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Alternative Tentacles
Various Artists
The Ecstasy of the Agony
Alternative Tentacles

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Sure, we're doomed, but that shouldn't stop you from getting excited about the musical possibilities of the new administration. After all, the Reagan/Bush years produced some exceptionally passionate, witty and weird alternative music, so there's no reason to think that Bush II: The Revenge will be any different. At the center of much of the underground action in the 1980s was Alternative Tentacles Records, and if the quality of the tracks on this compilation are any indicator, they're poised to lead the way again in the years to come.

This is a "super low-priced sampler" of mostly newish tracks (many of which are exclusive to this disc or otherwise unreleased) from thirty artists. In fine "stick it to the man" fashion, it comes with "Pay no more than $5.99" printed right on the cover. As you would expect from Alternative Tentacles, the artists tend towards the left-wing punk rock side of things, with old standbys like Jello Biafra and The Dicks sharing space with more recent acts like The Causey Way and Iowaska. There are also a number of spoken-word tracks that do a nice job of dividing the CD up into digestible chunks.

Some highlights: "Geological Lust" from The Causey Way is a cultish contemporary take on 1980s robosynth, something like a bad industrial band doing Devo covers. Ratos de Porao's "Caos" is a blast of rage that will clean out your ears and your dirty soul in all of fourteen seconds. Angela Davis talks about ways that normal people can deal with the prison industrial complex and the drug war in a short excerpt from "Making a Difference".

Wesley Willis is just plain strange (in other words, himself) in "Termites Ate My House Up", a rambling ditty about, yes, termites eating his house up. Jello Biafra does the vocals on The No WTO Combo's "New Feudalism". Biafra also encourages us to put up solar panels and become wind farmers in a spoken word excerpt from "The Green Wedge". Pachinko's "Ez Jesus" is notable primarily because it's taken from a CD called Splendor in the Ass II: Electric Boogaloo. Shocking. Queen Bee's "Baraboo" has a nice and trashy country-punk feel to it.

There's about a ton of good stuff on The Ecstasy of the Agony. Some of it feels a bit naive and retro to me at this point, but it also reminds me of a time when the music I listened to was much more explicitly concerned with politics and activism -- so it's quite heartening to suddenly be reminded that labels like Alternative Tentacles are still out there, doing great work, fighting the good fight and putting people over profits and art over commerce. I'm pretty excited about what's on this CD; I have a feeling my Alternative Tentacles library is going to get a pretty big update rather soon.

(By the way, I'm heading down to DC this weekend for the inaugural, um, festivities. Wish me luck!)

-- irving bellemead
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