I Don’t Want No More of this Harmful Life

Tuesday night my copy of Andrew Weatherall’s A Pox on the Pioneers arrived par avion from the UK.  Needless to say, I have been listening to nothing save for this record for about 72 hours.

A Pox on the Pioneers | Andrew Weatherall

Released September the 14 on Weatherall and his Two Lone Swordsmen partner Keith Tenniswood’s Rotters Golf Club label, A Pox on the Pioneers is in an unexpected mode of continuity from 2007’s The Bullet Catcher’s Apprentice, the EP that marked Weatherall’s first self-credited record.

Where The Bullet Catcher’s Apprentice sounds like a From the Double Gone Chapel era Two Lone Swordsmen record made with Giorgio Moroder standing over the engineer’s shoulder, an almost industrial lurch coupled with plastic four-on-the-floor disco bass, beats and the occasional Gaynor-esque female vocal solo, A Pox on the Pioneers adds a T. Rex shuffle and boogie-woogie lightness to the still heavily effected and echoing atmosphere and vox.  The dirty guitars swimming in the reverb’s bright murk suddenly come to have something in common with garage rock; there’s a little Marc Bolan swagger thrown in, alleviating a little of the old dread.  The guitars sometimes stand out ahead of the engineering and the electronic programming on some songs to where suddenly you wonder, ‘am I listening to a rock record?’

And that is the trait, carried through from the Two Lone Swordsmen into Weatherall’s solo records, that has set Weatherall’s music apart.  It truly is, as the Gracenote track naming service informed me when it fetched the CD track names and info upon the disc’s insertion into my computer, unclassifiable.

Weatherall is one of the only musicians working today consistently making music that I can really get into.  Ever since hearing 2004’s Two Lone Swordsmen record From the Double Gone Chapel, I’ve been on the lookout for more of that darkly reverbed, lurching disco sound they did so well there and on the subsequent Big Silver Shining Motor of Sin EP.  Hearing their cover of Gun Club’s “Sex Beat” still evokes paroxysmic dithyrambs to issue from between these lips and a conspicuous tapping to issue between the bottom of my shoes and the subway car floor.

Here is the Gun Club’s original version of that sleek and perfect tune, evoking all the flashing glitter of first walking into a party, a gone glimmering kind of time when all the best people are assembled before hangover and disappointment set in, an instant where youth might deceive you into thinking anything can happen:

The Gun Club in 1982
The Gun Club in 1982

Below is the noisy and disaffected 2004 update, a too-cool take whose energy is more mechanical than animal, a story of a party that goes on without inhibitions more out of fidelity to the laws of inertia than a genuine enthusiasm drawn up from the well of ignorance of what comes next.  Even icier than this is the remix they did on Big Shining Silver Motor of Sin.

The bright tone that has snuck into Weatherall’s new record finds its culmination with the outstanding closing track, “Walk of Shame”.  With its immediate, punching, absolutely huge drums seemingly engineered under the influence of Sparks’ “Tryouts for the Human Race”, the opening synthesizer arpeggio that carries on throughout, and the loping, sleazy low end octave modulation of the synthetic disco bassline always hanging one easy instant behind the beat, the record finishes amid Another Green World-era Eno guitar feedback and the sense that, as the narrator of the song has made up his mind to turn his back on the lifestyle that has stunted him, the listener has been gifted an honest piece of art and a real glimpse at hope.

Henry Miller wrote in his essay “My Life as an Echo”:

It was only when I got to France, where I came to grips with myself, that I realized that I alone was responsible for all the misfortunes which had befallen me.  The day that truth danwed on me- and it came like a flash- the burden fo guilt and suffering fell away.  What a tremendous relief it was to cease blaming society, or my parents, or my country.  “Guilty, Your Honor!  Guilty, Your Majesty!  Guilty on all points!” I could exclaim.  And feel good about it.

So a smile crawls across my face when I hear the song’s lines: “I don’t want to take the walk of shame/I have got to go home/I have only got myself to blame/I have got to go home.”

I nod my head, and I take a moment and breathe, vicariously, the scent of a little humanity unshackling.

 

My Music Picks for ’07

There is so much music out there in so many different genres with such an endless array of clandestine channels of distribution now. It’s distracting, and it can lead to the impression that it’s all sort of being averaged into this high-speed slurry of mediocrity. Music is folk again- the players are more ubiquitous, but the Shakespeares are still just as few. In the midst of all that music coming out that’s demanding an equal amount of your diminishing time and attention (that amount is 100%, if you weren’t aware) there are still gems. That said, this was still a weird year for music.

Forgive my imperfection- I am only human, and I can only develop a relationship with so many recordings in a year. In no particular order, the records I liked the most this year are:

Private Lives – Private Life (can still be bought as part of the Soul Jazz Records singles compilation.)

The machine cries for the loss of its diginity and humanity, and we get to dance to it.

Shellac


“Excellent Italian Greyhound” (Shellac)

Rock music consisting of only a few moving parts. Please watch your fingers.

Black Devil Disco Club


“28 After” (Black Devil Disco Club)

Spooky, nostalgic, and messy.

Radiohead


“In Rainbows” (Radiohead)

A driving disquiet.

The National


“Boxer” (The National)

A quieting angst.

LCD Soundsystem


“Sound of Silver” (LCD Soundsystem)

The kids seem to like it, but it’s still better than anything anyone else is doing.

Andrew Weatherall


“The Bullet Catcher’s Apprentice” (Andrew Weatherall)

Giorgio Moroder listening to Skinny Puppy.

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists


“Living with the Living” (Ted Leo and The Pharmacists)

Ted is a machine, a beautiful machine that only tells the truth.

Trans Am


“Sex Change” (Trans Am)

I think these guys riff in their sleep, like dogs run in theirs. There is no reason a band should be this good at playing their instruments.

Andrew Weatherall: The Bullet Catcher’s Apprentice


I was a huge fan of “From the Double Gone Chapel” by Two Lone Swordsmen with its filthy noir, reverb drowned distorted intensity. I loved the follow-up to Double Gone Chapel, the Big Silver Shining Motor of Sin EP, with its remix of their cover of Gun Club‘s “Sex Beat” and two new original tracks “Feast” and “Hollywood Shotguns”. They still reeked of unease and heavy reverb, but on that release pulled further in toward a clean and squelchy truer house sound. However, if you’ve heard either of the two Wrong Meeting releases by Two Lone Swordsmen, released this year on their own Rotters Golf Club label, you know that they’ve more or less committed to adapting their lurching, recorded in a culvert-pipe guitar electro sound to a live, Brit-rock bar-and-chart band format.

The to-date Two Lone Swordsmen sound, broken from with their new release, finds its continuation here, in Single Lone Swordsman Andrew Weatherall’s able DT’s-wracked knob-twitching fingers. It’s a further exploration of Bauhaus and Joy Division-pioneered gothic guitars and bass effected and plugged in to an enjoyably modulated version Giorgio Moroder’s four on the floor disco.

The obvious anchor track of The Bullet Catcher’s Apprentice is You Can’t Do Disco Without a Strat. It’s a great melding of Weatherall’s creaking, growling, echo-chambered menacing vocals, and his ability to layer sounds to create a true and truly fat synthetic disco track. The track is a nod to “From Here to Eternity”era breakthrough Moroder tracks like “Lost Angeles” and “First-Hand Experience in Second-Hand Love”, down to his use of spectrum-smearing harmonica vocoders and disco queen-sweet songbird choruses. It’s a nod to a master that makes itself more than equal to the task. More than that, the synthetic discotheque bassline he reverts to for the chorus walks nearly imperceptibly, fooling the expectations by not being a simple, automatic arpeggio, but one that dips and evolves at complicated intervals, deepening the feeling of depth in each of the tone-freaky patches and rhythms he relies on.

And let’s talk about that, shall we? Weatherall’s production JUMPS, not only because it is well compressed, is comprised of clean, undiminished signals, but also because the man knows how to put sounds together to bang out a bass drum that’s a hot chimera of real audio samples and recordings and low-end trunk rumbling bass computer Detroit-grandchild sequencer action. His basslines are heavily layered, giving a pleasing beefy depth, a depth that’s modulated, reverbed, effected at different layers at different time, never with one layer stepping on the spectrum of another. He has a mendicant’s devotion to sound, the know-how to make his ideas a reality, and a real talent for making dance music that somehow excludes the prick club-going, don’t-listen-to-the-music-anyway set. This isn’t bleeding edge, it’s compound fracture, bone poking through the skin, marrow spilling-edge.

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