Who knew that Knoxville’s King Super had a respectable full-length record in them? More than respectable, actually: Hammertime County, the band’s self-released debut, is a profusely inventive 10-song set of originals from a band that staked its live rep almost exclusively on covers. Covers often chosen with an ear for kitsch and an instinct for surrealist melodrama, then twisted beyond aural recognition. But covers nonetheless.
Like Frank Zappa and Knoxville’s own Band of Humans (to whom they pay frequent homage) before them, King Super have a peculiar knack for mixing musical aesthetics with satire. (Most musicians—and listeners—aren’t so comfortable turning that trick; and so most popular music is either accomplished, yet humorless, or good for a chuckle, but creatively bankrupt.)
But whereas Zappa and BOH often mined the upper crusts of avant garde and experimental musics, jazz, prog, even 20th-century classical composition, King Super are musical bottom-feeders, cribbing and refashioning the leftovers of ’80s new-wave, ’90s post-grunge, hair metal, even a smattering of leftover ’50s rock.
It helps that they do so with jazzbo chops, lead singer Dave Bowers’ trained baritone, and a rock geneticist’s flair for manipulating the recombinant DNA of pop music. The first three tracks of Hammertime, “Rubie Twosday,” “Persian Golf,” and “Taking Terns” come together as seamlessly as if they were of a piece, from the ’80s echoes and skittish guitar-rock of the first, to the slightly updated ’90s alt-rock sounds and sweet harmonies of the second, to the heavy ’80s new wave nods (including a classic Cure intro and a vocal surely nicked from some forgotten haircut act) of the latter.
There aren’t any real weak spots, because King Super make even the kitsch sound like gold: “Hyena” is an urgent rocker that casts a Skid Row/Sebastian Bach vocal over a bass line that refuses to back down; “Mamorlasha” starts with sweet doo-wop and gentle blues and builds to crashing rock symphony.
There are also giggles aplenty to be had on Hammertime County, if you’re so inclined to pay attention to Bowers’ consistently clever shtick. (“Mamorlasha”, a live favorite, is the true story of an unsolicited stool sample that became a point of contention between merchants on Gay Street and Market Square.) And maybe that’s what’s best about Hammertime—take it as a work of minor goofball genius, or as a kick-ass pop-rock summer jam. It plays great either way.