The ability to raise the anachronistic cultural past runs far beneath the zombie cartoon cover art of Apache Dropout's second long player, Bubblegum Graveyard. Punk – and this trends toward the garage psych-freakout end of the pool – in all its forms, has always relied on a displaced historical remembering, symbols divorced from meaning, a sort of post-modern patchwork of which Derrida could be suitably proud. It was punk kids, after all, who made the safety pin an emblem of rebellion not adhesion. On Bubblegum Graveyard, the Bloomington, Indiana band channel a string of dated, often very dead cultural references, rendering them disinterred and animated behind fuzzy, shambling guitars and the yelping, didactic vocal of singer and guitarist, Sonny Alexander. It is, ultimately, a rock and roll magic realism, a Ghost Dance for all the iconography we've consumed and thrown away, symbols raised from the dead to roam our streets and haunt us anew.
This would risk being a bit serious, some bit of graduate-level cultural critique from a whipsmart garage in the American heartland, but Apache Dropout are up to something far more playful here. Song titles rely on a sort of noun exhaustion, focusing attention on everything from Archie cartoons on “Archie's Army” to Interstate 80 on “I-80.” The former is the band's current thesis statement, a chorus of the lyrics, “Undead, Jughead, undead Jughead,” a plea for the resurrection of Archie Andrew's best friend, the sardonic and bizarre Jughead Jones. The band uses the same methodology on “Quaaludes '68,” a song about exactly what you think it would be about. Here, Alexander and the band divine a hooky little chorus, “This is my soul/this is my circuit/this is my life/How do I work it?” It is immensely straight-forward and straight-faced, keeping Apache Dropout from seeming either wantonly sarcastic or overly sanctimonious when raising from the dead a nearly forgotten counter-cultural drug fad from the late 1960s. They reach ever more deeply into the same decade on the album's third track, “1-2-3 Red Light,” a catchy cover of the 1910 Fruitgum Company hit that went to number five on the Billboard charts in, yes, 1968. This is, not surprisingly, done with total reverence.
Bubblegum Graveyard is both a love letter to and a ghost story of our popular cultural heritage. Did we expect these things to just go away? The songs from 1968 that all but a few completists had successfully forgotten? The drugs that have now passed the torch to Adderall, pot, cocaine and Molly? What about Archie and his friends from Riverdale? Apache Dropout make the argument with a deftness that slithers away from an easy read. As their garage punk unfolds, they outline a profound cultural anxiety. We have inheritted a sort of amnesia that not only forgets our past, but will in time forget ourselves as well. For the pysch-punks from Bloomington, the hope for relevance, a measure of permenance even, begins with a playful and serious look at all that has slipped through our fingers, and all the iconography yet to be risen from our unremembered past.