Crate-Digging Quick Takes: Ween – Axis: Bold as Boognish

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

(Independently released, but by whom?, 1987)

I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to Chris’s awesome discographic recap, which you should really read if you’ve got any interest in Ween whatsoever. Here, let me get you started.

What Chris did not cover were Ween’s early independent releases. Probably a smart move, as, if the awesomely titled Axis: Bold as Boognish is any indication, the earliest recordings sound pretty shitty. There’s usually only one element of any song pushed to the front of the mix, and when there are vocals, vocals dominate. Which happens probably 90 percent of the time. Also, be warned – while there are some fun early vocal manipulations, Dean and Gene are most often content to shriek at the microphone, bellowing childish nonsense until they’re blue in the face. “Tweet Tweet” is some rant about car damage. “I’m Killing It (Kill Everything)” targets … everything. “Bumblebee,” the only song here that was re-recorded (for GodWeenSatan), is a minute thirty of wailing and moaning about a bumblebee stinging Gene in the brain, 2000 times. It’s kind of funny, actually.

Other moments predict their better-recorded full-lengths, like “David the Negro,” on which the vocals are manipulated throughout (I hope they know David), “Emily” (more vocal manipulation), the stoned idiocy of “Sittin’ on My Ass (Wanton Nougat),” and “Gene’s Lament (Tree Love Theme),” a precursor to their un-serious ballads. “On the Beach” sounds like an early trash-punk track, and “Aqua-Ween” takes the piss at Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung.” In fact, Ween’s entire early oeuvre seems to take the piss at something, including the Hendrix-baiting title. But what allows you to take a step back and marvel at the longevity of such an interesting band is the weird, unfocused anger seeping into these recordings. It’s like the Ween brothers are taking a page from their punk roots, getting stoned, and forgetting what they were angry about, if they were even angry at all. They’re kind of like cartoon-monster Brak from Space Ghost: Coast to Coast – in fact, the vocals recall Brak’s always-outdoor-level man-child babbling. It is pretty funny when it comes down to it, but you have to grow up sometime. Ween kind of did, eventually. I guess.

RIYL: The Dead Milkmen, Half Japanese, Abe Lincoln (don’t bother looking them up)

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