Friday, September 20, 2013

Sad Horse "Purple On Purple Makes Purple" on Water Wing Records

If there’s one genre that rises above all others, it’s the sharp, brutish minimal punk that Sad Horse has put together on Purple on Purple Makes Purple from Water Wing Records. I love when a group, especially a duo, get together telepathically like this and are forced to improvise and experiment, willingly putting themselves in this vulnerable position. The two of them deliberately stripped of effects are forced to rely on discordant rhythm over melody.
Sad Horse’s Geoff Soule and Elizabeth Venable have been together since at least 2008 with their first release that year on the renowned Mississippi Records. I first tracked them down after learning Geoff was a member of one of my favorite late ‘90s bands, (and the impossible to google) Fuck. From the matchbook style CD packaging I knew Baby Loves a Funny Bunny was a masterpiece, right up there with Rex and Papa M’s releases I listened to religiously.

“Take It” sets the tone of the attack with Elizabeth yelling and half screaming vocals over a stomping rhythm and naked electric jangle that sounds like the tone from Big Lizard in My Backyard. It’s raw, even the guitar starts out unsure of what exact rhythm these drums are going to come in with. These fragile uneven starts and stops hint at that unrehearsed style of another beloved duo, The Yips. “You Are Idiots” has the greatest enthusiastic yelling sarcasm, literally with screams of joy: ‘Congratulations! / You made the grade! / You’re fucking amazing!’ a manic response to an entire generation that feel entitled to being rich and famous.
We hear from Geoff on “Sure You Do” in a barely audible spoken lyric ‘I got stuff’. Elizabeth quickly challenges this notion as they raise each other in who’s got more stuff, getting into Gang of Four territory with this jangle post punk idea of consumerism and proving that those late ‘70s concerns haven’t really changed so much. The track also reminds me of Fuck’s weird sense of humor and melody when a synth actually chimes in with a bit of lightness alongside Geoff and Elizabeth’s floating, airy harmony chorus. “Harmony” comes back on twice as strong with chunky riffs and fragmented percussion. Their both yelling in the back of this room, stopping to hint at revisiting that shimmery pop sound of last tracks, “Sure You Do” between these punk hardcore blasts. “Grass Roots” attempts to combine disparate rhythms of a rolling snare and distorted precise strums and noodling single note melodies from Geoff like the Feelies, but a peculiar instrumental that starts to break down and devolve before it’s completely cut off.

B-Side’s “No Go” takes off in frantic car chase guitar line, Elizabeth is barely forming words more intent on interjecting a vocalization of some kind in an unleashed snarl of banshee wailing over a repetitive no wave sound. Don’t forget about Elizabeth’s perfection on drums in “Check’s in the Mail” matching her equally pounding vocal style. Geoff plays with an almost winding blues riff between stuttery lines as jagged and sharp as The Embarrassment with a looser punk feel, more volume but the same cultural concerns. On “Dentist” Geoff creates a hasty math equation, a line running up the guitar frets while Elizabeth goes from barely speaking to completely mental, her question ‘You want to get it out?’ turning from anger to frustration. This quickly escalates into the tension that’s always simmering with these guys…and their dentist?
They play with those expectations on “Something That Sucks” in its experimental guitar, slightly out of tune sounding, being wrestled to create these haphazard tones. It’s the awkwardness of the whole thing that works directly against this head banging thick indie fuzz that isn’t garage, but it throbs and ebbs with a real crunch and thick power. It’s a brief moment like everything on this record without a chance to exaggerate and that’s’ their strength. They can get this traditional at the drop of a hat combining a power punk with abstract guitar delivery.
“Alex’s Blues” expands on the free jazz style, always hinting that they could pounce any time. Working their way though time signatures, there’s no limits to the rhythms they carry out. It takes a unique duo to execute this contemplative improvisation that doesn’t land near each other but still works as one entity. Great twanging notes in the middle of a rehearsal room with shuffling percussion and fingerpicking from the other side of a cavernous space. Like Fat History Month they can easily switch gears at any time and I love this kind of intimate conversation that could have come in a moment of perfect morning clarity or at the end of a long alcohol fueled marathon.
“Ain’t That Something” finished the record with Geoff on vocals in a faster tempo Velvet Underground jangle repetition even sounding a bit like a young Lou Reed riding this calmer pop sound. A nod to Fuck or the source itself or just another facet of Sad Horse’s evolution of that slow, astute pop into a harder, irregular punk, the same progression I’ve been following as a listener. They’re distilling this conceptual punk down to its essential elements and deliver post haiku’s to an A.D.D. culture.

Get this from Water Wing Records ($10!!!) who put out the only other Sad Horse release on vinyl besides that Mississippi Records single (mine is wrapped in a spray painted pink bandana).

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