Analog Adventures: Lance the Proverbial Boil

I get a lot of random records, tapes, and books in the mail, because publicists forget that outlets for which I used to work aren’t around anymore, or someone finds the address hidden on my website, or… whatever. This is a way to keep them from piling up uselessly in the corner of the office.

Lucid Child’s My Universe is a heady swirl of Krautrock and psychedelia. The music of the West Coast outfit is intensely, almost eccentrically groovy. The opening has a frighteningly heavy low end, fairly vibrating my upstairs office, even with the volume turned down. When “Lucy Chill” kicks in, that bass keeps rolling, and a sinister vocal turn and snarling guitar take over the lead. It’s as if Geza X & The Mommymen went hardcore after listening to a stack of Death Grips albums, taking a healthy dose of mescaline along the way.

The music throughout My Universe is darkly vicious, but with an underlying groove. The sounds are the analog equivalent of the electronic sounds of the late ’90s, Aphex Twin or the Future Sound of London done with guitars. It’s like the title of that 2002 Flaming Lips compilation, Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid, was a prophetic statement.

“I love you all. Have a nice trip.” – the opening words to “Bones,” the song which kicks of My Universe‘s second side – is about the only unique thing to the album’s packaging. It commits the cardinal sin using the same banal, sans serif font for every piece of text on the album, both on the front and rear of the album jacket, as well as on the center labels. It’s almost as if the band’s frontman, Jonah Moon Gallon (a name I only know from his publicist’s electronic press kit) wants the music to stand on its own.

The music does stand on its own, but if it weren’t for the fact that the cover artwork of the yawning cosmic chasm fits the music so well, this would be one of those self-released projects sunken by a stunningly cavalier attitude toward the physical product. For those willing to overlook the lackadaisical approach to the packaging and not judge an book by its cover, within lies musical treasure.

How dope is it that we’ve recently received not one, but two albums which are accompanied by print material? Eamon Ra’s vinyl LP for Meat Bones Chemicals Electricity comes with a comic book, illustrated by the musician, to showcase the album’s lyrics, while Helen America’s Red Sun has the compact disc in the back of a book of lyrics, laden with illustrations for each song. It’s a fantastic concept, which really demonstrates just how clever and far-reaching the talents of these musicians are.

Helen America’s Red Sun has illustrations which I initially thought resembled needlepoint embroidery, as even the background of the images shows the weft and the weave of cloth. It turns out these are actually beyond intricate embroideries, which might explain part of the reason as to why this project took three years to complete.

The intricacy of the embroidery is pretty apt, given the musician’s equally dense lyrics. The book, “[m]easuring a metaphysically significant 11×11″ square,” is packed with the lyrics to Red Sun‘s 11 songs, and many of them, such as opening track, “Thelxiepeia,” or “We Are All Mice,” have the lyrical density of ancient folk ballads, the likes of which isn’t often seen outside of the Decemberists’ “Mariner’s Revenge Song” or Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

These lines from “Three Mice” offer some insight into Helen America’s literary style, replete with clever wordplay and vivid imagery:

“And the crocodile is preening
For his warty claws are sheening
Though the warm-furred cubs are keening
For some meat with prostrate meaning”

There are also shorter, brighter cuts like “Dynamite” and “Aracadia,” as well as the the rather bracing “Dissect,” so it’s not all Rennaissance balladry or dirge-styled instrumentation. It’s rather a brilliant project, and the sort of music which is perfectly-suited for a book such as this. Red Sun‘s just as much poetry as it is music, making Helen America’s album as much a joy to read as it is to hear.

Eamon Ra’s Meat Bones Chemicals Electricity is almost the complete opposite, but no less fascinating. The album’s less stylistically dark, opting instead for the sounds of the British invasion and ’70s power pop to convey the musician’s work.

It’s a lot of big, chiming guitars and simple-yet-insightful lyrics. It’s the perfect meeting point of the Kinks and Big Star, with songs that celebrate friendship and uplift misfits. Meat Bones Chemicals Electricity is the sort of record which provides a whole lot of uplift at the end of a really shitty day or week, and the artwork in accompanying comic is also kind of whimsical and fun. There are talking animals, and they’re giving pep talks, and I think I might be a little more emotionally-invested in this record than I initially thought.

Like, the songs are really well-crafted, and I could listen to this LP on repeat, but reading the lyrics while looking at a picture of a really positive doggo telling me we’re “staying together forever ’cause we’re a family” (“Future History”) or an alligator with a guitar talking about how much he appreciates what everyone does (“Such Good Friends”), is the closest I’m ever going to get to a self-help book.

Our last album is a cassette I won in a Facebook contest. Lawrence musician Danny Pound has been steadily adding lost and/or forgotten music from his past musical projects to Bandcamp, and one of those was the The Regrets’ album, New Directions: Results Beat Boasts, originally released on Crank! Records in 1997. A few months after it hit Bandcamp, the album saw a cassette release on the Sludge People label in October of last year.

So, now I have a copy that Danny left for me at the day job and a coworker stuck in my locker, and it’s fucking great. There are certain genres of music well-suited for the cassette format – old-school punk rock, ’80s hip hop, and ’90s indie rock – due to the fact that they’re already recorded pretty lo-fi in the first place, meaning the inevitable loss of fidelity as the cassette degrades won’t detract from the inherent music contained within.

New Directions: Results Beat Boasts contains shades of everything that made college radio’s heyday great: R.E.M.’s jangle-pop, the angular lyricism and funkiness of the Embarrassment and Mission of Burma, and the slight love of classic rock rhythms from early Pavement. It’s like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket of “Oh, I forgot how much I fucking loved this stuff.” The Regrets made music that made you want to bounce up and down on the balls of your feet, shaking your shaggy hair, while trying not to spill beer on your Chuck Taylors. I really wish my shitty car was old enough to still have a tape deck in it, because then I could pretend I was a sophomore in college for New Directions: Results Beat Boasts‘ runtime.

The cassette takes the cover art from the original Crank! LP and wraps it around, and shrinks the lyric sheet down to teeny tiny print, in order to fit it into the space allotted. It’s still legible, though, and lord knows, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time trying to parse smaller – and handwritten! – fonts for less-deserving words. There’s also a download card. It’s limited to 50 copies, so snag one while you can.

 

Nick Spacek
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