Destroy All Astro-Men! (Estrus)

Man . . . Or Astro-Man?

By Bob Bahr

Ever hear instrumental surf music on the radio? No! And I'll tell you why . . . because THEY don't want you to hear it!

Who are They? The government of course! They make it seem oh so innocent -- the Ventures aren't played on the radio anymore because they don't have any PRODUCT, they say. The real reason is the government is CONTROLLING instrumental surf music due to its highly addictive properties.

That's why groups such as Man . . . Or Astro-Man? are only available on the small Bellingham, Mass., label Estrus, and carried only by independent record stores. It's just too dangerous.

On Destroy All Astro-Men!, an album described by one covert operator as "the Ventures on cocaine," a mysterious quartet that goes by the names of Birdstuff, Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard, Dr. Deleto and His Invisible Vaportron, and Star Crunch plug in their Fender guitars and turn the reverb way up on 21 blasts of shimmering, simple pop subversiveness.

You think the catchy melody of "You Can't Get Good Riblets in Space" is harmless? Then why is your daughter doing the pogo to it for the 40th CONSECUTIVE TIME? Man . . . Or Astro-Man? has roots in some like-minded hardcore such as Agent Orange, but it's just a RUSE. These players have the double-D tattoo above the heart, the mark of Dickie Dale disciples. There's even a cut ("Taco Wagon") from Dale, that pied piper of the twangy surf guitar. Pick up Destroy All Astro-Men! only if you're strong.

O, the seductiveness of "Reverb 10,000," with its muted, electric guitar picking pounding out a quick-step rhythm that matches my racing heart! Iy, the sound of muffled drums banging the persistent beat! Wooo, the sinister chords, the charging rush of propelling guitar riffs, the single-minded bass! We find the insistence of punk in the dark strains of the Batman theme, muted here by M...OAM? into a science fiction nightmare where robots disguised as bureaucrats whack at the whammy bars of Fender guitars, warping the music/message into a Trojan horse, a wolf in sheep's clothing that uses tom-toms to force our feet into unwilling dance. TREACHEROUS!

"Of Sex and Demise," with its finger-snapping jauntiness and treble-hook melody, has been banned in most counties, yet still survives (weed-like), and leaves me strung on the line. The hyper-loud drums of "Intoxica" nearly drown out everything else, a blessing that should have been bestowed upon "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Love Theme," which is a Rocky Horror-like break from serious surf business.

We're dealing with DIY punkers with a sense of humor, right? The songcraft of "Landlocked" demonstrates something deeper . . . the organ piping up like a forgotten Jimmy Smith track, the guitar goosing rockabilly - then BAM! it's over! A minute-40 of ecstasy, then we're left waiting a good second/SECOND AND A HALF before the next track keeps the goods coming. That's too long in this juiced state!

The low growl of the guitars pulls tight -- barely restrained -- on the chain of "Destination Venus," while a David Lowery-like voice sketches the sci-fi theme. Prepare to hit "PLAY" again, folks. We're almost at the end of the disc.

It's over with a whimper you can hear all the way over on the next beach. Keep this in reach of children, take more than is directed and DON'T OPEN THE DOOR IF THEY'RE WEARING BLUE SUITS.