How I Found Angst (And Five Songs To Help You Find Them, Too) by Jeff Schroeck

It’s 2002, it’s August, The Ergs! are on tour, and Mike and I are in full-on CEN Mode (Collect Everything Now.) We don’t have much money—he keeps getting a wire from his dad while I’m bumming five bucks here and there from my girlfriend who has come along as roadie—but we keep seeing records that we may never see again. And even if we do see these records again it will be on Ebay, they will each be an extra two dollars, and we won’t have them RIGHT THE FUCK NOW, which is when we want them.

On day two we’re in a record shop in Pennsylvania, and I’m digging through the used bins on the second floor. I’ve spent the last five years looking at SST catalogs, including the ones still inside copies of old, out-of-print records, so I have a good, subconscious store of band names. LP jackets I’d ordinarily flip quickly past now give me pause, names like Slovenly, Always August, and, at this particular shop, Angst, whose color-splattered jacket for Mending Wall I’m holding in my hand. I’m not able to listen to any of these records until we get home, so each record is a gamble, the stakes adding up as my pile grows. I’m hoping I don’t get too many duds.

So as I put Lite Life into my haul a few stores later, I pause. If they’re a bad band from the infamous SST stoner glut I’m out twice. On the other hand, it’s only $3.99, cheap enough to pay with a five and get a coffee at the next Shell station. It could even turn out to be great; one of my all-time favorite records, in fact!

I get home and go through my stack and listen to Mending Wall first. I like it, but I don’t love it, so Lite Life moves further back in the queue. I get through Universal Congress Of This Is Mecolodics (GOOD); Crazy Backwards Alphabet (VERY GOOD); Slovenly Thinking Of Empire (GREAT!)

I finally listen to Lite Life. I’m hooked from the syncopated kicks underneath the riff that opens “Love Dissolves” that themselves dissolve into a swift share roll, leading into the meat of the song. Jon E. Risk sings about relationships falling apart in the same space as he sings about buildings falling down, giving them equal gravity. Though he’s fifteen years ahead of it, I’m hearing it eleven months after the collapse of the Twin Towers. It makes me think of myself, one year younger and fresh out of high school, scribbling both woeful crush poems and self-righteous, anti-jingoistic screeds back to back in the same notebook every day on my lunch break.

When Joe Pope starts singing “Turn Away” I decide to stop the record, but only so I can cue up a blank tape to record it. I put Meat Puppets II on the other side, and that tape stays in my car’s deck for weeks, auto-flipping again and again. It’s the soundtrack to nightly trips to the library, back in my “no bills, no responsibilities” days.

The rest of the record is as good as the start, no duds in the bunch, and as soon as I can I track down the three remaining records. All this time, though, I’m constantly searching the internet to get anything about this band, but I find that all information about them cuts off in 1988, the year of their last LP. A few years later, Frank Black mentions them in an interview, and Jon E. Risk appears to have put out a solo cd in 1997, but other than that? Nothing.

Angst ca. 1985 (L-R) Jon E. Risk, Joseph Pope, Michael Hursey (photo by Naomi Peterson)

“Another Day” (Angst EP, 1983 Happy Squid 011/1986 SST 064)

I’ve never liked this record all that much, especially its humorous material, but there are a couple bright spots, songs that give an indication of where the band is headed. “Dummy Up” is a bridge between the punky urgency of The Instants and the more controlled anger of the Pope songs on Lite Life. And “Another Day” is an even bigger step forward, with its open folk chords and Jon E. Risk’s laid-back, melancholy vocal. It’s short, too, just a few verses-with-refrain, and they’re out.

“Friends” (Lite Life, 1985 SST 054)

There’s much bitterness and resignation on this record, and “Friends,” with its refrain “it’s better not to have any friends” is a strong candidate for bitterest. It becomes almost funny by the end of it, the narrator becoming more cranky with each repetition of the line. And the riff is really cool, with the perfect pause each time, just before the second chord. It’s not the fastest song here, but it’s one of the most propulsive and energetic; plus it leads into one of the great “Fuck It All” songs of all time, “Ingnorance Is Bliss.”

“Some Things (I Can’t Get Used To)” (Mending Wall, 1986 SST 074)

Sometimes a song is the hit for a reason. Even when you’re trying to effect a pose where your preference is for the most obscure* thing, and you are trying to dethrone the king of the realm with a shrug, sometimes you just have to say things like “I guess the Beatles are the most revered rock group in history because they wrote and recorded a number of very good songs.” This is Angst’s most well known song, and for good reason. Its guitar line is a perfect distillation of the type of college rock riff that descended from songs like U2’s “I Will Follow,” especially with the harmonically bizarre yet still in key bass underneath it. The chorus is bone-simple, just the title twice with the slightest variation in melody. The build up at the end is great, too. Michael Hursey is not a flashy drummer but he knows how to keep the songs in their proper emotional tempo range.

*(Don’t think I didn’t consider my love of Angst and other OOP SST bands when I wrote that)

“It’s Mine” (Mystery Spot, 1987 SST 111)

There are some meat and dairy substitutes that taste remarkably close to the item they’re meant to replace, certain foods, like chicken nuggets and ground beef crumbles, or the better butters. Especially if you haven’t had the real thing in a while, the gap between it and its facsimile will shrink. Then you have a bite of the real one, and its taste is more real than you remembered. All of this was to say that sometimes, when I listen to Mystery Spot, I think it’s my favorite of their records. That is, until I listen again to Lite Life, which is the chopped meat to Mystery Spot’s Textured Vegetable Protein.

It is great, though, and “It’s Mine” is a highlight. It’s airy, a bit spacey, then comes crashing back to Earth, in performance, production, and meaning, with the bridge “And in the morning light/things will look different/than they did last night.” And, after hearing “What’s The Difference,” it’s impossible to ever look at a motel sign again without saying “M TEL” to yourself.

“The Weather’s Fine” (Cry For Happy, 1988 SST 206)

Michael Hursey is out for this one, with Andy Kaps taking over on drums. It’s not as good as the previous three, though listening to it again this week I enjoyed it a lot more than I’d remembered.

None of the songs are bad. Rather, it sounds like a band losing its inspiration, and it being their last recording makes a strong case for a band that might not have wanted to do it anymore. But there are bright moments. “The Weather’s Fine” is a bouncy, peppy one that wouldn’t sound out of place on the flipside of a split with Sicko, and “She’s Mine” has a great chorus.

Jeff Schroeck is a writer and musician living in Central New Jersey with his wife and daughter. He plays guitar and sings, currently in Character Actor and formerly in The Ergs! and Black Wine. He has fiction in Cabildo Quarterly and a recent essay in Razorcake. Some days he prefers fIREHOSE to the Minutemen; other days it’s the opposite.



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