Rats! Sing! Sing!
magine Alex Chilton leading Lee “Scratch” Perry through the paces, and you get an inkling of what Mike Vermillion tries to evoke on “Dub II.” Ramshackle percussion, spook-house organ, treated guitar peals and mumbled vocals speak to Gogogo Airheart’s ambitions in ways that the rest of Rats! Sing! Sing! unfortunately does not repeat.
Most of this San Diego quartet’s fourth album shows the limitations of self-production. When it works, tracks like the extended guitar workout “Shake It Off” create and then destroy the paradigms by which we judge them. “The Big Girl of Beauty” is all flaying drums and dissonance, with lo-fi instrumental flourishes flitting in and out of the speakers hounded by Vermillion’s plug-ugly voice. But there are undeveloped ideas strewn all over the place; the boxy mix cramps the band’s melodic development, transforming the able rhythm section into adolescent whackers practicing in Vermillion’s garage.
All this raises the question: why is confusion—lyrical, vocal, instrumental—still a virtue for so many young bands? Didn’t they listen to their high school English teachers? Value clarity above all else. Unless you’re an ace nutball like Captain Beefheart or the early Modest Mouse, who were able to make their grotesqueries signify, you’re better off singing what you mean—unless, of course, you don’t know what you mean, which takes us back to Gogogo Airheart’s “Rats.” A piano, the most rudimentary of drum beats, radio-dial sound effects care of the first Roxy Music album, Vermillion and his mates clapping as they chant, “Rats, rats, let them sing,” and it’s either on to the next track or time to check the laundry. Even Modest Mouse outgrew the likes of “Doin’ the Cockroach” for the sake of “The View,” whose statements about finding transcendence while mired in shit ring with the sonic boldness the older track eschewed are rendered with an almost charming self-consciousness (this confession will no doubt piss off the many fans of those opaque earlier albums, but fuck’em).
Thank the maker that the Go Go boys wrote/stumbled upon “Heart On A Chain,” a velvety Velvets trinket whose lyrical directness (the chorus consists of nothing more than “I want you,” spoken without affect) should give Vermillion a clue in which direction Gogogo Airheart should go on their next album. Suggestion: less Pixies, more Temptations!