Motörhead — The Wörld is Yours (2010)

There are three things in life you can be sure of: death, taxes, and Motörhead. With a documentary, Lemmy: 49% Motherf**ker, 51% Son Of A Bitch, burning holes in the screen, and a punishing new album shredding speakers across the globe, the devil’s favorite band is having quite a year, unbelievably, their 35th in existence.

The Wörld is Yours
roars out of the garage with Born to Lose, as classic a Motörhead trope as speed, sex, and death (preferably from too much speed and sex). Drummer Mikkey Dee’s pummeling double bass footwork underscores Lemmy’s proletariat philosophical musings: Right now / right here / lose your mind / but show no fear / Burn slow / no excuse / so unkind / born to lose. How the band waited 20 albums and 35 years to write a song called Born to Lose is an utter mystery.

Road testing this album, I kept reaching for the volume knob, turning it up by turns through I Know How to Die, Get Back in Line, and Devils in My Head until the drivers of cars I started passing on the freeway were looking kind of scared.

Motörhead has never been a “message” band, but if they ever had a point, it is this: everything eventually fails you except, well, Motörhead. Get Back in Line, especially, showcases just what the band does better than just about anyone else standing: an unrelenting riff, a hypersonic beat, and a bass player that’s big, pissed off, and wired out of his warty skull equals rock.

The trio does not slow down until the fifth track in, Rock ’n’ Roll Music. For any other band, this would be a highlight and probably the hardest song on the album. That’s Motörhead’s curse, they set the bar pretty high—high enough that a boilerplate boogie about rock, just doesn’t make the cut. Maybe Kilmister, et al., are still aiming at illusive, non-existent radio play, a strategy that dogged their 1992’s outing, March or Die. I don’t come to this table, however, looking for subtlety.

No worries though, the boys come slamming back with the next track, Waiting for the Snake, which paints (what else?) a fatalistic picture of the state of modern society.

The album takes an even darker turn with Brotherhood of Man. There’s no way to describe this song other than: Heavy as Fuck. When Lemmy grunts, Now your time has come / a storm of iron in the sky / War and murder come again / lucky if you die, you damn well get off your ass and lock the front door.

Bye Bye Bitch Bye Bye
is prototypical Motörhead, and just about the most perfect album closer I can imagine. Philip Campbell, guitarist since 1986’s Orgasmatron (and, Christ, did that really come out a quarter-of-a-century ago?), lets loose with everything he has left, leaving your speakers smoking, and your ears ringing. The way God, or Lemmy, intended.

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Coming soon: To the Bottom

No, this isn’t another post about the falling dollar. Ignore those cries of doom and gloom; this is something to help realign your chakras, and rattle the dust from your rafters. I’m getting the chance to put together an on-going radio show at 88.1 KSRH, the station at San Rafael High. It’s going to be called, “To the Bottom,” and will spotlight … what else? Bass in yo’ face—with a modicum of grace.

Here’s the playlist for the inaugural show:

To the Bottom — #1
To Defy the Laws of Tradition — Primus, Frizzle Fry (1990)
SuperWhat? — Boosty Collins, Superbad OST (2007)
The Guns of Brixton — The Clash, Live at Shea Stadium (1982/2008)
Miss You — The Rolling Stones, Some Girls (1978)
Politician — Cream, BBC Sessions (1967/1996)
Higher Ground —Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mother’s Milk (1989)
Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not — X, Los Angeles (1980)
Natural’s Not in It — Gang of Four, Entertainment (1979)
Blank Generation — Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Blank Generation (1977)
Better Git It in Your Soul, Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um (1959)

Those of you that know me will wonder about the lack of Mike Watt on this show. I was thinking of pulling together an all-Watt show with a song from all the different projects he’s been involved with. Stay tuned!

Please feel free to post your favorite bass-tastic tunes in the comments section and I’ll try and get ’em on the show. In the words of the great Bootsy Collins: “Diiiig.”

Mike Watt & the Missingmen — hyphenated-man (2010)

***Update: Watt’s new album finally has a domestic release date of March 1—on his new label, clenchedwrench. Buy one for yourself and one for your greasy granny!

To be familiar with punk rock veteran Mike Watt is to know and appreciate his idiosyncrasies, moreover, to have learned to expect him to make those left turns that light out for the territories and sometimes veer into the weeds. The thing about left turns, however, is if you make enough of them, you end up heading in the same direction that you started.

Ever since forming the seminal ’80s punk band, the Minutemen, with his boyhood chum and dueling partner D. Boon and surfer/rhythmatist George Hurley, Watt has consistently taken the road less traveled by. The Minutemen are famous for incorporating jazz, funk, hard core, Beat poetry, and the kitchen sink into their own personal strain of musical and philosophical expression. For a group that eschewed branding and easy cut-and-paste sloganeering, if it could be said that they had a motto, it was “Punk is whatever we made it to be.”

Watt and his various co-conspirators have always viewed punk rock as a big tent sort of affair. The whole reason this type of music and scene appealed to three dudes from San Pedro, California was the lack of inherent rules. In keeping with that spirit, Watt has released (in Japan at least, see right) his third concept album, or “opera;” the first, Contemplating the Engine Room, used his father’s experience on Navy submarines as a metaphor for his own life in an Econoline van, and the second, The Secondman’s Middle Stand, mapped his near-death sickness onto Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Both of these works were very personal in nature, and in the case of the last one, perhaps a little too personal at times—but, hey, who said punk is supposed to make you comfortable?

This time out, Watt enlisted guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales, collectively called the Missingmen, to help create a cycle of 30 “little songs” that were inspired in part by the proto-surrealist paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. On his website, hootpage.com, Watt writes that the new punchy, ultra-lean tunes owe much to the Minutemen’s econo credo of “no filler, right to point, and distilled down to the bare nada.” Specifically, it was the We Jam Econo documentary that finally got this restless artist to slow down and take a look back, allowing him to recognize something beautiful and utterly vital in the short form.

At the virtual needle drop, the album leaps out of your speakers/ear buds with arrow-pierced-egg-man. Clocking a mere 1:19, the song is a clarion call from the pit, a diseased chunk of meat thrown over the wall to help spread the cotangent. Watt’s bass is greased up and firing on all cylinders. After playing the conservative sideman with the Stooges for the past couple of years—as if anything Stooge-related could be called conservative—it’s great to hear him playing, if not more aggressively, then more dynamically.

Interestingly enough, the bass was the last piece of this particular puzzle to be added. This time out, Watt wrote on guitar, showed the Missingmen how the songs went, then retreated to later respond to what they had come up with. If he didn’t “chimp” (or write about in Pedro-speak) this unorthodox method, I would have never guessed that this music was anything but organically grown. It sounds like three guys jamming in a sweaty-ass shed and hollerin’ about … 16th century religious art from the Netherlands.

The tendency to play “spot the influenced influence” as is hard to resist as Watt’s music has touched so many fellow artists over the years, just as playing within an ever-widening sphere of musicians has continued to color his own work. On bird-in-the-helmet-man, I hear echoes of Albert Bouchard and early Patti Smith-infected BöC, while belly-stabbed-man’s “gut kicked – hard / truth hits – hard / emotions gush – but no word hole” is a Pop Group Amnesty Report from the depths of hell.

If I had to call a break-out single for “alternative” radio play (as if there were anything resembling a valid record and/or radio industry anymore) it would have to be the Trees Outside the Academy-era Thurston Mooresque hollowed-out-man with its pleasant droning melody, relentless drive, and totally fucked-up lyrics. “Now the hat that’s worn is like a horse track / pairs of peckers promenadin’ ’round a sack / a swollen bagpipe waitin’ for the ear-knife / castrate hack,” makes a perfect sonic flipside to Sister’s (and Watt’s own Ball-Hog or Tugboat’s) Tuff Gnarl.

The song that most evokes the spirit of Pedro for me is, appropriately enough, finger-pointing-man. Here, Watt’s lyrics sound like they could have been torn from his own Spiels Of A Minuteman folio. “Conviction’s like some affliction / without the clout of some doubt / it’s fuckin’ nonsense / ignorin’ content / and letting’ the mouth just spout.”

The sharp angularity of Tom Watson’s chording juxtaposed with the singsong delivery of funnel-capped-man, brings to mind San Francisco’s Deerhoof, in fact, the first time I saw Raul Morales play, I was reminded of the ’Hoof’s Greg Saunier—if not stylistically through their respective jazz-inflected approaches—in the giddy zeal that they both seem to take in playing drums.

Over the years, Watt’s vocal delivery has become more like his bass playing, a distinctive and singular expression of his muse. Printing out the hyphenated-man lyrics from the hootpage may help you find your way inside Watt’s vision, or you can just let the Missingmen’s churning accompaniment propel you headlong down their peculiar rabbit hole. Using one of Bosch’s less fantastical icons as an avatar, Watt lays out the impetus for the opera in own-horn-blowing-man, while keeping one eye out for any hint of lurking solipsism. “Go figure the trigger / to really holler, fuckin’ holler / and hoist yeah, foist / expression from repression / not badge-buffin’ or baggin’ wind / but to get out what’s stuck within.

Prince — 20Ten (2010)


All right, if nobody else is going to go there, I will. The wave that Prince was ripping since 2004’s comeback album Musicology finally broke—but what a ride! With a renewed love of the funk, and his guitar, the purple one seemed hungry for relevance once again after foundering at the close of the millennium.

2006’s 2131 featured a classic single, Black Sweat, along with the title track that made fans actually want to dance once again! Lest you forget that the man is nuttier than a sack full of squirrels, he gave away 2007’s Planet Earth with the UK Sunday papers. ’Erm … Prince, I get that you still can’t stand the record business, who can, but how about a little Stateside love? Still, it was good to hear Wendy & Lisa back for a cameo.

Later that year, Prince spent 21 nights at London’s O2 arena tearing the place apart, judging from the bootlegs I’ve heard. 2008’s Indigo Nights, a live album of after hours indigO2 club jams from that tour was packaged for minimum penetration—stuck as it was in a Princely narcissistic coffee table book. (Watch for these on the remainder tables at your local Borders and snag one).

OK, his marketing is a little hit and miss, but at least he’s firing on all cylinders musically. 2009 brought the double shot (triple shot if you count the Bria Valente record that nobody listened to) of LotusFlow3r and MPLSound, packaged together and only available at Target. This was long before the Tom Emmer Controversy. Prince, did Target know you used to wear women’s clothes? Just asking.

Which brings us to 20Ten, chronologically, as well as by appellation. Things start well enough with the Linn drums and 1999-era keys that kick off Compassion. The lyrics are positive without being preachy, and what the hell, I’m no nihilist. The same goes for Beginning Endlessly, as a child of the ’80s, I have soft spot for those synth patches. His purpleness is getting a little metaphysical here, but he’s in good voice. Did he just ask to explore her anatomy? That has to be a good sign, right?

The heat turns way down with the slow jam Future Soul Song. Prince sings this one straight; it’s interesting to hear him croon in the lower register. I get a Stylistics/Philly vibe from this … until about halfway through, then … uh oh. Prince’s faith has underscored his art ever since his conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2001. To interrupt the flow to complain about “dogmatic persecution?” I don’t want to hear it.

The angular, but oddly sedate, Sticky Like Glue has a catchy hook, and I can imagine Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki rocking this song. In fact, maybe I’d rather be listening to Milk Man. Time was, you got sticky from listen to a Prince album, all right, and it wasn’t from glue.

Lavaux, brings us back to Prince the sensualist. With a subtext of escape, Prince name-checks the Swiss mountains and vineyards of Lavaux, as well as the streets of Portugal. All great places, I’m sure, but who besides Prince can afford to run off to Europe to avoid “another kind of slavery?” Musically, however, this is right in the pocket.

After a couple more unremarkable slow jams, we get to Everybody Loves Me, the nadir of the man’s output over the past decade. Lyrically and musically it sounds like something written for an appearance on Sesame Street. I can’t get the image of Muppets singing along with this inane chorus. Fuck me, Elmo.

Prince pulls 20Ten out of its nosedive with the “hidden track,” Laydown, which has him getting his freak on rocking a Missy Elliot melody. I almost expected to hear him exclaim “gimme some new shit!” By now you’ve heard the “Purple Yoda” reference, and sure, that’s cute, but the revelation here is the funk. There’s bass on this track that proves that having Larry Graham hanging out at Paisley Park wasn’t lost on Prince.

20Ten, like Planet Earth, was again inexplicably released by gluing the damn thing to newspapers in the UK. I don’t get it. As of this review, there are no plans to even put out this record in the States, or in the world at large for that matter. What’s up Prince? Maybe we’ll get a different version without that fucking Muppet song. Who knows?

Sonic Youth — The Eternal (2009)


At this point, you are either hip to what the Youth are puttin’ down or you couldn’t be arsed. Love ’em or hate ’em, you have to give them props for following their own collective muse for longer than a quarter of a century now. Remember when we were worried that their jump to a major label meant that Sonic Youth had “sold out?” Ha! Good times.

For what it’s worth, the band’s sojourn in the beige carpeted wilderness has finally come to an end, and they seem to have escaped unscathed. Maybe that’s because DGC/Geffen/CompuglobalHypermegacorp never really knew what to do with the band except leave them alone to make consistently engaging records.

Which brings us to The Eternal, the new album released on Matador, home to fellow squall merchants/musical geniuses, Mission of Burma. With the first atonal clarion clang of Sacred Trickster, the band announces a new-found drive and celebration of independence. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the hazy, bucolic cruise through their Own Private Connecticut over the last decade, but I have to admit that from Diamond Sea, the closing track on 1995’s Washing Machine, through Do You Believe in Rapture? on 2006’s Rather Ripped, the serene, coolly psychedelic jams aren’t the ones I reach for when I want to drive like a lunatic or jump around the house scaring the animals.

With former Pavement bassist Mark Ibold onboard, replacing multi-instrumentalist Jim O’Rourke who left in 2005, the band sounds more focused, and hungrier than they have in a decade. Those of us lucky enough to catch the epic Daydream Nation shows in 2007 caught a preview of the new lineup that seems to have put a burr back under their saddle.

Trickster kicks off the album with a Kim Gordon vocal that calls to mind the concisely-fractured indie rock of ’90s milestone albums Dirty and Goo. Gordon’s songs have long been highlights of the sets that contain them; unfortunately, her compositions have been few and far between the last few records. As usual, she cuts straight through the bullshit and nails those with no imagination to rise above the cliché, whether in dealing with sexual politics or the business of rocking so hard for so long. What’s it like to be a girl in band? / I don’t quite understand / That’s so quaint to hear / I feel so free, my dear

As the last bit of heavy reverb dies away, Thurston Moore jumps in with a classic rock riff to announce a duet with his wife. Anti-Orgasm flips the meme of sex as violence on its head as it nihilistically proclaims that Anti-war / is anti-orgasm. Sonic Youth has the vortex of guitars sound down by now, but rarely in recent years has it sounded so vital. Around the two-minute mark, Ibod’s bass starts a counterpoint riff that adds a new dimension to the usual expanse of sounds. At three-and-a-half minutes, the band stretches out into a bit of what they have taken away from their flirtation as the punk rock Grateful Dead before Ibod’s figure reappears and brings the whole beautiful mess to a close.

Just as you think that they may be back to drifting however, Lee Renaldo’s What We Know kicks the paranoia up a notch and drives it home with a relentless riff recalling the band’s hardcore past. This strategy is also used to great effect on Poison Arrow, as percussive chordal stabs close out the track.

According to Billboard, The Eternal sold 19,262 copies in its first week and is currently 16th on the Top Digital Album chart. What does that mean in this post-everything marketplace of ideas? Probably nothing—but it could be that Sonic Youth is finally spending some of that famous indie cred. The mandate is rock.

Unknown Instructors — Funland (2009)


Shakespeare had it right. You really can’t trust anyone that doesn’t appreciate music. All of our greatest thinkers eventually seem to come to the conclusion that we are only vibrations in the great void. Call it the Big Bang Theory, call it what you will, but how could one go through life closed to the most primal and necessary form of human expression?

I think we can all agree that 2009 has already been a son-of-a-bitch; but if you are open to it, just when you need it, out of left field comes a collection of tunes that cracks the rust on your brain pan, and that beat, Goddamn it, that beat …

Dropped into the late spring of our discontent, like a silver dollar dropped down an outhouse shitter, falls the third, and most cohesive, album from Unknown Instructors, an unlikely supergroup of sorts that push the boundaries of … well, everything.

On Funland, the planet’s premier punk rock rhythm section of Mike Watt and George Hurley consistently push each other in more and more complex jams supported by Saccharine Trust guitarist Joe Baiza playing at his most insectoid. Whereas Hurley played pretty straight-ahead on the last album, producers Baiza, Joe Carducci, and Dan McGuire saved the most Rashied Ali-inspired grooves for its follow up.

Recorded at the same time as 2006’s The Master’s Voice, Funland is no mere collection of second-rate tracks, but a cohesive work of art that follows a thematic surge. Of course, that theme is loose enough to include Pere Ubu’s père David Thomas wailing as if existentially wounded on Afternoon Spent At The Bar, Sunny; while elsewhere, poet Dan McGuire reprises his role as a modern-day Jim Morrison with a penchant for language rather than just whiskey and leather pants.

McGuire has an eye for the details of the less-than bucolic childhood that many of us aging suburban California kids can relate to. He remembers the forgotten places, the weed-strewn empty lots and trampled-down hurricane fences, but he’s not the only poet on deck.

Whereas Voice was a hard-charger right out of the gate with the swirling Swarm, Funland’s opening salvo is Maji Yabai (Japanese slang originally meaning something like, “Oh shit,” and morphing in recent years into something like “sick” or “bad,” but in a good way), an introspective Watt-spiel. This paints the scene in a peculiar midway twilight. The unmerciful heat of the summer sun has finally abated and that belly full of PBR and corndogs isn’t going to hold you. It’s time to make some decisions. As the buzz loosens its grip, you can opt to reinforce it with another flat cold one, or pop out to the car for something stronger.

Funland’s hard stuff includes a cover of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s Frownland, welding its odd gravitas to the album’s own weird sense of bacchanalian carny freedom. In addition to Thomas’s unique contributions, artist Raymond Pettibon’s unexpected jazz-influenced rap on Lead! proves that his take on Voice’s Twing-Twang wasn’t just an anomalous laugh. Pettibon has a surprisingly direct and, dare I say it, swinging delivery that may just cause me to rethink my idea of him as a quiet, misanthropic artist; or someone you might meet working the ring toss. It’s good to remember not to confuse the artist with his art.

Funland is all about pushing the boundaries of what you think you know about these musicans, and like the famous Tilt-A-Whirl, if you don’t hurl, you just might have the time of your life.

Bob Dylan — Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)


I was 11 years old in 1977 and while punk was exploding elsewhere, I was in a backwater of the San Francisco Bay Area discovering Bob Dylan. My best friend’s dad was an ex-folkie with a guitar and a great collection of vinyl. Whereas my dad still loved and played Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Ray Charles at full volume (at all hours), to enter the neighbors’ house was to glean a small residual bit of the magic and late-night menace of New York and Greenwich Village. Red wine. Mysterious women of Gypsy origin.

I seem to remember the gateway drug for us was Blonde On Blonde with its classic leadoff track Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, but like Bob himself said, we “started out on burgundy, but soon hit the harder stuff.” We were kids raised on AM rock radio, and as such, we understood Dylan after 1965. The classics were still in heavy rotation: Hendrix transforming All Along the Watchtower, The Byrds chiming about Mr. Tambourine Man, Dylan himself spitting out Like a Rolling Stone.

It was the earlier records that were a revelation.

The tracks on 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan painted a picture of that world we had only guessed at. Talkin’ World War III Blues introduced us to a world of Cold War paranoia filtered through Woody Guthrie, while Corrina, Corrina reached back to a deep well of traditional music that, even then, we sensed was the secret current; the hidden aquifer of American culture.

The Times They Are a-Changin’ was a little intense for a couple of suburban kids. It would be a few years before we understood the power in Ballad of Hollis Brown and The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll; even the face staring out in disdainful sepia was off-putting. At the bottom of the pile, however, was a simple black and white cover with a photo that seemed almost like an afterthought. It showed a quite different person than the disapproving fundamentalist folkie from the year previous. This guy seemed to be comfortable in his own skin. This guy was cool.

When the needle hit the first track, we knew something else was going on here. The Jimmy Rodgers yodel in All I Really Want to Do, along with the song’s platonic admonishments showed a fun side of Dylan that we had missed wading through the heavy hitters. Sure, Rainy Day Women had been fun, but to a 11-year-old, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands was decidedly not.

Spanish Harlem Incident laid out the bohemian mise-en-scène we had imagined was out there, but hadn’t yet experienced roaming our backyard kingdoms; but the track that totally captured out imaginations and ensured that we both would be life-long fanatics, was Motorpsycho Nitemare. Dylan’s ability to set a scene and tell a story was, and remains, unparalleled.

For years, we called each other “Unpatriotic, rotten doctor Commie rats.” Good times.