Saturday, June 6, 2015

It Crawled from the Basement--- Green Monkey's Attempt to Set the Record Straight

I can tell you in one short sentence what most of the world knows about Seattle music. There were The Sonics and then there was grunge. Right after that I think the world ended. Sure, there were other bands out there, but it is mostly white noise to those who think they know everything, which would just about cover everybody in this me-me-me world. Let's be honest. Sonics to grunge is an easy leap for lazy people and if the Ugly American is nothing else these days, he/she is lazy.  Let us talk.

Before grunge, the Pop Scene didn't hit everyone as hard, true, but that doesn't mean there weren't some great things there. The most notable of the Green Monkey crew is probably The Green Pajamas whose Kim the Waitress impressed a few people on release but who gained more of a following from the Material Issue cover and video circa 1994. Over the years, they have become a force, releasing a string of albums both as a group and as individuals. Head Monkey Tom Dyer has included five Pajamas' tracks in this collection, reason enough for a closer look at this package.

There are tons of others (42, in fact, besides the Pajamas' entries), most worth the music, all worth the history. Danger Bunny's For This holds a special place in my heart not only for the raw vocals and jangly guitar of Joan Maneri and the James-Bond-y bass but also because the drummer, George Romansic, is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. The track holds up on its own, but it never hurts to have that personal link.  (The following song is not on the compilation but will give you a good idea of Danger Bonny's sound.  You can stream the various tracks by clicking here)

The others I remember anchor the collection very well--- The Walkabouts, Capping Day, The Fastbacks, Prudence Dredge, and Arms Akimbo--- but the real thrill is discovering those songs I'd never heard from musicians I'd never heard of, like The Purdins, Bombardiers, The Hitmen, and Swelter Cacklebush, who should get a Grammy nomination just for the name. The styles run the gamut from Bar R&B to Pop Punk to Power Pop to Folk Rock to Rock & Roll but they have one thing in common throughout--- a basic core of Pure Pop. It was the thread which held Green Monkey together and has been a love for Tom Dyer all of his life. Reactivating the label, especially with music so much a part of Seattle's scene at the time of recording, is a dream come true not only for Dyer but for the musicians and fans of the music as well.

Leave it up to Dyer to make the package even more special (man, I'm sounding like a Pitch Man) by putting together an amazing insert booklet which runs down not only the history of the label (from Dyer's viewpoint) but track-by-track remembrances of the bands and the songs included. Full color, plenty of photos on slick paper with thumbnails of the picture sleeves which graced the original releases. Liner note fanatics will wear the pages thin as they thumb through while listening to the tracks, intrigued by the insights and information pertinent to the bands and the releases themselves. Outside of the glory days of vinyl and the albums which had copious liner notes, you have to believe me when I say it doesn't get any better than this.

One thing that always impressed me about Tom Dyer is that he was always positive. He started out with an idea he liked, recorded the bands he liked, tried to do the right thing at every step and, on the whole, succeeded. Maybe not in terms of finance and not always in terms of art, but he did the best he could with what he had at the time and it is a blast to follow the music from a time lost in Seattle's past.

If you were in Seattle when this was going on or have any interest at all in the scene at the time, this is a must to hear if not buy outright. If you weren't, you need to hear this anyway. Not only is it a capsule of time and music, it is damn good music. This pretty much was Seattle, pre-grunge. This compilation brings it back with a rush. Sure, the world could have lived without Green Monkey and their artists, but it would not have been the same. Not even close.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog, his own website and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini, out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)

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