Coochie Brake, the latest release from The Residents, elicits a murky dread that fits perfectly with its namesake. The production feels less like a selection of instruments recorded and placed together and more like a musical soup. Every now and then a particular flavor rises to the surface, but for the most part it sounds like a homogeneous mixture. That’s not to say the sound is indistinct; rather the timbre of each instrument complements the whole. I don’t think they’ve achieved such a perfect matching of content and form since Mark of the Mole.
This is particularly evident with the vocals, most of which are in Spanish, which I am no good at decoding when heard (if written I have a better chance, and of course I could also use a dictionary). This puts me in the position of being unable to critique the lyrics. It gives me the opportunity, however, to experience this album as non-English speakers might experience their other albums. But I could get that kind of feeling by listening to any album recorded in a foreign language, so that can’t be their main goal. I think the stronger intent here is to cast the voice as an instrument rather than a delivery mechanism for words. We’ve seen them do this in the past, most notably with Eskimo and The Big Bubble, the difference here being that we could gather meaning if we put some effort into it. So I played the first track for a Spanish-speaking friend to get her insights.
Her first observation, unsurprisingly, was that the vocals were buried and difficult to hear. She persevered, though, and was able to make out some talk of mirrors and the face we show versus the face we keep inside; how life is precious and all that matters is how we conduct ourselves in the time between birth and death.
The mirror aspect grabs my attention, being as it is a continuation (or as least, dare I say it, a reflection) of the Mirror People segments of the Talking Light show. Mirrors carry with them a long history of symbolic meaning, one of the most popular stories being that of Narcissus. I wonder if that association is deliberate?
A few other things are going on here that are worth noting. First, we are dealing with a trio of Residents instead of the standardized four. This time, however, Randy is out and Carlos is in, despite Carlos having seemingly retired last year. Within the narrative of The Residents, is he back or is he just doing a one-off? Why is Randy not participating in this reunion? Is there bad blood between the two?
Next, the album is released under the moniker of Sonidos de la Noche, which calls to mind the Combo de Mechanico from High Horses. I don’t know if there’s anything worth uncovering there; it’s just an observation. It may just be that Carlos names the side projects.
We are also getting a history lesson with this album. The Coochie Brake legends are true (meaning the legends exist outside of The Residents; I cannot speak for the truth of the legends themselves). I’m coming to realize that there’s a lot more truth than fiction in the world of The Residents, especially in the past decade. It seems that stories and liner notes, starting with Demons Dance Alone, have had a more personal, honest air about them. Long gone are the fantastical, almost cartoonish stories about the group (the last I can think of right now is from a CD-ROM that described their notes coming in scribbled crayon). These days the group is being straight with us, or at least no longer running everything through a myth filter. It could be they decided the old way was immature, or it could be they respect us more, accept us, and no longer need to keep a distance. Probably a little of both. At some point we all accept who looks back from the mirror.