Ladies and Gentlemen...The Bangles!
Paul Lukas documented what he called “Inconspicuous Consumption” in his ’90s zine Beer Frame, devoted to products that were either obscure or so ubiquitous that we ceased to really notice them. It is that second category that comes to mind when considering the all-woman California quartet The Bangles, which was unavoidable in the mid-to-late ’80s for the MTV generation.
For this writer, it took an obsessed college girlfriend to tear down his indie-rock snobbery and make him realize that the group had more to offer than Top 40 hits that were either too goofy (“Walk Like an Egyptian”) or mawkish (“Eternal Flame”) for his tastes. This realization happened, despite a forced viewing of singer/guitarist Susanna Hoffs’ awful Hollywood vehicle The Allnighter.
The arrival of the early career compilation Ladies and Gentlemen...The Bangles! doesn’t seem to mark any particular event, and oddly, it is only a digital release. True to the group’s roots in the L.A.-centered Paisley Underground—alongside other psychedelic pop-rock-minded acts like The Three O’Clock, The Rain Parade and The Dream Syndicate—much of this material is informed by ’60s Nuggets-style garage rock. The opening instrumental “Bitchen Summer / Speedway” is a straight-up homage to ’60s surf rock, and the handful of demos here include faithful, nostalgic covers of “Steppin’ Out” (Paul Revere & the Raiders) and “Outside Chance” (the Warren Zevon-penned Turtles track).
The group’s first single, released under the band’s original name The Bangs, has the irresistible A-side “Getting out of Hand” which features Hoffs’ palatably reedy vocals, tight guitar power-pop with Byrds-style timbres and a slightly funky rhythmic tug; the concise B-side “Call on Me” is 92 seconds of bouncy bliss—it’s also included in its demo form, with a hint of country swagger.
Also included is the group’s excellent eponymous debut EP with confident, exuberant originals such as “The Real World” and a cover of “How Is the Air up There?” by The Changin’ Times. Other rarities include live versions of “Tell Me” and Love’s “7 & 7 Is,” a 37-second magazine ad (“Getting out of Hand” with different lyrics) and the theme song to the radio show “The Rock & Roll Alternative.”
By the time The Bangles recorded its debut album, it acquired a radio-friendly sheen, slightly obscuring its raw spirit, and the compilation at hand, presenting treasured rarities with good fidelity, shows how a ’60s obsession can result in irrepressible, unpretentious and surprisingly enduring pop-rock.
The Perfect Man
One thing about the prolific and itinerant (although currently stationed in Baltimore) musician, performer and filmmaker Rick Weaver is that he is so busy creating that he doesn’t linger on a particular piece or in a particular area for very long. The result, so far, is a huge body of work over a decade or so of nearly constant activity, including numerous disquieting videos and albums released under the monikers The Ruined Frame, Dinner Music, The Four Hands and currently, his own actual name.
This writer can imagine aficionados of incredibly strange music somehow stumbling across Weaver’s catalog and being overwhelmed with his persistent, compelling and uniquely peculiar vision, starting subreddits to discuss these often scarce releases with bizarre theories about his themes and intentions. The thing is, Weaver seems to be comfortable in his discomfort, writhing in obscurity and happy to have his music deeply felt, and not necessarily deeply understood, with the notion that there doesn’t have to be something to “get.”
His latest cassette-only release is the soundtrack to his film The Perfect Man, part of a film cycle that includes its predecessor, Black Medicine, a VHS-video-quality off-center quasi-noir offering. The publicly available excerpts from The Perfect Man offer a confusing array of tropical floral patterns, people eating in slow motion, Weaver spazzing out blindfolded and armed, and ample video interlacing artifacts.
The soundtrack is equally disorienting, using bustling rhythm loops, keyboard soloing, incomprehensible lyrics and blurred and distorted notes; the album opens with a chaotic hailstorm of Casio rhythms on “After the Parrot,” while “Mortal Wound” has an unplaceable ethnic vibe in its loop, suggesting exotica from an invented land.
One of the dramatic pinnacles is “The Shell & Milk Suite” with a bizarre sequence of chimpy keyboards and splat sounds, plus warped vocal snippets suggesting infant animals. The closing “Plain Paper Yellow (Reports from Hell)” uses ghostly, vaguely disturbing background details, eerie layers, a hospice lounge rhythm and disconnected words that don’t convey a coherent picture.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that this music doesn’t have to be comprehended to be enjoyed—and besides, there are some things you just don’t need to know.