Breaking Circus began as a vehicle for Steve Björklund, veteran of the ’80-’83 Chicago punk explosion (as a member of the seminal Strike Under and, later, Terminal Beach). The eight-song 45 rpm Very Long Fuse is terse, post-punk vitriol set to a banging dance-beat drum machine. “The Imperial Clawmasters’ Theme” and “Precision” are sharp, jagged and guitar-powered, unique for such dancefloor bop. (The closest stylistic reference is the Three Johns, whose songs Breaking Circus have played live.)
Björklund then relocated to Minneapolis and put together a more stable band-type environment, borrowing the rhythm section of Rifle Sport when that group isn’t working. The Ice Machine contains sinister and methodical blows like “Song of the South,” “Ancient Axes” and “Took a Hammering.” Trading fire for poisoned darts, Ice Machine gets under the skin with repeated listenings.
Smokers’ Paradise offers similar fare (complete with another imposing hammer adorning the cover), only better. The instrumental title track adds smoky, ghostly acoustic and tiptoeing piano, a walk through a haunted graveyard; the trademark saber-toothed guitars on “Eat Lead” and “Three Cool Cats” (not the 1959 Coasters hit) are equally hair-raising. An eerie and innovative pleasure.
Although the group split around ’88, Björklund has since used the Breaking Circus name to release a solo single of Naked Raygun and U.K. Subs covers done as electro-pop. While the rhythm section continues on in Rifle Sport, second guitarist Phil Harder formed Big Trouble House, a trio in which his vocals lean more towards Steve Albini than Björklund; with constant tempo changes, Afghanistan‘s overall feel is less spooky and more meandering than Breaking Circus. A somewhat formative effort, this interesting and generally good album was largely overshadowed by the excellent “Watered Down” single (produced by Albini) that followed in ’90.
Though as haphazard and as woefully inconsistent as its predecessor, Mouthful of Violence is indeed an improvement. With meatier production by Albert Garzon, the more succinct songs (like “Union Feed Grain Mill”) show Big Trouble House capable of a rocking edge and intensity that compares favorably to the Didjits. The CD also includes “Watered Down,” an unreleased track and, for some reason, four tracks from Afghanistan.