erasing clouds

Those Bastard Souls, Twentieth Century Chemical

review by dave heaton

Whether they get remembered or not, The Grifters stand as one of the most interesting bands of the indie-rock ‘90s. Live they would play tight bluesy pop-rock anthems, and then suddenly launch into a crazed, trippy, messy space jam for the rest of the set that astounded, captivated, and may have driven people away. Their albums balanced pop magic with serious doom and gloom, horrow-show stuff but with a real-life feeling, that “real-ness” of course making it even scarier.

The first album by Those Bastard Souls was made as somewhat of a lark in 1995-96 by Grifters’ singer Dave Shouse. It’s one man doing some exploring while singing the blues, lending Stones-ish rockers the vibe of a ride into outer space. On later albums, when Those Bastard Souls became more of a proper band (later leading into the band Bloodthirsty Lovers), he would fill out and clean-up some of these same songs, but they’re better here.

The late-night, dirty-blues, standing-under-a-streetlight-giving-girls-dirty-looks tone that Twentieth Century Chemical so vividly captures stands apart from the Grifters, and from most, maybe any, other bands of the period. These songs are sleazy fun, but also in turns surrealistic, paranoid, and everyday. On “Remembering Sophie Rhodes”, he sings about “when it was cool to be anything you ever wanted”, and sometimes this music does seem engaged with an imagined version of either the ‘50s, where fast cars and greasers abound, or the film-noir ‘30s, with femme fatales slinking down alleys. This world is all dead ends, heartbreak, and youth gangs, but more than that it possesses a true swagger. Yet along with the strutting guitars there are melancholy synthesizers, notably on the closing title track, a Tom Waits-like symphonic number.

Closing, that is, for the proper album itself. On this reissue are seven bonus tracks. They’re not ‘alternate versions’ but actual unreleased songs, mostly from a couple years later. Some, like “Spaced Out” and the one-night vignette “Mercury”, are in the same general vein as the album but maybe even better. Other songs are completely different in mood, and up there with the best music Shouse has had anything to do with. Best are “All You Get”, a pretty lament that doubles as an apocalypse song (“the wasteland whistles / five o’clock / mother earth shuts down”), a great pop song called “The Golden Age of Paranoia”, and “The Coldwater Freak Show”. The last one is like “All You Get” in how starkly it presents his songwriting, and how clearly he shows Shouse to be a gifted writer, coming up with remarkable images riddled with emotion and ideas. Usually “bonus tracks” are nothing special. These seem like nothing less than essential to understanding Shouse’s music and talent.


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