Saturday, June 28, 2008

TONIGHT WE'RE GONNA PARTY LIKE IT'S 1992!
Recently I said something in a post about there being a "Golden Era of US Underground Music ca. '91-'94". Someone attempted to shout me down and call me a putz. I called their bluff and reeled off a list of artist/labels/zines from the period which I believe stated my case: Cul de Sac, Grifters, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Fly Ashtray, Royal Trux, Sun City Girls, Mike Rep and the Quotas, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Refrigerator; labels such as Shrimper, Datapanik/Anyway, Teen Beat, Siltbreeze and Majora; and fanzines of the time which gave these folks an airing: Superdope, Feminist Baseball, Your Flesh (which was a very hit-and-miss publication, though its writing staff from this period was the best they ever had), Speed Kills, etc. Now, I don't wish to live in the past, and if you think I don't listen to all that much contemporary music then you probably don't know what it is I do for a living, but to me there was so much great music from that period, with so many cottage-industry 7" and cassette labels releasing such a wealth of worthy product, it's pretty damn impossible for me not to give it a serious airing, and I haven't even mentioned all the primo European, Japanese and New Zealand sounds from the time.
So... this evening the ladies of the house aren't around - that's the Mrs. and the kiddo - and thus I actually have a spare hour to myself to dig through my 7" collection of the time and throw a few chestnuts onto the fire. This may (hopefully) become a regular occasion...

GREENHORN - Conversations With Myself/Callous 7" (Anyway-Datapanik/1992)
What can one say about Greenhorn? No, really, what can one say, because I wouldn't have a clue! They were yet another great Columbus band from the dawn of the '90s who released a bunch of 7"s on labels such as the Anyway/Datapanik empire (essentially I think the story is that Datapanik was "absorbed" into a new imprint, Anyway, when it was taken over by someone else) and the 3 Beads Of Sweat label (run by Tim Adams, who used to steer the estimable Ajax Records boat) and then disappeared into the ether some time in the mid '90s. The Columbus music scene centred around Datapanik/Anyway was something of great interest to me at the time. Along w/ a few old-time eccentrics from the burg, such as Ron House, Jim Shepard and Mike Rep, all of whom had been 'round the traps since the mid/late '70s, there was a flurry of activity with a truckload of newer garage outfits such as Appalachian Death Ride, Stupid Fuckin' Hippie (love that name), Monster Truck Five and even soon-to-be-kinda-big acts such as Gaunt and the New Bomb Turks. Throw some V3, Mike Rep and the Quotas and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments into the mix and you have a party of flannel-wearing, booze-drinking awesomeness. The best place to start w/ all this is perhaps the Bumped By Karaoke: Datapanik's Greatest Hits II CD which came out around '91/'92. I wouldn't imagine it's easy to come by in the this day and age, though it's possibly easier to find than the original 7"s (of which I've got plenty!). So, in the mix is this 7" by the little known Greenhorn. At the time they were constantly compared to Screaming Trees, a glove which fits them well. Though not a huge fan of the 'Trees (I still like and own their first few albums), Greenhorn do manage to capture that widescreen, arena-level of expanse the band had at the time, with an obviously more lo-fi aesthetic. Let's bring it down to the basics: this is good rock 'n' roll. It's got guitar hooks a-plenty, engaging lyrics about messed-up relationships and the drudgery of life and amps turned up to 11 throughout. It's not ball-to-the-wall head-kicking stuff, more mid-tempo - and I hate to use such a word, but never has it been more applicable than here - swagger. This grooves. Another band from nowhere who went right back there, but a cool little legacy they have. Who knows, they're probably all raising families and selling insurance or working in warehouses right now...

CUL DE SAC - Devil/Rain Moths 7" (New World Of Sound/1993)
This has got some neat-o Dame Darcy art adorning its cover - another postmark of early-'90s "cool", right up there w/ Dan Clowes and Peter Bagge - and remains an essential find for any CDS nut needing everything the band has laid to tape. I was one of those guys at the time, too (I've raved about them several times before... really, have a look). By the late '90s, possibly around the time the band released their thoroughly underwhelming Crashes To Lights, Minutes To Its Fall CD in '99, I figured they'd either hit a dead end or a serious mid-career slump. I didn't care to stick around and watch the car wreck. That was, until the band was resurrected and released two rather excellent studio albums in 2003... but let's talk about this 7". No info whatsoever regarding what sessions these tracks were taken from, though they certainly sound like they were recorded some time around their world-beating ECIM album from '92: Fahey-ish guitar twang adorning a Can-like backbeat w/ 'Ubu-esque synth bleats scattered over the top. I think I once described the band as exactly that back in 1995, but since the basic reference points haven't changed one iota, it still sits well with me in 2008. There's also a cool 7" by the band - "Frankie Machine"/"K" - on the Lunar Rotation label from the same period which I just gave a spin, and it, too, holds up to weathered scrutiny. Although much noisier and almost No Wave in its approach, compared to the usual smooth 'n' crisp approach the band was known for at the time, it adds a nice dimension to the band's catalogue. Like I've said before: I just about never play my 7"s, and have bought maybe a dozen of the things since the mid '90s, though it's moments like these which make me glad I haven't just thrown the lot in a huge box and taken them down to the local second-hand dealer. Instead, it's just more pointless crap to offload onto my daughter once I leave this mortal coil. Let's raise a glass to that!

BUGSKULL - What I had In Mind 7" (Dalmation Records/1993)
Portland's Bugskull started out as a one-man project in the early '90s - that's Sean Byrne, thanks - and released a couple of cassettes on the Shrimper label. They're much more experimental (and I'm jogging my memory into exhaustion here; I have those tapes in a box and haven't dug 'em out probably since Clinton was in office) and primitive in their approach, though by the time this 7" came out, Bugskull had expanded to take on the world as a fully-fledged band. Browsing their All Music Guide entry, I've also noticed they released a whole bunch of LPs throughout the '90s (I bought the debut, but stopped after that for whatever reason) on various labels, but again, let me stick to what I know. There's two songs on this 33 RPM disc: "All Members Please Rise" and "What Shall I Give To The King", and for myself it remains one of those rare records on the seven-inch format which I still get a kick out of playing on a yearly basis when I feel like (and am able to) having a 7" party of one. Listening to it now, I can see that it was of its time: post-hardcore smart-alec drone-pop, not too far off similar compadres such as Thinking Fellers Union, Grifters and way early Pavement, though a hook is a hook for life. These songs nail it every time; they twist and turn and never stay in the same place for long and never outstaying their welcome, even over their considerable length... speaking of which, the girls are home and I gotta get outta here. Until next time...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

you should push that time-frame to 1995 so that you'll atleast squeeze in TJSA "Bait & Switch"!

You're livin' in the past, Dave - stop livin' in the past...

-L-

Dave said...

OK, for the sake of including "Bait and Switch" - one of the great rock albums of its decade, I'll extend it to 1995. I'll throw in Cul de Sac's "China Gate" in there, too. I promise to live in the present, and will write about some contemporary music to prove that point...

Anonymous said...

Hey,
I'm from cowtown in said era and I wouldn't say greenhorn were part of that datapanik scene. It was released on that label but most of the other bands you mentioned (along with Pica Huss - probably the best live band of that time period) were dirtier and druggier.
Greenhorn had a bit more of a pretty boy/girl following, still kinda "alternative" but not skuzzy like most of those other bands.
Just thought I'd share.