Over the past several weeks, I have encounted a lot of garage punk LPs from the last few years either used or on sale in local bins. Due to my usual inability to resist a bargain, there's been quite a bit of catch-up on (mostly) newer sounds going down. Also, quite a few of these are still available on vinyl from their respective labels, for a change from what I often write about.
The Cynics: Here We Are (Get Hip, 2007)
One of the few bands still active from the original wave of 1980s garage revivalists, The Cynics returned in 2007 with a more than worthy follow up to 2002's also excellent Living is the Best Revenge. The band still includes founders Gregg Kostelich and Michael Kastelic, who remain masters at recreating the hook-laden '60s teen-angst sound, right down to recording much of this album in mono. They do change the sound up here with a few acoustic numbers, the souled-out "All About You" and the spacy psych-out "She Fell," but those detours only serve to emphasize how rockin' much of the rest of Here We Are is. Along with the band, the Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds: Dracula Boots (In the Red, 2009)
Kid Congo Powers had one heck of a start to his career, helping found The Gun Club before jumping ship for The Cramps. Eventually he rejoined The Gun Club for a series of albums, and also played with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for a few years. Talk about a trio of influential underground bands! Since then, his main projects have included the somewhat unlucky Congo Norvell, the all-star lineup of the Knoxville Girls and, currently, The Pink Monkey Birds. Judging by his latest album, Dracula Boots, Powers is still cranking out unique music, and this band could be another legend in its own right after a few decades' seasoning. If the genre of garage-exotica hadn't been invented before, it certainly has now, as Powers and new rhythm section Kiki Solis and Ron Miller create a set of what at times feels like the loudest ambient music ever. Walls of guitar, dub-like echo, funky beats and the occasional slowly intoned (and often hilarious) raps of Kid Congo combine relatively simple elements into a whole that's pretty darn unique. According to a blurb provided by In the Red, this was recorded in a high school gymnasium, which could account for the miles-deep reverb. Turns out it's a former school converted into a "creative residence, workshop and retreat" called The Harveyville Project, of which drummer Miller is a co-founder.
The Black and Whites: The Black and Whites (Talbot Adams. Adams says he'll have a solo release coming out soon.
King Uszniewicz and His Uszniewicztones: Teenage Dance Party (Norton, 1989)
According to the liner notes, this album is an archival recording put together by Brownsville Station's Cub Koda, who recorded these tracks in the mid-'70s after hearing the band perform at a Detroit bowling alley. The catch is, he got involved because they "were, undoubtedly, THE WORST BAND I EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE," according to the notes. Is it for real, or all a rock 'n roll put-on? I don't actually know, and I don't really care... but songs like "Little Dead Surfer Girl" and "Tappin' That Thing" make me believe the latter must be the case. However, as this is credited to Detroit it's hard to say for sure. Alternately sounding confused, untrained, drunk or histrionic -- and, it must be said, occasionally verging on competent -- this album has equal shares of heart and awfulness adding up to something truly great. Even more amazing, there's two more volumes after this one! King U, wherever you are, thank you.
A trio of guitarist Justin Hubbard, organist Zack Brines (Kings of Nuthin'/Pressure Cooker) and drummer Tara McManus (Mr. Airplane Man) grinds through a dozen stripped down, snotty treats this this album. Working a messier Reigning Sound-esque soul/garage furrow, I like their originals quite a bit more than their covers, despite some admirable choices of material (The Impressions, Charles Brown and The Underdogs). A highlight is one of the fewer slowed-down moments on the album, the menacing "One Man."
The Soledad Brothers The Hardest Walk (Alive, 2006)
Another trio on Alive, this band works from more of a blues-based mode. Ohio natives, The Soledad Brothers in earlier days worked with the pre-superstar White Stripes; by the time of this, their final album, they were, for the most part, in a laid-back, "Sticky Fingers"-era Stones-y groove. However, occasional free jazzy squonk and poppier elements give them their own sound; in fact, Side 2 is sort of a genre-hopping mess but somehow it all hangs together. Again, here's a case of a band that I knew about while they were still around but never really paid enough attention to. Whoops.
SSM: SSM (Alive, 2006)
Hey, guess what: This is another trio on Alive. SSM, though, is a Detroit all-star lineup of keyboardist John Szymanski (The Hentchmen), Dave Shettler (The Sights), and Marty Morris (The Cyril Lords), and while this definitely shows their garage roots it takes the music in a direction that leans heavily on electronic sounds -- no Farfisas here, but plenty of squiggly digital keys and drum tracks. It's a testament to the group that this potentially massively sucky concept turns out to be mostly excellent. SSM manages to keep the garage attitude content high, while still including electronica/prog elements that take what's usually a simple musical form to somewhere new. Even the silly, disco-y "Put Me In" works, once it gets going.