Friday, November 4, 2011

Reigning Sound - Time Bomb High School (2002)

Time Bomb High School opens with "Stormy Weather", and Reigning Sound attack that old Doo Wop chestnut with abandon, making it twist and shout where it once only strolled. It's like they snuck their grampa's old Edsel out of the garage and fuel-injected the crate, replacing polite melancholy with desperate vocals, distorted guitar jangle, a roller-rink organ swirling in the mix. And this souped-up jalopy is held together with tape and glue and hormones, threatening to break apart in a fiery crash before it gets anywhere near Dead Man's Curve. A total thrill ride, in other words.

That opening shot is no mistake. Ex-Oblivians auteur Greg Cartwright's new combo is hellbent on bashing out punk rock like the last 25 years of punk never happened. They gnaw on the same roots that formed bands like the Standells and the Sonics; they dip in to the same melting pot of American music that later forged the Velvet Underground, the Modern Lovers, and the Ramones. Cartwright's original compositions match the structure and melody of his influences. Songs like "Reptile Style" and "Brown Paper Sack" sound like immediate classics from a parallel 1950s universe, churning with an adrenalized rush of Memphis soul and garage punk. Some heart-on-the-sleeve ballads help pace the album, but there's never a fear that this sock hop will end with a waltz.

This is the sort of archeological dig that rock bands often get lost in, returning to the surface with nothing to show but an academic dissertation and a whiteface of lime chalk. But Reigning Sound seem to have dug deeper than most, with less respect and a clumsy exuberance, unafraid of shattering a few fossils, and in the process they've uncovered something new and exciting.

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