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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Reviews: Turner Cody, Caustic and Trans Auto Radio

Turner Cody - Gangbusters (folk rock/ Americana)

Boy Scout Recordings DIB017CD, 2010, CD album, £4.99 
(also available as DD)

The rhythm section performs a steady folk rock groove in well worn harmonies; melodies follow symmetrical antecedent-consequent contours, through notes that are consonant and predictable, while the lyrics follow suit with consistent terminal rhyme schemes in tight couplets. It’s all very accessible, in a sing-song Americana style. Does that sound a bit dull? Well it ain’t.
Some things do not need messing about: an apple does not need chocolate sauce; good whisky does not need cola; beautiful women do not need make-up; ‘’Round About Midnight’ (when Miles recorded it) did not need solos. And Turner Cody’s astonishing, breathtaking verbal imagery doesn’t need any clever musical tricks to make it shine.
Having said all that, the arrangements are in fact very good, and imaginative, from the richly expressive brass scoring in ‘Au Revoir’, through the rhythmic upper register lead guitar on ‘Mon Amour’ andWindows On Atlantis’, and the bass clarinet on ‘Big Surprise’, to the slippery bass fills in ‘The Only One I Had is Gone’. The grooves are organically tight, and the vibe reminds me of The Band on Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes.

Good songs are not just about a good lyric, with whatever music slung at it to make it a song. The poetry, as with all poetry, in any art form, is a compound experience, formed and articulated in the whole work, at the point of intersection of its constituent elements. The whole is, axiomatically, greater than the sum of its parts, so what I have already said should not be taken to suggest that this is an album of conventional songs with clever words. These arrangements are the right arrangements, and Cody’s melodies carry his meanings explicitly, with his cadences expressing precisely whether his thought is incomplete, or has reached some kind of conclusion.
The lyrics on this album deal with big themes and small ones, frequently in a single breath. Vernacular language, humorous exaggeration, biblical or classical references, colourful metaphors, redemptive aspirations and touching, deep, everyday pathos are mashed up together into a soup of thought and feeling, and emitted in a stream of consciousness that is often reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s early days, or the work of his antecedent, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. Sometimes the leap between two consecutive ideas is thrilling and audacious, and at other times it’s so huge that the result reads like nonsense: there are always meanings to be found if you stop and think about it, but sometimes there are simply too many of them to settle on one. Some would take this as a shortcoming or a failure to communicate, and they may be right, but it always seems to me like playfulness, a joy in the world of words and meanings too great to let Cody stop piling them on.
Either way, he is an extraordinary lyricist, and clearly a man who will continue to say his piece, and give voice to the content of his heart and mind, whether or not anyone wants to listen to him. I’m familiar with a few of his recordings, and I can’t say that this one represents a major departure, but why mess with a continually productive creative method? He isn’t showing any sign of running out of ideas, and if you don’t know his work, this album would be an excellent place to start.

Caustic - 666 On The Crucifix (electro-industrial)

Metropolis Records MET 719D, 2011, DD single, $5.90 (Metropolis website, US & Canada only), £6.32 (iTunes UK, equivalent to $10.12)

The difference between a single and an EP in the digital musiverse is a bit of a moot one: some EPs consist of three short tracks, or one long one, and some singles (like this one) clock in at a longer time than some classic (LP) albums. What Metropolis have given us as a taster for Matt Fanale’s forthcoming Caustic album is the eponymous track in its album version, and three remixes; a Gothsicles remix of another album track; a Null Device remix of another; and a couple of tracks that won’t feature on the album.
The unalloyed track sounds like we might expect, given what Fanale has said about his forthcoming album, which will be his first for Metropolis, who are the industrial big boys in North America. It has far more of an electro-industrial, dancefloor vibe than much of the powernoise insanity to be found on This Is Jizzcore or …And You Will Know Me By The Trail Of Vomit; it is also the beneficiary of a far glossier production process, with tight, heavy bass and a very full soundstage. With Dynamic Range Day coming up shortly I maybe shouldn’t admit to it, but I think it benefits from a compressed and normalised sound: Caustic has always been a project that’s about fun, and it makes sense for Fanale to turn out some big, bangin’, floorfiller choons. His distinctive satirical approach to writing seems to be intact, and his brutal, menacing vocals certainly are.
The remaining tracks display a similarly polished, professional production, and satirical attitude, while touching a number of bases stylistically. The Be My Enemy mix of the title track adds some crunching guitars to stir up a wonderfully destructive industrial metal sound; Caustic’s rivals for the title of industrial music’s official court jester, The Gothsicles, contribute vocals and a mix of ‘I Play Computer’ that is basically hard edged trance; ‘Chum the Waters (Null Device Mix)’ is pretty much dubstep, with some nice lyrical rhyming; and ‘666 On the Crucifix (666 On My Deadline Mix By Torrent Vaccine)’ contributes a power noise beat, but with the same club friendly focus as the other tracks.
Matt Fanale has gone all out to put together a really good package for this single: it’s a shame that in Europe we fall through the cracks in the distribution model, and have to pay nearly twice as much for this as if we could download it direct from Metropolis. That needs fixing, although I’m sure it won’t be an issue for the album when it arrives. Price notwithstanding, this is a very entertaining, full on, mental, headbanging selection of dance tunes, and a great teaser for the forthcoming Golden Vagina Of Fame And Profit.

Trans Auto Radio - 3 (post-rock)

self released, 2011, DD single (‘triple A side’), £free

Around a quarter of an hour of predominantly instrumental rock music, recorded with energised post-punk guitar sounds, this short release is enough to set out their stall, but not, I suspect, enough to demonstrate the full range of Trans Auto Radio’s potential. There is a good deal of variety on this release however, in several ways.
First, the guitar sound ranges between clean, and buzz-saw distortion; secondly, the band has a good command of dynamics; and thirdly the three tunes here are composed with a strong sense of journey, despite the lack of fully developed lyrics. Where the dynamics hit a peak the instrumental textures thicken, and vice versa. Chord sequences are written with a powerful sense of emotional momentum.
There are synths and keyboards, well exploited in the complex arrangements, as well as brass and reed instruments, and some sonically inventive guitar work that introduces a scent of noise-rock to proceedings. Within all this textural, chunky, guitar based homophony, there is some nice melody: from the trumpet in the long build through the middle of ‘Drowning’, and from the lead guitar in ‘Let It Hang’, leading up to a well utilised sample of the famous Howard Beale ‘mad as hell’ speech from Network.
The textures and sounds of this recording are very pleasing in their own right, with an excellent, warm recorded sound on all of the core rock instruments, although a lot of the listening pleasure for me came from the overriding sense of narrative: textural music can be static, but Trans Auto Radio is anything but. This is a band that’s going places, hopefully in more than one sense of the term!

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