City Paper is not for tourists
After last year’s atypically confessional and sodden Beautiful Light, it looked as if the Fleshtones had finally run out of the vitality that kept them going through nearly two decades of garage-band revivalism. But one of the main reasons they’ve managed to soldier on for so long with minimal commercial success is that they’re a great live band, a fact that producer Steve Albini has applied to the construction of their ironically titled new disc. Recorded in 13 days in Chicago, Laboratory of Sound sounds raw and rushed, which are its two main virtues. Some of the material is recycled, and the rest is just plain thin—but the sound is so punchy and the performances so present, it just doesn’t matter. Unsurprisingly, Albini brings Keith Streng’s guitar way up in the mix, where it stings, crunches, and cajoles the songs into rudimentary shapes. Live, Streng has always been the bandleader, but on previous recordings the ‘shtones have tried to craft a balanced studio sound, which has occasionally taken the edge off their primitive party-rock. On Laboratory, Streng dominates virtually every cut, and the rest of the band is forced to fight back just to avoid being drowned out. The redoubtable Bill Milhizer responds with some ferociously forceful drumming, and singer Pete Zaremba, who on other efforts has tended to emcee the band’s songs rather than actually sing them, supplies enough soulful howling to be heard above Streng’s gleeful din.