Published on March 26th, 2014 | by Chris Laramee0
Midnight Revolutions: Joy Zippers – American Whip
In this installment of ‘Midnight Revolutions,’ Laramee digs deeper into Joy Zipper’s 2005 album, ‘American Whip.’
So someone spiked the punch on this one. Prime CARPENTERS over-exposed in a Valium drenched daydream? AIR meets Jimmy Webb in a distended Paul Williams scenario, all blanketed in weird memories, old Muppets episodes, dads who went out for smokes and never came home again? Something along those lines.
Of all the CDs and records I have in my collection, this one keeps reappearing at the top of the pile with frightening regularity. A singular vision achieved that has obvious precedents, but I’ll be fucked if anyone else has ever plowed this particular furrow before or since. And if you hit up the Wikipedia page, what becomes immediately apparent is how comedically wrong the writers who reviewed AW ‘got it,’ which is to say they didn’t, not at all. Duder from Drowned In Sound (Wiki quote here) sez, “Joy Zipper are the type of band that think shrouding their songs in a sheet of sub-Kevin Shields drone, drugged-up affectations and bastardised Bacharach melodies makes their pedestrian pop sound urgent, vital and ‘edgy.’ It doesn’t.” He (or she) read the album credits and didn’t really dig much more than that.
Yes, Kevin Shields did some mixes and production on various tracks here. So did British wunderkind producer David Holmes (the album came out on his 13 Amp label overseas). Players included Beck associate Joey Waronker among many other talented motherfuckers, but don’t be fooled, the show here belongs to Tabitha Tindale and Vincent Cafiso. Sure, I get the Bacharach reference, but if there’s a “sheet of sub-Kevin Shields drone” on this record, I’m an Eskimo. Druggy? Hells yes. Titling a song on your album ‘Dosed and Became Invisible’ will definitely give up the ghost a bit. Oh yeah, and there is a short little guitar and voice strum called, yes, ‘Drugs.’ Yeah, we get it.
So to clear that elephant out of the room and deal with what is the albums most stunning track, let’s deal with ‘Dosed And Became Invisible.’ I personally abhor most lyrical ruminations on drugs in most songs. They are usually half-baked (get it?) shitty exercises in sophomoronic poetry, maybe good for a laugh or two but ultimately horrible. But when done right, the right words married with the appropriate music can create a beatific expression of what it’s like to surge and flow on a substance, here the culprit being Psilocybin. Here’s the chorus:
Blew my mind in every way
The answer crawled into my brain
Now written down, this doesn’t seem like much. But you marry these (seemingly) simple and innocuous words to the tree-swaying rhythms and the sinister string parts weaving their way through a gently flowing guitar melody that threatens to evaporate if you listen too hard, the overall effect is pure float underpinned by an almost unbearable feeling that something LOOMS, something is approaching, through the window, through those still-swaying trees. Another few lines:
“The waves they brought me here
We never really disappear
For the waves flow endlessly
And it brings me back to this…”
…all delivered in vocals that themselves seem to be skirting the edge of dreams, unconsciousness, awareness, etc. When Vincent coos the line, “Now there’s nothing left of me,” madness, along with possible enlightenment, is lurking around the corner. Powerful stuff. This track feels less like a song than an accessing of another plane, if you will. The music is the most perfect blend of weightless sun-raptured folk rock, those strings pulling at the very fabric of the song, threatening to drown, or embrace, all things considered.
Other winners on this one include the creep-out ‘Alzheimers.’ Yes, a song written from the POV of someone dealing with their mind disintegrating due to the effects of that horrible disease. Forensic details, sound effects pinging ’round the stereo spectrum, heck, they even sample a daughter explaining to her suffering mother how old she is. Yes, this could be pure exploitation in the wrong hands. But JZ are empathetic in the extreme here, quelling those fears. That don’t make the song any less disturbing though.
Another kicker is ‘Ron,’ a pointed open letter to a childhood friend? Maybe. Lyrics:
“Ron, when we were young
I told you not to cry
Now we’re growing old and you’re a jerk
You’ve gone and worked it out
But that’s when we were young
It never really was
And know we’re really old
And that’s when we were young
Son, you’re growing cold
I told you we would die
But that was then
I’ve gone and worked it out”
The music paints a downbeat pall on the verses, before getting supernova on the choruses, leading to an insane twinned guitar march to the heavens, all over in 3:36. Oh yeah, another thing I love about this record is its brevity and compact nature, unlike most ‘Drug Rock.’
So give it a spin and see what it does for you. And to beat a deceased horse, like a drug experiment, it could send you to Mars, or leave you stranded on a street corner, mumbling to your chest. I’m a teetotaler now, BTW. And it still works magic on me every time.