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The House of Tudor 

Wednesday, Jan 8 1997
Los Straitjackets are proud to know them, Dan Aykroyd once hired them, and the Reverend Horton Heat thinks they are amazing. Who are they? you ask. They are brothers -- The Sprague Brothers to be exact -- who still live at home with their mom in North Hollywood (which worked for No Doubt), and play old-fashioned rock 'n' roll like true idiot savants. The only catch is that they are completely (dangerously, if you ask their label) obsessed with pirate history, so they play -- you guessed it -- "Pirate Music." What is Pirate Music? It's kind of a surf-style collision of Buddy Holly and the Ventures, which would be OK, except the Brothers always work in the themes from Scooby-Doo, Spider-Man, and The Munsters -- which is great, and only made better by the fact that rhythm guitar player Deke Dickerson and bass player Shorty (both of the now-defunct Dave & Deke Combo) will be joining the sibs for their live outings. You may witness the miraculous conception on Thursday, Jan. 9, at 11:30 p.m. at the Bottom of the Hill (call 621-4455); on Friday, Jan. 10, at 9:45 and 11:15 p.m. at the Paradise Lounge (861-6906); and on Saturday, Jan. 11, at 9:30 p.m. at the Chameleon (821-1891). ... Some say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Others have said that this is a slushy, romantic theory, since a simple beam of light can completely transform the appearance and character of a stare. The latter must not be familiar with M. Gira, the founding father of the Swans and one of music's most proficient emotional assassins. For over a decade, the Swans have been NYC's prodigal, despairing sons, and no matter how many times photographers tinker with lighting, exposure time, and background shots, the shark stare of Gira remains unassailable. His eyes swallow light. They warn you off. Just as the sadistic set of his mouth foretells the lyrical nastiness of most Swans recordings, his eyes suggest the deep anguish present in his voice and in his belligerent use of musical repetition. It is little wonder that after so much time, Jarboe, Gira's No. 1 groupie-turned-collaborator, has acquired not only Gira's misshapen musical sensibility, but also his drawn, dead-eye stare. There are dark, petulant influences at work here that might not be healthful for anyone already on the verge of insanity. It is then perhaps for the best that Soundtracks for the Blind will be the Swans', um, swan song. A double CD that consists mostly of disturbing instrumentals, cassette loops, and distorted narratives, Soundtracks is aptly named. It is atmospheric music that creates a vivid mental reel of madness, futility, and waste. Unfortunately, the aching passion of Jarboe's and Gira's voices is sorely missing from most of the album, and the "Surrogate Drone" (as one song is actually named) that fills most tracks -- some surpassing 10 and 12 minutes -- renders the album ineffectual simply because it's boring. When what resembles the emotionally-drained voice of a drag queen finally whispers, "I feel faded, like there's a lot of color missing," you can't help thinking that it is the Swans to which she is referring. Despite the failings of Soundtracks, however, the Swans have never neglected to rivet gape-mouthed crowds with their live performances. There's nothing quite like Gira's gaze as he writhes and froths under the glare of hot white stage lights, or Jarboe's howl as she bemoans her unholy love for flesh. Their secondary musical project, the World of Skin, may also allow for such release, but it cannot include such heartwarming Swans fare as "God Damn the Sun," which makes all the difference in the world. The Swans perform on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 9 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall; call 885-0750. Look for upcoming Swans reissues on Young God Records.

-- Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor


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