X drops their first album in 35 years.
April 23, 2020 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Los Angeles’ premier punk band, X, are surprise-releasing Alphabetland, their first studio album in 35 years. Featuring the original line-up of John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake, Alphabetland is at Bandcamp.
posted by Marky (48 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
LA Times article: The World's a Mess, and X is Back.

They were supposed to be playing all of "Los Angeles" this weekend at The Wiltern, and I had tickets.
posted by mogget at 8:07 PM on April 23, 2020 [12 favorites]

They gon’ give it to us!
posted by notoriety public at 8:10 PM on April 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

This made me so happy. I’m on my third re-listen today. It also shows off how much of the driving fun of X came from Billy Zoom. The sax bits should be ridiculous in hardcore, but they’re just great.

For you young whippersnappers, spice up quarantine with a viewing of wikipedia.org/ wiki/ The_Decline_of_ Western_Civilization Or wikipedia.org/ wiki/ X:_The_Unheard_Music . I forget which one has the scene of the band in a circle tattooing each other, but it sticks in my mind as perfect punk.
posted by unknown knowns at 8:15 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Decline has that tattoo scene, at least, and if memory serves, Doe I think mentions in the X-and-others autobio "Under the big black sun" that they were drunk and mourning X-ene's sister in that scene. Or that was the one where they were all flying on cheap speed, but I think it was the wake.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:33 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

So, before I dig into this, can an intrepid early adopter comment on whether Exene's, um, peculiar politics are present here in any way? I can't deal with a fascist X album right now.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:33 PM on April 23, 2020 [10 favorites]

My therapist shared with me that Exene was a crazy conspiracy theorist and I've never felt so disappointed and understood at the same time.
posted by chinese_fashion at 8:44 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Is Exene Cervenka Actually Insane? [Vice]

When Even Rock Stars Like Donald Trump: Exene Cervenka is decidedly a true Trump-era American— and she doesn't think she is wrong [HuffPo Canada]

Her Wikipedia entry says that she apologized for airing her Isla Vista shootings conspiracy theory and deleted the YouTube videos that talked about it.

So, you decide. I sure liked X in The Decline of Western Civilization, but that was thirty-nine years ago.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:27 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

I loved seeing X for many years. I can't give time or money to a most likely mentally ill Trump supporter. This makes me very sad.
posted by evilDoug at 10:12 PM on April 23, 2020

The record store I worked at (c.late 90s/early 00s) had a cassette of Exene reading the Unabomber Manifesto. It never sold in the six years of my employment.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 10:16 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

I had the pleasure of seeing X perform all of Los Angeles at Riot Fest East back in 2011. They put on a great show.

After finding out Exene is a racist, conspiracy monger, I have exactly zero interest in supporting them.

Damned if Los Angeles ain't a great fuckin' record though. And it was produced by the keyboard player for The Doors, of all people.
posted by SansPoint at 10:32 PM on April 23, 2020

Billy’s also said to be on the regrettable side of the political line. I’m not reasonably well informed about his views, though.

X is my favorite band of all time, full stop. upthread ivan mentions how Exene’s loss of her sister affected their performance and material, and again, I am insufficiently informed to comment on it except to note that, yes, I have heard it was a big deal.

To me, this record seems to be the first record from the band which is led, driven maybe even, by Billy. I went back and listened to the pre Big Black Sun stuff, which is the basis of my love for the band, and as far as I can tell, there were only single-track guitars throughout, and not a single instance of multitracked guitar voicing. I could be wrong.

This record is practically the inverse of that. I think I heard at least three guitar tracks on most tunes with additional solo guitars, and then piano, and then sax, and so on. And even the base tracks were incredibly dense before multiple guitar tracking joined in.

I... I think I like it? We’ll see. Big Black Sun, for me, was always flabby and boring. Now I understand that sound was borne of real depression and trauma. I guess a lot of folks take Big Black Sun as the pinnacle of the band’s work, but despite the laudable reasons to see it as such, it ain’t.

Is this as good as Los Angeles, as Wild Gift, as More Fun? No. As good as Black Sun? Maybe. I liked it better on first listen. I kinda think it was intended as a bookend to Los Angeles, considering when I have heard it was initially intended to be released.
posted by mwhybark at 10:38 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Billy's been a fairly mainstream Republican since at least the late 90s, and probably earlier. I've never liked X for their politics.

I'll definitely listen to this album a few times... I'm always up for hearing Billy Zoom on the saxophone, and I'm pumped he got more creative control on this album.
posted by potrzebie at 10:51 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

X is one of my favorite bands. I see X a lot live. Like, all 3 shows here in December a lot. I downloaded this album yesterday and have listened to it a couple of times and it's growing on me. They've been playing Delta 88 Nightmare at recent shows but the new stuff is new, and it's been a while since I've heard new X.

Yeah, Billy Zoom's politics have been problematic for a while, and Exene aims for iconoclasm and lands on confusion, I think. Their music still holds the same place in my heart, though. If I ever get to see live music again, I hope to get to hear some of these live.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:57 PM on April 23, 2020 [10 favorites]

For any X fans who haven't read John Doe's recent books, I highly recommend them. They are written by a collection of folks from the LA punk scene and I learned all sorts of things from them. Many great stories and insight into what that scene was like.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:00 PM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

OK, fun quiz time! Which of the following musicians performs under his or her birth name:
  • D. J. Bonebrake
  • Exene Cervenka
  • John Doe
  • Billy Zoom
Hover here for the answer.
posted by The Tensor at 11:17 PM on April 23, 2020 [9 favorites]

X needs to be in the Rock Hall of Fame. That's all I got.
posted by Beholder at 11:20 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

This album is great. I’ve been a huge fan from the very beginning. But Exene is a dramatic asshole. She always has been. If you’ve bought X albums before you gave money to an asshole.

The whole Truther/conspiracy/Alex Jones/Gun Nut bullshit Exene got herself into is, well, pretty predictable. She’s Brilliant. But a fucking wreck.

I bought the album because Doe is a great guy and that band to me are like old friends.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 11:26 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

I saw the four full album shows at the Roxy a couple years ago. There were a couple moments where Exene was looking like she was about to go full chemtrails but Doe reeled it back in without too much friction. Given Zoom's politics I'd hazard they have been used to a leave it at the door standard to performing for some time. Excited to listen to this tomorrow.
posted by 99_ at 11:53 PM on April 23, 2020

Is Exene Cervenka Actually Insane? [Vice]

Apparently, she lives in Orange these days, and my neighbor/friend was behind her in line at the local Vons like 6 months ago, and she got into a loud argument with the cashier about the price of soup.

My buddy didn’t recognize her (I’m 39 and he’s like 37, so we’re a bit too young to be fans during X’s heyday), but he looked her up because she was wearing a very faded X tour sweatshirt and for whatever reason he wondered if the woman with opinion about soup prices happened to be in that band. Turns out: yes.

Ok, that doesn’t make her “insane”, but I just bought a house here in Orange and this is as good as time as any to mention that the lead singer of X lives nearby and goes to same grocery store I do.
posted by sideshow at 12:12 AM on April 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

I just saw them phone it in at the Orange County Fair last summer. The Reverend Horton Heat opened, X was next and The Damned played half their Machine Gun Etiquette album for us.

I don't remember any of this stuff in their set, but it was a pretty uninspired showing. I've seen them a few times before...before anyone gets upset at the criticism.

This is pretty good stuff!
posted by Chuffy at 12:37 AM on April 24, 2020

Exene is a wingnut. You can expect to see her at COVID-19 protests and Tea Party rallies. Base your psychological evaluation on this, and you'll have your answers...
posted by Chuffy at 12:39 AM on April 24, 2020

Seems like the prophecy of this article is coming true, in a bizarre backhanded way: Why Ronald Reagan Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Punk Rock

As the 2016 presidential election approaches, it's worth looking back on all this in order to find a silver lining in the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. Sure, he's a racist, lying, orange-skinned torture enthusiast, but could he lead a punk rock revolution similar to the one we saw in the early 80s? In Trump's America, you might have to bury your collection of first-press Dangerhouse singles in your aunt's backyard like it was kiddie porn, but there's no question some great songs would be written about what would be a terrible four years for the country. All I know is, I'm about to copyright the band names Trump Youth, Trump SS, and Millions of Dead Trumps.

posted by chavenet at 1:22 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

If Exene is a ranting wingnut, she's a dime a dozen in Orange County.
posted by blucevalo at 5:45 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'll be interested to listen to this later today. I used to really like their music, though I haven't listened to it in a long time. But reading about the political issues is disappointing -- I'll listen to this online, but that doesn't make me want to support them financially, like when touring can restart and they are promoting this album.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 AM on April 24, 2020

I have a lot of confused thoughts about Exene and have not looked too deeply at her politics - it's not what I need her for, I just want to hear her wail against John Doe's warm voice. But I think there's something there about how being on the outside, being a smart person who grows up against a lot of received wisdom, opens people up to possibilities that are actually wrong. I know a lot of autodidact punk people who hold terrible views on things like vaccines, government conspiracies, health nut food weirdness, and have done a lot of harm to the people around them, whom I still cherish. Pain breeds violence, you know? Anyway this is not a defense of Exene or Billy Zoom's politics, but I will go see them play until death takes one or all of them, their music is a throb of joy in my life. The last time I saw them live was at the Fillmore and they played most of my favorite record (More Fun) and I was heavily pregnant. The crowd was full of parents and children and grey hair like mine, it was dorky and fun and they sounded so good.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:58 AM on April 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

I got into X while John Doe was doing many solo shows at McCabes in Santa Monica, CA, saw all of them and forever became a fan, forever.

Really enjoyed the book as well, I was a deadhead at the time, so for me reading it was a chance to envision a road less taken.
posted by silsurf at 7:06 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Isn't this technically the first original-lineup X album in 35 years? Because they definitely released a couple albums in the late '80s and '90s with different guitarists. Whatever the case, I'm stoked!
posted by heteronym at 7:15 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

correct, heteronym.
posted by mwhybark at 7:59 AM on April 24, 2020

X on OneWeekOneBand, including some writing about how X in general and Exene in particular are problematic faves.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:17 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

One of my four or five favorite bands on the planet, and I'm so glad Billy Zoom is in the lineup. Thank you for posting.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:26 AM on April 24, 2020

and, scrolling up, I won't be listening to this new one. Can't support it in good conscience.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:30 AM on April 24, 2020

And gentle reminder that fascism != mental illness. You can pass every psych test on the planet and still be a Nazi. And it's a really harmful trope for those with actual mental illness.

Don't give Exene an easy pass on this.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:33 AM on April 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

I bought all the X albums used. I wish there was a similar option for this. Oh well.
posted by pxe2000 at 9:48 AM on April 24, 2020

Also: History of Punk
posted by The Tensor at 10:32 AM on April 24, 2020

I think there's quite a difference between having generically weird/conspiratorial ideas and actively participating in the harassment of mass shooting survivors and the families of the dead, and thus a considerable moral difference in giving money to the latter.
posted by tavella at 11:19 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don't know if she's mentally ill or just as asshole, but I suspect it may be some combination of the two. Exene's politics sicken me but if you cast out your favorites based on their problematic behavior or beliefs you'll have nobody left. (Seriously, eventually they'll all horrify you.) You can buy this album and support X, the legendary band, without supporting the wingnuttiness of Exene or Billy. It's sort of like how, when you pay taxes, you tell yourself you're doing your bit to support social programs, keeping schools open, etc. Yeah, the money also goes to building more goddamned bombers and awfulness, but that's not the part of the country you're choosing to pay for.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:17 PM on April 24, 2020

"Donald Bonebrake" confuses me.

In 1996 or so, I was working at a musical instrument store in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. It was a rare rainy day, so business was slow. For about an hour, the only customers (who arrived separately) were Clem Burke (Blondie drummer) Kathy Valentine (Go-Go's bassist) and D.J. Bonebrake.

Bonebrake bought something - maybe sticks? - and payed with an X corporate AmEx card. I thought that was amusing at the time. All these years later though, I could have sworn that the name on the card was "Darren Bonebrake". Memory...
posted by Anoplura at 4:24 PM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Isn't this technically the first original-lineup X album in 35 years? Because they definitely released a couple albums in the late '80s and '90s with different guitarists. Whatever the case, I'm stoked!
posted by heteronym at 9:15 AM on April 24 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]

correct, heteronym.
posted by mwhybark at 9:59 AM on April 24 [+] [!]

So, as one who knows them mostly from the '90s, is there a reason that every article/blog post I have seen about this album ignores that it is the first album in 35 years from the original members?

I have no problem with them saying, "This is the first REAL X album in 35 years." Ignoring the albums that have come between with less than the original band and no acknowledgement of those albums is confusing at best.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 5:04 PM on April 24, 2020

So, as one who knows them mostly from the '90s, is there a reason that every article/blog post I have seen about this album ignores that it is the first album in 35 years from the original members?
I've been wondering about this too. Hell, even the album's Bandcamp page says "first new album in 35 years." We all know that's not exactly true, y'all!

To quote Crowley's apocryphal last words, "I am perplexed."
posted by heteronym at 8:10 PM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Exene's politics sicken me but if you cast out your favorites based on their problematic behavior or beliefs you'll have nobody left.

I'm actually quite confident that I can listen to plenty of delightful music without giving money to people encouraging the harassment of parents of murdered children. It's fine if you don't care what artists you listen do, but pretending that 'both sides are the same' is kind of slimy. There's a difference between "flawed as all humans are" and "genuinely vile person."
posted by tavella at 11:16 PM on April 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't say "both sides are the same" and I think calling me "slimy" is, uh, not cool.

There are flat-out evil people and much better people. But if you name any artist you think is great, somebody could probably provide you with info about that person that would break your heart. People, especially artists who may have some mental issues, tend to do a lot of shitty stuff in their lives. I've lived long enough to see every hero badly disappoint me in some way. (Mr. Rogers seems like he was a genuinely good person, but even he was a Republican.)

I'm not saying we should just shrug and excuse evil things. But the art isn't the artist. Some people are awful but they put great stuff into the world. If you limit yourself to artists who never did bad things you'll be drawing from a very small pool and you'll miss out on most of the best stuff. And then THOSE seemingly saintly people will probably disappoint you eventually.

I think some of the stuff Exene says now is contemptible, but I also don't know if she's quite right in the head. When I see her these days, she seems this close to being the lady on the bus ranting about lizard people. She makes me angry but I also kind of pity her and hope she finds her way. And she's not the whole band. I can still feel like X is a good thing in this world, even if Exene herself may no longer be.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:58 AM on April 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

I feel uncomfortable sharing this, but I also want to defend X. We all know they are a pioneer punk band. They are individuals, with lives and careers independent of each other. They are certainly not millionaires with unlimited funds to donate album sale profits to causes or politics. My guess is they released this album to help Billy pay off medical bills and maybe make some money for his family. Maybe it was also a last chance to recapture the magic of their early years together.
Exene is a person who has been on the fringes, living as a creative, outsider for more than 40 years. As anti-establishment as a person can be. The political statements she has made are appalling. I hated them myself.
I’m sure the rest of the band wishes she hadn’t made them, and my best guess is that she regrets at least some of them. Or maybe she doesn’t, she may feel backed into a corner and dig in her heels. I think it’s not unusual for a celebrity to surround themselves with friends who will not tell them when they’re crossing a line. To think they have answers other people just don’t see. Maybe celebrities are more likely to follow conspiracy theories- I don’t know. But I don’t agree with discounting a person’s artistic catalog over a terrible interview they give. She’s not Woody Allen, she’s not Michael Jackson. She destroyed herself and her reputation with the statements she made. She did that to herself. As someone who likes her personally and at one time even got to be friendly with her, I think she shouldn’t have done that. I really hated it. I’ll definitely never follow her on social media because I don’t want to hear that shit. My closest comparison, that’s not perfect, but what I got: It’s like a loudmouth uncle who won’t shut up at thanksgiving. We love them, but we wish they’d stop talking. That doesn’t mean I’ll never talk to their kids or buy them groceries if they need it or visit them at Christmas or whatever.
I personally give Exene more credit than my own loudmouth relatives because I think she’s grown into whatever fringe opinions she has today (I do think she’s changed & is not as extreme, now, but I don’t know). But I think she got to these beliefs after a hard time of being f’d over by the music industry, some personal issues, real health tragedies, and just a lot of terrible luck. She never got to be a rich, pampered celebrity, you know? She’s been living on the outside with no funds and she got sick and angry. That’s what I think happened to her. And I hope she’s getting better because I love her. She’s Exene Cervenka.
I think with this album they’re trying to pay some bills and help Billy. If that means I get to listen to new X, I’m good with that.
posted by areaperson at 7:59 AM on April 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

Many/most? of my favorite artists of the past were horrible to women and were drug addicts. That has not stopped me from liking their music.

I'm going consider that John Doe offsets any issues. I bought both his books.
posted by andreap at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

35 Years? Hey Zeus came out in 1993. Coincidentally I dug up that tape a few months ago and gave it a listen for the first time since it came out - it holds up better now than then.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 10:41 AM on April 25, 2020

Billy's been a fairly mainstream Republican since at least the late 90s, and probably earlier. I've never liked X for their politics.

My two favorite X songs are "See How We Are" and "4th of July." Neither is what I'd expect from a band full of Republicans.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:56 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

That's because, luckily, Billy wasn't the one writing the lyrics.
posted by ericthegardener at 8:29 PM on April 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

Lyn Never, the album is not fascist and does not feature any of Exene's horrifying conspiracy beliefs. The lyrics are often melancholy, it's clear they all went into this thinking this is the last album they're going to be able to record, but it isn't full of truther or right-wing bullshit.

wrt: Exene-- I'm always a little puzzled when people love punk but turn a blind eye to the way a lot of those folks lived and the long-term effects that has on your mental health. People upthread are dropping anecdotes about the entire band being heavy meth users like that's nothing. We're all kind of gently eliding how much of X's original material was about serious, life-destroying alcoholism, both in lyrical content and what we heard in performances. A lot of people get sober and a lot of people don't, and if you have the kind of mental issues Exene very clearly does seem to have, long term substance abuse takes a major toll. Like lawn beaver, I know a lot of "autodidact punk people" who spiraled out into crank beliefs, exacerbated by the shitty US health system if they have any combination of physical or mental heath issues plus any kind of dual diagnosis situation that's likely going to be in the mix from someone who wrote multiple albums about being a non-functioning alcoholic. Exene seemed hateful but also clearly unwell in her conspiracy material in a way that's very familiar if you know long-term dual-dx meth users or alcoholics with some serious underlying issue. I don't understand the point of a headline like VICE's "Is Exene actually insane" headline (and article) rather than actually just saying, like Pras and Wyclef have about Lauryn Hill, that she seems to be severely mentally ill. I'm also not a fan of the weird moralizing trend about how not all mentally ill people have shitty beliefs-- which is clearly true, but you don't really get a choice about where your paranoid fixations take you. Schizophrenia or other paranoid belief disorders don't work on some Calvinist logic where the good psychotic people will believe in relatively harmless shit like aliens and chemtrails and the bad ones will fall for horrifying conspiracies like Sandy Hook or fetal tissue in Pepsi. There are absolutely right-wing musicians in the SoCal punk scene that I don't want to financially support, like Glenn Danzig and his years of OC nazi affiliations, but those are people who've entered that belief sphere in sound mind and sobriety and that truly doesn't seem to be the case for Exene. I can understand looking at that kind of hatefulness and saying, I cannot deal with this, I have to disengage, but it's in a very different category for me than dealing with people coming to those views from a place of mental stability.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:40 AM on April 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

« Older "I can't remember anything like this happening...   |   A Cultural Touchstone Of His Time Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments