Lupine Howl - The Carnivorous Lunar Activities Of...
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
We often talk of bands being before their time, but it's kind of difficult to conceive of any time when Sean Cook and Mike Mooney's post-Spiritualized effort wouldn't have felt a little off. I use the phrase “post-Spiritualized” to denote one of the reasons for the major sonic differences between Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space and Let It Come Down. Jason Pierce, in a fit of much-discussed-at-the-time pique, went ahead and summarily fired Cook and Mooney (as well as Damon Reece, who drums on just over half of this record). The Lupine Howl boys claimed the sticking point was money owed to them, but the whole thing seemed to fade pretty quickly with little PR taint clinging to Pierce, especially after Cook and Mooney's band sunk like a stone, some good reviews for The Carnivorous Lunar Activities Of... notwithstanding.
While I think Cook and Mooney didn't exactly deserve their fate—parts of their debut remind me a little of the rocky heft and half-flippant nihilism that got Queens of the Stone Age into the big time—it doesn't surprise me. I was an uncritical Spiritualized fan in 2001, and even then the only reason I ever heard this was because a promo copy turned up at the student newspaper. Given the “new rock” revival at the time courtesy of the NME, part of their initial appeal was that at least Lupine Howl have the chutzpah to give their songs names like “Sniff the Glue” and “Planet X” and let those songs spiral out towards the ten minute mark in a blur of heavy psychedelia that suggests it's the album for people who always wished Pierce was both more and less focused, or at least listened to more Led Zeppelin. Cook and Mooney look a bit like roadies in the liner notes, and as this otherwise interesting interview suggests, their own swaggering confidence might have been part of the problem. They were pros, largely responsible for the actual sound of at least two critically adored records (Ladies and Gentlemen... and the sort of live Royal Albert Hall double albums), and keen to show up their former boss, which results in the worst bits of The Carnivorous Lunar Activities Of....
Aside from the cringe-inducing aside directed at Pierce (“Only some of us get to choose /and we're gonna have to cut you loose” is only one of the gems on “This Condition”), though, they mostly stick to their strengths. Cook has a fine sneer, and the lyrics are a more interesting melange of the usual rock mythology, druggy bullshit, existentialism, surrealism and pointed skepticism on matters romantic and religious than you might expect. More importantly, the band has a keen grasp of atmosphere and pacing; they can get heavy when necessary but possess a better sense than the young Turks they were competing against. The opening combination of “Vaporizer” (surging in on a procession of Bar-Kays “woah-i-yay”s), the churning “Sniff the Glue” and prolonged rave-up “125” establish a strong mood early and, crucially for an album that appeals via excess as much as anything else, all tip the scales at more than five minutes apiece. They're mere teasers for the album's centerpiece “Carnival,” however, which goes from synthetic bass pulse and stuttered guitar clouds into Cook's surprisingly hard-hitting chorus and back into fuggy drifts repeatedly over the ten-minute length. It's surprisingly successful, and sums up the album perfectly: if you're going to think Lupine Howl is ridiculous, you're not going to get through it. But if you're going to succumb to Lupine Howl's balls-out charm it's a definite highlight.
After that the loping, practically recumbent “Lonely Roads” makes for a welcome pause, and the steadily building, horn-assisted agnostic jam “Sometimes” and the broken-toilet stomp blues of “Planet X” only reinforce how weird an album this is. You've got somewhat conventional hard rock bleeding into all sorts of unfashionable styles, but Cook and Mooney are pros; they make it all work and even make The Carnivorous Lunar Activities Of... function as a tour of what kind of music you can make out of the weird confluence of stoner/psych/spacerock, provided you've got the skill and (more importantly) the restlessness. Pierce was by all accounts a fairly dogmatic bandleader, and you get the sense that his ex-employees are eager to bust out all over the place, making for a colorfully overstuffed record that winds up being surprisingly fun.
That's all before Lupine Howl show once again the wisdom of saving the best for last. The aforementioned “This Condition” may poke a bit too directly back at Pierce to sound like anything but sour grapes but sonically it's ferociously effective, rising from a very Spiritualized-esque unison-guitars and harmonica opening to the kind of anthemic crescendo most sidemen would cut off an arm to be able to write. Cook may be singing about “anxiety pulsing in waves” on the chorus, but when the track crashes in just perfectly around him he sounds like he's on the winning end. Part of the reason it's so magnificent is precisely because it comes after so much debauchery; you're getting a bit weary when they inject the album with this new hit of energy and direction and the effect is galvanic. All “The Jam That Ate Itself” has to do is clean up, and it does so winningly by dint of being the shortest and fiercest song here and a fantastic evocation of the feeling of universal misanthropy that only accompanies a really solid hangover.
All of which suggests the kind of wildly idiosyncratic hard rock soup that really was never going to attract more than a cult audience—and the faux sexwork ads of the liner notes don't exactly scream accessible either (although when they advertise “125” with “DISGUSTING NASAL PENETRATION FRENZY” you can rest assured they're not trying to serve the prurient interest). But they didn't even really get the cult, and given how little at the time bore any resemblance to Lupine Howl and how this kind of decadently powerful blend is now slightly more in fashion, I feel worse for them than for most of the never-weres whose work I enjoy. I'm convinced that properly disseminated The Carnivorous Lunar Activities Of... would find a surprisingly positive response today, and I'm more sadly certain that some enterprising young people who happen upon a copy will one day popularize a more palatable version of its joys, and virtually no-one will know where they're getting it from. After all they've been though, Sean Cook and Mike Mooney deserve better.
By: Ian Mathers
Published on: 2007-06-26