Archive for April, 2013

Soundgarden are the grunge band that never really fit into the tales of late Eighties Seattle as it was written from the very late Eighties onward. It’s strange trying to wedge them in alongside Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Nirvana, et al., they don’t belong to the same wave of music philosophies or sounds. Yet this was a band recording demos in Bruce Pavitt’s basement as early as April 1985; who shoved three songs out on the 1986 Deep Six compilation alongside all the grunge originators; who managed a single and two EPs on Sub Pop (including two of the earliest catalog numbers in the Sub Pop discography); who contributed Sub Pop Rock City to the Sub Pop 200 compilation and, as late as 1991, kickstarted the Temple of the Dog tribute to the late legend Andrew Wood. They were grunge to the bone but at the peak of their fame were never really associated with that lineage; it was Nirvana who were the figure head for grunge, with Soundgarden therefore written up as a deviant strain of heavy metal.

This didn’t mean that straddling the lines didn’t win Soundgarden their successes; along with Pearl Jam and Nirvana, they’re one of the trio of Seattle/State of Washington bands who parlayed their way to multi-platinum sales. Yet it was very visible that this was a band who didn’t get nominated for the rock awards their colleagues were put in for. Instead they were nominated for a Grammy award for Best Metal Performance as early as 1990, again in 1992, again in 1995. It was only at this point in their history, with the grunge bubble firmly burst, that they finally managed to soften sufficiently (or the world had hardened enough) for a Best Hard Rock Performance nomination too to come their way.

That’s part of why the Nirvana/Soundgarden/late Eighties Seattle mix has felt so uncomfortable. Soundgarden toppled over from the garage rock and punk styling of bands like Mudhoney or early Nirvana right into the metal end of the spectrum; until the emergence of Earth as a force in avant-garde metal there isn’t another significant Seattle band who tilted so far that way. The band, despite its heritage, despite the many quirky and off-kilter aspects of its sound and identity and lyrical concerns, made its home in the metal world whereas the bands that followed and overtook them never went that far.

In terms of their sound, the band certainly drew far more firmly than their Seattle peers from the vocabulary of Seventies hard rock. For all the comparisons, none of the other bands had the technical ability to really pull off a Black Sabbath, let alone a Led Zeppelin, tribute barring the downtuning. Alongside that, while a lot of the Seattle crowd drew their vocal heritage from the likes of Iggy Pop and David Yow, Soundgarden had Chris Cornell channeling Robert Plant’s high-pitched vocalizing, a move straight out of the Eighties metal handbook. On both levels, despite the more graveled sound, Soundgarden acted as a musical bridge to the Guns n’ Roses of that world; later sharing a stage with them as a short-lived support act made a theoretical musical sense. Again, the vocals scored Soundgarden as different to their growling peers.

The band also, to some extent, blotted their reputation when it came to applying for entry to the ever-so-slightly holier-than-thou right-on politics of the early Nineties alternative rock boom. Soundgarden could perhaps be accused of having been a bit too clever, their parodying of mainstream rock clichés ended up sounding precisely like mainstream rock to those not looking deeply at the band’s attitudes and public statements. As examples, plans to call their first A&M album (Louder than Love) Louder than Fuck were well known at the time; a promo release (Louder than Live) featured the band playing Spinal Tap’s Big Bottom; while Big Dumb Sex just ended up sounding like a big dumb sex song; Full on Kevin’s Mum didn’t help — it all reinforced the mistaken vibe that this was just another swaggering rock band, even blatant jokes like having songs called 665 and 667 that could be played backwards to find a song about Santa as a parody of Christian fears about concealed messages on rock albums didn’t play so well.

Soundgarden’s parallel path can partially be explained by the reality that the narrative of grunge in popular literature and journalism was tied firmly to the story of Nirvana. While the two bands did share a stage once in 1988, the deep local heritage of Soundgarden still didn’t win them more than a tangential mention in the Nirvana tale. Soundgarden were grunge’s history by mid-to-late 1989 when grunge became something anyone in the world was mentioning. By 1992 they had moved far beyond it when the resurgence of interest in grunge took place with Nirvana’s smiley face stamped over the top.

That issue with the available accounts warping the perceived historical reality has continued; the medium rewrote the memory. The flurry of Nirvana tomes in the late nineties, the regular release schedule ever afterwards, these tales had little reason to acknowledge a band who had gone by the time the ‘heroes’ of the tale were on the rise. Soundgarden certainly had a place in the burst of grunge histories that started emerging around the end of the last decade but it was still Nirvana’s late appearance in the story of grunge that made for the cover images — book after book with a Nirvana/Kurt front cover despite the band’s rather late, and rather dilettantish, relationship with the grunge sound.

The timeline certainly makes a crucial difference. As Soundgarden had departed Seattle prior to Sub Pop’s brainwave of inviting over Everett True to report on the local scene, the band didn’t benefit from the wave of publicity and exposure in the British music press that formed some of the earliest readily available writing on grunge; Soundgarden had stopped being grunge just before the media started discovering grunge even existed. Similarly, their move away from the Seattle labels and onto SST, then all the way out to a major label, A&M, by end of 1988 divorced them from the premier purveyor of grunge right before Sub Pop began to truly gain exposure and notice — a commodity whose worth can be overstated given Sub Pop was nearly bankrupt until the Nirvana money began to flow.

By being on a major label from 1988, Soundgarden aligned themselves with the generation of alternative musicians who started to emerge prior to the explosion provoked by Nirvana’s Nevermind; Jane’s Addiction, Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers even (and yes, all owing a debt to the skuzzy vibe Guns n’ Roses had inaugurated). There was a geographic difference here too with Soundgarden rising in what was a wave of bands dominated by the State of California, not State of Washington. It’s no surprise that in joining the late Eighties version of the alternative Soundgarden lost a good chunk of the indie audience defining the agenda in Seattle at that point, and were never in step with the new alternative, a more explicitly punk-aligned alternative, that came of age just a couple of years later.

By 1994, in an interview with Metal Hammer magazine, father of the alternative nation, Thurston Moore, could chuckle and refer to Soundgarden as “just a bunch of noise”. It was because the band he was referring to had left grunge behind in 1988 and continued on into a sound and vibe that meshed too closely to the heritage of Seventies and Eighties metal to be a ready fit for the punk sound and vibe of the Nineties new wave.

…But still…Badmotorfinger…Superunknown…Bad ass and almighty rock albums; no denying.

Another month, another ten copies into the print run of Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide, plus a few ebooks but I haven’t double-checked that side of things in a few weeks. That’s 135 copies sold since December 14, 2012 purely on word-of-mouth and the friendly support of the Internet Nirvana Fan Club and LiveNirvana (who’ve promised their official review but can’t guarantee when.)

The core of the book came together as a response to an advert from Bloomsbury publishers inviting proposals for new volumes in their 33 1/3 series. For those who haven’t read one, 33 1/3 is a series of short books of around 30,000 words per volume, each one tackling a different album of importance from the last fifty years. Alas, their feedback was that the writing was good, the research clearly solid, however, (a) I was competing with professional journalists and music writers with decades of experience and (b) “we can’t imagine doing another Nirvana album that wasn’t Nevermind.” Again, fair enough when it comes to looking at the mass audience…And pretty well the opposite of the reasons why I’d written a volume focused on Incesticide; my reasons were that no one ever talks about Incesticide, it’s utterly underrated, there are already volumes on Nevermind and In Utero (Charles Cross’ excellent book and Gillian G. Gaar’s superb 33 1/3 entry respectively) and they’re well covered in the core biographies.

But it didn’t matter…By that point I’d written a core of work focused entirely on Incesticide that now conforms to chapters 1, 2, 4 and 13 respectively and I knew there was more than enough to say about the album. But also there was more. Certain thoughts related to the album seemed important to ground in the wider context of Nirvana’s music and history and those thoughts had started to expand beyond the initial brief of 30,000 words maximum purely on Incesticide.

As an example, the sample chapter (chapter 14) available via the About page of this site ( came about as, firstly, in all the news coverage of Eric Erlandson’s comments about unreleased Kurt Cobain demos from 1994 there was no actual analysis of the likelihood of the news, and secondly, I felt that this news along with the release of You Know You’re Right (2002) and With the Lights Out (2004) showed Incesticide to be a truly top quality selection of the best of Nirvana’s outtakes. Other chapters had similar ‘jumping off’ points; chapters 10-12 used the songs of Incesticide, in the context of Kurt Cobain’s other creations 1987-1994, to analyse how his song writing evolved in terms of trends in his writing, models of his lyrics and thematic development; other chapters used prompts from Incesticide to delve deeper into the political commitments, the humour in his work, cover songs and a final chapter charting his decline as a creative artist across 1992-1994…

…Anyways, the reviews are on Amazon, Gillian G. Gaar is working on a review (very kind of her indeed!), ordering a copy of the paperback is still pretty simple; just email me at or The book is £10, plus £0.50p packaging, plus postage of between £2.50 (UK) and £7 (US). Two copies of the first 135 got lost in the post, I simply sent each individual out a brand new copy and that worked perfectly. It’s a simply commitment, the desire that each person gets what they’ve purchased. I’m still honoured when people take a look…

And when people feedback…I liked one the other week, a guy said “bloody Hell, you could teach a degree course on Nirvana…” Nice…Nice…

As ever I’ve been talking to the people I’m lucky enough to be in touch with. At the moment a lot of my attention is focused on one Mr. Adam Harding and his Dumb Numbers project…So I asked if he’d mind me asking a few questions and sharing the answers. In addition, Adam was responsible for creating a number of videos for Lou Barlow/Dale Crover in 2009 so, I confess without asking, I’ve woven them into the piece just to provide some audio/visual amusement as you read…Plus, credit where it’s due! This is great stuff, why wouldn’t I want to share it?

(Adam – earlier email) It was hearing the song ‘Soul and Fire’ on a community radio station in ’93 that really made me want to put my songs onto tape. Then a decade later it was actually Lou Barlow that told me passion is more important than technical ability and to trust my instincts. Lou became one of my closest friends and my proudest musical moment was when he asked me to sing and play on this song:

(Adam) I grew up on all the obvious stuff I guess.. the Beatles, Neil Young, Aersosmith, Cheap Trick, Kiss and AC/DC then in my early teens I was into the Stooges, Wipers, Black Sabbath, Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Dead Kennedys and by my mid-teens I was into Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Melvins, Sebadoh, the Jesus Lizard, Fugazi. I’d pretty much check out anything that was on SST, Homestead, Amphetamine Reptile, Touch & Go, Dischord, Sub Pop, Kill Rock Stars, and Australian labels like Au-go-go, Waterfront, Fellaheen and Dog Meat Records. We’re pretty lucky to have some awesome independent radio stations like RRR and PBS in Melbourne and ZZZ in Brisbane.

(Adam – earlier email) In the interest of sharing, here’s a couple of videos I made back in 2009 for some of Lou’s songs with Dale Crover…

(Adam) I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a town called Geelong, which is an hour drive south of Melbourne. Geelong was a no bullshit working class town, with the Shell oil refinery and Ford motor factory being the major employers. It was home to some amazing local bands like Bored! and Magic Dirt who were a huge influence on me, although it didn’t come out until much later when I finally put a makeshift band together. At the time I was making embarrassingly derivative acoustic 4-track recordings and sending them to Lou and his girlfriend in Boston.

(Adam) It wasn’t until my 20s that I got together with Lou and some friends from Magic Dirt and finally recorded full-band electric versions of my songs. The excitement of this is what led directly to the formation of Dumb Numbers. Dumb Numbers is kind of a revolving door roster with members including Lou and Murph from Dinosaur, Dale Crover, Bobb Bruno from Best Coast, Chad from Emperor X, Steve Patrick from Useless Children and Bonnie Mercer from Dead River. So there’s no real definitive line-up, although for recent live shows it’s been Murph on drums, Steve on bass, Bonnie on guitar, and I play guitar and sing.

(Adam) I’m very lucky to be able to write songs with particular musicians in mind and then get to have them play on the songs. I don’t like to tell people what to play. My band mates are some of my favourite musicians in the world and I prefer to let them bring their own thing to the songs and make them better. Surround yourself with people more talented than you, that’s my motto!

(Adam) So the first Dumb Numbers release is a song on the Cause & Effect 3×7″ release on Joyful Noise Recordings along with tracks by Lou Barlow, Thurston Moore and David Yow. I’m still pinching myself about having a track on this release alongside 3 of my biggest musical heroes. Then we just finished mastering the full-length Dumb Numbers album will be out in a few months and we’re also planning a US tour for later in the year…

And here it is; the first Dumb Numbers release:

It’s Friday, always nice to relax with something new. One of my discoveries of the year was Mico de Noche, nicer still that I found them via one of my usual Nirvana perambulations, I was looking for Dave Foster and stumbled upon a band worth aural space. Oh, a thank you at this point to Michael Crum from the band for having been polite when I got in touch.

Take a look first at the band’s own website and click up that new track — is it me or is it heavy, sexy, cool? I’ll admit my ears have been firmly detuned over the past twenty years but this has a weight and a grit I appreciate, like Motorhead, Kill ‘Em All era Metallica or Mudhoney 1988:

And, as a Nirvana fan treat, comrades, here’s footage of the band performing with Mr. Dave Foster, my present creative muse and their present drummer, laying waste to the drums on stage a year and a half back:

I’m enjoying listening to something new and simultaneously being able to finally dispel that well-known (too well known) black and white photo of Kurt, Krist and Dave (mk.1) in 1988.

Over this past week of holiday the crucial theme has been electricide; I’ve set fire to the toaster twice, I made an attempt to burn out the blender while squeezing oranges (which is how I annihilated my parents last one too), today I yanked the wiring out of an extension cable. As an aside, my mum was bemused that rather than rescuing her toast I simply poured the whole lot out onto the terrace balcony upstairs; she was even more amused when I swept up the crumbs and burnt toast dust and proceeded to dump the entire mound of debris off the top balcony and instead of hitting the flower beds I deluged my parent’s bedroom balcony instead. Brilliant. So, please offer kind thoughts and prayers to my dear (and long-suffering) parents and if this laptop blows part way through this communiqué don’t be surpri

In 1989 a lady called Lisa Orth was engaged by Nirvana’s label, Sub Pop, to do the graphic design work for the cover of the album Bleach. Reasonably enough not wishing to pump excessive work into an unknown band, on a nowhere label that apparently still owed her money for previous work, she paid a typesetter, Grant Alden, the princely sum of $15 U.S. dollars and he, in turn, whacked out the band’s name in a font known as Onyx, a proprietary font installed on his Compugraphic typesetter. I’ve not noted any great commentary on the band’s own feelings about the font but, to be fair, it’s the one they used for Bleach, Nevermind and In Utero; for the Blew EP and the Hormoaning EP; all singles on Geffen plus the Oh the Guilt single. The only exceptions are the Love Buzz/Big Cheese single released prior to Bleach; the split single with The Fluid released on Sub Pop as Nirvana were leaving the label; the Here She Comes Now split single with the Melvins released on another label and the Incesticide compilation. More fool me spending a whole book (Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide) arguing the unity of Incesticide with Nirvana’s catalogue when the font on the front declares that the compilation is something different!

Anyways, the logo has become part of the band’s identity. A brand is something beyond who someone is or what someone is. My comrades more deeply involved in branding work will be able to supply far more sophisticated definitions of the purpose, function and definition of a brand so in advance I’ll admit I’m just making an argument here not a technical dissertation. Leaving to one side the infinitely irksome ownership of the brand concept by the world of business and it’s vomitorious and nausea-invoking bleed into other areas of human life (“be your own brand!” “Think about your personal brand!” Please hit anyone who ascribes to these views…) there’s something here that seems very simple at root. A brand is a rapid-fire statement of identity that goes beyond a recognised visual symbol to link the mind of the onlooker, in an instant, to a list of associated individuals or products and, in turn to that amorphous but no less real set of values, declared moral allegiances and/or deeper purposes that the company, or object, or band attach themselves. It’s a mental shortcut.

The element that most organisations are seeking to establish, when they speak of their brand, is a positive shortcut. On a daily basis an individual is beset by thousands of barely noted collisions with products, or people, or companies – the brain is sifting data in vast quantities and deciding what to look at, what to choice, what to ignore, or even just filing away the items that would be competing if a decision did have to be made at some point versus those items that wouldn’t even compete hypothetically. Yes, decisions are complex involving personality, quality, price (whether monetary or via some other means such as time and effort), loyalty, group opinion as well as recognition – but the brand is an attempt to cut through those factors and often it succeeds in being associated in a human mind with certain qualities, with a dependable outcome, with a particularly desirable level of result.

Doing precisely what I criticised earlier in this piece (that bit about nausea…) certain reports now state that evolutionary markers used to try and ensure maximum breeding potential ( are now, in humans, being transferred to brands. With a vast number of potential mates to choose from individuals use pointers provided by the presence of a brand as a first-sight shorthand way of indicating the qualities, values, class, status and power of a potential partner. Thank God, for most of us, then that it’s an infinitely more complex process with other psychological and physical factors coming into play but still, the adoption, by an individual, of a trusted symbol, can provide a message to an onlooker.

Looking past the well-known logo of Nirvana, past the smiley face symbol that apocryphal tales state was based on the logo of a strip club in Seattle. Nirvana benefitted from a variety of personal indicators of quality. Firstly, it was Jack Endino’s recognition of Dale Crover’s name that led him to accept a studio booking from a young band he’d never heard of until then. Dale Crover, as drummer in the Melvins, had built up credibility that Nirvana benefitted from. Jack Endino’s personal credibility in Seattle music circles meant Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt of Sub Pop were willing to have a look at this band at a time when Nirvana’s recorded music alone was getting tossed in the trash at indie labels across the U.S. In both cases, it wasn’t the music that opened the door. At a later stage, the move to DGC was greased by the way label executives respected the taste and recommendations of Sonic Youth’s power-couple, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore; again, the personal connection brought Nirvana their new home.

The Sub Pop label itself was a hive of brand-orientated thinking:
Everything from the Singles Club idea, the use of Reciprocal Recordings as the ‘house studio’ in the early days, the commissioning of photography from Charles Peterson with a very specific style and look, the Sub Pop Sunday shows, the Lamefest events in U.S. and U.K., the decision to lure journalist Everett True over to create a buzz in the British media – the entire label was built around the idea that they had the music, that their product was good, but what would elevate them above the hundred other indie labels with decent bands was how they staged events and managed appearances.

Credit where it’s due, the Nirvana Live Guide is the most remarkable website. I’ve hunted high and low and there isn’t another band’s fans who have organised such a detailed and impressive reservoir of information on the set-lists, locations and movement of a band.

The early years of Nirvana weren’t exactly awash with money. As late as September 1991 Kurt Cobain appears to have been sleeping in his car for certain periods of time; the Sub Pop contract from 1989 was only going to have offered the band a pittance to split between them, doubling each year but still to a less than liveable wage. The deals put in place in 1991 finally bestowed a decent advance, publication rights and so forth but until that money started to flow this was a hand to mouth existence.

I should qualify, however, that there’s a clear line dividing Nirvana’s career:

House-Dorm Parties 1987-1994

In 1987-1988 a third and then a quarter of Nirvana’s shows were house parties or in college dorms; this proportion may tail off significantly but as late as 1991 the band, on the verge of worldwide triumph, still plays a local dorm party. Imagine that, Nirvana in your living room.

The early high percentage of shows taking place in peoples’ homes and college facilities simply shows a band, just starting out, needing to take whatever they can get. This wasn’t a band who could refuse shows, it wasn’t a band making vast money performing. This was subsistence musicianship, a band scrabbling for beer money, for any kind of audience. The glory years of Nirvana’s career were 1990-1991 but even then, paying a few dues, getting some casual stage time seems to have appealed. Post-1992 they left it all behind and became what most would think of as a purely professional outfit.

I hope you’ll indulge me this week while I’m on holiday, Nirvana musings don’t grow on trees but general thought sprouts wildly from every nook and cranny. I remembering thinking I’d only do this if I felt like putting up something different, well, I’m sitting in a sunbeam and feel like matching the mood. So! For this one off occasion, I’m going to explain my favourites. Apologies for being slack!

Album for Lying Down in the Dark with your Head Between the Speakers
I’ve always meant to do the family tree diagram showing my tastes evolving from the summer of 1993 where Nirvana reverted everything, for me, to Year Zero on toward the present. I’d want it to show the branches that tied Beck and Rage Against the Machine together to mean I could accept Public Enemy, Cannibal Ox and Dalek – while another branch would wed Sonic Youth and Swans to say yes to No Wave, Industrial, Electronica. Swans “Soundtracks for the Blind” is a resurgence, Michael Gira was bookending Swans career at the time and signposting the way to his future, this was after having the guts to change direction so thoroughly that he shed his entire existing audience, after a battle with alcoholism, constant money worries of dire dimensions, relationship issues, label breaks…And he came up for air at the end of it with a two and a half hour snake of an album that slowly winds between ambient noise loops, onto vast post-rock epics where guitars ring like bells and his wonderful baritone echoes, raves or purrs, through acoustic diversions stripped down to blackened bone, tapes of unnamed individuals talking about their psychological and physical ailments, one track laced with a gorgeous disco beat, his female counterpart Jarboe’s vocal showcases…Yet, despite all this, it always feels coherent, unified, as if everything belongs. It’s rare to hear an album where, though the track order barely matters, not a single piece doesn’t belong, it’s the rarest thing, a non-concept album of vast length that possesses a unity that leaves more deliberate constructions feeling so ‘try-hard.’

Songs for Gritting the Teeth, Steeling the Soul and Deciding to Conquer the World
I have an album put together by a guy called Boyd Rice, an unpleasant character who has flirted so long with Fascism it’s hard to tell where the art-joke starts anymore. On the other hand, he did put together a great record called Death’s Gladsome Song consisting of marching songs of the pre-war Romanian Iron Guard Fascist militia. Hard to detach the songs from what the people went on to do just a few years later but the songs do capture the core of a good martial tune; stirring peaks, something that could bring the boots down hard, simple sounds that could engage a thousand voices as one. That’s what brings me to Pantera ‘Walk’; the best exercise song of all time. I mean, seriously, the chorus breaks down to individual syllables ”RE! SPECT! WALK!” A street full of people with fists in the air would make that line feel like gunshots. The steady grind of the main riff likewise has cunning pauses that jerk the head forward. It’s a vengeance song and perfect for that jolt of adrenalin.

Most Unlistenable Record Ever Made
Now, clearly the true contenders here would be lift muzak, generic radio rock and the kinds of R n’ B where the performers are now so plastic and incapable of real emotion that they mistake technical multi-octave acrobatics for human expression. But if I really want to clear a room…There’s only one candidate; kids, if you want to make the house sound like the world is ending, Borbetomagus are the shriek that will emerge when God’s vengeful angels split the sky in two and pour through to uproot man from the Earth. I possess the gloriously well presented “Feel the Magic” release and all I really remember at this remove is saxophones screeching like the seas just boiled up and squeezed through the eye of a needle, what’s supposedly a guitar being choked to death in the background and having no real ability to distinguish between them. Contenders for this award included 2nd Gen Rushing at Thresholds, a track sourced from a cello recording that once caused a neighbour to enter my room and yell (with hands to ears) “it sounds like the furniture is coming through the ceiling!” John Wiese also performs a tasty line in laboratory tested noise under a variety of guises.

Album that Makes me do Hand Gestures and Mouth Lyrics at my Desk
I sit at work, I survey the domain of decent people scurrying about or buried facedown at laptops, and I need something to pep the place up. The answer is always the same; Waka Flocka Flame “Flockaveli”. I know, I’ll get crucified for this but it has everything I love in a good rock track; bombast, heavy rhythm, hooks that won’t let go…It sounds like punk always promised it would, like an riot going on. Plus, unlike a lot of mainstream hip hop, it’s relatively low on the usual infantile sexism that makes so many artists near unlistenable – I described it the other week as “more gunz, less bitchez” and that’s pretty accurate. And boy, there are a LOT of guns. The casually humorous violence has me waving gang signs at appropriate intervals I admit. Gun Sounds and Busting at ‘em are masterpieces. The only competitors in recent years have been Lil Wayne’s Six Foot, Seven Foot and A Milli, both stream of consciousness, barely room to breathe density, I admire the control, the pacing, both the twisted connections and the topic-jumps.

Massacring the Audience at My Own Funeral
I think of funerals the same way I do birthdays; it’s an occasion when one can force ones’ friends (and I’ll have precious few left by the time of my funeral if this is my attitude!) to do whatever one wishes for a day and, for the sake of politeness, it’s really hard for them to refuse. I’m looking forward to old age for a variety of reasons (pretending to slip away in the armchair then springing up just as people lean in to check my breathing; developing selective hearing that only hands out admission passes to mention of food, drink and trips to the horse-racing) but I think having the full twenty minute version of Sonic Youth’s The Diamond Sea played at the funeral is going to be a joy. There’s a longer 25 minute version (plus an 11 minute live version and a 7 minute edit) but the 20 feels most exact. There’s always been talk of music attempting to approximate natural sounds yet The Diamond Sea’s outro is the only one that truly makes me think of the rise and fall of waves post-storm. At root the song is an impressionistically expressed love song, a simple boy-girl lament. The words play out over a combination of verse-chorus-verse chiming pop music and improvisation, I can listen to it over and again and end up following completely different elements within the song – the separation between the two guitars, the bass, the drums, is so pristine that the whole can be teased back to its its parts and each one followed individually. The long instrumental outro rises up to a crescendo, dies with the kind of dignity I hope I can still muster, then rises, piece-by-piece, back from the grave, each instrument slowly reentering at creaking, soiled pace. It’s the sound of a band who collaborate so seamlessly, who are so honed as a unit, that they need only the slimmest chalk outline to be able to summon up the body as a coherent whole. Sonic Youth; the greatest band of the last thirty years.

The Records I wish Everyone Knew but No One Does
I’ll pitch two candidates in this category. In about 1999 myself and a dear comrade watched a French singer called Francois Breut in the backroom of a pub in Cambridge. The support act were a very British Americana band and when we saw their name pop up a few months later we went again…And soon again…And again…Six times in all. I bumped into the lead singer at Kings Cross Station once and garbled something like “real sorry to disturb you…But you’re what’shisname Adams from The Broken Family Band aren’t you? Just wanted to say you guys are great, we’ve been X times, we keep taking different friends to see you…” he replied “gosh, it’s a cult!” we shook hands and off we went. Or maybe he just said thank you, oops, I think he said that “it’s a cult” line six months later in the bar at a gig in North London where I was trying to get served and he pointed and said “I know you…” and I explained the group attendance thing. Anyways, go find Cold Water Songs, Jesus Songs and, my favourite, the King Will Build a Disco EP. It’s the croaky voice, the recognisable discomfort with love and romance and the opposite gender, the striving to be better than one is… I know as well that personal connection can make anything more than it might seem to an outsider; this is maybe one case.

The other entry would be Urusei Yatsura, how the heck did these guys not conquer the world? They came out around about the same time that Arab Strap (stunning!), Mogwai (magnificent in their prime) and Belle & Sebastian (…) were also emerging up in Scotland yet never seemed to break through. That’s despite writing wonderfully noisy rock songs wedded to pop choruses and great tunes all in a foil wrap of static and feedback, banged guitar bodies and screwdriver-wrecked strings. And it all sounded so joyous, everything they did sounded like they were having such fun. All of it from the significant number of single b-sides out there (Yon Kyoto Iri EP – I’ve spelt that wrong), right through the albums was played with frantic happiness. It felt good but no one else seems to feel that. When I’ve played it at other peoples’ houses sometimes it sounds like there’s too much treble, or I notice excessive hiss, or the unfriendly edges… But, on my own, it reverts to being what I’m sure it is; blissful alternative pop music. You should own Slain By. And Pulpo. And that EP I mentioned. And We Are. Just don’t buy Everyone Loves – I don’t know what happened there.

Those who Made Good Music but Never Pulled off a Good Album
This happens all the time – Eminem had cracking song after cracking song, conquered the world…But his albums were made at the peak of efforts by the music industry to make CDs seem appealing so 20 track long albums, always too long, were the norm and diluted the punch. Adding to that, even though Eminem’s skits were of higher quality than most, breaking off for some lame joke always spoilt the momentum. That was on top of the perennial album issue of filler tracks that might as well go anywhere. People really should learn to take the Nirvana route and go for twelve songs deep of solid gold and after that they should have to justify each and every song’s unique right to be there, Oasis got this more or less right in their heyday. Anyways, my candidate here is Throbbing Gristle. Let’s get this straight, I love the music. I looked after the family’s first dog once while my parents were away. I sat in the conservatory and played the entire Throbbing Gristle “24” live box-set which contained 24 hours of music – occasionally the dog would hear something on the recording that I hadn’t noticed, he’d appear at the door, cock his head to one side and stare into the room like he could see ghosts. The individuals involved went on to make albums I adore; Coil’s Musick to Play in the Dark (both volumes) or Psychic TV’s Force Thee Hand of Chance. But in that initial entity, they never quite managed it. Their most coherent release was 20 Jazz Funk Greats, but it cohered around some clear single quality tracks while much of it felt dashed off. Other releases were like compilations of whatever unholy spine-pricking nastiness or willowy keyboard prettiness they happened to be staring at for that moment. As a body of work, it’s immense, but as single disc entities…None have that golden glimmer. But seriously, spend some time with twelve inches of Throbbing Gristle.

I’ll leave it there. When it comes to Nirvana, the last thing to really spark me was a good quality live rendition of Run Rabbit Run on the bootleg The Chosen Rejects – love it. More please. What am I listening to in general? Waka Flocka Flame free mixtapes, the soundtrack to Blood on Satan’s Claw plus other weird library music and 70s exotica from Trunk Records, Black Boned Angel “Verdun”, Sleep Research Facility “Stealth”, a load of stuff by experimental guitarist Fear Falls Burning…

Today I’m off to see what Gibraltar looks like so, alas, no post of depth and quality today…

…But here’s Adam Harding (guiding light and guitar), Murph (Dinosaur Jr – drums), Steve Patrick (Useless Children – bass) and Bonnie Mercer (Dead River – guitar) – A.K.A. Dumb Numbers – kicking out a cover tune on stage in Melbourne, Australia last month (big wave to Josephine, Melbourne’s finest, oh, and Cheeky too!) Note the neat video fade-in prior to the song screeching into place; oh, this is a Kim Deal tune! There’s a Mudhoney cover up on YouTube too plus a couple of quality originals.

And the original post for more detail:

Enjoy! And yes, Spain is beautiful as ever. Thank you for asking.

Around this exact time a year ago I was here at my parents, carrying a notepad everywhere to scribble down indecipherable reminders of ideas I’d later get home and dash into the laptop, all ready to spend the six months that followed trying to fashion it all into some kind of sense until, eventually, a book emerged at the end of it.

A year later it feels a bit of a privilege to have been given the chance to communicate with so many decent and intriguing individuals; the world is full of friendly people, especially in the land of Nirvana fans, and so, I’d like to introduce you to a guy I’m honoured to have spoken to.

Back before Christmas a gentleman called Adam Harding was in touch buying a copy of Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide and in passing mentioned his own musical project; Dumb Numbers. To my shame, I admit I was expecting some barely formed garage demo but I’m endlessly interested in other peoples’ works so I asked him if he had anything he could share. Modest soul said something like “hmm, well, I’m always nervous showing stuff that isn’t finished…But here ya go.” Three songs and I clicked play.

And my jaw hit the floor. Three songs, three very different vibes, a talent for layering the instruments, for undeniable catchiness, for memorable hooks that still never betrayed the alt. vibe, for vocals that ranged from dreaminess to punk rawk snarl. The music had that scattershot Sebadoh vibe while tempering it with some more up-to-date sheen and digital precision in the mix. I vaguely remember having to go back on email and more or less prostrate myself in bowing position – you may be surprised to hear that, in one case and one specific scenario, I stated honestly and without reservation, that what Adam had done beat Kurt Cobain – I still mean that. After so many years consuming music it’s SO rare to be stunned anymore, it was one of the most inspiring moments I’d had all year, knowing that there are people out there, plugging away in the mists, unseen, but creating things that can surprise. Beautiful.

So, anyways, Adam returned and pointed out that the very first release by Dumb Numbers, consisting of Adam, plus Lou Barlow (come on, do I really have to say “of Sebadoh and of Dinosaur Jr”?) and Murph (again, hallowed denizen of Dinosaur Jr), has been released on the 3×7″ Cause & Effect set alongside tracks by Lou Barlow, Thurston Moore and hallowed soul David Yow.

Heck, I’ve already bought it. $18 dollars and not much more to get this to the U.K.? No brainer. Peoples, I’ve been itching to share something, anything, by this guy for months – a talent. Hope you enjoy this as much as I do and, oh, just as a concluding thought ripped from an email Adam sent me:

“I remember playing some early tracks for Lou and his first response was ‘do you miss Nirvana?'”
“He was poking fun but the truth is, yes I do miss Nirvana.”

Amen brother, amen.

Human interaction is a wonderful thing, it leads to mind-changing revelation, to more subtle refinement of ideas, or to the strengthening of existing thoughts by virtue of defending them. This past week certainly brought me to a few new musings and, credit where its due, the gentleman responsible is Dave Foster, formerly of Nirvana, presently of Mico de Noche. Let’s choose a soundtrack here then pause a moment, it’s been a heavy week with the Boston Marathon stuff then Waco, Texas blowing sky high for the second time in twenty years. Stop. Breathe. Then let’s get back to the good side of life:

Rereading Azerrad’s book, the way in which Dave Foster is portrayed immediately felt doubtful; frankly only one perspective is permitted — Kurt Cobain’s — with no real examination of why Dave even joined the band in the first place, why he persisted with the long journeys needed to make it happen, let alone stuck with what was, at the time, a band that barely made it out of house party territory (they played four house parties of the eight shows played in the period he was with the band), that had only played seven gigs (and one radio show) in the year since their inception. The one-sided nature of the coverage makes me suspicion of its honesty on this point — it’s easier to rely on the Cobain perspective of ‘cultural difference’ and unreliability, something reinforced by the sacking letter included in Kurt Cobain’s Journals, to explain this four month stint in the band. But, intriguingly, it’s one of the few critical letters in those Journals where Kurt acknowledges that the person he’s talking to has a positive; he explains how good a drummer he thinks Dave is — that’s rare.

What reinforces my uncertainty about the existing tale of Dave Foster is that, for all the talk of his unreliability, this is a man who is so dedicated to music that he’s been a regular presence in underground bands ever since; Helltrout being the most notable outlet with others following right up to the present day. The dedication to personal privacy, the desire to remain underground and not to let something he does because he wants to, not because he must, turn into something dictated by others or by the need for cash…I find that admirable. After all, I’m writing this daily blog, for no profit, with no affiliation or pressure from any source, simply because I love the topic and want to pour it out — why wouldn’t I be impressed by someone who so fervently has remained DIY? There also doesn’t seem to have been any discomfort or ongoing issue between Dave and Nirvana given Helltrout shared stages with Nirvana at gigs as soon as February 1989 and again in 1990.

But there’s more. The reason I’m fascinated by these short months in Nirvana’s existence is that they’re the real start of the band’s rise to any kind of significance. Dave Foster’s second show was the first time Nirvana had played under that name, until then they barely stuck with a name for more than a show or two; Foster’s spell on drums saw them cement their identity. Meanwhile, though it was the recording from January 23, 1988 that sparked Sub Pop’s interest in the band, it was the band with Dave Foster on the drum stool that was the version seen by Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt and therefore the version that hooked the band a first deal for a musical release on a label. On top of that, April saw Nirvana’s first show in Seattle following March’s final appearance at the Community World Theater in Tacoma that had been, more or less, Nirvana’s live home in 1987-early 1988; a real ‘changing of the guard’.

Musically too, there was change afoot during these months. Both Blew and Big Cheese first evolved sometime between January and the March 19, 1988 show — there’s little knowledge at present of how those songs came about. There’s also a degree of uncertainty regarding when, and how, Blandest, Mr Moustache and Sifting came about; their studio appearances in June are the first sighting but it’s unclear if these were last minute write-ups in the short weeks before recording or already worked up demos. Similarly, Annorexorcist died at this point in time; the last known appearance is in January but there’s such a black hole during these months that it’s unclear if that was the last time the band considered that song worth playing — who knows?

Well, to be fair, there are two people in the world today who perhaps, if memory hasn’t faded completely, if events twenty-five years back aren’t completely obscured by time, would know.
Anyways, that’s what I’m curious about at the moment. I love the black holes of history. As a final teaser to Nirvana’s ‘lost’ drummer…Tap 3/19/1988 Tacoma Nirvana into YouTube and go listen to the drumming on the available audio of that performance; quality. Start with Bad Moon Rising, it rocks!