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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Beat Happening: Jamboree

BEAT HAPPENING: JAMBOREE (1988)

1) Bewitched; 2) In Between; 3) Indian Summer; 4) Hangman; 5) Jamboree; 6) Ask Me; 7) Crashing Through; 8) Cat Walk; 9) Drive Car Girl; 10) Midnight A Go-Go; 11) The This Many Boyfriends Club.

Second time around, the joke is not quite so funny any more. True to tradition, this is still a very short album with very short songs (making any of these go over three minutes would severely violate the Geneva convention), but there isn't much progress other than the proverbial «10-year old kid» growing some pubic hair and discovering (in a not-so-independent process) the joys of feedback, distortion, and RCR (Rebellious Caveman Rock!).

Seriously, if there is any way to describe the opening number ʽBewitchedʼ, it is this and only this: a product from the Build-Your-Own-Stooges-Song Set. The opening feedback, the threatening distorted riff, Calvin's nasty baritone, and those lyrics — "I see you hang in the crowd / Staring me down... / What am I to do? / I got a crush on you" — if this isn't a conscious attempt to build their own ʽDown On The Streetʼ, I don't know what it is. Except, of course, that you have to take it as completely tongue-in-cheek, or else it is just a travesty. You could make that riff thicker, throw in some supporting lead lines, add extra bite and snarl to the vocals, get a real good drum­mer, and end up with one of those proto-punk classics from either Funhouse or Raw Power, be­cause the riff is actually quite cool — but you don't do that. You just end up with this corrupted, lo-fi, off-key demo version, because that's supposed to be the point. Okay then.

In fact, the songs here are, if anything, even more intentionally and defiantly «demo-like» than on the 1985 album. The title track is just Calvin singing off-key to a primitive drum machine; ʽAsk Meʼ is just Heather, singing slightly more on-key to... nothing at all, although the vocals do form a cohesive and catchy pop melody that should have had a full backing... or should it, really? Who knows, maybe if they added guitars and a rhythm section, it would have been just another run-of-the-mill twee-pop number — whereas this deconstruction is... like... allegorical in form, meta­physical in content? Fifty-eight seconds of the never-ending battle between the Nacheinander and the Nebeneinander. Art imitating Life or Life imitating Art? "Five hands crawling up my back / Thump, thump, have a heart attack". Nursery rhyme in the left corner, lo-fi aesthetics in the right corner. Clinch, clinch.

The thing is, until we actually see these songs «completed», it is very hard to tell if they are qua­lity embryos, produced with fine, healthy genetic material, or if they're just a bunch of unferti­lized cells whose main, if not only, attraction is that very «unfertilized» look. Some of the vocal, ahem, «melodies» can stick around, largely because of their repetitiveness, and some of the tracks will stick around just due to sheer ugliness (like the last track, ʽThe This Many Boyfriends Clubʼ, apparently recorded live and featuring Calvin at his absolutely ugliest — the vocals are more hideous than a bunch of tomcats in the night, and the accompanying feedback blasts have all the proper effect of nails-on-chalkboard); «enjoyable» these songs can only be for those who also «enjoy» watching Night Of The Living Dead. (With a few exceptions, of course: whenever Hea­ther takes lead vocals, the songs take on a friendly-sweet and generally listenable air — but she does not do it too often).

But if you disregard the individual songs and once again just embrace the concept as a whole, the downside is that, «faux-Stooges numbers» like ʽBewitchedʼ and ʽHangmanʼ aside, the concept remains more or less the same as it was: a tongue-in-cheek look at «musical failure» as an artistic statement in itself. And second time around, it's really not that fun anymore, which is why I can­ no longer be generous enough for a thumbs up — I mean, there's no way I could recommend Jamboree to anybody with a good ear for music, and there's no reason I should recommend Jam­boree to anybody interested in music-centered artistic statements because, well, there's just one thumbs up allowed per exactly the same music-centered artistic statement if there's not much else to go along with the statement. Unless, of course, you have doctor-prescribed aural pain treat­ments, in which case ʽThe This Many Boyfriends Clubʼ is a total must. Play it once every day at top volume, and you will be totally immune to drills, jackhammers, and televangelists for the rest of your precious life.

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