One balmy late Spring evening in Louisiana when I was out with my roommate, we hatched a plan that was to immediately be foiled by that which foils nearly every good-intentioned plan. He was in a band, and I was in a marriage and both were on extended hiatus at that juncture, and we bore the trappings of such. I was decked out in some sort of thrift store suit with my hair gelled up into an outrageous pompadour, my wedding ring rusting away on my finger and I think some mirrored round sunglasses. He was draped in a bowling shirt that had been hand made for his band, his thinning hair slicked back with Vitalis (we were exploring Hair Products for the Unfettered Bachelor then) and some Elvis shades he'd lifted from a fellow floater among the debris of life. We'd hit the same bars we always hit, slurred at the same people - all in all, dust in the wind blew right back into our faces and we knew we were stuck.
In the wreckage, we stumbled across the local Yo La Tengo-modeled band - cute couple augmented by a third member whose name no one can recall who delivered a mix of noisy bubblegum pop with a mix of clarity and fuzziness that no other band in town could achieve. They were clean-livers - didn't drink (it was hinted that she used to have a problem) and adorable vegetarians so they figured they should invite us back to their charming ramshackle house they shared with some imaginary gay roommates who were never around, resulting in a place that was a well-decorated shambles. One thing that was well-known about my roommate is that if he had reached the needed level of intoxication, he would commandeer the stereo and you were in for a night of whatever rockabilly you had your collection. It must be said he had particularly good insight in this, but I lived with the guy and his rockabilly band, so I got enough sturm und twang on a daily basis. I pleaded to Him of the cute couple, "put on something good, please" so he pushed past his usual shyness that crippled him among us gregarious types and dropped King Kong's absurdist classic Funny Farm and their lurchin' sub-b-52's buffoonery set the tilt-o-whirl in motion.
I was ready for something to happen, given I was in new surroundings, soundtracked by this gloriously stupid music I'd never heard before, and people were dancing on furniture, maybe even silly string got involved. With our drunken scurvy pirate eyes, we observed that She of the couple was completely hot, and was exhibiting a palpable flirtatiousness. Once they had come to our house, and as I was giving her a tour of the upstairs she paused, and I picked up on a look that said go for it. I chalked it up to the fact that I perceived that look from every woman I met, and thought nothing of it. But considering that later She left Him for the other guy in cold calulating order, maybe I mised out on an even better story. So, anyway she was trampolining around to the doofus bass lines of King King when Roommate summoned me out to the patio.
"Let's move to Austin, man." he said in a rare reflective moment. "Like right now. Let's go home pack up our shit, head out and quit our jobs tomorrow from a payphone in Beaumont. Let's do it. C'mon." Now, on any other night of this desperate season, I'd had taken him up on it. But a hot girl was jumping around on the couch and the crickets outside were deafening in their turgid swell, and frankly, it was hard to take a drunken man with The Wet Look and cartoon Foster Grants seriously. I suggested we go finish off the beer we'd brought and trotted back in, just in time to witness She in the dining room shouting to us "Hey guys, check this out" and cutting a cartwheel that sent her vintage dress flying well over her head and reavled that she was not wearing underwear. I was trying to remember if it was a handstand, but upon reflection, it was one of those moments like when you stare at a ceiling fan and for a brief moment, catch one blade floating in timelessness. Him was off in the kitchen, the other guy was upstairs on the drumkit, so this was a conscious pussy postcard from the infinite, directed solely to us, that said things are good right where you are, all while King Kong were shrugging and frugging their theme song. Needless to say, we did not move to Austin, and while we had no further investigations on whether the rug matched the drapes that evening, it was still a very memorable rock-n-roll moment thanks to a goofy Lexington , KY Slint-offshoot called King Kong.
All this came rushing back when I opened a package from Drag City and King Kong's recent opus Buncha Beans came tumbling out on my dining room table. It was as if memory's dress itself had been lifted in the tumble and the universe was coquettishly flashing its pelt at me. I wish I got this feeling from all the other CD's I receive. Buncha Beans commences with an amazingly catchy song about animals called "Bulldozers" followed by another song about animals, particularly about the zoo, and sex called "Freak Off You" which contains this gem of a couplet:
Don't be scared. I'm not stalker
I'm not a smooth talker
I'm a little bit awkward
I just want to levitate
Above your flaming pyre
In your sexy fire
in a voice that immediately recalls Calvin Johnston in Beat Happening's heyday but with the intelligence turned down and the subliminal foxiness cranked up. This is some of the most artfully crafted dumbass music since "Planet Claire."
We change gears form organ vamps to a more garagey song about animals and sex "Hungry Tiger." I was hoping for a whole record about animals and sex but the infectious disco romp "Bug Make", which is primarily about squashing a cockroach in a bathroom stall derails that. Or maybe this is about sex too. Ethan Buckler, the er, mastermind behind King Kong comes off as a pretty weird dude. I jest, in that the knuckleheadedness here is part of the persona. He creates some of the most perfect indie pop available belying the fecklessness that at first clouds the song-writing. It seems we are in the midst of an indie rock artist that is engaged in creating fun music.
Take "Monkey Business" - it has all the swagger of a VU drug vamp with a feral scream in the middle "something smells fishy around here...AND I DON'T LIKE IT!!!!" and it totally works. Most indie garage sounds like unfinished mannered excerpts of something else, where as King Kong, much like Kid Congo Powers and The Make-Up, sounds both unique and complete. "Orange Ocean" is another frug-worthy goofus guitar and keyboard vamp which has some sly touches that remind you that the creator was once the bassist for post-rock pioneers Slint. Same for the final number "Ride the Funky Mule" which replaces the simple instrumentation across most of the record with a funky brass band, supporting Buckley hee-hawing and saying things like "I want to eat a straw hat" or "I need some hay...like a funky mule." The shit is absurd and I like it, possibly for no greater reason than I am dumbfounded when trying to adequately describe it. Buncha Beans is the first record I've heard in about two years that made me want to throw a party just so I could put this on and watch the mayhem ensue. Am I expecting the girlfriends of the local rock cogniscenti to immediately break into tumbles, displaying their wares for my amusement? Sure. In troubled times like these, we could use a little stupid playful nudity to lighten things up.
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
Memories are Now, is a bold and inventive collection from Jesca Hoop who says each new record begins with a musical identity crisis