Started in 1991 as a spoken word label, Kill Rock Stars is still probably best known as a haven for feminist rock ‘n’ roll, producing breakout Riot Grrl stars such as Bikini Kill, Witchypoo, Huggy Bear, Bratmobile and critic darlings Sleater-Kinney. Lest we too quickly label Kill Rock Stars as just a girl thang, a look at their roster, past and present, shows releases by Rancid, Unwound, Elliot Smith, Nirvana, John Doe and Nation of Ulysses. More concerned about producing good work than representing a particular style, KRS will take a gamble on a band or artist with only one criterion: they make good music or spoken word. Turbo’s Tunes, a sort of year 2000 retrospective, proudly displays, and for the new listener introduces, this wide range of talent and styles, and for the measly five clams you’ll throw across the counter at the pierced freak at your local record store you probably won’t find a better deal this year.
Perhaps the label’s start as an outlet for spoken word artists, with their intimacy and confessional aesthetic, is the best clue to what one might find on Turbo’s Tunes. This comp, via the art that fills it, is a warm inviting introduction; the kind of introduction that declares, “hey, check this out, you’re welcome into our circle” in addition to “hey, here I am”. The Gossip’s amicable opener, “Got All This Waiting”, a bluesy jump and shimmy number, is a short pop masterpiece touching on desire and jealousy while The Frumpies’ “Frumpies Forever” is a bratty garage rock shout-out about loyalty that would make Lenny Kaye grin. Lois Maffeo, erstwhile of Lois, and Brendan Canty, skin pounder for Fugazi, paint a beautiful sparse landscape with “Being Blind”, a slow mostly acoustic groove with piano and strings touching upon finally leaving a lover behind as hard as that may be. “I won’t be around to see what you do. I’ll leave that pleasure to somebody who doesn’t mind being blind” lulls Maffeo as the listener feels the fragile declaration of independence.
Other standouts include Sleater-Kinney’s “Ballad of a Ladyman” from last year’s excellent All Hands on the Bad One, Two Ton Boa’s “Bleeding Heart”, a cut and paste excursion into gritty chunk with haunting gorgeous vocals, the highly underrated Unwound’s “MKUltra”, a track that starts out melodic, innocent and brooding until building up into a distorted noise collage with emotion-on-my-sleeve vocals, Sue P. Fox’s awesome pastiche of a bluesy shout on the left speaker and confessional on the right speaker with a guitar and drum lick in the center, and Jim Carrol’s — of Basketball Diaries fame — Lou Reedesque “Hairshirt Fracture”.
Kill Rock Stars provides a welcome alternative to the disposable pop music — read ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, etc. — interrupting our aural cavities and mental environment. Accept the invitation that Turbo’s Tunes is and make the transaction with our aforementioned human pincushion. Don’t forget to introduce yourself as an invitation; she could probably use a friend.