Crate-Digging: Black Vatican – Zed Omega


Throughout August, Crate-Digging will be focusing on recordings that have been given a cassette release. This is post 1.

(Night-People, 2007)

Night-People is a crazy record label run by Raccoo-oo-oon folks (see the website if you don’t believe me) and specializing in low-run offbeat cassette and vinyl releases by “experimental, post-punk, and trance” artists (according to their Myspace page). They’re all over the place for sure, and boast an awesome discography worth sifting through. Not everything sounds like Black Vatican, though. Raccoo-oo-oon were an experimental improv thingee (really, what are they? Great, regardless), but their sound doesn’t inform everything they release, that’s for sure. Not when they churn out tapes like Zed Omega, an off-kilter, lo-fi indie garage record that owes a stylistic debt to Guided By Voices as much as to The Velvet Underground and whack-job contemporaries like Psychedelic Horseshit. Yeah, Black Vatican’s released a ripper – and man, do they have an awesome name, let’s not overlook that. That’s something I’d name a band of mine. So slick, so cool.

Slick, cool? Hardly descriptors I’d use on the band’s sound though. They employ blown-out guitars, deeply mixed drums, junkyard synthesizers, and enough tape hiss to make Siltbreeze label heads blush. Everything’s in the red, all the time, and that’s just fine – that’s the Black Vatican way. And to push the Psychedelic Horseshit comparisons a little further, it’s just two guys, Andy Roche and Owen Gardner, making all this racket, much like their higher-profile contemporaries. It sounds almost like they don’t care, squirming through the squiggly, bendy-guitar opener “Born to Live Life,” possibly recorded in Bob Pollard’s laundry room [Ed note: Not recorded in Bob Pollard’s laundry room], but most closely approximating the Fading Captain’s aesthetic. But whereas GBV pack stadium ambition and wicked hooks into tin cans, Roche and Gardner play with tunelessness, albeit just at times, on “Hey Do It” and “Sinsinawahwah,” the former coalescing into a dank rock jam and the latter ending on a howled-vocal frenzy. It’s primal weirdness at its most unrelenting, and yet there’s still a homespun familiarity to these tunes that gives them that all-important “I don’t care how freaked out this is, I can still dig it” quality.

It’s the vibe, and it’s not all that weird, to be honest. In fact, “Now You’ve Been Told” is a pop jam by comparison, sweet vocals overlapping grimy garage work that will have you reaching for your tight black jeans and white belts – we’re going out tonight, yeah! “I Don’t Wanna Fight (I Just Wanna Sit In The Grass And Be Cool)” could very well be a lost Motown classic, buried in basement haze, but a bona fide pop nugget nonetheless. “Fight”’s the perfect way to start side B, and it actually gets a little bit sweeter on the flip, with the twin dub nuggets “Teach Teacher” and “Song of Mice Elf” adding a little bit of oddball flavor to the grime. They’re followed by low-key acoustic standout “Magic Is,” and then it’s back to the dub-meets-synth-soul of album closer “Beautiful Reformer.” I didn’t expect such variety on what I anticipated to be a garage record, and I am certainly pleased with the results. Messrs. Roche and Gardner certainly have a few tricks up their sleeves – more than the average two-piece rock act, that’s for sure.

As if my word wasn’t good enough, I have to give this my 6-week-old son’s stamp of approval as well. We listened to Zed Omega together a few times as we drove around and ran errands, and, granted, he was asleep at certain parts, but he at least gave it one full awake go-through. He chattered happily for the most part, especially during “Carlos Carlos and Carlos,” which mellowed him out as the song essentially mimics a stroll through a Japanese garden, water trickling throughout. I can see why he liked it. “Sinsinawahwah” may have freaked him out with its Sonic Youth–y guitar lines, and the shrieked vocals at the end of it certainly didn’t help his mood. Although it may have just been a fussy fit, so who knows – it’s not like he can tell me anything. I can tell you one thing though – my boy’s heard Black Vatican’s Zed Omega before he’s heard a single Beatles tune. Or Radiohead tune. Or whatever “hip” parents play their kids. I hope he wears that as a badge of honor some day (says the parent who will most likely have to yell at his future teenage son to turn down the Limp Bizkit Greatest Hits collection).

RIYL: Sic Alps, The Velvet Underground, Psychedelic Horseshit


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