For the past two albums, Slim Cessna's Auto Club has swirled
about the concept of the Parousia. Their previous album, Always
Say Please and Thank You was a considerable departure from
the hokey and goofy alternative western style conjured up in their
eponymous debut, and in American Country Music Saved Her Life;
and in my humble opinion, was not exactly the most pleasant arrival.
Slim Cessna's Auto Club had an air of a gentle country way that
hinted at a darker underbelly. American Country Music Saved
Her Life was rowdy and raucous with occasional dips into occultish
superstition. Always Say Please and Thank You was dark,
moody and emotional. Nonesuch necessarily bad things, but there
was a particular lack of focus that seemed to drain the album's
energy away. SCAC was a band I had always thought of as fun and
carefree, but ASPaTY was dearly lacking those elements.
Since then, I've had to resort to a new genre tagline to describe
SCAC, but whenever I mention "gothic western", people
invariably envision Marilyn Manson with a cowboy hat on.
So I've coined a new phrase to suit this style that I think captures
the essence of their music: 'American Gothic' Western. By conjuring
up images of Grant Wood's most famous painting, the corrupted,
inbred weakness of stale, living anachronism is fleshed out and
brought to life. And all without eye shadow.
If ASPaTY was too chiliastic in its presentation, then
The Blovdy Tenent Trvth Peace is more (appropriately) millenarian.
(Dictionary.com will not provide you with the insight needed to
distinguish between the two, so dig a little ya slackers) ASPaTY
had plenty o' religion, but was almost devoid of spirituality,
and more importantly, it seemed to show a band that had lost its
sense of humor. But, the faithful should fear not; the country
band from the end of the world has regained its whimsical humor
and is ready to trot headlong into the rapture with the crooked
six-shooters of Alighieri and Voltaire strapped
to its side.
The greatest strength of this band has come from the narratives
employed in their songs, and TBTTP may be SCAC's best showcase
yet. The wild and zany stories of "This is How We Do Things
in the Country", "Mark of Vaccination", "Port
Authority Band" seem to ring true if one believes the old
adage that truth (trvth?) is stranger than fiction. I wouldn't
ever believe that the murder of a cross-eyed wife which subsequently
causes a whole town to go askew in every way, or an attempt at
vaccinating a backwater town turns into a brawl, or a Persian
band gets turned away at Ellis Island for looking too sickly (with
subtle nods to Slim's and Munly's emaciated physiques) could possibly
be contrived. How could you make stuff like this up? Regardless
of whether it is a historic narrative or not, TBTTP has
its own sense of inner truth that is more relevant. Philip
K. Dick espoused an idea that was equal parts theory and philosophy
in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep that he
called "kipple." Kipplization was the reduction of man's
material world into rubble which starts at the beginning of a
civilization's decline. It was the physical manifestation of a
corruption that was not so much a corporeal process as it was
an indicator of cultural decline. TBTTP has an intriguing
duality that on the one hand shows a world whose secular aspects
are in a regressive state: decayed, wind torn and dust-blown.
These segments are not always in a minor key, but they frequently
use unresolved harmonies to create apprehension before switching
to gospel-inspired, uplifting melodies or refrains. These sequences
that emphasize the joyful spirituality of salvation are always
progressive and resolved; uplifting, a musical respite from the
preceding existential angst. This interplay has been hinted at
before in previous SCAC albums, but I really only found it recognizable
in TBTTP. For me, this is noteworthy because it also has
an analogue in the literary world: Walter M. Miller, Jr's
classic post-apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz.
Miller's novel showed that while civilizations rise and fall,
man's spirituality is a constant progression toward a state of
grace. TBTTP shows a world that can still drag itself up
from the dust by the bootstraps of its indefatigable faith.
So, I've espoused some ideas about the lyrical and structural
content of this album that has really impressed me: this is
by far the most mature and refined effort I've yet experienced
from Slim & Co. As a matter of musical enjoyment, there
are a few times where I feared a song may be headed toward mediocrity,
but a riff here, a refrain there, or even a yodel or two bolsters
the song and renews it with life. Ultimately, I realized this
as the source of the album's aforementioned duality. (Maybe
it was an epiphany.)
TBTTP is not only the best western album you'll hear this
year; it rightly ranks among the best ever. It is entertaining,
has some righteous hooks and contains many layers of lyrical complexity
from the silly narrative all the way down to parables of a world
oblivious of its material degeneration, which manages to progressively
seek salvation nonetheless.
1. This is How We Do Things in the Country
2. Thorny Crown
3. 32 Mouths Gone Dry
5. Mark of Vaccination
6. Jackson's Hole
7. Shady Lane
8. Sour Patch Kids
9. Port Authority Band
10. Providence, New Jerusalem
11. He, Roger Williams
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