Friday, May 11, 2018
Dischord 4 1/2 - Necros - 'I.Q. 32'
Recorded & released - 1981
Barry Henssler - vocals
Brian Pollack - guitar
Corey Rusk - bass
Todd Swalla - drums
I Hate My School
Past Comes Back To Haunt Me
Public High School
This answers a question I was posed when I first started doing this blog: "Will you be handling the Dischord split releases?" Yes...yes I will.
The Dischord catalog is peppered with releases that were shared with other record labels. As catalog numbers for these records, Dischord uses fractions or decimals, which makes it nice and easy to trace these records chronologically with the rest of the Dischord catalog.
Release "4 1/2" pairs Dischord with Touch & Go Records - the first of two split releases with that label (can you think of the other one?...no cheating).
Touch & Go Records, based out of Chicago, evolved out of a fanzine done by Tesco Vee (The Meatmen) and Dave Stimson. Like Dischord with Washington, D.C., the early years of Touch & Go Records were spent documenting the emerging Midwestern hardcore scene.
Like biological evolution, where species that look vastly different from each other can be traced back to a common ancestor, Dischord and Touch & Go trace different roads that hardcore took. The early hardcore of the late-'70s and early-'80s wasn't drastically different from region to region, but it's evolution into more complex styles took different paths. Whereas a label like Dischord can take you step-by-step from bands like Teen Idles, S.O.A. and Minor Threat to Fugazi, Touch & Go could take you from The Fix, Necros and Negative Approach to The Jesus Lizard.
Necros, a band I've always affiliated with Detroit, were actually from Maumee, Ohio, a suburb of Ohio in the northwestern corner of the state. A 75-minute drive north up I-75 would, however, get you to the Motor City.
Necros would have the distinction of being Touch & Go's first release - the hopelessly rare 'Sex Drive' 7", released in 1981, with a pressing of a mere 100 copies. Of all the records I've covered in this blog so far, each one of which is rare and valuable, 'Sex Drive' is the rarest of them all. Using Discogs as a guide, it's been sold only once, and went for $2875 (and didn't even have the insert).
However, thanks to the internet, you can hear high quality versions of all these records, and a record that would have been impossible to have even heard a decade or so ago, is now available within a few clicks.
'Sex Drive' sounds like Detroit. Unlike the early Dischord releases, which blatantly held a middle finger up to traditional old rock 'n' roll, the Necros embraced it. I'll admit I don't know much about the Necros, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that these guys grew up on a healthy dose of garage rock. 'Sex Drive' sounds like something Iggy Pop would have been a part of had he been born 15-20 years later. On the title track, Barry Henssler channels Iggy with a subtle twang when he sings, "All I want is more, more more..."
But whereas 'Sex Drive' is primitive and raw in every way, the record at hand, 'I.Q. 32', is more developed. Ian MacKaye's production won't be mistaken for Bob Ezrin, but at least it doesn't sound like it was recorded on a boombox in the back corner of the practice space.
There is a development of the garage punk style started on 'Sex Drive'. Songs like "Peer Pressure", "Race Riot", "I Hate My School", "Reject" and "Public High School" still sound like the same band that recorded 'Sex Drive', but have learned how to write better songs. While these raw, mid-tempo songs are pretty well played and well written, they're not half as exciting as the other songs on this record, perhaps played less competently, but at a more furious speed. "I.Q. 32", "Wargame", and "Past Comes Back To Haunt Me" are striking in contrast to the slower songs. Barry Henssler can barely keep up, which only adds to the chaotic, train-off-the-rails feel of these songs, none of which stretch past the 50 second mark.
My favorite song is the one that combines the two elements, and that would be Track 2, "Youth Camp", whose verses are hooky and confident, but come chorus time, and don't blink because you'll miss it, the band goes into hyperspeed and you're not quite sure if they're going to land on two feet. I also dig the overdubbed "guitar solo", which is more like a couple of random notes - it feels like the start of something that never really gets going.
Lyrics are always the most genuine when you write about what you know and what you live. There is a running theme throughout the record of feeling like an outcast by all that surrounds you, in your society, in your school. That feeling of being different and unrelatable.
"Midwest, Midwest, time to go. / I'd stay, but it's so fucking slow. / Stupid people's all I know." - "I.Q. 32"
"My every move is judged by the court of my peers. / When the sentence comes, it confirms the worst of my fears. / They know I'm different, that I'm not like them. / They won't accept me for the way I am." - "Peer Pressure"
"I hate my school / My teachers are insane / The kids are all fools / All my work's down the drain / Why don't you all leave me alone / All I wanna do is go home." - "I Hate My School"
"I would rather stay at home / In my room & all alone / It's times like this I feel so bad / Why am I always sad?" - "Reject"
Taking redneck racism head-on also must have come from some first-hand experiences:
"Youth camp for the KKK, It's the American way. / Youth camp for the National Front, When white rule is what I want." - "Youth Camp"
"They'll never sit down & talk about their problems / Just wanna fight & create more of them / Whites call 'em names directly to their faces / They say 'Hey nigger go back to your own places'" - "Race Riot"
Since the Necros will not be a part of the Dischord story going forward, just a brief sum up of what happened from here.
The Necros would go on to release the 'Conquest for Death' (1983 / Touch & Go) and 'Tangled Up' (1987 / Restless) LPs, along with a few 7"'s and live albums, and the one release I do actually own, the split 12" EP with White Flag, 'Jail Jello' (1986 / Gasatanka), which I bought for a $1 and have maybe listened to once.
Bassist Corey Rusk would leave the band after 'Conquest for Death' and would go on to run Touch & Go Records. I can only guess that there may have been some sort of falling out between Rusk and his old band. I can't think of too many explanations why the Necros releases that came out on Touch & Go would be allowed to go out of print.
Drummer Todd Swalla would go on to play in a few bands, most notably, the Laughing Hyenas, with a post-Negative Approach John Brannon.
Vocalist Barry Henssler would go on to dig even deeper into those heavy rock roots, fronting Big Chief, who released a few records on Sub Pop in the early '90s.
A big reason for doing this blog has been to discover records and bands which I've never explored too much before. The Necros have been in my consciousness for decades, but I never really took the time to listen too much.
I'm not looking to be the historian or the music critic. Just somebody who wants to dig into these records and find an emotional connection. If I had first listened to this 7" when I was 13 years old, I'd probably feel much more connected to it than I do listening for the first time in my early 40s.
But, one of my closest friends, Aaron (who has been commenting regularly on these posts), does have that connection, and, at its best, those stories are the essence of what I hope this blog to be about.
Aaron & I met in 1991 as freshmen at Hofstra University. We were roommates through school and have been playing in bands together for over 25 years (Humstinger, Quarters, The Judas Iscariot, Kether, Hudson Falcons, Two Man Advantage...did I miss any?). I've probably logged more hours talking and playing music with Aaron than anyone else. So I hand over the mic to him to take us the rest of the way:
My buddy Derek had a 78 Nova that smelled like shit and the driver's side seat belt, which was broken, had several feet of loose slack that would never retract. The car didn't smell like shit because Derek was a chain smoker who was addicted to fast food. It reeked because the ribbons of useless seat belt fell out of the car once and landed in a pile of steaming dog offal. The stench was permanent, even after years had elapsed.
We used to love to cruise in that car because it had a solid tape deck, despite the car's other obvious limitations.
I had a mix tape with the Necros 'I.Q. 32' EP (Dischord #4 1/2, Touch and Go #3) on it, and we used to listen to it while racing around the housing tracts in our dead-end rural and suburban trailer parks and neighborhoods in Western PA while bashing mailboxes with baseball bats, stealing mail, and engaging in all manner of mayhem that attempted to assuage the bored teenage angst that was part of life growing up in a hick town.
The Necros were the perfect soundtrack for this...we all related hard and fast to these kids, because they were just like us. I knew firsthand their misery of growing up in Maumee, Ohio, because, hell, we were only 3 hours further east, but the social terrain was the same. The Necros hated growing up where they did, and it was obvious. Often their lyrics were like a mirror of my own experience dealing with asshole jocks, backwoods racist cops straight off the farm or the high school football team. While The Necros were never much to speak of in terms of technical playing wizardry, (though they would become considerably better at their instrumentation for later offerings like 'Conquest For Death', eventually metalling out for 'Tangled Up'), their lyrics were the quintessential archetype that represented hardcore as a suburban phenomenon, and a logical extension of the urban punk that came before that.
It is no surprise that Dischord was quick to partner with Midwestern kin of similar mindset (radically progressive lyrics against provincial, red-necked racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. at the height of the conservative revolution birthed by the Reagan Era).
Corey Rusk of The Necros had a big hand in running Touch and Go Records, the Midwest equivalent of Dischord, and a collaboration was logical, after Touch And Go Fanzine (predating the label of the same name) did early interviews with Minor Threat. Ian Mackaye would produce 'I.Q. 32' and see to its joint release.
The record is over before it starts, (9 songs clocking in at under 10 minutes) but the overall sound is a dramatic improvement over the extraordinarily rare 'Sex Drive' EP released very early in the band's history. While not as furiously fast and overtly violent and pissed off as Negative Approach or The Fix, Barry Henssler's vocals are snarky, snotty, and fierce in a pubescent way. Like Minor Threat, the band lacked all guile...it was pure, simple, and direct. You don't need much more when you are 15 and just aching to pour your aggression into something.
I loved my Necros mix tape, which contained everything they had put out up to that point, including the split with White Flag, but not 'Tangled Up' because it hadn't come out quite then.
Eventually the vinyl came my way in the summer of 1989, through a record trade with Chip from the late 80s Minneapolis hardcore band, Blind Approach. Our little straight edge band Upper Hand had opened up for them in Pittsburgh one night. He and I struck up a conversation about records. He had brought a bunch of records on tour with him to trade and sell. I had just returned from Some Records in New York and came back with two copies of the lamentable Project X record. He was willing to take his somewhat annoyed bandmates an hour out of their way into the sticks east of Pittsburgh in order to carry out a late night trade on their way to their next show.
"What do you got?", I asked.
When he offered 'I.Q. 32' in exchange for one of my newly acquired Project X records, I almost choked on my Pepsi. (No booze for my straight edge teenage self!)
The deal went down in their van outside my house...I believe I also gave up Blitz's 'Never Surrender' in the deal, but it's a deal I would still do today.
But nobody trades records anymore, do they?
BANDCAMP - NECROS - 'I.Q. 32'