MX-80 Sound. Treading the darker waters of the same art-school music pool as Devo and Pere Ubu, with obvious nods to early-'70s Krautrock bands like Neu! and Can, and clearly brethren to the like-minded Chrome, MX-80 Sound was loud, sinister, and unsettling; simultaneously they were literate and compelling. The line from MX-80 to bands like Sonic Youth or Nine Inch Nails is a fairly direct one, or at least very easy to trace.
They debuted in 1976 with a 7-inch EP, Big Hits - Hard Pop From The Hoosiers, which was a solid enough effort to catch the attention of Island Records. With Island they recorded their debut album, Hard Attack, the following year. Baffled over how to promote MX-80's sonic attack, Island never issued the LP in the US, and soon dropped the band. Both the album and the EP have been reissued as a single CD.
A move to San Francisco reinvigorated the band, who were picked up by Ralph Records, home of musical bizarros like The Residents and Snakefinger. Given free reign, MX-80 Sound came up with the absolutely incredible Out Of The Tunnel in 1980. Giving off one of the loudest, lowest sustained vinyl volume assaults since Blue Cheer recorded Vincebus Eruptum, Out Of The Tunnel rumbles out of the gate with a pair of stunners, "It's Not My Fault" and "Follow That Car," and somehow manages to maintain the frenetic energy and unceasing wash of sound from there. The single "Someday You'll Be King" is a definite high point; "Frankie I'm Sorry" or "Gary And Priscilla" could just as easily have been plucked as the single. An incredible record start to finish.
A year later they nearly matched it with Crowd Control. The wall of sound is still in full force, and the volume is still turned up to 11, but this time around vocalist Richard Stim is buried deeper into the mix. Stim's lyrics were never easy to decipher, but here they are even more hopelessly lost in the white noise. Still, with standouts like "Why Are We Here?," Crowd Control is a winner. It's obvious that Mission Of Burma and Fugazi, among others, were paying attention.
The two Ralph LPs were also combined for a single CD, retitled Out Of Control. You must own it.
The MX-80 story gets fuzzy at this point. While the band never really split, they seemed to drop off the radar screen, not returning until 1987's Existential Lover, which attempts to pick up where they left off. I've Seen Enough, released in 1995, duplicates a lot of the same material. Das Love Boat followed in 1990, collecting a CD's worth of the band's instrumental tracks dating back throughout their history (their cover of the theme to John Carpenter's Halloween is not to be missed!)
Again the band went into seclusion, emerging 10 years later with We're An American Band, titled after their nightmarishly creepy cover of the Grand Funk Railroad party anthem. A bizarre legal entanglement involving the album and at-the-time recently enacted laws about advertising product as being made in America seemed to have finally disillusioned the Hoosier noise machine, although, again, they have never officially disbanded.
For this week's clips, we go back to the two wonderful Ralph LPs: Out Of The Tunnel's "Someday You'll Be King" and Crowd Control's "Why Are We Here?" Enjoy!