Sunday, May 21, 2017

Work In Progress: X___X's "The Monster That Ate Cleveland"

Since he formed the electric eels back in '73, John D. Morton's musical stock in trade has been a confrontational, abrasive minimalism. Pariahs during their brief existence, the eels and their Cleveland contemporaries, Mirrors and Rocket from the Tombs, have since been elevated to the status of proto-punk prophets.

Hagiography aside, it's also true that one person's abrasive noise is another's "soul rinsing" (to use Amiri Baraka's descriptor for Ascension). Eels emissions like "Agitated," "Jaguar Ride," "Bunnies," and "You're Full of Shit" hewed closer to rockaroll's primal essence than even Mirrors or RFTT's rawest work. And hearing Morton's electronic assault on Albert Ayler's "Ghosts" with X___X at Rubber Gloves back in 2016 felt like a cleansing ritual, not to mention making the Denton noise outfit that preceded them sound kind of silly.

The new X___X album, The Monster That Ate Cleveland, opens with a squall of metallic clangor totally at odds with the incongruous nursery school lyrics of "Little Baby Bunnies," giving way to slash-and-burn guitar that takes off from where Uncle Lou's "I Heard Her Call My Name" solo finished and progresses (once the wah kicks on) into atonal Godzilla shrieks reminiscent of the glisses on MC5's Kick Out the Jams, only here he's pissed.

"Cleveland Sucks," replete with singalong chorus, takes the piss out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a couple of songs from the eels canon ("It's Artastic" and "Jaguar Ride") make a welcome resurgence. "Out of Focus," a veritable fuzz guitar orgy, sounds for all the world like Syd Barrett if he'd gone to Lakewood High School but is actually a Blue Cheer cover, while "Karma Bank" blasts off from RFTT/Dead Boys "Sonic Reducer" into hallucinatory space rock, all in under two minutes.

This recording, laid down at Bad Racket Studio in Cleveland, captures more of the band's live fury than 2015's Albert Ayler's Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto did. The guitars (in the hands of Morton, Andrew Klimeyk, and new addition Gary Siperko) bristle with stinging treble and ringing harmonics. The riddim section -- bassist Craig Bell and either Lamont "Bim" Thomas, Rich Rodriguez, or Steve Mehlman on drums (spot the difference!) -- pummels away with cool abandon. It's bracing stuff.

Morton plans to record another 20 minutes of music before shopping for a label. Meanwhile, you can watch the vid for "Little Baby Bunnies" on Youtube.


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