Friday, 29 October 2010

Cerberus Shoal - 'Chaiming the Knoblessone' (North East Indie)

Here we take a step from the realm of post-rock into the outer spheres of whatthefuck. Chaming the Knoblessone is 7 tracks in almost 80 minutes, in two suites of 3 songs with 'A Paranoid Home Companion' as the self-styled intermission. This is five years past Homb and we can hear that the band has clearly been immersed in Beefheart, the Residents, bad sci-fi and probably some primitive musics as well. The instrumentation isn't strikingly different - there's still a hi-fi studio rock basis to everything, though we get a bit more radios, static and electronics than before. Musically it's still largely centered around guitars, drums, and breathy-windy things (in which I include the accordion which drives 'Mrs. Shakespeare Torso'). The guitars are more trebly though; the voices escape the trappings of chanting by getting into weird, contorted/affected sillyness, and there's a huge prog construction to everything (these are long, long songs). Vocally, though, there's just way more of them - I'd guess all band members contribute voices, and there's a heavy emphasis on narration (particularly 'Companion' and 'Story #12 from the Invisible Mountain Archive'). The opening cut 'Apatrides' sets the tone, with Ralph/Residents-style vocal layers over the bending guitars and deconstructed rhythms. The flowing spiritual earth mother vibe almost seems like a joke here, and there's lots of elements of humour. 'Paranoid Home Companion' is certainly the obvious place to look for yuks, though I actually found it easiest to tune out this long conversation with an electronic/robotic voice (though I liked the gameshow-style interlocutor). 'Story #12' talks about assholes and poop, which definitely undercuts the feeling that Cerberus Shoal might take themselves too seriously, but the affect is just so hard to figure out. What are they trying to do? The only real comparison I can make is 'Billy the Mountain' by Zappa and the Mothers, though I don't know why I have to compare it to anything. 'Ouch: Sinti, Roma, Zigeuner; The Names of Gypsy' is based around a call and response 'Ouch!' thing, though it does build up into quite a maelstrom by the end. I guess 'The Names of Gypsy' is the second half, a minor key dirge that, along with 'Sole of Foot of Man', is the most traditional songwriting here (which looks ahead to Big Blood, Colleen Kinsella and Caleb Mulkerin's next band). 'Scaly Beast vs Toy Piano', the 12 minute closer, has lots of said piano which I really like, and then the same array of manic language insanity that starts to feel commonplace by this point in the disc. The toy sound is great though and by the end there's a real sense of everybody pulling apart from everybody else as it lumbers along that makes it one of the more rewarding moments on Chaiming (if you are able to tune out the voices). This is one example of a CD digipak really being a beautiful object in its own - though of course I would prefer Kinsella and Karl Greenwald's art in a large double LP format. There's a foldout poster with more words and watercolours (if you haven't had enough language after 80 minutes) and it's a lovely vision, even if it's mostly esoteric and unintelligible. The use of a nice recording studio ensures a thick sheen on every minute of these Cerberus Shoal records, which makes it all feel even more strange and artificial. (As if the robot voice isn't enough). It's funny how a predominantly acoustic-based artist (that accentuates their music with lots of small miniature instruments, a la Art Ensemble of Chicago) still manages to feel digital. Scott Colburn had a hand in this (and even played some guitar), so you get that level of professionalism, and no trace of raggedness. Some of the dynamic rushes are quite trance-inducing, even if they are buried behind a rock song (or a talking robot). I'm sure I could spend hours and hours digging into the ideas on here and probably find a well-constructed narrative about the dissolution of humanity, straight outta Phil K Dick. But this is Cerberus Shoal, a band who if I had to describe in one word it would be 'confounding' (sorry, you didn't get 'eclectic', guys and gals).

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