Home and Garden, courtesy of their site
Nah, that isn’t the name of William S. Bowers’s weekly SOTC column — and we just ruined the joke-flow of his piece — but fuck it, we’re just happy to have the dude on board. Bowers writes for Pitchfork, Paste, Magnet, plus his work’s been in a da Capo anthology. Give him a big, sloppy, digital kiss at Puritan Blister.
By William Bowers
Yuck, I know — skimming an earnest vouch for a Pere-Ubu-hiatus placeholding project risks briefly unsexying yr best summer ever, but please indulge my froth-typing about an awesome track that should be a dance-night staple in every straw village where the anxious scene kids staff restaurants for the self-possessed college kids’ bankcards. Warning, spoiler ahead: the awesome song is called “From The Life Of King John,” and it can be found on last summer’s re-release of Home and Garden’s 1984 album History and Geography, via Exit Stencil Recordings — that’s a pun on “existential,” and if you didn’t get it, that’s because WE ARE ALL ALONE AND MEANINGLESS. (Exit Stencil’s name is fitting; recall that the playwright David Ives described the metaphysical tenor of the label’s home base, Cleveland, as “like death, without the advantages.”)
Obscure reissues almost always queer my hustle — the vinty-freshness of a text both “new” and “classic” is irresistible bait to aspirant hear-it-alls, and History and Geography stands as my fave weird-white-male resurfacing since Drag City went public in 1994 with Corky’s Debt To His Father, by relevant-to-the-remainder-of-this-sentence Mayo Thompson; see, that ubiquitous ambassador of free-form pomp played in one incarnation of Pere Ubu alongside Home & Garden’s future rhythm section, and his unkillable Red Krayola co-gigged H&G’s reunion shows. (These guys reel mad connection-cred, as evidenced by the Mekons principals on stage at their coming-back-party.) Borrring, tho, because, for all their odd-to-plain-geeked affectations, H&G are ironically most singular for their circumspect soundalikeness; they generate epic echoes of the spazzy pop dropped by their legendary precursors and then-contemporaries. Jeff “my poetry is as sketchy as Jim” Morrison can sound uncannily like David Byrne and Bryan Ferry as he intones his unremarkable-to-silly verse with portentous, dorxcellent gusto. Shamelessly unsubtle solo-Eno swaths obtain throughout the album, whenever the band isn’t mixing King Crimson with disco, or organ-damaged art-gospel with Silver Apples, or untrad jazz with, um, Pere Ubu (version X.0 of which H&G guitarist Jim Jones would graduate to in the late eighties). The liner notes admit — and even an uninvolved listen testifies — that this band revels in the ecstasy of influence.
Holy shitwhistle, “From The Life Of King John”: it’s got cheapo-chic drum machine whose retro-enuff moment has come, sweet for the CYHSY apologists. It’s got Morrison’s most assured vocals and most chorus-esque chorus — even though he’s yelling “I am the king of Ireland,” you can get your Joe Lieberman on and hear/scream “Iran”! It’s got guitars and keyboards that eerily and perfectly bump early Joy Division into those “Ceremony” blokes doomed to become New Order. It’s got a wtf funk breakdown worthy of Liquid Liquid that bursts into rawk again as if tracing a timeline from soul music’s bullseye to post-punk’s catchall spittoon; like, you’ll picture Fab 5 Freddy playing the dozens with, I don’t know, Dee Dee Ramone’s dealer in a deleted scene from Downtown 81. “From The Life Of King John” holds its own indie-genitals with any of this semester’s bandwidth sensations. It simply must be heard.
I’m not even telling you about the rest of the album, really, about the biomechanical hydraulics of “Birthday,” or the synthesized bagpipes of “Prairie Sailors.” What I will do is warn quaint ol’ militant feminists and postcolonial theorists — bless your hearts — about Morrison’s irksome-in-megadoses lyrical fixation with masculinity, patriarchy, royalty, etc. But seriously, you might not even care, on account of how these jams jam. For example, I am totally against animal cruelty, and I think graffiti tagging is a sad mimicry of corporate branding, but the grimly propulsive “From The Life Of King John” makes me want to carve my name into my neighbor’s dog.
*This is not this column’s name either. First one to guess Bowers’s new column’s name wins a weekly column.