Minutemen

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Paranoid Time EP

Minutemen - Paranoid Time EP ©1980 SST
1. Validation
2. The Maze
3. Definitions
4. Sickles And Hammers
5. Fascist
6. Joe McCarthy's Ghost
7. Paranoid Chant

The Minutemen's 1980 seven-inch debut Paranoid Time can most definitely be called one of the most original debuts of all time. The seven song record clocks in at not quite seven minutes and packs more information into that time than nearly any lumbering 70s progressive rock record and then some. Originally the Minutemen were a four piece outfit called the Reactionaries who played a more standard form of rock, albeit entirely garage rock. Along the way, guitarist D. Boon and bassist Mike Watt came across Wire's Pink Flag and their entire outlook on musical aesthetics was discarded for a radical new approach to music. The Minutemen proved on this and succeeding albums that there was simply no need for such rock standards as choruses, verses, bridges or any other normal approach to songwriting. The Minutemen instead rushed out of the gates, playing a entirely unique style that was definitely punk but at the same time entirely different sounding than anything around them. In fact, rumor has it that D. Boon chose to play undistorted guitar as a result of sharing practice space with Black Flag in their formative years. Regardless of the band's unusual approach to making music, it somehow worked and Paranoid Time is a monumentally important record for early American punk music.

The seven songs on this EP are some of the most memorable the band has ever written. Concise and packed, the songs capture a snapshot of a single musical moment and put it on display in very minimalistic fashion. Rather than build and perhaps destroy the inherent essence of the song by uselessly repeating catchy riffs or choruses, the Minutemen present simply the core of the song. The only other band at the time who was offering this sort of deconstructed musical approach was the Residents on their The Commercial Album, which also tore songs down to their essential heart and soul. Mike Watt's busy bass playing coupled with George Hurley's inventive percussion provides a great safety net for D. Boon's burly ranting and wild guitar playing. The beauty of the songs is that once the text ran out, the band simply stopped (particularly on "The Maze", which is excruciatingly abrupt in its ending). Nothing was excessive or overblown. While some listeners certainly will despise the band for never taking an idea and exploring it further than the minute or so provided in the song, this unique approach to music set many imaginations on fire and inspired many musicians to also appoach their music in new ways.

While it can be argued the Minutemen achieved much more powerful music in their existence (see Double Nickels on the Dime), their radical debut was by far their most potent punch. Whether you get this EP as a single or in the Post-Mersh, Vol. 3 collection, it is utterly required for anyone curious about the early days of American punk music.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2001

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The Politics Of Time

Minutemen - The Politics Of Time ©1983 SST
1. Base King
2. Working Men Are Pissed
3. I Shook Hands
4. Below The Belt
5. Shit You Hear At Parties
6. The Big Lounge Scene
7. Maternal Rite
8. Tune For Wind God
9. Party With Me Punker
10. The Process
11. Joy Jam
12. Tony Gets Wasted In Pedro
13. Swing To The Right
14. íRaza Si!
15. Times
16. Badges
17. Fodder
18. Futurism Restated
19. Hollering
20. Suburban Dialect
21. Contained
22. On Trial
23. Spraycan Wars
24. My Part
25. Fanatics
26. Ack Ack Ack
27. The Big Blast For Youth

SST Studio outtakes, practice tapes, and all sorts of unreleased material to make up for the perceived gaps between proper releases. Interesting only in a historical sense. The first six songs were taken from an aborted album, but are extremely cohesive and durable. "Shit You Hear at Parties" is a great piece, representing the bass-playing phase that Mike Watt was in at the time. The teamwork between him and George Hurley has always been one of the finer points in their long history together.

The rest of the album varies wildly in sound quality as some of it was recorded in practice or at live shows with less-than-studio-quality equipment. If you must own everything by the Minutemen, then you are the target audience for this record. Otherwise, stick to the other releases.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date:

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Double Nickels On The Dime

Minutemen - Double Nickels On The Dime ©1984 SST
1. Anxious Mo-fo
2. Theatre Is The Life Of You
3. Vietnam
4. Cohesion
5. It's Expected I'm Gone
6. #1 Hit Song
7. Two Beads At The End
8. Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth?
9. Don't Look Now
10. Shit From An Old Notebook
11. Nature Without Man
12. One Reporter's Opinion
13. Politcal Song For Michael Jackson To Sing
14. Maybe Partying Will Help
15. Toadies
16. Retreat
17. The Big Foist
18. God Bows To Math
19. Corona
20. The Glory Of Man
21. Take 5, D.
22. My Heart And The Real World
23. History Lesson--Part II
24. You Need The Glory
25. The Roar Of The Masses Could Be Farts
26. Mr. Robot's Holy Orders
27. West Germany
28. The Politics Of Time
29. Themselves
30. Please Don't Be Gentle With Me
31. Nothing Indeed
32. No Exchange
33. There Ain't Shit On TV Tonight
34. This Ain't No Picnic
35. Spillage
36. Untitled Song For Latin America
37. Jesus And Tequila
38. June 16th
39. Storm In My House
40. Martin's Story
41. Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love
42. Doctor Wu
43. Little Man With A Gun In His Hand
44. The World According To Nouns
45. Love Dance

Very few albums have so consumed and inspired me as Double Nickels on the Dime. To say it's a masterpiece is still selling it short. The complete effect this album has had on my life is still being measured; suffice it to say I don't know of too many other records that are this unbelievably deep and truly original.

The more I've learned about the Minutemen over the years, the more I understand and value their very honest and truthful approach to music. Guitarist/singer D. Boon and bassist Mike Watt were childhood friends who took their earnest and naive ambitions to empower them to excel beyond expectations. Though Watt is now considered one of the best bassist ever to put fingers to a four-stringer, originally he didn't know there was a difference between a guitar and bass aside from the number of strings. He and D. spent their youth jamming to Creedence Clearwater Revival records and eventually Boon's mother made Watt play the bass rather than guitar. The growing punk rock/hardcore scene in Los Angeles acted as the second catalyst for the two youngsters. As "History Lesson--Pt. II" describes, Boon and Watt drove up from their hometown of San Pedro, California, to Hollywood to watch some of the earliest punk acts. The song describes their coming of age, from emulating heroes like John Doe, Eric Bloom and others. "Me and Mike Watt/Playing guitars." According to some, the early Minutemen shared practice space with Black Flag, who was easily one of the hardest, angriest hardcore acts of the era. The Minutemen's reaction, in order to ensure their originality, was to play non-distorted clean guitars as compared to the heavily distorted Flag.

Through the first part of the 80's, the Minutemen proved to be very prolific songwriters, putting out album after album of complex, deep and original music. Their style was a melting pot of many influences: country, old rock like CCR, early punk, Wire to huge degree, jazz and many other things. Highly unpretensious in approach, the singular honesty of the Minutemen put them outside the realm of typical punk of the era. Each album from 1980 to 1983 demonstrated tremendous growth and much experimentation with casting aside accepted song structure. 1983's Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat was an extremely left field warped piece of work that used a lot of deconstructed approaches to songs.

In 1984, the trio had written an albums worth of material that was to be Double Nickels. According to the stories, the band discovered labelmates Husker Du had released a double album called Zen Arcade. Not to be bested by their friends, the Minutemen feverishly wrote an second LP's worth of material in a week's time. The result is the double album Double Nickels on the Dime.

On this album, the Minutemen took a slightly more traditional approach to songwriting, utilizing longer song lengths. While still easily identifiable as the Minutemen, the approach worked wonders. Each and every song here is a loving display of how three musicians interact on many different levels. The open, spacious production allows for each instrument to occupy a space while seductively interplaying with the other instruments. Each instrument was working independently, yet in cohesion with the others. Until I heard and understood this album, I was unaware of precisely what a guitar, a bass and a drum set could accomplish. The rhythm work between George Hurley and Mike Watt should be mandatory listening for any young, budding rock musician. Hurley in particular shines, creating a fundamentally sound base for Watt and Boon to work with. Watt and Boon take their two instruments and push off each other, contrast and shine. The result is profound bliss.

Lyrically, Double Nickels has proved to be the most inspiring piece of work I've ever encountered in my life. For nearly three years I fed off the creative energy surrounded the album with my own writing. Even though Watt and Boon were extremely minimalistic, their ability to say volumes in a few, concisely written lines should place them in the legions of great poets in history. Whether attacking capitalistic markets in "Shit From an Old Notebook" or taking a somewhat existential look at relationships with people in "Jesus and Tequila", the words here say volumes. "Why am I able to waste my energy/To notice life being so beautiful?/What of the people who don't have what I have?/Are they victims of my leisure"--from "Maybe Partying Will Help". The look at how one approaches existence is both innocent and timeless in wisdom. Even notes from the landlord were open to lyrical interpretation ("Take 5, D."). Self-conscious moments abound: "What could be romantic to Mike Watt/He's only a skeleton" from "One Reporter's Opinion" is an intriguing look at an artist with the looking glass focused directly upon himself. Very seldom have lyrics moved me into though and introspection as the text of Double Nickels. Matched with the incredible music, the final result is an album that treads ever so closely to perfection.

After years of intense listens to this album, it still never fails to redefine and teach me something new. It's hard to believe that music based on minimalistic qualities could be so infinite and eternal. Needless to say, you will be hard pressed to find anything more profound in all your record collection. This is one album that anyone and everyone should get to know as it is potentially the most rewarding album you'll ever come across.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/1999

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3-Way Tie For Last

Minutemen - 3-Way Tie For Last ©1985 SST
1. The Price Of Paradise
2. Lost
3. The Big Stick
4. Political Nightmare
5. Courage
6. Have You Ever Seen The Rain?
7. The Red And The Black
8. Spoken Word Piece
9. No One
10. Stories
11. What Is It?
12. Ack-Ack-Ack
13. Just Another Soldier
14. Situations At Hand
15. Hittin' The Bong
16. Bermuda

Unintentionally the final studio album for the Minutemen, 3-Way Tie for Last is the sound of a band starting to truly explore their full possibility as a musical entity. While the resulting album is often disjointed and maddeningly lacking cohesion, 3-Way Tie is also a melancholy look at what might have been. The sad irony of the album is that it was released the same week in which guitarist/vocalist D. Boon died in a terrible auto accident in the desert of Arizona. As a result, the album is more of a dismal suggestion at what might have been had D. Boon lived.

The mere fact that 3-Way Tie For Last featured no less than five cover songs suggests that the album was meant to be a feeling out period for the band. Up to this point, they had released albums at a dizzying pace, slowly starting to outgrow their original musical philosophies. Perhaps growing from the Project: Mersh EP or perhaps not wishing to limit themselves as musicians to any degree, the Minutemen finally gave into conventional song structures and seemed to concern themselves more with making music than adhering to strict unorthodox guidelines. Songs such as the touching "The Price of Paradise" and "Stories" show that the Minutemen could work within normal conventions and still create stirring, powerful music. The straighforward covers of Creedence Clearwater's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and Meat Puppet's "Lost" simply showed the band was unafraid to show their influences and roots. Experimental tracks also exist, such as "Spoken Word Piece" or the odd cover of "Bermuda", which I believe bassist Mike Watt phoned in. Literally.

3-Way Tie for Last does suffer from being the type of record that doesn't fully come together as one cohesive piece. It almost comes across as a complilation of various studio outtakes as opposed to a unified studio recording. With all the different directions the band was suddenly shooting in, listeners couldn't quite be sure what was going to happen in the future. It was most likely an album the band needed to make before taking the next step in their musical evolution. The unfortunate passing of D. Boon sadly cut everything short and can only make fans wonder what that step might have been.

This album is both maddenly brilliant and dysfunctional. Some of the songs on here are easily among the band's best but there are also some tedious moments to suffer through. Probably any Minutemen fan regards this album with a certain amount of despair, due to D. Boon's passing. Nevertheless, it's the final required page in the band's unreal and amazing career and something any musicial historian of 80s independent music needs to have.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2003

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Ballot Result

Minutemen - Ballot Result ©1987 SST
1. Little Man With A Gun In His Han
2. Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing
3. I Felt Like A Gringo
4. Jesus And Tequila
5. Courage
6. King Of The Hill
7. Bermuda
8. No One
9. Mr. Robot's Holy Orders
10. The Price Of Paradise
11. Song For El Salvador
12. Ack Ack Ack
13. History Lesson--Part Two
14. Hey Lawdy Mama
15. This Ain't No Picnic
16. The Cheerleaders
17. Time
18. Cut
19. Split Red
20. Dreams Are Free, Motherfucker!
21. Shit You Hear At Parties
22. Hell (second Take)
23. Tour-spiel
24. Take Our Test
25. The Punch Line
26. Search
27. Bob Dylan Wrote Propaghanda Songs
28. Badges
29. Tension
30. If Reagan Played Disco
31. No!No!No! To Draft And War
32. Joe McCarthy's Ghost

When 3-Way Tie For Last was released, the Minutemen included a voting ballot for fans to help choose the setlist for a three album live release. Unfortunately the same week 3-Way Tie was released, guitarist/singer D. Boon was killed in an Arizona car wreck and the band immediately ended due to the horrible tragedy. Nevertheless, ballots streamed in and in 1987, Mike Watt and George Hurley helped release an interesting "live" album regardless. Culling together songs from radio shows, unreleased studio sessions and various soundboard tapes, Ballot Result did finally appear for the fans. Each song has a little commentary from both George and Mike, which makes for some interesting liner notes reading.

With the varying sources for the album, the quality also varies wildly throughout, much like 1983's The Politics of Time. The radio show outtakes generally have the best sound quality, though often D. Boon's blustery vocals were either out of tune or found him breathless. The band, however, almost unfailingly pulls off solid recreations of their studio work, which is a testament to their ability. Generally speaking, I'll take the studio counterparts to these songs any day as this collection is more of a fond tribute to D. Boon rather than a serious compilation of live material.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2000

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Post-Mersh, Vol. 1

Minutemen - Post-Mersh, Vol. 1 ©1987 SST
1. Search
2. Tension
3. Games
4. Boiling
5. Disguises
6. The Struggle
7. Monuments
8. Ruins
9. Issued
10. The Punch Line
11. Song For El Salvador
12. History Lesson
13. Fanatics
14. No Parade
15. Straight Jacket
16. Gravity
17. Warfare
18. Static
19. Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs
20. One Chapter In The Book
21. Fake Contest
22. Beacon Sighted Through The Fog
23. Mutiny In Jonestown
24. East Wind/faith
25. Pure Joy
26. '99
27. The Ancho
28. Sell Or Be Sold
29. The Only Minority
30. Split Red
31. Colors
32. Plight
33. The Tin Roof
34. Life As A Rehearsal
35. This Road
36. Polarity

After the untimely demise of the Minutemen at the end of 1985, SST Records provided fans with quite a few bonus prizes including Ballot Result, originally meant to serve as a live album before the death of guitarist D. Boon, and the Post-Mersh series, which thoughtfully compiled all the early Minutemen releases onto three compact discs, thus eliminating the need to purchase a huge number of various seven inch singles and albums. The first of the series matched the 1981 The Punch Line with 1982's What Makes a Man Start Fires?, offering thirty-six songs in total and a look into the growth of the band between those two releases.

The Punch Line still retains the manic, minute long songs that the band had played on the debut seven inch Paranoid Time with a bit more developed playing skills. The eighteen songs all clock in around one minute in length so if the listener is not excited by one track, another is right around the corner. The songs are all simply minimalistic yet fulfilling blow after blow of energy and creativity. Eschewing all conventional song structure, the Minutemen still are able to put together solid songs even in this format. Lyrics often boil down to a few lines of essence rather than epic poetry. The interplay between the three members is impressive, though still not fully realized (as later releases such as Double Nickels on the Dime prove). "The Punch Line" is a great example of the mentality of the band in 1981: "I believe when they found the body of George A Custer American general patriot and Indian fighter that he died with shit in his pants." I know my history teacher never offered that perspective.

What Makes a Man Start Fires? shows a year of growth for the band, with a better sense of song dynamics and a varying arsenal of approach. The guitar playing of D. Boon is more free ranging than before, painting him as a punk rock BB King who belts out lines before laying into a wild solo bit. The album opener, "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs", is one of the band's more straightforward and energetic numbers while its follow-up "One Chapter in the Book" shows off Mike Watt's ever-increasing mastery of his bass. The call-and-response between the guitar and bass as well as the excellent chemistry between drummer George Hurley and Watt put the Minutemen in a league of their own in 1982. Many of the songs on this particular release are among the more adventurous, yet still somewhat restrained (in comparison to their following release Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat), songs in the Minutemen catalogue. "Anchor" is a catchy near-narrative and "Sell or Be Sold" offers a bit more melody than nearly any song up to date.

Post-Mersh, Vol. 1 is a great release that gives fans a look into the band's prolific motif. Given that both releases represented here are quite good, if not great in their rejection of orthodox music style, this becomes quite the essential purchase for anyone who has a hankering for what punk used to be before it became a fashion trend.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/2000

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Post-Mersh, Vol. 2

Minutemen - Post-Mersh, Vol. 2 ©1987 SST
1. Self-referenced
2. Cut
3. Dreams Told By Moto
4. Dreams Are Free, Motherfucker!
5. The Toe Jam
6. I Felt Like A Gringo
7. The Product
8. Little Man With A Gun In His Hand
9. The Cheerleaders
10. King Of The Hill
11. Hey Lawdy Mama
12. Take Our Test
13. Tour-spiel
14. More Spiel

The second volume of the three part Post-Mersh series captures the Minutemen at two polar opposites with their music. The first eight songs are from Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat, which found the band at possibly their most deconstructed, experimental state. The other half of the CD is made up of Project Mersh, which was the Minutemen's take on three minute, standard rock format music. The two disparate EPs actually make for a very wonderful compilation as the contrast between the two efforts accentuates and highlights the strengths of both.

Buzz or Howl benefits from a very fitting production that captures the band's sound with wonderful clarity, neither slicked up or reduced to lo-fi indie recording standards. The songs range from a straightforward number, "I Felt Like a Gringo", to deconstructed jam sessions like "Dream Told By Moto". The band was obviously unafraid of disregarding song structure moreso than they had even on their previous releases as well as throwing in horns and improvised guitar parts. The looseness of the recording sets a very cool vibe, allowing for spontaneous creativity.

Project Mersh is the band's attempt at "conforming" to a more standard approach to rock music. The album's cover art depicts label executives pondering the Minutemen's album sales with the epiphany, "I got it! We'll have them write hit songs!" Project Mersh ("mersh" is Minutemen lingo for commercial, incidentally) is their wry stab at hit songs. The most impressive thing is that had these songs found airplay in the early 90s, they very well could have had a hit on their hands. Injecting horns, catchy riffs and big choruses into the mix, "The Cheerleaders", "Take Our Test" and "King of the Hill" are extremely well written, memorable songs that could rival many radio hits. I think the lesson here is that a talented, quirky band can easily write a standard pop rock song if they so choose and make it exceptional. The Minutemen, had D. Boon not passed away, may very well have risen to a much larger status had they been able to survive. Project Mersh may have been a polar opposite to their earlier motif of unconventional song structure, but it is performed so well that one must applaud.

Post-Mersh, Vol. 2, when included with the other two in the series, is an absolutely vital piece of work for better understanding the world of punk in the first half of the 80s. The band's talent and skill is aptly demostrated on all ends of the spectrum here and is impressive from start to finish.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2000

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Post-Mersh, Vol. 3

Minutemen - Post-Mersh, Vol. 3 ©1989 SST
1. Validation
2. The Maze
3. Definitions
4. Sickles And Hammers
5. Fascist
6. Joe McCarthy's Ghost
7. Paranoid Chant
8. Joy
9. Black Sheep
10. More Joy
11. Split Red
12. If Reagan Played Disco
13. Case Closed
14. Afternoons
15. Futurism Restated
16. Base King
17. Working Men Are Pissed
18. I Shook Hands
19. Below The Belt
20. Shit You Hear At Parties
21. The Big Lounge Scene
22. Maternal Rite
24. Party With Me Punker
25. The Process
26. Joy Jam
27. Tony Gets Wasted In Pedro
28. Swing To The Right
29. íRaza Si!
30. Times
31. Badges
32. Fodder
33. Futurism Restated
34. Hollering
35. Suburban Dialect
36. Contained
37. On Trial
38. Spraycan Wars
39. My Part
40. Fanatics
41. Ack Ack Ack
42. The Big Blast For Youth
43. Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love
44. The Red And The Black
45. Green River
46. Lost

The final installment in the three part Post-Mersh series collects several of the early Minutemen singles and EPs as well as the outtakes release of The Politics of Time. Insofar as the necessity of this volume of music goes, it truly does rank behind the first two installments as much of what is here is more for the deep rooted Minutemen fan. While the early EPs are necessary for understanding the growth of the Minutemen, the bulk of The Politics of Time is of varying sound quality and may only appeal to only the most ardent of fans. Regardless, once one has dug his way through the first two of the series, getting the third disc is entirely worthwhile.

The first fifteen tracks cover three of the earliest seven inch releases from the band. The band's debut, Paranoid Time, opens this festival, showing off the band's brief, Wire-inspired burst of song. Considering the band's motif of minute long songs, sans verse, chorus or conventional song structure, Paranoid Time is a fantastic introduction to the Minutemen. Joy and Bean Spill show moderate growth as the trio continued to master their instruments. As stated before, The Politics of Time offers a compilation of aborted studio sessions, live jams, practice tapes and other various offerings, all of widely varying quality. The first seven tracks from Politics are highly intriguing material that was meant for an album that never quite panned out. However, these songs are excellent and uniformly some of the band's best material in their career, particularly "Shit You Hear at Parties" and "Below the Belt". The rest of the bulk of Politics ranges from somewhat interesting live jams with various other musicians from the SST scene of the early 80s to intolerably bad bootlegged songs that simply just get skipped over. The final four songs on the disc are from a four song live-for-radio recording done at a Tucson radio station. Featuring four covers and fairly good quality, Tour Spiel is a great way to finish out the disc.

If one picks up the three Post-Mersh discs as well as Double Nickels on the Dime and 3-Way Tie for Last (their final studio album before D. Boon's tragic death), one will have pretty much the entire Minutemen collection. Vastly important to the growth of underground and independent music of the 80s, the Minutemen's prolific and inventive music is beyond simple recommendation and is entirely required for those who wish to expand their musical horizons. However, do be sure to make Post-Mersh, Vol. 3 your last stop on the Minutemen tour; otherwise, the nature of the outtakes and EPs might turn off potential fans.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2001

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