Words by Peter Tanski
Peter Tanski grew up in the small but thriving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, fronting several bands and founding the music and literary fanzine, Exmortus. After a brief stint living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and writing for Legends Magazine, he returned to Pennsylvania where he began to work with web based music site NEPA Rocks. He currently fronts the melodic hardcore/punk band, Heart Out and hosts The Book of Very Very Bad Things PodZine.
This month Shadow-Plays sloughs off the shoal of self-awareness and cracks open the creaky stockroom door to the seedier and more cringey aspects of Music Retail Work in the early Oughts, by way of The Jesus And Mary Chain’s newest and live-iest(?) work.
“Oh, you do?!” [In mock exacerbation] “Well, how ‘bout the Jesus and Mary Chain?”
“They always seemed…”
“They always seemed what? They always seemed really great is what they always seemed. They picked up where your precious Echo [and the Bunnymen] left off and you’re sittin’ around complaining about ‘no more Echo albums’! [tosses the customer “Psychocandy” on LP] I can’t believe you don’t own this fuckin’ record! That’s insane.” – Nick Hornby from his novel, “High Fidelity”
In the summer of 2002, by way of either a maniacally cruel God or some as-of-yet unidentified specter of attrition, I’d found myself on the unemployment line. After having been laid off from the advertising gig I’d found two years prior, and getting terminated from an even more demeaning, menial job, I’d been in particularly dire straits. Being the single father of a 2 year old girl who’s mother particularly disliked me, I was in for some mean times. I’d no prospects save for an inevitable return to plumbing and heating, and that wasn’t to come for some years, so I’d been at the mercy of what my friends had to offer by way of a gig. It just so happened that my roommate at the time was working nights at a local record shop owned by a conservative longhair, dressed as a hippie, that I’d been a grade behind in school. He paid cash, needed a manager and someone that understood the indie, punk, and metal (he was inept in that sense). The names of both establishment and proprietor are respectfully withheld as this bit of financial kismet was also where your hero stumbles in incredible fashion.
You see, my roommate and I had bonded over our mutual adoration of literature and music. We also loved whiskey but that has little to do with this story. As ruthless ballbusters and fans of the novel and film adaptation of “High Fidelity,” we’d naturally fallen into the Cusack role (usually myself) and Jack Black’s (roomie). We were already snarky, snobbish in our taste and integrity and we’d shaped many youthful punks as they’d made their way through our store (including the vocalist and guitarist of one Motionless In White). In our working hours we extolled the virtues of the usual suspects in The Smiths, Chameleons, Echo and the Bunnymen… but to a greater extent, good old J.A.M.C.
Jimmy Eat World’s last ditch album (and follow up to their undisputed masterpiece, “Clarity”) had already gone platinum, and had name-checked our heroes in one of the songs. Once the droves of tweens had figured out what J.A.M.C. “Automatic” has meant, we could not keep the damn record in stock. We talked shit to these know-nothing kids, giggled about just how bitingly clever we were, and how much the new band that the dude from The Calling’s son was biting J.A.M.C. I’d been so simultaneously up both of our asses that I’d missed the fact that I was both dead wrong about absolutely everything, and that I was beyond insufferable. Fuck, I’d hated the people that behaved in this manner when I’d first discovered Punk and Hardcore, and now here I was, the all-wise and knowing 26 year old dungheap that was quickly slipping back into opioid addiction yet again. Did I mention that the flow of Vicodin, Percocet, soma, valium, and Xanax was so strong in the place that it practically took precedence over money and food?
Our summations that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was aping our collective heroes was just as invalid as Jack Black’s character inferring that J.A.M.C. were the answer to Echo and the Bunnymen. They were nothing alike. Of a similar cloth? For certain. The same? No.
That monolithic, indie guitar god thrust is alive and well in the 4-song album, An Object In Motion (Dais Records) by pallid androgynes, Drab Majesty. Perhaps at the outset the comparison seems thin, but ”Vanity” carries all of the drive and guitar theatrics that the Reid brothers so famously employed, while anchoring the cacophony in the dance inflected Neo-Goth rave-ups and booty shakery we have all come to expect.
Post-Punk forebear Jah Wobble has once again opened the Lament Configuration to unleash yet another grand display of genre reinvention and integration with A Brief History of Now (Cleopatra Records). Certainly and decidedly not adjacent to our story’s heroes, but a fun inclusion for your aural delectation just the same.
Speaking of Jah Wobble, Public Image Limited have bubbled to surface once more as well. I know, I know. John Lyon is anathema these days, but I’ll be damned if End of World (self-released) didn’t sound like a prog Death March, all maudlin and minor keyed, singing of destinies lost to parents, death, miseries, Penge in South East London as the metaphorical Hell. 13 songs. 51 minutes of Johnny Rotten at his most unhinged. If one can look beyond his pro-wrestler heel turn, this may well be the finest PiL record in almost 20 years.
European be-suited garage Punks cum Timbaland cohorts The Hives have returned with their darkest album ever, The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons (self-released). Opener “Bogus Operandi” is an amalgam of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath, with some Eric Burden sass to spike the cocktail for a bit of smartypants snark. The entire album reeks of an almost DeathRock level of menace that is a welcome left turn for this outfit, and I dig it deeply.
4AD has unleashed harbingers of spooked out, glitchy, electroclash worshippers cumgirl8 with new EP, Phantasea Pharm. The group’s second proper release is proudly tuneless at times, synchronously disjointed at others. It all plays out in the manner Kubrick had intended “The Shining” to instill dread with odd angles and perfunctory callbacks. This is how pop music sounds when executed by disturbed geniuses with home spun instruments and nefarious intentions. I rate this a 10/10, and I never rate anything here. Ever.
All of the sultry, blissed out psychedelic fuzz and stoned drawl on Automatic and Psychocandy certainly spawned devotees. It still does. Why else would the Jesus and Mary Chain be continuing to release studio albums that retain the same quality, as well as this month’s live offering, the massive and pitch perfect Sunset 666 (Live at Hollywood Palladium (Fuzz Club)? With 17 tracks that skillfully span the groups entire discography, this is a live record for folks (like myself) that hate live albums. The songs sound just similar enough to the album versions as not to offend, yet just raw enough to lend them even more grit. A live set that sonically suspends the listener ’s disbelief, transporting you to that very room on that very evening. No small feat.
As for my misadventures in music retail, It should go without saying that I’d risen above those chasmic personal lows, but the journey is such that we haven’t the space for it here and now. I will leave you all with this… We all find our own ways home… Some of us just ignore the cartographers that came before us.
Until next we meet.