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.