Pumpkin Buzzard - Knowledge Zombie [Jeshimoth - 2010]
Pumpkin Buzzard has reputedly spent most of their career dabbling in other genres, releasing lengthy albums on experimental and noise label Jeshimoth, but for the purposes of their foray into sludgy rock and roll, "Knowledge Zombie", all they play are atonal, bass driven stoner jams, mostly limited to 4 (power) chords.
These tracks have a lot in common with their acknowledged inspirations Melvins (think poppy songs like "Set Me Straight" from Houdini) and early Nirvana, as well as punkier Sonic Youth and Pavement's "Slanted & Enchanted", minus the structure and basic competency of musicianship... I do admire their bravery and punk rock spirit, but wow, I don't know if casually comparing your band to Jandek can completely justify this level of poor playing. The band seems to have neglected to acknowledge that unlike Jandek, this is for the most part actual structured, composed music, and thus not necessarily best served by sloppy playing. Wasn't it the source of the Melvins' greatness that their intense heaviness was tempered with an odd groove that only became legible as a result of their perfect tightness? Clearly, Pumpkin Buzzard has bitten off significantly more than they can chew, but it's something I can't totally fault them for. For all the band's musicianship shortcomings, the songs themselves are surprisingly catchy, and I enjoy the album a lot more than I would expect to. It's music one listens to primarily for the attitude, and it turns out it's got just enough musical substance to make some of it quite listenable.
The band describes this album as 'outsider' metal, but really Pumpkin Buzzard's lyrics are pretty typical of irreverent, nonsense rock n' roll, alternating cliched yet suspiciously unrelated phrases "I'll kill them to set them free / can't stop this pain inside of me". Most tracks have a shout-along four line chorus that will be stuck in your head all day whether you really enjoy it or not. In their incoherency, the words only occasionally work together to describe abstract meanings or emotions, but the whole album successfully exudes a sort of slacker-stoner rebelliousness that may or may not have lost its charm in the 16 years since 1994, depending on who you ask. "Knowledge Zombie" undoubtedly veers dangerously close to mere hero worship.
If they wanted to impress me, they should have opened with the 3rd track "Underneath Reptile Forest", which has some bite and good syncopation (though perhaps the charm of this band is that they do not aim to impress). The following "Burning the Subhome" also has eerie verses and relatively tight musicianship. However, the first two tracks are plodding, loose and weak, with only haranguing, atonal shouting for the listener to latch onto. "Scorpion Soul Shuttle" in particular leaves me wishing I could somehow get their drummer fired. The two vocalists often attempt unison, but don't seem to agree on the lyrics, singing similar phrases with one or two words altered, resulting in a mumbled mess. Either some of these tracks are much older than the others and thus have lower quality playing, or the band only tries some of the time.
"Funeral of the Dusty Tomb", which is 7 minutes of sparse quarter note basslines and repetitious, half-serious lyrics like "Baby what I gotta do / Is try and give my love to you", and "Garden Smoke Pistol", a sloppy improvised instrumental that sounds in parts like it could have been played by elementary school students, pass without event. "Scream Like the Devil" has a vocal melody just like the Nine Inch Nails track "The Good Soldier", and it's at this point in the album (around track 9 - half way through) that I realize I've heard most of the riffs and rhythms on this album many times - a realization which cannot take away from the band's apparent sincerity.
"Witch Is Not Rain" is the best track of the album. For the first time it successful mimics the lazy, 'day in the life' drawl of Pavement, and the vocalists calm down a little and stop shouting their lungs out, which they typically do even in the quieter passages. "Cut my flesh again / I'm something stolen", drones the chorus. "Vengeance Is A Flag", the next number, is great, inexplicably tight punk that makes the tripe at the beginning of the album all the more aggravating. "I know / my rights... vengeance is a flag". "Summer, But Not Culture" is another good maudlin, hushed Pavement-esque alternative ballad, but the forced 'because it sounds cool' rhymes are by now getting hard to take ("You know what I mean / In my horse machine").
"Knowledge Zombie" is both quite repetitive and an album of self-indulgent 80 minute length - A sure sign of a band that records their practices far more often than they should. With the filler omitted, it'd be much easier to say "Knowledge Zombie" was a good album. Funny that they expect us to sit through their entire amateurish exploratory process. After giving us 14 songs of ordinary 4 minute length or more, they still have the nerve to throw a 10 minute epic onto the end. At least it was all reasonably well recorded. I actually like the guitar tone, even if its a little thin. The vocals are very loud and repetitive, but it's attitude music and their voices are dripping with it. The non-harmony of the two voices could be said to be the sound of this band - a band that clearly have ideas, charm and considerable potential as songwriters, a band I'd like to see live - even if I can't summon up more than a lukewarm reaction for an album of this kindJosh Landry