Some bands are able to capitalize on a local following and a
word-of-mouth reputation, making the leap from 7-inch records pressed
by friends' labels to full-length albums that get national
distribution. But many more, like Speedking, never do. Together from
1995 to 1997, the Brooklyn-based trio of bassist/keyboardist Miriam
Maltagliati, drummer James Murphy and guitarist Chet Sherwood released a
handful of 7-inches, toured the country and recorded one album that
was never released.
Now, five years after they called it quits, Speedking's lost album,
plus all the songs that appeared on their excellent 7-inches and a
handful of synthesizer experiments, has finally been released on a
two-CD collection: The Fist and the Laurels.
But do Speedking deserve a retrospective?
What's immediately clear from listening to Speedking's songs is how
well they've held up. While new bands seen in a packed club can sound
astonishingly fresh in the moment, after a couple of years many of
them sound dated or stale. But the heterogeneous songs that document
Speedking's sonic evolution on The Fist and the Laurels seem
in some ways more suited to release in 2002 than five years earlier.
The band's continuously evolving sound can be heard most distinctly
by comparing the early 7-inch recording "Monosodium Glutemate [sic]"
to a later 7-inch track "Spider Veloce," and finally to the
recorded-for-LP "Yi Ma." The earliest track is a straightforward rock
song, progressing from mid-tempo guitar-bass-drums to a louder, more
scream-filled chorus. The sheer force of the song is engaging at its
most intense and cacophonous, but the guitar strumming and
hyper-accurate drumming that fill the early verses leave something to
"Spider Veloce" captures the band's first attempts at using
synthesizers. Suddenly the three-piece's hypnotically repetitive song
structures have an added depth and eccentricity, another arsenal of
sounds to contrast their increasing proficiency as musicians and as a
By "Yi Ma," Speedking had further developed their abilities on the
synths, incorporating them into much of their songwriting. Murphy's
metronome-like precision and Maltagliati's storming bass lines create
a compelling foundation on which synthesizer bleeps and moans are
layered along with Sherwood's sometimes edgy, sometimes anthemic
guitar lines. The result draws equally from their earlier-developed
rock bombast and an epileptic dance party.
But herky-jerky dancing isn't the only kind the lost Speedking record
encourages. "Get the Dogs" showcases the trio's ability to write
songs not driven by furious pacing and terrifying volume. The sound
of a small-plane engine provides the background drone fading in and
out as the band adds layers of syncopated rhythms with guitar, bass,
and backing vocals to Maltagliati's saccharine half-whisper, "If the
groove goes on/ Let the dogs go/ If the groove won't go/ Get the
At times the band's fascination with synthesizers becomes
masturbatory, particularly on the 17-minute-long closer on the second
CD, a synthesizer/feedback/drum programming piece titled "Setting the
Humans on Fire." But most of The Fist and the Laurels finds
Speedking ably mixing and exploring the possibilities of sound that
Ignoring the album's track order and instead going with the
chronology in which the songs were recorded (tracks 1-7 on disc 2,
then the entire first disc, and finally tracks 8-11 on disc 2), it's
easy to see Speedking's evolution from raucous art/punk/guitar rock
screamfests to quieter, but no less tension-filled,
synthesizer-driven experiments. This is a compelling reason to
recall this forgotten band. And although nationally distributed labels might not have recognized it while the band was still together, there's another reason why its music is getting a shot at being heard today: Speedking were a legitimately good band, and most of the music on The Fist and the Laurels proves it.