Transient Songs’ Plantation To Your Youth 

By Ken Shimamoto 

One of my favorite revolving crap games in the incestuous universe of Fort Worth music is the infamous Haltom City-Riverside crew – a mob of miscreants now in their mid-30s, most of whom attended Haltom or Boswell High Schools, and many of whom play in bands that partied and jammed at the storied Warehouse #58 in the weed grown wilds of Haltom City, at least until unscrupulous bahstids burglarized the place in the spring of 2007, absconding with an estimated $40K in vintage gear. (Thieves, if you’re reading this, I hope your eyeballs fall out.)   

Most illustrious among ‘em are the mighty Me-Thinks, the H.C.’s answer to Motorhead (even though most of ‘em reside in, um, Oakhurst these days). The crew also includes Shotgun Messenger, an ‘80s metal/Southern boogie-inspahrd mob with previous incarnations as the Riverside Ramblers and Mullet Malicia; Barrel Delux, a twisted take on Americana whose frontman Mike Bandy has been playing second guitar in the Me-Thinks the past couple of years; multi-instrumentalist Sean French of the Theater Fire and ex-Blood of the Sun/current Slick Lady 6 axeman Richard Hurley. 

A key player in this convoluted mess is John Frum, a guitarist-singer-songwriter who’s resided in Seattle for the past decade or so, whose new EP with his “hermetic project” Transient Songs will be the ultimate subject of this screed. A shadowy figure who takes his nom de roque from a mythic World War II GI worshipped by South Pacific cargo cultists, the West Virginia-born Frum is rumored to be the alter ego of Jack Bensonhurst, honcho of Indian Casino Records, the label that released the Me-Thinks epochal Make Mine A Double E.P. on an unsuspecting world last year and has been trying to recoup its investment ever since. In the ‘90s, Frum fronted Hasslehorse, a long-lived H.C. indie band that released a CD, The Chicken Factory, in 1996 and might well have been the first band ever to play at the late, lamented Wreck Room (depending whose story you believe; Woodeye and the Gideons have also claimed that distinction). 

Frum’s co-conspirators in Hasslehorse were singer-guitarist Vinny Pimentel, bassist Ratsamy Pathammavong, and drummer Ray Liberio. Ray had previously played with Frum in the H.C. bands Jon Doe and Father Sprout. After The Chicken Factory was recorded, Chris Lundy AKA Sir Marlin Murray Von Bungy, a veteran of more bands than you’d care to shake a stick at, was added on keyboards, possibly because Ray’s mom Audrey (who’d played piano on the record) wasn’t available for live gigs. 

Inevitably – for every band is hardwired to self-destruct -- Hasslehorse drifted apart, Vinny and Rat joining ex-Dragworm Bandy in Hell Damn Crap, which in the fullness of time became Barrel Delux, while Frum, Ray and Marlin started a weekly routine of meeting up at the warehouse to write and record songs on Frum’s 4-track. Initially dubbed The Pine Barons, until they learned that a barbershop quartet had the name first, they were then called Custom Blare, adding Will Risinger (who’d played with Marlin in the Beauty Mutants and Wizbang) on drums so they could play live. It was in response to a Custom Blare recording that a FW Weekly scribe blasted Frum’s “septic Prince Albert vocals.” When Frum decamped for Seattle, Ray and Marlin simply swapped guitar and bass duties and voila: the Me-Thinks! 

Up in the land of Microsoft, Starbucks, and flannel shirts, Frum’s initial attempts to recapture the communal music-making ethos of his misspent youth proved futile, so he withdrew into the seclusion of his home recording studio. He and Ray have recorded a few tracks there as The Pungent Sound during Ray’s annual Washington visits, some results of which -- including the legendary “Murder and Sushi” -- have sadly been lost in various computer crashes. At the rate they’re going, they’ll have an EP done by the middle of the next decade. In the meantime, Frum’s struck up a similar musical partnership with multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Andrews, and the duo has recorded five songs under the rubric Transient Songs, which come to us on shiny silver disc in the form of Plantation To Your Youth

It seems wholly appropriate that this music should originate in the PacNW, where garage psychedelia never seems to go out of fashion. I could namecheck a buncha ‘90s indie rock “influences,” relevant only because that’s the time period when Frum got his music wings, but at the end of the day, doesn’t this kind of thing always come down to Syd Barrett, Neil Young, and ’69 Lou Reed (not to mention Revolver)? The expat Texan’s “septic” years are behind him, and he’s gained some vocal dynamism, as well as learning to employ judicious reverb and F/X to achieve an optimal spaciness. Guitar-wise, Frum favors dense layers of thick-textured axe architecture – electric, acoustic, and slide – that you can get lost in. At their most lysergic, Frum’s constructions recall the Montana-based “psychedelic collective” Donovan’s Brain. The tracks are jam-packed with sonic detail, but not in a way that seems cluttered or overproduced. 

Frum allows that back in Hasslehorse daze, he was still a “developing” songwriter, and thinks his new work is his best. We’re inclined to agree. “Greenwood Backyards” is a mere sketch of a song, like the title track on Stumptone’s newie Gravity Finally Released, but it sets the mood for what’s to follow. “Plantation To Your Youth” jangles like the Byrds on steroids and human growth hormone, recalling early misbehavior in lines like “You tore up the place / And you replaced / Your self-esteem / With drugs and a new face.” (Could this be an allusion to Mercury Rev’s Yerself Is Steam, one wonders? In places, Frum’s singing has the same bewildered-child quality as Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue.) 

“Southern City Saturdays” opens with crystalline arpeggios as Frum’s wastrel narrator reveals a capacity for regret: “You’ve got a heart that just won’t quit / And I’ve got a head so full of shit / Spending all my time at the bottom of the cup / All the precious time I could have spent with you” before the anthemic chorus paints a cityscape with some lovely images (“bicycle girls and drunks on the pier…I can hear your heartbeat from here”), culminating in a soaring instrumental bridge. “Locust Shells” is a 30something ditch-traveler’s rumination on roads not taken, rendered in grand Floydian style and boasting a muscular fuzzed-out solo, leading into a pretty major-7th outro.  

All of the self-doubt of the previous songs gives way to acceptance on the climactic “Living With Decay,” as Frum digs into the ringing chords, savoring them the same way his protagonist savors his own life: “How would you like to go / Back to our old home / Where people are sick and getting old and dying / And being born.” It’s “A Rake’s Progress” in five songs and under 20 minutes. 

With Plantation at the manufacturer and available online for streaming or download, Indian Casino has releases in the pipe from Barrel Delux and Sean French’s creepy-folk project Eyes, Wings, and Many Other Things: proof positive that you can keep your bad habits (and your old friends) well into your 30s. The H.C.-Riverside crew wouldn’t have it any other way.