Somehow, during the early '90s, serial killers became cool. American Psycho, Natural Born Killers, Kalifornia, Silence of the Lambs...suddenly us nice wannabe alternative college kids were buying serial killer trading cards and -- for some inexplicable reason -- becoming slightly obsessed with the whole scene.
I was no exception. When I was in university I pretty much wallowed in morbidity, drinking great big gulps of all the world's nastiness. I certainly didn't want to perpetrate wicked deeds, but I DID want to KNOW about them, and I avidly bought Lydia Lunch CDs and followed every scrap of Karla Homolka news. Sad post-adolescent revolution? Maybe, but I like to think I was just exploring...learning about the ugly stuff that -- previously -- people didn't like to talk about.
The Pain Teens were part of this obsession. Essentially a duo of Austin-based Scott Ayers and Bliss Blood, they released lo-fi, sludgy albums with an emphasis on serial killers, child abuse, and violent sexuality. The music sounded like a slower, sloppier, more experimental Butthole Surfers mixed with samples and bizarre effects, with Bliss warbling over the top in her deadpan (and not entirely in tune) way.
Typical of their music is "The Basement," about the torture and murder of Sylvia Likens. Here's the video, but it's extremely unpleasant and definitely NOT work friendly.
Looking back on it now I can't believe that I ever thought this was "cool." I suppose that at the time it was popular to be nihilistic and to view the world in as dark a way as possible. Bands like The Pain Teens exemplified that aesthetic in its most cheap and humourless form, right up there with the "Faces of Death" videos and the bootleg recordings of the Jonestown massacre, the fake-snuff of Genesis P. Orridge and the dead-animal-robot battles of Survival Research Laboratories. It was done without irony or introspection or analysis. It was, at its root, childish and sensationalistic and dumb...but still an expression of what needed to be said, a reaction against the idea that smalltown America's working stiffs were a bunch of jolly folks who brought up their kids in the best way possible.
But I still love The Pain Teens. They still sound great! Put "Shallow Hole" in your CD player and play it loud. They made some of the sludgiest and most ecclectic music ever. Even if I can no longer relate to their torture-porn image I can still appreciate their music, and I can also appreciate their position at the time they were making that music. It was sensible then. Now this type of music is made by people in silly costumes...it's something different now.
Also very different these days is Bliss Blood, who now sings and plays ukulele in a trio that specializes in '20s and '30s jazz standards. A more abrupt change of direction cannot be imagined.
Most albums by The Pain Teens are pretty obscure these days. I highly recommend "Stimulation Festival" as the most focused and varied album; you might also enjoy the more primitive two-in-one CD "Born in Blood/Case Histories." Less wonderful is the much more commercial "Destroy Me Lover," which suffers from slick production but DOES have a heartrending version of Leonard Cohen's "The Story of Isaac." For fans only: I suppose all those tapes they released in the '80s...the ones I'd love to hear someday.