By Ashley Zimmerman
By Dana Krangel
By John Hood
By Ashley Zimmerman
By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
By Steve Brennan
By Ashley Zimmerman
Destroy All Human Life
"Women and children first, then the faggots and the niggers," slurs Ben Wallers, the surly, sleepy-voiced vocalist-guitarist for Edinburgh, Scotland's Country Teasers. "Line them up against the wall and pull your fucking triggers." When we think of misanthropic music, the first sounds to come to mind are probably punk, industrial-noise, and heavy metal. That's understandable because such sounds are laden with aggressive, distorted guitars and rhythms bolstering the music's lyrical vitriol. However, the Country Teasers' lilting, stumbling, amateurish country-blues music proves that hate suits any genre. Not just another "alternative country" creation, Destroy All Human Life is a manifesto of misanthropy.
The unimposing, bespectacled Wallers has sung throughout the group's prolific ten-year history (with many albums now out of print, an accurate discography is difficult to trace) like a disoriented Mark E. Smith awakening from a blackout in a Deep South juke joint. Continuing the lyric quoted above, from "Women and Children First," Wallers neatly summarizes his casual depravity: "Pull your fucking triggers on the injuns, chinks and niggers/Yids and queens and intellectuals/Painters, poets and singers/And the people with six fingers/If it was up to me, I'd bring back B.C./Where I knew, there is no moral rule." Tangled notes from hollow-body electric guitars and languid drum thwaps slither in agreement with Wallers' provocative proclamations.
The group insists that its country-cum-garage-rock music isn't ironic. Fine, but perhaps a tougher pill to swallow is the assertion that Wallers' lyrical goading is simply a sarcastic ruse. That's right: As Lenny Bruce did before him, he's merely baiting the crowd. Wallers' put-on intends to challenge the value attributed to morality, to good and evil, and to human life itself. "Reynard the Fox" initiates the sardonic hate-fest with a gleeful polka beat, shit-kickin' bass, saloon piano trills, and almost-tuned, ringing guitars. Seemingly unaware of the happy-go-lucky tune, Wallers pitches his unseemly bait: "Women dressed in red be wary/Red is the uniform of tarts." His sentiment grows progressively uglier and more misogynist from there.
Although the Country Teasers sound bigoted and menacing, their smirking delivery reveals the lyrics to be an indiscriminate jest. The Country Teasers don't really hate humanity, only what its languages and cultures represent. Or, as Wallers blithely seethes on "Women and Children First," "There is no bias on my hate/I will pick you all off as you leave the gate/Destroy all human life."
Summer Teeth has the sound and feel of an album by a band that's realized what it wants to be. Wilco's third record (or fourth, if you count last year's Mermaid Avenue, the collaboration with Billy Bragg on Woody Guthrie songs) is not, however, the end of the process. Instead the Wilco members explore the territory they have staked out, making discoveries about themselves and pop music along the way.
Wilco has all but abandoned its Americana roots -- trading in the pedal steel for Hammond organ, fiddles for vintage synthesizers -- but it's still definitely an American band, full of hopes and dreams tempered by grim realities. Lyrically, singer-guitarist Jeff Tweedy touches on dark subjects -- infidelity, domestic violence, murder -- and the music may be minor-key at times, but it doesn't stay in one dour mood; it grows and changes. By the end Summer Teeth is a rock record with a soul.
The journey begins with "Can't Stand It," in which Tweedy sings, "Your pray-ers are never gonna be answered again," because "no love's as random as God's love." Soon after, he's digesting cliched lies on "We're Just Friends," offering expert, firsthand advice on "How to Fight Loneliness," and chillingly dreaming of murder on "Via Chicago." As Tweedy dredges these depths, the music keeps things afloat. The production is warm, thanks to analog synths, piano, horns, and four-guys-around-a-microphone harmonies.
Even the darkest song, "Via Chicago," is hauntingly beautiful. The opening line -- "I dreamed about killing you again last night," sung over a slow-strummed acoustic guitar -- is all Tweedy can get out before the band joins in, shuffling along with piano, reedy synths, and textured feedback. The song builds up and ebbs away, background noises get louder, brushed-drums hit harder; finally the song releases a feedback-soaked guitar solo while the rest of the sounds disintegrate. Tweedy's voice cracks at the acoustic-guitar coda, sounding pained, and the band kicks in again, though now it sounds as if it's coming through an AM radio.
Teeth is not all desperation; there are the daily affirmation of "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway(again)," the happy gloating of "I'm Always in Love," and the optimism of the album closer, "In a Future Age." In the end Wilco has found some scraps of redemption, through the music and the introspection that created it.