Unreconstructed adherents to the rock’n’roll lifestyle — from free-flowing recreational intoxicants to daily doses of penicillin as preventive medicine — this transplanted Syracuse quartet did its best to bring a little bit of orgiastic revelry to New York’s increasingly po-faced Lower East Side post-punk scene around the turn of the decade. Blessed with a preternatural ability to make even the most abrasive skronk exploration choogle at least a little, Surgery became the party band for folks too cool to party.
The five-song debut is kind of a mess. Kramer’s hollow production does little to accent Sean McDonnell’s bawling, brawling voice — easily the group’s most potent weapon. Too bad, since both “Stupid Chile” and “Souleater” radiate a menace reminiscent of Altamont-era Stones. Nationwide captures that essence far more effectively: Scott Kleber’s guitar casually makes a case for the argument that Sonic Youth and Foghat aren’t mutually exclusive objects of veneration, squalling and boogieing with equal aplomb on tracks like “Maliblues” and “Do It to It Dynamo.” The all-too-short album’s most encouraging facet is the band’s disposition to draw from the often-ignored bluesier end of the Detroit rock spectrum, a prowess that springs in no small part from bassist John Lachapelle and drummer John Leamy’s shared willingness and ability to swing.
Surgery’s blues influence is even more pronounced on the six-song Trim, 9th Ward High Roller. Kleber fires machine-gun riffs into the adrenalized walking blues (would that be running blues?) of “A.K.,” and drips languid, Eddie Hazel-esque leads over the expansive “Brother Remington.” McDonnell stretches effectively, embracing a few hip-hop phrasing tricks and making the most of his natural-born sneer — as evidenced by the morning-after taunt (“I was hopin’ you were rich, so I could sleep off this sick buzz”) that opens the lurching “Kickin’ Around.”
On Shimmer, the quartet pursues its low-tech aspirations with high-tech tools; the results are mixed. Producer Garth Richardson cuts away some of the gristle that non-devotees might have found unsavory, but in doing so loses a good deal of the rhythm section’s meat. McDonnell, however, has rarely sounded better: his drawling delivery and down’n’out lyrical perspective fuse firmly on the hazy “Shimmer” (based on little more than a rudimentary drum track) and the giddily lawless “Gulf Coast Score.” A still-extant inclination to boogie takes Surgery over the (ZZ) top on “Low Cut Blues,” but the hyper-hybridized sounds of the band’s blues-metal/hip-hop are mostly quite intriguing.
Surgery ceased to exist after Sean McDonnell suffered a fatal asthma attack in early 1995.