Gorky's sweet weirdness

Wednesday, Oct 20 1999
Photo by Pat PopeGORKY'S ZYGOTIC MYNCI Spanish Dance Troupe (Beggar's Banquet)

"We don't live together in a big mushroom or anything," insisted Gorky's Zygotic Mynci front man Euros Childs when I interviewed him about 1997's Barafundle, his band's last U.S. release. I'm still not sure I believe him; after all, "tiny," "lovely" and "Welsh" are three words that invariably come to mind whenever the subject of Gorky's pops up, and rare is the reviewer who hasn't used the phrase "elfin magic" at least once to describe the quartet's beguiling ways. There's nothing grandiose, epic or remotely wide-screen about Gorky's Zygotic Mynci; their lyrics, when decipherable, revolve around small matters of personal concern, and their music radiates all the gentle tranquillity of a rural family whiling away the evening on ancient homemade instruments. Compared to the arena-ready anthems offered up by fellow Welshmen the Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers, Gorky's records might as well be made in a secluded glade by industrious elves.

Alas, there appears to have been a bit of trouble in Tiny Town. Mercury, Gorky's previous label, grew tired of waiting for the band's indie buzz to blossom into Top 10 hits and pulled the plug before Gorky 5, the follow-up to Barafundle, could even come out in the States. Bloodied but unbowed, the resilient band pooled its resources and recorded Spanish Dance Troupe, an album that, for all its unbridled loveliness, sounds like it served as an extremely therapeutic experience for its creators. "Desolation Blues," which slyly sandwiches the record's most accessible melody between Beefheartian guitar-and-horn freak-outs, tells of "writing songs held so dear, that no one wants to hear," while the mariachi-inflected title track laments "playing a tree trunk in a forest of fools," and dreams of running away to a place where "wine, dance and music is the name of the game." In other words, somewhere other than an executive boardroom.

Happily, the various industry-related hassles haven't affected the band's music, which remains as defiantly idiosyncratic as ever. "Faraway Eyes" could be a forgotten early-'70s country classic done by Teenage Fanclub, and "Poodle Rockin'" (which actually rocks rather nicely) sounds like the Syd Barrett­era Pink Floyd jumping in a time machine to cover Bowie's "Diamond Dogs." But mostly, Spanish Dance Troupe just sounds like Gorky's Zygotic Mynci -- 15 tracks of sweetly hummable weirdness, clocking in at just a hair over 37 minutes. Share it with the elf or wood nymph of your choice.

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ONEIDA Enemy Hogs (Turnbuckle Records)

If the "sophomore jinx" haunted bands of the '60s and '70s, the jinx du jour appears to be premature releases (or just plain too damn many of them). The debut from Brooklyn's experimental noise-rockers Oneida was a spotty, self-indulgent effort that would have served the band better as a work tape. Still, among the formless garage jams, there were definite signs of intelligent life. Careening from freeform noise to near­new wave and sludgy pop, Enemy Hogs goes well beyond simply solving those problems and, in the process, pays homage to the cream of '80s punk/new wave.

An improvisation over a repetitive one-chord riff, "Whitey Fortress" introduces a screeching, squawking wah-wah guitar, feedback and a fuzzy mishmash of delay. It's a hypnotic, neo-psychedelic instrumental that owes as much to Blue Cheer as it does early Pink Floyd, and the kind of music-as-noise that (at the proper moment) can be almost soothing. "Primanti Bros." and "Gettin' It On" are frenetic pop tunes that recall the glory days of the Akron-Cleveland new-wave scene, while "Little Red Dolls" hints at the intensity of Boston's Mission of Burma. "Ginger (Bein' Free)" and "Turn It Up (Loud)," which begins with an a cappella minichoir singing the chorus over a monstrous gloom-'n'-doom riff, are a pair of the most intriguing cuts, with the band putting its influences in a blender and effectively coming up with something totally different. Best saved for last, the live, eight-plus-minute "Wicked Servant" offers a generous dose of the kind of brain-numbing cacophony the band can dole out in its live shows.

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GAY DAD Leisure Noise (London/Sire)

With a name like Gay Dad, you know it just has to be an English quintet that blends glamourama pyjamarama ramalama long ding-dong rock from back in those halcyon daze when Bowie was Ziggy Stardust, Roxy Music still had Eno in the band, and nobody needed TV 'cause they had T. Rex with the sort of pure Britpop for now people that starts with the Kinks and proceeds to Blur (back when they were good). And yes, the overall sound is as arch, as layered, as carefully constructed as you might expect from not only that last tortured sentence, but also a band whose members include someone named Nigel (Hoyle, the bassist) and whose front man/guitarist is semifamous U.K. rock journo Cliff Jones, all bleached-blond hairdo, dark sunglasses and breathy, whisper-to-a-scream vocals.

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