On Friday the Empty Bottle hosts a show by Radioactivity, a relatively new band from the incestuous garage-punk scene in Denton, Texas. Front man and chief songwriter Jeff Burke used to play in the Marked Men, who split in 2009 after four top-notch albums; from 2010 till 2012 he led a group in Mito, Japan, called the Novice, which became Radioactivity when he returned home and put together a new Texan lineup. Mark Ryan, also of the Marked Men, joined Radioactivity alongside two-thirds of Bad Sports, Daniel Fried and Gregory Rutherford.
Three of the Marked Men—Burke, Ryan, and Mike Throneberry—had previously been in a relatively short-lived band called the Reds, active in the late 90s and early 00s. And mention of the Reds provides me an occasion to tell a story that casts a little light on Radioactivity.
In 1999, I was drumming in my first punk band, the Disasters, so called because the house where the guitarist and I started playing together as roommates had burned down the year before. (Roger Miret of Agnostic Front founded a group of the same name that year, but we hadn't heard about that—they didn't release anything till 2001.) We lasted only seven shows, but at one of them we opened for the Reds at the Fireside Bowl.
Onstage everyone in the Reds wore black trousers, black button-up shirts, and smart scarlet ties with brass pins that looked like Soviet stars. By coincidence I'd been shopping for a red tie for a friend's wedding, and I'd been frustrated to find only dark, muddy reds, closer to burgundy or maroon—and worse, it seemed like every tie was either shiny or patterned. A simple, plain, vivid red tie didn't seem to exist. When I chatted with the band after their set, I complimented their outfits—and I had to ask them where they'd gotten those ties, since all my searching in menswear shops had turned up nothing remotely similar. I don't remember who I talked to—it was probably Burke—but he said, "Yeah, I had to make them myself."
And that's why I brought this up in the first place—to me, those ties (and the vision and labor that went into them) symbolize the perfectionism and attention to detail in the Reds' music, qualities that Burke brought with him into the Marked Men and now Radioactivity. Lots of folks think garage punk is supposed to be dumb and simple, but Burke's bands prove just how much craft and intelligence this boneheaded genre can absorb without ceasing to be itself.
Radioactivity released a self-titled debut LP in 2013, and about three weeks ago they followed it up with Silent Kill, which I'm embedding in its entirety below.
Burke's strained, urgent singing, undiluted by his bandmates' occasional sweet backup vocals, perfectly complements the taut, tightly wound music—even the lyrical midtempo numbers thrum with nervous energy. I especially like the thoughtful embellishments and convolutions in the bass; it doesn't just move from one note to the next in a straight line.
Some folks want to call this "power pop" rather than "garage punk," I assume because the high concentration of melodic and harmonic information in Radioactivity's simple songs is something they associate with the former. Whatever you call it, it's gonna make for a hell of a show.