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BUTTHOLE SURFERS (Buy CDs by this artist)
Butthole Surfers (Alternative Tentacles) 1983 (Latino Buggerveil) 2002
Psychic ... Powerless ... Another Man's Sac (Touch and Go) 1984 (Latino Buggerveil) 1999
Live PCPPEP (Alternative Tentacles) 1984 (Latino Buggerveil) 2002
Cream Corn from the Socket of Davis EP (Touch and Go) 1985
Rembrandt Pussyhorse (Touch and Go) 1986 (Latino Buggerveil) 1999
Locust Abortion Technician (Touch and Go) 1987 (Latino Buggerveil) 1999
Hairway to Steven (Touch and Go) 1988 (Latino Buggerveil) 1999
Widowermaker! EP (Touch and Go) 1989
Double Live (Latino Buggerveil) 1989
"The Hurdy Gurdy Man" EP (Rough Trade) 1990
piouhgd (Rough Trade) 1991 (Capitol) 1992
Independent Worm Saloon (Capitol) 1993
The Hole Truth ... and Nothing Butt! (Trance Syndicate) 1995
Electriclarryland (Capitol) 1996
After the Astronaut (unreleased) 1998
Weird Revolution (Hollywood) 2001
Humpty Dumpty LSD (Latino Buggerveil) 2002
JACKOFFICERS
Digital Dump (Rough Trade) 1990
DADDY LONGHEAD
Cheatos (Touch and Go) 1991
PAUL LEARY
The History of Dogs (Rough Trade) 1991
DRAIN
Pick Up Heaven (Trance Syndicate) 1992
Offspeed and in There (Trance Syndicate) 1996
P
P (Capitol) 1995

There are few experiences in this life that leave one feeling as sullied as a spin through the grooves of a Butthole Surfers record. Unlike so many nouveau scuzzbos, Austin's Buttholes don't descend into the depths of squalor to make a point about the human condition — they just like it down there. Splotches of noise from guitarist Paul Leary and Gibby Haynes' tortured screams are these enigmatic Texans' bread and butter. When the noise revs up really fast, it sounds almost like hardcore, but this band relies more on filth than speed or power. The Butties inflict and exorcise pain like other people eat potato chips, and whatever debts they owe to Flipper and Public Image Ltd. would probably be forgotten if they'd just go away. There's clearly no one like 'em.

The self-titled seven-song debut (also issued on colored vinyl under the title Brown Reason to Live) poses its threat to the social order through a varied thrash-to-Beefheart-blues attack and an inspired/inspiring set of lyrics. "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave" is the obvious anthem while, on "Suicide," Gibby sets political matters aside for an intensely personal statement: "I'm not fucking kidding man, it hurts!" On the other hand, "Hey" is almost subdued, Feelies-style material — extremism sometimes takes the oddest forms, don't it?

Also seven songs long, Live PCPPEP offers denser and dirtier treatments of some of the first record's non-hits as well as such unveilings as "Cowboy Bob" and "Dance of the Cobras." The biggest improvement is the new brother and sister standup drumming team. In 2002, the band combined those first two records, added two bonus live tracks, a demo of "Something" (the song's third variation) and the studio track "Sinister Crayon" and released the whole shebang on its Latino Buggerveil label.

Another Man's Sac (originally pressed on clear vinyl) shows an addled creative sensibility — you were expecting them to develop into Hall and Oates? The faint-at-heart may not survive this assault, but then they probably don't deserve to.

The 12-inch Cream Corn From the Socket of Davis EP hauls more sediment and sludge up from the gutter and onto the turntable, hitting its high point with "Moving to Florida," a cloying ear nuzzle imparted over Crampsian dirtabilly. (The CD of Rembrandt Pussyhorse also contains the EP's four songs.) Mixing deranged blues, metal-punk and an overriding sense of anarchy, these loonies don't make guitars scream, they make 'em vomit and choke on it. At this point, Kramer joined the band on bass.

Rembrandt Pussyhorse takes a gonzo psychedelic approach that is (dare it be said) downright arty in its bizarre sonic experimentation. With some of the bowel-grinding dregs toned down, piano, organ, violin and a plethora of guitar techniques make the album a real diversion. Of special note is a cover of the Guess Who's "American Woman," which, in the Butties' bloody hands, sports a huge drum sound and metallic guitar, with tinny, atonal voices — imagine Nile Rodgers producing the Residents.

Locust Abortion Technician — which typically offers absolutely no information about the parties responsible — ebbs and flows like organic waste, an unpredictable flux of noise, movie score politeness, grating grunge-rock, fake folk, chirping birds, voices, tape manipulations and words, done at various recording speeds. "Sweat Loaf" (an homage of sorts to Black Sabbath) launches the record with silence, speaking and then manic rock gusto; "22 Going on 23" ends it with grinding radio vérité.

With an incredible cover and numerous nods to the '60s, Hairway to Steven is as varied as it is entertaining: the program includes acoustic guitars competing with bowling alley sounds, half-speed vocals mixed (shades of "Third Stone from the Sun") with Hendrixy guitar psychedelia, live (maybe) cowbunk storytelling, straightforward (well...) melodic songsmithery and flat-out audio hysteria. Reactionary times demand inspirational rebels like the Buttholes.

The double-live Double Live is a self-released bootleg, a monumental 19-song (29 on CD) career sampler (plus an R.E.M. cover!), recorded — for the most part — as clearly as such distorted music ought to be. Largely removed from the manipulative possibilities of the studio (although things do manage to turn very weird on "The One I Love"), the Butties aren't the ultimate sonic bizarros, but Gibby's madman vocals plus the chaotic onslaught of two drummers and Leary's endless guitar noise still make this a reasonable facsimile of party night at the nuthouse.

Three of the four new songs chucked up on Widowermaker! cover the usual terrain, with processed vocals, gross-out lyrics, vehement guitar noise and buzzing sound effects. But then there's the restrained melody and delivery of "The Colored F.B.I. Guy," on which a quiet bit of feedback is as strident as things get.

The Butties' only 1990 product was an adequate if witless remake of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man," issued with an inane stripped-down house mix — thereby proving that, even in the iconoclast's world, there are rights and wrongs. Instead, Gibby and bassist Jeff Pinkus spent their time on a side project, releasing an album as the Jackofficers. Uniting samples, beats, noise and occasional lyrics, Digital Dump applies the Surfer sensibility to dance music but comes up on the imaginative end of ordinary. Steady electronic rhythms and electronic keyboards pin the duo down to the same sound and structures as everybody else, reducing whatever is thrown into the mix — whether it's Oliver North's voice, Mission: Impossible music, chipmunk vocals, noise guitar or sex sounds — to a colorful variation on very common themes. Only the crazed "Swingers Club" and "Don't Touch That," both of which more or less transmute Butthole Surfers music whole onto synthesizer, really demonstrate the concept's potential.

The uneven piouhgd (which is s'pozed to be pronounced "p-o'd") is a well-produced disappointment that wastes too much time on halfbaked ideas like "Hurdy Gurdy Man" and "Revolution," one part of which consists of an unobtrusive stew of synthetic strings, noise-guitar, a ringing phone and police sirens over which Gibby keeps calling out Garry Shandling's name. Besides that nonsense, and "Lonesome Bulldog," a comedic cowboy ballad in three parts, piouhgd stoops to a spot-on parody of the Jesus and Mary Chain (funny, but so what?). The reassuring appearance of several slabs of typical Buttholian psychoacoustics (one of which sounds like a Move song in hell) prove that our mad anti-heroes aren't getting soft; still, piouhgd lacks a certain psumbthaenng. (The CD bonus, "Barking Dogs," is an extended sound collage with brief canine contributions.)

Granted, the world didn't come screeching to an explosive climax followed by a stunned silence, but every other useful standard of measure registered the Butthole Surfers' 1992 signing to a major label — and not just any old major label, but Capitol, the conservative corporate preserve of the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Steve Miller — as a major cataclysm in the cultural order of things. For big business to give money and allocate resources to a band as perversely devoted to grotesque noise, wanton offensiveness and conceptual sedition ("The Revenge of Anus Presley"? "Bar-B-Q Pope"???) as the influential Texans only proves how deeply the "alternative" developments of 1991 altered the rational foundation of pop music. The rich irony of the matter, of course, is that the Buttholes had already lost their taste for truly shocking aural degradation. In fact, the quartet's bigtime bow came via the re-release of piouhgd, whose original issue went blooey when Rough Trade closed up shop in America.

In between his years of Led Zeppelin fame and such fringier '90s undertakings as a duo with Diamanda Galás, bassist John Paul Jones produced Independent Worm Saloon, the Buttholes' unbalanced attempt at reconciliation with both the real world and the underground cesspool from which they had emerged. The riff-rock of "Who Was in My Room Last Night?" is nostalgic in a seemingly serious vein. "You Don't Know Me" and "Leave Me Alone" could be Cheap Trick; the antagonistic posturing of songs like "Goofy's Concern" ("I don't give a fuck about the FBI / I don't give a fuck about the CIA / I don't give a fuck about the kids on the street / I don't give a fuck about anything") sounds forced and, worse, halfhearted. Although Gibby holds his genially deranged own and guitarist Paul Leary sends out endless plumes of flamethrower guitar distortion and feedback, their efforts don't go nearly far, deep or wide enough to rattle any windows at this late date. The puke prelude to "Clean It Up" is visceral but pitifully old hat — only "The Annoying Song" is deserving of its honorable title. As inconceivable as the thought of the Butthole Surfers ever being tame and boring is, this album is the proof that such tragedies can occur.

Electriclarryland (the vinyl edition of which devotes one of its four sides to band etchings) gets off to a snorting good start with the manic storm of "Birds," but the rest of the album mainly serves to reconfirm the Surfers' loss of sonic nerve. As the songs make a point of mounting goofball platforms in concept ("Jingle of a Dog's Collar," "The Lord Is a Monkey," "Ulcer Breakout"), the music is spineless and dull, taking halfhearted jokey toe-dips into polluted waters the Buttholes once walked on with sweaty pride.

The Hole Truth, a compilation of sloppy live tracks (1985-'93) plus two '83 demos and an uproarious vintage radio interview (complete with an in-studio musical tribute to Gordon Lightfoot), is much more like it. Captured in its natural state — driving blind drunk down a dirt road with the headlights flashing madly — the band raises a toxic cloud of sonic dirt in mindboggling guitar windstorms ("USSA"), deliciously skeevy vocal showcases ("Moving to Florida," "Cherub," "Bon Song") and barely coordinated band meltdowns ("Psychedelic," a hearteningly ear-busting '93 version of "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave"). Among the illuminating items in this marauding mess: a primeval studio version of "Butthole Surfer" and a twisted club take on "Hurdy Gurdy Man" five years older than the commercially released studio track.

While still playing bass for the Butties, in addition to the Jackofficers, Pinkus made a record as Daddy Longhead, with drummer Rey Washam (who graduated from Scratch Acid to Steve Albini's Rapeman), guitarist/fiddler Jim Yongue (Waste King Universal) and help from Leary and Butthole drummer King Coffey. Cheatos is an out-of-control hard-rock record with all the crazed invention of the Buttholes and none of the Gibbyness. The layers of furious shredmetal riffology that overwhelm several songs reduces them to showoff filler — whatever wit there is in the lyrics of "Back in '69" or "20 Lb. Jockey," for instance, is swamped out by Yongue's flashy fingerwork — but Pinkus' irredeemable shrieking in "Scar Spangled Boner" makes it clear that extraordinary forces are at work. Agony Column's Richie Turner puts growling death metal vocals to "Pine Box," adding a cacophony that doesn't so much signify the evil that lurks in the hearts of men as amplify it to the point of random violence. In "The Post" (a "traditional" better known to jam-band concertgoers as "Whipping Post"), Daddy Longhead comes across as the Southern boogie band from another planet, eviscerating the genre while glibly respecting most of its standard features.

So far, Leary (who has produced albums for the Meat Puppets, Daniel Johnston and Supersuckers, among others) is the only Surfer to release an official solo album. The History of Dogs, undertaken with no help whatsoever, offers his topical commentary on the Gulf War, Native American rights and space travel, sung (frequently double-tracked in high and low voices) over restrained arrangements in a variety of non-Buttholian modes: mock-symphonics, acoustic pop, heavy rock, dance-hall piano. Although The History of Dogs is surprising in its relative propriety, Leary still manages to make his seriousness sound mocking.

In his spare time, King Coffey runs the Trance Syndicate label and records as Drain, a trio with guitarist David McCreath (who had previously played with the drummer in the brilliantly named Hugh Beaumont Experience) and bassist Owen McMann of the Cherubs. With vocals kept at bay behind distortion and disregard, Pick Up Heaven slackly piles together rugged guitar, driving rhythms, keyboards and (on the incongruous techno-styled "Instant Hippie") samples for a weenie-roast as noisy as it is pointless. The group released a second album, Offspeed and in There, four years later.

Besides the Surfers, the Jackofficers, guest shots with Ministry, album production for the Rev. Horton Heat and a radio show in Austin, Gibby sings in a quartet called P with Austin guitarist/songwriter Bill Carter actor/guitarist Johnny Depp and actor/drummer Sal Jenco. Although shaped into a Texas roots-rock boogie sound, P is everything a Butthole Surfers album should be: sick and twisted, dayglo, vulgar, ugly and funny, mean-spirited and self-abusive, out of control and shameless. Gibby is in top form, describing a funhouse ride of vocal hysterics; he even whips out an impressive scrawling noise-guitar solo. Beyond the nearly sincere cover of ABBA's "Dancing Queen" and a full-frontal clambake (complete with electric sitar) of Daniel Johnston's queasy "I Save Cigarette Butts," the group's own inventions are richly absurd, whether taking friendly pop aim at "Michael Stipe," exploring the depths of dub in "Jon Glenn (Mega Mix)" or wailing out a rugged twelve-bar, "White Man Sings the Blues."

[John Leland/Ira Robbins]
   See also Beme Seed, Fearless Iranians From Hell, Meat Puppets, Ministry