Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Radio Moscow - Brain Cycles (2009)

A congregant once queried the Sixteenth Century Reformer Martin Luther, "Herr Doctor, why is it that week after week all you ever preach to us is the Gospel?"  "Well," the bullish reformer calmly replied," because week after week you forget it." 

Radio Moscow is a group that’s likely to be saddled with some of the laziest journalistic punts: “throwback” or “stoner rock” or “old-school,” all of them tending to the ultimate end of describing a band like an artifact.  It’s deceptive and wrong.  Radio Moscow isn’t an Elvis Impersonator.  They aren’t a museum diorama.  They’re much closer to reformers, like our friend the Bull of Wittenberg.  What Radio Moscow does is much more like reminding, resurrecting, reclaiming a craft that should never have been prematurely abandoned, all for the blocky ears of forgetful listeners.

When I first saw Radio Moscow at The Doublewide a couple years ago, there was almost no one there.  I had gone to see them based entirely on the fact that they are from Ames, Iowa.  Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead is set in the same inconspicuous state, written in the voice of its fictional narrator, the affectionately named John Ames, and I was reading the novel at the time.  John Ames is a congregational minister and I like to imagine some alternate universe in which he is a big fan of race-geared, deafening rock, so I essentially attended a music performance out of literary curiosity.

There were maybe half a dozen people in the room when the string-haired Parker Griggs clicked on his amplifier.  The ensuing shock tore the roof off the sucker (Mr. Clinton, I wish you could have seen it).  As I listened, I twisted my head around two or three times to take in the room's vacancy, at once quaking with the awe of a Pentecostal congregant and becoming gloomily annoyed that there were one and a quarter million minus six Dallasites who would never see it.

Embarrassed for my city of alien residence, I offered to buy the band a round of drinks and I think Parker might have asked for a Blue Moon, which I thought was ironically the sissiest thing he could request.  They stayed at my place that night for lack of other accommodations save their van.  Bassist Zach Anderson actually slept in his headband and I marveled at his commitment to aesthetic.

At the time, they were touring in support of their debut, self-titled album.  They’ve since released a second album Brain Cycles, which I bought on their last trip through Dallas a couple months ago.  They performed at Nightmare on Elm, every bit as firebrand as two years ago and to a larger crowd.

That album has sat on my shelf ever since, book-ending the chronological rearrangement of my picayune vinyl collection.  I made a foolhardy journey from start to finish, beginning several months ago with Jimmie Rodgers.  I only today achieved Radio Moscow’s Brain Cycles, which stands as a clear accusation that I have yet to purchase a record made in this year.

In truth, I haven’t even heard all of Brain Cycles yet and I’m telling you it needs to be your next purchase if you have any faith left in rock.  I listened to exactly one song, the opening “I Just Don’t Know,” before deciding it was absolutely necessary I write this review.  One track was evidence enough that Radio Moscow serves up in megawatts what other bands teaspoon to us.  Just don’t imagine that it’s the kind of bombast you get from double-bassed speed metal.  It’s more akin to what James Newell Osterberg might have deemed “raw power.”  Like Samson with a jawbone or a savage trio of barbarian Irishmen swinging shillelaghs: ferociously spare.

Parker Griggs is a demigod of riffage, a doctor in the study of chop-ology.  His furious attack of the instrument, the shrieking, fleet-footed licks are what gives Radio Moscow’s sound so much meat.

There is an overabundance of vegetarian music these days.  A while ago, there was a great deal of buzz surrounding Vampire Weekend, particularly when they played SXSW and I just didn’t get it.  Sure, Vampire Weekend is great, if you don’t mind panting your way through life with an iron deficiency.   

Parker said on his last trip through Dallas that the European audiences are overwhelmingly more responsive to Radio Moscow, to rock in general.  This admission fits easily into one of the oldest human habits of shunning hometown prophets.  We don’t love our blues our country our rockabilly or our rock and roll with the same conviction as the French; just try to reconcile that.

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