During a seismic shift in rock music during the mid ’90s – when grunge died, punk went pop, metal hit mainstream and record labels finally stopped throwing around the useless term “alternative” – a lot of groundbreaking underground artists still found the opportunity to reach their niche thanks to good old pre-internet word of mouth. One group that rose from the New York club scene to find a nice pocket of fame during this period was the ferocious combo Chrome Cranks, who disbanded back in 1998… that is, until the original lineup of frontman Peter Aaron, guitarist William Weber, bassist Jerry Teel and drummer Bob Bert reunited in 2009 to much rejoicing, and their first album since that reformation feels like absolutely no time has passed. That’s a rare thing these days, and in my opinion it’s worth a little digital ink. So turn the page and find out more about this dark, weird and shockingly loud quartet, and their new studio release Ain’t No Lies in Blood…
For starters, it’s hard to really nail down the Cranks’ sound to any specific genre, since they channel punk rage, garage loudness, rockabilly swagger and laid-back blues in equal proportions, often within the same song. But if I had to cram them into a box, I’d probably file them with their Big Apple peers Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for their unchained fusion of noise-rock, danceable blues, free-form jazz, death-rock doom and infectious funk. While this band was already notorious for distilling the most aggressive, overblown and ballsy elements from those genres into a sonic concussion grenade, their long-awaited eighth record is not only an effortless continuation of that style, but actually dials the terror frequency up another notch; these cats have obviously returned even more pissed off and monkey-ass insane than usual. That’s a good thing, by the way.
The proof comes instantly with the rough, unvarnished, thundering pulse of the opening track “I’m Trash,” which is strangely infectious despite being basically two chords repeating for two and a half minutes beneath Peter Aaron’s frantic, stabbing vocals, and the bouncy syncopated beat and nonsense lyrics of “Rubber Rat” make it the most entertaining song ever written about a cat toy. Strangely enough, the following track “Living Dead” is about as close to a horror-punk song as the band has ever attempted, and while there’s a touch of blues-rock, it’s not so much psychobilly as just plain psycho… but it’s sure to have you pogo-sticking all over the house. Aaron’s deep, dark croon and a detuned acoustic guitar twang opens “Star to Star,” a doomy waltz-tempo dirge that threatens to fall apart at any second.
“Broken-Hearted King” picks up the pace enough to get the mosh moving, and features a completely deranged bridge guitar solo (which eventually collapses into a wreck of feedback) before the band flips a 180 for “Let It Ring,” a murky, sludgy number that gradually grows in intensity while never quite reaching any kind of climax. Pounding toms and sleazy vocals highlight the post-punk hailstorm of “Black Garage Door,” while “50s French Movie” is the combination of a hilarious rant against the title subject (“What kind of love is this? No mention of affection, no mention of rejection?”) and an angry drunk guy’s frustrated attempt to get laid (“What kind of part is this? When do I take my clothes off?”), crudely stitched together with a driving bass/rhythm line and trashy, fuzzy slide guitar. The album wraps with a ten-minute-long freestyle cover of the Byrds’ song “Lover of the Bayou,” which keeps wandering off into reverb, fuzz and tremolo territory, with Aaron slurring, mumbling and finally screaming the lyrics, reminding me of this schizophrenic street performer I once saw at a San Francisco train station.
As raw, live and immediate as a studio record is ever going to sound, Ain’t No Lies in Blood is a strange and wonderful paradox… with its simple chord patterns played with naked rage and Aaron’s ferocious howl, it sometimes feels like the musical equivalent of multiple heavy blows to the head. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t turn around and go back for a second helping, because there’s also a weird kind of ecstasy emanating from these songs. It’s like the huge rush you get after eating a painfully hot pepper – it’s both agonizing and exhilarating at the same time. In either case, be sure to brace yourself for a very intense experience.
The four gents that make up the scuzz-rock dynamos Chrome Cranks are no strangers to the music world, having racked up a dizzyingly diverse collective work history.
Drummer Bob Bert logged time as a member of indie icons Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore. Singer/guitarist Peter Aaron created the punk fanzine Suburban Muckraker and supported the Cincinnati scene by booking shows for a series of underground venues before starting the band in 1998.
But it’s guitarist William Weber who can claim the most colorful resume. At the same time as he was churning out tortured blues riffs with the Cranks, he was logging time as a member of the Murder Junkies, the final backing band for G.G. Allin, the punk legend known primarily for his scatological onstage antics.
“I had been in New York for three months, biding my time,” Weber remembers, “when I saw this ad in the Village Voice: ‘G.G. Allin’s band needs a guitar player.’ I just thought it would be fun to go down and audition to see who else would be there.”
Weber ended up snagging the gig, doing three short tours with G.G. up and down the East Coast and recording the 1993 album Brutality and Bloodshed for All.
“I was in that band for two and a half years,” says Weber. “But of all that time, G.G. was incarcerated probably two years out of that. I didn’t get to see him too much!”
Although Weber stuck with the Junkies even after Allin died in 1993, he split his time between that band and the Cranks, recording three full-lengths of raw, blues-inflected rock. In 1998, though, both bands imploded.
“Pete and I were getting into more improv stuff,” Weber says matter-of-factly of the Cranks split. “The other two didn’t agree with that. Plus we were doing a lot of traveling and just got tired of looking at each other.”
A decade later, urged on by a Spanish label that had just released a collection of Cranks singles and rarities, the four men reconvened to play some shows.
“From the first song of the first rehearsal, it was on,” Weber says. “Like nothing had changed. It was amazing how good it all felt.”
The feelings have obviously lingered, as the band played a few more reunion shows in 2010 and then gathered together at a studio in upstate New York to put together the recently released album Ain’t No Lies In Blood.
Recorded over three days and released by Bert’s Thick Syrup Records, the album shows no signs of rust from within the band. The four men tear into the seven originals and two covers with a fierce strength, even turning the Byrds’ “Lover of the Bayou” into a 10-minute tortured workout of spiny guitar and subtle dynamics.
While there is a great deal of momentum behind the reincarnation of the Chrome Cranks, the band has had to put promotional plans on hold following the recent passing of Bob Bert’s wife. Weber assures fans that they won’t stay quiet for long.
“It’s not going to happen until summer or maybe fall, but we’ll definitely be getting together again,” he says.