Two decades ago, new and old albums from Guy Smiley, Supersuckers, Tricky and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):
As long as there’s been punk rock, Winnipeg has been a punk town. Maybe it’s the blue-collar, working-class population. Maybe it’s the isolation from passing trends. Or maybe the hellacious winters that deter touring bands also help forge loyal followings for hometown acts. Whatever the reason, Winnipeg has a rich punk heritage, from OGs like Stretch Marks and Personality Crisis to torchbearers such as Propagandhi.
Also bringing some new blood to the scene: Hard-working St. Vital road dogs Guy Smiley. The latter’s maximum-strength new disc Alkaline — their third CD, but the first to be released outside North America, thanks to a European deal with the punk purveyors at Epitaph Records — certainly leaves little doubt of their commitment to the cause. Indeed, it’s easy to figure out what Epitaph and European crowds see in them. Actually, it’s what they hear: Killer guitar riffs, rock-solid musicianship, anthemic shoutalongs, no-frills production, punk idealism and enough raw power to fire up your car in February.
The Guys have never walked the line between ringing metal and thrashing punk as smoothly and gracefully as they do here. Guitarist Paul Stewart peppers these tracks with whammy-bar virtuosity and ambulance-siren top string melodies; bassist Jamie Ryles and drummer Ryan Francis chug and grind with the precision born of countless gigs; and vocalist Derek Kun strikes a perfect balance between angst-fuelled roaring and soaring choruses — especially in The Canadian Way, the lads’ shout-out to the beloved Winnipeg Jets.
But even if Alkaline takes Guy Smily on to bigger and better things, the thing about Winnipeg is, there are always plenty of other bands waiting in the wings.
Title Of Record
If there’s anybody who should know better than to be a control freak, it’s Richard Patrick. The guitarist founded Filter after toiling for years behind Nine Inch Nails’ notorious Trent Reznor. Then he teamed with techtronica programmer Brian Liesegang to produce the successful debut CD Short Bus and the hit Hey Man, Nice Shot. Four years later, after Patrick reportedly drove Liesegang away — he supposedly had the nerve to want to write songs — the latter is sorely missed on Title Of Record. His electronic wizardry was the perfect foil for Patrick’s post-grunge bombast; without it, all that’s left is song after song of over-recorded guitars, over-written songs and over-indulgent lyrics. Hey man, nice try.
How The Supersuckers Became The Greatest Rock ’N’ Roll Band In The World
Any band that has the guts to use this title for their greatest hits album has to be either stupid, stoned or sarcastic. Well, Seattle’s sinsational Supersuckers might be all three. But one thing this band of trailer-trash cowboy metalheads are not is liars. This best-of set has 16 primo examples of their unmistakable style — a turbocharged cocktail of Chuck Berry’s riffs, Motörhead’s full-throttle thundercrack and The Dictators’ bombastic bluster. Even better: This set also sports nearly a dozen leftovers, B-sides, unreleased tracks and rarities (including a winking duet with Steve Earle on The Rolling Stones’ Before They Make Me Run and a funksploitation cover of Ice Cube’s Dead Homiez). This is how it’s done.
You write a song called Jean-Claude Trans Am, you’re OK in my book. Especially if your band is Texas pop-core foursome FENIX tx — who were called Riverfenix until they were threatened with a lawsuit from the dead actor’s estate. The icing on the cake: To go with all their smart-aleck attitude, these guys rock. Over a bed of SoCal pop-crunch power chords and spunky punk rhythms, FENIX layer crystalline Dickies harmonies and mile-a-minute melodies, churning out fast, furiously funny odes to surfing trendoids, soul-sucking minimum-wage jobs, and taking a Louisville Slugger to your girlfriend’s abusive dad. FENIX are definitely on the rise.
2 Lone Swordsmen
Like the deep-sea divers armed with an acetylene torch on this CD’s cover, U.K. electronica producers Keith Tenniswood and Andrew Weatherall are fully submerged in their medium and armed with cutting-edge tools. In their case, however, the implements are the bubbling bass lines, waves of strings that ebb and flow, scuba-breath effects and radar-blip synths that enable their dubby, ambient constructs to float on gentle currents of motion — and produce rapture of the deep in listeners. In the words of George Clinton, it’s a psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop.
The Middle Of Nowhere
For this latest disc, brothers from another planet Paul and Phil Hartnoll say that instead of trying to write whole songs in one go, they just wrote individual bits — beginnings, middles, endings — as inspiration struck, then pieced them together into tunes like a sonic jigsaw puzzle. You’d think the results would be disorganized and disjointed, but surprisingly, Middle Of Nowhere turns out to be much more than the sum of its parts. Their piecemeal approach to composition ironically creates an album that is more of a unified entity; the short sections and ever-evolving arrangements blur the borders between tracks until the whole affair becomes one long, pulsating, mutating, synthetic monster boogie of bleep-blooping boxes, block-rocking beats and buzzsaw effects. Dig the new funk soul brothers.
Rex Hobart & The Misery Boys
Forever Always Ends
Plenty of bands play country, look country and act country. But Rex Hobart IS country — from the fringes on his buckskin jacket to the broken heart painted on his drummer’s bass skin; from the Bakersfield twang of his emotive voice to the melancholy melodies of his somebody-done-somebody-wrong songs; from the gentle strum of his acoustic to the moan of his pedal steel player’s licks; and from the last-call loneliness of his ballads to the wordplay of lyrics like, “Please make me hate you before you go.” And if that ain’t enough, he even sings a song by his momma. If this is misery, you’ll be glad to keep it company.
Keep It Unreal
Too many electronica artists take it too seriously — think Moby at his most overblown. Of course, some don’t take it seriously enough — like Fatboy Slim at his most lunkheaded. Manchester DJ Andy (Mr. Scruff) Carthy manages to cut a groove straight between both camps. Utilizing jaunty jazz samples, springy bass lines and blaxploitation soul grooves, he leavens his relaxed dance floor tracks into playful statements without overstepping into sonic silliness. Electronica may be thinking man’s music — but you don’t have to overthink it.
Miles From Home
When you think drum ’n’ bass, chances are you think of skittering beatboxes and lumpy low-end synths. And most of the time you’d be right. But U.K. DJ Peshay knows d’n’b can incorporate much, much more. Like, say, thick slabs of standup bass and jazzy authentic (or at least incredibly authentic-sounding) drums. Or how about the occasional soulful diva? Robotic electro-grooves? Futuristic blaxploitation funk? Or all of the above? Like his contemporary Roni Size, Peshay’s old-school cool and futuristic funk are pushing the envelope of drum ’n’ bass in both directions at once.
The Detroit horror-rap duo are proteges of pale-faced Detroit horror-rap duo Insane Clown Posse. Pale imitation might be a better description. They want to come off dark and devilish; too bad their goofy voices and nasal delivery make them sound like Gilbert Gottfried rapping. As for content, well, Mostasteless is actually lesstasteless than ICP’s last outing. A few tunes such as Rock The Dead and Diemuthafuckadie! might tick off your dad, but the rest of these rhymes are as stale as ICP’s leftover popcorn.
Black Elvis / Lost In Space
If Bootsy Collins, Sun Ra and William S. Burroughs formed a hip-hop crew, they couldn’t be any more twisted than Kool Keith Thornton. How so? Well, he’s the rapper that Prodigy sampled for Smack My Bitch Up. And that’s nothing compared to his controversial solo albums, where he creates macabre characters like Dr. Octagon and spews free-association rhymes about pornography, alien anal probes, graphic violence and surgical misadventures. Keith tones down the more gruesome elements of his act on this major label debut — but remarkably, without diluting his unique brilliance. Even when his demented lyrics make no sense (“You are the monsters of the original Mr. Softee ice cream trucks”) the spacy Moog grooves and his otherworldly, hyperkinetic flow are enough to keep the whole affair in an orbit around Uranus.
Can’t Stay Away
When this O-Town rhyme baron called it quits in the mid-’90s, gangsta rap was on the ropes. Now, thanks to folks like Master P, it’s back, and so is the $hort dog. Too bad he hasn’t learned any new tricks. Too $hort’s 11th CD comes up, well, short. It’s just the usual collection of slow rolling funk and priapic pimp-raps about blunts and beeyatches, featuring the same roster of guests (Puff Daddy, E-40, Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri, Scarface) as every other hip-hop disc this year. It might have been better if he had stayed away.
No, it isn’t some fabulously ill-timed Mother’s Day set. MOM stands for Music For Our Mother Ocean, and this third instalment is another fundraiser for environmental preservation agencies. Fittingly, most of the tunes here are surfin’, summertime songs, covered by a range of rockers. Brians Wilson and Setzer rev up The Beach Boys’ Little Deuce Coupe, Everclear successfully grungifies The Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run and The Butthole Surfers play The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City so straight it’s freakier than if they’d messed it up. Toss in some breezy, easy originals from Beck, Lisa Loeb, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys and others, and this would be money well spent even if it didn’t go for a good cause.
The Blair Witch Project: Josh’s Blair Witch Mix
And the cash-grab officially begins: Even though this ultra-cool, no-budget horror flick had, like, one song in it, that hasn’t stopped the marketing muckety-mucks from trying to dip their sticky fingers into the profit pool with this so-called “companion” CD. The concept? These songs were on a cassette found in missing filmmaker Josh’s car. It’s all suitably spooky, goth-tinged stuff — Lydia Lunch, Skinny Puppy, Bauhaus, Type O Negative, you get the idea. And how’s this for spooky: Even though the kids vanished in 1994, Josh’s tape somehow includes songs that wouldn’t even be recorded for another four years.
This comedy spoof about white-trash kids from Iowa who think they’re gangsta rappers is supposed to be a hoot. Sadly, the soundtrack doesn’t share its sense of humour. Big Punisher, Raekwon, Slick Rick, Soopa Fly and Canibus turn in tracks of typical G-rap bravado and bluster, Snoop Dogg pretty much phones in the title cut, and the rest is filler from a bunch of unknowns. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t this have tracks from Eminem, Kid Rock or even Vanilla Ice? This album could have been pretty fly with a few white guys.
Tricky With DJ Muggs And Grease
On his own CDs like Maxinquaye and Pre-Millennium Tension, Tricky spins nightmarish, claustrophobic soundscapes. You wouldn’t think he and commercial guys like Cypress Hill’s blunted beatmaster Muggs and big-time rap producer Grease could agree on a bass line, never mind an album. But on Juxtaposition, they meet each other halfway, with Muggs and Grease poking their heads into Tricky’s dark world while he takes a few tentative steps into the light. Of course, for Tricky, lightening up means leavening his midnight rasp and shadowy, skittering style with acoustic guitars, funky percussion and lighthearted lyrics. It al makes Juxtaposition an agreeable affair.
Former Arrested Development main man Speech’s new disc begins with him asking directions to the main drag. In reality, he knows exactly where he’s going — he just isn’t in any hurry to get there. This sophomore solo outing is a lighthearted joyride through a varied hip-hop landscape of loose deep woods funk, folky southern guitars and back-porch melodies. Along the way, Speech pays respect to everyone from Stevie Wonder and De La Soul to Sly Stone and Bob Marley, without ever getting too far off track. It may not be the most direct route, but it definitely is worth the trip.
Can somebody please tell Barry White that South Park’s Chef is a joke? Judging by his new disc Staying Power, his first in four years, the original Smoove B has decided to base his comeback on the work of a cartoon character. Yes, he’s still the baddest basso profundo of silky boudoir soul, the man who can’t get enough of your love, babe. But when he starts crooning about making “sweet love” and purring lines like “I love the way you freak me” or (brace yourself) “Tease me with your emotions / Soon we’ll share nature’s body lotion,” he only puts you in the mood to laugh. Oh, baby? Oh, brother.