FOCUS // A history of Rob Crow’s many (many) musical projects

ccorwIt was a surprise when we received the news that math rock demigod Robertdale Rulon Crow Jr, aka Rob Crow, had made a guest vocal appearance on Tera Melos‘ newest track ‘Lemon Grove‘, off their recent Treasures And Trolls EP. For some of us, this was an unsurprising addition given his uncredited guest collaboration in ‘Warpless Run‘ on the band’s 2017 masterpiece Trash Generator.

It’s also unsurprising to see that Crow is still belting out vocals after 25 years in the business, despite having announced his indefinite break from music in 2015. This year he has, rather quietly, featured as the Artist In Residence at Joyful Noise Recordings, where new Crow material is released on a monthly basis. This included a brand spanking new Thingy album Morbid Curiosity, one of the most mind-bendingly angular, loud and unquestionably vivacious math rock releases of this year. Crow had teased about the eventual release of this album in interviews last year, without divulging any specifics. Even now, the album, which has not been released outside of the residency, remains a wonderfully elusive masterpiece and a math rock album of the year (if not the decade).

Rob Crow’s history in music is a long and vibrant career, comprising at least 15 musical projects. His off-kilter approach to music has lead to many of us associating him with math rock, although his goals are clearly larger than the confines of the genre. What we hope to present in this feature is an exhaustive list of the many musical projects Crow has undertaken across his career.

Heavy Vegetable (1993-2000)

Perhaps the most important entry on this list for math rock history. Crow’s quartet Heavy Vegetable featured singer Eléa Tenuta, bassist Travis Nelson and drummer Manolo Turner. This project was uncontrollable pop ruckus, a vivacious and wacky mix of math rock, indie and college-rock with punk-esque brevity. Their magnum opus is the 28-track 1995 release Frisbie, which perfectly captures the band’s oddly balanced precision and disregard.

Physics (1993-2001)

No, this isn’t Rob Crow’s project per se. Rather, it is the brainchild of John Goff and Denver Lucas from San Diego. Nevertheless, Crow has contributed guitar to this project over its lifespan. And the albums still stand the test of time (if you can find them on Google without running into actual physics pages). Physics are definitely in the realm of Tortoise or Trans Am, with a liberal helping of space rock.

Thingy (1995–2000)

Following the dissolve of Heavy Vegetable, Crow and Elea Tenuta formed Thingy, taking the name from the opening track to HV’s 1994 debut The Amazing Undersea Adventures Of Aqua Kitty And Friends. The band released their feature length debut Songs About Angels, Evil, And Running Around On Firein 1997. But it’s the 1999 sophomore To The Innocent that really shines out. The album kicks into life with ‘Mayday’, one of the most beautifully off-kilter and hideously underrated indie rock anthems to end the decade in our humble opinion. Both albums make for an interesting comparative measure with this year’s louder and more riotous Morbid Curiosity.

Fantasy Mission Force (1997-1997)

fantasyThis is another rare one from the annals of Rob Crow’s musical output. Fantasy Mission Force is, for the cinephiles out there, a 1982 Jackie Chan film. The band’s one release, the 7″ EP Circus Atari, was recorded in 1997 with Rob on guitar/vocals, Tim Semple (of Boilermaker) on drums, and Pea Hix on keys and samples. Crow and Hix would go on to form Optiganally Yours (below). What does Circus Atari sound like? Beats me, we haven’t heard it!

Optiganally Yours (1997-present)

From the fadeout of Fantasy Mission Force, Rob Crow and Pea Hix formed Optiganally Yours. The project centred around Hix’s fascination with the Optigan, a keyboard of the mid-’70s that stores its sounds on a collection of celluloid optical discs. The band’s debut album, Spotlight on Optiganally Yours was released in 1997, where Crow’s pop-washed styling fit ever-so-neatly with the kitschy chimes of the Optigan. A new Optiganally Yours record was released this year as part of Crow’s Joyful Noise Residency.

Pinback (1998-present)

Rob Crow’s most successful project is, unsurprisingly, his most accessible. In Pinback, Crow teams up with Armistead Burwell Smith IV (aka Zach Smith) of 90’s indie rock heroes Three Mile Pilot and Neighbourhood Watch, forging indie rock ballads that are softer and less wonky than Crow’s wider ouevre. Pinback’s 1999 self-titled debut is a great start, followed by the more upbeat Summer In Abaddon. You may also see Pinback dubbed as ‘The Zach and Rob Show’, ‘The Rob and Zach Show’, and ‘The Show and Zach Rob’. The last one isn’t real.

Holy Smokes (2004-2006)

What an exceptionally special release! In this lesser known project, Crow teamed up with, amongst others, Carson McWhirter (Ent, The Advantage) and Zach Hill (Hella, Death Grips) to form the noisy, psychedelic, art-rock Holy Smokes. The band released their debut Talk To Your Kids About Gangs in 2006, which lead one critic to describe the band as “if Voivod formed in 2084“. Ok, fair.

The Ladies (2004-2006)

From the ashes of Holy Smokes, Zach Hill and Rob Crow continued a working collaboration under the project The Ladies, releasing They Mean Us on Temporary Residence Ltd in 2006. It sounds exactly what you’d expect it to sound like: Zach Hill’s insane polyrhythmic mind-fucking percussion mixed with Crow’s quirko-pop. It is quite genuinely a Hella and Heavy Vegatable fission.

Goblin Cock (2005-present)

It’s Thingy meets Sunn O)))) in Crow’s louder project Goblin Cock. The band are fully decked out in morbid reaper-style capes, the guitars are fuzzy and brooding, the music is as sinister as it is tongue in cheek. It’s delicious pop-laden doom. Also check out this, um, weird live interview with their ‘roadies’. Notice someone?

Other Men (2007-2007)

Other Men was, effectively, a reformed Heavy Vegetable without Elea Turner. And what a weird 11-year reunion it was: Manolo Turner had been working as a gardener, and Travis Nelson was hanging with silent monks in a Thailand monastery. Just go and put your ears in their one and only release Wake Up Swimming, an extremely hard disc to find but available in part on the internet thanks to your humble 21st century Youtube bootleggers…

Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place (2016-present)

You’re doomed. Be nice. So goes the sentiment of Rob Crow’s 2018 solo album. It was a surprising and wholly invited return from the man who had announced he would be quitting music indefinitely due to the financial strain on his family. A thinner, sober and healthier Crow had returned from hiatus, teaming up with a squad of buddies to release his solo album on Temporary Residence. The album wanders through highs and lows, dealing with personal tragedies and existential pangs with utmost positivity.

Anal Trump (2016-2017)

Showing his rebuke at the outcomes of the 2016 Presidential Election, Crow shifted to the moniker ‘Rob Trump’ and collaborated with Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation to form Anal Trump, the name and associated artwork nodding to the notorious grindcore band Anal Cunt. The band’s first 7 inch That Makes Me Smart, in true grindcore style, contained 30 tracks that together clock in at 3 minutes duration. Notable tracks are ‘Poor People Are Too Stupid To Get A Loan From Their Parents’, ‘Grab Em By The Pussy’ and ‘Nobody Respects Women More Than Me’. Never has grind and politics clashed so well.

Byre (2018-present)

bureAn exceptional release under Joyful Noise’s Artist In Residence scheme, Byre is a band dating back to 2013 that features, among others, Rob Crow, Zach Zint, Aaron Tanner and, say what, Spencer Seim of Hella fame. But get that insane shredding math rock picture out of yer noggin’; Byre’s only release Here In Dead Lights is a sugary mix of pop rock with a subtle hint of psych.

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And there is a bunch of other Rob Crow projects we haven’t even touched on, including Alpha Males, Third Act Problems, Remote Action Sequence Project and his stack of solo work. Be sure to check out these and many others by visiting his Artist In Residency page at Joyful Noise Recordings.