MESSTHETICS Volumes 1-8
reviewed by Jack Hemsley in Ugly Things magazine]
I tell ya I am bloody embarrassed at how many punk comps I bought since the late '80s. Ones that I could listen to more than once (or even once for that matter) were few and far between, as a matter of fact. I'm planning on using several this summer to prop up my air conditioner -which is all they're good for. Yet, like a degenerate gambler I just kept buying 'em fill finally there I sat ... compilations to the left of me, compilations to the right of me. And then one fateful day, in an Emperor Has No Clothes' moment, a child said "Mister, these records suck." Yeah, I cried, but you know, the kid was right.
Well, I sure wish I coulda gotten hipped to Chuck Warner's Hyped To Death (www.hyped2death.com) series sooner; it woulda saved me mucho time, money and humiliation. In case you're just not with it, his H2D comps are the psycho-cat's PJs, what with an average of 25 or more songs, easily affordable, fantastic sound, and pithy liners. The Hyped To Death and the Bad Teeth series themselves (covering vintage US and UK punk respectively) are musts and whether you're a newbie or a ripe old BO-infested collector you're bound to find something you've never heard on each and every volume, and what's more at a fraction of the price of the latest crappy Killed By Death import.
Chuck went nuts and covered all the bases, even power pop with his Teenline branch, but my favorite is the Messthetics line. Messthetics covers the UK D.I.Y. territory circa 77-82 (the Homework series mines similar US territory). Frankly, your standard by the numbers punk rock has come to bore me after all these years: it's so mainstream now it couldn't shock a 90 year-old woman. I mean it's being used in commercials now fer chrissake! DIY, post punk, no wave, or whatever the hell you wanna call it, still sounds fresh to these jaded ears cuz it encompassed various styles, not just sick outta-tune lo-fi inept bashing (still my favorite) but hippie psych, garage, third rate Joy Division retardo angst, even some twee (personally my least fave ... hey listen, this goes for '60s comps too -fellas, cats we leave off the twee? ... I mean FUCK TWEE!) and some really unclassifiable weird shit. The DIY aesthetic -oops, messthetic- was of course to record as cheaply and quickly as possible. That's why I'll go so far as too say these oddballs are closer spiritually to the maniacs on comps like Desperate R&R, Big Itch, Wavy Gravy, Madness Invasion, etc. more so than yer average punk joes. If ya really care (you do, dontcha?) read Kugelberg's articles in UT for more analytical ramifications.
Anyway, Chuck puts all his comps out in alphabetical order according to band names so naturally Volume 1 starts with R and S groups (don't ask me). This actually works out cool cuz this is a great one which contains the super fabulous Scrotum Poles and their wonderful "Helicopter Honeymoon." a work of simple-minded genius that you wont be able to stop singin' in the shower, in the car, its your sleep ... hell just ask my ex! That song is just the epitome of DIY punk and you really have to own it to blast on a daily basis. Plenty more awkward coolness on board like the Casio-led Scabs, Scissor Fits, School Meals, and the Record Players. As well as scuzzed-out garbola punk front Reacta, Sema 4, the Reducers and I other groups that make Satan's Rats sound like The Get Up Kids. One thing to he prepared for tho is Mr Warner occasionally has a sadistic urge to and some volumes with a really excruciating track (I mean even more so than the others) and on Vol 1 he does that in the form of one ivory tickler Paul I Reekie (apropos name), who made me think of that nude dude sitting front of a piano that they always cut to on Monty Python.
Volume 2 is good too, with more of the same moody sloppy charm. Hey, it's got the Thin Yoghurts' catchy "Girl On The Bus" which you know snagged the #31 spot On Johan's Top 100 DIY list... need I say more? Also some tasty pawn shop organ punkers courtesy of the Sods, A nice cover of Evil Goin' On" by the fem-fronted Terraplanes -no guitar just bass drums and harmonica. Speaking of bass, one thing that you notice right away on a lotta these recordings is how up front the bass is recorded, Certainly I guess, cuz many times the bass player is the only one with any chops.
Now lemme tell ya. Volume 3 is my favorite of the bunch so far, For one reason, battin' leadoff is the infamous "Shark Fucks" by the Tronics, This is another one of those inductees I into the Valhalla Of Amateurism's Hall of Heroes wing, Yeah daddy, this has got it all tinny cheapo guitar, plodding drums, and your typical English twit vocalist, Well there's lots more (Thermometers, Vacants, UK Decay) where that came from, And hey I like Hugh Volk cuz he sounds just like me when I pick up my gnitsr and try and come up with a song, But what really grabbed me on this volume were the three stupendous cuts by Steve Treatment, Dunno who he was, but, man oh I man. I'm gonna hefts safari through odorous thrift shops, flea markets and ... gasp gimme some air, record fairs till I hunt I down his three singles (one where he's backed by noise other than the Swell Maps), The liners nail hint as paying direct homage to the hippie dippie days of Tyrannosaurus Rex. So true, and when ya hear him it's obvious that Steve's whole twinky delivery is stolen from Bolan, I was so gone on these tracks -best of which is maybe "Step Inside A Worn-Out Shoe"- that I immediately called my pal Dave, a certified I punk connoisseur and collectus extremus, and blurted out, "All I want is Steve Treatment singles!" And he replied, "Aww, no you don't, Those are like real stupid rekkids... etc. etc." YES, yes they are, but l want em!!! Well, anyway like I said this here volume is a killer and stands up to multiple blastaroonies and there really ain't no dud in the hatch unless you count Tiny Town (I don't) You gotta get dis on and then you'll be hooked.
Volume 4 has got another strong line-up this time heavier on the punk side of things. Wasteland, Victimize, the Wimps, and XS Energy and many other forgotten punk losers are fumigated and given new life, Ya also gets infantile Peter & the Test Tube Babies dancing on the King's grave, the ultra rare Versatile Newts (band member dumped 600 copies after...awww you know the old story) and my pick to click, the depressing (yet uplifting) "Love Is A Bum" by the Wild Beasts, Listen, li'l stinkers, this what a punk comp should be! And after you hear it, you'll wanna machine gun the sleaze bags that ripped you off all those years with lousy product, Oh, wait a minute, the final track, which hopefully has been reissued for the first & last time and does confirm my "going out with a blaze of flatulence" theory. Wavis O'Shave's "Mauve Shoes Are Awful" just may be the main reason I don't own a gun.
Volume 5 finally brings us to the letter A bands but it didn't strip my gears as thoroughly as the earlier ones There's a bummer vibe on here due to an abundance of Ian Curtis-type doom, and the whole thing comes off kinda dull and limp wristed, Too much inept arty fartyness and not enough inept rocknroll, know what I mean? And surely collector scum will now remove Alvaro from their want lists after finally hearing it. Enough goodies to maybe make it worthwhile though, like the Astronauts. guitar wank from the Afflicted, the great Animals & Men, and two tracks of by-the-numbers DIY punk courtesy of Anorexia lift this up and there is no way Auntie Pus can drag it down, Oh wait, and then there's that flush track distorted harmonica instro take of "Amazing Grace" ...that did it.
Volumes 6 and 7 ( B's & C's) are back on track and consistent with a fantastic mix of the good, the had and the unbelievably ugly which like we say is the spice of life. A long time favorite, the crud classick "Chloroform" by the Bleach Boys is on here as are some other no counts like the Blanks and the Clockwork Criminals, but it's stuff like the brilliant basement psych of Beyond the Implode that will keep me buying these things. Screechy girls are always on hand to remind us that they were a big part of the DIY movement: check Vol 6 especially and dig Big In Japan and the ubiquitous Honey Bane with her wild "Girl On The Run," Hey, even UT writer Alan Clayson pops up with a freakbeat coolity called "Superman", But what some call the bottom of the barrel is the cream of the crop to people like me, and that is the Crash Action Winners no-fi cover of "Hurricane Fighter Plane" which is WAY more fucked than the Cramps version -like man, you cant even make out the friggin tune!
Whoa doggies! Stop the fucking presses. Just got Volume 8 and lemme change my mind and say that this one indeed, is the BEST volume! Holy shit, look at damn track listing... It's a veritable Who's Who fine up of maladroit musicians: Desperate Bicycles, Devil's Hole Gang, Disturbed and last but not least the immortal Danny & the Dressmakers. Yep, you cast almost smell the flop sweat pourin outta your speakers. Jesus is it really possible to get dizzy from a song? Yes, if that song is "Don't Make Another Bass Guitar Mr Rickenbacker" Woowee, what a godlike guitar solo: let's see Jonny Lang try that one. Yeah, it's a sweet sickness we're dealing with hers, friends. And like Lou Gehrig dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease you just knew that "Dum Dum Dum" by Dum Dum Dum (on the Struck Dum label!) was gonna be dumb, yeah it is, but it's also a psychotic echofied messterpiece. Boy oh boy, there some really mysterious trashcan geniuses on here too, like the Digital Dinosaurs, the Dogmatic Duo, and the Dad (!) these last three from cassette only releases! I'll cut this short and say this one is the defissitive do it yourself punk compilationso far. But there are still 13 more letters to go (Lord help us), Get 'em all or risk being an incompletist. Anyhow there's no turning back for me.
You mav love em or hate em, I know these ain't for everyone
and there are some flat-out annoying cuts that shoulda never been
rescued from oblivion (I myself could do without the faggy goth-type
stuff), but if you're a fan of DIY or just the offbeat I know
you'll dig em. So say what you want but the medium sure ain't
[NB -the state of OCR technology being what it is, there are probably still a bunch of typos: try substituting an "n" or two for the gibberish and maybe it'll make more sense. Cheers --H2D]