Black Moose - The Dead Brothers (Voodoo Rhythm)
I have actually lost count of the number of times I’ve played this. I keep doing it. In the car, on the computer and around the house. Bloody hell it’s good.
Ever find yourself in the situation where you’re presented with a band with an unpromising name, an enigmatic if not daft cd title which, upon listening, you are so transported and delighted with that you play the item over and over in amazed disbelief, discovering as you go, humming and singing around the room, that the band have been in existence for quite some time and have five more LPs to their name and you paw miserably at your spartan wallet, realising that the next pay packet will have to do..?
Yes, Black Moose is one of those albums. Like listening to a smart blend of Lovecraft, R.E. Howard and the darkest American blues and country while reading Grimm to a terrified child. It’s as real as reality, and as tangible as imagination.
Let’s get that ghastly muck of influences and ‘what does it sound like’ out of the way pdq. The first thing many will assume is that these folk are huge Nick Cave fans. Well, influence is a loaded gun of a word; if you love music, these days it’s damn near impossible to avoid the bugger, while it’s considerably easier to avoid his own influences.
Because it’s Nick’s influences which show here, far more than the man himself; indeed, if it weren’t for one or two little things in Black Moose, I’d almost be prepared to say The Dead Brothers had never heard of him.
By the by, I just want to emphasise one thing before we get going. If you’re not familiar with The Dead Brothers, prepare yourself for a steamy, lengthy love affair. Although I have heard a certain Legendary Hard Rock God declare The Dead Brothers to be "too European" for his taste, he deserves to be sharply spoken to; given that they cover songs from the likes of Hank Williams, The Cramps, Serge Gainsbourg and Marlene Dietrich, I’d say that’s sufficiently eclectic to produce a considered whole.
And that, I think, might be the key to the Dead Brothers, that they have a whole world-view; they evoke the similarities between US country, blues and 5ts r’n’r and their originators, European folk and African chants, that link everything together. Doesn’t matter which crossroads Robert Johnson sold his soul on, it may as well have been in Luxembourg or Spain … the Italians kinda got it with the spaghetti western; The Dead Brothers make musical fairy tales (a la Brothers Grimm) which we all recognise.
From the moment that measured banjo and jew’s harp starts up you’re hooked. Two moments later the full band kicks in, lazy, sexy, threatening, jangly and dark and upbeat. The Dead Brothers call themselves a folk band from Geneva, which is about right, but also as right and wrong as calling Einsturzende Neubauten a folk band from Berlin.
The Dead Brothers tick both crucial boxes in the ‘I must hear this over and over’ stakes; infectious music, good lyrics you can sing to and every time you hear it there seems to be something else to discover.
‘I was there when the first of you set foot on this earth/ And I’ll be there when the last one leaves/ I paid your Lord a visit when you nailed him to the cross/ I crept into Caesar’s mind like a dark worm’
This CD is worth the price of admission for this song alone. And I might add that the major record companies are currently doing themselves no favours by not descending to Voodoo Rhythm and signing most if not all of their acts. Astonishing that we live in a world where the most wonderful music is being created in floods and the music industry is terrified to acknowledge it.
There’s Always Someone that you Love
A traditional, very dark, whirling dance, the violin swings us along as ’s tortured, fucked-up vocal shrieks and harangues from the corner. Alain Croubalian reminds me of both Brel and Lux Interior’s vocal styles, but that’s hardly everything in there … "apart from the truth I have nothing to show…"
"At the crossroads you stand, with a contract in your hand/ And it’s the last light of the day."
Beautifully simple music allows Croubalian to crawl out of the black and into your room. I could hear Nick Cave covering this, but he wouldn’t because everyone would think he’d written it.
The most haunting instrumental I’ve heard in ages. It’s a perfect, scraping, ugly introduction to the next song, a cover of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. The very simplicity of Croubalian’s delivery allows us to appreciate this song in a way that, frankly, I have been unable until now. Velvety dark, a vortex which takes us along … the moments where he is unaccompanied are utterly haunting, and the ending is … unexpectedly disturbing.
From the sublime to what sounds like a lost Cramps out-take, Croubalian howls and yips and you’d better grab your partner and hump.
Did I say that? Oh dear.
The sleevenotes read, ‘St Dymphna is the patron saint of the nervous and mentally ill who lost her head when she refused to marry her father.’ I find this one of the most moving on the LP; "The dreams of this town will never be my dreams/ the lies of this world will never be my truth"… God, who among us hasn’t thought that? St Dymphna is a short, powerful song, strung tense and closing with an unpleasant high-pitched whine…
La Mauvaise Reptuation
A George Brassens song from the 1950s, it appears, about a Frenchman nobody in his unpretentious village likes because he goes his own way; “I pass' for I-don’t-know-what!/ Yet all I do is hurt everyone/ Following my way little man…” No, me neither but I looked it up. Croubalian really puts his French to full spattering, expostulatory use in this rather bitter, ugly gorgeous interpretation, you can hear the tension of isolation ratcheting up.
Heart of Stone
Straight outta Morricone … and if you’d heard this without introduction you’d be going ‘hey, a new Nick Cav- no, it ain’t. When did Nick ever use a banjo?’ Sterling use of a bleak, grim subject cut together with a jolly, twangy banjo. One of those songs you sing along to as you get drunker and drunker. "Old men decide where young men die with a heart of stone/ There’s nothing to lose if there’s nothing to win with a heart of stone’"
Another cover, and no, not the Velvets song, this one comes from a band called Les Thugs; as I’m sure bugger all of us are familiar with them, here’s two links: a YouTube clip and a bio. "Femme Fatale" is from the band’s first demo.
If you can get your head around the idea that punk is quite close in regard to anger, love, anguish and all the other strong emotions punk shoves out, you can cope with buzzsaw guitars being replaced with pissed-off banjos. The Dead Brothers take the original, rather simplistic song and creates some sort of vaulting, yearning opus in under three minutes. Croubalian takes the vocal to a new level, scraping it into greasy pus.
So Wars, So Ists und So Wirds Bleiben
From torn-up French to tortured, brittle German, heavy on the dipthongs and ‘ch’s to the point of spluttering, we’re plunged into that awful German bierkeller with fat tarts, fatter Hermanns, fatty sossages and general savagery amongst the civilised. Ugly fucking thing, it’s brilliant … straight outta Brecht and Weill perhaps, but I’m guessing, with a passing echo of young Blixa Bargeld.
Ship of Fools
A common title, drawing apparently from ‘a book of satire published in 1494 in Basel, Switzerland, by Sebastian Brant, a conservative German theologian.’ So sayeth Wikipedia.
Well, this one might also have you reaching for the Cave bible, but it’s a damn sight closer to Cash or Interior and similar US vocalists. Bitter, real, extraordinary.
"Never mind black water fever/ Cause carnal knowledge will guide our way/ What’s truth to a sailor?"
It says here "a traditional swiss dancing tune from the 18th century". All worlds come together at Croubalian’s magical, eerie crossroads. A rather lovely, nasty waltz closes the record with a bittersweet mixture of lost love and nostalgia for chances lost.
If I had to compare The Dead Brothers with any specific band, I’d aim at the fourth Bad Seeds lp, where Mick Harvey first really exposed his genius. Alain Croubalian seems to be a similarly inclined chap; and I’m telling you Black Moose is a cd or lp you have no idea how much you need until you hear it. Black Moose is the kind of achievement that any other band could only hope to achieve a third of. And I have a feeling that there’s more astounding music by this band out there. My god, if this band isn’t a reason for living…
No, eight bottles. Eight. I’m gonna be broke chasing down everything this characters have made, but fuck it. This sort of discovery is for me the equivalent of a musical epiphany.