Permanent Records is an ongoing closer look at the records that matter most.
“I’m a failure and I’m digging it,” goes the last line of “Up For A Downslide,” from the 1993 debut of New Bomb Turks. Without any context, the line could’ve been lifted from any of the self-loathing moan-rock of the grunge era, but “Up For A Downslide” wasn’t another midtempo dirge from Seattle. This was sarcastic, balls-out garage-punk from Ohio that thought all of that stuff took itself too seriously.
“Considering there were no major wars going on, the economy was doing all right, and there was a well-spoken lover boy in the Oval Office, it’s not really clear why grunge’s whining was so appealing,” writes New Bomb Turks vocalist Eric Davidson in We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001, his chronicle of “the last great wave of down-and-dirty rock ’n’ roll.” “Though it did seem like yet another extension of the post-Sgt. Pepper’s misjudgment that ‘important’ rock music must be overproduced, midtempo, and certainly never silly or fun.”
!!Destroy-Oh-Boy!! would never be considered important by those standards. Overproduced? Well, put it this way: The band recorded a staggering 20 songs at a studio in Brooklyn over one day, after jettisoning the previous day’s recordings because they didn’t feel right. And they weren’t all first takes: “Typically we would do a song repeatedly, sometimes as much as 10 times, until [producer] Mike Mariconda was satisfied,” says NBT guitarist Jim Weber in the liner notes of the record’s new 20th anniversary reissue.
That the band played multiple takes of many of the 20 songs and still finished in roughly 10 booze-fueled hours speaks to Davidson’s second hallmark of supposedly important music: a middle tempo. !!Destroy-Oh-Boy!! fails here again. “The speed of the songs on the record is largely attributed to this,” Weber writes. “We would get so worked up when we were on the fifth take of something that it would just pour out in a burst of nervous energy.”
!!Destroy-Oh-Boy!! is all shuddering energy, from the opening salvos of “Born Toulouse-Lautrec” to the side-one closer “We Give A Rat’s Ass.” Side two continues it with “Runnin’ On Go” and doesn’t really slow down until the cover of Wire’s “Mr. Suit.” The sound qualifies as punk, but owes a significant debt to classic rock ’n’ roll, just sped up, made more intense, and decidedly playful (disqualifying it for the third hallmark of important music). In his book, Davidson notes that people called it “punk ’n’ roll,” “lo-fi punk,” “beer punk,” and more, but he decided on “gunk punk” for his book, though he notes “such denunciations are never the bother for bands of this ilk.”
!!Destroy-Oh-Boy!! is fast, simple, and straightforward, but with personality and charm to spare. The New Bomb Turks would release another six full-lengths before petering out in the early 2000s (though it still performs occasionally), but the band made its boldest, most electrifying statement on its debut. The new reissue offers a chance to discover its greatness all over again.