= September 2012 =  
The Linus Pauling Quartet
The Catholic Girls
The Life
The Icons
Mission of Burma


(CD / 2LP from Temporary Residence Records )

There no point denying that Mono are going to be sat right at the top table when it comes to the wedding of  Terrascopic music and post-rock. Takaakira Goto and his band have yet to put a foot wrong, their albums gathering an ever increasing momentum that’s matched only by the scintillating fury of their live shows. I’ve rarely shed tears quite so openly at a performance than on the evening they made their Terrastock debut, on an outdoor stage with the fireflies circling around their bobbing guitar heads in Lousiville, Kentucky in June 2008. Over four years ago now. Four years!

It could be argued that Mono haven’t progressed a great deal in those four years, or indeed in the dozen or so years since they were formed. But to my mind that counts in their favour. We all have favourite bands whose every album we own, and invariably I suspect there are some albums which we on reflection play less often than others, often because the band didn’t do what we loved them for: they tried to progress too quickly, whereas what we wanted was more of the same. Mono however progress with almost glacial speed – ‘The Kidnapper Bell’ from their debut album ‘Under the Pipal Tree’ wouldn’t sound at all out of place on a collection of ‘For My Parents’ outtakes. And yet, the band have subtly progressed – which is just as it should be.

Opening track ‘Legend’ finds Mono laying their cards on the table from the outset, the Cipollina-like, soaring notes of Yoda’s guitar paving the way for the trademark trills of Taka Goto’s rapidly strummed chords that invariably evoke shades of Barclay James Harvest around here, though I’m probably in a minority of one. Thereafter it’s the classic rise and fall dynamics that we love so well, with a minor aberration part  way through which I’ve yet to convince myself isn’t in fact the record deck accidentally slipping into a higher gear momentarily. At exactly the same moment every time.

‘Nostalgia’ sounds the closest in stylistic delivery to the two outstanding cuts from the band’s astonishing 2009 studio album ‘Hymn to the Immortal Wind’, ‘Ashes in the Snow’ and ‘The Battle to Heaven’ – I particularly adore the way the band calls a sudden halt to proceedings at the height of the trilling guitar/crashing drum crescendo, as if the conductor had watched in horror as his baton exploded in his hand, and progress to a tinkling glockenspiel solo (again, harking back to quieter passages on ‘Hymn’) before the Lennon-esque piano coda eases the band into the comparatively calm waters of ‘Dream Odyssey’.

 At a little over fourteen minutes, ‘Unseen Harbor’ is the longest cut on the album, the least adventurous cut on the album, and also the finest cut on the album – a true classic in the pantheon of great Mono songs to date, and up there amongst their best on the basis that it does exactly what you want Mono to do, exactly when you want it to happen. At half way through it becomes distinctly cinematic, the Holy Ground Orchestra (conducted by Jeff Milarsky) coming into their own during an epic, sweeping pause before the band launches back into full-on Mono mode.

The two LP set closes with ‘A Quiet Place (Together we Go)’ which I suspect – as with most Mono albums this one’s an instrumental, so the intent of the musical imagery is wide open to interpretation – is the title cut, the melancholy almost tangible as it sprays off the orchestra’s strings. The guitars don’t kick in until almost three quarters of the way in, but that too is just as it should be – a perfect end to a damn near perfect album. Certainly one of my records of the year, and even perhaps one of Mono’s finest albums to date – though that’s a particularly tough call to make. (Phil McMullen)



(CD on Homeskool Records www.homeskoolrecords.com)

There are five members of the Linus Pauling Quartet, which even the band abbreviates as LP4. I bring this up to establish the disorienting nature of the sonic maelstrom that is about to befall you. It’s been five long years since their last “proper” album,  All Things Are Light was issued by Camera Obscura (the wonderful Horns of Ammon intervened, but it was essentially a stopgap collection of orphans that, while equally recommended, was not representative of their “sound”.) Bag of Hammers is the eighth album of their nearly 20-year career and it’s one which the band freely welcome listeners to enjoy whilst “partaking in the ancient ritualistic burning of the herb.” That title alone is about as subtle as a lead zeppelin and the music within is thrice as heavy… your ultimate goal is to “attain the pure, majestic, plenary seventh level of heaviness”. Uh…, OK.

Mlee Marie (not one of the four, er, five band members) portrays the voice of Freyja, chanting some hocus pocus on opener ‘Crom’, which suggests we could be in store from some high falutin concept album about distant worlds populated by Starchimps, the dreaded Homunculus, and the awe-inspiring Stonebringer, but fear not, those are just some of the song titles! ‘She Did Not Know’ has lots of lines about bongsmoking, but after a few hits, I mean listens, “she” is not the only one who doesn’t quite know what’s going on. I think that bong might be bad, but no matter, with these guys, the lyrics are just tossed in to make sure you don’t nod off. And with the three-guitar assault of Clinton Heider, Charlie Horshack, and “Mr LP4” himself, Ramon Medina, the lyrics are the last thing you came here for.

Elsewhere, fans of heavy-lidded stoner rock and even heavier, old school metal (think vintage Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Steppenwolf) will delight in this bag of trips guaranteed to blow your mind. For only then can one experience the unimaginable dimensions that are only visible upon the opening of the seventh eye. Mlee returns to remind us that ‘Rust’ is the colour of blood, and yours will be curdling aplenty to the flamethrowing stringbending and spacey effects assaulting your senses from one of the album highlights. And, great googa mooga, preacher Heider’s proselytising throughout ‘Saving Throw’ will scare you into saving much more than, well, whatever life can “throw” at you.

Stoners with boners unite – a new age of heaviosity is upon us and LP4 (+1) are here to lead us into the light at the end of the dark tunnel of insipid wankery. If Dopesmoker put you to sleep, Bag of Hammers is your rude awakening.  So suck down a few 40s, fire up the righteous boo, and prepare to get “hammered”. Thank you, sir, may I have another! (Jeff Penczak)



CD on Cinema Records (www.thecatholicgirls.net)

Before The Go-Go’s and The Bangles sent young lads to bed in search of wet dreams, before Madonna started wearing crucifixes and rosaries as jewellery, there were The Catholic Girls, New Jersey’s own foray into the all-female group dynamic. Formed over thirty years ago as The Double Cross Schoolgirls  by four high-school friends (I went to private school with the drummer!), a renamed and slightly revamped line-up (minus said drummer) recorded The Catholic Girls self-titled long player in 1982 for MCA (“Music Cemetery of America”). Three-quarters of the lineup is still together (they recently added a male bassist) and their fourth album (once again penned by singer-songwriter Gail Petersen) show the gals have lost none of their original lustre or spark and may just be the highlight of their long and somewhat illustrious career (well, for starters, they were banned in Rhode Island for suggesting in one of their songs that God “possibly could” be a woman! Oh, the horror!)

                  Interestingly, both sides of the album open with songs about the perils of sleeplessness: ‘Sleep’, with its lengthy twin-guitar instrumental opening shoots out of the gate with a rocking backbeat courtesy Doreen Holmes that propels the tale of, well, sexual frustration leading to sleepless nights yearning for that special someone to “give me what I need so I can sleep”. And any song that rhymes “I can’t function” with “give me Extreme Unction” has already pushed all my right buttons! ‘Celebrity Guy’ also finds Petersen in a dream state – pining for the heartthrob in the film on TV she fell asleep to. All of this is set to a catchy melody (always a Petersen strong suit), as is the punchy ‘It Doesn’t Become You’, with its hum-along chorus and Holmes’ powerful skinpounding.

                  Elsewhere, ‘Lonely’ is anything but – its dual vocals, catchy rhythm, and Roxy Andersen’s bitchin’ fuzz solo will knock the blues right out of you, while ‘You Never Know Why’ features a heavenly call-and-response chorus straight out of the ’60s girl group era. Side two opens with ‘Sleepwalker’, a somnambulistic stroll through a murky relationship, featuring another soulstirring fuzz solo from Andersen. It’s one of the gals’ bluesiest numbers and dead good – I bet it goes down a storm during the live shows. ‘Grounded’ returns to the perky pop that old-time fans will know and love from way back on the debut. Speaking of which, Gail & Co. revisit that album’s ‘Called You Up’ but I have a soft spot for the original and found this nostalgic, somewhat slowed-down version rather superfluous.

                  Completists who missed the recent double A-sided single ‘Airplay’ c/w ‘Broken Record’ will be relieved to find it included here. The former is highlighted by another mouthwatering Andersen solo and the latter is even better, with more strident guitars ringing out a wonderfully chunky beat – if you’re pining for the days when chiming guitars rang out of beatboxes and radios everywhere (was that the dark ages known as the ’90s?), then you’ve come to the right place. And if you’ve a hankering for reliving your love affair with rockin’ babes from the ’80s, this is a whole lot better than what the reformed Bangles and Go-Go’s have been up to recently. (Jeff Penczak)





THE LIFE – ALONE (DELUXE EDITION, including unreleased second album, WITNESS THE WILL)
(2xCD on Green Monkey Records

The Life may be the best Northwest band you never heard of. In fact, no less an authority than the Northwest Area Music Association (NAMA) confirms this, having selected The Life as the Best New Band in 1987, beating out The Walkabouts, among others*. So it is cause for celebration that Green Monkey commemorate the 25th anniversary of their only album by remastering it and offering this deluxe edition which includes…their second album, unreleased at the time due to those infamous “creative differences” that eventually led to the breakup of the band. (The set is also dedicated to guitarist Tony Bortko, who died in 2006.)

Featuring former TKO/Numatics guitarist and future Green Pajamas keyboardist (on drums!), this is a solid rock album full of jangly guitars, powerful vocals (Jimm McIver) and a solid rhythm section of bassist Casey Allen and the aforementioned drummer, Eric Lichter. Green Monkey honcho Tom Dyer (who did the crystalline analog remastering) was right to highlight opener ‘If It Works (don’t fix it) as “the hit” and it’s a great introduction that finds the band as tight as a sheep’s bum at a drunken cowboy convention.

Sure, it’s got that angular guitar attack that made the 80s so loveable, but it also enjoys the great melodies that make those 80s classics so memorable today. For example, ‘Another Side of Life’ has that wonderful Billy Idol snarl that made a hit out of ‘Flesh For Fantasy’

OK, so there’s a tad of Mr Mojo Risin’ in McIver’s vocals (but without the pretentious bloodvessel-busting emoting) and some of Bortko’s histrionic guitarscapes do have a touch of The Edge to them, but that is only a reference point for unfamiliar listeners – once you jump in and surround yourself with the entire set, you’ll probably find your own signposts – all of which are positive to this listener – such as Julian Cope, Tom Petty, and particularly, The Cult.

The bonus disc features the band’s second album, Witness The Will, and the sound is much fuller owing to the move from Tom Dyer’s 8-track basement to Michael Lord’s 24-track studio. The band also seem more comfortable – there’s even more bark to McIver’s bite – a little more Bono than Mojo, Bortko runs roughshod around the pounding rhythm section, and the tunes benefit from more experimentation and comfort – all those live gigs whipped the band into even better shape, even if individual differences of opinion ultimately derailed them.

Bortko also steps out front a bit more on this release – a few more solos highlight his prodigious skills. ‘Down’, for example, sashays down the road like the band own it – it takes no prisoners. I also like the punchy ‘A Broken Man’, which eviscerates like Bauhaus going nose-to-nose with Billy Idol. ‘Come To Call’ is a powerful fistpumper with typical boisterous vocals from McIver that let you know he means every word he spews.

And the album keeps getting better the deeper you get into it. ‘Four Suns In The Sky’, ‘Why?’ and ‘Freedom Is…’ are anthemic crowd pleasers, ‘Dancing Brave’ is a ferocious three-minute scorcher with just a touch of Goth for good measure, and ‘Jenny’ is a tender love song with romantic, psychedelic overtones.

So while “America’s answer to The Cult” might be a little too grandiose, it’ll set you up for an exciting listening experience that will have you disappointed that the band couldn’t keep it together, but glad you had the opportunity to hear them at their peak. And Green Pajamas completists need this to add to their Karl Wilhelm collection! (Jeff Penczak)

* Your editor, Phil, also highlighted The Life as a band to watch in his 1987 piece for Bucketfull of Brains magazine 'Seattle Through the Eyes of a Monkey' - a brave effort which unfortunately omitted most of the bands which were to go on to make Seattle briefly famous!




(CD on Green Monkey Records www.greenmonkeyrecords.com)

Talk about your sophomore slump. It’s taken The Icons over 25 years to release their second record! Originally formed in Seattle in 1983, The Icons are what the guys from The Big Bang Theory might become if they wanted to form a rock and roll band when they grew up: a bunch of Fiftysomethings dressed up in superhero costumes playing jangly power punk. They even have their own superhero names and a comic, which is included with the CD. It’s all rather tongue in cheek (I think!), but it’s a lot of fun. Green Monkey mastermind Tom Dyer is, who else, “Mastermind” and grunts out his vocals like a cross between Nick Cave and Lux Interior and there is a certain Bad Seeds/Cramps aesthetic to many of the tracks – let’s call it “swamp punk” to coin another unnecessary genre!

Green Pajama Jeff Kelly contributes one of his gnarliest tunes ever in ‘Dancin’ In The Jailhouse’, a gutter-trawlin’, snakeskin crawlin’, moon-howlin’ rocker that’ll have Dr John quaking in his boots. On the other side of town, there’s ‘The Glory of Love’, a rather quaint love ballad sung as a duet between Tom and Kat Dyer. Stevie Nations (Steve Trettevik)’s voice bears an eerie similarity to Warren Zevon throughout (try ‘You Never Have Time’ and ‘Carousel’), and the bouncy, C&W hoedown ‘Warm and Tender’ (highlighted by Amy Denio’s accordion and, particularly Madeleine Sosin’s feverish, cat-scratchin’ violin solo) tears a page out of the vintage Camper Van Beethoven song book.

I also dug Stevie Nations’ tasty guitar solos on the anthemic fistpumper ‘Let It Go’ as well as Denio’s sax wailing and Kelly’s swirling organ flourishes on the barrelhouse footstomper, ‘St. Charles.’ Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another quarter century for that “difficult third album”! (Jeff Penczak)



(CD/Vinyl from Fire Records www.firerecords.com )

It’s hard to believe that Boston Massachusetts’ Mission of Burma first formed in 1979, during which time they’ve released but five albums. In fact Unsound is their fourth full length offering since reforming in 2002 after a nineteen year hiatus prompted by guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus, apparently caused by their phenomenally loud gigging. At face value what you get is edgy, sinewy and highly energetic guitar music that pre-dates the term indie (so that’s post punk, then) of the type that has inspired a thousand mostly forgettable (and indeed long forgotten) bands over the past few decades. However if you’re after a consummate demonstration of how to take a simple idea and twist it into an unorthodox, occasionally complex and ferociously unpredictable entity and then keep nailing it track after track then look no further than Unsound

Blasting out of the blocks with the angular and imposing one minute and 52 seconds of “Dust Devil”, if you’re quick enough you’ll indentify several musical reference points, so much so that you might be forgiven for considering this oh-so derivative. Until, that is, we remember that, Messrs Miller, Conley and Prescott (aided here by fourth member Bob Weston from Shellac on tape loops) helped cast the mould in the first place. The neatly titled “Semi-Pseudo-Sort-of-Plan” blends sharp melody and righteous hooks with some powerful, droning guitar and is something of a standard bearer for the whole album. Following on swiftly and neatly, “Sectionals in The Morning” transplants us firmly into turn of the 80s art rock territory and hey, it’s good to be back folks, shards of guitar sounds, rumbling bass, roustabout vocals and drunken tribal drums, the old gang’s all here. As opening triptychs go, this is not to be sniffed at. What’s more, they go on to pull minor curve ball classics out of the bag such as the pummelling if ever so slightly corny “This is Hi-Fi”, the bittersweet “Second Television” where the deceptive melody of the early part gradually transforms itself into ranting indignation, the shouty-shanty of “Part of the Sea”, and the intense and urgent overload of “ADD in Unison”. Add to that the best the best Buzzcocks tribute ever (“7s”) and a couple of right corkers to end with and you feel like you’ve just been shot through with 35 minutes worth of rocket fuel.

After 33 stop-go years lashed to the wheel, that Mission of Burma can still pack this sort of wallop when so many of their ilk have long began to sound soft or contrived or simply disappeared is not an inconsiderable achievement in itself . That they are due a shed load of respect for providing a cathartic boost to my somewhat jaded musical palette of late is indisputable. Go seek. (Ian Fraser)