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Vinyl Tap: Thin White Rope – Moonhead

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #3:

It’s not the heat, it’s the humanity, or lack thereof.

Thin White Rope sounds a little like John Kay and Steppenwolf had they headed out on the highway but ditched the keyboardist in San Berdoo, met up with the Meat Puppets in the scorching, desolate desert — perhaps like in the alienating and isolated acreage of the back cover photo for 1987’s lunatic Moonhead — and decided: forget “wild,” man, we were born to be psychotic.

To clinch the deal, though, this California band would also have to crank up the guitar amps from “Goddamn the Pusher Man ‘11‘” to “Squirrelly Fried-Brain Psilocybin Freaks ‘12.’” And I mean that in the best sense of the words: Rarely — as is the case with Thin White Rope — has such sinuous and sibilating and lysergic guitar lines, like coiled rattlesnakes on the two-lane blacktop, resonated with such menacing insidiousness.

Just as evocatively and eerie are the death-rattle vocals of leader, songwriter and guitarist Guy Kyser as he punctuates and reinforces the spine-chilling instrumentation of Roger Kunkel (guitar), Stephen Tesluk (bass, vocals) and Jozef Becker (drums), by reiterating and moodily sustaining the sinister surrealism in ways that’ll make you shiver in your shoes, and check twice for scorpions therein. In “Wire Animals,” there’s always something there to remind you — and give you something to think about, whether you want to or not:

Late at night when I’m cooling down
Rattles sound inches from my face
And your voices lashes like a snake
With a phone cord for a tail

And the snake says to me
“You are alone but you are not free.”

With this sophomore album’s South-Western Gothic sound, you might expect such a skewed world view as also reflected in the off-kilter title song, and a little ditzy ditty called “Crawl Piss Freeze.” But even in a song whose title conjures up hearth and home, such as “Mother,” unsettling forces flourish, and helping around the house means more than just raking the leaves: “I hate this business of visiting my hometown / Moving the corpse from place to place.”

And what is one to make of the Boschian cold comforts stirred up by “Come Around,” where welcoming hospitality is not exactly forthcoming?:

Dave I saw your tiny fist around a leper’s tit
Jesus walked right by you and you didn’t give a shit
Andy killed an animal, he killed it with his hand
And gave it all to me because I was a woman then.

I remember Clay was turning blue from some disease
He picked up in London in the 1470s
Got to laugh at Lloyd, he will deny it to his death
That he’s the one who never could extract that pound of flesh.

But what else would you to expect from a band named after William S. Burrough’s euphemism for ejaculation? In any case, this Grand Guignol rock ‘n’ roll did not roll on. After a few more albums, Kyser packed it in in 1992 and became a botanist. But you get the feeling that, in the course of his plant studies, he’s keeping an eye out for snakes in the grass as some macabre, misshapen memories sometimes resurface. As he pondered in “Thing”: “Sometimes it makes me spin how things were so different then / But lately they aren’t different anymore.”

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • Sam the Sham

    Are you one a them there music snobs?

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    I prefer the term “hipper-than-thou.”