Thee Speaking Canaries-Songs For the Terrestrially Challenged
September 22, 2008
Thee Speaking Canaries
Songs For the Terrestrially Challenged (Scat 1995)
Going to college outside of Pittsburgh in the early to mid-90s was a fruitful and educational time for me. Yes, there were boring discussions of teaching pedagogy as well as exciting ones about Faulker and Walker Percy, but I still treasure the musical education shilled out by the many wise souls who took me under their musical wing. Plus, the added bonus was the local music scene populated by Don Caballero, Karl Hendricks Trio, Hurl, Blunderbuss, Shale, Watershed, Swob, Davenport and those times i saw Aus Rotten in a basement without ever knowing that filthy punks held them in such high regard. Today, my love for most of these bands is rooted in nostalgia instead of a current appreciation. However, one band still piques my interest and provides something new to enjoy with each successive listen. I guess it is fitting that this band is The Speaking Canaries since this lineup included Damon Che of Don caballero, Karl Hendricks and Noah Leger of Hurl.
I liked their debut, Joy of Wine, but Damon Che reshuffled the deck a bit and reconfigured the band in a new light. If you only know Damon Che from his drumming on Don Caballero’s albums, then it’s a bit of a shock to see how much his guitar playing suggests a combo of mid-90s indie-rock via Sonic Youth as well as the prominent influence of one Eddie Van Halen. Where their debut cut to the chase, the followup takes more epic, overblown pathways as the band delivers so much more drama and pathos. There is a lot of anger here, but not in a raging manner where screams equal emotional release. In fact, the lyrics sometimes rely on throwaway lyrics and humor to mask emotions that do not bubble to the surface until we hit the climax of each track.
To be honest, time hasn’t been entirely kind to this album, but there is something about it that suggests a moody late night reflection on your regrets and woes with incessant riffs to lift it all beyond the mundane. In fact, Damon Che’s guitar playing and strangled vocals give the lyrics an added weight even when the actual words fail to match the intended frustration and hurt of the lyrics.
The opener “Houses and Houses of Perfectness” is the perfect union of Che’s riffing and angst. Initially, my young mind couldn’t wrap my brain around the Van Halen influence, but years have passed and it all seems perfect to me. I still am drawn to the imagery of this song and how it describes how someone can waltz into your life, shake it to the core and cause pain. He sort of portrays himself as the victim of this behavior, but it seems like he’s been the perpetrator more than the recipient.
“Our War on Cool pt. Two” is another highlight as it digs deeper into the alienation and pining that forms a core of many of the songs. Yes, the flippant side of the song advocates a “War on Cool” but it is really about a man who has lost his partner in crime. However, he’s angry because knows that they share little in common other than a desire to stir shit up in every direction.
Overall, Songs For the Terrestrially Challenged doesn’t sing to me like used to, but it does contain four or five songs that beat much of what was recorded in the mid 90s. Plus, its odd mix of Van Halen, Don Caballero and Sonic Youth still bear little resemblance to anything recorded since. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it sure was different and worth your attention.