Archival Geek Attack
Soooooo, I'm reading the Sunday New York Times and there is yet another Devendra Banheart & posse article. They've given Devendra and his pals a lot of ink! They must really like him! He's a likeable fella. I'm kinda hoping that Devendra & Vincent Gallo get together to play brothers in an x-rated version of Will Ferrell's Elf. Devendra can sit in the corner crooning and playing his guitar while big brother Vincent humiliates small children and their mothers during the holiday season. In Reno. In the back of a Cadillac. Or something. For some reason, I see those two having some sort of yin/yang relationship with the same creative impulse. And every day and in every way I hear more fine nasal whine coming from undieamerica. From Animal Collective to Frog Eyes to Anticon and beyond. ( i really did like that Passage album that came out this year.) Which is why I want to re-post this uncut version of my Rapider Than Horsepower piece that I wrote for the Village Voice. I posted it once on the I Love Music board so I must be fond of it. It's substantially longer than the piece that finally ran in the Voice. They had changed their format (shorter pieces, more of them) by the time it was ready to run. Devendra's voice is a trickier instrument than most elf-powered outfits. He doesn't fit and he does fit into the faux-loon tradition. But I'll leave him for another time. So:
Ear, Nose & Throat
Rapider Than Horsepower "Stage fright, Stage fright"
by Scott Seward
Wackiness and weariness often walk hand in hand where rock and roll
singers are concerned. A listener's own personal threshold for whims,
quirks, kinks, and vocal contortions, and their willingness to follow an
"inspired" performer from point abba to point zabba, is
subjective enough as to make one man's pork soda delish in every way, and
another man's frog brigade merely soggy to the touch.
So if you're down with Primus & Zappa, but find Bungle &
Beefheart anathema, and "novelty" and "joke"
(mainstream terminology) and "arty" and "visionary"
(underground terminology) are either pejoratives or superlatives
--depending on your aural intake valves and your own view on the whole
empty/half full life question thing-- thrown at any disparate
baggypants crooners whose nasalities and tonsorial gymnastics range on
the taste scale from acceptable to acquired, then it's safe to say that
your invisible lines are drawn, your gradations calculated and where you
stand (or sit) depends largely on answers to questions fine-tuned and
measurable only by doctors of musicology trained in Rorschach and voice.
To wit: Are you now or have you ever been a Rush fan? Does
the sound of Billy Corgan, arguably the most successful novelty singer
since Tiny Tim, make you wince or cringe? (For me both. And not just
because he reminds me of that little kid from childhood who wants to go
down to the basement and show you his weewee when all you really want is
to look at his big brother's stellar collection of Creepy magazines
thereby inciting a riot of mental expletives in your head along the lines
of: "He's such a jerk. Why did we have to move here? I hate Mom and
Dad!" But also because he reminds me of that same kid years later
pretending to like the same bands that you like even though you know that
he could never understand the greatness of a Wire Train or an Aztec
Camera.) On a scale of 1 to 10, whose effluviant proboscisity is most
comforting to you (ten being a dangerous level of adenoidal immersion)?
Joe Walsh. Leon Redbone. Jad Fair. Jimmy Dale Gilmore (who is known in
Austin, Texas as "Ol' Lonesome Nostrils"). That dude from Sunny
Day Real Estate. Needless to say, a full battery of tests in a clinical
setting could easily determine your nose to ear compatibility quotient as
well as your tolerance for various keens, yips, mewls, grunts and
whimpers. You might be surprised by the differences found in the
predilections of your average Victoria Williams fan, Kristin Hersh fan,
Shakira fan and Buffy St. Marie fan.
Of course, there is a scale and then there is beyond the pale. Your Ubu
difficulty ratings in the
percentile or higher. The yo-yo snorts and warbles of Beefheart borne
from the unholy croakus behemoth known as Howlin' Wolf as well as the
glory glory glottalujah upheavals and "I'll be damned if I didn't go
and get a bullfrog stuck in my throat and now it's dead and I've been
trying to cough it up for years now to no avail" glossolalia of
Bobby "Blue" Bland. The burbling, bubbling
insanity-is-just-around-the-bend laughing boy creepiness of Napolean XIV.
He of the one-hit wondrousness and who inspired legions. From Dr.
Demento's radio persona and reason for being to that goofball who used to
be in Mercury Rev before that band discovered the cure for insomnia. The
art-dunked pro-weirdo sounds of people like ex-Homosexual, Brit D.I.Y.
legend, ebay gold standard and Johan Kugelberg-touted L. Voag. Whose
early 80's The Way Out solo elpee is riddled with mysterious guitar
tunings and off-key high-pitch yelps. His sound would unwittingly become
the template --along with that of Ohio-bred dub house legends and
precursors to everything, Pere Ubu, not to mention the archival late
70's/early 80's work of buckeye gods Ron House & Mike Rep, and
come to think of it Ohio-lamenting Canuck and man of a thousand whines
Neil Young-- for a large portion of modern indie stuff too weird or
geeky to be called punk. Hah! Imagine being too geeky to be called punk.
That's really, really geeky.
Which is why I dig stuff like the new Rapider Than Horsepower album. Cuz
they iz freeky and they are through being cool. Cuz I'm sick of people
who still wanna be Iggy's dog. (Ironic cuz Iggy is the biggest geek of
them all. But then so is Lou.) My quirk standard is easy to suss: I like
people who used to KNOW Zappa and the people who Mike Patton thinks are
cool. And I like Geddy Lee but not Primus. It's that simple.
Rapider's music is as far from the curdled musings of abstemious
longhairs obsessed with titty jokes as you would like them to be. But
then that particular brand of Uncle Miltie-in-drag pursed lip meanness
probably went to the grave with Zappa anyway. At least as far as most
music is concerned. The "everyone is icky, stupid and foul"
aesthetic is unfortunately an American tradition that goes back to Cotton
Mather and gets picked up from time to time by people like Todd Solondz
and Neil LaBute. But the more open-ended Beefheart microverse is where
the out-there kids aspire to live. Right next to Uncle Sonny on Saturn.
Bizarre beats straight every time.
The wank/prog shifts in tone and time in Rapider's songs are melded with
the betterer and newerer leaps in whimsy innovation brought to you by
folks as close or as far away from each other philosophically as you
would care to argue: Modest Mouse, Devendra Banhart, or maybe even a
faint whiff of the twee-no/lo-ramshackle-fi of sea salt-seasoned
siltbreeze loons from the 90's like the Shadow Ring or Alastair
Galbraith. Impeccably timed hoots and group hollers, even a
cheerleader-style shout-out that spells the band's name and which grows
more and more desultory with every passing letter. Shaggy enthusiasm and
twisty guitar lines: the Meat Puppets and Fraggle Rock converge on the
same hallowed ground. And that voice that shakes and breaks and cracks. A
voice that is my idea of idiot fun but that might just be a dealbreaker
for those enamored with a lower register or attempts at sobriety. Or for
those people who insist that they were terrified of circus clowns as
children and who prefer the cackle/croon/growl/spit takes of a Mr.
There are moments on Stage fright, Stage fright, where they seem to
bottle the poetic essence of ex-Zappa pal Wildman Fischer. He had that
inimitable way of taking a line like "Jimmy Durante is coming to
town" from his tune "Jimmy Durante" and giving the word
"is" an extra push up the cliff until it gasped for breath at
the summit of deranged inflection. I might be so bold as to say that
Rapider Than Horsepower ARE the "is" from "Jimmy
Durante". Others might disagree and say that surely they are the
babies from the line "Screaming babies" in Eve Libertine's
deathless reading of "Shaved Women" by Crass. It's possible
that they are both these things.
Rapider Than Horsepower are Sal, Mike Dixon, Mike Anderson and Rob Smith.
I don't know where they are from or who they are. They should move to
Ohio if they don't live there already. Their song about caterpillars goes
"POP! Tttttt POP! Tttttt POP!" Their song about babies is
called "Rock Against Mapquest." In another song called,
"Lick Me on the Face, It Feels Funny" there is a great line
about C.L. Smooth & L.L. Cool J. Stage fright, Stage fright is less
than 25 minutes long and is part one of a projected 2-part series. They
amble and stumble and make a racket. They aren't that funky but they make
really silly songs and sounds with their mouths. They could do a killer
cover of "They're Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa" if they