20 September, 2012

30 Reviews In 30 Days: Review #20

FNU Ronnies, Saddle Up (Load Records, 2012)

FNU Ronnies are completely and totally out of their gourd, as a unit and to a man. The band is a completely skewed Philadelphia/San Francisco power trio made up of bandleader Jim Vail on vocals and guitar, Michael Reaser on bass and the amusingly named Street Kyle on drums and electronics. This last credit goes at least some way toward explaining how bizarre this band sounds, because seemingly every sound on this record has been treated way past any reasonable level of taste or sanity. Every word out of Vail's mouth alone sounds nearly as processed, watery and warped as any that came out of Stephen Mallinder between 1978 and 1982. That's not even considering the fact that he double-tracks his vocals in the most abstract manner possible on every song, or that his vocal style is something akin to the distressed groaning, shrieking and ranting of a homeless man pleading with the devil who's just appeared with eyes of fire and evil in front of him, or that the guitars on this album sound like wrought-iron nails scraping the world's biggest blackboard after being dipped in hydrochloric acid. Add the genuinely random samples that bookend at least a few of the songs here, the often completely manic tempos and performances (there are at least a few songs where it sounds like Street Kyle is almost struggling to keep up with the rest of the band), and the lo-fi, drastically overstuffed nature of the mix on at least half the album, and you may be wondering why you should listen to this. The reason is that this is one of the better combinations of sheer dementia and covert catchiness I've heard in a long time. Saddle Up is a drugged-up 24-minute mess of uncut punk energy and tunefulness, nearly drowned underneath chaos, noise and simply pure derangement. (It really can't be stressed enough.) Imagine Alien Soundtracks-era Chrome without the guitar solos crossed with Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables-era Dead Kennedys, with maybe some early Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle in the general attitude toward mixing, and you'll have a decent idea of what FNU Ronnies sound like. At the end of the day, the utter insanity still serves every one of the songs here, and while I'm still not sure this tops the band's earlier, heavier EP Golem Smoke, Saddle Up is easily one of the five best records that's been released thus far this year. This album makes the Butthole Surfers look like chumps.

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