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Hoot and Howl

Complicated Shirt
Strigine (self-released)

According to Hutchinson’s Dictionary of Difficult Words, the word “strigine” means “owl-like.” Shamefully, I have yet to determine how that relates to Complicated Shirt’s second release of the same name. Perhaps, as was the case when submitting this CD for my perusal, they will write me on the back of a NiMo envelope and clue me in. Me, when I think of owls, I am reminded of the time when I literally rode into one on a moonlight mountain-bike ride in the Pine Bush. Damn mouse eater knocked me right off my Litespeed. It was like getting hit by a flying raccoon.

Whatever the tie, clearly the mind of Drew Benton exists in a hallucination of almost total metaphor, which harvests vast assassinations of character and scathing sociological assessments and he scrapes his way through this aural assault, which is also kind of like being assaulted and left to bleed in sandy dunes by winged, garbage-feeding nocturnes. In a good way. Benton’s lyrical cadence, accompanied by Greg Graffin’s thesaurus and flair for internal rhyme schemes, reveals a sharp wit and at times a surprising allegiance to hiphop, each composition waxing harsh on life’s rich little asshole indulgences and firefights. And it’s not without an alkaline sense of humor, for example, this outtake from CD opener “Pitch Doctor Slogan”: “Just ’cause it exists don’t mean you must use it/And you don’t fucking care that you’re ruining music/As long as everybody’s ears and eyes are on you/Here, dress up like a deer and I’ll go get Ted Nugent.”

There is much flotsam floating in the vitriolic sea of Albany’s burgeoning garage-rock scene, but Complicated Shirt’s low, no-sponsor concord and willingness to integrate rap, electronic and folk into its hepatic rock fury put them ahead of the cigarette pack. I don’t know where the band draw their influences from, but their little oddball guitar interludes and spastic hockey-helmet short-bus sorties between verses bring pre-Bob Ezrin era Alice Cooper to mind. I see chicken feathers, I hear the shriek of man as he refuses to punch the clock. A hailstorm of abrasive guitars (most likely some old Gibson, and rightly so) and Jonathan Pellerin’s Dick Van Dyke drums literally pummel the listener into a rather mute sense of awe. I’ve always been envious of drummers who ride that delicate cusp between efficacy and complete disaster, like an amusement-park ride with a very poor maintenance schedule (your local Scrambler, perhaps). One reckons that any minute he’ll tangent off into anything but the song at hand, which adds a tremendous, uplifting anxiety to songs like “The Sound of Sirens” and “The Lowest Blow.” In contrast, Benton is a frighteningly deliberate player, which makes the interstellar “Tear Party” and his mournful “Centripetal Pills” as viable as they are disloyal to the low-fi rank and file. Hopefully they can hammer it out live. If not, they should be banned, like lead paint, for rousing the hopes of bleary-eyed voyeurs and hard-drinking warehouse workers everywhere.

Recorded directly to eight-track, the CD could have just as easily been dubbed by boombox, but to the garage set this is just as intentional as the pride the band take in disclosing exactly which analog machine they used (an Otari half-inch tape machine). Unfortunately, this prevented me from playing the disc loud enough to rally the neighborhood animals into a howling chorus, as I am wont to do, especially midweek. Even at modest volumes the low end is somewhat of a laxative, my subwoofer poised to explode like an old man’s colon. I realize, of course, that garage ethics practically demand adherence to lower or alternative modes of quality (and lack of cash always helps that along nicely), but I couldn’t help but fantasize how momentous and cutting Strigine would be if laid down in a proper studio as to maximize the fruit and frequency of this infectious affair.

—Bill Ketzer

Various Artists
Garage Beat ’66 Vol. 1-3 (Sundazed)

Like a mirror to the culture at large, rock music has become stale, processed and boring over the years. It’s harder and harder to find bands to absolutely transcend us, and most that come close are usually trying too hard. So it is that everybody wants that old-time rock & roll. Soon enough, everyone comes back. It’s just too good. Either the 12-bar form is so perfectly tailored to the designs of the human brain or we’ve just succumbed to its melodic simplicity over time, but there’s some ingredient too pure and too awesome that will never be denied by our ears. “Louie Louie” will always get people in a tizzy, and early Kinks will always be sought after. So the story goes: Hurricane Beatlemania hit our shores that fated night of Feb. 9, 1964, when more than 70 million tuned in, and American teens cleared the storm with guitars, drumsticks and scorched vocal chords. Even John Kerry served a dutiful tour on bass with his prep-school group the Electras (who have recently reissued their self-released LP, available on www.electrasrockandrollband.com.)

The best of the explosion’s recordings were documented on Rhino’s Nuggets box, four discs of hits, near-hits and plain greatness from that first era of British Invaded rock. As Nuggets drew up the extended family tree of ’60s garage and psych, this new collection from Sundazed collects their estranged, vengeful stepbrothers, eager for our attention and all the louder because of it. This is the raw underbelly of America’s rocking ’60s, from the bands who kept that basic R&B-based format alive during the post-Invasion wake (from 1966 on) by cranking it up and weirding it out.

From bands with names like the Concepts, Moss and the Rocks, and the In, few of the cuts featured on these three volumes have ever been heard outside of beat-crazed extremist circles. Most of these bands were only given one shot in a studio, usually resulting in a single or two—now standing to represent their entire lifespan. Not surprisingly, they made it count. And yes, maybe they were too dirty, or too fast, or too primal for the masses to handle, but whose fault is that? Thankfully our friends down in Coxsackie know better, smartly reminding us that the best way to deal with a tedious present is to dig deeper into a much cooler past.

—John Suvannavejh

Komeda
Kokomemedada (Minty Fresh)

It’s been six years since the Swedish band Komeda released their last album, titled What Makes It Go? The passing of time made me assume that they’d come to a stop. Well, I am now delighted indeed that the quartet are intact and have just stepped forward with the playfully named Kokomemedada.

The band’s music is full of curious tensions. Carefully constructed songs have been arranged and produced in a manner that makes them shiny on the outside. The jaunty rhythmic bearing and inviting melodies are like a siren song, pulling you in. However, once you are fully within their alluring embrace, Komeda reveal themselves to be a more complex and demanding creature.

While doubling the syllables in their name makes for a fun and funny new word and album title, it also mirrors some qualities of their music, with its insistent propulsion tied to cerebral frolics. The rhythm section of brothers Marcus and Jonas Holmberg have a watchmaker’s precision, but it’s slightly loopy, like a circus run by mathematicians. Lena Karlsson’s vocals, sung by someone for whom English is a second language, have a careful enunciation to them, evoking a cool reserve. But at the same time, the pure sonorities of her voice are haunting and mysterious. The opening song, “Nonsense,” plays along like a lullaby as she slyly delineates a litany of faults, squarely placing all blames in a crumbled relationship on the one left behind.

Komeda play deliciously subversive pop music: It sounds so sweet and simple, but once inside of it, you’re in a funhouse of trap doors, trick mirrors, and blind corridors.

—David Greenberger


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