Monday, December 29, 2008

Regulator Watts - The Aesthetics of No-Drag

(Image from Jason Farrell's design site - various other, larger pictures online have the colour tones messed up so this is the best one I found. Jason Farrell also did the design/layout for a whole lot of other Dischord/Slowdime and Hoover releases)

This is the last major part/post of the Hoover Genealogy Project. I'll come back to The Mercury CD at some other time, and possibly other releases by The Boom/The Sorts/Sea Tiger... and Frederick Erskine's Just a Fire, which is very good too. However, the essence of the Hoover family tree has been for me the trio of Abilene, Radio Flyer and Regulator Watts. Which essentially makes it the Alex Dunham tree, but oh man, can that guy play guitar. The main alternative branch is of course Frederick Erskine and Joe McRedmond in the Crownhate Ruin, who produced the closest thing there is to a 'follow-up' to Hoover's The Lurid Traversal of Route 7 in Until The Eagle Grins, and then the former of which who went on to do great things in June of 44, et al, before re-intersecting with the Dunham branch on Abilene's second album. Of course, there a plenty of other groups scattered in and around there, for example Sevens; and a couple of 7" releases by pre-Hoover groups Admiral and Fine Day, which I suggest you go to Proven Hollow's long-dormant blog to find, as that was only where I heard about them myself.

The list of posts in the Hoover Genealogy Project so far:

13. Hoover - 'Side Car Freddie' b/w 'Cable'

12. Live on WFMU: Hoover, Lincoln and Crownhate Ruin

11. The Sorts, Sea Tiger - 'How Did You Get There', 'Theme Song' 7"s

10. Abilene - Two Guns, Twin Arrows

9. The Crownhate Ruin - Until The Eagle Grins

8. The Crownhate Ruin: Vol. 1-3

7. Abilene - s/t - (after

6. The Boom - Movin' Out

5. [The Hoover Mixtape]

4. Radio Flyer - In Their Strange White Armor

3. Regulator Watts - 'New Low Moline' 7"

2. Hoover/Lincoln - Two-Headed Coin 7"

1. Hoover - s/t reunion EP

Regulator Watts came into the series early on with the 'Rocket to Chicago'/'New Low Moline' 7", also part of the 1998 Mercury CD. I guess I held off posting the first full-length until I could better absorb and thus transmit it, while the two-song 7" is a much more accessible way to get into Regulator Watt's high-octane sound. However, there are two songs from The Aesthetics of No-Drag which work well as an introduction to the album: the opening track, 'Mercurochrome', and the album standout, 'The Ballad of St. Tinnitus'.

Regulator Watts - 'Mercurochrome'

'Mercurochrome' is an opener of the kind that condenses down the intensity of Lurid Traversal's 'Distant' and cranks up the volume on Radio Flyer's 'Allied' into a whole other level of high-powered, electrified post-hardcore. Lyrics on a variation of "old grandads got my number/sinking highballs/hit me with it my mind/blind at the same time" added to the fact that mercurochrome, as I understand it, is another name for iodine (i.e., the disinfectant applied to wounds) makes this a particularly painful song. At the very start, 'Mercurochrome' is almost entirely a wash of screeching, atonal guitar noise, temporarily interrupted by a noisy rhythm and more conventional, rockish structure, but returning to its jagged, unreconstructed sound throughout.

The sense of barely controlled chaos is practically a cliche in Hoover-related bands, but 'Mercurochrome' puts it to especially vivid and immediate use; as do the following songs, '20th Century Ltd.' and - after a brief interlude of quiet instrumentation in 'Halifax' - the hypnotic, penetrating 'Candy Bullet O'. As is often the case with three-piece groups, Regulator Watts have the capability to create a lot of noise and abandon within each song, accentuated by the piercing, practically tortured sounds of Alex Dunham's guitar. 'Seedtick East' lays off on the punk rock fury with a calmer, slightly dub-influenced track which opens with an almost train-like boom and echoing, distant drums and vocals.

Regulator Watts - 'The Ballad of St. Tinnitus'

Even more traumatic than 'Mercurochrome'. Coming off the last swipe of guitar feedback in 'Seedtick East', 'The Ballad of St. Tinnitus' opens quietly, over a heavy drum pattern and a climbing guitar line that suddenly soars into ear-shattering volume: "I lost my mother to the needle, my father to the bottle" (though the lyrics sheet doesn't use the pronoun 'I') "let the people sing...". In 'The Ballad of St. Tinnitus' the harsh guitar sound developed over the previous tracks - and indeed, in Radio Flyer and Hoover - reaches its point of greatest refinement and intensity. 'Tinnitus' - the common affliction of those exposed to loud noise - is painfully beautiful music, a beat by beat, minute by minute attack on the conventions of rock sound, and a statement of distorted purity in art and artifice.

'Pemberton Red' works perfectly as more subdued follow-up, rather reminiscent of the calmer, yet tense, explorations of Radio Flyer. Alex Dunham's voice has a noticeably broken quality to it, almost as if injured and withdrawn from the exertions of 'St. Tinnitus', yet still enveloped in the rolling, accented rhythms of the song. 'Chechero' is another instrumental, atmospheric interlude, repeated on The Mercury CD at greater length. In The Aesthetics of No-Drag it leads into another slow-building but hard-hitting rocker, 'Eleven', which handles the quiet-loud transition and ultimate, cathartic crescendo in a very Hoover-ish manner.

'False Idols', written by Seven's Bobby Sullivan (see Proven Hollow's post here) is the dubbest track of the album, and in fact redone as 'Version Idols' for the last track of The Mercury CD. Along with Hoover's 'Electrodux' and the 'Relectrolux/Electrodub' version on the reunion EP, 'False Idols' marks the overt inclusion of the influential dub sound within the post-hardcore style. With this in mind, 'Firecrackerjack Tippy' seems to start off as a ponderous exercise in that combination, a hazy, slow-moving rhythmic track interjected with swiping, melodic guitar phrases which grow louder and more emphatic as the song goes on. It's as much Radio Flyer, and even Abilene-ish, as it is Hoover-like, but it also includes the extra dissonant edge of the Regulators Watts sound.

A reprise of the earlier instrumental track, 'Halifax Hellbound' adds a momentary passage of grinding guitar before giving way the album's final track, the supremely intense and aggressive 'Witchduck' - a remarkable, fiery closer. As much as 'Mercurochrome' and 'The Ballad of St. Tinnitus', this song incorporates the disparate elements of rhythm, distortion, screaming vocals and disturbing atonality into a tight rock structure; in essence coming probably just as close to a total reconstruction of the Hoover aesthetic as the Crownhate Ruin did a year beforehand.

Regulator Watts - 'Witchduck'

Regulator Watts - The Aesthetics of No-Drag (1997) (via Kissmysoundsystem)


lex dexter said...


sorry to've been out of touch. i'm a bachelor all of a sudden and seemingly committed to doing things that don't make sense like avoiding rock-bloggery and, uh, "drinking" at "bars."

but rest assured i'm plugging the motherbleeping crap out of the genealogy on le Facebook.

nick said...

Good post and great series. It's heartening to see someone documenting this stuff properly as you have.

Anyway, if you're interested I have a bunch of unreleased Crownhate Ruin tracks that I got off Joe McRedmond some time back. They're pretty low quality but listenable, and interesting in that some were recorded with Alex (Dunham).

gabbagabbahey said...

lex - your support is appreciated, as always.

nick - thanks. my email is in the sidebar, or my profile, if you want to hit me up with those.

lex dexter said...

'looks like nick has the same crownhate ruin demos that i have (but can't find.) this could turn out well for everybody.