A song about a machine gun and other oddities from the strange world of Very Small Records
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In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we asked, “What’s a song you like by a band you know absolutely nothing about?”
A lot of people know Lookout! Records, the (sadly defunct) Berkeley-based indie punk label that gave Green Day its start, but few remember the other label Lookout! co-founder David Hayes ran, Very Small Records. For a brief period beginning in 1989, Very Small released some of the strangest music that could even be tangentially related to punk. These were bands mostly known only to a few people living in the Bay Area, and they never amounted to much beyond a single, a split 7-inch, or maybe an EP or album. No, they were best showcased on the occasional Very Small compilation, such as Vinyl Retentive, Very Small World, or my favorite, Four Two Pudding.
On it are a handful of songs I really enjoy, but I know nothing about the bands that made them. Pounded Clown’s “1-900” is an ode to those old phone-sex numbers, but made thoroughly strange by singer Dave Downey’s ultra-nasal voice, which actually sounds like a clown’s. Downey also sang in Lizards, who have a fantastically goofy song called “Shemp” about the Stooge. Sewer Trout’s awesomely satirical “Holiday In Romania” is a funny takedown of American junk food. Horny Mormons have a bizarre song about playing baseball with gerbils called “Field Of Gerbils.” Then there’s hysterically over-serious stuff like “A Flower In A Sea Of Shit” by the horribly named Logical Nonsense, or the early Offspring song “Tehran,” which proves the band was annoying even when it was playing metallic punk two decades ago. Most of it is strange and loose, like the bands banged out a take with little regard to tempo or tightness and called it a day.
My favorite song, though, is a more straightforward, Hüsker Dü-esque number called “My Machine Gun” by 23 More Minutes. It’s a perfect time capsule of the Bay Area sound at the beginning of the ’90s—though Google tells me the band was from New Mexico—a blast of melodic punk in the vein of Samiam, Fuel, and Unfun-era Jawbreaker propelled by a massively catchy guitar riff.
All of this is long out of print—some awesomely Web 1.0 band pages remain—but Four Two Pudding can be streamed on Bandcamp (along with some other Very Small releases), and diehards can kick down $12 for a 3.5-gig MP3 DVD of Very Small’s (incomplete) discography: 1,275 “songs,” as Hayes notes, of wildly varying quality. “The bitrate is all over the map. If you are the type of person who uses the word ‘bitrate’ in a question, you probably won’t like this.” Man, I miss this label.