“Did anyone see us open for 1990s on August 2nd at The Annex? How were we, really?”
‘photo by marc nolte‘
By William Bowers
Identity, schmidentity: projecting a coherent self is overrated, and probably, for those who can pull it off, the result of a dishonest performance. Anyone who has suffered under the hard bigotry of high expectations knows what a total bum-out it is to one’s American freedom to have some acquaintance, friend, lover, or fan crave consistency from you, pretending that contemporary Western personhood involves more than blood sugar, preadolescent trauma, central air, and matte effect texture gel. This week, between praying that a certain Winehouse doesn’t end up in the doomed-lover-archetype bracket (with Sid, Nancy, Romeo, Juliet et al) and pantomiming Greco-truckstop tragedies to that new Magnolia Electric Company box set, I’ve been compiling a register of those arbitrary music-crit charges used too often to unchristen bands, scrutiny-tics that the crit haphazardly employs so as to earn his/her (for some reason, usually his) laundry change by appearing to have made a trenchant, circumspect, epoch-straddling Point. One of the premiere roulette criticisms is to accuse an act of not establishing an identity, though any band with a peggable sound (such as Interpol, or Interpol) will later be ho-humly pilloried for “not evolving,” unless they dabble with newish ornamentation enough to get cited for taking an “ambitious misstep,” and so on.
My point: though the Voice already reviewed it with aplomb, I’m not finished caring (a lot) about Black Cat John Brown, the quasi-kaleidoscopic sophomore release from Alamo Race Track. It’s one of those rare albums during which no straightjacketed aural ethos obtains, a mixtapey affair whose every cut suggests a(n okay, slightly) different band, with the overall effect being: talent and moodiness dunking on filtration and uniformity. Think of Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People, or some of the 90s most divergent “college-rock” cafeteria trays: Muttongun’s III, Multiple Cat’s Territory Shall Mean The Universe, Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, etc. (Of course, just as your head need be pretty far up hip-hop’s fanny to appreciate a rap record’s vast range, only meticulous analysts of indie flava will detect and celebrate how many shades of vanilla Alamo Race Track are capable of scooping.)
Pay no attention, if image-building irks you, to PR photos of the band holding their own shoulders and forearms–Do they have rashes? Are they hiding needlemarks?–while staring off sensitively at distant ferns, or to their landing a song on that show on the Disney-owned network about medical interns and their mentors saving lives while coveting each other’s jobs and genitalia, or even to the band’s live Youtube hit that doesn’t do justice to the album version of the title tune. Alamo Race Track’s music speaks for itself, even if frontman Ralph Mulder’s freakish beauty can be distracting—he’s like a fuzzy, unburned-alive Freddy Krueger. Dutch, seemingly/sonically by way of North America, A.R.T. know how to properly lighten an ominous, (them again!) post-Interpol bassline. In fact, if you wished that Paul Banks’ troupe would yield their backstage/catwalk Voldemort vibe to pursue an atmosphere of complicated happiness, then you might find Black Cat John Brown (gasp/hurm) absolutely perfect. My only quibble with this triumphant disc regards the presumptive lyric (from “The Killing”), “How can you see your world is changing when you walk with your head down?” Someone scouring the ground isn’t necessarily exhibiting depressive body language; the individual could just as well be a foot-fetishist, mid-jolly.