The name Heavy Trash evokes memories of bulk-garbage pick-up day in my old neighborhood, when the garbage men would haul away old stoves, busted couches, rusted yard tools. Jon Spencer (yes, that Jon Spencer) and Matt Verta-Ray (of rockabilly punk act Speedball Baby), the two men who make up Heavy Trash, are not garbage men (though you never know, times are rough). But they do take a bulk-garbage approach to their music: throw rockabillyï¿½s rusted-out corpse right on top of a pile of stinking punk refuse, then pile a few discarded shards of R&B on top of that. The result is a Frankensteinï¿½s monster of genre detritus. When it works, itï¿½s a nice bit of musical alchemy. When it doesnï¿½t, well, it is garbage, after all.
Heavy Trash will likely garner attention because of the involvement of Spencer, who needs no introduction to anyone whoï¿½s followed independent music over the last two decades. From the calculated nihilism of Pussy Galore to the inexplicably still-active Blues Explosion (the indie-rock equivalent of Willie Mays in 1973, still hobbling out to the playing field years after the glory days), Spencerï¿½s been one of rockï¿½s prime practitioners of deconstructed, stripped-down garage-rock chaos. Hence, his pairing here with Verta-Ray makes sense. The two are rooted in rockï¿½s minimalist history and possess the chops to make even the most routine genre exercises sound at least passably good.
And unfortunately, thatï¿½s what much of Heavy Trashï¿½s debut record is: passably good, lacking enough originality to overcome sounding like a Southern-fried bar band pounding out Sun-era Johnny Cash and Elvis covers. ï¿½Dark Haired Riderï¿½ and ï¿½Justine Alrightï¿½ are prime examples, full of bombastic guitar swagger and curled-lip vocalizations but lacking the anachronistic sensibilities that have made the best of Spencerï¿½s and Verta-Rayï¿½s previous musical output so appealing.
The album has a few bright spots, especially in its latter half. ï¿½Gatorade,ï¿½ used here as a euphemism for womenï¿½s genitalia, overcomes its puerile premise solely on the libidinous conviction that Spencer brings to the lyrics (ï¿½Tastes so good, Iï¿½m amazed,ï¿½ goes one of the tamer lines). The boys slow things down with back-to-back ballads, ï¿½Fix These Bluesï¿½ and ï¿½Take My Hand.ï¿½ The former a mournful lament sung convincingly by Verta-Ray, the latter a late-ï¿½50s slow-dance tune filtered through an extra layer of distortion and sexual desperation.
The highlight, however, is its most anomalous song, ï¿½Mr. K.I.A.ï¿½ Here, the duo adds a pounding, heavy beat, electronic squall, and nonsensical lyrics to a simple guitar melody, creating a chain-gang song for the future (one in which the guards are laser-equipped robots, perhaps). This is where Heavy Trash best achieves its goal of creating twenty-first-century hillbilly-twang. If Spencer and Verta-Ray collaborate again, they should not hesitate to travel down similar musical roads.
Ultimately, this record is a mixed bag. It constantly retreads over tired musical ground, and as a result probably wonï¿½t result in many new fans for either Spencer or Verta-Ray. But itï¿½s certainly more than an inconsequential side project. Scavenge through this record like a bargain hunter on bulk pick-up night and youï¿½re bound to find a few treasures amidst the debris.