As the brainchild of Lightning Bolt bassist Brian Gibson (aka Barkley), the Critters are a crude yet cuddly squad of art brats who dress up as filthy animals and unleash a hyperprimitive take on electronically processed Beefhartian swamp dub. However, most of the Critters' performances that I've witnessed quickly devolve into cacophony, smoke, vandalism, and violence involving bloodshed and broken bones.
Gibson is also a gifted cartoonist, though, and the centerpiece of this disc is his hour-long animated movie Mystery Tail, which is the "continuing saga of rocker dog Barkley and his band of animal friends." It's a stunning homespun weave of vibrant geometric collage work, lo-res graphics, live action, and synth-generated atmospherics. When transforming his rowdy Critters into their on-screen avatars, Gibson has traded the brutality of the group's live show for surreal storytelling and an innocent sense of zaniness that little kids would go bananas for. The movie is so goddamn goofy and fully realized filled with loveable ragamuffin protagonists and several truly creepy characters that it would make perfect sense as a part of the USA Cartoon Express, that six-hour-long Sunday morning program from the '80s featuring cartoons that were just a little too weird and low-budget for the Saturday morning crowd. And that right there is the essence of the Critters' aesthetic: cheap and bizarre as all hell.