Naked Raygun

Basement Screams

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With a total running time of eight minutes, the original six songs on Basement Screams are little more than the average, in-your-face, post-punk gristle. Screaming vocals, piercing guitars, rolling drums, and snapping basslines show up in each take. Despite the apparent simplicity, there are hints of what lie ahead in Naked Raygun's future. "I Lie" features a catchy outro that completely subverts the song's original tempo in favor of an advanced and defined melody -- a strategy the band would use on all but its final album. "Tojo," a ditty about the ruthless dictatorship of a Chinese emperor, is brave and light years ahead of what most other American punk bands were singing about. Basement also has a penchant for the witty on "Swingo," with lines like "Go swing/Like the pendulum do/Go swing/Like John Wilkes Booth" throwing open the cellar doors that lead to political and social commentary -- the EP makes it plainly clear that Naked Raygun had something to say. It is doubtful that the stop-start, smooth-rough passages that provide the frame for "Potential Rapist" could be pulled off by anyone else, save for an artist like Gang of Four. The song's first-person account of the psychological chess game between males and females walking in the inner city forever rings true. As Steve Albini states in his tributary essay in the reissue's liner notes, Naked Raygun are "the absurd alongside the magnificent." The Basement reissue comes with eight bonus tracks, seven of which were previously unreleased recordings from Chicago's 222 S. Morgan Street, an address that served as the storied practice and living area for the city's early-'80s punk bands. It's hard to discern what Naked Raygun are actually singing on the bonus material, but the energy is undeniable. Basement is the key that unlocks the irrepressible action, politics, and challenging musical structures that became the band's trademark until guitarist John Haggerty (the man who replaced Basement player Santiago Durango) left in 1989.

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