Wednesday 03 December @ 13:30:10
by Tom Hallett
One time I had this dream, and in the dream, everyone I knew had the heads and faces of those little ‘70s novelty trolls. Big yellow or red or green or purple hair, over-sized noses, leering grins. They all had their normal bodies (and wore their normal clothes), though, making the troll-heads look even more bizarre and frightening than they already were. It was kind of like living with the cast of Killer Klowns From Outer Space, ya know?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I don’t know anything about music. I don’t think I do music, I think I do spells.”
—Don Van Vliet (AKA Captain Beefheart)
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Payday That Never Comes”
My gramma, for instance, was a big woman, so her troll-head almost fit her body. My younger sister was almost Twiggy-esque, scabs on her knobby knees, her spindly legs barely able to hold up her huge melon. I thought she would topple over at any minute. Nothing bad happened in the dream; My troll-head friends and family did the same things they always did, they just looked abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous doing them. Here’s a great example: My troll-head gramma baked cookies, canned vegetables, and screamed out the window like Minnie Pearl for my grandpa when it was time for lunch. And my troll-head grampa trudged up from the shop, his giant skull bouncing around on his shoulders like an over-ripe gourd. Freaky, but not really scary.
My troll-head brothers were just as disagreeable to me as ever, it was just a bit disconcerting to see them poking and prodding me with toy soldiers and empty paper towel rolls with those Hamburglar-sized craniums, man. My troll-head father still had a scowl on his face (granted, his face was ten times its usual size), and his feet were still cheesy smelling when he took his boots off, laid down on the couch, and stuck his hand down the front of his pants to watch Walter Cronkite reassure him that going to work for his great big, ugly troll-head family one more day had been worth it.
Towards the end of the dream, I excused myself from the kitchen table where I’d been sitting and walked into the bathroom. It was the same bathroom I knew from my waking life, except the mirrors were all HUGE, to accomodate the size of those gigantic troll-heads, of course. As I gaped at the larger-than-life looking glasses, I realized that I was completely normal. My head was the same as it always was, no signs of troll-ness forthcoming. Bizarre, I thought. And then I woke up. And I remembered every detail of the dream, and I still do.
All of which really has absolutely nothing to do with the album I’m about to review, but I thought it’d be kinda fun to breeze through some weird shit like that before I start telling you all about this like, totally cookin’ collection of songs, man. I mean, sure, my dream was weird, but it woulda been even weirder with this soundtrack goin’ behind it. So, without further ado, here’s:
Princess Records (2003)
Halloween, Alaska up close. Clockwise from top left: David King, Matt Friesen, Ev, James Diers
Since every single member of this band has their own musical—er—pedigree, I’m going to skip the usual introductions and wait to divulge the player’s names until after I discuss the music. Not because the fellows have anything to hide, but I think the very mention of the outfits these cats usually jam with could/would probably color at least some local music aficionados’ opinions. An’ that jes’ ain’t fair, lil’ buddy—cuz this is some tasty tune-age.
Kicking off with “You’re It,” the band immediately establishes their chops—and the mood of the album—by laying down a half-soothing, half-disturbing bed of buzzing keys, staccato drumming, and lassez-faire vocals. You know right off the bat that you’re not going back to Rockville with this slab, buddy. Nope, it’s gonna be a dark, lonely ride in a fast car through some of the coldest reaches of your soul tonight, and you’re kinda happy about it. No clutter, no muss, no fuss, just the insistent beat of “All The Arms Around You,” and the hypnotic drone of the singer’s voice: “We descend so easily/Give it up to short-term memory/Fight your nature if you can/An’ hope for heaven where we land...” You can’t get any closer to the edge-of-madness vibes that claw at the corners of your mind than that, can you?
“Des Moines” eases in on a (broken) wing and a prayer, a soft parade of bent notes wrapping around your head, so fragile you’re afraid to reach over and flick the ash off the end of your cigarette lest you interrupt the icicle rhythms... Is that a light up ahead? Nope, just the reflection of the moon on a patch of ice. You’re really and truly alone here, just the band (“Nobody/Just Des Moines...No star in the east...”)
You glance in the rearview, see nothing but that silvery orb and a few drifting clouds—turn it up! Turn it way up!
Ahh—there ‘tis. Your urgent beat, your up-tempo strum, your “lilacs and landmines...” You’ve perked up, your fingers are tappin’ on the steering wheel, and “Call It Clear” sounds like somethin’ you woulda picked for somebody else’s road mix. “Halloween” hesitates, makes ya think the stereo’s malfunctioning—but no, it’s just you malfunctioning. The band plays on—eerie, rumbling keyboards, a voice that sounds like it’s coming from either the town you left a thousand miles behind you or the one a thousand miles ahead of you but not anywhere near you—distant ... lost ... lonelier than you. That makes you feel better. Even alone, you’re not alone in being alone. Right on.
“The Four Corners” hits your speakers just as you approach a crossroads that’s not on any map. As you scratch your head, H.A. glides into your ears with, “By the time I get to Arizona/You’ll be falling from my grace/|Evergreens will lie about the season/As the daylights gives a chase...” You start thinking about Jimmy Webb, Glenn Campbell, and Peter Bruntnell, but suddenly the drums kick in and you’re lost again. “By the time you get the invitation, I’ll be spoiling the surprise,” croons the vocalist, and somehow you know, deep down, that you’ll never really be surprised again. Unless you took a wrong turn at those crossroads ...
It suddenly dawns on you that you may have done just that as a terrifying rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s road classic “State Trooper” fairly bounces out of your system. Weird, alien beeps and space-jazz drumming surround the death-tale like some mad, insistent swarm of electronic bees. Before you can help it, you’re living the song out in your head ...”Mr. State Trooper, please don’t stop me, please don’t stop me...” Only in your version of the song, it never ends. Because you took that wrong turn. And you’re headed, balls-to-the-wall, pedal-to-the-metal, towards a future that just might not exist.
“Telling Me” calms you. You’re not really lost—you can’t be, because you never knew where you were in the first place. “Big surprise/Can only be described as/Unexpected...” the singer softly urges, “We both know better now.../When you dream, you’re sleeping/When you dream, you’re sleeping/And your little friend/The one who ruins everything/She doesn’t have a heart....” But you knew that, too, didn’t you? That’s why you’re in this car and on this road to nowhere in the middle of the night, isn’t it?
And you’re not dreaming, you’re finally waking the fuck up ... this is the raw, psychological truth of your world, baby: You on a long journey all alone and headed towards a somewhere you don’t even know the name of, leaving behind the known pain for the unknown. And as the song picks up tempo, the cymbals crash, and the keys soar, you realize that you don’t really care, either. You’ll just start the disc over again and point the nose of this mechanical beast away from the crumbling moon. Ride tonight. Ride for your life ...
Oh, yeah ... I said I’d tellya the names of the band members after I wrote the review, didn’t I? Funny, but this is such a good record it almost doesn’t matter what their names are, you’d be better off looking for an aura, or a color, or a sound that doesn’t have a name, if you really wanna find ‘em. But since they won’t make much bread or get much credit without being identified, here ya go: Halloween, Alaska was formed by four Twin Cities musicians who, combined, have an unnatural (but most welcome) affinity for the sounds of Mark Eitzel, Joe Henry, Hall & Oates, Vangelis, INXS, Tears For Fears, “the occasional 21st century car commercial,” and, of course, the works of famed film director David Lynch (as if ya couldn’t tell that by the music).
On vocals, guitar, and keys you’ll find James Diers. Ev Olcott lays down keys, PowerBook, and vocals, Matt Friesen handles bass duties, and drummer extraordinaire Dave King mans the skins and percussion. So there ya go. Halloween, Alaska, in a nutshell. And I didn’t mention growing up in Alaska or the holiday once. Except for now. Ooops! Oh well, if I were perfect, I wouldn’t have dreams like the one I told you about at the beginning of this column. What is nearly perfect, is this record. Go buy it now. You can find it at most reputable local music stores, or online at http://www.princessrecords.com. But for the real deal, check ‘em out live at The 400 Bar Friday, December 12.
That’s it for me this week folks. Until next time—make yer own damn news!
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to share your own troll-head dreams, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com.