This Song Is a Mess But So Am I
Church Point, LA
I love it when the paradigms shift on me in music. For a medium that can consist now of any juxtaposition of sounds in any possible configuration, we are still for the most part married to a few forms (in fact, much fewer than in the supposedly staid days of classical music, where any bar band needed to be able to rock a mazurka as well as a waltz) and we tie certain emotional states to this music. A single person with a guitar has inherent integrity and is to be listened to, where as anyone with a synthesizer is creating catchy but disposable dance pop that only hitches onto your greater experience in an ironic way. But in this scrappy world of DIY punk/emo/category rock, the kids can poor their hearts through a sieve built of equal parts Human League and Hank Williams, bearing little resemblance to either. This open, even hostile, redefinition of forms is so refreshing to me, given that in my formative years you were tied to a silo, musically. I mean, the Beatsie Boys were real ground breakers back then. The most poignant is the new trend in synth driven, stark reality melodrama, formerly headed by the likes of Xiu Xiu and Destroyer, but they now must clear some room at center stage for Freddy Ruppert and his bare-naked project This Song Is a Mess But So Am I.
The occasion of the powerful document Church Point, LA is unfortunately the succumbing of Ruppert's mother to cancer, but Freddy channels his frustration, his rage, his remorse through his keyboard array, drum machine and distortion pedal into a white flame of raw power emotion. This whole thing, named for his home town, starts with a thud. "God and Cancer" sets the tempo meter to zero on his groovebox where queasy keyboard whistles, his strangled anguish and later swathes of white noise converge in an open wound. It reminds me of the arch bleakness of Joy Division's "I Remember Nothing" but somehow upping (or in this case "downing") the ante. Its some heavy stuff. "Bedridden and Dancing" which has a Merlin-gone-awry sound effects barrage strays closer to what we thing of as electronic music, leading into the mangled intro to the classic synth power track "Song for Donna Ruppert" where his chant of "Don't fail me this time, God" is being shot out into the cosmos hoping for a response.
Add into the mix that there are some more acoustic moments like the skeletal guitar bolstering a Geiger counter on "Happy New Year" and plunking plaintive and alien through "High Fives for Jamie" but its his unabashed keyboards and unchained voice that make this such a weirdly engaging document of suffering. I say weirdly, because the frittered nerves and convulsive mood swings on here feel like something you should not really be listening to, like you are eavesdropping on a man's very personal coping mechanism. But, from the enthusiastic and warm correspondence I had with Freddy preparing for this article, I can tell that he is coming at this from an open heart, one that thrives on contact and not harboring ones demons. In that sense, this is a truly harrowing and inspiring release, being able to push through the incomprehensibility of losing ones mother and making that experience a part of you now.
This is not all thrash and hiss, there are elegant somber numbers like the cello-like "A Heart for Amy" and the strings and answering machine essay of "X Classical Greg X" but the more exuberant pieces clearly steal the show. The stuttering echo chamber and piano banger "Regrets" is like a torch singer exploding right before your eyes, screaming "I should have spent more time at the hospital, just like God!" over and over is almost too much to take in. The final tracks varying in degree from heart wrenching acceptance to explosive rage don't prepare you for the final field recording "Rest" which consists solely of a (I believe) clandestine recording of the idle chatter around the grave site, the kids and the old folks coming to terms with the base reality of the situation with as much grace as possible, their Southern accents sounding like the people grew up around. ending with a snippet of church fair zydeco. Its a touching way to end this inevitable journey, one that I hope I can make with as solid a footing that Ruppert demonstrates.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com