Artist: Rats Live On No Evil Star (Bernd Jestram & John Edward Donald)
Title: Rats Live On No Evil Star
Label: Gusstaff, Poland
Details: CD/DL. 12 tracks, 40 minutes. Released 18/10/10
Rats Live On No Evil Star is a collaboration between Bernd Jestram of Tarwater and singer John Edward Donald aka Human Elephant. Donald has an appealing baritone that has echoes of Matt Berninger of the National, and a lyrical gift for absurdist philosophizing that reminds me of the late great Vic Chesnutt. Jestram’s musical pallet has a lot in common with Tarwater, unsurprisingly, but with a more stripped down and rough-edged feel to it.
These aren’t obvious songs, often sketched out in broad strokes, but there’s a wealth of inventiveness here and Donald draws you in to his strange world. There are plenty of highlights. Robert Johnson takes a recording of the bluesman’s Stop Breakin’ Down Blues and warps it into a weird tribal / industrial two minutes. BDI Circle the Number takes its lyrics from multiple choice depression questionnaires and bundles them into a stringball of contradictory statements. For the Time Being floats like a 67 Haight-Ashbury ballad. Indeed, there’s nothing on the record that lacks a kind of slightly off-centre charm. Definitely a grower.
Title: Cerebral Frontier
Label: Umor Rex, Mexico
Details: DL. 6 tracks, 27 minutes. Free download from www.umor-rex.org
One of the things I love about the Creative Commons scene is how all notions of national and cultural boundaries are rendered meaningless. So a lad from Belfast called Jason Mills aka Deadman can pop up on a Mexican netlabel and nobody considers it remotely unusual. Actually Lysergic Lasso, a heartfelt tribute to Ennio Morricone’s spag western soundtracks kinda fits with the image of deserts, cactuses and big-brimmed hats. OK, I’m not being serious before I get accused of lazy and insulting stereotyping.
One thing that Mills can’t be accused of is finding a sound and sticking to it. What the tracks do all have in common is that there is an acoustic guitar somewhere in the forefront (although on closer Murmuration I think it’s a mandolin), but it’s just one of a jumble of a number of instruments. Comparisons could be drawn with Beck, Calexico and even his fellow countryman David Holmes (for stylistic wanderlust). There’s also a sense that any of these tracks would be perfectly at home on a movie soundtrack.
Two songs have vocals. Mills’ slightly flat Ulster baritone isn’t his best attribute, although it’s perfectly serviceable. All in all, though, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Great trippy cover, too, with echoes of Bridget Riley. Deadman at MySpace: www.myspace.com/deadman_music
Artist: Human Elephant
Title: Owner Without a Dog
Label: Umor Rex, Mexico
Details: DL. 4 tracks, 25 minutes. Free download from www.umor-rex.org
I don’t know much about Human Elephant except that there’s a guy called John Edward Donald involved. The label isn’t that helpful in that respect. I like his voice though – a sort of cross between Ian Curtis and Stephin Merritt with an appealing wobble to it. Musically, this is bass-heavy, sludgy rock. A bit lighter in texture than the Melvins but in that general ballpark. It’s as loose as fuck, but has a lot of charm. Remember a band called Slovenly who used to be on SST in the late eighties? That’s quite a good comparison.