Strong personalities searching for efficient means of expression often take the path of least resistance, and that’s what sleepy-voiced singer Carla Bozulich — joined by singer-guitarist John Napier, drummer Harold “Biff” Barefoot Sanders III and a fair amount of electronic gear — evidently did in Ethyl Meatplow. Making a notable point of upfront sexuality, Happy Days, Sweetheart — the offbeat Los Angeles trio’s lone album — co-produced with anything-goes openness (including wacky horns and strings) by Barry Adamson — skips ambiguously from industrialized Beasties-style hip-hop to aimless noisemaking to ambient techno crooning to bouncy pop bop that sounds suspiciously like the B-52’s. (Napier has a voice evidently pawned by Fred Schneider.) A lot of the record is good fun, a lot of it isn’t — “Devil’s Johnson” is a bit of both, and the knowledge of bad words Bozulich demonstrates in “Queenie” is neither — but the trio’s attempt to overwhelm is ultimately too successful for its own good.
Switching her allegiance to a side project convened casually with members of a punk band called Glue, Bozulich became the mouthpiece of the Geraldine Fibbers, a confused quintet as tangentially committed to the exploitation of country music as Ethyl Meatplow was to rap. Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home uses lyrics of rustic sentimentality and devastation, Jessy Greene’s sawed violin and viola and somebody’s warped idea of backwoods melodicism by way of Patti Smith to occasionally signify rural dignity amid Daniel Keenan’s craggy guitar distortion and straight-ahead post-punk rock drive. (Letting it all rip in “Dusted” and “The Small Song,” the Fibbers give Hole a good run for their money.) Bozulich, who alternates between venomous power and cozy restraint here, has a lot to unload, and unload she does in “Dragon Lady,” which tears down and rebuilds a female ego in a pointed attack on oppression, “A Song About Walls” and “Richard,” both of which portray women as relationship victims for whom violence is the only recourse. That’s a potent, provocative theme, but the album’s dissolute stylistic meanderings and pretensions ill-serve the songs’ angry underdogs. (Geraldine Fibbers is a UK compilation of the band’s four-song debut EP and a subsequent 7-inch single, also from ’94.)
For his part, singer/guitarist Napier (whose long LA band résumé includes Fourwaycross and Chris D’s Stone by Stone) launched the Basura! label and formed Buccinator, a loosely convened collective of pals that includes Jon Wahl of Clawhammer, Dave Gomez of Beck’s band and Amery Smith of the Beastie Boys’ touring crew. Buccinator’s debut, The Great Painter Rafael, pores around the grubby distortions of silly guitar rock, as the quartet carefully prevents any of its instruments from actually sounding as God (or Leo Fender) meant them to. That said, it’s an entertaining exercise — part Pixies, part small-scale Buttholian fashion, with similar nutjob lyrics (“Jippy,” “El Tweeko”) — revealing a certain internal logic and adequate flashes of thought in the slow-moving fray. At its very best, the album lays out a gristly gris gris like “Discipline the Fireman” which hypothesizes Dr. John reborn as a skronk rocker.
Donning a natty business suit, Napier subsequently launched E. Coli with bassist Johnny Baker and drummer Denis Fleps. To Drool is unchallenging pop punk/rock-more like an indie translation of Cheap Trick than an older Green Day — with songs that rarely surpass okay, given bonus doses of guitar and Napier’s oddly effortless vocals.