For a guy who generally isn’t loved by the otherwise indie-loving media, Tim Kinsella has sure generated his fair share of press. The clippings accompanying the debut full-length by yet another group led by this indie savant is nearly as thick as the jewel case. It seems that for every piece of positive press Kinsella receives, he gets five more negative notices.
To be fair, some of the negative press simply comments on the persona of Kinsella alone rather than on his music. But Kinsella hasn’t made it easy on himself, either. With albums bearing such name’s In Rape Fantasy and Terror Sex We Trust, or He Sang His Didn’t He Danced His Did, Kinsella certainly wears his pretentiousness like a badge.
Kinsella’s latest incarnation, Make Believe, features members of Joan Of Arc and Ghosts & Vodka. Unlike the avant pop of Kinsella’s main gig, Make Believe are remarkably straight ahead. Guitars, bass, drums and Kinsella’s familiar yowl are the only ingredients necessary. However, Kinsella’s arthouse ramblings and ostentatious song titles are still ever present. Despite the rock ‘n’ roll trappings (all captured to tape by Steve Albini), Make Believe are still hamstrung by Kinsella’s desire to skew even the most basic of concepts.
Much of Shock 0f Being is powered by Sam Zurick’s guitar work. Known for his six-string prowess on the Ghost & Vodka records, it’s disappointing how lifeless his playing is, here. Instead of the wonderfully rhythmic and catchy riffing he usually presents, Zurick’s performance is staggeringly dull. Offering a seemingly endless array of serpentine licks coupled with stilted time signatures, none of them are even remotely memorable. By the midway point, Zurick runs out of ideas, making the rest of the album an exhaustingly boring listen. The band’s obviously less skilled rhythm section struggles to keep with Zurick’s finger tangling playing, and offers only the most rudimentary accompaniment, further hindering these songs from really taking off.
As for Kinsella, his voice and lyrics, as always, are front and center. His typically amateur wordplay that attempts to turn the English language in on itself returns here in full force. Lines like “She’s with Marx against all the stupid Marxists”, “Bananamoon. Swallow my throat. / Octopus flower. Buffalo wing goat” and “anchormen guest star on each other’s shows” populate the disc like an explosion at the amateur poetry contest. It’s not surprising then, that Kinsella’s most sincere and emotionally potent moment comes with the exclamation of “How-eee-yah-oo-oowow-oo hay-ee—-ee-ay” on “Say What You Mean”. For the first time, Kinsella just lets go and growls some gibberish, but the ferocity of his vocals is practically jaw dropping. It’s a singular moment of realness in an album otherwise populated with art house posturing.
A few years ago at the Frankfurt Museum Of Modern Art, there was an Andy Warhol exhibit called Time Capsule 21. Warhol was a packrat of sorts, and kept nearly everything he came across, from letters and sketches to shopping lists and greeting cards. Choosing selected elements that spanned nearly two decades, the items were displayed and touted as a look into his genius, but the show amounted to little more than the trash Warhol wisely had kept in storage for much of his life.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to be in a band that feels like [the band] I’ve always wanted to be in… I wish I could’ve started this project 10 years ago, it would’ve saved me a lot of trouble,” Kinsella claims in his press kit. One wonders if, like Warhol, Kinsella can’t let go or even worse, can’t determine those items that are important to his artistic development and those that are merely superfluous.
It’s somewhat mind boggling that it’s taken him a decade, and countless side-projects, solo albums and one-offs, to get to this rather unremarkable peak. Perhaps in another 10 years he’ll finally pull a treasure out of the endless ephemera of his ever-expanding catalog.
// Notes from the Road
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