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.
- 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)"
- 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.
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.