The Dils – Live! (1987, rec 1977 + 80, XXX)

I have a feeling recording time at studios in/around L.A. in the late seventies must have been a king’s ransom.  How else you can you explain why punk legends The Dils only recorded about ten two-minute (if that) songs in a their three/four year life span.  Perhaps that might explain why Dils live records were fairly ubiquitous at one point.  The trio was helmed by brothers Tony and Chip Kinman, operating guitar and bass respectively, with both sharing the mic – and rumored to have communist ideologies among other eccentricities.  Rounded out by a cast of rotating drummers, the band released three singles between 1977-80, bequeathing such cult punk, h/c standards as “Class War,” “Mr. Big” and “I Hate the Rich.”  Think the first Redd Kross ep to give you a general idea where they were coming from.  The Dils sparse body of work was surprisingly incisive given the brevity of their songs, not to mention a performance aptitude that was often just a notch or two above rudimentary.  As for the album I’m featuring, all I know is someone had a tape deck running at two separate Dils concerts.  The gig from 1980 is the lengthier and the more rewarding of the two, featuring a bevy of Dils “classics,” including some of the aforementioned and some surprises like a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Modern Don Juan.”  The 1977 set that rounds this thing out (tracks 11-14) is potentially incomplete and largely devoid of sophistication (e.g. “Baby You’re My Whore”).  As an aside, my incarnation of The Dils Live! is a cassette, though LP was also an option.

01. Tell Her You Love Her
02. Tell Me What I Want to Hear
03. It’s Not Worth It
04. You’re Not Blank
05. Red Rockers Rule
06. Mr. Big
07. Sound of the Rain
08. Gimme a Break
09. Modern Don Juan
10. Class War
11. You Can’t Shake It
12. Baby You’re My Whore
13. The Expert
14. It’s Not Worth It

(1-10 from 1980, 11-14 from 1977)

Articles Origin: The Dils – Live! (1987, rec 1977 + 80, XXX)

The Creation – Action Painting (2017, Numero) – A critique.

For some, what if the British Invasion wasn’t an invasion, so much as a breach or even a de minimus sideswipe?   We can’t attribute such a notion to omnipresent heavyweights like The Beatles, Stones, Kinks and The Who, but what about acts that registered on a lower tier in their native UK…and perhaps not at all on the Yankee side of the pond?  Chestnut, Hertfordshire, England was ground zero for The Creation, a band whose stature was minimal in proportion to their aforementioned contemporaries, but their cumulative value and influence seemingly grew exponentially in the decades following their 1968 dissolution. 

In their initial 1966-68 lifespan, The Creation failed to release a proper full length on their own home turf, but dispensed a volley of singles according them with not one, not two, but four career defining signature songs – “Painter Man,” “Biff, Bang, Pow,” “Making Time” and “How Does it Feel to Feel.”  Sonically, they were a loose amalgam of The Who, Small Faces, and to a lesser extent, the Monkees.  They weren’t as unkempt as the Troggs, or as dizzying as Floyd, and they certainly didn’t pack the harmonies of the fab four…yet there was something incendiary to The Creation, albeit even if they didn’t set either side of the Atlantic alight.   Numero Records has recently and thoughtfully endowed us with, Action Painting, comprising the entirety of their original sixties recordings, spread across two fully loaded CDs, packaged in a sturdy hard-shell case.

The first half of Action predominantly concerns the Creation’s commercially available studio recordings, that have been sliced and diced over the ensuing decades in myriad compilations and reissues.  The first of those collections, We Are the Paintermen came to light in ’67 while the quartet was still active, but I should mention it was only available in Germany.  Furthermore, the Creation only earned one Top-40 in the UK, “Painter Man,” which barely scraped the charts in October 1966, eking in at a modest 36 at best.  From my per-view, as someone who hadn’t been conceived until the seventies, these fellows didn’t sound or even look particularly different than what was coming off the Brit-prop production line.  But the fact that (relatively) current artists like Ride and Teenage Fanclub have taken Creation classics to task speaks volumes of the enduring effectiveness of the band’s original material.

Whether they charted or not, the Creation really did have songs.  Some would argue they benefited from having two different front-men (though not simultaneously).  Original singer Kenny Pickett was ousted from the band in 1967 by former bassist Bob Garner.  Pickett didn’t part without writing some of The Creation’s most well known pieces, namely “Try and Stop Me,” “Biff, Bang, Pow,” and the less spoken of but melodically winsome “Nightmares.”  The mod-stomping kick of “Making Time” might as well be worth the price of admission alone.  Garner’s ascension to vocalist and prime mover also came with increased song-penning duties, and he brought the fan-favorite, “How Does it Feel to Feel” to the table.  “…Feel” was a mildly woozy, slow motion romp, predating the kind of modus opernadi that Marc Bolan would perfect in a few years via T. Rex. Again, it’s one of The Creation’s signature pieces, but five different versions populating almost a full tenth of Action Painting spells overkill to me.  Pickett would rejoin his former cohorts in 1968, but by then it was largely over. 

The second disk commences with four songs from the precursor to The Creation, The Mark Four, a competent, if not terribly innovative beat band, who like the Beatles cut their teeth gigging in West Germany.  The meat and potatoes of the second half of Action Painting emphasizes a raft of fresh stereo mixes of virtually every key Creation composition and then some, and also delves into some ace rarities, not the least of which is a stirring reading of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

As mentioned a little north of this paragraph, following their 1968 dismantlement affection for the Creation blossomed not only in Britain, but the US and points beyond.  By popular demand, the band sporadically reunited in the eighties all the way into the ’00s.  Both Pickett and Garner have since passed away.  Action Painting is a more than thorough document of The Creations halcyon era, and makes a compelling argument that the sixties didn’t belong solely to the Beatles, Stoines and Who.  Sample and purchase direct from Numero, Amazon and iTunes.  

Articles Origin: The Creation – Action Painting (2017, Numero) – A critique.

Think As Incas – Palestine One Mile ep (1988, dOINK)

I’m not sure how prominent Think as Incas were in their hometown of Memphis, but the quartet saw frontman David Shouse migrate to the ranks of future Sub Pop-all stars The Grifters.  There are virtually no other commonalities between the two groups, which is all good and well with me since I wasn’t terribly compelled by the Grifters.  The Incas were of college-rock stock themselves I suppose, opting to pursue a more traditional tact a la The Connells, adopting a dab of the Georgia Satellites tartness   without conveying themselves as blatantly derivative of either.  Couple o’ saucy rockers here, appearing in the guise of the title cut and “Wishing Again,” while the acoustic finale, “I’m the Boy” could pass for a sobering Uncle Tupelo ballad in a heartbeat.

01. Wishing Again
02. The Great Kiss Off
03. A Man Needs a Gun
04. Palestine One Mile
05. Tommy’s Tiny Brain
06. I’m the Boy

Articles Origin: Think As Incas – Palestine One Mile ep (1988, dOINK)

Boys Life ep (1982, Seco)

Punk/wave/indie bands that prominently feature saxophones tend not to exude the sweetest of vibes, but Boston’s Boys Life were at least something of an exception.  You can probably chalk that up to Neal Sugarmen, whose reeds don’t overpower so much as augment.  The trio was definitely on the left-of-the-dial level, frequently bearing a pop acumen.  Sonically, Boys Life impress me as being a bit advanced for their time, and in all honesty, I would have pegged this record as a product of 1987-88 rather than five years prior.  And is it just me or does frontman John Surette remind you of Gray Matter/3/Senator Flux singer Geoff Turner?  Pure coincidence of course.

01. It Came From Here
02. Water
03. From A to Z
04. Happy People
05. True Believers
06. Person I Want to Be

Articles Origin: Boys Life ep (1982, Seco)

The Muffs – Happy Birthday to Me (1997/2007, WB/Omnivore)

On the surface, there may not be much to differentiate one Muffs album from another, but the subtleties are there.  After a spate of singles released on tastemaking indie labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry, Kim Shattuck & Co. took their bratty gumption to the next level in 1993, signing to Warner Bros., unleashing a near monumental debut LP, The Muffs.  That record’s punky ethos and yearnful, heart-on-sleeve reveries should have extended the then quartet’s cult appeal to a national audience, but that would have to wait.  The next Muffs salvo, Blonder and Blonder saw the light of day in 1995, boasting a slight curtailment of their debut’s more primal elements, playing up Kim’s vague girl-group flirtations without meddling with the Muff’s proven recipe.  And for a third act? 

Happy Birthday to Me marked the Muffs last realistic stab at grasping the fabled “brass ring,” and it came with a six-figure budget to aid and abet the trio of Shattuck, Ronnie Barnett and Roy McDonald (yes, of Red Kross renown) to crank their turbo pop machine over the top.  Yet the band’s third album (and first self-produced) wasn’t an out-an-out departure from previous attempts, nor did it extend any palpable commercial overtures.  The Muffs had the accessibility thing down from the get go, but now more than ever they had the songsThe Muffs may have showcased the band at their most iconic and identifiable, however Birthday demonstrated the band’s growth, shedding some of the angsty, rough and tumble roar while keeping things plenty sassy.  And yes, there are a lot of love songs on this one (what, you thought there weren’t gonna be any?) yet Kim’s pen is dipped in irony and even resignation, not so much spite and devastation.  “Is it All Okay,” “Where Only I Could Go,” and yes, even the pointedly titled “I’m a Dick” all deserve a slot on any Muffs mix tape. 

In the grand scheme of things, Happy Birthday didn’t exactly shift the needle for the band’s fortunes.  I’m not even sure if it outsold the previous records.  The Muffs stint with the WB was over after the album cycle, but more records and tours would follow.  That’s consolation in itself I suppose, but the real icing on the dessert?  Twenty years after the fact, the partially feasted on chocolate cake in the inside back page of the booklet looks as scrumptious today as it did then.  Omnivore’s 2017 reissue features six album demos to sweeten the deal.  Buy it direct, or move that cursor on over to iTunes or Amazon.

Articles Origin: The Muffs – Happy Birthday to Me (1997/2007, WB/Omnivore)