Monday, 22 August 2016

The PDX-Files: Godless "Who's in control?" Lp, 1992

Finally. Back again.

I would love to tell you that I have returned wiser, smarter and sharper than ever, that I was waiting for the right time to write again and that my resurrection will reveal Terminal Sound Nuisance's unfading glory to the eyes of the unconverted. But let's get real, I have just been lazy really and besides, it is pretty sunny here, in Paris, and I did have other important things to do, like exhibit obscure punk shirts to the world. Yes, I am a smug wanker sometimes. But anyway, enough with the turpitude of life, let's get to it. I had originally not planned to start a PDX series for my comeback but after giving some super deep thoughts to it, I figured it could be a wonderfully geeky way to get back on tracks.

Not unlike Japanese punk, my relationship with Portland punk has always been a tormented one. To an extent, I felt that the never-ending hype surrounding the city was overbearing and tended to overshadow other worthy bands. Although I will be the first to admit that the PDX mania is more indicative of the obsessiveness of punx outside of the fantasized PDX scene than anything else, it still seemed that, no matter what, PDX bands were inherently cooler (the "Had they been from Portland" theorem derives from this) and to this day, the mere mention "from Portland" on a gig flyer is often enough to make sure you will attract enough people (granted, some of them will be hipsters, but at least they seldom scrounge to get in). But then, my directionless mumbles about PDX bands regardless, I couldn't help liking a lot of the bands that the punk scene has produced over there and I certainly was not the last one to buy those cool records from cool bands. I hate, but also love, to say it: PDX punk is often synonymous with quality. By no means am I an expert in US punk but there does seem to be something special and alluring about the city that has given birth to so many great punk bands in every known subgenres (with the apparent exception of ska-punk but it is really all for the best) and it is no coincidence that so many people want to move there (I mean, it cannot be weather-related, right?).

I won't be talking about the first time I heard about Portland but if you need to know (in case anyone wants to write my biography some day), it was through the Bulls vs Blazers video game, from 1992, that I had on Genesis, and having watched a video of it today, I sadly realize that it looked much uglier than I remembered. The second encounter with Portland was fortunately more determinant and came much later through the first Defiance Lp, which incidentally made me aware that Poison Idea were also from there. And little by little, as I started to sink irresistibly, deeper and deeper in the awe-inspiring depths of punk music, I noticed that Resist and Final Warning, but also Detestation and Atrocious Madness were from Portland, and that it was cooler to mention it as PDX (which I will actually do from now on). What was with PDX? In these pre-internet days (for me anyway), unaided by my distinctively British punk upbringing, I was clueless at first. And then, analyzing the thank lists (my main sources of information), I realized that while there were to be millions of bands, it was pretty much always the same people playing in them. It was my first contact with the all-important notion of inbreeding as applied to punk bands. A touching moment indeed. As years went by, I got to see many PDX bands play, bought more PDX records than reasonable and became aware that every self-respecting knowledgeable punks loved PDX punk, even secretly, although, for some very strange reason that epitomizes the paradoxical nature of human beings, it was both cool to love it and cool to dislike it because it was almost too cool to take sometimes, and it is pretty cool to dis outrageously cool things. Know what I mean?

But enough talk already and let's tackle the first PDX punk record of the series: "Who's in control?" by Godless. Now, I must confess that for a series that is supposed to be übercool, I did not really pick the coolest band of the block as an opener (a quick look at how much the Lp goes for on discogs is the sad proof of it). And their inexorable fall into obscurity does not really make sense because Godless were excellent and, although completely of their time, they still sound remarkably original, inventive and insanely catchy. I cannot really think of another 90's US anarchopunk bands sounding quite like them. Information about Godless is scarce but I did find a 1994 interview of the band that appeared in an issue of Flipside and gives a little background to the band's work. Godless emerged from a previous band called Corrupted ("No, not the Japanese one!" Captain Obvious yelled) that was formed by the singer Leslie in 1989 and came to include Matt on guitar. After numerous line-up changes, the band changed its name to Godless (it would be easy to scream "Nausea reference" but I don't think so) and settled to a relatively stable three-piece with the addition of Ty Smith on drums (from the classic anarchopunk band, Resist, and the not-so-famous neanderthal crust side-projects Namland and Amnesty, he seemed to be a busy bloke that one). After "Who's in control?" - and after other members coming and going apparently - the band became a five-piece with Ward Young (also ex-Resist and Amnesty) on second guitar and Jason on bass (Leslie, as well as singing, played the bass on the Lp). It was this line-up, I believe, that recorded the self-titled Ep for Campary Records in 1993, that I have sadly never heard.

The genesis of "Who's in control?" is as chaotic as the inception of the band. The 13 songs were written between 1990 and 1992 and were meant to appear on an Lp, but the band still released 6 of them as a "pre-album demo" because the album took too long to be released. There is a mention of a fourth member in the interview who is supposed to have played the guitar on the Lp, Molly, but there is no trace of her anywhere on the actual record, which is a little weird to say the least. But anyway, "Who's in control?" was put out by the always reliable Tribal War Records (with Neil Robinson still based in New York at the time) and it was the label's second release. The Lp was produced by Thee Slayer Hippy, aka Poison Idea's drummer, and recorded at Smegma Studio, just like so many other PDX punk records from that era, and it is not far-fetched to claim that this place may have helped define the classic PDX sound from the early 90's on to this day and age.

Musically, Godless played highly energetic and deliciously catchy American political punk-rock that borrowed equally from US hardcore and British anarchopunk. I suppose it could also be relevant to see the sound of the band, with the very dynamic, snotty female vocals and the typical American flow of the language, in the light of the then growing Riot Grrrl movement, not unlike bands like Smut or even The Gits perhaps. Godless used a variety of beats into their songs, from fast hardcore punk like Dan or Conflict ("No, not the English one!" Captain Not-So-Obvious yelled), upbeat punk-rock like Action Pact or The Expelled, or mid-paced moody punk like Lost Cherrees or A-Heads. The structuring, recurring motif in the band's music is catchiness, a word I am known to use to death in my permanent ravings. But still, although rather simple and direct, the music is always tasteful with enough smart hooks to get you to listen to the full Lp. The production is probably a bit thin but I think it gives the band this extra raw energy and a feel of urgency that work particularly well and provide some balance with the amazing vocal work. Because the real star of the show is definitely Leslie's voice. Intense, emotional, powerful and just so bloody tuneful. She really CAN sing. It is difficult to find relevant points of comparison between "real" singers (it is always easier with cavemen growls, isn't it?) but I am strongly reminded of Jae Monroe, from APPLE, who were contemporary with Godless, but were essentially a slow-paced punk band, while Godless did fasten things up at times, which makes Leslie's singing even more impressive. There are also times when Jools from Dan or even Kay from Youthinasia/Decadent Few come to mind. Retrospectively, a band like Godless, not unlike Post-Regiment, opened the gates to that brand of female-fronted, fast yet tuneful, punk-rock that almost became a genre of its own with bands like La Fraction or Signal Lost.

There are two covers on "Who's in control?", Conflict's "I've had enough"(this time, I am referring to the Brits) and Rudimentary Peni's "Blissful myth", so that gives you an idea of what Godless were about ideologically. Unsurprisingly, the lyrics are angry, to the point and deal with such topics as animal welfare, homophobia, domestic violence, feminism, religious indoctrination, the capitalists' invasion of "free" Eastern Europe and the need to think for ourselves. Good shit. I am not a big fan of the cover however, which I find frighteningly creepy and not really representative of the band's sound (it would have been more fitting for a bandana-wearing crossover band I presume).

Last but not least, I suggest you read the thank list because, besides spotting most of the anarcho/crusty bands and people active in the States in the early 90's, you will also find someone called... Mark Landers! Now, depending on where you are from, it may not mean anything to you and you will probably think I have irrevocably lost my marbles this time. But if, like me, you grew up in France during the 80's and were into Japanese anime, Mark Landers was the bad boy in the excruciating and hilarious football anime "Olive et Tom" (aka "Captain Tsubasa" in Japan) and was a bit of an iconic character in my childhood (his signature move was called "the Tiger shot", that's how cool and badass he was). If anything, this only confirms what I have been thinking all along: PDX bands are so cool that they have Mark Landers on their thank lists.

Mark Landers in all his glory



  1. i have ep by them, didnt put it on turntable for too long, now is the chance ;)

    1. Definitely. And let me know if it is as good as the Lp ;)

  2. Haha très agréable à lire!!!! Et article intéressant sur un groupe méconnu, je te dirai ce que j'en pense! :)

  3. Man, I played Bulls vs Blazers on SNES too!
    Totally forget about it, it was far to be my fave game :-)
    But who cares ? Let's give a try to Godless's LP.
    Tribal war always means quality to me. I was kind of surprised to not see first Harum Scarum's in the anarchy US serie. Cheers!

    1. Ha! It looks like every 30-something played that game (ça a bien veilli, regarde une video youtube à l'occasion) and I used to be fairly decent at it I think.

      About Harum Scarum... I toyed with the idea of including them in the anarcho series, they were on my shortlist but they only really had that typical 90's anarcho sound on the first Lp, and my favourite is the second one, so all in all I decided not to include them.
      Let me know what you think about Godless, I think you might like the Lp ;)

  4. 1st, congrats on the blog, I'm following it since it's very beginnings and really enjoy your writings..
    2nd, I also played blazers vs bulls but on super nintendo back then, clyde drexler was a bad ass player..
    3rd, thanx on this post, must admit I didn't heard about this band never before and they sound quite interesting..
    4th, there wasn't H. Scarum in the anarchy US series but that doesn't mean that this injustice can't be corrected in this pdx series ;)..
    and 5th, as on the thanks list says cheers and beers to all!!.. and special cheers to axegrinder, hehe..

    1. Hey!
      Thanks a lot for the kind words mate. Should we all start playing Bulls vs Blazers again and organize a punk tournament? :)
      I hope you will enjoy Godless, for some reason they are a really obscure band although they played top quality catchy punk with some of the best female vocals I have heard coming from the US anarcho scene.
      About Harum Scarum... Man, I am sorry to disappoint but they won't be included in the PDX one. I will do "Suppose we try" at some point as part of a series about female-fronted bands with very sung vocals (I am still thinking about it, but bands like La Fraction, El Banda, Dan or Ballast have come to mind so far, though it is still very much a work in progress, not before the end of the year).

    2. yes, I like Godless so far, especially those faster songs like Think, don't follow and Blood and Tears..
      okay then, looking forward to those female-fronted bands posts..

  5. I never cared for the Portland anarcho sound. It's not my kind of punk in general, but I particularly didn't like the bass sound and vibe. The lyrics and themes? Yes. The feel of the music? Not so much. But this album is one of the best I've heard, and it was one of the first I heard. I'm enjoying your writing and analysis far more than I can the music. -ZM

    1. I can imagine the PDX anarcho sound not being your cup of tea. It is a genre I really grew up with and that used to look up to. I would be lying if I said I often play these bands at home but then, I guess it is always interesting to look critically at bands you loved as a teenager. I actually got this Godless Lp only a few years ago though and I had never heard of them (this copy had been sleeping in a friend's distro forever as he used to distribute Tribal War and Squat or Rot stuff in the early 90's over here) but the Lp is very solid for the genre and they actually nailed covers of Conflict and Peni, which is not so easy.

      The following records of this series should be more to your liking I suppose ;)

      Thanks for the kind words.