T. Hallenbeck brings a mix of classical music, classic rock, and Celtic music to his album Secret Society. Purely an acoustic album, he plays guitar, cello, mandolin, and mandola on it. "Hymn to the Mothman" starts this record off with acoustic guitar and cello; all of the songs on this record have an otherworldly feel, like a biblical Renaissance Faire with a healthy dose of Star Trek Convention. Lyrical references run the gamut from the Lord of Creation to tachyons and all the way to frog pee. All the songs on this CD are short, with the longest slightly over three-and-a-half minutes and the shortest under a minute, and each song packs an understated power that draws in the listener.
I don't know who I would recommend this album to -- that is, I don't know what type of person would enjoy this record. I think of it as a fractal, getting more complex and intricate the closer you get. (KM)
(self-released; T. Hallenbeck -- http://www.hinterland.org/thtunes/)
Hipster Daddy-O & the Hand Grenades
A cover of "Astro Zombies." With horns, delivered like a lounge number. That quickly, H.D.H. endeared themselves to me. Not that they really needed to do that, as they're actually a pretty good group with a neat sound...imagine The Reverend Horton Heat with horns. Wingtips, pork pie hats, F-hole guitar with a Bigsby tremolo...you know the scene, daddy-o. They throw in some neat Squirrel Nut Zippers/Combustible Edison old-timey sounding stuff in there as well ("Devil Man"). They even have a ode to lycanthropy ("The Howling"). How much cooler can it get, you ask? In this case, much -- witness, a cover of "Goody Two Shoes" (which in my mind has always been just begging to be redone). While it doesn't vary wildly from the original song, it's a pretty fun listen, which is what I'd say for the rest of the album as well. Solid hepcat rocka-psycho-swinga-billy at its finest. (MHo)
(Slimstyle Records -- 3400 E. Speedway, Suite 118-272, Tucson, AZ. 85716; Hipster Daddy-O & the Hand Grenades -- http://www.hipsterdaddyo.com/)
Before I even listened to this album I decided to rent Blank Generation, the 1979 movie featuring Richard Hell playing a character that is more or less Richard Hell. And wow, is it dull. Hell wanders around New York City with his French girlfriend. There are conflicts that make no sense. In fact, very little makes sense. Andy Warhol drops in briefly to be interviewed by a German journalist. Hell's girlfriend takes up with the journalist. And then there are the performances with the Voidoids. These are the only bits that have any focus -- the only things that make the movie worth watching; even if the band only plays one song. They play the Hell signature tune, "Blank Generation" so often that you'd think that was their only song. But it's tough to complain about the songs when they are the little bits of clarity in an otherwise directionless movie. In truth, Hell's real life seems to be a hodge-podge of these sorts of events that don't really have any theme.
Before he was Hell, he was Myers, a Delaware prep school student who one day ran away from school with his friend Tom Miller. After a short stint in the deep South, the two ended up in New York City, where they formed a band. The Neon Boys was a short-lived project which became Television at about the same time that Myers became Hell and Miller became Verlaine. Hell and Verlaine shared a taste for 19th-century French poetry, but little else, and while Verlaine honed his chops, Hell goldbricked. This led to tension. Television were the first band to play CBGB, actually convincing owner Hilly Kristal to let them play in what was then his country venue. But Hell was just a passable bassist -- you can hear this on the Neon Boys' one release and on the hard-to-find demo that Television recorded with Brian Eno. Verlaine's and Lloyd's guitar playing is well-developed and their parts are very similar to those that eventually appeared on Marquee Moon, but Hell's playing is sloppy and showy in a way that a bass player shouldn't be. So after these early gigs at CBGB, Verlaine sent Hell packing.
Hell immediately formed The Heartbreakers and later The Voidoids, both two-guitar bands that mimic the lineup of Television, if not the sound. Hell's vocals, though, are very much like Verlaine's. You get the idea that there might have been a George/Lenny relationship with Verlaine and Hell, and once the latter was on his own he didn't know how to do anything but imitate Verlaine. Hell quickly exhausted Verlaine's bag of tricks and didn't have any new ones of his own, so he officially retired from the music business in the early '80s only to resurface ten years later as a member of yet another short-lived band, Dim Stars. Don Fleming and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley round out what was really a vehicle for a return to music for Hell, but which was as ill-fated as any of his other bands. Before long he lost interest and disappeared as quickly as he had appeared -- perhaps Hell knows his limitations and is content to fade into obscurity. Whatever his shortcomings, Hell was a major influence on early punk -- and some of that influence was even musical.
Disc one of Time is a re-release of R.I.P., which was originally a cassette-only release on the cassette-only label, ROIR. It's about as complete a picture of Hell's influence as you can find. It starts with his immediate post-Television work in the Heartbreakers, continues through several incarnations of the Voidoids, and ends with Hell and his unnamed early '80s band. R.I.P. starts off with "Love Comes in Spurts," a song whose title was carried over from The Neon Boys and reworked while Hell was still in Television. Hell recycled many of his songs this way, so there many versions with different bands from which to choose. Here it's performed with The Heartbreakers, who, as you might imagine, Hell played with only briefly. Heartbreakers guitarist, Johnny Thunders, plays a straightforward and aggressive line here that is much less angular than the more familiar Robert Quine line of the version found on The Voidoids' Blank Generation. R.I.P. continues with another early punk song, "Chinese Rocks," which Hell co-wrote with Dee Dee Ramone, but which didn't appear on the original ROIR release. After the Heartbreakers songs, the recording quality improves dramatically, and various incarnations of the Voidoids go through several styles, never really finding a focus. Sometimes they're punk, sometimes rootsy rock; it's hard to get a line on who Richard Hell really is.
What makes this package interesting is the second disc, which consists of previously unreleased live performances in London and in New York. The London show includes a remarkable recording of a pre-Sex Pistols John Lydon taking the stage after The Voidoids had finished, exhorting the audience to cheer for an encore. That little piece of history alone is worth suffering through the bad recording quality -- and frankly, song quality -- of this second disc. It is a clear line of influence from Hell to generations of punk rock. You don't hear him in The Sex Pistols' music -- that is far more involved and aggressive than anything he ever attempted. Hell's sound was really more a product of the people he played with than of his own musical vision. Television was noodly, The Heartbreakers were aggressive, The Voidoids were angular. What punk got from Hell was approach. The torn clothes. The spiky hair. The "I couldn't care less" attitude. That was all Hell. And that was all punk rock. Still is. (JC)
(Matador Records -- 625 Broadway, New York, NY. 10012; http://www.matadorrecords.com/; Richard Hell -- http://www.richardhell.com/)
Bitch, bitch, bitch. "It doesn't sound like Braid," "Braid was better," "I miss the screamy guy," so on and so forth, ad infinitum. Don't get me wrong, I like(d) Braid. But when they broke up, and three-quarters of them decided to start a new band, the elitist complaining began in earnest. Hey, here's an idea...maybe that's why they call themselves Hey Mercedes now instead of Braid -- it's a different band, you rock snobs. Taken on its own merits, Hey Mercedes is a pretty damn good band, playing catchy stop-start indie rock that's a bit lighter and poppier than their Braid stuff but still driving enough to make you want to rock out on the air guitar. Fittingly, production duties on Everynight Fireworks are handled by rock-them-but-make-them-sing-along guru J. Robbins, and with the combination of his talents and the band's songwriting ability, you get tracks like "Eleven To Your Seven" and "Haven't Been This Happy," which stick in your brain well after the initial listen. Braid was a great band, no doubt, but it's time to say goodbye. Hey Mercedes will rock you if you give them the chance. Live in the now. (MHo)
(Vagrant Records -- 2118 Wilshire Blvd. #361, Santa Monica, CA. 90403; http://www.vagrant.com/; Hey Mercedes -- http://www.heymercedes.com/)
Death Is Infinite
Himsa would very rightly scare the crap out of anyone that considers Linkin Park, Disturbed or the like to be "heavy music". This EP is an insanely brutal yet catchy (as catchy as metallic hardcore can be) piece of work that brings to mind D.R.I., Slayer and thrash-era Metallica. I'm guessing that the band put this out before a full-length album to showcase what tangent their most recent line-up was heading towards for the LP. Having never heard their previous album, Ground Breaking Company, I can't really draw any comparisons to the previous incarnation, but I can say that Himsa as they are now are pretty fuckin' rocking, all told. My only complaint is that I can't really distinguish any of the "electronic" sounds in the mix -- their press kit lists Clay Layton as "electronics," so I expected to hear some texturizing beeps, boops, and such, but they don't quite cut through on this disc. I'm sure that they'll get the levels right given time, and I'm very intrigued as to how the final synthesis will sound. (MHo)
(Revelation Records -- P.O. Box 5232, Huntington Beach, CA. 92615-5232; http://revelationrecords.com/; Himsa -- http://www.himsa.org/)