By Eleni P. Austin
If it were possible for David Bowie, The Cramps, Marc Bolan, Iggy, The Stooges and Blondie to have a musical love child, it might sound like The High 70s. The Los Angeles two-piece serves up a potent combo-platter of Glam, Garage, New Wave and Punk, with just a soupcon of Psychobilly, on their first official long-player, aptly entitled Glitter Box
Multi-instrumentalist Chris Williams (formerly of Dust On The Radio) has always felt an affinity for Glam, Garage and Post-Punk. Determined to follow his muse, he connected with another polymath, Princess Frank, who has played with everyone from Missing Links to Fishbone’s Angelo Moore. Chris wrote a clutch of great songs and the last piece of the puzzle fell into place when the duo enlisted Grammy Award winning producer Ethan Allen.
Ethan has worked with everyone from Gram Rabbit, Throwing Muses, The 88, Ben Harper and Mavis Staples. The recording process went swiftly, two sessions at King Size and Gold Diggers studio, the rest came together at Ethan’s home studio. Guitarist Max Bustamante augmented their sound on five tracks and Ethan added keys.
The album crackles to life on the title track. Prowling bass lines collide with feral guitar chords and a bludgeoning beat. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, the opening couplet paints a vivid portrait of hard-luck club habitue; “Kitty glitter glamour puss, she’s younger than she looks, she’s older than she feels, she still looks good in heels.” This feline fixture can’t take a hint, time to hang up the fuck-me pumps and settle down. Fuzz-crusted guitars (cat) scratch and bite between verses. On the break, a skittery guitar solo plays a game of cat-and-mouse with tilt-a-whirl bass lines. By the final verse, Kitty’s fall from grace is a fait accompli; “Glitter kitty, sugar lips, looks like she fell and slipped, doesn’t it break your heart, watching her fall apart.”
Three tracks find The High 70s wearing their influences on their shredded and safety-pinned sleeves. “Invisible Wall” careens out of the speakers a jumble of menacing bass lines, keening guitars, rumbling backbeat and suitably sepulchral vocals. The melody shares some musical DNA with The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” and Violent Femmes’ “Add It Up.” Cryptic lyrics hint at some sort of Psycho-sexual Punk purgatory; “Invisible wall that we can’t see makes us feel so incomplete, invisible wall, now I can’t tell, are you free or trapped in your cell? Invisible wall won’t let us show the dark inside the face you know.” Stuttery rhythm riffs slither around squally chords between verses, before untethering an ultrasonic solo on the break.
Powered by icy synths, elastic bass lines, flickering guitar riffs and a thwocking beat, “We Have Nothing” could sandwich nicely between The Cars’ “Moving In Stereo” and Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on any KROQ playlist. Bleak lyrics partner with deadpan vocals to deliver some fairly nihilistic sentiments; “We have nothing to venture, nothing to gain, nothing but empty picture frames/nothing to see here, just move along, looking for something, but something went wrong.” Luckily the maudlin mood is leavened by the stompingly buoyant break, featuring a squinchy guitar solo, wheezy keys, thrumming bass and culminating in an authoritative kick drum n’ keys outro.
Finally, the duo offers up a fairly faithful rendition of a Blondie deep cut, “Accidents Never Happen.” A jackhammer beat is accented by vroom-y bass, Sci-Fi synths, pogo-riffic piano and buzzy guitars. Chris’ gloomy vocals are juxtaposed with the breezy distaff energy of guest vocalist, Natalie Denise Sperling. Lyrics follow a serendipitous through-line; “No I don’t believe in luck, no, I don’t believe in circumstance no more, accidents never happen in a perfect world, so I won’t believe in luck/I saw you walking in the dark, so I slipped behind your footsteps for a while, caught you turning round the block, fancy meeting you in a smaller world, after all.” On the break, throbby bass locks in behind lithe guitar licks, darting between the pneumatic crunch of drums.
The record’s best tracks seem to inhabit a decadent demimonde. Take “Astro Van” which finds our hero forced to sidestep skyrocketing L.A. rental rates by taking refuge in his van. Scuzz-tastic guitars stack atop shivery keys, sinewy bass and a walloping beat. With no time for nuance, lyrics are stripped down to just-the-facts, ma’am, reportage; “Found a mattress on the street underpass to get out of the heat, I will rent a room when I can, now I’m living in the Astro Van.” The arrangement pivots from a rollicking road trip to a scary, sludgy, down-tuned soundscape that mirrors the angsty lifestyle switch. Waspish guitars and frenetic bass hurtle the song toward a cosmic crescendo.
“Secrets” is the album’s most ambitious track. A piledriving beat is quickly supplanted sandblasted guitars, plunky keys and scuttling bass lines. Suddenly, time signatures shift, locking into a modal groove that lands somewhere between a Greek Tsiftiteli and a long-lost James Bond theme. Intriguing lyrics boast of secrets, but offer no details.
Meanwhile, “Freak House” plays out like “The Monster Mash”-meets-Tod Browning’s Horror classic Freaks-meets-a bondage dungeon. Swirly keys and whipsaw bass connect with a cluster of chunky guitar chords and an, um, punishing tom-tom beat. From the lyrics’ opening couple verses, it’s almost as though the listener needs to establish a safe word in order to tune in; “Somebody needs a spanking, Derek will gladly oblige, Heidi would do the honors, but now her hands are tied/Nancy is fascinated waiting for her turn, she likes to hear the leather crack, she wants to feel the burn.” The guitar solo on the break is pure ‘70s AOR, but the song winds down through a veil of drone-y feedback.
Other interesting tracks include the hypnotic haiku of “Manipulation” and the predatory allure of “Hemlock Girl.” The record closes with the take-no-prisoners rave-up, “Natural Selection.” Spidery bass lines are matched by squally shards of guitar feedback and a thrashy backbeat. Pragmatic lyrics playfully referencing Bruce Springsteen and Ray Price, while making a case for weeding out the fuckwits; “Natural selection, do your fucking job, free us from these criminals who kill and rape and rob, or are they the strong ones? You don’t get to choose, better hope you’re born to run or you are born to lose.” On the break, arrangement and instrumentation are equally unequivocal. Tensions ratchet, as concentric, supersonic riffs accelerate, speed-shifting through the melody’s hairpin turns, sideswiping roiling bass lines and a ramrod rhythm. It’s a thrilling conclusion to a crackling good record.
Sure, maybe you missed those halcyon days on the Sunset Strip, or those nights behind the V.I.P. velvet rope of Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. But one spin of The High 70s’ Glitter Box might motivate you to bust out the tube-top, the flared pants, the guyliner and the platform heels and vicariously recall that moment when Glam Rock was in its ascendence, and Punk/New Wave was just over the horizon. It’s like you were there. Well, almost.