http://www.thevinylfactory.com/vinyl-factory-releases/hymns-to-the-ur-mind-the-essential-sunn-o-in-10-records/

The Vinyl Factory invited me to whack together a few thoughts on Sunn O))). Heck, why wouldn’t I jump at the opportunity? Sunn O))) are glorious.

Every band has a window where they run the risk of repetition, of doing the same thing again. Evolution has to happen. Some bands break up. Others wind up releasing novelties – “oh, this is our dance-orientated album…” Many make changes to the environment surrounding the songs – new studio, different equipment, switch of producer. A lot just start sounding like they’re weary of it all, there’s no longer a pressure or a drive underscoring what they’re doing. There’s no perfect answer, these aren’t always irrelevant alterations, sometimes each option has or might rejuvenate an artist.

Sunn O))) have managed change. There’s always a reminder of their mastery over the groove they established over the releases from 1999-2003 whether that means a burst of savage slow power in the midst of a longer composition, or a song given over entirely to wrecking bowels and brains for ten minutes. Around that, however, Sunn O))) has been hugely open to new collaborators, to fresh experiments, to taking past models and refurbishing and reviving them. They’re an intelligent band not in the sense of wearing learning on the sleeves of their cowls, more in the sense that they seem to combine improvisation and on-the-spot experimentation with proper contemplation of how the elements of their sound might be rejigged, how other musicians and instruments can be integrated, how a release might carry a theme or vibe across an entire album…

What the hell. Enjoy.

This piece was suggested to me by the team at http://www.invaluable.com so credit to them for providing me with a fun idea and hopefully the result is a quality read.

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A home isn’t a shell of wood, cement and brick. That’s just a house. Amid the functional blankness of unavoidable purchases — dead sofas, cutlery, toiletries — people cocoon themselves in treasured memories; that’s what makes a home. Mementoes record where we’ve been, certificates and trophies of one form or another capture what we’ve done, photos nod respectfully to the people with whom we’ve done it. We curate museums of self. What we value most will be hung on walls and placed atop units telling who we are, who we have been.

It’s more than a declaration of self. A home binds us to our tribes. The living and the dead comingle in our belongings, we preserve them, give life to them, honor them. We open that door not just to friends, family, acquaintances. Memorabilia is a mark of gratitude thanking those we might never have met but who — through their works — gave us comfort, color, inspiration. We pledge allegiance by adding physical markers of their lives to ours so no one can tell our stories without acknowledging theirs. Memorabilia says someone or something mattered.

Though I’m not a rich man, I’m tempted. A friend of mine says he’ll accept $7,500 to $10,000 dollars for it. Plastic casing at least twenty-seven years old, not too battered for being not much shy of my age and twenty-seven is a sacred number in this context . A handwritten chunk of card roughly twelve centimeters wide and maybe a little longer. I imagine the cassette weighs a hundred grams. I used to patiently re-spool cassettes just as unremarkable as this using a pencil to feed the magnetic tape and the tip of a finger to screw-drive the reel one turn at a time.

I’ve never valued picture discs, limited editions, numbered copies, or any of the other sleights of hand used by canny businesses to confer preciousness on industrial end-products. If the music isn’t worth it, I don’t want it. I clear out records that leave me cold or that I never feel like playing. But downloads are too slight a thing to be satisfying. They strip sound of worth, reduce it to anonymity, to musical wallpaper and corporate filename formats. I want the commitment that comes with an object given shelf space even if I don’t fetishize plastic, paper, vinyl.

Human connection invigorated these objects; handicraft kindles value for me in extinguished substances. A CD-R with a Xeroxed cover bought from Dylan Nyoukis at a gig in Brighton. John Lydon’s memoir hand-signed then embossed at the 100 Club. Woodblock covers for Michael Gira’s home recordings. The Fire Ants’ only single sent as a thank you from Ed Dekema for writing the band’s oral history for their new reissue. A polaroid from Marcus Gray’s Parasite project. The Blood Circus t-shirt Geoff Robinson sent. A lathe-cut 7” of a Dumb Numbers’ song.

And this tape…I’ll play it two times and the second someone else will have to do it for me. It’s Nirvana’s first studio session on a cassette Kurt Cobain dubbed off by hand in early 1988 as a gift for a friend of his I’m now happy to call a friend of mine. It’s the only item of music memorabilia I’ve ever thought of owning. A tape a twenty-one year old pauper boy copied back before his band meant anything at all to the world. I’d be too afraid to play it more than twice.

I’ll never have been so scared as on that first occasion. I’ll be praying; “Allah, please, don’t let my grandfather’s old tape-deck fuck it all to hell.” Electric skin and cold sweats expecting to hear the tinfoil crinkling of a mashed tape at any moment. If it breaks there’s no replacement; Cobain handed out other tapes but I’ll never come near another one. It’s handmade aspects mean another one still wouldn’t be this one. From beginning-to-end, though I know ever note, every nerve in my body will be set shaking like crystal, a never-felt intensity arising from pure fear that this might all go wrong at any moment and it might become just a hundred grams of trash.

The second time, I’ll be in a hospital or, if I’m lucky, my own home. It’s the best any of us can hope for; that we have a chance to pause and say goodbye when the end is coming on strong. I hope I’m not alone. I’ll ask someone to take the cassette out of the transparent reinforced fireproof security box I’ve had welded to the floor. I’ll ask them to put it on for me. And I’ll smile because it’s so silly — who the hell else’ll care about a guy who died some sixty years back in another century? Do you cry for the music-hall stars of the 1890s? But I’ll welcome the comfort of music I’ve lived with since age thirteen played on a tape that’s as close as I’ll ever come to shaking the man’s hand and thanking him for making music that made my life better.

I don’t think it’s too much money. If I can scrape it together I’ll be delighted to make that much of a difference to my friend’s life. The tape’ll look so incongruous sat in the middle of my home, so nondescript, a monumental nothing appealing to my sense of humor. I’ll rest it on the rare Nirvana CD single kind people in Tacoma gave to me and signed their names on. Cobain’s tape’ll be surrounded by memory of one friend, the names of half-a-dozen others — I like the idea of their writing being as precious as his, a gathering of people he knew or would have liked.

There’ll be no re-sale value once memory of Cobain fades. There’ll be an ever-shrinking cluster of aging collectors I’ll find it too much trouble to track down and I can’t imagine museums shelling out for a 1988 tape in 2050. There’s the absurdity of buying something just because it passed through the hands of someone I admire; something I can’t play or use, that’ll I’ll need to buy protection for. If I don’t take pleasure in the ridiculousness of it I’ll talk myself out of it.

I know already the day after the purchase it’ll feel too small a thing and I’ll wonder at all the things I could have done with that kind of money. I’ll have overpaid because I’m buying from a friend and turning it over in my hands I’ll feel a bit silly. It’s a just a thing I’ll tell myself. It’s just a possession…But that word will make the difference. Someday when my body has turned traitor I’ll draw strength from the ghosts inhabiting the things around me because that’s what they’re there for. They’re spirit totems stored up to carry us through dark times…

…And I’ll remember that the money and the silliness don’t matter; they’re just cause to smile. I’ll recall the one hour I sat, face pale, composure like porcelain balanced precariously on a table edge — that time when I never listened to music so intensely. And I’ll know this tape will play me out of the world paying my respects to an epiphany at age thirteen; to personal glories in my mid-thirties; to friends and memories and all my ghosts. And I’ll hold the hand of someone I love and the tape won’t matter anymore, it’ll just be people. And love. And it all won’t matter.

I’m pausing to take in the breadth of what’s just happened. “(Sound City) Sappy”, one of those holy grail songs fans have wondered about for years and likely the last real rarity from the Nevermind sessions out. Unheard material from four Nirvana studio sessions in 1990, 1991 and 1993 out. Home demos from 1990 out. The complete Easter 1986 Fecal Matter tape out…

Discovering that the remaining studio pieces by ‘Nirvana’ are curios but not substantially different from known renditions is unsurprising. The Nevermind material had been heavily worked up and practiced before hitting the studio. The big surprises have been the two versions of the underexposed “Old Age”, plus “Sappy.” I’d be curious to hear if Nevermind songs currently unseen prior to 1991 went through in-studio changes too. The In Utero album consisted of a lot of very old and well-worked material, a bunch of material worked up over several months, then some semi-ad-libbed newer ideas kicked out in Rio. It surprised me, frankly, that the “Heart Shaped Box” instrumental should be among the most intriguing which potentially shows it was still a ‘young’ song in many ways, one that was still evolving in small ways. I’d love to hear more of the evolution of “Serve the Servants” because as far as can be told it’s one of the strongest late-era Cobain compositions.

Filling in the gaps on Fecal Matter gave me a far greater appreciation of it as a complete work. There’s so much going on! Cobain, in 1986, had pent-up ideas flying in all directions it seems. Being with Dale Crover definitely helped him let loose the inner freak. Hearing the clean riffs at the end aided my appreciation of what he’s playing. Hearing improved/tweaked versions of what I’ve already heard is neat but fundamentally altered material of this nature is far more revelatory and enjoyable.

Which brings me to the home demos. Some of this matches what we heard earlier this year on the “Montage of Heck” film…Great! This stuff is quality. I’ve been dampening my expectations of what a mass of Cobain home demo material might truly mean in terms of quality and interest but this is glorious stuff. There’s are a variety of vocal and instrumental approaches which vary significantly from official releases. The presence of background noises and sound effects as intentional additions to songs elevate this beyond being just a clot of acoustic meandering. The sound quality is exceptionally good compared to what might be expected, there’s real clarity to his voice and playing. There are unseen lyrics and rarely seen songs here which keeps the interest level high…It’s totally whetted my appetite for whatever emerges from Universal in November (oh yeah, forgot, it’s been confirmed that the Cobain release will be in November.)

A further point, these leftovers help make the case for Cobain as a true artist. They’re not revealing a guy just hammering out identikit songs to churn onto albums. What they show is a guy who would have an idea and genuinely play with all its elements to see if a different vocal inflection or delivery might create something fresh, who wanted to hear the sounds in his head in different ways before selecting what the definitive statement would be. That depth of intuitive and intelligent work is, I feel, underappreciated in discussion of Cobain.

Song by song thoughts?

“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” Completely different lyrics it seems! The riff is instantly recognisable and unchanged from what you’ll already know.

“Opinion” Though brief at only 13 seconds, this is a far fuller-voiced and brighter rendition than the solitary radio take – the home demo treatment actually improving fidelity for once. There are nuances in Cobain’s delivery – note the stresses he adds within the word ‘congratulations’ – plus he seems to speed up quite quickly which might be an error but it gives the song more force. “Opinion” is interesting because it’s one of the final known and seemingly fully formed Cobain compositions from 1990-1992 that doesn’t end up being released during his life time. I love the song, it’s really easy to sing. The background sound of a storm sounds artificially inserted rather than a suggestion that he was recording during an actual event.

“Pennyroyal Tea” is a full 2.34 rendition featuring the glorious line “I receive crazy moneyyyyyy…” as part of the second chorus – sheesh, a truly bad Cobain line? That’s kinda rare! The guy is usually so lyrically sharp when it comes to make lines sound intelligent, purposeful and intended. The vocal delivery in a lower octave isn’t necessarily superior to what he chooses to do at Pachyderm or on MTV Unplugged, but it’s a legitimate artistic deviation that creates a pleasantly somnolent vibe. It appears to feature someone else on rudimentary drumming, it may be Dave Grohl’s voice early on. What sounds like a click track seems more likely to be an improvised drum stick of some kind. Cobain uses his breathing to create the ‘finale’ to the track.

“Sappy” this is clearly from Montage of Heck, the atmospheric repetition of the guitar line over something approaching a John Carpenter-eerie selection of sound effects. Maybe someday we’ll hear more of Cobain’s experimental urges which were extensive and are still underappreciated even with the Montage of Heck collage and Fecal Matter now on display.

“Verse Chorus Verse” is a full three and a half minute rendition with a combination of known and unknown lines – it’s intriguing seeing them evolve actually. “See the…In his hands…Keep the sunbeam in his room…Keep it in him…Seeds…What it means…” This has always been an intriguing song because extant versions on the early Outcesticide bootlegs were noisy enough to leave the lyrics in doubt. This continues that picture of a song undergoing a lot of changes. The structure seems solid if not exactly the most inspired and wild approach, it’s like this is one of the songs where Cobain was getting used to making peace with the simplest of pop song methodologies, it truly earns its name.

“Been a Son” this, is the copy from Montage of Heck where he stops to answer the phone to someone apparently asking after Tracy. Intriguingly, this is the most altered the lyrics have ever been but that core “she said” refrain is already there even with a song sounding this frayed. I love hearing him lay out the bass part – I was aware Cobain did come up with ideas for the other instruments on his songs, actually played thoughts to his bandmates for them to run with, but it’s uncommon to hear him do it on a recording. I think this is the only time I’ve heard Cobain laying down an intended bass part.

“Breed”, another 15 second scrap from Montage of Heck, with the same breathiness as the “Been a Son” take above which gives the distinct impression these two songs at least are recorded at the same time and place. The absence of any substantial shift in sound is curious, makes one imagine he simply sat and filled a tape with one idea after another…I wonder if there was more, a fuller rendition of gasped Cobain homework. It’s like even on acoustic he’s finding a way, by manipulating his voice, to indicate where he’d be screamed in a full rock electric rendition of this song and “Been a Son”, that it isn’t just an odd vocal choice, it’s almost a ‘note to self’ about what he intends to do with those lines or parts.

Oh! Forgot again… A new demo of “Very Ape” with totally sketchy lyrics! Nirvana are so tight instrumentally they make this stuff sound like it’s exactly as it’s meant to be. Cobain is indistinctly murmuring in places of verses and there’s no vocal at all on the choruses. “There’s a ____ (God / Girl?) I dare to _____, there’s a ____ (God / Girl?) I dare to know…”

So, summarising this week, we’ve heard:

Acoustic demos of Been a Son, Breed, Frances Farmer, Opinion, Pennyroyal Tea, Verse Chorus Verse plus a Sappy electric demo

Studio demos of Very Ape, Heart Shaped Box, Lithium, Milk It, Old Age (x2), Gallons, Onwards into Countless Battles, Polly, Sappy, Scentless Apprentice, Seasons in the Sun, Tourette’s, Verse Chorus Verse, I Hate Myself and I Want to Die, Here She Comes Now plus I’ve heard tell there are renditions of Come as You Are and MV floating around

Then, from Fecal Matter, Sound of Dentage, Bambi Slaughter, Laminated Effect, Anorexorcist, Spank Thru, Blathers Log, Class of ’86, Downer, Instramental, the riffs, plus unknown songs 1 to 5.

Jeez…Even if the brevity of today’s acoustic leaks indicated that this week’s source is drying up it’s still been one hell of a week. The huge presence of lesser known Nirvana/Cobain songs is really welcome. Noticeable that there were no utterly unknown acoustic demos – more in the can still to be detected? Or not much from 1990-1992 that Cobain didn’t use around Nevermind or have to press into service to cover his paucity of writing after fame hit?

Sheesh, did someone blow the doors clean off the Universal/Nirvana vault?

For those who want a new ‘holy grail’ to hope for, remember that Fecal Matter rehearsed with Greg Hokanson on drums before this tape of Cobain and Dale Crover was made, then there was a project with Mike Dillard and Buzz Osborne. There’s no known recording of any of this. Plus, there’s Cobain’s 1982 solo recordings to keep wishing for too. Ah, does it ever end? Thank God Cobain was a good self-archivist and kept all this material! It’s remarkable in a way, that someone with such insecure living arrangements, self-esteem and life prospects held onto all of this no matter what. It gives me the impression that music really was an anchor, a safe harbor, something to cling to – he didn’t dispose of tapes or chuck away the fruits of his creativity, he treasured them.

So, again, this’ll be hard to keep the door on, even when its pulled down from YouTube you’ll find it. A full hour tape. Makes me wonder, if they filled this cassette, did they start in on another tape? Is there more? Nah, unlikely, the final section is a repeated instrumental then stray leftovers. Thanks to DB for sorting me with this, hugely appreciated.

Most of the key named songs you’ll have heard. Around that though…

‘Unknown #1’ is a real ripper, one of the fastest most hardcore Cobain songs I think. Hammered through. Then that surviving line about “my asylum”, the chorus vocal melody survives to become part of “If You Must” in the Nirvana era. Nice effects in the outro.

‘Unknown #2’ has a nice drive, entirely new to me, excellent! Love how much Cobain experiments with his voice on this early tape, he goes in so many directions. Here he sounds alternately sick and snotty – real teen high pitch on that “I’m a punk rocker!” line. The words ‘anti-solo’ don’t cover what he does with his guitar here but it’s a really effective finish to a song, instead of it flailing back into another verse or fading out or any trad. trick the guitar goes haywire then the bass follows and the song falls apart. Great!

‘Unknown #3′ another joke voice song. There’s a doubled vocal at one point which sounded more like Dale added on. Those little touches are kinda impressive – there’s real thought going on about how to put together sounds for emphasis and impact, they’re not just splattering songs onto cassette rough n’ ready. “No you’re not mine” becomes the outro refrain. Cobain loves coughing sounds, choking, it’s like my nephew blowing raspberries through his entire christening the other day – a certain glee in making the throat do odd things.

‘Unknown #4’ yeah, again, Cobain sounds like he’s going to puke in this first verse. I remember hearing how Chris Cornell’s early work with Soundgarden was always like listening to an air raid siren because he’d not yet learned to moderate and carefully deploy his wail. That’s true of Cobain here, he’s aiming for those high notes, screams and screeches over and again. This track repeats elements of “Love my Family” and other lines or motifs I know from existing sources of Fecal Matter. Notable how ‘metal’ the bass work on these songs is, back before grunge brought hard rock back into repute, just after ‘da yoof’ were getting sick of straight punk. This is a very long song, potentially more of an improvisation which would explain why it seems to loop in elements of other tracks – it’s roughly ten minutes long with a long slow ‘doomy’ section.

‘Unknown #5’ kicks off with something kinda new wavey – guitar even sounds like an early keyboard, then vocals like an early rendition of “Beans” (it’s not but Cobain’s thing for helium voices apparently kept him happy for quite a few years.) Then the dynamic kicks in, like a hugely slowed down “Big Cheese” riff. The time changes are pretty great, the song rips up to full hardcore stomp after a minute or so. “I’m not a Russian, not a spy…Somebody said, should have been dead…Accusation…”

I’ll never get tired of “Spank Thru”, it’s a great early Nirvana song and, viewing the material they had available to them in early 1988 I can understand why they decided to get it out there on Sub Pop 200. I used to think it was a showcase for the ‘Nevermind’ era dynamic of songs, loud-soft etc. I was wrong. The guitar intro is wicked, always was.

‘Blather’s Log’ is a great story-telling song in the Cobain fashion, more stray images than a full narrative. There’s a court scene being laid out here, various aspects of the tale weaving in and out and all done in this forced croak. I’ve heard this before but still an impressive early work. Cobain really hasn’t found his voice yet, sure, from the start of the Nirvana era he has a lot of control over his voice, he can do a lot with it, but it’s always recognisably Cobain. On these early songs he’s working it in all kinds of directions, a lot of which don’t have any later markers in his calendar. The amount of work the guy put into finding his place in music, his desired identity, ‘himself’, it’s underappreciated. He’s not just been writing songs he’s been speaking in tongues – that must be hard, adopting a voice appropriate to a song or a mood or a vibe.

‘Class of 86’ heads down that same road, he impersonates made-up classmates, comes close to spoken word, snarls the chorus, screams “clone!” It’s a welter of different voices, far more than a two and a half minute pop song would usually incorporate. Some stray noise on the outro I hadn’t noticed including a background sound that runs straight into the start of ‘Unknown #6’, did they just take a breather than carry straight on into the next song?

‘Downer’, another great survivor from Easter 1986 through to January 1988. I’m not sure I ever got Cobain’s Black Flag comparison for this one. But I love the whistling solo. Cobain moved so fast through musical styles in the mid-to-late Eighties. There’s these hardcore/metal/punk hybrid tunes, then the new wavey oddness he’s reaching by the Jan ’88 sessions, then the grunge vibe mid-to-late ’88 which comes out on “Bleach” (which couldn’t sound more like a Sub Pop album if it tried), then the pop-punk vibe that barely lasts longer than the time it takes to hammer out Been a Son – Stain – Even in His Youth – Token Easter Song, the acoustic work in the background, then the big switches in 1990-1991. Cobain had a real gift for incorporating other influences into his work, for learning quick, for moving between styles. Some bands might take years of work just to create another album sounding just like what they’ve done before. This guy has left us with recordings from ’86, ’88, late ’88-early ’89, late ’89, early ’90, early-mid ’91 each with a different air.

‘Instramental’ is marked as a version of ‘Unknown #3’, again, there’s quite a few differences. It’s like comparing “Sifting” from “Bleach” to the instrumental version from the summer of 1988 – general vibes, riffs, reworked in substantially different ways. It doesn’t seem too defined, just playing around with ideas until they fall apart.

After that the tape features “Turnaround” by Devo – ye gods! Cobain’s love of early influences, his fidelity when it comes to his favourites. The idea that we get a tape here of that song then four years later he pulls that track out for BBC Radio and two years beyond that we get it on “Incesticide.” The guy knew what he liked…

You get near three minutes of “Turnaround” before the tape returns to Cobain working over riffs. This is actually a lot better than you’d imagine, hearing the riffs in isolation gives an opportunity to appreciate some of his guitar work without the rather muddy bass and cardboard drums clogging the sound (heck, without Cobain’s still thin voice over the top.) You’ll recognise most of these riffs from elsewhere on the tape. I swear that’s the “Big Cheese” riff coming in again!

I can see why, if this is the tape that Krist heard back in ’86, why it would make him want to team up with Cobain. There are so many ideas going on. That’s my biggest impression, often a single song goes in so many directions, sure, there may be a core riff, or a vestigial verse/chorus structure but usually there are off-kilter bridges, breaks, outros, intros, deviations going on. He’s not starting with something utterly basic, he appears to be past that already. I recall talk of how people found it surprising that Cobain could write something as sophisticated as “Spank Thru” so early in his career but it makes so much more sense in the context of these other early efforts where there’s a visible chomping at the bit, a desire to try different things. So much variety crammed into a single tape, it’s intriguing in a way that the progress from here to Nirvana was about paring back, simplifying, reducing the pebbledashing of ideas onto tape.

Gods it’ll be nice to hear a properly polished up (as best as possible) release some day. I’m sure Universal will get to it sometime. Why’s it coming out now? Intriguing…Is this someone linked to ‘Montage of Heck’ or to the release apparently coming later this year. If so, wow, could be we hear that official version sooner rather than later.

Going through what I’ve seen so far, just wanted to continue…

“Heart Shaped Box” An interesting instrumental take indeed, while the introduction/verse sounds more spindly and repetitious than the final take, the chorus – by contrast – sounds more muscular with the bass further forward, the guitar pushed that little further. In terms of differences, at 1.35 in there’s a slight tweak (or mistake) but the real interest is from 2 minutes in where the guitar (what I’d call the “heyyyy…Waiiiitttt…” notes) are really slammed. The entire solo is different, not as kicking or as well-poised as the final, but an interesting deviation. From 3.30 it sounds like Cobain is humming the vocal melody in the background.

“Here She Comes Now” from Smart Studios starts with a nice flubb and ‘whoops’ from Cobain. I’ve always loved the rich guitar tone on this cover even if it isn’t the most original cover version ever. The bass mix doesn’t have quite the grandeur of Krist’s work on the With the Lights Out version (that intro note he strikes and the post-verse re-starts…Lush.) I thought it might be a different vocal take but re-listening to 3.00 to 3.40, nah, it’s the same take as With the Lights Out. I had similar thoughts on the guitar, also unfounded as far as I can tell.  The last few seconds are taken up seemingly by an attempt to go right back to the intro and to begin again – cut off abruptly.

“Lithium”, an alternative take with the intro taken beautifully, really perky start but wow, Cobain sounds breathless. He can’t do the choruses so he just hummms then – it’s like listening to a kazoo or a paper-comb rendition of the choruses. I quite like the mumbled verses, they sound even more numbed and narcotic than the final resigned rendition. It’s a shame because instrumentally the choruses really rumble – bit of a contrast to Cobain sounding like he’s going through puberty. This is the funniest thing to listen to – all those genuflecting tedious articles plagiarizing each other with talk of his powerful voice then hearing this take. Amusing.

“Milk It”, you’ve heard this one before but the mix is extremely clean, a very live sound which adds something. As with “Scentless Apprentice” from Rio, hearing Cobain use sounds and stray words to sketch a lyrical form is always intriguing, seeing that he has the flow in place, the rise-and-fall, the emphases are often there first. Also the way he doesn’t just follow the guitar line in the way, for example, Ozzy Osbourne used to on Black Sabbath stuff.

“Seasons in the Sun” starts with Cobain saying “go Krist!” again, just bits previously edited out. Proper stereo sound too. I’ve always enjoyed this rendition, it’s a song that could be so cheesy (let’s be honest, it IS!) but Cobain’s delivery, the band seemingly having fun with it…It works. Nothing else to add really. Same take, fuller sound.

“Verse Chorus Verse” sounds like the same edition as featured on “With the Lights Out”, maybe a different vocal take – I’m not sure if I’m hearing different features at 1.30 to 1.40, similarly his voice seems to rise less on the choruses than on that other edition. I think the WTLO version is superior vocal-wise and there’s nothing really different instrumentally.

“Polly” …An alternative mix of Polly? Sheesh, a different mix of a song that barely seemed to have much mixing involved in the first place? I’d be lying if I said I heard anything. Just nice to have a reason to listen this intently…Usual unedited ending as is common on most of these pieces.

“Onwards into Countless Battles” Heh! New versions of rarities are always fun. A song that ends up on an album or official release is usually a closed door – it’s the artist’s choice of what the track SHOULD be. Alternative versions of unreleased/rare songs are still possibilities and potentials in the making – they’re undecided and there’s no way of privileging one over another. The mix is really clean, a good source, sounds great for a throwaway joke! Even the funky voices tweeting in the background and the “take it back” line are in place so it’s definitely not an alternative rendition.

“Old Age” (mix 1) a very full sounding tone instrumentally, let down by a second guitar that doesn’t seem to have been totally worked out yet, it drops out at seemingly random points in the first thirty seconds, returns to punctuate the song at around 00.50 and 01.10 for no apparent reason, it’s like someone is tuning up in the background. Otherwise the rhythm track seems complete, the main guitar line is in place, the band switch seamlessly through each part so they’re very familiar with it. Around 2.45 the second guitar comes in with what could be a neat counter-melody but, again, it’s not been properly worked out so drops away, changes direction, a practice or test-run. Vocally, there are lines in place but this is an awful lot of moaning and muttering.

“Old Age” (mix 2) has a cleaner introduction, mix 1 sees guitars in both left and right of the stereo chiming in, this just has guitar on the left and it sounds purer – there’s no interruption from the second guitar that muddied mix 1. The vocals on the With the Lights Out version are different to these two mixes – the whole rendition on WTLO is more definite especially on first verse (even if the WTLO version is still sketchy at points, check around two minutes in where he’s straining for effect and saying nowt – wish the bloody bloke would just pronounce “old age” properly in the choruses because the groan doesn’t do it for me). I’m not catching significant differences in the bass/drums, the chiming notes on the guitar seem more to the foreground which is welcomed. A tell tale regarding the vocal track is at 2.30 Cobain chokes on a word in both these new mixes – it’s the same vocal track.

“I Hate Myself and I Want to Die” Ouch! Loud enough to make my ears hurt. Love the noise. You’ve heard this demo version already but it seems to have a bigger kick here. The mix does make a difference, the jagged sounds all stand out in more detail. Interesting considering Cobain creating this first minute of noise, then going back and overdubbing a second guitar of even more noise to make it uber-nasty. The guy knew how to pull sound out of a guitar. Different vocal take? Or maybe just greater clarity. Again, words not fully in place, fun to hear him improvisation – Cobain would have made a good scat-singer.

I’m going to have to come back to “Sappy” again…But, maybe it’s weariness, I’ve been listening to this song since I found the Pachyderm rendition on a bootleg back in 1995, it’s probably still my favourite posthumous Nirvana track with the exception of “You Know You’re Right” and this isn’t sufficiently different or lively to replace my love of the deep deviations visible on the existing versions. It does sound more like more akin to “Nevermind” than the others, but it still sounds like a warm up rather than something where the band are pushing for a good take. Still (Sound City) Sappy, the last known jewel in the Nirvana vault (as opposed to the Cobain home tapes)…Fascinating! A good day!

These’ll all end up on an official release someday and I’ll certainly buy it. Why wouldn’t I? I actually DO want to buy official releases from bands, to support artists and indicate an appreciation of their work, I’m cool that a percentage goes to record labels to pay for the support services required to get music recorded, produced and out there… So whether I’ve heard these illicitly or not I’ll buy when Universal feel it’s time. Tiring sometimes that it can be so hard to get the studio works of a band all in one place but it’d deaden the excitement if I was hearing three takes of “Old Age” one after the other. I’d rather wait, anticipate, savor not knowing and not just being able to grab stuff.

Well gosh…I’m not sure there’s much I’d like to add except to thank my friend Diego C for bringing this to my attention and to the tireless denizens of LiveNirvana for the existing depth of their thoughts and analysis on this one.

Basic summary, over the weekend a number of unreleased demos – alternative takes and/or mixes from a number of sessions across 1991 to 1993 leaked. They consist of:

Smart Studios (April 1990)

Polly (alt. mix)

Here She Comes Now (alt. mix)

Sound City (May-June 1991)

Sappy (unreleased)

Old Age (alt. mix v1)

Old Age (alt. mix v2)

Verse Chorus Verse (alt. mix)

BMG Ariola, Rio de Janeiro (January 1993)

Scentless Apprentice (alt. mix)

I Hate Myself and I Want to Die (alt. mix)

Milk It (alt mix)

Onwards into Countless Battles (alt. mix)

Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip (alt. mix)

Seasons in the Sun (alt. mix)

Pachyderm (February 1993)

Heart-Shaped Box (instrumental)

Tourette’s (alt. mix) – thanks Raffaele!

I won’t post links simply because the YouTube links seem to being pulled down at a rate of knots so basically just hunt around, you’ll find them pretty easily. They seem to have been posted as audio files on Zomb Torrents first and, like anything in e-format, they’ve flowed from there.

So, personally, I had a rough weekend. A major bout of food poisoning had me inspecting my brother’s bathroom floors and facilities in more detail than I’d ever wish, I’m weak today, sleepy, a touch brain-dead…And this cheered me no end.

Any notes, not much, if you’re a Nirvana fan then you know these songs by now, you’ll notice inflections and alterations that revive and refresh old memories – its how outtakes work really, something known so well you’re not really listening suddenly tweaked in some small way to wake you briefly from autopilot. Why would anyone listen in this detail to something they’ve been listening to twenty plus years? But listening to a slightly new version? Ah, that’s different.

Sad though it is to reduce thoughts to impressions I just thought I’d listen through and note elements – naturally my ears aren’t the be-all-end-all, musicians among you will note more than I do. Just things I enjoyed…

“Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol…” A touch of extra noise in the first couple seconds, from 2.45 there’s another guitar track given more prominence returning to lend weight from about 4.45, cymbal work more prominent from 5.30 onward, 6.30 onward the bass is really up in the mix. Annnnd a nice extra minute and twenty of indulgent guitar improv from Cobain.

“Tourette’s” Double-tracked or additional vocals joining in on the “heys!” They do actually add something I’d have to say…

“I Hate Myself and I Want to Die” A few stray sounds noted compared to the With the Lights Out edition but otherwise nothing much to see here. A general lightness and freshness to it. Cobain goes crazy at 3 minutes in, neat. Gives a deeper impression of his spontaneity on this track, either that or his ability to make pre-planning sound wild.

“Sappy” Well was it ever going to be more than a light diversion? It’s nice to hear the roar of the 1990 version stripped back but it definitely lacks a certain spark, there’s a sketchiness to it (and to Cobain’s vocal) that is either appealing or a bit ‘meh’. It’s fine though, such a likable song is impossible to ruin and it’s fun watching Cobain haul through another quite significant variation on this song that he could never get just right. I wish there were as many versions of this out there as there have been ‘Been a Son’.

“Scentless Apprentice” Gains a few stray opening sounds and amp noise at the end edited out of subsequent release but heck, I’ve always enjoyed Cobain’s lyrical approach to this one!

Go forth, enjoy the rest as you will.

I just closed Nick Davies’ “Hack Attack.” If you’re in the U.S. the Kindle edition is $9, the hardback is out at $16. In the U.K., the book is on ‘buy one get one half price’ at Waterstones or is £7.49 on Amazon. It’s money very well spent.

It’s the account of the ten year battle to finally bring to light the role of Rupert Murdoch’s News International organisation in using illegal means to acquire information; the way the organisation deliberately attacked individuals and their families if an individual dared to protest their behaviour; how News International created a climate in which neither police, regulators nor politicians dared tackle their corruption because the consequences would be massive assaults and vilification by a news organisation that owned a vast percentage of news coverage online, on paper and on TV in the U.K. and internationally. It’s about how that organisation explicitly and knowingly lied over the course of a decade to the police, to the regulator, to the courts, to all the democratically elected representatives of the British people. Andy Coulson even sees fit to lie directly to the Prime Minister’s face for months on end.

Here are a few numbers. In the court trials that took place over the last few years, the representatives of our democracy, the Crown Prosecution Service, were able to muster £1.7 million, one full time solicitor and one administrative assistant to make the case. News International spent £30-40 million aggressively defending its representatives and deployed an army of legal representatives and support staff. Why does it matter? It’s an example of what happens when greater powers are invested in private corporations than in our public services. The corporation is able to devastate any attempt to make them take responsibility for the harm they’ve done to the public good. The government that the people have elected to represent, as best as possible, their collective interests and to protect them from harm is no longer able to wield true power in the face of the buying power possessed by the corporations. There is nothing defending the lives and well-being of the public; we are all at risk.

It goes deeper. News International is an organisation that recognises that governments are the only bodies able to exercise any control over their behaviour. Therefore News International deliberately advocates the shrinking of governments, the reduction of their revenue, the weakening of their regulatory powers, the most stringent controls over their spending. News International does so in order to ensure that it possesses a competitive advantage over the only organisation able to exercise any restraint upon their corruption. It attacks tax levels, attacks public service in general, in order to reduce the expertise and skills available to the judiciary, to the police force, to the tax authorities, to all levels of our political establishment making it less likely wrong-doing will be detected, prevented or punished.

The hacking scandal was not a case of a few celebrities getting their fingers burned. Of the hackers exposed after all those years, one had hacked a minimum of 5,500 people, another had hacked a further 1,600. Those people included the family and friends of a couple who’s child was abducted. It included the family and friends of a murdered school girl – the newspaper’s representatives went further and didn’t hand over evidence that at the time they believed indicated where the girl was, they wanted to claim credit themselves and to sell more papers so didn’t give it to the police. News International went after the family and friends of two girls murdered in the town of Soham. In other words, if you, your family, your parents, your children, your friends – anyone you know – gets caught up in a tragedy, all their conversations and information (medical records, police records, bank records, employment records, diaries, etc.) and yours too would immediately have become something News International stole and used to make profit for their company.

News International destroyed 210 million emails during the course of the investigations. The leaders within the police service who led the early investigations were being wined and dined by, and were friends with, the people they were meant to investigate – the police deliberately misled parliament, the public, the courts and the inquiries. The Press Complaints Commission which was meant to ensure that newspapers respected the laws of this country saw its role as being to deflect criticism away from its richest benefactors and was too scared to speak out against them because it would mean News International (the Sun, the Times, the News of the World, Sky News) would send teams out to attack and slur them. The governments, both Labour and Conservative, were too busy trying to ensure good coverage and to avoid attempts to undermine them with sleaze stories, critical coverage and attacks that they were unwilling to speak out and decided instead to give jobs to people who had broken the law, to attend their parties, call them friends, privilege their views. News International was allowed to tell your government and my government what their policies should be. Surely that’s meant to be the right of the people?

At root, in amidst the sheer scale of it all, there’s a simpler story of bullies and damaged people who gain satisfaction from the exercise of power over ‘the little people’; it’s a tale of people who grew up as we all did on the bible tales of doing unto others as you would have done unto yourself…Then abandoned that in favour of personal profit over any moral consideration. Rebekah Brooks, having acquired information indicating that people she called friends, Sarah and Gordon Brown, had just learnt their six month old baby had cystic fibrosis – an incurable condition that would lead to life-long health problems and a life expectancy of between 37 and 50 years – called them and reduced them to tears by refusing to allow them time to reveal the information themselves because Mrs Brooks wanted to sell newspapers by using their pain as an exclusive front page story.

It’s an amazing book. Well written, lengthy but with so many moments of stunning revelation that you’ll barely be able to close your mouth at times for sheer fury. I found myself punching the air through sheer frustration as the suit-wearing white-collar criminals slipped through the net (while setting themselves up as judge and jury over everyone else.) Amazing. Nick Davies’ “Hack Attack”. An amazing book and I’d like to bow respectfully to the author for what sounds like a harrowing experience over more than a decade.