This is an mp3 blog attempting to document the gross amount of music I listen to. About once a day, I'll post something I like. If you're a copyright holder on anything I host, get in touch, and we'll settle things in a steel cage instead of a courtroom.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Lost control again today" - Naked Raygun

There ain't much to like about the Midwest. When we used to go visit my grandparents in desolate ol' Ft. Wayne, IN, I would always make the joke in the car "this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Indiana. The local time is twenty-five years ago. Please set your watches accordingly." However, Midwesterners are good at producing two things: the morbidly obese and fucking amazing rock bands. It's not even just Detroit Rock Shitty! Minnenapolis has a history of amazing bands. Hell, it's the city that produced the Dillinger Four, the band that rocks so much harder than any other modern combo that I treat them as an outlier.

Chicago's also got a history of amazing bands. I guess in those heartland winters, there's nothing to do but fuck and rehearse. One of the best (some say the best) bands ever to come out of Chi Town is is the face-melting Naked Raygun. They brought together the older punks and hardcore kids of the 80's, and at one point were reportedly so popular in their home town that local promoters reschedules shows so that they wouldn't be competing with Raygun going OFF. On most nights, these dudes could blow anyone off the stage. The weird thing is, though, it wasn't through sheer guitar assualt (although they never shied away from minor-key riffness and the six-string being mixed super loud). Most of their oomph comes from their soaring vocals melodies. I don't mean like Barbara Streisand - singer Jeff Pezzati has this weird lilt to his voice, like he's harmonizing with himself. When he goes for the whoa-whoa-whoas, it sounds like a brick wall of sheer vocal muscle being thrown up.

When asked to describe their sound an interview, the band gave probably the best ever response to such an insipid question: "Blast furnace monomania (the end). 'Punk' is preferred to hardcore, but we hate being pigeonholed. It's as bad as being corn holed. We play aggressive, melodic, intense, chanty music... We call ourselves, hmmm, bat cave funk, zydeco bop, twist and ground flailer, closet motown...To get with our music as opposed to our lyrics, we'd like to get across that you can be aggressive and good without being repetitious of other bands and other widely known styles of music."

A weird mixture of hometown boys and Columbian immigrants, Naked Raygun got their start as a drummerless trio called Negro Commando. After just one show, they added a drummer, changed their name, and bowed with a spot on the local comp Busted at Oz. Two years later, the band dropped their proper debut, the six-song EP Basement Screams. I had an urge to post the whole thing in its entirety, but I urge to go out and buy the damn thing. It's weird avant-punk. The lounge-rock "I Lie" takes a typical punk song and makes it bouncy and choir-like, while the snarling "Bombshelter" sits comfortably next to the pounding, tribal "Tojo." "Swingo" brings out the horn section in ways Flipper could have only imagined, "Mofo" incorporate elements of the then-burgeoning rap scene, and the creepy, insightful "Potential Rapist" builds a world of its own. Even though it's only 12 minutes (and they did add some bonus tracks for the CD reissue), I can't encourage you to buy it more.

Meanwhile, Pezzati and guitarist Santiago Durango were also playing in Big Black, the monstrous brainchild of the ever friendly Steve Albini. I've always thought that playing Big Black's aggresive, confrontational style of industrial rock is what made Naked Raygun develop a more straightforward, aggressive sound that was different from their varied debut EP. The fact that Durango, who wrote most of the groups material, soon left Raygun to play in Big Black full-time, was to have an effect. Pezzati quit Big Black to concentrate on his primary band, and the group soon bunkered down to write and record their first album.

1984's Throb Throb was written by everyone in group, which made it more aggressive and less stylistically varied. However, it was still quality, and songs like "Rat Patrol" show the group beginning to develop the style that would define them for the duration of their existence.

After some more line-up changes, they released All Rise in 1985. It was largely written by Pezzati, a Buzzcocks freak, so it has more of a pop-punk edge and is more straight-forward and melodic, but I still think it's their all-around best album. After such an intense recording schedule, the band slowed down a bit, releasing only the "Vanillia Blue" single in 1987. It's one of the single best songs of the 80's. It's got a mind-blowing, reverb-drenched pseudo-riff (well, after the surf intro) and lyrics that sound torn from Travis Bickle's war journal.

1988 saw the release of Jettison, a killer album and the one most critics point to as the band's apex. It's a pretty smokin' record, and either kicks the party into high gears or clears it out, depending on the guests. 1989's Understand? saw the group leaning more towards a power-pop-punk sound, but it wasn't very convincing, and beyond the single "Treason," there wasn't much to reccommend it. Unfortunately for the group, bassist John Haggerty left the band after its release. Haggerty had been shouldering more and more of the songwriting duties, and his absence was more than felt when 1990 saw the release of Raygun...Naked Raygun, which even the group has admitted to disliking.

While there was no official break-up, the band pretty much ceased touring and recording in 1992. There have been blips of posthumous releases - 1997's Last of the Demo-hicans and the live recording of a reunion gig called Free Shit, which was named after the crowd chant that would prompt the band to throw weird items like tampons, wingnuts, squirtguns, and fly swatters into the audience.

The group recently reunited for two last gigs at some fest, but I doubt we've heard the last of them. Bands this good don't always die so easily. News flash 1009 - Naked Raygun will be headling this year's Warped Tour. Says My Chemical Romance, 'who? Geezers.'"


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