Cartoonists With Theremins, Teenage Symphonies, Bawdy Brits, And <em>Simpsons</em> Scratching
Being a professional rock critic means you wind up accumulating a lot of records–some of which you even keep! In Singles Again, Chuck Eddy will…well, actually we’ll just let him explain it this first time around:
So this new column is where I cash in on inevitable nostalgia for a more innocent analog time by digging out and spinning for myself all the mysterious indie vinyl 7-inches by forgotten no-names that have piled up on my shelf over the past decade or two, in hopes of figuring out why the heck I kept them in the first place. In alphabetical order, no less.
Action Suits, “Cancer Father”/”Visualize Ballard” (Man’s Ruin, 1996) First thing you notice about this is that the sleeve–a cartoon of a guy with his eyes bugging out in front of both a desolate hospital and a haunted forest–is clearly drawn by Peter Bagge, of Hate comics fame. (Who must be famous, seeing how I can probably count on one hand the number of graphic novelists whose drawing styles I could recognize on sight.) Turns out he also drums; the keyboard/Theremin player is Steve Fisk, of engineering-lots-of-indie-bands fame. Action Suits apparently recorded in Seattle, and their vinyl is a lovely translucent periwinkle. “Cancer Father” starts slow and piano-tinkly and gives its topic away with its title; otherwise, I’m not sure I’d figure out what all the disjunct lines about Kodak photos of Dear Old Dad and unfamiliar faces gathered around and how the singer could have used more compassion are meant to add up to. Still, it sounds emotional–in a, uh, proto-emo way–and I can relate to fathers’ funerals. The B-side’s the keeper, though, a more energized off-key jangle with a weird (is there any other kind?) Theremin solo in the middle and a tangible chorus: “I wanna quit my job/I wanna commit crime/I wanna steal your stuff/And I wanna take your life.” Also stuff about blue collar workers in rusty Chevy trucks which–a pleasant surprise–doesn’t sound entirely condescending.
The Action Suits [MySpace]
The Aislers Set, “Attraction Action Reaction”/”Clouds Will Clear” (Suicide Squeeze, 2001) The A-side has a girl (one Amy Linton) opening up her non-extroverted indie-waif voice enough to make music-box time signatures (somewhere in the neighborhood of Swiss post-punks Kleenex/Liliput) quite pretty; words at least partially concern waiting by the phone for a crush to call. There’s a good quasi-jazzy midsection break, and the music is given room to stretch out until it stops cold at the end. “Clouds Will Clear” (“AA side,” sleeve and label say) has a more bored-sounding boy (one Wyatt Cusick) serenading his own unrequited secret admiree (“someday I’ll find a way to make you notice me”) and making it pretty as well, though in a less distinctive way. Guitar turns into a nice little rustic jangle for a couple bars, while rodents squeak in the background.
The Aislers Set [MySpace]
The All Golden “Velikovsky”/”This Guitar’s Gone To Heaven” (Bubblegum Smile, 1999) More modest and moody indie jangle. Sounds like it could’ve come from New Zealand, which I mean as a compliment, though Google informs me the band was from Kent, Ohio. But the label’s motto is “a teenage symphony in every groove,” and sure enough, “Velikovsky” (which, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with Velikovksy) has pretty guitars criss-crossing pretty vocals and pretty windchimes or perhaps pretty altar-boy bells for four-and-a-half minutes, until eventually an off-key trumpet winds things down. The title of the B-side may or may not be a Pixies reference, not that I care much, and the vocal is less muffled but the folk-strum more average, somehow. Then a verse or two in there’s a momentary yet welcome attempt at vocal harmony, and then eventually a pipe organ or whatever playing Sgt. Pepper’s notes then going out on an extended line. So yeah, teenage symphonies indeed. Or okay, twentysomething symphonies at least.
The All Golden [Official Site]
Apocalypse Babys “Submarine Mary”/”999″/”Money To Burn” (F.U.G. Records, 2000) Okay, now these guys look teenage. On the back-cover photo, they all have long unwashed hair and/or bad teeth, and the mini-EP’s overall title is Full Metal Jacket, so no pencil-necked college geeks here! Nonetheless, amid the pushy attempts at hard rock riffs from excellently named guitarist John “Heavy Metal” Slater, excellently named singer Asterix The Brat sounds endearing anyway, popcorning around excitably about Submarine Mary goin’ down (geddit?) after he sees her standing under the red light. Bon Scott wannabe bawdiness, in other words, and then “999” (also on the A side) is speedier poverty punk with spittle-gob mouthings climaxing in inevitable exclamations of “9-9-9 – emergency!” (See also: Girlschool’s “Emergency,” the Clash’s “London’s Burning,” great early pop-punk Limeys 999.) “Money To Burn” is more or less a power ballad, sung clipped-vowel Joey Ramone style, possibly concerning an after-school job or lack thereof. Humorous press release quote, tucked inside the sleeve of my copy: “Grab your tea and crumpets and sattle up with the queen for some ass kicking punk rock, English style.” The blokes hail from Derbyshire but their label’s in Pensacola–how about that.
Apocalypse Babys [MySpace]
Arlo “Sittin’ On the Aces”/”Skyscraper” (Sub Pop, 2000) The A-side sounds way more fake grunge than I’d expect from something so late in Sub Pop’s lifespan; drummer seems to be a bit of a fusion fan, and the strangulated way the singer threatens to move to Colorado has some Perry Farrell in it, but the guitar curdles are Nirvana nostalgia. The A-side’s passable, but the B is the dullest and vaguest track on any of these singles: stunted tempo and groove, no hook or identifiable song, and it doesn’t scrape the sky like the title promises. Strangely, Sub Pop’s website calls them a “powerpop” band from L.A. So maybe Arlo’s other songs are either more powerful or more poppy than this one is.
Arlo [Sub Pop]
A-Trak “Enter Ralph Wiggum”/”Live @ Tableturns” (Stones Throw, 1999) Give or take Peter Bagge and maybe Steve Fisk, A-Trak is probably the biggest name in this installment; what I know about him, basically, is that he’s a respected turntablist who put out a fun and crunky mix CD last year called Dirty South Dance, on graffiti entrepreneur Shepard Fairey’s Obey imprint. Didn’t know even that much in 1999, and I suspect I kept this then for the novelty: Simpsons reference in title–and on label: “The happiest day of my life is when the doctor told me I didn’t have worms”–and damn near the only itchy and scratchy live turntable-improv workout I’ve ever owned on a 7-inch 45. At that, pretty damn obnoxious: The big beats at the start might be from “Walk This Way,” but then we get a few collaged minutes of show-off wank as pointless as the most onanistic double-live-album drum or guitar solo and less musical. (You can hear people cheering, and you wonder why.) If you make it through, you’re rewarded at the end with a vocal snippet from Steve Miller’s “Take The Money And Run,” probably another reason I hung onto my copy. Oops, that’s the B-side, “produced by Miami-Bass-Trak, recorded live at Tableturns 2nd Anniversary 3/99, NYC.” The A-side–“produced by A-Train, mixed by Ma$e-Trak, recorded at the Macklovitch Residence”–is spacier. Also better, in a sub-DJ Shadow kinda way, with a sampled voice at the end instructing us to “take a trip,” thus lending the exploratory concept perspective. Sleeve features strutting California Raisin type cartoons in top hats; executive producer is backpack icon Peanut Butter Wolf. I’m a sucker, so I probably won’t get rid of it, even now. But Arlo is out the door, I promise.
DJ A-Trak [MySpace]