Month: August 2018

Black Flag: Damaged (1981)

Classic: Judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind.

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Shouldn’t this have been called “Bad Luck?”

As much as I don’t care for the compartmentalizing of music into tightly specified labels there have been trailblazers along the way who have become almost synonymous with their respective genres. Black Flag is one of a few bands that my mind thinks about when the term “punk” gets tossed around. Almost everything about the band reeks of the term. It took a few band tweaks but Damaged finally got an official release in 1981. The lead-up to it’s release was a tad tumultuous and the recording process a bit bizarre but Black Flag sorted out the scraps and created a punk classic with this thing.

Black Flag had been a hard working band throughout the late 70s who cycled through members the way my body digests fresh cherries. Their early years have been documented in a variety of ways and collections of demos but Damaged was their first success at recording a full-length LP. Many consider it to be their best while some prefer the earlier versions of the material present here. Fans of the band can be almost as contentious and argumentative as the history of the band. I prefer the Rollin years to any of the others. I’ll also concede that this isn’t my favorite album of theirs during this era.

It is quite obvious that Rollins didn’t really have a permanent spot in the band yet. The songs are a collection of pieces written and performed in the better part of the half decade preceding it so the singer was ostensibly working off of a fairly rigid template. His furious delivery and young angst comes through here and there but for the most part his delivery seems a bit too calculated and restrained for the music. The music is catchy but it lacks the energy of a perfectly synchronized group. It is obvious that Ginn and Dukowski had performed and recorded their parts separately and had orchestrated the singing themselves, for the most part. None of this is bad. If anything, it gives the album a much more deliberate and memorable consistency. From front to back this LP is stuffed with memorable anthems and classic staples that would eventually come to define the Punk moniker.

Black Flag’s Damaged is a perfect example of a perfect album. It was one that remained fairly dormant and ignored for years. Thankfully it now receives the praise it deserves. The unfortunate thing is that I no longer feel like a badass when I don my aged Six Pack T-Shirt since they are now being sold in nearly every shopping mall but I consider that a small price to pay for the exposure that this band now receives. It is as important as any Ramones or Misfits album and should be heard by everyone. Sure, it might not be my personal favorite but that is a bit of a “Sophie’s Choice” type of situation. As long as your favorite punk band isn’t Green Day you aren’t wrong.

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Track List:

Rise Above
Spray Paint
Six Pack
What I See
TV Party
Thirsty And Miserable
Police Story
Gimme,Gimme,Gimme
Depression
Room 13
Damaged II
No More
Padded Cell
Life Of Pain
Damaged I


Toto: Self Titled (1978)

Complete: In Toto

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The muse for my latest van art.

Generally I don’t like to expose too many personal details online as I’ve heard it is full of books with faces and tinder wolves but when it comes to Toto I can’t help but feel the need to open up a bit. The all-encompassing name just brings the personal feels out of me. It compels me to slip into my loafers and rock my non-existent yacht right into the ocean floor goddammit!

Toto has a special place in my heart. When I was a kid I would have terrible nightmares and frequently wake to soiled sheets. The dreams I’d suffer from would stick with me all day and as a result I had become a mumbling, bumbling mess by the time I reached the second grade. At my lowest point I was easily living the majority of my day in a fantasy world. Doctors were visited but the sickness had taken over. Insomnia had set in and there seemed to be no hope until I met Dr. Worley and his clever brain machines!

First there was a talking chicken. My God that electroshock therapy felt amazing. Eventually I had an entire caravan of misfits tethered to me. The only sane one who seemingly didn’t want a free handout from the big man was Toto, the terrier. Oh, how we would frolic and sing fuzzy little pop songs with 70s rock sensibilities and a light seasoning of disco. Toto had a beard so I followed suit. To keep stylish I made sure it was groomed nice and short. It felt so snazzy that I just had to start with the loafers on the feet and the loose-fitting long-sleeved white shirts. I was cured!

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Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Disco Dorothy and her ragtag group of yachting misfits.

Many years later I was in a dingy flea market basement flipping through records and that’s when I saw the name again. I thought for certain that the cover of the album had been shoddily crafted in Clip art but how could that be? Was there a version of trashy looking freeware in the late ’70s? There was only the name Toto and what appeared to be bronze ribbons with a sword in the center. The background looked like something from a Sunlover Disco compilation record but my eyes were transfixed on that glistening sword blade. A windowless van would be proud to display such a mesmerizing sight plastered across its rusting aluminum frame. Toto called to me; it was dangerous but safe.

Toto’s first album is a melting pot of ideas. Most of the members had been session players in other bands and it is apparent on this debut. The first two songs start the LP off in an upbeat fashion before the jaunty disco champagne piano break that is Georgy Porgy. Normally such a sudden change of pace and overall style would be jarring but they handle the transitions expertly. David Hungate’s open shirted, perm helmeted, safe sex bass slapping is particularly tasty. With all of the genre bending going on it keeps things consistently interesting. Kudos for the courage to put the hit single so late on the B side. Back in the day I’m sure it forced many listeners to work for it. Also, placing Angela dead last was nothing short of sequencing genius. Listening to that song makes me want to visit the great and powerful Kool-Aid in the wonderful land of Jonestown. Not even the distorted guitar can save that whiny mess of liquid hot diaper trash.

So, I unironically dig Toto quite a bit. The band and the dog are both aces in my books. One of my only complaints regarding this album is that Bobby Kimball’s vocal range isn’t a one size fits all neck scarf and is easily the most inconsistent aspect. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it weak but on some of the faster tracks he sounds like a high school glee club soloist belting out the chorus to a student-penned musical. What’s odd is that he sounds great on Hold The Line, one of the four songs he is credited for writing. Generally he tends to shine a bit more when he goes from a mumble to a higher register on the pantie soaking ballads. I’m no stranger to mumbling so maybe he could use a bit of Dr. Worley’s magical brain machines. A little electroshock might even help him with his obvious obsession with women. How many songs in the total Toto catalogue are named after women? Have any of the many band members over the years ever intervened?

Overall, Toto is a great album. At a breezy 40 minutes it is worth at least one listen. I’m just happy to be able to finally be honest with everyone on the internet and myself after all of these years. Yes, I enjoy Toto’s music and maybe you will too, though I’d recommend listening to it alone for the first few times. Toto the dog has been long dead but the band lives on at country fares and children’s parties. Just make sure to stuff some pork dumplings in your ears if they play the song Angela from this LP. Pork keeps the bad out.

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Track List:

Child’s Anthem
I’ll Supply The Love
Georgy Porgy
Manuela Run
You Are The Flower
Girl Goodbye
Takin’ It Back
Rockmaker
Hold The Line
Angela


High On Fire: Death Is This Communion (2007)

Ascension: The act of rising to an important position or a higher level.

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Don’t put the price sticker directly on the record sleeve you filthy swines!

Recently I took a look at High On Fire’s first album, The Art Of Self Defense. It can be found on here on our website Prolefeed101.com. Now, I’m not just shilling past work as much as I’m using it as a means to acknowledge that I’ve missed a couple of albums in between. Hopefully I’ll be able to acquire them and toss out an opinion piece for no one to read in the future but for now I’d like to do something a bit unorthodox for me and give a few brief thoughts on Surrounded By Thieves and Blessed Black Wings before digging into this fourth album.

Surrounded By Thieves: A great followup to The Art Of Self Defense. The speed was upped, the groove was good but the Rice’s bass was still a bit too muddled for my liking. I own it digitally and frankly I have a hard time differentiating one track from another. If it becomes available on vinyl I’ll give it a fair shake but right now it is on the same level as their first LP.

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Blessed Black Wings: Rice is out and pasta is in! This is where things started to grab my attention. The first album to have Preston on bass and the music started shifting towards the interesting. I’m not insinuating that the change in sound and direction is primarily due to the new member. It just seems better written. Currently I own the CD version of this but I can’t wait to find it on wax.

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So far the trajectory of High On Fire has seemingly been straying from the jam oriented Sleep drudges towards something a bit more cohesive and grande. Examples of this on Death Is The Communion can be heard immediately. Fury Whip, Waste Of Tiamat and the title track form a nice little trilogy with an interesting dichotomy between them. The opener is aggressive and quickly paced before introducing the acoustically driven Tiamat. Death Is This Communion closes out the grouping with a dirge before moving onto the next grouping of the LP. There is a lot of variety here and it keeps my ear holes interested. At least, that is, for the most part.

There are plenty of instrumental pieces to bridge the songs together. It is a far more experimental style and it works to gap individual pieces into a larger structure. A subjective nitpick would be that I would have liked to hear a Burton/Butler-esque soliloquy along the way. The battle drums that pound during Headhunter followed by Rumors Of War and DII (Dill?) make for an amazing bridge gap so a bass-lead third act could have put this album in masterpiece territory for me.

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One of the nicest pieces in my vinyl collection. GREEN LIKE PUTRID SLUDGE!

Another minor issue is the run-time of this thing. Interest wanes towards the end for me as a lot of songs become generically predictable. A touch of acoustic here, a driving distorted riff there and it starts to degrade into familiar territories. Sure, more might be better but “CD syndrome” in the late 2000s doesn’t personally fly with me. Many bands in the 90s and early oughts felt the need to fill every millisecond of a disc with content. 56 minutes is about ten too long for an album that rocks at this speed and vivacity. A tight 48 minutes would have been more impactful with a track list of 8.

Despite my insane picking of nits, Death Is This Communion is tops when it comes to High On Fire’s catalogue for me. The production is clear, the orchestrations superb and the addition of Preston’s bass is perfect. Pike’s guitar playing is significantly clearer and more confident this time around. It is a wonderful thing when three musicians can get together and create music this rollicking and engaging. There is a real call and response interplay between the stringed instruments. It allows for an organic sound that frees more time for solos and less dependence on over produced backing tracks which are all things that this band would explore more on future albums.

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Track List:

Fury Whip
Waste Of Tiamat
Death Is This Communion
Khanrad’s Wall
Turk
Headhunter
DII
Cyclopian Scape
Ethereal
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