BURGER RECORDS (Fullerton, California)
Burger Records, an Orange County tape (and vinyl) institution â€“ and local record store, to boot â€“ prints a little cartoon hamburger on each and every one of their releases. It’s come to be seen as an assurance of quality, so I was reeling at the opportunity to run through some of their recent vinyl releases.
The Coles notes on Burger: They started putting out garagey, psychy pop/rock back in 2007, primarily on vinyl and tape. Since then, they’ve been picked up by the media as one of the poster boys for the cassette revival movement, not just by Pitchfork but also the L.A. Times, ever the cultural documentarians, the All Music Guide. Perhaps people have started to take notice because, unlike many other tape labels, they put out accessible and occasionally big-name product (Ty Segall, Hunx, etc.). Perhaps it’s the assload of exciting tapes and records they’ve dropped on the world (direct quote from their AMG interview: â€śweâ€™ve did 100 releases last year and weâ€™re gonna do 200 releasesâ€ť) â€“ generally at $3.33 apiece. Maybe it’s just the cartoon burger. Taken together, the whole Burger machine is a boggling formulation of controlled chaos, fueled by a steady diet of fast food and The Secret (of which co-founders Sean and Lee are well-documented fans).
The first Burger record I ever heard caught my eye because of a cuss word. Philly natives The Tough Shits are a gloriously unabashed power-pop band in a seventies mold and their self-titled, debut LP (BRGR097) boasts a potent crop of choruses to that juicy end. At first I thought the songs (and by extension the band) were a wee bit stupid â€“ perhaps because the fiery opener, â€śTry Not To Laugh,â€ť ties a zippy, snotty pop song around a laundry list of embarrassing and/or unfortunate events (including, but not limited to, amputation), in response to which the singer verbalizes his struggle to stifle his amusement. Despite my doubts, however, these folks churn out winsome, catchy pop songs as if they’re coming up with them on the spot. Their biggest hurdle is the lead singer’s fumbling belt, which has a Ramonesy quality it â€“ dumb articulation, a bit of tobacco-throat, and the occasional strain to stay on key. It works best on the zippy tracks, where imperfections fit the bill, as evidenced by moving â€śSecurity Blanketâ€ť and â€śCats & Dogsâ€ť (a smart vignette on domestic violence). With the ballads, the voice is a bit more conspicuous, although the effect is mitigated by the face-exploding hooks on â€śShe’s A Lonerâ€ť and particularly glorious â€śHolding a Seance.â€ť â€śHombre De La Cocaina,â€ť which reminds us these folks are indeed from California, is probably best of show â€“ with revving guitars, a Spanish chorus, and group vocals operating on a particularly snotty wavelength, it draws obvious comparisons to one of my dearest bands, the Plugz.
But where the Tough Shits ooze hooks, The Quick gush pop from each pore. These folks were from L.A., and only existed for three years. They put out one album, Mondo Deco (1976), which is now regarded as one of power pop’s unsung classics, and â€“ as the story goes â€“ never performed outside of California. The emphasis on the Kim Fowley-produced Mondo Deco is on immediacy, with cleverly assembled three-part harmonies crowding the center stage. It is a threateningly catchy record.
Now, there’s a bit more to The Quick’s story, sure, but following the album’s tepid chart performance the band kind of tossed around for awhile, recording a number of demos (which were occasionally dribbled out to members of The Quick Fan Club â€“ and later collected on Untold Rock Stories in 2003) before disbanding. One of these demos was a track written by Sparks‘ Earle Mankey, which has remained unreleased until the Burger folks got their hands on it. Now, pulled direct from the original demo tapes, is the very big â€śBigger Than Lifeâ€ť (BRGR150). The band’s youthful harmonies are strewn all over this, as is the band’s knack for building tension with springy little guitar notes, allowing each chorus to shimmer winsomely out of a puddle of the verse’s juices. A celestial drone sculpted out of nebulous synthesizers backs the foreground, and though the song struggles against the limits of its demo-caliber recording conditions, the result is a textured, even tactile pop song. The flip, â€śBeautiful Island,â€ť is a track by founding member Danny Wilde (also of The Rembrandts, who, yes, did the Friends theme song). Most Quick songs were written by Steven Hufsteter, who didn’t participate in these session, and this track doesn’t quite pack the juice of Mondo Deco‘s set; nevertheless, the harmonies shimmer against the lo-fi production here, providing a richly rough-edged tune.
I’m not going to be able to write a review of Summer Twins‘ self-titled debut (BRGR135) without invoking the â€śBâ€ť word, so let’s get it over with. Yes, these Orange County locals implement the ubiquitous Beach sound, as well as the sixties girl-group sensibility, that characterizes kin spirit Bethany Cosentino. Where they differ is in the vocals because, well, there’s two of them, so harmonies play a bigger role, and because they cast off Cosentino’s slight punk bad-assedness in favour of Softies-esque cutesiness/preciousness (pick your poison). In other words, these two trade in Best Coast‘s tattoos for diaries and songs with names like â€śTeardrops on my Pillow.â€ť (I’m not kidding.) BUT: I’m not going to fault a set of ten delectable pop songs just because they don’t advance the cause for gender equality. Chelsea and Justine Brown, two Sarah Records/Camera Obscura obsessives no doubt, douse these tracks in more resplendent hooks than are worth counting. Within the first two songs, one comes to appreciate their talent for designing shiny little lead guitar melodies, which is a constant here. But it’s the harmonized vocals that steal the show. Check, for example, the infuriating prettiness of aforementioned â€śTeardrops on my Pillow,â€ť with a pre-chorus that builds to a triumphant release. Once again, the Softies comparisons are undeniable. Zippy â€śI Will Love You,â€ť meanwhile, reeks of the Ronettes, mimes the Marvelettes, shimmies like the Shangri-Las, etc., shoving Chelsea’s voice into the spotlight where it gleams confidently. The formula is done over multiply on the record. Interestingly â€“ despite a pretty lullaby quality, the one boy/girl duet here, â€śI Could Never Break Your Heart,â€ť stumbles a bit because the male’s lifeless croon isn’t sold nearly as well as Chelsea’s winsome chops. Clearly, Summer Twins’ songs go as far as the vocals take them. Fortunately, this almost always stacks the deck in their favor.
Cosmonauts shoot dead all this breezy pop in its tracks with their new If You Wanna Die Then I Wanna Die LP (BRGR213), which pitches a tent of weedy, psychedelic, rollicking rock music. The bass guitar etches out stoned passages of sound, above which reverb-heavy vocals and acid-treated guitar solos maneuver amidst the ether. I’m reminded, inexplicably, of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but these folks trend more in the hypnotic jam column and less in the pop category. Spacemen 3 are probably a better reference point, but there is more immediacy and structure here than one might encounter on Playing with Fire. Irrespective of anchors, Cosmonauts’ behemoth sound, played at loud volume (condolences to my ever-tolerant neighbours), charges forth with a lurching rumble that invigorates the mind and jiggles the jejunum. Indeed, James Sanderson‘s bass guitar often finds itself as the central element to these tracks, perhaps most notably on â€śDreamboatâ€ť where it is supplemented with these trippy, jangly guitars that tug the listener into a deep trance. The band calls it â€śdrug punk,â€ť though punk as a descriptor seems primarily directed at Alexander Ahmadi‘s vaguely snotty snarl rather than the music’s edge itself. They’ve also clued in to the cardinal truth behind music that entrances the listener by activating the fizzly bits of the brain â€“ from an interview with the band for Get Bent: â€śWe played a daytime house party while we were at South by Southwest and a cop rolled up. We kept playing. The cop turned on one of his sirens and he couldnâ€™t hear it so he turned on three of his sirens. He had a noise war with us. We didnâ€™t even hear it.â€ť Mo’ volume, no problems.
Chatting with Eradicator Records’ Bobb Easterbrook is a like talking to a manic fratboy. For every question there’s a drunken party story and about eight hundred exclamation points. This befits the music he puts out on Eradicator, so named after a famous Kids in the Hall sketch (which I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on myself) â€“ it’s haphazard, and often hair-brained, but typically a big lump of fun.
The Eradicator story began with a tape compilation for a zine Bobb was putting out â€“ aimed to document a little slice of the Bloomington scene â€“ but has since become unusually prolific for a local label. â€śMy mission statement with Eradicator has always been do what ever the fuck I want,â€ť Bobb explains. The do-it-yourself ethic runs deep; he’s also recently quit his cooking job and is opening up his own food truck. This also explains why his releases range wildly in sound and in visual aesthetic; Bobb’s whims carry him in many different directions, meaning not every record is a winner, but everything carries the charge of something spontaneous and exciting.
Turning to my stack of Eradicator goodies, I reflect on the experience of parsing records. When you pore through a pile of 45s, you’re looking for hidden treasure â€“ an impossibly hooky a-side, or perhaps a weird and wonderful b-side that whips your slacks into a frenzy. Eradicator’s unloaded a heap of singles on me, allowing me an opportunity to go digging for gold. And amid the buzz of audio distortion and tinny lo-fi, a set of delights peaked through the surface noise.
Fresh off Eradicator’s racks is The Hussy‘s delightfully lo-fi â€śStab Meâ€ť seven-inch (ER-23), a teaser for their LP. Stencils of cannabis leaves adorn the centre label, as well as the cover, which features one of the band members passed out nude in a pile of awkward family photos. If that doesn’t spell out â€śwe live and breathe the party lifestyle,â€ť then I don’t want to know what does â€“ but hey, a court summons for unpaid child support and a script for Antabuse couldn’t have hurt. They’ll have to save those for the LP cover. All things considered, these folks sound like they’re channeling Tullycraft over their twelfth pint. Despite the antics they allude to, they are poppy and far from hardcore, with laying straightforward chord progressions under rarely intelligible vocals that every so often peek out from beneath the curtain of tape hiss. Only â€śHard to Eraseâ€ť turns the fieriness up to punk levels, belting out several frantic final bars at breakneck pace. But the joy is largely in the pop, with the boy/girl call-and-response of â€śMolly Mollyâ€ť (catchiest track of the four) and bouncy â€śStab Meâ€ť ably emulating the carefree, ‘well, we should probably get this melody on tape’ aesthetic of Harriet Records and early K.
Meanwhile, The Midwest Beat belt out trebly, twangy pop songs on their â€śBack to Monoâ€ť seven-inch (ER22). The title track is a genius creation â€“ one of those sprightly tunes that immediately sounds as if you’ve heard it fifteen times or more, equal parts Sarah Records and The Young Rascals. â€śBlind Flower Girlâ€ť stumbles a bit over its vocal delivery, like a punk singer’s boogery voice attempting a heartfelt pop song; as such, it only finds its footing partway through. â€śSexi Lady,â€ť spelled like an MSN/AIM username (do people still use those anymore?) is a syrupy cover of a Hussy track, and â€śSmile Like a Villainâ€ť adds liberal roses of quirk and whimsy, approximating a less polished Elephant 6 project. Fans of sweetened lo-fi pop and the 1910 Fruitgum Company will appreciate this. Stymieing the cheery pop at its source, 2011′s 4-song â€śDon’t Wanna Go To No Jailâ€ť 7â€ť by Crisis Hotlines (ER21) catapults forward with maniacal rhythms and big, dumb choruses, all ablaze with raunchy punk rock guitars. The name of the game is chanted dude vocals belting out one-line mantras like â€śastral projectionâ€ť and â€śpunch me in the faceâ€ť (these are also the titles of their respective songs). It’s got the subtlety of, well, a punch in the face, but they occasionally take a moment to pontificate: â€śAlienate yourself/It makes it that much easier to slip into the blackness.â€ť Dude â€“ that’s, like, Kierkegaardian.
But far be it from Eradicator to pigeonhole themselves as a singles label â€“ on the contrary, a sprinkle of LPs graces Bobb’s sizable inventory. My thoughts on Jerk Alert‘s sloppy, shrill, and unapologetically lo-fi Dirty Slurs (ER0012)? Lo-fi punk rock has found its own Lil Kim (or, perhaps, Ke$ha) in Melissa Ann. These tracks are marvelously trashy in sound and content, and Melissa Ann, the ringleader, carries the band above their rickety foundation. She’s inspiring â€“ she colors this record with all her foibles, her frustrations, her libido (x3), and her unwillingness to be dicked around. Her persona revels in its directness, not reversing gender roles so much as skimming off the bullshit: â€śYou tell me that you love me/That you’re always thinking of me/But you’re never gonna fuck me/Won’t you make up your mind?â€ť (from â€śMake Up Your Mindâ€ť). The sexual element is a constant â€“ whether it’s on the beach (â€śTake Off Your Pants For a Beach Romanceâ€ť), in the back seat (â€śDon’t Stand Next To My Rideâ€ť), or even somewhere spoo-oo-ooky (â€śFuckin’ in the Graveyardâ€ť), and more often than not she’s the no-shit initiator. The words, and the persona behind them, are what turn a ramshackle group of junky punk tracks â€“ wherein no matter the song, something is too low or too high in the mix (vocals, guitars, you name it) â€“ into something captivating and ultimately exhilarating. Perhaps the most fascinating tracks are those in which Melissa Ann lets down her guard and reveals her insecurities â€“ most notably on â€śToo Good For Me,â€ť where she tugs at the edges of her reputation as the â€śneighborhood drunk.â€ť It’s, like, legitimately genuine. Still, the anthem of the album is unquestionably â€śMy Vagina Doesn’t Care If You’re Drunk,â€ť a classic ode to self-sufficiency: â€śI went to his house with the intentions of getting fucked/But he had too much whiskey and couldn’t get it up/So I marched back home to get my battery boyfriend/On nights like this it’s the only thing to depend [on]…â€ť
Jerk Alert also has a single out on Eradicator (ER-09) sans lyrics sheet, which is a shame because the words are often the best part â€“ and they aren’t always easy to suss out. This record finds them earlier on in the Jerk Alert story, but the germs of questionable genius are there â€“ particularly on riveting â€śThe Girls From Monster Island,â€ť which musically might be their most compelling track (it’s revisited on the full-length). If anything, the production is a little better on this record than the LP, but their most provocative elements aren’t yet fully formed.
The other (180-gram) LP in my batch, C’mon and Bleed with The Horribly Wrong (ER-13/SICR009), co-released with France’s quaint Shit In Can Records, is a different story altogether. These three dudes shed the sex altogether, and replace it with garage-bred horror-punk. After all, if a bunch of dudes were to attempt Jerk Alert’s subject matter, it would just be in poor taste. Instead, tracks like â€śThe Whiskey Drinkin’ Bastard Son of Hell,â€ť â€śMurder on My Mind,â€ť and â€śFor Your Brainâ€ť skirt sex in favor of what is, bizarrely, a much more palatable violent sentiment â€“ sometimes a clever one (â€śBlood All Over My Body,â€ť where the singer struggles to deduce how he woke up covered in blood: â€ś…unless someone broke into my house/With a bucket of blood/And doused me with it/But that just doesn’t seem likelyâ€ť), and sometimes a less clever one (â€śCutting up little children just sounds like fun to meâ€ť). The Sonics, The Stooges, and The Misfits are all relevant points of reference. The music itself is pretty lo-fi and in-the-red, which fits the lyrical content â€“ however, on occasion, one sort-of pines for a moment of production clarity, particularly on those songs that are especially melodic: â€śAttack of the Human Eating Robots,â€ť Ramones-y â€śMurder on My Mind,â€ť and blistering â€śSacrifice,â€ť which is the band’s defining moment.
Meanwhile, the band’s Bleeding for You 7â€ť (ER-08), recorded on the shittiest microphone ever, placed right next to about four hundred amps all set to maximum volume (aka THE ENTIRE THING IS IN THE RED), maintains the band’s amalgam of horror-punk and Sonicsy garage rock. Their most detailed missive is â€śDo the Move,â€ť a daze of abused-brainstem self-loathing (â€śWell I wake up in the morning ‘cuz the sun is a whore/And it leaves little lines of light on the floor/Where I sleep, ’cause she always kicks me out of her bed/And I think the thrill of apathy has gone to my headâ€ť) that concludes with an ambiguous â€śgotta move,â€ť the listener unsure if the singer is referring to dancing or leaving town.
Moving on, local novelty Moscow Moscow Moscow are listed as â€śthe only Russian-themed surf band to play on Tetris cubes.â€ť I don’t know what that means, but on their 2010 single (ER-17) they effectively play surf-inspired garage rock, roughly half of it instrumental, and then throw in some gags about Russia (this record’s lead track is titled â€śFans of Stalin Show Yer Bottom,â€ť for a sample of the humor). It’s not as interesting as it sounds. On the other hand, Gestapo Khazi‘s minimal single (ER-14), of which only 300 copies were pressed (to Moscow Moscow Moscow’s inexplicable 500!), is a complete gem. These Long Beach natives play apocalyptic, garage-fueled post-punk that takes equal cues from The Gun Club and The Pop Group. â€śEscalatorsâ€ť is a terrific anthem rooted on a jangly guitar hook and a wiggly bassline, but it’s B-side â€śThe Atomic Kind,â€ť with its Fire of Love fire and crazy springy rhythms (I feel me some Feelies) that catapults this into that empyrean plane of Good Music. This is Eradicator’s most condensed, wondrous moment, and it’s all too short. And according to Bobb, its release was a bit of serendipity â€“ when he contacted the band, it just so happened that another label had bailed on putting out the master, so he stepped up to the plate and footed the pressing plant bill. I want everything else they’ve released.