Local Tracks on the Web
By David Pence
Here’s a brief, striking, druggy piece of work, a confounding mixture of the odd and the conventional. It swings slowly, the music’s simple and good, and the voices take you to the track’s peaks. Erik Moody’s lead vocal has a “maxed-out,” harassed quality that makes me want to decipher each word (though the lyrics — “the bag next to the… oh, I don’t care, enough’s enough!” — are satisfying in their obscurity). In the instrumental verse and closing chorus, warbling mock-operatic voices recall the vocal hijinks of Lindsey Buckingham in the notably off-the-wall moments of Tusk. Congratulations to the band for knowing they did not need a second vocal verse.
Mystery Lover: “Moodswing Fever” [MP3 unavailable] • myspace.com/mysterylovermusic
It’s Jeff Foran doing it all on this track — riffy guitars, processed with delay, that seem never to stop, continuing under, around and between the other sounds; bass and drums; fabulous harmony vocals that channel the sinewy psychedelia of, say, the Pretty Things or the Pink Faeries; and a lead vocal that may be mixed a tad too far forward. But why quibble? I like the solidness, the tough melodicism, the Celtic overtones, the brand of lyricism that stresses the plain over the fey, and those flicking, stretching, stabbing guitars that sound in the end like voices weaving in and out of the whole fabric with a pleasing degree of complication.
Listening to this track is not unlike spending a couple of disorienting, scary minutes in a derelict industrial district of Pittsburgh or Worcester. I like how Antiseptic’s sound seems designed to conceal as well as reveal details and meanings. The Iggy-ish moaning and effects on the vocal mic make lyrical allusions to Julie Andrews (“these are a few of my favorite things”) and nursery rhymes (“… the bucket back into the well”) seem subversive, even wicked. Indeed, the mix is weird, and the total effect is abrasive and difficult, the work of a band uninterested in prettying things up. Yet there is a nod to grace and lightness at the ends of verses, when all the players (on guitar and bass and drums) skitter forth briefly, crablike, note by note and beat by beat. It’s one of many interesting, anomalous elements in a fascinating track.
This song is ugly, contrary, delirious — and that’s the point. I’m struck by how little dissonance you need, really, to create music that sounds like a score for Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. R. Riley Chaisson plays a low C note on one keyboard and a high A-flat on another; uses a somewhat out-of-tune guitar to strum a regular chord progression that avoids both those notes; and sings in an atonal voice the words, “I’m now a carrier, a carrier, a carrier of disease.” Like Hooker or Hopkins, he blows by signposts — eight bars, 12 bars, 16! — that you think are going to help you navigate the song’s structure. Instead, you’re left to grope and rebalance yourself in what finally feels like a drony improvisation. The cheerful rhythm guitar (playing the occasional 7th chord) and drums proceed in delightful obliviousness to the nightmarish keys, vocals, and words.
The instrumentation is rural — acoustic guitars, fiddles, untreated voices; perhaps even a steel or National guitar? — and the subject matter is freedom: quitting your job, biking around, true relaxation. Interestingly, the song’s structure is driven by thematic content as much as by ideas about musical form. That is, the optimism and simplicity of the ideas in the first part are pinned to brisk, frothy, pungent music. The second section is slow and stretched out, informed as it is by a sense of doubt and colored by dimmer, more nuanced light — say, that of a dying summer afternoon. Smartly, Bangs has pushed the vocals way back behind the strings: you’ve got to get to the meaning of this sweet song.
David Pence is the host of Radio Junk Drawer, heard Wednesdays from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on community radio station WMPG (90.9 and 104.1 FM; wmpg.org).