Iran-The Moon Boys

August 25, 2009

Iran

The Moon Boys(Tumult 2003)

http://www.mediafire.com/?xfzgntxay4m

I was sorely disappointed by Iran’s latest album, Dissolver, because it stripped away all of the scuzz and feedback that mated so perfectly with their wayward way with a simple melody. Yeah, its “progression” probably had a lot to do with the addition of TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone to the band, but their newfound clarity always aims for the bullseye where Aaron Aite used to revel in mistakes and missteps. By no means is Dissolver a bad album, but count me in the minority who find Aites’ embrace of chaos more appealing than his attempts at an orderly pop song. Then again, six years have passed since The Moon Boys was released and god knows that time has a funny way of adjusting the way you view the world. Therefore, let us take a few moments to pay tribute to an album that may be one of the best albums Siltbreeze, Xpressway, Shrimper or Catsup Plate never released. Yes, these are obscure benchmarks, but it was rare that any of these labels released a perfect marriage of noise to pop even though I wanted so hard to believe that it was so. Yes, the Dead C, V-3, Yips, Amps for Christ and other disparate souls have come damn close to this holy union, but I always reach for this album over anything in their discographies.

The synthesis of noise and pop is hardly an underground concept. God knows that the Jesus & Mary Chain made some moolah with their own jigsaw of Phil Spector and white noise and the whole shoegaze scene was based upon sensual coos and a lusher brand of feedback and squall, but The Moon Boys stands out because there is a sprawl to their compositions that seems epic comparison to the aforementioned bands’ succinct slices of sweet and sour. Sonic Youth’s “Hyperstation” from their Daydream Nation seems like the most accurate touchstone for Iran’s music circa The Moon Boys. I remember listening to “Hyperstation” at 3am as a teenager and imagining if there was another band that could conjure the same loose, late-night vibe where a psych-pop song sounds as if it was heard via a faraway AM station many states away from your destination. This album does that for me throughout its entirety. Then again, I am a former insomniac who used to listen to the scratchiest transmissions instead of counting sleep or drinking warm milk, so my bias is evident.

The imperfections are what make The Moon Boys so gripping. Don’t be fooled that melodies worthy of Brian Wilson lurk beneath the muck because these tunes tend to stretch out in sometimes difficult directions. What does stick out is Aaron Aites’ guitar work as he somehow straddles the line between outright sabotage and grubby melody. No song really even stands out here as the overall effect of it as an album is what gets me every single time. I approach it as a long rambling epic where slow, atonal riffs last for days only to be replaced by some of the most simple and sweet notes that shake all of the pieces back into proper balance. Iran always stride close to the edge only to reconfigure themselves as something so sentimental and tender that you almost forget you were listening to a staccato riff seconds before. The Moon Boys is admittedly a bit of a mess, but I hear something new each time I try to reassemble the pieces.

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.