On Second Thought
Royal Trux - Twin Infinitives






for 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.

I kept Twin Infinitives for about a week before I sold it to a record shop for five bucks.



There were two negatives: I was punished for not buying the album on double vinyl—the 15-odd songs were divided into four CD tracks, with two minutes of silence between the tunes that forced me to fast-forward through…and Twin was the most terrifying album I ever heard at the time. I did not listen to it as much as witness two artists dying, and indulging in the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll clichés that were killing them. The Chicago band’s music was the equivalent of lost soul who did everything that pleasured them, and consequently wound up dead and naked in the gutter—and kept on public display for weeks by churches and the police to frighten children away from the devil’s temptations.

At age 17, I was naïve enough to order the 1990 Drag City-issued album from Touch&Go; because Spin’s Simon Reynolds compared it to Can’s Tago Mago and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. Those two joints were two art-damaged, low-fi epics feted as being decades ahead of their time in reinterpreting rock. Twin is a different beast. True, the record was also written in long stretches of isolation—reportedly nine months in San Francisco with producer Greg Freeman onboard. But the sound of Twin isn’t really of a time. One could loosely trace the skronk-thrash to the past glories of Pussy Galore, Dinosaur Jr. and SF dada-punks Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. Sun Ra’s Moog freakouts from the 70’s also figure in, along with a sense that Royal Trux is a garage band that must go to sleep every night with the sprawl of unholy guitar feedback coughed up by Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music blackening the sky. However, this album possesses a sense of dread that cannot be translated easily into the English language. “I hate your streets / Feel the airs clean,” as junkie princess Jennifer Herrema mutters to a jaunty saloon piano on “NY Avenue Bridge.”

Before they were better known as skag-addled grownups who never left high school and never removed Led Zep and AC/DC from their eight-tracks, Royal Trux took bodies with their noise. Ex-Pussy Galore/scum-rawk refugee Neil Hagerty and Herrema took their ramshackle assembly of effects pedals, Moog synths, drum machines, and junk-shop guitars, and left a din that rang in my ears long after I sold the damn CD. A few fragments singed my memory. There’s the sputtering, smog-exhaling UFO synth that boils the air while Herrema plays a junkie’s porch-lit blues in “Ice Cream.” Her disembodied voice later moans and drifts through a guitar sprawled murk as if a soul ascending from a crashed jetliner in “Chances are the Comets in Our Future.” And then there is the crystalline-pure definition of death-disco in “Jet Pet” with its machete-slashed electro-beats, skag-poisoned vocals wailed so high they crack the tape and a trash-rawk guitar riff that wakes the dead. Even after listening to field recordings of the apocalypse by acts such as Merzbow, Royal Trux still pinched nerves.

Revisiting Twin is like breaking into an abandoned house that frightened you as a kid—rooms and objects now look smaller, the dark corners can be easily lit by flashlight and the matured mind foresees no real threat—but one can’t fight old fears. Yet, the album now sounds brilliant for its sense of otherness and disorientation. It’s a rare feat, and even rarer when it’s done using little more than guitars, vocals, synths, and an effects box. The band cracked open ideas that new jack noise-rawk bands seem to be still figuring out 15 years later. “Ice Cream” is quite fascinating for how it falls into pieces little by little as Herrema’s double-tracked vocals and the unconfident guitar riffs loosen and fall off the beat. Elsewhere, Hagerty’s prayers in tongue move like gale winds, as does the massive guitar sprawling that saturates “Florida Avenue Theme.” The opener, “Solid Gold Tooth” slogs through a dead man’s blues all mangled by Moog laser shots and muttered astronaut calls, while “RTX – USA” is morbidly funny for its one-man band machine noise gone wrong. However, the tedium still prevails in some places where the distorted moaning and freeform ruckus grows old quickly.

Hell, all of the dread on Twin could be easily dismissed as pretentious, unlistenable dreck, where those affected by it should be ashamed. Yet, coming back to listen to Twin over and over is almost like undergoing boot camp conditioning for the psyche. Royal Trux could tear one down, but what they build back up, I’m still figuring out.

Buy it at Insound!


By: Cameron Macdonald
Published on: 2005-09-06
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