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feedtime - The Abberant Years

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Artist: feedtime

Album: The Abberant Years

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Mar. 12, 2012

In the hands of grumps like Wynton Marsalis or those guys at the Grand Ole Opry who didn’t want to let drums on stage, tradition can be a stifling, obstructive barrier. But it can also be a tool as handy as a plumber’s favorite wrench. The Australian trio feedtime’s 1980s recordings, which are collected on The Abberant Years box set, prove them to be traditionalists of the best sort. They turned old forms to their own ends, keeping what was usable, tapping into their spirit, and simply ignoring any encumbering bad habits.

Guitarist Rick and bassist Al (no last names, thank you) started feedtime in 1979. They’d first met in school 10 years earlier and bonded in the interim decade over their appreciation for local hard rockers X and Rose Tattoo, as well as pre-electric blues. They started playing a mix of originals and covers in Sydney dives so violent that several drummers quit. Tom, the guy who drums on everything in this box, joined in ’81. What pissed off those audiences was part of what made feedtime great. Their music was harsh and ultra-reduced, with nothing extra, especially not any effort to be pretty. Rick’s slide-dominated guitar style drew more from country and gospel blues players like Fred McDowell and Blind Willie Johnson than from rock, while Al’s bass was an insistent pummel, like a guy who keeps punching at the same hole in the wall just to see how far in his fist will go. Both men bawled out minimal lines in voices so gravelly, you’d expect their sibilance to put dents in your car door. Tom’s drumming was just as hard, yet spacious, and that was just what the music needed; if someone didn’t leave holes for the blasts to blow through, you’d just end up with a mess. feedtime’s music might have been butt-ugly and occasionally chaotic, but it was never simply a mess; that’d be too indulgent.

feedtime weren’t the only bands around that time playing fast and loud, not at all. But while they sometimes played to punks, their allegiances — as displayed on their cover album Cooper S (named for a friend’s car) — leaned more towards the attitudinal side of ’60s pop (Rolling Stones, Animals, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood) and blues (especially Blind Willie) than punk sacred cows (although they did play a mean Ramones tune). And while there’s certainly no shortage of bands that drew on the blues, few inhabited the blues like feedtime. They sang the news of their lives just like Charlie Patton and Son House, who named the overseers and cops who busted them and their audiences by name. After hearing “Shoeshine Shuffle,” from feedtime’s second album, Shovel, you’ll know what bus they rode and what they thought of the neighborhoods it went through. Listen to another song and you’ll know what bands they went to see, or what their motorcycles sounded like.

Plenty of rock guitarists mined the blues for the kind of flash that Muddy Waters would only have wanted to see in someone’s mouth, not on his bandstand. But Rick — even Al (yup, there was plenty of slide bass) — knew there was more power in one swoop of Blind Willie’s slide or one repeated down stroke than any thousand notes you’ll ever hear on a Stevie Ray Vaughan record; “F#,” from feedtime’s self-titled debut, turns a couple of Lead Belly lines into a grind that could have come from the first Wire album, if only Wire had met in shop class instead of art college.

The longer feedtime lasted, the more compelling their repetition got. On Suction, the final record of The Aberrant Years’ (the box is named for their Australian label), there’s a song called “Pumping A Line” where the bass holds one note for the entire song, and one drum figure drops in and out without ever changing. The guitar finally comes in halfway through, coiling like a huge lizard tail, malevolently destructive yet impotent in the face of that implacable rhythm. The unresolved tension is barely bearable and absolutely fantastic. It’s songs like that one that I keep returning to now; in an age when just watching the news can make you want to escape to get away, feedtime’s refusal to budge is sustenance.

feedtime went on hiatus in 1989, but Rick and Al revived the band with a different drummer in the mid ’90s and made one more decent album before disappearing again — until 2011. That’s when S.S. Records invited them to reform for one gig in San Francisco. Video evidence indicates that they haven’t gone soft (further evidence can likely be found on the band’s North American tour this month). But even if they had, the resurrection of their catalog would be cause for celebration. Blues like this is never in style, so it can’t ever go out of style. And as long as anyone wants to hear someone put fury into words, there’ll be a room for feedtime.

By Bill Meyer

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