350 x black
150 x splatter
By 1982, the loud, fast rules of hardcore had calcified into loud, fast clichés. The era’s generic thrash bands were growing as predictable as anything in the commercial mainstream and what once felt raw and exciting was now an artistic cul-de-sac. But the humus of that creative stagnation nourished stranger-smelling flowers at the outer edges of the garden: Groups like Flipper, the Church Police, No Trend, and Mission for Christ dealt in slow, grinding dirges peppered with surreal, smart-assed words that mocked the conformity of both the so-called punk scene and society at large. They infuriated the kids who reveled in preening, slamming, and shouting empty political slogans but they immediately hooked the brainier and freakier factions within the audience.
Named for a high-school math teacher, Mr. Epp and the Calculations were the Seattle area’s prime practitioners of sarcastic, zonked, and oddly poignant slop. Featuring vocalist and occasional guitarist Jo Smitty alongside guitarist and occasional vocalist Mark Arm, they tickled the American underground with “Mohawk Man,” a deadpan swipe at an increasingly vapid subculture set to shivers of post-no wave feedback and a cavernous, tom-heavy beat. The quartet’s lone seven-inch EP, Of Course I’m Happy. Why?, paired this delightfully blasé satire with four apoplectic rants, most notably the rabid “Wild Youth on Money.”
Alas, the resulting hubbub was pretty short-lived. Mr. Epp fell apart in early 1984 and has remained a well-kept local secret despite the accomplishments of its alumni: Arm and late-period guitarist Steve Turner went on to something approximating fame with Green River, the Thrown Ups, and Mudhoney; Smitty ran the Box Dog label and oversaw various Northwestern noise projects; bassist Todd Why? became the singer in Atomic 61; and drummer Darren Mor-X joined Steel Pole Bath Tub.
After commanding stupid collectors’ prices for decades, Mr. Epp’s EP is finally available again courtesy of Full Contact, the vinyl imprint of Finland’s Ektro Records with an ear for regional obscurities. We strongly encourage you to grab this reissue, crack open a beer or 10, and laugh at your lame, sanctimonious peers while pondering the immortal question posed by the lyrics to “Red Brigade”: “But wherein lies the solution/ In free thought or bogus revolution?” The answer, my friend, is as obvious as you are.
Jordan N. Mamone, New York City
October 1, 2015