“I don’t believe in fairy tales, holy grails, chivalry…”
Not only for the gallery of ghouls on the cover am I submitting this one for Halloween. While not as overtly spooky as titles of his previous songs—”Spiders,” “Ghost vs. Vampire,” “The Skeleton,” “Ditch Witch,” “Goblins and Trolls” (to name a few)—if I were expecting any trick-or-treaters tomorrow I’d have this Sam Coomes LP playing from down a dark hall. I’ve been a fan since Motorgoat, one of the first ‘alternative’ bands I ever saw that opened my ears considerably. I’d been thinking of writing about my favorite Quasi record (Hot Shit! 2003) or taking a cold hard listen to the daunting double Pink Mountain album (2009) but this, the first original solo album released under his own name, not counting the mostly-covers Blues Goblins project (also scary), is the one haunting me right now. With lights low, settling in for only my third spin…
A pre-set beat and swirling 96 Tears-like organ begins “Stride On,” one of the few things here you can imagine Quasi drummer Janet Weiss pounding along to. Hearing this song in advance of the release, I expected to miss her more, but Coomes turns the canned rhythms into an asset—the one-man band approach underscores a palpable solitary vibe. I don’t think there’s any guitar on this record, just a lone madman and his console, summoning all kinds of squishy and squeaky electric sounds for “Tough Times in Plastic Land,” others with a shivery timbre evoking the cavernous hall of the Phantom himself. If the loping and lurching “Everybody Loves a War” is a pacifist anthem from someone known to get preachy (witness something like “White Devil’s Dream”) at least it’s not at the expense of a cracking good song. “Shined It On” begins with an unsettling noise that conjures in the imagination a monster slithering across the floor, and cross-fades to the instrumental “Lobotomy Eggs.” This and its side two counterpart “Corpse Rider” bring to mind a movie montage of a mad scientist at work, and “The Tucchus” might be his unspeakable creation. I always thought the word was Yiddish for ass, but for Coomes it’s the two-part tale (narrated by a possibly extra-terrestrial creature) about a self-generating being that develops its brain last, and I guess the punchline is that the world is crawling with a bunch of dumb asses after all. Normally such theater interjected into an album of songs would throw it off balance for me, but these interludes give gravel voice to the undercurrent of unrest that pervades the whole record. The title tune sounds the most like the live Coomes, with rampant rhetorical rantings (“Why do we exist? Whatever happened to the Transylvania Twist?”) occasionally disrupted by keys violently depressed with both hands and feet.
There can be a singsongy sameness to his vocal delivery—pretty sure I’ve heard some of these Coomes cadences before—but there’s comfort too in the familiarity of a musician you’ve been hearing for half of one’s life. While some of his songs are as dear to me as any (which is why I’ve culled favorites from Quasi records for the constantly-evolving ultimate best-of mix more often than hearing them whole) I haven’t always been totally on board with Coomes’ sensibilities. Some of his plainspoken grievances with the world either ring true as unflinchingly profound or land with a groan-inducing thud. But he sounds so convincingly himself here—the solo album as raw nerve—and amazing it’s taken this long to get this kind of bedroom recording out of him. I think it’s specifically the modest scale of the enterprise that sells these songs—they simply wouldn’t hold up if they were produced with other players brought in to bring ‘em to fruition. “Fordana” humbly says this best, with an appeal to a lover to accept him on his own terms: “I know I ain’t no big prize… I just wanna be the one for you, like you’re the one for me.”