Five Songs, 4/25/2017

I'm going to see The Wedding Present tonight! I'm super excited, I haven't been to a show in a bit, and they've been a favorite band for a long time. I'm super tempted to break my own rules to have them come up, but no, I'll behave! If you're behaving, you'll throw on some tunes! Kick out the jams, Google! (Google has never kicked out any jams.)

RJD2, "The Horror"

Here we encounter another artist that is probably most famous for something other than their albums. In this case RJD2 composed the theme for "Mad Men", which isn't a bad encapsulation of his style. The track here is the opening from his outstanding debut album Deadringer, which is mostly instrumental tracks but does have some songs with guests rhyming on them. As opposed to DJ Vadim's that we just heard, there's personality on every track here, with a variety of moods, lots of great samples, and fun twists throughout. Too often, DJ albums can end up kind of self-indulgent, but this is one of the great ones.

The Unsemble, "Improv 4"

It's another milestone here at Fünf Songs, as we hit probably the most obscure artist so far. Are you ready for me to look like a pretentious bozo because I bought a record? OK, what we have here is The Unsemble, a band composed of Duane Denison (The Jesus Lizard), Alexander Hacke (Einstürzende Neubauten), and Brian Kotzur (Silver Jews), playing mostly shapeless improvised pieces that are scored mostly for guitar and sheet metal. As you might expect from the Neubauten heritage, this stuff is mostly about mood and sound, not songs, per se. If nobody told you that Denison and Kotzur were involved, you'd never guess them. Anyway, if you're deep into Neubauten, this is a decent companion piece. If you're not into Neubauten, just wait around, they'll pop up again here. And I'll just note that the Neubauten logo is one of the only two things I've ever seriously considered getting tattooed on me (the other is a D20).

Sebadoh, "Violet Execution"

Sebadoh was one of the pillars of the lo-fi movement in the rock underground, with influences that spread across tons of bands, most of whom mistook the slack approach to recording as the reason Sebadoh were good. Of course, that was nonsense: while the atmosphere of their records contributed a loose feel to things, Sebadoh was good because the songs were good. This is from III, a sprawling record that sometimes sounded like the work of three different bands, due to the often very different styles of Lou Barlow, Eric Gaffney, and Jason Loewenstein, who all wrote songs for the record. While later Sebadoh records would be more coherent and really more listenable, there are a bunch of great moments on this album. I don't think I'd start with III, though - Bubble & Scrape* is where I'd start, and then I'd go back to this one and then forward from there.

Shellac, "My Black Ass"

By the time he arrived at Shellac, Steve Albini's legend was secure. From the pioneering work of Big Black to the amazing list of albums he engineered, he was already a towering figure in the music scene of the 80s and 90s. It was a surprise to me when he returned to recording music, as I thought he was done. It was an even bigger surprise when Shellac turned out to be incredible (dude!).

While Shellac will never be mistaken as prolific (five proper albums in 23 years so far), they're worth waiting for. Tremendous live show as well. This album, At Action Park, is probably the best intro to the punishing, math-y rock of Shellac.

Sicko, "You Gotta"

In college, I listened to a lot of pop-punk, such as the many bands of Lookout Records. To give a feel for that label, Lookout was Green Day's home before Dookie - my sophomore year roommate used to make fun of me for pumping Kerplunk! all the time, while I insisted the band was going to be huge. Who's laughing now! [listens to latest Green Day] [weeps]

Anyway, one Lookout band was the Mr. T Experience, headed by Frank Portman (aka Dr. Frank). I saw that the Mr. T Experience had a split 7" single with a band called Sicko that I hadn't heard of, and I was curious. Did I do the the logical thing and spend the few bucks on the single to try it out? Did I see if WRCT had a copy?

I did neither of those things. Instead, I found Portman's email address off Usenet and just asked him point-blank what he thought of Sicko. He did not ignore me, as would have been logical, or even ask me who the hell I was to be randomly writing to people like that. No, instead, he gracious answered my questions along with several more followups, and later even sent me an email about a new record coming out. Now, he wasn't exactly a huge star or anything, but he still took the time out of his day to indulge an awkward 18-year-old Josh's questions, and I've never forgotten it.

Anyway, Sicko: they played pop-punk, but they played it extremely well, with great songs and a huge amount of energy. It also wasn't super sappy, which can sometimes happen with the genre. I think the albums have held up pretty well, and still listen to them to this day. They're on my short list of my favorite pop-punk bands. Alas, they had the misfortune of being from Seattle at a time where everybody was obsessed with grunge, and they kind of got overlooked (as did their fellow travelers Flop). At least I still have the records!