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The Gubernatorial Candidates [New Orleans]

D.M. Edwards
The Gubernatorial Candidates

One of the gems of the often overlooked New Orleans underground rock scene, the Gubernatorial Candidates exist in a place where history overlaps and the Big Easy sidles up to post-punk and post-rock in equal doses.

Slouching Towards Metairie

Matt Resignola and Phil Rollins are the Gubernatorial Candidates. With a New York or UK postal code, the core of their self-titled debut EP would have them ensconced in the bosom of a nurturing record label, though they sound more like world-weary asps than innocent babes. They've made an impressionistic record reeking of persistence in the face of decay, one that sidesteps clichéd visions of New Orleans, where they currently reside, and slips easily past the clutches of rock, mostly.

The sprawling “Des Allemands” emerges fully formed, as if it’s been spinning through time and space and will continue on that trajectory forever. After four minutes of murky Gregorian glamour, fuzz guitar gives way to a pulse hooked onto a quasi-New Orleans street beat. Eventually, the piece mutates into Tortoise-in-hypno mode with the kind of riff that it wouldn't be surprising to hear an early 1970s Peter Gabriel chirp: "And he’s taking out / The marrow from your backbone...". Steve Reich’s African and Tibetan influences, to name but two, leak in here as well.

"Je Suis Le Grand Zombie" quotes Dr. John's Gris Gris LP and conjures a state of numb vengeful concentration, without going overboard on the imagery. The line “Give me some diamonds and some dog shit” makes me laugh, think briefly about when Bowie wore leggings, and consider how all that glitters on the sole of a shoe could cause problems. Singing as calm as breathing, not-too-dense guitar fog, and spiraling rhythm all evoke less a walk on gilded splinters, than a drunken, wildflower-sniffing stumble, probably after a woman, quite likely into quicksand. Most enjoyable.

In this triumvirate of highlights, “Letters of Marque” starts with a Meek/Spector beat, Salvation Army tambourine, and spiky guitar. Swaying precariously, the Gubernatorial Candidates manage to veer away from the Esplanade Avenue gutter with a dynamic double-rush; dumb, confident and literate in about perfect proportion. Spaced-out vocals add to the effect of gliding through neon-washed streets in the back of a car, young and alive with something swirling in the head, blood, or belly. Take me out tonight, because there is a light and, as much as it gets puked on, it never goes out. Many bands with far less imagination and grasp on musical history have spun an album or an entire career from less. Roll over Interpol, and tell music supervisors looking to add some thrust and mystery to their soundtrack the news. There are faint yet discernable shades of Comsat Angels circa Waiting for a Miracle; and let me take this opportunity to belatedly apologize for what I sincerely hope was the most pitiful excuse for an interview to which they were ever subjected. Stoke. 1980-ish. Sorry, lads.

Those three pieces have a cohesion that seems alien to the first and last tracks. “Civil War” is a no-frills, post-southern rock solo, but Resignola's strong voice over-reaches, which isn't really my cup of Pabst Blue Ribbon. His navigation of the topography of a guitar is undeniable, though, and coupled with very hip restraint, is essential to the drive and structure of the EP.

It is probably carved somewhere on either the Blarney Stone or the Giant's Causeway that if you have the balls to write a song called "Van Morrison", then don’t just bask limply in reflected glory. Some of us haven't forgiven Jeff Buckley. It's a relief, then, that the Gubernatorial Candidates’ take is a loose sketch in the spirit of the stream-of-consciousness blueprint that is Astral Weeks rather than opting for a cover, and thereby avoiding suffering in comparison. The achievement may be akin to Brautigan’s use of the wordmayonnaise, but the gentle feel is true and good. The repeated wordlessness arrived slightly too early, but if anyone can attest to the elusive struggle for fleeting moments of transcendence, in musical terms at any rate, then Mr. Morrison would be a likely, ahem, candidate.

This debut contains some of the most enjoyable music of the year, and hints at more potential than 23 unopened ballot boxes at the bottom of a swamp. If talent is allied to luck and determination, the Gubernatorial Candidates could go a long way.

Refreshingly, Rollins keeps the songwriting process veiled. “There’s nothing duller than some ne'er do well pretty boy spouting on about how he wrote something that most people haven't even heard. They never say they smeared the house in peanut butter and rubbed two dried-out badger corpses together until the sparks burned it all down and inspiration struck. Luckily, I'm not a ne'er do well, or especially pretty."

Far too much of the New Orleans underground scene has been ignored for far too long. In recent years, a slew of interesting and promising bands, some self-releasing and others on the Backporch Revolution and Turducken labels, haven't managed to garner wider acclaim -- Mexico 1910 and Turtlesearch being amongst my favorites. They don't fit in with the jazz and local heritage scene, which will be both genuinely passed between generations with a law of diminishing returns, and kept on life support by the local tourism industry. Maybe the Gubernatorial Candidates can buck that trend. They recently played Tipitina's, named for a Professor Longhair song, and also the Hi Ho Lounge on St. Claude Avenue, where the legendary Gas Tank Orchestra used to perform using instruments salvaged entirely from fuel tanks. Rather alarmingly, the latter gig featured the use of a saxophone. Whether or not people can negotiate their name online, their music shows such promise that I offer Spam Box Flooder as an alternative, free of charge.

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