The 3Ds, Swarthy Songs For Swabs, 1991

I haven’t heard these songs in years and damn they sound good on vinyl, cranked up, really metallic, hard and skewed, confident. Suddenly all those Sonic Youth comparisons ring true, come back into three-dimensional focus, more so on these early EPs rather than the later stuff. The 3Ds’ songs are always more than the sum of their parts – their feedbacking guitars sound like there’s far more notes and noise screeching out from the mix than could be humanly possible for only two guitarists. Swarthy Songs For Swabs has better tunes than their debut EP, Fish Tales. Each song stands alone, quite memorable from the ones around it. The 3Ds are poppy as all hell but never too poppy—you quickly discern an off-key feeling to their brand of pop, as though one random string on each guitar has been detuned or something, and that’s where the Sonic Youth comparisons make the most sense. Must mention the feral cover art here too – the adventures of Tintin in another dimension. David Mitchell’s covers would only get more twisted from here on in. Without any lyric sheet I don’t have much idea what Messrs Saunders, Mitchell and Roughan are singing about on any of these songs. It often sounds like they’re listing ingredients for some evil brew as they dance around a cauldron.

David Saunders’s vocals are memorable for his wildly offkey performances and his hysterical voice tones. Everything about The 3Ds seems hysterical to me – the cover art captures it perfectly. David Mitchell on the other hand, a slightly better singer but only because he’s willing to sound even more demented, usually sings in this weird kind of sorcery voice as if he’s casting spells, and you half expect demons to come spilling out of your stereo whenever he starts up. It’s very theatrical, like some early seventies horror movie aesthetic with a sense of humour so black you can’t see through it. The bassist, Denise Roughan has more of a fey, soft folky voice. Bumstead, time to gather ye swabs and man the deck…

Sing Song… opens with this really fast vibrato ringing trick high up on the top end of the guitar before crashing into a fast pop beat and Saunders yelling, “Why I can’t seem to spin around backwards? / Why can’t I seem to understand why? / [something…] / You sure as hell would like it here…. / Why can’t I see you with all of the lights out / Why I can’t see you anymore? / I look around and try to find my way home / But I can’t see an easier way.” The song utilizes this swinging ‘sing-song’ riff that up-down up-down up-downs several times between two chords, simple and insanely catchy.  Then the song speeds up, gets louder, Dominic Stones pounding the drums harder as everyone else raises the volume to keep up with him. Awesome opener. I used to play this a lot in my flat around 1991/92 and I had a flatmate who liked to mimic the main riff in a silly voice as if to take the piss. I think he secretly liked it

Bunny… starts lighter but soon explodes into grungy noise. Roughan this time, singing something about “Children with ancient eyes.” Lots more feedback again with this catchy two-chord riff that repeats between the verses. Song is fast, notes flying out of the miasmic dirge like early Dinosaur Jr. Crash crash crash and burn out at the end…

Ritual Tragick… another one of those bluntly catchy riffs, but voodooish and bass-heavy this time. “Shall we meet tonight / In the crooked house / Under crooked moon / Goat’s head…” and other spat-out insanities, followed by the sinister chorus, “Ruminate / Ruminate,” Mitchell singing with his wizard’s hat on, almost to the point where his voice merges with the guitars as just another sustained note which he spins off into a scream. By the time the second verse arrives, there’s too much noise being thrown in the mix to discern any of the lyrics, save the title “Ritual Tragick” giving you some idea of what I mean when I refer to cauldrons, spells, and haunted houses, but rather darker and possibly funnier than any of that, like Dunedin gothic mixed up with some kind of cultish sacrifice.

Meluzina Man… has quite a different feel. Mitchell on vocals again, this time, almost a train rhythm type feel to the song, with train-like screeches, an iron railings and sleepers feel, with this one ringing note, like a bleeping siren throughout the song, and the chorus is just gorgeous when Roughan joins. Can’t really catch any words, but Wiki tells me that ‘Meluzina’ is a mountain in the Czech Republic. At one point the song nearly falls apart, until someone reaches out a limb and pulls ‘em all back on board. Probably my favourite song here so far only just edging out “Ritual Tragick” because of the great harmonizing. The riffs pile up, the song gets heavier, like some ancient corpse lifting and hurling a great sword around its head. Fantastic stuff.

Nimmo’s Dream… there’s a definite idiosyncratic style to most 3Ds songs, like this one where there’s just one riff repeated over and over to create melody. Mitchell’s two-tone voice, a double edged knife, squeals through the mix like a crazed seer trying to warn everyone about the end of the world. Something like, “I am diseased / Grinning from ear to ear.” Eventually the rhythm section all catches up and the whole thing starts tumbling along, head over heels in time with itself, these pealing high notes all stalking out of the mix like tall poppies. Dunno who ‘Nimmo’ is – the English actor?

Grimace… is another goodie, Saunders on vocals, but far off this time, as if he’s standing on the other side of a field. You can make out words here and there, but difficult to catch whole lines. Lots of fast flying frenetic guitar work, and this one note that keeps wailing out like a siren, but really melodic. “They’re gonna bury you by the sea.” This is an example of the kind of song that got lost down the end of the CD compilation, but here, listening to it closely, it’s right up there with the best of them.

So, it’s all pretty short and fun and intense, maybe 15 minutes tops. They get in there hard, dig up some horrid thing they can’t quite handle, wrestle with it for a bit, and finally axe it to death. That’s a 3Ds song summed up perfectly, in my humble opinion. Burying all your lyrics in noise though – was that a political statement in the early 90s? Maybe it’s a shyness thing. Maybe it’s shitty microphones. Maybe it suggests that lyrics are pointless when you just wanna make a glorious racket.

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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2 Responses to The 3Ds, Swarthy Songs For Swabs, 1991

  1. Roddy Ruru says:

    Dang Bumstead, every time I read one of these I want to pull the reckid out again. Your final summary of what makes a 3D’s Song is one of the single best lines I’ve read in 30 years of music reading. Keep it up.

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