Where single tracks are stripped from their albums, and context is fleeting.
While most future entries will not be tied to any one geographical region, the month of July shall be married to one city. At the end of July, I will make my inaugural venture to the storied Windy City, so much of my free time of late has been devoted to planning said venture. Thus, for reasons of leisure and learning, I’ve begun reading The Devil in the White City, which recounts both the splendid and sordid goings-on in Chicago revolving around The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. With this city suddenly taking over two areas of my life, I thought I may as well give it a third. Therefore, any entries made in July will be devoted to songs by bands who cut their teeth on the mean streets of the Second City after suckling at her nurturing bosom. There are certainly enough of them to choose from. Here is the first…
Although originally based in Austin, Texas, The Jesus Lizard relocated to Chicago in 1989 where they solidified their lineup and released the bulk of their body of work on the iconic Touch & Go Records.
As a devout worshiper in the Church of Indie Rock for much of my early adult life, these guys had always been on my radar as pioneers in the genre, but it wasn’t until 2005 when I actually sat down and listened to any of their output. I became interested in seeking them out after crapping myself over Duane Denison’s contributions to the Mike Patton-helmed Tomahawk project. I picked up Goat and Liar, and was blown away. While both albums have some solid moments, “Mouth Breather,” the second song off Goat gets straight to the point and then attempts to poke you in the eye with it.
Leading off with Duane Denison’s scathing guitar riff, they’re all convulsive swagger from the get-go. After two bars, Mac Macneilly jumps in heavy on the toms and open hi-hat solidifying the blistering groove that won’t let up for the remainder of the song, save for a few punctuated stops where you might be able to catch your breath, if you’re quick. Guitar and drum duet for a couple bars, and David Wm. Sims fills out the bottom end on the dirty-driven bass, matching the guitar’s rhythm and harmonizing on the back end of the phrase, allowing David Yow to caterwaul over top of the cacophony. Known more for his bombastic onstage antics than his vocal proficiency, Yow yelps and shouts, rather than sings, about letting his friend housesit for him while on a vacation. Apparently Yow’s expectations for the care of his domicile were unmet because the vocal hook consists of him repeating, “Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy, I like him just fine . . . but he’s a mouth breather!” Even though the song clocks in at just under two minutes, the band manages to incorporate several solid dynamic shifts to keep the main riff from getting stale; floating the vocal hook over solo drums, driving the third verse on dirty bass alone, and dropping a huge stop in the last half of the song, only to come back in full force for one last go-round.
The combination of these techniques with simplistic punk riffage and the cock-sure swagger of rock & roll served up a recipe which, while never garnering them much mainstream success, secured The Jesus Lizard demigod status as innovators in the early days of noisy indie rock.