By Slack Daddy
From Vol. 3 No. 1, 2004
So, apparently I have my own column now so I can mouth off about CD reviews and whatever other verbal diarrhea I need to purge. The possibility of boring you all to death is, of course, distinct but I’ll try not to abuse the “power” that Mr. Rastelli has placed in my gnarled, old, cynical hands. I’ll try to be brief and keep it moving for your dining and dancing pleasure.
We have ten artifacts to cover this time out (sorry Necrophiliacs, your home-burned CD lasted a little over three minutes on my 2 CD players before refusing to play anymore. You seem to like found vocal snippets and the Cramps from what I could determine in that time… would’ve liked to hear more, including the ten-thousandth garage version of the Elevators’ You’re Gonna Miss Me).
First up is L’il Andy & Karaoke Cowboy’s Tombstones and Arcades (Querin Records.) The little postcard I received with this says, “Drivin’ nails in the coffin of country music.” What’s subversive is that, except for the gangsta rap detour on the last track, this is quite respectful roots country…stand-up bass, two-step drums, pedal steel, acoustic/electric guitars, mandolin, banjo, background singers, the whole nine yards (17 participants in all, including local trad mainstays like Peter Hay and Mark Peetsma). What the instrumentation frames is L’il Andy’s sardonic reportorial slice-of-life commentaries on his current state of existence/non-existence. Sort-of like Mojo Nixon in his more country-styled leanings. The band steals from everyone and namedrops everywhere. Andy’s shameless. Though only one official cover is credited (Merle Travis’ 16 Tons), Frontal Lobotomy Kind of Day is a complete rip of Dylan’s Highlands from Time Out of Mind, straight down to the over 15-minute time length. L’il Andy did come up with 15 new minutes of elliptical Dylan-like observations to keep you amused, however. “I’m lost in the slums” (instead of “in the highlands”), he sings and the similar sarcastic encounter in a restaurant is with a waiter, not a waitress like the Dylan tune. But it’s the same tune. Other references include Simon & Garfunkel, Auld Lang Syne, Jimmy Buffett (“I’m wastin’ away in Molsonville”), Cher (Do you believe in life after love is quoted), 60’s protest folk, dirty Mississippi moonshine-guzzling blues, Beggars’ Banquet-era Stones balladry and poets W.H. Auden and Irving Layton (?). Never mind, it’s all grist for Andy’s lyrical tangents. Andy is entertaining, off-beat and funny enough to pull it off (The Night That Oprah Died is a particular hoot). There’s memorable individual lines (“I’m a homeless man in a hi-tech town, The sun’s comin’ up but my bottle’s goin’ down” are two among many). By playing it straight, the band complements him in a way that does offer an alternative to whatever passes for blow-dry Nashville country these days. I’m still trying to figure out the last track, with rapper “Egotestical” doing his Ice Cube English/French imitation and going on about gats and bitches (In the Nova (For a Double Suicide)). It’s obvious and seems to have been parachuted in from a different album, lacking the fun quotient of Andy’s tongue-in-cheek approach. Perhaps pissing off the trad country crowd was the whole point of including it.
Les Pugilists’ Gimme Some Kicks (Les Disques El-Twist) is 31 minutes of revved-up, amphetamine-fueled garage rock, dumb as a sack of hammers with one direction… straight ahead and over the top. Musically, this touches base with the usual suspects: Stooges, New Bomb Turks, Hives, MC5 (particularly a couple of short instrumentals), Blue Oyster Cult, Motorhead, Dead Boys, Voidoids. Singer Greg Kitzler is such a dead ringer for Richard Hell, however, that Hell should be suing for vocal copyright infringement… same intonation, phrasing and schizoid yelping. “I Am…” sounds almost exactly like the Voidoids and there are so many other instances of Kitzler Hellifying things that it gets to be rather humorous after a while. The band also finds several ways to repackage the Stooges TV Eye riff. With ex-Delta 666 guitarist Lucas Rupnik on board, you kinda figured these boys wouldn’t be doing Lawrence Welk covers. The guitars never stop wailing. The simple, stereotypically garage choruses keep chiseling their way into your brainpan. Derivative to the max, but also short, fun and convincing in its dogged aping of influences. [Note to band: Please do not ever ever write another lyric like “Rock’n roll will save your soul.” This cannot be excused on any level, including the satirical.]
Lyon, France’s High Tone serve up deep-dish dub on their A.D.N. (Acid Dub Nucleik) release on the Jarring Effects label from France. Lee Perry and King Tubby-style 70’s dub is at the core, with slabs of jungle and smatterings of Asian ethno-strings providing some sound diversity. They’re good at what they do, too, laying down thick-carpet bass rhythms, off-beat percussion and skanking guitar together with the requisite ping-ponging dub space effects. They work in a squadron of found-sound snippets from Grade-B samurai flicks, Alfred Hitchcock, etc. but they rely too much on this increasingly over-used device. Dub can get a bit monotonous when there isn’t enough variety in the beats, especially over 10 tracks and 60 minutes. That does happen here. The tracks go on too long, but these guys are quite seamless, especially in welding the jungle with the dub (Do Be Dub Addict). Sometimes they slide into Herbaliser territory (VCF Ramble). Hard Working is in-the-pocket Tubby ethno-dub. Almost all tracks have something to recommend them but a certain sameness creeps in at times and dilutes the effect. For the most part, though, a convincing genre exercise.
Local group Goa!’s self-titled debut has no lack of kitchen-sink electronic wheezing, hacking and droning, with one and sometimes two percussionists contributing often martial repeato-beats to the cut-up mayhem and/or ambience. Throw in cracked turntablism, organ and synth washes, scratchy (and often aggravating) scratch vocal samples that at times hit the squealing falsetto hamster range, a little dub minimalism. Sometimes head-noddingly ambient (try the opening and closing tracks) and sometimes sounding like a cut-rate Can or Cabaret Voltaire when they get the drums going and pile up the electronica layers, Goa can grate but also achieve some pretty fine epiphanies. The involvement of hip local scenester Jon Ascensio (J. Robot) with his campy sci-fi analogue toy sensibilities might indicate something about how far the tongue is in cheek here. Or maybe not. I don’t know if this is the appropriate musical backdrop for your next spiritual/drug taking pilgrimage to the western Indian province of Goa. You’ll have to investigate further which I have neither the time nor the expense account for right now. Take away the overlong Bibi (almost 13 minutes) and you’ve got about 28 more minutes of electro-collage that passes relatively quickly. Vary the beats a little more and ditch the nag-nag vocal effects next time. Otherwise, thumbs moderately up.
France’s Wide Open Cage brings a conceptual context (oh, oh, watch out) to their CD Woebegone Lullabies (Expressillon). And this deep concept is an attempt to recreate our childhoods, when each of our individual personalities got hatched, using children’s toys and songs to create the core framework on which to buttress the walloping percussion, lullaby goth vocals and sundry electro-acoustic details. You should almost always be aware when people give you a manifesto concerning the “conditions of the experiment, observations and conclusions” to help you “understand” their musical endeavours. Anyway, forget it because I certainly wasn’t transported back to anywhere near the vicinity of my childhood while listening to this. Yes, the children’s melodies are in there but they’re often buried under a fair bit of standard industrial Front 242-style pneumatic drill percussion to go with the minimal keyboard ambience, ethno touches and occasional sung and spoken-word vocals. My favorites were the Kraftwerk machine-samba of Baby Hood, the epic mid-east sounding industro-beat of The Hopeless and the funky electro-organ workout of Humpty Dumpty. These three French guys left me a little cold in the end with the thumping digi-regularity of the bass and drum beats, however.
Speaking of beats, how about the practitioners of minimal ambient techno? Those people are a bunch of laughs, ain’t they? There seems to be a pretty direct correlation between a lot of this stuff (except for some of the harsher tones employed) and the New Age mood music certain labels like Wyndham Hill made mucho dinero on back in the 80’s. Pseudo-classical trappings, relaxation (let the music warmly wash over you), no sharp edges, no menace, the idea that minimalism requires a lot of time to unfold so you can fully appreciate the slow shifting of soundscapes. And, oh yeah, don’t forget the often time-consuming boredom of the listening experience itself. And the fact you remember nothing, absolutely nothing, 20 seconds after the music ends.
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