Trumans Water

TrackAlbum / EP / Single
Secret BloodthirstOf Thick Tum (bonus track)
Aroma Of Gina ArnoldSpasm Smash XXXOXOX Ox & Ass
LimbsSpasm Smash XXXOXOX Ox & Ass
Top Of MorningSpasm Smash XXXOXOX Ox & Ass
Soar Ossinaxx At Long LastSpasm Smash XXXOXOX Ox & Ass
Empty Queen II10 x My Age EP
SkyjackerSympathy For The Record Industry 255
Antsmashes Yer Star ...Godspeed The Punchline
Strat-As-FearFragments Of A Lucky Break
Sky LandslideFragments Of A Lucky Break

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Trumans Water photo

Trumans Water (l to r): Kirk Branstetter, Ely Moyal, Glen Galloway, Kevin Branstetter – photo: Ted Drake

 

Contributor: David Bruce

They say that everyone remembers where they were when Arthur Askey was shot. I know I do. I also remember where I was when I first heard Trumans Water (no possessive apostrophe, grammar fans …) – at home, listening to Peel, obviously. No real surprise there as Trumans were possibly the most John Peel band ever invented; a noisy, detuned, sprawling, unlistenable mess of a pop group … and yes, that is a massive recommendation.

At this point it has to be said that Trumans Water aren’t for everyone. Fans of Shed Seven are probably going to struggle a bit here. Formed in San Diego in 1991 by brothers Kevin and Kirk Branstetter, Jeff Jones and Glen Galloway, they forever altered the cultural landscape of middle England when Peel played their debut album, Of Thick Tum, in its entirety on one of his shows. This was followed by a hilarious attempt to contact the band by phone live on air – it’s well worth listening to on YouTube to hear Peel carefully pick his moment to interrupt a very private conversation, before gushing his praise to a bewildered Kevin Branstetter.

Of Thick Tum itself is an incredible piece of work. An unclassifiable blast of beautiful noise with a hint of early Sonic Youth here, a dash of the Fall there, splintered riffs petering out before new, even better ones appear in their place. Song titles like Nick Long Ding Barn, Spurning Of Angel Peg and the classic Wings Spred Wide I Thot ‘Ignition’ only added to the state of ecstatic bewilderment. The vocals are either drawled or screamed, often both within the same syllable, while the lyrics mainly consist of wild non-sequiturs and grotesque Dadaist imagery. Actually, that last bit is just me trying to sound clever – I have no idea what they’re banging on about. Some idiot dreamed up the name Squigglecore to define this unholy racket, fer Christ’s sake.

It seems like a fool’s errand to attempt to pick 10 Trumans songs that are greater than any other random 10 Trumans songs but as this is the whole point here, let’s start with the magnificent Secret Bloodthirst. Carelessly stashed away as a bonus track at the end of the CD version of OTT, this brooding, scuzzy 14-minute epic starts with a few minutes of arsing about, settles itself on a cheeky little riff which repeats and repeats till the whole thing goes absolutely batshit mental. I suspect a young Mogwai were probably paying attention.

It was the following year, 1993, that I actually first heard Trumans. I had been entranced by Pavement’s ridiculously charming Fall-mimicry and was gagging for more music that I didn’t understand and offended my parents. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect band. The follow-up to Of Thick Tum was entitled Spasm Smash XXXOXOX Ox & Ass. Obviously. It blew my mind then and it still blows my mind now. This skull-crushing double album even managed to be an Indie Chart hit and made Trumans famous the length and breadth of the British Isles. Upon taking the album back to my Uni halls, I bizarrely became massively unpopular with my fellow students. Me! There seemed to be a constant stream of people banging at my door whenever I put it on, demanding to know what “that shit” was and whether or not I could see my way clear to “turning the fucker down”. Bloody students eh? Get back and listen to yer Smiths records, cloth-eared fools.

Everything Trumans were/(are?) about is contained in opener Aroma Of Gina Arnold. With guitars that appear to be being hacked at by deaf apes wearing boxing gloves and drums that are playing six different songs at once, none of them the right one, the opening howl of “THEY SAID OUR YOUTH WAS DEAD, HOW COULD THEY KNOW??” told us that we weren’t in Kansas anymore Toto. The aural violence just keeps on coming with gems like Speeds Exceeding, Death To Dead Things, and Bludgeon, Elites & Stagger all slashing at your ears like a bunch of Italian Ultras with flick-knives chasing you down Naples High Street on mopeds. There is a lovely ditty called Athlete Who Is Suck that would perfectly soundtrack a psychopath’s tea party. Or a cabinet meeting. Same thing really.

The next three picks are simply three of the most astounding pieces of music I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. Limbs surfs in on a delicious doom metal riff before reaching for the skies with scratchy cheese-wire guitars as a maniacal voice barks “WE WEAR OUR SCARS LIKE BADGES, SPROUT NEW LIMBS AND STRUT ABOUT!”, an image as hilarious and bizarre as the unsettling maelstrom being unleashed by the band. Mind you, although there is undoubtedly improvisation at work, the band is as tight as a gnat’s chuff and these songs have structure. This is not wilful mucking around. The Magic Band would have killed to have written some of this stuff.

Next up is Top Of Morning. I put this on a mixtape for a girl I liked. We fell out soon after. Coincidence? I think not. Top Of Morning is utterly deranged. A moody intro drones in before it clangs into life with what seems to be a song about agricultural workers with serious mental health issues – “the cocks are all cackling, they’re laughing at fashion, we’re laughing along, milking them wrong” and ending with the repeated howl “GONNA KEEP YELLING ‘TOP OF THE MORNING’, ALL HOURS OF THE NIGHT!”. Terrifyingly brilliant stuff.

Soar Ossinaxx At Long Last is just a great pop song. Structured and tight, with a great 15 second one-note guitar solo, if Rough Trade had released this in 1981, we’d be talking about it today as a legendary post-punk single.

During their golden period of ’93/’94 Trumans released a dizzying array of frazzled pop nuggets across various albums, singles and EPs. Whilst the insidious evil of Britpop was seducing the UK’s popkids, Trumans were chucking out outrageous aural delights such as Empty Queen II and Skyjacker. Still, he lives in a house, a very big house in the country eh?

Some of these records were ridiculously obscure (the cassette-only Couch Of The Spastics on Chocolate Monk records anyone? Anyone?), others given much wider distribution, such as the superbly accessible (well, it’s all relative …) Godspeed The Punchline.

If you’re looking for an entry point, this is probably the place to start, particularly if you’re partial to the sound of grown men clucking like chickens and eating crisps The rest of the Godspeed series (Godspeed The Hemorrhage, Godspeed The Vortex and Godspeed The Static) are improv-heavy and not for the faint-hearted, although I do have it on good authority that Godspeed The Vortex is Taylor Swift’s favourite album of all time. Who knew?

Amongst the many gems contained within Godspeed The Punchline, let’s go for Antsmashes Yer Star (Dead Airwaves) because, well, why not? It’s great. One of their slower numbers, it manages to combine a killer tune with a coda that sounds like the Fratellis being murdered. What’s not to love?

It was around this time I finally got to see Trumans in the flesh at the old Newcastle Riverside. Supporting were the Grifters, one of the most underrated bands of the 90s. What a bill! Sadly, only around 40 other people thought so, including one bloke who must have been in his sixties slamdancing by himself in front of the stage. Other details are sketchy although I do remember a wooden chair being brought on stage and abused throughout the gig. I couldn’t hear for a month afterwards. Great times …

Further off-kilter LPs followed: 95’s murky but brilliant Milktrain To Paydirt, the noise-frenzy Action Ornaments and the as-yet unheard by yours truly Apistogramma. Shoddy research, I know …

Glen Galloway, having left in ’94 to focus on his Christian rock/hip-hop band Soul-Junk (yes, I said Christian rock …), returned in ’98, just in time for the band recording Fragments Of A Lucky Break, from which these final picks are derived – the crazed nursery rhyme Strat-As-Fear, and the stomping Sky Landslide, which would have fit snugly onto Spasm Smash.

There were further records; the superior noise rock of Trumans Water (2001), the more straight-ahead garage of You Are In The Line Of Fire And They Are Shooting At You (2003) and a brilliant ‘comeback’ album O Zeta Zunis (2010 – sample song title: Blasphemous Cordialantlers Ride!) that condensed everything brilliant about the band into one (perhaps) final statement.

Sadly, it does now seem highly unlikely that we’ll get another Trumans album or live UK show as the band are now strung across different continents, with Kevin Branstetter trading as World’s Dirtiest Sport whilst living in France, and Galloway setting biblical passages to skewed beats. Who knows though, maybe the 30th anniversary of Spasm Smash will see a world stadium tour and deluxe reissue campaign? Better start saving just in case …

Trumans Water – The Singles 1992/1997 (full album on YT)

 

Trumans Water poster

 

Trumans Water facebook

Trumans Water bandcamp

Trumans Water on John Peel Show

Trumans Water on Discogs

It’s Gonna Blow!!! San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996 (full film)

Trumans Water biography (iTunes)

David Bruce lives in Seaham on the north-east coast of England and can be found on twitter @davidkbruce, mainly posting obscure music clips that nobody watches.

TopperPost #745

3 Comments

  1. William McAlpine
    Oct 16, 2018

    “Terrifyingly brilliant stuff.”
    Indeed. David, this is awesome.

    • David Bruce
      Oct 16, 2018

      Thanks Will. About time these crazy kids got their dues.

  2. Gerard Marshall
    Oct 16, 2018

    A great read Brucey! Some songs descriptions have piqued my interest and will investigate further. You are right about one thing, the late, great Ken never once asked me for any Trumans while I was DJing at the Scout Club in the early 90’s. More of an ‘All Right Now’ and air guitar man if I recall correctly.

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