Slipped through the cracks
Some local CDs of note that we forgot to tell you about
Plate of shrimp.
If you can recall the 1984 cult film Repo Man, there’s a scene in the towing yard in which a character named Miller says, “Suppose you’re thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly, somebody’ll say, like, ‘plate’ or ‘shrimp’ or ‘plate of shrimp,’ out of the blue.”
Miller’s point was that, occasionally, little things can slip in under the door of the collective unconscious. And the person getting the plate-of-shrimp heads-up has a choice of ignoring what’s on the plate or checking it out.
Now, this may not qualify as a genuine plate-of-shrimp moment; it’s probably nothing more than a coordinated hype campaign. Nevertheless, three different people saw fit to drop off a copy of Let’s Do Something We’ll Both Regret (no label given), the debut CD of a local band called Rock the Light, affixed with Post-it caveats imploring the recipient to drop this new paragon of mind-roasting rock ’n’ roll into the nearest CD player, crank it and be rendered prostrate and speechless by the glory of sheer butane-flicking, amplified splendor.
Hey, who could ignore that kind of advance hype?
The problem, of course, with building up a band like Rock the Light into the savior of Sacramento rock is that it may not live up to that lofty promise. The Post-it notes seemed to indicate that blasting Let’s Do Something We’ll Both Regret would induce some kind of serious Yabba-Dabba-Doo experience in the listener. Granted, it’s pretty good, but this listener wasn’t quite transported to a meeting at the Bedrock Water Buffalo Lodge with Fred and Barney.
Nevertheless, there are multiple “flick your Bic” moments here. Engineer Chris Woodhouse got a real cool room sound at the Loft, where the CD was recorded. It manages to evoke MC5’s immortal 1970 classic Back in the U.S.A. album in all its messed-up, trebly glory, with Allen Maxwell’s Rob Tyner-like vocals driven by plenty of mindless riffs and beatweeny guitar solos courtesy of David Aslanian. Still, the 12 songs aren’t uniformly great, although “Crank Appeal,” with its shouted refrain, and the title cut stand out as particularly tasty modern updates of the Rick Derringer buttrock aesthetic. And any band with a song titled “Hesher in a Half Shirt” deserves a listen, if not a flaming butane salute.
At the end of the day, Rock the Light, um, rocks. But it isn’t the local be-all and end-all on the subject.
Because this is kind of a music issue, I figured I might clear the boards and write about a few records that have come across the desk in the last few months but that we never got around to covering. And because recording is somewhat of a local cottage industry, a lot of people put records out. And some of them, it should go without saying, deserve to be heard by the world at large.
Take Idiom Creak Presents: The After Dinner Collection (Samplistic), a various-artists set of textural electronic and ambient music built around the 1981 Louis Malle film My Dinner with Andre. The idea behind this project, assembled by Idiom Creak’s Ehmie and Mr. Glass, was to contract out tracks to various sonic architects: Scatter-Shot Theory, Recluse, Overturned Big Rig, Anacrusis, Idiom Creak, mr. Dark Keys, Mophono, Audio Consortium, Management, Hysterisis Loop and Il Dante. They, in turn, would build them around snippets of conversation between Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, sampled from the film. The result is one of the better headphone records in recent years, a trip-hoppy, hallucinogenic refraction of cinematic music that worms its way into your unconscious and stays there—kinda like a plate of shrimp.
Speaking of crustacean treats, Full Moon Nation by Life Is Bonkers (WAD) may not resonate with deeply dreamy ambient tunes, but it is full-on mutant music of the highest order. These six songs probably aren’t for everybody. But if you get off on intensely trebly geek rock—the kind where you wonder what kind of medication its perpetrators are on, or if they should be on some kind of maintenance prescription but have chosen to go off their meds—this humble little disc should rock your world. Singer-keyboardist Genetic James and guitarist Michael Jay Mayhem don’t sound like a couple of suburban art-rock poseurs who are trying to emulate Daniel Johnston because it’s the cool thing to do. You can tell that these guys feel the angst, as such tracks as the title tune, “Goin’ Nowhere,” and “At the Circus” will attest.
In contrast, there’s nothing geeky about 26 & S (Amp), a surprisingly energetic disc by the Broke that contains 10 smartly etched but blitzkrieg-speed four-on-the-floor modern punk anthems. Sonically, this delivers everything Rock the Light’s disc merely hints at, with the politically charged lyrics of such tunes as “The Bureau” and “Rumsfeld,” along with shouts-out to the hometown crowd, like “Just the Other Day,” put across effectively by singer-guitarist James. Yeah, “punk” may have gotten itself appropriated by major-label mall rats from the post-Green Day school, but there are a few bands out there still trying to put across the real deal.
Two decades ago, I lived in a city 45 miles south of here, and one of the better local sources of entertainment was a flying-saucer cult called the One World Family. The Family lived in an old mansion; it was led by a “cosmic adept” named Allen Michael, who supposedly “channeled” wisdom and teachings from the space brothers. One of the Family’s outreach programs—in addition to its “natural selection” group-sex night (sorry, never participated)—was a weird hippie-rock band, Quazar, which sounded kinda like Jefferson Airplane, albeit unhinged by way too many psychedelics or trips to Zeti Reticuli aboard a saucer.
What does that have to do with Red Tiger Church? On this self-titled five-song disc (on the Work It Elephant label), Red Tiger—which contains Mike Diana of the brilliant Pretty Girls—invokes the trippy late-1970s tribal hippie vibe of Quazar and infuses it with a nice post-Bowie junk-rock veneer. Tunes like “My Man Lantern” and “Methadone Blue” are great, but the final cut “Angie Vampire” seals the deal. Imagine Exile on Main Street refashioned by French flying-saucer enthusiasts who’ve been sampling liberally from the absinthe cellar.
Speaking of outer space, my dog Sammy Hagar Jr. has developed a liking for the Saturn recordings of Sun Ra & his Arkestra. And though local jazz quartet the Sardonics’ new set This, That & the Other Thing (Prescott) doesn’t get Sammy barking at the speakers as do the otherworldly synth bleats on Sun Ra’s My Brother the Wind Vol. 2, the record does elicit what I call “dog-interest ears” along with rapid tail movement. (Naming the dog after a certain buttrock vocal god may have been a mistake; he looks more like Kings swingman Peja Stojakovic, and he grunts like pianist Errol Garner mid-solo on “Misty.”)
Anyway, the Sardonics’ disc has plenty of Aaron Thurman’s straight-ahead saxophone-induced flights of fancy, which avoid the oleaginous business-jazz bleatings that seem to derail many reed players—a definite pitfall of the trade. Thurman’s often meaty tenor-sax work is underscored by the liquid guitar lines of Ross Hammond, who often sounds like he’s playing through a Leslie speaker. And the rhythm section of bassist Kerry Kashiwagi and drummer Todd Temby is solid, if mixed a little too up-front sometimes. Nice references in the titles, too, like Speed Racer character Chim-Chim. But what, pray tell, is a “reacharound”?
Contrary to their popular depiction as footstools for would-be Woody Guthries, most dogs are not especially fond of folk music. So, The Hallelujah Side, by Nevada City singer-songwriter Aaron Ross, does not elicit much in the way of dog-interest ears. The disc’s early 1960s Hibbing, Minn., approach works fine for humans, though. Ross definitely has his ears attuned to the Dylan side of things; when he wraps his reedy voice and strummed-acoustic-guitar righteous indignation around these churchy jeremiads, it’s like the heyday of Greenwich Village all over again. And on a tune like “Methlab,” Ross adds an edgy intensity worthy of Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano on “Add It Up.”
Finally, there’s this masterpiece I stumbled across when looking for the Squish the Bad Man disc I misplaced. Free Thinker Radio is a two-song disc by Moore, which has referred to itself as “the band that they don’t want you to hear.” This is the Rocklin-based combo that put up the Boycott the Sammies Web site (www.sacramentorocks.com) a few weeks ago. And Free Thinker Radio is truly great—but then I think “The Happy Egotist” by Womb (Dot Records, 1969) is one of the all-time classics. “Six Inches of Green” is a rap-rock paean to stripper bars that begins, “Get on up to the tip rail.” And it just gets better from there, with call-and-response vocals over a wah-wah guitar, meandering bass and drums that sound like someone slapping a No. 2 pencil against a shoebox. Freddie Red Cap would be struck numb with jealousy were he to hear this awesome cut. Even cooler is “Blue Windows,” the kind of pensive hesher-gothic work of brilliance that combines Queensryche with, um, Boston or something like that. It unwinds for seven-and-a-half minutes and contains such stellar lyric wisdom as “I … am only … a mannnnnn.” I think I have a new favorite band here. Can’t wait to hear Moore’s entire recorded oeuvre.
Rock the Light is pretty great, but Moore is the genuine article. Plate of shrimp, indeed.