What will you be up to in your 40s and 50s? I’m betting it won’t be fronting a committed DIY garage rock band with your wife and friend, putting out record after homemade record. Well, that’s what Fred and Toody Cole, along with slightly younger drummer Andrew Loomis have been doing since `87. Fred Cole, born 1948, has recorded with many garage and psychedelic groups since the mid-`60s, and married Toody in `67. They ended up in Clackamas, Oregon and in the late `87 decided to put together a bare bones rock outfit.
I had never heard of Dead Moon and I’m guessing a lot of you haven’t either due in part to their insistence on being underground, releasing most of their records on their own label, Tombstone, and others on German label Music Maniac. The band retired just this last December (their last record, Dead Ahead was released in 2004), but Sub Pop is helping to bring their legacy of noise to the indie masses. This release is basically a sampler, or greatest hits if you will, picked by Fred Cole to introduce people like me to the band. In roughly a chronological fashion, the two discs take you from their first LP, 1989’s Graveyard, to their second-most-recent album, 2001’s Trash & Burn, in a comprehensive two-and-a-half hours. It was quite a challenge to take it all in.
Their sound is raw garage rock 'n’ roll with a punk edge, all recorded extremely lo-fi. This reviewer’s guess is that this sound may in part stem from Fred Cole’s younger days after arriving in the Northwest in the mid-`60s -- bands like Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Sonics, and the numerous local bands that would cover “Louie, Louie” sloppy as hell. An interesting side note: Apparently Cole made the vinyl masters to nearly every Dead Moon record on the same mono lathe that the Kingsmen cut their famous version of that very song; I don’t know much on how he got ahold of that, but it’s a cool tidbit. Lead vocals are shared by Fred and Toody and they compliment each other perfectly. Fred’s quivering yet powerful delivery is like a weird mix of Neil Young’s high warble and Richard Hell’s attitude, while Toody’s tone makes me think of Debbie Harry, if she just didn’t give a shit.
Early tracks found the band hitting their stride immediately. A theme song of sorts, the Stooges-like chug of “Dead Moon Night” caught me instantly, and the chromatic carnage in the bridge was just icing on the cake. “Johnny’s Got a Gun” is a basic rock 'n’ roll number but with a focus on Toody’s catchy vocals which are ruggedly double-tracked to great effect. The lone live track, “54/40 or Fight” finds Fred pulling out all the stops with some fantastic shrieking. Later tracks saw the band maintaining the rough edges with the driving rhythms of “Sabotage” and going a bit poppier on my favorite, the simplistic toe-tapper “The Way It Is."
It isn’t all a chaotic blur here, as they span the spectrum of tempos and dynamics. The trio has always been able to take it down a notch yet still rock, from the early western/blues ballad feel of “I Hate the Blues” or the back-and-forth build of “A Miss of You” to the more recent “On Another Plane” and the excellent love song to one another “These Times with You."
The main downside to this collection is the sheer length of it. It is nearly impossible to hear it all in one sitting, but that isn’t really a necessity, as this is not an “album” proper. The other thing that could be a possible downside, depending on your opinion, is the consistency of these recordings. From 1988 to 2001 the band’s sound changed very little both on the songwriting end and the production end. Some may see this as a dedication to a certain ethic and love of gritty rock and roll. I can see that, for sure, and I have no problem with the lower-end recording quality throughout. But on the other hand, the individual songs themselves do little to separate themselves from the pack. Sure, there are the standouts mentioned above, but you could put on a song from 1999’s Destination X and just in listening I might think it’s from the 1988 Unknown Passage LP. Nothing happened in their lives in those ten years, no new influences that may have seeped their way into the songwriting process? Then again, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Echoes of the Past is a thorough introduction to a band that has been largely unnoticed by the American underground rock masses, and with their retirement shortly after its release, this will serve as a epitaph of sorts. I recommend this to anyone into gritty rock and roll or anyone tired of the big business polish of what can pass as ‘punk’ today. Are you as punk as Dead Moon? Doubt it.