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The Haul: Roxy Music, Ornette Coleman, Wipers, Brian Eno, Gang of Four, Regulator Watts, and King Kong

89. Roxy Music – Roxy Music LP – ATCO, 1972 – $6.50

Roxy Music's Roxy Music

Part of the delay involved with publishing these entries in chronological order is that certain albums need longer to sink in than others. I’ve pulled out Roxy Music’s 1972 debut LP a few times, listened to it all the way through, and thought “That’s a great album, but I’m at a loss for what to say about it.” It’s considerably easier to digest a Gang of Four EP or a Regulator Watts LP in one sitting since they’re in more specific genres that I’m familiar with (post-punk and DC post-hardcore, respectively), whereas my experience with glam-rock is limited to big names like Bowie, T. Rex, and Roxy Music / Brian Eno. When I checked out online reviews to see the critical appraisal of Roxy Music, I came across this sassy Robert Christgau review:

From the drag queen on the cover to the fop finery in the centerfold to the polished deformity of the music on the record, this celebrates the kind of artifice that could come to seem as unhealthy as the sheen on a piece of rotten meat. Right now, though, it's decorated with enough weird hooks to earn an A for side one. Side two leans a little too heavily on the synthesizer (played by a balding, long-haired eunuch lookalike named Eno) without the saving grace of drums and bassline. B+

That is some serious burnsauce on Eno, a personal attack that of the kind I got in huge trouble for doing in a live review during my Signal Drench days. (Specific reference: saying that the male bassist of an indie-pop group, Mondo Crescendo, looked like a female Matthew Sweet. The female singer of that band, also the bassist’s girlfriend, did not respond kindly to this aside, and compared my review to the Spanish Inquisition. Was it mean? Sure. Was it true? Yes.) Similar pain for Kari-Ann Muller, the female cover model, who later married Mick Jagger’s brother. I agree with most of the discussion of the aesthetics of the album—its glam sheen is artificial, sure, especially Bryan Ferry’s curious vocal trills, but it’s mesmerizing in its off-kilter way. I prefer Eno left to his own devices, but the synthesizer on side B isn’t distracting. Overall, Roxy Music is more consistent than Stranded, but none of the songs stood out to me as much as “Street Life,” “Mother of Pearl,” or “Song for Europe.” I suspect after a few more listens, “Re-make/Re-model,” “Virginia Plain,” and “The Bob (Medley)” will equal those favorites, but I’ve accepted that my appreciation of Roxy Music will be a very gradual process.

90. Ornette Coleman– The Shape of Jazz to Come LP – Atlantic, 1959 – $6.50

Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come

It’s embarrassing that I’ve gone this long without picking up a copy of The Shape of Jazz to Come, the first jazz album that gave me the sense of “I’ve got it!” that I kept hoping would hit me when I picked up a classic from Miles Davis or John Coltrane. Looking back, it’s strange that this album hit me, since I’m sure that part of its appeal is being able to recognize the jazz conventions that it casts aside, but perhaps the prior emphasis on chord patterns was my stumbling block.

Translating my eureka moment to words is a rather daunting task, so I’ll just mention a few things that still stand out to me. 1. The connection between Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, especially on “Lonely Woman,” is astounding. It’s hard to imagine that Coleman could have pushed jazz in this direction without a partner who could speak his newfound language. 2. The beginning of “Peace,” which is far quieter and harmonious than the two tracks which preceed it, could not embody its title more. 3. Billy Higgins’ drumming is constantly active. When he gets a drum solo at the end of “Focus on Sanity,” it feels overdue. 4. Much is made of the lack of a pianist providing a chord structure, but Charlie Haden’s bass lines are more than enough of a foundation. Between Haden and Higgins, I never feel like Coleman and Cherry are flying completely off the rails. 5. The very idea of unpredictable melodies seems impossible, yet strains from this album are still running through my head. That’ll do for now.

91. Wipers – Land of the Lost LP – Restless, 1986 – $12.50

Wipers' Land of the Lost

I’d never run across a non-reissue Wipers LP before this trip, but I had my choice of a just-in copy of Land of the Lost for $12.50 or a regularly filed copy of Follow Blind for $9.50. I chose Wipers’ fourth album over their fifth for a few reasons—the cover’s a thousand times more interesting (reminding me of Men at Work’s Cargo, an album I pored over as a youth), the music’s closer in style to 1983’s Over the Edge, and Mark Prindle gave it eight out of ten to Follow Blind’s mere six of ten. Two more points! That’s only $1.50 per point.

Typical to mid-80s Wipers, side A is filled with blues-y hard-rockers like the title-track, side B is filled with more slow-simmering fare like “Nothing Left to Lose” and “Different Ways.” I prefer the latter, since there’s a broader spectrum of guitar tones, and Greg Sage’s guitar tones are what hooked me on the Wipers. Prindle’s dead-on about weaknesses of the album—it’s just not as creative, as inspired as its predecessors, and some of it comes across as Wipers-by-numbers. Since that issue intensifies on Follow Blind and Sage’s other late 1980s releases, Land of the Lost may be the second-to-last Wipers LP I buy. (Someday I’ll get Is This Real? and give it a real shot, but I’m not in any rush.) Too much of Sage’s post-Youth of America output chooses to mirror the less interesting half of that record (“Taking Too Long,” “Can This Be,” and “Pushing the Extreme”), rather than the epic guitar explorations of the title track, “When It’s Over,” and “No Fair.” I’m sure there are good songs on The Circle and Silver Sail, but Land of the Lost seems to be the start of the descent.

93. Brian Eno – Music for Films LP – E.G., 1978 – $9.50

Brian Eno's Music for Films

After my overwhelming enjoyment of the recently purchased Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, I was eager to continue filling out my collection of Brian Eno’s ambient releases. I had my choice between Music for Films or two different copies of the Eno/Cluster collaboration Old Land (which, as I learned later, is a compilation of the highlights from their two previous LPs, 1977’s Cluster and Eno and 1978’s After the Heat), but I opted for the former because I knew what I would get. As it turns out, that might not be the best thing.

Music for Films is comprised of eighteen short pieces intended to be the incidental music for imaginary films. Maybe my imagination was lacking today, but few of these songs are particularly evocative. I’d much rather hear some of the shorter instrumentals from Another Green World (“The Big Ship” especially), some of which were included in the original pressing of Music for Films.

93. Gang of Four – Yellow LP – Warner, 1980 – $4.50

Gang of Four's Yellow EP

My Gang of Four collection is telling: there’s the wheat (their first three LPs: the superb Entertainment!, the solid if dry Solid Gold, and the mixed bag Songs of the Free) and the chaff (a needless remix 12” for “I Love a Man in Uniform,” their 1984 live album, At the Palace). Most GO4 sections are filled with the latter, whether it’s their 1983 album Hard, its accompanying single for “Is It Love,” or that ubiquitous “I Love a Man in Uniform” EP. Yellow, a 1980 EP that was included as bonus tracks for the reissue of Entertainment, may very well be the last piece of wheat left out there, unless the Another Day / Another Dollar EP suckers me into buying some live recordings along with its two exclusive songs.

Of Yellow’s four songs, two appear in re-recorded form on Solid Gold, although “Outside the Trains Don’t Run on Time” fits in with Entertainment!’s razor-wire aesthetic. “He’d Send in the Army” works better with Solid Gold’s comparative heft. The flip side features two older songs, “It’s Her Factory,” a melodica-heavy song that drags a bit, and the ironically chipper “Armalite Rifle,” which ranks as the highlight of the EP. Mixing the old with the new is less enticing nearly 30 years later, but between “Armalite Rifle” and an excellent version of “Outside the Trains Don’t Run on Time,” I got my money’s worth.

I’m still never buying Hard.

94. Regulator Watts– The Aesthetics of No Drag LP – Slowdime/Dischord, 1997 – $4.50

Regulator Watts' The Aesthetics of No Drag

Credit the strength of Kerosene 454’s At Zero for me taking a chance on another peripheral mid-1990s DC group issued on Slowdime/Dischord. I wish I could also credit Hardcore for Nerds’ remarkably thorough exploration of the Hoover family tree for this purchase, but I found it after the fact. It did remind me that: 1. I should really check out Hoover already; 2. I’m familiar with Abilene, another Hoover offshoot; and 3.Hoover bassist Fred Erskine was excellent on the instrument in June of 44 (his vocal turns, however, were less than stellar). Only Hoover singer/guitarist Alex Dunham is present in Regulator Watts, although drummer Areif Dasha Sless-Kitain did a tour of duty in fellow DC post-hardcore merchants Bluetip.

The Aesthetics of No Drag is filled with such trickle-down DC economics; from its stylish Jason Farrell (of Bluetip and Retisonic fame) designed artwork, to Alex Dunham’s occasional vocal proximity to Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto and Girls Against Boys’ Scott McCloud (only on “Pemberton Red,” but it’s a telling rumble), and to the immediately evocative jagged riffs, Regulator Watts is a DC band through and through. The opening track “Mercurochrome” shows absolutely no mercy with its relentless blast of noisy post-hardcore fury, but later songs like “The Ballad of St. Tinnitus” take a more dynamic approach, punctuated of course with strangled guitar lines and shredded vocal cords. The atonal edge of these songs wears on me after a while, but the trickles of melody tide me over. Regulator Watts stress the hardcore half of post-hardcore, whereas I prefer the post-, but there are enough moments of convergence to name The Aesthetics of No Drag a worthy buy.

95. King Kong – Me Hungry LP – Drag City, 1995 – $6.50

King Kong's Me Hungry

King Kong’s a strange, near mythical figure at the fringes of 1990s indie rock, a downright curious Slint offshoot whose descriptions in The Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, the All Music Guide, and message boards all emphasize a goofy, childlike approach to music and a stylistic kinship to early B-52s albums, i.e. the exact opposite of Spiderland’s refined atmosphere. I knew I wouldn’t find any of the post-rock featured on more prominent Slint offshoots like The For Carnation and Papa M (hell, drummer Britt Walford plays on the Breeders’ Pod), but curiosity got the best of me. I had to check out what Tweez-era bassist Ethan Buckler left the group to pursue.


Me Hungry (deep breath) is a concept album/opera about a caveman and a yak confronted with the oncoming ice age, a cave woman, and a sabre-tooth tiger. Amy Greenwood’s likeable female vocals narrate the story, but Ethan Buckler sings all of his lines in character, meaning that you hear a lot of “Me fear the sabre-tooth tiger” sung with a straight-face. The stripped-down rhythm-and-blues backing is strangely austere and downright compelling on the instrumental beginning to “The Crow,” but it mostly serves to move the whole caveman opera along. I’d usually complain that such novelties should be limited to a seven-inch—ideally an etched, single-sided seven-inch—but me require character development and plot, so I’ll let the LP length slide.

For most Homo sapiens, Me Hungry is best viewed as that curious footnote you never get around to referencing, but if you must hear one Slint-related concept album about a caveman and a yak… uh… good luck finding any other options.