The Flashing Astonishers – Everything is Gonna Stop / The Star-Off Machine

The Flashing Astonishers
Everything is Gonna Stop / The Star-Off Machine

I lived for a while in Syracuse, NY, from 1993 to 1997. This was a tough place to be for a regular rock guy. The only game in town was the Vegan/Straightedge hardcore scene, and it was huge. Earth Crisis is from there. Snapcase is from Buffalo, near there. Angry hardcore. (=metal.) Lots of angry white kids with Xs on their hands bombing meat-packing plants. (I kid you not!!) The last hardcore show I was in town for, I was sitting having coffee near the club, and all of a sudden dozens of kids rushed out, screaming in fear. Apparently some zealot whipped out a gun during Earth Crisis’ set. (I guess it is OK to kill people as long as no animals are hurt.) Needless to say this kind of nonsense was not for me. Other than that there was the disco scene (again, I’m not kidding). There were not one but TWO disco cover bands that both played to packed clubs seven days a week. And the Grateful Dead hippie scene, too. Starting to get the picture?
But there were some amazing bands busting their asses and making great music, albeit for themselves, without much of an audience. I went back to Syracuse a few months ago and picked up two releases by the Flashing Astonishers, who were recording Everything is Gonna Stop as I was leaving the city. Formed from the remnants of a psycho surf-punk group, (some of you may remember The Mildreds,) G.A.R.Y. Johnson and Dan Musclow renamed the band and completely changed the sound. Meanwhile Johnson, through sheer persistence and insanity, has nearly single-handedly given the Central New York indie fans a reason to live. Not only does G.A.R.Y. play in the Flashing Astonishers, but he runs an incredibly cool fanzine by the same name, plays drums in the Circle Stars, and pulls media pranks such as you have never seen. But these stories are for a later date….
Flashing Astonishers shows were always a blast. G.A.R.Y. and Dan would set up as many amplifiers as they could get their hands on, chained them together, and gave their pop songs the My Bloody Valentine treatment, which, as happened to their idols before them, caused many to run for the door. Songs changed tempo and feel from show to show and felt like experiments in sound that the audience was allowed to observe. I was curious to see how well this translated to the recorded format.
On to the first album, Everything is Gonna Stop. This was recorded with one of the band’s many lineups, this one featuring two guitars, bass and drums. They actually stole one of the disco band’s drummers, how cool is that!? No worries though, no disco will be found here. Think early Catherine Wheel, with a pinch of mid-90’s Sonic Youth wierdness. With a good sound quality and what sounds like a hurried recording schedule, the Flashing Astonishers give you their live set, no frills, and actually do a good job of replicating their earplug-melting live shows. To me, Dan had never seemed comfortable with his vocals, but on this album he really belts them out. The way he sings just a bit behind the beat gives the songs an extra layer of pop cool. Best song: “La De Dey,” a two and a half minute blast of middle-finger indie rock. It is great to hear Musclow’s voice, half singing and half screaming in desperation, sing, “I’m getting older and a little more bipolar!!!” Powerful, ugly, and brilliant.
The second disk, The Star-Off Machine, has much more variety. It is a collection of unreleased songs recorded from 1997-1999. This is the sound of a band trying to find themselves, and it is great fun following the band as they explore different areas of guitar-based indie rock. There are at least a dozen players listed (a la their heroes GBV), with G.A.R.Y. and Musclow the only constants, and thus there are many sounds and styles to be found. The recordings range from decent studio production to weird sub-GBV demos, and many points in between. Indie fans should have fun sifting through this album and finding gems (and there are many), but this collection isn’t as strong as the first.
G.A.R.Y. is currently working on a website to bring his label into the 21st century, but until then contact Koala Records at PO Box 70, Syracuse, NY 13210, or email Punkkoala@aol.com to order either of these albums. I also recommend asking for the latest Flashing Astonisher Fanzine, as it is one of the best out there.