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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
This is less of a restart for my blog than it is just something I wanted to do. See, I wanted to focus my vinyl collection beyond “that sounds good” or “this one is seminal” or “I have money in my pocket that needs to be spent.” So, I poked around a bit and decided that Matador was the label that meant most to me in the 90’s alongside maybe Sub Pop. If you know anything about these two labels, despite both being really successful to survive nearly 30 years, Sub Pop became the “most indie of all the sellouts” by being associated with grunge. Old Sub Pop records are out of the reach of someone with a meager public school teacher salary. Matador, however, released a lot of material by some pretty obscure bands. Plus, their lineup and catalog is honestly more interesting to me.
Anyway, I had this idea to collect the first 100 (maybe 200) Matador releases. Vinyl-wise, I probably own 10% of those releases already (closer to 20-25% on CD, but who listens to CD’s?). What I’m really missing is the early Matador stuff, the obscurest of the obscure. There are some well-known acts like Superchunk, Unsane, Railroad Jerk, Teenage Fanclub, etc., but most of the really early releases is completely new to me. Despite the obscurity of this material, the records are priced pretty afford-ably. I mean, that Unsane record with the decapitated guy on subway tracks and maybe the first Superchunk record are twice as much as a new release, but it’s still within my grasp.
The only place to begin was at the very start of the Matador empire. 1989’s H.P. Zinker EP …And There Was Light (Olé 001-1) is everything I wanted for this little project. It’s obscure enough. Who’s ever heard of H.P. Zinker? I hadn’t. According to Wikipedia (after I translated it from German), the record was recorded as a two-piece with a drum machine. The band formed the same year they released this record in NYC. Over time, they performed with several other bands of the day, namely Sonic Youth, Lemonheads (Dando later recorded with them), Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, etc.
The record opens with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days” which is kinda ominous, almost sinister. It’s bass-heavy and the singer sounds like Elmer Fudd. It’s actually a pretty good cover, fairly straight-up, but it has H.P.’s unique aesthetic without completely fucking up what is a good, classic rock song. The second track is an 8-minute, meandering slow jam. Again, despite the somewhat distracting cartoon-like vocals, it’s not a bad song which builds to a grungy crescendo.
The overall sound of the record is pure-1989 indie. It’s that tinny production with the oncoming onslaught of feedback and bass which made Nirvana rich. That said, Wharton Tiers did more to bring underground rock – particularly NYC rock – into its own come the 1990’s and this record is no different. His fingerprints are all over it, giving it more girth than similar-sounding records of the day.
“Sip of the Day” picks up the pace and ends the first side. It has some aesthetics in the guitar sound that reminds me of Dinosaur Jr. and early Pavement. The vocals aren’t nearly as Elmer Fudd as the rest, but it’s there. I’ll cease to belabor this point from here on out.
Side 2 kicks off with a fun grungy dancer in “Hurdles on my Way.” This would have been the hit. The production is somewhat cleaner and less-tinny. (Maybe all that tin is actually from the drum machine…) It’s basically just a song about a girl. So, there’s that.
“Sunshine” and “Down in the Basement” close out the EP. “Sunshine” uses the drum machine with the speed way up, sounding like some EDM then transforming into a hardcore anthem/ballad. Lots of space in this one to showcase what sounds like a shitty drum machine, but it somehow works.
This is a pretty solid first release from my favorite 90’s boutique label. It certainly points to the quality Chris Lombardi cultivated for his label and later championed by partner Gerard Cosloy. The second release was also by H.P. Zinker, so you have to assume Lombardi liked the band a lot. I’ll write about that 7″ as soon as it arrives in the mail. In the meantime, enjoy this video for “Sunshine.”
So, I figured I’d enter the contest. I mean, Mikkeller is easily one of my favorite breweries and I’d do just about anything to try this beer. But what sets me apart from other beer geeks who will enter this contest for such a beer?
Well, for one, I have written a ton here about Mikkeller beers despite the relative difficulty we have just scoring any in the middle of Missouri. Just look at the tag cloud to the right. No other brewery is listed as large as Mikkeller. I may have to consider changing the “beer” portion of this blog’s title to “Mikkeller”. Here’s a rundown of Mikkeller mentions over the last two years of posting…
- There was the month or so after 1000 IBU was first released where it seemed to make an appearance at every tasting I participated, including a Saturday night with three dads.
- The beer made such an impression that it easily slid into a mid-2010 best of list.
- There was a post wrought with errors where I all I gushed over the brilliance of IPA’s produced outside the IPA-USA that just boggled my mind and dominated my IBU consumption.
- Last year’s holiday season was dominated by Mikkeller beers.
- I wrote a thorough defense of Mikkeller after trying their incredibly tasty coffee IPA. Hell, even Mikkel Borg Bjergsø himself posted this piece on his Facebook page.
- I wrote about Mikkeller even while reviewing Stillwater’s work.
- There was the post about gypsies in craft beer and indie rock. Of course, Mikkeller garnered a mention.
- Mikkeller is my number one go-to brewery.
- Thanks was given just for Mikkeller’s existence, especially in the Missouri market.
- Santa’s Little Helper has given me an excellent Christmas story to tell about a Christmas Eve celebration that resulted in my climbing onto a snowy roof.
- The quartet of Red White, Santa’s Little Helper, To From, and Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas made my top-5 holiday beer list.
- There’s the top-5 stout recognition.
- Three Mikkeller beers (two collabs with Stillwater) made my top-10 of 2011.
So, to say that I am a huge fan of Mikkeller brews and support them every step of the way is an understatement. I just wish I had more access to more of their beer. Still, winning this prize of a bottle of Royal Rye Wine would cause me to make some promises I will surely keep:
- I will dedicate a page on this blog with it’s own Mikkeller-inspired emblem for all things Mikkeller, including the running list of posts.
- I will review the Royal Rye Wine complete with a playlist that pairs perfectly with the awarded beer. I’ll make the playlist available to my readers via Spotify and even send a copy to Mikkel Borg Bjergsø.
- I will write a post reviewing every Mikkeller beer I’ve ever had, even the ones I’ve completely forgotten about.
There. If this post doesn’t win me a bottle of Royal Rye Wine, I don’t know what will. Or maybe it’s just too difficult to ship a beer like that all the way to Columbia, Missouri.
Please give nothing but support for my quest and for Mikkeller’s beer in the comments. No comments about the cost of said beers. They’re totally worth it and I won’t have you disparage them.
Double update: I won! Details to come.
When I’m desperate for a post idea, I just turn to a blogger’s best friend: the list. That’s why I’ve resorted to a top-5 list every Monday. (There should be one up tomorrow.) I’ve been impressed that I haven’t gone with lists all month, but now that December is upon us, I’m considering doing all lists, particularly year-end lists. However, I can probably only get away with so many top-10 beer and/or album lists this month, like one of each. Still, I’d like to exhaust the list posts all in one month.
This is where you, the reader, come in. Besides the inevitable top-10 albums/beers lists that will surely be posted here, I would like to do a list a day for all of December. Now, I doubt I’ll actually post 31 lists in December. It was hard enough to come up with a post a day in November. I’ll be lucky to post 15 lists, much lest 31. Still, I’d like your help. If there’s a list you would like to see in December, leave it in the comments. Although I prefer to write about indie rock and craft beer, I would be willing to entertain something different.
So far, here are the lists I’m considering, aside from the weekly top-5:
- Best Albums
- Best Beers
- Best Songs
- Best Shows
- Best Breweries
- Best Pairings (I’m thinking food and beer here, not music and beer, but it could still happen.)
- What do you want to see?