Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Moonhead - Thin White Rope

-->Guy Kyser scares me. At least his voice does. He is the only singer I have ever come across that I am convinced wants to kill me. But I do get the feeling he would feel sorry about it afterwards. Every word he sings on this record is growled with such ferocity and anguish that it can only come from a thoroughly dark place. He seems so tortured and carved up by these words that forcing them out of his mouth causes him serious pain. Whilst this should be a rather unsettling thing to hear, and it can be at times, it is also totally compelling. You can’t help but want to hear about what is causing this man to snarl so much. You are both wary of his anger and intrigued by it.

Thin White Rope are considered to be one of the bands from the paisley underground. A group of bands from the western states who were infusing 60’s rock with punk sensibilities to create some of the better records from the early 1980’s. However TWR really have little in common with bands like The Long Riders or Rain Parade. There are elements of that scene in this record but it’s altogether a much darker affair. The desert imagery, the big, wide open space of the sound and the anger of it all made Thin White Rope stand apart from their peers. Probably in a corner, looking a bit pissed off.

The lyrics on this album vary in subject. From sad laments about failed relationships to angry rants about fictional people who threaten the singer's girlfriend. However these subjects are all delivered with the same anger and pain regardless of their tone. There is very little to be found in Kyser's words to soothe or comfort. The lyrics from Wire Animals for example, talk of lonely nights in the desert hearing voices in the wind. Where less fatalistic men may have written about hearing the names of loved ones or reassurance from the universe, Kyser's breeze delivers a chilling truth “You are alone. You are not free.” Hardly the most pleasant of thoughts, but who needs pleasant when it’s delivered with such passion and depth? His voice shudders over those words as if he really has just received that piece of news from the elements. And the result is chilling. Take It Home has the same effect with its descriptions of “bright dry fields where they burn the wind out” continuing the desert imagery. These songs have a creepy feeling to them. As if the events described have left the narrator disturbed and afraid in some way. Even songs about relatively mundane things such as comforting friends after break ups (Thing) have a feeling that something is not quite right, that there is a darker element to it. This is in part due to the lyrics and their mournful but descriptive phrasing as well as Kyser’s harrowing growl. This mixed with the abundance of minor chords throughout give the album its rather bleak feel.

The sound of the album so perfectly suits the songs too. It’s a big sound with two ferocious guitars, complex, clever bass lines and thudding drums driving home the point of each song. None of these instruments fight for space in the mix though. This is because the album sounds pretty much as spacious as the desert itself. Every instrument can be heard perfectly and none of them are hidden away. There is no claustrophobia on this record, just ever expanding space and the loneliness that comes with it. To create such a large sonic area whilst not making it seem sparse and vapid is a difficult task but one that the band and producer Paul Mckenna have handled well. There’s little variation in the tone of the instruments however. The same handful of guitar sounds feature through out the album and the only change in the instruments line up is the acoustic guitar on Thing. Why change a winning formula though? If you can make a record sound this good with so few sounds then you don’t really need any more

On the title track in particular the intricate guitar playing of both Kyser and Roger Kunkel is a force to be reckoned with. The way the two separate but intertwining guitar riffs weave around each other slowly climbing over the bass line builds the tension and anticipation for something explosive. Though the climax is delivered, it’s not where you’d expect it to be and the surprise of it catches me each time I listen to it. The record is like that all the way through, each song fulfils its promise but just not quite how you’d expect it to. The result is an album that keeps you guessing. In a sense it’s like a 1950's horror film. You know something big is going to happen because the music is building up to it, it’s just a matter of when. This mixed with the band's compelling performance makes the whole thing unsettling in a very exciting way. You can’t stop listening for fear that you'll miss something that will challenge what you were expecting.

Originally issued on Frontier records in the USA and by Zippo in the UK, this album has been out of print for quite sometime with no signs of a reissue yet. However, with the wonders of the digital age you don't need to scour record shops or ebay in the hope that one will turn up. The entire album, as well as a lot of the rest of the band's catalogue is now available on Spotify, so those of you who signed up before they stopped handing out subscriptions can hear it. It may not be the best record to put on at a party or when you're trying to sleep but it really is an album that is worth making time for again and again.

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