Music News

Destruction Unit: Former Reatard Grows Up and Spaces Out

This month sees the release of two records featuring Ryan "Elvis Wong" Rousseau. The first is Sonoran, by Destruction Unit, seeing release via indie label Volar Records, and the second is a reissue of The Reatards' debut Teenage Hate, an album Rousseau played drums on in 1998 with his friend Jimmy Lindsey, better known by his nom de punk, Jay Reatard. Lindsey passed away over a year ago. The reissue, due May 31 on Goner Records, the Memphis label that originally issued the album, will include a bonus disc titled Fuck Elvis Here's the Reatards, a collection of early material previously available only on cassette.

Teenage Hate and Sonoran are two vastly different records, sounding separated by more than just the 13 years that have passed between them. The Reatards debut features 18 songs, most blistering under the two-minute mark, with tracks like "You Fucked Up My Dreams" and "I Can Live Without You" sounding every bit as nasty and bilious as the titles imply.

Conversely, Rousseau describes Sonoran as "The sounds you would hear walking in the Sonoran desert with a full moon shining down on your face," and his point is made clear by the droning, naturalistic mysticism of opener "Desert Snow" (11 minutes, 59 seconds). It's a million miles removed from the compact scuzz pop of Lindsey's old band, a lyricless, slow-motion riff rocker in the vein of German art-band Amon Düül II.

Last year's Eclipse found Destruction Unit stepping heavily away from the synth-thrash that defined the band's early work (when Lindsey was in the band), and Sonoran takes the exploration of Rousseau's krautrock/drone/cosmic-music influences even further. The 44-minute record houses just six songs, most with little or no vocals.

This isn't to say that Rousseau and company have gone completely New Age, though. "Listen," the album's most pastoral moment, approaches the synth-washed landscapes of Brian Eno and Popol Vuh. The album still bristles with the lo-fidelity grit and blown-speaker aesthetics that have defined much of Rousseau's work. "Death Tunnel," the album's closer and best track, is as heavy as anything the band has committed to tape, forcefully punk while demonstrating the krautrock emphasis on pure rhythm.

For all the artfulness, the members of Destruction Unit are typically smart-ass in their assessment of the project. Asked his favorite song on the album, drummer Justin Keefer responds, "That's a difficult question to answer because I'm really bad with names. I like the one that's 12 minutes long because I played for 12 minutes without fucking up."

Rousseau is never one to rest on accomplishments. During his time in The Reatards, he routinely came back to Phoenix to play with The Wongs, and has since put out albums and played live with a litany of projects, including Yuma Territorial Prison Guard, The Angry Angles, Tokyo Electron, The Sexual Slurs, and Earthmen & Strangers. Ever productive, Destruction Unit has already recorded the follow-up to Sonoran. Titled KOFA, the double LP was recorded with a generator in the Kofa Mountains, 60 miles northeast of Yuma, where Rousseau grew up. The album should be released sometime before Destruction Unit tours Europe this fall. Ever concise, Rousseau states, "The D. Unit European tour will be great. Europe is fun!"

Sonoran and Teenage Hate make for a study in contrast listening to them one after the other. The albums may sound different, but they both illustrate the sound of creative restlessness. As Jay Reatard wrote in his debut liner notes, "Rock and roll is my salvation; it'll set me free whatever that means. Keep on rocking to the beat of broken drum." Rousseau would seem to be following his late friend's advice all these years later.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.