id m theft able is the confounding nom de guerre of audio anarchist Skot Spear. You may have caught his long-running show on WMPG, “Rssd Uul Maang” (Tuesday nights from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.), and, having done so, erroneously concluded that the station’s signal was drowning in interference, so punched another pre-set button or popped in a Maroon 5 CD. If so, you missed yet another opportunity to experience something genuinely interesting.
Spear is a sound collage artist par excellence. His radio shows are bewildering, chaotic and, not infrequently, mind-blowing. He also performs live improvisations, most often at Strange Maine, the downtown Portland record shop where Spear may or may not still be employed (best to keep those details a mystery).
In keeping with his bizarrely creative/subversive approach to music, Spear released his new album, A [heart symbol] Named Spooky, on the dating website OKCupid. Fortunately for people in committed relationships, like me, you don’t have to have an OKCupid account to listen to it (just look up id m theft able’s public profile on the site, or swing by Strange Maine to grab the cassette version).
As an exercise in post-modernism, whereby the medium is intentionally a noticeable aspect of the message, this is genius. As an effort to get laid, it’s self-sabotage.
In an e-mail about the album, Spear referred to these tracks as “piano ballads.” There’s piano, yes, but balladry? Not by most definitions. “Blurring Knees,” a jaunty little number with just piano and vocals, probably comes closest to what most folks would consider a “song.” There’s singing, for example, and a chorus. But a piece like “Blue and Yellow and Different Blue,” the first cut, is more representative of Spear’s style. It’s a surreal eight-plus minutes of overlapping vocals delivered in moans and half-whispers and animal calls over some really quite lovely ivory-tickling.
Another favorite of mine is “Faded Sign.” Here the ivories aren’t being tickled so much as tickle-tortured, but Spear’s repetitive rant of a poem strikes me as an apt anthem for all those who bemoan Portland’s gentrification. Here’s just a taste of the lyrics:
“Faded sign. Sign on the brink of legibility. The business is long since closed. But the sign remains. And the people that drive by. And the people that walk by. Remember the time they went into that business. They remember several times they went into that business. And the people that drive by. And the people that walk by. Some of them have memories of being inside the now closed business. Faded sign. Faded sign. Time fades. Time fades. The sign that nobody bothered to replace or repaint or reprint. Fading to the brink of legibility. … And the people that walk by. And the people that drive by. Some of them have memories. Some of them have several memories … of times they went into the business. Times they went in there. Times they stood in there. Times they looked around. Times they bought something. Times they didn’t buy something. Times they saw someone do something weird. … Faded sign. Maybe they didn’t want to replace it. … Not everybody’s obsessed with replacing things. Not everybody’s obsessed with updating things. Not everybody’s obsessed with movin’ on. Not everybody’s obsessed with the new thing. … Some people are fine with the faded sign.”
Like a lot of performance art, one’s first impression that “anybody could do that” is false. There’s much more skill and intention behind this work than meets the ear. Much of the material is unsettlingly weird, like the rambling “My Clothes, They Never Fit Right,” on which Spear sounds like Rain Man on meth, or “A Bit of Trash, An Unspilled Flower,” which straddles the crazy-crooked line between silliness and pure terror. (Wanna really freak someone out this Halloween? Play that track at full volume.)
A [heart symbol] Named Spooky is not for the faint of heart or narrow of mind. It’s for adventurous listeners who can appreciate an artist’s attempt to use instruments, found sounds and his own voice to represent human feelings and realities in compelling new ways. Skot Spear is such an artist. What kind of listener are you?
— Chris Busby
For much, much more, visit kraag.org.