Education is a dangerous thing, and these Wisconsin smartboys spent far too long in school for public safety. Jay Tiller’s rapier wit, dadaist visions, squawky voice and ear-busting guitar work, enabled by bassist/co-writer Neil Socol and a procession of drummers, make the group’s records hysterically funny exercises in eminently enjoyable noise-to-go.
The lyrics of Mammal Insect Marriage‘s opening track, “ADM 12,” immediately make it clear you’ve checked into a real hellhouse of collegiate weasel weirdness: “I saw a car accident near the zoo. There were mangled bodies all over. I felt sick, but I found a finger. I still have it in my freezer.” Recorded in seven fun-filled hours, Mammal Insect Marriage has 13 additional warped and funny B-movie haikus. Brilliant and extraordinary.
The tape-only Rock With Your Sock On combines the entire contents of Curiosity Rocks (recorded and mixed in a single eight-hour session just months after the band’s formation) and Mammal Insect Marriage. The former contains sketchy versions of “ADM 12” and “I Don’t Want to Be an Eddie,” as well as “Mobile Home,” “Satan’s School for Girls” and “Curtains for You,” all of which resurfaced on Couch’s third album.
The Day the Music Died gets off to a slow start with the instrumental title track, but revs into high gear with “We’ll Go Through the Windshield Together,” a romantic tale of vehicular homicide (complete with sound effects) told from the victim’s perspective. Other highlights include the pessimistic “Life’s Rough,” a feedback-filled mantra that recasts an old 7-Up slogan (“You Hate It, It Hates You”) and Socol’s “Curtains for You,” in which the protagonist makes a major educational discovery: “I hate Shakespeare / He’s too hard to read / I wish he were dead / Oh, he is?”
Continuing as a duo (Socol and Tiller, who doubles on drums), Couch made the five-song Models EP, going easy on the radical sounds. Instead, the pointed cultural sarcasm of “Models,” “White Boy Blues” and “Vipers” are laid over relatively easygoing music that paradoxically undercuts the lyrics by failing to match their absurdity. The one exception is “Song With a Message,” a wimpy dance groove underlying a random series of messages left on Socol’s answering machine.
Beneath the unpredictable lyrics and Tiller’s brain-spasm vocals, Ghostride — a full 16-song dose — cranks up equally unpredictable (although tight and well-played) rock noise that flirts with metal. In Couch’s world, nothing is ever perfect: “We’re Not So Smart” describes the joy and heartbreak of being an underground rock group (the related “Scene Report” dismembers punk-rock poseurs), while “Think Twice” is equally realistic about the hazards of dating and “Summer Vacation” is, predictably, a complete disaster. Great!
After taking a nearly two-decade timeout, perhaps for adulthood (naah!), Couch returned with Bunny Hideout, an eight-song LP recorded at Steve Albini’s shop and spinning at 45 rpm in a sleeve decorated with Roger Dean-mocking typography. In numbers titled “Grape Kool Aid,” “Blogger Bill” and “My Girlfriend’s Band,” Tiller, Socol and drummer Rusty Olson bring the familiar Couch rock crunch and nerdy scenarios delivered in a voice that still—after 40 years!—sounds like it belongs to an amped adenoidal teenager.
You want more Couch? Dive into Power Slide, 37 tracks culled from the band’s records and live shows in 1994 and 2001. Complaints: the studio rendition of “ADM 12” is omitted in favor of a live version and “Curtains for You” is nowhere to be found.