Chauchat - The Cough of a Crane / L. Eugene Methe - One Million Birds Making a Frightfull Racket (Unread Records LP/CS)
Christopher Fischer of Unread Records sent me a dandy of a package awhile ago containing these two trophies from his label, none of which I'd ever heard before - that is to say not the artists nor the label itself. Enclosed was a hand-written note that warmed my cockles (dude writes like a 7-year old, it's great) but I have to tell you I was none too warmed at all upon handling the Chaucat record sleeve which was spraypainted black and left a thick charcoal residue all over my hands and anything else that it came into contact upon removal from its plastic sleeve. I got no problem if you're gonna spray your sleeves but there's ways to do it without turning the whole thing into a hazardous waste situation! But it's cool, I'll live. I'll live even more because the sounds on the record were pretty good, too. If I got the backstory right, Chauchat began as a solo outlet for Pennsylvania (I think) singer/songwriter Tyler Whitney, and has now been expanded to include various other troubadours such as Erik Sahd on drums and Pascal Troemel on additional vocals and piano in this instance. Upon reading that Chauchat had made fans/friends out of folks like the Mountain Goats and Bright Eyes (Bright Eyes?!), I grew - to put it mildly - somewhat skeptical. But then I reminded myself that I own some Dream Theater albums, so who was I to cast any judgement, right?
Sure and suitably enough, "The Cough of a Crane" begins with a coupla tracks that are just as dirty and grimy as the sleeve it comes in - filth-laden, grungy (the adjective not the genre) ancient/lost sounding loner attic one-track jams, just as Jandekian as they are potentially Oberstian. But way way more heinously groused, somewhere along the lines of Ariel Pink and Mark Tucker's 70's classic out disc "Bat Stew". But from those tracks the LP takes a hard left straight into full-band snotty indie pop on "Guenther", very in the vein of Sonic Youth, Neutral Milk Hotel or the Jesus and Mary Chain. Caught me off guard to say the least but it still possessed that homey jamming with your buds in your mom's living room with one microphone in the middle and lots of sunlight pouring in through the bay window - it was nice like that, no fake. "Lights/Garbage" and "Acrobatiz" return to the solo arti-fucked broken folk style of the first few with the latter coming off as particularly devastating - a beautiful solo guitar strum set to the oozing plasma of a melting keyboard's death rattle. It's a what I envision to be a good Saturday night/Sunday morning drunken post-heartache listen. Side two is in the same style as the previous, alternating solo acoustic numbers with full band efforts like "Sleeping Sickness". My preference leans towards Whitney (mostly) solo - "Depart" is a ghostly "Skip" Spence downer-n'-out anthem and the multi-voiced post-punk-smeared dollop of "Carter and Macrae" is both dreary and charming. "Piano Fight" is the last track and it's a lo-fi instrumental batter, one of many such snatches dispersed throughout the album inbetween the more fleshed-out song songs. Nevertheless it leaves your ears feeling as scuzzy and messy and your fingers will be trying to play the damn thing. But I assure you it's worth it. Anybody can make an LP these days but not anybody can write a good song - whether it's always my bag or not doesn't mean that I can't sincerely tell you Tyler Whitney doesn't write a great fucking song.
Okay someone's gonna have to explain this one too me. The legend here is that Christopher Fischer moved into Lonnie Eugene Methe (of a band called Naturaliste - know em? I don't)'s old house and found a tape in the rafters of the house and persuaded Methe to let him release it. Of course, Methe and Naturaliste have already recorded for Unread in the past, so the fact that this could just be a fabricated tale of serendipity is not lost on yours truly. Call me on the ball for once. Apparently when Fischer released it he (or someone) added short acoustic songs to the end of the sides to fill it out, but he couldn't find that version so I got the non-acoustically-augmented version instead. No matter, this is a fucked up enough tape as it is, fucked up like whoa. The first side purports to be "experimentations for answering machine/violin". Whaaaa? Wheels of confusion, they are a-spinnin'. But it's totally feasible. First side is indeed a horrible mess of high-pitched feedback and tape manipulation scramble, seemingly generated from...an answering machine and a violin. You can ever hear the odd voice cropping up now and again, though they're quickled drowned again in metal scrapfest hell. Kinda sounds like Raven Strain, C. Spencer Yeh, Nate Young's Hatred project, or maybe even Robert Ashley's early work like "The Wolfman"...as a matter of fact, shouldn't this be listed on the Hanson distro by now? Wow. Definitely weird. Just when I thought I was for sure about to go blind, the side switched over and got a lot quieter...in fact the entire first ten minutes are seemingly dedicated to a xylophone plucked aimlessly and some rattling chimes and the last ten to the plodding rhythm of a metronome, a wine glass being hit, and indeed the occasional violin cut. What a baffling listen that seems to go on for hours - you'd hate it. All the more reason why you should buy it and be wooed by Unread's monochromatic investigations into bizarro/outsider/top 40 dark matter. I sure was and I don't know if I'll ever be the same. Let's hope not!