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Artist: DMZ

Album: DMZ

Label: Sepia Tone

Review date: May. 3, 2004

The Nuggets compilation of ’60s garage rock, which came out in 1972, had a big impact on the musicians that would make up the early punk scene. Collecting short singles that dripped with bad attitude and simple hooks, it was a reminder of everything that mainstream rock was losing in the early ’70s, and an immediacy and amateurism the new wave wanted to bring back. The subtitle of that collection was Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968. It's surprising now to think that it was looking back on pop that, at that time, was a mere four years out of date.

What happened in 1969? Rock without the roll happened. The Stooges and Led Zeppelin emerged. Suddenly, rock bands weren't looking for a good beat you could dance to. Bands wanted to sound like machines, like gods. DMZ formed in Boston in 1975, and were among the first bands to attempt to fuse the two sounds, melding Detroit guitar riffs with Farfisa organ and ’60s covers. Like the Ramones, they wanted to have it both ways. They craved hooks that were as plain and unlabored as mid-’60s AM radio, but they wanted to out-loud the arena rock that was starting to dominate the FM band.

DMZ gigged with the Ramones up and down the East Coast, resulting in a Sire record contract. But when Sire released their debut in 1978, it was generally considered a disappointment, and there was no follow-up. This reissue makes you wonder what Seymour Stein was thinking. DMZ sounds like the founding document of garage punk, and it's exciting from start to finish.

Over the years, most of the disappointment has been pinned on Flo and Eddie's production. Former members of the Turtles and the Mothers of Invention, syndicated deejays, and, later, composers for Strawberry Shortcake, Flo and Eddie were true insiders. They've been accused of glossing up a rough band. In the studio, confusion ensued between what the old guard wanted to hear and what the band imagined themselves to sound like. In the liner notes, DMZ founder Jeff "Monoman" Connolly complains about how the studio was over-miked, especially the drums. He wanted a primitive production style, and his subsequent band, the Lyres, has been adamant in its '60s stylings. The early take on the Clash's Give 'em Enough Rope and the Ramones' End of the Century was that big name producers drowned out those bands, too. But since then, there's been far denser overproduction. The major-label style on all those records is pretty neutral sounding by now. DMZ had an assault and a batch of songs that hold up. And the crispness of this record is preferable to the live tapes and demos that are the only other documents of this band.

Connolly is cheerier about how the reissue's art trims the “ridiculous heavy metal logo we got saddled with.” He spits more venom at Sire for suggesting the British pub rock band Eddie and the Hot Rods produce a second album. With their unfashionable long hair and hostility toward other acts, it seems DMZ was at odds with both the street and the suits.

It's a shame, because they neatly summed up what came before them, and inject it with energy that could only have come out of the punk years. The album kicks off with “Mighty Idy,” a Little Richard-style wailer pushed further into craziness with buzzsaw guitars. The mix of old and new continues to work on “Destroyer,” which pounds away with a two chord riff and paranoid lyrics before a frat-party chant for the chorus. “Cinderella” is a sly, repetitive Stooges riff topped with organ fills. Walking basslines, surf instrumentals, and rockabilly hiccups are tossed into the punk hyperactivity. And the song “Don't Jump Me Mother” is a metallic knock out, undiluted by anything retro.

So this is more than a tight record by an overlooked band. It was the debut of an aesthetic that governs dozens of underground labels and three-day garage fests all over the world. There are far more bands playing in this style today than there ever were in the 1960s, and they're all louder than their presumed prototypes. The best acts follow the formula laid down here; cull the best riffs from everything that came before, repress all urges to be arty, progressive or political, and look for a good beat you can wig out to. While most of the garage scene affects a look of pre-hippie suburban delinquents, they're hooked to a sound that came from a bunch of surly '70s Bostonians.

By Ben Donnelly

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