B y T i m o t h y G a s s e n
NON-CONGLOMERATE LABEL vinyl is the focus this month, and we'll start our journey across the pond in the U.K.
Former Echo & The Bunnymen and current Electrafixion guitarist Will Sergeant described for me a few months ago his side-band Glide. Ambient/noise goop isn't easily put into words, though, so the lads at Ochre Records have come across with some sounds.
Glide's Excerpts From A Space Age Freak Out, Part One is a limited edition, orange vinyl seven-inch, complete with a beautiful gold-ink picture sleeve. Recorded "live" in Sergeant's native Liverpool at a club called The Bubblebath, the stage was "centered on a large dentist's chair, surrounded by gizmos, gadgets and goldfish, desks, discs and a DAT, all cloaked in netting and strafed by strobes."
This indeed sounds like the setting for a "space-age freak-out," as reflected by the smooth yet bubbling ambient tones on the 45 itself. "Cosmos" is as unfocused and dreamy as its title might indicate, while "Venus In Flares" is a bit more energetic though no less trippy. Squint and you can imagine a lad passing out the mushrooms.
Ochre is also the home for a bright and snappy British pop outfit called Reverb. (They shouldn't be confused with The Reverbs, a mid-1980s American pop duo from the U.S.) Their "Pedal" b/w "Swirl" 45 is the first taste I've heard of the band, and it's a pleasing exercise in jangle and melody. Reverb also has another seven-inch housed in attractive fake cowhide, plus the strong track "Metamorphosis" on the Ochre Voyage To The Cosmic Underground 12-inch sampler.
England always seems to breed this kind of fun guitar-pop act--remember The Dentists?--and Reverb is another fine addition to the sunny heap. (Ochre Records, Willow House, Coaley, Nr. Dursely, Glos., GL11 5EG, U.K.)
Also from England comes a trio of long-haired weirdos called The Stewed. Their previous two seven-inchers have shown promise but not much spark--but that element is in abundance on their Deep Down Thing LP.
The Stewed recall those few minutes in late 1968 when Led Zeppelin's over-amped blues treatment hadn't tipped over into arena rock redundancy and excess. There's more of an MC5 or Stooges feel here, along with some garage junk and slight metal tinges, but The Stewed seem adept at keeping all of these influences in balance.
They also add some wailing harmonica and frantic sax on top of their mega-distorted guitar, taking chances with formulas rather than delivering on expectations. "Hate Reducer," "Star Spangled Lie" and "She's My Witch" all have that aforementioned spark, and I get the feeling I'd be screaming along with them after a few pints at the pub. (Twist Records, Old Trafford, Jerbourg Rd. St. Martins, Guernsey Cl., UK)
The Fiends come to us further down the international road--the Canadian foursome's latest seven-inch is on Greece's Dr. Mushroom Optical Illusion Records. The North America-to-Greece connection isn't as strange as it seems--I've toured the land of Ouzo myself, and have seen first-hand that the Greeks love this kind of garage rock mayhem.
Vocalist Greg Johnson hits his songwriting high-point with "She's Not Broken," yet another of his sensitive and tender homages to womankind. (Oh, and there's plenty of fuzz guitar, too.) The B-side delivers a suitably warped Sky Saxon cover, plus the Zorba The Greek movie theme (re-titled "Zombie The Greek") delivered surf-style.
Genius is too tame a word to describe whatever it is that The Fiends do. Their debut LP should be out any day, on Germany's Music Maniac Records. (Dr. Mushroom Records, Kivelis 22-24, 11146 Athens, Greece)
FROM THE HOME OF THE MUNSTERS: Finally back at home, 1313 Mockingbird Lane delivers two more vinyl nuggets of fuzz, Farfisa and fun. This Albany, N.Y., group has released a string of uniformly fine garage-punk records since the late 1980s, and they don't show any signs of slowing with two new 45s.
Their "Devil's Weed" b/w "Tamala" 45 on Germany's Screaming Apple is another gem, full of unbridled enthusiasm and beer-soaked spittle. Their "Naked (And Waiting)" b/w "Backwash Beach" seven-inch is even better, with vocalist/guitarist "Haunted Hausmann" screeching up a storm.
It's satisfying to hear Americans who can still make punk rock the good-old fashioned way--with a couple of guitars and a tape recorder. (Screaming Apple Records, Dustemichstr. 14, 50939, Koln, Germany; or Cacophone Records, P.O. Box 6058, Albany, NY 12206)
FIVE INCHES OF DIGITAL LOVE: I almost escaped this month without them, but those pesky CD-only releases also raise their ugly little digital heads. First up is San Francisco's Brian Jonestown Massacre, which has created some attention with their previous two 45s, and now roll out the 72-minute debut long-player Methodrone.
The CD title says it all, as distinctively British-sounding drone pop is the formula here, with purposely repetitive bass and drums layered with moaning guitar and mumbled vocals. The drugged and numbed ambiance of Spacemen 3 is an obvious reference point, and any fan of U.K. trance pop will certainly pick up and groove on this dreamy vibe. (Bomp Records, PO Box 7112, Burbank, CA 91510)
On the complete opposite side of attitude and style is the latest from the long-running prank punksters The Cunts. They've spit out an endless stream of obscure and demented 45s since their 1978 inception, with my favorite being "There's Electrical Filaments On My Hamburger." Imagine Zappa locked in a room with The Dead Boys, listening to a Shadows Of Knight album, and you might get a glimpse at the sound of The Cunts.
Their latest CD, Why Baby?, adds 17 more aural bricks to their twisted wall. No "serious" band could go wrong with titles such as "Dog With A Human Head" and "Man Hanging Off Cliff With Pants Leg On Fire."
The sleeves for each of the band's self-released discs read, "Remember, have fun always," and that's just another reason why these die-hards have survived for more than a decade and a half. (Disturbing Records, 3238 S. Racine, Chicago, IL 60608.)
Tim Gassen writes a monthly column exploring the world of independent labels, music collectibles, vinyl and re-issues. Email your comments and suggestions to email@example.com
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