Ego Summit

The Room Isn’t Big Enough(Old Age No Age 1997)

http://www.mediafire.com/?h3dy2gmpjde

Many of my formative years were spent in a sleepy college town near Pittsburgh. It was during this time that my older and wiser friends instilled a deep love for the musics of both Pittsburgh and its close neighbor, the state of Ohio. It was a hard sell to a young man who used to look to Melody Maker and the NME for musical discoveries, but it wasn’t long before they had me thinking that the Bassholes, Speaking Canaries, Guided by Voices, V-3, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Don Caballero, Karl Hendricks Trio, etc. were the bee’s knees and that my prior loves were a bunch of flimsy powder puffs. To be honest, there was a grit and ramshackle charm to all of the aforementioned bands that opened my ears to musics far less polished than my dainty ears were accustomed. I guess one could make the argument that other midwestern cities harbored bands who excelled in the art of the artless, unpretentious pop genius, albeit in a mangled form. It may be a broad and possibly offensive generalization, but the similarities are not surprising since these musicians were probably bored by the same things, listened to to similar records and rounded up fellow weirdos to pass the time making music. I rarely, if ever hear modern music that sounds like anything from this era because its best bands were products of a certain time and place that is hard to imitate or improve upon.

Despite my gushing like a Twilight fan, I am far from an expert on the backroads of both locales. Therefore, It took me more than ten years to discover what may be the best American rock albums of the 90s. Man, even I think I am being a bit hyperbolic as I type those words, but I have listened to this record dozens of times in the past year and it is such a bitter, misanthropic listen that it kind of sticks to you like tar after a few listens. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of really vulnerable man feelings being expressed here. A lot of material deals with fucked protagonists trying to make sense of love, disappointment and their direction in life, but maybe that is because Jim Shepherd of V-3 is involved. That man always knew how to make the ugliest sentiments somehow sound uplifting in a damaged way that made you wonder if you related a bit too much to his worldview. 

Now, what in the hell does Ego Summit have to do with Pittsburgh? Well, absolutely nothing, but I’m always looking for a way to piggyback my own backstory into these piddling reviews. However, Ego Summit were as close to a supergroup that Ohio could muster in the mid 90s. I am biased in this praise since Don Howland(Bassholes), Jim Shephard(V-3) and Ron House(Great Plains, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apts) were three of my favorite songwriters at various points in my life. They were joined by fellow stalwarts Mike Rep and Tommy Jay and their one and only album, The Room Isn’t Big Enough, somehow accommodates their divergent styles and tastes into something that is cohesive despite sounding as if the wheels may pop off at any moment. 

The opener “Beyond the Laws” epitomizes why I love this album so. The opening riff is one part Stones boogie, one part extended psychedelic jam before Ron House goes off about some nihilistic vision quest where he is going to go beyond the laws of man and hope that someone reels him back in before he goes too far. If that wasn’t morbid enough, Jim Shepard’s “Illogical” follows it up with a confused anthem that kind of breaks my heart despite its anthemic qualities. It is ultimately about a man who finds the entire world around him to be illogical and all too easy to throw away. It is even sadder when put in context of his suicide in 1999. The rest of The Room Isn’t Big Enough lets in little sunlight as subsequent tracks champion the numbing of all feelings and emotion, the futile nature of domesticity and loathing of the American dream. These are sincere expressions of disillusionment with life, country and lasting relationships with all women. The malaise and deep dissatisfaction with life in a decaying city located in a fucked up country permeates each song and it kind of drags you down into the mire. When listening to Ego Summit, I guess you either thank your lucky stars that life hasn’t crushed you in such a manner or embrace their misanthropic musings as gospel from those who got stepped on just like you.

V-3-Photograph Burns

November 11, 2008

V-3

Photograph Burns (American/Onion 1996)

http://www.mediafire.com/?bng3hcygd43

Rick Rubin’s American label started an offshoot named Onion Records that was run by record collector extraordinaire and Matador Records alumni, Johan Kugelberg. Kugelberg wasn’t given long to establish the label, but the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, V-3 and Brad Laner’s Electric Company weren’t exactly the most accessible acts to invest into during your opening salvo. Personally, I loved all three of these releases although the Stiffs Inc. and God Lives Underwater albums left me cold. Anyway you slice it, the label gave all three a wider stage to exploit during the last days of the major label feeding frenzy of indie rock esoterica and its also-rans.

I really found it kind of heartbreaking that V-3 mastermind and Columbuis, OH icon jim Shepard committed suicide in 1998 because Photograph Burns was the one album where he was able to channel all of his misanthropy and alienation into something conflicted and beautiful. It’s an angry and somewhat hateful album that takes aim at love, friendship and a multitude of betrayals, but avoids the psychedelic ugliness and swaths of noise that masked the bruised heart at the center of his work. It doesn’t hurt that his backing band tears through the punk numbers with a ferocity that finally matched the seething emotions rampant in his previous work. The opener “American Face” may be one of my favorite punk songs of the 90s as it busts through the gates like the MC5 as Shepard rails against American egotism while wishing he could remain in a narcotic cocoon. It’s full of loathing of country and self wrapped in a catchy shambles of a tune that I never get sick of listening to these days.

The slower tunes remind of Smog’s mid 90s work on Red Apple Falls and Doctor Came at Dawn if they were influenced by Chrome and the Killed by Death Series. In fact, Photograph Burns reminds me alot of Chrome’s Red Exposure if you subrtracted the beats and added even more bad intentions. When you trace the steps through his discography, Photograph Burns is even more depressing since his battles with narcotics and depression become apparent. I never knew the man, but his albums make me wish he found some sort of peace in his end because his music is a portrait of a tortured soul who never found any semblance of happiness.

Various Artists

Killed by Death: Volume One

http://www.mediafire.com/?jdyu7mmbtwl

Johan Kugelberg is somewhat or directly responsible for many things that I love in life: Ugly Things magazine, The Monks reissue and the major label debut of Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and V-3 as well as his crowning achievement, the first four volumes of Killed by Death.

The early Killed by Death comps document punk’s most belligerent and brilliant moments circa 1977-1982, but later comps piss in the bathwater and shine a light on lesser mortals. However, the first four volumes may be the most primal collections of punk I’ve heard. It belongs next to the Nuggets, Pebbles and Back to the Grave compilations as a logical extension to their documentation of the rawest nubs of rock. You can hear the groundwork for hardcore and other offshoots of punk in each track. However, these tracks bear little resemblance to British punks like the Clash, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks and the Damned. The Ramones, Dead Boys, Voidoids, Dickies and Pagans were more up their alley.

Punk has always been a singles scene for me. Outside of the Wipers, Wire, Clash, Pere Ubu, Drive Like Jehu, Cheater Slicks, Oblivians, Saints and Real Kids, I cannot name many punk albums that I will listen from end to end without complaint. Therefore, these comps appeal to me because they skim the fat and leave us with the most lean, deserate sounds of American punk. Personally, I strongly believe the first volume of Killed by Death is flawless in every way. It captures the crude, ham-fisted glory of all that was great about this era in music.