(all reviews courtesy of i94bar.com) MP3's
QUICKIES (full reviews below)
TO THE WIRE - Simon Chainsaw (Nova Express)
Latest and greatest from globetrotting Aussie punk Simon Chainsaw (ex-Vanilla Chainsaws). Recorded in France for Lucas Trouble's Nova Express label, with members of Sonny Vincent's band, surf rockers Hawaii Samurai and Holy Curse , this is fast, raw but hooky rock 'n' roll and maybe some of the most frenzied songs Simon has recorded yet. This hard-to-find full-length is only just out and won't last long.
- Simon Chainsaw and The Forgotten Boys (Tronador)
Pair a gravelly-voiced ex-Sydney punk and Brazil's best guitar band and what do you have? The "Basta" album. Thirteen excellent tunes, including the truly great "Million Miles Away" and "Thinking 'Bout It" . Churning backline and dental drill guitars, this feels as good as it sounds. Reviewed here
JUJU - Chainsaw Men (Smokin' Troll)
Criminally under-rated collaboration between Simon Drew/Chainsaw of the Vanilla Chainsaws and San Diego drummer (Gamma Men) and NKVD Records/Noise for Heroes zine Steve Gardner. Simon flew in, Steve summoned up a band and the result is a 12-song CD full of impassioned rock and roll. Melody and guts. Try it - what have you got to lose? Read the story about the album's recording here but don't forget to come back and buy it.
LIBERTY SMILES - Vanilla Chainsaws (Tronador)
Killer double CD compiling the best of this melodic but tough Sydney band and adding rare and unreleased songs. Draws a line through the band's beginnings in a Sydney share house to its fractured end, with recordings from the last "Doom" session. Uniformly strong songs and a guitar attack more reminiscent of some of the SoCal and English punk bands rather than our beloved Detroit. That doesn't mean most of the songs aren't as intense. This South American import is lovingly packaged. Be the first on your block to have one! Reviewed here.
LIGHTS - Vanilla Chainsaws (Phantom)
Hard-to-find 1991 vinyl mini-album by Sydney band the Vanilla Chainsaws, issued on the Phantom label that was owned by ex-Radio Birdman cohort Jules RB Normington (who signed the guys himself). The CD version adds six songs to stand up as a well-rounded full-length album. Includes the single "TS (Was It Really Me)" so there's a clue as to how good it is. Read an interview with Chainsaws songwriter/singer Simon Drew here.
REVIEWS IN FULL!!
BASTA - Simon Chainsaw and the Forgotten Boys
Finally, this one's seen the light of day. A couple of us in the I-94 Bar have been singing the praises of onetime Vanilla Chainsaw-turned-citizen-of-the-world Simon Chainsaw for some time. "Basta" sees him working with a bunch of South American players and this f is a brutal slab of melodic rock that screams out for wider attention.
There's a backlog of Simon Chainsaw material in the can so you really have to ask the question: Does it really take an Aussie based in Brazil to put label resources behind an album like this? As well as "Basta" (recorded while Simon was working in Brazil as a guitar tech for touring overseas bands like Marky Ramone and the Intruders and Killing Joke, some of whom would haul him up on stage), waiting in the wings is a disc with him fronting French Detroit rockers Holy Curse, a record ("Rock n Roll Uranus") spawned by a coupling with Sonny Vincent's German band, an album's worth of classic Oz punk covers (only awaiting guest soloists), a fiery album ("Badass Roadshow") with ex-New Christ/Panadoll Al Creed and another brutal set with yet another Brazillian punk band, the Hippy Killers. Simon writes driving, guitar-based rock with lashings of melody, with growling but tuneful vocals (hence the Chainsaw tag).
These are some of the best - and shortest - songs he's written, all but one clocking in at less than 4mins each. Hooky songs like "Thinking About It" and "Million Miles Away" mix it with grinding ("Bag of Bricks", "Always Wrong") and driving rockers ("Basta" and the Lime Spiders-like Killing Off the Past"). Plus, there's a masterful cover of the Saints' "No Time" that pits guitar against hot boogie piano (the guitar wins, but it's a close run thing).
Dunno why Brazil doesn't spring to mind when someone says "rock" - South America's produced some mind-bending psych in the late '60s and acts like the Ramones are (still) worshipped there in a way that makes the Beatles look like they couldn't have gotten arrested. Simon's lolcal mates, the Forgotten Boys, provide (warning: bad pun approaching) "memorable" backing and are as tighter than a tourist's grip on his wallet in some of the seedier parts of San Paulo. If you want local flavour, the title track is sung for the most part in Portugese. Your guess is probably better than mine as to what Inocentes singer Clemente is singing as guest vocalist, but it sounds OK.
For a while the Vanilla Chainsaws (in retrospect) shaped as worthy contenders on a very crowded Australian scene. That they didn't probably came down to a lot of things, but you have to wonder if Simon hadn't caught the travel bug that his profile in his home country might not be higher. No problem. Get in on one of the best kept secrets and give this a spin. (While you're at it, snap up the Chainsaw Men disc he churned out with ex-Gamma Men drummer Steve Gardner in San Diego too a few years ago. It' cheap as chips from NKVD. (Mail Simon here.) - The Barman
ELECTRIC JUJU - The Chainsaw Men (NKVD Records):
This is a tremendous CD. It rocks in a way that reminds me of the Trilobites, an under-rated '80s Sydney band that never got their just desserts. That's probably an inadequate comparison - this is better than 90 percent of their output and there's a definite English feel to some of the songs. It's the result of a musical collision of Simon Drew, the ex-singer from another Sydney band the Vanilla Chainsaws (a band I never really got - I should have listened harder), and drummer Steve Gardner, late of San Diego's Gamma Men and an expert on - and flagbearer for - most Aussie and European indie music via his late, lamented fanzine Noise for Heroes. The project was organised over the Internet and laid down in San Diego by host Garder, a holidaying Drew, Gamma Man Dave Elizondo and studio owner Richard Livoni. You can read the full story of how this CD was recorded here (it should be called What We Did On Our Holidays) - suffice to say songs like Bad Timing, Meltdown, 100 Miles Away, the sublime Took My Love and You Used to Matter to Me are as catchy as hell. Poppy and rocking - shit, NKVD's own slogan says it better: Energy, Melody and Guts. E-mail Steve and see if you can buy a copy. Better still, if you're a major label, give this the distro it deserves. Link to Simon "Chainsaw" Drew's web site here.
BURNIN' ROCKIN' GHETTO WORLD - Simon Chainsaw (Corrosion
When there's talk about Aussie artists "taking it to the world", the name of Simon Chainsaw (a.k.a. Simon Drew) should come up a lot more often than it does, because he's been taking it to extremes for years. As he proclaims on his web site, "Rock'n'roll has no regard for geography".
This is a sampler distilled from Simon's last four releases, or planned releases anyway. A while ago I decided I wouldn't bother writing about samplers any more. If a sample is good then what's of interest is the actual record that the sample came from and if it's no good then... well, the less said the better.
Only before I was even half way through this CD, I began to feel an uncontrollable urge to start ranting and raving about it. I could have gone next door, battered down technoboy's door and made him cop an earful of what great fuckin' songs these are, but judging by the dumb and bass drivel I so frequently hear emanating from his place at two in the morning, I don't think he has much of a clue about what good music sounds like. I guess that just leaves you and me, but you might be at something of a disadvantage because I suspect I'm the only one of us with the record.
These tracks come from "Basta" (recorded in Brazil with Sao Paulo's Forgotten Boys), "Fire Down Below" and "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" (recorded in Europe with a variety of musicians including members of French bands Holy Curse and Turbolove and most of Sonny Vincent's German line-up, plus on "Fire Down Below" Al Creed from the New Christs) and "Perigo De Vida" (another Brazilian album, apparently with an "all star" cast of luminaries from local bands all over the country). The albums are credited variously to Simon Chainsaw & The Forgotten Boys, Simon Chainsaw's BadAss Roadshow and Simon Chainsaw & The Hippy Killers.
However this barely scratches the surface of Simon's prolific output over the past few years, which also includes the magnificent Chainsaw Men album (a collaboration with members of San Diego's Gamma Men, released variously as "Point Blank" and "Electric Juju", though regrettably not too widely distributed under either title), "Hell Die Glaser Klingen" (by Simon Chainsaw with The Intruders - another collaboration, this time with members of Marky Ramone's backing band), an as yet untitled CD for French label Nova Express (with some of the same musicians from the "Fire Down Below" and "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" albums) and at least an album's worth of classic Oz punk covers (Simon's very keen on Oz's golden decade of the eighties, as he makes plain in "Back to my Roots" on this sampler, but not to the extent of ignoring the present or forfeiting the future).
If you've been visiting this Bar much then you'll doubtless have heard of some of these records already, because the flag has been waved enthusiastically every time it has looked like one of them was going to be turned loose into the wild. Unfortunately when you look at Simon's web site , only "Basta" shows up in the "active" releases section (though it appears he does have copies of both the earlier "Electric Juju" and the Vanilla Chainsaws double CD best of "When Liberty Smiles", also the subject some time ago of an enthusiastic endorsement by yours truly), while "Fire Down Below", "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" and "Perigo De Vida" are all (still) "coming soon".
As if that wasn't enough, he's been back in Australia recently and there's talk of a new band featuring former New Christs Mark Wilkinson and Christian Houlemare, though the latest advice (from that most reliable of sources - a bloke I met in a pub, or in this case a bloke I met at the bar of a floating tavern during the Celibate Rifles Christmas cruise around Sydney harbour) is that some sort of a European tour might happen first, as commitments in Brazil will mean that there won't be time to do anything in Australia before the planned European dates...
One of the major complaints I usually have about samplers is that they tend to be patchy - you just start to get into something and then everything changes. Of course this is an all Simon sampler, so you'd expect a little bit more consistency with it, but then these albums were recorded over a period of three to four years (2000 to 2003) and there's a complete change of personnel every few tracks (each of the four albums gets three tracks apiece), which conversely you might expect would lead to significantly more jarring inconsistencies.
The reality is that there's not too much in the way of inconsistency here at all. Clearly the secret has been to find musicians who want to play the same sort of music that he does and then let them get down to it. He's not afraid to let the other musicians contribute songs either, with Steve Gardner responsible for roughly half the songs on "Point Blank"/"Electric Juju" (including the stand out "Frank Little" and "Meltdown") and Al Creed contributing several songs to "Fire Down Below" (four I think, but I can't place my hand on the cover at the moment and I'm not stopping to look for it now).
The sampler opens with three tracks from "Perigo De Vida", the only album that I hadn't previously heard any promo tracks from, but from the moment that "Get It On" cranked itself up it seemed to be very much the same mixture as before. The Chainsaw trademark sound involves guitars; lots of them. Think Husker Du's hard edged abrasiveness melting into the Buzzcocks' melodic grind, with occasional wailing slabs of lead laid over the top. If you like that sort of thing, then this is definitely the sort of thing you're gonna like!
The other aspect of Chainsaw records of recent years has been the sense of urgency in most songs. Doubtless this has something to do with the "hit and run" circumstances under which they recorded, but there aren't too many slow, self indulgent intros amongst this lot. As soon as Simon's out of the blocks, he's up in your face and going at it full bore. Lyrically there's that same sense of "songs sung as if lives depended on them" that Bruce Springsteen used to have back in the lean, mean days before he could afford his first mansion.
"Get It On" does just that and then "Told Me A Lie" turns everything up a notch. No, that doesn't mean that it's turned up to eleven; there is no eleven. When that guy said that his amp went up eleven, that was just a joke. This is no joke. This is heaving, seething rock action.
For a couple of seconds it seems that "Hard Luck Guy" might be slightly calmer than "Told Me A Lie" but no, this one's a real rager too. Between "Hard Luck Guy" and "Eight Times Lucky" (which manages to work references to both "Eight Miles High" and "Eight Days A Week" into its lyrics) there's hardly a moment's respite to catch your breath. Yep we're out of "Perigo De Vida" and into "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" without seeming to skip a beat (heart beat or drum beat, take your choice).
"Catfight" isn't going to win Simon any fans on the Women's Hour of his local radio station, but I don't think that's his target audience, so no harm done there. Just in case you've been fooled into thinking that it's all stern and unrelenting rock, Simon does have a lighter side which gets a brief airing every couple of albums. The prime example of this would have to be "Joyride" on "Point Blank"/"Electric Juju". Is there a single motor vehicle/sexual innuendo in the English language that's missing from this song? Apparently Jules Normington from Phantom Records once called it the most puerile song he'd ever heard, though given that this is the country where the 3 biggest hits (ever!) are "Sadie the Cleaning Lady", "Up There Cazaly" and "Shut Up-a-Your Face", I'm not sure that this would necessarily be a draw-back, saleswise, if it was true!
Anyway "Catfight" still rocks like fuck and it doesn't last too long (barely two and a half minutes) if you can't get with it and then you're into "Stealin' Fu Manchu", which is an unusual departure for Simon, veering alternatively between muddy stoner heaviness and crisp power pop lightness.
Once again the transition between albums, this time from "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" to "Basta", is barely perceptible. Actually that's not quite right. Out of the four albums sampled here, I'd have to say that "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" comes across as the lightest from this track selection and the "Basta" title track, which is the first of the three chosen for this sampler, is like some sort of aggressive urban renewal set to the sound of loud guitars. It hits you like walking into a shower of falling masonry as the buildings come down around you, so your head is spinning and you're too busy seeing stars to take in the transition.
What you need then is "One For The Road", which is exactly what you get next. The track after that may be "I Was Wrong", but there's no hint of apologies, or regrets, in "One For The Road", which could almost be a hymn to fond youthful memories of cheap alcohol, fast cars and a complete absence of random breath testing; when a bloke could get dumped by his girlfriend, get tanked up (assuming that the "one for the road" being referred to is a drink, although the "I need to unload" rhyme is a trifle ominous) and then just power off into the darkness; not particularly socially responsible I'll admit, but then this is rock'n'roll after all.
I'm not going to talk about the three tracks from "Fire Down Below" at all. That is one fuckin' killer album and I'm stuffed if I know how anyone could pick any three tracks ahead of the other nine. I'm equally stuffed if I can comprehend how that album can continue to languish unreleased...
Having said that, my favourite "Fire Down Below" track at the moment is "Supersonic", which wasn't one of the three chosen for this sampler. While lyrically a flippant couplet like "That rockin' noise is just a tonic/it fills me up like high colonic" might make it sound like Simon's not altogether serious, or else that the song more rightly belongs on "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" (or maybe "Fire Down Below" actually refers to a bowel inflammation?), the tempestuous sea of glorious guitar noise over which the song sails is definitely no laughing matter.
Four albums, with 12 tracks apiece - that's 48 ball-tearing songs in three or four years (well forty seven actually, because "Basta" contains both English and Portuguese versions of the title track)! With Simon chucking so much stuff at the wall, sooner or later something's gotta stick. In the meantime, for an extra three bucks he's chucking this sampler in with anything ordered from his website and I guess that's gonna have to do.
[According to news literally just to hand as I was typing this, the formerly untitled French CD will be called "Down To The Wire", while "Perigo De Vida" will appear as "Told Me A Lie" on Tronador Records some time this year] - John McPharlin
WHEN LIBERTY SMILES - Vanilla Chainsaws (Tronador Music)
This 32 track compilation is presented in a slimline CD jewel case, containing 2 CDs worth of crisply remastered (or in the case of the previously unreleased tracks, mastered for the first time) audio enchantment, plus recording details of each track, all the lyrics and a brief summary of the different personnel line ups (of which there were quite a few) throughout the band's 10-and-a-bit-year history. Boy this package is nicely put together.
It comes from Tronador Music in Brazil (or Brasil as the locals are prone to refer to it apparently), the same mob who released that Spy v Spy double CD comp a couple of years ago, and it's a prime example of what a record looks and sounds like when it's put out by someone who actually cares about the music it contains. I don't know much about this company, except that it's run by an Aussie ex-pat who's been carving out a niche for himself by releasing comprehensive compilations of criminally overlooked Australian alternative rock. Aside from the aforementioned Spies smorgasbord, there have also been Celibate Rifles, Riptides and Chevelles collections and newer releases like the Simon Chainsaw & The Forgotten Boys collaboration reviewed by the Barman not so long ago, with a Spy v Spy triple CD of demos and live tracks to come and a Screaming Tribesmen comp reported to be in the throes of negotiation.
Of course Tronador is not working in a complete vacuum - all of these groups are far more honoured in Brazil than in their own country. In the case of the Vanilla Chainsaws, that overseas recognition not only extends to Germany and France as well, but I understand that front man Simon Drew (or Simon Chainsaw as he often likes to bill himself lately) also has a sufficient profile to be able to get himself more gigs in some of the larger US cities than he can manage around Sydney. This would be sad if it was an isolated case, but of course it's just business as usual - "originality" is only valued here provided it doesn't scare small children and record company executives by sounding too different to what is being imported by the truckload from overseas. If it doesn't fit conveniently into one of the ready-made marketing molds currently in favour, then it doesn't get pushed out into the record bars of suburban shopping centres or played on commercial radio; nor does it find it's way onto free promo copies provided to pontificating journalists in the mainstream press. Bruce Elder feel free to take your head out of your arse and have a look around some time...
I suspect that even some regular bar patrons glancing at this romp through some of the dustier canyons of my mind may be scratching their heads and asking themselves, "What's the big deal, the Vanilla Chainsaws were just another guitar band from Sydney weren't they?"... Well no, I don't think so and this compilation tends to back me up pretty convincingly. However I can understand where such attitudes might be coming from. My first exposure to the Vanilla Chainsaws was "The Worst Place In The World", the imprudent and overextended "cock rock" excess with which their recorded legacy concluded (prior to this release anyway), and initially I couldn't see what the fuss was about either. Only one song from that last ill-conceived effort makes it onto this retrospective. Surprisingly it's neither "Safe" nor "Long Time", the two redeeming tracks in my opinion, but although this remastering of "What's Goin' On?" gives it more clarity than the version I'm more accustomed to, I still find its selection for this collection puzzling.
If I tried really hard, I could probably pick a few more nits, like where is "Everything", the flip side of the first single, or either side of the bonus single that came with the Glitterhouse compilation back in the late eighties? No, I've never managed to score a copy of it either, which is why I'm asking now. Regardless of these minor quibbles, with this compilation I've got my hands (and ears) full enough enjoying all that is there on offer, to worry for too long about what may have been left off. The "Wine Dark Sea", "Red Lights", "Thousand" and "Watching Me" EPs are all well represented (the first two in their entirety), along with a staggering thirteen previously unreleased tracks, including the bizarre amphetamine rave of "Klingon Aliens and the Galaxy" and four songs from the last session by the final line up (with the Murray Shepherd/Rudy Morabito rhythm section); the guitar shredding "Price You Pay" in particular is a serviceable addition to the Chainsaw canon.
The tracklist doesn't run in strict chronological order, starting instead with two songs from the zenith of their "Red Lights" EP (the title track of that and "Liberty", a.k.a. "When Liberty Smiles", the title track of this), before going back to the first, deceptively simple single "T.S. (Was It Really Me)" and the even earlier but never released "When Worlds Collide" - as if your average indie band doesn't have enough problems getting out a record under normal circumstances, the Chainsaws increased the degree of difficulty dramatically by losing the master tape shortly after it was recorded. From there on, the end results of the various recording sessions by the differing line ups jostle for position across well over two solid hours of music, though the four tracks from the final, prophetically named "Doom" session are right where they belong, at the end of the second disk.
With a rhythm section that periodically included former/future members of the New Christs, Celibate Rifles, Screaming Tribesmen and Cosmic Psychos, it shouldn't be surprising that the band left a body of work that packs plenty of punch, but there is also some subtlety to their music as well. While their ringing, wall of guitar sound has been compared with everyone from the Trilobites to early U2, even invoking shades of Husker Du, it's the gruff, gravely vocals (sounding increasingly like a 40 a day Tim Rogers as time progresses) which really characterize the Chainsaw sound (the evocative and previously unreleased instrumental "Mar Do Vinho Tinto" from the "Wine Dark Sea" sessions notwithstanding), expounding lyrics that are impressionistic rather than literal or purely descriptive: explorations of confusion, insecurity, infidelity, trust abused and trust refused, eyes that lied (to borrow Mr Mojo Risin's phrase) and the emotional and spiritual emptiness that results, both individually and collectively (though I can't grasp why he felt the need to take exception to unix programming in the closing "Doom").
In summary: depending on your circumstances, either a comprehensive introduction to or fitting reminder of a band that probably was defeated as much by its constant membership shuffles as by record industry indifference, but could never be accused of being ordinary or uninspired as long as it had a heartbeat. - John McPharlin
KAISER BORDELLO - PRETTY PRINCESSES OF NEW GARAGE - Johnny Yen/Atomic Shack/Holy Curse & Simon Chainsaw (Nova Express)
Hardly a winner in cover art of the year stakes, this
compilation of diverse music from France makes up for its visual failings with
some steamy, off-the-wall and wonderfully perverse garage rock.
OK, gripes out of the way: Holy Curse is one of the Bar's fave contemporary bands and our major disapointment was that this isn't a full length album instead of three tracks of their own and another trio of tunes with them fronted by Simon Chainsaw (of the Vanilla Chainsaws and countless other bands in the process of having stuff released). A bit of a baseless whinge really as Vinz keeps telling us that they're a pack of lazy bastards. So our real complaint is the lack of solid information on the two other acts represented. It was enough to start some judicious digging.
It revealed that the man behind the compilation is Lucas Trouble, ex-member of the Vietnam Veterans (one of their LPs is buried somewhere in the Barman's collection) and a winemaker of repute in Burgundy these days. He runs the record label and contributes keyboards to Johnny Yen and Holy Curse, as well as a dash of fuzz bass to Atomic Shack, the latter a studio band for Jak Dunce, a singer-songwriter influenced by heavy Brit blues and space rock bands of the '60s.
Onto the music and eight tracks by Johnny Yen open the disc. Drummer-vocalist Johnny L has an attack of the Johnny Rottens on the original "Did No Wrong" while the band's take on Del Shannon's "Handy Man" puts a whole new spin on that mouldy oldie. Keef and Mick never sounded like this on their version of "2000 Light Years From Home". This one's fulled by liberal licks of squally guitar and otherworldly vocals. These guys have a keen sense of humour. "The Beach Boys Blues" gets along on the back of a walking Patosh bassline and scuzzy guitars from Fred D and bears no relation whatsoeverto a surf song. More like an acid trip, which is probably what they set out to capture. If you pick the Ben E. King song "Stand By Me" on first listen to the version here, you're a betetr man than me. Eccentric stuff and well worth chasing down.
Five tracks from Atomic Shack and they DO have that heavy blues Brit sound down pat on tracks like "The (Still Untold) Saga of Our Cosmic Rush" and "Listen to the Colours of the Sea". Jak Dunce's vocals are beefed out to good effect with various effects on the latter song, where guest Jack McMorrow contributes some wicked blues harp. On first listen, I didn't think Jak's voice really suited this style of material, sitting as it did at the higher end of the register. Subsequent hearings proved the first impression wrong - it's edgy and fey at the same time. Great drumming from guest skinsman Pete Sputnik and fluid bass from Fab Jack rounds out the package.
With the New Christs now past tense, their biggest French fans, Holy Curse, partially fill the void, mixing hard-as-nails backing with their own psychodramas. "ODed on You" is as good a song as they've put to tape and "Senseless" is not far behind. Eric's vocals manage to swing between brooding intensity and the high drama that only a Frenchman can muster. Lucas Trouble keyboards fill out the sound nicely. "Senseless" is a singalong and a damn fine one. Did we mention I want to hear a new long player from these guys?
In the absence of that, I'll settle for a dose of globetrotting Aussie punk troubadour Simon Chainsaw being backed onthree tracks, backed by the Curse. "Soul on Ice" is the sort of hi-energy but soulful tune his old band, the Vanilla Chainsaws, used to deliver. "Time to Understand" is a little more downbeat with a melodic chorus and some stinging guitar. "Dowanna Love" is a cover of a punk classic by Australia's Babeez and although lacking the snotty amateurishness of the original has more than enough snarl and spirit to satisfy. Listen out for it on a planned series of limited edition Chainsaw singles.
Just goes to show that Euro garage goodness isn't confined to Scandinavia. Want a copy? Drop Holy Curse a line and they'll chase down the perpetrators. - The Barman