Beer and Pavement

Going Dutch

Posted in Records by SM on June 30, 2020
My cliched pic of Amsterdam

The mid-90’s, like most of my generation, was when my obsession with indie rock started. One aspect of the scene that attracted me was how certain labels could lead you down rabbit holes to one cool band after another, sort of the way YouTube or Spotify might do for you today. Of course, in those days, information was mostly found in zines or label mailings.

Matador was an especially excellent source for weird or interesting music featuring guitars – so many guitars – and intellectually curious lyrics sung by college dropouts in thrift store t shirts. I remember working in my college’s mail room and getting extra excited when one of Matador’s newsletters would come through. I discovered some pretty memorable bands, many of which I’m still exploring to this day.

One such band was Bettie Serveert. I read that they featured some guitars(!) and a female singer, Carol van Dijk, whom I was convinced was just the Dutch version of Liz Phair. There was some backstory about a famous Dutch tennis player. The name translates to “Bettie Serves” or something. Whatever. They were Dutch and very exotic to me.

So, as I did in those days, I sought a used CD of their excellent 1992 release, Palomine. Standouts like the title track and “Kids Allright” hooked me right away. The band played micro-arena anthems akin to label mates Guided By Voices, but the guitar play stood out and challenged like a Dinosaur Jr. lite. This was soon followed by Lamprey which was full of more anthems, guitars, and van Dijk’s familiar, slacker drawl. I really loved “Totally Freaked Out” from that sophomore release.

My copy of Lamprey

The summer I graduated from college and left for the Pacific Northwest, Dust Bunnies was released. Opener “Geek” still floats around in my memory from time to time. That summer, I was able to catch them opening for Matador alum Teenage Fanclub at the Crocodile in Seattle.

But this isn’t really a post just about Bettie Serveert, forgotten indie legends that they are. I recently discovered that there are a few other bands of interest from the Netherlands, bands who have put some material out in the last few years unbeknownst to me. Where are my Matador newsletters and zines for these bands?

I should have known about Canshaker Pi. They play guitars and write smart-ass lyrics. Somehow, P4k or someone should have posted something that crossed my feed. This blog’s patron saint, Stephen Malkmus, produced their debut and had the following to say about them:

Canshaker Pi will blow the world away with their sound. They are loud, young and not too snotty. They play guitar rock. They don’t sound like anything in the Portland Oregon high school system I can tell u that — confident, frustrated tunes beyond their years. Get in the way of these lads and sparks will fly for sure.

http://www.canshakerpi.nl/

The Canshaker boys’ latest, Okay Decay, is a cool, steady punch to the face. Like Pavement and Malkmus, the lyrics and vocals are aloof and disinterested. The band is on time but acerbic guitar solos interrupt the pop sensibilities just enough to not trick you into thinking they actually like Radiohead more than Pavement. I’m still waiting for my copy of their LP on vinyl as it’s been stuck in customs for about a month.

Lucky for you, you don’t have to keep reading me try to do this band justice. Watch these three songs off Okay and tell me I’m wrong about these Amsterdammers.

Lewsberg is a different sort of band altogether. Hailing from Rotterdam, this foursome sound like the Velvet Underground. I know that’s lazy, but that’s just what they sound like. It’s not as derivative as it sounds, but they sound like the Velvets in a really, really good way. I don’t want to belabor the point, but they do sound like the Velvet Underground. And I’m not the only one to say it. But that’s half-assed to say, something I’m not entirely ashamed of, but this band probably deserves more.

I guess I should attempt to describe what I mean. At the heart of their songs is that driving rhythm, that repetitive groove that could just go and go. Then, over the top are dry, emotionless vocals with lyrics that seem just as distant. However, there’s humanity in the observations or sentiment despite the deadpan delivery. One way they resemble Canshaker Pi is through the lead guitar work that is angry, precise, but certainly won’t ever be confused for anything conventional.

If you want to hear it for yourself, the two singles from their new release, In This House, can be found at their website or the entire album is on their Bandcamp page. In the meantime, check this performance which in the same studio as the Canshaker video above. Again, it’s three perfect songs to digest. The third song is from the new LP (which is also in transit overseas). You can thank me later.

As you can see, there’s more to the Netherlands than weed and windmills. I know it’s got me looking for what I’ve missed. I’ve been to the country twice, separated by about 20 years. The first time, I saw Sleater-Kinney play. The last time, I bought a Great Plains record. So, I haven’t really given the country’s scene a chance. Maybe that has to change.

Archers of Loafing, Amirite?

Posted in Records by SM on June 28, 2020

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I kid. I kid. Or as we used to say, JK.

After reuniting and then sorta not doing anything a few years ago, Archers of Loaf announced earlier this year that they had new music in the works. It seems they weren’t lying.

“Raleigh Days” is a fucking tour de force or something. It demonstrates the Loaf’s power and angular guitar play while just being a regular banger. Eric Bachman’s growl is a bit toned down, reflecting his longing to be able to sing or just speak well into the future. His performance reminds me of some of his rockier tracks in Crooked Fingers. The guitars, though, that’s pure Loaf, balls to the walls and all that. The real surprise might be the call-to-arms Rolling Stones anthem “Street Fighting Man.” Fuck. Who knew the Stones were political?

I don’t have this track on vinyl yet. It seems the pandemic has delayed Record Store Day, AKA middle-aged male xmas. Still, I’ll grab it once Record Store Day releases a vaccine. In the meantime, I preordered Loaf’s followup, “Talking Over Talk,” which might as well be about Zoom meetings.

And that’s not all Rona has delayed. I was supposed Archers of Loaf a week or two before everything shut down in Boston. However, the rising number of cases scared everyone enough to shut down every rock show though the rest of the winter and spring. I was supposed to see Loaf, Waxahatchee, Liz Phair, Parquet Courts, and Big Thief, but they’ve all been cancelled or postponed. Archers of Loaf cancelled their shows completely.

So, I sit at home, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the Loaf to unleash something more than a few singles. I mean, the songs are good, but those of us who have been loyal Loafers (sorry) have waited a long time for this. Ever since they teased us with a sparse littering of shows a few years back, I’ve been waiting in grand anticipation of what they had in store for us.

I guess I’ll wait a bit longer. Now, put your masks back on, assholes, so I can back to live shows again.

(BTW, Archers of Loaf are not loafing nor are they loafers. I needed click bait. It’s been a minute since I’ve posted here.)

Image: It’s from my IG and it’s of a poster in my basement. The poster was given to me by Bob Hartzell at Augratin Press back in my COMO daze.

The Matador 100 Project: Unrest & Teenbeat 50 (Olé 024-025)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on August 17, 2017

A whole lotta Teenbeat up in this post…

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Unrest, the legendary DC experimental act issued a compilation of material through Matador and their label Teenbeat. The early tracks intended for this release were primarily of the b-side and rarity variety, including the band’s first album. They are rough and uneven, but one can find some cool moments in many of the tracks. The title of this comp is Fuck Pussy Galore (& All Her Friends). Pussy Galore, of course, was a James Bond character Unrest seemingly didn’t care for. Anyway, the bass lines are insanely schizophrenic, setting up the band’s signature sound as carried out by Bridget Cross in later releases. The covers included also provide a little bit of nostalgia for all the fucking Boomer bullshit were force-fed in the 80’s.

The vinyl fails to list about ten tracks included in the CD and cassette versions, according to the Teenbeat site. In fact, Teenbeat states that the vinyl version included just the tracks from the first album, no extras. According to the site, there were master tapes missing, some re-mixed.

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Teenbeat 50 is a compilation of some highlights from Teenbeat’s first 50 releases. Unrest’s Mark Robinson, Phil Krauth, and Tim Moran started the label in Arlington, Virginia in 1984. Teenbeat was able to release so many recordings since they made only one copy of each early release to be loaned out to high school classmates. Much of the early material was Unrest practice session recordings. Teenbeat played an important part in the indie scene in and around DC (along with Dischord, of course). Their roster is a who’s who of the underground-turned-indie darlings.

The vinyl version of this comp included 16 tracks, two from Unrest. Highlights of the roster included Autoclave (Mary Timony!), Velocity Girl (a favorite during their Sub Pop days), and Courtney Love (the band, not the other one). It’s a much more polished collection than the record mentioned above. Some of the tracks sound downright professionally recorded (Hello, Bells Of…! Where have you been my entire life?) Plus, there are two(!) theme songs – one from 1991 and the other from 1985.

Putting out these two comps to what I can only assume was a wider distribution network for Teenbeat, Matador was able to not only promote one of the great underground labels of the era, but they were also able to place themselves among those early fledgling indies. The Unrest comp demonstrates a cacophonous creativity alive in the DC scene (and beyond). The Teenbeat 50 might still sit on a shelf, waiting for release had Matador not given it a nudge (or possibly funding/support). I don’t know this for sure, but Teenbeat’s site suggests the comp was supposed to be released the fall of 1990 and wasn’t issued until three years later. Either way, I’m glad it saw the light of day and found its way into Matador’s first 100 releases.

(Admittedly, this was not my best effort, but you were due a post. Hopefully, I can get another out much quicker.)

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The Matador 100 Project: Railroad Jerk & Teenage Fanclub (Olé 022-023)

Posted in Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on August 5, 2017

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The next two releases in the Matador 100 come from what are two of the better-known acts of the early Matador roster. Railroad Jerk released “Younger than You” in the middle of 1991, while Teenage Fanclub released “God Knows It’s True.”

“Younger than You,” Railroad Jerk’s first 7″, is a raucous romp directed at ridiculing olds attending shows or something like that. The track feels messy and warbled, but a close listen reveals something more precise and on time. Railroad Jerk yell and twist their guitars, but it somehow comes together in a great cacophony. The b-side is the equally wild “Ballad of Jim White.”

I haven’t a ton to add to Railroad Jerk. I love rediscovering their material as I missed them the first time around. There wasn’t a lot of indie rock available in West-Central Ohio (where I grew up) in the early 90’s, especially Railroad Jerk’s brand of sloppy blues punk rawk.

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Teenage Fanclub’s “God Knows It’s True” is a 1991 Matador 7″ previously released as an EP in the UK by Paperhouse in 1990. Don Fleming produced the record which is a cool bit of trivia, I suppose. The covers for the two releases differed in artwork and length. I have the US release by Matador with its illustration of swamp creatures. The UK version is created from some multi-exposure camera trickmulti-exposure camera trick. I assume it’s one of the band members.

The 7″/EP is the link between Teenage Fanclub’s Matador debut Catholic Education and their classic Bandwagonesque. The title track is one of unrequited love. “So Far Gone” continues the louder, grungier Fanclub as they began to insert the melodies they would be better known for in later releases. The EP version features two other tracks in “Weedbreak” and “Ghetto Blaster” as filler instrumentals.

A Note about the Discography:
If you’re paying attention, I’ve skipped some numbers. Matador numbered releases before they made it to market, which some did not. I’ve addressed this before, but it seems that old discography with all the non-releases has been taken down. Now worries. I’m only writing about actual Matador releases.

 

The Matador 100 Project: Mark Eitzel & Circle X (Olé 016-017)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on July 25, 2017

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Mark Eitzel is a legend few know. You may have heard of American Music Club and it’s doubtful you knew about Toiling Midgets. Still, Eitzel’s been around even if most are unaware. He’s the kind of poetic genius who won’t be remembered until he gets Nick Drake-like attention with a Volkswagen ad and smartly-released greatest hits comp sometime in the future.

That said, Mark Eitzel released an often ignored single on Matador called Take Courage. It’s so misplaced that Wikipedia thinks it’s a big Christian radio hit, not a key part of Eitzel’s discography. But I know it exists as I own a copy and am glad I do.

The first side features “On the Emblematic Use of Jewelry as a Metaphor for the Dissolution of Our Hopes and Dreams,” a simple track of nothing more than acoustic guitar and voice. This would the “Pink Moon” track for that hypothetical VW ad. The guitar picking is clear and true as a keyboard fills some space 2/3 the way through the track. The existential lyrics make this track a hidden gem a songwriter like Eitzel specializes in. Jason Ankeny’s AllMusic review describes it succinctly, stating, “…its lyrics traffic in stream-of-consciousness wordplay that nevertheless resonates on a profoundly emotional level.”

The reverse side features the similarly loquaciously-titled “The Ecstatic Epiphany: A Celebration of Youth and Beauty Past, Present and Future.” Side 2 is a slow, quiet, stream-of-consciousness track that demonstrates restraint and grandeur simultaneously. In a whisper-y drawl similar to Evan Dando or Tim Kasher, Eitzel delivers his continuous thoughts over some impressive instrumentation that climbs just beneath his low murmur. It’s hard for such a somber, quiet song to soar and comfort the listener, but for a master like Eitzel, it’s just another forgotten b-side.

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Circle X were Louisville, Kentucky’s contribution to the No Wave scene of New York City just before and after 1980. The band bounced around a bit before releasing three singles with three different labels, “Compression of the Species” being the 7″ released by Matador.

On what appears to be the first non-black vinyl release by the label, “Compression…” is perfectly described as “menacing, sample-driven sludge” on their Louisville Hardcore page. The “other side” features similar pulsating drumming and shredding guitar riffs, but the vocals spoken much in the same way Slint delivers the words on “Good Morning, Captain.” Both tracks are challenging mind fucks that fit somewhere in the progression of No Wave’s never-ending story.

A note about the series and this blog…

I am going to do my best to keep both this series and the blog going. I don’t want to start over someplace else, because who starts a blog in 2017? However, I committed to the first 100 releases and it seems weak to stop without even making it a fourth of the way. So, with this post, I should get out three posts this week and/or next week that will cover about six releases. The next covers two 7″ records followed by an LP post. After that, we’ll see. I believe I may have to start buying some expensive records. So, stay tuned.

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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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