Excuse me while I shudder at the mental image brought to bear by the latter’s name. Ugh… damn my imagination and its unpredictable forays into visual learning.
For the uninitiated, the Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad is, for all intents and purposes, a rock band. Wearing bizarre costumes (a luchador mask and a cardboard horse’s head, to name a few) and using such instruments as the electric guitar, bass guitar, electronic drums, one or more spoons, a tambourine, harmonica, and a guimbarde, the DMFS combine various sounds to make melodies, overlay them with words (or, “lyrics”), then perform the combination, known as a “song,” for a public audience. Fueled by hedonistic metal riffs, gleefully abrasive country twang, and an anarchical punk-rock zeal, DMFS songs run the gamut from immature to juvenile, suggestive to blatantly sexual, and from borderline crass to genuinely offensive. Fun in moderation, I suppose.
But, that’s the Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad, and they’re neither here nor there, though they are useful for the sake of contrast. To Brian Adam Ant’s credit (or detriment, depending on your own relationship to the DMFS love/hate equation), his solo work eschews much of the absurdity and juvenilia that informs the Squad’s own offerings. In its place are pared-down acoustic ballads, fuzzed-out rock tracks, and messy pop tunes with layered instrumentals, vocals, and found-sounds all clamouring for your attention. True, there are hints of Low, Bunkbed, Panda Bear, Yo La Tengo, Woodie Guthrie, and even Pink Floyd in Brian's debut solo album, Separation Celebration, but all are warped and distorted as if filtered through the auditory equivalent of a funhouse mirror.
The sampled cricket chirps and barely-audible xylophone of “From a Convenience Store in New Jersey” quickly give way to the song’s central bass line, a reverb-heavy hum that serves to bolster Brian’s layered vocals—one lead, one background chant, one quiet coo. While it’s evident from the get-go that Brian’s voice is anything but pretty, there is no denying that his atonal, sung-spoken burble does lend itself to folksy, acoustic-lead tunes like “Rainy Winter Weather” and “One Day I’ll Resuscitate You.”
But Brian has no desire to stick with simple acoustic ballads, as evidenced by the muddy riffs and doubled vox of “Afternoon Amphetamine Rush,” which affect the same languid rocker stance as STAR and Windsor for the Derby, though with a less emphasis on danceable backbeats. On the psychedelic end of things, the affected guitar and (attempted) crooning vocals of “Crushed Up Pills” call to mind Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”
On the whole, Brian Adam Ant’s Separation Celebration comes across like a vanity piece—a solo effort that is long on stylistic ideas and source material but spotty in its execution. Production values are decidedly lacking, but that’s to be expected from a DIY stand-alone, and is wholly forgivable if the songwriting can keep up its end of the bargain. Unfortunately, Brian falters most noticeably in this field, relying overmuch on hackneyed rhyming couplets (I’m looking at you, “Our Artillery”) and uneven song construction, further debasing his songs from lo-fi kitsch to outright sloppy.
Even so, there are those moments when you find yourself cheering Brian on in his efforts, hoping against hope that he’ll latch onto those elements that work—e.g., the rhythms of “Afternoon Amphetamine Rush,” the vocal presentation of “The Other Side of the Street,” the guitar melody of “Holy Hell,” and the rock bombast of “Crushed Up Pills”—drop the lyrical excesses, and craft the quality of song that you just know he is capable of creating. ‘Til then, consider Separation Celebration scratch paper, and wait for the genuine article to emerge.
Audio Reviews (August 8th, 2007)
Tags: audio, review, brian adam ant, separation celebration, silly string songs