Thursday, October 30, 2008

No Ripcord: Like A Fox

Like A Fox
Where's My Golden Arm?
Transit Of Venus
Released: 10.28.08

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

No Ripcord: Marnie Stern

Marnie Stern
This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That
Kill Rock Stars
Released: 10.7.08

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shopping For Records #8: Black Flag Demo LP

Black Flag
Keith Morris vs. Henry Rollins
Boot In The Face (?)
Released: 2008

This little tidbit caught me at a very bad time in my pay cycle: a limited-edition Black Flag LP featuring two very early demo reels from the band’s two most prominent singers, Keith Morris and Henry Rollins.

This is the type of thing that gets my fanboy woody at its most upright. It sucks getting cockblocked by your bank account.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, October 20, 2008

Between The Pine: Coca-Cola

James Diotte, or Between The Pine, another in a significantly apparent line of singular performers turned phrases, (see Iron & Wine), is releasing Friends, Foes, Kith and Kin in mid-December.

Not typically drawn to this Elliot Smith brand of melancholic folk, Between The Pine doesn't necessarily sound original or different to me, but he does have an engaging capacity for instrumental layering. He beautifies tension.

Between The Pine: "Coca Cola"

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, October 17, 2008

Interview: dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip

B Dolan
dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip
M Room
Philadelphia, PA

"…Go close to Scroobious Pip and say,
Tell us all about yourself we pray —
For as yet we can't make out in the least
If you're Fish or Insect, or Bird or Beast."
— Excerpt from The Scroobious Pip by Edward Lear

"Thou shalt not worship pop idols
Or, follow lost prophets…"
— Excerpt from "Thou Shalt Always Kill"

"You’re probably the only guy who knows."

I was seated with British Electro-Hop/Spoken Word duo, dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip, at Philadelphia’s M Room one sunny Saturday afternoon, armed with a digital recorder, a little bit of beer courage and a nervously conceived list of questions. When they agreed to meet me for an interview, dan and Scroob were on their way into Philly after a two-night stint at New York’s Mercury Lounge. In the midst of a U.S. tour supporting the American release of their new album, Angles, beatmeister dan le sac made the above statement after I rhetorically mentioned the album’s newfound availability in the States.

Up until this point, dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip has been an online phenomenon. Hailing from Stanford le Hope, a town in the county of Essex, dan and Scroob had been in the U.S. earlier this year for the Coachella festival and SXSW with no album released in the States. But, thanks to YouTube, their single, “Thou Shalt Always Kill,” which had been getting a substantial amount of buzz in the U.K. before the band had even been signed, virally reached the eyes and ears of some American audiences.

"…there’re so many points where Myspace and YouTube have been the crucial parts in our career so far, whereas it’s normally a certain label, a certain person…something like that," said Scroobius Pip, the vocal half of the duo.

Dan le sac added, "And, it’s kind of doubly important in America: the Myspace and YouTube thing for us, because we’ve chosen to go with a label that don’t have tons of money. With every decision the label makes, and we make, is an exercise in cost. It’s kind of, you know, so…having the Myspace, having these free ways of getting people into your music are really important."

Video for “Thou Shalt Always Kill”

Now signed to Strange Famous Records, underground Hip-Hop label owned by rapper Sage Francis, dan and Scroob’s album saw a September release. Seated at a small table in the dinner section of the bar, a large scale stencil of Sophia Loren as our backdrop, I went the diplomatic route and asked them how the tour was going.

"It’s been really good except we’ve done a lot of small places where we didn’t expect anyone to turn up," stated Scroob. "Places like Grand Rapids and Ames, Iowa…we’ve never been to, we weren’t expecting…except we got at least 40, 50 or a bit, even then we weren’t expecting it. And there’ve been others like your Texas’s and Toronto and New York, where we’re getting really good turnouts and really good reactions."

With their exposure, albeit buzz-worthy, remaining somewhat limited in the U.S., (an observation given some weight by dan’s self-deprecating quip), I wanted to know how Sage Francis, himself being more of an underground presence in America, found them and released their album.

"It was over Myspace."

That sort of stunned me. Pip went onto say that Sage Francis had heard "Thou Shalt Not Always Kill," and liked it enough that he commented on their page.

"We chatted a little bit then because I’m a big…we’re both just a big fan of Sage’s work," he said, "And, then we were looking at labels in the U.S. and we had a few that we were talking to, but they were all taking ages and you know all that coming, I thought I’d just go on his Myspace page and say, 'Look: The album's out in the U.K. and we want it out as quickly as possible in America.'"

Francis was thankfully interested. "It’s great to have someone rather," Scroob continued, "again, has in a way influenced how our, certainly my style, has influenced me a lot over the years 'cause you know, been listening to him for like, 5 years ago so yeah…it’s good to have someone like that appreciate what we do and be into it, certainly enough to put an investment into it for our record."

Video for X-Factor audition

With Myspace and YouTube being such an integral part of their self-promotion in the States, I asked if that had been the case in England.

"Yeah, yeah definitely," Pip says, "We did two tours before this one and we didn’t have anything released in the country so them two tours were…the fact that we could afford two tours and get gigs and get the trip was all because of YouTube, just word-of-mouth off of the Internet. As I said we didn’t even have a label at that point so…and the album’s out, it’s good, because we got a focal point."

"And this is kind of converse thing as well," dan added, "where in England you need all the press, all the radio, everything to support you before it comes out and a little bit afterwards. Whereas, because, if you’re a small band coming into America, people are constantly discovering you, we can feasibly get press and interest around the album for the next three, six months so we…we may sell as many records as we do in Europe, but it’s just gonna take longer. Okay? It's just gonna gradually build so…it’s quite exciting. If it means we come back to America in six months, that would be cool."

After establishing the group’s origins, I really wanted to talk to them about music. A conversation ensued after I inquired about a section of "Thou Shalt Always Kill," where Scroobius Pip goes through a list of monumental rock bands and, without necessarily denying them their importance or worth, denies them their musical sainthood: ("The Beatles? Just a band. Led Zeppelin? Just a band…." etc.)

Video for “Look For The Woman”

With every band cited falling into the Rock, Punk, Post-punk, Hardcore, Grunge or Indie categories, I wanted to know how Scroob's musical evolution led him to the music he's currently making, seeing as no Hip-Hop groups made the list.

"It’s kind of just through no real decision on a genre, if you know what I mean. I was, I was…I’ve been in a few little punk bands and things like that, but I wanted to just write lyrics so it started as spoken word and we made the album. We didn’t sit down and think, 'Are we gonna make a Hip-Hop album? Are we gonna make a Dance album, or an Indie album,' we just made the album, (background interference), lyrically a lot of the punk I was into as a kid, as opposed to a lot of the punk now, or the stuff that’s termed as 'punk' now…"

That won me over.

"… it had more of a drive, it had a message, it had a social commentary and that kind of thing, whereas punk, a lot of genres now, it’s more a dress code; that’s what it’s become," Pip goes on, "Not that clothes weren’t a big part of it when it was coming up but…you can be an Emo kid but there’s not really a list of bands that you’d have to be into to be an Emo kid, there’s more a list of clothes or a certain style, if you know what I mean. Then again, a punk; you can have a punk look, whereas before, if you were a punk, you were into The Pistols, The Clash, you know something, whereas now you’re a punk, you look like that but you could be listening to anything. So, it’s weird how things have changed, but then…it’s keeping that kind of…the social outlook in what we’re doing. It may not sound like what you’d think typically punk to be, but in many ways it’s got as much rooted in it as any of the punk that’s around now."

Sort of a Beastie Boys approach.

"At times, I feel like the Beastie Boys grew too far," dan began, "They kinda…you know, I can totally understand their politics but sometimes it is a little…it's just always a bit…," his face squinted with a loss for words.

Scroob picked up, "My thing is the whole Minor Threat kind of approach of, um…it was always…I always said that it’s great when a band has so many ideas and such passion, but don’t necessarily have the technical ability to get it out, so they just cause this raw sound. So, when the Beastie Boys developed instrumentally, they were doing these big. long, funk, jazz-like bits, whereas, when I see them with a live band, I prefer…everyone gets far more excited, when they drop 'Time For Livin',' or just one of the thrash punk songs. There's alchemy where it can't be. If you develop too far, then yeah, you can do everything far more articulately and competently but it's not that same raw passion as the early days."

Video for “Letter From God To Man”

After hearing what Scroob had to say regarding his content, I asked dan who he looks to for inspiration in terms of beats and production.

"Um…well it's not really, not really out and out producers that, that I like," he said, "It’s more people like Martin Hannett, who produced everything from the first U2 record through Joy Division, New Order …that whole Factory Manchester scene. Um, it's people like him and Brian Eno…just the alternative take on production."

Following the better-known Pop producers, dan added Squarepusher and Aphex Twin for their," …ingenious ways of finding melody in the most unmelodious things." He continued, "It's kind of just grabbing from everywhere. Dr. Dre has got the best ear for samples. He's just a genius; he will hear a record and just manage just to snatch up those things. I’m not a fan of him, I can't really hear the albums…I don’t know, he may be too aggressive for me."

With them encompassing so much in terms of genre, but mostly reflecting a variation on Hip-Hop, I asked them who their main demographic is.

"Really varied," Scroob emphatically states, "there really is no way to pick. I mean, the only difference between here and the U.K. is, in the U.K., it's even broader, if you know what I mean.”

Interestingly though, in the U.K., Scroob says that there are more instances of fans showing up with their parents in tow, so they appeal to an older crowd.

"We have parent/child come to gigs, like, like quite often, which is really nice 'cause there were never any bands I was into that I go to with my dad or anything…"

With the U.S.'s primary knowledge of the group being through Internet channels, they primarily attract a younger crowd.

As the conversation kept up regarding Hip-Hop music, digging deeply beneath its creatively stagnant surface where you find the talent, I brought up Edward Lear, the poet that inspired Scroobius Pip's namesake. The Scroobious Pip, in the poem, defies classification.

"I took that name," Pip explained, "because I mean, the spoken word, the music I wanted to do wasn't fitting into any genre, but then I was also doing a lot of stenciling and street art and I was playing about with photography and with film and stuff like that. Had a t-shirt company where we're doing all hand-printed t-shirts from different stencils and…when I went to uni, I was doing photography and I got really into Vincent Gallo and it really, him as a character, inspired me to realize that you don’t have to do just…the fact that in Buffalo ’66, he wrote it, acted in it, in most shots, he’s not in his shot, produced it, played most of the music for it; then he also happens to be a musician, and also happened to do a lot of modeling, and do art…he kind of made me realize that you don't have to do just one thing."

It was around 10:30 or so when their set started, following the onstage antics of rapper, B Dolan. Though it was a modest turnout in a modest club, dan and Pip put on a great show, working props into the mix when appropriate and keeping all the drunken Hipsters entertained. Before I left, CD and 7" in hand, Pip was working the merch booth. I shook his hand and thanked him for the interview and the show. I think he said "you’re welcome;" I couldn’t hear by the time I left the venue.

Letters From A Tapehead

*Band photo by Overview

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tricky tries…

Knowle West Boy
Released: 9.9.08

Rating: 6 out of 10

Certain groups, performers, bands…some of them maintain my loyalty long after they’ve begun to fall apart. I’ll know as I pick up their new CD, scanning the back for song titles, maybe even checking out what label decided to throw caution to the wind to see if anything salvageable could still be squeezed from this one-time “artist,” that I’m wasting money. But, I can’t help it. I walk up to the counter, CD in hand and shell out my hard-earned. Minutes into the CD, it’s already up for resell at some indie record store and I’m cursing my impulse.

Tricky is one of those performers. Ever since Maxinquaye graced my ears, I’ve willingly gambled money away in terms of his recent output. 2003’s Vulnerable still makes me want to purge every breakfast, lunch, dinner or midday snack I’ve ingested since I hit PLAY on that piece of shit, and I’ve long since exchanged it for something more worthwhile. But, Knowle West Boy stared at me and I figured, “I’ll give him another chance.”

Well, I will say this: It beats Vulnerable’s ass so it does have that going for it. But, keeping in mind how little Tricky actually had to do to accomplish that, Knowle West Boy still isn’t that great.

Taking its name from Tricky’s Bristol neighborhood, Knowle West Boy is a testament to disorganized ambition and eclecticism. Listening to it, it’s abundantly clear Tricky’s desire for relevance in the new millennium, as his trailblazing days were long ago, but tightened and sanitized production does him no favors. As fast-paced and immediate as the Specials-inspired “Council Estate” sounds, it’s nowhere near as dirty as it should be. It’s as if the childhood memories of the place the album attaches itself to, suffer from being Pro-Tool’d as well.

Beginning with the lounge flavored “Puppy Toy,” Tricky hits us immediately with loud beats and the exerted lungpower of his female flavor-of-the-song, Alex Mills. He fares well at exuding the raspy barfly characterizations, choosing to gratingly whisper his output while Mills sporadically hits him with lines like ”Can you get me that drink?” “You think you’re nice,” “Got any cash?” It’s not a bad opener, and leads into the more subdued and Jamaican-tinged, “Bacative,” an interestingly worked and atmospheric number that stands out as one of the album’s primary successes. “Subdued” is brought to “pretty” with the very personal and introspective “Joseph” and then strangely turns “I Will Survive” with Veronika Coassolo’s determined “Veronika,” an Atari drumbeat being the song’s only backdrop.

As much as Tricky would like to think otherwise, he’s most adept at crafting anything dark or mysterious. “Past Mistake,” with its enveloping beat and ghostly piano, is one of the album’s more sorrowfully sublime moments. “Coalition,” a strangely conceived and minimal collision of cranking bass thuds, break-beats and stringed instruments, acts as some stream-of-consciousness state of Tricky’s (and the world’s) union. And, exhibiting Tricky’s gift for writing lush, feminine harmonies, “Cross To Bear” is a gorgeous bit of symphonic Trip-Hop.

For as many highpoints as Knowle West Boy boasts, though, it makes some very bad decisions. The cliché dance rock of “C’mon Baby” is empty, underwhelming and fails at providing the album with any strength. Similarly, “Council Estate” poises for attack but winds up sterile and over-reliant on its flat production. “Slow” embarrassingly mixes Bobby Brown’s vocal inflections overtop a backdrop that owes itself to C+C Music Factory. “Baligaga,” in an effort to revisit its already utilized Jamaican motif, takes an unfortunate step backward from “Bacative.” And “Far Away” dials up the glam rock guitar and comes up with a genuinely plastic 80s dance jam.

The album’s low points diminish whatever value it might have, which is unfortunate because Knowle West Boy does exhibit some of the best songwriting Tricky’s done so far this decade. His last song, the Country/Bluesy and autobiographical “School Gates,” a song about a pregnant 15-year old girl, provides the album a very heartfelt outro. It winds up somewhat wasted, though; a casualty of an over-thought attempt at artistic redemption. At least he’s improving.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wire Played “The 15th” on the 10th…

Johnny Brenda’s
Philadelphia, PA

Photo by Malka Spigel

We were well into Wire’s set when an overwhelming sense of self-righteous indignation fell over me like a blanket of barbed wire. This trio of 50-somethings, (them and the unnamed female rhythm guitarist in the background), geezers basically, having packed the venue almost beyond comfortable capacity, basically wrote every categorically Indie or Post-Punk song regurgitated over the last thirty years. Generalizing? Maybe, but listening to those guys play, you do realize that their first three albums, the seminally charged Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, laid it all out for any up-and-comer in the Indie crowd. And, yes, other bands matter, too. But, for now, fuck them: Wire cannot be denied.

That being said, Wire was the sole act at Johnny Brenda’s last Friday, towing the line between polite and aggressive. Aside from an initial issue with singer/guitarist Colin Newman’s microphone not wanting to work, the band sounded great, churning out song after song with machine-like reliability and precision. Bassist, Graham Lewis, reverberated like a garage-variety Jah Wobble, pulsating throughout the venue and perfectly complimenting Robert Grey’s percussion. Grey, whose eyes remained closed throughout Wire’s entire set in a state of Zen-like concentration, was an exercise in flawless and clean execution. And, the aforementioned six-string stand-in, despite being in the background, had no trouble following the band.

Being that this was a tour for their latest album, Object 47, they played that album in its almost-entirety. “Circumspect” and “Mekon Headman” both made very pronounced and heavy appearances and "Perspex Icon" somehow had more groove live than on the album.

Admittedly, there were a lot of songs I was unfamiliar with, not owning the entire Read & Burn series, 2003’s Send and maybe a couple other items from their discography. Very few songs from their first three, which may have been the main draw for their sell-out crowd, made it to the set: “Being Sucked In Again,” “Pink Flag,” and “12XU” to name a few.

The highlight for me was hearing 154’s “The 15th,” a song that just about brings me to tears every time I listen to it. It was one of the few moments where the crowd seemed to be paying complete attention, not saying a word, or making any movements whatsoever. The crew pulled it off perfectly, bringing that electrifying riff to fruition with such a seeming lack of effort. It would be fair to say that playing these songs is second nature to these guys at this point, on par with eating, sleeping or breathing. But, to hear it come together like that…it just made my night. They could’ve fallen apart after I heard “The 15th,” and it still would’ve been money well spent.

They played for about an hour and a half with three encores that spanned maybe two songs apiece. The group I had met up with took off afterward, while my brother and I hung back for a bit so he could finish his last beer.

Before we left, I caught Graham Lewis loading some equipment and bothered him for an autograph. Thankfully, I had a pen on me. His understandably exhausted self was accommodating, though I could tell he wanted to complete the task at hand and turn in. I thanked him for the autograph and the show and left him to his after-show chores. Tim and I wandered over the merch table, where I shelled out $20 for a double live CD. We finished the evening over some scrambled eggs and coffee, our conversation revolving around the show and how much we needed something to eat.

Letters From A Tapehead

"Reckoner" Remixed...

I'm not usually one for remixed tracks, but I thought this was an interesting interpretation of Radiohead's "Reckoner." The producer who pulled this together, Nosaj Thing, recently signed to Alpha Pup records.

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Play The Electric Factory

Kid Congo Powers & The Pink Monkey Birds
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
The Electric Factory
Philadelphia, PA

My friend, Jim, and I pulled into the Electric Factory parking lot around 7PM, about an hour before the show began. He’d heard that the show was sold out, so we wanted to make sure that a parking spot was claimed and that neither of us would have to stand in line for too long. After the necessary pat down and ticket rip, the both of us walked into the club while there was still breathing room, took a quick peek at the merch table and found our spots on the venue floor about fifteen feet from the stage.

Around us you could see there were older moms and dads that probably got to see Nick Cave in his prime, young Gothic girls whose supple cups were plentiful and overflowing thanks to the magic of corsetry and guys clad in suits paying homage to Mr. Cave himself. Then you had people like me that fit with the t-shirt and jeans crowd, just there to see a show. Clear Dixie cups glowing with amber froth were the night’s accessory and forewarned of wasted jerk-offs to deal with later on.

It was 8PM when Kid Congo Powers and crew hit the stage, tortured for the first few minutes of their set with deafening feedback and a strange issue with the drummer’s mic, which made his snare drum sound like popping corn. Within five minutes, the issues seemed sorted out and the band opened with an instrumental version of Gun Club’s “Mother Of Earth,” much to my delight.

Kid Congo was charmingly flamboyant and very engaged with the crowd. His neck ornately decorated with a navy blue cravat, Congo was a mostly occasional vocalist, many times speaking choice phrases into the microphone like he was participating in some half-assed high school poetry reading. The Pink Monkey Birds, comprised of one mighty bass player, an illustrated drummer and a guitar/sampler tech who remained faceless as he was seated behind his equipment, married some maniacal Link Wray surf with the rockabilly of the Gun Club and The Cramps, (all of which makes sense because Congo, at one time or another, was in both Gun Club and The Cramps). Overall, Congo had an interesting eccentricity that worked its way through his guitar playing and certainly through his stage presence. At one point, he covered a Bo Diddley track, respectfully referring to him as our “black gladiator.”

Congo’s show with The Pink Monkey Birds was more or less an introduction for me, so the only money I spent the entire night was for one of his CDs.

It was 9PM when the Bad Seeds began to file out onto the stage, looking relatively proper and well dressed, albeit suspicious looking like a group of subversive English profs. The stage was a veritable obstacle course of instruments: two drum sets at the rear with a congested grouping of three or four moog/organ/synthesizers and a music stand holding a rather haphazard stack of pages. Violinist Warren Ellis hung out at the right of the stage, enjoying the only real available space.

By this time, the floor was packed and people were moving ahead to fill any and all available slots much to my 5,’ 5” dismay. When Nick Cave came out, looking like 9 feet of tailored, black, pin striped evil, the band went into ballad mode with “Hold On To Yourself.” Bassist, Martyn Casey’s low end reverberated through the venue and climbed up into our collective chest cavities so as to give our hearts a good squeeze. Crowd response was at an all time hypnotized.

Minutes after the set began, I became very aware of the 6’ Alterna-refugee whose concepts of personal space were non-existent. His lanky, inconsiderate ass was persistently backing into me, stepping on my feet and basically being a dick. And, my typically non-confrontational self had to tell the guy a couple times to knock it the fuck off. He didn’t. So, in order to keep from wasting ticket money by getting myself, and my friend, violently escorted off the premises by some meathead with SECURITY silk screened to his steroid-addled carcass, I managed to worm my way to his side, only getting bumped into occasionally as opposed to being backed into. He remained, for the entirety of Cave’s set, a problem.

Onstage, Cave is the most clumsy and awkward demon I’ve ever seen. He has a remarkably energetic persona, sexually sly and intellectually frightening. More than a few times, he managed to get his microphone cord wrapped around the stand, angrily pulling at it when he would lose slack. Somehow, he kept his mojo intact. At one point, his foot shot up underneath one of the organs, knocking it off its cradle and scattering his stack of music all over the stage floor. Roadies frantically ran out, visibly cursing his name, and put everything back in order as quick as possible while he jumped around, performance on point. Early in the set, Cave mentioned to the audience that the band was going to move to the U.S.,” because everything is going so well here.” Hey, things aren’t so bad your audience couldn’t spend $45 to see you. Be thankful.

Most of the band’s material revolved around the Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!! LP, but they did tear through some of their older music, most notably a scorching rendition of “The Mercy Seat,” and a topically adjusted version of “Oh Mama,” (“Obama” wound up the crowd’s refrain). “Tupelo,” “The Weeping Song,” “Red Right Hand;” with every song, the crowd got more and more reactive and the music seemed to get louder and louder.

Once their already mind-blowing and exhausting set was finished, the group stepped back out for a group of three encores that ended with a brutal, fucking BRUTAL, performance of “Stagger Lee.” Holy shit! To witness a group of somewhat civilized looking 50-somethings come out and pummel the song into the souls of their onlookers was both humbling and incredible. At the point when demands are made upon Cave’s member, or when Cave blurts, “Suck my dick,” the music stopped for a while, long enough for a group of Goth-mamas to express their desire for Cave’s, ahem, bad seed. He looked their way for what felt like ten minutes, probably making his backstage coital selections, or just soaking up the attention. Answering, Cave strategically hung his microphone in the most obvious of places and scored a massive group response. Finishing up the song, The Bad Seeds sucked out any and all energy from the crowd. The band quietly and tiredly exited and it was okay with us.

Amidst a feedback buzzing in my head, I got to see Mr. Bumpy bump into the wrong guy one time too many and almost get his ass handed to him. I guess a fight would’ve been an interesting note to leave on, but the show itself was violent enough. After putting some money in Kid Congo’s pocket, Jim and I took off and made our way through the parking lot of secondhand Djarum smoke and smiling black lipstick.

Hold On To Yourself
Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
The Weeping Song
Red Right Hand
Midnight Man
Love Letter
Into My Arms
The Mercy Seat
We Call Upon the Author
Papa Won't Leave You, Henry
Hard On for Love
The Lyre of Orpheus
Stagger Lee

Letters From A Tapehead

P.S.--Thanks for the photos, Jim.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

No Ripcord: Deerhoof

Offend Maggie
Kill Rock Stars
Released: 10.7.08

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, October 06, 2008

An Introduction to the Power Of Slim Cessna…

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
Alternative Tentacles
Released: 3.25.08

Rating: 8.25 out of 10

There are four moments spread throughout Cipher, latest album from Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, that I find most captivating. It’s basically one song, “An Introduction to the Power of Braces,” with four variations. There’s something very human about the song, as it soberly and somberly reflects on the aspects of our bodies that can easily wear away under the oppressive weight of life, (namely our arms, our legs, our teeth and our faith), and how the Brace can be used to right the wrongs. Church homilies, tent preaching, spiritual and philosophical musing about the fragility of humankind and its need of help every once in a while, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club speak from their hearts while basing their point of view on historically religious communication, but with no judgment at all. When it comes down to it, no matter what you believe or what deity you pledge your allegiance, you’re only human, so what’s the point of passing judgment?

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is probably the most accurate representation of Country music that there’s been in a long time, at least from a “group” capacity. With Cash dead, the mysticism of the Americas has lost its due diligence thanks to the genre’s desire to appeal to blind patriots and NASCAR enthusiasts. Slim Cessna’s brand isn’t necessarily anything you’d see on CMT, as it would be considered “alternative” as far as Country music is concerned, but there’s an old world realism and feel to it and a liveliness that evokes those ratty tents settled on dirt plains, alive inside with a vibrancy of enlightenment and Jesus’ name. It has a lot more authenticity than anything Carrie Underwood or Toby Keith have ever leant the genre, and more brain matter than something as mind-numbingly insulting and awful as “Redneck Woman.”

Beginning with the fast-paced nod to Woodie Guthrie, a song called “This Land Is Your Land Redux,” singers Slim Cessna and Munly Munly basically pour their lungs out on every track. Banjo track, “All About The Bullfrog In Three Verses,” slows the pace a bit before “Americadio,” probably the album’s pinnacle moment, explodes with an apocalyptic tone of ordered obedience, its hook being, ”Submit unto me; submit unto our ways.” With “Jesus Is In My Body - My Body Has Let Me Down,” Slim and crew get very sinister, tom rolls and screaming guitars driving the song as Slim and Munly wax theological, loud and desperate.

Songs like “Children of the Lord” and “Ladies In The Know,” are like Square Dance 101, but they give Cipher momentary lifts from the “Piano Man”-tinged “Scac 101” and the Bungle-esque organ jam, “Magalina Hagalina Boom Boom.” “Red Pirate Of The Prarie” is as rockabilly as they get before they slow it up with the Country track “Everyone Is Guilty #2.” Ending the album with “That Fierce Cow Is Common Sense In A Country Dress,” a song title to die for I might add, one can almost feel breathlessness from the exuberant speed of the song that provides Cipher with a pretty exciting climax.

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, in the end, is apple pie Americana without the sugar, alive on a plain uninhabited by sprawl but not subjected to ignorant seclusion. It makes me wonder what Cash would’ve thought of these guys, having been one of the last to keep integrity alive in a genre weakened by the Good Ol’ Boy mentality that has more or less swallowed the American consciousness over the last eight years. I myself, being very suspect of anything with “Country” branded across its hide, can approach something like Cipher with an open mind and appreciate what it does. I’d be interested to know how Country fans would feel about it.

Letters From A Tapehead

Guerilla Toss: "Meteorological"

I was elated to find out that Guerilla Toss will be releasing a new LP this September called Twisted Crystal . Last year's GT Ultra sp...