Dawn of Decades
Reviewed by Mike Mosher
Thursday, November 15 2001, 11:42 AM
This reviewer has been ignoring a stack of Eulogy CDs for quite a few months. After a cursory listen I thought yeah, dense and edgy stuff, clearly an artists' band, I'll have to to give them a serious listen. Yet daily life too often intervened, and the workaday world seemed to call for sunnier, less demanding musics. It took the events of September 11th and the slowed-down, cautious mood that followed for me to return to these Philadelphians' sonorous dank basement for release, repose and reflection.
Their Dawn of Decades CD (2000) opens with "Invisible Cities," its ominous spoken intro over cello talking about an "attempt to seize the sounds -- emo, post-core, progressive, punk" and mass media's obsessiveness and passivity towards rock genres. With a smart warning that when you collar music like a dog it's liable to turn around and bite you, it then descends into some unfortunate drivel about "physical cities" in the sea. "The Philadelphia Experiment" is another narrative, on the World War Two ship supposedly made to disappear by electronic means. "Genetic Amputation" makes use of a loop "Bury me in a nameless grave," while the CD finale "Dawn of Decades" is some movie clip too. Its booklet credits samples from Business Unit, Aleister Crowley and from Road Warrior. "Snow" makes use of speech played backwards that ends first in irritating white noise, then speedy shrapnel punk.
Beyond the strange vocalizations, there is garage-band bedrock to be found here. "Remembrance" and "Unprofessional" have the energy of the Minuteman circa 1978, with furious drums rolls, paradiddles and fanfaroles, embellished with space-age electronic bleeps. "Audio E. Tiner Child Chant" is similar fast, furious, sweaty basement Punk. "Reign of Terror" may be some undistinguished Pearl Jam sludge but it bleeds into "Let Go" and "Audio Journey to Sea" with its frantic drums and rhythm guitar. In contrast, the credible Joy Division cover "New Dawn Fades" has the melancholy of Syd Barrett's moody young Pink Floyd or Roky Erickson.
This version of Eulogy is Jayson, Joe, Adam, Butch, Scott and Justin. Chris D. strums electric rake on one track. Justin is the drummer, sometimes "piano board" player and vocalist. He also is singer on the crisp, succinct songs of another band, Northern Liberties.
I came to know this group through a little 'zine produced by Justin, picked up amongst the dance flyers and free weeklies in a college-town record store. The little booklet was hermetic and a bit obsessive, small-fingered and parsimonious, its horror vacuii layout filled with deprived, depraved Keane-eyed children of sickly alien grays. At its best, Justin's imagery re-marks Edward Gorey, the ornate penwork of Aubrey Beardsley, the inky lithographs of Odilon Redon, the peculiar Punchinellos of the eighteenth-century painter Magnasco. Stickers inside show the six wan, emaciated faces of the band atop unhappy animal bodies captioned "We All Have to Die", another a face lost among the stars, Alice Cooper-makeup eyes and hands with eyeballs in the palms.
The track "Audio Dead Spirit Echolocation," a long jam with prepared piano and very academic, most evokes the frailty of Justin's drawn figures in its doll-like, toy piano. Eulogy's dark, hippieish lyrics are cognates to his melancholy imagery of tumbling crosses, birds and cats, only slightly less disturbing than the cats of the illustrator Louis Wain that marked Wain's increasing schizophrenia. Privileging the visual artist as the mastermind of the group is admittedly this reviewer's art rock prejudice. When asked, Justin credits Joe, the bassist and cellist as the other essential member and core of every Eulogy project, and I missed whatever editorial balance Joe provides that was lacking from Justin's "Dextromethorphanage" solo CD, difficult to listen to. The Dawn of Decades CD label, a distorted city map, is credited to Adam, and like the CD enclosure is in white on a black background. The uncharacteristically sunny cover photo shows a woman in front of a what appears to be a burning farm, or perhaps the Koresh compound in Waco.
Eulogy plays frequently in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area and occasionally outside it. Their 1999 CD Resurrect the Dead was recorded in an abandoned oil refinery. Here the de-industrialization of America offers bleak consolation: where hundreds of thousands were once employed, now a few performance/audio artists do their thing. Eulogy's eclectic range reminds one of Sonic Youth, the 1970s noise/rock experiments of Destroy All Monsters and Half Japanese, or three decades of output in myriad projects of the brothers Ben, Larry and Roger Miller. Another 1999 CD I Hear Voices has big chunks of agonized Black Sabbath yawp, the grim John Wayne Gacy rock of Slipknot and subtley of G. G. Allin over plenty of tom-toms.
Eulogy played a show in Manhattan on September 11, and drove back to Philadelphia afterwards, arriving at 5:00 a.m. Though not up to their standards in recording quality, they probably could release and market the recording of the show on its morbid historic qualities alone. In The Success and Failure of Picasso (1965), the English art critic John Berger writes how the gray or monochromatic still-life paintings, usually featuring a human or cow's skull, that the Spanish painter set up and painted in the early 1940s while confined to his Paris apartment by the German Wehrmacht's occupation reflects the atmosphere of the city's--as well as the artist's own--confined gloom. There is this interior, indoor, wartime quality to Eulogy's recordings too. It is as if the lights are turned out or kept at a minimum, and material goods and foodstuffs are sparse. Pessimistic, low-ceiling artwork can memorably reflect that temper (the Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime" always seemed too bouncy, as if urban survival under seige or occupation was a jolly treasure hunt for groceries). Nevertheless, war is no reason not to invite locals also brimming over with pent-up energy over, turn on the "4 track cassette, 8 track reel to reel or Radio Shack portable tape recorder"--Eulogy's recording arsenal--and make a punk rock noise. For in such times even a twisted, dissonant noise can sound like freedom.
Eulogy CDs are available from Justin Duerr, 218 Buckingham Place, Philadelphia PA, U.S.A. 19104, (215) 386-5702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.