Sunday, April 17, 2011

Revelation Revisited: Doubling Up

I suppose I should have stated at the outset that the first few releases would get kind of short shrift -- for a variety of reasons, Rev #1-3 weren't ever truly on my radar early on. So we'll get through #s 2 and 3 today and then progress. Start today, if you will.

#2 -- "New York City Hardcore: Together" compilation

1991 -- ???

2011 -- gosh, I wish I'd paid more attention.

This was one of two of the early releases that I never actually owned. The reason's simple: I thought that the upcoming number 7, "New York City Hardcore: The Way It Is" was entirely this one with added tracks. That's not totally true, and one of the two songs that I recognized from this was re-recorded for the next record (Supertouch's "Searching for the Light"). So I don't have a lot of recollections of this, probably because I couldn't get this on grey vinyl. The sound quality is pretty iffy so it's more like I'm hearing my neighbor play great old hardcore instead of Katy Perry. A really brief breakdown:

* Warzone "As One" -- pretty great and I wonder if I'm finally becoming a Warzone fan at age 38

* Gorilla Biscuits "Better Than You" -- one of the standout songs because I worshipped GB when I first heard this -- cheerful and catchy with some of the more gloriously stupid lyrics out there

* Bold "Talk Is Cheap" -- we'll get into Bold later and I think they're one of the dullest bands in the history of hardcore, but this actually isn't bad, a bit more intense than the rest of their output

* Youth of Today "Together" -- at the height of their powers, they were pretty great here, hard to believe we weren't far off from the whateverness of "Break Down the Walls"

* Sick of it All "My Life" -- I'm not a fan of early SOIA, but this is one of the catchier songs they did (in that I actually remember it)

* Side by Side "Violence to Fade" -- 180 degrees from Bold in that I generally liked them, but man this is forgettable

* Supertouch "Searching for the Light" -- this was young Greg's favorite ST song, but this isn't the good version

It's tempting to think that if I'd given this a good listen back then, I would've loved it, since it had all the good of NYCHTWII and less of the dross. But with the exception of Warzone and Bold, all of these bands had plenty of other recorded output that I liked as much or more, and so this would've just sounded like a seven-song appendix.

#3 -- Sick of it All 7"

1991 -- SELLOUTS!

2011 -- This would've been a decent intro to hardcore.

I got Sam McPheeters' "Dear Jesus" collection not too long ago, and reading it now was a bit of a trip -- that was my personal bible round about 1991 and 1992, my guide to things that didn't really affect me but that I decided really were important. Chief among those was the issue of major labels, and the legendary Born Against-Sick of it All debate. I don't know why I cared, because I didn't know any of those involved and there was no danger of any Tucson bands signing to majors, but I did. I cared a lot and felt obligated to lecture any poor Tucson schmuck who didn't share my angst over Sick of it All or Killing Time or whoever. On down the line (see future Quicksand entry), I got more angsty, and then just dropped it to the relief of everyone who knew me, but for a time I was kind of loud about it, a foot soldier in a war that didn't concern me and was being fought out far away.

So: SOIA were a visible target and I made a big show of boycotting "Blood, Sweat and No Tears" and "Just Look Around," to the point where I think I still haven't heard them. Then later, once I'd tossed in the towel, I liked "Built to Last" and "Call to Arms" as much as I'd slagged the earlier records. Lost in all this was the debut Rev ep, which occupied a grey area: the indie-label debut of a band I'd decided represented bad things. Like Warzone, I owned this -- record collecting nerdery trumped my confused ethics -- but didn't listen to it a lot.

Now, it feels like nothing special. There's a certain youthful joy to it in that it's easy to imagine that it was recorded in one take start-to-finish, but it's really generic hardcore with only Lou's vocals to set it aside. I would've loved this if I'd heard it right after my first hardcore show (Malignus Youth, American Deathtrip, Upside, Justus, Suspended Animation in Bisbee, Arizona). Now, it's an artifact. One that highlights just what a dork I was.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Revelation Revisited

Many moons ago, in this blog's updated-more-frequently era, I mentioned that I'd owned a really large chunk of Revelation Records' early releases (see here) and then joked about doing a retrospective on my feelings for each release, all these years later. It seemed like a really bad idea.

So now I'm going to do it. It's been 20 years since I graduated high school, and that was the year I discovered most of this stuff. And a lot of it still comes up when I work out -- in fact, that might be a marketing idea. Workouts for aging ex-straight-edge guys, trying to work off the beer. "Rev It Up!"

Revelation's really the only choice for this -- there was a decent amount of time where I was crazy with anticipation for any release, and that lasted long into the period where they were more defined by Whirlpool and Engine Kid than bands I actually liked. Even now, I check the webpage semi-regularly. Dischord is really the only other label I could conceivably do this for -- they probably affected my personal ethos more than Rev did -- but in my formative years they were putting out stuff like Holy Rollers and Fidelity Jones that I didn't like even then. Beyond that, what is there? Victory? New Age? Vermiform?

This will last until I either run out of releases I listened to or I get bored with it. So until then, welcome to Revelation Revisited.

#1 -- Warzone "Lower East Side Crew"

1991: OMG SKINHEADS

2011: I kinda wish Revelation had put out more stuff like this.

Young Greg never really gave this one a chance. May have had a little to do with the lack of big black Xs on their hands, may have had a bit more to do with the fact that some of their stuff came out on Caroline Records, which had some vague bigger-business ties that I didn't understand but were sufficient for me to purse my lips and shake my head. But most of it was that here it was in the flesh, the skinhead threat, subject of very serious CBS special reports.

Never mind that the only skinheads I knew were kind of depressing dorks, not a threat to anyone except themselves -- the topper being an illegal immigrant who rebranded himself as an American pride skinhead and called himself "Beans" -- I'd lived kind of a sheltered life, and it took more time than I'd care to admit to accept that at least in Tucson, skins weren't any sort of threat or any sort of influence, positive or negative. My fevered MRR reading probably didn't help -- I really thought that skinheads, Krishnas, and major labels were the three worst things out there.

(none of this was sufficient to keep me from owning a copy of "Lower East Side Crew" and later selling it for a decent chunk -- even at my most stridently doctrinaire, I was capable of astonishing moral flexibility)

Now, with the benefit of some perspective and no longer caring a whit about hardcore scene politics, it's hard to find what upset me here. By all accounts Raybeez was a pretty wonderful human being, and there aren't any lyrical problems (unity is good, lack of unity is bad, let's all work together) here. What is something of a (sorry) revelation is how much I kinda dig this. The dirty production and the sheer urgency sound really, really good to my jaded ears; it's more organic hardcore than the more polished stuff that the label became known for. I've gone full-circle now. In 1991 I was more "Start Today" -- in 2011 I'm more "Lower East Side Crew."

The Verdict, comparing 2011 to 1991: much better.

More of this to come! Unless I get bored.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

I'm Not an Endtable

So hey! Anyone miss me? Uh, ok, anyone notice I was gone? Things've been busy, things've been hectic, but I'm gonna try to get back to this regularly.

#8 -- "Inverting the Pyramid" by Jonathan Wilson

#9 -- "John Henry Days" by Colson Whitehead

#10 -- "Don't Mourn, Balkanize!" by Andrej Grubacic

The Wilson book is brilliant, and I'll probably have more to say about it in a day or two, if I finish something that I've been writing for weeks and weeks. The Whitehead book is brilliant, but I don't have much more to say about that -- you oughta get it, ok? And follow him on Twitter, he's one of the people that make it worthwhile. The Grubacic book is frustrating and I wanted to throw it against the wall a few times, and guess which one I'm gonna write about.

I picked it up out of a desire to get some alternate views on the Balkans -- I've come under some criticism over the years for a reflexively mainstream/Western point of view, which is perhaps fair enough. This is certainly a varying view -- unfortunately it's not that persuasive.

It's a collection of essays, more or less divided into two parts. The first critiques U.S./NATO intervention and involvement in the Balkans. The writing is -- to be polite -- not that hot. Think of someone cornering you at a party and ranting at you. Think of them using finger quotes to mock points of view divergent from theirs. Think of them using the word "neoliberal" so often that it loses all meaning. That's what this is like. It's a MRR column page circa 1991.

Western involvement in the region is ripe for critique, but there are a lot of problems here. Yes, Serbia isn't solely responsible for the 1990s chaos. But it fields some, and that's glossed over here. While there's some hints of sympathy for all the Balkans' peoples, for the most part, Serbs and Roma are the only ones who get directly acknowledged.

The second part leaves me feeling a bit kinder toward Grubacic. He lays out his vision for the region, and while I don't find it realistic, it at least shows his heart is in the right place. He lays out a scheme for a loose Balkan federation without (so far as I can tell) much in the way of central government or national borders. It's a nice idea and there were many interesting points in this section -- I particularly found the section on participatory economics interesting, though I lack the background to know whether it would work.

And that's the problem in this section -- lots of nice ideas, not much in the way of practical ways of making them work. How are you going to get people to take part? How will you convince Balkan residents (Grubacic doesn't lay out boundaries for this, but I'm assuming it goes beyond Serbia) to re-enter a federation, however loose, after the last one collapsed in blood and despair? There really isn't much in the way of answers to those questions, and in the end, the book loses a chance to be elevated above the rank of a ranting manifesto.