Quasi-assigned then spec’d but eventually orphaned ode to a great record…The Speaking Canaries “Songs for the Terrestrially Challenged” (Scat Records, 1993)
A NEW INTRODUCTION…
As per the career path/creative outlet I’ve chosen, some content is pulled kicking and screaming into existence only to become homeless behind a combination of 1. Life-chaos of the ultimately wonderful sort, but also of the type that can throw connection-construction and loosely-agreed-upon assignments to the ass-end of the priority list, only to resurface and… 2. Fall victim to a surprise game of “editorial musical chairs” of which I wasn’t privy until the essay/appreciation-review was turned in. Note: When I claim a draft has been sent “for your consideration” and an editor is on the receiving end of things, well, that is simply an injection of bellow-the-belt humbleness / humility for affect…meaning, the editorial presence on the other end is expected to do a hell of a lot more than just “consider it.” But I am to blame for where I stood in this particular dynamic. Ok, enough confusing intro garbage. What follows is an attempt to succinctly unpack a very special album I’ve carried with me from apartment to duplex to apartment to apartment to duplex to apartment to duplex to the house & happiness I so fortuitously enjoy at this moment. Minus a policy-stating intro from which I have mercifully spared my blog visitors, this was to be the inaugural installment of a now-defunct column (or “column idea”….and an unoriginal one at that). Lastly, readers should understand that this has NOT been touched by the loving hand of an editor, so cut me some slack for trying to get the word out on a worthy album while addressing the concern of FRESH CONTENT (or lack thereof) here at andrewearles.com
[Note to possible visitor with the surname of 'Che': I will feel a little bit warm and human after smacking you with the obvious-stick. It's the rest of the world; they're the ones that have fitfully slept on this masterpiece since it first saw the overcast of the days in the early-90's.]
The Speaking Canaries – Songs For The Terrestrially Challenged (Scat Records, 1993)
Getting straight to the theme at hand, I know exactly three people who love this band. And in three very different ways I hold all in extremely high regard. The first is the individual who introduced me to The Speaking Canaries in 1997. I long ago lost touch with this one, who is now a lawyer living in Atlanta, but it’s just one of those opinions that, you know, never changes. The second one is a writer colleague and occasional editor who I know well enough to trust a large majority of offered opinions and recommendations. And the third is my fiancé. So let’s state the obvious: I consider all three of these people to be “on the level” and before the reader’s mind automatically begins to devalue said classification, I distribute it rarely and with extreme care. The point I’m laboring over is this: The Speaking Canaries are the ultimate litmus test. It takes a special type to even understand or “get” this music, for which loving it is an automatic byproduct.
The requisite biographical information is in order (or long overdue). The sole creative force behind The Speaking Canaries is Damon Che Fitzgerald. He is better known for occupying the drum stool in both incarnations of the largely instrumental outfit, Don Caballero. While Don Cab is another great band suffering a long history of misunderstanding, the difference between Mr. Che’s two primary outlets is profound, and it must be articulated through simplicity: The Speaking Canaries are that rare of rare things in that they are BETTER than a great band – one of those greats that makes me want to issue less-than-flattering sentiments without much focus…just flailing insults without aim and possibly hitting bands I might like; something quasi-symptomatic of the fact that EACH AND EVERY BAND in the “underground” of the last 15 to 20 years has garnered more attention and respect than The Speaking Canaries.
I barely remember what the “underground” climate was like in 1993 when this epic home run of a sophomore effort was originally released. When I finally processed and fell in love with this record a few years later, it still felt totally out-of-place. One giant tree falling in a vast forest of indifference, Songs For The Terrestrially Challenged remains free of even the smallest of cult followings. To note: There was a simultaneous release of this record in a handmade jacket that consisted of a 4-track version of the same album, and I cannot think of a worse recording to be offered in its lo-fi demo form. Luckily, only 500 copies were pressed of the crap-fi version, as most of what makes this release so special is totally lost re: this particular endeavor.
Very few contemporary noodle-enthusiasts move me…on any instrument. I can count on both hands, maybe even one…the number of modern guitarists who possess that extra-special something when attempting that (usually extra-awful) exercise known as the extended solo. Doug Martsch of Treepeople/Built to Spill, Scout Niblett, P.J. Harvey, Tonie Joy of Moss Icon/Born Against/Convocation Of…/The Convocation, Wayne Rogers of Crystalized Movements/Major Stars, both of the guitarists in The Fucking Champs add up to one noodler and the man who gave the world The Speaking Canaries, Mr. Damon Che. The latter is just as emotive behind a drum kit, too, and if that needs proving, settle down with Don Caballero’s What Burns Never Returns, American Don and the latest album by the redesigned Don Cab, Punkgasm.
Shredding has become a bit of a buzz-term as of late, but it had to be carried into this decade by female fret-burners like Marnie Stern, St. Vincent and Marissa Paternoster. The aforementioned Niblett does not apply here, nor does P.J. Harvey, as they have been hammering out records longer than these ladies (and Harvey’s latest tedium-fest can hardly be heard as a “guitar record”).
But back in the early-to-mid-to-late 90’s, the genuine Eddie Van Halen-meets-aggro-meets-HUGE-AND-CATCHY-GUITAR-ROCK-meets-BLUDGEONING-FREE-IMPROV peddled by The Speaking Canaries, was destined to fly over every head in its trajectory, including the irritating noiseniks who posed in understanding stances re: structure-less, abrasive bullshit vomited out by food-stained, 400-pound, borderline sociopaths. You know, before it was made by delicate pretty boys like Black Dice or before college kids became dishonest with their ears by claiming Wolf Eyes as their favorite band (name-drop subject). The unwieldy The Speaking Canaries formula laid out at the start of this paragraph could have been, and might remain, a secret cipher designed for a certain few. In that sense, the band joins the ranks of other growers-not-showers using their own formulas to separate the casual generators of hot-air from the REAL MUSIC PEOPLE, such as Silkworm, Battles, Party of Helicopters, The Young, Moonshake, Godflesh, Bolt Thrower, Motorpsycho, Trumans Water, Early Man, Part Chimp, Gorefest, Steel Pole Bath Tub, Disfear and A Minor Forest, to name a select few.
With the gift of hindsight, we can see that indie-metal or avant-metal or metal-gaze (or whatever stomach-turning tag one wants to apologetically use) has cemented its place in history, and indie-rock has stopped trying to jump into bed with metal in such a blatantly transparent manner, and that all of this has quieted a good bit of the utterly-stupid “real-vs-fake” cognitive dissonance so prevalent some 5-to-10 years ago Taking into account the current fuzziness caused by the sound of shredding (some of which is NOT SHREDDING, but that’s another can o’ worms) – mentioned above, as well as the fourteen-gazillion sub-genres both indie-rock and extreme-metal have spit out since 1993, and we may actually have a musical climate that could spell open arms for the first of three great works by The Speaking Canaries. Songs For The Terrestrially Challenged should now be evaluated (or in the case of the ten people who have already heard it…reevaluated) and understood as the singular master-stroke it so clearly is. Yes, it does contain exactly 1.5 Van Halen covers (“Secrets” and an interpretation of “In A Simple Rhyme”…two excellent DLR-period VH tunes to begin with) but that shouldn’t scare off anyone worth their salt. It also kicks off with “Little Ice Queen” – one of, if not THE, greatest six minutes of hair-raising catharsis found in the history of loud indie-rock/noise-rock.
This album is more than most can take in one sitting, and seeing as how many music fans have no idea how to properly process great sounds; perhaps this is a futile crusade. But here’s hoping that the 90’s retro-hunger (now in full-swing) and all of the historical situations I’ve laid out act as a runway for this monster to land on. The double-vinyl version of Songs For The Terrestrially Challenged is still in print after eighteen years of dismissal and befuddlement. That is a backwards crime against cultural logic if there ever was one.
I am no longer a card-carrying hermit, so I hate how it feels to find out about this two weeks on…R.I.P. Ben Gazzara
This explains the recent upswing in cable TV/digital cable airings of Road House.
…regarding the previous post. Any YouTube search for “Strange Noises in the Sky” will reveal a worldwide phenom of our times. Nor are we getting all “Coast to Coast” on your asses. My theory is that drilling underground, of the massive variety, is resulting in what sounds like rumbling in the sky. Memphis has a chronic problem with unknown and prolonged, seemingly aerial groans and moans and it isn’t backed-up FedEx air-traffic waiting to take off. That’s just the official explanation once the local news media gets involved. We did not perpetrate a hoax, either…clearly we were just adding some humor to a situation that is in dire need of such.
Now, back to online bunker shopping….
This one is really intense and a little too close to home!