Originally published in Arthur No. 24 (October 2006)
C & D: Two guys reason together about some new records
C: [Looking at publicity photo of band] I’m surprised these guys haven’t featured in Arthur magazine yet. They appear to meet many if not all of this magazine’s apparent requirements for coverage.
D: What, they have beards?
C: Yes. I think the magazine is pretty clearly a beards-only policy. It’s pretty clearly where the underground beard was re-born. Or should I say, re-grown. Remember Alan Moore on the cover of Arthur No. 4?
D: That was a beard to be reckoned with. No razors and shaving cream in the Moore household!
C: Total ‘Lord of the Beards.’ On the other hand, Alan’s finger armor stylings haven’t caught on yet.
D: I will keep an eye out for the beard as we check out these records today. I assume there will be ladies, too?
C: Yes, of course.
D: Who presumably are not of the bearded variety.
C: One never knows, does one? [arches eyebrow meaningfully] Anyways, Akron/Family not only have some beardage, they have four-part harmonies, great cascading drumflows, sprawling late Trane skronk, and that’s all on the first track! I saw these guys once in L.A., they were like a devotional Animal Collective…
D: [smiling upon hearing the refrain “Gone, gone, gone/gone completely beyond.”] Ah yes. Beyond. One of my favorite places.
C: [ignoring, continuing] … in Oshkosh overalls, without the echo delays. Like Lubavitchers gone Sun Ra or Ya Ho Wha—
D: Say wha?
C: [snobbishly] Those who know, know. [continuing] They were awesome, in complete uni-mind synch. The audience made backward-and-forward ocean ripples and sounds at their command: ‘Shhh, shhh.’ It was beautiful.
C: Lovely—possibly perfect?—debut album from this girl-and-boy lovebird combo who sound like they’re living down by the sea on some magic moonlit beach that stretches from France to Baja to Bali.
D: [looks at biographical notes and photo] Actually they live in Baltimore. And there is no beard.
C: Waiter, get this man a beard, se vous plais.
D: [ignoring] But Victoria Legrand—
C: Is that a real name???
D: —is definitely a lady. A lady who knows how to wear an aqua dress.
C: [looking at the photo] And a big gold amulet as well.
D: I would say this is late summer music, recorded at the beach house after everybody else has gone back to the city.
C: It’s kind of minimal naturalismo—organ, drum machine, gorgeous female voice: Stereolab, minus le krautrock propulsion. Midway between Brightblack slow-to-stillness, Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” melancholism and Air and another Carpark artist, Casino vs. Japan. Also, what the heck, I’ll throw in that first Bjorn Olson record on Omplatten [Instrumentalmusik: Instrumental Music…to Submerge in…and Disappear Through, 1999]. Nordic beaches. As you can see, D, it’s a very particular, yet universal, mood. I see soundtracks in their near-future. [picks up phone] “Hello, Beach House? This is Sofia…”
D: Her voice reminds me a bit of Sigur Ros. Hey, whatever happened to those guys? It’s like they evaporated.
C: She can really SING, when it’s called for, which is in creamy middle of the album on the song “Auburn and Ivory.”
D: Is Auburn the new Ebony?
C: All the songs have some sophisto pop songwriting going on: bridges, key changes, et cetera. And the sounds… when the organ comes in on “House on the Hill,” it’s like Captain Nemo down in the Nautilus playing pipe organ for the octopi. Whew! Can you imagine these guys with a big budget…?
D: Ahoy! Captain Nemo: ANOTHER famous bearded musician.
MICK BARR & ZACH HILL
C: New summit album by underground instrumental speed kings: guitarist Mick Barr of Ocrilim, and drummer Zach Hill of Hella. It’ll tighten yer wig!
D: Well, I won’t need coffee for the next five months.
C: They’re going in for the kill like two old ladies speed-crocheting. Mind the wheedlework.
D: They are the speed criminals who no doubt are under surveillance by the authorities of rock. There’s a NEW MOTHER IN THE TEMPLE if you know what I mean!
C: It does have that High Rise/Mainliner/Musica Transonic thing going a bit. Ah, Japan. Some people may also be put in mind of the Peter Brotzman Octet classic assault album, Machine Gun.
D: That’s a ripping title, “Earthship.” [considers] If you lived there, you’d be home by now.
C: Sometimes they’re against each other, sometimes they unify.
D: I must ask: is there a beard?
C: [looks at publicity photo] Have beard, will rock.These guys are the opposite of Sunn o))): they do as many notes and beats as possible per hour. It’s anti-void music, filling everything with sound.
D: Without the benefit of riffage.
C: There ARE riffs—you just need to adjust your attention to catch them. It’s condensed free rock. Like the instruments are too hot to handle. Except for this one song I keep coming back to… [plays “Closed Coffins and Curtains.”]
D: Whoa! What…is…THAT???
C: It’s like some super-processed symphonic tri-guitar. Like what that weird Godley & Creme instrument was supposed to sound like, remember that? The Gizmo. They made a whole triple-album with it, and Peter Cook too. Bonkers stuff.
D: [playing the 30-second track again] I am totally spooked. [musing] Perhaps if Mr. Ocrilim slowed down and contemplated like this occasionally, he’d get to somewhere really rewarding.
C: Rewarding to you.
D: [laughs] Of course, me! Who else matters?
The Horrors ep
D: [Reading song titles] They have a song called “Sheena Was a Parasite”? I worship them already.
C: Frantic organ and guitar-driven psychobilly freakbeat rock’n’roll by five sharply dressed’n’coiffed Dickensian Brits from the belfry.
D: They look like they live in chimneys and spend all day drinking red wine and listening to The Cramps, Tav Falco & Panther Burns…probably the Hives too, and the Birthday Party and Screaming Jay Hawkins (who they cover here) and Screaming Lord Sutch and of course the right honorable Arthur Brown. I think they like bourbon and some pretty nasty stuff.
C: [listening to “Excellent Choice”] They’ve got a good look and a good sound and they seem up for a good party. They’ll come to your town and help you burn it down. And then dance in the ashes.
Riot City Blues
C: They’re been around approximately forever. And this is their once-a-decade “rock n roll is dumb fun” concept record, apparently.
[C & D cringe for 15 minutes]
C: Talk about the horrors.
D: Where’s the pooper scooper?
C: Rock n roll should be fun, it can be stoopid, but it should never, ever be tedious. One hates to witness someone failing at slumming. It’s embarrassing to all involved. Does [Primal Scream singer] Bobby Gillespie seriously think this band can boogie? Ha ha ha. Poor Mani…
D: [thoughtful] Every once in a while an object is mysteriously withdrawn from stores by its manufacturer shortly after its introduction. That kind of decisive action may be appropriate here.
Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age
C: You will recall that both members of THEUSAISAMONSTER are members of Black Elf Speaks, which is one of the great band names ever.
D: What did Black Elf have to say?
C: I don’t know, it was this kind of gibberish? But it seemed important. [sadly, as if narration] ‘And Black Elf spoke, but no one could understand what he said.’
D: [helpfully] Maybe he had something in his mouth.
D: Or, he might have a speech impediment.
D: [looking at album cover] Naturally I am wondering, what kind of monster?
C: Probably some kind of troll. On PCP.
D: That’s pretty negative. … Um…. Idiocracy got you down again?
C: Yeah… Between seeing that and re-reading Chris Hedges’s War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning last week, I guess I’m feeling more bleh about human life than ever. The idiots don’t know when to stop. And there’s more and more of them. They want war and fast food and spectacle. They’re bad at learning. We’re outnumbered, and it’s only getting worse because the herd never gets culled, since we lack exterior predators.
D: [considers] No more trolls.
C: What are we gonna do? I don’t see a way out. Ah, hell. Maybe that’s why the industrial age is going to end, as it says here on the album cover. [reading from the press sheet] “Of course The USA Is A Monster wants to turn the tide and prepare us for the time after the lights go dim on Western Civilization’s exhaust pipe party.” Sounds good to me! Let’s engage. [starts “The Greatest Mystery”]
D: YEARGH!!! THUNDERAMA!
C: Whoa. [45 minutes later…]Whoa.
D: A shining path indeed! Was that all one song?
C: Unbelievable, just ridiculous. The Who, Bruford-era Kid Crimson, Oneida, minutemen, Lightning Bolt, Liars, Rush. Homeopathic progrock with a lot of heavy spiritual-political truths and theories (“We are only holograms”) and jokes and accusations (“You’re a liar! And a CROOK!”) and digs (“My favorite subject is…me!”). That last song, the three-section “The Spirit of Revenge”…
D: What a giant marching groover that one is! These guys must be super-fit. I’m guessing it’s a lentil and walnut-heavy diet.
D: [listening to “A Million Years”] This makes me insanely happy but I can’t put my finger on why exactly.
C: I feel like it’s 4am at the docks and we’re hearing the soundtrack to some new-millennium industrial-environmental horror show. To update Funkadelic: Mother Earth is REALLY screaming now. [listening to “Lake of Roaches”] Especially now that these noise dudes have a horn. Yikes.
D: I see scrapheap monsters vomiting spare parts and microchips.
C: Urgh, this is uncomfortable in a really good way, like a good ol’ Khanate death-slog through the bog. It’s the feel-nothing hit of the fading summer.
D: “Rusted Mange” sounds like somebody getting run over.
C: “Leper War” is more queasy listening. I’m thinking of torture gardens and animal abuse science labs. All the atrocities going on behind the curtain. Machines playing with their prey. Angry dogs chomping on kids’ talking playtoys. Trains full of prisoners.
D: [thoughtfully] This is music to blow up Monsanto to.
C: Wolf Eyes: for when you want to detonate your day.