Wednesday, January 16, 2008

30 Centuries of Scott Walker

A retrospective on a career that spans from being a lead singer for the Walker Brothers to “The Drift” album, will a documentary on Scott Walker’s creative process shed more light on his artistry?

By: Vanessa Uy

“Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” a “Rockumentary” released to whet the appetite of dedicated Scott Walker fans. Being young, I’ve only known Scott Walker’s circa 1960’s musical career with the Walker Brothers after seeing this documentary. I never knew that the Walker Brothers’ fame at the time rivaled that of The Beatles. Also, the deep baritone voiced Scott Walker was named as one of the most influential people of Rock music history and one of his famed admirers were David Bowie. Despite of this, Scott Walker is not exactly a household name in either Britain or America. But if you can manage to find a dedicated fan from both sides of the Atlantic (there are more of them than you think), you might gain a first-hand experience of what it means to be a dedicated Scott Walker fan.

After his success during the 1960’s, Scott Walker withdrew from the public limelight. Now 64 years old, Scott Walker still receive god-like devotion from his fans and most of them (even the under 35’s) claim that they stuck by him since the “Walker Brothers” days. “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” is a documentary directed by Stephen Kijak documenting Scott Walker’s creative genius and his legacy with the attendant live performance footage from the 1960’s to the present. This documentary serves to spread awareness of Scott Walker’s works and even his existence (!) to the uninitiated.

In assessing the merits of “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man”, I also reevaluated my views on Scott Walker’s last two albums: “Tilt” and “The Drift”. I can say that Scott Walker is one of those gifted musicians who are terrified by fame even though he truly deserves praise for his talent. To me, Scott Walker probably single-handedly influenced the “anti-fashion” musical movement of the 1990’s with his Richard Wagner meets Heavy Metal style. After first hearing “Jesse” from Scott Walker’s “The Drift” album, my first impressions are- Did Scott Walker just invented a new genre of music? “Jesse” is a trippy sounding Oriental Modalism meets Guitar-Driven-Rock. This is a very radical departure from the sex-drugs-and-rock n’ roll that we have come to know and love of “conventional” Rock music. “Difficult avant- garde musician” is a description that comes to mind after hearing Scott Walker’s latest album. And the DVD of “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” is also worth it because it caters to the uninitiated-and successfully-at that. Although the documentary raises more questions than answers about weather Rock music in its current format needs revision beyond its dogmatic “three chords and the truth” format.

If you like Keiji Haino or love those Miles Davis’ albums that are a tribute to the passing of Jimi Hendrix like “Bitches’ Brew” and “Agharta” then you will surely love this documentary and the attendant music. Scott Walker just reminded me why I love listening to music in the first place.

Digging For Hazeldine

As a part of my ongoing curiosity for relatively unknown but very talented bands with a penchant for originality, I invariably dug up a veritable gem.

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since I’ve started listening to music on a regular basis, I’ve fantasized on being an “A&R” person working during the golden age of rock (1950-1980). How exciting it would be hearing The Runaways (Joan Jett and Lita Ford’s first band) or Jimi Hendrix playing their hearts out just for me to gain my approval for that all important “music deal”? If you ask me, it might be my way of compensating for being born too late to meet Jimi Henrix “in the flesh” or for being born too early for interplanetary colonization or interstellar travel. To be pragmatic, I’ve put it upon myself to tour record bars and used LP stores in search of unknown but talented bands. The “sense of satisfaction” I usually get from these adventures are more or less similar to my “A&R fantasy” except this is healthier because it’s for real.

I’ve been listening to Hazeldine’s “Digging You Up” album for almost two years now and it never seems to disappoint me. On this album, their sound and style could be described as “alternative country” i.e. a genre of music that became somewhat popular during the mid 1990’s like Grant Lee Buffalo or Cowboy Junkies, or as my audiobuddies jokingly describe as any well recorded country music with college level lyrics. Hazeldine’s “Digging You Up” is first and foremost an electric guitar driven album. The skillful inclusion of acoustic stringed instruments that are “de rigueur” in traditional country music like banjos and glockenspiel only help the band in the originality front to no end. Their vocal style is reminiscent of “Cowboy Junkies” except it is rawer in a way that compliments the tones of the electric guitars used in this album. If you fancy the sound of a “Fender Champ” and you don’t have US$3,000 burning a hole in you pocket then this album is for you. The tempo on most of the songs on this album is slow as in Ben Harper circa1998 slow, but like Ben Harper this only helps in their song craft. If you’re into Lunachicks style 300 beats per minute frenzy, then this album might not be to your liking.

To me, the first four songs of the album were standouts compared to the rest. “Allergic To Love” really speaks to me as most can’t-stand-the-heartache kind of songs (there aren’t many of them). My partiality to this song is only enhanced by my current love interest who likes the same TV shows as me like 24, Prison Break, Jericho, “Leno”, ”Conan”, ”SNL”, etc;. “Drive” relates to me in a way that’s not might have been intended by the songwriter, because I play this song in my head every time I fantasize about space travel. I wonder if those “servicemen” involved on the “War On Terror” listen to this song on their way to their bombing target. “Digging You Up” the title track to this album is one of those rare “boy mistreats me” songs that is not crappy. Well most of them are! While “Realize” to me is a song that should be included on the soundtrack on the famed movie director Alejandro Gonzales Inarrittu’s latest opus “Babel”. Even if the rest of the songs on the album pales in comparison to the first four that I have mentioned. These songs are still miles ahead in terms of musicianship and lyric writing in comparison to the current-crop of “alternative rock” songs in both airplay and down-loads that stress fashion over music or emulate the latest cash- cow band du jour.

If I were asked on “Why does fame elude Hazeldine?” I think it’s because they’re a band that places creative and artistic integrity of paramount importance. Next, it’s even harder now in post September 11, 2001 America to be a “red neck” woman country singer who is a philosopher-queen of sorts to gain superstar status. I think one would be an anathema to the “Fascist Bush Administration” as what had happened to the Dixie Chicks a few years ago. But enough about that, I’m just glad that there are bands like Hazeldine out there who aren’t afraid to speak their mind. Looks like New Mexico has other subjects of interest besides Georgia O'Keffe’s paintings of flowers that look like a puckered up “labia”.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Band Called Scrawl

Here’s a supremely talented, amazingly original rock band that’s been unjustly forgotten by both fame and fortune.

By: Vanessa Uy

If there was a redeeming quality of the on-line music business, it’s buying used vinyl LPs on e- bay. It’s Scrawl’s Bloodsucker album, the price offered is only half that of a full priced CD. Who says there are no more miracles?

I’ve always wondered why fame and fortune has eluded this band ever since I first started listening to them. Now that I have heard both of their Nature Film and Bloodsucker albums, it’s time for a deeper insight on why Scrawl achieved cult status despite of relative obscurity. While Bloodsucker is the first album that they released since the demise of their former record label Rough Trade. Rough Trade was a legendary record label that many a famous and infamous punk and power pop bands laid the foundation for the “alternative rock” movement of the 1990’s. Rough Trade is also notorious for releasing albums (especially CD) during the mid- 1980’s with a markedly more aggressive recorded sound quality than the norm. The band Young Marble Giants’ “NITA” CD (to be reviewed later); is a very good evidence to start.

What makes Scrawl great is not just defined by the timeframe when “foxcore” was in vogue circa 1989 to 1994. To me good songwriting skills can transcend the limitations of the music being created, thus making it timeless even though on closer scrutiny it betrays the era on when it was created. During their heyday, Scrawl resisted the urge to be a fashionable “foxcore” band like Courtney Love’s “Hole”, by cranking the volume or playing out of tune. Scrawl’s guitarist Marcy Mays has a whole different idea on what “foxcore” means because for her, it means less adept at your instrument and being more bitchy.

Scrawl’s minimalist and rhythmic style might make you think that they are cashing in on the popularity of early alternative/power pop bands like “The Replacements” or Bob Mould’s “Hüsker Du” but theirs is a bit more rough and brooding. Scrawl’s trademark has always been dark but catchy pop songs that stop just short of being melodic. Marcy Mays ascribes much of the credit for this sound to her Hamer sunburst- the same model favored by her favorite guitarist, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen. As the band’s sole guitarist, Mays makes the most of it by using a lot of open strings as opposed to full chords to make her guitar ring and sustain. This may also be a factor in Scrawl having a distinct “sound” of their own.

Even though as a musical format, post World War II popular i.e. rock music is a rather old and utterly predictable medium (verse, chorus, verse, bridge, verse…), Scrawl still manages to infuse theirs with intelligence and wisdom and ends up with songs that are hardly boring or routine. Lyric- wise, they are not your current-crop of Billboard Chart divas who are hell-bent on singing angry songs about the way boys treat her.

In my opinion, it’s a bit strange to label Scrawl as a guitar-driven rock band because in most of their songs, bassist Sue Harsh and drummer Dana Marshall are recorded a bit louder than Marcy Mays’ guitar parts. To me, this will only make their recordings sound more natural.

While they do most of their tours in the continental United States, they wish on someday taking their act overseas. As an audiophile we can help them by asking our “almighty record industry” to release their albums to our local record stores so that every local audiophile can buy them without hassles. Lets help Scrawl fulfill their wish in playing in Budokan, I think this is an ancient temple that hosts rock concerts in Japan. The all time famous bands who had played here before are Cheap Trick and Kiss.

You can send your fan mail to them @ Scrawl P.O. Box 82058 Columbus, Ohio 43202 or @ WWW.SCRAWL.NET.

Curbing Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

One of the most buzz-worthy bands 1992 Ned’s Atomic Dustbin might just win your hearts and your ears over.

By: Vanessa Uy

Here’s a band that professed to prefer to be heard live every time this certain question crops up in their interviews. As a fellow musician, I agree that live gigs are a good place in which to start a fan base.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s debut album “God Fodder” to me, is more than a mere consolation to their fans who likely might never see and hear them perform live. To me, their moniker is somewhat of a misnomer. After seeing this cassette tape copy of their album almost given away for free in a garage sale, I thought that Ned’s Atomic Dustbin is a 1950’s sounding rockabilly band like the Brian Setzer Orchestra in homage to the “Nuclear Age.” Instead Ned’s Atomic Dustbin are a very interesting mix of punk rock and genteel British new wave with progressive metal drumming thrown in on the blisteringly fast tempo tracks. I’ll bet their drummer will be perfect for my band, he perfectly compliments my guitar playing skills.

While two guitar player bands are somewhat dime a dozen. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s line up is unique as typical rock bands go even until now because they have two bass players namely Alex and Mat. The only other bands I know who utilize this two- bassist configuration are Cop Shoot Cop and Girls Against Boys. I’ve heard them all and thank God they’re not copying each other’s style. Regular subscribers of Bass Player magazine whose subscription extends back to 1992 should not confuse Ned’s Atomic Dustbin with Cop Shoot Cop (also a perennial favorite of mine), just because those two bands are the subject of the magazine’s cover story back then. And also they are literally poles apart.

Despite having the fuzz pedal of their lone guitarist Rat being set at a quite aggressive level and Dan’s frenzy paced drumming on most of the songs. The mood on “God Fodder” is quite cheerful when compared to their Seattle Grunge contemporaries.
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin as a band, are surely aiming for originality whichever way they can.

To me, this album’s cover art, sleeve note designs, and songs seem to cater the “college radio” crowd of the early nineties. But at this time, Seattle Grunge was on the rise and the growing perception of Ned’s potential “American College Radio” fans is that their pseudo Manchester (or is that Madchester) sound is becoming pretty staid even though their only competitors for air time are MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. This is probably why they haven’t gained superstar status.

Generally, this is quite a great album. I really like the way the two bassists and their lone guitarist go about their business in this album. They all seemed like joined in the hip somehow. But what strikes me as odd is that the pretty sounding reverb in their slower tempo songs like “Selfish” disappears when the beat shifts into high gear like on “Throwing Things” and “What Gives My Son?” Also, I tend to dislike rock bands that sing with a British accent. It’s ok if you’re a traditional English folk band using period instruments. If The Beatles or Johnny Rotten didn’t sing with one, it doesn’t mean that you should.

I’ve learned from my research that Ned’s Atomic Dustbin released a second album, but they seem to slip slowly out of the limelight after this time.

Partying With Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

In this post September 11, 2001 world, it’s quite refreshing to know that there are still people out there who try their best to foster understanding between Islam and the West.

By: Vanessa Uy

Despite of Pakistan being in the limelight of recent geopolitical events, I only know of two Pakistani musicians namely the rock band: Junoon and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to me is probably one of the most unique musical performers who gained crossover stardom that’s mostly centered at the “College Radio Alternative Rock Community.” Even though he passed away on August 1997 at age 48, his worldwide fan base is still growing on a daily basis. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is probably one of the most exotic sounding musician who had gained reverence of the Western MTV generation.

Khan performed Islamic devotional music or “qawwali” exclusively. Drawing from a thousand-year-old tradition of Sufi poetry like the works of Bhulle Shah, Shams Tabrez, Shah Hussain, and the great Sufi poet and scholar, Amir Khursrav.

During the start of the 1990’s, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s music began to gain serious inroads into the United States. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, and Joan Osborne are said to have been inspired by Khan’s music. Probably in an effort to increase their creativity.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Party’s “The Supreme Collection, Volume 1” is the CD which I am currently listening. Qawwali is primarily an Islamic devotional music with the inclusion of carnal metaphors. This is somewhat similar to what Ray Charles had done to Southern Baptist spiritual music thus creating R&B. A qawwali- performing group is called a “party.” Khan’s “Supreme Collection” CD is an example of a traditional Pakistani qawwali performance where the principal or lead vocalist is backed by harmonium, tabla, handclaps, and choir. Traditionally qawwali “songs” are usually 2 hours long, repeating the lines as to make their meaning melt into clarity. As a common practice when recorded, the songs are shortened to more or less 20 minutes. I think the intended message the “songs” are trying to convey remained intact in this truncated form basing on my very basic colloquial Urdu.

To me, this is probably one of the most exotic / different / far out sounding music that had entered circulation into the music repertoire of the alternative/ college radio community. Since qawwali has been around for centuries, one could conjecture that it might had influenced Western music long before the birth of rock n’ roll. I think the end of “Neptune” on Gustav Holts’ “The Planets” was probably inspired by qawwali. More recent examples are The Gathering’s space punk song “Liberty Bell” or Veruca Salt’s “Loneliness is Worse” and “Earthcrosser.”

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan might also have influenced a younger generation of Pakistani musicians. The rock band Junoon has been playing their own interpretation of qawwali using the electric guitar, bass, and drum kit set-up with wonderful results.

So far , a terribly large majority in the West only thinks that Islam is about Osama Bin Laden and terrorism. They should seek enlightenment via qawwali.

Will “We7” Save the Music Industry?

Will Peter Gabriel’s “We7” make music downloads equitable for musicians, music lovers and record label executives?

By: Vanessa Uy

Slated to be launched on June 2007, Peter Gabriel – supported “We7” not only promises to please musicians and record label executives but also provide a legal and legitimate music download service that’s free of charge for those who have acquired a taste of Napster’s “poisoned fruit.” The music downloads on “We7” are free in the sense that music lovers and/or fans don’t have to pay a single cent to the site. The site itself uses the revenue created by the adverts on the site itself to pay the musicians and record label executives according to how often their “works” are downloaded. Another “Bolshevist” feature of this site is that users are encouraged to share the music that they downloaded to other music lovers so that they will also “fall in love” with “We7”. To me this is a far better proposition than Digital Rights Management or DRM.

Sound quality issues aside, the downloadable music phenomena on the web has the advantage of worldwide accessibility that is quantum leaps ahead compared to traditional music distribution systems like record stores-even specialist ones. For example: the freak commercial success of Ed McMahon’s “Star Search” alumnus Tracey Spencer during 1989 has been a boon to music lovers everywhere who are into the politically-correct-side-of-altruism message. But a follow up of something similar has been slow in coming. The posthumous success of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to American MTV audiences in 1998 was much delayed due to the slowness of traditional music distribution systems back then. Even though a handful of adventurous music lovers has been enjoying the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the US since the mid- 1980’s. If you seek to introduce a more adventurous variety to your musical taste, its much easier today via on- line music downloads. The Turkish-German R&B sensation Muhabbet became well known via the Internet. Muhabbet means to talk to each other in Turkish, has gained enough fame for his talent to be noticed. And now, Muhabbet has become UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador. Interested parties can contact Muhabbet at

I just hope that “We7” doesn’t forget the sound quality aspect of their site because as a legal music download site, sound quality can serve as a unique selling point for a site that supports the welfare of hardworking musicians and others in the music biz. As Peter Gabriel is a humanitarian-at-heart, the extent of “We7’s” benefits could put a major dent on extreme poverty. But for now, on line music download services like “We7” provides a level playing field for musicians anywhere in the world who are very talented but still lack the recognition they rightfully deserve.

In Praise of Intruder

For those of you who had lived through the thrash metal era, you might remember Intruder, a band with a take- no- prisoners- level of intensity.

By: Vanessa Uy

By the mid 1980’s, thrash metal a metal music for urban skateboard enthusiasts as opposed to The Beach boys’ surf rock music, was in full bloom. This musical genre which was believed to had begun in San Francisco area hence the term “Bay Area Bangers” which was used to describe bands like Metallica, Testament, and Exodus. It became such a lucrative money- making “investment” to the music biz that some bands began copying the style and sound of their more popular contemporaries like the supposedly mythological case of Metallica versus Testament.

Intruder, somewhat late entrants of the thrash metal trend, tried their best to achieve originality while penning the most righteous thrash metal music ever recorded. By the release of their “A Higher Form of Killing” album, Intruder was touted as one of the best new comers of the 1989 thrash metal scene. Some of the music press at the time described them as a “progressive metal” act and comparing them with Queensrÿche and Fate’s Warning. To me, just because a heavy metal has a vocalist who sounds like he or she is an alumnus of Juilliard School of Music or Berklee; or a clean sounding, well recorded album doesn’t automatically make one a progressive metal act.

One of Intruder’s notable trademarks includes beautifully designed album cover art. Probably “Iron Maiden” influenced. Like the post-apocalyptic war zone with a cyborg soldier scene on “A Higher Form of Killing,” and the Dr. Hannibal Lecter like character on their next album “Psycho Savant.”

Of the two albums I heard so far, my favorite is “Psycho Savant” because it reflected the band’s growth since the release of “A Higher Form of Killing.” My favorite track on the “Psycho Savant” album is NGRI or “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.” I really love the reverb and the other effects that are engineered into this song. Heavy metal bands of late have acquired disdain for well- recorded albums and effects. Is this just a form of Bolshevism in the metal world or is recording an album with the same level of sound quality, as Intruder’s “Psycho Savant” had become too expensive by present day standards. In terms of musicianship, any guitar player who can play and sound like they had graduated from Juilliard or Berklee. Or whose guitar playing skills is as good (Choose to play good?) or better than mine will always be my instant favorite.

My careful examination of the lyrics reveals the “politics” of this band. Intruder might be Evangelical Christians like Stryper (the best of their kind and remains unequalled even now though Stryper's "Against the Law" album was criticized by the Evangelical Christian Community for it's Liberation Theology stance), but Intruder are quite subtle about expressing their beliefs in their songs just like what POD is doing as of late. This manifests on the Intruder song “Final Word,” in which their ideology leans toward the pro-life camp. I’m pro-choice for the same reason that I invest in a good security system.

Even though their music is written from a time when the Evangelical powers-that-be still practice rationality. Music wise, I love Intruder. Politically, I’ve always mistrusted the “Evangelical Tribe” because their elder statesmen had been using the errant ramblings of Nostradamus as a basis for formulating the present U.S. Foreign Policy.

Exploring Siphò Gumede

Reviewing an album of South African music via a CD produced by a company who makes hi-fi speakers might sound like a tale you can only hear from a National Geographic Society meeting.

By: Vanessa Uy

Back in 1985, while working on his “Graceland” album. Paul Simon inevitably raised global awareness of the South African music scene. This gave bands like Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Bundu Boys a chance to play in lucrative U.S. venues like in The Tonight Show With Jay Leno for example.

In Siphó Gumede’s “Down Freedom Avenue,” the album has a very distinct South African flavor especially on the up- tempo songs. Here the percussion style is enough even for the average world music punter to trace Gumede’s stylistic roots.

Even though much of the music in this album has an American jazz influence, I really loved this album’s apparent exoticness. Siphó Gumede using music as a medium has skillfully painted a picture of optimism of post-Apartheid South Africa. I hope B&W’s marketing department will make their South African music catalogues more widely available since I’ve luckily acquired this CD in a garage sale. Even my audio buddies want one. “Down Freedom Avenue” might as well be a good place as any to start your South African music exploration.

Finding Moses Taiwa Molelekwa

Looks like Lady Luck is on my side because I have found another B&W CD of South African music.

By: Vanessa Uy

Moses Taiwa Molelekwa’s “Finding One’s Self” album might be dismissed by some jaded music critic as another work of a South African musician cashing in on the wake of the popularity of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, but it’s hardly like that at all. Finding One’s Self, is a piano based jazz album whose backing musicians have a distinctively South African flavor especially the “choir’s” breathy vocals.

In this album, the backing musicians are somewhat dominating the proceedings. The interaction or vibe between Molelekwa and his back up reminds me of those 1950’s Southern Baptist Spiritual recordings where the choir and churchgoer’s singing drowns out the pedal steel guitar accompanying them.

Moses Taiwa Molelekwa is at his best during those rare “minimalist” moments where the other musicians take a “back seat.” Although it’s in these parts where, to me at least, he sounds like your typical Juilliard School of Music alumnus jazz pianist living in Brooklyn. It’s somewhat the same problem here in the Philippines when accomplished jazz musicians, tries to find gigs overseas to seek greener pastures. The best of them manage to wind up as session musicians for Sergio Mendes. Fortunate as that may be, their artistry suffers. Their playing is devoid of any Filipino influence whatsoever, no matter how good their musicianship skills are.

This is somewhat the same problem that to me at least; hinder Moses Taiwa Molelekwa from achieving his full creative potential. His style stretches way beyond the confines of his South African country and culture. He sounds less “African” than many of his contemporaries. Nonetheless this is still one enjoyable release from the company who also makes excellent sounding, low cost hi-fi speakers.

Avril Lavigne: The Best Damn Thing Ever?

Did Avril Lavigne inadvertently create an “Edsel” when she set out to write the songs on her third album?

By: Vanessa Uy

The title of this blog would have been “Ten Questions About Avril Lavigne That the Press and Her Fans Were Afraid to Ask”. Those “ten questions” could still crop up as we go along, but first lets take an in-depth view of Avril Lavigne’s third album.

“The Best Damn Thing” (RCA88697 03174-2) is Avril Lavigne’s third and latest release. Also RCA records released her two previous albums – “Let Go” and “Under My Skin” – which I paid full price (I also own a number of rare 7” vinyl of Avril Lavigne’s singles). Luckily I acquired “Best Damn Thing” for free since I won the CD from a local FM radio contest.

Compared to her two previous albums, me – and anyone I knew whose musical tastes more or less mirrors my own – were disappointed by Avril Lavigne’s “Best Damn Thing”. Was it the headline single “Girlfriend”? The answer is a big juicy yes for the reasons not just from the song being overplayed by the local FM stations or the local mall’s P.A. system. To us – especially me – “Girlfriend” has the hallmarks of being a mere “product”, no more or less inspired than a half-decent NBA or NFL halftime show or Britney Spears showing her privates. After the second to third time I heard the song “Girlfriend”, I had a “Road to Damascus Epiphany” on the true meaning of the term bubblegum-pop. Despite the happy “disposition, the “apparently” catchy hooks and lively beats fails to save “Girlfriend” from having the holistic integrity of Avril Lavigne’s “sadder” songs.

All of this made me wonder if the artistic quality / merit of Avril Lavigne’s performance demos being sent to RCA back in 2001 or 2002 sounds like her “Best Damn Thing” album. The A & R executives (talent scouts) of RCA would seriously reconsider about signing Avril Lavigne up – to the point of not signing her up.

The saving grace of this album is the torch song (?) “Pieces of My Heart”. But still I wonder if this song’s beauty is the result of Avril Lavigne’s excellent songcraft or the song’s music video - which is in heavy MTV rotation this past few months since the American “Credit Crunch.”

The way I see it, Avril Lavigne – for reasons that still elude me – has sacrificed her artistic integrity in exchange for more money. I mean she’s quite busy since Memorial Day pandering to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant / Evangelical community of America by implying that she’s a viable, kid-safe replacement for Michael Jackson. The way she talks about “God” in her MTV interviews could “Anglo-Saxonify” Jesus Christ to the point of looking like Conan O’Brien.

I mean if Avril Lavigne was around during that crucial period in 1988–1989. Where the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which was headed by Tipper Gore - wife of Al “An Inconvenient Truth” Gore. Was then reaching out to the teens of America at that time to help them fulfil their core mission of making the REAGANISM of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority a way of life to a whole generation of American teenagers. To me back then, Avril Lavigne would have no choice other than to become a herald of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority’s “Imperial Ambitions” because her “musical” competitions in the pop charts circa 1989 are very weak, which primarily makes Avril very rich. The mediocrity of Milli Vanilli alone would make Avril Lavigne a wholesome, child friendly substitute to Axl Rose. Avril Lavigne would single handedly save PMRC -if only this hypothetical situation can be made real. Except that 99% of her fans don’t even know what PMRC is or if they even care about the time when the game show host Howie Mandel of “Deal or No Deal” was still in “St. Elsewhere”. This makes a good book / novel don’t you think?

But in Avril Lavigne’s defense, living in the “Stepford Wives-ville” that we call Anglo-Saxon America (Sen. John Edward’s “Other America”) had probably made her extremely unhappy. Empty materialism can be such a drag. The way I see it, Avril probably needs the millions of dollars that her “talent” provides, just to achieve the same levels of happiness experienced by pastoral folk like the Kalahari “Bushmen” of Sub-Saharan Africa. If Avril Lavigne does something similar to what The Beatles did with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi back in 1967 maybe by incorporating Sufi or Druse mysticism into her lifestyle. Will this do wonders to her “creative process” without sacrificing the millions of dollars that she earns? I think –at the present Bush / Neo Conservative administration - its way too risky to her preferred charity organization: War Child. Will Avril Lavigne’s artistic appeal be lost amidst the millions of dollars in royalties? Praise Goddess for my way overplayed Paramore “promotional” DVD.

Celebrating the Best of Osibisa

Here’s a band whose mission is to tell everyone there’s more to continental Africa than wars and despotic leaders.

By: Vanessa Uy

For all it’s worth, almost everyone I knew has a certain ignorant-leaning pre-conception about African music. Most of them conjure up sounds and images of 1930’s Johnny Weissmöler –era Tarzan. But lets face it, those of us who are “in the know” knew that it’s more than that.

Recently, all that we seem to hear about Africa is the crisis in the Darfur Region, “conflict diamonds” or what kind of atrocities the Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe has inflicted upon his political rivals. Even one of the most trusted names in journalism, the BBC seems to have a fixation on the ugly facets of Africa. Well, as always, I’ve put it upon myself to explore what might have been to me an artistic expression that extols this continent’s rich cultural heritage: African Music.

The first time I heard “Celebration-The Best of Osibisa”, I was transported into a parallel universe: A universe were the Catholic Church gained enlightenment the same time Michaelangelo finished his paintings on the Sistine Chapel. A Catholic Church that learned the true meaning of “self-determination” and “human rights”; a universe were slavery was resolved in continental Africa without the European and American powers becoming entangled in its evil rigmarole. You know: an Africa whose art and culture was evolved by people who benefited from self-determination. We’re allowed to dream, aren’t we?

Osibisa are one of those bands that helped launch a new style of music back in 1970 called "Afro-Rock." Osibisa’s fusion of African music and Rock laid the groundwork for succeeding generations of African musicians to benefit the growing worldwide interest in African music. Witness the success of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album whose roster of South African musicians gave them global exposure.

Osibisa, whose core members hailed from Ghana in West Africa, were catapulted to stardom on their gig in London back in 1970. Their albums became Afro-Rock classics like “Osibisa”, ”Wo Ya Ya”, ”Heads”, ”Superfly”, ”Welcome Home”, ”Ojah Awake” and “Mystic Energy” which collectively sold over 8 million copies-a feat no other African band has ever came close to.

Although passed over somewhat by the 1990’s World Music phenomenon that catapulted Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to crossover stardom in the MTV circuit and specifically, the ascent to stardom of Siphó Gumede and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa at that time. Osibisa created more than any other band, the groundwork for the entire African Rock Music movement to become the vibrantly flourishing culture today.

“Celebration-The Best of Osibisa” is their greatest hits compilation. For the benefit of those who heard them the first time around, the tracks on this album include: “Everybody Happy”, “Happy Children”, “Wo Ya Ya”, “Welcome Home”, “Right Now”, “Ke Le Le” and others taken from their previous albums. Osibisa’s sound and message, even back in the turbulent times of the 1970’s where most of the African continent is in turmoil, has an optimism that anticipated 1990’s post-Apartheid South Africa. To me, this album is highly recommended to Bob Marley fans so that they may gain a deeper insight into the roots of Reggae and Rastafarian culture.

Hailing Nuclear Valdez

Sound quality aside, it is somewhat still satisfying to explore relatively obscure but talented bands via old garage sale cassette tapes.

By: Vanessa Uy

The group’s moniker reminds me of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, the one that ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989. Causing a terrible oil spill. Or the movie “Water World”, where the same oil tanker was resurrected.

Nuclear Valdez is a Miami-based, three-fourths Hispanic group. On their: “Dream Another Dream” album whose cassette tape copy of mine are on its last legs, their musicianship and message still shine through.

In 1992, Guitar World magazine touted Nuclear Valdez as a potent group in today’s rock scene. The band’s personnel are Robert Slade le Mont, Juan Diaz, Jorge Barcala, and vocalist Friolan Sosa. Their signature sound is very guitar driven with early 1990’s eclecticism. That blends seamlessly with the heavy Latino-spiced imagery, which forms as the foundation of their unique music.

“Dream Another Dream” has been declared a superb collection back in its day with songs like “(Share a Little) Shelter,” “I Think I Feel,” and “The Will” gaining critical appeal. Nuclear Valdez wrote songs about post- 1991Gulf War optimism that are neither trite nor hackneyed and surprisingly have that timeless quality inherent in them.

To me, lyric wise the album depends so much on subtle contemporary (1992) imagery to depict the deepest ills of our society, reminiscent of the Tori Amos school of songwriting. And Nuclear Valdez’s songs about optimism and altruism didn’t come out trite or corny. One could be forgiven if you think that the songs are written maybe just a few months ago even though some of them are still topically relevant like global warming issues.

Despite all of this, this is not an album for anyone. Especially those weaned on hard core Latino music like the works of Paquito D’Rivera or Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club album. In today’s 21st Century music market, Hispanic metal bands that are heavily influenced by Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin are deemed too Anglo or Norteamericano by a growing number of Spanish-speaking listeners even if their songs are sung in Spanish. To me, that’s their loss. Take a listen to Nuclear Valdez, you might want to book for a cruise.

I just hope that I can find a CD copy of this album that’s still in good condition. If anyone has one to sell, please feel free to drop me a line.

Going Native with Joey Ayala

Of all the Filipino bands/musical groups that enjoy airplay in rock-format FM stations, Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad is probably the most unique sounding of all.

By: Vanessa Uy

Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad, a band that spread the message of socio-political consciousness: using their own brand of ethnic-folk fusion music. They’re one of those bands that you can probably play in your hi-fi on a school night using the High-School-Music-Project excuse for those young listeners with excessively strict parents. Even though I only listen to three of Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad albums on a regular basis namely: “Magkabilaan,” “Lumad sa Syudad,” and “Mga Awit ng Tanod-lupa” I know more than enough on what to like about this band.

Joey Ayala has been writing songs since the mid- 1980’s. During the “golden age” of the Pinoy rock music scene (early to mid-1990’s). Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad was probably the only act in regular airplay- at that time- who are not cashing in on the popularity of the alternative rock/grunge/foxcore movement of the 1990’s American music scene. The only other ethnic-folk-rock fusion act that I can compare them with confidence is the Pakistani rock band Junoon, even though it’s a cognitively dissonant comparison.

To me, Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad’s artistic integrity probably survived the rigors of disillusionment brought about by their own and their contemporaries relatively fast rise into stardom during the 1994-95 period. Most of their really talented contemporaries seem to vanish without a trace. The message of their songs has always been to raise awareness of examining our own actions. Whether what we do on a daily basis can cause us to become a pawn, an innocent by-stander or someone who is willing to get their hands dirty like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel to act upon things to bring change. While their songs go on to philosophize, the lyrics maintain an aesthetic appeal that they are an integral part of the songs rather than mere jingoistic slogans and sound bytes.

Most-if not all-of Joey Ayala’s songs are very enlightening. The song Hithit-Buga from the “Lumad sa Syudad” album was supposedly more than a public-service message in support for the governments anti-smoking campaign. I herd from a radio DJ a few months ago that Joey Ayala was trying to kick the habit at the time when he wrote that song. Little Brown Man is about the hardships faced by Filipinos living in America. This song might also be Joey Ayala’s critique of the runaway “American Disposable Consumerism” and the Filipino-Americans who are victimized by this evil doctrine.

My most favorite Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad album in more ways than one is “Mga Awit ng Tanod-lupa.” Maybe this is because it is the most gorgeous-sounding and well recorded of all of their albums. Maybe this is because Joey Ayala’s excellent musicianship is very much highlighted here, or maybe I’m just a natural-born-eco-warrior. Joey Ayala probably single-handedly brought the message of environmental awareness to the mid-1990’s Pinoy rock scene. Mind you, this was 10 years before Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” made environmentalism in vogue for the under-25 crowd.

In the “Mga Awit ng Tanod-lupa” album, one of the member’s of Bagong Lumad namely Bayang Barrios displayed her singing prowess in the song Walang Ibang Sadia. With a talent like this, she deserves a full- length album release.

In more ways than one, Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad is probably one of the best Filipino bands in existence. To me they are the best Filipino band, period. I like the way they use various ethnic-old school-cultural minority- Filipino musical instruments that you can only hear and see most of the time in museums or those boring Music classes in the High-School curricula. The way Joey Ayala and his band combine these instruments with a modern rock drum set. Write music in a rock context where each ethnic instrument’s beauty is allowed to shine through is really ingenious. Basing on the conservative and jaded nature of rock format FM stations, Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad probably lived very charmed lives to be able to get any radio airplay.

These days, jaw-dropping musicianship is no longer enough to impress the powers-that-be in the music industry. In an age where pubescent porn stars are clamoring for legitimacy by entering the music biz. I’m just glad there’s a large body of excellent recorded works out there like the ones made by Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad are still available. These are viable tools for putting any would be Stalinist pseudo-rock stars in their place.

A Tribe Called Fish

The Pinoy music scene had a love affair with a thing called foxcore courtesy of a band called Tribal Fish.

By: Vanessa Uy

For those who remembered, foxcore is a musical movement by women musicians who are into punk rock. This means being less adept at your musical instrument (usually an electric guitar) and being bitchy as the early 1990’s definition apply.

Tribal Fish are Leilani “Toks” Toquero on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Tsin Reyes on lead guitar, Rowena “Taweng” Isidro on bass, and “Bullet” Kondo on drums. I acquired recently from a garage sale a worn out cassette tape of their eponymous album probably from 1994. Despite of the shaky sound quality, their musicianship skills still shine through.

In this article, I interviewed anyone who had seen them perform in the flesh. I’m only confident on the opinions and views of those fans whose musical inclinations are somewhat similar to mine. To them Tribal Fish epitomize the foxcore creed through and through, although they are more skilled than most of their contemporaries in musicianship skills especially playing guitar. One of them remembers their very first gig back in March 10, 1994 in the then center of the hipness universe Club Dredd. They were one of the freshest sounding foxcore bands in the Pinoy music scene at the time. They’re style is a mix of catchy power pop and punk with guitar virtuosity thrown in for good measure.

Another band, which was their contemporary, was Keltscross (a topic for latter review) gave the Pinoy foxcore movement much needed exposure to the denizens of uninitiated teens which at the time only thought that “Original Filipino Music” is this faux “R&B” pre copulation music for spoiled rich folks. Sadly, this is still true in the 21st Century.

Desperate for originality, majority of foxcore bands from the early “1990’s,” prefer a tonally dark sounding Gibson SG electric guitar and Marshall amp/speaker combo as opposed to the all Fender set up of the Sex Pistols circa 1977. In Tribal Fish the basic loud distorted three chord rock n’ roll format still remains, the lyrics are about the darker side of man’s inhumanity to their fellowman, the Philippine culture of politically motivated violence which seems a hang over from the Marcos regime. My favorite song on this album is “Sayaw Lukring.” This song is about a woman dealt with a bad fate being ostracized by everyone around her. I can identify with this, except the people who are presently ostracizing me are peeved by my relatively- charmed-spoiled-white-Jewish-girl kind of life. One of Tribal Fish’s more unconventional songs-lyric wise- is “Wag Kang Baboy” which makes one think that these group of punks are sticklers for good personal hygiene. This topic to me is kind of anathema to anarchist punk I think.

Women in “Pinoy Rock” are not new. For those who still remember or care to, in the 1970’s there was Sampaguita and Lolita Carbon, the lead vocalist of the band Asin. Lolita Carbon also had solo projects since then. Though even until now Filipina rock music performers are still somewhat of a novelty act. One fan recalls a radio interview of Tribal Fish from around November of 1994, which Leilani Toquero says: “It wasn’t our primary intention to form an all girl group.” Maybe there’s something to this “chemistry between band members” thing after all.

Sadly true then as it is now. Being a girl can be a drawback if you play in a band. Compounded by being young and still living with the parents. The same parents, permissive or otherwise, who are expected in Filipino society to frown upon their daughters if they stay up all night to play in a ratty, cigarette-smoke-filled venues with horny and drug-addled adolescent males and girls who are into sexual experimentation. Is “We’re not in Kansas anymore” the apt statement?

School and day jobs can also take their toll, especially here in our country where music piracy gained it’s present day “Filipiniana” status like Dr. Jose Rizal’s original home or something. Being a rock star just won’t pay the bills, except if you have a really, “REALLY” charmed life. Tribal Fish lost lead guitarist Tsin Reyes to her scholastic obligations. And add to that the perennial hassle of getting parental permission to play in out-of-town gigs. And you’ve got yourself an insurmountable problem that can really stifle your creativity.

In today’s Pinoy music scene, it’s more likely that we will never see and hear a band like Tribal Fish ever again. The band du jour are these bland, coma- inducing faux Parisian Café chanteuses who sound like they’ve taken a wrong turn and are now 12,000 klicks from Havana or something. To me 1994 was Pinoy Rocks “finest hour” as evident on the other bands from this period like Yano, The Youth, and The Teeth.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Restoring Magellan

After hearing them on an old cassette tape copy of their album that’s already on it’s last legs. Magellan can still make me wonder why they never gained superstar status.

By: Vanessa Uy

Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the “progressive metal label” has been thrown around almost shamelessly. It was used to describe artistic and unconventional heavy metal bands of the time like Queensryche, or to any other metal band heavily influenced by 1970’s “prog rockers” like Yes, Jethro Tull, and Rush.

Magellan’s “Hour of Restoration” album to me is a very fine example of what describes a good progressive metal band. It’s very refreshing to know that good songwriting wasn’t forgotten on this album. Then and now, heavy metal bands (this also includes 1990’s Seattle grunge and punk rock musicians) as a whole are not known for paying much attention to good songwriting. Don’t forget that this is a guitar driven album (aren’t all metal albums) with chops-busting music. It’s quite refreshing to hear a band whose guitar playing skills are better than mine as opposed to this current-crop of young under-25 Billboard chart topping bands whose guitar playing is much like that of a gifted two-year-old.

As metal bands go, creating a mood through the use of “poetic” words is just as valid a lyric-writing technique as telling the story in a literal manner. It seems like this is in fashion back then, in the early 1990’s as epitomized by Tori Amos.

Sadly, the cassette tape copy of this musical masterpiece is in a presently sad state. After being attacked by termites, only a small portion of the liner notes survived. Fortunately, the cassette’s mechanism still survives making it somewhat playable, but I wont call it hi-fi.

I really love the cathedral like reverb of this recording since the primary venue where I listen to live bands is a disused chapel. To anyone who can sell me a CD of Magellan’s “Hour of Restoration” album, please drop me a line.

The Keiji Haino Experience

Even though Japan is much closer here than the United States. The ratio between people who know who is Keiji Haino and those who don’t is probably the same here in the Philippines, as is in the U.S.

By: Vanessa Uy

I’ve read somewhere that Keiji Haino’s albums are only available as very expensive, as far as music formats go for mail order imports. It’s also not released locally here. In our country, it surprises me that even accomplished rock and jazz guitarists I know who have regular gigs in Japan haven’t heard of Keiji Haino.

So far, I’ve listened to Haino’s solo live album titled “A Challenge To Fate,” and from his regular group Fushitsusha via “The Caution Appears” and “Allegorical Misunderstanding” albums. My memory is somewhat hazy about a Keiji Haino live concert laser disc circa 1989 I’ve seen in an electronic store demo a few months ago.

Describing Keiji Haino’s guitar playing sound and technique via journalistic scribbling is akin to a comparison to seeing the aurora borealis first hand and of seeing one on a video monitor. There are things in life that you have to experience for yourself. Even though Haino, either solo or with Fushitsusha might be the most unique sounding performers in the world who use conventional rock instruments like amplified guitars (Marshall stacks, of course) bass guitars and rock music drum kits. They have a Black Sabbath meets John Coltrane style as described by the music journalist who care enough to give them coverage. Although to me, Keiji Haino and Fushitsusha sound like a band who lived in a parallel universe, where aspiring rock bands not only idolize Sabbath but also John Coltrane and Miles Davis. I think Keiji Haino’s very unique style might cause a loss of translation to the uninitiated.

Even though their contribution to the world of electric guitar music remains unknown to the “Billboard Chart” universe. Keiji Haino and the rest of Fushitsusha probably influenced heavy metal bands, especially progressive ones, during the latter half of the 1980’s onwards. I even suspect that Avril Lavigne’s “Under My Skin” album owes it’s Marshall stack feedback sound to Haino’s 1989 period live guitar sound.

I’ve also read somewhere that Keiji Haino savors the mystique surrounding him. That he shuns the limelight. So don’t expect him to be seen hanging out with the likes of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. Maybe for him, it’s all about the music.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Remembering Lucky Dube

A singer / performer with enough clout to temporarily stop on – going civil conflicts, the world and Reggae fans now mourn the passing of Lucky Dube.

By: Vanessa Uy

When the Reggae star Lucky Dube was shot in front of his children on October 19, 2007 after an attempted carjacking, the ongoing epidemic of violent crime in South Africa gained worldwide attention. This incident even casts doubts on South African government’s ability to keep peace and order on the coming 2010 World Cup. Despite meeting an untimely end, Lucky Dube lived a life that’s way more interesting than his death.

With a music career that spans 25 years, Lucky Dube has recorded 20 albums. He sang in Africaan, Zulu and English. Strangely though, he is more famous overseas than in his homeland of South Africa. During the 1980’s Apartheid-era South Africa, Lucky Dube used his music to inspire Black South Africans for a non- violent struggle against Apartheid rule.

Lucky Dube’s finest hour came during the 1990’s when his fame had earned him enough clout to temporarily suspend on-going battles in African conflict zones like Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In June 1999, Lucky Dube performed one of his famed 3-hour long shows in Monrovia, Liberia where the said show allowed a cessation of hostilities between the warring factions. The warring factions are willing to temporarily suspend their fighting just to attend a Lucky Dube concert. These fighters really are dedicated fans. Lucky Dube is also big in the US. He frequently played venues in Miami, Florida and in Atlanta, Georgia.

Despite being regarded as the current “gold standard” when it comes to Reggae music, and Lucky’s fans swear that he’s the spiritual heir of the Reggae legend Bob Marley. Lucky Dube’s allegiance to the Rastafarian faith was more academic than spiritual because in interviews he says he doesn’t use marijuana / cannabis. To the uninitiated, the spiritual side of the Rastafarian faith revolves around Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (the one deposed from power on September 12, 1974) and the Emperors lineage to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba plus the “Lion of Judah” references.

Ever since releasing his debut album “Rastas Never Die”, Lucky Dube has indeed come a long way. When he played in the Live 8 Concert in Johannesburg, South Africa, Lucky Dube indeed took Reggae music back to Africa – the music’s spiritual homeland. I just hope that his latest album “Soul Taker” won’t be used by Lucky Dube’s fans as an epitaph of his music career but rather a celebration of his artistry and his quest for a better world. The official Lucky Dube Website is at .

Paramore: Getting to the Top the Old Fashion Way?

Ever since the “unforeseen” success of their headlining single “Misery Business” from their album “Riot!”. Is Paramore here to remind us the “good old days” of punk rock and getting famous the old fashion way?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since their MTV debut via the single “Misery Business” aired on our local MTV affiliate, I thought that our local MTV Asia affiliate had mistakenly aired a circa 1989 power pop / punk video of a talented young band. I thought good bands like Paramore only exists15 to 20 years ago. Maybe I’m listening to 24 bit 192 KHz sampled Punk Rock reissues for far too long. Now that almost all of the under 25 “punk rockers” already knew them (I just turned 11 and I only discovered Paramore back in August 2007), here’s a much needed refresher course for the uninitiated. Named after a friend of the band mother’s maiden name Paramore is a Pop Punk (Power Pop?) band which hails from Franklin, Tennessee. Also after finding out that Paramore means “secret lover”, the band chose it. The band’s vocalist and primary center of attention is Haley Williams. Their current line-up by this time of writing includes lead guitarist Josh Farro and his brother Zac Farro on drums and bassist Jeremy Davis. Since today’s MTV – based music is primarily a visual medium the other members of Paramore can only be appreciated by ear because of the band’s “hot” vocalist.

Paramore was already busy “paying their dues” in the touring circuit since 2005. By April 2005, the band already signed to a record label. Then Paramore released their debut “All We Know Is Falling” in July 24, 2005 reaching #30 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart. Later in that year, Paramore was featured on the Shira Girl Stage of the 2005 Warped Tour. In 2006, Paramore released an EP titled “The Summer Tick”. Their first night on the Main Stage was at their hometown show of Nashville. Paramore’s first US headlining tour began on August 2, 2006 to a sold-out audience with support from This Providence. With this under their belts, Paramore was voted “Best New Band” by the readers’ poll of “Kerrang!” magazine.

By the start of 2007, Paramore was named by NME (is this the same NME circa-1980?) as one of ten bands to watch out for in the magazine’s “New Noise 2007” feature (the band Girlschool used to be on that list back in 1980!). In addition to this accolade, the band played an acoustic set for the grand opening of a “Warped Tour” exhibit at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame that opened in January. The dress worn by Paramore’s vocalist Haley Williams for the “Emergency” music video was also put into the exhibit (Queer Eye alert!). And by the recording and release of “Riot!” around June 2007, Paramore already mastered the ropes of studio and live- gigs. By December 7, 2007 CNN ran a news feature about next years Grammy nominees lists Paramore as one of the Best New Artists.

To me, it seems like new bands that seek fame and recognition via the old fashion way i.e. “paying their dues” on the touring circuit and in the studio seems to scare the hell out of MTV’s current incarnation – or is this just endemic in MTV’s ASEAN franchise? Aspiring bands should be exposed to young and gifted talents like the band Paramore in order to end this endemic batch of major label crap (and surprisingly young “talent”) that only current “Media Pirates” seem to cherish because they can earn money from it.

Lunachicks: The Epitome of Punk Rock Creativity?

During this age of “same-sounding-Billboard-chart-downloaded-to-iPod” phase of pop music, one wonders of the existence of an active government conspiracy 10 years ago – a la X-Files – bent on keeping the band Lunachicks in relative obscurity?

By: Vanessa Uy

The first time I listened to Lunachicks was during a point in my life that could be considered “musically” tumultuous. I was 8 at the time when I knew that achieving Joe Satriani like levels of guitar virtuosity is second nature to me. Avril Lavigne’s debut album was conquering the local airwaves unabated when I’m starting to wonder if my newly found virtuosity will only be in vogue in classical music circles (or 1980’s hair metal bands). My guitar skills will always be a legal way for me to achieve easy money by being a session musician, but it’s only fair to thank the band Lunachicks for keeping me sane during this past few years.

First formed way back in 1987 Lunachiks were said to be discovered by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth at their second gig. The two members of Sonic Youth thought that Lunachicks were a “noise band” – but in actuality- Lunachicks hadn’t learned how to play their instruments yet at the time. A few years later –in 1990 – Lunachicks released their debut album titled “Baby Sitters on Acid” on the record label Blast First. Baby Sitters on Acid “is” the only Lunachicks album that I haven’t heard or owned yet (CD or LP only offers please).

The principal members of Lunachicks are: Theo on lead vocals full name Theo Kogan, stands a full 6 feet and extensively works as a model in the NYC area. Gina (full name Gina Volpe) on guitars and vocals. Squid (Sydney Silver), on bass guitar and vocal duties. Becky Wreck a.k.a. Susan Rebecca Lloyd was their drummer during their first two albums. Chip, (Chip English) replaced Becky about the time when Lunachicks signed up with Go-Kart records – a legendary New York based independent music record label. Sindi, (Sindi Benezra Valsamis) served as the bands other guitarist from 1987 but she’s no longer with the band during the 1998 leg of their tour. Helen Destroy served as the band’s drummer from 2000 to 2001.

After achieving a substantial cult following and critical acclaim from their Baby Sitters on Acid album, Lunachicks released “Binge and Purge” on the Safe House record label in 1992. The album served as a creative template for the succeeding Lunachicks albums. With songs about female masturbation whose lyrical descriptions rival those of Jonathan Swift’s literary description of defecation on his book “Gulliver’s Travels.” As a Punk Rock band, Lunachicks’ uniqueness is the result of their unabashed use of “technical” guitar playing which is the preserve of 1980’s “hair metal” bands.

Lunachicks came into their own when they signed up with Go-Kart records. A friend of Greg Ross once told him to sign Lunachicks because they are NYC’s most popular “indie” band. Around 1995, Go-Kart was still a fledgling record label but as luck would have it Lunachicks signed up with Go-Kart. In May 1, 1995, Go-Kart released Lunachicks’ third full-length album – “Jerk of all Trades.” Because of their popularity, Lunachicks single-handedly became the label’s financial bread-and-butter. During the later half of 1995, Lunachicks toured with “alternative / indie” bands made famous by MTV circa 1995 like Offspring, Marilyn Manson, Luscious Jackson, Rancid, and Reverend Horton Heat.

In February 18,1997, Lunachicks released “Pretty Ugly” on Go-Kart. It’s rare for them to retain the same record label in releasing a new album, but they might have been satisfied on what Go-Kart records did to the band’s career. A quirk about this album is the title track –“Pretty Ugly” was released on a Go-Kart records compilation titled “GO-KART VS. THE CORPORATE GIANT”. Production value-wise, “Pretty Ugly” is somewhat too bass heavy a recording for a Punk Rock band. Either they are following a trend – Massive Attack, Portishead and Trent Reznor / Nine-Inch-Nails - at the time were releasing albums with ridiculous amounts of bass which were selling like hotcakes- or experimenting. Back then, a friend of mine damaged his US$1,500 Velodyne sub woofer during the song “What’s Left” when he played the song at unamplified-drum-kit-sound-pressure-levels. Mind you his audio rig easily passed muster playing other well-recorded drum kit recordings at their natural/unamplified sound pressure levels (105-110 dB SPL).

In 1998, Lunachicks released “Drop Dead Live” which to me is probably the best Live Rock Concert album of all time in sound quality terms. Rivaling that of Kiss’ “Alive” and Cheap Trick’s “Live at Budokan”. This is where –as a live band – Lunachicks’ performance rivals that of Iron Maiden circa 1984. This just proves that independent labels –like Go-Kart – good sound quality comes naturally.

In 1999 while still with Go-Kart records, Lunachicks released “Luxury Problem”. I think –as epitomes of the Punk Rock ideal – Lunachicks became somewhat “uncomfortable” with their popularity in the audiophile community chose to record their “Luxury Problem” album with heavy amounts of audio compression and “dry” i.e. no reverb. But the resulting sound quality made the recording sound as if Lunachicks are playing in the cramped confines of a typical Punk Rock venue in New York City like CBGB’s. Are they trying to mimic the godfathers of Punk – The Ramones – on this recording? The tattoo references are still present though.

From 2001 onwards, the band’s tour itinerary has gone from few to nonexistent. The band’s members are busy with their “other jobs.” Gina is now the lead singer and guitarist of the band Bantam. Theo now play’s with Theo and the Skyscrapers. Theo also appeared in the movie Zoolander, you know, the tattooed woman in Hansel’s loft. Becky was the drummer for the Blair Bitch Project back in 2000. Helen Destroy plays drums in the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band Lez Zeppelin (The Lesbian Led Zeppelin?). Squid is currently working as a tattoo artist. I wonder if Squid did Theo’s tattoos?

Despite of their album’s quirks sound quality wise, it’s really hard to pick a single favorite album from Lunachicks. It’s like picking a best Mark Levinson amplifier. To me, Lunachicks’ influence reached beyond the confines of Punk Rock. Theo grazed the cover of Tattoo Magazine’s international edition and probably influenced a generation of women on their taste in fashion. They made some “conventional guys” that I know into loyal fans even though these guys are Soldier of Fortune types who helped Zimbabwe to become independent back in 1980 even though the country has bee going to hell recently. Some used to roam downtown Grozny, Chechnya with Kalashnikovs back in 1992. They don’t care about the “Brickface and Stucco” connotations, to them it’s all about the music and one’s “preferences” is his or her own business not the Government or the Church or whatever.

The songs that stuck on me are “FDS” from Jerk, which sounds like a Broadway show tune Punk Metal hybrid. I also like “Bitterness Barbie” for reasons that might result in me writing a 250 page Doctoral Thesis about what is wrong with George W. Bush and his neo-conservatives. “Spoilt” for it’s critique on Capitol Hill / Wall Street Imperialism that required the sacrifice of working class American blood in running it. And who could forget “Fallopian Rhapsody”, the Roe v Wade question that nobody seems to care or the American women whose voices are silenced by the Moral Majority / Right Wing Christian extremists. Remember the January 16, 1997 Sandy Springs incident?

To me, Lunachicks deserve multi-platinum status. Their drummer Chip’s been playing like they already had one. When the Suicide Girls appeared in Jerry Bruckheimer’s CSI New York, I thought would an appearance by Lunachicks be not far behind? Or is that prospect as viable as a Henry Rollins – Black Flag reunion tour?