HYMNS OF THE FLESH – The Intercontinental Playboys (I-94 Bar Records)
I was a fan of Sonics/Seeds/Shadows of Knight-inspahrd garage grunt right up until the moment when the likes of the Hives (My new favorite band? Not likely, pal) and the execrable Jet arrived on the set – which coincidentally was around the same time I started running, not walking, away anytime some SXSW shill offered me a new band’s CD-R that sounded “just like the MC5!” It seemed to me that the whole trip was starting to sound not just stale and derivative, but even a tad bit formulaic. What to do, then, but recede back into my bunker with my Boris and Ornette Coleman records? But the Barman pulled my coat to these guys, and the Barman is an honourable man.

First thing I noticed about the Playboys was their unusual instrumentation – stand-up singer, guitar, keys, and drums – which adopts the same “final solution” to the bass player problem as the Doors did back in the day, e.g., replacing the four-stringed instrument with, um, the organ player’s left hand. The extent of their achievement really becomes evident in the coupla live cuts on Hymns of the Flesh, where you can hear just how full of a sound they’re able to put out onstage with just two tonal instruments – quite a coup, compared to the keyb-centric local Foat Wuth outfit I saw a few months back who even had an actual bassplayer, but lost one nut every time the guitarist-singer decided to grab the mic stand a la Brooce instead of cranking out the chords. The Playboys strip it down to the essentials, those being: 1) Big Beat, 2) organ cheese, and 3) lotsa fuzz. Plus I like the way the intro to “Downright Right Now” quotes “My Little Red Book.” And the way Tom Von Spatula’s stage patter seems to channel 40-and-fat Elvis.

Living an ocean away, I’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying these Playboys live, but from the Youtube vids I’ve seen, their onstage garage-soul shtick has the same goofball energy as Dr. Feelgood, the early Damned, the Cramps, and the Mooney Suzuki (I can imagine Sammy James, Jr., singing “The Department of Love” as easily as I can imagine Lorenzo St. Dubois singing “Driving Sideways”). To their credit, they’re able to recapture that energy in the studio, kicking down the door with the Hellacopters-like guitar blast of “Sitting Pretty (You’re In Control),” surprising unsuspecting listeners with poppy harmonies over the chorus of “Circle Girl” (which is propelled by the most hypnotically insistent riff in recent memory), crossing into Black Keys territory with the overdubbed fuzztone apocalypse that opens “Bad Queenie.” “The Maestro’s Shadow” resurrects the shade of teen snot psychedelia (think Chocolate Watch Band) over the same beat as the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.”

Pushing back musical frontiers though they might not be, the Intercontinental Playboys at least rock out with the correct spirit, and for that we can be grateful. Bless them. - Ken Shimamoto


 

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SONIC SEDUCERS - The Intercontinental Playboys (Off the Hip)
There's a lot of competition but this might just be one of the best Australian releases of 2005, certainly in the (self-imposed) sub category of Voodoo Psych Garage. Think multi-layered fuzz guitar entwined around chunky organ chords and you're in the neighbourhood. As good as their debut EP "Ladies May We Introduce Ourselves" was, "Sonic Seducers" is a quantum advance with the songs sounding more rounded, and the band much more in control.

Given their past penchant for live Cramps covers and their reconfiguration as a bass-less four-piece (with Michelangelo now full-time on the keys), the comparisons to the institution that is Lux and Ivy and a revolving cast of supporting players are almost inevitable. But imposing that label would be lazy. Sure, they're mining common ground (although the Playboys mention the Barracudas and Stooges in the same breath), but one of the strengths of the Cramps in their glory days was their ability to nod to precursors while simultaneously applying colours from their own palette. The Playboys do the same, sounding sassy, smart and rocking in the same breath.

Where the Cramps are intent on getting fucked up (or fucking) in as many ways as possible and telling everybody about it, these enigmatic Sydney gents are more demure. Men of the world they may be, but they're still wrestling with the usual problems of relationships ("Baby Hang Up"), how to have a good time ("Downright Right Down", "The Bedroom Analyst") and what to wear when doing so.

The songs are so great here, it's hard to know where to start. The opener "Voodoo Delight" puts the fuzz credentials firmly on the table while "The Erotic Circus of Torment", "Death Row Tango" and "Journey to the Centre of My Dirty Mind" all manage to make their point without bludgeoning or putting the pedal to the figurative metal. Seductive stuff.

Considerable effort's gone into making "Sonic Seducers" sound just right and to this end, guitarist Benedict has woven a heady sonic fabric with all manner of fuzztones embedded into the stitching. His guitar stylings are outstanding and as distinctive a feature as Tommi's idiosyncratic vocals. The keyboard basslines are thick enough to stir a martini on and amply fill the bottom end, allaying fears of bass-less wimpishness. This is an album that resounds with a rock sensibility in all but its slinkiest moments.

Tougher than its predecessor but at the same time more sweeping in its ambitions, "Sonic Seducers" is on the money. Not many bands doing this stuff as well. Hopefully, this will be the catalyst to get the Playboys overseas.
- The Barman


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