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Missoula rockers offer up seven inches of pleasure

Records by Humpy, Spanker and others attest to vinyl's new surge

Whenever my old man and I debate music technology, I always end up defending the archaic and analog. Dad, a digi-phile who prizes "sound quality," leads the charge for all things mod and binary.

"Records?" he asked the first time he looked through the black discs that carry most of my audio entertainment. "I didn't even think they made these things any more. Don't you think they suck? I mean, the sound is just so much better on CD!"

Call it a reverse generation gap. As much as I love him, this is the man who once told me he'd rather listen to Eric Clapton than Robert Johnson. So it doesn't come as much of surprise that he regards the better part of my music collection with suspicion.

Vinyl-humble, accessible and revered until about '85-has taken a beating. Those little digital discs, boasting of better sound and supposed indestructibility-let's try scratching one, shall we?-now dominate music sales.

Faithless types like my Pops notwithstanding, however, vinyl still has true believers. Four local bands have recently entrusted work to seven inches of wax. For Missoula punk's Humpy, Fireballs of Freedom, Good Word and Spanker, the releases testify to a conviction that vinyl still lives.

They're not alone. Just ask George Ingram, who works for Nashville Record Manufacturing in Tennessee. After 33 years in the biz, Ingram says he's seen a renaissance in vinyl manufacturing in the last five years. Most of this has been driven, he says, by small labels.

"It's safe to say that there's probably more interest in vinyl now than there has been any time in the last 10 years," Ingram says. "What we've seen is the old pendulum swing. Records got a lot of really bad press there for a while, and now the pendulum is swinging back.

"People aren't buying some of the bullshit the major labels have been putting out over the years anymore."

The BS to which Ingram refers is the contention that CDs are superior to vinyl. That might be true for the monsters of rock and country, but for grassroots artists from punk to techno to square dance-all genres Ingram's business relies on-vinyl is the way to go.

"It's still so very cost-effective," Ingram says. "A lot of bands are getting records out for under a grand, and what with prices these days, that's damn cheap."

The low cost of vinyl leads naturally to the "split," a record shared by two bands. Each band chips in an amount about equal to one month's rent and gets a record of its very own. Witness the disc shared by Missoula veterans Fireballs of Freedom and Humpy, and the other split between Garden City emo boyz the Good Word and Pullman, Washington's Left Coast.

The Fireballs/Humpy split, a joint production of Missoula labels Pink House and Waentage, flat-out screams from start to finish. True to form, Humpy squeezes four songs on their side, against just one Fireballs epic, the sweaty and evil "Gatornado."

Humpy's vocals try to match the guitar's edge-of-the-envelope agony and the rhythm section unleashes a thunderous inferno. By time the needle lifts, you'll be exhausted. Not that the Fireballs' side offers any respite, what with their trademark fat-and-sassy fury given full play.

The Good Word, on the other hand, offers a more considered brand of rawk on its release. "Bleeding at the Seams," an instrumental, showcases the band's adventurous guitar-bass experiments, driven by a piccolo snare with all the mercy of a Marine drill instructor. The pace is plenty fast, but there are tons of little things going on in the noise.

Spanker, meanwhile, goes in for pure wickedness on their record, which they have all to themselves. Lead banshee Cyndee mixes spaced-out melody with gut-wrenching belts upside the head. Her band, powered by full-test drumming, flavored with truly strange ideas played out on bass and guitar, leaves one wondering just what planet its inspiration comes from.

All three records boast moments of full-on rock excitement, and you can have them all for the price of a single CD at your local consumer emporium of choice. It's the kind of bargain that likely ensures a much-maligned medium's survival.

Those who doubt vinyl's analog majesty, from my dad to big-time record execs, would do well to take note. Ingram, for one, says the tide is turning. "People have gone back and taken a listen and said, y'know, those old vinyl records weren't really that bad. Let's make some more."


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