Sunday, August 14, 2005

Music Review: Wrangler Brutes "Zulu"

Back when I was in High School, Sam McPheeters was this older kid up in New York who put out these great 45s with striking clip art in a band called Born Against. I was hanging around with Positive Force DC at the time and everyone I knew was into Born Against. Including me. They were one of the great hardcore bands from that era. When they finally released Nine Patriotic Hymns for Children, I played the grooves off the record in my first room at the PF house. I think I saw them every time they played DC. That was during the early 90s era when every punk band I saw gave political speeches and everyone I knew was terrified that their friends would "sell-out" in some way. They were paranoid times. I remember those summers as being hotter than any ever since.

I introduced myself to Sam when he played DC with The Men's Recovery Project. It didn't go well. I was a bit older and probably had drank too much, and he was clearly not in the mood to talk to a "fan". I could tell from the moment that I said 'hello' that it wouldn't go well- I was just hit by a wave of contempt from him in the back of this shitty rock club. After saying hello, he glared at me hatefully. I stammered and tried to think of something to say that wouldn't sound stupid. I failed.
"I never know what to expect when I see you play," pretty much the most obvious thing anyone's ever said about Sam McPheeters' various bands. As soon as I'd said it, I knew how stupid it was. It got worse.
"You're either a genius or you're insane!"- and perhaps the least appropriate thing anyone's ever said to anyone. Considering that Sam has written elsewhere since then about: "certain staggering mental problems on my part", and I've since married someone who struggles with staggering mental problems, and it was just fucking trite anyway, I've always wished I could apologize for that. McPheeters looked like someone had just handed him a Nazi Party flier, and I wandered away.

For the record, everyone I know who has ever dealt with Sam has found him to be much easier to get along with.

Now I'm older, and I've seen Sam's art on dozens of records, read his articles in dozens of zines and owned probably 20 or so of his musical releases, and I still think he's one of the most creative and original voices in the "underground" and perhaps, looking back, his contempt for some skinny drunk kid had more to do with toiling in a scene that has almost no original voices and fewer listeners that want to hear anything but more of the same.

Which brings us to the Wrangler Brutes album Zulu- Brooks Headley and Sam from Born Against and Cundo Murad and Andy Coronado from Nazti Skins (Not sic) and Monorchid, amongst others playing minute-long songs that remind me of early 80s California hardcore punk. Pretty clearly intentional- they even have a cameo appearance by Keith Morris. In fact, the band actually addresses the issue of punk essentially becoming a nostalgia movement cannibalizing the past on their song "Maternity Ward". One review took them to task for supposedly bitterly complaining about "the kids", but I'm not so sure the song isn't self-directed.

In fact, one of the real strengths here is how much there is to puzzle about the lyrics. Born Against had some powerful songs, but their messages tended to be telegraphed. Here, we have songs like "Shanked" in which Sam is repeatedly stabbed by his stock broker and doctor's secretary, and on one hand it's bizarre surrealist comedy, on the other hand it's a rant in the style of the DKs "Trust Your Mechanic", and finally it's a paranoid yelp against a culture in which it may be getting harder to live without committing more subdued violences against each other. Similarly, "Slam Dunk" compares writing bad checks on Friday so they won't be processed until Monday to driving drunk or changing the laws of the country in the middle of the night. "Forty-five dollars" wonders how expensive gas will have to get before there are fist-fights at the pumps. Lyrically, the best song is "Unmentionables" which deals with average people in average situations suddenly realizing that they are minute mortal beings here to entertain each other for a while and leave the stage quietly.

Musically, every song is pretty strong- although the obvious comparisons would be with bands like Black Flack or the Circle Jerks, I even hear a bit of the Minutemen here. Not surprisingly, it's a bit wierder than those bands. Even in a band that tends to sound a bit "retro" at times, there's an originality that comes through that will encourage at least a bit of head scratching. To give an idea of that, the cover is a drawing, likely by Sam, of a shirt, a dog and an eagle ganging up on and attacking a skinhead. I have no idea why.


Anonymous said...

hey, i thought you said no spam shall live. what about the toronto guy?

Rufus said...

Give me time. I'll delete all of them.