By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The songs would have--could have--done just that. Never has a contract-killer sounded quite as good as Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb, and neither has Tripping Daisy. The band's Island finale is a parting shot that feels like a summer kiss, a singles compilation that rides the new wave all the way to the Beach Boys. "Sonic Bloom" wins here for Single of the Year, but almost any other song on the album would have fit the bill, especially the pop-popping of "New Plains Medicine" and "Field Day Jitters." "Mechanical Breakdown"--propelled by Wes Berggren's ice-cream-truck keyboards--may be the best song UFOFU never wrote, and "Geeareohdoubleyou" finally finds the sound the band was searching for on 1993's Bill and I Am an Elastic Firecracker. Radio single followed radio single, but none of them ever ended up there. KDGE-FM (94.5) eventually added "Sonic Bloom," though it was too late to matter much. Everyone else had given up months earlier.
So, whether it wanted it or not, Tripping Daisy--Berggren (who also plays guitar), singer-guitarist Tim DeLaughter, drummer Ben Curtis, guitarist Phil Karnats, and bassist Mark Pirro--is out on its own now, and it seems as though that's exactly where it needs to be. The band has started its own label, Good Records, and it has a new album already in the can, the aptly titled We're Not Signed. Less than a year after Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb was released, Island Records is a memory. A good one, a bad one.
Tripping Daisy is now knee-deep in the future. Good Records--and its subsidiaries, Good Booking, Good Film, and Good Management--is being run on the Internet through Tripping Daisy's Web site, www.trippingdaisy.com, where the label's first release, The Tops Off Our Heads, is already available. The Tops Off Our Heads is really just one 22-minute song--loosely organized improvisations, really--divided into seven sections, including two songs by The Association: a blink-and-it's-gone snippet of "Cherish" and the band's impossibly slow rendering of "Never My Love." The EP is not without its endearing moments (such as DeLaughter calling out chord changes on Section 2), just without many actual songs.
Those can be found on We're Not Signed, the eight-song album the band recorded in February. It will likely be released by the band on Good Records later this year, and its title is not an appeal to record-label executives, but a badge of honor. All that's missing is the exclamation point at the end. The album is much subtler than Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb, detonating in small pops rather than three-guitar explosions. The band explores the five-part harmonies it only toyed with previously. "You First" sounds like the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne holding hands with Brian Wilson, with DeLaughter's affected vocals wrapping around Berggren and Karnats' guitar effects. And "Kids Are Calling" could be the summer song of 1999, all la-la choruses and driving backbeat. We're Not Signed is the Sunday-morning hangover after Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb's Saturday-night party, the second half of the beginning of Tripping Daisy's career.
Next year's Music Awards should look a lot like this year's edition, which is strangely similar to the 1993 version, another Tripping Daisy landslide. In fact, the band is almost in the exact same position as it was then, beginning the next phase of its career loaded down with local praise. The only difference is that now, the band deserves everything it gets. Maybe more.
Winner for: Male Vocalist (Peter Thomas), Metal
If these parts ever had a rock-and-roll old school, Slow Roosevelt frontman Peter Thomas was Deep Ellum's original ambassador of West Coast throttle. Injecting his own brand of tongue-in-cheek "skinny" and "white" into the late-'80s/early-'90s funk-rock genre, Thomas made Last Rites the Texas-bred spawn of Soundgarden and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. "You're So Fucking Great (But I Suck)" became the fist-in-the-air, singalong anthem of every kid who ever sneaked out of mom's house to see the band at Club Clearview. Thomas left Last Rites in late 1990, not too long before drummer Mike Malinin saw his future as a real West Coaster (after quitting Caulk in 1993, he joined the Goo Goo Dolls shortly before the release of '95's A Boy Named Goo), and bassist Mike Daane turned his attention to producing local acts and playing in Ugly Mus-tard.
The bespectacled, forever-a-grad-student Thomas kicked around with some other bands--among them Green Engine and Jack, the latter with ageless punk brat Barry Kooda--before starting up Slow Roosevelt about three years ago. Odd that such violence and bile ("It's my friends I'd like to kill!") comes from a guy who's so personable. Odder still that Thomas' longtime stage antics--reverbed bullhorn, seizures, and all--match the blood-spitting tension of the music. At first glance, he comes off like your best friend's articulate and bookish little brother. But as the screaming Peter of Slow Roosevelt, he's about one step removed from the Charlie Manson of Helter Skelter. For music this relentlessly dark, noisy, and abusive, the distance between performer and persona creates the necessary breathing room.
Slow Roosevelt draws an ever-growing crowd--the therapeutic catharsis that apparently works so well for Thomas (we don't think he's actually killed or raped anyone, anyway) works for his audience too. The band's two albums, 1996's Starving St. Nick and last year's throwawayyourstereo, are case studies in what happens when real smart guys grow up listening to Bad Brains and watching porn; these fellers are more concerned with gut-eating content than musical subtlety. Yet the progression between the two albums is worth noting: Where St. Nick came off like a scattered and still-smoking train wreck, throwaway boasts a cohesion and roll-with-it depth that comes only with age and experience.