DIY is a massive pillar of the punk rock community, the only manner by which small and wilfully non-mainstream bands can get their music to a wider audience. From 1987 until 2006 the epitome of this attitude could be found in the stripped down rock n roll of Oregon’s Dead Moon, a trio consisting of Fred and Toody Cole and drummer Andrew Loomis. Their early output was pressed in the Cole’s basement and saw them become stalwarts of the 90s’ garage revival scene. A definite blues/country influence to their lo-fi output made them stand out, at their darkest evoking an arid and apocalyptic reality; if you’ve ever read the novel Desperation, this is what I imagine he listened to as he wrote.
Their sound never strays far from the blueprint laid out by the driving blues rock of ‘Graveyard’, the opening track on In the Graveyard, raw punk rock with instrumentation never straying from distorted guitar and bass backed by primal drumming. On the first record this is broken through memorably by the Toody-led, haunting rendition of Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love with You’, an endearing moment of beauty in amidst the raucous barroom vibe found elsewhere. Their first single, a stomping cover of ‘Parchment Farm’, is a high point, merging into the menace-tinged surf sounds of ‘Dead in the Saddle’ before a manic version of ‘Hey Joe’. The majority of vocal duties on In the Graveyard fall to Fred’s anguished and country-tinged howl, with Toody’s voice occasionally rising out of the mix like a vengeful banshee.
Unknown Passage kicks in with the powerfully chugging ‘Dead Moon Night’; a raucous and sublimely basic riff and a shouted dual-vocal can’t help but appeal to the distortion cortex part of the brain. ‘54/40 or Fight’ is the closest the band get to hardcore, with a speed and rawness accentuated by the fact of its sandwiching between the fuzzed-out garage ballad ‘A Miss of You’ and the oozing swamp blues of ‘I’m Wise’. Again they throw in a much-covered classic, ‘Time Has Come Today’, which slots in nicely, although I’m not sure it is possible to mess that song up.
Defiance, the last disc of current reissues, is the first of the band’s record made up solely of original releases and, although their covers are fantastic, the record is none the worse for it. Straight from the looping riff of ‘Milk Cow Blues’, with its nod to ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’’, the album sees the group really finding their feet. The high point is the back to back savageness of ‘Walking on My Grave’ and ‘Johhny’s Got a Gun’, the latter building from an atmospherically gothic guitar lick which Toody mutters cryptically over to become a distorted slice of garage punk which must rank amongst the classics of the genre.
Dead Moon was never a group reliant on musical progression, but these early recordings are still the best place to start if you’ve never listened to the band before – it doesn’t come rougher or readier than this, and who needs variety when the songs have this much intensity and passion?