By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
To the moon, Alice
Archaeologists likely will conclude that music once was illegal when each time they unearth the home of an independent musician they discover boxes of unopened self-produced CDs stashed in the closet. That is exactly where the Primitive Radio Gods album Rocket and its hit, "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand," would have remained were it not for dumb luck; provided that luck includes having a sample from B.B. King's rendition of "How Blue Can You Get"--"I've been downhearted, baby/ever since the day we met"--stuck in the collective noggin thanks to constant repetition by radio and David Letterman, who nightly repeats the excavated mantra.
The tranquil sung-spoken digital groove of "Phone Booth" is antithetical to the hip-hopped power pop on the remainder of Rocket, electropasticcios a la Eno and Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts accessory to Zeppelinesque riffs: the rapid-fired rebellion of "Motherfucker" ("I got a God-given right to smoke whatever I like") and the glitter-rock update "The Rise and Fall of Ooo Mau" ("Future star, red guitar, you're gonna go far"). There is nary an unhum-able clunker on board, whether PRG is politicizing a heavy vamp like "Skin Turns Blue" ("...that nigger you hate is your brother...See through the eyes of another") or indulging in a rock 'n' roll inanity like the slinky sex romp "Women."
Obviously programmed drums and occasional naked upper-register vocal strainings ("Where the Monkey Meets the Man") are the only indications that Rocket essentially is the work of one person, Chris O'Connor, who for around $1,000 recorded it on an infirm 1969 Ampex 16-track in a garage, just after the 1990 breakup of his SoCal rock band, the I-Rails. A few organic songs feature guests including I-Rails guitarist Jeff Sparks and drummer Tim Lauterio, who now tour with PRG along with guitarist Luke McAuliffe.
The lyrics to the driving "Who Say"--"I'm getting no reaction"--were prophetic. Discouraged after a no-result mass mailing, O'Connor became an air traffic controller. He recently stumbled upon his CDs while housecleaning and randomly mailed a few more, one to a rookie record scout who finally broke the rules.
Sony Music, parent company of Columbia, parent of PRG label Ergo, posts the standard disclaimer (designed to protect against plagiarism lawsuits) on its Web site, Sony Music Online (www.music.sony.com): "We cannot accept demos! [and] you don't want to hear the boring legal nonsense on this topic!" It's a wonder Chris O'Connor ever got through to mission control.
Primitive Radio Gods perform at Club Dada Saturday, September 7.