Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 12

You don't so much review Joe Gideon & The Shark as recite them. Gideon Seifert's lyrics have a Carver/Kerouac short story-like edge, streams of literate consciousness that take all sorts of side roads, replete with characater backstories, approaching menace and three dimensional pictorials of a life well lived, like a Tom Waits reverie. Not that this is some singer-songwriter conceit. Duos playing rumbustuously dirty blues-rock aren't exactly uncommon, and of course the White Stripes comparison has been brought out given the family/gender divide - sister Viva drums and provides backing vocals - but what they produce is far from showmanship plus primal thwacks, or even the straight up Luddite riffs of the Black Keys. Live they're a feast of energy, loud and intense, Viva limb flailing to the fullest, crashing forcefully all over the place with expressive theatrics and playing hopscotch with loop pedals so she can play keyboard and percussion too as Gideon draws out a raggedly glorious wall of swamp fuzz guitar over those epically sonorous monologues. Can it transfer to record?

Of course it can, if only because it allows you to make out the words better. Throughout there's a sense that everything is far off centre, grounded by nothing but imagination and bad experience. The title track crashes in on cymbals and laconic swagger that turns to self-abasement ("it's like the rats left a sinking ship... then the ship became a submarine, guess the rats should have stuck with me") to preacher howl. Kathy Ray, which Gideon introduces live as a true story, paints the tale of a failed Ray Charles backing singer auditioner which after four tentative minutes' build from muted guitar and electric piano explodes into thumping drums, Gideon's triumphant shouts and gospel tinged backing vocals. DOL - Daughter Of a Loony, clearly - gets quite intense for something based on that single statement, a musically reflective churning chaos. Civilisation's narrator heads around the world via religion, mythology, science and the shoe counter at Debenhams to "learn the ways of man", full of unexpected detours and odd sidelines - "wrote a book which was a spectacular success, spent all my earnings on weed and crystal meth" - before turning the whole concept on its head right at the end. Hide And Seek is a triumph of ill will, Gideon intoning "What I didn't like about him was the way he smelled... or his stupid curly hair, or that mistake that he made on his first school day" over looped piano, the evil hearted monologue gaining bursts of distorted guitar and vocal fervency, before after everything laid out epic yet still somehow minimal seven and a half minute piano ballad Anything You Love That Much, You Will See Again pretty much brings things floating back down to earth with uncommon comforting notions, but by then the die has been long cast. Mordant deadpan wit, intrigue, assertiveness, the switches between intensity and delicacy and an unhurried album structure that allows Gideon's lyrical ideas to fully develop sets Harum Scarum apart as a properly unique proposition.



The full list

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