Friday, August 15, 2003

So, lyricism. As a music writer, I have to learn to inject fresh ideas, I have to back up positions with a wider knowledge. There are so many gaps. But lyricism I think I have.

Here, this is a blog. I'm supposed to sound my own horn. So, here's a fairly lengthy post I made on ILM a while back that I enjoyed in itself. It's not polished, or over-written in any way, but in that respect it more accurately reflects the music it describes. The sneaky added bonus is that I can evangelize the band Calla again (heh):

I haven't seen much written about the band, but I know that they're transplanted Texans living in New York, and I understand that their music reflects the tension between those disparate landscapes. That's all clear. That and the Morricone soundtrack over a David Lynch movie featuring a cameo from Tom Waits impersonating Nick Cave. Well, okay, I don't know if anyone else has said that, but it's difficult to get a foothold here [I was discussing their eponymous debut here -- Ed.] Perhaps that's the point; pop culture footholds and musical reference points are superfluous, just attempts to fill spaces that cannot be filled. The music is everything.

With the opening bone-dry howl of "Tarantula", the thirsty tambourine pony trot, the languid coyote song of the guitar, as it builds and wends and falls away, a serpent death rattle dragging its emptiness behind it, the song is kind of ominous (and yet more organic Texas than New York). "Custom Car Crash" is what invited the Waits comparison, which is too easy, since way more is going on here between the lines, the layers. The vocals are plain creepy with this band, those barely whispered sounds. "June" plays with rhythm in a completely different way, but what I love is the sparking electrical fizzing, the nod to urban technology which could also be bugs on a porch getting zapped, so it's both. For the first time. Empty heat. The desert, a dry organic sweltering place, but the curious emptiness of a large city flagging under a humid summer day, enervated, panting like a half mad dog.

This music scares me, at various points, sometimes at different points on different spins. It seems to tap into feelings I never knew existed.

On "Only Drowning Men", that repeated beat could be hammers-on-wood, or marching boots. And the spaces between all the sounds are incredibly huge (as on most of their songs here), vast as the dark sparkling bowl of sky over the desert's nighttime. Each plucked reverbed string is like a star shimmering. Nothing moves fast here. Bones reflect the moon's white. Melodies take an age to come clear out of the night, emerging like spectral hoodoos. More than once, when voices intrude, they're startling, unexpected. This music sounds like instrumental music, and the hushed near-spoken words spook you when they arrive suddenly at ear height. (The Leonard Cohen sample is driving me crazy -- which song is that from? It's an inexplicably sad sound).

"Elsewhere" is barely there. The hunting horn/passing ship sound like something from a bygone age. Lethargy, ennui, follows. Something squeaky like a weather vane, something hanging from a rusted fence. That heartbreaking guitar sound like the distillation of all frontier Western myth. Then the hair-raising goosebump feedback shrieks like cougars fucking (honest). I still hear more country than town, though, unless the throbbing pulse at the heart is more electric grid than the pulsating flanks of a sick, hounded beast.

"Truth About Robots" is astonishing. The melodic theme reminds me of Cat Power's John Lee Hooker cover on
You Are Free ("Crawlin' Black Spider", which would be apt after we've already had a song called "Tarantula"). It doesn't sound a lot like the blues, and yet, in essence, it does. The creepy melancholy of this repeated refrain assaulted by shrieks and howls of guitar feedback is like the unraveling of the secret unpalatable truth at the core of our dissolute urban nightmares. There is both fear and an infinite sadness in steel.

"Trinidad" is plain lulling, like something deadly and mesmerizing. You know that nothing good will come of following its lazy meanders, but you go anyway. Sure enough "Keyes" continues the charade, easing us in softly only to swing the club of its industrial rhythm at our heads. There's that sick Eraserhead feeling again, and the dentist drill whines that come in after a couple of minutes of this busy industry (the workers are faceless) don't help. They almost hurt. Then something breaks like glass or steel, and it's gone. Just gone.

"Awake and Under" is the bad dream that tricks you into thinking you've woken, over and over, a cruel lucid nightmare ("short waves and chemicals," "she walks on water / so tell her father / she's a miracle"). The singer has some bad shit on his mind, something awful, some dangerous hate or even more dangerous love. The guitar chord at the end, hesitant, gorgeous, backed by some kind of treated, processed keyboard sound (another guitar?) is the moment before the terrible deed. The entire album is perhaps the moment before this unspoken occurence, some product of a sidewinder brain baked at noon and dragged half mad into the sweltering hidden alleyways of the city. A sacrifice needing to be made.

Ha, a second reference to Cohen in one day. What are the chances?

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