Monday, July 06, 2009

Disjecta Membra

Ohio poet Dan McGuire has created quite a body of work in a very short time (since 2005): three albums of "poetry-rock" with the punk "supergroup" Unknown Instructors, two "collaborative compilations" (Jamnation and Phosphene River) that feature his versifying over previously-recorded tracks of face-melting heavy psych, two more (Funambulist and this new release) that feature him playing with live musicians.

Disjecta Membra (which means "scattered fragments") was recorded over six years with a band of local, um, Ohio players who are uncredited, says McGuire, because "they all fussed or bitched or made bizarre suggestion after bizarre suggestion to the point where I locked them all out of the studio and mixed the whole thing how I saw fit." (The main players -- a classical violinist and garage-rock guitarist -- each advised McGuire to mix the other's contributions out.) Three tracks feature pre-recorded backing by the Oresund Space Collective, an offshoot of the Danish stoner band Gas Giant that appeared on Jamnation. On four of the tracks, McGuire recites verse by Nikolai Gogol, Edgar Allen Poe, and Roky Erickson/Tommy Hall. (The closing "Diary of a Madman 2" juxtaposes a truly demented reading of Gogol's text with a jaunty Sousa march to great and disturbing effect.)

As a performer, McGuire has a tremendous instinctive feel for the music's ebb and flow; his readings feel more like an organic part of the sound than an additional overlay. The Ohio band tends to groove more than the jazzier Instructors or the more exploratory Oresunders, but that can be a good thing, as when they coalesce on the propulsive "Street Fighting Man" drone of "Flatmates In Hell," with the violinist's gypsy skirl recalling John Weider on Eric Burdon's hipi-period cover of "Paint It Black" or Jeff Beck's arcing, echo-laden-and-buried-in-the-mix lines in the Yardbirds' "Turn Into Earth." Musically, it's the album's zenith.

African percussion adds a palpable air of tension to that track, as it does to the repeated descending riff in "Devil's Night," which serves as background to a surrealistic description of an annual pre-Halloween orgy of vandalism ("A whorish French maid / Latex-faced Richard Nixon / Transvestite Tina Turner...") which somehow morphs into a narrative of the 1967 Detroit riots. "Grandpa Gus" depicts a superannuated ex-Nazi, living comfortably in Middle America. The coming-of-age tale "Certain Things Are Secret" provides the album's poetic tour de force, a midwestern "Fern Hill" of sorts: "Trains hopped / Secret spots / The eternal regret of no oblivion / Light years away from my first job / Cigarette / Broken heart / It would never be this good again." McGuire's rawked-up versifying is enough to give "spoken word" a good name.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, you nailed this.
I'm one of the fussy bastards that wanted one of the other fussy bastards mixed out (for good reason, I assure you).
But your assessment of our little record is spot on.
Kudos, bro.


10:25 PM  

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