Santa Barbara Independent
November 26, 1993
Creature Feature’s beast within
by Jeff Gordinier
It’s hard to believe, but Santa Barbarans have roamed the face of the earth for years without a definitive document from Creature Feature.
The bayou-grunge trio has been a sturdy draw on the South Coast for many moons, but in the privacy of their own homes, fans have been forced to get their Feature fix from a couple of muddy demo tapes and a handful of tracks on local compilation albums.
Until now. Finally, just in time for Christmas (hee hee hee). Creature Feature is throwing a big, gristly brontosaurus bone to its slobbering fans. “Retrodemon 263.” The 10-song CD, which amounts to a sort of “Greatest Hits” package, proves what I’ve been saying for almost two years:
Creature Feature conquers.
“Retrodemon” is big. That’s a blessing, because until now the group’s sound has been too gargantuan for most of Santa Barbara’s studios and clubs. Theirs is a roar made for superdomes and airplane hangars.
Thus it’s best to listen to “Retrodemon” in an echo chamber. For me, the disc made its debut in my bathroom, which happens to be painted a ghoulish shade of purple. In that setting “Retrodemon” lived up to its name, yowling and braying like a Hydra tearing loose from the hot mud of hell.
The CD is a showpiece for Dave Hetrick and Mike Ramsey, who cut it at Santa Barbara’s own Castle Recording & Video. Somehow they were able to harness the Creature’s animal energy and take it for a ride.
The Beast isn’t domesticated, fortunately, but there’s a level of sophistication that was only suggested before. On “Born Loser,” a litany of words piles up in blankets of echo: “loser, failure, liar, sinner.”
In “Rise,” the beats sink like boots in wet sand. “Tigerlilly” kicks off with a woozy scale, then takes off for the Taj Mahal; “Atheist” begins with an eerie passage that sounds like a moan in the hallway of a monastery.
The studio brings all this into a clearer light. But you ultimately have to credit the band itself. Creature Feature takes a genre that’s been done to death – big, heavy, boot-stomping white rock – and squeezes out enough humor and hooks to make it fun again.
The mastermind is Giancarlo Mistretta, Creature Feature’s singer, guitarist and writer. The world is full of guitar-shredders with billy-goat beards, but very few of them have Mistretta’s knack for a pop song. Even if you dig the crunch and thud of the sound, what’s truly amazing is how catchy the songs are.
They’re so catchy it’s sick. Anyone who has heard “Virus” knows what I mean. True to its name, the song works its way into your system and wreaks havoc:
“So you’ve been told to control your anger
Don’t take it out on me
You find it hard to suppress and it lingers
Abuse your family.”
Once you’ve heard it, you can’t remove it. You sing it at work, in the car, in the shower. You wake up with “Virus” in your brain.
The same could be said for many of Creature Feature’s nuggets: “27 Years,” “Rise,” and most of all, “Hypocrite.” At the moment “Hypocrite” kicks into its shimmy – ”move move move to the rhythm of the groove” – you have no choice but to follow orders.
When Mistretta and the rhythm section, drummer Jef and bassist Greg Kirchmaier, aren’t infecting you with hooks, they’re trapping you in a slow, psychedelic trance. Underneath the grunge layer, songs like “Atheist” and “Tigerlilly” recall the spaced-out days of The Beatles – John Lennon in his “turn off your mind, relax and float down stream” period, George Harrison in his guru phase.
All that’s missing is a sitar.
All in all, “Retrodemon 263” is an achievement: good songs, crisp production and Mistretta’s trademark Sasquatch howl. It’s available at record stores all over town; the official release party happens on Dec. 10 at Alex’s Cantina.