CD Review

Transilvia - A Retrospective

By Dan Century

Imaginary Midgets
Good Evil Records
Slugchuckles Insanely
Base On Balls / Tee Pee Records
Bureau of Dissonant Culture 1999 Compilation
Bureau of Dissonant Culture
Self Titled
Good Evil Records

Let's go back to the early 90's - way back when I was attending Rutgers College* and getting seriously fucked up every damn night of my life, with no plans for the future and pleasure my only goal. Most of my friends and acquaintances shared my degenerate "party now, pay up later " philosophy. Nightly club hopping and bar crawls, innumerable house parties, 5am Falafel runs, gymnastic exercises in prurience and untold amounts of property damage - everyone was fucked up, partying down and getting real stoooopid.

Every community of unrepentant degenerate scumbags needs a scumbag band to provide the soundtrack…at that time in New Brunswick, that band was Transilvia - a crew of surly reprobates who spent most of their time at scumbag bars like McCormick's and sleazy dance clubs like the Roxy** and the Downunder - when of course they weren't attending drug fueled orgies. I never saw them wear any color but black.

I remember the first time I saw the band perform: it was a rainy, crappy New Jersey fall night…alone and sober, I trudged over to the Roxy to see this band I'd heard so much about. Once inside I bought a beer and waited by the stage for shit to happen. Tension grew as the band took their places: the tall, skinny guitar player, the diminutive bass player with his unusual Steinberg bass, and the singer, mummified in toilet paper…and they were all noticeably drunk - real drunk. I did not know what to expect but, from the first note on, I was blown away. The bass player erupted with a bass sound I've never heard equaled before or since, hitting at all frequencies, demanding to be noticed - this bass was definitely a lead instrument. The guitarist commanded the few frequencies left - part Greg Ginn, part Monster Magnet, part Mahavishnu Orchestra - his style was also unique. The singer was doing his best to terrify the crowd, keep his cool and not fall down. Somehow, they made all this chaos and power work. I was an instant fan: the music was awesome and the atmosphere they brought with them ignited the social scene, leading to many over-the-top parties, and many good times.

In 1993 Transilvia left the womb of New Brunswick for LA to make it big. Well, that never quite happened, and since that time New Jersey's finest Gothic/Noise/Industrial/Stoner/Acid/Punk band has dissolved. Thankfully we have a legacy of recordings to remember them by, including a few recent solo projects from various band members.

The Imaginary Midgets is a two CD, 33 song compilation pulled from demos, 7" recordings, compilation appearances and studio outtakes. Each disk represents a phase of the band's career, starting with the first disk titled Hub City, which represents their work in New Brunswick, NJ. The second disk, titled City of Angles, reflects their Los Angeles career. If you were a fan at any point of their career, this album is a must have.

New Brunswick a.k.a. the Hub City

In The Dark, the first track of the Imaginary Midgets, reminds me immediately of why they were the band to see: Jeremy Android's humungous baselines that were simultaneously punishing and funky, John's impudent screaming and E. Rex's obtuse guitar riffing and brutal shredding. An eruption of raw power celebrated with the memorable mantra "somewhere, fucked-up, what you gonna do?" Son of Man, from their incredibly titled Screaming in the Basement Strapped to a Leather Spiderweb EP, betrays their Ministry, Skinny Puppy and Big Black influences: copious sampling, brutal beats and riffing, screaming, psychedelic assaults on organized religion. You'll also find Instichrist and Dogsbody Corpsegas: two fan favorites which exemplify the insanity and brutality they wielded. A perfect soundtrack to the filth and depravity that defined the lives of New Brunswick's finest. 16 tracks of brutal lo-fidelity grind and rage, sex and consequence.

The City of Angels

Most of the tracks on this disk are out-takes and alternate versions from the Slugchuckles Insanely album studio sessions. Tension For a Lifetime, the first track of the LA disk, is a candid studio outtake of the band bickering in the recording studio…which leaves no doubts as to why they broke up. You'll also be rewarded with some live tracks and a song called Thrilla! which is the last track Transilvia recorded before their demise.

The Imaginary MidgetsSlugchuckles Insanely: the album… Finally Transilvia recorded on something more than a 4-track…well produced, as well as anything you'll hear on the radio. Slugchuckles (someone has to explain the title to me) features a solid guitar presence (in the past it was usually drowned out by the bass), the familiar monster Android bassage, and a well-developed and confident vocal style. It's obvious t.cylinder took time to perfect his vocal skills - now flavored with a Jerry Cantrell and Perry Farrell vibe. This album prefigured the powerful rock sound so popular today.

Dogsbody was a Transilvia staple from back in the New Brunswick days. "Corpsegas corpsegas dogsbody corpsegas / pickup sticks but wont pickup the wormsplash" lyrics which leave me questioning their sanity and/or lysergic intake. Psychedelic noise punk that defies convention, but leaves you very, very curious or perplexed. I think the message is all people are lying dogs…it's true, it's true.

Powermaster - a Jeremy penned song so there's a MASSIVE bass riff and unrepentantly violent lyrics. "I can drive my car thru your playground / and run your little kids down." I would let these guys baby-sit my kids. Would you? A filthy, demented, visceral declaration of hate.

Miss Fortune - this song is so good that it took me by surprise and blew me away. Hard rock pop in the family of Stone Temple Pilots (not necessary a bad thing). Unrelenting and dangerous, locomotive intensity - yet sinful and sexual.

Inquisition - just when they started playing nice…Angry, confused…lots of changes and super heavy wide spectrum bass riffs. Insanity, noise and fury…

Grate - a gross sample of someone chewing… lots of samples and odd-ball rhythms, pounding drums and many tempo changes. Just plain heavy and driven…like a coherent Today is the Day or a crazed mix of fury, noise and riffage Korn wishes they could achieve.

(900) Psychic Slaves - Don't you feel sorry for the suckers that call 1-900 phone lines? I've spent many and evening staying up way too late laughing at these commercials. "psychic slaves rates in a maze / save the old celebrities." Celebrity welfare! Solid riffs, very tight band.

Transilvia Today

Well of course there is no more Transilvia, but there is the Bureau of Dissonant Culture: "a collaboration of different projects, bands and organizations whose goal is to bring artists together, so they can more easily promulgate true underground culture to those who appreciate it, without the corrupting 'help' of 'speculative capitalist investment.'" The BDC, as it is affectionately called, is home to several ex-Transilvia members including singer t-cylinder and guitarist E-REX. All CD's distributed by the BDC and it's associated labels are priced at a very fan friendly $5-$8 per disk. They're all about getting the music to their fans, not ripping them off. You can get the Transilvia disks from them too.

The first BDC compilation, The Bureau of Dissonant Culture 1999, features 4 tracks by x-Transilvia guitarist/songwriter E-REX, 3 by x-Transilvia singer/songwriter t-cylinder, 4 tracks from BDC ringleader and "facilitator" Carlo a.k.a. Afragola, and 2 from the mysterious noise rock Remote Control Yeti.***

Bureau of Dissonant CultureOn the BDC comp E-REX wears many musical masks: he's kind of like a less salacious Ween, a lo-tech Zappa, or John Frusciante type singer/song writer. Maximum Wage is 4-track treble punk, like a gem from the Dead Kennedy's catalog, it's short, fast and to the point. Getthru is forgivably awkward funk/noise rap about E-REX's love of music, and the up's and down's of a musical career: "take his life, but you'll never take his guitar." Forever Corpse - a sweet rhythm guitar melody, and memorable vocal melodies, like the Chili Pepper's mellow stuff. Soulful with a total absence of pretension. His love for the music he writes is obvious. HHB Blues is another tune with something to say about the dirty side of the music biz. Tasty, minimalist keyboard riffs, bluesy (surprise) guitar licks…Hell's House Band Blues…pay your rock dues…

E-REX's self titled CD also features Maximum Wage and Forever Corpse and adds another mellow singer/songwriter piece called The Gods Sell Soul, some machine gun drum machine noise experiments and a recording of a rain shower. A bold and eclectic mix that will surprise and reward Transilvia fans. Give the guy a MIC and he turns into the next Leonard Cohen…go figure.

t. cylinder

t. cylinder's solo material is a vast departure from the Transilvia sound - with the exception of t.'s familiar vocals. Electric Sex, found on the BDC comp, begins with some comic hip-hop shout outs and quickly evolves into super lo-fidelity electronic bass lines and hyper-kinetic bargain drum machine beats. Experimental and minimalist yet complex, enjoyable and intelligent. Bad Dream Life Vacation features more lo-fidelity electronica, and bizarre vocal samples, lyric dementia…like spoken word over Squarepusher. Dimension 4 is world class experimental stoner electronica, plodding along like a bizarre combination of Tom Waits and old school rap. Very tasty mix of samples, scratching and electro-grit, with a major "High Times" vibe. Like E-REX's solo work, old school Transilvia fans will be blow away by what John, er, um, t. has done.

So there you go…a once great never was is still doing fine in separate pieces. If you were a fan back in the day do yourself a solid and check out these crucial and inexpensive releases. If you're new to the band, start with Slugchuckles and work your way back to the world of the Imaginary Midgets…where you might just meet a guy named Dorothy.

Contact Information:
* Sandwiched between Robert Wood Johnson Hospital (a.k.a. the Borg mothership) and Johnson & Johnson world hindquarters, in septic New Brunswick, New Jersey.
** One occasion I got too wasted and the bouncers clobbered me and dragged me out by my neck, but I forgive them.
*** If you've ever owned a bong, you'll probably like these bands too.