Friday, December 29, 2006

The Third Testament, 1969, Godz

The Third Testament

As a warning, I would be skeptical of anyone who actually professed any affinity whatsoever for The Godz. Be as mindful of bullshit, as you would be when discussing Captain Beefheart’s, Troutmask Replica, or any song by the Shaggs, with self-professed fans; these are the hallmarks of those who are determined to become the architect of their own tastes. That being said, be on your guard, because I like them, well, I half-like them. Also, there is a very frustrating aspect of both researching this band, and downloading their songs—another band that is also named The Godz with a z, but they can only be described as butt-rock to the max, so there should be no confusion among them and the New York-based, ESP-Disk, avant-folk group I am presently reviewing, but they make things messy. Beware.

Now that I let the avant-folk term out of the bag, I should probably start by defining the term and by extension, The Godz, by what they are not. Usually, before reviewing an album, I type the bands name in to google, and inevitably end up reading the wikipedia entry on them. I would never say that wikipedia is ahistorical— half of it is copy and pasted from the online Encyclopedia Britannica (make of that, what you will)—but when it comes to something, as marginalized as a weirdo sixties band with a fascination with atonality, things can become problematic. First, the person called them a garage band, which, without going into the untidy nature of that classification, I want to make it clear that The Godz are not a garage band. Second, the person laid out an extremely vague argument hinged upon the conceit that The Godz were more influential to “late punk” than the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, thus making them a proto-punk band. Proto-punk is a fine term, it is self-explanatory but musically undescriptive; the term late punk however is completely unclear. Anyhow, the point is that the entry fully muddled the question of classification as it relates to The Godz; mainly because the terms garage band, and proto-punk inspire crisp albeit reductive visions of something quite different than what The Godz are; perhaps visions of beat-based guitar rock, you know, with a drummer. That is not the case, so I have attached the avant-folk label to them, which may or may not give one a quick and easy touchstone of what The Godz sound like. So I’ll try and explain.

First off, The Godz do not, in any way, inspire trust; they sound as if their whole existence was an elaborate con, a trick, a rotten deception. At their core is the total rejection of pop music, and possibly a total rejection of the idea that music is something to be enjoyed by the listener. To them, it is not intended to engender the type of reflexive good feeling that most popular music is designed to do. The music they produced varies between the moderately unlistenable to the totally unlistenable. There are obvious undertones of sixties counter-culture posturing—the desire for excessive chaos in an increasingly chaotic world, but that is a political judgment that may or may not hold; they were clearly however, rock deconstructionists, a folk, and by extension, less menacing version of Pussy Galore 15 years earlier, sans the scuzz. Despite all these misgivings though, there is a visceral quality that comes out in the harsh decadence of their atonal squalor. The trick is though, knowing whether there is something distinctive about their atonality, or if it is just that atonality in general is the burdensome desire of a crooked mind.

The Third Testament, the third offering of The Godz is a schizophrenic affair split between two templates. On the one hand there are songs like "Eeh Ooh," that are unseemly and incoherent affairs of messy noise and faux Eastern chants, and on the other there are simple folk-blues numbers that compositionally, could be described as childlike, if not lyrically. The album’s opener is the unremittingly discordant "Ruby Red", an example of the latter template; a song that seems, to be written about a woman called upon in a state of lonely despair. Lyrically, the song, like many others, is a mystery of tangled ideas, half-thoughts and the usual trite myths of co-dependence. This one though, is accompanied by the most ploddingly played and significantly out of tune guitar ever to be put on tape. There are others like this, "Down By the River," "Neet Street," and "Walking Guitar Blues" among them. These, last three are played on a guitar that sounds somewhat more in tune, but come off like subtle rebukes of the wandering-folkie ideal, perhaps the easy shot, Donovan, or perhaps even the moving target, Dylan.

I suppose I have not fully defined avant-folk. Some may prefer the term psych-folk, and that would probably work in this context also, but psych-folk does not describe the urge to irritate that marks The Third Testament. There are folk trademarks to The Godz' music, most explicitly, the presence of an acoustic guitar, a relative lack of percussion instruments, reliance on eastern sounding musical devices and American blues elements; and implicitly, an adherence to the poetic. These aspects are mostly superficial. The overarching framework is built upon the twin avant-garde impulses to both push barriers and to chronically annoy the audience, particularly those of conservative musical mentalities—those most invested in the structural soundness of American songwriting. The Godz though, being perhaps con artists, may have reduced the avant-garde nature of their music to the level of superficiality by making a joke of it, making this album, in a way, worthless, but in another way, an elaborate reproach of the myth of the difficult nature of the artistic. My guess is though, that they took their noise quite seriously.


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