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Record Collection Reconciliation 31-35

31. Slayer - Reign in Blood - Def Jam, 1986

Slayer's Reign in Blood

Why I Bought It: Finding a copy of Reign in Blood with the shrink wrap intact (originally $8.29 at Good Vibrations; I paid less) forced me to finally confront one of metal’s classics. I say confront because I turned away from metal videos when they came on MTV during my sheltered youth in the 1980s. Being fond of Phil Collins-era Genesis and Men at Work made even hair metal sound like the product of Jordan, Minnesota. By the time any of my close friends got into metal it was high school and the band was Metallica, so the impact was doubly limited. I’d already gotten into indie rock and hearing James Hetfield’s thin wail on Kill ’em All in Chris Williams’ Chevy Cavalier was more likely to make me laugh than to turn me to the dark side.

Verdict: Slayer does not fuck around. The first line of the record is “Auschwitz, the meaning of pain.” The music is equally unrelenting, a brutal combination of heavy riffs, lightning-fast solos, pummeling bass drums, and Tom Araya’s remarkably clear vocals—no guttural emanations here. If you’re going to sing about topics that will offend Tipper Gore, why not have her understand what you’re singing about, right? The band’s secret weapon is the half-speed breakdown, which makes the forthcoming solos in “Necrophobic” seem even faster. These ten songs are remarkably lean, infusing the technical precision of speed metal with the economy of American hardcore.

The lyrical content is extreme to say the least—“Angel of Death” is about concentration camps and Nazi physician Josef Mengele—meaning that I’m unlikely to ever memorize the lyrics to “Raining Blood” and shout along in the car. Yet it’s hard not to think of Silkworm’s “There’s a Party in Warsaw Tonight,” a decidedly un-metal song in which Andy Cohen sneers “There will be peace / On mounds of teeth / I’m no fool I’m gonna slave all the people to me.” While Slayer’s Reign in Blood may be one of the few pure metal records in my collection (I can’t in good conscience count Isis and Nadja LPs, since those initially appealed to me for their non-metal [read: post-rock] characteristics), it’s not comprised of completely unfamiliar elements, a point that should finally overturn any lingering hesitance towards approaching the genre.

32. Dis- / Panel Donor - Split Single - Lombardi, 1995

Dis- / Panel Donor split single

Why I Bought It: While the past few years of canon-exploring has diminished its place in my active listening pile, mid-’90s Midwestern indie rock still holds prime real estate in my tastes. Hum was my gateway drug to Castor, Love Cup, Shiner, Zoom, Dis-, and a handful of other key groups that utilized the heavy guitars of grunge in tricky, non-grunge fashions. Dis- transitioned nicely from the distorted weight of their early records (The Small Fry Sessions 1 & 2 and M 386.D57 1994, with its library catalog–inspired title that screws up my record collection spreadsheet, are worth grabbing if you ever see them) to the solid combination of dark humor and math-rock on their 1996 swan song The Historically Troubled Third Album. While I was able to track down Dis-’s CDs and single in Champaign since they were released on Poster Children’s 12 Inch Records imprint, Panel Donor eluded my grasp until late in my Midwestern stay, at which point finding their self-titled debut seemed more exciting as a trophy of my tastes than an actual album to obsess over. I’ve finally listened to most of it in the current incarnation of iPod Chicanery and it’s been a comfort food in the midst of a considerable amount of unfamiliar cuisine.

All of this leads me to how I actually found the Dis- / Panel Donor split single. I finally made it up to Mystery Train in Gloucester, MA on Memorial Day and I was astonished to find a good amount of Midwestern indie rock vinyl during my mad dash through their inventory. In addition to this single, I grabbed Table’s first seven-inch (a math-rock trio whose bassist Warren Fischer [whose hilarious entry on Wikipedia deserves a mention] now resides in the electro-clash outfit Fischerspooner), a Boys Life / Giants Chair split single, Boys Life’s first LP, and Panel Donor’s Surprise Bath LP among some other non-Midwestern sundries. Upon seeing that Sonic Bubblegum, the label for that Panel Donor album and Dis-’s Historically Troubled CD, was based in Brighton, MA, I realized a possible origin for these seemingly displaced records. I’ll have to return to Mystery Train with more time and money on hand and fully scour both vinyl and CD bins for similar Midwestern oddities.

Verdict: Dis- contributes an early version of “Suddenly Everyone Is a Smoker,” the first song of theirs I heard after its inclusion on a My Pal God / Actionboy / Ohio Gold sampler CD featuring C-Clamp, Hurl, and Dianogah among others. It’s fairly similar to the version on The Historically Troubled Third Album, pushing the drums and distorted guitar up in Steve Albini’s mix. Dis- records featured a rotating cast of drummers (Matt Morgan, Peter Pollack, Chris Cosgrove respectively), so seeing Chris Manfrin credited for this performance wasn’t too much of a surprise. Manfrin also appears on Seam’s final two records and Dis- offshoot Sixto’s self-titled disc, and currently in the post-Silkworm group Bottomless Pit.

Panel Donor’s “L.T. Weightman” features former Zoom guitarist Jeremy Sidener, who joined up after that self-titled debut I mentioned earlier. After a shouted, aggressive verse, the guitars and distorted bass move through some downbeat, melodic passages before returning full force for a powerful ending. It’s easy to remember why I love this stuff. When I either get a USB turntable or a stereo input for my laptop, I’ll rip this single for your listening pleasure, but until then, keep digging through those dusty seven-inch bins.

33. Hüsker Dü - Warehouse: Songs and Stories - Warner, 1987

Hüsker Dü's Warehouse: Songs and Stories

Why I Bought It: Considering my fondness for most of Sugar’s catalog and selections from Bob Mould’s solo work, checking out Hüsker Dü was long overdue. After finally listening to Zen Arcade and New Day Rising, I nearly bought the former on Record Store Day, but figured I’d have plenty of shots to grab that record since SST vinyl has been plentiful at Newbury Comics. Finding a used copy of Warehouse at Record Exchange in Salem, MA, resulted in a slight impulse buy. Should Warehouse be the first Hüsker Dü LP in my collection? I doubt it. But coming from the pop end of the Bob Mould spectrum suggests that Hüsker Dü’s finale might appeal more to me than the group’s die-hard fans.

Verdict: Warehouse is a double LP, but the reminders of Zen Arcade don’t extend to this album’s concept or diversity. The routine of switching between Bob Mould songs and Grant Hart songs can’t keep Warehouse from dragging. Virtually all of the record’s twenty tracks are competent entries into 1980s college rock; some hint at their past shredding, some slow down to let Mould’s guitar jangle ring out, but it’s hard to consider those songs curveballs. Well, I was surprised by the cheesy leads on Hart’s “Too Much Spice”; perhaps Mould included them out of spite.

While I’m disappointed by the whole of the record, the highlights redeem the purchase. I typically prefer Mould’s compositions to Hart’s, but the latter’s “You Can Live at Home” closes out the record on a high note. “I can be fine, I can be free / I can be beautiful without you torturing me / Walk, walk away, keep on walking away / Go / You can live at home now / You can live at home now” is a scathing way to conclude their final record and the extended exit is accompanied by Mould’s most inspired guitar squall. Mould’s “These Important Years,” “Ice Cold Ice,” and “Could You Be the One?” nearly match “You Can Live at Home” with their strong melodies and forward propulsion. If the album was cut down to a single LP, I’d sing its praises and lament how long it took for me to track down a great entry into Bob Mould’s history of melodic guitar rock. But unfortunately Mould and Hart (I’m leaving Greg Norton and his awesome mustache out of this one) chose bulk over quality control.

34. Panel Donor - Surprise Bath - Sonic Bubblegum, 1997

Panel Donor's Surprise Bath

Why I Bought It: As I previously mentioned, finding a horde of Midwestern indie rock at Mystery Train Records in Gloucester, MA, was too good to pass up. I was fortunate to see the back of this LP, since the front doesn’t include the band name and I was unaware that this album (or 1996’s Lobedom and Global) even existed. I should clearly pay more attention to Built on a Weak Spot for his thorough posts on Panel Donor and other Midwestern favorites—his mp3s are still up if you’d like to sample any of Panel Donor’s three albums. On a side note, the album cover looks like a manipulation of a still frame of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle. Weird.

Verdict: The addition of Zoom guitarist Jeremy Sidener helps Panel Donor sound, well, more like Zoom, which isn’t a bad thing in my book. Nothing here rocks quite as hard as their song from the split single with Dis-; instead, the best songs linger in mid-tempos, exchanging woozy guitar riffs and melancholic vocals with the aplomb of the best low-key Polvo and Zoom songs. “Surprise Bath” and “Kid Throws in for Pillowing” pull this trick off marvelously, making their dynamic shifts seem almost invisible. Surprise Bath lacks some of the vocal hooks that push Zoom and Castor above many of their Midwestern brethren, but there’s a depth to this record that begs for more listens.

35. Nick Lowe - Pure Pop for Now People - Columbia, 1978

Nick Lowe's Pure Pop for Now People

Why I Bought It: Friend and occasional collaborator Mark T. R. Donohue / Western Homes mentioned seeing a Nick Lowe concert in a recent LiveJournal post, explaining that Lowe is “one of the chief inspirations of all my ambitions as a songwriter… if Western Homes music is Christianity, then Nick Lowe is the father, Elvis Costello is the son, and Alex Chilton is the Holy Spirit.” While I’ll never equal his fondness for Elvis Costello (believe me, few can), I’m more than willing to check out Lowe based on Mark’s recommendation. This record was originally called Jesus of Cool in the UK and featured a different album cover; the title change is understandable, but why they removed the photo of Lowe with a dual-necked bass/guitar is beyond me.

Verdict: Situating Lowe between Elvis Costello and Big Star makes a considerable amount of sense—aside from the scathing “Music for Money,” he sticks closer to power pop than the edgy new wave found on Costello’s early records, perhaps separating his own music from his role as the in-house producer for Stiff Records’ early punk and new wave records. Lowe instead chooses to reference ’50s rock, ’60s pop, and ’70s disco in his power pop/pub rock crossovers. Since Lowe had already issued an EP called Bowi in response to the 1977 release of Low, “(I Love the Sound of) Breaking Glass” is a likely reference to that album’s “Breaking Glass,” stealing a bit of its Berlin shiver for a righteously melodic single. “No Reason” and the tongue-in-cheek (Bay City) “Rollers Show” also stand out as inspired examples of Lowe’s songwriting, but the tidy running time of Pure Pop for Now People doesn’t allow for any filler. He may show a bit of discomfort in the various rock guises featured on the cover, but the biggest strength of Pure Pop is Lowe’s ability to incorporate those guises with subtlety and wit instead of making the album sound like a mix tape of his tastes.

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