Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bands nobody gives a shit about: An appreciation

I love losers. Okay, so maybe "losers" is kind of a harsh word, and one that never meant quite the same thing post-Beck. Let me put it this way: I love fuck-ups, weirdos, underdogs, spazzes, and pretty much every type of misanthropic, misfit malcontent the world has to offer. I also love the folks who wholeheartedly try to fit in, but fail miserably. And I do mean miserably. I also love the forgotten: all those marginalized masses that look, sound, and feel disenfranchised, even though the planet is far more full of them than it is winners. In fact, fuck winners. Don't they get enough attention and adulation as it is? U freakin' 2? I just don't give a shit. That ugly bar band down the street that slaughters old R&B; tunes and looks magnificently ridiculous doing so? Sign me up.

Okay, so The MC5 are hardly forgotten. But they were definitely underdogs when they were first around–and that desperation and out-of-step spirit is what makes them so much more than just some ass-kicking rock 'n' roll band. But the stars don't always align–then or later–for other groups. Take, for instance, Montreal's Asexuals, an '80s hardcore outfit most notable (if you can call it that) for giving birth to The Doughboys, a great melodic alt-rock band from the '90s that likewise never got their due. As you can see in this clip–which appears to be taken from a Canadian skinhead version of Wayne's World–Asexuals were sloppy, retarded, and maybe even a little less than legit. But punk rock used to be all about embracing dipshits and morons, including a few who took such so-called deficiencies and turned them into something really fucking awesome.

Of course, punk isn't the only province of outsiders. For every Charlie Parker and John Coltrane at the top of the jazz pantheon, you've got a hundred Harold Lands and Paul Quinichettes–saxophonists who blew pure and true but never got much recognition. It's the same with pianists: While Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk became legends, and deservedly so, guys like the precise yet explosive Phineas Newborn, Jr. slogged away in the post-bop trenches. Newborn's troubled life even mirrored that of his oft-institutionalized hero Powell–and while Newborn's busy fingerwork is neither as soulful nor as innovative as Powell's, it's a blast nonetheless.

History teaches us many lessons, including this big one: Appreciate what you have while it's still around. Indie bands like Portland's Minmae–led by singer-songwriter Sean Brooks–have been steadily releasing CDs and relentlessly touring for years, and yet they never seem to build momentum. But that doesn't mean Brooks doesn't release disc after reliable disc of gorgeous, noisy pop epics–like the low-key, unflashy, and hopefully prophetic "My Parts Will Not Rust." (P.S. With something like 10 full-lengths under their belt, Minmae is hitting the highway to tour the U.S. yet again next month. Hint hint.)

For all I know, P-Model was–and maybe even is–gigantic in Japan. All I can tell you is, many years ago I was digging around in a used record store, and I stumbled across THIS:

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(Thanks to Mutant Sounds, from whom I swiped these photos.)

Illustration for article titled Bands nobody gives a shit about: An appreciation
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Illustration for article titled Bands nobody gives a shit about: An appreciation

Needless to say, I snatched that shit up quick. Titled In A Model Room, it's the group's debut album from 1979, and the music completely lives up to that cover: Like some spastic mutation of Oingo Boingo and early XTC, these nerdy synth wizards pretty much evaded notice in the U.S. despite the fact that millions of post-dance-disco-punk-whatever bands from the past few years would give their right arms to sound like them.

No list of my favorite neglected bands–no matter how haphazardly dashed off while waiting for my bagel to toast–would be complete without 3. There's been a bunch of bands called 3 throughout history (including the current New York prog band), but the 3 of which I speak was a short-lived outfit from Washington D.C. in the late '80s. Formed by members of Dischord Records' similarly underappreciated Gray Matter and drummer Jeff Nelson of Minor Threat, 3 released one measly, posthumous LP in 1990 before fading to footnote status. But Dark Days Coming's high point, "Swann Street," deserves to be dusted off and spun far more often. Simply and seriously, it's one of the greatest pop-punk songs ever written–and one that missed that particular boat by years. It's also perfectly sappy, earnestly fist-raising, and, goddamn it, a song that makes me hurt so good. The opening lines alone make "Swann Street" an all-time anthem for the lost, lonely, and lame: "Sometimes I feel like I'm living with a stranger / walking by myself / Sometimes it seems these hopes and dreams / all came from somewhere else / But I don't know."

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Corny? Sure. Dorky? You bet. Criminally overlooked? Without a doubt. Look, I understand that history is written by the winners. And maybe it's all that commie-ass Howard Zinn stuff I swallowed years ago that's now bubbling back up, but seriously: Just because it's written that way, does it mean we have to buy it? I know, I know, that sounds like a pretty juvenile and reductive way to present the issue. Then again, I'm a bit of a misanthropic, malcontented, moronic loser myself, so kindly humor and/or pity me.

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