Saturday, April 14, 2007

“Traineater” is the Book of Knots tribute to/elegy for the American working man and woman, a bitter, bright-eyed cruise through the rust belt in a battered Buick with the likes of Tom Waits, David Thomas and Mike Watt in tow. Imagine if current Indy darlings The Arcade Fire had grown up smarter on a diet of Pere Ubu, Sabbath and Johnny Cash, instead of Mellencamp, Simple Minds and Hothouse Flowers. Imagine Flannery O’Conner’s “Wiseblood” re-enacted by ghosts in a blasted post Industrial deadzone. Imagine travelling at night through deserted towns and abandoned lots, stopping for hitchikers in order to listen to their tales, the car radio picking up washes of static, paranoid confessionals, old blues tunes, hymns, death metal while from outside come industrial clankings, the buzzing of pylons, hurdy-gurdy’s echoing back from the rotting Carney over the hill. All the detritus, all the disjecta membra of American life swimming around you.

The Book of Knots do in fact contain an ex-member of Pere Ubu, drummer Tony Maimone and its hard not to see “Traineater” as being heavily influenced by David Thomas’ “opera” “Mirror Man”, itself an elegy for/exploration of America’s ruins, its ravaged heartland. In fact though the similarities are overwhelming, a suite of songs, including spoken interludes, performed by a troop of invited artists, “ Traineater” is far harsher, heavier affair than “Mirror Man”, less ranging, necessarily more industrial, filled with the kind of crashing powerchords and throttled guitar mangling that would make Neurosis proud ( the Book of Knots have shared members, in fact, with both Unsane and SWANS) Opener “ View from the Watertower” is a ferociously heavy and dissonant slab of doom rock, all buzzing synths, detuned violin and metal percussion with a trailer trash female vocal pleading to escape over the top (a hair-raising contribution from Carla Bozulich), but the Book of Knots are too smart, too seasoned as musicians to stick to a simple formula and by the third track, “Traineater” itself, a beautiful mirage of a folk ballad gently enfolded in wisps of ambient drone or the fourth, the Tom-Waits- featuring “Pray”, a roundel of clattering handclaps, sunken voices and chiming percussion, it's clear that the Book of Knots' concerns are much broader than mere bombast. Indeed, if, as Blissblog observed recently, The Good the Bad and The Queen stands as a corrective to Brit Pop’s the-kid’s-are-all-white dub-denial then “Traineater” insists on the centrality of rock, specifically Metal, perhaps even more specifically Sabbath, as American "roots" music.*

And just like TGTBATQ, "Traineater" sounds neither contrived nor overtly referential. They’re both the kinds of record (“Traineater” comes on like TGTBATQ's feral, Venom-loving American Cousin) whose consistency of tone and intent across a variety of styles can only be held together by artists of a certain age. Mature artists, dare I say, who have fully digested all the culture they've consumed, with a lot of colours on their palette, capable of mixing and matching in unlikely ways, seeking out the underlying unities between genres, knowing how they can be deployed to broaden the expression of the artist's particular vision. The Book of Knots really is a vast work, rich and dense, with unexpected moves around every corner, that rewards close, multiple listenings, a record that feels as broad, brilliant and diverse as the country it seeks to chart, and however “Arty” “Traineater” might get, it’s resolutely blue collar in a way that the middlebrow sentimentalists will never understand.

A masterpiece in other words.**

* Witness, for example, the not very interesting but revealing album from 2004, “ The Pre-Fix For Death” by avowedly white–trash rapper Necro featuring collabs with Obituary and Voivod etc..

** With advanced apologies for my large claims to regular Impostume reader Paul Morley, who is blessed with the unnering ability of knowing a TRULY great record when he hears one and has never recommended stuff like, oh, y'know, Fiona Apple to anyone......
Update: Another blog take here

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