The Hentchmen: Form Follows Function

Stephen Haag

The Hentchmen

Form Follows Function

Label: Times Beach
US Release Date: 2004-11-16
UK Release Date: 2004-11-01

Detroit garage trio the Hentchmen have been in business for 12 years, starting back when many of the current spate of garage rockers were still in shortpants. In other words, they've been cool since long before garage was cool again (even though it was never NOT cool, ya know?). And they've done it by following the most important rule of garage: Keep It Simple, Stupid. With only a drumkit, guitar, and Farfisa organ (played by Mike Latulippe, Tim Purrier, and John Szymanski, respectively), the Hentchmen prove that straightforward, fun rock will never go out of style. The band's latest, Form Follows Function captures everything that's right with garage.

The Hentchmen aren't a gimmick band and they don't, based on band photos in the liner notes, boast a hipper-than-thou wardrobe, but the bandmembers know that what matters most is the music coming out of the speakers. Admittedly, Form Follows Function sounds a little cleaner than the band's earlier efforts, but they still sound like the house band that would be playing at the coolest house party you can imagine (you know, the one where the kicked keg gets thrown into the pool and everyone stays up til dawn). There's not a slow or somber track on Form Follows Function, and if not for the Forty Fives' High Life High Volume, FFF could be the garage party album of the year.

But back to the wonders of simplicity. Sonically, the band could have time traveled from 1965 -- witness Purrier's chiming guitar on "Love", the jangle of "Bewfre the Dog", Szymanski's friendly Farfisa on all the songs. Too, the band is more jangly than fuzzed-out; the Hentchmen are not a snide-sounding rock band. They rock for three upbeat minutes, then bound to the next song. Thematically, as well, the band has a wide-eyed innocence that I associate with both simplicity and '60s garage. It's a claim I've made in past reviews, and it's one I'll make again: The Dictators' Dick Manitoba summed up the entire garage scene in 1975 when he noted that "There's nothing else in this crazy world except for cars and girls." The Hentchmen are clearly familiar with the Gospel According to Manitoba: Lead singer Szymanski recounts a fifth grade crush on "Love", advocates the literal hosing down of smokin' hot chicks on "Waterer Down" (genial lines like "Call the V.F.D.!" makes the song less prurient than my description makes it seem), and namechecks a few life-shaping car movies on "Cars on Film" (Bullitt, The French Connection, Gone in 60 Seconds ["not the remake"]). The band also delves into the mystery that is the female mind on "All About Girls": "Do they care about cars or guitars?" The question is never answered.

The few non-girl or -car related tracks also show that the band problems are goofy. "Thief on Bicycle" casts aspersions on the titular character for stealing a VCR and a penny jar (crime is crime, but a bicycle-riding thief toting a VCR and a lot of change is funny); on the closing track, "Safe at Home", Szymanski battles a temporary bout of agoraphobia ("I didn't wanna mingle with the people you meet"). In all, life seems pretty good for the Hentchmen, and that contentment trickles down into their songs.

I mentioned that Form Follows Function is a cleaner-sounding album compared to their earlier efforts; true as that may be, the album is no slick, over-produced affair. A few effects get tossed in the mix, but by and large, it's just three guys and their instruments. With all the studio trickery too many bands employ these days, an album like Form Follows Function, where a band does a simple thing like rock out the right way (that is, with minimal bells and whistles) is a breath of fresh air. If you're like me, and you believe a garage-rock album's primary function is to rock, then the Hentchmen have mastered the form necessary to meet that goal.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.