March 2011

Tutu & the Pirates: Booze and Speed

Good timing, considering the whole Ben Weasel as woman hater thing, huh?

Apart from Screeching Weasel, Chicago really doesn’t boast a wealth of intriguing punk acts. The city didn’t spawn a sub-genre and it’s middle of the road hardcore really wasn’t ever breathtaking. Da!, for whatever reason, makes Windy City citizens cream themselves. It shouldn’t. And while Tutu and the Pirates are a bit better, if not removed from that other group’s aural proclivities, the band isn’t too much more than a crop of Midwesterners appropriating music from other locales. That isn’t good bad or indifferent, just so.

While a far sight more entertaining than Hounds, Tutu (who was the band’s drummer) and company were significantly less adept at their instruments, but may have accidentally set up the template for Weasel and company to follow. There’s a wealth of Ramones cops here, as in a great number of bands from the ’77 era. But it’s in those moments listeners can hear the Pirates functioning as conduit for the Weasels’ latter triumphs.

“Burn Down The Discotheque” isn’t musically forward thinking, or even much more than a surprisingly catchy anthem from a bygone era. But in the band’s dumb thump and ridiculous solos, there’s a pretty sizable antecedent for Weasel songs aping an almost hardcore approach to its punk – listen to the opening guitar part on “My Right” for instance, or even “Dingbat.”

Assück: One Long Stream of Debilitating Noise

There’re a couple reasons why Assück’s pretty funny – not funny, haha, but funny, holy shit, funny. Firstly, and most importantly, they band’s from Florida, a state known mainly for it’s increasing octogenarian population. Assück’s music, though, isn’t all sunshine and smiles. It’s pretty much the opposite and firmly rooted in scum.

Founded during the late eighties, the band wasn’t the first to get tagged grindcore. But that’s not important. Assück’s all too short, minute long songs are what counts. And the fact that the band, over its decade long existence, figured out how to immediately be in the middle of an oppressive music once a song starts is just short of utterly shocking.

The band’s final full length, 1997’s Miserey Index (the album’s title, not to mention that band’s name, is the other really funny thing to me), doesn’t seem like a tremendous step in evolutionary hardcore or metal. It’s more of what came before: ridiculously gruff vocals, downer bass parts and noisome guitar lines. There’s nothing separating the idea of misery, so openly referenced in the disc’s title, and the awful, aural scrawl here.

Myelin Sheaths: More of the Same Garage

You know what’s a bummer? If I was eighteen years old and heard Myelin Sheaths for the first time, I’d probably drop a turd in my pants at how scuffy the band’s garage stuff sounds. I’m not, though. And I’m jaded. And I don’t really believe in anything. So getting an earful of the Sheaths’ Get On Your Nerves doesn’t move me emotionally one bit.

That’s not to say there aren’t good performances on here, but thanks to Southpaw, and earlier HoZac the Sheaths are regaling unwitting listeners with music that’s been made and remade for something like fifty years.

What’s even more disappointing is after that first track – “Gloves / Mutations” – it’s all downhill. The opener, though, takes the thrasiest rock drums possible, marries it to a pretty simple, but steady bassline allowing for the main guitar figure to grind its way through the fuzz pedal and into your ear holes. It’s really actually quite a magical two minute composition and should make listeners eager to hear more. The ‘more,’ though, is just wrote, revved up garage stuff, the same as anything coming out of the Bay, which is beyond boring and repetitive at this point.

Hounds: It'd Be Easier to Find an Elton John Record

Looking back at the musics which would actually work at cultivating whatever counted as punk in the seventies, there’s actually a really odd range. Everything from bar bands, to poppy, matching suited acts in addition to the Stooges, the Velvets and both Lou and Iggy’s solo stuff. With the latter pair’s recording during the seventies, though, it’s pretty easy to find at least a slight similarity to a few Elton John songs. Piano workouts weren’t unfamiliar to anyone just mentioned. Iggy’s glittery seventies persona also didn’t seem to veer clear of the British pianist’s either. So, it’s in this atmosphere that bands like Hounds, a Chicago based rock act, can find themselves lumped into the punk thing. The cover to the band’s Unleashed looks like it belongs.

The Cardiacs: Brit Punkers with Keyboards

Apparently, the Kingston upon Thames based band the Cardiacs made some pop success inroads during the mid eighties after a few years milling around the weirdo, post-punk underground. But that heady latter period has little to do with what makes the ensemble engaging for Brit DIY enthusiasts. Up until a few years ago, the band was still kicking around, mounting a substantial tour back in 2008. But during the seventies, the Cardiacs sought to marry a low rent DIY aesthetic with some spacier and futuristic musical stance. It kinda worked.

Founded in 1979 by brothers Tim and Jim Smith - isn’t it nice that their name’s rhyme – the Cardiacs, or as they were originally known, Cardiac Arrest issued a pair of tapes, the latter being Toy World. With its splotchy cover art and oddly constructed songs, the effort worked to push the band to the forefront of what was eventually to be recast as the darker side of new wave. Such prominent focus on keyboards, though, makes the band’s earliest punk allegiance a bit murky, perhaps necessitating a reappraisal of how proggy psych acts from the early seventies influenced this ensemble.

Anyway, Toy World, mounts more than a couple extended compositions, at times a bit reminiscent of Magazine and Howard Devoto, another Brit who kinda loved keyboards. The Cardiacs’ “Is This The Life” isn’t exactly cut from the same mold as the former Buzzcocker’s second, lesser known band. But with all those keyboard washes functioning as a song’s main melodic figure, it’s difficult to separate the two.

Night Kings: A Seattle Garage Stomper

The vagaries of working in garage bands during the eighties may well have its poster boy/child/man in Rob Vasquez. He’s not necessarily even a name modern genre miners are going to be too familiar with. Both his earliest ensembles Nights and Days as well as Night Kings don’t carry the same sort of import as other period acts. Shameful as that is, the music biz is a cruel bitch. But at least they guy’s persistent and released a few singles with that latter group as well as a lone long player through his home town’s sponsor, Sub Pop records.

Increasing Our High, regardless of it not being a grunge record, still bears the marks of the surrounding scene. Between the album itself and Vasquez gruff, grunting growls, figuring the disc, at first glance, for a lost garage treasure would be difficult. Fitting so seamlessly into a modicum of genres, though, makes it all the more bizarre as to why the Night Kings didn’t wind up impacting a wider audience. Life’s tough. And so are these songs, mostly sticking to a mid or up tempo conception of the genre.

“Complaints Department” sports one of the most ferociously tiny and fractious sounding guitar solos ever put to record. There’re antecedents in the no wave scene and all those Back from the Grave bands, but Vasquez inserts the approach to noisome guitar through the guise of garagey song structures (bka pop). And for whatever reason, no one had really been doing that in the late eighties and early nineties. For as good as the Chesterfield Kings and all those Cali paisley bands were, for the most part, all involved stuck to pretty traditional conceptions of what a song should sound like – and more over what a guitar player in a garage band should sound like.

Sonic's Rendezvous Band: Detroit City Slang

Yes. Sonic’s Redezvous Band counts not just Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, of MC5 fame, on guitar and vocals, but former Rationals’ guitarist Scott Morgan, the least famous Asheton, Scott, on drums and the Up’s Gary Rasmussen on bass. It was a sensible, Michigan centered rock ensemble forming in the wake of punk’s relative success and giving an outlet to the nascent scene’s alleged forefathers.

Being broke rock and rollers, though, didn’t allow for the group to record too much – well a few studio tracks survived. “City Slang” was the only track making it out to the world at large. The single didn’t do much, Smith eventually played more with his wife Patti than anything else and the group basically fell into disrepair and then disappeared. As luck would have it, the vampires in the record industry dug up enough stuff by Sonic’s band to issue a handful of posthumous works.