Friday, April 16, 2004

Last week I started a Friday feature on bands with a no wave or Sonic Youth-y background who weren't hugely successful. I'm defining "hugely succesful" in relative terms, obviously. This week it's Nice Strong Arm, originally from Texas. I knew their name for years before actually hearing any of their music: there's a song called Axl Rose Is Love by a band called Mary's Danish that includes the phrase "nice strong arm" and it always stuck with me.

Their first album was called Reality Bath, it came out on Homestead in 1987 and there's no CD version. It sounds somewhat like a cross between the Butthole Surfers who made Psychic...Powerless...Another Man's Sac and Sonic Youth circa Evol, but without most of those bands' more extreme (some might say "interesting") tendencies. The Butthole Surfers similarity comes mainly from a double-drum lineup and the singer's vocal similarity to Gibby Haynes (in Gibby's less crazed moments). The Sonic Youth influence is mostly evident in some guitar parts that are swiped directly from Evol's poppier numbers.

All this might sound intriguing, but unfortunately Reality Bath is produced with a very generic, Homesteady, indie style that kind of obscures the band's charms. There's not much stereo image, the guitar is badly recorded and undermixed, and there may very well be two drummers, but on record they've got the oomph of a cardboard box. If you crank up the volume and fiddle with the EQ, you can kind of hear what might have been on tracks like When Truth Comes Around and Free At Last, but it might require more imagination than many people are going to want to expend.

There's an interview with Nice Strong Arm from way back when here, and a few photos (of them and of some other 80's indie folk) here. There's one video that I'm aware of that appears on a kind-of interesting tape called 12 O'Clock High which was put out by Atavistic. There are a couple of volumes, and they include videos by Pussy Galore, The Tall Dwarfs, Bongwater, Mudhoney, The Flaming Lips, Lee Ranaldo, etc. Again, this probably sounds more interesting than it really is: most of the videos just plain stink. I wouldn't pay a lot for the tapes, but if you see them cheap they're probably worth watching once.

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