Imagine yourself in a homemade rocket. Reaching down to the spacestereo there and plunking in Lutefisk's latest, Burn in Hell Fuckers! "Tin Man's Cue" comes on with a quiet country-chord intro and some nice manly vocals singing about winners, losers, and a self-inflated failed suicide. By the time you reach the chorus, you're breaking up. But you don't care; you're too busy taking hits off the spacebong and singing into your headset mike (even if you don't know the lyrics). You close your eyes and crumble into a deep cosmic glam pop vacuum as your little rocket disintegrates.
Now that's stadium-quality distraction. Which Lutefisk deliver unbelievably well when they're not distracting themselves -- i.e., boring into the center of your cranium with an endless looping screeching bleeping self-indulgent racket. But these two opposing elements are essential to their Big Rawk escape package, which even Lutefisk don't take too seriously. I'll point to their goofy monikers: Dallas Don (guitar and vox), Frosting (guitar and gizmos), Quazar (drums), and B.M. (bass master [?]). Not to mention their fun-filled cover tune choices. Check out Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl," crackling like a Geiger counter hovering over a churning, glowing morass of deadly isotopes. Or Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," which plunges into the radioactive whirlpool and comes out mangled, nearly (and hilariously) unidentifiable. Then there's an obscure and troubling "Burn and Rob" by an anti-folk fellow named Paleface -- a suburban terror narrative that collapses periodically into psychotic convulsions not rivaled since the Butthole Surfers were still putting a little oomph into what they were doing. But let's not forget to mention Lutefisk's even better originals: "Miniature in F," a sped-up and slowed-down, creepy-pretty-dreamy song about, yes, dreams; "Product 29," an early-Cheap Trick-styled fuzz-bop; "Southern Fried," a hollow and fragile tremolo warble a la Syd Barrett; "Conquer (Negative Thoughts & Feelings) Forever," which, excepting the ham radio, owes much to the lurching sledgehammer of the Melvins. And, believe it or not, the sonic "sculpting" has actually been toned down a notch since their previous release, Deliver From Porcelain: Theme and Variations.
But, bottom line, there's the title: Burn in Hell Fuckers! Because beneath this competition between gales of noise, arena-ready pop hooks, and Big Rawk self-parody, beneath their devilish polarizing compulsion to distract (either us or themselves), lurks something dark and gnarled, something fucked up and seething. And never mind rocket ships and pseudonyms -- that something always makes for good rock.
-- Curtis Bonney
Haulin' Grass and Smokin' Ass
At the beginning of Julian Schnabel's hagiographic Basquiat a narrator reads from the Artforum review that deified Jean-Michel in 1981. "No one wants to be a part a generation that ignores another Van Gogh," the voice says. "When you first see a new picture you are very careful because you may be staring at Van Gogh's ear." Despite the fact that it got missed for almost a year, Sukpatch's brilliant Haulin' Grass and Smokin' Ass is no Van Gogh's ear. It's more like the tinnitus in the canal -- that buzzing sound that won't go away.
Rene Ricard, the man who wrote the critical essay, admits off film and in print that no other great artist suffered an indifference equal to that endured by the French painter. And his point is even more absurd if carried over to a medium like rock 'n' roll, where commerce applies its savage appetite. With a zillion record companies pawing at sticks, and far too many writers trying to pounce on something palatable -- not to mention white-toothed fanzine shrews who consume three times their own weight each day -- it seems like nothing with even a shred of talent could evade a press clip or a three-album deal. How then did anyone miss the Sukpatch boat? Hell, A&R guys start sniffing around bands who've never played a show or released their own 7-inch.
The facts are sparse: A shoddy show review posted a year ago on a Minneapolis Website says there are three principals named Steve, Steve, and Chris. Liner notes say the trio recorded the album April through May 1996.
And that's it. But the record tells a few more tales. The remarkable thing about Sukpatch is that they seem to have found the only possible link between slacker rock and hip hop. Smudged with a pot-scented cloud ("the Buddha haze"), the group actually invents a sound that wouldn't fit in Neil Strauss' recent music genre dissection in the New York Times. One half big, lazy backbeats, one half pretty, soft vocals, the sound is not the sort of schizophrenic collage that belongs to Beck -- the only close comparison -- but a cogent fusion of two identities. There's nary a guitar on Haulin' Grass, but it never sounds like electronic music. Instead of using synths and samplers to create new structures, which usually end up sounding like because-we-can compositions on most new electronic records, Sukpatch works within the time-honored pop form.
If there's any complaint here, it's about breadth -- too many songs sound similar, and two of the voices match each other tone for tone. But give Sukpatch some leeway: If you had only one ear, such trifling sonic concerns would matter only half as much.
-- Jeff Stark
Guy Clark went un-studio in the late '80s, choosing a more informal, acoustic setting for his celebrated songs -- and that's what you'll hear on Keepers, his first live album in over 20 years of commercial recordings. The venue is the Douglas Cafe in Nashville, and the selections were taken from three nights of performance. Many of Clark's songs are reminiscent of the previous generation's Cash-style tale-telling, with that old Live at San Quentin vibe. However, brace yourselves! Times have changed -- the phrase "son of a bitch" (heard on this CD in several variations) is no longer drowned out by the censor's bleep.
Clark's childhood -- spent under the care of his grandmother, who ran the only hotel in town -- is painted into the songs' lyrical post-Depression scenery: the old salesman kicking up papers in "That Old Time Feeling" (his first significant hit), the threadbare elevator man of "Let Him Roll," and the assorted dodgy individuals knocking around "Out in the Parking Lot." The characters are beautifully true to life, drawn from a time fast fading into history. Clark's drowsy, hazy, avuncular rasp trawls lazily through the troubled narratives, yet rises up in melodies with a fine, full-bodied musicality. Witness, for instance, the Texas swing jump vocal in "Heartbroke."
His band shines throughout, staying discreetly in the background as Clark sings, then blooming between verses with clouds of lacy mandolin and Ye Olde Worlde accordion. Guy Clark's easygoing, gritty crooning gives a primary impression of a straightforwardness that is alternately sentimental and hard-bitten. Later on, you might pick out the undertow of sadness: "That old time feelin' comes sneakin' down the hall/ Like an old, gray cat in winter, keepin' close to the wall" ("That Old Time Feeling").
Clark's short introductions to songs quickly capture his dry, self-effacing humor. He describes the first time his hometown of Monohans, Texas, saw a streamlined train: "It was like a shuttle launch. The whole town turned out." After a sliver of a pause, he adds, "The train didn't stop or nothin'." Then he goes into "Texas -- 1947," a true, chugging classic train song ("You'd've thought Jesus Christ hi'self was rollin' down the line").
He introduces one new song as "the antithesis of the 'Boot Scootin' Boogie' -- basically right up my alley, heh, heh," referring guardedly to Brooks & Dunn's bouncing party favorite. We cannot see Clark's facial expression at this point, but we can be sure that in his dry, discreet way, he is reflecting upon the various aesthetic atrocities that thrive around modern line-dance remixes. Not only does Keepers give you an excellent collection of songs performed the writer's way, it also paints a deft portrait of a quietly humorous man.
-- Cath Carroll
Never mind the inevitable transformation of pop bliss into kitschy shame over the course of time -- the process whereby the chart hogs of one decade (rightly) become hairdo jokes in the fossil record. What about daring the fine line between the two in the present? Take the clean-toned guitar arpeggios and simple backbeat that begin "Second Chance," the last and best track of Creeper Lagoon's eponymous EP. The sonic distinction between this and the same sort of thing used in both ass-end-of-new-wave and pop-metal ballads is hard to make -- and yet all the enjoyable consonance is there, with none of the pre-emptive embarrassment. While the track contains every nuance of a steadfast studio production -- an out-of-phase lead over the abrupt overdriven chorus, among other things -- Creeper Lagoon, a San Francisco quartet, prove that it's still possible to make great studio-based music, as outre as that sounds in this era of stewing over authenticity. We're clearly not dealing with some terribly weighty product here -- the opening track, "Dear Deadly," sounds like someone's being asked out on a date ("Can't you/ Spend just a little bit of/ Precious time for the cinema") -- but lyrical boy-girl preoccupation has always been the stuff of upstanding studio effort.
Most pleasant about Creeper Lagoon is the way that ingredients are introduced gradually, building upon one another. "Sylvia" 's initial sparse hip-hop beat is joined in turns by a simple, ambient synthesizer tone, a major-key guitar arpeggio, and the first stark lyrics: "Sylvia/ What do we do?/ Here we are/ Waiting for you." Why everyone's waiting for Sylvia, I dunno -- I'm just fond of the way the whole thing fits together without her, whoever she is. Additionally agreeable is the near-miss quality of the vocals, which, in landing just left of pitch now and then, sound all the more plaintive while hashing out the vague story indicators ("You said you wanted a real life/ This is a real life") atop the fetching instrumentals. And that's the goal of most rock studio products, whether passe or lively: to give you a pretty aural collage, a tune to hum, and not a philosophy. Much of the material probably couldn't be reproduced live. "Drop Your Head," for instance, contains backward swooping guitars. (No need to try pulling that off in person; you'd only hamstring yourself.) And though a lot of Creeper Lagoon is reminiscent of the entire Swervedriver canon -- another source of fine-line bliss and embarrassment -- we have nothing to be ashamed of yet.
-- Michael Batty