Autobahn Drones, Canadian Sleaze Glam, Suburban Ennui, And Some Stones Fans From Queens
Babylon Dance Band, “When I’m Home”/”Remains Of The Beat” (Babylon Dance Band, 1981) This is what indie rock could have sounded like, damn: A lively rhythm that actually propels the music forward (basslines and handclaps leading the guitars–reminds me of early ’80s Georgia band Pylon); a lively vocal that actually sounds engaged rather than detached (an exasperated male semi-Southern drawl that winds up stretching and twisting vowels and exclaiming “whoo!”–reminds me of early ’80s Georgia band the Brains.) Still, despite their name, not really a dance band, and not reggae either. Four collegiate-looking young people from Louisville; three clean-cut guys, one bespectacled girl. Tim Harris and Tara Key later wound up in Antietam, and BDB reunited for an album on Matador in 1994 that hardly anybody noticed; their MySpace now lists them as a New York band. On the 45 sleeve, in the same picture that wound up on the cover of The Village Voice back then, they’re loading their instruments into their car. A-side’s about having cabin fever: “When I’m home, I just bitch and moan.” “When I’m home, I could be on the road, in an empty room, with just a telephone.” B-side is faster, more urgent, with a guitar part that could be a sax part. And yeah–what remains of the beat here is a lot more than what would remain of it in indie rock only a few years later.
The Black Halos, “Jane Doe”/”Russian Roulette” (Sub Pop, 2000) Their leather-clad photo on the cover has “glam sleaze” written all over it, which ten years earlier would have still meant “post- G’nR hair metal” (it all dates back to Hanoi Rocks or Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers anyway), but sometime in the ’90s (D Generation maybe?) the look shifted back to meaning “punk,” somehow. Anyway, a decent sloppy churn; doesn’t necessarily convince me these Vancouver boys are afflicted with the social diseases their subgenre implies, and doesn’t necessarily have to. But they do better with the B-side’s power ballad than the would-be rocker on the A; the singer calls himself “a late-night thriller” and tries to rhyme “Viet nam” with “Superman” and what sounds like “Russian ryall” with either “vial” or “vile,” either of which seems appropriate. Inside my copy there’s a subscription order card for the Sub Pop Singles Club, and the next two on the schedule are by Dead C and Death Cab For Cutie–similar names, but kind of far apart regardless.
Blumfeld, “Draußen Auf Kaution”/”Jet Set” (Big Cat, 1995) One of the only songs in my collection with the old German “ettsett” letter (signifying a double “s”) in its title, so it’s no surprise when the A-side kicks off with some car ignition, like this reportedly Kafka-inspired Hamburg band is about to fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn. That evolves into repeating guitar drones, and what’s unexpected is how pretty and exquisitely lonely the drones and German accents turn from there, prefiguring a mood the Notwist would catch a few years later. My high-school-and-Army-base Deutsch helps me catch a few phrases: “um den strassen,” “ich nicht,” “nicht forgessen.” The Nasty Little Man press release still tucked inside the sleeve says they were one of Steve Albini’s favorite bands at the time, and yeah, they’re partaking in a precise and severe aesthetic you can imagine him admiring. “Jet Set” speeds things up, matching the forward motion of one of Sonic Youth’s less lethargic songs circa Sister, with vocals working hard Teutonic consonants against the rhythm. Nothing sloppy or social diseased about these guys, that’s for sure.
Bona Roba, “Cunningham Park”/”The Slip” (Sonico, 2004) As much a garage band as Black Halos, but from Queens, hence more middle-class strivers than bohemian slummers; they sound like they’ve rehearsed more and they ingest better drugs–namely, beer. They also sound like they really like the Rolling Stones a lot. On the picture sleeve, they’re playing in a basement rec room or a neighborhood dive bar, with Brooklyn Brewery logos on the wall and ice machines behind them. “Cunningham Park,” about fighting and fucking in the summer, makes the public space in its title sound legendary even though I’ve never heard of the place before. “The Slip” is more muffled but still Stonesey, and still full-throated, and with some harmonies–an Exile move maybe, though seeing how it’s “recorded live to 4-track,” you can’t be completely sure.
Born Bavarian, “Fucking In The Butt”/”White Blue Trash” (Steel Cage, 2001) Based in Germany, like Blumfeld, but Germany’s deep South part, and I get the idea they drink more beer than Bona Roba too. Probably also not a great band to start a fight with: The photo inside the 45 sleeve shows singer Andi Nauerz wearing a Klan hood and cape, but it’s plaid; guitarist Klaus Pelz has a CCCP hammer-and-sickle T-shirt. On the back cover, there’s a big ugly bearded biker-looking dude named Rolan Betonohr Holler, who “died alone in the second part of July 2001,” and the record is dedicated to him since he “did us the honor of entering the stage and singing the backing vocals of ‘White Blue Trash’ every fucking time we played a live version of that song’.” The band is apparently from Munich, and the non-song on the A-side (credited songwritingwise to David Allan Coe, though I’ve got a bunch of his albums and it’s sure not on any of those) is ferociously obscene and half-assed Motörhead/G.G. Allin cowpunk in which they threaten to “fuck the shit out of you.” But the rousing chorus of “White Blue Trash” is where you can absolutely envision soused louts in the crowd hoisting their steins in the air and breaking bar stools over each others’ heads just for the jolly sport of it: “We are White!” “We are Blue!” “We Are White! Blue! Trash!” I don’t know what that slogan means from a racial perspective, and to be honest I’m not sure I want to know; I’m just going to assume they’re proud to be working class on the weekend and leave it at that. And yeah, the verses are incomprehensible, but I double-dare you to say that to these guys’ faces. At the end, guitar chords turn into “Sweet Home Alabama,” totally at home away from home.
Broken Bottles, “Suburban Dream”/”Broken Bottles” (TKO, 2006) Another Pleasant Valley Sunday, here in Status-Symbol Land: “Down the street/I’m in a band/We got the beat/The neighborhood watch is after us/White picket fence.” Snide but poppish, the offspring of Green Day, from Southern California and they sound like it. Then, in Broken Bottles’ theme song, Jess The Mess whines through his adenoids about how they got kicked out of an ’80s bar and wound up drinking and breaking bottles in the street, and these kids thereby make their claim as true punks–skinny ones, and stupid ones maybe, but brave ones. “Like to dance to ’80s [or ‘ladies’?] music/Want to cause a problem.” I wonder if the ’80s bar is in the suburbs. I also bet they don’t know how sad they sound.