Taking a long walk off rock’s short pier, Spongehead — Atlanta native Doug Henderson on guitar, bass and vocals, his brother Dave on “electrocuted tenor sax-bass” and drummer/vocalist Rev. Mark E. Kirby — blows a raucous ventilation through, and gouges some big holes in, the corridors connecting free-jazz, bludgeoning skronk and garden-variety power-trio jamming. Adding a hefty dose of distracted, vulgar and sullen commentary on the world at large, the imaginative and well-informed Spongehead takes the Z train on a winding path to some of the most savvy and humorously accessible meta-rock around.
The group formed in Brooklyn in 1985 and made its first album, with Kramer producing, for Shimmy-Disc. (Spongehead also contributed to the label’s fabled 20th Anniversary of the Summer of Love compilation.) Dave Henderson’s role in the rhythm section — his tenor horn runs through an octave splitter and a bass amp — is an eccentricity that connects Spongehead faintly to the surly noir drive of Morphine, but it’s also an easily accepted component of an entirely more thunderous clamor.
Amid honks, roaring slabs of guitar and what sounds like hogs being slaughtered, Legitimate Beef contains a James Blood Ulmer cover but otherwise underscores the Hendersons’ past experiences in the company of Eugene (Shockabilly) Chadbourne: the album wallows in topical name calling, dada rudeness and scatological skullduggery. Don’t look for clues in the song titles, though. “Zombie Movie” is about the desolation of quotidian life, while “Fuck You (I Love You)” considers personal relations about as much as “Capitalism” — the entire lyric of which is “Capitalism is on my dick (get it off)” — explores political economy. “Plumber’s Lament” is about the “river of shit” the narrator must endure. Capping the whole loopy extravagance off in dumb-ass style, “Spongehead Theme” is a latter-day answer to the Dictators’ “Master Race Rock.”
Curb Your Dogma, produced by Dave Sardy of Barkmarket (whose “Mirror” is among the album’s songs), outgrows some of the juvenilia (not all of it: the fiercely incisive tabloid-scan “Nothing” wonders “What bitch is Donald Trump hanging his dick inside of today?”). More important, it organizes the band’s sonic attack into a tightly packed wall of roiling, buzzing, bottom-feeding aggression. Doug Henderson’s Tom Waitsy vocals are far stronger, too; when he growls, “This ain’t the heaven I heard of in the Psalms” (in “Metal Jesus Fucker”) he really means it, God. A forcefield of thoroughly brutal jollity, Curb Your Dogma gives prime ‘head.
The trio’s use of the studio is even more confident and ambitious on Brainwash. There’s a monumentally funky/manic rendition of Sly Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” a deep venture deep into disorienting distortion (“VR”) and chunks of thunderous “Jelly.” In addition to the five new songs, the EP contains two remakes of “Plumber’s Lament,” one (annoyingly placed at CD track 99) that halfheartedly prunes the bad words.
Infinite Baffle is really the shit. Having checked for weak spots on previous records (and giving “Brainwash” a “Migraine Mix”), Spongehead is an indestructible rock behemoth here, focusing all of its attributes into steel-girdered songs that lumber with an agility the sheer sonic pressure should preclude. The album is consistent where prior records were haphazard, hard-hitting where the others threw wild punches — even swinging after a fashion (see “1919”). Infinite Baffle is the most accessible and entertaining ton of bricks to land in a long time.