Friday, May 6, 2011

The Registrators- Sixteen Wires from the New Provocate (Mangrove, 1999; Rip Off Records, 2000)

To those of us who lived through it, the latter part of the 1990s clearly rates as one of the all-time classic eras of punk music. Only first wave (’77-’79) and early/pre hardcore (’80-’82) were better. There were SO many great bands going circa ’95-’99, many of whom (Teengenerate, Prostitutes, The Fuses) we’ve previously chronicled on these very pages. While I’d be hard-pressed to name one greatest punk band of the period, Japan’s mighty Registrators have to be in the conversation. How many other punk bands of that era delivered two certifiably classic full-length albums? How many other bands of that era managed to push the envelope of how punk music could sound while still retaining the energy and catchiness of the genre’s original definers? Throw in at least a full album’s worth of good-to-spectacular singles, and you’ve got yourself a recorded output for the ages! Depending on your sub-genre of choice, you could make a case for anyone from The Rip Offs to The Queers to Turbonegro as the supreme punk band of the mid-to-late ’90s. But if your top five doesn’t include The Registrators, I vehemently protest!

The mid-to-late ’90s was the golden era of garage punk LPs. Even amongst a slew of truly legendary titles, the Registrators’ 1996 debut Terminal Boredom stood out as an instant classic of the genre. Had the band chosen to make another album or two just like it, no one would have complained. But like a bunch of evil geniuses toiling away in the lab in pursuit of universal domination, The Registrators had something far more unprecedented in mind for their second LP. They were poised to take punk rock into the future. And initially, I was one of the skeptics. The new wave/post-punk thing was at the time becoming trendy, and I would have preferred more of the early Damned on amphetamines primitive trash-bashing action of Terminal Boredom. I simply didn’t “get it” at first. But I got it soon enough. Given my somewhat notorious appreciation for the “melodic” side of early punk, it was probably a surprise I didn’t immediately flip for the Buzzcockian mutations of Sixteen Wires. To the band’s credit, the “modernization” of its sound was achieved not through the use of electronic instrumentation, but rather through sheer musical inventiveness and the advantageous use of advancing recording technology. While more melody-driven and far “odder” than Terminal Boredom, Sixteen Wires in no way abandoned the band’s trademark hyper speed pogo punk motif. It simply took it to the next level. And in direct contrast to the cold, dark sounds that were passing for “new wave” in the late ’90s, Sixteen Wires is just wild, crazy fun!

From the moment it kicks into action, Sixteen Wires sounds like the work of a band that’s been wearing the grooves out of the Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP 24/7. You’ll swear that a young Shelley and Diggle are playing the leads and singing the harmonies! But easy as it may be to detect, this influence is just one element of many that make this record so extraordinary and distinctive. Perhaps if the ‘cocks had attempted to replicate the aggro-synth stylings of Ultravox and The Screamers with guitars, gotten hepped up on caffeine, and time traveled to 1999, they may have made a record like Sixteen Wires. Or maybe they wouldn’t have. The beauty of Sixteen Wires is that, really, no band but The Registrators could have made the album. It’s uniquely them - highlighted by Hiroshi’s crazed, wonderfully mangled English vocals, Ren’s out-of-this-world bass playing, and a generally off-kilter take on the punk rock sound that only a Japanese group could have fashioned. Somehow the band mashes together classic punk, lo-fi garage, and futuristic art-rock to create something totally fresh and legitimately “new”. The songs, while inflected with “experimental” tweaks of various sorts, are instantly likable and almost dangerously infectious. Side 1 scorchers like “School’s Lust” and “Panic Action” are as explosively catchy as anything off of Terminal Boredom, and even when the band really pushes the “weird” quotient, the results are massively enjoyable. Songs like “Pink Lipstick” and “Kiss Me Kiss Me” suggest what might happen if an army of aliens got ahold of some '70s punk recordings and started their own Martian new wave band. At times it sounds like The Registrators of old (the blazing “T.V. Hell” and “Automatic Exit” are re-records of A-sides from ’97), and at times it’s completely the opposite. The near-epic “Louder Faster” sounds like a long-lost masterpiece of English post-punk from 1980, while the magnum opus title track brings to mind the experimental side of the Buzzcocks’ A Different Kind of Tension.

It’s interesting to note that The Registrators kind of lost the plot after Sixteen Wires, their scant pre-breakup output ranging from pedestrian power pop to almost unlistenable indie rock. Much like another defining punk band of a particular era, The Clash, they had probably reached such heights of greatness that there was nowhere left to go but off the cliff. But isn’t that the sort of problem almost every band in the world wishes it had? The last time I spoke on the telephone with resident DS pundit Shawn Abnoxious, he told me The Registrators were going to save rock n’ roll. This must have been 1997, ’98 – a couple years before anyone knew what was coming in Sixteen Wires. I can only surmise that Shawn saw the future, that perhaps he’d even traveled there with The Registrators and sat in their luxury sky box. I’m reminded of the plot of that classic American film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, in which the very foundation of civilization surviving is predicated upon the existence of a rock band. I can truly imagine a future world in which Sixteen Wires is hailed as society’s salvation and all the little cyborg children fall at Hiroshi’s feet. Even in our more primitive early 2000s, we encountered scores of bands that attempted (mostly in vain) to emulate the modern punk sound of Sixteen Wires. If it were simply as easy as utilizing phaser guitar, choppy rhythms, discordant instrumentation, and bizarre vocal effects, this album could have been re-made a dozen times over and perhaps even improved upon. But as we well all know, that wasn’t it at all. Great music results from neither style nor techniques. It results from talent and inspiration, and The Registrators had both in abundance. Sixteen Wires is far more than merely a groundbreaking achievement. It’s simply a great album on every level. It’s fun to listen to and contains a large number of truly classic songs. Here’s a top secret known only by the reptilian hybrid men who live under ground and clandestinely control all the world’s governments: The Registrators did save rock n’ roll. Eventually, we will all be informed.
-Josh Rutledge

22 comments:

Shawn Abnoxious said...

Josh. thank you for your kind words and direct referencing of myself in this review. I feel as though that my whole existence of writing and publishing since my most humble beginnings to wherever it will lead, have been completely validated, and at the same time, vindicated, by your reference. This all comes from the Sky-Box (Box Of Sky), which is teeming with a certain amount of vibration again... or I could just have gas. Time will tell.

LONG LIVE THE REGISTRATORS!

Shawn Abnoxious said...

By the way, The next 'species' to inherit the earth is insects. The future is theirs and they will drive in vehicles using our fossils as fuel and eating $1 double cheeseburgers while wearing shirts with vague sayings on them i.e. 'FOOTBALL' whilst bitching abput their war on terror.

I will be proud that they drive on my bones and I thank them in adavnce for thinking so kindly about the ast and putting bones of my future ancestors in their museums.

gunther said...

Played the last two Buzzcocks albums last night. They still turn the trick.

Rutledge said...

I agree about the insects. They're already invading my home. Today, my half-bath. Tomorrow, the universe.

File Buzzcocks under the special category of band that's never made a sub-par record. It's a short, short list.

gunther said...

I watched a show hosted by Morgan Spurlock several years ago. He had gone to India to work in a call center for 30 days. When Spurlock looked inside the bathroom of a host family, he saw a hornets nest in the shower.

Shawn Abnoxious said...

I just had Department One, a watchdog organization of my own creation, look into DS coverage of The Buzzcocks. This REG review and coverage of Naked Raygun were the only coverage of the band... No full review done (yet).

So, much like the space race, I am officially opening up The Buzzcocks review race... Which nation will get there First? GUNTERTONIA or JOSHVANNIA?

Shawn Abnoxious said...

Also... I took a pix of the screen as Olive and I are watching the movie FOLLOW THAT BIRD and I dedicated the japanese subtitles to this review of the REGS. I also used the term 'Japunk' in reference to the band i.e. 'japanime'

I love that shit...

I have the picture on FLICKR as The Big Drop....

Rutledge said...

I will cede the honor to the G-man, given his openly expressed love for all the recent Buzzcocks albums. Now we wait to see which album he picks! Think I'm doing The Jags next.

Shawn Abnoxious said...

Im always excited to check out whats next on the DS.... thats what pundits do! Fuck yeah.

gunther said...

I'll most likely review the Buzzcocks in October or November. Shawn, how old is that movie?

Rutledge said...

Took a good run at The Jags but just wasn't feeling it. Gonna start over with Rick Springfield.

Rutledge said...

The Jags review abandoned, I am making great headway with Rick Springfield. If not quite Air Supply epic, it should be a great read.

Shawn Abnoxious said...

Abandond review? How mysterious... Just put that chit on the backburner bruddy. Thats a band i know little about and would enjoy reading.

But then again i enjoy everything on DS. My support is unconditional. Bring on the Springfield!

Shawn Abnoxious said...

Last night a rapper head-butted me in my face cause he said i disrespected him.

Then, i laughed at him because it was all over me reading my poems... funnnnnnnnie.

gunther said...

Next time, wear a helmet and crush his jaw.

Rutledge said...

Taking your advice, Shawn, and keeping that Jags review alive on the backburner. I even have a pretty decent premise: that "Back of My Hand" in its masterful Elvis Costello copyism, is an immortal song a la other great rock imitations like Ready for the World's "Oh Sheila" and Terry Stafford's "Suspicion". Might have it done by Christmas.

Shawn Abnoxious said...

Christmas... If we make it till christmas.. Pessimism abounds.

Gloom & Doom in the Eight Valleys today for no apparent reason. HURMPF! (is that a REAL word back there?)

Still cant wait to read it bruddy.

gunther said...

I've got a Jags comp somewhere. Might be slightly north of the Starjets disc. I'll check the compass. Great angle for the review, Josh. Would Julian Lennon's "Too Late For Goodbyes" be DQ-ed for genetics?

Shawn Abnoxious said...

About that compass reference Gunny...

I thought my nap was incomplete, but a thought has just came to me about the compass... The compass uses mainly FOUR Directions and combinations of those directions to create bearings for readings and such. We have been stuck with those original FOUR for quite sometime now.

Well, no more! I have decided to acknowledge a FIFTH direction, to be represented by the letter M for direction of the MIND, or MENTAL direction! Extending upward from the center of the original four directions, the inclusion of the MIND into the compass opens up a whole plethora of combo directions...

North By Mind....

Expansion of The Original Compass, as first witnessed on Dirty Sheets, in a review about The Registrators none-the-less. Like i said, it was a better nap than originally thought!!!!

gunther said...

Sometimes, the "S" should stand for "Stop."

Rutledge said...

I would most certainly urge you to go forward with a Julian Lennon piece. The man's gotten a raw deal in life. He made some good music and ought to be given a little press. Maybe we can even get him to follow us on Twitter.

gunther said...

JL had been scheduled to play a free show at the East Coast Surfing Championships in VB, but the gig was pulled at the last second. Like all of society's ills, blame it on Yoko.