Five Songs, 4/19/2017

I've updated the blogging software on this thing, and I'm even poking around with new themes. Look at me, I'm...well, not professional exactly. Wasting my time? Yeah, let's go with that. As is now traditional here at Five Songs Inc., you can listen along with me, if that's something you're into. Great set of songs this time around!

NoMeansNo, "Machine"

NoMeansNo started as a hardcore band, but unlike most of their peers, hung around for a long time and managed to evolve as they went along. Songs started stretching out more, some jazz started creeping in, and more than a little overt artiness. They were driven by the rhythm section, brothers Rob and John Wright, who were relentlessly inventive. NoMeansNo made my second favorite hardcore album ever, Wrong (two Wrights made a Wrong!), and continued with a string of strong albums including the source of this song, Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy. I'm not sure how much people know them outside of folks living on the west coast during the late 80s/early 90s, but it's a shame, they should have a higher profile.

Polyrhythmics, "Revenge of the Sneaky Spider"

Local funk outfit, playing instrumental music with lots of afro beat influences. I first heard these folks during a random listen of KEXP in a Car2Go (a VERY Seattle phrase), and thought they sounded great. Those moments of serendipity are something I miss about not listening to the radio regularly, as I used to in Pittsburgh when I volunteered at WRCT. At any rate, all three of the albums are worth a listen, with a slight preference on my part for Libra Stripes. If you like stuff from Daptone Records, give this band a try.

Rites of Spring, "Patience"

Often pointed at as one of the originators of the emo scene, due mainly to Guy Picciotto's impassioned screams and the band's heart-on-sleeve lyrics. And, of course, they're known for being one of the predecessors to Fugazi, with both Picciotto and Brendan Canty being part of that legendary band. Both of these evaluations of Rites of Spring, with a focus on the legacy of the band, do a disservice to the great music that they produced during their short lifespan. Evaluated purely on that basis, Rites of Spring played some great punk rock: fast, changing, interesting hardcore that manages complexity at times without pretension. As good as Fugazi? Nope. But still worthy on their own.

Lambchop, "gloria leonard"

More alt-country, this time from the best alt-country band of them all. Although, as with Wilco, the "alt-country" label does them a disservice. There are certainly plenty of songs they do that are very country, but they also dabble plenty in orchestral pop, soul, and all kinds of other things. Kurt Wagner is the key member of the band, with his instantly recognizable baritone crucial to the sound (as well as his occasional hilarious falsetto). Now a dozen or so albums in, the only things really tying together the band's work is Wagner, a relentless spirit of experimentation, and lush arrangements.

This is from Thriller, my first record from them and still one of my favorites. At times upbeat and playful and other times contemplative like on this track, it will give a good idea of if Lambchop is for you or not.

Melvins, "Zodiac"

Man, these entries are difficult to write while headbanging!

A topic that I've sometimes floated with friends is the question of what is the greatest American rock band. American cuts out all of the various British acts that one might try and advance as the answer, and "band" cuts out people known as solo artists, even if their backing band is crucial to their appeal. And, of course, the adjective "great" makes life difficult, implying as it does a certain level of fame in addition to just the quality of the band's work. There are plenty of fantastic bands that most people have never heard of, do those bands qualify? Is it sufficient being hugely influential, ala the Velvet Underground? Do you need more longevity? Popular success? Depending on how you weigh the criteria, you might answer with lots of bands - my answer for a long time was Metallica, what with four great albums (and some other stuff), enormous fame, and birthing an entire subgenre. No matter your choice, it's a great bar argument.

I'm here to say, though, that if you value longevity combined with a high level of quality, and don't worry too much about influence, your answer might be the Melvins. At this point, they're more than 30 years in, and still doing great work. With at least six great albums (Bullhead, Lysol, (A) Senile Animal, Nude With Boots, Stoner Witch, Houdini) and at least six more excellent ones, their back catalog is as strong as anybody's. And they're no slouch on the influence side of things. After all, they made a huge mark on the entire grunge scene, up to and including Dale Crover playing drums on the first Nirvana album and Matt Lukin (who started in the Melvins) being a founding member of Mudhoney. Are they the right answer to the question? I'm not sure. But I think they deserve to be in the discussion.