By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
The Frantix story was highlighted by a lineup that featured vocalist Marc Deaton, guitarist Rick Kulwicki, bassist Matt Bischoff and drummer Davey Stewart. Kulwicki and Bischoff eventually moved on to the Fluid, an early signee to Seattle's Sub Pop imprint, as well as an unsung influence on many of the acts that formed the core of the grunge movement. Bischoff and Stewart also performed in a terrific combo called '57 Lesbian with bassist Chanin Floyd. Shortly thereafter, Floyd joined Spell, which put out a first-rate platter on Island Records before getting swallowed in the mid-'90s indie-rock feeding frenzy. Nonetheless, Spell's anchor, ex-Fluid drummer Garrett Shavlik, is a survivor; he's currently pummeling the skins for Alta May.
You can't tell the players without a program, and the Frantix collection provides one via some entertaining liner notes. More important, though, is the original punk spirit that flows from Alcoholic's seventeen sides. The first four numbers, co-starring Paul Katopodes on bass, are limited by a drum sound that's sheer cardboard, but Kulwicki's guitar roars amid slabs of anarchy such as "New Questions" and "Static Cling," both of which were later resurrected by the Fluid. Subsequent tracks benefit from somewhat less primitive recording technology, as well as the presence of Bischoff, who knows the secret to making a bass thunder. The title cut, heard in studio and live versions, is a classic of its kind, a roar of suburban frustration that's funny and true at the same time: "My dad tells me not to smoke/He tells me not to drink/Who the fuck is listening?/He's drunk! He can't think!" The other tunes may not always rise to this level of wisdom, but many come close, including the brutally entertaining "Face Reality," a particularly speedy "Car" and "We Noticed," a live salvo introduced as follows: "This one's on the new record at Wax Trax. Go buy it or you're a fuckin' asshole." And they mean it, man.
Dark Days, a 28-minute, eight-ditty effort that stands as Alta May's sophomore release, is a somewhat trickier proposition. Shavlik is joined in the band by Seattle scenester Marcus Piña and by Erik Roper, known to Denver longtimers as guitarist/vocalist for Cold Crank, which folded in 1996. With the assistance of veteran producer Jack Endino, who helmed the 1989 Nirvana album Bleach, this threesome makes a clangorous noise. Sharp hooks and a strong melody lighten "Dark Days on Black Hill," roiling chords cut through "The Beautiful Sea," and Wally Shoup's saxophone adds a welcome touch of glam to "All Lie Down."
Unfortunately, the overall vibe goes well beyond familiarity; this flannel-shirted flashback makes it seem as if the last ten years never happened. Granted, the concept holds some appeal. Imagine what a wonderful world it would be if Justin, Britney and Christina were still on The New Mickey Mouse Club instead of your radio. But forward-looking it ain't. The Frantix are history; Alta May just sounds like it.