BUT WHAT IF A LOVE SUPREME WAS ACTUALLY ELECTRIC?

….is a question I’ve never asked, nor did I think I’d want to see something like that. Ya know what though? It’s 2020 and all bets are off about literally everything. What you have here is just that — an electric interpretation of John Coltrane’s A LOVE SUPREME and it’s unofficial sequel, MEDITATIONS.

Here’s the thing — A LOVE SUPREME is one of my all time favorite albums and probably the one record, more than any other that properly introduced me to actual real jazz. Before hearing the Coltrane masterpiece, I looked at jazz as a punchline to a joke. I was a teenager, so all I knew was the smooth jazz they’d play at the dentist’s office, scatting cartoon beatniks and something old people listen to. A much wiser person than I — the clerk at Dr Wax records in Evanston Illinois was talking to another to another customer about jazz and I was eavesdropping on the conversation. I couldn’t wrap my head around this longhair wearing some obscuro indie band shirt talking intelligently about jazz as if it was something you speak of in serious, hushed tones. The conversation kept going back to Coltrane and I made metal note.

I didn’t buy any Coltrane that day, because that would have been a poser move. Instead, I asked friends at school what they knew of John Coltrane. Most of them were like “is that the dude from that one hardcore band?” But one of my friends — one of the most musically educated sixteen year olds to ever live — said “yeah, A LOVE SUPREME is what you want.” So I did just that. I made a run for Rolling Stones Records in Norridge IL later that day and bought the album on CD. It didn’t click — like at all. It was one of those “what the fuck am I listening to” moments, but it was a primer for what was to come for me. I persisted with the album — listening to it everyday before bed until it finally clicked. Once it did, I was sold on jazz. This is pretty much where my journey into experimental, jazz and psychedelic music actually begins. A long hair and a sixteen year old metal head telling me what time it was.

Now that we’ve established that I *love* Coltrane’s album, lets dig into this.

This is Mike Watt of Minutemen/Firehose/all-around-bass-bad-assery fame; composer and saxophonist Vinny Golia; Chicagoan and band leader of the John Hanrahan Quartet — John Hanrahan on drums; guitarist Henry Kaiser who has worked with everyone from Fred Frith to Weasel Walter and lastly but not leastly, Wayne Peet on piano, who has worked extensively on the west coast, working most recognizably with Alex and Nels Cline.

Knowing the personnel should give you at least a little bit of an idea of what you’re getting into here. The recording itself is clean and sits somewhere between jazz and rock production and manages to illicit emotions — maybe not the same emotions Coltrane’s but emotions none the less. I need to pick up the physical release of this soon. It’s excellent and I recommend checkin’ it out.

LATE 90’S PSYCH ROCK -or- MY CASE FOR TRIPPING DAISY

The 90’s were a really great time for experimental music — especially for noise and psychedelic rock music. The explosion of bands like The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Radiohead and a laundry list of other like minded acid eaters and dope smokers lead the way for some of the most interesting music of the previous century. I’ve spent a little time writing about noise rock, no wave, now wave and other sort of “angular” music, but I think I should take a little time to talk specifically about some of my favorite bands of the last century.

In an attempt to make things easy, we’ll just do a list of my favorite 90’s psych rock bands, which should help set up the late 90’s really nicely. I like lists, you like lists lets make a list! This is by no means definitive of anything other than bands I like. I’m not Rolling Stone or Spin magazine and I’m not going to rank things in a way that’s outside of my own taste. You might disagree — I HOPE you disagree! Make your own list! Comment with your list.

  1. MEDICINE (and really anything Brad Laner does)
    I saw Medicine open for someone… Swervedriver maybe? I don’t know. I saw the video for 5ive on 120 Minutes, bought SHOT FORTH SELF LIVING, but was not prepared for what I saw. Holy shit. God damn.
    Seeing them at THE METRO here in Chicago was an experience. For a very long time, I felt that the historic Chicago venue had the best sound system in the city and even after they updated it to compete with The House of Blues, with the right engineer at the helm, the system still slammed. I’ve heard bootlegs of MEDCINE at Lounge Ax and it just didn’t seem like it was the same. That Metro show was a revelation for me. I didn’t want to play punk anymore. I didn’t want to be hardcore or metal bands anymore. I wanted to do whatever the hell MEDICINE was doing and after graduating high school, I did just that.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bm1nxTxM5pU
  2. THE FLAMING LIPS
    So back in the 80’s and 90’s my grandparents lived in Ukrainian Village on the near west side of Chicago. We lived on the northwest side. I spent a lot of time in Ukrainian Village, West Town, Wicker Park and Bucktown as a child in the 1980s, but at that time, those parts of town weren’t the yuppie and hipster wastelands the are now. Back then, it was rough and gritty. There were drug dealers, prostitutes and a slowly growing artist and punk community coming up. I hate comparing things to New York, because Chicago isn’t and never will be New York (it’s much better in every possible way… except the subway system), but for people who aren’t from here, Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town and Ukrainian Village were essentially the Lower East Side and East Village. After my step-grandmother died, my grandfather would commonly come over on Sundays and then we’d have to drive him home, which I always liked because it was an adventure. In 1992, when I was seventeen years old, I went with my mom to drop him off. On the way back, I decided we were taking the scenic route so she could see where these stores and venues I frequented were. As we drove up Damen avenue, we rolled passed the newly opened DOUBLE DOOR, which was a 21+ venue that I’d never been to (obviously). What grabbed my attention was on the fence under the L tracks next to Double Door were all of these posters that just said “FLAMING LIPS.” My mom was like “what are Flaming Lips?” I took a guess and said “they’re a band, mom.”

    Anyway, I went to the RECKLESS RECORDS on Broadway and stumbled across their section and bought HIT TO DEATH IN THE FUTURE HEAD and was blown the fuck away.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w44Hvb6dLbw
  3. MY BLOODY VALENTINE
    Do I need to go into this? Do I? Really? OK, I won’t. LOVELESS is the best album of the 90’s and one of, if not THEE most inventive psychedelic rock albums of all time. If you can find the all analog remix of the album MBV released a few years back, pick it up, because it’s earth shaking and brilliant. I legitimately cried after hearing it. Also, pick up the analog remix of ISN’T ANYTHING, because it sounds far and away better than the original version.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyYMzEplnfU
  4. OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL
    I did an entire post on this band a while back that you can find here. They’re awesome, I named my daughter after them and I don’t know if I can say anymore than I already have elsewhere.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6hkVXpQYYg
  5. TRIPPING DAISY
    Obligatory sophomore slump statement. Their second album isn’t great. It’s good, but not great. Yes, the single I Got a Girl is kind of annoying and paints them as a shitty post grunge alt rock band. None of that is true though. They’re a fan-fucking-tastic psych rock band that spent their career flying under the radar of so many people who should LOVE this band.

    Like most people who aren’t from Texas, I heard TRIPPING DAISY because of the single, “My Umbrella” from their first LP, BILL. I was hooked on how fucking catchy it was and how much I felt like they sounded like an American NEDS ATOMIC DUSTBIN or a British JANES ADDICTION. You pick. I don’t care. The album is so great beginning to end. It was the soundtrack to the summer after my senior year of high school. However, I don’t think TRIPPING DAISY really hit their stride until their third album, JESUS HITS LIKE THE ATOM BOMB. They fell into a peer group with bands like THE FLAMING LIPS, MERCURY REV and GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI. I feel like on some tracks they even channel — and maybe even pre-date WILCO at times (I’m gonna have to revisit those early Wilco albums, because I keep hearing SUMMERTEETH when listening to songs like Sonic Bloom).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GssZV7H5Tw&list=PL2vupQ8Q0ObfIF9deY9S_JY7-VNUgcSc8

So this brings me to the point. The late 90’s got really exciting if you were into weird music. While the mainstream was skanking to third wave ska and mainstream pop punk, the freaks were in ecstasy with the eruption of bizarro noise and sugar coated fuzzed out melodies. It felt like every city in the United States had a band or three doing exciting stuff. In Chicago, we had a few — NOVASONIC DOWN HYPERSPACE ( who would later change their name to MIDSTATES), PLASTICS HI FI and I’d even dump WILCO into this family. (The band I was in at that time was in this group of bands, but not nearly as successful or recognized, which is fine… really. No, I’m fine. No, I’m not crying, you’re crying.) Dallas Texas was no exception; they had TRIPPING DAISY.

TRIPPING DAISY was a band I’d all but forgotten about — for the most part. I still listened to BILL pretty regularly and the follow up never grabbed me. Then out of nowhere, I saw a promo copy of JESUS HITS LIKE THE ATOM BOMB at EVIL CLOWN RECORDS. I took it over to the listening station and was floored. I bought it, popped it in the CD player, turned it up and went for a drive. My best bud was sitting shotgun and we couldn’t get over how great it was! It was one psych rock gem after another after another after another. We were in love.

Flash forward to THE YEAR 200o. The self titled album came out. We got word that their keyboard player, Wes Berggren died of a drug overdose and his father played his parts on the new album. Tours were canceled and the band broke up. We were heartbroken. Anytime a talented person dies it’s sad, but this one hit a little harder. We felt like we’d just rediscovered the Daisies and they were on a whole new trajectory into musical greatness.

Most of what followed for the members of the band was found in the POLYPHONIC SPREE, who were good, but never grabbed me the way TRIPPING DAISY grabbed me. Do yourself a favor — if all you know by the Daisies is I Got a Girl, go listen to the last two albums in order. If you don’t fall in love with them the same way you fell in love with other like minded bands, then I don’t know what to tell you. They’re awesome and deserve to be heard, celebrated and sung from the rooftops.

While you’re at it, go check out Tim DeLaughter’s current project, PRETEEN ZENITH. It’s in line with everything we’ve talked about here today. Super pretty psych rock that grips your heart strings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arfRBqDUfnQ

RAGING WRATH OF THE EASTER BUNNY

While most of my readership might not know me, I suspect a good portion of you do and those of you who know me, know that I’m an enormous fan of MIKE PATTON. I’ve been a fan from the very first time I heard the song Epic by FAITH NO MORE. I was hooked hard by the sugary, accessible-but-not-really weirdness of FAITH NO MORE and that lead me down an obvious path to other metal/punk adjacent type bands — most of which weren’t that great. However, a friend of mine loaned the first MR BUNGLE album to me and I wasn’t prepared for what I heard. Holy shit. HOLY SHIT. What was I hearing? Funk-jazz-metal-ska? Who the fuck were these guys? I mean, I knew Patton, but who are these other weirdos.

The deeper I fell into the Bungle web, the more you heard stories about record execs losing their jobs because FAITH NO MORE wouldn’t sign unless BUNGLE was also signed. Bizarro mix tapes featuring completely fucked up thrash metal that pre-dated the first record — what a god damned mystery of a band!

That said, I always liked the friends I made through mutual love of BUNGLE. Dudes I knew at school, getting to know the band local band TUB RING and their fans — then it fuckin’ happened.

DISCO VOLANTE. Arguably the greatest, most fucked up album to come out on a major record label in the 1990’s. I was in college and my friends and I would commonly pull up to cars at red lights and turn up Carry Stress in the Jaw to ear bleeding levels. Walk through grocery stores singing the lyrics to Desert Search for Techno Allah. This album was a revelation — also a realization that wasn’t nearly the musician I thought I was. oops.

So it surprises me that it’s taken me this long to buy The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo. It features not just Patton, Trevor Dunn and Trey Spruance, but also Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo (who was also in Fantomas with Patton and Dunn as well as Buzz Osbourn from the Melvins), who were a pair of influences on me in my early days of getting into music. I mostly want to mention that I ordered the record earlier today and I’m listening to it on Youtube right now and it’s really really good. New old Bungle is great. Go buy it.

HE’S MORE MACHINE THAN MAN

I always felt like having a job where I can wear band shirts, jeans and Converse All-Stars to work everyday while making a sustainable income would be a win — and it was. I’m an engineer and get to do really cool shit everyday (and some shit that’s less cool, but even that’s better than most people’s good days) and with that comes an understanding that you’re gonna get some weirdos… I’m one of those weirdos. When I started my job, if you told me that one day I’d be working from home full time, I would have thought you were full of shit, but here I am — working from home full time. I don’t think I’ve put on pants once in the last seven months unless I had to go to the store. That’s really weird.

I sit in a room all day with my record collection surrounding me, listening to music while doing my job. Great coffee is mere steps from me and I get to see my daughter all day everyday and that’s the fucking highlight of this pandemic. I’m surrounded by guitars, Moogs, FX pedals, books, records, CDs and as cool as that is, I miss waking up with a purpose — with the option to go to the office if I want to. Getting on the L and taking it into the Loop, grabbing a breakfast sandwich and seeing other people. Specifically people I work with. Sure, we have a Teams meeting everyday where we talk about work, what’s going on outside work, joke about music, talk shit about world events… but none of that really feels like human contact and I genuinely miss that. I miss the option for human interaction. Sometimes I feel we’re all becoming cyborgs — like we’re melding into one with our Lenovos and Macbooks and multiple displays. Soon we won’t know where the machine ends and the human begins, which leads me to…

I fucking love Kraftwerk.

I haven’t listened to The Man Machine in a really really long time — easily years at this point, but a weird sample at the beginning of a song by CULO reminded me of Kraftwerk. I’ve been listening to them for a few days now — Computer World, Autobahn, The Man Machine and various tracks while shuffling my MP3s.

The great thing about Kraftwerk is that they went into making music with no influence, really. They wanted to make computer music and that’s what they made. They get lumped in with Can, Neu, Faust and a lot of other German bands, but I really feel like they shine through a lot more than the others. Look — there’d be no House, Industrial, Jungle, Drum N Bass, or any other electronic music — or at least not how we know it today without Kraftwerk.

That’s all I got. OH YEAH. VOTE. If you haven’t done so already, go do it. Don’t let anyone stop you, either.

RIP PIERRE KEZDY

As a kid growing up in 1980’s Chicago, discovering a bunch of bands like Black Flag, Agnostic Front, Anthrax, Metallica and Cromags, it was pretty easy to feel like you’re living in a wasteland of nothing. All of these bands were from the coasts and none of them were from the Midwest. The first Chicago punk band I discovered was Life Sentence, but the first Chicago band I truly fell in love with was NAKED RAYGUN.

In 1988, I was thirteen years old going to Catholic school on the northwest side of Chicago. Fridays were always half days, so common practice for me was to jump on the Belmont bus and head to Lakeview and Lincoln Park to go record shopping, hit up The Alley or pester the clerks as Sessions skate shop. Whatever money I had always went towards music… always. Not band shirts, not skate decks — records or tapes. My favorite record store was Wax Trax on Lincoln and the bus transfer was always worth it.

I walked into Wax Trax on one of those Friday afternoons with my Catholic school mullet, denim jacket with the Bad Religion logo painted on the back and high top Chuck Taylors looking for something fresh. I asked the clerk what punk records I should buy and he said “you like Naked Raygun?” I had no idea who he was talking about, so I grabbed JETTISON on cassette, popped it in my Walkman and headed to the Fullerton L station to head up to Belmont. I felt like I was let in on some big secret that only so many people knew about. Naked Raygun changed my life forever.

In high school, I discovered a band featuring the newly ex-Raygun guitarist John Haggarty, as well as members of the Bhopal Stiffs and Effigies. It was a god damned super group. I fell in love with Pegboy. Everything great about those bands coalesced into one lean-as-fuck Chicago punk machine. Pegboy is and always will be my favorite Chicago punk band. All of my favorite memories of being young and going to shows are locked up in Pegboy and their influence as a band and as people (despite being Sox fans) is indisputable. If you’ve ever seen Pegboy, you know. I don’t even need to go into it. Pegboy is the high school reunion you wish you had. It’s the family that you should have been born into. It’s the friends whose names you don’t know, but recognize and talk to every time you see them.

Prior to the release of the second album, Earwig, Pierre Kezdy joined on bass completing the best line up of the band. He had a cool, calm, stern faced presence on the bass, but it added to the intensity of the show. If you were up front and locked eyes with Larry DaMore, odds are your getting grabbed by the shirt and he’s getting in your face to sing, but Pierre — he’s holding it down, making sure the car stays in the lane. That’s the bassist he was.

I met Pierre a handful of times — once when I was fifteen or so and again at various Pegboy shows. He was the nicest person in the punk scene, hands down. End of story. You weren’t going to find anyone kinder or more willing to interact with you if you approached him. However, this isn’t the memory that sticks with me. It’s the memory of his wife at The Metro standing in the audience up front waiting for Pegboy to come on, holding up their young toddler to say hi to dad. Security would be nervous, advising her that a toddler up front wasn’t safe, but she just assured them that they were just saying “hi.” Even as a jaded twenty something at the time, I thought it was really sweet and thinking about it as a 4o something father of a toddler makes me a little teary eyed.

I’ve shared so many moments with so many people wrapped around the music of Naked Raygun and Pegboy that it’s in my blood at this point. My child has been listening to both of these bands literally since birth. It’s in her blood too. I can’t separate their music from my life or the lives of the friends I’ve made through their music. My entire friendship with my late best friend is tied directly to the albums Throb Throb and Jettison. The first time I went to a punk show with him and his younger brother was to see Pegboy/The Bollweevils/Apocalypse Hoboken at The Vic theater (I took a combat boot to the head at this show from a stage diver, causing me to black out for a couple seconds). Every time I make a new friend and I find out they listen to punk, but don’t know either of these bands, I quickly make them a tape — or link them to Spotify or Youtube.

In 2003, I was helping my friend Justin start his label, Underground Communique primarily because he told me he was releasing a Pegboy tribute album. I was so excited about this that I jumped at the chance to be involved somehow. That record is still one of my favorite records I’ve ever been involved with. I was honored to help in whatever way I could.

I’m in the business of sharing my love for Raygun and Pegboy. I’m in the business of loving Chicago. It’s hard to be a punk from this town and not do one without the other. They’re synonymous with each other. They’re like peanut butter and jelly, coffee and donuts, watered down Jameson shots and the Fireside Bowl — you know what I’m saying. The Raygun family tree is Chicago and that family tree lost a very important, loved branch today.

RIP Pierre Kezdy. Thank you for your service. You’ll be missed. The world is worse place without your kindness in it.

SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY

Growing up in the 80’s meant I had a fascination with martial arts — karate, Bruce Lee, ninjas, SAMURAI SUNDAY on Channel 66 and of course, the Karate Kid. As an adult, I was super stoked to hear Youtube was doing a series on Johnny and Cobra Kai and it didn’t disappoint. When I was fifteen, I wanted to name my first band COBRA KAI (and fuck it, I should have), but the singer thought it sounded “dated” and too “eighties” and we should use something more “intelligent” and “ironic;” so Sycophant was born.

Anyway, all of that is tangential, because I’m not writing about martial arts or my first awful punk band, but rather about one of the best math rock bands to come out of Chicago’s extremely furtive math rock and post hardcore scene — SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t revisit Going Down Swinging because Cobra Kai is now on Netflix, but the truth is, I’ve been walking around the house yelling “SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY!” This obviously lead me to the music room and pulling this LP off the shelf.

I’m fairly confident I’m not the only person in the mid 90’s who saw their name on the FIRESIDE BOWL list and automatically thought “huh, wonder if they’re a ska band?” I mean, after all, they had a saxophone. I’m pretty sure the first time I saw them, I went under the assumption that they were ska — thank Jah I was wrong. They were SO GOD-DAMNED-GOOD.

It’s probably a sin that I only saw them like six or seven times. They really should have been a band I should have prioritized. I mean, I spent way more money seeing bands I liked way less far more often. Who knows? I was in my 20’s, which is really my go-to excuse for every boneheaded thing I did between 1995 and 2005.

What do they sound like? Well, if you’re asking that question, either you didn’t hit play on the Youtube link above or that link is dead. I would say maybe something like Slint meets King Crimson with a saxophone? If that isn’t enough for you to want to go dig in, I don’t know what else I can say.

Mix Tape of Similar Bands —
Lustre King – Horseblinder
Shellac – My Black Ass Live at the Congress Theatre 1998, opening for Fugazi (you can see my head bobbing up and down up front in some shots. Fucking stellar show. The Ex also played. )
Assembly Line People Program – Glass Static
Dianogah – What is Your Landmass?
Big’n – Song to End All Songs

The above bands are just a small snapshot of the Chicago post-punk/mathrock scene in the 90’s. I really should just write a post about the Fireside Bowl and cover all of the scenes that called that place home.

MEDUSA’S CHICAGO

Editor’s Note – the links in the text aren’t advertisements, but rather links to media related to the text. Click through as you go! Also, thanks to the Medusa’s Group on Facebook for keeping me nostalgically entertained for the last several years.

“They were already stars, I simply provided a place for them to shine.”
– Dave “Medusa” Shelton

A couple weeks ago, Dave Medusa, Chicago club luminary and founder of the historic Chicago juice bar –Medusa’s died. It’s taken me some time to really put together a lot of my feelings on the matter, because I spent a good amount of time in my youth at his venue and it helped me really become who I am today. I didn’t know Dave and I can neither confirm nor deny ever meeting him, because that was a very long time ago and I was an extremely awkward, shy kid. Instead of focusing on the man himself, because I feel that would be disingenuous, I can talk about my experience at his club, the music I discovered, the friends I made and how my mind was opened to different people and their lifestyles.

Continue reading “MEDUSA’S CHICAGO”

Black Dresses

Back in April, Black Dresses dropped their new record and I’m sadly just getting around to listening now. Despite quarantine having me at home a whole lot, I’ve been busy. Plus the pile of records I’ve needed to get around to listening to seems to only be growing and not shrinking. I think I share Henry Rollins’ fear that I won’t listen to all my records before I die. Maybe I should stop trying to make Led Zeppelin happen? I’m never going to like them, so why do I keep going back to them when I could be listening to BLACK DRESSES instead?

Anyway, the point is, this record is really god damned good and it’s infinitely more interesting than Led Zeppelin. Why am I even making this comparison? It’s apples and oranges.

Black Dresses borrow little bits of 90’s electro and industrial as well as spinning in hints of early 2000’s electroclash. I hear just as much Nine Inch Nails in their music as I do Peaches or LeTigre. The thing is, they don’t necessarily sound like either of these comparisons. Influence is funny like that — sometimes it manifests itself as this sort of nostalgia and at other times it looks more like inventiveness. Black Dresses really lean hard on the latter than the former. I dig this stuff a lot as does my two year old (she’s very advanced in that way ;p).

Don’t take my word for it — listen for yourself.

Olivia Tremor Control

One of my favorite Elephant 6 bands — so much so that I named my daughter after the band.  People find it odd that her name is Tremor and keep thinking I said “Trevor.”  Whatever.  I kid.  I did however name my daughter Olivia.

This is probably their best output and I’m not really taking any chances or throwing any hot takes out there in saying that.  It’s a magical combination of psych era Beatles, “Pet Sounds” Beach Boys and the kind of music you’d imagine board acid eaters in rural communities would make.  It’s wild shit, but still totally accessible and familiar.  It challenges you and comforts you at the same time.

For those unacquainted, Olivia Tremor Control was one of the original three Elephant 6 bands — the other two being Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel, both of which feature former and current members of OTC.  Members are also in the Sunshine Fix, Circulatory System, Frosted Ambassador and a whole lot of other projects.

Anyway, give ’em a listen.

New Release! Moor Mother

Moor Mother is probably the most interesting psych/experimental artist on my radar right now.  Mix of noise, lofi and hip hop that just gets the blood pumping.

There’s a lot I want to say about this record, but fuck it — go listen to it and make up your own mind.