Australian garage-punk luminaries the Scientists keep the scuzz rock going strong on Negativityon June 23, 2021 at 11:00 am

It’s a common misconception that true, filthy rock ‘n’ roll died in the early 80s after being eclipsed by new wave, whose shiny commercial sound piled on the gated reverb, drum machines, keytars, and New Romantic vocals. In fact, noisy rock and garage punk flourished underground during that era, thanks to the likes of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Butthole Surfers, Loop, Dwarves, and Australian caveman thudders the Scientists, whose front man and guitarist, Kim Salmon, formed the noirish, blackened-earth postpunk band in 1978 and later put in a few stints in homicidally heavy alt-rock group Beasts of Bourbon. Though till this year the Scientists had only squeezed out two albums (plus several mini albums, EPs, and singles), they’ve left their dark stain on rock history, which the Numero Group celebrated with a box set and reissues in 2016. Shortly thereafter, the band began recording new EPs and touring again–this author was extremely fortunate to see their incendiary performance at the East Room in 2018, where they absolutely slayed on a cover of Jacques Dutronc’s “Mini-Mini-Mini.”

Despite the fact that band members now live in two different countries, the Scientists have at last crafted their third proper album, Negativity. Lead guitarist Tony Thewlis mailed his riffs from London to Salmon in Australia, who fleshed them out with bassist Boris Sujdovic (also a founding member) and drummer Leanne Cowie (who first joined the group in 1985). The fuzz bombs laid down on the opening cut, “Outsider,” cement the band’s mission statement. “Make It Go Away” and “Naysayer” bristle with similar intensity, combining rhythmic scuzz with Salmon’s ominous half-spoken vocals. The gnarly “Seventeen” and the sarcastic “The Science of Suave” come closest to the Scientists’ vintage sound: dirty, mutant surf licks, saturated with reverb and Stooges-style bluster, much like their 80s contemporaries the Gun Club and Pussy Galore. With its catchy chorus, snappy drums, and cooing background vocals, “I Wasn’t Good Enough” could’ve been a radio hit–though perhaps in a strange dimension where first-generation punks such as Jayne County and Johnny Thunders formed the foundation of classic rock rather than dismantling it. The band throw a melodic curveball with the slow-burning “Moth-Eaten Velvet,” a tribute to the Velvet Underground that features piano by Salmon’s daughter Emma, trumpet by producer Myles Mumford, and a full-tilt string section. The track would’ve made a fine, elegiac album closer, but instead of bowing out gracefully, the Scientists sign off with the trudging, irreverent experiment “Outer Space Boogie,” whose lyrics consist mostly of “C’mon let’s boogie / Out here in space.” I don’t know about you, but I feel like the world could use far more swinging for the cosmos–and the Scientists might just take you there with muddy 80s moon boots on. v

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