Cannibal Ox-The Cold Vein

January 30, 2009

Cannibal Ox

The Cold Vein (Def Jux 2001)

Most of our musical tastes veer far from the realm of our teenage years. Mine were spent listening to Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B and Rakim amongst lesser lights like 3rd Bass, Two Live Crew and even MC Hammer. Just like many of you have disowned past loves of pop-punk detritus, disposable grunge and twee atrocities, I buried my love of hip-hop in a file occupied by Kings X, Belly and DJ Shadow. However, there were a few hip-hop albums that defrosted my frigid affections and sparked a momentary love of a genre which fueled the hormonal angst of my youth. Dr. Octagon, Company Flow and Cannibal Ox gripped me for different reasons, but they pushed my lil’ tootsies back into the water. Sadly, the water was cold and devoid of much life, but Cannibal Ox’s Cold Vein remains one of the few hip-hop albums that speaks to me on a lyrical and sonic level. Before anyone gets their panties in a knot, hip-hop feels as natural as pickles on my pillow. Shit just doesn’t work for me. Apologies to all who cuddle with foodstuffs.

I haven’t heard this in years and some of it doesn’t hold the test of time, but much of it is so misanthropic, dense and alien that it makes me feel uneasy. In many ways, it reminds me of the dissonance and unpleasantness of New Kingdom’s Paradise Don’t Come Cheap, minus the incessant sampling of stoned riffs. “Raspberry Fields” is ironically titled since its mass of stuttering beats, percolating synths and discussions of cannibalism and disembowelment stand in stark contrast to any discussions of peace, love and understanding. Actually, the lyrics are kind of silly, but the production and delivery are pretty epic and unsettling. The reverberating guitar riff kind of reminds me of a bastardized Butthole Surfers riff circa Locust Abortion Technician. I’m also a big fan of “Pigeon” which is so stripped down and bare that its substitution of a pigeon for a phoenix rising from the ashes seems somehow apt instead of ridiculous. Their pigeon fights its way to the heavens, but is dragged down by forces beyond its control. For some reason, I find the imagery affecting since the pigeon was kind of the grubby mascot of my North Philly upbringing. There is something so sad about identifying with a pigeon as a totem animal that I find the whole song depressing and devastating in a small way.

There are no climaxes, booty calls or rags to riches stories to be found in their tales. The stark production and bleak worldview give birth to memories of those times when the party is over, no one is home to welcome you and the morning promises little in the way of salvation.

Sorry for another lapse in action. I am currently finishing a curriculum for an AP course and it has vacuumed all of my free time. I will return this weekend, but I am really posting to ask for requests for re-ups. I am planning on re-ups of Ingram Marshall, Tim Buckley and Beautiful South, but lemme know if any more are broken. In addition, is there any album you would like to see written about here? Leave your requests in the comments and Fumble Bumble will return to grant your wishes.

Patience and Prudence

The Best of Patience and Prudence (Collectors Choice)

Sometimes it is all too easy to embrace unchecked aggression, misanthropic sentiments and general misery instead of something wholly innocent and sweet. God knows that most of my listening habits gravitate towards some of the more unhealthy and damaged sounds of the past few decades. However, there are times when I believe in all that is good on this green earth and invest myself in a record that lazes about in the sweetness and light. I happened upon a going out of business sale at a local record store and the sickly sweet cover of this cd really beckoned to me. Maybe I felt it complemented the holiday scenery and haggard St. Nick that lurked outside its doors, but somehow it felt right to purchase this oddball 50s collection. Kitsch has burned my palms more times than not. If I could get a refund for every ridiculous VHS tape, velvet painting and lp that has wormed its way into my grubby mitts…..well, I could buy a fancy dinner with all the trimmings.

Patience and Prudence were a one-hit wonder of the 50s whose only hit “Tonight You Belong to Me” cracked the top ten. As you can probably infer from the garish caricature adorning the cover, they were a pre-teen sister act that capitalized upon the last gasps of the Pat Boone school of rock. Wholesome tunes may have ruled this slice of American history, but I’ll be damned if their naive yearning for puppy love somehow speaks to the romantic in me. Their aforementioned hit only lasts two minutes, but may be the most compact summation of that moment when you feel the ripplings of your first crush and confuse it for emotions so infinitely vast and lasting. Yes, it is easy to dismiss these early stirrings, but these hormonal percolations are somehow more real than the jaded encounters of today. It reaffirms a faith in love and the belief that your first encounter can toss your heart around like a wiffleball.

Yes, their lyrics about the joys of a new dress and a ribbon in your hair may not resonate in your soul, but the orchestration and heavenly, but clumsy harmonies are a perfect antidote for those nights when life gets utterly complex and muddled. When you feel jaded and even flirtations seem stale, listen to Patience and Prudence and remember that there was a time when most of your daily experiences were virgin territory. Their confections will take you back to time before your heart was scarred and heartbreak only happened in the movies.

Dog Faced Hermans

Hum of Life (Konkurrel/Project A-Bomb 1993)

The embittered old codger in me whines that they just don’t make ’em like this anymore, but the realist in me wholeheartedly believes that the Dog Faced Hermans can never be properly copied or borrowed from in any meaningful way. Although they bore some resemblance to the agitated political punk of the Ex, the band’s scope peered far beyond any stylistic ghetto or singular influence. You were likely to hear strains of improv, 8 Eyed Spy and Ornette Coleman covers, feminist manifestos, wry commentary and rollicking trumpet blasts amidst a more familiar punk framework. Sure, lots of bands have deftly incorporated oodles of tasteful influences into their homebrew, but there was a passion, intelligence and political activism to their music that was alternately raucous, yet thoughtful.

Hum of Life is sadly out of print. It’s a shame that their wonderful, but inferior album on Alternative Tentacles is the only recording that is readily available. Hum of Life is their masterpiece since it encompasses all that I love about this band. I swear some of this reminds me of some bastard child of Klezmer, gypsy music and the Gang of Four/The Ex. Catchy anthems suddenly explode into free-jazz interludes only to see vocalist/trumpeter Marion Coutts take the reins and lead the band into some bizarro surf guitar riffs. I don’t know if I have heard such a stylistic hodgepodge ever sound so cohesive and unique. By all means. their high hopes should result in failure, but every spoken word section, spastic interlude and tender soliloquy reminds me why I obsess over albums that are so utterly transcendent.

There are two songs in particular that excite and haunt me 16 years after I first heard them. The first is “Jan 9” which is an almost sci-fi punk song about the dangers of creationism and fundamentalism as it details a society where science has been subverted by the government in order to establish a society where inquiry is sinful. I always loved the opening lines which describe a world where science is like a fly with its wings cut and left to wander the floor with the rest of us peons.

Jan 9 in future time/the day science clipped its wings/nobody flew/we all stood around/shaking hands on the ground/congratulating ourselves/we could only see the soles of their feet/we thought there were angels up ahead

“Hook and the Wire” is the other masterpiece as it attacks the pro-life movement and paints a picture of a patriarchal society where men carelessly impregnate women and send them off to deal with the hook and the wire. It details a society where abortion is no longer an option and sexual partners coldly banish their love to an alleyway to deal with it themselves. It is a somewhat ironic tale of a world where misogyny and the far right have overtaken our lives and males and enforce self-mutilation is an acceptable solution to a pregnancy. The sad part about both of these tunes is that they don’t seem too far-fetched these days.

Although Mississippi Records reissued a vinyl edition of their first album, the rest deserve your love and attention so some stalwart label can expose more folks to the beauty of their catalogue.


Streethawk: A Seduction (Misra 2001)

Before I begin, I am very sorry for disappearing for such a long vacation. Shit has hit the proverbial fan and blogs seem inconsequential. However, it stinks less than last week, so here I am.

Before he lost himself in a lyrical labyrinth of his own creation, Dan Bejar, otherwise knows as Destroyer, was one of the most witty, dense lyricists of the 90s. The cryptic lyrics and Bowie nods were plentiful, but they worked despite themselves, Streethawk: A Seduction is the first album where he really shed his indie-rock cocoon and became some wordy bastard child of Hunky Dory. Later albums became more verbose and complex, but Streethawk is the one where his knack for penning a catchy, but bizarro tune melded perfectly with a love of Bowie. Yes, subsequent efforts like This Night and Rubies pinched from different Bowie albums and were equally dense, but this one has an almost Dylan-esque ramble to it. By no means are any of Destroyer’s albums on par with the highlights of both of these legends, but Streethawk hints that Bejar could be a bizarro version if he cut the fat from his sometimes pretentious songs.  However,  even his most bloated songs break my fragile ticker when he aims for the bullseye and hits it perfectly.

I have always had a romantic fascination with Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, so Destroyer’s “Virgin with a Memory” always floors me with its opening line of ” Was it the movie or the making of Fitzcarraldo where someone learned to love again.”  Al;though it is only an intro, it is a perfect image to conjure for a song about someone coming to grips with the weight of an actual passion. It may be overwrought to compare Herzog’s torture of sailing a riverboat up the Amazon, but somehow it is a fitting analogy for an emotionally stunted soul struggling to feel emotions that are dangerous, but electric. It is a song that celebrates youth and its infinte possibilies where all is new and raw.

Sometimes his lyrics sound better in song  than when read, but they are always interesting even when it winds up as a pile of well-crafted nonsense.  His discography is spotted with flaws, but somehow I keep listening to his albums because his flaws are infinitely more interesting than most musician’s successes.