Hey, so I’m Evan, and since this is a new thing, let me take a minute to explain what this column is and why it exists.
When I was 13, skinny and gangly, inexplicably wearing enormous Space Ghost (really, Brak) T-shirts, my mom worked at the Huntington, West Virginia Borders. At some point, she bought a Ramones compilation with her employee discount, and in short order, it was added to my listening rotation. A lot of people have those sudden epiphanies where something changes the way they think and feel about music. For me, one of the first was blasting the Ramones on an old boombox in my parents’ basement. I listened to it, it changed my life, I dove into punk rock. It’s the classic story of a kid obsessing over a movement that’s long gone.
And now, probably as a direct result of that compilation, I’m in love with trash. Music that’s immediate, doesn’t pull punches, is fast, propulsive, slack-jawed, manic, screaming, ridiculous, sludgy, lo-fi, and loud. Garage, psych, punk, shitgaze — anything that can evoke that same adrenaline rush I got from dropping the needle on The Clash’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope when “Safe European Home” blasted out of my Linens ‘N’ Things Crosley Stack-O-Matic’s speakers.
I keep coming back to that word “immediate.” And it’s a loose word, but it’s something like the measure of 0 to 60—how quickly the first moments of the album can incite excitement. “Safe European Home” is one of my favorite examples of the “immediacy” phenomenon. It opens with a single snare crash and then blasts into an enormous, distortion heavy power chord hook. And maybe it’s that idea that within the first moments of something, your mood can completely shift and your pulse can quicken with a few opening notes. Of course, it can’t just depend on a few moments—consistency is obviously important—but if that opening feeling can last for an entire album, even through the “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” ballads, it’s an amazing thing. It’s a quality shared by King Khan, Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell, Jay Reatard, Ty Segall, John Dwyer, Nina Hagen, Hasil Adkins, and a whole mess of people who make incredible, exciting music. Obviously, immediacy isn’t limited to these things—it’s found in arena rock, hip-hop, soul, and pretty much every other genre (okay, maybe not anything Garfunkel-based). But for as long as I’ve been obsessing over it, I’ve always been most excited by the immediacy of trash.
The point: This monthly column is my love letter to trashy rock’n’roll– those artists, albums, and songs that are immediate, sloppy, and satisfying. To start out, I’m going to dig into some recent releases from Memphis bands.
Let’s take a step back. One of my mom’s co-workers at Borders was this guy Nathan. He convinced me to buy Please Kill Me and planted the seeds of early Rolling Stones and James Brown—he was apparently a college radio DJ and was referred to (either by himself or by others) as the “King of Rock.” He was an art school student who threw these local punk shows. I think he helped book Fugazi when they played Huntington on their last tour. But he also put together the Punk Rock Prom in Huntington’s American Legion Hall, which was headlined by the Lost Sounds. If you didn’t already know from the ongoing reissue campaign, the band hailed from Memphis and was comprised of Rich Crook, Alicja Trout, and the late Jay Reatard.
It was put together shortly after I decided to dive headlong into punk, so I advertised that show like it was my job. I put up fliers, told everybody I knew about it, and looked forward to it for a couple months—really, I couldn’t focus on anything else. It was an incredible time. Here’s what I remember about the event itself: There was a kissing booth, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was playing on a tiny TV in the corner, a bunch of my middle school friends were there, and this local band FÃ¼D opened, who wore cheap masks and chucked freshly made grilled cheese sandwiches into the crowd– they put napkins in the middle so they’d stick to the sole of your shoe.
Ultimately, the night ended early for me. After dork-dancing to about three Lost Sounds songs, I had to go. I was 14 and couldn’t drive myself, so I didn’t really have a say in it. But the biggest bummer of them all was the lack of a merch table at that show—I was really hoping to buy a CD, but to no avail.
Later, Nathan sent me a package full of punk CDs, including Black Wave, the Lost Sounds’ first album, as a thank-you for telling all of my pubescent friends about the show. I listened to it until it broke.
Black Wave, as its name obviously implies, had a bunch of ominous darkwave songs that emphasized spooky shit. I remember thinking that it sounded like what I thought the Misfits’ Walk Among Us would sound like– horror noir rock’n’roll. The first track that really grabbed me, that had that quality of immediacy, was “Plastic Skin”, a re-recorded cut of their debut 1999 EP. Last month, Goner reissued the melodramatic graveyard romp. On Black Wave, the production was significantly more slick, and Reatard’s singing was pretty smooth for the most part. On the original cut– the one on the reissue– everything is ridiculously lo-fi and a 19-year-old Reatard unleashes a series of demonic screams. But it’s that opening moment, a slow guitar growl, that instigates the first tinges of excitement. The feeling only grows as the growl busts into an infectious hook anchored by Reatard’s strained howling. That debut 7” is an expert practice in lo-fi darkwave trash and essential listening.
Lost Sounds were only around for a little over five years. Reatard obviously gained notoriety as a solo artist, Trout has been in several bands, and Rich Crook made some great records as Lover!. But this 7” is an excellent document of their earliest stuff. “Don’t Bother Me” has Trout screaming with the same bite as Reatard over some Jem synths, sludgy guitars, and ominous noise. “What’d I Say” and “Lost and Found” are both under two minutes long and bash through the low fidelity with excellent hooks and vicious, guttural vocals. The reissue is five bucks and completely worth it.
The day after the Prom, Nathan sent out a mass e-mail saying somebody had stolen his guitar from the show. He suspected it was a member of the Lost Sounds since they hadn’t been paid what they were promised. It’s probably safe to infer that it was stolen by the shit stirrer who would later get in the habit of smashing disco balls at European rock clubs. But hey, it could’ve been anybody.
But that’s what was happening in Memphis over 12 years ago. Last month, Southpaw Records (a label to watch) released C’est Bon!, the brand new long-player by Memphis ex-pats Useless Eaters– now based in Nashville, but hey, there’s some Memphis history. (Semi-related: They were friends of Reatard’s and toured with him, Nobunny, Hunx & His Punx, and Box Elders in 2009.) The band was started by Seth Sutton as a one-man recording project, and it developed into a full live band. On record, it’s still just Sutton, and he’s ridiculously prolific — this is his third LP, he’s put out a handful of singles, and he’s got a compilation out, all since 2009.
This is my favorite thing they’ve done. It’s probably already implied, but the album is (secret word!) immediate. “Receiver (Drop The Bomb)” opens the thing with a fun, repetitive power chord drive, accompanied by the titular yell: “DROP THE BOMB.” And the album has range– “Certain Doom” slows down, is led by an acoustic guitar, and forgoes the yelling in favor of a more reserved delivery. “At the Parkette” takes up a bright, frenetic guitar and a melody that could’ve jumped out of a Richard Hell song. “C’est Bon!” is under a minute of synth driven grooves.
“The downside: the lyrics on the whole aren’t great (“all through the day, all through the night,/a losing battle that I must fight” on “Certain Doom”). But honestly, it’s really hard to care. The only reason they’re noteworthy on “Certain Doom” is because the song is slow and quiet enough for them to stand out. Otherwise, on stuff like this, bands tend to bulldoze over their lyrics with drive and volume. And maybe that’s a total cop out as a listener, but for something like C’est Bon!, I’m not listening because I want something that’s lyrically deep or challenging. The Ramones, for example, had really simple lyrics that could evoke some pretty basic themes– mainly, love, drugs, and monster movies. “Pinhead” has one verse and three short chants. It’s extremely repetitive, but it totally works, because the Ramones, over anything else, made loud, fast rock’n’roll. And that’s why I like C’est Bon!: It’s breakneck, it’s got range, and it’s just so damn immediate. It gets trash off to a good start in 2012.
Evan Minsker writes for Pitchfork, eMusic, and lots of other people. He’s got a Twitter and a Tumblr. This month’s column is named after an album by King Louie & The Loose Diamonds — if you find a copy, buy it. He promises that subsequent columns won’t focus on his middle school wardrobe habits or the word “immediate” quite as much.