Off the Beaten Track with Mary Leary: Music Reviews & Musings
HUNX AND HIS PUNX: Too Young to be in Love (Hardly Art) – LA SERA: Never Come Around (Hardly Art) – DIRTY BEACHES: Badlands (Zoo Music) – THE WITCHES: A Haunted Person’s Guide to The Witches (Alive Records) – THE CLUTTERS: Breaking Bones (Chicken Ranch) – THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES: Groovies Greatest Grooves (Rhino/Warner Bros.)
Anyone who’s been around me for long knows what happens when something strikes me as funny: A big, full laugh that can swell into… um… paragraphs of laughter (if life happened in paragraphs; which it doesn’t, unless you have my brain). I haven’t been laughing like that a lot, last few months – my dad died a few weeks ago after being in a drawn-out, protracted state of misery. And Carlo Dimaggio, a cool local biker and band-hand – you know, the type whose absence leaves a big hole – died suddenly, of a heart attack, about a week before my dad passed. One of my best friends here is moving to France – which is great for her, but I already miss her… anyway, a lot of doom ‘n’ gloom have come a-knockin’ in these parts. These parts have felt confusing and exhausting; not very fun.
Anyway, as is generally the case, promos, and promotional emails, continue to flurry across my consciousness. One that kept flitting in and away from my befuddled psyche was about a band called Hunx and His Punx. If my car were running (another sad story) I might have checked H&HP out in time to see them at the Tin Can Ale House. But the car won’t be running for another month, I’m just now getting back to a tighter new-release-coverage schedule, and I didn’t check H&HP out… until yesterday, when I finally just shot over to You Tube for a quick skinny: thence the guffaws.
I also wanted to jump up and cheer, because for all the groups hammering away at the ‘50s/’60s bubblegum/sorta garage/girl group thing, here’s an artist that finally gets the absurdity inherent in so many of these sounds (and their original presentations). (Happy Birthday gets it, but subsumes the fun, for the most part, in snarkiness.)
Annoyed as I can be by categorical thinking (“It takes a young queen to really have fun with retro fluff”), maybe it takes a young queen (nee Seth Bogart) to really have fun with retro fluff:
“Gimmie Gimmie Back Your Love” isn’t on Hunx’s latest, but, no matter: Bogart and his over-made-up posse are producing a stream of “product” that’s in equally questionable taste: finally, someone’s making the videos we apparently can’t expect from John Waters any more. And Fred Schneider had better look to his guns. And Pee-Wee Herman had better… keep bein’ Pee-Wee. There are so many fun things to say about H&HP.
If you were to peruse some of the reviews I’ve done of “retro”-inspired musicians, I could start to come off pretty mean. But here’s the thing: why would I want to listen to something that sounds like Doris Day now if I’ve never wanted to listen to something as bland and predictable as Doris Day? However, all the new “retro”-pop isn’t THAT bad. As a matter of fact, I saw Katy Goodman’s newer project (the older one being Vivian Girls) perform last year. And if her airy soprano hadn’t been drowned out by over-amped instruments, I probably would have enjoyed La Sera more. It certainly wasn’t intolerable: some honest-to-god riffs poked through the din, and Goodman has a sense of humor – I mean, she’s not as ridikulous as H&HP, but then, few are.
Here’s the very tolerable title track from La Sera’s latest:
What I want to know is: How did Goodman round up the last set of losers who left me cryin’ by the phone?
Same night I saw La Sera, I was rather blown away by Dirty Beaches, a usually-solo artist who managed to climb under the wall of sound that’s becoming de rigueur for a lot of the “retro”s with handy songwriting and charisma:
IMO, “True Blue” is good enough to inspire a new Twin Peaks so there’d be an excuse for Alex Zhang Hungtai (DB’s) to star in it, or at least appear in a roadhouse, for no apparent reason, and perform that song over and over again. As it happens, a recent Pitchfork interview with Hungtai reveals that Lynch’s Lost Highway has been an inspiration. Well, I could of told ‘em that… the thing that’s rather amazing about Hungtai is his ability to grasp the essentials of rock-about-alienation, or just loneliness (Link Wray, Elvis Presley), and make you want to join him in that space.
Before it became pop-pop-popular to do the retro rag, two Detroit-based guitarists and songsmiths, Troy Gregory and John Nash — often with Jim Diamond at the mixing board — took short, extended, or permanent breaks from projects including Flotsam and Jetsam, the Swans, Mick Collins and the Dirtbombs, and Electric Six to be the Witches. Which meant waves and waves of ‘60s-inspired guitar jangle, siphoned through all sorts of juicy psychedelic, pre-punk, and garage influences. A Haunted Person’s Guide to… compiles highlights from the Witches’ four or five spirited, scattershot full-lengths. It’s a fab idea. The compilation showcases tunes that would segue with some of the best by the Flamin’ Groovies and Teenage Fanclub. If you don’t want to check the whole thing, strong suggestions (for those who crave fierce, sinewy sounds) include “Down on Ugly Street,” “Lost with the Real Gone,” “People What’s Wrong with You,” and “She’s Got Some Kind of Thing.”
My only regret is that The Witches aren’t driving into my town any time in the near future. Well, it’s not my only regret, but it can take a lifetime to gather enough material for a decent novel.
Recently discovered (by me; hey, I can’t be everywhere) is another group for whom rock ‘n’ roll (yes, I’ll breathe those sweet, dirty words) is in no way retro, but a living, breathing thing – that is, when the Clutters get their hands (and Farfisa-ish keyboards, slammin’ drums, and judicious and/or passionate guitars) on it.
Now we’re cookin’!
I have all kinds of memories about my father; some not so great. But one that I like is about the way he’d start banging his hand on the steering wheel when a really tight rock number happened to come over an AM radio station. I’m pretty sure he’d have responded to this Freddie Cannon song that was ravaged by the Flamin’ Groovies, a band for which I’d love to find a theme that would excuse my throwing an entire installment in its direction. Well, as Elaine Stritch says, “I’m still here” — and while we’re here, there’s hope:
I’m raising another “Robin’s Egg” (those malted-milk ball candies I can never resist digging into before Easter) to redemption, resurrection, and all that other new-life stuff – hey, it’s spring, after all. And no wonder I was so goofy when I started this installment – I’d just downed a handful of those suckers.
~Photo of Katy Goodman is by Mary Leary~