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Dumpster Bust Reviews: X-15 – Bombs and Insurance

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X-15 – Bombs and Insurance
New Soul Records

X-15, based out of Bellingham, Washington, toiled in the local clubs of the American Northwest and eventually made their way to opening for some of the big names of the early 80s, such as X, The Clash, Black Flag, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and an early incarnation of Soundgarden. Along the way, they changed their name to Life in General and had some of their tunes spun by DJs on local radio.

Bombs and Insurance is a retrospective of the band’s career, covering the time period of 1979-1986. A variety of influences can be heard throughout the album, which leaves the listener with an impression of a good local band that struggled to find a signature sound through the myriad of musical styles that came, went, and came again throughout the late 70s and 80s. The result is an uneven listen, but one worth hearing if only to get a feel for a band that bridged the gap between late 70s punk and the new wave, art-rock, and alternative music that would later form the foundation for the so called “grunge” scene in Seattle.

The opening track, “Vaporized,” sounds like a deep cut off the The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. A jangly piano and high, slightly screechy, David Bowie-ish vocals bowl through an early New Wave review with slightly odd harmonies. It’s a good opener for its energy and strong beat, which unfortunately seems to steadily slip as the album wears on.

“No Regard” is another fun song, heavily influenced by The Clash and early MTV-era bands like The Buggles circa “Video Killed the Radio Star.” There’s a peppy, driving bass and cheesy synth keyboards which work pretty well in tandem, leading into an oddly standard-fair guitar solo. Overall, the vibrant keyboards give it a unique sensibility.

Unfortunately, Bombs and Insurance begins its slide after the two promising opening tracks. “Mad Again” has an overly long opening sequence with vaguely Goth vocals, which eventually breaks into a pretty good imitation of the Sex Pistols, replete with feaux Brit-screech and driving guitars. A section at the end, which features guitar arpeggios and harmonies, sounds like a bizarre rock hymnal.

“Speculation” and “Better View” sound like they’re trying to ape 80s-era Bowie circa “China Doll” and not doing a great job of it. “Mr. Impervious,” an instrumental song that sounds like it features a toddler’s toy bells, could double for low impact aerobics background music.

“Recess” sounds like it might have been recorded live and has a jumble of sounds which might lean toward Oingo Boingo’s staccato mid-tempo numbers or REM circa Fables of the Reconstruction (to be honest I’m really not sure). All in all, its so-so 80s bar band music. “This Fear” has a vague Echo & the Bunnymen feel and is one of the better tracks. The energy level picks up to an extent through the end of the album on “Fog” and “Means to and End.”

Word has it that New Soul Records, which is issuing this X-15 release, will be putting out a number of re-releases, so look out for them if that’s your scene: back in the day, current, or potential.

For more on this and every other topic under the sun, check out:

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  • HW Saxton

    Eric B., Do you know Douglas Mays by any
    chance? Well,if not… DM is a reader &
    commentor that comes around BlogCritics
    every once in a while. X-15 is/was his
    band.Just curious if ya knew,that’s all.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Yes, I’ve been acquainted with Mr. Mays, though his exact role with regard to X-15 was never made clear to me.

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

    Alright Eric, good of you to pick up on a valuable music scene that never got the notice it deserved.

    True, it is more of a retrospective as opposed to a clean concept. Future releases will be based around sessions of the bands works, not just a cut or two out of a period of works. Also, very important is the other great bands of this era of Seattle that will be released. I put this together more like how a movie might be edited, just telling a story right now. The details will be released upcoming.

    Interesting, the song Mad Again is either peoples favorite or else some take it or leave it. The fade in intro just came about as the band was jamming with the tape rolling. It was decided to use a classic 70s style fade in since it rocks.

    Recess is recorded live, along with This Fear, Fog, Means to an End. Recess was chosen because you might get a feel to the party atmosphere of the band’s shows. That came from a wednesday night show with over 300 in attendance at a 250 capacity club (don’t tell the fire department!).

    Oh yes, got the Bowie thing alot. Not intentional, just happened to come out like that. Iggy and Zeppelin and V. Underground and Doors were more of an influence. hhhmmm…Roxy Music, heck, they liked anything decent.

    HW, keep your ear out, I’ve got Napalm Beach coming at ya in a few months. Oh, Eric, I was strictly management for the band. Alot of work but worthwhile.

    Thanx man, muchly appreciated.
    DM

  • HW Saxton

    Eric B, From what I surmised from DM’s
    stories about X-15,they were his band &
    (or I should say he was the bandleader)
    he played guitar and maybe some keyboard
    as well.

  • HW Saxton

    Whooooops! Hey Ras Douglas! My mistake.
    I thought that you had said that you
    played guitar and some keys with X-15 at
    some point in the past.I am so totally
    sorry for the misinformation I put out.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    For whatever reason, the song that struck me most was “Vaporized.” It’s been in my head all day — probably a good sign.

    I didn’t get a Doors vibe at all, though I can see the Underground influence.

    If I were a producer (though I’m not), I’d cut the intro for “Mad Again” and turn the guitars up to 11.

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

    HW, well I let them use my guitars. Eric, interesting about bar-band. hhhmmm…there weren’t many bars that would let this band get near. But the ones that did the wave/punk thing loved the band. Attendance the key. Besides the musicianship, lyrical content people loved. i remember punx in the audience with pens scribing lyrics then analysing them with the band. That was wacky stuff.

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

    Eric, interesting. I just went back and reviewed the CD over the headphones, mainly Speculation and Better View. Interesting comparison to China Girl. One thing to be understood though is that, yeah, if one is trying to sound like that, not that accurate. But nobody is trying to sound like that. It just happened to have some sort of feel like that. Speculation has some amazing rhythm tracks. The engineer when putting tape to CD noticed that. Better View tells a hopeful story using a fallen angel as the template. I could see someone like Heart doing that song.

    I guess what I’m saying is that nobody is that original. The ancient Chinese could probably claim copyright infringement on anything that has come out, ever. The originality concept comes from the talents of the right folks getting together and blending their sounds. Then it becomes an individual thing.

    In X-15’s case, perhaps The Clash mixed with Pink Floyd might be a ballpark description. It would all make sense if one was there during the scene. More releases will give perspective.

    peaceloveguidance

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Doug – I wasn’t immersed in the scene as you were, so I merely tried to give a fair response after a few spins (in fact, I was watching The Transformers whilst wearing my Dukes of Hazard iron-on tee-shirt during this era!). I’m not the kind of person/reviewer who internalizes lyrics straight away unless they’re overtly obvious or political, so I base my feelings almost entirely on what I hear: vocals and instruments.

    I did insinuate that “Speculation” and “Better View” were trying to sound like “China Girl” and failed, and I recognize now that that line was casually whipped off and may have been unfair.

    You’re right in saying that everything has been done before, too, because it has. The key is to mix together the old into a new that is somehow fresh and compelling.

    I like The Clash / Pink Floyd comparison, which is an awesomely difficult thing to pull off if you think about it.

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

    Eric, nah, your review is quite good. But yes, one of those ‘had to be there’ to fully understand the vibe of the scene.

    Mainly, your point of it not quite telling the whole story is good. Funny, ‘Vaporized’ is quite a catchy tune. How the heck that song came out of the band, I don’t know. An upcoming release I’ll make sure and put on a song called “Gimme Violation” (into heavy guitars?). That will provide contrast.

    Anyway, all I wanted to do is show the variety of music created. That being a band doesn’t mean one has to get stuck in one sound.

    Oh, detail, it was Soundgarden who’se first gig was at The X-15 house. They were too young and new to have X-15 open. Actually, I have been told by scenesters that they can hear alot of X-15 in Soundgarden music. Anyway, the point of the disc, give a taste of what leads to what. Upcoming releases can be viewed as another chapter in the story. Just the introduction for now.

    Thanx man!

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Thanks Douglas — looking forward to a future filled with New Soul Records releases…

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

    Hello, peaceloveguidance here. So, Eric, I was running around downtown today and thought about your evaluations of ‘Bombs and Insurance’. The comments may mostly be from you and I, it is a very interesting conversation between journalist and producer. Well, HW, he was there. He gets it from a different angle.

    Anyway, regarding the intro to Mad Again. From a production standpoint what you hear is the CD version. The radio version would cut that minute and 20 seconds out. That part just happen to occur in the studio. Kinda like how ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ by the Stones came about. A jam that was created in the studio. Remember when bands used to write entire albums in the studio? Sure can’t do that now with today’s studio costs.

    Give X-15 for being a band that can jam. Put the fade in to Mad Again on a good stereo with, like, JBL Monitor speakers and turn it up. A pretty rockin’ smooth jam, you gotta admit. I miss that, bands can’t jam nowadays.

    Oh shoot. Everything on that CD was recorded in one take. Then an overdub or two. The whole thing has that ‘in your face’ feel. The beauty of live studio recordings.

    blah blah blah. Good review man… Oh,the bar thing..OK, an art bar. I’ll buy that. Other punk bands would give us shit for being ‘professional’

    peaceloveguidance

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Douglas – I’ll be curious to hear the next batch of X-15 songs as I said. There’s definitely a need for a good jam band-rock-new wave-punk mix every now and again.

  • Ken Broadfoot

    The last 5 tracks ARE live. They were recorded at Buck’s in Bellingham, WA in about 1985 I think. They were recorded with Mark Naficy from NAF productions of Seattle with a cassette deck connected to the board. Mark went on to be Alice ‘n Chains soundman. I know this because I play bass guitar on the last five tracks.

    –ken broadfoot

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

    Well, to detail, ‘Recess’ was recorded at WREX in downtown Seattle about 1981. Recorded with 2 live mikes onstage. I was the live engineer. Details….

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

    Eric, you mention ‘Vaporized” comment #6. Funny, that song has been getting commercial airplay around here on KNDD 107.7 (the end) radio. Pretty big station. Really cool for commercial airwaves. they play stuff we would like. Sometime you might hear the DKs