As enigmatic as its tongue-twisting title, the latest from Tokyo's Ruins is another chapter in the continuing saga of drummer/composer/stone idolater Yoshida Tatsuya and five-string bassist Masuda Ryuichi, a tale that literally transcends language. You see, the vocals are sung entirely in a gibberish language of Yoshida's design, and the lyrics are printed in the liner notes, making it easier to karaoke along with archetypal Ruins tunes like "Prrifth." All together now: "Rabbakksnd Brrillo Feillo Fäindtrre."
Recorded at Martin Bisi's B.C. Studio, Hyderomastgroningem surfaced about four months ago on Tzadik, the label of longtime Ruins booster John Zorn. Following in the grand tradition of prior group efforts, it invokes a plethora of genres (from funk to punk, noise, and beyond) and artists (the obscure European art-damage group Magma, in particular). If you forced the rhythm section of Rush to develop a bad meth habit, listen to nothing but weird art-rock records, and sing solely in an obscure Icelandic dialect, they might develop a similar music, though nowhere near as good.
Strange time signatures and math-rock dynamics mix it up with metalloid bass riffs, electronic experimentalia, thrash-jazz aesthetics, and merry melody lines, augmented by the aforementioned vocals sung in Ruins' trademark operatic falsetto/baritone trade-off. I've always claimed that Ruins make some of the most accessible "difficult" music around, and now I have proof: A co-worker who owns both the Lion King soundtrack and a Yanni disc actually thought this CD was "pretty cool stuff." Go figure.
There's definitely a Ruins "sound," but there are enough exercises in contrast to keep things from becoming too redundant over the course of an hour. For example, "Brxon Varrsmiks," an opus clocking in at 9:40, is immediately followed by the 33-second rapid-fire piece "0'33." Odd instrumentals like "Bonze From Hell" and "Ordinary People in Idaho" counter the vocal tracks, and the duo's obsessive musicianship is often nothing short of astounding. It's a strange little planet of sound these guys have created, but one well worth visiting.
-- Mike Rowell
The Ruins play Sat, Oct. 14, at the Bottom of the Hill in S.F.; call 621-4455. Also Sun, Oct. 15, at the Stork Club in Oakland; call (510) 444-6174.
500 Miles to Glory: The Gearhead Magazine Compilation
Southern Culture on the Skids
Dirt Track Date
As motor vehicles get smaller, sleeker, and quieter, rock 'n' roll's lifelong fixation on combustible engines runs hotter. Case in point: These two new records illustrate the various ways modern-day grease monkeys approach their hobby. Track after track, the bands compiled on 500 Miles to Glory treat music like a game of chicken as they barrel headlong in two-ton rust buckets. In comparison, five albums into their career, the members of Chapel Hill's Southern Culture on the Skids are somewhat less maniacal. They're content to joy ride in Rocket 88s, lowriders, and 409s.
"Got eight slappin' pistons right-chere under mah hood," Southern Culture's Rick Miller crows on "Voodoo Cadillac," the opener of Dirt Track Date. Both that song and "Fried Chicken and Gasoline" are dead ringers for the reverb-drenched choogle of Creedence Clearwater Revival; on the 500 Miles compilation, the Northwest's Girl Trouble lays its own claim to John Fogerty's swamp rock, clamoring through CCR's "Commotion."
On Dirt Track, Miller howls out a horror-rocker called "White Trash": "Don't call me that," he threatens menacingly. Still, neither he nor the bands on the 500 Miles collection are the least bit concerned with being so described. In fact, they revel in the label: Every one of the previously unreleased tracks on 500 Miles rails with the fury of a corn-liquor bender. Whereas new full-length releases by the Supersuckers and Nine Pound Hammer are exercises in meathead overkill, here their songs capture just the right amount of vainglory. Other entries by Japan's Teengenerate and Crypt Records' New Bomb Turks are relentlessly red-lined, exhilaratingly so. The one stylistic deviation on this ho-dad-heavy collaboration between Gearhead Magazine and S.F.'s fledgling Red Devil Records is "Tarantula," a surf instro written and recorded by the Drags.
On Dirt Track, surf is just one of the styles mutated by Southern Culture's veteran dabblers, as the group puts the Ventures through hard labor ("Galley Slave"). Elsewhere, they pay homage to such unconscious innovators as Link Wray, Bo Diddley, and Hasil Adkins. Miller calls his band's music "high-cholesterol, toe-sucking geek rock" -- and that's as apt a description of this body of music as you're likely to hear.
-- James Sullivan