feedtime – [Box Set]

Saturday, 28 April 2012

It might sound bizarre given the conformist climate present in every other area of the period, but the fact is that the 1980s may have been th most creatively fertile decade in modern music history. Everything seemed to get the opportunity to blossom at the same time in the Eighties; while the dinosaurs like Starship and The Eagles were either dying off or falling apart, pop tarts like Toni Basil were striking gold with re-written flopped pop singles from the Seventies, New Wave reinvented the pop wheel in a most infectiously sterile way, fey West Coast rock stars learned how to tease their hair, rap got started on the streets of New York with a little help from – of all things – Kraut-rock and a swell in the underground ushered in the foundations of both hardcore and the first truly influential strains of college rock. In the Eighties, there really and truly did seem to be a tremendous number of new musical ideas percolating at once, but there is more; in fact, that substantial, aforementioned crop was only the tip of the iceberg. In the underground especially, those music-listening adventurers brave enough to excavate into the deepest recesses (beyond where even the bravest scenesters dare to tread) of the diaspora would find unusual creatures making thoroughly unusual sounds.

Feedtime was such a creature.

Self-described as “avant-garde pub rock pummellers,” feedtime aerated out of the Australian wilderness at right around the same time the candles were blown out on The Birthday Party and, while an argument could be made for feedtime picking up where Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Tracy Pew, Phil Calvert and Rowland Howard left off, close listening reveals far more at work in feedtime's music – especially in the band's early work. Comparatively speaking, The Birthday Party was much more the blunt instrument as the band screamed  and seared synapses every other moment while there was more ecstatic delicacy about feedtime; the band seethed and tormented listeners like a Beefheart-ian pre-cursor to grunge.

That sounds pretty good right? It is good but, like so many other great bands, feedtime has never been given their due. The band has reformed a couple of times since crumbling in 1989 with modest success but, now, Sub Pop has reissued the band's first four studio albums (a.k.a. The best ones, or “the lion's share”) in a bid to finally help the public discover feedtime and, for those few who did catch the records on their first go-round, the label remastered each and thrown in a few rarities (ten extra tracks) to make it of interest to them as well.

All listeners – both old and new hands on the band – will be able to feel everything about their physiology (pulse, nerves, mental acuity) spontaneously tip up on edge as the manically-paced blues shuffle which opens “haha” leads off feedtime's self-titled debut as well as this boxset. There's darkness and an eerie vibe about the song; like watching a storm very slowly move along from the horizon  toward you. The patter of drums so flat they might be made of cardboard follows to give the storm its movement, and then the bass adds some dark, ominous undercurrents. That combination on its own would made for an unsettling panorama, but the gutteral rasp of Rick feedtime (yes, everyone took the surname 'feedtime' but, unlike virtually every other stagename in music history, the internet hasn't been a demystifying agent for this band) is the thing which really steers the fetid sewer stew and forces listeners to taste it.

Things don't get any easier after “haha” collapses to a close, but the work listeners put in is well rewarded; “fastbuck” might be the kind of rave-up that may have taught Tom Waits how to get dirty and bluesy for Bone Machine while “All Down” is the kind of boogie nightmare that would make for a scarifying comparison to the Butthole Surfers and “Clowns” drags ZZ Top out for a trip to a depraved circus on a head full of acid just for kicks and to see what might happen. In each case, the elements that feedtime combine to bring these songs to life are disturbing (check out the perfectly attenuated swing of “Gee”), but the combination of them on this self-titled debut is absolutely intoxicating; listeners may recoil and be aghast at first, but they'll come around and back for second helpings before long.

feedtime may have set all the staples and standards for themselves and their sound with their debut, but they'd prove they knew exactly what they were doing and what changes they needed to make in order to get anyone who heard their music on-board for shovel, their sophomore album released two years later.

Immediately noticeable on the band's second outing is how spry feedtime is in songs like the title track, “Rock n roll,” the bleary lunacy of “Mother” as well as “More than Love” and the carousing, cat-calling “Baby Baby,” and how much more vibrantly the sludge that the band spews forth seems to be. Here, Rick's slide guitar oozes out a river of slick, toxic badness to the excitement of anyone who hears it while Tom feedtime's drums begin to play with the other instruments instead of just supporting them or containing them. The results are a muscular, more focused record than its predecessor – shovel really is feedtime's buff masterpiece – and would definitely have been the album which, had it been released just a couple of years later in the far more “weirdness” and “Australia” friendly Nineties music scene, would have stood (to paraphrase Paul Hogan) a “better than average” chance of seeing feedtime become true “wonders from down under” – but it didn't go that way.

Just one year later, and feedtime had streamlined (if such a term could even be viewed as applicable to a band who embodied the “wild and crazy” image that the media has given Aussies) the chaos into more “pub-bish confines for their third LP, Cooper S. The results make for a slightly less forceful (closer to AC/DC than Birthday Party) affair, but the trade-off is that the album is feedtime's most conventionally accessible work, which at least makes it of interest. After that though, the and rebounded into the far leaner and more delirious Suction in 1989 (“Possum” might be the best acid trip ever committed to tape which wasn't perpetrated by the Butthole Surfers) before falling apart and going to ground for a few years.

Since that first breakup in '89, feedtime has reconvened a couple of times (most notably in 1996 when the band released their fifth LP, Billy, on Amphetamine Reptile) and had the opportunity to at least make a few inroads out of Australia, but the results have largely fallen under the radar. It really is a shame too, because (especially on those first four albums) feedtime has had a lot of great sounds to offer; conspicuously, those who have stumbled upon the band's work (Black Lips bassist Jared Swilley has been known to drop the band's name, Unsane definitely owes a debt to feedtime too) have excitedly kept the group's name circulating.That's all well and good but, now with this box set, feedtime will have the chance to make their own proper introduction to the twenty-first century thanks to Sub Pop; with a low asking price to appeal to all those listeners who want to find something with some history but don't have a surplus of coin. It might sound silly, but it's about time this finally happened; feedtime's shades of darkness and mania are guaranteed to make some fans, all this music needs (finally!) is the right opportunity – and it's unlikely that Sub Pop could have made it any easier for the band to get some notice.



feedtime's The Aberrant Years box set is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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