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Akimbo

Akimbo

Navigating the Bronze

Alternative Tentacles

At first listen, Akimbo’s Navigating the Bronze smashes the skull like a sledge hammer. It’s heavy, it’s brutal, it’s nothing short of good metal. There are no weak singing breaks in the otherwise scream heavy vocals, and the music lets up for a second to allow the mind to breathe in the stench of stale beer before plowing into the next burst of aggression. It’s a keeper from the first kick off, but it’s not until the third or fourth spin that the Seattle band’s fifth disc reveals its true inner brilliance.

Seeped in the aftermath of grunge, Akimbo seem hell bent on burying the more mainstream side of Seattle’s past and re-establishing the Pacific Northwest as the hub of the sort of heavy metal that doesn’t need theatrics to get people’s attention. These guys are thinking along the lines of Jawbox, Helmet, or The Jesus Lizard. No gimmicks, just metal.

The three best moments within 40 minutes of heart-pounding bliss are: “Roman Coins” (almost three minutes worth of a drum solo that never tires), “Huge Muscles” (possibly the best sludge metal song to come out in the last five years), and “The Curse of King David” (a classically epic metal track that somehow recalls everything from Sabbath to Primus).

Akimbo: www.myspace.com/akimbo

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Music Reviews

Dead Kennedys

Dead Kennedys

Live At The Deaf Club

Manifesto

In the summer of 1978, a guitarist named East Bay Ray placed an ad in a California music paper to which Jello Biafra and Klaus Flouride responded. After adding a drummer (Ted) and a second guitarist (6025), Dead Kennedys were formed. Eight months later, they played a show at a San Francisco club for the handicapped called the Deaf Club. The venue could only hold about 200 people and was specially designed so that vibrations could be felt through the floor. Twenty five years later, the recording of that night’s performance is available to the public.

Live At The Deaf Club predates even the release of Dead Kennedys’ first single, “California Uber Alles.” It is the earliest recording of the band that went on to change the face of the California hardcore scene, marrying politics with punk in a way that had never been done before. Largely responsible for this fusion was vocalist Jello Biafra, who left the band in 1986, but whose presence is preserved here in one final DK recording.

The setlist for the night’s gig, which put the band on a bill with The Germs, included a disco version of “Kill The Poor,” an early rendition of “When Ya Get Drafted” called “Back In Rhodesia” and an unreleased song called “Gaslight.” The sound quality is surprisingly good; you can even hear the banter between the crowd and the band, which has always been a large part of DK’s performance.

The rest of the 14 tracks include some classics (“Police Truck,” “Holiday In Cambodia,” “Straight A’s”) and some covers (“Have I The Right” by The Honeycombs, “Back In The USSR” by The Beatles and “Viva Las Vegas,” which begins with a hilarious dedication to Germs’ vocalist Darby Crash).

A lot has changed within the band since 1979. They are no longer a 5 piece lineup, for one. This performance was the final show guitarist 6025 played with the band. Drummer Ted was later replaced by D.H. Peligro, who had briefly played for The Red Hot Chili Peppers. And, sadly, Jello Biafra and the band parted and have only recently wrapped up a series of legal battles over and money the rights to the DK catalog. Jello has taken over the bands’ original record company, Alternative Tentacles, and he continues to put out great music (including a recent collaboration with The Melvins) and spoken word recordings. The remaining 3 members had first recruited vocalist Brandon Cruz (of Dr. Know), and now Jeff Penalty, to fill the hole left by Biafra.

Forget about all of the lineup changes and the court battles. This CD is a reminder of a less complicated time. A time when Dead Kennedys were a brand new band, and Darby Crash was still alive. I would have only been 2 years old when this show took place, still I wish I could say, “I was there.”

Dead Kennedys: www.deadkennedys.com • Jello Biafra www.alternativetentacles.com

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Music Reviews

Ratos de Poráo

Ratos de Poráo

Onisciente Coletivo

Alternative Tentacles

Brazil’s hardcore pride Ratos de Poráo started around the time of the Dead Kennedys, and it’s entirely fitting that Jello handles the US distribution of this one. Not because of their shared hardcore leanings (Ratos de Poráo is a far heavier, speedier proposal than DK ever were), but because of the uncompromising political subject that fuels their every move.

Written in the wake of September 11th and the Seattle WTO demonstrations, Ratos de Poráo’s Onisciente Coletivo burns through a set of sped-up ramblings on US imperialism, third world poverty and how President Bush abuses the victims of WTC to create his politically dubious “war on terror.”

Musically, this is a half-hour long kick in the jaw, with little or no variation added to its hardcore formula. No doubt that their hearts are in the right place, but that doesn’t always make for brilliant music. It’s effective and thought provoking, and the lyrics do keep things interesting for a while. But ultimately, this one is too one-dimensional to warrant repeated listening.

Alternative Tentacles Records: http://www.alternativetentacles.com/

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Music Reviews

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

Artists in a Time of War

Alternative Tentacles

“You’re going to leave the business of the most important issues in the world to the people who run the country?” asks Howard Zinn in mock incredulity. “I mean, how stupid can you be?” The audience responds with a modest laugh. “Haven’t we had enough experience historically when leaving the important decisions to the people in the White House, or the people in Congress, or the people in the Supreme Court, or the people who dominate the economy?”

This rhetorical exchange comes early in Zinn’s 50-minute lecture, recorded at The Massachusetts College of Art in Boston on October 10, 2001, setting the informal, accessible and occasionally ironic mood for his musings on the role of the artist in times of war and political tumult. As US and British troops continue to mass by the thousands in Iraq, a $600 billion military budget consumes financial resources that would be best diverted into education and poverty, and North Korea’s belligerent leadership brazenly defies the nuclear status quo in response to this display of unilateralism, the release of this CD could hardly be more timely or more necessary.

Drawing from his experience as a soldier-turned-protester between World War II and the Vietnam War, the social historian and author of A People’s History of the United States emphasizes the professional’s primary responsibility as a citizen, invoking Rousseau’s social contract to emphasize the importance of political involvement on an individual level. In the topsy-turvy socio-political climate following the September 11 assault, Zinn argues that the artist in particular must transcend the “given wisdom” and “the word of the establishment” and act as a balanced, independent voice among blind patriotic frenzy. Citing the examples of Al Gore and TV anchorman Dan Rather, to name but two prominent public figures “rushing to get in line, rushing to get inside the perimeter of power,” he warns of the dangers of unthinking support for President Bush and America’s economically driven foreign policy.

In times of crisis, cool heads are better than gut reactions. Yet as soon as one dares to challenge the position of the Establishment (I write with a conspiratorial capital “E”), a monolithic collective comprising the media, the government and even leading intellectuals, Zinn notes, “the question of your patriotism arises.” “When they accuse dissenters” of disloyalty, he continues, the accusers “have forgotten the meaning of loyalty and patriotism.” Such self-righteous finger-pointing is by nature inimical to the ideas embodied by the Declaration of Independence. In other words, those who adhere most closely to the America’s founding principles are often, quite paradoxically, those at whom charges of treason by those in power are levelled. The United States does not have a monopoly on hypocrisy, of course, but it is one area in which it surely excels. Here Zinn employs quotes by Twain and the playwright Eugene O’Neill — Langston Hughes and Joseph Heller also crop up later on — to point out that this is not a necessarily new development and that it has been, and should continue to be, the duty of the artist-as-outsider to cry bullshit when he sees it. (Unfortunately, in what I think to be an important aside, many of today’s artists are too preoccupied with producing bullshit of their own to notice its presence elsewhere.) What Zinn is asking for above all is reflection and self-questioning, activities that have been in relatively scarce supply since the World Trade Center collapsed into clouds of dust that contained more fear per handful than T.S. Eliot could have imagined.

Zinn’s tone is not the get-off-your-fat-ass-and-effect-a-change inspirational sort, nor is his message especially revelatory. The idea that opposition, even if it is not always in the right, is essential for the health of a democracy and that biased, jingoistic propaganda is part and parcel of any war effort, is nothing that will strike Ink 19 readers as profound. But this artist of history is leading by example; in doing so he has developed a clear, informative and thoroughly engaging argument that American citizens (true patriots, you might say) who disapprove of their country’s absurd unilateralism can rally behind.

If the War on Terror strikes you as simplistic, potentially disastrous solution to a complex problem, you will no doubt enjoy Artists in a Time of War. Zinn willl probably echo more than a few of your own thoughts and concerns. If, however, the War on Terror sounds like a balanced approach to the same complex problem, then make no mistake about it: you need to hear this disc more than anyone.

AK Press: http://www.akpress.org • Alternative Radio: http://www.alternativeradio.org • Howard Zinn: http://www.howardzinn.org

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Music Reviews

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

The New War on Terrorism: Fact and Fiction

Alternative Tentacles

It seems that this album’s title and its author’s name alone leave little to the imagination as to what one should expect. Taken from a post-9/11 lecture, Chomsky’s first public statement after the terror attacks raises questions that mainstream politics and media have ignored: “What is happening right now?” and “What can we do about it?”; What makes September 11th an “historic event?”; What exactly is the “war on terrorism?” and related to that, “what is terrorism?”; What are the origins of the crimes of September 11th; and finally, what are our “policy options?” The solution to these quandaries is predicated on the fundamental precept that “we certainly want to reduce the level of terror . . . There is one easy way to do that . . . stop participating in it.” Terrorism is nothing new in America, it’s the “direction in which the guns are pointed” that’s new. “It’s very different if you are holding the lash, or whether you are being whipped by it for a hundred years,” posits Chomsky.

As much as I find myself concurring with Chomsky’s ideology, he is a terribly boring speaker. He speaks in a monotone, with little animation. Perhaps that is why Alternative Tentacles decided to release this, and other of his, lectures. That is, when Jello Biafra started the label it was an outlet for bands who cared more about substance than style — this being the true nature of agit-prop. Be that as it may, get off your ass and buy one of Chomsky’s books (America is already too illiterate to be listening to what can easily be found in print), and if you really need something “political” to listen to, buy a Dead Kennedys album.

Alternative Tentacles Records: http://www.alternativetentacles.com

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Music Reviews

Drunk Injuns

Drunk Injuns

From Where the Sun Now Stands I Will Fight No More, Forever

Alternative Tentacles

The elusive — and according to legend, dead — Drunk Injuns is one of those legendary bands that very few have actually heard. Alternative Tentacles, bless them, assume responsibility and release a compilation of the band’s 1983-’84 recordings, in what is either an act of pure love or evil irony. Wearing the ugliest masks to ever grace five faces, Drunk Injuns were the brain child of early-day Thrasher mag collaborator Marizen Foche aka Joey Headbone Restless Spirit, the man credited with coining the rarely used term “skate rock,” and surely one of punk’s most unique voices ever.

Although they’re skate and they’re punk, Drunk Injuns aren’t necessarily skate-punk. Their music is far too dark and repetitively churning for that, relying heavily on the dynamics of post-punk and kraut. Imagine Joy Division and Neu hanging out with The Dead Kennedys and early-day Chili Peppers, and you’re just about there, although there are few appropriate ways to accurately describe the possessed, haunted performances that the band gives. It’s insane and it’s weird but it’s also free-spirited, half-assed comic book punk, as fun as it is claustrophobic, half hippie and half punk. It’s great to hear those songs but one does understand why they haven’t been widely available up until now. Intriguing and relevant, but strangely unappealing as well. Worth looking up, but approach with caution.

Alternative Tentacles Records: http://www.alternativetentacles.com

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Music Reviews

Strobe Talbot

Strobe Talbot

20 Pop Songs

Alternative Tentacles

Putting the request “Please play this loud and often” on the back of their disc might seem a little presumptuous, but when you hear Strobe Talbot, you’ll agree, and might even take them up on their request! Mick Hobbs, Jad Fair, and Benb Gallaher are the men behind this 20-track wonder. The lyrics are what you’d expect if Tom Green became actually musical, and the music isn’t all that much different. A goofy, off path sound only matching that of a modern white funk band with a loopy sense of writing. The power song “Yes We Can” is the best and “Fury of the Wolfman” is the worst — everything in between is teen movie fun with childish ideas (“Day – Dreamy”) and altogether mushy and light. The totally indie, ironically (almost curiously) positive and simplistic (“High-Class Love”) group that everyone’s going to be talking about. Get it now when they’re still inventing the wheel.

Alternative Tentacles Records: http://www.alternativestentacles.com

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Music Reviews

Teenage Fanclub & Jad Fair

Teenage Fanclub & Jad Fair

Words of Wisdom and Hope

Alternative Tentacles

Jad Fair was one of new wave’s biggest weirdos way back in the late 1970s, and he’s still rocking, with and without his band Half Japanese. Teenage Fanclub is Scotland’s most perfect pop group, which is just another way of saying that they are the world’s most perfect pop group. Jad’s always better on his first outing with a band, and the Fannies have always had a soft spot in their hearts for fringe loonies and careericides like Alex Chilton and Gene Clark. So this record was pretty much inevitable.

I’m not sure what it says about me that I love this record so much. I know Jad’s wide-eyed innocence is probably mostly an act, but playing the madman pays off well for him here: we get lyrical snippets like “I’d let Godzilla step on my head/And I’d let a mummy chase me around and throw me in a dungeon/I’d let space aliens perform an autopsy on me/If I could just be near to you” (from “Near to You”) and “The writin’s on the wall/Not some kinda trash like your cousin wrote/Good writing, good words:/I feel fine” (from “I Feel Fine”). These are all songs by someone who loves love a little too much, but it’s okay: they’re funny and offbeat and sweet and bizarre and just really cool. And most of them mention Frankenstein, although I’m pretty sure he means Frankenstein’s monster, so that’s a plus. As for his vocal delivery, it’s Jonathan Richman on Loureedoids, but that’s not a bad thing in my book.

The Fannies turn out to be a perfect choice to back him up. They put all these lunatic ravings into a nice shiny context, from mandolin-skank on “Vampire’s Claw” and muted funk on “Secret Heart” to the Modern Lovers-style rawk pounding on the seven-minute “Crush on You.” This is what Jad Fair needed the whole time: a band that makes him sound like a strange human instead of a well-adjusted alien. They actually rock on a couple of these cuts; between this and Howdy! they’re really starting to remember that they started out loud and fast as well as beautiful and poppy.

I’m lovin’ this album like spinach-lentil soup, and I keep it around in case I’m attacked by vampires. Like Teenage Fanclub, I have surrendered to Jad and his strange view of the universe, and I feel fine.

Alternative Tentacles Records: http://www.alternativetentacles.com

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Music Reviews

Victim’s Family

Victim’s Family

Apocalicious

Alternative Tentacles

A new, colorful album by those crazy Californians. Their style has leaned towards the heavier side since changing drummers a few times, this time recruiting a wacky guy named David Gleza who sits up straight and plays traditional grip. Snare rolls a-plenty. The mastering (or possibly just the recording) can be described as “overblown.” There are some vintage “Tom Sawyer”-sounding segments in some of these songs, mostly due to Ralf’s Electro-Harmonix pedal; his latest obsession with weird electronics add even more sickening color to the rest of the atomic garbage dump that makes up this CD. Larry’s bass is even fatter than ever before (perhaps it’s those boots mentioned in the liner notes to 4 Great Thrash Songs again). This is a perfect example of when low-fi meets hi-fi when they both happen to be breaking into the same Masonic Lodge on the same night. Bassist Boothroyd even sings lead vox on a song called, “Worthy Adversary.” There’s a good amount of variation on the good old Victim’s Family tricks, explaining why their bio says they are “branching out adventurously into areas they have explored since their inception.” This is a damn good album, and should be an addition to the CD collection of anyone who wants to fall in love with bands that continue to create something unique and powerful outside of the mainstream. In these days of musical oversaturation, Victim’s Family stands as a twisted and slightly stinky obelisk built to stand the test of moronic media. I’m jealous.

http://www.alternativetentacles.com, http://www.victimsfamily.com

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Music Reviews

Fleshies

Fleshies

Kill the Dreamer’s Dream

Alternative Tentacles

Sigh. Have you ever been around a person who, otherwise pleasant enough, hears a joke they believe to be funny just due to its sheer repulsiveness? You’re not shocked by it, but they tell the damn thing over and over until you want to wring their neck? That’s the feeling I get after this album.

It’s like these guys can’t get through three lines of lyric without using “motherfucker,” “shit,” or some other word that they figure might piss off somebody’s mom. The songs are just so tiresome — ooh, look, they drink a lot and take drugs, they puke and shit and pee, and hate cops (two songs about that one!) and are workin’ for the revolution! Wow, how fucking cool is that man? This is what Electric Frankenstein would sound like, if they listened to some Weezer. And really sucked. Best song on the album • “Big Green Teeth.” And no, I don’t know what it’s about either, despite the lyrics being on the cover. A lot of this music is actually decent, but every time the singer comes on with those inane lyrics• ugh.

The fact that the once-great Alternative Tentacles is putting out this crap makes me think that East Bay Ray may be on to something. And that can’t be a good thing.

Alternative Tentacles Records, PO Box 419092, San Francisco, CA 94141-9062; http://www.alternativetentacles.com • Fleshies, PO Box 3026, Oakland, CA 94609; http://www.fleshies.com