November 2, 2012

Shaken limbs

It's happened again. I cannot figure out how he does it, and I hope I never, ever will.  But the shaking up that Jack gave me earlier this year has come back around. I started to say it'd come full circle, but that implies closure and finality, and I don't see any end to this particular phenomenon.  The release of Blunderbuss back in April and the newly released b-side to the fourth single from the album (Jack's version of I'm Shakin', which was what got me out of bed at 2:00am all those months ago) are just two smacks in the head from debris circling madly in the crazy, ever-spiraling cyclone that is his continuously growing musical catalog.

I wrote back then of Blunderbuss that "My one overriding thought after one listen to this record is that there's nothing he can't do.  No instrument he couldn't work with, no genre or style he couldn't dabble in, no musical mood he'd leave untouched."  The new b-side, Blues on Two Trees, proves that that statement wasn't such hyperbole after all.  I'm at a loss to find appropriate adjectives for this song, or to figure out what genre it could possibly fit into.  Some reviews on the 'net have referred to it as "goth blues".  Others latched onto the idea that Jack "raps" the lyrics and extrapolated that into this tune being an extension of his work with hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z and Black Milk.  A friend from the Little Room message board probably came closest to the truth when she described it as "Beefheartian".  Jack's reverence for Captain Beefheart should be well-known to anyone who's spent any time exploring his music (that reverence was beautifully and obscurely expressed in the epitaph Jack wrote on the Captain's death, which was published in Mojo Magazine), and it was only a matter of time before he'd come out with a seemingly overt homage to the Captain.  Whether that's what this song really is or not, it's by far one of the most out-there things Jack's done yet.

This time, I managed to hold out from checking out previews of the song on the web, and was able to wait until I had the vinyl in my hand. After dropping the needle and cranking the volume, I laid back on the floor to take it in.  My first listen to Blunderbuss brought me to tears.  My first listen to Blues on Two Trees left me rolling on the floor giggling like a little kid.  By the third listen, I'd quieted down and laid still, staring up at the ceiling fan turning above me.  That's when the trippiness began--  I found that if I let my eyes go just a bit out of focus, the lights and shadows created by the rotating fan began to flash in synch with Carla Azar's tribal drumbeats... and it crossed my mind to wonder what Jack might've been on when he birthed this particular baby.

The song begins with Native American-sounding drumming and humming that's abruptly interrupted with a squeal of theremin and Jack chanting about love and fallen trees--

Trees stand still they don't move you see
That's more commitment than you'll get from me
So quit pretending you got love for thee and leave me

Three trees lying on the side of the road

One tree barks "where the hell do we go?"
Another tree falls down dead in the snow
The third tree knocks the other two in a row and says

Leave! Leave! Leave! Leave! Leave!

Quit pretending that you got love for me
Why don't you leave your home and love a tree
There's plenty out there giving love away for free
So why don't you go and love a tree?

It's good for you

Three trees lying on the side of the road
One tree barks "where the hell do we go?"
Another tree falls

"Where the hell..."?  How about, "What the hell??"  When asked this afternoon in the Vault chatroom what inspired the song, Jack replied "inanimate objects that are also "alive" was the inspiration".  This is exactly the sort of thing I love most about him-- the things he does so often make me go "What the fuck??!!" and leave me with so much to wonder about.  What do his lyrics mean?  How does he create those incredible sounds?  How the hell does that gyroscope of a brain of his keep spitting out such far-ranging and far-fetched ideas?  

As I said, I have no adjectives for this song.  The ones I could throw out (beautiful, bizarre, jarring, astounding) just don't seem to sum it up.  From the use of theremin and mandolin in place of the more predictable guitar, to a vocal performance that changes in tone and style practically from one line to the next, it's a song that comes at you more as a rush of surprising moments than a complete and comprehensive stream. 

While I don't foresee ever considering Blues on Two Trees a favorite, the one thing I will definitively say about it is that it's a gem.  So many of Jack's b-sides and non-single releases are--  such as Hand Springs, Cash Grab Complications, Party of Special Things to Do (technically, this would be his overt homage to Beefheart), Baby Brother.  They're treasures tucked away for those of us who dig deeper than the more casual-listening public who think Jack's greatest accomplishment is the sports arena anthem, Seven Nation Army.  Some of us know better, though.  Songs like this one, when listened to in the context of his catalog as a whole, are the sparkly baubles of his genius.

Those of you who've bought and listened to it will obviously form your own conclusions.  For those of you who haven't, either search out a leak on the web or just fucking buy it. You have to hear it to believe it.  

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