Founded by guitarist, bassist and “singer” (more about that later) Jeff Johnson, Teenage Boatpeople was/is a rock group if you will, minus the stigmata of idiocy that all rock groups reveal one day. Unsurprisingly, a thick blanket of utter ignorance has wrapped them since the year of birth, despite the publishing of (drum roll) an EP, namely 1979’s 4 By The Boatpeople, its content entirely reproduced in this excellent CD. Besides that, we’re offered four tracks from 1980 and the latest material from the recently reunited trio, the current lineup including Johnson, Milo Fine on percussion, reeds and keyboards and Tim Mauseth on bass, banjo and guitars. The participants in the older recordings also include Anny Unger, Ron Strabala and Suzie Atwood.
When Recommended Records was still located in London’s Wandsworth Road, they used to publish albums by bands whose style might have been vaguely comparable to TB’s. The lyrics (from the scarce fragments that I could decode, not exactly sunlit) are usually sung – no, make that wailed – through a megaphone-like equalization and laid upon riff-centered foundations privileging inauspicious bass lines. At the basis of our interest lies the contrast between this perturbed stability and Fine’s trademark hyperactivity, saturating the mix while leaving us free of detecting everything that happens. In a word: no gratuitous mess here but extreme consistency, outward appearance notwithstanding. “Don’t Go Out At Night” presents a perverted minimalism spiced with Ralph Records-era ingredients, “Festering Stores” is a stoned communiqué, “The Old In-Out” – unfolding throughout a carnival of detuned strings – predates Sonic Youth, but from the insides of a suffocating closet.
Add to this rhythm machines sounding like dreadful replicas of Timmy Thomas’s in Why Can’t We Live Together and you get a vague idea of the sublime cheapness turned into raw gold by the power of (ir)rationality that this record shows. Time to discover – with blameworthy delay – an exciting, unique unit, fresh sonorities gathering earlier instances in a satisfying blend of lucid interplay and sarcastic views (“She’s My Girlfriend”). These guys got the blues – of the right kind.