Power-pop and Paisley Underground acolytes had reason to celebrate in late 2018. Omnivore Recordings released a brand-new compilation album called Hallucinations, a collection of cult classics, deep cuts, and rarities from the ’90s rock group Permanent Green Light, who were the torch-bearers of the psych-rock scene in L.A. early in the decade. The Second Disc was able to hear the new set and are delighted to report back on the excellent comp, which puts on full display Permanent Green Lights’s excellent musicianship and songcraft, while also telling the story of the group’s rise, fall, and enduring influence.
In some ways, Permanent Green Light was a band that the world just wasn’t ready for, their bombastic ’70s-inspired sound and psychedelic aura too unique in a time of corporate rock and grunge. But while the rest of the listening public was waiting for the next Nirvana, an expat of an ’80s jangle-rock group formed a new trio, whose music defied early-’90s stylistic convention.
Michael Quercio was on the rebound after his last band, the Paisley Underground outfit The Three O’Clock, disbanded. By the early ’90s, he had become a regular at the Jabberjaw coffeehouse, where he hung out and jammed in a number of small groups in the L.A. rock scene. It was from this fertile soil that that band Permanent Green Light arose. It found Quercio joining up with two Jabberjaw mainstays: drummer Chris Bruckner, who had cut his first album at 16 as a member of The Marsupials, and guitarist Matt Devine, who bonded with Quercio over a love of ’70s Byrds.
Permanent Green Light’s music blend stood in stark contrast to the grunge-dominated music landscape of the early ’90s. Their blend was a psych-inspired, throwback rock sound steeped in the ’70s power-pop tradition. Quercio described it simply as, “over-indulgent pop melodies, soaring lead guitar, wild drums…all the things in our day in age that you are not allowed to mix together.” The pay-off of their music risk was a breath of fresh air amid all the sludgy rock of the day. While the band never found commercial success, they garnered approval from a loyal cult fan-base as they toured with the likes of The Muffs, Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, and Beck.
With Omnivore’s new collection, devotees and newcomers can enjoy the first-ever Permanent Green Light compilation. Culled from PGL’s singles, EPs, and their only full-length album, the 16-track set presents a wide-reaching and band-approved overview of their career. The cult classics like “Portmanteau” and “(You & I Are The) Summertime” are all accounted for, and Omnivore even dipped into the vault to find three unissued four-track demos. Meanwhile, the liner notes by compilation producer Pat Thomas include interviews with band members and associates of the Jabberjaw scene that provide insight into the band’s history, songwriting, and the lasting impact of their music.
Making up that music legacy are a self-titled 1992 EP on Rockville Records (the first two tracks of which made up their first single), a full-length album called Against Nature, plus three further singles on Rockville, Munster, and Gasatanka Records, respectively. Rather than simply collect all the As and Bs, this compilation is carefully sequenced, delivering a broad overview of many of these releases, plus some welcome bonus material.
Among the highlights are songs from Permanent Green Light’s first-ever session, financed from Quercio’s Three O’Clock royalties and produced by Dino Papanicolau at Elbee’s in Burbank. Those early tracks – “We Could Just Die,” “The Truth This Time,” and “Ballad of Paul K.” – all appeared on their first EP and are featured on Hallucinations.
“We Could Just Die” is a slice of perfect 2-minute rock writing that’s as musically rollicking as it is temporally brief. Propelled by crunchy guitar accompaniment and catchy riffs, the track highlights the beautiful, bright harmonies of Querico and Devine, as well as the boisterous, Keith Moon-esque drumming style. As with many of the songs on Hallucinations, the jaunty presentation serves to highlight the much more heavy and literary lyric.
Meanwhile, a funky wah-wah groove underscores the bulk of “The Truth This Time,” which finds the narrator questioning the fidelity of his significant other. “I’ve been told this love is going nowhere,” he sings. “All the time I was blind.” Ultimately, and despite the clues and rumors, the narrator resolves to denial in a chorus that moves fluidly into a jangling descending figure.
Further demonstrating Permanent Green Light’s talents is “Ballad of Paul K.,” an acoustic guitar-led ode to a friend who “means more than wine and conversation / Counterculture sensation.” The band’s vocalists’ tight harmonies are on full display here, as are layers of intricate guitar work, emotive drum work (that at times recalls “Be My Baby”), and the intelligent lyrics that typify PGL’s music.
Yet another standout is the cult classic “Portmanteau,” a track that’s complex and ironically twee, with shifting moods and tonalities. Featuring Spanish-style guitar in the introduction and interlude, a minor-based descending line that drives the verses, affected British accents, sweet harmonies, massive guitar breaks, and an array of effects, “Portmanteau” sounds like it could have taken the world by storm in ’68.
Helping to build the song’s varying atmospheres was “Zen master” sound engineer Earle Mankey, who utilized novel recording techniques that were, as he put it, sometimes “more ridiculous than practical.” Whether it be recording drums at half-speed, super-compressing a towel-covered snare, or trying out unorthodox microphone combinations, Mankey’s audio alchemy imparted a sonically adventurous quality to all the songs he worked on.
But Omnivore doesn’t stop with those album tracks and singles cuts. Hallucinations also includes a trio of four-track demos from the vault. Among them is a version of one of their stand-out tracks, “(You & I Are The) Summertime.” Where the original is a well-performed and straight-ahead rendition of a tasty power-pop gem, the demo feels a bit more raucous. Chris Bruckner’s drumming has a Live At Leeds-like fury, Matt Devine’s guitar playing a bit more urgent. In all, the demo feels like an energetic concert, presenting a less-polished wild abandon that got reigned in on the album version.
Yet, the demo, while raw, sounds great thanks to the skilled audio team that worked on Hallucinations. All the tracks in the set were transferred by Brian Kehew at Round And Wound, and mastered and restored by Michael Graves at Osiris. Accompanying the music is a 16-page booklet that features the aforementioned interview pieces with band members and contemporaries, as well as rare photos and memorabilia.
In all, Hallucinations is a fantastic set. Boasting excellent music, rare photos, and detailed liner notes, the package finally gives Permanent Green Light their due. Our congratulations go out to the compilation producers and the team at Omnivore for another great and historically significant release that will no doubt be a joy for power-pop fans new and old.