Top Ten Lost Midwest Punk Singles

Top Ten lists, like the ragged handwritten label of an old school mixtape, should never be considered an end-all or a final declaration. They are a weight station in a single person’s life, an aural index of a person’s sense of place, time, and culture. This list of lost punk singles/7″ records from the American Midwest is not about a “best of” concept, it is about the rare, sometimes seminal gems that remained tucked away from most consumers because they were made in small batches. Having growing up and attended schools and gigs in the Illinois flatland region, I consider this list like a shout-out to nearby mavericks and marginal rockers that produced fare worth revisiting.


10. Iowa Beef Experience
“Trailer Court” (Noiseville 24, c. 1988)

This limited run of 300 contained actual bits of now-petrified beef jerky stuck down in the plastic sleeve. Produced by iconoclastic Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac), the dense, murky mixes resemble acid-punk noiseniks Scratch Acid. The band delivers herky jerky rhythms and bastardized caterwaul vocals, anchored by bass player Simone Rinehart. Side b’s tongue-breaking titled “Dope Smoking Red Necks from Cedar Rapids Trapped in an Alternative Reality” is woven with Black Sabbath-style heavy thunder groove, which quickly gives way to metallic, double-bass drum, up-tempo mayhem that captures a demented trailer park vibe. The two-color, hillbilly grotesquerie artwork is seminal. This is haunting, neanderthal stuff from the bowels of Iowa City.


9. Trenchmouth
“Snakebite” (Self-released, 1989)

Released when Trenchmouth featured two blistering guitarists, singer Damon Locks played crazed congas, and the group was much less jazzified and deconstructed than its 1990s version, the whirling bass and near-funk patterns meld with glass-melting punk. Limited originally to 430 copies, replete with Fred Armisen’s (Saturday Night Live and Portlandia ) handwritten phone number on the back, this Windy City post-punk fills in the void between primitive acid-jazz grooves, worldbeat brazenness, and fetid Fugazi formula. It acts like a bridge mingling Beefeater and agit-pop. That musical territory seems to acknowledge and embody the city coming to grips with the soon-to-be post-rock era (or error! to some critics), crowned by Shellac, Tortoise, and others. This is shamanistic and lo-fi.


8. Special Affects
“Mood Music” (Self-released, 1979)

From Crete, IL, this dose of funkified New Wave loitering in the lap of 1979 is actually a slice of quirky genius. Drums careen like Gang of Four with tom tom lust; the guitar snakes and dives, performing riddles during daring moments; the bass plucks and plods effortlessly; and the vocals, heavily treated and tweaked, show a future maverick (Frank Nardiello of My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult) in his primal enfant terrible form. The mix is solid and appealing, the attempts to carve out a taut sound is uncanny, and the thick tribal modes and from-the-gut toying with form is both vigorous and mannered at times. Side two is a more direct flow of sonic slyness, breeding well-placed jolts and helter skelter musical bravura. This is a ripe and ready distillation of Midwest post-punk.


7. Nitro Jr.
“It’s a Beautiful Day to Die” (Self-released, 1996)

Stemming from the dank cellar of the infamous Lost Cross house in the murky underbelly of Carbondale, IL, this twin-guitar rigged powerhouse burst through the lame indie pop landscape of the mid-1990s with dizzying speed and style, putting all the Pavements on earth to shame. Borrowing from hardcore punk’s lean zeal and thrust gleaned from Youth Brigade and Articles of Faith, the manic hillbilly guitar interplay of the Supersuckers, and the thick barely pop crunch of the Didjits, this four-song gem is relentless. The bass playing is monstrous and thumping, the drums barrel down with a punishing barrage, and the guitars fly into webs of solos with spidery notes intact. Just an hour from Kentucky, this unit proved to be a searing stab of gearhead punk stuck in the tough-as-nails coal region.


6. Dead Fink / Happy Toons
Rest in Pieces (Landmine, 1984)

Recorded circa 1983/84, the curious chaos of Downers Grove, IL, comes full-tilt on this split 7”. Dead Fink bites like classic Code of Honor: vocals pop four feet from the mix, drums sound like plastic gallon jugs, manic stops and starts riddle the song, and in the prized gaps and silences are wire-thin guitar licks. Overall, they pay close attention to rhythmic contortion, rare in the days of bulldozer hardcore. Happy Toons is freaky fast like all those acronym bands — MDC/FOD/AOD — but some classic guitar riffage unfolds and squanders the purity, in a good way. Unregimented, unbound, toxic-fueled, and varied, the tunes never buckle under the weight of artful gesture.

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5. Denied Remarks
“Ross’ Car” (Landmine, 1986)

The pop and harmony of these teens comes rolled up in a vigorous punk sensibility pointing towards No Empathy. Spiraling and sprawling guitar lines by Rob Byrne makes this rise above pure campy suburban silliness, much like how the Descendents always benefited from keen chops and calculated craft. This is not uber-Chicago at all: the group invokes no testy steel-boot nerves, no thickheaded swaggers, no metallic forays, no punctilious posturing — just a light jab and ode to a crappy old car. “She Don’t Know” offers surf punk with fresh froth; meanwhile, “Safe at Home” sports a piano and fine form too, not unlike Wig Out-era Dag Nasty.


4. Slaughterhouse Road
“Salamander” (Bovine, 1989)

Lone bass player Roger Ewalt from Freeport, IL, forged this recording with Butch Vig (better known as producer for Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana). This 7” offers thick, murky, loose-knit jams with Dan Hobson from Killdozer. Twenty years later, the DIY effort feels inchoate and incendiary. Slow and seditious, like a load of bricks sinking in sludge, this total sleeper has a powerful presence in the vein of Tar and feels like impromptu, noisy grooves by guys that like beers and thudding, creepy beats. It reeks with Your Flesh , psychotronic, and transgressive vibes, like a peak moment in brutish Midwest poetry.


3. Didjits
Lovesicle (Touch and Go, 1989)

Though singer Rick Sims later forged powerful garage rock with the Gaza Strippers, few bands could vie with the Didjits at the peak of their prowess and power. From Sullivan, IL, their melodic fury burned like a prairie fire of unrepentant, frenetic rock ‘n’ roll hooks snatched from the Dickies. In many ways, they became the Cheap Trick of punk. Since Sims’ fave slices of vinyl included Lou Reed and XTC, no wonder “Goodbye Mr. Policeman” bounces at a speed more like the Professionals and the Ruts rather than blazing hardcore or sappy college rock. “Dead Hippy”, packing a syncopated, off-kilter beat, weighs in like a taut winner, too.


2. Blatant Dissent
Dreams (No Blow, 1987)

Featuring future members of Tar, this Dekalb, IL-based university band shows furnished an edgy, post-industrial punk soundscape with pop nooks and crannies. The drums echo like the snap of aluminum sheets, the guitar is wired to sound both canned and uncanny, and the lyrics break through the air with angry yet intelligently rendered fisticuffs. People may them link to the savvy sound of Dutch East India or Homestead bands rather than the monstrous roar of Chicago’s broken lip punk. The material still feels weighty, not withering, though not exactly as dense and atomic as Tar. Think of this as baby steps towards the void.


1. God and Texas
“Landslide” (Love Hammer Records, 1991)

Emerging on Chicago’s shore as blistering brothers-in-arms to the nimble ferocity of Jesus Lizard, these lads originally hailed from Columbus, OH, cutting their path into the post-hardcore landscape. In early stages, they offered a basement version of early Hüsker Dü soaring with caustic melodicism. Psych-rock miasma “Landslide” gives way to blast-off with “Through My Head”, which makes the Dü’s “In a Free Land” feel like a slo-mo soundtrack to quaaludes. The abrasive guitar sizzles, vocals rasp with dirty Midwest Shakespearean drama, and the drums seem to consist of cardboard boxes. Still, the effect is ferocious and heart-pounding.