Graded on a Curve:
The Twinkeyz,
Alpha Jerk

Once diminished as a momentarily convulsion on the path toward increased aural sophistication, punk rock has endured as a vital development in the annuls of modern music. It’s a style too often debased today, but in a swell turn of events Sacramento’s Ss Records offers a corrective to the defilement by reissuing the sole album from their hometown brethren The Twinkeyz. Infusing a modestly scaled and vibrant garage package with knowledge of the era’s fringe, the enlightening and appealing Alpha Jerk stands as a worthwhile instance of pre-codified punk form; featuring the corrected mix and opening with a stone beauty of a tune, it’s out on vinyl now.

“Aliens in Our Midst” might’ve been released in 1977, but the A-side to The Twinkeyz’ first single is simply dripping with the wide-open spirit of ’76. Formed in the summer of that year, the band was certainly impacted by familiar touchstones, most obviously the output of proto-punk mainstay the Velvet Underground, yet these tangible qualities are interspersed with the atmosphere of a bunch of guys getting it all down on wax before the rulebook was chiseled into granite.

Underscoring the breadth of influence, The Twinkeyz’ name derives not from the junk food staple but is a tribute to Twink, the drummer for UK group Pink Fairies. Donnie Jupiter was the constant member as Steve Bateman and Wit Witkowski exited fairly early; Marc Bonella, Walter Smith, and Keith McKee were involved as well. Tom Darling was around from beginning to end but didn’t fully join until after the session that produced their best known song.

And what a song it is; “Aliens in Our Midst” unfurls a glorious recipe, a few of the ingredients having fallen to the wayside as punk grew far more focused on the intersection of surliness and speed; those VU attributes, specifically a Reed-like vocal approach and Loaded-era hook, get introduced to a decidedly garage template as a downright catchy melodic sensibility emerges complete with backup singing.

This combination is enhanced by lead guitar additives conjuring mid-’60s Nuggets-style psychedelia and additional vocal textures in the chorus intended to deepen the sci-fi ambiance. It’s a low-tech but highly effective creative experience serving as Exhibit A for The Twinkeyz placement in the annals of ’70s punk rock.

Indeed, it provides Anopheles Records’ 1998 compact disc with its title; Aliens in Our Midst – Complete Recordings 1977-1980 rounds up their 45s, Alpha Jerk, unissued studio stuff, and a cool batch of live tracks. Anopheles head Karl Ikola also issued a trimmed-down glimpse of The Twinkeyz on LP as Cartoon Land, but it and the CD have long been out of print.

The band’s 45 were self-released, “Aliens in Our Midst” getting two pressings with different B-sides as “E.S.P.” followed in ’78, but Alpha Jerk was issued in ’79 by Plurex, the noted Dutch label run by Wally Van Middendorp of the Minny Pops, with the double whammy of a botched final mix and a flawed mastering job. A significant part of the Anopheles retrospective’s value came through sonic repair from the master tapes by Ikola, Donnie Jupiter, and Greg Freeman.

Ss Records’ reissue retains this proper version, returning it to vinyl with a remastering by John Golden in an edition of 500. “Aliens in Our Midst” opens side one and sounds as swank as ever; casual punk listeners acquainted with the song should be warned that nothing else on Alpha Jerk reaches the same level of inspired assemblage, though in The Twinkeyz favor they seemed to grasp the unlikelihood of lightning striking twice.

Instead, “Tonight Again” achieves considerable success by merely wading into VU waters with a Stones-like groove; they come out the other side akin to a suburban Heartbreakers (Thunders not Petty), sporting lyrics concerned with nocturnal carousing as Darling dishes out amp grease of unusually high quality for a ‘70s punk album.

The title of “Sweet Nothing” may lead some readers back to Loaded; while trace elements are detectable the whole isn’t especially Velvety as workmanlike rock is imbued with vocal harmony and more of Darling’s lead work. Just when relative normalcy threatens to set in, “1,000 Reasons” reengages with the psychedelic, coming on like Barrett-era Floyd and brandishing a fine synth wheedle courtesy of producer Dave Houston. There’s even a sound approximating a whip-crack that’s reminiscent of a similar effect in VU’s “The Black Angel’s Death Song.”

Synth buzz establishes a bridge to the subtly psych-tinged “Cartoon Land.” Cut in ’78, the track emphasizes The Twinkeyz’ growing confidence as the LP’s selections unwind in a straightforward chronological manner. It’s a tactic that could’ve potentially undermined Alpha Jerk’s success, though as second single “E.S.P.” takes on a greater pop inclination the record maintains a solid grip on their overall personality.

Side two opens with the “Twinkeyz Theme,” the oddball humor highlighting the serious-not serious nature of the band. Repeated listens reinforce the proceedings as being pretty far from the big-league standards of the time, but ultimately that’s all for the better; this is the work of ground-level outsiders stoked over punk’s arrival, and its emphasis on skilled originals differentiates it from hobbyism.

“That’s the Way It Goes” really strengthens the ties between Nuggets, non-indulgent psych trappings and melody, an aspect of ’70s punk soon to be trampled over by the onslaught of hardcore. Make no mistake, The Twinkeyz getting to ’79 without sucking is a major achievement, as is Alpha Jerk’s title cut utilizing mellotron. The general thrust continues to radiate from the garage.

“Strange Feelings” blends a boatload of Darling’s guitar squall with sha-la-la backing vox and a somewhat post-punk rhythmic attack as “Wild Love” weds Chrome-level weirdness to a power pop core and closes the set with unexpected aplomb. Much of The Twinkeyz appeal rests upon abilities sharpened not in hopes of stardom but in the attempt to fend off boredom, and Alpha Jerk is a brightly hued portrait hanging triumphantly in the gallery of the ’70s underground.


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