Seventies’ evil genius Frank Vincent Zappa is often cited as an influence by bands who work outside the mainstream, those who work down the alleys and canals and sewers of outré and outrage. Some go for Zappa’s anarchic approach to harmony and rhythm, which sorely test the players’ chops while testing the audience’s aesthetic threshold. Some go for Zappa’s sour (and hilariously barbed) misanthropy, which swings between the right-on and the right-off.
Some, like David Sattout‘s 8-piece jazz/rock/noise collective Facemeat, go for both. And yet, this is not slavish ‘tribute’ or fawning hagiography; Sattout very smartly uses the Zappa musical anarchy/discipline approach as a point of departure, a fertile bed in which his own sound-world can grow.
And grow it does, into flowers of evil and flowers of alien-skinned beauty and flowers of… you tell me, which populate the night garden of Facemeat’s debut album, Questions for Men.
Opener, ‘Compliments to Your Band’ blazes in with electronic vomit, followed by a fuzz orchestral slam, before setting up the sort of demented guitar groove worthy of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. Wise-ass vocal (singer Adam Moses plays every one of Questions for Men’s song’s characters with reptilian relish) over a sarcastic funk line, a Sattout fuzz-Zappa guitar whig out and more horn-fuzz train-wrecks and we are left pummelled (but grinning).
‘My Wife and Children’ see-saws tricksy scalar runs around stabbing horns (Ruth Wells‘ sax and Ellen Kirkwood‘s trumpet seem to pop up on so much good music around Sydney these days). ‘Dude Disco’ is Disco Boy for the new millennium, Moses’ lounge-lizard vocal dripping with enough fear’n’loathing to rust any mirrorball stiff. Bassist Josh Ahearn, drummer Miles Thomas and keys man Byron Mark (yes, Sattout has recruited the best) are all deliciously in on the joke.
‘Your Special Day’ froths with metal guitars and smart time-signature games; title track ‘Questions for Men’ is a beautifully layered misterioso noise-world; ‘Seven Days’ is my-baby-done-me-wrong from the point of view of a twisted mind, the woozy harmony walling us all into a small art-cinema thrilling to this noir movie of necrophilia and revenge.
The startling and unique rarely lets up across Questions for Men. Sattout’s cabinet of curiosities keeps giving up its treasures: some of them are strangely beautiful, some of them you turn over in your hand trying to figure its purpose, while others just slip between your fingers and slither off across the floor to glisten in a dark corner.
‘Hanging From a Line’ levitates a whole-tone vocal line overhead, while ‘In Time’ surprises with a dotty Kate Bush ditty sung by Wells and Kirkwood. ‘I Shouldn’t Have Killed You’ casts Stevie Ray Vaughn‘s silvery Stratocaster as the private dick against the Greek chorus of the drunken horns. ‘Keller’ could be called math-rock, but only if you didn’t have better words (or ears).
Unique and strange beauty abounds. So does sarcasm: Questions for Men‘s closer, ‘Big Noight Blues’ is as viciously satirical of 12-bar blues as you will hear: as mirthless a mastication of an instrumental blues as you can get. And God and Frank knows the modern-day blooz need it.
God and Frank also knows we need music like this – the jazz guys have hijacked the chops but not the fury; the indie guys have hijacked the irony but not the wit; the TV panel comics have hijacked the satire but not the danger.
Facemeat are a refreshing slap in the face for all of the above. Long may they slap.
Published September 2015 on theorangepress.net