Are you now or have you ever been a Rush fan? Does the sound of Billy Corgan, arguably the most successful novelty singer since Tiny Tim, make you cringe? On a scale of one to 10, whose effluviant proboscisity most comforts you: Joe Walsh, Leon Redbone, Jad Fair, or Jimmy Dale Gilmore (known in Texas as “Ol’ Lonesome Nostrils”)? Needless to say, a full battery of clinical tests could easily determine your nose-to-ear compatibility quotient, as well as tolerance for various keens, yips, mewls, grunts, and whimpers.
Of course, there is a scale, and then there’s beyond the pale: Ubu difficulty ratings rank in the 95th percentile or higher. As do the yo-yo snorts and warbles of Beefheart, borne from the unholy croakus behemoth Howlin’ Wolf and “I’ve been trying to cough this bullfrog up for years now to no avail” glossolalia of Bobby “Blue” Bland. Ditto the burbling insanity-just-around-the-bend laughing-boy creepiness of Napoleon XIV. And the weirdo sounds of ex-Homosexual, Brit DIY legend, and eBay gold standard L. Voag, whose mysterious guitar tunings and high-pitched off-key yelps would unwittingly become the template—along with Ohio-bred dub house legends and everything-precursors Pere Ubu, turn-of-the-’80s Buckeye gods Ron House and Mike Rep, and come to think of it Ohio-lamenting Canuck-of-a-thousand whines Neil Young—for a large portion of modern indie stuff too geeky to be called punk. Rapider Than Horsepower, for instance: They iz freeky and through being cool, and probably sick of people who still wanna be Iggy’s dog. (Ironic, since Iggy’s the biggest geek of all.)
My quirk standard is easy to suss: I like people who used to know Zappa. And I like Geddy Lee, but not Primus. And Rapider’s music, see, is as far from the curdled musings and Uncle Miltie-in-drag pursed-lip meanness of abstemious, titty-joke-obsessed longhairs as can be. The “everyone is icky, stupid, and foul” aesthetic is, unfortunately, an American tradition that goes back to Cotton Mather. But out-there kids aspire to the more open-ended Beefheart microverse.
The wank-prog shifts in tone and time in Rapider’s songs connect to newer leaps in whimsy brought to you by Modest Mouse, Devendra Banhart, maybe even such ramshackle ’90s no-fi twee sea-salt-seasoned Siltbreeze loons as the Shadow Ring or Alastair Galbraith: impeccably timed hoots and group hollers, even a cheerleader-style shout-out spelling the band’s name and growing more desultory with each passing letter. Shaggy enthusiasm, twisty guitar lines, and a voice that shakes and breaks and cracks—my idea of idiot fun, but just maybe a deal breaker for those enamored with low-register attempts at sobriety. Or those who insist they were terrified of clowns as children.
Stage Fright, Stage Fright has moments where Rapider seem to bottle the poetic essence of ex-Zappa pal Wildman Fischer. He had an inimitable way of taking a line like “Jimmy Durante is coming to town” and giving the word is an extra push up the cliff until it gasped for breath at the summit of deranged inflection. I might be so bold as to say Rapider are the is from “Jimmy Durante.” Others might say they’re the babies from the line “screaming babies” in Eve Libertine’s deathless reading of “Shaved Women” by Crass. Maybe they’re both.
Rapider Than Horsepower should move to Ohio, if they don’t live there already. Their song about caterpillars goes “POP! Tttttt POP! Tttttt POP!” Their song about babies is called “Rock Against Mapquest.” Another song has a great line about C.L. Smooth & L.L. Cool J. Stage Fright is less than 25 minutes long, and is part one of a projected two-part series. The band ambles and stumbles and makes a racket. They aren’t that funky, but they make real silly sounds with their mouths. They could do a killer cover of “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” if they wanted.