The Residents: Demons Dance Alone

Kevin Smith

The Residents

Demons Dance Alone

Label: East Side Digital
US Release Date: 2002-09-03
UK Release Date: Available as import

The Residents' first album of entirely new material in five years is being greeted as a return to the pop format explored on previous albums such as Duck Stab and (the aptly titled) The Commercial Album. However, a few listens to Demons Dance Alone make it readily apparent that when discussing the phenomenon known as the Residents, labels like "pop" and "commercial" are relative terms. The world's most mysterious band (do they really have any competition?), to those not familiar with their copious body of work, are currently celebrating their 30th year of confounding audiences all the while keeping their identities a secret.

This much we know: after migrating to San Francisco from Shreveport, Louisiana in the early '70s, the band began composing music in tandem with their filmmaking ventures and the eventual founding of the Cryptic Corporation management company. They never revealed their identities, instead opting to disguise themselves in not only their most famous guise of giant eyeballs with tuxedo tails and top hats, but also suits constructed of newspapers, grim reaper outfits, asbestos suits, and in recent years (due to the theft of an eyeball) a single skull mask. While they've never fit in with any particular movement -- not socially relevant enough to be lumped in with counterculture icons yet (somewhat) kindred spirits Zappa and Beefheart, not virtuostic enough to be considered progressive rock, and just too artsy to be entirely embraced by punk and new wave (despite a blistering and irreverent cover of the Stones' "Satisfaction" in 1977) -- they have forged their singular vision immune to trends and fads. So the news that the current album was written in the wake of the events of September 11th and may reveal a more personal side to the band was nothing short of unprecedented. Again, however, the world of the Residents follows its own peculiar logic.

The disc is split into two parts: I. Tongue (divided into three further sections, A. Loss, B. Denial, and C. Three Metaphors) and II. Demons Dance Alone. While the seven songs comprising Loss are more sparsely arranged and slower paced than the rest of the album, and it may be appropriate to call them introspective, don't expect them to contain commentary on current events. While "Life would be Wonderful" expresses a longing to "visit with some memories I made once upon a time", it still manages to incorporate a mouse named Norman who lived in a sock. "Caring" is likewise about burying one's father but it also features a poodle named Pooh (it's good to see that the band's affinity for goofy names is still intact). The songs make more use of guitar than we've come to expect from the increasingly technology-oriented tricksters and some of the tracks are so underdeveloped as to be minimalist. A lovely female voice (you weren't actually expecting names?) handles the vocals on a number of tracks, beginning with "The Weatherman". While her voice is agreeable, its suitability can be questionable; the incongruity between the warped sensibility of the music and the prettiness of her voice can simply be too great. The remainder of the vocals belong to the same damaged male Southern drawl that we've had three decades to get used to. "Caring" makes use of an interesting arrangement featuring horns and overdriven guitar, while "Honey Bear" employs a somewhat funky beat suggesting that perhaps the Residents aren't completely immune to current trends. "Neediness" is a plaintive cry for an unspecified need laid over an impressively jazzy guitar and a trumpet melody before building to a harrowing crescendo.

Denial consists of slightly more typical Residents fare. Songs are punctuated by outbursts of freakish abandon, and characters such as Mickey Macaroni play more prominent roles. "Thundering Skies" opens the movement with a melody played on what sounds like a Jew's harp and "Mickey Macaroni" turns out to be one of the disc's better songs, relying on a vintage organ and employing a duet with either a very young boy or a female with a voice more suited to the material at hand. Three Metaphors continues the upbeat tone, but the lyrics once again turn insightful. "Make Me Moo" may simultaneously be one of the goofiest and most affecting songs the Residents have ever recorded. They deviate somewhat from their usual couplets that make Noel Gallagher look like Shakespeare, instead intoning, "Why can't I be a cow / Anyhow / Cows never cry" in a heartbreaking childish voice.

The album's final track (and the entire second movement) is the eponymous "Demons Dance Alone". Ever cryptic at first glance, the song could easily be a comment on current events ("I had hoped to fill my years with / More than melancholy tears / But the demon makes me dance alone") but on closer inspection appears more likely to be an observation on more personal choices ("Knowingly I followed it / Took the hook and swallowed it / But then I found it dancing in my home"). Regardless of the album's source of inspiration, the mere fact that the Residents have added a personal element to their music -- besides being unexpected -- also adds an entirely new dimension to their work.

Listening to a Residents album is an experience not unlike watching a David Lynch film. Both can be maddeningly opaque, thoroughly engaging, and wholly unlike anything else you've ever encountered. In a musical landscape populated by sub-genres within sub-genres ad infinitum, it can be a somewhat disquieting experience to find you have virtually no landmarks by which to gain your bearings. However, if you enjoy a good bit of aural disorientation from time to time, look no further. The world's most mysterious band has just become a bit more accessible and that can only be a good thing.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.