Trotsky Icepick

Danny & The Doorknobs In Poison Summer

Trotsky Icepick - Danny & The Doorknobs In Poison Summer ©1985 SST
1. Whispering Glades
2. Poison Summer
3. In Exile
4. Northern Lights
5. Harmona
6. Little Things You Don't Know
7. Full Cone Excursion
8. Love To Hate
9. Wooden Legs With Real Feet
10. Healing
11. Slow Motion
12. The Game
13. From A Quiet Heart
14. Wooden Legs (Reprise)
15. Farewell

Trotsky Icepick started out as one of those bands that simply was going to baffle anyone who listened to them. Made up of members formerly in 100 Flowers and The Last, Trotsky Icepick initially started out with the unusual concept of changing the band name upon each release but retaining the album title, Poison Summer. Originally, this album was released under the band name Danny and the Doorknobs on clear vinyl, but was reissued as "Trotsky Icepick Presents Danny and the Doorknobs in Poison Summer". A rather lengthy title, indeed. This album is not to be confused with another Trotsky Icepick album called Poison Summer, which is where the band apparently decided they had a nifty band name and should stick with it.

The SST version of Danny and the Doorknobs is a fine piece of music that actually sounds completely foreign if you try to consider it in a 1983 context, the year it was recorded. The band was a trio at that point, featuring mainstays Vitus Matare and Kjehl Johansen. The music they presented didn't exactly fit in with any of the hardcore, punk or even new wave of the period, nor does it sound dated listening to it twenty years later. The band hovers vaguely in the same post-punk territory as Mission of Burma but also finds a way to sneak in keyboards without resorting to dance floor tactics. The resulting album is a fine, expansive work that is entirely too pleasant. Oftentimes jaunty, the fifteen songs are well written and well performed. The opener "Whispering Glades" is a fantastic song, offering an intensely memorable melody and excellent interplay between all the musicians. Vocals throughout the album are shared between Matare and Johansen.

Danny and the Doorknobs does share a touch of the sound featured in Johansen's 100 Flowers project. However, the punkier edge of the music is refined and given a much moodier approach that entirely works out. Despite all the silliness surrounding the band name changes and confusion that may result in trying to figure out Trotsky Icepick's discography, Danny and the Doorknobs is a sparkling debut that seemingly has been far too overlooked by the indie and post-punk listening world.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2003

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Trotsky Icepick - Baby ©1988 SST
1. Incident
2. Dante's Flame
3. Mar Vista Bus Stop
4. A Little Push At The Top Of The Stairs
5. Bury Manilow
6. Pillars Of Salt
7. Big Daddy
8. Don't Buy It
9. Windowpane
10. [ ]
11. And It Goes Like This
12. Barricades
13. Robilussin Rag
14. Bonus Track 1
15. Bonus Track 2

As one of the more overlooked "post-punk" bands to exist in the late 80s and on the famous SST label, Trotsky Icepick is a band primed to become a major rediscovery for those exploring back catalogues and used bins at the CD store. While this oddly named outfit (featuring members of various other bands, including The Last and 100 Flowers) is not necessarily one of the best bands to play this sort of jangly, upbeat guitar rock, Trotsky Icepick certainly deserves more acclaim than they apparently have received.

Baby, their second release, is a quite entertaining, enjoyable album. Trotsky Icepick's main strength lies in their ability to write catchy songs featuring interesting two guitar weaves without fully engulfing themselves in indulgent meanderings. In other words, this is pop oriented music with post-punk overtones. The one fly in their ointment are the vocals of Vitus Malaire and Kjehl Johansen (both are credited as vocals and I'm not entirely who provides what singing parts on the CD). While not necessarily terrible, the singing is somewhat thin and tuneless. However, the detrimental effects are minimal and the "tsk-tsking" of the listener should be rare. The production is crystal clear, allowing all the instruments a nice realm of clarity. In the end, the majority of these songs have a quaint sort of catchiness. The guitar playing, while far from virtuoso pedigree, often carries the songs.

In the end, fans of Mission of Burma or other liked-minded post-punk guitar rock should give these guys in Trotsky Icepick a whirl as there is something to be discovered here.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/2001

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The Ultraviolet Catastrophe

Trotsky Icepick - The Ultraviolet Catastrophe ©1991 SST
1. The Ultraviolet Catastrophe
2. Alphaville
3. The Thing Under The Couch
5. Barbara Steele
6. Boy W/ Book
7. God Without A Compass
8. Venus De Milo
9. Pestilence
10. August August
11. The Martian Manhunter
12. Q.E.D.

The Ultraviolet Catastrophe is one of Trotsky Icepick's most accessible, pop oriented rock albums of their entire career. Still showing off a higher level of skill in constructing guitar post-punk music, Trotsky Icepick works through twelve lyrically unusual songs that are quite catchy and memorable. However, the one drawback to the album is that it seems as though it is a recorded under a trance and could use a little more aggression to juice things up. The subdued feeling through the album is not terribly distracting, but occasionally it seems like the band could have used a little more "grr" than "zzz". Nevertheless, The Ultraviolet Catastrophe has nothing but enjoyable, pop oriented songs that would be huge radio hits in a slightly skewed dimension. Vocalist John Talley-Jones will remind many of a Les Claypool with less nasal congestion, though his vocals do miss a little of that aforementioned "grr". Despite that, he is considerably more tuneful than his guitarist predecessors who handled vocals on earlier albums. The guitarists, Kjehl Johansen and Vitus Matare, are both very skilled at both sticking to snappy rhythms and leads that enhance the songs. The band is helped with many adjunct musicians on this album, ranging from cello to Chapman Stick to mandola and accordion.

While some of the other Trotsky Icepick albums contain a tad more energy, The Ultraviolet Catastrophe is a quite enjoyable release. The tunefulness and songwriting expertise of the band is displayed in full force and any fan of non-popular pop music should be interested in exploring this band's catalogue.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2002

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Carpetbomb The Riff

Trotsky Icepick - Carpetbomb The Riff ©1993 SST
1. Imagining Neptune
2. Invisible Politicians
3. Bad Girls Go To Hell
4. Home Surgery
5. Swallowing Tongues
6. Local 63
7. There Goes Salvation
8. Hate Clown
9. Shaken
10. (Kinda Like The) Berlin Wall
11. 1000 Points Of Light
12. Mr. Caution's Funeral

After a handful of lineup changes, Trotsky Icepick settled on a fairly stable roster for their albums in the 90s. No longer was guitarist Vitus Matare handling the vocals as John Talley-Jones was recruited to handle the lead singing. While Talley-Jones' voice isn't radically different, he does carry his tunes much better and more convincingly. Meanwhile, Trotsky Icepick continued to improve their songwriting and playing to a level that should have gotten them considerably more attention during their era.

While the band never quite sounded precisely like anyone else, there are hints of Fugazi's rhythmic prestige as well as a vocal style that hints at Les Claypool from Primus. Talley-Jones, if nothing else, sounds like a less nasally, more tuneful Claypool. What's most impressive about the band is that they crafted intelligent, yet poppy songs that contained quite a bit of clever guitar and bass playing. Mike Patton's bass playing (no, not that Mike Patton) reminds me quite a bit of Fugazi's Joe Lally in that he provides a busy, but consistently stable bottom end. The band also knew the value of a good hook and melody, often writing memorable songs that seem like they could be major radio hits in a slightly skewed alternate dimension where the RIAA and Clear Channel radio monopoly allow for small bands to emerge. But, you know, we're on Planet Earth and it always seems like the best pop bands are the ones you've never heard of. And considering "pop" is short for "popular", a band like Trotsky Icepick is a living paradox.

Not abrasive like many post-punk outfits nor wimpy like many pop oriented punk bands often turn out, Trotsky Icepick is a sharp little group that should have gotten more attention. This is emo for people who hate turtlenecks and pop music for those who can't stand anything well known. And unfortunately, they seem to dwell mostly in bargain bins, which does bode well for today's curious fan.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2002

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Hot Pop Hello

Trotsky Icepick - Hot Pop Hello ©1994 SST
1. 20 Nights With Godzilla
2. Father Murray's Glass Eye
3. Personal Ad
4. Dark Engine
5. Rubberband
6. Lord Of The Medflies
7. David Charles
8. Natchez
9. Oh! General
10. Empty Reel
11. Because Love
12. Erase The Sun
13. Scalpel City
14. Hot Pop Hello

In the long, twisting history of Trotsky Icepick, the band went through more line-up changes and personnel shifts than maybe anyone except their local baseball team. But for a band whose original gimmick was to keep the same album title and change the band name from release to release, this is only fitting. The two constants in the band, Kjehl Johansen and Vitus Matare, still maintained a fairly uniform sound throughout the existence of Trotsky Icepick. This farewell CD, Hot Pop Hello, only proves this by collecting various unreleased tracks from over the years. Regardless of who was in the band or when it was recorded, the central Trotsky Icepick sound stays quite intact, an impressive feat when you realize this band had quite a few people in the lineup and contributing over time.

Retaining their signature post-punk guitar rock style throughout, Hot Pop Hello is a mostly upbeat, enjoyable CD. As always, the band's melodic sense shines throughout the snappy guitar playing. Offbeat lyrics and subject matter are given at least a tad bit of explanation in the liner notes, which also let listeners know when each track was recorded. The music often comes across as quirky, but wry without being weird for the sake of it. The guitar interplay still remains the best part of the band as the vocals, mostly featuring John Talley-Jones, are somewhat thin and nasally.

Hot Pop Hello is a nifty way for a tragically underrated band to clear out their closet and wave farewell. Whether the band meant to stop recording after this album's release is not known to me, but at least they exited the scene on a fine note.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2003

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