Big Plastic Finger - Up From Under [Starry Night Records - 2014]Big Plastic Finger are a 4 piece psychedelic noise rock band with a freeform, improvisatory approach and frequent twangs of surf. This album "Up From Under" came out on Starry Night Records in 2014, and has two tracks, the first being 15 minutes and the second more than 30.
This album sounds like an uncut recording of a garage rehearsal session, and not in a good way. The first 3 minutes are unfocused wailing and noodling that sounds like the band tuning and warming up, and should have been completely omitted. Looking at the liner notes reveals that this is a live album, but that is no justification for including what is essentially a soundcheck.
There is no point at which the band decisively 'gets going'. The band's playing slowly coheres into a familiar relaxed, pentatonic blues riff by the 7 or 8 minute mark, but even at the height of their energy, the relationship between the band members' playing is tenuous and dissonant, their direction murky and uncertain. It would not be inaccurate to say there are squeals of dirty guitar shred and bleating saxophone at most points in the album, making even the more consistently rhythmic and groovy sections feel irreverent, ugly and nebulously organized.
The production is awful and unpleasant to the ear, and this is the primary reason why I ultimately dislike this album. The details and emotions of the band's performance have been muddied by the distorted, clipped recording, which seems to have no spacial depth. Though inspection of the waveforms reveals the album is in fact recorded in stereo, from the sound of it, I could have easily believed it was mono. The cymbals, especially, have an obnoxious abrasive hiss that seems to bury all other sounds beneath it. Though the bassist is faintly audible, playing rhythmically and confidently with a pick, there is no actual low end presence to the mix. I happen to regularly play and rehearse in a jam band, in a garage, and I can say that even with basic microphone setups, we have achieved far better sound quality than this.
The second track begins with more of a free jazz angle, with the pained scream of an alto blaring alone for awhile, until joined by more wanton ugliness and animal bleating in the form of distorted guitar feedback. The drummer joins with epileptic fills, and its actually preferable to hear the band revelling in its own noisiness in this clearly intentional way than the half-hearted rambling of track 1. Hearing this track improved my opinion of the band, if only because it becomes clear that their cacophanous dissonance is intentional, but I can't say I enjoyed it, as it's little but gritty, beating sourness for its 30 minute running time. The band are clearly actively avoiding any kind of conventional display of musicianship, tonality or interplay.
The packaging is so tacky that the album would be better off without any art at all. The cover looks like a collection of standard Microsoft Word clipart pieces hastily arranged. The font is laughable. This album could be used as an example of exactly the way an album should never be packaged.
In conclusion, this album unfortunately sounds like the kind of bad bootleg I had hoped went extinct something like 10 years ago, as recording equipment improved. It's a shame, as I'd certainly be able to derive a lot more meaning and enjoyment from the band's scatterbrained inkblot of a heap of sound if its true texture was properly captured. At the very least, the band expressed some angst and intensity in the 2nd half the performance, and certainly has some level of skill, of that unconventional kind valued by musicians like Albert Ayler or Borbetomagus. However, noise rock CDrs are a dime a dozen these days, and this is one of the least interesting I've heard. If you like noise-making for its own irreverent and aggressive sake, you should still look elsewhere, as you could find similar sounds with a lot more depth, direction and intensity. I would've been content enough to be in the audience at the actual gig, but I can't give this recording anything other than the lowest rating, since I really don't think there's anything here anyone need investigate. The band should re-evaluate the idea of using this CD to promote themselves. It's beneath the level commonly associated with the word 'demo'.Josh Landry