Though it may seem as if Fort Worth music peaked only a couple of years ago, what with Leon Bridges and lots of KXT love directed toward 817 artists, this area has been percolating with stellar sounds since forever, even in the bitter ’90s and the dark days after 9/11, especially in terms of delirious, often aggressive weirdness.
One of the first bands we found out about after gearing our coverage away from Dallas and toward our own backyard in the early aughts was Benway. Loud, mathy, and moody, the long defunct quartet could be said to be a precursor to known post-punk Fort Worth greats like BULLS and Clear Acid. I haven’t listened to Benway in a minute. I was glad to hear them again in the form of some previously unreleased material. Still listening to it. It’s that good.
This is all thanks to Aaron Bartz. The frontman for the trippy O. Deletron and the mathy and rocky Tame … Tame and Quiet has recently been releasing long-thought-lost or indeed lost material from North Texas’ underground under the imprimatur of his own Submerged Capital Records. In addition to Benway and Bartz’ bands, the guitarist/singer has also digitally put out previously unreleased or unheralded tracks by Sonic Death Monkee, Scattergun Reflex, and others. They all rock. This is good music, especially for locavores or other appreciators of Fort Worth music history.
Scattergun Reflex, hailing from the fair burgh of Cleburne, first appeared to Bartz via a compilation CD released by the Arlington record store Laser Trax.
“Being a fan of both instrumental and math-rock bands,” Bartz wrote on Facebook, “the Scattergun track hit me in the good spots.”
Bartz’ Submerged Capital has put out the unreleased Scattergun album Anchors as well as the Laser Trax track, “Chocolate Castle.” Scattergun Reflex’s full-length, Laughing at a Dead Man, is also available on all streaming formats.
The Benway release was natural. Bartz and former Benway guitarist Darren Miller have been playing together in TTXQ since the mid-aughts. Why the Benway material was never released or better received is the big question.
“Benway was as close as our area had to a band like Rodan or June of 44, and I loved it,” Bartz writes. “The drummer set up with his back to the audience, and the other three lashed out with authentic Fort Worth noise straight at your face. Better yet, they were great dudes.”
Via Submerged Capital, Bartz is releasing Benway’s single “Canary/Knapsack” and the unreleased full-length Di-Electric Breakdown. They’re both available on all streaming platforms.
With Benway and Scattergun Reflex, you can feel the heavy influence of ’90s post-rock: lots of knotty, twangy, bashing instrumentalism. The instrumental Sonic Death Monkee is something else. The surfy, wavy, arpeggiated organ and pounding drums conjure a ’60s zombie party on acid. (Hosting a socially distanced Halloween party? SDM is your jam — at least to mix in among some Los Straitjackets, “Tubular Bells,” and Ghost.)
“If you ever had a chance to see the brother duo of Eric and Michael Reyes from Fort Worth play in the early 2000s,” Bartz writes, “you know why this is special. With their frantic, prog video-game sound, it was always captivating. I saw them play the first time at Trinity Park for a … benefit show. I immediately asked if I could record them and me and [bandmate] Patrick Higgins tried our best to make this recording. We hope you enjoy this mostly undiscovered gem.”
Sonic Death Monkee recorded a second album, and “the boys gave CDRs to some of you,” Bartz writes. “By now, they’ve surely been stolen or deteriorated by our toxic environment. Originally titled Muy Terrible, after further review, it’s not terrible at all!”
Bartz told me he considers himself “fortunate enough to get to know and play with a special group of talented bands from this area over the last 20 or so years, who never got the recognition I felt they deserved. I collected all the stuff I could from them, because I enjoyed it, and I thought they should have an audience, no matter how far removed from the scene they were/are.”
Bartz adds that Submerged Capital has “some other exciting releases in the works.”
This is the kind of important curatorship that helps scenes retain a sense of all that’s come before and provide a roadmap for all that’s left to achieve. There isn’t much, but there’s enough. — Anthony Mariani
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