A charming New Orleans tribute that sounds nothing like the Treme soundtrack, but a little bit like Half Japanese.
Quintron’s 13th album, Sucre du Sauvage (“Sugar of the Savages”), is, among other things, another chapter in the ongoing life-as-art odyssey of Quintron, his wife Miss Pussycat, and their whirring contraption and eternal houseguest, the Drum Buddy. It’s also a tribute to New Orleans that sounds nothing like the Treme soundtrack. Recorded and mixed entirely in and around the New Orleans Museum of Art -- quite a stunt -- the album’s “making-of” legend could easily have overshadowed its music. So give Quintron credit: the rollicking organ rock on Sauvage is even better than its backstory.
Quintron songs have more dirty organ parts than the basement of a Moldovan youth hostel, but despite his reputation for low-fi scuzz, the guy can write some polished pop tunes. One such tune totally rips off “99 Luftballons”, but still. The first eight songs on Sauvage are supremely catchy and not at all low-fi -- they sound rich and deep, as the songs’ textures morph through multiple organ sounds and plinking mallet percussion lines.
Quintron’s beats are canned, but over the years he’s learned techniques for playing with drum machines so the songs don’t sound stiff. His wild organ fills have something to do with it, but he’s also got a good feeling for sonic space. The Drum Buddy squelches along merrily, and every once in a while Quintron inserts some found sounds from the museum’s grounds -- burbling water, quacking ducks, whatnot. In “Kicked Out of Zolar X”, he corrals “all [his] friends” (read: random people passing through the museum) into shouting “SO WHAT! SO WHAT! SO WHAT! SO WHAT!” There’s no one-man-band claustrophobia in this music, and those touches really open up the songs. (It’s worth noting that Paul Simon cops to the same production technique in his recent Rolling Stone interview: “I put the wildebeest in just to change the sound.”)
Of course, Quintron’s not always a one man band. Miss Pussycat’s two songs and shouted interjections are whimsical, colorful, and not a little loony, the cheapo musical equivalent of a Royal Wedding hat. Her “Spirit Hair” is OK, akin to one of those goofy puppet shows she puts on in concert, but “Banana Beat” is delightful cartoon music with the useful proverb “Life is a zebra that I ride.” (Do zebras even live near bananas?)
Speaking of lyrics, Quintron gets in several good lines on Sauvage. “We don’t do Jazz FESTival!” is doubtless true. “Everybody calls me Dr. Guitar!” is doubtless a lie. “Traded Versace for a week in Milwaukee” may or may not be accurate, but it’s great. And the couplet “Face down in the gutter / Rock bottom like a metal brother” out-Thurstons Sonic Youth at their own crypto-scuzz game.
AND THEN... there’s Sides Three and Four. The last six songs are ambient soundscapes composed of field recordings (i.e., more water and ducks), phasing electronic ostinatos, a really cheap trumpet setting, and, in “Bells”, bells. They’re all very bargain-basement Eno, but they’re even more reminiscent of the onomatopoetically-titled instrumentals on the first Half Japanese album -- "T/ T/ T/ T/ T/ T" and “Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr", among other popular favorites. Quintron’s six instrumentals are warm and charming, with the same sense of high-quality homemade adventure as the rest of Sucre du Sauvage.