Sunday, May 19, 2013

MX-80 (Sound) always were a hard to wrap yer finger around group. If you wanted to call 'em punk rock you could only if you were using your CREEM 1971 modus opporandi firmly in place especially when buffered with a few readings of Lester Bangs' Count Five article and maybe even a subscription to TEENAGE WASTELAND GAZETTE on hand. Heavy metal also seemed as apt enough a term if you really wanted to peg where their oeuvre was coming from, but then again only if you  used a 1972 CREEM application of the term with hefty Mike Saunders influx attached. They certainly could not be called "new wave" even if their platters "seemed" to be aimed towards that particular demographics that were buying up Patti Smith and Talking Heads albums in 1978 and who knows what dross five years fact MX-80 singer Rich Stim even mentioned that his group was not new wave during a q&a sesh with some college radio host during a particularly potent live FM gig I have on tape somewhere, kinda shocking the radio host in the process! If anything, MX-80 (Sound) were, are and will remain for who knows how long "underground" rock at its best, performing a music that could best be described as feeding off a whole slew of influences thus creating a new style that, while confusing and confounding the listener at first, would eventually be thought of as the "real" fusion where the best moments of everything from sixties whiz to seventies experimentation  jazz and metallic overtures were crammed together pointing the way to a musical future we all thought was just around the corner. But naturally we were all wrong as 1982 eventually pointed out and things looked worse'n they did 'n even 1973.

The spate of MX-80 and related cassette tapes that were coming out during the mid-eighties were definitely the closest thing any of us'd get to manna during that age when the mid-seventies roar had been reduced to a mere whimper. Here it was 1984 and there wasn't anything 'cept hardcore which was petering out, post-new wave amerindie which was rather pallid and various other offshoots of the underground combustication (copyright Julius Sumner Miller) that took place just a few years earlier, and not only that but the groups who had provided such unbridled pangs of high energy approach just a few years earlier were either dead, in hiding or making some of the most abysmal ginchy-goodie sounds one could imagine. MX-80 fell into the middle category supposedly silenced by some legalese prohibiting them from performing (though the story about the rest of the act performing as "the C-Minus Humans" while Rich Stim was attending law school does have some credence considering how the same cassette label that put out the boffo PLAYETTE tape was also promising a C-Minus Humans one), so when a number of releases by MX-80 offshoots O-Type, Half Life and the Gizzards came out via the Quadruped label back '86 way you can sure bet that I was tossin' the confetti with the bright hopes that maybe it was coming back! Or at least coming back again since Greg Shaw said that it came back in '76 but somehow it slipped away and I was anticipating it's proud return, even starting up a crudzine to herald its proud return into the consciousness of many an 18-34-year-old on the search for something beyond Quiet Riot! And if I knew it wasn't comin' back I sure coulda saved a whole lotta money puttin' that monstrosity out!

Those tapes didn't seem to stay in print too long, but thankfully Quadruped has been selling CD-R copies for dolts like you who were too stupid to pick 'em up the first time 'round. And dolts like me who don't have the facilities to turn years of cassette tape into handy CD-R's that hopefully will not succumb to time and moisture. If you ask me Quadruped is doing us a public service reissuing these rarities by both MX-80 and offshoots because frankly, its these platters that really tell us the far-reaching talents that the members of these acts continue to ooze, and if you just can't appreciate the metallic opuses present within these "grooves" then well, you really can't call yourself a BLOG TO COMM fan 'n follower now, could ya?

All kidding aside (after all, I know that your tastes span a wide ocean of styles some of which I never could fathom in a million years but its your ears and you can do what you want with 'em),  if you haven't heard these rarities you really don't know what you're missing. Nor could you call yourself a fan or follower of underground heavy metallic upheavals with a load of fanzine-oriented punkism tossed in for good measure. And if you're a long-honed fan or just wigglin' your toes inna wading pool these reissues are a good place to get some hefty resensification thrust into your precious nervous system.

My fave of the batch just happen to be the various O-Type platters that somehow got lost under the shuffle of not only the various MX-80 releases but the other O-Type disques that got heftier promotion than the tapes ever did. Their debut effort from '86 (titled what else but O-TYPE) is a downright winner with the team of Bruce Anderson and Dale Sophiea (using the aliases Bernard Forth and Werner Held) creating massive post-music sounds that remind me of everything good the seventies produced in the field of music distilled into what I thought the eighties was going to mean for us all. Complex yet totally-engrossing guitar lines merge with repeato-thumping bass guitar which intermingle with everything from pre-recorded tapes of Stravinsky and Alban Berg to ethnic music and (on a particularly down-home-y track) Truman Capote talking about the deep-South country cooking of his youth. (You may recognize the instrumental portion of this track also being used on MX-80's own "Dough Boy Joe"...more on that 'un later.) The "drums" by Niemand are actually artificially generated thus giving this the aura of many an underground drum-box offering that was coming outta alternativeland back then, only O-Type had the deep roots of sixties/seventies accomplishment behind it and thus weren't building their foundation on amerindie sand.

Followup DARLING presents a more focused variation of the group, something that I would have imagined the C-Minus Humans to have sounded like during their 1983 tour of various Amerigan outhouses. Latterday MX-80-ers Jim Hrabetin and Marc "Hoss" Weinstein join Anderson and Sophiea, and none other than longtime underground fixture Henry Kaiser (a guy who I never really appreciated that much other'n on a few items done in conjunction with Anderson!) produced. Something tells me this is what the hubbub I've heard about "post-metal" is all about, and considering how there are faint similarities between DARLING and what I've heard of, say, Isis (the recent band, not the all lez horn act of the seventies) it wouldn't be off base saying that O-Type might have been the honest-to-fanabla beginning of it all.

Anderson's playing is tops and as ferocious as it was on those Ralph albums while the rest of the group really show all of those HIT PARADER Andy Secher sycophants what heavy metal really is about. And for all of the sixties/seventies refurbishing they did even MX-80 was never as out-there as O-Type get on this jaunt which just hasta've been the most atonal slab of sound and shard of metal committed to tape at least before it burst into the all-out noise and cathartic revenge of Voi Vod (who I believe are aficionados of the MX-80 style as some yokel once told me) and various other eighties metallic forcefields. What's even cooler about 'em are Anderson's vocals...if you like the guy's singing on the single-only "White Night" side you'll undoubtedly enjoy his basso moano stylings on "People Got Rights" and the title track. Best of all is his narrative on "Stupido" which better not get around or old ladies with pitchforks are gonna be comin' for him like they did Frankenstein's monster because of him "making fun" of the retarded. (You know, like they did with Mort Walker for including Zero in his BEETLE BAILEY comic strip!)

Fans of the Ralph albums would do well by snatching up HALF-LIFE, a half-hour of instrumental tracks that come closer to the OUT OF THE TUNNEL/CROWD CONTROL brand of MX-80 high energy appeal. Some tracks in fact are re-dos of various Ralph-era monstrosities such as their take of John Carpenter's "Theme From HALLOWE'EN" and Bernard Herrmann's "Theme From SISTERS" (they undoubtedly being more movie-inclined that I) not to mention "Frankie Slash" which is merely "Frankie I'm Sorry" from TUNNEL double-timed. Listening to this 'un jetted me back a good three decades-plus when the original MX-80 albums were appearing in my mailbox (certainly not the local store!) and adding hours of pleasure to my life as well as a nice warm, tingling feeling inside that rock 'n roll was not only a music to be reckoned with but still being produced in the here and now and relevant to my daily life! Shows how deluded a fellow could be, eh?

Along with the original O-TYPE and HALF-LIFE cassettes came the Gizzards' UNICORK, an interesting variation on the standard MX-80 Sound sound I took as being Anderson and Sophiea's (excuse me...Frances Densmore and Lyle E. Riley's) take on the roots rock movement that was making ripples back in the mid-eighties. As far as it goes the pair succeed as much as one would expect, in fact mopping the competition with their heavy metallic take on a music that was comparatively fluffweight by comparison, and although it ain't like the pair were approaching everything from rockabilly to country rock from a pre-hippoid outlook themselves they sure did a snat job capturing the best that the pre-Beatles era hadda offer only with a mid-eighties underground outlook firmly planted up each and every one of their psyches.

Some repeats do pop up on these three disques (there are four but I neglected to buy the latest one) but I guess that's only because the group thought they could improve on 'em. Whether or not they did is open to debate, but whatever these tunes may be the Gizzards did 'em up nice and rather proper-like. Don't miss their cover of Link Wray's signature "Rumble" which is done up just as retro-whack yet homage-throbbed as Smegma's!

For your information, the discs I possess are, besides UNICORK, HUMDINGER and SGT. PEPPERSTEAK (forget the name of the one I don't own)  and all are most certainly worthy of your time 'n effort to pluck up. And that's even if you aren't whatcha'd call a fanabla and follower of rockabilly or white guy blues which is understanding considering some of the turds those genres had pooped out these past few decades. But these are way different...imagine a halfway route between the MC5 and Kama Sutra era Flamin' Groovies and you might get a smidgen of an idea.

Dunno why EXISTENTIAL LOVER never got a proper reish. After all it was the first MX-80 release since CROWD CONTROL and the legal hassles that prevented MX-80 from recording as such. Definitely an item that seventies underground missers like myself were more'n anxious to spill seed over. But here it is as a Cee-Dee-Are and yeah, it reminds me of just how good groups like MX-80 sounded in the company of all of that put-on precociousness that was passing as "alternative" music or "new" music or whatever it was being called in the pages of THE VILLAGE VOICE at the time. Not as noisy as past efforts or the Anderson/Sophiea tapes mentioned above but still crucial. Anderson's guitar remains unchained (the mid-section of "Dollar Bill" where Anderson's playing's the aural equiv. of watching a cat just hit by a car staggering around before making that final plop being just one showcase for his talents) and Rich Stim's singing is as nonchalant as ever. And yes it is heavy metal in the classic CREEM sense so don't let anybody tell you otherwise even if it is a little too innerlektual for most fans of the form (at least after the mid-seventies when heavy metal became a definitely copyrighted term)...I mean, what other metallic opus can you think of that would have been written about Orson Welles anyway?

For more post-Ralph MX-80 LIVE 4/10/92 whatcha'd call a proverbial wowzer. The sound's good but not as crystal clear as those half-mastered hi-fi jobs that were so popular in the late-seventies, while the performance is typical of the studio-recorded booty only with the right live edge to make the difference. Some oldies, a few newies and if I do say so this one is preferable to the "official" live CD ALWAYS LEAVE THEM WANTING LESS which might be easier to obtain and still worth your time and energy. Another one that really should have gotten around a whole lot more than it had, and maybe if more people had read my ravenous review of this back then it would have (haw, don't you feel ashamed???).

And finally for today's discussion's this long-gone effort that's remained op for way too longer'n any of us could have imagined.  SUBTERRANEAN MODERN was a platter that really caught me by the fanablas when it came out back in '79 or '80 and not only because it introduced me to Chrome but because this was also some of the earliest MX-80 I've heard and boy did it make a lasting impression on me! The Residents and Tuxedomoon stuff sounds typical late-seventies experimental and if you like that stuff for me I find it engaging but nothing next to the Chrome/MX-80 pairing on side one with the former using already archaic electronic gear to create one of the most horrific Sci-Fi cum Horror situations since PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (thought I was gonna say ALIEN, hunh?) while MX-80 straddle between the humorous hard rocking of their debut album and OUT OF THE TUNNEL's barbaric metal approach, coming off like the rockism future we were all hoping for once 1980 clocked in only to get nada but new mush wrapped up in disco glitz. Particularly haunting, especially the beyond-intense "Possessed" which is what I think people who were listening to Blue Oyster Cult back inna early eighties thought they were listening to.

Now don't go neglectin' the "official" stuff 'r anything like that, but these rarities are definitely something that any tried and true MX-80 fan deserves to have stacked in their collection alongside all of those other essentials we've been slobbering over for years. And although I just hate to toot my own horn 'n tell you just how right I was all along let me just rub it in a bit and say that back when these recordings were first being unleashed it was more'n obvious that the group's output would stand the test of time and sound fresh and alive long into the future while the competition, from "FM Classic Rock" to "gnu wave," would just flounder about and sound sillier than they ever did as time rolled on.. And as usual, I was right all along, eh? C'mon jerks, gimme some much-needed credit for once!


Anonymous said...

MX-80 Sound's first LP 'Hard Attack' is available on vinyl from

Anonymous said...

where else are you gonna get this definitive on mid 80's Mx-80 - uh, nowhere, - eternal thanks chris


Anonymous said...

Gonna have to say that things looked a-ok in 1973, music-wise (Iggy, NY Dolls, Roxy and others), but yeah 1982 was sort of the beginning of a dry spell that's only let up here are there over time (still like a lot of stuff from 1982 though - but I can see why it's such a dividing line year for so many people).

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, hope you're gonna devote a little time & space to the fabulous 2CD reish of "Hard Attack" on Superior Viaduct. That "Bigger Hits" bonus disc is a gift from above: A full hour of prime 1976-77 roadblock of Sound, most of it unheard before - the amount of material these guys worked up still amazes me!

I dream of one day hearing a box set of those Monroe County Public Library gigs...