Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Whatever kind of alienation I might experience in the bland drunken cornfield that is a Big Ten college town, I have to imagine it's orders of magnitude worse in North Dakota. That backwater state seems to be coming up more and more in the news, as cannibalistic oil conglomerates sniff around for new sources of global warmth for the rest of us to bake in. They're already burning off enough crude for the flames to be visible from space. Meanwhile, regressive politicians play off their constituents' latent rural misogyny to close the state's one abortion clinic, tugging the nation backwards with the most stringent ban in the country.

Enter Nora & the Janitors, slamming their head against a brick wall of willful ignorance in the most listenable way possible. These two tunes bounce along somewhat like Orange Juice, but instead of said band's carefree joviality, this reeks of  the bitter resignation I associate with '80s Siberian punks like GrOb or Yanka. It can't be easy to work such desperate howling -- with lines like "fell asleep, it was July // woke up, it was November // did I kill that cop? I can't remember" -- into synthed-out, guitar-driven pop songs  and have it come off as well as it does. I dunno, people will probably compare this to the Smiths, but I get the feeling that's not where Nora et al are coming from. Whatever it is, I've had "Banister" on repeat for weeks now, and have yet to tire of it. Maybe my favorite song of 2013 so far. I shouldn't even be devoting this much text to a two-song single. But this stuff really affected me, and it deserves a wider audience.

These two songs are coming out on a tape split with a Minneapolis band I can't find any information on. For now, get this single at N&tJ's bandcamp.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

re-up'd: Toothpaste - EP [1983]

Yes, that's a Colgate-Hindenburg doing a Led Zeppelin -- enter Toothpaste, Chicago's Masters of Provocative Funk. This is their first of two releases, an EP recorded in late 1982 and released on Schwa Records, which also put out a 7" by a later incarnation of Silver Abuse around the same time. This 12" EP, recorded at the old Chess Records building on South Michigan Avenue, is a worthy example of the satirical/weird side of Chicago punk. The EP came out toward the tail end of the city's first wave of punk bands, and sounds nothing like the ossified, macho hardcore ritual that predominated by mid-decade (thanks a lot, Effigies/Raygun copycats). Instead, you get swirling guitars -- evoking new-wave on the one hand, early-'80s Bob Mould on the other. "Amerikan Beauties" mockingly apes the opening riff from "Pretty Woman." One minute they're singing blithely about the occupation of Palestine, next thing you know they're groaning about hardware as some kind of metaphor for fucking, or for American prudishness, or something. Toothpaste holds a mirror up to the banal tropes of Midwestern culture, its silly excuses for counterculture, and a Cold War too absurd to care about anymore. But nobody's looking anyway; probably Toothpaste was too absurd to care about. But they're precious currency for a certain type of weirdo, you know who you are. The video below gives you some idea, though the tune sounds more like Special Affect or End Result than what's on the EP:

The blog I Have a Brain in My Ass has video up of Toothpaste's set at the 2010 Riot Fest Busted at Oz reunion ... honestly they sound pretty stiff and uninspired, but if you're already a fan and need to hear some songs that never made it to record, check it out.
Every one was a terrorist, can't say that about our boys

re-up'd: Robert Pete Williams - Louisiana Blues [1966]

I don't know how I have gone so many months without posting this record. It differs from what people are stuck calling 'the blues' in that the songs mostly ride along and hop over a single chord in bopping, fingerpicked strides. Robert Pete Williams played some top-shelf southern/delta shit and his story is as fascinating as any bluesman's:

Discovered in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Robert Pete Williams became one of the great blues discoveries during the folk boom of the early '60s. His disregard for conventional patterns, tunings, and structures kept him from a wider audience, but his music remains one of the great, intense treats of the blues.
Williams was born in Zachary, Louisiana, the son of sharecropping parents. As a child, he worked the fields with his family and never attended school. Williams didn't begin playing blues until his late teens, when he made himself a guitar out of a cigar box. Playing his homemade guitar, Williams began performing at local parties, dances, and fish fries at night while he worked during the day. Even though he was constantly working, he never made quite enough money to support his family, which caused considerable tension between him and his wife; according to legend, she burned his guitar one night in a fit of anger. Despite all of the domestic tension, Williams continued to play throughout the Baton Rouge area, performing at dances and juke joints. 
In 1956, he shot and killed a man in a local club. Williams claimed he acted in self-defense, but he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to Angola, where he served two years before being discovered by ethnomusicologists Dr. Harry Oster and Richard Allen. The pair recorded Williams performing several of his own songs, which were all about life in prison. Impressed with the guitarist's talents, Oster and Allen pleaded for a pardon for Williams. The pardon was granted in 1959, after he had served a total of three and a half years. 
For the first five years after he left prison, Williams could only perform in Louisiana, but his recordings -- which appeared on Folk-Lyric, Arhoolie, and Prestige, among other labels -- were popular and he received positive word of mouth reviews. In 1964, Williams played his first concert outside of Louisiana, at the legendary Newport Folk Festival. Williams' performance was enthusiastically received and he began touring the United States, often playing shows with Mississippi Fred McDowell. For the remainder of the '60s and most of the '70s, Robert Pete Williams constantly played concerts and festivals across America, as well a handful of dates in Europe. Along the way, he recorded for a handful of small independent labels, including Fontana and Storyville. 
Williams slowed down his work schedule in the late '70s, largely due to declining health. The guitarist died on December 31, 1980, at the age of 66. 
(from allmusic)

Fans of Charley Patton or Robert Johnson would dig Williams, and probably know him already. If you've ever heard the Captain Beefheart song 'Grown So Ugly' (or, I guess, the Black Keys' cover of it), you'll recognize the original version here. Listen, I really shouldn't have to try to convince you; this is essential, and punk as it gets.

Baby this ain't me