Laughing Hyenas are either a comically cartoonish “junkie hate noise” band from the AmRep/Your Flesh school of wank or a streamroller of depresso drug blues with an incredible throat-ripping singer – Agony Shorthand
Beautiful Blues-Noise – Grunnenrocks
Associated Entries: Jesus Lizard, Denison-Kimball Trio
Powered by torturous howling of vocalist John Brannon, Ann Arbor, MI band Laughing Hyenas explored the connection between proto-punks MC5 / Stooges, noise-merchants like Birthday Party / Pussy Galore and bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
Formed in 1985, the band initially included Brannon himself (ex-Negative Approach) and Larissa Strickland, who was a member of L-Seven (not to confuse with all-female grunge band of the same name). The two added bassist Kevin Strickland and drummer Jim Kimball to the line-up and started touring Detroit.
The band signed up with Touch & Go label, who released debut EP “Merry Go Round” in 1987. All Music Guide described the record as “a combination of deceptively simple voodoo blues and a rhythmic complexity that’s rarely acknowledged.” and they also pointed out that its “a brawling, bloodied lip of a record, delivering twice the cathartic buzz that vocalist John Brannon’s former group, Negative Approach could muster, and even then at half the speed.”
1989 brought their first full-length “You Can’t Pray A Lie” and the band went on tour supporting Sonic Youth soon after the album’s release. Trouser Press pointed out that “You Can’t Pray A Lie” some of the unevenness of its predecessor and as for band members – “Strickland’s charged contributions (it sounds like she’s been listening to her Rapeman records) give Brannon a high-intensity run for his money. Ironically, while the challenge inspires Brannon to greater feats of frenzy, his roars — mixed to a nearly equal footing with the music — become easier to endure, if not exactly enjoy.”
1990 “Life Of Crime” was hailed by many as the band’s finest hour (yet it also signaled the dissolution of the original line-up, as Kimball and Strickland departed to form Mule). AMG commented that “Life of Crime strikes with the impact of a freight train on its first cut “Everything I Want,” and the thing never lets up for a moment”.
Kimball/Strickland were replaced with Kevin Reis and Todd Swalla (Necros) and with this line-up the band issued 1992 “Crawl” EP. According to AMG review of “Crawl”, most bands don’t suffer much from changes in rhythm section, but then LH were no ordinary band. While not band, EP caught the band in transitional phase – according to AMG “they weren’t playing badly, but it would be a little while before the new lineup was fully up to speed.”
Reis decided to leave the band after they recorded “Crawl” and was replaced with Ron Sakowski, another former member of Necros. As a line-up of Brannon / Strickland / Swalla / Sakowski, they recorded what turned out to be Laughing Hyenas swansong, 1995 “Hard Times”.
In their review of “Hard Times”, AMG pointed out that “The Laughing Hyenas used to talk a lot about how the blues were a crucial influence on their music, but it was on their final album hat they started to really walk it like they talked it.” AMG review concluded that “Laughing Hyenas wouldn’t last long enough to fully explore the potential of their newer, bluesier direction, but few acts from the Midwest punk underground ever reinvented themselves as powerfully and effectively as the Hyenas did here, and Hard Times found this troubled band going out on a high note.”
After the band’s dissolution, Brannon and Sakowski joined forced again in Easy Action, who released self-titled album in 2001 and its 2005 follow-up “Friends Of Rock And Roll” via Reptilian Records. Sadder news regarding Laughing Hyenas came in 2006, when Larissa Strickland passed away at the age of 46.
John Brannon (Easy Action, Negative Approach)
Larissa Strickland (Stolarchuk) (L-Seven)
Ron Sakowski (Necros, Easy Action, Negative Approach)
Tod Swalla (Carnival Of Souls, Necros)
Jim Kimball (Denison Kimball Trio, Firewater, Jesus Lizard, Mule, Spinanes)
Kevin “Munro” Strickland (Mule)
Merry Go Round CD / LP (Touch & Go, 1987 / 1995)
You Can’t Pray A Lie LP (Touch & Go, 1989)
Here We Go Again 7″ (Touch & Go, 1990)
Life Of Crime LP (Touch & Go, 1990)
Life Of Crime / You Can’t Pray A Lie CD (Touch & Go, 1990)
Crawl EP CD / 12″ (Touch & Go, 1992)
Covers: Stolen Tapes 92 to 94 2×7″ (Self-Released, 1995)
Hard Times CD / LP (Touch & Go, 1995)
“Dedications To The One I Love (Live)” on Howl 7 (Howl Magazine, 1990)
“Public Animal #9” on Singles Club July 1991 (Sub Pop, 1991)
“Candy” on Mesomorph Enduros (Big Cat UK, 1992)
“Solid Gold Hell” on Set It On Fire! (Dog Meat, 1993)
“Just Can’t Win” on CMJ New Music February – Vol. 18 (College Music Journal, 1995)
“Shine” on Jabberjaw: Pure Sweet Hell (Mammoth, 1996)
“Candy” on Untitled (Bob Magazine, unknown year)
On a Different Note:
- Stuff You Might’ve Missed – Denison-Kimball Trio
- A-Z of Skin Graft Records – Denison-Kimball Trio
- 12 Years of I Heart Noise // July Archives (Vol. 1)
- Touch & Go – R.I.P?
- Guest Mix – Tread (Ted Bundy’s Volkswagon)