Vol. 2, Issue #8 May 11th - May 24th, 2007

Tiger Beat From Hell
By: Wilhelm Murg

Shut Up and Review Some CDs!

Here are four interesting recent releases. Each has a character all it’s own, they all have zero chance for airplay, but you probably need to know about them anyway.

For starters, The Residents’ “Freak Show” (Mute Records) has just been given the expanded/deluxe edition treatment. The project has always been one of their most elaborate productions. It was first released as a CD in 1991, then it was followed by a graphic novel by Brian Bolland, published by Dark Horse Comics, in 1992, a CD-Rom “game” came out in 1994, and a stage production in Prague followed in 1995. The new the expanded double-disc set features an extended CD, by about 10 minutes, and a DVD featuring music videos by the late Jim Ludtke (whose death cause the plug to be pulled on a fully animated DVD) along with information on real “freak shows” throughout history, and a hardbound book/case featuring Bolland’s comics.

The irony is that “Freak Show” was never really a classic album, it became an on-going project that seemed to take on a life of it’s own. The classic status comes from the materiel being remarketed to such a point that every fan has been confronted by at least a part of it. The music seems to be midi programs, all inspired by circus themes, which accompany each member of the Freak Show as they sing about their lives. As the anonymous Residents only appear in public in grotesque disguise, usually with eyeballs for their heads, the concept of a freak show seems natural. Regardless of its statue and metamorphosis, “Freak Show” is an excellent and beautifully strange album, well worth buying in this limited edition.

A true son of The Residents, Ego Plum, has just released his long awaited album, “The Rat King” with his Ebola Music Orchestra. In my book Ego Plum is god. His early keyboard albums contained some of the most exotic sounding music ever created, where he mixed the cabaret circus music of Kurt Weil, with the cartoon jazz of Raymond Scott, the deconstructionist pop of Devo, and a healthy dose of the off-kilter harmonies and rhythms of The Residents into a whirling dervish moonlight dance. The dissonance and resolves of his music are always beautiful and often profound. Think of Tom Waits without all the pretension.

“The Rat King” (Ebola Music) has been promised for a long time; it’s Ego’s first recording with an orchestra, and it was worth the wait. Beautiful, dark, dreamlike waltzes and twitchy pogos blare through an air filled with images of fire dancers at nighttime carnivals taking place in abandoned buildings. One song that encompasses all of the above is “Funeral Dirge,” which sounds like a Dia De Los Muertos celebration scored by Danny Elfman. “Death of Cannibal Chimp” shows it’s roots in the guitar music of Frank Zappa and Snakefinger, with ska horns added just to make it that more confusing.

After listening to Ego’s music on keyboard, it’s nice to finally hear his complete concept with actual instrumentation. It’s already one of my favorite albums of the year. For samples visit ebolamusic.com

For sheer exotica the new band, The Grails, have just released a little masterpiece, “Burning of Impurities” (Temporary Residence Limited). I’m not even sure where to classify it; “Neo-Prog?” “Neo-Psychedelic?” “Jam Band?” “Alternative?” “Dark Wave?” “Neo-Spaghetti Western?” It’s more or less all of the above.

The album is guitar based, but not in the sense of Explosions in the Sky or Comets on Fire; this is a highly textured, stylized, and surreal sound with layers of echo, like pools in the bottom of a cave. The guitar at times takes on the sound of both a banjo and sitar, which give the CD a definite Middle Eastern feeling, but it is often interrupted for a slow-hand David Gilmore-inspired solo, which keeps it in the tradition of garage punk psychedelia. The result is like a hard rocking version of Dead Can Dance or Scott Johnson’s “Patty Hearst” soundtrack, only with a jam band’s sense of timing and structure. It’s also very reminiscent of the sacred dub of Bill Laswell’s “Hear No Evil” and his production on Material’s “Seven Souls,” where Ennio Morricone’s existential Western sound was perfectly blended with Eastern and avant-garde music simultaneously. This is what new age labels like “Music From the Hearts of Space” always shot at, but never achieved due to their adherence to mellowness.

“Origin-ing” is a perfect example of the album. What starts off like electronic whale songs deep in the ocean, builds to a gallop that explodes into a piece of psychedelic surf feedback. The Eastern street market ambience never lets you know whether the song is over or not, so the album seems more like a soundtrack. For samples visit their MySpace at myspace.com/grailsongs.

The Asylum Street Spankers will appear at VZD’s on Friday, June 8th. Their new album, “Mommy Says No!” (Yellow Dog Records) is a children’s record written for adults. In videos I’ve seen of the group they seem like The Capitol Steps, only with a biting edge to their satire.

I’ve never heard a contemporary children’s albums, so I’m probably missing part of the joke, but there are moments here where you don’t have to understand anything, just enough the music. A speed-bluegrass version of Nirvana’s “Silver” certainly grabs you by the throat, as does a beautiful cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Think About Your Troubles” from “The Point,” complete with musical saw. Of the originals, the standout tracks are the acoustic hardcore title track and the lovely “Sidekick,” told from the point of view of a child of two superheroes who wants to be their sidekick. Lead female singer Christina Marrs, who sing “Sidekick” and “Think About Your Troubles” has an enchanting voice that’s equally punk and soulful at same time.

That’s all for now, we’ll be back with some heavy concepts in the next issue.

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©2007 NONCO Media, L.L.C.