With Mercury in Retrograde, the Whole World's Gone Inane
OH, THE INANITY! What with Mercury in retrograde most of the year, every year, and the byzantine convolutedness of modern Windows software, it’s small wonder that almost no one includes lyric sheets anymore.
What with Mercury in retrograde most of the year, every year, and the byzantine convolutedness of modern Windows software, it’s small wonder that almost no one includes lyric sheets anymore.
Damon Edge "Alliance" lyric sheet
Photo by Tex Kerschen
Which is a shame, ’cause a well-laid-out lyric sheet is the fancy mustard on the sandwich of a good music edition. In a recent write-up about Distant Worker’s forthcoming Animal Data record, I had cause to use two unfortunate phrases with regard to the language they attach to their music. The first phrase was "agitprop," and it won’t happen again. I was being lazy as I attempted to summarize Distant Worker’s loose, ever-expanding narrative tableaux involving wage slaves in Dubai (and other baron states), JFK’s fascination with orthographic poetry, the struggle for encryption at home, and, last, the old joke that goes: “Why has there never been a coup d’etat in the USA? Because there’s no American embassy there.”
The second unfortunate phrase that I used describing their lyrics was "inspired inanities," but I’m sticking with it for now. For example, in the Distant Worker track "Pornovenise," over a running bass line in the spirit of Jah Wobble, an echoplexed sample of an up-stroked reggae rhythm track, and some spectral guitar shapes, Mr. Kimball yells, “Is It clear whether you love rock and roll.” And I don’t think he cares about that at all. Not for a minute. I grew up in a world of Rod McKuen poetry and Dead Kennedys songs, where meaning was first in the order of music, and I, a reformed literalist, was raised to sniff around for it. I spent a good long part of my teen years hunting for the place where “The Freaks Come Out at Night” as Whodini had promised. And I’ve come to distrust language, recently and savagely.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
Illustration by John Tenniel (public domain)
Allow me to digress further. There was an artist and writer who used to edit the local online arts journal here. He knew his local art history, he was often insightful, or at least clever, and he had a pretty singular way of thinking about his subject. But he wrote with such a disorienting, Humpty-Dumpty-like syntax that every errant observation seemed barbed, and every compliment back-handed. In the interest of avoiding that kind of confusion, let me say that I’d characterize the words accompanying the best kind of music as inspired inanity. The words accompanying this kind of music don’t need to be lyrical. In fact, they strive to be as dunderheaded as needed. The best of sense comes wrapped in throwaways, dead ends, encrypted codes. There may be reason for it.
“Tutti Frutti, good booty
If it don't fit, don't force it
You can grease it, make it easy.”
The literary critic Terry Eagleton begins one of his books telling a joke about an Irish contestant on a British game show, presumably during the Troubles. When the contestant fails to answer three incredibly easy questions about Irish life, the host is dumbfounded. Meanwhile, a lone voice in the audience shouts out, “That’s right, Mick, tell the bastards nothing!”
Maybe that’s the role of language in music made for and by people on the run from a sleazy, Puritanical control state. Sex, drugs and everything else are still subjects of interest to the intel community. If you don’t have something to hide, you’re not doing it right. So, keep your ends loose, let the Freudians dangle where they may. Little Richard got it. Slim Thug gets it. Hopefully, the feds don’t.
This week brings a lot of opportunities to see relevant music, which is to say, a lot of people pressing play, whispering, side-stepping, growling like dogs, and otherwise being fairly modern.
Hive Mind, with Oil Thief, Domokos + Gerritt, Spit Mask, Peiiste.
Notsuoh, January 29.
"Noise" is not the most apt description for this kind of sound, much of which hangs pretty close to Cabaret Voltaire and SPK. Just the same, this show features heavy-hitters from the noise world, some touring, some homegrown, each responsible for its own kinds of dense, physically overwhelming and rhythmic clatters.
Hive Mind is Greh Holger, a not-so-recent transplant to L.A. from Detroit, who also runs the prolific Chondritic Sound label, which also features tourmates Oil Thief.
Domokos + Gerritt is a new pairing of noise boys and their tech tools. Domokos is well-known as the head Leo in the Future Blondes band and the Fantasy 1 label, assistant maimer in Rusted Shut, and part-time life coach.
Gerritt Wittmer is the charming captain of the long-running Misanthropic Agenda label, member of Names, self-titled mesmerist and one-time co-terrifier in Deathroes, which until recently was the only band I’d ever seen throw somebody into a full epileptic convulsion.
Spit Mask is a new industrial group featuring former heavy rockers.
Peiiste is one of the many sound projects from Joseph Gates, a transplant to Houston from New Orleans who boasts nearly as many heteronyms as the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.
This Saturday is likewise crammed with action.
B L A C K I E, with Buoyant Spirit, CJ Boyd
Satellite, January 30
Though the days since B L A C K I E came across like a rap-game Black Flag have slipped into distant memory, the artist more than ever testifies to the ever-changing power of the tao, tapping into alternate realities in which Alice Coltrane and Graham Central Station really took off in a hardcore way.
DEFUNKT with P.L.X.T.X, Pfaffenberg, Daed, Cobeaux, Acid Jeep, Cyclea, Sandy Ewen, Silent Strangers, Nina Marinick, AH Badawi.
Alley Kat, January 30
Not so much a night for dancing to techno or romancing to techno, as a night to be devoured by techno werewolves.
They Who Sound with Swinging Chandeliers, Illicit Relationship
AvantGarden, February 1
Tape use, tape abuse and sampler misuse may factor heavily on this double bill with Swinging Chandeliers (Joseph Hammer, a mainstay of the LA Free Music Society) and Illicit Relationship.
RIP Brett Smiley
Onetime ingenue, Andrew Loog Oldham protégé and louche angel Brett Smiley zoomed in close to a place at the crest of glitter rock, brought some real beauty into the world, lived on the wrong side of glamour and died in the shadow of David Bowie. Rest in peace, Space Ace.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.