Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Those of you who were paying attention and connecting the dots around the children of great late 70s/early 80s labels like FUCK OFF or STEP-FORWARD probably had your own name for the distant, skeletal, closet-recorded punk coming out of England at the time -- for the rest of us, it wasn't until Chuck Warner's quasi-legit MESSTHETICS CD-R series came around that this sound had its moniker. I was fortunate enough to get on the Messthetics bandwagon early, and gathered each of the discs Chuck put out around 1999-01 thanks to a CD-roastin' pal with a big heart. I got so intrigued by the bands I was discovering via this series (and from the arguably more consistent "Instant Pop Classics" bootleg LPs as well) that I made my first ever comp CD-R out of my favorites, which include the all-time DIY kingpins the DESPERATE BICYCLES; the joyous chug-splat-blues-noise of ANIMALS & MEN; T. Rex-meets-The Fall STEVE TREATMENT; ANOREXIA, PETTICOATS; early SCRITTI POLITTI and so on. I must've played that thing 50 times or more, so far. The hallmarks of the sound - which in truth encompass a great many sounds - are found more in spirit than in form, though one can usually count on at least one of the following: muffled recording quality, decidedly un-"punk" cheapo keyboards, vocalists who sang like accountants rather than rock stars, sparse guitar lines, and first-person lyrical accounts of the mundane and the normal.

Now Chuck and his HYPED2DEATH label have gone all legit and put out an official CD of greatest hits from all the MESSTHETICS to date. Naturally I would like to quibble with his song selection, wondering as I do about the exclusion of standouts like anything from BEYOND THE IMPLODE or 'I Don't Want To Work For British Airways" by the SCISSOR FITS. Yet if this is your first time to the micro-genre, well welcome aboard, and this is a fine one to get crackin' with. Hyped2Death had the good sense to include the fantastic aural headache "Don't Make Another Bass Guitar, Mr. Rickenbacker" by DANNY & THE DRESSMAKERS, as well as brazen DIY classics from the aforementioned Steve Treatment & Anorexia. The treat for me was hearing stuff so good that I hadn't "heard correctly" before, and thus left it off own my CD-R....among these are a stunning keyboard/guitar piece by TAKE IT called "How It Is" (clocking in at over 4 minutes , it's easily the longest thing on here) and the paranoid stumble-punk anthem "Sus" by REACTA. I don't get what anyone hears in tracks by the SCROTUM POLES or the THIN YOGHURTS, but I have a feeling it has more to do with the rad band names than anything else (hard to believe that Johan Kugelburg can actually claim that a Scrotum Poles song, no less, " going to be played at least three record collector funerals I know of...", since it's a shitty song from a totally marginal band). I don't think the excavation of this micro-genre is anywhere near complete, and I'm sincerely counting on the Messthetics series to get rolling again in 2006 & lead me by the nose for a few more years. I've got another CD-R I need to make.