A voice-mail offering left for me last month by an unnamed reader, who objected to my not-so-nice comments regarding a cassette release by a local band: "You know, it really pisses me off that you writers think you can just say anything you want. These musicians put a lot of time, effort, and money into what they do and all you can do is bitch and make smart-ass remarks. If you can't say anything nice, you should just shut the hell up."
So, in honor of that warm, fuzzy statement, I offer a smiling thumbs-up to five really good local releases -- and one thumbs-down to one big loser, because sometimes it's hard to shut the hell up. Want something reviewed here? Send it to my attention at New Times, P.O. Box 011591, Miami, FL 33101.
Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, Music for Meditation, Relaxation, and the Imminent Overthrow of All World Governments (Star Crunch). Like the information-overloaded booklet that accompanies it, Music for Meditation is a sonic hairball that is impossible to digest in a few quick gulps. On both the "Sui Side" and the "Homi Side," songs flutter in and out of a dense, murky mix that buries pretty-pop choruses in a hodgepodge of tape collages, random sounds, and voiceovers lifted from places like those old Peter Pan Storyteller records. Vocals mumble and sputter and wheeze and wail amid crash-bang drums, fuzzface bass, and violin that wanders around the fragments of a dozen broken melodies, putting a happy face on the chaos within. One of my favorite moments comes on side two when they tear into what sounds for all the world like their attempt at surf music. Then there's "Holdin' Yerself," a skifflelike stumble that made me think first of really old Mekons, then Strapping Fieldhands, a screwy quintet from Philadelphia that, like KLS, offhandedly flirts with cacophonous brilliance and accidental genius. The record squeals to a halt with "T. Smith vs. Gastro in the Pits of Dante's L.A.," a piece of cut-up gibberish that, without even trying, makes a case for Kreamy 'Lectric Santa as the most consistently adventurous group ever to call Miami home. (Star Crunch, P.O. Box 9152, Miami, FL 33124)
The Hidden Resentments, Hats Off to Miss 125th Street (Recess Records). Whether writing about it in his excellent Scam 'zine or singing it in the Hidden Resentments, Iggy Scam may very well be the emotional epicenter of South Florida punk. (And he may very well resent the tag: When he sent me Scam No. 2 awhile back, he warned that under no circumstances was I to write about it.) Anyway, as proven on this brief caustic blast ("8 Songs! 9 Minutes! One Buck!"), Iggy walks it like he talks it, playing guitar like Johnny Thunders's kid brother and screaming out the vocals in a voice sore from too much shouting and too much smoke, mixing righteous rage with sardonic nonchalance. His songs offer real-life slices of drunken defeatism ("Downward Mobility"), revenge ("The 'Where Are They Now?' File"), and love turned rancid (the title cut, with the fine line "The best time I had was getting hurt by you") -- all catchy, funny, and tragic, usually at the same time. You should really hear this stuff, whether Iggy wants you to or not. And find his 'zine while you're at it. (Recess Records, P.O. Box 1112, Torrance, CA 90505)
The Eat, Scattered Wahoo Action (Wicked Witch). Banished since its cassette-only release in 1982 to the netherworld of collectors' lists and out-of-print obscurity, the Eat's thirteen-song masterwork is at last reissued, on ten-inch wax no less, by the Wicked Witch label of Amsterdam. In case you don't know, the Eat was Miami's entry into the late Seventies punk sweepstakes. The band's first two long-extinct releases (1979's "Communist Radio" single and the God Punishes the Eat EP from 1980) have become the stuff of underground legend, fetching three-figure prices on the rare-wax circuit and influencing most of the local bands that have been fortunate enough to hear them. Until the Eat resurfaced last year with the Hialeah EP, the band's last release was Scattered Wahoo Action, a high-power blast of leather-lunged vocals, bulldozing drums, and furious power chords. Neither poli-sci punks nor a tongue-in-cheek novelty act, the Eat was just four South Florida guys who seized upon the music's raw-nerve power and rambunctious spirit and, in the process, turned out laugh-riot snotslingers such as "One Call to Cuba," "Get Me High," and "Living Like a Pig." Supposedly, there is a comprehensive Eat collection due out later this year, but until then this reissue offers a nice snapshot of South Florida's rock and roll underbelly. (If you can't find a copy around town, write to Wicked Witch, P.O. Box 3835, 1001 AP Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Or drop a line to the Eat "Fun" Club, Box 816326, Hollywood, FL 33081.)
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Bumper, Wolbem Surf Party (Big Swell). Not a South Florida band per se, since one-third of this trio is based in New York City. The other two guys (Steven Cohen and Shane Soloski), however, live in Miami Beach and Bumper's debut disc was released locally on the Big Swell label, so it has a place here. Bumper combines the dynamics and ethos of surf music with the guitar-pop wallop of -- oh, I don't know, maybe Hoodoo Gurus? It's a weird mix, and one that violates my surf-band edict of No Vocals Allowed. Nevertheless, I like the echoey vocal and guitar grit on the pissed-off surfer's plaint "Get Off My Wave," and even though I haven't set foot on one in many, many years, I can understand the anthemic value of "All I Do Is Skateboard." And I might even rethink my anti-vocal bias, thanks to "Gonna Party," which offers the story of a guy whose asshole boss makes him work "even if there's gonna be waves." You don't have to surf to rally behind a song with the refrain "I quit my job and I'm gonna party." (Big Swell, Marlin Hotel, Suite 207, 1200 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, FL 33139)
The Psychonauts, The Psychonauts (no label). This Miami Beach via Northeast Ohio group specializes in what they call "industrial-strength trashabilly," which their press material defines as a "mutant crossbreeding of '50s-era rockabilly with today's industrial technology." Although the definition suggests some kind of horrid variation on nine inch nails, the Psychonauts are actually much better. Judging by the three songs on this demo tape, the band sounds more like a fusion of vintage Cramps (especially the reverb-doused walkie-talkie vocals) and Alan Vega's Jukebox Babe, a long-neglected, recently reissued classic from 1980 that first paired icy-synth cool with rockabilly swagger. Regardless of its antecedents, the Psychonauts lay down a greasy brand of bopcat slop that is mostly foreign around these parts, with suitably crappy production, twangy chunks of Link Wray guitar, and a quote from the Stooges' "Raw Power" used to good effect. It is, to borrow once again from the band's own hyperbole, "one hell of a noise" -- a noise I'd like to hear live someday. (The Psychonauts, P.O. Box 415915, Miami Beach, FL 33141-7915. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mindflower, Mindflower (no label). The singer reminds me of Ozzy Osbourne (not always a bad thing), but he does this little octave-stretching falsetto-ish thing with his voice that also reminds me of Tiny Tim (always a bad thing). Despite the strain of poppy hard rock that runs through this four-song EP, and despite the Tiny Tim-isms, the guys in Mindflower are serious -- walking through sacred gardens, looking for peace of mind, praying for lost souls, wondering why those amber waves sometimes fade. Really, the drama is just too much. I think I need a beer. (Mindflower, P.O. Box 1421, Hallandale, FL 33008. E-mail: email@example.com)
-- By John Floyd