I forget it sometimes, but The Illegal Wiretaps are really one of Houston's most prolific acts. Their Bandcamp page has, no kidding, 79 different releases, and the brand-new Scintillating Scumbag is the third this year alone. Sure, most of them are short EPs, but even with just four songs or so per record that's still a catalog of more than 200 songs.
It's really time for us as a city to take a good hard look at this electronic nuttiness that's being peddled by Stephen Wyatt and Anthony June, who seems to have sat this album out. They really are our own version of the Legendary Pink Dots, and every time I recover from their last album and walk back into the insanity it's another life-altering experience.
Scumbag picks up fast, hard and harsh with the title track; as far as Illegal Wiretaps songs go, it's as close to typical as such an indescribable band's can be, but they really up the ante in the next song. "Jeering," while losing none of that crackling pain, brings out a more melodic, almost gothic vocal styling that calls to mind something like Gary Numan at his most soothing.
Yet, it's bitter pill of a track. It's constantly being beaten back and forth over the harsh criticisms of the world, and because of that I am dead certain that one day this song will be queued up in some suicide victim's iPod. It's uncomfortable to listen to. I mean, even more so than the Illegal Wiretaps usually are .
It's got a bass line like a mother's kiss, though. I'll give 'em that. It's like the alternative music I used to fall asleep to while watching 120 Minutes as a teenager.
From an artistic standpoint, my favorite song on the album is "How Tyrants Sleep." It reminds me of the weird backwards puzzles that made up P.L.X.T.X.'s last record, where you could only fully appreciate it by playing songs both forwards and backwards and you needed to hold up a mirror to the liner notes to really understand the story.
"Tyrants" is almost painful to listen to, and that's probably the point. It's a buzzing, insane tracks of weird praise and condemnation in an inhuman voice that slowly builds into an unbearable pulse of toneless, pressurized sound. If you could really capture the mindset of someone like Idi Amin in song form as they drop off into sleep, I imagine this is exactly how bloody terrifying that would be.
It's not a song, it's an installation art exhibit that lives inside your freakin' head.
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Honestly, Scumbag should have stopped there. The final track, "Childhood In a Day" is just more of the same and doesn't really capture the sense of nightmare that its predecessor was going for. There's only so much friction electronics you can take, and overdoing it only works when applied sparingly.
But that aside, for three songs it's an amazing round of discount brain surgery, and yet another great entry in the band's ridiculously huge repertoire.
Scintillating Scumbag is out now as a "pay what you like" download from the Illegal Wiretaps' Bandcamp.