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Bring It On

Butthole Surfers

Humpty Dumpty LSD
(Latino Buggerveil)

If you moved in certain underground circles during the mid-’80s, you would have had a difficult time avoiding the Butthole Surfers, who toured nearly nonstop for close to four years, leaving the road only briefly to record some of the decade’s most impressive and important independent releases. The Surfers also recorded hundreds of hours worth of material during their halcyon years that never found a viable commercial outlet, excluding the rare bits that trickled out every now and then on tribute albums, early punk compilations or limited releases on the band’s own boutique label, Latino Buggerveil Records.

Come 2002 and the Butthole Surfers have revivified Latino Buggerveil to reissue good chunks of their formal back catalog—and Humpty Dumpty LSD, apparently the first in a series of vault-clearing exercises planned for the upcoming year. This 16-song compilation features cuts recorded between 1982 and 1994, five of them rare collector’s-item-type tracks, the rest having heretofore never seen the light of day. Despite the varied pedigrees and sources of Humpty Dumpty LSD’s songs, however, the album coheres exceptionally well, playing like the great lost Butthole Surfers album that should have followed 1987’s Hairway to Steven, had the group’s classic twin-drum lineup of the ’80s persevered beyond that point.

The breadth of the Butthole Surfers’ vision is impressively illustrated on this sweeping compilation: 1982’s “Just a Boy” and “I Hate My Job” document their punky roots, “Night of the Day” and “Hetero Skeleton” lay out their near-musique concrete approach to sound manipulation, “One Hundred Million People Dead” demonstrates founding singer Gibson Haynes’ mastery of his digital-delay vocal system, and “DADGAD,” “Day of the Dying Alive” and “Ghandi” prove their jam-based, improvisational mettle. Toss in a boss cover of Roky Erickson’s “Earthquake,” the heavy electronics of “Space” (recorded in 1984, years before they’d be accused of selling out by incorporating sequencers and samples on their breakthrough albums, Electriclarryland and Weird Revolution), and “I Love You Peggy,” a searing “girl done me wrong” number featuring wobbly guitar and deranged vocals by cofounder Paul Leary, and you’ve got one of the best independent albums of the year—or of any year between 1982 and 1994 for that matter.

—J. Eric Smith

Primal Scream

Evil Heat
(Columbia; British import)

Primal Scream, one of the great rock bands, don’t make it easy. The Glasgow group work hard to communicate their anger sonically, but don’t emphasize the verbal; Scream demand you submit to their sound, that you drown in it over and over, and it often isn’t pretty. Two years ago, Scream released the fierce, and fiercely political, Xtrmntr, arguably the best rock album of 2000, on Astralwerks, an American label better-known for much softer offerings. Early this month, Scream released Evil Heat, a high-energy, heavily layered collection spanning the Krautrock of “Autobahn 66” and the reverent, churchy “Space Blues Number 2,” on British Sony.

Whether this import will be released domestically remains unclear. What’s clear is its urgency, complexity and ambiguity. Like other Scream albums, it mixes rant and rave, vocals and instrumentals, homages and explorations. Not as political as Xtrmntr, Evil Heat is more cosmic, and it doesn’t include “Bomb the Pentagon,” a controversial single Scream released before Sept. 11. The album’s guests include Robert Plant, whose harmonica wails, deep in the mix, in the stomping psychedelic blues “The Lord Is My Shotgun,” one of the albums’ toughest tracks; supermodel Kate Moss, on a plush, twitchy remake of the Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazelwood hit “Some Velvet Morning”; and Jesus and Mary Chainmaster Jim Reid, rejoining early JMC mate/Scream vocalist Bobby Gillespie on the nasty, punky “Detroit.” Half the tracks were produced by Kevin Shields, My Bloody Valentine’s mastermind; the others, including the pile-driving, technoindustrial single, “Miss Lucifer,” were produced by a gang of Brits and Dutchmen, foremost among them longtime Scream guitarist Andrew Innes. Formed, appropriately, in 1984, Scream scramble the sound of things falling apart with the sound of things coming together, daring you to wonder whether their message is one of Armaggedon or aspiration. They’re dangerously, thrillingly expert at both.

—Carlo Wolff

Brian Wilson

Pet Sounds Live
(Brimel)

There are few artists who could offer up a live performance of a classic 35-year-old album by their former band and have it come off as an utter triumph. Brian Wilson presented Pet Sounds in its entirety in concert in London at the beginning of this year. Backed by a 10-piece band, these are faithful performances of the original 13-song set. Pet Sounds arises here as a great repertory piece—there’s a full and complete dramatic curve to the original work, carefully constructed as a suite (albeit with the inclusion of “Sloop John B,” the one nonoriginal, which was pressured onto the album by other forces).

Given the well-documented shipwreck of a psyche that has troubled Wilson since the height of the Beach Boys’ fame in the mid-’60s, his return to the stage in the ’90s has been movingly transcendent for all who have borne witness. This performance underscores just what a sanctuary the creation of music has been for Wilson. His voice may strain here and there, but the compositions and their arrangements are dazzling mini-symphonies. This is contrasted with Wilson’s between-song patter, which, while well-meaning, is a stilted litany of slightly tilted showbiz-isms, making it clear that social interactions have never come easy for him. This is warmly recorded and passionately performed, and it is indeed a treat to hear this level of artistry spring to life anew on the stage.

—David Greenberger

Check Engine

Check Engine
(Southern)

Indiana’s Check Engine are a side project featuring members of the (slightly) better-known Sweep the Leg Johnny, one of the harder-touring, harder-playing bands of the Midwestern underground. Check Engine’s self-titled debut album, however, sounds nothing like a casual toss-off lark during Johnny downtime: from opener “Where’s My Social Worker” through to the closing “Pain Don’t Hurt,” Check Engine is a smashingly well-written and well-played affair. Merging angular, aggressive guitar-sax workouts like those pioneered by 1969-era King Crimson with Pere Ubu-styled avant-garage improvisations, and a strident dueling vocalist attack that evokes Mission of Burma’s best work, Check Engine is one of the more challenging and interesting records to cross this listener’s desk in quite some time. Since this album’s release, Sweep the Leg Johnny have gone active again (releasing their own record as well), so it’s unclear whether there’s a future for Check Engine or not—although there damn well should be, since the potential documented on this disc is awesome.

—J.E.S.


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