A handful of bent, wavering chords come clattering out the speakers to my right, couple flick-knife scads of screeching feedback throbbing in-between. A wash of spindly guitar unfurled o'er a quiff-skulled, bobbin' bassline. A voice harsh as the crust on a week-old hemorrhoid, yet enchanting as the siren's squawk to a rum-wrecked sailor.
Smiling to myself, nodding the head enthusiastically, the shrill hiss of the swelling dawn simmering at the edges of the window-glass. "This is beautiful" I'm mouthing. "Beautiful…"
Couple hours previous, I'm sat in the kitchen on a too-hard chair with the smoke from a too-thin cigarette scourging the retinas something fierce, examining the CD inlay held open afore me.
Dotted about the glossy paper, sundry curious, disturbing sights; Sharks, Nazis, executions, three-boobed women all Playboy glaze-gaze, merboys and one-eyed soft-focus monkey beasts, faceless forms hung from gallows, garden party socialites and Hitler Youth parades.
Death spectacles, killing machines, abominations. Puffing the cheeks, muttering under my breath; "Jesus save us all…"
Glance at the song titles; "Aphrodite Has Gone Mad", "Not Right In The Head", "Two Shit Icepick"…
Looking up from the case with the yap all skewed to one side, forehead wrinkled some, I'm saying to the fella sleeps in my hallway sometimes; "This is gon' be harsh."
"This." Reaching him the record, The Underwater Fascist by Touchers. On the cover – some manner of slumbering ocean-woman, naked, the seaweed all coiling about her thighs and her arms and the nooks down yonder by the hoo-hah.
He gives it a cursory glance, tosses it back at me. "Never heard of them" says he. "Who are they, pray tell?"
Who they are, I explain, are an American indie outfit fronted and orchestrated by one Ben Brisini, a manic depressive, healthy-living 'musical autocrat' (Press Release says…) from Bozeman, Montana. "Jack Endino's produced it" I inform him. "I assume some sort of claustrophobic, lumber-haulin', grunge-hued sludge or other is the order of the day. Heavy shit, I'd guess – sonically, thematically and spiritually."
Returning the focus to his paperback, he asks; "Can you handle it, d'you think?"
"I dunno" says I, glaring now at my reflection on the underside of the disc itself, red-ring eyes and unshaven jaw all flush with patchy bum-fluff fuzz. "Harsh times of late, you'll be aware. Break-ups, panic attacks, Grindhouse being released as two separate flicks… Last thing a man needs on top of all that is an hour's worth of a bi-polar fella screeching about Nazi sharks and shock therapy."
A shrug. "Maybe it'll be funny. Like that Ricky Gervais stuff about sharks would've found Anne Frank in seconds."
"Maybe…" I say, rising then to my feet. "Maybe…"
Here and now, with that galloping, bigmuff stew slapped about the ear-holes, with the head afire with the rockabilly rompin' and the dropped-D sing-a-longs and with Ben Brisini howling and barking and raging like a rabid dog left and right, I'm thinking; "This is just the tonic I needed."
Silly bastard – such was the part performed by me and my fine self for to have been so apprehensive with regards that first jab of a forefinger off of the play button.
Discordant chaos? Impenetrable sheets of terrifying, hysterical, rotten dot com barbarity? Fuck the bit of it.
The Underwater Fascists is, it transpires, an absolute joy of a record. It's amongst the most distinctive, memorable records I've encountered this year, and seeing as how this year has also offered the likes of Cassadaga and Icky Thump and Easy Tiger and Volta and Favourite Worst Nightmare and If The Ocean Gets Rough and those Traveling Wilburys reissues, that's a hell of a feat accomplished right there.
Sonically, Touchers lurch and loll and loiter in and around a muck-crusted pasture I'm gonna go ahead and name Scuzz-Folk, or Dirty-Bastard-Country-Grunge, if you'd prefer.
The sounds they create are of a sort you'd expect to find not underwater, but coiled about the trunk of some ancient, weather-wrecked cypress tree, a gargantuan article situated top a hillside overlooking a fifteen-mile industrial sprawl. From the branches; great glooping splods of factory-reek-hued sap bubble and pop, the rust-coloured leaves pawed and ruffled by a brooding, ash-grey breeze.
The Underwater Fascist is the kinda record Johnny Cash might've ended up making if that "Rusty Cage" cover had been his idea. Kinda record Neil Young And Crazy Horse would've maybe crafted had they hung about with Eddie Vedder a couple albums longer.
Kinda record Uncle Tupelo may have gotten around to eventually, had they gone on long enough to get lazy and need to "re-discover ourselves" – i.e., get some new haircuts and some louder guitars and some ballads shorn of string arrangements and lyrics about "fuck".
It's a record lurches violently atween aching, ragged, tender beauty and head-down, arse-in-the-air, riff-sick abandon. It's as in love with the notion of a lilting, melancholy lullaby as it is with the idea of driving half your face into your kidneys with a power-chord the size of fifteen whale-bellies.
At times it sounds like someone's taken a soldering iron to Surfer Rosa by The Pixies and the first Two Gallants album, joining the buggers at the bifkins and sending them racing out into the evening with a bagful of sticks and ECT-fried academics and hooks you could cripple a hovercraft with. Other times it's a bit like a less lo-fi Moldy Peaches, with lyrics about "I think you are beautiful, but you are for the worms" and "my brain is out to get me" instead of "Who'm I s'posed to stick my dick in?" or "I'm downloading porn with Dave".
The influences are readily apparent, yes (in addition to the aforementioned, note also the Paul Simonon basslines, the screeching Black Flag rage, the smatterings of Sun-era Elvis – why not, it's in the public domain now anyway, I heard) and yet Touchers' sound is wholly unique. The phrase "They sound a bit like Touchers" seems totally plausible as a manner of describing some Dirty-Bastard-Country-Grunge outfit might maybe materialize in the near future.
Sometime after the fifth spin, I'm addressing once more my friend from the second or third paragraph. "I was wrong" I'm saying. "Wrong as a cat-head hung from a vicar's bell-end."
"Wrong about what?"
"About this record being something that was gon' upset me out my very last wits. This record is astonishing. Any justice in the world, I tell you, and these would be hit singles right here. "The Mattress Song", "There's The Rub", "February 22nd 1975" – fucking incredible, each and every one, and that's only the three I've noted down for the review I need to write. Half a dozen more as good or as good again or but a fart's width shy."
"I'll maybe give it a listen" he says.
He won't. And neither will enough other people, if the facts of the case are to be lain out afore us, like communion wafers crisp with the holy spirit of The Truth About The Touchers Thing.
Most likely they'll remain an underground concern, the type o' band folks'll pretend they've listened to for years when some hip-hopper in the 22nd century samples "Do The New Plague, Babe" all of a sudden, but ignored till then by most everybody outside of the select few lucky enough to have had "Country Killer" darting and diving about the 04:28 of a June morning, or to have traveled to Dundalk by train with those chainsaw melodies hissin' out the earphones, smiling like a man possessed and terrifying the holy blue motherfucks out the wee woman on the far side of the carriage.
"It's alright, love, it's just this song by Touchers called 'Not Right In The Head' has got me giddy as a willy in a house made o' hoo-hah, and that is why I'm smiling like this. Not because I'm goin' to cut my bottom lip off and throw it at you."
The Underwater Fascist by Touchers is out now via Wantage USA. Pick it up via the Touchers MySpace Page.