If you’re looking for something a little more melancholy in the garage, Index is your band.
If you’re looking for something a little more melancholy in the garage, Index is your band. During its brief existence, the Grosse Pointe, Michigan group played parties and small venues and released a pair of private-press albums that, as was the fashion of the time, were a mix of covers and originals. Lion Productions, which reissued the band’s complete output as a two-disc set in 2011, has indexed the originals for a vinyl album that’s darker and moodier than you expect from the school of inspired amateur rock.
Index began as a trio with the memorable name Chicken Every Sunday, but when it expanded to a quartet, members agreed to take whatever word revealed itself when they dropped a book on the floor. The plain Jane result announced a group that boasted familiar hallmarks of the garage but with a distinct sound. Its music was drenched in reverb and moody minor key melodies, and thanks to the furious drums of Jim Valice, who at times seems to play fills through an entire track, its introspective hooks had a raw, swampy energy.
“Turquoise Feline 1” launches the album with a heavily echoed fuzz-tone riff that snakes over a pounding mid-tempo instrumental like a surfing zombie. Valice isn’t content to just keep rhythm, but throws in dense drum rolls that evoke a crashing sea. The ballad “Fire Eyes” brings the drone, guitars ringing out minor chords in a rock dirge that you might mistake for Galaxie 500. “Israeli Blues” is another exotic instrumental that puts an unusual twist on the surf music template, while “Shock Wave” cranks up the agitated surf metaphor, with John B. Ford’s wild psychedelic guitar solo and those pounding drums making for an electric ocean ride.
You’d be surprised to hear that among the covers extricated from the original albums is James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good),” the theme song for dozens of cheerful cinematic montages. On the contrary, Originals does not feel particularly good. Lyrically, these were angsty young men, as on the brooding ballad “Rainy Starless Nights,” which turns down the reverb a bit for the lament: “Why must I cry/ Why must I count on/ The stars in the sky/ For only you.”
Psychedelic distortion may seem like Index’s signature, but when it turns to acoustic guitars on “Paradise Beach,” the lack of amplification doesn’t sacrifice its sound. This is another sad ballad, the idyllic shore turning into hell for another tale of heartbreak. Surprise—the band even plays the blues—as on the instrumental sequel, “Turquoise Feline 2” (that is one versatile, colorful cat). “Break Out “is a brief freak-out that’s less than three minutes long but gives you a sense of the group’s live energy, which must have mesmerized a crowd despite its brooding repertoire.
After its brief sojourn, band members went their separate ways. Ford became a university professor and continued to perform music, concentrating on classical voice. Valice works in advertising in Beverly Hills. Index was forgotten until the ‘80s garage band revival resulted in a 1984 reissue of its first album. It’s too bad the band never had the chance to develop, but these raw documents are an impressive testament.