[12 November 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
More than almost any other medium, music reflects the innermost essentials of a person. Unless they are striving for purposeful artifice, most sound comes from the soul. It’s the underlying hum that makes existence meaningful, and sets the tone for our entire personality and outlook. So what does it say about Giuseppe Andrews that his new CD, the amazing masterpiece Giants, consists of ten samples of sensational psychedelic psychosis. Like listening to the soundtrack to a primal scream session, or cracking open a crazy man’s cranium and sneaking a peak inside, this twisted troubadour crafts one of the most satisfying—and ominous—soundscapes since the Residents regaled us with tales of Skinny, and that proverbial holiday hound, Santa Dog.
Forged in a sonic fabric that’s reminiscent of the creative cloaks woven by Zappa and Beefheart, but with equal aural stitching from modern pop experimentalists like Beck and Sufjan Stevens, Giants jams to a drummer as different as it is diffident. Andrews has consistently peppered his films with songs from his one man band recording scheme, but this is the first time that he’s made something without a specific cinematic tie-in. Instead, Giants is meant to exist on its own, and like the characters in the closing title track, the album stands majestic mountains above the rest of the so-called singer-songwriter set. It’s a delightfully dense stroke of brilliance.
This does not mean that Giants is married to a notion of complexity for the sake of confusion. In fact, there is just as much electro-pep hit parading in this Decalogue of delirium as there are nods to doom and gloom. Andrews obviously views the mind’s eye as an infinite palette, and crafts each song out of as many evocative strokes as possible. This is particularly true in the opening track, “All I Ever Wanted Was a Girl to Watch Movies With”. As a synth bass bottom lays down a fetid fuzzy funk, a drum machine counters with its staccato polyrhythmic pulse. A linear guitar glides along, delivers notes and chords that sound both immediate and wistful. On top of it all, Andrews provides a passionate vocal, delivering his poem to the perils of reality, and the escape that love can provide.
The combination is kinetic and electrifying, at once familiar and truly innovative. It instantly transports you into Andrews’s arcane world and freezes you there. As the final few minutes spin into an affecting mantra of the song’s title, we feel the emotion welling up inside the singer. He’s eager to hide from the horrors around him, lost in the arms of a woman who can make the monsters go away. It’s a theme he will revisit several times throughout the album’s 35-minute running time—the terror circling around the boundaries of one’s life, and the person or philosophy that can provide a modicum of comfort.
Not that such a sentiment will come without sacrifice or loss. Indeed, Giants is a musical experience rife with tension and tenuousness. A number like “Thunderphobia”, with its obvious nods to Middle Eastern melodies and late ‘60s acid rock, uses the juxtaposition of conflicting and complimentary elements to forge something that is both discordant and direct. Andrews’s work is defined by such a stylistic strategy—from the lyrics overloaded with oddly contrasted imagery, to the way in which one song stems and redirects the flow of the overall album. The immediacy of the rocking “Gator Tooth Necklace”, is nicely matched by the digital drone of “Horses Doze on Their Toes”, while the subtle shuffle of the gorgeous “Heart Worms” is positioned perfectly to amplify the next number—“Balloons”—and its Ultravox lock step.
A great deal of Giants is reminiscent of the early ‘80s new wave craze of synthesizer-driven dance music. Even when the sonic statements are as simple as a personal paean to his girlfriend (“Mary”), Andrews uses arcane arrangements to keep the song from sounding derivative. Instead, he superimposes a surreal, almost sinister, edge to the lover’s lament. As a simple droning electronic note supplements a Latin-tinged backbeat, Andrews matches the melody via a single haunting keyboard signature. The result is like the aural equivalent of a drowning man’s last prayer for survival. Indeed Giants is highly spiritual, with certain songs sounding like sermons, eulogies, and pleas to a distant and uncaring god. Yet Andrews constantly flummoxes the feelings. “Mary” is supposed to evoke the deep inner passion of soulmate in interpersonal harmony. Instead, there is an aspect of danger here, as well as one of despair.
Taken as a whole, Giants is surprisingly different than Andrews’s equally compelling film work. When he’s behind the camera, capturing the perplexed performances of his trailer park pals, Andrews enjoys the loose, almost adlibbed feel of the process. There is a readily apparent propinquity to his movies, an off-the-cuff excellence that makes them both startlingly original and aesthetically confrontational to tradition. The crafting here is far more considered, the desire to actually make music more important than rushing through and capturing a particular moment. Even the words feel fussed over, penned to suggest a particular subliminal reaction by the mere combination of images and phrases.
While the title track does seem slightly out of place, its nursery rhyme tale of Giuseppe as giant baffler failing to follow the rest of the album’s more poignant, personal stances, it still delivers the kind of aural anarchy we expect from these tunes. While many a music fan will hear the obvious nods to other electronic eccentrics, Giuseppe Andrews does indeed forge an idiosyncratic aural ambience that’s all his own. As a reflection on who he is, both as an artist and as a human being, Giants is remarkable. It’s a full-blown magical, mystifying tour de force.