previously I had just thought was a clever, snide response to Nirvana naming their debut album Bleach.

Whether you consider it the end of side 1 or side 2, all is transcendentally immortal. The cover is based on the sculpture Appeal to the Great Spirit, itself already depicted as the logo for the Beach Boys vanity label Brother Records and a Keef Hartley Band album cover...the image signals importance, something greater than us, a resignation of oneself to the higher power, all ideas I sincerely feel are embodied in this recording, while the center labels and printed inner sleeve match in a dizzying red/black/white flower pattern, hypnotic upon closer inspection and the feedback buzzing.

I can honestly say here, without any hyperbole or stretching of the truth, this album is one of the greatest rock and roll records ever made. Top five material. There is no overselling this one. Lysol is absolutely essential to any self-respecting record collection. No excuses. Everything about it is just exemplary. 

I just keep thinking back on what it must’ve felt like to have to tape and mark all those original copies of the tedious, how demoralizing, what a set-up to give-up. But if anything, this record is only that much better because of the lore behind it. Getting busted does not stop greatness. Even if it’s 2:55am.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

In-Depth on The Spike Drivers "Often I Wonder"

The Spike Drivers

"Often I Wonder" b/w "High Time"

So working remotely this past week has been...challenging. No matter how much you tell a three year old that dada is "working from home" the fact that they just wet their pants and are staring at their father like HE created the problem, well, you just suck it up and you clean up the piss.
I usually write these ramblings from the friendly confines of my office. But having only stopped in there twice, briefly, over the past week, means I'm a little out of my element for contemplation, selection and concentration. At least three times since I've started this essay I've had to threaten "going to the office" in order to get the six-year-old to stop braiding my hair, the three-year-old from climbing on top of my shoulders, or the 18-month-old (as of today) from staring me down like a Wild West duel.
Additionally, the bulk of my new arrival vinyl sits in my office. It's where I have my packages sent, where I can listen in peace, where I have a door I can close to prevent people from entering without permission.
But at home, shit, anything goes. My records here are a little more haphazard, a lot more older, and shockingly more difficult to trawl through. I must've spent 25 minutes just trying to find something I thought was worthy to write about. Granted during that time I discovered a copy of a gospel record I had recently put on my Discogs wantlist, asking price for only available copy $300 plus, so I actually saved money in the process.
While digging through 45's, Violet the 6 and 11/12ths-year-old calmly sat nearby on an overturned crate and asked me, "Dada, why do you like records so much?"
I paused. I thought. I blanched at the fact that I had no immediate answer at hand. It's almost embarrassing to say it even. But oftentimes it's the simplest questions, asked from the most unexpected perspectives, that give you the most reason for deep, introspective thought.
So now, with the tiniest bit of hindsight, I'm saying to Violet...
When we want to be sad, records can help us be sad. When we want to be happy, records can make us happy. Records tell us stories. Records help us understand who we are and where we've come from, while giving us hope for who we can become and where we are headed.
When I ask Violet why she likes records, she says "I like records because it's the best."
Amidst the clutter I was initially scared that I could not find this 45 in my stack of all the other Spikes releases, including exotic South American, Japanese and Australian releases, though I quickly remembered I'd spun it at my last DJ gig and happily found it safely amongst my "going out" case.
I am hard-pressed to invoke a more perfect song than "Often I Wonder." The minor key, Eastern-influenced string pairings present the bass guitar formulating one-of-a-kind figures while the lead guitar threads breezily in-and-out, all of it light years beyond anything else that was happening in Detroit in 1966, shit, probably better than just about anything else in the WORLD at that time. Push comes to shove, I would put this on par with the first Velvets album...but otherwise...unparalleled.
And when the 90 second long fuzz guitar solo drops in...just pure delight, chordal overtones ringing out in ways that I could never fully explain or understand, other than that they FEEL special, like they were woven with the microscopic filament of a thousand electric eagle feathers.
Spending the past twenty minutes trying to transcribe the lyrics here has me taking stock, so moved by the beauty, precision, choice and deployment of these words. Hitting me harder and harder with each replay.
In full, from my ears (and if someone can definitively decipher my question mark, I am offering up a prime Jack White or White Stripes or whatever test pressing I can make happen for the effort and for reading closely) the lyrics are...
Often I wonder
And try to remember
The splendor that I once had known
Days free from scheming
Were days full of dreaming
When seemingly all could I own
I flew to the moon on a thousand delights
Was washed in the sun's warm and mellowing (maddening? meadowing?) sights
That caressed me and blessed me through ten thousand nights
Filled with longing and raging for love
But circling round me
A feeling has found me
That can comprehend where I'm in
Stripped of illusion
I flee the delusion
That man is a creature of sin
Wow. Stunned. Don't think until right NOW have I fully absorbed these lyrics. Now they feel sewn into my soul.
Furthermore, the flip side "High Time" is, while more stereotypically 1960s pop-psychedelia, as precise a double-entendre as you could wish for from '66, with a solo and biting tone just as fierce as "Often" and as a sublime pairing as you could hope for.
(necessary asides...there are no a-side or b-side distinctions on this single, the record is self-released by the band, the label name Om is as much a sign as I need to know that they weren't dabblers in the esoteric, "Often" clocks in at a phenomenal 5 minutes 45 seconds at 45rpm and whomever the genius is that cut this single deserves a medal)
I speak in pure honesty when I say that this single should cost $500 and it would be worth every penny. I seem to recall back ten years ago or so that Ted Lucas' family was selling copies on eBay for $50 a pop. I think that is where this copy came from. I feel blessed.
In some ways I feel like as a counterculture we're STILL just trying to catch up to what both Lucas and the Spike Drivers accomplished over fifty years ago. Divining inspiration from unexpected places while imparting our own coloring on it all, pushing the envelope and trying to advance our worlds and open ourselves up to varied experiences.
While trying to press on and make all this happen, an unexpected Uber Eats delivery of White Castle burgers arrived on our doorstep, I told them no one here ordered them, they left then returned minutes later saying they were from my mom. I instantly sent her a text saying "You son of a bitch."
Not long thereafter, deep in my writing, girls running around helter skelter, Navy stinking up the place with a diaper that needs changing (yeah, we gave her the White Castle), a balloon delivery shows up on our doorstep, individual balloons for each of the three girls, with a note that said "Navy, Happy 1 1/2 birthday. Love, Gigi."
I texted mom immediately "You son of a bitch again."
I can't imagine however many more weeks we have to live like this. Take care out there.

Friday, February 28, 2020

First Ever (?) Press From The Grande Ballroom, The Detroit News December 13th, 1966

So I was only told this was the "first" press or write-up about the Grande anecdotally, but even if it's not, the early, outsider's view of the scene is something worth your five minutes to read if you have even the slightest appreciation for Detroit rock and roll. Enjoy.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Rubye Shelton and Her Enduring Influence on Kanye West

Rubye Shelton

God’s Going to Destroy This Nation +3

scum stats: 500 -1000 pressed I'd guess, good luck finding a copy

The record that got me on the front page of Pitchfork.

I assume by now that most of you have heard the story of the catalog number of this record being referenced in the artwork for Kanye’s new Jesus Is King album. If not, here’s the jist: 

In short…I’ve been stockpiling my own database of Archer Record Pressing numbers for the past 11 years. And once I saw Kanye’s art, a week after the album was released, it SCREAMED at me as clear as day “That’s an Archer number.”

But not until NOW did I actually have a copy of the record. I paid a respectable $96 for this wrecked copy on eBay and with my SugarCube system this disc plays like a dream.

(the SugarCube basically removes scratches, pops, ticks, surface noise in real time. CRAZY technology and apparently the one I have is already been surpassed by an updated one. we can talk about this all at a later time.)

Holy shit is this record the real deal. Nothing but voice and tambourine and enough chills to cool the most fiery pits of hell. Released circa 1969/1970, you would not crazy to think it’d been recorded FIFTY years earlier. Raw, emotional…this is EVERYTHING that music is meant to be.

I have no insight as to why Kanye would reference this on his album cover…but anyone with the tiniest bit of discerning taste can hear that this record is worth it’s weight in gold…as evidenced by folks who paid upwards of $800 for this BEFORE it was ever Kanye-touched.

I just wonder if Ye sits around and sings about Rubye "I made that bitch famous."
I’d argue she’s done the hard work here…these songs get MY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION and it’s been reissued but even that version seems impossible to find. Yeesh.

Part of me wants to frame this sucker, as it holds for me a moment where the absolute nerdiest thing I do in my life showed some sort of value outside of my own brain, but honestly, these songs are too damn good. I need to keep on playing it.