Monday, August 08, 2005

Smersh: The Beat From 20,000 Fathoms

Smersh The Beat from 20,000 Fathoms
RRR Records, 1986

One of the less flattering aspects of the practitioners of the ElectroClash-Laptop music movement is the willful, narcissistic ignorance of their predecessors - to wit, the bedroom-basement cassette movement of the '80s. This stands in constrast to their sister movement, the freak neo-folkers who seem to unearth some forgotten songwriter each week.

Smersh
were one of those long-forgotten proto-laptop bands (we called laptops "4-tracks" and "drum machines" back then) who made music in their bedrooms, toiled in obscurity, didn't have many friends and never got anything but underground radio play... but had a ton of fun doing it and released a ton of music, which I ain't heard... but I do have this masterpiece. Bands like these, alas, never got much of a following - they never played out, publicized their lifestyles or lived in cool places -- Smersh hailed from Piscataway, New Jersey of all places.

Lacking any further credentials (and truly outsiders in the original Chusid sense) but having a penchant for noise, synthesizers, drum machines and guitar feedback, Chris Shepard (since deceased) and Mike Mangino got together once every week (Monday) to lay down tracks and put together their cassettes. Their band's songs grace several dozen compilations (it would seem) and eventually RRRecords noticed them and released this, their first vinyl in 1986.

Unfortunately, this led most people to assume they were an industrial band because of the relationship with RRR and magazines probably gave it to Peter in the Corner with the Black Turtleneck to Review and he no doubt hated it. Instead, think a less clever Big Black (era: "Lungs") but with more synthesizers, less collegey wank and maybe even a necrophiliac urges for the corpse of Ian Curtis. Like Big Black, most of their songs are character studies - in this case girlfriends ("Judy Mach 7"), bad cops ("Johnny Claw") and senior citizens in scooters. A few instrumentals such as "Hoedown" and "Hunter Killer" break up the vocal songs but never let up on the overall headzap even if its best experienced in small doses. Listening to the whole album in one sitting may be hazardous to your overall mental health. Even though the album hangs together well, it was actually more of a compilation of the best of their previously released cassettes.

Band members:
  • Chris Shepard
  • Mike Mangino
  • Pseu Braun A3
  • Thom B3

Songs (I try not to use the word "gem" too much around here but these cuts are the standouts):
  • "Greasing Wheezer" - their classic quotes Chuck Berry and it still shows up on underground radio playlists
  • "Judy Mach 7" - if Smersh were Proto-ElectroClash, Judy is proto-Suicide Girl
  • "Johnny Claw" - the most Big Black/Wire-ish song - Peaches should cover this - it's as good as or even better than Wheezer...
  • "Poppa Scooter" - old people in Miami Beach on their scooters are scary
  • "Poppa Scooter (Bobby Dub)"

Links:
  • Smersh's discography is huge
  • Chris Shepard is dead and Smersh is over but Mike Mangino is continuing to keep the music (and other artists) in CD-R on his Mirandette Popular label
  • VuzRecords has a download of a Smersh song that didn't appear on this record here.
  • Discos Veveos re-released "Greasing Wheezer" on a split single and has a more permanent download of the song here (96 kbps)
  • This post (and the last two downloads especially) dedicated to Sir Dana of Thee Mystical Beast who has announced his imminent retirement . Let's raise some money for his own scooter and hope he reconsiders.
Saved Round:
Smersh is best known to pop culture fanatics as the evil SMERSH from early James Bond movies. But they were actually a real agency in Soviet Russia whose name stood for "Kill All Spies." Their main opponent was the Nazi Abwehr during World War II but after the war they were responsible for determining whether repatriated Prisoners of War were "traitors" (kinda sucks to go from a POW camp to the Gulag). They were also responsible for finding Hitler's corpse.

Read Wikipedia and get so smart on the subject that you'll casually impress people at parties. There is a movement to track down the old Smersh agents and bring them to justice. The topic would make for a much better HBO series than this upcoming Rome.

9 comments:

Rusty Hillside said...

If Peaches should cover Johnny Claw, then Selfish Cunt should cover Greasing Wheezer. Tally Ho!

Jim H said...

I missed this originally so consider it a bonus link. Pseu Braun (WFMU DJ) explains his contribution to this record here:

link

Fatty Jubbo said...

When I was first getting into punk rock, I would save up the quarters my mother would give me for lunch money and go to an electronics store in Bound Brook, New Jersey that had a record section that had not been touched in years. I think my friend and I were the only ones who bought records there as it seemed they hadn't had any new inventory since 1985. They had a bunch of obscure local releases such as cheap homemade Ween cassettes (which I foolishly passed up) and Smersh. A friend took a gamble on Smersh...I don't think we liked it, since I haven't thought about them since now.

Fatty Jubbo said...

too bad for my young self, because these tracks are pretty good.

Jim H said...

During the past week, I've found myself unconciously singing Judy Mach 7 for not reason at all.

The Usual Decaying City said...

it is nice to know that there are a few folks out there who dig the electro-monster that was Smersh. Kudos to you for bringing the beast to light.

jason said...

we just posted some Smersh rarities -- a 15-song library sampler -- to the Free Music Archive, curated by WFMU

http://freemusicarchive.org/music/smersh

senormedia said...

I used to have (and probably still have) two Smersh cassettes that I played on the air (WUTK - college radio, and WUOT - NPR affiliate).

I need to dig those out.

senormedia said...

I posted the second album on my blog. The first will follow sometime son.

http://audioarchives.blogspot.com/2011/08/smersh-mouth.html