As your ears get a blast of the wayward scorch and transcendent blistering energies of The Wild Stares’ latest album Automatic Writing Machine – which Option magazine once described as “inscrutable, dense, manic, bizarre, intense, aloof, schizophrenic” – you may wonder why it is that you’ve never before heard of this offbeat, super indie ensemble that formed well over 30 years ago. A quick Google search gets you to an odd but fascinating chronicle/summary by Phil “Brick” Wahl from 1993 that was never published in its time.
The piece spends a lot of words explaining possible reasons why the band – launched by and still featuring former Connecticut high school mates Justin Burrill (guitar, vocals) and Steve Gregororpoulous (vocals, guitar) – was not loved by folks in their original town of Boston or their adopted (still) home of Los Angeles. Or when they played Seattle, for that matter. Why did the crowd leave? Why did some want to destroy them? Why such animosity? Why the “lonely path” they’ve taken? Why were they more appreciated in Germany than Stateside? Why don’t they show people a good time? There’s talk of a “curse.”
Pretty negative stuff, but perfectly fitting self-deprecating for a band whose punky guitar intensity, occasional trippy electronics, mostly atonal lead vocals, unique lyrical rambles, fascinating funkiness and only occasional Stones-like balladry and powerhouse playing takes your brain in a lot of mindbending (but quite fun sometimes) journeys of grandeur.
The final line of the original article pre-addendums is instructive if you plan on taking a deep dive into the new album – which should include the symphonic “Garden,” the schizo and insane as it sounds screecher “Watermelon Alcatraz” and the synthy, nearly danceable boomer “Night Watchman.” Wahl writes, “In their heads is the melody of the noise of the streets.”
If all the seeming negativity seems like a turn off at first – and obviously, we’re aware we’re not the first to reject the band’s crazy “charms” – just remember they also offer a sliver of prescient hope and playfulness. On the maddeningly percussive, punked out “Puppeteer,” they encourage us: “Wait for the coming of the end of the world and it sure ain’t frightening, pulling on the velvet rope, dancing in our underwear, raise your hands to laugh at the sky and everybody do the puppeteer.”