Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wailing Ultimate

Though I’m never shy about digging around for a few good, classic tunes, and pride myself on amassing a kick ass collection of dance floor nuggets through my own hard labor, and thrifty, Scottish sensibility, I do get tired of the endless trainspotting, nostalgia and — dare I say it and not sound like a hypocrite — blogging about obscure records from club music’s yesteryear. Be it Italo, boogie (or cheesy but often glorious, ‘80s pre house, electro-funk), early house and garage, after a while it gets all bit too tedious and spectator driven for me.

When I feel that way then I explore some new music that’s not dance oriented, like indie rock or folk or some classic punk rock, like Wailing Ultimate. This was released on the now defunct Homestead label, a sub-label of the also now defunct Dutch East India Trading, a New York distributor that released selected titles like US domestic pressings of Peel Sessions. Wailing Ultimate was a sampler of all the great bands on Homestead’s roster, and is pretty much replete with stunning and almost stunning tracks by an array of obscure and not so obscure mid ‘80s indie rock and hardcore outfits.

If you’re a fan of Hüsker Dü, The Pixies or Throwing Muses, then you’ll love this record, if you can find it as I believe it’s out of print. Dinosaur Jr. are on here — as Dinosaur without the Jr. suffix — with the stellar “Repulsion,” as is Big Black’s “Il Duce,” a mind blowing fusion of drum machine, noisy guitars and Steve Albini’s caustic lyrics and vocals. “The Well” by Salem 66 shows some ‘60s influence as does my personal favorite track, “Valley Of The Gwangi” by Phantom Tollbooth. Many years (like fifteen maybe) after I had heard this song on a copy of The Wailing Ultimate that my buddy Johnny took back to Galway from a trip to the US in '87, I walked into Amoeba Music on the Upper Haight and Guided By Voices were playing a song instantly recognizable to me but which I couldn’t put a name on.

After thinking about it for a minute I figured that it must be a track from Wailing Ultimate, probably “Valley Of the Gwangi” by Phantom Tollbooth. How I figured that out I don’t know but it so happens that Robert Pollard the Guided By Voices frontman rerecorded Power Toy, the third album by Phantom Tollbooth, added new lyrics, and released it in 2003 as Beard Of Lightning. The three original members of the band were on there too and even with Pollard on board the outfit was still called Phantom Tollbooth. “Valley Of the Gwangi” is a blistering three minutes and fifteen seconds of super fast, psychedelia and free jazz inflected punk rock with the best start and stop on a dime timing this side of Fugazi. It also feels like an early and raw manifestation of math rock and and is just straight up bloody awesome. Check it on the play list for proof.

There are other gems too, “Song of the South,” by Breaking Circus, “Sun God” by Squirrel Bait and “In a Glass House” by Antietam, as well as tunes by Naked Raygun, Big Dipper and Live Skull. This album is testament to a serious peak in American rock music before the more polite and twee college rock sound took over in the ‘90s and the angst and rage dissipated. This was hard core punk embracing other influences like psychedelia and jazz, and running with them. The late ‘80s wasn’t all just Chicago house and hip-hop, there was this glorious noise too, and Wailing Ultimate takes me back to a time when all the music coming at us felt like it was revolutionary, probably because it was. Someone reissue this please!



Stitch said...

OMG, this is one of the most influential records ever to me! You can't imagine what it was like to come across that music at the age of 15 in Germany in the late eighties. Total new horizons, a whole new world. And funny, how you also pick "Valley of the Gwangi" as the standout track(among standout tracks) - that song must be heard to be believed. They don't do songs like that anymore, ya know ;o)

Anonymous said...

i love this album. have it on cassette!

BananaSpam said...

Thank you sirs for checking in. Yes, a great friggin record!!!!

mike said...

I really wish I could download this,just picked up a used copy on lp,still love this comp!

Stewart A. Williams said...

Along with Human Music, this was an absolutely essential compilation for mid 80s college porch parties.