In 1984 a movie called The Karate Kid waxed its way into the hearts of critics and audiences alike. With it’s spunky take on the old “fish out of water” scenario (boy moves from New Jersey to California, gets harassed by local bullies, finds solace in an elderly karate master, confronts the bullies, gets the girl, saves the day), the film was a huge success, spawning lesser copy-cat films and tie-ins. One such tie-in, is Sweep the Leg Johnny. Taking their name from a consequential scene from the film in which our hero, Daniel, is facing the enemy, Johnny, within the confines of the gymnasium’s rubber mats and regulations of karate. From Johnny’s corner, one of his lackeys shouts, “SWEEP THE LEG!” encouraging Johnny to utilize one of the more dangerous and crippling martial arts techniques. Regardless, that is where the band got it’s name, and I am certainly not remorseful every time I hear this band being mentioned for having one of the most god-awful names in rock history. They deserve it. However, it’d be unfair of me to judge the band on its moniker. So you ask me, how is Sweep the Leg Johnny, Mike?
They are an inspired band. Mostly inspired another group, A Minor Forest. AMF, a mostly instrumental three-piece that recently dissolved, appropriated aspects of noise and melody, and created epics with great titles like “The Smell of Hot” and “Beef Rigger.” They screwed with the dynamics and structure of song, and more often than not, produced marvelous results. Perhaps it was though playing numerous shows with AMF, or maybe it was because the members of both bands are friends, but Sweep the Leg Johnny sound like a not-great version of A Minor Forest. But, let me do STLJ some justice—they attempt to set themselves apart for the rest of the pack with the inclusion of saxophone, an experiment that worked much better when Ian Svenonius did it with a trumpet in Nation of Ulysses. While this is only a five-song EP (although I cringed when I noticed the album’s running time was 45 minutes), the majority of those songs fall into the 7-8 minute range, with one approaching an unlistenable 15 minutes. Not that it is a bad effort, per se, just one totally boring and devoid of personality. In fact, I forgot that I was even listening to it at one point, which, for all I know, was the band’s intention, although I highly doubt it. When your best song is a Spanakorzo (truly a band for the ages, cough) cover, it’s time to head back into the studio for a brainstorming session.
One area this record succeeds in is in its layout and design, which are very impressive and beautifully done. Unfortunately, you can’t listen to layout.