Steve Wilson. On music.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The 2011 Countdown Continues with No. 23, Bass Drum of Death

Continuing today, and culminating with REVERBERATIONS number one album of the year on December 31st (if my math is right), we’ll be counting down the top twenty-five records of 2011. I’m referring to this countdown as Twenty-five Faves because I have no pretenses about telling you what’s “best.” Sure, I think my taste is better than yours. But nobody died and made me Lester Bangs. And Lester could be arrogant, but I kind of think he would come down on the favorite side of the fave/best dichotomy. His criticism was nothing if not personal.

I've reviewed the majority of these selections. In the event that I have I'll simply recycle the original reviews, sometimes with a little new commentary. If it's a selection I haven't reviewed previously, I will dash off a new, brief, introductory review just for perspective.


This year, like most in recent memory, saw the release of several scraggly-ass garage-grunge-punk-pop records (hyphens, no charge) - new releases from mainstays like Ty Segall, newcomers like Hanni El Khatib, download only entries from fixtures such as Reigning Sound and King Khan (a sign, albeit an ironic one, of the times) – heck, the admittedly loosely construed genre even spew forth reissues and anthologies from the Reatards, Lost Sounds and the aforesaid Mr. Segall, a sure sign of, uh, maturity.

All of them were pretty good, but none resonated from bang one to final decay as records like Reigning Sounds’ Time Bomb High School or King Khan and BBQ Show’s debut had in years past. For me the best representatives of the idiom are those records that have an appeal that preaches beyond the converted. In 2011, one album has kept insinuating itself, despite my initial dismissal; that album is GB City the distortion-saturated opus from Oxford, Mississippi’s Bass Drum of Death on Fat Possum Records.

The product of John Barrett as one-man band, GBC still exudes the feel of a live performance. And where many garage records feature gonzo drumming (powerful until dissolute) and half-baked homages to the Johnny Thunders school of guitar playing, Bass Drum of Death has the maniacal thrum and thrust of the Ramones, as well as a pop sensibility not unlike the darlings of Queens. And like the Ramones, BDOD like throwing in the occasional Beach Boys “ooh-woo-ooh” back up vocals, as they do on the opening track “Nerve Jammer,” the slowed-down Spector beat number “Spare Room” (also reminiscent of Craig Nichols and the Vines), and “Young Pros.”

You can hear echoes of Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels” in the tribal thud of “Get Found.” “Velvet Itch” sounds like a shotgun wedding of Nirvana and T. Rex with its janitor in a drum reverb – Barrett ranting about talking “to Elvis in my sleep. I guess he’s entitled; he’s from Mississippi. Ghosts of Cobain and co. also haunt “I Could Never Be Your Man” – hey, if you’re Barrett’s age it’s not like you could not be influenced by Nevermind.

Along with the Redneck Ramones thing they have happening, BDOD also approach the bullhead insistence of the Stooges on “Heart Attack Kid,” although here Barrett ingeniously pairs a Ringo-style back beat to a Funhouse guitar. “High School Roaches” sounds like the Gun Club minus the blues obsessions.

Driving, fuzzed-out, drunk on effects pedals, Barrett’s nascent, primitive pop sensibilities keep this music from being run of the mill grunge-pop (for short). It’s a sound he can develop without screwing the pooch in the energy department. Again, the paradigm reminds of the Ramones – start with a fundamentally primitive sound, imbued with pop signals from the cultural ether, then every second guitar, every single note solo, every acoustic rhythm track … sounds like innovation.

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