August 20 — “Genius of Crack” by Tsunami


If you only listen to one song today, make it “Genius of Crack” by Tsunami. This particular version is taken from the World Tour And Other Destinations compilation album (1995). The song originally appeared as a single in 1991, then on Tsunami’s debut album —Deep End— in 1992.

Tsunami was an indie rock band from Arlington, Virginia who were active between 1990 and 1998. The founding members Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thomson also founded their label Simple Machines Records. Like a lot of small labels, they championed the DIY aspect and the creative process of the artists. Their goal was to get the music out there without really having much interest in making money in the process.

Unfortunately, they took DIY too seriously. Even on their own Tsunami records, the production quality is terrible and to say that the records are “lo-fi” is a massive understatement. They literally sound like they were recorded with a 1970s style single-track monaural desktop cassette tape recorder from Radio Shack. Like the one that Rerun used when he tried to bootleg the Doobie Brothers’ concert on that “very special” episode of “What’s Happening”. That said, the music that you can barely hear beneath the buzz and the mud is incredible.

If you ever saw the band live, you know how excellent they sounded. It’s just a shame that they didn’t want their records to have any semblance of high fidelity.

The album version of today’s song is muddy and cruddy, but this version is cleaned up. It’s (a little bit) brighter and crisper and all that jazz. I like it a lot more. By some exponential degree.

This is that song:
“Genius of Crack” by Tsunami

Yeah… That is the enhanced version.

If I ever build a house
It’s a good bet I’ll build it out of skin

For a lot of years, I considered Jenny Toomey to be more than just indie rock royalty, but some sort of goddess. A friend-girl that I had in college got me on that track. I knew this girl very briefly, but very well. She was a member of the “Jenny Toomey is goddess” club, and it really didn’t take much convincing to get me to join. I was already a fan, and it just took a little bit of nudging to get me to go for full membership. I’ve already written about one of her side projects, when I wrote about Grenadine. I still aim to write about Liquorice and also about Jenny Toomey’s solo record.

Anyway, I like this song more than most Tsunami songs. It’s a nice, slow burn. Even though it sounds calm and nice at the beginning, it’s deceptively grungy.

As the song starts to build momentum after the halfway mark, I really like when Jenny really belts out these lines, starting at 2:28:

Come on, come on geniuses
Genius of crack
And I’m so sad
To give up on the one thing
One thing I never had

Then it gets really noisy and buzzy in a good way. It was really sensational to see this live. You can only get a small sense of that with this lo-fi recording, but it was amazing. Just busting with energy. And much more treble-y than this.

After being a very hardworking band and label for several years, Jenny and Kristin started to get disenfranchised with the whole process. They pulled the plug on Tsunami, and not long after that, they pulled the plug on Simple Machines Records. They were, though, an inspiration for a lot of people to start their own labels and for people (especially girls) to start making and distributing their own records.

Jenny went on to found the Future of Music Coalition, which is an advocacy group that works to protect artists against various forms of piracy, as well as other royalty-related issues. That, along with health insurance, is their biggest focus. Kristin Thomson joined the board and still sits on it. Jenny Toomey is currently working in a similar capacity for the Ford Foundation in New York City.

Frequent readers of the blog know that I will sometimes play a game of “six degrees of Jenny Toomey”. There’s obviously no need here, but stay tuned throughout the rest of this year and however long I keep this thing going.

World Tour… is a necessary compilation, and you should get it from the amazon store here.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

2 responses to “August 20 — “Genius of Crack” by Tsunami

  • WJPurdy

    I graduated from high school with Kristin; we ran on the cross country team together. I sent her a note on FB last time you wrote about Tsunami & I’ll do it again!

  • PubbyPab

    This is my favorite song of all time, although I prefer the album version to the 7″. Anyway, back in the day, Kristin sent out lyric sheets to anyone who sent a SASE, so I can tell you that the correct lyric is “We’re so slack/Come off like geniuses, geniuses on crack.”

    Great article, thanks!!

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