[7 December 2009]
What has Seth Faergolzia in store for us today? For those unfamiliar with the music of this suitably hirsute and costumed eccentric whose band is really a multimedia collective with a revolving door membership, just do the following thought experiment: put Captain Beefheart, Jethro Tull, Yoko Ono, and Frank Zappa together in a dingy old dive and see what happens.
Just when every other band of our era dusted off the psychedelic and fey folk ends of ‘60s pop, here was Faergolzia, a self-admitted washed-up nut, playing dirty prankster. He took the spirit of the anti-war movement, enlarged its target to encompass the modern world as we know it, and subverted everything that pop music prescribes: from coherent song structure to the English language. (A typical song title of his is “maeken funna me”). No surprise then that Faergolzia has engendered two types of responses: Either he twists you into a knot of mirth reserved for the likes of Michael Moore, or he repels you like a fusty moth-eaten jumper. Yet something about this freak/genius of a man appeals enough to ensnarl the likes of Animal Collective and Kimya Dawson of the Moldy Peaches, and about a hundred others on the New York circuit to jump on his merry bandwagon.
In any case, Faergolzia got somewhat less weird between the paranoid prankster folk of Dufus’s first ROIR release, 1:3:1 (2003), and Ball of Design (2004), which imparted the artist’s surprising newfound transcendence and taste for acoustic punk.
For In Monstrous Attitude, Faergolzia invited Anders Griffen and Alex Coronado onto the stage with him. He also enlisted Kramer, founder of independent NY label Shimmy-Disc, as mix-master. As for the packaging, Faergolzia’s fondly remembered squiggly Crayola drawings are replaced by a 12-page foldout comic strip by fellow anti-folkist Jeffrey Lewis. Fittingly, it depicts one Faergolzia lookalike taking revenge on some paintball-toting school bullies by hijacking their band.
In Monstrous Attitude largely dispenses with the sonic riffraff of choirs and noise/circuit-bending of previous efforts. Instead, it’s almost entirely acoustic folk with twangy pop tones. Faergolzia’s voice, capably chameleonic as always, does most of the theatrical heavy lifting: going from spitfire sung-speech to a Howard Devoto snarl (both appearing on “Stuck in a Room”) to a Johnny Cash warble (“Don’t Let It Go”) to a frenzied wail (“Farting Without Fear”). The album also brims with non-sequiturs and dirty lyrics to keep In Monstrous Attitude suitably weird. Take “Farting Without Fear”, a sprawling screwball of a track with lyrics that you could die trying to decipher.
If Faergolzia was solipsistic on Ball of Design, he seems now to be telling us that this introspection hasn’t always provided him with a bulwark against domestic vagaries such as love and fatherhood. On “Stuck in a Room”, Faergolzia melts into a puddle of self-pity and paranoia after a breakup; but on “Don’t Let It Go”, he appears to goad his lover into orgasm after he’d already “left”. Faergolzia is even capable of tenderness, as on the rather maudlin “Anouk”.
In the end, however, it’s hard to know what Faergolzia stands for. He was far more interesting as a washed-up polemicist who railed against the evils of shopping malls and passivism and, as a political statement, tested the bounds of freedom with his musical aesthetic. Now he sounds like any other grovelling love fiend, but with one distinction: a capacity to exhaust the earnest listener trying to make sense of his inscrutable lyrics. Why submit yourself to such a monstrous ordeal if the underlying message isn’t worth raising an eyebrow?