The Curable Interns
The Music of the Curable Interns Arranged for Solo Guitar


here’s more than one way to think about the word “interesting”. First, it can describe something that piques your interest: like the fact that rubber comes from trees or that the girl sitting across from you isn’t wearing a bra. Then there’s “interesting” as an evasive description. That would be when you call Grandma Lulu’s tuna and bean casserole “interesting” when, in fact, it’s confusing at best and totally unpalatable at worst. I’m still trying to decide where the music of The Curable Interns lands on the spectrum of “interesting”.

The amazing thing about the Interns (and Kenneth Johnston, the man behind this whole twisted operation) is that they’ve put as much effort into creating a well imagined back-story as they have into the music. The 23 tracks on The Music of the Curable Interns Arranged for Solo Guitar clock in at just over 55 minutes and are merely a small part of a larger vision. This vision is comprised of alien landings, dromedary squirrels, a community of musicians called Horsehead Point, Springtails (originally brought in to control the dromedary squirrel population), cone shaped beings and the fast moving, dangerous walking snakes. One can only imagine what goes in the water in order to produce a mind capable of such intricate creations.

On the non-musical side, Johnston has created a world so odd that it can really only be described in the most general of terms. A look at the Curable Interns website reveals everything from press releases (political scandal in the New Gomorrah Territory involving the illegal combination of the genetic material of the Springtail and Walking Snake) to photos (often hilarious, sometimes scary, pictures of creatures that appear to be made from drift wood, souvenir shop fake teeth, paper mache and some old coats).

It would seem that the Curable Interns are able to channel the sounds of the “offworld”, and that sound ranges from a distorted interpretation of bluegrass, heavy on grass, to a wailing of poorly tuned bagpipes. But it’s the sounds that Johnston is able to coax from his single guitar that are most impressive. The first three tracks, “Antarctic Pyramid”, “Life Cycle of the Alien Queen” and “Balinese Rhythm” bare a strong resemblance to the guitar “gimmick” that Charlie Campbell used to such interesting effect during his latter days with Pond and, in a more explicitly pop context, on his debut album as Goldcard. It’s a sound not dissimilar to weeping high pitched bag pipes treated with a healthy dose of sustain. While Campbell claims to have forgotten how to do his “gimmick”, Johnston is clearly very adept at producing a variety of otherworldly vibratos whenever he pleases.

The Interns are at their most interesting during these extended periods of hypnotic guitar playing. Johnston seems to be making a long lost and badly deformed cousin of blues. Tracks like “Hawaii, Hard Liquor, and You”, “Green Glass Windows” and “Ur: 2012” are trance like meditations, while “Thistle Thorn” seems to steal from “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” as re-imagined by a very drunk cabal of Irish jiggers. At other points, as on “Dhole Ta”, Johnston is able to coax his guitar into an approximation of sitar.

In fact, the trance-like effect of Johnston’s playing is perhaps only interrupted by the fact that much of the album is taken from live performances. Despite being able to hear ambient bar noise, though, it is well mixed. It seems almost complemented by the clinking of glasses and laughter that float on the periphery.

Let’s face it, you’re not going to make a whole bunch of friends by putting The Music of the Curable Interns Arranged for Solo Guitar on during the height of your next house party. But put it on after your third bong hit (if you’re inclined to that sort of thing) and it just may be the most enlightening part of your evening. Interesting, huh?

Reviewed by: Peter Funk

Reviewed on: 2004-11-30

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