New Music From Austin
Austin, Texas’s El Pathos have broken through in 2012 to rave reviews and platitudes that run the gamut from the subtle to the sublime. The one blurb that caught my attention was one from Rank & Review, which gushed that El Pathos “…May have nailed their very own Exile on Main Street on the first try…” Their very own Exile on Main Street “on their first try”? Well, I must say that is certainly a heap of praise but I’d also say that the reviewer who wrote that may have been a little overawed by Hate & Love, El Pathos’s “first try”. Not to take away anything from El Pathos, but, I mean, c’mon, let’s get real here. No debut can be honestly compared to a seminal album that has been used as a yardstick of sorts in measuring how great a certain rock ‘n’ roll album is. In fact, using Exile… as a standard, especially 40 years after its release has become somewhat of a cliché.
While El Pathos is comprised of musicians who are in no way neophytes – their line-up consists of ex-members of such indie powerhouses as The Dicks, Catbutt, Offenders and a few others – Hate & Love marks their first release as a unit. They are on one of Austin’s premier indie labels: Saustex Media, run by the hip Jeff Saustex who himself is no failed or wannabe musician – Mr. Saustex is in his own band – The Hickoids, who, of course, are on his label (see my reviews of the first couple Hickoids CDs for a rundown of them). So, there’s a local connection here, which is Austin, TX – a very hip part of Texas. In fact, y’all can keep Dallas and Houston, etc, but give me Austin. But then what do I know about Texas? I’ve never been to the state. I’ve been all over the Southwest and the West, but never been to the South or the Pacific Northwest (i.e., OR, WA). But believe me, I have no desire to go to Idaho. I have been through Montana, though, once and I thought it was beautiful.
Songs: “Eyes” is a slow-burning gem – it starts out like kindling and builds up to a whirling flame of a wicked guitar solo , courtesy of guitarist Rob Buford. The next song in line is “Ghost”, which also has some balls-to-the-wall guitar wailing. “Ghost” starts off sounding a little like Social Distortion; that same kind of fire engine intensity; it has a fast candle-burning quality to it, the crux of it being an outsider’s view of the dead-end, nighttime happenings in town, but with a fist-in-the-air aura to it which shows a sense of pride in being that “outsider” – “I walk those dead end streets of the town/like some inhuman ghost…” and “Talk about the darkest place/You’re the darkest place in the world/Somewhere on the other side of midnight/Somewhere on the other side…” From beginning to end, there is nonstop energy just bursting at the seams. Next, things slow down a notch with the bluesy but introspective/personal song, “No Blood of Mine” – “Well there’s a man that I-I once knew/I even called him “father” too/He told me that he’d love me blind/But he ain’t no blood of mine…” Obviously a song about a father that did him (the songwriter) wrong – another poignant lyric: “I swear I could kill that man/And you know someday I just might”. This is certainly no paean to one’s nice daddy, but an angry polemic that, in no uncertain terms, screams “J’accuse” – in other words, that guy my mama married was a bastard! I can’t lie – not every cut is as good as “Eyes”, but the next one that pricked up my ears was “Sundown” a guitar-cum-chainsaw screw-in-the-head. Then, probably my favorite cut on Hate & Love: “Little Black Drops”. It was kind of hard, to tell the truth, to understand what they were exactly singing. But I must say I was blown away by the “wah-wah” infected guitar solo, which more than that, just really screamed like a banshee, pushing its heavy dose straight into your arms. Yeah, that’s what I figured it was about too – dope. What else could those “Little Black Drops” be referring to? Besides, one line I did understand was something akin to “That little sliver ain’t gonna hold me” and “I got lots of drugs!” Ironically, “Suffering Kind” sounds a little like the other side of the hell-bent for kicks mayhem of “Little Black Drops” – a song that seems to be reflecting on the not-so-great parts of addiction, i.e., getting dope sick, needing that fix to be well and feeling like punching you in the face as soon as talk to you (unless you’re the man). Of course, that’s just one interpretation of a couple songs; there wasn’t all that much flat-out un-metaphorical lyrical confession to figure it out. “Rockets Red Glare”, I found out, is actually not about the late, great and overweight character actor who played as many diverse characters in about 1000 small roles in many indie cult-status films, for instance, he pops in at the end of Talk Radio as the guy who kills actor Eric Bogosian’s “shock jock” radio host character. He’s been in just about every Jim Jarmusch film in some small part, had a little scene in David Lynch’s Fire Walk With Me – the film version of his Twin Peaks TV show (Whoa –now THERE is a story I could do a whole book about – Redglare’s real name was Michael Morra and one of the more notorious parts of his life is the fact that he, being a huge dope fiend and heavy drinker, supplied Sid Vicious with a stockpile of Dilaudid that Sid used to overdose on after killing girlfriend, Nancy Spungen in the notorious Chelsea Hotel in NYC. In a book, author Phil Strongman implies that he thinks it was Redglare (Morra) who actually murdered Nancy. But that’s way beyond speculation.
But I digress. Anyway, this is a great album. Indeed it is one of the better debuts of a band – especially a debut that wasn’t an “arranged debut” – from a band that had been working for a while and suddenly gets found by some slick pimp from a major label and gets signed to a Time Warner-owned label, etc (e.g, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Queens of the Stone Age, etc). No, these guys, while they do have history in other bands so they’ve “been around”, got together not too long ago and decided “what the hell” and wrote up a bunch of songs, recorded them and got Jeff to put the output of their creativity – Hate & Love on his Saustex label. Now, I still can’t say this is like making a debut as influential and with the classicity of Exile on Main Street, El Pathos, who have been compared to quite a different crowd of people – and an eclectic list at that: everyone from The Zombies (no, not at all, I don’t know who could’ve connected one to the other), Nick Cave (yes, his spirit is felt in there somewhere), The Stooges, 13th Floor Elevators, AC/DC (maybe, when they still had Bon Scott and weren’t a bad joke) as well as Townes van Zandt. As I mentioned earlier, there is one other comparison that just can’t be overlooked and that is Social Distortion. The fiery jamming and no-holds-barred, beer-soaked riffs show that quite well. Check this one out! You may not find it at your local rip-off chain store (like Virgin Megastore, which is the most overpriced, crappiest place on earth to buy music or books). But Amazon has it and, of course, you can go to the source – saustexmedia.com to buy it straight from Jeff. I just hope that El Pathos stay true to this verve and keep the beers comin’. Cheers!