Bands mix multiple styles of music in new CD releases

by Jeremy Hart

Stuck on Caroline: Label Sampler '93
Various Artists

I love compilation discs. This particular comp is a promotional deal, so I doubt it's available commercially, though there are some damn good bands on here who deserve some recognition.

Walt Mink: This band is a Minneapolis power trio making melodic, drifting hard rock. The tune on this disc, "Shine," is more than a little metal-ish, reminiscent of the heavier stuff Smashing Pumpkins has done in the past.

The swooping vocal melodies, interesting guitar work, and metal bits almost make me want to call Walt Mink "progressive rock," but depending on how you look at it, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Action Swingers: Where did punk go? Straight into the bloodstream of the Action Swingers' Ned Hayden. This is fast, furious, basic three-chord punk slamming, though it admittedly does have better production than most punk of days gone by.

The music, accompanied by Hayden's acid-hoarse ranting, is brutally simple, and the bludgeoning paranoia of "I Don't Wanna Be This Way" and "You Only Know My Name" bring to mind bands like Black Flag, Really Red, and Agent Orange. No deep meanings here, but you don't listen to punk for deep meanings anyway (do you?).

Drop Nineteens: One of the best tunes on this album, "Cuban" is extremely schizophrenic, but in a good way. It starts out softly and gloomily, with a sad but melodic bass line underneath two melancholy, sweet voices. Then, when you least expect it, a wall of distortion and Sonic Youth-ish guitar torture hits you like a freight train and knocks you out of your chair.

Idaho: No, they're not from the Potato State. "Idaho" is more of a state of mind than a home for these two guys (they're from L.A.), because the music captures perfectly the way I envision Idaho: the wind whistling across endless fields beneath an endless sky.

The two songs on the album, "Skyscrape" and "You Are There," both sound like they owe a bit to the more recent stuff by Dinosaur Jr. and the Screaming Trees, with even a touch of U2. Sparse, stately, vaguely depressing music -- haunting strains of feedback swirling around pained vocals. If Idaho's not like this, then it should be.

Fudge: "Shirts and Skins" is a live tune, recorded back home in Richmond, Va., and it sounds like these boys would be a blast to see live. Their first album, The Ferocious Rhythm of Precise Laziness..., was good (especially the opener, "Oreo Dust"), but it drifts a bit too much into Pink Floyd territory for me, with lots of mellow, trippy melodies and wind noises.

However, if this song is any indication, the new album (out '94) should be heavier. "Shirts" is a pounding romp, backed by a wall of bubbling bass noise and strange guitar pieces. This is musical weirdness at its catchiest.

David Gray: This is very folksy rock. The lyrics are poetry, and the singing harsh and heartfelt, and there's scarcely a hint of distortion on the guitar. The music itself is in a tight blues groove, very "rootsy," and tends to remind me of Celtic folk music (appropriately, considering Gray was raised in a village in Wales).

Gray strums and wails with convincing sincerity, his unusually beautiful accent calling to mind high, rocky crags and deep, forested valleys.

St. Johnny: Talk about low-fi, this band's got it down. The bass on these two tracks is covered with fuzz so thick you could cut it, and the guitars have the crunch turned up all the way. This is decent garage-rock, fairly well-entrenched in the played-out "grunge" trend, with lots of punk thrashing and dissonance. For some reason, the guitar on "Go To Sleep" strikes me as a dead ringer for the Afghan Whigs's "Retarded."

Jamming James: Who the hell is this guy? "Pick 'Em Up Truck" starts off (and ends) with sampled sounds of cars revving and crashing, then jumps into a phased, echoed space-guitar ZZ Top/Fabulous Thunderbirds blues sort of thing. And over it all, an echoing voice sings about -- yup, you guessed it -- his "pick 'em up truck."

Silly as it sounds, it's actually fairly addictive. I don't know how to even begin classifying this. Rednecks playing with effects pedals? "Psychobilly"?

Jo In Nine G Hell
The Hair & Skin Trading Co.

This album has got to be one of the strangest things I've heard in awhile. The musical talents of the Hair & Skin Trading Co. combine to make something truly unique, the likes of which I've never heard before.

Single-handedly uniting elements of metal, rock, and techno (among other things), these three guys play slow, brooding, repetitive music with few vocals and an emphasis on beats and guitars.

The only actual "singing" on the album is somebody with a British accent murmuring a few lines over and over (and over and over) again. The guitars on most of the songs groove and crunch right along, sliding smoothly over the top of a deep, rhythmic (and sometimes synthetic) bass line.

The more I listen to this, the more I become convinced that this is some with actual instruments rather than electronics, for the most part. One song, "Kak," is extremely tribal in style, with rumbling chants in some foreign language and high-range synth crashing.

I want to say that this sounds like Australian Aborigines chanting, but I've heard very little in the way of Aboriginal music, so I can't say for sure. Whatever the language, the tribal feel is definitely there.

On another track, "Where's Gala," they base the entire song structure on a sample of "It Had To Be You," turned inside out and upside down. "Torque" has a spooky synth edge to it, and the drunken vocals and lyrics conjure up the image of a person sitting alone in a dark room, on the verge of committing suicide.

However, "Monkies," the track right after, bounces back and forth between slow, heavy techno throbbin and scream-along heavy metal. The final song on the album, "Pipeline," is a nine-minute monster full of shimmery Twin Peaks-ish guitars, twanging bass, and the obligatory British-accented chanting.

Some of the songs on here, like "Ground Zero," are extremely danceable, if in somewhat of a blues/rock/techno vein -- bluesy, echoey chords and computerized beats in one package. "Zero" also includes some interesting samples of George Bush and other media figures spliced together (Jane Jetson???).

The repetition on every track adds to the "dance-ness" of the music, and in some cases, pushes it closer to trance than anything else.

This is techno of some kind, maybe of a new kind all its own, "organic" or not. But whatever it is, it managed to get me (a fanatical enemy of techno in almost any shape or form) nodding and tapping along.

(The Rice Thresher, Volume ??? No. ???, September 17, 1993)