Suburban Lawns - Suburban Lawns [reissue] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Suburban Lawns

Suburban Lawns [reissue] (2015)

Futurismo, Inc.

Because the LA punk scene was such a happening place during the initial wave, dozens, if not hundreds of excellent bands slipped through the cracks. Perhaps Punk-History’s greatest crime is the neglect of The Suburban Lawns, who ripped up the scene from 78-83, and then disappeared in a flash. In fact, between 83 and the rise of the internet, the band was basically forgotten until Youtube became prevalent, when a stunning clip of the band playing “Janitor” on Public Access surfaced.

The video featured frontwoman Su Tissue looking like an Amish girl abandoned in a punk squad, left to fend for herself. As she stood there, dead eyed, she looked like she was ready to burst into tears until the song’s snappy riff came cascading down and Tissue erupted into the unforgettable line, “I’m a janitor! Oh my genitals! I’m a janitor! Oh my genitals!” And so, for the past decade or so, people have been wondering, just who is this strange creature and who are these weirdoes going along with her? Finally, Suburban Lawns answers that question and pulls the band (somewhat) out of obscurity.

Suburban Lawns shows that this weird band flirted with the alternative genres of the era without ever fully succumbing to any of them. The aforementioned “Janitor” is a timeless punk classic and rivals pretty much any of the classic singles. Su Tissue flips back and fourth between a pinched, chipmunk voice and a sort of wailing primadonna. Meanwhile, the lyrics jam abstract concepts against each other without any one direct meaning, though a sort of damaged psyche that both laughs and cries at modern living seems to linger there. If there’s a better summation of classic West Coast punk, I’ve yet to find it.

But, instead of fully devoting to the rumbling dangerhouse sound, the band cherry picked weird sounds from across the map. “Flying Saucer Safari,” which seems to have arisen independently of the similar-ish Rezillos tune, is a straight up New Wave bopper, with pop vocals draped over a jumpy, clean beat. Meanwhile, “Intellectual Rock” revels in a low swinging, Stooges crash-and-bash while “Gossip” is a trippy, psychedelic sermon that features melted vocals slavered over the backing music.

No doubt, Su Tissue is one of the main reasons this album sparks as bright as it does. At all times, she has this sickly-innocent outlook, with her squeaky voice, and seems to understand things entirely differently than everyone else. But for every time she plays coy, one wonders if the character that she inhibits knows that’s all an elaprotate trap and she’s just drawing you close with her childlike wonder/weirdness before she strikes… dig the eye flare at the very end of the “Janitor” video. That’s not to mention “Gossip” which finds Su Tissue, once again the outcast, but this time, tearing down her contemporaries in the vein of Carrie.

The other core component here is the raw power of the music itself. The compact take on Stooges self-destruction of “Intellectual Rock” (which makes the argument that cave-man music can be pretty evolved if you really think about) flows right into artsy song de-construction of “Protection.” There is both an appreciate of the classic rock (and punk) format here, as well as a willingness to tear it part and built the pieces into something else. It’s a clever trick that helps the band avoid punk-cliché, but it also shows their core strength- they know how to write a really catchy song when they want to, they just don’t always want to.

Futrismo has done an excellent job cleaning off this reissue. The music is loud and punchy, but still has the broad, new wave sound essential to the release. They appended the band’s follow up EP, Baby to the release. Baby is just as daring as its predecessor, but by ’82, the band had evolved past the simpler punk bashing and were messing with both post-punk and early dance music, which at times, even sounds disco-ish. Baby, while not quite as immediate as the LP, shows a certain sophistication. You could argue that the bands wanton naivite is what made the debut LP such a cracking release, and you’d probably be right, but Baby functions to show what if the band was more calculated with their thoughts.

Who’s to say why Suburban Lawns never really caught on or why they aren’t heralded in the annals of punk legends. Maybe they were just a little too weird or maybe they didn’t follow the “rules” quite closely enough. Perhaps it’s a bittersweet token for the band, but the very traits which keep the band from achieving canonization (or easy categorization) then, now serve to exemplify just how special, weird, and puzzling this band really was.

It’s about time for this reissue, that is for sure.