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September 26th, 2001 John Graham, Jenny Tatone | Sonic Reducer
 

HOW TO RELAX DURING WARTIME

Unwind with new entertainments by Federation X, the Residents and H2O.

     
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FEDERATION X: AMERICAN FOLK HORROR (Estrus)

A blasting metal/blues elegy to a drunken soul.

There's something going on out there. Hard as it is to believe--I know--there is something happening beyond this little society we've built, beyond this happy existence we've carved out for ourselves. It hurts to think about.

But as you try to make some sense of this exceedingly messed-up world, you might as well listen to American Folk Horror, the new metal-tinged, painfully raw blues album from the Bellingham, Wash., trio Federation X. Because this album sounds like the agonizing desperation you might feel as you try to figure out what's out there. Or better yet, what's inside you.

Imagine wailing along to these words: "I need something to get me through/ I need something that I can do/ I need something to sink my teeth in." This is from "Song About Sweet Lovin' Woman," an impassioned soundtrack that matches the frustrations of our current existence perfectly.

When you can't understand life, you pacify yourself. Federation X singer-guitarist Bill Badgley called these lyrics "classic lines of an alcoholic" in a recent interview. Alcoholism and ignorance go hand-in-hand, both means to a dubious escape. You know there's more to life, but it hurts too much to look. Driven like a stake into the ground (or your heart), the song's heavy blues-rock guitar line and explosive, stand-out drumming combine into blasting intensity and soul, consistent throughout the 11-track album.

Two tracks from American Folk Horror--"Song About Sweet Lovin' Woman" and "Song About the Knife"--lift their names from the song "Walk of Life" on Dire Straits' '85 mega-hit Brothers in Arms. According to Badgley, his most un-Knopfler-like band was attracted to that album because it's "sad in a very vigilant and hopeful way." Remember the lines: "Here comes Johnny/ Singin' oldies/ Goldies...he do the song about the sweet lovin' woman/ He do the song about the knife"? Badgley always wondered what those songs Johnny was singing were about. Badgley imagines Johnny as a drunk who doesn't realize that what he needs, he already has. He's too distracted seeking out what he doesn't need. "Song About the Knife" then explains how Johnny changes when he recognizes that his true needs in life have been met.

Each of the songs on the album tells a different and always dark folk tale related to American society. Federation X breathes American history, both musically and socially. Like the muddy sounds streaming from the Deep South in the 1940s, American Folk Horror is severely gritty, unmediated and pleading. Add rumbling volumes, the intense might of electricity and screaming vocals and you'll also feel metal's fuzzed-out anger and rock and roll's dirty side.

Yes, there's something happening all around us, above or below. We've always known it to be there. It's easy to ignore, like the fictional Johnny, what you already have. May American Folk Horrors be a reminder that it's OK to think about your luck sometimes. It won't bite too hard. (JT)

THE RESIDENTS: ICKY FLIX Original Soundtrack (East Side Digital)

They are the Residents. That is all ye need know.

For those Commie non-consumerists who haven't run right out and bought a DVD player at the behest of our corporate Masters, the newly rearranged and re-recorded songs made for the Residents' Icky Flix DVD are now available in a simple, old-fashioned, digital transmission format known as an "audio compact disc." Noting the infamous sonic creepery and clownish humor of the Great Eyeballed Ones, need I say the music's pretty weird even without the short-form video accompaniment? (JG)

H2O: GO (MCA)

Former hardcore kings flail in the bigs.

Like their mentors Sick of It All before them, the New York hardcore stalwarts of H2O signed with a major label to the certain chagrin of their underground-scenester fans. While H2O hasn't gone acoustic or nothin'--the songs still plug merrily along with chugging power chords, ebullient vocals and singalong choruses--the production is so mirror-smooth it flattens the muscle right out of these anemic anthems. The whole shebang just sounds wrong--and doubtless any added success the band gains from its new financial backers will be offset by the loss of disappointed indie idealists. Didn't you learn anything from your pals in CIV, boys? (JG)

 
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