There’s something makeshift about the Eternals. Their songs erupt like a game of pick-up baseball on an empty street where nobody’s got a mitt, the ball is a ragged thing, a chewtoy stolen from a dog, and the bat has been fashioned out of an old log of pine that’d been rotting in someone’s backyard. Or: their music calls to mind sculptures fashioned from rusted-out hubcabs, torn upholstery, and broken glass. Whatever they’ve put together, it doesn’t quite fit or belong. Their mode is one of adaptation and recycling, of putting disparate entities to curious uses.
But if you’ve ever happened upon those slapdash sporting events or artworks comprised of throwaways, you’ll hear me when I say: there’s something oddly beautiful, cunning, and, dare I say, right about seeing refuse reinvigorated and recaptured. It speaks to human innovation and industriousness — to the virtue of making do with what you’ve got. In this way, the Eternals design a sound of motley bits and pieces to something which not so much a sum greater than its parts, but rather an elaborate machination that seems to functions better because it’s piecemeal and crude.
Damon Locks, the vocalist, sings with the voice of a man who could probably croon but knows better, because lacks the hubris of someone who has no idea just how shabbily built their pipes are. Since Locks either can really belt (a la American Idol) or is painfully aware that he has no technique whatsoever, he compensates with quirk, barking out robotic intonations somewhere between rapping and the pre-play chants of a quarterback. They’re so monotone, so amusical, so very much not singing that the effect doubles back upon itself into something rapturously pleasing. Here’s a guy who sings just like you do when you’re breathlessly yelping along with the lyrics alone in your car, yet he’s the main event — there’s something gloriously democratic about that.
What he’s singing about so feverishly half the time makes no sense, which is also integral to its charm. The album’s first bona fide track, “High Anxiety”, has him mechanically going on about how his nerves are fucking up his day. Take that back: they’re “f’—ing” up his day, because for some strange reason the Eternals decide to hiccup over the “uck” part, giving the song the distinct feeling of being rehearsed in somebody’s parents’ garage. Or maybe performed in a church rec room — the backing organs have a godly feel, in that imposing and fear-inducing and Puritan way, though the drums and cymbals splash with naked abandon that no religion would sanction, and there’s something both pagan and futuristic about the zings and ticks and twitters that also emerge upon close listening. Locks has basically two registers on this song — the adrenalized nerdish yap and the low-flung, Crash-Test-Dummies-esque moan. “Incomplete but deep as the ocean/ what a terrible notion/ what a terrible rhyme,” are the words, but “rhyme” falls off, drowning at a reach that’s just beyond Locks’ comfort zone. At this point of death, the music is markedly funky dirge.
Their ongoing experiments unite paranoid Beat poetry with murky synthesized garbles, chimes that sound as if someone’s cell phone was left on during the recording, straightforward drum beats that seem all the more mixed up among all the hullabaloo, or speedy rhythmic chaos that arrests everything under its spell. There’s a track, “Silhouette”, that marries an almost ranchero style guitar line with a throw-ya-hands-in-the-air rhythm, and the vocals are an echoing country-sad ballad. “This Here Is Megaside” is flush with polyrhythms and a viscous bass that melts over a chord progression that seems to follow no rules. I don’t know what to say about “The Beat Is Too Original” except that I love the title, and though most of the song with the exception of the chorus has nothing to do with it, it is such a perfect and useful phrase that I am endlessly grateful that the Eternals have bequeathed it.
The Eternals are the exact opposite of easy listening. Instead, they’re on edge and on the verge of explosion, ticking bombs of oddity and power. And crafty ones at that — like assailants who attack using lead pipes and rocks rather than traditional weapons, or chemists who put together dangerous combinations of elements in a lab. What exactly it is they’ve created or why it works I’m still not sure. But that’s exactly the reason I’m so deeply enamored.