Savage Republic – “Tragic Figures” (1984)

Somehow I missed the Savage Republic train all these years.  Mind you, I doubt I’d have been ready for Tragic Figures when it came out in 1984 since I was more focused on Van Halen, Ratt, and Huey Lewis and the News, but still, somewhere over the course of the subsequent 30+ years I feel like they should have come into my orbit.

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Tragic Figures was Savage Republic’s debut album, one that interestingly came out in multiple small batches in 1984/85, presumably due to its growing popularity.  I believe each of the five vinyl editions that released during this period were sequentially numbered, with a total of just over 5,000 copies pressed.  My copy is mid-4th edition, for whatever that’s worth from a sound quality standpoint.

Reviewers usually comment on Savage Republic’s tribal drum style, and it’s definitely a core feature of their sound.  In fact it reminds me a bit of the early Bonemen of Barumba stuff, though the rest of Savage Republic’s feel definitely leans post-punk with the gloomy, alienated vocals.  There’s an incessant intensity to their songs, a prime example of which is “Next to Nothing” which bores its way right into your brain.  It’s almost like a tribal version of industrial, particularly on the B side, if that makes any sense at all (♠).  I’ll definitely be giving this some more spins.

(♠)  Note to self – it doesn’t.

Bitch Boys – “Continental” (1981)

bitchboyscontinentalBy 1981 Sweden’s Bitch Boys had moved away from punk and towards new wave, with Continental falling somewhere between new wave and post-punk.  I found this copy at Stockholm’s Trash Palace, and it was one of the records on my short list having become familiar with the band during our last visit to Sweden when I picked up a copy of H:son Produktion.

The Bitch Boys moved in a more synth-heavy direction with Continental, and it serves them well.  There are some Talking Heads elements here on songs like “Krieg,” while “Tango for Two” has some strong Iggy Pop vibes.  Joy Division; The Call; The Jam.  All the influences are here.  There wasn’t a ton that caught my attention, but there was still enough uniqueness to keep Continental interesting.

The Rapture – “Mirror” (1999)

The Rapture are among the groups that brought the lo-fi and garage sound to the mainstream at the turn of the millennium.  Stylistically I’ve seen this referred to as “post-punk revival” and “garage revival,” though I think that sells them a bit short.  After all, garage never really goes away – there are always bands playing that style somewhere; it’s just a matter of whether or not that aesthetic happens to be popular at the time, with garage often serving as an “anti” to whatever musical trend is currently dominant.  It’s roots; it’s back-to-basics; it’s a big middle finger to the world.

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The Rapture’s 1999 album Mirror doesn’t seem to fit into these revivalists packages, at least not to my ears.  Yes, they bring a lo-fi, unpolished feel to their music, and yes it has certain general rock characteristics, but there’s a lot more happening here.  “Mirror” has a post-punk / noise / no wave quality to it, along with some very 1960s psych organs and an almost Dead Kennedys-esque vocal style, while the dark “AlieNation” puts a sparse keyboard on top of a slow reggae-ish riddim and tops it of with Ian Curtis-like vocals, so this pair certainly fits the original post-punk mode to some extent.  But those are followed by the piano instrumental of “Dusk at Maureen’s” and the straight-up dance beats that drive “In Love with the Underground,” a track that veers off into sort of IDM territory.

Mirror is stylistically a bit all over the place, with the general lo-fi-ness loosely holding it all together.  All in all I think they pulled it off, giving us a thoughtful album that certainly captured my attention enough to add them to my mental rolodex so I can keep my eyes open for other releases by the band.

Stickers – “Swollen” (2014)

I first discovered Seattle’s Stickers a few weeks back as part of the Triple Six 7-Inch set and liked them enough that I immediately ordered their 2014 LP Swollen.  I was bummed to learn that the band broke up, but glad that they left us behind some recordings.

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In a Seattle Weekly interview around the time of Swollen‘s release the band’s style was described as no wave, and their riffs post punk.  I definitely get the post punk part, which is what drew me to Stickers in the first place.  And certainly they can go cacophonously off the rails in a no wave fashion, like they do on portions of “Outlet.”  But there’s a whole metric ton of post punk all over this thing, smeared on nice and thick.  The side A closer “Sacajawea” is the high point, a song with some stylistic variety that even in the transitions maintains a feeling of emotional intensity.

Swollen isn’t the easiest album to listen to – the music is a bit on the darker side and it can be lyrically intense.  But it’s real, and that’s what’s important.  Stickers may be gone, but they won’t be forgotten, at least not by me.

“Triple Six 7-Inch” Box Set (2016)

triplesixA few months back a post on Facebook caught my eye.  A Seattle-based art collective called Fainting Room started up a label called, fittingly, Fainting Room Records, and they were releasing a collection of six 7″ records each by a different Seattle area band.  If that isn’t right in my wheelhouse I don’t know what is.  So I sent them my $35, and in the mail arrived my six records, bound together with ribbon/paper (♠), along with a nice little canvas tote bag that Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane quickly claimed as her own.  For some reason, though, I sort of lost track of these for a while, and I’m only just now sitting down to listen to them for the first time.

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Haunted Horses hit you right between the eyes right from the opening track of their four-song 7″.  “Crown” is an aggressive industrial rock monster, edgy and abrasive, a blend of horror and hopelessness.  That’s followed by the relentless and equally haunting “Pariahs,”  driven forward by pounding drums that don’t give you a moment of respite.  I was trying to think of what I could compare Haunted Horses to, and the best I could come up with is Big Black meets Skinny Puppy, but what separates the Horses from that pair is the drumming, which comes across as real and organic, not the canned drum machine sounds I associate with those other bands.  That drumming will be stuck in my head for hours, and it’s the key to Haunted Horses’ vibe.

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The second record in the set is by Stickers and they represents a bit of a 180 from Haunted Horses, with a female-fronted poppy style of post-punk.  The sound is driven by the dreamy bass that seems to meander through and around the songs like water, with the other sounds sometimes floating on the surface of it and other times completely enveloped by it.  Gabi Page-Fort’s vocals are the icing on the cake – she can sing and she can howl, sometimes seemingly at the same time.  I’m a total sucker for punk and post-punk bands with female vocalists, and I’m digging Stickers enough that I think I’m going to need to buy a copy of their 2014 LP Swollen. (♣)

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Next up is Bali Girls, who deliver a more recognizable hard rock sound.  In fact, this 7″ reminds me of the things I liked about early grunge – it’s raw and a bit disorganized without being sloppy.  It just feels real.  The guitars drive the music, which is heavy and driving like the footsteps of some kind of giant or something.  The record only contains one song, the 8+ minute “Heavy Boots” which is split across the two sides of vinyl.  The download is technically two tracks as well, but it plays straight through like it was one song.

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Transmissionary bring a more dream-pop style to the mix, with occasional elements of prog, rock, and even some shoegaze.  The bass pushes the tempo and the vocals are trippy and are like a wave that exists above the level of the music, completely separate and existing on it’s own existential plane.  Each song feels like two separate pieces – the parts with the vocals, which are dreamy and floating, and the parts without vocals, which are more prog.  It’s an interesting dichotomy.

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I like me some sleazy psych rock, so I was into The Family Curse right from the opening of “Loving Kind.”  Vocally these songs are fuzzy and lo-fi, though the music maintains a dose of sonic clarity that separates The Family Curse from other modern psych bands.  “Firescene” sees the Curse move in a more metal direction, one that works for them and is my favorite of their four tracks.  It’s aggressive and edgy, with a weight to the guitars that reminds me a bit of Pantera.

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Last but far from least we have He Whose Ox Is Gored and their blend of shoegaze and psych, with distortion and reverb all over the place.  Is metal shoegaze a genre?  If not, it might need to be.  There’s some serious sonic density here, with every microsecond of space being filed by a cacophony of sounds.  Amy Billharz’s vocals are like a fourth instrument in how she contributes to the song structures, and she’s got a lot of power in that voice.

 

I’ve seen various numbers thrown around about how many copies of this release were put out, but it looks like 375 is the correct number.  I haven’t actually opened mine yet (I listened to the downloads), so I’m not sure if there’s something inside that clarifies the situation.  Regardless, the set is still available through Fainting Room Collective, so if you’re interested you can still pick one up.  Top to bottom, all six bands are great, and the mix of styles means that there’s a good chance you’re going to find something you like.

(♠)  While it’s described as a “box set” there is, in fact, no box involved.

(♣)  In fact during the period between writing this and posting it, I did in fact order a copy of Swollen.  I also learned that unfortunately Stickers have broken up.