A wonderful kind of strange to catch dreams to. Quirks, strangeness and charm from Thomas Truax.
Release Date: 20th January 2023
Label: Psycho Teddy
Format: CD/vinyl/digital (bandcamp)
You probably don’t know the name, do you? But Truax is a veteran of nine earlier albums, together with a shedload of involvements with artists as varied as Duke Special and those sons of Sheffield, Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley. That one of those albums is a covers album, of songs/tunes for the films of David Lynch, might give a clue as to what sort of fare is offered here. That, and the intriguing handle of his record label. Add in that the two main featured instrumentalists, each getting a credit on the cover are both drummers, and some weird ideas must be already brewing in your mind. They were in mine.
Let’s dig a bit deeper; one of those drummers is Budgie, yes, that one, the Banshee/Creature, the other being a drum machine. Or, more accurately, mechanical drums, “Mother Superior” being an odd bit of percussive kit, and of Truax’s own design and building. Truax is often labelled art-rock, that sometimes off-putting name that reeks of style over substance. I’d be happier with space rock. Or psychobilly. Or, well, it’s complicated, as a myriad of influences seems to congregate, giving a cornucopia of links that might cover The Cramps and The Stranglers, with additional echoes of New York Warhol, and a smidgeon, to taste, of Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Opening with the title piece, it is the dystopian dusk of a Lynch movie that is first evoked, animal howls and chatters over a metonomic beat, from Mother, Superior, and some bendy guitar. Truax lugubriously sing/speaks the first stanza, before breaking into a rusty croon. Already I am charmed. “Heart be strong’, he intones and a bizarre string interlude wafts in, from the 1940s, perhaps, ahead a switch back to the original sturm’n’ slo-mo twang. The pitter-patter of real drums slots in just before the end, to confirm the full pack. Those same drums, Budgie’s, then clatter expansively into a hurly-burly about the whole kit for Everything’s Going To Be Alright, before some old-school analog synth bleeps and some buzzsaw guitar. Truax channels a throatier Hugh Cornwell, like all those moody talkie tunes he penned for his old band, a tale from on the road, a self-deprecating frenzy of self-belief in the howled chorus. It’s surprising how well it fits together, if disarmingly.
A bizarre chanted late middle eight adds to the feel of a barely organised chaos. Birds And Bees also starts with a combined percussive clatter and more buzzsaw guitar, with Truax once more howling in a glorious atonal wail, that swiftly asserts itself into a sort of sense. The song contains the ghost of a catchy pop song, especially as the bubbly guitar clambers up the mix before finally the plugs get unceremoniously pulled. Two minutes and eight seconds, and neither a second too long or too short. The duller thuds of the mechanical percussion contrast so well with Budgie’s hollower assaults around the tom-toms, the flesh and blood always seeming just about to overtake the machine.
The Anomalous Now is post-punk funky, a clipped guitar motif, some burbly synth and the double-barreled assault of drums, all very Talking Heads,if imagined by Jacques Tourneur (Night Of The Demon). (Look it up!) Sprechgesang is again the vocal style for this one, the words as broodingly odd as can be, a mix of the bizarre and phrases lifted from instruction manuals. A bah de bah chorus is about the last thing you expect, before an introduction to the band. Odd in a studio setting, it is in turns an unecessary conceit and a delightful whimsy. See which you think. And then realise that the introduced Hornicator and Stringaling are two more Truax Heath-Robinson musical mechanical inventions. It also sets the scene for the sweet Free Floaters, which sounds like Lou Reed, if through the lens of his old VU buddy, John Cale, nowadays, rather than back then. It could be the track you return first to, not only for the delicate melody, but for Budgie’s inventive fills. A Wonderful Kind Of Strange could then be a synopsis for the whole record, if a single sentence be needed to describe the whole. Which, above, I did, sort of. Seagulls waft in over this one, which mates The Stranglers, once more, with, this time, a taste of Julian Cope, in a way that is original rather than in any way derivative. The build is hypnotically moreish.
Origami Spy Arrives In A Paper Boat smacks more of a crossword clue than a lyric, and starts with some chimes that could be mechanical, could be struck or both, as bass thuds in ominously over a lonesome harmonica. Thudding drums, human, add to the looming menace, it feeling unlikely that vocals will be needed here, other than some odd treated vocalisations for texture. And they aren’t, the tune acting a palate, not quite, cleanser. The percussion and vocal start of A Little More Time is the one that has you expecting Truax to launch off into Sixteen Tons, “muscle and blood” all of that. Which he doesn’t, clearly, but it is pure crazed psychobilly, getting weirder as the vocals go increasingly AWOL. Especially as the double tracking adds an oddball chorus. Catch the nearly one-note guitar solo, too.
Big Bright Marble is a further showcase for the percussion ensemble, rumbly guitars and the nearest to a conventional vocal yet. Not the strongest song here, it acts maybe more as a taster for the final song, but has moments that maintain the earlier quality, not least as the lyric becomes ingrained, through repetition. So maybe it is a highlight waiting to happen, after all: “Let’s take a minute to marvel, at the big bright marble that we’re orbiting around”. So, to that finale, The Fisherman’s Wishing Well Prayer, an initially frantic plea, that slows down for a juddering middle section, the fisherman “with his fishing pole and epi-pen”. Mellotronic, or, more likely, stringaling, strings swell up and it becomes almost hymnal, a piano sequence acting as a yin to the yang of the drums, the croon dominant over both. Being the longest track present, at two-thirds through it goes defiantly bonkers, with piano scales and the sounds of an (Egyptian?) orchestra tuning up, before a final reprise of the opening sequence, with added trombonic hornicator, itself ahead a triumphal last few bars, with the full fauxchestra now attuned. And then it just stops. Hmmm, OK, this one needs a rewind and familiarise, which then partially explains the inexplicable. It’s, as they say, a grower.
Not necessarily an easy listen, neither is it that hard, depending on how much of your concentration is given. The deeper you delve the more you find, and it is worth that investment, should you be keen to explore outside the mainstream. And, if you are, Truax tours, with both Budgie and Mother Superior, over the next few weeks, the album having been launched in London the day after its release.
27 Jan, Fri: Plymouth UK, Marjon University Arts Centre
28 Jan, Sat: Exeter, Cavern, 83-84 Queen St, Devon EX4 3RP
3 Feb, Fri: Brighton, Green Door Store, Trafalgar Street, BN1 4FQ
10 Feb, Fri: Preston, The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road PR12XQ
11 Feb, Sat: Birmingham, Centrala, Minerva Works, 158 Fazeley Street, B5 5RT
16 Feb, Thurs: Leeds, Hyde Park Book Club, 27-29 Headingley Lane, LS6 1BL
17 Feb, Fri: Sheffield, Greystones, Greystones Road, S11 7BS
19 Feb, Sun: Newcastle, Cobalt Studios 10 Boyd St, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 1AP
22 Feb, Wed: Glasgow, Hug and Pint, 171 Great Western Road, G4 9AW
24 Feb, Fri: Dundee (Details TBA)
25 Feb, Sat: Edinburgh, Voodoo Rooms, 19a West Register Street, EH2 2AA
Finally, try out the earlier rleased singler from the package. And, y’know, he may well be right!