Posts Tagged ‘X’

Los Angeles was a much different place when released its debut album, Los Angeles, named for the city that the band had adopted. Forty years ago, Los Angeles still had a reliably seedy link to its noir roots, which was catnip to people like John Doe, who fled the East Coast for L.A.’s sunny days and debauched nights. Doe found kindred spirits in Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake, and with X they helped establish the West Coast’s punk scene. With 1980’s Los Angeles, they became a nationally recognized leading voice on the scene.

They were a motley bunch. Doe and Cervenka were writers and poets. Zoom was a session guitarist who had trained as an electronics repairman and played a dozen instruments, fluent in both big band jazz and Gene Vincent. Bonebrake had studied classical music and played a mean jazz vibraphone as well as he drummed. All except Bonebrake were from somewhere else.

But in the sordid backwash of Hollywood and the near-nuclear fallout of the Ramones and Sex Pistols, they transformed into X. As we celebrate the 40th birthday of the band’s debut album, Los Angeles has lost none of its power, fury or artfulness, and remains a showcase for how the spirit of punk can be filtered through the familiar lens of rock and roll that had come before.

The heart of “Los Angeles” is clearly punk; Zoom’s lethally precise power chords and Bonebrake’s metronome-on-steroids drums propel the songs at a breakneck pace while Cervenka’s unhinged vocals speak to one of punk’s central tenets: Anyone can do it. But there’s a higher level of musicianship at work here. Zoom is an encyclopedia of roots-rock guitar and he tosses in echoes of Chuck Berry and Scotty Moore. Doe is the Paul McCartney of punk bassists, always finding inventive ways to melodically underpin the songs without losing intensity, and his smoked honey of a voice in harmony with Cervenka’s squall is one of the band’s signature sounds.

Doe and Cervenka filled Los Angeles with lyrics straight out of a poetry workshop — elliptical, evocative, blunt, beautiful and violent, like if Dashiell Hammett did slam poetry — and the combination of bohemia, musicianship and aggression made Los Angeles soar. And if Ray Manzarek seems an unlikely producer, consider that The Doors were legends in L.A. and he had considerable street cred.

X begins with a triple shot of “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not,” “Johny Hit and Run Paulene” and a cover of the Doors’ “Soul Kitchen.” Of the three, “Johny Hit and Run Paulene” is quintessential X, a seamy narrative about drugs, rape and possibly (probably?) murder.

“Sex and Dying in High Society” reads like a film noir treatment about a woman who has sold herself for the security of a connected marriage. Not an incredibly original premise, but the details are what make it work, especially the bit where the woman makes her maid use a curling iron to burn her back just to feel something. Manzarek spices the song with a perfectly placed flourish of synthesizer. “The Unheard Music” is an efficient summation of punk culture, ominously set to a dirge-like metal riff. “Friends warehouse pain/Attack their own kind/A thousand kids bury their parents” conjures the desperate physical release of a mosh pit, teenagers cutting themselves loose from families they don’t want to be with the family that they choose.

“The World’s a Mess; It’s in My Kiss,” besides being a rare example of the proper use of a semi-colon, is also a love song that doesn’t back down from how terror and wonderment walk hand in hand when two people try to make a life together. It comes off as an update of 1950s teeny-bopper love songs with Zoom busting out his best Berry licks behind Cervenka and Doe’s anti-harmonies.

The album’s best-known song is the muscular title track, which is intoxicating in its ferocity and concision. As political correctness has grown into a casual hobby, there have been efforts to paint the song as racist, which is at best a ridiculous argument. It’s clearly about a racist, not to mention a homophobe, and the song’s impact and meaning would be neutered by euphemisms that dance around the truth. That truth is what makes the song so powerful, as well as the sledgehammer authority with which Zoom, Bonebrake and Doe attack every second of the brief 2:25 it lasts.

The album’s overall effect and impact is visceral, literary and uncompromising. X went on to make six more studio albums, embracing more of the band’s folk, country and rockabilly roots as the years passed. The first four albums are considered classics, but “Los Angeles” remains the gold standard.

Clean original Slash pressings of Los Angeles have been climbing in price but the record has been remastered and reissued several times by Rhino, Porterhouse, Music On Vinyl and most recently Fat Possum; other than the acclaimed Porterhouse pressings, the consensus seems to be that they’re all roughly equivalent to an original.

Whichever one you track down, you need to own it — assuming you have a thing for punk, or just good music — as it’s a touchstone of the genre and a keeper for any well-curated collection.

The band recognized the significance of Los Angeles with the surprise release of a new album, Alphabetland, nearly 40 years to the day after their debut. It’s the band’s first studio album since 1985 to feature the original quartet, which was fractured when Zoom left following Ain’t Love Grand. His return brings X full circle as Alphabetland is classic Los Angeles-era X: hard, fast, uncompromising.

Image may contain: 3 people, people sitting, beard and outdoor

Formed in 1977, X quickly established themselves as one of the best bands in the first wave of LA’s flourishing punk scene; becoming legendary leaders of a punk generation. In 2020 – they released their first new album in 35 years, “ALPHABETLAND”. Musically, Los Angeles is almost infallible. originally released on April 26th, 1980 by Slash Records. Slash magazine started a record company and its first release was an album by the Germs. Now they’ve released a new album from X. The LP is the powerful debut “Los Angeles”. The band worked on a $10,000 budget and finished the recording and mixing in just three weeks.

They’re managed by Danny Sugarman, who also manages the surviving members of the Doors. This probably explains how Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek (a rabid X fan) appeared as a guest musician on the LP, and how the band cut a blistering rave-up of the Doors song “Soul Kitchen.” But Manzarek did far more than just put in a few guest appearances. He also produced the album.  There was Billy Zoom playing the loudest guitar, yet doing it so smoothly and efftortlessly. I was amazed at the edge and the rawness but he attacked the guitar strings with such grace and finesse. And the drummer, DJ Bonebreak, is so solid and strong and powerful..

“Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You‘re Not” kicks off with relentless immediacy as if you’ve jumped into a speeding car on a midnight tour. Doe and Cervenka trade lead vocals and occasionally Cervenka veers stunningly off course in vivid and blistering wails, a Siouxsie Sioux in Southern California. On top of Bonebrake’s motoring drums, the songs are dark and doom-laden, fiery and mordant.

X sings about drugs and violence and cruising and ennui, conjuring a mood that prefigures Hüsker Dü’s “Diane” and Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising. They stick it to the upper class with “Sex and Dying in High Society” and they finish with one of the best punk love songs of all time, “The World’s a Mess, It’s in My Kiss.” “Go to hell, see if you like it/Then come home with me”—the musical equivalent of cigarette ashes and red lipstick—the end to a wild ride through Los Angeles’ underworld.

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This is a masterpiece. In this “less fun in the new world” full of tossed together sample library un-imagination, do yourselves a favour: sit down and listen to this record in its entirety. Not only is this release an iconic example of the art of the full album narrative, it also stands as a reminder that this form of art is sadly fading.

Remastered 2018
released February 22nd, 2019

Alphabetland by X album artwork cover art

Punk legends X have surprise released a brand new album called “Alphabetland”. Better yet, it’s the band’s first full-length featuring all of its original members in 35 years. Formed in 1977, X quickly established themselves as one of the best bands in the first wave of LA’s flourishing punk scene; becoming legendary leaders of a punk generation,

X’s Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom, and DJ Bonebrake recorded five songs for the record back in November 2018 — one of which was a redo of “Delta 88 Nightmare” — with producer Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck). In January of this year, they reunited with Schnapf to record seven more songs. And thus, an album was born. According to The Los Angeles Times, the album was originally due out in August, but the band chose to move up its release due to the COVID-19 crisis. “When your heart is broken, you think every song is about that,” John Doe said in a statement. “These songs were written in the last 18 months and it blows my mind how timely they are. We all want our family, friends and fans to hear our records as soon as it’s finished. This time we could do that. Thanks to Fat Possum and our audience.”

Alphabetland comes with some warped, colorful album artwork, which you can find below alongside the tracklist. As it turns out, that drawing is by none other than Wayne White, the set designer for the legendary Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

“When your heart is broken you think every song is about that. These songs were written in the last 18 months & it blows my mind how timely they are,” explained John Doe. “We all want our family, friends & fans to hear our records as soon as it’s finished. This time we could do that. Thanks to Fat Possum & our audience.” The bands record label, Fat Possum, listened and agreed. Plans were quickly set in motion to release the new music via Bandcamp and have said they’re working to get the record available elsewhere as quickly as possible.

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Released April 22nd, 2020

The Band:
Billy Zoom; guitar, saxaphone, piano
DJ Bonebrake; drums, percussion
Exene Cervenka; vocals
John Doe; bass, vocals

Additional guitar on All The Time In The World: Robby Krieger
Rob Schnapf, additional guitar

Pre-orders for Alphabetland are currently ongoing. In addition to a digital download on Bandcamp, the album is available on CD, black vinyl, and special vinyl variants like green (limited to 500), red (limited to 300), and yellow (limited to 200). The latter two colours have already sold out, so act fast if you’re trying to own a special vinyl version.

The release of Alphabetland coincides with the 40th anniversary of X’s debut album, Los Angeles, this weekend.

X Alphabetland band new album music song, photo via Facebook

Delta 88 Nightmare b/w Cyrano Deberger's Back

Delta 88 Nightmare,” newly recorded music from the iconic punk rock band, X, along with the video directed by Henry Mortensen, The 7” vinyl released last November.

Earlier last year, the original foursome – Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom, and DJ Bonebrake went into the studio together to record fresh material for the first time since 1985’s “Ain’t Love Grand.”  Five songs were recorded over the course of two days with producer Rob Schnapf.

The first of these new songs is the recorded version of an older X song, “Delta 88 Nightmare,” which previously was only included as a bonus track on the 2001 reissue of “Los Angeles” in demo form – never as a fully recorded and mixed track. The song is available today as a 7″ with the flip side being the newly recorded “Cyrano de Berger’s Back,” one of the earliest songs John wrote for the band that became X.

First new music from X in over 30 years.

Signed Book: "Under the Big Black Sun"
£38 GBP (approx.)

Under the Big Black Sun explores the nascent Los Angeles punk rock movement and its evolution to hardcore punk as it’s never been told before. Authors John Doe and Tom DeSavia have woven together an enthralling story of the legendary west coast scene from 1977-1982 by enlisting the voices of people who were there. The book shares chapter-length tales from the authors along with personal essays from famous (and infamous) players in the scene. Additional authors include: Exene Cervenka (X), Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Mike Watt (The Minutemen), Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey (The Go-Go’s), Dave Alvin (The Blasters), Chris D. (Flesh Eaters), Jack Grisham (TSOL), Teresa Covarrubias (The Brat), Robert Lopez (The Zeros, El Vez), as well as scencesters and journalists Pleasant Gehman, Kristine McKenna, and Chris Morris. Through interstitial commentary, John Doe “narrates” this journey through the land of film noir sunshine, Hollywood back alleys, and suburban sprawl—the place where he met his artistic counterparts Exene, DJ Bonebrake, and Billy Zoom—and formed X, the band that became synonymous with, and in many ways defined, L.A. punk.

Under the Big Black Sun shares stories of friendship and love, ambition and feuds, grandiose dreams and cultural rage, all combined with the tattered, glossy sheen of pop culture weirdness that epitomized the operations of Hollywood’s underbelly. Readers will travel to the clubs that defined the scene, as well as to the street corners, empty lots, apartment complexes, and squats that served as de facto salons for the musicians, artists, and fringe players that hashed out what would become punk rock in Los Angeles.

Doe’s inspiration came in a feverish burst in Tucson, Arizona, where he was recording with Howe Gelb (of Giant Sand) and spent time with his friend, author Michael Blake (Dances With Wolves), hours before his death. From the opening rumble of The Westerner’s leadoff track “Get On Board,” Blake’s spiritual presence and the inevitability of mortality are threaded through the album.

“This may not be a country record but it is definitely a Western record,” Doe “It has all the horizon, sand and beautifully scary things of the desert.”

Reverb-heavy, twangy guitars punctuate “My Darling, Blue Skies,” propelled by Doe’s wild-eyed repetition and distorted stabs of organ that recall the Doors. “Alone in Arizona” is as desolate as its title, with narcotic acoustic guitar strums and ominous, trebly bursts of electric guitar accenting Doe’s narrative of loss and longing. Blondie’s Debbie Harry lends her voice to “Go Baby Go,” one of a handful of revved-up garage-rock tunes that act as a counterbalance to the album’s quieter moments.

Additionally, Doe’s first book Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk, will be published on May 1st. As an integral part of the scene with X, Doe’s own account of the time will be accompanied by contributions from members of other influential Los Angeles punk and hardcore bands.

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