Teenage Rage! covers garage rock, punk, and other exciting matters, as a more melodic counterpart to my other column, Unheard. Issue #2 soaks in the goods from a triad of labels that release vinyl of different quantities and qualities.
Clouds Hill Records
Johann Scheerer runs Clouds Hill Records, a Hamburg-based imprint specializing in immaculate sound production and detailed, lovingly-crafted vinyl editions, almost to the point of purist fanaticism. Since opening up shop in 2009, his label has put out around thirty records by an assembly of (mostly German) folks – among them, Kraków Loves Adana, Stella, and even the new incarnation of Faust – all decked out in regal packaging and attached to considerable price tags.
Their latest is the Clouds Hill debut for journeyman band Gallon Drunk, who have been polluting airwaves with swampy rock sound since 1988, although The Road Gets Darker From Here is the first record on which they’ve worked with a real producer – and it’s been recorded in full analogue to two-inch tape, no less. Theirs is an interesting sound to polish with audiophile fidelity. Their songs are dense, thick, and muddy, and hence a challenge to capture clearly and faithfully. Despite all the best equipment, when the band really gets going, the sound tends to congeal together as one big, goopy mass. But on The Road this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in fact, this record seems like an accurate encapsulation of what Gallon Drunk are all about. Scheerer allows the band to submerge their horns in guitars, so they come out all soppy and dripping. He permits them to be their murky and sloppy selves, a challenge for any producer. Peering in at their sound, it is surprising Gallon Drunk have remained so unsung for so long (and kept on going) – check 1991′s excessively and magnificently off-kilter “Some Fool’s Mess.”
The Road itself is raunchy and sweltering, with each side ending with a slower song. “Stuck in My Head,” which closes off the A-side, is one such track – mucky and bluesy, it rolls along at a swaying pace, shedding off enrapturing melody throughout. They attack other tracks with a snarl, as on sleazy “You Made Me” and “Killing Time,” which reflect the trashy indie rock of The Jesus Lizard. But, oh, the glory is in the details – those moments where Gallon Drunk seems to interject the exact perfect thing into a track at just the right moment. For example, the tension building in “A Thousand Years” until things are just at the cusp, only to splinter into a transcendent saxophone solo. Or the jerky rhythms of “The Big Breakdown”, punctuated by these sublime double-stabs on the electric organ that emulate a blaring car horn. Or the way they inject these dirty saxophone strips into their tracks, eliciting a bedlam not unlike the Cows‘ cataclysmic trumpet muss. These details – and the clarity with which the production captures them – make this album a total pleasure to own. And the attention to detail in the pressing and packaging – be it enlisting Chris von Rautenkranz, formerly of Deutsche Grammophon, to master the record, or hand-adhering the barcodes onto cellophane so as to preserve the LP sleeve – inch it towards perfection.
I asked Scheerer about the process of both producing and releasing The Road. One of the challenges was extricating himself from the role of label boss in order to properly assume the role of producer. “When I am producing, I completely release myself from label work. I tell the guys that work at Clouds Hill that I won’t be able to answer questions during the production process and cannot be part of the label team at all. Sometimes that’s hard but necessary.” This, to me, is an interesting concept – you’d think the label side would push the producer to perfection, since the label is stamping its endorsement on the release. But perhaps it’s a conflict between what a label person thinks will sell, and what a producer thinks is, artistically, the right thing to do, that drives the Scheerer’s conscious separation of roles. The Road, then, is an interesting artifact. Gallon Drunk are a band with a following, but a small one. They never broke out in the sense the Jesus Lizard or even Cows did. Meanwhile, this is a thick, substantive record that, above all, is interesting sonically. I’m not certain the public will catch on, but Scheerer can be assured he’s given due treatment to a few guys who’ve been raising a respectable ruckus for awhile.
Drug Front Records
The Drug Front plan is straightforward – their albums are rip-roaring, weighty garage rock triumphs, sturdy from the top down. The singles, meanwhile, seem to capture more extraneous moments, be they goofy or offensive or just especially wild. I’ll start with them, because, well, singles are pretty fucking sweet.
Runny‘s Legendary Runny EP is supposedly puke colored, but what do you have to eat to puke out greyish green splatted with black?? Sardines, spinach, and charcoal? Come on, Drug Front Records, you’re better than that! Regardless, the concept befits career raunch-rockers Runny, who cloak their personas in anonymity and apparently include one doctor within the group (gynecologist jokes etc.). This EP’s A-side is a triumphant ode to all that is odious, set to a carnivorous backbone of trashy rock machismo. “Sucking on the Wrong Dick” rides a lurching bassline into a breakneck chorus, with singer Lemon Cookie‘s lecherous yowl navigating the thing through a mess of satisfyingly breakneck guitars. But it doesn’t even pretend to prepare the listener for endearing “Way Up Inside,” which shakes at a more casual pace but employs a boy-girl back-and-forth to chart the progression of sequentially more and more body parts “up inside” the singers’ various body cavities. Sadly, by comparison to the A-side’s impenetrable (pun intended) excesses, the flip disappoints. “Punish Me” pilfers a snatch of “Where is My Mind?” but suffers from a flat, middling-grunge chorus, whereas the final track remixes/re-imagines fan favorite “All the Living Things You Gave Me Are Dead” into dub-inflected club track. I know, what the fuck. Either way, this is more than a bit of a goof but I like it, and the A-side justifies the admission price.
An illuminating piece of personal narrative pulled from 10 Cent Fuck Flicks‘ Facebook page: “I just puked on a congressman……no kidding…..Fuck.” Matching the sentiment, the band’s eight-track, seven-inch EP is a cavalcade of blistering, ultra-hectic garage rock fun. Tracks like “Toyota” and “Bleed Baby Bleed” admittedly don’t do much to distinguish themselves from one another – but when you’re packing as much in as these folks do, and at this breathless tempo no less, you can be forgiven if it all ends up as kind of a blur. You can pick up snippets of the lyrics here and there, but the true charm of this record stems from its literally cathartic ability to bowl you the fuck over. Frantic “Chew You Up, whose sumptuous chord changes hit you like a dashboard to a black fly, is the record’s defining achievement, but I’m also partial to the Sonicsy “Laurieanne,” whose lovelorn lyrics achieve a high-wire but heartfelt intensity. Super-charged surf instrumental “Pussy Flavoured Ice Cream,” meanwhile, transcends its appetizing title with a vicious charge of guitars. And all this is limited to 250 and pressed on murky brownish translucent vinyl – i.e. it looks like someone shat into the molten vinyl.
Dear record labels: If you include a picture disc in your review pack, it’s pretty damn hard for me to stay impartial. I am only flesh and blood, after all. As a result, is it a coincidence I think Miniboone‘s “The Other Summer” b/w “Fight Song” single is rather great? I’m not sure, but I do know these two tracks capture the affable New York power-pop band at an exuberant, harmonized peak. In a recent-ish interview for Hardcore Norfolk, the group itemized a few of their strengths: “energy, tunesmithing, screaming, block rockin’ beats, G sharps, dental hygiene, moves, respect for the elderly, showmanship, ‘the pocket,’ reciting all of ‘Wayne’s World’ from memory, bleeding, charming moms, three-part harmonies, knocking stuff over, covering Bruce Springsteen and parallel parking our van.” Yeah, this single includes the bulk of those – particularly the A-side, which is a lengthy, complex pop epic that bounces ebulliently from idea to idea without a single failed segue. Think “Bohemian Rhapsody” as reinterpreted by a gaggle of XTC-lovin’ twentysomethings. “Fight Side,” understandably, lives in its flipside’s shadow, but grips on firmly to one of the band’s strengths – their ability to feed the perfect line a sterling hook to thrive on, most saliently the impassioned reminiscence of “I grew up on the radio-whoa-whoa.” A pop band if I ever heard one.
By contrast to the 45s, Drug Front’s LPs are serious business. Whereas some of history’s best singles are novelties (Lou Bega and Jimmy Ray, your moment is nigh!), novelty rarely provides the foundation for a full album. As it were, DFR’s full-length crop is exciting and electric, with many an opportunity to perspire cradled within.
Like one of Patrick Kane’s t-shirts, The Naked Heroes‘ Demon the Whiskey Down (DFRLP-006) is soaked in sweat and booze. It literally reeks of stale lager and body odor. Musically speaking, its guitars shake the floorboards and George Michael Jackson‘s raspy growl puts you in your place. There is a certain superhero mythology that’s been constructed around these folks for this release (which comes with a comic book showcasing their exploits), a marvelous bit of self-aggrandizement that offers a peek into the band members’ psyches. From my experience, this sort of affair can be used to distract attention from the mundaneness of the music, but fortunately this isn’t the case here. The tracks all serve the central premise (surrender yourself to the almighty service of rock/whiskey) but vary a smidgen in their attack-power. My uncontested favorite is the glorious title-track, a liquor-soaked blues that caps off the record – it strikes a fine balance between melody and a contained sort of bad-assery, with electric organ sloshed around for good measure. But it’s a bit of an exception, as the bulk of the record is spent at a relentless gallop, as on muscled “Take A Knee,” whose ooh-ah ooh-ah chorus resonates blissfully as a good ol’ fashioned chant-along. Amid all the guitar musculature, a few blips – perhaps understandably – fail to distinguish themselves among all the sturdy riffs and smoke-rasped vocals. The ones that stand out, expectedly, are powered by mega-hooks and a tipsy, half-blues/half-chaos sense of teetering over the void – chiefly “Ginger Jones,” “Buzzard Juice” (feat. cameo “Brown Sugar” riff), and “Bag O’ Bones.” N.B. Check out the video for “Ugly Girls.”
I liked Mighty Fine‘s Get Up To Go Down least of my three Drug Front LPs when I first heard it, but I’ve given it a fair shake now, and as it turns out it rips some major sphinct. The album begins with a pummeling drum roll followed by a high-pitched wail, yanking the listener in by the collar. It’s fitting that the band’s initials are M.F. – a fact these folks make no attempt to play down – because these tracks slap you in the crown like a motherfucker. The Mighty Fine take the raunch and the odd chord progression from the Sonics (“Got Love Will Travel” = “Black Train”), the loose legs and jawing of James Brown, and the explosion of the John Spencer Blues Explosion and channel them into something more or less exhilarating. It’s an impressive arrangement from frontman/songwriter Steve Myers, who toiled for years with the Twilight Singers and thee Afghan Whigs (Greg Dulli lends his talent to this album’s lead single) but has only recently snagged the opportunity to play songwriter. To set the stage: crazy rhythms, guitars all riled up like a kid cooped in all day, and Myers’ falsetto slathered over everything. And they’ve had the good sense to throw some hooks in the muddle, too, which kind of seals the deal. Myers calls it his “raw party record,” which reflects this record’s core strength (it makes you want to party) as well as its weakness – the latter being the fact that it sometimes forgets to take a much needed breath to properly harness its tension. When this happens (as on triumphant “All There Is,” which Myers has credited as his proudest moment on here), it’s a mighty fine thing. All things considered, however, the crowning, epochal, eminently gratifying moment on this record is “Danger,” which heads off the B-side. Within its few wonderful minutes, a sweltering Southern groove-rock track, juiced with wah-wah, makes way for a chorus that drops straight into Curtis Mayfield territory. YES. The Dulli collab, “Ready to Roar,” also warrants mention since it’s the record’s first single – it’s upbeat and rollicking, and brandishes this delightful sense of being on chaos’ verge – and the Slackers‘ horn section seals the deal.
Last up, The Live Ones slather their hooks in long-haired riffs and sweaty solos on Yer Quite Welcome (DFRLP-003). It kinda makes you feel like a fly on the wall in Dazed and Confused, weed in your locker and a keg party in the woods. This trio have all the right influences, particularly the stoned rock music of the seventies, with a latent proto-punk streak interred within. “Disowned” reminds me of the desperately underrated Lucy’s Fur Coat, where hefty riffs and bummer, down-n-out lyrics are saturated in a blissfully stoned, seventies sound. Like a child with turd in hand, the Me Decade is slathered proudly all over Yer Quite Welcome: “Lifeline” is pure Foghat, “Therapy” opens the acid-rock faucet and out comes a haze of Deep Purple, and “She Got Soul” exploits KISS‘s sexual showmanship to salacious ends. Still, there’s more to this record than seventies revivalism, and these are good songs no matter how you cut them. “Right On, Sister,” an exemplary piece, impales you on a stellar hook and its flaming pit of guitars. And The Live Ones, despite their bravado, can even handle the odd slow song – “Haunted” is the brooding, weed-clouded “heartfelt” track, pitched at a slower tempo; while it isn’t the band’s best moment, it’s an earned contemplative moment with a respectable Dream Syndicate influence. On the more uppity tracks, singer (and drummer!) Mike Czekaj demonstrates his enthusiastic commitment to the Altar of Rock, as on “Laugh Out Loud” where his yowl is propelled over an up-n-down guitar line. It makes you feel like you should be swerving treacherously in and out of traffic in a top-open convertible, laughing maniacally, with luggage and audiotapes trailing behind.
All Hands Electric
I respect the All Hands Electric philosophy to making records – they use their 45s to introduce the world to nubile bands without past releases out, pressing a safe 200 copies apiece to avoid milking the savings account dry. And isn’t that what a single should be: a quick snapshot of a band “giving it their best shot?” Sure, Youtube (and, previously, Myspace, BLEUCHHHHH) may have largely absorbed this role, but if you can’t appreciate the allure of a seven-inch piece of vinyl doubling as a gateway to a band unknown, then you are an absolute piece of shit.
Brooklyn’s Virginia Plain named themselves after an early Roxy Music single, but their sound is much closer to the neon synth-pop of Avalon and the work of other keyboard abusers of the eighties. Their debut single (AHE-17) is a swell showcase for Alfra Martini‘s dusky voice and their armament of stiff drum machine rhythms and glistening keys. They’d fit well alongside The Chromatics and whoever else was on the Drive soundtrack. Martini’s beckoning croon slots wonderfully aside the spectral synths in “Swamp Thing” (alas, not a cover of The Grid‘s tromping 90s classic), which is slightly less immediate, but whose atmosphere and momentum render it the better track in the long run. That isn’t to say that “Electric Eyes” is a bucket of turds – on the contrary, it’s a catchy, OMD-inspired bit of atmo-pop with a rhythm perhaps a little too stiff for its own benefit. Also, do drum machine handclaps ever not sound forced? Still, a decent single.
The Gang Violets bring us two pop songs on their debut single (AHE-16), demonstrating that sometimes it’s the adventurous B-side that overshadows its vanilla sibling. Here, the sibling in question is a cheery sing-along pop song that warrants a hum, but whose sucralose sweetness will put off everyone but the most winsome of twee-boppers. These folks were thinking this song would be catchy because of its simplicity (think “You Are My Sunshine”), but the melody isn’t quite there, and they don’t have the conviction to truly drive it home. Sonically, the flipside’s“A Touch From the Wild Child” is much more interesting – its delightful quirkiness is equally in touch with late sixties psychedelia and Rain Parade revivalism, steeping a simple pop song in harmonium and wistful guitar soloing to create a warm and surprising three minutes.
Plates of Cake echo The Gang Violets’ very vague country/folk influence on their single (AHE-15), possibly because their singer sounds like a dumb Bob Dylan. Their tracks are short and to the point, with the sort of simple melodies some scruffy-faced C.H.U.D. with an acoustic guitar might sing at a campfire to worm his way into a quadruplet of panties. I’m not sure why I draw that analogy, as Jonathan Byerley doesn’t really seem like the lascivious type at all – maybe I’m just skeptical of anyone who chooses to write quaint, likable pop songs. Regardless, my interest is piqued most by the reverb-plated B-side, “Transit Trials,” whose evocative lyrics convert the dull subway ride between New Jersey and New York into a tale of love and whimsy.
Last up, Test House‘s twelve-inch Bitemarks EP deals in the dancier side of new wave with a set of six catchy songs alive with momentous rhythms and vibrant synths. The tracks are generally a pleasure to soak up, with a considerably stronger set on side A. Here we find the simmering title track, whose bumping house beat pulses on as buzzy keyboards chirp cheerfully. Meanwhile, the EP’s definite apogee, “My Ocean,” rolls around in blissful synth lines and catchy vocals like a dog in a squirrel’s carcass. An odd track on the b-side, “Love is Not Enough” warrants mention – it’s the most vocals-heavy track here, but its singer is unusually out of tune with the instrumentation, marring an otherwise enticing bit of synth-pop. Yet somehow it’s still catchy! The record is seen to a healthy end with lengthy “Island,” which evolves unpredictably (though mostly gracefully) throughout its course while maintaining a grip on its central melody.
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