The Bent Moustache
Lamont and I were talking recently over the casual magic of Gmail Chat about our mutual like of the new Bright Eyes album and how glossy and rich it sounds and how it is easy to make a great sounding record now, that we have to look elsewhere for criteria of greatness. I always address this by saying I am into the Art, not the craft, but I must admit recently, my affinity for grainy hissy recordings is not as strong as it once was, and that I catch myself thinking things sound to thin rather than looking past that for what I considered the true qualities of art. Similarly, I used to be wrapped up in the authenticity of things, even though I was well aware of the head trip that line of thinking will buy you. Were I a casual listener, these concerns would be moot...'d lumber along to further renditions of the music I loved in high school, or worse, the exact same music I loved in high school and go on enjoying the rich panoply of life: pursuits like golf, or following the market perhaps. But no, my loins perpetually orient me toward the New Releases rack hoping something will scratch the itch, whether it is something completely new or some patchwork monstrosity out of the old doing the scratching.
The latest balm to my psoriatic art-lust is a little band from Holland called The Bent Moustache. I saw them recently when they opened for a resurrected Sebadoh, who I hoped would open the crypt on some enlightenment lying dormant since the early 90s. Before anyone took the stage, I asked my neighbor, "What hapless band has drawn the short straw opening for Sebadoh. Everyone here is intrinsically focused on the main act, more so than normal... When they replied, "Dunno.but I heard they are Dutch... my heart sank even further. I figured they would be awkward Euros that were caught in a place 10 years ahead/behind depending how you looked at it. Turns out I was right, but in the best way possible. The Bent Moustache bear more than a passing resemblance to the 80s/90s variant of The Fall - insouciant garage beats that went on forever, an odd dude barking absurdities at us, and an insistence that realigned my nervous system to work in step with them. I had a new Favorite New Band.
So much a favorite that I even bought the record so I can review it, which if you are privy to the beggar nature of Critics; this is high praise in and of itself. Forst has so far repaid me in full. Ajay Saggart, the singer/fuzz bassist comes off a little less unhinged on record but it works to the betterment of the material. The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall hasn't sounded so current until it was processed through Ajay and the band's filter. The opening track "Bubblebath" starts mid-stride, where they go through a list of celebrities asking the same set of interview questions: "Milton Freidman, Can we talk about democracy? Can we talk your diet? Can we talk about your affairs?" without waiting for answers. All this is over a tight lock punk/funk/garage groove that I'm shocked that Craig Scanlon, the Fall's guitarist during their golden years, had no hand in. It answers the ultimate question posed to Postmodernism - why bother? Because we must bother. We have to keep questioning. I don't know if you've noticed, Postmodernism will counter, but you humans don't seem to be all that interested in answers.
"Killa Dub" with its Scratch attack effects and whispering whine through it lets you know that they are on the same trail that The Fall follow, but its not until we arrive to "Cash 'n' Carry" where the similarities really come to a head, especially when he blurts out "...he three karaoke stooges.." at the turn. The 'Stache is a bit more musically dense than the Fall has been in recent years, but then so have most cell phones and braying dogs. The thing about this tune, and the spectacular "League of Mature Jazz Friends" that follows it that the similarities are not dull tribute fare, but a band working through its influences. Do we hate The Black Crowes because of the rehashed Led Zep in their salad? No, there are much more obvious reasons to hate them. So that conversely leaves me on the hunt for things to love about this band than sounding like The Fall.
I find it on "The Deadroom" a hazy loopy dopey shoegaze epic erupting from the trepanning hole of a mushroom casualty. It unfolds and unfolds some more continuously like the sea and Spacemen 3 but has their whip smart sense of musicality holding it together. Same with the sub-disco subversion of "Organ Fascination" and the maddening exotica fugue that is "Tigers are Milking"; they put space between the shout 'n' syncopation genius of "Texas" and "Death of the Dutch." All of it comes to a glorious head with the dark and delirious "Blowback Job in Detroit" where the band intones under blankets of fuzz around the unstoppable tide of a knucklehead drum machine. Its like they had taken all the big subversives: Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Clock DVA and The Fall, and made something new and vital out it. The album goes out on a sweet dub note with "On Leaving the World Tonight" indicating where they are going and features a single "Samme" that shows where the band has been. Which is nice of them, we westerners are suckers for a narrative. It is j rare to find a band that does anything in the confines of the narrative, that wears their influences proudly and resolutely.
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