Steel Pole Bath Tub

Unlistenable

From 1987 to 1997, S.F. trio Steel Pole Bath Tub generated a distinctive bluster that straddled the line between riff-driven rock and avant-noise. Drummer Darren Mor-X, guitarist Mike Morasky, and bassist Dale Flattum steadily churned out groundbreaking recordings for Boner and other independent labels, each time improving upon the last. The band's buzz eventually culminated in a signing to the major label Slash/London, which released the album Scars From Falling Downin 1995.

Even after realizing that no fountain of cash was going to spew from this Tub, the label still gave Steel Pole some money to flesh out "new ideas." Rather than shoot for the commercial zenith, the band laid down experimental tracks in various living rooms and behind a car-repair shop, discarding prior notions of what Steel Pole was "supposed" to be. The resultant demos were deemed "unlistenable" by the label, the band was dropped, and drummer Mor-X soon relocated to Chicago, with the tapes left to languish until recently.

More unhinged and adventurous than past efforts, Unlistenablekicks off with the back-alley noir atmospherics of "Spoon House," which segues into "Action Man Theme," a catchy, hard-charging instrumental with a surfy spy soundtrack feel. From there, things get weirder and weirder. "Black Eye Fixer" alternates between moody guitar twang, throbbing bass, and a lurching midtempo stomp, accompanied by tin-can vocals and something that sounds like sloshing water. Then comes "What I Need," the first of three ominously lumbering Cars covers, of which "My Best Friend's a Girl" (sic) is the most brilliantly warped.

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Elsewhere, there's plenty of insanely distorted guitars and squawk-box disruption, often wrapped around powerhouse drumbeats that sound like they were recorded in the back of a garage. (Oh, right, they were.) The album seemingly ends with "H2O 2," a lo-fi micro-anthem that evokes Guided by Voices, only to fire up again 20 minutes later with a lengthy "hidden track" that resembles both theremin-y Led Zeppelin and scratchy funk guitar noise.

Admittedly, it's easy to see why these compositions were rough on tender major-label eardrums, but they're hardly unlistenable. In fact, this is some of the most accessible stuff Steel Pole ever did. While much of the band's back catalog was compelling on a song-by-song basis, there was an overall focus on verse-chorus-verse minor-key rock that gave the band a one-dimensionality. On Unlistenable, the group threw caution to the wind and accidentally created the most engaging album of its career, with creative production that makes it sound unusually current. When they were given their walking papers by Slash, the members of Steel Pole Bath Tub were told they'd recorded a "soundtrack to nothing" -- this reissue proves how wrong those execs were.

 
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