Friday, February 20, 2009

CD Reissues of Note: Flipper, Volcano Suns (...and the Spores!)

Funny about CDs: now that I'm "back on vinyl" (thanks largely to Dan Kibke and Mats Gustafsson), they suddenly feel like an archaic format. I mean, people will still be using them years from now, to be sure - they're useful as a means of data-storage and transfer, handy as a way of playing music portably if you lack an MP3 player or such, and they're a cheap way for bands to present their music to people, as a sort of "audio calling card" - but compared to vinyl, they feel oddly outmoded and unworthy of respect, small crappy little plastic things that have had their time and are on the way out. It's kind of strange that they're still being manufactured - I can't really say "sold" - in such number. While I understand why specialty shops like Zulu, Scratch, and Red Cat continue to do okay, as I assume they are doin', catering to hardcore music freaks like "us" who are a) often artifact-oriented and b) always on the prowl for "new stuff" - I walk through HMV in a state of wonder that it's still even open; they've lasted longer than I figured, but I sure I hope they aren't counting on their scanty customers to pay their rent! At least 75% of the CDs on their shelves is stuff I can't conceive of people buying in the first place, mind you: mainstream product from the fat end of the long tail, or the simple product of ossified corporate non-hipness (they don't have an "avant-garde" section, but they have a pretty big "easy listening" one - do you figure there's a lot of people on the prowl for Lawrence Welk these days?). It amuses me even more that they're stocking vinyl and books now, too; the Virgin Megastore, in that location, used to, but they were both things that HMV got rid of when they moved in...

However, there are still occasional CD reissues of note to old punks like me. Flipper's back catalogue came back into print late last year, much to the chagrin of eBay sellers. There was a time when they were being hailed as proto-grunge (and their upcoming album features Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, though I gather he has since left the band). Really, though, Flipper - noisy, sludgy, sloppy old Flipper - seem more of a genetic aberration than something that spawned successful progeny, a branch of the punk evolutionary chart that has very few sub-branches. The buck stopped with Flipper, and that's probably not a bad thing; they were pretty messed-up! Still, it's great to have Gone Fishin' and Public Flipper Limited again, both of which I always preferred to Generic Flipper, which is a tad obnoxious at times, for all its grand moments ("Shine"). Not that I didn't snap up Generic Flipper as well. My favourite Flipper moments are the overproduced (relative to their sound) art-rock of Gone Fishin' - check out "Survivors of the Plague" or "One by One" or "In Life My Friends." And I'm really fond of the depressed, depressing, epic slouch of songs like "Hard Cold World" and "If I Can't Be Drunk" on the live album; lyrical images talking about being a ship "half-sinking, half-sailing" worked their way into my angsty teen self-definition, and the sheer masochistic joy of a song like "The Wheel" (with its screamed sole lyric, "I am the wheel") somehow has an ultimately strengthening effect - character-building, say, like beating yourself with a belt (I did that when I was younger, sometimes, too). None of it sounds quite as exciting to me as it did then, I confess - at least some of what seemed "musically adventurous" to me in the 1980's now seems dangerously close to "really bad playing" - but having this stuff around in some format or another is essential; it's like re-growing a missing limb, so the phantom itches and twinges are finally attached to something again. Now: do I want to get the vinyl reissues too? (4 Men with Beards put out great stuff and should have 180 gram Flipper vinyl out in early March).

Much as I'm grateful that Flipper's back catalogue is back together, there are a couple of other re-releases this month that I'm even more excited about: the Volcano Suns' Bright Orange Years and my fave of theirs, All Night Lotus Party, which I bought in the 1980's at Odyssey Imports simply because I liked the cover (above). The Volcano Suns were a spastic offshoot of Mission of Burma, led by drummer Peter Prescott. When reviewing Mission of Burma's last show in town for The Skinny, I called Prescott a "perverse and fearless tribal imp whose algebra devolved at a slightly faster rate than the rest of the bands’, sucking them down into the maelstrom like an anchor plunged into insanity for long mid-song freakouts of pure spazz," in a sentence I remain rather fond of. Unlike those of you who might know of them only as a MoB side-project, my primary association with the Volcano Suns is, in fact, the Volcano Suns, whom I caught at the Cruel Elephant back in the day, touring, I think, Bumper Crop (the next album of theirs I hope gets a CD reissue, though it may be asking too much. Career in Rock, their other essential album, is in fact available on CD, though you'll have to scour used stores for it or such). I saw lots of bands at the Granville Street location of the Cruel Elephant: the Dwarves, the Melvins, Tankhog, All, Helmet, and more. Of them all, the only gig that I still talk about, or have anything like a clear memory of, is the Volcano Suns. The place, not long for that location, was literally falling apart; water was streaming from the roof from the rain outside, dribbling into big white buckets spaced about onstage. The overhead lights had burned out - the show was mostly floor-lit, and steam was rising from those lights - and every now and then the stage or the pit would receive a glop of sodden insulation, plopping down from the ceiling. Amidst this all, heedless of the possible (and highly tangible) danger of electrocution, the band played, shirtless and damp and fearless and ferocious, with Prescott singing from the drumkit (a feat I always find amazing); it was one of those concerts that feel forever like more than a concert, and I can still remember my happiness to hear some of the songs from All-Night Lotus Party (like "Walk Around") being played. I think I can fairly say that I remember that show more vividly than I remember the first time I had sex (sometime thereafter, truth be known) - it was certainly the more intensely physical experience. So no matter that I've already snapped up All Night Lotus Party off eBay on vinyl: I've got the CD reissue, too, now, and man is it good. There are abundant outtakes and bonus cuts - including a deeply twisted "dub" version of "Walk Around" that has to be heard to be believed - and I've been walking around singing "Room With a View" to myself, almost feeling like I'm 19 again (except nowhere near as depressed or confused, thank fuck). I barely know The Bright Orange Years, so that's a fun experience, too. Now how about a Volcano Suns tour, Peter? (I even have an old Volcano Suns t-shirt I can wear, though I'd have to lose 50lbs to fit into it).

And to pay tribute where its due, all three of the Flipper CD reissues that I bought and both the Volcano Suns ones were snapped up at HMV. (They appear to have gotten them before anyone else, believe it or not).

I'll have more to say about CD reissues next month - it's approaching time that I publicly enthuse in a local format about the Spores' News Weather and Spores comp on Sudden Death, which I'm even MORE excited about than the CDs above - but I'll wait until a certain magazine publishes my Spores piece, so I can plug two birds with one blogpost. Besides - fungus needs to grow quietly in the dark for a long time before it's ready to stick its head out into the world...

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