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Times Good for the Noise in the Band

Pop music: Lutefisk, fronted by former O.C. punker Don Burnet, finds a niche and a major label for its jarring sonic salad.

March 07, 1997|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOLLYWOOD — Purists might call it vandalism, but the rock band Lutefisk calls it fun: Write a bunch of catchy, nearly perfect pop songs, then mess them up with a lot of weirdness and noise.

Two albums into its career, the band, which is part of L.A.'s hip Silver Lake alternative-music scene but springs from Orange County roots, has shown the value of being sumptuously melodic and seriously fractured at the same time.

In a sense, Lutefisk, which plays tonight at the Foothill and Saturday at Linda's Doll Hut, is the resolution of a premature midlife artistic crisis on the part of its singer, Don Burnet, a.k.a. Dallas Don.

Burnet, 33, came up on the Orange County punk scene in the early 1980s; members of the Offspring are among the fans of the 1985 album by the Huntington Beach band he fronted, Plain Wrap.

Disenchanted with the stylistic limitations of punk, and disgusted with the state of the local punk scene--especially the incursion of racist skinheads--Burnet went purely pop. From 1986 to 1992, he led the band 3D Picnic to artistic excellence but limited career headway.

"Product 29" a song from Lutefisk's new album, "Burn in Hell [Expletive]" captures the downcast emotional state in which Burnet found himself four years ago.

You wallow in regret, mistakes pull you down,

And as you are submerged, memories wash over you

Of the girl you knew,

And she loved rock 'n' roll, too.

"I wrote it on my 29th birthday," Burnet recalled last week as he and bandmates Beale "Frosting" Dabbs, Brandon "Quazar" Jay and Brian McSherry sat in the office of Bong Load Custom Records, the independent label that will promote "Burn in Hell," then hand off Lutefisk to A&M Records, the major label that has signed the band for future releases. "I was really depressed. 'What am I doing with my life? I'm almost 30 and I'm just a [expletive] loser.' "

Unlike the girl in the song, Burnet's love of rock 'n' roll did not slip into the past tense. He resolved to keep playing, but without trying to second-guess himself as to what audiences and record companies wanted to hear.

"I had to stop thinking so much," he said. "Instead of planning, I was going to just throw stuff and see where it would land."

The band's name represents his aim of playing pop songs that could be hard to stomach for audiences craving sweets and not willing to adjust their tastes to something more demanding and raw.

Lutefisk, a Norwegian dish made from dried fish treated with lye, sounds like a meal requiring some intestinal fortitude.

"We wanted an image of gore and terror, and what's more terrifying than having some disgusting food shoved down your throat?" Burnet reasons.

Nobody in Lutefisk actually has tasted lutefisk. "If it's ever served backstage, I won't play," said the amiable Dabbs, who lives in Anaheim.

The band shrugged off some early interest from major labels and decided to develop more deliberately and let its sound mature. The result is a sonic construct in which Burnet's attractive pop-rock frameworks are treated with sonic scuffing that helps the band avoid the antique collecting of retro-pop, in favor of a modernist skewing of familiar rock forms. That is achieved via clouds of distortion and sonic beds of dense sound.

Burnet's lyrics are now more oblique and trippy than in his 3D days, and his delivery more consistently aggressive. But the melodies are no less catchy, and there are enough patches of relative normalcy to keep open-minded pure-pop fans attuned.

Lutefisk isn't afraid to pause for a fairly straightforward romantic ballad among the psychedelic hailstorms or to write a stately number that sounds like E.L.O. trying to broadcast through swarms of static.

*

Like the band's 1995 debut album, "Deliver From Porcelain: Theme and Variations," "Burn in Hell" ends with an extended abstract sound collage rooted in Burnet's appreciation for John Lennon's experimental "Revolution 9," from the Beatles' "White Album."

The new album's profane title is precisely what Burnet scrawled on the wall of Lutefisk's rehearsal studio two years ago after thieves broke in and looted the band's instruments and recording gear. He thought the curse might scare the burglars away if they came back for the few instruments they had left behind. A benefit concert organized by fellow Silver Lakers the Grammy-winning Beck (of "Loser" and "Odelay" fame) and Possum Dixon helped Lutefisk replace most of the stolen equipment.

At the moment, having signed with A&M means that Lutefisk won't have to tour any more in Burnet's 1982 van with the broken air conditioner and malfunctioning heater, and that Dabbs, who is married and has two small children, can quit his day job fixing the pneumatic tubes used to shoot documents from room to room in office buildings.

It also means that Lutefisk probably will rein in its most extreme noise-making tendencies and forgo using future album titles to curse its enemies.

Burnet thinks Lutefisk can live within the limitations that come with being a corporate entity.

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