Monday, October 23, 2006

Scratch Acid: Berserker EP (1987)

I think at this point I don't have to go into the background of Austin's Scratch Acid -- from the reception they received at their recent reunion 3-city tour - kicked off at the Touch and Go festival, it seems like they are more popular today than they were way back when.

I do remember being one of the few people to "get" (both physically and mentally) their first gutpunching album (well, 12")- the black with a tiny portrait self-titled one on Rapid Cat Records that immediately placed them in my personal pantheon. We'll get to that one some day, I hope. At any rate, I date myself by seeing them more as a Rapid Cat band than a T&G band.

I saw them play once at dc space and remember encountering them walking through that tiny hallway between the bar and the venue. Yow was like, "hey dude", shirtless, loopy smile, stagger/swaggering and the rest were either pretty high or just very happy. They actually seemed to enjoy each other's company, no mean feat when you had to drive around in a van for many days and weeks.

I said hi or something and there's no real story here but I always smile when I think about it. They were one of the few bands of that time that embraced the old living on the edge fuck-it vibe of Iggy, VU, Rolling Stones, etc. Most of the other bands worth anything at the time were either nerds (albini), politicos (boon) or art fags (thurston) so it was kinda refreshing to encounter the reborn rock god archetype in Mr. Yow, even if that's not what was intended.

That first record blew me away as much as anything that was coming out at the time. The follow-up ok - kinda the crest of the nadir - and Berserker was the final retch. Carducci calls them one of the best High Grotesque bands, a term he made up to describe an approach he generally disdained as faked eccentricity - still he had to admit that Scratch Acid "put together an expressionist sound straining towards free but anchored mercilessly by the drummer." I can't have put it any better. I remember a rumor at the time that they were also merciless practicers and spent many hours honing their songs in some Austin group house, perhaps that's how they came out seeming so spontaneous both on record and live. Don't know if that part's true but I kinda was impressed when I heard that since your first insttinct is to think they were just a bunch of degenerates. I guess their later bands (Jesus Lizard, Rapeman, etc.) suggested they weren't just flukes - partic Washam and bassist Sims. Well, Yow gets his own special category as one of a kind.

Most people look down on Berserker but I think it contains at least three of their greatest songs: the mad-demented "Mary Had a Little Drug Problem" and the oink-slobbering blues of "Moron's Moron." Some of their best ensemble playing here of the time here. The drumming is merciless indeed but the guitar playing, bass and Yow's singing all combine to make something pretty infuckingcredible. Few music this hard and unrelenting makes me smile. This does. Preferably played REAL LOUD. Finally of my top three here, "Skin Drips" would fit on anyone's cool Halloween mix, though, so it's my pick for ya, tonight in case you are putting together something for the kids.

And you can go out looking for candy dressed like this guy (photo from the back cover by Shannon Smith):

"Skin Drips" - by Scratch Acid

  • Brett Bradford - Guitar
  • David Wm. Sims - Bass
  • Rey Washam - Drums
  • David Yow - Vocals



Billy Meltdown said...


I've wanted to hear this band since I first read about them in Michael Azzerad's bio of Nirvana, oh christ... ten years ago... when I was 15.... i always kinda wondered off-handedly when I'd run into a record somewhere.

thanks for makin this track available.

Guuzbourg said...

Brings back sweeeet memories. This album, along with Big Black's Atomizer, was my preferred music while delivering newspapers. The only downside: my adrenaline levels were skyhigh after I finished my route, thanks to songs like Skin Drips, Mary Had a Little Drug Problem or Big Black's Kerosine. I once interviewed Jesus Lizard for a now defunct underground mag, one of the strangest interviews I've ever done. Yow is not a very coherent man, so to speak. But the band was nice to me, they offered me to hang out and gave me lots of free beer. The Jesus Lizard show was f'ing-A. Could be the beer, though.

Dave said...

Interesting site. I first stumbled upon it a little ways back and you were taling about Tom Laskin and the boys from Madison. I was a big Scratch Acid fan back in the day, saw them once and the Jesus Lizard a couple of times. I'll check my records tonight, but I'm pretty sure its' Rabid Cat Records, not Rapid Cat.

Jim H said...

You're right - it's Rabid Cat -- I'm slightly dyslexic, I've been told. This might be evidence.