The Frumpies could easily be boiled down into a tiny ball of forgotten cool made from the stylish hair of ’90s vintage punk rock women. The quartet’s half-baked singles, coated though they may have been with a temporary sheen of hipness, reflect little of the genuinely exciting music made by its members’ other groups — Bratmobile (drummer Molly Neuman) and Bikini Kill (singer/guitarists Tobi Vail, Kathi Wilcox and Billy Karren). Still, a few of the songs that retreat from the dominant Frumpie sound of artless, flailing punk are quite good.
Alien Summer Nights is a blur of tinny noise and yelping vocals that sounds more like a gang of Muppet punks recorded with a hand-held cassette deck than four seasoned Olympia scenesters. It’s an unconscious parody of the then-incipient riot grrrl movement, when women in rock could get noticed merely by yelling over loud, messy guitars and dropping indiscriminate f-bombs. The titles sure are promising (“I Wanna Puke on Your Stereo”), and those who listen hard enough can hear several rousing smash-it-up burners beneath the bootleg-quality din, but this is a dashed-off artifact of little import beyond the participants’ pasts.
Babies & Bunnies still sounds like crap, but the Frumpies’ lurching, screeching punk machine slows long enough to cough up a pair of very good songs: “Be Good” and “Innertube Tomorrow,” which nicks a bit of melody from Sonic Youth’s “My Friend Goo.”
Make-Up guitarist Michelle Mae joined the Frumpies for Tommy Slich, another EP whose merits are lost to the D-minus production values. The same goes for Safety First, whose “Duvet Ta” has surprisingly strong Minutemen overtones, even lyrically (“Throwing bricks and stealing treats or screaming treason / Kicks affirmative”). “Fake Antagonism Rules, Okay,” besides its great title, exemplifies the Frumpies’ knack for simple bittersweet songs about lost love. If only the band ditched the punky bash party long enough to make an album full of those, with just a few extra ounces of studio effort. Then again, maybe that wouldn’t work, since the three slower numbers on Eunuch Nights are fairly boring, leaving the basher (“Wrong Way Round”) as the standout track.
Frumpie One-Piece collects the first five singles and suffers for sequencing all those brief soundalike songs in a row. Fans may herald the disc’s convenience factor, but folks who have heard this done better won’t get far before realizing Frumpie power is only palatable in very short bursts.
The band’s final EP is its best, drawing on musical and lyrical nostalgia to create a warm sense of Frumpie solidarity, pining for former days of close friendship with a mellow ’60s garage rock sound. Even the surprising Rolling Stones cover (“Tell Me”) is gently affecting, despite a few yowling, off-key backing vocals.