My virgin tour of almighty San Francisco led me
to, oddly enough, a brown burlap bag tucked away on the dirty bottom
shelf of some run-of-the-mill shop in the Lower Haight. My resident
friendwho I'd only before known through mail-order correspondencemotioned
coolly toward the nondescript lump amid clouds of patchouli incense
and uttered the absurd: "That's the first Caroliner record."
It was then that my mind exploded.
Too hip to jump up and down and wave my arms midspace while yelling
"whoopee!" in public (a ritual in which I regularly indulge
myself these days), I maintained my "big deal" composure,
only to return home and immediately send away for said burlap-bagged
recording through the mail. I hyperventilated until it arrived.
Mine came wrapped in a fine and wonderfully strange canvas painting.
But this is just the beginninga second album was delivered to
me some months later, just as my lust for Caroliner truth had reached
a level no longer confinable by the first recording. Adding to my
firewhich was, at that point, a raging infernothe chance to
see Caroliner (gasp!) LIVE arose! Had all the darkness of my so-called
life finally turned to this great bounty? Had light shown, at long
last, upon my dark path in the form of these Wondrous Masters Who
Are Called Caroliner? But this joy was not to be minetheir damn
van broke down in Joliet, Illinoisthat stinking cesspool of the
Midwestand all was lost.
So I moved to Los AngelesI had no more hope left for life, after
all. Stupid van!
Ok, so a third album was released, and with it the possibility
of another show. Yadda yadda yadda, the van broke down, whatever.
Then a fourth album and yet another "possible show", yeah
yeah... I may have been slow on the uptake where desire was concerned,
but that time I called ahead to the club hosting Caroliner's "possible
show" to ask if Caroliner was actually playing that night or
just taking up marquee space. The voice on the other end of the
line said, simply, "yes." After some pause, I rephrased
my question: "Is Caroliner actually in the club?" The
answer"yes" nearly cost me a driving misdemeanor.
What I saw that night was a macabre black light reactive circus
the likes of which will not soon fade from memory, and it was almost
worth all the disappointment brought about by crappy van mishaps
from years before. At the time, I was working the third shift
in a QC position of a valley tape duplicator (jealous?), so, naturally,
I had to re-orient myself a bit for this evening show. As fate would
have it, Caroliner played again the following evening at a different
club, so I was left with no choice but to skip sleep (who needed
it?) between Caroliner shows and work in order to attend the second
show (with eight of my closest friends). During the second show
(remember, this is sans sleep), as Caroliner's distortion, noise,
drones and hillbilly music blew past me, their bizarre take on the
world finally began to make sense to me. After all those years of
examining Caroliner's music (most often during the third shift while
the supervisor wasn't around), I discovered, at long last, that
what I really needed to unlock the mysteries of their talents was
sleep deprivation! Imagine that!
I still can't think of a stranger band than Caroliner. For those
of you unfamiliar with the concept, Caroliner is a singing bull
that lived once in the 1800's and told stories around lonesome campfires.
Crap Hat Carson told me that Mittens Samdrags doesn't actually "sing,"
per serather, he "channels the singing bull" at each
performance. And what a cosmic trip it is! Take Caroliner Rainbow
Cooking Stove Beast, their fourth recordas you are hurtled through
this dense, muddy world of the singing bull's stories, you can't
help but laugh (albeit nervously) at the absurdity of it all.
Listen to "Fiddle
With the Heart Stuck In It", which opens up bass
drone and a simple fiddle melody played on a Korean stringed instrument
which seems to relay, "That's how they did it back in the civil
war." Then you hear the first verse of Mittens' channeled vocals:
Ok, what does that mean?
Several other cuts on this album are hootenanny-esque, complete
with banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and pots and pan percussion. Then
we are side-swiped by a few quick edit interludes, ending up deep
in the whirlwind drone of "Huge
with extra reverbed drums (recorded with cheap mics, yee-haw!),
four tracks of extra distorto-bass played low and slow, coupled
with guitar and synth dronesl Through this cacophony of sound, we
begin to hear the deep-voiced, singing bull which once lived in
the 1800's, recorded through a fan. Reminds me of Flipper in some
distant way. "Keel
starts in as a quick punk rock number that out-buttholes the Butthole
Surfers' "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave." Is this
hillbilly music gone mad? Is this noise? Who really cares, it's
Mittens tells me that the mixing technique used on most Caroliner
projects is one of throwing the faders up and making a few slight
adjustments to the overall sound, but they mostly mix on "intuition."
Gotta love that "intuition"! You know what they say"your
first mix is the best." Mittens reiterated that a good mix
is one you are satisfied with, and "Keel
is a great example of this wisdom, especially where their mixing
technique is concerned. Each change of chord yields yet another
change of mix, yet all the while a single drum track pans around
in stereo and fades in and out aggressively.
Side two of Cooking Stove Beast offers a fast paced yet haunting
little ditty called "Fixing
and Mixing Cracked Skulls." Here are two unique, definable
sounds of Carolinerone is the unusually high, distorted voice
of the Singing Bull, along with the creepy old organ which graces
many Caroliner records. This piece features a truly maddening, overly
repeated melody played on said organ which sounds like the soundtrack
to an especially tragic Edgar Allan Poe tale. I originally thought
that the vocals were run through a tremlo or leslie but Crap Hat
Carson informed me that it was a mic technique that Mittens uses
which consists of moving the mic between 1 inch and 2 inches from
your lips...real fast! The vocal effect is quite unstable, yet dementedly
effective for the lyrics:
The title track features cutlery thrown at drums, after which we
settle in to my favorite Caroliner song of all time (this, after
10 albums of material to-date)"Swoonskirt
Accomplishment." Listen closely to the second half of this
song, which features only the creepy organ and the Singing Bullthe
organ pulses out a little circus composition reminiscent of Peter
Iver's (in heaven) "Everything is fine" from David Lynch's
Eraserhead. Ahhh, mania! The mood of this piece is dark,
to be sure, but there is a brilliance to the simplicity of this
music and the recording, itself, which is second-to-none!
The icing on Caroliner's psychotic cake is that all of their records
are wrapped in hand-made covers, each one unique. Spend enough time
with their collected works and you may come to see the vision which
is the Singing Bull.
From an audio standpoint, you can't help but marvel at how all
of Caroliner's sounds have been createdit sounds lo-fi, but with
careful listening you will find a clarity unequalled by any other.
What's more, the consistency of any Caroliner albums are indicative
of a complete artistic vision, and that's what makes a great recording.
And this is why my mind exploded so long ago on my virgin tour
of almighty San Francisco in that dark little dump in the Lower
Haight... and I don't regret it one bit.
Interpreted by Jaye Barr. Originally appeared in Tape