Refrigerator Mothers - Ghosts of a Primitive World (URCKarm CD-R) / Refrigerator Mothers - Arab National Anthem (URCKarm 7")
Usually I'm pretty good at keeping track of who's sending me what and when, but this package caught me totally off-guard. I failed to recognize the band name, album titles, record labels or this "Hop-Frog Collective" thing plastered all over both releases. I did some digging through old emails and indeed found a request for my address from one of the dude's behind the URCKarm (that's "Unified Research for Chemical Karma") label dating back to August 30th. The email was pretty non-descript too: "can I have your address?" and nothing more, no indication as to what I'd be getting. I'm still not entirely sure what I got, but there's a sticker on the sleeves for both these releases proclaiming Hop-Frog's Refrigerator Mothers to be "midi-eastern post-asiatic psychedelic dron-e raga punk". Friends, that's a whole boatload of buzz words. Then I tried to uncover the secret behind this Hop-Frog stuff but their extraordinarily busy (as in cluttered) website crashed my computer and immediately brewed strong feelings of distate within my heart. Plus, the name. Refrigerator Mothers? Surely you can understand my skepticism. I also wasn't sure what to think of the album art - the CD-R is packaged in a beautifully hand-made "Chinese Ghost Money with hand lettering" slipcase with a glossy black-and-white insert (with more massive "Hop-Frog" logos - what the fuck!) but the clear-yellow 7" comes in a sleeve that looks like something you'd draw in your notebook during a particularly boring math class...but it too comes with a slick B&W insert accompanied by a legit vintage-style black-and-white photo. So I was instantly conflicted - was this going to be some shitty third-rate "noise" band or would it basically fulfill every hope that entered my body when I read that ludicrous blurb I retyped for you a few sentences up? And what the fuck is a Hop-Frog?
After much internetting I've come across what I think is some concrete info - the Hop-Frog Collective seems to be a California-based group of twenty-ish music-makers, visual artists, dancers, and similar creatively-inclined folk who work in various bands and offshoots - the Refrigerator Mothers being just one of said offshoots. Others include Hop-Frog's Drum Jester Devotional, the Master Musicians of Hop-Frog, Catastrophic Mermaids on Parade, a dude named Phaul and affiliations with better-known groups (well, to me, anyway) like Auto Da Fe, Amps for Christ and Soriah. According to their MySpace, the core of the group is made of suspiciously-monikered people like Carl F. Off, e.loi, Hermit the Flog, Denise Owens, Adam Reese, Karen Crews and Jewelie Off, but there's a whole host of other collaborators on the CD-R which features a rather impressive range of musical instruments (printed on the liner notes but copied directly here from the URCKarm website), and no I don't know if the first one is ironic: "kitchen sink, juno 1, juno 106, cura cumbus, melodica, sh-101, pipes, chains, industrial filter device, electric guitar, twelve string acoustic guitar, electric bass, soft synths, computers, frame drum, floor tom, various cymbals and bells, harmonium, effects processors, Ruan (moon guitar), predpared acoustic guitar, prepared piano". You can probably take a guess at what they sound like from that information alone, and you probably wouldn't be too far off, but I assure you it's a lot more complicated than that. The 20-minute track "Bedding Down the Revolution with a Mouth Full of Shit" what opens the album gets all the Sunburned Hand of the Man/No-Neck Blues Band/Jewelled Antler Collective/Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood/Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice comparisons out of the way right away, which is good because I think it's one of the weaker tracks on the album (a pity since it takes up about a third of the total running time). The song is built around gently strummed short rhythms that repeat for a while before the group switch gears and take the song somewhere else - in the time they're working within that theme they allow for plenty of left-field instrumentation over top, sometimes coming off like a freak-folk Throbbing Gristle and others sounding not at all far removed from a Sublime Frequencies radio mix compilation. There are a lot of nice, catchy rhythms scattered throughout but sometimes the journey to get to those points can be a little long in the tooth. The remaining seven tracks range from two to nine minutes and display the Refrigerator Mothers at their tightest possible leve of operation. Especially diggable are the jaunting, mid-Eastern flairs of the guitar, bells and tabla on "Arab National Anthem" and the incredible pumping percussion beat behind "Tied in Sacks" which deserves to be about twenty times longer than the meager 2.5 minutes alotted. I was just listening to the "Congotronics 2: Buzz n' Rumble from the Urb'n'jungle" compilation this afternoon and this track wouldn't sound terrifically out of place in the slightest alongside Konono No. 1 and the Kasai Allstars. The first half of "Black Moth Scrap Serum" reminds me a heck of a lot of the Sun City Girls on their "Horse Cock Phepner" LP with a male voice repeated intoning what "he is" over thumping bass drums, rattled chimes and squiggly electric guitar excavations. The second half revisits the throbbing looped rhythms of the previous two tracks while simultaneously bidding farewell to that sound - the rest of the album is considerably less bouncy and more moody. "Pasilla Mangoes" is a total dirge at near-ten minutes, and never really takes off despite the intriguing synthesizer clippings and some heavily-distorted, chapel-echoed vocals. "Spiritscar" melds a great deal of fuzzy reverb wash with a brisky-plucked acoustic guitar, kinda bringing back memories of that Erik Amlee CD from awhile back or even Matt Valentine and Erika Elder. It's a nice piece, nothing too eventful but nothing shabby either. The last two tracks are a bit of a downer party: the deep-throat vocals, stabbed guitar strings and infrequent hissing comes across as way too overdramatic while the closing "Christifari's Collapse" is the kind of instrumental piano ballad that borders on Spinal Tap/"Lick My Love Pump" territory, a bit too pastiche for my liking. I would've liked to have seen the Refrigerator Mothers bring it all back for one final earth-shaking crotch-dampening supreme rhythmic roar but alas I don't call the shots.
For whatever reason, the 7" contains two tracks that are both available on the CD-R I just reviewed ("Arab National Anthem" and "Black Moth Scrap Serum"), so I don't really see what would prompt anyone to buy the record over the disc (especially when you can get the CD-R for only a buck more). But despite this the packaging is very nice: like I said before it comes with a photo, an insert, and a rather baffling art job on the inside. The front of the disc bears the words "the nightmare is only a flower on the path to enlightenment", words which are also etched into the 7"'s inner rim. And the 7" is rendered on lovely urine-yellow wax that makes me think of that Hot Girls Cool Guys 7" from years past...who are also California raisins themselves. Must be something in the water down there. The biggest strength of the wax is that "Arab National Anthem" gets better every single time I hear it and the flip ain't so bad either. Both sides end in a locked groove, the first one which will undoubtably curl your toes and have you lunging over to the deck in no time while the "Black Moth Scrap Serum" lock is the kind of stuff you could leave on for days and just rock out or take drugs too. It's fiiiine.
I have to say, the Refrigerator Mothers/Hop-Frog crew provided me with one of the most bewildering, interesting, confusing, polarizing and flummoxing documents I didn't solicit, and I thank them for that (especially for sending me one of the 7"s with the photo, only the first 50 out of 428 copies gets one of those you know) and for introducing me to their song "Tied in Sacks" which is the most addictive shit I've heard all week, the kind of song you feel the need to play roughly 7,600 times in a row. It's the bitch. If any of this sounds of interest to you, I highly encourage a thorough investigation of their website. Clearly these folks have put a lot of time and effort into their releases and are at least worth a cursory glance. I just hope your browser doesn't crash.