Feb 25, 2010

RUSTIER, FURRIER, BUT PROBABLY JUST AS DRUNK - One last romp in Ol Bill's honor

Here I am again, yanked from the anonymity of everyday life back into the strange, detached anonymity of the Internet. Not that anyone was plying me with tenured positions, free records, or even a wank in the Aldi parking lot with a powdered glove. I'm here on a mission.
Granted, it's a mission adopted by scores of others all over the jernt in the past few months as the waves of year-end jizz have dictated. But no matter. The tide has subsided and there is, perhaps, finally enough room for my gargantuan ego to stand and say, "Yeah me, too."
At the same time, this was not an easy piece to write. All the other critics seem to harp on the violence, the destruction, so easily gleaned from a record made by one-half of Harry Pussy. They all kind of read like PR sheets, too, which is just as unsurprising as it is disappointing, because this is a pretty personal record. Slapping all that marketing rhetoric on it just ain't couth, if you ask me.
Then again, personal has become sort of a dirty word. By "personal" I do not mean "intimate" like Jackson C. Frank or "outsider" like Bobb Trimble. No, sir. I am talking about personal narrative.
Let us, then, begin at the beginning.
History is smeared all over the acoustic axe like cheap lacquer. It has as many instrumental brothers, sisters and cousins around the world as the drum or the horn. It is also, perhaps, the most cliched, most overused instrument in western music and, consequently, the least-likely to blow me away. It's been distorted, smashed, detuned, prepared, played with a towel and an electric window fan, and yet remains, unequivocally itself. I have, in that sense, as much respect for it as distaste. I heard a lot of solo acoustic records this year, like many years; some old, some recent, and some brand new; some impressive, some momentarily resonant, and some totally forgettable. Rarely do I hear a record whose relish and loathing for the acoustic guitar resonate so strongly with me. Because it is on that rich and storied history that Bill Orcutt meditates.
But let's get something straight: this ain't some post-Alan Watts, post-Axonda, sandal-wearing, raga-taking, Zen snooze button. Bill ain't poppin' a squat on an Indian rug or letting the breeze roll through his beard as he sways in a hammock. This shit is lllllllooooouuuuuddd. Even with the notch on the volume knob staring at your shoes, it's loud. Every kind of loud. It buzzes and snaps and shrieks, wrapped in the quivering aura of an actual room. An honest to Christ room! Engines start, phones ring, floors creak--all of which make the weight and breadth of Orcutt's playing even more miraculous because there is no artifice. It could be happening next door. It's heavy and fast, slow and burning, taut and rapturous.
Of course, what was great about Orcutt back in the day is still alive and well; those serpentine figures still mince the air into crystalline matchsticks like an unholy usuba knife and he still does brake-stands on the E-string like nobody else. But there are also koto-like vibratos and ragtime slides in all directions. I'd call it a clinic, but that would be give you the impression this was one of those stiff, Derek Bailey derivatives. And I'd call it a blues record if that, too, hadn't become such a dirty word.
So, what is it, then? A throwback? An homage? An attempt to write the acoustic guitar into the 21st century?
No. It's an exorcism. Orcutt has calculatedly--but no less passionately--coaxed out all the ghosts dormant in those Kay guitars out of the musty basements of every plucker in Thee United States and into the streets for one last amp-draining zombie rampage; ghosts so misshapen and worm-eaten as to be barely recognizable. That could be Blind Lemon Jefferson gnawing on a SK-54, or just Sharrock chewing Karen Dalton LPs; Arto Lindsay getting his head shortened by a Bell Huey, or an 18th century riti player clubbing Rowland Howard with a slab board Strat. (But now I'm mixing my metaphors.) Who the fuck knows. They all, in whatever hellish state, can be glimpsed in the fracas.
In the end, it's the inspiration that gets me. This isn't that impulsive, peristaltic kind that usually kills on contact. No, I'm guessing Bill's been teasing this hound for a minute now. If we're lucky, this and that here-today 7" (also released in limited #s on Orcutt's own Palilalia) are but the first of many snarls to come.
Here's to the ensuing mayhem. May it never quite put the period on the history of the acoustic guitar.
Stupid fucking thing...