Beer and Pavement

The Cult of Tree House

Posted in Beer, Massachusetts by SM on July 20, 2017
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Lining up for that Kool-Aid.

Tree House Brewing Company is maybe the hottest brewery in craft beer right now. And they specialize in what is the hottest trend: the ultra-murky, extra-juicy New England IPA[1]. They recently made news by opening a new facility that welcomed some 4000 craft beer enthusiasts despite little-to-no advertisement.

And the beer is good. I’ve been lucky enough to either have folks deliver me some cans or twice have had the honor of standing in line for about 20-30 minutes for my allotment of ~8 cans of the hazy stuff. Kids all over are going cucko for these Cocoa Puffs.

The people of Tree House are pretty rad as well. They run a tight ship and are really easy-going despite the opportunity to go all Soup Nazi on their fans. They keep folks updated through their Twitter feed and can often be found answering questions on public Facebook groups obsessing over their canned goods.

The problem I have is not with Tree House, their people, nor their beer. The issue I have is with the Cult of Tree House. By this I mean that the endless number of Tree House worshipers and sycophants have made it hard to enjoy the hazy goodness from Monson Charlton.

Now, I’ve been around long enough to know that anything that’s hot has its annoyingly mindless followers. However, the Tree House devotees are another breed entirely. They reveal a side of craft beer I thought had died out over the years.

To find these followers, I joined a Facebook group of Tree House enthusiasts. This particular group does not allow trading which would be completely intolerable[2]. However, posts in this group revolve around how awesome Tree House is, how much better the Xth batch of a particular beer is than the latest version, complaints of some using mules[3] in order to increase their allotment, complaints about people who complain about mules, how every other beer on the market compares to Tree House, and endless pictures of fridges filled with Tree House brews[4], Tree House cans stacked like PBR’s in a frat house[5], or obligatory empty can next to favorite Tree House glassware with something akin to an Orange Julius[6].

How awesome is Tree House? Pretty awesome[7]. Did they reinvent beer and all other beer is really just derivative and equally inferior to Tree House? No, not even close. But don’t tell that to their fans.

This has all happened before. I remember when it was Pliny and dudes made the trek to Russian River while tricking their spouses with trips to wine country[8]. The annual rite of passage in attending Three Floyds’ Dark Lord Day was something on every beer nerd’s bucket ale pail list[9]. Or how about those of us checking off stops at one of Mikkeller’s seemingly endless bars around the globe[10]? And there’s many others.

The worst I’ve seen prior to moving to Western Mass was the annual mad dash for Bell’s Hopslam[11], an imperial IPA reeking of so much cattiness that some have sworn to have seen tiny hairballs floating among the carbon dioxide and yeast cells[12]. I wasn’t living in Michigan where I assume there’s enough Hopslam for every man, woman, and child to each have a case or two[13]. Instead, I was living in Missouri, a state still starving for a world-class IPA[14]. Every January or February, the rumors would start all over social media as to just when the Hopslam would arrive, who had it in bottles or on tap, and what the allotment would be. This was inevitably followed by complaints there wasn’t enough beer to go around, it wasn’t as good as last year’s[15], or people stockpiling the stuff.

Still, none of that compares to the bellyaching and simultaneous one-upmanship of the Tree House fans. According to these beer enthusiasts, Tree House makes the perfect beer which is the New England IPA[15]. All other beers are either “juicy” or not, but they all fail to achieve Tree House levels of juiciness[16]. Also, mules are great if it means I get more beer cans to collect but awful if I didn’t get my allotment of trade bait.

Zac Early (@sm_jenkins) - Instagram photos and videos.clipular (2)

Tree House makes truly fantastic beer, but there is beer beyond Monson Charlton[17]. In fact, just a few miles away in Ludlow, MA, there’s a tiny brewery by the name of Vanished Valley making NEIPA’s as juicy as anything Tree House, Trillium, or Other Half are brewing these days[18]. Oh, and there are other styles out there as well. The market is flooded with nearly as many high-quality Saisons as IPA’s. Oh, and one can’t forget the inexplicable abundance of imperial stouts in the middle of summer[19].

And what about when the hype dies? What about when the next great style of beer reaches our taste buds? What about when the next garage-based, nano-brewery brews said beer style in such tiny quantities that beer nerds line up for miles[20] just to sample a taste or be told “NO BEER FOR YOU”?

I’ll tell you. There will be a new group of acolytes full of hyperbole and tunnel vision who will state their preferences as fact and obsess over one beer or brewery to the extent their spouses will leave them and their children will swear off beer forever[21]. Then what? It will all happen again.

All that said, I will continue to drink Tree House beers, but I won’t drink their Kool-Aid[22].

Notes:
1 I don’t know about the “juicy” part, but friends used to bump up the mouthfeel of their beers with some oatmeal in the mash. One side effect was that lighter-colored beers had a haze not unlike today’s NEIPA. I like the color, but it’s getting old seeing all these pictures of new IPA’s that look like glasses of Tang.
2 I find sporadic trading to be fun, but those “professional” traders out there who buy cases of beer only to trade most of them for whales and whatnot to be kinda boring. Plus, who has the time and resources to constantly trade beer? When does one find time to drink these beers.
3 No. No one is shoving cans of beer up their ass in order to smuggle beer across a border. The term “mule” in this instance refers to the significant others, domestic workers, and others who are asked to “purchase” another allotment of beers so that one person can double or triple their inventory.
4 I never understood the beer porn of endless shelves and fridges filled with so much beer one human could never consume it all without their liver failing instantly. Great. You have three cases of beer from one brewery of basically one style that coincidentally does not age well no matter how tight that can is or how cold you keep your refrigerator.
5 Really? Really. Grown adults are collecting beer cans and either stacking them like they did blocks as a toddler or lining them along the top of their kitchen cabinets. I helped build one beer can pyramid in college and promptly dropped that skill from my repertoire.
6 Yes, this was done on purpose. Julius is one of TH’s most popular brews. I actually don’t like it as much as their others, but it’s good. The reference also refers to the orangey/milky appearance of the beers as well as their fruit juicy flavors and smooth, creamy mouthfeel.
7 Not gonna front. This is the most inspiring brewery I’ve encountered in years and they happen to be on the forefront of a subgenre that’s overtaking the market.
8 I’ve never done this, but I mention it every time a trip to wine country is suggested. Honestly, I would try whatever IPA’s RR has on tap, but I would linger over and enjoy their sour beers even more obsessively.
9 Another thing I haven’t done, but its moment is in the past. I’ve stood in line for beer at 3T’s and I love what they do. I still have the bottle from the lone Dark Lord I’ve had, but that was enough for me.
10 I’ve been to two of Mikkeller’s Copenhagen bars and they were totally worth it. I’ve vowed to visit all of their locations whenever I visit a city where they have a bar. That said, I long for the day I dine and imbibe at their BBQ joint effort with Three Floyds, AKA War Pigs.
11 I don’t remember why I footnoted this one.
12 This is an exaggeration because hyperbole and essentialism are the most important tools when talking about craft beer.
13 Yes, craft beer everywhere, but no one can figure out how to supply Flint with clean water.
14 To be fair, there is tons of great beer in Missouri. Some of the IPA’s are even good, but that’s not what Missouri does best. Breweries in Missouri do everything well, not just one style. Nothing really stands out aside from Saisons and sours here and there, but that’s okay as a lot of good beer is happening there.
15 The New England IPA is a cloudy, orange-colored, fruity, somewhat not bitter version of the IPA that is all the rage. Check any brewery’s social media feed and they’re probably posting milky-orange beers with virtually no head and using terms like “juicy” or “hazy” to describe these concoctions. Also expect limited runs and long lines as no one seems to have figured out how to make this style in large quantities that have a shelf life beyond a few days. Still, when fresh, the NEIPA is an exceptional offshoot of the IPA.
16 The term “juicy” needs to die. I’m so over it and feel it’s overused. I recently noticed members of the aforementioned Tree House FB group describing every beer on a scale of juiciness when these beers do not feature the fruit juice qualities of the typical NEIPA.
17 Tree House has moved its main operation to Charlton from Monson. Google it.
18 Trillium is a Boston-area brewery doing what Tree House will be doing in a few years and Other Half is a Brooklyn brewery doing what Tree House was doing just a couple of years ago. Both are pretty amazing. I feel lucky to have somewhat regular access to all three if I want it.
19 Why is this? There are never imperial stouts on the shelves when I want them in the dead of winter. No. Most have been hitting the shelves this summer. Time to stock up, I guess.
20 And they will. Despite so many great beers on tap or occupying store shelves, craft beer enthusiasts only want what they can’t have.
21 Yes, I realize the hypocrisy of obsessing over a band (Pavement) in which I compare them to pretty much every other band and sometimes beers while calling out Tree House fanbois for the same thing. I’m just taking the piss.
22 Even then, I bet a Tree House Kool-Aid would be a hazy-ass hop bomb to end all hop bombs. In fact, I bet it would even be…dare I say juicy?

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Where You Been

Posted in Meta, Uncategorized by SM on July 20, 2017

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I noticed that it’s almost been a year since you last heard from me. Of course, there aren’t that many of you, so who cares?

You should know that I’m doing well in Western Mass. I’m back to homebrewing and trying a new beer almost daily. (Yay for summer!) I don’t go to too many shows these days, but I seem to have increased my record collection exponentially.

Teaching is still how I pay the bills, but I’m doing that five minutes from home instead 30 thanks to a move to Amherst-Pelham Regional School District[1]. Plus, the days are shorter. My hope is that I’ll find more time for this sort of thing (blogging). Who knows? We’ll see.

I may also have something up elsewhere that sort of got me writing again. It’s nothing much[2], but I’ll share it here once it’s up.

There will be no promises made as to how much or how often I will post, but I have at least 2-3 ideas for topics I’m itching to write. So, stay tuned…

Notes:
1This is the same school district that produced J Mascis, Uma Thurman (although, I suspect she was home-schooled or sent to some Buddhist private school), and the guy who played Marni’s drug-addicted husband in Girls.
2Like 650 words of nothing on what I’m listening to. Of course, it’s a start.

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The Matador 100 Project: El Chain Gang (Olé 015, note about Olé 019)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on July 26, 2016

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El Chain Gang is something else. I didn’t see this one coming in the discography. A punk band formed in the 70’s putting out a 7″ EP on Matador in 1991. Of course, El Chain Gang had a long history in the NYC underground and just happened to be unlucky enough to get noticed in that time. There were some brushes with fame in the form of a minor hit on the British charts (“Son of Sam”) and the soundtrack for Mondo Manhattan.

“Kill for Your” is a double 7″ set with a fold-out flyer tucked inside the plastic jacket. The artwork is as gritty and old-school punk as the music contained on the four discs. Despite this being a rather raucous punk band, one can tell right away how “polished” they are in comparison to many of the other bands released to this point on Matador. Additionally, their slow-to-mid-tempo stomps help explain why they didn’t catch on in the New Wave and Hardcore scenes of the 80’s. This release is a bit of a tribute to the mileage they put on the NYC punk scene during that time.

A note about Olé 019: El Chain Gang also released a CD-onlyt EP on Matador 2 years later. However, since I am focusing this series on the first 100 vinyl releases by Matador, it won’t be included. Which fine by me as this isn’t really my thing, but I appreciate where this band sits in NYC punk rock history and am happy to own an artifact from that history.

A note on the Matador 100: My hope is to churn out a bunch of these short takes on early Matador releases. I have a pile of them to consume which gives me time to acquire releases by Shams, Bullet Lavolta, Toiling Midgets, and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 among other bands I haven’t really explored. We’re really just getting started here.

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The Matador 100 Project: Dustdevils’ Struggling, Electric, & Chemical (Olé 014)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Pavement, Records, Review by SM on June 30, 2016

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Jointly released by Teen Beat in 1991, Dustdevils’ second Matador release was the Wharton Tiers produced Struggling, Electric, & Chemical. The Sonic Youth comparisons remain, but there’s a separation into something that sounds much more like future releases from Pavement. Of course, it doesn’t hurt Mark Ibold is the string between all these bands, but even he would admit he had little to do with any aesthetic any of the three groups produced.

The opening track was best described by Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot, who for all I know just listened to said track:

The Devils’ 10-minute cover of the Fall’s “Hip Priest” is a mind-blowing masterpiece of corrosion and decay: A female voice clings desperately to a thread of melody; huge, ghostly edifices of sound emerge from the sparest guitar chords; drums and bass collide, fall back and collide again as if auditioning for a Cecil Taylor session. More noise and disruption follow, even a wretched blues, all reportedly recorded in a single bleary day.

It is a case of the cover being just as good or better than the original and the original was pretty damned good.

The second track screams of a Sonic Youth onslaught. Again, where other bands’ influence is apparent, Dustdevils certainly hold their own. With this record, Dustdevils firmly plant themselves in the annals of noise rock. From there, Dustdevils rarely let up. And when they do, it’s for fits of noise and distortion. This record sounds like it was from the 90’s but somehow remains fresh 25 years later.

A quick note about Ole-013: Toys Went Berserk’s last LP was set to be released by Matador but it never came to fruition.  The Australian outfit put out the album on Aussie imprint Aberrant Records despite recording here in the States with Pixies’ producer Gary Smith. It seems unclear as to why Toys Went Berserk never released on Matador. I suppose it was in talks and Matador moved on with other releases and it just never happened.

On a side note, I am still doing this project. I gathered a few records to review but just haven’t had the time. I need to figure out where I am with the discography and get back to collecting so that I can continue putting out these posts. It’s not that I’m adding anything to the discography. I just wanted something to do and to find some way to honor my favorite record label.

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The Matador 100 Project: Teenage Fanclub’s A Catholic Education (Olé 012)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on May 19, 2016

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I just missed the Teenage Fanclub bandwagon. That’s to say that I got into independent music right after the band’s major breakthrough release – 1991’s Bandwagonesque – rolled onto the scene. Of course, I was into label mates (Geffen) Nirvana, so it would be a couple of years before I would dive into indie labels like Matador and their infinite discographies. This was actually Teenage Fanclub’s third release and, as stated above, I missed the whole thing.

Luckily, I did get into indie rock and indie labels. And even luckier, I found time and enough income to go back through these discographies and catch up. This little blogging project helped me find Teenage Fanclub’s first (possibly) US release and now I’ve been fully introduced to 1990’s A Catholic Education.

Now, I have seen Teenage Fanclub in-person, once. They played with Bettie Serveert (also of Matador) at the Crocodile Club in Seattle in the summer of 1997. It was a great show and what I remembered about Teenage Fanclub was that they were a great bar band. This was sort of a thing in the early and mid-90’s among indie/alternative acts. Bands like The Lemonheads or Buffalo Tom had these catchy rockers that filled LP’s and setlists. They rarely disappointed as this is the kind of music one likes to hear at a bar or rock club. Sometimes they didn’t inspire if you didn’t pay attention. I honestly wasn’t paying attention as I missed them in my Nirvana days and was kinda over bar bands not named “Guided by Voices” in 1997.

A Catholic Education is a perfect example as to why I should have paid attention. This sludgy collection of rockers is a nice blend of that rocker aesthetic, a touch of pre-Nirvana grunge, as well as some nice melodies that have stuck in my head ever since this record arrived in the mail.

“Everything Flows” is a great opener, one that has wormed it’s way into my brain as I play those riffs over and over in my head. The vocals have that pleasant Evan Dando tone over a steady, mid-tempo rocker. This is followed by the familiar “Everybody’s Fool” – another mid-tempo pleaser. When “Everything Flows” isn’t running through my head, the refrains “I don’t fucking care…” and “I’m laughing at you all the time” from “Everything…” are filing the void. This was a pretty great start to the band’s LP output.

The title track doesn’t disappoint. The band must have also thought so as they included it twice, once on each side. I honestly haven’t listened to the two tracks side-by-side to tell you what the difference is. I feel like the second version is faster, more rocking, and lacking keyboards. Either way, one gets the sense Teenage Fanclub was getting feisty and political with their title tracks.

The rest of the album pleases as much as the first three tracks suggest they should. Things slow a bit a mope about with “Eternal Light.” There are two instrumentals called “Heavy Metal,” the second being the darker, more interesting version in my opinion. “Critical Mass” almost jangles while the rest of the tracks round out what is an excellent debut album.

The production is a bit mucky, but the sequence of tracks is super enjoyable. I would pay way too much to see the band play this record in its entirety and in the sequence on the vinyl release, not the CD.

I don’t know if Teenage Fanclub were hugely influential, but one can’t miss that this record released in 1990 certainly was doing all the things bands attempted over the next 5-10 years. I’m glad I dug this record up just for the cause of collecting Matador’s first 100 releases. It paints a better picture of the scene for me and helps prove that Matador knew what they were doing when they put our records by the likes of Teenage Fanclub.

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The Matador 100 Project: Mecca Normal’s Water Cuts My Hands (Olé 011)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on May 4, 2016

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From 1990 (or maybe 1991), Mecca Normal’s third effort gets the full Calvin Johnson treatment as it was released jointly by Johnson’s K Records and Matador. Lo-fi and full of riot grrrl growl, Water Cuts My Hands (and Mecca Normal’s output in general) is a seminal release for 90’s indie rock. Aggressive, atonal, and rhythmic guitar onslaughts from David Lester balances with the Patti Smith-channeling poetic snarl of Jean Smith. In fact, I would argue Jean Smith’s performance bridges the gap between Smith and the riot grrrl movement of the 90’s, but what do I know?

A highlight is “20 Years No Escape” with it’s tape hiss, repeated guitar licks, and commanding delivery from Smith which meshes aesthetics from the previously mentioned lo-fi and riot grrrl subgenres with that special K Records twist. The song is simple, sparse, but it packs an intense punch. Lester’s guitar is hypnotic and perfectly clashes with Smith’s stream-of-consciousness yelps.

Gerard Cosloy describes Mecca Normal best…

A quick note about Ole-010: As I embarked on this project, it became clear that a number of the first 100 Matador LP’s listed on their discography were never released by the label. Some were released on other labels while a few never really saw the light of day. Either way, I decided not to include these records as they were never released by Matador. This means the list will go beyond Ole-100 and some will skip, like this current post. Also, I will throw in tiny blurbs so as to acknowledge their part in Matador lore.

Ole-010 was supposed to be Bailter Space’s Thermos, released on Flying Nuns Records in 1990. Eventually, Matador did reissue the New Zealand band’s second album on CD, but I’m limiting this list to vinyl presently.

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The Matador 100 Project: Unsane (Olé 009)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on April 10, 2016

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Let’s just get the most obvious part of this post out of the way: That fucking cover is…insane!

In a time before nearly every kind of image was readily available on the internet, somehow the band Unsane scored a photo of a man in a members only jacket with a decapitated head strewn across a subway track. Apparently, bassist Pete Shore had a friend on the police department who passed him the image. It’s quite striking and gritty. It puts to shame any staged or imagined death metal cover in my opinion. This is a record I’ll have to keep in the stacks when the kids are around.

To be honest, I didn’t fully appreciate Unsane at the time. Similar to how I felt about Superchunk, I perceived that a lot of bands doing the Unsane aesthetic and it all sounded the same to me. Plus, I had only heard single tracks out of context on MTV’s 120 Minutes or on compilations. Loud, acerbic, post-hardcore was not my thing. However, with some age and experience, I can hear why Unsane was their own beast. I don’t know that I’ll become an Unsane completest, but this record certainly has me intrigued.

From what I understand and attempt to oversimplify, post-hardcore is really just hardcore played with a greater degree of skill and artistic expression. Unsane demonstrates this perfectly. The bass lines are heavy and brooding and the guitar work is dexterous and almost classic rock-esque. The drumming is powerful and relentless. The vocals are loaded with feedback and static. I’ve heard this aesthetic a million times and have typically ignored it, but there’s some fantastic playing on this record.

It’s hard to see how this record fits the “Matador sound” (whatever that is/was) unless you look for it. I hear elements I’ve heard in Sonic Youth and the Melvins. The Wharton Tiers’ production is apparent and that seems to fit the scene. It’s aggressive music but not without a sense of intellect. Unsane is a unique piece in the Matador catalog and I’m glad this little project forced me to check it out. It provides another perspective on the music of this particular scene that doesn’t necessarily involve college radio smart asses.

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The Matador 100 Project: Teenage Fanclub & Fire in the Kitchen (Olé 007-008)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on April 4, 2016

Two seven-inch records to consider, or 45’s or singles as they used to be known. I suspect the 7″ era started with 80’s hardcore. Also, it was probably easier to get together a few hundred bucks to put out a 7″. It was maybe the most DIY thing to do outside of selling mixed tapes out of your trunk. These two releases have a particular DIY feel unlike the “polish” of the previous LP and EP releases. Matador put out some good seven-inch records over the years. These are the second and third of the format as we near the end of the first ten Matador records to hit shelves.

Teenage Fanclub – “Everybody’s Fool” (Olé 007-7)

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What I believe is Teenage Fanclub’s first release stateside (possibly second as they released a 7″ in the UK prior) is a perfect example of the TF sound: straight rock ‘n roll with touches of grunge and alt.country, off-kilter vocals. Side A features the title track that would one day close out Teenage Fanclub’s classic A Catholic Education. “Everybody’s Fool” is a beer-drinking rocker that surely closed out most of their live gigs and probably still should.

The B-side starts off with the drum machine cymbal lead-in of “Primary Education” which I’m sure was covered by someone at some point. I just can’t think of the band who did it. It’s simple and not nearly as mature a song as the first side, but it makes me think of Pavement more than Son Volt, unlike “Everybody’s Fool.”

More drum machine beats and a slide guitar are featured in “Speeder,” reminding me more of some Beck a la One Foot… or maybe even some Sebadoh/Folk Implosion instrumental. Again, the second side is sorta partially-realized – but no less enjoyable – tracks than a classic rocker.

Fire In The Kitchen – “The Fog” (Olé 008-7)

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I know virtually nothing about Fire in the Kitchen. The blog Willfully Obscure knows more than I and that’s still not a ton. I do know this is a post-punk outfit from NYC which I realize describes a lot of what has come out on Matador. They are similar to Teenage Fanclub in this sort of straightforward, early nineties’ alt/indie rock way. It’s an interesting addition to Matador’s catalog. I don’t know whether it would have been deemed interesting enough for Matador five years after this record was released, but it’s a decent document of the musical times.

“The Fog” is Fire in the Kitchen’s hit. Of course, I say this without really knowing much else about the band. As I found out with HP Zinker, these bands have small but dedicated followings and surely the minds of Lombardi and Cosloy have proven themselves knowing talent when they hear it. But I have digressed a bit. As I said before, “The Fog” is the post-punk rocker above other post-punk rockers to enjoy and play air guitar to.

B-side “Inspector Marais” is more the mid-tempo song to which your Morrissey lovers may choose to dance. To me, it sounds a bit out of place in 1992. At points it’s very 80’s Manchester while a little disco-influenced punk. Both songs, really.

The impressive thing at this point in the catalog is the variety of acts on the roster. Sure, they’re mostly guitar-based bands from in and around NYC, but they don’t all sound the same or are just some take on grunge or hardcore or whatever labels were trying to pull off in the early 90’s. There’s a sensibility even among the art noise of Dustdevils or blue-collar punk blues of Railroad Jerk to the post-punk of Teenage Fanclub and Fire in the Kitchen.

The Matador 100 Project: New York Eye & Ear Control (Olé 006)

Posted in Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on April 4, 2016

First thing’s first. I apologize for not monitoring these posts. It’s been so long since I’ve blogged or watched blog traffic that I didn’t expect the two-day stretch of ~1000 views. I feel really bad for missing a couple of comments (one possibly from a musician on one of the records discussed). Of course, I barely blog anymore and haven’t really had much traffic when I do. This is more of a fun thing to do and not really a serious blogging project. Still, I’ll try to stay tuned into your comments and such.

Now, moving on…

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According to most internet searches, New York Eye & Ear Control was an experimental, free jazz compilation of improvisations from 1965, not a collection of arty, punkrock noise. There’s not a lot of information out there on this comp. It feels like a few singles (Dustdevils, Railroad Jerk, Unsane in particular) paired with a bunch of noise…sweet, sweet, beautiful noise. Had I ever been the kind of DJ who needed to clear a dance floor while appealing to a few nerds in the audience, this record would certainly come in handy.

I’m not sure all of the material is each band’s best efforts. Most feels like throwaways meant to fill out a side of a future release or some jam session that happened to land on tape. The opening track by Dustdevils is as good a song as I’ve heard from them so far in a Sonic Youth sort of way. I like the Railroad Jerk track as well, but the rest deserves several more listens before passing judgement. However, it’s hard to do that when you live with a spouse and children who don’t share your love for experimental noise rock.

This is Matador’s first compilation, something 90’s indies were so good at. I’m not sure if it was due to economics or just a culture of collaboration, but 90’s comps were the best way to get to know a label’s roster and related acts. At this point, Matador didn’t have a huge roster and a lot of what’s on here don’t make many appearances in the rest of the catalog (Timber, Cop Shoot Cop, OWT, Borbetomagus, Royal Trux, Rudolph Grey, Fitch). Basically, it’s a few bonus tracks from the actual roster and a lot of noisy contributions from some outsiders. This may have been an easier sell than a tri-split 7″ from Dustdevils, Railroad Jerk, and Unsane.

Without trying the little exercise in record collecting, I would have never considered this record. There’s not much known on the track list and the artwork is borderline atrocious. That said, it’s a cool footnote in the Matador 100 that will get a few more listens in the coming weeks…probably through headphones in order to keep everyone else in the house happy.

The Matador 100 Project: Dustdevils, Superchunk, Railroad Jerk (Olé 003 through Olé 005)

Posted in Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on March 13, 2016

This project continues to move forward and why shouldn’t it? Two self-titled releases as well as a record of older, unreleased material round out Matador’s first five releases. Let’s get to it…

Dustdevils – Geek Drip (Olé-003)

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The first controversy happens with this Dustdevils’ release of older material (circa ’88). The catalog number on the record sleeve says “Olé-02″ not the Olé-03 noted on Matador’s official discography. To complicate matters, this record was actually released after the HP Zinker 7”. Who knows why the switch happened? I’ll go with the discography for the purposes of this little project in hopes the surviving members of HP and DD don’t get into some kind of indi rock feud over it.

Some research I did on Dustdevils (read “read it on Wikipedia) revealed that Pavement’s Mark Ibold played with the band. There is a mention of a “Mark” on the album’s sleeve (“Hello to Mark & Rick”), but a “Keith” seems to be credited with playing bass. I don’t know if this means this Keith played on these early recordings and Mark later joined or what. That said, “Keith” seems to be Keith Gregory of The Wedding Present who later covered Pavement’s “Box Elder.” But I digress.

From the opening tracks, Dustdevils are an early missing link between Matador and Sonic Youth. I remember reading there were always flirtations between the label and SY until their eventual signing and plenty of Matador bands have toured with SY, but this record could have easily been recorded by Sonic Youth. The female vocals are a little more traditional than Kim Gordon’s growl, but everything else sounds like it’s in the same ballpark. An excellent discovery. I will have to check out more polished releases from Dustdevils.

Superchunk – S/T (Olé-004)

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This is a bit of the holy grail for me in the first 5-10 releases. It’s a legendary band’s debut release and proved that they were pretty great in 1990. I somehow remember not liking early Superchunk, but that may have been No Pocky for Kitty (another album to revisit).

The band certainly sounds like everything from the 90’s from Guided By Voices to Yo La Tengo, but it’s “Slack Motherfucker” that will always stand out as their anthem. One could argue that while Pavement represented 90’s indie rock as a band, “Slack Motherfucker” was the song that set it all off or at least made the official mixed tape. Of course, it’s easy to tell this is a Superchunk record from the get-go. Driving bass lines, aggressive, feed-back-laden guitars and that familiar Mac McCaughan struggle. It’s quintessential Superchunk, a sound I’ve had to learn to love, oddly enough. I think my only aversion to their sound in the 90’s was the fact I finally listened to them after knowing a lot of bands that sounded like them. In the end, no one does Superchunk like Superchunk and Superchunk is the start.

I looked for references to Superchunk and Matador for some backstory, but there’s not much out there. In Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, there’s a little bit of an error in describing Matador as a label mainly releasing 7″ records (30% of the first 10 releases are singles, only 1 of the first 5). Of course, the label had only released two EP’s and a 7″ by the time Superchunk came out. It seems as if the band fulfilled their contract for three LP’s before leaving the label when Matador signed a distribution deal with Columbia. So, that’s just a lot of words to tell you nothing about this record.

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Maybe the biggest development is the addition of the iconic Matador capote or cape. The logo shows up in the now-familiar red as well as the white on black for the track listings on the record label. There is no logo, however, on the sleeve. One of the things that captivated me most about Matador was the simplicity of their logo and how it stood out. It suggested a brutish sophistication and pageantry other record labels didn’t convey. While I realize releases on labels such as Sub Pop and Merge were plenty smart, they still seemed aggressive and appealing to the less subtle subset of the music community. Matador’s label always suggested something smarter and artier to me. Of course, this is just my perception of a piece of graphic design and has no basis in reality when one considers the music on Matador, but it’s part of what attracted me to the label.

In other iconic Matador packaging features… This is the first time I’ve noticed the words “All Rights Reserved All Wrongs Reversed” which seems pretty prophetic in relation to developments in music sharing in the decades to follow. At the time, the only pirating was in the form of dubbed tapes and the promo copies people bought at used record stores. (See below for one such example of a promo bought and paid for.) It makes me think of some copyleft ideal or something. Hopefully, it means Matador was encouraging of fans distributing their product via these blackmarket and pirated means. Of course, I’m sure they were not as keen on corporate entities trying the same thing. That or it’s just a funny play on words and sardonic sentiment intended to make you smirk.

Railroad Jerk – S/T (Olé-005)

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To be honest, I knew nothing about Railroad Jerk other than they seemed to turn up on every Matador compilation (or at least one, twice) and they kinda sounded like their name. Chugging along with jerky lyrics delivered by what sounds like a jerk… I don’t mean those guys are actual jerks. They just sound like jerks which works well for a rock band.

Railroad Jerk is another lost gem I was hoping to find in this journey through Matador’s early catalog. So far, I haven’t been let down and this record makes me think I should have explored Railroad Jerk much earlier. Their punk-blues aesthetic was unique among the lo-fi, college guy thing. There was an edge, aggression without being as show-boat-y as a Jon Spencer. I look forward to the next three releases from Railroad Jerk –  three more if I go on to the next 100.