On its latest offering, Man Bites Dog, Brooklyn’s Cinema Cinema offers up music that’s as dangerous and frightening as a midnight ride on a New York City subway circa 1981. Cousins Ev Gold and Paul Claro provide a darkly poetic portrait of life in the belly of the beast across the seven songs found on this blast, bludgeoning adventure. What the pair gets up to here transcends mere music. There are elements one can imagine having formed in the pens and deeper regions in the minds of the better Beats. There’s a swirling, prolonged derangement of the senses that summons sensory memories of Hubert Selby, Jr.’s indefinable and uncompromising prose. There’s a heady mixture here of punk, noise, jazz, the avant-garde; it’s a mosaic of the bent and bleeding, the sound of a soul striving for catharsis only to realize, in the final moments, that there simply ain’t no such thing. The record starts dark and takes us deeper and deeper into the shadows.
Why listen, then? Why move forward when you’re met with constant reminders of pain and anger? Maybe, the answer is this: To see what happens. If we can’t escape the twisted tunnels of our own psyche, the suffocating bleakness of being, we can at least gaze at images on the wall, carved by another lost soul who found themselves as powerless over their plight as we are. As the Grateful Dead song reminds us, we can go to hell in a bucket and enjoy the ride. That’s the axis on which truly powerful art lives and the art on display across Man Bites Dog ain’t nothing but raw power, baby.
Guys like Gold and Claro don’t do this because they’re out for a bottle of Miller Lite or Sam Adams or some local microbrew after the set. Pieces such as “Run Until You’re Out” and “Bomb Plot” aren’t constructed for our pleasure. They’re dispatches on rage and grief and the way those emotions spiral ever inward, a complex system of in and in that only comes out when the pressure’s too much when the world reveals itself as the cold, unfeeling hand we always knew it could be. A barbaric yawp? To be sure. A barbaric yawp that can be sounded from the rooftops of the decadent and decaying world for the benefit for all those marching slowly toward the hour of their death? Most likely.
This isn’t about screaming in a tunnel of self-satisfaction, this is about cutting the skin to let the demons out even if we’re the only ones that can see them. That relentless pace and tireless mission take center stage across those aforementioned tracks and others such as “Digital Clockwork Orange” and “Mask of the Red Death”. Those are pieces that are less sovereign entities than pieces of a whole that expands and contracts as it consumes our fragile minds. This is music not for casual consumption but for a full-on conversion.
In that respect it works well, making the right listener an instant devotee. Who, then, is the right listener? One who has become acquainted with suffering, self-inflected and otherwise, one who seeks truth but knows that the answers will be slow to come. You can send your lover a pillow to dream on but more often than not those dreams will reveal something more sinister than expected about you both. You can cross the river to the other side but what waits on the shore won’t necessarily be of greater comfort than that which you sought to escape. The realities here are from dreamland; they’re not pleasant but they’re not nightmares either. They’re the inescapable reality waiting for us all when we wake and just before we drift into sleep.
There’s relief sure. In musical form, in the context of this album, it arrives with the final, nine-minute, sax-drenched epic “Shiner No.5.” It’s hardly calm restored, though. It might be more appropriate to say it’s the sound of bodies burning, our long-suffering ashes floating into the air, the existence that has haunted and harried us day in and day out taking on another form high, high above.
That’s not normal but it is correct, and that’s what Cinema Cinema offers us on Man Bites Dog.
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