Friday, November 13, 2009

The Shaggs - Philosophy of the World (1969)

First things first... this is the best worst album ever...
The conceptual beginning of The Shaggs came from Austin Wiggin, Jr.'s mother. During Austin's youth she had predicted during a palmreading that he would marry a strawberry blonde woman, that he would have two sons after she had died, and that his daughters would form a popular music group. The first two predictions came true, so Austin set about making the third come true. Austin withdrew his daughters from school, bought them instruments, and arranged for them to receive music and vocal lessons. The Wiggin sisters themselves never planned to become a music group, but as Dot later said, "[Austin] was something of a disciplinarian. He was stubborn and he could be temperamental. He directed. We obeyed. Or did our best". Austin named The Shaggs after the then-popular shag hairstyle and as a reference to shaggy dogs. In 1968, Austin arranged for the girls to play a regular Saturday night gig at the Fremont, New Hampshire Town Hall.
On the topic of the album, Cub Koda wrote, "There's an innocence to these songs and their performances that's both charming and unsettling. Hacked-at drumbeats, whacked-around chords, songs that seem to have little or no meter to them ... being played on out-of-tune, pawn-shop-quality guitars all converge, creating dissonance and beauty, chaos and tranquility, causing any listener coming to this music to rearrange any pre-existing notions about the relationships between talent, originality, and ability. There is no album you might own that sounds remotely like this one". Reportedly, during the recording sessions the band would occasionally stop playing, claiming one of them had made a mistake and that they needed to start over, leaving the sound engineers to wonder how the girls could tell when a mistake had been made.
Upon closer examination, The Shaggs seem to have a consistent (but highly idiosyncratic) approach to melody, harmony, and rhythm. The songs use highly irregular verse structures, which are emphasized by the melodic structures, which typically accord one note per syllable: the guitar accompaniment attempts to reproduce this pattern as well. Most of the Shaggs material is made up of eighth- and quarter-notes.

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