This week we're hopping in the way-back machine and traveling to Chicago circa the early '90s to unearth a few rarely heard gems from the city's golden age of alternative rock. After Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair hit like a neutron bomb, every major label A&R guy in the country flocked to the Windy City (and Champaign-Urbana) to gobble up what they thought would be the proverbial next big thing. While a few bands made it semi-big (Hum, Urge Overkill and Smoking Popes), the vast majority were merely jerked around by the majors and ultimately dropped unceremoniously after poor sales (due in large part to little to no promotion and/or tour support from the labels). Two of the three bands here fell into that unlucky category, nevertheless, they remain near and dear to many, albeit mostly in a “what could have been”-type of hazy memory of a specific time and place where it seemed anything was possible.
Arguably the most unfairly overlooked back to emerge from the scene was Triple Fast Action, featuring singer/guitarist Wes Kidd, formerly of local punk heroes Rights of the Accused. One of the few singles they released was “Ronnie's Pants” b/w “Aerosmith” on Hit It! Recordings, and while it's probably not the easiest thing to track down, it's definitely worth the effort. TFA were, in many ways, the perfect encapsulization of the Chicago scene at the time; they melded the gumdrop sweet and incessantly-hooky power-pop of Cheap Trick with the searing, multi-tracked bombast of the Pumpkins, and injected a dash of irreverent wit and self-depreciating humor in for good measure. A significantly beefed-up version of B-Side “Aerosmith” would wind up as the opening salvo on their debut album Broadcaster, but this version, with its wistful spirit and crunchy, motorbike-revving guitars coupled with Kidd's delicate vocal harrumph remains a sentimental favorite, as does the deadpan line “and i got some BBC that I don't need”. The A-Side, “Ronnie's Pants”–the title taken from a band in-joke referencing guitarist Ronnie Schneider and his culottes–remained a fan favorite until the very end, with its heartfelt vocal turns and lollipop-fuzz guitars, it's sentimental without being cloying, triumphant without fanfare, which, in many ways, is a perfect summary for the band as a whole. You can find copies of Broadcaster for a dollar on eBay or half.com, and to say it's worth the money is an understatement of immense proportions.
Another band that got royally screwed in the whole major label fiasco was Menthol, a Champaign-Urbana trio who specialized in off-kilter power-pop with chunky riffs, a new-wave edge and the MENSA-strength lyrical bromides of singer/guitarist Balthazar de Ley (who, it's worth noting, was in the original lineup of Hum). Their second album was recorded and deemed “too retro” by Capitol, who promptly shelved it and it remains officially unreleased. The band re-recorded many of the tracks for Danger! Rock! Science! which was released a full seven years later by Parasol. “USA Capable” b/w “Crystal Keg People” on Capitol Records might have been a promo-only release, we're not totally sure, but without question, the A-Side is one of the best opening tracks off a record ever; it begins with a deliriously fuzzy wallop of gigantic room-sound guitar and a steam hammer rhythm that kicks in about 15 second later that sends the whole thing racing, de Ley's smart/motor-mouthed delivery culminating in the dizzying chorus of, “USA capable crash-pad mattress, heroes find their way back home”. B-Side “Crystal Keg People” isn't quite as joyously exuberant, but it packs a mean punch of gloriously glib power-pop that sounds just the slightest bit like Chisel, only rougher-hewn and with more knobby guitar pyrotechnics. Their self-titled debut is another record which you can find easily online for a dollar, and we highly recommend you do so.
Our final selection this week comes in the form of the inimitable and altogether unheralded Sabalon Glitz fronted by the inscrutable Chris Holmes, he later of Yum Yum/Ashtar Command “fame.” To say they were ahead of their time is to actually admit that they'd fit at any period of music, which, given their propensity for Dr. Who-ish interstellar mysticism, post-punk fervor and pink noise squalls seems highly unlikely. Their first release (they only had two) was the “Orpheum” b/w “Zoroaster” single on Trixie Records which, given the fact that it took us roughly 15-years to find, must have been pressed in some microscopic number. Both tracks take in a kind of pagan sci-fi mystique that's difficult to fully describe; they appear, in many ways, to be field recordings from some future primitive wasteland in the year 2055 where steam punks now rule the Earth and Slade's Noddy Holder is held up as a major deity. Info on the band is scant throughout the interwebs, but there are nuggets to be found if you scour the dollar bins of all your favorite record holes.
Hopefully you enjoyed this little time capsule edition of The Singles Collection, as we're going to try to make it a semi-regular thing. Not to worry though, we'll be back to pummel your ear canals with more new sounds next week.