November 20, 2013

Notes from the Paisley Underground: Various Artists - Warf Rat Tales: Unabridged (1983/2005)

At the dawn of the 1980s, the L.A. underground music scene was comprised of a heady mix of bands and styles that included punk, post-punk, cow-punk, neo-psych, power-pop, jangle-pop, rockabilly, and everything in between. In addition to its quite unprecedented musical diversity, what also set this underground scene apart from others before it and those since was the genre-defying camaraderie between the various bands involved. As such, it was not unusual to see someone like Chris D. of The Flesh Eaters- ferocious purveyors of an exceedingly dark blues-punk hybrid that made them legends among the hardcore crowd- befriend and support a band such as The Dream Syndicate, who were in the process of spearheading a psych-revival that would come to be known as the Paisley Underground. Many of these relationships were forged through shared ties with the indie record labels that mushroomed in and around the scene whose rosters often reflected the amazing variety of the L.A. underground itself, a phenomenon that helped give rise to the era of the indie compilation as the best way to promote the music.

A storied example of this was Warfrat Records, a tiny artist-run label, whose recordings were made in a (literally) makeshift studio called Lyceum Sound, which was actually a sound-proofed two-car garage (we're talking egg-cartons on the walls here) that had been rented out by members of The Last as a rehearsal space. The "studio" was originally conceived as a much preferred return to sonic austerity for The Last after having had their sound subjected to the sterilizing effects of the professional recording process on their debut LP, L.A. Explosion!  Eventually, Lyceum Sound played host to bands such as The Gun Club, Rain Parade, The Long Ryders and Savage Republic to name but a few, all of whom engaged in something like recorded rehearsals. As The Last's manager Gary Stewart remembers, the WarfRat record label was born out of necessity: "I didn't so much dream up the WarfRat label as I was forced to start it, as a way of releasing a single [...] that was getting some airplay on Rodney Bingenheimer's Sunday night radio show." The compilation WarfRat Tales was intended as a way to promote many of the bands who regularly passed through Lyceum Sound as well as to pay off some bills (according to Stewart, the album accomplished only one of these objectives).

The album itself is one of the better comps to emanate from the L.A. underground, and has the added advantage of being primarily comprised of unique "demo" performances that are often superior to the more polished versions available elsewhere. The opener, "Try to Rise," a creepy, campy psychedelic rocker by The Last that sounds a bit like Frankenfurter of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fronting The Doors, sets the tone for this consistently great and intensely moody set of songs. Another highlight is "Stop the Clock" by the Earwigs, a strange mash-up of punk, ska and early new-wave that functions as a tension-filled time-capsule of cold war paranoia. WarfRat Tales also features some wonderfully scruffy cuts from Paisley Underground mainstays Rain Parade, including a stunning rendition of "This Can't Be Today," later re-recorded for their debut LP, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip. Perhaps the most essential track is "Creeping Coastlines of Light" by The Leaving Trains, a twangy, moody, transcendent slow-burner that is the equal of anything recorded by the scene's more well-known "roots" bands such as The Long Ryders and True West. WarfRat Tales is worth revisting because it offers a significant glimpse into an amazingly vibrant music scene long since gone; however, what makes it truly distinctive is the way its austerely-recorded tracks capture the passion and camaraderie that made the L.A. underground what it was.

WarfRat Tales: Unabridged  (1983/2005)
 1. The Last- Try to Rise
 3. 100 Flowers- 100 Flowers
 4. Earwigs- Stop the Clock
 5. Wednesday Week- Boy You Got Me Good
 6. Rain Parade- I Look Around
 7. The Question?- Brand New World 
 8. The Point- Pothead
10. The Last- Anything That's Out There
11. Urinals- I'm Like You
12. The Gun Club- Watermelon Man
13. Rain Parade- Look Both Ways
14. The Up & Out- I'm Learning
15. Hector & The Clockwatchers- Octavia
16. The Gun Club- Fire of Love
17. The Question?- One More Time
18. The Up & Out- Gruelled Again
19. Urinals- Scholastic Aptitude
20. Earwigs- Automatic Reverse
21. To Damascus- And Leave and Leave Me
22. 100 Flowers- From the Fire
23. The Question?- Shall Be Love
25. Wednesday Week- Anyone Like Me 
26. Hector & The Clockwatchers- Mishap at Greebsley's
27. The Leaving Trains- Creeping Coastline of Lights


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  2. Thank you so much for this reup! Welcome back as well!