Tag Archives: SST

The Chuck Dukowski Sextet – Haunted; OFF! – Off!

The Chuck Dukowski SextetHaunted (Org Music)

OFF!Off! (Vice)

The importance of L.A.’s punk pioneers Black Flag cannot be understated. Even if history only confirms one album, Damaged, as the band’s crowning achievement, you have to consider the band beyond anything committed to magnetic tape. From their grueling tour schedule, to the D.I.Y. ethos of their label SST Records, to their dangerous encounters with the Los Angeles Police Department, Black Flag is a band that could never be duplicated in today’s world. Not that you’d want to, based on their numerous war stories.

Because of this, the members of Black Flag’s continual line-up changes deserve a bit of respect in their post Flag offerings, regardless of how important their career changes were.

For Black Flag’s first vocalist, Keith Morris, that respect was secured with the Circle Jerks, another prominent SoCal punk rock band that continues to inspire and be revered even in the new century.

For Black Flag’s original bassist and occasional wordsmith Chuck Dukowski, the ability to say something nice about his work after Flag becomes a bit of a stretch. After researching and re-listening to Duke’s work in such forgotten SST releases by SWA and October Faction, the best thing that can be said is to leave well enough alone.

It may surprise some that we can now consider both of these alumni as legitimate members of the post-millennium music scene, not just card-carrying SST members looking to cash in on a bit of nostalgia, although both men have participated in at least some kind of reunion effort of their former glories.

Dukowski’s current gig centers around a band that bares his name: the Chuck Dukowski Sextet. The CD6 features Chuck’s wife Lora on vocals, an artist who not only delivers stunning visual pieces (check out the band’s album covers) but also a surprisingly awesome vocal take on the Dukowski penned Flag classic “My War” from the band’s debut album, Eat My Life.

They included the cover on a split 7” they did with Mike Watt’s Missingmen project last Spring. The effort was released on their new record label Org Records as a way to remind listeners of Dukowski’s lineage, a promotional tactic that must have worked since it certainly put the CD6 on my radar.

Keith Morris’ latest band, OFF!, also took flight after a bit of reminiscing and the subsequent falling out between band members trying to revisit old tunes while trying to ignore old personality clashes.

When Morris’ Circle Jerks decided to give it another go, the members found a huge gulf between the idea to make the band just another nostalgia act or to take things a step further by incorporating new songs into the mix. When some members were unable to devote the time necessary to work on new material and when some voiced concern over producer Dimitri Coats’ own work demands, Morris put the Circle Jerks on hiatus and continued to work on the songs that he and Coats had started.

Off! just released their debut album over the summer, and it’s hard to find fault with Morris’ decision or with Coats work ethic and guitar work either.

Off! screams by at barely a quarter-hour, with every second sounding like it’s the most important thing in the world, even when the subject matter obviously isn’t.

Don’t think that Off! is riddled with greasy kid stuff, but there are moments where Morris is able to channel his younger angst. Most notable is “I Got News For You” where the Keith takes a haymaker towards Black Flag and SST founder Greg Ginn. Ginn is pretty notorious for questionable payment practices, and Morris may be the first SST alumni to publicly call him out via a 45-second song, even one that hijacks a line or two from Flag’s “You Bet I’ve Got Something Against You.” “We trudged through sludge and piss/Were never paid for this!” he screams, while Coats does an incredible job of being able to alternate between Ginn’s free jazz chaos and punchy Stooge riffs.

Haunted is the latest offering from the Chuck Dukowski Sextet, and while it’s nowhere near the intensity level of Off’s pace, it’s closer to SST Record’s spirit with its unpredictable tangents.

As with the band’s previous records, the weakest link is vocalist Lora Norton who struggles with pitch, delivery, and a general sense of identity. Usually, she remains in a comfort range of a slow burn stoner, somewhat resembling Opal’s Kendra Smith, without the mystery or consistency.

It’s a family affair for the CD6, and thankfully Norton’s son Milo Gonzalez has shaped up to be a pretty passionate guitarist, giving Haunted its moments of much needed power. With a bit more work and a bit more attention at figuring out exactly what kind of band they want to be, the CD6 remain in this weird purgatory of notable potential with some members clearly dragging their feet on the band’s overall forward movement.

Gonzalez seems stifled with his mother on board as he conjures up visions of Witch Mountain with his axe and wah-wah pedal while Nora plays passive/aggressive with her delivery, stubbornly  keeping Haunted tethered to the ground while the kid sounds like he’s ready to take off.

The worst offender is the eight-minute (that’s half of Off’s entire total time, if you’re keeping track) “A Thing,” which drags on and on like it’s trying to compete as some weak V.U. cover, complete with the obligatory drone violin.

For now, the CD6’s best work remains confined to that out-of-this world “My War” cover, which is unfortunately ironic as the band is clearly trying to branch out from Dukowski’s own past.

And maybe that’s the problem: the CD6 are simply thinking too hard at trying to find themselves, when all they need to do is to try and find the same kind of passion that Morris was clearly able to conjure up in short order with Off!

Audio: Chuck Dukowski Sextet — “All Is One”

Video: OFF! – “Wiped Out”

MP3: OFF! – “King Kong Brigade” (via Magnet)

Saint Vitus – Lillie F-65

Saint Vitus – Lillie: F-65 (Season of Mist)

The running joke with Saint Vitus’ 1986 record Born Too Late was that it confirmed what everyone already knew about the band. It’s like someone stumbled across a lost tribe of the Sons of Silence motorcycle club where downers was part of their food pyramid and the only music they had was an 8-track of Masters Of Reality that played on an endless loop.

Life got mundane for these Earthmovers, so they picked up some instruments and proceeded to break down those Sabbath riffs into their most basic elements, slowing down the tempo until the entire thing sounds like it’s in death throes.

There was no such thing as “doom metal” back then. Instead, Saint Vitus looked like an out-of-touch bunch of stoners who perfected a faithful reproduction of drop D horrorshow and blatant Sabbath worship.

Their records–wonderfully out of place on the hugely influential SST label–all sounded like they were recorded on barely working studio equipment with anything above 10 kHz not even registering because of the primordial ooze of guitarist Dave Chandler selfishly taking over everything else in the mix with motor oil cans of fuzz.

As you can probably guess, Saint Vitus were never appreciated as much as they should have been during their original tenure.

By the time of their second decade, the fruits of their labors began to show in the work of their young admirers, but with Saint Vitus’ sonic quicksand being a decidedly acquired taste, they limped through changes in vocalists while remaining embedding in their underground status.

It’s been seventeen years since their last album, Die Healing, a swan song featuring the band’s original vocalist Scott Reagers that seemed to end the band’s legacy on a high note.

We’ve seen a reunion of the original members since that time, and we’ve witnessed the tragic passing of original drummer Armando Acosta. What we haven’t seen is a return of vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, and the line-up that some fans consider to be the band’s peak.

In fact, you’d have to go back even farther than the last album since we last heard Wino front Vitus. It was a series of live shows and the addition of new drummer Henry Vasquez that prompted the creative spark that brings us Lillie: F-65

The curious title comes from a particular downer that guitarist Dave Chandler enjoyed back in the day, no doubt fueling the incredible slow tempo that is at vital to this band as the sludge it hermetically seals inside each measure.

For me to instruct novices to begin with Saint Vitus’ earlier catalog would be a disservice to how good Lillie: F-65 really is. Within seconds, Chandler’s guitar picks up exactly where it left off nearly two decades ago, still as primordial as ever.

New drummer Vasquez speaks the same language as the late Armando, but he beats the skins in such a way that it’s tough to gauge if he’s paying tribute to his predecessor or trying to hammer nails into the coffin of his legacy. He’s heavier than Armando while unmistakably fitting into the line-up better than anyone else who may have applied for the position.

Add these two forces together and you’ve got an album of such stunning aggression that you’d be forgiven if you view Sabbath’s own reunion with ambivalence. With nothing to gain, Saint Vitus seems to pride itself on proving how little they’ve moved their metal glacier from its original placement and how even the most rudimentary arrangements can reign as the heaviest element on metal’s periodic table.

The album’s last two selections serve as the highlight of this wonderfully brief effort. At only a hair over a half-hour, “Dependence” is a seven-minute cautionary tale of excess, complete with over two minutes of ear-damaging feedback to drive back anyone hoping for a bit of compromise.

The next song takes it even further, doing away with any resemblance of melody and ignoring any need for lyrics. “Withdrawal” is nothing more than two of layers of Chandler’s feedback, one of which pans back and forth between channels like a turret gun aiming for survivors.

There aren’t any, when it comes down to it, except for the members of Saint Vitus themselves who not only survive, but add to their legacy with Lillie: F-65. What is remarkable is how they do it: tapping into the fountain of youth of the same formula that once had them labeled as born too late.

Video: Saint Vitus – “Let Them Fall”

Lost Classic: Opal – Happy Nightmare Baby

Opal - Happy Nightmare BabyOpalHappy Nightmare Baby (SST)

In the annals of rock history, there are moments when record labels—particularly independent ones—had incredible runs of creative peaks and consistency in the output of their roster.

SST Records‘ run ended around 1988, right at the moment they began clogging up their release schedule with Zoogz Rift albums and other records of dubious relevance. But prior to the company’s stoned disregard of consumer appeal and accurate bookkeeping, the label had a far-reaching roster that touched on many different subgenres and musical styles.

Formed out of the ashes of the Dream Syndicate and the Rain Parade, guitarist David Roback and vocalist Kendra Smith brought the Paisley Underground to the SST catalogue, and they managed to provide the label with one of the best examples of SoCal dark psychedelic since the Doors walked on down the hall.

Continue reading Lost Classic: Opal – Happy Nightmare Baby