Saturday, March 11, 2017

Over and Thru the Night (1980-1987)

Steve Fisk is better known as a producer and foundational figure in the Pacific Northwest grunge moment. His credits include Nirvana, Soundgarden, the Screaming Trees, Low, the Wedding Present, Negativland, Boss Hog, and, more recently, Car Seat Headrest, among many others. By the evidence of this album, his own interests may lie more in the direction of ambient musique concrete, combining everything that is available to anyone to hear. Or, as he puts it, "Copyright infringement is still your best entertainment value. More noise please." As if to make the point, this compilation of fragments and long concatenations, released in 1993, casually usurps some of the most fiercely protected copyright golden calves in existence, namely the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival (and the Dallas TV show too, though no sign of Led Zeppelin and probably too early to be tweaking Prince). In some ways it works like a comedy album, in that the spoken word fragments and their repetitions often dominate, and memorably so. "Can't somebody out there who knows the words to the song call in and tell 'em to us?" a radio announcer implores. "I don't deserve to live," says a Deputy Dawg voice in the short framing tracks at start and end, "I Wish I Were Dead," parts 1 and 2, which I kept hearing alternately as "I've lost the will to live." "Government Figures," a relative shorty at 1:36, features a voice that sounds like Lionel Barrymore running down statistics about life expectancies. I have grown to wait for a certain particularly satisfying vocal "but" on which the track turns. That's shorter stuff. Some of these tracks are very long too. Potentially they could have been broken up into constituent parts, but enough has grown on me with this album that I trust Fisk's sense for keeping some elements together and others separate. The longest track, "You Used Me," clocks in at nearly 13 minutes, defers in substantial passages to CCR's "Keep on Chooglin'," and right in the middle opens to a gray barrage of floating white noise, like an old-fashioned empty TV channel, that briefly somehow offers a kind of unmediated ecstasy, if you're in the right mood. (To get there, let me hasten to add, you may have to listen to it a few times. You know how I feel about that advice, but there it is.) Much of the found speech is from radio and TV, with potentially multiple sources in Dallas, which I don't know, but there are clues here. My favorite track, and the one by which I suspect you can judge whether or not this is for you (hey, it's even on Napster), is the six-minute "Lying in Texas," which comes late in the album and is likely from Dallas. A whirring buzz saw accompanies an unearthly conversation between a man and a woman about a deception, a hoax, played on the woman. The man participated in it but now he is coming clean with her. The woman can't believe what she is hearing and audibly starts to fall apart. The man is cool, cruel, deadly unimpassioned. Suddenly a long break, an open stop of several seconds which produces anxiety like tripping and almost falling. Then moody keyboard swirls play and now the voices run backwards, as if whipped in high winds. An ineffable sadness overwhelms it. The musical figure plays again, and again. J.R. Ewing's name clarifies, and repeats. The whole thing plays like '40s noir to me, with dark currents and mystery. I love it the most and the whole album is pretty good that way too.

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