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Rock Ng Rool (Gulcher Records) $10
Swarthmore College is a small college. Everyone manages to fit into one party. It's cramped, but what can you do? It's got pretty bad music, and smells like smoke and beer and wet wood. People drink too much and have awkward encounters in the dark.
Regardless, they all get very excited when the weekend comes, excited to be in college, excited to make some mistakes, to have some stories to tell. Swarthmore students do not regret a single thing but paradoxically still remain completely insecure.
Handglops had a good time at their party. I can imagine what it was like. We've all seen it week after week. Everyone doesn't get it, but desperately wants it anyway. Some band comes and plays really loud rock music in a small stone building and a few people dance. A few others worry about their future, and some more get bored and go to drink. It's still neat when everyone sings along to the band.
And what do these children wear to the party? Surely something hip and symbolic, liberating them from their intellectual world and admitting them entrance to the land of no ambition. And when Monday comes around, how will they all describe the weekend? Fuzzy and short. Kind of like a Handglops song. Turns out all these kids really had ambition the whole time. Too bad they weren't ambitious enough to spend more than an evening trying to score a relationship or friendship. They think they'll find it in the dark, even though they were oblivious during the day. They think they're find it drunk when they couldn't find it sober.
But Handglops wasn't fooled. They know what to expect when the weekend comes back. They know it's actually about having fun. They'll play some music and see some people they like. I'm going to have fun too. I'm going to listen to Handglops' record again.
--Ben Mazer, class of 2010
||THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARETET|
Tet-Offensive (Gulcher Records) $10
Why did Albert Ayler cross the road? To get to the OTHER side, motherfucker! This stupid, stupid universe we live within is a tea party always awaiting creative upheaval. Assholes like George W. make with lots of upheaval--but no creation. And the streets are littered with schmucks who have ideas but no FREE WILL with which to turn the crapple cart on its ass side. Then there are honest-to-pete free men like the Hollywood Squaretet who are willing to git down, turn your head around, and make it to that OTHER side.
"Welcome to the Fuck You Lounge," as drummer-ranter Larry Copcar states so eloquently. "What is the password?" he asks. "FUCK YOU!" answer his bandmates. Bandmate number one is MISTER Todd Homer on the upright bass and (occasionally) alto sax. Yeah, he's the dude who was the bass guitarist with the ORIGINAL Angry Samoans (negativity personified), and later in his career, co-leader of the wonderful Mooseheart Faith Stellar Groove Band (101% positivity). With the Squaretet, Todd reclaims the (self-)righteous indignation of the Samoans, but retains the PRO-gressive urges of Mooseheart Faith (what a trick, huh?).
And then there's MISTER Kenny Kawamura playing various saxophones like a man possessed--except free men can't be owned, so this is ALL his own fault. Do NOT blame it on the bossa nova, baby--blame it on the super nova sailing through this cat's noggin. Kenny has been involved in his share of outsider projects, including Fellaheen, Beekeeper, and Chic Empowerment Center. He has also worked on various indie-film soundtracks as a multi-instrumentalist.
Okay, we'll call this stuff "free jazz," but I don't remember Ayler or Dolphy or Shepp peppering their material with comedic insults or spazzy guitars (courtesy of guest stars Mikaleno, Gil Chinn, and Mooseheart Faith's other mainman Larry Robinson). That's because Larry Copcar is equal parts Elvin Jones and Rodney Dangerfield--Sunny Murray and Sam Kinison! Under his "real name" (shhh), Copcar spent much of the 80s doing stand-up comedy (he even appeared on HBO specials). And in the 60s, he played in various garage bands, releasing a single on Roulette Records in 1968 with the Bougalieu.
Are you there yet, music fans? This trio (and its extended variations) is like a Lester Bangs wet dream: the ESP-Disk jazz catalog forced into fusion with the satiric fuck-you of ESP "rockers" the Fugs and the Holy Modal Rounders. Don't misunderstand me--it's the sonic collision between these three players that makes room for the humor, not the other way 'round. But it's all one big ball of improvised L.A. chaos. Charles Bukowski shakin' hands with Charles Mingus. Somebody's mama with her skirt up 'round her waist and a very cold beer goin' down the other end. Kenny, Todd, and Larry cracklin' like a summer storm, and then the hail starts fallin'--hard. You are there now, in the heart of the confusion and the too-high smirks. Did you say fuck ME? Well, fuck YOU! Blow, babies, blow!
||THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARETET|
Nice Tets (Roulade Records) $8
"Welcome to the Fuck You Lounge!" Thus spake Larry "Fuck You" Copcar, drummer/ranter with the Hollywood Squaretet. Cheap cigars in old-man bars. The persecution of Kobe Bryant. And you really believe this dude when he tells you, "I pissed on the steps of my childhood home." (CYMBAL CRASH!) Sunny Murray vs. Don Rickles--both stuck inside the head of one crazed Italian-American. Larry played in the garage-rockin' Bougalieu in the late 60s, then spent much of the late 70s playing with lounge bands and writing for big-time comedians. He hung with Sam Kinison's crew, and even played drums in Kinison's Outlaw Band. He has also spent time doing stand-up himself. He's featured in the cult favorite COMEDY'S DIRTIEST DOZEN along with future legends like Bill Hicks and Chris Rock.
On saxophones is Kenny Kawamura. The guy has a kind of quiet rage that sneaks up on you. He starts winding the notes around inside your head, and before you know it, you're in the midst of a ferocious storm of sound. It's not an easy task to keep blasting the cobwebs off fifty years of supposed jazz "freedom." Fortunately for our ears, he's up to the task--and more. Kenny has been involved in projects like Fellaheen, Beekeeper, and Chic Empowerment Center, as well as playing on indie-film soundtracks as a multi-instrumentalist.
And there's good ol' Todd Homer on the upright bass fiddle. It's an instrument made for a man, not mere kids. In the late 70s and the 80s, when Todd was still a bit of a kid, he played in the legendary L.A. punk band the Angry Samoans. He later did a handful of great modern psychedelic records with Larry Robinson as the Mooseheart Faith Stellar Groove Band. With the Squaretet, Todd returned to his life-long obsession with the outside areas of jazz. And he knows his shit. He can groove, and he can walk the dog, and dig when he pulls out that bow to saw through spooked-out sections of space jazz. Punk + jazz = REAL FREEDOM!
Speaking of punk, over on the right side of the stage is guitarist Joe Baiza. Working with Saccharine Trust in the early 80s, he was one of the early bridges between L.A. hardcore and free jazz. He later headed groups like Universal Congress Of and the Melodiacs, as well as touring with Mike Watt's band. It makes a lot of sense that he's now playing with the Squaretet, adding much flavor to the staggering cynicism of the Copcar/Homer rhythm section, and balancing out the more delicate force of Kenny Kawamura's sax. Listen to this cat "spazz" that guitar like its strings are made of pure liquid LSD! Goooone!
Mostly recorded live at Mr. T's Bowl in L.A., NICE TETS is even wilder than TET OFFENSIVE, their debut disc on Gulcher Records. The tension's higher and the playing's more focused. Plus they now have Baiza on board for the ride. The nine tracks on this new one clock in at a generous 52 minutes. And it never gets boring!
Lester Bangs pointed out the connections between punk and jazz waybackwhen, but at that point most of its obvious practitioners were young New York nihilists. Well, here's a weather-beaten but more mature stab at the same heart--the intensity ragged and still beating very hard! And yeah, they're from L. fuckin' A., not "downtown" NYC. So were Mingus and Dolphy, right? It's an old joke, and I tell it every time, but uh, why'd Albert Ayler cross the road? To get to the OTHER SIDE, motherfucker! Welcome to the Fuck You Lounge, suckers! Wail, daddies----!!!
||THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARETET|
Tetosterone! (Gulcher Records) $10
So, you know, two Miles Davises walk into a bar . . . (RIMSHOT!) But seriously, folks, the Hollywood Squaretet is back with the group's third full-length CD. Following TET-OFFENSIVE and NICE TETS, the new one is entitled TETOSTERONE! This time out, core members drummer-ranter Larry Copcar (former stand-up comic, authentic '68 garage-rocker with the Bougalieu) and upright bassist Todd Homer (original Angry Samoans, Mooseheart Faith) are joined by guitarist Joe Baiza (Saccharine Trust, Universal Congress Of, etc.) and trumpet player Dan Clucas. This might be their wildest ride yet! The band whups up a frenzy of free sound, while Copcar shouts vile humor at the world.
Dig Copcar's beaver visions of Sharon Tate and cleaver incisions of the 1960s on the opening track, "Spahn Ranch." Or let's get current with the anti-Obama rave-up "I Ain't Ascared." As the band gets more and more agitated, Larry C. comes to some bitter truths:
He ain't no Miles Davis--Barack Obama
He ain't no Martin Luther King
He ain't no motherfuckin' James Brown
He ain't no motherfuckin' John Coltrane
He ain't no motherfuckin' Ron Carter
This guy is a motherfuckin' George Benson
You know who he is?
He's a motherfuckin' jive turkey!
Barack Obama is a jive turkey!
"Daze of Wine and Roses" sounds like the Ornette Coleman Quartet the day O.C. didn't make it, so Eddie Cochran filled in on rockin' guitar instead--and they all got rippped! The basic spoken theme is explored further on "Tired of Playing House," wherein the rosy wine leads to a bout of sonic spousal neglect. PLANG! BOOM! SKRONNNNKK!!! "Reptile" is a long-ish crawl inside Copcar's head--and provides a bit of space for the band to scatter for awhile. Very "nice."
High-energy freakathon: "The Loser"! Three and a half minutes of squawling guitar, intense drums and rant, horn squealing in bursts of notes, bass thrummin'. Dig it hard! Punk-jazz at its finest!! "I don't give a - - - - !" The follow-up, "Scar Face," is barely a step down--totally wound-up free-freak re-telling of the 1980s film that hiphop thugs love so much! Apparently, the Squaretet snort from the same general direction.
And you know, some more--!! As always, um, why'd Albert Ayler cross the road? To get to the OTHER---unh! KA-BOOOOOM!! F-F-F-FUGADUCK!!!
||HOME BLITZ (Gulcher Records) $10|
Home Blitz is 21-year-old Daniel DiMaggio from Princeton, New Jersey. He recorded and released his first two singles on his own. When the first one showed up in my mailbox in '05, it was just what I was waiting to hear. The underground had drifted so far into abstract space that I was longing for something direct and simple. That first record was a magic whirl of early Modern Lovers, Big Star, and Flamin' Groovies circa '72--but with a casual no-fi vibe that sounded closer to the first couple Harry Pussy singles. Huh?! Yeah. Just about (non-)perfect!
On this new Home Blitz CD release, Gulcher Records has collected those first two singles (way out of print), material from a cassette release, a new HB 12" EP, and two otherwise unavailable tracks. From the first single, "Apocalyptic Grades 2005" is a powerpop/postpunk hybrid with guitars that sound like the Fall circa '78 covering the Flamin' Groovies. On the very bratty "AC S.S.," it sounds to me like early Screamin' Mee-Mees crossed with early Modern Lovers. But my favorite from that first 7" is "Hey!" It comes on as if Big Star's RADIO CITY had been recorded under the more addled conditions of Alex Chilton's LIKE FLIES ON SHERBERT. It starts like a great noise-drenched powerpop anthem--"I got the gift that keeps on givin'/It's called electric guitar!"--but soon stops midstream. "I gotta get some gum," the singer complains. It picks up again after the song's imaginary bridge. A second guitar comes in--melodic and overloaded like a perfect 1969 Lou Reed guitar fill
The second HB 7" was LIVE OUTSIDE, released in '06. On this one, Daniel dragged his instruments and battery-powered amps onto the street in front of his house and "performed live w/o audience on the corner of Mercer and Hibben Streets, Princeton, NJ." Is it the first powerpop field recording?! "Stupid Street" has Daniel narrating his own song, describing his surroundings, before he suddenly spits out the first line of the song, "Hey girl, I'm gonna cut your spine!" So sweetly vicious. "Feeling Cold" again documents the Home Blitz street scene, this time purely in song. Like, it's November in Jersey, and yer freezin' yer ass off recording on the sidewalk! It's a perfect Modern Lovers/Half Japanese-style pop tune, with maybe one of the all-time great fallen-apart guitar solos. "I feel like ridin' bikes tonight/But mine's been in the shop all day."
The next Home Blitz release was a 2006 split cassette (with Friends & Family), which shows Daniel's interest in more overt "experimental" sounds: de-tuned guitars, ambient rumbles, electronic squiggles, free clatter, instrumental introspection. But even in this setting, he comes up with a tune like "Benches"--just acoustic guitar and vocals, with a bit of overdubbed electric leads--which reminds me of Big Star's version of Loudon Wainwright's "Motel Blues." There's also a cover of Public Disturbance's "Bored" (don't know the original), which sounds nothing like the punk-rock I expected. Instead, it comes across like a darkly shimmering psychedelic ballad. And "GT Performers" is a frantic punkrocker (no noise) about "takin' chances and makin' friends."
From the upcoming 12" EP on Parts Unknown come five more winners. "Right Cut Even" (Rick Derringer having a powerpop breakdown), "Little League" (autobiographical angst hammered home by verses of Beefheartian power blues and a couple choruses of powerpop explosion), "Flying" (with cool bursts of mid-70s double-lead unison guitars), "Something 2 Do" (more Beefheartian angles + L.A. hardcore circa '81 + Pistols-influenced UK powerpop), and a cover of Slade's "My Town" (whacky!).
Rounding out this CD collection is a much wilder 4-track version of "Little League" and the otherwise unreleased "A.F.F.," one of the best tracks here. Again defying logic, Daniel turns a very personal tale into an excellent blast of powerpop/punkrock with stuttering freejazz sax and several odd time changes. The story itself seems like a mystical revelation from younger years or maybe just an imaginary childhood friend: "Well, there's an actual physical feeling living in the air/And I'd like to make it feel at home but you know I'm scared". . . .