Mainly a batch of re-acquisitions, with a couple of new-to-me things. . .
Biff Bang Pow! — Oblivion (1987)
Vintage British jangle from the peak of the whole thing. It's not a very breathtaking album, but it sure is danged good. It's just like all good 80's jangle bands: sounds like it could have come from the sixties, but has that nostalgic (for me) 80's sheen in the production. I would definitely liken this to bands like the Field Mice or even Belle and Sebastian. It was Alan McGee's main band before he decided to step out of the spotlight and sign bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine to his label (and then there was that one group from Manchester that he signed a little later). Overall, ten songs, barely thirty minutes and not a bad one in the bunch. Pure pop, pure jangle. Just being who I am, I'd have a hard time not liking it, honestly.
Karate — Cancel/Sing (2002)
Karate, in retrospect, is just "post"-fucking-everything. Post-punk, post-rock, post-hardcore, post-jazz, post-prog — you name the genre, they're recontextualizing the everloving snot out of it. This became more into focus when they released their fourth album Unsolved in 2000 (John Pruett, you're a dick and it obviously went completely over your head). By the time the band released this two song, twenty-six minute EP two years later, it just seemed to make sense that the band would release something that would otherwise be classified as a sound labyrinth. 'Cancel' seems to be the song that people recognize from this one, and it's a fine piece. Lulling and doodly guitar fun until Geoff Farina finally hits his fuzz pedal about six minutes in and then it goes into the technical wizardry that the band became known for. The droney, Can-esque textures achieved in the middle portion are fun. 'Sing' on the other hand, is arguably the band's best song. It starts off as another rambling noodle of a song, but when it finally gets going, Geoff Farina's finest set of lyrics will open itself up to reveal one of the finest songs I've ever heard in celebration of music. Using music as a coping mechanism for the stresses of everyday life is something I'm sure everyone can relate to (top lyric: "If Crass called the Clash, 'the Cash', then my stash would make them laugh, because even real injustice just makes me want to sing"). The build-up is natural, fluid and exhilarating and the last five minutes of the tune are arguably the best thing the band ever put to tape. The final two minutes are especially good. And, if nothing else, it's a rare moment of purely rocking out in the band's later material.
Karate — Some Boots (2002)
This was the first new album by the band that came out after I became a fan, so it's nice to finally have it back in my collection. It pretty much continues in the vein of Unsolved, uninterrupted. That album and this one are actually pretty interchangeable. The only big difference is that Geoff Farina favors his noisier, fuzzier, more distorted guitar tone on all of the songs here. But still, he plays all of those rhythmic, comping parts in that deliciously jangly tone. There are hints of the expanded textures and long buildups that the Cancel/Sing EP hinted at (the dubby, psychedelic time signature maze in the second half of 'Original Spies' is a fine example of how the band was able to abridge their explorations on that EP into an equally as listenable six minute song). Longer form songs dominate, as only two of the album's nine tracks are less than five minutes. But still, I might say this is arguably the most representative album the band ever made (either this one or pockets). The screeching, disjointed guitar workout that is 'In Hundreds' sounds like Second Edition-era PIL, in absolutely the best way that someone possibly could have in 2002. My favorite Karate song is 'Airport' and 'Remain Relaxed' is one of the band's best ballads and both are on here, so yeah. It was my summer soundtrack in 2002. Total winner.
Solbakken — Pinanti (1999)
Solbakken. Jesus christ. Fucking Solbakken. First things first: I used to have fucking all of their albums. All of them. You know, those ones that you don't see anywhere on any American webstores? The ones that are expensive, even on European websites? Those ones you can't even find on illegal downloads when you search blogs for hours on end? Yeah, I had all of those. Why, you might ask, did I get rid of them? Because, my friend, I am a very stupid man. A very, very stupid man. My first introduction to Solbakken were two songs on one of Konkurrent's In the Fishtank albums: 'A Taste of You and Me' (sung by bassist Klaas Schippers) and 'Your Cave' (sung by guitarist Empee Holwerda). I was big into the Black Heart Procession at the time, but those two songs —obviously being Solbakken's contribution to the sessions— made me take a step back and realize just how much better this unknown band was than the band I had purchased the record for in the first place. It had a chilly, Nordic quality. Like kind of Kraut rock, but more soulful. Sigur Rós, if they just rocked all the time. The band just sounds like the weirdest, Euro-centric hybrid of a Sonic Youth-y noise rock combo, but more concerned with tunefulness. A post-rock band, but more concerned with poppy hooks. A super technical math rock band, but more concerned with moods. I've come to conclusion that absolutely no description will ever do. They just don't sound like anyone else I've ever heard. As for this album, it's the band's second, and such it's a little more raw than they would ultimately become. But still, the layers and mini-movement, song-within-a-song feeling that a good chunk of the material has here definitely points the way towards their future achievements. It is a bit more unpolished, so a song like 'Montana Tiger' that is otherwise a rather interesting little tune, comes off kind of ramshackle (but is a bit charming because of that). Some songs like the Joy Division-esque numbers 'Youth Camps' and especially 'Four Sundays Left' are so dense and utilize so much low end dynamics that you may forget that it's just three guys in the band (indeed, Klaas slips in some chords at times to make the otherwise grey tunes a little bit more colorful — which isn't to say that the shade of grey as portrayed here isn't magnificent; because it is). The couple usages of sitar throughout and the slant towards isolated lyrics (an ongoing theme in the band's whole catalogue) make for a really out of place sounding mini-masterpiece. It's mostly Empee's album, as he sings about 80% of it and overall, it strikes me as what post-punk should have evolved into (and considering that Klaas and Empee have longstanding roots in the Dutch new wave scene, dating back to the mid-80's, this is no surprise).
Solbakken — Klonapet (2003)
I've played this album for fans of many different styles of rock music and they all agree: it rocks. This is a godlike masterpiece. Jelle Buma had been sitting in on drums since their previous album Zure Botoa and I've long had a theory about a band needing that right feel behind the drums for them to completely fulfill their potential. Klonapet is just pure brilliance for all of its fourty one minutes. I did not include it in my best of the decade wrap-up because I had foolishly traded in the band's entire catalogue (you're welcome to whoever scored them all at Amoeba in Berkeley) and I felt like there was too much distance between me and the last time I had heard it to genuinely get behind it. Revisiting now, it's easily among my albums of the 2000's decade — and probably among my favorite albums ever. 'Love Interest' is one of the most perfectly weird pop songs I've ever heard. It was offered as a free download on the band's (now non-existent) website and I played it on repeat for hours in those days when I awaited that package from Norway. What's actually pretty surprising about this album is that, besides Klaas taking most of the lead vocals, there is a slant towards an angular, metallic attack in the sound of the guitars. If you take the final movements in songs like 'Entertain the Elderly' and 'Space Bordello' and listen to them outside of the context of the rest of their respective songs, you may try to peg the band as some sort of nu-metallers. Things like the trumpet on 'Relaxing Yourself to Death' or the marimba on 'Dung', however, moot that entire statement. The instrumental 'Mickey' points the band directly towards the 'post-rock' section, while 'Small and Evil Hole' sounds like the Pentangle floating in space. So, it's another confusing affair to be sure. But, it's completely solid. I love this album. It's a stone cold modern day classic. I just wish more people knew who they were.
Kanipchen-Fit — Multibenefit (2010)
Wish I hadn't been such a miser on this one last year, because it's actually really damn good. It's Empee Holwerda from Solbakken, his wife (?) poet/artist Gloria Williams and a drum machine (although, the band's website features three early very Solbakken-esque demo recordings from 2005-ish with Jelle Buma on drums — click on 'news' to listen). I guess the main thing on display here is Empee's guitar playing, because, as most of this album was seemingly recorded live, he colors the songs with all kinds of textures and dynamics that you can only sit back and marvel at (not to mention that Solbakken fans will recognize his tone instantly). The layers and resonance of songs like 'Radio Torture' and 'Pay More' are just striking when you consider that it's only one guitar, one drum machine and two voices creating the music. The themes on this album lyrically are more overtly political than anything Solbakken has done, but I'll be darned if I don't get that great isolated Solbakken vibe from songs like 'Vodka Rescue Team,' 'Pay More' and 'Rainfall.' Overall, not a complete masterpiece, but it's an update in the Solbakken story that I didn't see coming. If the band is no more, this is a new direction, but a promising one.