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[Music Reviews]
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New grooves

Chainsuck make their national debut on Wax Trax

by Brett Milano

Even if she never accomplishes anything else in the local-rock world, Chainsuck frontwoman Marydee Reynolds has a permanent place in local history as the woman who slapped a security guard at Axis. The incident happened in mid spring, when Chainsuck were showcasing for the label brass from Wax Trax. Things were running late at the club that night, and Chainsuck had their power pulled after the first handful of songs. And dang it, Reynolds just doesn't take kindly to such behavior.

"I got a little excited," she recalls over coffee at the 1369 in Central Square. After the power was turned down, a member of Chainsuck's crew ran back to the soundboard and turned it up again; later, Reynolds was confronted by a pissed-off security staffer who wanted the band to load out quick. Not being in the best of moods, she proceeded to whop him across the back and nearly got the whole band ejected from the club (they were reinstated only when the night's headliners, Sister Machine Gun, insisted on it). "Guess I can be a little hot-tempered sometimes," she admits, while claiming that the story's gotten exaggerated on the local grapevine. "I never punched or stabbed anybody."

Reynolds and company pack a different kind of wallop on Angelscore (out this week on Wax Trax/TVT), Chainsuck's long-delayed album, which was recorded just about a year ago. Chainsuck make an unlikely combination of singer/songwriter pop with hard industrial techno. The songs are all written by Reynolds at home with a guitar, but they're then handed over to a pair of outside hands -- producer/remixer Lamar Lowder (a former Bostonian who did mixing duties for Big Catholic Guilt, Powerman 5000, and others) and samplemeister Doug Vargas (the lead guitarist in Aimee Mann's first Boston band, the Young Snakes, way back when), who proceed to digitize, sample-ize and techno-ize Reynolds's demos. The official band members (bassist Paul Simonoff, drummer Michael Smith, and keyboardist Michael Trifino) don't get hold of the material until after that, when their contributions amount to finishing touches (on stage, however, their parts are performed live).

It's an unusual way of working, and the result is far from their label's norm. In fact, Chainsuck's album looks and sounds as if it belonged on 4AD rather than Wax Trax. The electronics lend a lush and layered feel that's closer to Cocteau Twins territory than to Skinny Puppy's; the sultry pop appeal of Reynolds's voice is normally up front. To my mind, the stylistic fusion doesn't always go far enough; much of Angelscore sounds like a pop album with more exotic production. But some unique sounds result when the Wax Trax-isms get equal footing with Reynolds's songwriting know-how. That happens on the planned single "Prozac," whose metallic sound suggests the headrush associated with that substance. ("We'll have to write a sequel now that everybody's switching to Zoloft," Reynolds suggests.) And it works well on the closing "Reverie," where a percussion track made from sampled voices carries a catchy rock tune to parts unknown.

It was leading industrial figure Chris Connelly, from Ministry and the Revolting Cocks, who initially brought Chainsuck to the label. The connection came through Reynolds's friend Andie Maguire, the ex-Bostonian and former Dogzilla bassist, who was playing in Connelly's loose-knit band Pigface). And Chainsuck wound up being the last band signed to Wax Trax by label founder Jim Nash, who died of complications from AIDS last year; the album is dedicated to him.

"Wax Trax just sign things they love, without worrying whether it fits into the genre they created," Lowder notes. "We were different for them, because they had never really had a songwriter element before." Reynolds's own taste used to be pure pop before she had her life changed by Think Tree a few years back; keyboardist Trifino is Chainsuck's resident Wax Trax collector.

Reynolds is the first to admit that hers isn't the most democratic outfit in the world. "We're not a `jam out in the rehearsal space' kind of band; it's a little more preconceived." Still, she insists it's not a strictly solo/studio project either.

"It helps that people don't have big egos, so they don't mind having their parts chopped up," Lowder offers.

"We're the kind of band where people don't have to commit themselves to just one project," Reynolds adds. "I've been criticized for having different people in the band at different times. But in Chicago [among the Wax Trax circuit] everybody does that."

Final pressing question: does Reynolds ever regret choosing the name Chainsuck, which refers to a mountain-bike malfunction but sounds as if it refers to . . . well, you know?

"I've been in the band for two years, and I don't know what it means," Trifino notes.

"People don't believe me, but I never thought it had any obscene connotation," Reynolds says. "I have guys come up to me and explain in detail what it means to them, but I just walk away."


Over the past year Groovasaurus have become the number-one band on the local hippie-rock circuit, the act of choice among folks who spend way too much time comparing Phish set lists. That's no reason to write off a band, but it helps -- as did the couple of Groovasaurus shows I've caught, which engaged in an overload of whitebread jamming.

All of which makes their homonymous debut album (on Pea Patch) more of a surprise, since it shows off the three things I least expected to hear on a Groovasaurus disc: songwriting, dynamics, and an edge. Instead of doing a jam-based album, they keep most of the tracks in the four-minute range and fill them with some unexpected twists. The opening "Enemy Bed" has a long, somber intro that bursts into guitar/fuzz bass noise and enters the darker zone many of these songs explore, in both music ("Out from Under" builds from a standard swamp-blues riff to a minor-key hook) and lyrics ("The Accident" is a slow creepy look at the after-effects of a car crash). And there's an almost-punk flavor (or at least a Tracy Bonham flavor) to "Lifelike," which trashes a boring lover against a roomful of nasty guitars. "Lifelike" turns up again at the disc's end, where a short hidden track takes a snippet of that song's chorus, looped and doctored to sound like a damaged old 78. It's a weird, intriguing signoff.

I'm not thoroughly taken with Groovasaurus just yet. Anita Suhanin's vocals are still a tad bland for my taste; when she tries to get down and bluesy she isn't much more convincing than Joan Osborne. And the two jam-based tracks toward the end ("Happy" and "Flooded") reinforce my enduring problem with hippie bands: their rhythm sections just aren't funky enough (perhaps that's a matter of tradition, since the Grateful Dead's wasn't either). Still, Groovasaurus stands as proof that if you cross hippie rock with alterna-rock, you just might get something that stakes out its own territory.


On the heels of his appearance with Liv Tyler in the film Heavy, Evan Dando is about to unveil a new batch of Lemonheads. The new line-up, whose album will be out in the fall, consists of former Dinosaur Jr. drummer Patrick Murphy, bassist Dina Waxman, and guitarist Bill Gibson -- meaning that Dando has stepped down from the lead-guitar role for the first time since the pre-Shame About Ray days.


When is a reunion not a reunion? Richard Brown, singer for the Proletariat spinoff band Churn, called in to report that Churn's drummer recently quit the band and has been replaced by Proletariat drummer Tom McKnight -- making Churn's line-up now identical to that of the Proletariat in their glory days. They will, however, be sticking with the new name and still won't be doing any Proletariat songs. The new/old band should be playing in town late next month. Meanwhile, those in search of inventive, politically charged punk should hunt down their EP Heated Couplings in the Sun, because not enough people have so far.


Former Killing Joke member Youth has lately been working with some high-profile artists; in recent years he collaborated with Paul McCartney (on the pseudonymous remix album by the Firemen) and Crowded House, producing their last album. Now he's hooked up with former Tribe singer Janet LaValley and produced her solo debut, which was completed this month but won't be out until January. Youth also played bass on the album, which so far bears the intriguing title Extraordinary Popular Delusions (and the Madness of Crowds). Speaking of local artists on Columbia, it's now official that Mary Lou Lord has signed to that label through its WORK subsidiary. She appeared at the label's showcase at the Macintosh music festival in New York earlier this week. Her album is still being recorded.


The Kostars make their local debut at the Middle East tonight (Thursday); pop junkies can catch Imperial Drag (with Jellyfish refugee Roger Manning) and Super Deluxe at Mama Kin. Tonight also marks the final of the annual Battle of the Blues Bands at Harpers Ferry. And Club Bohemia has a Bastille Day party with club favorites Slide and John Felice's devotions . . . The Mitch Easter-produced neo-psychedelicists the Drag come to Bill's Bar Friday, and Bim Skala Bim play the Paradise. Meanwhile, there's plenty o' pop at T.T.'s with Smackmelon, Jack Drag, and Poundcake -- and Sleepy LaBeef celebrates both a birthday and a new CD at Johnny D's.

If you want a nice quiet time on Saturday, then don't go to T.T.'s, where the eternal party-throwers the Fleshtones will be headlining with New Orleans crazies Dash Rip Rock; the Strangemen and the Pills open. The Dirt Merchant are at the Middle East that night, Barrence Whitfield plays the Tam, Machinery Hall are at Mama Kin, and Chris Doherty's latest outfit, Hammered, play the Rat . . . The third "Drag" band to hit town this week, Superdrag are at the Middle East with Nada Surf Sunday . . . Big Jack Johnson plays the House of Blues on Wednesday.

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