The members of this industrial-noise-college (collage) rock band met and formed in 1988 while working as DJs at KXLU, the radio station of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Drummer Tomas Palermo, bassist Damion Romero and guitarist Todd Williams kicked off Slug’s illustrious career by staging a series of guerrilla performances in a campus quadrangle where the trio “entertained” fellow students with raging feedback and other Big Black-like noise assaults of guitars, boom boxes, turntables and a microphone. Within a year, Slug had added three more KXLU air personalities: singer Steve Ratter, second guitarist Rich Alvarez and second bassist Michael B. After landing some gigs in the greater LA area, Slug began releasing singles and EPs on its own Magnatone label, most of which are collected on the debut CD.
Swingers‘ title track opens like a Glenn Branca suite, with Ratter’s wails blended into a thick, buzzing wall of guitars and basses. The rest of the music is equally influenced by the noise and avant-garde rock coming from downtown New York, as well as the DJ/collage work of artists ranging from Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad to Throbbing Gristle. As powerful and abrasive as tracks like “Lockjaw” and “Face Down” are, however, Slug had not yet mastered the art of recording. As a result, songs that shake like an earthquake in a live setting fall a bit flat in the studio. Slug makes up for it with humor, interjecting samples of cartoons and preachers between the clatter.
Bassist Collin Rae (a veteran of several experimental bands, including Ultra Vivid Scene) replaced Alvarez before Slug recorded The Out Sound. The group’s music begins moving outward in all directions here, with lengthier songs, more dynamic range and adventurous studio tinkering. In some places, the band incorporates the loud-soft dynamics of Nirvana (“Ex-Chest”); in others, they come off much like San Diego’s similar (if slightly more accessible) Drive Like Jehu, with screeched vocals, wild tempo changes, a hulking drive and instrumental intensity (“Aurora F”). The album also features a hint of things to come in the gentler, spacier, dub bass and psychedelic guitar sound of “Coordinate Points.”
Between The Out Sound and the ambitious double-length The Three Man Themes, drummer Palermo (host of KLXU’s dub reggae show) had been busy at local clubs as trip-hop DJ Tomas, writing for the techno/dance zine Urb and clerking at an indie record store. Meanwhile, Ratter had begun playing keyboards. Their respective experiences made a great impact on The Three Man Themes, moving Slug from its original Branca/Big Black persona to ambient-dub-psychedelic punk-rock. While the album includes its quota of lurching, acid-tinged guitar squalling, drones and harmonics (“Unesque,” “Resonance Man”), it also finds the band exploring Aphex Twin territory. “The Grey Man” is an extended suite of electronic ambience intermittently spiced with gurgling aquatic sounds and jingling metallic noises. There’s also dub (“The Distinct Room”), a Tanzanian witchcraft song (“Kayamba Dance”), a Can cover (“Oh Yeah!”) and an instrumental tribute to early Sonic Youth (“The Gentle Man”). Amazingly, it all holds together seamlessly. Among Slug’s excursions in several different directions at once, The Three Man Themes stands as its masterwork.