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Dreaming With Demons
By Bill Ketzer

The Wasted
We Are Already in Hell (Hoex)

Steve Gaylord asked me to give this a spin, so I did. He signed the letter, “Have a nice day.” Now, who is he kidding? He doesn’t care if I have a nice day any more than if I got ass-raped by a clown car full of Promise Keepers. And I’m not having a nice day. My hard drive is dying and people owe me money. It’s all getting so very old. And as I told everyone on the Upstate Wasted board, I know as much about this music as I do about Pilates, except for that my old roommate used to bombard me with these kind of bands, call it what you want, and I used to want to slit my throat. But sometimes there’d come a compelling outfit, and I was glad to learn that the Wasted actually have a purpose.

The first thing you notice about the Wasted is Gaylord’s sharecropper-on-acid pipes, which quiver and resonate with a strange bravado. Unlike Complicated Shirt’s Drew Benton, who makes no attempt to hide his vitriol, Gaylord has a voice that is at once stilted and infectious. It has a similar effect on me as Neil Young did: I wanted to strangle the man with a knotted rope but I soon became strangely comforted by its scathing awkwardness. There is none of the hair-splitting godliness that seems so prevalent in musical work about hatred, fear and incurable torpor. I like the idea that, even if “Bedwetter” might be a cry for help more than anything else, at least it’s not a thinly veiled one. You keep guessing. Gaylord is a great writer, the lyrics pustulant and mean, an asshole let out of the asylum. And this is as it should be, because what do people expect from a series of case studies on the most stupid and deadly mammal on the planet? But what is more interesting is his ability to transform the scathing, narcissistic tone of his prose into something less accusatory, into something ghostly. Somehow. It comes off sounding disaffected yet strangely celebratory, rather than jaded and ignorant. In fact, from the haunting, disparaging chorus of “We Are Already in Hell” to the slurred murmurs of “Myth of Creation” (“Melt through the surrrrrrrrrrrrface of the earrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrth,” he sings) the stripped-out guitars and the panic-stricken vocal harmonies give his delivery a quixotic kind of beauty and a guttural sheen at the same time. It’s not wholly inspiring for me personally, but at least the Wasted aren’t whiners. And it sounds good played really, really loud.

The CD really picks up at the end, the pounding “St. Peter” and “Ass End of the Earth” receiving the maximum benefit of this clean, well-engineered effort. It leaves a brinish taste in the mouth, like when your wife finds your porn stash and leaves you in the basement to drink Piels and sleep on your weight bench. A nice, thick layer of bass bathes you in the simple backbeats, and logistically, the package is immaculate. People who like this kind of music will eat it up and wash it down with hard liquor. However. There is a danger in this type of music for me that I both love and hate. It’s like trying hard to sleep and it keeps waking you up, like a Chinese torture, but sometimes you look forward to the hallucinations it produces. At its weakest points, it can grate along, derivative, with an almost trivial aftertaste. It’s the same reason why I can’t listen to Guided by Voices for more than 20 minutes, but always seem to spin Alien Lanes once in a while. I would never seek out this kind of thing, but it definitely has merit for what it is. I personally wouldn’t buy it. But I might buy the T-shirt.

Various Artists

Cool Jazz: The Cocktail Hour (Evidence)

When I see a compilation with a title including the word “Cocktail” and a photo of a toothpick-skewered olive, I generally turn away. The “cocktail music” scene of the ’90s was, for the most part, a thin ploy that sought to place contemporary foreground listening value on music that was created several decades earlier as a background mood enhancer. This compilation from the Philadelphia jazz label Evidence has all the earmarks of a marketing cash-in. However, it has managed to endear itself to me. First, its being so late out of the gate for the cocktail craze is oddly charming. Whether accidental or not, its being so out of step is actually refreshing. Like other label collections, it seeks to unify otherwise disparate selections from their catalog under a single thematic banner. Beyond the track listings, no information is provided on the artists. The package design features photos of 21st-century 30-somethings situated around a restaurant booth, chatting and imbibing. The cover photo has three women seated with a man standing alongside. The cast appears again on the photo under the disc. This time the man is seated on the left bench, and there’s a second man, but he’s all the way on the inside of the right bench, meaning the women had to have vacated at some point. Also, while the cover photo has them all with martini glasses, they now have the glasses and a pair of chrome shakers on the table.

All right, I’ll get to the real reason why this CD intrigues me. Five of the 13 tracks are by Sun Ra with his various Arkestras. (Evidence was behind the vital Sun Ra reissues that appeared over several years a decade back). Playing like some easy-entry jazz program on NPR, the disc sparkles when these numbers appear, full of layered subtleties. For the novice (such as the young people on the cover), they’re Ra at his friendliest, with his potent soloists at their most gentle.

—David Greenberger

 

The Black Dahlia Murder

Unhallowed (Metal Blade)

Fantastic. Absolutely brutal death metal from Detroit in the Swedish melodic vein. These guys look like car mechanics and play like rogue blood fiends. If you like Dark Tranquility or At the Gates, you’ll devour this disc. Granted, Unhallowed doesn’t deviate much from the standard formulas (aggressively laying down a breakneck 2/4 drumbeat over a slower, 3/4 song structure, for example), but the attack is ferocious and scathing and derives its power from some strange magic, from some unspoken “other inside” that business majors just don’t have. I tend to speak in metaphors of warfare when attempting to describe such a force, but this is actually more preternatural, more implied, a foreign malady compressed into a weird bloody cube and unleashed at inconceivable speeds upon release. I put this thing on my home theater system and my dog shit right on the living room floor. No lie. I can’t even believe human beings write this stuff, much less actually perform it with any degree of grace. The whole damn thing—well-produced and flawlessly executed—is impregnated with a fearsome malignancy that is difficult to fake. This is the stuff that sends the suckerfish swirling down the pipe.

Drummer Cory Grady is impossible here, his blast beats an unholy spray of fists and gristle (I was crushed to learn that he was recently fired from the band) through the foreboding “Elder Misanthropy” and a pestilent “Thy Horror Cosmic.” Not to be outdone, BDM’s infectious double-ax harmonies invoke images of diseased fancy, of tall castle gables lit ablaze, of plague-era aftermaths, of all sorts of awful things washed ashore in the predawn. Vocalist Trevor Strnad is as versatile as he is unwashed, implementing dank growls, black-metal gore shrieks and spittle
from the crypts, emitting stream-of-
consciousness lore in a way that would certainly please the dead but dreaming Cthulhu. Like his master, Strnad hits the mic during “Funeral Thirst” (and every track, really) as if he would displace humanity forever if appropriately summoned to do so. Trust me, these guys are spooky. But like the unsolved murder that gave birth to the band’s namesake, the most interesting part isn’t necessarily in the overt act—it’s in the evolution that follows.

—Bill Ketzer


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