Girls Against Boys, aka GVSB, began as a studio lark for keyboardist Eli Janney (now also a busy record producer) and Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, both regulars on the Washington DC punk scene. They were joined by Scott McCloud, singer/guitarist in the city’s Soulside, for the industrial disco that would make up the “Eighties” portion of Nineties vs. Eighties. With the arrival of two more Soulsiders — Johnny Temple joining on bass and Alexis Fleisig replacing Canty — the second half of the six-song EP paints a more accurate portrait of the newly christened Girls Against Boys’ future direction. On “Jamie” and “Kitty-yo,” the more straightforward punk aggression is cut with a dose of sleaze, as McCloud’s voice flirts with a decadent croon.
Tropic of Scorpio expands the lounge-singer-on-‘ludes motif with the fluttering trumpet and jazzy atmospherics of “Everything I Do Seems to Cost Me $20” and “Everywhere I Go I Seem to Spend $20,” but also rocks savagely on “Wow Wow Wow,” staggers drunkenly on “Wasting Away” and pushes the distortion envelope on “Plush.”
Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby is where all the flailing around starts to gel. The spin-cycle churn of Fleisig’s drums, augmented by the grind of twin bassists Temple and Janney (aka Mr. Silas Greene), brings to mind the electro-trance rhythms of Kraftwerk, and songs like “In Like Flynn,” “Learned It” and “Bulletproof Cupid” roar straight down the autobahn. McCloud also finds inspiration in Times Square squalor (the band having relocated to New York City) in the eerie “Get Down” and “Satin Down,” which pleads, “Taint your everything/Taint my everything.”
In its CD configuration, the inter-album single of “Sexy Sam” and “I’m From France” also contains four tracks “lifted” from the three preceding releases.
McCloud’s bleary nightcrawler persona becomes a shtick on Cruise Yourself, as he pays homage to “My Martini,” snickers, “I’d invite you all back for a drink at my place, but I don’t got a place,” and advises “Kill the singer” on “Kill the Sexplayer.” The singer’s not the problem, though, the songs are. The rockers sound tepid next to the Venus juggernaut, and the decadence card is overplayed on the more atmospheric tunes.
The creepiness on House of GVSB sounds earned instead of put-on, in large part because the twin-bass attack is so ferocious, the grooves full of such menace-especially on the pummeling funk of “Disco Six Six Six” and the white-noise boogie of “TheKindaMzkYouLike.” A handful of appropriately seedy postpunk references complements McCloud’s strung-out lyrical visions, particularly the way “Vera Cruz” roughs up Soft Cell’s minimalist synth-pop and “Crash 17 (X-Rated Car)” takes Joy Division for a spin ’round the disco floor.
New Wet Kojak is a side project for McCloud and Temple. Joined by a variety of DC pals, including Geoff Turner (Gray Matter) and Nathan Larson (Shudder to Think), the Kojaks explore the more atmospheric outer edge of the GVSB sound. McCloud mutters instead of sings, while dance-music and dub-reggae rhythms clatter and percolate underneath murky clouds of guitar, trumpet and keyboard. An indulgence at best.