Arising from the charred remains of the superbly monikered American RIO exponents Sleepytime Gorilla Museum comes Free Salamander Exhibit, who after many years of toil unleashed this defiant racket on an unsuspecting world at the end of last year. Comin’ atcha with a strident rock-in-opposition attitude, this is a jarring and agitated listening experience.
There, that’s got rid of most of my audience, and now the three of us that remain can disseminate the joys of metaphorical teeth extraction at our leisure.
I have had this album defiantly glaring at me from the top of the “to do” pile for months, but it has taken me that long to come to terms with a record that is repulsive yet engaging at the same time. I cannot recall struggling with an album as wilfully difficult as this since the first time I stumbled across Henry Cow and their In Praise Of Learning album some 40 years ago. Probably not the easiest entry point to the choppy waters of the Cow ocean, admittedly.
Free Salamander Exhibit channel the Cow’s revolutionary zeal and disregard of convention to make a genuinely RIO album for the modern age. Undestroyed is not just in opposition to conventional rock, it rages against everything. I can see a connection with Thinking Plague in that regard, but FSE are if anything even more uncompromising than the Colorado agitators.
Undestroyed’s heady spirit of revolution delivers many surprises, including some wicked metal riffing on The Gift, and syncopated voice with trumpet on Time Master, to mention but two moments that induced a smile. Time Master has the feel of a long lost Residents classic. Probably the most accessible song on the album, Nils Frykdahl sings or playacts his way out of this one, but on a lot of other tracks he uses death growls, but in a manner that is closer to proper singing than unintelligible grunting, which is probably why I can put up with it!
The title track is a creepy epic that slithers along the floor while repeating “I am undestroyed, life is my sundance”, a quote from Leonard Peltier’s Prison Writings that like any over-repeated phrase eventually loses or gains meaning, depending on where your head is at the time. Nils sings this in horror-movie anti-croon, the song slowly building in intensity, before upping the ante into throat shredding. After the previous track, one that is almost throwaway in comparison, the heaviness wrought here is underlined all the more. Dark matter, indeed.
The atramentous portents return on the closing Oxen of the Sun, and here Nils’ voice becomes almost operatic. This guy has quite a range of styles at his command, and his voice is as good as another instrument. Oxen of the Sun and the album lumbers to its conclusion, and after all that, this listener is worn out. Time for some Joni Mitchell, methinks!
01. Unreliable Narrator (5:23)
02. The Keep (5:42)
03. The Gift (9:56)
04. Time Master (5:21)
05. Undestroyed (10:11)
06. Atheists’ Potluck (4:28)
07. Oxen of the Sun (9:20)
Total Time – 50:22
Nils Frykdahl – Vocals, Guitar, Flute
Dan Rathbun – Bass, Various homemade instruments
Michael Mellender – Guitar, Trumpet, Percussion, Percussion-guitar
David Shamrock – Drums, Glockenspiel
Drew Wheeler – Guitar, Glockenspiel, Theremin
Record Label: Web Of Mimicry
Date of Release: 13th December 2016