Saturday, April 13, 2013

Feedtime: "The Aberrant Years": Music Review

Push your head inside an amplifier. Imagine Wire's lyrical minimalism and compression of song structure, crossed with an Australian underground's mutation of blues into punk. These four CDs collect the four Feedtime records on Aberrant Records, plus the expected odds and ends. In the latter half of the 1980s, I purchased their self-titled debut, Shovel, and Suction. These three studio recordings  wedged this Sydney trio into the same art-punk niche where my records by Wire and The Gun Club nestled between frequent plays. Feedtime did not capitalize their name, their albums, or song titles, but I defer to editorial convention--tellingly this band covered a poem by e.e. cummings on their Cooper-S tribute album along with songs by The Easybeats, The Rolling Stones, Lee Hazlewood, and The Beach Boys among others.

Yet, Feedtime did not sound exactly like any of these bands. This anthology (each album in a paper sleeve with original cover art, enhanced by Leon O'Regan's liner notes) improves upon the original albums, available back when I bought them via Rough Trade, with a simmering buzzing intensity. They already approached maximum if not R & B than blues-punk. Certainly raw, they reissued sound oddly spacious within unsettling digital clarity. Allen's frazzled bass, Rick's churning "electric slide guitar," and Tom's primal drums thud like their names: no nonsense, no added frills.

Feedtime takes the promise of punk and places it within an eager delight in full-frontal playing. Naked, it struts and swaggers. From the clubs and dives of Sydney, where this music did not meet apparently with universal acclaim from punters, it rises above the limits of punk by a sly craftsmanship that, as with the blues and art-rock, points back to quality tunes from earlier eras and doggedly unfashionable influences among the masses. You can hear why motorcycles appear on "I Wanna Ride," logically titled. With an album named after a car, this music begs for the open road, even if the engine of that British mini may be challenged by the endlessly open outback ahead.

There's a sly, shadowy variety within these recordings. When I played them on their original release, they loomed as monolithic slabs. The proverbial repeated listenings tease out, if not a lot of nuance, than texture. Some songs recall British art-punk of a few years earlier; the band started in 1979 and lasted a decade. I admit my affection for this era, so I forgive Feedtime any "homages" to their predecessors, beyond those covered on Cooper-S. They rethink their songs into a rapid shuffle, throwing off Wire's ratty, stiff put-downs by a sheer devotion to accelerated, terse melody.

As with Wire, Feedtime's arrangements open up subtly beneath ruffled vocals and arch lyrical shards. "In the supermarket, they're all dead crazy," goes a line that passes in "Dead Crazy," logically enough. This features a circling guitar behind a mix that shoves the other tracks ahead, into a awkward, but proudly wry, dance.

"F#" growls with its own Wire-like attitude; followed by "Clowns" which sounds sprightly by comparison, extending the British-inspired music of the late 1970s into a clunky, brawling jig. "Southside Johnny" shows off the plummet of a slide guitar over insistent plunge down into doom. The first album follows in this pattern. You can hear what Feedtime listens to, but you also note how they change their LP collection into their own answer to barroom cover bands and roadhouse blues.

"Shovel" opens that album with cleaner production that this version conveys impressively, but the second record sounds far from slick. It's less scratchy, just as with post-punk's progression. But, while that genre added keyboards, Feedtime opts for a heftier rhythm section, with, happily, even more slide guitar. Vocals aim for more howling and less growling. "Nobody's Fault But Mine" echoes in a funhouse turned horror show of bickering overdubs. "Dog" squares off between martial drums, a slip of guitar, and chiming bass. Fans of The Stooges may admire this stage of Feedtime. Their struggle between escape and release within a two minute song goes on for dozens of songs.

Sub Pop commendably delivers an anthology from a prime influence on their hometown heroes Mudhoney, and Feedtime's return to the shelves proves timely. Too much "alternative" music this current (as with last) decade feels retro in the tired sense of wearied expectations. Listen to these sixty-five (!) songs and you may rediscover what punk promised, and the blues, and primitive rock.

The covers on Cooper-S don't differ much from one another. It's amusing to hear "h.d." by e.e. cummings pressed up aside "Fun, Fun, Fun" or "Play With Fire," as if Big Black met Galaxie 500 in terms of literary preferences sidling up to deconstructive takes on classic rock. The generous amount of songs here in a similar, abrasive mood slows down an already heavy sounding band. The best combination remains the droning assaults on "We've Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "Paint It Black," the latter nearly unrecognizable except for its common note of plaintive dread.

Within a couple of minutes per song, Feedtime did what they needed to do. A few edge on Shovel and Cooper-S into post-punk in its theatrical, lumbering moments, but as all of Feedtime's songs are so short, these pass as rapidly as should-be hits such as the opener of Suction, the final album. The ditty "Motorbike Girl" feels as if "recorded" by Steve Albini in its dry pep. "Meter" bites off its words and radio chatter hisses. "I think there's been a total mistake" mumbles a voice as "Social Suction" opens into an anthem recalling the best of Commonwealth punk ten years before. Voices strain, tempos explore blues, punk, and rock in ways that surpass earlier albums in depth and scope.

Perhaps the Jesus and Mary Chain were competitors, by then, resurrecting the mid-1960s for a pre-grunge generation, but Feedtime in its last recorded incarnation hammers home its mournful squalls. Shuffles slide into shoves. Suction feels sucked out of its fetid, mucky depth, left in the antipodean sun to die, squealing and dessicated. That's a guarded, but honest, recommendation.

Hearing so many intricate, smart, but densely played songs at once may, despite brevity, in quantity lead to sonic overload. For any newcomers, from my intense experience to Feedtime even if spaced out over a subgenre's quarter-century, I advise limited exposure to build up tolerance over four discs.

This assertive yet diffident roots-punk music may not please many, but a discerning few will be pleased. The confidence Feedtime exudes comes from determination to create songs they loved. They combined art with intuition, craft with inspiration. This talent cannot be faked.

(Without italicized portion, to PopMatters 3-23-12. Reduced and simplified, to Amazon US 3-13-12)

No comments: