A Mighty Wind

Garage Punks Discover New Wave and Kick Out the Cans

Detroit's Clone Defects play howling blues-based rock, not unlike the Deadly Snakes, but pushed over some sort of edge, if a fundamental inability to sing in key can be considered over-the-edge these days. The singing is awful, and I haven't yet decided how much is good-awful and how much godawful. The inner photo in their Shapes of Venus is of a creature with a squashed-in alien bug face; the body is half primate and half cockroach, adorned in fur that seems to be a hairy bug composite—though I suppose the phrase "hairy bug" is itself a composite of bug and hair, since bugs tend to be hairless when not part of CD packaging.

The title Shapes of Venus implies that the Defects, having visited many planets, have learned that beauty comes in all shapes, even ugly ones. The drummer is a Keith Moon type who in the space of a measure kicks all the cans in the neighborhood, and the band appears to charge out of control while actually driving right where they want, so they've got a cheap staticky sound—guitars running into dissonances and dissonances running back into consonances, charging over all possible cliffs, in full motion, yet landing upright. The best track has scraggly blues licks played against a red, dark, and sweet organ drone, bottles breaking in the background, nice overtones from a Roger McGuinn-like guitar in splatter mode. Another track starts with Ventures guitar clarity but gives it sloppy edges, the slop edging more and more into the center as the song progresses (or devolves). I don't know if a more technically competent singer would weaken the music or make it more commanding, give it a more consistent wallop—assuming that one wants to be walloped, and I can't imagine anyone who doesn't enjoying this band. I love the gusts of energy from these guys and from the Deadly Snakes—something's really happening—but still, the ideology feels wrong, the bands exuding this old huff and puff that symbolizes being zonked and going all out, whereas a Justin or a Britney can glide by in even more motion without raising a sweat.

You see, it's still indie-alternative to me. That is, "garage rock" now is a subcategory of indie-alternative (even the few bands who jump major label, though if there are a lot of Top 40 hits this might change). Current "garage rock" could be a breakout for a 12-year-old who'd previously only done the Britney-50 Cent thing, but the breakout is to something that's already there, that's long been nurtured by old bar-band bohemians, record-store geeks, and postcollegiate intellectuals. Not that the music or the social group is necessarily static, but neither is it tight-pantsed kids in 1966 believing that the time is theirs and stepping into the unknown with it, or Bangs-Laughner-Thomas intellectuals returning like the repressed in 1974 to tell you that you're gonna cry, and this time it's for real, the Truth, so drown in it suckers.

Clone Defects: half primate, half cockroach
photo: Courtesy Screaming Peach
Clone Defects: half primate, half cockroach

Details

The Deadly Snakes
Ode to Joy
In the Red

FM Knives
Useless & Modern
Broken Rekids
Estrogen
Smartguy Records

Clone Defects
Shapes of Venus
In the Red

The Fever
Pink on Pink
Kemado

The Caesars
39 Minutes of Bliss
(in an Otherwise Meaningless World)
Astralwerks

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That said, "garage rock" and "punk" may nonetheless be creating a new identity within indie-alternative. Back in the early '80s, after hardcore had appropriated the term "punk" for itself (differentiating itself from all the postpunk art faggots and metal punks and new-wave poofs), and after the punk-based glam metallers and Metallica metallers and haircut romancers were relegated to popularity and stardom, everything else, from shoegazers to noise bands, was "postpunk," a term that gave way to "alternative" and "indie." But now that "punk rock" is not just hardcore anymore, it's re-embracing the general sweep of the old punk and old new wave, from the Heartbreakers to Lene Lovich to the Bangles to the Raincoats. In fact, the concept "neo new wave" might be more to the point: Punk was better than new wave in 1978, but now that punk is rigid and revered you're better off going back to the silly new wave for all the glitter and trash that punk originally tried to reinsert into rock. But coming out of the backstretch, the term "garage rock" is winning the nomenclature race, and therefore has the most interesting future, given that, after the commercial success of the White Stripes and the Hives, "garage rock" is the moniker that could lead to radio and video play. Lots of music that doesn't particularly reference 1965-1967 is going to align itself with the label. I'm already seeing this in press kits. In fact, the White Stripes themselves don't particularly reference 1965-1967.

Neither do New York's the Fever. They just want to help you strut. In "Ponyboy," track one of their Pink on Pink EP, the Voidoids go surfing. The singer is a coifed-up Richard Hell, swinging his voice from wave to wave in obvious delight, while the guitar player gambols in the foam. Dick Dale lines twist into dissonance. In track two, "Ladyfingers," the organ pretends it's a robot gone blip-happy, and the guitar imitates swishy new-wave synthesizers. The singer ponders what voice to wear next. This one looks good in a skinny tie, he decides in track three, "Bridge & Tunnel." In track four, "Pink Paganz," the organ splits the difference between barrelhouse and horror movie, and the vocalist transmutes into an old geezer recalling the bawdyhouse refrains of his youth. The group keeps a strong beat throughout the CD, so they seem playful rather than eclectic. A party band on a tear.

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