Sunday, May 07, 2006
Appliances-SFB: Them/Green Door
Ruthless Records, 1987.
A name like Appliances-SFB suggests some sorta industrial-art-noise band, Einsturzende Maytag, let's say, but Madison Wisconsin's Appliances-SFB had more in common with the other mid-west underground groups of the era such as Killdozer, MX-80, Die Kreuzen, Big Black, Dark Arts, Urge Overkill, Rifle Sport, RC Mob and a little bit of shared mayhem / 'tude with the West coasters - early Red Hot Chili Peppers and mid-80's Butthole Surfers.
Most notable in the mix is Tom Laskin's gymnastic vocals -- ranging in style from baritone crooner to Gibbyish derangement to adenoidal headbanging --- and William Siebecker's relentless GRRR-tar and his ability to jump genres from song to song. Part of the reason Siebecker's guitar sounds so big is the welcome decision to place Bill Feeny's synthesizer in the background to create a sort of background effect that only peeps out of the mix during climaxes. If you didn't know the band had a synth and were just casually listening, you probably wouldn't even notice it.
There's a temptation to try to assign copycat labels to the band -- the song "Washed Up" with the slinky 5/4 beat, vocal barking and tinny guitar riff suggest cribbing off Killdozer but I read an interview with Michael Gerard in which he acknowledged that it was Appliances-SFB that influenced him, not the other way around. Another song "Good Morning" sounds almost like it was stolen from the back of the Butthole Surfer's van -- and yet... the lyrics turn out to reject the notion that a life of indulgence is in any way the answer: "I pick up on my endless search for fun / and so the ball starts rolling / and I can't let it get behind me / and God forbid that day should come" -- hardly an attitude the Buttholes would have copped back then. "Them" also seems to have a clear tip of the stogie and fedora to the Naked Raygun / Big Black school of punk, although slowed down, shorn of almost all UK artrock tendencies (w/the exception of the vox track) and given a whole 70's metal sheen. Likewise, there's some of that midwest urge to emulate Ohio Players (reference: RC Mob) and merge funk with the punk, often resulting in a noisy splatter ("Ikeandtina") that the recording engineers (including Butch Vig) can't keep up with. I also don't like Laskin sounding a little bit too much like Buster Poindexter at times. It's got good lyrics but its really the only song the really falls flat for me.
"The Glory Years" is a good example of their humor comingled with sports, the song is in reference to Green Bay Packers fans wallowing in their glorious Bart Star past. Lyrics are apparently adapted from the team's song and framed by a Jim Carroll Band / Lou Reed narrative about what happens when Packers fans grow old. Clever shit. Less so are their multiple send-ups of metal ("O' the Metal" and "Godzilla") - not sure who started that with these bands but it almost became a bit of a cliche for the alternative bands to have a "metal mock" song. Methinks the bands protested too much and while the tone is mocking, they sound like they're having plenty fun with the genre, however insipid it had become by that time. But then, all is forgiven for "Bill's Thing" - a mash-up of a Captain and Tennille song lyric and some hairy 70's rocker whose name I can't remember. While Killdozer made lots of hay covering 70's schlock, Appliances-SFB take it to a whole new level of both copyright law and creativity. Bill Laskin self-mockingly singing of that line that he "never wanted to touch a man, the way that I want to touch you" works on so many levels -- first just as some damn good blues-rock-scat singing, then as sort of a man driven crazy by his closeted tendencies and then just as sort of an excuse to make some funky head-banging racket. My fave song on the album.
Then, there's the Pigfuck, daddy... oh, make it all go away. Or not. I mean "Man with a Plan" is about a "pig man / short and stout", who's "plan" is apparently to just grow fat and grovel in self-degradation. Nooooo.... "Obedience" takes the pigfuck staple of equating men with animals and mixes it with their booty-shaking spin - call it pigfunk. Or don't. Just run away screaming. Finally, given that this was the era of post-hardcore, we have the one song sung by the guitarist, "Fallen Prey" which, with a few tweaks, could have appeared on an early Die Kreuzen record.
In the end, this is almost all-good, despite the limitations of the recording and the band never getting the reknown of their peers from the time. The band formed in the '70s and broke up in the early '90s. 2004 saw the release a collection of unreleased early 90's material (3rd and Long) and is still available at CD Baby. Currently the Feeny brothers are in The Reptile Palace Orchestra and singer Tom Laskin writes for Isthmus (Madison, WI alt-paper) and is listed as an author for The Nation.
This album (actually a split-EP?) is out of print - selling on the net for about $30. There's a short video clip of Appliances-SFB and other Midwest bands (including Die Kreuzen) at the Milwaukee Punk Posters site. See Laskin shaking that butt and charming the audience.
Songs (all transferred from vinyl, so forgive the audio limitations):
"Washed Up" - Laskin
"The Glory Years" - music by Siebecker, words "traditional"
"Good Morning" - B. Feeny / E. Feeny
"Man With a Plan" - Laskin/B. Feeny (the song is supposedly covered by Reptile Palace Orch)
"Bill's Thing" - B. Feeny