Sunday, October 3, 2010

Royal Trux - Cats and Dogs (Drag City Records 1993)

Demigods of the lo-fi underground, Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux have released a slew of weird records since 1988. Most infamously unfathomable is the double platter Twin Infinitives, which ranks as one of the most out-there avant-garage albums of the past decade. Cats and Dogs is Royal Trux's fourth and most accessible LP, but it's still pretty disorienting. At its groggy best, it's the missing link between the Stones' Exile on Main Street and Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation. The Stones fetish dates back to Hagerty's first band, Pussy Galore, who once covered all of Exile in an extravagant act of homage-desecration.

Two words provide a handle on Trux. The first is junk: They're fond of using thrift-store instruments (decrepit, outmoded synths, cheesy guitar effects), and the pair used to be heroin addicts. The second word is dissipation. Hagerty and Herrema's voices sound drained, ghoulish, as though the years of druggy excess have left them ghosts of their former selves. Hagerty's guitar work accentuates the wasted vibe – it seems to drift and dissipate like narcotic fumes. Tracks like "Friends" and "Skywood Greenback Mantra" slip back and forth between grinding, lowdown raunch and woozy blues. Hagerty's elegantly sloppy solos ripple like heat haze on the horizon.

Two songs stand out as Trux pinnacles. "Turn of the Century" is a shimmering mirage of bottleneck blues, echoey piano and multitracked vocals gabbling spectral imprecations – a real ghost town of sound. Cryptic and cryptlike, "Driving in That Car (With the Eagle on the Hood)" is a slight return to the experimentalism of Twin Infinitives. With its hypnotic-trance beat and clammy, cadaverous synths, the track recalls Suicide at their most sinister.

The futurism of "Driving" aside, Cats and Dogs offers a traditionalism bent out of shape, so that it's less a case of Black Crowes-style reverence and more like, say, the Stones from an alternate universe.


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