Sunday, April 10, 2016

Captain Beefheart - 1969 - Trout Mask Replica

Captain Beefheart 
Trout Mask Replica

01. Frownland (1:39)
02. The Dust Blows Forward 'N The Dust Blows Back (1:53)
03. Dachau Blues (2:21)
04. Ella Guru (2:23)
05. Hair Pie: Bake 1 (4:57)
06. Moonlight On Vermont (3:55)
07. Pachuco Cadaver (4:37)
08. Bills Corpse (1:47)
09. Sweet Sweet Bulbs (2:17)
10. Neon Meate Dream Of A Octafish (2:25)
11. China Pig (3:56)
12. My Human Gets Me Blues (2:42)
13. Dali's Car (1:25)
14. Hair Pie: Bake 2 (2:23)
15. Pena (2:31)
16. Well (2:05)
17. When Big Joan Sets Up (5:19)
18. Fallin' Ditch (2:03)
19. Sugar 'N Spikes (2:29)
20. Ant Man Bee (3:55)
21. Orange Claw Hammer (3:35)
22. Wild Life (3:07)
23. She's Too Much For My Mirror (1:42)
24. Hobo Chang Ba (2:01)
25. The Blimp (mousetrapreplica) (2:04)
26. Steal Softly Thru Snow (2:13)
27. Old Fart At Play (1:54)
28. Veteran's Day Poppy (4:30)

- Captain Beefheart / guitar, harmonica, bass clarinet, horn, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, vocals, Musette
- Mark Boston / bass, guitar
- John French / drums
- Jerry Handley / bass
- Bill Harkleroad / guitar
- Mascara Snake / clarinet, bass clarinet
- Douglas Moon / guitar
- Rockette Morton / bass, vocals
- Zoot Horn Rollo / flute, guitar
- Jim Semens / guitar

It's probably the weirdest thing you will ever hear. No, it has no keyboards. It is nothing like symphonic prog, and do not expect symphonic prog. It is jagged, sharp, dirty, impenetrable, questionable, disgusting, odd, and dissonant. It may sound like a bunch of idiots bashing their instruments into the wall against a growling and howling vocal by a drunken crackpot, but it really isn't. Behind all that disgusting weirdness is actual music, trust me. I'm not saying this just to "show off my tolerance" or say CAPTAIN BEEFHEART is making some artsy point here which "mere humans cannot understand" or some crap like that. I'm talking about actual music. It just takes a little effort and an open mind. This music isn't improvised or recklessly done. It is well planned out and executed (maybe except for the horn and saxophone). The way the guitars, bass, and drums interlock, it cannot be improvised. This sounds much weirder than anything could possibly be if it were improvised.
The opening track is "Frownland," and it instantly shows what you're in for, hiding nothing. It wiggles, it bites, it pokes, and it changes constantly, becoming virtually unrecognizable as it goes. The vocals of the Captain are eccentric and bluesy, and definitely an aquired taste, more so than even Peter HAMMILL of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR. Following this is the much quiter "The Dust Blows Forward...", which features CAPTAIN BEEFHEART (aka Don Van Vliet) crooning in creaky 40s tones an impromtu poem in which he stops every few seconds and switches off the microphone to make up the next verse. It's fairly short, and thus painless, and somewhat enjoyable once or twice.

"Dachau Blues" is a dark song, about "World War Twee" as the Captain puts it. He uses a hideously deep bass voice, set against maddening instrumentation and a crazy bass clarinet in the background. The next song, "Ella Guru," is one of the best on the record, a twisted blues/RIO/pop tune which shuffles between rhythms, all instruments conflicting in a hideous yet wonderful way. It soon shifts into an excellent chorus which plugs along with all hands on deck, creating complex conterpointed melodies which sound...awesome!

After that is "Hair Pie: Bake 1," which is actually the home run-through of the finished, polished version, "Bake 2," which in my opinion is a bit better. It starts with a honking, dancing sax and horn duo, which begins to spiral into a low note where the rest of the band comes in. You can hear a plane in the background (they recorded this at the Captain's house, with the band inside and the horn and sax outside, and the tape recorder, as you will a bush). Following the instrumental (brilliant, by the way), you'll hear the Captain talking to a couple of kids who walked by to see if they could have the drummer in the band (they didn't know they were signed!). It seems the kids had a band of their own, and had heard the Magic Band playing and liked the drummer (John FRENCH, I think, is the most solidly virtuosic drummer I have heard - I certainly love his style better than even BRUFORD, PALMER, or any other straight-rock drummer), and had come to ask if they could have him come play with them. Of course, they couldn't.

After a long, uncomfortable silence in which you can hear a dog barking and a plane buzzing overhead, the drums roll up and announce "Moonlight On Vermont," a sharp and bluesy complex song, brilliantly written and executed. Following is "Pachuco Cadaver," which begins with the Captain and "The Mascara Snake" saying a few words about "fast and boulbous," then dives into a strange section reminescent of Frank ZAPPA (who, by the way, produced this album) which features the drums and guitars playing in 4/4 time while the bass bounces along in 3/4. Soon, things get faster and the song becomes another of the Captain's greatest.

"Bills Corpse" is a fast paced, morbid, dissonant yet excellent song which is followed by the more beautiful (in it's own jagged way) "Sweet Sweet Bulbs." The weirder "Neon Meate Dream..." is next, which has someone improvising strange words over well- planned instrumenation. "China Pig," the next song, is the only one with truely improvised instrumention. It also has a garage sound, and was once covered by the WHITE STRIPES. It's fairly simple, but well-done for something so improvised (even the lyrics are improvised!). "My Human Gets Me Blues" is a truely proggy song, done in the Captain's style, which moves on thru different themes, each one excellent. It also has a sort of urgent tone to it. "Dali's Car" follows, a sharp, almost classically trained and precise instrumental with each guitar complimenting the other, and leaving a lot of space between each carefully placed note.

But "Hair Pie: Bake 2" is by far the most amazing instrumental here. It is extremely progressive, with each instrument going thru each theme in a complex and structured rythm. Don't take my word for it, though. Download the MP3 and see what you think.

After that is a short bit of dialogue about "fast n' boulbous," leading into "Pena." It's on this half of the album that BEEFHEART gets even weirder, if that's possible. "Pena" is maddening, crazy, and nauseating, and that's just from the childish and urgent vocals backed by roaring insane nonsense from Van Vliet behind the instrumentation. But somehow, it's still good in a hilarious way. "Well" is yet another acapella track in the vein of "The Dust Blows Forward..." in which the Captain uses his huge blues voice in a haunting spiritual poem.

Next is "When Big Joan Sets Up," a boogie about a fat woman, and the longest track here. It goes thru a large sax solo, then speeds back up, with the honking sax rejoining later on. It struggles and drowns for a second, the climbs back up and twitches its way to the ending. Another highlight. "Fallin' Ditch" follows, as well as "Sugar n' Spikes", "Ant Man Bee" (with the most frentic sax on the whole album), "She's too Much for My Mirror": all excellent songs, difficult to get but the most rewarding listening you can get. The only real drawback on the whole album is "Orange Claw Hammer," a pointless acapella done like "The Dust Blows Forward..." but which falls flat this time because of its unbearable length.

"The Blimp" is a more psychadelic track, with instrumentation much smoother than any of the other tracks. In fact, it is music played by Frank ZAPPA's Mothers of Invention, with one of the Magic Band's voice recorded doing strange impromtu poetry over the telephone. "Steal Softly Thru Snow" is another well-done song, featuring some catchy bass and more of the same indescribable music, followed by the brilliant "Old Fart at Play," a hilarious song from which the album's title is derived. It's about an old fart who makes his own trout mask replica which he uses the break a window and cause general mischief. "Veteran's Day Poppy" is a great closer the most "normal" song on the album, on which you may even catch a whiff of psychadelia in a closing instrumental section which leads off into the end of the album.

It's been one year since I wrote this review, and I laugh at my nievety in this review. After hearing this for a year, I have come to love it even more. I listen to it at least once a day - the greatest thing ever. It cannot be topped, except perhaps by its predecessor "Lick My Decals Off". Get it now, listen to it casually for a year. You will get it if you want to and if you give it time to grow on you - but it could take a couple years. But it is the most rewarding thing you will ever hear.

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