Music Features

Overlooked Albums #5: Saccharine Trust — Surviving You, Always

Punk rock music is, and always has been, reactionary. 

There’s a sad paradox to punk rock music, especially hardcore, in that it’s been typically perceived as one note:  That is, as one sniveling, snarling adolescent that can play exactly ONE note.  It’s true that the music is simple and that its initial aesthetic was based on a lack of musical discipline and a complete disregard for skill.  Consequently, learning how to play has been at times seen as a betrayal to the music, to the scene and to the fans.

But, being reactionary, punk rock naturally had to react against itself and become something better.  Inasmuch as the music challenged popular perceptions of acceptability in popular music and the elitist factor that was seen as monotonous and exclusionary, leave it to punk rock addled youth to dismiss creativity.  I, for one, would’ve loved to have been aware of Black Flag’s The Process Of Weeding Out when it was first released, just to have been witness to the ample disillusionment settling itself into the faces of their loyal fans upon first listen.  A hardcore punk band releases a jazz punk instrumental album?  “Alienating” is not a strong enough word.  Neither is “risky.”

Black Flag’s creative growth was inevitable.  The Minutemen notwithstanding, as amazing and ahead of the curve as they were, SST Records was expanding their roster with bands like Hüsker , Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth.  Really, was hardcore going to have a leg to stand on once post-punk and the developing indie rock scene left the blood and vitriol in its collective dust?  The Replacements released Let It Be, Bad Brains found Jah, Beastie Boys turned hip-hop, D.R.I. went metal, Minor Threat + Embrace + Rites Of Spring + One Last Wish = Fugazi:  Hardcore could not outlive the musical evolution that the American independent underground was experiencing.  Not that every band got on board, mind you, (Agnostic Front comes to mind), but hardcore was in decline once its stars began branching out.

Early in my very limited musical education, I’d asked my parents for a selection of albums for my birthday from an SST Records catalogue, which was basically a slip of paper that you had to mail in with a money order.  Part of my order was a cassette compilation from a band named Saccharine Trust.  I knew NOTHING about this band, and I can’t even remember why I ordered the tape, but it was comprised of two albums: Paganicons and Surviving You, Always.

Paganicons is a relatively better-known album, its claim to fame (perhaps not only) being that it’s in Kurt Cobain’s top 50 favorite albums.  A catchy and quick rhythmic rush of bass throb catapults singer Jack Brewer’s manic vocal, a shaky almost Beatnik style approach that, at first listen, could be received as either interesting or annoying. 

Surviving You, Always, though, could be seen as less of a punk rock album and as more of an abrupt and robust anti-hardcore abstraction.  It’s an expression of musical progression and jazz-rhythmic timing that basically tells hardcore to go fuck itself by boasting sounds just as loud and destructive.  And, though I don’t want to type out of turn, it could very well have played a role in the genesis of math rock as Saccharine Trust provided the genre a very fast and consistent array of percussively-charged and thoughtfully arranged templates.  The Giver Takes sets this precedent, a flurry of heavy drum rolls and Joe Baiza’s high frequency guitar churning out a mad rush of incendiary jazz noise.  A piano comes out of nowhere; chimes are disturbed.  In two minutes, the album’s introduction abruptly comes to halt and bassist Mark Hodson’s off-time funk introduces Lot’s Seed, Brewer going into a spastic account of Sodom and Gomorrah told from Lot’s point of view.

Inasmuch as Saccharine Trust challenge, though, the simplicity of hardcore’s construct, even if it is tackled with some degree of academia and maybe even a controlled substance or two, songs like Sunk, Speak and The House, The Concrete, The System stay relatively true to the music’s strength and speed.  The band doesn’t always deviate from the foundation, but they embellish, decorate and enhance.  The overt bass throb that opens All In A Good Night’s Bleeding gives false impressions of how the song is going to go.  Its transition to Craving The Center is perfectly sequenced, a true rock n’ roll moment.  The chunky, volatile and haphazard bass line that opens Remnants along with Tony Cicero’s snare stunned me the first time I heard it.  It still gives me chills.

The album’s true strangeness, though, comes through with the goofy noir of The Cat, Cracker and then the borderline and eerie progression of Our Discovery.  The songs are lengthy and dangerously epic, Our Discovery in particular plays like The Doors playing The End after listening to Flipper’s Generic about fifty times.  Even stranger, though, is YHWH On Acid (Yeah, that’s for Yahweh.  Apparently, the Big Guy was a student of Leary), a long and repetitious punk rock interpretation of jazz fusion, Brewer sort of riffs along with the music as the instruments jam variations on a single riff while voices gather in nonsensical conversation.

Drug themes continue with the album’s final track: a cover of The Door’s Peace Frog.  As if the music itself didn’t already reflect a certain psilocybin-flavored disposition, Saccharine Trust willingly align themselves, with some artistic license mind you, with the enemy.  If The Process Of Weeding Out betrayed the scene by being musical, Surviving You, Always possibly did the same by allowing itself to be adulterated by the same babyboomer generation that elected Reagan.

Whether that’s true or not, Saccharine Trust’s Surviving You, Always is an obscure point of punk’s transition, one that has unfortunately suffered a lack of circulation.  The LP is out of print and SST Records never released the album digitally, which simply means that Greg Ginn needs to get his shit together.