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  Criminal Hygiene  
  Small Smile Records  
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Criminal Hygiene are a LA based that channels the sloppy, shambling style of old school punk. No, i mean, OLD school. Not Green Day -- go back further. This records hints at The Count Five, The Replacements, and The Undertones. Harmonies? We donít need to stinking harmonies! Vocals are slurred boozily! Production -- fuck that! Let's just plug all the gear in, turn it the hell up, and pound the shit out of it while yelling!

And yet ... like The Count Five, The Replacements, and The Undertones, there is a core of pop at the middle of the swirling chaos that is the band. Behind the fuzz and the yelling and the furious pace, these are simple little happy songs.

For example, let's consider the first ten minutes of the record, which constitutes the first 4 songs.

Neurotics is a short burst of noise, the band just beating their instruments for a little under a minute. And then the noise breaks suddenly, and Andrew's Song comes in with slow guitar and a crooning backing vocal as the voclaist wails. It meanders, and then really grooves on the choruses, with the guitar crunching nicely and ... is that handclapping? Nice!

The next tune, Teeth starts with a rambling bass line and squealing guitar. The voices yell "I've got criminal hygiene / i got blood on my teeth" as guitars wail away. It is messy, chaotic fun, which is appropriate for what i think is their theme song. It builds to a noisy climax, and then the band segues into Rearrange Me, which sounds like at any second if could be overwhelmed by tape hiss. Yes, tape hiss. I donít know how they recorded this, but this tune really feels like an old, lost Replacements demo from 1981 recorded on a cassette deck at some house in Minnesota after the band had been drinking for 6 hours. That said, it is a brilliant tune! The drummer keeps a steady beat as the singer drawls his lyrics, bored and/or drunk. The guitar work is great, a scattered strumming like Andy Summers on the first Police record. This is quality stuff.

The record goes thorough 17 songs in under 40 minutes. Some of the tunes are little sketches of under a minute, while Rearrange Me is almost an epic approaching the 4 minute mark. There aren't any weak tracks here, but i need to mention a few more high points.

Track 14 on the record is a slow, aching cover of the old Big Star tune Kangaroo. This is just guitar and voice echoing in what sounds like a big concrete room, reverb dripping from the ceiling. A really lovely version of a great tune, heavy and mournful.

After that pathos, Criminal Hygiene goof it up for the next song, the playful Alan, I'm In Love, which goes from catchy to crooning silliness and then back again, all moving at a cracking pace. Someone blows a harmonica as the band wails away, thrashing their instruments, and then at the end it slows down to a swaying pace as the vocals wail and keyboards tinkle under the guitar. It ends and Neurotics Too stumbles by, another short noisy interlude of distortion and some kind of clattering percussion. And then the band just explodes with end track Grady Get Angry. This is a silly farce, the band playing fast and doing silly chanting. It reminds me of Gorgon Go Home, by Thee Crucials, and i bet that Criminal Hygiene play this at the end of their set, beating the crowd into a frenzy...

I really like this stuff, this old school punk: just noise, a pop hook, and some attitude. And they do it well too. I hope they tour all the way over to this coast.

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