A Journal Of The Dark Arts
As we’ve been discussing all week, if yr a modern music devotee, chances are you hear a great deal of hyperclean, sterile digital music. The hermetically sealed sounds from the Uncanny Valley start to roll right off your ears, like oil off of a duck’s back, never getting a chance to sink into yr cerebellum, never sinking its earhooks into yr pleasure centers.
Sometimes, you’ve got to add some sand to the Vaseline.
When it is possible for the slightest indie band, to the humblest bedroom auteur, to achieve perfect pop perfection, it is refreshing and interesting when a band embraces raw, ragged spontaneity.
Portland’s Scared Crow, built around the 12-string acoustic, 6-string electric and rough-honeyed tenor of frontman Nathan Gilds, which is then built into a steaming juggernaut with the heavy syncopation of Josh Jones, on drums, and the rolling thunder of Nic Smith‘s bass playing. Scared Crow is the ’57 Buick Roadmaster of stylized blues/folk rock.
The effect I was left with, after simmering in Scared Crow’s sonic bath the past few weeks, was a feeling of urgency, a rush, a feeling of danger. It seems like a life lived on the backroads, flitting from couch to bar to gas station, with recordings and jams grabbed on the fly, laid straight to tape, as the best roots music has always done. There is a sense of desperate, passionate living, and Scared Crow’s inaugural cassette demo is a trasmutation of hard living into Art. It is a dream, captured on ferric tape, of a brighter tomorrow, of what lie on the other side of the horizon.
One of the main criticisms leveled at the cassette and garage pop resurgence of the mid-to-late ’00s (think Vivian Girls, think Wavves, think every anonymous synth drone C60 you can remember) is of style over substance – there simply wasn’t any message beneath the grit. This is not true, in the case of Scared Crow, who possess both style AND substance. Beneath the tape hiss, they are a real, good band. Gilds’ is a helluva guitarist, not too flashy but with just the right amount of tasty licks, with his clean, jangling guitar reminding us of the psychedelic potential of ringing electrics. Josh Jones’ drums are impressively heavy hitting and punchy, for a cassette recording, further proving the point that Scared Crow know what they are doing, and that all line noise is intentional.
Scared Crow are intentionally referencing the recording media, going after a particular aesthetic. The cassette recording flattens the sound into a white static sheet, like a b & w TV screen or the surface of an oil-slicked lake, with Scared Crow swimming around like razor-toothed Angler fish beneath the surface. It seems like they are making a soundtrack for a period film, a moody ’50s existential greaser flick – The Wild Ones meets Touch Of Evil. Some may find it disaffected or detached, but i think they are just going for a particular vibe.
“Autumn Brown” and “Brooms” are both blasted and witchy enough to fit in at this infernal archive; may they provide you some solace, to quite yr fevered brow, to cool yr doomed ears.
Last but not least, my personal favorite track “Wishram”, a slow-plod through Link Wray‘s west, that connects the dots from Santo & Johnny‘s “Sleepwalk” to Dylan Carlson’s Earth.
Not everything in life is clean and perfect, so all art should not aspire to be as such. Certain styles of music and recording techniques are better at expressing passion, urgency, desire, mystery, obsession, mania, without polishing off the rough and cutting edges. The benefit of analog recording is it forces you to be spontaneous, to go for it, to give it the best you’ve got, in a much more intuitive and impressionistic way than the paint by numbers grid of digital. It’s a different art form, that yields way different results; imagine what would have happened if Robert Johnson was recording on Pro Tools in that hotel room?
Thanks to Karen V. Locke, for turning me on to this local treasure. If you’d like yr imagination lit up like a jack o’ lantern, you have a chance to do so, tonight, as Scared Crow are playing with another great local band, Houndstooth, at The Know, up on Alberta.
This concludes this edition of Folk Week, which dovetails nicely into our next theme week, which will begin in a couple of days: Portland Week! In which we go searching for the heart, soul and mind of the city we live in, the city of roses, so stayed tuned!
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