Sunday, April 30, 2023

Song Highlight: The Birthday Party - Junkyard

One of the first bands that showed me that a band could be aggressive without resorting to death metal growls and down-tuned guitars was Big Black, Steve Albini's punk rock band from the early to mid 1980s. The clanging and screeching guitars coupled with the monolithic pounding of their Roland TR-606 drum machine created an intense listening experience the likes of which I had never heard before (I discovered Big Black after graduating college in 2009, while reading Michael Azerrad’s book about the American underground music scene in the 1980s, Our Band Could Be Your Life). That discovery helped introduce me to the world of noise rock, specifically to the band The Jesus Lizard, with the unmatched vocals of David Yow,  his stuttering yelps and wails ornamenting the muscular power of the band’s rhythm section and the minimalistic metallic sheen of Duane Denison’s guitar playing.

I have always known that music does not emerge in a vacuum, and that people take influences and craft them into their own unique visions, but this fact made itself abundantly clear to me in the last few weeks as I have been listening to the Australian post-punk band, The Birthday Party. After listening to their song “Junkyard" from their 1982 album of the same name, I can't help but think that Albini was taking cues from the Birthday Party. In the song, Rowland S Howard’s guitar has a clanging screech to it as it is propelled forward by Tracy Pew's pummeling and ominous bassline. All the while, vocalist Nick Cave’s warbling baritone occasionally morphs into shrieks about being “the king.” Here again, I would be surprised if David Yow did not take some inspiration from Nick Cave to help fashion his own unmistakable vocal style.

There is a live version of “Junkyard” from 1982 that is readily available on Youtube that manages to capture all of the intensity of the album version, if not more. All of the band members exude a sort of casual disinterest, most of them having cigarettes hanging from their mouths. Cave saunters around the stage thrusting his hips around and flailing his arms, as he yells about “garbage being in honey’s sack again”. As the song reaches its climax at about 4 minutes and 20 seconds mark, bassist Tracy Pew gets lost in the sound, arching backwards and vibrating to the point where his cowboy hat falls off and he topples over. On the ground he keeps playing, thrusting his pelvis around. The whole performance is really something to see.

If you are not familiar with the Birthday Party, but are a fan of abrasive punk rock, you should check them out!

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