Another summer, another new Black Wine record. A fan of poppy punk rock could get mighty used to such things. Though it sounds little like past albums, Hollow Earth, the band’s third record, is excellent. Certainly the most consistent, perhaps their best.
Here’s a theory. It belongs to Jeff Schroeck, Black Wine’s guitarist. The band’s first album sounded kind of like the band members’ previous bands (Hunchback, Ergs). The second record, a wildly diverse collection, is a reaction to the debut, a move away from sounding like those previous bands. Hollow Earth sounds like Black Wine. It’s not a reaction to old bands as much as it’s embracing this band.
I hear what he’s saying; I agree and I’d add this: Hollow Earth takes the poppiest moments from the first two albums, polishes the production, and includes just enough unexpected moves, musically and lyrically.
As the opening credits of this MVD Visual DVD state, (and I quote), "On September 3, 2010, Iggy and the Stooges performed Raw Power live in Monticello, New York. Six fans filmed the concert and interviewed Iggy and the Stooges after the show."
Really then! A concept so crystalline in both its simplicity and beauty – much like Iggy himself, one such as myself could argue. But the result is mountains above and beyond the ultimate DIY epic for Generation YouTube: What we have here is a real-time and, of course, real LOUD (thanks in no small part to the work of audio recordist Max Bisgrove) down 'n' dirty antidote to all those precious Jonathan Demme-style concert films regularly being awarded art-house praises and prizes.
Raw Power Live: In The Hands Of The Fans is in fact, with all apologies to The TAMI Show, the best on-screen rendering of rock 'n' roll I have ever seen.
Question: Which of our five contestants is telling the truth?
#1: My name is Busy Doing Nothing! I’m a Nardwuar album.
#2: My name is Busy Doing Nothing! I’m an Evaporators album.
#3: My name is Busy Doing Nothing! I’m a tribute album.
#4: My name is Busy Doing Nothing! I’m a calendar.
#5: My name is Busy Doing Nothing! I’m a zine.
Answer: All of the above.
Busy Doing Nothing! is a veritable variety show. It offers a wide range of garage and pop bands, along with interviews (audio and text), a great looking calendar, and fantastic graphic design.
Side Nard, known on the south side of the border as the A-side, is a tribute to Canadian bands of the past. Side Wuar has six Evaporators tunes followed by a Nardwuar interview with Franz Ferdinand.
The calendar focuses on Bev Davies’ photographs from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. D. Boon, James Brown, New Order, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett and, perhaps best of all, extras from the set of Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains. There is also a Nardwuar interview with Davies detailing the backstory of each photo.
The graphic design is the crowning touch. Anyone who’s ever seen a Nardwuar record before knows to expect a great looking album. Busy Doing Nothing! is no exception. Everything’s perfect — color schemes, lettering, layout. With most records you might notice one or two of those elements but it’s all aces here, even the record’s spine, which is so wide you bike on it. (Production design credit goes to Robynn and Randy Iwata)
So, the packaging is immaculate. Is the music any good? If the style scores a 10, then how about the substance? The line up doesn’t have the same marquee appeal of past Nardwuar compilations, but that didn’t matter initially because I was so caught up in the bounty of graphics and interviews. Eventually focus came my way and with it a bevy of fun tunes. Chief among the tribute/cover songs were Franz Ferdinand (nicely bending Pointed Sticks’ “Real Thing” into a kind of Echo and the Bunnymen tune) and—just to make things more self referential—Fuad & the Feztones covering the Evaporators’ “Welcome to My Castle” with a good coat of Sam the Sham silliness. Kate Nash puts a whole different bounce into cub’s “My Chinchlla,” and it works really well until they lapse into “let’s play fast’n’yell,” which undermines an otherwise really clever reworking.
The rest of the record is devoted to the Evaporators. To enjoy the Evaporators you have to be prepared to fully embrace the ridiculous, you have to be at ease with phrases along the lines of, “this is so stupid it’s wonderful.” Hopefully that comes easy to you. If so, the Evaporators, fronted by Nardwuar himself, have what you need but didn’t realize: “I Hate Being Late When I’m Early,” “Hot Dog High,” the title track, and “Pig War” are all excellent.
Side Nard scores a 7 while Side Wuar earns a 9. That’s an 8 for substance to go with the 10 for style. Overall, that warrants seeking out Busy Doing Nothing!
Now, where do I submit this review for “Canadian Heritage” funding?
I’m worried about you, my friend. You’ve been posting status updates on Facebook like the New Bomb Turks used to release 7”s, that is to say with alarming frequency. It’s probably not a cry for help, not a digital “give me a hand, dude.” It’s probably just filling gaps of time as you work on other projects. (How many books do you have in the works?) Regardless, I’ve got a record that you, more so than anyone else I know, will dig immeasurably: The Other Side of Darknessby the Night Birds.
It’s fantastic, a step up from the band’s formidable 7”s mostly because there’s more music — a 22-minute sustained blast compared to the 4-to-10-minute jolts of the previous records. I think you know what these guys sound like but just in case, think California surf punk — blazing tempos, dire lyrics, beautiful guitar tones; Dick Dale in hyperdrive. I recognize that the Night Birds’ sound pretty clearly comes from their forebears—they’re not out to obscure their influences — but how many of those early ‘80s bands built full-length records this good? (I ask sincerely, not rhetorically. Early ‘80s hardcore is not my forte and you literally wrote a book on it.)
So why listen to this Night Birds record as opposed to the hundreds of other reocrds calling for your attention? Valid question. You want details, supporting evidence, as well you should. I’d start with the Mike Hunchback’s guitar playing. Here then are one listener’s guide to Mike Hunchback’s stunning guitar moments on the Night Birds’ The Other Side of Darkness:
“Born of Man and Woman” – this song seems complete but then this wave of overdubs kick in with :18 left, oh my
“Land Fill Land” – a riff that would make Easy Bay Ray proud (or maybe envious, not sure of the last time he cooked up something so riveting)
“One Eye” – once again a brief, brilliant flurry of overdubbing, this time he waited until there was :09 left, which doesn't seem like enough time to accomplish anything
“Day After Trinity” – great instrumental, though too short at 1:22
“Failed Species” – I don’t if this qualifies as a solo or maybe it’s more of a guitar break, regardless it’s bliss from :50 - :59
“Oblivious” – at the 2:06 mark there is yet another solo, but it’s more of a rock solo, albeit a fast one, than it is a punk or surf solo — what a range this guy has!
You’ll dig the lyrics, too, especially the movie references. “Hoffman Lens” is based on John Carpenter’s They Live. (Have you read the Jonathan Lethem book yet? Excellent read. It’s from the same Deep Focus series that gave us John Ross Bowie’s Heathersand Josh Wilker’s The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.) There’s also a Woody Allen reference in “Land Fill Land,” which the band was considerate enough to footnote. How many bands — surf punk or otherwise — care enough to annotate their lyrics? I’m sure there are references to other movies, too. (Do you recognize the sound bite from the end of “Paranoid Times”?)
Thanks for listening. As always you’re a great sounding board. I’ve been enjoying The Other Side of Darkness for months, but only now have I managed to piece together something like a review. (I gave the record four more spins today. It’s still getting better.)