(All Album Reviews by Reginod)
Take just one glance at the cover for Bob Drake's 1999 solo release Medallion Animal Carpet and you know you're in trouble. A big ol' cartoon bear, scratching his/her head in apparent bewilderment, stands on a brightly colored (Persian?) carpet, in the right foreground of an ornate and spacious but colorless room characterized by classical architecture, the walls lined with various animal statues and figurines. It's not exactly your typical prog-by-numbers, Dean-esque artwork. And the music contained on the disc follows the prog script to precisely the same extent, which is to say, not at all.
No, Medallion Animal Carpet (MAC) is a different kind of beast altogether. In fact it's kind of hard to describe the proceedings in any way that makes much sense, except to say that it seems to be the soundtrack to some sort of dada-rockabilly nightmare. Drake did most of the writing and performing (he sings and plays guitars, bass, drums, violin, synthesizer, etc.) on MAC and he produced, engineered and mixed the whole affair as well, at Studio Midi in Pyrenees, France. Several people added instrumental and/or vocal support, including Chris Cutler, who played drums on four cuts. Five of the contributors - Mark Fuller and Mark McCoin (drums) Steven Tickmayer (keyboards), Tim Gadd (acoustic guitar, lead vocal on one cut), and Jason DuMars (saxophone) recorded their bits in different countries, across Europe and overseas in North America and Australia.
The aural entertainment contained herein is presented in three parts, each consisting of a collage of short to very short pieces. Part 1 is approximately 26 minutes in length and contains traditional music, punkish & raucous rock, a prog tidbit or two, a nod to world-beat on "Slab," and the kitchen sink. The recording and mixing is immediately established as a huge part of this story. For instance the opening piece "Hideous Shrub" fades up from nothingness, throbbing and undulating, building in volume and distortion to the point of becoming grotesque, like a toxic weed grown out of control. The music is intentionally mutilated so that it creates a bizarre reflection of itself. Those who regularly consume pretty, symphonic music are in for a system-shock, as this is a chaotic, constantly shifting nightmare-scape. It does not allow a moment's rest for the listener. There is simply too much going on to keep track of it all. On "Where There Is Nothing" Drake teases with some typically proggy time changes, before the collage of sounds blurs and blends into the Chet Atkins-esque "Mound" like extraneous paint randomly splattered onto a formerly serene still-life. "Bedraggled Things" could be chamber music from an asylum for demented comedians. The aforementioned "Slab" checks in at 3:53 and is probably the closest thing to a conventional piece of music on MAC.
And funny thing about much of the singing here . . . . . . . you can barely discern the lyrics, although they are printed on the insert for listener edification. Actually the lyrics compliment the distorted surroundings. Much of the lyrical content was provided by using the "Spagetti" freeware (developed by Mike van Bokhoven at http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~falco/) and it is rather unique, as evidenced on "Hideous Shrub."
"Someone's ghost climbed over my shrub,
as some pretty furry organ burnt.
The broken lump disemboweled this hideous shrub,
and the cat sold the hag."
. . . . . . lol . . . . . what is this guy talking about anyway? The Giant Hogweed? LMAO!!! And the lyrics on the rest of the album carry forth the mirth and insanity in like fashion. On the ridiculously warped, punkabilly-ish "Concrete Husky,"
"Your holy weak sheep washed this pestilent curry
your knight laughed
as that concrete husky ate our family
the expert and the beer-drinking beast
cleaned the church."
MAC Part II is a deranged pastiche of American traditional music; folk, blues, bluegrass, Cajun, country, rockabilly, whatever. The authors are unknown on four of the seven tidbits, which altogether total just over 16 minutes. The liner notes state: "All vocals to all songs in PART II recorded in deliberately semi-audible manner and so are not printed here." It begins with a hilarious punk mutilation of "Over In The Glory Land," and continues on, shredding convention with glee. By the time "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" wraps Part II, the listener should be laughing uncontrollably, or snorting with indignation, or crying with confusion. "Wha . . . . . ? 'ows that? Come again?"
Part III is a Tim Gadd contribution entitled "Dunwich Confidential," and is all of 1:05 long. If there is a properly warped way to wrap this album, this is it.
"My name is Wizard Whately
I'm an inbred Dunwich guy
and people are shit-scared of me
'cause I call down things from the sky.
I call them from Round Mountain
and I send them down to town
and they eat cattle and people
and knock farmhouses down
And the people call me EVIL
but they can't understand
I'm just a well-educated inbred Dunwich man."
So don't ask me what all of this means, because I do not know. This is listening for adventurous listeners, for those who like a steady helping of "different" in their musical diet. I can honestly say I've never heard anything quite like this, but it is some radical and extraordinary and incredibly progressive sound. Medallion Animal Carpet might not go down in history as a great and unforgettable piece of musical art, but maybe it should, and certainly it should serve as a reminder to all that the well of creative possibilities is not dry. In terms of apparent influences, maybe this type of thing represents the thriving continuation of the musical legacy of Frank Zappa, Brian Eno and undoubtedly many others; short, sometimes intensely musical, sometimes funny, very experimental pieces arrayed collage-like over the aural spectrum, performed by those with little regard for any convention save their own. It is art for the modern age, something to be appreciated . . . . so seek this album TODAY at your favorite rekkid store(s).