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I found it. After looking for over six months, crawling through every god-forsaken, busted ass junk/antique/thrift store within a 100 mile radius of Champaign, I finally found a worthwhile record store. The records aren't all just beat to shit Glenn Miller, Andy Williams and maybe a Johnny Cougar or two. You won't find a fucking $6 copy of "Whipped Cream and Other Delights," nor any $8 Cars LPs. Fuck, this place has boxes and boxes of first pressing '60s LPs for fivemotherfucking dollars. That's what living in the Midwest is supposed to be about. That's the pay off, right? Take up in a flat wasteland and in exchange you get cheap, good shit that people outgrew or died and their kids don't know what to do with. Right???
Living in the middle of nowhere can take its toll on a person, even if that middle-of-nowhere town has a big college. It's with an ear attuned to this fact that I threw on a mess of singles by BRIMSTONE HOWL. These dudes are from a suburb of Lincoln, Nebraska. I have no place to make the obvious joke about how shitty living in a suburb of Flatasfucklandlockedlincoln, Nebraska must be. No room at all. But I can appreciate that a band like Brimstone Howl lives and THRIVES there. They have a band, a label (or their friends have a label), shit, a stable of bands, which makes like a whole scene. In where? Havelock, Nebraska. Yeah, that's the place. Blood on the rocks, bones on in the river, indeed.
I ordered their three singles on a whim from Underground Medicine a few months ago. It's a total crap shoot, and I'd say about 7 out of 10 records I'll never listen to after filing them away. And it's extremely rare I get a batch of records like this, all by the same band, that stick to my lungs like cancer. Okay, they aren't the absolute most earth-shaking, groundbreaking, skull-fucking best records to land on my turntable since, well, I dunno since when. But yeah, they more than work and they've gotten more time on my B-I-C lately than most other new, hip, "must-have, limited to ten copies pressed on Jay Reatards turds" records.
Wait. Speaking of Jay, I guess I'm one of those people (maybe suckers) who consider just about everything he touches to be gold. He's got that touch. And looking at the back of the "Blood on the Rocks, Blood on the River" 7" (Boom Chick), Sir Reatard recorded and mixed this swampy, soupy, blusterbuss of a single. His sloppy fingerprints are all over this. I mean, recording-wise, it's classic Reatards sound. Flooded with distortion without sounding like it's trying to be distorted. You know? You hear everything in just the right amount. There's no fucking kick drum or snare that's dominating the song like a cro-magnon eating with his fucking mouth open, smacking, slopping food at an otherwise civilized affair. Everything is as it should be. Vocals under a nice, warm blanket of echo/distortion/somethun. It's just right. It's a recording that does what it should do – not make you notice the recording per se, but focuses your attention on the music. That's what we're here for, no?
Let's talk about these fucking records. There's the above-mentioned, "Blood" single, which features the songs "Lynn" on the A-side and "In the Valley," on the flip. If this sort of thing even matters any more, I'd reverse it. I could listen to "In the Valley" about three or four times before even thinking about finding something else to put on. And actually, that's what happened tonight. I'm plugging away on this column, about four days late, listening to these records overandover. I just keep lifting the arm on my turntable. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Next record.
Next, I want to turn to their single on Speed Nebraska Records. This is the record that made me want to write about Brimstone Howl in the first place. Sure, it looks cool in its plain red sleeve with glitter ink, but fuck, as soon as I saw this all I could think about was the almighty, all-but-forgotten, seriously underrated FRONTIER TRUST. I'm typing that in caps to make sure you see it, if you're just skimming this.
Frontier Trust were a band from Omaha, circa the mid-90s. (deep sigh) For those not up on their geography, Ohama is just next door to Lincoln, relatively speaking. Frontier Trust put out three singles and one album (that might've just been a collection of their singles; I don't remember and I'm too lazy to get up and look). Country punk doesn't quite describe their sound.
They didn't really sound like anyone I'd ever heard, nor that I've heard since. Could just be my own lack of music knowledge though. They sound like driving a Dodge Dart about 100 mph through the backroads of Nebraska, whipping passed cornfields so fast the stalks are a green blur, hanging out the windows, getting whapped in the face by bugs, throwing beer bottles at cows and just blowing through the few stop signs you come across. Or something.
So yeah, I'm a Frontier Trust fan and thought they don't really sound anything at all alike and Brimstone Howl don't evoke that same manic feeling, there IS something similar about these bands, aside from the fact that they both have records on Speed Nebraska.
Where Frontier Trust were fast and lean, the wiry dude at the bar who may not hit hard but can sure duck a punch pretty well, Brimstone Howl are his bigger friend, who has got big hands and the weight behind them to put the hurt on. You get me?
So this single on Speed Nebraska has a song, "Beat of the Beat" that sounds like a '60s cult chant, it's got a nice psyche vibe without going full-on into Gris Gris territory. But it's repetitive in that way that hooks you right, still blown out, heavy in the low end with fuzz melting your brain. On the flip, the Brimstone boys get religion with a little tune called "Six and Seven" that's an ode to the son of God, Lord, Our Savior Jesusfuckinchrist. Eh. It's okay, but it just makes me want to listen to "Beat of the Beat" some more.
Lastly...let's see if I can make it through this here...we have a 7" called "M-60" (also on Boom Chick!) The cover is a total yawner really. If I saw it in a bin of records, I'd probably flip right past it. I guess it's a good thing then that I don't have a local record store that carries new vinyl. Get past the cover though and there's a nice treat for you inside.
In reading reviews of Brimstone Howl, I've seen the OBLIVIANS name thrown around a lot. It doesn't apply so much on the other 7"s, but on this one these guys are in full Greg-Eric-Jack mode. It's like all vocals, over a blasted out guitar and low, low rumblings of something that sounds like drums. It works, they do it well, but if I want to listen to the Oblivians, I'll head to the "O" section of my record collection. Don't get me wrong, it's a great record, just kinda derivative, especially after listening to the other two 7"s. And that might make sense, given that this is, as far as I can tell, their first record. That says to me that they started out trying to sound like the Oblivians (and succeeded!) but have grown into a sound of their own. That's how it should work.
Since two of these records are on the Boom Chick! label, my boss here at Terminal Boredom told me he'd buy me a big fucking sandwich at Primanti Brothers next time we're both in Pittsburgh if I wrote about two other 7"s on Boom Chick. He then said he'd buy me two if I can get Mitch Cardwell to go there over Spring Break so we can make an official Terminal Boredom trip to Jerry's.
Before I move on, and digress even further, let's recap Brimstone Howl. Started as Oblivians wannabe band, have developed a sound of their own, grown from that mold. Heavy on the Southern/Great Plains influence, which you don't get much of in punk. Of their three singles, I mostly highly recommend "Blood On the Rocks" or "Beat of the Beat". But really, just go ahead, get all three, get fucking drunk by yourself on a Saturday night, put them on and it'll click.
Okay, the other stuff on Boom Chick...we have a single from a band called the SHANKS. The first song is called "Cut Me." By the Shanks. Hahahahahaha. I get it. Weighing this against the Brimstone Howl goldstandard, they're way more friendly with the trebly area, if you get my drift. Still totally blown out, buried in distortion, but playing on the high end. For some reason the Wax Museums keep coming to mind. I have no fucking idea why. Maybe I'd rather be listening to their new record, or better, seeing them live and getting drunk with Paul, buying him a whole lotta beers. Yeah. That must be it. That definitely sounds like what I'd like to be doing right now.
NEXT. John Wesley Coleman decided to go with the small hole, whereas all the other Boom Chick 7" were large hole. I'm already suspicious. And it's 33rpm. We don't need to have the conversation about how the large hole, two-song, 45 rpm record is the absolute perfect way to listen to music, do we? Good. This is already too fucking long.
After spending all night listening to Cheap Trick, the Kinks, Rolling Stones, Stooges, Blue Cheer, Blue Oyster Cult, Brimstone Howl, and the Shanks, John Wesley Coleman throws me for a total loop. The opening song, "Summer of '79" is like a real lo-fi, punk version of a Bryan Adams song. Didn't he have a song called "Summer of '69?" or was it "'59?" I can't help but thinking of that.
The next song, "Work Today" is total Black Lips fodder, but done by one dude (this is a one-man band, right?). I've always thought the Black Lips, in certain songs, sound like a one-man band. Flip it over.
The organ intro is grating on my drunken nerves. Get to the fucking song, maaaaan. FUCK. The whole goddamn song is just an organ intro. NEXT SONG. Mr. Coleman redeems himself by saving the best song on this record for last. I guess it's the best. Still has an organ, but it's buried in a mess of heavily distorted guitar and heavily distorted vocals and heavily distorted everything.
I dunno, this is okay. I admit to not being much of a one-man-band fan. I mean, it's kinda a gimmicky thing. Whenever I listen to one-man bands, or more, when I see them live, I just think, "This would sound so much more awesome with a proper band that allowed you to do more with the rhythm and/or guitar." Then I head to the bar and get me and Cardwell another gin and tonic because the only time I go see one-man bands is when I'm hanging out with Mitch Cardwell.
So I really fucked up this edition of OC/RNR. The idea was to keep it simple. Three records, three short reviews. Not this time around. Nope, this time we took a trip to the Great American Prairie, to Havelock, Nebraska, home of Boom Chick Records and Brimstone Howl. And I had a great fucking time. Thanks Brimstone Howl, sorry I missed you guys in Indianapolis.
(Editor's Notes: I hate to intrude on Icki's column, but some notes: Brimstone Howl have a new-ish 7" out on Obsolete Records. They have also released a couple of CDs, one on the Speed! Nebraska label and another much earlier one (previous to all their vinyl I believe) under their original moniker, Zyklon Bees. They are currently slated to release a full-length on the Alive! Records division of the Bomp Records empire.)
Records are like lifesavers, throw them my way: 513 S James St/Champaign, IL 61821
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