From roughly 1983 to 1991, Seattle’s Green Monkey label issued a slew of
records, most of them by Northwest-based artists – and often only in cassette
form. The latter aspect may have contributed to the label sometimes being
written out of the history books, overshadowed as it was by the far more
high-profile likes of, say, Sub Pop and C/Z. But with label mainstays Jeff
Kelly and his band the Green Pajamas, along with the likes of Mr. Epp & the
Calculations (Mudhoney vocalist Mark Arm’s early outfit), Prudence Dredge, the
Fall-outs, the Ikons, the Fastbacks, Walkabouts and label head Tom Dyer, all
dotting the Green Monkey discography, it’s clear that no accurate accounting of
the pre-Nirvana NW music scene is complete unless Dyer’s brainchild is
included. I count myself lucky enough to have been in the Green Monkey loop
back in the day: writing a cassette column for east coast music magazine The Bob I covered numerous GM releases
throughout the ‘80s (and with enthusiasm I might add).
Until recently Dyer had more or less gotten out of the
record label business (he resurfaced briefly in 1995 and 2001 to put out CDs
from Kelly and then the Green PJs), concentrating on a career in academia. He
continued to record, however, sometimes under the nom du rawk Reptilicus Maximus, and apparently that old itch
returned earlier this year which led him to reestablishing the Green Monkey
name as a commercial enterprise. Two new CDs have resulted thus far, including
the two-disc It Crawled From The
Basement: Post-Punk/Pre-Grunge Seattle which spotlights some killer
material from the above mentioned artists and many more, along with a must-read
booklet outlining the story of the label and, by extension, illuminating
aspects of Seattle’s untold history.
Songs from Academia,
then, tells Dyer’s own untold story via selected tracks, some having appeared
on earlier GM releases and many previously unissued. It’s an intriguing listen,
to say the least, the collection providing an intimate look at Dyer’s
free-wheeling, at times deeply experimental muse. That much is clear from the
get-go with “The Prize,” a skronky slab of sax-laden Beefheart/Zappa-dom from
’92 credited to the band Beautimus, which apparently was a one-off project Dyer
mounted with former students and band members he’d worked with in the past.
Another slice of sonic discombobulation is 1983’s “Cars Keep Moving,” which
with its electronics, herky-jerky rhythms and insane ranted/recited vocal
motif, suggests an abiding appreciation of early Devo. These and other forays
into sonic dissonance and lyrical snark speak to Dyer’s theatrical and even
Prog inclinations – 1988’s over-the-top, blackly humorous “She’s Winning the
War for Daddy,” is, according to Dyer’s liners, “my Sparks song,” no less.
Yet as a straightforward tunesmith, Dyer’s no slouch either.
Two tracks of recent vintage, 2009’s “The Stars” and 2006’s “Relativity,” rein
in the looniness and deliver, respectively, a surging powerpop anthem (that’s
the Green PJs’ Jeff Kelly adding a sleek guitar solo to “The Stars”) and a
psychedelic-surf epic with sci-fi themes (“Relativity” is by Reptilicus Maximus
and includes Dyer’s son Ben on bass). And “I’m Your Man,” cut in ’91 by Dyer
and a semi-secret combo called B.L.O.G. (Bunch of Lame Old Guys, is just
flat-out gorgeously twisted garage rock. As such, he almost sounds like 15
different bands on these 15 tracks – 14 listed, plus one hidden bonus cut – and
the musical fruits are accordingly bountiful.
“I am excited to finish the project exactly at its scheduled
time,” Dyer writes, in the press sheet that accompanied the CD. “When I set the
goal of October 2009 those 28 years ago, it seemed like a stretch. I really
think this project shows how an artist can develop if they set their mind to it
and have a good calendar.”
Copy that, Tom. We’ll be looking forward to the next
installment… circa 2037, correct?
Standout Tracks: “Relativity,” “I’m Your Man,” “The Stars” FRED MILLS
Stop Press: Dyer
reports that Songs from Academia, Vol. 2: Instrumentals and Spoken Word is
en route for a proposed January release. Check the Green Monkey site for
details and updates.