In the past year Richmond has been seeing two things that are supposed to be outdated, if not dead outright, flourishing and growing within the strange and unpredictable confines of the river city: cassette tapes and rock n’ roll.
In the past year Richmond has been seeing two things that are supposed to be outdated, if not dead outright, flourishing and growing within the strange and unpredictable confines of the river city: cassette tapes and rock n’ roll. Both have been culturally relegated to the niche interest bin by popular consumers, yet both still thrive on a peculiar sense of imperfection and physicality that both the music and the medium provide, in contrast to the high gloss digital polish of modern music. Richmond’s own Bad Grrrl Records is an all-analog record company providing those exact qualities. The recording process, the product, and the ethos all hark back to a day before banner ads could be bought on Pitchfork and half-assed bands could be fine-tuned into marketable acts with the aid of Protools and Photoshop. The resultant first wave of recordings put out by Bad Grrrl have been receiving high praise from local fans and the web alike, taking cues from straightforward recording devotees like Husker Du, and from the experimental early multi-track recordings of the 1960s, to produce a simplified, raw, yet highly impactful sound that sticks out amongst the currently popular glitter and sheen like a Ramones record at a discotheque. Here are some of the highlights to date from the growing Bad Grrrl catalog.
The Milkstains – Hot Sauce Cemetery
The Milkstains latest EP, Hot Sauce Cemetery, is pure unabashed Rock n’ Roll. It’s the kind of big-riff minimalism that can only be achieved by a power trio as succinct and locked in as the Stains, where every part is working overtime to make the music as direct and straight forward as possible, without ever losing any of the interplay between the members. The band’s dystopian surf rock rides on their raw-power-infused intensity, as on the intro track “Lost Pasta,” which comes through at first like a day at the beach before being covered in toxic waste with blasts of fuzzed-out energy and booming drums. What makes the Milkstains so great is that their songwriting chops match their ability to totally kick your ass instrumentally. Deftly placed solos and instrumental breaks bolster guitarist John Sizemore’s yowling vocals, which are delivered with urgency and intensity, as on the songs “Next Monet” and “Mountain.” Hot Sauce Cemetery feels like a classic postpunk document of days past, full of manic hooky songs and backed up by the pure intensity of the band’s performance.
The Something Terrible EP by The Heavy Midgets is one of the best debut releases this city has seen this year. The record’s lo-fi pop sensibility is hard to pin down, but the band’s songwriting skills are highly proficient. The Midgets’ sound can go from a sweet sentimental lull to a dark teeming wall of guitars in seconds, adding pop harmonies to the band’s gothic indie mix. Comprised of principle singer/songwriters John Graham and Charlanne McCarthy, as well as drummer Daniel Hammer and lead guitarist Ian McQuary, Heavy Midgets deliver a heavy dose of compelling songs that succeed through sheer earnest energy, with vocals and progressions that are sure to be stuck in your head for days after listening to it. The epic mid-record tracks “Indian Summer” and “7teen” distribute the band’s bittersweet penchant for serene sing-alongs and fits of risk-taking eccentric weirdness amongst their fairly straightforward songwriting. The album’s last two tracks are by far the band’s best to date. The aggressive and concise track “Golden Cow” evokes hints of influences from 60s pop-rock to Bleach-era Nirvana, while the soon-to-be PETA anthem “Butcher in Shepherd’s Clothing” ends the album in the same dark pop way that it began, singing sweetly about animal’s skulls being smashed in, while making it nearly impossible for you to not hum along.
This live recording, from the now-legendary Snowy Owls/Diamond Center/Super Vacations/White Laces show nearly a month back, captures White Laces at their finest, their dissonant guitars filling up the air of a packed Strange Matter with Landis Wine’s vocals cutting through the chaos like a hot knife. The real secret weapon of the group is drummer Jimmy Held, whose Bonham-esque live ferocity comes through loud and clear on the recordings in a way that is hard to replicate in the studio environment. White Laces’ reputation as the Richmond band to beat live is upheld throughout the tape, as they stay right on top of the rhythms and play pitch-perfect. You can practically hear the sweat pouring off of the stage.