Agony Shorthand

Monday, November 29, 2004

I still marvel at the clean break this band made from their original sputtering, spastic sound simply by changing their name. I'm speaking, of course, of the immediate 180-degree transformation from the URINALS (1978-81) into 100 FLOWERS (1981-84), with all 3 original members still in tow. I'm sure I once knew why they made the switch; probably a rejection of the punk rock rootz in favor of the more wink-nod cultural revolution moniker 100 FLOWERS. And not like The Urinals had a real high profile when they were around, but my sources tell me 100 Flowers barely registered in and around LA the three years they were existent, despite high-profile comp appearances on punker collections "Hell Comes To Your House" and "Keats Rides a Harley". When this near-compleat compilation came out almost 15 years ago in the early days of CDs, somehow it ended up remaindered and priced to move in a hurry, so my cousin gobbled up a couple dozen of them and handed them out like aspirin to anyone who'd take one. I took one.

Though it is certainly not without its meandering moments and some misfired art-funk overreach, "100 Years of Pulchritude" is one of those great lost essential CDs that needs to be added to your collection ASAP. 100 Flowers were a real unique & strange animal. Three UCLA grad students/professors, who were sworn to punk brevity and form but were also quite resistant to all its manifest trappings. They created a minimalist stew of buzzing chop-chop-chop guitar, way upfront funk bass and a skittering percussion that kept the beat and took it off course as well. If they weren't "post-punk" I'm not sure who were. Their M.O. was likely to keep it as real as possible, which meant pleasing themselves foremost & hoping a few others might get wise to their charms. Their debut LP featured one member, John Talley-Jones I believe, lounging completely nude, dangling his participle for all the world to comment on (only the Don Bolles weenie-wagging on that VOX POP EP comes close). If I had to pick a favorite of these 28 kinetic, wildly different set of tunes, it would have to be the bonzai "Motorboat to Hell" from their one and only LP, as well as that record's closer "California's Falling Into The Ocean". Both have the crazed, attacking drive of the second two Urinals 45s, but add a dollop of breaks and quick jumps that show not only more instrumental proficiency, but a real attempt to branch out and paint with a new artful & brainy pallatte.

By the time they put out their final EP "Drawing Fire", they were headed in a more atmospheric & dense direction ("Triage" and "Contributions") that was getting mighty boring mighty fast, which might be why they scattered & went on to new projects. Still, those tracks (and the omission of the fantastic "Salmonella" from "Keats Rides a Harley") don't mar anything -- the CD is one of those overviews that duly unwraps a band's hidden charms, and gives them their due way past what they likely reckoned to be their shelf life at the time. Track this down if your interest is at all piqued; at the least it might be a kick trying to locate a CD that's been unavailable for years, right? (Or you can order it right now directly from the artist -- not quite as fun but so much more spiritually fulfilling).