100 FLOWERS s/t LP

If 100 Flowers’ discography is relatively small, even when added to their early, more primal work as the Urinals, it deserves to be held up on the same level with the best of Wire, Gang of Four and any thoughtful early-era punks you could name — a fact now becoming clear to a broader/younger audience via Superior Viaduct’s reissue campaign, which has yielded repressings of the Urinals’ three singles and now, their first and only full-length after budding into 100 Flowers in 1981. It’s easy to see why the L.A. trio thought a name-change was in order: Like a lot of punk bands, the Urinals formed before they could play their instruments, and few have done more with less. It was only natural that they’d get “better” over time. But every idea that animated the Urinals is intact in evolved form on 100 Flowers: The glass-shard guitars are now darts and missiles; the rhythms are hard and true and dryly funky; the single vocal lines occasionally tangle and the hormonal frenzy fueling them here coalesces into a knowing and focused rage.

Like all the best SoCal punks, 100 Flowers’ songs seethe with a particular left-side view of the coming apocalypse. East Coast bands railed against power; California bands were surrounded by aspirant Hollywood fakery and (presumably, I wasn’t there) failed hippies, with roiling Earth underfoot to keep everyone that much more unsettled. Thus, songs like “Head, No Heart,” where the stress is internal —“Here’s a life in piecemeal / Fragments and forms / of what’s supposed to be real / I feel my heart, for the first time I feel my strain / As I beat against the fears and doubts in my brain” — and “I Don’t Own My Own Heart,” a song of simple complexity, with vocal lines from all three tracing out a permeating tension atop repeating riffs like serrated velvet. “All our lives keep droning on / (I DON’T OWN MY OWN HEART!) / Keep droning on / (KEATS RIDES A HARLEY!) / Take it down so I can see / (OWN MY OWN HEART!) / Real life doesn’t mean much to me.” God, what a band! And for better (enjoyment of this record) or worse (life still sucks), everything they said in 1983 rings just as painfully true today. In under a minute on “Virtually Nothing” bassist John Talley-Jones kind of says it all, in a flatly menacing tone: “No matter who is right or wrong / It all comes down to virtually nothing / You can make your own assumptions / I’ll fuck you on the other side.” We can hope to get a repress of the Flowers’ equally vital 1984 EP Drawing Fire soon, right? [Superior Viaduct]

-Mike Wolf

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