“Yell Boss” (Don Giovanni Records)
I just read “Doctor Sleep.” I still check in with Stephen King when his books materialize on the library’s new release shelf– this one finds the kid from “The Shining” struggling to overcome alcoholism as other demons, the supernatural kind, swirl around a psychic teen in a small New Hampshire town. I can safely file this tale in the “pretty good” column, not a book in which the protagonist winds up in a mystical, imagined land speaking a semi-phonetic language to vanquish a supernatural foe.
So yeah, Dan Torrance hits his rock bottom, and starts attending AA meetings. And there it is, plopped into an otherwise unassuming paragraph:
“He’d wake up thirsty and miserable—wanting—which wasn’t.”
Ol’ Steve has professed his love for punk rock many times over the years, but goddamn, Stephen King must be into Black Flag.
Pool-pissers everywhere might beg to differ, citing coincidence: after writing so many words, it’s a near-inevitability that the guy would say something, sometime, which sounded like something else. And that’s fine. I can see it. Maybe he managed to nail the chorus Dezzo (and, later, Hank) barked out so well because the lyrics draw from the particular well of human experience from which Stephen King has experienced, and so publically discussed. It’s possible.
But why would you want to warm up a pool like this? Goddammit, isn’t it more fun to think that it was an Easter egg dropped in there? Lord knows I do that sort of thing all the time – shades of blue, in my books, are bruise-colored; the biggest jerks are always names Richard Johnson. Nods, both.
“Yell Boss,” the new full-length by Black Wine, is a dynamic record, but not a record which relies solely on dynamics. Take “No Reason,” which starts off hammering down math for just long enough to trick you into thinking it’ll be a syncopated neck acher – and instead, a snaky lead as backdrop to drummer Miranda Taylor’s fuzzed vox. It’s a neat trick: the juxtaposition of parts and personalities winds up being more jarring and effectual than the intro duh-duh-duhduh threatens. Plus, you know, it rocks.
“Rime” trumps “No Reason” in terms of sheer whip-snapping oomph: the chug contained in the opening salvo “Komrades” is reprised, daring you to look up from your phone and headbang – to have fun, the way band obviously is, with their three-part vocal harmonies. Its heft gains velocity after propelling out of a weird, gentle feedback intro, vocals subdued and sing-songy, better suited to the nursery than the pit.
And to end the record, the tom-heavy verses of “Love Chain” form a backdrop for downright spooky Faith-era Cure guitar before the band gleefully pushes the atmosphere aside to bash out a kickass ascending two-ton figure. Then it ends. The song, the record. Over. Awesome.
I thought these cats were at the height of their craft even before the second-to-last song spun under the needle. Again: heavy, with great poppy vocals and Superchunk-y guitar leads straining through the din. Thing is, the prechorus rolled in, and a vocal line sent me back to age eight, driving around in the back of my parents’ Rabbit, listening to the radio. “No Time” – of course. The Guess Who. Bad rock critic!
But their cover, in my zillion subsequent listens, reinforces what I think is the overall point. The signifiers are all there, the little nods and full-throated howls to the band’s many influences. I remember the first time I saw them play, acoustic in a New Jersey basement—they played another song I know from driving around with my parents as a kid: “Windy,” by the Association. Of course, they nailed it.
Such is the way of Black Wine – each of the three band members brings their particular sonic palette and blueprint to the table, add their own contributions, sand off (or, to be fair, tack on) rough edges, and the alloyed final product is set loose. Sometimes the nods are there. And who the hell knows whether the bits that I’m hearing in there are intentional – maybe these cats don’t even like the Cure, you know? But I believe this band, and I trust them. And even if you’re peeing in my pool, telling me that they can’t possibly be as smart and musical and intentioned as I think, it’s more fun to believe. Especially now, when everyone is too worried about being cool and well-versed to actually like stuff. To be a fan. Fuck that. I’m in. And if you’ve got beef, I won’t invite you to listen to “Damaged” with me and Stephen King.
Michael T. Fournier