Friday Full-Length: Puny Human, Universal Freak Out

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 15th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Puny Human, Universal Freak Out (2007)

Man, I don’t care who you were on that stage, if it’s a personality contest, Jim Starace was gonna win it. One of the best local rock shows I ever caught in NYC (and one I saw a couple times) was Puny Human around the time Universal Freak Out came out in 2007 with Solace at Ace of Clubs in Manhattan. That was the tail end of shows in Manhattan, I guess, but they were so right on. Heavy, a good time, phenomenal songs. Their earlier two records on Small Stone (lots of Small Stone around here these days, but I figured I’d roll with it to close the week), 2001’s Revenge is Easy and 2003’s It’s Not the Heat, it’s the Humanity, probably get most of the love. It was those albums that had the band opening for Clutch. But I thought Universal Freak Out was such a boot to the ass of an NYC scene that was just starting to take itself way too seriously, and from “Wake up Williamsburg” to “Number of the Beauty” to “Twin Fever,” it remains in my eyes a record that doesn’t have nearly enough worshipers to its credit.

Starace — who was joined in Puny Human on Universal Freak Out by brothers Josh (bass) and Jason (guitar) Diamond as well as drummer/backing vocalist John Bongiorno replacing Iann Robinson, who played on the first two full-lengths — passed away late in 2012, and while the album was already something special in my eyes, it’s since become all the more precious, from the “oh, frickin’ yeah” in “The Real Johnny Charm,” which also boasts a Danko Jones guest appearance, to the sheer cleverness running through “Planting My Impatience” and the hooks that run across all its tracks. It’s a close to perfect heavy rock record. Very New York, which is probably why the rest of the galaxy didn’t fall at its feet — that and as I recall they weren’t doing much in the way of touring by then — but a collection of songs that really tapped into something special in East Coast riffing and a singular sense of humor and presence that unfortunately Starace took with him.

It’s strange to me to think of something just seven years ago as a bygone age, but to look at the “NYC scene” now — first of all, there isn’t one, it’s the Brooklyn scene — it really is a completely different generation. Where have you gone, Atomic Number 76? Brooklyn’s not bad though, just new. More varied, if anything. Anyway, I loved this Puny Human record when it came out and I still do. Hope you do too.

Last night, I drove down to New Jersey in a snowstorm. It was hellish. Tonight I drove back to Massachusetts in cold but otherwise far more preferable climate conditions. Tomorrow The Patient Mrs. has family coming to celebrate her birthday, which was this week. They’re bringing the kids and staying over to Sunday. I do not expect much in the way of sleep. Add to that the six-plus inches of snow we’re supposed to be getting starting at noon tomorrow and yeah. I’m not expecting a restful couple of days. Doesn’t matter, I have work to do anyway.

Next Friday, I fly out of JFK Airport — yup, another trip south in less than a week’s time; if you’re not familiar with the Eastern Seaboard, it’s four hours each way in the car — to join Kings Destroy on their tour with Pentagram and Radio Moscow. I am unreasonably excited for the trip. I will have my camera and my laptop and a number of charging utilities to try and keep it all up and running and I will update as much as I am able on the shows and the travel. I expect to have some time and that by the end of the week, all the members of Kings Destroy will be very tired of listening to me type. Apologies in advance, gents.

Much to do before I go. Monday, a full stream of the new Backwoods Payback EP. Tuesday, a track premiere from Million Dollar Fix. Wednesday… well, it’s Wino Wednesday, isn’t it? That’s an event unto itself. Thursday brings a video premiere from The Graviators and then whoosh, I’m out. I’d like to try to sneak a review or two in there and a new podcast as well, but frankly I’ve got I lot of ducks to get in a row for job-type work, so I expect to be somewhat pressed for time. You know whatever I can do I’m going to try to get done.

We’re getting on two in the morning and I don’t know if anyone is going to see this so late anyway, but if you do, I hope you check out the Puny Human and dig it and I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Monday Morning Puny Human

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Puny Human, “Greasin’ the Wheel” tour video

I had thought I’d close last week out with this recently-uploaded tour video of New York City heavy rockers Puny Human, but I never actually got to close out the week at all. Got home late Friday night, had to get up early Saturday (I’ll explain) and by Sunday, might as well hold off till Monday morning and use it to open the week instead. Come to think of it, Puny Human make a pretty fitting week-opener anyhow, what with the upbeat your-life-isn’t-totally-hopeless good times and all that, working against whatever Monday drear might otherwise be making itself known.

These guys have been on my mind anyway of late, as especially since the untimely passing of frontman Jim Starace — who holds the record in my mind for looking like he’s having the best time on stage playing stoner rock. What with the move to Massachusetts impending, looming, I’m-not-freaking-out-but-there-it-is-ing, a band like Puny Human has come to stand in for a bygone day of NYC heavy circa the middle of the last decade before everything moved to Brooklyn that I’ve been indulging in some romanticism toward. Puny Human, Atomic Number 76, hell, even The Brought Low, who continue to deliver those goods and who are on my checklist of “things I must see before I leave the NY metro area.” Also on that list, Generation Records and the Highline.

Actually, that’s the whole list. It’s a short one.

It’s a pretty crazy week coming up, at least if the three tasks I’m working on simultaneously right now are anything to go by. Keep an eye out later today for a review of the Kings Destroy record release show this past Friday, which Windhand and Clamfight also played. Later this week, reviews of Cultura Tres and Church of Misery, some Buried Treasure along the way, a Dust interview with Marky Ramone if I have time to transcribe it (a crapshoot, but I’ll do my best), some streaming sludge from Italian misanthropes Grime, a Vodun video later today, a new bio for Larman Clamor that I’m set to write probably tomorrow, and on and on. Rest assured, if I have to ignore work piling up from one or both of my jobs to get posts up, I will. Ha.

Time to get to it, though. I hope you had a great and safe weekend. Thanks again to everyone who bought a Clamfight CD during the final push over the last couple days, and I hope the bastards don’t get you down as the next few days play out — that nobody uncovers a casino about to be built five miles down the road from the house you just got an offer accepted on, etc. I’ll be checking back in a bit with that show review, so stay tuned.

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Rest in Peace Jim Starace of Puny Human

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 11th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s been half a decade since NYC-based rockers Puny Human released their third album, Universal Freak Out, and still not a week goes by that I don’t wind up with “Number of the Beauty” in my head at one point or another. Small Stone sent out word just a bit ago that Puny Human vocalist Jim Starace passed away last night, Nov. 10, 2012, due to complications from lung cancer. In all my dealings with Starace over the years and the few conversations we had, he was never anything but a good dude, and one only had to see him on stage for 30 seconds to know he had a pervasive sense of humor that became one of Puny Human‘s defining aspects over the course of their three Small Stone albums, 2000’s Revenge is Easy, 2003’s It’s Not the Heat, it’s the Humanity, and the aforementioned 2007 outing, Universal Freak Out. He’ll be missed.

Here’s the announcement from Small Stone. It begins appropriately:

FUCK! We have just been given the word that one of the coolest guys in rock, and in general, Mr. Jim Starace front man of NYC’s Puny Human (the handsome guy on the left in the photo below), passed away last night due to complications from Lung Cancer… Mr. Starace was a fantastic individual who also displayed some of the best dancing moves on stage. Jim, you will be very missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to your family and friends.

Former Puny Human drummer Iann Robinson had this to say via Facebook:

Peaceful journey to my friend, bandmate and brother. The world shines less brightly without you in it.

Bassist Jason Diamond concurred:

The world is less bright today. Especially Queens, NY.

On behalf of myself and this site, condolences to Jim‘s family, friends and bandmates.

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Where to Start: The Obelisk’s Guide to Small Stone Records

Posted in Where to Start on May 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.

Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”

That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.

One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.

Here they are, ordered by the date of release:

 
1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)

Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.

2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)

Personally, I think 2005’s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.

3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)

In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.

4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)

The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.

5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)

I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.

6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)

Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.

7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)

It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.

8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)

Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.

9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)

It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.

10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)

If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011’s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.

That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘s Songs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.

And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.

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