Fatal Flying Guilloteens
Ah, the Guilloteens. I swear, these guys are like the horror-flick zombies of the Houston music scene -- it seems like every time I think they're dead and gone, they lurch unexpectedly to their feet and grab me by the throat (well, metaphorically, anyway). Case in point: I'd heard a while back that the band had broken up, but that turned out to not be the case; vocalist Shawn Guilloteen had just decided he'd had all he could take and left the band. Fair enough -- touring and the general hardships of being in a band'll do that to you. Then it seems that the remaining members coaxed Mike Guilloteen, formerly the band's drummer, into stepping up to the mic, handing off the drumming duties to new bandmate John (formerly of Port Vale). So Mike started singing, recorded Get Knifed for Estrus...and then Shawn decided what the heck, he wanted to give the band another try. So now the band's got two vocalists -- I have yet to see 'em live, but having seen the "Shawn Version" of the band many times and now hearing the "Mike Version," I'd guess that it'd be pretty interesting to say the least.
At any rate, the inter-band switcheroo has meant some fairly major changes for the Guilloteens, most of which are reflected in Get Knifed, their second full-length (the first, The Now Sound for New Diaboliks, is also on Estrus and well worth getting). Gone is the whacked-out Wild West-on-peyote imagery (and, I'm told, the Lone Ranger masks that were the band's trademark), and Brian Guilloteen's twangy, bizarrely countrified guitar isn't as noisy or twangy as it once was. That stuff's been replaced by something more urban-sounding, something more sleek and yet still easily as nasty as the band's previous incarnation.
Part of the reason for the change has to do with the new frontman, I'd guess -- Mike Guilloteen's vocals sound positively sinister when put side-by-side with Shawn's deranged wail. Shawn had always come across as confused and angry, lashing out blindly and uncertain where he was headed. Mike, on the other hand, spits the words with sneering venom, angry and violent but still fully in control. It's somewhat like the difference between a guy who snaps and goes berserk at the office and a cold-blooded serial killer who plans every brutal act right down to the last millisecond, if that makes any sense.
The music's taken some new turns, as well. It's nice to see these guys expanding a bit sound-wise, even allowing some addled jazz (the horn freakout on "New Arsenal," courtesy of Mike Twistworthy) and reggae touches (the dub-y bass in "Cup of 1000") to sneak into the mix. Bassist Roy Guilloteen is way, way further up front on this album than he has been on past efforts, and that's a very good thing -- check out "Plus Non-Plussed" and "Lights Out" if you need proof. Of course, this isn't to say that the downhome twang's gone completely; the bombastic opener "Onward Electric" melds Brian's rough, Texas-style guitar lines with Mike's sarcastic deconstruction of a rock song to form a whole new sound for the band. "Lights Out" works similarly, with the bass and drums anchoring things, driving along below the howling, yelping vocals and spastic guitars.
To be honest, the whole mess seems a pretty far cry from Estrus's standard of Makers-esque garage rock (although I'm probably giving Estrus too little credit, here). Get Knifed opts for a more experimental, math rock-y roar over the usual '60s-style dirty rock sound. The closest points of reference I can come up with aren't even garage bands, but belong more to that weird clique of noisy, crazy bands on AmRep and Big Cat Records back in the '90s. In particular, I can't help but think of Jesus Lizard or now-defunct NYC rockers Barkmarket when I've got the CD blasting from the headphones, and Mike G.'s vocals bring to mind David Ouimet, of Firewater/Motherhead Bug infamy; and no, none of that crowd of bands are likely to find many fans at an Estrus showcase.
Overall, I'm damn glad to've picked up the CD -- it may not be quite the Fatal Flying Guilloteens I used to know and love, but the new Guilloteens Mk. II (or is it Mk. III?) are just as compelling in their own way. Here's hoping they stay above ground for a good long time to come. (JH)
(Estrus Records -- P.O. Box 2125, Bellingham, WA. 98227; http://www.estrus.com/; Fatal Flying Guilloteens -- firstname.lastname@example.org)
Filthy Thieving Bastards
A Melody of Retreads and Broken Quills
Oh, these clever Bastards make me grin. Compared frequently to The Pogues and once described as "Billy Bragg as a crusty old punk on a bender," the Bastards execute some mighty fine songwriting. On first listen, you will notice the clarity of purpose, intention, instrumentation, story, and mood. Damn, it is seldom that refreshing simplicity is so clear; these compact nuggets entertain. With street punk credentials, an ex-Camper Van Beethoven guitarist, and a producer on the drums, we have a real memorable effort. It is a folksy, Irish-flavored side project of Swingin' Utters players Johnny Bonnel and Darius Koski, and maybe they should reconsider what is a side project and what is the major effort. The only distorted guitars we hear on this recording are the ones used to simulate acoustic instruments in the mix with violins, accordions, mandolins, pipes, and other "traditional" instruments.
These songs are well-crafted stories of life as an aging musical punk developing larger perspectives both contextually and through the stylistic maturation of the composers. These are strong melodies that sound like standards written years ago. Buy these Bastards a drink, sing along -- the Filthy Thieving Bastards are providing a melody of retreads and broken quills. "Nothing in this world is free, but every goddamned thing is cheap." So bust a few bucks, get the Bastards, and enjoy some cheap entertainment. (BW)
(BYO Records -- P.O. Box 67609, Los Angeles, CA. 90067; http://www.byorecords.com/)