Results tagged “Husker Du”

Hüsker Dü: Eight Miles High

Hüsker Dü

"Eight Miles High"
SST Records, 1984

I was in a record shop not too long ago and, as I was chatting with the store's owner, the conversation turned to Hüsker Dü. At this point, the cashier joined in the chewing of the musical fat and, in one particularly memorable moment, turned to his boss and began raving about the band's version of "Eight Miles High." Grinning appreciatively, he confirmed the owner's query about whether or not we were talking about the Byrds' song: "Yeah, but with these guys," he said in his thick Irish brogue and emphasizing his point with an abrupt gesticulation indicating sudden flight, "it was, like, eight thousand miles high." So very true.

In what is probably one of the two or three greatest vocal performances in punk history, if not all rock 'n' roll, Bob Mould transforms the trippy, mellow psychedelic classic into four minutes of gut-wrenching screams, howls, and plaintive moans that sound as if the maimed, shell-shocked, terrified lone survivor of a cataclysmic event is clawing his way out of the rubble of what had been civilization. And that might actually be an understatement. This is the music I imagine the narrator of Beckett's How It Is would howl if given half the chance. Really, all I can think of when listening to "Eight Miles High" are images of trapped, brutalized husks of beings clawing their way through unbearably thick, impenetrable barriers, trying desperately to preserve life at all costs and knowing full well it isn't likely they'll make it. Indeed, in Mould's mouth, the English language dissolves as the molten fury of pure emotion bubbles forth and the result is as close to pre-linguistic Adamic expression as you will ever hear on record. This is the rage against the dying of the light, my friends.

The B-side, a live version of "Masochism World" is much grittier than the version appearing on Zen Arcade. Though the sound quality leaves something to be desired, presenting the band's relentless energy and Mould's guttural vocals on stage is pretty much the only thing that could possibly do the A-side justice. Imagine capturing lightening in a jar, burning the palms of your hands in the process, and screaming in mingled pain, awe, and joy. Then triple the sensation.

Sobriquet Grade: 97 (A+).

Hüsker Dü: Metal Circus

Metal Circus was the first Hüsker Dü record I ever heard. It was also the first record I ever owned by a band that would become a central player in the soundtrack of my youth (and, so far, young adulthood). I don't remember where I found it, but I do remember listening to the cassette over and over until it began to show signs of wear. Yes. I owned the cassette. Tapes were where it was at when I began listening to music in earnest; CDs, with all their shininess and "don't get fingerprints on 'em" warnings, were still a bit too expensive for me when I was a teen. They were for rich kids. And since LPs were falling out of favor (pity!) by the early nineties, I really hadn't any other option . . . though, admittedly, I wish I could have played Hüsker Dü on my Fischer-Price turntable. That would have been kind of cool, no?


As I caught up with the swing towards digital music, I found that I played certain beloved tapes less and less. While I was able to find CD or iTunes versions of certain seminal albums like Never Mind the Bollocks, the first four Ramones disks, the Jam's first couple of records, and London Calling, I wasn't ever able to find Metal Circus. Not surprisingly, I hardly listened to it over the ten-year span following my switch to exclusively CD-based music.

Now I'm not sure whether or not the fact that I felt I couldn't play the album (or, rather, EP) contributed to the feeling, but Metal Circus assumed an unrealistically brilliant aura in my memory. Of course, as New Day Rising, and Flip Your Wig spun in my diskman, I often thought back to the overplayed cassette versions of Zen Arcade and Metal Circus I had not listened to for so long. Over time, both tapes became legendary, part of Erik's Punk Rock Canon.

Fast-forward another few years, when the iPod nation has made the conversion of old music formats a profitable industry. Now, thanks to the wonders of technology, I have been able to digitize my cassette collection (finally, Generic Flipper on my iPod!). It probably says a lot about the power of memory, but the first cassette I digitized was Metal Circus. And I haven't been disappointed. Jesus, what a band!

It might sound weird, but I rather like listening to the MP3s I dubbed off the old cassette because it transferred some of the aural flaws to the digital file. It kind of adds a sense of authenticity to the experience. Or something equally quixotic and pompous-sounding.

At any rate, the Hüskers waste no time gunning their engines, opening Metal Circus with the blazing "Real World," a scathing critique of early 80s punk rock posturing. The frenzied melody of "Real World" continues on "Deadly Skies," as both tracks foreground Grant Hart's frenetic pounding and Bob Mould's soul-piercing, proto-Cobain growl (not to mention the melodic buzzsawing of Mould's guitar). The third track, the slower (by Hüsker Dü standards) "It's Not Funny Anymore," as is typical with Hart-sung songs, retains the melody of the preceding tracks while eliminating Mould's famous vitriol in favor of Hart's equally famous Hippie-punk mellowness. Hart's vocals, while undeniably less gruff than his more famous bandmate's, are not quite as smooth-sounding as those he showcases on later albums such as Flip Your Wig. The added rawness of Hart's voice on the track helps make the album feel a bit less Janus-faced than some of the band's later, more explicitly Mould-versus-Hart efforts. "First of the Last Calls," like "Real World" and "Deadly Skies" is remarkably fast-paced, with Mould's and Norton's relentless strumming layered atop Hart's mile-a-minute drumming, but the song's brilliant final thirty seconds (owing perhaps to Hart's perfectly timed ahh-ahh-ahh-ahhs) somehow manages to inject the aforementioned mellow quality for which Hart is known into the most splenetic of Mould's screeds in such a way as to make the entire album come together in a matter of seconds. While both "Lifeline" and "Out on a Limb" seem consistent with the band's sound during their early hardcore period, it is really "Diane" that, along with "First of the Last Calls" really suggests the wholly original direction the band was to take over the course of their career. Slower, but certainly not mellow, "Diane" is the song that made it possible for Nirvana to release "Polly" a decade later, chronicling the rape of a young woman from the perspective of her assailant.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Real World." Yeah, take that, Maximumrocknroll!

Track 4. "First of the Last Calls." You can hear the entire course of Husker Du's career on this one song. Fucking indispensable.

Track 6. "Diane." One of those extremely rare songs that single-handedly broadened the narrow confines of hardcore punk during the 1980s. Hüsker Dü churned out several dozen of these extremely rare genre-busting tracks, but this remains one of the best.

Sobriquet Grade: 93 (A).

Hüsker Dü: New Day Rising

If the release of Zen Arcade in 1984 established Husker Du as America's most ambitious indie rock outfit, New Day Rising (1985) ensured that the Minneapolis trio would be remembered as one of the most influential as well.

Falling more or less smack-dab in the middle of Husker Du's progression from hardcore punkers to melodic college alt-rockers, New Day Rising preserves the speed and energy prevalent on albums like Land Speed Record and Metal Circus while showcasing the band's increasingly keen pop sensibility.

Although the songwriting rivalry that had formed between Bob Mould and Grant Hart was beginning to take an emotional toll on the band, the pair managed to harness their aggressions and channel it into a concentrated effort to out-write each other. The result, fortunately, was a slew of genre-defining tracks.

Highlights:

Track 1. "New Day Rising." With Hart's steady pounding of the drums as its backbone, the album's title track features Mould's trademark fuzz pedal guitar work and the band's uncanny ability to transform seemingly mundane language (in this case, the song's three-word title) into a gut-wrenching expression of anguish and desperation. Initially reminiscent of a religious mantra, Mould's repetition of "new day rising" accumulates a frantic immediacy as the song progresses. As Hart and Greg Norton add their own oohs, aahs, and new day risings to the mix, Mould seemingly looses what little sense of composure he had at the song's opening and his vocals degenerate into primal shouts as powerful as any Kurt Cobain would muster a decade later. As crescendo piles upon crescendo, "New Day Rising" introduces listeners to the sort of raw-nerve emotion Husker Du alternately contains and unleashes over the course of the album.

Track 2. "The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill." The perfect bridge between the intensity of "New Day Rising" and the decidedly poppy "I Apologize."

Track 4. "Folk Lore." Treading the fine line between restraint and catharsis, "Folk Lore" could very well be a microcosm of the entire album.

Track 6. "Celebrated Summer." Frantic and mournful, "Celebrated Summer" remains one of the band's most popular songs.

Track 11. "Books About UFOs." A beautiful example of Grant Hart's songwriting, this track foregrounds melody and showcases the sort of upbeat, quirky lyrics that define his style and provide the optimistic yin to Mould's acerbic yang.

Sobriquet Grade: 95 (A).

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