Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eddy Current Suppression Ring's Primary Colours CD (Goner Records)- a review

While garage rock seems like a simple enough impulse, as the decades stack up on top of ground zero for Nuggets/Pebbles/Back from the Grave style rumpus, it gets to be a trickier proposition to pull off without falling victim to generics. The records that often result from this state of affairs can inspire smiles and head shaking at the sheer joie de vivre involved in their making, but repeated listens ultimately prove that the substantive stuff of the whole enterprise is essentially formulaic. A little bit of this plus a touch of that and throw in some other stuff ends up equaling an experience that sounds just ginchy while it plays but frankly lacks the inspirational residue that marks the truly worthwhile records, those that inexplicably land in the mind whist doing the most mundane things (waiting in line, walking the dog, raking the yard) and don’t leave until actively experiencing said song(s) provide(s) sweet release. You know, air guitar windmills in the living room, jumping on the couch (hey, it’s a sturdy old thing, more than able to withstand the weight and force), and dance moves that would look just FANTASTIC in public if I (or you, possibly) could only remember them when the opportunity presents itself. That’s what great records can inspire, and when a batch of tunes in the 21st century that are undeniably connected to the admirably blunt teenage gush of '60s garage-isms prove to be not only worthwhile but at times even borderline transcendent, well that’s just cause for some celebratory word-spew on my part.
Eddy Current Suppression Ring hail from Melbourne, Australia. They play a loud and quite sly brand of hip-shake that lands them in the fine company of numerous other Australian bands from over the last thirty or so years, many of whom zeroed in on ‘60s Detroit as their main source of inspiration. ECSR follow suit on Primary Colours’ opening track Memory Lane, which sounds like a no-big deal Stooges knock-off that was honed through intensive practice into a sharp instrument of tightly wound melodic urgency. This is great for starters, but it’s also true that the unabashed worship of Iggy and Co is one subset of the whole primal 1960s shebang that’s really obstinate in it’s application as an influence/template. Mine the territory for too long and everything ends up feeling like the stale motions of a tribute act. ECSR were/are obviously wise to this fact, because the subsequent nine songs on this record bounce around in all kinds of surprising areas: Sunday’s Coming is a bums-rush of precise guitar mania and rhythmic flailing with a nastily pulsing bass line thundering underneath, Wrapped Up is a tug of war between poppy, almost pretty guitar strumming/chiming and an aggressive all-levels maxed-out delivery, Colour Television seems to mine content from the tossed-off inspiration of thousands of early-‘80s Anglo post-punk groups but weds it with a sharp workmanlike style that’s really attractive, Which Way To Go has a kind of ragged construction that feels like a lost late-‘80s 45 which should have been on Homestead Records (minus the Aussie accent), We’ll Be Turned On displays some fine keyboard gusto that’s a bit reminiscent of the initial efforts of New Zealand’s The Clean, but the song never really expands on this in any kind of overt way, instead settling into a groove that rips like the ultimate set-closer for some forgotten band playing in a McCrory’s parking lot circa 1966. Naturally, it’s not the last track on the record. That would be too easy. ESCR seem like a collective bunch of music heads, the kind of guys who try to impress the girls at a party by playing The Troggs, and this kind of sensibility appears to have embedded itself into the band’s sound and additionally into their standards, which are quite high for the no-pretense style they engage in.
Sometimes records like this can hinge on one song. Without that one sustained passage infecting the totality the overall impact is lessened dramatically, missing the heights of the exceptional and instead hovering in an area that’s maybe on the cusp of greatness but seems to lack the one defining moment that pulls everything else together, sharpening the focus, elevating the whole. On this record that song would be That’s Inside Me, an instrumental landing not quite smack dab in the middle. It’s a freaking monster, absorbing the riff-happy sweetness of Crazy Rhythms-era Feelies and pushing it into repeato-delirium. And while that would be enough, this baby goes one step further, throwing in a little taste of expansive guitar soloing that’s like a hazy fragment from the stage of the Avalon Ballroom, the kind of precipice-of-discovery that Moby Grape, Big Brother, and early Quicksilver Messenger Service were dicking around with, the sort of sound that always felt (to me) more amphetamine fueled than pot influenced, and the kind of muddy sonic waters that are often erroneously described as being at odds with the uh, purity of direct and dirty and primal rock ‘n’ roll oomph, the kind of us vs. them crappiness that’s more invested in image and attitude instead of the admirable pursuit of good sounds, the kind of mindset that’s just plain hooey. ECSR prove it by jumping right over the bullshit line in the sand and grappling briefly with the loose, trailblazing aesthetic that the early Cali-psyche bands shared (along with those from Texas) before most ended up either losing the plot or shifting into other areas as the ‘60s closed. In 2008 this kind of gesture is less defiant and more just plain smart. That’s Inside Me benefits from a succession of diverse angles that never feel like a pastiche; the song has other unique elements that I haven’t even described, and its status as the defining track on Primary Colours is therefore sealed up tight.
These guys have other stuff that precedes this album in their discography, but I’ve yet to hear any of it. It would be nice to see the singles and the album packed up and available for stateside consumption. The overall quality of this record (not a bum track in the bunch) leads me to believe I’d enjoy listening to where ECSR were before they ended up here. It also gives me hope that they can come up with a few more unlikely successes in the not too distant future. Explosions of air guitar and furniture gymnastics are never a bad thing, and I need all the dance moves I can get.

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