Gonna talk a bit about three 80’s bands tonight: ARTISTIC DECLINE, BATTERY FARLEY, and LEFT INSANE. These bands came at music from very different places, referencing separate aesthetic agendas, exhibiting few if any overt musical similarities. That said, they all hailed from that neck of Southern California I grew up in, and somewhat incidentally actually had some overlapping members. None of these bands ever got the kind of attention they deserved, but I recommend checking out any/all of em, as their tunage is spun frequently here at Chez PS Recon.
ARTISTIC DECLINE – “Reality Or Dream” (Random Violence CD, lowartmusic, 2006) A quartet active in the early/mid 80’s South Bay hardcore punk scene. All the love em or hate em hallmarks of suburban HC are on display here: the nasally rants about political and parental targets, the over reliance on polka beats, and those midsong drops from double-time to half-time (think TSOL’s “Code Blue”). But . . . listen a little closer, and you’ll hear any number of curious, arty considerations too: quite severe & angular chord progressions ala THE URINALS, jolting blink-and-you’ll-miss-em song structures learnt from early MINUTEMEN records, and aggro but occasionally harmonized vocals. ARTISTIC DECLINE really were straining to burst the arbitrary shackles of HC convention, ca. ’83.
This places em in higher company, for sure. Rather than just another SUICIDAL TENDENCIES clone, ARTISTIC DECLINE came across like a younger, kid-brother version of 100 FLOWERS, with their only real peers around the South Bay at the time being the great and equally overlooked SECRET HATE. This 29 song CD collects most everything they did after their first EP in 1983, and I can vouch for the fact that, in 2009, the entire thing will hold your undivided attention every goddamn time you spin it. Maybe if ARTISTIC DECLINE had started out on New Alliance instead of New Underground, they’d be better remembered today? Maybe.
BATTERY FARLEY – “Flag Waving Idiots” (S/T double 7″ 45, Fission Arts, 1985) Named after both mainman Jeff Farley and the Point Fermin military bunker in San Pedro where much of this was recorded, BATTERY FARLEY was the band ARTISTIC DECLINE’s gtrist Jeff Charreaux moonlighted with during those very same early/mid 80’s years when he wasn’t feeling particularly hardcore. So what the heck was this? New wave is too derisive, synthpop too reductive, and nobody in the South Bay knew what the heck coldwave was back then – so call em artpunk. In 1985, BF released an awesome double 7″ that serves up, among many other things: moody, floating pop disassociation (“Help Me Down” and “Doctors”), a frozen instrumental that could’ve been a Blade Runner soundtrack outtake (“1985”), and the most manical rant ever to target the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles (“Flag Waving Idiots”). For those that missed the passing of ARTISTIC DECLINE, the near-HC rage of “Merging Buses” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the aforementioned Random Violence CD. As if that’s not enough, there’s some neat herkyjerk gtr scattered throughtout, courtesy of Paul Radabaugh . . . but more on him later.
Taken in total, the mix of styles and sounds is so unlikely, I’m gonna call this mind-expanding in the literal, hippie sense of the word. Their later Dress For Obscurity EP couldn’t possibly top this early peak, but does continue doing a damn good job of keeping me guessing, entertained, and kinda nervous in pretty even amounts. If DEPECHE MODE and their ilk had been this appealingly off-kilter back then, I might still have a sideways haircut to this very day. One day, very soon, this stuff’ll be reissued by lowartmusic for the masses to finally appreciate.
LEFT INSANE – “Beginnings” (Tool Box, Nemesis/Cargo, 1990) I’m not the first to call these guys “kinda SSTish” – hell, the band themselves once acknowledged this in an interview published in an old issue of Suburban Voice. LEFT INSANE cut an instrumental path that picked up at the proggier end of late 80’s DESCENDENTS and left off within earshot of Greg Ginn’s GONEtogical arguments from the same period. Which makes sense: drummer Tony Cicero had been in SACCHARINE TRUST, and their original bass player and producer was Stephen Egerton, better known for his playing with THE DESCENDENTS and ALL. But this band was actually led by gtrist Paul Radabaugh, who’d previously been the hidden gtr weapon in BATTERY FARLEY’s otherwise synth-heavy artillery. Go figure.
Everyone in this trio could play play their asses off, and thankfully they left behind a good 7″ and this great CD as proof. A modern reference point would be the post hardcore heaviness of STINKING LIZAVETA. LEFT INSANE were equally tightly coiled, expansively jammy, and/or explosively raging, depending on mood and inspiration. And as STINKING LIZAVETA has now gone and covered JIMI HENDRIX’s great “Power of Soul“, so too LEFT INSANE once went and blew the top off JIMI’s “Beginnings”. Oh man, does Tony C. ever kill on that one.