Both Kinds Of Crazy

by | Apr 1, 2022 | MUSIC

A lot of smart people are nuts.

This can go either way. On one hand you’ve got Vladimir Putin, and on the other hand you’ve got Kanye West. Push too far in one direction and you can witness some real rotten stuff. But those are the ones you hear the most about these days. Stride into a chain bookstore and you’ll see the bargain-priced coffee table books of Frank Lloyd Wright or Ansel Adams or Frida Kahlo or Michael Jordan… After a while, maybe all the names start to bleed together, and your vision becomes fuzzy to anything on the fringe. 

It’s popular to float the theory that these people must be crazy in order to create what they’ve created. Most people don’t make this type of precise art. Jordan might’ve hogged the ball, but he still made art with it, regardless. 

There are also the Hedy Lamarrs, Percy Julians, Nikola Teslas, and other wackos who lingered in the past largely forgotten. Only recently have their scientific achievements been acknowledged by specific pockets of the mainstream. There’s plenty of reasons for this, and you can list them all out loud, but I’m not going to. 

Watching Hex Machine play live at the Camel on March 17th, it’d be hard not to think of Trevor Thomas howling into the microphone as a free-from-shell looney-toon. This is on the good side of being crazy. 

If you listen to 2009’s Omen Mas, especially on tracks like “Pink Whisky,” you can pick up the frenetic sound of a madman who’s just broken out. 2012’s Fixator has the bratty arrogance of a madman who still hasn’t gotten caught. 2019’s Cave Painting has the sophisticated sound of a madman who knows he’s never going to get caught. 

This isn’t music made by calm people. 

T.T. is a smart dude. He’s probably got a stopwatch, an abacus, and a thesaurus sitting on top of his amp. He’s a fan of double entendre and wordplay; it’s written all-over Hex Machine’s three records. Each was recorded with a different lineup, each musically and lyrically puzzling and punishing in a different way. Each like a separate, candid interview with a maniac on the run, written in a dry, witty cipher over the span of 13 years. This is not simple rock and roll.

These days, pulling the low-end for Hex Machine is Alex Ricart, and any team for which Erik Josephson is hitting-for-distance behind the kit is better off. Watching the rhythm section alone is worth the price of admission. Yet the prize in this box of Cracker Jacks is Trevor. 

Two thirds of the band live in Richmond, but Hex Machine’s live performance picks you up and throws you into the Pacific Northwest somewhere in the late 80’s/early 90’s. At least that’s what it felt like to me, even though I never physically experienced the Pacific Northwest in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Conjecture is allowed here, and I’d imagine Hex Machine would’ve fit in fine walking around Belltown with Mudhoney before opening for Soundgarden at the Crocodile Cafe. It’s a goddamn shame the band isn’t all over the place and everywhere. You can’t blame that on the smart people.

Photo by Susan Whelihan

Hex Machine fried through a slowed-down version of “Starlet” by the Jesus Lizard to open their set, and it was a grease fire from then on, slinging three slabs of Cave Painting at the audience like hot meat. The new specials on the chalkboard for the night were “We Got The Beast” and “Simon Ferocious” — solid evidence the dudes pulling tickets have been inhaling kitchen gas for a while. Omitted was anything from Fixator. Hex Machine topped it off with “Lunatic Sun” from Omen Mas. All of us were hockey pucks by then.

Also from Richmond was the instrumental flying elephant: Dumb Waiter. They opened the evening by playing their ridiculous 2020 album Tsk in its entirety. The album title features zero vowels, and none of the song titles have any either. Under another tent, it’d be Tusk by Fleetwood Mac. But it isn’t. Dumb Waiter is a self-proclaimed “math/avant-garde/pop/noise 4-piece” and that’s not an embellished trapeze act. They’re every bit of whatever that is. Their newest album, Gauche Gists, is due out June 24th.

You can’t really describe Dumb Waiter without sounding like an idiot, or like someone who’s trying not to sound like an idiot, or just a run-of-the-mill music nerd. I could start rattling off a list of subgenres, maybe a Mr. Bungle reference, something about time signatures and Jaco Pastorious, and try to sound like I know what I’m talking about, but I won’t know what I’m talking about. And you’ll know. The cheap way out of this situation is to then put it on you. Say something like, “You should listen to Dumb Waiter and decide what they sound like for yourself.” This would absolve me of anything further on the matter. But that just sucks.

So.

At times, Tsk sounds like an elephant in a modern dance class. An elephant serenading another elephant. An elephant doing cocaine. An elephant bartending. An elephant bringing other elephants to beat the shit out of some other elephants. An elephant writing a letter home. An elephant arguing with his girlfriend. An elephant sneaker shopping. An elephant walking the dog. An elephant at Benihana. An elephant playing videogames. An elephant at Summer Slam. An elephant smoking weed. An elephant watching Babar. 

All of those sounds are made by mammoth drums, bass, guitar, and saxophone.  

Seeing them live is unreal. I wonder if there were other people in the audience wishing they could sing with the band. This probably happens to instrumental outfits more often than it doesn’t. It’s not like Dumb Waiter needs a singer. The music Nathaniel Roseberry, Nicholas Crider, Keith Paul, and Tristan Brennis make is already gold. In a godless world, Dumb Waiter is Ganesh.

If you’re marginally familiar with Zombi, then you’re in the same boat as me, and there’s no captain aboard. The Pittsburgh, PA-based Relapse Records instrumental space rock band has been getting comparisons to Italy’s Goblin (famous for scoring the European version of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) since their 2004 album Cosmos. They closed out the evening, and the hype wasn’t lip service.

Songs like “Chant” from 2021’s Liquid Crystal could be played along with recent BBC footage of the war in Ukraine, while the album’s title track sounds like death and the ascension into heaven, splashed with the holy water of David Gilmour. You could spend a day doing this with their discography. Or a long drive alone, allowing your ADHD to speed down the highway. Zombi could make the soundtrack to anything.

Maybe that’s what this article is really about. Seems like everything these days has become a goddamn circus, and the peanuts are orange. 

In America, you can choose what you want to put into your head. There’s a lot of stuff out there and some of it might even seem safe to eat. However, we shouldn’t just close our eyes and suck it through a straw because the sticker on the front says it’s all right. Teachers told us in elementary school not to eat berries in the forest or take candy from strangers. That logic also works here. It’s your unalienable right to inhale FOXNews and McDonald’s for six months if you want to. Just don’t be surprised if that nonsense has crept around your midsection or across the front of your new hat.   

This is crazy-making behavior. Not the good kind of crazy. Not the kind at the Camel on St. Patrick’s Day. 

You are smart people. If it looks and tastes like bubblegum, it shouldn’t be the only thing you’re chewing on. Definitely shouldn’t go to sleep with it in your mouth. It’ll be a bitch to get out of your hair in the morning. Then you’ll have a shaved head the next day just like everybody else. There’s something to be said for a person who follows out of principle, not simply because the people around them started to move. 

I don’t know what else to tell you.

Photos by Randy J. Byrd, except where noted.

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent is the author of the collections, Poems For Dead People, This Is Why I Am Insane, Hit Me When I'm Pretty, and Everything Is On Fire: Selected Poems 2014-2021. He has also co-authored the poetry collections, Tomorrow Ruined Today, and Some Of Us Love You (both with Brett Lloyd). His spoken word record, Dying Comes With Age, will be released by Rare Bird Books in 2022. Ryan is a staff writer for RVA Magazine and maintains a pack a day habit. (photo by D. Randall Blythe)




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