Friday, May 7, 2010

Album Review: Red House Painters (bridge)

In 1993 Red House Painters confusingly released 2 self-titled albums, known anecdotally by their cover art – Rollercoaster and, a few months later, Bridge. While Rollercoaster was an epic 14 track album, Bridge felt at the time like an afterthought, like left over offcuts. The album is initially quite uninviting, starting with Mark Kozelek emitting a grunt or two over some faint guitar and then his heavily reverbed voice starts to sing. The opening track, Evil, is an odd-sounding, draggy, ponderous track which has the devastating chorus line “God do you look evil in the dark”. The song creeps up on you, particularly when the low, clean electric guitars come in. And it sounds great. It’s certainly not derivative.

Bubble which follows is more conventional, but I Am A Rock is Kozelek’s first foray into cover versions, or should I say, song reinventions. He takes the Simon & Garfunkel track and completely retools it as a gloom-rock anthem. A lot of the tracks on the album sound anguished and Helicopter is no exception. It starts off sounding quite relaxed yet the music builds to a climax as all the while Mark Kozelek’s vocals, drenched in reverb, sound more agonised.

New Jersey featured on the “Rollercoaster” album as a gentle folky track. Here it is reinvented here in a rockier format and sounds more fully realised with a full band treatment featuring buzzing electric guitar. Uncle Joe is a somewhat self-pitying misery by numbers track. That’s not to say it isn’t good, it’s just more conventional than the other tracks here.

Blindfold is the longest track here and is probably the most difficult to get into. It starts with a somewhat plodding verse, before speeding up with a guitar part that sounds like it is trying to catch up with itself all the time. The last 2 or 3 minutes of the song though are positively harrowing as Kozelek unleashes goose-bump inducing guttural howls which are both disturbing and devastating.

The album ends with a relatively calm treatment of Star Spangled Banner. I kid you not. It bears no resemblance to the Jimi Hendrix version, but instead is a rather grim two and a half minute march, which leaves the album sounding curiously unresolved at the end.

Definitely not one for newcomers to the bands work, as of all his albums it contains no immediate sounding tracks. This album doesn’t grow on you, it attaches like a leech, sucking away unpleasantly at first before you realise how good it sounds.