Thursday, December 30, 2004

Gray Matter: Food for Thought
Gray Matter

Food for Thought LP
R&B Records, 1985

If you tried to draw a straight line from predeccesor band Iron Cross to Gray Matter's second record, the emo classic Take it Back, you'd be hard pressed to find this album on that line. If I had heard this without knowing their priors -- Guitarist Mark Haggerty and drummer Dante Ferrando played in Cross, suburban DC contemporaries of Minor Threat and Void -- I'd have signed them up to Bomp! instead of Dischord.* With the exception of the more forgettable tunes "Oscar's Eye" and "Gray Matter", these songs recall '60s-'70's garage punk over the more trad. Dischord straight-edge of that period, that, say Dag Nasty were fronting at the time. I mean, snotty vocals from a "Dischord band"? Voxx-style reverb guitar? Beatles covers??? Perhaps that's why the opening song is called "RETROspect"?

But it kinda makes sense in a way. The intersection of Bomp! and Dischord is teenage alienation and disillusionment and these songs are full of it. But unlike a lot of the suburban NoVa (Northern Virginia) punk music of the time there's a rare sense of humor and some cultural references minus the usual straight-edge snobbiness and prudery. They cover "I Am the Walrus" without their tongues in their cheeks (at least its not noticable). "Phobias" deal with, among other things, the fear of Roger Moore - so that's kinda funny and cultural, right, I mean he was James Bond at the time - can't hear the rest of the lyrics (no lyrics sheet, arrgggh!), are they saying their afraid of discourse and grass? And "Caffeine Blues" deals with the whole straight-edge gateway drug pretty nicely - I got a kick out of hearing the old Coffee Generation commercial (with ELO playing "Hold Onto Your Dreams") playing at the beginning, donchu?

There are three exceptional garage punk songs here that still hold up - "Flash in Time", "Give Me A Clue" and "Retrospect." I'm less enamored with "Fill a Void." The recording itself is kinda disappointing (remembering my previous problems with the Ignition EP), at least in comparison with Take it Back. I'm wondering if they did a remix for the CD release. Another piece of evidence that the Ian and Don Z team improved by leaps and bounds through the Winter of 84-85. Oh, I also think the cover is pretty crappy but in a high school kinda way its oddly appropriate.

I've only heard one song from the band's early 90's reunion album, Thog, and it was a cover of Lennon/McCartney's "I've Just Seen a Face" and, besides the fact that its probably their first and only song about girls, it sounded like they had successfully integrated the g-punk of Food with the emo of Take it Back.

Songs:

"Give Me A Clue"
"I Am The Walrus"
"Caffeine Blues"

Fine Print: Songs are all from the Food for Thought LP (although its kind of a mini-LP), recorded from vinyl and digitized accordingly. These songs are not out of print and retain all the original copyright bullshit intact. They are made available for a short period of time (~two weeks) to faccilitate discussion and research and Fair Use ... but if the artists or one of the copyright holders objects, they will be removed promptly.

*To be accurate, this was not originally a Dischord release, although it was later packaged with their follow-up EP into a single CD available from the Dischord website.

Links/Notes
Gray Matter Dischord home page
Southern.com does "bio & begats" for this band


Alternative Reviews:
  • Flex provides a take that suggests they didn't listen to the record: "Wonderful melodic DC style hardcore, a classic."
  • Skaters review the CD at Amazon.com: "This cd is one of the sickest cds ive ever heard. If you skate and you need some music to get you amped listen to Gray Matter. Trust me."
The Ever-So Interesting Where Are They Now? Section That Shows on the Screen At The End of the Teen Coming of Age Drama-Comedy
  • Steve Niles is now a horror comix writer - one of his stories is being produced into a movie by Sam Raimi. He names his characters after his old bandmates. An interview about his Gray Matter days is up at his website (although it oddly credits Jeff Nelson as being in Gray Matter - he was in Three with Haggerty, Turner and Jeff Nelson, ex-Minor Threat).
  • Dante Ferrando runs two of my favorite DC spaces: Black Cat and... Food for Thought where he fights calls from straight-edgers to ban drinking and smoking.
  • Jeff Turner (vox, guitar) is aka Geoff Turner. According to Niles' interview he lives in LA, and plays in sleaze-skronk dance band New Wet Kojak - their website is either here or here or both. The latter has a link to two MP3s that would be perfect for a gallery opening as hosted by Dieter of Sprockets. He also ran the WGNS Studios Cassette label (now defunct) and recorded (and played on) some of Dave Grohl's solo songs while he was in Nirvana.
  • Mark Haggerty, according to the Steve Niles interview, lives in San Fran and plays in a band called Shanty - I couldn't find any reference to them anywhere. Anyone got info?

3 comments:

Eric said...

Jim... it's posts like this that are putting the rest of us to shame. Excellent. I prefer Take It Back to this one, but there are some moments - specifically they are the songs that you mention.

Plus, you're spot on in suggesting that this is more Bomp than Dischord.

I'm off to listen to Take it Back and Three (3)

Eric said...

And oh yea, Thog wasn't very good. I do remember enjoying the double 7 inch released prior though

Ryan said...

i ran in to mark haggerty a couple of years ago and the food co-op/hippie grocery store where he works in sf. i told him i was a big fan of gray matter/three and my girlfriend happened to have her digital camera with her so i asked if i could take a pic with him. mark said something like "it's kind of a weird situation, i'd rather not" and he looked totally bummed out. i still feel terrible every time i drive past that grocery store.