Scraping the Barrel
Scraping The Barrel 004

give, and receive. “Motivational” speaker Jim Rohn says that asking is the beginning of receiving; old codger Orwell offered that a man receiving almost always found a way to hate his benefactor. Nietzsche dropped his dictate like pounds of dogshit into a water pail: “A letter is an unannounced visit,” he spat, “the postman an agent of rude surprises.” It starts to fucking nag, those piles of promos that come uncalled, congregating like preening window hawkers, shaking wares in a haze of grenadine light. Interspersed between odd day deliveries of mail-ordered music come the small padded envelopes; recycled—festooned with postage marks, warnings of fragile contents: The majority of the packages are sent from people never met, places never traveled. Sometimes there are handwritten notes, label one-sheets, biographical info, pictures, and the “we-thought-you-might-like-this” memos. Sometimes I do.

And sometimes I don’t. There’s a short comp from Belgium’s Wanted Recordings, featuring three hilariously disparate groups: Tyrant Pearl, Ekzeem-A, and Deadly Mind. Tyrant Pearl, egregious name aside, are slick and fast and highly practiced—and therefore painfully derivative. A poisonous mixture of Converge’s prowess and Limp Bizkit’s bogus angst, Tyrant Pearl sounds like the band in the practice space next to yours, yukkin’ it up with Fuck-all-Y’all China cymbal crashes, while your guitar player attempts to stoically work through the first few bars of a favorite Unrest song. Thankfully, ambient instrumentalists, Ekzeem-A, make up for what Tyrant Pearl lacks in patience, nuance, and craft—and in spades. One long track, “Marjet Frivet Beneath the Valley of the Fallus Van Fallade [Acts I-V]” garners instant points for being the best track Gastr del Sol never recorded. Vague notions of Musique Concrete crawl from fore to aft, while soft, foundational tones climb field-recorded footholds. Shortwave off-stations collide with a mélange of conversational voices, guitarted feedback, and system error’d confusion. Wrap this all up in the antagonistic fuzz of a nearly constant atonal ascension, and then listen to it go full circle: Operatic voice scales concert hall cock-rock; even a precarious nod is given to the murky drum programming of Portishead. The whole thing sounds, feels, and comes off in a big fucking addled mess, like a bar bathroom shag: Committed standing, awkward, sweaty, and fulfilled way too soon. There’s barely time to clean up, either.

Henceforth comes Deadly Mind, with a jock’s take on Agnostic Front style New York Hardcore. Predictable as verse-chorus-verse’s long hard slog, Deadly Mind is as life threatening as a Robotussin fueled sleep, replete with testosterone surging sing-a-long; watch sorrowfully as Brutus Beefcake stunt-doubles surf the crowd.

Vying with Tyrant Pearl for moniker as schmaltzy punchline is Lurker of Chalice, side-project of San Francisco Black Metaller, Wrest (Leviathan). As Leviathan’s freshly reissued Howl Mockery at the Cross demonstrates, there is more than one way of accessing Black Metal’s fundamental source(s). Wrest valiantly glues bits of plaintive acoustic guitar together with air-siren’d electric assault; his lecturing baritone crawls over pummeling drums, creating a vertiginous sonic mess. More than one reviewer has [correctly] noted the powerful rhythmic overtones of this record; the drum programming is as able and as potent as anything DJ Shadow has ever done; beats recycle and roll into new patterns, popping and thudding around enigmatic film dialogue samples, making this disc sound like a collaboration between Morricone, Qbert and Attila Csihar. The disc’s best piece, “The Blood Falls as Mortal (Part III),” is also its longest, clocking in at over ten minutes. Synth winds roar behind a confessional female voice:
Sometimes I feel like I’m not
I’m hollow:
There’s nothing
behind my eyes.
she says, offering up an intriguing bit of Kate Mossian existentialism: Fashion-accessory nihilism for the post-Nausea set. Sampled dialogue boomerangs, returning to the forefront, while tranquilized secondary vocals grunt piggishly in the background. The real fucking icing is the guitar: Melodic as Iron Maiden’s civilized tandem, as deliberately morose as Mahler on fistfuls of Percocet, regal lines fly around one another and greasily connect. Wrest is a fiercely individualistic and experimental wrecking machine, and Lurker of Chalice succeeds effortlessly, making mincemeat of narrow notions of BM sound as stone set.

So comes the Leviathan’s aforementioned Howl Mockery at the Cross, a collection of cassette “demos” from 2000 to 2002 thankfully reissued on CD by Moribund Records. Leviathan has yet to miss; from tUMUlt’s 2CD Verrater, to recent scorcher Tentacles of Whorror, Leviathan eschews tradition and crafts mesmerizing slabs of atmospheric metal, maintaining few—if any—Black Metal tropes along the way. The vocals scrabble around searing guitar figures, competing with synth fog and rumbling drums. Samples and oddly out-of-place instrumentation continually creep into the fold—trumpets, Steve Harris style bass, playfully keyed figures. The first two tracks, “Summoning Lupine,” and “Lycanthropus Rex” are two of this collection’s best, giving equal time to amphetamine percussion, melodic guitars, and a lyrical content derived from dashes of horror comics’ dramatic personae, and the unnatural transmogrification of The Howling’s chthonic antihero, “Eddie.” Other tracks run the throwback gamut, like the meshing of Morbid Angel with Dio’s mid-paced blasphemy in “Liar of Nazareth,” or the baroque lines of “Just Under Tainted Grace,” which spider Scriabin’d permutations amongst omnipresent grimness. As metal earns more cred via predictable after-the-fire “major” media coverage, recordings continue the value hunt. Sure things are as prevalent as four sided triangles, or readable Literary Criticism, but Wrest is making a good goddamned case with an incessant yield of High Q releases.

Remember Eyehategod? Sourvein do. Their EP, Emerald Vulture, sounds like In the Name of Suffering slicked in Black Label vomit, resin cocooned screens of songs belched out of sharded throats; accompanied by zombied drums, rusted anchor bass, and autodidact guitar strangled by Trouble’s biggest fan. Of course, this stuff is derivative: Often played, aped, mimicked, hacked—whatever you choose to call it. But, there’s fathom’s deep feeling here, emotive swells that no one’s heard since Rollins shrieked the lyrics to “Spray Paint the Walls,” or Clarkson told her estranged that she could now “get what [she] want[s], since you been gone.” Maybe it’s that Sourvien hail from New Orleans. Maybe it’s that soft spots, and the holes they’ve worn through my music collection, have been omnipresent for dirty, steel-scrotum’d rock like this. Questions are colored rhetorical, ‘cause low-culture glamour pusses like Gretchen Wilson may pretend to drink, fight, and fuck with the best of ‘em, but Sourvien take no truck with prefab coonass, flying the flag of Authenticity high enough to bother god, and often enough to confuse those who come across their territory by accident.

When it comes in plain cardboard, sticker’d with headish semiotic, it’s either been crafted in a Middlebury dormroom, or has made its way from the Sunburned Loft to consumer awareness. John “Nasty Vibes” Moloney creamed my consciousness with this gleeful little fucker, lovingly entitled, Anatomy Vol. One. O’ structure of sound, Gray’s Anatomy coloring book, fragile plastic models filled with extractable color-coded organs. From the opening “Hand Job” to closer “Mental Image,” Sunburned Hand of the Man catalog physiological process with sonic weapons: Dub’d guitar, bell-bottom’d drums, brown bagged vocals, nests of recorders, webs of samples, labyrinths of Drumbo’d percussion, errant triangles, shakers and bells break expectations like pints of Wild Irish Rose; syrup covered guitar oozes into digitech’d howls; head-scratching, lysergic confusion finds boisterous eureka with tears, farts, laughter. “Facelift” fronts junked trunk bass—Jack Johnson is invoked—and then the crying starts; it hits chest level, prickly, and intermittent, like clumps of blue-gilled micro-madness. “I love [touring],” Moloney told me, sipping his upteenth plastic cup of jugwine. “I could do this forever.” Wild-eyed, strong, and criminally amicable, I believe he just might make good on the statement.

The ladies bring up the rear. A happy member of the Atlanta unsung, Anna Kramer waltzes into a very pregnant realm: The singer-songwriter. It’s tough enough writing about the goddamned genre without soiling verbal shoes with piles of cliché—imagine operating in that musical locus, and willingly. Don’t forget to name check de rigueur chanteuse Chan Marshall—or the other histrionic darlings that can’t bear to finish a song; watching her one gets the nagging suspicion that appearing on Letterman must be akin to lunging into utter Nothingness. Anna’s self-titled CD sure looks like something Marshall would put out, with its personal cover art and spare, barebones, type set. Once the music is heard, however, all comp-and-contrast is scrapped. Kramer’s music is unapologetic about its mirth; her voice—when not smiling—rolls embraces around fundamental lullabies. On “No One Else I’ve Met,” violin and organ turn love song into porch song, where kisses are stolen between sips of homemade hooch. “You Think You Know Me” with its speedy strumming, and silly lyrics sounds like a Baez one-off, an ad hoc hootenanny that succeeds because of its simplicity. Same for “All Those Pretty Things,” which is easy, and nearly perfect; with a vocal line dancing nimbly around honky-tonk guitars, this could have been culled from the Stones’ Between the Buttons. Kramer likes to rock, too, but this is her weak suit. A voice like this demands traditional instrumentation; surround her with upright piano, acoustic bass and guitars, mandolin, washboard, and brushed drums and she’s destined for a legion of iPod playlists.

And then there’s melancholy. Dawn Smithson, formerly of Jessamine, marks her solo debut with a phalanx of emotional baggage. Engaging acoustic work—reminiscent of early Nick Drake—lightens the mood a bit, but Smithson’s confessional tone is pretty ponderous. Those who’ve suffered a particularly difficult breakup (who hasn’t?), or who’ve weathered extraordinarily dreary bouts of solitude (again . . .) might find this cutting too close. Title track “Safer Here” feels like two weeks of insomnia accompanied with brimming ashtrays, and forgotten dish duty—a paean to the great unwashed. Songs like “Nowhere Near,” or “How Thoughtless” mope about endlessly, reveling in their own claustrophobia. Perhaps it’s the skeletal quality of Safer Here that makes it so forbidding: Faced with something so bare, we are forced to inhabit it. Whether or not we “enjoy” our surroundings depends on constitution, and possibly pharmacological intake. Shivers.

By: Stewart Voegtlin
Published on: 2005-11-16
Comments (0)

Today on Stylus
October 31st, 2007
October 31st, 2007
Recently on Stylus
October 30th, 2007
October 29th, 2007
October 30th, 2007
October 29th, 2007
Recent Music Reviews
Recent Movie Reviews