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The New Creatures - Media Brainwash/Penelope Flowers

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Artist: The New Creatures

Album: Media Brainwash/Penelope Flowers

Label: Smog Veil

Review date: Dec. 2, 2002

Old-School Midwestern Punk, With Flourish

It's been about ten years since we first "discovered" Guided by Voices, and with that passing of time, it's sometimes easy to forget what was so charming about them in the first place. Much of it, obviously, was the music: the effortless charm of the melodies; the scattered, experimental bent of the songs; the basement sound of the production. The music was great. But the people who were making the music gave it an extra boost of mystery and fascination. Robert Pollard, a sixth-grade teacher, made weird, classic albums in his garage and could only tour during the summer vacation. Guitarist Mitch Mitchell worked in a sandpaper factory. Singer/guitarist Tobin Sprout was a family man who just happened to possess the ability to write great, chiming pop songs that perfectly complemented Pollard's harder-edged work. They were just some guys from Dayton, Ohio, who happened to be full of great music.

It's up for discussion how much they did or didn't fulfill their potential, but it is certain that time has changed Guided by Voices, as well as our perception of them. They are no longer a new thing, Sprout has left the fold, and Pollard has since fired the rest of the band, taking on new players who are proficient but who lack the shaggy-dog charm of GBV's previous incarnation. Part of this previous incarnation was Greg Demos, who played bass on and off during the band's early nineties golden age, and notoriously wore a pair of striped pants onstage. Two albums by the New Creatures, a band fronted by Demos in Dayton in the early eighties, have been re-released, and they serve well as a reminder of the kind of world that gave birth to Guided by Voices.

Punk possessed a seedy but undeniable glamour in its inception, despite its fuck-off, low-rent exterior. It was cool, in its not-caring-about-cool kind of way. Fast-forward a few years to Dayton, Ohio, which was not and probably never will be, fashionable. This is perhaps to its credit, but no matter. Punk had been around long enough to seep into a certain mass consciousness, and it was becoming more of a musical language than a specific moment or movement. It had lost the excitement of newness surrounding it, which was being replaced by the New Romantics and synth-pop. But punk soldiered on, arguably producing better music once out of the media's eye. Listening to the New Creatures, especially Media Brainwash, their first album, takes you back to a time when punk was a truly underground phenomenon, rough around the edges because it was genuinely rough. Songs like "I Hate Newscasters" and "School Prayer" are purely committed to making some noise and lifting a middle finger to the establishment, and however na´ve it might seem in retrospect, it's still refreshing to hear. Demos has a solid singing voice and a good sense for song structure, and despite the tinny production of Brainwash, it's a serviceable old-school punk record. Penelope Flowers, which leans more towards classic rock, sounds better and is also funnier, given Demos' penchant for yowling rock vocals. One song in particular, "Riddles of Light", is a real gem, straddling stadium rock and 60s garage rather effortlessly, making it easy to see why Pollard would have recruited Demos for GBV.

Although it's hard to imagine anyone other than true GBV obsessives seeking these albums out, they're interesting in their own right, offering a window into a bygone era that's part of rock history, however small. Punk may have gotten a lot bigger, slicker, and in some ways, better, but the New Creatures offer a reminder about what was (and is) so great about punk rock in the first place.

By Jason Dungan

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