Big Black: Songs About Fucking


Blast First! 1987.  BFFP19


More hateful bile from Steve Albini today, but what wonderful bile this is.  No subject is taboo which makes for uncomfortable listening – I’m not going to list them here, you’ll just have to listen out for the nasties yourself.  Musically it’s equally uncomfortable, with an aggressive, almost tinny sound but with monstrous guitar work which is like nothing else.  I’ve said before that I never really liked their drum machine, but on this, their last album, it seems to fit better with the band than it ever had before.

It is amazing that this is unavailable.  Where is the deluxe expanded version and the 180g vinyl re-issue?  I guess Mr Albini isn’t into such things and I can’t imagine he either needs or wants the money.

UT: In Gut’s House


Blast First! 1987.  BFFP17


I had a long chat the other day to a woman in a local punk band, and it reminded me that there are nowhere near enough women making noisy records.  Actually, there aren’t enough women making records of any description, but noise seems especially badly served.

So it seemed like a good time to post some women making a glorious racket – and UT sprung to mind.  They’ve appeared here before on the Devil’s Jukebox, but they deserve more than that.  UT were part of the New York No Wave scene, but although they were big at the time, they seem to have been forgotten about, for reasons which aren’t obvious listening to this album.

Their debt to the Velvets is obvious, and Sonic Youth’s debt to them is equally obvious, but UT don’t really sound like either of them – they’re more like a discordant version of The Slits.  Maybe that has to do with how they made their records – the songs are built around improvisation, and the women swap instruments regularly, including a violin which is sadly under-appreciated in rock music (King Of The Slums being a notable exception as well as the obvious Velvets stuff).  Other bands I’ve seen do that have been, as a result, laughably incompetent, but that couldn’t be further from the truth with UT.  As you’d expect, this isn’t an easy listen (it’s often shouty and quite an assault on the eardrums) but there’s some great playing here and some superb material.  As you’d expect their radical politics go down well with me too, but I guess that’s not for everyone.

Various Artists: The Devil’s Jukebox


Blast First! 1989. BFDJ 1 – 10


Ripping this boxed set of 10 7″ singles was a job for a rainy day, and since it rained yesterday, it got done at last.  It’s a compilation from the heyday of Paul Smith’s consistently excellent Blast First! label, containing mostly exclusive tracks from bands which are too important to ignore.  Detailed info is hard to come by, but there’s only one track here (by Sun Ra) which I know is definately available elsewhere.  To add to the confusion, this also came out on CD, cassette and LP as Nothing Short Of Total War with a different tracklisting on each format.

Sonic Youth are at their chaotic best, mixing the fairly conventional rock sound they perfected on Daydream Nation with the more experimental material they were better known for back then.  They also appear as their bizarre Ciccone Youth alter ego.  For me though, Steve Albini’s contributions; 2 tracks as Big Black and another as, well, I can’t bring myself to type it, are the highlight here.  There’s an electrifying version of Kerosene, a truly depressing track about small town nihilism and a surprisingly laid back take on He’s A Whore.  Dutch Courage by the unmentionable band is a shockingly badly recorded live version, but oddly, all the better for it.  Big Stick contribute a version of their classic Drag Racing, which frankly is the only thing they did really worth hearing. UT, the all women New York noise monsters are here with a re-recording of Evangelist, the stand-out from their In Gut’s House album which I’ll post another time.  Dinosaur Jr. are reliable as always, and there’s a suitably unhinged live version of a track from Locust Abortion Technician by the Butthole Surfers, slightly ruined by being way too long to fit on a 7″.

Blast First! was known as a noise label, and so this boxed set is predictably noisy.  There was more to Paul Smith than that though, and like Alan McGee over at Creation, he used the label as a platform for his own musical interests.  That side of him appears on disc 9, which has a rare 60s recording from Sun Ra paired with a Glenn Branca piece from his orchestra of electric guitars project.

As you might imagine, the box is a bit inconsistent in places, but overall the quality of the music is remarkably high.  The essential tracks more than make up for the filler; this was a compilation the label made a real effort with, and it shows.

Big Black: Sound Of Impact


Not 1986.  Not 2 (But 1)


This is, without any doubt, the mighty Big Black’s finest hour.  Superb though their studio material is, this live album has a ferocious intensity which takes it to a whole new level.  Such is the quality of the musicianship, it doesn’t trade that intensity for a shambolic performance – this is as tight as anything they recorded.  The tracklisting is superb too – it works well as a career retrospective.

Big Black, in case you don’t know was Steve Albini’s first band, at least the first anyone took notice of.  He is, by some distance my favourite guitarist, and while he’s never an easy listen, he sounds like no-one else before or since.  He’s also known for some pretty offensive lyrics, but he always claimed they existed only out of necessity, and for me the band works better when the lyrics are downplayed and the words indecipherable as they (mostly) are here.  Shock is supposed to be a part of punk, but Albini’s lyrics often go way beyond that into the frankly unbearable.  In a way they fit with the full-on sonic assault of the music, but still…

The album itself has a somewhat curious history.  It was claimed to be a bootleg, but in fact was a disguised official release.  The “label” doesn’t really exist – it was in fact issued by Blast First!, their UK label, and it had normal distribution, although it was rather expensive.  There was an initial pressing of 1000, followed up by another of 500, all numbered.  Blast First! then put out another 500 without the band’s permission which caused a permanent rift.  Out there in internetland, it’s claimed Albini walked away from Blast First! because of it, but clearly he didn’t because his next band, whose name I’m not going to type here, was on the label.  My copy is one of the unauthorised 500.

There’s some attempt to make this look like a bootleg – there’s no mention of the band on the cover, the artwork is very cheap, and the printed track listing is fictitious.  However that’s where the shoddiness ends.  I’ve already described the quality of the performances, but it’s also a really well compiled album.  It derives from three separate soundboard recordings, and it’s obvious a lot of trouble was taken to pick the best from each.  It loses a little as a result – it’s not a continuous performance, but the sheer class of what there is more than makes up for it.

The sound quality is also interesting.  Big Black were never a band to flatter your hi-fi with, nor has Albini ever been in to messing with the sound to make it more palatable.  He sees himself more as an archivist, documenting what bands, including his own actually sound like, which is what he’s done here.  So this album is tiring to listen to, it jarrs, but that’s what the band sounded like…

The title of the album, Sound Of Impact refers to the last element in transcribed conversations of flight crews in the moments before plane crashes.  The back cover is entirely devoted to these conversations, which make for chilling reading.  You can read them here, alongside a typically angry Albini essay.

Further listening? I think the Atomizer LP was their best and is most easily available on the Rich Man’s Eight Track CD.  Songs About Fucking runs it a close second but is harder to find.  I might post a vinyl rip of it at some point if it really is as unavailable as it seems on the web site of everyone’s favourite tax dodgers.

Sonic Youth/Mudhoney: Touch Me I’m Sick/Halloween

Sonic Youth

Blast First 1989.  BFFP 46


More Sonic Youth cover versions today.  This is a split single; on the A side Sonic Youth cover a Mudhoney song, and on the B side, Mudhoney cover a Sonic Youth song, all done as a promotion for their UK tour that year.  Both bands were on great form and it shows on this really strong pairing.

This is a first pressing (with mauve cover) if anyone’s bothered about such things.