Friday, December 23, 2011

Joseph's Picks Of The Week 12/23/11 - Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Reptile House

Eddy Current Suppression Ring hail from Melbourne Australia, and they specialize in a lively mixture of finely honed NUGGETS action, thankfully non-trite Stooges motion, some well-considered post-’77 punk heaviness/knowledge and just the right undercurrent of workmanlike art (but not arty) smarts to help render the proceedings as a strong non-generic statement in a quite tricky mode; that is, being small in concept/scale while often truly huge in delivery. In a sense, ECSR is a prime example of a bunch of guys collectively defining the true meaning of the term amateur. Or to put it another way, they endeavor not for money or fame but for the sheer love of the process and result. This isn’t to imply that Eddy Current is striving in a sea of indifference. In fact the band won the 2008 Australian Music Prize for their second record PRIMARY COLOURS, an achievement that paid them $30,000. That’s a swell award to be sure, but it’s frankly also the kind of accolade that can really screw up a band’s emotional dynamic. But not to worry, for ECSR recorded their subsequent album RUSH TO RELAX in their practice space, with reasoning that was really quite simple; if a no-nonsense approach to album making is what earned them the prize, then why change course? Spit and polish isn’t going to do ECSR any favors, for they are a band that thrives on a non-cultivated unkempt quality and a little sand in the gears. If Eddy Current Suppression Ring has thus far escaped your radar, their new 2LP SO MANY THINGS is a fine place to make an introduction, for it compiles a bunch of singles and stray tracks into a nice, expansive package (twice as many tunes as any of their three full-lengths) that illustrates the parameters and appeal of their attack. For starters, these guys have a nice handle on what once was called aggro, the noisy, impolite clatter and din that the Aussies were excellent at shoveling onto boats and shipping to the import bins in hole-in-the-wall indie record shops all across the globe via labels like Au-Go-Go, Aberrant and Greasy Pop. Eddy Current are more punky and less densely noisy than many of the bands that sorta came to define Australia’s underground rock landscape circa the second half of the ‘80s (feedtime, King Snake Roost, Venom P. Stinger, Lubricated Goat etc.), but this fact makes them quite a natural fit for their American label Goner. PRIMARY COLOURS will likely remain my favorite ECSR release, but that’s only because it’s the first record I heard by the band. SO MANY THINGS is a big heap of goodness that’ll gas anybody turned onto the true vine of the punk impulse. If I were allowed to single out only one track from the 22 for specific praise, it would probably be “Demon’s Demands”, as finely wrought a mass of prime-era Iggy-derived throat rip and soul damage as I’ve heard in a long while, and all without the often distasteful aura of dilettantish pomposity and posing; again, ECSR don’t want to be the coolest cats on the block, they just want to rock the hell out the place, which really goes to the true nature of coolness (and longevity), anyway. I also like how “Noise in My Head” gleans so boldly from the “Psychotic Reaction”-playbook. And I was once very sold on the idea of Eddy Current as an overtly garage-descended bunch, but SO MANY THINGS’ three cover tunes help to solidify them as a group steadfast in their post-’77 lineage. A smoking version of The Pagans’ study in snot-rocket classicism “Boy, Can I Dance Good” shows they not only know their history but understand how to not screw it up, and a swell take on their excellent and typically underheard countrymen The Chosen Few’s “T.A.L.O.I.G.A.” (from that band’s very killer THE JOKE’S ON US 7” from ’79) flaunts a legit interest in Aussie punk achievements of yore. The loose if appropriately sincere stab at The Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat” may not be as tip-top as Poison Idea’s version, but the jury’s still actively deliberating on that point. Eddy Current’s take is certainly very individual, tapping into a sleepy reverence that might even inspire a sly wink from the eye of Belinda herself. SO MANY THINGS backs off a bit from the undercurrents of post-punk the made PRIMARY COLOURS such an unexpected joy, and I could use more keyboards, but in the end Eddy Current Suppression Ring make abundantly clear that they are one of the most reliable non-doofus punk propositions to hail from anywhere on this doomed planet. Theirs is a ruckus of distinction, and anybody that’s ever been well-goosed by the punk sensibility should check them out.

All serious record collectors, at least those that are actually music fans and not just investors cultivating a nest egg for retirement, are sure to utter the following phrase at least once in their life, and for very good reason: There are just too many records. This opinion generally stems from frustration at being unable to lay hands and lend ears to every nook and cranny in the labyrinthine architecture of modern music. For folks inclined to an obscurantist perspective, the difficulty of severe rarity can only add to the misery. Thankfully, one fine circumstance of the free-flowing internet is that people can actually hear the contents of $250-1,000 LPs (or $50-75 reissues) before gambling and plunking down the cash. While I’m a true-blue lover of obscurities, I’m also a relative cheapskate that’s never spent more than $50 for a record. The reason I’m mulling all this over is that I once spied a $25 bagged copy of the I STUMBLE AS THE CROW FLIES 7” by Reptile House, and was quite tempted. In retrospect I’m glad my cooler head prevailed, since Dischord has once again stepped up to the plate and affordably reissued this important piece of post-hardcore transitioning, a move that’s sure to please record collectors, u-ground historians and punks of all stripes. Baltimore’s Reptile House is noteworthy to many simply for the bands that benefited from their existence; drummer London May went on to pound the skins on horror-punk cornerstone NOVEMBER COMING FIRE by Glenn Danzig’s post-Misfits group Samhain while vocalist Daniel Higgs and guitarist Asa Osborne later formed the brilliant study in poetic post-HC cyclical repetition known as Lungfish. But unlike a lot of hardcore also-rans (names redacted to spare the thin-skinned), Reptile House are worth the time and energy of acquaintance and familiarity.  For I STUMBLE is an exemplary primer in the splendidly blabbermouth strains of imagery-laden post-HC, a style inspired far more deeply by lit-class textbooks than the regimented behaviors that were beginning to afflict the era’s punk scene. The ‘80’s u-ground frequently cultivated regional scenes that often held defining characteristics, sonic and otherwise; LA had the Paisley Underground, Chicago and later Minneapolis became strongholds of noise-rock, Seattle grew stringy-haired, occasionally overweight dudes dressed like lumberjacks and Washington DC came to represent a type of introspective soul-gushing that was once called emo-core (before that prefix was hijacked and applied to an unrelated and non-geographically centric genre). DC bands in the style included Dag Nasty, Rites of Spring, Embrace, One Last Wish, Rain and Shutter to Think. In the strictest sense, Reptile House is not a DC band, hailing from the Charm City after all, but like their contemporaries Moss Icon and The Hated (both from Annapolis Maryland) they get lumped into this scene by general proximity and convenience. What’s quickly apparent by listening to I STUMBLE is that Reptile House was one of the messiest and most rewarding examples in this whole style. Joe Goldsborough’s guitar (Osborne would join later) blends melody, distortion and velocity to exceptional effect; bassist Leigh Panlilio holds down the bottom with elasticity all while eschewing the sameiness that often plagued punk rhythm sections in hardcore’s wake; May is a lithe monster on the kit; and Higgs (here known as Daniel V. Strasser) is spilling out a gush of thoughts and images like the embryo of the visionary he was to shortly become (and remain). Higgs’ vocals here actually remind me a bit of Henry Rollins if he was more inclined toward singing and less invested in throat peeling shouting. All four songs here are strong on their own merits, but they add up to a really impressive sum. It’s the truly forward-thinking records like this one that stand the test of time while more formulaic exercises in ritualism fall by the wayside, even though as a split release between Dischord and the band’s own Druid Hill label (named after the site of the Baltimore Zoo), this disc often gets overlooked in discussions of Dischordian activities. Well, it shouldn’t. It’s taken me months to give it a deserving write it up, but here are my words, better late than sitting on the hard-drive unpublished, and I’m hoping that more than just Lungfish or Samhain fans take note. I STUMBLE AS THE CROW FLIES is a dandy bit of post-HC action. While nobody can hear every record ever pressed, this one is easily obtainable. It’s nice to see it selling for considerably less than $25.