The Austin Chronicle


Gift guide

Reviewed by Greg Beets, December 17, 2004, Music

The Avengers

The American in Me (DBK Works)

Penelope Houston with Pat Johnson

The Pale Green Girl (DBK Works)

Key figures in the development of left-coast punk, the Avengers' take-no-prisoners template rings loud and clear in Penelope Houston's brash vocals, emulated by spiritual descendants like Kathleen Hanna. Unfortunately, the San Francisco quartet left little recorded history. The closest thing to a definitive item remains the band's posthumous 1981 self-titled LP, which is out of print (CD-Rs can be ordered at The American in Me features four unearthed studio recordings from 1978 and eight songs from the band's third-to-last show the following year. The raw, unsweetened versions of American anthems "We Are the One" and "The American in Me" hold their own with the original versions without eclipsing them. The live recording is from a poor-quality soundboard tape, but the sense that the band is unraveling is preserved. There's a distinctively mournful tone in Houston's voice as she soldiers through gut-bombs like "Misery (Finger on the Trigger)" and "Time to Die," officially released here for the first time. While not quite essential listening, the dearth of Avengers recordings makes every scrap count. With any justice, The Pale Green Girl should draw more attention to Houston's post-Avengers work. Utilizing a languid, electric folk pastiche vaguely reminiscent of the Byrds, Houston and instrumental e-man Pat Johnson negotiate the complexities of love and pain with a directness that could only come from Houston having cut her lyrical teeth on punk rock. The soundtrack for a film that hasn't been made, these songs approach relationships with a battle-scarred pragmatism, refusing to fall into co-dependency ("Hole"), acknowledging that splitting up doesn't herald the apocalypse ("Bottom Line"), and exalting in moving onward and upward ("Flight 609"). Houston's rendition of John Cale's "Buffalo Ballet" is a magnificent closing sentiment. The Pale Green Girl's slightly unfinished veneer leaves that much more room for listeners to build their own unique impressions.

(The American in Me) ***

(The Pale Green Girl) ***.5

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