Before there was grunge there was the U-Men.
Formed in Seattle back in 1981, back when there was no Seattle music scene to speak of other than memories of Jimi Hendrix, and maybe Heart, the U-Men were part of a small punk rock movement. Their 1984 four-song 12″ self-titled debut was put out by a Seattle record store called Bomb Shelter, and I was intrigued to see a pre-Sub Pop label Bruce Pavitt listed in the “THNX TO” section on the jacket reverse. Pavitt had already produced a few comp cassettes as part of his Subterranean Pop / Sub Pop zine but hadn’t yet started the label that would later help put Seattle on the music map.
Musically this early U-Men material is more post-punk than either punk or proto-grunge. It’s a bit gloomy, but also has the tendency to rock out a bit during parts of “Flowers D.G.I.H.” and even goes a bit psychobilly and jazzy on “Shoot ‘Em Down.”
The bands that lay the groundwork for a scene often fail to achieve the success and fame of those that follow, and that was no different for the U-Men. They remained a popular touring act, but their following was relatively small and in the end they only put out one full length album, 1988s Step on a Bug, a collection of songs heavier and harder than their earlier material, and they disbanded a year later.
This was another gem unearthed at Seattle’s Daybreak Records the other day. With the quality of the material they have in that little shop I’m going to need to make a point of going back there often to see what other nuggets they have hidden away in that back room, waiting to make it to the floor.