Various Artists

Chains and Black Exhaust (Jones 2002)

A Memphis DJ who wrote for Wax Poetics magazine released this comp of 60s and 70s of downright raw and nasty funk and rock in the vein of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain minus the long, drawn out monologues about, well….maggots on the brain. This comp is a tribute to the influence of  Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Hazel to be exact. Most, if not all artists are African-American funk bands who are in love with the power of Motor City rock and roll. Some of the instrumentals have been sampled by hip-hop artists and it’s not surprise since the instrumental tracks picture a world where George Clinton took over Stax records.

The most “recognizable” band on here is Black Merda whose self-titled album is fiercely funky psych-rock album, but you will want to track down the scarce discographies of LA Carnival, Sir Stanley and other lost pioneers of an era where funk-rock didn’t mean a bunch of surfers wearing socks on their ding dongs. It is a perfect snapshot of a time where Motown, Stax, Nuggets and fried guitar riffs all went together like peanut butter and jelly. In particular, Grand Am’s “Get High” mostly consists of the aforementioned chorus and puffing sounds, but the guitar playing on this is so primitive and unhinged that it bashes you on the noggin. I cannot tell you much about the artists here because many of these tracks were neglected by history and only resurfaced due to the diligence of this wonderful DJ. I only wish today’s soul music and r&b could achieve the psychedelic pinnacles achieved here.

Camper Van Beethoven

Key Lime Pie

The advent of Ronald Reagan’s reign over American politics inspired a strong reaction from the arts. Reagan’s huckster routine was designed to sell mom, apple pie, the American Dream as a way to make us feel better about cuts in government services, the arts and a sharp increase in our nation’s deficit which plagues us to this very day. It was Leave it to Beaver shrouded in leg warmers and Hollywood smoke and mirrors. However, I would take the calculated deviance of the Reagan era over the clueless bumbling of the Bush administration. Plus, Reagan’s administration had a plan, but it was one which disenfranchised and dismantled America’s unions, arts funding and assistance to the poor.

Yes, there was “Piss Christ” and Mapplethorpe’s photography that garnered media attention as a reaction to the Reagan era. In addition, the Dead Kennedy’s cover of Frankenchrist and various heavy metal covers gained the attention of the prudish pointers of the PMRC. Yes, punk, hardcore and many artists made their disapproval heard in some low-key and high profile ways, but Camper Van Beethoven’s Key Lime Pie is one of the most caustic criticisms of the Reagan era. It didn’t resort to shock and awe, but assumed the form of thoroughly American musics like Country, folk and rock and roll.

Camper Van Beethoven was an odd combo. David Lowery was the child of an Air Force officer who pushed the country and rock and roll side of the band while the rest were artsy-fartsy intellectuals. Both sides were intelligent and adventurous, but in different ways and this cultural clash eventually caused their breakup. However, this friction is the impetus behind Key Lime Pie.

Key Lime Pie takes a look at the seedy underbelly of the 80s and the forgotten. From “I was Born in a Laundromat” where Lowery paints a picture of a woman who finds comfort in being a queen bee of a laundromat as long as she finds sexual release. “All Her Favorite Fruit” skewers American domesticity and portrays the nuclear family as a sad and pointless endeavor. “Come on Darkness” features a patron at a honky-tonk who pursues smokes, drinks and sex as a way to escape the pressures of the workweek.

The most damning criticisms come in the track “Jack Ruby” where Lowery sings:

So draw the box along quickly
Avert your eyes with shame
Let us stand and speak of the weather
And pretend nothing ever happened on that day
Grant us the luxury, ’cause all our heroes are bastards
Grant us the luxury, ’cause all our heroes are thieves
Of the innocence of the afternoons
Now we think it’s a virtue to simply survive
But it feels like this calm it’s decaying
It’s collapsing under its own weight
And I think its your friend the hangman coming
Choking back a laugh, a drunkard swaggering to your door
Now do you feel that cold, icy presence?
In the morning with coffee and with bread
Do you feel it in the movement of traffic
And days are terrible, simply forget

Key Lime Pie may be one of my favorite albums because it relentlessly attacks complacency and addresses many of the shifts in American culture which plague us today. Oh yeah, it is catchy as hell and is an amazing country album by way of indie-rock.