Even when a band breaks up and members go their separate ways, fans can still hope that they’ll get back together someday—maybe for a wedding, or to play a magical house-party reunion show just for friends on the rare occasion of everyone being in town at the same time. It happens often enough.
Not for Olympia, Washington’s KARP, though. Word of drummer Scott Jernigan’s death earlier this month extinguished the last of those torches.
At least there’s the music, though, and the music is great. Never shy about publicly claiming the title of Best Rock Band in the World as their own, KARP (the name is an acronym for Kill All Redneck Pricks) produced three towering albums and numerous singles and compilation tracks of aggressively heavy (but also very catchy) sludge between 1993 and 1999, without ever taking themselves too seriously. Here’s that retrospective, then. So long, Scott.
The first KARP album has its charms, but might not be the place for beginners to start. Mustaches Wild is unremittingly dark, ugly and loud, with only occasional flashes of the, ahem, pop sensibility that characterizes the later Suplex and Self Titled LP, and hence perhaps an album best sought out and appreciated after a few thorough listens to those two. It also boasts the highest scream quotient of any KARP album, with guitarist Chris Smith and bassist Jared Warren still using their scary voices more than their sing-y ones; later on, they would hold back somewhat on the theatrically evil delivery and perfect a kind of joyously tuneless unison yelling that became a KARP trademark. One thing that certainly is in place, even at this early date, is Jernigan’s hard-hitting style—the glue that holds this tumble of thoroughly nasty riffage together.
This is where I recommend getting started. Track one, “Get No Toys (When You Pay the Money),” comes barreling out of the gate on Jernigan’s floor tom, bass drum and ride-cymbal intro, with a lumbering two-note riff hard on its heels. Once you’ve heard this song a few times, try—just try—not to air-drum along with the deadly cool fills while simultaneously jumping off your couch and bawling the ebullient chorus at the top of your lungs: “I’m going to Hollywood, I’m gonna be a movie star!”
KARP’s lyrics are mostly strings of non-sequiturs, an opaque mash of boyish enthusiasm and sheering contempt that looks nonsensical on the lyric sheet but makes total sense with the music. It’s all in the over-the-top yelled (not screamed, yelled) delivery, methinks—singers Chris and Jared go for the gusto every time they step up to the mic. Jubilant is the word that comes to mind. The pounding “Lorch-Muller” (named for Olympia scene photographer Reuben Lorch-Muller) closes side one in typical enduro-riffing KARP fashion, while side two’s “Meet Me in Lacey” is the real marathon. It’s nearly ten minutes of painfully slow Melvins-y crawl with creepily chanted lyrical nuggets like “Taunt that parched-faced gnome” and “Here’s the board of shame/Step up sign your name.” KARP’s second Missoula performance, in the punk rock pee-pee pit formerly known as the “Humpy House,” roughly coincided with the release of Suplex, and these are the songs they were playing on tour. I still have a tape of the show, mystifyingly well-recorded on a boom-box, that includes this and many other songs from Suplex, all peppered with funny stage banter and good-natured taunting from the crowd, along with a few blind stabs at KISS covers.
Karp/Rye Coalition split 12"
An excellent pairing of Olympia’s heaviest with New Jersey’s craziest, long before Rye Coalition started sounding like Led Zeppelin. KARP’s side consists of two songs. The dizzying “Obstacle Corpse” is Jernigan’s first songwriting effort for the band (in the liner notes, his bandmates commend the effort with something along the lines of “Good job, dipshit!”), while the sprawling ten-plus minute “Get Your Hands Off My Cake” is just about the heaviest KARP song ever committed to vinyl. Among the heaviest songs ever, period. The CD version of this release includes a great live-in-the-studio KARP show from Los Angeles radio station KXLU.
Self Titled LP
The band’s excellent last album, and like all the aforementioned releases, still gloriously in print. The surgically precise riffage benefits from slicker production than that of previous releases, and take your pick of vintage KARP moments: “Bacon Industry” carries on their tradition of demolishing lyrics borrowed from ’70s and ’80s AOR fodder, in this case “My Maserati goes 185/I lost my license so now I can’t drive” from the ridiculous Joe Walsh song. “D&D Fantasy” is probably my favorite (“Roll on twelve-sided dice/Some dignity’d be nice/I hear you laughing!”), and the hypnotic 3/4-time stagger of “We Ate Sand” a close second. The jury’s still out on the joke death-metal song that closes the LP—KARP’s last—on a very goofy note.
Also recommended: Action Chemistry (on Unwound bassist Vern Rumsey’s Punk In My Vitamins label), a collection of singles, comp tracks and covers (Black Flag and Long Hind Legs) spanning 1993-1999. A friend of mine says he had an epiphany listening to some of these songs while watching a video of attack helicopters. KARP would have liked to hear that.