Punk in the Beerlight: The Cowboys vs. Mudhoney

Editor’s note: As Dirt Rag turns 30, we take a look back other stuff that was happening in 1989 and how well it holds up, as well as the ways it has evolved. Punk in the Beerlight shines a light on modern albums with a retro sound and compares it to records that came out in 1989 that were, like Dirt Rag (ahem) ahead of their time.  Our 30th-anniversary issue is coming up soon, so be sure to subscribe now to make sure it lands in your mailbox.

by Evan Robinson

The Cowboys- The Bottom of a Rotten Flower

Aging curmudgeons everywhere will rest on their laurels that “What’s old is new again.” Though I gave up making broad sweeping generalizations for Lent (hah!), recycling old ideas can produce some great results. Oval Chainrings, wider bottom brackets, wider hub spacing, internal cable routing: We are together again for the first time with these new spins on old tech.

The Cowboys just released The Bottom of a Rotten Flower and somehow they found a way to compile all of the tricks of a Killed By Death comp to put out a catchy, sound-specific record in the modern age. Every song has some vintage oozing from it: the angular riffs on “The Second Shortcoming of Christ,”  the big vocal swings with some snarl on “Wet Behind the Wyes” and “Red Headed Girlfriend,” and the guitar leads and solos on “Stillborn Genius.” The Cowboys take all of these elements and lay them on a perfectly made bed of Lo-Fi reverb.

Sometimes the Lo-Fi garage sound can be harsh on our digital ears, but personally, I find something endearing about it. Streaming the album from Spotify is almost reminiscent of the hiss of a tape deck underlying the croon of bands like Hubble Bubble, or the airtight high hat hits of The Nerves. The Bottom of a Rotten Flower is easy to compare to music of 40 years ago in sound quality, songwriting and style; because of the time gap, it feels fresh. The songs are great. It’s not that the songs that are rehashed but the style, and in a really enjoyable way.

Hot Tracks:  Wet Behind the Eyes, Red Headed Girlfriend, My Conscience is Clean

30 Years Ago…

Mudhoney- S/t

It’s going to take a while to go through all of the Bike Industry’s nods and tips of the hat to musicians. Sure, Seven Cycles has the Mudhoney, which is a fitting name for a cyclocross bike on its own without considering the spastic vocal outbursts of the band itself. Mudhoney is an essential member of the grunge music movement and, as someone reviewing music, that might be the most vanilla thing to say about it. I mean this review is off to a great start, the “grunge movement” usually emits an image of Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, and Seven Cycles usually emits the image of bicycles for dentists (don’t get upset, some of my favorite people are dentists). Mudhoney’s first full-length, self-titled release is fierce, fuzzy and loud.

The opening track lets you know immediately that this is a very drum-forward album. All of the chaos is layered on top of loud, forward-mixed drums. These drums are the bread of a very sloppy sandwich that is delicious to eat. There is a certain lackadaisical feel to the guitar- and bass-playing on this album. Strong points of aggressive precision in songs like “Flat out F*cked” and “Dead Love” exist, but mostly the playing has a slacker-type swing to it that not only adds to the grunge aesthetic but helped pioneer it.

The album also switches dynamically and often. There are mid-paced and slower tracks reminiscent of The Stooges’s “INeedd Somebody” and MC5’s “I Want You Right Now.” The more you think about Mudhoney having a connection to the Detroit sound, the more it becomes part of the active listening of the album. The feral vocals, the call-and-response of the guitars, and the driving rhythm section all act as a nod to ’60s psych and garage. If you give a listen, play this thing LOUD.

Hot Tracks: You Got it, Dead Love, Here Comes Sickness