Featured Music: Wednesday, May 8, 2003
Killer or Filler?

A new batch of local c.d.’s for the pooping on/savoring.


It’s the beginning of spring, and we all know what that means: flip-flops. Unless you’re a metalhead. Then your Wolverines stay tightly knotted around your stinky-ass feet. The logic behind this is: When you’re sloshing around a local hole in the wall, listening to Tendril or Garuda, you’d better be togged up in the appropriate outerwear for fancy line-dancing. One refreshing aspect about SXSW this year was the amount of body-surfing going on at the metal shows. We’ve come a long way since the early 1990s when pantywaist club owners — and the musicians who had signed contracts with said pantywaists — frowned nastily on any type of “dancing,” including but not limited to body-surfing and/or moshing. Slamming into one another is what made this country’s music great. My unfettered love is for those metal stoners of yore who worked part-time as lab techs at photo huts, drank aftershave, banged IHOP waitresses, and on weekends entered mosh pits with spite, malevolence, and hidden erections. Those dark clowns kept it “real” (whatever that means; I think it’s something positive). “Bumping” into one another is a good thing; I mean really throwing your weight around as if every other person were a big, shiny, red button that, when pressed, delivers an envelope of anthrax to each of the five Backstreet Boys’ homes. We need more slamming. Then our local clubs would be packed again, and our wounded but proud local club owners and their loved ones wouldn’t have to continue subsisting on twice-chewed corn, the red paste that forms on the lips of empty ketchup bottles, glue, and old shirt stains.

Cleveland Rocks

Whoever told the guys from Scum Scunge that it’d be a good idea to use a really poor photograph of a Chihuahua taking a poop on a five dollar bill as the cover image of their latest c.d., and call the c.d. Five Bucks Ain’t Shit needs to spend a weekend in a Turkish prison in underwear made of peykek cocoa. Not to say that the Chihuahua image doesn’t have a certain jackass-ish appeal; it’s just that it has little to do with Scum Scunge’s relatively serious, relatively tasteful metal. Imagine the Wreck Room casualty, high on $17 earned from recent plasma donations, who spies this c.d. in Wherehouse Music’s bargain bin: He’s gonna think the disc is some stupid-humor trip, the kind he likes, and actually buy it, and then get all bummed out once he listens to the thing and realizes that it’s not stupid humor at all but heavy-duty, non-novelty sludge rock. He’ll probably get all bent out of shape and mop over a customer’s shoes the next day at work. Scum Scunge — if I know Scum Scunge (and I don’t) — probably wouldn’t want that to happen.

Take these songs as autobiographical works, and lyricist/lead singer Donovan “Dody” Cleveland comes off as the kind of guy who tattoos his “issues” on his arms: one for his Oedipal complex, one for suicidal tendencies, one for hating his girlfriend for polishing off the last Big Mac the week before, etc. I guess it’s cool if, like most people, you like victim art (a.k.a. “edgy” art) — ya know, “art” about drug abuse, sex, street life, crime, all that shit. (Can’t someone create a fictional universe in which, say, using ATM machines or placing pictures of relatives in wallets can be seen as “edgy”? It seems that a lot of young and — I’ll say it — unimaginative artists incorporate drug use and/or suicidal tendencies and/or crime and/or sex into their “art,” merely to appeal to that low-brow demographic that’s come to believe that these types of phenomena are what make up “reality.” Cussing in song or writing songs about using drugs or fucking are like shortcuts to young, lazy listeners’ hearts — something, uh, I would never do. Within a certain context, me calling my mom to say happy birthday can be just as “edgy,” if not edgier, than you huffing paint thinner. It just takes a real artist to make my phone call matter. Real artists, in case you didn’t know, are in short supply these days, even ’round these parts.)

“Leaving” is Cleveland’s big, warm goodbye to his mom. Let’s say we take the content of the song as factual: What the fuck is a 27-year-old doing still living with his mother? Cleveland’s heartbreaking work of staggering genius goes like this: Things were good in the fam until kid No. 2 came along, Cleveland’s younger brother; Cleveland got jealous, started shoplifting and “hanging out with gangs”; Cleveland got sent away, to his father’s; Cleveland got abused; Cleveland wrote a song about how mom screwed up his life; Cleveland called the song “Leaving” and put it on this c.d.; the end. To his credit, Cleveland, in the song, avoids letting us see him as a charity case. He delivers the lyrics as if he were talking directly to his mother. This makes us, the listeners, seem incidental to the exchange; we’re just eavesdropping, and Cleveland, in an artsy-fartsy sense, doesn’t even know we’re listening. All good, huh? Well, seeing as this is pop music, as public and democratic an art form as there is, Cleveland clearly understands that people (e.g., us) are going to hear his rant. Still, as an artistic touch, the talking-directly-to-mom approach is pretty nifty, even if Cleveland sounds as if he’s reading his lyrics from scratch paper instead of inhabiting them. (Maybe a GlamourShot of mom hanging in the recording booth would have helped ol’ Donovan achieve an appropriate level of animosity?)

So here’s who Scum Scunge has likely been listening to lately: Napalm Death; Michael Jackson; Bio-Hazard; Mitsubishi commercials; and, for old-school’s sake, Megadeth. The snare drum, stuffed securely into the background of the sound, snaps like a firecracker. The guitars growl. The bass throbs. It’s all pretty hardcore without being too annoying or annoying enough to make you wanna shatter the c.d. with a rubber phallus into 253 pieces. Which isn’t to say that Five Bucks Ain’t Shit is bereft of what could pass as melody. There’s actually something of a hook in each song. For the record: Scum Scunge’s shtick would probably play well at the Wreck or the men’s restroom in the Tom Thumb on Bryant-Irvin.

If Charlton Heston were alive ... oh, wait!

Being too aggressive can sometimes work against you. Case in point: Loaded Moses. These boys are slicker than frozen urine. They got the looks, the sound, and the willingness to perform in fez hats and adult diapers in front of three deaf and blind house pets — if the price is right. I say, God bless America. Musicians who think they’re “above” certain gigs are either the E Street Band or charlatans. Loaded Moses is what ambition is all about. Now, ambition is a tricky concept — some say it merely masks a lack of talent. I say that if you’re in a band and you think that, without putting out some effort, major-label execs are gonna chase after you as if you were a drunk supermodel in stilettos, carrying three cases of Heineken, you’re sadly delusional. You can’t be heard if you’re not out there. Loaded Moses is out there, and that’s why they get the chicks; and, conversely, that’s why they’re public enemy No. 1.

Loaded Moses is legit. Believing, like some other musicians, that you’re too cool for school is like visiting your dying grandmother, snatching the rosary beads from her hands, tuning the tv to SportsCenter, and telling her repeatedly about the time you and Monte Hume dropped her planters from her second-floor balcony just to watch them explode on impact. It’s like not only digging your own grave but designing the casket, too. It also probably makes your manager nuts. And not “nuts” in that silly, Disney kind of way, but in that midlife-crisis sort of way like when you watch Girls Gone Wild: Forbidden Spring Break and see your significant other sucking tequila from a football player’s navel. It’s just plain wrong. It’s why attractive women no longer need men and why Oliver Stone can’t make a coherent movie. Fraudulent, anti-Loaded Moses musicians are everywhere. You probably know them or at least know the type: Overfed, over-read Poindexters whose songs are so unwaveringly sincere that Hallmark has made repeated attempts to turn the nerds’ lyrics into “Wish You Didn’t Have Lupus” greeting cards.

The Loaded Moses product in question is called The Afterglow. Now, I don’t really care what frontman Alex Starr has to say about his diseased relationships with members of the fairer sex. All I know is that he goes on extended rants with gusto and that the musicians behind him actually know how to play their instruments. It’s well-produced cock rock that swings. As for the word on the street that Loaded Moses is a group of self-promoters who can’t back up their promotional assaults, I’d recommend checking out the band at the Wreck Room, May 17, opening for Leroy the Prophet.

Today’s lecture: More about The Man keeping us down.

Having about zero tolerance for thrash metalheads who think that every song has to be in the same speedy tempo, I wanted to take my copy of Bread and Water’s Everything So Far ... (which, true to its name, includes just about every song the band’s ever written — all 329 of them) and make it cry the midnight tears of children of divorced parents who are forced to live with the grandfolks in Cleburne. Then I heard track 13, “Remember,” and promptly changed my outlook. Melodic, heavy, accomplished, this song is everything that three-fourths of the rest of the c.d. isn’t. Or maybe I just take shines to songs that are a little less cookie-cutter. I dunno.

One thing you must know: Lead singer/chief lyricist Amie is a smart motherfucker; he’s a little too knee-jerk liberal and a little too paranoid about living in the U.S. of A., but he knows how to twist words into convincing arguments. Will probably make a decent Chomsky disciple of a community-college prof once the pipes wear out.

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