Agony Shorthand

Thursday, June 19, 2003
V/A : “HOMEWORK #9”….The latest alphabetical unearthing from a hope chest full of 1970s & 80s uber-obscurities from across the USA. All the bands represented on the HOMEWORK series are rooted somewhere in punk, but usually splay out toward low-fidelity noise, proto-indie rock and even keyboard-driven “punkwave” (hey, it’s not my term). You take the best of the previous eight volumes, and you’ve now got a case study for why this particular era (roughly 1977-1983) simply cannot be matched for its explosion of creativity and boundary-pushing rock experimentation. You’ll also get some of the best American sub-underground rock music of all time, often from you’ll-never-see-it-anywhere-again 45s and comps. To name but a few of my favorites from the HOMEWORK series thus far, many of whom I was wholly unfamiliar with before Hyped2Death brought them to life again: TWINKEYZ “Little Joey”; DOW JONES & THE INDUSTRIALS “Ladies With Appliances”; TWO BY FOURS “Little Cities” & “On The Iron Line”; TRUE BELIEVERS “Accept It!”; XMAS EVE “My House”; STROKE BAND “Fiction/Non-Fiction”; TEDDY & THE FRAT GIRLS “I Owe It To The Girls”; X-X “A” and so on and so on. These are of a par with anything dug up in the first wave of punk rock excavation circa 1989-1992 (the Killed By Death years). You certainly have to wade through some dreck to get to these gems, but the series’ quality control bar is set high enough that none of it’s particularly excruciating.

I’d have to put Homework #9 – which represents LP cuts from acts whose names start with A, B, and C – in the lower half of the series hierarchy so far. After a few listens, I can count only one standout track, and not only is it one I already dug (the jagged & Mission of Burma-like “TV” from Texas’ BIG BOYS, from the recently reissued 1981 “Where’s My Towel” LP), but its inclusion is debatable given the band’s relatively high profile. (And it is all relative, of course, when your comp mates are CRAIG BEVAN & THE TOURISTS and the BONEMEN OF BURUMBA). There’s a second tier of “Hey, I kinda like that” tracks, most notably the surging “This Damage” from 1983 San Francisco postpunk combo B TEAM, as well as “Bus” from Ohio’s BPA, who are like the perfect amalgamation of lessons learned from fellow buckeye statesmen PERE UBU and DEVO, while being about a quarter as interesting as either. Then there’s a few that might strike my noggin as interesting at a later date, from DC’s CHALK CIRCLE through to Virginia’s CITIZEN 23 (“Janie Got a Blackeye”), and then, finally, the rest. A number #10 appears to be in the works; we’ll hope for a bounce above the Mendoza line on that one, and will bear in mind that when one controls track selection by the rigidity of the alphabet, there will always be those letters that just can’t bring the noize.