Reviews

The Embarrassment Death Travels West 12″ reissue

Last Laugh has been slowly working their way through the early EMBARRASSMENT catalog—all three records worth!—for a decade now, and they’ve just reached 1983’s mini-LP Death Travels West, the final record from the band’s initial phase (they would eventually reunite for a spell in the late ’80s). For the unfamiliar, the EMBARRASSMENT were four bespectacled Wichita, Kansas art school students with a nerdy, nervous sound not unlike a cornfield-surrounded FEELIES, if the FEELIES had been more fixated on the BUZZCOCKS than the VELVET UNDERGROUND; a prairie post-punk tornado of jangly guitar and angular bass, busy drums and boyishly melodic vocals, and lyrics that were at turns surreal, observational, clever, and sarcastic, with an eye toward everything from the serious (US imperialism) to the mundane (camp pop culture). In contrast to the shaky, almost MISSION OF BURMA-esque tension of their 1980 debut 7”, Death Travels West offers more of a window to the college rock/proto-indie direction that was to come from guitarist Bill Goffrier’s Homestead-backed, post-EMBARRASSMENT effort BIG DIPPER, but that’s not a diss in the least—the band’s unpretentious heartland weirdo charm still rules the school here, from the anthemic hyper-strum and lopsided pop of ”Drive Me to the Park” and “D-Rings” to the dark, brittle bass-driven rhythm of “Hip and Well Read.” The gold standard of the ’80s US geek-punk underground.