I can’t say I fondly remember those bands because I was too young to be going to clubs at the time. Listening to this music later in life, I almost wish I could have seen these bands live or bought those albums back then. (Maybe I can fish them out the next time I visit Honolulu.)
Of course, all of these albums wear their Mainland influences on their sleeves, and there’s little really local about them. Their sense of Hawaii is primarily geographic. But that would have suited me fine as a young kid. I never liked Hawaiian music much, and I don’t anticipate developing a taste for it any time in the near nor distant future.
Hat Makes the Man, Searching the Fertile Fields
Hat Makes the Man is perhaps one of the most recognizable local New Wave bands, thanks in part to a regular gig at Wave Waikiki. Even I couldn’t avoid hearing promos of the shows on the radio. Searching the Fertile Fields is a live album containing original material mixed with songs from the band’s cassette-only self-titled release. The band’s bright, jangly pop certainly taps into the zeitgeist of the time, but the performances and songwriting feels vital even today. Guitarist/singer Peter Bond has a knack for finding complementary voices, first with Marti Kerton, later with Claudette Bond in Spiny Norman. Drummer Frank Orrall would eventually form Poi Dog Pondering. Listen to the entire album.
Mystery Crash, Mystery Crash
I encountered Mystery Crash on the No Place to Play cassette compilation released by Jelly’s Books and Music in the late ’80s. The band would eventually record a full album, and the clarity of the studio nicely captures Mystery Crash’s ominous sound. On some tracks, the heavy reverb makes them sound almost ethereal, but on others, the propulsive drumming of Mike Roberts gives the album a kick. Listen to the complete cassette tape.
The Wrong, Ethel Merman Jism Spoon
At first, the lack of any sense of stereo on Ethel Merman Jism Spoon felt distracting, but the sheer force of the Wrong’s performances actually makes it work. Released in 1989, the album got some decent press, but the band didn’t manage to break into the San Francisco scene to which they moved. Pity. Ethel Merman Jism Spoon has a maniacal energy, and I could easily picture myself spinning this album on a regular basis. Listen to the full album.
The Squids, The Squids
The Squids manage to pack a lot of music in four tracks on this self-titled EP. "Tourist Riot" is more punk than the Talking Heads ever mustered, "’Love Theme’ from Surf Boy" indulges in surf twang (natch), "Rio" heads straight for ska, while the robotic rhythms of "In" requires no MIDI or drum machines. The EP lacks the band’s catchiest song, "Head in the Sand", but it’s enough to wish the Squids could have stayed a bit longer in the studio. Listen to the full EP.