Reels

Singer David Mason sounds like a deep-echo Elvis Costello with a nagging cough. The songs have a wacky Madness edge and the band leaps into them with the speeding ska fury of classic 2-Tone. The suspicion that you’ve heard it all before does not diminish the eccentric, energetic joy of The Reels, the only US/UK…

Renaldo and the Loaf

Only the Residents’ label would deign to sign a duo as deeply weird as Renaldo and the Loaf — in real life two Englishmen named David Janssen and Brian Poole (the latter not of ’60s swingers the Tremeloes). Their bizarre studio-doctored vocals, cut-and-paste arrangements, jerky robot rhythms and alien instrumentation (among the pair’s noisemakers: scalpel,…

Ben Vaughn Combo

Now a highly successful composer for television, Ben Vaughn was first a journeyman singer, songwriter and all-around rock’n’roll classicist. In 1978, he issued his first record — an independent EP — as a member of a Brinsley Schwarz-ish New Jersey band called the Gertz Mountain Budguzzlers. Four years later, having outgrown Philadelphia’s punk scene, where…

Method Actors

The Method Actors hail from the Dixie avant-pop capital of Athens, Georgia, where they made their concert debut on Halloween, 1979. Like Pylon, they dealt in minimalist dance/trance rock. They also made a lot of noise for just two guys. The seven-track 10-inch Rhythms of You is a crisp, aggressive capsulization of the Actors’ act,…

Dramarama

Grounded in the timeless twin aesthetics of pop art and power pop, Dramarama was nevertheless a star-crossed combo, out of synch with both the mainstream rock audience and the music business throughout its career. Formed in the basement of a collectors’ record shop in Wayne, New Jersey, at the turn of the ’80s, the band…

Kim Fowley

Kim Fowley is less important for what he’s done than what he gets away with. Once described as “the king of rock’n’roll pimps,” Fowley is a master manipulator of artists and creator — as writer/producer/entrepreneur — of hit records that are both crassly commercial and smugly subversive. Fowley first scored big in 1960 with the…

Swimming Pool Q’s

When Glenn Phillips met Jeff Calder in 1975, the former, late of Atlanta’s Hampton Grease Band, had just released his first solo album and was playing a string of dates in Florida. Calder was assigned to write about him for a local paper. A little over a year later, guitarist Calder moved up to Atlanta…

Telephone

Telephone’s biggest contribution to rock culture was proving to a stodgy French record industry that a local band could succeed singing teenage protest lyrics in its native tongue. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, Telephone’s sound is more Stonesy hard-rock than Pistols punk thrash. They were quite good at it, though,…

Germs

In retrospect, it’s easy to dismiss the Germs as the epitome of LA’s early identipunk scene. Singer Darby Crash (Jan Paul Beahm, a.k.a. Bobby Pyn) was a barking spikey-haired brat, an alarming adolescent combination of Johnny Rotten’s snarling vocal ferocity and Sid Vicious’ self-destructive cool. Three years after the band’s first live performance (at the…

Crass

Lords of English punk’s extreme left, the Essex-based Crass didn’t just sing about anarchy in the UK — they did something about it. Formed in 1977 as a band much in the Sex Pistols/Sham 69 image, they saw themselves as a more righteous alternative to those bands, and soon evolved into an anarchist commune, a…

Mental As Anything

A kind of Australian Rockpile with a case of the vaudeville giggles, Sydney’s Mental as Anything first surfaced Down Under in 1978 with an EP containing a sly, skiffle-like drinking song called “The Nips Are Getting Bigger” (featured on Get Wet, Mental as Anything — the equivalent UK release — and the US debut If…

Meat Puppets

The Phoenix, Arizona trio made a career out of defying expectations. The two Kirkwood brothers, Curt (guitar/vocals) and Cris (bass/vocals), along with drummer Derrick Bostrom, made their debut with In a Car, a locally released 7-inch — five songs in five minutes — of shrieking thrash-punk and unrealized avant-guitar ambitions. The Puppets’ first album (a…

Primus

Bay Area power trio Primus proved that punk music did not succeed in killing off progressive rock; if anything, in Primus’ hands, the two meshed pretty well. Once described as Rush on crack, the band invigorated the musicianly ambitions and literary pretensions of ’70s art- metal with an intricate instrumental frenzy closer to Metallica (for…

Purrkur Pillnikk

A quartet of bratty minimalists featuring future Sugarcubes Einar örn (vocals) and Bragi Olafsson (bass), Purrkur Pillnikk was the most successful band formed in the early-’80s days of Iceland’s post-punk revolution. Although together for only seventeen months, the group recorded lots of material, hit the Icelandic Top 10 with its first album and even toured…

Gumball

Formed as a result of the bitter split of B.A.L.L., Gumball allowed singer/guitarist/producer Don Fleming and drummer Jay Spiegel to jettison the calculated-sloppiness shtick and smug trashing of ’60s icons that were that band’s obsessive specialties. Special Kiss, recorded as a trio with new bassist Eric Vermillion, is actually closer in spirit and execution to…

Tappi TÍkarrass

The band’s name is Icelandic for “Cork The Bitch’s Arse,” but its main claim to fame is petite wailer Björk Gudmundsdöttir, the future Sugarcubes star who was the lead singer and a founding member of this appealing but limited Reykjavik quartet. Björk was only in her mid-teens when Tappi Tíkarrass released their sole LP (a…

Theyr

While the name Þheyr means “thaw,” it took a while for this pioneering Reykjavik band, featuring soon-to-be Sugarcubes drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson, to get any heat going on record. The debut, Pagad i hel, is little more than lukewarm jazz-rock fusion with a few damp detours into new wave-ish boogie and vanilla reggae. In a word,…

Spin Doctors

The dark-horse success story of 1992, the Spin Doctors were an amiable jam-happy combo who became the poster boys for the clan of bands — including Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic and Phish — inspired by the hippie bonhomie and extended improvisations of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers. The group’s good-timey sound, grounded in…

Del-Byzanteens

Up from the murky pit of New York’s art-punk scene came the Del-Byzanteens, a quartet with stylistic threads running back through Television and the Velvet Underground and the ability to give their dark, urgent arrangements a cinematic pan. (Not a surprising attribute, considering the future career of keyboardist Jim Jarmusch.) An unsettling cover of the…

Plastic Bertrand

One of the first punk gag records and still one of the greatest, “Ça Plane pour Moi” was a major European hit in late ’77 and early ’78, launching the career of blond Belgian pretty boy Roger Jouret, aka Plastic Bertrand. Scuttlebutt at the time claimed Bertrand was the invention of some anonymous French studio…