[24 August 2009]
The debut release by the Defibulators, a low-down, junky Brooklyn septet, greases your heart valves with smooth Carter family harmonies while rousting the listener with wild rockabilly, down-home bluegrass, and soulful, dark lyrics. The group serves as the resident band for the popular “The Rejection Show” at the famous Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, helping to fill the demanding void of authentic country throwback sounds. Their authentic twang seems to belie the members’ carpetbagger heritage, as the seven musicians misbehave and tell stories under the guise of hellbilly (i.e. badass rockabilly) thrashers and country ballads.
The album moves along like a radio show, with dial-switching, advertisements, and a deejay interrupting and segueing into various songs. The disc begins with a tuner switching stations before landing on perfect, stark a capella harmonies (Bug Jennings and Erin Bru) and what is basically the Defibulators’ theme song. “Defibulator / fix my baby’s heart”, begin the restrained vocals before launching right into a frenzied hoedown of a song. The dissonant, processed vocals keep the sound as dirty as possible. The various instrumentation used on the disc is on display from the get-go. The upright bass (Freddy Epps) stands strongly with its solid low-end backdrop. The fierce fiddle (Justin Smitty) cuts right through the junkyard percussion (“Metalbelly”), and the country Telecaster (“Roadblock”) trots and romps. In essence, there are several layers of sound here that saturate the whole sound space.
While the idea of an album set up as a radio is certainly overplayed, the greasy sound of a local down-home radio station conjures ideas of what plays in a beat-up car driving to the juke joint in Smalltown, Alabama. The microphones sound extra crunchy and reinforce the idea of a (slightly) static-filled radio station. The affectations put into many of the vocal stylings tend to sound a tad forced, and sometimes sound a tad cheesy (“Get What’s Coming”); other times, however, the phrasing and twang adds just the right amount of grit for the moment. The standout title track finds Jennings inserting just enough dirt and noise to be feasible. As the harmonica slops on a heap of grime in the introduction, the fiddle swoops in, latching onto the percussion. Meanwhile, the banjo provides a copper metal canvas for Jennings’ tale of missing corn money. We soon learn that he “spent it on a goddamn band” and “put it on a good girl’s hand”, sounding ever so old-timey. Eventually the melee moves faster and faster, yet every note is on point. The sludge slows with a drumroll (Mike Riddleberger) into a dwindling singalong as Jennings admits his guilt and pride.
A Jew’s harp begins the cloghopping “Ol’ Winchester”, another raucous number that sounds like a drunken square dance on speed. A breakdown of percussion shifts the unyielding string dance music for just a moment before heading back into the craze. “Your Hearty Laugh” slows the momentum down to a country ballad featuring sleepy violins and minimal percussion. The initial guitar finesses its way onto the scene, and the vocals are delicate in suit. The bonus track that eventually follows is an ethereal Bru cooing against a ukulele draped in harpsichord dressing and CB radio (and other distorted spoken) voiceovers.