Ter­rell’s Tune Up

Steve Ter­rell re­views Back From the Grave by The Sloths and Some of This Is True by Alien Space Kitchen

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I don’t know. Am I get­ting too old for this stuff? I mean, what does it say when I dis­cover a new — well, rel­a­tively new — al­bum from an ob­scure garage band I like via AARP? Garage rock for to­day’s ac­tive se­niors? That’s right, the lat­est mag­a­zine of the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Re­tired Per­sons (though they don’t call it that any­more, hav­ing de­cided on AARP it­self in 1999) has a feature on The Sloths, a Los An­ge­les band that started out in the mid-1960s. No, I don’t sub­scribe. But maybe I ought to. Af­ter all, AARP mag­a­zine last year pub­lished the first ac­tual Bob Dy­lan in­ter­view in years and sent copies of his al­bum Shadows in the Night to 50,000 ran­dom AARP mag­a­zine sub­scribers.

But while it’s easy to see that Dy­lan’s col­lec­tion of Frank Si­na­tra stan­dards would ap­peal to the old­sters — which I de­fine as peo­ple maybe three or four years older than me — The Sloths, as shown by their wild new record Back From the Grave, are still loud, raw, and some­times even snotty. They’re a rock­ing band, not a rock­ing-chair band. The Sloths are def­i­nitely not for the “early-bird spe­cial” crowd.

The group started out in 1965 as a band of high school­ers. They be­gan get­ting gigs dur­ing that ri­otous era at Sun­set Strip clubs, shar­ing stages with bands like The An­i­mals and The Doors.

The Sloths recorded only once. It was a 45 whose A-side fea­tured a prim­i­tive, angst-rid­den, hor­monal, Bo Did­dley-fired tune called “Makin’ Love.” Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad. It never was a hit. Ac­cord­ing to the present-day Sloths, ra­dio sta­tions wouldn’t play it be­cause the idea of high-school kids ex­press­ing their burn­ing de­sire to “make love” was too risqué to risk.

Soon af­ter “Makin’ Love” flopped, The Sloths broke up. Some mem­bers formed a new band called The May Wines that in­cluded a singer named Tom McLough­lin. They didn’t last long either. But though “Makin’ Love” didn’t sell much when it first came out, it be­came some­thing of a holy grail for fa­nat­i­cal garage-rock record col­lec­tors. At one point the orig­i­nal sin­gle of “Makin’ Love” in its orig­i­nal pic­ture sleeve re­port­edly was sell­ing on eBay for $6,550.

Ap­par­ently that was one of Michael Rum­mans’ in­spi­ra­tions for re­form­ing The Sloths. Rum­mans, the only orig­i­nal Sloth in its 21st-cen­tury ver­sion, re­cruited McLough­lin and other past mu­si­cal pals.

I got to see the new Sloths three years ago. They per­formed at the Pon­derosa Stomp in New Or­leans on a bill with sev­eral other garage-rock greats, in­clud­ing The Son­ics and The Standells. Though not as crazily in­tense as The Son­ics (who are in the same ba­sic age range), The Sloths played a cred­i­ble and fun-filled set at Pon­derosa. McLough­lin’s stage pres­ence was re­mark­able. Dur­ing the in­stru­men­tal break of the song “Never Enough Girls,” (which kicks off the new al­bum) he tried to blow up a cheap plas­tic sex doll, but ran out of time (or breath) be­fore he had to start singing the next verse.

As for Back From The Grave, it’s a fine col­lec­tion of good ba­sic rock ’n’ roll that’s al­most as good as The Sloths’ live show. Songs like “Ne ver Enough Girls,” “Lust,” “A Cutie Named Judy,” and a new record­ing of “Makin’ Love” show how smooth a tran­si­tion from horny high school kids to dirty old men can be.

But the most in­ter­est­ing songs here are the ones in which The Sloths’ ma­tu­rity is a ma­jor strength. There’s “One Way Out,” in which every verse is a bru­tal lit­tle story about a drug-ad­dled teenaged girl, a di­vorc­ing cou­ple, a sol­dier who snaps and com­mits an atroc­ity, and a sui­ci­dal kid who ends up preach­ing on the streets for some cult. McLough­lin tells the sto­ries in a voice that’s sym­pa­thetic but not about to pull any punches.

And even bet­ter is “Be­fore I Die,” in which McLough­lin turns on its head that fa­mous youth­ful dec­la­ra­tion by The Who. “I wanna be old be­fore I die,” he sings to a chug­ging Yard­birds-like beat. Here the singer isn’t self­ishly yearn­ing to cram more sex, drugs, and money into his life. In­stead he’s want­ing more time to apol­o­gize to peo­ple he’s hurt, pay off his debts, and “say things I should have said long ago.”

Here’s hop­ing for a long sec­ond life for The Sloths. Check out their web­site, www.thes­loths.org. Some of This Is True by Alien Space Kitchen. Here is a tough-rock­ing but ul­ti­mately catchy-sound­ing Albuquerque trio who de­scribe their sound as “garage-punk space-pop.” (They pre­vi­ously de­scribed their sound as “hot in­ter­stel­lar space punk for con­sent­ing adults.”) This, their sec­ond al­bum (sched­uled for re­lease in July) is a strong fol­low-up to their 2012 de­but, Just ASK.

The mu­sic on the new one is prob­a­bly a lit­tle stronger. On Just ASK, the band was ba­si­cally a duo, fea­tur­ing singer-guitarist Dru Vaugh­ter, and drum­mer (and singer) Noelle Graney. The new al­bum is the first with bassist Mess Mes­sal. Like their first one, Some of This Is

True has plenty of songs full of in­spired non­sense about space­ships and even space peo­ple. The open­ing cut is called “Alien Agenda,” which starts off with a slow gui­tar riff that sounds like some se­ri­ous Brit­folk-rock is about to be com­mit­ted. In­stead, the song ex­plodes with one of the stronger rock­ers on the al­bum. There are also the con­spir­acy-soaked “How to Fake a Lu­nar Land­ing” and “Welcome to Star 65.”

At the mo­ment, my fa­vorite songs here are the de­light­fully para­noid “The De­cline and Fall of Western Civ­i­liza­tion” and the rag­ing song that fol­lows it, “Bet­ter Daze.”

All in all, this would be a cool sound­track for an alien ab­duc­tion. Alien Space Kitchen plays Fri­day, June 24, at Burt’s Tiki Lounge in Albuquerque (313 Gold Ave. SW; 360-292-9735); the mu­sic starts at 8 p.m. with no cover charge. Visit www.alienspacek­itchen.com.

The Sloths, as shown by their wild new record Back From the Grave, are still loud, raw, and some­times even snotty. They’re a rock­ing band, not a rock­ing-chair band.

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