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The underground rock scene lost a giant this week when guitarist Bruce Anderson passed away. He was a founding member of the seminal avant-garde rock group MX-80.

They were originally known as MX-80 Sound, but shortened their name pretty early on.

I first discovered MX-80s truly unique sound when I lived in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago in the early 2000s.

I lived just a few short blocks from Evil Clown Compact Discs. This was a fantastically curated music store that didn’t stock much from the major labels and focused on smaller, independent labels.

As a side note, while I lived in the neighborhood I had a monthly ritual (usually on a Saturday) where I walked from my apartment to the downtown Tower Records (a 5-6 mile journey!) hitting every record store along the way (probably close to a dozen stores). Evil Clown was always my first stop. I miss those days. Anyways, I digress.

One label I was deep-diving into at the time was Atavistic Records. They were mainly focused on free jazz, but they occasionally dabbled in weird rock bands. Evil Clown stocked a ton of their releases. One day I discovered Big Hits / Hard Attack by MX-80 sound in the Evil Clown rack. I was immediately intrigued by the wild cover. I bought it without knowing who MX-80 was, simply trusting Atavistic Records and Evil Clown in their choices.

I’m glad I did! It was a completely over-the-top rock explosion with free-jazz and no wave inspired saxophone, two drummers pounding their kits into oblivion, a singer yelping and the absolutely wild guitar playing and soloing of Bruce Anderson.

MX-80 started in Bloomington, Indiana and originally released these two albums on an independent label. Afterwards they moved to San Francisco, hooked up with The Residents and signed to their Ralph Records. They continued to release a couple more albums and appear on Ralph Records compilations. In fact, soon after I bought Big Hits / Hard Attack I also bought the Subterranean Modern compilation because of The Residents songs and was surprised to find there were MX-80 tracks on there too!

Here is an incredible music video of the band from that era:

Famous record engineer Steve Albini has written probably the definitive history of MX-80, so I’ll defer to him for his historical and personal insight of the band through the years.

Instead, I’ll just recommend playing Big Hits / Hard Attack at maximum volume!

Another year is in the books! 2022 is here, which means it’s time to wrangle up my favorite albums from the past year. Because I mostly stayed indoors again this year, there have been plenty of opportunities to continue to immerse myself in new music.

This year, I have whittled my favorites down to a sixty song playlist (The “Super 60”), spanning a little over 5 hours. Much like the pandemic playlists from the past year, it whiplashes between styles…anything from the pure pop of St. Vincent to hardcore country from Mike And The Moonpies to the full metal assault of Stormkeep. They are not ranked, but sequenced in a way that I find pleasing to listen to.

Additionally, for those whos ears perked up when I said “full metal assault”, I also made a different playlist of only heavy metal music. This one is not for the weak of heart…it’s another 56 songs (some repeats from the “Super 60” because they are so good). 4.5 hours with the pedal to the metal!

I hope everyone has a good 2022 full of musical discoveries both old and new. It’s gotta be better than 2021, right??

In April 2021, we were about a year into the COVID-19 pandemic that changed the world. I spent a majority of that time in my house, only occasionally venturing outside for food and supplies. I work from home, which made this possible.

That period of extreme isolation definitely started affecting my mood. As a form of self-care I decided to make a large playlist of tunes both topical and personal favorites. This ended up being my Pandemic Status: Isolated and Weird playlist.

It runs the gamut from progressive rock to jazz fusion to 80s pop music to hip-hop to death metal to country. A little bit of everything I love with the intent to cheer me up.

It turns out it worked. I listened to this playlist dozens of times. Initially this playlist stopped at Frank Zappa’s “Watermelon In Easter Hay”. However, about a month later I fleshed it out with another 27 songs. I listened to it even more. I felt like I hit the sweet spot of size and scope.

In June, I was inspired by a trip to visit family. Vaccines were available and the weather was nice. I thought the world was turning a corner. So, I made Pandemic Status 2: Are We Having Phun Yet? This one still covered a (perhaps too wide) range of music, but had a lot more positive songs and pop music on it. While a little shorter at 8 hours, I felt like it was the perfect scope for this particular effort.

I started spreading these playlists to select friends and music fanatics and received some positive feedback. This inspired me to make Pandemic Status an ongoing series!

August brought the rise in the Delta Variant of COVID-19 which inspired the darker Pandemic Status 3: Delta Disaster playlist.

By the end of August my mood was really getting sullen so started extending Delta Disaster but ended up having so much material that it warranted a brand-new playlist called Pandemic Status 4: No Hope In Sight.

As fall set in during September, another playlist emerged: Pandemic Status 5: Feel Like Shit…Deja Vu, which was titled in an obvious nod to the fantastic album by Suicidal Tendencies.

With the chill of November setting in, I made the final installment of 2021 called Pandemic Status 6: Omicron Winter Hibernation which I feel might be the best one yet.

I still listen to all the playlists with great frequency. I find them inspiring while writing code or even while working around the house.

Will there be a Pandemic Status 7? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I hope you find the time to listen to the entire collection and find something inspiring within.

Additionally, this will be the last Phil’s Phriday Pick of the year. I will be taking a break over the holidays and will return in January 2022.

Happy New Year!

It’s the holiday season again. My tradition of making Christmas music mixes continues for the 13th year!

Like most recent mixes, it covers a wide range of songs including brand-new holiday themed recordings along with some rediscovered classic chestnuts.

Previous mixes are also listed below…including the now possibly overwhelming 16 hour megamix!

Happy Holidays one and all!

Zoogz Rift was a very fascinating and strange individual.

I first heard of him back in the mid-90s. He would cross-post advertisements for handmade compilation cassettes of his best songs on Usenet forums like alt.fan.frank-zappa and alt.fan.captain-beefheart that I would frequently read in my college dorm.

There is still an archive of Usenet forum posts online, so you can still see excellent examples of the types of things I would see.

He was constantly posting about how his music was inspired by Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. Eventually I gave in and ordered the tapes.

I was blown away by what I heard! It really was incredible stuff. Taking the weirdest and wildest elements of Zappa and putting them into a blender at high speed.

He was signed to SST records during the 80s, but by the mid-90s was very obscure and pretty much forgotten about. I started collecting those records such as Water II: At Safe Distance and the compilation album Looser Than Clams. They were good but most of the weirder material wasn’t on them.

In the early 2000s, Zoogz started promoting a complete collection of material on Usenet. Since it was hard to find his albums, I jumped at that chance and ordered the mp3s as well. In this case, he was pretty ahead of his time. Selling mp3s on CD-Rs in 2002!

Through that I was able to discover that my favorite material was on his earlier, self-released albums such as Idiots On The Miniature Golf Course, which is today’s pick!

There is lots of odd-time-signature rock and roll on here with absurd lyrics. There are also elaborate marimba and horn arrangements. Plus his guitar playing is raw and cool.

Zoogz also semi-famously was a promoter / announcer for Universal Wrestling Federation. Pretty wild stuff.

Unfortunately, he passed away in obscurity in 2011 from complications with diabetes.

Luckily, the bulk of his material is available on Spotify today, including Idiots On The Miniature Golf Course.

Phil’s Phriday Picks is early this week, due to the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday.

Tomahawk is a band that was formed when vocalist Mike Patton (Faith No More / Mr. Bungle / Fantomas) met guitarist Duane Denison (Jesus Lizard / Hank Williams III) in 2001. They recruited bassist Kevin Rutmanis (Melvins) and drummer John Stanier (Helmet / Battles).

As you could surmise from the list of other bands the members played in, it was a supergroup of sorts that played mathy hard rock with an overall dark vibe.

They put out a couple albums in 2001 and 2003 that were pretty solid, then went on an extended hiatus.

During that time off, Duane Denison toured Native American reservations with Hank Williams III and became interested in the culture’s traditional music. He researched the music and found transcriptions of the compositions.

He decided to take those original tunes and expand them into a heavy rock trio format. His interpretations of the songs became the next Tomahawk record in 2007 called Anonymous (because the transcriptions he found did not credit the original songwriters).

The album is definitely a left-turn for the band. It sounds nothing like their others. In fact, it’s pretty unique for rock bands in general to tackle material such as this.

As part of my Thanksgiving celebrations every year since it’s release I have always played this album. This is why it is this week’s pick!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Back in 1990, I was a big fan of the band Primus. The had just put out Frizzle Fry and were starting to gain notoriety in alternative rock circles.

They were also fans of The Residents.

I discovered this when I grabbed a free promotional CD from a local Tower Records around that time called On The Ninties Tip. It was a bunch of alternative rock bands doing cover songs. Examples included Bad Brains covering The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, White Zombie covering Kiss and Mind Over Four covering Queen. All pretty recognizable covers. The exception was Primus covering “Hello Skinny” and “Constantinople” by a band I never heard of called The Residents. You can hear their take on it over on YouTube:

I really loved the track, but in the early 90s it was very hard to find Residents albums. They were mostly out-of-print and very obscure at the time.

Primus teased their love of The Residents even more a couple of years later in 1992 when they released Miscellaneous Debris, which contained another song by The Residents called “Sinister Exaggerator”. Now, I really needed to hear this band, but their records were still pretty much impossible to find.

Thankfully in 1997 a Rykodisc subsidiary called East Side Digital did a huge reissue campaign of all the major albums by The Residents, including Duck Stab / Buster & Glen which is where all 3 of the songs Primus covered were originally released. I was finally able to snag a copy and hear the originals!

What I was amazed to find was how much Les Claypool was influenced by their music and overall aesthetic. Everything from the vocals to the dark carnival vibe were all pretty much cribbed from this album.

So who were these guys? Well, their identities have always been shrouded in mystery. They always wore costumes and masks in public and never revealed who they were. In more recent days, it’s pretty well known who they are…but for the purposes of this post I’m going to keep that all a secret and an exercise for the reader who wants to dive further.

Nowadays I’m a much bigger fan of The Residents than of Primus. They were pretty incredible and ahead of their time in many ways. Duck Stab / Buster & Glen was a great starting point for me, because it contains probably their most accessible material (The Commercial Album which is a collection of 40 1-minute “top ten hits” is probably a close second). It’s still very weird, but uses regular song structures and keeps songs at a reasonable length.

Diving back from their into their catalog, I found that they explored longer, more complex songs (Fingerprince), snubbed their nose at pop culture (Third Reich and Roll) and even complex concept albums (The entire Mole Trilogy). Through it all Duck Stab / Buster & Glen probably remains my favorite, but there’s so many amazing highlights throughout their entire catalog.

Eventually I was able to see The Residents live in 2001 in Chicago as part of their Icky Flix tour. They played a bunch of favorites including stuff off of Duck Stab / Buster & Glen which was spectacular to finally witness first-hand.

In the past couple years, The Residents have been re-releasing all their albums again, this time in lavish deluxe editions with all kinds of live tracks, demos and unreleased material as part of their pREServed series. This is the one that I’m picking for today!

Fun fact: I have seen all 3 members of The Police in concert….but not actually together as The Police!

The first was Andy Summers. He recently released his solo album Earth & Sky in 2002 and played a solo acoustic show at The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. Small venue, intimate show. Good stuff.

I saw Sting the next year, when he played a huge free concert in Grant Park.

I was very excited to see this, because Vinnie Colaiuta was playing drums with him then and the dude is a beast.

Sting played the (solo and The Police) hits. It was pretty good, but polar opposite of the Andy Summers show. You can actually hear a recording of the show that someone taped off the radio (remember doing that?) on YouTube.

The only member left was Steward Copeland. It didn’t seem likely I would catch one of his rare solo shows.

Later in 2009, I was on a trip to Rome, Italy visiting family. While there I saw an advertisement on a billboard about Stewart Copeland playing a solo show at a festival that same week! I couldn’t believe my luck!

I went to the show, and he was playing original songs with a percussion-heavy group. It was unlike anything I had ever heard. An absolutely stunning performance. Easily better than the Sting and Andy Summers shows.

After the set ended, I went to the merchandise table hoping to find a similar recording to what I just witnessed. Unfortunately, it seemed like this group was a one-off occasion. The helpful person selling merch recommended an Italy-only album Stewart Copeland released called Orchestralli. I bought it.

It was a live recording in Italy of Stewart Copeland with a different group back in 2004. As the name implied, it includes a small chamber orchestra and a percussion ensemble called Ensemble Bash along with Copeland on drums.

It is a very crisp live recording of a pretty amazing group playing very cool, almost jazz fusion based music. There are elements of some of his solo / soundtrack works peppered throughout (longtime fans might recognize some parts from Rumble Fish for example.)

Additionally, it came with a documentary DVD of the project, which is also excellent. It doesn’t have any of the full performances from the show, but there is a lot of interesting interviews and bits of rehearsal footage.

I will always associate this album with the show I caught in Rome, even though it is completely different. Even without that personal memory, I hope you enjoy Orchestralli as this week’s pick.

One thing that many people probably don’t know about Bruce Hornsby: He was a part-time member of The Grateful Dead. He appeared live with them sporadically during the early 90s, playing piano and accordion.

Here’s a brilliant rendition of “Eyes Of The World” from 1991 with Bruce Hornsby in the group:

One thing that many people probably don’t know about me: I’m a pretty big Deadhead. Unfortunately, I arrived a little late to that particular party. The only time I ever saw the original Grateful Dead live was the very last show with Jerry Garcia at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 8th, 1995.

It was a pretty good show. I had terrible seats, but slowly sneaked my way up to the front section by the time they hit “Shakedown Street” in the 2nd set. When they played the final song of the night, “Box Of Rain”, I managed to be just a few rows back from the stage. Those were the days.

About a week later, Bruce Hornsby released the album Hot House. At this time, he was taking the influence from his time with the Grateful Dead and expanding his musical vision. He broke up his original backing band The Range and assembled a jazzier group that was able to go on some pretty lengthy instrumental excursions.

The Hot House album artwork accurately paints a picture of the music contained within. It shows a cartoon of Bill Monroe jamming with Charlie Parker.

Hot House featured musicians such as guitarist Pat Metheny and banjo player Bela Fleck on several songs. The album also includes what might be Jerry Garcia’s last studio recording (“Cruise Control”).

Bruce Hornsby has always been a pretty great piano player and songwriter, but I feel like Hot House is where he really started to show off his amazing skills. For example, the opening song “Spider Fingers” is pretty ridiculous. Check out this live version of it (also from 1995) to see the virtuoso in action:

Soon after the tour for Hot House concluded, Bruce Hornsby joined many of the remaining members of The Grateful Dead in a band called The Other Ones. They played the Further Festival tour in 1997. Also on the bill for Further ‘97 was another Grateful Dead offshoot band…Bob Weir’s Ratdog. Ratdog included drummer John Molo who also appears on Hot House and continued to be a longtime member of Hornsby’s band.

Some songs from Hot House such as “White Wheeled Limousine” were included in The Other One’s sets during this time.

Here is some excellent footage of The Other Ones from 1997 featuring Bruce:

I attended Further Festival 1997 in East Troy, Wisconsin, and it was incredible.

A few years later, in 2000, I saw Ratdog again in Chicago. John Molo was still playing with them, and they were even better than in 1997. Anyways, I digress.

Bruce Hornsby continues to put out great albums in a similar style as Hot House through the present day, but I think Hot House is the strongest of them all with not a single bad song. A front-to-back banger.

“The Changes” contains lyrics that seemingly call out his older fans who wished he would play the old hits like “The Way It Is”.

“Hot House Ball” and “Swing Street” continue the theme with lyrics written from a musician’s perspective. The music is lively and played with precision yet is still very fun.

Additionally, Hornsby continues to pay tribute to The Grateful Dead. He occasionally peppers Hunter/Garcia songs in his concerts and even plays whole shows of only Dead tunes. For example, I saw him perform an excellent set of only Grateful Dead songs at his curated Funhouse Festival in 2017. It brought back a lot of good memories.

If you are only familiar with Bruce Hornsby’s hits from the 80s, I encourage you to check out Hot House. If you love it, there are plenty of other albums in his catalog that you could deep dive into after that.

I’m a huge fan of all eras of the band Yes. Everything from the completely overblown progressive rock excess of Tales From Topographic Oceans to the 80s pop of 90125. I love it all.

However, if I were to pick a single album as a favorite I would choose 1974’s Relayer without hesitation.

The early 70s lineup of Yes is considered by many to be the “classic” lineup (Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, Bill Bruford). That lineup released Fragile and Close To The Edge which are both highlights of the lengthy Yes discography.

However, by 1973 the group was splintering. Bruford left to join King Crimson. They hired Alan White (from The Plastic Ono Band) and recorded and toured behind Tales From Topographic Oceans. This album is famous for consisting of 4 25-minute long songs. The dictionary definition of prog rock excess!!

Rick Wakeman was extremely dissatisfied with the material. He basically sleepwalked through the 1973 tour and quit after it was over. He went on to record and release Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and started a mostly successful solo career.

So Yes embarked on a worldwide search for a new keyboard player to fill Wakeman’s shoes. At one point they even auditioned Vangelis!!

In fact, when Patrick Moraz auditioned, he ended up using Vengelis’ keyboard rig because he left it behind in the studio. Moraz was chosen as the new keyboardist because of the fact he could play lots of the complicated material and brought a ton of newfound energy to the group.

Scaling back ever-so-slightly from Tales From Topographic Oceans, Yes went back to the format that served them well with Close To The Edge. Opening with a side-long epic (“The Gates Of Delirium”), followed by two slightly shorter pieces (“Sound Chaser” and “To Be Over”).

“The Gates Of Delirium” is one of my favorite rock songs ever. It really showcases Moraz’ almost punk-rock intensity in his playing. Even Steve Howe plays some completely unhinged and deranged solos throughout (especially during the “battle scene” portion of the song). Alan White plays some junkyard percussion as well, which was pretty out-of-the-box for a major progressive rock band in the early ‘70s.

“Sound Chaser” is also pretty crazy, as far as Yes songs go. There are lots of wild solos, Jon Anderson yodels at one point and its basically a runaway train of awesomeness for its 9-minute duration.

The album closes with the very subdued “To Be Over” which hearkens back to “And You And I” from Close To The Edge.

Yes toured behind Relayer in 1975 by playing the entire album front-to-back. If I had a time machine, this would be one of the first things I would dial up. Luckily, YouTube can at least take me there with video footage.

Yes scaled things back even more after 1975 with Going For The One so if you want to hear Yes at their most exciting, I highly recommend soaking in the glorious magnificence of Relayer.