Playing the Peppermints’ debut album Jesus Chryst on a foreign stereo, I found myself unable to switch the CD player mode from “random” to “normal” mode. Although I eventually figured out the right combination of buttons, I really did not need to bother. The Peppermints’ unique brand of grotesque noise rock really defies any sort of logical ordering systems. Jesus Chyst‘s 18 tracks (few of which ever go far past the two-minute mark) exist in tiny, self-contained boxes all by themselves, never informing or leading to the next tracks.
Animal Collective was so impressed with the Peppermints’ apparently raucous live shows that they signed them to their own Paw Tracks label. Animal Collective has some credibility in the indie-press, so it’s possible that the Peppermints could find a slight footing in hipster circles. However, considering how ramshackle and purely obnoxious their music is, I would be surprised if the Peppermints found anything other than the most bare boned cult following. Jesus Chyst, simply put, is the most room-clearing album I have heard in a long time, a half-hour of willful insanity cranked to 11. Thankfully, the Peppermints are too smart to stick with pure shock value to motivate their music, there is a sense of deliberate craft involved even with their most out-there songs.
Take “Santorum”, a chill-out ode to that filthiest of all sexual bi-products named after conservative congressmen, which consists of the tranced-out band members cooing their praises of santorum: “He likes it, you like it, she likes it, he likes it.” The song with the most grotesque subject matter turns out to be the calmest and most melodic of the album. When the band actually deigns to write actual songs, for instance on “A Hotel” and the punk rock inspired “Cousin”, they reveal a talent for surreal poetry recitals along with greasy Butthole Surfers rock riffs. The almost-pop song “Onion Salad”, stripped of the sludgy distortion and the screaming vocals, reveals a subversive ode to the most extreme forms of living, with a cheerful vocalist reciting countless insane orders: “Let’s love / Get pissed… Get molested… Take over / With a gun.”
Most of Jesus Chryst has little use for anything as conventional as song structure. The Peppemints deal with the sort of noise-rock madness that is rarely heard outside of the urban areas of Japan. A typical Peppermints number, like “Yes It Is”, will consist of nothing more than a repeating riff and utterly impenetrable screaming vocals that might as well be in Japanese. The drummer betrays only the slightest knowledge in the fundamentals of rhythm in the quest to keep up with the blistering tempos of the rest of the band. The bass disappears into the background, drowned out by the pure noise created by the rest of the band. It is blistering stuff, and probably can only be enjoyed by a certain type of music fan, the type of fan who complains about how Mr. Bungle went soft on their last album.
The joy with the Peppermints’ music is how raw and refreshing it is. There’s something cathartic about these brief blasts of raw, untrained madness. It wipes out all other music you may have been listening to before, like a musical colonic, cleansing the brain out of unwanted traces of Mudvayne and John Mayer. While most noise-rock sounds better in theory than blasting through two headphone channels, the Peppermints know their rock and roll too well to waste time on mathematical formulas for the creation of maximum tunelessness. “4th of Your Life”, for instance, before devolving into a mongoloid screaming fest, begins with a clean, dramatic guitar riff that proves that they are not here to mock rock and roll but, in a slanted way, to pay homage to its chaotic undertones. Still, any one picking up this album simply because of the Animal Collective connection should be warned, this is an album that is less “freak-folk” than just pure, unadulterated “freak”. And sometimes that’s a good thing.