#15    SUMMER OF 2003



Possibly the Last Record Review Column I Will Ever Write (Part 1 of 6)

by Larry "Fuzz-O" Dolman


7 Year Rabbit Cycles and Free Porcupine Societies? Care to throw in some Bat Chain Pullers and Vampire Can Mating Ovens while you're at it? Seriously though, one of the founding members of Deerhoof is Rob Fisk, but he quit the band to move to Alaska with his wife and build a log cabin. They also started a band called 7 Year Rabbit Cycle. Free Porcupine Society Records might be their own label, which means that they might now live in Knoxville, Tennessee, where the label has its mailing address. Or maybe they record in their cabin in Alaska surrounded by 700 miles of forest and snow on every side. Actually it's a little ranch house at the end of the very last blocks where Anchorage turns from city completely into country. Actually, these are just hypotheses. For a FACT, I can say that this album comes wrapped in card-stock paper with what seems to be real paint on it, in that 'spooky childlike pastel' style that I really associate with Deerhoof for some reason. Early Deerhoof, anyway, cuz I've only heard them once and that was quite a while ago -- but jeebs, they've been busy! Four seven-inch vinyl singles (one of them a double -- that's the record I heard, and it had a 'spooky childlike pastel' cover), 5 full-length compact discs, one vinyl LP, and one handmade book! I still don't know much about the acclaimed 'hoof, so I'm kind of coming at this backwards, but 7 Year Rabbit Cycle play some intriguing, spooky, and, as all the imagery would suggest, bestial-type music. The arrangements are minimal; I don't think there's ever more than three elements in any one song, and they seem to be: one, a heavy bass or electric guitar outlining what is often a single naked & ominous ostinato riff; two, crude drumming that seems to only intermittently appear; and three, screechy, spooked vocals, sometimes female, sometimes male. Reminds me of Dg. 307, and you know that's a complement.

"Everything on this album improvised." But they aren't doing some serious 'soundscape' crap, they're doing unserious sloppy snot-rock crap, complete with TWO vocalists singing tons of lyrics in goofy voices. I picture them with the cheap mic in one hand and paper that they're reading off in the other. Content is pretty goofy and profane and the delivery is obnoxious. Track three has a vicious opening line: "Did you hear T.T. Boy coming over to pull back your head so he can fuck your neck?" That might work for you, but after listening to the whole album I definitely feel that these guys could chill out on the vocals a little bit. I do like the "bum bum bum" drone vocal accompaniment by the other guy, very Lower East Side, very ESP folk. The band jamming is good lo-key sound shifting, too -- but you don't always notice with all the singing. Throughout the album there seems to be some nice tape/SFX slurpage going on way in the background, almost like the jug of Tommy James, and some of the guitar kind of shreds in a lo-fi burnt-psych way, almost like Stacy Sutherland. But we'll never know if they really are the next Elevators -- the album's too long and has too many vocals to sit around for the whole thing. Which means you'll miss good tracks like #23, which is called "like a real crazy night (white line fever)" and has a good trance-rock beat and some pretty reet avant guitar supporting refreshingly sparse and slightly humorous lyrics about cocaine. Next time they should hit with an EP. (And this just in, they are 'hitting' with an 'EP' soon, a split LP with Gang Wizard, on "black bean and placenta . . . tis to be co-released by ecstatic yod, breathmint, sunship & little mafia.")

Arnoux's brand of violin hacking can get pretty deep, but sometimes it just sounds like Godspeed You! [sic] Black Emperor played wrong. This tape also brings the sawing noise jams, this time with a live ensemble featuring Charles Lareu and others, but also so much more in the form of short psycho live theater dialogues between Mr. Arnoux and another whining punk aesthete, which might also be Mr. Arnoux, talking to himself via tape recorder playback. The sawing noise jams periodically stop so that the duo can offer a vague and harsh critique of the audience and the scene, more stumbling than withering, but unrelentingly heavy and I haven't forgotten it. This play-acting is met with such stone silence from the audience that I didn't think there actually was one, but then a pretty large round of (stony) applause rings out and that's the end. Chilling.

It's been kind of hard to find new music that is bad-ass and deconstructionist (i.e. "form destroying") but also melodic. Now that form-destroying is followed as a genre, it would seem that one of the "rules" of the "genre" is to avoid melody as much as possible, for fear of being associated with the new indie Dan Fogelberg movement. We at Blastitude miss those days of yore when forms were easier to destroy because they were fewer and music was not yet uptight about such things as being bad-ass or being melodic or, for that matter, form-destroying, and just did what it did. Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, Sparks, Black Sabbath (the melodies are of limited range, but there's TONS of 'em), the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Big Star, Phil Spector . . . to name a few.
       Saying all this in an Avarus review is kind of tangential, but I do so because when I put on side one (or possibly side two, there's no way of knowing which, not even an etching on the run-out groove), I hear good old form-destroying tactics like space-ug and white-ethnic psych-freak, but somehow I also hear MELODY. I'm sure I'm not the first person to compare Avarus to Sun City Girls, but the similarity goes beyond just the vibe of the cover art: it's that both bands know how to make the free-form Faux East freak-outs that not only freak and destroy, but also sing.
      Things get really good on what I'm calling side two of this Avarus LP (the side with the slightly less busy swirliness on the label), with a minute or two of ominous out-rock tape-mangled soup followed, via tape edit, by the band just kicking up a punk frenzy. And, it keeps on going with one fine jam after another. There's a scary banjo jam that's almost as heavy as the one on the new Pengo LP (reviewed elsewhere). Who'd have thought, two of my top five releases of 2003 have got banjo on 'em . . .

Album gets this issue's "Is that puke on the cover?" award, but I'm thinking "Uh oh, not another noise-prog band with saxophones and an accordion." Bands like this always try to rock out all crazy, but they always end up sounding like they'd just as soon be playing some contemporary classical recital and/or studio klezmer, and the rock-out parts are just these stomping arbitrarily dissonant riffs that are just like (sing with me) "WE-are PI-rates POUND-ing ON-the DIS-sonant NOTES!"
        The good news with Barnacled is, the more you listen, the more you realize that only about 10% of the disc ends up being the pirate schtick. The rest of the time, Barnacled break down the compositions into super-stretched interludes and well-played non sequitirs. Or, as Roctober put it in their review of the album, "Classical music/Klezmer party Jazz hybrid music played on squeaky balloons and ham radio receivers." (Actually, that's the whole review, so I should properly credit it to Flamin' Waymon Timbsdale, the King of Reviewland. I just read it today. Roctober rules.) These guys really can play -- the nimble sax melodies are total professional prog . . . but that also kind of adds to the whole 'I could be playing for grant money' aura. I'm keepin' it, but I guess we'll have to see how much it actually gets pulled out. (Update: I did play it on Radio Blastitude this week.)

I love the package: a DVD case with svelte black felt pasted on it. Feels great. I like the Kiss joke, too: Big Techno Werewolves are a trio of Peter Crisses! But then I don't know about the first couple tracks. One Werewolf plays roots/blues acoustic guitar while the other werewolves lay waste to it with total dada junk noise. It's got some reckless abandon to it, but at the same time it's kind of an easy equation that practically screams "But you'll love our weird costumes when you see us live." Track three "StarMystic" gets somewhere, because it's a song instead of an equation. Very much in the style of No Doctors but even more F'ed up and less arena-ready, it's the theme song for the whole glam werewolf image. One of the finest 'new rock' tracks of the year, seriously, but after that it's back to the junk-provs. Again, there's a 'fuck it' quality that's kind of redeeming, but I don't know, those had better be good costumes.
       The CD's next great moment after "StarMystic" comes with "Big Techno Werewolves Meet Hans Grüsel's Kränkenkabinet," which is the transitional track between the two acts that share this CD. The junk-prov keeps going while wolf-howls start emerging from a fog that's creeping in. And thus the tone is set for Hans Grüsel's Kränkenkabinet.
       I didn't really want to like Grüsel either; how many No Wave acts from the Bay Area are going to do the "I'm a funny German" schtick anyway? Sorry, I just don't think umlauts are that funny anymore. Ah, but as much as I thought I would just toss this CD out the window (keeping the felt-covered case, of course), I can't because the atmosphere pins me to my chair, changing from black fog atmospheres to rainbow stream atmospheres, as in burbling electronics. Certainly still a little QUIRKY, especially with the oompah calliope music that seems to bookend each "suite" (that's what he calls 'em, and it's not a joke, these really are suites), but the rest of the time it's just straight stream atmospheres, and as far as avant-garde clichés go, I'd much rather hear burbling electronics than someone just playing their guitar funny for the 3,000th time. The burbles of the Kränkenkabinet pan left and right for a really broad and, dare I say, moving spectrum of spaced-out sound, well in that spaced-out electronics tradition that includes such luminaries as Conrad "Genius" Schnitzler, Richard Pinhas, and Allan Bryant. (P.S. If Allan Bryant put out a 100-disc box set of just his synth solos, I would probably listen to every one . . . but I doubt I'd make it through all the liner notes! Rim shot, please.)

Track one is "Gimme Gimme Gimme," Keith Morris version, and track two is "My War" and the transformation is stunning. It's like The Seeds became Mahavishnu Orchestra. But that's mainly just the fusioned-out "My War" intro, when the singing kicks in it's more like metal, and I'm like, how could this guy singing, tearing shit up, be such a dork now? Oh yeah, people get old. Then it goes back to The Seeds era for the INCREDIBLE Keith Morris-sung "Wasted," which might be the greatest song ever written, which is saying a lot when it's only 51 seconds long. "I was a surfer, I was a fuck-up, I had a skateboard, I was OUT ON MY OWN." Something like that. Hey, then the comp bounces back to some fusion-era shit! I think the compiler is alternating Morris songs with Rollins songs. Clever! Nice bootleg.

DAVID BOWIE: The Man Who Sold The World CD (RYKODISC)
For some reason I can never completely concede that I like Bowie. Everybody I know loves Bowie, I love Bowie, but I never want to like him. I do think he's overrated -- man, I've tried to get into Station To Station about seven times now and it still hasn't worked. (The only song on there I can still really remember besides "Golden Years" is that "Transmission" one.) And really, a lot of his stuff is just kind of Liberace in Vegas. For an example, I still can't listen to Hunky Dory from beginning to end -- just can't do it. But there's definitely good ones -- I really like almost half of the Aladdin Sane album, especially "Panic in Detroit" and the incredible languid title track. And then just a couple weeks ago a co-worker put this one in. I'd never heard it before, and was quite surprised to hear what sounded VERY close to Black Sabbath's first album! Okay, maybe not VERY close, but this is essentially a heavy, lurching power trio rec, with Mick Ronson playing guitar at his most balls-out and super-producer Tony Visconti playing the perfect power trio bass (who knew?). The drummer is Mick Woodmansey, and he was one of Blastitude's Top 10 Micks of Rock (although his name on here reads Woody Woodmansey, which is even better). And, the trio is augmented by a full-time Moog player, so that's cool. I don't know, I just wanted to mention how HEAVY this album is, in case you were like me and didn't care to hear it because you thought it would be kind of lollipop.