Arab on Radar and various artists
Arab on Radar
Rough Day at the Orifice
You're Soaking in It...The Sounds and Smells of Load Records
RIGHT NOW PUNK is more punk than ever. It has to be. By punk I don't mean the nth-generation manicured-mohawk crowd, the Offsprings and Green Days whose lives were changed by the trenchant social satire of the Dead Milkmen. I mean the puny, self-pitying howl of habitual rage (or at least annoyance) sent up by a collection of misfits so disenfranchised and alienated that there's no way they could ever constitute a viable subculture. The punk I refer to is not "underground"; it doesn't have that credibility.
But here's a secret about real punk: It never had credibility and never will. Think of Crocus Behemoth showering Cleveland with sweat and slobber, preaching the already-quaint gospel of nuclear annihilation. Or Lydia Lunch studding her come-hither tits with nails. These things were not credible; they were incredible. Visceral to the point of being disgusting, not terribly politically savvy, and, yes, exhilarating--especially if the eye that got poked out wasn't yours.
One whole punk lifetime later, some people are still in the gutter, looking at the gutter. Like poor people, real punk rockers never went away. We just got bored with them, so they became invisible. But when we decide to look hard enough, they're suddenly right there. Lately a lot of punks have been turning up underfoot in Providence, Rhode Island, and if you've been to Providence, you can understand why. Not only is it in New England, which is bad enough, but a big chunk of the place is quite literally divided into haves and have-nots by the Providence River--Brown and Rhode Island School of Design on one side, rickety clapboard and asbestos duplexes on the other. For the students and artists with one foot on each side, no response could be more fitting than to write and perform lots of ugly, noisy songs about...buttholes.
You remember buttholes--they're what punks railed about when they weren't railing about nuclear annihilation (though the two topics arguably shared common themes). And their uses and effusions remain viable (if deliberately impoverished) metaphors for all kinds of crap (and the conduits thereof). At this point, buttholes are also meta-metaphors for the refusal to move on to more challenging subject matter.
Of the Providence lot, the most anal (in both senses of the word) are Arab on Radar. Their sophomore effort, Rough Day at the Orifice, explores the varieties of scatological symbolism in songs with titles like "Spit Shine My Asshole" and "Menstruating Thrills" while continuing the Arab on Radar tradition of sounding exactly like Levitical no-wavers DNA. Arab on Radar's song "Miss American Hair Pie," which sounds exactly like DNA, kicks off the Load Records compilation You're Soaking in It, an album that gets right down (way down) to business from there. The Brainbombs' "Ass Fucking Murder" serves as a reminder that once upon a time people used the term sludgecore and meant it. Gerty Farish's "Hootars," in a giddy 62 seconds, does with a crappy Casiotone exactly what should be done with a crappy Casiotone. La Machine's "Metatron" loops one inane disco riff over and over and over--and over and over. The Men's Recovery Project offers up a mere synth-fart compared to the deeper probes of its recent Grappling with the Hominids (also on Load), a record whose drunken-sailor narratives are recommended to anyone who has admired the subtle observational wit of Steve Albini.
It's frightening that this stuff (still) sounds (so) good. Perhaps a certain willful immaturity now reads as a perverted form of idealism? Or maybe it's just time for this brand of loud, rude, and dirty music to come back in style. In any case it's astounding what bands can accomplish when they are genuinely committed to ramming repeatedly skull-first into aesthetic brick walls.
Contact Arab on Radar at P.O. Box 603124 Providence RI 02906; and Load Records at P.O. Box 35, Providence, RI 02901, or [email protected]
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.