Revenge of the Nerds, Parts One and Two

Hella Rad takes on the trouser mafia; Anagrams spell relief

Beware the trouser mafiaThe members of the trouser mafia don't use guns; their weapons are sneers and sneakers, hair gel and v-necks, hooks and harmonies. Jason Smith, drummer for punk-poppers Knulla Roofs and the late, lamented Gazillions, describes this Bay Area brand of mafioso as "the haircut-having, sweater-wearing, too-cool-for-school pop kids," and credits local artist Jenny Raven with the term. Until recently, the only place you could find such trouser thugs was onstage or in the audience at pop shows; now, thanks to Smith and his pals, you can revel in their exploits on vinyl.

The Trouser Mafia Seven-Inch Record, the first release by Oakland's Hella Rad label, lampoons the social labyrinths and snooty vibes of the indie pop scene. The A-side features "Indie Don't Get Laid," written by Granfaloon Bus guitarist Ajax Green as part of a contest during last year's Belle & Sebastian West Coast tour. The Scottish group's label, Matador Records, sponsored a competition in which a songwriter could win tickets to a show by crafting a tune that included a line from a B&S song. Green's cheeky, twangy number won on the strength of lyrics like "He wears nerdy glasses/ And he'll help with your taxes/ And when you smile/ He'll melt like molasses/ Cuz indie don't get laid."

The B-side is a catchy track by Smith called "The S.F. Pop Scene," which he says is "in reverence to and ridicule of" said milieu. Recorded with Chris Wetherell and Jane Pinckard of East Bay pop band Dealership, the tune features indie pop's trademark "ba-ba" vocals and handclaps, as well as snide remarks about aping the "fucked-up haircuts your mother had when you were a tyke."

Neither home-recorded song would've been saved for posterity if it weren't for Bill Fisher, keyboardist for the Cubby Creatures. Fisher, who's a friend of both Green and Smith, formed Hella Rad just to release the tunes -- picking the label name because he wanted something East Bay-oriented -- and threw a party at Smith's house to get rid of the 45s. At the shindig, Green and Smith played their songs, Fisher silk-screened the record's cover image onto T-shirts, and a dog got coated with ketchup. You could say it was a smashing success.

Fisher wasn't planning to do any further releases, but he had such a good time with Mafiathat he's already scheduled two more: a single by Smith's Knulla Roofs (playing the Stork Club on Friday, Oct. 11) and a CD-R by Ben Gustin, a Zen Buddhist country singer. As for the trouser mafia, Smith says he hasn't heard from them -- yet. To order or listen to The Trouser Mafia Seven-Inch Record, go to http://geocities.com/hellaradrecords.

Revenge, or rather "Gee, Vern"The pursuit of anagrams is incredibly nerdy. Those poor souls who busy themselves taking one word or phrase and rearranging its letters to make another -- turning, for instance, "funeral" into "real fun" -- make spelling-bee champions look like homecoming queens. Leave it to two former Bay Area artists to make anagrams not just cool, but caustic. S.F. expats Brandan Kearney and Gregg Turkington spent much of the '90s in the local underground rock scene, collaborating with such eccentrics as Caroliner, Zip Code Rapists, Anton LaVey, and Neil Hamburger. The latter, a "faux comedian" known for purposely telling jokes that aren't funny, should clue you in to the prankster vibe of Kearney and Turkington's new book, Warm Voices Rearranged, the title being a rearrangement of the volume's subtitle, Anagram Record Reviews.

Published by Chicago hipster record label Drag City, the 76-page tome pokes fun at bands by creating anagrams from their album titles. "Bob Marley's Catch a Fire" becomes the drug warning "If a scary bore, blame THC," and "the Grateful Dead's greatest hits compilation album Skeletons from the Closet" morphs into "Let's behold Garcia's corpse, men! Death took fat guitarist to Hell ... left smut, semen!" Yes, the book's incredibly juvenile and mean-spirited, but who's to say that Starship, Counting Crows, and, um, Jello Biafra don't deserve a smack upside the noggin? As the mirthfully academic preface points out, Kearney and Turkington didn't name the bands -- they just took the letters they were offered. They can't help it if "the Beastie Boys' massive hit, Licensed to Ill" yields "Obese novices yell. This lame shit aids Tibet?" Revenge of the nerds, indeed.

 
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