Category Archives: residents

A Magic Hide-A-Bed (Coochie Brake)

And so it is written in the book of Bobuck. Aw, man.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.

Now Who Is Gone And Who Is Right? (Talking Light)

Seeing a murder on television... can help work off one's antagonisms. And if you haven't any antagonisms, the commercials will give you some.Talking Light is the bringing together of what has become two separate threads of the Residents continuum.  On the one side we had the storyteller and on the other we had remix as composition.  For the past several years, they have alternated which is at the forefront and which stands aside, so much so that I began to suspect there were multiple groups of Residents in play.

As it turns out, that was not the case (or maybe it was, but we must always read each new development as if it were intended).  The current show presents a new face for the band.  As with The Bunny Boy, the lead singer has taken an identity (in this case, Randy), but he has also identified the other group members: Chuck, Bob, and Carlos.  Now, I don’t for a moment believe these are their actual names, but that’s not the game we play with The Residents.  As a participant in their larger social contract, I accept the details presented to me and try to fit them into what has come before.

So we know that there are now three Residents where previously there were four (despite the number on stage most often being six; again, we go with the official traditional four-piece).  The closest they’ve had to individual identities before was referring to them by mask (such as Mr. Blue or Mr. Skull).  This is a significant change for the group, and perhaps the hope is that, with names in place, the public will finally leave the identity mystery behind and focus on the music instead.

As mentioned, the concept takes two forms: stories and music interpretation.  Within this tour, they are improvising or randomizing the stories with each performance, which makes the fact they are releasing recordings of each show online a beneficial move.  Nobody need miss anything for the simple reason that they couldn’t attend a concert.  Also, the truly devoted can slavishly compare all of the performances and calculate just how random the improvised portions are.

Which I’ve not done, because that’s a job for the young and foolish (although passionate and sincere).  I’ve downloaded three of the shows, because they are priced at about one-third of what a physical release would be.  But if I make the assumption that each version of a particular story is noticeably different, yet the same, I can draw another conclusion from this show.

The titular Talking Light is television.  This is made clear by the accompanying artwork, and of course the show takes place in a living room.  So perhaps the songs portion is the television show – that which we’ve all gathered into the living room to watch.  That leaves the stories to be the advertising breaks.  Indeed, most incorporate clips from old, familiar commercials.  And what are commercials, artistically speaking, but the same messages repeated with just enough variation to stand out but not enough to become something else?  Each Coca-Cola ad is different, but they all get the same message across.  Herein lies the explanation behind the improvised portions of the show.

I have recordings from two US performances, and one from the in-progress European tour.  And while the execution of the songs does differ somewhat, they feel more like the natural evolution that takes place when material is played repeatedly.  The stories, apart from some pre-recorded dialogue, change in significant ways each night.  The musical beds they are laid upon seem to be variations on a theme, so “Talking Light” remains recognizable and distinct from “Unseen Sister,” but each instance is itself a new song.  It’s like Doc Severinsen and his wacky jackets.  Each was unique, but all were clearly his.

I could spend several pages writing about the Mirror People story within the show.  Mirrors are symbols of introspection and identity, of perception and reality – all in all the cornerstones of The Residents.  But as I near my arbitrarily self-imposed limit, I will just end with this question: who are we really seeing now?

I Never Look Behind Me (Ten Little Piggies)

And this little piggy went "weeeee arrrrre the woooooorrrld!"Ten Little Piggies is a unique compilation in that it collects music from projects that have yet to be released.  An easier way to look at it is as a sampler of works in progress.  Even that is impressive, and again confirms my long held belief that The Residents always have several projects in flight at any given moment.  Presumably they could have made such a release at any time.  So why now?

It could simply be a straightforward contractual obligation.  A new label (in this case, MVD) would like a compilation to sell, so one is put together.  But this one has the added selling point of having all new material, which makes it more likely to be purchased by existing fans.  The Residents may well be in a position where existing fans outnumber potential fans, so it makes financial sense to market specifically to them, the birds in the hand.  Or it could be this is the first time they’ve had so many projects nearing completion at once, providing them the rare opportunity to confidently announce them in advance (it is well known they do not like revealing details of a project before it is finalized, due to their propensity towards tinkering and change).

Regardless of the genesis, there is still corporate bureaucracy at play here, with a couple of these future projects having already been released (Hades came out as a digital download last month, and The Ughs coincides with this release).  Obviously Ten Little Piggies was intended to be made available a few months ago, but got caught up in whatever machinations prevent any project from completing on time.

That delay would have to be known to them, so again we ask: what is the benefit of this (mostly) forward-looking compilation?  I think they are rebranding, or at least putting new emphasis on their existing brand.  Though come to think of it, a redoubled effort would be littered with the eyeball head image, so they must be conjuring up something different.  A new attempt to escape the all-being eye.   I’m definitely seeing a desire to do more soundtrack work.  Not only are they releasing commissioned scores, but also instrumental versions of their most recent albums.  They are reminding the entertainment world at large that they are available for such contract work, and this is a new demo reel that better reflects their current state.  “Listen to how much better we are these days,” they are saying.  “We’re not just that weird eyeball band; we can do serious commercial art as well.  You know my name, look up the number.”

Ordinarily a new Residents project causes me to reevaluate what I know about them, recontextualizing their past.  Ten Little Piggies wants me to look into their future, but even now they resist my attempt to do so.  Of the ten projects previewed, eight are of older, unreleased material.  That’s still new as far as the public is concerned, but it leaves us with very little in the way of determining where they are headed.  Duck Stab Re-Imagined is referred to in the past tense, so it’s probably a shelved idea, only included here because something from it will be released (à la I Murdered Mommy), but we’ll never see the originally intended product.

Talking Light is the only project left that can be considered in progress at this time, and it sounds like it has the potential to carry on for a long while.  As described, it is a methodology rather than a narrative concept, so it’s more akin to “use computers for recording” than “write songs about animals.”  A narrative concept will get fed into it, no doubt, but the core methodology will allow them to work more efficiently on that concept as well as others to follow.  Every few years there’s a sort of renaissance within The Residents, and I think we are seeing another one happen right now.  I’m excited to listen to the Light, and see what it says.