Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More Fun Under the Black Sun

These are the times it pays to have – how shall I say this? – a somewhat more experienced blogging partner.

Trip and I were talking about X, the great L.A. punk/rock band, when I confessed that my holdings were limited to the epic Los Angeles/Wild Gift twofer disc that came out years ago. The band had always seemed a little alien to me, somehow beyond any experience that I understood. When Exene Cervenka and John Doe harmonized, their voices didn’t blend, they collided, leaving shards of jagged debris in their wake. And their songs glowed with a dissonance that was miles from the Ramones’ hardcore bubblegum. It wasn’t that I didn’t like those first two albums – on the contrary, I think they’re brilliant in their own singular way – I just always thought that they’d tide me over until I got around to delving deeper into the catalog.

Trip’s reaction: You’re a dumbass. He didn’t use those words exactly, but the point came through clearly enough. He did cut me some slack. After all, I was just 14 and 15 years old, culturally isolated and musically underdeveloped, when X’s next two records came out. But he explained that I’m a man now, and there’s really no excuse for not owning Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World.

So I ordered them, and they arrived a few days ago. After listening nonstop since then, let me confirm Trip’s diagnosis. I am, in fact, a dumbass.

These records are a revelation, the logical progression of American punk rock (and this is undoubtedly American music, with echoes of Sun Studios if you listen just right) with a tripwire band ready to detonate. Even tighter than before, the sound is as lean as Iggy Pop’s torso, as Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake (who play guitar and drums just like their names suggest) riff and thrash with a desperation and discipline to match John and Exene’s words, a heady combination of direct hits and clever feints that indict both the politics of the day (“The New World”) and their own personal failings (“Drunk in My Past”).

It’s hard to listen to these songs that were largely ignored in their day (a fact the band laments on “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts”) and not laugh at the bloated rot that dominated the airwaves at the time (I’m looking at you, Asia). In fact, and this is completely unfair, but I’ve been listening to Mission Control, the fine new disc by The Whigs, a band that comes out of the same tradition as X, and I feel a little bad for them. Someone covered this territory before, fellas, and they set the bar impossibly high.

Listening to the 1-2 punch of “Devil Doll” and “Paint the Town Blue” (or 8-9 punch if you check New World’s track listing) is like driving a freight train through a tornado, six-and-a-half minutes of fury and heat that threatens to blow apart but only gains strength as it goes. And the bone-dry production defies time. These songs could have been recorded twenty-five years ago. They could have been recorded this morning. They could have been recorded in some future where they have time machines that transport albums back to now for the explicit purpose of blowing our fucking minds.

I’ve made my confession. Do you have these discs? If not, you’ve got some explaining to do.

[We’re in between file servers at the moment, so I have no mp3s to share, but you can go here, here, here and here to check out some tunes]


Anonymous said...

You do not know me, I stumbled upon your blog, bookmarked it and check it out at least once a week for your music posts.

I love X (my favorite American rock band after the Lobos,) so thanks for blogging about them. They're coming to Boston May 20 to play one of the final gigs at the swell club, The Paradise Rock Club. It will be my final show there and a tremendous send off to a legendary Boston club. Can't wait!

Do yourself a favor and get the two Knitters discs. You will not be disappointed.

And the 1987 record "See How We Are" is so underated, it's a shame.

The Exene/John Doe "harmonies" are the exact thing that turned me on to these guys so many years ago.


-tom said...

Under The Big Black Sun is probably my favorite X Album.
The adrenaline rush intro of "The Hungry Wolf" ranks way up there as one of the all time album opening tracks.