Kustomized – The Mystery of… (1994)

“Can I get some service?!”

R-1627354-1320288593.jpeg Peter Prescott got me through my 20-30s, and not a moment too soon, as it was a period even more confusing than adolescence. Too young for the first go-round of Mission of Burma, and just catching on to Volcano Suns when they were winding down with unceremonious club shows on the opposite coast, Kustomized was Prescott’s first music I experienced as it was being released (on CD to start). All of the above have gone into my ears more than anything else, and Kustomized’s first EP still holds up as the best of theirs on the whole.

It starts with a power chord—as in one, insistently played, with amplifier buzz audible in the intervening bars. The other guitar chimes in with precisely the same, just laying on a bit of thickness. Prescott has relinquished the drum throne to others for this band (Kurt Davis on this release), and I don’t know which part he’s playing but it’s all pretty simple, so there’s not much of a rhythm/lead distinction to make. Some leisurely cymbal taps count off the ensuing racket, which maxes out at three notes tops, all melding into a marvelous blur. It’s the easiest air guitar part in the world, and I couldn’t say how many times “Big Trick” has helped me work through anxiety, or psyched me up to overcome some fear. Prescott shouts about some vague beefs (“Do we deserve this? … Yeah!”) but it’s all balderdash that’s pretty easy to take. The song is so rock n’ roll that a single verse and bridge is all that is needed, and somehow remains singalong-worthy. Dissatisfaction is a tried-and-true starting point for a song, and “Full” is about quenchless appetites (“flavor never is the point, flavor never lasts…”) and even has a chorus (though after hearing it hundreds of times I still don’t know what in the hell he’s singing before “never full”). This whole side is breakneck, unrelenting and catchy as hell. The opening stabs of “Overnight Namedrop” are even more incessant than on “Big Trick,” and takes off with a rapid-fire bullhorn vocal that I can’t follow at all (something about “parties” “VIPs” and “royalty”). We’ve arrived at full-on wall-of-sound territory, though nothing preciously crafted a la Phil Spector. No producer here, just Bob Weston (Volcano Suns, Shellac) barely containing “recording and balance.” No matter how reasonable I’ve got the volume setting going in to it, the breakdown summoned with “1! 2! 3! 4!” is somehow always deafening, and that’s the way they wanted it.

Though “It Lives!” is clearly entrenched in a horror movie milieu (“it rises from the grave!”) and is just as powerful as side one, there’s something oddly sweet about it. I can decipher only a handful of the words, but for me it conjures the innocence of an awkward kid who retreats into a world of oddball monsters as a survival tactic. All of these songs are direct but “Nothing. Not No One.” is the only one I’d call bland, with perhaps too-audible lyrics about feelings of worthlessness (“taking up space”) though hard not to admire the proud proclamation of “the power of the absentee.” This is the one original here that didn’t make the cut for the endlessly-spun Kustom mix that sustained me until I reacquired all their releases on vinyl.

I wasn’t cool enough in 1994 for Joy Division, and it’s probably too late for me (though Control may be the best music biopic I’ve seen). I find their sound too thin for my liking, but this cover of “Dead Souls” starts with an unaccompanied bass with a tone that’s almost warm. The pounding toms are soon enveloped by big swinging guitar hooks, rooting the whole thing in a more palpable existential space. Prescott was born only a year after Ian Curtis, and is clearly a fan, but sells it with his own convincing brand of angst. These guys would have been the first to tell you they were already too old to be “punk” at the time, but they were there and can recall and conjure it convincingly. Pure and unpretentious, and I can’t imagine this EP ever sounding dated—a biased view from someone who still feels pretty juvenile two decades later.

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