Copping their name from a Rimbaud poem, New York’s Drunken Boat emerged from the same downtown ’80s scene that spawned Bongwater, King Missile and Hypnolovewheel. Led by poet Todd Colby and featuring the twin guitars of Steve Gross and Todd Serbousek, Drunken Boat merged Colby’s literary sensibility with driving off-kilter indie rock.
Drunken Boat, produced by ex-Hugo Largo leader Tim Sommer, teems with smart, concise songs characterized by Colby’s passionate, aggro vocals, propulsive tom-heavy drumming by Colby’s brother Michael and fine guitar work (Steve Gross and Todd Serbousek) throughout. While owing an obvious debt to Patti Smith, Wire, Captain Beefheart and the Fall, the avant-garage approach and Colby’s penetrating songs clearly marked the quintet as a band to watch. And don’t miss the great cover of Hüsker Dü’s “What’s Going On.”
The New Pop EP combines the titular Drunken Boat song with three energetic (and otherwise non-albumized) originals and a gentle cover of Young Marble Giants’ “Salad Days.”
See Ruby Falls, also produced by Sommer (who also contributes keyboards and guitar), is a more confident record, with a new rhythm section and generally longer, more developed songs. Colby’s singing is restrained yet affecting, particularly on the luminous “Timidity” and the gentle “Day Long Day.” The band again displays its interpretive talent with a stellar stripped-down cover of War’s “Low Rider.”
Drunken Boat’s brand of edgy indie rock was swamped in the wake of the post-Nirvana tidal surge. The artsy last-gasp of Dressy Hat came and went virtually unnoticed, but the band’s influence could clearly be heard later in the decade in such bands as Soul Coughing and Guided by Voices.
Since the band’s demise, Colby has continued to write and perform spoken word, publishing a book of poems, Riot in the Charm Factory, and creating poemfone, a daily dial-a-poem telephone service.