Bewitched started as a joke; while on tour, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore told the English music press that the group’s former drummer, Bob Bert, had put together an exciting new band when, in fact, Bert had done nothing of the sort. Still, Paul Smith of London’s Blast First Records read the story and offered to release the group’s first record. Bert, who had recently ended his stint as drummer for Pussy Galore and needed a new gig, slapped together a post-psychedelic noise collage that proved so unlistenable that Smith refused to release it. Bert wound up releasing the disc himself, and the momentum from that project eventually led to the existence of a full-fledged band.
For Brain Eraser, the first Bewitched full-lengther, Bert transferred his accumulated rhythmic skills to a drum machine, although he does get behind the drum kit for two instrumentals. Guitarist Jim Fu and bassist Chris Ward generate a dense, throbbing buzz, enhanced by turntable wiz Dave P’s scratching and samples. In many ways, Brain Eraser is the best album Sonic Youth never made; Fu eschews standard guitar rock, preferring to wring twisted shards of sound from his instrument, while Bert’s deadpan, monotone-chanted vocals mirror the delivery of former bandmate Kim Gordon.
On the Steve Albini-produced Harshing My Mellow, the swap of Jim Fu for Art Reinitz provides a more rockish guitar sound. But the band’s grinding proto-industrial riffs are only a backdrop to Bewitched’s real strengths: Bert’s acidic sense of humor, encyclopedic knowledge of the current indie-rock scene and goofy, off-the-wall lyrics, like the bad acid trip described in “Orange Owsley,” or “No. 1,” a parody of big-time rock’n’roll in which Bert imagines himself sharing the stage with Axl Rose and “Mikey” Stipe.