The Upshot: Early ‘80s Portland outfit has its funk/post-punk/no wave sound resurrected for one final curtain bow. Ed note, 3/17: I was just notified by Shirley (aka Mr. Mike) of a slight error in my band chronology in my review; he actually was the member who started the group, and then King was the one who recruited other members. A tip o’ the Blurt hat to all concerned!
BY FRED MILLS
Although the so-called “hidden history” of Northwest bands summarily had the veil pulled aside following the ascent of Nirvana, Sub Pop, and ‘90s alt-rock, certain outfits have remained elusive and are known primarily to those who were actually on the pre-grunge scene at the time. Case in point: Portland’s Jungle Nausea, which issued but a six-song, self-titled 12” in 1982 and played out fairly infrequently before dematerializing into the ether of time.
Formed a year or so earlier by guitarist/horn player Rik Stewart of SMEGMA and featuring various intimates from the city’s punk/experimental/noise scene—among them: poster artist Michael X King on keys and percussion, guitarist “Mr. Mike” Shirley (Bop Zombies) on guitar, Lesley Reece (Braphsmears) on bass and Tammy Cates on vocals; SMEGMA’s Michael Lastra held down production duties—the group had a kind of funk/post-punk/no wave sound not too far removed from the Pop Group, Gang of Four and the Slits. And as the in-depth liner notes (an oral history as related by the members) to this expanded reissue reveal, while the aforementioned scene was relatively small, clustered as it was around a couple of venues and practice spaces, it was wildly creative and energetic, allowing both the musicians and the fans to express themselves without feeling they had to conform to any expectations—including commercial ones. (Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the artistic mission of SMEGMA will understand this intuitively.) Jungle Nausea played roughly 20 gigs, cut the EP, and were outta there. (Below is the original hand-painted artwork to the 12”; you can see the rear cover and inserts HERE at Discogs.com.)
Hats off to Water Wing (in a collaboration with Community Library, plus distributor Mississippi), then, for rescuing both the EP and a handful of unreleased tracks from the ether. The original six tracks are alternately precise—as with the robotic, drum machine powered “Alternative,” featuring Cates in full Jon King declamatory mode and a bassline that’s pure Bootsy—and spazzy, such as “Eat,” a start/stop funk-fest made spicy by Stewart’s trumpet and trombone blasts; clearly a product of their time, but owing obvious debts to iconoclasts of the past, most notably Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band and, to a degree, Parliament/Funkadelic. The bonus material includes three unreleased studio tracks, among which I heartily recommend the Pylon-at-78rpm romp that is “Sympathy” and “Air Conditioner for Hell,” which not only earns points for the title but also for managing to turn what’s essentially a straightforward garage-rock number with a standard blues progression into a post-punk anthem (think a slightly less deadpan Flying Lizards). Also present are three tunes from a 1980 gig at the Urban Noize club, somewhat dubiously recorded but just whacked-out and tuneful enough to give the listener a sense of the delightful chaos the group must have been able to create onstage. The instrumental “Surf Riders” additionally demonstrates what happens when you cross the Ventures and the Surfaris with—you guessed it—a post-punk mindset.
“People might have liked Jungle Nausea if they could have heard us,” admits Reece, in the liners, “but recording and putting records out back then was vastly more difficult than it is now.” Adds Cates, “It’s a cliché now, but this was a very DIY time in Portland.”
Indeed it was—as it was in little musical pockets all over the country, operating in isolation, but laying the groundwork for what was to come in the latter half of the decade and on into the next.
DOWNLOAD: “Sympathy,” “Alternative,” “Eat”