I interviewed San Diego-based musician-writer-entrepreneur-provocateur Justin Pearson last year, when I profiled Retox, the band with whom he is currently raising a glorious racket. Since then I’ve been wanting to put together a little Pearson primer, because getting a grasp on Pearson’s contributions to punk rock is an essential project for anyone interested in extreme sounds of the 21st century.
And I finally have an excuse for such a sketch, as Retox returns to Portland on May 22, when it will wreck Rotture with its tornadic take on abrasive hardcore.
This short study doesn’t come close to being comprehensive, because there is only so much time in the day, and we are not all as tireless as my subject seems to be. I have skipped over Pearson’s early stuff (the seminal Struggle and Swing Kids), which is probably criminal to some of you, and the rundown also neglects to mention a handful of attention-worthy bands, but this column is partly a work of personal obsession, and the stuff mentioned below happens to be the stuff I think about when I think about Justin Pearson.
This sneering, leering quartet is Pearson’s present-day concern and the pretext for gathering here today to celebrate his accomplishments. Far from a mid-career cakewalk through the hardcore motions, Retox puts “the Pearson sound” into a centrifuge and isolates the essential spirit and aggression that fuels all of this guy’s work. Last year’s Ugly Animals LP is a perfect punk record: short as fuck, fast as fuck, loud as fuck, pissed as fuck, fucking fucked as fuck. An instant classic.
No précis necessary here, I imagine, but okay, real quick: Pearson’s best-known band is simply one of the greatest bands of the last fifteen years, and definitely one of the most influential and exciting punk acts of all time. The insect costumes, the long and absurd song titles, the synth-punk incursions into powerviolence toughness, the savvy branding and merchandising--everything invented and/or refined by the Locust continues to infuriate, inspire and infect bands who wanna break bones with sound. I sometimes feel like the Locust was/is so good that people either take the band for granted or resent its majestic supremacy. But whatever. The self-titled debut LP is up there with the Minor Threat discography, Operation Ivy’s Energy and the first four Ramones albums on my list of shit every kid needs to hear ASAP.
A punning lark starring Pearson, two Locust compatriots (Gabe Serbian, Bobby Bray) and Charles Bronson’s Mark McCoy, Holy Molar didn’t do much to mess with the Locust-derived prog-violence formula, but since when was more of the Locust a bad thing?
Head Wound City
Pearson teamed with Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), two Blood Brothers and fellow Locust dude Gabe Serbian in the mid-aughts to ever-too-briefly thrash and rage in glorious supergroup style as Head Wound City. The band stuck around just long enough to release a seven-song EP, and it is a sidewinding skullcrusher of a record (the band name could not be more apt). Like the Locust, Head Wound City was capable of cramming an album’s worth of vicious scheming into a one-minute song; the result produces a feeling of simultaneous expansion and contraction, as if you are being stretched to infinity and compacted into a block of concrete.
This sexed-up electro transgression is the only Pearson project I’ve never been able to get down with. I do appreciate the attempt to hijack a sex-shy scene with unabashed perversion and drippy prickishness, but All Leather falls just short of getting me off. That said, if I ever realize my dream of rebooting Red Shoe Diaries as hardcore amateur porn, I’ll have a soundtrack at the ready.
Three One G Records
Dude runs a record label as well, and it just might constitute his greatest contribution to the world of music. Just peep a few of the artists Pearson has poisoned the well with: Arab on Radar, Get Hustle, Das Oath, Jenny Piccolo, Chinese Stars, Cattle Decapitation. Straight up ridiculous, this guy. Take a nap, man!
From the Graveyard of the Arousal Industry
And oh yeah, Pearson also wrote a book. I have yet to read this autobiographical volume. Not because I’m uninterested, but because Pearson’s ceaseless, consistently impressive creative output is, at this point, like an admonition aimed squarely at my lazy shape: Chris, it says, you are not doing nearly enough, buddy. I know, Justin. I know. Pick up my slack, please.
SEE HIM: Retox plays Rotture on Tuesday, May 22 with Narrows, Blowupnihilist and Bronson Arm. 9pm. $10. 21+.