The Black-Eyed Snakes
(Chair Kickers Music)
Unpredictability in rock music grows more valuable by the day. Pay a grain of attention and you'll have the next three years of trends mapped out with no effort. The Black-Eyed Snakes were first unpredictable due to association. Low's Alan Sparhawk is the ringleader, and sound unheard, they were assumed to be yet another underground blues appropriation. Can't say anyone really saw that coming, but the notion sunk in pretty quick --another Fat Possum-style venture (the kind made by white guys).
Except that it wasn't. Instead, the band sounded moderately insane, unhinged, and for the only use of the term in this review, very raw. And the sonic credentials backed up some tongue-in-cheek monikers. The band members' nom de blooze are as follows: "Big House" Bob Olson, "Smokin'" Brad Nelson, Justin "The Doctor" Sparhawk, "Chicken-Bone" George (aka Alan Sparhawk), and every single extraneous person credited in the liner notes to Rise Up! also has a facetious blues nickname. Oh, and there's a song on Rise Up! called "Cornbread." The Black-Eyed Snakes' Web site even has a "Blues Name Generator." Mine was "Big Daddy Family Values." Now that's funny.
Some people probably find this type of thing sacrilegious. Some people need to find a sense of humor. The tiny sub-genre that the Black-Eyed Snakes toil in is teeming with those who take themselves WAY too seriously, so the gentle poking is refreshing to say the least. Conversely, Rise Up! is strictly business when it gets down to the rocking. It's best thought of as early White Stripes or Flat Duo Jets times eight, with double drummers and a habit of dipping into the '80s noise scene, precisely that of mid-period, murder-obsessed Sonic Youth (Bad Moon Rising) and early Swans (their "Red Sheet" is covered on Rise Up!).
A lot of bands would like to think that they sound "in the red," but Rise Up! is the genuine article, alongside primal envelope-pushers like the Cheater Slicks, Pussy Galore, Comets on Fire, and our very own Oblivians. Live, they command the attention of the entire room while sitting down. Two drummers, two guitarists, and what looks like a "gather 'round buddy" jam but sounds like the end of the world -- in a splendid fashion of course. The Black-Eyed Snakes were hands-down the best band seen by this writer in 2002. --Andrew Earles
The Black-Eyed Snakes play the Hi-Tone CaÇ Wednesday, October 1st, with Kid Dakota.
The Black Lips
According to the Black Lips bio on the Bomp! Web site, which I quote verbatim, "This foursome fearsome seek to unleash upon an unsusecting world made insipid by boy bands, so-called R&B, and MTV gone bad." Yawn. The real question is this: What are they unleashing, besides poor grammar, upon a world made insipid by dime-a-dozen garage-rock bands? The answer is in the live show.
If there was ever an un-jumpable chasm between live show and studio recording, this band personifies it. It'll be said until ears shrivel that rock-and-roll, at its core, is supposed to be dangerous, unpredictable, antagonistic, and sloppy. The Black Lips listened and made good with a rock show that could fall apart and at any second come running at the crowd covered in vomit. The album is so-so. The lead single, "I've Got a Knife," is close to great in a whiny, back-alley, pumped-up Dead Milkmen kinda way, and the rest is a notch down from that high. Moreover, the band just paid attention to the "sloppy" part of the rock rules for Black Lips!, stayed true to the late-'70s sound of their label, and saved the chaotic abandon for more intimate situations: It might rock, it might be performance art, it might be horrifying, it might be stupid, but it won't be boring. -- AE
The Black Lips play the Hi-Tone CafÇ Monday, September 29th, with the Little Killers and the Oscars.
The Mars Volta
There's a point where heavy metal, punk, and prog meet, and At the Drive-In was able to balance there, tipping at will to one side or the other to pick up the best aspects of each genre. While listening to De-Loused in the Comatorium, the debut album from the Mars Volta, the band that rose from the ashes of At the Drive-In, I thought singer Cedric Zavalas' voice sounded familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. Geddy Lee? Sebastian Bach? Then it hit me. Gary Cherone, the guy from Extreme. (I had to look up his name -- turns out he was in Van Halen for a short time in the '90s.) It was then I knew that the Mars Volta had fallen off of this balancing point into some kind of prog-rock pit that might possibly be their own collective ass.
De-Loused is a concept album inspired by the 1996 suicide of Julio Venegas, an artist from the band's native El Paso who I'm sure was a lovely person and probably doesn't deserve to be remembered with a 21st-century rehashing of Rush's interminable 2112. What lyrics like "Exoskeletal judging at the railroad tonight" have to do with Mr. Venegas presumably only credited songwriter Omar Rodriguez-Lopez knows, although I'm sure tons of former At the Drive-In fans will order the promised lyric book (unavailable from the label's Web site at press time) and try to figure it out.
Perhaps Rodriguez-Lopez's intention after leaving At the Drive-In was to shake off the bonds of genre and make the music he always wanted to make. Instead, he may have given more credence to the theory that working in a band of equals can temper an artist's worst excesses, as evidenced by Paul McCartney's post-Beatles output. Sure, there are some cool moments on De-Loused, like the gurgling noise section of "Cicatriz ESP" that sounds like it was recorded in a vat of paraffin, but the listener must wade through a hookless, incoherent morass of pseudo-salsa beats and pretentious, wanking excess to get to them. Once the initial hype wears off, I wonder how many will think it's still worth the effort. --Chris McCoy