Minneapolis rock combo Cows are an acquired taste. Some people find them hilarious, creative, and kickbutt...while others just label them as stupid, childish, mean or even, for heaven's sake, boring. This will not stand. Let me explain.
The Cows are one of my very favorite bands. I first became aware of their existence when I was a senior in high school, and I found myself awestruck by this dumb song called "Whitey In The Woodpile" that I heard on the Georgia Tech college station one night during the "grunge" show. Luckily, I had a cassette tape in the machine so I could record this beautiful number and listen to it over and over again at my leisure. I just, for the life of me, could not understand what the hell the band was trying to do in the song.
It began with a three-chord guitar melody (very scruffy sound - the amp must have been teeny), but suddenly a hick voice shouted "There's..." and the song just turned into a pounding tuneless mess as the "singer" shouted "There's a whitey in the woodpile! (in the left speaker), There's a whitey in the woodpile! (in the right speaker), There's a whitey in the woodpile! (in the left speaker), Shut that door! (in the right speaker)." This was repeated a few times, then the melody came back for a "verse," then the noise came back, then all of a sudden, there was an unnecessarily messy descending bass run over the "melody." Then more noise, more repetition and finally the song ended. No catharsis. No message. No point. I was soaking in a puddle of bliss. For obvious reasons, I fell in love with the minstrels who had penned this - the most glorious anthem I had heard in all my days.
I followed up on my initial interest by getting copies of the four albums that the band had released by that point, and was I thrilled with what I heard! Was I thrilled with what I heard? WAS I thrilled with what I heard! It was just a bunch of noise!
There were essentially no guitar lines on the first three albums - just bass lines and a bunch of tinny distorted racket coming from the shoebox that guitarist Thor Eisentrager called his amp. Plus, the drums were messy and (appropriately) cowpunk-esque, and the singer, who very rarely hit a right note (but certainly tried), added to the ruckus by playing painfully random notes on bugle and trumpet on a bunch of the songs! I was in glee!
And my glee only increased as I read various reviews of the Cows records. Of Daddy Has A Tail!, one reviewer wrote, "I have no doubt that the Cows know how to play their instruments. What I don't understand is why they refuse to tune them." Another critic proclaimed that Effete And Impudent Snobs "couldn't have sounded worse had it been recorded underwater." Yes, this was truly the band for me.
As if I wasn't smitten enough, I soon had my first experience with a Cows live show. I cannot praise a live Cows show enough. I have seen them play live eight times (in five different cities), and would gladly see them another 30 or 40. The singer is darn near insane, and it's often hard to tell whether you're supposed to laugh at him or stay the heck away from him. He draws silly magic-markered tattoos all over himself (a chicken poking its head out of his pants, a game of Hangman featuring the letters "F_CK," an anchor atop the word "DAD"...basically any old stupid thing that he thinks is funny at the time), he wears godawful outfits (one time, he came onstage and sang an entire song with a sex doll tied around his body), and he can be very, very threatening when he wants to be.
"Threatening?" you ask? Well...sorta. For one thing, he likes to do swift Elvis-like karate kicks in people's faces, and, on occasion, he connects. He also apparently enjoys hurling the mic stand into the crowd, although I haven't personally witnessed this phenomenon. And, perhaps most intriguingly, he often throws up on stage. He seems to have calmed down in recent years, resigning himself to a position as resident funnyman, but he's still awfully entertaining and, at times, still a little spooky.
The other musicians in the band are amusing as well, and darn talented to boot. The bass player likes to spit "loogies" all over the stage and has perfected the art of "slide bass," which, if you've never heard it before, sounds really friggin' cool. The heavy low end of the song (the part you hardly even notice in most popular rock songs) slithers and slides all over the darn place...while, on the top, the guitarist is taking what are essentially blues-rock cliches and completely turning them inside-out by cranking up the distortion and putting his fingers...god, I have no clue where he's putting his fingers. He's definitely not a "virtuoso," but he doesn't play by any musical rules, so it's hard to figure out what he's playing half the time (at least on the older stuff - he's gotten a little more conventional as of late). Sure, it's noisy, but it's also a pretty darn creative way to handle a blues-rock cliche. And the drummer's great, too. So was their last one!
So yeah, they continued after Peacetika, but I don't want to talk about it right now. However, just so you know, I love the Cows. If you haven't heard 'em, do. The singer ain't too hot a singer, but he's a good shouter and a fantastic showman. Otherwise, they're pretty near perfect.
Taint Pluribus Taint Unum - Treehouse
So what you got herein is a bunch of high-pitched guitar noise with catchy bass lines - sometimes blues-influenced, sometimes punk-influenced, always drug-influenced. Let's call it a cross between Flipper and Halo Of Flies, and let's all buy it twice, okey-dokey?
And how about them words? Gross, eh? Dog poop? "Mother (I Love That Bitch)?" Fie! Actually, the strange thing is that vocalist Shannon Selberg is a much more poetic lyricist than you would expect. He doesn't just write crap down; he comes up with a concept and an emotion, and then lets it take him where it will. Sometimes it's basic faux-redneck humor, other times it's near-brilliant insight into the way we think and live. On this particular album, it's mostly the humor thing, but he would grow! We all grow! Such energy! Such verve! They named their publishing company "Asbestos Diaper!!!!"
Chow 7" - Treehouse 1988.
But the main reason I'm reviewing the single here is because there are two NON-LP songs on side B, and both are must-owns for the urban Cow boy. "I Remember You" starts off with an ascending Shannon yell through a mic that he appears to be flicking on and off and on and off as he sings (if anybody knows exactly how this effect was created, please let me know!), then the band comes in to back up his on-off-on-off vocals with a high-speed, flailing, messy, moronic, brilliant hardcore song that's over almost as soon as it begins (less than a minute!).
The other tune, "Porky Pig Factory" has a fantastic lumpity-humpty-dumpty-loppity bass line, but the drums are almost completely buried behind a NON-guitar line (Thor just slapping at nothing) and weird LOUD samples that keep popping in and out of the mix. It's really hard to make out Shannon's lyrics, but the song appears to be about either TV or a slaughterhouse (?) The best part besides the terrifically Raymond Scott-esque bass line is the distorted, reverbed sample of Yosemite Sam or some related cowboy character, who introduces the song with about the most ironic comment that could possibly be put on a Cows record -- "DON'T KNOCK SO LOUD! CUZ THERE'S ONE THING I HATE -- AND THAT'S NOISE! I HATE - I HATE NOISE!"
I should warn you that the sound quality is as messy as Taint - HEY! HAVE YOU SEEN THAT COOL $20 BILL 9/11 TRICK? IT'S AWESOME! Look here - http://www.glennbeck.com/news/05172002.shtml. But what I REALLY don't understand is why the 4-track-recordings of "Chow" and "I Remember You" sound so much clearer than the 16-track-recording of "Porky Pig Factory." It's possible that they're just joking when they claim it's 16-track -- in fact, they MUST be, right? "PPF" sounds more like ONE-track than anything else! The other problem is that the single has been out of print for about 14 years. I paid $15 for it on ebay and that was pretty much a bargain. Presumably if Treehouse ever decides to re-issue the first album, they'll add these as bonus tracks.
GODDAMMIT. No WONDER "Porky Pig Factory" sounds "Raymond Scott-esque." I just did a Yahoo search for the song and a Raymond Scott discography came up. Says the Cows "borrowed" it, which leads me to believe that the bass line was stolen from a Raymond Scott song. That's no good. THAT'S NO GOOD AT ALL!
But aren't you impressed that I called something "Raymond Scott-esque" and turned out to be right on the money? Sure beats the time I mistakenly called Michael Jackson a "down-to-Earth African-American who doesn't fuck little kids up the ass"!
Daddy Has A Tail! - Amphetamine Reptile
And "By The Throat?" That's pop music way back there behind the untuned mess! And "Bum In The Alley" with that stupid cowbell? This is genius disguised as idiocy! These guys are extremely smart, and they all have very good senses of humor.
And this stuff is so darn LOUD!!!!!! But it's not tight heavy standard AMREP fare. This is unique stuff. It resembles Flipper, but much more thought has gone into it. Their combination of youthful musical incompetence and melodically conceptual genius puts them heads above your Helmet, your Tar, your Janitor Joe, etc. - and it guarantees them a future in music. "Sticky And Sweet" is kinda dumb (aside from the hilarious verse "I am the waffle/And you are the syrup/I am covered with square dents/You are STICKY AND SWEET!"), and forecasts a few other lousy love ballad parodies to come but other than that, this is good racket. If you're the type to get headaches, you might not want to listen, but otherwise - buy it, burn it, and listen it down!
Slap Back 7" - Amphetamine Reptile 1990.
Why, that would be none other than a "Slap Back"! Webster's defines it as "the use of a single echo on a recorded track. The echo may be placed in a different spatial location in the stereo mix. Normally the echo delay is just large enough to be heard as a discrete echo on careful listening (e.g., on the order of tens of milliseconds). Slap back is very popular in 1950s-style recordings such as ``rockabilly'' tunes," but the rest of us know it as simply "Slap Back." It's dark, it's bouncy, it's noisy, it's moody -- and it's one of the best songs they had recorded up to that point.
Which brings up a question: Why are these two songs NOT on Peacetika? They were produced by the same guy in the same year. So wouldn't you think that MAYBE instead of screwing all their fans in the ASS with a one-minute album, they could have tacked on a couple more great songs and given up the paltry pennies they must have made off this? I'm so tired of corporate sellouts like the Cows turning their backs on their fans once they start playing stadiums, making the kids pay extra for a SHORT album and an UNNECESSARY single, then selling "Mother (I Love That Bitch)" to Hallmark cards for an advertising campaign, charging $150 a ticket for a double-bill with the Eagles, then with Kevin Rutmanis becoming a spokesperson for freedom in Liberia and hanging out in Congress with his dark sunglasses on, and with Shannon going in with Charlie Tolnay and Chad Channing to open the grunge theme restaurant "Smells Like Tasty Goodness," and with Thor doing his Duets side project with Elton John, Frank Sinatra and Diana Ross and then thirty years later after Tony Oliveri dies, the other guys finding an old demo of him playing drums and turning it into a "new" Cows song that has nothing in common with the REAL Cows music at all. And THAT'S why I hate gambling casinos.
Which brings us to side B, "One O'Clock High." This is a speedy cowpunk song in which Kevin alternates between a rednecky slide bass, a thub-dub-thub-dub-thub-dub "Jaws On 78" anxiety attack and an ugly metallic scraping of the strings before he and Thor all join hands together around the world in the spirit of rock and roll with the cathartic, explosive, SUPERhappy country/western climax (which happens twice in the song, btw -- thank goodness!). Shannon meanwhile tells one of his finest narratives yet, pitting a hapless narrator against his own angry jealousy and embarrassed fears of inadequacy as he watches his stripper girlfriend drive a crowd of men wild. As she reaches the "climax" of her performance, and the men "come" forward to tell this "pussy"cat that she is as smooth as "butt"er, all the while "tit"tering among themselves and thinking about volcanic la"va, Gina" the waitress included, Shannon shouts woefully, "I'm wishin' I was dead, those fuckers wish that they were me!"
Then fighters attack out of the sun and are hard to see until they loom up in front of you. And what would this kind of attack be called?
Why, that would be none other than a "Porky Pig Fac- aaaaaaaaahhh fluppitydorp.
Two songs - no filler. Two CLASSSSSICS. No filler. Two MUST-OWN Cows Songs. No filibuster. GODDAMN YOU, STROM THURMOND!
Effete And Impudent Snobs - Amphetamine Reptile
The Cows are gods. Sit still in your room between your speakers, turn this up really loud and feel what it does to you; it intoxicates your entire system. Even when I'd never been drunk or even "gotten a buzz" in my entire life, this record made me feel like I'd just done eight shots of John "Jack" Daniels. The drum lines just lurch along and everything is so bendy and twisty and heavy and sloppy...then all of a sudden, it gets REALLY REALLY FAST AND YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO AWAAWHWHGKLASD...then it slows down again and you vomit on the shit zoo and collapse in a crumpled heap on the flo'. A couple of songs near the end are a tad weak, but the last one, the scummy poppy "Sittin' Around" is yet another fine example of Thor's outstanding talent at creating simple but interesting and never-before-heard chord sequences that complement Kevin's lead bassiness lovily. And it's a funny song, too.
This LP, like every Cows LP, kicks all sorts of ass for an LP, but this would be the last of the "straight noise with a beat" LPs that they would do - adulthood was peeking around the corner with a bottle of whoopbutt. Luckily, they stayed smart, loud, and noisy with age. They were the best, man. Say, here's an anecdote as, after all, who doesn't long for an anecdote every once in a blue moon? The first time I met Shannon, he asked me where the nearest liquor store was. I replied, "I don't know. I don't drink," to which Thor wittily replied, "You don't drink? And you like The Cows????"
Peacetika - Amphetamine Reptile
The best are "Hitting The Wall," a bonerfide classic with Shannon's unearthlily exaggerated screams mangling the lyrics until any chance of possible coherence is completely obliterated, and the title track, in which Thor and Kevin's perfectly-matched mismelodies are augmented by a beautiful two-note horn line created by several short blasts of carbon dioxide exhaled through the lips of Mr. Selberg. Oh, it's something - the way the opening hippie sample blends right into the guitar feedback and thumping bass note that signal the start of the song. The way the last syllable of the sole lyric, "Peacetika!," sounds like a lawn mower. The way nobody writes songs like this, and the Cows write 'em all damn day!
Other highlights, you ask? Well, if you're going to be so "Adam Ant" (adamant) about it, "I'm Missing" has a musical background composed almost entirely of guitar and bass feedback, "Good Cop" is a kickingly scraggly cowpunk thumper that woulda fit in nicely on any of the first three records, and "3-Way Lisa" is an amazingly infectious tale of a young lad who dates a girl with multiple-personality disorder just so he can screw the horny one. Tacky, but not necessarily sympathetic. There's right in this world, and there's wrong. You decide for yourself where you want to stand. Emotion vs. intellect? Which is better? Why? Existence vs. non-existence? Which is better? Why? What difference does it make? None, of course. The only thing that matters is the Cows. And how about that hilarious album cover?
Oh! One other thing. On this album, Shannon tries to make that rough transition from "yelling" to "singing," and he doesn't quite pull it off. He's a grand yeller, but he's a lousy notefellow. Salright, though. Deal with it. We can't all be Freddie Vedder.
This being a transitional record, I recommmend beginning your soon-to-be love affair with the Cows at this point. Plenty of guitar noise, plus the bass is more prominent in the mix, so they can sneak some of that "structure" crap in when you least expect it. For you 'Mats fans, this is their Let It Be.
So, I'm an undergrad in my last semester and I'm taking this Philosophy of Art class, and we were discussing the ol' dichotomy between Apollonian (order, rationality, beauty etc.) and Dionysian (chaos, irrationality, incomprensible, ugly) art and while she was showing us this guys art on the projector, she asked us to come up one at a time and play something from youtube or somewhere that we find 'Dionysian.' Well, when it came to my turn, when I thought 'incomprehensible, ugly, chaos and wordless (she preferred a wordless song),' I couldn't actually think to NOT play 'L.A. Blues.' It was pretty funny to put it on and walk away from the front of the class to 'AAAAAUGH!!!!!!'
But that's not why I'm here. I'm here to say that before me, the song that got played was, yes, 'Hitting the Wall' by the Cows! I was, as you could expect, very surprised.
I found that funny. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if he found out about them from you, not that they don't have their own channels.
* Cunning Stunts - Amphetamine Reptile 1992.
This applies here directly from the getgo, as the album begins with the sound of a smack, followed by a baby crying, followed by Kevin doing Eddie Van Halen hammer-ons on his bass, followed by a single horn note, followed by Shannon's emphatic cry of "Ho!" before the rollicking American melody finally shows up and drags you into danceyville for a brief but vibrant couple of minutes. Next is "Walks Alone," a blues song played at punk speed, followed by "Contamination," which boasts one of the screwiest melodies ever recorded by a musical quartet from Minnesota. The bass does three up-and-down jerks, then the drums kick in and the guitar chords ascend, then more bass jerks, then the guitar chords ascend higher, then yet more jerks, and even higher axe ascension afore they finally agree upon a completely out-of-place ugly chord to end the line on. Then they do it again. And again. And again. It's really odder to hear than it is to read. It's kinda just stupid and annoying to read, honestly. Let's move on.
"Everybody" is a should-be-classic, applying Thor's wrong-but-right melody-making to a supergood upbeat slide bass line, "Two Little Pigs" sounds like Dire Straits, "The Woman Inside" is a hilarious original punk song - and I, for one, mean "original punk." It's loud, fast, and mean, but you've never heard this melody before. Punk bands don't play like this; they're too tied down to tradition. But Cows ain't got no tradition. Just talent, noise, and beer.
All the other songs are good, too. All twelve of 'em are right up there. I just wanted to describe a few for you, to get the excitement glands a-pumpin'. There aer also a couple of pretty ones for your loved one, and even when the melodies are a little annoying to listen to ("Terrifique," "Contamination"), they're still very very (for lack of a creative modifier) very interesting. I already told you about "Contamination," so let me describer the udder. Hey! A Cow joke! As you listen to the ugliness that is "Terrifique," I invite you to profusely enjoy three aspects of the song: (1) the way Shannon's voice suddenly drops into a pukingly phlegmy "uhhhhhhh....." noise at the end of every verse-ending "oh!oh!oh!oh!" bit, (2) the way he screams "Terrifique!" at the top of his lungs at the exact same note every time, and (3) the single cowbell hit before every "chorus," or what would be a chorus if....you know....if they were a normal band.
Speaking to the band members in recent years at concerts here and there, I've come to the conclusion that they're really sick of people referring to this album as their "classic." But that's how it goes! I love their other records too, but this one is just JAM-PACKED with insane, wonderful ideas. Twelve idiosyncratic classics all crammed onto a strongly-produced 45-minute green hexagon.
Nah, just kiddin'. But wouldn't that be awesome if it was on a green hexagon?
The Cows - Stunning Cunts
Two Little Pigs
The Woman Inside
(* denotes favorite. Replace Track x with song title from list, if you wish)
It opens with a baby getting slapped. Then the horns start their full-on assault, supported by heavy and fast riffing and frenzied vocals. This full-blown punk-rock assault doesn't let down as the horns of the first track subside and the second track kicks in. Bludgeoning you with razor-sharp drum kicks, The Cows begin to sound like a sharper version of Minor Threat.
Then the third track kicks in, and the off-kilter riff puts you on edge. It subsides, and The Cows keep doing what they do best. A jagged, stop/start rhythm gives the song an extra edge though, and the demented vocals put Ian McKaye to shame, if any such comparison is still possible. At this point, they probably sound more like Suicidal Tendencies.
On to the fourth track. Holy cow... it's almost... groovy. And is that... singing? This song is gently bass-driven. a stark contrast to the guitar-led sonic assault of the previous three tracks. And then, somewhere around the 2:30 mark, something unexpected and unorthodox happens. A harmonica kicks in. In a goddamn motherfreakin' punk rock song? What kind of shite are they trying to pull here?
The Cows don't give us a chance to recover. The guitar returns to it's normal role as the noisy driving force behind the band. Track five is a pretty rhythmic though somewhat unsettling song. The vocals are borderline catchy. I don't know what the hell the guitarist is doing, but he's certainly crafted a pretty interesting riff.
Track six takes the tempo down a notch, and the guitar kicks in with some weird effect that makes it sound almost ethereal, but the drumkit holds it in place. Out of nowhere drifts a melodic moan.... and the song is actually pretty. You can tell it probably isn't going anywhere. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Cool song.
Bass. Hi-Hat. Enter crazy riff. Enter demented vocals. Guitar explodes into noise, then subsides back to disturbing vocals. Back to frenzied attack. Repeat a couple times and that's basically track 7.
Track 8 opens with an almost sludgy riff, which breaks into a Melvins lite-esque rhythm with some weird half-singing/half-speech on top of it. Now they're sort of starting to resemble Jesus Lizard.
The song ends abruptly and The Cows kick back into their sonic attack, this time complete with wild screaming layered on top of the frenzied guitar attacks. The drums begin to lose momentum, marking the beginning of the end of the song, but then kick back up and the guitar becomes more high-pitched, screechy, and accelerate, until the song abruptly ends.
Track 10 is back to the weird. Noise rock at its finest. Disjointed guitar and drums, yet at the same time strangely cohesive. Everyone seems to be going insane, but they're all beautifully interconnected. The interplay between the vocals, rhythm, and riff-to-noise guitar is magnificent. Terrifique!
Track 11 is back to actual singing, supported by rhythmic guitar and drums, and beautiful high pitched screechy noises. At this point it might hit you, as it hit me, "goddamn, Sonic Youth never made noise sound this tight." Maybe if Sonic Youth had stuck to the frenzied approach of some of their No Wave peers this is what their early albums may have sounded like.
Last track. Starts off promising, with an interesting guitar melody, groovy bassline kicks in with strong supporting drumbeat. My interest is piqued. What will they do next? The singer begins howling/singing. Pretty cool... I can dig it. The drums slow down a bit... segway? No. It keeps going. It feels like this song will probably hit the same brick wall most of the songs hit... not really a bad thing, but sometimes they leave you wishing it would take you somewhere new. I guess that's why they're nice and short. We get a bit of a guitar solo towards the end, and then predictably enough, though very abruptly, it ends.
Bottom line: if you're looking for a band capable of writing songs that verge on catchy and blur the line between noise rock and punk rock, look no further. 8.62/10
I still own this album. It's still fucking amazing. GET THIS.
Plowed EP CD - Amphetamine Reptile 1992.
Track number one is "Plowed," in which the female antagonist is portrayed by a birdcall record, dumbly intoning over and over and over again, "Hel-lo ba-by! Hel-lo ba-by! Hel-lo ba-by! Hel-lo ba-by!" until Norm Rogers, Cows drummer of the time, claps his traps and Thor, the Trager of Eisen, crankles out the trebliest, swoopy-sweepy-swappiest country/hardcore song ever laid to the grooves of a laser. The lyrics are a dang HOOT, using "plowed" as a euphemism for, I believe, "drunk," I think. At least that would explain why the protaganist guy wakes up next to an old fat lady, performs oral sex on an old fat lady and finds his photo in the paper. But NONE of this explains why the song sounds like a layer of record static was applied OVER it during mixdown. The song sounds like absolute HELL! Perhaps that was the point, who knows. Either way, the song rules. But I have this live version of it that is much heavier and probably kicks more axe. Especially because you get to hear Kevin the Melvins Bass Player shouting "GIVE ME A KISS, SWEETHEART! GIVE ME A KISS, SWEETHEART! GIVE ME A KISS, FUCK YOU!" at the end.
Track B is a SWINGIN' number about Shannon ramming his dick in peoples' mouths! He plays the bugle like a flugle (musician) with a jugle (bugle), and his dick goes in all kinds of mouths! And it swings like Brian Setzer's Stray Orchestra! One of the verses goes, "That god damned landlord, thrusting me out. He got my notice in the mou-wow-outh!" And the other six verses are similar!
Track three is that Seattle grunge rock you read about in TV Guide. But Singer Shan Sel pulls a fast one on you, jangling his keys as a percussion instrument and singing the classic gospel song "Kumbaya" as "Joan Baez" like a funny guy! But don't go up THAT scenic route, Miss Daisy, because
Sorry about that. Accidentally had my word processor set on "college newspaper humor columnist." What I intended to say is that the actual song "Kumbaya" doesn't include the line "Fucked a dog last night, Joan Baez." Speaking of dogfucking, did any of you see that "A Beautiful Mind" movie? Now, am I crazy or did that movie (a) have nothing at all to do with either the book OR John Nash's actual life, and (b) transform from an eerie character study into a feel-good shower of Ron Howard's warm piss in the last 30 minutes? Whoever nominated that embarrassing piece of crap for an Academy Award is completely representative of the American moviegoing audience.
Track FOUR is an acoustic love song called "I Love You." It features somebody playing a love ballad melody on his acoustic guitar while every member of the band sings the moronic FULL lyric of the song "Iiiiiiiiii Loooooove..... Iiiiiiii Looooove YOUUUUUUUU! (yes he does! yes he does!) YyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyESSSS I DO!" over and over again while trying their hardest not to laugh. It's great. All four of these songs are great -- punk, swing, grunge gospel and love balladry, all performed with cherubic Cows humor and instrumental talent sort of on high-gear a little (at least in the first couple songs!). No Cows fan should live without this EP for even one moment longer.
As such, I've graciously agreed to make a fourth-generation Maxell cassette copy for anyone who sends me $65,000 (plus tax, shipping, handling, insurance and processing fee). For an extra $65,000, I'll sign them all with the Cows' names, as if they had personally autographed it for you.
Woman Inside 7" - Insipid 1992.
Ha! Who am I kidding? Nobody buys LPs these days!
Most people know these songs from the Cunning Stunts Laser-Musical-Air-Spray, but these versions are so different, it's like night and day (in Alaska)! "Theme From Midnight Cowboy" on here has a more wavery bass and less guitar presence, a DRASTIC departure from the album version's less wavery bass and greater guitar presence. This eerily DIFFERENT version somehow manages to be as good as the album version, just a bit more out-of-tune-sounding maybe. "Woman Inside," on the other hand (if you bought the special "dead guy's playable hand" format) has louder vocals, quieter guitars (there are still two guitar tracks, but one of them appears to just be clanging away at a mood-creating "chord" during the verse), greater bass presence and this hilariously loud, irritating alarm bell ringing in time with Shannon's "MEEEEEEEEEEEE!" at the climax of each chorus.
As one who considers "Woman Inside" to be among the most enjoyable songs ever written by man, ape or fish, I whole-heartedly endorse side A of this single. The presentation is different enough from the album version to make me want to hear it for its own merits quite often. Side B isn't a must-own though. It's good, but if you have the album, there's not much you need to hear in this version. So altogether that's a grade of 7.5 out of 10, rounded up to 8 because only assholes and liberals round down.
Hell, round it up to 15 for all I care! Just don't round it down! It's that kind of communist bullshit that made our nation vulnerable to terrorist attacks in the first place.
Sexy Pee Story - Amphetamine Reptile
Side two ain't so rockin', but don't start crying like a goddamn sissy. It's still fantazmo. The title track's a dang hoot, as is "Uptown Suckers" (a song favored by bassist Mike Watt who, at a Firehose show in Chapel Hill suddenly blurted out, "I see the Cows are playing here in a few days! You gotta come out and see the Cows! Their bass player does this SLIDE thing! And they got this great song called 'Uptown Slickers!' Really great band!" And I agreed. Oh, how I agreed. Except for the incorrect song title.
Unlike Cunning Stunts, this album isn't a bunch of nifty individual gyms. It's more of a large conglomerate soccer field, with each song complementing those around it, even near the end when they all start to sound a little tired (the band sounds AWFULLY tired on "You Owe Me" - mainly cuzza that drowsy slide bass, but "Mrs. Cancelled," much like "Mr. Cancelled" from the last album, is just beautiful. Except Shannon doesn't sing it worth a rat's ass.). I know you don't necessarily want to bring home an album whose cover features a stream of urine dripping off of a picture of a woodpecker about to stick its beak in some guy's butt, but sometimes in life, we all have to make sacrifices. Let this be yours. It's produced by Iain Burgess and they've still got that rockin' drummer, so you just can't lose.
Unless, of course, you're a loser. But, barring that, you can't lose.
Unless you're an asshole.
Orphan's Tragedy - Amphetamine Reptile
My, that was fun to type. It's fun to type!
Also goofy are the melodies to "Pussy Is A Monarchy," "I'm Both," and "My Bob," which are cliched to the point that you have to wonder whether the band was laughing its collective buttock off as they claimed songwriting credit. There are other examples of trademark Cows goofiness here (the bass-activated voice sampler in "Cow Island," the slow calculated guitar chords dragging down the other three high-speed punker musicians in "The Bucket," the six and a half minutes of drunken noodling that they call "Smell Shelf"), but I would hope that you would pick it up and discover its special treasures for yourself.
Same mix. Same drummer. And, most wonderfully of all, they've become one of the tightest bands in the world. It doesn't matter what they're playing; they're all such interesting players, you hardly notice the actual melody. Slide bass, great blues-based guitar noise (especially on "Pickled Garbage Soup" - one of the best on here), and a strong sense of musical communion help to transform simple songs like "Witch Hunt," "Taxi," and "Allergic To Myself" into amazing wonders of grandeur force and hypnotic beauty. And it doesn't hurt that they've still got the best producer to ever walk the face of the Earth.
Today I just bought Cows' Orphan's Tragedy.
After reading you for years, I decided last fall to buy any Cows I could find new or used in my city of Philadelphia. It appears that the city of Philadelphia has no Cows. In December, I went to every fucking record/CD store to look for the Cows. I remember one particular lunch time when I was walking around like Charlie Brown with my head down, after leaving a record store. I thought to myself, why am I so depressed? Why? Because Mark Prindle says that the Cows are the greatest band ever and I can't even buy their music. This turned into an entire existential dilemma, because not only was every local record store guilty of my indictment, not only was the eccentric foibles of AmRep to blame, but my beloved city of Philadelphia. Growing up in rural shittowne Pennsylvania, I had moved to Philadelphia to lead a sophisticated city life. Well, that facade was stripped bare by my city's inability to deliver Sexy Pee Story or Whorn or even Pig Minor.
So today I was excited to find Orphan's Tragedy used in one of the previous stores. So I am writing to tell you that indeed it is great and I am not disappointed. Thank you for turning me on to the Cows.
Maybe Philadelphia is an awesome city because all of the people who own Cows CDs would never part with them, even in these tough times.
Except for the idiot who got rid of my one hour old copy of Orphan's Tragedy.
I remember that you said, concerning Tom Waits' Brawlers, Bastards, etc. "Why can't the Cows get this kind of boxset treatment?" Do you think their is any chance of reissues ever happening? How can we try to push this into reality? A friend says that one can get their songs from itunes. I am a crabby old man (at age 36) and I really do not want to go down that whole itunes road, with the kids and their compressed sound and shitty ipods. I want a six Cd set with outtakes, singles included, liner notes written by Mark Prindle, packaged with the DVD. Do you have any ideas if there has been any talk of reissues. AmRep can't make any money if the discs are not available.
Sorry this email is long. I am excited by my find and really appreciative of all of your writing and work and all of the fun and many things I have learned from you over the years.
Good look with the employment situation.
Whorn - Amphetamine Reptile
I don't care who you are; if you're at all like me, you're gonna have a hard time sitting through "Tropic Of Cancelled" and "The New Girl" - a weak messy ballad followed by a weaker messier parody of a ballad. Both are too long, both have crappy melodies, and both are sung...oh, poorly, we'll say. But see, the thing is - well, I still don't like "The New Girl," but finally after about fifteen listens, I've realized that "Tropic Of Cancelled" is... well... WEIRD! The chord sequence isn't "inept" - it's just unnatural and ugly. So, taken in that context, it's a pretty darn interesting song. That happens to suck shit out of a golden pie's ass.
Also, they've gone back to Peacetika producer/Halo Of Flies bassist Tim Mac. Although the mix here is better than on that record, it's still a strange murky affair compared to the work they did with Mr. Iain Burgess. See, Tim believes that a band should make records that sound like a "band," which is to say that he likes to record the entire band playing together, instead of tracking the instruments one at a time. So see, this album SOUNDS like it was recorded live (because it was!), and as such, it's no longer a monstrously noisy blend of way too many rock and roll overdubs. And, darn it, I liked that monstrously noisy blend of way too many rock and roll overdubs!! But eventually you'll get used to the production. It's actually really neat to hear them return to the noisy messy style of old, even if it's not the ridiculously overpowering wall of rock and roll noise that was all over the first three records.
Plus, there are tons of goodies contained within. They have a less hard-hitting but much jazzier new drummer in Freddie Votel, who brings a whole new feel to the music. Aside from the rockers "Divorcee Moore" and "Mas No Mas," which tear more holes in the wall than an angry wolverine, this record is much less rock-oriented and more weirdy jazzo-oriented (as in The Birthday Party, The Jesus Lizard.....) than any of their other records. It works though, because the bass player is really bright and talented and the singer adds lots of cool horn notes and whatnot. As proof of this band's unending creativity and malleability, I'd like to direct your attention to "A Oven," "The Warden," "Organized Meat," and "A Gift Called Life," which are all of this jazzy vein, yet, because the Cows have talent, completely unlike each other! "A Oven" is sorta bluesy but horny too, "The Warden" is smooth lounge groove, "Organized Meat" is ugly bebop with tons of chorus on the already-distorted bass, and "A Gift Called Life" sounds a whole slew like G.G. Allin singing for Scratch Acid. Man, does Shannon sound like G.G. Allin in this one! Surprisingly so! Wowweeewweeewewewwe.
As a whole, Whorn is a terrifically splendoo experience except (a) it doesn't kick ass like old fans might want it to (it's loud, but not "kickbutt"), (2) the guitarist doesn't do much of anything except dick around and make ugly wah-wah noodling noises for most of the record, and (d) it's got those two ugly slow songs in the middle that might affect your overall opinion of the record. But look you. The Cows stuck it out for TWELVE YEARS underground and, instead of getting discouraged and mainstreaming their sound, they released nine amazing full-length records full of innovative and idiosyncratic noise rock. See, generally I have to separate my two musical loves from each other - on one hand, you got your kickbuns bands who play generic chord sequences (Ramones, AC/DC, D.R.I.), and on the other hand, you got your creative guitar bands who don't kick ass at all (Polvo, Thinking Fellers, Pavement). But mister son, with the Cows, you got 'em both!!!!!!!!!! The best of both wurlds! Fido! Call Fido!!! Hootie!
And, no, the guy can't sing.
The main thing about the Cows that I dig is their bass player...the guy is wild and really creative...enormously booming, funky tone, too. Shannon is a great shrieker also, and sounds great on this record...Probably psychopathic as well. They take chances too. They really, truly do what they want on each album. That's admirable.
Some of the tunes on here make me extend. Particularly "Mas No Mas". I love "Organized Meat" and "Divorcee Moore", too. I don't care if I ever hear Shannon play that god-dern trumpet again though...great production here...Shannon sounds unhinged.
This is a band that confronts you--and doesn't give a shit whether you like it or not...I guess that's a punk band by definition--ain't it!
On an unrelated note I just read all of your Zine reviews in a row and I must say I had no idea you knew about those bands and even some genres. I always thought of you as like an old punk rocker. Well congratulations on becoming a metal elitist like myself. I know about every metal band ever and still have time to listen to genres I pull out of my ass. And then I act all holier than thou because I can listen to french black metalers Antaeus and then Vashti Bunyan afterwards.
Long live Jello! even though he or the Dead Kennedys were not mentioned at all in the American Hardcore DVD.
OHHHH Dude I just got every album by Minus The Bear because of your recommendance and it's awesome stuffz.
Yea Whorn is a good album. Second fave Cows album I have heard.
The Missing Letter Is You EP - Thick 1998.
Sorry In Pig Minor - Amphetamine Reptile 1998.
This is a weird record. King Buzzo of The Melvins produced it and, if you're not familiar with the recent work of The Melvins, it's weird. King Buzzo likes to throw in off-kilter effects and fiddle with the volumes of the separate components for no reason whatsoever, making the songs sound much more like the result of a cold mechanical process than the sweaty result of a live boogyin' combo. So it's a strange record, in other words.
But the riffs? Great, great riffs. If you're fool enough not to be able to hear it on the record, go see them live. These tunes will grab your soul and make you shake your left foot until your lil' pinky toe gets all mucked up again and you have to limp to the McDonald's and take a cab home. And by "you," I mean "some pansy."
So call it their "experimental" album if you want. It's certainly more of an "art" record than a "rock" record, regardless of the loud fuzzy guitars. Buzzo has captured a side of the band that really hasn't been shown to us before, and it's a wonderful, pleasing thing to encounter. Plus the drummer RULES! It was hard to tell on that muffled mess we call Whorn, but Buzz gives him legs. And use them? Sheesh! The songs themselves.... Repetitive as always. Very mechanical and plodding, with simple guitar chord progressions that are nevertheless put together in such a way that the tunes resemble no songs you've ever heard. Having heard them live and loud, I am honestly not exaggerating when I say that the majority of these songs are among the greatest and tightest tunes they've ever written. And at times that doesn't quite sneak through Buzz's rigid-as-nails quirky production. But it's there. And you'll hear it, even if it's not kicking your ass they way a live performance would.
Again, this CD isn't about "rockin'" (though there are definitely a couple of points when it cuts loose). It's about... jeez, I don't know. Just continuing to be one of the most thoughtful instrumental combos out there, I guess. There's not a single bad song on here. One novelty Mexican cha-cha, one freeish jazz tune, one killer keyboard instrumental, one incredibly well-written noise poem (The lead track, "Cabin Man," which I hereby declare to be the finest set of lyrics Shannon has written yet. It's sad and funny and clever and ultimately life-affirming! In today's cynical era full of songs like "Mother I Love That Bitch," Shannon has written a song celebrating LIFE!!! Aww man.), and a bunch of numbers that are more of what you want from The Cows. Good old fuzzy crankaslank! Buy it and hold your right thumb up in the air.
well, once a nerd, always a nerd i guess. i'm a happy nerd though. not at all ashamed of it. i'm a nerd and i'm proud, even tough we have set a new temperature record in this famous city of rain, called Bergen - southwest amongst 7 mountain and a dusin fjords. it actually over 30 degrees C!!! and i'm sitting here - (almost) naked infront of the computer prepering to write shit about the Cows!?
hmmmm, when am i gonna cut to the chase, you say? don't worry it's completely normal.
if you're thinking i'm a Cows fan? think again. i don't fit the description. i like 'em all shapes and sizes, as long as there's no big suprises chances are you'll fit me to the bill..oh sorry, i suddenly came to think of women...
no, that's right...you heard me! i feel i don't fit the description when i read all the reviews and see all those 9-graders thrown around - but hey, Prindle's a fan, i know.
ok, so we got that settled, i'm no fan but i happen to owe 2 Cows records and i'm planning on getting more, becuz i am indeed a HUGE fan of THIS record. Sorry in Pig Minor doesn't only have my favorite man in music, Buzz Osborne producing it - it's so god damn diverse, punky, heavy, jazzy, driving, thrilling, you name it! apart from quirky production, i'm most impressed by the rhythm-section; Rutmanis and that drummer, what's his name... i barely recognize them from the band that gave me "Sexy Pee Story". that one's got maybe some of my favorite "art-work" of all time but apart from 4 tunes which really rrrrrrrrrock (Blown, Shitbeard, 1,2,3,4,5...1000 lashes + the titletrack), it's just...well, i dunno what it is...it's just that feeling you get; this ain't workin' for me.
hey, i'm not that nerdy. i really dislikes nerds who sit infront of their computer going - this sucks cuz this is like THAT, then they do THAT, this sucks! they should have done THAT, this tune sucks cuz they do THAT etc..etc.. etc...then they start explaining like they were Frank Zappa - "i've made tons of records so i DO know what i'm talking about". not that i'm saying Zappa ever said something like that - but it's like some of those nerds think they're experts.
i say "get off you arse and make some music of you own, you moron!" "you're allowed to say you don't like this or that but stop talkin' like you're some hotshot highly creditable producer!!"
erm..back to the music: did either one of you think about how "Dear Dad" sounds like the Flaming Lips? my personal highlight of the record is "Life after Beth" - wikkkkid bassline/drumbeat and that "outoftune" guitar. i think this illustates the brilliance of the record - driving bass & drums with the rest just float around, and i mean the guitars are all over the place thanks to Buzz Osborne's panning-fetish.
this record is TOP 10 material! yo, i'm out doahg...
Orpheus’ Travesty - KMFMT 1998.
Sorry, my fingers slipped there. As I was saying, luckily I was at that very show-offy age, 25, and was at home sleeping a peaceful slumber as the show took place several states away. Five years later, Frederick Vostel was tuff enuff to send me a CDR copy of the CDR. The results of this "Meeting of the Minds" is 21 amazing songs from all throughout their career, and one cover tune that I’m pretty sure they put on here just to prove they recorded it before Nirvana did. Included: Two Taint songs, as well as a fanmazing acoustic rendition of "Sieve" from whoknowswhere. One Daddy song, plus the original single version of "Chow." One Effete song. A live version of one Peacetika song. Two Cunning songs. Two Sexy songs. One Orphan’s song. Two Whorn songs. Five radical remixes of Sorry songs. One Peel Session. And two B-sides. If you were there and bought it, Good for you!
If you were at that Great White concert and bought it, I hope your relatives are suing their fucking asses off. Did you hear that those pricks are begging their FANS for MONEY???? I say send them to prison and throw away the key.
I’m serious - have you seen this fuckin’ thing???
I know most of 'em are out of print, but try buying Cows CDs here anyway