Pontential New Agent for Unconventional Warfare CD/EP
Don’t you get a kick out of these little paper thingies with the bar code and the little come-on pitch that some record labels are starting to seal inside the plastic wrap on the CDs they ship? It’s pretty cagey from an advertising standpoint, giving record buyers that little extra nudge by sneaking a gushy press release right onto the shelf. The one on this Scissorfight CD says “Catastrophe has spread its tendrils across the wilderness, creating order out of chaos. Trip into the mystic realm as Scissorfight cut a livid swath through the ritual madness of a surreal landscape.” Who comes up with this stuff? They should get a job writing lyrics for Norwegian death metal bands.
Potential New Agent isn’t half bad for what it is, which is sped-up, down-tuned stoner riffage with ludicrous quasi-shamanistic lyrics (“Sun reflecting in a flying crow’s eye,” which I must admit does sound pretty cool when vocalist Ironlung sings it) and harmonies dug out of Alice in Chains’ underwear drawer. Cheesy nü-metal vocal affectations mar a few of the songs here (and with just five songs on the CD, that’s a few too many), but I suppose I will grant them safe passage through my kingdom. Just for the thing with the crow’s eye. Fans of Drowning Pool will go nuts for this, though. (Scissorfight play Jay’s Upstairs on Friday, Aug. 15 at 10 p.m.)
Kelly Gately has been head corndog in the Fireballs of Freedom for so long now that it’s kind of hard to settle down to the idea of him playing in a whole ’nother band with a totally different bag than the FOF. It’s also really weird how much his Starantula bandmate, Seantos, sounds just like him when he sings “Out of the darkness and into the light” on “Wall to Wall,” a typically grubby slab of Blue Cheer-like dirge on the band’s eponymous debut CD. Really weird—like one is gradually replacing the other, Persona-style.
For Gately, playing this kind of stripped-down dirge must be like falling off a log after the far more technically demanding Fireballs of Freedom, a band hell-bent on ramming the maximum amount of everything into almost every song. Things really take off on the very groovy “Texas Tea,” and indeed there’s plenty on Starantula to satisfy rock fans in a blind taste test. But come on. The real reason you’d buy this—assuming you know some of the personalities involved, which if you’ve read this far you probably do—is for its quasi-comedic value. Seantos and Gately, man—two hilarious guys. Get ’em together and, well, what else would you expect besides fun and lots of it?
Keep on Truckin
Boise’s Caustic Resin is often compared to Neil Young and Crazy Horse. It might just be the power of suggestion: The big rock bar in Boise used to be the Crazy Horse, and then you’ve got the whole Doug Martsch factor and its improbable (but impressive) culmination of Young love with the 15-minute workout of “Cortez the Killer” on Built to Spill’s Live album.
What you should be hearing more of is that Caustic Resin actually sounds more like a mutant Idaho version of Black Sabbath. Singer Brett Nelson (who moonlights in Built to Spill) makes a commitment to Ozzy-style caterwauling that might unnerve even the most diehard Sabbath fan. “People Fall Down” starts the album off in appropriately deranged fashion, a cataract of disembodied wailing and narcotized wah-wah guitar. “Message to Shareholders” is more of the same, but things slow down with nice acoustic fingerpicking on the plaintive “Fry Like Ace Jones,” right about the time when your ears feel like they’ve been run through a mangle lubed with hash oil. The respite doesn’t last long; “Wizard of the Upper Snake River” (love that title!) plunges you right back into “War Pigs” territory for another two songs, then another acoustic break, and so it goes. Loud and messy. Yum.
Like his musical contemporaries Richard Butler (Psychedelic Furs) and Robert Smith (the Cure), former Echo and the Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch has one of those voices you’d recognize anywhere: plangent, streaked with rust, and with some kind of imprisoned yodel trying always trying to break its way out. It always craps out on just the right vowel, leaving a blank spot in the middle of a word like “baby” and barely catching a piece of “on,” like a pedal-powered organ wheezing into a note as it warms up. McCulloch’s voice is always the star of any show, and it sounded especially good against the chill, spiny guitars of Bunnymen albums like Porcupine. Listening to the string arrangements and lukewarm mid-tempo love songs on Slideling, though, you realize what McCulloch was really destined for: writing bittersweet adult-contemporary credit music for insipid adult comedies. It’s quite pleasant, but I can’t get this image out of my head of Meg Ryan shopping around for her next soundtrack.