Because He Can
Stoney Spring / Right On Heliotrope! (Western Seeds Records)
The beautifully befuddling Stoney Spring is an offshoot of slightly surreal country-folk-rock aggreg I See Hawks in L.A.
The main mind behind SS is Anthony Lacques, I See Hawks' original drummer (and still one of its songwriters), here teaming with Hawks lead singer Rob Waller and his brother,
guitarist Paul Lacques, along with bassist Jimi Hawes.
Now, I don't know much about Anthony. Furthermore, I'd defy you to know much about him either after hearing this
record, other than that apparently he’s a musician on a genuinely individual path –– a cranky and sardonic and stubbornly nostalgic path it is, too. He’s a bit like I See Hawks in his studied stumble through a roots-Americana-country-folk-rock-whatever that peels the layers off and pokes around in all those genre-specific onions, veering off into uncharted realms at his own fokking whim, thanks, musically. Anthony was raised in the California desert; melting music down is his prerogative.
His album is not all that obscure or overtly avant on the surface, though; no, for the most part it’s easy on the ears courtesy truckloads of ace musicianship, brother Paul Lacques in particular being a fabulously fluid, inventive guitarist, not to mention Anthony’s own easy-thumping piano, drums and trade-off vocals with the very fine regular-guy singing stylist Rob Waller.
Yet Anthony seems pissed-off. Weary, cynical and sad, too, which of course sounds like it’d be a drag to have to listen to but which comes off bracing, exhilarating, even, and it’s these inspired instrumental arrangements (stylistic beatdowns) that grain so interestingly against all his gripes and misty-eyed remembrances. The opening track, “New Blood,” exploded-views in psychofied honkytonk/musique-concrŹte spew and contains this wise piece of found recorded sound: “Hey, maybe you should analyze my vomit / turn it into a sonnet.” Such gritty stuff only sort of sets the tone for the entire album; what follows ain’t gonna be pretty, not in the standard way, anyways, but it’s not gonna be all ugly, either, because that wouldn’t be quite the point. There is real excitement hearing Anthony tear an icon like Steve Jobs a new butthole in “Jobs,” a piano-pumping toe-tapper where Anthony says he doesn’t blame Jobs for turning us all into a buncha robot slaves –– after all, what was Steve Jobs but “a puppeteer in a turtleneck”? “The seduction of being normal” is another way he terms this madness. That’s some very sour shit, but note the intriguing chord changes in the middle, this trace of musical modernism that gets snuck in to resonate in near-opposition to the words. That he ends the song mumbling “motherfuckin’ shithead…” is indeed “scathing, compelling,” as the book critics would say.
Other tunes like “Revenge Rock” veer somewhat crazily stylewise and are all notable for the way they
skewer genre in one way or another, with all the lyrical venom/irony/pithiness couched in subtly compound sonorities, small twinkles of light amid
the surfacely harsh folk-thrash acoustic strums; “Class of ‘74” is instrumental coolness of bar-band piano, brush drums and double bass that
takes a left turn midway, becomes stately and graceful, and you don’t ask why, it just does, and it’s quite nice; in “Class of ‘75” he waxes on
about a “stone cold fox” in his high school class who “looked like a gazelle and she was smart as hell”…Southern Comfort and ‘ludes did her in;
Neil Youngish guitar squawk stabs the pain…He misses her.
“Pleasure Quest,” “I Got a Map” and the choicely titled “That’s Not An Ice Cream Truck, That’s God” all add to the main point about this different music, which is that what is happening here
is the sound of a composer devising his own symmetry; in the structures of the songs, in the deceptively willy-nilly subject matter of the lyrics and their chill juxtapositions with
instrumental timbres and chord progressions –– and really just the way he follows his muse. The instrumental “Stick Shift” for example is beautiful in its own personal way; a repeated
acoustic piano figure washes in hovering synth squiggles and eases into the honkytonk piano and carny organ and mallets, and it becomes an entirely different song by its end. It has a
puckish, whimsical wistfulness, as the film critics might say.
Right On Heliotrope! is gadly music. This is music by smart people,
musically gifted ones too (important), who don’t fit a niche, seem not to care about fitting a niche, most likely couldn’t fit a niche if they tried. It’s like hearing the
truth, unvarnished, for the first time, and feeling shocked, like you’re experiencing the taste of an apple after subsisting on PopTarts your whole previous life.
Thus it is music of the American West, wholly original in ways not unlike that of Captain Beefheart,
Harry Partch or Shuggie Otis. You know, an instinctive
originality, unhindered by cultural or aesthetic archetype, just blessed with some kind of really strong radar.
–– John Payne