Suburban Lawns: Suburban Lawns Album Review

Around this time they began work on their first and only record, which would eventually be released by IRS, the same label as the Go-Go’s and REM. They recorded at Paramount Studios late at night, on the cheap, with producer EJ Emmons, whose goal was to faithfully translate the energy of Suburban Lawns as a live band to tape. The songs they recorded during these sessions became suburban lawns, a sly cocktail of surf rock, post-punk and new wave. The best songs are the ones Su sings along to, like “Gossip,” which glows green like vaseline as she sings and sings low in her register, like a sleepwalker. “Lies/Paradox/A parade of rest,” she sings as a guitar cuts through the song like a rusty steak knife. Or “Flying Saucer Safari,” where the band sounds like they’re all wearing tinfoil hats and contacting each other only via ESP.

And then there’s “Janitor,” the band’s closest song to a pop song, their biggest hit. There is a video of Su playing it, one of the very few videos of the band that exist on the web. In the grainy, distorted video, Su wears a baby yellow shirt and high-waisted plaid skirt. She stands there, not dancing, not interacting with the group, not smiling. She looks bored. She looks like a street urchin from Dickens, or the orphan from the movie Orphan. “All action is reaction/Expansion, contraction/Man the manipulator,” she sings, looking at the microphone. “Underwater / Does it matter / Antimatter / Nuclear reactor / Boom boom boom boom.” Her voice ricochets, grows louder and swells with imaginary helium.

The success of the video as a strange post-punk text is largely due to Su and the way she moved. In the video, she sings like she’s in a trance, her eyebrows furrowed, slightly rotating her body, but more or less staying in the exact spot. In an instant, a guitar solo erupts and Su looks down at her feet. Like she wants to be anywhere else in the world, like she’s deliberately trying to fuck with you. It’s almost disturbing, vaguely satanic, the cult thing.

His instrument was the kind of voice that one might call ‘disturbing’, ‘jarring’ or ‘difficult’. She was hypnotic like Nico was, she had an icy stare, she seemed permanently bored. She was Kim Gordon and Kate Bush, Joanna Newsom in a surf punk band, or Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux if she could pound her way from her rich, warm alto to a terrifying devilish scream. That’s what Su’s voice did: go from low and meaty to high and disturbed. That’s what made Suburban Lawns tick off the Geiger counter of the Los Angeles punk and new wave scene around 1981: Su’s voice. Without it, they would have looked a bit like Devo.

After all, there isn’t much to a Suburban Lawns song. On the surface, they wrote straightforward post-punk tunes. Take “Anything”: fast and strong, just under two minutes long, all jerky guitars that sometimes venture into frenetic solos. What elevates the song is the humor of its paranoid rendition and Su’s soprano yodeling. “Don’t blame me! she sings alongside her bandmates. “If you want it, take it!” When Su sings, her mind seems to race, as if she has a story to tell you in great detail.