Known more for the various bands that it helped bring into the punk rock world than for its own short-lived output, Cargo Cult was a major part of the underrated Austin-based hardcore scene of Ronald Reagan's early '80s. It also happened to be the proving ground for Duane Denison, who later became an underground guitar legend in bands like the Jesus Lizard and Tomahawk, and Randy "Biscuit" Turner, who had starred earlier in the Big Boys. As such, Strange Men Bearing Gifts is a rocking showcase for the capable skills of both artists, although Denison's flange-heavy string work, in particular, is the real star here. His guitar's fingerprints smudge every groove on Strange Men Bearing Gifts, strutting its stuff all over speed nuggets like "Okie Krude," "Cargo Cult," and the bracing "Misfortune Cookie," while taking enough time out to build a heretical arena rock intensity on the solid "Mekong Delta Blues." Meanwhile, Biscuit keeps the whole album careening forward with earnest, breakneck vocals and the standard punk rock sneers, taking only slight breaks to get white-man's-overbite funky on a feedback-soaked cover of War's "Slippin' into Darkness," spoken word soulful on "Underworld," or disarmingly introspective on "Mekong Delta Blues." Strange Men Bearing Gifts is a solid release from a punk supergroup that time has unfortunately forgot, a curse that indie powerhouse Touch & Go was happy to reverse by reissuing the disc at the dawn of 2003. That kind of historical love alone gives Cargo Cult's only major release higher marks (as well as a bit more cultural capital) than it might have earned on its own.
AllMusic Review by Scott Thill