It's uh, "Sickly Yellow and Washed Out Red Wednesday!" And as is traditional, every year you're supposed to download some music that is sickly yellow, and sorta washed out red. Just your luck, we have the debut by Stress Test, cleverly titled The Rocket Thing. We know you respect the holiest of holy days, and your elders. So, do we what told you... because we said so ... and besides, your father will be very disappointed when he gets home. Now go wash up, get ready for bed, and whip out that credit card.
Now, you too can own your very own digitally remastered, band (drummer Jon Coats, GToT recording artist Dave Rick, and Third Border/Doug Gillard band bassist Gerard Smith) approved collection of tunes known as Power Toy. Originally released on Homestead Records in 1988, and notoriously re-imagined with Bob Pollard as Beard of Lightning in 2003, the second full length Phantom Tollbooth album has been long out of print in its original form. On sale now at Amazon.com. Just in time for Thanksgiving, butterball!
Some of those prone to facile analogies have compared this latter-day power trio led by guitarist Dave Rick (an early member of Yo La Tengo and a frequent participant in Bongwater and B.A.L.L. before joining King Missile fulltime in 1990) to Hüsker Dü and the Minutemen, but New York's Phantom Tollbooth was more like a thrash-inflected version of Fred Frith's Massacre than anything else. (In all fairness, the inclusion of an original song entitled "Flip Your Wig" on Phantom Tollbooth didn't help matters.) Various art-rock influences — quick tempo shifts, the occasional jazzy swing and the use of noise as a genuine musical element (rather than a cheap way to telegraph rage or intensity) — gave these guys away.
That said, it must be added that Tollbooth's addition of vocals to its heady and complex clamor wasn't always the greatest thing for the music. One-Way Conversation and Power Toy (which has a pretty funny version of Heart's "Barracuda" and two bonus tracks on CD) contain the band's best, most focused work, a striking synthesis of the art-rock that so clearly influenced its song structures and the frenzied attack of hardcore.
The debut release by the semi-evil triumvirate of drummist Roger Murdock(ex-King Missile, Laurie & the Sighs, Leslie West), bass/guitar guy Dave Rick(ex-Bongwater, King Missile, Phantom Tollbooth) and reel speed artist John Seden(ex-Randomizer, Repulse Kava, Sank Minoot), The Rocket Thing commits cacophony and confluence of carefully constructed career killing caterwauling, paired at times with serene serenades of serendipitous sass. (Meaningless twaddle, yes. But, that's what it sounds like. Really.) The entire affair is largely improvised, yet at times conversations were had, plans were made ...then discarded. (There is one sorta tune, "four words of Death," in the middle of the whole shebang featuring some near-rock guitar).
The Murd commandeers time, swizzle and klonk, displaying every last bit of the influence of some of his heroes, like Buddy Rich and Bradley Field. His drumming and (per)cussin' is a quiet storm or loud sunshine. Dave dishonors the groove, slathering on a water soluble Elmer's bass slurm, unintentionally approximating the neophyte's exploration and decimating of John Paul Jones' deceptive 8th notes driving "The Rover." Seden counters it all with his trademark esoteric and obscure concrete illuminations: Junk shop git-ar filed to within an inch of waning life, static oscillations, collage smears, and rusty knife punctuation, define an artistry unique to Noise, Rock and Noise Rock. 78s, 33s, 8-tracks, reel to reels, tape and more tape, devolve and disintegrate, as does memory and movement. Enjoy the benefit of digital playback, where one is reminded time has neither warped nor stood still.
The Rocket Thing was carefully and lovingly recorded in 16tks on glorious 2" tape by Josh Clarke at Seaside Lounge in Brooklyn. Chris Xefos did the expert mastering at Dogpatch in San Francisco. Official release date December 1, 2010.