Arkansas Heat

by Mark Desrosiers

5 June 2002

cover art


Arkansas Heat

(Kill Rock Stars)
US: 7 May 2002

Bellowing and clanging noisily like a ravenous banshee swooping down on the Ozark Plateau, Olympia-via-Arkansas trio the Gossip stuck their ass in our faces last year with the wonderfully loud and bracing queer-psychobilly album That’s Not What I Heard. To my ears, it was one of the year’s best albums, a fun, rude, and righteous twist on the usual Kill Rock Stars lady-noise and grrrl-punk. As swampy guitarist Brace Howdeshell shoveled out the speed-cramps riffs and near-tribal drummer Kathy Mendonca doled out that bash-n-crash Little Red River funk, lead singer Beth Ditto rent the air with her howling and hectoring. The album was humid, jagged, hyper, and jubilant. Wanda Jackson on fast-forward. The Troggs pummeled by lesbians.

Now those of you who haven’t yet caught their greasy magic should immediately skip down to the local record dealer and pull out their big 10-inch record, Arkansas Heat, a quick and noisy platter about Arkansas, love, and revolution. At six songs in 19 minutes, you may think you’re not getting your enormous Arkansas helping of gravy on top of them musical biscuits. But when you notice that one track called “(Take Back) The Revolution” is 10 minutes long, and the other five are wound so tight you get pummeled and bloodied by the psycho sucker-punches they deliver so neatly—well then you know this is the new Gossip album, EP or not.

I doubt that Searcy, Arkansas has ever gotten its own anthem before, so the Gossip gives it a go on the sweaty title track. The song’s sound—like the rest of the EP—is suitably grungy and live, a sloppy drag through the Arkansas mud. “I ain’t a child but I ain’t full grown”, that’s Beth Ditto’s claim, and you’ll really really try to believe her, but you can’t. First of all, Ditto is huge, an imposing stage presence and a commanding vocalist whose enormous voice rivals both Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker and the Star Death’s Blueberry MacGregor. So if she ain’t full grown then neither am I. But still I see what she means, because she’s still in love with noise and with rebellion, and this song churns and burns so quickly that when it’s finished (in under two minutes) you’ll be reaching for a cold washcloth.

“Rules for Luv” and “Gone Tomorrow” are nice additions to their wheelbarrow full of tunes, noisy, lusty, fast and hot. But “Lily White Hands” (just over a minute long) cocks its funk in your direction with the jerking and bashing repetition of Mendonca’s drums and the life truth that one should “Never trust a man with lily white hands”. While those songs will burn you up, “Ain’t It the Truth” drops a big ice cube down your shirt with its shaky themes of puppy love, as Ditto loudly and melodically proclaims, “Ain’t it the truth / I got a crush on you” while her knees wobble and her belly aches. Love song of the year, that one, proving yet again that lesbians seem to know how to do the job much better than the het song doctors descending on the music studios.

Finally, we get to the revolution. “(Take Back) The Revolution” begins with some slow guitar feedback (think the Gang of Four’s “Anthrax”), which is sure to get your attention after the crackling fast tunes you just heard. Then things get swampy and funky, and Ditto’s double-tracked voice comes out of the brush to aim both barrels at complacency and patriarchy. “All you do is criticize my body and the clothes I wear”. “My mama works every day of her life for a man who just don’t care”. The song just doesn’t want to end as it builds and the call-and-response kicks in and the drums bash more urgently and guitars tumble out of the mix until, eight (eight!) urgent minutes later the feedback abruptly starts and the song ends the way it began.

When it comes to taking back the revolution, the Gossip do the job quite well indeed. Arkansas Heat is a wonderful 10-inch, and let’s hope they can keep making this noise forever, even when they’re full grown.

Topics: gossip
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