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Old 04-21-2010, 08:15 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Steve Albini's bands ~ a chronology reviewed

Dedicated to the man's own bands - not the many bands whose music was engineered by him in his studio. I'm talking about..

Steve Albini


Specifically his 3 bands:

Big Black

Rapeman
and
Shellac

I probably won't hit every split 7" single and such but I'll do my best. He's a contentious character who owes a bit to shock value for his initial success as a musician. But, hey, you do what you gotta do. Anyway, I don't think he was ever less than honest - musically or lyrically.

Look up his bio if you're interested and, if you are, then I highly suggest watching the interview that he did with Ian Svenonious on Ian's vbs show called Soft Focus.

Critical reviews are coming. Enjoy
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Old 04-21-2010, 08:27 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Looking forward to this, I'm a big fan of all of his work and love what he did with Nirvana's In Utero.
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Old 04-21-2010, 08:30 PM   #3 (permalink)
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i definitely listen more to music he's mixed/mastered than actually made. love big black though, will be following this.
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Old 04-22-2010, 08:31 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Big Black - Lungs EP (1982)



Songs:
1. Steelworker
2. Live in a Hole*
3. Dead Billy
4. I Can Be Killed
5. Crack
6. Rip

Band:
Steve Albini
Roland TR-606
*John Bohnen – sax

In 1982 Steve Albini unleashed Big Black with their first EP, Lungs. Contrary to the ‘hardcore’ tag that Big Black lives with, they were not that. And they were no more Punk than Suicide was. Nor were they an Industrial band, or maybe they were one of the first Industrial bands..I dunno. But I do know that Albini would be pissed off if he heard you call his band New Wave. Naturally, that’s what Lungs got called when it came out for lack of a better term. But enough about what they were not. Big Black was originally an angry, synth-based band that sounded something like The Cure, Joy Division or the early 4AD bands. Big Black was far angrier than any of those drugged up bands were though. Albini’s anger was clear and direct. Lungs may be more a product of Albini’s rage than his imagination or musical abilities. But all three are on display here. It’s a powerful first release.

For whatever reason, Albini recorded this album mainly with nobody but his Roland TR-606 drum machine

He recorded Lungs himself with a borrowed 4-track and played all the instruments (guitar, bass, synth). His friend played some artsy, probably improvised sax on ‘Live in a Hole’ but otherwise Big Black was Albini alone with his analog machines.

Synth beats and melodies are all over the place here – they often dominate the music. But Albini has his guitars plugged in too and he doesn’t let them go unnoticed at all. He had not fully developed his signature sound but you can hear it on Lungs, made when Albini was just another college kid from the American midwest. Everything about his music is truly his own and has been since the early days. It took him a few years to perfect his repetitive, chunky, precise guitar sound but it was always his. He’s always owned it.

If you read about this EP elsewhere, then you will read about the ‘provocative’ or ‘controversial’ subject matter of these 6 songs. To me, his lyrics are not so cut and dry. He writes about some ugly things but always in a beautifully poetic language. He certainly had no particular agenda or belief that he wanted to express on Lungs but he obviously did want (need) to let go of some anger. The lyrics work towards that end. Clear statements are rarely made, though. In most cases you can imagine several different gruesome scenarios when you listen to his words.

My final critical note is on Albini’s vocals. They vary between an almost-spoken, Lou Reed-without-heroin singing style and angry growls. I love Albini’s anger but his angry vocals do make me laugh a little bit. Albini had the same problem as Dave Mustaine. They both wanted to sound threatening but both were cursed with scrawny bodies and soft voices. So their growls came across as more cartoonish than frightening. Over time Albini got control of his voice and, even on Lungs, it was not ever cringe-worthy. Most of the time the vocals are pretty deep in the mix and the anger comes more from his general tone than from his diaphragm.

The first Big Black release is not as developed as a lot of the later material (after this he uses a band of humans, for one thing) but to me it’s just as enjoyable as any of it. Because of how young, inexperienced, and DIY Albini was at the time, Lungs is a glimpse into the essence of Albini and a crucial listen if you’re into this sort of thing

Dead Billy
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Old 04-27-2010, 08:14 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Big Black - Bulldozer EP (1983)



Songs:
1. Cables
2. Pigeon Kill
3. I’m a Mess
4. Texas
5. Seth
6. Jump the Climb

Band members:
Steve Albini – guitar, vocals
Jeff Pezzati – bass
Santiago Durango – guitar
Pat Byrne – drums

Hey – Albini got himself a band. Not only that but it includes two members of Naked Raygun and one member of Urge Overkill. Granted those bands weren’t overly popular at the time but it shows that Albini has a good sense of taste and talent. The Roland drum machine is on some of the songs but it sounds like Byrne does most of the real hitting. In fact, you can only hear the drum programming in various small parts so I don’t know if Byrne played along with it much or if it was just used very sparingly. Some of the songs don’t have any of it.

The reason any of that is important is because it means that Big Black no longer sounds like an industrial band or a synth band at all on Bulldozer. If I had only heard the first song, ‘Cables’, and was told that Big Black was a hardcore band – I would have believed it. But that’s only because ‘Cables’ is fast; really fast compared to anything on Lungs. ‘Texas’ also goes at a high speed but the rest is pretty mid-tempo.

Another feature of ‘Cables’ is that Albini has a more powerful growl than previously displayed. It even roars a little bit. Not only that but he changes up his vocal style throughout the song, and the whole album really. Angry yells trail off into whines and then get mad again. He’s not always screaming or moaning, though. He also explores the middle path of spat / spoken vocals that he eventually perfected.

Bulldozer is nowhere near the height that Big Black will reach. Albini and his new band are like a baby bird who can spread his wings but does not know how to fly yet. Actually, I like Lungs a lot more. Rather than a good piece of art, this EP is simply a recording with some good songs. That’s not to say that it’s anywhere near bad, especially compared to most other music from 1983, underground or not. Don’t overlook this one; this is Albini fronting Big Black as a full band for the first time and it’s a damn fine effort.

Trivia:
The original EP sleeve was made of metal with the band name etched on with acid


Pigeon Kill


If you listen to Bulldozer and wonder about the meanings behind the words (and I don’t blame you if you do) you should know that Albini writes from a first-person point of view and he can’t possibly be as horrible as all of his characters. For more info – here are the liner notes from the EP..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bulldozer liner notes

side one

these guys in montana would go to the slaughterhouse after school and watch the cattle die for entertainment. they used to describe the prods, hammers, cables and hooks with a kind of hobbyist's fascination. sometimes they helped out.

in huntington, indiana, there is an annual event, the pigeon kill, during which the townspeople feed strychnine-laced corn to the town's pigeons. sometimes the children are given the responsibility of feeding the pigeons. they think of it as play.

people who live in trailer parks, mostly rednecks and truckers, get drunk and ramble, semi-coherently about their problems, moaning, "I'm a mess" and such self-pitying bullshit. sometimes they erupt in fits of violent aggression.

side two

i hate texas.

this guy trained his dog seth to attack black people. he was an asshole beyond that, but that's the sort of thing he'd do. he has a cornflakes box with his photo on the front. he's big in the democratic machine. he tried to beat up a girl tenant in an apartment building he had equipped with illegally-tapped gas and electricity. he bets on sports. the introductory message is from the america first committee telephone hotline.

this song is called jump the climb, which is a title it got before it had any words, so the title doesn't really mean much. this is the first recording made as big black, and the first song written with that intent.

the bulk of this record was recorded in september 1983 at an enormously-expensive 24-track studio in the doglands west of chicago. hedden west studio doesn't deserve a plug here, so don't consider this one. the gear sucked, the house engineer was a bozo and the monitors sounded like tin megaphones.

five hundred dollars please, thank you very much.

some ridiculous engineering by iain burgess (who does deserve a plug here) saved the tapes from steely dan.

thank you iain.
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Old 04-28-2010, 12:50 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I don't know anything farther than Big Black's Songs About Fucing, which I loved, so I am very excited to see what comes out of this.
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Old 04-28-2010, 06:47 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I don't know anything farther than Big Black's Songs About Fucking, which I loved, so I am very excited to see what comes out of this.
It's their most well known album (how can you go wrong with that packaging?) and also maybe their best. Also their last. I hope you find more worthwhile Albini stuff here.
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Old 05-01-2010, 05:17 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Big Black - Racer X EP (1984)



Tracks:
1. Racer X
2. Shotgun
3. The Ugly American
4. Deep Six
5. Sleep!
6. The Big Payback

Band:
Steve Albini – guitar, drum programming
Jeff Pezzati – bass
Santiago Durango - guitar


Racer X is a natural step from the Bulldozer EP. Big Black seems to have found a good balance between the industrial machine-made beats and melodic semi-goth of Lungs and the pure rock action of Bulldozer. The band sounds comfortable for the first time on Racer X. The songs are more complex than ever with a melody thrown in occasionally and guitars being pressured to make music out of aggressive, repetitive strumming. In a way this is the band’s breakout album.

‘The Ugly American’ is a particular standout. It’s typical of what would eventually be called noise rock. Fast and full of noise (what else?) and it also focuses Albini’s rage-style vocals like a laser point on the scope of a sniper rifle. He sounds equally pissed off at the ones who accuse people of being Ugly Americans as he is at actual Ugly Americans.

‘Deep Six’ is the next song and it also stands out with its rockabilly sound. The band sounds no less than bouncy on this one; with a funky bass riff leading. Albini’s voice sounds a little bit like Dave Mustaine again here but there is also some wild high-pitched yelping to even things out. And, yes, the final song, ‘The Big Payback’, is a sort of version of James Brown’s song of the same name. For Big Black it’s funky but it sounds nothing like James Brown.

Overall, I feel a very 80s vibe on Racer X and even though Albini would probably rather make unclassifiable timeless music, he should be proud that this album is classic post-punk that happened incidentally. You can hear several 80s signatures on these songs. A little bit noisy punk, semi-industrial, and even a dash of metal.

If I was a member of the record buying public in 1984 who had been looking forward to the next release by Big Black, I would have fallen all over myself praising the Racer X EP to my fellow consumers. Today, I think all I need to say is: listen to it.

Deep Six
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Old 05-01-2010, 07:49 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I love the instrumental stuff going on but sweet babs his voice is ****ing awful.
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Old 05-01-2010, 08:21 PM   #10 (permalink)
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I love the instrumental stuff going on but sweet babs his voice is ****ing awful.
Well you're halfway there then.
If you stick it out to the end you might find his vocals more tolerable .. but maybe not
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