Flannel File: Voodoo Gearshift

Flannel File: Voodoo Gearshift

Voodoo Gearshift was a little-known and surprisingly not-that-short-lived ('87-'97*) grunge band, originally from Iowa City but mostly active in Seattle. VG's claim to "fame" is Glue Goat, a 1992 CD on influential Seattle label C/Z. Unlike Sub Pop or Touch and Go, C/Z probably didn't put out any of your favorite records**, but they did put out the first records by some of your favorite bands, including the debut LPs by the Melvins and Built to Spill, the first Silkworm record to see wide (for Silkworm) release and the first available recordings by Soundgarden, Green River and Nirvana. Apparently they also discovered the Presidents of the United States of America; I guess you can't win 'em all. Then again, I shouldn't talk, since I owned that record when I was 15.

Anyway, the point is that C/Z, while, again, very influential and important to know about if you're an indie-rock geek, is something of a sidebar in the larger rock canon. Which would make Glue Goat, which doesn't even make C/Z's "Key Points of Interest" page, a footnote to a sidebar. I've had this record for something like nine years and even I know next to nothing about this band. Of course, part of the reason for that is that I've never actually listened to it until a couple of days ago. I got Glue Goat around the turn of the century from KTRU in one of the station's culls, wherein the music directors pull rarely played CDs from the stacks and give them away to students who don't know any better. Many is the time since then that I've pulled out Glue Goat, and thought, "You know, I should give this a spin." Then I looked at the ridiculous title and the even more ridiculous band name and balked. So, is Glue Goat as bad as the moniker would suggest? No, actually. C/Z owner Daniel House, of the band Skin Yard, had pretty damn good taste, and with VG he picked, let's say, a contender if not a winner. VG's sound is typical grunge: heavily distorted guitars with a big, floppy rhythm section, running Zeppelin and Sabbath through a hardcore filter. But one of the great things about grunge was that it was entirely possible for bands to be typical without being formulaic. The combination of punk-rock disdain for tradition and classic-rock emphasis on musicianship that VG displays here reminds me of another cult grunge-era band, the Rhythm Pigs (no, not these Rhythm Pigs, or these, and like that band, VG manage to deliver a lot of fun rhythmic and harmonic tricks. I admit it, I'm a sucker for suspended chords in hard rock, and VG uses them to great effect on "Cabrini Green" and especially "One Time Perfect."

Flannel File: Voodoo Gearshift

Meanwhile, the use of odd time signatures and time changes on songs like "Appropriately Titled" (it's an instrumental, get it?) and "Right From Wrong" herald the rise of math-rock about half a decade or so later, as was the case with some other bands, like Nomeansno, playing this same type of music around the same time. Glue Goat is deceptively smart, and as a bonus, guitarist Jim Roth (seen here, in some surprisingly non-rocking public-access footage) can rip a solo when it's called for. On the other hand, the same attitudes that make Glue Goat interesting also have drawbacks. This is a pretty self-indulgent record, full of unnecessary breakdowns and songs that ramble through too many forgettable riffs on their way to the good stuff. Glue Goat runs too long, almost an hour, in part because of the 18-minute closer "What It's Like Your Guess is As Good As Mine," which slams three or four songs into one track for no discernible reason. And sure, hindsight is 50/50, but one of the easiest ways to render your 1992 record dated turns out to have been devoting six minutes of mush-mouthed sludge in 12/8 time to railing against the war on drugs ("Pigdrug Warmachine"). Not that this is really VG's fault; in a time when society is seriously debating whether torture is acceptable and indie rock is basically silent, looking back at punk rockers who cared enough to have shitfits over abortion rights, censorship and the war on drugs feels almost surreal. And jeez, "Voodoo Gearshift?" Come on guys! * That info courtesy of this eBay listing for a copy of VG's first LP, which is so rare that I'm having a hard time finding other evidence that it even exists. Ends May 31 - jump on it, grunge collectors! ** Statistically speaking, of course. I bet there are some pretty big fans of the Gits' Frenching the Bully out there, and if not, there should be. The C/Z 7" where Henry Rollins and the Hard-Ons cover AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock" actually is one of my favorite records.

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