Twin Horses - Lydia Lunch and Cypress Grove/ Spiritual Front (Rustblade)
This is a kind of split album thing; one side Lydia works with Cypress, and the second is Spiritual Front’s.
What Cypress Grove is doing with Lydia Lunch is what I think of as “real”, modern blues. I mean, there’s progressive and “progressive”, you know? I mean, you’ll doubtless be annoyed with me when I say I recall Robert Cray’s first LP, and thinking it was very well done, but horrible.
Maybe it’s just me but I dislike cleverness without substance, and Cray just struck me as lopsided. Oh, sure, I suppose I’m doing him a disservice, for I’ve never listened to a Cray track since (to my knowledge), but can you say you’ve never treated a notable performer any differently..? Take Van Morrison.
Please, I mean take the bugger out behind the bike sheds and blow his head off.
Now I’m supposed to cover this “indiscretion” with a witticism.
Bugger off. Now, to “Twin Horses”. Yeah, it’s blues. But not the kind of irritating blues (see above), nor a fake cotton-picker ‘delta blues if only’ stylisation neither. Ever hear Blind Blake? Ain’t he sweet with that damnation? Now Cypress is a long way from both damnation and being Blind Blake, but … yeah, he’s sweet with his tempting damnation …
And as to Spiritual Front, well, damned if I know who they are, but they play “nihilist suicide pop” and Simone Salvatori is the name to remember. I’m sure it’s not their fault they look like failed emo hipsters; apparently their star is on the rise with good reason.
From the first seconds, you know it’s a parched western, kinda. And you know what they say about deserts. As Thomas Merton (Thoughts in Solitude) wrote: “First, the desert is the country of madness. Second, it is the refuge of the devil, thrown out into the ‘wilderness of upper Egypt’ to ‘wander in dry places’. Thirst drives man mad, and the devil himself is mad with a kind of thirst for his own lost excellence - lost because he has immured himself in it and closed out everything else. So the man who wanders into the desert to be himself must take care that he does not go mad and become the servant of the one who dwells there in a sterile paradise of emptiness and rage.”
And, bearing this in mind along with Lydia and Cypress’ last CD, “A Fistful of Desert Blues”, you can see we’re in for an evocative, understatedly powerful time here. Of course, if you didn’t like that, you won’t like this, but if you got hooked on "Fistful", you need another fistful here…
Death Is Hanging Over Me
The first song, one of Nikki Sudden’s. Cypress’ precise, hovering guitar accompanies fingernail-down-a-blackboard emphasis, and their rather wonderful, soulful harmonies. Straight out of “Fistful of Desert Blues”, perhaps, laid back and staring at the huge vault of the burning sky, a love song gone wrong.
Lydia’s voice is beguiling, like she’s some sort of droll siren, luring you in to your doom with enticing insults. Quivering piano and sounds (which would not be out of place in the Saw series) menaces us in a quite visceral manner. The measured pace of Twin Horses is deceptive; put it on to chill-out to after a hard night’s drinkin’ and methin’ and you’ll soon find yourself somewhere you just don’t want to be. Beautiful, eerie, might even clear a party. (This last is a compliment; I love Gregorian chants, for example, and they clear parties like nothing else).
By God, that shrieking slide guitar is extraordinary, it really is. “Rising Moon” is a lovely, nasty love song - but really, this is what Lydia seems to be doing these days, a clutch of linked songs marked out in fine, frightening style by the likes of Cypress Grove. Eastwood should make a film based on Twin Horses. Curiously, I find myself noticing on similarities between Grove and Goblin …
Put You Down
The kind of blues you just get lost in as it swarms around you, lonesome train whistles and dust sticking to you - and this is where we start seeing the madness of the desert as a physical thing, rather than just mental. This is a twin guitar assault, laid back, lazy, sexy and deadly … it’s worth a quick mention just how much timbre and tone Lydia’s voice has developed over the years … devilish…
And now to the track I’ve been dreading, the last on side one. Hate it though we all do, the original song, by the appalling Eagles, has been played endlessly on FM radio and worse for over 240 years. Maybe longer. Even worse, we all know the words.
It does take a certain type of guts, however, to mess with a classic, and make it better. Particularly a song which so many folk loathe.
Dread dissipates … first, it’s a better version that hideous yowl of the original, second, Lydia’s vocal is completely the reverse, filled with actual meaning rather than just another irritating take. The guitars and backing vocals make the song, and I mean really make it, particularly that final series of codas …
For the first time, this song actually makes some sense. “Hotel California”, this version, deserves much greater airplay, AM and FM and shortwave … hell, they should release it as a 7”, after all, they own the song now …
Okay, this is the end of the first side of the LP…
This is my first listen to Spiritual Front, and I confess it’s rather good. Grows on you a lot as well. Also, no single song sounds like the other, which is no mean feat for most bands.
“Buried Friend” takes us into what I can only call upbeat pop territory; it would not out of place on German ‘60s TV show Beat Club, and no disrespect to Simone, but you can imagine Tom Jones or the Walker Brothers picking the eyes out of this one … but every classic has to have a start. The gentle swagger reminds me of a romance beneath a gently swinging noose … let’s leave it there, “Buried Friend” is groovy, lush and regretful. Wonderful.
My Love Won’t Fade
This second side takes us to uncharted waters; it’s another gorgeous torchesque blues, the tale is one we’d equally recognise from a black and white western or the pub down the road … this time we hear synth and piano upholding Simone’s vocals. Simply put and simply delivered, there’s a lot to fall for here.
My Name is Written in the Ashes of Mouraria
Wikithingy tells me that Mouraria is an ancient medieval ‘hood in Lisbon, the birthplace of Fado music (no, me either) and somewhat multicultural blend of Chinese, Indian and African as well as Lisbonese. Presumably some of the music is based on the Fado style (tho I confess I haven’t a clue) but it is a damn pretty beginning. Lazy comparisons of Spiritual Front to one N. Cave do not serve; every fucker uses his name as a check-mark, and I’m damned if I can hear any real similarity. Love the Spartan aspect to “My Name…” here; I’d describe it as post-Baal but I’d cause sniggering.
Twattish title of course, but strangely they pull it off with perfectly timed train-track drum beats and one of those endlessly brilliant, simple guitar motifs … maybe Spiritual Front dream of being a Heavy Hair band, but … no, that vocal is too moody, too emotional … hell, I reckon Marc Almond would love to cover this one. “Dear Lucifer” swings with a vengeance, like Occam’s razor…
From the sublime to the potentially ridiculous. I had to look up the band who made the original; WASP, apparently, does not stand for Waddle After Sexy Pig, and the Hair Rock WASP have somehow sold over 12 million LPs. The lyrics seem about as asinine as you could imagine, so one shouldn’t gape in astonishment. Teenagers love a black and white world, and they’re not the only ones.
Brilliant, sublime guitar brings us into a rather broken world, Simone’s vocals recalling … Butler Rep. Actually, I was prepared to make a dash to hide under the covers with this one, but the buggers have me hooked. It’s on repeat as I type. Unbelievable, and you should know what a surly old grump I am.
I’m going to have to seek out more of Spiritual Front.
If I had a criticism of this CD, it is that so many of my readers won’t get to hear it. That’s the way with so many older musicians; so much quality music, so many of these people are far excelling their earlier, “seminal” material; the stuff that took them into the brief and fickle eye of the public. On the plus side, Spiritual Front seem to be leaping and bounding into the realms of the unknown.
Don’t be such a wooss. Dig "Twin Horses" …
Four tequila slammers, and a roasted lizard on a stick